Buddhist Deities – What on Earth Could They Be?

 1000-armed Avalokiteśvara: Buddha's compassion

1000-armed Avalokiteśvara: Buddha’s compassion

A general point about the dharma is that no dharma teaching can be taken in isolation. Its meaning and how we are to understand it and how to practise it, no matter what teaching it is, is only really revealed to us – only becomes clear to us – when we see it in its context.

Any teaching taken out of context can actually end up being subverted leading to confusion rather than to wisdom and compassion.

So the vajrayana cannot possibly be understood – its intention, what its function is, what meaning its teaching signify – unless we see it within the context of the earlier teachings.

For example, something we talk a lot about in vajrayana is ‘deities’. Well, what on earth could they be?

Actually, from a dharma point of view they are, in a way, nothing at all: emptiness, which is the true nature of all phenomena. Not knowing that, one could easily mistake talk of deities as referring to some external beings or some creator god or supreme rulers of the universe; the familiar idea we have from previous religions.

Deity is, in fact, simply a term for the sacredness of the nature of ultimate reality – a sacredness which is there because all things are empty of any abiding nature. So, we see that the term deity must be understood from a thoroughly buddhist, non-theistic, point of view if we are to begin to understand what is being talked about.

Your Dechen blogger transcribed the above, word for word, from a teaching given by Lama Jampa in Bristol on Saturday 30th September.