Four classes of Tantra

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Two armed Chakrasamvara

There is so much disparity between various Esoteric (or Buddhist) Tantric practices that two practitioners of different classes of Tantra can hardly relate to one another.

It is the inner capacity that distinguishes practitioners, in my opinion. Inner capacity to embrace subjective and objective realities with honesty, precision, and without self-deception (superstition, aversion to ego, to emotions, to negative or dark side of existence, etc.). A daunting task, it seems…

Having received transmissions, empowerments and direct oral instructions in the Formless Dakini Lineage (started by Mahasiddha Tilopa), specifically into Chakrasamvara Tantra (Heruka and Vajrayogini sadhana) in the highest tantra class, I can (begin to) understand the huge and almost insurmountable gaps between the classes of Tantra listed below.

Clarity is essential to me, especially since I am teaching these practices, so let us take a look at these four classes of Esoteric Tantra (adapted from the “Cakrasamvara Tantra, (The Discourse of Sri Heruka) A Study and Annotated Translation”, see a link to the book below) :

The Yogini Tantras (named the Mother Tantras in the Land of Snows later on) were well-known for their focus on sexual yogas, and according to some commentators, this is the reason for their superiority.

The Vajrapanjara, an explanatory tantra for the Hevajra, which is one of the most important Yogini Tantras along with the Cakrasamvara, describes the tantra classes as follows:

The method of the perfection of wisdom is called “yogini,”
who is served for the sake of union with the great consort
(mahamudra). The Vajrapanjara of the yogini is called the
“Yogini Tantra.” The art of all perfections is attained
through meditative states (dhyana) alone. The Hevajra
mandala, the Sarvabuddha[samayoga], the Guhyagarbha,
the Vajramrta, the Cakrasamvara, and the Vajrapanjara
are famed as the six Yogini Tantras.

The Yoga Tantras were taught for the sake of disciplining men.
Yogini Tantras were taught in order to assemble women.
Action (or Kriya) Tantras were taught for the inferior, and the
Practice (or caryatantra) Tantras for everyone else.
Superior Yoga is taught for superior beings, and Unexcelled
Yoga for those who surpass [them].

As said above, it is the inner capacity that determines which class of tantra one gets to practice. The text uses a rather harsh word “inferior” (for practitioners of the entry-level tantra, kriya tantra), but the message is clear.

Devakulamahamati comments on this passage as follows:

Action (or Kriya) Tantras involve the external visualization of the deity
as food, and so forth, and the earnest practice of purification, silence, and so forth.
Action yoga involves visualization [of the deity] external to oneself.
Yoga is the visualization of the experiential unity (ekarasa) of oneself and the
wisdom [hero] who arises from one’s own wheel.
Superior Yoga (or Yogatantra) is engaging in the great secret of supreme joy which
arises from the embrace with one’s consort (vidya).
Unexcelled Yoga (or anuttarayoga tantra) involves dependence upon
the supreme bliss that arises from the union of the vajra of
one’s deity with the lotus.

He (Devakulamahamati) depicts the two highest tantric classes as entailing sexual union with a consort. This is a matter which bears further investigation, as one would not expect that normative Buddhist organizations (of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, etc.), centered as they are upon the institution of celibate monasticism, would give rise to spiritual disciplines that would require a violation of the vow of celibacy.

I have observed that rarely do monks (I don’t know about nuns as I have met only one thus far) practice the highest yoga tantras; those that do, are labeled as Rinpoche, it seems…

Needles to say, one cannot just jump over to the anuttarayoga tantra expecting to reach fruition in a short time. Let us take a step back and examine our own inner climate and see if we are really relaxed, opened, and experienced (both in worldly and in spiritual matters) enough to be able to let go of the outer manifestations of Buddhist deities (kriya tantra is dealing with those), statues, names, forms, ceremonies, etc.

In reality, higher yoga tantras are not some religious or superstitious means to worship some separate enlightened beings. These highly esoteric practices are dealing with our (human) transpersonal and impersonal forces of awareness. And one has to be really free of the religious and superstitious mentality to effectively integrate these advanced practices…


The Cakrasamvara Tantra – an important and very inspiring text, to say the least.
Of course, it all makes sense only now, after years and years of daily anuttarayoga tantra practices. It would not contribute at all had I read it before, for the intellect cannot possibly comprehend the main topic of this important text (the secret):

“Why is it secret? It is because bliss and emptiness are not realized
without practicing it, that is, by Brahma, Vishnu, Mahadeva (or Shiva), the disciples (sravaka), or the solitary buddhas (pratyekabuddha). Thus it says in this text, the happiness of the divine and human states do not amount to one-sixteenth of Vajradhara’s.”

Be that as it may, here is the link to kindle edition on Amazon:

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