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Deity Yoga in Bhutan

A lama of the Drugpa Kagyu order

A lama of the Drugpa Kagyu order, 18001900. Bhutan. Thangka; Silk appliqué and embroidery. The Avery Brundage Collection, B62D34.

A wide variety of spiritual figures makes up the Buddhist pantheon in Bhutan. Many of these deities are the focus of Buddhist practices such as meditations, visualizations, chanting of sacred sounds (mantras), sacred dances (Cham), and other elaborate rituals. In this context the word yoga means the technique of intense concentration on a particular deity as a means of spiritual development.

One of the most frequently employed practices of deity yoga is aimed at embodying the deity within the practitioner. In such cases, the practitioners follow specific techniques to embody the deity themselves. From one perspective these divine beings can be understood as an expression of an individual’s own emotions and mind-states. The relationship between the practitioner and the deity is thus characterized by non-duality.

Many of these deities are portrayed with multiple arms and heads, in different colors, with animal elements, and holding a wide variety of symbolic objects. These visual elements are richly meaningful and, to the initiated, images containing them convey important aspects of Bhutanese Buddhist teachings.