Great misunderstanding surrounds the many deities of Buddhist tantra.

On the surface, the veneration of tantric deities looks like polytheism. And it's easy to assume that a "goddess of mercy," for example, is someone you pray to when you need mercy. There are folk practices throughout Asia that employ the deities in a similar way. But this is not how tantric Buddhism understands the deities. First, what is tantra? In Buddhism, tantra is the use of rituals, symbolism and yoga practices to evoke experiences that enable realization of enlightenment. The most common practice of tantra is deity identification, or realizing oneself as a deity. Read more: Introduction to Buddhist Tantra Of this, Lama Thubten Yeshe wrote, "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 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], p. 42) Often a teacher chooses the appropriate deity to match a student's personality and spiritual barriers. Tantra as a Path to Enlightenment To understand how deity identification works, we need to review some Buddhism basics. All Buddhist teachings begin with the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha taught that the frustrations and dissatisfactions (dukkha) we feel about our lives is created by grasping and greed, which in turn is a result of our misunderstanding ourselves. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that, in our deepest selves, we are already perfect, complete and enlightened. However, we don't understand ourselves this way. Instead, we are caught up in the delusion of ordinary appearances and conceptualizations to see ourselves as limited, imperfect and incomplete.

Through tantra. . the practitioner dissolves the limited conception of himself and experiences the boundlessness and perfection of Buddha nature.

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