From 1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
Two days after a festival day to celebrate the end of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s course, Lama Yeshe conferred a Vajrayogini empowerment on seventy people followed by two weeks of commentary on the meditation practice. The empowerment had a commitment to recite 500,000 mantras in a two-month retreat—quite demanding, but it is a short mantra. Nick Ribush, just back from a Kick the Habit tour in Europe, was delighted to be asked to lead the meditations during this course. It meant ready access to Lama.
Robina Courtin joined the tour in Australia and took over from Connie Miller as fund-raiser for Mount Everest Centre. She was thrilled to be there. “The moment I first heard the word ‘Vajrayogini’ I wanted to know more,” she said.
From Lama Yeshe’s Vajrayogini teachings:
Vajrayogini is from the maha-anuttara yoga category of tantra [highest yoga tantra], which has two divisions: father tantra and mother tantra. Vajrayogini is from among the mother tantra class. Mother tantra has the sensitive aspect of emphasizing great wisdom. In our astrological system daytime is associated with male energy and nighttime with female energy. Vajrayogini is the embodiment of female wisdom, and so to begin our practice of Vajrayogini at night emphasizes this female energy.
The whole subject of tantric yoga is included in two divisions—evolutionary yoga and completion yoga. We have a system: Before a commentary is given on how to practice tantric yoga, first a teaching is given on taking refuge, actualizing bodhicitta and the Vajrasattva practice, guru yoga and offering the mandala. Most of you have already learned these practices during the teachings on the lam-rim. For those who have not yet received the commentary on Vajrasattva and made that retreat, it would be good to do that in the future. We do have a system.
At this time we are practicing the evolutionary yoga method. The principal aspect of this is taking the three kayas [enlightened bodies] into the present path of enlightenment. I am sure you have heard about the three kayas: the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, and the nirmanakaya. The reason we do this is to purify ordinary death, intermediate state and rebirth, to make those vanish. This is the unique characteristic of tantric yoga.
Human beings have a gross level body and a subtle level body. We also have a gross mind and a subtle mind. Our gross consciousness is made up of our sense perceptions, but to understand our subtle consciousness is very difficult. There is a subtle, perpetually residing consciousness always existing within us from life to life, whether you are a buddha or a mosquito. That consciousness has a clean, clear character. When this consciousness is functioning you can always experience something similar to non-duality, or shunyata.
For example, when you meditate you almost stop breathing. As your breath becomes smoother you reach the point of being calm, clear and slowed down. In order to discover this subtlest consciousness we need deep penetrative concentration on the clarity of our own consciousness.
At the time of death the four elements [earth, water, fire, and air] are absorbed and we experience the clear light nature of the mind. It doesn’t matter whether you are a meditator or not, you have this experience. This is because our sense perceptions have ceased to function and so the gross level of consciousness has disappeared. We gradually reach a point where the last thing functioning is the energy in the central channel, or shushumna. At that time the subtlest consciousness is able to function and the result is the clear light experience. Every ordinary death has that experience. So why do we need to meditate? Because ordinarily we aren’t able to comprehend that experience, we have no awareness of it and so it comes as a shock. In meditation, however, we take that ordinary death experience into the present path, which is the dharmakaya experience. In meditation we train the mind to use that opportunity.
Briefly, it is said that a buddha, or enlightened being, has two “bodies” or aspects: a form, or physical, aspect (in Sanskrit, rupakaya) and a truth, or consciousness, aspect (Skt. dharmakaya). The dharmakaya can be understood very simply as the pure mind of a buddha. However, only buddhas can communicate dharmakaya to dharmakaya, or mind to mind. So out of their great compassion, buddhas manifest themselves in more tangible physical forms, as the various rupakayas, in order to communicate with unenlightened beings, from us ordinary people all the way up to highly skilled bodhisattva meditators. There are two types of rupakaya: the enjoyment form aspect (Skt. sambhogakaya) and the transformation form aspect (Skt. nirmanakaya). The historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, is an example of the nirmanakaya. “The uncertainty about the nirmanakaya aspect is that at worldly levels we never know who is a nirmanakaya buddha and who is not,” Lama Yeshe pointed out with a sly smile. “Therefore, we should treat all beings as though they just might be buddhas.”
Lama told the students that while in retreat they should not meditate more than one hour at a time. “The reason is that when we meditate for one hour, we do a good job. And when we are tired we should stop. It is a completely personal individual experience, but we should not push. Lama Tsongkhapa says that when your meditation is going well, then you want to meditate more; so when you are having a good time, then you should stop. If the good time finishes before the end of your session, then the next time you won’t want to meditate. But if you have a powerful meditation, you’ll feel blissful as soon as you merely see your meditation place.”