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The Secrets of Tantrik Buddhist Enlightenment

Everyone's got their favorite Dalai Lama, right? Let's meet the second Dalai Lama Gedun Gyatso (1475 - 1542) who's original writings reveal the deepest secrets of Tantrik enlightenment.

6 min read

About 1,300 years ago, in the 8th century, the great Tibetan King Trisong Detsen invited two Indian Buddhist masters to Tibet, and authorized a decades-long project to translate thousands of important Sanskrit spiritual texts into Tibetan. In many cases, the original Sanskrit work is lost forever, and all that remains are the Tibetan translations.

Five hundred years after the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet, in 1391, a boy was born into a poor farming family. By the age of 18 he was already known as one of the most esteemed scholar-saints in Tibet, and had been given the name Gedun Drupa.

In 1447 (age 56) Gedun Drupa, with the full support of the Tibetan King at the time - founded the Tashi Lhunpo monastery which, for the next 350 years was the largest and most vibrant of Tibetan monastic universities(1).

Gedun Drupa lived another 17 years in the peaceful monastery he had created. Those years at Tashi Lhunpo would have been a paradise for him, teaching and sharing with an eager and thriving group of monks.

In 1474, at the age of 83, the blissful monk died peacefully. He was given the title Dalai Lama shortly after his death. Lama = one who lives the highest spiritual principles, Dalai = the ocean. "He who embodies the full ocean of spiritual principles."

The Birth of the Second Dalai Lama

Immediately upon the death of the first Dalai Lama, the highest Buddhist scholars began searching for his reincarnation. It was one year later in 1475 that a child was born to a well-known Tantric master in Tibet, his mother an advanced Yogini.

Legend has it that as soon as the child could speak, he began asking to be taken to his "home". His father soon realized by "home" he meant the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, and upon examination he was able to describe many of the students and fellow monks by name and in familiar detail.

For the first years of his life, the boy's mother and father trained him in various enlightenment systems. Then at age eight they sent their precious son to his "home" the Tashi Lhunpo monastery where he took his full ordination vows as a Buddhist monk at the age of 11 and was given the name Gedun Gyatso.

At the age of 18 he was assigned as first abbot of a large Tibetan monastery, then at age 23 Gedun Gyatso set out on a 20 year pilgrimage through Tibet and India to study with other masters, learn, practice and teach. In these years he gained a large following throughout Tibet.

Like his predecessor the first Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso was deeply accomplished in the secret teachings of enlightenment, and was referred to as "Master of the Three Worlds" - the physical plane, the subtle plane, and the highest causal plane.

Gedun Gyatso, the second Dalai Lama, died in 1542 at the age of 67, but the direct teachings he left us are extraordinary.
Throughout his lifetime he was a generous teacher, and he wrote extensively - thousands of pages of lessons, sermons, poems, prayers and valuable commentaries.

These lessons were written mostly in the second half of his life for the benefit of his closest students, often to clarify his oral teachings. His writings always included specific instructions for his students to practice and achieve enlightenment - or final liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (samsara).

He explains in his writings many secret topics such as bi-location (apparently a common ability at the time in both India and Tibet), transfer of consciousness, and the proper way to release the body at death to re-integrate with higher dimensions of light.

As all writers in the tradition of enlightenment, he frequently and respectfully refers back to the classic Buddhist texts and great teachers of the past, including his own teachers, and in his writings he assumes his students are familiar with all those original teachings.

But here is what is most important about Gedun Gyatso's trove of writing. In some of his writings he repeats oral transmissions which he received from his teachers and from direct vision - into the highest Tantric Yogic techniques, exercises, experiences, and initiations.

Generally, these oral teachings and initiations are never discussed beyond direct teacher-student transmission. But our generous guru Gedun Gyatso generously shared these "secret" teachings for the benefit of his most advanced students.

When you read his work, picture yourself sitting in the room. With clear, simple language he describes the multi-layered steps one must take to prepare for the secret initiations. He re-transmits the oral instructions on Tantrik enlightenment practices that dated back at least 800 years before his birth.

For these reasons, the writings of Gedun Gyatso, the second Dalai Lama, give us the clearest picture we have of a teaching, practicing, highly enlightened Buddhist monk who wished his students to succeed, so speaks clearly and openly about the highest "secret" teachings of Tantric Buddhism.

The Vajrayana

The bulk of Gedun Gyatso's writing would be familiar ground for most Buddhists today - expounding on the most traditional Buddhist teachings, but several of his lessons touch on the higher tantric yoga practices of fully enlightened beings.

The problem with these teachings is that they cannot be mastered in the world we live in today. It would require isolation and complete dedication, and a level of mental focus which is not practical or attainable in our modern world.

Frankly, who would want to live such an isolated life, when there is so much abundance and possibility in our world.

"When you can maintain this rotating image clearly in your mind for one sixth of a day (four hours), you will experience the nectar light pour through the crown..."

So these secret techniques and initiations are not practical for most of us to accomplish. Then what should we take from these ancient writings?

Purifying Your Lifestream in the Generation Stage

In preface to the highest Tantrik teachings, Gedun Gyatso describes two stages of practice - the generation stage (the preliminary preparations), and the actual practice itself - the completion stage.

"In order to take up the higher practices of Vajrayana (the "Thunderbolt Vehicle" or "Diamond Vehicle") one must first transform into a proper vessel for the secret teachings by ripening one's stream of being."
"Abide well in the generation stage yogas (ripening your lifestream) with the wish to accomplish the completion stage. This is the proper gradation of Vajrayana practice."
"The merit gained in a single day by one who prepares himself (through these generation practices) cannot be gained even in a hundred lifetimes by one who has not worked to develop such higher perception."

Not only are the very highest teachings impractical for us in the modern world - he understood that even most of the monks themselves would not be ready for the completion stage in their own lifetime. He's telling us don't worry - there's a lifetime of learning and development in the generation stage - the preparation. As he says, "abide well in the generation stage" and keep the desire to achieve/experience more.

So what is the generation stage, the preparatory work required before the highest secrets can be understood?

Here is the gist of the preparatory work to be accomplished in the generation stage, according to These are the general areas of practice to "ripen your stream of being" to make yourself a worthy vessel through which the spirit of these teachings may take root. According to Gedun Gyatso (1475 - 1542).

  • Establish habits and lifestyle conducive to practice.
  • Clear the mind of all illusions.
  • Establish softness of body and energy flow.
  • Establish softness of speech - kind speech without hint of selfish motivations.
  • Establish softness of action - kind actions are the outer manifestation of your inner compassion.
  • Study wisdom - build your practice on the enlightened transmissions of the masters.

These practices are referred to as the "generation" stage of the work, while the deeper practices, techniques and visualizations which result in the ultimate realization of your own light and the release from cyclic rebirth, are referred to as the "completion" stage of the work.

He tells us to abide patiently in the purification work because the completion stage techniques rely that your own life force is purified, so rushing into the process before one is properly prepared (softened/purified/receptive) leads to far more suffering than one who is simply happy and patient abiding each day in the generation stage.

Clearly, the preparation stage work is the common theme to spiritual advancement, regardless of the path we choose.

Pure body, pure speech, pure action, pure wisdom, and clearing all illusions from our thinking. Softening, yielding, surrendering, purifying - all these lead us to an inner world of peace and balance.

And according to Tibetan knowledge of the bardo (the state of existence between two lives), your best practice is to abide calmly and patiently in the generation stage and apply these principles in our own lives.


  1. Throughout the 1600's and 1700's more than 5,000 monks were housed permanently in Tashi Lhunpo with 2,000 more monks and scholars visiting. It was a huge monastery and visitors were welcome to stay for one night, or a lifetime. Then in 1791 the Tashi Lhunpo monastery - beacon of spiritual enlightenment for centuries - was destroyed by war then resurrected in a much smaller version, until that monastery again was finally destroyed in 1966 by the Chinese Cultural Guard who led crowds to burn scriptures, smash statues and throw all valuables into the river, although some items are said to have been saved from that disaster. In 1972, under the guidance of the Dalai Lama, the Tashi Lhunpo monastery was rebuilt in Southern India, where you can visit today with more than 400 monks - many of them Tibetan monks in exile in India.