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Three Stages of Practice

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A student of Buddhadharma first needs to receive instructions from a qualified teacher in order to learn the correct view. It is necessary to receive the teachings on karma and interdependent origination, for example. During the second stage a follower contemplates the instructions thoroughly in order to be able to practice the third stage of meditating the instructions correctly.

The View

There are two types of proponents of tenets (grub-mtha’-smra-ba-gnyis), Buddhist and non-Buddhist, for example, Hinduism. In Buddhism, the correct view is classified according to four philosophical schools (grub-mtha'-smra-ba-bzhi) that formulate the Buddha’s doctrine in sequence while remaining related with each other.

Whichever school a devotee respects and follows, everyone has the possibility to gain certainty in that specific philosophical school of thought and understand its uncontroversial and indisputable tenets.

The initial view of all four schools is based upon Sutrayana. The Vaibashika view is an introductory presentation of emptiness that is studied more deeply in every following school.

Wiki|Adherents}} of Sautrantika take their studies a step further than Vaibashikas, but both are Hinayana adherents.

Followers of Chittamatra and Madhayamaka refine the view even more; both are Mahayana practitioners.

The process of refining the view more and more subtly eventually leads to Vajrayana, a term synonymous with Tantrayana and Mantrayana, in which case accomplished practitioners realize the view completely.

It is utterly important to study and learn the view of each Buddhist school in the order in which they are presented, because it is rather hard - if not impossible - for anyone to begin at the end. One needs to learn und understand the fundamental teachings well in order to progress in stages and reliably. Having done so, it is possible to practice Tantrayana.


The Tibetan term for “meditation” is sgom-pa; a meditator is a sgom-pa-po. The Tibetan term sgom-pa means “growing accustomed to the teachings imparted by Lord Buddha” through learning, contemplating, and meditating the four schools of Buddhism in stages and step-by-step. By becoming more and more accustomed to the teachings on emptiness that are presented in each school and deepening one’s view until it becomes a personal experience, one is able to integrate the view in one’s life, which is connotation of the term sgom-pa.

Practitioners of Kriya Tantra, the first Tantra, become accustomed to outer representations of the Buddha, like those depicted in Thankas and as sacred statues.

Practitioners of Charya Tantra, the second, furthermore become used to merging with the meditation deity that they visualize during formal practice and learn to see themselves as that deity.

Practitioners of Yoga Tantra become accustomed to realizing the essence of a meditation deity.

Anuttara Yoga practitioners become even more accustomed to realizing the essence and to not dividing the deity they visualize during the meditation session into an outer apprehension and an inner apprehending mind after formal practice.

They focus their mind on qualities that the specific meditation deity represents and symbolizes, thus developing and establishing values in their lives. It is necessary to progress through stages, step-by-step, in order to realize and manifest qualities in all walks of life that are, as it is, always and already present in one’s own mind.

Looking at the third Tantra, a practitioner of Yoga Tantra comes to see that a meditation deity does not reside as a separate entity inside or outside what is usually thought to be the own self.

Rather, a practitioner of Yoga Tantra realizes the essence of a meditation deity, which is the nondualitygnyis-su-med-pa - of an apprehender and an apprehension, usually experienced as “self” in opposition to “world.”

In response to a question that was placed by a participant, the biggest difference between Yoga Tantra and Anuttara Yoga Tantra is the empowerment a disciple receives, the ritual a disciple engages in during practice, and the way a student practices.

I have discussed the first two points of the three stages of practice, the view, and becoming accustomed to the view through meditation, and now want to speak about the third point, which is the actual practice.

The Actual Practice

How do Vajrayana followers practice Kriya Yoga Tantra?

They engage in outer practices by cleansing their body and speech through ritual washings and recitation of mantras.

How do they practice Charya Tantra?

They engage in practices to purify body, speech, and mind; therefore Charya Tantra is not only what is referred to as an outer Tantra, because the mind is slowly purified too.

How do followers practice Yoga Tantra?

They engage in less outer purification practices of body and speech and focus their attention on the own mind and on realizing emptiness more thoroughly.

How do followers practice the highest Tantra, Anuttara Yoga?

They exclusively focus their mind on realizing primordial wisdom that every living being always and already has.

In order to become free of suffering and attain lasting happiness and peace, all three stages of practice need to be completed and perfected. Students need to learn the teachings, become accustomed to the teachings by contemplating them deeply, and integrate them through meditation practice in order to flawlessly manifest qualities of being. Having done so, a Vajrayana practitioner never separates from a meditation deity but experiences and manifests the indivisibility of the outer and inner deity.

Even though practitioners focus their minds upon deities who symbolize qualities of being during meditation, every stage of Tantra entails more and more subtle practices that enable students to realize the undivided state, and no Tantra is the same, i.e., the practices seem to be the same but aren’t. Seen ultimately, though, there are no divisions.

There are many methods of practice so that a follower can realize ultimate reality. There are many methods to attain enlightenment;

one can practice Sutrayana according to one’s abilities or one can practice Tantrayana in reliance upon the four Tantras. Even though a specific practice is fitting for one person, this does not mean it is fitting for everyone. An adept needs to choose the practice that helps him and her progress and mature the most – then he and she will attain the ultimate result, which is enlightenment.

There are many non-Buddhist practices that benefit living beings. There are also big differences in Buddhist practices.

Some individuals have a stronger inclination to concentrate on the Sutras and should do so. Others have more confidence in Tantra and should do so. Whether one practices Sutra or Tantra, it is important to bring one’s motivation and wishes to fruition. Failing to accomplish one’s aims, no practice can be considered helpful or beneficial.

Even though there are many Hinayana Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, and Ceylon and many Mahayana Buddhists in Tibet and the Himalayan Kingdoms, they differ immensely.

The highest Tantra in Tantrayana is practiced in Tibet, and Buddhists there, too, are divided into different schools – the Kagyüpa, the Nyingmapa, the Sakyapa, and the Gelugpa. Followers of these four schools all engage in Anuttara Yoga Tantra but differ in that the Kagyüpas and Nyingmapas concentrate more intensively on the highest Tantra than the other two.