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The Generation Stage in Buddhist Tantra

A book review by Andrew May

First published in The Middle Way, February 2006

THE GENERATION STAGE IN BUDDHIST TANTRA, by Gyatrul Rinpoche, Snow Lion, Ithaca, NY, 2005, ISBN 1 55939 229 0, pp. 140, 9.09.

This is the revised second edition of a book first published in 1996 under the title Generating the Deity. It is a clear and concise description of the kye rim stage of mahayoga tantra, one of the highest forms of vajrayana Buddhist practice. Based on traditional Tibetan teachings, the book is written for a western audience by a distinguished lama now living in exile in the United States.

The aim of kye rim practice is to learn to identify oneself with a chosen yidam, or meditational deity, as a means of recognising one's own Buddha nature. To this end, the book contains a methodical description of the various stages of kye rim meditation, with particular emphasis on the complex visualisations involved. These are sometimes strikingly unholy: "a freshly severed skull", "falling rain of wrathful deities and weapons", "black Raksha mounted on a zombie body", "a canopy made from human skin"... Yet the author makes it clear that such images are to be understood in a symbolic way only: "believing that a peaceful or wrathful deity actually exists is a delusion of the same nature as having a strong concept of self-identity".

The Generation Stage in Buddhist Tantra is a well-written book that will be invaluable to anyone practising this particular form of Tibetan Buddhism. It is accessible enough that it should also appeal to members of other traditions who are interested in learning more about the subject. The book contains an excellent introduction which places kye rim in the wider context of vajrayana, and while many Tibetan technical terms are used these are always clearly defined. At the end of the book there are twenty pages of photographs, diagrams and calligraphy illustrating a selection of the mudras, mandalas and mantras described in the text. Overall, the author has done an admirable job of demystifying what can sometimes appear a strange and esoteric practice.

Copyright © 2006 Andrew May

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