The Purpose of Tantra
In Buddhism there are three vehicles: Hinayana, the lesser vehicle, Mahayana, the greater vehicle, and Vajrayana, the highest vehicle. No one vehicle is right for everyone. It is like a restaurant that serves many different foods. What the Vajrayana teaches is how to get to the natural state, which is also called the buddha nature, how to recognize it and touch it. This method of practice is called the mahayoga. The other two methods in Vajrayana are the anu yoga, which is the next higher, and the ati yoga, which is the highest. These three yogas try to show you your buddha nature.
The Mahayana method is simple on the outside. In contrast, the Vajrayana has many deities and practices. The methods of mahayoga is more outside oriented, with visualizations of deities. The deities are symbols of your mind. You meditate on the deity many times and recite the deity's mantra. It's like thinking of your wife or husband. You cannot get the results with just one practice, it requires accumulation of the practice. It's a familiarization. The visualization is not of something physical, it is created by mind. It is a mental creation, a projection that represents your natural state of mind, your buddha nature. It is a relative method to reach the inner state. At the end of the meditation the deity you create in your imagination dissolves into emptiness. This is similar to the process of death, where mind dissolves into the dharmakaya. You sit there with the emptiness to reach the natural state. What is the purpose of this practice? At the time of death it will help you. When you die your thoughts dissipate and you are close to the dharmakaya. When you dissolve the visualization at the end of the practice you think, I am now in the dharmakaya when you meditate. The purpose is to familiarize yourself with the process that happens at death. When you do the meditation many times you become used to the process. Then there is the possibility of liberation at death.
Do you have questions about this?
Q: What is it that prevents me from seeing the ultimate nature of mind?
A: The more you meditate on emptiness, the more the obstacles to seeing this will go away.
The anu yoga has the same point as mahayoga, to see the buddha nature. Instead of visualizing an external deity, in anu yoga you say that I am the deity, I have the form and pure mind of the deity. At the end of the practice you dissolve the deity into emptiness, the same as the maha yoga. It also contains yoga practices similar to kundalini and sexual yogas. These practices are to recognize the emptiness of bliss. You need initiation in order to do these practices and you must complete ngondro first.
If you are the proper student and have a good teacher there is no need to practice these lower yogas, you can go directly to ati yoga. Ati means one state. If you have the ability, you can do this. But otherwise you must do the lower practices.
At the time of death you think you are losing everything. But a good practitioner thinks, "Oh I am going to the dharmakaya." But this is quite rare. Without meditative ability one becomes scared. You think I am losing everything I enjoy. This is ego clinging, which becomes strong at the time of death. This is the cause of rebirth. When you have a candle it burns as long as there is wax. But our life is not similar to this. Our ego clinging leads us to the next life. If you have no spiritual development, after death your mind takes a dream-like body. Your senses are more acute than usual and you have some psychic ability. The mental body lasts for one week. Then you die and take another mental body. In Tibet they read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which may help the person remember what to do. But this can only guide the person, it doesn't liberate them by itself. The Buddhas are not omnipotent, they can only guide us. There is a possibility of being liberated after death if you remember your practice. Then you can be reborn in a pure land. A pure land is not a totally enlightened place, it is a place to practice. Many lamas say you don't pray to be reborn in a pure land, because they are praying to be reborn here so that they can practice the bodhisattva virtues. Even if you aren't born in a pure land, you may be born in a place where it is easy to practice.
There are four mind changings. The first is to appreciate your precious human life. Not all human life is precious. If you are born human, if you are not dedicated to the religious way of life, for example if you are a soldier, that is not precious. Human life is precious if you have faith in the dharma and the motivation to practice. This is very rare. You should think this life is very short so I should practice now. These thoughts make this life precious. Someone told me that life is not precious because my mother had nine children. But if only one of the nine is interested in practice, only that life is precious.
The next mind changing is impermanence. If you have a precious life you have to use it. Awareness of impermanence pushes you to practice. You see the cycle of life, being born, getting old, and dying only ends in liberation. The next mind changing is recognizing the defects of samsara. You have to know that this life is suffering. If you didn't have Buddha nature you would be satisfied with samsara.
There are six bardos. Four are this life, the process of death, death until you take the mental body, and the intermediate period between lives. Dream and meditation are the other two bardos. There are many books translated into English that explain them.
Q: What advice would you give on how to meditate?
A: If you go to church, you will hear about compassion, hopefully. After you leave church, think about what you heard. That is meditation. When disturbing angry thoughts come into your mind, think about compassion and that will bring you peace. If you become peaceful, won't that will bring peace around you?
Q: Is there a difference between an inner conversation and meditation?
A: If the conversation is on a virtuous subject, it is meditation. Not if you are thinking about making a gun. The Dalai Lama went to Spain and there was an old church associated with a Catholic monastery. The monks there meditated on death. After the Dalai Lama talked to them, he said they were were doing real meditation. The good attitude you cultivate in meditation makes things very different.
Q: I've been attending the Shambhala meditation center. I started attending because I felt very guilty about something. When I remain with that guilt, it helps. It's called drala energy. can you say something about that?
A: In Shambhala, they do a lot of shamatha meditation, right? It's like concentrating on a buddha statue and trying to visualize it. There are two points to practicing shamatha. The object of meditation should be clear and stable. These are the goals of shamatha practice. When you are drowsy the clarity decreases. When you are distracted the stability decreases. So by eliminating these obstacles one has proper shamatha practice. It's desire that makes our mind distracted. Among the six realms this realm is the desire realm. We are overwhelmed by desire to objects and this makes our meditation unstable. So that is what shamatha meditation means. Another type of meditation is to bring compassion into your daily life. In Vajrayana you also practice shamatha by trying to make the visualization of the deity clear and stable.
Meditation on compassion is easier because there is not much ritual. For example, you don't need to make tormas. But developing compassion is quite difficult. It's difficult for a mother to love other children to the same degree she loves her own. But it will develop if the mother thinks that other children are the same as hers. You start small. The Buddhist texts talk about learning generosity by passing a coin from hand to hand. You may think that compassion is done in order to get a similar response from others. But that's not compassion, that's business. If you have strong anger, there is no possibility of compassion. So you need to develop patience. Anger leads to an angry response.
Q: How does an animal get to be born in a human realm?
A: If your strongest defilement is ignorance, you are born as an animal. If it is anger, you are born in hell. The alaya stores the seeds of our past deeds. These seeds manifest at the time of death. So if you have positive thoughts you will be reborn in a higher realm. The animals may have positive deeds that lead to higher rebirth.