The Way of the Thunderbolt: Buddhist Tantric Meditation

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Yoga. The word summons up, in equal measure, ultra-modern techniques to cope with the demands of everyday living in the 21st century, as well as mystical philosophies from arcane texts dating back to the earliest days of recorded history. While we usually focus on ways to utilize the core principles of Yoga to strengthen our bodies and minds, today we look at an ancient practice that lives on in an unassuming, quiet but still powerful way. We’re talking about Buddhist Tantric Meditation.

Known by several names, Buddhist Tantric Meditation is most famously called Vajrayana, usually translated as ‘Thunderbolt Vehicle’ or ‘Way of the Diamond’. “Yana” is variably understood as ‘the way’ or ‘the vehicle’, and the ultimate culmination of both is enlightenment. “Vajra” is the hardest substance known to Yogis – it is said to be harder than a diamond, and in mythology, it assumes the form of a thunderbolt. Put together, the concept of Vajrayana forms one of the three fold path to enlightenment.

The other two paths lead to enlightenment, or the yearned-for ideal of Buddha-hood, through listening to and internalizing the words of an enlightened Master (known as Shravakayana) and through repetition of Buddha’s name or faith (Mahayana). Vajrayana however, is based on a complex philosophical and ritual system developed by medieval Indian Mahasiddhas, which have led to this system being called “Secret Mantra” and “Esoteric Buddhism”. The several elements which make up this system include:

Mantras: These are sacred utterances or sounds that have been consecrated with psychological and spiritual powers by the great Masters. Just their utterance is believed to have marked spiritual and karmic implications.

Dharanis: These are specific Buddhist chants and incantations written in Sanskrit or Pali.

Mudras: These are symbolic or ritual gestures, where the hands and fingers are held in specific postures. Performed in conjunction with Pranayama, these stimulate different energy sources and centers.

Mandalas: These are highly systematized, ritualistic and sacred ways of representing artistically, the universe or its microcosm.

Visualisation of deities and Buddhas.

Done in just the right way, Vajrayana is meant to make the meditator aware of the subtle, spiritual nature of things in this world, especially our own bodies. Adepts in this meditation describe their findings – that the human body is a concentration of divine light, or a condensation of sacred sound.

Here’s how you can try out a simple Vajrayana meditation practice. This meditation has its roots in classical Tantra, called Nyasa, and it works through mantras and imagining deities in different parts of the body. In our version today, we are going to meditate on light.

Sit down on the floor, or on a yoga mat, in a fairly dark room (the room does not have to be pitch-dark, just devoid of too much brightness). If possible, sit in the cross legged meditation pose, spine erect, eyes closed, hands in your lap.

Now starting at your toes, imagine your foot turning into pure golden light. You can either imagine this by creating a vivid picture of it in your mind, or you can say out the words – “my foot is made of pure light”. Now shift your focus to your left foot and repeat the visualization of golden light. Let your attention travel upwards through your body, and at every stage, along your ankles and your calves, your knees and your thighs, imagine the golden light touching every aspect – bones, flesh and skin.

Bring your focus up into your abdomen, and visualize the golden light radiating outward, touching and filling everything – your spine and the intricate network of your backbones and nerves, your stomach and other organs, the bones of your pelvis below and your rib cage above, your heart and your lungs and up into your throat. Feel the light warm your entire head, the bones of your skull and face, the brain, and eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Think “I am a being made of pure light”.

Once your mind has this rich mental image of your person as made of pure golden light, allow yourself to sit within the embrace of this light. Breathe in light and exhale light. Hold the sensation for as long as possible and then let go. Let your mind explore this new realm on its own, and once it is ready to return to the reality around you, slowly allow the light to melt away, and solely, very slowly, open your eyes.

Regular practice of this simple technique is said to be the start of walking along the path of the Vajrayana. Meditators on this journey have as their final goal, not stress-busting or discovering happiness, but that ultimate of goals: realizing the divine nature of the world, and of ourselves.

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