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Tibetan Tantra in a Nutshell

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The translator, Garma C. C. Chang

The Buddhist scholar Garma C. C. Chang (1920-88) was the editor and translator of Teachings and Practice of Tibetan Tantra. The book was first published in 1963, and reprinted in 2004. Chang's aim was to introduce several vital texts about Buddhahood and how to discover it within one's own body-mind. [Tpt 11]

Garma Chen-Chi Chang - Garma is Dharma in Tibetan; he added it to his name, Chen-Chi Chang, or in the Chinese style, Chang Chen-Chi, (pinyin: Zhang Chengji) - was an authority on Buddhist philosophy, born in China and educated at Kong-ka Monastery, at Meia Nya in eastern Tibet. The monastery is in a line of Kargya Schools. Chang came to the United States after World War II and was a research fellow at the Bollingen Foundation in New York from 1955 onward.

He wrote many books, including The Practice of Zen (1959), The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa (1962), and Teachings and Practice of Tibetan Tantra (2004). The latter corresponds to Teachings of Tibetan Yoga (1993) Both versions derive from a first edition of 1963.

In his book on Tibetan tantrism (2004; 1993; 1963), Chang wrote about generating internal heat in the body, tummo. He also taught tantric doctrine about erotic mysticism, on how sexual bliss can be made godly. [Tpt 5-7]

Chang searched for universal truth, and his writings about the Mahayana tradition have illuminated the path for others. His first published English Buddhist text was the Practice of Zen. It is Chinese Zen he draws on. Earlier, he had translated The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa into English in the 1950s.

Adding to this, his book on Tibetan Tantrism is hard to grasp at just a couple of readings, as John C. Wilson writes in the book's introduction of 1962. And Chang advises that a serious fellow should first be initiated and well guided before starting any actual practices, so his book is intended as a source of reference, a pointer, and he hopes it may prove useful to some. [Tpt 9, 15] From Garma C. C. Chang's Foreword

Passion-desires are identified with transcendental Wisdom. [Tpt 12]

The Innate Light, Dharmakaya, is normally hidden "in" the Centre of the Heart Chakra. [Tpt 12]

Prana (vitality) and mind work in unison in reciprocal rhythms. [Tpt 12, 13]

Through realising the essence of mind as Transcendental Wisdom, one realises the essence of prana as the inexhaustible act of Buddhahood. [Tpt 13]

Liberation and Skilfulness depend on proper cultivating the Innate Mind. The dominant Tantric practises are called the Arising and Perfecting Yoga. [Tpt 14]


From The Song of Mahamudra by Tilopa

The Song was composed by Tilopa when he imparted this teaching to Naropa on the bank of the Ganges River.

Tilopa (Sanskrit: Talika or Tilopada, 988–1069) was born in Bengal. He is credited with developing the Mahamudra method, which is a set of spiritual practices. On travels throughout India he learnt of such as insight, dream yoga, inner light and inner heat. He is regarded as the human founder of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism through the Indian Buddhist yogi Naropa (956-1041), who is considered the main teacher of the Tibetan Marpa, who initiated Jetsun Milarepa of the line.

Mahamudra means literally 'great seal' or 'great symbol'. It includes methods

    of fitting the nature and essence of the mind, or the mindstream's innate clarity in other words;
    of meditating on mind itself, that is, to directly experience many phenomena of one's own mind;
    of stabilising transcendental realisation.

Both Tranquillity approaches and Insight approaches are found, as well as practices to remedy common problems of meditation. The instructions are detailed.

The Kagyu lineage divides the Mahamudra teachings - outlooks and meditation techniques - into three types, 'sutra Mahamudra', 'tantra Mahamudra', and 'essence Mahamudra'. There are main practices in the range of practices. There exist discourses about Mahamudra in other traditions than the Kagyu lineage too.

The following are excerpts and abstracts from the Song of Mahamudra in Chang's translation. His translation of the poem is here. Another translation to compare with is here.

Relax, put your mind at rest.

In time you will realise the Innate. [Tpt 26]

If the mind should seek a goal through some desire, it hides the Inner Light. [Tpt 27]

Follow only teachings that are great. [Tpt 28]

Stare naked to know. [Tpt 29]

Meditate in woods and mountains, and maintain the "natural state" without effort. [28]

Remain loose and natural, gain Liberation. [Tpt 25]

In Self-mind distinctions or discrimination stops. [Tpt 25]

The essence of the mind is a great vast ocean where lights merge into one. [Tpt 30]

What is referred to is, more specifically, is (1) the innate Light which exists within oneself at all times, and (2) the realization of that Light, a realization that may vary.

Supreme Action embraces great resourcefulness without attachment. [Tpt 29]

Fools wallow in misery and sorrow. [Tpt 27]


    Relax in time from such as seeking goals.
    Follow the great and observe them.
    Meditate to gain Liberation, that is, drift beyond terms like "Liberation" too as you go on diving well.

IN NUCE Relax amply, observe the great teachings and gain from meditation.

From the Vow of Mahamudra

The following is gist from a poem by the third Garmapa [[[Karmapa]]] Rangjang Dorje [1284-1339]. Rangjang Dorje was a noted scholar who composed many significant texts. He was born in Tingri, in western Tibet and studied Buddhist doctrinal systems and Tibetan medicine. He travelled throughout Tibet and China to preach, found monasteries, turn people toward the dharma, and to deal in politics.

A karmapa is the Lama that heads the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. [More]

The Vow of Mahamudra is used as a daily prayer by the Ghagyuba Lamas.

Let flowing thoughts ever subside, and observe unbearable compassion The Great Symbol [[[Great Perfection]], or Mahamudra] is called the Great Middle Way and embraces all. [Tpt 35]

Mind-Essence is radiant. [Tpt 32]

Calm] down:] Let flowing thoughts subside [for a while]. [Tpt 34]

True pity is unbearable. Great compassion is unbearable too. [Tpt 36]

Voidness [[[Sunyata]]] is [deep in] mind. [Tpt 34]

Always observe. The mind manifests through convictions too. [Cf Tpt 33] ◊

Buddha's Self-nature is the same as your own Self-nature. [Tpt 36]

Realize the Self-nature. [Tpt 35]

Discern ably. [Tpt 34] — That logical reasoning may help toward arriving at the Truth, is part of the teaching. [Tpt 48]

LoLet savoury goodness be fulfilled beyond playwords

Share joy and goodness in Dharma. [Tpt 31] ◊

May all my good wishes be fulfilled, and readily. [Tpt 36] Truth is far beyond playwords. [Tpt 35]

Enjoy great bliss and happiness - they are "my own Self-face" In the final Truth [[[state]]] there is neither this nor that. [Tpt 34] (5)

Ever enjoy. [Tpt 31]

May I ever follow the Supreme Path of [at least quite] unbearable compassion! [Tpt 36]

Knowing one is knowing all. [Tpt 35]

Continuing practice of self-sustaining Practice-of-no-effort may serve Great Bliss and Radiant Light and is free. [Tpt 35, mod] ◊

Rest at ease. [Tpt 34]

The essential practice: Without distraction, add nothing. [Tpt 32]

Beyond thought is self-sustaining practice. [Tpt 35]

Craving for ecstasy should dissolve. [Cf Tpt 35]

(7) Buddhaland is in Essence. It may be constructed to be a realm. In Tibetan teachings, Buddha's bodies include the Dharma body (the field, loka, of righteousness) and the body of Universal Essence [Tpt 36, 48]

Powers gained through meditation, clairvoyance and like, may I use them to serve my Buddha-land. [Tpt 36]

May I behold my own Self-face! [Tpt 34]

    Let flowing thoughts ever subside, and practice almost unbearable compassion.
    Let savoury goodness be fulfilled beyond playwords. How? Dive well.
    Enjoy great bliss and happiness if you care to, your own Self-face.

From the Essentials of Mahamudra Practice

Below are extracts from a synopsis given by the Venerable Lama Kong Ka, who was Garma C. C. Chang's mentor.

Not to cling suggests spontaneity

Not to cling to anything is called essential. [Tpt 38]

"Naturalness" means the yogi does not make any effort and be spontaneous. [Tpt 38]

Never forget to practice the "looseness" and "spontaneity". [Cf Tpt 46]

Essence and moral truths are in essence identical. [Tpt 40]

Merge distracting thoughts into the Path. [Tpt 44]

Utilize conditions to further Realization. [Tpt 43]

One may be distracted during daily work, forgetting the Essence. If so, bring back the Awareness, and the subtle Essence is wont to pop up again. [Tpt 42, 43]

Practice meditation on the sickness as you can, while adhering to the three essentials: equilibrium, relaxation, and naturalness. [Cf Tpt 44, Tpt 37]

In the experience of Blissfulness some get extremely glad, enthusiastic, and enter ecstasy to become unaware of day and night. [Tpt 41]

Try to get near the Inward Essence daily

Great Awareness tends to make keener or brighter. [Cf. 38, 39, etc.] Try not to lose the Essence, and try to bring the meditation experience into your daily activities. [Tpt 42] ◊

Great awareness and stability are much the same, a lot related

Practice the natural mind to keep your Self-Awareness, and you are practicing Mahamudra. [Cf Tpt 46]

One is to focus on quiet meditation first, and next apply Great Awareness to his daily activities. [Cf Tpt 37]

The cure and the cured are the same [higher up]. Hence, Dharma-practice and desire-passions are not two different things [deep inside]. [Tpt 40]

Steady mind, clear and bright awareness, crystal clear consciousness, and stable. [Tpt 38-39] ◊

"Awaringly" remain in a loose and natural state. [Tpt 44]

To "loosen the mind" is to remain in the natural state without [very much] effort, and without distractions. [Tpt 38]

To keep the mind loose implies that one should try to further and sharpen its bright awareness. [Tpt 39]

To practice, keep loose and gentle, and remain balanced. Activities should be carried out in a smooth, relaxed, and spontaneous way. [Tpt 39]

What helps: Elevate your mind, and practice of Self-mind [[[Self-nature]]]. [Cf Tpt 37]

Bright and Essential Awareness in its natural state is Mahamudra. [Cf Tpt 43]

To always be trying to correct faults is most likely to have strayed from the Path [of Mahamudra]. [Tpt 41]

Awareness and Realization may be broadened in time, by keeping the subtle Awareness alive. [Tpt 43] (7)

Try not to lose Self-Awareness at any time. [Tpt 42]

Abide in this immediate, present moment with bright awareness. [Cf Tpt 45]

At the very moment compassion arises, practice meditation on it. [Cf Tpt 44] (8)

    Not to cling suggests spontaneity. Buddhism stresses "not clinging".
    Try to get near the Inward Essence daily through diving within in deep meditation.
    Great awareness and stability are much the same; the two are very much related.

Do not cling, and draw near to your inward Essence. Then you may get much stabler and aware too.


The gentle Vase-breathing will do a beginner a world of good with little or no hindrances: Hold the air for a short while [eg, half a second], release it [[[calmly]]] before there is any strain, then draw in another breath and hold it again for a very short while. Repeat ten times; this is called a sensible round. [Cf Tpt 60]

A main feature of soft and gentle Vase-Breathing is to put a gentle pressure on the lower parts of the abdomen. [Tpt 125]

Quiet and very simple - of Essence and Light

The Void is otherwise called the Innate Light. [Cf Tpt 98]

A quiet place matters too. [Cf Tpt 83]

Pith-instructions, which may also be rendered as "Key-Instructions", consist of the essence of the conveyed Tantric teaching. They are usually very simple, precise, yet practical. [Cf Tpt 121] ◊

Help the capable to gain by applying top teachings

Through Central Channel Awareness one is to heed delicately the Heart-Centre to improve. cf Tpt 63, 64, 72, 94] (3)

One is to set forth things to help the capable to attain Buddhahood. [Cf Tpt 52]

Dream Yogas are of Light. [Cf Tpt 51]

One is to apply the instructions to gain Liberation. [Cf Tpt 110] ◊

One is to let preliminaries merge into actual practice

The Three Precious Ones are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. [Tpt 109, 128] (5)

To progress a bit, preliminaries are required. These include kindness. [Tpt 53]

One should at times meditate on the transiency of life. [Cf Tpt 115] ◊

Merge Self-illuminating Essence with the Light-of-Death (Innate Light) when death comes. [Tpt 110]

Buddha's nature lies within [or well beyond] one's own body-mind complex. [It depends.] cf Tpt 124] ◊ ◊

Adhere to the Self-Yidam Body. [Cf Tpt 112]

Compose body, mouth, and mind and adhere to the middle way. [Tpt 51, cf Tpt 84]

Recognise the Innate Light when it emerges. [Tpt 95]

Tantrism is based upon the view of the identity of Samsara and Nirvana. [Tpt 116] (8)

A good yogi should keep his inner experiences secret, and not tell anyone about them except his Guru, and renounce all meaningless activities. Nor should he eat extremely spoiled fish. He should also avoid overeating rich food, and should not exhaust himself greatly by any activity. Tpt 76, 77, 89]

The Eight Worldly Gains encompass gain, praise, and joy. [Cf Tpt 126]

Dumo is essentially "the Fire of Transcendental Wisdom that burns up all ignorance and vice." [Cf Tpt 73] (9)

    Quiet and very simple - of Essence and Light.
    Help the capable to gain by applying top teachings
    One is to let preliminaries merge into actual practice.

Quietly help the capable beyond preliminaries into actual practice.

In an after-death state

Bardo - the intermediate state between death and rebirth -provides a good opportunity for Enlightenment. [Cf Tpt 121]

If he is to be born in a happy realm, he sees a white light, brilliant as the moon. [Tpt 105]

He hears the boom of ocean waves. [Tpt 106]

He falls in love with the place where he is to be reborn as soon as he sees it. [Tpt 107]

He who sees the splendid, heavenly mansions, with male and female angels, is to be born in one of the heavens. [Tpt 107]

Chang, Garma C. C., ed and tr. Teachings and Practice of Tibetan Tantra. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004 (1963).

Same content and page numbering as:

Chang, Garma C. C., ed. Teachings of Tibetan Yoga: Introduction to the Spiritual, Mental, Physical Exercises of the Tibetan Religion. Reprint ed. New York: Citadel Press, 1994 (1963).