Vajrayana practices – The tantric samaya vows
Vajrayāna along with Mantrayāna, Guhyamantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Tantric Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism are names referring to Buddhist traditions associated with Tantra and “Secret Mantra”.
Table of Contents
- 1 - The Vajrayāna tantric vows
- 2 - A faster path to Buddhahood
- 3 - The use of mantras
- 4 - The deity yoga practices
- 5 - Vajrayana practices & concepts
The Vajrayāna tantric vows
Practitioners of Vajrayāna need to abide by various tantric vows or pledges called samaya.
These are extensions of the rules of the Prātimokṣa and Bodhisattva vows for the lower levels of tantra, and are taken during initiations into the empowerment for a particular Unsurpassed Yoga Tantra.
The special tantric vows vary depending on the specific mandala practice for which the initiation is received and also depending on the level of initiation.
A faster path to Buddhahood
A tantric guru, or teacher is expected to keep his or her samaya vows in the same way as his students.
Proper conduct is considered especially necessary for a qualified Vajrayana guru.
While all the Vajrayāna Buddhist traditions include all of the traditional practices used in Mahayana Buddhism such as developing bodhicitta, practicing the paramitas, and meditations, they also make use of unique tantric methods and Dzogchen meditation.
These include mantras, mandalas, mudras, deity yoga, other visualization based meditations, illusory body yogas like tummo and rituals like the goma fire ritual.
Vajrayana teaches that these techniques provide faster path to Buddhahood.
The use of mantras
A central feature of tantric practice is the use of mantras, and seed syllables (bijas).
Mantras are words, phrases or a collection of syllables used for a variety of meditative, magical and ritual ends.
Mantras are usually associated with specific deities or Buddhas, and are seen as their manifestations in sonic form.
They are traditionally believed to have spiritual power, which can lead to enlightenment as well as other abilities (siddhis).
The deity yoga practices
The fundamental practice of Buddhist Tantra is “deity yoga” (devatayoga), meditation on a chosen deity or “cherished divinity” which involves the recitation of mantras, prayers and visualization of the deity, the associated mandala of the deity’s Buddha field, along with consorts and attendant Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
According to the Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa, deity yoga is what separates Tantra from Sutra practice.
Vajrayana practices & concepts
Another form of Vajrayana practice are certain meditative techniques associated with Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen, often termed “formless practices” or the path of self-liberation.
These techniques do not rely on deity visualization per se but on direct pointing-out instruction from a master and are often seen as the most advanced and direct methods.
This is a non-exhaustive list of Vajrayana practices and concepts.
Yidam is a type of deity associated with tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism said to be manifestations of Buddhahood or enlightened mind
Anuyoga is the designation of the second of the three Inner Tantras according to the ninefold division of practice used by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. As with the other yanas, Anuyoga represents both a scriptural division as well as a specific emphasis of both view and practice.
Mahāyoga is the designation of the first of the three Inner Tantras according to the ninefold division of practice used by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Deity yoga is a practice of Vajrayana Buddhism involving identification with a chosen deity through visualisations and rituals, and the realisation of emptiness. According to the Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa, deity yoga is what separates Buddhist Tantra practice from the practice of other Buddhist schools.
In Vajrayāna Buddhism, esoteric transmission is the transmission of certain teachings directly from teacher to student during an empowerment (abhiṣeka) in a ritual space containing the mandala of the deity. Many techniques are also commonly said to be secret, but some Vajrayana teachers have responded that secrecy itself is not important and only a side-effect of the reality that the techniques have no validity outside the teacher-student lineage.
In Vajrayana, guru yoga is a tantric devotional practice in which the practitioner unites their mindstream with the mindstream of the body, speech, and mind of their guru. Guru yoga is akin to deity yoga since the guru is visualized in the same manner as with a meditational deity. The process of guru yoga may entail visualization of a refuge tree as an invocation of the lineage, with the ‘root guru’ channeling the blessings of the entire lineage to the practitioner. The guru may be visualized as above the meditator, in front of them, or in their heart. Guru yoga may also include a liturgy, prayer, or mantra, such as the “Seven Line Prayer” of Padmasambhava, or the “Migtsema”.
Three Jewels and Three Roots
In Buddhism, the Three Jewels, Triple Gem, or Three Refuges are the supports in which a Buddhist takes refuge by means of a prayer or recitation at the beginning of the day or of a practice session.
Tibetan tantric practice
Tibetan tantric practice, also known as “the practice of secret mantra”, and “tantric techniques”, refers to the main tantric practices in Tibetan Buddhism. The great Rime scholar Jamgön Kongtrül refers to this as “the Process of Meditation in the Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra” and also as “the way of mantra,” “way of method” and “the secret way” in his Treasury of Knowledge. These Vajrayāna Buddhist practices are mainly drawn from the Buddhist tantras and are generally not found in “common” Mahayana. These practices are seen by Tibetan Buddhists as the fastest and most powerful path to Buddhahood.
Tsa lung Trul khor, known in short as Trul khor “magical instrument” or “magic circle” is a Vajrayana discipline which includes pranayama and body postures (asanas). From the perspective of Dzogchen, the mind is merely vāyu “breath” in the body. Thus working with vāyu and the body is paramount, while meditation on the other hand is considered contrived and conceptual.
The Daigensuihō (大元帥法), or the Great Rite of Āṭavaka, is one of the great rites of Esoteric Shingon Buddhism. Its name is also sometimes pronounced Daigen no hō. The ritual is performed with Āṭavaka in the role of honzon, and it may be considered a military curse.
A prostration is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to show reverence to the Triple Gem and other objects of veneration.
Refuge in Buddhism
In Buddhism, refuge or taking refuge refers to a religious practice, which often includes a prayer or recitation performed at the beginning of the day or of a practice session. In Sutrayana, refuge is taken in the Three Jewels which are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Vidyadhara is the word in Buddhist literature for a person having the great knowledge (vidya) of mantras and other esoteric knowledge of occult practices such as recitation of spells, samatha, and alchemy. A realized master on one of the four stages on the tantric path of Mahayoga. Another Buddhist definition is: Bearer of the profound method, the knowledge which is the wisdom of deity, mantra and great bliss.