The difference between the view and practice of Secret Mantra and that of the other paths is often illustrated by the image of a field in which a poisonous plant has sprouted. People of little courage, narrow minds and limited resourcefulness think that if they eat the poisonous plant, that will certainly die. So they cut down the plant and throw it far away. And fearing that new shoots might grow from the plants root, they dig it up. This is what people without much courage do.
The poison in this image represents ignorance. And since even the tiniest fragment of the poisonous root must be removed from the soil and thrown away, it is evident that such people must go to a lot of trouble to extract it. This is comparable to the way in which the fruit of liberation is attained by practicing according to the view of the shravakas and the pratyekabuddhas.
Now suppose an ingenious, stout-hearted person comes along and asks the people what they are up to. They will say that if the poisonous plant is allowed to grow, it will be very dangerous. Not only must they cut it down, they must uproot it so that no trace of it is left in the soil. Now, what will be the approach of the clever person? He will agree that the plant must be properly disposed of, but he will know that it is not necessary to go to such lengths to make sure that the plant stop growing. He will point out that the plant can be killed easily by pouring boiling water over the roots. His approach is similar to the way defilements are dealt with according to the Bodhisattvayana. To remove defilements, it is not necessary to go through the same difficulties as the shravakas at the level of adoption and abandonment of actions. Nevertheless, in the Bodhisattvayana, it is still necessary to use antidotes. Meditating on love, for example, is a remedy for anger. Antidotes are certainly adopted with the understanding that they are different and separate from the defilements they are intended to cure.
What if a doctor were to come along and ask the people what they were doing? On being told that they were getting rid of the dangerous plant, he would say,”Ah, but I’m a doctor. I know how to make medicine from this plant. I can use this plant to make an excellent remedy to the very poison that it contains. Indeed, I have been looking it for a long time. Give it to me. I’ll take care of it.” This doctor is like a practitioner of Secret Mantra. He can concoct powerful medicines from the poison. Such a practitioner does not need to go through the trouble of avoiding defilement, considering them distinct from the remedy. Defilements themselves can be transformed into wisdom. This is the path of Secret Mantra.
Finally, imagine that a peacock comes upon the poisonous plant. Without a moment’s hesitation, it will eat it with great relish and its plumage will become even more ravishing. For the peacock, which represents the practitioners of the Great Perfection of the Secret Mantra, poisonous plants are not something to be shunned at all. Practitioners of the Great Perfection are aware that there is no such thing as real, solid defilement to be abandoned. Just as the peacock consumes the poison, with the result that its feathers become more and more beautiful, the practitioner of Secret Mantra does not reject defilements but bring to perfection the enlightened qualities of the kayas and wisdoms. This gives us an idea of the differences between the greater and lesser paths.
Only a peacock is able to nourish itself on poison. In the same way, the teachings of the Great Perfection of the Secret Mantra are found in no other spiritual tradition. On the other hand, different people belong by their character to different paths, and these may be greater or lesser. It is essential for them to train according to their capacity, otherwise they will be in great danger. ~ Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche
A repost by Tulku Jigme
Nyingmapa Wishfulfilling Center for Study and Practice
in the Himalyays