Psychic theories & spiritual training in Tibet
- a westerners meeting with the magical and mystical Tibetan art of meditation
Introduction to the text
The following text is an extract from Alexander David-Neels "With magicians and mystics in Tibet", about her fascinating journey and life in Tibet. She was herself initiated in the Tibetan spiritual system and considered the first western Lama. In this chapter is her unique explanations and descriptions of the Tibetan art of meditation, as she experienced it in Tibet only 100 years ago.
Click to the right and read more about the author or her story about the spiritual seeker Karma Dorjce.
Psychic theories & spiritual training in Tibet
- an extract from "With Magicians and Mystics in Tibet" by Alexandra David-Neel
"Breath is the courser and mind is the rider," say the Tibetan mystics. So it is essential that the courser must be well trained. But breath, in its turn, influences bodily and mental activity. Consequently, two methods have been devised: the most easy one which quiets the mind by controlling the breath and the more difficult way which consists in regulating the breath by controlling the mind.
To the breathing drill repeated several times each day, the recluse often adds the contemplative meditation practiced with kyilkhors.
The latter are, also, most important and conspicuous in the magic rites called dubthabs (method of success).
Kyilkhors are diagrams drawn on paper or material, or engraved on stone, metal or wood.
Others are constructed with small flags, altar lamps, incense sticks and vases containing various things such as grain, water, etc. The personalities who
are supposed to dwell in the kyilkhor and their requisites are represented by pyramidal cakes named torma.
Kyilkhors are also drawn with coloured powders on the temple floor or on boards. I have seen some which measured about seven feet in diameter.
The word kyilkhor means a circle, nevertheless, amongst the numberless kinds of kyilkhors, there exist square and quadrangular forms, while those used in black magic or for the coercion or destruction of malignant entities are triangular.
The monks who wish to become proficient in this kind of art spend years studying its rules.
One of the four high colleges which exist in all large monasteries teaches the art of drawing the kyilkhors that are parts of the official lamaist magic rites. As for secret ones connected with mystic training or black magic, each student must learn them privately from his own teacher.
The least mistake in the drawing of a kyilkhor or the place given to the tormas in its construction, may have most terrible consequences, for the kyilkhor is a magic instrument which hurts him who handles it unskilfully.
Moreover, no one should construct or draw a kyilkhor if he has not been empowered to do so, by a proper initiation, and each variety of kyilkhor requires the corresponding initiation.
That which is the work of a non-initiated cannot be animated and remains powerless. As for the true understanding of the symbolic meaning of the kyilkhors, and the theories which support their use in psychic training, very few are aware of them.
Needless to say that elaborate and large-sized kyilkhors cannot find room in the tsams khangs. Their form, there, is very much simplified. At the beginning of his spiritual education the novice is likely to be taught by his teacher the way of constructing a diagram which is to be used as support (rten) to fix the attention during meditation.
One of the exercises most generally practiced — either with or without a kyilkhor — at that stage of the training, is the following:
A deity is imagined; it is first contemplated alone, then from its body spring out other forms sometimes like its own, sometimes different. There are often four of them, but in some meditations they become hundreds or even innumerable.
When all these personages have appeared quite clearly around the central figure, they are one after another reabsorbed in it. Now the original deity remains again alone and gradually begins to disappear. The feet vanish first and then slowly the whole body and finally the head. Only a dot remains. This may be dark, coloured or purely luminous. Mystic masters interpret this as a sign which shows the degree of spiritual progress attained by their disciples.
Then, the dot moves towards the man who beholds it and sinks into him. One must note the part of the body in which it seems to disappear. A period of meditation follows that exercise, which may be done again and again as many times as desired.
One may also imagine a lotus. It opens slowly and on each of its petals stands a Bodhisatva, one of them being enthroned in the heart of the flower. After a while, as the lotus begins to fold its petals again each one emits a ray of light that sinks into the centre of the flower, and when it closes entirely, light escapes from its heart and penetrates the man in meditation.
There exist many kinds of similar practices. Many novices do not proceed farther. Thus dryly described, such visions cannot but appear absurd, yet they constitute a somewhat fascinating puzzle on account of the multifarious unexpected aspects they assume after a certain time of training.
They provide the recluse with spectacles which rival the most beautiful fairy-plays that can be seen on the stage. Even those who are well aware of their illusive nature may enjoy them, and as for those who believe in the reality of the divine players, it is not surprising that they are bewitched.
However, it is not to amuse the hermits that these exercises have been invented. Their true aim is to lead the disciple to understand that the worlds and all phenomena which we perceive are but mirages born from our imagination.
They emanate from the mind
And into the mind they sink."
In fact this is the fundamental teaching of Tibetan mystics. If we now consider the case of a monk (who instead of placing himself under the spiritual guidance of a lama who is a regular member of a monastery) ventures to solicit the teaching of a contemplative anchorite naljorpa the training takes another aspect. Methods become strange, sometimes even cruel; we have seen it in a previous chapter.
The trilogy: Examination, Meditation, Understanding, takes a peculiar importance among the followers of the "Short Path" and the intellectual activity of the disciple is exclusively directed towards these results. Sometimes the means that are used seem extravagant, yet when closely investigated one sees that the object aimed at is quite reasonable. It is also clear that inventors of these curious methods perfectly understand the mind of their brethren in religion and have devised them accordingly.
Padmasambhava is said to have described the stages of the mystic path in the following way.
To read a large number of books on the various religions and philosophies. To listen to many learned doctors professing different doctrines. To experiment oneself with a number of methods. To choose a doctrine among the many one has studied and discard the other ones, as the eagle carries off only one sheep from the flock. To remain in a lowly condition, humble in one's demeanour, not seeking to be conspicuous or important in the eyes of the world, but behind apparent insignificance, to let one's mind soar high above all worldly power and glory.
To be indifferent to all. Behaving like the dog or the pig that eat what chance brings them.
Not making any choice among the things which one meets. Abstaining from any effort to acquire or avoid anything. Accepting with an equal indifference whatever comes: riches or poverty, praise or contempt, giving up the distinction between virtue and vice, honourable and shameful, good and evil. Being neither afflicted, nor repenting whatever one may have done and, on the other hand, never being elated nor proud on account of what one has accomplished.
To consider with perfect equanimity and detachment the conflicting opinions and the various manifestations of the activity of beings. To understand that such is the nature of things, the inevitable mode of action of each entity and to remain always serene.
To look at the world as a man standing on the highest mountain of the country looks at the valleys and the lesser summits spread out below him.
(Compare Dhammapada: "When the learned man drives away vanity by earnestness, he, the wise
one, climbing the terraced heights of wisdom, looks down upon the fools. Free from sorrow, he looks upon the sorrowing crowd, as one that stands on a mountain looks down upon them that stand upon the plain." The Dhammapada is a work belonging to the Buddhist canonic Scriptures in Pali language.)
It is said that the sixth stage cannot be described in words. It corresponds to the realization of the "Void" (In a general way, one must understand here, the realization of the non-existence of a permanent ego, according to the Tibetan current fomula: "The person is devoid of self: all things are devoid of self", which, in Lamaist terminology, means the Inexpressible reality.
In spite of these programmes, it is impossible to establish a regular gradation of the multifarious training exercises devised by Tibetan mystic anchorites. In practice, these various exercises are combined. Moreover each lama adopts a peculiar method, and it is even rare to see two disciples of the same master following exactly the same path.
We must make up our minds to accept an apparent chaos which is a natural result of the different individual tendencies and aptitudes which the gurus, adepts of the "Short Path," refuse to crush. "Liberty" is the motto on the heights of the "Land of Snows," but strangely enough, the disciple starts on that road of utter freedom, by the strictest obedience to his spiritual guide. However, the required submission is confined to the spiritual and psychic exercises and the way of living prescribed by the master. No dogmas are ever imposed. The disciple may believe, deny or doubt anything according to his own feelings.
I have heard a lama say that the part of a master, adept of the "Short Path," is to superintend a "clearing." He must incite the novice to rid himself of the beliefs, ideas, acquired habits and innate tendencies, which are part of his present mind, and have been developed in the course of successive lives whose origin is lost in the night of time.
On the other hand, the master must warn his disciple to be on his guard against accepting new beliefs, ideas and habits as groundless and irrational as those which he shakes off.
The discipline on the "Short Path" is to avoid imagining things. When imagination is prescribed, in contemplative meditation, it is to demonstrate by that conscious creation of perceptions or sensations, the illusory nature of those perceptions and sensations which we accept as real though they too rest on imagination; the only difference being that, in their case, the creation is unconsciously effected.
The Tibetan reformer, Tsong Khapa, defines meditation as "the means
(The word used by the author is khungs, which means the "source," the "origin." The quotation is taken from the work called The Lamp of the Way. A similar definition is found in the Yoga sûtras of Patanjali.)
of enabling oneself to reject all imaginative thoughts together with their seed."
It is this uprooting of the present "imaginative thoughts," and the burning of their "seed," so that no fanciful ideas may arise in the future, that constitutes the "clearing" which I have just mentioned.
Two exercises are especially prescribed by the adepts of the mystic path. The first consists in observing with great attention the workings of the mind without attempting to stop it.
Seated in a quiet place, the disciple refrains as much as he can from consciously pointing his thoughts in a definite direction. He marks the spontaneous arising of ideas, memories, desires, etc., and considers how, superseded by new ones, they sink into the dark recesses of the mind.
He watches also the subjective image which, apparently unconnected with any thoughts or sensations, appears while his eyes are closed: men, animals, landscapes, moving crowds, etc.
During that exercise, he avoids making reflections about the spectacle which he beholds, looking passively at the continual, swift, flowing stream of thoughts and mental images that whirl, jostle, fight and pass away.
It is said that the disciple is about to gather the fruit of this practice when he loosens the firm footing he had kept, till then, in his quality of spectator. He too — so he must understand — is an actor on the tumultuous stage. His present introspection, all his acts and thoughts, and the very sum of them all which he calls his self, are but ephemeral bubbles in a whirlpool made of an infinite quantity of bubbles which congregate for a moment, separate, burst, and form again, following a giddy rhythm.
The second exercise is intended to stop the roaming of the mind in order that one may concentrate it on one single object.
Training which tends to develop a perfect concentration of mind is generally deemed necessary for all students without distinction. As to observing the mind's activity it is only recommended to the most intellectual disciples.
Training the mind to "one-pointedness" is practiced in all Buddhist sects.
In Southern Buddhist countries — Ceylon, Siam, Burma — an apparatus called kasinas, which consists of clay discs variously coloured, or a round surface covered by water, or a fire at which one gazes through a screen in which a round hole is pierced — are used for this purpose.
Any of these circles is stared at until it is seen as clearly when the eyes are shut, as when they are open and actually looking at it. The process does not aim at producing an hypnotic state, as some Western scholars have said, but it accustoms one to concentrating the mind. The fact that the subjective image has become as vivid as the objective, indicates — according to those who patronize that method — that "one-pointedness" has been reached.
Tibetans consider the object chosen to train oneself to be of no importance. Whatever attracts and retains most easily the thoughts of the disciple should be preferred.
There is a story well known in the Tibetan religious vorld which illustrates a successful result of this practice.
A young man begs the spiritual guidance of a mystic anchorite. The latter wishes him to begin by exercising himself in the concentration of mind.
"What kind of work do you usually do?" he inquires of his new disciple.
"I keep the yaks
(Yak, spelt gyag. The Tibetan wild hairy ox that has been domesticated.)
on the hills," answered the man.
"All right," says the gomchen. "Meditate on a yak."
The novice repairs to a cave roughly fitted up to serve as a habitation — a few such shelters can always be found in the regions inhabited by herdsmen — and settles down there.
After some time, the master goes to the place and calls to his pupil to come out of the cave.
The latter hears the gomchen's voice, gets up and wants to walk out through the entrance of his primitive dwelling. But his meditation has achieved its purpose. He has identified himself with the object on which all his thoughts have been concentrated, he has forgotten his own personality, he feels himself a yak. Now, though the opening is large enough to allow the passage of a man, it is too narrow for a big bull, so, while struggling against an imaginary obstacle, the young man answered his guru: "I cannot get out, my horns prevent me."
Though deeply respectful of everything connected with religion, Tibetans always retain a keen sense of humour. They do not fail to notice the comic effect that such practices produce when performed by simpleminded novices.
The following story was told me in the course of a tramp with a naljorpa from Gartog.
After having spent some time with his guru to receive his instruction, a zealous disciple was returning to his hermitage. While walking, he began to meditate and, according to a well-known reverential custom, he imagined his worshipful teacher was seated on his head.
After a time, he entered a state of trance in which he felt perfectly sure that he was carrying his lama.
A stone or some other obstacle caused the man to fall, but so strong was his concentration of thought that the shock did not break it. He got up loudly apologizing:
"I beg your pardon, 'Precious One.' I am so sorry to have let you fall, I hope you have not
hurt yourself. . . . Where are you, now? . . "
And the good disciple hurried away to examine a ravine near by in case his lama had rolled into it.
Another story about "the lama on the head" was told me by a Dugpa
(A native of Bhutan.)
lama. The joke is coarser than the former one and reflects the mind of the sturdy massive Dugpa hillmen.
A nun, it is said, was advised by her spiritual teacher to imagine him seated on her head when meditating. She did so accordingly and was so successful that the weight of the venerable lama who was a well-fed, tall and stout man, gave her great pain. Women of all countries, we must believe, are peculiarly clever at finding a way out of their troubles.
When paying another visit to her guru he asked if she had carried out his instruction and imagined that he was seated on her head.
"I did, 'Precious One,' " answered the nun, "and indeed, your weight became so painful, that I changed places with you and sat on your head myself."
One variety of exercises in concentration consists in choosing some kind of a landscape, a garden for instance, as a subject of meditation. First, the student examines the garden, observing every detail. The flowers, their different species, the way in which they are grouped, the trees, their respective height, the shape of their branches, their different leaves and so on, noting all particulars that he can detect.
When he has formed a subjective image of the garden, that is to say when he sees it as distinctly when shutting his eyes as when looking at it, the disciple begins to eliminate one by one the various details which together constitute the garden.
Gradually, the flowers lose their colours and their forms, they crumble into tiny pieces which fall to dust and finally vanish. The trees, also, lose their leaves, the branches shorten, and seem to be withdrawn into the trunk. The latter grows thin, becomes a mere line, more and more flimsy till it ceases to be visible.
Now, the bare ground alone remains and from it the novice must subtract the stones and the earth. The ground in its turn vanishes. . . .
It is said that by the means of such exercises one succeeds in expelling from the mind all idea of form and matter and thus gradually reaches the various states of consciousness such as that of the "pure, boundless space," and that of the "boundless consciousness." Finally one attains to the "sphere of void," and then to the sphere where "neither consciousness nor unconsciousness" is present. (That is to say that it is an indescribable state to which the ordinary notions of consciousness and unconsciousness cannot be applied.)
These four contemplative meditations are often mentioned in early Buddhist Scriptures and are recognized by all sects as part of the spiritual training. They are called "formless contemplations."
Many methods have been devised which lead to these peculiar states of mind. Sometimes the later states are produced by a contemplation absolutely devoid of cogitations, while in other cases they follow a series of minute introspections or are the result of prolonged investigations and reflections regarding the external world. Lastly, it is said that there are people who suddenly reach one or another of these four states of mind without any preparation, in any place or during any kind of occupation.
The following exercise has already been briefly described in the story of the man who felt himself to be a yak. However, it includes developments that were unknown to the hero of that story.
For instance, the disciple has chosen a tree, as an object of meditation, and has identified himself with it. That is to say that he has lost the consciousness of his own personality and experiences the peculiar sensations that one may ascribe to a tree. He feels himself to be composed of a stiff trunk with branches, he perceives the sensation of the wind moving the leaves. He notes the activity of the roots feeding under the ground, the ascension of the sap which spreads all over the tree, and so on.
Then, having mentally become a tree (which has now become the subject) he must look at the man (who has now become the object) seated in front of him and must examine this man in detail.
This done, the disciple again places his consciousness in the man and contemplates the tree as before. Then, transferring his consciousness once more into the tree, he contemplates the man. This alternative transposition of subject and object is effected a number of times.
This exercise is often practiced indoors with a statue of a stick called gom shing (meditation wood). (Properly speaking, the gom shing is merely a stick at which one gazes to obtain fixity of mind. The burning incense stick is a variety of gom shing.)
A burning incense stick is also used in an obscure or completely darkened room to dispose the mind to meditation. But I must again lay stress upon the fact that it is not intended to produce an hypnotic state.
Preparation for meditation is called niampar jagpa. It consists in bringing the mind into perfect stillness and the contemplation of the tiny dot of fire at the top of the stick helps in producing that state of calm.
People who habitually practice methodical contemplation often experience, when sitting down for their appointed time of meditation, the sensation of putting down a load or taking off a heavy garment and entering a silent, delightfully calm, region. It is the impression of deliverance and serenity which Tibetan mystics call niampar jagpa, "to make equal," "to level" — meaning calming down all causes of agitation that roll their "waves" through the mind.
Another exercise which, however, seems to be seldom practiced, consists in "displacing one's consciousness in one's own body." It is explained as follows.
We feel our consciousness in our "heart." Our arms seem to us to be "annexes" to our body, and our feet seem to be a distant part of our person. In fact, arms feet and other parts of the body are looked at as if they were objects for a subject dwelling elsewhere.
Now the student will endeavour to make the "consciousness" leave its habitual abode and transfer it, for instance, to his hand, then he must feel himself to have the shape of five fingers and a palm, situated at the extremity of a long attachment (the arm) which joins on to a big moving structure, the body.
That is to say, he must experience the sensation that we might have if, instead of having the eyes and the brain in the head, we had them in the hand and then the hand was able to examine the head and the body, reversing the normal process which is to look downwards in order to see the hands or the body.
What can be the aim of such strange exercises? The most frequent answer given to my questions will probably seem unsatisfactory by many inquirers, yet it is probably quite correct.
Some lamas have told me that the aim of these practices can hardly be explained, because those who have not felt their effects could not understand the explanations.
One attains, by the means of these strange drills, psychic states entirely different from those habitual to us. They cause us to pass beyond the fictitious limits which we assign to the self. The result being that we grow to realize that the self is compound, impermanent; and that the self, as self, does not exist.
One of these lamas seized upon a remark I had made as an argument in support of his theory. When he spoke of the heart as the seat of thought and mind, I had said that Westerners would rather place thoughts and mind in the brain.
"You see," immediately replied my interlocutor, "that one may feel and recognize the mind in different places. Since these Philings (Foreigners.)
experience the sensation of thinking in their head, and I experience it in my heart, one may believe that it is quite possible to feel it in the foot. But all these are only deceitful sensations, with no shadow of reality. The mind is neither in the heart nor in the head, nor somewhere outside of the body, apart, separated, alien to it. It is to help one realize this fact that these apparently strange practices have been devised."
Here again we meet with the "clearing" process. All these exercises aim at destroying habitual notions accepted by routine and without personal investigation. The object is to make one understand that other ideas can be put in their place. It is hoped that the disciple will conclude that there cannot be any absolute truth in ideas derived from sensations which can be discarded while others, even contradictory to them, take their place.
Kindred theories are professed by the followers of the Chinese Ts'an sect.
(Called Zen sect, in Japan.)
They express them in enigmatical sentences such as: "Lo, a cloud of dust is rising from the ocean and the roaring of the waves is heard over the land."
"I walk on foot, and yet on the back of an ox I am riding."
"When I pass over the bridge, Lo! the water floweth not, but the bridge floweth."
"Empty handed I go, and behold! the spade's handle is in my hand."
And so on.
The doctrine of the Ts'an sect has been defined by one of its followers as "the art of perceiving the polar star in the Austral hemisphere." This paradoxical saying resembles that of the lama who said to me: "One must discover the white in the black and the black in the white."
I shall cite a question, current in Tibet, which mystic hermits, as wed as philosophers living in monasteries, put to their pupils.
"A flag moves, What is that which moves? — Is it the flag or the wind?"
The answer is that neither the flag nor the wind moves. It is the mind that moves.
The followers of the Ts'an sect ascribe the origin of this question to the sixth Patriarch of their sect. Once, in the courtyard of the monastery, he saw two monks looking at a flag floating in the air. One of them declared: "It is the flag that moves." The other affirmed: "It is the wind that moves." Then the master explained to them that the perception of a motion which they experienced was not really due to the wind or to the flag, but to something existing in themselves.
We are in doubt as to whether such ways of thinking have been imported into Tibet from India or from China. I may, however, state the opinion expressed by a lama: "The Bönpos," he said, "taught such things long before Padmasambhava came to Tibet.''
(This means before Buddhism spread into Tibet.)
Abandoning further investigations on the transcendental results of transferring one's mind to different parts of one's body, I may remark that during this exercise, a peculiar sensation of heat is felt at the spot where one has "transported his consciousness."
It is rather difficult to ascertain whether the phenomena consists in a real increase in heat or a subjective sensation only. The very idea of undertaking such investigation would break the concentration of mind and so destroy the cause that produced heat. As to making observation upon other people, it is almost impossible. Tibetan hermits and their disciples have nothing in common with Western professional mediums who work for money and allow us to examine the phenomena which they produce. The most insignificant pupil of a gomchen would feel astonished if such a proposal was made to him. I can hear him answer: "I do not care whether you believe or not in these phenomena, and I have no desire to convince you. I am not a juggler giving theatrical performances."
The fact is that Orientals, excepting vulgar charlatans, do not make a show of their mystic, philosophic or psychic knowledge. It is most difficult to win their confidence in these matters. A traveller in search of information may be the guest of a lama for several months, drink tea daily with him and go away thinking his host is an ignoramus, while on the contrary, the lama could have answered all his questions and told him more things than he has even thought of.
Whether the heat be actual or subjective the exercise has more than once warmed my feet, and given me a refreshing sleep while spending the night under a tent — or even without any tent — outdoors in the snow. But unless one has been trained for a long time in the practice, it requires strenuous efforts which make it extremely tiring.
To conclude, I will call attention to the fact that the terms which I have translated by "consciousness" and "mind" have not exactly the same signification in Tibetan as in English.
Tibetans distinguish as many as eleven kinds of "consciousness" and have three words in their language which we are compelled to translate by "mind," though each of them bears a special philosophic meaning.
A frequent way of ascertaining the degree of the concentration of mind is to place a small burning lamp on the head of the novice who is to remain in solitary meditation.
Tibetan lamps consist of a cup-like receptacle, made of metal or mud; the base of the lamp enlarges at the bottom, which is shaped like a second cup turned upside down. These lamps are filled with melted butter; a wick is thrust into a small cavity bored for that purpose at the bottom of the cup. When the butter cools it forms a cake and the lamp is ready to be lighted.
This apparatus easily rests on the crown of the head as long as one preserves absolute immobility, but it falls off at the slightest movement. Now as perfect concentration produces complete immobility, any failure is proved by the fall of the lamp.
It is said that a lama who had once placed a lamp on the head of a pupil found him the next day still seated in meditation, but with the lamp beside him on the ground without any butter in it. Answering his master's question, the novice who had not understood the aim of the exercise replied:
"The lamp did not fall down, I myself took it away when the butter was exhausted and it went out" — "How could you know that the lamp went out, or even that you had a lamp on your head, if you had reached true concentration of mind?" retorted the teacher.
Sometimes a small bowl filled with water is used instead of a lamp.
Certain masters also command their disciples either before the time of their meditation or immediately after it, to carry from one spot to another a bowl with water up to the brim.
This exercise aims at testing the degree of tranquillity of the mind. The slightest agitation of the mind, whatever may be its cause — joy or sadness, memory, desire, etc. — is likely to produce a movement of the body. Now, the least quivering of the fingers is sufficient to shake the bowl and the quantity of water poured out, as well as the number of times the accident happens, discloses the more or less violent movement of the mind. Such at least is the theory on which the exercise is based.
This theory and the exercises which have been devised from it, are known all over the East. Indians tell pretty stories about them. Here is one.
A rishi (A Sage often possessed with supernormal powers.) had a disciple whom he believed already far advanced in spiritual development. Wishing that he might receive supplementary teaching from Janaka, the kingly Sage of great repute, he sent the young man to him. At first Janaka left the new-comer for several days outside his palace gate without allowing him even to enter the courtyard. Nevertheless, the well-trained disciple, though he was of noble descent, did not show the least sign of being grieved, offended, or displeased by this humiliating treatment.
When he was finally admitted to the presence of the king, he was given at the door of the throne hall a bowl filled with water up to the brim and ordered to walk with it in his hand all round the hall.
Janaka, though his mind was utterly indifferent to all worldly things, was surrounded by true Oriental splendour. Gold and precious stones glittered on the walls of the great hall, the courtiers wearing costly jewels surrounded their sovereign, and the palace dancing girls, as beautiful as goddesses and scantily clad, smiled at the young stranger passed before them.
Nevertheless the disciple went through the prescribed ordeal without spilling a drop of water. Nothing offered to his eyes had been capable of producing the slightest movement in his mind. Janaka sent him back to his guru saying that he did not need any lessons.
Tibetans are acquainted with the theory regarding the khorlos (wheels) which is classic among the followers of Hindu Tantrism. Most likely it has been imported into Tibet from India or Nepal, but the interpretation given by the lamas differs on a number of points from that which is current in Hindu circles.
The khorlos are said to be centres of energy that are situated in various parts of the body. They are often called 'lotus.' The practices connected with the khorlos belong to the esoteric teaching. The general aim of the training in which the khorlos play a part is to direct a stream of energy to the higher lotus: the dabtong (lotus with a thousand petals) which is situated at the top of the head. The different kinds of exercises in this training aim at utilizing the energy naturally expressed in animal manifestations connected with sex, for the development of intelligent and supernormal powers.
The lamas belonging to the Dzogschen sect are practically the only masters of this teaching.
Again, certain disciples are advised to contemplate the sky and sometimes to confine themselves to this practice only. Some lie flat on their back in the open, in order to look at the sky with no other object in sight. This contemplation, and the ideas which it excites, is said to lead to a peculiar trance in which the notion of personality is forgotten, and an undescribable union with the universe is experienced.
All lamas agree regarding the usefulness of most of these strangely artful training practices. Yet, when reading certain treatises about them or listening to oral explanations given by some mystic masters, one not unfrequently detects a restrained impatience.
The teacher who instructs us seems to say:
Yes, all that is necessary, perhaps, even indispensable to the majority of novices, but as a preparatory drill only, the goal is elsewhere. Let us make haste and finish with the preliminary process.
The following sober method keeps closer to this goal; at any rate its working is more easily understood.
The master orders his disciple to shut himself in tsams and to meditate — taking his Yidam (tutelary deity) as object of his contemplation.
The novice dwelling in strict seclusion, concentrates his thoughts on the Yidam, imagining him in the shape and form ascribed to him in books and images. Repeating certain mystic formulas and constructing a kyilkhor are parts of the exercise of which the aim is to cause the Yidam to appear to his worshipper. At least, such is the aim that the master points out to the beginner.
The pupil breaks his contemplation during the time strictly necessary to eat (Generally the recluse has only one meal a day, but drinks buttered tea several times. However, during such periods of retreat some ascetics subsist on water and roast barley flour only.)
and the very short time allowed for sleep. Often the recluse does not lie down and only dozes in one of those gomti which have been described in a previous chapter.
(See the end of Chapter II.)
Months and even years may elapse in that way. Occasionally the master inquires about the progress of his pupil. At last a day comes when the novice informs him that he has reaped the fruit of his exertion: the Yidam has appeared. As a rule, the vision has been nebulous and lasted only a little while. The master declares that it is an encouraging success, but not as yet a definitive result. It is desirable that the recluse should longer enjoy the hallowed company of his protector.
The apprentice naljorpa cannot but agree, and continues his effort. A long time again elapses. Then, the Yidam is "fixed" — if I may use that term. He dwells in the tsams khang and the recluse sees him as always present in the middle of the kyilkhor.
"This is most excellent," answers the master when he is informed of the fact; "but you must seek a still greater favour. You must pursue your meditation until you are able to touch with your head the feet of the Yidam, until he blesses you and speaks to you."
Though the previous stages have taken long to be effected they may be considered the easiest part of the process. The following are much more arduous to attain, and only a small minority of novices meet with success.
These successful disciples see the Yidam taking on life. They distinctly feel the touch of his feet when, prostrated, they lay their head on them. They feel the weight of his hands when he blesses them. They see his eyes moving, his lips parting, he speaks. . . . And lo! he steps out of the kyilkhor and walks in the tsams khang. It is a perilous moment. When wrathful demi-gods or demons have been called up in that way, they must never be allowed to escape from the kyilkhor, whose magic walls hold them prisoners. Set free out of due time, they would revenge themselves on the person who has compelled them to enter this prison-like consecrated circle. However, the Yidam, though his appearance may be dreadful and his power is to be feared, is not dangerous because the recluse has won his favour. Consequently, he may move about as he pleases in the hermitage.
Even better, he may cross its threshold and stand in the open. Following his teacher's advice, the novice must find out if the deity is willing to accompany him when he walks out.
This task is harder than all previous ones. Visible and tangible in the obscure hermitage fragrant with incense, where the psychic influences born from a prolonged concentration of thought are working; will the Yidam's form be able to subsist in quite different surroundings under the bright sunlight, exposed to influences which, instead of supporting it, will act as dissolving agents?
A new elimination takes place amongst the disciples. Most Yidam refuse to follow their devotee into the open. They remain obstinately in some dark corner and sometimes grow angry and avenge themselves for the disrespectful experiments to which they have been submitted. Strange accidents occur to some anchorites, but others succeed in their undertaking and wherever they go enjoy the presence of their worshipful protector.
"You have reached the desired goal," says the guru to his exultant disciple. "I have nothing more to teach you. You have won the favours of a protector mightier than I."
Certain disciples thank the lama and, proud of their achievement, return to their monastery or establish themselves in a hermitage and spend the remainder of their life playing with their phantom.
On the contrary, others trembling in mental agony prostrate themselves at their guru's feet and confess some awful sin. . . . Doubts have arisen in their mind which, in spite of strenuous efforts, they have not been able to overcome. Before the Yidam himself, even when he spoke to them or when they touched him, the thought has arisen in them that they contemplated a mere phantasmagoria which they had themselves created.
The master appears afflicted by this confession. The unbeliever must return to his tsams khang and begin training all over again in order to conquer his incredulity, so ungrateful to the Yidam who has favoured him.
Once undermined, faith seldom regains a firm footing. If the great respect which Orientals feel for their religious teacher did not restrain them, these incredulous disciples would probably yield to the temptation of giving up the religious life, their long training having ended in materialism. But nearly all of them hold on to it, for if they doubt the reality of their Yidam, they never doubt their master's wisdom.
After a time the disciple repeats the same confession. It is even more positive than the first time. There is no longer any question of doubt; he is thoroughly convinced that the Yidam is produced by his mind and has no other existence than that which he has lent him.
"That is exactly what it is necessary for you to realize," the master tells him. "Gods, demons, the whole universe, are but a mirage which exists in the mind, 'springs from it, and sinks into it.' "
(A declaration continually repeated by Tibetan mystics.)