Buddhism in the Eastern Himalayan sector has a special significance. Tibetan Tantric Buddhism has been introduced by Guru Padmasambhaba more than 400 years ago. The mystic Monasteries, belonging to the different sects & sub-sects of Mahayana Buddhism dominate the whole of Sikkim and Darjeeling Himalayas. There are numbers of Buddhist Monasteries in this region of which 20 are very important. Each one has its own fascinating history, generates tremendous interest among the visitors, be it the architectural feature or the spiritual message embedded in them. The Tantric factor has added to the legends and to the beliefs of Lamaism (Tantric Buddhism). The Lamas here are believed to have the power of flying from one place to another. The colors add to mystery and so do the mask dances. Discover the culture, where only peace prevails making this the Abode of the Gods.
PRELIMINARIES TO TANTRA
“Tantra activates many powerful subtle energies in our body and mind and, if we do not have any mental training or discipline, this excess energy will take the path of least resistance through our negative emotions of attachment, jealousy, pride, egotism, and so on” Lama Ganchen
“Pure intellect, indeed, detached from soul, is the death of Man. Intellect, self-confident and isolated in arrogant complacency, does not ennoble Man. It humiliates him, deprives him of his personality. It kills that loving participation in the life of things and creatures of which the soul, with its emotions and intuitions, is capable. Intellect, by itself alone, is dead and also deadly” – a principle of disintegration.
Why are Buddhists so secretive of tantra? Tantric practice is a highly advanced form of psycho-physical exercises in order to achieve transformation of one’s body and mind quickly into the perfected state of a Buddha. Simply said, these methods are not without danger when used without the proper guidance and precautions. To avoid people getting involved in these practices without proper guidance, the practices are kept secret for people without explicit permission to practice from a qualified teacher. Often, teachers require disciples to do extensive practices before being allowed any permission; more about that is written in below paragraphs on prerequisites and preliminaries. So please keep in mind that the secrecy around tantra is basically for safety, just like it is proper to lock a gun away from the reach of children.
Whatever is included on these web pages about tantra is general knowledge which is allowed for uninitiated to read, and is intended to at least take away some misunderstandings about tantric practices.
MOTIVATION FOR PRACTICE:
To clarify where tantric practices fit in the Buddhist system, it may be useful to explain a bit more about the various motivations or scopes. Traditionally, only the “small, middle and high scope” are taught to distinguish the various motivations for practicing.
(a) The “Animal Scope” : Wanting immediate happiness for oneself.
(b) The “Worldly Human Scope” : Wanting immediate happiness for oneself and others.
(c) The “Buddhist Small Scope” : Wanting happiness for oneself in a future life.
(d) The “Buddhist Middle Scope” : Wanting to escape the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth for oneself (Hinayana)
(e) The “Buddhist Great Scope” : Wanting others to go beyond suffering forever (enlightenment), and reach Buddhahood oneself to help others on their path. (Mahayana)
(f) The “Buddhist Tantric Scope” : Wanting others to be happy as soon as possible, and reach Buddhahood oneself quickly to serve them. (Vajrayana)
The following aspects are considered prerequisites before a disciple can engage in tantric practice:
(a) Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
(b) Renunciation: a realisation is best, but a proper understanding is essential.
(c) Bodhicitta: a realisation is best, but a proper understanding is essential. For most of the initiations, it is required to take the aspiring Bodhisattva vows.
(d) Emptiness: a direct realisation is best, but a proper understanding is essential (see the page on Wisdom).
(e) Reliance on a spiritual teacher: proper confidence in a teacher and verifying his/her qualifications is essential.
(f) Empowerment or initiation: without this ceremonial permission to practice by a qualified teacher, tantric practice is improper.
(g) Tantric vows: for the higher tantric classes, one needs to take tantric vows. These vows are secret to the uninitiated, so students need to take ‘a leap of faith’ and trust the teacher and the practice before taking them.
(h) Faith/confidence: solid confidence both in the teacher and the teachings is essential to avoid serious karmic problems when doubts arise. ‘Blind faith’ will generally not have the power to pull someone through when things are difficult.
The only proper motivation to practice tantra is Bodhicitta, or the wish to become fully enlightened in order to help all sentient beings. This is the reason why at least an understanding of bodhicitta is essential prior to engaging in tantric practice. To enforce this motivation, usually, an extra prerequisite is taking either the Aspirational Vows or the full Bodhisattva Vows.
Next, at least some understanding of the philosophy of emptiness is essential for tantric practice, as this is the basic mental state in which tantric practice becomes more than just ritual or strange practice of imagination.
Ideally, a tantric practitioner should have full realisations of bodhicitta and emptiness instead of merely a conceptual understanding. In that case, tantric practice can guide one very swiftly to the state of Buddhahood.
Many teachers (depending on the specific school) require one to engage in the so-called preliminary practices before giving initiation to disciples. These preliminary practices traditionally consist of:
– Making 100,000 mandala offerings to generate merit by generosity
– Reciting 100,000 refuge prayers to increase one’s confidence
– Reciting 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras to purify obstacles
– Making 100,000 prostrations to counteract pride
Depending on the teacher and the disciple, other practices are sometimes given:
– Offering 100,000 water-bowls.
– Reciting 100,000 Guru’s name mantras: Guru-yoga, to generate confidence and establish a deeper relationship with the teacher.
– Making 100,000 clay images or ‘tsa-tsas’ in Tibetan
– Reciting 100,000 Samayavajra mantras (somewhat similar to Vajrasattva)
– Making 100,000 fire offerings to Vajra Daka (Dorje Khadro).
Not only are these excellent methods to accumulate the necessary positive energy (karma) to have success in the practice, but they also help in the purification of obstacles to the practice.