Empowerment

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"Various medicines have various types of strength or power. Water has a power to wet things and clean things. Fire has a power to burn. When we put water in a field it helps to grow flowers or crops. All phenomena have a particular power associated with them. Through the power of interdependence, when we ask for the blessing, blessing comes as a particular type of power. One receives that power, the blessing, and one's defilements and obscurations are purified and dispelled."
                                ~ Yongey Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche

Initiation, Empowerment or wangkur  

A characteristic feature of Vajrayana Buddhism is the requisite ritual for participating in the worship, service and practice (Skt.: sadhana) of a deity or bodhisattva.  This is the process by which a lama with experience in the particular practice confers on others the description, explanation, visualization and order of the practice, along with appropriate offerings and specific mantras.  It is more than the sum of its parts though; it is a lineage transmission of blessing and energy.

The empowerment or initiation grants permission, bestows help with, and gives access to, the benefits of a tantric practice. It can be short or long, and complex or very simple.  It normally includes the wang (Skt. abisheka) which is the actual consecration or dedication of the student to the practice-deity, the lung which is the oral transmission -- a recitation of the procedural text or manual (sometimes in a condensed or speedily-read version,) and the tri or instructions on how to do the practice.  In special cases, a brief ritual-touching of the student with the text, accompanied by recitation of the associated mantra is sufficient.

Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche (d. 1989,) who served for many years as Chief Meditation Master of the Kagyu, in Gently Whispered (New York: Station Hill, 1994) said:

"Most tantrayana or vajrarana visualization and mantra practices require that an initiation and subsequent authorization and instruction be given by a qualified lama before the sadhana, or ritual practice, can begin. 

However, a few practices, those that were given publicly by Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, do not fall under such restrictions. Very definitely, all the practices given in the Sutras have the full blessing of the Buddha and therefore can be practiced if one has the aspiration to do so. Such practices include those of the noble Chenrezig and of the mother of the buddhas, Green Tara. Naturally, whenever it is possible for you to take the vajrayana initiation of  Chenrezig or Green Tara, you are encouraged to do so. Right now, however, the practice in which I am giving you instruction can be practiced straight away, due wholly to the blessing of Buddha Shakyamuni. When you finally do get around to receiving the Chenrezig initiation, it will deepen your practice and strengthen your connection with your tsaway lama and with Yidam Chenrezig." 

Gently Whispered contains a complete sadhana of Chenrezig which is possible to practice without an empowerment beforehand, although the practitioner should see to getting one as soon as possible. 

A complete Buddhist empowerment is usually divided into four parts:

  1.  vase empowerment

  2.  secret empowerment

  3.  knowledge-wisdom empowerment

  4.  speech, sound, word or "suchness" empowerment

Tom:  " . . .  the fourth empowerment, although called the "Word Empowerment", is not always given or introduced with "words."  Sometimes an object is displayed that illustrates the clarity and luminosity of mind.

I remember receiving one empowerment when the word empowerment was bestowed in a manner that I cannot rightly describe. It may have been a word but if so, it went by so quickly that others who were present didn't even notice it happening. It certainly was a sound, and it was certainly from the lama, but its signification was lost on me, although the shock of hearing such a loud and punctuated sound from one who had previously been quietly chanting was quite remarkable.  Perhaps it was this suddenness that prevented others in the group from even hearing it. Hmmmm. "

(Initiations for the practices of Chenrezig or Tara do not generally fit that pattern.)

Transforming Poison into Nectar 

Here is an excerpt from Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche's (as yet, unpublished) commentary on Bhante Dharmaraja's Jewel Treasury of Advice: 100 Verses from the Heart.  The Drikung Kagyu master [whose Sanskrit monastic name is transliterated to respect a regional accent as] Bhande Dharmaradza, lived from 1704 to 1754, and is considered a reincarnation of the great Dharmakirti (1595-1659.)

*****
(The Verse)
The ripening four empowerments are like a stream of nectar.
They purify the four obscurations and plant the seeds of the four kayas; they are the root of the path of mantra.
This is my heart's advice. 

(The Commentary)
When we have a qualified lama and have kept the samaya, then we can receive Vajrayana teachings. If you ask for the distinction between the sutra and tantra systems, it is the empowerment ceremony, abhisheka in Sanskrit. Any practice for which empowerment is required, that is what we call a Vajrayana practice.  If a practice does not need an empowerment first, then it is from the sutra system of practice.  Many masters have different explanations of this point, but this one from Lord Jigten Sumgön [1143-1217] is very clear and precise. 

Our ordinary mind is hard, unripened.  So, it must be ripened with the empowerments. In Tibetan, the word for nectar is dutsi, which means a substance that transforms poison into nectar. It is also called stainless ambrosia or un-afflicted nectar. So the reference here recalls this quality of transformation, like alchemy. 

In alchemy, base metals are transformed into gold. Our mind is like that base metal, which is transformed into gold by the empowerment ceremony. While the stream of the nectar is poured into us during the ceremony, we meditate that we transform into the deity state, thereby purifying all our negative thoughts and obscurations. We manifest our mind as the deity's mind. Our whole being is transformed into the mandala of the deity. 

Through the four empowerments we purify the four obscurations. By purifying the four obscurations, we plant the seed to achieve the four kayas the future. These steps are the basic elements of tantra, the root of the Vajrayana system. Without these ceremonies, we have no authority to practice Vajrayana, so we cherish this so much. 

The four empowerments are:
• vase, 
• secret, 
• wisdom, and 
• fourth. 

The four obscurations are: 
• physical, 
• verbal, 
• mental, and 
• subtle. 

The four kayas are:
• Nirmanakaya,
• Sambhogakaya,
• Dharmakaya, and
• Svabhavikakaya.

Through the meditation of the first, the vase, empowerment we purify our physical obscurations. We see ourselves now as ordinary beings of flesh and bone, which is the source of our suffering. If we see clearly during the empowerment ceremony, we manifest our physical body into an enlightened form. In other words, we transform ourselves into the deity. By attaining the state of the deity, we plant the seed to achieve the Nirmanakaya. 

During the second empowerment, called the secret empowerment, we purify the obscurations caused by our speech. Our ceaseless chatter and all the negative words that we use are transformed into Buddha's speech. By purifying our verbal obscurations, we plant the seed to achieve the Sambhogakaya. 

By receiving the third, or wisdom, empowerment we purify our mental obscurations. All our delusions are transformed into wisdom nature, and our minds manifest without boundary. By purifying our mental obscuration, we plant the seed to achieve the Dharmakaya.  

The fourth empowerment is sometimes called the precious word empowerment, but usually is called "the fourth." By receiving this empowerment, we purify the subtle obscurations to enlightenment. The subtle obscurations of duality are transformed into primordial awareness. By purifying our subtle obscurations, we plant the seed to achieve the  Svabhavikakaya. 

~ courtesy Ani Trinlay at The Kagyu Mailing List

These four initiations are usually associated with the highest of the four main classes of tantra, such as Hevajra (Kyedorje), Chakrasamvara (Demchog), Vajrayogini (as Dorje Naljorma) or Kalachakra (Dukhor)

Getting the Power

According to Kalachakra.Net, the Dalai Lama, during a Manjushri Initiation in NYC in 1998, said:

"If one can engage on the Vajrayana path on the basis of a clear understanding of the tantric path, then it can be truly profound and effective. Some Tibetan masters of the past have emphasized many of the significances of the Vajrayana teachings by the representation of the vajra and bell. The Tibetans say that if one utilizes these implements with a full awareness of their significance and a full understanding of the Vajrayana path, then when one rings the bell it will have a profound symbolism and meaning. But the simple act of playing a bell doesn't really have any profundity.  One can see that even cows have bells around their necks and make loud noises."

An empowerment is only a beginning.  For there to be enduring benefit, proper practice has to follow.

There is a hierarchical progression in tantric practices for which the empowerment is an essential ingredient, and so a wang may belong to the any of the tantra classes.  (The number and kinds of classes depends upon the particular denomination of Buddhism.)  The most frequently given initiations are for deities such as Chenrezi, Green Tara and Amitabha. 

Any teaching which is associated with the empowerment means that there is a possibility for practice commitments to be imposed.  

The Requirements

Intent

Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche taught that one can take an empowerment:

(1)  with the intention of simply receiving blessings
(2)  with the intention of doing the associated practice at some future time
(3)  with the intention of beginning the regular associated practice immediately.

Conditions

He said that in order for an empowerment to be effective, there must be three conditions:

1. The motive of the  teacher is pure and founded in love and compassion. The lama must also have been empowered, and must have experience with the practice him-  or herself.

2. The student or disciple must trust, without reservation, the validity of the ritual and the qualification of the lama.  The lama is understood as a representative of the Buddha and also, of her- or his own teacher. The personal day-to-day qualities of the lama are not as significant as their role as vajra-guru.

3.  Ritual objects such as image, vase [bumpa,] tormas and other suitable offerings must also be there.

When a practice is authentic, it is a link in the continuity of four aspects of transmission: 

  1.  the source is an uninterrupted lineage

  2.  the transmission includes the ritual of the empowerment itself

  3.  the words forming the text of the ritual are given

  4.  the meaning of the words and the imagery is given

  5.  a spiritual energy that is characteristic of and inherent in the deity/ practice is passed on.  

R.M., a practitioner, called that energy "grace" and likens it to " ... electrical power, invisible and very powerful." He said to the Kagyu email list, that 

"  ...  Buddha, the source of grace, is like a power plant and the lineage that transmits grace is the wire.   As long as the wire is not cut, a bulb can be connected to it at any place, and the bulb is lit. But if the wire is cut, one may have a power plant at one end and a bulb at the other, but it is impossible to get any light.  If the lineage of transmission has been interrupted ... , it is impossible to receive grace through an empowerment. The lineage has become entirely sterile."

Procedure

To participate, a person must have taken Refuge.  Sometimes, the Refuge ceremony will be given immediately beforehand, so that the newer students may participate.  This is especially the case in the West where visits from tantric lamas are few and far between.

A wang involves different consecrations/purifications.  A major empowerment may have four transmissions, blessings or consecrations, and some of those are themselves sub-divided into several separate ritual actions.

A minor wang generally has three consecrations, one each for Body, Speech and Mind -  the "three doors" through which we act (and create karma).  Actually, from a higher perspective, the three are already purified, though generally we do not realize that.  

In fact, it is the goal of tantric practice to purify all actions of Body, Speech and Mind by removing our moral and mental defilements [kleshas] so that our actions become not different from those of a Buddha.  To paraphrase the words of His Holiness Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley:  There is happiness when motivation and action are the same.

Receiving an empowerment is like the planting of a seed; later, with the right conditions, this seed will sprout into true Buddhahood.   Therefore, when an empowerment is announced, often there is besides the statement that 'Refuge is required,' the phrase 'commitments may be imposed.'  

From posts on the K

"I was always under the impression that one could receive an empowerment anytime."

S. S. responded,  "I think that the ... empowerment has to match the karmic conditions.

Some strange things occur in this context:

On one occasion the planned program was to give an explanation on the first day and the empowerment on the second. I did not particularly want the empowerment, but I was curious to find out about the practice, and so I went on the first day. To everybody's surprise the empowerment was given on the first day. This meant that people who were not serious enough to come to listen to the explanation missed the empowerment.

There is another occasion I remember when several of us were doubtful whether to attend a particular empowerment. The lama said that if we were not too keen to go, it was time to go, and if we were eager to go, we should stay away.

I have also been present on an occasion when the ceremony appeared to have ended. Some people, including myself, left.  It was only afterwards I found out that the ceremony continued.

My experience has taught me that in all these coincidences regarding empowerments there is a kind of internal logic which we cannot understand.  I now just take it easy and do not worry too much about taking a wrong empowerment, because it seems to me that the system itself protects us against mistakes."

The Body Consecration purifies physical defilements so that we may visualize ourselves as the deity. For example, whether old, young, male or female, we are Chenrezi, with one face, four arms, holding a rosary, a gem, and so on.

The Consecration of Speech purifies the voice and empowers us to be able to recite the appropriate mantra.  

The Mind Consecration empowers us to realize the non-duality of our own mind and the mind of the deity, so that the everyday dichotomy of subject and object is transcended.

All three together empower us to do a specific meditation practice in which (among other things) you visualize yourself as the deity, recite the mantra, and allow any thought of a distinction between yourself and the deity to slip away.  These practices help us to achieve the realization that our true nature as not different from Buddhahood.  

Since the visualizations performed during major wangs are lengthy and complicated, there may be texts available for preparatory description and explanation.  Some people like to bring along a small pad and pen to take notes.

If a wang includes a Vase Consecration then there will be a ritual flask or bumpa with peacock feathers.  The liquid in the flask will have been consecrated before the wang by the lama.  During the ritual, the flask will be placed on your head (usually the congregation will form a line, and go up one at a time to receive these blessings) and you may be given some of the nectar from the flask to drink.  (It will be poured into your cupped hands from which you sip.  Any remaining drops are dried upon the crown of the head.) 

Getting Ready for an Empowerment 

You should prepare yourself as if you were going to receive consecration from the Buddha Himself (as, in a sense, your are).

During the preparation ritual performed by the lama before the wang, he created himself as the deity.  Throughout the wang you should think of the lama as not different from the deity, and visualize him in the form of the deity. The consecration is more effective if you cultivate a firm belief that you are receiving the wang from the deity.

For example, if you are receiving a Chenrezi empowerment, then you should constantly imagine the lama in the form of Chenrezi, and believe that it is Chenrezi Himself who is conferring the empowerment upon you. 

Before entering the area where the wang is to be given ,you should remove your shoes and wash your mouth with water. (There are usually assistants to pour water for this purpose, and to hold the bowl into which you spit it out.) 

If the lama is already seated, you should make three prostrations toward him or her.  Before each one, touch the slightly cupped palms of your hands together to the forehead, throat and heart.  If for physical or other reasons you cannot make full prostrations then it is sufficient to bow deeply three times in the direction of the lama. 

It is best to sit cross-legged, but if you are prevented by physical causes then it is permissible to use a stool or a chair.  If, when sitting cross-legged, your legs or back become tired then change position quietly.  You should not lie on the floor, or sit with your legs stretched out toward the lama. 

Before the wang begins, the monk who is assisting the lama will usually give you a small amount of rice, which you should keep handy. This rice is for use in the mandala offering which occurs shortly after the beginning of the wang.

As there are always at least two mandala offerings during a wang (at the beginning and at the end), you may want to save some rice in a heap beside you (or in an accessible pocket) for the final mandala offering. 

While waiting for the wang to begin, instead of looking around, you might  reflect on your reason for being there.  It is important to cultivate the right attitude, which is as follows:  Sentient beings suffer under conditions of dissatisfaction and sorrow caused by moral defilements (passions) and mental defilements (delusions).  Although you may recognize this condition of universal suffering, you cannot do much about it because you are as bound as everyone else.  Only by attaining the wisdom, compassion and power of the Buddhas can you rescue yourself and others from this condition, and so for the sake of all sentient beings you are receiving this consecration.  (Of course, this is a reminder of the 4 Noble Truths and the Mahayana attitude or bodhisattva vow.)

The Introduction

The ceremony may begin with the recitation of Refuge and preliminary prayers.  Then there is a mandala offering to the guru, whom you visualize in the form of the deity, surrounded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The monk assisting the lama acts as the model for you; he may make three prostrations and heap rice upon a silver mandala plate. While he is doing that, the participants perform the mandala mudra (in which the parallel ring fingers together pointing upward symbolize the axis of the cosmos according to ancient Indian cosmology), but this is not essential.  Try, though, to imagine that in offering a bit of rice, you are really offering the universe with its millions of worlds containing all good things.  You are offering all this for a bestowal of empowerment by this generous lama.  

As the assistant concludes the chanting of the mandala-offering verses, he will throw rice in the air; you do the same with a movement of the hand beginning at the heart going out from the body to symbolize the heart-felt motivation of these offerings. 

There are then,  certain prayers of requesting that the lama will recite in Tibetan.  You repeat them phrase by phrase as best you can.  As an expression of devotion, it is customary to place the palms together at the heart when reciting prayers. 

During this introductory part or preparation, we recite the Seven-fold or Seven-branch Prayer:

1.  We confess all sinful actions performed during countless past lives. 

2. We rejoice in all the virtuous deeds performed by the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas and by all sentient beings.

3.  We promise to maintain an attitude of Absolute bodhicitta which is the realization of Ultimate Truth - "emptiness". 

4.  We take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until we attain Enlightenment. 

5.  We hold the attitude of Relative bodhicitta -  the desire to attain Enlightenment for the sake of rescuing all sentient beings from their sufferings.  

6.  and also to take all steps necessary for attaining Enlightenment for this purpose.

7.   We dedicate the merit produced by all these good actions to the welfare of all sentient beings.  

History

It is usual for the lama to explain the origin of the tantra.  That is, how it came to be practiced, and how it relates to this or her particular teaching lineage.  

Teaching

Throughout the empowerment there are various visualizations/actions to be performed.  They may be introduced beforehand, or explained by the lama just at the appropriate time. 

The visualizations during the main part of the wang are more complicated than those of the preparation. For example, during the main part you may have to visualize deities emerging from space, or from the lama's heart, and Tibetan letters appearing at certain places on the lama's body and/or your own. 

You may be asked to visualize lights of various colours issuing from the lama's heart and shining upon yourself and all other sentient beings, that purify defilements.

At some point, you may visualize yourself in the form of the deity, according to the instructions of the lama.  This Body Consecration is made firm as incense is wafted by the assisting person.  

During the Voice Consecration you usually have to visualize the mantra of the deity (in Tibetan letters) emerging from the heart of the lama and entering your own heart.  The lama then may recites the mantra, which you repeat after him three times.

During the Mind Consecration, you visualize the seed-syllable of the deity in your heart and by concentrating on this seed-syllable which is the essence of the deity, you try to realize the non-duality of your own mind and that of the deity/lama. 

Conclusion

The empowerment ends with various prayers and a final mandala offering of thanks to the guru for bestowing the wang.  The disciples then file past the lama to receive any special blessings, such as the placing of the vajra/flask on top of the head, and sometimes, to receive an image.  

If the mandala of the deity has been constructed (present in major wangs) then you should look into it and offer homage to the deity at its center. 

Offerings

It is customary to offer white scarves (Tibetan: khatag) at this time, or at the very end, but this is not strictly necessary.  If a khata is offered (held as in the picture) then it should be placed in front of the lama or at his side.   Often, it will be returned to you (with the help of the assisting monk) as a blessing, but not always.  They may be available for purchase before the ritual, but if you do not have one, you can offer a smile and a bow. 

There is often a natural inclination to make offerings to the lama out of recognition for his or her kindness.  Plan to bring an envelope (or two, if you would like to donate something to the translator or other assistant) into which you can put your contributions.  It is customary to make these donations at the end of the wang. You can place this on the lama's lectern or desk with the katha.

Though the value of an empowerment cannot be measured in dollars, that does not mean that money is unsuitable as an offering.  Flowers and fruit are suitable as offerings to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; lamas who are residents at dharma centres, who help build monasteries and schools, and who travel widely need money.  Each person should offer what he or she feels is appropriate. 

Like Planting a Seed

On Receiving Wang (empowerment) by Ngawang Phuntsok

 In order to practice Vajrayana Buddhism, one has to receive Wang, Lung  and Tri (or
 empowerment, oral transmission and instructions) from a qualified Lama (Guru or
 Master).  The term "Wang" in Tibetan, or "Abhishekha" in Sanskrit, literally means
 "Empowerment".  It refers to a ceremony in which a qualified Lama places a disciple
 in touch with a particular Tantric Deity and empowers him to recite the Deity's mantra
 and meditate on the non-duality between his own mind and the Deity's mind. Much
 happens during the Empowerment Ceremony and everything that happens has its
 special meanings, not just for ceremonial decoration or ritualistic purposes.

 What Happens During An Empowerment Ceremony

 An Empowerment always involves several different initiations. A major Empowerment
 may have four initiations, some of which are sub-divided into several Sub-Initiations.
 A minor Empowerment generally has three Initiations - for the body, speech and mind.
 These are the "three doors" through which we act and create karmas. The goal of
 Tantra is to purify all our karmas of body, speech and mind by removing our afflictions
 and obstacles to our liberation and omniscience, so that our actions become no difference
 from those of a Buddha.

 Receiving an Empowerment is like planting of a seed. With the right conditions later,
 this seed will sprout and grow into Buddhahood. During the Empowerment, each of
 these three doors is blessed individually, thus, there is a Body Initiation, a Speech
 Initiation and a Mind Initiation. In this way, the defilements of each of the three doors
 are purified and you are empowered to visualise yourself in the form of the Deity, to
 recite the Deity's mantra and to meditate on the mind of the Deity.

 The Sanskrit term "Guru" refers to a person of great spiritual attainment and authority;
 it was translated into Tibetan as "Lama". Tibetan monks who do not have any special
 attainments are not considered as lamas.  Also, a lama need not be a monk. Vajrayana
 is open to all, and married persons are not barred from receiving or giving any of the
 Tantric teachings.  Devotion to the Lama who is your Guru is most important, and it is
 necessary for spiritual attainment.  The purpose of Tantric practices is to realize the
 Buddha nature in each of us, and you should seek as your Guru, a lama who has himself
 realised this.  Having found such a lama, you should cultivate devotion towards him so
 that you can recognise more clearly the Buddha nature as it is manifest in him. In this
 way, you are led to realise the pure nature of your mind as the mind of the Buddha also.

 What To Do When Attending An Empowerment Ceremony

 You should prepare yourself for an Empowerment as if you were going to receive
 Initiation from the Buddha Himself. An Empowerment always has three stages:
 the Preparation, the Main Part and the Conclusion.
 
 Preparation Stage

 During the Preparation Stage, you should do the following:

 1. Wash your mouth before you enter the hall.
 2. On entering the hall, make three prostrations towards the Lama and/or the Shrine.
 3. Take your seat on the floor. Do not lie down or sit with your legs stretched towards
     the Lama or Shrine.
 4. While waiting for the Empowerment to begin, cultivate the right attitude by reflecting
     the reason why you want to receive the Empowerment. The right reason should be that
     you wish to liberate all sentient beings from their sufferings caused by the afflictions
     of desire, hatred and ignorance.
 5. Make a Mandala Offering by imagining that you are offering the universe,
     containing all the good things, to the Lama.
 6. Think and believe that you are receiving the Empowerment from the Deity,
     represented by the Lama.
 7. Recite the Seven-fold Prayer, which is to confess all sins, rejoice all virtues, take
     refuge in the Triple Gems, promise to hold the Absolute Bodhicitta, to maintain and
     apply the Relative Bodhicitta and to dedicate the merits produced by these good
     actions for the welfare of all sentient beings.

 Main Part

 Usually, the main part of the Empowerment consists of the Body, Speech and
 Mind Initiations

 Body Initiation:  Visualise yourself in the form of the Deity, according
 to the instructions of the Lama. This Body Initiation is made firm in you
 when incense is wafted about by the assistant monk.

 Speech Initiation:  Visualise the Mantra of the Deity emerging from the
 heart of the Lama through his mouth and entering your own heart, through
 your mouth. The Lama then recites the Mantra 3 times, which you repeat
 after him.

 Mind Initiation:  Visualise the Seed-Syllable (a radiant Tibetan  letter standing on a moon-disc or sun-disc) of the Deity in your  heart. Concentrate on this Seed-Syllable (which is the Essence of  the Deity's Mind) and try to realise the non-duality of your own  mind and that of the Lama's or the Deity's.

 Conclusion

 During the concluding stage of the Empowerment, you do the following:

 1)  Chant the concluding prayer.
 2)  Perform the final Mandala Offering to thank the Lama.
 3)  Queue up to receive any special blessing, such as the placing of the
     Vase, Torma, Vajra, etc. on top of one's head.
 4)  If the Mandala of the Deity had been constructed, then you should look
     into it and pay homage to the Deity at its centre.
 5)  Make appropriate offerings (within your capability) to the Lama.
 6)  Dedicate the merits you have accumulated to benefit all sentient beings.

 

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