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Tantric Grounds and Paths

– How to Enter, Progress on, and Complete the Vajrayana Path
Although there is great interest in Tantra, very few people understand its real meaning. This book represents a significant milestone in revealing the profound mysteries of Tantra to the modern world. Drawing from his own experience and the works of Je Tsongkhapa and other great Yogis, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso presents an authoritative and comprehensive guide to the four classes of Tantra in general, and to the generation and completion stages of Highest Yoga Tantra in particular.
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Tantric Grounds and Paths  - Front Cover

Tantric Grounds and Paths  - Front Cover



Illustrations vi
Acknowledgements vii
Introduction 1
The Lower Tantras 23
Highest Yoga Tantra 49
Generation Stage 75
Isolated Body 105
Isolated Speech and Isolated Mind 145
Illusory Body, Clear Light, and Union 175
The Final Results 195
Dedication 207
Appendix I – The Condensed Meaning of the Text 209
Appendix II – The Preliminary Practices 223
Great Liberation of the Mother 225
Great Liberation of the Father 233
An Explanation of the Practice 241
Glossary 249
Bibliography 261
Study Programmes 265
Index 268
Vajradhara viii
Manjushri 8
Je Tsongkhapa 16
Togdän Jampäl Gyatso 24
Baso Chökyi Gyaltsän 32
Drubchen Dharmavajra 40
Gyalwa Ensäpa 48
Khädrub Sangye Yeshe 56
Panchen Losang Chökyi Gyaltsän 62
Drubchen Gendun Gyaltsän 68
Drungpa Tsöndru Gyaltsän 76
Könchog Gyaltsän 82
Panchen Losang Yeshe 90
Losang Trinlay 98
Drubwang Losang Namgyal 104
Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsän 114
Phurchog Ngawang Jampa 122
Panchen Palden Yeshe 130
Khädrub Ngawang Dorje 138
Ngulchu Dharmabhadra 146
Yangchän Drubpay Dorje 154
Khädrub Tendzin Tsöndru 162
Dorjechang Phabongkha Trinlay Gyatso 174
Yongdzin Dorjechang Losang Yeshe 184
Dorjechang Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche 196
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Tantric Grounds
and Paths

Also by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Meaningful to Behold

Clear Light of Bliss

Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition

Heart of Wisdom

Universal Compassion

The Meditation Handbook

Joyful Path of Good Fortune

Guide to Dakini Land

The Bodhisattva Vow

Heart Jewel

Great Treasury of Merit

Introduction to Buddhism

Understanding the Mind

Ocean of Nectar

Essence of Vajrayana

Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully

Eight Steps to Happiness

Transform Your Life

Profits received from the sale of
this book will be donated to the
NKT-International Temples Project
A Buddhist Charity,
Building for World Peace


Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Tantric Grounds
and Paths

how to enter, progress
on, and complete the
vajrayana path

Ulverston, England
Glen Spey, New York


First published in 1994
Second impression 1995
Reprinted 2003

The right of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
to be identified as author of this work
has been asserted by him in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any means except for the quotation
of brief passages for the purpose of private
study, research, or review.

Tharpa Publications
Conishead Priory
Cumbria LA12 9QQ, England

Tharpa Publications
47 Sweeney Road
P.O. Box 430
Glen Spey, NY 12737, USA

© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and New Kadampa Tradition 2003

Cover painting of Conqueror Vajradhara
by the Tibetan artist Chating Jamyang Lama.
Cover photo of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso by Kathia Rabelo.
Line illustrations by Gen Kelsang Wangchen.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2003100131

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is
available from the British Library.

ISBN 0 948006 34 X – papercase
ISBN 0 948006 33 1               – paperback

Set in Palatino by Tharpa Publications.
Printed on acid-free 250-year longlife paper and bound
by The Cromwell Press, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England.



Because there is great interest in the practice of Buddhist Tantra, a comprehensive guide is needed from a fully qualified Tantric Master. This need is met in this book, Tantric Grounds and Paths, by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who has prepared here a definitive manual for pure Tantric practice.

Tantric Grounds and Paths explains the relationship between Sutra and Tantra, and the necessity of basing Tantric practice upon Sutra. It then provides an authoritative and comprehensive guide to the four classes of Tantra in general, and to the generation stage and completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra in particular.

The author describes directly from his own experience all the stages of the path to enlightenment. Never before in the history of Buddhist literature has such a clear, profound, and comprehensive guide been published. From the depths of our hearts, we thank Geshe Kelsang


Gyatso for his inconceivable kindness in composing this book.

We also thank all the dedicated, senior Dharma students who assisted the author with the rendering of the English and who prepared the final manuscript for publication.

Roy Tyson,
Administrative Director,
Manjushri Mahayana
Buddhist Centre,
May 1994.


So that living beings might attain great liberation, or full enlightenment, Buddha revealed two paths: the common path and the uncommon path. Here, ‘path’ refers to an internal path or spiritual realization that leads us to liberation from suffering, or permanent inner peace. The uncommon path is the Vajrayana path. Vajrayana path, Tantric path, and path of Secret Mantra are synonyms. These are explained extensively in this book. The common path is revealed by Buddha in his Sutra teachings. The stages of the common path are the twenty-one spiritual paths from the realization of relying upon the Spiritual Guide up to the realization of superior seeing. These are known as ‘Lamrim’, or the ‘stages of the path’. Training in these common paths is the foundation for the practice of the Vajrayana path. The Vajrayana path is like a vehicle that takes us directly to our final destination, and the common paths are like the road on which that vehicle


travels. Therefore, to extract the greatest essence from this precious human life by attaining full enlightenment, we need first to train in the common paths of Lamrim, and then in the uncommon Vajrayana paths.

The practices of all the common paths are included in a very condensed Lamrim text composed by Je Tsongkhapa, which is usually known as the Prayer of the Stages of the Path. This text is like the root text of Lamrim. It does not require a separate commentary, because if we study a complete presentation of Lamrim, such as that found in Joyful Path of Good Fortune or The Meditation Handbook, we shall naturally understand the entire meaning of this root text.

If you want to practise the Vajrayana paths explained in this book, you should receive a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment such as the empowerment of Heruka or Vajrayogini, and train in Lamrim, the stages of the path. You should memorize the Prayer of the Stages of the Path and recite it mentally or verbally every day while concentrating on its meaning. Then, whenever you want to read this book, please begin by reciting this root text. First visualize the holy beings as follows:

In the space before me is the living Buddha Shakyamuni, surrounded by all the Buddhas


and Bodhisattvas, like the full moon surrounded by stars.

Then recite the prayer:


The path begins with strong reliance

On my kind Teacher, source of all good;

O Bless me with this understanding

To follow him with great devotion.

This human life with all its freedoms,

Extremely rare, with so much meaning;

O Bless me with this understanding

All day and night to seize its essence.

My body, like a water bubble,

Decays and dies so very quickly;

After death come results of karma,

Just like the shadow of a body.

With this firm knowledge and remembrance

Bless me to be extremely cautious,

Always avoiding harmful actions

And gathering abundant virtue.

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive,

Give no contentment, only torment;

So please bless me to strive sincerely

To gain the bliss of perfect freedom.

O Bless me so that from this pure thought

Come mindfulness and greatest caution,

To keep as my essential practice

The doctrine’s root, the Pratimoksha.

Just like myself all my kind mothers

Are drowning in samsara’s ocean;

O So that I may soon release them,

Bless me to train in bodhichitta.

But I cannot become a Buddha

By this alone without three ethics;

So bless me with the strength to practise

The Bodhisattva’s ordination.

By pacifying my distractions

And analyzing perfect meanings,

Bless me to quickly gain the union

Of special insight and quiescence.

When I become a pure container

Through common paths, bless me to enter

The essence practice of good fortune,

The supreme vehicle, Vajrayana.

The two attainments both depend on

My sacred vows and my commitments;

Bless me to understand this clearly

And keep them at the cost of my life.

By constant practice in four sessions,

The way explained by holy Teachers,

O Bless me to gain both the stages,

Which are the essence of the Tantras.

May those who guide me on the good path,

And my companions all have long lives;

Bless me to pacify completely

All obstacles, outer and inner.

May I always find perfect Teachers,

And take delight in holy Dharma,

Accomplish all grounds and paths swiftly,

And gain the state of Vajradhara.

It is often said that the path of Tantra is superior to the path of Sutra, but to understand why this is so we need to engage in a precise study of both Sutra and Tantra; otherwise our statements about the superiority of Tantra will be mere words. Moreover, if we do not study both Sutra and Tantra well, we shall find it difficult to understand how to practise the union of Sutra and Tantra, and then there will be a great danger of our either


rejecting the practice of Tantra or ignoring the practice of Sutra.

The teachings of Tantra, or Secret Mantra as it is sometimes called, are the rarest and most precious of Buddha’s teachings. It is only by following the path of Secret Mantra that we can attain enlightenment, or Buddhahood. Why can we not attain full enlightenment just by practising the paths of Sutra? There are two main reasons. First, to attain Buddhahood we need to accomplish both the Truth Body and the Form Body of a Buddha. Although Sutra teachings present a general explanation of how these two bodies are accomplished in dependence upon the stages of the path of wisdom and method, they do not give precise explanations of the actual direct, substantial causes of these two bodies. The direct, substantial cause of the Truth Body is meaning clear light, and the direct, substantial cause of the Form Body is the illusory body. These are explained only in Secret Mantra.

The second reason why Sutra paths cannot lead us to full enlightenment is that Sutra teachings do not present methods for overcoming the very subtle obstructions to omniscience – the subtle dualistic appearances associated with the minds of white appearance, red increase, and black near-attainment. These three minds become manifest when our inner winds dissolve


within the central channel during sleep, during the death process, or during completion stage meditation. Although these minds are subtle minds, they are nevertheless contaminated minds because their objects – the appearance of space pervaded by white light, the appearance of space pervaded by red light, and the appearance of space pervaded by darkness – appear as inherently existent. These appearances of inherent existence are subtle dualistic appearances and very subtle obstructions to omniscience. Because Sutra teachings do not explain how to recognize the subtle minds of white appearance, red increase, and black near-attainment, Sutra Bodhisattvas are unable even to recognize the subtle dualistic appearances associated with them, let alone abandon them. In general, dualistic appearance is the appearance to a mind of both its object and inherent existence. All the minds of living beings, with the exception of the exalted awareness of meditative equipoise of Superior beings, have this appearance.

A direct realization of emptiness with a gross mind does not have the power to overcome the subtle dualistic appearances associated with the minds of white appearance, red increase, and black near-attainment. The only way to abandon these subtle dualistic appearances is to realize emptiness directly with a very subtle mind of clear


light. Since the methods for manifesting and using the very subtle mind of clear light are explained only in Secret Mantra, anyone who wishes to attain Buddhahood definitely needs to enter this path.

It is said that only the fourth, eleventh, and last of the thousand Buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon will teach Secret Mantra. Does this mean that the followers of the other Buddhas will not have the opportunity to attain enlightenment? For example, will no one attain enlightenment under the guidance of Buddha Maitreya? Although Buddha Maitreya will not teach Tantra, many of his followers will reach the tenth Sutra ground of a Bodhisattva by practising his Sutra teachings. Then the Buddhas of the five families throughout the ten directions will appear to them, grant them Tantric empowerments, and show them how to attain meaning clear light, the fourth of the five stages of completion stage. By meditating on meaning clear light, these Bodhisattvas will eventually attain Buddhahood. Therefore, even though Buddha Maitreya will not personally reveal the path of Secret Mantra, he will nevertheless open the way for countless living beings to attain Buddhahood.

Buddha taught three ‘vehicles’, or means to progress towards enlightenment: the Hinayana, the Paramitayana, and the Vajrayana. Of these,


the Vajrayana, or Secret Mantra Vehicle is the supreme vehicle because it takes us directly to Buddhahood. If we engage in Tantric practice wholeheartedly, with a pure motivation and deep faith, we shall attain full enlightenment easily and swiftly without having to endure great hardships. We should therefore consider ourself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to study these teachings on Secret Mantra.

The gateway to the practice of Secret Mantra is receiving a Tantric empowerment from a qualified Tantric Master. We then need to learn precisely how to practise Secret Mantra, and how to progress through the spiritual grounds and paths by depending upon Tantric practice. If we understand this clearly and unmistakenly, and put our understanding into practice sincerely, we can attain Buddhahood in this very life.

Some people say that Buddhahood is an unattainable goal, while others say that Secret Mantra is too advanced and that it is better to concentrate on Sutra. Such ideas are quite common nowadays, but those who have received Tantric empowerments must not allow themselves to become discouraged in this way. If we give up the wish to attain Buddhahood because we think it is unattainable we shall incur a root downfall of our Bodhisattva vows; and if we abandon the intention to practise Secret Mantra because we


think it is too difficult we shall incur a root downfall of our Tantric vows. Through studying the teachings on Tantric grounds and paths given in this book, we shall understand how it is possible to attain Buddhahood by relying upon Secret Mantra, and we shall develop great enthusiasm for Tantric practice. In this way, we shall be protected from breaking our Bodhisattva and Tantric vows.

We may wonder why, if Secret Mantra is the direct path to Buddhahood, did Buddha teach the Sutra paths at all? The reason is that Sutra is the foundation for Tantra. Tantra is like an aeroplane that takes us directly to Buddhahood, but Sutra is like the runway. Without a runway an aeroplane cannot take off, and without the foundation of Sutra we cannot attain authentic experience of Secret Mantra. Therefore, those who wish to attain Buddhahood need to practise the union of Sutra and Tantra.


To become a fully enlightened being we must accomplish all the paths to Buddhahood. In general, there are two types of path: external paths and internal paths. We can understand external paths by consulting maps and so forth, but they do not help us to reach liberation. Even if we travelled in a spaceship to the other side of the universe, we would never reach liberation. The only way to


reach liberation is to follow correct internal paths, which are explained only in Dharma.

Buddhas have ten special qualities not possessed by sentient beings, which are called the ‘ten forces’, and one of these is the force knowing all paths. Buddhas know all internal paths and where they lead to. Out of their great compassion, they teach living beings how to discriminate between correct paths and incorrect paths. If Buddhas did not teach Dharma, we would never know about the paths to liberation and, because of our familiarity with self-grasping, we would wander in samsara forever with no hope of escape. We have been following incorrect paths since beginningless time but now, through the kindness of Buddha Shakyamuni, we have the opportunity to study a complete presentation of the spiritual paths to liberation and full enlightenment.

There are two types of internal path: mundane internal paths and supramundane internal paths. Mundane internal paths lead us deeper into samsara, whereas supramundane internal paths lead us to liberation and enlightenment. There are two types of mundane path: virtuous mundane paths and non-virtuous mundane paths. Virtuous mundane paths are virtuous actions that lead to rebirth as a human being, demi-god, or god, and non-virtuous mundane paths are non-virtuous actions that lead to rebirth as an animal, a hungry


ghost, or a hell being. Detailed explanations of mundane paths can be found in Buddha’s teachings on karma and the twelve dependent-related links.

Supramundane paths are virtuous minds that lead to liberation and enlightenment. With respect to supramundane paths, path, ground, spiritual vehicle, and exalted awareness are synonyms. The definition of spiritual path is an exalted awareness conjoined with non-fabricated renunciation. There are two types of spiritual path: Hinayana paths and Mahayana paths. There are five Hinayana paths: the Hinayana paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and No More Learning. Hinayana paths lead to the small enlightenment of a Hearer or the middling enlightenment of a Solitary Conqueror. There are also five Mahayana paths: the Mahayana paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and No More Learning. Mahayana paths lead to the complete enlightenment of a Buddha.

The definition of spiritual ground is a clear realization that acts as the foundation of many good qualities. Like spiritual paths, spiritual grounds are of two types: Hinayana grounds and Mahayana grounds. There are eight Hinayana grounds, all of which are included in the five Hinayana paths; and there are ten Mahayana


grounds, all of which are included in the five Mahayana paths. Just as the earth is the basis for the growth of plants, trees, crops, and so forth, so the Hinayana grounds are the basis for the development of Hinayana good qualities, and the Mahayana grounds are the basis for the development of Mahayana good qualities.

The definition of spiritual vehicle is an exalted awareness that leads to one’s final spiritual destination. There are two types of spiritual vehicle: the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, and the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle. The Mahayana is subdivided into the Paramitayana, or Perfection Vehicle, and the Vajrayana, or Vajra Vehicle. Of the five paths, the first four are known as ‘progressing paths’, or ‘progressing vehicles’, because they take us to our final spiritual destination; and the fifth path, the Path of No More Learning, is known as the ‘Resultant Path’, or the ‘Effect Vehicle’.

The definition of exalted awareness is a spiritual realization that knows perfectly the nature of its principal object. All spiritual paths are exalted awarenesses. Exalted awareness differs from wisdom in that wisdom necessarily realizes its object through its own power, whereas exalted awareness may realize its object through the power of another mind. Bodhichitta, for example, is an exalted awareness but not a wisdom.


Bodhichitta knows the nature of its principal object, enlightenment, but it does so through the power of its attendant mental factor wisdom rather than through its own power. By the same token, other mental factors associated with bodhichitta, such as concentration, intention, and feeling, are also exalted awarenesses but not wisdoms.

Thus, bodhichitta is at once a path, a ground, a spiritual vehicle, and an exalted awareness. From the point of view of its leading to enlightenment, it is a path; from the point of view of its being the foundation of the many good qualities of the Mahayana, it is a ground; from the point of view of its being the means to progress towards enlightenment, it is a vehicle; and from the point of view of its knowledge and its way of understanding its object, it is an exalted awareness.

Because living beings have varying inclinations and mental capacities, Buddha Shakyamuni taught three vehicles: the Hinayana, the Paramitayana, and the Vajrayana. To suit those of limited aspiration who are mainly concerned with their own release from suffering, Buddha taught the Hinayana. Hinayanists are very aware of the faults of attachment and regard attachment as their main object to be abandoned. For this reason, the Hinayana is sometimes known as the ‘Separation from Attachment Vehicle’. To abandon


attachment temporarily, Hinayanists renounce their families, homes, and so forth, retire to an isolated place, and meditate on unattractiveness; and to abandon attachment completely they meditate on emptiness.

For those who are attracted to the vast path, Buddha expounded the Paramitayana, in which he taught the six perfections and the ten Bodhisattva grounds. The main objects to be abandoned by Bodhisattvas are the obstructions to omniscience. Bodhisattvas are not afraid of attachment, because they know how to transform it into the spiritual path. Just as farmers use impure substances such as manure to fertilize their soil, so Superior Bodhisattvas use delusions such as attachment as aids to attaining Buddhahood, having rendered them harmless through the strength of their wisdom and compassion.

For those who are attracted to profound Dharma, Buddha taught the third vehicle, the Vajrayana. The Vajrayana, or Secret Mantra Vehicle, is sometimes called the ‘Attachment Vehicle’ because, instead of trying to abandon attachment immediately, practitioners of this vehicle use attachment as an aid to generating spontaneous great bliss, with which they then meditate on emptiness. Furthermore, when they finally attain enlightenment, even though they have no desirous


attachment they nevertheless display the aspect of having attachment by appearing as Tantric Buddhas in the aspect of Father and Mother in sexual embrace.

Although we can transform attachment into the spiritual path by practising Secret Mantra, we need great skill to be able to do this because normally, when attachment develops strongly, it automatically disturbs our peaceful mind. The main reason why most Buddhas will not expound Secret Mantra is that there is a danger that unqualified practitioners will use it for the sake of worldly pleasure; and qualified practitioners among disciples are very rare. Buddha Shakyamuni, however, is an exception. Through the power of his previous prayers and special determination, his disciples have special karma to practise Secret Mantra.

There is a prophecy that when the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni is about to end, the practice of Secret Mantra will briefly flourish very widely in this world, as a candle flame flickers brightly just before it finally burns out. It appears that nowadays there are many books about Tantra, many Teachers teaching Tantra, and many students trying to practise Tantra. However, not all these books and teachings are pure and authentic. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to discriminate between authentic


Tantric teachings and those that have been mixed with non- Buddhist teachings. We are extremely fortunate to have met the completely pure Tantric teachings that have been passed down from Buddha Shakyamuni through Je Tsongkhapa and many realized Teachers of the New Kadampa Tradition. Je Tsongkhapa, who was an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, clarified many aspects of Tantric practice that had frequently been misunderstood in the past. In particular, he showed how it is possible, and indeed essential, to practise the union of Sutra and Tantra. Before Je Tsongkhapa appeared, many people thought that Secret Mantra and Vinaya moral discipline were contradictory, and that one person could not practise both; but Je Tsongkhapa showed how, rather than being contradictory with the Vinaya, the practice of Secret Mantra is the supremely skilful means for keeping the Vinaya discipline purely. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to pass on the pure Tantric teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, and the reader too should feel fortunate to have the opportunity to study them.


We can understand the nature, functions, and good qualities of Secret Mantra by considering the various names that Buddha gave to it: Secret


Vehicle, Mantra Vehicle, Effect Vehicle, Vajra Vehicle, Method Vehicle, and Tantric Vehicle. These will now be explained.



Tantric Grounds and Paths - Front Cover
Details: 288 pages includes 25 line illustrations
Language: English (UK)
ISBN: 9780948006340
Size: 21.6 x 13.8 x 2.5cm

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