AS WE SAID AT THE beginning, the journey through the nine yanas is a process of rediscovering oneself. As you move along the path, you have a feeling of particular locations. You are traveling through a dense forest or through heavy snow; you are climbing mountains or crossing fields; you encounter
rainstorms and snowstorms. You have to stop each night to eat and sleep, and so on. All those experiences make up your journey. In a sense we could say that the rainstorms are your rainstorms, the snowstorms are your snowstorms, and the dense forests are your dense forests. It’s your world. As you move through the nine yanas, it is yourself that you are rediscovering—more and more clearly.
At the beginning there is a vague idea that something is not quite right. There is something wrong with oneself. Things are questionable, and one begins to look into the question, to relate with the pain, the chaos and confusion. That is the hinayana level. Then at a certain stage some of the answers that
arise out of the search begin to create further hunger, further curiosity. One’s heart becomes more and more steeped in the teachings. Then the mahayana experience of intense dedication to the path begins to take place. Dedication to the path in this case also means compassion, a loving attitude toward
oneself and others. One begins to find one’s place in the universe, in this world. Being on the bodhisattva path is finding one’s place and one’s sense of dedication in this universe. At that point, the universe is not threatening or irritating anymore. This is true for the very simple reason that one has developed a style for working with the universe; meditation in action has begun to develop.
As you go on then, you rediscover the brand-new world of tantra. An enormous surprise takes place. You recognize the magical aspect of the universe, which means yourself as well as everything else. You rediscover the redness of red, the blueness of blue, the whiteness of white, and so on. You rediscover the meaning of passion and the meaning of aggression, their vividness, their aliveness, and also their transcendental quality. Rediscovering this new world is the vajrayana path.
At that point, not only do you realize the meaning of pain and confusion, and not only do you realize you have a place in the world, but you also develop a sense of dignity. In fact, you are the emperor of the universe, the king of the world. Your sense of dignity is related to the experience that you have an enormous place in this world. In fact, you are the maker of the world.
As the tantric experience develops through the lower tantras to the higher tantras, even the notion of being the emperor of the universe becomes unnecessary. You are the universe. You have no reference point, none at all. Everything is on the level of complete oneness. In higher tantric terms, this is known in Tibetan as kadak. Ka is the first letter of the Tibetan alphabet, dak means pure. So it means “pure right at the beginning,” or you might say
“alpha pure.” Purity in this case has nothing to do with the relative reference point of pure as opposed to impure. Purity here has the sense of being really without comparison to anything, without any relative reference at all. That seems to be the state of development we are working toward. That,
finally, is the level of the maha ati teachings, in which there is no reference point, none whatsoever. Therefore, in that state we find millions of reference points everywhere, which do not conflict with each other. Therefore we become precise and open, very general and very specific at the same time. That is the state of enlightenment, if it can be described at all in words. That’s a sort of finger painting of the enlightenment idea.
The whole journey that we have discussed has its roots in overcoming spiritual materialism to begin with, then developing friendship toward oneself and others, and finally developing vajra pride, or a sense of dignity.1 Those three steps are the general guidelines for the hinayana, mahayana, and vajrayana, or tantra. And those experiences cannot come about without a teacher or master to begin with, on the hinayana level; a spiritual friend who minds one’s business intensely on the bodhisattva or mahayana level; or, on the vajrayana level, a vajra master or vajra guru, who holds one’s life strings in his hand.
There is a story about the abhisheka that the great tantric master Padmasambhava received from Shri Simha, the great sage of maha ati. Shri Simha reduced Padmasambhava to the form of the letter HUM. Then he ate it, he put it in his mouth and swallowed it. And when Padmasambhava came out the other end of Shri Simha, that completed his abhisheka. This is an example of the action of the vajra master. He is more than a teacher alone, more than a spiritual friend. The vajra master eats you up and shits you out, having completely processed you in his vajra body. That is the kind of power we’re talking about. Without such a relationship, without this kind of communication, vajrayana cannot be presented. Without this, one cannot even come near to understanding it. So relationships with the various levels of teacher are definitely requirements for progressing on the path.
Then, of course, there is the practice of meditation, which is another important part of the journey. One must practice meditation on the hinayana level in order to develop the basic sanity of relating to one’s mind as a working basis. The satipatthana methods of mindfulness developed in the Theravada tradition are very powerful and important.2 The methods developed in the Sarvastivadin hinayana tradition that exists in Tibet, Japan, and China are identical.
When I was in India, I discussed meditation techniques for awareness practice with a Burmese master who was the disciple of a very great Burmese meditation teacher. When I told him about the vipashyana meditation technique that we used in Tibet, he shook his head and asked me, “When did you go to Burma?”3 So the methods seem to be identical.
It is necessary to begin at the beginning with the hinayana practice. Without that, we do not develop proper sense perception, so to speak. We have to have good eyesight and good hearing to read and listen to the teachings. And we have to have a good body in order to sit and meditate. Good sense perceptions here mean sense perceptions that are no longer distorted. We can have real understanding, no longer distorted by neurosis. That is absolutely necessary; there’s no other way at all, according to Buddha anyway.
Having that solid rock bed for a foundation, that solid, sane, open, fresh ground, you can begin to build, to put up walls. That corresponds to the mahayana discipline of the six paramitas and friendliness to oneself and others. This gives us a sense of direction about how to act as good citizens,
which is the bodhisattva path. After one has become a good citizen, there is an enormous possibility of becoming a genius. Basic sanity has developed and a proper lifestyle has been established. There are no hassles, no obstacles at all. Then you become a genius, which is the vajrayana level. You become a fantastic artist, musician, sculptor, or poet. You begin to see the workings of the universe in its ultimate, last details. You are such a genius that you see everything completely. That’s the final level.
This genius is described as jnana, wisdom. There are five types of genius, five wisdoms. There is mirrorlike wisdom, which is clarity. There is the wisdom of equality, which is seeing everything at once in a panoramic vision. There is the wisdom of discriminating awareness, which is seeing details on an
ultimately precise level. There is the wisdom of all-accomplishing action, in which speed does not have to be included in one’s working situation, but things fall into your pattern. Then there is the fifth wisdom, the wisdom of dharmadhatu, or all-encompassing space, which develops enormous basic sanity and basic spaciousness in the sense of outer space rather than space that is related to the reference point of any planet. That is the kind of cosmic level of genius that we find in the vajrayana.
I suppose this seminar cannot be any more than a teaser for you. But at least you should know that millions of great people have been produced by this path; and not only have they been produced, but they all say the same thing. They’ve all gone through the same process that is being presented here. And we
are not excluded from the possibility of becoming one of them. According to the Buddha, one out of every four people in the sangha becomes enlightened. What we have done very roughly in this seminar has been to give a complete description of the path from the beginning stages to enlightenment. I hope you
will have a sense of aspiration and feel joyful about what we discussed. The other possibility is that you might feel depressed, because you have heard about so many possibilities and good things, but none of them seem to apply to you. Well, okay, be that way—and use your depression as realization of the truth of suffering. Then you will have accomplished the first step already. Or if you are inspired, then buddha fever, the fever of buddha nature, has already possessed you. So let it be that way. It seems that whatever we do, we can’t go wrong.
Student: I have a question about inspiration or motivation. It seems that in the hinayana, the motivation is suffering. In mahayana at some point this is transformed into compassion, so that one continues because one has a sense of working, not for oneself, but for all beings. But, going beyond that, I don’t understand the motivation or inspiration for vajrayana. Why would one go further?
Trungpa Rinpoche: One of the interesting points about vajrayana is that it does not need to be nursed. It just happens that once you have developed the fullest level of compassion as an accomplished mahayanist, you find yourself being a vajrayanist. That’s the general pattern that applies. There’s no particular motivation as such. The only thing is a sense of transcendental fascination with the universe and the play of its energy, its emotions, and so on. Everything is such a magnificent display of the mandala pattern, and you can’t keep yourself from looking at it.
TR: You could say that too, yes.
S: Thank you.
TR: Anything you say.
Trungpa Rinpoche: How is that?
TR: If we just started with tantra, we might end up cultivating Rudra, which is very dangerous. Tantra can only develop by going through the other yanas first, destroying all kinds of spiritual materialism.
It’s very interesting: You can’t say tantra is a spiritual thing exactly, nor is it a worldly thing. That’s why tantra is said to transcend both samsara and nirvana. There is a term in Tibetan that Herbert Guenther translates “coemergent wisdom.” The idea of coemergence here is that you are on neither side;
you are not on the side of ignorance nor on the side of wisdom. Because of that, a lot of hinayanists and mahayanists panicked about tantra—because it’s completely unspiritual. On the other hand, they can’t say tantra is worldly, because there is nothing worldly about tantra either—because of the craziness. Student: What advice would you give for dealing with somebody who is in vajra hell?
Trungpa Rinpoche: Let me go over the idea of vajra hell once again, if I may. Having heard the vajrayana teachings, instead of becoming awakened, you become deaf and dumb to the teachings. The medicine turns into poison. And there’s nothing one can do for such a person. The only thing is to imprison them in a vajra den, which is vajra hell. It’s like you have a prison cell made out of books about the vajrayana all around you. They imprison you. But you might be interested some time or other just in pulling one out, and maybe you might read it. Sheer claustrophobia brings some kind of hope. It is a rather horrific place to be.
S: Would an ordinary prison be any kind of comparison to vajra hell? TR: I don’t think so. It’s much more than that. It’s a total experience, like having cancer throughout your whole body. But you can’t even die out of it. You’re fed by the disease. Student: Does it have an eternal quality? You said there’s no escape from it.
TR: The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes two types of advanced rebirth that can take place. Either you go up to the level of dharmakaya without a bardo experience or else you go down to vajra hell, also without a bardo experience. Because a bardo is some kind of chance or opportunity you have. Student: Would it be beneficial to try to help somebody in vajra hell?
S: So it’s best to avoid such people?
TR: Best to leave them as they are.
S: But how does that relate to the bodhisattva vow?
Student: Can a person in vajra hell ever get out by becoming aware of himself, say, by reading those books that make up his prison? Trungpa Rinpoche: Yes, that’s the only possibility. Through sheer claustrophobia, you might be able to squeeze something out of yourself. Student: You said that at the end of this journey, there is the realization that there was never a need to make this journey at all. But at the same time, isn’t the journey absolutely necessary?
Trungpa Rinpoche: It is necessary in order to realize that your journey was futile. It is called a path, but it is not really a path, because you are really neither coming nor going. But still there is an illusion of a journey. That’s why the various levels are called yanas, which means “vehicles.” You think you are moving. But maybe it is the landscape that is moving.
Trungpa Rinpoche: That is also possible. That depends on how much you are identified with the teachings personally. Once you are identified with the teachings personally, then development is sort of like wine fermenting. It ferments by itself.
Student: You used the analogy of an electric fence around a cow pasture. If the cow tries to go beyond the fence, it gets a shock. There’s some kind of painful situation. I take that to mean that once a person is on the path, there is some kind of safeguard that the guru, through his insight, provides.
Then, in order to flip out and go to vajra hell, it is necessary to make some sort of egoistic assertion to the effect that the guru is no longer able to discriminate properly what is right and what is wrong for us. Is that what this vajra hell thing is about? And then you are left to go off on your own? Trungpa Rinpoche: Are you asking if that kind of a development is the cause of vajra hell? S: Yes.
TR: I think so. Some sort of alienation takes place between the teacher and the student. There is the story of Rudra, one of the first persons to go to vajra hell. He and a fellow student, a dharma brother, were studying with the same master. They had a disagreement about how to interpret the master’s
instructions. They were taking opposite extremes in carrying out their practice, and each of them was sure that he was right. They decided to go to the teacher and ask for his comment. When the teacher told Rudra that he was wrong, Rudra became so angry that he drew his sword and killed his teacher on the spot. Then he ended up in vajra hell. It is that kind of alienation.
Trungpa Rinpoche: Vajra hell is not quite complete egohood. It’s still part of the journey. But when you come out of vajra hell without any realization, then you attain the real egohood, which is the state of Rudra. You turn yourself into a demon.
S: So you’re not in vajra hell when you attain egohood.
TR: No, egohood seems to be quite difficult to attain. As difficult as enlightenment. Doing a really good job on it is very difficult. Student: It seems to me that some act of surrendering is definitely necessary. But is that something you can try to do, or do you just have to wait and let it happen? Is it something you have to stop trying to do?
Trungpa Rinpoche: The general policy seems to be that you have to surrender artificially to begin with. You have high ideals, some inspiration about what the possibilities might be, but you can’t quite click into those possibilities spontaneously at the beginning. So you have to start by creating artificial openness, by surrendering artificially. This is precisely what taking the refuge vow or the bodhisattva vow is. It is artificial actually—you are not up to it. But the commitment involved begins to have an effect on your state of being, for the very reason that you cannot wipe out your past. That artificial gesture becomes part of the landscape of your life; then something there begins to ferment, begins to work.