Tantric Practice in Nyingma

Tantric Practice in Nyingma
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A Tibetan friend of mine told me stories he had heard while living as a child-monk in his home-region of Amdo in Tibet, about a great, reincarnate celibate lama who attached the pages of scriptures at eye-level on the wall across from his bed. He then strung a noose from the ceiling above his pallet, which he would loop around his neck while reading and meditating. If he fell asleep and his head and chin dipped and he lapsed in his holding ofa straight-backed, cross-legged meditative pose, the noose would start choking him. This, it goes without saying, was a strong incentive to wake up, and to get back to studying, praying or meditating.

To be an accomplished practitioner thus takes time. Buddhism was not entirely wiped out during this dark period, however.

The Nyingma Lineage

While Langdarma and his cohorts decimated most of the monastic community, a few monks escaped to Amdo in northeastern Tibet, where they preserved the lineage of monastic ordination. The community of lay practitioners survived as well, and many tantric lineages that were transmitted by Padmasambhava and other Buddhist masters continued to be taught and practiced in secret. Thus, despite the great upheavals that took place in the ninth century, the work of Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Deutsen, and Ralpachen made a lasting impact in Tibet.

The lineages that stem from this first spreading of Buddhism to Tibet came to be known as the Nyingma, or Ancient School. The Nyingma tradition holds unique teachings that are not found in other lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

Nyingma - Wikipedia

In the Nyingma school, the Tantra of the Secret Essence is regarded as the most significant work on Buddhist tantra, a form of spiritual practice that stresses using all facets of life as avenues to awakening. The teachings of this text present the main principles of tantric practice.

Despite the renown of the Tantra of the Secret Essence , it is the Great Perfection, or Dzogchen , that is the hallmark of the Nyingma lineage. Editorial Reviews. According to its teachings, enlightenment is not a distant goal to strive toward, but an immanent reality that must be recognized in the present moment.

Effort and agendas only serve to obscure the true nature of mind. Once this nature has been recognized, however, problems and negativity automatically dissolve, leaving the open space of pure awareness, in which the qualities of enlightenment spontaneously unfold. This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies to improve and personalize our services and for social activity.

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Remember your cookie permission setting Essential: Allow session cookies Essential: Gather information you input into a contact forms, newsletter and other forms across all pages Essential: Keep track of what you input in shopping cart Essential: Authenticate that you are logged into your user account Essential: Remember language version you selected. This landscape was completely transformed in the eleventh century as a series of new Treasure revelations gradually articulated into an entirely different series of Great Perfection movements with distinctive rubrics of self-identification and radical new developments in doctrine and practice.

This transformation was part and parcel of the renaissance of Tibetan culture occurring from the late tenth century to the early twelfth century as new Buddhist literature and practices were imported anew from India. This period, under the rubric the "later dissemination" phyi dar of Buddhism, is often misunderstood as primarily involving new movements called "modernists" gsar ma , but the truth is that the older Bon and Nyingma lineages were just as deeply involved as creative agents of change.

The point of delineation involved the former explicitly acknowledging their debt to new imports that they "translated," whereas the latter groups tended to glide over this indebtedness by assimilating new developments seamlessly into their older traditions through the process of Treasure revelation.

These striking documents involved horrific imagery and violent rituals, erotic imagery, and sexual practices and somatic practices involving a cult of the body's subtle interior. While Nyingma or Bon lineages on the whole neither formally transmitted nor wrote about these traditions in this or the next few centuries, it is clear that in fact these new esoteric transmissions made a deep if unacknowledged impact on their own rapidly evolving traditions.

Its influences were clear in the rise of subtle body representations and practices, new pantheons of wrathful and erotic Buddhas, increasingly antinomian rhetoric, and a focus on motifs of death. At the same time these influences were transformatively assimilated with each strand modified and integrated on the basis of the Great Perfection's commitments to naturalism, Gnosticism, simplicity, and divine creation.

The Seminal Heart represents a stunningly creative and deeply Tibetan reinterpretation of many central Buddhist traditions around the central motif of the divine creativity of the Buddhas' creation of Pure Lands. The central literature is a body of revealed Tantras collected together as The Seventeen Tantras rgyud bcu bdun and a body of exegetical literature organized as The Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra bi ma snying thig. The Seminal Heart is characterized by an intensely philosophical discourse, a distinctive doctrinal intersection of divine creation and naturalism, and a unique contemplative system integrating visionary practices of spontaneous image cultivation with earlier practices of technique-free cultivation of pure awareness.

In each of these areas there is a deep grounding in exoteric and esoteric forms of Indian Buddhism, but there is also a startlingly creative assimilation. The first facet is its systematic philosophical character, which is unusual because of its esoteric nature.


Tantric Buddhism in India tended on the whole to be far more focused on ritual practice than on philosophical speculation, even if there gradually developed a cottage industry in scholastic exegesis on these rituals and iconography. The Seminal Heart represents perhaps the most interesting philosophical system to emerge out of this development.

Its doctrinal heart is a unique blend of the older strains of naturalism with a new doctrine of Gnostic creation intertwined with esoteric conceptions and practices of death. Its basis is what can be best termed a Gnostic orientation, which entails a Buddha's primordial gnosis ye shes , Skt.

Thus, rather than gnosis being a product of contemplative practice, it is seen as a preexistent agent that precedes, not follows, karma. This divine creativity is modeled on juxtaposing two basic doctrines found in the Great Vehicle theg chen , Skt. Buddha-nature is the idea that all life is characterized by an internal divinity, though just how inert or active this divinity is, and its relationship with a manifestly realized buddha, often remains unclear.

Pure Lands are special cosmic locales believed to be created by buddhas as realms with optimal spiritual conditions into which Buddhists could be reborn after death.

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However, we should not assume that this kind of situation is entirely new. Why wrathful rather than peaceful or joyous? The first three are common to all schools of Buddhism and the next three are common to all schools of Tantric Buddhism, whereas the last three are exclusive to the Nyingma tradition. In , I asked him the same question. It encompasses every possible human picture of potential and gives rise to endless inspirational life stories.

Enjoyment Bodies are resplendent forms that a buddha manifests out of the pure emptiness of his or her enlightenment experience and that typically reside at the center of these Pure Lands. The philosophical innovation of the Seminal Heart was to integrate buddha-nature with this buddha-creativity, and then articulate this internal Gnostic creativity as the central driving force of all being and manifestation.

This notion of buddhas creating worlds was a standard component of Great Vehicle literature, but the innovation of the Seminal Heart was to apply it so systematically to a wide variety of contexts in which creation, transition, and development take place. Thus, a buddha's gnosis is identified as the preeminent creative agent in the universe, rather than the more typical depiction of karma as what generates the world, embodiment, mental action, dreaming, post-death experience, and other such human experiences.

The Seminal Heart presents an unusual divine cosmogony, in which a Buddha's gnosis is presenting as driving the emergence of being out of nonbeing, which unfolds as a primordial array of Pure Lands. The karmic process of conditioned existence only emerges as a secondary process following a lack of recognition of those divine arrays as "self" by an emergent cognitive capacity. The karmic experiences of memories of one's past life, and visual premonitions of one's impending rebirth, only occur in a secondary post-death process should one fail to recognize the divine manifestations as "self-manifestations.

Thus, in the birth of worlds, in the emergence out of death, and in contemplation, we find gnosis as the primary agent and karma as a derivative and secondary process. Finally, its contemplative system consists of a massive anthology of varied Tantric and non-Tantric contemplative techniques capped by two unique contemplative processes named "breakthrough" khregs chod and "direct transcendence" thod rgal.

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Breakthrough signifies the older style of Great Perfection contemplation, and its descriptions are typically poetic evocations of pure awareness that strictly avoid discussions of techniques that might be understood to generate such states of awareness. Direct transcendence, however, is an innovative practice that involves relying on yogic postures, breathing practices, and gazing directed at the complete darkness of a specially prepared retreat hut, or at sources of light such as the sun.

While innovative, these practices clearly represent a transmutation of Tantric practices typically classified as "perfection phase" techniques rdzogs rim. These practices involve manipulation of a yogic or subtle body of winds, channels, and nuclei within the coarse physical body, which engender ever more subtle states of consciousness marked by experiences of flashes of light.

These experiences of light are typically discussed in terms of eight, ten, or eleven signs described imagistically as like fireflies, a mirage, smoke, or lightening. Despite this influence, the practice was deeply assimilated into the Great Perfection with its focus on naturalness, release rather than control, spontaneity rather than fabrication, simplicity rather than complexity, and interpenetration of the external and internal rather than the deeply interior world of subtle body yogas. Likewise, when we turn to the vast anthologies of practices presented as preliminaries and auxiliary contemplative techniques, we find a wide range of ordinary and unique exoteric and esoteric practices that have been thoroughly assimilated into the world of the Great Perfection.

Throughout, common Buddhist practices have been subtly and extensively altered, again, to be simple rather than complex, natural rather than artificial, spontaneous rather than contrived, governed by letting go rather than taking control, and focused on the intersection of the external and the internal rather than on deeply internal processes.

Most notably absent is any focus on the mainstream Tantric practice of deity yoga, with its ritual transformation of self into deity by complex visualizations and mantric recitations of a Buddhist deity. The Seminal Heart's radical transformation of the Great Perfection was not without its internal critics from conservative Nyingma figures.

He appears to have felt that the Great Perfection should transcend prescriptions of specific practices as well as the rhetoric of violence, sexuality, and transgression. Despite such reservations, however, the Seminal Heart was ultimately to triumph and become the dominant tradition of the Great Perfection for the Nyingma.

This was due in no small measure to the towering achievements of Longchenpa klong chen pa , — in the fourteenth century.