Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Is Zen Vajrayana? - 2

I believe there are various tradtions in Zen. Some of them may use result as a path.

This is a really interesting question. I don't think that any of the traditions practice result as path in the sense that Vajrayana teachings teach it. However, interestingly enough, Soto Zen (rather than Rinzai Zen) has some teachings which mirror this aspect.

Rinzai Zen's teachings on koans are very much a progressive teaching which gradually develops one's Insight or Realisation as one 'passes' each Koan in turn. It is very much a teaching which emphasises a gradual approach of deepening insight through
practicing on the causes of gaining realisation.

However, in Soto Zen, the main practice is shikan-taza, translated as 'just sitting'. Here, one in a sense practice itself *is* enlightenment already. So one is already a Buddha, as one practices. In a sense, one practices being a Buddha. However, it is not practicing on the result in the same sense as Vajrayana, more an employment of skilful means whereby one refuses to accept the dualism between enlightened and unenlightened, and between practicing and not-practicing.

There is a relation here between this 'similarity' to Vajrayana means in that Soto Zen is what is known as the 'sudden' school, whereas Rinzai Zen is the 'gradual' school.

I think there's a clear difference here in Soto Zen, which has methods which continually point the practicioner to avoid thinking in terms of practice/not practice (ie, meditating/not meditating), and enlightened/not enlightened, and that of Vajrayana, which largely emphasises the identification with the realised form and
qualities themselves as the means.

Practice on Yidams is important part of Vajrayana, but it also has methods which use direct insight, rather than identifications with forms of energy and lights.

I'm not quite sure if you actually mean this? Direct Insight methods, or Vipassana are not limited to Vajrayana, nor are they a sign of it. Vippassana methods are found in Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana vehicles equally. Each of the vehicles has Samatha methods and Vippassana methods. For example, within the Deity practice of
Vajrayana, the generation stage is mainly a samatha method, and the completion stage is a vippassana method (or direct insight method). Perhaps you could clarify if you are using direct insight in another sense to the common one?

Different methods do not exclude each other, they may be combined to reach the goal - you may read "Mahamudra, Eliminating Darkness of Ignorance" by 9 Karmapa for more details. Even though he mentions Yidam meditations, he does not make emphasis on them as main method, and mentions it only in context of "practicing Mahamudra in phase of creation".

That is because the aforementioned text is a Mahamudra text rather than a Vajrayana text, is it not, as are all three of HH9 Karmapas main texts?

The mapping of Mahamudra to Vajrayana would not be correct for a number of reasons. Firstly, Mahamudra has Sutra-Mahamudra, Tantra- Mahamudra, and Essense-Mahamudra as it's three modes, so only part of its methods and views relate to Vajrayana, and there it's emphasis is different to mainstream Vajrayana.

Secondly, whilst in a sense Mahamudra could be said to be a sub-set or variation on Vajrayana, in another sense it is a vehicle which follows on from Vajrayana, or even one which runs parallel to it, depending on how you look at it. It is a complete path in itself, which doesn't necessitate following any of the other three vehicles
per se, as it includes methods and views which perform the same functions as those within it's own teachings.

Of course, traditionally, when you have finished Ngondro, one may be led to proceed by one's guru to either Deity Vajrayana methods, or Mahamudra methods, following the pointing out instructions. At a further stage, the other fundamental class of Kagyu methods, the teachings of means - the Six Yogas of Naropa might also be given.
Most often, Vajrayana methods and Mahamudra methods are practiced in tandem, for most people.

Wangchuk Dorjes texts do indeed cover a range of teachings, but they are Mahamudra teachings, not mainstream Vajrayana.

As always, I'd wish to emphasise two things - that if you push definitions too far, then they tend to dissolve before your eyes, as reality is more fluid and complex than concepts can ever be. Secondly, what counts is direct perception, rather than analysis. Having said that, I believe there to be value in clarity of analysis
as a basis for practice ....

with very best wishes in your practice

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Is Zen Vajrayana? - 1

Hi, regarding whether Zen is considered a Vajrayana 'way', I would say that it isn't when considered by the most important criteria. If the major factor which distinguishes the Vajrayana from Mahayana and Hinayana is the fact that it uses the result as the path, whereas the other two yanas use the cause as the path, then Zen is most definitely not Vajrayana. It is very much about creating the conditions and developing the qualities which will lead you to Enlightenment. Vajrayana, as we know, is very much about focussing on the already present qualities of Enlightenment. Hence, the use of such things as Deity practice, with all that follows from that.

Isn't at least one of the Zen traditions - Rinzai Zen - Vajrayana?

There are indeed a number of branches of Zen, all of which follow Chinese traditions, and all of them are very much Mahayana in view and method, Rinzai Zen included.

Zen teachings sound quite close to some of Vajarayana teachings

One interesting aspect of Zen which it does have in common with Kagyu Dharma is that it is based on the third turning of the wheel of Dharma teachings, ie, on those of Tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature) teachings, and on the 'Three Natures' teaching. To that extend, it also has a flavour to it which very much focusses on the fullness of
qualities which are present in the Enlightened mind, and present in Emptiness, which Kagyu Dharma also has.

Another commonality with Kagyu Mahamudra is that Zen practice, like that of the Theravada, is very simple in its core and that simplicity is in many ways its strength, for those that are karmically attracted to that path. Whether you are doing Koan practice in Rinzai Zen, or doing 'Just sitting' practice in Soto Zen, either way, there is very little for you to work with, very little for you to get caught up in and lost in (such as intellectual ramifications), and so you are forced to focus your efforts Dharmically. For those so inclined, this can be a very powerful means indeed. Sometimes simple is indeed best!

However, as noted above, the practice is very much on the causes rather than on the results, so is not Vajrayana. Of course, that does not diminish it's effectiveness or value, if that is what you are karmically predisposed to. And of course, much of Kagyu Dharma is not Vajrayana either, for that matter.

For Lin Zi personally, I have very special gratitude.

thank you for sharing your very inspiring description of your inspiration from reading and reflecting on Lin Chi. Many of the Chinese and Japanese hermits writings are so stunningly direct, and evocative indeed.

with best wishes in the Dharma

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

What are Mahamudra Methods?

Could you explain what are Mahamudra methods? Is every melting with a budda aspect already a Mahamudra method? Maybe the 3-Light-Meditation of the sixteenth Karmapa is the only method which I would call Mahamudra method.

I suspect that your questions are to a certain degree a matter of which angle you are looking from. By that I mean, depending on how you define things, you will get different answers to your questions.

So, broadly speaking, one could say that all the methods in the Kagyu teachings are Mahamudra methods. That is, all of the practices and teachings of the Kagyus are all designed to allow the realisation of Mahamudra to arise, and all help you progressively move to that realisation. As such, every Kagyu teaching, from the Four Ordinary Foundations (the four thoughts that turn the mind), to the Four Extraordinary foundations (Refuge and Bodhicitta, Vajrasattva etc) are all imbued with the view of Mahamudra and are therefore Mahamudra teachings.

On the other hand, it is more usual to look upon the teachings of the Kagyus as being divided into those which are preparation for Mahamudra, and Mahamudra itself. In that case, the three sets of Foundations - the Four thoughts, Ngondro, and the Four Special Foundations are all preparation for Mahamudra, but *not* actually Mahamudra itself.

From this point of view, all these methods and practices actually prepare the ground in terms of purifying karma, and accumulating merit and wisdom so that the Guru is able with his 'Pointing out instructions' to give you the basis for Mahamudra meditation. Having received this direct pointing out, you then engage in the Enhancement practices which stabilise this realisation, and allow you to develop it to its greatest extent.

As you can see, to an extent it depends on how you look at it. Traditionally at least, you are not even actually meditating until you are on the First Bhumi! Similarly, whatever you are doing, until you have received pointing out instructions and have directly recognised the nature of your mind, you are not yet practicing Mahamudra.

So turning to the specifics of your questions ....

As the 3 lights meditation on HH16 Karmapa is a form of Guru Devotion, it would most usually be included as a variation on one of the Four Extraordinary Foundations (Ngondro), and therefore preceeds Mahamudra, and is not therefore Mahamudra itself.

As far as 'melting with a Buddha aspect' is concerned, it sounds as if you are describing the Completion Stage of a Vajrayana Deity practice. Vajrayana deity practices have a Generation (or Creation) stage, where one manifests the deity concerned, and engages in a variety of methods to develop ones clarity and awareness, and then enters the Completion Stage where you are engaged with formless meditation, and rest in the nature of the mind.

Generally speaking, Deity practices are a key method of the Vajrayana. Mahamudra meditation may have an object, or it may not, and it also may be sutric, vajrayanic, or essense, and finally it may be Shamata Mahamudra or Vipassana Mahamudra, but either way, it generally doesn't involve deity visualisation (though there are exceptions to that generalisation).

Having said all of that, it seems to me that the most important thing as always is that all the teachings are able to take us to Enlightenment, and as such are all equally valuable. Whether something is labelled Mahamudra or not may not be the most important thing. For example, a common Tibetan saying is that 'the Foundations are more profound than the actual practices themselves'.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that even when a practice isn't really Mahamudra, if you have received some Mahamudra teachings, it's almost inevitable that you will bring some 'flavour' of Mahamudra to that other practice, in the light of any realisation you may have had from those Mahamudra teachings.

I very much hope that may be of some use to you .... and that I managed to answer your questions to some degree?

with best wishes

How to Practice the Four Foundations

Hi *******, I'm not sure if I understand the main part of your email - are you referring to the Four Ordinary Foundations, ie, the four thoughts which turn the mind to Dharma and away from Samsara? That's what I understood. However, I notice you received a wonderful reply on the Four Extraordinary Foundations from *****. Perhaps at this stage, I won't go into any great detail, but just respond to your points below?

>1. When refer practice, does it mean contemplative, meditative or

Generally, practice entails the three wisdoms. That is, when engaging with teachings, the first thing one does is Study, (or the Wisdom of Listening, as it is traditionally called). So study is practice, it is the basis of practice. That study may be listening to the words of your teacher, or reading the words of the Buddhas, and Gurus. In the Kagyu tradition, the words of your Guru are taken as being primary importance, over and above those of the Buddhas.

Then, the second wisdom, or method of practice, is to Reflect. So, you take the teachings which you have received from your teacher, or studied from texts, and you reflect on them. This may take the form of analysing them, of comparing different versions of that teaching, of looking at how that teaching reflects in your own experience, in your own mind. It may involve discussion with others. It is sometimes likened to a bird circling around a pool ... you keep circling round and round the subject at hand. Or, another metaphor for reflection is the dropping of a pebble in a pool, and the ripples from that. You drop the subject matter into your mind, and watch the reflections that arise.

Then, finally, one is ready for the third aspect of practice, on that particular aspect of the teachings, which is the wisdom of Meditation. So, having reflected on that teaching, you allow a state of some clarity to develop in your mind, and you bring that subject to mind, within that mind of clarity, and hold your awareness on your understanding of that teaching.

The three wisdoms are progressive, at least in terms of depth of understanding and realisation, but one moves backwards and forwards between them on any particular subject matter ....

I hope that covers contemplation (reflection), and meditation in your question. Ritualistic? Well, ritual is just a support for meditation, a means by which one generates realisations. Bringing symbolic meanings to all ones actions helps you to deepen your meditation experience. Ritual is therefore practice in the sense that it is a way in which one uses certain experiences (ie, certain actions) to point towards other experiences. (in a sense!!!!). Ritual is also taken as referring to a sequence of actions of body, speech and mind, such as in a sadhana, which progressively lead through a deepening of view and practice, to induce realisation.

>2. There are teachings on the websites on four foundations, but what
>about road map or milestone of the actual practices?

Well, as in the other excellent reply to your mail from Baldo, I'd suggest that the teachings given there and elsewhere are a very good roadmap indeed, and one shouldn't worry too much about milestones. When you have any serious issues arising from your practice and experience, I'm sure you'll be able to ask a qualified teacher for guidence :-)

>3. Are all four 'states' (if I may?) to be 'practice' sequentially or

If this refers to the four thoughts, then yes, they are practiced sequentially as part of most (if not all Kagyu sadhanas). However, the effectiveness of those parts of the sadhana is to a large degree dependent on how you have practiced those teachings prior to the meditation. By which I mean that you should employ the three wisdoms described above to really go deeply into the four reflections, taking one at a time, or one part of each at a time, and really get to grips with each one. Then, when they arise during a sadhana, the benefits of that practice will instantly arise during the sadhana. So, outside of the sadhana, you can study them in any order at a particular time, but the sequence they are given in has a progression to it, so overall, they are a series of four progressive reflections, and thus can be studied with that in mind.

>I found the teaching in Diamond Way website, title: "The Four Thoughts
>which Turn the Mind" from Samsara by Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche. How to
>convert this into practical practices as in practice?

I'd merely mention again using the method outlined above, of study, reflection, and meditation ....

very best wishes

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Shangpa Rinpoche Online - Version 2!

Very happy indeed to put the new version of my precious teacher's website up:
Shangpa Rinpoche Online

I've done a major redesign, with layout now all controlled by CSS. Gonna gradually pour all the old content back into this new persentation container.

Pleased indeed that the design gives off a very strong impression of Rinpoche himself, and of his Dharma activity.

And so pleased to have the opportunity in some small way to help him with his work :-)