The article attempts to present an accurate, faithful reproduction of Deity Yoga teachings culled from precious, holy Teachers of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. It is not some shallow, wasteful attempts to prove the superiority of any one of Lord Buddha's teachings as being superior to any other. It is, as stated earlier, a simple, clumsy though scrupulous duplication of our holy Teachers' instructions, listened to at their holy feet, scribbled and recorded feverishly with hurried trembling fingers into old yellow exercise books, akin to enthusiastic ramblings of talkative, pretty parrots, only for accurate depiction of Deity Yoga as it is, as positioned in the traditional context.
Are we revealing "secrets" ??!!
His Holiness the present Dalai Lama has commented on numerous occasions that the partial lifting of secrets for purpose of clarification and understanding is of infinitely greater value and sense than wholesale ignorance due to antiquated code on seals of guarded confidentiality. Let His Holiness, then, be the article's justification and shield !!
How will the article help ??
The article attempts to reveal an accurate peek into the enchanting practice of Deity Yoga for the uninitiated lay person.
In addition, it hopes to throw greater light for and offer further guidance to those students already embarked upon this precious path.
How the article functions:
All deity yoga practices follow the basic structure or outline as given. Therefore, through understanding the skeletal framework given below for the representative deity, one will be able to gain valuable insight into the functioning and practice of Deity Yoga.
The indispensable backdrop:
According to Je Tzongkhapa [ who is the first Ganden Tripa and Root Teacher of the first Dalai Lama ], it is of paramount importance that all Deity Yoga practices be unshakably rooted in the following 3 principles:
A) Renunciation -
Enfolded within this point are the 4 Noble Truths, the 12 Links of Interdependent Origination and other tenets of fundamental Buddhist teachings which can be further detailed into simplified points as
a1) understanding of the precious human rebirth
a2) understanding of the complex workings of karma
a3) understanding of impermanence
a4) the viciousness of samsara
B) Bodhicitta -
"Thought wishing to gain Buddhahood for the good and liberation of all sentient beings"
Seeing that all beings are embroiled in endless torture in samsara, one must find a best way to liberate them all. The best way is, from the point of view of the Mahayana tradition, the attainment of Buddhahood.
Bodhicitta is itself divided into further sub-divisions of relative and ultimate bodhicittas, aspiring and application bodhicittas, common and uncommon bodhicittas amongst others.
C) At least an intellectual, proper understanding
of the concept of Emptiness:
There are 16 main methods of establishing and explaining this concept according to the traditional scholastic conventions.
The idea of Emptiness is defined by Shariputra to Assaji through inspiration of Lord Buddha in the following way: all phenomena lack inherent, independent and permanent existence because it arises and dissolves not through any intrinsic existence in itself but simply through the incredible churn and flux of causes and conditions that permeates and influences it. In other words, phenomena are merely the frivolous pageantry of causes and conditions. Phenomena do not possess any "real", inherent existence of its own.
Detailed information on these essential foundations for Deity Yoga can be accessed from the "Worth a Read" section of: http://members.tripodasia.com.sg/cas
After listening carefully to, seriously contemplating upon and then integrating practices of the above 3 principles into one's life, thereby deeply internalizing them, before one then plunges into any Deity Yoga, one should now definitely seek "Initiation" into a particular Deity whom one has strong karmic affinity from an authentic Master representing a valid, lineal tradition. For example, one may seek initiation into the Deity Yoga practices of the famous deity, Kalachakra, if one has the karmic link to it, say from the Dalai Lama, or any other great Teachers, who are legitimate representatives of a pure lineage.
After taking the initiation, one should view the Master whom one receives the initiation as a Buddha. According to the traditional teachings, there are many points as to why we should and how we can view this or these Master/s as an enlightened Buddha/s. As the topic is massive, the article will not enter into elaboration of it.
There are many traditional sources given to show that Deity Yoga is an uniquely great practice.
The article will provide only one of the main points: how Deity Yoga allows for the SIMULTANEOUS accumulation of Wisdom and Method, climaxing in the attainment of Buddhahood, in the swiftest possible time, for the good and liberation of all sentient beings.
The rigorous, common path
When absorbed in contemplation of Method, the first and second principles A and B, one generates what the third Gyalwa Karmapa terms in His Mahamudra Aspiration, an "unbearable compassion" of wanting to attain Buddhahood so that we are then able to competently liberate all father and mother sentient beings from their sufferings.
When absorbed in meditation on Emptiness, the third principle C, as given above, one gains realization and insights into how all phenomena including sentient beings are non-existent. At this moment, we will not even have a concept of sentient beings to liberate from suffering !!
At this juncture, we run into some contradiction. When we are absorbed in meditation on Emptiness, we do not perceive sentient beings for us to help and liberate. When we are meditating on the Method aspect, we perceive that there are sentient beings for us to help and liberate.
It is said that students not using Deity Yoga practices will have to continue to practise Emptiness and Method SEPARATELY, painstakingly accumulating these two aspects for an incalculably length of time, before culminating in the union of these two, that of perfect Buddhahood, or that of the Truth Body and Form Body of Buddhahood respectively.
Students at this level give rise to the common Bodhicitta: "May I, even if for an infinitely long time, practise the 6 Perfections, be it through losing my lives again and again and again, persevere hard always, until I attain Buddhahood for the good and liberation of all !!"
The uncommon Deity Yoga path
Seeing that one needs to use an infinite amount of time before one can attain Buddhahood for all, one feels very sad that one is unable to help all anytime sooner.
The student then seeks for an alternative method and gives rise to the uncommon Bodhicitta: "May I, IMMEDIATELY, through any paths whatsoever, gain Buddhahood, so that I can right away, help and liberate all beings from their suffering !!"
Students of Deity Yoga, right at the very beginning, arises in the form of a Buddha-Deity, out of the purest Bodhicitta motivation, so that he or she can immediately enact the activities of Buddhahood for the sake of all beings, while AT THE VERY SAME TIME, absorbed in the illusory, emptiness nature of beings and phenomena. In other words, the practitioner is powerfully engaged in holy activities of liberating all beings, while at the same time, abiding in the awareness that there is no being to liberate, no action of liberating and no liberator !!
In this way, Deity Yoga allows for a most rapid SIMULTANEOUS accumulation of Wisdom and Method. If practiced properly and with the sincerest wishes, one is supposed to attain Buddhahood in this very life.
Sample structure of a Deity Yoga practice text - a Sadhana
1) Accumulation of the Method Aspect
1.1 ) Refuge - the basis of all and
1.2) Generation of Bodhicitta or the wish to attain Buddhahood so that we will then have the ability to liberate all beings
In the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
I take refuge until Enlightenment is reached,
Through Deeds of Giving and other Perfections,
May I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings
The first 2 lines refer to taking of refuge in the
i) Three Jewels ( Buddha, Dharma, Sangha ) and the
ii) Three Roots: ( Guru - representing all sources of refuge, the Deity or Yidam - representing qualities of Buddhahood, Dakinis or Protectors - representing activities of Buddhahood ).
At this point, there
are 3 main ways of visualizing, in each case, the Deity representing
all the sources of Refuge:
i) one line of the same Deities, each representing a particular lineage Teacher that the particular Deity's practice has passed through, above the student's head - this gives rise to auspiciousness to the teachings staying long in the world;
ii) one Deity above the student's head [ the Deity's Body, Speech and Mind representing all the Sangha, Dharma and Buddhas respectively ] - this gives rise to auspiciousness to accessible understanding to the teachings
iii) a whole assembly of the same Deities or a whole assembly of Three Jewels and /or Three Roots surrounding the Deity above the student's head - this gives rise to auspiciousness to flourishing of all good qualities and flourishing of the teachings
The last 2 lines are for generating Bodhicitta - the wish to attain Buddhahood so that we may then have the ability to liberate all father and mother sentient beings from the turmoil and disasters of samsara
Two of the main ways to generate common
i) Think of the kindness of our mother in this present life. She has sacrificed much for us. In fact, according to the Teachings, each and every single being has also been our mothers in all past lives. They have all died and sacrificed much for us countless times throughout all past lives. Generate a sense of infinite gratitude and love towards all mother beings. I myself will take responsibility of relieving all mothers from all their sufferings. They will not be free from sufferings permanently until they are liberated from samsara. To gain liberation from samsara, they will need the dharma. Now, I have no ability to help them in a maximal capacity through teaching the dharma. I will only have the highest ability to help them if I attain Buddhahood. Therefore, to attain Buddhahood, I will now practise this Deity Yoga.
ii) Recognizing the absolute sameness of oneself and others. We all wish only to have happiness and not to have suffering. In addition, we all actually have the same right to be happy and the same right not to have suffering. In terms of number, all beings are infinite and so have infinitely more "right" to be happy whereas I am only one and so only have one "right". Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate that I give up my right to fulfill all their "rights" to be happy. I can only do that in a maximal level if I attain Buddhahood. Therefore, to attain Buddhahood, I will now practise this Deity Yoga.
To generate uncommon Bodhicitta:
i) Moreover, I can try to attain Buddhahood through accumulating the Six Perfections for infinite eons. However, while I am doing so, all beings will continue to suffer in samsara.
ii) I cannot bear the thought of them suffering in the meantime. I must practise this Deity Yoga so that, immediately or at the earliest possible time, I can attain Buddhahood for their sake.
1.3) Arising as the Deity:
Keeping in mind that one must immediately attain the state of Buddhahood for the good and liberation of all mother beings, one instantaneously visualize oneself arising in the form of a Deity.
To arise in the form of a deity, one must first be ready to give up one's own self-cherishing, self-grasping ego, to assume that of a visualized Deity, representative of Buddhahood, resplendent with all unbelievable qualities !!
At this point, one's arising as a Deity, creates cause for one to accumulate the relevant karmic propensity to truly take birth in the Form Body of a Buddha.
The Deity, whether peaceful or wrathful, is usually adorned with 6 types of ornaments, representing the complete actualization of the 6 Perfections:
1) Generosity 4) Joyful Energy
2) Morality 5) Meditation
3) Patience 6) Wisdom
The Deity is usually seated upon a sun and / or moon disc
atop a lotus. The sun and moon respectively symbolizing that the
Deity is upheld through ultimate and relative bodhicitta, or compassion
and wisdom. The lotus means that the Deity forever abides within
the turmoil of samsara for the good of all beings while being
totally undefiled by the smudges of it just as the lotus grows
out of and blossoms brilliantly from muddy water but is however
unblemished by any blotches of impurity.
Every single detail of the Deity - the number of hands, legs heads; their respective colours; their varied hand implements; their different postures - in effect, every single, specific detail will correspond significantly to precise aspects of Buddhahood.
Wrathful deities are sometimes depicted trampling upon "demons". The "demons" are representations of one's very own defilements that one should triumph over and vanquished before one can attain Buddhahood rather than any externally lurking evil spirits. These "demons" usually represent "fundamental ignorance" or mistaken grasping at true existence of phenomena from which arises all the myriad hordes of defilements on the ultimate level or the selfish, self-grasping, self-gratifying or self-grasping attitude, at the relative level.
One good example is that of the main implement, the Phurba, held by the famous deity, Vajrakilaya. The Phurba is a sharp, dagger-like object with 3 blades, each blade corresponding to destruction of our three main demonic defilements of greed, anger and ignorance. The 3 blades taper down and end in a singular point. This point corresponds, as the above example, to the destruction of "fundamental ignorance" on the ultimate level and / or the destruction of self-cherishing attitude on the relative level.
Another example will be that of say the 9 fiery heads of another popular deity symbolizing the 9 categories of the dharma, its 34 arms plus its body, speech and mind, making up 37, corresponding to the 37 facets of Enlightenment, its 16 legs representing the 16 types of Emptiness and so on and so forth, its embraced consort-partner, representing the absolute inseparability of Wisdom and Method on a general level, the dissolving of distracted, discursive "winds" or consciousness, on another level. In effect, the entire deity awesomely sublimated into Buddhahood itself.
One crucial point here is that whilst oneself appears in the form of the deity, one remains absolutely aware of its illusory-like, "empty" quality.
1.4) The 7-Limbs and / or others
At this point, one usually generates the Teacher and the
Three Jewels in the form of one's Deity in the sky above oneself.
Oneself, also, in the form of the deity, performs the 7-Limbs towards "real" Deity, in front of oneself.
The 7-Limb Prayer is extracted from Samantabhadra's Aspiration Prayers of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Practising this 7-Limb is said to be the supreme way of accumulating merit.
Prostrating, taking heart-felt Refuge in the Enlightened Beings -
The reasons for taking refuge:
i) Out of fear ( most basic level ) -
Seek protection for oneself from the treacheries of samsara
ii) Out of divinely great Compassion ( the Mahayana level ) -
Seek protection from the Three Jewels not for oneself but for others in the sense that one can then, with refuge, be of competence to help all beings
Making total and complete offerings to the Enlightened Objects -
One needs to absolutely offer everything, at least with the sincerest wishes, as it is usually not possible to offer in actual, real life, one's body, one's life, one's heart, all the gold and silver in one's banks, one's beauty, strength and all, so that we can swiftly accumulate merit for the attainment of Buddhahood for the good and liberation of all. If one holds anything back, this is a sign of not possessing total renunciation of one's self-grasping at one's samsaric objects of attachments. This will lead to further wandering in samsara. If one offers with absolute sincerity, one paves the way to letting go of self-grasping and the way to liberation so that we can be a Buddha for all.
Committing defilements cause sufferings for oneself and others while
not committing defilements and cultivation of positive activities results in happiness for oneself and others.
This is in-line with the Mind-Training teachings that cherishing others
is the door to all happiness while selfishly cherishing oneself only is the door to all sufferings.
the 4 powers of confession:
i) Regret committing defilements as it is negative and produces only suffering for oneself and others
ii) Sincere commitment never to engage in defilements again - this
is the clever way not have suffering again in the future
iii) Do the "opposite" - in place of anger, we'll have love; in place
of lies, we'll have honesty and truth; in place of killing, we'll
iv) Doing purification practices through Vajrasattva, the 35
Confession Buddhas and / or other practices.
Feel the greatest happiness in all deeds and activities done for good and liberation of all, be it from your own organization, other organizations, Buddhist or otherwise. Always pledge and dedicate all your support with the purest and best of all best wishes for the unbridled success of these activities.
Think also that rejoicing reaps great merit while feeling jealous reaps great problems !!
Stay on Forever !!
Making the sincerest wishes that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Teachers upholding the Teachings, whether you know them or not, and not just your own Teacher, to please stay on forever in this world for the good of all.
If one Buddha decides to pass away, we lost one illuminating lamp. If one Buddha decides to live on, the lamp persists in its brilliance for the joy of the world.
Teach us please !!
Making the sincerest of all wishes to the Teachers to please always "Turn the Wheel of Dharma" so that we may all learn about the teachings and so gain liberation from suffering.
If the Buddhas and Teachers don't teach, we will not be able to attain happiness. If they teach and we learn, transcendence from suffering and actualization of all happiness is at hand.
Full-hearted Dedication and Sharing
Dedicate the incredible merit you have thus far accumulated, especially merit accumulated through this 7-Limb, to all unenlightened mother beings.
Think of their respective sufferings in samsara.
Remember always and empathise deeply with their problems, difficulties and sufferings.
Generate the greatest wish of wanting to help all beings with your total love and compassion, dedicating and sharing your merits with all these beings, all of whom having been our very parents, loved ones throughout all infinite lifetimes, again and again, having died for us, wept for us and sacrificed for us.
We completely offer and share entirely our hearts and love with the world with all its creatures in it always.
Throughout the 7-Limbs, ourselves visualized already as
the deity, will emanate goddesses to perform all the works.
For example, we may visualize infinite goddesses emanated from our hearts making full-hearted prostrations to the 3 Jewels in all universes while full-heartedly taking refuge in them for the first limb. For the second limb, we may visualize unbelievably number of goddesses offering unbelievably holy and great offerings to the 3 Jewels.
Further notes on Offering
In certain texts, one offers the following to the Teacher
and 3 Jewels manifesting in the form of the deity:
i) people or things whom one feels strong attachment to - friends, parents, lovers, our new sports car,
[ this is the reflection of one of our main defilements - attachment ]
ii) people or things whom one feels indifferent towards - the starving baby dying of Aids in far-flung Africa, our neighbourhood's stray cockroaches ingesting poisoned pills planted for them
[ this is the reflection of the second of our monstrous defilements - ignorance ]
iii) people or things whom one hates and dislikes - back-stabbers at work, the malicious liar
[ this is the reflection of the third main monstrous defilement - anger ]
Offering these three gory reflections of our defilements and understanding in depth the functionings of their manifestation loosens and finally squashes them through completely offering and surrendering them to the Teacher and 3 Jewels.
On Wrathful Offerings
Sadhanas of wrathful deities sometimes mentioned of offerings
of turbulent oceans of boiling blood, stinking, putrid human flesh,
towering mountains of bones and the utter destruction of the universe
and all "enemies" in it to the Teacher and 3 Jewels
manifesting in the form of the wrathful deity.
The idea behind:
Offering of blood enacts surrendering of desires and attachments of oneself and all beings
Offering of fleshes enacts sublimation of ignorance
Offering of bones enacts renunciation of anger
With these offerings, one surrenders and conquers our 3 main most wicked defilements.
Offering of the destruction of the entire universe with all "enemies" in it symbolizes the vanquishing of samsara for all beings and the "enemies", of course, with our own miserable defilements.
1.5) Teaching and liberating all beings
At this point in the sadhana, one, as always, out of infinite love and compassion for all precious father and mother beings, prays with endless devotion to the deity, manifestation of the 3 Jewels and in essence, one's holy, precious Teacher, to integrate and merge as one so that one may then bring goodness and joy to all.
One's Teacher, in the form of the deity, then dissolves into oneself and merges inseparably, becoming one.
Sometimes, in certain sadhanas, one also visualizes all Buddhas now coming to give one initiation from holy vases and then all the Buddhas dissolving into oneself.
Next, one recites the mantra of the deity. The mantra appears in the center of one's heart and shoots off blazing lights to all beings in the world. The light touches all beings and transforms them all into the deity, bringing them joy and everything good, liberating them from samsara and transforming them all into Buddhas who in turn, blazes forth the mantras and sharing you in your holy activity of liberating all beings.
In some sadhanas, you as the deity, emanate countless Buddhas, with infinite compassion, filling up the entire universe, "just as pods are completely filled with sesame seeds", teaching tirelessly and working endlessly for all, liberating all beings.
Further notes on mantra recitation
While reciting the mantra, oneself may also visualize goddesses or different coloured lights issuing forth from one's heart to
i) enact the 7-limb as given above;
ii) perform the 4 Activities of:
- Peace [ White light - healing, blessinng ];
- Increase [ Golden-yellow light - enricching, prosperity of inner and outer wealth ];
- Attractive or Power [ Red light - channging the minds of beings to only do good deeds, attracting beings to dharma practices ] and
- Wrathful or Protective [ Blue-black liight - protecting beings and smashing, squashing obstacles ]
iii) all individual beings of the 6 realms, completely relieving them of their sufferings;
iv) One continuously remain and abide in the awareness of the ultimate nature of the absence of liberator, the act of liberating and the liberated throughout
2) Accumulation of the Wisdom Aspect
This is the most crucial part in the sadhanas as this is the actual place where death, intermediate-state or "bardo" and re-birth is purified, where one finally obtains liberation from samsara for the good of all
i) Light shines from you as the deity to all the universe
and dissolves all into light and then re-dissolving all these
masses of light back into you
ii) Oneself as the deity further dissolves into light
iii) One now "rehearses" death through visualizing the different scenarios one will experience when death comes. One gets extremely familiar with all these signs and recognizes the significance of each scenario. These detailed, specific signs must be rehearsed until one is absolutely familiar with them. They are extremely clearly elucidated in Yangchen Gayi Lodro's text.
It culminates in the manifestation of the most subtle innate
Clear Light Mind where one then either abides in deep
awareness of or then using this most subtle mind in
contemplation of Emptiness.
iv) One, in the form of absolute "Emptiness", now identifies this state as the Truth Body of Buddhahood. One now thinks: I cannot stay in this state of Dharmakaya because I cannot help sentient beings if I am here. Only other Buddhas can see me. Out of compassion, I must come out of this state.
[ this stage corresponds to purification of the actual Death State ]
v) Instantly, you are turned into a sphere of light, arm span in length. Think: I am now in Enjoyment Body or Sambogakaya of Buddhahood. Only 10-Stage Bodhisattvas can see me. All other beings cannot even see me. How can I help them ??!! I must immediately take birth so I can help all my beloved mother beings.
[ this stage corresponds to purification of Intermediate-State or Bardo ]
vi) Instantly, "like a fish leaping out of water", one transforms into one's personal deity in all its glory possessed of infinite mercy and love for the world. Think: I have now taken birth. I am now in Nirmanakaya of Buddhahood.
[ this stage corresponds to purification of Birth ]
Through knowing, familiarizing and then finally harnessing of the death, bardo and birth processes, one is able to achieve liberation from the pitiful, endless cycle of samsara.
Every sadhana goes through
i) Birth of the Buddha - this corresponds to the point in the sadhana where one arises in the form of the deity
ii) Attaining of Enlightenment of the Buddha - this corresponds to the rigorous 7-Limb practices climaxing in the Buddhas giving one initiation and dissolving into oneself
iii) Turning of the Wheel of Dharma of the Buddha - this corresponds to the part where one recites the mantras and liberates all
iv) Showing of Nirvana of the Buddha has a last lesson to the students - this refers to the part where one dissolves all phenomena into light and into oneself and oneself in turn dissolving into Emptiness
v) Oneself again arises in the form of the deity showing that Buddhas are never truly in nirvana but are forever manifesting in the world in whatever form is appropriate and helpful for all beings.
In retreats, one practices a sadhana of a deity at least 4 times a day in four separate sessions. Through utter mastery of the sadhana through the deity yoga practices, one gains Buddhahood that one may then liberate all from samsara.
Deity Yoga too includes Completion Stage practices of the Wind, Channels and Drops. The topic is gigantic and will not be covered in this article.
The sadhana has at this point concluded. We now dedicate fully all merits to all sentient beings everywhere and pray that this merit may stay on forever in this world so long as there are sentient beings whom the merit can be of help.
"Due to this Merit,
May I soon attain the Enlighten-State of Guru-Buddha,
So that I may be able to bring all beings without exception
To that very Enlighten-State"
"May the precious Bodhi mind,
not yet born arise and grow;
May that born have no decline,
but increase forever more"