Too Many Deities, Too Little Time-A Vajrayana Dilemma

For those following along at home, Japhy wants to write about Karma Chakme’s “The Quintessence of the Union of Mahamudra and Dzokchen” for this post.

“With this verse from the first song, verse eight, Karma Chakme speaks to a matter which concerns many in the Vajrayana.”

The individual “approach and accomplishments” of the individual generation stages
Of the many yidams, the deities in the tantras,
Are necessary for great gurus who give empowerments.
But as a method for purifying obscurations and siddhas,
It is profound to unite all yidams into one deity and one mantra.

“Here is Khenpo Karthar’s commentary on this verse, in which Rinpoche speaks directly to the problem of picking and choosing.”

The individual practice of the individual approach and accomplishment phases of the individual generation stages of all the many yidams in the various tantras is necessary for a great guru who will be giving a lot of empowerments. For ones own use, for the purification of obscurations and as a method of attaining siddhi or attainment, combining all yidams into one, into one deity and one mantra is most profound. There are an infinite number of deities, each with many different forms. With so many lineages, deities, and forms of these deities practiced within each lineage, there are a vast number of different deity practices. If you take the attitude that any one deity on which you meditate is the embodiment of all those deities without exception, you receive the blessing of all those deities—since, in truth, they are of one nature—and you also avoid the degeneration of samaya that comes from taking and leaving deities, known as “picking and choosing.

“My first empowerment was Green Tara with Khenpo Karthar. My next empowerment was the Kalachakra with Kalu Rinpoche. Right off the bat, I was in over my head.”

In this text, the deity that will be focused on as an example of this approach is the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Using Chenrezik as the example makes it very easy to understand this approach, because Chenrezik is the embodiment of the compassion of all buddhas, and therefore is the embodiment of all buddhas. By supplicating him as such, you are supplicating all buddhas. Because you understand his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM, as the embodiment of the quality of all mantras, when you recite this mantra you are reciting the essence of all mantras. This is most profound because in doing one practice, you are doing the essence of all practices.

“At the time, Khenpo Karthar advised me to not worry about picking and choosing, and focus on my Green Tara recitation, but it bothered me all the same.”

In addition, you are avoiding the degeneration of samaya, which arises when you exclusively practice one or a few deities and consciously neglect the practice of others. By thinking you are neglecting the practice of other deities, you are in fact neglecting them. If you think that by practicing one deity you are only practicing this one deity and not caring about the others, that produces the problem of picking and choosing. If you realize that the practice of any one deity is all-inclusive, you avoid the picking and choosing problem. Since they are all the same in nature, the practice of one deity such as Chenrezik is sufficient to purify your obscurations, to accumulate merit, and thereby to attain siddhi.

“My paradigm going in was that of ritual service, mastering the deity. Khenpo Karthar instructed me otherwise, to instead make the purification of my obscurations and accumulation of merit my paradigm.

Over the coming years Japhy continued to receive empowerments, while relying on his Green Tara recitation as he was instructed to by Khenpo Karthar.

“If your approach is that of ritual service, mastering every deity you have received an empowerment for, the prospect of receiving another empowerment becomes a problem for you.”

It isn’t uncommon for Japhy to have a cohort decline an empowerment citing they already have more deities than they can practice.

“This is due to the conceit of ritual servitude, that they are mastering the deity they have received an empowerment for, which is most unfortunate.”

Obviously, if the purpose of an empowerment in today’s Vajrayana was such, the giving of empowerments would not be as it is, a not uncommon occurrence for Japhy and his cohorts.

“No Rinpoche would give an empowerment without first vetting each and every person that wished to receive the empowerment.”

Japhy’s mistake going in, which Khenpo Karthar corrected, is very common in the Vajrayana.

“What I thought I was supposed to be doing, wasn’t what Rinpoche wanted me to do.”

Japhy had read about the Vajrayana, descriptions of its practice, that weren’t applicable to his circumstances.

“In retrospect, over thirty years in, I can laugh at the pretense of thinking I was cut out for the task of mastering a Tantric deity, a task for a Rinpoche.”

This will have to suffice for now, to be continued. Japhy has used the time he allows himself for his writing. Karmapa Chenno!



Filed under Buddhism

9 responses to “Too Many Deities, Too Little Time-A Vajrayana Dilemma

  1. Thank you! Yes, this can be such a dilemma for lay people in the Vayrayana. Though, I had wondered why I had been drawn to take on so many empowerments, and then I read that Tibetan doctors do this, and chant various mantras over different medicines for different conditions. This is exactly what I have been doing for years in preparing flower essence formulas.
    Many years ago my regular clients (mostly non-Buddhists) were curious and commented that they could feel the difference in the power of the formulas at the time when I’d started using the mantras this way.
    I choose the mantra(s) to target the conditions I am assisting people to heal/develop – I think it helps to focus the resonance in the client’s brain (and in mine!). They all get Medicine Buddha in the blue bottles! but, for example, I also use the White Tara mantra for life-threatening diseases, etc. I have a core of 9 mantras/Deities (insanity!). So perhaps this is one way that multiple empowerments can be used to benefit others.

  2. Andrew

    We all seem to have problems when it comes to being conditioned by the contents of our thoughts. ‘How did I come to be in this shopping mall?’ ‘How did it happen that I follow the career that I do?’ ‘Why is it that some people are friends and some people I just don’t get on with?’ ‘I don’t like my job.’ ‘I no longer love my wife.’
    Vajrayana works when we use it to self-liberate these contents. The result is the path. Buddhahood in this sense is a state of self-liberation. We can have 1 or 100 empowerments but they all have the same focus. Which is to remove the tendancy to be conditioned by the contents of our thoughts and to get into the ‘reality’ of the deity which is the same as our own self-liberating, unborn nature.
    How can you sit in retreat for years or help people for eons if you are not empowered in the sense mentioned above? How could buddhsm of enlightenment be meaningful if it’s simply the case that we substitute one set of thoughts for another? Why would those that know give empowerments if it wasn’t in the hope that their students might come across their real nature which is not to be found by jolding on to the contents of thoughts buddhist flavored or otherwise.

  3. Andrew

    contents of thoughts = contrivance

  4. Andrew

    To clarify my reponses a little:
    The first point is that thoughts themselves or the fact of thinking isn’t to be controlled or stifled or subdued. From Gampopa we get the following:

    Consider Concepts to be Necessary

    Gampopa said:

    Consider concepts to be necessary.
    Consider [concepts] to be great kindness.
    Consider [concepts] to be pleasant.
    Consider [concepts] to be indispensible.

    So for meditation this is an important instruction. Obviously as you know we don’t deny that we think and in a way we take pleasure from having thoughts pass on by. When the snake unties itself it’s a pleasurable thing.

    However we don’t want to be conditioned by thoughts either. So we don’t want to be moved by the apparent content of thoughts. If we are conditioned by thoughts then we haven’t enjoyed them or taken delight in them. Instead we are controlled by them and our many attachments increase. We find ourselves in a suprising place and not where we wanted to be. Clinging to thoughts and clinging to appearances is the same – with both we find some content to cling onto. This is our habit – to see content and solidity.

    From Khenpo:

    ………………..”Focal and empowering conditions and consciousness
    Never move a single bit from Dharmadhatu’s expanse
    But our habitual thoughts prevent us from seeing this
    We think faculty and mind are different things.

    To purify all the thoughts that obscure our wisdom
    With view gain certainty in Dharmadhatu’s openess
    Meditate and you’ll get good at being open and relaxed
    And then the Dharmadhatu, always free, will manifest.”

    From “A concise explanation of Dharmadhatu called: The mind itself – Dharmadhatu’s luminous expanse.”

    So the point is that empty thoughts appearing are luminosity. Thoughts that we hold onto and give weight to as though they were real – as though our internal narrative were real – obscure luminosity. When we receive empowerments we can receive one or a hundred but they all should be working to increase or empower our natural ability to self-liberate. If we hold onto the thought that yidams are real and empowerments give us power then we are still as stuck as ever.
    So this in general is the point that I was making. Not that we should stop thoughts, but that we should self-liberate the content of thoughts.

  5. Pingback: Practice Overload and Too Many Commitments: Advice From the Teachers — Don't Become a Spiritual Materialist - Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation and Views

  6. Rick

    There is an old saying : If you try to catch many rabbits, you will catch no rabbit….

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