One of the most widespread truisms concerning mantra is that it “takes the result as the path.” Applied to the practise of the deity of mantra this means that the psychological and physical constituents of the person are, when practised in the form of self-cultivation as the deity of mantra, the result, namely the Buddha. In other words one’s body—although one hasn’t realised that yet—is primordially established as the nature of the deity, and that body is therefore actually not different from the essence of the deity at the time of the result, namely buddhahood. For that reason, when the “result is taken as the path,” all the aspects of the deity, such as its face and hands, are taken as the path.
Moreover, various tantras such as that of Cakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja teach that the body is actually a multitude of deities, with each channel, constituent, and element being a male or female Buddha, as said in the Guhyasamajatantra: 1
In short, the five skandhas are the Buddhas,
[i.e.] all the Tathagatas,
the vajra-ayatanas, too,
are the supreme mandala of bodhisattvas,
the [element of] earth is Locana,
the element of water is Mamaki,
and Pandura and Tara
are well known as [the elements of] fire and wind.
And the Samputitantra teaches that even the gestation process of the human body of ten (lunar) months equals the path of the ten bodhisattva levels (Skr. bhumi). 2 Therefore to cultivate one’s own body as a deity of mantra is not like producing an artificial mandala painting or statue of a deity. Instead, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa says, this cultivation is “taking that which exists in the ground as the path” (gzhi la yod pa lam du byas pa). The body, in its nature, already is the Buddha. And Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa continues to explain that such a cultivation is not a practise where one would search for something (i.e. buddhahood) that doesn’t exist from the very beginning in the ground, and where one would obtain a result that is somehow separated from the ground. “If you think,” he says “that you are practising something that is not in your own [nature] (rang la med pa zhig bsgom), you would experience the transgression of the eight and ninth pledge [of mantra],” since disregarding one’s own body by not seeing it as being the Buddha you would view the skandhas as ordinary and you would dismiss as “bad” what actually is pure by nature.
These points are made in Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpas commentary on dGongs gcig 5.5: “The stage of production (bskyed rim) is thoroughly established.” Other interesting remarks are found in his commentary on dGongs gcig 5.10: “All elaborations arise through the dependent origination of the nature.”
Here one of the principle points is that neither the deity itself, nor the mandala wheel that is cultivated together with it, are to be regarded as an artificial creation (bcos pa), which is, obviously, closely related to dGongs gcig 5.5 above. Rather than being an artificial creation, the deity and the mandala are understood to originate in dependence on the natural state (gshis babs kyi rten ‘brel las ‘byung ba), i.e. they are elaborations (spros pa) depending on the original nature. What is meant here by “elaborations”? Dorje Sherab provides in his commentary the examples of “seed, letter, seat, posture, shape, colour, ornaments” etc. (of the deity), and he explains that some people hold the opinion that these elaborations are for individuals who enjoy very elaborated rituals, whereas individual of highest capacity have not much use for such rituals, because these elaborations would be only “of provisional meaning” (drang don). In contrast to this general opinion, Jigten Gonpo teaches that the stages of the elaborations (spros pa’i rim pa) exist primordially within the original nature of knowledge objects (shes bya’i gshis sam babs la). The elaborated rituals of the deities of mantra are putting that existence of the elaborations in the nature into practise and thereby accomplish the result. As the four great elements of wind, fire, water, and earth gradually come into existence through the natural state, similarly this sequence is practised in the ritual, where out of emptiness arises the syllable E, which turns into a dharmodaya—the source of phenomena—from which arise the mandalas of wind, fire, water, earth, mount meru etc., together with their respective syllables, shapes, and colours, and so forth. In that way the ritual is a practise where the mandala and the deities are gradually cultivated, arising from the original state.
In terms of purification, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa explains that the ground that is to be purified (sbyang gzhi) from defilement is the natural state of the (yet unrealised) vajra body (rdo rje’i lus kyi gshis babs), and the means of purification (sbyong byed) that is applied to the ground, the stages of cultivation and completion (bskyed rdzogs kyi rim pa), is the natural state (gshis babs) of deity and mandala. Through the dependent origination of the practise (bsgom pa’i rten ‘brel gyis) the result is obtained, yet that result is nothing but the actualisation of the original state of that ground (gzhi de’i gshis babs mngon du byas pa yin). And Dorje Sherab remarks here that since the result is such that “the unlimited wheel of inexhaustible ornaments of body, speech, and mind of the Buddha arises, which is inseparable from emptiness and elaboration,” namely the Buddha activity that continues to exist until all beings are liberated from samsara, in particular those disciples of highest capacity must definitively practise the elaborations, because these are the causes from which those qualities and activities arise. (This topic is also taught separately in dGongs gcig 5.9: “All the detailed rituals are especially necessary for those of highest faculties.”)
But what, then, is preventing us from seeing the nature directly? What or how are those stains that have to be removed on the path from the ground in this process of purification? The stains are, as a matter of fact, nothing but adventitious defilements (as clearly expressed in Hevajratantra II.iv, 70–71)—and being “adventitious” means that any defilement of the ground is neither intrinsic to the ground nor to the means of purification, and whichever stain exists is also only temporarily existing. If the stains weren’t like that, that is, if the stains would be intrinsic to the ground or the means, and if they would not be only temporarily existing, the ground could never be purified and the means of deity practise would be useless for purification, because they would be defiled by nature. One would indeed have to search for the Buddha somewhere else.
Seen from the outside someone might describe the deities of mantra as artificial or cultural expressions of Indian civilization. But that is not how Jigten Gonpo views the matter. He teaches here that the deity of mantra is an expression or a manifestation of the original nature, through the process of dependent origination. But is the deity of mantra perhaps also dependant on the practitioner, with some practitioners perceiving it like this and others like that? Here Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa indeed says that the teaching of a deity of mantra “[has] in mind the natural state of the trainees’ constitution (gdul bya’i khams kyi gshis babs la dgongs ),” that is, the elaborations of the nature, which may be few or many in a given deity, appear in accordance to the specific constitution of the trainee. That, however, does not mean that any deity in a dream or perceived in a vision has that quality, unless the appearing deity is one that is taught by the Buddha in sutra or tantra. Therefore Jigten Gonpo said in this context (dGongs gcig 5 .8): “One must take the deities as the principle ones that are taught in sutra and tantra.” The most important reason for that is, as Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa says, that “the Omniscient One [alone] knows the pure natural state of all deities as it is and in its various cases.”
Therefore, according to these teachings of the dGongs gcig, only the deities revealed by the Buddha in sutra and tantra are the perfect elaborations of the natural state, and only they accord in their dependent origination to the natural state of the trainee’s constitution. Thus, although the trainees may perceive a deity like this or like that, it is only the Omniscient One who understands the deity’s and the trainee’s natural state and who has mastered dependent origination, and therefore only he can teach a Dharma of mantra deities that is actually and truly liberating from samsara.
1 Sarvatathagatakayavakcittarahasya Guhyasamajanama Mahakalparaja, D vol. 81, fol. 142v (with minor variants).
2 Samputitantra, D vol. 79, fol. 116r (with minor variants); and Kye’i rdo rje mkha’ ‘gro ma dra ba’i sdom pa’i rgyud kyi rgyal po, D vol. 80, no. 418, fol. 21v (with minor variants).