Monday, July 11, 2005

Tara and Machig Labdron

At the age of fourty-one, Machig Labdron stayed in a retreat cave in Chipug which was blessed for practice. On the fourth day of the last month of spring, in the middle of the night, the majestic Lady Tara appeared, surrounded by numerous dakinis. She bestowed on Machig the four initiations of the five primordial Buddhas according to the Udumvara Tantra...

Thereupon Machig composed a hymn of praise to each of the five Buddha families and later improvised another one in twenty-one stanzas to Tara herself. She then addressed Tara as follows: "You have shown me great kindness and given me the most extraordinary power of initiation and blessing. Yet I don't know if a woman like me, not particularly bright, and of feeble capacities, will be able to accomplish the benefit of beings..."

Tara smiled, then after a quick glance at the dakinis of her entourage, she said: "Yogini, do not feel discouraged! In the course of previous lives you have studied and mastered the meaning of the scriptures of Sutra and Tantra. So today it is sufficient for me to reveal this meaning to you through mere symbols. You are a mind emanation of the Great Mother Yum Chenmo: we are inseparable. You are the wisdom dakini, the sovereign of the Vajradhatu and the source of the liberation of all phenomena. Don't lose heart. Keep your determination."

But Machig replied: "How could I possibly be an emanation of the Great Mother, inseparable from you? And in what way am I the source of the liberation of all phenomena? And where is the residence of the Great Mother?"

Tara answered, "Yogini, although in your innermost heart there is clear knowledge about the past, listen carefully and I'll explain it to you. The one known as the primordial Mother Yum Chenmo is the ultimate nature of all phenomena, emptiness, the essence of reality, free from the two veils. She is the pure expanse of emptiness, the knowledge of the non-self. She is the matrix which gives birth to all the Buddhas of the three times.

"However, so as to enable all sentient beings to accumulate merit, the Great Mother appears as an object of veneration through my aspirations and prayers for the sake of all beings. And so, through the power of my wishes and compassion, from the dharmata there appears bright light in the shape of an orange-colored bindu marked with the syllable MUM, ablaze with light. In turn this transforms into the Great Mother Yum Chenmo, golden in color, with one face and four hands, sitting in the vajra posture, her body beautiful with all the major and minor marks of a Buddha. Surrounded by her princely sons, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions, Yum Chenmo resides in the Gandavyuha sphere of the celestial pure land of Akanistha, in a marvelous celestial palace.

"From my heart there radiates a greenish-black ray of light marked with the syllable HUNG and it enters into the Mother's heart, awaking her. Then it radiates out again gathering the power of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions and it dissolves again into the Mother's heart. Instantly, she transforms into a sky-blue dakini with one face and four hands. She is the sovereign of Vajhradhatu. From her body, speech, mind, qualities and activity appear innumerable manifestations. Among these, the mind emanation is the bluish-black Vajra Lady with one face and two hands who subjugates all demons. On the crown of her head is a boar's head emerging from her hair. Her splendor illuminating the three worlds, she gathers all the dakinis under her power. She sets all demonic forces to work as her servants; she is the source of the liberation of all phenomena.

"Now this Vajra Lady, who subjugates all demons for the sake of all sentient beings, took numberous births in appropriate times and places. She mastered the Pitakas and accomplished tremendous deeds for the sake of living beings. Finally she took birth in Tibet. She is no other than yourself, Shining Light of Lab."


Edou, Jerome. Machig Labdron and the Foundations of Chod. Snow Lion Publications, 1996, pp. 151-152.

This has always been one of my favourite passages from Machig's Namthar (spiritual biography) .... her direct meeting with Tara, and Tara's introduction to her true identity and the dispelling of her remaining doubts. Wonderful!!!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Prayer of Compassion following London Bombing

May the lives of ailing sentient beings be extended and made meaningful.
May those who are suffering from hunger or thirst obtain sustenance,
Those who are afflicted by external fears become fearless,
And everything that beings desire be granted exactly as they wish.
May all sentient beings do good and swiftly attain enlightenment.
May those in power rule with justice,
Governments be of service and ministers endowed with wholesome qualities,
And the public remain at peace at all times.
May all sentient beings be free from all possible forms of suffering.
May they attain liberation,
Their minds be free of unwholesome states,
And their time devoted to realizing their true nature.
May their be bountiful harvests in all lands.
May there be no sickness or any threat to life,
No conflict between self and others,
and peace and prosperity everywhere.
May limitless sentient beings in the ten directions be free from suffering.
May whatever they put their mind to bear fruit,
And may they attain bliss
As a result of the merit accumulated from this prayer.

'Kindly Bent to Ease Us'

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

How Mantras Work

I thought I'd post on the nature of mantras and how they work, as I've recently responded to a question asking this on a Dharma list ....

Firstly though, I'd like to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestions already made that the way to truly find out what mantras are and how they work is through their practice. I suppose I should also say in passing that scientific explanations or common sense aren't necessarily going to help anyone much .... what one needs is dharma, so would not a dharmic explanation be more efficacious?

Having said that, I'd like to share something from the point of view of the four Yanas.

Mantras primarily appear in the context of Vajrayana, though they also appear in Mahayana practice too. But it might be useful to respond to your question from each Yana in turn?

From a Hinayana point of view, what we are primarily doing is recognising those dharmas which are unskilful and unhelpful to our development, and seeking to avoid them and to avoid cultivating them. So anything that helps us to stay away from those aspects of mind which are seen as unpure and unskilful could play a part in Hinayana practice. So we could use a mantra in such a way that it keeps us away from unskilful thoughts of greed, hatred and delusion through simply keeping the mantra in awareness. As long as we are fully concentrated on the mantra, then there is no space for unskilful thoughts. Indeed, one of the main ways that the word 'mantra' is translated is as 'that which protects the mind' (from the unskilful). Do you recognise this approach of eradicating unskilful states on mind in your use of mantras?

From a Mahayana point of view, what are we trying to do? We are moving away from a model of renunciation, and moving towards one where we are more accomodating and subtle. This model is one of purification, and we use mantras in the Mahayana to purify our minds. Through seeing the empty nature of both mantras and that which they seek to purify, and also the compassionate energy of that which they symbolise of the enlightened mind, we purify the unskilful dharmas in our minds through the use of mantra. In a sense, we are applying an antidote to those unskilful mental states. So can you recognise that method and view when you use mantras?

From a Vajrayana point of view, we move away from purification as a model, and employ a view and methods of transformation. As mantras are central to Vajrayana practice, I'll say a little more here. When one practices Vajrayana, the central difference to that of Hinayana and Mahayana is that you are no longer trying to create causes for enlightenment. With Vajrayana, you are practicing the result of enlightenment, as it were. You practice the result to bring about the result. So in this way, we practice enlightened speech in order to transform our deluded speech into the speech of the Buddhas. And that is precisely what the mantra is - the speech of the Buddha. Whilst we are also visualising our bodies as that of the Buddha in our Completion stage of a Deity meditation, and practicing seeing our minds as that of the Buddha, especially in the completion stage, we therefore work on body, speech and mind to transform it from unpure to pure. And mantras are therefore a part of that process.

Another aspect of Vajrayana usage of mantras is that in Vajrayana we continually learn to associate the deluded with the undeluded. By this I mean that we don't reject dharmas, and we don't really seek to purify them. Instead, we simply transform them by making the association of each unskilful mental state with the skilful mental state of a Buddha. So whatever arises for us is seen as part of the Buddhas mandala - body, speech and mind are all displays of the deity and their mandala. So we take our speech, and constantly associate it with the Buddhas speech through the use of mantras. You could also say that mantras symbolise the Buddhas speech, and this is perhaps the more usual way of putting this point I am now making, but I think that putting it in terms of habitual association brings out the transformative nature of the action a little stronger perhaps than the model of the symbol does. So again, can you see how your use of mantras fits into the view and methods of Vajrayana, and how you transform your mind through them?

Finally, a short mention for the forth yana, that of the Sahajayana, or the vehicle of co-emergence. This is what we commonly know as Mahamudra.

From a mahamudra point of view, what are we doing? We are primarily looking into the nature of the mind, in order to directly recognise that nature. So here we've moved away from renouncing, purifying and even transforming dharmas. Here the method is self-liberation, and so when we meditate we see how dharmas naturally self-liberate - we don't have to do anything to them at all. Furthermore, we see that all dharmas have the same nature - they are all empty, and yet there are appearances. Mind is seen as empty, yet there are appearances, and minds activity is unceasing.

So how would we view and work with mantras from a Mahamudra perspective? Primarily, we look directly at the nature of the mantra, and recognise that as being no different to the nature of mind at rest, mind with appearances, or mind with any other thought. Ultimately, they are all the same - all empty of substance and substantiality. Of course, from a relative point of view, we'd see differences in how they appear, and so this we could see when we cause a mantra to arise in our mind. In a sense, in Mahamudra shamatha, we are just placing the mind on a pure object, rather than an impure object in the case of the breath, or a pebble, for example. And in the case of Mahamudra vipassana, we investigate the nature of how the mantra appears, and how it truly exists, just as we would with any other phenomena. So again, can you recognise anything of this view and method in your use of mantra?

I hope that this will give you a little more to work with in terms of understanding what a mantra is and how it works. And hope that a dharmic perspective will give you something more valuable than any other perspective.

And finally to go back to the beginning, as it were, and to reiterate that the 'proof is in the pudding' as they say in England - so to truly know what a mantra is and how it works this must be done experiencially - in your practice, and in your person.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Live 8 and Dharma

The most powerful moment of the concerts for me was when Madonna brought on the Ethiopian woman who had last been seen as a blighted, starving child in a video shown at the Live Aid concerts 20 years ago.

It seemed inconceivable that the terrible wretch in the video was now the radiant and stunningly beautiful woman who seemed to glide across the stage. She truly seemed to appear as an angelic vision.

How emotional to know that at least one being had been rescued from that intense suffering by the caring and kind actions of beings on that day 20 years ago. If only one being was helped to this degree, then it was all worth it, but how many more were helped? It was extraordinary to know that yes, good things do happen in the world, (despite the news), and that the mass of people out there do act from generosity and kindness at least some of the time. Compassion is alive and well in the most unpromising of sources, perhaps.

For myself, I was struck afterwards that this moment was the conjunction of many things. The powerful effect seeing this woman had on me was the result of many causes and conditions coming together - dependent origination. Why it sparked so much off in me, (and seemingly not in others) was the direct result of all that which came together in the moment between me and the TV set. For others, different conditions obtained.

So there isn't an inherent existence in anything. No two people will respond alike to any one thing, as there isn't anything solid and final in what they watch, or in themselves. Just an infinity of conditions, ebbing and flowing, coming together and then dissipating, and perhaps unique conjunctions in a moment of time.

So where did my extraordinary response come from? My floods of tears on seeing her radiance, and her previously pitiful condition? What were the conditions that brought that about?

I don't really know what they were, just that an infinity of conditions there must be. And that that is true in all situations in life, at all times. All that appears to arise is compounded, is it not? And all of it is empty of enduring substance.

Live 8 brought out compassion, and also some small glimpse of the nature of how things are. And it "changed the world", as they say ....

Monday, July 04, 2005

Meditation on Mind

I thought I'd share some experiences in meditation .....

The Ocean and the Waves .... thoughts are like gossamer ripples on the surface of the ocean. Waves are not something other than the ocean. They are just an aspect of it, not different in nature. Thoughts kinda ripple on the surface of it. Really fragile hollow little things. How is it we get caught up in them so much and attach so much importance to them! They are so ephemeral and transcient and rainbow like! The image of the Magicians illusion is so true. They appear as though conjured up, and have no more substance than an illusion ... and yet they plainly appear.

The Origin .... where do thoughts come from? If the thought is intentional, i.e. I deliberately cause it to arise, then the thought seems as though it follows a current deep within or below, and the thought itself seems like a ripple on the surface. The current below, which feels much more powerful than the thought itself is what? ... Intention .... or willful action .... volition. It is plainly apparent how intention seems to be of greater weight or consequence that the effect of the intention is, that is, the thought. I guess this experience matches up with the teaching on karma, which give such a 'weight' or significance to volitions. They are the driving forces of our suffering, and our experience. When viewing my mediation experience, thoughts seem so much less 'substantial' than intention does.

Their Destination ..... where do thoughts go to? They seem like distant echoes. When the thought has gone, it appears to leave a trace, something which traces their prior existence. The thought itself though seems uttterly empty, and without substance. And the trace, the echo, is itself a thought of a kind, or perhaps not even that .... an echo of a thought, a pale reflection of what might have been, which has even less substance and solidity than that which it purports to recollect.

All of it - thoughts, recollection of thoughts, still mind - all of it seems of the same nature .... expansive, open, spacious, and without enduring substance at all. Yet there are also echoes and illusions, which somehow appear or manifest withing/around/through that open spaciousness. Located where? - nowhere, yet they seem to appear. Of what substance? - of nothing, yet they seem to appear. Of what significance? - how hard to judge. It seems as though 'stuff happens', yet its substance is wafer thin. Yet beings remain, suffering seems to be, and responding to this is the only thing which makes sense. What else makes sense in life? We all lick the honey off the razor's edge .... how to help beings see what they are doing and stop such action?

This is the question ......