Lion’s Roar editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod talks about our new online learning series “Open Heart, Vajra Mind: Profound Practices of Tibetan Buddhism”.
Our new online learning series “Open Heart, Vajra Mind: Profound Practices of Tibetan Buddhism” will be released on Monday, June 28th. (You can sign up now and get lifetime access at a discounted rate.) Lion’s Roar Editor-in-Chief Melvin McLeod designed the program and introduces its teachers to host – Lama Tsultrim Allione, Willa Blythe Baker, Venerable Thubten Chodron, Andrew Holecek, Pema Khandro Rinpoche, Judy Lief and Robert AF Thurman. We asked him to speak about what to expect from the program and each of the eight practices taught.
Melvin, what are the Open Heart folks, Vajra Mind?
The Tibetan tradition is known to be esoteric, intense, requires a lot of commitment – and that’s true. But in this program we have eight teachers who teach us authentic traditional techniques that each of us, no matter where we are on our spiritual path, can now practice.
The practices that we will learn will not be watered down in any way. They are the real thing, accessible and yet absolutely authentic. All of the teachers in the program are particularly adept at making these very profound practices understandable to modern practitioners of all spiritual traditions. So we can get in and experience it right away.
Let’s talk about the traditions and practices of Open Heart, Vajra Mind. We proceed in order, starting with Dzogchen as taught by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
Dzogchen is the highest teaching of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It is known for its clear description of the true nature of the mind and simple, straightforward meditations to experience it. Dzogechen is known for its emphasis on simplicity and lightness – how we can relax into the true, enlightened nature of the mind. We will have the rare opportunity to learn this with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, one of the world’s leading Dzogchen teachers.
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Next is mahamudra taught by Willa Blythe Baker.
Mahamudra means “great seal” because it describes the fundamental nature of mind that marks or seals all experience. In Mahamudra it is said that the mind is unborn, perpetual and omnipresent, which means that it can absorb or absorb all phenomena.
Because the mind is unborn, because it never takes any form, it is total peace. Because it is perpetual, our consciousness is continuous, omnipresent, and indestructible. Because everything is accommodating. everything is really the game or the energy of the awakened mind – pure, blissful and empty. To help us experience these aspects of the mind, we have Willa Blythe Baker, a teacher and lineage holder in the Kagyu tradition who has completed two consecutive three-year meditation retreats.
Madhyamika, taught by Robert Thurman.
In Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom refers to the realization of voidness, the way things really exist – and the way they don’t. Emptiness can only seem like a philosophical topic or an intellectual exercise, but it is at the heart of the path to enlightenment because it cuts through the ignorance that ultimately causes our suffering.
One way to get rid of our misunderstanding of reality is through analysis – looking carefully to see if things could really exist the way we think they do. Tibetan Buddhism specializes in the so-called Madhyamika or Logic of the Middle Way, which was developed by ancient Indian Buddhist philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. Our moderator, Professor Robert Thurman, is one of the world’s foremost experts on Madhyamika and guides us through our own contemplations of voidness.
Next is the compassion meditation, which is led here by Pema Khandro Rinpoche.
Compassion is the magical ingredient in life. Compassion, love, kindness – that’s what makes life good for ourselves, for others, for human society. Perhaps the greatest Buddhist teacher of compassion was an 8th century Indian scholar and monk named Shantideva. His great work is called Bodhicharyavatara, which can be translated as a guide to the bodhisattva’s way of life. It gives us step-by-step instructions on how to live a life that is entirely compassionate. Shantideva is the perfect guide as the scholar and teacher Pema Khandro Rinpoche guides us through compassion meditations
How about Lojong, or the training of the mind taught here by Judy Lief?
How do we combine the profound meditations of Tibetan Buddhism with all the challenges of our daily life? There are a number of teachings that bring it all together. It’s called lojong or mind training.
The Lojong teachings were brought to Tibet by the Indian adept Atisha more than a thousand years ago. These methods are summarized in 59 succinct instructions or slogans that show us how to develop our wisdom and compassion and apply them in our daily lives. It’s news that you can take advantage of at the deepest level – how to become a bodhisattva in 59 steps.
The practice of tonglen is the best known of these meditation exercises, but the slogans also cover topics ranging from the absolute nature of reality to being skillful with others. The slogans can be pretty cryptic, however, and we’re lucky enough to have Judy Lief, who taught extensively about Lojong, unwrapping them for us.
“Deity Yoga: You are Tara”, directed by Ven. Thubten Chodron is next.
It is said that what is special about Vajrayana is the teaching that we not only have the mind of a Buddha, but also the body of a Buddha. This truth is a powerful tool for transformation and we experience it through the practice of deity yoga.
The unique practice of visualizing ourselves in the body of an enlightened being is the most famous of all Vajrayana meditations. There are literally hundreds of deities we can think of, each emphasizing a different aspect of enlightenment. Most of them require long preparation and initiation by an authorized master, but there are deities that you and I can meditate on now.
One of the most popular is the female Buddha Tara, who represents our compassionate quest to save all beings from suffering and fear. In this course we will be guided through a tara practice by Venerable Thubten Chodron, a fully ordained Buddhist nun and author of How to Free Your Mind: The Practice of Tara the Liberator.
We now turn to Andrew Holecek’s Illusory Body: Life Is But a Dream section.
“Life is but a dream” is not just a line from an old song. It is a basic teaching in Buddhism. But to say that life is like a dream does not mean that it is artificial or some kind of delusion. It is actually the opposite. It is the heaviness and solidity created by our ignorance that is the false reality. It is the openness, ease and vibrancy of the dream-like qualities of life that are real. When we see the illusory nature of ourselves and our world, we are free, playful, and joyful.
The practice of the illusory body is one of the famous Six Yogas of Naropa. This meditation makes the philosophy of voidness taught in the Heart Sutra a living and immediate experience in our lives. Andrew Holocek is best known as a teacher of dream yoga, where we bring awareness into the illusory dream state. Here he will teach us how to bring consciousness into the illusory waking state.
Finally, Chöd or “Feed your demons” taught by Lama Tsultrim Allione.
The practice of chod was developed in the 11th century by a yogini named Machik Labdron. It is a practice to break our self-fixation by symbolically offering ourselves to feed demons and other negative forces. In doing so, we realize that these demons and obstacles are not outside of us, but our own projections. And like everything else, their true nature is wisdom.
Lama Tsultrim Allione developed a modern version of the Chod practice she calls Feeding Your Demons. In the spirit of modern psychology as well as Buddhism, this practice involves welcoming the dark parts of us with loving kindness and generosity. Then these so-called demons become our friends and allies. We no longer fight against ourselves, we become integrated and whole.
You can now sign up for Open Heart, Vajra Mind with a limited time discount.
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