Visualisation and Mantra
By Lama Zangmo
Today I am meant to explain visualisation and mantra recitation to you. You are regularly doing this here so I am assuming that you know quite a lot about it already. I don’t think I have anything new to say. I always feel like everything I am saying is something people know already but maybe it’s just good to hear things again and again so that eventually we remember.
The whole purpose of the Vajrayana and the deity Practices is to develop pure outlook. That’s the view and the basis of what we’re trying to do. It’s actually called 'taking the result as the path'. So what that means is that we accept the fact or the idea that we are already Buddhas. We’re already Chenrezig, we’re already Tara, we’re already a Buddha but, on a day to day level, we’re obscuring that, polluting it. That’s the problem: we’re polluting this purity that is already there. So it’s not like we’re trying to create, or imagine, or identify with, something that isn’t there already. We’re saying 'This is who I really am. This is truly who I am.' We can relate to this because it’s what we really want to be like. This is what we’re aiming for when we’re practicing, that purity and Buddha Nature. So it’s the goal. Our ultimate goal is Buddhahood, even though it’s almost too big to think about. Like Rinpoche said the other day, talking about Enlightenment is too much. But when we do Practice, these Vajrayana visualisations, that is what we’re doing. We’re trying to generate this pure outlook of everything - of ourselves, of all beings, body, speech and mind; and of the environment. We’re saying that everything is essentially pure: the body is the deity; all sound is their mantra; and the environment is their mandala (palace or pure realm).
So the training is about identifying with that, and becoming familiar with it. So we’re taking as a basis the fact that we have Buddha Nature and that it’s just temporarily obscured by lots of concepts and habitual patterns. We don’t feel like Buddha, we don’t feel like Chenrezig when we’re caught up in our day to day life and activities. We feel sometimes quite far from being a Buddha. But through these practices we are remembering that purity and habituating ourselves to think more positively and to identify with it.
In the texts it’s said that Buddha Nature is like a diamond that’s been buried in the ground, under the house of a very poor person who’s been living in poverty for lifetimes and lifetimes. Then they hear about this treasure and so they begin to dig until they catch a glimpse of it. But still it might be covered with layers of dirt and so they clean it - first with heavy implements, but gradually using finer tools and, finally, polishing the treasure.
So it is with our spiritual practice. This treasure (Buddha Nature) has been there all along and through Practice we get closer to it. We know that it’s there because people we can trust have told us about it and because we can sometimes catch a glimpse of it ourselves. And this is what we are saying in Vajrayana Practice: ‘I am truly the deity’ and so I choose to identify with that not just in Practice sessions, but in all aspects of daily life, since everything is the union of emptiness and appearance (or clarity). So Vajrayana Practice is reminding us of the illusory, non-solid nature of appearances, which is what we are constantly covering up with concepts, thoughts and labels: all our habitual ways of judging. And it is also training us to be in the moment in a state of clarity beyond this habitual conceptualisation.
So most of our Practice involves the creation stage, ie visualisations and the recitation of mantra. The completion stage is where we dissolve all of that into emptiness: dissolving ourselves as the deity or, if we’re visualising a deity in front of us, dissolving that deity into ourselves and then resting our mind in the state of clarity and emptiness. In the context of pujas this stage can be very short, although the Six Yogas of Naropa (Dream Yoga; Clear Light; Illusory Body; Tumo; Bardo and Powa) are also Kagyu lineage completion stages Practices, covering all aspects of daily life (and death).
To help purify appearances and go beyond the neurotic aspect of 'I', or ego, whichever Practice we are doing, our visualisations should have three qualities: clarity; purity and Vajra Pride.
So, when we have a clear view of the deity, this helps us to purify the way we perceive appearances, so we can see them (and ourselves) as less solid and ordinary: more like a rainbow in space or the moon reflected in water, transparent and insubstantial. And gradually, by visualising in this way, we can reduce our clinging to appearances as real and solid. At the same time, by developing Vajra Pride (truly identifying with Buddha Nature and gaining confidence in it) we counteract our ordinary sense of self and ego-clinging.
In the beginning, however, we tend to think: 'Why do I have to do all of these busy practices, when my mind is already so busy?' But this is a very skilful way of using our energy - by channelling it into all of the different details involved in the Practice - using very disciplined conceptualisation to overcome conceptualisation (like homoeopathy!) until we develop the ability to rest our mind in a state of total clarity, Mahamudra.
The benefits of these practices are huge if we really become very familiar with them. A powerful Practice - in life and in the Bardo - is to think that everybody and everything is the deity and the more we practise this, the more natural it becomes to maintain this purity of outlook and the easier it is to overcome fear and the negative emotions that are cause for rebirth in the lower realms.
Similarly, since mantras come from the realisation of great Bodhisattvas, they also carry great power and blessings - not just for those who recite them but also for those who hear them. It’s said, for example, that if animals hear the Mani mantra it’s like sowing the seed for a good rebirth. So if we see animals that are dying, if we come across sick animals and we recite the mantra to them, wishing for them to have a good rebirth, then we are linking them up with the Dharma in that way.
The Mani mantra and the Kalachakra mantra are said to have very strong blessing power. For example, when Akong Rinpoche does geomancy these are the mantras he uses. I’ve seen him in different places where he’s been asked to use divining rods to see if the geomancy is OK.
I remember seeing him in one place. A woman had asked him to check out her shop. She had a New Age shop with all these different sorts of electrical cash machines, music machines and he checked out the general geomancy of the shop to see if this was a good and positive layout. He used a set of divining rods and every time he passed a certain place in the shop, between the electrical machines, they would swing very strongly. He kept going past it and showing there was some kind of electrical current there that wasn’t very beneficial. Then, to demonstrate the power of the mantra, first he put one person in between and then again he tried it with the rods and again they showed the same reading as before. Then he took an Om Mani Padme Hung mantra and he laid it over their back. Right away it blocked the current so when he walked through there was no current anymore.
He did the same thing with a protection cord, one of those protection cords we get in the Empowerments, and showed how - when a protection cord was worn - the negative reading was not there. He showed it with his own Gau. So when I saw that, I was amazed to see this completely clear result of the power of the mantra.
It is said that these mantras liberate through hearing, through seeing, through touching, through meditating on them. So for that reason it’s good to listen to them, to meditate on them, touch them. For example, in coffins we can lay them on people who have died as a help and support for that person. Especially the Mani mantra.
Some of the mantras we recite silently, some it is good to recite aloud so others can hear them. A lot of them are meant to be recited fairly silently so that only we can hear them. So this helps us to use our speech in a positive way.