Tsongkhapa's Six Yogas of Naropa


Regarded as one of the finest discussions on the subject to come out of Tibet.

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Ithaca, NY 1996 Trade Paperback 1st Edition New 1st Printing. Stated first edition. 276 page quality trade paperback, includes a few captioned illustrations and a Glossary of ... Sanskrit and Tibetan Names and Terms. "Anyone who has read more than a few books on Tibetan Buddhism will have encountered references to the Six Yogas of Naropa. These six-inner heat, illusory body, clear light, consciousness transference, forceful projection, and bardo yoga-represent one of the most popular Tibetan Buddhist presentations of yogic technology. Given by the Indian sage Naropa to Marpa the Translator, these teachings gradually pervaded thousands of monasteries and hermitages throughout the Tibetan cultural region. Tsongkhapa's discussion of the Six Yogas is regarded as one of the finest on the subject to come out of Tibet. His treatise has served as the fundamental guide to the system as practiced in more that three thousand Gelukpa monasteries, nunneries and hermitages across Central Asia over the past five and a half c Read more Show Less

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Regarded as one of the finest discussions on the subject to come out of Tibet.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559390583
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/1996
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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Chapter One

The preliminary meditations, which
build the foundations of this path

The preliminary meditations are of two categories: those preliminaries that are general meditations derived from the common [i.e., exoteric] Mahayana, or Great Vehicle teachings; and the preliminaries that belong to the exclusive [i.e., esoteric] Uttara-tantra-yana, or Highest Tantra Vehicle.


The preliminaries derived from the common Mahayana are taught under two topics: a discussion of just why it is necessary for a training in this tradition [i.e., in the tantric legacy of the Six Yogas of Naropa] to be preceded by a training in the practices of the common Mahayana; and the actual stages of training the mind in that path [i.e., in the meditations deriving from the common Mahayana teachings].

Why it is necessary for training in this tradition to be preceded by training in the practices of the common Mahayana

    One certainly should train in the preliminary practices that are common to [i.e., shared by] both the [exoteric] Paramitayana [i.e., the common Mahayana] and the [esoteric] Mantrayana [i.e., the tantric vehicle].

    This is clearly stated by all the principal elucidators of this lineage descending from Lama Marpa, including Lama Ngokpa, who quotes The Hevajra Tantra in Two Sections (Skt. Hevajra tantra nama) as saying, "Firstly impart the precepts of purification," etc., until "Andafter that teach the Middle View." [Lama Ngokpa] goes on to point out that this passage clearly teaches that the trainee should first be led through the practices common to both Mahayana vehicles, i.e., the ordinary Mahayana and the esoteric Mantrayana. He comments that this is the advice found in all the original tantric scriptures.

    Also, it is recorded that when Venerable Milarepa taught the oral instruction transmission for achieving liberation in the bardo he said,

First establish the basics, such as Refuge in the Three jewels, the two aspects of the enlightenment mind—aspirational and engaged—and so forth. Otherwise both [guru and disciple] will fall over the precipice of spiritual disaster, like two oxen yoked together.

    Like that, to take upon oneself the precepts [of tantric initiation] but not to guard them well will only lead both the spiritual friend [i.e., the guru] and disciple over the precipice of disaster, like two oxen tied together in one work-harness. Similarly, to enter into a high tantric practice merely because of having heard of its power and beneficial effects is an invitation to disaster.

    Thereafter Venerable Milarepa gave the initiation of the Yogini, and imparted the oral instructions.

    The above expression "the oral instruction transmission for achieving liberation in the bardo" (Tib. bar do 'phrang sgrol gi man ngag) is synonymous [with the Six Yogas of Naropa]. The above manner of leading disciples [by firstly establishing them in the foundation practices] therefore applies equally to both.

    In particular, the Dharma master Chojey Gampopa, as evident in his work known as Treatise on the Four Dharmas (Tib. Chos bzhi'i 'grel pa), strongly advises that as a preliminary [to tantric practice] one first train the mind in the stages of the path of the three spiritual perspectives. This refers to the trainings of the ordinary Mahayana.

    Some manuals on the Naropa Six Yogas system, such as that by the illustrious master Pakmo Drupa, do not contain a section elucidating the preliminary practices. This is not because these lamas do not advocate the preliminaries, but because in their traditions the Naropa Six Yogas are given to disciples only after they have completed the basic trainings. These, which they call "the public teachings," are equivalent to the Lam Rim trainings [lit., the "Stages of the Path," a term referring to the general Mahayana practices as structured by the eleventh-century Kadampa masters.

    The Six Yogas' manual of [the Drikung Kargyupa lama] Yangonpa [b. 1213] is the same in this respect, and admonishes those wishing to engage in the practice of this Naropa system to firstly train the mind well in the basic Mahayana meditations.

    Thus the Six Yogas are a well-balanced transmission for guiding trainees through the quintessential practices of both the sutra and tantra paths. This is one of its great features, and we should appreciate it in this context.

The actual stages of training the mind in that path

    How does one train the mind in the general preliminaries, those stages of the path that are shared by both Mahayana vehicles?

    Here one should follow the advice found in the oral tradition teachings of the great Atisha [the Indian master Atisha Dipamkara Shrijnana, b. 982, forefather of the Kadampa school], wherein it is said that one should begin by cultivating an effective working relationship with a qualified spiritual master, and should dedicate oneself to him or her by means of both thought and action. On top of that one cultivates awareness of both the worth and the rarity of the precious human rebirth, and generates the firm aspiration to extract the essence of it by means of training the mind accordingly.

    In that entering into the Great Way is the supreme method of extracting this essence, and as the door by which one enters into the Great Way is that of giving birth to the bodhimind (Skt. bodhichitta)—the supreme bodhisattva aspiration to achieve highest enlightenment as a means of benefiting oneself and all others—one should give birth within one's mindstream to a pure experience of this universalist perspective. When a pure experience of the bodhimind has been induced, this signifies that indeed one has entered into the Great Way.

    However, should that level of experience be mere words, then one's status as a practitioner of the Great Way is reduced to mere words. Therefore those with intelligence strive to eliminate the conditions that obstruct the birth of the bodhimind, and to cultivate an authentic experience of it.

    In the beginning one must turn the mind away from grasping at the ephemeral things of this life. Not to do so only encourages obstruction to the spiritual path, be it of the Hinayana or Mahayana. Hence one should begin by cultivating mindfulness of how this life does not last for long, how death is always close at hand, and how after death one may have to wander in the lower realms of samsara if the mind is not purified and trained in wisdom. In this way one turns the mind from grasping at the things of this ephemeral life.

    Next one contemplates well the nature of the samsaric mind and the limitations of even the highest samsaric pleasures. This turns the mind from grasping at worldly glory and instead points it toward spiritual liberation.

    Then, in order to turn the mind from attachment to the individual peace and joy induced through spiritual practice, one cultivates the meditations upon kindness, love, compassion, and the bodhisattva spirit characterized by universal caring. In this way one gives birth to an authentic experience of the bodhimind. One complements this with a knowledge of the ways of the bodhisattvas, and generates the aspiration to train in them.

    Next, when one has confidence that one is able to carry the load of the bodhisattva ways, one takes the bodhisattva oath and adopts the general trainings in the six perfections [i.e., generosity, discipline, tolerance, joyous energy, meditative absorption and wisdom]. In particular, one cultivates both tranquil sitting (Skt. shamatha), which makes the mind more powerful and is in the nature of meditative absorption; and also cultivates special insight meditation (Skt. vipasyana) which perceives how all phenomena are like illusions and are spacelike, a contemplative experience that is in the nature of the perfection of wisdom.

    After this, if one feels one is able to carry the responsibility of the commitments and precepts of the tantric path, one studies the text of The Fifty Verses on the Guru (Skt. Guru panchashika karika) in order to understand how to cultivate correctly a relationship with a tantric master, and [applying those guidelines to one's relationship with one's own teacher] should enter into tantric practice.

    If before entering into tantric practice one does not train in the preliminaries of the basic Mahayana as explained above, then one will not be able to cut off clinging to the ephemeral things of this life, and as a consequence will not experience a stable aspiration to engage in spiritual practice. Consequently one's spiritual dedication to practice will not pass beyond mere words, and the inspiration one extracts from the Three Jewels will not deeply affect one's mind. This in turn will mean that one will not experience a stable awareness of the nature of karmic cause and effect, and hence will not be inspired to maintain any of the spiritual disciplines that one has adopted.

    One's practice consequently will remain superficial. One becomes unable to arouse the experience of release from samsaric addictions, and thus interest in spiritual liberation fades to intellectualization. One is unable to generate an authentic experience of the aspirational bodhimind, which is characterized by love and compassion, and consequently one's status as a Mahayanist exists in name only. An authentic aspiration to cultivate the bodhisattva ways does not arise, and hence one does not experience a solid commitment to cultivate the resolve of the engaged bodhimind. One's practice of tranquil sitting and special insight do not develop well, and one's meditative absorption lacks focus. Consequently one is unable to arouse insight into the vision of the non-self nature.

    Those who want to avoid these dangers should, as a preliminary to the Six Yogas of Naropa, train the mind well in these basic Mahayana themes, the practices common to both Mahayana vehicles [i.e., shared by both the Sutrayana and Vajrayana].

    The mighty Atisha, who united three lineages—that coming from Maitreya to Asanga [b. fourth c.], known as the "vast bodhisattva ways' transmission"; that coming from Manjushri to Nagarjuna [b. second c., known as "the wisdom view transmission"; and that descending from Shantideva [b. seventh c.], known as "the transmission for exchanging self-awareness for universal awareness"—stated that these are the preliminaries to be cultivated by anyone entering into the Mahayana by the door of either the Paramitayana or Vajrayana.

    Venerable Milarepa [b. 1040] put it as follows:

If one does not contemplate the nature of karmic law—
How good and negative deeds produce according results—
The subtle power of the ripening nature of activity
May bring a rebirth of unbearable suffering.
Cultivate mindfulness of action and its result.
If one does not observe the faults of sensual indulgence
And from within oneself reverse grasping at it,
One will not become freed from the prison of samsara.
Cultivate the mind that sees all as an illusion
And apply an antidote to the source of suffering.
If one is unable to show kindness to every living being
Of the six realms, who once was one's own kind parent,
One falls into the limitations of a narrow way.
Therefore cultivate the universal bodhimind,
That looks on all beings with great concern and caring.

And also, elsewhere Milarepa said,

I experienced fear at the thought of the eight bondages
And meditated on the shortcomings of impermanent samsara.
Thus I settled my mind on the objects of spiritual refuge
And learned to observe the laws of karmic cause and effect.
I trained my spirit in method, which is the bodhimind,
And cut off the stream of negative instincts and obscurations.
I learned to see whatever appears as mere illusions,
And thus no longer need fear the lower realms of misery.

Therefore, as said here, one should meditate upon these general preliminary practices until a firm inner stability has been achieved.

    Gain a panoramic understanding of the complete body of the path to enlightenment, and then practice accordingly. The basis of the undertaking should be a cultivated understanding of the complete body of the path to be traversed. Then the results are extraordinary.

    I have written extensively elsewhere on the practices of the general preliminary trainings, the shared path, so will not say more here.


These are of two types: the general Vajrayana preliminaries; and the preliminaries emphasized in this Naropa system.

The general Vajrayana preliminaries

The first of these—the general Vajrayana preliminaries—will be taught under two headings: showing why it is necessary to receive the complete empowerments (Skt. abhisheka); and showing why it is necessary to observe the tantric precepts (Skt. samaya)

Why it is necessary to receive the complete empowerments

In the traditions of the principal lineage holders of the tantric systems coming from Lama Marpa, including those of Lama Meton and Lama Ngokton, it is said that one should receive the four tantric initiations as a preliminary to meditating upon the two stages of the Secret Mantra Path.

    When Venerable Milarepa first met his disciple Chojey Gampopa, the former asked the latter, "Have you received the tantric initiations?" Gampopa replied, "I have received them from Maryul Loden, a disciple of Zangkar." Milarepa therefore accepted to teach him.

    On another occasion, before Milarepa gave Gampopa an oral transmission teaching, he sent him to receive empowerments from Bari Lotsawa.

    Moreover, it was the practice of the illustrious Pakmo Drupa to insist that his disciples receive the four complete empowerments before entering into tantric practice.

    All great masters of the Marpa tradition holding the oral instruction and tantric scripture transmissions unanimously agree on this. Hence it is certain that we must receive the four complete tantric initiations.

    The same thing is strongly stated in the original tantric treatises [translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit]. For example, in section two of The Mark of the Great Seal (Skt. Mahamudra tilika) we read,

When should trainees be given instruction?
Only after they have received the empowerments,
For at that time they become appropriate vessels
To receive the tantric teachings.
Without empowerment there will be no attainment,
Just as oil does not come from pressing sand.
Should a teacher out of pride in his scriptural knowledge
Teach the secret tantric methods
To someone who has not received the tantric empowerments,
Both teacher and disciple immediately after death
Certainly will fall into the hells,
Even if some siddhi had been gained.
Therefore all who strive on the tantric way
Should firstly acquire the essential empowerments.

Also it is said in chapter two of The Diamond Rosary Tantra (Skt. Vajramala tantra)

Empowerment is of primary importance;
All the attainments rest constantly within it.
I will explain the significance of empowerment;
You should listen well to what is said.
If in the beginning the trainees
Are given the complete empowerments,
They become complete vessels at that time
For practicing the completion stage yogas.
However, if while lacking the tantric empowerments
A practitioner learns the meaning of tantra,
Both guru and disciple equally
Will end up in the hells.

As clearly stated in the above scriptures, becoming an appropriate vessel for listening to or meditating upon the Secret Path relies upon receiving the according empowerments. Therefore the empowerments are called "the root of all siddhis." Without the empowerments it is impossible to achieve any of the special siddhis, no matter how much teaching is understood or practice undertaken.

    Not only is there the fault that profound accomplishment is impossible without first having received the empowerments, in addition, even if one does gain some small siddhi, nonetheless both master and disciple will fall into the hell realms.

    On the topic of the empowerments The Root Tantra of Chakrasamvara (Skt. Chakrasamvara mula tantra) states,

If a mantra practitioner, without having been introduced into
    the mandala,
Attempts to practice the tantric yogas,
It will be like punching at the empty sky,
Or like drinking the water of a mirage.

Thus as a preliminary to tantric practice one should be introduced into the mandala, should observe the mandala, and should be given the empowerments, such as the water initiation, crown initiation, and so forth.

    Otherwise, if one has the basis of having previously received empowerment into some other mandala [than the one appropriate to the specific practice being undertaken], then it is acceptable to receive only selected portions of the related empowerment, or to receive a blessing initiation. However, if you have not previously received a complete empowerment, then a simple blessing initiation will not adequately serve the purpose. This is stated in the original tantric scriptures; it was taught by the Indian panditas and mahasiddhas; and it is the advice of the Tibetan lineage lamas.

    Moreover, it is best if here the empowerment is into a mandala from either the Hevajra or Chakrasamvara cycles. These two have a special connection [with the Six Yogas system].

Why it is necessary to observe the tantric precepts

At the time of receiving tantric empowerment one pledges to cultivate the precepts and commitments of tantric practice. This is done in the presence of the initiation master, as well as [the visualized assembly] of gurus, buddhas and bodhisattvas. One should observe these guidelines, and practice accordingly. As is said in The Root Tantra of Chakrasamvara,

The practitioner engaged in intense tantric training
Should constantly maintain the tantric precepts.
If the precepts become weakened,
No siddhi is achieved from initiation into the mandala.

Also, The Tantra of Interpenetrating Union (Skt. Shri samayoga tantra) states,

Not to have been introduced into the mandala,
To ignore the tantric precepts,
And not to have understood the essence of secrets:
To practice on that basis produces no attainment.

As said above, no matter how long or how intensely one practices the tantric yogas, the desired effects will not arise if one has not first received the appropriate empowerments into the mandala; or if one abandons the tantric precepts that are to be maintained; or if one does not thoroughly understand the key points in the two stages of tantric practice.

    Those who claim to be practitioners of highest yoga tantra, yet do not even know the number of root and branch precepts, will gain no results. It is important to gain a clear understanding of the root and branch precepts, and to guard them well.

The preliminaries emphasized in this Naropa system

    The supreme preliminary preparation involves training the mind in the basic practices [as explained earlier], receiving the pure tantric empowerments, and then correctly guarding the root and branch tantric precepts. One should be clear on this.

    In general, the exclusively tantric preliminaries as found in most traditions include the practices of guru yoga, the Vajrasattva mantra recitation and meditation, the offering of the mandala, and so forth.

    However, in the teachings of the lineage masters of the Six Yogas tradition, two of the above are separately explained: the meditation and mantra recitation of Vajrasattva, undertaken in order to purify the mind of negative karmic seeds and obscurations; and the devotional meditations of guru yoga, undertaken in order to establish strong waves of blessing power on the mind.

    [Translator's note: I have placed Tsongkhapa's treatment of the Vajrasattva meditation in Appendix I and his treatment of the Guru Yoga meditation in Appendix II. Readers who want to follow the text of A Book of Three Inspirations in its original order can do so by turning here to those appendices. However, I recommend that the non-specialist first work through Tsongkhapa's treatment of the Six Yogas themselves, and then read these appendices.]

A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life

By Santideva
Translated by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace

Snow Lion Publications

Copyright © 1997 Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Preface 11
Introduction 19
Tsongkhapa and the Lineage of the Six Yogas 19
The Buddhist Tantric Tradition in India 24
Naropa 26
The Legacy of the Six Yogas 29
The Six Yogas, Three Bardo States, and Nine Blendings 33
Lama Tsongkhapa's A Book of Three Inspirations 44
Section One of Tsongkhapa's Text 47
The Preliminary Trainings Associated with the General
Mahayana 47
The General Tantric Preliminaries 49
The Tantric Preliminaries Unique to the Six Yogas
System 51
The Generation Stage Yogas 52
Introduction to the Nature of the Mind 55
Introduction to the Nature of the Body 58
The Physical Exercises and Meditations upon the Empty
Shell Body 60
Section Two of Tsongkhapa's Text 62
The Inner Heat Yoga 63
Karmamudra 69
The Illusory Body Yoga 73
The Bardo Yoga 78
The Clear LightYoga 81
The Consciousness Transference Yoga 85
The Forceful Projection Yoga 87
Concluding Notes 89
The Six Yogas of Naropa in English Translation 90
The Seventh Dalai Lama's Prayer to the Six Yogas Lineage 95
Some Historical Lineage Considerations 99
A Parting Perspective on Tsongkhapa the Great 103
A Book of Three Inspirations: A Treatise on the Stages of
Training in the Profound Path of Naro's Six Dharmas by 109
1. The preliminary meditations, which build the foundations
of this path 111
A. The preliminaries that are general meditations derived
from the common Mahayana teachings 111
1. Why it is necessary for training in this tradition
to be preceded by training in the practices of the 111
2. The actual stages of training the mind in that path 113
B. The preliminaries that belong exclusively to the
highest yoga tantra tradition 116
1. The general Vajrayana preliminaries 116
a. Why it is necessary to receive the complete
empowerments 116
b. Why it is necessary to observe the tantric precepts 118
2. The preliminaries; emphasized in this Naropa system 119
II. Having established the preliminaries, how to train in the
actual tantric meditations 121
A. The meditations of the generation stage yogas 121
B. The meditations of the completion stage yogas 126
1. The nature of the basis 126
a. The nature of the mind 126
b. The nature of the body 131
2. The explanation of the stages of traversing the
path 133
a. The meditations upon the physical exercises,
together with the meditation upon the body as empty 133
i. The meditations on the physical exercises 133
ii. The meditations on the body as an empty shell 136
b. The stages of meditating upon the actual path 137
i. The manner of structuring the path 137
ii. The stages of being guided on the path 141
.A. The essence of the basic principles in the
guidelines of the path 141
.1. The essence of the actual path 141
.a. Arousing the four blisses by means of drawing the
vital energies into the central channel 141
i. The inner condition of the meditations on the
inner heat doctrine 141
(.A.) Meditating upon the inner heat in order to draw
the vital energies into the central channel 141
(.1.) How to meditate on the inner heat yoga 142
(.a.) Meditating by means of visualizing the channels 142
(.b.) Meditating by means of visualizing mantric
syllables 144
(.c.) Meditating by means of engaging the vase
breathing technique 150
(.2.) Having meditated in this way, how to cause the
vital energies to enter, abide and dissolve within 155
(.B.) Having brought in the energies, the methods of
arousing the four blisses 157
(.1.) The nature of the signs that arise, and the
blazing of the inner fire 157
(.2.) How the bodhimind substances are melted and the
four blisses induced 159
(.3.) The manner of meditating upon the innate wisdom 163
.ii. The external condition of relying upon a
karmamudra 164
.2. Having aroused the four blisses, how to engage in
the meditations on the illusory body and clear light 166
.i. The general principles of how, in reliance upon
the inner heat doctrine, one meditates on the 166
.ii. The manner of meditating on the individual paths 171
(A.) How to meditate on the illusory body doctrine 172
(.1.) How to meditate on all appearances as illusory 172
(.2.) How to meditate on dream illusions 175
(.b.) Controlling and increasing dreams 181
(.c.) Overcoming fear and training in the illusory
nature of dreams 182
(.d.) Meditating upon suchness in dreams 183
(.3.) How to meditate on the illusory nature of the
bardo experience 184
(.a.) The underlying philosophy of the bardo
experience 184
(.b.) The stages of the bardo yoga practice 190
(.i.) The types of beings who can practice in the
bardo 190
(.ii.) The nature of the training 192
(.B.) How to meditate upon the clear light yogas 198
(.1.) How to meditate upon the clear light during the
waking period 198
(.2.) How to meditate upon the clear light during
sleep 200
.2. The branches of that path, which include the
practices of consciousness transference and forceful 208
.a. Consciousness transference 209
.b. Forceful projection to a new residence 215
.i. The vessels who are able to accomplish forceful
projection 215
.ii. The purpose of the practice 216
.iii. The manner of effecting the projection 216
.B. The methods and activities for enhancing the path 219
III. The manner of actualizing the results 221
Epilogue 223
Appendix I: Vajrasattva Meditation and Mantra Recitation 227
Appendix II: Establishing Blessing Powers by Meditating upon
Guru Yoga 223
Glossary: Sanskrit and Tibetan Names and Terms 239
Notes 247
Bibliography 269
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