All Vajrayana practices can be subsumed under the categories of the generation stage and the completion stage.
The practice of the generation stage is to purify phenomena primarily through visualization of the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and their mandalas. The practice of the completion stage is to realize emptiness with practices based on the channels, wind-energies, and essences of the subtle body. To practice the union of the generation and the completion stages is to visualize the yidam (the meditational deity) as an illusion, as a dream. Normally the proper sequence of practice is to practice the generation stage first, then the completion stage, but there is no need to follow this sequence in the practice of the union of the two stages. From the standpoint of phenomena, it is the generation stage; the dream-like, illusory emptiness represents the completion stage.
WHY THIS TEACHING IS NECESSARY
In this Age of Dharma Decline, practitioners always tend to have myriad problems. For example, they pay less attention to the foundational elements of achieving accomplishment in Vajrayana practice such as visualization, recitation, cultivation of the right view, mindfulness, etc., but busy themselves instead with just the formalities of practice such as the mandalas, rituals, offerings, vajra dance, and so on. In so doing, the result from practice cannot manifest, nor can the four activities (pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, subjugating) be accomplished.
All yidam practices, whether the deity is peaceful or wrathful, involve the generation stage. One cannot do deity practice without knowing how to practice the generation stage. To properly practice the generation stage in a retreat, one should first complete all the preliminaries, also pay particular attention to the process—there are many complicated requirements regarding the time, place, format of the retreat, and the time and format of ending the retreat, and so on. We don’t need to know the details for the time being, as many people have not yet undertaken the preliminary practice; even if some people have completed the preliminaries once, the quality of the practice is still less than satisfactory. However, the method of visualization is very important. If one is unable to visualize clearly, the entire result of practice will be adversely affected. The preliminary practices, such as the ones for taking refuge, Vajrasattva, and Guru Yoga, also entail the practice of the generation stage. Therefore, it is necessary to briefly explain this practice.
Of course, this is just a brief introduction to the general structure of the generation stage or deity practice, which applies to all practices and serves as the steps and standard that all should follow. To understand the generation stage in more detail, it is best to refer to the text and sadhana of the individual practice.
THE EFFICACY OF THE GENERATION STAGE
The treatise Establishing Phenomena as Divine by Rongzom Pandita explicates the view of the generation stage. First of all, we should know that the essence of all things is the mandala of the buddhas. To reveal this mandala and to actualize its theoretical view, we must rely on the practice of the generation stage. The generation stage is the best skillful means to forcibly realize the truth that “all phenomena are the mandala of the buddhas.”
Vajrayana holds that ordinary people have two kinds of attachment: the first is attachment to phenomena, that is, attachment to the inherent impurity of phenomena; the second is attachment to phenomena being not only impure but also real. Encompassed in the second attachment are the Sutrayana notions of “attachment to self of person” and “attachment to self of phenomena.”
The first attachment can be eliminated with the practice of the generation stage. However, if we know only the method but not the view, confusion may arise during the practice—for instance, one might ask whether this practice is the same as the white skeleton visualization in Theravada, wherein an illusion is produced after the visualization. Such confusion can cause great obstacles to our practice, hence it is important to establish the view—to resolutely believe that all phenomena are the mandala of the buddhas. On the other hand, having the view but not actually applying it to the practice, the knowledge remains always just theoretical. Even if we can accept the view that all phenomena are the mandala of the buddhas, there is no way we can really experience how that is so. This is why we need the practice.
Most people believe the world as we know it will always stay the same as long as our sense organs do not change accidentally over the course of life. This is why the present world appears real, stable, but also impure to us.
But in fact, this is not so. Let’s first put aside the argument whether the world exists or not. Even if it exists, the world cannot affect us in any way if our five sense organs do not interact with it; it is the same as if it does not exist. For example, if our ear consciousness stops perceiving sound waves, then it does not matter, objectively speaking, whether sound waves exist or not. If they are perceived, sound in the impure state is a phenomenon of our mind; in the pure state, sound is transformed into the words of the buddha. After the generation stage practice is accomplished, this so-called unchanging world will be completely inverted. All impure phenomena will no longer exist; instead, the mandala of the buddhas will appear before the practitioner. The process of an ordinary person attaining buddhahood is in fact the process of transforming consciousness into wisdom.
Through practicing the generation stage, pure phenomena—that all is the mandala of the buddhas—will manifest; this is also the state of the eighth-ground bodhisattva after emerging from meditation.
THE THREE SAMADHIS
According to the tantras of Nyingmapa, the generation stage consists of three types of samadhi: the samadhi of thusness, the samadhi of universal manifestation, and the causal samadhi.
Through the three samadhis, the three phases in samsara—death, intermediate state, rebirth—can be transformed into the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya of the buddha. The three kayas are the fruition, the three samadhis are the path, and the three phases in samsara are the impure ground.
The Samadhi of Thusness
Thusness means realm of truth (dharmadhātu), nature of reality (dharmata), emptiness, luminosity. The samadhi of thusness is meditation on emptiness. Once the pre-meditation steps of taking refuge, generating bodhicitta, and praying to the guru have all been completed, practice the samadhi of thusness. If one has attained realization, just abide in the state of realization but not too long. One who has not gained realization should maintain firm belief in the view that the nature of all phenomena is emptiness; this is said to be a similar version of the samadhi of thusness—not real samadhi, only close to it.
Through the samadhi of thusness, death can be transformed into or purified as dharmakaya, a practice that is unique to tantra. Although sutra also practices emptiness, it does not have the power to purify, only to eliminate defilement, because it lacks the tantric view. Another function of the samadhi of thusness is to destroy the view of eternalists. For in the subsequent practices, all the mandalas of the buddhas are also perceived to be of empty nature; nothing exists permanently. Therefore, the samadhi of thusness is able to abolish the eternalist view.
The Samadhi of Universal Manifestation
Universal manifestation refers to phenomena, primarily great compassion. After the completion of the samadhi of thusness, practice great compassion toward sentient beings who have not gained realization of emptiness; it need not be long.
One of the functions of the samadhi of universal manifestation is to transform the bardo body into or purify the body as sambhogakaya. Although sutra also practices great compassion, it does not have the ability to purify because it lacks the view that sentient beings are buddhas already. Another function of the samadhi of universal manifestation is to eradicate the nihilistic view
When a realized practitioner practices great compassion and loving-kindness while in the enlightened state, compassion and loving-kindness are in union with emptiness and at once illusory; when the view of Vajrayana is added, this practice is empowered to effect transformation or purification.
If the first two samadhis are missing, a practitioner who is undertaking the practice of the wrathful deity will develop attachment to the wrathful deity due to ignorance of the void nature of the deity; absent compassion, if such a person holds the wrong view or mistaken aspiration at the time of death, he or she may end up being a demon or evil spirit with supernatural power in the next life, causing great harm to sentient beings. This is why the two samadhis are indispensable. If all the generation stage can be practiced around the framework of these two samadhis, there will be no room for mistake because the practice is based on emptiness and compassion.
Visualization not based on the view of emptiness and compassion is also practiced by non-Buddhists; some of these visualizations are quite powerful as well, but they do not lead to liberation. In other words, with no concept of emptiness nor foundation in compassion, one cannot attain any supramundane accomplishment in the deity practice.
The Causal Samadhi
Attaining buddhahood is called the resultant stage. As we have not yet attained buddhahood, it is called the causal stage. In actuality, all phenomena are the mandala of the buddhas; cause and result are inseparable, but there is still a discrepancy between cause and result on the surface.
The causal samadhi covers a very broad range, including visualizations of all the peaceful and wrathful deities.
THE FOUR YOGAS
Those who have advanced to the bodhisattva grounds are able to accomplish myriad activities, such as practicing the six paramitas, delivering sentient beings on an inconceivable scale, even purifying their own negative karma and so on, all through the power of meditation. Whereas we ordinary people are often left exhausted, having to use our words to spread the Dharma and actions to benefit sentient beings, but with limited result.
A person’s body, speech, mind, and activity make up the whole person. Likewise, a buddha’s body, speech, wisdom, and activities to free sentient beings from suffering encompass all the qualities of the buddha. Not only tantra but sutra also acknowledges that ultimately the body of a sentient being can be the body of the buddha, the words of sentient beings can become the words of the buddha, the defiled minds of sentient beings the wisdom of the buddha, and the activities of sentient beings the buddha’s activities to deliver all to liberation, but sutra offers no specific method to make such a transformation. On the other hand, many skillful means are available in tantra to free sentient beings from suffering. Through the four yogas which are unique to Vajrayana, the body, speech, mind, and activities of sentient beings can be transformed into that of the buddha.
Yoga of Deity’s Form
This is essentially visualization of the deity’s physical form and mandala. Through this visualization, the body of a sentient being can be transformed into, made to manifest as, or purified as the body’s original state—the body of the divine.
Most people are troubled by two problems: one is not being able to visualize clearly, the other is not being able to keep the mind still during sitting meditation.
A discursive mind needs samatha meditation as its antidote. If the visualization is not clear, it is because one is either not doing the visualization practice satisfactorily or does not understand the visualization method and technique. A brief introduction to this method was given in my discussion on the Vajrasattva practice in Luminous Wisdom Series, but I shall repeat it here and focus on the key points.
At the outset of practicing the generation stage, we need an external object to help with visualization; otherwise it would be quite hard to just rely on our own imagination to form a deity image, something only people of superior faculty can achieve. However, the situation today is quite absurd. Regardless of the individual’s capacity, everyone practices visualization like a person of superior faculty, without the help of any external object; the result can be nothing but failure.
Here, the external object is a thangka. When we do the Vajrasattva practice, we need a thangka of Vajrasattva; to do the Manjusri practice, we need a thangka of Manjusri, and so on. First, look at the thangka to visualize the deity; next, without looking at the thangka, practice the visualization by memory; lastly, transfer the deity image on the thangka to our own body, that is, visualize our own body as that of the deity. Just do this step by step.
The size of the deity image on the thangka to be used for visualization must adhere to the standard prescribed in the Sutra on the Production of Buddha Images. Furthermore, in terms of composition, thangkas for visualization and ordinary thangkas also differ. In an ordinary thangka, the central deity is surrounded by many lineage teachers, buddhas, bodhisattvas, offerings, and so on. Whereas a thangka for the purpose of visualization can only have one central deity; no other image is allowed to avoid distraction to one’s line of vision. The thangka must also be consecrated before it can be used for visualization.
When actually doing the practice, first hang up the thangka in a place with relatively good light, not too dark with light behind the thangka, nor too bright with light directly on the thangka; prepare some simple offerings in front of the thangka, then sit down in front of the thangka in the Vairocana seven-point posture and gaze intently at the thangka. Begin by looking at the whole thangka, then the details of the deity image—face, body (left hand, right hand, left leg, right leg), ornaments, clothing, etc. When you feel you are familiar enough with the image, close your eyes and see if the image appears clearly to you. If you are able to visualize this way, just continue the practice with your eyes closed; if not, you should open your eyes and look at the thangka again.
There are three ways to visualize the details of the image. The first is for people of superior faculty. One just visualizes directly in the mind without any external assistance. For example, when visualizing the third eye on the forehead of the wrathful deity, the vision will appear clearly in the mind right away.
The second is for people of average faculty. When doing visualization, one does not rely on a thangka but instead on one’s own voice or words by muttering to oneself: the deity’s eyes have five colors, the pupil in the center is very dark, then white, finally red, and so on. It is not necessary to follow any sadhana, just using plain words will do. Visualize as the words are spoken. It has the same effect as doing visualization while reading the sadhana—reading without visualization is not effective, whereas to visualize without reading is hard to do. Be sure to speak slowly.
The third is for people of inferior faculty. In this case, one must rely on a detailed picture of the parts to be visualized. For example, photograph or scan the deity’s eyes, enlarge it, and print out the picture fit for visualization. Then repeatedly practice visualization as mentioned above.
A person who is truly practicing the generation stage should visualize this way rather than just generate a blurred image or indistinct outline of the deity during visualization, as we normally do.
At the beginning, we should spend more time looking at the deity image and less time visualizing with eyes closed; later we can gradually extend the time we spend on visualization. In the past, if a practitioner sat down to meditate four times a day, the two sittings during the day alternated between looking at the deity under natural light and visualizing with the eyes closed; the sittings in the early morning and at night only entailed visualization with eyes closed due to the absence of light. It’s different now. Even at night, the lights are bright enough so it no longer matters whether we practice in the day or at night; we are free to arrange at will.
During visualization, if some parts come up clear, some parts not so clear, we need to look at those that are not so clear again and again. If the image to be visualized and that which appears are different --for example, we visualize a sitting buddha but a standing buddha appears instead when we close our eyes; we visualize a tiny image but a huge one appears; we visualize a colorful image but a black and white version appears, and so on—we still need to look at the deity image repeatedly and steadily. With practice, this problem can be solved.
To train in samadhi practice, after a clear visualization of the deity image is attained, we also need to visualize the different motions of the deity such as walking, abiding, sitting, and lying down; or visualize the deity as grand as a mountain or as small as a sesame seed, etc. Our visualization is considered satisfactory when we can handle these steps with ease.
Visualizing the deity image is the basic practice. Next is seeing our own eyes as the eyes of the deity that we have visualized, our hands as the hands of the visualized deity, and every part of our body as one part of the deity’s body. Finally, attachment to our own body as impure gradually disappears and is replaced with an appearance of the divine. Practitioners who are extremely capable can feel this change, such as the feeling of wearing the crown with the Five Tathagatas, after six months of practice; with further practice, they can touch this crown on their own head; with still further practice, they can see that their own body is exactly the body of the deity (of course, no one else can see this.) It is said at this point that the practice of the generation stage is successfully done.
Practitioners who are serious, diligent, and of ripened capacity can meet this standard in six months. Some tantras are of the opinion that people of superior faculty can successfully accomplish the practice of the generation stage in three days, those of average faculty in seven days, and those of inferior faculty in one month. However, most of us may not even be able to visualize clearly in six months’ time, let alone in one month. For people who hold a job, it is particularly difficult since they can meditate at most one or two hours a day; if they have additional matters to attend to, it will take even longer to complete the practice satisfactorily.
After accomplishing the generation stage, one can visualize all phenomena are pure, but once out of meditation, all phenomena will return to their impure state. As the quality of one’s practice improves, the world will also look increasingly pure; on attaining the bodhisattva’s eighth ground, pure phenomena will be as stable as the things that appear now in our daily life. By then, it can be said that we are beginning to see the true face of the world.
Having practiced the generation stage satisfactorily, what one sees during meditative concentration is exactly the same as that of the eighth ground bodhisattva, that is, one’s body and the surrounding world are all pure appearances. Because the vision that “all phenomena are the mandala of the buddhas” can manifest rather swiftly, the generation stage is labeled as the skillful means to forcibly arouse pure perception. Nevertheless, this outcome is possible only with certain conditions and the proper foundation—which are the outer and inner preliminaries, and other tantric practices. A person’s capacity is not classified on the basis of race, knowledge, or other such criteria, but on his or her foundation in preliminary practice. Absent the preliminaries, the generation stage cannot yield any result.
Because Vajrayana offers many simple but practical methods, such as the generation stage practice through which one can attain the bodhisattva’s eighth ground in Sutrayana swiftly and with ease, it is called the “Skillful Means Vehicle.”
Sometimes, sutra and outer tantra also mention how to do visualization. For instance, they advise practitioners to visualize Sakyamuni Buddha when reading the sādhanā of Sakyamuni Buddha, to visualize Amitabha when reading the sādhanā of Amitabha, and so forth. However, the visualization practices in sutra and outer tantra lack the key points mentioned above; their views are also not as profound. Hence, they are not in the same category as the generation stage practice in inner tantra, nor can they achieve the three results of the generation stage.
Yoga of Deity’s Speech
This is to transform impure words into the words of the deity through reading and recitation.
Mantra, in the real sense of absolute truth, is not sound, letter, language, or symbol, but the luminous mind or tathāgatagarbha. The mantra that we normally recite, such as the heart mantra of Vajrasattva Om Benza Satva Hum also has six different levels of understanding. Presently, our understanding is at the lowest level. That is, we think mantra is essentially the words and voice of a human; the only difference between mantra and speaking or singing is whether it has the power to give blessing, to remove obstacles, and to help attain spiritual accomplishment. Still, it is essentially one’s own voice. At the highest level, it is knowing the mantra Om Benza Satva Hum is itself Vajrasattva, that the deity Vajrasattva and the sound of us reciting Om Benza Satva Hum are one and the same.
Many people upon seeing the Vajrasattva image consider it endowed with merit and therefore right to pay respect, but not so with the mantra as it comes from our own voice. This is a wrong view. In fact, the Vajrasattva image is a picture drawn with mineral paints by a painter, therefore a tainted phenomenon as well, which is essentially no different from the painting of an animal except for its blessing power. It is because we see the image of Vajrasattva as something divine that it can somehow benefit us in a certain way. If we were to see a deity image the same as a painting of an animal, it would not be able to grant any blessing, even if the image is that of a buddha.
Actually, the image of Vajrasattva hung on the wall is what we see with our eyes. When our eye consciousness perceives the image of Vajrasattva, the image is in fact our eye consciousness, which is a phenomenon of mind. Likewise, the sound Om Benza Satva Hum is the object our auditory faculty perceives; it is our ear consciousness which is also a phenomenon of mind. That is to say, the deity perceived by the eye consciousness and the mantra recited are all phenomena of supreme wisdom, just that one appears as a sound and the other as an image. The two are absolutely the same. The mantra can serve its purpose only if we understand why the mantra and the image are one and the same.
Furthermore, it is the view of Vajrayana that reciting mantra and speaking essentially are both the deity’s speech. It is only due to our own misunderstanding that we attach merit to reciting mantra but not speaking. Since we have not realized the nature of speech itself is the deity’s speech, we don’t think there is any merit in speaking. After attaining realization, we will fully understand reciting mantra and simply talking are exactly of one taste, perfectly equal in absolute reality; the two can produce the same effect at that time. However, before we attain realization, even though all things are empty by nature, the view of emptiness cannot help us with this understanding.
It is very important to know what mantra represents. Without a correct understanding of mantra, no matter how many times one recites the mantra, it can only alleviate negative karma caused by unwholesome words, but not gain any accomplishment. However, with the aforementioned right view, the effectiveness of applying mantra recitation to reduce negative karma, increase merit, and attain realization will be very different.
One can refer to Essence of Clear Light, Ju Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, for the other four kinds of understanding of mantra.
Those with pure devotion and who undertake the Vajrasattva practice diligently may very likely see Vajrasattva in person. From the biographies of countless practitioners in both Tibet and China, we can tell many had personal encounters with deities such as Manjusri, Chenrezig, Vajrasattva, etc., and were able to discourse with the deities like we do with other people
In Vajrayana, much attention is paid to the way of reciting mantra. Of the many requirements, the most basic are the following:
When undertaking the Vajrasattva practice, we should visualize ourselves as the deity Vajrasattva and firmly believe we are indeed Vajrasattva.
In Beacon of Certainty, Mipham Rinpoche said if one does not see oneself as the real Vajrasattva but only as Vajrasattva when practicing visualization, the view and the practice as well as the theory and the application are in contradiction. To conduct practice in such a way will not yield any good result.
In most visualizations, one visualizes one’s heart as a lotus flower; next one visualizes at the center of the heart the flat sun and moon disks, and on the disks the standing ritual object of the yidam, such as the sword of Manjusri, the vajra of Vajrasattva, and so on. The vajra is empty inside; in the empty space one visualizes even smaller sun and moon disks on which the seed mantra stands, and so on. There are other visualizations, such as to visualize oneself as Chenrezig, next at the heart center a very small Amitabha, then at Amitabha’s heart center the ritual object, and the mantra inside the ritual object. This is called the three-fold sattva. That is, Chenrezig is the yidam, Amitabha at the heart center is the wisdom yidam, and the seed mantra within is the mind of samadhi. Chenrezig on the outside represents the buddha’s body, Amitabha the buddha’s speech, and the seed mantra the buddha’s mind. This way the visualization is complete with the body, speech, and mind of the buddha. The more detailed and complex the visualization is, the more focused one can be, which is why visualization needs to be done this way.
However, preliminary practices are not as complicated. For example, the Vajrasattva practice in the preliminaries only involves visualization of a moon disk at Vajrasattva’s heart and the mantra on the moon disk; there is no need to visualize a second yidam, a vajra, or anything else. Different practices have different visualizations, but the ultimate meaning is the same.
As the Vajrayana teaching has always relied on the meaning, not just on the words, it is not necessary to visualize the seed syllables in Sanskrit; to visualize in Tibetan is wholly acceptable. Of course, it is also fine to visualize the seed mantra in Chinese, as long as there is a generally accepted Chinese term. For the time being, it is more convenient to just visualize the mantra in Tibetan because many mantras, such as the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva, already have an established Tibetan version.
Many people take Sanskrit as the Buddhist official language, but actually it is not so. Sanskrit was first used by non-Buddhists who believed Sanskrit was created by Brahma, just like many religions believe the universe is the creation of God. In fact, Sanskrit is not from Brahma; according to one opinion, it is from Aramaic, a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family.
When visualizing the seed syllables, if it is a short mantra, just visualize the syllables arranged in a circle; if the mantra is longer, such as the hundred-syllable mantra, visualize the syllables in several circles. To visualize, first write down the Tibetan syllables, then place them in front and behold. When each syllable can be visualized with ease, move on to the next step.
Many seed syllables should be visualized in rotation, some to the right and some to the left. The syllables moving rightwards face outside so that they can be read in the order of their rotation from outside; the syllables moving leftwards should be visualized facing inside so that people in the center can read them in the order of their rotation. Generally speaking, the seed syllables of male deities rotate rightwards and those of female deities rotate leftwards, though there are some exceptions.
At the start of visualization, every syllable is standing upright on the moon disc. When visualizing the rotation, all the syllables rise up from the moon disc and float in the space, at the same time radiating the color and shape of light that correspond to the practice at hand. First, the light rotates, then the syllables. On the other hand, not all seed syllables need to rotate; for example, the hundred-syllable mantra does not move. When rotating, start slowly, then proceed with increasing speed. This is intended to help train one’s ability to gain meditative concentration.
When sitting down to meditate, use two thirds of the time for visualization, and the remaining one third for mantra recitation.
Method of Recitation
After the visualization is complete, recite the mantra. The sound of recitation shouldn’t be too fast or too slow, not too strong, nor too weak. The requirement for standard recitation is very stringent—coughing, spitting, walking, etc. are forbidden; or the count of recitation would be deducted. Among all the offences, talking is the most serious. So, it is best to refrain from talking during mantra recitation.
The so-called recitation practice that we normally adopt—with no visualization, talking or eating while reciting—is highly inappropriate. At best, it can only reduce negative karma caused by unwholesome speech.
When undertaking the regular deity practice, we must also meet certain requirements regarding the use of prayer beads or malas. After the malas have been blessed by the master, it should be worn all the time either on the neck or on the wrist, not to be kept away from the warmth of the body, not to be seen or touched by people who are not tantric Buddhists, not to be left at unclean places, etc. There are specifications for the color and the material of the malas as well. Moreover, the malas cannot be used to count things other than the recitations of a mantra, because the malas will otherwise lose its power of blessing.
Normally, it is best to use bodhi beads for mantra recitation. Nowadays, many people like to use counters instead. But using prayer beads is still the better choice unless in special circumstances where it is inconvenient. We should not see prayer beads as just a counting device; if used properly in accordance with the Dharma, the merit related to mantra recitation can increase many fold.
During the period of undertaking the formal yidam practice, one should not commit to doing anything else, not even things like transmitting the Dharma to benefit sentient beings, because the practice will be negatively affected. Naturally, the requirements are not as strict for other occasions such as attending puja or reciting mantra during the preliminary practice.
While practicing mantra recitation, certain types of food should also be avoided, such as garlic, scallion, animal’s tongue, etc. If one adheres strictly to these requirements, varying degree of success in achieving results can be expected after the session of meditation is ended, but the actual accomplishment still depends on one’s own faculty and level of diligence.
The easiest way of visualization is, when reciting the mantra of Vajrasattva, to use the mantra as your own prayer to implore Vajrasattva, not unlike calling out someone’s name as you normally do. If you are devoted enough, even without much knowledge of the right view or awareness, you may still meet Vajrasattva and receive his blessing.
The Standard of Mantra Recitation
There are three standards. The first is non-numerical—the number of times the mantra is to be recited is not stipulated. As long as one can personally see the yidam or there are signs of accomplishment appearing in dreams, it is enough proof that the recitation of the mantra has achieved certain effect. The second is numerical—to complete the number of recitations required by the practice instructions. The required amount is based on how many syllables there are in a mantra. For every one syllable added to the mantra, the amount of recitations increases by 100,000. For example, the heart mantra of Vajrasattva Om Benza Satva Hum has six syllables, so it needs to be recited 600,000 times. Separately, a supplement of 10,000 times is added. Every practice has its own required amount of recitations. Once this amount is reached, whether or not one feels any special blessing, the standard is met. The third is time. Even if one does not experience a special blessing and has not completed the required number of recitations, the standard is considered met so long as one follows the instructions assiduously to recite the mantra within the specified time frame for the practice.
Every practice has its own targeted result. Normally, we can sense if we have secured any result. Once this feeling is confirmed, the yidam practice has come to an end for the time being.
Yoga of Deity’s Mind
When practicing the generation stage, we must know at all times the visualizations, recitations, emanation of light, and other such things that we do during the practice, whether it is the sound of recitation or the vision of the mandala, are void in nature; they are just phenomena of the mind, projections of luminosity and emptiness. Finally, when the generation stage is completed, the whole mandala will again dissolve into all-encompassing space. At that time, we also need to practice emptiness; from beginning to end, we cannot deviate from the state of realizing emptiness. This is the yoga of deity’s mind.
Through the practice of luminosity and emptiness, the yoga of deity’s mind, our mind which is contaminated by greed, aversion, and delusion can be transformed into the wisdom of the buddha.
Yoga of Deity’s Activity
The yoga of activity is to accomplish, through the light radiating from mantras, the four activities that the Buddha undertook to turn the wheel of Dharma and deliver sentient beings from suffering.
For example, in the practice of Vajrasattva, visualize the heart mantra of Vajrasattva radiating light and on top of the light abundant offerings to buddhas and bodhisattvas in the ten directions, and receiving blessings from deities in the ten directions when the light is absorbed back; then visualize again the mantra radiating light downwards to shine on sentient beings in the six realms, especially those in the three lower realms, so as to eliminate their suffering. These are the activities of the deity.
Our activities in everyday life can be transformed into that of the buddha through the yoga of activity.
The sadhana of Vajrasattva contains these four yogas—first visualize Vajrasattva, next visualize the mantra on the moon disc and recite the hundred-syllable mantra, then visualize the light emanating from the mantra, etc. Because this practice is part of the preliminaries, it does not particularly emphasize the idea of emptiness, but actually the state of emptiness is also needed for this practice.
People often ask which yidam practice they should do or who their own yidam is. The fact is there is no way to do the yidam practice if one doesn’t know how to practice the generation stage, and there will be no result if the quality of the generation stage is not up to standard. On the other hand, if one has practiced the preliminaries well and undertakes the generation stage seriously, one can hope to attain some results from the yidam practice as well.
THE THREE ESSENTIALS OF GENERATION STAGE
The visualization should be very clear. Although in the eyes of others you are still your usual self, all your five sense organs can perceive your body as the body of the buddha and the surroundings as the buddha field, as clearly as you used to see yourself and the world.
The requirement for the generation stage, at the minimum, is to be able to visualize very clearly. Failing to meet this requirement, no siddhi or attainment in tantra can be obtained.
One must be firm in one’s view, like “I am Vajrasattva.” Lacking the view, attachment to self cannot be eliminated. As we used to be attached to the idea that the five aggregates combined is “self,” now that this attachment is gone and replaced by the body of the yidam, we must remain firm in our view that “I am not an ordinary sentient being, I am Vajrasattva” and so on. Through practicing this way, attachment to the self of person can be uprooted.
This is to know the symbolic meaning of the ornaments worn and the objects held by the yidam. These phenomena are said to be “pure” because they don’t really exist; they only manifest from dharmadhatu to symbolize the deity’s merit. The deity’s body, and each piece of ornament and object all have different symbolic meanings.
Simply put, be it the peaceful or wrathful mandala, it is inseparable from great emptiness and the luminous mind; each is a phenomenon of the luminous mind, the luminous mind is its essence. This is pure perception in its simplest form. Pure perception can eradicate attachment to the self of phenomena, such as attachment to the buddha field, buddha palace, and mandala. As attachment to the mandala also impedes liberation, it is necessary to know that the mandala does not exist either but merely manifests from emptiness and the luminous mind.
THE THREE RESULTS OF GENERATION STAGE
Purify Habitual Tendency of Samsara
Habitual tendency of death is purified through the practice of the first samadhi. Habitual tendency of the intermediate state and alaya consciousness is purified through the practice of the second samadhi. Habitual tendency of all the stages in life besides intermediate state and death, that is, between rebirth and death, is purified through the practice of causal samadhi.
Complete the Merit of Nirvana
Upon reaching the highest state of the generation stage, one can see everything as the buddha field; this completes the merit of nirvana of the buddha.
Help Ripen the Condition for Completion Stage
Completion stage is to be practiced after completing the generation stage. Generation stage is like the preliminary practice of the completion stage; it lends assistance to the practice of the completion stage.