Tantra and Buddha-Nature

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Tantra & Buddha-Nature
Though the theory of buddha-nature is more readily associated with certain Mahāyāna sūtras and related treatises, such as the Ratnagotravibhāga, in the Tibetan tradition there also developed a strong association between this concept and the Vajrayāna. For instance, terms like tathāgatagarbha and sugatagarbha also appear in tantric literature, and in the Jonang tradition Dolpopa's development of his famed view of other-emptiness (zhentong) was directly linked with a profound realization he attained through his practice of the Kālacakra Tantra. For the Kagyu, the Ratnagotravibhāga has long since been described as a "bridge between sūtra and tantra," and for the Nyingma sugatagarbha is commonly used throughout much of the revealed tantric corpus of its treasure tradition. There are even proxy terms for buddha-nature used in tantric literature, such as the causal continuum (rgyu'i rgyud), which at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra is symbolized by the syllabic compound Evam, representing the bliss of union. Even the notion of luminosity, often rendered literally as "clear light" in translations of Tibetan tantric works, can be taken as analogous to descriptions of buddha-nature restructured to conform to the methodologies of tantric praxis. Therefore, buddha-nature remained a crucial concept for the Tibetan Vajrayāna traditions in which it found expression in a variety of literary forms—some of them familiar and others more in tune with the esoteric nature of tantra.

Watch & Learn

From the Tantras

In the Hevajra Tantra, it states:

सत्त्वा बुद्धा एव किं तु आगन्तुकमलावृताः
तस्यापकर्षनात् सत्त्वा बुद्धा एव न संशयः

།སེམས་ཅན་རྣམས་ནི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཉིད།
།འོན་ཀྱང་གློ་བུར་དྲི་མས་བསྒྲིབས།
།དེ་གསལ་ན་ནི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཉིད།

All beings are, themselves, buddhas.
However, this is obscured by adventitious stains.
When those are cleared away, buddhahood is actualized.
 
~ Adapted from Snellgrove, D. L. The Hevajra Tantra: A Critical Study. Part 1, Introduction and Translation. London: Oxford University Press, 1959, p. 107.

In the Guhyagarbha Tantra, it states:

།ཨེ་མའོ་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ་ལས།
རང་གི་རྣམ་རྟོག་ལས་ཀྱིས་སྤྲུལ།

Ema ho, from the sugatagarbha
one's own discursive thinking manifests due to karma.
 

In the Tantra of Great Self-Arisen Awareness, it states:

།ཡང་དག་སངས་རྒྱས་དགོངས་པ་ནི།
སེམས་ཅན་ཀུན་གྱི་རང་རྒྱུད་ལ།
།སྐུ་དང་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཚུལ་དུ་གནས།

The mind of the perfect buddhas
Dwells in the mind stream of sentient beings
In the manner of kayas and wisdoms.
 
~ From the Rig pa rang shar chen po'i rgyud, cited in 'Jam mgon kong sprul. Bla ma'i thugs sgrub rdo rje drag rtsal las zhal gdams lam rim ye shes snying po'i 'grel pa ye shes snang ba rab tu rgyas pa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod drug bcu re bzhi pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 64) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul, p. 108. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2016.
-Translation from Kunsang, Erik Pema, trans. The Light of Wisdom. Vol. 1. With the root text Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo by Padmasambhava, the commentary The Light of Wisdom by Jamgön Kongtrül the First, and the notes Entering the Path of Wisdom by Jamyang Drakpa. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999, p. 74.

From the Masters

Candrakīrti
c. 570 ~ c. 640

In his Illuminating Lamp, a commentary on the Guhyasamāja Tantra, Candrakīrti states:

རྒྱལ་བ་ཀུན་གྱི་གནས་ནི་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་དེ།
དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་ཡིན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ།

The abode of the victorious ones is all sentient beings
Because they are of the essence of the tathagatas.
 
~ Candrakīrti. Pradīpoddyotana-nāma-ṭīkā (sgron ma gsal bar byed pa zhes bya ba'i rgya cher bshad pa). In bstan 'gyur (sde dge), Vol. 30, p. 133. New Delhi: delhi karmapae choedhey, gyalwae sungrab partun khang, 1982-1985.
~ Cited in Kunsang, Erik Pema, trans. The Light of Wisdom. Vol. 1. With the root text Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo by Padmasambhava, the commentary The Light of Wisdom by Jamgön Kongtrül the First, and the notes Entering the Path of Wisdom by Jamyang Drakpa. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999, p. 31.


Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje
1284 ~ 1339

The Third Karmapa concludes his Treatise on Pointing Out the Tathāgata Heart with the following lines:

།འགྲོ་ཀུན་སངས་རྒྱས་སྙིང་པོ་འདི།
།མཐར་ཕྱིན་མ་ནོར་ཤེས་པར་ཤོག
།སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་སྙིང་པོ་གཏན་ལ་དབབ་པ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ཐེག་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་རྫོགས་སོ།།

May all beings know this buddha heart
Perfectly and without error!
This completes the determination of the buddha heart,
The essence of the vajrayāna.
 
~ Rang byung rdo rje, (Karmapa, 3rd). De bzhin gshegs pa'i snying po bstan pa'i bstan bcos. In gsung 'bum rang byung rdo rje. Zi ling: mtshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis, 2006, Vol. 7, p. 290.
~ Translation from Brunnhölzl, Karl, trans. Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature. Nitartha Institute Series. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2009, p. 360.

In his Profound Inner Meaning, he states:

།སེམས་ཅན་ཁམས་ནི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི།
།སྙིང་པོ་དྲི་མེད་བདེན་གཉིས་ལྡན།
།འདི་ནི་ཡེ་ཤེས་རྡོ་རྗེ་རུ།
།ཀུན་རྫོབ་གཟུང་འཛིན་སྣང་བ་སྟེ།
།བདེན་པ་ཆུ་ཟླ་ལྟ་བུའོ་།
།དོན་དམ་སྟོང་ཉིད་བཅོ་བརྒྱད་དེ་།
།བདེན་པ་གཉིས་མེད་ཡེ་ཤེས་བརྗོད།

As for the [buddha] element in sentient beings, it is the stainless
buddha nature (sangs rgyas kyi snying po),
Endowed with the two truths.
This [is stated] in the Vajrajñāna[samuccayatantra]:
Apparent means to appear as a perceived and a perceiver.
[This] truth is like [a reflection of] the moon in water.
Ultimate refers to the eighteen [types of] emptiness.
[This] truth is called nondual wisdom.
 
~ Rang byung rdo rje, (Karmapa, 3rd). Zab mo nang don. In gsung 'bum rang byung rdo rje. Zi ling: mtshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis, 2006, Vol. 7, p. 344.
~ Translation from Mathes, Klaus-Dieter. A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa's Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008, p. 66.
Longchen Rabjam
1308 ~ 1364

Longchenpa explains the difference between the causal and resultant vehicles in the following way:

ཁམས་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ་ས་བོན་དུ་ཡོད་པ་ཙམ་རྐྱེན་ཚོགས་གཉིས་ཀྱིས་ཡོན་ཏན་གོང་དུ་འཕེལ་བ་ལས་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐོབ་པར་འདོད་པས་རྒྱུ་འབྲས་སྔ་ཕྱིར་ཁས་ལེན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རྒྱུའི་ཐེག་པ་དང་། སྙིང་པོ་ཡོན་ཏན་བཅས་སེམས་ཅན་ལ་རང་ཆས་ལྷུན་གྲུབ་ཏུ་ཡོད་པ་སྦྱང་གཞི་ཉི་མ་འོད་ཟེར་ལྡན་པ་འདྲ་བ་ལ། སྦྱང་བྱ་ཚོགས་བརྒྱད་གློ་བུར་བའི་དྲི་མ་སྤྲིན་ལྟ་བུས་བསྒྲིབས་པ་ཉིད། སྦྱོང་བྱེད་སྨིན་གྲོལ་ལམ་གྱིས་སྦྱངས་པའི་འབྲས་བུ་གདོད་གནས་ཀྱི་རང་བཞིན་མངོན་དུ་གྱུར་པ་ལས་སྔ་ཕྱིར་བཟང་ངན་ཁྱད་པར་མེད་པར་འདོད་པས་འབྲས་བུའི་ཐེག་པ་ཞེས་བཏགས་པར་བཞེད་དེ།

The causal vehicles are so-called because of accepting a sequence of cause and effect, asserting that buddhahood is attained by increasing the qualities of the nature of the sugata essence, which is merely present as a seed, through the circumstance of the two accumulations. The resultant vehicles are so-called because of asserting that the basis for purification is the [sugata] essence endowed with qualities that are spontaneously present as a natural possession in sentient beings, just as the sun is endowed with rays of light; that the objects of purification are the temporary defilements of the eight collections, like the sky being [temporarily] obscured by clouds; and that one realizes the result of purification, the primordially present nature by means of that which purifies, the paths of ripening and liberation. Besides this, there is no difference in sequence or quality.
 
~ Klong chen rab 'byams cited in 'Jam mgon kong sprul. Bla ma'i thugs sgrub rdo rje drag rtsal las zhal gdams lam rim ye shes snying po'i 'grel pa ye shes snang ba rab tu rgyas pa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod drug bcu re bzhi pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 64) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul, 172–173. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2016.
-Translation from Kunsang, Erik Pema, trans. The Light of Wisdom. Vol. 1. With the root text Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo by Padmasambhava, the commentary The Light of Wisdom by Jamgön Kongtrül the First, and the notes Entering the Path of Wisdom by Jamyang Drakpa. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999, pp. 152–53.
Tsele Natsok Rangdrol
1608

On the correlation of various terms, Tsele Natsok Rangdrol states:

།རང་བྱུང་རང་ཤར་རང་རིག་ཆོས་ཉིད་དོན། །འདི་ལ་མིང་གི་རྣམ་གྲངས་སྣ་ཚོགས་ཏེ། །ཕར་ཕྱིན་ཐེག་པར་ཆོས་ཉིད་བདེན་པ་ཟེར། །སྔགས་ཀྱི་ཐེག་པ་རང་བཞིན་འོད་གསལ་ཟེར། །སེམས་ཅན་དུས་ན་བདེར་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོའི་ཁམས། །ལམ་གྱི་སྐབས་སུ་ལྟ་སྒོམ་ལ་སོགས་མིང། །འབྲས་བུའི་དུས་ན་སངས་རྒྱས་ཆོས་སྐུ་ཟེར། །དེ་སོགས་མིནད་དང་དབྱེ་བ་དུ་མ་ཡང་། །དོན་ལ་ད་ལྟའི་ཐ་མལ་ཤེས་པ་འདིའོ།

This self-existing and self-manifest natural awareness, your basic state,
Has a variety of names:
In the Prajnaparamita vehicle it is called innate truth.
The vehicle of Mantra calls it natural luminosity.
While a sentient being it is named sugata-garbha.
During the path it is given names which describe the view, meditation, and so forth.
And at the point of fruition it is named the dharmakaya of buddhahood.
All the different names and classifications
Are nothing other than this present ordinary mind.
 
~ Rtse le sna tshogs rang grol. Nges don gyi lta sgom nyams su len tshul ji lta bar ston pa rdo rje'i mdo 'dzin. In Rtse le sna tshogs rang grol gyi gsung gdams zab phyogs bsgrigs. Kathmandu: Khenpo Shedup Tenzin and Lama Thinley Namgyal, 2007, pp.13–14.
~ Translation from Kunsang, Erik Pema, trans. The Heart of the Matter. By Tsele Natsok Rangdröl (rtse le sna tshogs rang grol). Edited by Marcia Binder Schmidt and Michael Tweed. Buddhist Classics. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1996, pp. 30–31.
Terdak Lingpa Gyurme Dorje
1646 ~ 1714

In his stages of the path (lam rim) work on the preliminaries (sngon 'gro), The Jewel Ladder, Terdak Lingpa Gyurme Dorje states:

།མདོར་ན་སེམས་ཅན་གྱི་སེམས་ཀྱི་རང་བཞིན་འོད་གསལ་བ་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་ཅན་ཡིན་ཡང་། གློ་བུར་གྱི་དྲི་མས་ཚུལ་བཞིན་མ་ཡིན་པ་ཡིད་བྱེད་ཀྱི་རྣམ་པར་རྟོག་པས་ཉོན་མོངས་པར་འགྱུར་ཞིང་། དེས་ཀུན་ནས་བསླངས་པའི་ཟག་པ་དང་བཅས་པའི་ལས་ལ་སྤྱད་པས་འཁོར་བའི་ཕུང་ཁམས་སྐྱེ་མཆེད་རྣམས་གྲུབ་པ་སྟེ།

In short, no doubt that the luminous nature of the mind of sentient beings has the essences of the Tathagatas; nevertheless, it is deluded by the force of adventitious stains entailing improper modes of thinking and extraneous thoughts. Motivated by these, sentient beings exercise contaminated actions, and thereby aggregates, elements, and sources of perception within cyclic existence are produced.
 
~ Gter bdag gling pa 'gyur med rdo rje. Thun mong gi sngon 'gro'i chos bshad rin chen them skas. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod bzhi bcu pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 40) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2016, pp. 328–29.
~Translation from Rigzin, Tsepak, trans. and ed. The Jewel Ladder: A Preliminary Nyingma Lamrim. By Minling Terchen Gyurmed Dorjee (smin gling gter chen 'gyur med rdo rje). Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1990, p. 42.
Chöying Tobden Dorje
1785 ~ 1848

In regards to the tantric commitments and the fourteen fundamental downfalls associated with their transgression, Chöying Topden Dorje explains the ninth as:

།དགུ་པ་ནི། གཞི་ལམ་འབྲས་བུའི་ཆོས་ཐམས་ཅས་རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་རྣམ་པར་དག་པར་དབྱེར་མི་ཕྱེད་པའི་ཟུང་འཇུག་འོད་གསལ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་བདེ་བར་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་གདོད་མའི་གནས་ལུགས་སུ་བཞུགས་པར་བཤད་པ་ནི་ལམ་ལ་དཀྲི་བའི་ཆེད་དུ་སྤྲོ་བ་བསྐྱེད་པ་ཙམ་ལས་དོན་ལ་དེ་ལྟར་མ་ཡིན་སྙམ་དུ་ཐེ་ཚོམ་ཟ་བས་ཡིད་མ་ཆེས་ཏེ་མ་དད་པའོ།

The ninth fundamental downfall concerns the statement that all things that comprise the ground of our being, the spiritual path, and its result dwell in indivisible integral union within natural purity, luminous awakened mind, the core of joyful buddhas (buddha nature)—our original abiding nature. You incur this downfall when you entertain doubt toward this, and lose trust and faith in it, with the thought that such statements are said merely to forge a connection between a being and the spiritual path, to foster their interest, without it being in fact the case.
 
~ Chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje. Mdo rgyud rin po che'i mdzod, Vol. 3, p. 51. Khreng tu'u: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2000.
~ Translation from Zangpo, Ngawang (Hugh Leslie Thompson) trans. The Complete Nyingma Tradition from Sutra to Tantra, Book 14: An Overview of Buddhist Tantra. By Chöying Tobden Dorje (chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje). Boulder, CO: Snow Lion Publications, 2017, p. 127.

In regards to the meaning of tantra (rgyud) as referencing the three continua of ground, path, and fruition, Chöying Topden Dorje explains the first of these, the ground, as:

།དང་པོ་གཞིའི་རྒྱུད་ནི། གཞི་འཆིང་གྲོལ་མེད་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་རང་རེག་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་བདེན་པ་དབྱེར་མེད་སྤྱོད་ཡུལ་དང་བར་ཡེ་ནས་གནས་པ་ཁང་ཡིན་པ་སྟེ། ཁམས་བདེ་བར་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་དང་། རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་གནས་པའི་རིགས་དང་། ཀུན་གཞིའི་ཡེ་ཤེས་དང་། དྲི་བཅས་དེ་བཞིན་ཉིད་ལ་སོགས་པའི་ཐ་སྙད་ཁང་ལ་འཇུག་པའི་གཞིའོ། དེ་ཉིད་སེམས་ཅན་ནས་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་བར་དུ་རང་བཞིན་འགྱུར་བ་མེད་པར་རྒྱུན་ཆགས་སུ་འཇུག་པས་ན་རྒྱུད་དོ།

First, as for the continuum of the ground, the ground is the abiding nature free from bondage and liberation, the intrinsic awareness, enlightened mind and inseparable truth which abides primordially, beyond the perceptual range of the senses. This is the very ground implied in the [equivalent] terms “seed of buddha nature” (khams bde bar gshegs pa), “seed that naturally abides” (rang bzhin gyis gnas pa'i rigs), “pristine cognition of the substratum” (kun gzhi'i ye shes), “actual truth shrouded in impurity” (dri bcas de bzhin nyid), and so forth. It is said to form a continuum (rgyud) because its natural expression streams unchanging, from the [unenlightened] state of sentient beings as far as the [enlightened] state of buddhahood.
 
~ Chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje. Mdo rgyud rin po che'i mdzod, Vol. 3, p. 121. Khreng tu'u: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2000.
~ Translation from Dorje, Gyurme, trans. The Complete Nyingma Tradition from Sutra to Tantra, Books 15 to 17: The Essential Tantras of Mahayoga. Vol. 1. By Chöying Tobden Dorje (chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje). Boulder, CO: Snow Lion Publications, 2016, p. 20.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
1820 ~ 1892

In his treasure revelation the Heart Essence of the Siddha, the verse for confession states:

ཨ༔ གདོད་ནས་མ་སྐྱེས་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུ༔
ཡོངས་གྲུབ་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ་ལ༔
གཟུང་འཛིན་འཁྲུལ་པས་བཅིངས་པའི་སྒྲིབ༔
བློ་བྲལ་གཉུག་མའི་ངང་དུ་བཤགས༔ ས་མ་ཡ་ཨ་ཨ་ཨ༔

Ah! The primordially unborn dharmakāya,
in which the sugatabarbha is fully present,
in that innate state that is free of conceptuality, I confess,
The restraining obscurations caused by my errant grasping and fixation. Samaya Ah Ah Ah!
 
~ 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po. Grub thob chen po'i thug tig las phrin las ye shes snying po. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod bcu gcig pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 11) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2018, p. 909.


Chogyur Lingpa
1829 ~ 1870

In terms of generating bodhicitta in the guru practice of his treasure revelation [called] the Three Sections of the Great Perfection, the verse states:

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ་ལས༔
འགྲོ་བ་མ་རིག་འཁྲུལ་པ་རྣམས༔
འོད་གསལ་ཆེན་པོར་བསྒྲལ་བའི་ཕྱིར༔
གཉིས་སུ་མེད་པར་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་དོ༔

Ema ho! Unbeknownst wandering beings have strayed
Away from the sugatagarbha.
In order to liberate them in great illumination,
I will generate the awakened mind in which they are indivisible
    [from that luminosity].
 
~ 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, ed. Dam chos rdzogs pa chen po sde gsum las phyi skor bla ma'i bskyed rim dang byang bu khrigs su bsdebs pa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod drug bcu re gnyis pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 62) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2018, p. 98.

In his treasure revelation the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo, it states:

ཤེས་བྱའི་གཞི་ནི་ཀུན་ཁྱབ་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང༔
འདུས་མ་བྱས་པ་གསལ་སྟོང་རིག་པའི་བབས༔
འཁྲུལ་གྲོལ་ལས་འདས་མཁའ་ལྟར་རབ་ཏུ་ཞི༔
འཁོར་འདས་དབྱེ་བསྲི་མེད་པར་གནས་གྱུར་ཀྱང༔

The ground to be understood is the all-pervasive sugata essence
Uncompunded, luminous, and empty, it is the natural state of awareness.
Beyond confusion and liberation, it is completely quiescent, like space.
Although it abides without separation in samsara or joining in nirvana...
 
~ Mchog gyur gling pa. Bla ma'i thugs sgrub rdo rje drag rtsal las zhal gdams lam rim ye shes snying po. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod drug bcu re bzhi pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 64) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul, p.9. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2016.
~ Translation from Kunsang, Erik Pema, trans. The Light of Wisdom. Vol. 1. With the root text Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo by Padmasambhava, the commentary The Light of Wisdom by Jamgön Kongtrül the First, and the notes Entering the Path of Wisdom by Jamyang Drakpa. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999, p. 9.
Jamgön Kongtrul
1813 ~ 1899

In his commentary to the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo, Jamgön Kongtrul states:

ཤེས་བྱ་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི་གཞིར་གྱུར་པ་ནི་སྣོད་བཅུད་ཀྱི་དངོས་པོ་ལ་ནམ་མཁས་ཁྱབ་པ་བཞིན་དུ་འཁོར་འདས་ཀུན་ལ་ཁྱབ་པའི་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཁྱད་པར་ལྔ་ལྡན་དུ་བཞུགས་པ་ཡིན་ཏེ། ངོ་བོ་འདུས་མ་བྱས་པ། བཞུགས་ཚུལ་གསལ་སྟོང་རིག་པའི་རང་བབས། དང་པོར་འཁྲུལ་མ་མྱོང་ཞིང་མཐར་གྲོལ་བ་ལས་འདས་པ། ནམ་མཁའ་ལྟར་སྐྱེ་འགག་སོགས་སྤྲོས་པའི་མཚན་མ་མེད་པས་རབ་ཏུ་ཞི་བ། འཁོར་བ་དང་མྱང་འདས་གཉིས་ལ་སྐྱོན་རྟོག་གིས་དབྱེ་ཞིང་རིང་བ་དང་། ཡོན་ཏན་དུ་ཤེས་པས་བསྲི་བ་སྟེ་ཉེ་བར་གྱུར་པ་གང་ཡང་མེད་པར་བཞུགས་ཤིང་གནས་པར་གྱུར་ཏོ།

The ground of all knowable things is called sugata essence, and it pervades all of samsara and nirvana just as space pervades all worlds and beings. It is endowed with these five special qualities: its essence is uncompounded; its mode of being is the empty and luminous natural state of awareness; at the beginning, it knows no confusion and at the end it is beyond liberation; it is totally quiescent like the sky, being devoid of the marks of mental constructs, such as arising, ceasing, and so forth; it abides utterly devoid of separating, growing distant by conceiving faults in samsara, or joining, drawing close by perceiving qualities in nirvana.
 
~ 'Jam mgon kong sprul. Bla ma'i thugs sgrub rdo rje drag rtsal las zhal gdams lam rim ye shes snying po'i 'grel pa ye shes snang ba rab tu rgyas pa. In Rin chen gter mdzod chen mo pod drug bcu re bzhi pa (The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings Volume 64) by 'Jam mgon kong sprul, 104-105. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007–2016.
~ Translation from Kunsang, Erik Pema, trans. The Light of Wisdom. Vol. 1. With the root text Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo by Padmasambhava, the commentary The Light of Wisdom by Jamgön Kongtrül the First, and the notes Entering the Path of Wisdom by Jamyang Drakpa. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999, p. 69.

In his Guiding Instructions on the View of Great Shentong Madhyamaka—Light Rays of the Stainless Vajra Moon, Jamgön Kongtrul states:

།ཕྱི་འཇིག་རྟེན་སྣོད་བཅུད་སྲིད་པ་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་པར་ཤར་བ་འདི་དག་བཞིན་གྱི་བྱད་མེ་ལོང་ལ་འཕོས་པ་བཞིན་དུ་ནང་རྩ་རླུང་ཐིག་ལེའི་ཆོ་འཕྲུལ་དུ་ཤར་བ་ཡིན་ཞིང་དེ་གསུམ་ཡང་གཞན་མཆོག་དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་གྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་རྟེན་དང་བརྟེན་པར་བཅས་པའི་རྣམ་པར་བཞུགས་ལ། དེ་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱང་། དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྙིང་པོའ་རང་འོད་རང་མདངས་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུ་ཉིད་རྣམ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་པར་ཤར་བ་མཆོག་ཏུ་མི་འགྱུར་བའི་ཡེ་ཤེས། །དོན་དམ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་དབྱིངས་བདེ་སྟོང་ཟུང་འཇུག་རང་བཞིན་འགྱུར་བ་མེད་ལ་རྒྱུན་མི་ཆད་པས་རྒྱུད་ཀྱི་དོན་དུ་གསུངས་ཤིང་། དེའང་གཞིའི་གནས་སྐབས་དྲི་བཅས་དེ་བཞིན་ཉིད་ལ་རྒྱུའི་རྒྱུད་དང་། ལམ་དུས་ཆོས་ཉིད་དོན་ནི་རིམ་པར་སྣང་བ་ལ་ལམ་ཐབས་ཀྱི་རྒྱུད་དང་། དག་པ་གཉིས་ལྡན་མངོན་དུ་འགྱུར་བ་ན་ཤིན་ཏུ་རྣམ་དག་འབྲས་བུའི་རྒྱུད་ཅེས་བྱ་སྟེ། ལྟ་བ་ཐུན་མོང་མ་ཡིན་པ་དེ་ཉིད་ཀུན་རྫོབ་ཀྱི་སྟོང་ཚུལ་ལ་མཆོག་ཏུ་འཛིན་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་ཕྱོགས་ཙམ་མི་མཐོང་བ་ལྟ་ཅི་སྨོས། གོང་སྨོས་མདོ་ལུགས་རང་རྐང་གི་ལམ་དེས་ཀྱང་ཡུན་རིང་པོར་འགོར་བ་ཡིན་པས། དབང་དང་དམ་ཚིག་གིས་ཁྱད་པར་དུ་བྱས་པའི་སྔགས་ཀྱི་ལམ་མཐའ་དག་ལས་ཁྱད་པར་དུ་འཕགས་པ་རྡོ་རྗེའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་ཡན་ལག་དྲུག་ལ་མཉམ་པར་བཞག་པ་ན་དུས་ཐུང་ངུར་ཚེགས་ཆུང་ངུས་བདེ་བླག་ཏུ་རྟོགས་པར་འགྱུར་བ་ཡིན་ནོ།

These appearances of the three existences (the container that is the outer world and the [inner] content [of sentient beings]), just as a face’s being transferred [as a reflection] into a mirror, appear as the magical display of inner nāḍīs, vāyus, and tilakas, and these three abide as the aspects of "the other"—the circle of the supreme maṇḍala with its support and supported. All of these are true reality’s—the sugata heart’s—own light and own radiance, the dharmakāya itself appearing as all aspects, and utterly changeless wisdom. This ultimate dharmadhātu, the union of bliss and emptiness, is unchanging in nature yet uninterrupted. Therefore, it is taught as having the meaning of "tantra." Being the stained suchness during the phase of the ground, it is [called] "the causal tantra." Since this actuality of the nature of phenomena appears gradually during the time of the path, it is [also called] "the path [or] method tantra." When it has manifested as being endowed with twofold purity, it is called "the tantra of the completely pure fruition." Let alone that those who cling to the manner of the seeming’s being empty as being supreme do not even see a fraction of this uncommon view, it takes a long time [to realize this view] even through the above-mentioned path of the sūtra system as it stands on its own feet. Therefore, when you rest in meditative equipoise in the six-branch vajra yoga that is more eminent than all [other] paths of mantra specified by empowerments and samayas, [this view] will be realized conveniently in a short time and with little hardships. 
~ 'Jam mgon kong sprul. Gzhan stong dbu ma chen po'i lta khrid rdo rje zla ba dri ma med pa'i 'od zer. In 'Khor lo tha ma'i dgongs don gces btus. Kathmandu: Rigpe Dorje Publications, 2008, pp. 196–97.
~ Translation from Brunnhölzl, Karl. When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra. Boston: Snow Lion Publications, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, 2014, p. 847.
The 14th Dalai Lama
1935
"Tantra" means "continuum," like a stream, of which there are three types: base, path, and fruit. The base tantra is the person who is practicing. According to the Secret Union Tantra (guhyasamāja), a Highest Yoga Tantra, there are five lineages of persons—white lotus, utpala, lotus, sandalwood, and jewel, the last being the supreme person. The base continuum is also the naturally abiding lineage, the element, the Buddha nature, the One-Gone-Thus essence. It is called the base because it is the basis of the activity of the path. 
~ Hopkins, Jeffrey, trans. and ed. The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra. Vol. 1, Tantra in Tibet. By Tsongkhapa (tsong kha pa). With a commentary by the Dalai Lama. 1st revised edition. Boulder, CO: Snow Lion, 2016, p. 39.
Highest yoga tantra points to buddha nature in a unique way: it is the subtlest mind-wind that is empty of inherent existence and whose continuity goes on to awakening. All sentient beings have this subtlest mind-wind. In ordinary beings, it becomes manifest only at the time of the clear light of death and goes unnoticed. While the subtlest mind-wind is neutral in the case of ordinary beings, through special yogic practices it can be brought into the path and transformed into a virtuous state, a yogic state. Sentient beings' subtlest mind serves as the substantial cause for the wisdom dharmakāya—the omniscient mind of a buddha—and the true cessation and emptiness of a buddha's mind is the nature dharmakāya. The subtlest wind that is its mount is the substantial cause for the form bodies of a buddha—the enjoyment and emanation bodies. The Hevajra Tantra says:

Sentient beings are just buddhas,
but they are defiled by adventitious stains.
When these are removed, they are buddhas.

The first line indicates that sentient beings have the substantial cause for buddhahood, the subtlest mind-wind. It does not mean that sentient beings are buddhas, because someone cannot be both a sentient being and a buddha simultaneously. Through the practice of special techniques in highest yoga tantra, the continuum of this subtlest mind-wind can be purified and transformed into the three bodies of a buddha.
 
~ Dalai Lama, 14th, and Thubten Chodron. Saṃsāra, Nirvāṇa, and Buddha Nature. Library of Wisdom and Compassion 3. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2018, p. 301.

Further Readings

Book: Creation and Completion (2002)

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In the creation stage, practitioners visualize themselves in the form of buddhas and other enlightened beings in order to break down their ordinary concepts of themselves and the world around them. This meditation practice prepares the mind for engaging in the completion stage, where one has a direct encounter with the ultimate nature of mind and reality.

~ Harding, Sarah, trans. Creation and Completion: Essential Points of Tantric Meditation. By Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye ('jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas). With commentary by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002. First published 1996 by Wisdom (Boston).

Book: Ornament of Stainless Light

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The Kalacakra Tantra is a Buddhist tantra, which means that it reveals a method for the completion of the Mahayana path by following the principles of tantra in general and those of highest yoga tantra specifically. It is tantra because its methodology involves the utilization of the transformative power of the mind focused upon attainable forms of enlightenment to initiate an alchemical process of transmutation. Forms of physical and mental enlightenment are mentally imposed upon ordinary external and internal forms to such an extent that, through the power of faith, understanding, and concentration, these visualized enlightened forms are held to actually replace the ordinary phenomena that act as their bases. This practice, when fully developed in the yogi’s mind, is combined with the physiological manipulation of the vajra body that will eventually transform the mind, and all that is created by that mind, into the “real thing”—the enlightened mind and form of a buddha.

~ Kilty, Gavin, trans. Ornament of Stainless Light: An Exposition of the Kālacakra Tantra. By Khedrup Norsang Gyatso (mkhas grub nor bzang rgya mtsho). Library of Tibetan Classics 14, edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004.

Book: A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages

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A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages is a profound exploration of tantric Buddhisms vision of human nature and its potential for full awakening. Framed within the notion of five stages as developed in a seminal tantric work of the Indian mystic Nāgārjuna, Lamp is the last major work of Tsongkhapa, one of the greatest masters of Tibetan Buddhism. Reading this important text, we encounter his authoritative voice, coming face to face with his profound personal experience borne of years of learning and meditative practice. Every now and then, especially when Tsongkhapa describes complex physiological and psychological states that arise from specific meditative practices, we feel these could become a reality even for someone like ourselves, if only we devoted sufficient time to the path.

~ Kilty, Gavin, trans. A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages: Teachings on Guhyasamāja Tantra. By Tsongkhapa (tsong kha pa). Library of Tibetan Classics 15, edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2013.