“Vajra-holder, originator of samsara and nirvana, primordially perfected yidam, deity of the mandala appearing before ordinary beings to be tamed: I pray to the guru—the exalted deity!”
—Rigdzin Chokyi Dragpa from ‘Five-fold Mahāmudrā Supplication’
“In one’s body, the king of deity forms, If the stable support of the unchanging base is not held, Mother dakinis, retinue and subjects will not gather. Thus, earnestly strive for the yidam deity body!”
—Jigten Sumgon, from ‘Song of Realisation of Five-fold Mahāmudrā’“
“Yeshe Tsogyel once asked Guru Rinpoche, ‘there are all these many yidam deities/wisdom beings, where do they really come from?’ Guru Rinpoche replied that ‘a wisdom deity arises out of bodhichitta’. So all these deities arise out of bodhichitta, and whoever matures their mind by cultivating bodhichitta, will mature into the deity in an uncontrived, natural way….
“As it is said in the tantras, ‘I myself am the deity, the deity itself is me’. So that is buddha nature, the primordial space-like nature of the mind, wherein the deity is naturally established. A deity is your buddha nature primordially and its nature is all-pervasive compassion.”
—8th Garchen Rinpoche (January 2022)
For the Full Moon today, I offer the second in a series of posts on 8th Garchen Rinpoche’s recent teachings on the five-fold Mahāmudrā of the Drikung Kagyu This post is on the teachings Rinpoche gave on the deity yoga, the second part of the five-fold path (part 14, 15 and 16 of the video links posted below). The 40 page transcript (based on the oral translation of Ina Bieler) can be downloaded on request here.
In these extensive, practical and profound teachings, Rinpoche taught on the second of the Five-fold Mahāmudrā practice, the yidam deity yoga practice, visualizing oneself as the deity. The contents of teaching, I have summarized under the following headings:
- Meaning and symbolism of Vajra
- The King-Like Form of the Deity
- Vajrayana generation stage and Kālacakra
- Becoming an ordinary being
- Grasping at religious and philosophical views
- The importance of understanding ‘the single basis’ of all appearances and the deity
- The three levels of Phowa (transference of consciousness)
- The Four Wheels teaching
- Old tantra and new tantra – Four classes of tantra and Four Branches of Approach and Accomplishment
- The purpose of the generation stage – training in the way of taking birth
- Kriya tantra and deity yoga cleansing the mind of karmic imprints
- The completion stage – purpose and meaning
- Three aspects of yidam deity practice and the beings to be tamed in Vajrayana
- The mistake of distinguishing between deities according to class of tantra
- The meaning of ‘exalted deity’
- Different rules for different tantras but the deity is the same
- First aspect – clear visualisation
- Second aspect – recollection of purity
- Third aspect – divine pride
- The ultimate essence, four levels of joy, four empowerments and four kayas
For those who do not even have the time to read the full transcript, or watch the teachings, I have excerpted some parts of the teachings below.
MEANING AND SYMBOLISM OF THE VAJRA
For example, to begin this section of the teachings, Rinpoche taught about the meaning and symbolism of the vajra:
There is also the deity called Vajradhara, which means the vajra-holder. This term, vajra what does that mean? Externally, we often hold a vajra in our hands as an implement and there are many ways of explaining the meaning of a vajra. In terms of its outer appearance, for example, there are the five prongs of the vajra and it has eight petals of a lotus flower. The five prongs of the vajra, from a pure perspective, represent five Dhyani buddhas and in an impure state, they are the five poisons, the afflictive emotions, and they also represent the five elements. Then, the eight lotus petals on the vajra has two parts: the upper and the lower parts of the lotus petals. The upper parts of the lotus petal represent the eight bodhisattvas and the lower parts, the eight female bodhisattvas. Also, we can say the eight kinds of consciousness. So the vajra, in brief again, is a representation of one’s own mind, it is all the nature of the mind and its qualities are complete within the representation of the vajra.
So, the ultimate vajra is the nature of mind that is unborn, deathless and is unchanging. That is called the vajra, Also what is the vajradhara, or vajra-holder> So the vajra-holder refers to the unchanging nature of the mind. Then, it says the originator (or creator) of samsara and nirvana. Samsara and nirvana are created by the mind. Buddha is created by the mind. The mind creates both buddhas and sentient beings…..There are many ways to explain the vajra but, in brief, it is an example, an illustration of the mind itself.
People like to hold the vajra as an implement in their hand because they think it is a very precious object. Of course, that is in itself also an act of devotion. However, we need to understand that what the vajra actually represents is one’s own mind, the quality of one’s own mind. There is no benefit in only holding it in one’s hands. Often when used as an implement, we hold the vajra in our right hand and the bell in our left hand, and the bell is a sign of emptiness; the vajra is a sign of the skillful means of great compassion. Holding vajra and bell in both hands, in brief, means that you should never separate from emptiness and compassion, or skillful means and wisdom. When you never separate from love and compassion, you are unifying method and wisdom. Then having unified method and wisdom, innate compassion will arise from your mind naturally. That compassion destroys self-grasping, the self-cherishing mind. That ignorance is equivalent with Self-grasping itself.
This originator that created samsara and nirvana, to put it in simple terms, is the mind. The mind creates both samsara and nirvana. So even though we have the same mind, some turn out to be dharma practitioners and some turn out to be samsaric beings. For example, there are some who in the earlier parts of their lives are ordained, or monks, and then in the later parts of their life, they become a lay person and they are holding a samsaric life. This change is also just the way the mind goes, but there is no separate kind of mind, it is still the same mind. The mind of a Buddha and the mind of a sentient being is one and the same. However, this adamantine, changeless mind as it is, the natural state of mind, is what we refer to as the vajra. So, even in a worldly sense, we can see that as a vajra holder, the originator of samsara and nirvana. We have said the vajra, is one’s own mind.”
PURPOSE OF DEITY YOGA AND CULTIVATING DIVINE PRIDE
In relation to the purpose of training in deity yoga, Rinpoche explained that:
“There are different generation stages that have spread throughout the world in the various traditions, where we visualize the deity. However, what is the actual meaning or purpose of all of these different generation stages? Of the deity practice, the visualization of the deity? The purpose of practicing, or visualizing the deity is that one trains in the way in which one takes birth, that is the purpose of all generation stages. There are four ways in which one can take birth: one can take birth through a womb, an egg, miraculously or through heat and moisture. As an antidote to those four ways of taking birth there are four kinds of generation stages.”
“What is the ultimate result of practicing the generation stage and visualizing the deity? It is to recognize that there is nothing that is not complete within the natural state of the mind. As it says here, the originator of samsara and nirvana, the primordially perfect deity. Everything arises from this one mind. “
Of the three aspects of deity yoga, Rinpoche explained that divine pride is the most important and includes the other two aspects of clarity and recollecting purity:
Also, it is said in the tantras, that ‘I myself am the deity, the deity itself is me’. So that is buddha nature, the primordial space-like nature of the mind wherein the deity is naturally established. A deity is your buddha nature primordially and its nature is all pervasive compassion.
Then you realize that all the deities are like that all the deities are this union of emptiness and compassion so how is our mind right now? What s arising in my mind right now? We are thinking me, there’s this I that arises and then when you look further where does this I, this thought of me like really come from? It comes from this original self-grasping. So ultimately this I, this ego clinging is self-grasping. That is remedied when we cultivate an altruistic wish to benefit sentient beings. So then you think, I am going to cultivate the four immeasurables, then my mind will become vast. When love arises your mind becomes vast and expansive. Then that clears away all suffering of all the beings in the universe. When your mind pervades in this way, you realize that in this moment the self is lost there is no feeling of me, a self. So when the mind becomes vast like space pervading all beings with compassion, there is no more concept of a self. This is when you realize that also the minds of all sentient beings and the buddhas are non-dual. We become a Buddha when this same mind matures. So that is the nature of the wisdom deity. Primordial wisdom (yeshe) is primordial because it has been there since beginningless time, primordial time. Wisdom because it is all-knowing. So this primordial awareness is the space-like nature of the mind that has been present since primordial time. When I do not grasp at a self and realize the nature of the mind it becomes like space and it pervades all of samsara and nirvana. This is also where the omniscience, the all-knowing wisdom of the buddha comes from. It comes from a mind that pervades all of samsara and nirvana.
Understanding that in your practice, then you reflect that ‘my mind is really that, and if I can just let go of this constant thought of me, then I am really the deity, that is my true primordial nature. It is just that I have become obscured by clinging to a self and now I just let that go and I arise as Chenrezig, I am really Chenrezig when compassion arises in me.’ In that moment, your mind is actually the deity and so that confidence of being the deity arises based on knowing that on the level of buddha nature. We are really not separate, the deity and myself are really not separate. Also the guru and yourself are not separate. So if you think of the guru, then you become the guru, or if you think of the yidam, then the mind becomes the yidam. If that happens it is a sign that you really have understood this point. You understand this point when you become free of dualistic thinking. So of these three, the clear appearance, the recollection of purity, and the stability of the divine pride, the divine pride is most important. If that is held with stability, then the clarity and recollection of purity will arise naturally.
VAJRAYANA GENERATION STAGE AND KALACAKRA
“Regarding the generation stage practice in the Vajrayana, the Vajrayana is practiced in terms of signs, symbols and their meaning. When practiced properly, then the practice results in the attainment of enlightenment. Again, it is said that the generation stage, or the form of the yidam, is primordially established within you. That is your true nature, for example, this is also explained in the Kalacakra teachings. In the Kalacakra, there is a three-fold division of the outer Kalacakra, the inner Kalacakra and the other Kalacakra. In there it also explains that the yidam is complete within your own mind and all qualities arise from realizing that.
Or to put it into very simple terms, the Drikung Vajra King, Dharmaraja , also explained that in terms of the five-fold path of Mahamudra, he said ‘when you realize that all appearance and existence are the form of the deity, then you have perfected the generation stage of the secret mantra’. This verse really illustrates it in very easy terms. So ‘everything that appears and exists’, What does that mean? Everything that appears and exists are the three planes of samsaric existence, the form, formless and desire realm. The mind of all these beings in the three realms is one and the same. Temporarily, due to various karmas and various conditions they appear as the beings of the three realms but still there’s only one mind, they don’t have a separate mind. The nature of that mind, we call that buddha nature. In the Samanthabadra prayer, it says when you recognize this, you are a Buddha, not recognizing this you are a sentient being wandering in samsara. Whoever recognizes the natural state of the mind for them, it is like you are entering a temple and the lights are on. Everything is seen, and what you recognize is that the Buddha, the so-called Buddha is actually your own mind and nothing else. However, because we have not recognized that temporarily, we wander in samsara.
Therefore. the Buddha himself had said, beings are obscured by adventitious stains. What are these adventitious stains? For example, water freezes at night when it gets very cold outside, then the water freezes and then the next morning, you can’t drink the water because it’s frozen. Then it really is useless, you can’t do anything with it. That is this adventitious, or temporary stain, and that is that stain of thinking that an ‘I’ exists, there it is this thought of me that exists. and that we hold on to. As we perceive a self there also is a perception of others. Due to this dualistic perception of self and others, this is how samsara has appeared.
So this verse, we understand that everything that appears and exists is the form of the deity. That is also related to the understanding of the Kalacakra. So in Kalacakra, for example, it says the outer Kalacakra, is the limitless universe and the inner Kalacakra is to understand that the universe is complete within a single person’s body and mind. The entire universe is all included within the the body of a single person.
Therefore, the body of a person and the outer universe are of the same substance or the same. This is actually how we can understand it in quite simple terms. That is because the outer body, one’s physical body is composed of the five elements. The earth element is the flesh and the bones and so on, and the the water element is the various liquids in them and the body, the fire element is the body heat, the wind element is the breath and then the space element is the mind. So that is what we call the aggregates. The Buddha said that the aggregates are the aggregate meaning one’s body is not one solid thing. This is how the Buddha introduced the nature of the five aggregates.”
THE COMPLETION STAGE: PURPOSE AND MEANING
In the context of the completion stage the mind has become completely pure. Ultimately, Tilopa also said, ‘without a single thought, decisively look at your ultimate nature’. That is really the meaning of the completion stage and the purpose of the completion stage is to train in the way in which we die. So this is how in brief we practice the different stages of the of the Vajrayana. We practice the generation stage, the form of the yidam deity to purify our ordinary karmic imprints. Then when they have become purified as it is said in in the Vajrakilaya practice, then you arise as the uncontrived, perfect or complete form of the deity. The deity then arises just like a rainbow. For example, when the sun is shining on a crystal, rainbow lights naturally emerge from it. These qualities arise of the deity and the appearance then arises naturally out of Buddha nature. So there is no deliberate effort that has to be made in order for the deity to arise because the qualities of the deity are already present within Buddha nature. Those qualities of omniscience, compassion and power to grant protection and so forth. When that is accomplished for your own purpose you attain the royal seed of dharmakaya, and for the purpose of others you continue to manifest and act for the benefit of others until samsara is emptied. You become just like the sun. That is the excellent path of the holy dharma that these spiritual masters have given us.”
THE ULTIMATE ESSENCE, FOUR JOYS, FOUR EMPOWERMENTS AND FOUR KAYAS
Rinpoche also explained the connections between the essence, four joys, four empowerments and four kayas, referring to a text by a Drikung Kagyu master on the four innate deities:
In difference classes of tantra of the new tantric system there are many different sadhanas and ways of practicing the deity. On the ultimate level, however, even though there are so many different practices, what is the ultimate, the essence of all this practice? It is the rising of the four levels of joy or bliss. So these are from my own personal understanding, in our tradition, there’s an empowerment text called the four innate deities, co-emergent innate deities. That is an empowerment text written by Rigdzin Chokyi Dragpa (‘bri gung rig ‘dzin chos kyi grags pa) (1595-1659) and belongs to the new tantric system. The four deities that are included within this the four innate deities, is the Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, Guhya samaja and the Hevajra. This is also an empowerment thatI often have given. Even though there are four different deities, the way in which they are practiced and their essence is the same. So that is essential, we need to know how to practice them correctly. So there is this set of four fours that are interconnected.
So on the outer level, we have four levels of attachment, on the inner level these correspond to four levels of joy. Then there is the path of the four yogas and then there is the result of the four kayas and so on. All of these actually are interconnected and have one meaning. First, when you practice a yidam deity with the different implements and the the body colour even though there are so many do not become confused by the multitude of different deities and their appearances. Just practice a single deity well and the result will be attained. The result of really accomplishing all the deities. This is also mentioned in the Gongchik (Single Intention).
Regarding the four classes of tantra in the new tantric system, there is the basis, first there is the four levels of desire and then these are overcome through the path of the four yogas. Then when one actually practices this path, then the four levels of joy or bliss arise. Regarding that there’s also a song of realization by Milarepa said that ‘when one experiences the union of bliss and and emptiness, is that not the instruction of the oral or whispering lineage?’ This instruction is an adornment of four empowerments. So what is the result of receiving the four levels of empowerments? We are introduced to the path and through the path, we experience the four levels of joy and as a result of that experience, we realize the four kayas. So that is the result that arises. Then also Milarepa said in the same song that ‘when the thinking of the mind becomes exhausted, doesn’t one then attain enlightenment in a single lifetime? The mind kind of rests in its natural state doesn’t one attain enlightenment in a single lifetime?’ This is the adornment of the four kayas, which is the result. “
Rinpoche ended the teachings on the deity yoga by explaining the four joys, four empowerments and four kayas and humbly stating that:
“I’m just sharing really my own experience, how I have learned it because when I was in prison, the only thing that I really secretly could obtain is the Hundred Thousand songs of Milarepa, and I have no other studies or learning really aside from that.”
‘All of these instructions and quotations we mentioned, are connected to the generation stage practice of the yidam deity. In brief, what again is the ultimate result? What do we really practice when we practice the yidam deity? What arises is the four levels of joy. That is also connected to the practices of the channels, winds and drops; the practice of tummo in the six yogas of Naropa.”
May this transcript be of benefit in helping all to attain and reveal the innate face of the vajra body, speech and mind of the deity! Music? Feel that heart spring wide open with old-fashioned love and devotion: She by Elvis Costello ‘She, Maybe the face I can’t forget, A trace of pleasure or regret, May be my treasure or the price I have to pay…’ Unforgettable by Nat King Cole…..’unforgettable, that’s what you are. Unforgettable, tho’ near or far.’ and Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd.
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 17th January 2022.