(S.: ista devata) means personal deity. Yidams are sambhogakaya
buddhas, particular forms of which are visualized in accordance
with the individual psychological make-up of the practitioner. A
practitioner’s yidam represents his particular characteristic
expression of Buddha-nature. Identifying with his yidam, therefore,
means identifying with his own basic nature, free from its distorted
aspects. Through seeing his basic nature in this impersonal and
universalized way, all aspects of it are transmuted into the wisdom
of the spiritual path. This leads directly to the service of all
sentiment beings, because in this way the practitioner becomes fearless.
His hesitation gone, his action automatically becomes skillful and
lucid; he is able to subdue what needs to be subdued and care for
whatever needs his care.
student first develops intense devotion towards his guru. This relationship
with the guru makes it possible for the student to experience an
intuitive kinship with the guru’s lineage and then with his
belong to particular Buddha families. For example Cakrasamvara belongs
to the padma family, Vajrabhairava to the ratna, the vajrakilaya
form of Vajrakumara to the Karma family. Yidams are not to be equated
with patron saints or guardian angels found in the Jewish, Christian
and Muslim traditions. They are not regarded as protectors from
danger or saviors. They are simply acknowledgments of the student’s
basic energy. The student visualizes the outstanding characteristics
of the yidam until he achieves complete union with him.
are different kinds of yidams. There are wrathful yidams, peaceful
yidams and some semiwrathful yidams. The three mentioned above are
examples of wrathful yidams. Wrathful yidams are always associated
with what is known in tantric terms as “vajra anger.”
Vajra anger is without hatred, a dynamic energy which, no matter
which of the five wisdoms it belongs to, is invincible. It is completely
indestructible, imperturbable, because it was not created but discovered
as an original quality. Wrathful and warlike, it devastates the
tendency towards idiot compassion and cuts through the hesitations
that come from disbelieving in one’s Buddha-nature. Doubt
is destroyed and confusion is chopped into pieces. Thus the wrathful
yidams are portrayed treading on the corpse of ego, wearing ornaments
of human bones and skulls, drinking blood, holding lethal weapons
of all kinds.
the wrathful figures wear the five-skull crown, the garland of fifty-two
heads, the six bone ornaments, the six jewel ornaments, the five
ornaments of the naga castes. The five-skull crown exhibits the
five klesas (emotional hindrances) as ornaments of the dharma. These
are anger, pride, passion, jealousy, stupidity. The garland of fifty-two
heads symbolizes triumph over the fifty-two kinds of neurotic concepts.
The six bone ornaments are necklace, garland, armlets, bracelets,
anklets, crossed bands across the torso. The jewel ornaments double
the bone ones. The nagas, snakelike water spirits, represent passion.
The naga ornaments represent the five levels of the Hindu caste
system in the naga world, thus the five levels of passion. The ornaments
are a ribbon in the hair, armlets, bracelets, body garlands, anklets.
They signify that the passions have been transmuted into attributes
of dharmic action. Many of the wrathful yidams also wear the tigerskin
(male) or leopardskin (female) skirt representing fearlessness,
the elephantskin shawl representing strength, the humanskin shawl
peaceful yidams inspire the student’s non-aggression and gentleness.
Rather than destroying the dullness and hesitation of ego, identification
with peaceful yidams awakens it into openness. The peaceful yidams
wear the raiment of archaic Aryan kings. They wear crowns and hold
scepters and attributes such as the vajra, a golden wheel, wish-fulfilling
gems, a bowl of amrta (the elixir of immortality), etc.
yidams wear a five-medallioned tiara with gems in the colors of
the five Buddha families. They wear a triple topknot adorned with
ornaments of gold, diamonds, lapis lazuli and ribbons. They wear
three necklaces, earrings, armlets, bracelets and anklets, all of
gold and lapis lazuli. They wear rainbowcolored, pantlike lower
garments under a short brocade skirt. The upper body is naked except
for a shortsleeved blouse coming just below the nipples and, over
it, a short, draped mantle. A long scarf floats from the neck.
semiwrathful (T.: shimatro; Tt.: shi ma khro) yidams are described
as a union of passion and anger. They both attract and reject. In
visualizing them, the practitioner feels his basic being enriched
by a sense of resourcefulness and flexibility in that magnetization
or destruction could both be expressions of the awakened state of
have both male and female forms. The male wrathful yidam is known
as heruka, which means “blood drinker,” he who drinks
the blood of ego. The female wrathful yidam is called a dakini.
The dakinis are tricky and playful. The male and female of the peaceful
yidams are known as bhagavat and bhagavati meaning
male figures signify awakened energy, skillful means, bliss. The
female aspect is compassion, emptiness and intellect (which, as
the emptying of confusion, is passive rather than active). The emptiness
signifies fundamental accommodation and also ultimate fertility
in the sense that emptiness is the mother of form. Through union
with the heruka, the dakini can give birth to enlightenment. The
dakinis in general reinforce the nature of their consorts and the
bhagavati has the role of asking the bhagavat on behalf of all sentient
beings to proclaim the teachings.
the union of the male and female aspects, known as the yab-yum
(“father-mother”) form, is a symbol that skillful action
is impossible without compassion, that energy cannot be effective
without intellect and that bliss is impossible without emptiness.
This symbolism denotes the interaction of these elements as aspects
of enlightenment, rather than on the ordinary confused level of
indulgence in passion and aggression.
Essay © 1975 Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
copyright © 2003 Shelly and Donald Rubin Foundation