Karma Tashi Ling
Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Society
About sadhana meditation:
In order to achieve lasting happiness and to be able to help others, one needs to become aware of the true nature of one's own mind. One trains one's mind by learning what mind really is. Meditation in general and sadhana practice in particular provide a way to investigate the mind. Engaging in a sadhana ritual is a form of meditation that develops focus and attention, and it is a means for the meditator to accumulate merit and generate bodhicitta. Another important aspect of this ritual is that the meditator is turning his or her mind away from entrenched patterns of thought that are based in the obscuring emotions, and placing his or her mind on mental images and words that bring peace and well-being.
At Karma Tashi Ling, on Sunday mornings we practice sadhanas of the following meditational deities on an alternating basis:
On Wednesday nights, we also practice the sadhana of the Bodhisattva of Compassion,
- Chenresig (in Tibetan)
also known as Avalokiteshvara (in Sanskrit).
For more information on the sadhana of Chenresig and a fuller description of each phase of the ritual, please see our Dharma Practice page.
Deity practice is unique to Tibetan Buddhism; for more information on this subject, please see the Practice Overview tab.
Further information on sadhanas and meditational deities:
Sadhana practice involves two phases: the creation phase, where the meditator actively creates a visualization that has a variety of elements, including imagining Buddhas and their retinues, sacred implements and adornments, and imagining the outside world as the pure land of the Buddha. The implements and adornments are symbols that we can use to increase our understanding of our enlightened potential. Unless it is pointed out to us, we don't realize how deeply our sense of ourselves and the world is captured within everyday concepts and ideas that are both limiting and deluded in many ways. We develop a kind of confused view and we then try to make that confusion workable somehow. And it's rarely sufficient to use our intellect and tell ourselves that we know appearances aren't what they seem. Sadhana practice provides a way to work with some of the mental mechanisms and processes that underlie how we perceive the world, and how we make meaning out of it. The visualization includes elements where we assign meaning, based on what Awakening is and how to achieve it.
For example, the Bodhisattva Chenresig is shown as holding a lotus and a wish-fulfilling jewel. The lotus is born from the mud, but not tainted by it. Chenresig holds a wish-fulfilling jewel, which symbolizes that Chenresig's mind is never separate from the all pervasive, non-referential state of primordial wisdom, that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence.
The creation phase also includes visualization of one's own self as the deity and recitation of an associated mantra.
The second phase of the sadhana is the completion phase, where the meditator releases the entire visualization and rests in the natural space of the mind.
For more information on creation and completion, please see this teaching by Rinpoche.
About the term "deity":
Sadhana practice has many aspects. It is a Sanskrit term, and usually refers to a guided ritual practice, and is often used to describe what is called deity worship, where the principle focus of the sadhana is a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva, or other form of enlightened being. In the West we are used to thinking of a deity as a being separate from us - there is a duality in how we relate to these kinds of ideas. The word "deity" is used carefully here, as an approximate English equivalent of the Tibetan word "yidam", which means something closer to "highest mind". The sadhana provides a pathway for connecting with the deity, or Buddha, who is both an aspect of one's own highest mind, and something that has a separate reality of its own. Through this practice, the practitioner transforms his or her understanding of his or her own basic nature, which is really empty, radiant awareness.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche has given a teaching on the subject of yidams and their associated environment in an article on mandalas that can be found here. For further information, please see this article by the well-known translator Sarah Harding, on the Lion's Roar website.
Chenresig is thought of as a representation of the compassion of all the Buddhas. "Chenresig is also within us because love and compassion are not qualities added to the mind", as Bokar Rinpoche says in his book, Chenresig: Lord of Love. Chenresig can also be thought of as a symbol for Enlightenment itself, the union of emptiness and compassion. Tibetans are especially devoted to Chenresig, and many revered lamas are considered to be embodiments of this great being, such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
Chenresig is portrayed in different forms, and he is found in many Buddhist traditions. Sometimes we see him with two arms, sometimes with one thousand arms. In the sadhana practiced at Karma Tashi Ling, Chenresig has four arms, representing the Four Immeasurables (Immeasurable Love, Immeasurable Compassion, Immeasurable Joy, and Immeasurable Equanimity). The upper right hand holds a crystal mala, the upper left a lotus, and the middle two hands are holding a wish-fulfilling jewel. He wears a deer-skin over his left shoulder, symbolizing the ability to ease strife. He is seated in lotus position, with Amitabha Buddha above his head.
The Medicine Buddha (Sangye Menla) practice is the heart of Tibetan Medicine. He is shown as a blue seated Buddha, in monk's robes with his right hand at his right knee holding the stem of an arura flower, and his left hand in his lap holding a bowl.
The Buddha Shakyamuni spoke about the Medicine Buddha on being asked by one of his disciples for a teaching on past Buddhas, their merits, names and their commitments. In this sutra, the Buddha Shakyamuni spoke about Medicine Buddha, and described the benefits of doing Medicine Buddha practice, which are very numerous and include healing illness and clearing obstacles, developing greater wisdom and discernment, all the way to achieving complete realization. In Sanskrit it is recorded that the Medicine Buddha spoke these words:
Samyak – sambuddhaya
Om Bhaishajye Bhaishajye
In Tibetan the mantra itself is usually recited as:
Om Bekandze Bekandze
Radza Samudgate Soha
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche spoke about Medicine Buddha practice in this article, where he describes using medicine as a relative means to achieve health and well-being. Ultimately, health and well-being come from seeing the nature of mind itself. But Rinpoche points out that Medicine Buddha is shown holding the stem of an arura plant, which was prized in ancient India for its healing properties. Thus we have to combine relative and ultimate means to achieve true freedom, and to be able to benefit other beings.
Until we experience this kind of health and well-being, we find it difficult to relate to practicing this way. But the basis of this practice is compassion ... as part of Medicine Buddha practice we visualize ourselves with the same capabilities as Medicine Buddha.
From the website medicinebuddhatoday.com:
Medicine Buddha can help in many ways. First, as we resonate with the practice and sense of Menla and call him into our mind and heart, we lessen any tendency to rely on fear-based thinking. Our sense of who we are and what is happening in our life will become more bright and clear. This alone can help with whatever health problem or conflict we face. When our mind is more clear, we can more fully invoke the natural health within and in all the universe, and we can bring these two experiences of health together into one, powerful healing force. Second, knowing Menla can inspire us, even if only in little ways at first, to not only care for ourselves, but to go beyond the confines of any illness or problem, to a bigger, braver, more caring and joyful vision of opening to our world. This is the goal of all Buddhist practice - to be well enough so that we can help our world. And finally, eventually Menla will take us to complete enlightenment.
White Tara is one manifestation of Tara's wisdom energy, which actually has many forms. She appears with one face and two arms, and is white in colour, representing purity. She sits in lotus position, with her right hand in the gesture of bestowing gifts, and her left hand at her heart holding the stem of a white utpala flower with blossoms in three stages of growth. These blossoms represent the Buddhas of the past, present and future. Her body is shown having seven eyes, including two in normal position on her face with a third between her brows. Two more eyes may be found on the palms of her hands, and the last two on the soles of her feet. These are usually described as the seven eyes of knowledge. Buddha Amitabha is found above her head.
White Tara protects one from an untimely death, which enables one to practice the Dharma longer in this life. She also bestows merit and wisdom. For more information on Tara, please see the section on Green Tara below.
Guru Rinpoche / Padmasambhava
Guru Rinpoche, which means "Precious Guru", is also known as Padmasambhava, which means "Lotus-Born". He is a beloved figure in Tibetan Buddhist practice. Guru Rinpoche, along with the great pandita Shantarakshita, established Buddhism in Tibet during the reign of King Trisong Detsen. King Trisong Detsen and 25 disciples were the main students of Padmasambhava, and over the 55 years that Padmasambhava was in Tibet they worked on translating many of the Buddha's teachings. Padmasambhava is also the main source of the Terma tradition, mystical teachings that were hidden in the earth and in the minds of his main devotees. For more about termas, please see the Rigpa wiki
Although Guru Rinpoche is the historical head of the Tibetan Nyingma lineage, he is revered through all the lineages. He is easily recognizable in the form he is usually shown, wearing beautiful flowing robes with a dorje in his right hand at his heart, and his left hand is in his lap holding a skull cup with a vase of longevity in it, adorned by a jewel on top. On his head he is wearing a special hat called a lotus crown which has a panache of vulture feathers on top of it. At his left elbow is a staff called a khatanga, which represents the prajna aspect, the understanding of emptiness.
Padmasambhava is recorded as having had a miraculous birth - born from a lotus flower as a young child, not an infant. This could represent his attainment of enlightenment without having had to follow stages along a path, or practice gradually to realize the ultimate truth.
Guru Padmasambhava taught the Vajrayana, and he is associated with the principle of Guru Yoga, the perfect embodiment of it.
The Vajrayana is also known as Tantra. Tantric teachings are based on the Sutra Mahayana, but offer a more subtle understanding of our experience and additional methods to realize enlightenment. Vajrayana practice encourages us to take a deeper look at our perceptions, recognize our primordial nature, and maintain our mind in its natural state.
The 17th Karmapa is often described as being a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche in our times.
Amitabha BuddhaAmitabha Buddha is a cherished figure across many major sects of Mahayana Buddhism in Asia. His name means "Infinite Light". Amitabha is a fully realized Buddha with an associated Pure Land called Dewachen. Before he became a Buddha, he was a Bodhisattva known as Dharmakara who made 48 vows, one of which was not to attain Buddhahood until he had created a Pure Land where beings who practiced sincerely could go to become enlightened. His Pure Land is said to be closer to our world than the Pure Lands of other Buddhas.
In the sadhana practice, we are coming from the perspective of Amitabha in his Pure Land. He is usually shown in the lotus posture with his hands in meditation mudra in his lap, and is red in color. He is accompanied by Chenresig in white standing on his right, and Vajrapani in blue standing on his left.
Green Tara is an enlightened being who, before she achieved Buddhahood, promised to manifest in female form to free sentient beings from suffering. She is usually shown in a seated posture with her right leg in front of her left, symbolizing her ability to take swift action to come to the aid of beings. She is green in color, with her right hand at her right knee holding the stem of an utpala flower, and her left hand at her heart in the Three Jewel's gesture, holding another utpala flower.
In all her forms she is the perfect body speech and mind, activities peace[ful] and powerful. ... in all her colors she reflects the 5 Buddha families and the Kayas. Within [this] one practice we can realize all the blessings, according to our method we will experience the complete result. ... . ... . ... all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are the pure reflection of the Buddha nature, so we can try not to get fixated on the external [forms] but instead through the practice try to realize this aspect of our own Buddha nature through transforming the way we view ordinary reality and experiences.