Highest Yoga Tantra and Mahamudra 

By Master Sheng-yen Lu
Translated by Cheng Yew Chung, Edited by Dance Smith

This was translated from Grandmaster Lu's 51st book, 無上密與大手印.

CHAPTER 9 - The Circulation of Mantra and Breathing

The highest practice of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism is the practice of Mahamudra.

One Mahamudra mantra is OM SOBAWA SUDA SARVA DHARMA SOBAWA SUDO HAM [translators note: this mantra is also known as the Emptiness Visualization Mantra]. The meaning of this mantra is clear; it points to the purity of the self-nature, indicating that the self-nature of all dharma is pure. This secret mantra of Mahamudra is a most perfect mantra, and we should commit it to memory and recite it often.

Mantras are often recited using the vajra recitation method (secret recitation), also termed as vajrajapa, which means silence.

I have been studying mantras for many years, and among my teachers are Tibetans and Chinese. I find that the pronunciation of the mantras is truly diverse and confusing, for each teacher has his own unique accent. Take for example the Chinese language. Sichuan Chinese, Beijing Chinese, Shandong Chinese, and Fujian Chinese are all very different from each other.

It is the same in Tibet, where you find many local accents. In Nepal, the Himalayas region, the snow mountains regions, Tibet (Utsang or front Tibet/Tsang or rear Tibet), Kashmir, Punjab, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam, and Uttar Pradesh, you find many languages spoken within any single region, and there are so many regions here. To my knowledge, in the Himalayas there are over twenty languages of various races.

How does one obtain the correct intonation of the mantras? I feel that Tantric practitioners should adhere to the pronunciation as transmitted by their own guru, and avoid learning too many variations of mantras sound. Once a person learns many variations of pronunciation, he may be lost and confused as to which version is the right one, and as a result, he may lose his faith in reciting the mantra.

There is an individual called Lai Shih Pei who lives in California, USA. He sent a book entitled Popular Buddhist Mantras in Sanskrit which was printed by the Mahayana Sutra Printing Chapter in Taiwan.

In the preface, Lai Shih Pei wrote, ` Mantras, as transmitted in the Tantric teachings, are genuine dharma treasures which are directly realized by all the buddhas. They are the main tool used in Tantric cultivation. As the secret of Tantrayana lies in achieving response, success really hinges on the accuracy of the tool or mantra being used. Most intonations of the mantras today have swayed away from their original pronunciation, losing their accuracy. Therefore, Tantric cultivators can hardly achieve any response from their cultivation, or find that they need to work twice as hard to achieve the same results. Even if they should rely upon the Tibetan phonetics, a gap still separates their pronunciation from the original source.

` I met an individual who was a descendent of the Brahmins in Nepal. As the Brahmins are taught to recite the ancient Sanskrit literature since childhood, this individual excels as an authority with his academic achievement of receiving his doctorate degree in Sanskrit studies. Together in a joint venture, we made transliterations and recordings of the mantras from the Buddhist Canon, and offer this as a reference for practitioners.

`The Sanskrit mantras include:

1) The thirty-four commonly used minor mantras. 
2) The Great Compassion Dharani. 
3) Sadhana of the Vajra King of Tantras of All Tathagatas 
4) Sadhana of the Great Compassionate Voidness and Wisdom of the Vajra King of Tantras. 
5) Dharani of the Great, Universally Radiant, Pure, Incandescent Protectress of the Invincible King of Mantras (Mahapratisara-vidyarajni). Also known as the Mahapratisara Mantra 
6) Root Sadhana of Manjusri. 
7) Sutra of the Great Thousand Defender of the Land (Mahasahasrapramardani-nama-mahayana Sutra) 
8) The Great Peacock Sutra (Mahamayuri-vidyarajni)`.

This book was edited and compiled by Mr. Lai Shih Pei, and a great deal of effort went into the work. It was published by the Mahayana Sutra Printing Chapter. After listening to the cassette tape recording of the mantra recitation, I invited the resident lamas at the Washington Center of Tibetan Language to listen to the tape, and they commented that the mantras were delivered with proper pronunciation. If you are interested in correct pronunciation of mantras, you may make enquiry to the Mahayana Sutra Printing Chapter. [Translators note: This book (in Chinese with some English translations of the mantras) and its companion CD is now published by Evergreen Buddhist Culture Service, http://www.egbuddhist.com]

This is with regards to the pronunciation of mantras.

The mantra and breathing practices of Mahamudra involve interchanging and circulating. This is one of the secrets of Mahamudra. When practising breathing in Mahamudra, the nutrients within the air are absorbed into the body, not through the lungs, but directly into the bloodstream. This flow of prana or chi enters the mind and body and circulates within. When inhaling, one visualizes the air as pure and clear, and when exhaling, one visualizes impurities. In principle, we apply the complete breathing method, where the inhalation of air is slow and drawn out, followed by a similarly slow exhalation. This is known as the Turtle Breathing Method.

We visualize the body as composed of the five elements:

The heart, lungs and kidneys are of the earth element, whose makeup is earth. 
The blood and fluid are of the water element, whose makeup is water. 
The heat of the body is of the fire element, whose makeup is fire. 
Our breath is of the wind element, whose makeup is wind.

The human body is formed from these four illusory elements. In times of illness, the four elements are in disharmony, and upon death, the four elements are dispersed.

In addition, residing within the body of man is a unique spiritual nature which is known as soul, which is very wonderful and subtle. This is the space element.

In the mantra and breathing visualization, it is required for the novice to visualize in the following manner. However, this visualization is different from that practised by an enlightened adept.

The novice practitioner inhales a pure white seed syllable OM, and exhales a blue coloured seed syllable HUM. The breath that abides within the body is the red coloured seed syllable AH.

The enlightened adept however inhales the Blue coloured seed syllable HUM, and exhales a white syllable OM. The breath that abides within the body remains the red coloured syllable AH.

What is happening here? The physical body of the novice practitioner of Mahamudra is still filled with karmic hindrances, and he needs to inhale light and exhale the filthy energy. On the contrary, the enlightened adept seeks to deliver sentient beings, so he inhales the filthy energy of beings and suffers for them. He in turn exhales the breath of light to be absorbed by sentient beings. The Tibetans feel that anyone who breathes in even a little of the breath exhaled by a great yogi of Tantrayana will benefit from it, as the breath of the adept can eliminate karmic hindrances and heal sickness.

The syllable HUM does not necessarily represent filthy energy. It is symbolic of the blue sky, symbolizing the power of the manifested bodies of buddhas and bodhisattvas. The syllable HUM can even be considered as the manifested bodies of Sakyamuni Buddha and all other buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is considered to be the spiritual power that vibrates the world. OM is white coloured light, AH is red coloured light, and HUM is blue coloured light. During breathing, we need to visualize the seed syllables in detail. I want to state that OM is the pure clear light, Ah is the psychic heat, and Hum is the spiritual power.

The chi of white pure light is inhaled gently through the nose until it fills the lungs, blood, fluid and Dan-tian [an area four inches below the navel] and eventually the whole body. Some practitioners may practise the yoga of visualizing the inhaling breath and the Dan-tian contained as in a vase. To do this, hold your breath temporarily within your body for as long as you can. Then exhale gradually through the nose. This approach of combining the use of mantra and breath is known as Mahamudra.

The combination of mantra, thought and breath is one of the greatest secret methods, and is regarded as a major cosmic secret. While it is true that our discursive thoughts are powerful, as long as we can maintain our practice using mantra, thought and breath, our discursive thoughts will naturally become still. Our mind will naturally correspond to the realm of Suchness. These three elements of mantra, thought and breath blend and work together.

Someone once asked me how should I count a standard single breathing cycle? This is how I count: - As I inhale, I count six beats and then hold for two beats. As I exhale, I count six beats and then pause for two beats. The Tibetan lamas consider that there are approximately twenty one thousand and six hundred breathing cycles per twenty four hour cycle. This works out to be nine hundred breathing cycles per hour, or fifteen breathing cycles per minute. This is what the lamas consider to be the standard number of breathing cycles in a day.

The veil of the Mahamudra is gradually lifted as my writing progresses to this stage. I, the Holy Red Crown Vajra Guru Sheng-yen Lu, Lian Sheng, am not the kind of person who makes empty promises. I am a true practitioner who speaks honestly, and a master who has gained realization. I have attained yogic response and I am a buddha. I can become one with the supreme cosmic consciousness in an instant, and receive the blessings of supreme and wonderful treasures of adornment upon my being. I am one with all the past lineage holders.

This is the emergence of the highest teachings in the world. 
I have indeed attained all the cosmic and inner secrets.

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01 - Homage to the Lineage Holders of the Mahamudra
02 - Mahamudra is the Method of Attaining Buddhahood
03 - The Meditation of Vairocana
04 - Psychic Heat, Drops and Inner Fire
05 - The True Practice of Speech Purification
06 - The Fourfold Mindfulness of Nagarjuna
07 - Blessings of the Guru on Mahamudra
08 - Ekagrata Meditation
09 - The Circulation of Mantra and Breathing
10 - The Techniques of Mahamudra
11 - The Dual Functioning of Tranquillity and Contemplation
12 - The Spiritual State of Supreme Bliss
13 - The Spiritual State of Immovability
14 - The Mahamudra Practice of Dreaming
15 - Clear Light Mahamudra
16 - Mahamudra of Leaving the Physical Body
17 - The Bardo Deliverance Yoga of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
18 - Mahamudra of Opening the Crown
19 - The Samadhi of Observation
20 - The Mahamudra of Eternity, Bliss, True Self, and Purity
21 - The Mahamudra of Dispelling Delusion
22 - The Levels of Mahamudra
23 - The True Significance of the Master
24 - The Affection Practice of Ragaraja
25 - The Yoga of Great Secret Accomplishment
26 - The Practice of the Mantra of Vajrapani
27 - A Brief Introduction to the Many Practices of Tantrayana
28 - The Conclusion to the Highest Yoga Tantra and Mahamudra