Posted in Vajrayana
The tantric approach to Buddhist practice is called Vajrayana, the indestructible vehicle. Actually the vajra is a kind of brass scepter held by lamas and advanced tantric
practitioners during ceremonies. Mythologically, the vajra was the weapon held by Indra, the king of the gods. It was forged from the bones of a rishi, one of the legendary Aryan supermeditators who in ancient times brought the practice of yoga to the Indian subcontinent. Because it is made of this magical material, the vajra is adamantine; that is, it is the hardest substance in existence, capable of cutting anything, though itself is uncuttable. Whenever Indra launched the vajra at an enemy, it was a law of nature that defense was impossible and that the enemy would be completely destroyed.
In the same way, Vajrayana Buddhism is supposed to be not merely psychologically but also magically effective, employing devastating and irresistible techniques to destroy ego. If it is used correctly, it can be “the quick path to Enlightenment.” If misused, it can destroy the practitioner.
The principal distinction between Vajrayana and other forms of Mahayana is its emphasis on transmutation—as opposed to destruction—of neurosis. Where other approaches seek to destroy passion, aggression, and ignorance so that the practitioner can be free from ego clinging, Vajrayana endeavors to transform the three poisons directly into wisdom, actually transmuting the constituents of ego directly into the principles of Bud - dhahood.
For this reason Vajrayana is often compared to medieval Western alchemy, which seeks to transmute lead into gold as a symbol for magically turning the unspiritual in human nature into the spiritual. However, unlike Western alchemy, Buddhist Tantra does not believe in a fundamentally unspiritual element in reality. Lead can be transformed into gold because there is, in the end, no such thing as lead, but only gold.
The Buddhist understanding of why transmutation is possible involves this precise peculiarity in the tantric view. According to Buddhist Tantra, neurosis can be transformed into wisdom because, in essence, it is already wisdom in an unrecognized form. So in a sense no real change is necessary. All we have to do is recognize the basic nature of our problems, and the problems become in themselves solutions. Tantric meditation is thus primarily a method of developing confidence—confidence in the self-enlightened self-nature of mind and phenomena.
This philosophy is simple in expression but very complex in application. In expression it simply means that there is no difference between illusory cyclic existence (samsara) and nirvana. Enlightenment is not the destruction of samsara, but the realization of its inseparability from its supposed opposite, liberation. In application this means that almost any human activity can be turned into a method for gaining enlightenment. Thus, tantric teachers give their students an amazing variety of exercises. Each guru seems to have his own special path and tradition. Consequently, students of different tantric teachers are typically incredulous of each other’s paths when they compare notes.
A few things, however, are obvious and common to all lineages of Vajrayana Buddhism: secrecy, personal transmission and guru devotion, visualization practice and symbolic teachings, lengthy group and individual retreats, and a special emphasis upon profound, wordless meditation.