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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2015 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 45 BuDDhADhARMA: When we think of tantra, we tend to think of visualization. How do visualization practices work? ROB PREECE: There is an intimate relationship between our mind’s capacity for imagination and our energetic nature. They affect each other in a very direct way. With visualization practice, we cre- ate images within our awareness to have a specific positive effect. In tantra, we use the power of imagination in two ways: one is to visualize the deity in the space before us, known often as front-generation; the other is to visualize ourselves as the deity, known as self-generation. The first helps us develop a devotional opening to the presence of the deity as a source of inspiration. The second attunes us to par- ticular qualities within our nature. From a Western psychological viewpoint, we might see these quali- ties, such as universal compassion and wisdom, as archetypes embodied and expressed through the symbolic form of the deity. It is within the practice of self-generation that we develop the nature of the energy-body. For those who find visualization dif- ficult, opening to the felt presence of the deity can still be an important means to making that inner connection. TENzIN WANGyAL RINPOChE: What we visualize includes the channels and chakras in the body as well as different forms of winds, or pranas, and spheres of light called tigles. We also visualize seed syllables, which are like a password or code to access the higher deities. These are supports to experience wisdom energies not accessible through our ordinary senses and conceptual mind. We don’t need our imagination to see a mountain or lake; however, in order to connect to something that exists beyond our senses, we have to use our imagination to create a path or channel. It’s not that we visualize or imagine it into existence, but if our imagination is close enough, it connects us to what is already there but not recognized. That’s the main purpose of visualization: to help us access some- thing that our ordinary senses and conceptual mind are not able to access. LAMA PALDEN: The Tibetan texts use the word “visu- alize,” but the instructions really have more to do with imagination, because it doesn’t just involve visualizing but rather involves all of the senses and consciousness itself. The purpose, as Rinpoche was saying, is to be able to open to what we are unable to open to with our ordinary, obscured mind. We may hear that we are already enlightened, but gen- erally we don’t experience ourselves or the world that way. So we need to come to the realization that we are actually awake beings; we are primordially pure. That’s the purpose of visualizing the nadi, prana, and bindu, or tigle—the channels, winds, and energy essences—as well as ourselves as awak- ened beings. In yidam practice, we’re calling upon awakened beings to be present with us. I prefer to use the term “awakened being,” or yidam in Tibetan, rather than “deity,” because that term has theistic connota- tions in the West that cause confusion. We can call upon yidams such as Tara or the Medicine Buddha or Chenrezig and join our mind with theirs—with their body, speech, and whole presence. We make offerings and do purification practices to prepare ourselves to experience and eventually actualize full awakening. BuDDhADhARMA: So what exactly is a deity, or yidam? ROB PREECE: In Buddhism, a deity is not an exter- nal god that has a self-existence separate from our innate nature, nor is it merely our own fantasy or imaging. It’s a powerful presence that is a reflection or emanation of our own dharmakaya nature—the mind’s pure wisdom of clarity and emptiness. The deity comes through the pure, radiant energy of sambhogakaya in subtle, archetypal forms that bring vitality and inspiration. We might say it is an intermediary form or appearance that we enter into relationship with, and it opens us to the ultimate nature of reality. I have often likened it to a stained- glass window radiant with the sunlight shining through it. It is the radiance of our ultimate nature that shines through the aspect of the deity. Yidam literally means “heart bound,” which is to say it is the deity at the heart of our life. So when people say His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of Chenrezig, it doesn’t mean he is a god incarnated; it means he has fully awakened the nature of Chen- rezig within his continuum. LAMA PALDEN: It is important to understand that when beings fully awaken, whether we are talking about Shakyamuni Buddha or Tara or whomever, they don’t awaken and then cease to exist. They don’t awaken and then die. In all of the Mahayana, which tantra is a part of, beings who fully awaken effortlessly manifest wisdom and compassion for all beings without any limiting factors such as time (lEFT—RIgHT):stephaniemohan/creativeportraiture,janinegulDenergolD,maitreaprague