Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Kalachakra, Deity Yoga, Imagination & Visualization.

Deity Yoga.

'Sometimes people are puzzled by the tantric practice of relying on deities, which some languages translate as 'gods'. These deities, however, are not omnipotent creators or beings in limited states of rebirth filled with heavenly delights. Rather, they are extraordinary forms, both male and female, in which Buddhas manifest in order to help people with varying inclinations overcome their shortcomings and realize their potentials.

Each of these Buddha-figures represent both the fully enlightened state and one of its specific features, such as compassion or wisdom.

Avalokiteshvara, for instance, is manifestation of compassion, and Manjushri is an embodiment of wisdom. Kalachakra represents the ability to handle all situations at any time.

Meditative practice structured around one of these figures and the feature it represents provides a clear focus and framework enabling more rapid progress toward enlightenment than meditation without them.

To alleviate the suffering of others as quickly as possible requires the most efficient method for gaining the enlightened faculties of a Buddha's body, speech and mind. The basis for achieving them is a strong determination to be free of limitations, non-fickle love and compassion, ethical self-discipline, strict concentration, firm understanding of reality and skill in various means to help others. Once we achieve a working level of these, we need to combine and perfect them so that they bear their results. Tantra provides such a technique, namely deity yoga. Like performing the dress rehearsal for a drama, we imagine we already possess the entire array of these enlightening faculties as a Buddha-figure, all together at the same time. Doing so acts as an effective cause for integrating these qualities and achieving such a form more quickly.

This is an advanced technique. We cannot possibly imagine having all the assets of a Buddha simultaneously unless we have first practiced each individually. We need to learn and rehearse each scene before we can run through whole play. Therefore, it is both inappropriate and unwise to attempt tantric practice without considerable meditative experience beforehand.'

-- Quoted from 'Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation' by Alexander Berzin.

Training the Imagination.

'Tantric practice harnesses the imagination - a powerful tool we all possess. Thus, to repeatedly imagine achieving a goal is a compelling method for accomplishing it sooner.

Suppose, for example, we are unemployed. If, each day, we imagine finding a job, we succeed more quickly than if we dwell, with depression and self-pity, on being out of work. This is because we maitain a positive attitude about our situation. With a negative attitude, we lack self-confidence even to look at job. Success or failure in life hinges on our self-image and, in tantra, we work on improving ours by means of Buddha-figures.

Imagining we are already a Buddha provides an extremely potent self-image to counteract negative habits and feelings of inadequacy.

The tantric technique does not involve simply the power of positive thinking. When using imagination, it is essential to be practical and maitain a clear distinction between fantasy and reality. Otherwise, serious psychological trouble may arise. Thus every teacher and text emphasizes that an indispensable prerequisite for tantric practice is stome stable level of understanding of voidness - the absence of fantasized and impossible ways of existing - and dependent arising - the coming about of everything by depending on causes and circumstances. Everyone is capable of gaining employment because noone exists as totally incompetent 'loser', and finding a job depends on personal effort and the economic situation.

Some people dismiss tantric deity yoga as a form of self-hypnosis. Imagining we are already a Buddha, however, is not a form of self-deception. We each have the factors allowing us to achieve that goal - we all have 'Buddha-nature'. In other words, because each of us has a mind, a heart, communicative ability and physical energy, we possess all the raw materials needed to create the enlightening faculties of a Buddha. So long as we realize we are not yet actually at that stage, and do not inflate ourselves with illusions of grandeur, we can work with these Buddha-figures without psychological danger.

In tantra, then, we imagine we already possess the form, surroundings, abilities and enjoyments of a Buddha. The physical body of a Buddha is made of transparent clear light, capable of helping others tirelessly, and is never deficient in any way. Imagining ourselves as a Buddha-figure with boundless energy like this, however, does not render us a 'workaholic' or martyr incapable of saying no. Tantric practicioneers of course take a rest when tired. Nevertheless, maitaining this type of self-image helps stretch our self-imposed limits. Everyone has an almost endless store of energy available to tap in emergencies. No one is too exhausted to rush to his or her child who has fallen and is hurt.

In addition, while practicing tantra, we feel that environment around us is completely pure and conductive for everyone's progress. Imagining this does not mean ignoring ecological or social issues. However, to help others and ourselves overcome depression and feelings of despair, we stop dwelling on negative aspects. Sufficiently strong motivation and effective methods to transform our attitudes bring spiritual progress regardless of location. Rather than incessantly complaining and being a prophet of doom, we try to bring hope to ourselves and the world.

We also imagine we benefit others by acting as a Buddha does.

We feel that by our very way of being, we effortlessly exert a positive enlightening influence on everyone around us. We can understand what this means if we have ever been in the presence of a great spiritual being, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa. Most people, even if only slightly receptive, feel inspired and are moved to act in a more noble way. We imagine we have a similar effect on others. Our mere presence, or even mention of our names, calms others down, brings them peace of mind and joy, and stimulates them to achieve new heights.

Finally, we imagine we are able to enjoy things in the pure way a Buddha does. Our usual mode of enjoyment is mixed with confusion, often translated as 'contaminated pleasure'. We are always critical, never satisfied. We listen to music and cannot fully enjoy it because we keep thinking that the sound reproduction is not as good as it would be on our neighbor's equipment. A Buddha, however, delights in everything without even a trace of confusion. We imagine doing likewise, for example, when enjoying the offerings of light, incense, food and so on in the various rituals.'

-- Quoted from 'Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation' by Alexander Berzin.

Using Visualization to expand our capacities.

'Many Buddha-figures have multiple physical features in an assortment of colors.

Kalachakra, for example, has a rainbow of four faces and twenty-four arms. This might seem strange at first, but there are profound reasons for this. All the forms imagined in tantra have several purposes, and each of their parts and colors has many levels of symbolism. Their complexity reflects the nature of the goal of becoming a Buddha. Buddhas need to keep the full array of their realizations and qualities actively in mind, simultaneously, so as to use them effectively in helping others. Moreover, Buddhas need to be mindful of the myriad personal details of those they are helping so as always to do what is appropriate.

This is not an unreachable goal.

We already keep many things in mind simultaneously.

If we drive a car, for example, we are aware of our speed, the distance we need to stop or pass another vehicle, the speed and position of the cars around us, the rules of driving, the purpose and goal of our journey, the road signs and so on. At the same time, we coordinate our eyes, hands and feet, are alert to strange noises from engine, and can even listen to music and hold a conversation. Tantric visualizations help to expand this ability.

Without some method, it is very difficult to train ourselves to keep in mind simultaneously twenty-four insights and qualities such as impermanence, patience and so forth. A verbal mnemonic device, such as a phrase made up of the initial letters of each item in the list, is helpful for remembering them in sequence. However, representing each insight and quality in a graphic form, such as the twenty-four arms of a Buddha-figure, makes it much easier to remain mindful of all of them at once.

Consider the case of a teacher of a class of twenty-four children. For most people, it is quite difficult to keep the personalities and specal needs of each child in mind when planning a lesson at home. Retrieving a list of their names may be somewhat helpful, but actually being in front of the class and seeing the pupils immediately and vividly brings to mind all the factors needed to modify the day's lesson.

A mandala, literally a symbolic universe, is a further aid in this process of expanding our mindfulness and seeing everything in a pure way. In this context, a mandala refers to the palace and its surrounding grounds in which a Buddha-figure lives.

Like the parts of our body, each architectural feature corresponds to a realization or positive quality we need to keep in mind. As a palace, a mandala is actually a three-dimensional structure. A mandala made of colored powders or drawn on cloth is like an architect's blueprint of that building.

During empowerments and subsequent meditational practice, no one visualizes the two-dimensional drawing, only the structure it represents.'

-- Quoted from 'Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation' by Alexander Berzin.

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