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Buddhist Tantra Teachings


Chapter 4. The Steps of Practice in the Path

First, the preparatory exercises of Akrul-akor and Stong-ra are given; second, the process of the actual practice.

Some in the Marpa School say that with the protection-practice of the Húm word during the inhaling, exhaling, and holding periods of breathing, or with the moderate wrathful deities as protection, or with the practice of the Guru Yoga to accumulate the merits, the Yogi may do without the practice of Akrul-akor and Stong-ra. This kind of saying is given by the later followers; but His Holiness Milarepa and Gampopa never so declared in the old days.

The practice of Akrul-akor has two aspects: First, the practice of Taking the Refuges and Arousing the Bodhi Heart; and second, meditation on the Guru who sits upon one's own head and sincerely praying to him. These practices are definitely in accordance with the teachings of Tantra. The Yogi should first vividly visualize himself as the Father-Mother Patron Buddha.

Master Pag-mo-grub-b'a exposed, in his Stanzas on the Skillful Path, the methods and physical exercises as follows:

1. Making the body full like a vase.

2. Turning like a wheel.

3. Bending like a hook.

4. With the Vajra Mudra shooting the sky and tightening the lower part.

5. Like a dog vomiting, shaking the body.

6. Shaking the head and body, and stretching the limbs. [p. 161}

These are the famous Six Exercises of Naropa.

1. Making the body full like a vase: The Yogi should sit on a comfortable seat in a lotus posture, his body and spine erect; put his two palms on his two knees; inhale the air with the right nostril, and then look to the left and exhale all the air very slowly and gently. Take in the air with the right nostril and look toward the right, and slowly, gently, let all the breath out. Then take in the air with the left nostril and look toward the left; gently let the breath out as before. Next take in the air with both nostrils and let the breath out while the body remains sitting in a normal position. Repeat this manner of breathing three times. Altogether nine repetitions are required to expel all the defiled air within the body. During the inhaling and exhaling, the mouth should not be opened. The yogi should keep his body straight and turn his two fists inward. Then he should inhale very gently and slowly and send the air down below the navel. Meantime he should gulp down the air without any sound, using the diaphragm to press the Upper Prana down and to gently pull up the Lower Prana. Thus, the Upper and Lower Prana meet and unite. The mind should concentrate on the center of the navel Chakra, and one should hold the breath as long as he can as if holding the air in a vase to its fullness. During this breath-holding period, all the body movements should be carried out. Although not a real Akrul-akor exercise, this exercise is called a form of Akrul-akor. At the moment when the yogi cannot hold the breath longer, he should very gently let the air out through the nostrils, but never through the mouth. While doing this, the mind should not think of anything.

2. Turning like a Wheel: Sitting in the Lotus posture, [p. 162} use the fingers of the right hand to hold the large toe of the right foot and those of the left hand to hold the large toe of the left foot. Hold the body erect, and turn the waist and stomach clockwise three times; turn them counterclockwise three times. Next bend the body from left to right and from right to left three times; then bend the body forward and reverse it to the looking-up position. Repeat the body-bending three times.

3. Bending like a Hook: Put the two fists, in the vajra-fist manner, upon the Heart Center and stretch them forward with great force, then stretch both arms forward. Use the right fist to make a circle around the head from left to right. As the arm and fist come down, use the elbow to strike the side of the chest. Do the same movement with the left arm from the opposite direction. Then holding the Vajra-fists and putting them on the Heart Center, again stretch them forward with force. Next, stretch both arms to the right, as before, and strike the side of the chest.

4. With the Vajra Mudra shooting the sky and tightening the lower part: Cross the two knees and hold the body erect. Join the fingers of both hands and massage the body from the lower part up to the head; then use the fingers to support the whole body and lift it up. Then suddenly loosen the fingers, and let the body drop down vehemently.

5. Like a dog vomiting, shaking the body: Cross the knees and keep the body straight. Put the two hands on the ground, and then successively lift up the body and the head. As the hands release the support and the body drops down, the whole body should be waved and shaken as though trembling. At the same time exhale the air and utter a prolonged Ha sound, turning round at the waist. Repeat three times. [p. 163}

6. Shaking the head and body and stretching the limbs: Put the right hand on the left knee and the left hand on the right knee. Use the fingers of both hands to pull up the knees, then shake the head and body.

The yogi who practices these exercises must be acquainted with the art of holding the breath. He must be at ease and gentle. The best time to practice these exercises is before eating, or some time after the meal when the stomach is not too full. These exercises should be practised until the body becomes very flexible and energetic.

The Practice of the Visualization of the Stong-ra (the Empty Body)

The Yogi should visualize the image of the patron Buddha as before, but now he should especially visualize the interior of the body as clear and transparent, like crystal, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. In this manner, the yogi should try to stabilize the visualization. The practice of mental visualization and the physical exercises should be carried out alternatively.

The Stong-ra practice is to visualize the body without the slightest shadow or obstruction as if one were seeing a clear rainbow. Although one's body cannot at this stage actually become (a body of rainbow), the stabilization of this visualization will enable the yogi to overcome the hazards—the nerve pains and prana pains—which he may encounter during his practice. Because of this Stong-ra practice, the greater pains or hazards will not arise; even if these pains do arise they can be subdued by the practice of Stong-ra visualization. This is the special advantage of practicing Stong-ra as well as the physical exercises. [p. 164}

Although there are a number of different statements and arrangements of the Stong-ra practice, the teaching of Pag-mo-grub-b'a says no more than the instruction given above; therefore, one should know that to follow this instruction is quite sufficient.

Though one may not find many accounts of the Stong-ra and physical exercises in the main Tantras, these are the pith-instructions taught by the masters. Furthermore, in the practice on Rtsa [56] and prana it is sometimes difficult to attain Samadhi through the gentle or soft practice; therefore, the radical or strong practice is needed. In that case it is believed that these preparatory practices will minimize hazards and obstacles.

56. Rtsa in Tibetan, Nadi in Sanskrit. All the tubular structures of the human body, including the nerves, capable of transforming the fluids and energies of the body. In the text this term is translated usually as nerve or nerves. [See also Part I, Ch. VII, Note 13. Ed.]

The Actual Successive Practice of the Path

This is expounded in two sections: The classifications of the Path; and the instruction of entering into the Path.

There are different ways to classify this teaching—some divide it into two groups; some, into three, four, six, or ten. However, from the viewpoint of befitting the different dispositions or capacities of human beings, the teachings can be classified in three groups. First, the teaching that enables one to become the perfect Buddha in this very life; second, the teaching that enables one to become Buddha in the Bardo state; third, the teaching that enables one to become Buddha in future lives [57]. From the viewpoint of the nature of the practice, the teaching can be divided into the ordinary Perfecting Yoga, and the outstanding betterment practice of the Perfecting Yoga The latter is not usually found in the teachings of the masters of this school (Kar-gyupa), who mainly depend on the pith-instructions alone.

57. Literal translation would be "enables me to become Buddha in eight lives in the future."

[p. 165}

However, those masters in the Marpa school who held the tradition of preaching the Tantra do accept this type of teaching.

Marpa said:

"From the great master Naropa, the guard [58],

I have heard the profound Tantra of Hevajra

I also received the pith-instruction of joining, transformation and unification [59]

(Bsre, rpo, nrtsams-sbyor).

Especially have I learned the teaching of Heat Yoga and Karmayoga.

Thus, for me, was the essence of the teachings of the Whisper Succession illustrated."

58. Naropa held a professorship in an Indian college-monastery that had four doors. He held the office of guardian of the North Door.

59. Lacking Marpa's original text, it is felt that the meaning of the Tibetan is substantially conveyed by the three English terms given (barring any esoteric meaning they might have carried and that is now lost).

Thus, Marpa said, was illustrated for him the joining and transformation practice of the Whisper Succession. In particular, he relied on the practice of the Heat Yoga of the Vajra, which produces the four blisses. Later on, through the practices of Karmayoga, the four blisses were also raised within him. From this we know that, in the teaching of Hevajra, he relied mainly on the Heat Yoga and Karma-yoga.

Again Marpa said:

"In the city of Lagkedar, in the west,

I bowed down at the feet of the holy


From him I heard the teaching of

Gsun-wa-adus-b'a of the Father Tantra [60].

And also received the pith-instructions

Of the Illusory Body and Great Light.

Thus have I learned the teaching of the

Path of the Five Steps."

60. The Father Tantra is one division of the highest, or Annutara Tantra, in which emphasis is on the Skill [upáya in the sense of perfect Love's boundless means to aid. Ed.] Teachings. The other division, called the Mother Tantra by Tibetan scholars, is that which emphasizes the Wisdom [prajná, in the sense of transcendental wisdom. Ed.] Teachings.

According to Naropa there are four outstanding Tantras [p. 166} from which the superb pith-instructions are derived; one of them is the teaching of the Path of the Five Steps of Gsun-wa-adus-b'a. Thus Marpa learned the teaching of the Illusory Body and Great Light of Gsun-wa-adus-b'a from both Ye-shes-snying-po and Naropa. As for the teaching of Transformation Yoga and Yoga of Entrance, he mainly derived them from the masterly .

According to the classification of the Six Yogas of Naropa, the yogas are: Heat Yoga, Yoga of Illusory Body, Light Yoga, Transformation Yoga, Yoga of Entrance and Bardo Yoga. Both the Dream Yoga and Bardo Yoga are ramifications of the Yoga of Illusory Body. It is better to appropriate the Light-of-Sleep [61] to the Yoga of Illusory Body; also it is more convenient to classify the Transformation Yoga and the Yoga of Entrance as one. The pith-instruction of Milarepa stated:

61. "Light" is the term used to symbolize the transparent nature of the pure consciousness. This consciousness has, however, many degrees, hence many terms are used to describe these gradations and manifestations of consciousness, such as the Original or Mother Light, the Light-of-Sleep, Light-of-Death, and Light-of-Bardo.

" . . . This teaching contains the Arising Yoga, Head Yoga, Karmayoga, the Knowledge of Reality, the Symbolic Light in the Path, and the Symbolic Illusory Body and Dream in the Path. These six teachings are the heart-like pith-instruction of Marpa, the final teachings of the Whisper Succession. No other teachings of any Path-with-Form can be found superior in essence to these. There is no other temporary or final instruction that does not belong to this teaching. The teaching of the Six Yogas is itself the Perfecting Yoga."

Those who follow and hold the traditional instructions of the Marpa School all hold this opinion. Those who declare that there are other teachings more profound than the Six Yogas of Naropa, speak nonsense.

Here it is proper to point out that, in general, the highest Perfecting Yoga must first provide the method of inducing [p. 167} the [prana] of the Roma and R-kyang [62], to enter the Central Channel. This teaching is indispensable, though there are a great many different methods given by accomplished yogis who relied on different Tantras. In this teaching (of Six Yogas), the method of meditating on the [gTummo] [62a] or the short. Ah at the Transformation Center of the navel is used to gather the Live-Dynamic Prana into the Central Channel. Through the entrance of the air into the Central Channel, the four blisses are produced, and finally, the Mahamudra Innate Wisdom. In this profound Teaching of Skillfulness [63] is not relied on, but, instead, the practice of the Samadhi of Absolute-No-Thought, the Yogi will reach the state of Mind-Consolidation in which bliss, illumination, and non-thought are experienced. This state of Mind-Consolidation, however, is a common stage: Hinayana, Mahayana, Paramitayana, and Vajrayana all have the knowledge and experiences of it. It is by no means special; therefore, it is of great importance that one should not confuse the teaching of this Mind-Consolidation state with the special Tantric Skillful Path. This view can be verified by the instance of Gampopa's [Sgam-po-pa] meeting with Milarepa. When Gampopa first met Milarepa, he told Milarepa that he was able to remain in Samadhi with perfect concentration for many days in a single period. But Milarepa told him that no butter can be produced by squeezing the sand; moreover, the Samadhi he had engaged in was by no means enough. Milarepa then told him that he should practice the Small Ah of Life-Energy of the Heat Yoga. One should well understand this important point [64].

62. Roma and Rg'yng-ma: the Right and Left Channels.

62a. gTum-ma: Tibetan name for the Heat-Yoga. Ed.

63. Tantrism provides two types of teachings. The Skill Teachings instruct in those methods used to carry the yogi beyond the habitual patterns of human thought so that he may grasp that real beyond thought, the Pure Consciousness. The Wisdom Teachings begin with the mind to penetrate beyond it to the Realm of Pure Consciousness. [Such skill is technically called thabs. Ed.]

64. Here, Tsong Khapa wishes to emphasize the differences between the blisses produced by the experiences of ordinary meditation and those produced by Tantric meditation.

We have always heard it said that the teaching of Heat Yoga of the Kargyutpa is the very best; however, this [p. 168} should only be understood to the effect that the primordial and fundamental principle of the Perfecting Yoga is to make the life-prana enter into the Central Channel to produce the Innate Great Bliss. Consequently, as the prime goal is reached, there is no need to pursue any other teachings of the Perfecting Yoga. By the practice of the meditation on the Dumo fire, the air enters into the Central Channel and goes through the progressive process of entering, remaining, and dissolving. By means of this power the Bodhi-Heart is brought under control. No more leakage of the Bodhi-Heart will occur; therefore the Yogi is able to practice the Karmayoga which provides favorable conditions for producing the Four Innate Blisses. The teaching of Heat Yoga and Karmayoga is mainly needed for the purpose of producing the Innate Bliss. Relying on this Innate Blissful-Emptiness while awake, the Yoga of Illusory Body should he practiced in the daytime. At time of sleep in the night, exercise on the Illusory Body of the dream state should be stressed. To practice this, one should first exercise the Light Yoga; then one is able to enter into (and master) the dream. In order to be capable of holding the prana during the time of (the unfoldment of) the Light-of-Sleeping State, one must first have the ability to gather the pranas during the waking state. For both of these practices, the best preparation is Heat Yoga.

The Yogi must first completely master the Dream State. After that he is able to recognize the Bardo State; for this the Heat Yoga is also the best preparation. Also because of the Heat Yoga these three practices converge into the Yoga of Illusory Body.

In the art of mastering the special Transformation Yoga and the Entrance Yoga, one must first be able to gather [p. 169} all the pranas into the Central Channel. Practicing Heat Yoga is the best method to accomplish this.

If he knows the different ways of allocating these teachings, he will have no difficulty in understanding the various ways of classifying them. If he possesses sound understanding of them, he may arrange them in any manner.

The Successive Steps of the Teachings in the Path

This will be expounded in two categories: first, the basic teachings in the path; second, the teaching of improvement. In the first category lie (1) the principle of the Path and (2) the ramification teachings of the path-Transformation Yoga and the Entrance Yoga. In the former there also lie two divisions: (1) The exposition of the gathering of prana in the Central Channel and the manner of the arising of the four blisses. (2) Relying on the foregoing experience, instruction on practicing the Illusory Yoga and Light Yoga. Of the first there are also two divisions: (1) The inner practice of Heat Yoga. (2) The outer practice of Karmayoga. The first again has two divisions; (1) Through the practice of Dumo the prana is led to the Central Channel. (2) By means of the entrance of the prana the manner of the arising of the four blisses. The first, again has two divisions: (1) How to practice Dumo. (2) The manner of the entrance, remaining, and dissolving of the prana in the Central Channel resulting from the Dumo practice. The first is divided into three groups: (1) Meditation on the Three Pillars. (2) Meditation on the Clear Words. (3) The practice of Vase-Breathing. [p. 170}

Meditation on the Three Pillars: Visualize clearly that sitting in the front sky are the Chief Gurus and the Succession Gurus, together with the Goddess and the Brave ones [65]. To them render the comprehensive offerings without the slightest regard for one's own possessions. Then pray to them in general terms many times; especially on this occasion one should pray fervently for the arising of the two-in-one bliss-voidness experience and realization. Also one should think that it is for the purpose of enabling all the mother-like sentient beings to become the perfect Buddha Rdo-rje-chang that he now practices the Heat Yoga. One should put all one's heart into thinking of the Bodhi-Heart. Then visualize, clearly and vividly, the image of the self-Buddha [66]. Thus the foundation of Samadhi is laid.

65. Brave Ones (Dpao Wo in Tibetan): The male heavenly beings who practice Tantricism.

66. In tantric meditation, the yogi visualizes himself as becoming the Patron Buddha or yidam; he is no longer of human form.

The Yogi should put on the meditation-belt [67], cross his legs (in the sitting posture), hold his spine erect, slightly bend his chin, and rest naturally the eyes. The tongue slightly touches the upper palate, the teeth and lips rest naturally as they are. Alert the body and mind; thrust the chest forward; put one hand on top of the other and poise them below the navel. Clearly visualize the three channels. Then think of the Dumo situated about four fingers' distance from the navel, close to the spine. More explicitly, the Dumo is situated in the Central Channel at the joining point of the three channels—namely the Central, Right, and Left Channels. They are situated in a parallel position, and the Central Channel extends from the place below the navel up to the top of the head, as the supporting pillar of the four Chakras.

67. The special belt wrapped around the body to keep it in the right posture for meditation.

The reason for meditating in such a manner is to lead the pranas to enter into the Central Channel. Three different [p. 171} ways of practice were suggested. Some say that the three Channels all end at the place four fingers' distance below the navel. Some say that the Right and Left Channels do not end there, but extend down to the end of the precious organ. In the upper part, some claim, the Central Channel extends up to Smin-mds'ams, the center of the two eyebrows, and the Right and Left Channels extend down to the nostrils. Through correct practice, the Right and Left Channels which encircle the Central Channels in the center of the four chakras will eventually be straightened. As for the diameter of the Channels, there are no definite rules. Meditate on various diameters. When the Dumo is meditated upon, the color of the Central Channel should be visualized as the color of the oil lamps' flame. This whisper-given pith-instruction is found in the Tantras of Mkaspyol;however, before reaching this stage, the color of the Right Channel should be visualized as red, and the Left Channel as white, and the Central as blue.

Then the four Chakras should be meditated upon. First the Transformation Chakra of the Navel Center: its outer shape is triangular and has forty-two red nerve-leaves (Rts'adabs) extending upwards. This is a general way of meditating on these nerve-leaves. Though it is not specific, it is quite sufficient to serve the purpose. Second, the Dharma Chakra in the Heart Center; its outer shape is round, like the shape of the Bom word. It has eight white nerve-leaves extending downward. Third in the Throat Center lies the Chakra of Reward. Its outer shape is rounded like the Bom word. It has sixteen red nerve-leaves extending downward. The Yogi should understand that the last two Chakras symbolize Wisdom and Skill, and duly meditate upon them. [p. 172}

At the beginning of visualizing the three Channels, one should know that the process of visualization consists of two practices:

1. Seeing the Channels vividly, or forming a clear picture in the mind.

2. Holding on to this picture.

The mind should concentrate in the Central Channel at the point where the three channels join. This is very important. Then, one should proceed to visualize all the nerve-leaves, complete in number, of the different Chakras. Keep on with this practice; the nerve-leaves will become clearer and clearer in the mental picture.

If one has made every effort to visualize the nerve-leaves, but cannot get a clear picture of them in mind, one should concentrate on visualizing the three Channels, putting emphasis on picturing the portion above the Heart Center. If the mind concentrates without a slight rest for a long period, it will incur great hazards and hindrances. In that case, one should only meditate on the point where the three Channels join. According to this teaching, it is said, the yogi will experience two different stages: the emergence of a very clear and durable picture of the nerves, and the emergence of an obscure picture of the nerves. Whichever the case, it is advisable to follow the above instructions. This is verified by the teachings on visualization of nerves given by the accomplished yogi, the great Lawabi.

During this visualizing practice, if the yogi wants also to practice the breath-holding exercise, he may do so as instructed before. The way of alternately practicing the visualization, body movement, and Stong-ra will be expounded later. [p. 173}

The Practice of Visualizing Words

In Heat-Yoga, a teaching of meditating on different words in the three Channels and four Chakras is provided. This teaching is found in both the fundamental Tantra of Hevajra and the Expounding Tantra of Sambhuda. Many great accomplished yogis, such as the Black Practitioner (Nagbo-Spyod-pa), taught this teaching.

The practice of visualizing words includes two ways—the comprehensive way and the simple. The comprehensive way is to meditate on the words both at the center of the Chakra and at each different nerve-leaf. But in this teaching (of the Six Yogas), we find no clear instructions on this. The simple way is to meditate only on the words in the center of the four Chakras. This is clearly stated in the Expounding Tantra and the teachings of the great accomplished beings. Reflecting on this principle, one finds that merely meditating on the small Ah word in the Navel Center and the Húm word in the Head Center is not sufficient nor desirable. To meditate on the words in the Heart Center and Throat Center is also necessary. It is of great importance.

To meditate on the words, one should follow the aforementioned instructions on keeping posture. Visualize the small Ah word at the center of the Transformation Chakra of the navel, or in the center in the Central Channel, which is close to the core of the spine. The Yogi should concentrate only at this point.

The visualization procedure is as follows:

Visualize a small red, Sanskrit Ah word. Its shape is similar to the Tibetan word Shad of the printed alphabet, standing upon a moon-wheel. [p. 174}

To locate the visualization in the Heart Center, the yogi should see the word at the center of the eight nerve-leaves of the Dharma Chakra of the Heart Center near the central point between the two breasts.. He should meditate only on the point in the Central Channel that is near the spine. Visualize a blue Húm word standing on a moon-wheel, head face down, the Bodhi-Heart like snow about to melt.

To locate the visualized word at the Throat Center, the yogi should visualize only the center-point of the sixteen nerve-leaves of the Throat Center in the Central Channel near the spinal column. Visualize at this point a red Om word, its head facing up, standing on the moon-wheel.

To locate the word at the Head Center, the yogi should visualize the word at the center of the nerve-leaves of the Head Center in the Central Channel near the spinal column. Visualize at the point a white Ham word, facing down, standing on the moon-wheel.

It is of great importance that the yogi should visualize the points in the center of the Central Channel, entwined by the knot of the Right and Left channels, at the cross sections of the four Chakras.

Says the Expounding Tantra Sambhoda:

"The lotus that reaches the inner part of the heart

Is the principal one, which has eight nerve-leaves.

The nerve that reaches the inside of it is like a lamp.

In shape, it resembles the plantain flower,

Leaves opened and facing downward.

The god who dwells within it

Is as small as the mustard seed.

The indestructible seed—the Húm,

Trembles like the snow about to melt . . . " [cf. the Upanisadic and the gotra teaching.] [p. 175}

The nerve that reaches the inner part of the heart is the principal nerve, which implies the Central Channel; the Húm world should be visualized in it. The other words in the other three Chakras should be visualized as well.

Although there are many different teachings on the word-visualization in the four Chakras, the essential point is to visualize these words in the center of the Central Channel. Nevertheless, this point is not clearly stated in some teachings. If it is not clearly understood, one will not be able to gather the pranas at the Central Channel; consequently one will miss the essence of the pith-instruction.

The size of the words on which the yogi meditates should be as small as the mustard seed—as the Tantra describes the Húmword. This size applies to the other four words as well.

The smaller and clearer the word as visualized and held by the mind, the easier it is to control the pranas. This is a very important factor in mastering the pranas.

Although the Sambhodra Tantra does not mention it, the small word Ah should be visualized with a head. According to the pith-instruction given in the Tantra of Bde-mchog, all the four words should be visualized with the half-moon head, the Thig-le and Na-da melting like the female Bodhisattva about to weep. This teaching is important because it produces and will enhance the Great Bliss.

If the Yogi visualizes the word as very bright and glowing, he will be able easily to overcome drowsiness and promote his illuminative experience of Samadhi.

When any visualized object is meditated upon, the yogi should put all his mind into the subtle object as if his mind (or rather his whole being) enters into the object. He [p. 176} should never visualize the object as if he merely sees it before him [68]. For the correct practice, mind and object become as one; thus the experience of the unification of mind and Thig-le will come to pass, and, the gathering of the prana will become easy. In the practice of this meditation one should neither overstrain nor be too lax in his effort. Overstrain or laziness will bring drowsiness and distractions; therefore, the yogi should avoid both extremes.

68. This is Tsong Khapa's own view which is refuted by Gamaba VIII of the White School.

The beginner should not meditate on the three words above the heart center for too long; he should meditate on them for only a short while, and devote most of this time to concentrating on the small Ah. If he finds it difficult to concentrate on the minute object, he should visualize it a little larger. When a larger picture can be stabilized in the mind, the yogi will then be able to visualize smaller or more subtle objects.

The purpose of practicing the Heat Yoga is to produce the Four Blisses. When the Bodhi-Heart in the nerves begins melting and the two pranas [69] start gathering at the head Chakra, the (first) Bliss [ananda] begins to arise. Thereafter, the Bodhi-Heart begins to disperse into the nerves. When the Bodhi-Heart gathers at the Throat Center the (second) Extreme-Bliss [paramananda] arises; then the Bodhi-Heart disperses again through the different nerves, and when it is gathered at the Heart Center, the (third) Superb Bliss [viramananda] arises. Again, the Bodhi-Hearth disperses through the nerves, and when it is gathered at the Navel Center, the (fourth) Innate Bliss [sahajananda] arises [FN 1]. Following this [p. 177} if one meditates upon the words in the center of the Central Channel in the four Chakras, the mind-prana will be easily gathered at the four centers; thus, the Four Blisses will arise from the four centers. It is necessary for the Yogi to recognize these Four Blisses in experience.

69. Two pranas: the up-going air and the down-going air; one negative and the other positive.

When the Bodhi-Hearth begins to melt and drop down from the upper center to the lower centers, if the Bodhi-Heart cannot remain at each center for a longer period, it will be extremely difficult for the yogi to recognize the differences between the Four Blisses. Especially will it be difficult to recognize the Innate Bliss. Thus one should know that if the mind can concentrate a long period on the four Chakras, the melted Bodhi-Heart will also remain at the different centers for a longer period. This is a very important point. If the Ham word at the Head Center that is the center of the white Bodhi-Heart can be stabilized, the white element will be greatly enhanced and multiplied. If the word at the Throat Center, the place through which [p. 178} the Right Channel multiplies the blood-element, can be stabilized, the secretion of the Dumo which comes from the Navel Center will produce great power. [FN 2] Consequently, it will promote and improve the practice of Dream Yoga. The Heart Center is the center of light. If the Húm word at the heart center is stabilized the great light will unfold. Meditation on the Heart Center will help the emergence of the light in both the waking and the sleeping states.

The small Ah word should also be stabilized at the Navel Center, since through it the Left Channel multiplies the fluid. From the Navel Center the White-Bodhi-Heart revitalizes the whole body. Furthermore, this center is the special place where the Dumo resides. It is well known that the Navel Center is the place where the fire, that melts the Bodhi-Heart, is kindled. [FN 3]

It is of great importance that the yogi should acquaint himself with the teaching of the meditation on the Chakras and their words. Until all the words in the different Chakras appear vividly in the mind, the yogi should continue his effort. [p. 179}

The Practice of Vase-Breathing

Following the preceding instructions, the yogi should first clearly visualize the nerve [nadi = Tib. rtsa. Ed.] system in general, then concentrate on the center of the Central Channel at the cross section of the three channels. Next, the yogi should meditate on the four words in the different nerves; especially should he concentrate on the small Ah word in the Central Channel at the Navel Center. If this mind-holding object can be stabilized, the mind and prana will converge to it. Thus the mind reaches the state of concentration and the pranas are collected. This is stated in the Tantra of Bde-Mchog and the Expounding Tantra Sambhodra of Hevajra.

During the practice of Vase-Breathing, the yogi should also meditate on the four words in the four Chakras. This is taught by the great accomplished yogis the Black-Practitioner, Lawaba, and Ocean-Born, as well as in many holy scriptures, especially in those important pith-instructions of the Perfecting Yoga given in the Tantras. But that the four words should all be visualized, is not given, even in the instruction of Vase-Breathing Practice in the Whisper Teaching.

The Yogi should well acquaint himself with the meditation procedure as given in the preceding instructions. Through this practice the pranas will enter into the Central Channel and by the power of the fire of Dumo the Bodhi-Heart will be melted—thus the Four Blisses will definitely arise. But there are many Tibetan teachers who give the teaching of Dumo in a manner which combines all the practices of nerve (Rtsa), word, and Vase-Breathing at one time and declares that it is for the sake of promptly [p. 180} producing the Dumo experience that the combined practice is given.

"The taking-in, the filling-up, the dissolving,

And the shooting like the arrow are the four steps."

This stanza shows the four special steps of the Vase-Breathing practice that was found in the pith-instructions of the gurus in the past and favored by them. There is a certain commentary which says that "the four" means the four bases; this is a mistake, however, that was made through overlooking the text of the Tantras.

The physical preparations for the breathing exercise are the same as given before. The best time to practice this breathing exercise, according to the instructions of the accomplished Yogi Pag-mo-grub-pa is the time when the breathing runs equally (in both nostrils).

Pag-mo-grub-pa adds: "Although many gurus say that the best time to practice this breathing exercise is the time when the air runs equally (through both nostrils), (in the light of serious meditation) the breathing practice should be carried on day and night." In order to make the proper time explicit, this instruction is given first.

In general, the prana [70] is the essence of the expression of the Buddhas. In this practice the exercise should be carried out when most of the Lotus-Shelter-Air ascends. This is stated in the Lotus Commentary of the Dorn Tyun Tantra.

70. There are a great number of pranas in the body of many different natures and functions. In the past, thousands of different pranas were named and classified. Today there still exists well-defined knowledge of fifty or sixty pranas, but most of the traditional prana-knowledge has been lost.

Now, the explanation of the taking-in-air: The yogi should not inhale through the mouth but through the nostrils. He should not breath in roughly, but inhale gently and slowly.

Filling-up the air: After taking in the air, press it down and hold it. As the yogi inhales, he should think that the air comes in through the two nostrils and enters into the [p. 181} Right and Left Channels, filling them up (like breath inflating balloons made of entrails.)

Dissolving-the-air: When both channels, Right and Left, are full, all the air enters into the Central Channel with a "Whoosh."

At this time the yogi should swallow the spittle in the mouth and press the upper air down and pull the lower air up from both the lower gates [71] to the small Ah word. Then the yogi should concentrate on his visualizations and hold his breath as long as he can. The holy Pag-mo-grub-pa said in his instructions-stanza: "From the Right and Left Channels the air enters into the Central Channel and fills it. When the breath can be held no longer, the yogi should release it for a very short time—the duration of snapping one's finger. The air left in the body should be used for the dissolving practice."

71. Two lower gates: the anus and urethra.

Though this instruction is somewhat contradictory on two points with the instruction given before, except the fourth step (the dissolving step), the other three (taking-in, holding, and exhaling the air) are expounded. The filling-up practice means inhaling the air that fills the Right and Left Channels, and the dissolving practice means the departure of the air from the two channels and its entrance into the Central Channel; thereby the Central Channel is filled with air, but the air in the Right and Left Channel is dissolved or emptied.

As to the manner of practicing the Vase-Breathing at the Navel Center, some claim that the lower air should not be pulled up, merely pressing the upper air down will do; others say that the yogi should press the air down at first, then, after a while, pull up the lower air three times. These sayings are wrongfully given through ignorance of the [p. 182} essence of Vase-Breathing practice. The right practice is to combine the Live-Prana above the navel with the Tur Sel Prana [71a] below the navel. As the Dom Gyun Tantra says:

71a. Tur Sel Prana: The down-going Prana.

"The up-going air and the down-going air

Should be joined together by the mind."

This stanza explains the way of practicing the Vase-Breathing by combining or uniting the up-going and down-going prana. Thus we know that the up-going and down-going air should be combined and that they should not be pulled up simultaneously, but one after another. If there is no special reason for a particular meditation, the up-going air should be drawn and pressed first; afterwards, pull up the down-going air. It is not necessary to pull the down-going air three times.

"Shooting the air like the arrow." This illustrates the manner of expelling the air from the body. When the yogi exhales the air, he should visualize it arising through the Central Channel freely, like gas through a pipe. One should not visualize the air going out of the body through the crown of the head.

About the practice of drawing the up-going and the down-going air together at the Navel Center, one important point should be mentioned: some say the yogi should visualize the whole body full of Prana; some say the Prana should be visualized only full above the Heart Center or above the Throat Center. These instructions are unsound—because the true and sound teaching is to visualize the small Ah word whereupon the two pranas unite [FN 4]. There [p. 183} are two reasons for this. First, through leading the Prana into the Central Channel, the Life-Prana and the down-going prana are unified. Second, through visualizing words, the essential mental concentration process is automatically completed. Furthermore, whenever the mouth of Ro-ma and Rkyang-ma are open, the mouth of the Central Channel is closed and vice versa.

Through the practice of Vase-Breathing, the out-going breathing from the Ro-ma and Rkyang-ma is stopped; and through visualizing the air entering into the Central Channel, the yogi eventually will be able actually to lead the incoming air into the Central Channel.

The manner and the duration of holding the breath are explained by Pag-mo-grub-pa as follows: In the beginning stage, practice on taming the nerves is emphasized. The yogi should not hold his breath to the point of strain. The yogi should hold the breath easily and not for too long. Gradually, he should increase the duration of the holding period. Until the breath becomes very smooth and submissive, he should not engage in the stronger breathing practices, such as shaking the upper part of the body and forcibly pulling up the prana. He should release his breath before he feels uncomfortable, and not try to hold it too long. Even if he tries to do so, it will not help the gathering of pranas in the Central Channel, for the prana will remain in the Transformation Wheel only a moment and then go outside. Although to hold the prana outside the Wheel Center for a long period will produce a little warmness and bliss, it does not help the prana to enter into the Central Channel.

In the practice of visualization, the yogi tries to visualize the subject clearly, but a clear image appears in his [p. 184} mind for only a short moment. To visualize a steady picture is difficult. In the after-meditation period, however, he will sometimes experience the appearance of a steady picture in his mind clearly, without any effort. In the same way he will learn that natural and easy breath-holding cannot come without practice and effort. Therefore, until the natural breath-holding or breath-remaining comes to pass, he should try to prolong the breath-holding exercise gently. Even if he exerts himself in holding the breath for a long period the prana will not remain at the place desired. Furthermore, too much exertion will cause many troubles and do little good, so, until the prana can be easily and naturally placed in the Navel Center, the yogi should gently prolong the breath-holding exercise. If one knows how to practice this exercise proficiently, one will be able to know whether the prana naturally remains and whether the prana can be led to the desired place.

The best time to practice Vase Breathing is neither just before nor just after eating, but when the stomach is neither too full nor too empty. The practice should be carried out without interruption, yet not for too long a period. At times the yogi should rest for a while.

During the Vase Breathing, word-visualization should also be practiced. The yogi should clearly visualize the four words—Ah,Húm, Om, Ham—at the four respective centers of navel, heart, throat and head that are knotted (by the nerves) as mentioned before.

Thereupon, the yogi should visualize an Ah word, the essence of fire and Dumo, blazing with brightness. This word-of-fire is then fanned and stimulated by the wind from the Privy Wheel, and its heat rises up and ascends to the Húm, Om and Hamwords. The three words begin to [p. 185} melt, and the melted drops all fall to the Ah word and unite with it, becoming one. This one drop is the self-nature of the Innate Bliss, whereupon the yogi should concentrate. In this process of holding mind to the subject, the yogi should visualize the Dumo-Ti-Le burning with the tiny fire-tongue.

The yogi should visualize the melting Bodhi-Heart begin to drop from the respective Wheels and fill up the Ah word, and then concentrate on visualizing the Ah word until the signs of a stable visualization appear.

If the visualization becomes stable, the light of Dumo will shine. The body, both inside and out, and the things in the house can all be seen clearly as one sees the olive fruit in one's own palm. Thus it is important to visualize the Ah word shining with its burning tongue, clearly and vividly. Through this practice the brightness-aspect of Samadhi will increase, and a perfect Samadhi will be obtained.


Buddhist Tantra Teachings of Tibet - end of text



FN 1 (p. 176). We have inserted the four technical Sanskrit terms.

The Hevajra Tantra states also the alternative tradition of this highest bliss as third in order, thus implying its correspondence with the Heart Center of the Sacred Light of Vairocana p. 177 and his co-power, the Lord of the Center of the five Dhyani Buddhas. This tacit identification with the heart, and not the usually given hair-splitting reasons, is the true esoteric basis for the alternative order, which is thus seen not to be "artificial" as D. L. Snellgrove (Hevajra Tantra, Oxford, Vol. I, p. 137) surmises, saying hence not correctly that "it is associated with no improved interpretation of them (the Four Blisses) as a coherent set." This conclusion is understandable, however, for anyone not familiar with the relation of the Four Misses to the Chakras, for that relation provides the only solid and practical basis for the non-arbitrariness Snellgrove rightly sought. The moment the Chakras are taken into account, the only proper position for the Highest or Innate Bliss is seen at once to he third, placing it in direct correspondence with the Heart Center, where it uniquely belongs.—Ed.

FN 2 (p. 178). We would rather say, as better agreeing with practice: Which comes from the Heart Center, and in mediated through the Navel Center. Ed.

FN 3 (p. 178).* Both from conversations with other practitioners of yoga and from personal experience, the editor can unequivocally state that the greatest heat (gTum-mo) can be generated and more easily controlled through the use of the Heart Center rather than through the navel plexus, allowing the latter to function unconsciously under orders of the Heart Center, as it were, and as a distribution point—but not bestowing any direct attention on the navel per se. Even on a cold night the bodily heat thus generated with comparative simplicity is pervasive and intense.—Ed.

FN 4 (p. 182). There is a third and synthesizing view and doctrine here not mentioned in the text; namely, to maintain the conscious concentration of the prana at the heart center, letting that center be the means for the (unconscious) command to the Navel Center for its (the prana's) distribution.—Ed.

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