Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Tag: Vajrayana

Spontaneous Union

Mystic dance of siddha. Drawing by the author

Everything in nature is conditioned by the fundamental principle expressed in the unity of opposites: yin-yang. The fusion of the male and the female is a creative act and the source of life. Even though Buddha Nature is beyond genders, Buddhist iconography uses sexual polarity to symbolize the Mahayana and Vajrayana concept of the union of principles: female wisdom (Skt. prajna, Tib. sherab) and male compassion (karuna, nyingje) or skilful method (upaya, thab).

The union of wisdom and compassion symbolizes the non-polarized state of bodhicitta (jang chub sem), or the mind of enlightenment, which is represented visually by showing two deities engaged in sexual union. In Tibetan Buddhism such images are known as yab-yum, which literally means father-mother. The Sanskrit term for such union is yuganaddha (union of opposites), which refers to Tibetan term zung jug.

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A Conversation with Tenzin Palmo on Nuns and Challenging Sexism

In this extended discussion recorded on the spot by Sónia Gomes, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo discusses important but often uncomfortable gender issues in Vajrayana, including the need to challenge engrained cultural sexism in monasteries and the plight of ordained Western women, who more often than not have no institutional, psychological, or moral support after becoming nuns.

 

Buddhism is Bhutan’s Key to Working with the Great Buddhist Powers

India and China are right now locked in a dispute over a plateau (known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China) that lies at a junction between China, the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, and Bhutan. My focus today is not on the technicalities of the border dispute (this analysis by Wangcha Sangey, a retired civil servant and former managing director of Bhutan Times, lays out the situation far better than I can), but rather how Bhutan could play its cards over the long term through the piety of its Buddhist people and its Buddhist royal family.

HRH Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck with Bhikkhu Sanghasena

In an age where landlocked Bhutan’s behemoth neighbors, China and India, are going all in with Buddhist diplomacy (not to mention regional neighbors like Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), the Himalayan country’s Buddhist heritage grants it a unique and priceless asset. This is because the idea of “Buddhist kingship” or chakravartin-hood is embodied in its monarchy. I venture to propose that without Buddhism, the moral authority of the royal house of Wangchuk would be diminished whilst one of the country’s key soft power exports (such as its concept of Gross National Happiness) would be compromised. Nowhere else, except perhaps in Thailand, is there a monarchy invested with such a Buddhist mandate.

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Tears of Tara

Lyudmila Klasanova

White Tara. Drawing by the author

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Tara is a complex figure that integrates mythical and historical threads and combines different functions. She is presented as a female aspect of Buddha and a symbol of unlimited compassion. The goddess protects humanity and saves people from dangers, protects them from fears, and helps fulfil their wishes. Her compassion to all sentient beings as well as her aspirations to save them from the suffering are described as stronger than a mother’s love for her own child.

Tara is among the most popular deities in the Buddhist world and among the most revered goddesses in Himalayan traditions. She is an object of worship not only for Buddhist monks and nuns, but also for lay Buddhists who invoke her to achieve material prosperity, spiritual healing, and liberation from all kinds of suffering.

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Dharmodaya: The Source of Reality

Lyudmila Klasanova

The six-pointed geometric star or hexagram is considered one of the most ancient spiritual symbols in the world and has a deep meaning in Tantric Buddhism. In Vajrayana it appears as ritual diagram and symbolic emblem of the female deity Vajrayogini (Tib. Dorje Naljorma) who is emanation of the perfect state of Buddha in the female form. She can be seen depicted with one triangle or two intertwined two-dimensional or three-dimensional triangles. When the triangle is one, it is facing down and, as in the Hindu tradition, symbolizes the feminine principle. When there are two triangles, usually they form a tetrahedron, which in Tantric Buddhism is called dharmodaya (Tib. chojung). The terms translates as “the source of reality”, “the source of phenomena” or “the source of truth” and is associated with a continuous source of femininity.

1. Tibetan mandala with Vajrayogini stands in the center of dharmodaya, Rubin Museum of Art. From en.wikipedia.org

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Homage to the Primordial Wisdom Dakini

Lyudmila Klasanova

A dakini is one of the most remarkable manifestations of the Buddha nature in female form. In Buddhist tradition, dakinis are worshiped as human emanations of wisdom that keep the key to the esoteric knowledge of Vajrayana and reveal the path to complete freedom. The term was originally associated with secondary figures in the entourage of the deities of local traditions of India. In classical Sanskrit texts, dakinis are described mostly as hostile demonic creatures inhabiting sinister and secluded areas or places of cremation. Such spaces are considered sacred because of the opportunity they provide for inner contemplation and spiritual realization.

Dakini Vajravarahi. Drawing by the author.

The change in the adoption of the figure of a dakini occured under the influence of Buddhist meditative schools (6th-7th century), as a result of which they begin to be venerated as protectors of meditation and spiritual guide who help in removing illusions. The way they are accepted in Tibetan Buddhism is completely different and this is expressed very well in their Tibetan name khandroma, which translates usually as “a woman, who is walking, flying or dancing in the sky”. In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, khandroma is a symbol of the sky, which is all-embracing, like emptiness. She is the one who reveals the truth about the emptiness of all phenomena and moves blissfully in boundless space of emptiness.

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Devotion to the Guru

Padma Drolma

And if in all the beads nothing comes up

I won’t forget you
I’ll give another turn
Despite my thousand stumbles

For I know that thin are the lines which separate mastery from fear
They are tiny and do not define
Space is the shelter that does not welcome
It afflicts me with the idea of freedom 

Guru

And I see that your coiled rope was firm
That your guidance was accurate
Yet I sought to anticipate the route
Instead of holding 
Your hand

In reverence I address you with my voice
May my words not err
In conveying my vows of prosperity

Give way to obscuration
In the gallop of the Tupi nation
Paired with Kham 

Lord of the Dance
Our Master 
I hail

I request for passage
To him I prostrate
And in deep gratitude
I exalt his steps

Seed of Dharma planted
In the cold and damp soil
Among crowns 
Three

Buddha 
Dharma 
Sangha

Blissful Wisdom as a Key to Open the Mind

Lyudmila Klasanova

Yab-yum representation of Kalachakra and his consort Vishvamata. Drawing by the author.

Vajrayana or Tantrayana Buddhism is unique among other Buddhist traditions with the acceptance of the body and the sensual experience as a source of knowledge and great spiritual power. The human body is honored as a sacred temple and sexuality is considered an important part of the path to enlightenment. As part of the most profound teachings of Buddha, the tantric Buddhism embraces desire, passion and ecstasy as an integral part of the spiritual path. According to Vajrayana the powerful emotions can be cultivated by immersion into them and not by their suppression. Because feelings are the most powerful motivating forces of the human nature, they should not be avoided but directed to the ultimate goal of final liberation.

In the concepts of Vajrayana Buddhism the enlightenment is possible when the male and female principles are combined in harmonious whole, which is the key to the spiritual perfection. The essence of Buddha is perceived as non-dual and in order to express this concept the Tantric Buddhism uses the unity of sexual opposites, presented as a union of male and female body. Their physical union is associated directly with the achievement of the higher spiritual reality. The female nature is associated with the transcendental wisdom (Skt. prajna, Tib. sherab), which is the direct awareness of reality. The male nature is related to the compassion for all beings (karuna, nyingje). This great compassion is perceived as a natural manifestation of the transcendental wisdom, as well as a skillful method (upaya, thab) to achieve it. It is assumed that through the union of the feminine aspect of wisdom with the masculine principle of the active compassion the perfect Buddhahood is being achieved.

This union is represented visually by two deities in sexual embrace, known in the Tibetan Buddhism as yab-yum, literally meaning father-mother. The mother principle represents the wisdom, experienced and taught by Buddha and the father principle – the natural expression of this insight as the great compassion. The sexual metaphor is used to denote the highest stage of the Vajrayana practice in which polarity and discrimination don’t exist, while the truth is indivisible. This state of oneness leads to rapid development of the mind by using the experience of bliss (sukha, dewa).

Yab-yum representation of Amitayus and his consort Tsendali. Drawing by the author.

Using spontaneous great bliss to realize emptiness (shunyata, tongpa nyi) is essential practice of Tantric Buddhism. The union of bliss and emptiness (detong), related to the harmony of the male and female principles, is the Vajrayana’s supreme path to perfect enlightenment. This blissful wisdom is a key to open the mind to its hidden potential and liberate it from the delusions that create pain.

In the endless play of spirit and matter,
Form and emptiness, wisdom and compassion
Everything is one.
Reaching this oneness, the polarity is united
And we are able to pass through the limitations and go beyond. 

The union of body, speech and mind is a cosmic act,
Transmission of light between the worlds
That reveals the sparks of the primordial wisdom.
The wisdom that realizes emptiness
And the bliss that dissolves conceptions.
Enter in this holy space of union!

Yab-yum representation of Vajrasattva and his consort Vajragarvi. Drawing by the author.

Dance with No Dancer: Part 2

LiAnne Hunt

Opening of Dharmata House Malaysia

Anam Thubten at Dharmata House Malaysia. By Cheong Thoong Leong

Anam Thubten at Dharmata House Malaysia. By Cheong Thoong Leong

Before Anam Thubten came to Malaysia, Brian and the local sangha considered themselves “The Reject Club” because there was no place for them in conventional society or religious centers. They are devotional, pure in heart, and have been set ablaze by Rinpoche’s teachings.

In 2014, they published a book and CD in Chinese of Rinpoche’s talks entitled Your Original Face. Now, in 2016, a mere four years since beginning this sacred dialog, the sangha has opened Dharmata House in time for Anam Thubten’s annual visit.

Dharmata House is located smack in the city center, a short five-minute drive from KL Sentral but a world away from the bustle and congestion of Kuala Lumpur. The temple sanctuary is along the hillside of a high-end residential neighborhood. Ironically, it is the remainder of a house that was left in ruin for many decades. A large tree grows along the collapsed second-story walls. In most developed countries, the Dharmata temple would be a condemned building. Before its minimal renovation, superstitious people might consider it haunted.

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Dance with No Dancer: Part 1

LiAnne Hunt

In Malaysia with Anam Thubten

My blog begins as I enter the Fire Monkey year in Malaysia.

I am in Kuala Lumpur attending programs with Anam Thubten, a Tibetan lama in the Nyingma lineage and the spiritual director of Dharmata Foundation. Rinpoche is here for the opening of Dharmata House Malaysia and is offering a nine-day meditation retreat.

2016-02-23 10.23.06 (1)

Anam Thubten at One Great Tree Retreat, by Tina Ho

Anam Thubten was born and raised in eastern Tibet, but is fluent and rooted in Western culture having lived in Northern California for over two decades. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, he is a highly respected teacher and published author. His books include No Self, No Problem, The Magic of Awareness and Your Original Face, a collection of talks transcribed into Chinese. He is featured in the 2012 documentary film, When the Iron Bird Flies, Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West and has taught at institutions such as UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Spirit Rock, Google Corp, and the University of Virginia.

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