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Naked wisdom for degenerate times: Vajrayogini, enlightened wisdom queen, leads us to bliss, clear light and emptiness, despite modern obstacles

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The great Lama Yeshe said, “The Vajrayogini yoga method is extremely powerful. It is just what we need in these degenerate times, with our delusions running rampant and our minds grasping at concretized sense pleasures. Therefore, a method such as this, which has the wisdom to transform delusions, is of the utmost need, especially as it has the profound property of becoming more powerful as delusions become stronger.”

Of all the Vajrayana meditative deities, Vajrayogini is credited with being the one practice for our busy, hectic, terrifying times which can lead us, in one lifetime, to Enlightenment. (See full “teaching” video with Garchen Rinpoche on Vajrayogini, embedded below.)

[NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Contributing Edito

Vajrayogini has been called the “Buddha for our times.” There’s an old Tibetan saying: “Practicing any Buddha is practising all Buddhas.” The great Atisha, when he first came to Tibet, was horrified to find Tibetans practicing many deities at once. He admonished them that they only have to practice one. The

Enlightened qualities of one Buddhaincluding Vajrayogini — are no different from the qualities of another Buddha, even if we sometimes say, Tara specializes in “protection” and “Medicine Buddha” in medicine. So, why is Vajrayogini “the Buddha for our times?”

This complex thangka depicts the various lineage masters going all the way back to Buddha Vajradhara, who is actually Buddha Shakyamuni is tantric form. At the upper left are the main tantric deitiesYamantaka, Heruka Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja. At the upper right are the Buddhas of the past and presentKrakucchanda, Kasyapa and Shakyamuni. At the bottom left are the three long-life deitiesAmitayus,

Namgyalma and White Tara. At the bottom right are Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani, who, taken together can be said to represent Lama Tsongkhapa, the great 14th century Tibetan scholar and saint who is an emanation of these three great Buddhas. Below Vajrayogini are two Dharma Protectors4-faced Mahakala (a wrathful emanation of Heruka) and Citipati, the special Protector for Vajrayogini practitioners.

The Buddha for our time?

Simply put, Her visualization, Her appearance, Her mantra, Her sadhana, are all designed to counter our modern obstacles — especially the obstacles of our degenerate times. In our modern age, when we have no time, when life is always in the way of practice, when we struggle with many fearsterrorism, global

warming, wars, paying the bills, healing our sickness — these are all the reasons to consider Her practice. Vajrayogini manifests in her fiery red, passionate, stunning beautiful and energetic form. Fast action. Fast practice. An appearance that is instantly modern and relatable.

Vajrayogini’s mandala featuring the double tretrahedran (reality source) and the four pink bliss swirls. All of the images and symbols convey a precise and powerful message.

Vajrayogini is not superior to any other Buddha. They are all perfect. They are all Oneness. But, She specifically manifests for these times — She is at once more intimate, closer to us, and more relatable than, for example, a serene peaceful Buddha. The serene, peaceful Buddha conjures the feeling of six years of renunciation under a tree meditating. In today’s world, how can anyone contemplate such a commitment?

In violent, fast-paced times, we sometimes can more easily relate to the ferocious energy of the Dakini Queen, who delivers realizations in a dervish of dancing energy, blissful realization and sudden glimpses of Shunyata.

Is Vajrayogini real or a symbol?

It is fashionable in the west to embrace deities, but to rationalize them as symbols, psychological constructs, or meditational visions designed to help us overcome “ordinary appearances.” While all of this is true, it is also true, relatively speaking, that Vajrayogini, and other deities, exist as described here by His Holiness Sakya Trizin:

“In Buddhist tradition, we have two truths: the relative truth and absolute truth. In absolute truth, there’s no deity. There’s nothing. It’s inexpressible. In other words, it is something that is completely beyond our present way of thinking and being. But relatively, we have everything existing. We have “I,” and

“you,” and all this. Empty it is, also. All these deities are different, with different categories. Some deities are called yidams, some deities are called dharmapalas. It is not just an idea that we have created. They are all truly like this. They protect you and they bless you, they help you…” [5]

NOTE: Although the practices themselves are secret, discussing the benefits of practice is not. Vajrayana deity practices are widely available online, however just because they are available does not mean they should be practised without authorization or empowerment from a qualified teacher. However, any student, for example, in a temple, can make offerings and praise Vajrayogini.

An “easy” Higher Yoga practice?

Although Vajrayogini is a Highest Yoga Tantra practice, her meditation is relatively simple. Visualizing her is easy — she’s simply so stunningly beautiful it’s hard not to think of her appearance. She is also profoundly accomplished in every way:

“Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi ranks first and most important among the dakinis. She is the “Sarva-buddha-dakini” the Dakini Who is the Essence of all Buddhas.” [1]

Vajrayogini pratice has led to Enlightenment of many great masters. “Of the 84 Mahasiddhas of ancient India, many gained their attainments through the practices of Heruka Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini” [3]

Traditionally, this is because the Chakrasamvara Vajrayogini mandala actually still exists in our physical world — most mandalas are absorbed back into emptiness at the end of meditations. This makes Her practice ideal for these chaotic times.

Above all, she is relatively “easy” from a visualization point-of-view. She is among the most vivid in imagery, yet the easiest to imagine.

His Holiness the Sakya Trizin explains: “Vajrayogini has many different forms, but the one we normally use is in between wrathful and peaceful. She is usually in the red color, with one face and two hands holding a curved knife and skull cup filled with nectar and she is adorned with bone ornaments. All these different ornaments and objects have many very deep meanings. The curved knife usually represents the fact that she

cuts all defilements. The cup represents what in Sanskrit is called mahasukha, which means “the great bliss.” She is in a complete state of great bliss all the time.”

Spiritual benefits: countless

Although there are mundane benefits as well (see below), Her practice is especially known for higher spiritual attainments:

“She is the Anuttarayoga Tantra Istadevi (the only and the first Deity) and Her practice includes methods for preventing ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth (by transforming them into the paths to enlightenment), and for transforming all mundane daily experiences into spiritual paths.” [4]

Vajrayogini’s practice is the path to understanding Shunyata (Emptiness) and Clear Light — the luminosity of the nature of mind.

[NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation, and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of the practice.]

Ten benefits of practice according to root Tantra

The source Tantra, in the Condensed Root Tantra of Heruka, explains there are ten key spiritual benefits to practice, many not available from other practices:

Easy to practice: although a Highest Yoga Tantra practice, the visualitions of the mandala are “relatively” easy, the sadhanas are “relatively” short and the mantra is “relatively” easy. Relatively being the key word.

Ideal for this “degenerate” age: Unlike other practices, Vajrayogini brings fast benefits, since Heruka and Her mandalas are closer to us than other deities.

Vajrayogini’s mantra is supreme for attainments. Although somewhat long, it is easy to memorize. It is said that Vajrayogi’s mantra alone is all a practitioner would ever need, provided they have faith. Powerful blessings: not just blessings, but quick blessings.

Can accomplish all attainments: many of the great Mahasiddas accomplished Enlightenment and other realizations from Her practice.

Can practice both generation and completion stage together: if you don’t know what this means, teacher guidance is best.

Overcomes attachments: Vajrayogini’s sensuous nature and red colour signify she is suitable for overcome desires and cutting attachments (hence, her flaying knife!) Although a short practice, Vajrayogini’s practice contains the essence of ALL practices.

There are also two relatively more secret (due to complexity) benefits; in other words benefits that aren’t easily understood unless you are already a practitioner. We won’t explain them here, since they are too profound as topics to cover here, but we list them for reference:

Uncommon Yoga of Inconceivability

Special body mandala practice

11 Yogas — “preventing ordinary appearances

His Holiness Sakya Trizin explains

“The main method that is used in Vajrayana is to stop seeing things as ordinary. So you should see all these things as transcendental wisdom and oneself in the form of a deity, and all sounds as mantra, and every thought that comes as transcendental knowledge. Although at the moment you are just visualizing, you are just imagining, gradually your attachment to the ordinary vision loosens and you strengthen your path in the Vajrayana tradition.” [5]

in summary why Vajrayogini practice epitomises Vajrayana:

This is especially emphasized in daily Vajrayogini practice through a beautiful, elegant, complete and precise 11 Yogas, beginning with “Sleeping Yoga” and “Waking Yoga” and “Tasting the Nectar Yoga” right through the entire day. From sleep, to first taste of nectar in the morning, to going through our daily lives, we attempt to maintain the visualization of our form as Vajrayogini, our speech as Her mantra, and

the world around us as Her Mandala. Of course, most practitioners struggle with these advanced Yogic methods, but the effect is profound. Known as the 11 Yogas of Vajrayogini, they are descsribed precisely, in a manner which describes each step (Here, we only use the topical Yoga names, the method can only be taught by your Guru):

Sleeping Yoga: Sleeping while maintaining the visualization of Vajrayogini

Rising Yoga: Waking, still in the form of Vajrayogini

Experiencing Nectar Yoga: tasting the nectar after rising

The Yoga of the Immeasurables

The Yoga of the Guru

The Yoga of Self-Generation

The Yoga of Purifying Migrators

The Yoga of Being Blessed by the Heroes and Heroines including a special Body Mandala

Yoga of Verbal and Mental Recitation of the Holy Mantra

The Yoga of Inconcievability

The Yoga of Daily Activities

The entire practice involves every moment of the pracitioner’s day — and is the ultimate, complete practice.

Cognitive benefits

Vajrayana Buddhists rely on symbols and visualization, activating mind, body and speech simultaneously with visualization (mind), mudra (body) and mantra or ritual (speech) respectively. Science has proven the relationship between Vajrayana meditation and cognitive benefits due to this massive activation of brain matter (See our story “Research Proves Vajrayana Meditation Improve Cognitive Performance and Promising for Brain Disorders>>)

The visual symbols, often including wrathful deities with fangs, animal heads, and the naked feminine, is usually misunderstood — which is why practices are normally secret. The astonishingly beautiful and naked Vajrayogini, especially in sexual union, probably provokes the deepest misunderstanding. Buddha Weekly mandala of vajrayogini berty sieverding Buddhism Vajrayogini’s seed syllable in her double triangle mandala. Although this appears to be a double triangle, it is actually visualized in three dimensions, as a double tetrahedron.

NOTE: Although the practices themselves are secret, discussing them is not. Vajrayana deity practices are widely available online, however just because they are available does not mean they should be practised without authorization or empowerment from a qualified teacher. However, any student, for example, in a temple, can make offerings and praise Vajrayogini.

Activating 280 million neurons

In seeing an image of some Enlightened deities, non-practitioners often see sex and demons — where there is actually nothing more than visual language that activates massive frontal volumes of brain matter:

“The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter.” — Science Direct [2]

Mindfulness meditation has shown measurable increases in the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for higher level thinking.

In addition, visualization may active the visual cortex of our brains — over 280 million neurons. (For more on Vajrayana visualization, see our earlier story>>)

Interestingly, there is a visual cortex in both hemispheres of the brain, right and left. In scientific studies, visualization of Vajrayana deities in this way, has proven to be effective for growing cognitive abilities, and even beneficial for people with dementia. (Please see our earlier story: Peer-reviewed studies prove daily meditation increases cognitive function>>)

Wisdom and compassion united

H.H. Sakya Trizin explains the symbolism of wisdom and method

“Actually these deities are the symbol, or the manifestation, of the ultimate truth. The female deities are more on the wisdom side and the male deities are more on the method [[[compassion]]] side. But the ultimate, actual transcendental knowledge of wisdom is the complete union of these two things. So they are not really separate. And this great Dharmadatu, or transcendental wisdom, is actually with everyone, within every sentient being. But we haven’t realized this, so we are thinking in an ordinary way about everything that we see, everything we do. Therefore we cling to this present scene that we have.” [5]

In Higher Tantra the two symbols, male and female, wisdom and compassion, are never separated. Even in Vajrayogini’s case — although she may appear alone — she always carries a Katangha staff on her shoulder. This is the symbolic form of the male deity. In the inset picture, she is in union with Chakrasamvara, but in solitary poses she might have the Katangha to represent the male deity.

In broad strokes, the symbolism divides (and yet is never divided) into two themes: capital-C Compassion (symbolized in male Englightened Buddhas) and capital-W Wisdom (symbolized by female Enlightened Dakinis.) The combination of the two, visualized as the union of the male (compassion) and female (wisdom), brings a bliss and intensity to daily meditations — the faster-path to helping us understand Shunyata (Emptiness) and Clear Light.

The Dakini is often said to be the “bringer of bliss and wisdom.” Vajrayogini, the Queen of the Dakinis, is the best known of the Enlightened Feminine — after, perhaps, Venerable Tara. Vajrayogini is none other than an emanation of Tara (or vice versa, it doesn’t matter.)

Psychology of Dakinis

Noted psychologist, Rob Preece, in The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, describes the power of Dakini symbols:

“As an archetypal symbol of the feminine, the dakini brings fiery wildness and deep instinctuality of feminine… As an aspect of Anima, she is at the heart of our relationship life. The Dakini is known as a messenger, a bringer of profound intuitions, and insight into the deepest aspects of the psyche.” He goes on to describe Vajrayogini as the “most potent validation of this quality.”

“Her fiery red, dancing form reflects a quality similar to the flamenco dancer — proud, undaunted, powerful and erotic. She carries a curved knife to cut through the ignorance and stupidity she encounters, and, holding a skullcup of blood, she drinks a blissful nectar of the essence of her feminine power. Across her shoulder is a staff, called a khatvanga, symbolizing her integration of the masculine. She is adorned with bone ornaments and a crown of skulls and around her neck she wears a necklace of skulls.”

“She is the dance or play of emptiness, like the play of light rippling on the surface of water. Her appearance is manifest, yet illusory.” Buddha Weekly Beautiful Vajrayogini modern style Buddhism A beautiful newari (new-style) take on Vajrayogini.

Vajrayogini, dancing wisdom

In a recent story honoring Dakini Day, we described the feminine wisdom deities this way (story here>>):

Dakinis are portrayed as elusive, playful and often fierce and naked to symbolically convey how elusive true Wisdom encompassing “Emptiness” can be.”

Beautiful tangkha of Father Heruka Mother Vajrayogini, Compassion and Wisdom together, by the incomparable Laura Santi. Prints are available on her Etsy store>>

But why is Vajrayogini not only naked, but so exquisitely (almost distractingly) beautiful. Not just beautiful, but sexual, unabashed, carefree, youthful and passion-inspiring.

It’s a difficult concept to describe. Basically, in Vajrayana, the deities appear in a form that aligns with obstacles we are trying to overcome. Vajrayogini is so desirous, that she almost appears to challenge us to overcome our silly craving for sensual pleasures. “See, there’s nothing special about being naked and dancing around,” she almost seems to say.

Of course, the message is not so superficial. Her nudity expresses how we must shed not only our cravings but our pre-conceived notions of how things are — if we are to understand the true nature of the universe, which is Emptiness (Shunyata.)

Vajryogini’s Appearance

Vajrayogini is not always red. In union with Hayagriva she is blue. She is not always in union, sometimes she is alone and dancing with a Katvanga (which represents her consort). Often, as Vajravarahi, she is seen with a sow’s head (pig) sprouting from her wild hairsymbolic of overcoming ignorance.

Buddha Weekly Hayagriva Tamdrin Embracing Vajrayogini Vajra Varahi Buddhism Vajrayogini in her blue form as consort of the great Hayagriva, Heruka aspect of Amitabha Buddha. In this form she has a sow’s head (symbolizing overcoming of ignorance) and Hayagriva has a horse head signifying the activity of Dharma Speech (most important of the three jewels.) For a story on Hayagriva Vajrayogini see here>>

“Although there are a number of visual representations of Vajrayogini, certain attributes are common to all: She is mostly shown as young, naked, and standing in a desirous or dancing posture. She holds a blood-filled skull cup in one hand and a curved knife (kartr or dri-gug) in the other. Often she wears a garland of human skulls or severed heads; has a khatvanga staff leaning against her shoulder; her usually wild hair flowing down her neck and back; her face in a semi-wrathful expression. Her radiant red body is ablaze with the heat of yogic fire and surrounded by the flames of wisdom.” [1]

Practicing Vajrayogini

Although Vajrayogini is a Highest Yoga Tantra, requiring both permission and empowerment, anyone can honor, pray to, or meditate on her as an “external deity.” It is not permitted to visualize the self as Vajrayogini without initiation, and probably not to chant the mantra, but one can come closer to Vajrayogini’s enlightened qualities through praise, offerings and prayers without empowerments.

Unlike other meditations, however, the very energetic nature of Vajrayogini’s meditation — designed as it is to cope with the high pace of our “degenerate times” — requires some guidance. The best path to Vajrayogini is through a qualified teacher, with proven lineage.