The state of enlightenment is often said to be beyond the conception of the unenlightened, and hence beyond expression in language. Yet there have been numerous attempts across the Buddhist world to describe enlightenment in words. Some of the most beautiful and evocative of those descriptions derive from the Rnying ma (pronounced ‘Nyingma’) sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Buddhism entered Tibet in the seventh century, introduced, according to traditional histories, when the king of Tibet received a Chinese princess and a Nepalese princess in marriage, both of whom were Buddhists. This began a period of royal patronage of Buddhism, from both India and China, that continued into the early ninth century, when a new king suppressed the religion. According to traditional accounts, this king was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 842. This marked the end of what Tibetan historians refer to as the earlier dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet, with a second dissemination beginning some 150 years later. During the first period, a large number of tantric texts were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. And Tibetans began to compose their own tantras, works that contained elaborate ritual practices as well as sumptuous evocations of the nature of reality. The major sects of Tibetan Buddhism are divided according to this periodization. The *ancient’ (rnying ma) sect considers the translations of tantras from the earlier period to be canonical, while the *new’ (gsar maj sects favour new translations of the Indian tantras and consider many tantras of the ‘ancient’ canon to be apocryphal.
The text below derives from a work entitled the Great Tantra on the Lion’s Perfected Display-Energy (Senge rtsal rdzogs chen po’i rgyudj. It is one of hundreds of tantras contained in the rgyud ‘bum of the Rnying ma sect, a term that literally means ‘a hundred thousand tantras’, to suggest, hyperbolically, their large number.
The passage here begins with a buddha and his consort in sexual embrace. This image, called yab yum (father-motherj in Tibetan, has long been an object of fascination in the West, with some seeing it as a sign of debauchery and others as a symbol of the union of opposites. It is clear that sexual yoga was an important element of tantric practice in both India and Tibet. It is also clear that this union was a source of rich symbolism, as this passage illustrates. Both the buddha and his consort speak from the perspective of enlightenment; more specifically, from the state of primordial awareness in which the various distinctions of the conceptual world, including the categories of the Buddhist path, are shown to be illusory. As the consort, named All-Good Female, declares,
*In a single [instance of] awareness, samsara and nirvana are complete.’
Then Awareness All-Good Male and Mother All-Good Female sat conjoined, non-dually.
Then the buddha of the class All-Aware Dharma Lord made this request, saying, ‘O Thus-Gone All-Good Father, please speak about method and intelligence, expressing the truth of non-dual reality.’
Then the teacher of reality applied the non-dual truth of father- mother-in-union, and proclaimed to all the buddhas: ‘Indeed, buddha of the class listen! The understanding of the non-duality of object and mind, or the non-duality of field and awareness, abides in the same manner as the non-duality of father-mother-in-union.
‘In the palace of wide-open reality there gathers nonconceptual, manifested primordial gnosis. The outer phenomenon is appearance, and the inner phenomenon grasps at it, it is explained. I, Unchanging All-Good Male, shall explain the view about the self-appearing of reality. Once I explain it, conceptualizing doubts will be cut off.
‘In the ground-of-all, apart from habitual traces, awareness manifests without grasping objectification. The Secret Mantra practice of settling into awareness is the epitome of view, meditation and behaviour. If, within the intelligence that manifests inside and out, there is no move into mental conceptualizing, this is considered the secret view of Secret Mantra.
‘The abode of meditative absorption, apart from grasping objectification, is in the dharma-body of Lion the Triumphant. An intelligence of great equanimity manifests in a view without marks. A lamp that neither illuminates nor obscures manifests in the sky apart from bifurcated mind. In self-appearance, its seal unbroken, [things] manifest spontaneously, complete from the beginning. A point-sphere of ended habit traces manifests in the wide-open field of reality that has no narrowness. Self-appearing pure apparitional forms manifest in the infinite truth that is unchanging. Five unmade lights manifest in self-produced, nonconceptual emptiness….
‘Since the self-produced has no cause or condition, there is no need to perform constructed dharma practice. Since the dharma- body is apart from pleasure and pain, I do not get obscured by hot and cold hells. Since Secret Mantra is apart from words from the beginning, I do not get obscured with words and letters. Since the field of reality has had no meditation since the beginning, you won’t find me by doing meditation. Since the self-produced is unfabricated from the beginning, I do not get obscured with doing practice. Since the dharma-body is free from views from the beginning, you won’t see me by looking with the view. Since birthlessness has no transgression, you won’t reach buddhahood by keeping commitments. Since mandala is self-abiding from the beginning, you won’t see gods by drawing mandalas. Since gesture does not change and is complete from the beginning, effort at gestures will dissipate power. Since the core is self-abiding from the beginning, chanting core [mantras] will rot the seed. Since the palace has been self-completed from the beginning, visualizing a palace will destroy its self-appearing. Since compassion’s light rays are self-shining, meditating on the attributes [of a buddha] dissipates its self-truth. Since the assemblage of deities have been self-abiding from the beginning, unborn and spontaneously complete, you don’t need to perform the creation stage or the invitation. The assemblage of deities are amused by effortful worship and offerings.
‘Since the dharma-body is free and non-grasping, you won’t find truth by meditating on marks. Since I am a precious jewel, my qualities transcend the extremes of have, have not….’
Then that All-Good Female purified appearing objects with her awareness, and her self-appearance said this:
‘Indeed, buddha of the class, listen! I, Self-Appearing All-Good Female, manifest the fruit of the Secret Mantra path within the primordial gnosis of great equanimity. I, Unchanging All-Good Female, display appearance self-manifested as the dharma-body. I, Inexpressible All-Good Female, display awareness apart from the extremes of conceptualization. In the all-displaying heart of primordial gnosis there is neither a made nor a making. Lacking any actually appearing object, where would there be either manifested or obscured appearance? In a single [instance of] awareness, samsara and nirvana are complete. Non-grasping selfappearance is apart from being a phenomenon. Reality, which is apart from thinking, has nothing substantial. The buddha, being self-radiant from the beginning, is apart from the flaw of the four elements. Since my, All-Good Female’s, mind, is the dharma-body whose way of being never ceases in primordial gnosis and the archaic body, there is nothing to contemplate but contemplation itself. One sees oneself, self-body manifest.
‘In the wide-open expanse of the vagina of All-Good Female, the five elements are gathered but not grasped. They appear as objects of the intelligence that lacks grasping attachment. I, All-Good Female, unfabricated and self-manifest in the All-Good Female field where variety never stops, manifest as unmade All-Good Female, this reality of Self-Appearing All-Good Female, in the unchanging, unfabricated radiant space of the sky. Unproduced awareness is liberated in its own place.
‘The reality of All-Good Female, the expanse of her vagina, is liberated as the unsurpassable [buddha-]land of All-Good Female. Apart from hope and fear, I cavort in the space of reality that comes from the buddha primordial gnosis All-Good mandala. I, AllGood Female, apart from grasping conceptualization, manifest all at once in the self-appearing unfabricated sky, by virtue of a meditative absorption that does not spread and gather in [light rays]. Adamantine All-Good Female realizes perfectly. For all buddhas and sentient beings, the precious rosary of All-Good Female stays unchanging within its own-face. Since Buddha AllGood Female seeks embodiment from within the field, body is apart from all conceptualized extremes. Embodiment is achieved by virtue of body radiation.
‘The understanding of all buddhas is this: Unchanging All-Good Female emits a distillation from the circle of her heart, and Reality All-Good Female appears as an object. Completely Pure All-Good Male engages with the object and cavorts in the space of Primordial Gnosis All-Good Female. Awareness enters the field of All-Good Female. Father-mother-in-union, lacking permanence or nihility, appear purely.
‘Self-Appearance All-Good Female’s seal is unbroken.
Realization All-Good Female gathers into one. Element All-Good Female appears as self. Intelligence All-Good Male displays as selfappearance. Space Field All-Good Female does not move, while Equanimity All-Good Male has no conceptualization. Collected AllGood Male circles in one. Hero All-Good Male settles on the truth. Intelligence All-Good Female gathers in the variety. Precious Method All-Good Male appears as awareness. Brilliance All-Good Female has no grasping. Triumphant All-Good Male shines all at once. No Grasping All-Good Female stays in own-place. Point- sphere All-Good Male is empty by essence. Source of Phenomena All-Good Female does not act. No Conceptualization All-Good Male has no distraction. Covered [Truth] All-Good Female is the actual seed. Ultimate [Truth] All-Good Male displays any sort of magical emanation. Beautiful Ornamentation All-Good Female appears as an object. Field Awareness All-Good Male is the actual dharma- body. Way of Being All-Good Female never ceases. Essence AllGood Male has no changing. Compassion All-Good Female appears as whatever. Teacher All-Good Male controls emotional obfuscation. Empty All-Good Male is apart from designation. Manifestation All-Good Female is apart from identification.
‘Father-mother-in-union, both of them, are the All-Good expanse of awareness. All-Good Female, who shows darkness to be appearance, decisively cuts the cord of the mind of action-acting. She doesn’t stay in the object of grasping but rather shines forth as self-appearance with ease. With no desire she cuts straight through appearance. Since All-Good Female is the lamp itself, you don’t have to search for Self-Appearing All-Good Female anywhere else.
‘In All-Good father-mother-in-union, for whom theory and analysis are not two, the fruit – the blissful point-sphere – spreads in ten directions. With no object of activity, there is no grasping conceptualizing about manifestation. There is no externally produced, while the internally produced is spontaneous. It is neither, and only the particular meaning is engaged. Not made, it is produced spontaneously.
‘Father All-Good Male is primordial gnosis, displayed as whatever. Mother All-Good Female collects everything into the state. Lacking a mark-name, it is the body of All-Good mind. Lacking grasping mind, self-appearance skilfully cuts through. Unborn realization appears as its own object.
‘I, non-conceptualizing dharma-body All-Good Male, look yonder at the object that is reality, awareness manifested, and thereby see awareness within, apart from the variety. By looking yonder at the many objects that are self-awareness, I find the great nonconceptualizing dharma-body within.
‘The primordial gnosis of the buddhas has no partiality from the beginning. Play in the vast primordial gnosis of the enjoyment body. This is the spontaneity that has no action or acting.
‘Realization self-appearing is reality, the lord of all. It is a reality which is like a sky which was polluted but is now unpolluted. It is like a crystal ball which was unpure but was washed and is now clear. This is the dharma-body’s nonconceptualizing self-awakened meditation. When you realize the own-truth that has no perceivable objects, it will be the great meditative concentration which has neither coming together nor parting.
‘That is the teaching of the great fruit of self-appearance.’
From the fourth chapter of The Great Tantra of the Lion’s Perfected Display-Energy, displaying the understanding of the two lions in union.
Translated by Janet Gyatso from the fourth chapter of The Great Tantra on the Lion’s Perfected Display-Energy (Senge rtsal rdzogs chen po’i rgyud), in the rNying ma rGyud ’bum, vols. 54-63 of The Tibetan Tripitaka: Taipei Edition (Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 1991), vol. 56, pp. 197-219. This selection from chapter four is drawn from folios 593-602 (pp. 202-3).
Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.