Je Tsongkhapa showed how all the essential practices of Tantra can be included within the sadhana of a single Yidam, or Deity. Following Je Tsongkhapa’s instructions, later Teachers composed the Vajrayogini sadhana that we now practise. When we practise this sadhana we practise the essential meaning of all Tantric Deities.
Our progress towards gaining Tantric realizations will be seriously obstructed if doubts and dissatisfaction cause us to switch continually from one Deity to another. We should be like a wise blind person who relies totally upon one trusted guide instead of attempting to follow a number of people at once. There is a traditional Tibetan analogy that illustrates this point. Tibetan farmers used to allow their cows to roam freely during the day, mixing with the cows belonging to other farmers, but every evening all the cows would return to the right farm. If a blind person wished to go to a particular farm, all he or she had to do was to hold on to the tail of a cow that belonged to that farm. If he did this he would definitely reach the right farm, but if he kept switching from one cow to another he would soon be completely lost. Similarly, by following the practice of one particular Deity wholeheartedly we shall definitely attain enlightenment, but if we keep switching from one to another we shall never reach our goal, no matter how much effort we make.
During his stay in Tibet the Indian Buddhist Master Atisha met the renowned translator Lama Rinchen Sangpo and was greatly impressed by his knowledge of Dharma. One day Rinchen Sangpo invited Atisha to visit him to discuss Dharma. Atisha realized that Rinchen Sangpo was a very erudite scholar and said to him ‘You are such a wonderful Teacher that it seems unnecessary for me to stay in Tibet.’ Rinchen Sangpo then showed Atisha his four meditation cushions and four different Tantric mandalas. Atisha asked why he had four cushions and four mandalas, and Rinchen Sangpo replied that every day he practised in four sessions. The first session, on the first cushion, was to accomplish the mandala of an Action Tantra Deity; the second session, on the second cushion, was to accomplish the mandala of a Performance Tantra Deity; the third session, on the third cushion, was to accomplish the mandala of a Yoga Tantra Deity; and the last session, on the fourth cushion, was to accomplish the mandala of a Highest Yoga Tantra Deity. Atisha asked why he did not incorporate all these Deity practices into one sadhana, accomplishing the mandalas of all these Deities within the mandala of one Deity. When Rinchen Sangpo asked how he could do this, Atisha exclaimed ‘Yes, I do need to stay in Tibet!’
Atisha advised Rinchen Sangpo that when he was visualizing the mandala of his personal Deity he should invite all the other Deities together with their mandalas to dissolve into his personal Deity and mandala. By maintaining the recognition that his personal Deity was the synthesis of all the Deities of the four classes of Tantra he could complete the practices of all other Deities by completing the practice of his personal Deity. Atisha used to say ‘Some of you Tibetans have tried to accomplish a hundred Deities but have failed to gain a single attainment, while some Indian Buddhists have gained the attainments of a hundred Deities by accomplishing the practice of just one.’
Although we should concentrate on the practice of one particular Deity we should not neglect to practise others if we have a commitment to do so. For practitioners who are dedicated to the practice of Vajrayogini, who see it as their main practice, and who are striving to gain generation stage and completion stage realizations by depending upon this practice, there is a special method to keep their commitments to other Deities. This involves realizing that all Tantric Deities have the same nature, differing only in appearance. For example, suppose that such a practitioner, in addition to his or her daily Vajrayogini practice, has commitments to recite the long sadhanas of Heruka, Yamantaka, and Guhyasamaja every day. If he recites the words of all these sadhanas every day he will have little opportunity to do any serious meditation. His Tantric practice will be largely verbal, and although he might place many virtuous imprints on his mindstream he will not attain genuine experience of meditation, and so the real purpose of Deity practice will be lost. For this reason, great Masters such as Atisha, Phabongkha Rinpoche, and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche advise serious Vajrayogini practitioners to integrate all their Tantric practices into the Vajrayogini sadhana by realizing that all Tantric Deities have the same nature, differing only in appearance.
The essential meaning of the practices of all Highest Yoga Tantra Deities is the same—to transform ordinary death, intermediate state, and rebirth into the three bodies of a Buddha. This transformation is accomplished first in the imagination using the meditations and visualizations of generation stage, and then in reality by controlling the subtle winds, drops, and mind through completion stage meditation. All the methods necessary to do this are contained within the practice of Vajrayogini. With this understanding, committed Vajrayogini practitioners should apply themselves wholeheartedly to the generation and completion stages of Vajrayogini, knowing that by doing so they are fulfilling the real purpose of all their commitments to other Deities, even if they neglect to say the words of the sadhanas of other Deities.
This advice should not be used as an excuse for laziness. Its purpose is to give dedicated practitioners more time to concentrate on their personal Deity practice and thereby gain the essential realizations of all Deity practices. For those who are not yet able to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the practice of a particular Tantric Deity it is better that they continue to recite the words of all the sadhanas to which they have committed themselves. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Guide to Dakini Land: the Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Buddha Vajrayogini, pp. 18-21, © 1991, 1996)