Visualizing Yourself as a Deity

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Cumbria, England (Archive #123)

Lama Yeshe discusses tantric meditation experience in this excerpt from A Commentary on the Yoga Method of Divine Wisdom Manjushri, teachings given by Lama Yeshe at Manjushri Institute, Cumbria, England, in July–August 1977. Edited by Nicholas Ribush.

Lama Yeshe with students at Manjushri Institute, England, 1977.

When we practice tantric yoga method sadhanas and transform our consciousness into the transcendent, rainbow body of our meditation deity we should simultaneously recognize the unity of the rainbow body and its nondual nature. The rainbow body of the deity is totally nondual. Nonduality and the transformation, the transcendent experience of the clean-clear, crystal rainbow body, are completely one. It’s like it’s there, but it’s not there. If you were to try to touch it, it would be like trying to touch a rainbow. Your hand can’t feel it yet there’s something there. It’s real; there’s some energy there. You can’t say that a rainbow isn’t real because you can’t touch it by hand.

Sometimes when I’m watering my garden there’s a rainbow in the spray. If there are any students around, we’ll have a conversation about the reality of a rainbow. Our physical senses are really gross, and because a rainbow is relatively insubstantial, we tend to think it’s nonexistent. But a rainbow is as existent as a concrete wall. We can’t say that a wall is more existent than a rainbow just because it feels solid to the touch. Both are equally real.

How does a rainbow exist? Through the coming together of various factors, such as water, light and so forth. It’s an interdependent phenomenon that simply reflects the combined energies that make it up. That’s the way in which it exists and that’s all there is to what we call a rainbow. We know it’s not solid, that it’s simply a conglomeration of parts to which we give the name rainbow.

The way in which the transformation—the transcendent experience of the divine deity body—exists is exactly the same as the way in which a rainbow exists. In reality it, too, exists but in experiencing unification we recognize it as nondual, non-self-existent and insubstantial. There’s nothing physical to touch; it’s simply the reflection of a combination of parts in the mirror of wisdom. Although it is a clearly apparent vision, completely transparent, simultaneously it is absolutely nondual in nature.

By developing this kind of awareness, we become more sensitive and our dull, animal attitude is eliminated. We become more sensitive to the subtler aspects of reality. Then even concrete walls can appear to us as insubstantial and as something we can perhaps pass through. We can have such powerful experiences.

Perhaps you’ve heard stories of some of the early Mahayana yogis and yoginis who left imprints of their hand in stone or stepped into rocks as if they were pools of water. We think these are simply magic tricks, hypnotic illusions. That’s not true. We don’t believe such things are possible because of our limited view of the nature of material energy but such things are not only possible, they happened.

I’ve seen people on TV smashing a pile of bricks with their bare hands. It looks like magic. If I brought a pile of bricks into this room, how many of you could smash even one with your bare hands? It looks like a magic trick, but it’s not. We know that there are people everywhere who can do this. How do they explain it? They say that instead of regarding the bricks as physical they regard them more as a concentration of energy and by focusing their minds they are able to smash them by hand.

Our problem is that when we are faced with something like this, inside us there’s a mind going, “Impossible, impossible, impossible. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” We have to banish that mind from this solar system. Anything is possible; everything is possible. Sometimes you feel that your dreams are impossible, but they’re not. Human beings have great potential; they can do anything. The power of the mind is incredible, limitless.

In the meditation session, then, we try to experience the unity of insubstantiality, non-self-existence, and the blissful, radiant, rainbow body and single-pointedly contemplate on that. But then you might ask, “It’s all very well doing this in retreat but what happens when I get back home and have to go to work? How can I meditate on non-self-existence in the real world?”

The answer is that if you can have an experience of nonduality during formal meditation, when you are out and about during the breaks, working or doing whatever else you do, when you look at the objects of the sense world you can simultaneously perceive their nonduality. Then the normal concrete vision that once made you feel small and insignificant no longer dominates your life.

When you’re at a retreat course you should be contemplating in this way all the time: during the meditation and discourse sessions and when you get up and go outside during the breaks, as well. As I always say, you should make the break times meditation sessions too. Transform everybody you see as well as all other objects into the divine Manjushri rainbow body and recognize the unity of the blissful light body and nonduality.

People have different experiences when they try to meditate. For example, you might find that for the first half of a one-hour session, your concentration is good, but for the last half hour it’s impossible. Too much superstition arises. This shows that your energy is unbalanced. You put too much energy into the beginning of your session and when it’s used up, you come down. Sometimes this can simply be the result of physical weakness and eating food or having a drink can solve the problem. More often it’s a result of unskillful practice. Instead of putting all that effort into the beginning of the session, start off in a more relaxed fashion and try to ration your mental energy so that it lasts the entire hour.

Other people find that they have too many superstitions at the beginning of the session but that after about thirty minutes they settle down and their concentration is good from then on. That’s often the fault of not being mindful before the session begins and bringing outside influences into the session with you. Because of that, you don’t have enough penetrative energy at the start, but as the outside influences wear off, your concentration improves. In the previous example you needed to slacken your energy at the beginning; here you need to put in more effort at the start.

Meditation means working with mental energy, so you need to be sensitive to how much fuel you’re adding to the fire. If you don’t put in enough, the fire dies out. If you put in too much, it finishes too quickly. You should learn from experience how much effort to exert at which time.

Also, when you meditate, you can start speculating: “Now I’m a meditator. Before, I wasn’t a meditator. Perhaps today I’ll get enlightened.” You start to think about the past, present and future. That’s not good; that, too, is superstition. Make a conscious effort to stop stimulating discursive thought. Some people distract themselves by thinking, “This is great; I’m getting beautiful visions. I’m blissful.” Or you might start visualizing others having a good time, dancing or whatever, and get caught up in being a spectator, distracting yourself in that way. All this is just more superstition. Perhaps you start intellectualizing, “Let me see if I can become nothingness” or “Let me see if I can visualize the most beautiful deity.” This sort of mental expression is distraction; it is in the nature of superstition.

The main point of contemplation, of visualizing this evolution into the deity, is to stop your ego and superstition from functioning, so all such mental speculation is uptight energy that only makes you more uptight. It is much better to be a bit loose, relaxed. When your mind arrives at the object of contemplation, just leave it alone; let it go. Don’t worry; just contemplate.

You know what Zen masters say: “When you cut, cut; when you cook, cook; when you eat, eat.” That’s good. When you contemplate, contemplate. That’s enough. Don’t start thinking, “Great; my concentration is really good.” It’s superstition; it’s no good. When your mind settles on the object of contemplation, loosen up; let it go.

But “loosen up” doesn’t mean be unaware. You have to maintain awareness; retain mindfulness. The connotation of “loose” and “let go” is when you’re mind is in the right channel, loosen it and let it go instead of thinking this and that, binding it with the rope of discursive thought.

Even if thoughts come, one after the other, most of them are objects; they’re not your subjective mind. No matter what those objects are, transform them into the divine, blissful, rainbow body of the deity and allow them to sink into you, the deity.