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In order to understand the importance of the devotional path, we must take another look at the Buddhist conception of the soul. I would state that the soul, denied by so many modern Buddhists, is as real as the body, or the mind. That is, it has no ultimate existence, but it does have a temporal one. It is the binding of the skandhas, it holds karma together over lifetimes, it is the ground of the self that allows for continuity. This idea resembles a concept found in Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, where the jivatman melts away into Brahman. There is no permanent existence of the individual atman. Many Buddhist arguments against the soul make use of such "straw man" arguments (where false or easily refutable claims are criticized).
Vows and oaths are guarantors of transformation, by having the practitioner renounce attachments in the present and the future. They also begin the control by lineage teachers who act as gurus, and many vows involve pleasing the guru. In this way, it is also like devotional Hinduism with its focus on guru bhakti. However, in Buddhism there is less focus on the guru's grace and more on perfecting meditative practice.
In terms of relating to the Buddha and bodhisattva in modern deity yoga, the focus is on accurate visualization and perfect concentration rather than love. The process of identification is cognitive rather than emotional, and the self is restructured by reflection rather than emanation. Indeed, the spiritual body of the practitioner becomes something like a mirror image, with no beams of love to connect the image with its origin. In devotional tantric practice, the initiate's self becomes an emanation of the deity, linked by both compassion and pranic energies. The goal of this practice is not realization of emptiness alone. It is to have the initiate's soul as a window rather than a mirror reflection, a window from which rays of compassion from the Buddha or bodhisattva can shine out into the universe.
We may debate the appropriateness of the term "soul", but it is useful and important for this practice.
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Introduction | Methodology - Participant/Observer | The Bodhi Tree Sadhanas | Vajra Dakini Discussion | Vajra Dakini Commentary | Vajra Dakini Sadhanas | Vajra Yogini Commentary | Maitreya Sadhanas | Vajradhara Speaks About Yidams | Lost Sadhanas Conclusion
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