Nectar and the Skull

In the Heart Sutra Lord Buddha spoke to us about the emptiness of the parts of a person. He said that “form is empty… the same is true of your feelings, and your ability to discriminate between things, and the other factors that make you up, and all the different kinds of awareness that you possess: all of them are empty”

In the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra we attempt to replace these five suffering parts of a person with a non-suffering, divine version of each. In the beginning we do so only in our imagination and then later, if we were to be successful, then the actual transformation would take place, perfectly and permanently.

Whether it is by imagination (the path to the goal) or actually (the result), it is the very same emptiness that Lord Buddha teaches in the Heart Sutra that makes this possible.

Here in this picture we see the syllable Hung, surrounded by four skull cups, all supported by a lotus and sun cushion. The Hung syllable and skull cups represent each of the five parts to a person that Lord Buddha mentioned in the Heart Sutra. The lotus represents the heart/mind state of the meditator.

The main story of this picture is represented by the skull cups, each contains the ambrosia of deathlessness. The metaphor of the skull cup and nectar is very complex and difficult to understand, but if it intrigues you please read on…

The outer appearance of the skull cup is of something revolting, of blood and brain and gore. It is hard to imagine how this could be something divine.

It is very common in Australia to find dead kangaroos on the road, I see this every time I travel from my retreat centre to town. The carcass rots in the hot Australian sun and I wind up the window as I drive carefully past to avoid the stench. Sometimes there are a whole host of birds feeding on the carcass, and maggots everywhere. I wonder how the birds and maggots could be enjoying something so disgusting to me.

I think of emptiness. The very same emptiness that Lord Buddha taught in the Heart Sutra. It doesn’t help, I still find it disgusting and feel that the birds and maggots must suffer horrible being forced to eat this putrid fare. But then I think in a different way… I accept that I find this disgusting but try a different approach… I accept that it isn’t pleasant, let alone divine, but I try to find this ‘lack of divinity’ within the rotting corps, as something inherent, or attached to it by its very nature. When I look this way I come up empty handed. I don’t see the corps as divine but I can’t say that it is disgusting by its nature… so where is the disgusting, where is the lack of divinity?

So the skull cups are like this, the only difference is that in this instance they represent the ‘skandas’, ‘heaps’ or ‘parts to a person’.

The rotting carcass is no different to the pain in my body, or the pain in my mind. It is amazing and beyond words!skandas