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Vajrayoginī (Sanskrit: Vajrayoginī; Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་མ་, Wylie: rdo rje rnal ’byor ma, Dorjé Nenjorma; Mongolian: Огторгуйд Одогч, Нархажид, Chinese: 瑜伽空行母; pinyin: Yújiā Kōngxíngmǔ) is the vajra yoginī. She is an Anuttarayoga Tantra iṣṭadevatā and her practice includes methods for preventing ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth (by transforming them into paths to enlightenment), and for transforming all mundane daily experiences into higher spiritual paths.
Vajrayoginī is a generic female iṣṭadevatā and although she is sometimes visualized as simply Vajrayoginī, in a collection of her sādhanās she is visualized in an alternate form in over two thirds of the practices. Her other forms include Vajravārāhī (Dorje Pakmo, Wylie: rdo-rje phag-mo "Vajra Sow") and Krodikali (alt. Krodhakali, Kālikā, Krodheśvarī, Krishna Krodhini, Tibetan Tröma Nakmo; Wylie: khros ma nag mo, "Wrathful Lady", "Fierce Black One"). Vajrayoginī is a ḍākiṇī and a Vajrayana Buddhist iṣṭadevatā. As such, she is a female Buddha.
Vajrayogini's sādhanā originated in India between the tenth and twelfth centuries. It evolved from the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, where Vajrayoginī appears as his Yab-Yum consort, to become a stand-alone practice of Anuttarayoga Tantra in its own right. The practice of Vajrayoginī belongs to the Mother Tantra (Wylie: ma rgyud) class of Anuttarayoga Tantras along with other tantras such as the Cakrasaṃvara and Hevajra Tantras.
According to scholar Miranda Shaw, Vajrayoginī is "inarguably the supreme deity of the Tantric pantheon. No male Buddha, including her divine consort, Heruka-Cakrasaṃvara, approaches her in metaphysical or practical import."
Origin and Lineage
Vajrayana teaches that the two stages of the practice of Vajrayoginī (generation stage and completion stage) were originally taught by Vajradhara. He manifested in the form of Heruka to expound the Root Tantra of Chakrasaṃvara, and it was in this tantra that he explained the practice of Vajrayoginī. All the many lineages of instructions on Vajrayoginī can be traced back to this original revelation. Of these lineages, there are three that are most commonly practiced: the Narokhachö lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Naropa; the Maitrikhachö lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Maitripa; and the Indrakhachö lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Indrabodhi.
Vajrayoginī is visualized as the translucent, deep red form of a 16 year old female with the third eye of wisdom set vertically on her forehead. Vajrayoginī is generally depicted with the traditional accoutrements of a ḍākiṇī including a cleaver (Tib. drigug, Skt. kartṛī) marked with a vajra in her right hand and a kapala (skull cup) in her left hand which is filled with blood that she partakes of with her upturned mouth. Her consort Chakrasaṃvara is often symbolically depicted as a khaṭvāńga on Vajrayoginī's left shoulder, when she is in 'solitary hero' form. Vajrayoginī's khatvanga is marked with a vajra and from it hang a damaru drum, a bell, and a triple banner. Her extended right leg treads on the chest of red Kālarātri, while her bent left leg treads on the forehead of black Bhairava, bending his head backward and pressing it into his back at the level of his heart. Her head is adorned with a crown of five human skulls and she wears a necklace of fifty human skulls. She is depicted as standing in the center of a blazing fire of exalted wisdom.
Each aspect of Vajrayoginī's form and mandala is designed to convey a spiritual meaning. For example, her brilliant red-colored body symbolizes the blazing of her inner fire (Tib. tummo). Her single face symbolizes that she has realized that all phenomena are of one nature in emptiness. Her two arms symbolize her realization of the two truths. Her three eyes symbolize her ability to see everything in the past, present and future. She looks upward toward the Pure Dākiṇī Land (Skt. Kechara), demonstrating her attainment of outer and inner Pure Dākiṇī Land, and indicating that she leads her followers to these attainments. The curved drigug knife in her right hand shows her power to cut the continuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings. Drinking the nectar of blood from the kapala in her left hand symbolizes her experience of the clear light of bliss.
In her form as Vajravārāhī, when she is known as 'the Vajra Sow' she is often pictured with a sow's head on the side of her own as an ornament and in one form has the head of a sow herself. Vajrayoginī is often associated with triumph over ignorance, the pig being associated with ignorance in Buddhism. This sow head relates to the origins of Vajravārāhī from the Hindu sow-faced goddess Vārāhī.
Vajrayoginī acts as a meditation deity, or the yab-yum consort of such a deity, in Vajrayāna Buddhism. She appears in a maṇḍala that is visualized by the practitioner according to a sādhana describing the practice of the particular tantra. There are several collections containing sādhanas associated with Vajrayoginī including one collection, the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā, containing only Vajrayoginī sādhanas and comprising forty-six works by various authors.
The yidam that a meditator identifies with when practicing the Six Yogas of Nāropa is Vajrayoginī and she is an important deity for tantric initiation, especially for new initiates as Vajrayoginī's practice is said to be well-suited to those with strong desirous attachment, and to those living in the current "degenerate age". As Vajravārāhī, her consort is Chakrasaṃvara (Tib. Khorlo Demchog), who is often depicted symbolically as a khaṭvāṇga on her left shoulder. In this form she is also the consort of Jinasagara (Tib. Gyalwa Gyatso), the red Avalokiteśvara (Tib. Chenrezig).
Vajrayoginī also appears in versions of Guru yoga in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. In one popular system the practitioner worships their guru in the form of Milarepa, whilst visualizing themself as Vajrayoginī.
The purpose of visualizing Vajrayoginī is to gain realizations of generation stage tantra, in which the practitioner mentally visualises themself as their yidam or meditational deity and their surroundings as the Deity's maṇḍala. The purpose of generation stage is to overcome so-called ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions, which are said in Vajrayana Buddhism to be the obstructions to liberation (Skt. nirvāṇa) and enlightenment.
According to most commentaries associated with the deity, the practices of Vajrayoginī are relatively easy compared to those of other Highest Yoga Tantra yidams and particularly suited to practitioners in modern times:
The instructions on the practice of Vajrayoginī contain concise and clearly presented meditations that are relatively easy to practice. The mantra is short and easy to recite, and the visualizations of the maṇḍala, the Deity, and the body maṇḍala are simple compared with those of other Highest Yoga Tantra Deities. Even practitioners with limited abilities and little wisdom can engage in these practices without great difficulty. The practice of Vajrayoginī quickly brings blessings, especially during this spiritually degenerate age. It is said that as the general level of spirituality decreases, it becomes increasingly difficult for practitioners to receive the blessings of other Deities; but the opposite is the case with Heruka and Vajrayoginī – the more times degenerate, the more easily practitioners can receive their blessings.
The female tulku who was the abbess of Samding Monastery, on the shores of the Yamdrok Tso Lake, near Gyantse, Tibet was traditionally a nirmāṇakāya emanation of Vajravārāhī (Tibetan: Dorje Phagmo). The lineage started in the 15th century with the princess of Gungthang, Chokyi Dronma (Wylie: Chos-kyi sgron-me)(1422–1455). She became known as Samding Dorje Pagmo (Wylie:bSam-lding rDo-rje phag-mo) and began a line of female tulkus, reincarnate lamas. Charles Alfred Bell met the tulku in 1920 and took photographs of her, calling her Dorje Pamo in his book. The current incarnation, the 12th of this line, resides in Lhasa. where she is known as Female Living Buddha Dorje Palma by the Chinese.
- Guide to Dakini Land page xii, a commentary to Illuminating All Hidden Meanings (Wylie: be don kun sal) by Je Tsongkhapa.
- English, Elizabeth (2002). Vajrayoginī: Her Visualizations, Rituals and Forms. Wisdom Publications. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-86171-329-5.
- The Forms of Vajrayoginī Himalayan Art Resources
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- Guide to Dakini Land: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Buddha Vajrayogini, pages 154-5, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1996), Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, ISBN 978-0-948006-39-5
- Guide to Dakini Land: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Buddha Vajrayogini, pages 5 - 10, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1996), Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, ISBN 978-0-948006-39-5
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- Extract: When a Woman Becomes a Religious Dynasty - The Samding Dorje Phagmo of Tibet