Fundamental teachings
Antidotes to not understanding how to achieve Enlightenment:
Vajrayana practices

(from In Search of the Stainless Ambrosia, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Jewel Treasury of Advice and Transformation of Suffering)
by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche

On the basis of the six paramitas, there exists the Vajrayana vehicle, a great skillful means for accomplishing these practices and seeing the Buddha nature directly, with little effort and in a short period. This is also called the path of the transformation. Through the empowerment of the yidam deities, we identify and become one with the yidam itself so that the ordinary vision of the mind is purified. The yidam is the individual's special deity or guide, inseparable from himself, and taking him to Enlightenment. So when we visualize certain Enlightenment deities, we are not simply imagining them or indulging in wishful thinking; rather we are realizing what already exists within. This is the method for fully awakening the mind and achieving complete Buddhahood.

Concerning visualization, some people say that it is impossible to bring the picture into the mind. This is because we are far from "reality" and are not used to this kind of practices. However, if we practice, it is not impossible. A monk who had to work for hours to establish the visualization, through perseverance made his mind stable and clear, so that after several years, he could perform the meditation easily. Therefore, it is only a matter of time and effort. Because the mind is not easily tamed, many great masters who achieve higher states spend their lifetimes in solitary retreat. Those who seriously desire to be freed of suffering must direct all their energy and capacity toward these practices, especially the Six Yogas of Naropa which are the distilled essence of the tantra teachings.

Further, visualizations go beyond cultures, varying in their clarity only according to the purity of the individual's mind. When we do this type of meditation, it is important to have calm and purity in the mind. Calm refers to mental stability, and purity to wisdom visualized not as material substance, but as transparent, inseparable from emptiness, and free from afflicting emotions. When one practices the Vajrayana meditation, it is important to receive the empowerment, lineage transmissions and explanation of the meditation.

The supreme varja vehicle is like the lord of elephants.
In an instant, without difficulty, it brings complete Enlightenment.
It is the essence of the teachings.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)

Guru Yoga
The Buddha achieved complete Enlightenment, which has the nature of infinite wisdom and compassion. To benefit all sentient beings and establish them in Enlightenment, he manifests in many different forms depending on their levels of understanding and their state of mind. There are four basic bodies of the Buddha. These are: Nirmanakaya (emanation body); Sanbhogakaya (enjoyment body); Dharmakaya (truth body); and Svabhavikakaya (the natural body, or union of all three bodies). One's root guru should be seen as the embodiment of the four kayas. In vajrayana practice, this is of paramount importance. It is said in the teachings that if you see your root guru as an ordinary person, you will not achieve any qualities, but if you see him as a bodhisattva, you may accomplish something. And if you see the guru as Vajradhara, you will achieve that state. The four kayas of Guru Yoga are a method for viewing one's teacher and becoming inseparable from him. Although the Buddha's teaching exists, one cannot understand teachings and the various ways of practicing without the guidance of a qualified teacher. Therefore, a teacher is a being who causes you to see how to achieve Enlightenment.
The root lama is like a wish-fulfilling jewel.
He is the source of all good qualities.
Therefore, attend him with flawless respect.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)

Mahamudra, the Great Seal
All samsara and nirvana are not beyond mahamudra. Mahamudra is a method of realizing the true nature of all things. Since our mind is deluded by confusion and ignorance, we see only the superficial aspect of things. We are confused and suffer through both expectation and fear. All these outer phenomena are part of the mind. Through the study and practice of Mahamudra, we realize that all phenomena are illusion and that what we see is a projection of our own mind. Thus, it is possible to achieve the absolute state of peace.
The basic cause of confusion and all other errors in samsara is ignorance. Ignorance gives rise to the two selves: the self of the person, and the self of phenomena. The self of the person is expressed as the thought "I" and "mine". We are attached to that self and therefore resent the existence of other beings. This, in turn, creates afflicting emotions which cause negative karma. And all negative karma is responsible for samsaric suffering. From whence does this self come? Does it exist in one's body, mind or name? The body is composed of four elements - the solid form coming from the earth element, the bodily fluids from the water element, the body heat from the fire element, and the breath from the wind element. These elements are the same as those found in outer phenomena, and just as the latter have no self, neither have the former. So does the self exist in the mind? No one has seen the mind, for it has no color, shape, or size. Therefore, the self does not exist in the mind. Does the self exist in a name? One's name is merely temporary and does not exist materially. Therefore, the self does not exist in a name. Regarding the self of phenomena, some say that phenomena exist inherently. but if we reduce phenomena to the smallest particles, we find that they do not exist independently. Since phenomena have no existence, therefore, how can the self exist? by analyzing the self in this way, we can eliminate ignorance and confusion, and develop pure wisdom and compassion towards all sentient beings.

To practice the Mahamudra, it is important to have done the preliminary and purification meditation practices, and to have a mind that is calm and clear. Then, one must attain a qualified spiritual master. When one achieves inner wisdom, one is free of both attachment and fear. Those who progress in the practice of wisdom have the awareness of virtue, thus eliminating afflicting emotions and developing strength of mind. Indeed, the mind becomes as stable as a mountain, as deep as an ocean, and as vast as space. One is thereafter detached from samsaric life, is inclined wholly toward meditation practice, and enjoys true peace and happiness!

Dedication of Merit
Whatever benefits we derive from study and practice should be shared so that all sentient beings attain Enlightenment. Just as a drop of water, if thrown in the ocean, will merge with the whole and not dry out unless the ocean does, so will our achievements, if dedicated to all beings, merge with all and not be lost until one attains Enlightenment. Therefore any practice we do should include bodhicitta, yidam practice, guru yoga, Mahamudra and the dedication of merit.
Mahayana dedication is like a well-guarded treasure.
It bears fruit each day until Enlightenment is won.
It accomplishes the benefit of oneself and others.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)

The Five Paths
When cultivating bodhicitta and progressing through study and practice, one crosses the following five paths: the path of accumulation; the path of preparation; the path of special insight; the path of meditation and the path of complete perfection.
1. The path of accumulation

One who cultivate bodhicitta and receives teachings from a spirtual mater in order to achieve wisdom gains the accumulations of merit and wisdom and is on the path of accumulation. While on this path, the practitioner focuses on the four mindfulness, the four abandonment, and the four feet of miraculous. The four mindfulness are those of body, feelings, mind and phenomena. The four abandonment are those of avoiding non-virtue, not allowing non-virtue which have already arisen, and progressing in those virtues which have already arisen. The four feet of the miraculous are the samadhi of aspiration, the samadhi of perseverance, the samadhi of the mind and the samadhi of analysis. With these practices the taste of the experience increases.

2. The path of preparation

When one has progressed in the practice of the path of accumulation, a heap of wisdom results and one arrives on the path of preparation for seeing wisdom directly. While on this path, the practitioner focuses on the five powers and the five extraordinary powers. The five powers are confidence, perseverance, mindfulness, samadhi and wisdom. They are called powers because they can defeat the afflicting emotions. The five extraordinary powers are the same, but developed to a higher degree.

3. The path of special insight

When one has actualized the realization of the four noble truths, one arrives on the path of special insight and sees the nature of selflessness directly. While on this path, the practitioner focuses on the seven branches of Enlightenment: perfect mindfulness, perfect discrimination, perfect perseverance, perfect joy, perfect training, perfect samadhi, perfect equanimity. In this state, the being experiences great joy because he is drawing close to Buddhahood, can benefit more beings, and has purified basic ignorance.

4. The two meditation path

The path of meditation practice includes the samsaric meditation path and the beyond-samsara meditation path. Without special insight wisdom, one who concentrates one-pointedly is on the ordinary meditation path. Through the samsaric meditation path, the afflicting emotions are calmed (though not uprooted), thus enabling one to develop such mental qualities as the four limitless thoughts. The path also establishes the basis for achieving the beyond-samsara meditation path. On the beyond-samsara meditation path, one attains the calm-abiding and special insight wisdom, and practices perfecting the truth which been seen on the path of special insight. One also practices the eightfold noble path which includes: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right samadhi. In the meditation path, bodhisattvas perfect the ten levels (bhumis) through the study and practice of the six paramitas. Those who have attained these levels have the quality of having realized and understood the vast and profound teachings.

5. The path of perfection

When one has perfected the practice of the beyond-samsara meditation path, one attains Buddhahood and one's meditation is free of obstacles, samsaric actions and obscurations. The mind, having become completely stable, cannot be moved by conceptual thoughts. One experiences the one taste of all the Buddha's wisdom which pervades the suchness of phenomena. In this state, one ceases the complete cause of suffering, and for this reason no longer experience its effects. Because there is no more to learn and practice, one enters into the state of beyond-samsara and beyond-virvana called the Path of Complete Perfection. At this times, the enlightened being experiences the ten dharmas of no-more-learning. These are: no-more-learning of right view, no-more-learning of right thought, no-more-learning of right speech, no-more-learning of right action, no-more-learning of right livelihood, no-more-learning of right effort, no-more-learning of right mindfulness, no-more-learning of right samadhi, no-more-learning of complete wisdom and no-more-learning of perfect wisdom. At this time, one achieves the limitless qualities of the Buddha - the four kayas, the four fearlessness, the ten powers, the eighteen unsurpassed qualities and so on. When one attains Buddhahood, there are no conceptual thoughts or efforts. Without conceptual thoughts or efforts, Buddha's body, speech and mind manifest benefit for sentient beings spontaneously and unceasingly.

The ten bhumis and five paths are like climbing a staircase.
Because of complete causes and conditions, one can gradually progress.
One should maintain the activity of a bodhisattva.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)

When we study and practice the Dharma, we cannot expect that we will immediately be rid of all suffering, rather, we must learn to confront problems directly and in a positive way, and work to reduce the cause of suffering. To the extent that we depend on phenomena outside the mind, we develop attachment and fear. Thus, to attain fearlessness and joy, we must stabilize the mind through the practice of wisdom and compassion.

Not taking the teachings to the heart through practice is like the sound of an echo.
It is empty and without meaning.
Therefore, apply your mind to the dharma.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)

Bringing everything to the path is like the medicine of the Youthful Healer.
Even harmful beings do not exist apart from one's mind.
Release, without grasping, whatever arises.
This is my heart's advice.
(from the Jewel Treasury of Advice)