Buddhist Problems Answered
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. Christs 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
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
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 ones 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, Christianitys 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 mans 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 Christs offer a real spiritual
reward? This attitude of exclusiveness then, is justified in such cases,
but would have no point against Buddhadharma which in any case worships
no idols and teaches positively non-harming and a noble path of spiritual
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 Christs 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
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 Buddhadharma 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 Buddhas 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 Buddhas 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
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
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 Christs.
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 Buddhas 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
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 silas 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 Vajrayana 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 Buddhistsit 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 Buddhadharma,
as an easy spiritual means to open the heart, as in the triad so often
preached to the lay-people in Buddhist countries: Dana, Sila, 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 silas 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 ones 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
Mahaparinirvana 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
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 Buddadharma 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
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 ones own vows: should these refer to ones 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
(i) May I be able to release the bondages 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. Nagarjuna 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 ones own time, age, world,
family, etc. If one truly wants to be a Bodhisattva, ones 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 meditators own practice, so it is necessary
once his own are established to aid his fellow-yogis in formulating their
Vows apply to this lifeas a listener said: May I give so many robes to
bhikshus, may I build so many monasteries, may I support so many meditators,
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 Vajrayana
says that attainment is always in this life (which other one could it be
Concluding from the point of view of the three yanas: One should vow to
get rid of all Sorrowsthis 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 Vajrayana.
Suppose that one wishes:" O, may there be no girls or women in my Pure
Land." This is not according to Vajrayana practice even though Amitabhas
Sukhavati is like this. This is because Sukhavati is produced by the merits
of the Nirmanakaya who is always shown in monks 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 ones 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 ones 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 Anuttarayoga.
(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 Vajrayana
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 Rimpoche, 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 Rimpoche 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 gurus 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 gurus 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 gurus 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, Padmasambhavas 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 Buddhadharma 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
2. How should the yidam be selected?
3. What Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc. may function as yidams?
4. What is the relationship between meditation on ones yidam and on some
5. Does one keep to one yidam throughout ones 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 Tathagata 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 ones faith; not being settled this is bound
to be rather unsatisfactory. Also, it may create uncertainty in ones
mind and thus disturb ones 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 disciples 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 ones 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 ones 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 prajna
is like unto the mother of Truth (Prajnaparamita 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
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 yidamit is sure that in these meditations he will be well practiced
and be able to give good guidance for ones 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 ones own choice or that of ones 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
Anuttarayoga. 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
Some of these deities have no Heruka-form and such is the case with Green
Tara. If she is ones 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
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 Vajrayana Guru:
1) He has accumulated the first two yanas?conditions but may not completely
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
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
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
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 Anuttarayoga,
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 Anuttarayoga
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
2) Next is one who recognizes both the sutras of the Hinayana and Mahayana
but criticizes the esoteric Vajrayana. 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 practitioners 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 ones 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 images 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.
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[Related works: Buddhist Meditation Systematic and Practical Part II of Appendix I
佛教禪定實修體系 附錄一第二部分 ]