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[Tantra in Vajrayāna (Diamond Vehicle) Buddhism which is a part of Mahāyāna Buddhism has a very different meaning than the lower tantra which is practiced by some shadowy magicians within Hinduism or those who adopted the practices from Hinduism. No miracle that this has a very bad name in older Theosophical literature. These practices sometimes involve drugs and alcohol in combination with sex, and other extreme behavior of a physical nature leading to ‘ecstatic’ experiences. Such are opposing the path to enlightenment, giving rise to greater attachment and deprivation of the soul. The below text is entirely Buddhist – Ed.]


[Some people,] seeing that tantra involves the usage of desire, hatred, and ignorance in the path in order to overcome those and seeing that practices are geared for persons having one or the other affliction predominant among their negative states, say that the four tantra sets are for persons dominated by particular types of afflictive emotions. However, although a certain afflictive emotion in a tantric practitioner may be predominant in the sense of being stronger than the other afflictive emotions, tantrists are simply not dominated by afflictive emotions. Rather, they are especially motivated by compassion, intent on the quickest means of attaining highest enlightenment in order to be of service to others.

With regard to trainees of Highest Yoga Tantra, the Seventh Dalai Lama Gel-sang-gya-tso (bskal bzang rgya mtsho, 1708-57) says in his Explanation of the Rite of the Guhyasamaja Mandala (gsang ‘dus dkyil ‘khor cho ga’i rnam bshad):

Some see that if they rely on the Perfection Vehicle [Pāramitā Yāna] and so forth, they must amass the collections [of merit and wisdom] for three countless great eons, and thus it would take a long time and involve great difficulty. They cannot bear such hardship and seek to attain Buddhahood in a short time and by a path with little difficulty. These people who claim that they, therefore, are engaging in the short path of the Secret Mantra Vehicle [Mantra Yāna is synonymous with Tantra Yāna –Ed.]] are [actually] outside the realm of Mantra trainees. For to be a person of the Great Vehicle in general one cannot seek peace for oneself alone but, from the viewpoint of holding others more dear than oneself, must be able, for the sake of the welfare of others, to bear whatever type of hardship or suffering might arise. Since Secret Māntrikas [practitioners of Mantra] are those of extremely sharp faculties within followers of the Great Vehicle. Those persons who have turned their backs on others’ welfare and want little difficulty for themselves are not even close to the quarter of Highest Secret mantra …

One can engage in Highest Yoga Tantra, the secret short path, [only] with the motivation of an altruistic intention to become enlightened, unable to bear that sentient beings will be troubled for a long time by cyclic existence in general and by strong sufferings in particular, thinking, “How nice it would be if I could achieve right now a means to free them!”

Even though the path of the Mantra Vehicle is quicker and easier, a practitioner cannot seek it out of fear for the difficulties of the longer, Sūtra path [Sūtra or Pāramitā Yāna – DTh]. Rather, the quicker path is sought due to being particularly moved by compassion; a Mantra practitioner wants to achieve enlightenment sooner in order more quickly to be of service to others. The [present] Dalai Lama has said in public lectures that proper contemplation of the difficulties and length of the Sūtra path generates greater determination and courage; this must be because contemplating one’s own altruistic activity over great periods of time undermines the thresholds of impatience, anger, and discouragement. It is a ridiculous position that the trainees of Mantra, who are supposed to be the sharpest of all Bodhisattvas, would be discouraged in the face of a long path and, from that depression, seek a short path. The altruism of Māntrikas is even more intense than that of practitioners of the Perfection Vehicle.

Similarly, the Mongolian savant [ang-gya Rol-bay-dor-ja (lcang skya rol p a’i rdo rje, 1717-86) says in his Clear Exposition of the Presentations of Tenets, Beautiful Ornament for the Meru of the Subduer’s Teaching (grub pa’i miha’i rnam par bzhag pa gsal bar bshad pa thub bstan lhun po’i mdzes rgyan):

It is said in the precious tantras and in many commentaries that even those trainees of the Mantra Vehicle who have low faculties must have far greater compassion, sharper faculties, and a superior lot than the trainees of sharpest faculties in the Perfection Vehicle. Therefore, those who think and propound that the Mantra Vehicle was taught for persons discouraged about achieving enlightenment over a long time and with great difficulty make clear that they have no penetration of the meaning of tantra. Furthermore, the statement that the Mantra Vehicle is quicker than the Perfection Vehicle is in relation to trainees who are suitable vessels, not in terms of just anyone. Therefore, it is not sufficient that the doctrine be the Mantra Vehicle; the person must be properly engaged in the Mantra Vehicle.

Far from being taught for those who are unable to proceed on the Perfection (Pāramitā) Vehicle, the four tantras were expounded for persons of particularly great compassion, and thus the position that the four tantra sets are for persons dominated by different types of afflictive emotions such as desire or hatred is impossible.

Jeffrey Hopkins writes:

In tantric deity yoga the mind realizing emptiness and motivated by compassion is used as the basis of emanation of a deity such as Kālachakra. The compassionately motivated wisdom consciousness itself provides the stuff of the deity. At the same time as it is appearing as a deity – an ideal person helping other beings – it maintains ascertainment of two collections of merit (altruistic deeds) and wisdom [i.e. understanding leading to true intuitive recognition of the nonexistence of independent existence of things and beings in their spiritual essence] are accumulated simultaneously, the two aspects of wisdom and compassion being contained within the entity of one consciousness. Thus deity yoga is founded on the very heart of the sūtra path of the Great Vehicle [Mahāyāna], compassion and realization of emptiness. [In the beginning stages – Ed.] tantric initiation authorizes those who have some experience of compassion and a degree of understanding to practice deity yoga. [italics mine].

[The above texts are taken from: Kālachakra Tantra; Rite of Initiation, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; translated, edited and introduced by © Jeffrey Hopkins (Enlarged edition, 1999). Wisdom Publications, Boston, USA, ISBN 0-86171-151-3, pp.31-33]