Generating the Deity
As Maitreya said, those who generate bodhicitta long to gain enlightenment for all sentient beings. Our actions are dependent on our mental attitude. That is the most important thing. When we talk about other Buddhist traditions, such as the solitary realizers and disciples, they all make a lot of effort in their practice. One's mental attitude determines whether one strives for liberation for all beings or for oneself alone. If one lacks bodhicitta, one's actions are of small scope. Even though the disciples and solitary realizers may have realized the higher paths, they have to restart the bodhisattva path from the first bhumi when they realize that they have not achieved the highest result. So it is said a bodhisattva of the first bhumi is more advanced than an arhat.
The mental scope of a bodhisattva is to help all sentient beings, so it is very high and broad. One purpose of practicing the dharma is to eradicate the root of suffering. It helps to achieve this result if one has a broad mind. For example, if a person who wishes to harm another who has a broad mental attitude, because they have that attitude, no harm can be placed on that person. For a Buddha, if half his body is being praised by beings and the other half harmed by other beings, he will regard both groups equally. So the goal of our practice is to view all beings with this equality. If we are surrounded by people who wish to help us, we feel happy. If they wish to harm others, we feel angry. But we should regard them all with equanimity. Of course, this is easier to say than to do. But we should practice, and it will be possible. All the worlds come into existence based on our mind. If we change our mental attitude, others will also change. If we engage in practice, yes, there is physical hardship. But if we have a strong determination to achieve our goal, we will be able to overcome the hardship with our mental attitude. If we engage in physical labor during the day, we will become tired. By the midday we will feel the tiredness. But if you are determined to carry on the work, when you finish in the evening, you will not feel as tired. I think this is a result of your strong determination. So I think mental attitude is more powerful than the physical. One example that mental attitude can overcome physical hardship is from my home town in Tibet. When the crop is being harvested, they hold competition between the kids. The crops are placed on yaks for transportation. Two groups compete to see who can do it fastest. Because they carry through without noticing their tiredness, they can load more than they otherwise would. This is an example of mental attitude overcoming the physical. The same is true of prostrations. There are days when you do five thousand prostrations. You will feel very tired by midday, but by night you will feel light and at ease. There is also another example. If you sleep until midday, you will feel tired when you get up. But if you resolve to get up at the normal time you will feel better. So this is why Buddha said beings can achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime. If people can persevere and achieve mundane goals through effort, there is no reason they cannot achieve the ultimate goal. But if you say I cannot do this, I cannot do that, then you will not be able to achieve any result.
We have achieved this precious human life and we can distinguish between right and wrong. Precious human birth is not achieved automatically. It is a result of a tremendous amount of merit. Not only have we achieved a precious human birth, we have met the dharma and the secret Vajrayana teaching by which we can achieve enlightenment in a single lifetime. You must have accumulated a tremendous amount of merit for eons and eons to meet this teaching and have faith in it, and willingness to practice it. We are also fortunate to have met a lama who can explain it to us and a place we can practice. So we should realize how very fortunate we are. This teaching that has been passed on by the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to today. The realization that is possible through practicing it is worth more than billions of dollars.
The practice of Tantra can be divided into the generation and completion stage. Whatever deity you practice, first you practice the generation stage and then the completion stage. One who has resolved to achieve Buddhahood by practicing Tantra cannot do so by any other means than practicing the generation and completion stage. The purpose of generation stage is to eliminate the misconception of I. In the generation stage one eliminates ordinary concepts by generating oneself as a deity. This may seem a pretense, but there is a reason for it. The masters have said that conceiving of oneself as a deity is closer to reality than grasping at our ordinary self. This is because the I is empty and does not have inherent existence. The qualities of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind are already latent within oneself.
There are five steps in the generation of the deity. The first is familiarizing yourself with the emptiness of phenomena. Emptiness is not something that is fabricated, it is the nature of all phenomena. The mantra "om svabhava shuddha dharma .." expresses the emptiness of all phenomena. So to practice Tantra, one must have an understanding of the emptiness of all phenomena. The generation of a deity is like the process of birth. Emptiness is analogous to the emptiness of the mother's womb before conception. In any visualization, next one visualizes the moon and sun disks. This is analogous to the combination of the father's semen and mother's egg. The deity's implement is analogous to the early stage of the fetus, which resembles a vajra. Then the seed syllable is visualized. From that syllable the detailed visualization of the deity arises. This is analogous to the development of the organs in the body of the fetus. The mind is visualized first as the seed syllable which is transformed into the deity's implement.
There is another way of generating the deity, known as the four different types of vajra. First there is the dissolution into emptiness by reciting the mantra. Next is the generation of the sun and moon disk. Then the seed syllable, which is the essence of your mind. And finally the form of the deity with the three syllables at the three places is generated. This is the complete visualization of a deity's body, speech, and mind. There is also the visualization according to the three stages. These are visualizing the seed syllable, the deity's implement, and then the deity complete with all its features. Finally the most concise way of doing the visualization is to generate the deity instantly. So all generations practices are done in one of these fashions.
Q: Is it true that the seed syllable represents the essence of the deity's mantra?
A: The seed syllable is the essence of the mind, which transforms into the deity's complete form. The syllable precedes the visualization and is very important.
We should not visualize the deity as a solid object. It should be seen as a mere appearance, empty of reality. It should be thought of as inseparable appearance-emptiness. Under the aspect of appearance one should clearly visualize all the details of the deity's ornaments and form. Under the aspect of emptiness one should see the deity as insubstantial, like the light of a rainbow. By doing the visualization in this way, we transform our ordinary conceptions into divine pride. If a high lama dies and we find the reincarnation of this lama, one might think that he knows everything he did in his previous life. But, no, he must undergo training again. This is due to the obscuration that occurred in the mother's womb. The same thing occurs in us. The practice of visualization help clear this obscuration of the mother's womb. By visualizing the deity completely and correctly we create an imprint by which we will achieve Buddhahood. We already have the qualities that will allow us to achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime. But we cannot do this now because of the blockages in our channels. The generation stage enables us to practice the completion stage easily, so we can remove these blockages and attain Buddhahood. If a person enters into the practice of mahamudra without first practicing the generation stage, there is a danger of falling into nihilism. By practicing the generation stage one gains a balanced understanding of appearance and emptiness and will not fall into a one sided view. By combining the generation stage with the understanding of mahamudra, one will gain an understanding of the two truths.
If one recites the mantra combined with the visualization one will achieve a strong state of calm abiding. When one visualizes oneself as a deity and recites the mantra, ordinary habits of idle gossip will not occur. Sometimes people ask me why I need to engage in so many repetitions of the mantra. I reply that we have a strong habit of negative speech and it is not easy to purify it. So we must accumulate many repetitions of mantra to purify them. Another reason is to accumulate the cause of developing the sixty qualities of the Buddha's speech. To achieve the physical form of a deity we practice the visualization of the form. To achieve the qualities of the speech of the deity one recites the mantra. And by reciting the mantra we will be able to develop a power of speech to help people verbally. Some people are especially effective in helping others through their speech and I feel this is the result of the merit of reciting mantras. In Tibet there is the custom that a lama blows across objects to bless them. This is also a result of the power of mantra. At the beginning no matter how hard we pray to become enlightened, it will not happen. But by gradually practicing the generation stage there will come a time that whatever you pray for will come true. One will develop the ability to speak with gods and demigods. In brief, the masters have said the power of mantra is as pervasive as space.
Whenever we engage in the practice of generating a deity, there should be the elements of bliss of emptiness. The feeling of bliss is very important during the generation stage of the deity. When you can associate your practice with a feeling of bliss and non-self, your practice will be much more effective.
Q: What is the relation between the four empowerments and the four kayas? And when we reappear as the deity, how should we carry that through the day?
A: the reason you reappear as the deity is to make the dedication prayer more powerful. The purpose of practicing the generation practice is to cause our normal concepts to cease. When we do the refuge practice one visualizes the refuge tree in front of you. The visualization should be held continuously. Post meditation should not be that much different than meditation.
Notes from a talk by
Drupon Thinley Nyingpo
September 4, 2006
Tibetan Meditation Center