Last year in April, I went to Long Beach to see the Dalai Lama and receive the Yamantaka empowerment.
Now this is the highest Yoga Tantra. That means I’m given authorization to visualize myself as as a nine-headed cow thing with 16 legs and eight arms surrounded by fire. It comes with some very heavy commitments including visualizing myself as a nine-headed cow thing with 16 legs and 8 arms every day either the short nine page sadhana (prayerish thing) or 40 page (if you have time…).
And, doing the six session guru yoga three times in the morning and three times in the evening. I really have no idea exactly what that is. Despite having read a ton of books about it. But alas, his Holiness never made it. He became ill in Tokyo and hence, I’m not Yamantaka.
It honestly was devastating to everyone there, but in about two weeks I was literally happy that I was not Yamanataka. In fact, I was elated! You see, I can’t do things like visualize myself as a nine-headed cow thing with 16 legs and eight arms surrounded by fire simply because the religious view is that it will dispel inner and outer obstacles (you decide what that means).
It became so clear to me that I can’t do something simply because of a religious objective.
If you read by my little article, “Religiousity,” you will know that while I give credence to the fact that religion can be very handy in creating different states of mind, I don’t think it’s necessary. In fact I think that religious activities can be the absolute epitome of self-deception.
So this year I was in this great place where the “View” was crystal clear. Meditation was fantastic. I was “licking the blade of nowness!” as we say in Shambhala. Mindful awareness was my thing. Mind like the sky, baby!
Then, I saw in my calendar that His Holiness was coming back to Long Beach to give Yamanataka.
I was thrown into a giant awful self-induced spiritually materialistic sickness. Don’t I want to be Yamantaka?! Don’t I want to visualize myself as a nine-headed cow thing with 16 legs and eight arms (holding weapons no less) surrounded by fire? Won’t I be a mega Buddhist?
Everyone will think, oh, wow—yeah, his “yidam” is Yamantaka. He is a nine-headed cow thing with eight arms and 16 legs surrounded by fire.
I literally became ill, but pressed on. I wanted to be a real Buddhist. I wanted to be respected (whatever that means?). I wanted to like Tsongkhapa (except I don’t really like Tsonkhapa—brilliant maybe, but he has no idea about meditation).
Did you know that Dilgo Kyentse’s yidam was Yamantaka at one point? I mean, really Dilgo Kyentse. Now truthfully he is a master. Mister Universe! I wanted to be like Dilgo and the Dalai Lama!
I wanted to be able to keep the commitments for the rest of my life. It sounded so cryptic it must be enlightenment!
So to submerge myself in real Buddhism, I went to an empowerment at your local Tibetan Buddhist center and got White Tara, which honestly was great. Probably the best teaching by Zaoeche Rinpoche I had heard. Shout out to Emaho! And that’s saying a lot because he is really pretty cool.
But through the entire day I was literally nauseated and stressed out. Deep in my being I knew I was lying to myself. I did not want to be Yamantaka. I did not want a yidam (sounds sexy but..). All these prayers and throwing rice and flowers was very quaint, but no one will ever describe me as quaint. It’s just not me.
I’m not Yamantaka. I’m not a nine-headed cow thing with 16 legs, eight arms (with weapons but alas no light saber) surrounded by fire. I really don’t want to be. I don’t want to make commitments that I can’t/won’t keep. His Holiness deserves better. I don’t to do any of that. I want to appreciate life and marvel at the amazing quality of trees and the world and life. I want to lick the blade of nowness and appreciate the human condition as basically good.
I just wanna be me. And that’s legit enough.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
Chad Woodland has been meditating since he was around 18 years of age and in the Buddhist tradition for the last 17 years. Don’t ask his age, that’s not polite! He attends Phoenix Shambhala Meditation Center and Emaho in Scottsdale and is taking the Lam Rim Chen Mo course through Jamyang Center in London. He and his partner have been together for almost 17 years! If it weren’t for Buddhism he would still be single. You can follow him on Twitter @cwoodland.