(University College London)


Yogic Practice in Tibetan Buddhism as Revealed in Pema Lingpa's "Secret Key to Channels, Winds, and Inner Essences"

Yogic practices associated with physical movement (’khrul ’khor), expansion of the breath (rlung gom), and cultivation of inner vitality (thig le) are central to the transmission of Vajrayāna  Buddhism from India to Tibet from the eleventh century onward, yet have been kept largely hidden due to a monastic culture emphasising ritual and textual recitation. Even Dzogchen (rdzogs chen), the so-called 'Great Perfection' teachings of Tibet which point directly to the ‘self-liberating’ potential of human consciousness, involve forceful haṭhayoga-related movements and breathing techniques that push physiology – and thereby consciousness –beyond accustomed limits towards the awakening of habitually dormant perceptual and existential capacities. Tibet's long-hidden yogic practices are vividly portrayed in a series of late seventeenth-century murals in a once secret meditation chamber in Lhasa conceived during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The wall paintings illustrate a Dzogchen ‘treasure text’ (gter ma) revealed two centuries earlier by Terton Orgyen Pema Lingpa (1450–1521) and ascribed to Padmasambhava, the ‘Lotus Born’ sage credited with having established Vajrayāna Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century. Embellished with illuminating passages from Pema Lingpa’s ‘Compendium of Enlightened Spontaneity’ (Rdzogs chen kun bzang dgongs ’dus), the Lukhang murals portray a range of yogic practices (rtsa rlung ’khrul ’khor) held to liberate both mind and body in the realisation of one's inherent ‘Buddha Nature’ (de gshegs snying po, Skt: tathāgatagarbha). This presentation focuses on illustrative details from the Lukhang murals to bring renewed attention to the yogic practices of āsana, mudrā, and prānāyāma that underlie Tibet's Buddhist lineages and the ways in which physiology and perception pushed beyond habitual constraints through haṭhayoga-like exercises lie at the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This talk will also address the ways in which increasing focus on 'Tibetan Yoga' is revitalising Vajrayāna Buddhism transnationally in light of contemporary interest in pro-somatic spiritual disciplines.