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The Kagyu lineage of Buddhist Practice

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The Kagyu lineage of Buddhist Practice

Milarepa's System of Practice, known as the Kagyu or "Lineage of the Word," was given by the trans-historical figure Vajradhara to the guru Tilopa, who in turn taught Naropa. Marpa, Milarepa's lama, received these teachings from Naropa, translated their scriptures, and established them in Tibet. Milarepa himself had two principal successors and many other accomplished disciples who continued the Kagyu tradition in a number of variant lineages. Later lamas imparted their own personal styles, so that the Kagyu practices of the present day cannot be viewed as identical to Mila's own style. However, they have remained largely similar . We'll attempt to form a picture of Milarepa's system from his explanations in the Stories and Songs from the Oral Tradition of the Great Yogi Milarepa.

The Tantric Vehicle
The practices are essentially tantric. The tantric vehicle is the same in philosophy as the Great Vehicle but differs vastly in the actual techniques of practice. Because it is equivalent to the Great Vehicle in aim but more effective in practice, Mila said," To leave the inferior path (of the Small vehicle)and (really) enter the Great Vehicle, one must enter the path of the Peerless vajra Vehicle (anuttaratantra)."

All elements of the Great Vehicle path are present in the Tantric Vehicle. The five paths and ten bodhisattva stages are condensed into two phases :production and completion. During the extensive production phase the yogi first purifies himself with guru yoga and generates the mind aimed at enlightenment. Then the currents, channels, and centers (prana, nadi, cakra) of the tantric psycho-physiological system are developed and mastery over their functions sought through the physical and mental exercises of the path of method.


The deities of the Tantric Vehicle's extensive pantheon, the male and female personifications of psychic processes as herukas and dakinis, are 2 produced" by the yogi through the practice of controlled visualization until their reality overshadows that of the superficial apparent world. This production leads the yogi to confront the processes embodied in each deity. and to transform his own environment into the divine realm of that deity.

In particular, the yogi forms a relationship with one specific deity, known as his "personal deity" (Skt. istadevatd; Tib. yidam). through practices and visualizations associated with that deity. When the yogi is able to visualize his personal deity to the point where the visualization seems to have a life of its own, and when he is able to see his environment as divine, he then practices the "divine pride" of direct identification of his own body and mind with those of his personal deity.

When the reality of the apparent world has been overshadowed by the intensity of his visualization, the yogi then enters the completion phase where the illusory nature, or voidness, of his visualization can be realised, and with it the voidness of the ordinary, apparent world. This is due to the fact that the apparent world is by nature an illusory "visualization" derived from compulsive attachment to ingrained preconceptions about the nature of things. Realization of voidness is not the only result in the completion phase, for owing to the previous production phase, the yogi is endowed with powers and method as well. In particular, at the culmination of the completion phase he has developed the three bodies, or modes of existence, of a buddha.

The dharma-body (dharmakaya) is the embodiment of his realization that all appearances-thoughts and phenomena-are inherently devoid of any independent identity. The enjoyment-body (sambhogakaya) is the means by which he communicates with advanced practitioners in their meditation. The emanation-body (nirmanakaya) appears in the world as thought it were an ordinary physical-body; but actually this physical body is not compelled by the force of past action and afflictive mental states but rather by the force or will and previous supplication for the welfare of beings (pranidhana). The latter two together are termed the form-body, and the unity of all three the essential-body.

Reference: Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet's Beloved Saint: Milarepa: Translated By Lama Kunga Rinpoche & Brian Cutillo

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