What is Tantra? Removing the Mystique

To all outward appearances, Buddhist tantra can seem strange and mysterious as well as, perhaps, exotic and exciting. We could easily come to believe that the essence of its power lies in its inaccessibility to intellect and reason. So we could get the idea that for its very efficacy, any detailed understanding of its methods will always remain inaccessible, perhaps as some kind of divine mystery.  We could even think that the more we are able to manufacture faith in the mystery of tantra and throw ourselves into its practices, the greater our chances of emerging as an enlightened being.

Concluding his teaching this summer, at Changlochen Ling in France, of ‘The General Presentation of the Tantra Sets’ by the Sakya master Sonam Tsemo, Lama Jampa said it would be quite mistaken to maintain any such idea.

He issued a warning to beware of mystifiers. He explained that false mystification of tantra is quite a different thing from the secrecy that is necessary in the tantric system. Elements of secrecy are essential to protect tantric methods from their premature use and misuse in general, but this does not prohibit masters of Vajrayana from explaining what Buddhist tantra is and what the requirements are for its effective practice.

There is always a meaning, a point, that is accessible to understanding even though initially aspects of the path are presented in a covered way. Finally, everything is to be understood. This protects us from mystification and mystifiers. Genuine masters share the intelligence of the dharma with their students. Mystification of Vajrayana is a betrayal of the dharma. To know that all is accessible to our intelligence in the end is good for our confidence.”

His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin has offered presentations of what tantra is on a number of occasions, both in print and in teachings which can be found online: eg Melody of Dharma, issues 7,8 and 12. In his article in issue 8, His Holiness refers to misconceptions stemming from the esoteric nature of tantra. Before proceeding to clarify these, he says:

Since the time of the Buddha, the tantras were always taught secretly and selectively. For their correct understanding, they have always required the oral instructions of a qualified master; without such explanation, they can easily be misunderstood in wrong and harmful ways.

He goes on to say that he is prevented from providing explanations which are only appropriate to be given to tantric initiates, but he is able to use explanations from Sonam Tsemo’s text, as Lama Jampa has done, to explain to us what Buddhist tantra is. Another place where we can hear His Holiness present an overview of what tantra is, is from a recording of a teaching he gave in Madrid in 2016.

So, a valid message for aspiring Vajrayana disciples would be: do not abandon your intelligence and ability to use reason. However, do learn, step by step, to understand and practise the tantric methods as taught and explained by your lama and vajra master in order to cut through the dualistic conceptualisation that traps us in samsara.

Upcoming Teaching Event

There will be an excellent opportunity in late September to hear Lama Jampa give teachings on Vajrayana based on his book ‘Rain of Clarity’. So, a trip to Bristol on Saturday 30th September will be thoroughly worthwhile for any serious dharma student who wants to understand what Buddhist tantra is and the benefits of practising it.  

The Essential Requirements for the Practice of Tantra

What are the essential requirements for effective practice of tantra? From the Lama’s teaching from Sonam Tsemo’s text, they can be summarized as:

  • One must begin by taking refuge in the Three Jewels and keep the moral precepts. Then one should study the Mahayana teachings on bodhichitta, since the only correct motivation for tantric practice is to pursue one’s bodhisattva aspiration.

  • One must find a vajra master who is qualified to give initiations and be accepted as a student by a lama who is able to explain details of sadhana practice and generally give one guidance on the detail of how to progress with one’s practice of the Vajrayana.

  • One should only attempt to engage in practice derived specifically from initiations one has received and then only under the guidance of one’s lama

  • One should be careful to understand whatever tantric vows one is taking as part of an initiation and be meticulous in keeping those vows in order to protect one’s practice from unwanted consequences.

  • It is important for the Vajrayana student to have confidence that his or her lama will reveal the meaning of their practice step by step and only according to their developing level of maturity in that practice. To look outside of that teacher-disciple relationship by, for example, referring to modern attempts to explain tantra or trying to study texts that are not recommended by the lama and hence are not appropriate, will only cause harm to one’s spiritual development.  

Why I Need to Tame My Mind

Reflections on a Dharma Talk By HH Ratna Vajra Rinpoche

Lama Jampa Thaye introducing His Holiness

Lama Jampa Thaye introducing His Holiness

One of the questions asked by a member of the audience at the public talk on The Power of Buddhism given by His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche in Bristol on the evening of Friday 26th May (full report here) was about anger. It is not easy to turn to love and compassion, the questioner said, when something has made us furious - how are we to deal with anger in such situations?

His Holiness began his reply by pointing out that for all of us anger and negative thoughts have been in our mind-stream for a very long time, not just in our current life but in countless lives before this. For that reason, anger is not easy to control.

He then went on to ask us to consider what purpose anger serves. If, for example, we have had something stolen from us, anger will not cause our property to be returned to us. Nor will it make us feel happy. Whichever way we look at it, anger does not help but only brings suffering for all concerned.

So, how should we view a situation when someone becomes angry? His Holiness referred to this as someone ‘showing us anger’. Anger, he said, can arise without any invitation, at any time and anywhere in our own mind or in another person’s mind, owing to all kinds of sudden factors, sometimes apparently quite trivial. What will be helpful for us when someone shows us anger is to remember that the person showing aggression is himself under the control of anger. We should think that it is not the fault of the person but of anger itself. This is a perfect opportunity for us to practise tolerance and avoid causing more suffering by returning aggression with more useless aggression.  

His Holiness gave the analogy of being hit by someone with a stick. We don’t get angry with the stick. It produces pain but has no intention of hurting us: it is the person wielding the stick who is in control. But is the angry person truly in control? No, it is anger that is in control of the person who can be likened to the stick, simply being used to act, physically or verbally, in a harmful way by this disturbing emotion.

In conclusion, His Holiness referred back to his talk, in which he had pointed out that it is mind that gives the orders for physical and verbal actions. They are merely the servants of mind. Mind is the boss. That is why, as he had earlier explained, we need to begin the task of taming our mind, so that we will be equipped to deal with situations such as those provoked by anger when they arise.

The key to success in the twin endeavours of overcoming negative emotions and taming the mind is developing loving kindness and compassion towards all beings without exception. In his talk, His Holiness emphasised the crucial importance of these long-term endeavours; which we undertake on our Dharma path with the guidance of our Lama, who provides us with more detailed explanations on how we can gradually extend the loving kindness that we already naturally feel towards those dear to us.

This, as His Holiness said at the conclusion of his talk, is The Power of Buddhism to tame our mind.

Hear His Holiness’s talk again (and again) at this SoundCloud link.
 

Rebirth Explained

Lama Jampa recently gave a talk in Stuttgart entitled ‘Death and Dying from a Buddhist Perspective’ and a recording of this talk can be found on SoundCloud here. This post provides a brief synopsis of the Lama's talk using much of his own introduction to the topic.

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Learning how to live properly we need to learn how to die properly. In Buddhism, life and death are seen as twin faces of reality.

“In the modern world the sight and significance of death have been put out of view and we have come to see it as a fading away into nothingness or an abrogation of everything wondrous about life. That leads to embarrassment or fear about the subject as well as other emotions. This not only impoverishes our lives but is a foolish move, since we all will come to know death in the most intimate of ways.

“What Buddha discovered on the night of enlightenment was the state beyond birth and death, the clear light, unborn and unceasing, which is the fundamental nature of our mind. To experience this freedom from birth and death, we need to learn to pass through the gates of death.

“The way to do that is to become aware of how death and birth are woven into every moment of our existence. In this way we prepare for death at the end of this physical life. Every moment there is the opportunity to awaken to the space beyond birth and death. It is the space that is there between death and rebirth.”

The technical term for this space is bardo (intermediate state) and, in his talk, Lama Jampa goes on to describe what are known as the three bardos: the bardo of life, the bardo of death and the bardo of dream. It is possible to recognise the fundamental nature of our mind, the clear light, in each of these bardos. Hence it is possible to attain the deathless state in this life and great masters have done so throughout the history of the Buddhist tradition.

It is clearly difficult for us to awaken from the bewitchment of self into which we have fallen in this physical life but, as Lama Jampa explains, at the time of death, when the sense of physical identity dissolves, there is greater opportunity to recognise the deathless state.

We can prepare for that opportunity simply by the practice we do in this life and by knowing about the intermediate states. Lama Jampa emphasises that preparing for the bardo of death is the most natural thing in the world and not some extraordinary or esoteric excursion. In this, we are returning to the fundamental, simple state, the actual nature of mind as it really is.

In his talk, Lama Jampa delineates the processes of dissolution in some detail, including how, as explained in the Tantras, each of the dissolutions results in a kind of hallucination. Having described these bardo experiences, Lama Jampa then explains how the process of rebirth occurs. This happens through the force of karmic imprints, through which one’s consciousness is impelled forward into the ‘next life’ -  which, in the case of a human birth, is into union with the unifying male and female elements, the sperm and the ovum.

In summary, the Lama says that in his talk he has tried to highlight the parallels with our own experience in this life to show that the bardo, the intermediate state, is just an encounter with the true nature of reality, which is always there between each thought, between one moment and the next, between one emotion and the next. The bardo is always there.

No Self Found

It comes as a shock to us when we hear the Buddhist teaching of non-self. How can we deal with that? And what does it mean?

On YouTube, as part of his answer to the question “What is the Essence of Buddhism?”, Lama Jampa Thaye explains that it is the false notion of self that leads us into frustration, disappointment and suffering. Whereas if we learn to abandon this false belief we can awaken to our natural state and thus gain freedom from suffering.

Since the habitual belief in a self and our apparent need for one are so strong, we need to gain conviction that the notion of 'self' is indeed a fiction. Such conviction will not be gained simply by hearing someone say there is no self. A more effective way, one that has been taught by Buddhist masters for centuries, is to actually search for the existence of a self, using the power of reasoning.

How are we to understand the emptiness of self?

How are we to understand the emptiness of self?

In Bristol on Saturday 21st January, teaching from his book, “Rain of Clarity”, Lama Jampa carefully walked students through the classical Buddhist method of applying such reasoning. We will then be able to apply this in our  own study and practice of the Path, and hence in our own experience.  

What do we mean by self? We first need to be clear about what it is we are looking for. As Lama Jampa explained, a self is something or someone that is independent, autonomous and permanent. With this in mind we can then examine our experience to find out if such an independent, autonomous and permanent entity can be found anywhere within it.

The search takes us into our body and mind, to see if the self exists within them or outside them. Investigating the five aggregates of classical Buddhist psychology that make up all possible physical and mental experience, Lama Jampa showed that no such self can be found to exist.

Lama Jampa explains

Lama Jampa explains

It is crucial for us to learn from the teacher how to use analytical tools such as these, as it helps us move a step closer to the liberating understanding we seek. This was felt in a short period of meditation when we sat together on Saturday having heard the teaching.

Lama Jampa will resume his explanation from Rain of Clarity, looking at the second of the two kinds of non-self, that of all phenomena, on Saturday 25th March in London.



'Rain of Clarity'

This year, at Dechen's Sakya centres in London and Bristol, Lama Jampa has been giving detailed explanatory teachings based on his text 'Rain of Clarity' that covers the entirety of the Buddhist path.

He continues to teach from the text this coming Saturday, 5th November, in London when he will go through its fourth chapter, Viewing Emptiness.

As well as teaching at Dechen centres in the UK, US, Mexico, Germany and France, this year, Lama Jampa has accepted invitations to teach in Hong Kong, Dharma centres in the West and East coasts of the US and in France and Germany. See lamajampa.org/news to read reports of Lama Jampa's extraordinary teaching programme which has embraced all aspects of the Buddhist Path, as followed in both the Kagyu and the Sakya traditions, from its foundation practices through to subtle Mind Training and Vajrayana teachings.  

Lama Jampa teaching the Sakya Mind Training teachings, Parting From the Four Attachments, in Stuttgart 

Lama Jampa teaching the Sakya Mind Training teachings, Parting From the Four Attachments, in Stuttgart 

Lama Jampa answers questions at the Sakya Centre, Bristol following teachings on 'Rain of Clarity'

Lama Jampa answers questions at the Sakya Centre, Bristol following teachings on 'Rain of Clarity'

Receiving teachings on the Kagyu view of Zhentong in Manchester

Receiving teachings on the Kagyu view of Zhentong in Manchester

Lama Jampa gives a public talk hosted by the Dechen centre in Los Angeles, Sakya Samten Ling

Lama Jampa gives a public talk hosted by the Dechen centre in Los Angeles, Sakya Samten Ling

Teaching The Tantra Sets at Sakya Changlochen Ling, Le Bugue, France

Teaching The Tantra Sets at Sakya Changlochen Ling, Le Bugue, France

Students receive teachings in Harrogate on Milarepa's Song of the Middle Way

Students receive teachings in Harrogate on Milarepa's Song of the Middle Way

Students receive teachings in Bristol from Rain of Clarity

Students receive teachings in Bristol from Rain of Clarity

The images above  offer a glimpse of Lama Jampa's  teaching events at Dechen centres to date, this year. 

Read more about Lama Jampa's wider activities and ongoing touring and teaching programme at lamajampa.org.

Teachings on Rain of Clarity (part 2) in London

On Saturday 12th March, Lama Jampa Thaye continued teaching Rain of Clarity, his text on the Buddhist path, in the pristine setting of the Wetlands Centre in London. Lama Jampa completed the first chapter of the text with the explanation of the Pratimoksha vow and provided invaluable insight into how Buddhist view and morality relate to the modern age and the issues of the 21st century. Lama Jampa then went on to teach the second part of the text, which focuses on the development of bodhichitta and entering into the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana.

Following the methodical and gradual pattern of the text, Lama Jampa expounded on how one develops the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all beings and how this wish is formalised through taking the bodhisattva's vow. Rain of Clarity provides an extraordinarily sophisticated, yet accessible explanation on the meaning and the strength of the vow and how practitioners can train in the aspiration and application of bodhichitta. This particularly useful part of the text provided guidance on how students can deal with the obstacles that are commonly encountered on the path of bodhisattvas.

Over the two sessions in London, Lama Jampa presented this chapter in a gentle and relatable manner while explaining sophisticated concepts such as the significance of Buddha nature and the two types of bodhichitta, alluding to the following chapters on the Six Perfections and the Madhyamaka view.

The next part of Rain of Clarity will be taught in June in Bristol.  Study Groups will be held on Saturday mornings in London and Wednesdays in Bristol.

In the afternoon, Lama Jampa bestowed the Vajrayana initiation of Red Tara from the Sakya lineage, a deity related to the achievement of magnetising siddhi.

Teachings on Buddha Nature at the Mikyo Dorje Shedra

Last weekend Lama Jampa taught a text by Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, ‘The Correct Discrimination of Zentong Madhyamaka’. 

People came from all over to hear Lama Jampa explain this very subtle way of  viewing the world. The purpose of this is to enable us to gain freedom from suffering by uncovering our Buddha nature and thereby experiencing the true nature of one’s mind. As ever Lama
Jampa was able to give the explanation of this deep subject matter, in a way that made it accessible even to those new to the dharma.

On the Sunday afternoon Lama Jampa gave the initiation of Namgyalma from the lineage of the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje for the first  time.

Lama Jampa will continue teaching this text at the next shedra session in Manchester on Saturday July 2 and Sunday July 3.

‘Rain of Clarity': teachings on the Buddhist path by Lama Jampa Thaye

“A gateway into Buddhist spiritual thought.” His Holiness Sakya Trizin on ‘Rain of Clarity’

Saturday 6 February in Bristol saw the first in five teachings by Lama Jampa Thaye on the stages of the Buddhist path in the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Attended by around 150 people from across the UK, this first session outlined the purpose of the text, which serves as a map to the destination of Buddhahood, from becoming a Buddhist through taking Refuge and then practising the path, to the wisdom, compassion and power of enlightenment itself.

This first instalment focused on what it means to become a Buddhist through taking Refuge and why people decide to do this. It could be a wish to find some happiness in this life; for some it may be the recognition of the suffering in the world, and, for others, a wish to help others find a way out of such misery. The concept of Refuge – protection from suffering – was also explained, as well as how the Buddha, his teachings and those who practise them can provide a reliable refuge, in contrast to other more changeable sources of happiness such as relationships, possessions and so on.

What faith means in Buddhism was also defined, in that although being inspired by beautiful images and knowledgeable teachers is helpful, actually it is only through applying our reasoning to the teachings that we can develop real confidence. Finally, because the potential to become a Buddha dwells within our mind right now, Lama Jampa explained how enlightenment truly is possible.

In the afternoon, Lama Jampa gave the vajrayana initiation of White Manjushri, a deity renowned for increasing wisdom, from the lineage of Mati Panchen. Mati Panchen was an elderly and illiterate buffalo herder who, through the power of this practice, went on to be a great scholar, dedicating the rest of his life to teaching others.

Sunday morning saw a well-attended Chenrezik puja at Sakya Buddhist Centre, with Lama Jampa and his family in attendance, followed by tea, cake and conversation.

The next part of ‘Rain of Clarity’ will be given in London on 12 March, with Lama Jampa returning to Bristol for part 3 in June. The next part of ‘Rain of Clarity’ will be given in London on 12 March, with Lama Jampa returning to Bristol for part 3 in June. For further details,  see our What's On page for details of further teachings on this text. 

Lama Jampa teaches at the Mikyo Dorje Shedra in Manchester

On the weekend of 5th and 6th December 2015 Lama Jampa completed his teaching of the Third Karmapa Ranging Dorje’s text ‘Showing the Buddha Nature’ at the Mikyo Dorje Shedra in Manchester. Using the commentary 'Clarifying the Thought of Rangjung' by the eminent 19th century master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Lama Jampa explained this profound view in great detail and with perfect clarity. 

Lama Jampa reminded the appreciative audience that receipt of the teachings is just the first stage, and that having received them we must go on to study and meditate on their meaning in order for them to have their full benefit.


Lama Jampa's visit to Yorkshire, September 2015

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Lama Jampa's second visit to Yorkshire this year was a joyful mixture of formal and informal teachings. On Saturday he taught at St Aidan’s C of E High School, where their new Sixth Form concert hall made a beautiful setting for the occasion.  Lama Jampa discussed the special contribution of Gampopa to the nascent Kagyu tradition, combining as he did his Kadam ‘graduated path’ inheritance with the Mahamudra transmission of his great yogic teacher, Jetsun Milarepa.  Lama Jampa then taught the first two instructions of 'The Four Dharmas of Gampopa', focussing on the Four Thoughts which turn the Mind to Dharma and the development of the Mahayana attitude. This teaching was open to all.

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In the afternoon, Lama-la gave the initiation of Amitabha from the Sky Dharma of Mingyur Dorje and Karma Chagme.  It felt especially poignant that Lama should bestow this initiation at this time because, as well as several sangha members losing their parents recently, we have recently said goodbye to the Community’s oldest member - Jean Burgoyne -who died last month.  May all be reborn in Dewachen!

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Then on Sunday 13th there was an opportunity to meet the Lama in a more informal setting in the elegant surroundings of The Old Swan Hotel. Lama Jampa began by giving a brief and direct talk about overcoming negative situations and obstacles in our lives. This talk was recorded and can be found at soundcloud.com/lama-jampa-thaye . Following this there was a broad ranging question and answer session, some of which will be published at a later date.

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Over the course of the weekend Lama Jampa also found time to give private interviews to new and old sangha members from the Yorkshire area.

 

Lama Jampa's next teaching event will be at Sakya Sechen Ling in Stuttgart - visit www.dechen-sakya.de for details.

Lama Jampa teaches in Manchester

11667453_460527800791157_5702636285793973728_nOn 4 to 5 July Lama Jampa began teaching Jamgon Kongtrul's commentary (Clarifying the Thought of Rangjung) on the Nyingpo Tenpa. The weekend of teaching was hosted in Manchester by Kagyu Ling. This was the first session of this year’s Mikyo Dorje Shedra following the completion of the Namshe Yeshe in 2014. The Nyingpo Tenpa, the ‘Shastra Showing the Essence of the Tathagata’, was composed by the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), and stands alongside the same author’s Namshe Yeshe as one of the most influential texts in the Karma Kagyu intellectual tradition. It sets forth the existence of buddha nature within all sentient beings as the abiding truth of ultimate reality.

Clarifying the Thought of Rangjung was composed by the great master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1811–1899) and is the most eminent commentarial exposition of the Nyingpo Tenpa. This commentary may be considered to have played a very important part in reviving the Zhentong Madhyamaka view and once more disseminating this view amongst the Karma Kagyu Tradition of Buddhism.

Lama Jampa is currently in the United States where he is giving teachings in Chicago and Santa Barbara, at the request of Bodhipath. He is also giving teachings in Santa Monica, hosted by Sakya Samten Ling.

Lama Jampa Thaye visits Bristol, 20 and 21 June

LJT-Bristol-June-2015-1 For this midsummer weekend, Lama Jampa visited Bristol to continue teaching Sakya Pandita's pithy and clear 'Reply to Nyimo Gomchen' and give the initiation of Green Tara, (Shakyashribhadra tradition), followed by a relaxed and insightful questions and answers session on Sunday morning.

This was Part 2 in the series of teachings on Sakya Pandita's text, with this section dealing with profound questions about the nature of mind and how authentic experience of the nature of reality can be achieved. Lama Jampa also reminded students about how helpful this text is for Buddhist students today, 800 years after it was composed. Through his responses to the meditator Nyimo Gomchen, Sakya Pandita addresses many of the mistaken ideas about Buddhist practice around in the early years of Buddhism in Tibet, which can also be seen today in the West.

In the afternoon, as well as giving Refuge to new practitioners, Lama Jampa bestowed the initiation of Green Tara from the lineage of Indian master Shakyasrhibhadra, one of Sakya Pandita's main teachers. Meditation on Green Tara is one of the most widely practised in Tibetan Buddhism. Known as 'she who is swift to liberate', this deity is the embodiment of the activity of all the buddhas and her initiation and meditation are especially effective means of awakening one’s capacity for enlightened compassion.

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LJT-Bristol-June-2015-2 Sunday morning saw some more profound questions, this time in the setting of the Sakya Buddhist Centre shrine room. Students asked about topics ranging from the nature of emptiness to how to practise dharma in the context of work and family life. Around 50 people had the opportunity to hear Lama Jampa answer each with skill, clarity and compassion, with some laughter too at times.

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The answers will be made available more widely online in the near future - follow Lama Jampa on Facebook to learn more. To keep up to date with Sakya Buddhist Centre events, you can also find us on Sakya Buddhist Centre Facebook.

Sakya Buddhist Centre will be happy to welcome Lama Jampa Thaye to Bristol again in the autumn. LJT-Bristol-June-2015-3

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