In the following study, we will look at the ontological and metaphysical framework within the Tibetan Buddhist context which enables the process of enlightenment to unfold through the body. To the Tibetan Buddhist the mind and the body belong to an illusory matrix through which phenomena ranging from all sensory experience through to the most profound and transcendent can be experienced through the mind body (Tucci 1970, p. 59). We will examine the construct of the mind body and how the subtle body mechanisms and purity of its components are responsible for a direct and accurate perception of reality in the Buddhist context (Mullin 1997, p. 14). I will first examine the Buddhist notion of emptiness and the means by which a human can experience this phenomenon through purification of the mind body complex. On top of this model I will discuss the misconceptions of the meaning of purity between western practitioners. Although such a study lends itself to the analysis of generation stage, completion stage yoga and physical practices, I will not highlight these areas as I will be focusing on the metaphysical concepts which underpin the process of purification and their relationship to right view.
A primary treatise to the Buddhist doctrines is the concept of no self which underpins the soteriological path towards enlightenment and the metaphysical framework through which all phenomena arises. The teachings of the historical Buddha detail this notion in the sutras of the Tripitaka and the theory of dependent arising (rten cing ’brel bar ’byung ba); a central theme to the Tibetan Buddhist soteriology (Tsongkhapa 2006). The Abhidharmas (chos mngon pa) illustrate that we should view the nature of reality through the notion of dharmas (chos) or phenomena. ‘Physical and mental events are the ultimate building blocks of the ways things ultimately are; to understand the Buddhas’ teachings and to understand Dharma is to see things in terms of dharmas’ (Gethin 1998, p. 209). Tsongkhapa debates that it is the very cognitive act of seeing objects, ideas and emotions as realities which start the process of the twelve links of dependant arising.
Ignorance is not just the absence of insight into the way things really are, nor just something different from it. Instead, it is the very opposite of that knowledge, and is completely heterogeneous with it. That is, it is the grasping of the person and phenomena as truly existent by objectifying them. In virtue of the real facts being obscured by ignorance, the person performs—that is, gives rise to—meritorious, nonmeritorious, and unshakable action—or actions of body, speech, and mind—that  lead to rebirth. (Tsong khapa 2006, p. 536)
To make contact with an object with the sense organs in a state of ignorance (ma rig pa) gives rise to form or substance of the mind; ignorance being the notion of the self. A form which from an enlightened perspective does not exist yet from the perspective of ignorance this form gives rise to an illusory existence in the sphere of the senses (Tsongkhapa 2006, p. 129). It is not my intention to discuss whether or not seeing exists inherently and whether or not the eye is the agent of seeing; however, the concept of causality is key to understanding the path of purification towards seeing that all phenomena is empty (Hopkins 1984, p. 135).
In the Ocean of Reasoning, Tsongkhapa delineates that it is not enough to detach from an object to attain enlightenment as it is the very notion of the self which brings the object into being. In order to transcend objective reality one must fully understand the notion of no self from an experiential point of view (Tsongkhapa 2006, p. 372). From this position of non-duality a hierarchical evolution of phenomena is clearly perceived. We can see this development in the concept of the dhamas in the Abhidharama where each building bloc of reality is organised into eight forms (Vasubandhu 1991, p. 62). Beyer relays the Lankdvatara Sutra’s description of the eight forms (Beyer 1988, p. 96).
Thus awareness takes place, evolving psychologically in eight forms, the first six of which are (1-5) the five sense perceptions and (6) mental perception—the perception of mental events such as dreams and memories, and the faculty of discrimination an attention with regard to the sensory input of the five senses. These may be diagrammed as follows: To these six are added (7) the 'defiled mind,' the mind as defiled by the delusion of self, that is, the false self with which we identify and which seems to lie behind and appraise the processes of mental perception; and (8) the 'underlying awareness,' the karmic continuum that 'contains all seeds' and from which the seeds ripen into awareness and become perceptions in nonreality; (Beyer 1988, p. 96)
Each class of dharma or consciousness has a particular characteristic in the way that it flows towards natural phenomena be it emotions, thoughts or a thing. For example, when an object is observed with the characteristic of greed, more afflictions (nyon mongs) are created and coloured by the nature of that dharma (Gethin 1998, p. 210).
This is a key point when looking at the misconceptions held by western practitioners with regards to morality as a means to enlightenment. There is no impure action per se but it is the view or intention from which the action arises which is impure. An impure thought is a phenomena which is born from the notion of self. From this position, everything perceived is born out of ignorance. Morality is a field which changes according to political and cultural paradigms through the process of normalisation; therefore, will always be inconsistent. Although the Budddhist Tantric will follow the Eightfold Noble Path (’phags pa’I lam yan lag brgyad), it is not as a result of good action leading to enlightenment but its direct effect on the conditions which are conducive to the realisation of non-self (Powers 1995, p. 59). The precepts and vows taken by a monk are to clearly guide the monk into favourable conditions which will allow a mind calm enough (zhi gnas) and stable enough to hear dharma and rejoice in it (Tsongkhapa 2006, p. 18). It is the experiencial unfolding of dharma which results in the purification of the self.
Tsongkhapa describes the process of mental purification which starts with taking refuge in the path and gradually moves towards cultivating the mind of kindness and generosity (Tsongkhapa 1996, p. 114). As these minds become the inherent thought processes within the individual, the accumulation of negative karma grind to a halt and the opportunity to absolve ones’ own negativity become apparent (Tsongkhapa, 2000). The result of the cessation of negative action and negative consequences leads to a calmer more allowing the aspiring Bodhisatva to realise the true nature of reality (Powers 1995, p. 55).
A primary focus of any student on the Buddhist Tantric path to enlightenment is to cultivate bodhicitta. The very essence of bodhicitta (byang chub kyi sems) is the consciousness of compassion (snying rje); a subtle mind (phra ba) which spontaneously puts the happiness of others before their own. To cultivate bodhicitta is to become a Bodhisattva where the liberation of others before ones’ own enlightenment becomes the goal (Powers 1995, p. 98).
Tantric practice circumnavigates the theory that the human physiology is intricately interwoven into the human psychology. The psychology of an individual takes on a noumenonal position in the framework of the subtle body of winds (rlung) and subtle channels (rtsa) (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso 1982, p. 17). To the tantric the physical body is mechanised by the movement of vital energies (srog ’dzing kyi rlung) which flow through subtle channels and it is these vital energies or winds which animate and cause function to the instruments of perception and bodily functions (Cozort 1986, p. 43). The dharmas or consciousness’s ride the subtle winds and create thoughts or emotions (defilements) when consciousness comes into contact with an object. Due to the close proximity of winds and consciousness, to control the consciousness is to control the winds and visa versa (Power 1995, p. 246). It is through this taming of subtle inner hydraulics that the mind can reverse the process of dependant origination by drawing the winds in to the central channel (rtsa dbu ma) as directed by Tsongkhapa in the Six Yogas of Naropa.
The inner condition of meditations on the inner heat doctrine. Here there are two stages to the practice: meditating upon the inner heat yoga in order to draw the vital energies into the central channel; and, having brought the energies, the methods of arousing the four blisses (Tsongkhapa 1996, p. 141). The four blisses being synonymous to the four empties and the four joys which are the pleasure at very advanced stages on the Tantric path to liberation (Cozort 1986, 93). The winds within the body must go through a process of purification in a graduated sequence so to avoid adverse effects.
A major aim of the completion stage yoga is to separate these three sheathes of the body, thus separating the frequency of the unconsciousness that arises from the physical bases. In this way the meditator achieves an increasingly subtle inner meditative environment (Tsongkhapa 1996, p. 60) The winds within the subtle body exist in degrees of subtle manifestation. The more subtle the wind the more subtle the mind hence the necessity of cultivating bodhicitta. Subtle meaning a mind that realises there is no self. As mentioned earlier the grasping of the self results in the formation of a defilement thus leading to more course wind (Power 1995, p. 294; Tsongkhapa, p.318).
In order to understand the Tantric path to enlightenment we must understand the relationship of the dhramas to the mind body complex as it is through the body that we move through a path of increasingly subtle minds and subtle winds (phra ba’I rlung) towards complete dissolution of the self (Gethin 1998, p. 118; Powers 1995). To the tantric the body is viewed a microcosm of the manifest universe and all its phenomena (Snellgrove 1959, p.27). “In Tantric soteriology the divine body is a simulacrum for the cosmos; mind, breath, and semen are homologized to one another and to the forces that create and destroy the universe.” (Beyer 1998, p. 93). An example of such a treatise is The Kalacakra Tantra whos’ primary goal is to analyse the process of causality through body phenomena in order to understand the nature of no-self (Wallace 2001, p. 45).
We must take a hermeneutical approach in order to objectively perceive the Buddhist Tantric framework of body mind. It is a tradition which was formed upon pre-existing belief systems of deities, spirits and daemons acting in a liminal sphere; a sphere which has direct influence over the material realm. The multidimensional aspect of mind existing in a spacial relationship with the body is notion which is not too far removed from Tibets’ folk traditions (Samuel 1993, p. 164). The western mind requires a greater leap of faith towards this metaphysical construct which can present as a major hindrance on the path by conjuring doubt. Our earliest western interpretations of Tibetan culture are from the perspectives of our Christian Missionaries where mystical experiences where conveyed as inferior and superstitious (Neuhaus 2012, p. 60). Such cultural impressions have left a scar of scepticism on the western psyche when engaging with the subtle body practices.
Such ambiguity has lead misinterpretation of Buddhist psychology and the idea of the subtle body. The path is as much a practice of manipulation of physio/psychic energies as it is firm mental resolve and meditation (not-withstanding the importance of physical practice as a means to control the subtle winds). Although the subtle body is carefully imagined during generation stage practices, it is not an imagined construct. It has a functional role and must being constructed visually within the mind until the practitioner has gained enough concentration to directly perceive and experience the channels and the winds (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol 2001, p. 285). The term imagined is semantically inappropriate as the subtle body is not a fabrication but a careful visualisation of a subtle framework which exists and has been experienced and mapped out by more advanced practitioners (Gyesha Kelsang Gyatso 1982).
Mullin outlines the body and mind complex as existing on three different frequencies simultaneously as the course body, the subtle body, and the very subtle body. The course body contains all the sensory data such as thought or emotion which evolves out of the function of the senses. The very subtle body contains the consciousness of the clear light mind (Mullin 1996, p. 58). Tucci describes the manifestation of mind is light and the objects within it are but a reflection of its luminosity. Our manifest existence is a projection of light at varying degrees of vibration (Tucci 1970, p. 106)
Heruka Tantra (Snellgrove 1959, p. 49) describes the knowledge as abiding within the body through the subtle channels. Of the thousands of channels the Heruka Tantra describes thirty-two channels of veins which bear bodhcitta or knowledge of the nature of reality. Then Vajragarbha said: 'How many veins are there, Lord, in the vajra-body ?' 'There are thirty-two veins', he replied, 'thirty-two that bear bodhicitta, and flow into the place of great bliss. Among these three veins are the chief, Lalanii, Rasanii, and Avadhuti (Snellgrove 1959, 49).
When considering the method of the attainment of Enlightenment we must consider the multiple practices available for the multiple variations of minds. Cozort gives the example of a mind lacking in intellect should not be taught the doctrine of emptiness as conceptualising will only lead to greater ignorance. Instead, right action, right speech and right thought must be developed. Thus, to cultivate bodhichitta is to accumulate merit (bsod nams). The result of merit is positive karma and calm winds within the body which neither draw the practitioner towards attachment or push them away in aversion (Powers 1995, p. 80). Method, wisdom and merit are inherently joined; you cannot have one without the other. The Perfection Vehicle and Secret Mantra Vehicle are the wisdom which comprehends emptiness and the motivation towards enhancing wisdom respectively. Motivation being that of selfless intention.
The secret Mantra Vehicle teaches deity yoga, an extraordinary method of uniting wisdom and method in which wisdom and method are joined together in a single consciousness. The subtle consciousness used to realise emptiness appears in a compassionate physical form (a form Body), thus uniting wisdom and compassionate method in a single consciousness, called deity yoga (Cozort 1986, p. 26).
Victorian curiosities in the exotic east has often conjured misinterpretations of sexual practices as either abhorrent or enticing. Tucci argues that the superior class of tantra or annutarayoga is “reserved for men and women who are not religious – especially those of a sexual nature” (Tucci 1970, p. 51)
The Tantras of the 'superior class' are above all addressed to men in whom non-religious impulses, especially those of a sexual nature, are at their most powerful. These practices have the goal of bringing about a 'transfer' of emotions, of becoming free of passion through passion, through a psychological technique anticipating the latest achievements of psychoanalysis. The ordinary man is born from desire (ydod chags) and bound to desire, yet desire can become a means to liberation. (Tucci 1970, p. 51). Snellgrove disputes this notion with the argument that the sexual practices are merely symbolic of the unification of the cosmic principals which manifest in the subtle body through the control of the subtle winds and development of bodhichitta.
If one is therefore prepared to understand it, one must expect to meet with sexual symbolism at every turn, and this can only cease to be burdensome if one is able to see beyond the symbols to the ideas. The power and (in a sense) the profundity of these symbols is very great, for while on the one hand they refer intimately to the realm of sensual experience (samāsra), they also indicate the two coefficients of mystical experience (nirvāna). In fact these symbols indicate the identity of the one with the other, in a way in which no other symbols can possibly do. (Snellgrove 1959, p. 24).
As discussed earlier the path to enlightenment varies considerably for different personalities and for varying degrees of merit accumulated for each individual. Vajrayana yogins often state that the practice of using sensual pleasure is a valid path to enlightenment but it is as dangerous as licking honey from a razor blade. It is from this position of non-attachment and non-aversion that any transgressive act maintains its purity and is resolved of any negative karma.
Sense-pleasures, says Shabkar, are like fire: if one does not know how to use them, one gets burned. Yet for a genuine Vajrayana practitioner, bliss and the experiences of the five senses are offerings to the Three Roots and effect swift progress towards realisation. It is craving and attachment that make one fall into the lower realms, not sense-pleasure itself (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol 2001 p. 583).
Powers gives a different angle to this view by stating that the sexual practices can only be practiced safely by those who have completely transcended desire rather than using sensual pleasure as an offering. He states that it is only for those who have awoken the mystical inner heat or gtum mo as described in the Heruka Tantra (Powers 1995, 252). We can see evidence of this in the varying types of generation practices for different types of students and their stage on the path towards knowing emptiness.
These two approaches to the deity often symbolize a difference in the practitioner's psychological distance from the deity's power. The rituals of evocation are more clearly soteriological or manipulatory in intent: the practitioner is the deity, and gains thereby godlike magical attainments to understand and control reality. The rituals of offering are performed, for the most part, to thank the deity (as a power beyond the practitioner) for favours received, or to pray for future kindness. The distance is most clear in the often quite blatant bribery and coercion of the lower oath-bound protectors; in the case of Tara, one informant preferred the simile (Beyer 1988, p. 68). Cozort rightly states that there are too many people who wish to practice union tantra with the deity but there are very few who are qualified (Cozort 1986, p. 33).
The path of the mind body cultivation traverses a wide field of practice and is conditional upon the level of understanding from which the practitioner proceeds (Dowman, 1985). It falls to debate whether or not such a practice so entrenched in the historical cultural belief systems of India and Tibet can be fully understood by western practitioners. It falls to reason that the logical praxis of the Hinayana or Sutra texts can reinforce the intrinsic understanding of the metaphysical mind body practices within the tantric path. As we have discussed the initial intention behind an action whether it be to cultivate bodichitta, eliminate negative karma or purify the subtle body must come from the intention to realise no self. An intention other than is thwart with danger of falling further into the delusion of the self.