The Three Roots

Today we continued the series of empowerments that relate to sadhanas combining three roots combined into one deity. Later we will have empowerments related to each of the three roots individually. The three roots are the guru, the yidam or meditational deity, and the dakini or protector. In the Nyingma school the third root is the dakini. In the Kagyu school the third root is the protector or dharmapala. The Rinchen Terdzo has sections for each one later on in the text.

In the tantric approach of relating to a teacher, the guru is the root of blessings.  Wisdom in the Buddhist tradition is transmitted from person to person. The teacher is someone who has already walked the path and thus knows mind and the world from top to bottom. Having done that, the teacher possesses an enormous amount of understanding, ability and compassion for others. From that perspective the teacher is the root of blessings. Without a person-to-person connection there is no way to move forward. Connecting with a fully realized being is the best way to move toward complete realization.

A yidam is a visualized deity that is an expression of one’s fully realized nature. There are hundreds of yidams presented in the Rinchen Terdzo. Visualizing a yidam is one of the many methods in vajrayana or tantric Buddhism to help our purify our perceptions of ourselves and the world. Usually we see the world in a somewhat limited way based strongly and unconsciously on our habits. For example, if there is someone we don’t like walking in our room, the gap between simply seeing someone without bias and seeing someone with dislike is almost non-existent. It happens so fast that our feeling of dislike and the person walking in the room don’t appear to be separate. This binding of basic perceptions, emotions and ideas about others can drive us into a lot of difficult situations without any rational judgment.

Training in the yidam is a way of separating neurotic habits from unbiased perception. In contrast to sitting while meditating on the breath there is a lot of color and excitement to this style of meditation initially. But gradually one comes to see that the visualized deity is an expression of one’s own natural sanity or basic goodness. It is a training that brings one back to earth, rather than an imaginary world. That coming back to earth may carry its own richness because of how strangely one’s perceptions had been coloring the world in the first place. The yidam is called the source of accomplishment. It accomplishes the basic sanity, kindness, ability and love that one recognizes in the guru.

The third root is the dakini or protector. Dakini is the name for feminine environmental energy that is inseparably bound with to wisdom. Dakinis are depicted iconographically in feminine form. Protectors can be either masculine or feminine.  Dakinis and protectors are the energy that both nurtures us and protects us from straying from the path. Like yidams, and ultimately speaking, the guru they are nothing more than our own mind. They are not external to us.

For me, the best example of protector was given by Trungpa Rinpoche in his teachings on mind training, teachings on developing compassion in through the mahayana tradition of lojong. He said the protectors speaking to you are like when one is totally involved in anger at a friend, and then accidentally slams a door on one’s own hand. It’s like that. We have environmental energy reminding us of wisdom and keeping us out of trouble all the time if we are willing to train ourselves to be open to the messages. Training in these kinds of practices helps open us up to that more and more. The sole aim of protector or dakini energy is to support beneficial activity. Therefore the dakinis and protectors are known as the root of activity.

The topic of the three roots is very detailed and subtle. Just as a good novel can present a tremendous wealth of detail and richness about the lives of its characters, so the teachings on the three roots present an amazing amount of detail and richness about our experience and the mind. The difference is that the tantric teachings are a living experience rooted in devotion to the teacher as the source of blessings. The teacher can then present us with the methods to progressively enter a more natural and open connection with the world. 

As for the empowerments we received today, were revealed by a terton named Shikpo Lingpa. I haven’t found out much about him yet. Some of the empowerments were for main practices, and some for branch practices such as a torma empowerment. It was a bit hard to tell what was what, and we were happy to learn that Jigme Rinpoche would like to start briefing the western students every few days about what is coming up.

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