To generate ourself as the Deity.
To overcome ordinary appearances and conceptions, which are the root of samsara, Vajradhara gave us a commitment to generate ourself as our Deity six times every day. Ideally we should maintain divine pride and clear appearance 24 hours a day. We should always do this with a bodhichitta motivation.
In Sutra, we say that the root of samsara is self-grasping ignorance. Self-grasping ignorance is believing an object is one with its inherent existence. The inherent existence of the object appears in the aspect of the object. In Tantra, we say that the root of samsara is ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. These are usually best defined in the negative. Ordinary appearances is any appearance other than seeing the object as a karmic reflection of the emptiness of our mind of great bliss. Ordinary conceptions is any conception of the object other than conceiving the object as a karmic reflection of the emptiness of our mind of great bliss. Because we see things in an ordinary way, we generate delusions, which we then act on, creating contaminated karma, which then gives rise to ordinary appearance of things. In this way, samsara continues without interruption.
To counter this, we train in pure appearances and pure conceptions. A pure appearance is an appearance that appears to us directly to be a karmic reflection of the emptiness of our mind of great bliss. A pure conception is conceiving of observed objects as karmic reflections of the emptiness of our mind of great bliss. Because we see things in a pure way, we generate pure minds, which we then act on, creating pure karma, which then gives rise to pure appearance of things. In this way, our enlightenment continues without interruption.
Tantric practice can be divided into two main stages, generation stage and completion stage. Generation stage is like making the outline of our enlightenment, and completion stage is like filling in all of the color. In generation stage, our main practice is self-generation of ourself as a deity. Self-generation practice opposes both ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. It opposes ordinary appearances by generating within our mind pure appearances of ourself as the deity, our environment as the pure land, and all beings as Heroes and Heroines. It opposes ordinary conceptions by mentally recalling that these things are the emptiness of our mind of great bliss in the aspect of the self-generated mandala. These very simple recognitions cut right to the heart of samsara.
During the meditation break, we likewise constantly try to maintain pure appearance and pure conceptions. This is a bit more difficult because an ordinary world still appears to us. The way we can train correctly can be understood as follows. I was in Frankfurt once and I went to the Modern Art Museum there. One of the exhibits was a room and what was being projected onto all of the walls were images a perfectly calm and pleasant tropical beach. So if you only looked, you would think you were on a beach. But the sound that was playing in the room was that of a terrible and destructive hurricane. So if you only listened, you would think you were in the middle of a great storm. The two together created a very peculiar feeling, but due to our mind’s power to naturally integrate our different awarenesses into one experience, the sights and sounds somehow fused into one experience. In exactly the same way, during the meditation break what will appear to our sense awarenesses will be the world that we normally see, but with our mental awareness we will be generating, and thus seeing with our mind’s eye, pure appearances and conceptions. Yet since both are happening at the same time, the power of our mind will somehow integrate the two together into a wisdom experience of the world. For me, it feels like I am centered in the pure world appearing to my mind, but I am moving and operating in another layer of reality that is appearing to the beings of that other layer of reality as the ordinary world appearing to my sense awarenesses. It is like I see everything as pure, but I simultaneously see how my activities are appearing to everyone else within the realms of samsara. Another analogy is it is like I am an undercover Buddha operating in the world, and my disguise is my ordinary appearance of myself. I am in this world, but I am not of it.
Some people misunderstand generation of ourself as a deity as like the crazy person who thinks he is Jesus returned. Others confusedly think it is an exercise in supremely arrogant pretension. In reality, it is none of these things. Proper self-generation is not a Jesus complex because the reason why we self-generate is because we are fully aware of the limitations of our ordinary body and mind, and so we dissolve it completely into emptiness and generate anew a new pure version of ourself. It is not supremely arrogant pretension because we don’t think we actually are already the deity, rather we train in being the deity by trying to live up to that role. Our motivation for engaging in self-generation is aspirational, we wish to become a Buddha because we realize we are not, but we know by training in being like one we will gradually become one. While it is subtle to understand, we do mentally choose to believe we are the deity not because we grasp at ourself as inherently being so, but rather because the mental action of believing we are the deity completes the karma which will ripen in the future in the form of us becoming one. The same karmic logic applies to our practice of taking and giving, for example.