For the longest time I too had a very superficial impression of what an empowerment actually entailed. I thought you just sat there and waited until you got a couple of things bonked on your head such as a vase and a torma, then you got a little nectar to drink, and that was it you went home. So I was very surprised the first time I heard an empowerment explained on the spot: what to visualize, what to think, when to open your heart in a particular way, etc. This was when Dudjom Rinpoche was in Paris and the first set of westerners to go into three-year retreat, requested him to visit the Kagyu center in Paris and give a Padmasambhava empowerment. Although the empowerment text itself wasn’t that long, the empowerment took quite a long time, as Dudjom Rinpoche demanded that every sentence be translated so that the participants could understand everything clearly. Hearing the actual words and meaning of the empowerment I suddenly discovered that there was much more to this than I could ever have imagined. A whole new world opened up before me. Hence I have tried to translate a few of the more important empowerment manuals for practices from the Chokling Tersar.
|Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche|
The method of passing on the teachings of vajrayana is not a Tibetan invention, but rather came from the buddha realms. Many may not believe it, however vajrayana belongs to the celestial realms and is brought down into this world. It is not the same as the nirmanakaya teachings that are found in the sutras which are given to normal human beings. The simple fact is that when one truly practices vajrayana, one is no longer a human being but transformed into a deity. You no longer see yourself as having a normal body of flesh and blood, but instead a radiant body of light. One’s hair is tied in a topknot, one wears a crown with five jewels and is adorned with the symbols of a deity. The fundamental principle of vajrayana practice is to accept one’s actual divine nature, and not just as an abstraction notion but visibly as well.
The vajrayana is like a supreme mystery school, which is still alive and well within the world today. It is out of this world, and already how things actually are; yet empowerment is necessary in order to know it completely. Once you enter through empowerment your whole understanding and progress speed up. It is like getting off your bicycle and stepping onto a high speed jet. You just have to prepare yourself so that you are ready to receive the empowerment, and then having received it follow the instructions and practices which will speed you to the goal of complete enlightenment. If you are not ready, then you need to gather a few provisions for the journey and remove any obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your goal. This is the meaning and purpose of accumulating merit and purifying obscurations. The great Indian siddha Shri Singha said,
Request the four empowerments: ༔
the elaborate, unelaborate, very unelaborate and extremely unelaborate. ༔
Purify your mindstream, accumulate merit and practice the main part, ༔
by doing so the result will surely ripen in the basis. ༔
This human life is made extraordinary and valuable, here and now, by the vajrayana teachings. Vajrayana is a shortcut, and yet within it there is an even faster shortcut called dzogchen, the great perfection. However, without beginning at the beginning and properly preparing oneself, it is difficult for most people to just jump right into it. It is like trying to jump up to the observation deck on the Empire State building, which you can do if you are Superman, but the rest of us must use the elevator. So, vajrayana is like the express elevator which quickly transports you to the upper levels.
Receiving empowerment is like watering the seedlings sprouting from the seeds of your buddha nature. For everyone already has buddha nature, it is not something that is created but inherent within each and every sentient beings, however for its qualities to fully manifest this seed must be nourished. Empowerment and blessings are like a super condensed plant nutrient, causing the enlightened qualities to blossom forth in full splendor. It em-powers you, it gives you the confidence to realize and accept your enlightened nature. Of course, this right is inherent within everyone, but we tend not to trust ourselves, or fool ourselves as to what this nature really is and what it means. When I look into the mirror I don’t see the splendor of a deity but rather the worn haggard face of a fool. Even the most beautiful visage, when looked at closely, loses its lustre and beneath all the makeup and photo retouching are blemishes and dark circles, yet the form of a sambhogakaya is perfect and unblemished.
Once you have received empowerment it is up to you how fast or how slow you want to proceed. From there on it all depends on your own diligence and perseverance, for no one else, not even the Buddha himself, can do the work for you.
Following the empowerment comes a reading transmission, lung in Tibetan. This tradition originated was passed on from India, though it too originated in the sambhogakaya buddha realms. There are no books in the buddha realms, only natural sound which resounds spontaneously. However, upon hearing that sound you are then the bearer of its meaning. Back in ancient India and Tibet they had no printing shops or the like, so texts had to be copied out by hand, usually by one’s older vajra brother. The guru would then read it to the disciple before giving the text to him. So before you could read the book you received its contents both aurally and physically. Things weren’t freely available in those days, so you couldn’t just think, “Hey I’d like a copy of the highest Dzogchen tantras.” then casually download a copy from the internet as you can today. In fact, traditionally you weren’t even allowed to look at such a text unless you had first received a reading transmission.
Once you have had the empowerment and received the scripture so that you are now the bearer of the spoken word, only then can you have the meaning explained to you in full. Some people realize the complete meaning as clear as day just by receiving the empowerment, not only how to practice but more importantly how to be in the manner described. It is not a question of just sitting down and reading the verses of a sadhana aloud, not at all. One must actually embody or manifest the qualities of a deity, and not only in one’s imagination but in reality. And not only one’s own actions, speech and thoughts, but those of all other beings as well—one must realize the fact that the entire universe is a boundless celestial palace and all within it deities.
Unfortunately we tend to be somewhat closed and rather thick, and so we need to be convinced intellectually and have things explained to us through words. Then only after having everything clearly explained to us in a language that we can understand and resolving all the questions and doubts we have, do we finally go, “Ah! Now I understand.” Yet, what is it that they understand? Nothing more than the way things are, have always been and always will be. It was right there under our noses the entire time if we only had the sense to look and then the confidence to accept the wonder rather than doubt it. The real vajrayana however is not found in words, but rather in the direct immediate revelation of reality as it is. Just the same, not wanting to leave a single being behind, out of their infinite kindness and compassion the lineage masters also provide a verbal explanation which is known as tri in Tibetan which literally means guidance. As we seem to also have lousy memories these instructions now usually need to be written down and collected in texts so that we can refer to them later, hence now people often translate tri as guidance manuals.