When we are faced with outrageous situations, challenges beyond our wildest dreams, strange and dangerous times that push us toward the precipice, there are many and extreme ways to meet these impacts. Fear, freaking out, hiding, disappearing into ideologies and dogma, seeking security in all kinds of mass psychoses, mass formation or hypnotic states, activism, fighting back, escape, taking up arms, waiting it out, and on and on.
There is also a very different way, one that is preserved for us in the Adamantine Path: the Vajrayana tradition preserved in the hidden valleys and mountain vastness of Tibet. This is a spiritual way, but also incredibly brilliant and effective in its practicality in dealing with the formidable demons of our time. The method is based squarely on the foundational principles of Buddhist tantra. It involves the most basic manipulation of reality, one that is repeated throughout the entire corpus of Vajrayana practices. But those of any spiritual persuasion may also be privy to these ideas, which are scattered across our world and found wherever transformative practices are still known and not yet destroyed by time or malice.
Whatever our political, ideological, or even moral bias, in this practice we can leave it all behind. There is no need to work on one side or the other, defeat the enemy, overcome the bad guys, or anything like that. In fact that would be quite counterproductive and would be the polar opposite of this kind of transformation. Vajrayana is not just a road to enlightenment, but can be used in all kinds of practical situations, from finding a lost cow to pacifying ecological disturbances or calming the enmity between conflicting factions. Such could be called mundane Vajrayana and has been an important part of Buddhist Himalayan culture for thousands of years. It is also the purview of shamans, Daoists, Shaivites, and every manner of community-focused spiritual advisors and guardians. This is the next level up, more like sacred Vajrayana than profane. In spite of a transcendent nature, however, it does not mean that it has no material effect or only has impact for the practitioner engaged in this work. Instead, it can be expected to have deeper and more lasting effects than even the best mundane magic. This is because its entry point takes us to the root causes, changing the context and paradigm in which these calamities and struggles take place.
Setting the mind
Here we have to resist the temptation of taking sides and let that mindset of polarity fall away. We are not working to combat those we perceive as evil, fix those who we decide have insane ideas, who harbor the wrong philosophy, who we consider to take erroneous actions, or those harboring malicious intent. We will assume at this point that we do not know, or cannot know, the deepest karma, collective or individual, or the light or darkness that lives in the hearts of men and women. We go beyond praise and blame, fame and infamy, and move to another framework, another worldview, another level of perception.
Before one is a vast skullcup, a gigantic, enormous bowl formed of the human cranium. This is an appropriate vessel (in a certain way) as the basis of all our problems, worries, and woes. In it, we throw all the warring factions, all the suffering beings, all desperate narratives, all material set-ups, along with all the hatred, enmity, despair, suffering, horror, evil, striving, hope eternal, and utter confusion that surrounds us. All the things that disturb, frighten, upset, and annoy, cause us to rack our brains and gnash our teeth—everything is piled in. We toss in not just what we don’t like, but all the polarities and conflicts, all the irresolvable tensions, the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. If imagination fails, just browse the news and throw every item of the day in there—sickness, war, madness, arrogance, fascism, communism, self-righteousness, moral superiority, self-pride and self-hatred. All in.
And now this vast ocean of the stuff of life, good and bad, worthwhile and horrific, will be cooked down into its essential nature, beyond all those confused appearances. In the traditional methodology that many readers may be familiar with, the entirety of this stew we are about to cook manifests as the “five meats and five nectars.” This profound symbolism is the summation of all that appears unclean, negative, taboo, filthy, and negative in this world—the impure five elements personified. Historically, there are five “meats” of taboo foodstuffs, taken from the Brahmanical tradition of India. And the “nectars” are the simply what we consider foul and unwanted, the wastes matter of the body. Each has a seed syllable, and each a physical representation. We are not worried about those details here, in spite of their value in deeper studies, but the results we are seeking are the same. Everything will be purified and rendered into its underlying and inherent ultimate state. But we aren’t there yet. A few things have to happen first.
Beneath this skullcup and its contents, which extend to the far horizon and the extent of space, we summon a primary blazing Fire Element, fanned by the primordial wild wind of the Air Element. With this intense wisdom flame, the entire phantasmagoria of human suffering, conflict, confusion, hope, and fear melts into an endless ocean. Dissolving together, bubbling and boiling, all impurities and toxicity spill over and out like foaming froth. Thus begins the disappearance of all the seeming contradictions, the reconciliation of opposites, of confused appearances, the phantasms that dance before our eyes each day and haunt us each night. But we need to travel further, beyond that primordial soup, to discover the hidden nature behind appearances, the cacophony of sounds and the luminosity that fills our senses.
Bringing down grace
To fully accomplish this transformation, we need something beyond our puny powers and drowsy consciousness. So at this point, we invoke a spiritual downpour, a vibrant flash of cosmic lightening. This is the same spark of being-ness that first animated the universe before the appearance of an observer and an observed, or the movement of time and events. This original force of Form, Energy, and Mind descends in the guise of a white OM, a red AH, and a blue HUNG syllable and dissolves into our grand mixture of samsaric goop.
The Five Elements
From this, our vast soup of worldly cares and worries of mind and body, of time and travail, is rendered back into its original nature—its pristine state. That is none other than the purified five elements that comprise the building blocks of experience. The five meats of dog, elephant, horse, cow, and human, and the five nectars of urine, feces, brain, blood, and bodhicitta become the Male and Female Buddhas. The Five Elements of Water, Fire, Earth, Air, and Space have become Five Wisdoms. These profound meanings are shown by symbol, images with potency and depth that must be unpacked by our own silent and open attention and that cannot be rendered by word alone.
Now all that was false, chaotic, fabricated, and spellbinding is washed away. All that fascinated us into the cycle of object-hypnosis is gone. But we can’t rest in that void, the un-creation of all that was evanescent and thus false. Even if we find that untarnished ground to be luminous and open, we must return to our illusory world, in commitment to the bodhisattva vow.
The Five Elements are the fabric from which everything is cut, the substance from which our experience of the world is fabricated. With this prima substantia, this original substrate of all matter, we can create anything we wish. We have the replicator of Star Trek fame, which seems to manufacture food and drink out of photons and thin air. Having these building blocks of the whole of reality, we make use of them, not to fill our own belly or to indulge our fantasies. Instead, we turn the entire ocean into an endless stream of offerings. It is by nature inexhaustible, since it comes from the infinite fount of the Five Elements, the basis of creation. Our dreams show us how creative and unimpeded the psyche is in creating whole worlds and the people in them, each with their own history and qualities. Beyond the chimera of a dream, harnessing that generative power allows us to interact with real forces and fields of consciousness in the spiritual world as well as material “reality.”
But what are we offering—and to whom? Vajrayana, with its strong cultural context of ancient India, Tibet, Bhutan, and other Himalayan realms, describes four types of guest encompassing the whole of lived possibilities, all according to Buddhist cosmology. Here we take full allegiance to the principle embodied in these methods, rather than the cultural container. True enough, symbols of buddha, bodhisattva, yidam, and other enlightened forms are multilayered, meaningful, and full of rich treasures of understanding. Notwithstanding, here we will adhere to the purpose of offering a simple and direct way of transforming the mess in which we find ourselves, becoming lost in minutiae. In this context there are two kinds of radically different classes of guest who are invited to this cosmic party. Understanding each, what we offer also becomes obvious.
The first offering that we see in our mind’s eye is directed toward the nexus of enlightened forces in the universe. In Buddhism, these realized beings appear as buddhas in pure realms, with a panoply of traditional adornments and characteristics. But these can be transposed with Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Daoist, Shamanic, or completely non-aligned ways of perceiving the highest levels of development and purity with which humans can connect. Heretically, one could see them as planets and stars or as crystalline energy forms or cosmic containment fields. Here we are reminded of the famous Tibetan folk tale of the old lady who was given a supposed relic—a tooth of the Buddha—that was actually from an aged dog. Although ridiculed, we are told that she attained full enlightenment, so strong was her power of faith and devotion. Purity of intent and sincere striving outweigh scholastic complications every time. However we perceive these guests, it also valuable to see them, at least in part, their white, red, green, yellow, and blue forms expressing the perfection of the elements of Water, Fire, Air, Earth, and Space. We live in the step-down versions of those Wisdom Elements, several levels removed from their nature. Now we have purified the mundane elements into a sea of potential and from it we offer it right back to purity—the circle is complete.
In essence, what we are offering is everything beautiful and a guide to that is our senses themselves: exquisite flowers, extraordinary scents, velvet touch, delightful tastes, a mind of joy and peace. The possibilities of exalted objects and experiences become endless. Each of these once again represents our daily experience uplifted to its best and purest possibilities. We do not have to itemize all these offerings (although looking in a magazine for the rich and famous like the Robb Report might be useful). We need only have a felt sense that all this is flowing to all beings who are further along than us on the spiritual path, and who embody goodness, strength, wisdom, compassion, equanimity, impartiality, patience, and so on. And each of these objects and experiences are instantly emanated from our endless ocean of transformed nectar, in a never-ending stream. Know that it is received and know that it is acknowledged. While this might be thought of as a mere “visualization,” it is also happening within a spiritual reality.
Guests of compassion
The second guests are closer to home, and the purpose of the offering very different from previously, but also very near and very familiar to us. For now we offer to all living creatures, all life on Earth, all sentient beings, all of nature. Again, we intentionally depart from Buddhist cosmology. We can think about the immense suffering of animals great and small and our ecosystems as a whole, of trees, plants, and microbes in the soil. But the focus here is on the range of distress, pain, and torment to which the human body and mind is heir. For those in fear, we offer solace; to those who hunger or thirst, they are satiated; where there is war and conflict, we see peace and agreement; where there are predators and victims, we perceive cooperation and mutual respect and care. Loneliness becomes community and connection. Intolerance becomes understanding and justice. Sickness of all kinds becomes a state of well-being and vitality. All this flows out as streams of nectar with a five-colored radiance.
The pith of this contemplation is that we can be as detailed, and specific as we wish. This could be a universal balm against suffering, or have a laser-like focus toward a town, a people, a person, an event. It can be directed toward the anonymous millions or those we know and love It may be personages that we have come to hate, those we fear, those we salute, those we ignore. But they are all bathed in the same beneficent waters of healing and change, one and all. In this same motion, our own enmity, bias, and polarities are washed away with universal release from suffering of body and mind.
Whether we do this practice for three minutes or three hours, in the end we see the outer guests, the offering, and even ourselves as witness, dissolve into a unified field of warm and luminous awareness, a vast and unfettered space that is our natural state, our true home.
Engaging in this kind of work is not a trip inside your head, sitting in your little room in the middle of nowhere, on the far edge of the Milky Way, surrounded by billions of other suns. It is a direct embrace of the center of the universe. This journey requires no travel on a rocket ship, no plugging into a computer interface, nor the permission of any human, non-human, or superhuman. It is your gift, a power beyond comprehension that is accessible in this and every other moment.