Use Your Imagination
From Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche's site, with permission, comes this extract from
the newsletter of January, 2001 containing extracts from Namo Buddha
Publications Creation and Completion. Text is by the first Jamgon
Kongtrul, comments by Khenpo Thrangu (Texas in 1992) with Sarah Harding's
The spacing, capitalization and so on have sometimes been
edited for ease in reading on-screen.
Creation or generation is the stage of vajrayana practice in which the
visualization of the deity is formed within the mind of the
practitioner. However, in this text the lama also speaks of
"the complete correspondence to all the events of one life cycle. Starting
with the bardo and the entrance of the bardo consciousness into the womb, going
through your whole life and ending with your death, and again your entrance into
[Khenpo Thrangu Rinpoche explains the motive for these
BECAUSE IT SEEMS THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED to know about it, I am going to go into
more detail about the generation stage, specifically from among the four topics
of the generation stage, the aspect of methods which purify and that which is
purified by the generation stage.
Essentially the structure and format of the generation stage practice is
connected with, or corresponds to the way we are born. The idea of
being born is the acquisition of a new body. New body of course
does not mean your first body, just your latest body, your most
recently acquired body.
There are four different ways that sentient beings can be born.
The first is womb birth, where as in the case of humans and other mammals
you are born from the womb of your mother. The second, which is very
similar, is egg birth, where you are hatched from an egg that has issued
forth from the womb, as is the case with birds, reptiles and so on. Those
two types are fairly coarse in manner of birth. Then there is one that is
a little more subtle, and although this is often presented as a separate type of
birth (the way that beings who are not born from a womb or from eggs are born),
it can also be understood as another aspect of either womb or egg generation,
which is birth from heat and moisture.
These first three types of birth correspond to three types of generation
stage visualization that are principally designed to purify the habit of
these types of birth. Womb birth is purified by the style of generation
called "five-fold manifest awakening," egg birth by that which
is called the "four vajras," birth from heat and moisture by
that which is called the "three procedures" or "three
The fourth type of birth is the way in which beings in certain realms who have
particularly subtle bodies appear. It is an instantaneous birth
occurring in the absence of womb, egg or even heat and moisture as conditions
for birth. This type of instantaneous birth is purified by what is called
"instantaneous generation," which is also known as "generation
that is complete in an instant of recollection." In this case the
meditation of the deity does not begin with the establishment of the mandala and
the seat of the deity and then the placement of the seed syllable on the seat,
its transformation into a scepter and then the scepter into the deity as is
usual in other visualizations.
In this case, in an instant of recollection you simply visualize yourself as
the deity without the many preliminary steps. However, although these four types
of visualization (five-fold manifest awakening, four vajras, three procedures,
and complete in an instant of recollection) do correspond individually to the
four types of birth, it is not the case that practicing any one of these does
not purify all four. It does. Even though there is a correspondence, any
one of these is sufficient in order to purify the four types of birth.
Once one has generated the deity's form through whichever of these four
procedures, then you visualize that deity with their particular position, color,
costume, ornamentation, scepters, the father, the mother, the retinue, the
mandala in which they abide, and so on. From that point onwards the practice
will vary quite a bit.
Depending upon what specific practice it is, there may be many other steps
and stages along the way. In any case it will conclude with what is called
the "withdrawal procedure."
Withdrawal refers to the dissolution or withdrawal of the mandala into the
clear light or emptiness. The entire practice can consist of a great deal
of elaboration and many steps or can be very simple and concise. In any
case the entire practice, starting from the very beginning of the
generation of the deity and culminating with the dissolution or withdrawal of
the deity and mandala into the clear light, corresponds to all the events of
one life. The very beginning of the generation corresponds to the entrance
of the consciousness into the womb, for example in the case of a human life. As
the practice goes on there are specific elements that correspond to the birth,
to all the experiences of this life and finally in the case of the withdrawal
phase, to death.
There are many variations in the procedure, style and content of these
generation stage practices. For example, in Tibet there were two periods
of the introduction of Buddhism. The initial or earlier spread of the teachings
in the eighth and ninth centuries led to what is called the old or Nyingma
tradition. The subsequent renewal of the doctrine with the
introduction of new translations from India in the eleventh century by various
translators led to what is called the new or Sarma tradition.
The procedures and style of the practices of the generation stage in the Nyingma
and Sarma traditions vary somewhat, at least in appearance and in method, but
there is no difference in their effectiveness in the actual purification
of the kleshas.
It is just like for example, if one has an illness of the eyes one might
treat it with a surgical procedure or one might treat it with a medicine
consumed by mouth. In either case, one could remove whatever is
obstructing or obscuring one's vision. In the same way although the actual
methods vary slightly the focus of both the Sarma and the Nyingma generation
stage practices is identical.
Next the text gives a description of how a generation stage practice would work.
The type of generation stage practice that is used for an example, is (from the
two styles of Sarma and Nyingma) basically a Nyingma model but it will give you
an idea of how a generation stage procedure works.
The characteristic of a Nyingma approach to generation stage is the
cultivation of what are called the "three samadhis" or "three
meditative absorptions." These correspond to the dharmakaya, the
sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya.
The first samadhi connected with the dharmakaya is called the "samadhi
of thatness or suchness." It essentially consists of meditation on
emptiness. With regard to what it purifies, it corresponds to one's
death in the preceding life, to the point at which the appearances of the
preceding life have vanished and there is an experience of nothing whatsoever
which is like emptiness.
Following this meditation on emptiness, which is the samadhi of thatness and
corresponds to the dharmakaya, is the meditation on the compassion that
has the characteristics of being like a magical illusion. This is called
the "samadhi or meditative absorption which appears everywhere."
It corresponds to the sambhogakaya and it purifies the subsequent experience of
the bardo (one's experience after one's previous death and before one's
conception in this life.) The function of this second samadhi which corresponds
to the sambhogakaya is to form a link between the dharmakaya and the coarse or
full manifestation of the nirmanakaya. Therefore, it forms the basis for
[a] prelude to the generation of the mandala.
The third samadhi, which is connected to the nirmanakaya is called the "samadhi
of cause" and is the initial visualization of the seed syllable of
the deity. This corresponds to the emergence of your consciousness from
the bardo and its actual entrance into the womb. Therefore, along with
visualizing the seed-syllable one visualizes the seat or pedestal of the deity,
which will consist of either a lotus with sun and moon discs or a lotus with
either just a moon or just a sun.
Initially one begins the visualization by imagining this lotus, sun and moon
pedestal; this corresponds to and purifies the white and red elements, the sperm
and ovum which come from the parents and are the physical or substantial basis
for your physical body.
Then you visualize on top of this the seed-syllable of the deity; this
corresponds to and purifies the entrance of your consciousness from the bardo
into the womb at the time of conception.
Then when you visualize that the seed-syllable changes into the deity's
characteristic scepter which is marked at its center by the seed-syllable, this
corresponds to the period of gestation in the womb.
When the scepter, together with the seed-syllable is transformed into the
complete body of the deity, this corresponds to and purifies the moment of
Having visualized yourself as the deity, you imagine the three syllables of
OM, AH, HUNG in the three places of the deity's body; this purifies the habits
from this life of body, speech and mind. (This procedure is essentially
characteristic of the Nyingma school, beginning with the three samadhis and then
culminating in the gradual generation of the deity from syllable, scepter and
the entire body.)
In the tantras of the Sarma or New Translation school there is often the
generation of the "causal vajra holder" and "resultant vajra
holder" which is a different way of generating the deity. (In
the more elaborate practices of the New Translation school there tend to be two
generations of the deity.) First, through whatever gradual
procedure the deity is generated; at that point the deity is called the causal
vajra holder. This first form of the deity is generated in order to purify
the process of death of one's previous life. The causal vajra holder form of the
deity which has been generated will then melt into light, becoming a sphere of
From that sphere of light the deity is generated a second time. This
is called the resultant vajra holder. This corresponds to and purifies the
arising of the mental body in the bardo or interval between lives as well as the
entrance of that consciousness which has arisen as a mental body into the womb;
the process of gestation and birth.
In the details these practices can vary quite a bit. For example, in some
practices with causal and resultant vajra holders at the time of the causal
vajra holder the other deities of the mandala will be emanated from the secret
space of the mother or consort of the principal deity. Then the causal
vajra holder, father and mother, will melt into light and become a sphere of
At that point the dakinis and other deities of the retinue who have been
emanated, will request the central deity, who is now in the form of a sphere of
light, to arise from emptiness for the benefit of beings, in response to which
that sphere of light will turn into the resultant vajra holder.
Also, in some other practices rather than having the causal and resultant
vajra holder, the end of one's previous life is purified by visualizing the
gradual dissolution of the three syllables OM, AH, HUNG corresponding to the
stages of death called appearance, increase and attainment. (In
that way within the general category of the New Translation school generation
stage practices, there are many variations.)
Whether the practice is of the Nyingma style or of the Sarma style, once the
deity has been generated completely usually you will visualize that from the
heart of yourself as the deity rays of light shoot out and invite the wisdom
beings or the jnanasattvas which are the actual deity. You think that
these are invited and dissolve into you, at which point you rest in the
confidence that the jnanasattvas have actually entered into your being.
This corresponds to and purifies the learning process you go through
Following that, again usually you will invite the five male and female
Buddhas and so forth, who will bestow empowerment upon yourself as the deity.
This is done in order to purify your family inheritance, everything that
you in any sense inherit from your parents.
Following that there will be homage to yourself as the deity, offerings and
praises. The function of these stages of the practice is to purify all of
your interactions throughout this life with the various objects of
experience, including your possessions and so on. (In short, every stage
of the generation stage practice is designed to correspond to and purify
something upon which we project impurity.)
Following that comes the repetition of the mantra. The mantra
repetition purifies all of your talk and conversation throughout your
life, especially talk connected to attachment, aversion and
Following that comes the withdrawal or dissolution of the visualization into
emptiness and finally the re-arising of yourself as the deity. These
correspond to your death at the end of this life and to your re-arising in a
mental body in the bardo or interval after death.
In that way the procedure of any one generation stage practice contains the
complete correspondence to all of the events of one life cycle starting with the
bardo and the entrance of the bardo consciousness into the womb; going through
your whole life and ending with your death, and again your entrance into the
Invariably such practices are preceded by going for refuge and generating
bodhichitta and followed by the dedication of merit and the making of
aspirations. These are essential for the practice to be a mahayana
practice. At the very beginning therefore, is the going for refuge and the
generation of bodhichitta as your intention for the practice, making aspirations
for the benefit of beings and at the end your dedication of the merit to all
beings. (These are the principal practices of the mahayana and therefore
are used to embrace the technique of the generation stage practice and make it a
proper mahayana practice.)
In many generation stage practices there will be additional elements,
such as the consecration of the offerings and sometimes feast offering.
The purpose of the consecration of offerings and the making of feast offerings
is to gather the two accumulations which are the accumulation of merit and the
accumulation of wisdom. Although the text says "to gather the two
accumulations," principally these lead to the accumulation of
In general context of mahayana, merit is accumulated by means of the first
five paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, diligence and meditation.
In the specific context of vajrayana, the methods by which merit is
accumulated emphasize the practice of meditation by means of which a small
thing can be magnified or multiplied in its power so that one accumulates of
merit without much difficulty.
For example, in the feast practice you use a very small offering as a basis
for meditation and in samadhi you multiply it extensively. It therefore
becomes a basis for an accumulation of merit that is far, far greater than the
thing in itself. The idea here is that through perfecting or completing
the accumulation of merit you come to accumulate the second accumulation of
wisdom. But in the direct effect, these feast offerings and offering
consecrations lead to the accumulation of merit principally.
The fourth topic about the generation stage is the result of purification;
result of the full removal of obscurations of the basis or ground of
purification. When that sugatagarbha or buddhanature that is itself the
ground of purification is fully revealed, when everything that obscures it is
removed, that is the result.
The view of the generation stage is that this Buddhanature itself contains
all of the qualities of the deities. So when you visualize yourself as
a deity you are visualizing yourself as something that is a similitude of your
own buddhanature, something that has the same characteristics as your own
buddhanature. The reason you do this is because by doing so you
familiarize yourself with buddhanature and therefore allow buddhanature to
It is not that through the generation stage you are creating a result.
You are revealing the ground as a result. The result is that through this
process of familiarization, taking the appearance of the ground as the path, you
come to fully reveal that ground. When everything that obscures it has been
removed, then that ground fully revealed is itself the fruition or result.
In other words, the result or fruition does not come from outside, it is
revealed from within.
The generation stage is the practice of a yidam and you do that specific
yidam practice exactly as it is prescribed in the liturgy for that practice. If
the liturgy is elaborate and long and prescribes an elaborate series of steps to
the visualization, that is what you visualize. If it is concise and
prescribes that the deity is visualized complete in an instant of recollection,
then that is what you visualize. In either case, in the principal or main
practice of a yidam, the main thing is to visualize yourself as that deity,
as that yidam.
We also do other practices where the emphasis is not on visualizing yourself as
a deity but on visualizing deities external to yourself. For example, when
we visualize the sources of refuge in the refuge and in prostration practice, we
visualize them in front of ourselves. When we visualize Vajrasattva in the
Vajrasattva preliminary practice we visualize Vajrasattva seated above our
head. When we do the Chenrezig practice we commence the practice with the
visualization of Chenrezig above our head. The reason why in these three
types of practices the visualization is different from a conventional generation
stage practice of self-visualization is that these practices are designed for
those who are beginning vajrayana practice. In the very beginning you
cannot simply start with revealing your own inner wisdom. You cannot begin
with the discovery of wisdom within yourself, which is the principal reason for
There is something that needs to be made dear about the nature of the deities in
the vajrayana because it seems in some contexts we almost externalize them as in
the preliminary practices. Primarily we view them as something internal,
something that is within us.
First of all a distinction needs to be made between the use of a deity in a
non-theistic tradition such as Buddhism and in a theistic tradition such as
Hinduism. In the Hindu practices which work with the iconography of
deities, the deities are considered to be external and essentially to have the
role of being creators of the universe. It is understood that these
deities have the power to make you happy and to make you suffer. These deities
if pleased have the power to bring you to liberation; have the power to grant
you all kinds of attainments; supreme and common attainments. Therefore, the
practice in such a tradition consists of praying to deities with the
greatest faith and devotion, making offerings to them with the understanding
that if they are pleased they will grant you attainments, and that if they are
not pleased and become angry they can actually cast you into the lower
The Buddhist view of deities is entirely different. First of all, it is
held by the Buddhist tradition that your happiness and suffering come about
because of your own previous actions, and that no other being can actually cause
you to experience what you have not caused yourself karmically. What you
experience comes about because of your own previous actions and because of your
habits of perception. Ultimately speaking, from a Buddhist point of view no
deity can grant you siddhi or attainment. You receive attainment through your
removal of those obscurations which otherwise obscure your innate wisdom. In the
Buddhist tradition attainment is the revelation of that wisdom that is innate.
Therefore in the Buddhist tradition we do not assert that attainment is actually
given to you by the whim of any external being.
On the other hand, there also exist traditions that say that there is no help
whatsoever from outside, that the path consists entirely of one's own internal
work and that any supplication of any awakened being is meaningless. But
this is not exactly the Buddhist view either, because while it is true that no
Buddha can hand you or give you the result or fruition of this path, they can
For example, if you consider this life: Up to a certain point in your life
you had no knowledge of Dharma whatsoever. Then through whatever series of
circumstances you approached a guru and received instruction from the guru who
became your root guru and something changed which is called the blessing of
Dharma. Before you didn't know what Dharma was and then you did.
Before you didn't know how to practice and then you did.
Many things changed as a result: Maybe you had no confidence in Dharma
and then came to have confidence. You had no devotion and then you came to
have devotion. You came to have more compassion than you did before. Your
meditation improves and so on.
Now none of these things were precisely given to you by your root guru, but
nevertheless something happens surrounding your relationship with the root
guru and this is what we call the blessing of the guru. This is all easy
to understand because it is concerned with your relationship or interaction with
someone you have met, someone who is another human being. But you also
supplicate gurus of the past, gurus you have not met, gurus who are not visible
to you at the present. So supplicating them, even though they also, like
your root guru, cannot hand you attainment or the fruition, like your root guru
they can influence you.
They can help you. It is not particularly that by supplicating them they
are pleased and therefore decide to share their spiritual wealth with you.
It is rather that the devotion you generate in your supplication of them causes
this blessing simply to occur. Therefore the guru can still grant blessing
even when he or she is not physically present in your perception. That is the
first of the three roots or three sources of vajrayana practice, the guru
which is the root of blessing.
The second root is the yidam, the deity which is the root of
attainment. Essentially, yidams are the forms of the sambhogakaya that
Buddhas take in order to communicate with and train beings. It is not the
case that literally speaking your yidam can give you or hand you supreme
attainment, but like gurus, yidams can influence you. They grant you
their blessing in the sense that through working with a yidam, a new clarity
dawns in your meditative absorption and you come to gradually realize something
or attain something. To be precise, we would say that in saying that
yidams are the root of siddhi, we do not mean that they grant it, but
that they facilitate it.
The third root is the dharmapalas or Dharma protectors who are the root
of activity. Now the function of dharmapalas is to help you free yourself from
anything that impedes your practice and path. They help to encourage your
exertion, encourage your devotion; they help you find ways to purify your
obscurations and your wrong-doing. Dharmapalas are basically Buddhas who
take this type of position or role for the aid of practitioners. So while
it is not the case that any external being can grant you supreme siddhi, these
three roots - the gurus, yidams and dharmapalas - if you supplicate them,
can bestow blessing and can help remove obstacles on your path.
For these reasons as you will discover when you do the intensive practice of the
generation stage in retreat, most generation stage practice consists of
visualizing yourself as the deity, because the most essential thing in our
practice of the generation stage is to reveal and expand our own innate
While that is the principal practice, in the special circumstances of feast
practice, particularly of self-empowerment in which you give yourself the
empowerment of that specific practice upon its completion, you not only do the
visualization of yourself as the deity, but you also visualize the deity in
front. You do so because making offerings to the deity visualized in front
of you, as it is in the context of feast practice, is a great way to
accumulate merit. By receiving the blessing or empowerment from the
deity visualized in front of you, you will be especially confident that you
actually received that blessing or received that empowerment.
(So this is the generation stage which is necessary and very helpful. If you
have any questions please go ahead. [End of teaching;
questions have been omitted.])
Clark Johnson, editor of the Newsletter of Ven. Thrangu
Rinpoche's organization in the USA, Email: email@example.com
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