Thus it is impossible to separate the Tantric Path from the initiation and the lama.
In order to yield the results desired, the transmission of teachings must be an authentic transmission of authentic teachings. The lama must be in possession of the characteristics required, and the disciples must be recipients worthy of the teaching.
The Tantric path is very quick and leads us to the highest realisations if we can keep our vows and practise in the correct fashion. But it is also a dangerous path, because it leads us straight into the sufferings of hell if one acts contrary to the commitments taken.
Considering these great risks and possible errors, it seems very important to warn westerners who wish to get involved of the difficulties and dangerous traps which await them nowadays
First of all, it is absolutely necessary to search for a qualified lama or master. This search is much more difficult these days than it used to be in Tibet.
The word lama is the Tibetan translation of "guru" (spiritual master). In Tibet, it was exclusively reserved to Tulkus. These are recognised reincarnations of realised practitioners, in whom one has discovered the ability to reincarnate voluntarily wherever their presence is most beneficial to beings. Exceptionally, the title of lama could also be given to great sages or yogis, even though they had not been formally recognised as reincarnations (tulkus). Lama could refer to monk lamas, who upheld the vow of celibacy, or married lamas. However, this word could certainly not be used to designate indiscriminately all monks, who were very numerous in Tibet. The Tibetan word lama means "master", "guide", and is not synonymous with monk, "dGe-sLong" in Tibetan.
Generally, lamas were recognised at a very young age and were educated very carefully in both religious theory and practice. From childhood, they were given very high religious and administrative responsibilities. This education and the general atmosphere of religious devotion and respect for the Buddhist religious principles which surrounded them, made them very conscious of their responsibilities. Also, the slightest unskilfulness or simple error in the rituals or teachings they gave, was immediately recognised and discussed.
Thus it was possible to quite safely rely on the reputation and rank of each lama. But these days, and particularly in the west, everybody can call himself by the name he desires, and there is nobody to point out behaviour which is contrary to Dharma. Therefore it is more necessary than ever to be very careful and use common sense.
How is it possible then for western beginners in Buddhism to discriminate whether a lama is authentic or not ? It is said that one may never judge by actions alone, but that the motivation behind them is decisive. But, how could an ordinary being know the motivation of somebody else ? This is impossible to know, but it is easy to examine the results of the actions of a lama or so-called lama. If his actions habitually lead to quarrels, suffering and mischief around him this is a clear sign that the lama acts with a selfish motivation and thus contrary to the Dharma.
One should also enquire if the lama is traditionally qualified for teaching and especially for transmitting the Vajrayana empowerments for the development of realisation and powers. For this, he needs to possess a lineage of teachings which has not been broken and must have accomplished the retreats and number of mantras required for each himself.
If, after detailed consideration, one has found such a qualified lama, and from the moment one has received the first initiation, one should endeavour with body, speech and mind to constantly view him as the Buddha himself. One will not fall into the false impartiality to consider all other lamas with an equal respect and devotion. We shall be linked to our root lama with unshakeable loyalty.
This, then, is the attitude of a true Tantric disciple. and it is vital for westerners who wish to enter this vehicle to well understand this and train progressively in this way. For it is this good attitude, this good relationship of disciple and master which will lead to final success.
It is also this point which is not clearly understood by the majority, and this is why we found it important to insist so much here.
The lama grants us the empowerment, which, purifying our body, speech and mind, lays the seed for their future transformation into the three bodies of the Buddhas. However intensely we may practise, if we have not received initiation, we cannot achieve high realisation.
Therefore the empowerment is called the root of the Vajrayana. Each stage of the initiation empowers us to meditate on the path corresponding to it and to achieve its fruit.
But the most important is to carefully observe all the vows and commitments we have taken during the initiation. It is said that the fact of keeping these commitments alone, even if we do not meditate on the path, will lead us to realise the fruit after sixteen lifetimes.
During the empowerment, the disciple receives the vows of the three Buddhist vehicles: those of the Small Vehicle, those of the Great Vehicle (the Bodhisattva vow to devote oneself to the benefit of others) and the specific Tantric vows, which are, in the first place, that we must keep the fourteen root vows.
For this reason, it is said that the Tantric Vehicle contains all Buddhist vehicles.
The Two Stages
After the initiation the disciple is empowered to meditate on the corresponding paths, which can be summarised in two stages: - the stage of development - the stage of fulfilment. These two stages and their preliminaries can be found in each Saddhana. Saddhana is a Sanskrit word meaning Method for realising. A Saddhana contains, in an extensive or concise way, the whole of the path to Buddhahood.
During the development stage, the clear identification of the meditator with the deity is established out of emptiness. This way one obtains the purification of the attachment to the reality of forms and sees that all manifestation is non-different from the essence of the deity.
The fulfilment stage is the absorption of the deity and its divine palace back into emptiness. Through this, one obtains the perfection of mind-wisdom and the purification of the attachment to the particular form of the deity.
It is the distinctive feature of the Tantric Vehicle to combine these two stages into a single practice, and this clearly marks its superiority with regard to the other methods.
These two stages cover an immense number of practices, of visualisations of deities representing different aspects of Buddhas, of techniques to master happiness and ecstasy, etc... All these techniques are secret, i.e. it is necessary to receive the empowerment for them from a qualified master. All practice outside this traditional transmission cannot be but pointless and dangerous.