theravada_guy wrote:Greetings Peter,
I never studied the Vajrayana deities close enough to notice any similarities to Hindu deities, other than the fact I know there's lots of iconography. I never knew where to study any of Vajrayana's deities in more detail. Other, than of course, the fact I know Ganesha and Saraswati are used in their practice.
I was wondering, in Vajrayana, do they consider their deities to be real, like Gautama Buddha was real, or are they just tools for gaining enlightenment? Or, to put it this way, do they use the deities until they gain enlightenment, and then dispense with them? Or something similar? Is it the same thing with things like prayer wheels and water bowl offerings? These are things I've just wondered over the course of time, as I do have a few books on Tibetan Buddhism, but I don't really read them. And, these are beginner books, so I doubt they'd have such information.
Isabelle Onians explains:
“Tantric Buddhism” . . . is not the transcription of a native term, but a rather modern coinage, if not totally occidental. For the equivalent Sanskrit tāntrika is found, but not in Buddhist texts. Tāntrika is a term denoting someone who follows the teachings of scriptures known as Tantras, but only in Saivism, not Buddhism (although cf. the single known occurrence in a copper-plate inscription from Nālandā made in the name of the Javanese king Devapāla in the ninth century AD:, tāntrikabodhisattvaganasya; SIRCAR 1983:II .37-38; ref. provided by Sanderson). Indeed, Alexis Sanderson has noted that it is usually used of followers of another tradition, by proponents of the Trika of practitioners of the Bhairava tantras, for example, and thus with a slightly pejorative tone, unlike the simple noun tantra (personal communication). Tantric Buddhism is a name for a phenomenon which calls itself, in Sanskrit, Mantranaya, Vajrayāna, Mantrayāna or Mantramahāyāna (and apparently never Tantrayāna). Its practitioners are known as mantrins, yogis, or sādhakas. Thus, our use of the anglicised adjective “Tantric” for the Buddhist religion taught in Tantras is not native to the tradition, but is a borrowed term which serves its purpose.
Difficulties in analytical study of Vajrayana:
Serious academic study of Vajrayana is still in its early stages, because of a number of problems that make research difficult:
1. Although a large number of Tantric scriptures are extant, they have not been formally ordered or systematized.
2. Because Vajrayana was influenced by Hinduism, further research into Hinduism is necessary.
3. Ritual as well as doctrine need to be investigated.
In general, Buddhist tantric practice is categorized as secret practice, this is to avoid misuse of the practices by misinformed people. One of the methods to keep this secrecy is that tantric initiation is required from a Master before any instructions can be received about the actual practice. During the initiation procedure in the highest class of tantra (such as the Kalachakra), students must take the tantric vows which commit them to such secrecy. "Explaining general tantra theory in a scholarly manner, not sufficient for practice, is likewise not a root downfall. Nevertheless, it weakens the effectiveness of our tantric practice."
Deity yoga (Tibetan: lha'i rnal 'byor; Sanskrit: Devata) is the fundamental Vajrayana practice, often involving a sadhana liturgy and form, in which practitioners visualize themselves as the meditation Buddha or yidam. The purpose of Deity yoga is to bring the meditator to the realization that the deity and the practitioner are in essence the same, and non-dual. By visualizing oneself and one's environment entirely as a projection of mind, it helps the practitioner to become familiar with the mind's ability and habit of projecting conceptual layers over all experience. This experience undermines a habitual belief that views of reality and self are solid and fixed. Deity yoga enables the practitioner to release, or 'purify' him or herself from spiritual obscurations (Sanskrit: klesha) and to practice compassion and wisdom simultaneously.
Beer (2004: p. 142) states:
Deity Yoga employs highly refined techniques of creative imagination, visualisation, and photism in order to self-identify with the divine form and qualities of a particular deity as the union of method or skilful means and wisdom. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, "In brief, the body of a Buddha is attained through meditating on it".
The realization of Deity yoga is attained as a result of pure concentration on bringing the three bodies into the path, in which the practitioner mentally generates themselves as a Tantric Deity (Sanskrit: Yidam) and their surroundings as the Deity's mandala. The purpose of doing this is to overcome ordinary appearances and conceptions which, according to Vajrayana, are the obstructions to nirvana and omniscience. Recent studies indicate that Deity yoga yields quantifiable improvements in the practitioner's ability to process visuospatial information, specifically those involved in working visuospatial memory.
Four complete purities
Four Purities (Tibetan: yongs su dag pa bzhi; yongs dag bzhi) In defining Vajrayana, Yuthok et al. identify the "Four Purities" which define the principal Tantric methodology of Deity Yoga that distinguishes it from the rest of Buddhism:
Vajrayana...is a subdivision of Mahayana, which may be divided into Sutrayana and Vajrayana (or Tantrayana). Vajrayana is regarded as a swifter path and is considered superior to Sutrayana. Whereas Sutrayana focuses on the causal method, Vajrayana teaches the Resultant method [sic] because it includes the 'four purities': (1) purity of environment (2) purity of body (3) purity of resources and (4) purity of deeds.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains:
Tantra is defined as an inner realization that functions to prevent ordinary appearances and conceptions and to accomplish the four complete purities... The four complete purities are the pure environment, body, enjoyments and activities of a Buddha.
Kalachakranet identifies and defines the "Four Purities" in a complementary though different fashion:
The main tantric practices can be summarised in the "Four Purities":
1. Seeing one's body as the body of the deity
2. Seeing one's environment as the pure land or mandala of the deity
3. Perceiving one's enjoyments as bliss of the deity, free from attachment
4. Performing one's actions only for the benefit of others (bodhichitta motivation, altruism)
Imagery and ritual in deity yoga: representations of the deity, such as a statues (murti), paintings (thangka), or mandala, are often employed as an aid to visualization, in Deity yoga. Mandalas are sacred enclosures, sacred architecture that house and contain the uncontainable essence of a yidam. In the book The World of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama describes mandalas thus: "This is the celestial mansion, the pure residence of the deity."
In the same context, all ritual in Vajrayana practice can be seen as aiding in this process of visualization and identification. The practitioner can use various hand implements such as a vajra, bell, hand-drum (damaru) or a ritual dagger (phurba), but also ritual hand gestures (mudras) can be made, special chanting techniques can be used, and in elaborate offering rituals or initiations, many more ritual implements and tools are used, each with an elaborate symbolic meaning to create a special environment for practice. Vajrayana has thus become a major inspiration in traditional Tibetan art.
Guru yoga (or teacher practice) (Tibetan: bla ma'i rnal 'byor) is a practice that has many variations, but may be understood as a tantric devotional process whereby the practitioners unite their mindstream with the mindstream of the guru. The guru is engaged as yidam, as a nirmanakaya manifestation of a Buddha. The process of guru yoga might entail visualization of an entire lineage of masters (refuge tree) as an invocation of the lineage. It usually involves visualization of the guru above or in front of the practitioner. Guru yoga may entail a liturgy or mantra such as the Prayer in Seven Lines. (Tibetan: tshig bdun gsol 'debs)
The Guru or spiritual teacher is essential as a guide during tantric practice, as without their example, blessings and grace, genuine progress is held to be impossible for all but the most keen and gifted. Many tantric texts qualify the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha thus: "The Guru is Buddha, the Guru is Dharma, the Guru is also Sangha" to reflect their importance for the disciple. The guru is considered even more compassionate and more potent than the Buddha because we can have a direct relationship with the guru. The guru therefore appears with the yidam and dakini in the Three Roots refuge formulation of the three factors essential for tantric attainments.
Death yoga (or "bringing the three bodies into the path of death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth") is another important aspect of Tantra techniques. Although it is sometimes called "death yoga," it is mainly practiced during life, in meditation. It can be practiced first according to generation stage, and then according to completion stage. The accumulation of meditative practice helps to prepare the practitioner for what they need to do at the time of death. At the time of death the mind is in a subtle state (clear light) that can open the mind to enlightenment if it is skilfully used to meditate on emptiness (shunyata). During completion stage meditation it is possible to manifest a similar clear light mind and to use it to meditate on emptiness. This meditation causes dualistic appearances to subside into emptiness and enables the practitioner to destroy their ignorance and the imprints of ignorance that are the obstructions to omniscience. It is said that masters like Lama Tsong Khapa used these techniques to achieve enlightenment during the death process. Actually, there are three stages at which it is possible to do this: at the end of the death process, during the bardo (or 'in between period') and during the process of rebirth. During these stages, the mind is in a very subtle state, and an advanced practitioner can use these natural states to make significant progress on the spiritual path. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an important commentary for this kind of traditional practice.
This death yoga should not be confused with the non-Tantric meditation on impermanence and death, which is a common practice within Buddhist traditions used to overcome desirous attachment.
Another Tibetan ritual practice related to death is phowa (transference of one's consciousness), which can be done by oneself at the moment of death or by ritual specialists, phowa-lamas, on behalf of the dead. For the Anuttarayoga Tantras (Tib. rnal-’byor bla-med-kyi-rgyud), transfering one’s consciousness constitutes one of the two ways to separate the coarse and subtle bodies through meditation. Daniel Cozort explains that ’pho-ba (phowa) merely separates the coarse and subtle bodies without leading to the attainment of an “illusory body” (Tib. sgyu-lus). On the other hand, during the perfection type meditation, known as the “final mental isolation” (Tibetan: sems-dben) because it necessitates the presence of an “actual consort” (Tib. las-rgya), “the winds are totally dissolved in the indestructible drop” and “the fundamental wind naturally rises into an illusory body”
Generation and completion stage practice in the annutarayoga tantras
In the highest class of tantra, two stages of practice are distinguished. In the first stage of generation, one practices oneself in the identification with the meditational Buddha (yidam), generally until one can meditate single-pointedly on 'being' the deity (see above, deity yoga). In the next stage of completion, one engages in practices with the subtle energy system of the body (chakras and energy channels etc.) to actualize the physical and mental transformation into the meditation Buddha. (Similar practices are also found in Hindu tantra and yoga.) In some Buddhist tantras, both stages can be practiced simultaneously, whereas in others, one first actualizes the generation stage before continuing with the completion stage practices.
Details of these practices are normally only explained to practitioners by their teachers after receiving an initiation or 'permission to practice'.
For better understanding read Padmasambhava Gardland of Views
He describes the ways of buddhahood accordily with the Shaivism-Buddhism (Vajrayana)
You can also see Benzinarchives about Advanced Meditation – Tantra Teachings
In Pali Canon there is nothing about it. Buddha possible never gave that teachings, but they have buddhist principles and goals.