Today’s episode is our third in a row exploring the topic of leveraging archetypes for our spiritual unfoldment. In this talk, Doug Qapel Duncan discusses archetypes specific to the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition: tantric deities. He talks about the representations of body, speech, and mind in the forms of Vajrapani, Chenrezi, and Manjushri. He also introduces the 5 Buddha Families and the 8 Bodhisattvas. Qapel explains how tantric deity practices transform our experience and help us move through negative patterns. The recording ends with a closer look at the Chenrezi practice, including an explanation of its symbology and mantra. 

If you are interested in doing a deep dive into tantric deity work or learning how to get the most out of your work with sadhanas, the texts that describe these practices, Planet Dharma is about to run a weekend-long retreat called Practices for Power. There is still room for virtual participants, so check out to learn more about the home retreat.


Podcast Transcription:

Welcome to Dharma If You Dare. I’m Christopher Lawley, Planet Dharma team member and producer of the podcast. Today’s episode is our third in a row exploring the topic of leveraging archetypes for our spiritual unfoldment. In this talk, Doug ‘Qapel’ Duncan discusses archetypes specific to the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition – Tantric deities. He talks about the representations of body speech and mind in the forms of Vajarpani, Manjushri, and Chenrezi. He also introduces the Five Buddha Families and the Eight Bodhisattvas Qapel explains how tantric deity practices transform our experience and help us move through negative patterns The recording ends with a closer look at the Chenrezi practice, including an explanation of its symbology and mantra. If you are interested in doing a deep dive into tantric deity work or learning how to get the most out of your work with sadhanas, the texts that describe these practices Planet Dharma is about to run a weekend-long course called Practices for Power, There is still room for virtual participants. So check out to learn more about the home retreat. And now here’s today’s recording:


Qapel: So the Buddhist archetypes, before they subdivide into individual kinds of emanations, they start as a group of five, and these five basically operate as overview wisdoms. The wisdom is being approached here within each family  – there’s a whole bunch of sub-deities that work on particular things. So the main point with these is the kinds of wisdom – I mean there’s a whole lot of stuff about this and we won’t do this here – but what is your big wisdom in life? 

So you’ve got the Operating Wisdom  – that you have to use to get around in the world. You have your Discriminating Wisdom – discrimination isn’t a very popular word these days, but it could just be translated as discernment, recognizing the difference between things. “Oh, if I do this this way I get a better result than if I do this this way.“ – that’s Discriminating Wisdom or Discernment Wisdom There’s Mirror- like Wisdom – you know, what’s wrong with Duncan anyway, what’s his problem? Well, who’s pointing the finger? So Mirror-like Wisdom shows us that when we’re upset with somebody – why are we upset? The reason we’re upset with somebody, other than from the transcendental point of view which is it’s suffering –  for them, insofar as they are behaving in a way that demonstrates ignorance, then the lama acts as if they’re upset in order to move you out of the ignorance part of it. But in the ego’s position with it, it is like – I’m upset with you because you’re showing me my blindness, you’re showing me where I’m not cool, where I haven’t found peace. So you’re upsetting my wah, my harmony. So Mirror-like wisdom is saying the mirror is looking at you. When you are in a hate state you are what you hate. If you hate racists then at the moment that you hate a racist, you’re being a racist about a racist.  That’s not saying you support racism. It  means basically that you don’t hate it, you don’t put yourself in a negative state about it. You remain in a clear state and then try to address the error  in any way. You can either through discriminating wisdom, operating wisdom your like wisdom, then last The next one is the Wisdom of Equality. This is the opposite of the wisdom of discernment and the wisdom of equality, everything is the same, and everything is equal. No thing is better than any other thing, no thing is above or different than any other thing, because they’re all made up of particles, they’re all made up of elements. There is no Karen distinct from a Duncan other than in the discernment aspects. But in the Wisdom of Equality, Duncan and Karen are made up of the same atoms, the same work, the same conditioning, the same patterns; they have different chemistry here and there, but in essence, the consciousness of every human being is equal to the consciousness of every other human being. Any human being can be ignorant and any human being can be awakened, pretty much. And then All-Accomplishing Wisdom. So you see these big five categories, these big five spans cover the whole thing. Then you go, well, “okay, that’s a bit abstract. How do we work with that?”  And you fall into the next set called the eight Bodhisattvas. 

Now the Eight Bodhisattvas bring it down from the more abstract level into the more practical level. So, for instance, Manjushri embodies wisdom, Avaloktieshvara compassion, Vajrapani, who we were supposed to do this weekend – we were going to do a Vajrapani initiation in Calgary this weekend, so now we’re doing a Vajrapani initiation via words –  the body of the Buddha. Vajrapani represents the body of the Buddha, power, and archetypes are power. So if you can apply conscious archetypes, you can develop your power. You want more power, apply the archetype. Manjushri, by the way, is the mind of the Buddha and Avalokiteshvara, which means basically ‘space traveler’ of whom Chenrezi is kind of the embodiment,  represents the speech or the emotion. So body speech and mind. Speech here is also feeling, so the mind of the Buddha is Manjushri, the speech or the feeling of the Buddha is compassion and the body of the Buddha is Vajrapani. So archetypes are a great way to empower your body to manifest the speech and understand the state. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling chart which is of course what every system is. Every system is a self-fulfilling program, including medicine. It runs its own loops, its own archetypes.

So the Eight  Bodhisattvas…  There are two kinds of people there, there are visual people and tactile people and then there are mental people. So for the mental people, these classes are probably a lot of fun because it’s got a lot of ideas and a lot of concepts and a lot of systems and structures. We can have great fun analyzing everything to death, and right back to life again. We can create new models and big models. But not everybody’s verbally or mentally orientated, remember those nine intelligences – we have people who are aesthetically or spatially motivated, and so that’s why tantra is there. You can work with the sensing function, the images – the images, the mantras, the sounds, the rosary, the mala, the embodiment. You can dance it,  that you can act it out. Nine Emotions of the Dance. We did a retreat once in Japan that worked through the archetypes in terms of theater, did the Demchog challenges and the Vajrayogini challenges and acted them out in real-life situations as part of our retreat, which I think was a lot of fun. Yeah. Two people that were there are saying yes. 

Alright, so those are the Eight Bodhisattvas circling.  Maitreya embodies love. The Maitreya is  the future Buddha. Sarvanivarana Vishkambhin –  say that real fast – Sarva-Nirvarana-Vishkambhin – purifies wrongdoings and obstructions. No wonder we can’t purify wrongdoing and obstructions in the world. We can’t pronounce the name! Kshitigarbha increases the richness and fertility of the land. Samantabhadra displays special expertise in making offerings and prayers of aspiration, which is why Samantabhadra sits on the top of almost every Thangka – because he’s saying through the prayer through the meditation, through the repetition, I am going to embody these principles. And the funny thing about it is if you meditate on compassion, you know, and you work it, you actually do get more compassionate, in the same way if you go to the bar and you keep drinking, you get drunk. it’s not magic. You know, you go to the bar and you drink all night, you know, you’re gonna go home drunk.  Sit on your cushion, meditate all night, you’re gonna go home clear, or clearer in any case.

In what classes are these about? Well, skilled means or methodical ways of applying the archetypes is how we put it to work. How do we put these classes to work? You know, the five and the Bodhisattvas, how do we put them to work?  By skilled means.  The skill means is applications like repeating the mantras, undermining the root of the suffering that’s locked in the absence of that architect. So if we’re working on compassion we’re not only developing the power of compassion, we’re undermining its opposite. We’re undermining our tendency to go to negative emotion or hypercriticism, or anger or resentment or ill will or ill feeling. And that’s what happens if you don’t do it. If you don’t put in the archetypes, you’re gonna find yourself sliding, don’t you? Don’t you find yourself sliding into resentment, or ill will, or boredom, or whatever your story is?  what’s wrong with them? Are  they Americans or women or men or poodles?  I don’t know whatever you’re going on about on any given day.

So the thing is that if you’re not doing that and you’re doing, say,  compassion or Tara for healing or Demchog for blissful union or Manjushri for clear seeing, you’re also undermining the tendency to go to the negative – without any effort to fight against it. You’re not fighting against negatives, you’re creating positives. And eventually, because the positives actually feel better to you and the negatives feel worse, eventually you get bored with the negatives, you just stopped going there, it’s not worth the effort. So you stay in the positive. So you transform – you’re basically transforming yourself. If you were a house, you would be renovated. We took you down to the basement and redid all the foundation work. We rebuilt all the walls, took out all the old plumbing, took out all the old wiring, rewired it, re-windowed it, put in better windows, put in better insulation, and created a more beautiful space – not a bad idea? or that old thing?

So now the question you may have all been asking, is:  What, how do the archetypes work? And we just answered it – repetition repetition, repetition. So when you go to Chenrezi you start looking at the detail. Now Chenrezi is an example  – in China, she’s a she and in Japan, she’s a she which is four she’s it must be she-she I guess, and in Tibet or Vajrayana , he’s a male, so he’s a he. So the gender you can see is secondary, kind of beside the point and if you look at the pictures it’s hard to tell anyway. So now you look at the picture and you go, ‘okay, well, I’m a complicated person. I have a college education. I have watched the internet, you know, I’ve seen movies and read books. I’m a pretty smart dude. This picture is really boring after the first 10,000 mantras.’

So we put more stuff in to think about. Well let’s see, how do you think you could get more compassionate in a practical kind of way? Om mani padme hung, which means – that’s the mantra by the way – om is a universal means total mani means jewel and padme means flower and hum is integration. So from the universal to the integration. The jewel sits in the lotus. This is a metaphor or an image for your consciousness sitting in your body. Padme is the body of your being and mani  is the jewel of your consciousness. So basically you’re saying,’ wow the jewel in the body, the jewel in the body. That’s pretty cool. The jewel in the body I feel better already, don’t you? The jewel in the body. I am a jewel in my body, or my consciousness is a jewel in my body. So now if you’re feeling like that, are you going to go out and be mean to anybody? there’s no motivation.  So, the image then –  he’s got or she, Kwan Yin as I said in China and Kannon in Japan, it’s basically the same idea and he’s dressed up. This is the Tibetan version.  So we call him a he – he’s dressed up, he’s got stuff on. So the way that the thinker-analytic type people get your attention if you’re not an analytic-type person, if you’re not a thinker kind of person, they put stuff on you, they put stuff on the image for you to think about. So, you know, the thinker types will say “okay how do you get more compassionate?” Well, the first thing you’ve got to be is generous, right? You’ve  got to be generous to people,  and they go ‘oh more words, more words, more words.’  The earrings are generosity. So now if you’re not a thinking type you don’t have to go generosity, generosity, generosity you can just look at the earrings but you’ve been told that the earrings are generosity So you know, I guess you should have really big earrings which is why they give the Buddha really big ears –  because he’s really generous.

What else do you need to be compassionate? Maybe you need some patience, patience? That’s the long necklace, right? But you know, you’re a bit selfish, you’re always running around thinking about what’s in it for me, what’s in it for me? A bit selfish. Right? So then you’ve got the short necklace there which is about discipline. It’s about not letting your desired mind run away with the spoon, not getting so lost in your desires that you forget what you’re really trying to do is learn how to be transcendently archetypically compassionately aware, not just lost in potato chips, or sex, or even things that are good perhaps, like yoga and it’s like –  yoga isn’t meant to like just make you happy and feel good. Yoga is meant to wake you up, and unfortunately, it doesn’t get taught that way much anymore, I don’t think. But there are people, there are people who are doing it, teaching, using yoga as a way to transcend the ego. Long necklaces, patience. Anklets and bracelets are meditative concentration, kind of like handcuffs and leg irons and cutting yourself to the practice, paying attention. The belt that you can maybe see around his waist represents energy. So you’ve got your root chakra, you’ve got your lower chakras moving. You’ve got that power from the hara and the root chakra. Has anybody written a book Kundalini Rising? That’s a great title. Anyway, I just thought it’d be a great title. Is it a book? Aw,  too bad? Okay and then the crown, the crown represents wisdom. So now when you’re meditating on the deity you also have these principles to remember. And these six ornaments or principles are called paramis in their ways of practicing. So you start to see how the spiritual path is using the archetypes and making it richer and embodying it and filling it out more to get to this place where you start to transcend your own ego identification. 


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