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The Four Foundation Yogas of the Tibetan Buddhist Tantra

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by Sangharakshita

... Mula Yogas, so mula means root, or foundation. W hat does yoga mean? N ow here we must be rather careful, because the meaning of this word `yoga' has be en unfo rtunately rather d eba sed in th e W est. And nowa days if you men tion the w ord `yoga' to people, well, they'll take it to mean anything from standing on your head to practising an Eastern variety of black magic! And even in India the word `yoga' is rather ambiguous. It has all sorts of different meanings.

It's assoc iated w ith vario us system s and with vario us exe rcises. L iterally the word yoga means simply `that which unites' or `that which joins' an d it's etymo logica lly joined with the E nglish wo rd `yok e'.

In popular Hinduism the wo rd yoga me ans ap pro ximate ly simply tha t which u nites on e with truth or rea lity or Go d, in oth er wo rds an y prac tice, any way of sp iritual life, which b rings ab out a u nion b etwee n one self individua lly and the object of one's worship or the object of one's quest. And in this way, in this sense of the term, the Hindus speak popularly of say `karma yo ga'. K arma means actio n or w ork. S o kar ma yo ga is the path of union with truth or with reality or with God through work, not just any work, but disin terested, selfless work for the go od, fo r the be nefit, of othe rs. And in the same way the Hindu tradition speaks of `bhak ti yoga'. Bhakti means faith and devotion, so bhakti yoga is the yoga of union with the ultimate, union with the p erson al Go d esp ecially thro ugh faith a nd thro ugh d evotion.

Then again in the more philosophical forms of Hinduism, such as the advice of Vedanta, the non-dualist Vedanta, yoga means the union of the lower self, the Jivatman, with the higher self, the Paratman, (?)or rather perh aps m ore c orrectly in the rec ognitio n of their b asic, their u nderlying, non-duality or non- difference.

So these are some of the meanings of the word yoga in the modern Indian, especially Hindu, context. But we find in the Buddhist context, especially in the context of Budd hist Tantra, we find that the word yoga has a rather different meaning. In Buddhism, especially in the Tantra, yoga, union, refers especially to the union in the enlightened mind and all along the stages of the path, the union of Wisdom, Prajna, awareness of reality, and Compassion, or universal love, universal loving-kindness. It also means in some more specifically T antric contexts still, it means the union of the experience of the void, sunyata, which is the general Mahayana word for ultima te reality, and bliss, e spec ially great b liss, or M ahasu kkha. And in this context, in this connection, the Tantric tradition usually employs the term Yuga Nada, which is translated and very well translated usually as two-in-one-ness, the two-in-one-ness of wisdom and compassion, the two-in-one-ness of the vo idness and supre me b liss. And this two-in-o ne-ness, this state of non-d uality as it were, of unity in difference and differen ce in un ity, this is the highe st goal o f the who le system of T antric practice.

Now summing up we may say that the Mula Y ogas, the foundation Yoga s, are so called because they are practices which initiate the process of integrating one part of our nature with another culminating in the state of perfect integration, integration of wisdo m and c omp assion, sunyata and b liss, at the highest level, which is enlighten men t or B udd haho od.

Now the title of this lecture is The Four Foundation Yo gas of the Tibetan Buddhist Tantra. Tantra means of course the Vajrayana, in other words the third of the three stages of development of Buddhism in Ind ia.

You may recollect, those who attended some of the earlier lectures, that we spoke at some length and more than o nce I thin k, of these three su ccessive ph ases o r stages o f deve lopm ent of B udd hism in In dia.

First of all there's what we call the Hinayana, the Little Vehicle or the Little Way, of emancipation. Now this is generally characterised as ethico-psychological Buddhism, or the ethico-psychological phase or stage in the de velop men t of Indian B udd hism. T his lasted abo ut five hun dred years.

And secondly we have the Mahayana, or the Great Vehicle, or the Great Way or Great Path to ema ncipation. And this is generally characterised as metaphysical devotional Buddhism or the metaphysical devo tional phase in the de velopm ent of Indian B uddhism . And this also lasted ab out five hundred years.

And thirdly and lastly we have the Vajrayana, which literally means the Diamond or the Adamantine Ve hicle or Path or Way to emancipatio n. And this is described, this is characterised as the phase or the stage of esoteric meditation and symbolic ritual. There's much which could be said upon these three phases or stages o f develo pme nt, these thr ee Y anas, the Hina yana, M ahaya na and Vajrayan a, but this is not the place to go in to all that.

As we know, as we have pointed out in earlier lectures, Tibetan Buddhism is a direct continuation, if you like a direct descendant, or if you like even a rebirth, a reincarnation, of Indian B udd hism, on the soil of Tib et. And in Tibetan Buddhism therefore all three Yanas are represented. In fact, as I did try to make clear some week s ago, Tib etan B udd hism, like I ndian Buddh ism of the Pala (?) d ynasty, is a synthesis of all three. It's a syn thesis of H inayana , M ahaya na and Vajrayan a. It's in a wa y a non -sectaria n traditio n.

To illustrate this we may say that the monastic discipline of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as its general Bud dhist teachin g, and the Ab idhar ma, the se all co me fro m the H inayana , especially the H inayana in its Sarvastivada form. T hen ag ain the su nyata p hiloso phy, the teachin g of the v oidn ess whic h und erlies all forms of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Bodhisattva Ideal, which is the spiritual ideal of all forms of Tibetan Buddhism, these come from the Indian Mahayana. And then the spiritual practices, the rites, the ceremonies, the meditations, the symbolism, of Tibetan Buddhism, these all come from the Vajrayana. So in this way we see that Tibetan Buddhism is a Triyana system of Buddhism.

Now the Fou r Fou ndation Y ogas constitute the intro duction, the e ntranc e if you like, to the V ajraya na, to the practice of the Adamantine or the Diamond Path or Way. So at this point a question arises, or a question may be raised. Tibetan spiritual prac tice, as distinct from doctrinal study and institutional life, Tibetan spiritual practice is mainly, if not exclusively, Tantric. Now the Vajrayana, or the Tantric phase of Buddhism, is the third, a nd the highest stage in the development of Buddhism. So the question which arises is, doe s this mea n that the spiritual practices of the Hinayana and the Mahayana are ignored in Tibetan Buddhism, inasmuch as Tibetan Buddhism gets started for all pr actical p urpo ses straigh t away with Vajrayana. It starts on the Four Foundation Yogas and then goes on to the Vajrayana. W ell it may seem as though they were neglected, the spiritual practices of the Hinayana and the Mahayana, but it isn't really so, because as we shall see these p ractice s, or rath er the m ost imp ortan t of them , are inco rpo rated into the M ula Yo gas them selves.

However all this is general, all this is introductory to the Mula Yogas, so perhaps it is time that we got on to the M ula Y ogas thems elves a nd d escrib ed the m ind ividua lly.

As must have been evident already, there are four of them, and I'm just going to enum erate first of all these four, and let you know briefly what they are.

The first Mu la Yo ga, the first Foundation Yoga, consists in The G oing For Refuge and Prostration. The second consists in The D evelopment of the Bodhichitta, or Will to Enlightenment. The third consists in The Meditation and Mantra Recitation of Vajrasattva and the fourth consists in The Offering of the Mandala.

In prev ious lec tures I've spok en of the four p rincipal scho ols of T ibetan Buddhism, that is to say the Nyingma pas, the K agyup as, the S akyap as and the G elugp as. W hen it comes to these four found ation yogas, these four mula yogas, we find that they're the same, these p ractices are the same , for all these schools.

Sometimes the order of practice is a little different and sometimes certain details vary, but substantially these fo ur are the sam e.

But so far as this evening's explanation is concerned I'm going to follow mainly the Nyingmapa tradition of the four mula yogas or four foundation yogas, not because I feel that the Nyingmapa tradition is right and that the others are wrong, not even because I feel that the Nyingmapa tradition is better and the others are perhaps a little worse, but more especially because my own personal connection in this resp ect hap pens to be mor e with the Nying map a versio n of these four m ula yogas. I'm not going to go in to variations of detail so far as the practice of the yogas is concerned as amon g the four schoo ls.

Now for the mula yogas individually. It won't be possible to give a complete description of these practices bec ause the y're muc h too com plex, e ven tho ugh b y Vajrayan a stand ards th ey're rath er simp le pra ctices.

Now first of all The G oing For Refuge and the Prostration. Going For Refuge, going for refuge to the Buddha, to the Dharma, to the Sangha, this is of course a very common practice in all schools of Buddhism, whether it's the Buddhism of Ceylon, or Thailand, or Tibet or Japan, one finds on all possible occasions peo ple `T aking the Re fuges' as it's ca lled, and G oing F or R efuge.

But though it's a very common practice all o ver the B udd hist world, one has also to say, one has also to recognise that the G oing F or R efuge ...

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