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Buddhist teaching by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu #3

Sutra and Tantra

For example, there are Sutra and Tantra teachings; these are very famous in Buddhism. What do Sutra and Tantra mean? Sutra and Tantra are Sanskrit.

Sutra means conclusion; the conclusion of an event. For example, when Buddha was in India he gave a teaching every day. There were many students, sometimes important Indian kings, Dharma kings, and they invited Buddha and his students somewhere and the students asked Buddha to give specific teachings or some explanation of something in a specific way.

Then, of course, Buddha explained, gave that teaching, and at the end he finished the teaching. When he finished the teaching, the king and all the people present were very happy and thanked the Buddha for receiving this teaching.

That's normal, no? Then later, someone like Ananda or another student of Buddha wrote down, "One day Buddha went someplace, like [Rajgur?], for example, and then the King of [Rajgur] asked for this kind of teaching and Buddha taught and explained this way". Buddha taught and explained and when he finished the teaching and everybody was satisfied, they thanked Buddha. That is the end of the Sutra. What was written down, the event of that day, that is one Sutra.

Then they were given different titles. For example, "The Sutra of the request of this King", or "The Sutra request of this place", "The Sutra of these people", etc. There are many these kinds of Sutra teaching. Sutra teaching is related more to the physical level.

When we say the three gates, it is more on the physical level. Why? Because first of all Buddha, the real Buddha state of the condition of Buddha is not the physical body. It is Dharmakaya. Dharma means all phenomena; kaya means its dimension. The real dimension of all phenomena is emptiness. Dharmakaya is not something we can see or touch.

Buddha is in the Dharmakaya and communicates the teaching to beings. How can it be communicated? For communication we need a Buddha, not Dharmakaya, but we need a Buddha, which we can see so we can talk with him. In this case, Buddha manifests a physical body, like a human being. So we can talk to each other; Buddha can talk and we can listen, we can hear, and this is on a physical level.

Also the teaching is on a physical level and Buddha taught many of these kinds of teachings on a more physical level. For example, with the explanation of karma - cause and effect - you understand this already and I don't want to explain. I am sure you all know the Four Noble Truths. This the first thing Buddha taught.

What is the main point of the Four Noble Truths? To explain cause and effect. Buddha is not explaining the cause first, but the effect. Why? Because people understand effect more easily. If someone gives me a punch, I feel pain. That is the effect. I wouldn't say, "Oh, I don't feel anything". I feel. So Buddha is saying that we have suffering.

The noble truth of suffering; all sentient beings have suffering. There is no one who has no suffering and also no one likes to suffer. Everybody agrees with Buddha. No one would discuss or argue with Buddha. Otherwise, if Buddha explained the cause first, maybe many people wouldn't agree. They have a different way of seeing and they argue instead of learn.

So Buddha explained suffering and everybody said, "Yes, it is true, we have suffering", and then Buddha asked, "Do you like to have suffering?" Everybody said, "No, we don't like it." So Buddha offered an idea: If you don't want to suffer, then the solution is not that you fight with suffering.

In general we act in that way. We live that way. When there are problems we struggle. We make a revolution. Buddha gives a teaching, which is not a solution because suffering is an effect. With the function of the effect you can learn or discover what the cause is. That is all. No struggle. So why do you have suffering? Because there is cause. If you don't want to have suffering, then you discover what the cause is. It is very easy.

In the same way when we go to a doctor, you arrive there and the doctor says, "What did you eat yesterday? What did you do, what was your attitude?" etc. Why does he ask this? Because he wants to discover which is the effect and the cause. Then the Buddha taught the second noble truth of karma, the cause, then cause and effect, and then the third noble truth of how we stop this. In this case, the teaching is more related to the physical level because there are many people who have no capacity.

Buddha explained: to not have suffering you should do meditation. Many people don't understand what doing meditation means. It is a very simple way to not create negative karma. With your body you don't do these things, for example. With your voice, you don't insult, you don't lie, etc., with your mind, you don't think bad things for others, etc., and so as to not commit negativities he gave vows.

There are also different levels of vows. These teachings are characteristically more related to the physical level. When we take these kinds of vows, we take these vows until we die. We don't take this kind of vow until we have total realization. For example, we say we don't kill animals. For killing animals what we could do? We do something, we act with our physical body. We are not only doing something like magic power for killing. Most people in general are acting.

If we have no physical body after death, how we can kill animals? Not so easy. That's an example of how everything, like vows, and all these things, are related more to the physical level. Characteristic of this teaching, of how Buddha taught Sutra, is the path of renunciation.

Renunciation means renouncing all causes of negative karma. When we know, if I do this, if I apply this, it becomes a cause for creating some cause for negativity. We renounce that. The path of renunciation means more on a physical level. That kind of teaching is related more with our physical level. But it doesn't mean that we don't need our level of energy or voice or mind. Of course, we need all. They go together always. But mainly it is related with the physical level. This is one characteristic of this path of teaching.

Another path and characteristic of teaching is Tantrism. In this case, what does Tantra mean? Tantra is Sanskrit and means continuation, without interruption. Something is continuing, mainly our energy.

How does it continue? Because through energy we have manifestation. But from where did this manifestation originate? This, of course, is our real condition, emptiness. So in Tantrism, these two are called emptiness and clarity. From emptiness manifests clarity.

How we can understand that? It is very easy. For example, if we observe ourselves, our thoughts, our minds, how does our mind manifest? The mind manifests with thoughts. When we are observing thoughts they disappear.

We look, where is thought, how is thought? From where did this thought originate? Where did this thought disappear? We can do research, but we can't find anything. What we find always is emptiness. Why do we always find emptiness? Because the source of all this manifestation is emptiness. We are getting there. Even if we can't find anything, it doesn't mean that now all thoughts disappear. Immediately another thought arrives.

We are thinking, "Oh, I can't find anything."; that is thought. You observe it, and that disappears, and you can't find anything. But the thought immediately arises. This is our real nature. Our real condition.

In Sutra teaching, there is not much emptiness and clarity. Only emptiness. Why? Because Sutra is more related to the physical level, so its nature is emptiness. It has nothing very much to do with energy or dealing with energy.

In Tantrism, the main point of the path is the energy level. So that is how the teaching developed, how Buddha taught, how he communicated. Originally through manifestations; not like Sutra teaching. In the Sutra teaching, one day Buddha is going somewhere and teaching and people are listening. Tantrism is not like that.

Who followed Tantrism from the beginning? People who already had such kind of realization. For example, we say in India, in ancient history, there were many kinds of Mahasiddhas. Mahasiddhas mean people who are realized.

So Mahasiddhas receive this kind of teaching through their vision, but when Mahasiddhas receive a teaching through vision, it doesn't mean that all people at that place can receive that teaching. They couldn't see it because manifestations are not on a physical level. Manifestations are the nature of elements and we can't see the nature of elements.

We do not have that capacity, in general. If we can see, it means we have such realization or have developed our clarity. So the teaching comes transmitted that way. Many principal teachings of Tantrism came through manifestations, not always by Buddha explaining something; not through oral teaching. Just by manifestation, with manifestation, the knowledge and understanding were received through clarity.

So with this characteristic teaching, later when realized beings like Mahasiddhas transmitted to ordinary people, they listened to the teacher, received that empowerment with visualization, and entered in the pure dimension with this idea. That is called entering into a transformation method. It is not an ordinary way.

Being in the transformation state, for example, our being, our existence, is not in the ordinary way, but we manifest how some enlightened being manifested, like Hevajra, Kalachakra, some these kinds of manifestations. Also the individual has then many different kinds of functions like five elements, five emotions, etc., and they all have movement and actions. So all this manifests like deities in personified form. And our dimension, not our ordinary impure dimension, manifests as a pure dimension and that is called a mandala.

So when we are learning Tantrism, through the figures of deities and mandalas is how we enter. For example, how do we enter into a state of transformation? When the teacher gives initiation it means they introduce that, bring that in because we can't directly have contact with enlightened beings like Hevajra or Buddha.

We do so through manifestations. So we go slowly, slowly and enter with this method. That means that the people who follow this kind of teaching have a little more capacity than the ordinary person, because ordinary people do not so easily understand what it means to enter into transformation, or transforming, or working with our energy. Our energy level is more complicated than the physical body.

The physical body we can see, we can touch, we can have contact with concretely. For example, if someone is coming, immediately we can understand and recognize who that person is. How can we recognize? Because we see the physical body, not because we see the energy of that person. If that person has no physical body, only an energy level, and they come here and present themselves in front of us, we couldn't see them. So you see, for seeing or discovering that, we need that capacity. That is why Sutra and Tantra are different.

Tantrism is called the path of transformation. Transformation means that we have mainly five emotions and when we include the five emotions, we include three root emotions. These three emotions then transform into wisdom, three wisdoms. Which way do they transform? For that reason there are manifestations like deities, wrathful manifestations, peaceful manifestations, and joyful manifestations. Three kinds. Why do we need three kinds? Because we have three different emotions: attachment, anger and ignorance. Ignorance doesn't mean that we have no education, but ignorance means we are ignorant of our real nature, we do not know it. That means we are missing clarity. So there are three kinds of manifestations to transform these three emotions.

It is not sufficient that we only know that that method exists and we can transform. For having the capacity to transform, firstly we receive initiation, introduction on the path, we apply and become really familiar with these methods, and then maybe we can transform. For example, when we are angry with someone, if we increase that anger in an ordinary way; that is the cause of samsara, the cause of suffering.

It can create so many problems. But we can transform it, transform it by manifesting the wrathful form of Vajrapani, for example. If we are familiar with that when we feel really angry, instead of impure vision, thinking I am here, he is there, he makes me angry, now I am angry, we can transform. Immediately we transform into pure vision, pure dimension and then we manifest wrathful Vajrapani. So once we have changed our physical body and energy, we can continue.

We can have more benefit now from transforming anger. When we are very peaceful, we don't have any problems, we pretend to be very angry and manifest as wrathful, but we don't feel really very much. When we are really angry we can feel it.