Vajrayana – The Gold Scales
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Francois Boucher Heracles and Omphale, manipulated section

Vajrayana is Tantra yoga. The word 'Vajrayana' is Sanskrit and can be translated into "Vehicle of the Diamond (or Thunderbolt)", and 'yana' means spiritual pursuit, such a Way. Vajrayana contains many secret practices, such as having sex astoundingly freely.

Mantrayana is Sanskrit, meaning "Vehicle of the Mantra", which may be rendered into "Way of Sound Recitals". It is a major part of Vajrayana (tantra yoga) and other forms of yoga.

Vajrayana holds as a basic truth that the seeming opposites nirvana (beyond) and samsara (here) are "two sides of one polarity-totality". Vajrayana's (Tantric yoga) practices and doctrines were in vogue in India when Buddhism flowered there, and were also spread to Tibet, China and Japan long afterwards also.

Stages of Development

Vajrayana or Tantra caters to normal development. It goes through several stages. In such a vein Kukai (Kobo Daishi, 774-835), founder of the Buddhist Shingon school in Japan, taught that

  • 1. In an early stage of human spiritual development, humans are governed by instincts.
  • 2. In the second stage they should seek to live morally (and drop detrimental rituals, if any).
  • 3. In the third stage individuals strive for enablements.
  • 4-5. In the fourth and fifth stages man goes for self-enlightenment.
  • 6 ff. The next stages may lead one to compassion.

Kukai's stages of development antedates several educational views in vogue in our days. The acme of spiritual development - fulfilment - is given by the Buddha body beyond, timeless and immutable, yet within many as their buddha-nature.

Tantrism appears both in Buddhism and in Hinduism. In one form of tantra, Vamacara, (that of "left-handed practises"), the focus is on enjoyment, and somewhat ritualised ways to it. Maithuna, sexual coupling, can be good for attaining both enlightenment and bliss in a Vajrayanic process. It depends on such as basic compatibility between partners. Also consider the proverb: "Fire is a good servant but a bad master."

The subtle buddha-nature is Enlightenment itself. Becoming aware of Reality thus is both admirable and valuable. And Mahayana emphasises reality-as-such. Besides, proper meditation helps everyday life.

Vajrayana (Tantra yoga)

India, Bihar and Bengal remained largely late Mahayana and Tantric Buddhist till the 1200s AD.

The Mahayanaic Buddhist tradition of Tibet stems from a conversion between the 600s and 1000s AD. And, "When Tibet was being converted to Buddhism, the most dynamic form of Buddhism in India was Vajrayana." - The guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) was invited to Tibet in 747 by King Thi-srong-detsan there. His teachings emphasise Tantric ritual, worship, and Yoga. - A Tibetan school, Kagya (Bka'-brgyud-pa), have guarded the teachings and songs of Milarepa (Mi-la ras-pa) (1040–1123), who is told of as the greatest poet-saint in Tibetan history. The account of his life is fascinating. - In the Kagyu school the supreme goal is named mahamudra ("the Great Seal", "the Great Symbol"). Many lineages have branched out too. [EB "Buddhism" etc.]

Chief of the celestial bodhisattvas that people got much devoted to, is Avalokitesvara, the Lord of Compassion, and patron saint of Tibet [EB "Buddhism"].

From the first century onward celestial bodhisattvas became popular, especially Manjughosa ("Gentle Voice") or Manjusri ("Glorious Gentle One"), the representative of divine wisdom; Avalokitesvara, the "Lord of Compassion"; and Vajrapani, "the one who wields the ritual thunderbolt (vajra)" and who entered the pantheon as a great protector. These three bodhisattvas came to be associated with particular buddhas.

Tantras (treatises)

Buddhist tantras (treatises, texts, works) are written in a highly figurative language, and are individually oriented. They used to be kept secret.

In different Buddhist schools [of thinking with their methods and ceremonies], the tantras (texts and treatises) are many. Some deal with ritual, yoga, yoga-sex, and magic.

The tantras ("treatises") form a distinctive literature of Esoteric Buddhism. They deal with the existential take of how it is or feels to attain the highest goal. [EB"Buddhism"]

Tantras emphasise the polarities activity, awareness, and their unity.

Handling it

Vajrayana stresses the gaining of enlightenment through a graduated process of contemplation (dhyana and better), directed by an initiated teacher. The Vajrayana practice, which is advancement toward enlightenment, usually requires initiation. It is said to be necessary to get initiation in tantra-yoga (Vajrayana). A proficient guru can direct the pupil's steps so that the pupil learns to control mental and physical processes better.

The monastic strives for monasteries and monastic rules; the Highest Being for monastic laxity at least.

Symbolism and Art

Symbols do not help us to recapture inner experiences.

Buddhist art contains a wealth of valuable symbols and icons. Hence, tantra yoga is rich in symbols and art.

Some ideas and symbols in tantras have in the course of time been explained and commented on.

"The Buddha protected by a cobra's hood represents a coalescing of the Buddha myth with the pre-Buddhist cult of snakes as protecting divinities (the naga cult) [EB "Buddhism"]."

Some types of Vajrayana imagery and practice deal with the union of the passive female deity (or wisdom and proper forms), with the dynamic male (virility and demands). A union helps "great bliss" on and up, it is held.

Mantrayana (the Ways of Mantras)

Mantrayana is associated with the Indian Padmasambhava (Guru Rin-poche), who flourished in the 700s AD and supervised the building of a monastery in Tibet.

Esoteric ("Insider") Buddhism played a great role in China earlier.

The mantras (syllables, words, sometimes word phrases) in Vajrayana are thought to contain seeds or essences of universal forces.

Silent, mental recital of mantras (efficient syllables, words, and phrases) is the essence of mantrayana.

Mantras are either spoken aloud or sounded internally in one's mind. The latter approach is the better one. There is a hint in the Manu Samhita, "An offering, consisting of muttered prayers, is ten times more efficacious than a sacrifice performed according to the rules (of the Veda); a (prayer) which is inaudible (to others) surpasses it a hundred times, and the mental (recitation of sacred texts) a thousand times [2:85]." The figures Manu employs may be taken to be general or poetic mentions. A transferred idea is that to repeat one's mantra mentally and with skill, tends to be a superior practice.

Good mantras are means of entering into contact with a power and prowess encapsuled in a sort of seed form (bija) in the sounds of the mantra.

The mantras that embody harmony are far from the only ones that are found.

Mantras are said to introduce and infuse great qualities into the mantra yogi.


[Many t]hings are not what they appear to be. - See Surangama Sutra, abr.

Thoughts . . . may be planted like seeds in the mind of the child and completely dominate his mental content, whether they be of pure superstition or of realizable truth. - W. Y Evans-Wentz, abr.

Every individual's state of presence is unique. - Namkhai Norbu, abr.

Enlightened, where does one go? - Machik Labdrön, abr.

The life-tree of practice is single-minded application. - Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye

The Use of Proverbs

Vajrayana practices involve proverbs or mottoes used as tools of Mind Training (tibetan: lojong), a practice of the Tibetan Buddhism made known by Chekawa already in the 1100s. [More on lojong] A sample to meditate on and thereby impress firmly on your mind:


Get used to doing and being what you want to do and to be, and stay firm for it. Don't worry [a lot].

Enjoy your practice and train with a whole heart. Train wholeheartedly. (2)

Observe regularity of practice; not wasting time on the inessential.

[Enjoy the good things.]

Follow the inner witness rather than the outer ones. Stay natural. (3)

Always have the support of a joyful mind.

Find the consciousness you had before you were born.

Don't let your practice wither and become irregular. (5)

Accept good fortune with an even mind.

Be intense, be committed, cultivate the white seeds, not the black ones. (7)

As you breathe in, take in and accept sadness, pain, and negativity of the whole world, including yourself, and absorb it into your heart. As you breathe out, "stream" out joy and bliss; bless wholesomely.

Stick to: "First watching, then analysing".

SO: Enjoy wanting to train yourself toward a joyful mind, and wholesomely . . .


Vajrayana, Diamond Way of Mahayana, Literature  

Abe, Ryuichi. 1999. The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York: Columbia University Press.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. 1994. Tantric Grounds and Paths: How to Begin, Progress on, and Complete the Vajrayana Path. London: Tharpa Publications.

Norbu, Chögyal Namkhai, and Adriano Clemente. 1999. The Supreme Source: The Kunjed Gyalpo. The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde. Tr. from Italian by Andrew Lukianowicz. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.

Rinpoche, Kalu. 1995. Secret Buddhism: Vajrayana Practices. San Francisco: ClearPoint Press.

Wedemeyer, Christian K. 2013. Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions. New York: Columbia University Press.

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