Discover for yourself the deep Tibetan Buddhist practices with “Open Heart, Vajra Mind”


The roar of the lion Editor-in-Chief Melvin McLeod discusses our new e-learning series, “Open Heart, Vajra Mind: Profound Practices of Tibetan Buddhism”.

Our new e-learning series, “Open Heart, Vajra Mind: Profound Practices of Tibetan Buddhism,” releases Monday June 28th. (You can sign up and get discounted lifetime access now.) Lion’s Roar Editor-in-Chief Melvin McLeod designed the program and, as the host, features his teachers: Lama Tsultrim Allione, Willa Blythe Baker, Venerable Thubten Chodron, Andrew Holecek, Pema Khandro Rinpoche, Judy Lief and Robert AF Thurman. We asked him to talk about what to expect from the program and each of the eight practices he teaches.

Melvin, what are people going to take away from Open Heart, Vajra Mind?

The Tibetan tradition is known to be esoteric, to be intense, to require a great commitment – and it is true. But in this program we have eight teachers who provide us with authentic techniques drawn from the tradition that any of us, no matter where we are on our spiritual path, can practice right now.

The practices we will learn are by no means watered down. They are the real thing, accessible but completely authentic. All of the teachers in the program are particularly adept at making these very profound practices understandable to modern practitioners of all spiritual traditions. So we can jump right in and experience them right now.

Let’s talk about the traditions and practices presented in Open Heart, Vajra Mind. We will do this in order, starting with Dzogchen, as taught by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

Dzogchen is the highest teaching of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He is renowned for his clear description of the true nature of the mind and his simple and straightforward meditations to experience it. Dzogechen is known for his emphasis on simplicity and ease – how we can relax in the true enlightened nature of the mind. We will have a rare opportunity to learn how to do this with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who is one of the best Dzogchen teachers in the world.

Next is Mahamudra, taught by Willa Blythe Baker.

Mahamudra means “Great Seal” because it describes the fundamental nature of the mind which marks, or seals, all experience. In Mahamudra, the mind is said to be unborn, ceaseless and accommodating, which means it can contain or adapt to any phenomenon.

Because the spirit is not born, because it never takes any form, there is total peace. Because it is ceaseless, our consciousness is continuous, always present and indestructible. Because it’s all accommodating. everything is really the play or the energy of the awakened mind – pure, blissful and empty. To help us experience these aspects of the mind, we have Willa Blythe Baker, a teacher and lineage holder in the Kagyu tradition who has completed two consecutive three-year meditation retreats.

Madhyamika, as taught by Robert Thurman.

In Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom refers to the realization of emptiness, how things actually exist and how they do not. Emptiness may seem like just a philosophical question or an intellectual exercise, but it is at the very heart of the path to enlightenment as it cuts through the ignorance that ultimately causes our suffering.

One way to free ourselves from our misunderstanding of reality is analysis – looking closely to see if things could really exist the way we think they are. Tibetan Buddhism specializes in what is called the Madhyamika, or Logics of the Middle Way, developed by ancient Indian Buddhist philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. Our presenter, Professor Robert Thurman, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Madhyamika, and he guides us through our own contemplations of emptiness.

Next is the Compassionate Meditation, led here by Pema Khandro Rinpoche.

Compassion is the magical ingredient of life. Compassion, love, kindness, this is what makes life good for ourselves, for others, for human society. Perhaps the greatest Buddhist master of compassion was an eighth-century Indian scholar and monk named Shantideva. His great work is called the Bodhicharyavatara, which can be translated by Guide to the Bodhisattva way of life. It gives us step-by-step instructions on how to lead a fully enlightened compassionate life. Shantideva is the perfect guide as scholar and teacher Pema Khandro Rinpoche guides us through compassionate meditations

What would you say Lojong, or train the mind, taught here by Judy Lief?

How to make the connection between the deep meditations taught in Tibetan Buddhism and all the challenges of our daily life? There is a body of teachings that brings all of this together. It’s called lojong, or training the mind.

The teachings of Lojong were brought to Tibet over a thousand years ago by the Indian adept Atisha. These methods are summarized in 59 pithy instructions, or slogans, which show us how to develop our wisdom and compassion and put them into practice in our daily lives. This is news that you can use at the deepest level: How to Be a Bodhisattva in 59 Steps.

The practice of tonglen is the best known of these mind training meditations, but the slogans also cover topics ranging from the absolute nature of reality to skillful relationship with others. The slogans can be quite cryptic, however, and we’re lucky to have Judy Lief, who has taught a lot about lojong, unwrap them for us.

“Deity Yoga: You Are Tara”, as directed by Ven. Thubten Chodron is next.

It is said that what makes Vajrayana special is its teaching that not only do we have the mind of a Buddha, but also the body of a Buddha. This truth is a powerful tool for transformation, and we experience it through the practice of deity yoga.

The unique practice of visualizing ourselves in the body of an awakened being is the best known of all Vajrayana meditations. There are literally hundreds of gods that we can visualize, each emphasizing a different aspect of enlightenment. Most of them require lengthy preparation and initiation by a licensed master, but there are some gods that you and I can meditate on right now.

One of the most popular is Woman Buddha Tara, who represents our compassionate aspiration to save all sentient beings from suffering and fear. In this course we will be guided through a Tara practice by Venerable Thubten Chodron, a fully ordained Buddhist nun and author of How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberato Practicer.

We now move on to Andrew Holecek’s segment, “Illusory Body: Life Is But a Dream”.

“Life is only a dream” is not just a line of an old song. It is a fundamental teaching of Buddhism. But to say that life is like a dream does not mean that it is artificial or some kind of illusion. It is in fact the opposite. It is the heaviness and solidity created by our ignorance that is the false reality. It is the openness, the lightness and the liveliness of the dreamlike quality of life that is real. When we see the illusory nature of ourselves and our world, we are free, playful, and full of joy.

One of Naropa’s famous Six Yogas is the practice of the illusory body. This meditation renders the philosophy of emptiness taught in the Heart Sutra a vivid and immediate experience in our lives. Andrew Holocek is best known as a dream yoga teacher, in which we bring consciousness to the delusional dream state. Here he will teach us how to bring consciousness into the illusory waking state.

Finally, Chöd, or “Feed your demons”, taught by Lama Tsultrim Allione.

The practice of Chod was developed in the 11th century by a yogini woman named Machik Labdron. It is a practice of cutting through our self-fixation by symbolically offering ourselves to feed demons and other negative forces. In doing so, we realize that these demons and obstacles are not external to us, they are our own projections. And like everything else, their true nature is wisdom.

Lama Tsultrim Allione has developed a modern version of Chod’s practice which she calls Feeding Your Demons. In the spirit of modern psychology as well as Buddhism, this practice is to welcome the dark parts of ourselves with benevolence and generosity. So these so-called demons become our friends and allies. No longer fighting against ourselves, we become integrated and whole.

You can sign up for Open Heart, Vajra Mind now – with a limited time discount.

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