I was attracted to Tibetan Buddhism when I was in my early twenties (1990s). The marketing campaigns by Tibetan Vajrayana practitioners touted it as “supreme”, “swiftest to Enlightenment”, “for the wisest disciples”. The imageries of wrathful Tibetan Buddhist deities (Power) and Yab-yum (sensual pleasure) attracted my curiosity.
Those were the 2 worldly indulgences that intoxicated me at the prime of my life. While the Theravada or Mahayana denounces such indulgence, Tibetan Vajrayana seems to celebrate them! That opened the door to Tibetan Vajrayana practices for me. Looking back, I am not much different from a King in a famous Vajrayana story. He wished to attain the psychic powers of Buddha but did not want to renounce his sensual pursuits in the palace. Buddha did not critique nor reject the King’s desire for the best of both worlds and taught him Vajrayana practices instead.
For intoxicated beginners like me, we look towards the mystical Vajrayana system for mundane gains. Instead of knowing enlightenment as freedom from craving; we see enlightened beings as possessing various wonderful powers. For example, wealth, influence over others, attractiveness, physical health, over coming our enemy, and etc. Just like how the King was attracted to enlightenment because he saw Buddha flying in the air.
Instead of advising you against the folly of such desires, Vajrayana has a pantheon of deities that cater to our every whims and fancies. Some promises great wealth if you engage in their practices while others promise influence over others, power over enemies or attractiveness. So on and so forth.
It is with such motivation that I requested for teachings in the highest tantra. (We always want the “best”,don’t we?) Being a Buddhist, I wish to achieve enlightenment too but find it hard to renounce my mundane life or spend long hours meditating. The Vajrayana system promise quick achievements if we practice its meditation daily.
Here’s a personal account of one such episode of revelation during my meditation.
This is where I take you back to the Yab-Yum imagery. At the prime of my youth and filled with raging hormones, sex is something that ranked highly on my “crave-chart”. The Yab-Yum iconography was extremely attractive to me and seemed like a very hip or cool thing to indulge with. I was extremely fortunate to encounter my Lama and his order of Tibetan Buddhism. (Sakyapa)
Any respectable lama will insist that you attend long periods of Buddhist teachings and preliminary practices before introducing you to Tantra and its imagery. This is because we tend to misinterpret things according to our bias perception. During the long teachings (3 months), topics like impermanence of life, sufferings of Samsara were also taught. Along with those teachings are colourful rituals and ceremonies.
Being intoxicated by youth, lust, desire, ego, and etc. The teachings just flew past my head. Instead, I was more attracted by the ritual implements, how to hold them, the colourful iconography of deities with fangs, and etc. I nodded knowingly when lama explained about the ritual knife held by the mother consort. It is a ritual knife for preparing corpse for air burial. “Ok got that.” I brushed it away. I was more intoxicated by explanation that the knife is a weapon that destroy sufferings.(Power. yeah!) In meditation, I have to visualise embracing the mother consort while she is holding that corpse cutting knife. What a powerful ego boosting feeling. The mother consort is mine! She will cut down all sufferings in my path! (Lama did not teach that, but somehow that notion became stuck in my head) Talking about bias perception huh?
After all those teachings, life goes on as normal. No sudden enlightenment. Instead, we are taught to have faith in Lama and his teachings. We need to fulfill our promise to practice short meditation everyday.
On the other hand life goes on. I chased for career advancement and a love life. Like my peers, I also seek a love partner to settle into family life. Similarly, I also experience heartache, betrayal, lust, craving, jealousy, momentous happiness, joy, mundane fulfillment and etc. Instead of detachment, the attachment towards my partner remains intense. Overtime, it seems like hate and love is inevitably mixed up in life. While our lover can bring joys into life, sometimes intense heartaches also occur after a volcanic quarrel.
All these while, I still practice my visualization of embracing the mother consort.
It was an ordinary fine day and I was visualising as usual. This time, the mother consort’s face became that of my lover. Inevitably, the monkey mind flashes all the pain and “happiness” of my relationship. In the moment between intense recollection of the past and pulling back my mind back to visualisation; I suddenly became aware of the ritual knife in her hand. Just centimeters away from my neck. Suddenly, my monkey mind decided to replay the teachings from Lama 30 years ago. The knife is for preparing a corpse for burial in ancient time. An explosion of emotion. I no longer feel attached to my self. This physical body of mine will die and my partner will likely be the one managing my funeral. All the love/hate turmoil became insignificant from this perspective. When there is death, ego is pointless. With this revelation, there is only humble gratefulness for my undertaker, my lover is my undertaker.
With that letting go, love becomes nothingness. Hate becomes nothingness. Jealousy is being let go. Attachment is being let go.
With that letting go, there is only peace. When ego is cut, suffering is destroyed. Emptiness is bliss.
It took me more than 30 years to see beyond those perky breast and beautiful face in the iconography and finally realise that one day, that corpse cutting knife is meant for me! The message of impermanence is finally being acknowledged.
Personally, I believe there are many such messages being coded into Tibetan Vajrayana practices. Waiting for revelation.
You see, if a person can let go immediately, then he would have attained realisation just by listening to the 4 noble truths. But like many others, or like that king. We are interested in enlightenment but closed to the idea of letting go.
I think that is what Vajrayana teachings is all about. It is a gentle cure for our addiction without making us do a cold turkey.
But there is a risk in dispensing such treatment too. If the doctor is unskilled or the patient unsuitable, then there is always a risk that the addiction become worse….
I think Vajrayana appears in the world to help people like me. It is definitely not a sex-crazed Buddhist cult. To benefit from it, you really need a good teacher who is qualified to dispense the treatment. [END]
May all be well and happy.
May the pandemic end.