Thinking and dhyāna / jhāna in Dzogchen tradition of Tantra

The problem is the fusion of the path and its completion, if we want to identify a greater area of disparity.

I thought becoming a bhodhisattva and attaining nibbana in this life required practices that are different from each other

One of the problems with Vajrayana is there doesn’t seem to key texts that are definitive, authoritative that all the different sects agree on. Mahamudra and Dzoghen are different sects, but famous practitioners have said they’re supposed to be roughly equivalent practices that are explained differently. And you have gurus within the same sect teaching the same things differently, different words.

You could point to Allan Wallace or some number of famous people that say some particular vajrayana dhyana is equiavlent to Vism. first jhana, but I’ve seen others that describe something much like EBT jhana.

That’s why I’d like to see some definite quotes and sources.

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I do not understand how to reconcile the idea that " the mind at rest generally already abides in the first dhyāna naturally" with the Pali vinaya, which makes it an offense entailing expulsion to claim falsely that one had reached this state.

If it’s everyone’s default state, then it’s never a lie to say that one has attained it. On this view, all you’d need to do is close your eyes and relax… and everyone’s done that.

I don’t mean to accuse anyone of interpreting wrongly. I just don’t understand how this can be so. I can’t escape the implication that two different things are being referenced under the same name.

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Dzogchen doesn’t actually teach that. Or at least, if I read it, I can’t figure out where it would have been. Best to treat it as a misremembrance of mine.

Abhisamayalamkara, or a similar classification of tenet-systems text would likely be where to go. That is were, for instance, one gets things worked out, such as correspondences between the 10 bodhisattva stages and the four people of the path, and other correspondences, etc. Of course this is all Medieval literature.

Vajvayāna/Tantra is full of tenet classification literature, likely because of the above, namely, a need for it.

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I don’t know Sanskrit, but I looked into the translation of the Abhidharmasamuccaya that’s available and vitarka is translated as “reasoning” and sometimes “distraction”. The Boin Webb says:

« [51] What is reasoning (vitarkd)? It is mental debating
(manojalpa) which seeks, deriving from volition (cetana) or intellect
(prajiia), and it is mental coarseness (cittasyaiidarikata).
« [52] What is deliberation (vicara)? It is mental debating
which reflects (pratyaveksaka), deriving from volition (cetana)
and intellect (prajna), and it is mental subtlety (cittasya
suksmata). The function of both consists of supplying a basis to
states of ease or uneasiness (sparsasparsavihara).

It’s weird because this view is more in line with the “soft jhana” view of some folks, yet the Tibetan tradition seems to have moved into a more “deep jhana” view ala Vism. Perhaps it is the influence of other texts such as the Sravakabhumi or Mahavibhasa?

AFAIK Sautrantika texts like Tattvasiddhi (成實論, Chengshilun) also have a similar view that vitarka is more of a coarse thinking as well.

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Not really unless one is doing tantra (or pure land practices).

The difference is in the motivation, bodhicitta.

Well, this is kind of true with most religions, not everyone agrees on everything no? Anyways, the main issue is really that the four dhyanas are just not very important in Tibetan Buddhism, and are not often talked about much.

In Theravāda there’s this concept that there’s only one Sammasambuddha at a given time. Is it possible to have many, under Tantric teaching?

Arahants aren’t reborn so ‘bodhisatva arahanths’ don’t go all the way to become a Buddha if they pass away?

From my time at Dharma Wheel, I’ve learned that some if not most Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions conceive arahants as “waking up” after they attain parinibbana to continue the bodhisattva path.

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This narrative is from the Lotus Sūtra.

Inquiry: in the Arhat’s past lives the causes and conditions for being subject to embodiment necessarily ought to have been eradicated, in light of this they dwell where to perfect buddhahood?

Response: when attaining arhatship, the three realms’ myriad outflows’ causes and conditions are exhausted, there is no more birth again in the three realms. There is a pure buddha land, beyond the three realms, where not even the word affliction has a name, in this kingdom of the Buddha, they hear the Dharma Flower Sūtra [i.e. the Lotus Sūtra], with this they perfect Buddhahood. As in the Dharma Flower Sūtra’s words: “There are arhantaḥ, for example, who’ve not heard the Dharma Flower Sūtra,themselves they call ‘ones who have attained cessation’; I in another realm for them speak this matter, that you all shall become samyaksaṁbuddhāḥ.”

(Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa T1509.714a9)


Yes, even in non-tantric Mahayana sutras, like Avatamsaka, there a countless Buddhas in countless universes all interpenetrating each other and they are seen as accessible through meditation or dreams etc.

Arahants aren’t reborn so ‘bodhisatva arahanths’ don’t go all the way to become a Buddha if they pass away?

A bodhisattva in Mahayana rejects the path of the arahant, which is seen as a dead end. They seek a different kind of nirvana than the arahant, unlike in early Buddhism and in Theravada, there are two types of nibbana: a “dead end” type which is considered inferior and selfish, and “apratistha” (unestablished, non-static) nibbana. It is a kind of nibbana that supposedly allows a Buddha to remain teaching in samsara (as well as other superpowers). It is quite a novel development which was invented in Yogacara, but already has roots in the lokuttara views of some Mahasamghika schools and later Mahayana (who believed the Buddha did not really die and continued to exist somehow).

Basically nibbana is Mahayana is a totally different beast than nibbana in EBT and Classical Theravada. It’s basically like becoming a god.


Parinirvāṇa, let alone nirvāṇa, in Mahāyāna IMHO is the most confusing thing I’ve ever heard tried to be explained.

IMO there is no consensus in the Mahāyāna as to if such a thing as “parinirvāṇa” even exists.

I can quote plenty of contradicting scripture on this.

But, to be fair, they get to start at level 8. That’s pretty OP.
Levity aside, this can be a very patronizing attitude. Don’t worry, though, if it’s any consolation, Mahāyānikāḥ get shade just as hard from Mantrayānikāḥ as they give said shade to Śrāvakāḥ in their scriptures. It’s a terrible game of mutual shade.

The Mantrayānika critique is somewhat along the lines of a critique that perhaps a follower of the EBTs might lodge as a note of complaint: “your path takes ‘three innumerable kalpāni’ to complete”.

First of all, you gotta love the phrasing of “three innumerable X”. It finds its roots in texts like the Daśabhūmikasūtra (itself contained in the massive Buddhāvataṃsaka vaipulya), which lay out the Mahāyāna path as a great precipice of mostly post-mortem development in increasingly refined dhyānic bodies.

It reminds me of Egyptian religion, a little bit. All of this preparation for things to do after death, essentially. The Egyptians used to invest a lot of energy into amulets and spellbooks that would aid in their ability to embark on their post-mortem quests, not to mention the spiritual beliefs surrounding mummification itself.

This is a tie-up to the article on Buddhist mythology that Ven Sujāto advocated compiling here. In that thread (actually, in one of the links in that thread), Borobodur is mentioned. The upper levels of Borobodur are actually based on the abovementioned Mahāvaipulyanāmabuddhāvataṃsakasūtra, and the pinnacle depicts the last sūtra in the vaipulya, the Gaṇḍavyūhasūtra. Therein at the top is depicted the bodhimaṇḍa with Samanthabhadrabuddha depicted symbolically awaiting the next samyaksaṃbuddha to receive abhiṣeka from the daśadiktathāgatāḥ (Buddhas of the Ten Directions), announcing his (and this is likely from that problematic movement within Buddhism arguing that women are reborn as men before attaining Buddhahood) complete and perfect enlightenment.

Tantric sects believe that their ordination is this very abhiṣeka, initiating, for them, the completion stage of Supreme Buddhahood, if you believe Tantric self-narratives. When the guru, in the context of high guru yoga, places his hands on you, that is the ordination of the daśadiktathāgatāḥ. To quote a prominent tīrthika saying, tvāmamareśvarasyābhiṣiktapūtraḥ, you are the deathless lord’s annointed son.

On the completion stage of Buddhahood it is believed that the practitioner can engage in all sorts of subtle mental states, as well as transform mundane or afflicted dharmāḥ into the pure dharmāḥ of the path. After all, you and sarvabuddhabodhisattvāḥ are pointing out these pure dharmāḥ, that is the principle activity of the Aryans, why not include eating a meal, or even your sex life, as a path object? All of these dharmāḥ are empty anyways, so where is the disparity between the path and saṃsāra? You can see these things argued on, for instance, certain subfora of DharmaWheel.

Therein lies the sectarian polemics at the heart of Mahāyāna-Mantrayāna sectarianism: the Tantrists believe they already have the highest ordination that exists: fellowship with complete Buddhahood, transcending the 10th bhūmi. This is, to put it mildly, wishful thinking, from a non-Tantric POV IMO.

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I think it goes further back than that though. Non-Mahayana schools also held that the bodhisattva accumulated merit and practiced paramis for countless lifetimes before his last one.

It seems like after a phase of increasing deification of the Buddha (as seen in Lokuttaravada sects and texts like Mahavastu as well as Mahayana sutras), Indian Buddhists now had a “Buddha most high” that seemed too far away for practitioners. The state of a cosmic Buddha like that seen in the Lotus sutra seems almost unreachable. Thus there were several responses to this dilemma. One is Pure land devotionalism and the myth of Kali yuga - you can reach this rarified state but in the next life.

Vajrayana (and Indian tantra in general) seems like another reaction to this far away Buddha problem. If it takes almost an eternity to become a Buddha the conventional way, there must a faster way to do it now.

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First of all I find the headings ‘soft jhāna’ and ‘deep jhāna’ very unfortunate to describe the situation we are dealing here with.

Well, we just need some kind of shorthand to describe the two different interpretations, the other widely used terms I’ve seen are “sutta jhana” and “Visuddhimagga jhana”, and that has a lot of problems too.

(see my short essay on the Yogācārabhūmi)


But I can imagine that in the course of the centuries the influence of yogic and tantric practices might have altered the understanding and interpretation of the old canonical texts, just as it was partly the case in medieval India.

Yea I am not knowledgeable enough on this topic to comment how this happened.

It’s in the essays section of the forum.

The “profound spiritual attainment” in the quotation from B. Brahmali refers, I think, specifically to one of the 4 “path” (magga-phala) attainments – stream-entry, once-returner, non-returner, and arahant.

Dhyāna / jhāna is more just a attainment of a meditative skill.

Actually I disagree. When I was murderously absorbed in anger, I was punched in the stomach and had cessation of perception and feeling. I emerged from that unconscious state in peace and bliss. I just wanted to run about hugging people. Except running was simply too much effort so I just lay there.

I have not been able to reproduce that state in meditation but it certainly feels possible. I would therefore say that the formless dimensions can help resolve any defilements that the other dimensions do not take care of.

And I say “help resolve” quite emphatically. For decades after that incident, I spent much of my life defusing the anger bomb. The work still needs to be done. The jhanas are just the tools. It doesn’t matter how shiny the tool is. Keep digging and uproot the suffering.

Jayarava has an interesting write up on this over at his blog, I tend to agree with him that Mahayana Buddhism basically repealed and replaced (if you will) the early buddhist view of nirvana, the buddha and thus is almost a different religion. Note I am not making a value judgment here as to whether Mahayana is good or bad, it is just a very different system.