Shambhala and Mahayoga
February 20th 2009
Today we received several more abhishekas from within the auxiliary empowerments of enriching found in the mahayoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo. Tomorrow we will conclude this major part of the collection, the first of the three inner yogas that are the focus of the termas in the Rinchen Terdzo. These three yogas are the highest presentations of reality in the Nyingma tradition. A presentation of reality is a teaching about what mind and experience are like when totally freed from our neuroses and habitual ways of seeing things.
In relation to the other inner yogas, anuyoga and atiyoga, the mahayoga is explained to be the ground; its practices are the beginning point for how to quickly accomplish complete realization, the goal of the vajrayana tradition. An easy way to understand this has to do the primary type of meditation that mahayoga focuses on, visualization of an enlightened deity and its world. This kind of practice stands in contrast to what we normally experience, our day-to-day world of body and mind. There are more than 650 empowerments for mahayoga practices within the Rinchen Terdzo. It is by far the largest section in the collection, we started it on December 5th.
One visualizes deities to counteract and go beyond one’s usual ideas and habits. From a contemplative perspective, and in particular the point of view of people who’ve traversed the entire path to buddhahood, while some of our habits and ideas are good and useful, many of them are not so helpful to us in either the long or short run. The list of unhelpful habits is headed and governed by seeing things dualistically, seeing ourselves as separate from others and our world. In contrast to this is an unbiased perspective, a sense of equality pointed out and embodied in the mahayoga practices. When we recognize and have ongoing confidence in our inherent connection to people and the rest of the world, we will almost instinctively do things that are of benefit to both ourselves and others, and the suffering in our life will be pacified. That is the aim of buddhist practice.
The unbiased perspective fostered though mahayoga is not foreign to us. The seed of it is found in experiences like appreciating the beauty of a new flower opening its petals to the morning sun, hearing beautiful music or meeting someone who has genuine dignity. Those kinds of moments in our lives—gentle, simple and aware—give a glimpse into the basis for mahayoga practice as well as the basis for creating enlightened society. Meditation practice enables the mind to be more stable, more able to recognize the fundamental goodness in our experience. From that ground, all the world, Shambhala and beyond, can grow towards peace, harmony and benefit for all.
Another way to understand the purpose of mahayoga visualization practice is say that if we knew that all, literally all, our experience was a mental projection, we’d be likely to handle our general mental state, our emotional upheavals and our interactions with others in a much more gentle, sane and compassionate way. Visualization under the guidance of a realized teacher helps one towards that understanding. One needs a teacher in part because the obstacles associated with dualistic forms visualization can completely undermine one’s progress on the path.
Anuyoga, the second of the three inner tantras, focuses primarily on what’s called completion stage meditation. It is called the completion stage because it is the completion of what’s been worked on in the development stage, the complex visualization practices. The mahayoga concentrates on visualization, mantras and so forth as a means to develop a sacred outlook toward the world. Then, in anuyoga, one lets go of that kind of practice and one works more directly with the subtle energies of one’s body and mind with little or no reliance on visualization techniques. There are still practices and visualizations in anuyoga (notably the 100 peaceful and wrathful deities that arise in the intermediate state between lives), but the meditations concentrate on transforming the energies already present in our body and mind, rather than transforming our outlook. In a sequential presentation, the transformation of outlook has already been accomplished in the mahayoga before one starts the anuyoga practices. The anuyoga is the path that follows the transformation of our habitual way of seeing things.
In contrast to the stages of mahayoga and anuyoga, the final stage of atiyoga teaches going beyond everything. It also can be described as the unification of mahayoga and anuyoga. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche presents a simple explanation in The Lion’s Roar saying that first we have a lot of costumes, then we relate directly to our heart and brain, and in the end we become completely naked. The ati practices present the essence of the path in a completely unadorned way. Even if there are visualizations, they are very immediate and not elaborate. These teachings have the quality of the teacher presenting the heart essence of awakening to the student.
If we look at the Shambhala world set up by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from the perspective of the three inner tantras we can see that it is set up according to the principles of mahayoga practice. In the center of the community are the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo who embody the masculine and feminine principles of enlightened rulership. They are like the central deities in a huge visualization. Surrounding them are many other people whose roles embody other principles present in an enlightened world. This is a long list and includes various administrators at all levels in the community, acharyas and other teachers, families, monastics, artists of the court, people serving in many ways at centers and retreats, and very importantly, the kasung who embody the protectors of the teachings.
It doesn’t end there because in an enlightened society, everyone has a place—nobody is seen as outside. That is the nature of compassion; it is always is expanding outward like the rays of the sun at dawn. At the same time, within the community, whether one is a king, a queen, a schoolteacher or sweeping the shrine room floor, one is personally investigating the teachings on basic goodness, on buddha nature. And in that sense, everyone is be a monarch of Shambhala. Bringing out our buddha nature is what makes us noble. When the outer expression comes together with the inner practice, what occurs is of greatest benefit to the whole world.