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Subtle mind and wind in tantra

Subtle mind and wind in tantra

Part of a series of Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks given during the Green Tara Winter Retreat from December 2009 to March 2010.

  • In highest yoga tantra there is an extremely subtle mind and extremely subtle wind that are one nature
  • The basis of designation of a Buddha is this extremely subtle mind/wind
  • Our body does not get physically transformed into that of the deity

Green Tara Retreat 050: Subtle mind and wind in tantra (download)

Somebody is saying [question from a retreatant]: “I am puzzling over how my wisdom realizing emptiness appears as Tara’s body. Or can it appear as anything? Shouldn’t the object of that wisdom be emptiness, in which case, shouldn’t emptiness be what it appears?”

Yes, when you realize emptiness, emptiness is the object. Our level of understanding emptiness is getting there. I don’t even know if it’s a correct assumption yet. The idea behind this is that according to highest yoga tantra, there is an extremely subtle mind and an extremely subtle wind that are one nature. On the path to buddhahood, as you are able to access this extremely subtle mind and wind, which are one nature, the gross minds and winds absorb. You use this extremely subtle mind and wind. That is what manifests as the dharmakaya, the mind of the Buddha, and the rupakaya, the form body of the Buddha.

The idea here is that you are thinking of your wisdom and the subtle energy or the subtle wind that is one nature with it. The wind is actually what is manifesting as the body. Now, of course, this is kriya tantra, so it doesn’t have this exact explanation, but if you understand highest yoga tantra, you can understand this better.

You don’t want to get hung up here. If wisdom is a mental factor, and it’s a consciousness, and it doesn’t have form, how can it appear as Tara’s body? Yes, that’s right. Here we are thinking on the level of an extremely subtle mind and wind energy that are one nature; and so that appears as Tara’s body.

That is why it appears as a body of light. It doesn’t appear as this kind of body [indicating our human body] because this kind of body is not one nature with our gross mind. They are completely different natures. The reason that you are doing this, and seeing your wisdom appear as yourself in the form of Tara, is that you are trying to see the two truths at the same time. When somebody is in meditative equipoise on emptiness, then emptiness is the only thing that appears. Only the Buddha has the ability to see the two truths directly at the same time. Here, by thinking that that wisdom appears as a form, you are also training yourself, at least, to get the idea into your mind about seeing the two truths simultaneously. That is what we want to be able to do at the time of buddhahood.

In addition, when you label “I” on the deity’s body, what is the basis of designation of the label I? It is not this body, is it? It is not our gross mind. Those things are shed. They aren’t what transform into the dharmakaya and the rupakaya according to tantra.

What is the basis of designation of a Buddha? It is this extremely subtle mind wind in which the body/mind are inseparable. That is the basis of designation.

You are thinking of that when you appear as Tara. Don’t think that this body has become Tara. This body is not going to become Tara. I heard somebody once say, “Oh, you practice and practice, and then you look down and one day your body is the deity.” No! That’s not correct. This is what we’re doing. Somebody could come back and say, “but I thought we are supposed to be training to see everybody as deities, so why shouldn’t I be able to look at my body and see it as the deity’s body?”

We are training on seeing everybody as deities on the mental level. That doesn’t mean that with our eye consciousness we see them as the deity. It means that with the mental consciousness, we are regarding them as the deity, and we are regarding ourselves as the deity. This is done for a specific purpose. It is done in order to not get involved in afflictions. If you think of somebody as the deity, or think of yourself as the deity, then that whole self-judgmental mind, that whole critical mind, all those things can’t happen because you have changed the object. It is the deity, not an ordinary person. You are doing that for a specific reason. It doesn’t mean that with your eye consciousness you see people as deities. It doesn’t mean that with your mental consciousness you are so convinced that they are deities that you say, “Well, I don’t have any need of bodhicitta because they’re already enlightened.” It is very important to understand the context in which all these different practices happen. Otherwise you can get really turned around and quite confused.

Question: Someone has asked about the indestructible drop and how does it relate to what was said about the subtle mind and body.

Venerable Thubten Chodron: The indestructible drop is a drop at our heart. There is a gross one and a subtle one. The gross one contains elements from our mother and father, and it came about when we were conceived. When the winds and the minds that ride on them are dissolving at the time of death, a person is losing touch with the outer world; they are all dissolving into that indestructible drop. Then the actual time of death is when the consciousness leaves that drop.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.