Deity Meditation for Westerners
Lama Tharchin Rinpoche On Deity Practice
Translated by Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo
I’ve noticed people practicing deity yoga with the idea that the meditation deity is something separate from them. This is wrong. Meditating in this manner does not lead to wisdom. It reinforces fundamental ignorance and the wisdom deity becomes rudra, a force that reinforces egohood.
Lord Buddha taught 84,000 paths to enlightenment. He didn’t do this because there are 84,000 forms of enlightenment. There’s only one but many paths. And he did not present such a wide range of methods to confuse people or play games. He did it because people have varying capacities and one size never fits all. Deity yoga could be the right practice for you.
Nowadays, I'm noticing that people are getting increasingly frustrated and confused even though they're intelligent, educated and apply themselves. They complain of feeling tired, exhausted, and discouraged. And rightly so. They’ve tried just about everything, but still have not found what they're looking for. On positive side of this state of affairs is the possibility that maybe now they will be ready for deity yoga!
Deity Yoga is simple.
Contrary to popular opinion, deity yoga is simple. There’s just one point — identify your natural state. If you understand and practice, it will lead you straight to your core nature — the original ground before delusion arose.
To my knowledge, not many Westerners have applied themselves to deity yoga. Most people put all their energy into becoming better performing radar systems — sensitive to the outside but insensitive to their own nature. Paying attention outwardly, they don't see the inner nature of everything — the most important subject of Buddhist thought. What they're doing is like looking for butter, but churning water — seeking enlightenment but developing consciousness. Since enlightenment is not intellectual or scientific, they can never succeed. A sad state of affairs.
My position is that right now you can change this. When you recognize the nature of your mind just as it is — pure and stainless — you are deity and you radiate inconceivable beneficial activities without creating karma. But when you are under the sway of duality — the untrue separation of subject and object — you are not deity. Your experiences are heavy and materialistic and you create lots of karma which is the source of endless suffering for lots of beings, not just yourself.
In deity practice, the natural state of your core being is introduced through identifying in body, speech and mind with an imagined wisdom deity or divine being. All the meditation deities are expressions of skillful means that you can relate to from wherever you are now on your path.
You absolutely need deity yoga, now!
Deities are symbolic of the undeluded state that transcends duality and is not constricted by clinging and grasping. All beings are divine but this is not known to them. It abides in their continuum like butter in milk. Since they've never recognized it, the mental habit of not recognizing it is entrenched. In fact, it seems to them unlikely that they have a pure nature based on their counter-conditioning. This is why you absolutely need deity yoga, now!
You absolutely need the correct view of deity practice.
When you practice deity meditation, you will experience the deity — even before you are fully realized. You will gradually grow beyond your thoughts and emotions. In the beginning, it may seem daunting and fruitless, as if there's a long way to go to close the gap between you and your divine beingness. There will also be misunderstandings about the practice and you might struggle with visualization, mantras and mudra. But what I want to emphasize is that this does not have to happen. Deity yoga is simple and not complicated when correctly understood. All you need to be the best deity yoga practitioner in the world is the correct view.
What is this correct view? Sadly, many meditate without a view or understanding, or with a wrong view, or with a partial view. Unknowingly, they are meditating in ignorance or even, one might say, on ignorance. For example, they are mediating without bodhicitta or without understanding how the practice works.
Deity yoga is an intimate way of experiencing your own pure nature and everything as pure phenomena. If you regard yourself as deity, you are deity. This is the view right from the start, even for beginners. With practice, identifying yourself as the meditation deity with form leads to realizing the ultimate formless deity — your own original state, who you truly are.
For ten days. . .
Please do this exercise. Every day, for ten days, change your name. On Monday, ask your friends to call you, Frank. On Tuesday, Michael, and so on. By the end of ten days, you will be wondering who you are. That's good. That proves that the transformational power of deity yoga lies in wholeheartedly, 100%, changing your name to the deity's name! When you believe your new name, you will experience accordingly.
In deity practice, you are learning how to consciously grow a wisdom self-image based on wisdom. While you're doing this practice, it’s impossible for misconceptions and grasping to carry much weight, to seduce you or distract you. Your new normal will be the experience of wisdom's light and its expressions. This is the “sight” or the realization of your own nature. This is how you are naturally freed or liberated in your true nature.
Deity meditation is natural liberation.
Simple, isn’t it? Deity practice is based on Great Perfection's understanding of natural liberation. You should learn about natural liberation and then meditate to assimilate it and manifest it. When your knowledge and meditative experiences have fully matured, you have realized irreversible deity-hood.
So, please become clear about your spiritual goal and how best to achieve it and then stay focused through the study and practice of deity yoga. Thank you.
From Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo:
No one could teach deity meditation like Lama Tharchin Rinpoche. Of course, often he framed it in the classical way but he always translated those teachings into something juicy that would inspire and set us on the right course.
Deity meditation has always been a core Vajrayana training. Nowadays, maybe not so much. There's a lot of group practice in the West, but often not much detailed instruction or aware practice. Truth be told, deity meditation, like any Buddhist training, requires dedication and regularity. It's fantastic if you can manage an isolated retreat of at least three months. I guarantee that at the end of three months, you will not want to stop.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, we practice in less than ideal conditions. Yet, holding the correct view more than makes up for not being able to fully retreat. When we've got the view, we can retreat in fifteen minutes once a day. That is greatly transformational, both for the quality of our daily lives and for our goal of benefiting others and attaining full enlightenment.
How do you approach your deity practice? Got any tips to share? Struggles that led to insights? Favorite quotations on this subject?
Please share in the Comment section below. Thank you.