Introduction to Open Heart-method
and Introductory Practice Instructions
Open Heart is nonreligious, pragmatic and modern form of vajrayana or tantric buddhism. Open Heart teaches effortless nonmeditation, and transformation of inner obstructions, through sutra- and tantra-methods. We combine both secular and esoteric approaches, firmly based on ethics and common sense.
Our way of practice is nonreligious for we do not accept views without firsthand experience acquired through yogic practice. Our approach is pragmatic for we are (1) focused on practice, (2) prioritise what works and (3) speak openly of our experiences and insights, without mystery or taboos. Find out more about pragmatic dharma from this article. Many in our community have spent considerable time training in other methods before Open Heart. Over third of people in our sangha have practiced meditation for over 20 years. Our approach is especially suitable for laypeople, with families, work and other responsibilities.
Despite of some unique and unusual aspects of our method, Open Heart-teachings are according to the mahayana buddhist view, based on wisdom and compassion arising from the gradual insight into the doctrine of emptiness. Some bits of Open Heart-teachings are unique to our method, but we have not invented anything new. With innovative and analytical mind, we have looked into timeless principles and explored the old ways to find out if something could be dropped, fixed, bettered or updated, for more effective results. All our core practices and teachings are publicly available in the internet, at our website and YouTube-channel.
Those wishing to look into our teachings should read Awake! Handbook of Awakening and What's Next? On Post-Awakening Practice. These two books explain the Two-Part Formula, a technique that is used to generate awakening in the mind of a beginner, and Open Heart Bhumi Model (abbr. OHBM) which is our way of mapping (path map) where the practitioner is in terms of advancement in practice. To get an overview of the variety of practices within the Open Heart-method, you are invited to read Open Heart Preliminary Practices-booklet.
Sutra and Tantra
Our method includes both sutric and tantric parts. The term sutra refers to practices that can be learned without an empowerment given by a teacher. Sutric practices can be learned through verbal explanations or recordings and they do not involve mantras, that is, chanting of sacred syllables. A typical example of this is the meditation of following of the breath at the belly. This is a classic sutric meditation practice where there are no prayers of deities or gurus and no use of mantras. This is called shamatha meditation for it calms down the mind through repeated concentration.
In general, the main feature of buddhist meditation is analysis or inquiry about the phenomena that takes place in our minds. Buddhist meditators of the sutrayana or sutric path, analyze mental objects and emotional states that happen in their mind. They look into these objects and find out about the shape, feel, colour and energetic tone of these mental events. This is vipashyana meditation which has the outcome of insight. Insight into the empty nature of mind means that the sense of self or me-ness is released from mental phenomena through analytical meditation, which is effectively practiced in the calm of mind (shamatha). Common to majority of buddhist approaches is this emptiness insight, which has a liberating effect. The main intent of buddhist practice is to remove existential confusion, or suffering, by releasing the sense of self from one's mind. When insights into thr selfless nature of mind add up, the mind becomes more and more free by seeing through the self.
Shamatha and vipashyana, or calming down and analytical meditations are widely known and practiced in the world today. These same principles also exist in tantric practices and the realization of both sutra and tantra is the same: emptiness of all phenomena, internal and external. In the history of buddhism, the sutra path has been mostly taught and advocated by monastic teachers and communities. Sutric practices are as valid as tantric ones but this approach requires a lot of time spent in daily practice and retreat. As a stand-alone system, the sutra path is very slow in terms of progress because all meditative work is done by oneself, according to the scriptures and instructions received from one's teacher. Historically many tantric teachers have combined both approaches, sutric and tantric, with emphasis on tantra.
The main difference of sutric and tantric approaches is that in tantra the teacher gives empowerments. Empowerment is an event where the teacher says prayers, explains and performs the practice and shares her or his experience of it with the students. When one receives an empowerment, it means that with the help of teacher, one's own inner potential is pointed out and revealed, through the experience that the teacher shares with the student. After empowerment, the student learns practices associated with the empowerment and in her or his daily practice, keeps repeating the transmitted experience, that of enlightened mind.
Through tantric practice where practices such as visualisations, breathwork and mantras are used, the student repeats the experience of being an enlightened being, a buddha. When one cultivates one's own fully enlightened potential through tantric practice, it generates insight into the empty nature of mind and transforms all and any causes of self-delusion. Although many tantric teachers and lineages combine both sutra and tantra, in tantra, emptiness insight is achieved through intuitive and energetic means, rather than intellectually or analytically, as in sutra. In this way, confused and self-based mind is transformed back into the original liberated condition. This is how tantric vipashyana works. Tantric practices, such as Open Heart Yoga and Guru Yoga generate calmness and insight just like sutric practices do but because of the energetic involvement of the teacher and the lineage, one does not need to generate everything on one's own. For this reason, the tantric path is not as time consuming as the sutra path and therefore it is much more suitable for laypeople who are busy with work, family life and other activities.
Spiritual path is challenging because of our distorted perceptions and negative habits but with the help of master, or guru, and her or his blessings, it becomes much easier. Guru Yoga, which is the foundation of all tantric systems, means that the student establishes a living connection between her- or himself and a fully enlightened master, or mahasiddha. In Open Heart this guru is Guru Rinpoche, also known as Guru Padmasambhava.
Guru Rinpoche is widely known as the main master, originally from India, who brought tantric teachings to Tibet. He is venerated and celebrated by all schools of Tibetan buddhism. Guru Rinpoche lived many centuries ago but since by definition a fully enlightened master is someone who has transcended time and location, he can be asked for blessings and guidance by anyone at any time or place, with the outcome of the atmosphere becoming thick with blessings. Blessings can then be received through one's body, mind and heart for one's spiritual benefit. In this way tantrics make use of the help that mahasiddhas of all times and places gladly offer.
All tantric lineages are necessarily founded by fully enlightened mahasiddhas, in this case Guru Rinpoche. A normal person whose mind is more or less clouded by self-based reactions and negative thinking, cannot start a valid tantric lineage that would lead the practitioners to full liberation, or buddhahood. In the history of vajrayana buddhism, as well as in other religions, deities and nonphysical masters have given empowerments, texts, teachings and practices to carefully chosen adepts. These revealers (tib. terton) of fresh dharma-teachings then pass on these teachings to people who have fortunate life circumstances, connection to dharma and the particular teachings. History of Tibetan vajrayana buddhism has had many such tertons or dharma-treasure revealers and there are also few Western tertons within Tibetan buddhist traditions. The same phenomena has been documented in other world religions as well, where mystics and practitioners receive inspiration in nonphysical manner.
Open Heart-teachings have been received in the same way, through mystical experience in meditation by our founder and head teacher Mr. Kim Katami. Since 2008, Mr. Katami, has openly shared what he has learned as he was asked to teach by both his masters and people who knew him. Over many years this lead to what is now known as Open Heart-method and Open Heart Sangha, or community. Find Mr. Katami's interview here.
Spiritual Path Makes Life Easy But Is Difficult
Meditation and spirituality is often sold to people with labels such as ”happiness” and ”peacefulness”. While it is true that in the long run one's mind becomes clear and stable, it is misleading to say that meditation practices only makes one peaceful and happy. It would be more correct to say that while peacefulness increases over time, a meditator also goes through challenging periods during which one feels the opposite to peaceful. These rough patches are commonly discussed with a christian term ”dark night”, even among buddhist meditators.
All kinds of meditation practices, even secular mindfulness, from time to time, necessarily stir up difficult emotional states, such as anger and fear, that come to the surface from the depths of one's subconscious mind. No system can avoid this. Actually, as the purpose of the buddhist meditative path is to generate insight, it is actually desirable for these strongly self-charged thoughts and emotions to come up because then they can be brought onto the path and used for further insight.
It is necessary for a beginner of any meditative practice to know that sooner or later, one's practice will be bumpy and one's resolve will be put on test. During emotionally challenging periods, one needs to remember the advice of one's teacher, learn to self-pace and keep practicing. During dark nights, the practitioner is to take Refuge and firmly establish Bodhisattva Vows in her or his practice.
Being A Student
Teachers of all paths require sincerity and honesty from their students, and students deserve the same from their teachers. In order to learn, one needs to have an ”empty cup”, that is, the student needs to be sincere and receptive for without openness of mind, learning cannot take place. Sincerity, as well as honesty, are necessary requirements for all Open Heart-students, old and new. Actually, the same goes for both parties, teachers and students, because without mutual trust cooperation is not possible. This is even more so in tantra because tantric practice is based on empowerment given by the teacher. Because of this connection the rules and guidelines are different in tantra than they are in sutra.
Anyone who is sincere and does not have acute mental health problems can take up Open Heart practices and receive an empowerment for Open Heart Yoga. If one has (1) history of mental illness, (2) is seeing a doctor or (3) is taking medication, it is necessary to discuss one's situation with a teacher before taking up practices taught online or at events.
Students who learn Open Heart-teachings and especially Open Heart Yoga, are welcome to join our online community at Facebook and join retreats in person, as long as they feel they wish to pursue the Open Heart path. If at any point one no longer wishes to be involved, one is free to leave and not join teachings anymore. After leaving the sangha, it is logical to assume that one does not continue Open Heart-practices on one's own.
If student behaves disrespectfully or untruthfully, teacher can cut off the teacher-student relationship and tell the student to discontinue any practices learned. While on sutra path it is not a problem to continue one's practice on one's own, because of the empowerment and subtle connection created therein, tantric teacher has the right to ask this or even take back the given empowerment, if the request is not respected.
Learning a new practice, becoming a student and becoming a member of a sangha is a process that takes time. Whether the practice is a perfect fit, one can find out in couple of months. After that it takes a couple of years to get to know the teacher and other people. Open Heart Sangha-member who has found home in her or his practice and the community is required to exercise ethics, such as honesty and non-harming, and are expected to support the common mission financially and through service for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Introduction to Open Heart Yoga, Guided Practice:
Introductory Practice Instructions
The following is an introduction to few practices from Open Heart Yoga, combined with Guru Yoga. Find out more about Open Heart Yoga from here.
We invite you to try these exercises, or others such as the Two-Part Formula. It is best if you do the following introductory practice daily for 1-2 months before receiving empowerment for Open Heart Yoga.
Sitting Down, Relaxing and
Recognising Open Inner Space and Its Knowingness
Sit down in an upright yet inwardly relaxed posture. For beginners, it is recommended to keep eyes closed, without visual input. Take a few deeper breaths, if you feel like it. Then, let the breath flow on its own.
Start scanning the insides of the physical body. Be alert to notice any tensions and when you detect them, allow them to be released. When a tension releases, notice what is found in the place of the released tension. Look carefully to find that out. What you find is clear open space with nothing in it. After this observation, continue going through the rest of the body releasing tensions and recognising that small area of open space whenever tensions are released. Do this carefully, without hurrying.
At some point as you keep doing this, small areas of open space appear as a larger space which is both inside and outside the physical body, yet really is in neither. Simply notice that this space is there. Then, relax into it and marinate with your whole body. Rest in it with some vigilance of mind so that you don't become drowsy. Also, you can check if ”you”, as you commonly think or speak of yourself, exists in this space or if this space is without the notion of me-ness. This takes a couple of minutes.
Part 1, Jewel: Feel your physical body from the inside and begin to visualize or imagine that your physical body was made of pure and flawless diamond. Your body turns into a big, transparent, pure body-shaped jewel. You can find pictures of diamonds, crystals or ice sculptures to help with the image. After about 30 seconds of doing this, continue imagining that the body-diamond is extended to your energy field or aura as well. Extend the visualization of diamond about 1½ meters from the surface of the skin in all directions around the body. Continue this for another 30 seconds, then stop the visualization and feel the effect of the exercise.
Part 2, Chakra Pillars: First feel your body for a moment. Then feel the general area of the pelvic floor and from there extend your attention straight downwards into the space directly below your physical body, at least 6 meters or infinitely more, away from your body. You can also simply open up and be receptive for the centers to connect naturally. When the connection is made there will be a wonderful ascent of energy into the body, heart and mind. This happens because your innate potential of full enlightenment, or buddhahood, is switched on through connecting the common mind with the centers outside the body. Feel the effect for about 1 minute.
Then, to activate the pillar of centers above the head, extend your attention from the top of your head to the space above the crown, at least 6 meters or more. Or just be open for the energy to descend down on your body. When you feel the ”click”, as the connection switches on, feel the effect for about 1 minute.
Through connecting the confused bodymind with the body of the inner buddha, through the so called mahasiddha bhumis, one's mind becomes utterly clear, soft and uniquely energised.
Guru Yoga: Receiving Master's Blessing
After Jewel Visualization, express your practice motivation and ask a blessing from Guru Padmasambhava. You are free to use your own words, formulating your prayer in a way that best describes what you want to do and what you wish to achieve with your practice. The prayer can be as simple as,
”Dear Padmasambhava, I humbly turn to you for support and guidance. Please flood my being with your blessings, so that I may attain buddhahood as soon as possible for my own sake and for the sake of all beings. I am grateful for your support and bow before you.”
After you make the request, feel how the blessings come to you. It is necessary to learn to recognise what happens with visualizations, prayers and mantras, so from the beginning of your Open Heart-practice, learn to detect the blessing.
This short moment with Guru Rinpoche is a short and condensed form of Guru Yoga through a simple prayer. This takes about 1-2 minutes.
The next part is a continuation of Guru Yoga with Padmasambhava, with the help of mantra chanting. Guru Yoga can also be practiced through visualization and mudra or all these three elements combined. What is most important is not the superficial technique but the inner meaning of it, which is the feeling of master's presence in one's own body. This reveals ones own natural state, or oneself as a buddha. Confidence and understanding about Guru Yoga comes through repetition. Guru Rinpoche's mantra can actually be used at any time or place, and however much one wants to, there is no limit to this.
What we use here is Guru Rinpoche's simple guru mantra, which is to be repeated aloud with open mind and focus for 5-10 minutes. The mantra is: Namo Guru Rinpoche (find recordings from Open Heart-channel at YouTube). Chant the mantra with both focus and relaxation as an invitation for the master to come to you. After chanting, welcome and feel Padmasambhava's presence in your whole being; body, mind and heart. Simple feel and receive his gift in the form of a blessing. At this point, there is no need to do anything else. Taking the blessing into one's system, is like taking a warm bath or receiving a good massage.
After several minutes, guru's charge begins to fade. You feel this as calming down of energetic sensations. After Guru Yoga, the mind is calm, clear and open and it is easy to simply be, without doing or thinking anything. At this stage, one naturally shifts from Guru Yoga to Nonmeditation, also called Atiyoga.
Nonmeditation and Phet-syllable
The last part of the practice is Nonmeditation (skt. atiyoga), with Phet*-syllable. Nonmeditation means that one is not focusing on anything but not distracted either. It means to rest in the most simple of ways, not doing, thinking, planning or intending anything. One simply sits, without moving the body, like someone who is not bothered about anything, sort of like a simpleton but with very clear mind that is marked by selflessness, groundedness, self-cognizance and is imbued with life, just like a rainforest. The actual experience of buddhanature is simpler and more profound than any words can describe. During Nonmeditation, eyes can be kept closed or open.
At first you will only able to remain in the natural state not longer than a second at a time. It appears and disappears but even though the glimpse is short, it makes a big difference. It is like switching the lights on and off in a room that is usually dark. Seeing the room for a second makes a big difference. Because it goes by quickly, you simply need to keep returning to it again and again. This is what practice is.
When your mind becomes busy and you find yourself thinking or planning things, return to the undistracted state by yelling sharply the syllable ”Phet!”. In Open Heart practice, shouting or Dynamic Concentration is something that is done a lot because this is the most direct and effective way to cut through the multilayered confusions of the self-based mind. Few sharp shouts gets the job done in few seconds or few minutes that is not accomplished by common concentration (skt. shamatha) practices in full day's, week's or even month's practice. At first, shouting can feel awkward but you get used to it with practice, not to mention get great benefits from doing that.
Phet-syllable is pronounced like ”pet” as in pet dog, just add ”h”. Yell it firmly, using the muscles in your belly in producing the sound. It should be like an explosion. Shout it sharply 1-10 times so that you can notice that the conceptual mind gets shattered. Basically there is no limit if you wish to shout more repetitions. The point is to use the shout of Phet to cut through the layers of mind so that recognition of the natural state can take place. In the beginning, for a few years, it is better to do more Dynamic Concentration that less. Immediately after shouts, relax thoroughly and continue doing nothing.
Continue Nonmeditation for 5-10 minutes or more. After Nonmeditation, continue to Basic Prayers, and with each prayer feel their energetic meaning.
Basic Prayers: Five Refuges, Bodhicitta Prayer, Dedication of Merit and Bow
To finish your practice session, chant the Five Refuges (click for audio) three times in your own language.
I take refuge in the Guru
I take refuge in His Pure Land
I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha
I am the Guru
I'm in the Pure Land
I am the Buddha
I am the Dharma
I am the Sangha
Bodhicitta Prayer, Short
May all be-ings be free (x 3)
All be-ings are free (x 3)
Dedication of Merit
May all be-ings re-ceive my ac-cu-mu-la-ted me-rit.
I de-di-cate the me-rit to the Re-fuge and to all sentient be-ings.
Put your palms together and bow your head.
This practice takes about 30-40 minutes at one sitting. Do it everyday for 1-2 months before joining empowerment for Open Heart Yoga.