The “practice” of esoteric Buddhism includes studying the exoteric (Tripitaka) and the secret esoteric (Tantra) scriptures of the Buddha and cultivating yourself so as to become enlightened or liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Cultivation is merely putting into practice in your daily life and in your dealings with other living beings what you have learned from the teachings of the Buddha. It is also training your mind to realize its true potential and thereby obtain enlightenment so that you can ultimately become a Buddha. This is done through the transmission of certain esoteric dharmas through an authentic source.
What does it mean to become a Buddha? It means that you can control your birth and death. If you want to be born, then you will be born. If you want to die, then you can die at will. You control it. It does not control you! This is true happiness.
It also means that you can obtain good fortune, supernormal powers and the four bodies and five wisdoms of a buddha with which you can help others in their evolution. Only then can you really help them become liberated.
You must not take up Buddhism in a foolish or capricious manner. You must remember that on death, there are three things that can happen:
- If you become enlightened, then you can voluntarily come back as you choose.
- If you are an ordinary being, then you will come back according to your karma, either as a human or higher level being, as an animal, a hungry ghost, or a hell being. Unless you become liberated from the cycle of reincarnation, you do not choose how you return.
- If you have the good fortune to follow and take refuge with a true vajra master, that master may help you take a favorable rebirth so that you can continue your cultivation. He or she may also be able to help your loved ones take more favorable rebirth.
You must penetrate and realize the real essence of the Buddha-dharma in order to end the cycle of birth and death, attain supernormal powers, attain the power to assume different forms and lack nothing at all! There is only one method to accomplish this: taking refuge in the Three Jewels or the Four Jewels and cultivating yourself deeply. This refers to self-cultivation whereby you train your mind and thereby correct your erroneous ways. The cultivation you engage in must be in accordance with the Tripitaka (scriptures) or the teachings of the vajrayana. The vajrayana also includes the exoteric teachings of the Tripitaka. The highest dharma within the Buddha-dharma is that of the vajrayana.
This is not to say that vajrayana Buddhism is superior or that exoteric Buddhism should be considered a low level of dharma. The Buddha-dharma is not divided into high and low as comparisons. All 84,000 dharma methods came into being in response to the different innate faculties of living beings. The Buddha-dharma has only one truth no matter how it is expressed. Exoteric Buddhism and vajrayana Buddhism are not two separate schools. Exoteric Buddhism is half of a Dharma system. The first part of the vajrayana is the exoteric school!
True vajrayana Buddhism includes the teachings of the various schools of exoteric Buddhism like those of the Zen or Pure Land Schools or the basic teachings of the Theravada sects in South-east Asia. It also includes mantras, mudras, visualization, mandala offerings practiced either in a group or alone, and inner and outer tantra initiations. It includes a foundation in the cultivation of dharmakaya from exoteric Buddhism as well as the more advanced cultivation of the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. In vajrayana Buddhism you strive to and may be able to realize all three kayas (bodies) in one lifetime, if you are able to receive authentic inner tantric initiation. However, even so, you should remember that your state of realization would still be far lower than the perfect state of Shakyamuni Buddha.
No matter how many teachings you receive, you must put such teachings into practice for it to be called cultivation. Seeking the Buddha-dharma is futile if you do not apply it. Receiving mantras is also futile if you do not apply them. Your cultivation is futile if hearing the Dharma is of no benefit to how you think and act or does not benefit your heart. Cultivation is not just meditating, visualizing, reciting mantras, reading commentaries or studying the sutras. It is also not just sitting and listening to discourses by holy beings although it is important that you do so. It is a richer concept and includes more than just these things. It includes the tiniest details of your actions, speech and thoughts and how you help other living beings.
Greed, anger (hatred) and ignorance are the three great obstacles of cultivation. The most important aspect of cultivation is having your three karmas (action, speech, and thoughts) correspond with the teachings of your master and the Buddhas. Once you have received initiation, you absolutely must be able to see and treat your master as a Buddha to receive any benefit from whatever cultivation you do.