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The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

Death, intermediate state, and rebirth are central to the teachings and the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Contemplation and meditation on death and impermanence are considered very important for two reasons : (1) only when we understand how precious and how short life is we make an effort to make it meaningful and to live it as fully as possible; and (2) once we understand and familiarize ourselves with the death process, we will be able to face death without fear and ensure a good rebirth.

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Sutric Path

For the Path of Sutra here are two common meditations on death in the Tibetan tradition. (1) We look at the certainty and imminence of death and what will be of benefit at the time of death. This should motivate us to make the best use of our lives. (2) A simulation or rehearsal of the actual death process, during which we familiarize ourselves with death, easing our fear of the unknown, thus allowing us to die with full consciousness.

For the contemplation on death there are numerous meditation practices from various sources; e.g.: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives and Ven. Thubten Chodron has some good ones on her website . Well known is the Nine-Point Death Mediation which can be subsumed under three main points: (1) the inevitability of death; (2) the uncertainty of death; and (3) that only spiritual insight can help us at the time of death. For the simulation and rehearsal of the death process we have to familiarize ourselves with the actual stages of dying. There are many excellent books on the subject, e.g. Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism by Lati Rinpoche, Living in the Face of Death: The Tibetan Tradition by Glenn H. Mullin, and the various editions of the Tibetan Book of the Dead ( Bardo Thodol , Tib: bar do thos grol ).download There is also a brief summary of the death process available for ( 272.19 kB ) from this website.


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

Tantric Path
For the practitioner of Highest Yoga Tantra the simulation of the death process, the intermediate state, and rebirth is built into most deity sadhanas. The tantric path is different from the sutric one by the prectice of bringing the future result into the present path. All Gelug Anuttara Yoga Tantra sadhanas in the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa contain this practice known as "The Practice of Taking the Three Bodies into the Path". It has three parts: (1) Taking death into the path of the Truth Body (Skt: dharmakaya ; Tib: chos sku ); (2) Taking the intermediate state into the path of the Enjoyment Body (Skt: s ambhogakaya ; Tib: longs sku ) ; and (3) Taking rebirth into the path of the Emanation Body (Skt: nirmanakaya ; Tib: sprul sku ). Sometimes there is mention of fourth kaya, the svabhavikakaya which is simply the unity or non-separateness of the three kayas mentioned before.

There is also a specific practice for the dying, called "Phowa" (Tib: 'pho ba ), that deals with the transference of consciousness at the time of death (performed at one's own death or for another person who is dying).

The Three Kaya Meditation

In his commentary on the Yamantaka practice (given at the Gyume College/Hunsur in 2004; soon to be published on this site) His Holiness states: " the most important practice is taking the three kayas on the path. It is actually here where the highest tantric practice supersedes the lower tantric practices, the practices of the lower tantric classes." Other great tantric masters of the past, such as Lama Tsongkhapa, have emphasized that there is nothing more essential than this practice. The practice of taking death, bardo and rebirth as pathway for the three kayas is the most important method for eliminating ordinary death, bardo and rebirth. This is also why the actual session, the main part of the sadhana practice, focuses on this practice.

The practice takes place in a tantric reality where ordinary appearances and attachments are removed; all appearances are looked at from a pure view. Nevertheless, the actual practice is performed taking into account the conventional reality (of our lives), meaning that the practice is the path. The path has to match the basis - and the result. The basis is the samsaric level we


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

live on. The path is the means to eventually free ourselves from our samsaric existence. The result (fruition) is complete purity, perfection, the realization of Buddhhood. On the basis, on the samsaric level we are subjected to birth, death, and the bardo - without having a choice. The goal of the path is to get out that; the result to have a choice. Basis Death/Sleep Bardo/Dream Rebirth/Awakening Path Clear Light Seed Syllable Yidam Result Truth Body Enjoyment Body Emanation Body

In the Yamantaka practice the main session has four parts (yogas): (1) performing the yoga of taking death as the path of the Truth Body together with its associated parts; (2) generating the yoga of the causal Vajra-holder, taking the intermediate state as the path of the Enjoyment Body by generating the supporting celestial mansion in which you are to be enlightened; (3) the method of blessing the sense organs (Tib: skye mched ), body, speech, and mind through generating the yoga of the resultant Vajra-holder by taking birth as the path of the Emanation Body; (4) method of making offerings and praise.

Taking Death Into the Path of the Truth Body

This practice consists of three parts: (1) making offerings to the lineage masters (merit field) in order to accumulate merit which transfer over to our next life; (2) meditating on emptiness in order to eventually actualize the clear light of death; and (3) meditating on the Uncommon and Common Protection Wheels to prevent obstructing conditions.

Accumulation of Merit
During the specific preliminaries (of the sadhana practice) we instantaneously have arisen as Vajrabhairava in his two-armed (sahaja) form (with or without consort). As such, in the actual (main) session of the sadhana, we do the following practices (to accumulate merit): - we visualize the HUM syllable on a lotus residing in our heart (a) sending out light rays illuminating the boundless realms of the universe and (b) inviting in the space in front of me Vajrabhairava together with all the gurus, encircled by a host Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, protectors, and Wisdom (Skt: jnana ) dakinis; - we prostrate to Guru Vajradhara and to Vajrabhairava; - we make offering to them; - we do the Seven Limb Practice; - we make/renew the Tantric Vows; - we develop the mind of Bodhicitta (through the Four Immeasurables).


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

Meditation on Emptiness

While still in the form of two-armed Vajrabhairava we develop the motivation to actualize the state of the Truth Body and to then to arise in the form of the Enjoyment and Emanation Bodies for the sake of all sentient beings.This is the place (in the sadhana) to practice the meditation on emptiness. When we recite the Shuddah (OM SVABHAVA SHUDDAH...) and the Shunyata (OM SHUNYATA...; only recited in the longer sadhana versions) mantras we should contemplate: "I am the natural purity of all phenomena encompassed by subject and object." The sense of 'I am ' in meditative equipoise on emptiness sort of resemples the sense of 'I am' in sleep. We think: "Since no things exist, no meditator exists."

The main points of this practice are: - We visualize that from the HUM syllable at our heart we emanate blue light in the nature of great bliss, which gradually melts the merit field and the whole universe into light, which then dissolves into us, into the HUM at our heart. - We ourselves gradually melt from the upper and lower parts of our bodies into the HUM at the heart. - While reciting the Shuddah and the Shunyata mantras, visualize the U ( shabkyu ) of the letter HUM melting into the HA, then HA into its head, the head into the crescent moon, the moon into the drop, the drop into the nada, and finally the nada into inconceivable emptiness.


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

- We visualize that this mind which meditating on emptiness, being not an ordinary mind, but your own mind which has actualized the Truth Body of the wisdom of the great bliss of Buddhahood, meditates on emptiness without even the slightest duality, like water poured into water. - We strongly generate pride, thinking "I am the Truth Body of Wisdom". We feel our subjective mind of deep awareness and the object of emptiness are one in bliss. This is Truth Body. This pride of the Truth Body should be extended for a long time. As this is the way of visualizing you have the Truth Body, though we dont have it, it is called taking death as a pathway for the Truth Body. The importance of meditation on death is that it destroys ordinary death and helps us to achieve exemplary (approximate) and actual clear light. It leaves great imprints and instincts to achieve the resultant Truth Body.

The process described above can also be combined with the death meditation, i.e. the visualization of the Eight Stages of Dissolution at Death, from the dissolution of the earth element to the state of clear light (of death). For the visualization and the corresponding 8 Stages see HUM 8 Stages ( 123.82 kB ) . The death process is taken as the path to the Truth Body. It purifies ordinary death which is to occur to us in the future. It ripens the roots of virtue to generate the example and meaning clear lights of the path in our consciousness, and increasingly reinforces a special power to generate the Truth Body of the result.

Meditation on the Protection Wheels

While the Truth Body has been accomplished at this point, the activities connected to that state have not. This is accomplished through the generation of the protection wheels. When doing this meditation it is necessary to concentrate with one part of our mind on the protection wheel while the other part does not let go of the comprehension of emptiness by placing our mind on the meditation of the Truth Body. The actual practice is described in detail in the sadhana. The purpose of it is (1) to avert the many obstacles encountered while practicing the four yogas of the generation stage, and (2) to create and prepare the (favorable) conditions for the intermediate state and rebirth.

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Taking the Intermediate State into the path of the Enjoyment Body

This practice has two parts: (1) the visualization/generation of the celestial mansion in which we are to be enlightened, and (2) the visualization of causal Vajra-holder to eliminate ordinary


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

intermediate state.

The sadhana text describes in detail how, through a number of intricate transformations, the celestial mansion is generated. Then, we develop the intention to actualize the Enjoyment Body as result by purifying/eliminating the intermediate state. Then, from the seed syllable DHIH, we arise as (causal vajra-holder Vajrabhairava) Enjoyment Body Manjushri. This is the practice to eliminate ordinary intermediate state. Therefore it is called Intermediate State Enjoyment Body practice. The causal Vajrabhairava is the subtle form or body of the intermediate state. The sun disc at the heart of Manjushri ordinarily has no significance but in terms of the path and achievement, it has much significance. It represents the illusory body and the clear light understanding of emptiness, and also signifies the union of these two. In terms of the path, it is the Enjoyment Body. In terms of the result it signifies the deep awareness of clear light and perfect union beyond hearing. Body and forms of the intermediate state are not flesh and bones but flesh is made up of subtle wind and consciousness. By visualizing this, wind and consciousness become more subtle through this elimination of the ordinary intermediate state.

Taking Rebirth Into the Path of the Emanation Body

This practice has three parts: (1) arising in the form of the resultant Vajrabhairava, (2) the blessing of various parts of the body, and (3) invoking the deep awareness beings, merging, and receiving empowerment. Since the last two parts are covered by the sadhana text we only look into the first part.

When in the state of the Enjoyment Body we set the intention that if we stay in this form, we would have limited accessibility. Visualizing ourselves as Manjushri we go through a number of transformations as described in varying length in different versions of the sadhana until we emerge as the resultant Vajrabhairava (in his full form).

The significance here is that beings dont always stay in the intermediate state. When they take rebirth they have to take another form. In terms of the path, this is a practice of impure illusory body. The illusory body must rely on the previous body from which it arose. In the same way, by maintaining the illusory body, we cant reach sentient beings, therefore we must use rough old aggregates to reach beings, because they are visible. Therefore we should feel that the Enjoyment Body has arisen in the form of the Emanation Body. By doing this type of meditation, we eliminate ordinary birth. Thus ordinary birth is eliminated and the means to attain the Emanation Body are established. Therefore it is called the practice of birth as the Enjoyment Body.


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

Abbreviated Process
While all the above seems to be an elaborate process - which may take quite some time to go through - for most practices there are also abbreviated versions of the Three Kaya Meditation. Lama Yeshe, in his books Introduction to Tantra and The Bliss of Inner Fire , gives good advice how to go about the process of dissolution, reappearance, and clear appearance as the yidam. The abbreviated sadhanas for the Solitary and the 13-Deity Yamantaka serve that purpose (both are available for download from the 'Downlod' section of this site - for registered users only). Here is the example of the Short Solitary Hero sadhana:

Path of the Truth Body

[After resiting the Shuddah mantra] the whole world and its inhabitants melt into us, and we dissolve into emptiness.

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Path of the Enjoyment Body

While still in a state of emptiness, there comes a vajra-surface, fence, tent and ceiling, together with a mountain of flames. Inside of this is the Celestial Mansion, square, with four entrance-ways, and in the centre of which, on a seat of variegated lotus, moon and sun-disc mandalas, I arise in the bodily form of a Causal Vajra Holder, Manjushri. From my heart as a clearly (appearing) Hero Manjushri, light-rays emanate, and bring forth all the Sugata Buddhas in the aspect of Glorious Vajrabhairavas.

Path of the Emanation Body

They dissolve into me and I completely transform into a Resultant Vajra-holder, the great and glorious Vajra-bhairava, with a body dark blue-black in colour, nine faces, thirty four arms and sixteen legs, standing in the pose of the right ones bent and left outstretched. In my heart is the Wisdom-being Youthful Manjushri and in his heart is the Concentration Being, a syllable HUM. At the crown of my head is an OM, at my throat an AH and at my heart a HUM.

Extremely Abbreviated Practice


The Three Kaya Meditation

Written by Administrator Wednesday, 23 June 2010 20:49

(1) All worlds and their beings melt into light and dissolve into us. We too melt into light and dissolve into emptiness. We are the actual Truth Body of (Buddha) Vajrabhairava. (2) In our space, inside the protection circle, in the celestial mansion, upon a lotus and sun seat, our mind appears as Buddha Manjushri. We are the actual Enjoyment Body of Vajrabhairava. (3) These completely transform, and we arise as the Emanation Body (full) Vajrabhairava, together with our mandala, its palace, and its inhabitants.

It cannot be overemphasized that the Three Kaya Meditation is the central piece, the quintessential practice of every Highest Yoga sadhana. When we imagine that everything dissolves into emptiness we are bringing death into the path of the Truth Body. We think: "I am the Truth Body." Through that we overcome ordinary appearances, which in return prepares us to generate new and pure apearances. As soon as the that experience of clear light (of sleep) has ceased, the mind becomes sligtly grosser, and a subtle (bardo or dream) body manifests. The mind arises in the form of the seed syllable (or some other representation) of the yidam. Through this experience, which is similar in aspect to the intermediate state, we develop divine pride thinking: "I am the Enjoyment Body." While we experience that (still in the form of the seed syllable or some other symbol) we visualize that a new, pure world with pure inhabitants develops in which we are reborn in the form of the yidam. We think: "I am the Emanation Body. The whole process is guided by the altruistic motivation that in the form of the Truth and Enjoyment Bodies we would not be able to benefit sentient beings because they are unable to see a Buddha's Truth or Enjoyment Body.


Death, Bardo, and Rebirth

- Lati Rinpoche & Jeffrey Hopkins, Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism , Ithaca 1980; - Graham Coleman, Thupten Jinpa, & Gyurme Dorje, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: First Complete Translation , London 2005; - Glenn Mullin, Living in the Face of Death: The Tibetan Tradition , Ithaca 2009; - Lama Lodru, Bardo Teachings: The Way of Death & Rebirth , Ithaca 1987; - Ponlop Dzogchen Rinpoche, Mind Beyond Death , Ithaca 2008;

Meditation on Emptiness
- H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama (transl. by Thupten Jinpa), The Middle Way: Faith Grounded in Reason , Somerville 2009; - Gen Lamrimpa, Realizing Emptiness: Madhyamaka Insight Meditation , Ithaca 2002; - Lama Zopa Rinpoche, How Things Exist , Weston 2008 (free download from Lama Yeshe Archives );


The Three Kaya Meditation

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- Guy Newland, Introduction to Emptiness: As Taught in Tsong-Kha-Pa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path , Ithaca 2009;

Tantric Practice in General

- Lama Yeshe, Introduction to Tantra: The Tranformation of Desire , Somerville 1987; - Lama Yeshe, The Bliss of Inner Fire: Heart Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa , Somerville, 1998; - Daniel Cozort, Highest Yoga Tantra, Ithaca 2005; - Jeffrey Hopkins (et al.), Tantric Techniques , Ithaca 2008; - Ngawang Palden ( ngag dbang dpal ldan ), gsang chen rgyud sde bzhi'i sa lam gyi rnam gzhag rgyud gzhung gsal byed ( Grounds and Paths of the Four Great Secret Classes of Tantra ), TBRC , W5926, vol. II, pp. 521-622. [partially translated by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Tantric Grounds and Paths , London 1994]; - Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, Tantric Grounds and Paths , Teachings at Nalanda Monastery, Rouzegas/France 2003 ( audio files ); based on Ngawang Palden's work;

Yamantaka Practice
- Dagyab Kyabgn Rinpoche, Kommentar zur Sadhanapraxis des Yamantaka mit 13 Gottheiten , Frth 2000; - Tri Gyatsen Senge, The Profound Path of the Great Secret , transl. by Sharpa Tulku & Richard Guard, New Delhi 1995; - Lhundup Pandita, Jewel Treasure House of the Three Bodies , transl. by Sharpa Tulku & Richard Guard, New Delhi 2002; Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism by Lati Rinpoche, Jeffrey Hopkins