Secrets of Tantric Buddhism: Understanding the Ecstasy of Enlightenment

Secrets of Tantric Buddhism: Understanding the Ecstasy of Enlightenment

by Thomas Cleary (Translator)

Paperback

$18.95
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, January 21

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578635689
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 02/01/2015
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 2.50(d)

About the Author


Thomas Cleary is an internationally known translator of spiritual classics from Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, Pali, and Arabic. He holds a B.A. in Far Eastern Languages from Harvard College and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University.

Read an Excerpt

The Secrets of Tantric Buddhism

Understanding the Ecstasy of Enlightenment


By Thomas Cleary

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1998 Thomas Cleary
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-963-1



CHAPTER 1

LUI

The body is a tree, with five branches;
When the mind is unstable, time enters in.
Firmly determine the Greater Bliss;
Ask the Teacher, says Lui, and know!
What is the use of meditation at all?
One dies bound to pleasure and pain.
Give up the bondage of desire,
the hope for keenness of sense;
Draw the wings of emptiness close to your sides.
Lui says, "I am seen in meditation,
Seated on the seat of inhalexhalation."

The body is a tree, with five branches;
When the mind is unstable, time enters in
.


The image of the body as a tree is elaborated by the Chinese Zen Buddhist Lanhsi in his Treatise on Meditation: "Ordinary people are like trees: putting the manure of greed and lust on the thin soil of folly and delusion, planting seeds of ignorance, transplanting shoots of form, feeling, perception, conditioning, and consciousness, producing buds of active habit-ridden consciousness, growing roots of attachment and stems of flattery and deceit, sprouting leaves of jealousy and envy, creating trees of affliction, causing flowers of infatuation to bloom, forming fruits of greed, aggression, and ignorance."

In Lui's verse, the "five branches" of the tree of the body may be taken to stand for the limbs and head; or they may be understood to refer to the "five clusters" of form, feeling, perception, conditioning, and consciousness, which are commonly used in Buddhist literature to represent a mortal being, as also in Lan-hsi's essay. "When the mind is unstable, time enters in" because the body is governed by the mind and is therefore affected, even afflicted, by fluctuations in the mind, which bring the whole being under the sway of time.

Aristotle is reported to have said, "The soul is not within the body; rather the body is within the soul, because the soul is more extensive than the body, and greater in magnitude." Were the term "mind" in the Buddhist sense substituted for Aristotle's "soul," this statement could have come from India, in explanation of the primary Buddhist emphasis on care and cultivation of mind. The philosophers and physicians of Taoism, which is much like Tantric Buddhism, also regard instability and hyperactivity of the mind to be direct causes of physical unwellness and deterioriation.


Firmly determine the Greater Bliss; Ask the Teacher, says Lui, and know!

The Greater Bliss is subtle transport, beyond the ordinary senses of joy and sorrow. Although it is a natural phenomenon, this is nevertheless sporadic in people subject to ordinary social and psychological conditioning. Therefore it is not accessible as a constant resource unless and until it is deliberately stabilized. This is why there is, in the stage of ultimate realization, no contradiction between natural and attained enlightenment.

"Ask the Teacher, says Lui, and know." This simple exhortation contains many meanings. On the surface is the sense of the need for guidance. In practice it is necessary to "ask the teacher" in order to know, because the confused or unenlightened mind cannot guide itself to enlightenment. Underlying this is the sense of what "teacherhood" is all about. It is properly for the sake of enlightening knowledge alone that one goes to a teacher; not for imagined blessings or graces, let alone lesser goals.

The emphasis on knowing highlights the necessity of direct, firsthand personal experience on the way to enlightenment. The aim is not to be rescued, to be saved, to be convinced, to be converted, to be forgiven, to be absolved, to believe, to have faith, but to know. It is through this knowledge, this personal experience of the spiritual euphoria of enlightenment, that one can attain salvation, certainty, and serenity.


What is the use of meditation at all? One dies bound to pleasure and pain.

After Prince Siddhartha gave up his royal inheritance to seek permanent peace of mind, he followed two Hindu yoga teachers. The first one taught him to reach several stages of meditation, in the highest of which there is no longer any pain or pleasure. The second one taught him to reach a series of stages of abstraction, the most refined being described as neither perception nor nonperception.

Siddhartha found that these yogic experiences seemed to last for very long periods of time, in subjective terms. Yet they inevitably dissolved, leaving the seeker back in the world, now with a profound longing and sorrow at the loss of celestial states. Thus it was that Siddhartha came to realize that these practices and experiences were not eternal spirituality itself, but rather temporal methods of cultivating different perspectives. Siddartha's subsequent detachment from all mental states, both ordinary and extraordinary, ultimately led to his liberation.

This point was later reemphasized in Zen Buddhism, to remedy centuries of devolutionary sectarian cultism dependent upon attachment to limited theories, practices, and altered states of mind. The Tantric adept Lui here expresses the same stage, known in Universalist Buddhism as "abandoning the raft," or letting go of the means when the end has been realized.

In the idea that meditation is a means, not an end, is implicitly echoed the principle that to enter into meditation practice in the wrong frame of mind is useless and even harmful. Seeking personal power, or thrilling experiences, or self-deceptive reality-avoidance, or obsessiveness in general, are unsuitable bases for meditation. Lui warns people not to become wrongly attached to meditation; he also reminds people to scrutinize their own motives and actions. Seekers need to ask themselves what they are really thinking of meditating for in the first place.


Give up the bondage of desire, the hope for keenness of sense; Draw the wings of emptiness close to your sides.

Desire is part of our inherited instinctive constitution, as a mechanism of survival and evolution. Desire can also be influenced and cultivated beyond survival value by habit and conditioning. Bondage to desire, preoccupation with craving for intense experience, makes the individual and community especially vulnerable to exaggerated selfishness, aggression, heedlessness, and shortsightedness.

To give up the bondage of desire is to be able to experience and understand desire without compulsiveness, without augmentation of craving. This is a way to be more objective about desire, and therefore less under the control of associated feelings such as hope, fear, elation, and disappointment.

Ironically, perhaps, attempts to control desire may in fact have the reverse effect of magnifying desire in the mind of someone deliberately trying to control it. This is why Buddhists resort to perception of "emptiness" to transcend the bondage of desire without laboring to extinguish desire itself.

By viewing desire and its objects as conditional, emphemeral phenomena, and viewing repetitious thinking about desire as self-delusion, Buddhists "draw the wings of emptiness close to their sides," transcending the bondage of desire even in the very midst of desire.

To those already obsessed with desire and its fulfillment and frustration, this way of managing desire can seem negative or nihilistic. When the mind is already set on its own preoccupations in that way, the felicitous outcome on the "other side" of liberation from obsession is not even thinkable. The Buddhist goal of realizing emptiness is actually a better happiness, as illustated in the ancient Dhammapada. Buddha himself presents the pattern of spiritual regeneration following upon mortification or transcendence of the lower self: "Do not indulge in negligence, do not be intimate with attachment to desire. The vigilant one, meditative, gains great happiness."


Lui says, "I am seen in meditation, Seated on the seat of inhalexhalation."

This verse may seem, at a glance, to contradict the earlier verse questioning the use of meditation. It must be realized, however, that the earlier verse defines the realizations upon which wholesome meditation and lucid vigilance can be practiced.

The term "inhalexhalation" is a coinage intended to imitate the original technical expression, underlining the sense of the breathing as one continuous cycle in two phases. This is considered a useful exercise for concentrating a scattered mind and preparing it to perceive reality more objectively.

In ancient Buddhism, mindfulness of breathing and mindfulness of impermanence were referred to as two amrta-dvara or "doors of immortality" leading to nirvana, or clearing of the mind. Mindfulness of breathing was considered the better door in the sense that by nature it contains the other door within it.

The Indian meditation master Prajnatara spoke of both application and realization of this practice in these terms, five hundred years before Lui: "Breathing in, I do not dwell on the elements of mind or body; breathing out, I do not get involved in myriad things."

Zen Buddhists of the Far East, whose teachings resemble those of these Vajrayana Siddhacaryas of Bengal, consider Prajnatara (fifth century C.E.) their twenty-seventh Indian patriarch. Chinese records say he was from "Eastern India," which would include the area of what had been Magadha when Buddha was born there a thousand years before Prajnatara, and the Bengali Paia dynasty when Lui sang there five or six hundred years later. Buddha's mother-tongue, Magadhi, and Lui's "Old Bengali" language are directly related.

Thus it is possible to see, in more than one dimension, the historical continuity of Buddhism in its first homeland over a period of at least fifteen hundred years, unbroken through what conventional scholarship generally designates Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism.

CHAPTER 2

KUKKURI

Having milked the turtle, the pitcher holds no more;
The crocodile eats the tree's tamarind.
Listen to the courtyard being swept, O mistress;
A thief has stolen the earrings
in the middle of the night.
Father-in-law gone to sleep, the bride is awake;
The earrings have been taken by a thief—
where does one go to look for them?
By day, the bride is scared of the crows;
When scared at night, she goes to Kamarupa.
Kukkuri sings of such practice:
It enters the heart of one in a million.

Having milked the turtle, the pitcher holds no more;
The crocodile eats the tree's tamarind.


The turtle that withdraws its head and limbs and shuts itself up in its shell for safety was anciently used as an image of the practice of withdrawal of the senses from external stimulation. Sometimes this is used for stress reduction, for mental and physical health. Sometimes the practice is applied to the effort to recollect a scattered mind, or to abstract processes of thoughts and judgment from the influence of immediate stimuli.

When withdrawal is overused, or indulged in for escapist purposes, the results are stultifying rather than restorative. The first line of this couplet expresses this by saying, in effect, that there is a limit to which the "turtle" exercise can be optimally employed ("milk" also means "utilize" in Old Bengali, much as it can mean "exploit" in modern English).

The crocodile is the picture of ferocity, the tamarind a leguminous tree with a pulpy fruit. This presents a counterpoint to the passivity of withdrawal, actively sinking one's teeth into the knotty problems of real life. A Zen proverb says, "The level field of equanimity is littered with the skulls of the dead; it is only the experts who can get through the forest of thorny problems."


Listen to the courtyard being swept, O mistress; A thief has stolen the earrings in the middle of the night.

The mistress is formless insight, listening is attention. The courtyard being swept is the spontaneous passing away of random thoughts and feelings.

The first line represents a concrete exercise in clearing the mind of inward chatter. The thief is natural bliss, or the bliss of naturalness (sahajananda); the earrings are artificialities. The middle of the night is formless, silent mental equipoise. The second line describes the exercise taking effect.


Father-in-law gone to sleep, the bride is awake; The earrings have been taken by a thief—where does one go to look for them?

The father-in law stands for conventionally structured thinking, bound by rules of conditioned habit that are ultimately arbitrary yet rigidly maintained. The bride stands for nondiscursive insight, seeing immediately and directly, thus always fresh and new.

When the "father-in-law" of authoritarian conventional thinking has "gone to sleep" in the quiescence of cessational meditation, then the "bride" of nonconceptual knowing can "waken" and operate without interference in observational meditation.

When acquired superficialities have been dropped through the experience of naturalness ("the earrings have been taken by a thief"), there is no obstacle to looking back into the mystery of the essence and source of consciousness ("where does one go to look?").


By day, the bride is scared of the crows; When scared at night, she goes to Kamarupa.

Daytime stands for the world of differences. Silent, formless insight is "drowned out" by the clamor of the worldly mind, with its internal bantering and chattering, whose crude stimulation distracts and dulls the faculty of finer sense.

Night stands for nirvana, or the experience of the absolute. Kamarupa, a place name that literally means "Form of Desire," stands for a locus on the subtle energy body, and spiritual bliss.

When experience of the absolute in nirvanic quiescence goes so deep as to put one in danger of slipping into complete annihilation, the subtle awareness of formless insight maintains the "ember" of life in the medium of spiritual ecstasy.

This is the meaning of the classic Zen verse that says, "It shines right at midnight, and does not appear at dawn."


Kukkuri sings of such practice: It enters the heart of one in a million.

The Siddha concludes by reminding his hearers that what he is singing of is a practical process, not just philosophical or literary conceits. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, said, "There are many who see the Way; there are few who practice it." The Flower Ornament Scripture, a root source of Far Eastern Tantric Buddhism, emphasizes this point strongly:

Like a person skilled in medicine
who cannot cure his own disease:
so are those who .are learned
but do not apply the teaching.
Like someone counting others' treasures
without half a coin of his own:
so is the one who is learned
who does not practice the teaching.
Like one who is born in a royal palace
yet freezes and starves,
so are those who are learned
but do not practice the teaching
.

CHAPTER 3

VIRUBA

A single wine-making woman enters two houses;
Using fermenting agents, she makes the wine.
In natural calm, she makes the wine;
Who ages not nor dies is firm of body and mind.
Seeing the sign on the tenth door,
The buyer came of his own accord.
Sixty-four pitchers are given in display;
Once a customer's gone in, there's no coming out.
One small container, with a slender tube;
Viruba says, "Make movements calmly."

A single wine-making woman enters two houses;
Using fermenting agents, she makes the wine.


The wine-making woman is wisdom, the two houses are samsara and nirvana. Samsara is the mundane world, and nirvana is absolute truth, or transcendent inner peace. The fermenting agents are developmental practices, the wine-making is the process of awakening, and the wine is the spiritual euphoria of realization.

According to the Flower Ornament Scripture a bodhisattva, who is someone in the process of enlightening self and others, has both a face of nirvana and a face of samsara. The insight of Buddhas penetrates both the relative and the absolute, producing two kinds of knowledge. Thus "the winemaking woman enters two houses" and "makes the wine."


In natural calm, she makes the wine; Who ages not nor dies is firm of body and mind.

Insight has to be stabilized before it can be employed constructively. A classical Zen Buddhist image for this is the flame and glass of a lamp. The flame is like insight, the glass is like calmness; without stable calmness, access to insight fluctuates like an unsheltered candle in the wind.

"Who ages not nor dies" is the Buddha-nature, which is believed to be the natural and inherent essence of living beings.

T'ien-t'ai and Huayen Buddhism also call this "mind in its aspect of suchness" in contrast to "mind in its aspect of repetitious arousal." In Taoist hygiene theory, which has close affinities to Tantric Buddhism, detachment from fluctuations of thought and feeling in favor of calm immersion in the essence of mind itself is considered a restorative "elixir" that reduces both physical and mental stress, thus fostering health and longer life.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Secrets of Tantric Buddhism by Thomas Cleary. Copyright © 1998 Thomas Cleary. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Origins of Tantric Buddhism ix

1 Lui: The body is a tree 1

2 Kukkuri: Having milked the turtle 8

3 Viruba: A single wine-making woman 12

4 Guntari: Pressing the three channels 16

5 Catila: The flow of existence 21

6 Bhusuku: Of what is taken and discarded 26

7 Kahnu: The road was blocked 30

8 Kambalambara: The boat of compassion 33

9 Kahnu: The pillar, so firm 39

10 Kahnu: Outside the city 44

11 Krishna: The energy in the channels 50

12 Krishna: I play a game of chess 54

13 Krishna: 'The Three Refuges are made a boat 59

14 Dombi: Between the Ganges and the Yamuna 67

15 Shanti: On discerning analysis of essence 73

16 Mahidhara: In three bursts 83

17 Vina: The moon is joined to the gourd of the sun 90

18 Krishnavajra: I traverse the three realms 94

19 Krishna: Being and nirvana 98

20 Kukkuri: I am without hope 102

21 Bhusuku: In the dark of night 106

22 Saraha: One constructs being 109

23 Shanti: Carding the cotton 112

24 Bhusuku: The lotus blooms 116

25 Shabara: High, high the mountain 120

26 Lui: Being does not exist 125

27 Bhusuku: clouds of compassion 130

28 Aryadeva: Where the wind of the senses 134

29 Saraha: No dot, no crescent 139

30 Dhendhana: My house has no neighbor 143

31 Darika: By the practice of nonseparateness 148

32 Bhade: So long have I been self-deluded 153

33 Krishnacarya: The arm of emptiness 157

34 Taraka: I have no self 162

35 Sarahs.: The body is a boat 166

36 Saraha: When your mind is split 170

37 Kahnu: For one whose mind-field is rubbish 177

38 Bhusuku: This world is nonexistent 180

39 Kahnu: Emptiness is filled 185

40 Bhusuku: The tree of nature 189

41 Kankana: When the void joins the void 193

42 Kahnu: The mind is a tree 197

43 Jayanandi: Like a mirror 201

44 Dharma: Lotus and Lightning 205

45 Bhusuku: Crossing over, the diamond boat 210

46 Sahara: Void upon void 213

Notes 219

Select Bibliography 225

About the Author 227

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews