Buddhahood In This Life
All sentient beings have buddhanature or potential of freedom, in both psychological and existential sense. The purpose of spirituality or dharma is very simple: to know and become familiar with this potential. Tantric buddhism takes it further and states that it is possible within one lifetime to familiarize with this buddhanature to the extent that all karmic bubbling of the mind becomes extinguished. In this way one can become a living buddha, like thousands of women and men throughout the history have. The beauty of it is that it still keeps happening. To some, buddhism is museum practice where the potential is seen to belong to the great practitioners of the past in distant lands but actually, according to Guru Padmasambhava (can't remember the exact quote), this time of great chaos and confusion has even more potential for spiritual realisation than peaceful times and places. Ha! Him being a wrathful guru, it is a very typical thing for him to say, but of course, it is true.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
The core message and meaning of the path is easily lost. Before we know it, we have gotten distracted by externals. Do yourself a favour and don't get lost in forms and rituals. Avoid getting enchanted by foreign cultures, languages, clothing or names. Also never read more than you practice meditation. Actually, if you read 10% and practice 90% of your study time, then the scales are right. Make sure you sit in meditation and do your practice as much in your daily life as you can. If you stick to these points, you manage to avoid some pitfalls but even then it's not like you'd have any shortage of obstacles.
Our own mind is what makes us deluded, unhappy, lost and confused. We are mislead by our perception which is skewed due to our innumerable preferences acquired in the past. We suffer because we are convinced that we exist as independent entities. All buddhism sets out to accomplish is to deconstruct this sense of entityness or me-ness through different means. What I have said here is according to the gradual path where it is acknowledged that there are opposites, such as delusion and wisdom, or confusion (samsara) and liberation (nirvana). This is a relative way of seeing things and accordingly one applies the practices of concentration (shamatha/shine) or emptiness insight (vipashyana/lhaktong).
In the tantric vehicle or vajrayana, there is also a non-gradual way of looking at things, where by recognising our true condition, the duality of confusion and liberation, and in fact any other type of duality, is transcended. If there is no confusion, why would there be liberation of it? If there is no need to become free, confusion can't possibly have ever existed.
The undisputed royalty among all yogic methods is atiyoga, literally primordial yoga. To practice atiyoga means to remain in the recognition of knowing oneself as a buddha or as someone who doesn't have the slightest idea about attaining liberation and whose mind functioning doesn't have the slightest mark of sense of self. To someone like that everyday notions such as me or you, us or them, up or down, far or wide, here or now, focused or distracted, wise or stoopid, wholesome or unwholesome simply do not arise, like they do in the samsaric mind. This, in my understanding, is the so called non-abiding nirvana. As there is no one who abides and no location or state where the abiding takes place, it is called liberation or freedom of non-abiding. Not abiding anywhere, just being free. To practice atiyoga means to know one's reality. In Tibetan, atiyoga is known as dzogchen. The term rigpa or knowing is closely associated with it.
If we take a look around, we can only see human beings whose minds are samsaric. All we see is people who chase after happiness and avoid misfortune in any way possible. This is even the case with practitioners of yoga, who by definition are samsaric and have not yet completed their dharmic paths. Because samsaric beings are so convinced that they are beings who really exist in time and space, they are unable to recognise their real condition. In other words, they cannot sustain knowing awareness or rigpa effortlessly.
In fact, even dedicated practitioners of dzogchen approach spend decades actualising the view. Actualising the view is just a way of saying familiarising with knowing that one is completely free already. Those who feel attracted to mostly practice dzogchen, get pointed out by their lama what the secret meaning of buddhanature is and then they spend their time doing practices such as rushen and semdzins, like chanting of A or shouts of Phet-syllable.
In my experience, and the reader is asked to remember that my association with the dzogchen-teachings from Tibetan vajrayana is limited, atiyoga practices are simple and concise. They are not like tantra where there sometimes is complex visualisations or long mantras and prayers. Dzogchen-practices are all about getting to the bottom of it as quickly as possible.
I am sure there are practitioners out there who have the ripeness and capacity to practice dzogchen without the support of sutra and tantra but I am not one of those. I feel fortunate that my body is strong and heavily built because my mind is so restless and suffers of outstanding stupidity, i.e. delusion. Because of my miserable condition and yet fortunate karma that has lead me to Guru Rinpoche and his teachings, I feel like sharing my positive experience about tantra and especially tantric guru yoga, that have enabled me to gain understanding of my predicament, confidence in the dharma, confidence about my potential and finally, confidence that attaining buddhahood in one lifetime is indeed be realistic.
Tantric Guru Yoga
There is no adept of dzogchen to be found who does not give praise to her or his lama and the lineage. Guru is praised and celebrated because she or he is the person who can show buddhanature to a sentient being. Because there is no samsaric being who is able to do is, is the reason why all adepts of atiyoga acknowledge the importance of transmission from a guru who represents a valid lineage of vajrayana. It is important to understand that dzogchen transmission is not like any other transmission. For more on transmission see: Transmission – Heart of All Buddhism.
Buddhism discusses three bodies or kayas of buddhanature. In my understanding, these are: 1. physical body (nirmanakaya), 2. energetic body (sambhogakaya) and 3. body of transparent empty awareness (dharmakaya). Like everything else, including me and you, also mahasiddha gurus, such as Guru Padmasambhava, have these three aspects.
Lama Karl Eikrem has written in his short terma (see full text here),
”The outer meaning of Guru refers to the revealer of the teachings, the head of the lineage. The inner meaning of Guru refers to the energetic presence and blessings of Guru Rinpoche, the master. The absolute meaning of Guru refers to Self-Arising Awareness itself.”
The meaning of guru yoga in dzogchen, is to access and recognise ”Self-Arising Awareness” or rigpa. This enables one to see the needlessness of liberation by enabling one to see that all things are already empty.
In tantra, the meaning of guru yoga is to ask blessings from the guru, chant her or his mantra and to visualise her or his form. By doing this, one receives the blessings or energetic charge of the guru which over time loosens the dualistic views which then allow the vision of reality or vision of pureness of emptiness, to arise. From here then, the yogini or yogi is able to comprehend the view of atiyoga. Tantra to atiyoga is what cane is to a cripple. I feel that correct practice of tantric guru yoga is an idiot proof way of seeing the reality, that is, a certain way to attain buddhahood or non-abiding nirvana. When the presence of the mahasiddha guru fills all of one's body cells there is no option for missing it.
Since atiyoga is the absolute path that offers no relative footholds or handles of support, the inner path of tantra comes at handy to assist those who despite of samsaric faults, take seriously the promise of attaining buddhahood in this life. We should never ever forget that it is possible and we should never let anyone convince us that we couldn't tap our potential. In fact because of the fact that we can acknowledge our confusion, is the very proof that we can attain buddhahood in this life.
May Guru Rinpoche's blessings shower on you,
Thank you for reading,
-Kim Orgyen Pema, 14.12.2019