A mistaken monk ...
This note is a for a young western Gelugpa monk who wrote me, and few others, after his trip to Asia where he felt some presentations of mandala practices he encountered in a Chod teaching were 'wrong'. I wrote this down to ease his narrow canyon bigotries … It will not be of interest to most, so please ignore - it will even be found dull and tedious.
Dear friend, I am happy you had a nice visit to your Nyingma friends in Asia recently. I also see that in accord with human being’s habits, and especially those of westerner’s embracing a new religion, you feel at ease with judgments and criticisms before asking if it is perhaps your own understanding that is limited.
Having heard teachings on mandala practice in the Ngondro of your Gelug tradition and then seeing the yogis making mandala offering in a fashion with which you are not accustomed, you felt, from your deep compassion, a need to send a corrective letter with description of the proper style in accord with the Ngondro tradition of your Gelugpa lineage. Compassion is best balanced with wisdom, or at least technical understanding, so that simple lack of knowledge does not lead to misspoken words and enmity. If not, sometimes it becomes necessary for tedious explanations of this sort - like needing to open the window in a room where someone has passed gas.
Here you were seeing mandala practice in accord with the inner tradition of Troma Nagmo and the lineage of Do Khyentse's terma, GuruRinpoche’s sublime Nyingma tradition. In this tradition indeed the outer offering of the 3 thousand fold myriad universe composed of Mt. Meru and continents and so forth is much as you expressed. The inner and secret mandala offerings display a progressively subtle and mature vision in accord with the inner Tantras and Dzogchen. It is not that the Lama teaching did not understand the proper symbolism of the outer mandala offering you know of, but simply that they are contained within the body mandala he was speaking of.
For example: The body is the container and the aspects of body its contents accomplishing the perfectly complete offering.
Spine = Mt. Meru
Arms and legs = the four continents. Right arm Luphagpo, the southern continent, left arm the northern continent of Draminyen, right leg – Dzambuling, left leg – Balangchod.
Skin = the golden ground of the earth
Fingers and toes = subcontinents
Heart = treasure vase
Bladder = the god’s abode
Kidney = the noble horse
Teeth = unharvested crops
Liver = the wish granting cow
Head = the abode of the gods
Nose = Drachen the constellation of Rahula
Eyes = the sun and moon
… and so forth …
In the secret mandala offering, there is again a subtle understanding further elaborating the meaning of the inner Tantras.
The golden ground of the earth = the alaya
Mt. Meru = consciousness of confused mental events
The continents and sub-continents = the 8 consciousness
… and so forth …
Within the system of sublime Vajrayana’s generation phase, there are 3 especially important understandings in terms of visualizations. First is the clarity of visualization, the clear stability which also accomplishes the quality of shiné or samatha’s calm abiding. Second there is the recollection of purity – understanding the meaning of symbolic presentation so that the living blessing force of these spiritual symbols can transform ordinary mind into a mind which abides in pure appearances. Because you do not understand the recollection of purity in accord with this practice, you jump to assumptions that it is somehow wrong. Sadly, in this way, you not only miss the opportunity of entering a deeper abidance in purity, but fall into the unhappiness of judgment based on lack of knowledge. The third important factor is the vajra pride.
The practice of Troma Nagmo is a most subtle and liberating one whose efficacy is understood in all major traditions coming from Tibet. It is true that it does not always externally accord with the activities and view of Ngondro within your tradition, but this is because while the higher always encompasses the lower, the lower does not always include the full extent of the higher. The set of numbers 1 through 3 is included in the greater set 1 through 100, but not all the numbers of the set 1 through 100 are included in the set 1 through 3.
Some time back there was a Drikung nun who was proclaiming on the internet that there is no such thing as sexual yogas within the Tantric traditions and that these ideas came from misunderstanding metaphors for actual practices. This was quite shocking as the Drikung are excellent masters of these sexual yoga practices … though perhaps not the nuns. So many sublime and profound texts from the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages go into great practical detail in this regard – from Longchenpa’s Guyagharba commentaries, to Do Khyentse’s Essential Instructions for the Profound and Supreme Path of Skillful Means (Padma Raga pp. 53-57), Dudjom Rinpoche’s wondrous Two Stages Explanatory Text of Khandro Thugtig, or the sublime Dudjom texts Collecting the Sun’s Essence and Realizing the Moon’s Splendor to mention just a few.
Of course the details of these texts are not relevant to a monk’s practice and so a monk or nun may not even know of them. In general, a monk, nun, or any human being, should perhaps say, “In accord with my limited knowledge, such and such is the case.” In this way they might avoid spreading misconceptions about the Buddha’s most profound teachings to which they are not, as yet, privy to.
What is sad is that when people from the narrow confines of a beginner’s understanding proclaim authority of deep knowledge, they can thereby cause disruption in the view and faith of others. Because you are a monk, because this woman is a nun, people assume you have deep knowledge of the path. Capitalizing on this common mistake, you strut like a chicken pretending to be a glorious peacock. Please set aside this activity, even if bolstered by mistaken compassion, and take time to learn about the path more deeply.
The tradition of Chod has outer, inner, secret, and quintessential levels of practice whose subtle aspects, like those of all advanced Tantric and Dzogchen practices require having gone beyond Ngondro to understand them properly.
The outer chod exorcises attachment to samsara, transcending doubt and laziness.
The inner chod exorcises self-grasping (this is the meaning of Do Khyentse’s terma having the name Dzinpa Rangdrol – The Self Liberation of Grasping).
The secret chod thoroughly exorcises wrong views establishing mind in pure perception.
The quintessential chod exorcises duality, so that the level of Trekchod is realized with its wisdom beyond the distinctions samsara and nirvana.
The third conduct of tantric yogis adheres to the deepest meaning of tulzhug or unlimited compassionate activity of yogins. For a good monk such as yourself, it means adherence to the monastic disciplines but for the Tantrica it may take on further meanings as well. An understanding of the outer, inner, secret, and quintessential aspects of chod opens a doorway to understanding aspects of Vajrayana you may have not encountered yet.
I hope you will find an excellent Lama of the Nyingma or Kagyu lineage who can help you understand these deeper if you wish to pursue this line of exploration. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche or Garab Dorje Rinpoche, or Lama Wangdor in the Kagyu lineage, are excellent examples of such Lamas who could help you deepen and expand your partial understanding.
I hope you will not find my letter insulting. I write in the twofold disposition of compassion and devotion. Compassion for you and sentient beings who might be misled by proclamations of partial understanding, and devotion to my precious Lama who asked me to correct such misunderstanding when encountering them.
With aimless great affection,