Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

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Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Devotionary » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:28 pm

Good day all.

Can anyone please elaborate on the role--and necessity--of having a Yidam (Meditational Deity)?

Does doing a deity-centered practice bring more benefits than other types of practice? Or, is it just for a very special few
who get a Yidam?

Finally, can Buddhists of non-Tibetan schools (Chinese, Japanese, Pureland etc) benefit or acquire from YIdams?

Thanks for the insight!
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby lisehull » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:43 pm

Another question - can one do yidam practice as one's main practice without doing shamatha (shinay/calm abiding) regularly?
:meditate:
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:57 pm

I read two books recently that as a farily new practitioner to Tibetan traditions I found really illuminating:

The Practice Of Mahamudra by Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang and Robert Clark

and

Cultivating A Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method Of Chenrezig

The first book is not on deity yoga per se, but it's one of the clearest, simplest books i've checked out on Mahamudra, and goes into detail about how Deity yoga and sutra methods are similar, and different.

To make a long story short..in the first book he says that self-generation as the deity or meditation on the deity actually can actually be a form of Shamatha, as well as doing other things. At any rate both books (and other stuff) make points that Tantric methods include sutra methods within their practice - something I have heard everywhere.

As i'm sure everyone will say, obviously you need a teacher. If you want an idea of what Tantric practice is supposed to "do" though, I found both these books good for clearing up some basic confusion I had about what exactly the methods accomplish. Obviously best to ask a teacher, but if you have limited time to ask one, I found these good resources.
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby CrawfordHollow » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:58 pm

I am sure that you will get many replies from many folks far more qualified than myself, but let me offer a start nonetheless.

In order to practice a Yidam one generally needs three things: the empowerment (wang), scriptural transmission (lung), and pith instructions (tri). This serves to introduce you to the mandala of the deity and authorizes you to do the practice. It also ripens your mind and connects you to the lineage. So it is not necessary to call yourself a Tibetan Buddhist to do these practices, but you must have the connection to the lineage through these three things (wang, lung, and tri). The only way to do that is through a qualified guru. I would also say that it is also necessary to have faith in that guru and the process of empowerment. There is of course the topic of samayas, but that is a discussion of its own. The key to the whole picture is the guru, so it is completely unrealistic to think that you could do these types of practices on your own without any contact with the guru. As to the second question, deity practice is a type of shamata (and vipashyana) in itself, so by doing the practice properly you will develop your ability to rest your mind naturally.

I hope this helps.

Troy
Last edited by CrawfordHollow on Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Konchog1 » Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:22 am

Devotionary wrote:Good day all.

Can anyone please elaborate on the role--and necessity--of having a Yidam (Meditational Deity)?

Does doing a deity-centered practice bring more benefits than other types of practice? Or, is it just for a very special few
who get a Yidam?

Thanks for the insight!
A Yidam is a Buddha that you feel attracted to (past life connection) or is recommended for you by your Guru due to your mental dispositions. Most Sadhana revolve around Yidams. Yidam practice is the regular performance of that Yidam's Sadhana.

As far as I aware, Yidam practice is needed for Enlightenment in Tantra unless one practices Mahamudra or Dzogchen. Sometimes Yidam practice and Mahamudra/Dzogchen are performed together, especially in the Kagyu sect.

Devotionary wrote:Finally, can Buddhists of non-Tibetan schools (Chinese, Japanese, Pureland etc) benefit or acquire from YIdams?
Some Japanese Buddhist sects are Tantric. As far as I know, they have Yidam practice. Non-Tantric sects do not have Yidams.

lisehull wrote:Another question - can one do yidam practice as one's main practice without doing shamatha (shinay/calm abiding) regularly?
:meditate:
Lise
You can start without mastery of Shamatha. But you cannot master Yidam practice without mastering Shamatha.
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby lisehull » Sun Jan 20, 2013 1:12 am

I had forgotten that yidam practice is a form of shamatha. My teachers have said that one more than one occasion. Thanks for reminding me!
:namaste:
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby deepbluehum » Sun Jan 20, 2013 2:04 am

Hiram is a deity whose form is a teaching. Get a teacher.
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Devotionary » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:08 am

Thank you all for the responses!

Another question: how different is Yidam practice with, say, performing normal devotions or Sadhanas? Or is a Sadhana = Yidam practice?

If I attend a Chenzrezig Sadhana one day, then a Medicine Buddha Sadhana the next, does that mean that both of them are my Yidams?

Finally, WHO chooses the Yidam? Is it the Guru, myself or is there a test involved? And once one acquires a yidam, is he still allowed to
do other devotional practices (ex. Nembutsu, etc)?
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:13 am

Many teachers recommend one's yidam as the best object to use to train in single pointed concentration leading to shamatha.

If you attend the pujas of a given deity it does not make it your yidam. I participate in a variety of pujas with different Buddha-figures but I only have one yidam.

Many people ask their teachers what deities they might have a connection with in order to make a decision about their yidam. Other practitioners might take a particular initiation and then feel a deep connection with that particular deity and on this basis make the decision about their yidam.

Generally in the dharma circles I frequent people do not share who their yidam is publicly as this is seen as a personal matter and secrecy is seen as helping preserve the blessings of the practice.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Devotionary » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:42 am

Thanks Shifu. (I dont know how to formally address Tibetan monastics... Since most of the tibetan monastics I know speak a bit of Chinese, I always refer to them as Shifu anyway. So... sorry :p)

Is Yidam practice considered a life-long commitment, or something to complete as a next step to something greater like, say, a Ngondro?

And does it take a long time to find one's Yidam?
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:49 am

Hi there you can just call me by my name, Khedrup. I don't stand stand on formalities :tongue: Some Tibetan monastics use Venerable, or if they have a title perhaps they are called by that, ie. Geshe-la. Tibetans use a general term "Kushok-la" for monks but I prefer to just go by my ordination name.

Yidam practice for most of us will be a lifelong commitment. Usually people will recite at least a brief liturgy of their yidam everyday. I was also directed by my teachers to complete 100,000 mantras of my deity and seal it with a fire puja so I could to a self-initiation practice. Practitioners in long retreat will often spend a lot more time reciting mantras and doing the meditations related to their yidam, along with other practices.

The Ngondro actually comes before the yidam practice in most traditions. It is the "preliminary" for tantric practice. This also depends though. Many Gelugpas for example emphasize study of the sutra side of the path as a more important preliminary and then do the prostrations, Vajrasattva etc. (the ngondro) throughout their dharma life rather than focusing on completing them at the beginning all at once.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Devotionary » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:58 am

I ask this question about Yidams because I have been trying out different meditative and devotional practices. I've been mostly trained in Chan/Chinese Buddhism, and the Dharma Masters at the temple, while teaching mainly Zen, also encourage mantra recitation (in particular, Medicine Buddha, Cundi Bodhisattva and Ksitigarbha/Guan Yin.)

I feel like I want to explore more practices, but am drawn to devotional practice. I feel like if I gain the instructions of a Lama on which Yidam to take, then it would be a better commitment for me. (I already recite mantras from the said Buddhas/Bodhisattvas, but I'd like to "seal" my commitment on the best path to take.)

Yidam practice, I feel, may be compatible to Zen, as both emphasize Shamatha. (Our Zen teachers here do in fact teach Buddha-name recitation or Mantra recitation as a technique to Shamatha; posts above seem to be congruous/consistent with this view.)


So... If, for example, I want to take relatively lesser known deities as my Yidam (say, Ksitigarbha-Sai Nyingpo, or Cundi), would there be a Lama who could give me instructions?
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby wayland » Tue Jan 22, 2013 4:37 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:in the first book he says that self-generation as the deity or meditation on the deity actually can actually be a form of Shamatha

Good point JD. As Lisehull said, thanks for the reminder.
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby lobster » Fri Jan 25, 2013 1:28 pm

http://youtu.be/deaDsyFwIc8
. . . that is an example of a yidam practice I recently engaged with
Read the comments to understand the practice. :twothumbsup:

Loads to choose from . . .
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Re: Yidams: What are they, how does one get one?

Postby Simon E. » Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:12 pm

The importance of wang ( empowerment ) cannot be overemphasised.
It is a basic entry level requirement that cannot be got round.
My first teacher CTR said more than once that Yidam practice without the necessary empowerment is worse than useless.
He said it was "dud currency".
Fortunately we in in an age when authentic empowerment is more widely available than ever before.
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