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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2015 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 47 and space. This means their activity is unfettered— we can connect with them if we open ourselves to them. I have been present many times when a high lama, such as the previous Kalu Rinpoche, the Sixteenth Karmapa, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Dezchung Rinpoche, were asked by students, “Do the yidams exist?” The answer was always, “They exist as much as you exist.” There is a bias in the Western psyche to take ourselves as more real than the awakened beings. This is inaccurate. Yidams are awakened beings continually manifesting the benefit of full awakening. They are awareness-emptiness, appearance-emptiness, just as we are, not more or less, except their ignorance has been liberated and their qualities actualized. They mirror back to us our own awakened nature. BuDDhADhARMA: How do you work with the different deities, or yidams, and the qualities they embody? TENzIN WANGyAL RINPOChE: Initially, the relationship with the yidam tends to be more external or hierar- chical, with the seeker trying to accumulate merit or gain help through praying to the deity. Eventually a relationship develops in which the deity becomes more like a friend. Finally, one becomes the deity. Becoming the yidam is the ultimate realization of tantra. LAMA PALDEN: The path of tantra involves many dif- ferent yidam practices, and one can develop strong relationships with the various awakened beings. In three-year retreats in our tradition, we do Tara, Chenrezig, and Mahakala practices every day, and we also have particular yidams that we work on in progression for a number of months. Each works with our mind, energy bodies, and emotions in slightly different ways. For example, opening to Tara is like opening to the divine mother or femi- nine awakened energy, which can feel very soothing and nurturing and can be psychologically healing while also helping us open to those qualities in ourselves. All of the yidams are manifestations of the union of compassion and shunyata, helping us work with our emotions and psyches in different ways. ROB PREECE: Peaceful deities such as Chenrezig, Tara, and Manjushri embody attributes of buddhanature such as love, compassion, and wisdom that we can awaken in ourselves through the practice of the deity. Another group of deities, the more wrath- ful forms such as Yamataka, Chakrasamvara, and Vajrayogini, offer us a means of transforming ener- gies like anger and passion in our mind/body. These deities activate that energy in our nervous system and then provide a vehicle or channel through which it can be brought to its awakened or wisdom nature. BuDDhADhARMA: You’ve all said that the energy body, or subtle body, has an important role in tantra. In what way is the energy body integral to awakening, and how do you work with it in terms of prana, nadi, and bindu? LAMA PALDEN: Awakening is not just a mental experi- ence; it’s also a transformation of what we call the energy body. The channels of the energy body are like pathways that when meditated upon begin to transform our experience from the inside out. Prana is what flows through these channels. Prana and mind are closely connected to each other. When our discursive mind jumps all over the place, so does our prana and vice versa. In addition, the pat- terns of unprocessed emotions and psychological issues get lodged in the subtle body, and prana gets blocked up; it flows in the wrong way, sometimes to the point that we get sick. So in tantric practice, we grab hold of the energy that’s moving through the body with our mind and bring the two together to stabilize them, which helps bring about shamatha, or calm abiding. In this way, we work toward repat- terning our energy closer to that of an awakened being. Tantric practices are powerful because they utilize all parts of our being— body, speech, and mind—in order to transform habitual patterns and clear away our fundamental ignorance. —Lama Palden Drolma (Opposite) Four-armed Chenrezig by Lama Sherab Gyatso