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The Structure of a Sādhana

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 As Gómez has noted (378), the tantric ritual is modeled after, and contains elements from, both pre-Mahāyāna and non-tantric Mahāyāna liturgies. Thus, we find the tantric practitioner going for refuge to the Three Jewels (Buddha, Spiritual Community, and Doctrine), generating compassion, and meditating on emptiness as well as performing the unique tantric practice of deity yoga. As an example, let us consider a recently composed sādhana (Dalai Lama XIV, 1985: 383-424) of the Kālacakra stage of generation (utpattikrama, bskyed rim).20 It exhibits the typical structure of a sādhana, with preliminaries, an "actual" sādhana that rehearses the [page 336] entire process of transformation into a buddha, and concluding acts. Although not all sādhanas are so constructed, many are, and this one admirably suggests the complex dynamism of a deity yoga practice.

In this Kālacakra sādhana, one begins as one would in most non-tantric meditation, by contemplating death and impermanence and one's precious opportunity to attain enlightenment in this life. Then one begins the visualization, imagining the field of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and teachers, 21 and, declaring that one takes refuge in them, practices with the altruistic intention to highest enlightenment and cultivates the sublime states of love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity with regard to all sentient beings.

Having completed these motivational preliminaries, one performs a seven-branched ceremony (pūjā) of honoring Kālacakra while visualizing a simpler version of the scene depicted earlier: one imagines that the mind that realizes emptiness appears as Kālacakra (who is felt to be undifferentiable from one's own teacher, in this particular sādhana); that he and his consort, who are sexually united, stand on discs of sun, moon and planets set in a lotus that is itself mounted on a throne; and that they are surrounded by fierce protectors who emanate from Kālacakra's heart. Then, as in many Mahāyāna Buddhist rituals, one performs a seven-step offering: one

   (1) pays homage to Kālacakra and his consort;
   (2) makes offerings of a multitude of pleasant objects, including one's own body, speech and mind, to them;
   (3) confesses one's faults;
   (4) expresses admiration for the good deeds of others;
   (5) asks them to turn the Wheel of Dharma;
   (6) asks them to remain in Form Bodies to teach others; and
   (7) dedicates one's merit to others (see Makransky, in this volume).

One follows this ritual by again recalling one's teacher and affirming his or her undifferentiability from Kālacakra, and by recalling the initiation that gave one permission to perform this sādhana. One imagines that Kālacakra dissolves into one's crown and that one now is Kālacakra in the brilliant circle of mansion and deities, emanating fierce protective deities from one's heart and uttering the divine speech associated with all the deities. The deities melt, dissolving into oneself; oneself also dissolves, but then re-forms as Kālacakra, whereupon one renews one's vows and pledges.[page 337]

In this sādhana, one concludes by rehearsing, in a highly condensed way (which itself indicates that this sādhana is developed mainly for beginners), the entire practice of the two stages of generation and completion (niṣpannakrama, rdzogs rim).22 These two stages are the "actual" sādhana that is required in order to bring about one's transformation into a buddha. In the stage of generation one imagines the construction of the residence circle and its population with deities. One imagines that sexual union with one's consort causes an inner heat (gtum mo, the "Fierce Woman") that melts a subtle substance called a "drop" (bindu, thig le) so that it flows through a subtle central channel in the body ;23 this drop is imagined to bless all sentient beings. Again, one generates the deities and again the drop melts and flows. One imagines that all the actual deities descend and dissolve into the imaginary ones and that one receives initiations and blessings from them. Again, one imagines the melting and flowing of the drop, this time downward from the crown through the central channel, past channel-intersections called "wheels" (cakra, 'khor lo), causing one to experience different degrees of bliss. Then one imagines the upward flow of the drop, experiencing bliss of an even more sublime nature. Although this concludes the yogas of the stage of generation, one ends by further repetition of mantra and by making offerings to the assembled deities.

Then, the stage of completion is rehearsed by imagining the sort of practice one would perform in that stage: one focuses attention on a tiny drop at the midpoint of the brows, which brings about the appearance of eleven mental images such as the appearance of smoke, of a mirage, and of specks of light like fireflies; one observes that the reverberations of the breath are mantra sounds; one holds all subtle energies in a pot-like configuration below the navel, causing great inner heat; one has sexual union with a consort to cause the drops to flow in the channels; one observes that the collection of those drops causes the body to dematerialize, leaving only a body of "empty form"; and simultaneously, one experiences the destruction of all the obstructions to liberation and buddhahood. The sādhana ends with sincere wishes for its success for oneself and for all other sentient beings.[page 338]


The Tibetan text, composed by H. H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and versified by Gling Rin po che, can be found in the Deer Park Kālacakra Initiation manual (51-69). Sādhanas associated with tantras of the Highest Yoga Tantra class are mainly concerned with the procedure of the first stage, the stage of generation (this is noted by Jackson [119], who provides an extensive summation of mKhas grub rje's sādhana in a chapter that begins on that page). Why are most sādhanas restricted to the generation stage? I would speculate that this is mainly because although many people receive initiations into a Highest Yoga Tantra stage of generation (thousands at a time, for instance, are initiated into Kālacakra), only the relative few who succeed in completing it require sādhanas for the stage of completion. Those persons can receive further instruction—and perhaps only oral instruction is necessary or sufficient—when appropriate.

The sādhana to which I refer in the next several paragraphs concludes with a brief summation of the occurrences of the stage of completion, but since this is little more than an outline it would be insufficient to use as the basis of a completion stage practice.
[21] As this can be done in various ways, one would need additional instructions from a teacher.
[22] John Newman (personal communication) noted that Kālacakra texts seem to prefer the term saṃpannakrama, occasionally utpannakrama.
[23] Tantric physiology assumes the existence of a somatic system of channels, energy currents, and drops that are "subtle" (supersensory).