Overview of the Vajrayana or Tantric Path
The Buddha also gave teachings of the Vajrayana or tantric path, where enlightenment can be achieved much more rapidly than with the Common Mahayana practices.
The Vajrayana (Indestructible Vehicle) is a special collection of mahayana practices taught in the tantras that lead more swiftly to buddhahood. We enter this path by first taking refuge, then receiving initiations and then relevant vows, instructions and reading transmissions.
The word Tantra itself means continuum and is related to the sanskrit word for weaving. Just as in weaving a pattern is continuous, the nature of mind of ordinary beings has a continuum with the mind of enlightened beings or Buddhas. In essence the nature of mind is the same, the union of luminosity and emptiness.
The Vajrayana Teacher
In the Vajrayana initiations can only be given by a properly qualified teacher; someone who has been given permission by their own master to bestow initiations on students. For further details on the qualifications of a teacher, one should ask for the transmission and explanation of texts such as Tsarchen Losal Gyamtso’s commentary on The Fifty Verses on the Lama.
Introductory Vajrayana Meditation
First we should practice and have some stability in calm abiding meditation. Once we take refuge we may decide to practice vajrayana meditation.
For Sakya students the usual first vajrayana meditation is Chenrezik, the Buddha of Compassion. Chenrezik is also the principal regular group practice carried out in Dechen centers and groups.
Further study of the mahayana is immensely valuable to the advanced meditations of the vajrayana. This level of teaching was traditionally taught in Tibetan shedras, or colleges of study, and the curriculum would vary between the different traditions.
The core texts of the Sakya shedra curriculum are regularly taught by Lama Jampa Thaye in Dechen centers and groups and include:
- The Triple Vision by Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup
- Clarifying the Thought of the Sage by Sakya Pandita
- Entering the Bodhisattva Conduct by Shantideva
- Discriminating the Three Vows by Sakya Pandita
- The Collection of Tantra Sets by Sonam Tsemo
By receiving these teachings over a number of years and then following up with personal study and attendance of study groups you will be able to understand these core texts and receive a complete traditional Buddhist training.
Advanced Vajrayana Meditation
Along with these textual studies, Sakya students typically complete the Buddhist training of the vajrayana preliminary (ngondro) practices of The Path and Its Fruit cycle.
The ngondro consists of reflection on the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind to Dharma, 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 bodhisattva vow recitations, 100,000 Vajrasattva mantra recitations, 100,000 mandala offerings of the universe and 100,000 guru yoga recitations.
Other important practices are the guru yoga of Sakya Pandita and the sadhana of Bhutadamara.
Beyond this are the cycles of practice of Vajrayogini and Hevajra, the chief deities of the Sakya school, whose development and fulfilment stages lead to the obtaining of all spiritual realizations.