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Energy Unlimited

by Vessantara

Vajrapani – Energy Unlimited
by Vessantara

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/talks/details?num=OM676

Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2003

It is very good to be at Padmaloka. It's a long time since I've been on a men's event, and I
had forgotten how good they were. It has been very good to see friends old and new.

This morning I am talking about Vajrapani. The title of the talk is: 'Vajrapani – Energy
Unlimited', and as you will have heard already from Paramabandhu who has, in a way,
been giving you bits of my talk over the last day and a half, in his introductions and
things... the vajra is this very powerful implement. It has the qualities of a thunderbolt.
One of its qualities is that when you throw it, it always returns to your hand.

I am going to start, actually, not by talking about thunderbolts that return to your hand,
but by talking about darts.

For those of you who haven't spent much time in English pubs, 'darts' is a sort of English
pub game in which you – it's a bit like kind of being an archer but on a very small scale –
you have a sort of feathered projectile which you throw at a board from a distance of
about eight feet.

A few years ago some researchers did an experiment in which they took some people and
they divided them into three groups: so it was a bit like if I was to divide you into three
groups...

...So, this side of the room, I would ask you to do nothing whatsoever, particularly
definitely not play darts, for the next six weeks, say. The middle of the room, I would ask
you to practice playing darts every day for a certain period of time. The other side of the
room, I would ask you not to play darts but to imagine yourself playing, for the same
amount of time these other people are actually playing. Just imagine yourself going,
'thwack – double top – thwack – treble nineteen...' - yeah?... [LAUGHTER]

At the end of the period – say, six weeks, however long it is – I would get you back
together and test each of your different groups to see if you had improved.

And you people over here [THE FIRST GROUP]: well, you haven't improved, but I
suppose I can't expect you to have done – you haven't been playing, you haven't had
anything to do with it, so why should you?

You people in the middle: well, you've been playing away, so if you are the same as the
people they tested, you have improved by about 27 percent or something, in this period of
time. You probably hadn't played much darts before, so you are starting from quite a low
base.

Now the interesting thing is that you people over here who have just been thinking about
playing darts: you have also improved. You have improved by almost as much as these
people who are actually doing it; you have improved by, I think, about 22 percent.

I was very struck by reading about this. It makes me think quite a bit about how I learn a
new skill; usually firstly I sort of study it, then I practice it. But there is also, usually – if
there is anything that I'm interested in – almost involuntarily there is an aspect of mental
rehearsal.

I remember when I was a kid I was really into playing football and I would play it at
every conceivable opportunity. But also, for a lot of my time when I wasn't playing, when
I was sitting in class or something at school, I would be imagining myself playing; I'd be
imagining myself being Jimmy Greaves or Bobby Charlton or whoever my hero at the
time was. And that certainly wasn't wasted time – well, it was wasted time if I was sitting
in class and supposed to be studying history – but it actually seemed to have quite an
effect on how I played football.

This sort of mental rehearsal is very common now. If you're a top athlete it's one of the
things that you do. You spend a lot of time just seeing yourself turning up at the stadium
for your event, getting changed, going to the starting line. You imagine the crowd; you
imagine yourself when the starting gun goes; you see yourself running that perfect race;
you see your name at the top of the list on the scoreboard; you see your time. And you
just keep doing that over and over, and it does definitely seem to be very beneficial.

The interesting question is: 'how does all this mental rehearsal apply if we're trying to
learn the skills of the Dharma; if we're trying to learn the skills of wisdom and
compassion, or of ethical action, or awareness?'

In general, if we are trying to develop a positive quality, Buddhist tradition says there are
three things we can do.

Suppose we are trying to develop 'virya' – suppose we are trying to develop 'Energy in
Pursuit of the Good'. Firstly we can study, we can come to understand what virya is, we
can read about it, we can listen to talks like this one.

Secondly it is suggested that we go away and really try to clarify what we've heard. We
really try to reflect on what we've heard, see how far it is true for us, what questions
we've got, and we try to resolve those until we are quite definite about what it is we are
doing and why we are doing it, and we are really behind it.

And then lastly we practice it, in all sorts of ways. We put more energy into developing
skilful mental states and doing away with unskilful mental states. But we can also use
mental rehearsal. We can imagine ourselves acting with more energy; we can imagine
ourselves really putting ourselves into situations with the whole of ourselves, and acting
in skilful ways. We can imagine what it would be like if we had a great deal of energy,
moving in the direction of Enlightenment.

So as we will see, this all connects with Vajrapani. Vajrapani is a figure who is
particularly associated, as we have heard, with 'virya' – with energy – not just any old
energy, but 'energy in pursuit of the good'.

You could say that energy is the link between your faith – your heart's deepest wish; what
you really believe in in the most positive way – and your actions. If you really start
contacting your heart's wish, then you want to carry that into action, and the link that
does that is virya.

Vajrapani is a figure who appears in Buddhist Tantra. Buddhist Tantra is a sort of current
of ideas and practices that arose within the Buddhist tradition about 750 years after the
time of the Buddha, and it was subsequently carried over from India into Tibet and Japan.
There are a large number of Tantric texts, and Vajrapani is particularly associated with
those Tantric texts. According to the story he is the 'guardian' of those texts, and also the
'collector' and 'assembler' of those Tantric texts, so he is known as the 'Lord of Secrets' in
some texts.

This Tantric current within Buddhism became very successful. It became a very major
part of the Buddhist tradition, mainly, I think, because it had methods for addressing deep
levels of consciousness very directly. It used things like mantra, mudra, visualisation.
Some of those methods involved mental rehearsal, you could say. Just as top athletes
would visualise themselves preparing and then engaging in their event, so male and
female Tantric practitioners rehearsed gaining Enlightenment. They enlisted the support,
you could say, of their unconscious minds.

So, just as the athletes try to get that message into deeper levels of their consciousness so
that automatically, spontaneously, when the starting gun goes they launch into their best
possible performance, the Tantric practitioners were trying to get the message of
Enlightenment through to deeper and deeper levels of the mind, deeper and deeper levels
of consciousness.

I think if you practice the Dharma over a period of time, whenever your practice starts
going well you discover that there is this kind of dialogue going on between what you
think of as 'you' – sort of 'everyday you', your everyday self – and deeper levels of your
being, deeper levels of your consciousness. It's almost like there has to be a kind of
collaboration between our everyday selves and the deeper aspects of ourselves.

It is very important to try to pay attention to this, to the messages that we get from those
deeper levels – in dream, intuition, meditation, however it may come – and promote that
dialogue. We need to really try to listen to what is going on beyond what we are usually
aware of, and also to dwell on helpful symbols, because symbols are one of the ways in
which we communicate with those deep levels of consciousness, and in which they
communicate with us.

So Buddhist Tantra used mental rehearsal, and this mental rehearsal was known as 'taking
the goal as the path' in Buddhist Tantra. It was called 'taking the goal as the path' because
you imagined yourself as already having achieved the goal of wisdom, compassion and
so on. You imagined it as if it were present right now, and you did that repeatedly until
eventually, just through that repeated imagining of yourself as you could become – as
you potentially are – that became more ...

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