"The more we train to see ourselves as such
a meditational deity,
the less bound we will feel by life's ordinary disappointments and
This divine self-visualisation empowers us to take control of our
and create for ourselves a pure environment
in which our deepest nature can be expressed."
WHY IS TANTRA CALLED A SWIFT
"The wisdom that realizes emptiness, that
has gained insight into the nature of reality, is of varying kinds,
depending upon the level of subtlety of the consciousness perceiving
the emptiness. In general, there are rough levels of consciousness,
more subtle levels, and then the innermost subtle level of consciousness.
It is the uncommon characteristic of Tantric practice that through
it one can evoke this most subtle consciousness at will and put
it to use in a most effective way. For example, when emptiness
is realized by this subtlest level of mind, it is more powerful,
having a much greater effect on the personality.
In order to activate or make use of the more subtle levels of
consciousness, it is necessary to block the rougher levels--the
rougher or grosser levels must cease. It is through specifically
Tantric practices, such as the meditations on the chakras and
the channels, that one can control and temporarily abandon the
rougher levels of consciousness. When these become suppressed,
the subtler levels of consciousness become active. And it is through
the use of the subtlest level of consciousness that the most powerful
spiritual realizations can come about. Hence, it is through the
Tantric practice involving the most subtle consciousness that
the goal of enlightenment can most quickly be realized."
Discussions with Western Buddhists by the Dalai Lama
Depending on the specific lineage and class of
tantra, a Guru can demand that the disciple will commit to a daily
practice (like reciting a certain number of mantras or doing a daily
Next, a ritual is carried out in which the Guru transmits the potential
of the specific tradition of the practice and gives the permission
to practice. Highly qualified disciples sometimes achieve immediate
realisations due the combined power of this transmission and their
practice (maybe in previous lives).
If you seriously intend to take an initiation,
please verify the following beforehand:
- Do I have a reasonable understanding of renunciation, bodhicitta
and emptiness? (Please check out the page Preliminaries
- What are the prerequisites of this initiation? Am I prepared
to do the preliminaries?
- What are the vows I need to take? Am I willing to take aspiring
Bodhisattva, Bodhisattva or even tantric vows?
- Why do I really want to receive the permission for this practice?
Do I want to practice it, or is it only because everyone else
- What are the daily commitments? Am I prepared to do these daily
practices every day for the rest of my life?
- Are there retreat commitments? What does this retreat mean?
- Last, but perhaps even most important is the teacher.
Do I really have full confidence in him/her? Have I checked
this person out? Does the teacher accept me as his/her disciple?
The teacher/disciple relationship is extremely important in tantra.
an initiation, try to be very alert and aware of what is happening.
It is also very helpful to make notes of the visualisations and
aspects that happen during the ritual, like establishing your tantric
name, giving a mantra for the deity to practice etc.
If you are lucky, a commentary to the practice is given or even
a retreat may be organised after the initiation, also books may
be available on how to do the practice. It is best to check with
your teacher or more experienced other practitioners on these details.
An initiation allows one to engage in only one specific practice,
so it is important to note exactly what the practice is.
During an initiation many different ritual implements
are used, see also the page on tantric
Most initiations should be given to small groups
of disciples at a time; the Kalachakra practice is the famous exception
to this rule. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given this initiation
to hundreds of thousands of people at a time.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the meaning of initiation
or 'empowerment', from Dzogchen:
The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection
"As for empowerment in general, what does
the term wang, or empowerment, signify? To begin with, our fundamental
nature - what we term 'the buddha nature', or tathagatagarbha,
the very nature of our mind, is inherently present within us as
a natural attribute. This mind of ours, the subject at hand, has
been going on throughout beginningless time, and so has the more
subtle nature of that mind. On the basis of the continuity of
that subtle nature of our mind rests the capacity we have to attain
enlightenment. This potential is what we call 'the seed of buddhahood',
'buddha nature', 'the fundamental nature', or tathagatagarbha.
We all have this buddha nature, each and every one of us. For
example, this beautiful statue of Lord Buddha here, in the presence
of which we are now sitting, is a representation that honours
someone who attained buddhahood. He awakened into that state of
enlightenment because his nature was the buddha nature. Ours is
as well, and just as the Buddha attained enlightenment in the
past, so in the future we can become buddhas too.
...In any case, there dwells within us all this
potential which allows us to awaken into buddhahood and attain
omniscience. The empowerment process draws that potential out,
and allows it to express itself more fully. When an empowerment
is conferred on you, it is the nature of your mind - the buddha
nature - that provides a basis upon which the empowerment can
ripen you. Through the empowerment, you are empowered into the
essence of the buddhas of the five families. In particular, you
are 'ripened' within that particular family through which it is
your personal predisposition to attain buddhahood.
So, with these auspicious circumstances established
in your mindstream, and when you reflect on what is taking place
and maintain the various visualizations, the conditions are right
for the essence of the empowerment to awaken within you, as a
state of wisdom which is blissful yet empty - a very special state
that is the inseparability of basic space and awareness. As you
focus your devotion in this way, it allows this special quality
of mind, this new capability, as it were, to awaken."
Much of the popular confusion around tantra can
be traced back to two aspects: deity practice and sexual practice.
Deity practice is a profound meditation practice which uses the
projection of already being enlightened to speed up one's good potential
and reduce one's negative mind states. It is important to understand
that this should only be done from the perspective of emptiness
(or a mental arising from emptiness), otherwise one may not be much
different from the people behind bars in mental institutions who
claim to be Napoleon...
Green Tara - a popular female Buddha
If one imagines in deep meditation that one is
a perfect, loving being, free from the delusions of attachment,
anger and ignorance, one can notice a slight difference in attitude
after the meditation. For untrained minds, the time that one notices
some positive difference is brief. However, as with most things,
regular practice enhances the positive feeling and gradually one's
mind becomes habituated to a more positive state. (Remember that
meditation stands for habituating the mind to positive states.)
In the words of Lama Yeshe from "Introduction
"When you are ready, bring to mind your
bodhicitta motivation to work for the sake of others and make
the strong determination to arise in a form to which even more
beings can relate.
With this compassionate motive the seed-syllable suddenly transforms
into the transparent rainbow body of the deity itself. Understand
this as being the actual emanation body (nirmanakaya) of full
awakening that replaces the gross physical body of ordinary rebirth
and has the nature of simultaneous bliss and wisdom.
Once again, identify strongly with this appearance by thinking,
"This is the real nirmanakaya; it is who I really am."
In this way, then, ordinary rebirth is taken into the path as
the emanation body of a Buddha.
When you see yourself as a deity, you should feel that you are
the real emanation of the deity. Don't think that you are just
pretending; you should be convinced. Then, like the actor who
remains in character even after the play is finished, you might
surprise yourself to find that you have actually become the deity.
Such divine pride - the strong sense of actually being the deity
- is crucial. With it, tantric transformation will come naturally
and be very powerful. Those people who think that tantra is only
involved with pretending to be a deity are completely mistaken."
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, from 'Everyday
Consciousness and Buddha-Awakening':
"A beginner who visualizes the body of a
deity and does not know the distinctive characteristics of the
different aspects of consciousness would think that the deity
must be seen as clearly during the mental meditation as if seen
directly with the eyes. The eyes, however, have a much coarser
way of perceiving concrete forms. Beginners do indeed meditate
in the hope of attaining such clarity. Nevertheless, it will not
arise, because the meditation on a deity does not happen through
the medium of the eye consciousness, but through the medium of
the mind consciousness. The objects of the mind consciousness
are much less clear. The mind consciousness most definitely does
not work like the eye consciousness. That's why some meditators
who perceive a vague mental image think they are not capable of
meditating correctly on a deity. The result is that they develop
an aversion for the meditation. Those, however, who understand
that each consciousness perceives in a different way know that
images aren't as clear as the forms perceived with eyes, and therefore
they are content with their meditation. They know how to meditate,
do indeed so meditate, and thus their meditation works well."-
The main tantric practices can be summarised in the "Four Purities":
1. Seeing one's body as the body of the deity
2. Seeing one's environment as the pure land or mandala of the
3. Perceiving one's enjoyments as bliss of the deity, free from
4. Performing one's actions only for the benefit of others (bodhicitta
During the "generation stage", one imagines these
four purities and familiarises oneself with them. This usually involves
extensive visualisations and mental exercises to achieve single
pointed concentration on the emptiness of the deity and surroundings.
A typical aspect of tantra is that limitations and obstacles are
used and transformed in the path. The mental energy of anger is
transformed into powerful compassionate action, desire is transformed
into compassion for others, ignorance into omniscience etc., this
is quite something else then repressing our delusions, it requires
taking control over our deluded emotions.
At a very subtle level, body and mind are inseparable aspects. Both
mind and energies need to be fully controlled to make the transformation
to Buddhahood possible. Therefore, the extensive yogic practices
found in tantra are aimed at controlling the energies within the
body, like the practice of 'inner fire', 'Kundalini' (Skt.) or 'tummo'
During the "completion stage", the transformation to Buddhahood
gradually takes place, mainly while working with the subtle energies
in the channels and chakras. The main aim is to direct all energies
into the central channel.
The word 'mantra' means 'mind-protection'. It
protects the mind from ordinary appearances and conceptions. 'Mind'
here refers to all six consciousnesses -- eye, ear, nose, tongue,
body and mental consciousnesses -- which are to be freed, or protected,
from the ordinary world. There are two factors in mantra training,
pride in oneself as a deity and vivid appearance of that deity.
Divine pride protects one from the pride of being ordinary, and
divine vivid appearance protects one from ordinary appearances.
Whatever appears to the senses is viewed as the sport of a deity;
for instance, whatever forms are seen are viewed as the emanations
of a deity and whatever sounds are heard are viewed as the mantras
of a deity. One is thereby protected from ordinary appearances,
and through this transformation of attitude, the pride of being
a deity emerges. Such protection of mind together with its attendant
pledges and vows is called the practice of mantra.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsong-ka-pa and Jeffrey Hopkins from
Tantra in Tibet
^Top of Page
DECIDING WHICH TANTRA TO
From an interview of Alex Berzin with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Berzin: When practicing in the Gelug tradition,
is it only when we reach the complete stage that we need to decide
the specific Buddha-figure system through which we will reach
enlightenment for instance, through Kalachakra or through
the joint practice of Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, and Vajrabhairava?
His Holiness: You cannot practice both
[as your actual path for reaching enlightenment]. But, that doesnt
concern us now. When we reach the point at which we single-pointedly
practice the generation stage with fully qualified bodhichitta
and a correct understanding of voidness, and we decide fully to
devote ourselves to a course of generation and complete stage
practice, then it is best to find out whether we fulfill the defining
characteristics for someone who will reach enlightenment through
this path or that path. This will depend on our own physical condition
[particularly, which subtle energy-system is most prominent in
us] and on our previous karmic connections. Then, on this basis,
we definitely decide.
Berzin: On the generation stage?
His Holiness: We are not yet at the above
stage where we can concentrate fully on the generation stage,
so there is not much harm in practicing several systems. We just
simply get used to this generation stage or that, since we are
not yet devoting our entire energies and time. When all preparations
are finished and we can put all our energies into practice of
the generation stage alone, then that is the stage at which to
decide. Based on this decision, the complete stage of that particular
generation stage will follow. Thus, the generation and complete
stages are integrally related. It is impossible for someone fully
practicing the Guhyasamaja generation stage to transfer on the
complete stage to the Chakrasamvara complete stage.
In other words, first we need to ascertain very
clearly [in terms of our subtle energy-systems and so on] that
our stable connection is with the Kalachakra complete stage or
with the Guhyasamaja or Chakrasamvara one. Then, we would accordingly
practice that generation stage.
Berzin: Before we reach that point, is it helpful to practice
many generation stages?
His Holiness: That is what we do, and
it is better, because we make some connections with various practices
and lay instincts. That is helpful.
The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM,
very popular among Tibetans,
relates to Buddha Avalokiteshvara
The Sanskrit word 'mantra', contains the root 'man'
which means 'to think' and the syllable 'tra' which means 'tool'.
Thus, mantra is a 'tool for thinking'. A mantra is a sacred letter-form
and sound that contains the genetic essence of a specific energy.
Sometimes mantras are are defined as 'protectors of the mind'.
"It is the essence of the creative word,
the primal sounds that give shape to the relative reality filling
the ultimate reality of the void... The power and effect of a
mantra depend on the spiritual attitude, the knowledge and the
responsiveness of the individual. The sound of the mantra is not
a physical sound (though it may be accompanied by such a one)
but a spiritual one. It cannot be heard by the ears, but only
by the heart, and it cannot be uttered by the mouth but only by
the mind. The mantra has power and meaning only for the initiated...
Mantras are not 'spells', as even prominent Western scholars repeat
again and again... Mantras do not act on account of their own
'magic' nature, but only through the mind that experiences them."
Lama Anagarika Govinda from 'Foundations
of Tibetan Mysticism'
In Buddhism, most mantras are pronounced in the original Sanskrit.
OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SVAHA
is the mantra of Tara (see imabe above)
It should be noted that in all main religions much importance is
given to speech / the word / mantra. For example, in the Christian
bible it reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God". Similarly, in Hinduism,
the sound of OM takes an essential part in the creation of the universe.
The recitation of mantras is a very important
part in tantric practice, as it is used to transform the speech
as part of transforming our body, speech and mind into the respective
pure aspects of a Buddha). Like with other tantric practices, they
only become really effective after oral transmission from a teacher.
It is interesting to note also that even in the earliest Pali (Theravadin)
texts, mantras can be found for the purpose of warding off danger,
as well as for the creation of beneficial conditions.
"A mantra is something that you utter when
your body, speech and mind, and breath are at one in concentration.
When you dwell in that deep concentration, you look at things
and see them as clearly as you see an orange that you hold in
the palm of your hand. Looking deeply into the five skandhas,
Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin Bodhisattva) saw the nature of interbeing
and overcame all pain. He became completely liberated. It was
in that state of deep concentration, of joy, of liberation, that
he uttered something important. That is why his utterance is a
When two young people love each other, but the young man has not
said so yet, the young lady may be waiting for three very important
words. If the young man is a very responsible person, he probably
wants to be sure of his feeling, and he may wait a long time before
saying it. Then one day, sitting together in a park, when no one
else is nearby and everything is quiet, after the two of them
have been silent for a long time, he utters these three words.
When the young lady hears this, she trembles, because it is such
an important statement. When you say something like that not just
with your mouth or intellect, but with your whole being, it can
transform the world. A statement that has such power of transformation
is called a mantra."
Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart
Sutra" by Thich Nhat Hanh
A wonderful page on the mantra OM
MANI PADME HUM at Amitabha Hospice
You can find more information on mantras and several examples (including
the proper pronunciation) at Wildmind.org.
^Top of Page
SEXUALITY IN TANTRA
Please note that this very brief explanation
is merely intended to give a taste for the profundity of tantric
practice as antidote to what many people think is a mere superstitious
belief in thousands or strange "gods" with many arms and feet that
are having sex all the time. All the images and ritual involved
are merely intended to practice very advanced techniques for training
the mind and controlling subtle energies within one's body. It is
quite the opposite of ordinary sex with attachment and craving.
As mentioned above, part of the exercises in tantric
practice are involving controlling and transforming bodily energies.
Sexual energy happens to be one of the strongest forms of physical
energy; simply said, it is built-in by nature to ensure the survival
of the species. Also these sexual energies need to be completely
controlled and transformed. What is usually overlooked is that sexual
practices in tantra should be free from the ordinary desires
and lust, and only very advanced practitioners should try these
practices after permission from their teachers. Simply said,
it has very little to do with ordinary sex. Arousal of the sexual
energy is preferably done by just visualising a consort.
The union of male and female are symbolic for the union of method
or compassion and wisdom, or more specific in tantra, the union
of bliss and emptiness.
(See also Keith Dowman's website
for a more elaborate explanation.)
"Through the skillful methods of tantra,
meditators are able to cultivate pleasure in a way that actually
aids in spiritual progress. Afflicted grasping and desires based
on mistaken ideas are the problem, not happiness and pleasure.
If the pursuit of happiness and pleasure can be separated from
afflictive emotions, then it can be incorporated into the path
and will even become a powerful aid to the attainment of enlightenment."
to Tibetan Buddhism' by John Powers
This also illustrates one of the typical aspects
of tantra: rather than repressing negative emotions like attachment,
they are transformed into positive energy. But using this transformation
principle has two sides: it is not only a very effective means of
making mental changes, but if they are done without proper guidance
of a qualified teacher, the practitioner can easily increase negative
emotions rather than reducing them. So very powerful psychological
techniques like tantra need to be treated with much care and consideration
to avoid disastrous results for the practitioner.
WRATHFUL FORMS OF THE BUDDHAS
Many people (including myself) are confused when they
first see the representation of wrathful or fierceful (angry looking)
images in the Tibetan tradition, when someone explains that these
so-called Protectors are Buddhas, the confusion is complete - an
angry Buddha is a contradiction in terms? Thubten Chodron explains
to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator':
"Why are there fierce protectors? Peaceful
deities such as Tara have a certain energy that calms and gladdens
our mind. But sometimes our mind is so belligerent and stuck that
we need the kind of energy that goes "Pow!" to wake
us up or to pull us out of unproductive behavior. For this reason,
the Buddhas' wisdom and compassion appear in the form of these
wrathful deities to demonstrate clean-clear wisdom and compassion
that act directly. This active wisdom doesn't vacillate and pamper
us. This wisdom doesn't say, "Well, maybe," or, "Poor
you. You deserve to be treated well, not like that horrible person
treated you." Instead, it's forceful: "Cut it out! Stop
those false expectations and preconceptions right now!" Sometimes
we need that strong, wise energy to be in our face to wake us
up to the fact that our afflictions and old patterns of thought
and behavior are making us miserable."
So, once more, we need to realise that tantra is
very much a method, and not a goal as such. The aim is to realise
that only our own mind determines the way in which the world appears
to us, and then by changing the mind, we can change this appearance.
If we combine this insight with a compassionate motivation and advanced
energy practices, this technique will lead us to Buddhahood. However,
our mind tends to resists change, especially if our ego is under
threat, so in those cases, a 'kick in the butt' may well be necessary.
Just like we sometimes have to act wrathful to
make clear to a small child that something is very dangerous, similarly,
these angry-looking Buddhaforms can wake us up towards aspects of
our own deluded mind. The power of tantra here is again to redirect
the force of a negative emotion like anger towards negative aspects
of the mind in order to transform them into positive attitudes like
love and compassion. Directing anger-energy makes a powerful antidoteagainst
our own negative emotion of anger. (See for example the meditation
on anger on how this process works.)
IS BUDDHIST TANTRA DERIVED FROM
It is often claimed that Buddhist tantra is a derivative
from tantric practices of Shivaism, but in fact, the reverse may
be true. Although there are striking external resemblances, the
differences in methods and aims are much more significant.
As Benoytosh Bhattacharyya notes in his 'Buddhist
"it is possible to declare, without fear
of contradiction, that the Buddhists were the first to introduce
the tantras into their religion, and that the Hindus borrowed
them from the Buddhists in later times, and that it is idle to
say that later Buddhism is an outcome of Saivaism. .. The literature,
which goes by the name of the Hindu Tantras, arose almost immediately
after the Buddhist ideas had established themselves."
If you are seriously interested of engaging in
tantric practice, the index page 'Tantra
Teachings' of Berzin Archives leads to some essential reading.
More information on initiations can be found on the Khandro.net
Have a look at the page of Keith
Dowman to see a large number of deity images.
On mantras: Wildmind.org
Buddhism in India is a brief but interesting article from Wisdom
Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.
Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
updated: May 8, 2011