At one point or another, a question will arise for most Tantric Buddhists on the path. Our refuge vow ceremony clearly states that the refuge vow is broken as soon as we take refuge in Worldly Deities. Although this has many levels of meaning and interpretation, essentially it means that when we align ourselves and our actions with impermanent concerns such as following money or a powerful being who has not attained the level of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, that we have strayed into patterns which will inevitably accumulate karma and obscure wisdom. Deities in Vajrayana Buddhism are therefore divided into Worldly Deities and Wisdom Deities. Shiva, Ganesh, and Vishnu are examples of what we normally refer to as Worldly deities even though they are very powerful. But if one were to purify one’s own perception completely, as is the case of a Buddha, (Sangye or totally purified), we would see all beings as Buddha due to their essential Buddha nature. This also holds true for the Worldly Deities. For example, Shiva is considered to be an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, and so on.
But the Vajrayana is rich with Sadhanas (practice liturgies) where we relate to these wordly deities on a number of levels. On the one hand it can remain clear that they are worldly deities who we relate to as Dharma protectors or part of the various mandala emanations. On the other, their source manifestation is often mentioned in the texts as well to remind us from where they came over and above their temporary guise or manifestation.
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche both had and expressed the greatest devotion and respect to worldly deities in their actions and also in their sadhanas. The history of this type of conduct is prolific since Guru Rinpoche’s time. The key is the understanding of what is really being communicated through the relation to these deities.
In the case of Mariamma, best known as an ancient Dravidian period Goddess, she is said to be an emanation of Tara Ritrod Lomma Gyonma the twentieth Tara. Since those of us in the Boddhivastu community are by and large followers of Vajrayana Buddhism, we must be clear what we are doing when performing offerings to Mariamma and perhaps more importantly, while engaging in her Sadhana.
Before accepting this statue which was offered to us by Jagad Guru Shri Sai Maa, I consulted with Lama Dawa Chodak Rinpoche to determine if we should accept the gift and secondly what our view should be if we dis accept her. Rinpoche was going into retreat at Bodhivastu’s Nepal center in Sankhu Vajrayogini and asked me to give him a day or two to look into the mater. After a day or two Rinpoche revealed to me that he had had a very auspicious dream during which Parvati came to him and explained that Mariamma was one of her sisters. Rinpoche explained to me that Mariamma was a divine emanation of Tara Ritrod Lomma Gyonma and that we should accept this generous gift as a blessing without any hesitation. He explained that more would be revealed later on. After the Mariamma Murti was installed at our center in Big Indian, NY, Rinpoche composed a complete Sadahana for worship of Mariamma as an emanation of Tara. Although the sadhana requires a Vajrayana empowerment in order to practice, the sadhana reveals the layers of offerings both according to our Vajrayana Buddhist tradition and includes the ancient Indian methods of offerings as well.
The result is that an incredibly profound and powerful blessing stream arises from engaging her sadhana which fulfills wishes very quickly. We feel deeply indebted to Dawa Rinpoche for composing this rare Sadhana for us and for bestowing the empowerment and blessing the Statue before he merged his mind with all-pervasive space of the Dharmakaya.
This brief history of the role of Mariamma at Bodhivastu’s Big Indian center does not include an important side of the story of Apaji who commissioned the statue for the benefit of Americans which I is addressed elsewhere on this website. This history was offered by a white clad Yogi who is no longer very confused by the arising of phenomenon as Samsara or Nirvana. May all illusory migratory beings, gods and demons, appear as Buddhas raining down blessings.