Go for the highest goal, the real deal: full buddhahood in this lifetime. I’m not saying lower goals aren’t needed. The simplest meditation attainments help, of course. However, going for the highest goal opens more possibilities and yields more benefits you are probably not aware of. Even if enlightenment doesn’t happen in this lifetime, aim for it. The contingency of the result doesn’t matter at this point, what matters is what setting this goal does to your path. I learned this when I became a Vajrayanist.
Out of all the types of Buddhisms out there, the tradition I picked was Vajrayana Buddhism. In a way, all Buddhist paths are hard. They all have difficult practices. But Vajrayana is an explicitly sophisticated system. When you get into it, it feels like a thunder is ripping you apart. The tantric techniques it uses feel like the sound of a record needle scratch. And this is because they set the highest goal since the very first day: buddhahood in this lifetime. That certainly goes against our short-sighted will.
Before knowing anything about Dharma, I asked a friend if he knew someone who could teach me a thing or two about meditation. He introduced me to a vajra master by the name Lama Yeshe Nyima, from the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, which is part of the Vajrayana teachings. Needless to say, I got more than meditation instructions.
Little did I know I was throwing myself into a lion’s den, in a good way of course, but a lion’s den nonetheless because my lama taught me methods that are designed to tear the ego apart. They are still tearing me apart and that’s good. Unfortunately Yeshe Nyima, who became my teacher for seven years, passed away in 2015. But that hasn’t changed my goal. Let me explain how the Vajrayana made me see the importance of this extraordinary objective.
The first day I went to the the Buddhist center of Yeshe Nyima, Dharma hit me hard. A Tibetan khenpo was visiting the center, and he was about to give a teaching on meditation, compassion, or… was it emptiness? I can’t remember. I do recall two things:
- As I sat in one of the chairs before the teaching started, my chair collapsed and I slammed on the floor. The chair made a huge noise. Everyone looked at me as I was struggling to get up quickly. Someone briefly whispered to me: “It was karma. Maybe it’s a wake up call.” It did wake me up, but not from a sleepy state, but rather from my arrogance. It was like the fall was telling me: “you can’t be here with your cocky attitude”. And I do remember entering the center with arrogance. Having read a lot about spirituality and psychology, of course I considered myself a know-it-all. But the chair was waiting for me and so was the harshness of Vajrayana.
- After finding another chair to sit, right before the teaching started, everyone got up to greet the Khenpo, made prostrations, and then everyone sat again. They proceeded to recite something in Tibetan that gave me goose bumps. I had never heard so many people praying in a very low note. It was actually a small gathering, perhaps 50 people. But to me it sounded like the whole world was chanting like a steady storm. Later I learned that they were reciting the Seven Line Prayer. Years later I learned what it meant and how deep and powerful it is. But what hit me that day was the difficulty of Tibetan Buddhism: Since the beginning, I saw it as a sophisticated and diverse tradition which revealed itself to me like teachings from another planet. There were no people sitting on the floor meditating in silence, no Buddhist master giving 3-word instructions, no people with shaved heads staring mindlessly into nothingness, and certainly not a meditation hall with soothing music.
What I saw destroyed the idea I had of Buddhism. Later the Vajrayana teachings kept destroying all my ideas about reality. Of course Tibetan Buddhists meditate in silence sometimes, but not always. That day I saw many colorful Tibetan paintings of Buddhist deities, called tangkha, hanging from the walls. Some seemed peaceful, others wrathful. Some were smiling and others were showing their fangs. Some were wearing beautiful jewels and others skull necklaces. Most of the wrathful ones were stepping on men and women, and were surrounded by hellish fire. Maybe that’s not as shocking today as it was eight years ago in Mexico City, but at the time, it had a good impact on me: “Hmm, so sacredness can be crazy too”, I thought. I was exposed to prayers recited in a language I had never heard before. I was enthralled by the devotion that the disciples expressed to their teacher. Never in my life had I seen that kind of surrendering. I mean, of course I’d seen many Catholics worshipping Jesus and the Virgin Mary ardently, but this kind of devotion was different. It felt deeper, more authentic, way more down to earth, but also working in several dimensions. There was something about the Vajrayana that shattered who I was for a moment. That semi-collapse of myself caught my attention.
After that, I wanted more of that Buddhist quantum physics. I wanted more of that infinite semiotic system from Tibet. I bought many Buddhist books, I became obsessed with the teachings, and of course, with the way these people meditated in this particular center.
Yeshe Nyima taught me a technique called yidam deity practice. In brief, through liturgies, mantras and 3D mental visualizations, one becomes a buddha right now. Or at least one gets really close to perceiving phenomena as an actual buddha. To be able to practice it, one needs to go through empowerments or initiations that are bestowed by a vajra master. That’s probably the turning point for many people: either you get into it all the way, or you run away from the Vajrayana. Once you get the empowerment and instructions to practice, you realize it is super hard to drop your sense of self and the conventional world, and then rise again as a buddha in a Buddhic realm.
Yet yidam deity practice is brilliant. It forces you to rewire your operating system and they way you cognize reality. I takes you from delusion to wisdom through the cultivation of becoming a buddha in this lifetime. It ain’t no easy feat, nor a confortable one. To do it properly, you need to read a lot about what all the symbols mean, you need many teachings, good teachings. Not to mention deciphering the liturgies one recites in Tibetan, my lama was very orthodox about this.
In brief, I became aware that Tibetan Buddhism could be a living hell for ego, precisely because the goal is beyond conventional goals.
But I’m not writing this to convince you to become a Vajrayanist. This post is meant to highlight the benefit of setting the highest goal. I’m also not writing this so you suddenly see yourself as a buddha right now. To do that properly you need a vajra master and enter the Vajrayana path. What I want is to make you see that conventional goals won’t get you far, only extraordinary goals will do the trick.
If I were you, I would forget about meditating just to:
- Reduce stress
- Feel serene
- Heal emotions
- Feel peaceful
- Reduce anger
- Be more focused
All that is really cool and beneficial of course, and it can certainly be attained through basic meditation. But you won’t go far because our harmful mental patterns have been present in our lives for years, as opposed to the brief post-meditation effects. Neurosis will take over again for sure. On the other hand, by striving to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime to end human suffering, you do insert an error in ego’s system that begins to betray your natural ways of sabotaging wholesomeness.
If you aim for buddhahood in this lifetime, believe me, the change will rock your world, literally. Even if you just get to the early pre stages of buddhahood. You’ll be surprised by how much you can change for the better if you actually set out to accomplish that. The Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, that the password to become a bodhisattva is to know that it is possible, to know that someone already did it.
If you know its possible, that’s it.
But lets say buddhahood seems too hard for you, or you simply cannot see it possible. That’s ok, maybe you can start with these “easier but not too easy” goals:
- I will learn how to meditate properly to re-wire the way I cognize reality, and thus be immune to neurosis.
- I will meditate to reach Stream Entry, 1st path to enlightenment, to reduce my ill will.
- I will look for a realized Buddhist master to receive the tools and teachings to reach nirvana.
This advice is not new. All professional athletes live and die for their sport, aiming for the best version of themselves. The benefits they get are a side effect. The Dharma is exactly like this.
Now go get the super duper teachings, read, sit and strive for the best spiritual version of yourself.
Books quoted: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, by Chogyam Trungpa.
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