Introduction to a Vajrayogini Commentary

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Chenrezig Institute, Australia, September 1979 (Archive #365)

In September 1979 Lama Yeshe conferred the Vajrayogini initiation and gave teachings on the tantric practice of Vajrayogini to a group of students preparing for retreat at Chenrezig Institute in Australia. He addressed subjects that were specific to this Highest Yoga Tantra practice as well as other, more general topics. The transcript, kept largely in Lama Yeshe’s original words, is lightly edited by Nicholas Ribush.

Three introductory discourses, in which Lama taught on renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness, are available here for the general public to read. These three discourses will be re-edited for Lama Yeshe’s The Enlightened Experience: Collected Teachings, forthcoming from LYWA.

The full transcript is available as a PDF file for individuals who have received a Heruka or Vajrayogini Highest Yoga Tantra initiation. See the Initiates Only section of the store for more information on how to order the text.

Lama Yeshe teaching at Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala, India, 1983. Photo: Ueli Minder.
First Introductory Discourse

Now, today, I am going to give an introduction to what we are going to practice at this time, as mentioned in the brochure, the tantric yoga method of Vajrayogini. 

Now, Lord Buddha showed many method and wisdom teachings, as you know already; countless words showing the path to enlightenment, but if we make two packets, two divisions—Hinayana and Mahayana. The attitude of the Mahayana vehicle is to be more concerned for all universal living beings rather than oneself, and to be dedicated to leading all universal living beings into liberation. Therefore this different attitude leads the person’s actions, and his or her daily way of life takes on a different perspective. We should not feel that as we are practicing the Mahayana we are putting Hinayana down. The Hinayana is not philosophy and doctrine—it is the attitude. So, even though we are practicing the great vehicle, perhaps we all have got a long way to go to be even Hinayana. So, my point is that it is important to not look from the philosophical point of view, thinking that Mahayana and Hinayana are merely philosophy. 

Or, perhaps if I make it more clear, most of us have contact with Mahayana doctrine and philosophy so we can say we are Mahayana philosophers, because intellectually we understand what the Mahayana philosopher is. So there is almost no doubt we are Mahayana philosophers. But what is doubtful is whether we are Mahayanists, and what is doubtful is whether we are Hinayanists. Maybe we are not Hinayana yet. So, therefore, the Hinayana, Mahayana is the level of individual transformation of the individual being. Why it is difficult for us to even become Hinayana, to seek our own inner freedom or liberation or nirvana, is because we are so caught or stuck in the glue of attachment to sense pleasures. Now, I’m not going to talk too much about that, there are many reasons. 

The Mahayana vehicle has two divisions—Paramitayana and Tantrayana. As you have already learnt, the Paramitayana is the subject contained in the lamrim; all the lamrim meditations are the Paramitayana aspect kind of meditation. For example, from the foundation—refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—through the meditations on impermanence and death, there are so many meditations in the lamrim: we call all these meditations the Paramitayana, or causation yana; the cause yana. So now we don’t need to mention all the meditations in the lamrim, you people understand already. Practically, what we practice, the meditations on taking refuge, sometimes we do prostrations, purifications; sometimes we do mandala offerings to accumulate merits, that’s the purpose of offering the mandala; and we prostrate to the Thirty-five Buddhas, and we have Buddhist confession meditation, and we have different kinds of purification such as the Vajrasattva meditation. And also we have meditation on renunciation of samsara, on bodhicitta, and on the right view, shunyata. All those things are preliminary, fundamental meditations for going into the practice of the tantric yoga.

The reason for the graded set-up of the meditation is to enable us to practice, because many of our students sometimes have problems. They receive so many teachings and sometimes they are confused because they don’t know what to practice. I understand why they are confused. It’s possible that our people who give instruction may not be precise. But one thing you have to understand is that the practice of those meditations is not some kind of intellectual story. It is kind of to put one’s own actions into that gradually. So you see, the whole arrangement is there, the gradual path arrangement is there: chuk, chuk, chuk, like that, step, step; is there. Even though sometimes we say, “Now I don’t know what to practice anymore. I have received so many meditations. From the teachings I have received I have almost two hundred meditations. Now I am confused, I don’t know what is best for me.” So that series of meditations is not for the intellect—you have to act, time to time. And especially, some in particular—like Vajrasattva and the one we are going to do—those are very much for kind of retreat, solitude retreat action. So then it becomes integrated. Then you have no question, “Wah, I don’t know what I want to do.” You know what you want to do, you have some kind of experience through your own action of meditation. So what’s important is to know and act, time to time, in whatever way is necessary.

If you can do one strong meditation each year, kind of like retreat, it is good. The matter is time—we all have different lives, different busy conditions, but we can do, once in a while, once a year, we can do some quiet tranquility situation retreat, certain kind of strong retreat. So that keeps you able to integrate, and then daily you are flexible, daily you have to be flexible. You can’t say I always want to meditate for ten hours without moving, you can’t do. Flexible—if you have time you do; you don’t have time, maybe ten minutes, or maybe five minutes, or maybe you don’t sit anyway, you just meditate by doing walking meditation. You do kind of busy meditation. That’s why Buddhism is so simple—it doesn’t matter, whatever the situation you can meditate. So you have to learn to take advantage of situations. If somebody beats you, you can take that beating as a meditation subject. So we have to know. These things are the beauty of the Buddhist attitude.

Any time during your life you can take advantage, transform such situations into happiness. Even when miserable situations come you put them into interesting situations and test, test situations; the test of every situation is how you look at it. My own example is, I tell you, when the Chinese forced me from Tibet with nothingness, I am grateful for that; for my personal view I need it, I feel I needed that. I am very grateful to them. Check out. Otherwise I was having a good time. I was like you people, taken care of by society, by my family, mother, father, brother, uncle; everybody took care of me. When I was left with nothingness, no uncle, no mother, suddenly just my body and complicated mind were there still, so the Dharma was very helpful at that time. That was my experience. You also have to know how to handle any disasters that your life throws up.

Now, renunciation. The renunciation of samsara is an extremely essential, fundamental thing for all of us. Because if we don’t have renunciation of samsara, what happens is that we totally rely, our attitude is to totally rely, on sense objects, such as this flower, for our pleasure—the relationship pleasure of this flower. So if we don’t have renunciation of samsara, our attitude contains some kind of deeper trust, preconception idea, that, “I trust you [this flower] completely—you are the source of my happiness therefore I love you, you should love me.” This kind of attitude, unreasonable, overestimating attitude, to temporal phenomena is too extreme. Such grasping attitude toward temporal pleasures, unreasonable, overestimating attitude is painful; its nature is painful. 

So we should have strong impression, impression to convince ourselves, “Yes, this is good at the moment; OK, it helps something, it gives some pleasure, temporal pleasure. OK, I accept that. But I should not expect more than that.” So there is less tension in this relationship. Just as this example, for the whole existent phenomena, all Australian pleasure is the same thing—transitory, no solidity. We should accept when this disappears, without any miserable reaction. Who cares? This is time to disappear, disappear. So that all the pleasure, what we consider as sense world, disappear, disappear; come, come. The thing is that renunciation of samsara makes you flexible; at least flexible. 

There’s no strong reaction: this disappears, my heart shakes. Why? The nature of this is to disappear. My nature is to disappear, so what? We have to accept, without uptight and fear or tension, and without holding such unrealistic idea on the reality of any existent pleasure or pain.

Buddhism teaches your mind to act in the middle path, by avoiding extreme views. If I make an example, in Australia, boys worry about their girlfriend and girls worry about their boyfriend—losing these things. That’s the samsaric mind, not having renunciation of samsara. Instead of crying day, day, and night, night, better meditate on renunciation of samsara! Well, that’s why Buddhist philosophy is so simple, so practical—it deals directly with everyday life. Philosophy is not some kind of ancient history—it’s the philosophy of the scientific reality involving what is happy and what is not happy.

Now, bodhicitta is understanding that all universal living beings have the problem of attachment and the symptoms of ego and feeling sympathetic; more universal levels sympathetic rather than only the small view of oneself, extreme sensitivity looking me, only seeing me. Me is the most horrible, I am, look at all that. From the point of view of the great vehicle, Mahayana, that is still a neurotic attitude even though it has some good quality. It’s true—when we look more at the world, how sentient beings are suffering, your pain is nothing, your pain becomes almost nothing, so that psychologically you have room, there is room. Besides that, taking responsibility, that it’s possible if I can develop myself kind of perfectly, totality, actually I can do, I can lead all these sentient beings into perfection, or liberation, or enlightenment. It’s possible. And feeling that I can take the responsibility myself; it’s possible seeing also the potential.

When we think about it, we might say, “Oh, that is just a joke; that is just a Mahayana joke, Buddhist joke. There are too many insects, mosquitoes; so many sentient beings. And how many days are there in one year, in my life, how many days?” We make these things up, we make time up. Time—day and night—is our interpretation. These things are not self-existent. We have such incredible idea that time is very short and Buddhism says things that way how can I possibly do it. We kind of suffocate ourselves, “Oh Buddhism has such incredible ideas—the ideas put me like this. [Lama demonstrates being suffocated] I am here, therefore I can’t.” Then the question is that your measurement of life and time, and day and night, months and year is nothing; you have just made it up, human beings make it up, make pressure. In other words, who made it? First of all the nineteenth century, what we made is when it starts, so human beings made it up, decided from time of Jesus, blah, blah, blah, and these centuries, dah, dah, dah, dah, and before that … we do that one and everybody announces A.D. That’s all isn’t it. So we believe, “Oh, A.D., yes, day, night, June, July, August, September.” And we make incredible packet like this—June here, July here; kind of difficult, so difficult. In reality, all these things have been made up by the garbage mind, to become garbage. So we are in difficulty.

The bodhicitta attitude is, as I mentioned, taking responsibility for all universal sentient beings. For countless lives because of attachment, the neurotic ego, they have been made to suffer. Actually, this is not absolutely existent within me, nor in them either. The release of this bondage, extinguishing this bondage, is liberation. So compassion starts that way, compassion. Even though the bondage of ego and attachment are not the absolute nature of beings, the strong wind and many big waves come and cause turbulence. Therefore, it’s possible. The word bodhicitta is Sanskrit—it is, literally, an opened heart. The opened heart is bodhicitta.

This is not some kind of old Eastern culture. Australian people have an open heart already, you have opened heart already. The question is to open it bigger, that’s all. You have already, it’s no surprise, “Bodhicitta is outrageous, we don’t have.” It’s not true. Each of us already has some kind of openness; the matter is to open it bigger. There’s room. “There’s room” means, for example, let’s say somebody beats you … the bodhicitta attitude is one way to have compassion, compassion for ourselves and others, so one way you can think is: “My unpleasant negative karma energizes him. I appear like this and that makes him angry so I understand why he beats me. I as an object energize him.” And another way is, “He’s a very kind person. That negative karma that I have to purify, he is helping me purify, so he is very kind; I hope he beats me more.” So really, by having such bodhicitta we can make incredible kind of transformation. Is the example clear?

So our time is finishing. In the next session I want you to begin on the breath, contemplate. I don’t want you to think about good or bad or Australia or non-Australia or Lama or anything. Don’t think about anything. You cannot stop your breathing, can you? So completely contemplate on the breathing. That is your own reality, so contemplate, one-pointedly contemplate, and don’t think about anything else. Don’t even think, “I am meditating,” don’t pay attention, serious “I am meditator, now I am going to put myself in prison.” You should not think that way. Whatever is comfortable for you, you do; don’t squeeze so much. And I don’t want you to hurt your knees, you just leave them relaxed and comfortable, I don’t want you to worry—we cannot do exactly as Buddha did.

So for one hour we do that concentration. But after thirty minutes perhaps it feels like it has been one year! When any difficulty comes, I don’t want you people to feel upset and fight it. When difficulty comes, just be happy. Just recognize, just watch, recognize. Don’t interpret bad or good emotionally. We are just learning control. Therefore, when difficulties come during the meditation time, say, “Ah come on,” just recognize. By difficulty I mean distraction—so when distraction comes you just watch. Don’t feel I am so full, my brain is full—don’t think that way, intellectually, otherwise you become full. Just watch, observe, recognize.

If the distraction stays a long time then you can actualize renunciation by saying, “This really makes me waste my time. Not only me but all living beings. This is not really me but something makes me get stuck somewhere. This is not my real nature.” Give yourself a strong injection of the thought of renunciation; come to some conclusion of bodhicitta. In this way you are not worried about wasting time. And if there is time left then you go back to the concentration.

During the meditation period, if you feel sleepy and unable to concentrate, then I want you to do the seed syllable meditation technique. You contemplate on the seed syllable at the navel and generate energy, and it becomes blissful. This is the way to wake up from sluggishness.

For the next thirty minutes I want you to meditate on your own experience. You check up what you are feeling just at that moment. I don’t want you to think about Buddhism, I don’t want you to think about ideas, I don’t want you to think about lamrim, or tantra, or yoga, or Lama; don’t think about. You just watch, you just check up what experience you are having. If you are having pain experience, actually the nature of pain is like light. Actually we feel the pain energy sort of concrete, we feel full. But if you check up this energy it is kind of like space, like space energy, or like light nature also; the energy of the pain is also like light. I want you just to contemplate the experience of the energy, you contemplate that experience.

And then, if you are having a happy experience it’s the same thing: I want you to contemplate on your experience, what you feel. Don’t think about it. I don’t want you to think about pain being bad, pleasure being good, sort of reacting emotionally good or bad. This time I am emphasizing that I want you to contemplate, develop your concentration and intellectualize too much. Even if you are depressed, look at the depression. It is the mind—the depressed experience is in the mind, not in the physical body, so you contemplate on that energy also.

Actually, where this experience leads you, is to a certain point where it’s like pain energy has become space, and you have become space, space has become pain or space has become pleasure, and you sort of become like the sky. And if you contemplate without any involvement, this experience, that time you should not be afraid. Just hold. And the energy of pain or whatever it is in the mind, consciousness, so maybe sometimes you feel that you are like space, and space is you—you sort of experience that impression. Don’t worry, I don’t want you to worry; just contemplate continuously without fear, in other words losing the ego. I think that’s all for the moment, and I will see you this evening.