Asian art

Buddhist deity: Yidam

Buddhist deity: Yidam

Who is Buddhist Diety Yidam?

Buddhist deity, Yidam is a deity who is associated with tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism. He is said to be the manifestations of Buddhahood or enlightened mind. Yidam is also referred as the meditational deity or tutelary deity. In Vajrayana Buddhismyidam is referred as the deity in the yoga, therefore, yidam is the key element of Deity yoga and is one of the three roots of the Inner refuge formula, other being Guru and Dharmapala/ Dakini.

Yidam in Three Roots

In Vajrayana Buddhism, Yidam or Meditional deity is one of the three roots of inner refuge formulation. Since, the practitioner is associated with Yidam while mediating, the iconography of Yidam solely depends upon the nature of practitioner. The iconography of Yidam may be peaceful, wrathful, or neither peaceful or wrathful.

During the deity yoga, the guru will guide the practitioner as to which  Yidam is appropriated for them. It is then initiated into the mandala provided by the guru. This is mainly because the practitioner can undertake the deity yoga. But it is realized that the mindstream of guru and yidam are indivisible.

Yidam in East Asian Buddhism and Newar Buddhism

In China, Korea, and Japan, the Vajrayana  or tantric traditions are characterized by the utilization of their own verse of Yidams in meditation which is smaller and less prominent than Indo-Tibetan tantric Buddhism. one of the most valued yidam in the East Asian Vajrayana is Marici while in the Shingon tradition of Japan, the most prominent yidam includes the five mysteries of Vajrasattva. These five mysteries are Vajrasattva, Surata /Ishta-vajrini, Kelikila-vajrini, Kama/Raga-Vajrini, and Kamesvara/Mana-vajrini.

In Newar Vajrayana Buddhism, the principal Yidam is Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi. The role of Yidam or meditational deity in the Newari Buddhist temple has an important role as well. While building the temple complex according to Newari Buddhism, three components are essential - the first one is the main shrine which symbolizes Swayambhu Mahachaitya; an exoteric shrine housing Buddha statues of Shakyamuni Buddha, other Buddhas, and bodhisattvas; and lastly an esoteric shrine dedicated to the Yidam.

Method of enlightenment

In Vajrayana practices of Tibetan Buddhism, the practitioner relies on a Yidam in Deity yoga as a means of becoming a Buddha. When the practitioner practices the Deity yoga, he/ she establishes a strong relationship with the Yidam by means of visualization and a high level of concentration. While practicing Deity yoga, the practitioner mainly focusses on the methods to actualize the transformation of his/her own mindstream and body into the Yidam. These methods mainly consist of meditation and yogic techniques of energy control. Through these methods and techniques, the practitioner increasingly perceives the pervasive Buddha nature.

As Judith Simmer-Brown, distinguished professor of contemplative and religious studies at Naropa University summarizes that a yidam, a personal meditational deity, a potent ritual symbol simultaneously represents the mind of the guru and lineage of enlightened teachers, and the enlightened mind of the tantric practitioner and recognizing the inseparability of these two is the ground of tantric practice.

Common Yidams

The common Yidams are Hayagriva, Vajrakilaya, Samputa, Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, Hevajra, Kurukulla, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, and Kalachakra. It has been seen that other enlightened ones like the regular forms of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Padmasambhava, Dharmapalas, Dakinis, Wealth deities are also practiced as Yidam. It has also been recorded that Avalokiteshvara, Tara, Manjushri, Hevajra and consort Nairatmya, Heruka-Chakrasamvara and consort Vajravarahi are frequently chosen as Yidams.

Normally, the practitioners choose Yidams as a means or a goal of transformation towards full enlightenment. In some traditions, the Yidams are considered as the emanation of the adept's own mind only.

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