Twin Cities KTC AND Hay river KTC Buddhist Meditation Centers

A teaching by Lama Tsultrim Yeshe on July 17, 2022.

The transcription below contains additional information

The reason we visualize and supplicate deities is to transform our experience from impure and deluded to a pure experience. An impure experience or impure comprehension is to see phenomena as singular, real, solid, permanent, and independent. The same is true for yourself—you are not singular or independent. 

The method of deity practice is to transform our deluded experiences into a continuous essence that is dreamlike, fluid, impermanent, and interdependent. Needless to say, this is difficult to bring into our experience in daily life. The experiences we have in deity practice are not confusion but seeing things as they actually are. Confusion adds things through clinging, projecting, interpretations, and ego e.g., what does this mean (good or bad) to me? 

Three Qualities for Success

  1. Devotion to the guru—having respect and confidence so you follow their instructions.
  2. Trust that is free of doubt in the outer guru—practice trust and confidence in the inner guru (your own Buddha nature or the nature of the deity being practiced.)
  3. Faith, which is close to trusting, is seen in five ways:
    • a) longing faith in which you are interested in the deity and guru, and want to be more like the guru
    • b) trusting faith in which you really begin to open to the teaching through study and practice
    • c) lucid faith in which you have a direct experience without adding or subtracting anything and your experience itself becomes the guru (teacher)
    • d) one-pointed faith in which you place your mind on an action and it remains focused in mindfulness (what you are doing) and awareness (what other things are going on in your environment)
    • e) secret faith in which your practice is kept to yourself and not discussed with others; questions are asked of the lama and not others because this sharing, even with sangha members, can lead to the arising of kleshas such as arrogance and its opposite— poverty mentality

With an understanding of the true essence of all things, we experience their purity. Despite what we see, feel and hear around us and think of existing as solid and independent—having inherent existence—the world around us is actually interdependent and continuous. On an absolute level, it is not singular and does not have inherent existence. Think of it like a dream which is not real, is fluid and not solid, impermanent and not permanent, interdependent and not independent. 

Appearances don’t present themselves to us as confusion. We create confusion through our ego by clinging to experience and projecting ideas, concepts, and interpretations. On a relative level, we understand (the teachings), contemplate them, and then realize interdependence. On the absolute level (of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Deities) we learn to recognize that phenomena, what we are seeing—including ourselves—is not real, and is not truly existing by itself.

Relative and absolute are not separate

It is a misconception to think that if nothing truly exists then what we see is not real. It means that although appearances are all around us nothing exists in and of itself. For example, if we thought everything was not real then we could walk out onto I-94 with our nonexistent bodies, not be hit by an illusory car, and have a nonexistent death.

Vajrayana practices, such as visualizing deities we chant during pujas, remove the seeming contradiction between the relative and the absolute. We understand, and ultimately see, things both as they appear (relative) and things as they are (absolute).

Yidams arise from the Dharmakaya as an expression of inherent clarity and compassion. One way of thinking of the Dharmakaya is as the guru’s mind. (Our guru is the 17th Karmapa.) There are a wide variety of yidams because of the many different ways confused sentient beings cling to impure appearances. It is skillful means (upaya in Sanskrit) on the part of the guru.

Two Phases of Deity Meditation

In every puja, we work with two phases of deity meditation—generation and completion. This is also known as creation and completion, and development and completion. Whatever words the translator uses, the two words symbolize arising and disappearing done on a pure level.

The generation stage, in most pujas, is everything in the liturgy up to the end of the mantra repetition. Arising of the deity, as described in the sadhana, symbolizes the purification of clinging to the world and to the self. In the generation stage, we visualize ourselves as the deity with the outer world being the palace in which that particular yidam resides. This weakens clinging to a self as permanent, independent, and singular–therefore, inherently existing. It also turns our impure perception into a pure perception.

You Absolutely Don’t Exist

It is difficult to understand and accept that you don’t exist on an absolute level. This problem is avoided by visualizing yourself as a deity. You don’t question whether or not you exist. You just do it. The yidam is the expression of complete purity. By repeating the deity visualization time and time again, clinging to ‘I’ subsides and gradually disappears naturally.

In many sadhanas,  we begin the practice by setting up the visualization. The deity is described as it appears and is facing you at a level that is above your head. This front visualization purifies the outer environment. Visualizations can also be over your head or of you as a particular deity.

Following the mantra recitation, we request purification and finish with the deity and yourself being undifferentiated. The puja ends by dissolving the visualization into emptiness which counteracts the belief that things are self-existent. We simply rest in formless meditation, in the experience of non-conceptual shamatha and open awareness. (This is a glimpse of Mahamudra.) 

As we continue our daily practice, the time we can maintain formless meditation becomes longer and longer. However, don’t attempt to draw out the experience beyond the time when a thought arises. Simply rest without becoming oriented in the future or holding onto thoughts that occur. We rest in Dharmadhatu as we dissolve the completion stage.

Deities Also Do Not Exist

After completing the puja, we re-arise as the deity in post-meditation. This action also prepares us for the experiences of death. It is important to remember that deities are symbolic and not inherently existent. To do otherwise confuses the meditation, solidifies our perception, and increases our delusion. Seeing ourselves as the deity lessens clinging to the idea we are inherently existent, we imagine that “I am this deity” an enlightened Bodhisattva. 

The yidam is the method of purifying our delusions and misconceptions about the nature of reality, as well as clinging to our experience. Without understanding this, you end up with a meditation that is full of misunderstanding, either one of two extremes:

  1. Permanence, meaning you see things as truly existing by themselves
  2. Nihilism, meaning you see things as not really existing at all.

Since the yidam is an expression of complete purity, clinging to a self disappears over time. The wrong view of yidams is to believe they are truly existent, rather than symbols of purifying our conceptions or delusions about worldly phenomena. This delusion increases thoughts and their strength. The result is the experience of fear in meditation. You may also have thoughts you don’t know how to deal with. 

The view we should hold is that the relative appearance of things and ultimate reality are unity. They are not separate and don’t contradict each other. The generation stage is relative truth. The completion stage is the ultimate truth.

The completion stage counters the extreme belief that things are truly existent, while the generation stage counters the extreme view that things don’t exist at all. Understanding that both are really one is called the union of bliss and emptiness. 

The yidam is called the root of accomplishment because yidam practice leads to relative and ultimate accomplishments. The body of the yidam is the unity of form and emptiness. The speech of the yidam is the unity of sound and emptiness. The mind of the yidam is the unity of awareness and emptiness.

Abide like this and practice the pride of the deity. This kind of pride is not the klesha of arrogance. It is the dignity of the deity. You are the deity in your mind’s eye, so you have the dignity of the deity, being one of a noble family whose ultimate essence is the deity.

Problems With Visualization

There are two problems and solutions with visualization. First, not everyone can visualize the deity as described in the liturgy. It is sometimes described as being in a closet in the dark and opening your eyes. Nothing is there to see. However, you can have a sense of the deity’s presence even if you can’t visualize at all. Avoid a poverty mentality because you can’t visualize. 

If you have a clear visualization, it is wrong view to see the deity as solid and real as it is portrayed in a thangka or a statue. This leads to the fault of arrogance. Include these characteristics while performing a puja:

  1. Stability and clarity of the visualization
  2. Having a sense of the deity being alive and present
  3. Seeing yourself as pure

Develop confidence in the practice of generation and completion. The correct view is the unity of the two truths. The path is method and wisdom which are a unity. Generation and completion are a unity. Fruition is the Dharmakaya.