Before we can begin to learn about Tantra and how to practice it, some background knowledge is beneficial.
The highest of all possible human goals is the attainment of complete enlightenment, an ultimate state of peace in which all obstacles obscuring the mind have been removed and all good qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and skilful means have been fully developed.
However, we cannot reach this ultimate goal merely by waiting for it; we need to use the appropriate methods to take us there.
What are the methods for attaining the peace of full enlightenment? They are the paths of Sutra and Secret Mantra, or Tantra; there is no third method. Of these two, the techniques revealed in Secret Mantra are superior to those revealed in the Sutras.
Not only is Secret Mantra the supreme path to full enlightenment, it is also extremely rare. As Je Tsongkhapa said, the teachings of Secret Mantra are even rarer than the Buddhas because, although a thousand founding Buddhas will appear during this Fortunate Aeon, only the fourth (Buddha Shakyamuni), the eleventh, and the last will teach the paths of Secret Mantra.
At the moment, we have a great opportunity to practice these rare and beneficial teachings, so it is important that we develop a strong intention to practice them purely.
If the Mahayana teachings were to vanish from this world, we would have no opportunity to become a Buddha. Therefore, while we still have access to these precious teachings, we should apply ourself to them assiduously and try to gain some experience of them.
The etymology of Secret Mantra is as follows. ‘Secret’ indicates that these methods should be practiced discreetly. If we make a display of our practices, we will attract many hindrances and negative forces. This would be like someone talking openly and carelessly about a precious jewel they possessed and, as a result, attracting the attention of thieves.
‘Mantra’ means ‘protection for the mind’. The function of Secret Mantra is to enable us to progress swiftly through the stages of the spiritual path by protecting our mind against ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.