Tulku Sherab Dorje (also known as Tulku Sherdor) is the Executive Director of Blazing Wisdom Institute. Born in Montreal, Canada in 1961, he began studying Buddhist Insight meditation from a very young age, and met his principal teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, in Nepal in 1981. He was fortunate to study with other pre-eminent masters of the 20th century, including His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khetsun Zangpo Rinpoche, Dung Say Trinley Norbu Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, and many others. Tulku Sherdor completed a 3-year lama retreat in the Karma and Shangpa Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and a year-long solitary retreat in the Chogling Tersar practice lineage held by Tulku Urgyen. Over the past 20 years he has traveled far and wide, teaching and working with and translating for a great number of distinguished Nyingma and Kagyu meditation masters, such as helping Trangu Rinpoche establish the monastic retreat program at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the early 1990s; helping Kenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche re-establish the vajrayana Buddhist tradition for the Chinese community in Thailand in the mid-1990s; and working closely with his precious teacher, His Holiness Orgyen Kusum Lingpa, to advance many philanthropic projects in Tibet dedicated to world peace. Tulku Sherdor is renowned as a scholar and interpreter of Tibetan Buddhist teachings into English, and known for his quiet yet humorous and insightful manner.
What is deity meditation in Tibetan Buddhism?
(A participant asked Lama Sherab Dorje what he thought the average person in America would find appealing about “trying to visualize themselves as some guy wearing strange clothes and a funny hat?”)
Lama Sherab Dorje : Nothing at all. I wouldn’t find that appealing. And that’s why I kept emphasizing that that’s not the point here at all. The point really is that this technique is available to help you understand that emptiness is both the starting point and the arriving point of all Buddhist meditation. This visualization practice is a brilliant technique to help you recognize that. It emphasizes it at the beginning, it emphasizes it throughout the visualization, and it emphasizes it at the end, as you allow the mind to rest in its nature.
This technique is available for people. It uses so much of your being that it’s very, very powerful.
People who get a taste of what the technique is can appreciate it as a very powerful way to work toward the core understanding that is at the heart of all traditions of Buddhism.
I think it’s crucially important to help people understand what is really going on with Tibetan Buddhism meditation, because if it remains at the level of watching a beautiful performance of other people doing their meditation by chanting and dancing and so forth, it’s a nice show but ultimately it’s not a technique that is very helpful for us. So I personally try to emphasize it. I think in the past people feared that, although deity visualization practice might work for people who are already hard-core, serious Tibetan Buddhist practictioners, that somehow it’ll just be too confusing to people who are just interested in Buddhism in general and want to know how this works. I disagree with that completely and think there is a lot more that can be done by people who have experience in the practice to help others understand how valuable it is.
(Noting that there are many different techniques, a member of the workshop asked if one should identify one technique and stick with it, or select the meditation technique that is best for the individual’s practice.)
Lama Sherab Dorje : In all Buddhist practice, you work with developing concentration and focusing or quieting your mind in order to achieve greater insight. So, in a sense, it almost doesn’t matter. On the other hand, when you are introduced to something, you may feel that it is working for you. I can work with mind on the basis of this. I can see concentration growing within me because my mind just naturally wants to focus on this, whether it’s a candle flame or a statue or the breath within oneself or the picture of the deity that one generates within one’s mind.
When you have this kind of visualisation practice, it’s a smorgasbord. It’s the whole thing. So if you take it like a training course, if you work with a teacher and learn this kind of practice, of which there are thousands, you may feel a close connection to one particular teacher, and so it makes sense to work with that person.
(originally published at blazingwisdom.org)