Tsongkhapa's Six Yogas of Naropa

The following article is from the Summer, 1996 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


trans., ed. and intro. by Glenn H. Mullin

276 pp., #TSSIYO $18.95 September

Anyone who has read more than a few books on Tibetan Buddhism will have encountered references to the Six Yogas of Naropa. These sixinner heat, illusory body, clear light, consciousness transference, forceful projection, and the bardo yogarepresent one of the most popular Tibetan Buddhist presentations of yogic technology. These teachings, given by the Indian sage Naropa to Marpa gradually pervaded thousands of monasteries and hermitages throughout Central Asia regardless of sect. Tsongkhapa's discussion of the Six Yogas is regarded as one of the finest on the subject to come out of Tibet. His treatise has served as the fundamental guide to the system as practiced in the more than three thousand Gelukpa monasteries, nunneries and hermitages across Central Asia over the past five-and-a-half centuries.

Glenn H. Mullin is an internationally renowned author and Tibetologist who has lectured and conducted workshops at universities and human development institutes throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Far East. He is a member of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives Research and Translation Bureau in Dharamsala, India He has studied extensively with Tibetan Buddhist lamas and has authored a dozen books on Tibetan Buddhism.

Here is an excerpt:


How to meditate upon the clear light during sleep

If the situation is such that one can retain the clear light of sleep by means of controlling the vital energies, then as explained before one does this and engages in the dream yogas. Retaining the clear light of sleep is the supreme method for working in the dream state. To accomplish the application in this way is in accord with how most previous lineage masters have taught on the subject.

Before engaging in the practice one should follow a healthy diet, dress warmly, and so forth. There is also a tradition of cutting one's sleep for two or three days, but this is not always done. The important thing is to make one's sleep more light. When sleep is heavy it is more difficult for the novice in the practice to retain the clear light of sleep. When sleep is subtle, this clear light is more easily retained. One wants to create the latter condition. Then when the practice becomes mature one may succeed under the former condition. At that time one will not have to cut one's sleep [to create a lighter sleep state], although one may do so in order to observe the progress of the yoga in conditions of deep sleep.

The practice here is to engage in devotional exercises focusing upon the Three Jewels of Refuge during the day and evening, and make torrna offerings to the Dharma Protectors. Send forth prayers that one may recognize the clear light of sleep, and that obstructions to this may be mitigated. One meditates on oneself as the mandala deity. Also, one meditates on guru yoga and sends forth many prayers for blessing power to assist in the effort to retain the clear light of sleep.

Then one makes firm the resolution that as one goes to sleep one will recognize and retain the four emptinesses that occur prior to the emergence of dreams. One lies on one's right side in the sleeping lion posture, with one's head to the north, back to the east, face to the west and feet to the south, one's right foot on top of the left, and right arm tucked underneath the body. One visualizes oneself as the mandala deity, and envisions a blue four-pet-alled lotus at one's heart chakra, the central channel running through it, a blue mantric syllable HUM at its center.

The yogis who engage in this practice of retaining the clear light of sleep are of two types: those who have previously achieved samadhi able to abide in firm meditation, and those who have not.

In the latter case, on going to sleep the yogi cultivates the instructions as above and attempts to rest in that samadhi once sleep sets in. However, this will only last a short time. He must arouse the awareness that he is in the sleep state [in order to pursue the concentration], but this is difficult under these conditions. Thus he will be unable to remain in the contemplation for very long.

If one goes to sleep without first bringing the vital energies under control then one will not be able to cut off the subtle passage of breath through the two nostrils, and as a result one will not arouse an actual experience of even a semblance of the fourth emptiness. The qualified experience will not arise, and thus the actuality of retaining the clear light of sleep will not be achieved.

The practitioners who have achieved the samadhi of firm placement are also of two types. The first of these have, during the waking state, cultivated a thorough familiarity with the process of the inner heat yogas. By means of it they have brought the vital energies into dhuti, causing them to enter, abide and dissolve there, and given rise to the experience of the [four] emptinesses. In this case while going to sleep they cultivate the visualizations as explained above, with the syllable HUM at the center of dhuti inside the heart chakra Within two or three days they are able to recognize the stages of dissolution into the four emptinesses of sleep, and will gain the ability to retain the clear light of sleep.

Even if one is not able to induce the experiences of the four emptinesses during the waking state, one should in general make firm the samadhi characterized as blissful, radiant and beyond conceptually. One then engages the above visualization at the time of going to bed and attempts to recognize the dissolutions. If still these [four empti-nesses] are not recognized, one continues to cultivate samadhi during the daytime, and eventually this will carry over into the sleep state. Here stable samadhi conjoined with ecstasy is enough; there is no need to bring the vital energies into the central channel.

However, in such a situation the practice could not be said to be a highest yoga tantra method for inducing retention of the clear light of sleep. The degree to which one can hold the visualization inside the heart chakra is the degree to which the seeds of success in the practice are planted.

The power to experience samadhi in sleep by means of cultivating ordinary samadhi powers [during the waking state], even when co-joined with meditation on the view of suchness, will induce only a conventional experience of the clear light of sleep [i.e., the experience will only be on the coarse level of consciousness]. It will not induce the experience of the clear light of sleep as described in highest yoga tantra [i.e., on the most subtle level of consciousness]. Hence it will not qualify as a practice of highest yoga tantra Nonetheless, meditating in that way and envisioning the mantric syllable (or syllables) and so forth as explained above does plant the instincts for unfoldment in that direction.

This shared samadhi [i.e., common to highest tantra and other paths] can produce the ability to dwell in actual samadhi during the sleep state, and can be conjoined with awareness of the view of emptiness in order to give rise to an experience of the clear light of the shared path. However, it is not the clear light consciousness induced through practice of highest yoga tantra.

As explained earlier, one should meditate on the heart chakra in order to establish energy control, which in turn gives rise to the experience of the four emptinesses [of entering into the sleep state].

In general it is said that the drop which supports the experience of the deep sleep state naturally resides in the heart chakra. When one utilizes this as a path one can induce an amazing experience of the clear light of sleep. Even when it is not utilized as a path, the vital energies naturally withdraw into this drop when one goes to sleep. Hence if during the waking state one cultivates the ability to bring the vital energies into the central channel, and when going to sleep applies the meditations described above, maintaining the visualizations inside the central channel at the heart chakra, it becomes quite easy to bring the energies into the central channel at the heart chakra by means of the techniques explained earlier. ä_æ

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