Wealth Deities: Generating Karma for Prosperity by Practicing Generosity
Purifying Negative Karma Advice Video: How to Purify Obstructions and Defilements with Vajrasattva Practice and Other Buddhist Meditations, Answered by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
How a Home Retreat Helps Busy People Manage Time and Save Money; How to Do It, and Why it is Necessary
Buddhist Teacher Advice Video 7: Keeping Motivated in Your Daily Practice, Answered by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
8 Rights: The Noble Eightfold Path — the Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
BW Interview: Theodore Tsaousidis, a Teacher Who Focuses on Healing Practices in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Meditation and Shamanism
EVENT: Lamrim The Stages on the Path to Enlightenment Lecture Series on Thursdays at Gaden Choling Toronto
Scientific Buddhist: Why Incense is More Than Just a Pleasant Backdrop to Meditation; Research Reveal Brain Health Benefits
Teacher Advice Video 6: What Advice Would You Give to a Student New to Buddhism as Starting Practices? — — Answered by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Female Enlightened Manifestations and Female Teachers and Lamas — Wisdom in Action; Reader Poll and Interview with Lama Shannon Young
EVENT: Geshe Thubten Sherab Weekend Teachings March 24-28, 2017 in Greater Toronto Area: Lama Tsongkhapa Meditation Practice and Lamrim
The Science of Mantras: Mantras Work With or Without Faith; Research Supports the Effectiveness of Sanskrit Mantra for Healing — and Even Environmental Transformation
Mama Buddha Tara: Compassionate Action; Stories of Tara the Rescuer
Happy Losar: How to Bring in the Auspiciousness of the Fire Bird and Celebrate the Traditions and Fun of Tibetan New Year of the Rooster. Tashi Delek!
BW Interview: Emma Slade Gave Up a Career in Finance to Become A Buddhist Nun After a Traumatic Incident; She Went On to Author Set Free and to Spearhead Fundraising for Special Needs Children in Bhutan
Happy Dakini Day! An Introduction to the Wisdom of the Female Enlightened Dakinis in Buddhism.
Illness and Cancer Advice: Video, Buddhist Teachers Answer  — — Advice for students with aggressive illnesses such as cancer, supportive practices Medicine Buddha and Black Manjushri (with full Medicine Buddha Sutra)
A Great Teacher Has Passed: The Learned and Inspiring Gelek Rimpoche of Jewel Heart International Passed Away
Karma is Not Fate: Why Karma is Empowering
Scientific Buddhist: Peer Reviewed Studies Demonstrate Buddhist Metta Loving Kindness Meditation Can Slow Aging, Increase Brain Matter, and Decrease PTSD and Schizophrenia —Ten Benefits of Compassion
Video: Students Ask the Buddhist Teacher: What advice would you give for a student who is dealing with the loss of a pet? Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
“Get Away From Her!”: Like Ripley in the movie Aliens, Palden Lhamo, the Terrifying Enlightened Emanation of Tara, Drives Off Your Inner and Outer Demons and Obstacles
Using Mindfulness to Combat Memory Loss, Early Alzheimers or Dementia: Helpful Video Advice from Buddhist Teacher Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, with the full Satipatthana Sutra
Video: Celebrating 40 Years of Dharma Practice in Remote Tasmania! One of the oldest Dharma centers in the West Commemorates with Retreat, and a Party
Vajrayana Visualization can Generate Body Heat, Heal, and Manifest Deity Qualities Helping Overcome Ego
Tantric Wrathful Deities: The Psychology and Extraordinary Power of Enlightened Beings in Their Fearsome Form
Buddha Weekly Celebrates 10 Years of Publishing Buddhist Feature Stories, Teacher Interviews, and News: We Look Back at Our Successes and Failures
Happy Chinese New Year — Year of the Fire Rooster 2017
BW Interview: Bön Teacher Chaphur Rinpoche Explains How Bön is Different, and Similar, to the Five Buddhist Schools in Tibet
Can Buddhism Continue to Flourish as the World’s Second Largest Spiritual Path as the Current Lineage Teachers Begin to Slow Down and Retire?
Video Advice from the Buddhist Teachers on Bereavement: Advice for Someone Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One.
Meditation Techniques for People With Unsettled Monkey Minds
The Emptiness of Prayer—Who Do We Pray To? “You and the Buddha are not separate realities.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Part 2 Interview: Alejandro Anastasio, Martial Arts and Dharma Teacher, Sees a Special Relationship Between Martial Arts and Buddhism: Dharma in Action
Heart Sutra: Why it’s My Favorite Sutra
Advice from the Teachers: How do we purify negative karma? Do you have advice for people confused by karma?
Vajrayana Visualization can Generate Body Heat, Heal, and Manifest Deity Qualities Helping Overcome Ego

Vajrayana Visualization can Generate Body Heat, Heal, and Manifest Deity Qualities Helping Overcome Ego

One of the most intriguing demonstrations of the power of Vajrayana visualization is Tummo. By visualizing heat in the tummo centre, an expert practitioner can actually meditate for hours on an icy winter day — without clothing or discomfort. In a different demonstration of the transformative power of Vajrayana meditation, various peer-reviewed clinical trials have shown that meditation practices, such as visualization, have specific healing properties. (Full story here>> ) In particular, Vajrayana deity visualizations have been shown to improve cognitive abilities and help with treatment in Alzheimers. (Full story here>>)

Aside from healing, or generating body heat, what is the real purpose of visualizing deities in advanced Vajrayana practice? Why does Vajrayana visualization almost always imagine deity images? And, why are there so many deities in Vajrayana Buddhism — some of whom are so ferocious they would send demons running for cover? Are these real beings or symbolic? If the ultimate realization of “reality” is Emptiness, why visualize forms at all? What makes Vajrayana so effective in transforming the mind?

 

Avalokiteshvara the great Buddha of compassion is visualized with a thousand caring arms.

 

Deities in Many Forms — More Than Just Symbols

A thousand arms of caring — instantly a Mahayana Buddhist thinks of Avalokiteshvara. A loving mother, who would sacrifice all for the safety of her children — brings to mind Tara, with her one leg poised to spring into action.  The pure white light of purity and cleansing — immediately invokes images of Vajrasattva. Then, there are the ferocious faces of Enlightenment, most recognizable in the terrifying fanged-face of Mahakala — who is none other than Avalokiteshvara in his wrathful form.

 

Why does visualization of Tara, or the self as Tara, bring comfort and a feeling of safety?

 

Those who only see the outer form, might jump to the conclusion that Vajrayana Buddhists are superstitious. In fact, Vajrayana practices are powerful for helping us overcome “our self centered thoughts and habitual storylines.” [3] In other words, potentially, visualization engages the mind fully in change. Either change in the form of healing, or change in the form of perception — which is a key purpose of deity practice.

The Power of Visualization to Heal

Care Givers for many chronic illnesses know the power of visualization meditation.  A patient with cancer might be provided with guided visualization meditations — visualizing the cells of their own body attacking and destroying the cancerous cells.

 

Visualizing healing light can actually be transformative. Clinical studies have shown 10 key benefits to meditation. Vajrayana meditation in particular is associated with help with Cognitive issues.

 

Famously, David Seidler, who won an oscar in 2011 for his screenplay “The King’s Speech”, a play about King George VI who had cancer, recovered from his own cancer through the power of “imagination.” As reported in CNN Health: “Seidler, 73, suffered from cancer, just like the king did. But unlike his majesty, Seidler survived the cancer, and he says he did so because he used the same vivid imagination he employed to write his award-winning script. Seidler says he visualized his cancer away.” [4]

“The mind has the power to heal,” explains Christiane Northrup, a best selling author.  The mind also has the power to overcome pain and create the conditions for success. Explains Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of Love, Medicine and Mircles: “When an athlete visualizes success, their body really is experiencing success. When you imagine something, your body really feels like it’s happening.”

Likewise, Vajrayana practitioners, who practice Tummo, can be seen comfortably meditating outdoors without clothes in the winter — using the power of mind to control body heat. For centuries, Vajrayana practitioners have understood the power of visualization, not just to heal, but to transform our own minds.

A modern-day demonstration of Tummo. In real-time, this practitioner seems comfortable with no clothes in winter for the 20 minute video:

Symbols — the Language of the Mind

Teacher Stephen Batchelor explains: “In contrast to the approaches of conventional religion, Tantra does not attempt to soothe the turmoil of existence with consoling promises of heaven or salvation. The Trantric practitioner chooses to confront the bewildering and chaotic forces of fear, aggression, desire and pride, and to work with them in such a way that they are channeled into creative expression, loving relationships, and wisely engaged forms of life.” [1]

Rob Preece, author of The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra lecture:

 

 

By definition, “when we enter the world of Tantra, we may need to loosen some of our preconceptions about the nature of reality,” wrote Rob Preece, in The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra.   “We begin to inhabit a twilight world where the distinctions between the material and symbolic are less defined…” [2]

Stephen Batchelor puts it this way: “Tantra evokes a sense of the dark, esoteric underbelly of Eastern religion … mysterious rituals undertaken at night by initiates, terrifying gods and goddesses, as well as breathtakingly beautiful mandalas and deeply moving chants intoned by brocade-draped Tibetan monks to the syncopated rhythms of bells and drums.” [1]

 

Stephen Batchelor

 

Esoteric or Clearly Articulated Practice?

Often we see Vajrayana characterized as esoteric and mysterious. Or superstition — among those who don’t follow the profound logic of visualized meditation. On one hand, there is nothing hidden or mysterious about a meditation method that clearly articulates its methods in precise and detailed sadhanas. The mystery is not as much in the method, as in the ultimate goal of that method. On the other, most of the instructions for practice are passed on from teacher to student through initiation and teaching — making it less accessible, and therefore esoteric, from that point of view. This isn’t designed to keep it mysterious, but to protect the student from jumping to wrong views.

Profound Goal of Vajrayana: Eliminate the Grasping of “Self”

One of the profound goals of Vajrayana visualization is to break down our mind’s stubborn clinging to the notion of “self and other.” By visualizing mind-realms as Pure Lands, apparently as real as our own “perceived” world, we gradually let go the grasping at our incorrect notions of reality. From the point of view of “I” and “other” even a visualized deity has reality. In fact, during “generation stage” visualization practices, the Vajrayana student repeatedly transforms him/herself into the deity, complete with “divine pride.” Then, we demolish that notion, by dissolving our new deity-body to Emptiness. Then, we rebuild the visualization of self as Deity once more. Over and over again.

Then, are we saying the deities are not real, but a skillful method designed to overcome the mind’s stubborn habits of incorrect perception? That they are no more than imagination? The answer is emphatically no.

Deity as “Real”?

“When we refer to the wisdom deities as symbolic, we don’t mean they are mere symbols,” explained Eric Holm in his article, “You are Avalokiteshvara.” [3] So, does that mean the Deity is real, or not real? Depending on your stage of practice, we might realize that the deity we are visualizing is just as real as we are — which is to say we are both ultimately Empty. Empty does not equate to nothingness, and is a profound concept that takes lifetimes to really comprehend (beyond simple intellectual understanding).

So, on one hand Tara is just as real as we are, ready to jump to our aid, an emanation of our mind ready to help us. On the other, at the ultimate level She is no more real than we are. She manifests an image and ego to relate to us. Once we develop realizations of Emptiness, we no longer need Her protection — we understand there can be no fear when we are empty of the clinging to Ego.

BuddhaNature: Deities Help Us See Ourselves

Vajrasattva’s purifying light.

Another way in which we can understand the deity is as a way of expressing our own innate Buddha Nature. Shakyamuni Buddha taught that we all have Buddha Nature, every being without exception. We see it expressed in acts of compassion, and we recognize it in our meditations with glimpses of deeper wisdom. If we can remove the obstacles to practice, such as clinging to ego, anger, impatience, then we can glimpse our Buddha Nature.

The deities help us remove those obstacles. Vajrasattva helps us to visualize ourselves as pure. Tara helps us remove fear, which results from ego-clinging. Avalokiteshvara teaches us compassion. In these ways, they are very real manifestations of our mind, and very potent aid in our practice. Why, then, do these deities manifest in many forms? Because, the language of the mind is image. A thousand arms reaching out to comfort us connotes compassion.

In what ways can deities help us realize our true Buddha Nature? Eric Holm, in a feature in Lion’s Roar, put it this way: “Increased openness to ourselves and to the world comes from letting go again and again of self-centered thoughts and habitual storylines.” [3]

Even Mindfulness Meditation Works with Images

 

Even with “mindfulness” practices (common to all forms of Buddhism) we are taught to be the “observer” (not the “listener” or the “reader.”) One reason Vajrayana Buddhism is considered an advanced practice requiring teacher guidance, is — that, besides its level of difficulty — it emphasizes powerful visualization practices of deities and their mandalas. Such intense visualization fully engages all three of body, speech and mind in a process of transformation. Prayer or sutra recitation works primarily with speech. Mudras work mostly with body. Vajrayana practices work with all three.

It may seem contradictory, that in pursuit of Emptiness, we create (visualize) fully populated pure lands. In fact, these visualized mandalas and deities, like mindfulness, help us, at least in part, to overcome the habituation of the mind.

 

NOTES

[1] Stephen Batchelor, in forward to The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, Rob Preece, Snow Lion Publications

[2] The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, Rob Preece, Snow Lion Publications

[3] You Are Avalokiteshvara, Eric Holm, Jan 1, 2002, Lion’s Roar

[4] “Can you imagine cancer away?” Elizabeth Cohen, CNN

Leave a reply

Are you a Sentient Being? *

Copyright Buddha Weekly 2007-2017. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to excerpt stories with full credit and a link to Budddha Weekly. Please do not use more than an excerpt. Subject to terms of use and privacy statement. All information on this site, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote  understanding and knowledge. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, including medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Buddha Weekly does not recommend or endorse any information that may be mentioned on this website. Reliance on any information appearing on this website is solely at your own risk.