|The Three Kaya Meditation|
|Written by Administrator|
|Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49|
Death, intermediate state, and rebirth are central to the teachings and the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Contemplation and meditation on death and impermanence are considered very important for two reasons : (1) only when we understand how precious and how short life is we make an effort to make it meaningful and to live it as fully as possible; and (2) once we understand and familiarize ourselves with the death process, we will be able to face death without fear and ensure a good rebirth.
For the Path of Sutra here are two common meditations on death in the Tibetan tradition. (1) We look at the certainty and imminence of death and what will be of benefit at the time of death. This should motivate us to make the best use of our lives. (2) A simulation or rehearsal of the actual death process, during which we familiarize ourselves with death, easing our fear of the unknown, thus allowing us to die with full consciousness.
For the contemplation on death there are numerous meditation practices from various sources; e.g.: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives and Ven. Thubten Chodron has some good ones on her website. Well known is the Nine-Point Death Mediation which can be subsumed under three main points: (1) the inevitability of death; (2) the uncertainty of death; and (3) that only spiritual insight can help us at the time of death. For the simulation and rehearsal of the death process we have to familiarize ourselves with the actual stages of dying. There are many excellent books on the subject, e.g. Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism by Lati Rinpoche, Living in the Face of Death: The Tibetan Tradition by Glenn H. Mullin, and the various editions of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol, Tib: bar do thos grol). There is also a brief summary of the death process available for download (272.19 kB) from this website.
For the practitioner of Highest Yoga Tantra the simulation of the death process, the intermediate state, and rebirth is built into most deity sadhanas. The tantric path is different from the sutric one by the prectice of bringing the future result into the present path. All Gelug Anuttara Yoga Tantra sadhanas in the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa contain this practice known as "The Practice of Taking the Three Bodies into the Path". It has three parts: (1) Taking death into the path of the Truth Body (Skt: dharmakaya; Tib: chos sku); (2) Taking the intermediate state into the path of the Enjoyment Body (Skt: sambhogakaya; Tib: longs sku) ; and (3) Taking rebirth into the path of the Emanation Body (Skt: nirmanakaya; Tib: sprul sku). Sometimes there is mention of fourth kaya, the svabhavikakaya which is simply the unity or non-separateness of the three kayas mentioned before.
There is also a specific practice for the dying, called "Phowa" (Tib: 'pho ba), that deals with the transference of consciousness at the time of death (performed at one's own death or for another person who is dying).
The Three Kaya Meditation
In his commentary on the Yamantaka practice (given at the Gyume College/Hunsur in 2004; soon to be published on this site) His Holiness states: "… the most important practice is taking the three kayas on the path. It is actually here where the highest tantric practice supersedes the lower tantric practices, the practices of the lower tantric classes." Other great tantric masters of the past, such as Lama Tsongkhapa, have emphasized that there is nothing more essential than this practice. The practice of taking death, bardo and rebirth as pathway for the three kayas is the most important method for eliminating ordinary death, bardo and rebirth. This is also why the actual session, the main part of the sadhana practice, focuses on this practice.
The practice takes place in a tantric reality where ordinary appearances and attachments are removed; all appearances are looked at from a pure view. Nevertheless, the actual practice is performed taking into account the conventional reality (of our lives), meaning that the practice is the path. The path has to match the basis - and the result. The basis is the samsaric level we live on. The path is the means to eventually free ourselves from our samsaric existence. The result (fruition) is complete purity, perfection, the realization of Buddhhood. On the basis, on the samsaric level we are subjected to birth, death, and the bardo - without having a choice. The goal of the path is to get out that; the result to have a choice.
In the Yamantaka practice the main session has four parts (yogas): (1) performing the yoga of taking death as the path of the Truth Body together with its associated parts; (2) generating the yoga of the causal Vajra-holder, taking the intermediate state as the path of the Enjoyment Body by generating the supporting celestial mansion in which you are to be enlightened; (3) the method of blessing the sense organs (Tib: skye mched), body, speech, and mind through generating the yoga of the resultant Vajra-holder by taking birth as the path of the Emanation Body; (4) method of making offerings and praise.
Taking Death Into the Path of the Truth Body
This practice consists of three parts: (1) making offerings to the lineage masters (merit field) in order to accumulate merit which transfer over to our next life; (2) meditating on emptiness in order to eventually actualize the clear light of death; and (3) meditating on the Uncommon and Common Protection Wheels to prevent obstructing conditions.
Accumulation of Merit
During the specific preliminaries (of the sadhana practice) we instantaneously have arisen as Vajrabhairava in his two-armed (sahaja) form (with or without consort). As such, in the actual (main) session of the sadhana, we do the following practices (to accumulate merit):
Meditation on Emptiness
While still in the form of two-armed Vajrabhairava we develop the motivation to actualize the state of the Truth Body and to then to arise in the form of the Enjoyment and Emanation Bodies for the sake of all sentient beings.This is the place (in the sadhana) to practice the meditation on emptiness. When we recite the Shuddah (OM SVABHAVA SHUDDAH...) and the Shunyata (OM SHUNYATA...; only recited in the longer sadhana versions) mantras we should contemplate: "I am the natural purity of all phenomena encompassed by subject and object." The sense of 'I am ' in meditative equipoise on emptiness sort of resemples the sense of 'I am' in sleep. We think: "Since no things exist, no meditator exists."
The main points of this practice are:
The process described above can also be combined with the death meditation, i.e. the visualization of the Eight Stages of Dissolution at Death, from the dissolution of the earth element to the state of clear light (of death). For the visualization and the corresponding 8 Stages see HUM 8 Stages (123.82 kB). The death process is taken as the path to the Truth Body. It purifies ordinary death which is to occur to us in the future. It ripens the roots of virtue to generate the example and meaning clear lights of the path in our consciousness, and increasingly reinforces a special power to generate the Truth Body of the result.
Meditation on the Protection Wheels
While the Truth Body has been accomplished at this point, the activities connected to that state have not. This is accomplished through the generation of the protection wheels. When doing this meditation it is necessary to concentrate with one part of our mind on the protection wheel while the other part does not let go of the comprehension of emptiness by placing our mind on the meditation of the Truth Body. The actual practice is described in detail in the sadhana. The purpose of it is (1) to avert the many obstacles encountered while practicing the four yogas of the generation stage, and (2) to create and prepare the (favorable) conditions for the intermediate state and rebirth.
Taking the Intermediate State into the path of the Enjoyment Body
This practice has two parts: (1) the visualization/generation of the celestial mansion in which we are to be enlightened, and (2) the visualization of causal Vajra-holder to eliminate ordinary intermediate state.
The sadhana text describes in detail how, through a number of intricate transformations, the celestial mansion is generated. Then, we develop the intention to actualize the Enjoyment Body as result by purifying/eliminating the intermediate state. Then, from the seed syllable DHIH, we arise as (causal vajra-holder Vajrabhairava) Enjoyment Body Manjushri. This is the practice to eliminate ordinary intermediate state. Therefore it is called Intermediate State Enjoyment Body practice. The causal Vajrabhairava is the subtle form or body of the intermediate state. The sun disc at the heart of Manjushri ordinarily has no significance but in terms of the path and achievement, it has much significance. It represents the illusory body and the clear light understanding of emptiness, and also signifies the union of these two. In terms of the path, it is the Enjoyment Body. In terms of the result it signifies the deep awareness of clear light and perfect union beyond hearing. Body and forms of the intermediate state are not flesh and bones but flesh is made up of subtle wind and consciousness. By visualizing this, wind and consciousness become more subtle through this elimination of the ordinary intermediate state.
Taking Rebirth Into the Path of the Emanation Body
This practice has three parts: (1) arising in the form of the resultant Vajrabhairava, (2) the blessing of various parts of the body, and (3) invoking the deep awareness beings, merging, and receiving empowerment. Since the last two parts are covered by the sadhana text we only look into the first part.
When in the state of the Enjoyment Body we set the intention that if we stay in this form, we would have limited accessibility. Visualizing ourselves as Manjushri we go through a number of transformations as described in varying length in different versions of the sadhana until we emerge as the resultant Vajrabhairava (in his full form).
The significance here is that beings don’t always stay in the intermediate state. When they take rebirth they have to take another form. In terms of the path, this is a practice of impure illusory body. The illusory body must rely on the previous body from which it arose. In the same way, by maintaining the illusory body, we can’t reach sentient beings, therefore we must use rough old aggregates to reach beings, because they are visible. Therefore we should feel that the Enjoyment Body has arisen in the form of the Emanation Body. By doing this type of meditation, we eliminate ordinary birth. Thus ordinary birth is eliminated and the means to attain the Emanation Body are established. Therefore it is called the practice of birth as the Enjoyment Body.
While all the above seems to be an elaborate process - which may take quite some time to go through - for most practices there are also abbreviated versions of the Three Kaya Meditation. Lama Yeshe, in his books Introduction to Tantra and The Bliss of Inner Fire, gives good advice how to go about the process of dissolution, reappearance, and clear appearance as the yidam. The abbreviated sadhanas for the Solitary and the 13-Deity Yamantaka serve that purpose (both are available for download from the 'Downlod' section of this site - for registered users only). Here is the example of the Short Solitary Hero sadhana:
Path of the Truth Body
[After resiting the Shuddah mantra] the whole world and its inhabitants melt into us, and we dissolve into emptiness.
Path of the Enjoyment Body
While still in a state of emptiness, there comes a vajra-surface, fence, tent and ceiling, together with a mountain of flames. Inside of this is the Celestial Mansion, square, with four entrance-ways, and in the centre of which, on a seat of variegated lotus, moon and sun-disc mandalas, I arise in the bodily form of a Causal Vajra Holder, Manjushri. From my heart as a clearly (appearing) Hero Manjushri, light-rays emanate, and bring forth all the Sugata Buddhas in the aspect of Glorious Vajrabhairavas.
Path of the Emanation Body
They dissolve into me and I completely transform into a Resultant Vajra-holder, the great and glorious Vajra-bhairava, with a body dark blue-black in colour, nine faces, thirty four arms and sixteen legs, standing in the pose of the right ones bent and left outstretched. In my heart is the Wisdom-being Youthful Manjushri and in his heart is the Concentration Being, a syllable HUM. At the crown of my head is an OM, at my throat an AH and at my heart a HUM.
Extremely Abbreviated Practice
(1) All worlds and their beings melt into light and dissolve into us. We too melt into light and dissolve into emptiness. We are the actual Truth Body of (Buddha) Vajrabhairava. (2) In our space, inside the protection circle, in the celestial mansion, upon a lotus and sun seat, our mind appears as Buddha Manjushri. We are the actual Enjoyment Body of Vajrabhairava. (3) These completely transform, and we arise as the Emanation Body (full) Vajrabhairava, together with our mandala, its palace, and its inhabitants.
It cannot be overemphasized that the Three Kaya Meditation is the central piece, the quintessential practice of every Highest Yoga sadhana. When we imagine that everything dissolves into emptiness we are bringing death into the path of the Truth Body. We think: "I am the Truth Body." Through that we overcome ordinary appearances, which in return prepares us to generate new and pure apearances. As soon as the that experience of clear light (of sleep) has ceased, the mind becomes sligtly grosser, and a subtle (bardo or dream) body manifests. The mind arises in the form of the seed syllable (or some other representation) of the yidam. Through this experience, which is similar in aspect to the intermediate state, we develop divine pride thinking: "I am the Enjoyment Body." While we experience that (still in the form of the seed syllable or some other symbol) we visualize that a new, pure world with pure inhabitants develops in which we are reborn in the form of the yidam. We think: "I am the Emanation Body. The whole process is guided by the altruistic motivation that in the form of the Truth and Enjoyment Bodies we would not be able to benefit sentient beings because they are unable to see a Buddha's Truth or Enjoyment Body.
Death, Bardo, and Rebirth
Meditation on Emptiness
Tantric Practice in General