shAkta siddhAnta – 12

This worldly soul is technically known as sakala, being endowed with body, senses etc. corresponding to the tattva or bhuvana to which it belongs. Such souls range from the lowest plane to the plane of kalA and migrate from plane to plane according to their karmans. There is another state of the soul in which the mAyIya mala as described above is absent, but the other two malas continue as before. This is a state of pralaya or dissolution in which the soul is free from all the creative principles, is in a disembodied condition and remains absorbed in mAyA. Such souls are called pralayAkalas or pralaya-kevalins. These are bodiless and senseless atoms with karma-samskAras and the root Ignorance clinging to them. When, however, the karmans are got rid of through discriminative knowledge, renunciation or such other means, the soul is exalted above mAyA, though still retaining its atomic state. It is then above mAyA no doubt, but remains within the limits of mahAmAyA which it cannot escape unless the Supreme Grace of the Divine Master acts upon it and removes the basic Ignorance which caused its atomicity and the limitation of its infinite powers. This state of the soul represents the highest condition of the pashu known as vijnAnAkala or vijnAna-kevalin. This is kaivalya. Among these souls those which are thoroughly mature in respect of their impurity are competent to receive divine illumination at the beginning of the next creative cycle. The dawn of divine wisdom which is the result of the anugraha (divine grace) acting upon the soul is the origin of the so-called shuddha-vidyA.

The illumination of a mature vijnAnAkala is either intense or mild according as the kaluSha or original taint attached to the soul has run its course completely or otherwise, the former types of souls are raised to the status of vidyeshvaras and the latter become mantras. The sakala and pralayAkala souls, too, in which the mala is mature, are favored with divine grace and raised to the position of:

1. Mantreshvaras (and AchAryas) and placed in charge of the different divisions of brahmANDa or the planes belonging to pR^ithivI-tattva, and of
2. Bhuvaneshvaras or lokeshvaras with powers over the planes belonging to the higher tattvas beyond pR^ithivI.

The pralayAkalas, however, where mala is immature but karma mature, are associated with subtle bodies called puryaShTaka at the beginning of the next cycle and made to assume physical bodies and migrate from life to life, thus maturing the mala through experience. The shAkta belief in threefold nature of the soul is comparable to the conviction of the Ophites and their predecessors the Ophici in the West – it presupposes a faith that the division corresponds to the degrees of grace and does not imply any essential difference. It is true, however, that according to the dualists, some difference does exist between shiva and paramashiva. The Valentinian conception of essential distinction in human souls has also its parallel in India as evident from the views of sections of Jainas, Buddhist and vaiShNava writers, but finds no recognition in the Tantras.

The states of the soul which follow are not those of a pashu but of shiva himself, though certain limitations still remain. These limitations are those of adhikAra, bhoga and laya according to the dualists (shrIkaNTha in ratna-traya). They are removed in due course of time through fulfillment of experiences etc., in the pure order. The pure order of shuddha-adhvan represents the higher world of pure matter beyond the influence of mAyA.

The successive stages of spiritual perfection consequent on the dawn of wisdom are represented by the tattvas to which the souls are attached. Thus the lowest stage is that of a mantra which corresponds to shuddha-vidyA. The higher states are those of mantreshvaras corresponding to Ishvara-tattva, of mantra-maheshvaras corresponding to sadAshiva and of shiva corresponding to the tattva known under that name. the state of shiva is really transcendent, being that of pure and absolute consciousness, but the true Absolute is paramashiva bhaTTAraka where identity with all the tattvas as well as their transcendence are present simultaneously.

Due to the limitation of its powers the Self is bound. The shAktas hold that there are certain hidden forces latent in chidAkAsha, known as mAtR^ikAs, which reside over the malas referred to above and over the kalAs or letter-sounds of the language. The supreme mAtR^ikA, known as ambikA, has three aspects: jyeShThA, raudrI and vAmA, each of them having a specific function. The kalAs are the ultimate units of human speech with which thought is inextricably interwoven. The mAtR^ikAs beget in each soul, in each act of its knowledge, determinate or indeterminate, an inner cognition (antaH-parAmarsha) and produce a sort of confusion there on account of intermingling with shabda. Knowledge in this manner assumes the form of joy, sorrow, desire, aversion, conceit, fear, hope, etc., under the influence of these forces. This is how bhAvas originate and govern the unregenerate human soul. mAtR^ikAs are thus the secret bonds which bind down a soul, but when they are truly known and their essence is revealed, they help it in attaining siddhi.

These forces function in chidAkAsha so long as the brahma-granthi is not rent asunder. This granthi is evidently the node of identity between spirit and matter and is the spring of ego-sense in man. The moral effect of kuNDalinI is so far clear. It is maintained that if the mAtR^ikA is not propitiated and if the node is not removed, it is likely that even after the rise of truth-consciousness the soul may, owing to inadvertence (pramAda), be caught up in its snares, get entangled in the meshes of shabda and lapse into ignorance or go astray.

The Divine Will is one and undivided, but it becomes split up after the origin of the mAtR^ikAs which evolve out of the nAda co-eternal with this Will. This split in icChA or svAtantrya causes a separation between jnAna and kriyA, its constitutive aspects. This is practically identical with what is described as a divorce between svAtantrya and bodha or vimarsha and prakAsha, which takes place on the assumption of atomic condition by the Supreme Self. In this condition jnAna evolves into three inner and five outer senses, and kriyA into five prANas and five motor organs connected respectively with the vital and reflex activities of the organism.

contd ...

Chatral Rinpoche on Eating Meat

Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche is one of the most accomplished Tibetan Buddhist yogis alive today. In 1947 he had the lofty status of being the head spiritual master of the political leader of Tibet, Regent Reting, but he has always preferred to live as a humble yogi in a simple dwelling without the distractions of fame and fortune. He practices what he preaches without compromise and as a result is beloved throughout the Himalayan region by people of all faiths.

Rinpoche was born in 1913 in the Nyak Adzi Valley in Kham, Tibet to pious members of the Abse tribal group named Pema Dondrub (father) and Sonam Tso (mother). The day after his birth, a local lama named Asey Bigo Tulku Nyima Gyaltsen came to Pema and Sonam’s house to tell them of a vision he had the day before about Rinpoche’s emergence, in which a white donkey loaded down with Buddhist scriptures came to Pema and Sonam’s house and delivered the texts to them. In accordance with this vision, he bestowed upon the newborn the name Trogyal Dorje, which means “Adamantine Wrathful Victorious One.”

Chatral Rinpoche’s family moved to Amdo with their tribal group when he was a small child. At age fifteen, Rinpoche decided to leave his family in order to study and practice Buddhism with the masters of the area. This act of renunciation began his life-long journey as a carefree yogi seeking enlightenment at any cost in order to effectively help other beings with compassion. From the onset, Rinpoche was highly principled, traveling exclusively on foot and refusing a horse when offered. He stayed only in hermitages, caves, or his small tent in order to avoid involvement with householders and their worldly preoccupations.

Chatral Rinpoche received transmissions of the terma cycle of Terton Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1903) from the Terton’s son Dorje Dradul (1891–1959). Rinpoche would later become the Vajra Regent or Chief Lineage Holder of this cycle of teachings, known as Dudjom Tersar. Another one of Rinpoche’s main early teachers was Khandro Dewai Dorje (1899–1952), who was a daughter-in-law of Terton Dudjom Lingpa. She passed on to Rinpoche the terma cycle teachings of Sera Khandro and he became the principal lineage holder of this tradition as well.

At this time, Chatral Rinpoche met his root guru, Khenpo Ngawang Palzang (1879–1941) of Kathok Monastery. The great Khenpo had been the heart disciple of Patrul Rinpoche’s main student, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (1829–1901), and was considered to be a manifestation of the ninth century Dzogchen master Vimalamitra. Khenpo Ngakchung gave Chatral Rinpoche many teachings and transmissions — particularly of the Longchen Nyingthig tradition — and for the next six years Rinpoche studied under him, completing his ngöndro and practicing trekchöd and tögyal, which are some of the most advanced practices of Dzogchen. Rinpoche studied with other masters at Kathok Monastery as well, in addition to the great Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959) from Dzongsar Monastery, which (like Kathok) is in the Derge region of Kham.

Khenpo Ngawang Palzang knew Rinpoche was very special and acknowledged him to be his closest disciple, explaining that, “His mind and my mind are no different.” He bestowed upon Rinpoche the name Chatral Sangye Dorje, which means “Indestructible Buddha who has Abandoned all Mundane Activities.”

The first time Chatral Rinpoche’s greatness became revealed to others was at a large worship service at Kathok Monastery, attended by several high lamas sitting on lofty thrones. Rinpoche sat in the back on a simple meditation cushion with a few hundred other monks. During the service, Khenpo Ngawang Palzang remarked: “Among all of you here today, there are less than ten people who have one-tenth of my realization. Then, there are less than five of you who have half of my realization. Finally, there is only one person here whose realization is no different from mine, and he is Chatral Sangye Dorje. He can now represent me to transmit the teachings and his merits are the same as mine”.

This proclamation caused quite a stir in the assembly hall and afterward people came to congratulate Rinpoche. Preparations began for a grand ceremony to honor Rinpoche in his new status. Rinpoche was not one for all this attention and praise and so snuck away in the middle of the night with his tent to continue his practice alone in the wilderness. The next day when they came to honor him, they found his room empty with no indication of where he went. Once again, he lived up to his name Chatral, which can be translated as “hermit.”

Chatral Rinpoche once explained, “We abide nowhere, we possess nothing.” In the ultimate sense, this is a profound statement on the impermanence of life and emptiness of all things. In the conventional sense, this is how a yogi like Chatral Rinpoche actually lived in Tibet. Having no household or possessions to weigh on one’s mind, one is completely free to practice the Dharma. As far as the seeming adversity of physical discomforts and irregular meals, Dudjom Rinpoche explained, “When realization becomes as vast as space, all adverse conditions arise as friends.”

In 1947 the regent-king of Tibet, Reting, who was the political leader of the country until the current Dalai Lama came of age, requested teachings from Khenpo Ngakchung, who told him, “I am too old now for transmitting teachings to you. I have a disciple whose mind and realization is the same as mine and he is called Chatral Sangye Dorje. You can go ask him for teachings.”

Regent Reting looked all over for Chatral Rinpoche and found him meditating in a remote mountain cave. Upon hearing his request, Rinpoche replied, “I am sorry, there is nothing special about me and I have nothing to teach you. Please go elsewhere for teachings!” The Regent then produced a letter by Khenpo Ngakchung to support his request, and so Rinpoche reluctantly agreed to go to Lhasa to teach Regent Reting.

People from all over poured into Lhasa to meet Rinpoche and receive teachings and blessings from him. This included high-ranking lamas, political leaders, and common laypeople, who made many offerings to Rinpoche. Naturally, he saw all of this attention as a distraction for his spiritual development. He requested to have some time to meditate in a remote area away from Lhasa. The Regent agreed and sent a large entourage of servants and guards to escort Rinpoche on his journey. After they arrived, Rinpoche asked the group of men to return to Lhasa so that he could meditate in solitude. The Regent did not want his teacher to be alone, so sent some guards back to locate Rinpoche. Along the way, they found a poor beggar dressed in royal brocade robes. Chatral Rinpoche had traded his fancy outfit for beggar’s rags in true yogi style!

Another great spiritual master who came into Chatral Rinpoche’s life was Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, who was an incarnation of Terton Dudjom Lingpa. Dudjom Rinpoche transmitted to Chatral Rinpoche the complete cycle of the Dudjom Tersar teachings, naming him the Vajra Regent of the tradition.

Chatral Rinpoche spent a great deal of his time practicing in caves blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and source of the terma teachings that are the basis for many of the lineages of the Nyingma School. Chatral Rinpoche is actually considered to be the mind manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava’s, based on prophecies about Rinpoche’s emergence and his proven wisdom.

In the late 1950s, Chatral Rinpoche moved to Bhutan. He was not forced out by the events of March 10, 1959 like many other Tibetans, but went to Bhutan of his own free will. This may be indicative of his being the manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava’s mind, as Guru Rinpoche had predicted that the Tibetan people would be displaced from their homeland at the advent of the modern age and Chatral Rinpoche seemed to know that the time was right for him to travel to other areas in the Himalayas. When he was asked what this trip was like for him, he smiled and replied, “Completely free, light, and happy.”

Chatral Rinpoche traveled to the neighboring Himalayan region of Darjeeling, where he restored a simple temple and turned it into a three-year meditation retreat center for Longchen Nyingthig practice. This was the first such center built by a Tibetan outside of Tibet. Rinpoche then went to some of the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. While visiting the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment in 1960, he made a firm commitment that would become a famous part of his identity. He said, “I went to Bodhgaya and made a vow to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas to give up meat and alcohol.” Rinpoche is quite unique in his intensely disciplined stance on this issue and this is part of what makes him so revered by those who know him.

Chatral Rinpoche was relentless in his study and practice. In India, he received teachings from Kalu Rinpoche, who became his close friend, and the Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. He received teachings from over one hundred masters in all, from many traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The breadth of his scholarship is evident in his writing, as he quotes texts from a myriad of traditions to support the points he makes in his essays.

Many thousands of people in the Himalayan region consider Chatral Rinpoche to be their root guru because, through his compassionate action and profound wisdom, he is a perfect embodiment of the Buddha’s teachings. However, he is very selective about those he actually gives teachings to. He is fully aware that most of the people who ask him for teachings are not a fraction as serious about their practice as he is, so doesn’t bother to waste the precious nectar of his teachings on an unsuitable vessel. Rinpoche explains, “There are three kinds of Dharma practitioners: firstly, there are those who look like practitioners outwardly, but inwardly they are not real practitioners; secondly, there are those who talk very high, but have no realization at all; thirdly there are those who do not look like practitioners outwardly, but who are in fact genuine practitioners inside.” Rinpoche therefore will not transmit any higher-level teachings to those who have studied with him for less than six years — sufficient time for them to prove themselves as genuine practitioners.

Westerners especially are treated with suspicion. Too many come to see Rinpoche wanting the ultimate teachings of Dzogchen without being remotely qualified to receive or understand them. There is a story of a wealthy person from the United States who set big stacks of American dollar bills in front of Rinpoche, saying that if Rinpoche gave him Dzogchen teachings, then he would give him all of this money. Rinpoche told him briskly to take his money away and declined to give him teachings. The sacred teachings certainly cannot be bought with bribes; one must earn the right to receive them.

Chatral Rinpoche does not spend a lot of his time giving teachings, as only a very few people are qualified to receive teachings like this. Instead, he tirelessly engages in virtuous activity, culminating in his famous annual trip to Calcutta, where he frees seventy truckloads of live fish back into a part of the Indian Ocean where fishing is prohibited, praying for each and every one. He receives donations from around the world for this great act of compassion, which is the subject of one of his essays in this book. Still, he is very supportive of serious practitioners, traveling to his different retreat centers as often as he can to check on their progress. He also graciously offers guidance to those from other faiths who meet with him. Recently, when an Anglican priest asked him for a teaching, Rinpoche said, “Just decide what is the most important thing Jesus ever said, and then take it as far as you can.” This turned out to be the most profound advice the priest had ever received and it served to deepen his understanding and faith.

Chatral Rinpoche makes appearances to support his disciples through dreams and visions. In 997, at the beginning of a weekend retreat in San Francisco, Lama Tharchin Rinpoche told his students that Chatral Rinpoche had appeared to him in a dream, asking that Lama Tharchin and his students accumulate one hundred million recitations of Guru Padmasambhava’s seven-line prayer in order to remove obstacles to Lama Tharchin’s health, benefit all beings, and help bring peace to the world during this degenerate age.

Chatral Rinpoche is renowned for being incorruptible and insistent on doing things the right way. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, when someone dies, it is standard to leave them for three days to allow ample time for the consciousness to leave the body and hopefully enter into a Pureland realm or at least a high rebirth. According to Sogyal Rinpoche, “[Chatral Rinpoche] told people who were complaining that a corpse might smell if it was kept in hot weather [for three days]; ‘It’s not as though you have to eat it, or try to sell it.”

An Interview with Chatral Rinpoche

Question: Why did you decide to stop eating meat? How old were you when you made this decision?
Rinpoche: It is written in many Theravadayana and Mahayana texts that one should not eat meat. There is also a Vajrayana text that says the same thing, that one should not enjoy meat or alcohol. Because of this I am following the instructions of Shakyamuni Buddha. Being a religious person, I don’t take meat or alcohol and at the same time I try to tell other people not to consume these things. This is my reason — I’m just trying to motivate other people. I was forty-seven years old when I went to Bodhgaya and made a vow to all of the buddhas and bodhisattvas to give up meat and alcohol.

Question: Why do you think vegetarianism is an important aspect of practicing the Dharma?
Rinpoche: If you take meat, it goes against the vows one takes in seeking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Because when you take meat you have to take a being’s life. So I gave it up.

Question: Some claim that one can help the animals one eats by praying for them, and thus eating meat is compassionate. Other than for the most accomplished yogis and lamas, what do you make of this claim?
Rinpoche: With supernatural powers gained through certain meditation practices, it is true that there are some realized beings who can revive animals from the dead and help them reach a higher rebirth or enlightenment by consuming small amounts of their flesh. But this is not done for sustenance, only for the purpose of helping that animal. I personally do not have that power and, because of that, I never eat meat. Eating meat in one’s diet is much different than eating flesh to liberate a being through supernatural powers. I am just an ordinary practitioner who really doesn’t have these qualities. So, if I ate meat it would be the same if you or any other lay person ate meat. I would be committing a sin and I would be getting negative karma. I don’t pretend as if I have special powers and eat meat, I just avoid it altogether.

Question: Do you see Tibetan Buddhists in exile making a sincere effort to reduce their meat consumption and become vegetarian, or has meat eating become an entrenched aspect of Tibetan culture?
Rinpoche: In Tibet, there’s only meat and tsampa [roasted barley flour] — there is no other staple food. Tibet is at a high altitude and the climate is tundralike. There are not many fruits and vegetables. After coming to South Asia, you really don’t have to follow the Tibetan custom of meat and tsampa. There are many types of fruits and vegetables, nutritional supplements — all kinds of good foods. Everything is available. So there is really no need to talk about the customs of Tibet as an excuse for eating meat. From my experience, not eating meat has many benefits. I’m eighty-eight and ever since I stopped eating meat, I haven’t had any major sickness. When I sleep, I sleep well. When I get up, I can walk right away. When I read religious texts, I can see them properly. I have very good hearing and can listen attentively. These are the qualities I have experienced from not eating meat. I didn’t get sick or die when I stopped eating meat; no negative consequences came to me. I can travel by vehicle, airplane, or train without getting nauseous or dizzy and I never get headaches. I am a human being formed with flesh and blood like anyone else and am proof that giving up meat does not make one ill like many Tibetans seem to think. I’m telling you from my own experience; only good things have happened to me from giving up meat.

Question: Some monks have told me that since insects are killed in the production of rice and other vegetables, then there is really no difference in eating those things and eating meat. What do you think about this?
Rinpoche: This would mean that you wouldn’t eat anything and would starve to death. If you say you were going to go for a month without killing insects through the food you eat, then you would die. If you die, this precious human life is wasted. So if you just let your body be destroyed, that means you are taking your own life, which is killing in itself. You can always take the insect from the rice when you see it and let it free outside. You don’t necessarily have to kill beings to eat. Although, when we walk we crush many insects under our feet. We may not see them or observe them, but still we must be killing them. Not being aware doesn’t mean that we haven’t created any sin, because after all, cause and effect are always there.

paramahamsa shrI guhAnandanAtha

guhAnandanAtha paramahamsa

गुहावासमीशं गुणातीतमूर्तिं
गणाधीशपूर्वप्रपूज्यं सुभक्त्या |
गुहाकारमाश्रित्य तज्ज्ञानदं तं
गुहानन्दनाथं गुरुं वै भजेऽहम् ||



आर्भट्या शशिखण्डमण्डितजटाजूटां नृमुण्डस्रजं
बन्धूकारुणभूषणाम्बरधरां प्रेतासनाध्यासिनीम् |
त्वां ध्यायन्ति चतुर्भुजां त्रिनयनामापीनतुङ्गस्तनीं
मध्ये निम्नवलित्रयाङ्किततनुं त्वद्रूपसम्वित्तये ||

pItha nyAsa

The following are the pIthas used for nyAsa in the mAtR^ikA positions according to mahAmanthAna-bhairava tantra.

01. kAmarUpa
02. vArANasI
03. nepALa
04. puNDravardhana
05. purastIra
06. kAnyakubja
07. pUrNagiri
08. arbuda
09. AmrAtakeshvara
10. ekAmra
11. trisrota
12. kAmakoTi
13. kailAsa
14. bhR^i~Nganagara
15. kedAra
16. chandrapura
17. shrIpITha/shrIparvata
18. omkAra
19. jAlandhara
20. mAlava
21. kulatA (kulUTa)
22. devIkoTa
23. gokarNa
24. marukeshvara
25. aTTahAsa
26. virajA
27. rAjagR^iha
28. mahApatha
29. kollagiri
30. ekavIrA/elApura
31. sopAra/bhUpAla
32. jayantikA
33. ujjayinI
34. charitra
35. kShIraka
36. hastinApura
37. oDukasa
38. prayAga
39. pR^iShThapura
40. mAyApurI
41. urasA
42. malaya
43. shrIshaila
44. eruNDI/bheruNDaka
45. mAhendra
46. vAmana/vAruNa
47. hiraNyapura
48. mahAlakShmI
49. uDDiyAna
50. ChAyAchatra

Siddhi and Siddha

The scriptures of the three great kulas - tripurA, kAlikA and kubjikA (baDabAnalIya krama tantra excludes tArA as one of the chief shakti-s) refer to various categories of Siddhas.

The jnAna-siddhas

या सैव कथिता सद्भिः परा मुद्रा करङ्किणी |
एषा ज्ञानाख्यरूपाणां सिद्धानां संस्थिता कला |
मुद्रयित्वा पृथग्भेदं मुद्रेयं करणोज्झिता ||

The mantra-siddhas

पृथिव्यादि प्रकृत्यन्त तत्त्वविस्तारविभ्रमः |
द्विषट्कद्विगुणात्मा यः पारिमित्यग्रहान्वितः ||
तमेव निगलन्त्युच्चैः क्रोधान्मन्त्रमरीचयः |
मन्त्रसिद्धा यतस्तस्या व्योमधामक्रमोदिताः ||
क्रोधेन तत्त्वविभवं नयत्युग्रनिराकुला |
या मान्त्रं परमं वीर्यं सा मुद्रा क्रोधिनी स्मृता ||

The melApa-siddhas

द्विषट्करूपभेदेन ग्रन्थयो ये व्यवस्थिताः |
तानेव भेदयित्वेमाः शक्तयः प्रोदिताः पराः ||
महामेलापधर्मिण्यः सामरस्यैकविग्रहाः |
निरावरणचिद्व्योमधामस्था भान्ति नित्यशः ||
आपूर्य स्वबलोद्रेकसमुत्थं भेदडम्बरम् |
या स्थिता पूर्णविभवा निरावरणविग्रहा ||
भैरवी सैव विख्याता मुद्रा सदसदुज्झिता |
निस्तरङ्गविकासात्मसामरस्यैकनिर्भरा |
एषा मेलापसिद्धानां मुद्रेयं भैरवात्मिका ||

The shAkta-siddhas

पुर्यष्टकस्य गदिता वासनाबीजविग्रहाः |
शक्तयो याः सूक्ष्मतरास्तासां संहरणोद्यताः ||
दीप्तयो यास्तीक्ष्णतमा विगतग्रहधामगाः |
ता एव कथिताः सम्यक् शाक्तसिद्धा निरामयाः ||

The shAmbhava-siddhas

परादि वैखरीत्यन्तं वागुल्लेखचतुष्टयम् |
यतस्तस्यैव निरता भेदग्रासाय दीप्तयः ||
सामरस्यपदप्राप्तिदायिन्यो या विकस्वराः |
ख्यातास्ता एव शाम्भव्यो देव्यो निर्द्वयधामगाः ||
तडिल्लेखैव या व्योम्नि यान्ती सर्वोज्झिते पदे |
स्वप्रकाशविकासैकरूपा सा खेचरी स्मृता ||
या स्पर्शा स्पर्शगगने चरन्ती निर्निकेतना |
सर्वावरणनिर्मुक्ता मुद्रा सा खेचरी स्मृता ||

Advaita Vedanta and Zen: The Teacher–Student Dynamic

- By Leesa S. Davis

The Advaita deconstructive practice of self-inquiry (Atma-vichAra) and the Soto Zen practice of just sitting (shikantaza) have two aspects:
- the internal meditative inquiry, in which the practitioner internalizes the instructions and inquires into the boundaries of his or her personal experiencing.
- and the more external aspect of questioning and dialoguing with a teacher.

Thus, the deconstructive processes that these practices ignite takes place in a practice situation, that is, a context wherein the practitioner is in full existential engagement with a tradition, a teacher and a practice.

From the Advaita perspective, the practitioner seeks to realize that ultimate reality (brahman) and self (Atman) are, in essence, not different. From the Zen practitioner’s point of view, practice consists of realizing that, in essence, conditioned reality (samsAra) and unconditioned reality (nirvANa) are not two. Common to both traditions is the assertion that, in essence, there is no duality between the conditioned and the unconditioned or the relative and the absolute.

Although predicated on different ontologies, the non-dual systems of Advaita and Zen both deny any bifurcation between self and non-self, subject and object, cause and effect and so on. Hence, in practice, both Advaita and Zen deny any bifurcation between categories because they both deny, for different reasons, the dualistic thought processes and structures that create oppositional categories in the first place.

To this end, in the evolving trajectory of spiritual practice, both Zen and Advaita teachers aim to move students beyond their everyday dualistic thought processes and structures through ongoing deconstructive challenges to bifurcated categories and structures that support oppositional ways of thinking. In teacher–student dialogues, dualistic ontological boundaries and epistemological filters that are impeding the student’s insight are exposed by the nature of the questions asked, thus enabling the teacher to tailor his or her deconstructive challenge to the particular dualistic construction that the student is displaying. In other words, the questioning/dialoguing process enables the teacher to identify the dualistic stumbling blocks that the practitioner needs to move through. Importantly, this undoing also applies to dualistic attachment to or reification of the teacher–student relationship itself.

In the context of the practice situation, the student’s relationship to the teacher is pivotal in keeping him or her concentrated and committed to the ongoing process of practice and inquiry. In Advaita and Zen foundational texts, the importance of the teacher is clearly emphasized. In Upadeshasahasri, Shankara likens a teacher to a ‘boatman’, and claims that ‘knowledge of Brahman is not obtained in any other way than through a teacher. Dogen’s stance on the importance of the right teacher is repeated throughout the Shobogenzo and unequivocally expressed in Gakudoyojinshu, where he bluntly states: ‘When you don’t meet a right teacher, it is better not to study Buddhism at all’.

Contemporary practitioners generally reiterate this stance. When asked how important is the teacher, Zen practitioners usually respond with ‘essential’. According to one practitioner, the teacher ‘can see right through you, you can’t hide anything from them. To me a good teacher is just one hundred per cent all the time just showing you your self’. In addition to this, another Zen practitioner claims that a teacher can ‘point out things and straighten you out when there are problems’ and is ‘someone that holds [her] practice together’.

Advaita practitioners also generally regard the teacher as essential but their emphasis is slightly different. In satsang, Advaita practitioners sometimes feel that the teacher is somehow generating the ‘energy’ in the sense that the focus of the collective practice is being ‘held’ by the teacher. Practitioners report ‘feeling a strong stream of energy’ that focuses their practice, which is generally attributed to the presence of the teacher.

In both traditions, the teacher initially represents the non-dual state of being that practitioners aspire to. However, the dynamic between teachers and students is more complex. Generally, teachers in both traditions are keen to deconstruct students’ idealized projections of their role and thereby place the onus of practice onto the practitioner. But, given the traditional emphasis on the importance of the teacher, the teacher’s function and status cannot be merely negated. Instead, teachers undo objectifications of their role by constantly problematizing the teacher–student relationship. This undoing proceeds by deconstructive moves that serve to frustrate or deflate students’ dualistic expectations and to unsettle the respective positions of teacher and student. This interplay of positions, that is, the absolute non-dual view of the teacher and the relative dualistic view of the student, is indicative of the dialectical function of the two truths in each tradition and reminiscent of the juxtaposition of affirmation and negation as found in the foundational texts of the Prajñaramita Sutra and the Upanishads. In plain terms, an overarching feature of deconstructive spiritual inquiry is the conflicting messages on the role and status of the teacher that Zen and Advaita teachers send to their students in the practice situation with the aim of undermining students’ dualistic projections and expectations and placing the onus of practice on students themselves.

For example, to undermine his absolute position, Zen master Hogen Yamahata repeatedly tells his students that ‘my role is to continually disappoint you’ and, when speaking of the relationship to a teacher, a contemporary Advaitin warns her students that she can only be of limited help; the final leap must be taken alone. ‘I offer you my shoulders. Stand on them for as long as they last to leap into what has never been known, never been said’.

These disclaimers issued by Zen and Advaita teachers coupled with unfolding practice experience serve to alert the practitioner to the trap of dualizing the teacher–student relationship. It is from such disclaimers that the undoing of the construct of ‘getting anything from a teacher’ begins. This undoing is well illustrated in the following comment from an Advaita practitioner who realized that -

... after all of my experience, after all this time I couldn’t really get anything from a teacher anymore. I had rested my ‘insights’ on the authority of others, [and] it wasn’t really serving me because faced with my own death or existential crisis it was just useless.

In a similar shift, a Zen practitioner states that a teacher is -

... important at some junction. Everybody has times when they sit alone ... and then times when you are with a teacher. [But] no matter what [the teacher’s] attainment is I still have to do what I have to do so I can’t rely on their attainment or their personality or whatever to do it for me. It’s my present moment.

This shift in the practitioner’s relationship with the teacher is an important facet in the process of deconstructive spiritual inquiry. It is indicative of the necessity to move beyond the initial dualistic emotional attachment to the teacher, to a more complex dynamic in which the student realizes that a teacher ‘cannot do it for me’ but nevertheless still remains devoted to that teacher and his or her instructions.

Caught in the middle of the teacher–student duality, a Zen student of Hogen Yamahata tells his teacher in frustration: ‘If I had any sense, I would kick you and walk away, but I stay. Which one of us is the greater fool?’ To which Hogen replies, ‘Your kicking, of course, makes me old, crippled, and happy’. Here, Hogen subverts his student’s frustration by affirming and approving it. In classical Zen ‘style’, which neither reproaches nor directly instructs, Hogen addresses his student’s frustration by effectively telling him to ‘Keep kicking!’ and thereby placing the onus back on the student himself.

By undermining dualistic ideas of the teacher–student relationship, skillful teachers can employ the rising frustration that practitioners’ unfulfilled expectations can provoke to deconstructive ends. In this example, a Zen student describes a personal interview (dokusan) in which he presented his understanding and his teacher responded by striking him with the kyosaku stick. A response that ‘stunned’ him:

I came in and I did a presentation ... but he didn’t like it and I was stunned by his response and my mind was crazily trying to figure out the situation. So off I went and the next few periods I just sat there with clouds of steam coming out of my ears and I was getting more and more angry. So I got in the dokusan [interview] line and all the [dokusan] line I was fuming and I burst in and he just went ‘Hmmm’. Then the next day in teisho [formal dharma talk] ... he talked about somebody coming in and having crazy eyes and he was kind of deriding me without naming names and so we went through this process and I got angrier and angrier and finally something broke and I just came into dokusan and said, ‘I’m sorry’ and he just smiled.

Once again, the Zen teacher is neither affirming nor denying the student’s frustration, but in this case, sends him back to the naturally deconstructive process of zazen. In the concentrated practice of retreat the student describes his release of frustration as: ‘I think it’s a process in as much as things change, [to] put it that way. It’s kind of like being cooked – steeped or stewing in your own juice’. In this instance, by not directly acknowledging or responding to his student’s anger, the teacher places the responsibility of finding a solution squarely on the shoulders of the practitioner, thereby allowing the frustration to unravel in the practice of shikantaza. When asked how he overcame his anger, the student responded: ‘It’s more one’s frustration I think and who is it and what is it that’s frustrated?’.

Not being able to locate the experiencer, the ‘I’ that is experiencing frustration, difficulty, and so on, is a commonly reported experience in the practice of shikantaza. It is indicative of the breakdown of substantialized notions of self and, in this case, is a deconstructive ‘by-product’ of the teacher’s refusal to directly engage his student in a linear discussion. It is, however, important to note that skillful teachers read their student’s responses very closely and not all Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism ‘non-dual answers’ are automatically approved. In the next example, Hogen Yamahata challenges a student’s seemingly ‘correct’ response to practice:

[Student]: Whilst sitting in zazen, the question arose, ‘Who is sitting in zazen?’ In later contemplation, self asked self: ‘Who is waiting for an answer?’
[Hogen]: Thank you for ‘cooking’ such a tasty treat. It smells good! But is your hunger really satisfied by your self-made answer?

As practitioners quickly learn, with skillful teachers, there are no static ‘correct’ non-dual answers. In the practice situation, both Advaita and Zen teachers work in response to the comments or questions of the individual student in front of them, deconstructively targeting objectifications and reifications of their own roles and of spiritual practice in general.

An Advaitin tackles his student’s dualistic projections on the ‘grace’ of the teacher’s ‘presence’ thus:

[Student]: Through the grace of your presence we are now in silence. What will happen to us when you go away?
[Teacher]: Because you saw me coming, you suppose that I will one day go away. I never come or go.
[Student]: But you are going away soon. What will I do in your absence? [Teacher]: If you know how to create separation in the presence, why don’t you create presence in the separation?

The practitioner is attributing the ‘silence’ he is experiencing to the teacher’s ‘presence’. That is, he is creating a dualistic separation in the form of a productive relationship between the teacher and himself. The Advaitin rejects such a separation in two deconstructive moves. First, he negates the dichotomy of coming and going by claiming that ‘he never comes or goes’. Second, he throws the onus back to the practitioner by pointing out that dichotomous ideas of presence and absence are creations of the mind. According to Advaita, such separations do not exist in reality. The problem is created by the practitioner himself: The Teacher is actually present and the practitioner is creating absence. ‘Why not’, challenges the Teacher, ‘also create presence in absence?’ This juxtaposition of dichotomies, in this example, coming and going, presence and absence, serves to place the practitioner ‘right in the middle’ of his own dilemma. His adherence to one side of a dualism (presence) has been challenged by his teacher saying that the other side (absence) would do just as well! The notion that there is no difference between them and that both are ultimately creations of mind effectively cuts the practitioner’s line of questioning and undermines his reification that the presence of the teacher is somehow ‘creating’ or ‘holding’ the practice together.

The above Zen and Advaita examples are representative of the teacher– student dynamic in the practice situation. Both Advaita and Zen teachers strive to deconstructively point out to students the dangers of objectifying bifurcated categories and reifying oppositional patterns of thought and to experientially undo dualistic attachments and reifications projected onto the teacher–student relationship and the process of practice itself.

Shankara and Buddhism

One frequently hears the story that our beloved Acharya bhagavatpAda was responsible for eliminating Buddhism from the Indian sub-continent. This is used both as a praise and as an accusation directed towards the Acharya. Several scholars have also pointed towards the inadequacy of Acharaya's criticism of Buddhism and it is indeed true that the refutation of Buddhism by Acharya is rather uni-dimensional. However, the reason for this is simply that Acharya's primary focus was not refuting Buddhism but rather pUrva mImAmsA which had already done a great job of handling the Buddhist accusations on the Vedic path. Even a simple look at a hagiography such as the mAdhavIya shankara digvijaya makes this clear (shaNmukha is described to have already contained the Buddhist epidemic by the time of AchArya's arrival). Here is a selection from Daivattin Kural where H H Mahaperiyava addresses this very issue. And he also mentions our beloved Anna in this context.


Many believe that Buddhism ceased to have a large following in India because it came under the attack of Sankara. This is not true. There are very few passages in the Acarya's commentaries critical of that religion, a religion that was opposed to the Vedas. Far more forcefully has he criticised the doctrines of Sankhya and Mimamsa that respect the Vedic tradition. He demolishes their view that Isvara is not the creator of the world and that it is not he who dispenses the fruits of our actions. He also maintains that Isvara possesses the laksanas or characteristics attributed to him by the Vedas and the Brahmasutra and argues that there can be no world without Isvara and that it is wrong to maintain that our works yield fruits on their own. It is Isvara, his resolve, that has created this world, and it is he who awards us the fruits of our actions. We cannot find support in his commentaries for the view that he was responsible for the decline of Buddhism in India.

Then how did Buddhism cease to have a considerable following in out country? Somebody must have subjected it to such rigorous attack as to have brought about its decline in this land. Who performed this task? The answer is the mimamsakas and the tarkikas. Those who are adept in the Tarka-sastra(logic) are called tarkikas. The Tarka is the part of Nyaya which is one of the fourteen branches of Vedic learning and which comes next to Mimamsa. People proficient in Nyaya are naiyayikas; those well versed in grammar are "vaiyakaranis"; and those proficient in the Puranas are "pauranikas".

Udayanacarya, the tarkika, and Kumarilabhatta, the mimamsaka, opposed Buddhism for different reasons. The former severely criticised that religion for its denial of Isvara. To mimamsakas, as I have said earlier, Vedic rituals are of the utmost importance. Even though they don't believe that it is Isvara who awards us the fruit of our actions, they believe that the rituals we perform yield their own fruits and that the injunctions of the dharmasastras must be carried out faithfully. They attacked Buddhism for its refusal to accept Vedic rituals. Kumarilabhatta has written profusely in criticism of that religion. He and Udayanacarya were chiefly responsible for the failure of Buddhism to acquire a large following in this country. Our Acarya came later and there was no need for him to make a special assault on that religion on his own. On the contrary, his chief task was to expose the flaws in the systems upheld by the very opponents of Buddhism, Kumarilabhatta and Udayanacarya. He established that Isvara is the creator of the universe and that it is he who awards the fruits of our actions.

I am mentioning this fact so as to disabuse you of the wrong notions you must have formed with regard to Sankara's role in the decline of Buddhism. There is a special chapter in one of Kumarilabhatta's works called "Tarkapadam" in which he has made an extensive refutation of Buddhism. So too has Udayanacarya in his Bauddhadhikaram. These two acaryas were mainly responsible for the decline of Buddhism in our land and not Sankara Bhagavatpada. What we are taught on the subject in our textbooks of history is not true.

In my opinion at no time in our history did Buddhism in the fullest sense of that religion have a large following in India. Today a number of Hindus, who are members of the Theosophical Society, celebrate our festivals like other Hindus and conduct marriages in the Hindu way. There are many devotees of Sri Ramakrsna Parmahamsa practising our traditional customs. Sri C. Ramanujacariyar, "Anna" (Sri N. Subramanya Ayyar) and some others are intimately associated with the Ramakrsna Mission but they still adhere to our traditional beliefs.

When great men make their appearance people are drawn to them for their qualities of compassion and wisdom. In the organisations established after them our sanatana dharma is followed with some changes. But a large number of the devotees of these men still follow the old customs and traditions in their homes.

Many regard Gandhiji as the founder almost of a new religion (Gandhism), and look upon him as one greater than avataras like Rama and Krsna. But in their private lives few of them practise what he preached- for instance, widow marriage, mixing with members of other castes, and so on. People developed esteem for Gandhiji for his personal life of self-sacrifice, truthfulness, devotion and service to mankind. But applying his ideas in actual life was another matter.

It was in the same way that the Buddha had earned wide respect for his lofty character and exemplary personal life. "A prince renounces his wife and child in the prime of his youth to free the world from sorrow": the story of Siddhartha, including such accounts, made an impact on people. They were moved by his compassion, sense of detachment and self-sacrifice. But it did not mean that they were ready to follow his teachings. They admired the Buddha for his personal qualities but they continued to subscribe to the varnasrama system and the ancient way of religious life with its sacrifice and other rites. Contrary to what he wished, people did not come forward in large numbers to become monks but continued to remain householders adhering to Vedic practices.

Emperor Asoka did much to propagate Buddhism; but in society in general the Vedic dharma did not undergo any change. Besides, the emperor himself supported the varnasrama dharma as is evident from his famous edicts. But for the Buddhist bhiksus(monks), all householders followed the Vedic path. Though they were silent on the question of Isvara and other deities, some book written by great Buddhist monks open with hymns to Sarasvati. They also worshipped a number of gods. It is from Tibet that we have obtained many Tantrik works relating to the worship of various deities. If you read the works of Sriharsa, Bilhana and so on in Sanskrit, and Tamil poetical works like that of Ilango Adigal, you will realise that even during times when Buddhism wielded influence in society, Vedic customs and varnasrama were followed by the generality of people.

Reformists today speak in glowing terms about Vyasa, Sankaracarya, Ramanujacarya and others. But they do not accept the customs and traditions I ask people to follow. Some of them, however, come to see me. Is it not because they feel that there is something good about me, because they have personal regard for me, even though they do not accept my ideas? Similarly, great men have been respected in this country for their personal qualities and blameless life notwithstanding the fact they advocated views that differed slightly from the Vedic tradition or were radically opposed to it. Our people any way had long been steeped in the ancient Vedic religion and its firmly established practices and, until the turn of the century, were reluctant to discard the religion of their forefathers and the vocations followed by them. Such was our people's attitude during the time of the Buddha also. When his doctrines came under attack from Udayanacarya and Kumarilabhatta even the few who had first accepted them returned to the Vedic religion.

Tranquility and Insight - 2

Remedies to Eliminate the Hindrances

Most hindrances belong to the area of dullness and sensual incitement. By knowing how to remove these, one will automatically know the remedy for others.

1. The remedy for sensual incitement lies in calming the mind by meditating upon impermeance.
2. As for resentment, the remedy is to avoid thinking about its object.
3. To counter sluggishness, one perceives joyful things.
4. Dullness is removed by stimulating the spirit.
5. Drowsiness is overcome by visualizing light.
6. Resoluteness is a remedy for doubt.
7. Contemplation on contentment and the consequences of sensory pleasures is a remedy for craving.
8. Evil intent may be removed by engendering love and kindness for others.

Other texts describe the eight remedies for removing the five interruptions:

1. For laziness, it is (1) faith, (2) earnestness, (3) striving and (4) perfect ease.
2. Forgetfulness is relieved by (5) mindfulness.
3. The cure for dullness and sensual incitement is (6) vigilance.
4. For overexertion, it is (7) equanimity that lets the mind rest in its true state.
5. For non-exertion, (8) mental exertion is the remedy.

It may be helpful to dwell deeper into some of these terms here.

By Perfect Ease, what is meant is the suppleness of body and mind that pacifies harmful tendencies and hindrances. The gross tendencies of the body and mind make them incontrollable. The power of perfect ease removes heaviness and other defects, which hinder the practices of virtue from the viewpoint of the body. Perfect ease makes the body light and controllable through bliss. This is how the body can be controlled. It also eliminates misery through focusing the mind on a mental object that produces joy, bliss etc. This is how the mind can be controlled. Perfect ease cannot be obtained at the initial stage of meditation; it is achieved through continuos effort. Achieving a perfect ease of mind first will bring about the circulation and diffusion of the vital air (prANa) in the body. Once this takes place, meditators will achieve the perfect ease of the body.

The next concept to be considered is vigilance. Vigilance may be achieved during meditation by not forgetting the object of concentration while remaining fully attentive to any emerging distraction such as dullness, sensual incitement or thought. With such a stream awareness, one remains on guard, forever watching and discerning any distraction upon its arising.

Mental exertion is defined as a mental activity that is drawn into all channels - good, bad or neutral. This being a mental function, it activates itself or is drawn toward three kinds of thoughts - good, bad or neutral. In this case it is a thought that strives to eliminate dullness or sensual incitement once vigilance detects them.


Raga Jog

A mesmerizing rendition of Raga Jog by Pandits Sri Maniram-ji, Sri Pratap Narayan-ji and Sri Jasraj.