Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche - Vajrayana Unpacked

An excellent article from the Spring issue of Buddhadharma, which I am just now getting around to reading (yeah, so, I'm a little behind). Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche offers a great explication of "The View of Vajrayana."
KHENPO KARTHAR RINPOCHE is the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, the North American seat of the Seventeeth Karmapa, located in Woodstock, New York. This teaching is adapted from The Quintessence of the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen: The Practical Instructions of the Noble Great Compassionate One, Chenrezik, by Karma Chakme Rinpoche, with commentary by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, published by KTD Publications, 2007.
So here is the article.
Vajrayana Unpacked

The Vajrayana teachings offer a direct path to enlightenment, many people find them strange and confusing. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche presents a clear explanation of the view of Vajrayana and its main practices of generation and completion, based on a song by the great seventeenth-century yogi, Karma Chakme Rinpoche.

The root meaning: the path of generation and completion’s union.
This has what has to be known and what has to be meditated.

In the fifth song of The Quintessence of the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen: The Practical Instructions of the Noble Great Compassionate One, Chenrezik, Karma Chakme Rinpoche describes a path that consists of the unification or integration of the generation stage (the visualization of a deity or deities) and the completion stage (which in this case refers to recognition of the mind’s nature). This path is presented as two things that can be practiced simultaneously and do not necessarily have to be practiced separately. The song has two parts: what is to be understood and what is to be meditated on. The meaning is profound and extensive. What is to be understood is the actual view behind all deity meditation, and what is to be practiced is the main meditation of this path.

The View of Vajrayana

The essence of the mind of all beings
Is primordially the essence of buddhahood.
Its empty essence is the birthless dharmakaya.
Its clear distinct appearances are the sambhogakaya.
Its unceasing compassion is the variegated nirmanakaya.
The inseparable union of those three is the svabhavikakaya.
Its eternal changelessness is the mahasukhakaya.

The view is to be understood as follows: The nature of the mind of all sentient beings, irrespective of any obscurations that may obscure or conceal it, has from the very beginning been buddha. There is an inherent wakefulness and perfection to the mind of each and every being. In fact, this is what the mind of each and every being is. In and of itself, it is free of all defects and complete with all qualities, and therefore the nature of the mind can be called buddha. Even though we have become confused and wander through samsara, that basic nature has not degenerated, and even when we attain full awakening, that nature itself will not improve. The nature of the mind remains unaffected; in other words, it is the same in both the context of ground and in the context of fruition. Its essential emptiness is the dharmakaya, the essential nature of the mind that is free from arising, abiding, and cessation. Nevertheless your mind is not just empty; it is vivid, lucid, and cognitive. That characteristic or appearance of the mind as a lucidity that is unmixed in its experience of appearances is the sambhogakaya, or body of complete enjoyment. The actual display of that lucidity, the goodness or responsiveness and compassion of the mind, which is unlimited and unceasing in its variety, is the nirmanakaya.

When we speak of them in these terms, these three seem different from one another. The mind’s emptiness, its clarity, and the arising of appearances within the mind are not in and of themselves substantial, but rather they are the appearance of that which is without inherent existence, like a rainbow. Although these three sound different, they are not three different things, but are in fact a unity. That unity, which is the mind itself, is the svabhavikakaya, or essence body. This unity also never changes: it does not improve at the time of fruition, nor does it degenerate under other circumstances, so therefore it is called the mahasukhakaya, or body of great bliss.

This primordial innate presence in yourself
Was not created by the compassion of the buddhas, by the blessing of the gurus,
Or by the profound special essentials of the dharma.
Wisdom has primordially been present in this way.
All sutras and tantras are in accord on this.

From the very beginning, this primordial wisdom has been inherent in each and every person. It is innate; it is something that we are never without; we never lose it nor deviate from it. Because it is and has always been the unity of emptiness and lucidity, the path that corresponds in characteristic to the ground is therefore the unity of these two stages, generation and completion. This unity itself, which has always been the nature of our minds and which we have never been without, is not produced by the path. The path corresponds in characteristic to the qualities of the ground, but the path does not produce the ground, it only reveals it.

This perfect nature of mind has not arisen because of the compassion of the buddhas, the blessing of the guru, nor through the profound meaning of dharma, such as through its understanding or practice. It is not produced by any of these things; it is not produced at all. It has always been there, from the very beginning, although we can never find a beginning; therefore not only was it not produced, but it is also not the case that at some point this nature was pure and then somehow we degenerated from it. The mind has always been what it is in and of itself, but it has not been recognized. This has been presented the same way in all the sutras and tantras. Here, all sutras primarily refers to Mahayana sutras.

Then why are we wandering in samsara?
We do this because of the delusion of not knowing ourselves.
For example, it’s like seeing a man who has gold hearthstones
But does not know they are gold and suffers from starvation.
Being given the direct recognition of this is the great kindness of the guru.

If your mind has from the very beginning been uncreated purity and perfection, then you might ask why we wander in samsara. It is because from the very beginning we have never recognized our own nature. This is not to say that we degenerated from a former state of recognition, but rather there never was such a state of recognition. We have always looked outward at appearances, and because we look at them and do not recognize them, we mistake them as being fundamentally separate from the mind to which they appear. In other words, although appearances as the display of the mind are the spontaneously present three kayas, we do not recognize them as such, and therefore we misapprehend them to be what they are not. The use of the word bewilderment or mistake or confusion indicates that we are not seeing things as they are. Our way of seeing things in samsara is a deviation from the truth. We are mistaken. We are seeing things as they are not, and this in fact is what samsara is.

The text gives an analogy that concerns an extremely poor person whose entire house is made of gold, but he does not realize this. The person is so impoverished that he is actually starving. Of course, the person could feed himself if he knew there was gold in the house, but not knowing that, he is starving. This is why the pointing out of the nature of your mind to be gold, to be perfect, is such an act of kindness. If someone came to that poor person and said, “You do not have to starve; there is gold right there,” that would completely change that person’s life.

You may recognize the gold, but that will not dispel the hunger;
You must sell it, and prepare food by frying,
Cooking, or roasting it, and then eating it will end the hunger.
In the same way, after the guru gives you the direct recognition,
Through practice, your mistake will be eliminated and you will be liberated.

This illustrates why merely receiving the pointing out of your mind’s nature is not sufficient by itself. If someone came and told the person that they had gold, that alone would not alleviate their hunger; they would have to use the gold, exchanging it for grain or other food, which they would then have to cook and prepare for eating. The text follows the model of tsampa, or roasted barley flour. You first have to roast the barley and then grind it into flour. The poor person could use the gold to buy provisions, cook the food, and then eat, and in that way alleviate all hunger.

Similarly, merely receiving the introduction to your mind’s nature, the pointing out of your mind’s nature, does not remove your bewilderment or misapprehension. You can only become liberated from bewilderment by applying in your practice what was pointed out.

The Generation Stage Practice

The Mahayana sutras and the Mantrayana tantras are in agreement
That your own mind is, in that way, buddhahood.
However the sutras do not provide the direct recognition
That your body is buddhahood, and therefore it is a long path,
Achieving buddhahood after three incalculable aeons.

All the sutras of the Mahayana and the tantras of the Vajrayana are in agreement on the nature of mind being buddha. The difference is that the path of the sutras is very long, because the fact that the nature of the physical body is also buddha is not actually pointed out, whereas the path of the tantras is short because this is pointed out. Further, in the tantras and in the highest and final level of the Mahayana sutras, the third dharmachakra, there is a more direct identification of the innate qualities that are spontaneously present within the mind’s nature. Below that—in the common sutras up to and including the second dharmachakra—the nature of things, and therefore the nature of the mind, is primarily described in terms of what it is not; that is, it is mostly pointed out as being emptiness. But here a distinction is being made more in terms of pointing out spontaneously present qualities within the mind (the text simply says, the direct recognition that your body is buddhahood) as opposed to simply pointing out the mind.

Because of the lack of a precise identification of the inherent qualities within the ground in the common path of the sutras, it takes even those of the highest capacity three periods of innumerable aeons to complete this common path and attain buddhahood. For example, that is how long it took Buddha Shakyamuni. Many other buddhas take as long as thirty-seven periods of innumerable aeons.

The highest tantras have the methods for attaining buddhahood within one lifetime.
They are profound because of the direct recognition of your own body as the deities.
Therefore, the highest tantras teach in complete detail
That your own body is the mandala of the deity,
Such as Samvara, Guhyasamaja, the eight herukas, and so on.

The reason why you can attain buddhahood in one lifetime according to the higher tantras, the anuttara yoga tantras, is that the method of those tantras is based on the identification of the nature of your body as buddha. Each of the higher tantras has its own way of explaining that the nature of your physical body is the mandala of deities. In specific terms, it will be described as the mandala of that specific tantra, such as Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja of the new tradition, or the eight great sadhanas or eight herukas of the old tradition. In any case, the fact that the nature of not only the mind, but also the body, is buddha is explained extensively in all anuttara yoga tantras.…

What does the practice consist of that brings about the manifestation of these qualities? It consists of all the practices of purifying obscurations and gathering the accumulations, but especially the visualization of deities, recitation of mantras, and resting your mind in the even placement of samadhi. As you go through these practices, gradually as your familiarization with these innate qualities increases, your degree of obscuration—cognitive obscuration, mental afflictions, and karmic obscuration—decreases. As this happens, you come correspondingly closer and closer to buddhahood or awakening.…

Go read the rest of this article.

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