Naked wisdom for degenerate times: Vajrayogini, enlightened wisdom queen, leads us to bliss, clear light and emptiness, despite modern obstacles – Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

The great Lama Yeshe said, “The Vajrayogini yoga method is extremely powerful. It is just what we need in these degenerate times, with our delusions running rampant and our minds grasping at concretized sense pleasures. Therefore, a method such as this, which has the wisdom to transform delusions, is of the utmost need, especially as it has the profound property of becoming more powerful as delusions become stronger.”

Of all the Vajrayana meditative deities, Vajrayogini is credited with being the one practice for our busy, hectic, terrifying times which can lead us, in one lifetime, to Enlightenment. (See full “teaching” video with Garchen Rinpoche on Vajrayogini, embedded below.)

Note: some nudity in the thangkas.

Vajrayogini meditational devotional satue.

[NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Feature by Josephine Nolan,

Beautiful Vajrayogini, Naropa lineage.

Vajrayogini has been called the “Buddha for our times.” There’s an old Tibetan saying: “Practicing any Buddha is practising all Buddhas.” The great Atisha, when he first came to Tibet, was horrified to find Tibetans practicing many deities at once. He admonished them that they only have to practice one. The Enlightened qualities of one Buddha — including Vajrayogini — are no different from the qualities of another Buddha, even if we sometimes say, Tara specializes in “protection” and “Medicine Buddha” in medicine. So, why is Vajrayogini “the Buddha for our times?”

NOTE: Although the practices themselves are secret, discussing the benefits of practice is not. Vajrayana deity practices are widely available online, however just because they are available does not mean they should be practised without authorization or empowerment from a qualified teacher. However, any student, for example, in a temple, can make offerings and praise Vajrayogini.

The Buddha for our time?

Simply put, Her visualization, Her appearance, Her mantra, Her sadhana, are all designed to counter our modern obstacles — especially the obstacles of our degenerate times. In our modern age, when we have no time, when life is always in the way of practice, when we struggle with many fears — terrorism, global warming, wars, paying the bills, healing our sickness — these are all the reasons to consider Her practice. Vajrayogini manifests in her fiery red, passionate, stunning beautiful and energetic form. Fast action. Fast practice. An appearance that is instantly modern and relatable.

Vajrayogini’s mandala featuring the double tretrahedran (reality source) and the four pink bliss swirls. All of the images and symbols convey a precise and powerful message.

Vajrayogini is not superior to any other Buddha. They are all perfect. They are all Oneness. But, She specifically manifests for these times — She is at once more intimate, closer to us, and more relatable than, for example, a serene peaceful Buddha. The serene, peaceful Buddha conjures the feeling of six years of renunciation under a tree meditating. In today’s world, how can anyone contemplate such a commitment?

In violent, fast-paced times, we sometimes can more easily relate to the ferocious energy of the Dakini Queen, who delivers realizations in a dervish of dancing energy, blissful realization and sudden glimpses of Shunyata.

Video 2018 teaching from Garchen Rinpoche on Vajrayogini:

An “easy” Higher Yoga practice?

Another form of Vajrayogini.

Although Vajrayogini is a Highest Yoga Tantra practice, her meditation is relatively simple. Visualizing her is easy — she’s simply so stunningly beautiful it’s hard not to think of her appearance. She is also profoundly accomplished in every way:

“Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi ranks first and most important among the dakinis. She is the “Sarva-buddha-dakini” the Dakini Who is the Essence of all Buddhas.” [1]

Vajrayogini pratice has led to Enlightenment of many great masters. “Of the 84 Mahasiddhas of ancient India, many gained their attainments through the practices of Heruka Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini” [3] Traditionally, this is because the Chakrasamvara Vajrayogini mandala actually still exists in our physical world — most mandalas are absorbed back into emptiness at the end of meditations. This makes Her practice ideal for these chaotic times.

Spiritual benefits: countless

Although there are mundane benefits as well (see below), Her practice is especially known for higher spiritual attainments:

“She is the Anuttarayoga Tantra Istadevi (the only and the first Deity) and Her practice includes methods for preventing ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth (by transforming them into the paths to enlightenment), and for transforming all mundane daily experiences into spiritual paths.” [4]

Vajrayogini’s practice is the path to understanding Shunyata (Emptiness) and Clear Light — the luminosity of the nature of mind.

 [NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Ten benefits of practice according to root Tantra

Another form of Vajrayogini.

The source Tantra, in the Condensed Root Tantra of Heruka, explains there are ten key spiritual benefits to practice, many not available from other practices:

There are also two relatively more secret (due to complexity) benefits; in other words benefits that aren’t easily understood unless you are already a practitioner. We won’t explain them here, since they are too profound as topics to cover here, but we list them for reference:

This complex thangka depicts the various lineage masters going all the way back to Buddha Vajradhara, who is actually Buddha Shakyamuni is tantric form. At the upper left are the main tantric deities – Yamantaka, Heruka Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja. At the upper right are the Buddhas of the past and present – Krakucchanda, Kasyapa and Shakyamuni. At the bottom left are the three long-life deities – Amitayus, Namgyalma and White Tara. At the bottom right are Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani, who, taken together can be said to represent Lama Tsongkhapa, the great 14th century Tibetan scholar and saint who is an emanation of these three great Buddhas. Below Vajrayogini are two Dharma Protectors – 4-faced Mahakala (a wrathful emanation of Heruka) and Citipati, the special Protector for Vajrayogini practitioners.

Cognitive benefits

Vajrayogini’s seed syllable in her double triangle mandala. Although this appears to be a double triangle, it is actually visualized in three dimensions, as a double tetrahedron.

Vajrayana Buddhists rely on symbols and visualization, activating mind, body and speech simultaneously with visualization (mind), mudra (body) and mantra or ritual (speech) respectively. Science has proven the relationship between Vajrayana meditation and cognitive benefits due to this massive activation of brain matter (See our story “Research Proves Vajrayana Meditation Improve Cognitive Performance and Promising for Brain Disorders>>)

The visual symbols, often including wrathful deities with fangs, animal heads, and the naked feminine, is usually misunderstood — which is why practices are normally secret.  The astonishingly beautiful and naked Vajrayogini, especially in sexual union, probably provokes the deepest misunderstanding.

NOTE: Although the practices themselves are secret, discussing them is not. Vajrayana deity practices are widely available online, however just because they are available does not mean they should be practised without authorization or empowerment from a qualified teacher. However, any student, for example, in a temple, can make offerings and praise Vajrayogini.

 [NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Activating 280 million neurons

In seeing an image of some Enlightened deities, non-practitioners often see sex and demons — where there is actually nothing more than visual language that activates massive frontal volumes of brain matter:

“The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter.” — Science Direct [2]

Mindfulness meditation has shown measurable increases in the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for higher level thinking.

In addition, visualization may active the visual cortex of our brains — over 280 million neurons. (For more on Vajrayana visualization, see our earlier story>>)

Interestingly, there is a visual cortex in both hemispheres of the brain, right and left. In scientific studies, visualization of Vajrayana deities in this way, has proven to be effective for growing cognitive abilities, and even beneficial for people with dementia. (Please see our earlier story: Peer-reviewed studies prove daily meditation increases cognitive function>>)

The great Mahasiddhi Naropa and his Yidam Vajrayogini.

Wisdom and compassion united

Vajrayogini (Wisdom) in union with Heruka Chakrasamvara (Compassion).

In broad strokes, the symbolism divides (and yet is never divided) into two themes: capital-C Compassion (symbolized in male Englightened Buddhas) and capital-W Wisdom (symbolized by female Enlightened Dakinis.) The combination of the two, visualized as the union of the male (compassion) and female (wisdom), brings a bliss and intensity to daily meditations — the faster-path to helping us understand Shunyata (Emptiness) and Clear Light.

The Dakini is often said to be the “bringer of bliss and wisdom.” Vajrayogini, the Queen of the Dakinis, is the best known of the Enlightened Feminine — after, perhaps, Venerable Tara. Vajrayogini is none other than an emanation of Tara (or vice versa, it doesn’t matter.)

Psychology of Dakinis

Noted psychologist, Rob Preece, in The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, describes the power of Dakini symbols:

“As an archetypal symbol of the feminine, the dakini brings fiery wildness and deep instinctuality of feminine… As an aspect of Anima, she is at the heart of our relationship life. The Dakini is known as a messenger, a bringer of profound intuitions, and insight into the deepest aspects of the psyche.”

He goes on to describe Vajrayogini as the “most potent validation of this quality.”

“Her fiery red, dancing form reflects a quality similar to the flamenco dancer — proud, undaunted, powerful and erotic. She carries a curved knife to cut through the ignorance and stupidity she encounters, and, holding a skullcup of blood, she drinks a blissful nectar of the essence of her feminine power. Across her shoulder is a staff, called a khatvanga, symbolizing her integration of the masculine. She is adorned with bone ornaments and a crown of skulls and around her neck she wears a necklace of skulls.”

“She is the dance or play of emptiness, like the play of light rippling on the surface of water. Her appearance is manifest, yet illusory.”

A beautiful newari (new-style) take on Vajrayogini.

Vajrayogini, dancing wisdom

In a recent story honoring Dakini Day, we described the feminine wisdom deities this way (story here>>):

“Dakinis are portrayed as elusive, playful and often fierce and naked to symbolically convey how elusive true Wisdom encompassing “Emptiness” can be.”

But why is Vajrayogini not only naked, but so exquisitely (almost distractingly) beautiful. Not just beautiful, but sexual, unabashed, carefree, youthful and passion-inspiring.

It’s a difficult concept to describe. Basically, in Vajrayana, the deities appear in a form that aligns with obstacles we are trying to overcome. Vajrayogini is so desirous, that she almost appears to challenge us to overcome our silly craving for sensual pleasures. “See, there’s nothing special about being naked and dancing around,” she almost seems to say.

Of course, the message is not so superficial. Her nudity expresses how we must shed not only our cravings but our pre-conceived notions of how things are — if we are to understand the true nature of the universe, which is Emptiness (Shunyata.)

Vajryogini’s 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.) For a story on Hayagriva Vajrayogini see here>>

Vajrayogini is not always red. In union with Hayagriva she is blue. She is not always in union, sometimes she is alone and dancing with a Katvanga (which represents her consort). Often, as Vajravarahi, she is seen with a sow’s head (pig) sprouting from her wild hair — symbolic of overcoming ignorance.

“Although there are a number of visual representations of Vajrayogini, certain attributes are common to all: She is mostly shown as young, naked, and standing in a desirous or dancing posture. She holds a blood-filled skull cup in one hand and a curved knife (kartr or dri-gug) in the other. Often she wears a garland of human skulls or severed heads; has a khatvanga staff leaning against her shoulder; her usually wild hair flowing down her neck and back; her face in a semi-wrathful expression. Her radiant red body is ablaze with the heat of yogic fire and surrounded by the flames of wisdom.” [1]

Practicing Vajrayogini

Although Vajrayogini is a Highest Yoga Tantra, requiring both permission and empowerment, anyone can honor, pray to, or meditate on her as an “external deity.” It is not permitted to visualize the self as Vajrayogini without initiation, and probably not to chant the mantra, but one can come closer to Vajrayogini’s enlightened qualities through praise, offerings and prayers without empowerments.

Unlike other meditations, however, the very energetic nature of Vajrayogini’s meditation — designed as it is to cope with the high pace of our “degenerate times” — requires some guidance. The best path to Vajrayogini is through a qualified teacher, with proven lineage.

 [NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]