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Introduction to Tantra
Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore
Dec 2004

by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

[mp3 files]

Part 1 of 3: Not to have the wrong motivation for practising Vajrayana~ 'Enlightenment in one lifetime': what it really means ~ Vajrayana is not completely separate from Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism ~ What is an initiation and the purpose of taking initiations ~ Common fault: Spiritual arrogance.
[22 min] : Download


"Vajrayana is a branch of the Mahayana, and all forms of Mahayana Buddhism are practised on the basis of Theravada Buddhism."

“What happens at a teaching depends on the interaction between the audience and the teacher. A Dharma talk is not the sole responsibility of the teacher, that we (the audience) just show up at. It’s an interactive process and how we are as a student influences what the teacher speaks about and how the whole session goes.”

Part 2 of 3: How should we go about practising the Dharma in order to approach Vajrayana in a realistic and practical way? Embarking on the gradual path ~ Watch our mind, watch our behaviour ~ Establish some ethical foundation in our life. Take Refuge and Precepts. Do we lie to ourselves? ~ Learn how to make wise decisions ~ What is the right time to enter the Vajrayana path?
[29 min] : Download


“…when they call it the gradual path, it’s for a reason. Gradual means 'step by step'. If we progress in a step by step way, in a way that’s organic and natural, then our Dharma practice can be very successful and our Dharma practice will feel comfortable. But if we try to rush things and jump to levels of practice higher than we’re actually prepared for, then we often feel a bit uncomfortable and stressed out. We become so busy doing things that we’re not ready to do, that we don’t have time to do the things that we really need to do in our spiritual practice.”

"When our bodhicitta is so strong that we can’t bear sentient beings’ suffering and we want to get enlightened as quickly as possible, then we have the real motivation for entering the Vajrayana. Now, on the other hand, does that mean that if we have anything less than this intense bodhicitta, we shouldn’t take any initiation or do any tantric practice? No, it doesn’t mean that either. We should try and get a good foundation in the lamrim, in the gradual path to enlightenment. We should start practising ethical discipline, concentration and meditation and generating love and compassion for others. But we don’t need to have realized all of these things in order to begin to appreciate what the Vajrayana can do. So, on the basis of some aspiration for liberation, some bodhicitta, some wisdom – what we call the three principal aspects of the path – then we can take some initiations of the lower tantra."

"As long as we have the mindset that says, ‘It’s somebody else’s fault that everything isn’t 100% wonderful!’, we’re never going to get anywhere, because we make ourselves into victims. If my unhappiness is due to somebody else, and I’m not at fault, then I’m a victim and there’s nothing I can do except try and change this other person. And we know how ‘successful’ we are with doing that, because we don’t like it any better when others try to change us, do we? [laughter]

So while we want to blame our misery on somebody else, we also know that when we do it, we get stuck. When we can finally break through that and start becoming honest with ourselves and owning what are our own defilements, then it can be a tremendous relief, because then instead of putting on this air of being such a wonderful, glorious person, we can just start getting on with life."

"Let’s say something in your house smells really bad, but you don’t know where it is. You’re cleaning everywhere but you still haven’t found the thing that smells bad. When you finally find the thing that really stinks – the kid’s diaper that was stuffed under the bed – then it’s like, “Okay, now I got it! Now that I know what it is, I can clean it up!” But when you don’t know what it is that smells, you can’t clean it up. So it’s the same thing here. When we discover our own faults, don’t get discouraged but feel relieved, “Now I see this part of myself. Now I can clean it up!”

Part 3 of 3: Questions and answers
[22 min] : Download

Questions covered:

  • To practice tantra, the first step is to find a spiritual mentor. Different levels of spiritual mentors. Finding a spiritual mentor.
  • Since you say to start with the Theravada practices, then add on the Mahayana and the Vajrayana, does that mean that we should all do Pali chanting? But this isn’t done in the Tibetan tradition.
  • Theravada practice leads one to the state of arhatship, which is liberation, but it’s not the full enlightenment of a Buddha. How does somebody then get from arhatship to Buddhahood?
  • Is there a book that has a good overview of the various Buddhist traditions?
  • Is it better to have taken an initiation and not follow the commitments than to not take the initiation?
  • In the practice of tonglen or the taking and giving practice, one takes on others’ suffering and give them our happiness. But in the Abdhidharmakosha, it says the Buddhas (or anybody else for that matter) can’t take on the suffering of another. Is there a contradiction here?


"The more we understand what cyclic existence is and the more we yearn in our own heart for liberation and enlightenment, then the more we see the person who leads us on that path as kind. The more we see our teacher as kind and the more we see our teacher’s qualities, then the easier it is to follow our teacher’s instructions. And there develops a very, very close, very special relationship with your teacher that doesn’t depend on you always needing to be together (with your teacher)."

"My point is, that a spiritual relationship with a teacher isn’t about hanging around somebody who is high and famous. It’s about generating an incredible respect for that person and how they live their spiritual life, and wanting to become like them, then wanting to follow what they taught."



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