Buddha’s tooth or dog’s tooth? Are Buddhist deities real?

In Vajrayana and Mahayana we accept multiple Buddhas and deities — not only the historical Buddha. To some Westerners, the only way to accept this view is with rationalizations such as, “Deities are mind-constructs”, they are “archetypes and symbols given form”, or “Deities are our own Buddha Nature,” and so on. Or, the ultimate rationalist might just label them “fairy tales” or imagination. While there’s truth in all of these labels, these definitions miss out on the true nature of deities — and the true nature of those “labels.”

“… Buddhas exist in the same way that all phenomenon exist,” explains H.E. Zasep Rinpoche in his popular book Tara in the palm of your hand. “Not inherently, but as dependent-related phenomena, arising from causes and conditions, name, parts, and imputation by mind.”

“They protect you and bless you”

Among the most popular Buddhist deities: Medicine Buddha (centre blue), White Tara (left) and Amitayus (right). These deities are popular due to countless stories of healing and help from their practices. The power of faith is critical to deity practice.

His Holiness Sakya Trizin explains why deities should also be seen as relatively real, able to blesss and help us:

“In Buddhist tradition, we have two truths: the relative truth and absolute truth. In absolute truth, there’s no deity. There’s nothing. It’s inexpressible. In other words, it is something that is completely beyond our present way of thinking and being. But relatively, we have everything existing. We have “I,” and “you,” and all this. Empty it is, also. All these deities are different, with different categories. Some deities are called yidams, some deities are called dharmapalas. It is not just an idea that we have created. They are all truly like this. They protect you and they bless you, they help you…” [4]

Dog’s tooth or Buddha’s tooth: faith makes the difference

H.E. Zasep Rinpoche, in the book Tara in the palm of your hand, recounts a famous story: “about an old woman and her son, also speaks to the importance of faith. A man was about to make a pilgrimage to see some relics of Buddha; his old mother, who was very devout, asked him to bring back one of Buddha’s teeth. The man promised, and then promptly forgot. As he was returning home from his pilgrimage, he remembered his promise about the Buddha’s tooth. What to do? He quickly found an old dog’s tooth, and wrapped it in silk. When he arrived home, he gave the dog’s tooth to his mother, telling her it was the Buddha’s tooth. His delighted mother put the tooth on her shrine, and began doing prostrations to it. To the man’s amazement, the tooth began emanating light, just as a genuine relic might. The woman’s deep faith had brought about this miraculous event.”

Buddha deities in temples are not simply about devotion, although we show our devotion and faith by making offerings to them — which is for the purpose of creating positive karma or merit in our life.

Tibetan Buddhists understand the true nature of deities, just as they understand the true mind-nature of “pure lands.”

His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche (the 3rd) explains it this way: “What is the correct view? Knowing that relative appearances and their ultimate reality are inseparable and not contradictory.”[3]

Some deities are highly wrathful, drawing on universally understood symbolism.

H.E. Zasep Rinpoche, elaborates:

“Indeed, even in the West, it is commonly acknowledged that if we believe something to be true, it is true for us. The mind is such a powerful instrument that faith can bring worlds into being. Faith expands reality… When you have faith… you will receive profound blessings, blessings that come ultimately not from somewhere or something outside yourself, but from your own compassion and wisdom, from your own Buddha Nature being actualized.” [From Tara in the palm of your hand.]

Where are deities?

Famously, when John Blofeld — whose many books helped introduced Buddhism to the west — asked a poor Tibetan woman where were the purelands, the woman pointed at her heart. If you asked her where were the deities, she might make the same gesture. Of course, in Tibetan Buddhism, the heart is the location of mind (not the brain). She was referring, specifically, to the old Buddhist concept: “deities are mind.”

The great teacher Lama Thubten Yeshe described deities very precisely: “Tantric meditational deities should not be confused with what different mythologies and religions might mean when they speak of gods and goddesses. Here, the deity we choose to identify with represents the essential qualities of the fully awakened experience latent within

Lama Yeshe.

us. To use the language of psychology, such a deity is an archetype of our own deepest nature, our most profound level of consciousness. In tantra we focus our attention on such an archetypal image and identify with it in order to arouse the deepest, most profound aspects of our being and bring them into our present reality.” (Introduction to Tantra: A Vision of Totality [1987])

Also important to understanding deities is the nature of deities. Do we “conjur” these gods to then bow down and worship them? No, in Vajrayana, we take them into ourselves (it’s called absorbing the deity) — and in advanced yogic practice we self-generate as the deity. We visualize ourselves as the deity, then we see ourselves dissolve to Emptiness. Why work so hard making deity seems real, if we are only going to dissolve back into emptiness? After all, these visualizations are beyond challenging. Why, then, give them up after all that hard work?

Buddhist deity representations can appear different in various Buddhist traditions, but they represent the same concepts.

More than Archetypes

Venerable Zasep Rinpoche teaching at a Tara weekend using the commentary book, Tara in the Palm of Your Hand, as a reference.

What are archetypes, but visual labels (symbols)?  Since the language of the mind — particularly sub conscious mind — is visual (symbol), archetypes are just another form of label, like “I” is a label for ourselves. If I label a deity Avalokiteshvara, I am labeling the compassion of the Enlightened Mind.

Tibetan Buddhists, in fact, are highly advanced thinkers in the area of mind. “For Tibetan Buddhists, and those who truly understand Shunyata and dependent arising, reality has room for Buddhas and other manifestations of spiritual energy,” Venerable Zasep Rinpoche explained. “For them, Buddhas are always present; no place exists where there is no Buddha.”

For this reason, we often see highly respected Lamas — including the Dalai Lama — worshipping in a Cathedral, or a Hindu temple. This is not just out of respect for another view; it is acceptance that, once labeled, those deities have dependently arisen — much as our own egos arose, conditioned on surrounding causes — at least in our minds. And — in Tibetan Buddhism — mind is the essence.

All Buddhas are One Essence

Ultimately, all Buddhas are of One Essence. (Or, one taste, as the Dharma texts put it.) Just as we, ourselves are one with all — our very existence depends on others. Without others, we don’t exist, or as the cognitive scientist Professor Hoffman puts it:

“I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind.” [2]

When we visualize Buddhas and deities in Tibetan Buddhism we see them as “the nature of light and energy”.

Once mind labels a spiritual energy, it is as real as our own egos — the nature of “I”. The same Lamrim logic debate used to deconstruct “I” — the famous “where is I, anyway” debate — can be applied to deities.

Emptiness of Deities is the same as Emptiness of self

In an extensive weekend teaching on Mahamudra, H.E. Zasep Rinpoche described it breifly this way:

Where exactly is the “I” that we call our selves? Is it our brain? Our brain activity? Our mind (and if so, what is our mind?). Our body? Which part of our body? The body is made up of billions of cells. When you hunt for the location of the “I” in an analytical way, it is difficult to find.

“I look at my body, and ask myself the question, what is my body? … You do a scanning meditation and try to find your body. When you scan your skin, you ask, is that my body? No, it’s skin, not body. Then you look at your bones, and likewise every part of your body.” If you scrutinize the body this way you’ll find body parts, but not body. Even those body parts have components if you scan those body parts. “To be body, it has to be the ‘whole’ body, all the parts. If you really look, you can’t find one thing that is your body. What we call body is just a ‘label’. A name. Imputing a label.” Therefore, “yes it’s a body” in relative truth, “but when you search for the absolute body, you can’t find it. We can call this the emptiness of our body.” It only exists by virtue of it’s label.

You can, Rinpoche added, apply this logic to a car: “A good example is your car. If you take that car apart, and everything is just parts, there is no car. Just car parts. You put it back together, and then label it Hyundai, you have a Hyundai. But if you switch the labels [to Honda] is it now a Honda? It’s all labels. There is no independent existence. That’s only one way to look at emptiness.”

The same debate can be made with deities. Where is Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin)? Is he the nature of light? Is he the nature of mind? Is he this statue? Is he in my heart? Is he in my brain? Is he in this Dharma text? Is he everywhere? Is he anywhere there is a compassionate act? Avalokiteshvara is just as real as “I” — which ultimately means, empty. Yet, does that mean Avaolokiteshvara is not real? No more than we are not real. At the relative level you can point to “components” of (Avalokiteshvara) (or of I) but you can never really find one thing that is him (or I).

The faces of Chenrezig’s compassion. Chenrezig is known as Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit, Guanyin and Kanon in Chinese and Japanese.

In this debate, there is no valid reason to dismiss “Tara” or “Chenrezig” as non-existent. Both “I” and Tara are empty, ultimately, of inherent existence. They only exist dependent on others. Deity, from this point of view, can be argued to be as real as “I”.

Some deities are wrathful, symbolism a certain energetic quality.

Is faith important? The story of “Eating stones”

In Tara in the palm of your hand, Rinpoche explains: “There is a story in the Lamrim, the Graduated Path to Enlightenment, about the power of faith. It was a time of famine in India, and many people were dying. An old woman went to her Guru and asked how she could stay alive. He told her to eat stones, and gave her a mantra to make the stones edible. The woman recited the mantra with great faith, and ate the stones. Her son, who was a monk, began to worry about his mother, and went home from his monastery to see her. He was amazed to find her well. When he asked her the secret, she told him the mantra she had been reciting. The son realized that his mother had not been reciting the mantra accurately, and gave her the correct mantra. However, the old woman lost faith in the power of her mantra, and neither it nor the correct mantra would work anymore. It is not the words themselves that give mantras their power; it is the faith with which the words are recited.”

Faith makes the prayer wheel go around. A Tibetan spinning a hefty traditional prayer wheel. Typically, a session would be for tens of thousands of recited mantras.

The old woman’s dog tooth in the earlier story emanated light because of her faith in what it represented — the Enlightened Buddha. Also, ultimately, the dog’s tooth is also one with Buddha’s tooth. Why bow down to a statue of bronze, which clearly is not Tara? To a Vajrayana Buddhist it is indeed Tara. Tara is everywhere. In her statue, quietly sitting on our shrine, we have a focus (or in our mind-visualization) — and that focus represents the truth of Tara  (or Chenrezig, Yamantaka or any other deity).

Cultural obstacles to “faith”

Western Buddhists who approach Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism might be at a disadvantage when it comes to accepting, with faith, Buddhist deities. It’s one thing to rationalize ultimate truth and relative truth and dependent arising — but if we grew up in a culture devoid of Buddhas, faith will not be culturally reinforced. The deities visualized in Tantra are somewhat “alien” to the Western practitioner — at least until the symbolism of the deities is explained. Implements in the hands mean something. ” A “sword” is knowledge. A skullcup full of nectar is “bliss.” Using the language of the mind, we are taught to visualize deities.

Some deities, particularly Higher Tantric deities, can be easily misunderstood — especially in the west where we tend towards being highly literal. This is why, in Tibetan Buddhism a teacher is needed.

The late Gelek Rimpoche, once said, “There’s no reason Tara can’t appear as Yamantaka.” In other words, on one level, we don’t have faith in Tara as a tangible green goddess who only saves people from the great fears. We have faith that she is Buddha, that all Buddhas have the same realizations, that we are one with Buddhas, that She is one with us — and also with Yamantaka. Also, as taught in the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”

Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinapoche the Third wrote: “Why are there so many? Yidams are visualized pure forms that manifest from dharmadhatu’s empty essence as the lucid self-display of our Lama’s compassion.” The goal of Yidam practice is critical to understanding these forms: ” What is the purpose of Vajrayana practice? Purifying one’s impure perception of all appearances and experiences.” [3]

How to relate to deities?

Deities in Buddhism are no to be thought of as self-aware ego-centric magical beings. They are aspects of Enlightenment. They are derived — as are we all — of a reality where only egos and attachments separate us. Remove the ego, and we become one with the universe. The last thing a Buddha should be associated with is ego.

Then, how do we associate them. To us, because we do have egos and cultural imprints and attachments and obstacles, they appear in various forms. Famously, in Tibet, Manjushri, the gentle Buddha of Wisdom appeared as monstrous bull-headed Yamantaka. Why this form? Because Tibetans could believe that such a fierce form could subdue the death itself — Yama.

Yamantaka, the foe-destroyer of death.

The Enlightened forms are given to us by long lines of great accomplished masters — lineage, as it’s called. Because we know these great teachers accomplished realizations, we follow their examples — which includes visualizations of deities in forms that are symbolically profound. These “images” resonate with our subconscious, but also with cultural memory, or — as Psychiatrist Carl Jung put it — the collective consciousness.

Red means something to the collective consciousness. A “red” deity magnetizes. This isn’t a “taught” symbol. They are discovered, common, collective symbols we all share.

How can we all share the same response to “red”? Because, ultimately, we are one — if we remove the ego that traps us in samsara.

This tanka illustrates the Wheel of Samsara, also called Cycle of Existence, Path of Transmigration, Wheel of Life. The wheel can also be thought of as an illustration of karmic consequences and the actions of karma. Ego leads to clinging, clinging leads to suffering, suffering leads to more suffering, and the cycle remains unbroken unless we follow the eight-fold path of Buddha. On the night of Shakyamuni’s own enlightenment He saw all his past lives, countless lives of suffering stretching back and (and possibly forward in time, since time is often thought of as cyclic in nature itself). The wheel is thought of by some as metaphoric, illustrating as it does the six realms: hell realm at the bottom, animal realm, human realm, heaven realm, hungry ghost realm, Asura realm. Even if one rises, through positive kara to more “enjoyable realms” such as heaven, the suffering continues as we cling to the beauty of this realm. Ultimately, even the most lofty of rebirths leads back through the cycle of suffering until enlightenment is achieved. Some believe the wheel to be more literal, although understood, at an ultimate level as empty. When we speak of liberation in Buddhism, we refer to freedom from the Wheel of Suffering.

[1] [1] Max Planck, 1944; Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], speech at Florence, Italy (1944) (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)

Tsa Lung Trul Khor, Yantra Yoga and Qigong — supercharging Buddhist meditation (8 videos) – Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

The subtle body.

Tsa Lung Trul Khor is an ancient practice with a 4,000-year lineage that works with the “breath” and the energy subtle body. With similar benefits to health as Chi Gong (Qigong) — the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Trul Khor is profound — in a spiritual sense — since subtle mind rides on the “winds” or breath. The practices are typically thought of as the most advanced teachings — yet simplified versions of Qigong, Trul Khor and Yantra Yoga can be practiced by “everyone, independent of their views, ideals, aspirations, and capacities.” [2]

By working with breath, and energy — both vital aspects of most styles of meditation — these practices have the potential to “supercharge” your daily sessions. Watching the breath takes on new significance. Tantric visualizations become more intense and blissful. And, of course, the energy helps us avoid sleepy or unfocused meditations.

There are easy and difficult routines, suitable for any level of student. [See some video routines below, short and long, easy, and difficult.] There are health and mundane benefits, as well as profound meditational benefits (see list below, for the more mundane benefits.)

Qigong, of course, evolved from Daoist (Taoist) ancient spiritual practices — in the same way Tsa Lung Trul Khor and Yantra Yoga evolved from Vajrayana practices. Both work with the subtle energies and mind through movement, meditation, visualization and concentration.

Tsa Lung Trul Khor and Gigong both work with visualized Chi and energies and use a combination of movement, meditation, visualization and, sometimes, mantra.

Today, most modern practitioners do not work with the goal of “Enlightenment,” but rather, with the more mundane health benefits in mind. Since Qigong, and Tsa Lung Trul Khor, work with the same meridians and energy body as acupuncture, the health benefits are “built-in.” Yantra Yoga is no different in this respect. There is also a Nyingma tradition of “Tibetan Qigong” as taught by Zi Sheng Wang, and many similar yogas taught by other schools. [4]

Lama Tsultrim Allione, author of Feeding Your Demons, explains the deeper practices:

“Yantra Yoga is a profound movement practice that encompasses the coordination of the breath with movement in a way that creates flexibility and harmony within the whole being. Transmitted in an authentic lineage from an ancient tantra, this practice is amazingly beneficial.”[1]

The great Dzogchen teacher Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.

The great teacher Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche who is perhaps the best-known teacher of Yantra Yoga [5] described the practice as “one of the oldest of this kind of teaching, because it comes from Vairotsana. Vairotsana was a student of Padmasambhava. So, it is a very old, and very important… it is not only at the physical level. Yantra Yoga is very much related to movement. Movement is very much related to our energy level… mind is dependent also on energy…” [3]

Profound journey— or simple exercise? Both.

Tsa Lung Trul Khor — like Daoist qigong — can be a simple exercise with immediate health benefits — as evidenced by many simple-to-practice self-help videos (including some in this story) — or it can be pursued as one of the most advanced meditations in Tibetan Buddhism. There are also significant Tibetan Yogas from the Bon Tradition.

Body meridians mapped out according to TCM and acupuncture. Tsa Lung Trul Khor and Qigong work with this subtle body and channels, building up positive Chi and energy.

Inside a new book on Gelug Mahamudra by H.E. Zasep Rinpoche: Illustrations of inner body visualizations for advanced Tantric Mahamudra. Available on Amazon>>

To Dzogchen and Mahamudra practitioners, it is an advanced, penultimate practice, going beyond contrived and conceptual mind. To other Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhists, it is a superb way to energize and loosen up the body — whether you work with meridians and channels, or not — prior to a long seated session of Mahamudra or Deity Yoga, or other practices. And, for people simply in pursuit of age-friendly (i.e. all ages) vitality and stress-reduction practices — or the medical aspects of Yantra Yoga — it is a safe way to improve health, with benefits similar to Qigong.

With or without the profound Mahamudra and Dzogchen aspects, the relatively easy-to-practice Yantra Yoga — at least, at the beginner level — has immense health benefits. Like Chi Gong (Qigong), it works with Chi (in Tibetan “Lung”) with similar benefits in terms of collecting universal energies, cleansing impurities, and boosting health, longevity, and energy. The movements are slow, careful, meditative — much like Tai Chi — with mundane benefits such as good health, flexibility, muscle strength, balance and control. The breath aspects are unparalleled for stress-reduction.

An important teacher of Tsa Lung in the Bon tradition is Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, the founder of the Ligmincha Institute. He wrote many books, including Awakening the Sacred Body, Tibetan Yogas of Breath and Movement. Here is a demonstration of Tsa Lung from Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche who makes it look “easy”:

Like Qigong, Tsa Lung Trul Khor can be as simple as one or two exercises, or as complicated as the full 108 traditional asanas, complete with mantras, breath work (pranayana) and visualizations. It dates back thousands of years, like older roots than Qigong.

A very simple “Tibetan Buddhist Qigong” movement that almost anyone could manager, and which can be completed in six minutes, an excellent precursor to other Buddhist Meditations, here, presented by Kay Luthi, a student of Vajrayana Master Zi Sheng Wang:

Practicing simplified Tsa Lung Trul Khor — or Daoist Qigong — are beneficial as “workouts” leading to advanced practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa, and Mahamudra, or Dzogchen practices.

The eight movements of Yantra Yoga

The “eight movements of Yantra Yoga” as taught by the great teacher Namkhai Norbu, could benefit anybody (a one hour video, with introduction by the teacher, and a full routine demonstrated from the Shang Shung Institute — although as demonstrated, this requires flexibility:

Daoist Qigong — easier to find routines and teachers

Tibetan Qigong.

It may be easier to find a teacher or online routine that resonates with your level of ability from Taoist lineage. Many meditators can find local Chi Gong (Qigong) classes, or can simply watch and learn from simple online videos. This is certainly highly beneficial to any meditative practice, Buddhist or otherwise. Increasing flexibility, energy, chi and concentration are all benefits of Qigong. A simplified Qigong 3-movement session — for example, the one below — is highly beneficial before a long seated meditation of any Buddhist tradition.

Note: as always, seek medical or health professional advice if you have any health conditions before engaging in a new physical practice. There are also specific versions of most routines for physically limiting conditions such as arthritis, such as seated Qigong. (See below.)

Wei Chi — protection practice

One helpful practice for anyone engaging in Deity Yogas or advanced Tantric Buddhism might be a short introductory Wei Chi routine.

Although it’s Chi Gong, the principles are universal. It works on building your “protective energy” for mind-protection — that bubble of Chi energy that can protect you. Here’s a helpful and easy-to-lear routine from Nick Loffree:

Qigong starter routines

A really great starter routine, or for someone less mobile —either with health restrictions, such as arthritis — might benefit from the short and very simple, clear, elegant videos of Jeffrey Chand — all of his videos are great and approachable — for example, this ten-minute video:

For example, this less-traditional westernized Qigong for Beginners video from the energetic Nick Loffree is a great twenty-minute warm up to meditation and should enhance chi and energy levels:

Full one-hour Qigong

Or, if you’re ambitious, here’s an easygoing, but long 1 hour Qi Gong class from the Qi Gong Chi School:

For someone with mobility limitations

For someone with knee or mobility issues, routines can be adapted to sitting in a chair; for example, this routine by Jeffrey Chand:

Source and Lineage

The lineage of the traditional Yantra Yoga teaching spans 4,000 years, predating Buddhism itself. Dzogchen Yoga or Trul-Khor is the system which came down unbroken through oral transmission from Zhang-Zhung Nyen Gyu lineages. The eminent Dzogchen teacher, Namkhai Norbu was, perhaps, the biggest western proponent of what he preferred to call Yantra Yoga (the Sanskrit term.) Of course, it derives from Vayu breath work and yogas of the early Indian Mahasiddas. Like all yogas, the roots are ancient, predating Buddhism. Likewise, Qigong in China has ancient lineage in Taoist traditions.

The more “westernized” Tibetan Qigong may have a shorter unbroken lineage, but is quite approachable for a western student. According to the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, the physical benefits of Tibetan Buddhist Qigong:

Benefits to the Physical Body

Yantra Yoga from a video by Yantrayoga.net.

Adjusts & balances the immune system

Benefits to the Mind

Modern-style Qigong with popular teacher Nick Loffree.

Promotes relaxation to reduce stress

An important source text for Trul Khor is:

Tibetan: འཕྲུལ་འཁོར་ཉི་ཟླ་ཁ་སྦྱོར་གྱི་དགོངས་འགྲེལ་དྲི་མེད་ནོར་བུའི་མེ་ལོང, Wylie: ‘phrul ‘khor nyi zla kha sbyor gyi dgongs ‘grel dri med nor bu’i me long

[1] Review for Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s book Tibetan Yoga of Movement: The Art and Practice of Yantra Yoga
[2] New York Journal of Books review of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s book Tibetan Yoga of Movement: The Art and Practice of Yantra Yoga
[3] From an interview (video) with BuddhaDoor.
[4] Tibetan Qigong by Master Zi Sheng Wang
[5] Yantra Yoga website from the Dzogchen tradition of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu.

Prominent Scientists Declare “All Non Human Animals… Are Conscious Beings.”

A prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists and other experts made a strong declaration, endorsed by Stephen Hawking, affirming that all “nonhuman animals… including octopuses” are sentient and feel emotions such as fear and happiness. In Argentina, an orangutan won non-human rights against his zoo-keeper. Recently, in the news, a monkey won the rights to a selfie photo over the owner of the camera.

Recently, a monkey won the rights to a selfie photo over the owner of the camera.

The advance in non-human rights begs the question, from a Buddhist perspective, when we promise to liberate all sentient beings — or not to kill — just who do we include? If our definition includes all beings down to insects and octopuses, how do we reconcile our dependence on “lower” beings for survival?

Increasingly, teachers are speaking out on non-human sentience and unnecessary suffering for these beings. When the Dalai Lama famously protested “cruelty to chickens” in 2012, it was inspired by an abundance of compassion (see “Dalai Lama and Chickens” below). How does the “Cambridge Declaration” from an international group of prominent scientists, stating that even octopuses feel emotions, change our view? More importantly, what do our teacher’s say? To help provide insight, we collected teachings from the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Bikkhu Bodhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kyabje Chatral Sangye Rinpoche, Geshe Thubten Soepa, and, of course, Stephen Hawking and the Cambridge Scientists.

Teachers such as the Dalai Lama (centre) and Lama Zopa Rinpoche (right) teach compassion to non-humans and promote vegetarianism. Left, Ani Ngawang Samten.

Buddha: First Precept “Abstain from Taking Life”

Mahayana Buddhists, who promise to Liberate All Sentient Beings” are often vegetarian out of compassion for the suffering of non-human beings—to fulfill Bodhisattva vow and the first precept of Buddha not to kill. For others, it is often convenient to avoid the topic, since we are often brought up culturally to accept the necessary killing of animals for survival.

The Buddha’s first precept in Pali reads: “Panatipata verami sikkhapadam samadiyami” which translates more-or-less as: “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.” For many, this meant human life. For others, particularly Zen Buddhists, it meant any breathing creature.

Japanese monk shares a tender moment with a non-human. Zen and Mahayana Buddhists particularly avoid meat.

Cambridge Declaration: “Human’s not unique in possessing … consciousness.”

“Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” — The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (See full text of official declaration at bottom of this feature.)

The scientists demonstrated that emotions and decision-making develop in all life forms down to cephalopod mollusks. Even Steven Hawking and other giants endorsed the declaration, titled “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.” Issued by a prominent group of neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists and computational neuroscientists — this statement leaves little wiggle room for diminishing levels of compassion for “lower” life forms. [To read the full declaration, the PDF is available for download here>>] (View the video from Stephen Hawking on the sentience of lower animals, embedded below)

Stephen Hawking and Non-Human Consciousness

On the heels of this declaration, an orangutan in an Argentinian zoo won non-human personhood rights in a fight to determine if it had been unlawfully deprived of it’s freedom. Also, the credit for the “selfie” at the top of our feature is under legal review to determine whether the monkey or the owner of the camera deserved the credit. [7]

In another related story, Professor Marc Bekoff wrote in Psychology Today: “We know, for example, that mice, rats, and chickens display empathy…” Which brings us to chickens and the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama protested chicken cruelty and slaughter by a major food franchise.

Dalai Lama’s “Cruelty to Chickens” Letter

In 2012, Buddha Weekly  reported on the Dalai Lama’s protest letter, in which he wrote to KFC: “I have been particularly concerned with the suffering of chickens for many years.” At the time KFC slaughtered 850 million chickens each year (as of 2010). The Dalai Lama wrote to KFC, asking them to abandon their plan to open restaurants in Tibet “because your corporation’s support for cruelty and mass slaughter.” [1]

At the time, PETA proclaimed that chickens “feel pain and have distinct personalities and intelligence,” which was largely scoffed at publically. This later finding of the scientists at Cambridge University would seem to support both PETA and the rationale for the Dalai Lama’s protest.

The Dalai Lama wrote a letter on behalf of PETA protesting cruelty to chickens.

Killing is prohibited in Buddhism — clearly one of the main precepts — but often this is simply interpreted to mean “human” killing — on the basis that lower animals are not sentient. Even if killing of “lower animals” is necessary for survival, the doctrine of Metta prohibits Buddhists from causing suffering.

The Dalai Lama explained how he had become a vegetarian after witnessing the slaughter of a chicken. ” It was the death of a chicken that finally strengthened my resolve to become vegetarian. In 1965, I was staying at the Government Guest House in south India. My room looked directly on to the kitchens opposite. One day I chanced to see the slaughter of a chicken, which made me decide to become a vegetarian.”

He also explained why he particularly focused on chickens. “Tibetans are not, as a rule, vegetarians, because in Tibet vegetables are scarce and meat forms a large part of the staple diet. However, it is considered more ethical to eat the meat of larger animals such as yaks, than small ones, because fewer animals would have to be killed.”
Even the Buddha was not a strict vegetarian. He ate what his sponsors provided in his bowl, including meat. It was, according to tradition, tainted meat that led to his death and paranirvana.

Bikkhu Bodhi.

Bikkhu Bodhi: Sentient Being — “Any Being with Breath”

Theravadan Pali Canon tends to support the notion of all life as sentient. The well-known teacher Bikkhu Bodhi explains “pana” (from the First Precept in Pali ‘”pana” means “breathing, or any living being that has breath and consciousness.”) The Venerable teacher explains that this includes all animal life, including insects, but not plant life. The word “anipata” means to “strike down, and includes both killing and injuring or torturing. [8] Clearly, it is critical to avoid taking the life of “any being with breath.”

A key element in motivation. Accidentally stepping on an insect or running over an animal on the road would not generally be in conflict with the First Precept.

Chonguri Vegetarian Festival 2015 celebrates abstinence from meat.

Zasep Tulku Rinpoche: “We must not hurt other people and animals.”

Venerable Zasep Rinpoche, spiritual director of Gaden for the West and Gaden Choling, emphasizes “right livelihood” to his students. He is unequivocal in his advice on the equal weight of importance between humans and non-humans. Rinpoche wrote in his Guidelines: “Right livelihood is one of the aspects of the eightfold noble path; it is an important Buddhist principle that we as Dharma practitioners practise right livelihood. We must not hurt other people and animals, and we must make the best use of the earth’s resources, in ways that do not do social and environmental damage.”

Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche is spiritual head of several Mahayana Buddhist centres in North America and Australia.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo: “Examine … Motivation”

Karma Tsomo, a professor of theology and a Tibetan nun said: “When making moral choices, individuals are advised to examine their motivation–whether aversion, attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion–and to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the Buddha’s teachings.” [8]

The same criterion would be important in issues of “self defense” including defense of one’s country in a time of war. According to Barbara O’Brien, “some 3,000 Buddhists” serve “in the U.S. armed forces, including some Buddhist chaplains. Buddhism does not demand pacificism.” Again, however motivation is key, in this case the “motivation” of the country sponsoring the soldier. Is the action that led to killing due to the negative motivation of the country, such as greed, attachment, hatred or ignorance? [8]

A Buddhist monk shares a tender moment with a dog and monkey.

Thich Nhat Hanh: “No Killing Can be Justified”

The famous Zen monk and pacifist, who was once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize is unequivicol in his view of the first precept against killing: “We cannot support any act of killing; no killing can be justified. But not to kill is not enough. We must also learn ways to prevent others from killing. We cannot say, “I am not responsible. They did it. My hands are clean.” If you were in Germany during the time of the Nazis, you could not say, “They did it. I did not.” If, during the Gulf War, you did not say or do anything to try to stop the killing, you were not practicing this precept. Even if what you said or did failed to stop the war, what is important is that you tried, using your insight and compassion.” [9]

Not only is the venerable teacher a well-known pacifist activist, he is also vegetarian. “Even if we take pride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny microorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by being vegetarian, we are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want to head north, we can use the North Star to guide us, but it is impossible to arrive at the North Star. Our effort is only to proceed in that direction.”

Lama Zopa Rinpoche is a highly realized teacher and spiritual head of FPMT.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche: “Animals Experience Unbelievable Suffering”

The most Venerable Vajrayana teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche replied to a student on the subject of vegetarianism: ” As there are more and more people becoming vegetarian, that means less and less animals will be killed. So it is very important. In the world people eat meat mainly because of habit; so many people have not thought that the animals experience unbelievable suffering.” [4]

He later described how he saw a cow struggling to not go down a ramp to slaughter: ” A man was pulling him down from the platform, but the cow didn’t want to go down. So I thought, I can’t stop the animal suffering, but what I can do as I go around the world to teach, even if it is on sutra and tantra, I will announce or request if people can become vegetarian. That is something I can do.”

Bodhisattva Vow: “Liberate All Sentient Beings”

In Mahayana Buddhism, often the definition of “sentient beings” is any being who is capable of experiencing Dukkha (suffering.) According to the Cambridge scientists, this is all beings down to and including octopuses.

In sutra, sentient beings are described as all inhabitants of the three realms of samsara within the six classes of beings. Included in the six classes are animals, fish, insects — any creature with mind. Particularly as relates to the Tathagatagarbha doctrine, all these creatures have inherent Buddha Nature, “the intrinsic potential to transcend the conditions of Samsara and attain Enlightenment.” [3]

His Holiness Khabje Chatral Sangye Dorje was an outspoken advocate of vegetarianism.

Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche: “Meat, the sinful food.”

The great Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche, a highly realized Dzogchen yogi, was a vocal opponent of meat for all of his long life, from 1913-2015. “If you take meat, it goes against the vows one takes in seeking refuge in the Buddha Dharma and Sangha. Because when you take meat you have to take a being’s life.”

In Chapter 2 of “Compassionate Action” he wrote: Meat, the sinful food, is not permitted according to the three vows: the vows of individual liberation, the Bodhisattva vows and the tantric vows.” [6]

On the other hand, many Buddhists are not vegetarians. Buddha Himself taught monks to eat whatever was placed in their bowl, including meat, unless they knew the animal was slaughtered for the monks. (See “First Precept: Killing versus Eating below).

Buddha taught loving kindness for all beings, including non-humans.

Buddha Taught Loving Kindness — but Not Just for Humans?

Without question, practicing Buddhists practice compassion and loving kindness — metta — for sentient beings. The doctrine of “karuna” or “active sympathy” and willingness “to bear the pain of others” is not debatable — at least not in Mahayana schools. Even if we interpret “compassion” to be a skillful method used by the Buddha to demonstrate the mistaken idea of “independent me” and “independent you” — there can be no doubt that kindness for sentient beings is not optional.

There is no question that the Buddha taught loving-kindness for all sentient beings not just humans. Why is this critical? Because Buddha also taught the doctrine of rebirth — that we can be reborn as insects, lower animals, and other forms of life. Compassion for all beings, down to crawling insects, is not implicit, it appears to be explicitly recommended. This does not mean Buddhists must be vegetarians, but at least that we must feel sympathy for the suffering of all creatures.

How Equally Do We Practice Compassion?

These findings of neuroscientists, when positioned against the Buddhist Dharma, beg the question: how equally do we practice compassion? We might feel more compassion, for example, for our beloved canine or feline. We might feel “sorry” for the beautiful deer lying by the side of the road, struck by a car. We might, like the Dalai Lama, feel sorry for the chicken, especially if we see a picture of a beautiful new-born chick. Do we then feel similar levels of sympathy for the insects splattered on our windshield, or the “less attractive” creatures such as spiders and venomous snakes?

Whether we accept the notion that we might be reborn as a future splattered insect, there can be no doubt that we are taught that our mission is to “free all sentient beings from Samsara.” How much worse is it when we, ourselves, create the causes of suffering?

First Precept: Killing versus Eating? They’re Different Right?

The first precept Buddha taught was not to kill. However, certainly in Pali cannon, this is usually not interpreted to prohibit the eating of meat — only the killing of the animal or the sponsoring of the killing. Mahayana sutras, tend to strongly advocate vegetarianism, particularly the Lankavatara Sutra. [2] In the Jivaka Sutta, Buddha probited the monks from consumption of the flesh of any animal that was seen or suspected to have been killed for the benefit of the monks. Generally, monks were expected to accept and respect all alms provided in their bowls, including meat, without discrimination.

Clearly, this later became an issue when monks formed communities and monasteries, where it became more difficult to argue that the animal was not killed specifically for their benefit. As devout Buddhists, the argument, therefore, comes down to whether we believe the meat on the supermarket shelf was killed for our benefit. If we believe we are not encouraging the killing, or supporting cruelty, then it would not be considered a conflict with the first precept. If we believed that by buying the meat we are supporting the slaughter of animals, we would be in conflict. Ultimately, that’s a personal choice. While meat might be debatable, what is clearly not permitted, according to this precept, is the deliberate slaughter of a sentient being, including chickens.

Gehshe Thubten Soepa.

Geshe Thubten Soepa: “Meat Not Allowed”

In a question and answer series about vegetarianism with Geshe Thubten Soepa, a FPMT-registered teacher, he answers: “In the Mahayana teachings the Buddha forbade eating meat altogether. In many different sutras (the Lankarawatara Sutra, the Great Sutra of Nirvana in the Angulimala Sutra, the Sutra on the Ability of the Elephant, the Sutra of the Great Cloud), it is taught that if one is trying to live with great compassion, then eating meat is not allowed. This is because one has to see all sentient beings as our mother, brother, son, etc. Also in the Angulimala Sutra, Manjushri asked the Buddha, ‘‘Why do you not eat meat?’’ He replied that he saw all beings as having buddha-nature and that was his reason for not eating meat. Therefore, if you practice Mahayana and eat meat, it is a contradiction.” [5]

In the Cambridge Declaration, scientists state that even an Octopus is sentient and feels emotion.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness*

Here is the full text of the Declaration on Consciousness:

On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations can be stated unequivocally:

We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

* The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes. [10]

[2] “Buddhism and Vegetarianism“, UrbanDharma.org

[3] “Sentient Beings

[5] “Nine Questions About Vegetarianism” with Geshe Thubten Soepa, FPMT

[8] “The First Buddhist Precept, To Abstain from Taking Life,” by Barbara O’Brien

[9] “The First Precept: Reverence for Life” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Cognitive Research: Om Ah Ra Pa Cha Na Dhi, Manjushri’s Arapachana mantra

Cognitive Research: Om Ah Ra Pa Cha Na Dhi, Manjushri’s Arapachana mantra, proven to “enhance cognitive functions to a significant degree” versus non-spiritual “tongue twisters” – Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation


By Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi, PhD.

Editors Intro

In important cognitive research led by Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi, Manjushri’s essence mantra — Om Ah Ra Pa Cha Na Dhi — enhanced “cognitive functions to a signicant degree.” Although regular cognitive tongue twister practice also sharpened cognitive function in the study, Manjushri’s mantra, often described as the Arapanacha essence mantra, displayed “significantly” enhanced cognition as measured by well-accepted intelligence and cognitive processing tests. [For a full story on Manjushri and the Arapachana mantra, see>>]  [Visit Dr. Deepika Chamoli’s website Mindsira here>>]

The final conclusion from the “Summary of thesis”:

This research has proven that the orange Manjushree mantra is able to enhance various cognitive functions like concrete performance task, originality in creativity and perceptual reasoning to a much greater extent than the non-spiritual tongue twister.

Manjushri is the Buddha of Wisdom. His famous essence mantra has been used by devotees for centuries to enhance memory and wisdom. Now, new research, indicates the mantra’s effect is “significant.”

Manjushri is the Buddha of wisdom and has long been associated with memory, speech and wisdom. The Fifth Dalai Lama recommended the practice, and His Holiness wrote the practice sadhana “Practice to Receive the Seven Types of Wisdom.”

This remarkable study from researcher Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi is published by the Amity University. The author is widely published in research publications and books.  We include the research summary findings by Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi. (Please see a biography at the end of this feature.) His Holiness Drikyung Kyabgong Chetsang Rinpoche helped with the data collection for this research.

Summary of thesis

Spiritual and Non Spiritual Tongue Twister Practice Enhances Cognitive Functioning in Relation to Altitude

Researcher: Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi

                     Clinical Training And Research Lead

                     Mom’s Belief, India

The present research aims to study and compare the effectiveness of spiritual (Manjushree mantra) and non-spiritual tongue twister(non sensical) technique at four different altitudes (100 ft.-169ft., 1457 – 2200ft, 11000ft – 12500ft and 14000ft – 17000ft) above sea level. The purpose of the study is to authenticate the importance of age old Buddhist saraswati mantra (Manjushree (also known as vakeshwar) mantra) which is used by the Buddhist monks to purify mind with the help of purification of speech.

180 subjects (falling in the age group of 8-13 years) are studied and assessed (45 subjects at each altitude).

Research design

Mixed method sequential explanatory design is utilized for the study (pre-post experimental research design is seconded by the qualitative data collected at every altitude).


School Children (Age: 8-13 Years) School Children (Age: 8-13 Years)   Buddhist Monks(Age: 8-13 Years) Practicing Manjushree Mantra With Understanding For One Year
Experimental group 1 Experimental group2   Experimental group 3
Pretest to be conducted Pretest to be conducted   Tests to be conducted
Perceptual reasoning Perceptual reasoning   Perceptual reasoning
Processing speed index Processing speed index   Processing speed index
Creativity Creativity   Creativity
One-month intervention of Non-spiritual tongue twister One-month intervention of spiritual tongue twister without understanding    
Posttest to be conducted Posttest to be conducted    
Perceptual reasoning Perceptual reasoning    
Processing speed index Processing speed index    
Creativity Creativity    

Four subtests of Malin’s intelligence battery for children (coding, mazes, block design and picture completion) and Baqer Mehdi non-verbal tool for creativity are utilized to assess the cognitive abilities of processing speed index, perceptual reasoning and originality and elaboration in creativity.

Group 1 consists of school students who chanted non spiritual tongue twister as intervention, group 2 consists of school children who chanted spiritual tongue twister as intervention whereas third group, group 3 is monk group who are already practicing the spiritual tongue twister (Manjushree mantra) for past 1 year. Pre assessment is done for both group 1and group2 and after intervention of 30 days in which they have chanted the tongue twister daily for 15 minutes post assessment was conducted. The group 3 is experimental group (monks who are chanting the spiritual tongue twister with understanding of meaning) and tested only once on the same parameters.

This experiment is conducted at four different altitudes

It has been found that at low altitude processing speed index (reaction time) is higher than the high altitudes children. It is because of the excess of information from the surroundings due to mass media whereas at high altitudes children are close to nature and exposure is very less, due to which they are focused.

The statistics reveals higher level cognitive functions (bloom’s taxonomy) are enhanced more with tongue twister practice as compared to lower altitudes. Also spiritual tongue twister (Orange Manjushree mantra) is able to enhance cognitive functions to significant level. Spiritual tongue twister (Orange Manjushree mantra) practice with understanding of the meaning is more effective than the spiritual tongue twister (mantra) practice without understanding of meaning.  Non spiritual tongue twister has also enhanced the cognitive functions but lesser than the spiritual tongue twister or (Orange Manjushree mantra). It has also been noticed that processing speed index at higher altitudes is low.

Orange Manjushri with his sword of wisdom that “cuts through delusions.”

Orange Manjushri Mantra

According to Abhidharma Pitak and Manjugosha and many other scriptures OM ARA PA CHA NA DHII is considered the magic sylabarry. It is known as a tongue exercise and used to purify tongue by continuous repetition for 15 minutes daily. It is the routine in Buddhist monasteries that when a monk is admitted, the first type of chanting utilized by him is this mantra chanting. The name of Manjushree is Vakeshwar which means lord of speech. Manjushree is also called lord of wisdom and male form of Vedic Saraswati in Buddhism.  The old scriptures have mentioned the importance of orange Manjushree in enhancing cognition and it quotes that chanting of this mantra is able to purify mind with the purification of speech.

Manjushri’s Arapachana mantra as a pendant.

This research has proven that the orange Manjushree mantra is able to enhance various cognitive functions like concrete performance task, originality in creativity and perceptual reasoning to a much greater extent than the non-spiritual tongue twister.

The recommendation of this research is that it should be utilized by children in school to enhance the higher level cognitive skills.

The full research project and abstract are published by Amity University, and subject to copyright. We have a copy of the abstract and research for this article at Buddha Weekly, which is very technical. When/if a public link to the research becomes available we’ll update here.

The summary above is from the research, and authored personally by Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi, PhD for Buddha Weekly.

To read an excerpt of a related research article, “The Effect of Mantra Chanting on the Performance IQ of Children, it is available to subscribers on Questia. [There is a published free preview here>>] The authors on this article are: Chamoli, Deepika; Kumar, Rita; Singh, Abha; Kobrin, Neil.

Short Biography of Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi, PhD

Buddha Weekly contributing writer Dr. Deepika Chamoli Shahi is a Psychologist, currently a clinical training and research lead at Mom’s Belief, with a PhD in Psychology from Amity University Noida Campus. Dr. Deepika Chomoli worked with His Holiness Drikyung Kyabgong Chetsang Rinpoche on the Manjushri mantra cognitive research. Dr. Deepika Chamoli is a practicing Buddhist, author of several books and research papers, and a volunteer reviewer for ayur gyan nyas. [Visit Dr. Deepika Chamoli’s website Mindsira here>>]

Mindfulness meditation could be a promising alternative treatment for insomnia

Meditation shows promise as a treatment for chronic insomnia, according to a new study that appears in the journal Mindfulness.

“We have been studying the effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep and our previous research has found evidence that it can effectively reduce sleep disturbances,” said study author Jason C. Ong of Northwestern University.

“However, there has been little research examining the effects of mindfulness on other aspects of insomnia, such as cognitive and emotional factors, which play a key role in perpetuating the sleep disturbances in chronic insomnia. Therefore, in this study we examined changes in these variables as part of a randomized controlled trial on mindfulness meditation for insomnia.”

In the study, participants with chronic insomnia received either mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia, or completed a sleep diary before receiving behavioral therapy.

Both mindfulness-based treatments included meditation practice. However, the mindfulness-based stress reduction program included general education on stress, while the mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia provided specific behavioral strategies for dealing with insomnia. The sleep diary served as a control condition, while the behavioral therapy program included standard behavioral treatments for insomnia without any meditation training.

“We found that mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI), which is an 8-week meditation-based intervention, had the largest effects on reducing negative thoughts and emotions related to sleep. For example, it can reduce the effort to force sleep or the anxiety that occurs when sleep has been difficult for many nights in a row,” Ong told PsyPost.

The researchers had previously published a study showing that mindfulness-based treatments were associated with improvements in chronic insomnia symptoms, including reductions in total wake time in bed and sleep-related arousal.

But all research includes some limitations.

“This study was conducted on a relatively small sample of 54 adults and we only analyzed people who provided complete data, which might over-estimate the effects of the interventions. Although these results show that mindfulness meditation can be a promising intervention for insomnia, we still do not know how the intervention can improve sleep and reduce sleep-related thoughts,” Ong explained.

The study, “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia: Effects on Daytime Symptoms and Cognitive-Emotional Arousal“, was authored by Jason C. Ong, Yinglin Xia, Christine E. Smith-Mason, and Rachel Manber.

The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation for Older Adults

I am sitting comfortably in my chair taking a course on mindfulness and meditation. Like those around me, I want to cope better with stress and feel more relaxed. But more than that, I am intrigued by my fellow “students.” After all, an assisted living facility is hardly your usual meditation venue.

Walkers and canes dot the room. Behind me is a woman in her 80s wearing a jaunty glittered cap. She is tethered to an oxygen tank that whooshes in and out.

The whooshing sound fades as I follow my instructor’s words: “Close your eyes. Now breathe in through your nose, then exhale, feeling the breath go from your shoulders to your rib cage and into your belly. If your mind starts to wander, and it will, simply let those thoughts float away and go back to the breathing.”

Many Benefits of Meditation

Our instructor is Bob Linscott from the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He believes that mindfulness and meditation, often referred to as “mindfulness meditation,” can help adults in their 70s, 80s and beyond come to terms with the challenges of aging.

Clearly, he’s a mind reader! The course, taught in an assisted living community in a Boston suburb for either a four or eight-week session, is in such demand that it’s offered year-round. This abbreviated version is one hour as opposed to 2 1/2 hours per session of traditional mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) classes.

A bit of background: MBSR was created by world-renowned biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding director of UMass Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness and its Stress Reduction Clinic. MBSR is offered at more than 720 medical centers, clinics and hospitals.

Why? Research shows the profound psychological and physiological benefits of meditation for reducing stress, depression, pain, and boosting emotional well-being.

Questions and Answers About Meditation

I asked Linscott to talk more about our course geared to older adults:

Q: What are some of the issues around “mindful aging” that meditation helps?

A: Everything! When people get older, they tend to ruminate: Am I going to run out of money? What will happen to me when I can’t stay in my home? Am I going to die alone? There’s worrying about how they will cope if their spouse dies first, going over and over a strained family relationship, or perhaps anxiety about burdening their kids with their care.

Meditation is like a pause button that breaks the cycle of worry. It can help older adults better accept their changing bodies or chronic pain. It puts them more in control of their lives.

Q: When people meditate, the focus is on the present. Why is that significant?

A: Older adults often live in the future with their fears or get caught up in the past. With mindfulness, you can catch yourself and think, “In this moment, I am okay.” Meditation quiets the mind and is very calming.

That’s especially important because we live in a world that is so frantic and fractured by stimulus and technology, like smartphones. But there’s nothing that supports us to be quiet and still.

Q: So meditation is a different way of dealing with stress?

A: Yes! We used to think of stress as a life-threatening incident when the body has to prepare for fight or flight. But as we age, stress can also be ruminating and worrying. For younger people, day-to-day life is broken up by work, a spouse or commuting.

When you have all this extra time alone, it’s easy to ruminate. Meditation teaches us to let go of that and work with negative thoughts and how we react to stress. We learn new patterns of responding and that’s where we begin to see transformation.

It’s harder for older people because they’ve spent their entire lives with these patterns. Meditation helps them slow down and take a minute to react.

But along with that, it also teaches us to be kinder to, and less critical of, ourselves. What I’m hoping is that when people start rehashing some of their worries and criticisms, they will catch themselves and remember to be less judgmental.

Q: How are you seeing meditation’s impact in your classes?

A: There have been several situations where people have had significant health crises, like a brain tumor or prostate cancer. When I told them not to worry about attending class, they’ve said, “No, I need this right now” or “When I was in the ER, I wouldn’t let my mind think that I was dying and instead I stayed with my breath.”

One woman in my class used to be impatient when she drove. She said, “I used to be the 87-year-old woman who would honk at everyone. Now I’m the 87-year-old woman who breathes and smiles!”

Q: How does meditation work when you have mobility issues?

A: The reality is that as we age, we may have issues with balance, strength and agility. But with mindfulness meditation, you can do it all sitting in a chair regardless of mobility or ability. You can also do it anytime and anywhere — walking, standing in line with a walker or cane, lying down or sitting.

Personal Reflection on Meditation

I may not be in my 70s or 80s yet, but as I get older, I have become more anxious about the future. I also find myself rehashing some of the same stuff and the “If only I had. . .”

I find that I am more relaxed and calm after I have meditated. As someone in my class so aptly put it, “When I meditate I don’t know where I go, but I would like to go there more!”

By Sally Abrahms

Sally Abrahms is an award-winning writer specializing in aging, caregiving, boomers, housing and aging in place.  She has written for Next Avenue, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, AARP, Kiplinger’s and other media outlets. Her website is sallyabrahms.com.

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What’s so special about Hayagriva? This wrathful Heruka emanation of Amitabha, with horse head erupting from fiery hair, literally neighs with the Hrih scream of Wisdom – Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

Hayagriva Sang Drup Secret Accomplishment is one aspect of Hayagriva, the mighty Heruka aspect of Amitabha and Chenrezig.

“Whoever, including even the insects, has heard the name and mantra of Hayagriva only one time will never again fall into the lower paths.” [6]

Many great teachers in modern times have been requesting their students accumulate Hayagriva Heruka’s mantra, known to be particularly efficacious in these troubled times:

“a swift and powerful means to overcome negative forces and obstacles. Prayers to Hayagriva are especially beneficial in these degenerate times when sufferings and illnesses are rampant due to the strong delusions of sentient beings.” [5]

So important is Padma Heruka — the Lotus Hayagriva — that he was one of the main Enlightened deities the great Lotus-Born Padmasambhava practiced: “Glorious Hayagriva and Vajravarahi banished hindrances.”[4]

Guru Rinpoche “arose in the form of Padma Heruka, ferocious and strong, the heruka of the secret sign” — Lady Yeshe Tsogyal [4]

Many illustrious Enlightened Masters taught and practiced Hayagriva as a Yidam aside from Padmasambhava, including the great Tibetan Yogi Shabkar, who was initiated by Chogyal Rinpoche. In his autobiography, Shabkar wrote:

“At dawn the following morning, he bestowed on us the maturing empowerment of the Victorious One, the Wish-fulfilling Gem, Hayagriva and Varahi. This is a profound and extraordinary teaching from the cycle of the new treasures. In heaven, the lineage of vidyadharas remains unbroken; on earth, the lines and colors of the mandala have not yet vanished; in between, the heaps of sacred substances have not yet diminished. Unsullied by demons and samaya-breakers, it still carries the fresh breath of both the wisdom dakinis and worldly dakinis.”

Hayagriva in modern times

Shabkar indicated in this quote that Hayagriva’s “mandala have not yet vanished.” In other words, Hayagriva is very much accessible to practitioners today — not just the ancient masters.

In modern terms, Hayagriva is the “Incredible Hulk” emanation of Amitabha and Chenrezig and Vajravarahi — his wisdom consort — is the ultimate Dakini. Despite his wrathful form, he is still chief among the compassionate, important in modern times.

Hayagriva — Chief among the Wrathful

As the Heruka of Amitabha’s Lotus Family, he is Chief among the Wrathful emanations, representing Dharma and Speech in its ferocious form — signified by the screaming (neighing) horse head bursting out of his fiery red hair.

“The Powerful Heruka is Hayagriva. Every being that lives in this world has no choice but to follow Hayagriva’s command. He is more powerful than any other being; there is no one to equal or even compete with him. Hayagriva is the universal ruler of all that appears and exists. His wisdom intent is enriched by the ‘three neighs’ – which is too vast a subject to explain right now. What you need to understand about Hayagriva … is that there is no one greater or more powerful than “the Powerful Heruka.” — Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche [3]

Hayagriva, the Wrathful Heruka, is the “Incredible Hulk” emanation of Amitabha and Chenrezig. As the Heruka of Amitabha’s Lotus Family, he is Chief among the Wrathful emanations, representing Dharma and Speech in its ferocious form — signified by the screaming (neighing) horse head bursting out of his fiery red hair.

Venerable Steve Carlier explains: “Hayagriva is a wrathful aspect of Chenresig. Making prayers to Hayagriva is a swift and powerful means to overcome negative forces and obstacles including those caused by spirit harms. Prayers to the deity are especially beneficial in these degenerate times when sufferings and illnesses are rampant due to the strong delusions of sentient beings. As a manifestation of Chenresig, the practice of Hayagriva also helps to develop compassion.” [1]

The brave practitioner who meditates on this this monstrously beautiful emanation can overcome obstacles quickly, and understand His cry of Wisdom (Dharma.) Hayagriva is also famous for very effective healing practices. [For a praise to Hayagriva see below. Hayagriva practice, though, normally requires teacher guidance and empowerment. Honoring and praising Hayagriva is fine for all people.]

A magnificent 1800-1899 Tangkha (Sakya lineage) of Hayagriva Sangdrup in the Rubin Museum of Art. On his crown is Amitayus, the long-life aspect of Amitabha. To his top left is Maharaklta Ganapti (Enlightened Wrathful Gasesha), dancing atop a rat. On the right is the power goddess Kurukulla, red (see below), with one face and four hands holding a bow and arrow, hook and lasso. At the bottom center is Begtse Chen (Red Mahakala), red in colour. On the left is Legden Mahakala, blue in colour and right is Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo (Palden Lhamo, the protector of the Dalai Lama). NOTE: The base mandala, under the lotus is a triangle with the point down or towards us; this is an important part of Hayagriva’s  mandala, commonly seen, for example, in the famous sand mandalas. (See below.)

Benefits of Practice of Yoga of Hayagriva

The benefits to the devotee who practices the Yoga of Hayagriva (NOTE: requires full initiation and permission of a lineage teacher) were stated in The Manifestation of the Superb Victorious Wrathful Great Horse Tantra:

“To the superb Initiation of the Fierce Hayagriva
And the victorious Tantra of great value!
If one surely beholds the initiation and has a fancy for it, he will be emancipated from fear and all diseases.
Those who practice the Yoga of Hayagriva, their patron Buddha,
Will be immune for seven hundred births from falling into the lower path and hell.
Those who have the faith and the pure realization constantly,
Will in their future life be born in the Pure Land.
If one recites each word of incantation 100,000 times,
Right in this life he shall see the face of Hayagriva.
Even in offering a part of the offerings to the Lord,
He will influence his surroundings and his neighbors.
Those who merely recite the incantation frequently
Will be free from the afflictions caused by evil spirits.”

Two-armed Hayagriva in union with wisdom consort Vajravarahi. Hayagriva has a green horse head bursting symbollically from his fiery hair, representing Dharma speech in its active (green) form. Vajravarahi has a sow (pig) head, signifying overcoming of ignorance. The union is symbolic of the importance of combining both compassion and wisdom in practice. The red flaming lotus signifies Amitabha and the Lotus Family of Compassion and Dharma Speech.

The Tantra of Proud Master Hayagriva states:

“Those who practice the Yoga of Hayagriva will attain the Common and the Eight Superb Accomplishments. They will also obtain the Four Accomplishments of the Illumination-Holding (Yogi). He who does this will likewise attain the Three Bodies, the Four Bodies, the Five Bodies, and so on. He will also attain the Accomplishment of Mahamudra.”

The Secret Wrathful Hayagriva Tantra calls Hayagriva:

“the King of all Protections.”

Speech the Most Important Jewel

The mandala of Hayagriva. The triangle points down. Top is West (red) the direction of the Padma family, including Hayagriva and Amitabha. The syllable in the centre is the seed syllable HRI in Sanskrit. (Tibetan script of Hri inset in another image). This image is the subject of the famous Hayagriva sand manadalas, which are built one grain of sand at a time. (See above inset photo and description.)

Of the three Jewels, it is often said by teachers that the most important is the Speech Jewel, the Dharma. The Buddha Jewel is our example, and the Sangha Jewel is our support, but it is the Dharma that points us to the path of Liberation and Enlightenment. Even if Buddha is gone beyond, and Sangha is not available to help us, the Dharma can always guide us.

This makes the Enlightened Deities of Speech the most important for day-to-day practice. For this reason, Amtibabha is the most most beloved Buddha after Shakyamuni Himself. Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) — an emanation of Amitabha — is the best-known of the Compassionate family of the Lotus. The compassionate Ones, the Lotus Family, represents Speech in Kriya, Yoga and Anuttarayoga Tantras.

Where “ordinary” pacifying speech and compassion are insufficient to the goal — the goal of Enlightenment, or removing the obstacles to Liberation — then normally a Vajrayana Buddhist turns  to the Heruka or Wrathful emanations. A devotee of Amitabha, or Dharma, would seek out mighty Hayagriva.

Hayagriva — the Heruka of Speech

Symbolism is crucial in Vajrayana visualized meditations. Even so, many wonder why Hayagriva appears to have a green horse head bursting out of his wrathful fiery hair — the horse screaming with mouth wide open. A horses roar, the challenge of the stallion protecting his herd, is a terrible sound, piercing in intensity, carrying for miles in all directions.

The green represents “wind” and “action” — as with Green Tara. The ferocious horse scream is the penultimate symbolic roar of Dharma, carried on the winds to benefit all beings. Hayagriva is the ultimate “activity of the power of speech and Dharma.” Hayagriva is the Heruka emanation of Amitabha (and Chenrezig) and, as such, represents the most powerful aspect of speech or Dharma.

Why is Speech so Important?

Hrih on a lotus (this time in Tibetan script). Hrih is the seed syllable of the Padma family, including Amitabha, Chenrezig and Hayagriva. Because the Amitabha family is associated with Dharma Speech, the seed syllable is doubly significant.

Hayagriva’s Sanskrit “seed” syllable is Hrih, the same as Amitabha. At a sophisticated level of understanding, this single syllable Hrih is Hayagriva Himself. The seed syllable itself is also symbolic of the awesome power of sound, words, mantras, syllables, speech.

A single seed syllable, or a meaningful mantra, or a sutra or tantra text is often said to have the greatest impact in Buddhist practice. In this way, the three major emanations of Dharma Speech — Amitabha, Chenrezig and Hayagriva — are critical to Vajrayana practice. And, for those facing “obstacles” of any kind — afflictive emotions such as anger, illness such as cancer, poverty, or any issue that interferes with dedication to practice — Hayagriva is certainly the “go-to” Heruka.

All the key important aspects of Amitabha are “intensified” to its most wrathful level — Amitabha transformed into the Hulk-lilke version of Himself. All the symbols of Amitabha are still there: compassion, fire element, red, West, Lotus family (two-armed Hayagriva holds a red lotus), the aggregate of distinguishing (recognition), deep awareness of individualities, the Pure Land of Sukhavati (Western Paradise). And, importantly, as “Speech”, Hayagriva upholds the teachings of the sutra vehicles and the classes of tantra — perhaps in a more ferocious manner.

The great mantra

As the Heruka of the Speech and Lotus Family, Hayagriva’s mantra is particularly effective. Although practicing Hayagriva requires empowerment — a Highest Yoga Tantra practice — many people attend Empowerments to recieve blessings only. Geshe Tenley explains: “You may also attend as a blessing without taking vows or formal commitments. Geshe Tenley explains that when this empowerment is given in the monastery in India, many people come from afar to receive this powerful blessing.” [5]

Note: this chanting of the mantra is in the Tibetan style (see below):

Attending an empowerment for a blessing, or praying to Hayagriva, is beneficial to any sentient being. The main mantra is, as published on the Kurukulla Centre for Tibetan studies is:


in Tibetan pronunciation this can sound like:

Om Hri Benza Todha Hayagiva Hulu Hulu Hum Pey

Lama Zopa.

In 2018, Lama Zopa’s students accumulated vast numbers of the Hayagriva mantra, dedicated to the long life of their great teacher. In Lama Zopa’s letters to students, requesting healing, Hayagriva’s mantra is often recommended:

“Most Secret Hayagriva is the special protector deity of Sera Je Monastery, the monastery of Choden Rinpoche, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe Tsulga, Geshe Tenley and other teachers with connection to Kurukulla Center. Recently it has been advised to do as many Hayagriva mantras as possible dedicated to the long life of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the Spiritual Director of Kurukulla Center.” [5]

On the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Lama Zopa recommended to a student who engages in healing for others:

“When you practice healing on someone in pain, one method is to visualize the moon syllable OM on your hand. It is white in color and its nature is light.

You should then recite the Most Secret Hayagriva mantra, which you need to memorize:


While pressing your hand on the painful area, keep reciting this mantra.”

Hayagriva and great King Gesar

Gesar of Ling, here on his magical horse Kyang Go Karkar, was a king in 1027. In his great Buddhist Epic of a million verses, we learn how to overcome our obstacles, including fear. His allegorical tale is treasured and loved by Buddhist around the world.

One of the most important and endearing stories in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia is that of great King Gesar of Ling. Hayagriva — and horses — of course, plays a key role in this central story:

In the story of the birth of Gesar, published in the Shambhala Times, it was Hayagriva who empowered the hero’s magical horse, Kyang Go Karkar. [7]

At twelve-years of age, Gesar became King only after his magical horse, Kyang Go Karkar, won a competition horse race for the throne. It was an unfair match, since Kyang Go Karkar could actually fly — although in the race he kept his feet on the earth.  [For a full story on King Gesar, see>>]

What is a Heruka?

Herukas — variously described as “Vira Heros”, “Wrathful Ones”, or even “Blood Drinkers” (due to complex symbolism associated with Charnel Grounds) — are the highest and fiercest emanations of Enlightened Deities. A Heruka should not be confused with “Heruka” as one of the names of Chakrasamvara (especially in Geulg School, He is often just called Heruka). A Heruka is normally a wrathful emanation of an important Buddha.

Hayagriva is often visualized with a sacred fiery red Lotus in his right hand.

Promotional image of Incredible Hulk; art by Brandon Peterson

As wrathful emanations, they tend to take on the “activity” of the emanating Buddha. For example, Yamantaka, is the Heruka of Manjushri, who represents both “wisdom” and “body.” Hayagriva is the Heruka of Amitabha, who represents both “compassion” and “speech.” In other words, “Hulked-up Amitabha.” Vajrakilaya is Heruka emanation of Vajrasattva, and so on.

Hayagriva’s Terrifyingly Beautiful Appearance

As a Highest Yoga Tantra deity, Hayagriva appears often in YabYum, or in union with a consort representing wisdom. As an all-important Heruka of Dharma Speech, his consort is equally important, the Queen of the Dakinis Herself, Vajrayogini (usually appearing as Vajravarahi with the sow’s head). Vajrayogini appears blue in this union.

Hayagriva, as Amitabha, is a beautiful ruby red, representing not only fire, but the Padma family. Although he is “hulked up” and massive, with bristling muscles and gigantic form, and regardless of fangs and fiery hair, he is very beautiful in the ferociously masculine sense. Vajrayogini (varahi) is, as always, sensuous and stunningly beautiful, but with a slightly wrathful face. If he is the metaphorical Incredible Hulk, then she might be the irresistible vampire queen (in appearance).

Vajrayogini in her blue form as consort of the great Hayagriva, Heruka aspect of Amitabha Buddha. In this form she has a sow’s head (symbolizing overcoming of ignorance) and Hayagriva has a horse head signifying the activity of Dharma Speech (most important of the three jewels.)

There are different forms, notably, two-armed and six armed, and one-horse head versus three-horse heads. Both Nyingma and Gelugpa have three-horse head versions (in thee Gelugpa lineage, the six-armed Hayagriva has three horse heads). The two-armed emanation typically displays one face, and therefore also one horse head. The two-armed Hayagriva is usually in union with Vajrayogini (Varahi).

Since Hayagriva is the Heruka emanation of Amitabha — the Buddha of the Lotus Family — he is often called the “Powerful of Herukas.”

The symbolism of the two animals in important. Haygriva has a green horse, signifying fierce action speech. Vajravarahi (Vajrayogini) has a sows head, signifying wisdom (the sow’s head symbolically represents “triumph over ignorance.”) In other words, the ferocious compassion of Hayagriva (Horse: ferocious Dharma speech to liberate us) in union with the wisdom of Vajravarahi (Sow: triumph over ignorance.)

In the two-armed Gelugpa meditational deities, Hayagriva YabYum Vajrayogini (Vajra Varahi), ruby red Hayagriva holds a fiery red Lotus in his right hand, and nectar in a skullcup in his left. The fiery lotus is a most important symbol of the Padma (Lotus) Buddha Family of Amitabha. Lapis lazuli blue Vajrayogini carries her normal implements, flaying knife and skullcup. The symbolism of these wrathful implements has been covered previously. (For a story on wrathful deities, see this popular Buddha Weely Story>>)

Hayagriva ceremony for the long-life of the Dalai Lama at Sera Jey Monastic University:

Why the Horse?

The scream of the horse is piercing, ferocious, terrifying. A stallion’s roar can terrify a pack of wolves. Horses are also symbolic of WIND — in this context Lung (Tibetan), Prana (Sanskrit) and Chi (Chinese).

The Tibetan Windhorse is iconic of Lung or wind (Chi, Prana or breath). The Windhorse symbolically carries the prayers and wishes of practitioners to the Universe.

It is also said that Shakyamuni was born in the Asian year of the Horse.

Horses also represent swift fulfilment of wishes, both because of their association with Windhorse (usually visualized with the wish-fulfilling jewel on his back) and because in ancient times the horse was the symbol of wealth. A household would guard their horses above all other assets. Horses meant survival, prosperity, safety, happiness. The loss of a horse was treated as seriously as the loss of any other family member. The horse, in Tibet and Nepal, are the most sacred of sentient beings.

Hayagriva Sangdrup “Secret Attainment” Heruka emanation of Amitabha. His practice and mantra require empowerment from a qualified teacher. 

A Praise of Hayagriva

This is adapted from an old translated praise, but does not include any secret practices that require empowerment.

NOTE: Namo, namas translation —  نمس नमस् namas, s.m. (often used as an interjection; and changeable in comp. to नमः nama, and नमो namo), Bowing, bending, making a bow;—a bow, salutation, reverential salutation, paying honour (by gesture or words); adoration, obeisance (performed by joining the palms and inclining the head;—often used in connection with the name of a deity.

Hayagriva YabYum with Vajravarahi (Vajrayogini).

A magnificent hand-crafted Hayagriva Phurba with wrathful meteoric iron blade and painted deities. Hand-crafted by tradition from Rigdzin Pema Tuthob. For a feature on his craft, see>>

Namo Haygriva, Wrathful Activity of the Padma Family!

Namo Hayagriva, Voice of Hrih, most Powerful of Sounds!

Namo Hayagriva, Most Wrathful and Beautiful Deity, Who Cuts All Root Poisons of Ignorance, Desire and Hatred!

Namo Lord Hayagriva, precious horse deity!

Namo Horse-Headed Hayagriva and Consort Vajra Varahi!

Namo Hayagriva! You are the wisdom body, speech and mind of all the buddhas of the ten directions,

The kingly Hayagriva, the Lord of Secrets,

Foremost among the wrathful.

The very thought of you crushes obstructing forces

To you I offer homage and praise!

Namo Hayagriva—fiercest manifestation of Avaolokiteshvara!

Namo Hayagriva—whose Voice is the cry of wisdom, the very syllable HRIH!

Namo Hayagriva—the very embodiment of the speech of all Buddhas!

Namo Hayagriva—who protects the wealth of the household and all horses!

Namo Hayagriva—Whose HRIH neigh frightens away all demons!

Namo Hayagriva—By Whose power Guru Rinpoche subdued powerful spirits and worldly deities!

Namo Hayagriva—whose horse voice cuts through all illusion!

Namo Hayagriva—who cures all illnesses!

Namo Hayagriva—lord of the horses sacred to Shakyamuni Buddha, Conqueror born in the year of the horse!

Namo Hayagriva—who subdues all nagas, snakes and sea spirits!

Namo Hayagriva—protector of the Dharma and of all wisdom!

Namo Hayagriva! Fiercest Avaolokiteshvara, cry out for us now, we implore you! Let your HRIH terrify and chase away all demons and evil!  Let your HRIH protect our wealth and bring us prosperity, Lord Hayagriva! We pray to you to cure our illnesses by the very sound of your mighty HRIH! We ask you to cut through illusion and help us—and all beings—towards enlightenment.

Hayagriva, the great Heruka aspect of Amitabha.

The Eight Herukas

In the Nyingma Mahayoga tradition, there are the eight Enlightened Herukas, who are wrathful emanations of the major Enlightened deities.

First, the three of Body, Speech and Mind:

Then, the remaining five are:


[1] Venerable Steve Carlier “Secret Hayagriva Empowerment by Dagri Rinpoche” introduction>>

[2] Esoteric Teachings of the Tibetan Tantra, by C.A. Musés, [1961]

[4] Lady of the Lotus Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, Changchub, Gyalwa. Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal (Kindle Location 1243). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

[8] Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol. The Life of Shabkar: Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin (Kindle Locations 2604-2609). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

Related Post

Losar: What’s in store for the Earth Sow (Female Pig, 2019) New Year?

Losar: What’s in store for the Earth Sow (Female Pig, 2019) New Year? Planning for Lunar New Year should begin early – Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

We could all use a little good fortune and happiness, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that we universally hope the Year of the Earth Sow (Earth Female Pig 2019) will be much better than the outgoing Earth Dog (2018). The Earth Pig year, which begins on February 5, 2019, this year, —In astrology, typically, Earth Dog is a bad year, for example, for natural disasters and weather.

2019, starting Feb 5, is the Year of the Earth Sow (Female Pig.)

Looking good for the sow?

2019 is the Earth Sow year (Female pig, rather than the boar) — a year normally of prosperity and growth associated with the land and farms. It’s a good idea not to eat pork, at least for the first 15 days of the year, preferrably not at all.

According to astrology, most forecasts are much more positive. Earth dog is yang energy and unsettled. 2019, on the other hand is Yin Earth. Astrologically, whether it’s lucky for you or not depends on the year you were born in. Generally, it’s not a good year for the people of the same animal sign. Earth Pigs and Pigs generally might not do well. But, for many of the rest of us, it seems to be forecast to be better year than 2018 in many ways.

According to Chinese Horoscope [1], the Year of the Earth Pig:

“According to the chinese astrology , 2019 is a great year to make money, and a good year to invest! 2019 is going to be full of joy, a year of friendship and love for all the zodiac signs; an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.”

In Lunar astrology, however, your luck will depend on the year you were born. According to Feng Shui Web[2]:

“A peek into what the year of the Yin Earth Pig has in store for you…

Rat – A prosperous year full of happiness and many new opportunities especially those born in 1960!

Ox – A great year for Ox and a perfect year for new prospects to make money or change career.

Tiger – A mixed year and normally you are not fazed by events although this year you will probably find you will need to adjust and be more considerate to others.

According to traditional lunar astology, the Earth Sow year is generally a prosperous year — but not, as always, without challenges.

Rabbit – A good and exciting year in 2019!

Dragon – A mixed year although with placing all your annual Feng Shui cures and enhancers all will be well.

Snake – In the year of the Pig you will need to keep your wits about you and following our annual advice 2019 will be fine

Horse – A much better year than 2018

Goat – A mixed year but no real problems

Monkey – A year to be cautious

Rooster – You will need to pay attention this year

Dog – You will have to put some effort in this year but following our advice, you will do well.

Pig – With help, you will have a great year”

Losar — The First 15 Days

Whether you believe in astrology or not, Buddhist tradition generally holds that the first 15 days of the New Year are the most important — and most especially February 5, the first day of the year. The merits of practice and karma are “multiplied” according to many sutras and tantras and teachers. A must-do: check with your local Buddhist centres for Losar events to bring in the New Year right.

A beautiful Losar card from Kagyu Samyel.

Each year Buddha Weekly’s volunteers create a 12 month downloadable PDF calendar with Buddhist celebrations, festivals, practice dates and Tsog dates. This year’s 2019 calendar is a stunning trip around the world: “Buddhism Around the World.” Download from here>>

The first moon of the New Year (Lunar) is Chotrul Cuchen (Chunga Choepa), the Day celebrating Buddha’s Miracles — often celebrated with a butter lamp festival. The festival of Buddha’s fifteen miracles actually begins on Losar (New Year), this year on February 5 (2019.) For 15 consecutive days, the faithful celebrate the 15 days of miracles. It is said by teachers of Vajrayana lineage, that these are “multiplying” days — where all merits and all negative acts are magnified “millions” of times. Millions, is usually translated as “many.”

For a detailed story, in two parts, on the Fifteen Miracles of Buddha, see:

For other holy and sacred days, throughout the year for 2019, please download Buddha Weekly’s beautiful 2019 Lunar Practice Calendar with dates converted and beautiful photos of temples around the world. Download here>>

Planning ahead: merit is multiplied

Planning ahead, for practice celebrations, can help us get a good start to the Lunar New Year. It’s the best time to plan a working mantra retreat, for example — imagine those 100,000 mantras multiplied! You don’t have to literally believe in the “multiplication of merit” tradition to understand that a good start to the New Year can set the tone for the next 360 days. [Lunar New Year is 12 months of 30 days.] Plan for extra elaborate offerings on your home altar. Try out, if you’re not already a vegetarian, the ancient tradition of only eating vegetarian on the first day (or at least the first meal) of the year.

Prior to New Year, there is often a traditional dance designed to “scare away” the demons, spirits, ghosts.

Whether you believe in astrology — choose your colour, Purple King, various Tibetan astrology systems, or Western astrology — it can be fun, and almost irresistible, to see what’s “in store” for us. If it’s not so good, we can shrug and say, “Oh, I don’t believe in that stuff”; but if it’s good, we can hope for the best.

The meritorious deeds you might contemplate are simply good karma and compassionate activities, so there’s no reason not to engage in at least some.

Previous stories on Losar (previous years):

Offerings and purification are important prior to Losar, to ensure you don’t carry any negativity into the new year. Then, of course, after New Year, offerings are super important — the merit is multiplied.

Before Losar: planting the seeds of karma

In Buddhist areas that celebrate Losar, preparations begin a month ahead. One beautiful activity is to plant seedlings in flower pots — so that by the time Feb 5 rolls around, you have lovely little seedlings (usually barley, but whatever you have: flowers are nice) to offer to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha — the Three Jewels.

Traditionally — and psychologically this makes sense too! — we don’t bring negativities into the New Year. Settle or put aside law suits, settle arguments, ask for forgiveness (before New Year. Some people throw away old clothes. If you plan on haircuts do it before the New Year, since tradition holds that it’s best not to shave for at least a couple days into the New Year. Renovations and major cleaning should be undertaken before the new year, and should at least stop for the first 15 days of the New Year; they disrupt the chi of your home.

Losar in Nepal is brilliantly lit up at the Boudanath Stupa Kathmandu. Lots of light brings in brightness for the New Year.

In truly traditional areas, there will be foods and rituals to prepare, street to decorate, homes to bring to life. The last two days of the old year — called Gutor, is when major preparations begin. You should at least consider:

A major house-cleaning. The kitchen is the most important, as it’s the “family” centre, where food is prepared.
Volunteering for karma-yoga at your local gompa or temple to help clean.
Decorations are good to cheer up the home and temple with lighting and festive color, including, if you have them, mantra rolls and flags.
If you are traditional, there will be festivities locally, including the famous New Year’s Eve dance to chase away evil spirits (whether you view them as real or internal demons.)

During New Year, there will be traditional dances and celebrations — which may vary based on the area of the world.

New Year’s Eve: Gutu

Vajrasattva practice prior to New Year is important for serious practitioners to eliminate negativities and bad karmas prior to Losar.

Unlike western New Year’s Eve, which is a great big party, for Lunar New Year usually the evening before is dedicated to “getting rid of the nasty old business.” There are plenty of cool traditions, most notably purification. Your teacher might recommend sessions of Vajrasattva practice, or 35 Buddhas practice, or your Yidam practice to purify negative karmas before the New Year.

Other traditions include things such as family dinner of traditional dumpling soup — into which the hosts place white pebbles, hot chillies, etc. into the soup. Whatever you find in your dumpling means something. Chili, for example, means you’re too talkative. Salt or rice in the dumpling is auspicious. A stone means to loosen up that “hard heart.” This is a local custom and caution in eating dumplings with stones is warranted.

Torch, sage and crossroads?

The other traditional activities are the dances to chase away evil spirits, ghosts, demons and inner demons — and negative karma. In the house, this might include carrying a torch — today, for fire safety, probably a bunch of sage or herbs as a purifying incense — to “chase away” these evil spirits. Usually, you shout out “Get out! Get out!” You then, ideally take the torch or bunch of sage to a crossroads — in areas where this is popular, many road crossings are simply smouldering.

Other similar traditions include a parade or procession of people carrying food for ghosts — hungry ghosts like treats — luring them to a big campfire, then throwing the food into the campfire. The food becomes “edible” for the ghosts — and meanwhile, they’re out of your house.

Losar, and the next 2 days

Ideally, colourful clothing ushers in the New Year. It is traditional to offer to the Buddhas, Dakinis, Protectors before eating. In most areas, it would be traditional to exchange Katas (white scarves). Especially, for at least the first two days, be mindful of all language, especially no profanity. Avoid saying words out loud that are negative, like “kill”, “butcher”, “sick”, and so on.

Above all, on Losar, have FUN and don’t bring the negativity into the new year.

In most areas (Chinese New Year included) it’s traditional to wear new clothes on the first day. Traditions differ on bathing. In some traditions, you bathe on the first day to make sure you start clean, but in others, they clean the day before and try not to bathe on the first day — it “washes away the luck.” But these are symbolic acts, so whatever resonates is best.

Offerings, in the form of tormas, are important. Any spiritual activities are beneficial. Offerings to the teacher or Guru, to the Buddha and Three Jewels, are important for “merit”, but also to give thanks for a New Year of opportunity.

Traditionally, altars with offerings for the Enlightened Ones should be laden and generous.

The first day of Losar is usually for family, the second day for friends and relatives. The third day is traditionally the day to visit gompas, monasteries and temples and make offerings. Offerings to the monks are important and meritorious.

Offering prayer flags to the winds, to carry the merit to all beings, or turning prayer wheels with the same purpose are important merit.

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How mindfulness meditation works — and changes the brain’s architecture – Science News – ABC News

It’s touted to relieve pain, lower stress and anxiety, and bolster cognitive performance, but does the practice of mindfulness physically change the brain — and if so, how do we know?

key points

Key points:

First, it’s important to know that mindfulness programs can take many forms, from free mobile apps to highly structured, weeks-long guided sessions. So all these different habits are likely to produce different effects.

In neuroscience research circles, there are two major mindfulness regimens: mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

People undertaking the mindfulness-based stress reduction course receive eight weeks of intensive mindfulness training, which takes elements from practices such as meditation and yoga.

It’s been around since the 1970s and, as its name suggests, it was created to alleviate anxiety and stress.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, on the other hand, was primarily designed for those with depression. It weaves aspects of mindfulness — like meditation — together with a type of psychotherapy.

In the past decade, high-resolution brain imaging has let us look beneath the skull and find out what effects these mindfulness programs have on the way the brain works.

How mindfulness shapes the brain

It’s still a burgeoning field, but a few different studies have suggested mindfulness interventions increase the volume of brain regions that help regulate emotion and attention.

One area that seems to get chunkier is called the anterior cingulate cortex, according to Neil Bailey, a neuroscientist at Monash University.

“The function of this region seems to be related to choosing between competing brain processes,” he said.

“So if you’ve got a part of your brain that’s saying ‘eat the doughnut’ and another part of your brain that’s saying ‘no, do your homework’, the anterior cingulate cortex is the part that decides which to focus on.”

If the anterior cingulate cortex focuses attention, it’s the prefrontal cortex — responsible for complex cognition — that sustains that focus. It also seems to thicken up with a bit of mindfulness training.

The hippocampus and amygdala, which are primarily responsible for memory and emotional processing respectively, change as well — in the strength of their connections.

When the amygdala is activated, it can trigger the “fight or flight” response, the reflex that gets your heart pumping and your body ready to react to a threat.

It’s thought that some people with anxiety disorders have a hyper-responsive amygdala, eliciting fight or flight even when there’s no life-threatening danger.

After a bout of mindfulness training, the amygdala might still kick in, but messages feeding into it from the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus that give context to the situation — that it’s not a life or death scenario — may be stronger.

“What research has shown is that there’s less amygdala activity after a mindfulness intervention and that it’s related to the downregulation by the other brain areas,” Dr Bailey said.

Measurements aren’t perfect, but are improving

Dr Bailey uses a technique called an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to look at how mindfulness changes the brain’s function.

catalyst mindfulness teaser

It’s a cap of electrodes that can pick up electrical activity in the brain’s outer layers.

The system has been used for many years and is very reliable, but relatively indirect.

To get right inside the brain and find out if its shape and size are changing, the best technique we have is magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.

These scans are the closest we can get to cracking open a person’s skull and taking a ruler to their grey matter. It’s the technique used in the studies, mentioned above, examining the cortex after mindfulness training.

An MRI machine records virtual slices through the brain (or any other squishy part of the body).

It was developed in the 1970s, but in recent years, MRI resolution has improved vastly thanks to more powerful electromagnets.

Magnetic resonance imaging machines, like this one, rely on electromagnets to take ‘slices’ through the human body.

Supplied: Westmead Hospital

“The stronger the magnet, the better the image,” said Rebecca Koncz, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Sydney who is also completing a PhD in brain imaging at the University of New South Wales.

MRI these days commonly operates with a 1.5- or 3-tesla magnet — around the strength of the electromagnets that hoist cars in scrapyards.

Newer, more expensive MRI models use a 7-tesla magnet or higher.

As well as more precise size-and-shape measurements, these superpowered magnets are proving useful for taking snapshots of the brain in action: a sort of whole-brain activity map called functional MRI.

This “fMRI” tracks oxygen in the brain’s blood supply, to see which parts are working harder. The idea here is that more activity needs more oxygen.

It’s the type of evidence which revealed, for example, that mindfulness training can dampen the activity of the amygdala.

Still, even top-shelf MRI machines have their limitations.

They divvy up images into 3-D pixels called “voxels”. Depending on the thickness of the slice, one voxel is usually around 1 cubic millimetre.

A morsel of brain tissue that size can contain tens of thousands of cells, so slight density or volume changes might go unnoticed.

And the difficult, indirect analysis required to quantify brain activity from fMRI data has led to criticisms about whether the results are meaningful.

There’s plenty left to discover

The neuroscience of mindfulness has drawn on all of these techniques — but is still in its infancy.

There are plenty of questions left to be answered, such as: Does the quality of mindfulness practice matter? Is there a dose-dependent effect (i.e. more mindfulness, more change)? And are there long-term effects on the brain?

Some evidence shows that compared to the wider population, long-time meditators have more brain volume in, for instance, the prefrontal cortex.

But there are no longitudinal studies as yet that have followed novice mindfulness practitioners to see if they maintained their newly gained brain bulk.

Even though the benefits of mindfulness can sometimes be overstated, there is likely to be a good reason it’s been around for so long, Dr Koncz said.

“Mindfulness and meditation have been practised for thousands of years. Perhaps science is just taking a bit of time to catch up.”

For more on mindfulness, watch Catalyst tonight on ABC TV at 8.30pm AEDT or catch up on iview.

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27 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day changes brain structure

I confess that I’m struggling with my new meditation practice. I’ve diagnosed myself with a severe case of monkey-mind.

Monkey-mind = a buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”.

But I’m persisting with my study, and in the blog today I’m sharing with you some research that shows the brain’s structure changes after only 8 weeks of meditation practice.

A group of Harvard neuroscientists were interested in mindfulness meditation because it had been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being that extended beyond the time the individual was actually meditating.

Sara Lazar, PhD, the study’s senior author, said,

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day”

To see if mindfulness training had any measurable effect on the brain, 17 people were enrolled in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course.  The course promised to improve participants’ mindfulness and well-being, and reduce their levels of stress.

MRI scans of the people’s brains were taken before and after they completed the meditation course.  A control group who didn’t do any mindfulness training also had their brains scanned.

Meditation group participants spent an average of 27 minutes a day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses.  After the people completed the mindfulness course they all reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness such as ‘acting with awareness’ and ‘non-judging’.

The brain images showed that, compared to the controls, the mindfulness groups had increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum.  Grey matter is the part of the brain made up of nerve cell bodies, whereas white matter contains the axons.

Mindfulness training was associated with structural changes in brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking.

Britta Hölzel, the lead author on the paper says,

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”

Sarah Lazar also noted,

“This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.

So the simple take-home message from this piece of research: Practice your meditation, it’ll change your brain.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vinni/4024516897/

Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, & Sara W. Lazara (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density Psychiatry Res DOI: