His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge
The Three Roots: The Lama, Yidams, and Protectors
It has been many years since I visited the Dharma center in Vienna. I was here ten years ago when I accompanied His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. I am very happy to see that Buddhism is officially established in Austria.
When one studies the Dharma, one sees that Lord Buddha taught according to his students’ varying propensities and capabilities. There are three types of pupils: those with highest, medium, or lesser abilities. Buddha Shakyamuni presented the instructions to accord with his pupils’ abilities and therefore the different vehicles of Buddhism arose. Vajrayana is for those with highest abilities. It is said Vajrayana is also very beneficial for people living in degenerate times, when defilements are strongest. It offers the best instructions for those suffering the most under the impact of their emotions, and it is also very good for those individuals with highest inclinations and abilities.
Lord Buddha’s teachings are summarized in Sutra and Tantra. Sutra is the path of characteristics since it deals with causes; Tantra deals with results. Why is there a difference between the vehicle on which characteristics are addressed and the vehicle on which a follower participates in the result while still obscured? One needs to tread a path of refinement in order to achieve the perfect result of enlightenment. What is the path in Buddhism? Working on eliminating a dualistic mode of apprehension.
In Sutrayana, the source of dualistic thoughts is investigated by asking, What is the main cause of bifurcated thinking? The answer is attachment to a self. Attachment is ignorance. Further inquiries are carried out in that one seeks answers to questions such as, Where does the idea of a self come from? What is the essence of ego-fixation? What are the characteristics of clinging to a self? What does this effect?
The cause for our dualistic conceptions is investigated in Sutrayana. If there is a true self, one should be able to identify it, and it must exist either inside or outside the body. The Sutrayana tradition of Buddhism clarifies the reasons one believes in the dual form of subject and object and teaches that a knower does not really exist. In short, Sutrayana practitioners study the causes of the many afflictions and sufferings that living beings experience. Practitioners know that they live in a state of suffering and reflect how suffering arises. A student discovers that pain arises from actions. Where do manifold actions come from? From the disturbing emotions that determine one’s actions. What causes disturbing emotions? Dualistic concepts that cause one to separate a self and others. What causes this split? Attachment to a self or ignorance about one’s identity, which is the source of mundane concerns. A student of Sutrayana learns that the fundamental cause for all experiences in the world – passing joy and pain – is attachment to a self. What is the self? A mere accumulation of feelings and thoughts.
How does a Sutrayana practitioner embark on the journey to liberation while studying these topics? A practitioner needs to uphold moral discipline and learn to understand that all experiences only arise in dependence upon other things and therefore do not exist of their own accord, i.e., are empty of inherent existence. Having investigated the source of all experiences and gained understanding, a Sutrayana devotee then engages in the various methods of practice. Can fruition be achieved in the Sutra vehicle? Yes, Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, who study the selflessness of a subject, can achieve freedom from anguish and attain all-knowing, but it takes a very long time. It is said to take three incalculable eons for a Sutrayana practitioner to attain Buddhahood.
In the Tantra vehicle or Vajrayana, the result is integrated in practice. A Vajrayana practitioner doesn’t investigate the cause of everything and doesn’t examine every detail of the phenomenal world. He or she uses what presents itself, namely, experiences. For example, when disturbing emotions arise, a student needn’t investigate their source but realizes their essence and thus transmutes them. This is why it is said that Vajrayana uses the result and is very special and fast.
What is fruition in both Sutrayana and Vajrayana? An accomplished practitioner of both vehicles becomes free of suffering, emotions subside, and he or she attains realization or enlightenment. A difference between Sutra and Tantra refers to methods of practice. Tantra is good for those individuals who have highest abilities and offers different practices than those taught in Sutrayana.
A Tantric practitioner does not need to investigate all causes for everything that can be apprehended but works with emotions directly - the moment they arise. This is the reason why Tantra is good for individuals with sharp intelligence. On the other hand, it is also very beneficial for those with strong disturbing emotions, because such followers don’t have enough patience for the long Sutrayana path. Therefore, Tantrayana is most beneficial for them. If someone is successful practicing Tantra and is able to directly deal with disturbing emotions the moment they arise, then it is a very fast vehicle. Yet, nobody can achieve Buddhahood within a day or two or in a few years.
Tantrayana instructs how to transform impure experiences and appearances. One needs to know that this doesn’t mean one merely believes or thinks everything is pure. Purity is not a belief or an idea. In order to realize purity, one needs to receive blessings, attain accomplishments, and engage in wholesome activities. So, it is of utmost importance to base one’s practice on the Three Roots when one wants to practice Vajrayana. What are the Three Roots or sources? The root of all blessings is the Lama, the root of all accomplishments is the Yidams, and the root of all activities is the Dharma Protector.
The most important root is the blessings one’s Lama bestows. Accomplishments and activities are like supplements; they are manifestations of the Lama. No Yidam or Protector is ever different than the Lama. This is why the Lama is of utter importance in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism. How can this be?
In Sutrayana, a disciple depends upon spiritual teachers or friends who show him or her the way out of delusiveness and suffering. In Vajrayana, the Lama isn’t a friend who merely shows the way, rather we see him as a Buddha. Seeing our Lama as a Buddha, his blessings directly enter our mind so that it matures and awakens. Two factors are necessary to experience our Lama’s blessings: practice and openness.
A follower of Sutrayana is very conscientious of actions and very careful not to do anything that hurts others, which isn’t always possible, since ignorance continuously accompanies everyone and ensuing disturbing emotions cause one to make many mistakes. Sutrayana takes a long time, because a practitioner experiences a conflict between aspiring what is beneficial and good and experiencing afflictions that emotions bring on.
Vajrayana is very deep and a swift path to liberation. Why? We realize that mind’s true nature is not deluded; only the way we perceive it is faulty. If we are open, our Lama’s blessings permeate our mind and affect maturation. In other words, through the force of our Lama’s inspiration, we are able to realize mind’s true nature. Realization of mind’s true nature occurs through the Lama’s blessings. It is therefore decisive that we rely upon our Lama in Vajrayana, the reason this vehicle is so fast.
In order to truly receive and experience our Lama’s blessings, we need confidence and devotion in him. This doesn’t mean we have confidence in any Lama or teacher we meet. After having met many teachers, a beginner feels exceptional confidence and devotion in a specific Lama and trusts him. A Lama must check a student, too. He or she needs to see whether specific blessings may be transmitted to a student or not.
When a devotee is convinced of a Lama and sees him as a Root Guru, he or she then generates unwavering confidence, without any hesitations, and is dedicated to him. Confidence becomes as immutable as a vajra, which can never be destroyed. Then no ordinary thoughts influence or hinder one any more. Unwavering and indestructible confidence and faith in one’s Root Lama are the reason why the Vajrayana vehicle is called “the diamond vehicle,” i.e., the invincible path.
Many people think that all teachers are the same. This is incorrect because a spiritual friend shows the path, teaches what to adopt, what to reject, and the like. A Vajrayana teacher, on the other hand, doesn’t only inspire students with teachings and recommendations but reaches out to all devotees through his presence, his teachings, and his blessings. He leads his pupils’ mental stream to maturation and liberation. If a master possesses such outstanding abilities, he is a Vajrayana Lama. That is the difference between teachers. It is also the reason why one can have many teachers and only one Root Lama. Again, in Vajrayana, a Lama is someone who brings his pupils’ mind to mature and to liberation, and a student needs to have unwavering confidence and a pure vision of him.
In “The Kagyü Lineage Prayer” we read: “Devotion is the head of meditation.” Devotion is essential for Vajrayana disciples. It shouldn’t be artificial and may not be contrived. Non-discursive devotion naturally awakens from within through practice. When devotion in one’s Root Lama is pure, worldly concerns spontaneously cease through the Lama’s blessings. A follower need not become dexterous since the Lama’s blessings naturally bring on a spontaneous meditative state. Our Lama’s blessings of body, speech, and mind mingle and merge with our mind and are naturally integrated in all we are and do.
Former Kagyü teachers taught that nothing is deeper and more effective than the Ngöndro practice, which doesn’t specifically apply to the first three practices (prostrations, Dorje Sempa meditation, and mandala offering) but has to do with Guru-Yoga, a practice that enables us to experience our Lama’s blessings fully. When it comes to further practices, such as Mahamudra, the creation and completion stages of Yidam meditation, or the Six Yogas of Naropa, it is of utmost importance that one’s mind has been purified, which is achieved while receiving one’s Lama’s blessings through the practice of Guru-Yoga. Impure apprehension becomes transformed into the pure outlook and a practitioner is ready to receive more advanced instructions from his or her Lama through the power of the blessings received by practicing Guru-Yoga.
Devotion to an authentic and qualified Lama isn’t like the devotion one has for a teacher who happens to laugh, smile, or speak kindly to us. Such devotion is based on conditions. Sincere devotion and dedication are an inner experience that in no way depends upon outer conditions. Of course, at the initial stage of Buddhist practice, everything depends upon conditions, such as meeting a qualified master and the like. Eventually, though, an inner experience arises, which doesn’t depend upon outer circumstances or passing impressions.
One needs to know that only when immutable faith and dedication have arisen within, then the blessings our Lama bestows pacify all mundane concerns. There are many descriptions in sacred texts on how a Lama’s blessings touch and move a dedicated disciple – tears stream from one’s eyes, one’s hair stands on end, and so forth. It is necessary to have had a connection with one’s Lama in previous lives. A Guru-disciple relationship cannot be established in one lifetime. Having pure devotion, our Lama truly is the root of all blessings. Recognizing this, then it is possible to experience the attainment of highest siddhis, “accomplishments.” If devotion and dedication are artificial and contrived, blessings and accomplishments do not occur.
It is a fact that our Lama is only a human being with a physical body. He or she, too, has good and bad days, can be angry, sad, and upset. If one doesn’t have immutable confidence, one may be annoyed as a result and begin to doubt, wondering why one’s impressions aren’t as sincere as they once seemed to be. One only has doubts in an authentic Lama if one’s devotion isn’t genuine. Therefore it is necessary to cultivate pure faith.
The results one hopes to accomplish are not acquired from outside and are not something newly attained. Ultimate realization is ascertaining the nature of one’s own mind – mind’s true essence -, which neither abides outside oneself nor is created anew. This is why it is taught that when a disciple is free of all conditions, he or she has achieved realization, which is Buddhahood.
I have explained the Vajrayana path, the fastest vehicle to liberation. Furthermore, I spoke about the significance of the first root, the Lama, which distinguishes Vajrayana from other yanas, “vehicles.” It is generally said that Vajrayana is a very fast path to liberation. One also needs to know that Vajrayana, also called “Mantrayana,” effects realization of the indivisibility of emptiness and compassion. Mantras are never separate from the indivisibility of emptiness and compassion either. It is therefore conclusive that the path of causal characteristics, Sutrayana, and the path of Vajrayana must both be practiced together.
What is the purpose of Vajrayana practice? Purifying one’s impure apperception of all appearances and experiences. Specific techniques are practiced in order to see everything free of obscurations, i.e., in the pure light. The purification process doesn’t change things; rather a practitioner who has discriminating wisdom sees all things as an illusion and like a dream. Transformation means ascertaining reality, which means seeing all appearances and experiences purely.
Furthermore, transforming experiences is not brought about by reciting mantras, resorting to magical ingredients, or making donations to gods who are said to respond to offerings by changing the world or one’s situation. Such notions and rituals have nothing to do with Vajrayana.
The purpose of Tantra is to know that outer and inner appearances are not deluded and that delusiveness arises from clinging to assumptions. Relatively, all things arise in dependence upon many causes and conditions. In truth, though, nothing inherently exists as a self-supporting entity. One learns that both aspects, relative and ultimate reality, are inseparable. Ascertaining the indivisibility of relative and ultimate truth is what is meant when speaking of pure vision.
What are impure apprehensions? Perceiving and thinking phenomena are independent existents - an extreme. Assuming phenomena exist independently is a wrong view, since the essence of all things is emptiness. It is impossible to have the sacred outlook by simply reiterating, “Everything is empty.” Such an outlook only leads astray. Phenomena are not wrong and can never be deluded. The actual appearance of a phenomenon does not give rise to confusion and delusion, rather one’s apprehensions, beliefs, and fixations on things - as though they are independent existents.
Since all phenomena are by nature empty of inherent existence, nothing is ever created or ceases. Without emptiness, there would be no possibility for existents to arise as a manifestation of their self-display. Techniques are employed in Vajrayana to realize the empty essence, the clear nature, and the unimpeded aspect of all things.
Why are the methods practiced in Vajrayana exceptional? An accomplished practitioner realizes that phenomena appear because they lack independent existence. Nevertheless, one believes things truly exist. Vajrayana addresses the variety of assumptions and doesn’t necessitate one to throw everything overboard. In order to eliminate supposed contradictions, one meditates on values of being that are symbolized by Yidams and recites their mantras, the reason Yidams are the root of accomplishments.
I explained that our Lama is the root of blessings, the most important root. I also mentioned that Yidams are manifestations of our Lama. What does this mean? Our Lama’s mind is dharmadhatu, “the vast and all-inclusive expanse of being.” All Yidams as well as Protectors are the unimpeded self-display of mind’s clear nature, which is, in truth, compassion. Yidams appear as the clear manifestation of our Lama’s mind. We must remember that Yidams don’t truly exist as objects we usually perceive but are a self-expression of suchness - our Lama’s mind.
There are many Yidams with different forms – peaceful and wrathful pure forms of being, alone, or in union with their consorts. Why are there so many? Yidams are visualized pure forms that manifest from Dharmadhatu’s empty essence as the lucid self-display of our Lama’s compassion.
I mentioned that students have different mental capacities, views, and goals; they have different hopes and fears. Yidams are images for the benefit of students’ varying propensities. One leads one’s life in reliance on a vast variety of concepts. Therefore one needs a reference-point in practice, too, a reference-point that accords with one’s personal inclinations. Students aren’t ready to focus their attention on the ultimate Yidam and consequently need pure representations.
Are the many Yidams we see in pictures and visualize real? No, they are symbols of the ultimate Yidam. The various forms and attributes of the deities point to manifold habits of clinging, grasping, and holding impure appearances in one’s mind. There are so many impure ideas and things one thinks are real. Each Yidam symbolizes one of the many aspects of clinging and clutching. One needs to know this.
How does one meditate a Yidam? There are two stages: the creation and completion stages. All phenomena arise in dependence on other things. There must be a time when something comes into existence. Once something exists, it lasts a while, and inevitably ceases. The stages of creation and cessation need to be purified, so one practices them in meditation. One generates a Yidam in the visualization practice in order to purify ideas about creation that one does have. The creation stage of every Yidam practice entails visualizing oneself in the form of the respective deity, visualizing the deity before one in space, and singing or reciting praises and mantras.
Why do we begin practice by visualizing ourselves as the Yidam? It is a fact that we cling to self-importance and believe we have a self-existing identity. Should someone tell us we don’t really exist, it would be quite strange and difficult to accept. This is the reason why the creation stage of practice is special. No words are lost arguing whether one exists or not, but a practitioner directly imagines his or her body in the form of a Yidam, a practice that helps diminish and eventually eliminate clinging to a self. This can only take place if one knows what a Yidam really is. Yidams are expressions of complete purity. If one is aware of this fact and visualizes oneself as a Yidam, clinging to a self automatically and naturally diminishes, eventually ceases, never to arise again.
This principle also applies to the deity one imagines in space in front. It is a fact that one clings to apprehended objects. For this reason, one imagines and visualizes the world as the pure mansion of a deity and all beings in the form of a deity during meditation. The purpose of this practice is to eliminate clinging to appearances by imagining them in a pure form and surrounding.
One should acknowledge that there are things within that need to be purified and that there are means to effect this purification. One should not forget the symbolical import of visualization practices. The deities are not solid entities that exist of an own accord. If a practitioner believes that a Yidam is a substantial entity, he or she will become confused and deluded. I want to stress how important it is to know what they really mean and why we engage in these practices. One needs to know what their various forms really represent and mean.
Some Yidams have sixteen arms, others have four legs. We may be astonished and wonder, Aren’t two arms enough? Should we think a Yidam has more arms and legs because that’s how it is, we’d be very mistaken. If we think such a deity is a solid existent, then the Yidam wouldn’t represent something needing to be purified by an image that can bring this about. Should we believe in a deity with many arms, legs, and eyes, it would be very foolish. A mistaken practitioner would hold on to an absurd view and fall into a completely wrong path.
We need to know that the four arms of a deity, for example, symbolize the four categories of thoughts ordinary beings have. We believe there are four elements, four of this, four of that, and cling to such ideas as real. Deities are therefore depicted with four arms. We also categorize our thoughts according to the three times (past, present, and future), the reason the deities are depicted with three eyes. Every detail of a yidam symbolizes an aspect of our erroneous thoughts. And so, each deity represents a specific aspect of an active inner purification process that occurs through visualization practice.
We should remember that we conceptualize categories and cling to assumptions, which can become pacified and overcome. Yidam visualization practices are done for this reason. Every detail of each visualization practice represents an aspect of purification. If we fabricate more concepts by thinking a deity is real, conceptual imagination would increase, and mental turmoil would be the result. A practitioner would then experience tremendous fear and other afflictions he or she couldn’t possibly handle.
This is why the correct view is very important for proper meditation practice, especially in Vajrayana. What is the correct view? Knowing that relative appearances and their ultimate reality are inseparable and not contradictory. What does the correct view have to do with the Yidams? “Relative” refers to the way we apprehend, the reason we visualize Yidams. “Ultimate” refers to the true nature of all appearances and experiences, the fact that all things are empty, i.e., devoid of inherent existence – the reason we meditate on the completion stage of each practice. Both creation and completion practices – relative and ultimate – coexist. By engaging in the techniques of Yidam meditation correctly, general and specific accomplishments are achieved.
To avoid falling into the extreme view and believing nothing exists, that all things are merely empty, the creation stage of meditation practice is carried out. To avoid falling into the extreme view and believing phenomena exist permanently, the completion stage of meditation practice is practiced. Realizing the indivisibility of both stages of practice enables us to experience that everything is co-emergent bliss and emptiness, the purpose of Vajrayana. If one practices correctly, one will attain accomplishments.
I explained that the Yidams are unimpeded expressions taking place in the vast expanse of space - Dharmadhatu or our Lama’s pure mind. The Protectors are the various expressions of the Yidams. Vajrayana is very profound and therefore many obstacles arise. One bases one’s practice on the Protectors in order to pacify and eliminate all hindrances.
The Yidams and Protectors are two very important factors. It is of utmost significance for us to know that our Lama is the most important root because his blessings permeate and mature our mind. We must also know that all implements and methods of practice described in the sacred Buddhist texts have a very deep meaning. The deity’s body represents the indivisibility of emptiness and appearance; the mantra of each deity is the indivisibility of emptiness and sound; the deity’s mind is the indivisibility of emptiness and awareness. By engaging in Vajrayana practices while abiding in pure awareness, the pride of being the deity awakens in us.
Every follower of Vajrayana - especially of Mahamudra and Maha-ati - needs to understand three facts concerning the correct view, path, and result. Concerning the correct view, a Vajrayana practitioner needs to know that the two truths are inseparable. Concerning the correct practice of the path, we need to know that method and wisdom are inseparable. Concerning the correct result, we need to know that the two form Kayas and the Dharmakaya attained at fruition are inseparable. If Vajrayana and Mahamudra practitioners do not understand this, their endeavors will be flawed.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is perfect dedication to one’s Lama a karmic connection one has from previous lives? Is it an expression of that karmic link?
Rinpoche: Yes, that is the way it is. Due to a long connection with a teacher, true devotion arises. Therefore it isn’t necessary to search for a Lama.
Next question: Does a Vajrayana teacher have disturbing emotions?
Rinpoche: This depends upon a student’s relationship with a Lama. For example, there were monks who thought that Buddha Shakyamuni had many faults. If a student has confidence and is certain that the Lama is a Buddha, he or she doesn’t have such thoughts. Of course, there are many teachers for different levels of the path.
Same student: Is it possible to truly feel devotion on a very deep level and simultaneously notice faults on the surface?
Rinpoche: It is necessary to see everything in the pure light. One needs to practice.
Same student: Some people tell me I am silly because I blindly do what my Lama says.
Rinpoche: The genuine Lama one trusts possesses qualities. If this is the case and one has perfect trust in him, then it is very good to do as he recommends. If he is authentic and qualified, then nothing negative can happen.
Next question: How do I see something pure if I can’t?
Rinpoche: Impurity refers to one’s present state of mind and experiences. One lives one’s life under the power of dualistic impressions, striving to satisfy personal desires and attempting to flee from pain. The resulting disturbing emotions determine one’s experiences and behavior. Practicing the pure view means being conscientious of the impact of uncontrolled behavior and – by relying on one’s Lama – trying to change the situation. A practitioner tries to stop being controlled by feelings, which arise from bifurcated thinking. According to a teacher’s instructions, one practices not to act based upon the habit of dividing things into “self” and “other.” At the moment, though, one divides between pure and impure. If one is able to become free of dualistic ideas, then everything is apprehended purely.
Question: Can an unenlightened teacher be a Vajrayana teacher?
Rinpoche: A Vajrayana teacher needs to be able to mature pupils’ minds and bring them to liberation. This quality encompasses all other qualities, for example, compassion, loving kindness, and so forth. There are teachers who have not achieved realizations. A teacher can only guide students to the level he himself has reached.
Question: Is there a relationship between the teachings of the Hopi Indians and Vajrayana?
Rinpoche: I don’t know.
Same student: They teach us to see clarity.
Rinpoche: The Hopi Indians? I don’t think there is a connection. Similar questions were asked when His Holiness the Karmapa traveled to the United States; many Hopi Indians told him that their tradition prophesied the coming of the Karmapa. I don’t think there is a connection though.
Question: What is the relationship between the experience of emptiness - the fact that there is no self - and the very painful feelings I have when I go to the dentist? When I go to the dentist, I wish I didn’t have a self. Is there a connection between pain and ego?
Rinpoche: Since one hasn’t realized emptiness, one believes in a self, an “I.” One experiences pain and suffering due to belief in a self. If one has realized emptiness, one doesn’t cling to a subject experiencing pain and then there is no pain.
Same student: That means a Buddha doesn’t get sick, doesn’t get a toothache?
Rinpoche: He doesn’t experience pain. In order to show the truth of suffering and the truth of cause and effect, Lord Buddha demonstrated many things. There is a story that Buddha Shakyamuni had a thorn in the palm of his hand. He showed it to his pupils, but he didn’t feel hurt.
Question: What is the relationship between the commitment or samaya held with a teacher and Vajrayana vows?
Rinpoche: There are many Samayas in Vajrayana, summarized in the fourteen main vows. Many things need to be taken into consideration when discussing this subject. In short, a commitment depends upon the bond between a teacher and disciple. This connection depends upon whether a disciple sees the Lama as a Buddha and whether a disciple has no false notions. A Lama has the responsibility to guide pupils correctly. The Tantric vows differ on various levels of practice and also depend upon which category or family the commitment is connected with – the Buddha, Padma, Ratna, Vajra, or Karma Family.
Question: How does devotion in the Vajra master arise?
Rinpoche: A disciple must first develop non-discursive devotion and confidence by becoming aware of a Lama’s and all the Lineage holders’ qualities. A student repeatedly reflects on their limitless qualities. Non-discursive dedication arises naturally through such contemplation. Non-discursive dedication in one’s Lama increases while one accumulates merit and purifies one’s defilements.
Question: What is the difference between the Lama’s blessings and the experiences we have during an empowerment?
Rinpoche: It is very interesting. The blessing itself offers the occasion to free others’ mind and has nothing to do with symbols, which are used during initiations. The ultimate blessing is free of the idea that one is receiving a blessing from someone giving it. That is the ultimate and true blessing. Sacred objects are symbols and exemplify how we receive the actual blessing.
Question: I didn’t understand the pure Yidams or the ultimate Yidam.
Rinpoche: I will give an example. Avalokiteshvara appears with four arms, wears special ornaments, and has specific attributes. The way he appears is not the ultimate Yidam but is only a representation; he is the expression of all Buddhas’ compassion, compassion being the ultimate Yidam. Dorje Phamo appears symbolically; her ultimate expression is expansive space in relation to phenomena – highest transcendental wisdom gives birth to all Buddhas. Ultimately, she is Prajnaparamita, “perfection of wisdom.”
Question: In order to understand emptiness of all things, details of the creation phase are meditated. Can we apply these methods to other meditation practices?
Rinpoche: By becoming accustomed to and winning stability in meditation practice, the understanding won is integrated in post-meditation. Meditating on the environment as the mansion and mandala and all sounds as the mantra of the deity habituates us to remember this after practice sessions. Repeated and continual remembrance gives rise to awareness, an awareness that knows that things arise just because there is emptiness. Awareness develops and intensifies ones practice.
Question: Is it necessary to know the meaning of each detail of a yidam or is it sufficient to know they are symbolic? Are the symbols effective through themselves?
Rinpoche: It is good to know all the details or at least most of the main symbols.
Question: Is the Yidam always the expression of the Lama’s mind?
Rinpoche: Yes. When Naropa transmitted the Hevajra initiation to Marpa, Hevajra appeared in space before Marpa. Naropa asked him, “Who do you venerate?” Marpa pondered, “I can always meet my Lama, but the Yidam is exceptional.” He prostrated to the Yidam and only then understood that he had erred; he then realized that the Yidam was the manifestation of his Lama’s mind. The moment he understood this, Hevajra merged with Naropa.
Question: I don’t understand how the Protectors manifest out of the manifold expressions of the Yidams. I can’t see the boundary between both because Tara protects us from fear.
Rinpoche: They are the same, especially the wisdom Protectors. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas arise in various forms in order to help living beings in different ways. Yidams and Protectors are differentiated as the root of accomplishments and activities. Tara protects from fear and is therefore she is also a Protector.
Question: I don’t understand the pride that arises from meditating a Yidam.
Rinpoche: By thinking that there is a self and there is a Yidam, one is misled to conclude, “I am the Yidam!” One thinks there are two different things mixed into one, which is wrong. Pride is an awareness of the fact that the body is the indivisibility of emptiness and appearance; the Yidam is this indivisibility, not separate from us. This applies to mantra too, which is the indivisibility of emptiness and sound. Since indivisibility prevails, a Yidam is not different from us. If we understand that a Yidam’s mind is not apart from our mind, then we have the pride of being the Yidam.
Question: Rinpoche said we need to purify the environment by seeing all beings as the Yidam. How do we apply this practice during these degenerate times?
Rinpoche: Can you visualize yourself as a Yidam?
Same student: It’s hard
Rinpoche: Others are not responsible if you aren’t able to visualize them as a deity. Your problem is that you cling to their actions; you cling to your idea of how others should be. It would therefore be important for you to practice calm abiding meditation and giving and taking so that you are gradually able to see others as Yidams. During meditation, others aren’t actually purified but one’s own ideas of them eventually diminish. This is the purpose of the creation stage of practice.
Same student: It is clear that it’s the relative world, but it bothers me.
Rinpoche: During meditation or afterwards?
Same student: Probably both.
Rinpoche: The practice of giving and taking would help you, also contemplating impermanence.
Question: Where is the Lama during the dissolution or completion phase of meditation?
Rinpoche: You have to find him. The world of apprehended appearances is the playful manifestation of the Lama.
Question: What are Dakas and Dakinis?
Rinpoche: There are various types. There are wisdom Dakinis, such as Dorje Phamo and Tara, who are identical. There are worldly Dakinis, activity Dakinis, and so forth. They abide in the pure realm.
Question: In the hagiographies of Mahasiddhas, it is said that these masters entered the realm of the Dakas and Dakinis with their body at death. What does this mean?
Rinpoche: Our body is the result of our former actions, our karma, and therefore it is impure. Mahasiddhas have attained accomplishments and do not cling to their body. Since they have another relationship to their body than ordinary beings, it is said they accomplish the rainbow body.
Question: The playful expression of the Lama. What is the difference between this statement and the notion that everything comes from a god?
Rinpoche: It is exactly the opposite, because assuming a god created the world presupposes the existence of a god who creates. The statement that the world is the playful expression of the Lama means that there is nobody who makes the world appear and nothing that appears. Everything is beyond such categories, because the Lama is ultimately beyond creation and cessation, beyond any extremes. He is the Dharmakaya that permeates samsara and nirvana. There is nothing not permeated by the Dharmakaya. The world of appearances is empty of inherent existence and is therefore the unimpeded manifestation of emptiness.
Question: Rinpoche said that we need to be aware of the fact that the Yidams are the display of the Lama’s mind. We can’t understand this unless we meditate. Should we just think this at first?
Rinpoche: Yes, in the beginning one just thinks that the Yidams are an expression of the Lama and not deities as such. One meditates because one doesn’t understand this.
Question: Rinpoche taught Vajrayana integrates and dissolves contradictions. How can we understand this?
Rinpoche: The creation stage of meditation practice relates to relative reality and the completion stage to ultimate reality. We need to know both aren’t contradictory, because they are the indivisibility of emptiness and clarity.
Same student: Is there another view in Vajrayana?
Rinpoche: That is the view.
Question: I think it will always happen that a beginner considers the Yidam as a real entity. Doesn’t one intensify one’s ego in that case, protecting oneself from the world? How long does this function?
Rinpoche: If someone meditates correctly, they become more and more acquainted with the practice and then characteristics diminish.
Question: Would Rinpoche please say something about the principle of the Dakinis?
Rinpoche: The principle of the Dakinis is wisdom of emptiness - right in front.
Question: Do the teachings about the Buddha families belong to Vajrayana or Mahayana?
Rinpoche : Vajrayana.
Question: Would Rinpoche please give an example of clarity?
Rinpoche: The best example for clarity is one’s own mind. Now, the mind doesn’t truly exist but is empty and therefore can comprehend and experience everything clearly, which is clarity. Mind apprehends and experiences everything – confusion in samsara and liberation in nirvana.
Question: Who is the Protector? Is he the Lama’s mind? How can one call to him when one needs him?
Rinpoche: One needs to have practiced and learned specific rituals.
Question: How important is personal contact with a Lama or is it sufficient just to meditate on him?
Rinpoche: Guru-Yoga is a very good practice to focus one’s attention on one’s Lama. We are taught that it is the highest offering we can give to our Lama. In any case, it is absolutely necessary for a beginner to rely on a Lama. As long as one doesn’t realize that the world within and without is inseparable with one’s Lama’s mind, one needs to rely on him.
Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then
Lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
And may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
Presented in Vienna, Austria, 1987. Transcribed and edited by Gaby Hollmann in 1987, responsible & apologizing for mistakes. Copyright Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang, Pullahari, Nepal, 2007.