Buddhist Problems Answered By Yogi C. M. Chen
By Yogi C. M. Chen
Our great merciful Bhikshu Sangharakshita Sthavira has prepared some questions on topics mentioned in our book "Buddhist Meditation: Systematic and Practical" for the help of readers with some experience in meditation. I was encouraged to prepare some answers to them, and this I have done under two classifications, which I shall now talk about one by one.
I. Problems of Philosophy
1. Christ’s teaching is much more than a man-and-heaven yana. He claims that he is the only-begotten Son of God and that ultimate salvation can only be gained through faith in him. How can this be a foundation for Buddhism? Surely a Western Buddhist should reject such teaching. If not, why should he become a Buddhist? He will remain a Christian.
This is a question of preparation and I have answered it in two parts, the first based on the principles of philosophy and the second based on circumstantial reasons.
A. Philosophic Principles
The inconceivable, the unspeakable of the Dharmakaya has a sacred and secret function by which it has skillfully arranged a religion as preparation for the final liberation taught in Buddhism. In all countries, a religion of heaven-and-man-yana is found where some aspects of Truth are taught. By practice of these religions one may gain some insight into small parts of Truth, leading thereby to understanding of the complete Truth of the Dharmakaya as taught by the Buddha. Buddhists, in fact, by knowing their own religion, will see that the other faiths-all those in the whole universe-are not incompatible with the Dharma but are bases upon which it may stand and grow.
Readers will remember our definition of a heaven-and- man yana. Such a teaching tells people how to lead a good life here, so as to gain heaven in the next birth and thus avoid the torments of Hell. Our books are for the West and the heaven-and-man yana established there is Christianity, so this religion is the preparation for our Dharma in those lands.
Every religion has its own pride, and each one says, with varying degrees of emphasis, that it is the only way to salvation. The question is whether these religions are ever justified in making such statements. In the past, when communication was difficult and slow between different parts of the world, each religion could make its claims more or less unchallenged by the others. Now the position is very different and the study of comparative religion is pursued in many places. In this way, we can easily see from unbiased studies that many of the great religions present similar features which justify our calling them as a group, "heaven-and-man yanas." Of course, just as they do not agree with one another about each one’s exclusive claims, so we do not agree with them that any one of them or all of them together constitute the way to salvation.
In particular, Christianity’s claims of exclusive salvation were originally made in the days when it was establishing itself amidst a host of cults worshipping idols, the forces of nature, and even offering human sacrifice and other such harmful practices not beneficial to man’s spiritual growth. For instance, there is still in Bhutan a primitive belief that by killing a man one gains in strength and cunning. Against such practices, is it not correct to say that teachings such as Christ’s offer a real spiritual reward? This attitude of exclusiveness then, is justified in such cases, but would have no point against Buddha dharma, which in any case worships no idols and teaches positively non-harming and a noble path of spiritual development.
Jesus confessed that he had not taught everything. What he kept back and what his disciples were not prepared to receive were perhaps, doctrines along the lines of Buddhism. Neither his disciples then, nor the Christian West until recently, were spiritually mature enough to understand and profit from the teachings of the Buddha. His disciples expected to be told about an Almighty God in the tradition of Jehovah, and Western countries up to 100 years ago were still rigidly bound to the dogmas of the Christian churches and did not think of religion apart from such concepts as God the Father, Jesus Christ the Savior, the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, and books other than the Bible. Now horizons are wider and some people feel dissatisfied with the limited teaching of Jesus preserved by the Christian churches.
In this light, not only Buddhists, but Christians also, should try to re-estimate the value of Christ’s religion as we have suggested in Chapter VII of "Buddhist Meditations: Systematic and Practical" and also in Booklet New No. 22, "The Crucifixion." Re-assessment of values, of course, alters the status of the Absolute God considerably and shows that He is in the same position as the many powerful but transient deities in the various heavens.
Quite different is the position of the Dharmakaya and its relation to this small, small world, one of many in a celestial group. The all-pervading Dharmakaya is not limited by any circumstance, and this planet, for thousands of years known to Buddhist cosmology as minute, is now confirmed by science to be a mere speck of matter. How could there be any part of this tiny mote where the Dharmakaya is not present? One must conclude that the Western continents are not beyond the range of the Dharmakaya and that this body of the True Teachings has also established foundations there for its further growth when conditions become suitable. Such is our philosophy of the relation of Buddha dharma and the heaven-and-man yanas.
B. Circumstantial Reasons
1) Regarding facts rather than philosophic principles, what do we find? In the West, four kinds of people are found:
a) The first among them doubts all religious teachings. He scoffs at God, Soul, at Savior, at life after death, as well as at the smattering of ideas he may have of other religions, having no faith, for example, in karma or in transmigration. Some scientists and many who have received the usual secular education hold views of this sort.
b) Those people who are already Christians and do not deny the truth of the Bible, salvation by Jesus, etc., but because they have read many books on other religions, they have some doubts about the completeness of their own faith, and feel that they might progress more in the Buddha’s teachings.
c) Then there are some young people who although have been born in a Christian family, have never had any deep devotion to that religion and after reading a book or two on Buddhism decide quite definitely that they are followers of the Enlightened One.
d) Lastly, there are many who know about Christianity but reject it outright. They have the same mind of disbelief as the first type of person but have come into contact with some books on Buddhism like the second group. They have already thrown away such trifling matters as the Commandments so that when they get acquainted with a little Buddhism, they feel no attraction towards the Buddha’s ethical teachings such as the Five Precepts; repelled from these, they are drawn to other things. They like the sound of Chan or Zen, and eagerly endorse views which say it has no doctrine or causation, or that salvation comes naturally. They like to read of Chan sayings, which deny the need of precepts, or any writer who proclaims that in Buddhism there is no soul and no belief in gods. When they read books on the Tantra of great lust and great pride, this seems to please them and finally they talk about there being no need for preparations such as renunciation, purification and meditation for, after all, all are Buddhas already.
This last sort of person is easily found among the young people, especially in America. I have many friends, some of whom I have met and some of whom I correspond with, who think and talk this way.
2) As there are these four types of persons, we may give them some good advice.
a) The first and the third mentioned above may be grouped together. Both groups have left their traditional religion and perhaps feel some animosity for it. To the first group of people we can say nothing except to invite them to harness their powers of examination and criticism in a fruitful way in Buddhism. For this they must acquire some faith, otherwise no good will result.
I do not mean that either group must take the Christian teachings as a basis, though the third group would profit spiritually if they did not adopt an attitude of critical hostility for their former religion. Only for protection (if they live in predominantly Christian areas) they may have some faith in Christ and his teachings. Of course, if they live in India, protection there may be sought from the gods of the Hindu religion. The spiritual world is similar to the political one: If one wants protection in any country, then one abides by its laws; just so with religion. Practicing religion in the West, one seeks some protection from the spiritual power there (the Christian God), or in India, from the powers there. We are, please notice, only asking these various gods to protect our meditations, not to give us salvation, which in the Buddhist sense, they cannot in any case grant. By their help, even if it is only passive, demons will not be able to come and hinder our efforts.
b) Of the second person, I should say he is a hopeful case. Why? Because when he was a Christian he took all the goodness in that religion and has only come to Buddhism since he is aware that the Bible is lacking in some respects. But we should guide him to make a re-evaluation of the Christian religion as in Chapter VII. Certainly, we cannot accept the view that Western religion (or any one of its branches) offers the only way to salvation as it claims-that is not a correct idea, for other religions also have merits equal or greater than that of Christ’s.
The great merit of this type of person is that having kept the five ethical commandments of Christianity, he is readily able to receive and practice the Buddha’s five precepts. Already he has some background of doing good and has belief in a happy state after death as a result of this. All we have to do is to guide him and point out that this is a limited teaching and that the spiritual path stretches far beyond the rather narrow limits of Christianity.
Without guidance as contained in our book, a person like this may fall into the trap of making false comparisons and equations. He may, for instance, equate God with the Dharmakaya, or declare that Salvation in all religions is the same. Without putting obstacles in the way of inter-religious peace, we should say quite frankly that such a non- discriminating attitude is never encouraged in Buddhism, where instead of turning a blind eye to all the differences, which exist between the various faiths, one is encouraged to mature wisdom for the proper evaluation of religions.
c) Those people of the fourth group do not believe in Buddhism at all. They just get hold of a bit of Chan terminology, talk about "living Zen" or "practicing Zen in daily life," or again hear something of Tantric Vajra-love. They leave aside the precepts and go so far as to deny the Hinayana, calling them "heretics" or "outsiders." Such persons are not Buddhists and they just thoroughly mistake Chan and the Tantras.
It is good to establish Hinayana (Pali Canon and Theravada) in Western countries. Where there is Hinayana, the Vinaya will be observed. This means that the other sílas of the lay-people are well kept, as well as the basic five precepts for the good of oneself and others. Such Buddhists will not treat Christians as enemies or vehemently deny the limited truths of Christianity. It is certain that Buddhists like this will not be like the fourth type of person; the latter does not care to know the true principles, but the former will have thoroughly investigated and practiced the preparations necessary prior to taking up Vajrayâna or Chan.
Bhikshu Sangharakshita here offered an evaluation of the various heaven-and-man yanas. He said: Of all these, Confucianism is perhaps the best basis for Buddhism and Buddhists may accept 95% of its teachings. Notably the animal sacrifice therein is the only thing we must reject as against the teachings of the Buddha. The emphasis on ethical conduct in this life and the lack of speculation about after death states, are both admirable. Next best among the great religions is Hinduism. Perhaps 50% of its teachings may be acceptable to Buddhists and some of its ideas of reincarnation and its doctrine of karma have something in common with Buddhist teachings, although the latter are still in many ways different, being much clearer and more precise. As to Christianity, regarded as a basis, only 25% of its doctrines as developed by the Church are acceptable while the rest are quite opposed to Buddhist principles, and overlie, indeed obscure, some of the original teachings of Jesus, which Buddhists can endorse, such as the good sermon on the Mount. If we consider the case of Islam, almost everything there would be rejected by Buddhists—it would perhaps be the poorest basis for Buddhist growth. (The writer thought the one common point might be the emphasis on giving, in both these religions. Alms-giving, one of the duties of a good Muslim, is also stressed as the beginning of the way in Buddha dharma, as an easy spiritual means to open the heart, as in the triad so often preached to the lay-people in Buddhist countries: Dana, Síla, Samadhi (in the sense of Dhyana).
2. Could you elaborate more on the difference between the Truth or Great Self of Buddhism and the Higher Self of Hinduism? After the former has passed through the fire of Sunyata, in what sense is there a self at all?
This is a very important question and has perplexed many in the West who have continually mixed these up. In my long book, "Discriminations between Buddhist and Hindu Tantras" I have been particularly concerned about bringing out the main differences which result from a fair comparison. We should elaborate on this matter so that readers may clearly distinguish these two. Even educated readers in Tibet and China are not clear regarding this, not to speak of the confusion existing in the minds of some Westerners, especially those with theosophical ideas. Our reasons for the difference between these two concepts are:
A. The Higher Self of Hinduism has never passed through the stage of sublimation by Sunyata, whereas the question of Self, self, etc., is dealt with in Buddhism many times at different levels of practice. First, there is the purification affected by the Hinayana meditations on gross ideas of "I" and "mine"; those two are not allowed as truth in this vehicle. The Vinaya practiced by the Bhikshus of all Buddhist schools contains some sílas specially directed at the destruction of self-centered ideas while the Sutras taught in the Hinayana are full of injunctions aimed at the destruction of the self. Such are the teachings of no-self in the skandhas or the uprooting of pride-in-self by analysis into the elements.
In all Buddhist schools there are many treatises (shastras), the contents of which are all directed at the destruction of self. For instance, groups of self-view are frequently given and refuted, not merely as wrong theories, but as basically wrong ideas leading on to wrong practice. In Mahayana, not only are the personal components declared to be no-self but the Dharmas are shown as void, Sunyata in their nature, thus destroying the idea of self in relation to one’s surroundings. To make perfectly clear the no-self of the Dharmas there are so many lists of different conditions of Sunyata from two aspects of Sunyata up to eighteen different kinds.
Purification by analysis in the Hinayana and Sunyata sublimation in the Mahayana hit at one point, at only one point-to destroy the self.
It is true that in Hinduism, the lower self is said to be a bad thing but no theory appears to exist to destroy it and the various philosophies of Hinduism are not fundamental in this respect. Why?
The reason is that they still carry a high or pure self on their backs and make no attempt to dig up the self idea completely. It is a well-known law of psychology that from the concept of self held in the mind ensue ideas, emotions and subsequent actions. Even though Hindu doctrine distinguishes such concepts as a "High Self" and "Low Self," fundamentally the self-idea still remains. High, low, these are just names, relative terms and such are only suitable for describing varying levels. The self is still there whether you call it by this or that name. But the Buddha has taught and we must emphasize again, that no self can be found in persons, and no self can be found in Dharmas either. So how can people, unless they are badly deluded, compare two religions and loudly brag that Buddhism and Hinduism are the same. Particularly with respect to the Great Self (mahatma) occasionally mentioned in the former and the Higher Self (paramatma) of the latter; we understand by taking account of these processes that these words mean quite different things.
B. The Buddha has mentioned the Great Self in his teachings only in the Maha Parinirvana Sutra (a Sanskrit work, not the Pali Sutra of the same name). At that time he was about to disappear from this world and so many of the disciples gathered about him were weeping bitterly. In their minds, he was about to pass away into Nirvana which they took to be space, nothingness; the Buddha as they knew him would, they thought, be gone, finished. Thus the Enlightened One preached, assuring them of the true nature of things and correcting their bias in thinking of Nirvana as annihilation. He preached the mark of Great Self.
Suppose one completely destroys the twofold self idea and gains the realization of the Dharmakaya, really one gives a false name to that experience of Truth or Reality. How is this? Whatever one calls this realization, it is a false name, since by the nature of our language and our minds, which govern its use, all names, are false. There is not a single name for reality, not a single one is true. Even Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi (Unexcelled Perfect Enlightenment of a Buddha) is a false name. Of course, the name "Great Self" is not excluded from this. It is just a mundane term attempting to describe something of spiritual truth.
This description, Great Self, is in the position of Consequence and is never used in the positions of Cause or Course. It is very important to understand this. In the yanas of Cause and Course, it is said that there is no self and one always trains to destroy self-centered ideas to realize this.
But in Hinduism, there are self-ideas of varying subtlety in all three positions. For instance, in the Cause position there are the individual souls, in the Course position one practices yoga to unite with Brahman, while Brahman is in the position of Consequence and towards this end all efforts are made with the Higher Self.
In Buddhism, one never practices with the Great Self, one never seeks it. It may be used as a relative name for Nirvana, as the Buddha skillfully used it. Readers could see our definitions of Nirvana in Booklet New No. 30, "The Final Goal Buddhist and Hindu," then they will understand that Hinduism has no such ideas and that it is improper to compare the Higher Self with Nirvana.
C. As we have said, Great Self is used in the sense of Dharmakaya but there is no doctrine of Dharmakaya in Hinduism. There is certainly the theory of an all-pervading self-Suratma but this is allied with ideas on the creation of the Universe. (First Brahman created the Universe and then he entered into it, as Bhikshu Sangharakshita said). But Buddha dharma never taught that Gautama Buddha was responsible for such creation. All Buddhists would laugh at this idea, yet many make mistakes even on this point. Our Dharmakaya is based on the no-base of Sunyata but the Higher Self of Hinduism is rooted in the theory of the Brahman god. We do not allow any creator, so there is a great difference here.
As a conclusion to this question, it is well to say that for the propagation of Buddhism, including Mahayana doctrines, the term "Great Self" even though it has the sense of Sunyata, should not be used very much, for it results in too much confusion arising in students’ minds. Because of this, in my works I have never used this term, and the only time it is mentioned in Buddhist canonical scriptures, is in the Sutra of the Great Passing Away. When we are Enlightened (that is, in the position of Consequence), we shall know thoroughly the meaning of Great Self as one of the Four Virtues of Nirvana (the others are Permanence, Happiness and Purity)—until then, we need not worry ourselves over this matter.
Of course, if one engages in debate with a Hindu, he may talk about many things, which sound similar to the Dharmakaya. Then one must ask him: Through what process, passing from one to another, have you progressed to destroy the self, which is certainly necessary before one can come to the experience of the Dharmakaya? We can show such stages in Buddhism. Do you have effective methods equivalent to them? Please show me your doctrine to accomplish this.
As Hindus always hold to doctrines of High Self and similar concepts and never allow the No-Self Teachings of the Buddha, they will be puzzled to answer such a challenge.
II. Problems of Practice
1. Formulating one’s own vows: should these refer to one’s spiritual practices here and now, or to what one will do after gaining Buddhahood, or both?
A vow is certainly a Dharma in the position of Cause because in every person, will comes first and conduct follows. So vows are not of either Course or Consequence. The being who was to become the Buddha Amitabha was, ages before, a Bhikshu called Fa-tsang (Dharmakara). He was very learned and before his guru he made forty-eight vows and from the merit of observing these, when he gained Full Enlightenment, established his Pure Land (Sukhavati) for the good rebirth of so many sentient beings. The Buddha Gautama, before his Enlightenment, made Four Great Vows during the time when he was a Tenth Stage Bodhisattva and so in the position of Course. But he might have had vows in his position of Cause from which derive these four. The four great vows were:
(i) May I be able to release the bondage’s of beings of the three realms and let them be rid of Lust.
(ii) May I open my pure wisdom eyes seeing everything as equal to one another and let all sentient beings be rid of Anger.
(iii) May I help all sentient beings reach enlightenment without false views and be rid of Self-Pride.
(iv) May I preach the Dharma and let all sentient beings be free from transmigration and be rid of Ignorance.
Avalokitesvara, Manjusri and Bhaisajyaguru all made vows when they were in the position of Cause. Further, there is a sutra, "the Karuna Pundarika," in which many compassionate vows are recorded. So our readers may first consult this and then get some ideas about suitable subjects for the formation of vows. Nargarjuna also made ten vows in his Middle Way Shastra. These I have read and appreciate very much.
The four Boundless Minds are included in every ritual and are a kind of vow. They are:
May all sentient beings gain happiness and its causes,
Be parted from all grief and its causes,
Not become parted from the happiness wherein there is no grief,
And dwell in the condition of Equanimity.
Besides these, there are the Five Common Vows, which are very important:
Though sentient beings are countless, we vow to save them.
Though sorrows are endless, we vow to cut them off.
Though Dharma-gates are numberless, we vow to learn them all.
Though Bodhi is boundless, we vow to traverse it.
Though Buddhas are infinite in number, we vow to worship them. (Sometimes the last one is not given and they are then called the Four Vows).
It is not enough to want to save every person in one’s own time, age, world, family, etc. If one truly wants to be a Bodhisattva, one’s own vows should be developed to save all, regardless of time and space. One should not always merely follow the common vows.
Why do you think that the Pure Lands of so many Buddhas are different? Because of the difference in their vows, since the lands they bring into existence are in accordance with those vows. As the vows of the Bodhisattvas of the past are not enough for a meditator’s own practice, so it is necessary once his own are established to aid his fellow-yogis in formulating their own.
Vows apply to this life—as a listener said: May I give so many robes to Bhikshus, may I build so many monasteries, may I support so many meditator’s, etc.—and to future lives. As you are aiming at Full Enlightenment, vows should not be limited to this life during which a meditator may or may not gain Buddhahood. Precisely what one is aiming at is this: From this human body to become a Buddha. This is most important and should never be forgotten. The function of this attainment is the production of a Pure Land. One may vow that it should occur in the far distant future or not, just as one wishes. It may or may not be in this life though the Vajrayâna says that attainment is always in this life (which other one could it be in?).
Concluding from the point of view of the three yanas: One should vow to get rid of all Sorrows—this is in the Hinayana. One should vow to help all others-this is a Mahayana vow. Such vows as these must be in accord with the different yanas’ doctrines, for instance, it would be un-Buddhistic to vow to become a Creator God. Thirdly, we must know the functions of Buddhahood and make vows to produce some things, which we wish to have in our Pure Land though these must agree with the principles of the Vajrayâna. Suppose that one wishes:" O, may there be no girls or women in my Pure Land." This is not according to Vajrayâna practice even though Amitabha’s Sukhavati is like this. This is because Sukhavati is produced by the merits of the Nirmanakaya who is always shown in monk’s robes. The Sambhogakaya Amitabha has a land where in splendor he is attended by sixty-four sisters and based on this, the Sister Samadhi is practiced in Japan secretly.
It is not good to make vows excluding women from one’s Pure Land. To worship the numberless Buddhas one might set out from Sukhavati and come to other Pure Lands where there are many girls and women, then how could one control the mind if they could not do the same in Sukhavati?
I have made Nine No-Death Vows, and these ideas are not permissible in the exoteric yanas being contrary to the teachings of impermanence there. With these vows I aim to get in this life a wisdom-light body thereby to accomplish numberless Bodi-karmas. Whenever it is obtained, it will, of course, be this life.
Now I want to introduce my Ten Fundamental Vows to readers:
(1) May I abide in the highest mystic Buddha stage to reward with gratitude the four benefactors (the Guru, the Buddha, parents, and one’s patrons-sometimes the last one is all sentient beings).
(2) May I abide in the No-self Dharma nature to save all the beings in the three evil realms of existence (hell beings, animals, and ghosts).
(3) May I gather the victorious significance of the perfect light and a transparent body.
(4) May I from life accumulate the voice of Dharani of Anuttara-yoga.
(5) May I life by life accumulate the highest will of Buddhahood.
(6) May I with my meditative wisdom-light lure all the demons and outsiders into the Dharma-gate.
(7) Those persons who have no connecting conditions either good or bad with past Buddhas, may I establish good connections with them as they are the most difficult to save, and through their connection with me, may I save them. (This is a very special vow.)
(8) May I inherit the merits of the past Buddhas and by this force enable myself to discover the Dharmakaya of sentient beings.
(9) May I establish on my ground of Wisdom, Right Dharma accumulating the merits and abilities of Buddhahood for universal salvation.
(10) May I, in this lifetime, gather all the realizations of the Vajrayâna to have enough experience to teach all followers.
These vows were made at the age of twenty-five. When I made them I recited each one in front of Wei-To and then worshipped him asking him to protect my vows. I was very much inspired by him at this time. Afterwards, I worshipped the Buddha and asked him to witness my aspirations. As there is a statue of the guardian god, Wei-To, in every Chinese temple, so in each one I have visited, I have asked him for his help.
My guru, Lola Rinpoche, went to Lu-San and was impressed by the favorable aspect of the place. He saw eight small mountains there like lions and so instructed that after his death, his ashes should be brought to that place and a pagoda built there to enshrine them. Ganga Rinpoche duly brought the remains and established the pagoda. At this time I had just written my vows on blue silk with a special red vermilion ink. As my guru’s heart remained intact after cremation, a silk pocket was made for it and the heart, together with my vows, were placed inside, and these relics were then enshrined in the center of the pagoda. What a fortunate circumstance that these vows might be preserved with my guru’s holy remains! Shortly after this the Japanese Army came, destroying many things. Many small stupas suffered from their pillaging but this great pagoda still remained intact. After that, the Communists arrived, but even they, though destroying many Buddhist monuments and temples, have left my guru’s reliquary alone.
I am indeed sorry that my vows are still so far from realization. I have made no progress and so, alas, I have not repay the kindness of my gurus.
Every man has his own special ideas regarding vows. My special vow is the seventh one. When I read that the Buddhas cannot save those who have no connecting conditions with them, I cried out in sorrow. I thought then: I must make a vow about this. So many Buddhas have passed and yet they have not been able to save so many unfortunate beings who are without even an evil connecting condition. Even with such a bad condition people may be saved. There was, for instance, an officer who persecuted Padmasambhava. When that officer died, he fell into one of the hells. Since he had established some connection, evil though it was, Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava’s consort, when she found out he was in hell, was able to rescue the unfortunate officer and effect his salvation. A good condition is good; a bad condition is better than none. An aspiration to save those with no condition is not to be found among the ancient vows. Certainly, there are many things to do as a Bodhisattva, but this particularly is my great work.
Vows must always be remembered, and never forgotten. If one forgets them, they cease to be vows. You who have read many books and have a good foundation of Buddhist knowledge, can make some vows. You practice Buddha dharma as well, so you must formulate some. Most people cannot make them as they lack the necessary knowledge and neophytes easily make the wrong sort of vows.
2. How should the yidam be selected?
3. What Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc. may function as yidams?
4. What is the relationship between meditation on one’s yidam and on some other deity?
5. Does one keep to one yidam throughout one’s practice of the four Yogas?
6. Does one meditate upon the yidam invariably in a wrathful or invariably in a peaceful form? Does one stick to one form of the yidam?
7. Are meditations on the yidam all of the same type, or is there a different type for each yidam?
A. Firstly, I will answer on how to select the yidam.
1) One commonly used method is for the Lama to prepare some dice and thereby determine with the help of a book on divination which yidam to select for a disciple. The disciple kneels down and takes out the dice and the yidam is decided accordingly. This is the lowest method and similar to those used by outsiders.
2) Another way is for the disciple to be given a stick or flower and then, standing outside the mandala, throw it inside. This mandala has the Tathágata family at the center, while to the East is the Vajra-family, in the South, Jewel, West, Lotus, and to the North is the Karma-family. All yidams are associated with one of these five families. This method may show which department is suitable for a disciple, for example, a meek person may get a yidam of the Vajra-family, or an angry man one from the Lotus-family. Still, this method is open to several objections. Firstly, each initiation has a special yidam so the question of yidam is not settled properly. Again, the yidam will not be the same every time as it may vary with one’s faith; not being settled this is bound to be rather unsatisfactory. Also, it may create uncertainty in one’s mind and thus disturb one’s practice.
3) Most Vajrayanists have taken many initiations and therefore so many yidams are possible for them. A devoted practitioner may want to choose a definite yidam and he should do this according to what he thinks is suitable for his temperament. I too have taken many Wongs (initiations) and after each one I found its meditation suitable for my practice and therefore I was worried as to which deity to choose as yidam. At last, I dreamt of Karmapa who instructed me to go to him, otherwise he would part for Lhasa. I went to him immediately and with his advice I settled the problem. I told him that I had practiced many different yidams and got good results with all of them. The Karmapa said: "I shall see what is best for you." The next morning he told me what he had seen. Then in my dreams I saw that deity embracing a boy and that boy was myself. Since then, I have not changed my yidam.
4) By asking a guru who has supernatural powers, he may determine which is the disciple’s yidam through a dream or by his meditative light. This last way is the best and highest.
B. Relationship with the Yidam
Suppose we choose Tara as the yidam, then one must always visualize oneself as Tara when practicing the sadhanas of other deities. Not only this, but the relationship between the yidam and other deities must be known so that they may be placed accordingly, for instance, protectors appear below the deity. If both the yidam and the deity to be visualized are in the same Buddha family, then they should be seen in the correct positions, as when Avalokitesvara or Amitabha are visualized on the head of Tara.
The consort of Mahakala is Shri Devi and she is the protector of Tara, so she always remains below the Lotus-throne of that yidam. Again, if one practices Amitabha, in the third initiation method while the yidam is White Tara, the two must be seen in Heruka form; White Tara embracing Amitabha.
Four things must be possessed:
1) Lama: The teacher or guru. From among one’s teachers, one selects a root-guru who should be identified also with a great spiritual teacher such as Tsong-kha-pa or Padmasambhava.
2) Yidam: natural nobility. Determined by the guru, a yidam is usually selected. Single forms of a yidam will save one from many dangers, but those in union with a dakini should be taken to accomplish Full Enlightenment.
3) Khadroma: consort or dakini. Selected according to one’s yidam. All the yidams in Anuttarayoga have a dakini embraced in the Heruka-form.
4) In the histories of the various deities preserved in sutra form, we find recorded the vows of different gods to protect the yidams. The latter may be more than one protector.
Additionally, four things must be known in the Tantra and their importance:
1) Root of Bestowal (initiation, Wong, abhiseka). That is the guru.
2) Root of Achievement or Accomplishment. That is the yidam.
3) Root of Sunyata and Bliss. That is the dakini. This is most important. I have always emphasized this: First, one should make oneself like the dakini through visualization and then the yidam will quickly be attached. It is the same as among human beings. The dakini, representing prajña is like unto the mother of Truth (Prajñápáramitá herself) and without this quality, how can one get at Sunyata? It is therefore very important to know how to make the dakini happy. In my essay on this subject, I have made a special point-by-point worship of her "flesh" body. Most hymns only praise her spiritual qualities and heavenly symbolic ornaments but the root of pleasure is in the flesh body and Sunyata alone can penetrate it. Thus, these two factors are very completely balanced. By praising only the spirit, realization may be one-sided on the side of Sunyata alone.
4) Root of Karmic Salvation. That is the protector. If one does not possess this, then one has no power to save sentient beings. It was mentioned as important also by the gurus of old.
By these four you may know the status of the guru. First ask a Lama: Who is your yidam, dakini or protector? Then you will know all his Dharma-treasures. If you search earnestly and with right intention to get the treasure from the guru, he will give it to you. Moreover, one should get the Wong of his yidam—it is sure that in these meditations he will be well practiced and be able to give good guidance for one’s own practice.
My listener then said: "We are finding out all your little tricks and secrets." I replied, "I do like to offer them to you!"
C. The Form of the Yidam
Whether a wrathful or a peaceful form of the yidam is selected will be according to one’s own choice or that of one’s guru; with either form one may gain Enlightenment in this life. It is not a case of one being good and one being bad as some have misconceived. In case there are many forms of one yidam as there usually are, one form only may be taken as the yidam. The reason is that many forms may have the same name does not mean that they are all the same in practice. For instance, of the Bodhisattva Tara, there are twenty-one forms and each possesses quite a different mantra. Once a peaceful or a wrathful form is chosen as the yidam, one must worship only that one as the yidam. One may also practice other forms of the same deity but these cannot be the yidam.
A meditator may have the same yidam throughout all four initiations of Anuttara-yoga. In the lower three yogas there is only a method of offering to one particular Buddha (etc.) who is "outside" oneself; this differs from the highest yoga where oneself becomes the yidam.
Although these two may seem similar, in fact, the Yidam appears only in the First Initiation of the Fourth Yoga and Tibetan works never talk about Yidams in the lower three yogas where there is just devotion to one particular spiritual figure.
Some of these deities have no Heruka-form and such is the case with Green Tara. If she is one’s yidam, it is good for the First Initiation and she may again be worshipped in single form in the Fourth Initiation, but in the Third, the yidam must be in Heruka-form. Of course, there is no reason why Green Tara should not be seen with a partner and if one is really skilled in meditation, she might be seen in this way though traditionally she is single. In this case another form of Tara may be practiced in the Third Initiation (such as White Tara).
8. What are the signs and characteristics we should look for in a meditation Guru in each of the three yanas? How can we tell a true Guru from a false one?
Regarding this question, there are no references in ancient sources, so I have made up this reply according to our Buddhist philosophy.
A. The signs of a good Hinayana Guru are:
1) He has practiced the twelve Dhutagunas and from his conduct we see that his Vinaya is very good.
2) He does not like to gather many disciples.
3) Nor does he like to collect many worldly things even though these may be permitted according to the Vinaya.
4) Even in his old age, he still lives among mountains or amid forests.
5) He does not like to read books or give teachings; he always meditates.
6) The Five Poisons are reduced in him.
7) He has the compassionate concern for persons and for Dharma-conditions but not the Compassion of the Same Entity or of No-Condition.
B. The Marks of a Mahayana Guru:
1) He has the Great Compassion.
2) He has made Great Vows.
3) He does every good thing without becoming tired.
4) He possesses courage and perseverance.
5) He likes to guide disciples.
6) He is skilled in explaining the Dharma-teaching of Sunyata and knows both its nature and conditions.
7) Also he has skill in discussions to subdue the outsiders.
8) He has some books written according to Right View and his own experience.
9) He has carefully and thoroughly read the Mahayana Sutras and their Commentaries (in both Chinese and Tibetan collections).
10) He knows well the facts relating to at least two countries (to enable him to preach the Dharma effectively).
C. Conditions of a Capable Vajrayâna Guru:
1) He has accumulated the first two yanas’ conditions but may not completely maintain them.
2) He has the initiation and tradition of both the Old (Nying-ma-pa, Sakya-pa, etc.) and the New Party (Gelug-pa) of Tibet.
3) He has the Great Bodhicitta with special knowledge of the fifth or Kunda Bodhicitta.
4) He has been a hermit for at least ten or better, twelve years. A listener said: "Oh, few are now left."
5) And he has seen his own yidam.
6) He has practiced at least the Second Initiation and experienced the signs of opening of the median nerve.
7) He has at least tried to practice the Third Initiation with a visualized dakini.
8) He has seen the Holy Light of the Dharmakaya.
9) Enough merit has been accumulated by him to develop and maintain certain favorable Dharma-conditions such as health, long life and wealth-and these enable him to give initiations.
10) He has read and knows well the Tripitaka of Tibet and also knows and speaks Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit and English. These qualifications are specifically important in this age. Without a great effort to learn them, he can speak every language.
11) He is able to distinguish rightly the characteristics of any Dharma-instrument and what will be suitable for him, i.e., which yoga, initiation, etc.
12) He possesses supernatural powers and has received doctrines directly from the Buddhas, dakinis and protectors.
13) He observes a strictly vegetarian diet if he is a guru of the first three yogas. For Amitabha, Avalokitesvara and Tara even in Anuttara-yoga, meat is never taken on the days of their Puja or when giving their Initiations. For the ritual of other deities, however, it is usual with Anuttara-yoga practice, to take meat.
14) He is skilled in not only giving the initiation (Wong) but also in conferring the permission to read a text (lung) and most important, in the explanation (Tzee).
D. A False Guru--What does this mean?
1) One who knows the Hinayana Tripitaka, for instance, a monk of the Theravada, but who at the same time rebukes the Mahayana. Such is a kind of false guru and not a Hinayana guru in the sense of our book, not a Triyana Hinayana teacher.
2) Next is one who recognizes both the sutras of the Hinayana and Mahayana but criticizes the esoteric Vajrayâna. He is also a false guru according to our whole system.
3) Following from the last, is one who knows the three yanas but speaks harshly about Chan-he is again false. Language difficulties have in the past been responsible for many misunderstandings between different schools. Now, there are many translations and this excuse is no longer valid. Despite this, our age has many false gurus of the above types and it is indeed difficult to find a real one.
4) The last knows the three yanas and has a knowledge of Chan but his defect is that he can keep only some Mouth-Chan. For lack of realization in this respect, we must also label him a false guru.
===E. How is one to get such a guru with such complete conditions gathered in one person?===
1) First one must get a personal and living guru in a flesh body. From him, the mantra and mudra may be obtained for the tradition of them is still maintained and handed down. Choose a comparatively good guru who is complete in at least some of the above respects, even though he is not perfect in all of them.
2) From him, get all the instructions and practices. Then for the meditation to achieve the highest, one should identify the guru with the yidam, and to achieve the quickest result, one should identify the yidam with the guru. After practicing this for a long time, a real Guru will appear in the practitioner’s dream or meditative light, or appear as a human body or fly from India and specifically arrive for him. Such good examples were seen in the biographies of Tibetan sages.
Another identification, which follows from the above, is to have the guru-yidam identified with an ancient Enlightened teacher such as Milarepa. If one succeeds in doing practice in this way, then that guru of old will appear as a voice or will be seen in a dream and directly gives one instructions.
Fundamentally, our guru is Gautama Buddha who is now abiding in Nirvana but if we practice enough to gain a deep Sunyata realization and develop compassion, then why should he not appear as our Guru?
In the West, a good guru in the flesh is hard to meet and so one should take an image of Gautama or Milarepa, even if it is only made of paper, and worship it sincerely. As a result of such devotion, images have been known to speak clearly on the subject of meditation either in the light of one’s practice or during dreams.
There was once an Indian teacher who engaged in debate with another. The latter felt certain that he could defeat the teacher. Sure enough, the former met with defeat but prayed earnestly that night to the stone image of Tara. She then instructed him and that image’s arms even moved into a teaching mudra. This image is famous and may still be seen in the unusual mudra of teaching. The teacher was victorious the next day, using the methods he had been given to quell his opponent.
Thus the instructions we receive and the gurus we get depend on our devotion. We should not worry about getting a guru but only about our own merits and meditation. We should ask ourselves whether we are fit for a real guru or not? If we do not gain a good teacher then it is not his fault for the grace of ancient gurus is always here. For instance, Padmasambhava who never died promised before his departure from this world, to come on the tenth of every lunar month wherever he was worshipped. Many times he appeared in my dreams and gave me many instructions and even with his holy wife Yeshe Tsogyal as his helper at the occasion of a Wong. Therefore, if we continue long without a teacher, we should know that the answers lie within ourselves. We are not yet ready to profit from his presence. What we have to do is clear; not passively to accept this situation but to strive earnestly to make ourselves fit for practice under a teacher.