By Adam Friedensohn January 2005 Vajrayana, the Buddhist tantric path, relies on a purified view that we are all buddhas. We all have the enlightened mind of the Buddha in seed form, and all we have to do is recognize this fact without doubt and maintain this awareness. For most of us, religious pursuits comprise a view or belief, some kind of meditation or reflection, and activities geared towards an altruistic ideal or revealing the true meaning and purpose of existence. Both positive and negative karma are accumulated via the three essential doors of body, speech and mind, which are also the means by which we either wind up migrating continuously through the realms of samsara (cyclic existence) filled with suffering, or enter the portals by which we become liberated from illusory self-imposed bondage. The BuddhaHistorically, the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, (the exalted luminary of the Shakya clan), during his time, were simple and predominantly oriented towards human beings’ desire to get out of samsaric existence and end suffering. This could be achieved by following a path laid out by him called the Vinaya (the prescribed rules of conduct for the Buddhist community or sangha). But Shakyamuni Buddha was not isolated from the culture and religions of his time. For years he followed and dedicated himself to various extreme ascetic disciplines and either kept company with yogis or remained in solitary meditation in the wild. The Buddha was therefore well versed in these practices and had experienced their results. Tantra was one such path that existed at the time, and it could be said that the Buddha was the king of Tantrikas, refreshing and excelling the realization of the yogis and wise men of his era. In this context, Buddhism was never separated from Tantra. Buddhism, or the practice of the teachings of the Buddha, was none other than the expression of his enlightened compassion and intention to benefit innumerable beings. But in order to commence the process of transmitting his indescribable realization, the Buddha first had to cut through a number of quasi-pursuits and superstitious views that prevailed in his time. So he distilled, simplified and focused his vast realization on the essential points of suffering, its origin, and the path to its cessation. He began by establishing his teachings initially through the Vinaya, as particular skillful means, which if practiced, would eventually lead to the end of the suffering of the practitioners. This path, also called the Hinayana or the ‘small vehicle’, is still held and transmitted purely today in an unbroken succession of lineage holders from the Buddha’s time. The Buddha’s essential being was fully enlightened, omniscient, and filled with open compassion and miraculous intent. He was complete with the potency of fully matured liberation and wisdom; so all phenomena arose for him as the limitless nectar of compassion’s radiance for all beings. From this perspective, Tantra was already complete within his being, and the only reason we do not call his first turning of the wheel of dharma (his first teachings) as ‘Tantra’ was because of his need to communicate to the propensities of the disciples of his time and for those of the future through the propagation of the Vinaya system. The fact remains, however, that when practicing solely for one’s own benefit or cessation of one’s own suffering, whatever may be done or accomplished, an illusion still remains, no matter how subtle it may become. Buddhism’s Mahayana, or the ‘great vehicle’, has as its central point the vow to work for the benefit of all sentient beings and to remove them from suffering until samsara is fully emptied. Mahayana arises for those who feel they cannot be completely devoid of suffering when others in samsara still suffer. The characteristic of a developed Mahayana practitioner is that in fact they can stand their own suffering more easily than the suffering of others. The result of following the Mahayana path over a long time is ultimate enlightenment or the attainment of complete Buddhahood. Both Hinayana and Mahayana are called ‘causal vehicles’ because they are vehicles that use cause and effect as the basis of spiritual progress. Vajra VehicleVajrayana, the Buddhist Tantric path whose name means the ‘adamantine vehicle’, is based on the tenets of Mahayana Buddhism but relies on a purified view that we are all Buddhas. We all have the enlightened altruistic and open mind of the Buddha in seed form, (Tathagatagarbha) and all we have to do is recognize this fact without doubt and maintain this awareness once we have been introduced to it by a capable lama or guru. In Vajrayana, we begin with the result instead of the cause, and jump over several stages of practice. The result is therefore more or less immediate, equally possible in a snap of our fingers as it is over a lifetime, and practitioners must simply employ skillful means to remain in this state of awareness to assure it deepens and becomes faultlessly stabilized. In essence, Buddhist Tantra entails seeing things directly as they really are, immediately, and committing not to fool oneself by becoming entangled in the play of samsara again. From this perspective, there is nothing to attain that we do not already have, nowhere to arrive that we have not already reached, and nothing to accomplish that we have not already accomplished, as everything is continuously self-accomplished. When asked why he did not reveal Tantric teachings during his time, the Buddha replied that doing so would destroy the newly established Vinaya system. If lofty views beyond the relative notions of karmic cause and effect were brought into the picture early on, vast misinterpretations could arise yielding a more or less demonic understanding and activity. For this reason he entrusted the Tantric teachings to his disciple Varjapani, called ‘the Lord of Secrets’, for future times when it could be disseminated to disciples without destroying the Vinaya. There are other lineages of Buddhist Tantra other than that of Vajrapani, but for now it will suffice to say that this was perhaps the most direct in human terms. No matter what we say about this vast topic of Vajrayana Buddhism, perhaps the most important thing is what Tantric vehicles mean or can mean to us in our lives. Of what practical use is the Vajrayana path? How does it improve our situation or transform it? Where will it lead humanity and us? Angst of ExistenceSince we are using words as our means of communication and I am claiming to talk about Tantra, we need to ask, “What is Tantra really?” The moment we are in this world, something rubs up against us telling us something is not quite right. We are in a vibrant, real situation where pleasure and pain are wrapped closely together. Something tells us there is a fundamental duality we have to cope with. We often become enmeshed in a series of mistakes, accidents, uncomfortable situations and feelings, awkwardness and unresolvedness. There is no doubt that all beings wish to have happiness and don’t know how to obtain it. They also wish to avoid suffering but are experts in obtaining it. We fill our lives with activities designed to correct this situation. We make houses to shelter us, get jobs to bring home the bacon and educate our children, and we seek companionship, sensuality and a bombardment of entertaining stimulation from all corners of the earth—from our spouses to TV to yoga classes, and even in unpleasant intrigue. But somehow, we never relieve ourselves of the basic angst we came into the world with. So we try another technique, and so on. Another product that promises to deal with, eliminate or minimize another problem we face. We are left with our awkward, unsettled, nervous selves once again, if not slightly improved in a temporary manner. Our gadgets didn’t do the final trick they were supposed to. Our incessant adherence to tradition and formulae also failed us. Our family life only disappointed us since it is impermanent. Our mental trickery and special exercise regimes helped us get a more shapely body and feel good about ourselves, but we still know we will die sooner or later and wonder what was the meaning of all that surrounds us? Are we here only to die or to say, “I got through it!”? In essence we failed to recognize who we are. Tantric PerfectionSo, as soon as we are born, our samsaric soup radiates all kind of ingredients that make us feel deeply dislocated and our society teaches us to spend a considerable amount of time burying this underlying set of feelings. For a Tantrik, these deep, consistent uncomfortable messages are none other than signals for us to wake up. All the spilled blood, disappointments, arguments, struggles and corruption, are signals to us about who we really are, who we have made ourselves into as individuals and as a society. Those who decide they are going to listen to the depth of these unpleasant messages in a fresh way and work with these energies with an open mind, have Tantric propensities. Those that try to use external methods to cover up or avoid these messages are in for a long haul. Chances are, if you have picked up this magazine, you are looking for something to benefit your life or help you solve a problem or feel better. You may feel that the magazine will hold some clue for you or skillful means but it is unlikely that you will accept or benefit from the simple statement that “everything is perfect the way it is”. Since most people fall into this category and since everyone feels their story is unique, the Tantra of instantaneous transformation helps us reach our true nature. Since we cannot easily accept that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be, we feel com
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