Yidam

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A Yidam (Skt. iṣṭadevatā; Tib. ཡི་དམ་, Wyl. yi dam) is a term used in Tibetan Buddhism that refers to "an emanated form of a Buddha, often with multiple faces, arms, and legs, which tantric practitioners visualize themselves as."[1]

Alexander Berzin translates the term Yidam as "Buddha-figures". He explains:

To gain mindfulness and concentration, one may focus on sensory awareness, for instance of the physical sensation of the breath passing in and out the nose. In Mahayana sutra and tantra practice, however, visualized Buddha-figures [i.e. yidams] more commonly serve as objects of focus for gaining single-minded concentration. Such practice accords with An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge, in which Asanga defined concentration as the mental factor that keeps mental awareness focused on constructive objects or in constructive states of mind. The Indian Mahayana master defined concentration in this way because of the many advantages gained from developing it specifically with mental awareness.

For example, becoming a Buddha requires absorbed concentration on love, compassion, and the correct understanding of how things actually exist. If one has already developed concentration with mental awareness, one may apply it to these mental and emotional states more easily than if one has developed concentration through sensory awareness. Moreover, since Buddha-figures – especially the figure of Shakyamuni – represents enlightenment, focusing on them helps practitioners to remain aimed in the safe direction of refuge. It also helps them to maintain mindfulness of the bodhichitta motivation to achieve enlightenment for the sake of benefiting others as much as is possible.

Both sutra and tantra Mahayana practices include visualizing Buddha-figures in front of oneself, on the top of one's head, or in one's heart. Tantra practice is unique, however, in its training in self-visualization as a Buddha-figure. Imagining oneself as having the enlightening physical, communicative, and mental faculties of a Buddha-figure acts as a powerful cause for actualizing and achieving these qualities.[2]

John Powers states:

Underlying the theory of this system is the idea that the more one familiarizes oneself with something the more likely one is to manifest it. Thus, if one engages in lying, lying becomes progressively more natural and spontaneous. If, however, one becomes familiar with visualizing oneself as having the body, speech, and mind of a buddha—and as performing the activities of a buddha—one will gradually come to approximate the state of buddhahood.[3]

References

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