To certain disciples that had the qualities and aptitude the Buddha also gave teachings of the tantras or the Vajrayana path, by which Buddhahood can be achieved much more rapidly than with the Common Mahayana practices.
The Vajrayana (Indestructible Vehicle) is a special collection of mahayana practices taught in the tantras that lead more swiftly to buddhahood. We enter the Vajrayana by taking initiations and the path comprises vows, initiations, reading transmissions and instructions which constitute the full range of Buddhist teachings.
The Vajrayana Teacher
In the Vajrayana initiations can only be given by a properly qualified teacher, someone who bestows upon us the precious means for obtaining enlightenment. The teacher must have been given permission by his own master to bestow each of these upon students. For further details on the qualifications which a teacher should possess, one should ask for transmission and explanation of texts such as Tsarchen Losal Gyamtso’s commentary on The Fifty Verses on the Lama.
Introductory Vajrayana Meditation
Having attained stability in calm abiding meditation and having taken refuge we may decide to practice vajrayana meditation. This can be done through receiving initiations, transmissions and instructions from a vajrayana teacher (lama).
For Sakya students the usual first deity-practice is Chenrezik, the Buddha of Compassion. The student will then complete at least the required number of mantra recitations for their chosen deity, although in many cases, on the advice of the lama, they will continue the practice well beyond this point. Chenrezik is also the principal regular group vajrayana practice carried out in Dechen centers and groups.
Further study of the mahayana is immensely valuable to the advanced meditations of the vajrayana. This level of teaching was traditionally taught in Tibetan shedras, or Colleges of Study, and the curriculum would vary between the different traditions.
In the West there are no established monastic communities where shedras are regularly given and most Buddhist practitioners are lay men and women. However, the core texts of the shedra curriculum are regularly taught by Lama Jampa Thaye in Dechen centers and groups.
In Dechen Sakya centers the following core shedra texts are taught periodically:
- The Triple Vision – Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup
- Clarifying the Thought of the Sage – Sakya Pandita
- Entering the Bodhisattva Conduct – Shantideva
- Discriminating the Three Vows – Sakya Pandita
- The Collection of Tantra Sets – Sonam Tsemo
By receiving these teachings over a number of years, personal study and attendance of study groups you will be able to learn and understand these core texts for a complete traditional Buddhist training.
Advanced Vajrayana Meditation
In tandem with textual studies, Sakya students typically complete the Buddhist training of the vajrayana preliminary (ngondro) practices of The Path and Its Fruit cycle.
The ngondro comprises: reflection on the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind to Dharma; 100,000 prostrations; 100,000 bodhisattva vow recitations; 100,000 Vajrasattva mantra recitations; 100,000 mandala offerings of the universe; and 100,000 guru yoga recitations.
Also important at this level are the guru yoga of Sakya Pandita and the sadhana of Bhutadamara.
Beyond this will be the cycles of practice of Vajrayogini and Hevajra, the chief deities of the Sakya school, whose development and fulfilment stages lead to the obtaining of all spiritual realizations.