Tantra and Inner Fire
Lord Buddha taught the path to enlightenment at many different levels, in accordance with the variety of needs and capabilities of sentient beings. To give his most advanced teachings, known as Tantrayana or Vajrayana, he manifested in his esoteric aspect of Vajradhara. Tantrayana is the quickest vehicle to full enlightenment.
According to Lord Buddha’s general teachings, known as Sutrayana, desire is the cause of human beings’ problems, so it must be avoided. According to Tantrayana, however, this very desire can be used in the path to enlightenment. On the basis of strong renunciation, the great compassion of bodhicitta, and the right view of emptiness, tantric practitioners use the energy of their own pleasure as a resource and, in the deep concentration of samadhi meditation, unify it with the wisdom that realizes emptiness. Eventually this gives rise to simultaneously born great blissful wisdom, which in turn leads to enlightenment.
In tantra we are dealing with pleasure, not with pain. The person who is qualified to practice tantra is able to cope with pleasure, to experience pleasure without losing control, to utilize it. This is the essential characteristic of the tantric personality. Tantra does not work for people who are miserable, because they have no resource of pleasure to utilize.
In tantric practice, we work with the energy of our own human body. This resource is composed of six factors: the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air), the channels of our subtle nervous system, and the blissful kundalini drops that exist within the channels.1 The human body is the gold mine of tantra; it is our most precious possession.
What we need is a skillful method to harness this powerful energy so that we can achieve not only more and more satisfaction in our everyday lives, but eventually the total satisfaction of full enlightenment.
What we need is the practice of inner fire.
Inner fire is the first subject in the set of tantric practices known as the Six Yogas of Naropa. The other five are the yogas of the illusory body; clear light; transference of consciousness; transference into another body; and the intermediate state, or bardo. During this teaching, my main emphasis will be on the yoga of inner fire.
In Tibetan we say that inner fire is lam kyi mang-do, “the foundation stone of the path.” It is fundamental to the realizations of the illusory body and clear light—to the realizations, in fact, of all the advanced completion stage practices of tantra. I will discuss this in more detail later; but, in short, in order to achieve enlightenment we use the practice of inner fire to cause all the airs, or vital energies, within our body to enter, stabilize, and absorb in the central channel of our subtle nervous system. This leads to the experience of simultaneously born great bliss. This bliss—which is not mere sentimental pleasure but a profound experience beyond our ordinary imagination—is then unified with the wisdom that understands emptiness in a process that eventually leads to the union of the illusory body and the absolute clear-light wisdom, and finally to full enlightenment.
Inner fire is tummo in Tibetan, and the literal meaning of tummo is “brave female.” Tum means courage or bravery; mo, used in Tibetan grammar as a female modifier, represents the wisdom of nonduality. Tummo is courageous because it destroys all delusions and superstitions and female because it enables our subtlest level of consciousness to realize simultaneously born great blissful wisdom. This is the essential purpose of tantric practice, and inner fire can help us to achieve it.
Inner fire meditation really suits the Western mind because Westerners like to work with material, with energy. You like to play with it, fix it, change it, manipulate it. With inner fire you are doing exactly that; but the difference is that you are playing with your inner energy, your own pleasure resource. Also, Westerners like instant satisfaction. It’s what you expect. Well, inner fire gives you this. It is the direct path to enlightenment that you have heard about. It is a very simple process: very practical, very scientific, and very logical. You don’t have to believe that inner fire brings bliss for it to work; you just do the practice and get the results.
The lam-rim, the step-by-step presentation of the path to enlightenment, brings satisfaction in a more religious way; inner fire is more scientific because actualizing it does not depend upon religious belief. If you act, the experience automatically comes. No customs or rituals are involved. With inner fire, you are dealing directly with your own inner reality; you are simply increasing the power of the kundalini and heat energy that you already possess. It is amazingly powerful, like a volcano erupting from within you.
The philosophy and methods of lam-rim are presented intellectually, and to some extent you can be intellectually convinced. But this conviction is like a cloud in the sky. When it is there, your spiritual practice is strong; but when the cloud disappears, you get discouraged, and your practice becomes weak. After being oriented towards lam-rim, when you hear that inner fire meditation is the fundamental path leading to the realization of enlightenment, you are suddenly in a new world.
Inner fire is the real chocolate! Whereas you may find it difficult to get results with other meditations, inner fire is a sensitive, quick way to convince yourself that you are progressing. It will surprise you. When you practice it you will think, “What else do I need? This is the only way.” Other practices will seem second-rate.
Sutrayana explains detailed meditation techniques for developing deep samadhi, but it has nothing to compare to inner fire meditation, which brings an explosion of nonduality wisdom, an explosion of bliss. Concentrating on a sensation or even on the Buddha is fine, but it can’t lead you to the greatest realization of simultaneously born great blissful wisdom.
Inner fire is like the main door leading into a complex of hundreds of treasure houses. All the facilities for magnetizing realizations are there. Since it penetrates the very center of the universe of the body, it is incredibly sensitive in producing realizations. In fact, the superstitious, conceptualizing mind cannot count the realizations brought by inner fire. It is the secret key that opens you to all realizations.
Even if you could stay in samadhi meditation twenty-four hours a day for twenty days, Milarepa would say to you, “That means nothing! It does not compare to my inner fire meditation.” This is how he responded to Gampopa at their first meeting, after Gampopa had described his meditation experiences. There must have been a reason for Milarepa to say this. He was not just making propaganda, exaggerating the power of inner fire. He had no partiality and had given up all worldly competition. Milarepa was simply saying that even remaining for many days in a deep, undisturbed samadhi meditation is nothing when compared to inner fire meditation. Inner fire is incomparable.
Personally, I like inner fire meditation. I don’t claim to have any realizations, but I have tried it and I am convinced. Inner fire meditation will absolutely convince you too. It will change your entire notion of reality. You will come to trust the tantric path through this meditation.
We really need tantra these days because there is a tremendous explosion of delusion and distraction. Good things are happening in our lives, but many bad things are happening too, and we need the atomic energy of inner fire to blast us out of our confusion. In fact, without tantric practice, enlightenment is not possible.
In the beginning your inner fire meditation might not be successful. You might even have a negative reaction, such as an explosion of heat that drenches your body with sweat. However, I believe that even an imperfect result like this is still significant because it shows you the power of your mind.
It is said that anybody can do inner fire meditation. If you have never done it before, it might seem difficult, but it is actually simple. “How can I meditate like this?” you might think. “I am not a great meditator. In any case, I have created so much negative karma—how can I do advanced practices like these?” You should not think this way! You never know what you can do; you cannot always see your own potential. Perhaps you were a great meditator in a previous life. Right now your mind might be completely distracted, but one day your potential will suddenly ripen, and you will be able to meditate.
Look at Milarepa. I doubt that you have created more negative karma than he did; he killed many people when he was young. But because of his inner strength, he was also able to develop perfect renunciation, perfect bodhicitta, perfect right view, perfect Six Yogas of Naropa. He said good-bye to samsara.
Milarepa is a good example for us. Look around in the world. Sometimes those who are successful at samsara, who create strong negativity, can also be successful at liberation. On the other hand, those who don’t have success at samsara can’t be successful at liberation either.
My point is that you never know what human beings can do. Be brave! Try as much as possible to do the inner fire meditation. Even if you are not completely successful, at least you will gain some experience, and that is good enough.
Let us dedicate our energy to all universal living beings, praying that they actualize the essence of tantra and discover the union of their own unsurpassed bliss and nonduality wisdom.
Dedication is important; it is not just a Tibetan ritual. Having created an atmosphere of positive energy within our minds, we make the determination to share it with others.
Think, “Now, and for the rest of my life, I will enjoy myself as much as possible and try to create a good situation around me by giving to others the best part of my divine qualities and blissful energy. May this joyful present lead to unsurpassed joyful realizations in the future.”
From: Lama Yeshe – The Bliss of Inner Fire