I would like to begin with some interesting things that have happened lately to the evolution of my own practice. As this blog records-the last ritual involving the 4 Demon Kings-Mahazuel incorporated the Mahakala mask that I obtained in Salem Mass-in 2015 on vacation. This mask has become central to much of my work of late-and carries a mystery and power-that I feel I have only begun to understand. For me-the mask has transformed into a form of 'Yidam', or personal 'tutelary deity' that will direct and assistant in my own personal transformation.
Yidam is a type of deity associated with tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism said to be manifestations of Buddhahood or enlightened mind. During personal meditation (sādhana) practice, the yogi identifies their own form, attributes and mind with those of a yidam for the purpose of transformation. Yidam is sometimes translated by the terms "meditational deity" or "tutelary deity". Examples of yidams include the meditation deities Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Vajrayogini, all of whom have a distinctive iconography, mandala, mantra, rites of invocation and practice.
In Vajrayana, the yidam is one of the three roots of the "inner" refuge formula and is also the key element of Deity yoga since the 'deity' in the yoga is the yidam.
Three Roots-The Sanskrit word iṣṭadevatā or iṣṭadevaḥ a compound of iṣṭa (desired, liked, reverenced) + devatā (a deity or divine being) is a term associated with yidam in many popular books on Buddhist Tantra but has not been attested in any Buddhist tantric text in Sanskrit.
The yidam appears as one of the Three Roots in the Tibetan Buddhist 'Inner' refuge formulation. The iconography of the yidam may be 'peaceful', 'wrathful' (Tibetan tro wa) or 'neither peaceful or wrathful'(Tibetan: shi ma tro), depending on the practitioner's own nature.The yidam represents awakening and so its appearance reflects whatever is required by the practitioner in order to awaken. The guru will guide the student as to which yidam is appropriate for them and then initiation into the mandala of the Ishta-deva is given by the guru, so that Deity Yogapractices can be undertaken. In essence, the mindstream of the guru and the yidam are indivisible. The yidam is considered to be the root of success in the practice.
The Vajrayana traditions of China, Korea and Japan, while smaller and less prominent than Indo-Tibetan tantric Buddhism, are characterized in part by the utilization of yidams in meditation.
The principal yidam in the Newar Vajrayana tradition of Nepal are Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi. In that tradition, three components are essential to a temple complex: a main shrine symbolizing Svayambhu Mahachaitya; an exoteric shrine featuring Buddha Shakyamuni and other buddhas and bodhisattvas; and an esoteric shrine dedicated to the yidam, to which only initiates may be admitted.
Brennan (2006) draws a comparison between yidam and "tulpas", Tibetan spirits, (Tibetan) and uses the English rendering "thoughtform". The sacred architecture of their instrumentation, themagic circle, is (Tibetan: kylkhor; kyil khor).
During the (meditation) practice of the generation stage, a practitioner (sadhaka) establishes a strong familiarity with the Ishta-deva (an enlightened being) by means of visualization and a high level of concentration. During the practice of the completion stage, a practitioner focusses on methods to actualize the transformation of ones' own mindstream and body into the meditation Deity by meditation and yogic techniques of energy-control such as kundalini (tummo in Tibetan). Through these complementary disciplines of generation and completion one increasingly perceives the pervasive Buddha nature.
Judith Simmer-Brown summarises:
Berzin (1997: unpaginated) in discussing Buddhist refuge commitment and bodhisattva vows frames a caution to sadhana:
In the Vajrayana practices of Tibetan Buddhism, 'safe direction', or 'refuge' is undertaken through the Three Roots, the practitioner relying on an Ishta-deva in Deity Yoga as a means of becoming a Buddha.