Introduction to Tantra

By Lama Yeshe

Bodhicitta is Necessary for Practising Tantra.
As a prerequisite for the successful practice of tantra, the development of bodhicitta is absolutely necessary It has been said by all masters that to be properly qualified to practise tantra, we must possess a very strong bodhicitta motivation. Truly qualified tantric practitioners wish to follow the speediest path to enlightenment, not with the desire to gain quick liberation, but because they have unbearable compassion for others. They realise that the longer it takes them to achieve enlightenment, the longer everyone who needs help will have to wait. The lightning vehicle of tantra is therefore intended for those who wish to help others as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
Although it is true that bodhicitta is the most important prerequisite for tantric practice, in fact, it is more accurate to say that the opposite is true; that the purpose of practising tantra is to enhance the scope of one's bodhicitta.
There are so many tantric deities - Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Tara and the rest - into whose practice you can be initiated; there are so many deities you can meditate upon. But what are all these deities for? What is the purpose of all these practices? It is nothing other than developing and expanding the dedicated heart of bodhicitta. There is really no other reason for all these deities. In fact, all tantric meditations without exception are for the sole purpose of developing strong bodhicitta.
Take the practice of thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, for example. The whole reason for having your consciousness manifest as a divine light-being with one thousand arms is so that you can lend a hand to one thousand suffering beings. What other reason could you have for wanting so many arms? And, if you do not feel comfortable manifesting in this way, you can always relate your meditation to your own culture and manifest your inner being as Jesus, Saint Francis, Kwan Yin or any other holy being.
What we have to understand is that Avalokiteshvara and Jesus, for example, are exactly the same; the essential nature of each is complete selfless devotion in the service of others. Therefore, when we try to be like them, through the practice of tantra, prayer or any other method, it is only to be able to serve others in a similarly selfless way. This selfless dedication to others is the true meaning of bodhicitta and that is why bodhicitta is not only the major prerequisite of tantra, it is also the most important fruit of this practice.
The Need for Inspiration
Before we can board the lightning vehicle of tantra, we have to understand why it is both necessary and possible to abandon our ordinary, limited view of ourselves and generate in its place the enlightened self- identity of a fully evolved being. We have to realise that our low opinion of ourselves, which keeps us trapped in the cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction, only arises because we are ignorant of our basic, essentially pure nature. By generating the prerequisite renunciation, bodhicitta and wisdom, and by delving into the clear nature of the mind, we create the space in which true self-transformation can take place.
Yet it is not enough merely to know why such self-transformation is necessary and possible; we must also generate the strength and confidence that will enable us to follow this radical approach to fulfilment. In other words, we need to be inspired. We have to know that the attainment of enlightenment completion, buddhahood, totality, or whatever we want to call it is not only a theoretical possibility but something that people like us can and do actually achieve. In the buddhist tantric tradition the source of this inspiration is the guru (lama in Tibetan): our teacher and spiritual guide. And the root of the tantric path is unifying oneself with this source of inspiration through the practice of guru-yoga.
At the moment we are temporarily incapable of dealing effectively with the problems created by or egotistical mind. To help solve this problem, Shakyamuni Buddha taught methods for breaking out of our ego prison and identifying ourselves with the enlightened beings of the past, present and future. Such enlightened beings have achieved a state in which there is no separation or distinction between high and low; there is only the complete equality of the enlightened experience. The practice of guru-yoga prepares us to enter this unified experience of complete fulfilment. Through seeing ourselves as one with our spiritual guide we banish the self-pitying thought: 'The buddhas are so exalted and I am nothing in comparison.' Instead, we learn to identify our innermost mind with that of our guru, who is seen as inseparable from everyone who has already achieved complete awakening. It is through the practice of guru-yoga that our limited wisdom grows to completeness. The guru's energy of great compassion, great love, great wisdom and great skill take seed in us so that we ourselves come to embody these limitlessly beneficial qualities. We ourselves become the guru and, as such, can give immeasurable and inexhaustible help to all beings. If we do not generate the qualities of a true guru within us, how can we provide ultimate benefit for anyone else? We cannot even help ourselves properly.
Bodhicitta (Sanskrit) byang chub kyi sems, bodhicitta (Tibetan) : An altruistic aspiration to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, Boddhicitta is cultivated on the basis of certain mental attitudes, principal among them being the development of love and compassion towards all beings equally. A genuine generation of Boddhicitta is attained only when, through the training of the mind, the aspiration to attain full enlightenment becomes spontaneous and no longer requires any deliberate exertion. At that stage an individual becomes a boddhisattva. Literally, bodhi means 'enlightenment' and citta, 'mind'. Mahayana literature speaks of two types of boddhicitta: conventional boddhicitta and ultimate boddhicitta. The former refers to that aspect of boddhicitta defined above, whereas the latter refers to the discriminative awareness (prajna) of directly realising emptiness which is induced by the altruistic motivation of boddhicitta. In a tantric context boddhicitta also refers to the white/male and red/female seminal fluids in the body.
Bodhisattva (Sanskrit) byang chub sems dpa (Tibetan) A spiritual trainee who has generated the altruistic mind of boddhicitta and is on the path to full enlightenment. Bodhisattvas, literally meaning 'heroes of enlightenment', are courageous individuals who dedicate their entire being towards a single goal, ie. to bring about the welfare of all sentient beings. An essential element of this commitment to work for others is the determination purposely to remain within the cycle of existence instead of simply seeking freedom from suffering for oneself.