Discourse on the True Teaching of the White Lotus

Presented to the Riverview Dharma Centre on Saturday, June 10, 2017
Dedicated to the Toronto Centre of Gravity Buddhist Association*




Introduction + Chapters 1 – 9 


Renowned in the West as the Buddhist “New Testament,” the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, literally the Discourse on the True Teaching (dharma) of the White Lotus Flower (or, conversely, the White Lotus Flower of the True Teaching), is the basis of the Tiantai, Tendai, Cheontae, and Nichiren schools, and is highly regarded by Mahayana Buddhists. It might be described with equal justification as the Buddhist Quran, in that it claims to reestablish the original and true spiritual teaching. Many East Asians regard the Lotus Sutra, as it is commonly called in English, as encoding the final, highest and ultimate teachings of the Buddha. The book exists in Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Vietnamese versions.

According to Kogaku Fuse (1934) the book was composed in four main stages or phases. Chapters 1 or 2 to 9 are the earliest. Fuse believed that the verse sections were composed before the prose sections. According to Fuse, the earliest sections were composed in the first century BCE, about the same time that the Pali Canon was first written down and the Prajnaparamita literature appeared, but Tamura puts this date somewhat later, about 50 CE, a date that Fuse associates with the prose section of chapters 1 to 9 and 17. Tamura places the composition of chapters 10 to 22 about 100 CE and chapters 23 to 28 about 150 CE. Dates of chapters vary somewhat depending on the authority.

The English translation of the Chinese text of the Lotus Sutra that I have used for this talk is based on The Threefold Lotus Sutra (1975), translated by Bunno Kato, Yoshiro Tamura, and Kjiro Miyasaka. I have also referred to the highly esteemed Sanskrit translation of H. Kern (1884) that appeared in Max Muller’s Sacred Books of the East series, Vol. XXI, still used by scholars such as A.K. Warder. The Lotus Sutra is often bound together with the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings and the Sutra of Meditation of the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue, as it is in The Threefold Lotus Sutra, as a preface and an epilogue respectively. In this talk I will, however, focus on the Lotus Sutra. I have also approached the Lotus Sutra as a single synthetic work, working through the chapters in their standard order without regard to any questions of chronology. I have however broken the talks up based on the chronology, so this talk will largely be about the earliest section of the Lotus Sutra, yet even here there is disagreement, for some authorities ascribe a later date to the Introductory chapter (chapter 1). I have discussed my reasons for this ahistorical approach in my essay, “Hermeneutics and the Problem of Tradition” (chapter 1 of Dharma Talks).[1]

Whatever its development, the number of chapters of the final form of the Lotus Sutra, 28, is the number of the Moon (4 x 7), an important symbol of the dharma in the Pali Canon. 28 is also the number of historical Buddhas listed in the Buddhavamsa, culminating in Gotama (Maitreya is #29). Sixteen is also a lunar number, being the number of the lunar phases or kalas (4 x 4).

Like another Chinese sutra, the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, the Lotus Sutra has been credited with at least one enlightenment experience (that of Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), reviver of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen, while reading the third chapter).

Scholars have identified three themes in the tripartite division of the sutra: the One Vehicle of the Wonderful Dharma, i.e., the essential oneness of all Buddhist ways; the Everlasting Original Buddha, the primordial Buddha archetype or paradigm; and the Way of the Bodhisattva, emphasizing the method or path.

The Lotus Sutra and the Pali Canon

There is growing acceptance of the view that the original language of the earliest sections of the Lotus Sutra was not Sanskrit, but a Prakrit language, like Pali (Kern finds vestiges of Magadhi and Pali in his translation of the Sanskrit version of the Lotus Sutra). Although clearly an early Mahayana text, the Lotus Sutra is filled with references to the Pali Canon. As we know from my talk on “The Early Buddhist Schools,” the Mahayana grew out of the early Hinayana schools rather than as a reaction against them, as is commonly but falsely believed.

The Lotus Sutra includes many references which will be familiar to readers of the Pali Canon: including places (Mount Grdhrakuta, Vulture’s Peak, the Buddha’s favourite place in Rajagaha), people (Maha-Kasyapa, Sariputra, Maha-Maudgalyayana, Ananda, Rahula, Yasodhara, et al.), doctrines (arhantship,  nirvana, parinirvana, Four Great Truths, hearers, void or emptiness, perfect wisdom, self-born, self-concentration, skilfulness, mantras, tathagatas, wheel of causes and effects (i.e., interdependent origination), samsara, sixty-two false views, and many others), and even events (e.g., the enlightenment of and subsequent preaching by the Buddha and the pattern of remembering similar situations with disciples in past lives),[2] but the Lotus Sutra represents a radical reevaluation of the meaning and significance of the Buddhist project as it introduces a new understanding of the goal of attainment and the character of the path itself. This is presented in the Lotus Sutra itself as the fulfilment and completion of the Hinayana (the “basic” or “fundamental” vehicle) rather than as its antithesis.

While it is fashionable to say that the Lotus Sutra is rhetorical and has no real content, in fact one can identify over a hundred concepts throughout the Lotus Sutra, all organized around the central revelation of the Lotus Sutra, identified by A.K. Warder with the fifteenth chapter of the book.[3] Warder is probably referring to chapter 15 of Kern’s Sanskrit edition, which is chapter 16 of the Chinese edition, since chapter 12 was split in two in the fifth or sixth century. However, none of the content was lost, although there are subtle differences between the Sanskrit and the Chinese versions. Scholars remain undecided as to which version came first. We’ll be discussing chapter 15 of the Lotus Sutra in the third talk of this series. 

The Symbol of the Lotus

The Sanskrit word “pundarika” means “lotus flower,” as well as the colour “white.” Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains all revere the lotus. Buddhists regard it as a symbol of body, speech, and mind. Rooted in the mud of samsara, the lotus flower blooms on the surface of the water, untainted by the mud from which it draws its nourishment. It also symbolizes non-attachment since water rolls easily off its petals. Many Asian deities are depicted sitting on lotus flowers. When the Bodhisattva was born, lotus flowers were said to bloom in his footprints. Padmasambhava is also said to have been born sitting on a lotus flower at the age of 8 years old, a trope that we also find mentioned in the Lotus Sutra (Kern, op. cit., cap. xi, p. 252; cf. Kato et al., op cit.,cap. xii, p. 210). 

The Idea of the Tathagata

Tathagata is a somewhat mysterious word that the Buddha uses throughout the Pali Canon with reference to himself, and infrequently with reference to arhants. It is generally translated as “one who has thus gone” or “one who has thus come.” The word is used as though it was familiar to its audience, but has not been found in any pre-Buddhist literature. Even as early as Buddhaghosa (5th century CE) the exact meaning of the word was uncertain. In his commentary on the Digha Nikaya, Buddhaghosa gives eight alternative definitions: he who has arrived or walked in such a way; he who has come to the knowledge of reality; he who has won, discerned, or declares truth; he whose deeds accord with his words; and the great doctor whose medicine cures all ills.

The Anguttara Nikaya says that the Tathagata is called such because what is “seen, heard, sensed, and cognized, attained, searched into, and pondered over by the mind” is fully understood. Tathata refers to “thusness” or “suchness,” reality as it is. Richard Gombrich has suggested that the word means “one like that.” The word appears in the Mahabharata where it says, “Thus (tatha) is gone (gati) of those who have realized the Truth.”

In the Pali Canon, the Tathagata is described as immeasurable, inscrutable, hard to fathom, and not apprehended. Similarly, the Lotus Sutra refers frequently to the “mystery of the Tathagatas.” The Tathagata is free of latent tendencies (samskaras), and thus beyond the comprehension of other beings. They are “deep, immeasurable, unfathomable, like the mighty ocean.” Although this is sometimes taken to imply that the Tathagata has no post-mortem existence, this is strictly speaking not necessarily implied, since it does not follow that because something cannot be seen that it does not exist. The Buddha explicitly rejects nihilism, and his use of the tetralemma is far more profound than simple negation. Edward Conze says that in the Mahayana view the Tathagata refers to the true inherent selfhood of the human being. However, we must remember that this “selfhood” is not the inherently self-existing atomic “noun” self (atman) of the Upanishads but a continuous but essentially transient momentary consecution of sentience. It is the process philosophy of Whitehead or the “I seem to be a verb” of R. Buckminster Fuller.

Chapter I Introductory

The Lotus Sutra begins with the traditional words, “Thus have I heard,” referring to a story or tradition that is handed down from the past. Thus, the sutra explicitly identifies itself with the Buddhavacana, the Buddha-word, despite its obvious non-historical or trans-historical character. The authors of the sutra, whoever they were, must have understood this and yet they chose to present the sutra in a trans-historical context in order to make two points: (1) to identify the sutra with the Buddhavacana, and (2) to demonstrate the transience and non-self of historicity itself, and by this means to demonstrate the absolutely atemporal and transcendent nature of the True Dharma that leads to utter emancipation. In other words, the form and format of the Lotus Sutra itself is a dharma teaching!

That said, the sutra opens with the Buddha teaching the monastics on Vulture’s Peak, a favourite place of the Buddha outside Rajagaha. The sutra improbably identifies the impossible number of twelve thousand arhants, and proceeds to name the top twenty-one. The names are familiar to us from the Pali Canon, but the situation is anything but “Paliesque.” The reader is transported into an alternate universe in which the ordinary limitations of time and space do not apply. This world is the world of the pure mind. In case the reader hasn’t got it yet, the sutra goes on to describe three-quarters of a million also present, including monastics, bodhisattvas, various “divine sons,” “four great heavenly kings,” eight Dragon Kings, and other kimnaras, gandharvas, asuras, and  garudas. The inclusion in this list of four asura kings is very interesting in light of a long passage in the Vinaya where the asuras are spoken highly of and associated with concealed treasures and another passage in the suttas where many asuras came to honour the Buddha. These references echo an archaic teaching wherein the devas and asuras were not at war. The whole pyramid culminates in King Ajatasatru, the king of Magadha whose father, Bimbisara, supported the Buddha. After murdering his father and following a policy of violent expansion based on conquest, rather like Ashoka, Ajatasatru began to worry about the afterlife and became a supporter of the Buddha like the father that he had murdered. However, he also patronized the Jains. Nevertheless, the Buddha said that had Ajatasatru not been a murderer, his righteousness was such that he would have become an arhant.

According to the sutra, the Buddha preached the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, which is often published as a preface to the Lotus Sutra. The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings gives teachings on virtue, preaching, and merit. After preaching the sutra, he entered an altered state of consciousness or trance state called “the contemplation of the station of innumerable meanings.” His body and mind became perfectly still. The sky rained flowers and the earth shook! From his Ajna chakra in the centre of the forehead a vector of attention emanated in the form of a beam of intense white light that illuminated eighteen thousand eastern worlds, revealing all sorts of beings including living and deceased buddhas, seekers, and bodhisattvas. The assembly marvels at this spectacle, including Maitreya, the Future Buddha, who asks Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, the cause of it all. Manjushri tells Maitreya and the assembly that the Buddha will now declare the Great Dharma that is hard to believe. Manjushri attributes the ultimate origin of this teaching to a transhistorical Buddha called “Sun Moon Light Tathagata.”

Manjushri says that the Buddha taught three paths for three different sorts of person: For the “hearers” he declared the Four Noble Truths, based on the principle of dukkha or universal suffering and leading to nirvana. For the solitary practitioners he declared the doctrine of interdependent origination, based on the principle of emptiness, leading to self-realization. In addition, for the bodhisattvas he taught the Six Perfections, based on the principle of compassion, leading to Buddhahood. “Sun Moon Light” also taught the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, which teaches the path of bodhisattvahood, and entered trance as the Buddha had done.

Manjushri goes on to articulate many varied ways that one can seek the Buddha-way, including the cultivation of the merit of giving; monasticism; memorizing, reading, reciting, studying, and realizing the Buddha-knowledge; renunciation; guru-worship; and the cultivation of the qualities of radiance; energy; morality; forbearance; meditation; charitableness; science; and wisdom or indifference; and finally the practice of stupa worship.

When Manjushri had finished the Buddha emanated another laser beam that illuminated eighteen thousand eastern Buddha lands.  Manjushri says that he was the Bodhisattva “Mystic Light,” the disciple and successor of the Buddha “Sun Moon Light,” and that Maitreya was the Bodhisattva “Fame Seeker” who was a disciple of “Mystic Light.” Manjushri announces that the Buddha is about to preach the True Dharma.

It seems to be a universal spiritual idea, found in many religions including Gnosticism and native American spirituality, amongst others, that the universe is a vast, intricate and labyrinthine, multidimensional and interconnected network where all sorts of sentient beings appear in effectively infinite numbers at all stages of spiritual development and in all sorts of conditions over vast ages of time. This is the fundamental cosmic conception of Buddhism, which modern science is just beginning to appreciate after 2500 years. Everything in the Lotus Sutra is of astronomical proportions, which is in turn commenting on the original teachings of the Buddha themselves and the kind of world that they reveal to the pure mind of the enlightened observer.

Chapter II Tactfulness (Skilfulness)

Rousing from his trance, the Buddha declares to Sariputra, the disciple foremost in wisdom, that the Buddha wisdom and its wisdom school cannot be understood or entered respectively by mere hearers or solitary practitioners. Nevertheless, countless buddhas throughout time have used many teachings and skillful methods to lead living beings to the ultimate realization. The skill and wisdom of the Tathagata, however, is perfect; his mind has grasped the Infinite. Only a Buddha can know the Reality of All Existence in its totality. The hearers and solitary practitioners in the assembly are perplexed, including Sariputra himself, but the Buddha declines Sariputra’s request to explain his meaning, declaring that the worlds of gods and men are not prepared to know the truth. On the second request the Buddha declines again, stating further that gods, men, and asuras are not prepared for the truth and that stupid and arrogant monastics might fall into hell if they heard the answer.

After the third request, the Buddha relents, in accord with custom, whereupon five thousand monastics and householders walk out of the assembly because of their ignorance, spontaneously purifying the assembly as during the uposatha observance described in the Pali Canon. Sariputra, however, remained. The Buddha tells Sariputra that this doctrine is only revealed by a Buddha every three thousand years to teach human beings the Buddha wisdom concerning the pure mind that is true but translinquistic. This teaching is only for bodhisattvas. It is the truly universal, non-sectarian dharma teaching, the singular truth to which all of the contingent skillful methods and systems of Buddhist philosophy and doctrines testify implicitly, leading beyond reason to the realization of perfect wisdom.

This process is eternal and ongoing. In a degenerate age (such as that in which we live), the dharma is taught by skillful methods to accommodate all the different imperfections of beings, to bring as many beings as possible to realization. The Buddha declares especially that arhants should seek out Buddhahood and declares that, in the end, all those who aspire to Buddhahood, even if only for a moment, will achieve Buddhahood, in accordance with the inexorable law of karma whereby every cause must result in an effect and every effect must be the result of a cause.

Chapter III A Parable

Sariputra is ecstatic listening to the Buddha’s words, but he asks why the Buddha preaches the dharma of the “great vehicle” by means of the “small vehicle”? Immediately Sariputra himself blames it on the karmic limitations of the Buddha’s hearers, who set up arhantship in place of Buddhahood as the goal of the path. Later, the Buddha says that samsaric beings need samsaric means and must realize the nature of samsara, illusory as it is, before they can realize the wisdom of the Buddhas, “reality as it is.” This is of course an implicit reference to the Hinayana. The Buddha teaches realization by means of three vehicles: the hearers, which leads to the realization of nirvana; the solitary practitioners, which leads to self-realization; and the way of the bodhisattva, which leads to the perfect wisdom of Buddhahood. The arhants pursue “science with a master,” and thus are epiphenomenonal, but the Buddhas are primogenitary. No one can deny this. The solitary practitioners and Buddhas are self-ordained (“self-born”) and pursue “science without a master.” Interestingly, the texts all agree that Buddhahood is possible even in a dark age where the dharma is not known.

The Buddha tells Sariputra that in fact he, the Buddha, “caused” Sariputra to pursue the way of the bodhisattva many ages ago, and facetiously compares Sariputra’s attainment of nirvana (lit. “extinction”) with ignorance of reality (the antithesis of enlightenment that is traditionally characterized by the memory of past lives). The Buddha preaches the Lotus Sutra to reawaken the memory of Sariputra’s bodhisattva vow. The Buddha predicts that Sariputra will be reborn many ages in the future as a Buddha called “Flower Light Tathagata.” The Buddha goes on to describe his Buddha-land in highly ornate language, which echoes similar language used in the Pali Canon.

The assembly spontaneously removes their robes [sic] and they offer them to the Buddha as an homage. Devas, brahmas, and divine sons all pay homage to the Buddha with robes and flowers. Suddenly the robes themselves start to dance in the sky to the sounds of celestial music! A voice is heard declaring that the Buddha has rolled the wheel of the dharma for a second time since Varanasi, the place near Sarnath where the Buddha delivered the sermon called “Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dharma” in the First Dispensation, circa 455 BCE. Thus, the Lotus Sutra announces the advent of a Second Dispensation of the True Dharma about 50 CE. This is also the end of the first five hundred year cycle as it happens.

The Buddha tells Sariputra the famous parable of the burning house, immortalized in the poem of Bertolt Brecht.[4] A great elder, old and rich, lives in a huge house with only a single small door but with hundreds of inhabitants including many non-human beings and thirty young sons. Like the elder himself, the house is old, and a fire trap. Suddenly it bursts into flames! The elder realizes that although he can save himself, his children are so preoccupied by their games that they have no impulse to flee. He calls to his children to flee, but they are so innocent and preoccupied by their amusements that they heed him not. Therefore, the father lies to his children, declaring that outside the gate they will find many toys for them to play with. This device is identified with what the translator translates as “tactful means” (upaya), more conventionally translated as “skillful” or “expedient means” or method. Thus, the children rush outside and escape the fire. However, instead of giving the children toys he gives each of them a fine chariot, with curtains, bullocks, servants, and guards. Note the symbolism of the chariot. In Cabala, the chariot (merkabah) is a symbol of the Great Work. We also find the symbolism of the chariot in the Tarot trump of the same name.

The message of the parable is that skillful method is a deception designed to lure the ignorant into the true dharma, where the lie is a metaphor for the truth that incorporates the cognitive limitations of those to whom it is addressed. On the other hand, one could also say that truth itself is a form of falsehood, since all cognitions are limited, mere labels. Thus, the truth of the dharma is translinguistic. Because it is translinquistic, it can only be learned from one who has already realized it, i.e., a Tathagata.

Chapter IV Faith Discernment (Disposition)

Subhuti and several other arhants are awestruck and ecstatic. Rising and arranging their garments [sic], and making obeisance to the Buddha, they ask the Buddha for a parable of the dharma, referring to the void, formlessness, and nonfunction.[5] These apparently refer to the Hinayana “three gates of emancipation,” but the Sutra of the Dharma Seal is Mahayana.

The Buddha tells a parable of a man who runs away from his father as a youth and stays away for several decades. As he grows older, he becomes needier. He wanders about the countryside looking for food and clothing. Thus, he returns to his native land. In the meantime, his father has become rich. Over the course of the years, he has missed his son, regretting his leaving, and wishing to find him so that he can bequeath his possessions to his son, other than whom he has no heirs. By chance, the son arrives at his father’s house. The father recognizes the son, but the son does not recognize the father. Rather, he sees the wealth of the man and flees, thinking that he might be seized. The father sends servants after the son, who try to subdue the son by force but he resists. The father, realizing that this method will not work, develops a stratagem. He employs his son under the guise of a common householder, and over the course of the years, he befriends his son, until finally he reveals publically that this is his son and his heir. In this way, he tactually brings his son to the truth of himself, but not in such a way as would traumatize or overwhelm him.

The father is the Tathagata; the arhants are the Buddha’s sons. Through arhantship and the realization of nirvana, the Tathagata brings his “sons” to the realization of the Buddha or Tathagata wisdom of the bodhisattva path of the single way. Thus, the Lotus Sutra is saying that Hinayana is really Mahayana, or at least the prelude to Mahayana, but the arhants do not know this. Put another way, Hinayana reveals the same dharma from the perspective of samsaric ignorance. Mahayana, from the perspective of enlightenment, which transcends nirvana and samsara altogether. Nirvana itself is just part of the dualistic Hinayana construct.

Chapter V The Parable of the Herbs (On Plants)

The Buddha tells Kasyapa, the arhant who recited the verse portion of the previous chapter, that a Tathagata is full of merit and cannot lie, a doctrine that we also find propounded in the Pali Canon. He is the king of the dharma. His exposition of the dharma is skillful (upaya). The dharma of the Tathagata leads to the “stage” of “perfect knowledge.” Having perfect understanding of the dharma, he reveals the wisdom of perfect knowledge, all-knowing intelligence, or Buddha wisdom to all.

The Buddha compares the Tathagata to a cloud pouring down rain throughout the universe, fertilizing every sort of medicinal plant. “From the rain of one cloud [each] according to  the nature of its kind acquires its development, opening its blossoms and bearing its fruit. Though produced in one soil and moistened by the same rain, yet these plants and trees are all different.” From the diversity of life, the Buddha infers the manifestation of the dharma adapting itself to the conditions in which it manifests. This is of course a characteristic of living beings. The Tathagata spreads the dharma throughout the “three-thousand-great thousandfold world” (the chiliocosm), including gods, men, and asuras, which might be compared to the current scientific understanding of existence as consisting of a vast number of planets, solar systems, galaxies, and universes in potentially infinite proliferation. Buddhism understood that the structure of existence is recursive, i.e., infinitely differentiated through repetition, like a fractal, and totally interconnected at the most fundamental level based on the law of causality (karma). The Buddha teaches the dharma to all beings in all ways, as it is written in the Pali Canon, “each for himself,” thus benefitting all beings and bringing them all to the dharma according to each one’s inherent nature and momentary capacity, effecting the regeneration of the world, beyond the duality of nirvana and samsara.

The Tathagata teaches the “unitary essential law” that consists of deliverance from mortality, abandonment of nihilism, extinction of the extremes, and finally the perfect knowledge or wisdom concerning the “seeds” by which everything grows and develops according to its own nature. Only the Tathagata knows which stage each seed-being is at. The final resolution is the “final nirvana of eternal tranquility, ending in return to the void.” The realization of the essential emptiness of existence is the way.

Chapter VI Prediction (Announcement of Future Destiny)

The Buddha predicts that Mahakasyapa will become a Buddha called “Radiance Tathagata” in the far future. The Buddha enunciates the doctrine of the three dharma stages or phases, called Righteous Law, Counterfeit Law, and Decline of the Law. After the decline of the Law, a new Buddha appears to renew the dharma and regenerate the process. Each of these stages lasts for many ages, and thus lies beyond historical time. The transcendent Buddha paradigm or archetype itself acts in the world timelessly, revealing the dharma. The Buddha makes similar predictions with respect to other arhants in the assembly.

Chapter VII The Parable of the Magic City (Ancient Devotion)

Chapter vii of the Lotus Sutra introduces a trans-historical Buddha named Universal Surpassing Wisdom. This Buddha had sixteen sons prior to his enlightenment. According to the Sanskrit version of the Lotus Sutra, the “Brahma heavenly kings” travel vast distances (“five hundred myriad kotis of domains,” a koti itself referring to tens or hundreds of millions or more), coming from all directions in search of the luminous phenomenon that attends the enlightenment of Universal Surpassing Wisdom, to the Bodhi tree in the “western quarter” in their “aerial cars” (the Chinese commentaries describe them as mobile like carriages), where they circumambulate him hundreds of thousands of times and strew him with flowers. These “aerial cars” are themselves described as luminous. The alternative translation, “palaces,” suggests that these “aerial cars” are inhabited. I have discussed the relationship between the UFO phenomenon and Buddhism in my talk “Buddhism and the UFO Phenomenon” (chapter 9 of Dharma Talks, q.v.).[6] They entreat the Buddha to reveal the dharma after 180 ages of ignorance.

The Buddha introduces the topic of time dilation, declaring, “by the power of my Tathagata-wisdom, I observe the length of time as if it were only today.” He also alludes to the Buddhist cosmology, specifically the realm of the thirty-three. Usually this is interpreted with reference to the thirty-three gods of the Vedic pantheon. Here however the translator considers the number to refer to the number of “heavens.” Trayastrimsa is of course the topmost realm of the worlds of Sumeru and the second realm of the Gods of Desire, two realms above the human, between the Four Great Kings and Yama, the god of death.

Universal Surpassing Wisdom teaches the Four Great Truths and the Law of the Twelve Causes, aka Interdependent Origination, in both forward and reverse order, culminating in the annihilation of old age, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, and distress, in response to which billions and trillions of beings have their minds freed. Finally, he preaches the Lotus Sutra to his four sons and their followers. However, although half of the assembly accepted and believed in the Lotus Sutra, half doubted it. After this Universal Surpassing Wisdom went into retreat and practised meditative absorption for 84,000 ages. Meanwhile, his sons disseminated the Lotus Sutra.

Universal Surpassing Wisdom emerges from his retreat and declares that everyone who believes in the Lotus Sutra will attain “the Tathgata-wisdom of Perfect Enlightenment.” The Buddha (Sakyamuni, the original speaker of the Lotus Sutra) identifies himself with the sixteenth son of Universal Surpassing Wisdom (the sixteenth kala is the “excellent” or “supreme” kala). All of Universal Surpassing Wisdom’s sons became buddhas in different places, and the Buddha himself teaches the dharma under different names. Thus, the Buddha teaches the fundamental axiom of the perennial or ancient philosophy, of which historical Buddhism is just one thread.

The Buddha distinguishes between two nirvanas, initial and final, the former mechanical and imperfect, but the distinction is still mysterious. In fact, we find a parallel distinction in the Pali Canon, between nirvana “with residue” (or “substrate”), which the Buddha experienced at the age of 35, and “final nirvana” (parinirvana), without substrate, which the Buddha experienced at the age of 80, when his physical body died. This is called “[real] extinction.” Only by the skillful method (upaya) of the single or Buddha vehicle of the Tathagata, which is identical with the bodhisattva way, is final nirvana attained. The Lotus Sutra can only be understood by those who have penetrated or comprehended the dharma of the void or emptiness, which the Buddha said is the essence of the Law of the Twelve Causes.

The Buddha teaches a parable where a group of travellers on a long, windy, and difficult path, led by a seasoned guide, becomes exhausted and distraught at not reaching the goal and wants to turn back. Thus, the guide conjures the mirage of a beautiful city where the travellers can rest, and tells them that is the goal. Therefore, the travellers enter the illusory city with great hope, satisfied and refreshed, certain that they have reached the end. Once they are happy, the guide tells them that the city is illusory, and entreats them to make the final trek to the Place of Jewels, the true goal. Thus, they come to final emancipation. This story is not unlike the story of the raft in the Pali Canon.

Chapter VIII The Five Hundred Disciples Receive the Prediction of Their Destiny (Announcement of the Future Destiny of Five Hundred Monks)

Purna, son of Maitrayani, one of the ten disciples of the Buddha, noted for his eloquence, stands up and praises the Buddha. The Buddha praises Purna in return, declaring that next to himself Purna is the most lucid. The Buddha predicts that he will become the Buddha “Radiance of the Law Tathagata.” The Buddha declares that his “Buddha-land” will be as large as a chiliocosm, wherein the gods will inhabit “palaces … in the sky.” We have already noted the alternative translation of “palaces’ as “aerial cars,” and the context makes it clear that here we are referring to a universe, not a planet. The sutra states that men and gods will behold each other in these celestial palaces. Interestingly, his Buddha-land will have no females, because there will be no carnal passion (presumably they will be “spontaneously born,” like the devas in the Pali Canon). The inhabitants of Purna’s Buddha-land will be luminous and have the power of flight. The Buddha then proceeds to predict the future destiny and Buddhahood of 1,200 arhants.

The arhants declare their realization that the arhant nirvana is unsatisfactory and that more remains to be done. The Buddha originally taught Perfect Wisdom, which is implicitly identified with Buddhahood, but the arhants settled for partial or incomplete nirvana because that was the simpler path. Now they realize that arhantship is merely a stage on the path to Buddhahood, that is, the path of the bodhisattva, and they declare their aspiration to the final, real nirvana of complete and perfect Buddhahood.

Chapter IX Prediction of the Destiny of Arhants, Training and Trained (Announcement of the Future Destiny of Ananda, Rahula, and the Two Thousand Monks)

The Buddha goes on to predict the future Buddhahood of his disciples. Ananda will become the Buddha “Sovereign Universal King of Wisdom [great as] Mountains and Oceans Tathagata.” Ananda’s attainment of Buddhahood is his reward for an ancient vow to treasure the dharma.

The Buddha predicts that Rahula will become the Buddha “Treader on Seven-Jewelled Lotuses Tathagata.”

The Buddha tells Ananda that 2,000 arhants will attain Buddhahood in the far future.


* This talk was originally inspired by a talk I attended under the auspices of the Toronto Centre of Gravity Buddhist Association by Michael Stone and his teacher, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, on January 20, 2012. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to send Michael a copy of the four talks before his untimely death at the age of 42 on July 16, 2017, but I was able to send him a copy of my latest book, Dharma Talks, in April and he also had kind words to say about this blog.

[1] See also Paul J. Griffiths, On Being Buddha: The Classical Doctrine of Buddhahood (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 29, 32 38f., 49, 53. Cf. Yoshiro Tamura, Introduction to the Lotus Sutra (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2014), chap. 1.

[2] Kern, op. cit., cap. ii, pp. 54ff, vv. 112-24). Cf. Kato, op. cit., p. 72.

[3] See A.K. Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd rev. ed.  (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2000), p. 375f.

[4] Brecht, “The Buddha’s Parable of the Burning House.”

[5] Kern has “vanity,” “purposelessness,” and the “unfixed.” The Pali words sunnata, animitta, and appanihita mean “emptiness,” “motiveless,” and “free from desire.” Akira has “nonsubstantiality,” “signlessness,” and “wishlessness” (History of Indian Buddhism, p. 56).

[6] Cf. “The Buddha-vehicle is the ratha ekakakra, the one-wheeled carriage, each wheel being trinabhi, three-naved, as in Rig-veda I, 164, 2” (Kern, op. cit., p. 81 fn. 2). “Nave” refers to the hub of a wheel. The Rig Veda says, “Seven to the one-wheeled chariot yoke the Courser; bearing seven names the single Courser draws it. Three-naved the wheel is, sound and undecaying, whereon are resting all these worlds of being.”


Dharma Energy

Presented to the members of the Riverview Dharma Centre on Saturday, April 29, 2017


The Philosophical Idea of Energy

In the Western philosophical tradition “energy” was originally an Aristotelian term denoting “actuality” or “existence in actuality.” More broadly, energy is defined in the physical sciences as the ability to do work. Energy exists in two states, kinetic and potential, both of which are real. Thus, energy is one of the universals of science, inherent in all physical systems. In general, it refers to activity or power of action.

In Pali, the English word “energy” is often used to translate viriya, defined by Tamilcube as “vigour, energy, effort, strength.” This word appears frequently all through the Pali Canon, along with such close synonyms as “power,” “strength,” “effectiveness” (upaya), “fire” (teja), “zest,” “ardor,” etc. (see Appendix). According to PED, it is derived from vira, cognate with Latin vir, virtus, “virtue,” from Vedic Sanskrit, meaning, “man, hero, chief,” as well as “people, humanity,” much like the English word “man.” Similarly, the Pali vira means “manly, mighty, heroic; a hero,” even “divine.” The Majjhima commentary states that the higher stages of arhantship are produced by “manly strength.” Viriya refers to “the state of a strong man,” i.e., vigour, energy, effort, exertion. In Sanskrit, it is virya,seminal energy, strength, power,” also translated as “courageous engagement” by Peter Harvey in his Introduction to Buddhism. The Tao Te Ching has a similar concept, Te, the complement of Tao, often translated into English as “virtue,” which comes from the same Indo-European root as vira, and implies the same connotation of manliness that underlies the classical conception of virtue. Sometimes it is translated as “character.”

The Indian View of Male Sexuality

Already it is clear from the foregoing that there is a special and specific association between the concept of virtue and male sexual energy, also called bindu in Indian literature (the Sanskrit word bindu also occurs in the Pali, where it means a ‘drop, spot, or cipher’; cf. bija and oja). Male sexuality played a significant role in early Buddhism in that it became the focus of monasticism, enshrined in the first training rule of the Vinaya, the prohibition of sexual intercourse. [1]

In his study of images of masculinity, sex, and the body in Indian Buddhism, A Bull of a Man (2009), author John Powers discusses the traditional Indian view of male sexuality. Powers makes it clear that in Indian tradition, including Buddhism, sexual and spiritual energy are cognate concepts. Thus, the Buddha is simultaneously a supreme spiritual master and a virile ksatriya warrior, handsome, with large quantities of semen and saliva and strong sexual desire. Therefore, the prohibition of sexual intercourse is not a prohibition of sexuality as such but rather of its profanation. Many of the Buddhist monastics are represented as extremely virile and attractive young men (the Pali Canon mentions young men frequently, implying that young men were particularly attracted to the Buddhadharma) who were eagerly sought after by women in charnel grounds and elsewhere (Powers, Bull of a Man, p. 277 n. 13). The Buddha himself is represented as so handsome and charismatic that women were overcome by desire or actually fainted in his presence. Sariputta was initially attracted to the Buddhasangha by the “surpassing beauty” of Upasena, a Buddhist monk (ibid, p. 154). Sariputta subsequently became the “monastic partner” of Maudgalyayana, who were inseparable for the rest of their lives, dying two weeks apart.[2] Sariputta became renowned as the monk foremost in wisdom, and Maudgalyayana as the monk foremost in psychic powers.

Powers writes,

In ancient India, semen was associated with the energy of life, and men who recklessly shed their seed were said to become physically diminished.[3] Excessive ejaculation leads to various morbidities and premature death. By contrast, the heroic ascetic who retains his seed is the most manly and virile of men and enjoys robust health, tremendous physical energy, and mental alertness, and he also develops supernatural powers (siddhi). Those who practice celibacy and other acts of austerity accumulate an energy called tapas, which literally means ‘heat.’ Sages who remain chaste for long periods and who combine this with advanced levels of meditation can even challenge the gods in terms of power and wisdom. (ibid, p. 79)

Nanamoli and Bodhi’s translation of the Majjhima Nikaya makes this association with virility clear: “For a faithful disciple who is intent in fathoming the Teacher’s Dispensation it is proper that he conduct himself thus: ‘Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up on my body, but my energy shall not be realized as long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, manly energy, and manly persistence” (MN 70:27; cf. SN 12:22, 21:3, AN II:5(5)).[5] These are the same words used in the vow that the Bodhisattva took at the foot of the Bodhi tree prior to his Enlightenment (Ja 171, 24-27).

As with the prohibition of eating after noon, which was originally an Ayurvedic practice to optimize health, based on the waxing of the agni, the digestive fire, the Buddhist prohibition of sexual intercourse has complex cultural resonances. In traditional Indian belief, as in the Hellenic view, the female principle is identified with the somatic, physical polarity of existence, whereas the male is identified with the psychic, spiritual polarity, in a vertical hierarchy of value. Powers writes, “Buddhists, like other religious groups of the time, viewed the male body as naturally more conducive to self-control than the female body was. Females are depicted as constantly oozing fluids and as prone to emotional instability, while men are physically stronger, more controlled, and less subject to the vagaries of emotion” (ibid, p. 110). Thus, male celibacy (or seminal retention) is not actually anti-sexual, but anti-somatic. The Vinaya amply refutes the notion that monastics were actually asexual. Monastics must be celibate, but they must also be sexually unimpaired (ibid, pp. 84, 85). We find this doctrine, as well as its associated problems and difficulties, in Catholicism and Mormonism too. Thus, “the sage becomes more potent and more desirable as a result of avoiding sex” (ibid, p. 77). In order to understand the Buddhist view we must avoid projecting Judaeo-Christian notions of shame and guilt onto Buddhism, the sexual frankness of the original writings of which have offended more than one translator. By his own admission, the Buddha indulged extensively in sexual intercourse while a bodhisattva in his final rebirth. According to the accepted account, the Buddha engaged in sexual intercourse right up until his 29th year, merely six years before his Enlightenment. Powers explicitly recognizes “more and better sex” as a goal of spiritual practice (ibid, p. 99).

In the myth of Chandra, the god of the moon, which is also a symbol of dharma in Buddhism and of soma in Hinduism, is associated with the uposatha observance. Soma, the ritual beverage of the Vedic sacrifice, and the drink of the gods, is also associated with semen. The consumption of soma confers immortality and is said to be able to restore vitality lost due to excessive sexual activity. Its silver-white colour identifies it as a lunar substance (ibid, p. 79). Semen was also regarded as medicinal. Says Powers, “Indian medical lore holds that semen is produced by a process of refinement of the elements comprising food and that semen pervades the tissues of the entire body. … It is also ‘a formative principle in all bodies in the universe.’ … Semen is the source of physical vitality (in some sources menstrual blood is the female equivalent). Buddhaghosa differentiates among various types of semen and rates their relative quality” (ibid, p. 128). Powers writes that “men who practice self-control can retain their semen and thus acquire power” (ibid, p. 279 n. 62). These ideas are developed in the last great Buddhist tantra, the Kalachakra, circa 966 CE, but are clearly archaic in origin.

The Concept of Energy in the Pali Canon

Energy, in its three phases of arousal, endeavour, and exertion (SN 46:2(2)(ii)), is referred to frequently all through the Pali Canon in stock lists, including the Four Bases of Power, the Five Faculties or Powers, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Eight Causes and Conditions of Wisdom, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Ten Perfections (see Fundamental View). The Buddha says that he does not know of anything that so causes unarisen wholesome qualities to arise and arisen unwholesome qualities to decline as energy (AN I:61(1)). The Buddha says that the enlightenment factor of energy is both physical and mental (SN 46:52(2).ii). It is “nourished” by frequent and careful attention to the elements of arousal, endeavour, and exertion (SN 46:2(2).ii). Bodhi comments that these three elements refer to the initial and intermediate phases of the development of energy, culminating in “full intensity.” The phallic connotation is obvious. The Buddha says that energy is aroused, developed, and fulfilled by faith (SN 48:50(10) and discriminating the dharma with wisdom (SN 46:3(3), 54:13(3).ii), leading to mindfulness, concentration, wisdom, faith, and rapture (SN 48:50(10). Alternatively, he warns that arousing energy “in a badly expounded Dhamma and discipline dwells in suffering” (AN I:324(9)). Energy is aroused “for the attainment of the as-yet-unattained, for the achievement of the as-yet-unachieved, for the realization of the as-yet-unrealized” (AN IV:80(10)).

Energy appears in the Suttavibhanga as the first cause leading to jhana, in the practice referred to throughout the Vinaya by the stock phrase “putting forth (arousing) energy.”

In the Anguttara Nikaya, we encounter “the power of energy” as a synonym for the arousal of energy:

One generates desire to abandon those qualities that are unwholesome and reckoned as unwholesome; those that are blamable and reckoned as blamable; those that are dark and reckoned as dark; those that should not be cultivated and are reckoned as not to be cultivated; those that are unworthy of the noble ones and reckoned as unworthy of the noble ones. One makes an effort, arouses energy, applies one’s mind, and strives for this. One generates desire to obtain all those qualities that are wholesome and reckoned as wholesome; those that are blameless and reckoned as blameless; those that are bright and reckoned as bright; those that should be cultivated and are reckoned as to be cultivated; those that are worthy of the noble ones and reckoned as worthy of the noble ones. One who makes an effort, arouses energy, applies one’s mind, and strives for this. This is called the power of energy.

Elsewhere, “putting forth energy” appears as the culmination of a dharma talk. In the Mahavagga we have something approximating to an instruction in “putting forth energy,” in the form of the story of Sona Kolivisa, who received ordination and stayed in the Cool Grove. Through this story, we also begin to understand the intensity of the energy that is “aroused” by the Buddha and his followers. While he was pacing up and down, i.e., practising walking meditation, Sona’s body put out so much energy that “his feet broke.” As a result, the pathway became covered with blood. Presumably, this means that he cut his feet from so much walking barefoot. Sona began to consider returning to the life of a householder. The Buddha came, saw the blood and asked the monastics about it. Rather than condoning such extreme effort, the Buddha went to Sona, and through the famous metaphor of the lute, he taught Sona how to regulate his psychosomatic energy.

 What do you think about this, Sona? Were you clever at the lute’s stringed music as when formerly you were a householder? When the strings of your lute were too taught, was your lute at that time tuneful and fit for playing? When the strings of your lute were too slack, was your lute at that time tuneful and fit for playing? When the strings of your lute were neither too taught nor too slack, but were keyed to an even pitch was your lute at that time tuneful and fit for playing? Even so, Sona, does too much output of energy conduce to restlessness, does too feeble energy conduce to slothfulness. Therefore do you, Sona, determine upon evenness in energy and pierce the evenness of the faculties and reflect upon it.

Energy that is too slack or too lax leads to lassitude or laziness, whereas energy that is too tense or forceful leads to restlessness. Thus, the Buddha teaches the middle way between extremes, energetic balance, and evenness of the spiritual faculties as a basis for concentration. Because of the practice of “evenness in energy” Sona, “pierced the evenness of the faculties” [?], realized the supreme goal of the path by direct knowledge,  and achieved nirvana (see also SN 51:20(10)(ii), AN VI:55(1)).

lgshivasealTeja means ‘heat, radiance, glory, power,’ and is thus a near synonym of viriya. In the Majjhima Nikaya (43:22), “heat” and vitality are equated, standing in the same relationship to each other as radiance to flame. The “condition of heat” (tejodhatu) is referred to all through the Vinaya as an advanced spiritual attainment. This attainment is attributed to two monastics, Dabba the Mallian and Sagata, who was the Buddha’s personal attendant (thus dating the story to the first twenty years of the Buddha’s career, before Ananda became his personal attendant) and “chief of those good at the heat condition.” The story of Sagata is of particular interest because it has him using his “heat condition” to repel the “heat” of a hostile naga. It is repeated in somewhat expanded form of the Buddha himself, where he is called Angirasa (‘the Resplendent One’). One suspects that the association of the teja with a serpent is not arbitrary, since the Indian tradition describes a serpent-power (kundalini, ‘coiled one’) that is more than analogous to the concept of psychic heat, which also figures prominently in the Tibetan tradition. Kundalini awakening is a real physical syndrome that has been described by Dr. Lee Sannella in his book, The Kundalini Experience. If one looks closely at the oldest Indian representation of a cross-legged yogi, the so-called Pashupati seal of Indus Valley Civilization (c 2350-2000 BCE), the figure clearly exhibits an erect phallus! Here we begin to see clearly that the Buddhist concept of “energy” has some unusual characteristics and that any identification with “vigour” or similar such abstractions is simplistic at best. The Jungian notion of libido may be very close to the Buddhist conception. In the story of the naga serpent, the equation of heat and psychic power is explicit: “Truly the great recluse is of great psychic power, of great majesty, in that he can master by heat the heat of the fierce serpent king who has psychic power and is a terribly venomous snake.” The description suggests the visionary phenomena of psychedelic experience: “Then at the end of that night the serpent’s flames became extinguished but the multicoloured flames of him of psychic power remained, and multicoloured flames, dark green, then red, crimson, yellow and crystal-coloured were on Angirasa’s body.”

The supreme example of the power of energy appears in the Book of the Great Decease (Mahaparinibbana). The Buddha, knowing that his time was near, took Ananda to Capala Shrine (MN 16:3.1) and gave him a teaching called the Four Roads to Power (iddhipada). This practice is associated with the brahma Sanat Kumara (Pali Sanankumar). The Four Roads to Power involve the concentration of intention, energy, consciousness, and investigation by an effort of will (MN 18.22, 26:28). The Buddha tells Ananda that by this practice, the Buddha might live out “his age,” the meaning of which is ambiguous but may refer to the human lifespan of a hundred years or a historical epoch of millions of years, but Ananda, always a bit slow despite his phenomenal memory, did not beg the Buddha to live on before the Buddha declares his intention to die in three months. Too late, Ananda asks the Buddha to live on after he renounces the “force of life” (MN 16:3.1, 3.38), but a Buddha’s word is absolute and cannot be reversed. “Conscious dying” is of course a feature of Tibetan Lamaism and is widely attested.

MN 16:26 identifies five shackles in the heart: sensual pleasures, body, form, eating and sleeping, and theism. When these are overcome, the monastic develops the basis for spiritual power consisting of concentration due to zeal, energy, purity of mind, investigation, and enthusiasm.

The Buddha says that the “energy enlightenment factor” is aroused in one who develops the “investigation of states” enlightenment factor, which arises as result of mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind and mind objects (the Four Foundations of Mindfulness) (MN 118:32). From this aroused energy, “unworldly rapture” arises. Rapture develops into tranquility. Tranquility develops concentration. Concentration develops equanimity.

Right Effort, the sixth stage of the Noble Eightfold Path, is divided into the Four Right Exertions: restraint, abandonment, cultivation, preservation,[4] in which the faculty of energy is seen (SN 48:8(8)), associated with strength, firmness, and not shirking (9((9)). According to the Devatasamyutta, energy clears the noble path by dispelling drowsinesss, lethargy, laziness, discontent, and torpor. Bodhi comments that ”The clearing of the path comes about when one expels the mental corruptions by means of the path itself, with the energy (viriya) conascent with the path.” The Sagathavagga says that energy overcomes suffering and associates it with initiative, toil, struggle, and striving “for the attainment of the as-yet-unattained, for the achievement of the as-yet- unachieved, for the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.” The Nidanavagga alludes to the possibility of using “spiritual power” or energy to teleport [sic] from one distant location to another.

In the Mahavagga the Buddha reveals a practice that he developed as a Bodhisattva, prior to his enlightenment, which he calls the Four Bases of Spiritual Power:

It occurred to me: ‘Here, a bhikkhu develops the basis for spiritual power that possesses concentration due to [desire, energy, mind, and investigation] and volitional formations of striving, thinking: ‘Thus my [desire, energy, mind, and investigation] will be neither too slack nor too tense [recalling the metaphor of the lute that we have discussed]; and it will be neither constricted internally nor distracted externally.’ And he dwells perceiving after and before: ‘As before, so after; as after, so before; as below, so above; as above, so below; as by day, so at night; as at night, so by day.’ Thus, with a mind that is open and unenveloped, he develops the mind imbued with luminosity. (SN 51:11(1))

Internal constriction refers to sloth and torpor, whereas external distraction refers to disturbance because of “the five cords of sensual pleasure,” i.e., pleasure in the objects of the five physical senses. Bodhi suggests that the phrase “’as before, so after as after, so before’ means maintaining consistency in the practice of meditation.” According to the text, “as below, so above; as above, so below” refers to the analysis of the body as consisting of numerous taints: “There are in this body head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, contents of the stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, seat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, snot, fluid of the joints, urine” (SN 51:20(10).i). “As by day, so at night; as at night, so by day” means that the practice is practised all the time. According to the commentary, “developing the mind imbued with luminosity” means that one perceives an internal mental or psychic illumination with the same intensity and vividness that one perceives the light of the sun. Thus, “enlightenment” is not a metaphor but a real psychosomatic experience.

Energy is achieved by cultivating indefatigability on striving: “Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up in my body, but I will not relax my energy so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, energy, and exertion” (AN II: 5(5)).[5]

The Buddha repeats this instruction for desire, energy, mind, and investigation. This is of course an elaboration of the Four Roads to Power that we encountered in the Majjhima Nikaya. This exercise leads directly to the development of “the various kinds of spiritual power,” referring to siddhis, including self-multiplication; invisibility; the ability to pass through matter; weightlessness; levitation; the ability to explore other worlds, both astronomical and transcendent; clairaudience; telepathy; memory of past lives; and direct clairvoyant perception of karmic causality. This stock list of spiritual powers is a recurrence of a proto-tantric thread that runs all through the Pali Canon and became highly developed in Vajrayana Buddhism, especially in Tibet, and is also experienced, as I have discussed before, in the context of the UFO phenomenon and psychedelic states of consciousness. The references to “as before, so after; as after, so before” etc. and to “a mind that is open and unenveloped” suggests the practice of the expansion of consciousness that one finds in the famous metta meditation. Finally, the Buddha says that the ultimate fruit of the practice of the Four Roads to Power is the destruction of the taints, resulting in the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, realized by and for oneself with direct knowledge or gnosis. Once again, the Pali Canon makes it clear that wisdom is the essential salvific principle, as I have discussed elsewhere.

Concentration is explained as “one-pointedness of mind” (SN 51:13(3).  Desire is desire for the renunciation of evil unwholesome states and the development and maintenance of positive wholesome states using the four faculties of desire, energy, mind, and investigation.  These terms suggest the four yogas of the Indian system: bhakti, the yoga of love, devotion, or worship (desire); hatha, the yoga of arduous physical effort; and jnana, the cognitive yoga of mental or philosophical inquiry, whereas the reiterated references to “volitional formations of striving” subsumes karma yoga (cf. Vivekananda’s Four Yogas).

Ananda tells the Brahmin Unnabha that the Four Bases of Spiritual Power is the practice by which desire is abandoned, which he identifies with the goal of the Buddhist path (SN 51:15(5)). Interestingly, therefore, it is by desire, i.e., striving, that desire is abandoned. Immabha objects to the practice on exactly this point, an argument that Ananda refutes, pointing out that when desire is gratified it abates. Similarly, when the desire for arhantship is satisfied, desire abates. This is reminiscent of the Buddha’s distinction between wholesome and unwholesome pleasures, only the second of which he rejects. This in turn became the basis for his rejection of physical asceticism as a way.

The Buddha also says that the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path leads to the development of the bases for spiritual power (SN 51:19(9)).

While on retreat, it occurred to Ananda that the practice of asceticism is successful for one who relies half on good friends and half on “manly effort.” When he returns he asks the Buddha about this, who declares that “this is the entire holy life, Ananda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a bhikkhu has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path” (SN 45:2(2); cf. AN IX:1(1)(5)). Spiritual friendship and energy are thus equated.

Related Doctrines

We have already discussed the correlation between the concept of energy in the Pali Canon and the lunar soma juice.  Soma appears in the Pali Canon as amata, referring to the immortal or deathless state, but also to ambrosia, cognate with Sanskrit amrita, the divine water of immortality, “churned” by the gods from the one world ocean. Energy is cognate with other concepts in the Pali Canon, including karma, the essential kinetic or energetic principle itself; will or intention, which creates karma; craving, which is the human kinetic principle in its fallen, debased, passionate, or “attached” state; and siddhi, spiritual, magical, or psychic powers that are said to result from intense spiritual practice.

We also find the principle of energy implicit in other doctrines of the Pali Canon with which we are familiar: merit, the stored accumulation of positive karmic potential; the transfer of merit, by which merit may be intentionally directed, shared, and increased; the power of truth, which figures prominently in the Jatakas but also appears elsewhere in the Pali Canon; and the act of truth, by which the potential power of truth may be utilized to create change, usually by means of a vow or affirmation. The kinetic principle also appears in the concept of mantra, by which the repetition of a verbal formula with awareness and intention can facilitate spiritual transformation including siddhis; and in mantra-yoga, the original term for Tantra, the yoga of energy or power.

These concepts correlate with similar concepts in other, post-Pali Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions, including the Indian concept of kundalini, the psychosomatic “serpent” energy “coiled’ or potential at the base of the spine, which the Buddha may have experienced during his practice of asceticism; Tibetan tummo or “psychic heat,” which can be generated to protect the body even in conditions of extreme cold; Chinese qi, the energy of vitality or life, which can be used to affect people at a distance as well as for healing in the practice of Qigong; and finally sexual yoga, which is greatly developed in certain highly esoteric traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, especially Kalachakra.

Zoroastrianism refers to the khvarenah (xvarenah), literally “glory” or “splendour,” referring to a divine mystical force or power associated with kingship and luck. The word is derived from Proto-Avestan *hvar, “to shine,” thus associating it with the devas, the “shining ones.” The word is also attested in Sogdian farn and Khotanese pharra, which refers to the high position or dignity of a Buddha. Khvarenah  is also associated with the haoma, a divine plant cognate with Vedic soma, possibly ephedra, a precursor of methamphetamine that excites the brain and increases body heat.[6] It is still used in Chinese medicine and was also used as a tea by native Americans and Mormon pioneers.

These concepts, doctrines, and practices are not aberrations but rather developments of concepts found in seminal form all through the Pali Canon, and will constitute the subject of Part II of this talk.

Some Synonyms and Cognate Terms for Energy (viriya)

Ardent (atapi)
Arising (uppada)
Arousal (arambha)
Delight (nandi)
Desire (chanda)
Enthusiasm (ussolhi)
Exertion (opakkama, sankhara)
Fire (teja)
Intention (sankappa)
Life (ayu, jivita)
Light (aloka)
Luminosity (obhasa, pabhasa)
Manly effort (viriya)
Heat (usma)
Power (bala, iddhi)
Radiant (abhassaro)
Rapture (piti)
Shining one (deva)
Stirring (eja)
Striving (padhana)
Virtue (silava)
Vitality (ayu)
Zeal (chanda)


Part II

Recapitulation of Part 1

Last time I introduced the topic of energy (Pali viriya), as an important element of the Buddhist path, and associated it with words relating to masculine sexuality. In the Indian tradition, male sexuality is explicitly associated with the spiritual quest, an association that is confirmed by depth psychology. As a man on the verge of self-perfection, the bodhisattva in his final rebirth is portrayed as a virile, healthy, attractive, and sexually active male. The fact that the Buddha was not chaste during his early years created a difficulty for him in the context of the social norms of his time, resulting in accusations of laxness that dogged him all through his life. This is documented in the Pali Canon. Seminal retention was highly valued, and there is no indication that the Buddha was not completely chaste after the age of 29 although he was comfortable consorting with a royal harlot towards the end of his life. In this respect, he was rather like Yeshua, the Galilean bodhisattva, and quite unlike the self-righteous religious moralists of his time and ours.

The Buddhist description of energy (“virility”) is clearly phallic. It is aroused, persisted in, and “exerted.” This may even be the ideological justification for the spiritual misogyny that we find all through the Pali Canon. (However, the Buddha does not appear to have drawn this conclusion.) Arousing energy alone is not sufficient, however. It must also be moderated or it can become a source of instability. “Arousing energy” is in fact the literal meaning of arya, “noble” (lit. “striving”). “Putting forth energy” is especially associated with mental concentration as well as the so-called “walking meditation.” There are also references to a “condition of heat,” those expert in developing this condition, and therefore the implication of a yoga of heat, perhaps similar to that found in Tibetan Buddhism. This “heat” is associated with the snake, as in later Indian traditions associated with the kundalini energy at the base of the spine. The power of energy is also associated with the power of truth and the act of truth. Energy is aroused “for the attainment of the as-yet-unattained, for the achievement of the as-yet-unachieved, for the realization of the as-yet-unrealized,” and is even associated directly with the attainment of nirvana through the light and luminosity symbolism that is associated with the attainment of enlightenment – an association that is not only in the English. Energy is also associated with the attainment of psychic powers, including a “force of life” that promotes longevity and the experience of ecstatic, visionary, and even psychedelic states of mind.

I also identified cognate concepts that appear to be similar to energy that developed in Buddhist traditions, presumably based on the texts I have been citing. Once again, we see Buddhist traditions drawing on the same texts that we also find in the Pali Canon. These concepts include soma, karma, will, craving, siddhi, merit, power of truth, mantra, kundalini, tummo, and qi.  I’ll be discussing some of these traditions in this talk, especially kundalini yoga, tummo yoga, qijong, and sexual yoga.

Kundalini Yoga

The concept of “kundalini” appears to have originated during the Upanishadic period (9th-3rd cent. BCE). The word means “coiled.” It is also the name of the goddess Durga, a form of Shakti, the primordial cosmic energy and divine feminine creative power. Kundalini was used as the name of a “serpent-like” shakti in the eleventh century. The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad was codified in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

variants_5416Kundalini refers to a psychophysical or psychosomatic “spiritual energy” or “vital force” associated with the area at the base of the spine, in the triangular-shaped sacrum bone, the so-called muladhara chakra. Interestingly, the word “sacrum” means “sacred.” Kundalini is symbolized as a coiled serpent. The signs of kundalini awakening include a variety of physical symptoms, including spasmodic jerking, sensations of electricity, heat, visions, unusual sounds, sexual arousal, emotionality, headache, increased blood pressure, accelerated heartbeat, pain, sensitivity, altered states of consciousness, and disturbances of sleep or appetite. These symptoms may persist for various periods of time but are usually self-resolving if allowed to pursue their own course.

Kundalini yoga is also known as laya yoga (lit. “union by absorption”). It is a Hindu school of yoga influenced by Shaktism and Tantra. Its goal is to “awaken” – a word also used by the Buddha – kundalini. Techniques used to achieve this include meditation, breath work or pranayama, chanting mantras, and physical postures (asanas) or exercises. Practitioners say that kundalini awakening feels like an electric current running along the spine.

Kundalini yoga is a synthesis of hatha yoga (lit. “union by effort”) , kriya yoga (lit. “union by action”), and laya yoga. Two classic textbooks of this yoga include the Hathayogapradikpika and the Shivasamhita. The Shivasamhita refers to four yogas used to activate the kundalini potential: mantra yoga, hatha yoga, laya yoga, and raja yoga (lit. “royal yoga” or perhaps “union by will”) and states that kundalini realization is trans-dual.

The Buddha refers to an illumination that he experienced because of his ascetic practices, which he associated with severe physical pain: “But although tireless energy was aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness was established, my body was overwrought and uncalm because I was exhausted by the painful striving. But such painful feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain” (MN 36:20-25, repeated in MN 85 and 100). This experience was effected by means of intense mental concentration, extreme breath work, and self-starvation. This sounds typical of kundalini awakening. Gopi Krishna, for example, was in an extremely painful dysfunctional state for sixteen years before his kundalini finally became balanced and calm.

When “awakened” or activated, the kundalini is “directed” through the central nerve channel of the spine (the sushumna) through six energy centres or chakras, whence it “penetrates” the seventh chakra, the sahasrara, located at the top of the head, inducing an ecstatic state.[7]

Methods to awaken kundalini are divided into active and passive. Active methods include physical exercises, concentration, visualization, breath work, meditation, and chanting. The passive method is surrendering oneself emotionally to the guru, whence the cult of guru worship or “bhakti yoga” that we find in popular Hinduism and in Buddhism too.

Further Reading

“The Sacrum Bone.” Sahaz E-zine (April 2001), Vol. 2:4. http://holyspirit-shekinah.org/_/sacrum_bone.htm

Sivananda. Kundalini Yoga. Divine Life Society.

Woodroffe, John,  The Serpent Power. 1918.

Tummo Yoga



Tummo (pronounced ‘dumo’) refers to a form of Tibetan breath work based on the Six Yogas of Naropa (11th century); the 12th century Lamdre (Tib. “path”) teachings, regarded as the highest or chief practice of the Shakya school; Kalachakra (10th-11th centuries); and Anuyoga, the second highest practice of the Nyingma system of Tibetan Buddhism, second only to Atiyoga or Dzogchen. The Tibetan word tummo means “fierce [woman]” or “inner fire.”

The fundamental conception of tummo is familiar to us as the system of energy channels or nadis that run all through the body, especially the central spinal cord, and two adjacent channels that run on either side of the spine, associated with “solar’ and “lunar” energies. In tummo, the three lowest chakras are visualized to focus bodily awareness on the area below the navel. Vital energy, conceptualized as a “wind” (Skt. prana), is activated, accumulated, and forced into the central channel by a combination of breath control and other yogic exercises. As it accumulates, the energy creates a “psychic heat” (Tib. drod) that destroys karma.

Tummo is the practical basis of karmamudra, which I’ll discuss shortly in the context of sexual yoga. Interestingly, tummo practitioners wear clothes of special colours to intensify the tummo fire.[8]

The mastery of tummo is part of the completion stage of the Anuttarayoga Tantra. The completion stage follows the generation state. Completion stage “with marks” is based partly on tummo yoga.

Tummo, which is really the Tibetan version of kundalini yoga, also known as candali (Skt. candala, “outcaste”?) yoga was developed as a practice by the Tibetan mahasiddhas (associated with Padmasambhava) between the 8th and 12th centuries. Milarepa was a prominent practitioner of candali yoga.

The ability of tummo practitioners to withstand extreme cold is well attested. In Tibet, the tummo adept is required to spend the night on a glacier glad only in a cotton cloth. If he survives the night, he is considered to have mastered the tummo practice. The Dutch daredevil Wim Hof uses similar techniques to withstand extreme cold, and has been studied by scientists.

The following summary of tummo yoga is based on the classic translation of a Tibetan block print entitled (in English translation) “An Epitome of the Six Doctrines.”

The Yoga of the Psychic Heat consists of five preliminary exercises and three fundamental practices. The essential method is to sit cross-legged, purify the body through a series of intensive visualizations and breathing exercises, and then through the force of meditative concentration activate and direct the “psychic heat” up through the spine to illuminate the brain and the whole body. The result is that one experiences an all-pervading bodily warmth and bliss. Easy to say, hard to do! The complete instruction consists of about forty pages, and presupposes very advanced imaginative and meditative skills. There are several Western witnesses to tummo yoga, including the adventurer Alexandra David-Neel, Lama Anagarika Govinda, and anthropologist Dr. John Crook.

Further Reading

W.Y. Evans Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. London: Oxford University Press, 1935; 2nd ed. 1958; rpt. 1967.



Literally “the practice of vital energy,” qigong is used in Chinese martial arts like gongfu to cultivate and balance qi, or “life energy.” Similar in principle to “walking meditation,” qigong coordinates bodily movements, breath work, and meditation. Qigong is traditionally a secret esoteric practice handed down by lineages of transmission and is especially associated with Taoism. The term is Taoist and originated during the Tang dynasty (7th-10th centuries). There are many forms of qigong, including 75 ancient and 56 modern forms. Today qigong combines Taoist “internal alchemy,” ancient meditations called “cultivating qi” and “standing meditation,” and a breathing exercise called “guiding and pulling.” Qigong plays a role in traditional Chinese medicine for its healing qualities, Confucianism to promote longevity and develop character, and as a form of meditation in Taoism and Buddhism. Since the Cultural Revolution in China, the Communist Party has worked to consolidate qigong theory and practice on a scientific basis. The Qigong Science and Research Organization was established for this purpose in 1985, but the Chinese government has also cracked down on the practice since 1999. The Chinese Health Qigong Association, a state-run agency established in 2000, officially recognizes nine forms of qigong.

The concept of qi is not too dissimilar from the Indian concept of prana, the vital “wind” that is associated with the vitality of the body, but also associated with a universal or cosmic energy. It is based on a theory of energy flow throughout the body, nerve meridians or channels, energy centres, and balancing qi in meridians or other pathways, much like kundalini yoga.

Qigong incorporates five basic techniques: intentional movement, rhythmic breathing, awareness visualization, and chanting or sound. In addition, qigong practice incorporates a soft gaze and an expressionless face; solid stance; relaxation; and balance and counterbalance, where one moves in relation to a centre of gravity. The goals of qigong practice include equanimity, tranquility, and stillness. Practising with little or no motion is generally considered the highest form of qigong practice. One can see the similarity to Buddhism here right away.

0Qigong may be classified as dynamic, static, meditative, and external.  Dynamic or active qigong, called dong gong, is based on repetitive stretching and fluid movements, breathing, and awareness. Static qigong, called jing gong, involves holding postures for extended periods, similar to yoga. An example of a qigong posture is the Horse Stance, which I learned from my chiropractor who was an ethnic Chinese Tai Chi master. External or meditative qigong focuses on meditation, breath work, visualization, and chanting. External qigong utilizes external supports including herbs, food, drinks, massage, physical manipulations, and interaction with other living organisms including treatment by a therapist who directs and transmits qi. Qigong meditation combines slow stylized movements, deep breathing, mental concentration, and visualization of qi in the body.                      

Sexual Yoga

In his Introduction to Buddhism (2nd ed., 2013) Peter Harvey refers quite openly to “sexual yoga,” so I will use that term here.

Tantric Buddhists re-evaluate the body, based on the early Buddhist insight that nirvana is realized through the body. The great Theravadin scholar-translator, Buddhaghosa, went so far as to state that this realization is unique to the dharma. The Guhyasamaja Tantra advances sexual yoga, including pleasure as the path to Buddhahood (enjoying desire without attachment requires a far more rigorous discipline than simple abstinence). Sexual yoga is mostly practised in the first Tibetan Buddhist school, the Nyingma, founded by Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Only partners with years of physical training can practice sexual yoga. The seminal fluid, symbolizing the bodhicitta, is retained and visualized as ascending through an energy channel in the back to the top of the head (the Tibetan version of the sushumna). Even among the conservative Gelugpa, founded by Tsongskapa, sexual yoga is still practised by monastics as a visualization.

The Nyingma have nine grades, levels, or degrees of realization and practice, the top three degrees being Atiyoga (equivalent to Dzogchen), Anuyoga, and the Mahayoga (working with the yidams, symbols of “enlightened energy”; the mental body; and the six yogas of Naropa). According to Harvey, Anuyoga is seen as particularly appropriate for the passionate. While visualizing the energy in the energy channels, and chanting and visualizing mantras, the male is visualized as a male deity and the female visualized as the yidam’s consort or shakti. These embody skilled means and wisdom. In the esoteric twilight language of the Tantras, the penis is called the Vajra (the diamond-thunderbolt representing indestructibility and irresistible force) and the vulva the lotus flower. The sexual energy is inhibited and sublimated, visualized as ascending the spine till it reaches the top of the head, where it generates a blissful state of non-dual radiant clarity; skilled means and wisdom are joined, all concepts and images vanish and there is direct gnosis of emptiness. This yoga is performed in a calm state and with deliberation, so that the energy is directly experienced, “reversed” or “inverted” (“the method of reversal”) and finally transmuted into wisdom.[9]

Although the Pali Canon is clearly misogynistic and anti-sexual, and the sangha was clearly (intended to be) chaste, it is reasonable to include sexual energy in the category of the Buddhist conception of energy, and we have clearly established this is our discussion of the Buddhist concept of viriya or ‘virile energy’ with reference to the oldest Buddhist texts in the first part of this talk. In his final rebirth as a bodhisattva, the Buddha was clearly highly sexed, to put it directly, up until his renunciation at the age of 29, six years prior to his Enlightenment. Thus, the Pali Canon paints the picture of a virile male who transcends his own sexuality in the act of renunciation, rather than a eunuch, whether asexual or repressed, which is more commonly associated with monasticism in the West. The Pali Canon itself states that arhantship is only available to humans for the first two thousand years after the Parinibbana, i.e., approximately 1600 CE (1100-2100 CE allowing for rounding).[10] Once again, the present century is perceived as a time of great significance. Sexual yoga might also be associated with the path of the householder, who is clearly not celibate but who may practise meditation according to the Pali Canon. Even according to the Pali Canon, it is possible for a householder to achieve arhantship. Thus, the prohibition of sexual intercourse according to the Vinaya does not necessarily prohibit the possibility of a Buddhist sexual yoga. Moreover, in fact one finds this to be historically the case. There are even indications in the Vinaya that an unknown but significant number of monastics were not celibate, even during the time of the Buddha.

In Tibet, sexual yoga is called karmamudra, literally “action seal.” This is a Vajrayana or Tantra practice of union with a consort, either physical or visualized. Karmamudra is considered equivalent in attainment to visualization of the yidam and tummo yoga. According to the six Yogas of Naropa, it is either a yoga in its own right or an aspect of tummo yoga. The traditional Tibetan view is that karmamudra is necessary to achieve Buddhahood, although this is not universally held today, including by the present Dalai Lama. This explains the otherwise inexplicable significance of the Bodhisattva’s enthusiasm for women during his youth.

The mastery of tummo yoga is considered to be the prerequisite to practise karmamudra properly. Thus, it is a very advanced practice. Women communicated it through secret oral instructions. Women also wrote seven eighth century tantric texts. In Tibet, non-monastic yogis mainly in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools would practice karmamudra, especially treasure (terma) seekers, ngagpas (non-monastic practitioners of Dzogchen), and hereditary lamas. The practice of karmamudra has also come to the West along with some Tibetan dharma teachers, such as Kalu Rinpoche, with mixed results. See, for example, anthropologist June Campbell’s book, Traveler in Space. There is also a book review online.[11]

Sexuality has featured prominently in the Indian tradition, including Krishna, Ramakrishna, and Aurobindo and the Mother, and others. Even the chaste Krishnamurti had an illicit affair (and Gandhi too, apparently)!

There are also autonomous Western traditions of sexual yoga associated with the gnostic Christians, Swedenborg, William Blake, John Dee and Edward Kelley, Pascal Beverly Randolph, Karl Kellner, Aleister Crowley, Adi Da, and others. Other ancient civilizations, including the Sumerians, Greeks, and Romans carried out sexual orgia in the context of spirituality amounting to a yoga.

The essential metaphysical principle of sexual yoga is the realization that nirvana and samsara are ultimately one in the trans-dual reality. The essential reality of the phenomenon is always enlightenment. This is the ultimate teaching of interdependent origination. Phenomena themselves do not create suffering, it is craving that reifies sentient energy into illusory objects of attachment (kinetic and static). Therefore, all energy is essentially emptiness; the realization of emptiness is enlightenment. The phenomenal, therefore,  can through realization be transmuted from a factor of ignorance into a factor of enlightenment by the skilled means (upaya) of quenching desirous attachment. As Ananda himself states in the Pali Canon, desire disappears entirely when it is completely satisfied (SN 51:15(5)). Therefore, “quenching” (nirvana) is also the ultimate satisfaction of desire. The Buddha never renounces the principle of wholesome pleasure, and nirvana itself is seen as blissful. In order to realize this in practice one must be very advanced towards the realization of emptiness and thus emancipation, for anyone else would not be able to overcome attachment and thus intensify even more one’s bondage to rebirth Therefore, by definition only the very advanced yogi can practise sexual yoga – or a bodhisattva in his final rebirth! At the same time, there are also degrees of practice but and householder forms of sexual yoga logically follow. By following these the householder may be assured of complying with the Third Precept.

In conclusion I’d like to read an explicit description of Tibetan sexual yoga, also called the secret and wisdom empowerments, found on page 233 of chapter 7 of Paul Williams’s Buddhist Thought, by Anthony Tribe, which perfectly summarizes all the of the foregoing. However, Yarmouth is in a general region so in deference to Linden Labs I will refer you to the blog.

The secret and wisdom empowerments were controversial in India for the sexual elements in them. They may still seem shocking today. The secret empowerment, which follows the completion of the jar empowerments, requires the person being initiated, who in the texts is generally presumed to be male, to lead the woman who will be his tantric partner to the Vajra-master. The Vajra-master sexually unites with her. After ejaculating, the Vajra-master collects some of the combined sexual fluids, which is symbolically equated with bodhicitta, form the woman’s vagina. This he places on the tongue of the person being initiated who must swallow it without hesitation, exclaiming ‘O Bliss!’ (Candamaharosana Tantra iii). For the wisdom empowerment the Vajra-master returns the woman to the person being initiated who in turns unites with her. As he does so, he (in theory) should experience a series of four states of bliss (ananda).

Further Reading

Harvey, Peter. Introduction to Buddhism. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

“I Was a Tantric Sex Slave.” The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/i-was-a-tantric-sex-slave-1069859.html.

Tribe, Anthony. Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, by Paul Williams. Chapter 7: Tantric Buddhism in India. London: Routledge, 2000.

The Nine Yanas of Nyingma

The ancient school (Nyingma) divided the entire Buddhist path into three vehicles and nine stages. The vehicles are called vehicles because they are means of going (cf. the “chariot” (Heb. merkabah) as a symbol of the “great work” in Cabala).[12] The stages are called stages because they are stages of the way. Anthony Tribe interestingly observed that “this division is broadly chronological. Kriya tantras are generally earlier than the Carya, with the Carya generally preceding the Yoga tantras” (Paul Williams, Buddhist Thought (2000), p. 203). All of these divisions are ultimately divisions of two things, the path and the fruit, which are in turn the kinetic and static aspects of the one ultimate trans-dual reality, the dharma itself.

Each stage is characterized by view, meditation, and activity. In the table that follows, I have focused on clarifying the practice or practices associated with each stage expressed in the simplest and most direct language possible. Many of these practices are cultural adaptations of universal technqiues found all through the perennial philosophy, but are presented in deliberately involved, obscure, and often ambiguous language (the so-called “twilight” language) so are difficult to identify clearly, which is why I have chosen to focus on them here. The table collates multiple references, not all of which agree.

Nine Yana’s of the Nyingma System

Inner  (Internal) Tantra – The Way of Transformation

Atiyoga(yana) (mahamudra) Dzogchen
Anuyoga(yana)(anuttara yoga) (“completion or perfection stage”) Sexual yoga; meditation on the mental body, chakras, winds, energy channels, and essential consciousness (some sources place six yogas of Naropa here)
Mahayoga(yana) (“generation or development stage”) Sexual elements and forbidden/impure substances; working with the yidam,[13] subtle body and six yogas of Naropa[14] (other sources say identification with the deity and their consort or shakti)

Outer (External) Tantra – The Way of Purification

Yogatantra (yogayana) Minor sexual elements (some sources say identification with a deity)
Caryatantra (upa(tantra)yana, ubhaya) Self-identification with a deity (deity yoga) (some sources say regarding the deity as a brother or a friend)
Kriyatantra (kriyayana) Rituals of protection, purification, mantras, and mandalas; deity worship

Sutra – The Way of Renunciation

Bodhisattva Cultivation of the perfections; bodhicitta; realization of emptiness; 37 factors of enlightenment
Pratyekabuddha Tranquility and insight meditation; method of reversal (interdependent origination)
Shrvaka Self-control (ethics) (some sources put insight and tranquility meditation here)
——— [Ngondro]

See Peter Harvey, op. cit., pp. 128 f., 204, 356.

As you can see, sexual yoga is specifically associated with the eighth degree of Anuyoga. Anuyoga corresponds to the Tantric completion phase, already mentioned. In this grade, one visualizes the mental body, chakras, winds, energy channels, and the bindu – lit. “semen,” identified with the vital or essential consciousness (vinnana). One meditates on and experiences the identity of nirvana and samsara as the unity of emptiness and wisdom. The Anuyoga tantras number three thousand pages in Tibetan text. A quick search on Amazon shows that there is one book on Anuyoga in English – Key to Opening the Wisdom Door of Anuyoga, by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche.

Further Reading

Dilgo Kyentse. “The Nine Ways.http://www.vajrayana.org.hk/Doc/The%20Nine%20Ways%20by%20HH%20Dilgo%20Khyentse.pdf.

Harvey, Peter. Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche. Key to Opening the Wisdom Door of Anuyoga. https://www.amazon.ca/Key-Opening-Wisdom-Door-Anuyoga/dp/B01K3RLWY2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493256760&sr=8-1&keywords=anuyoga.

“Nine Vehicles of the Nyingma.” https://earlytibet.com/2007/08/21/the-nine-vehicles-of-the-nyingma-new-sources/.

Zenkar, Alak and Thubten Nyima. “A Brief Presentation of the Nine Vehicles.” http://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/alak-zenkar/nine-yanas.


[1] “Should any bhikkhu — participating in the training and livelihood of the bhikkhus, without having renounced the training, without having declared his weakness — engage in the sexual act, even with a female animal, he is defeated and no longer in communion” (trans. Thanissaro). The qualification is typical of the Pali Canon and indicates one of the means by which some bhikkus sought to evade the injunction.

[2] The Pali Canon implies that Sariputta and Maudgalyayana were even accused of homoerotism, an accusation that the Buddha rejected, stating that that they were only friends. Their cremated remains were housed together in the famous Third Stupa and at the Satadhara Stupa, with Sariputta in the south and Moggallana in the north (the same relations to the Buddha that they had in life). However, the statement that Sariputta was attracted to the sangha by the ”surpassing beauty” of the male monastic, Upasena, clearly implies that he was homosexual, which need not imply that that Sariputta and Maudgalyayana had anything more than a “platonic” relationship, however. Maudgalyayana was violently murdered at the age of 84. See Wikipedia, “Relics of Sariputra and Mahamoggallana.”

[3] Cf. Gen. 38:8-10: “And Judah said unto Onan, Go into unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also.” According to an early Rabbinic tradition, this passage refers to masturbation. The Egyptians also regarded semen as a potent and even dangerous substance, and prohibited its wastage. (KJV) (ed.)

[4] Explained as the non-arising of unarisen bad unwholesome qualities, the abandoning of arisen bad unwholesome qualities, the arising of unarisen wholesome qualities, and the maintenance of arisen wholesome qualities respectively (AN IV:69(9)).

[5] Compare the notorious Abignitantra, “तुम्हारी हड्डियों पर अपना मांस लटका दे, और अपनी आँखें अनगिनत तक अपनी शोकहित वासना से चमकते हुए, अज्ञात के लिए अपने जुनून के साथ, उसके लिए वह ज्ञान से परे है जो एक के पास है।”.

[6] The identity of soma or haoma is a matter of dispute. The mainstream view equates it with ephedra, an amphetamine, whereas others hold that soma was a  psychedelic. Whatever its ultimate identity, everyone agrees however that it was a mind-altering substance.

[7] In addition, there are two adjacent channels, the ida (Skt. “comfort”) and pingala (Skt. “tawny”) lunar and solar channels, associated with the left and right sides of the body respectively. The channels wind around the sushumna in a figure 8, similar to the DNA helix. Where they intersect at the forehead, throat, heart, solar plexus, abdomen, and sex organs they generate the corresponding chakras. If you overlap this description onto a map of the internal organs of the human body, you discover an interesting coincidence; the chakras correspond to the glands of the endocrine system in the order pineal, pituitary, thyroid, thymus, pancreas, gonads, and adrenals.  The endocrine system secretes hormones directly into the circulatory system to regulate the organs of the body and is described as an “information signal system.” I have described the Indian system of chakras. The Tibetans have a similar but slightly different variation of this description, which I will not go into today.

[8] David Icke was instructed by his spiritual teachers to wear turquoise, associated in Buddhism with the goddess Tara or Dolma, the Buddhist “Liberation Goddess,” to purify and intensify his psychic energy.  Interestingly, a Tibetan Buddhist tradition is that “wearing ‘living’ turquoise is therefore very desirable, as it will give long life to the wearer” (http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/colors/2/).

[9] See Harvey, op. cit., pp. 191, 193, 205, 208, 296, 356f. The Dalai Lama tells us that Tibetan tradition teaches us that we experience the state of “radiant clarity” or “clear light state” momentarily when we sneeze, faint, sleep, orgasm, or die (The Universe in a Single Atom (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005), p. 157).

[10] Anguttara Nikaya (trans. Bodhi), p. 1805, n. 1747.

[11] “I Was a Tantric Sex Slave.” The Independent, 10 February 1999. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/i-was-a-tantric-sex-slave-1069859.html.

[12] The so-called “work of the chariot” has some similarities to kundalini, including the notion of a primal energy that is awakened and directed upward through seven heavenly realms or “wheels” to the highest divine state associated with illumination and bliss.

[13] “The yidam represents awakening and so its appearance reflects whatever is required by the practitioner in order to awaken” (Wikipedia). The Tibetan notion of a yidam may be compared with concepts such as the egregore, patron saint, loa, totem, power animal, or even “holy guardian angel” in different traditions. The yidam symbolizes enlightened energy or “Buddha-nature,” and is thus an emanation of one’s own mind (in its ultimate aspect). Working with the yidam involves high levels of concentration and visualization. Any Tantric deity may be a yidam.

[14] The six yogas of Naropa include the yogas of psychic heat (Tib. tummo), illusory body, lucid dreaming, clear light, intermediate state (Tib. bardo), and consciousness transference (Tib. phowa). See Harvey, op. cit., p. 354.

The Book of the Right Way of Laozi

NOTE: I just noticed that I hadn’t posted all of my draft translations of the Tao Te Ching on my blog. Rather than post the eleven missing chapters in consecutive blogs, I am posting them here in one blog for those are interested. Please note that these are draft translations, not final versions.


The good cart leaves no trace. The good speech finds no fault.
The good businessman does not need to use a tally.
A good door does not need a lock, yet it cannot be opened.
A good knot does not need to be tied, yet it cannot be loosened.
Truly, because the sage is perfectly good, he saves the people because he does not abandon the people.
He saves beings because he does not abandon beings.
Truly, we refer to the onset of clarity.
Because the good people teach the bad people
The bad people support the good people.
He who does not honour the teacher does not love a valuable resource.
Even though learned, they are lost. Truly, we refer to a vital mystery.


He who knows the male power protects his female energy.
Thus aligning himself with the universal flow of things, he uses the universal flow.
Never giving up this power, he returns to the primordial state.
He who knows the bright protects the dark; thus he conforms to the universal paradigm.
Thus conforming to the universal paradigm, he is not subject to variability.
He who returns to the source is not subject to duality.
He who knows fame, protects his privacy. Thus he makes himself empty, like a valley.
It is enough to make one’s strength empty, like a valley.
Thus he returns to the primordial simplicity.
Tools are made by analyzing nature.
The sage uses this principle to control the state.
Therefore, he uses everything but respects its integrity.


He who would use the way to help a ruler of the world

Will not use violence to achieve his ends, for everything under the sun comes back to its source.

Wherever armies go, there only thorns and brambles will grow.

Certainly, armies leave in their wake terrible times.

It is skilful to seek only one’s immediate goal, then stop, not daring to go beyond what one is able to accomplish.

One achieves one’s goal, but does not boast. One achieves one’s goal, but does not go further.

One achieves one’s goal, but is not arrogant. One achieves one’s goal, but then one stops.

One achieves one’s goal without conflict.

Everything that waxes, wanes. Truly, this is not the way.

That which is not the way dies young.



The universal way cannot be described.

Infintesimal, no one in the whole universe can use it, not even your most powerful men.

Yet it is the source of their power.

Everything would come to them.

When the higher and the lower work in harmony, they appear on the earth as a sweet dew. Even without rulers, everyone participates.

When you have industry, you have speech.

Speech mucks everything up.

You need to know when to shut up.

Just shut up, and you can act with impunity.

The way is the paradigm. It is everywhere.

Like the ravine that carries the river to the sea.



The ancient way o’erflows its banks, like a winding river.

Everyone relies on it as the source of life, yet it denies no one. It inspires every accomplishment, yet cannot be identified.

It gives rise to everything, but neither possesses nor is possessed.

Desireless, it is regarded as unimportant. Hence it is invisible.

Truly, the ancient way precedes language.

Because its goal is selfless, it is great.

And this is how greatness is achieved.



If you would tense something, it must be relaxed.

If you would weaken something, it must be strengthened.

If you would abolish something, it must be made to flourish.

If you wish to take something, it must be given.

Truly, this teaching is paradoxical.

By its means, the soft and the weak may overcome the hard and the strong.

Just as a fish cannot escape its habitat,

So the machinery of the state should not be subjected to popular opinion.



The eternal way neither acts nor acts not.
If the rulers were able to guard it,
Everything would transform itself.
After the transformation, if desire were to appear,
I would suppress it, because the nameless is simple.
Because the nameless is simple, man also will not desire.
Without desire, by means of stillness, the world will reorganize itself.



To abstain from virtue is the highest virtue.

The lowest virtue is to act aggressively.

Spontaneity is better than conformity.

Having to act is not so great.

The righteous person acts without acting.

The righteous knower does not get entangled in circumlocutions.

The righteous ethical person acts spontaneously.

When traditions are questioned society is thrown into confusion and violence.

Therefore, hold to the way. When the way is no longer followed, virtue is substituted.

When virtue is lost, the people govern themselves.

When the people can no longer govern themselves, they are ruled by laws.

When laws can no longer be enforced, traditions still remain.

But even traditions are forgotten. Paradoxically, traditionalism is succeeded by anarchy.

Thus, the ancient sages are both the flowering of the way and the source of stupidity.

Truly, the virtuous person abides in the security of tradition.

Truly, he remains with the substantial, not the insubstantial.

Truly, he resides in the essential, not the superficial.

Thus he gives up one and gains the other.



By order the state governs the nation.

By disorder the military exercises power.

But everything that occurs comes out of nothing.

How do I know that this is true?

By this!

The more you regulate them, the more the people are impoverished.

The more sophisticated, the more muddle-headed the people become.

The more technicians there are with their inventions and their innovations, the more the people suffer.

The more laws are made, the more criminals appear.

Therefore, the sage says:

Do not act, and the people will transform themselves.

Love stillness, and the people will govern themselves.

Do not toil, and the people will become rich.

Desire nothing, and the people’s lives will be easy.



Everyone under the sun says that my teaching is profound,

Familiar, yet not familiar.

Truly, man is ancient. This is why he is confused –  familiar, not familiar, familiar.

In ancient times, man was more refined.

I have three treasures.

I hold to them and preserve them.

First, I refer to the heart.

Second, I refer to thrift.

Third, I refer to not presuming to put myself first.

Courage comes from the heart.

Generosity comes from frugality. Everything that one needs to succeed comes from

Not daring to put oneself first.

Today thrift and love have been abandoned, … [missing text]



The best warrior is not aggressive.
The best fighter does not rage.
The best victor does not contend.
The best leader puts himself second.
Truly we refer to using personal power.
Truly we refer to the primal order.