Thinking and dhyāna / jhāna in Dzogchen tradition of Tantra


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.

A Trojan horse: thanissaro bhikkhus response to Analayo

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.


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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.


I think it depends on which Mahāyāna(s) we mean, but I can agree to the above in some cases.


Javier, you always stretch my brain. :thinking: :scream: :grinning:

I had not understood much the Mahayana division until I read the link posted. I have always wondered about some Buddhist traditions that are inaccessibly mystical. In contrast, the EBT’s in their simplicity come as a welcome relief. For me, the EBT’s read just like a water heater installation manual. Simple, practical, effective.

The arahant/bodhisattva argument seems odd. It seems odd because it doesn’t pay due attention to those on the path to perfection or Buddha-hood. Unlike the singular Buddha, those on the Perfected One path may be numerous. And they could choose to opt out at any point, exhausted into “just” being an arahant.

In fact, the word “bodhisattva” only appears once in the suttas and then only as a blurb on MN81, wherein the Buddha said:

I myself was the student Jotipāla at that time.”