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The Vajrayana Approach: Sacred Self

According to the view of Vajrayana, the physical existence of form is sacred. In the Vajrayana, the fundamental nature of our body, speech and mind is recognized as primordially pure and enlightened. When their pure nature is known and manifest, they are acknowledged as vajra (indestructible) body, vajra speech and vajra mind.

In this tradition, a practitioner works directly with his or her body and mind using a variety of skillful methods to swiftly transform them into the nature of enlightened body and mind—right on the spot. Therefore, in order to find enlightenment, it is not necessary to renounce the world (the outer body) or one’s own body and mind, and leave them behind, as practiced in the Hinayana vehicle, or to seal all appearances with the theoretical view of emptiness, as in the Mahayana. Enlightenment is already right here, within our subtle mind and body, and there is no need to search for liberation outside. We do not have to wait for eons in order to experience a pure buddha realm. In one moment, we can directly cut through all our clinging and enter the vajra world. Therefore, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the view of Vajrayana is considered the highest, and its meditation is regarded as supreme.

Three Stages of Body and Mind

Penetrating the nature of mind and body is emphasized equally in the Vajrayana. In the tantric scriptures, such as Hevajra and Kalachakra, the state of mind and body are generally taught to exist in three stages: coarse, subtle and utmost subtle.

The three stages of mind are: 1) the coarse mind—kleshas (defilements) and thoughts; 2) the subtle mind—mind that is resting in basic nondual emptiness; and 3) the utmost subtle mind—absolute bodhichitta (awakened mind or heart), freedom from all conceptualization.

The three stages of body are: 1) the coarse body—the skandhas, the ayatanas and dhatus; 2) the subtle body—the prana, nadis and bindu; and 3) the utmost subtle body—the vajra body.

The coarse body is our relative, physical body that is composed of and functions through the five skandhas, eighteen dhatus and twelve ayatanas (the ayatanas and dhatus comprise all the elements of the perceptual processes: the six sense organs, including mind, their objects, and the corresponding consciousnesses). From the Vajrayana perspective, this body is seen as the basis or fundamental ground of transmutation.

The subtle body, which pervades the coarse body, consists of three elements: a network of channels, or nadis; the subtle wind energies, or prana, which move through these pathways; and the essence of the physical body, known as bindu. By means of practicing with these three, one accomplishes the three vajras—the indestructible nature of the three aspects of enlightened body, speech and mind.

Thus, in the tantric view, the ground of body is full of pathways or highways (nadis) upon which the horse of prana circulates, and the wealth of subtle and pure energies (bindus) is enjoyed by the accomplished rider. Conversely, it is taught that the dualistic mind is like a person without legs who rides on the blind horse of prana.

The utmost subtle body is the genuine body of the spontaneously present, indivisible three vajras. This is the resultant form in the Vajrayana, and it is the purest form of nadi, prana and bindu, which are the basis or support of the unchanging three kayas, or bodies, of buddhahood. The dharmakaya, or “body of truth,” relates to vajra mind; the sambhogakaya, or “body of enjoyment,” relates to vajra speech; and the nirmanakaya, or “emanation body,” relates to vajra body.

Through the methods of the Vajrayana, one takes the basic ground, which is our very state of physical existence, into the experience of sacred world. All the interdependent appearances of mind and phenomena are experienced with sacred vision, without abandoning or adopting anything. We work with the vastness of relative reality by seeing it in its true state, the state of sacred world. Thus, the relative world is seen as a sacred mandala, or buddhafield.

Awakening

This progressive and very personal three-yana journey leads us beyond the basic duality of existence and nonexistence to the indestructible, awakened state that transcends all conceptuality. In the first stage of our spiritual journey, we look at the existence of our samsaric body and samsaric world as unclean, as something to abandon or renounce. In the second stage, through the methods of the Mahayana path, we discover our basic potential, our fundamental state of liberation. This is actually a rediscovery of our genuine self, of who we really are. Once we have rediscovered that self, we enter the path of the tantras, the path where body and mind arise as the spontaneous expression of the continuity of our own vajra heart.

Ordinarily we cling to our bodies like dreamers, clinging unawares to illusory appearances. But when we recognize that we are dreaming, all the solidity of the dream, including our own body and the bodies of others, is no longer there. When we reach that point, we awaken from the long dream of samsara. With the wisdom of knowing who we truly are, absolute and relative compassion will manifest naturally toward all sentient beings and benefit them extensively. That is what we call achieving complete enlightenment.


The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche was born at the new Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, India, where he studied the traditional Buddhist scholastic curriculum. Today, he lives in Seattle and is founder and president of Nalandabodhi and Nithartha International, and head teacher of the Nitartha Institute.


The Wisdom of the Body & the Search for the Self, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, September 2004.

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