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25 May 2021
46 min 49 sec
Video Overview
David Germano, Maria Kozhevnikov


In his talk, Dr. Germano introduces the varieties of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, describes the difficulties to define meditation as a distinctive type of human practice, providing an 11 fold topology of Tibetan Buddhist meditation.

Speaker Bio: David Germano

In addition to teaching in the Department of Religious Studies, where he has advised many doctoral students since 1992, Germano is director of the Tibet Center (, director of the Contemplative Sciences Center (, and director of SHANTI (Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts Network of Technological Initiatives, at the University of Virginia. He also is the founder and director of the Tibetan and Himalayan Library (THL,, the largest international initiative using digital technology to facilitate collaboration in Tibetan Studies across disciplines. His personal research interests are focused on the Nyingma and Bön lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, tantric traditions overall, Buddhist philosophy, and Tibetan historical literature and concerns, particularly from the eighth to fifteenth centuries. He also does research on the contemporary state of Tibetan religion in relationship to China, and non-monastic yogic communities in cultural Tibet, and has broad intellectual interests in international philosophical and literary traditions, including hermeneutics, phenomenology, literary criticism, systems theory, and so forth.

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  • Hi, my name is David Germano, and I’m from the University of Virginia. And today I’ll be talking about the varieties of Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
  • And so what you see on this opening screen is on the left hand side, a monastic congregation in a law room car, which is in northeastern Tibet, and probably the largest monastic community in contemporary Tibet. In the middle, you see an image of a subtle body meditation, where there’s a Tibetan syllable in the center of the person’s body and a set of channels that are visualized going up the vertical axis of their torso. And on the right hand side, you see someone who’s meditating upon a deity located in their heart, in this case, Manjushri, that bodhisattva of wisdom, which just reflects a little bit about the context and astonishing variety of Tibetan Buddhist meditations.
  • So I’d like to start by just considering a little bit about defining meditation as a distinctive type of human practice. On the one hand, it’s just really important to consider that meditation is multiple. To think otherwise is really confusing one style of meditation with a completely deceptive normative definition of what meditation is. Overall, there is no single definition of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism, even within one lineage or one particular time. Instead, there’s this extreme diversity we find practices of concentration, somatic, postural movement, visualization, sensory meditations, effective deconstruction, performance, verbal spontaneous exhaustion, letting be breath, dreaming, sexuality, emulation of death, and so many other different strands and types of meditation.
  • But if we look at all of these and kind of pull back and think about them globally, meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist context involves formal sessions of practice, there are boundaries, and these boundaries involve setting a time starts now is now placed body postures, attitudes, and attentional modalities, the mental posture, and also the verbal postures, things like silence or chanting, and many other contexts that are specified both formally and informally, and that constitute the nature of the practice in question. In addition, Tibetan Buddhist meditation requires one’s full and undivided attention. It’s not something you multitask with when you’re in a meditative session.
  • In addition, it’s not conceptual. It’s not something you just kind of think about and rehearse about, although some might involve conceptual analysis or narrative reflection, but it requires all of your attention devoted to it so full, undivided attention.
  • Tibetan Buddhist meditation also involves a monitoring of experience. There’s this ongoing attention to what your experience is, during the practice, what happens, how it feels what’s coming up for you, and these kinds of experiences are valued, and adjustments to the practices are made upon the types of experiences that you notice while conducting the practice. intentionality and goals are also a central part of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, they might be soteriological about, you know, some final goal of enlightenment or liberation, it might be very pragmatic, finding a lost yak or helping you with some kind of injury to your leg. But generally, meditation is put into a broader context of insight into reality, in personal transformation.
  • I would suggest that Tibetan Buddhist meditation is best understood as a type of formal aesthetic experience, whether one of creativity and creating art or one of deeply appreciating art. And so in this context, I would ask what type of insight or benefit or personal or collective transformation derives from deep consideration of music or painting or poetry or drama? And finally, we can ask the question of what is not meditation. And I would suggest that we could start by thinking of activities or practices or training that don’t include the preceding elements. It isn’t necessarily the activity per se, that’s meditation, but how that activity is practiced.
  • So against this background, we can look at the methodological issues. How do you turn attention into a formal practice? It begins as we were talking about with regards to the formality of practice, that you establish a particular time, a location and a posture that can be physical, mental, verbal, and intent, and then you maintain those boundaries during the meditative session. In addition, you follow a procedural script with techniques that could be written out could be orally delivered, the script might be very tightly scripted and character or could be open with a lot of indeterminacy the possibility of spontaneous self emergent events. But it specifies specific techniques of body speech in mind to stimulate experiences and inquiry.
  • In addition, it specifies the kind of attentional modality to bring to the practice, what kind of attention should I deploy here? Focused, open, compassionate, etc? And what are the objects including the lack of any objects? What are considerations that you should have in mind that frame the activity, then there is the art and science of experience, you monitor your experience firsthand, you make adjustments for, for the kinds of experiences that emerge, you watch for certain signs and measures that indicate progress or obstacles or deviations. And you look for emergent types of meditative experiences. This experience can take over from technique as it unfolds so that you let go of the techniques, and you go with the experiences themselves. And then there’s time and persistence. Meditation takes place in sessions. And those sessions have a duration, they have a frequency, a regularity and extent.
  • And finally, there’s a stress on relying upon a teacher. Books are great, there’s 1000s of pages of books in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which outline meditative practices. But teachers are also critical because they can be responsive, they can adapt the practice for your own specific situation, as well as how that situation unfolds over time as you engage with these practices.
  • So, to pull back even a little bit further, I think it’s useful to think about the idea of contemplative fluency, namely reflecting upon contemplation in terms of cultivating a generative fluency or literacy in a language. So in this context, we can talk about contemplative lexicons, the building blocks of making meditation, or contemplative grammars, how those building blocks can be put together, and how they can’t be put together to constitute new and dynamic forms of meditation.
  • And finally, the community communicative context of contemplation, the context in which these lexicons are building blocks and the ways they’re strung together and grammatical syntax. There’s context to determine what these practices ultimately mean and the kinds of impacts they can have.
  • So to look over this quickly, we’ll start with contemplative lexicons. These atomic building blocks from which individual practices are fashioned. And this is an inadequate but quick survey of different kinds of building blocks, physical elements, breathing techniques, postures, gazes, movements, verbal elements, chanting intonation, prayer, liturgy, resolutions, poetry, cognitive elements, consideration analysis, narrative reflections, sensory elements, pulling in sounds and smells and tastes and tactile sensations and visualizations, effective elements, eliciting specific emotions, compassion, disgust, all material elements, clothing, cushion ritual items, counters, rosary timer, images, statues, etc. Contemplative gestures, stock gestures of advocacy of a deity or dissolution of a visualization or letting go of a thought or transforming a sensation. Then there’s agents, deities, spirits, saints, teachers, brethren, brothers and sisters in your, your group of meditators. Then there’s philosophical ideas or frameworks where key concepts or whole styles of thinking can be evoked with a simple word. And if you don’t have that philosophical background, and the practice becomes completely compromised, there’s contemplative micro modules where entire meditations that stand by themselves can be modularized, and then integrated with other practices. And then, of course, there’s aesthetic elements, images, artworks, metaphors, narratives, etc, of poetry, that are brought into the meditative practice. And then there’s vows or commitments that you make in the context of the practice to other individuals, or to other kinds of cosmological agents to certain kinds of behaviors, to diligence in the practice, and so forth.
  • And then there are signs and measured milestones that often come with timetables in two months or two days to chart progress or delay in the practice. And these are used to monitor your own experience in the nature of yourself. And then there’s adjustments and enhancements, formal techniques to utilize it or to make changes to the practices based upon your experiences and the signs and measures, and then obstacles. It outlines techniques for how you deal with emergent problems that might come into practice. And finally, the experiences themselves. There’s inventories or ontologies famous triad is bliss, clarity and non conceptuality, each of which have many different subdivisions, or trembling or amazement or other kinds of experiences that are that are felt in your body, your mind, your speech, your relationships with others, and so forth.
  • So with those building blocks in question, next, we’ll look at contemplative grammars, the grammatical principles and forms that govern how these elements can be combined in a meaningful whole to constitute individual practices. So first of all, there’s the full fourfold structure of every practice, preparations, preliminaries, the main practice and the concluding phase. These also function as categories which sequence multiple practices into stages of the path. And so preparations will be things you do like prepare a place or pull together different kinds of material implements you need, or potentially study something. And then the actual practice begins in earnest with the preliminaries where you do certain things like set an intention, or establish the right relationship to the metaphysical entities that constitute the cosmology of this tradition, or you cultivate a sense of felt compassion, or emptiness, and so forth. And then the main practice is where the distinctive core of the practice happens. And a concluding phase is typically where you’ll do things like dissolve whatever considerations you had, sit quietly, potentially consider how to bring those experiences of the meditation into your ordinary life after the meditative session is concluded, dedicate the merit for other living beings and so forth. And so that’s all in a single practice. But then you can also say, Oh, this practice is a preliminary with its own preliminary main practice concluding phase, but it functions as a preliminary for some other practice, which is then seen as the main practice, etc, then you can build these entire curricula.
  • And then there’s also standard modules for each phase, as I mentioned, so preliminaries, you can have bodhichitta the cultivation of an altruistic desire for enlightenment, refuge going for refuge in the Buddha, His teaching and His community, lineage prayers offering the spiritual agents or in the concluding phase, dissolution, dedication carrying into life. And then there’s syntax or connectors and modifiers, and punctuation, or analogues to these syntax, the order of the elements, you know, you can’t necessarily have them in any order, per se, but their standard sequences and connectors, linking elements which take different components of the practice and make them into contemplative phrases, or clauses or sentences. And then qualities and facets of action, that have partial analogy to tense and aspect and language, or determiners, that go together with an element and qualify them and give them a certain kind of shape and punctuation, that equivalent of pauses and stresses and intonations that make the practice speed up or slow down and or have a disjuncture here a transition there that govern the rhythm and pacing of the practice.
  • And then just to give a little bit more of a specific idea of what this might look like, there’s a topic I’ve been spend a lot of time into lately, which is looking at transitional moments in Tibetan contemplation, where there’s a shift in agency, where you go from deliberate directed, voluntary effortful activity, to spontaneous, involuntary, automatic and effortless activity. And that’s not just one kind of transition, but there’s many different types. And so looking at those different transitional moments where this is transference and transitivity, transitivity. And the nature of each one just shows the diversity of these contemplative gestures, like social interaction, where the change in agency goes from another person to you. It might be an empowerment where a teacher is doing a ritual initiation for you. Or it might be a vision or a blessing of the lineage where these external deities or lineage teachers of the past descend into you and animate you and inspire you and so forth. Or it could be about habituation, where first you’re really trying hard to visualize in something and deity yoga, or some other practice, and then you do it so often, it becomes a natural, automatic, effortless kind of thing. So it’s habitual. Or conversely, it could be about exhaustion, that you exhaust yourself that you for example, in this famous practice the differentiation of samsara and nirvana. You just run around with your body speech and mind doing whatever comes to mind shouting, making odd noises flailing around with your arms and legs thinking various thoughts until finally after many hours, you just collapse. And that’s called settling into Naturalis. Where that activity gives way into this kind of deep state of exhaustion, or their self emergence were you deep listening to the elements fire, wind, water, and Earth, give way to emergent patterns in those elements where the agency is not something that you’re cognitively directing, you cognitively direct your deep, intense, focused, immersive listening. But then this other kind of agency emerges within that, or this practice of Tournelle, where you look in sunlight or in the dark, and these lights begin to emerge with this particular distinctive form. And so there’s a discipline to you holding your gaze and your posture, but then this transitivity, this transition happens, and the agency comes from without, then find third, and finally, the notion of communicative context of contemplation.
  • First of all, there’s customization, these practices can be extraordinarily varied, a single practice, in its scope, and its procedures can be vary from text to text by a single author, or different authors in a single tradition or across traditions, or as a single teacher teaches different kinds of students than curricula. You can’t look at these practices in isolation, because Tibetan Buddhists were constantly building entire integrated holes curriculum where this practice is first and that one second. And so when you do that second practice, second, it’s been shaped and altered because you did the first practice first, or in the instructional context, that transitional context where someone explains to you the history of the practice, the intent of the practice, teaches it in a certain way, which then shapes how the practice is understood and done by you.
  • There’s the context of outlooks, what are the expectations, the intentions, the motivations, the dispositions, that one brings to the practice or is encouraged to consider the practice? And then the spatial context? Whether the natural environment, the built environment, or deliberately created a static environment of contemplative practices? Is it high altitude or low altitude? Is it statically? a charged environment? Or a simple minimalistic environment? And then temporal? Its duration? How long? Is it for how frequently you should do it? to what extent should you do it for a season for a year or lifetime? Is it associated with calendars? Spring, summer, winter, fall, or some type of lunar calendar: the 30th of the lunar month versus the 15th of the lunar month, or a particular day charged with significance in this culture, this tradition? In the social context? Do you do it alone? Do you do it with others? If you do it with others? What kind of others? And is there an interactive component to it, whether Sonic you’re all chanting together, or, or physically synchronized movements together, and so forth.
  • And then there’s the philosophical context, even if not deliberately stated, a practice which clearly assumes that you’ve understood some theoretical discourse about perception or reality, or the body or the mind or whatever it might be. And that shapes then the contemplative practice, even if it’s wholly outside of the state of discussion of the procedure of the practice, the cultural context, local cosmologies, values, understandings and practices, which again, the practitioner and a teacher would would bring to these practices and shape it, esthetic context, images, metaphors, and broader aesthetics. And finally, individual differences, that each individual in the short term and in the long term has variable understandings, variable conditions, variable characters, characteristics, variable experiences that are going to shape this practice and how it’s understood. So we can solve those backgrounds. What is Tibetan Buddhist meditation? How do they talk about it? Well, one common way of talking about it is in terms of the ground, the path and the fruit, the way that we get from ordinary existence to what Tibetan Buddhists would call enlightenment or liberation. And the ground in this sense is our starting point. It’s our reality. The path is the practices that bring someone from suffering and ignorance to the fruit, which is enlightenment, the outcome of, of insight and compassion, that is the tradition's ideal. Another way of looking at this as in terms of view, meditation, conduct and fruit. So the ground is your philosophical views, your understanding of your study. path is the practice of meditation, but also of life behavior of ethical conduct and morality. And then fruit is the ultimate outcome that studying these views and doing these meditations in context will generate in your own life and in the lives of the communities in which you participate. Another way of talking about this is the the Buddhist path, the path that’s outlined in the Four Noble Truths the so called original lecture of Buddhism 2500 years ago, the path that goes from cyclic existence or ordinary existence called samsara, to transcend an existence called nirvana or Bodhi enlightenment. And that path is to set from early on in Indian Buddhism to have three trainings, training and moral conduct, training and contemplation, and training and wisdom. And so these are three forms of learning that constitute the Buddhist path, morality, meditation, and deep understanding.
  • Another triad in which meditation appears is is how you study that you listen, you interpret, and you meditate, you first listen to a Buddhist teachings you studied from books from oral teachings, and then you analyze you reflect upon it, you interpret it, but finally you meditate upon it, you put it into a practice, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in a moment what what those practices are. And finally, meditation is a practice and a visceral experience. The words in Tibetan are literally taken into one’s hands or taken into one’s experience. It’s a matter of doing something in practice and cultivating direct experience, not just theoretically reflecting or studying from a book or oral teachings, but with the goal of impacting one’s entire being, one’s conduct, one speech, the quality of one’s attention, and so forth. And so just to continue on this reflection, Tibetan Buddhists also model Tibetan Buddhist practice meditation, as three phases that have a beginning, a middle and end, a preliminary, the main phase and the concluding phase. And typically, it’s associated with extraordinary intentions, even if there are meditations. And there’s plenty of them with very pragmatic purposes, or meditations which can have very grand purposes, but can be used for very pragmatic purposes. And yet still, meditation is largely framed, at least with a declaration of intent, called bodhichitta. Literally in Sanskrit means enlightenment mind or enlightenment thought. And this is the aspiration to enlightenment for the sake of others. Another aspect of Tibetan Buddhist meditation is met is these extraordinary experiences, as I mentioned, bliss, clarity, non conceptuality, but also the transformation of intense rage, sexual desire, the experience of death, that meditation tends to explore the the end of ourselves and the birth of worlds the edge of things at the edges of our ordinary experiences. And there are many curricular pathways of meditation, sometimes called stages of the path that linked together many meditations and sequences that might stretch over six months, or three years or 30 years. And there’s also a culture of retreats.
  • Enlightenment isn’t overnight, it’s not over a weekend. But rather, there’s a culture of sustained immersive practice. That could be three months, it could be three years, it could be even longer. And there are many theoretical models of meditation in Tibet that there’s a lot of dispute and argumentation about whether meditation is seen as largely about habituation, or about cultivating self emergent, spontaneous experience or some type of wisdom that comes from the body or it’s chiefly directed by the mind and so forth. And there’s also many typologies of meditation, narrative meditations, analytical meditations, perceptual focusing visualization, subtle body, open awareness. And finally, meditation is seen as a means to an end. And that means or that end is enlightenment. It’s being active in this world of Buddha’s perfect insight, and expanding compassionate activity in the world.
  • So with all those things in mind, I just wanted to introduce that 11 fold typology of Tibetan Buddhist meditation. And this is modeled upon a notion of three broad vehicles of Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice. A vehicle is something that’s understood to be a means of transporting you from your current ordinary existence or samsara to the transcendent experience of a Buddha nirvana. So the vehicle is what transports you through theoretical teachings, practical activities of meditation, ritual, ethical conduct, and so forth, and various kinds of considerations. And I’ve added a fourth one, which is, I think, clearly implicit within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but not normally picked out and called the fourth vehicle. So I’ve given it my own name, and this 11 fold typology. It’s not something you’ll find anywhere per se, but I think it’s fair to say that it really does capture the kind of broad ways in which Tibetan Buddhists categorize these practices.
  • And each one of these categories has many, many instances of being used and deployed in the theoretical presentation and practical categorization of meditative practices in Tibet. So, the first four styles of meditation that we’ll briefly look at, are classified as part of the lesser vehicle, or Hinayana. And you see a picture of Shakyamuni Buddha to the left of the historical Buddha. And so these are really basic Buddhist foundational ideas that were present in the first couple of centuries of Buddhism in India, and then continued throughout in a variety of forms and later meditative developments. And so the way that Tibetans categorize this, first of all, there’s the ordinary preliminary meditations. And with these are philosophical reflections. They’re really guided existential narrative reflections on the meaning of life. And things like the nature of self impermanence, the significance of suffering, the possibility of human agency, and so forth. And so these are ideas that appear in many different Buddhist philosophical and narrative texts and stories of lives. And here, they distill these out with a combination of doctrinal reflection, but also narrative examples, to get people to understand these things and make them kind of become compelling real issues. What is the nature of human life? What does impermanence mean? What is the significance of suffering? What are our possibilities of agency in the context of radical impermanence and suffering? And so really, it’s about how philosophy get made into a practice with formal sessions and boundaries, and physical postures and so forth.
  • Secondly, mindfulness, the very notion of attention, is a practice to say let’s take attention, let’s make it into a practice. By considering the type of attention we’ll deploy, the type of intention we have in doing this, the attitude we have towards our experience, or towards our attention, and the kinds of things we’re going to observe. And so mindfulness is not a single thing. It’s not simply non judgmental awareness to the present moment, as has been famously talked about in modern American mindfulness movements. That’s one type of mindfulness. Mindfulness can also be judgmental, it can be taking certain Buddhist values and saying, let’s consider our experience and see that these activities are virtuous. And those are not virtuous. And we should really be embracing the virtuous. So mindfulness has many different significance in the context of its use in Tibetan Buddhism. But the thing that binds them all together, is making attention itself, and cultivating specific kinds of attention. As a formal practice, keeping things in mind, it might be that you’re keeping in mind your present experience in a non judgmental, curious open way, it might be that you’re keeping in mind certain core Buddhist values and commitments.
  • Number three is called meditations. And call meditations together with number four insight meditations, forms, the great dyad, of early basic Buddhist practice, and so called meditation is really about cultivating a particular kind of attention, mainly focused attention, deep focus on specific objects or lack of objects, and toward cultivating the kind of deep states of concentration or the capacity for deep concentration. And there’s a lot of arguments about just how deep of a concentration do you want, and how this relates to insight meditation. But what binds together call meditation is the notion of a kind of focused attention that leads you towards increasingly non conceptual states of mind. And you can do these practices with an object of different types. And the practices will vary to some degree based upon the kind of practice kind of object you’re meditating upon. Or you can do them without any kind of object whatsoever.
  • So and then, number four is insight meditations. Unlike call meditations, this is really focused on seeing the world in specific ways, understanding the world in specific ways, in ways that align with Buddhist thought and narrative and cosmology. And so the actual practices can range from quite analytical reflections, even using logical reasoning and so forth, as you think through about you know, is there a self or what does it mean to have a no self and so forth or looking at the nature of impermanence and interdependence and so forth, you can have very analytical very conceptual reasonings, but it can also Insight Meditation can cover practices that are penetrating sensory observations where you’re bringing a very close, very finely tuned very granular attention to your own sensory experience. And you see in that sensory experience, for example, impermanence change that’s happening. Even as in our kind of broader experience, things seem stable. But when we look more closely, we’re seeing constant change, or the lack of self or suffering, and so forth.
  • And so these four together constitute what Tibetan Buddhists would typically look at basic Buddhism or the lesser vehicle, and these constitute core values that extend through all the other practices in one form or another. Now, the second vehicle is the great vehicle or Mahayana. And its main figures are, well, there’s many figures here, but especially the bodhisattvas Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, and the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara of compassion. And a bodhisattva, theoretically, is an individual who is very close to becoming a Buddha, but has not yet arrived, although in Tibet, these bodhisattvas really function tantamount to Buddha’s. And on the left, you see the figure of Allah Koteshwar, with his 1000 Armed Forces that reflect all the ways in which he’s manifesting to help other living beings. And this constitutes the fifth and sixth kind of meditation.
  • So the fifth is emptiness, meditation, the deconstruction of self and other. This is a deconstructive kind of meditation, which interrogates the boundaries of things and questions their solidity. It takes apart our perception of a car, for example, in more classic Indian terms, a chariot and seeing how our notion of there being something called a chariot, in fact dissolves, when we begin to look, where is that ultimate reality located, and we break it down into its component pieces. And the same thing with regards to our own self, or the self of another in our body and our mind and so forth. It aggressively tries to deconstruct these apparent realities, to see how they’re actually composite things that have been created. And that can be created in different ways and that are actually constantly fluctuating in character over time. And so these practices also come in many different types. In many ways, these are an evolution of insight meditation, where you do have analytical reflections, that diploid logic and analysis towards really a kind of close deconstructive questioning of the way things have come into being and the nature of their reality. But you can also have more aesthetic forms of meditation, that try to look at the nature of perception and non focused perception are the boundaries of our perceptual field, and take a less analytical and more aesthetic perspective on this. And so in that sense, emptiness, meditation really brings elements of both calm meditation and insight meditation together in new and creative ways.
  • Compassion meditation, then, is the other great form of meditative practice in the Mahayana. It said that wisdom and compassion are the two wings that bring us to enlightenment and wisdom is really the insight into emptiness. And so compassion meditations focused on the cultivation of kind of pro social emotions of empathy and compassion, and care for others. And they do so in a very radical way. Not just like conventional care, but care that reverses the priority of my typical prioritization of my own self interest over other interests. And now we look at prioritizing others over ourselves in some of those famous compassion practices. We take on other sufferings and gift them our own positive virtue and, and health and so forth. And the profound nature of these meditations and the interrogation of the boundaries of self and other it’s not keeping in place the typical model of self and other and saying, I will now care for you and give you compassion and so forth. But rather this is an ontological kind of compassion, that really pushes hard against our typical assumptions of what myself is and what the self of another is, and really deconstructs those, and so in this way, begins to show clearly the porosity, the permeability of the boundaries that we think are so fixed and hard between ourselves and the world outside us, ourselves, and the self of others. And in this way, compassion meditation, and emptiness meditation became deeply interconnected with each other, with the idea being that the deconstruction of emptiness meditation creates that felt porosity and permeability that leads to compassion. While compassion meditations in turn by perforate in these typical boundaries we constitute between ourselves and others leads to realizations of emptiness.
  • The third traditional vehicle is called the adamantine vehicle. You could say the vehicle of power in some ways via Audrianna. Vodka is traditionally a weapon of all inspiring power in Indian Buddhist mythology. But it also comes into Indian and Tibetan Buddhism to be understood as the indestructible nature of reality and so this is also called tantric Buddhism and reflects the seven to nine styles of meditation we’ll look at today. So first of all, there are the extraordinary preliminary practices and in practice, these are done together with our first category of ordinary preliminary practices. You do the ordinary preliminary practices for you know, a couple of weeks or a month or so. And then you spend the next six to nine months or 12 months doing extraordinary pulmonary practices, where you do a sequence of activities each one 100,000 times and these include 100,000 Going for refuge in the Buddha, his teachings in his community 100,000 generating the altruistic desire to liberate other living beings to achieve enlightenment for the sake of others called bodhichitta. You do 100,000 times the offering of mandalas 100,000 times the purificatory visualizations of the Buddha known as vadra Satva. The Aventine being and then you do 100,000 times practices of Guru Yoga tuning into your teacher, which involves visualizations of your teacher and visualized interactions and so forth. So when you do the first to go for refuge and bodhicitta prayer each 100,000 times you basically do a full body prostration on the floor and while you’re doing that, you recite a four line prayer that expresses I go for refuge etc, etc. They’re typically Patek, and they take different kinds of forms, or in the bodhicitta practice a four line prayer that says, I do this for the sake of all living beings, etc. And each prayer and tradition will take a somewhat different form.
  • And so there’s a series of visual considerations you have while you’re doing that. And while you’re prostrating while you’re reciting the prayer, while you’re thinking of these kind of cognitive considerations and emotional feelings, in in front of you, you’re visualizing what’s called an assembly tree, this vast assemblage of different deities and spirits and gods and goddesses and Buddhas and bodhisattvas and historical fingers in the lineage of teachers all arranged like a Christmas tree in some sense, in front of you. And so you have that visualization, your body is doing this prostration, your speech is giving voice to this. This notion of I take refuge or I do this for the sake of all living beings. And in your mind, you’re cultivating these considerations at the same time. So it’s this kind of synchronized activity. And the other practices also are similar in character, so you’re learning the basics of ritual activity, ritual forms of meditation, also the use of visualization, deliberate visualization, synchronized with bodily movements and activity and complex cognitive considerations. And these are all practices that then become crucial to the later forms of tantric Buddhist practice. In addition, this is clearly about ritual communion. All of the practices are about envisioning a variety of different figures and cultivating specific kinds of orientations and relationships with those figures. So ritualized visualization in order to build community.
  • Number eight is called the creation phase also deity yoga meditations. And these practices essentially, use those skills developed an extraordinary preliminaries to follow scripts, which are called sadhanas or techniques for avocation, where you basically reduce the entire world to emptiness, including your own body, and then you regenerate your body through a series of phases to visualize it as the body of a Buddha or some type of Buddhist goddess or bodhisattva. And then you take on that identity. It's a whole series of complex ritual moments involving your hands making physical gestures called mudras, or seals. Your body sits at a certain posture, and you’re visualizing your body’s image literally transforming but also internally, you’re taking on that identity cognitively and emotionally. And then once that happens, and you become transfigured, then you act in the identity of that Buddha to do various kinds of compassionate activities characteristic of that Buddha, and then at the end, you dissolve it all and you sit in silence and also when you’re doing that activity of the Buddha, you’re reciting his or her mantra, the sonic form, like own money payment, boom???, that’s understood to represent the essence of that figure. So typically, they’ll talk about three core aspects of this practice. One is vivid visualization, that you really have to visualize these things as perceptual training. And number two, divine pride. You have to emotionally and cognitively identify and transform your identity and transfer your identity to that of the spiritual figure in question.
  • And finally, what they call mindfulness of purity, which means that even as you do all of these complex things, you’re constantly mindful of the associations of the visual details with some type of Buddhist truth, like why does that deity have 1000 arms because it corresponds to these 1000 categories? Or why are there two heads? Maybe one is wisdom, one is compassion, etc. So you’re mindful of the kind of meaning of every one of these visual details and then this creation phase practice is paired with the other great form of tantric Buddhist practice called perfection phase or, more popularly talked about his subtle body meditations. And these meditations are really about interior meditations within the body. So you’re turning your attention away from the surface of the body or external to the body to the inside of the body, the felt experience of your body’s movement of fluids and winds and so forth. And again, you use visualizations extensively, you visualize the subtle body with vertical channels and branches that go off of it and winds that rush through those channels and different kinds of substances and vitality centers that those winds move within the channels. And so this is called the adamantine body. This, the subtle body that you cultivate, and the emphasis is, is on the body and the body’s felt experience, but it’s also on extreme experiences, and thinking about things like falling asleep, dreaming, dying, sexual experience, etc. And how these extreme experiences when we’re at the edge of ourselves and we have direct experiences of emptiness or radical states of bliss, and so forth, and dissolution, that how we can find our true identity in those moments in those times. And so we’re contemplatively mimicking those experiences through these manipulations of our subtle body and our body in order to then redirect them towards the purpose of insight and compassion.
  • And so in addition to a focus on bodily experience and these extreme experiences, these practices also are less scripted than the deity yoga meditations and have more of an interest in emergent possibilities of experience, where experiences that aren’t scripted out, may begin to emerge in terms of extreme moments of emptiness, or luminosity, or bliss, and so forth. And these are valued as a core part of the practice. And so the perfection phase practices have many different types. There’s a practice called Dream Yoga, that involves cultivating lucid dreaming so you become aware of your dreaming then you can do various things during that time. There’s practices called Yantras and Sanskrit are true core and Tibetan, which means magical device where these are more like modern American yoga as we might understand it, where you’re moving the body in different ways and experimenting with different kinds of breathing techniques and so on. And then there’s practices of shooting your consciousness out of your body at the moment of death in the form of a ball of light, and practices of luminosity of illusion. And of course, the most famous is the practice of TUMO which literally means the fierce lady, but this is this practice where you visualize sexual desire and, and excitation in the form of this blazing Fire. In your heart, or sorry, in your navel that places up throughout your torso.
  • And finally, we have the natural vehicle, a term that I have coined, which refers to a set of traditions that emerge in Tibet that are in some sense post tantric, they are aware of tantra but they’re criticizing Tantra. Even as they take advantage of many of its forms. And these have two particular types I’ll talk about today: the 10th and 11th styles of meditation. So the first of these is the Great Seal of MahaMudra and Maha Mudra is a tradition that’s found in a variety of sectarian movements in Tibet. And it focuses on this notion of natural awareness or open awareness just to kind of an open fluid state of awareness and sometimes they will talk about non meditation and be very critical of meditative techniques and focus more on your experience and the kinds of unfolding nature of that experience. But often, the tradition also presents these conjoined with earlier simple forms of meditation or insight meditation refers to cultivating a focus then you deconstruct that focus. And these are then seen as preliminary steps that ultimately are like scaffolding that you let go, and then you get to this contemplative capacity to just maintain yourself outside of the formal boundaries of meditative sessions. Then there’s the 11th the great perfection in Tibetan soap chin which includes the orientation towards natural awareness, non meditation, simple integration of calm and insight and emptiness meditations that we find in maha mudra. But it adds a distinctive element of cultivating spontaneous visions. And this is a practice called to ego or direct transcendence, wherein there’s particular postures and particular basis, but what you’re doing is you’re looking off to the side of the sun in the sunlight, or you’re staying within a perfectly dark house when there’s no sources of lights and holding this posture in this case, you’re waiting and you’re patiently waiting, bringing up an open non manipulative form of attention to that darkness or to that sunlight and then gradually spontaneous visions begin to emerge. So not visualization, but the active cultivation of these spontaneous visions. So that’s a really quick sketch of 11 types of categories of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, within which we have literally 1000s and 1000s of subcategories and variants and so forth.
  • And so I hope this is sufficient just to give you a sense of what a diverse thing Tibetan Buddhist meditation is. Thank you.