Empowerment In Vajrayana
by Drukpa Choegon Rinpoche, Thutop Choekyi Wangchuk
THE IMPORTANCE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF EMPOWERMENT
Empowerment or Initiation is a ritual or practice unique to the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism. If you are or wish to be a practitioner of Vajrayana, it’s important for you to first receive empowerment, because empowerment is like a door. If you want to enter to a house, you have to open the door and then you can enter. Empowerment is completely like a door to Vajrayana.
The practice of Vajrayana has two stages – Developing Stage and Completion Stage. Developing stage is all about visualisation of the deity or yidam. One must first obtained the relevant empowerment even before one start opening the sadhana of the deity; and request for the relevant explanation and instruction from the master.
A tantric practice is not considered effective or valid until a qualified master has transmitted the corresponding power of the practice directly to the student. This transmission is done through an ’empowerment’, called ‘Wang’ in Tibetan or ‘Abhisheka’ in Sanskrit. Thus, if you are a serious practitioner of Vajrayana, empowerment is mandatory before you start any practices.
EMPOWERMENT – THE HIGHEST OF VAJRAYANA
In Vajrayana, empowerment is considered as the highest blessings a Lama could offer, where he supplicate with fervent yearning devotion to all the Enlightened Lineage Masters, from his root guru, all the way up to the primordial Buddha, Vajradhara. In this way, the blessings of all the Lineage Masters, whose mind is of no different than the Dharmakaya mind of all Buddhas, come together united into the lama, and we receive the blessing of the lama, so therefore we also obtain the blessings of all the Buddhas.
The secret Mantrayana, particularly the Kagyu Lineage are called the ‘swift path’ because of the directness and sharpness of its oral or pointing out instructions, and the powerful blessings from the continuous stream of the successive enlightened Lineage Masters, for which, if practice accordingly with unshakeable faith and devotion, one is able to attain enlightenment in this very lifetime, in this very body of oneself. That’s why, it is extremely important to follow a master who has and upholds a pure unbroken lineage in the propagation and practice of the Dharma. Having connected with such lama, one obtains all the blessings of the Buddhas through him.
EMPOWER AND THE MASTER
Not everyone can give empowerment. Empowerment can only be provided by someone from a valid lineage who has the experience and, who have practised and completed the retreat of the related deity.
Initiation or Empowerment, on a higher level, is the transmission of esoteric wisdom and realisation from a qualified Vajra Master to the mind of the disciple. To the beginners, it is no more than a ceremony of receiving blessings; to the adept practitioners, empowerment is the plantation and maturing of the seed of enlightenment. Since what is being transmitted is not mundane knowledge of any sort, but the enlightened essence and wisdom that go beyond the worldly perception, therefore, the Vajra Master has to be a competent guru who himself has first-hand experience in the ocean of wisdom of the reality, detailed in the Buddhist scriptures, particularly in the Tantric practices. Thus, not any ordinary scholar can fulfil the task in a qualified way, no matter how well-versed he is with words or how expert he is in the Buddha scriptures.
There are certain qualifications the master must hold for him to bestow empowerment. He or she must first possess the power and necessary quality in order to empower the students. You have to hold something in you before you can give it or transmit it to other. It’s simple logic. That’s why not everybody is capable in granting empowerment. But, that doesn’t mean that I am dejecting you to go to other masters. You can always go to listen Dharma, learning teachings or pay respect if you think that the teacher is a genuine master … but you have to consider empowerment as the very last resort, after you are hundred percent sure that the master is qualified.
Why you have to do that? Because every empowerment engaged certain samayas. Samaya here means you have received an empowerment from a master; he may not be your root guru, but he is considered as one of your important gurus, who have given you the empowerment, the authorisation to learn on the particularly deity or Buddha. So he is an important guru. Once you have received the empowerment, if you do not keep the samaya with the master, it’s obstacle. That’s why one must not receive empowerment from just anybody or everybody; nor merely regard it like blessings and hopping everywhere to obtain empowerment. Not with that sort of notion for genuine Vajrayana practitioners.
IS EMPOWERMENT MANDATORY TO ALL?
If you are simply following the Theravada path, which is also Buddhism, or the Mahayana way of practising loving-kindness and compassion, then you do not need empowerment. For Theravada practices of simple meditation such as Samatha and lots of other practices of their vehicle, you do not need empowerment. If you want to practice Bodhicitta according to the Shantideva’s book, etc., you do not need empowerment too. If you wanted to do Ngondro practice of Dorje Sempa, you can do it with or without empowerment. Once you have completed all these practices, and you wish to become a serious Vajrayana practitioner, then you can have one or two empowerment which enable you to do your own Yidam or deity practices, then it’s good enough.
THE MORE EMPOWERMENT, THE MORE BLESSINGS?
If you received lots of empowerment from one or two masters whom you think you can keep the perfect samayas, the more you receive the empowerment, the better it is, because it’s often blessings. The more blessings you get, the more of your karma is being purified. Receiving empowerment from your own root guru or guru that your devotion and faith are unshakeable, indestructible, the more the empowerment one received, the better it’s. However, not simply getting it from everybody or anybody, as I said it’s hard to keep the samayas.
RECEIVING LOTS OF EMPOWERMENT WITHOUT KEEPING THE SAMAYAS
Those who have received innumerable empowerment already, I don’t want to disappoint them. So what is the solution for them? They must keep a good relationship, proper samayas with the masters. Because it’s already been received. Samaya is important. Every empowerment definitely involved certain samayas. There is no Vajrayana empowerment without samaya. Every empowerment comes with samayas.
Vajrayana samaya is the same as the Vows. In Theravada, when you become a monk, you take a vow. In Mahayana, you take the Bodhicitta vows, then you become a Mahayanist practitioner. In the Vajrayana, when you take an empowerment, the Vajrayana vows come along with the empowerment, and you become a Vajrayana practitioner.
Each time you received an empowerment, there is a vow. The Vow is always linked with the deity, particularly with the master who bestowed the empowerment. So, there is a special vow involvement between the master and student. Those who have received the empowerment, must consider the master as one of their teachers. Respect, not criticising, whatever samayas that’s involved; one must learn and kept it properly.
In case some samaya is not properly kept, the best way is, to recite Dorje Sempa mantra. Vajrayana samayas are slightly different from Theravada and Mahayana vows. It’s easier to break; it’s very sensitive, but it’s also relatively easier to fulfil. Therefore, recitation of Dorje Sempa mantra, doing Tsok, Ganachakra, Fire puja etc., are all the methods of fulfilling broken samayas. On top of that, one should not to keep the transgressed samayas for too long. As soon as one realised that one has violated any samayas, one must confess immediately, and within the shortest possible period one must clear or fulfil those broken samayas, particularly, by recitation of Dorje Sempa mantra. When feasible, if that ever happened, one must confess to the master directly.
The root of Vajrayana practice is the samaya. Samaya is a two way commitment to uphold the teachings. There are lots of samayas that must be kept by the master too. There are master’s samayas, student’s samayas etc. And, as it is taught in the Tantras, siddhis or accomplishment of one’s practices can only be obtained by those who observed the perfect samaya.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXAMINING THE MASTER
Those who have yet to receive any empowerment, must never go not knowing master. One must take the extra miles to learn about his lineage, his root guru, his qualification, etc. These are far more important than whether he is from a different school or tradition. That’s not so relevant in Tibetan Buddhism. You can go to any lineage master, as long as the master has a lineage, had practised and is qualified. What lineage or sect he is from, is secondary compared to the master’s own qualifications. Sectarianism is not part of Vajrayana tradition, and has never been accepted in Vajrayana.
The worrying thing is, today’s Vajrayana followers, simply go after any masters, if the teachers are from their own lineage, without first checking, whether he or she is qualified or not. That, I think is a problem. Because if the teacher is not qualified, he may not be able to keep the samaya, or maybe he has no capability to transfer the empowerment, or he may not uphold the lineage properly. If that is the case, not only it’s inappropriate or incomplete, rather it’s become the obstacle. Obstacle to the master, obstacle to the students. Even when that sort of masters have given empowerment, if the students practised, the students will be short life, sick, unwell and never obtain the siddhis that supposed to be obtained in this lifetime. And in lives to come, according to Tantrayana, both master and students will be going into the not right rebirth, so to speak. That’s why, in Vajrayana, it emphasised again and again, the master must be qualified.
Take me, for example; I have learned under many different masters, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, etc. It doesn’t bother me what lineage they are from? What I am concerned is whether he is qualified? Is he great? Does he have a valid lineage? His realisation? That’s important. That’s what one must check!
RECEIVING THE SAME EMPOWERMENT REPEATEDLY
A lot of time people think when they have attended certain type of empowerment, they have received that empowerment. So, when it’s being given the second time, they regard it as not important as they believed they have already obtained that. This is very wrong from the Vajrarana perspective.
You do not receive all kinds of empowerment from all sort of masters; that’s right. When your root guru or the master whom you are fully devoted, are given the same empowerment again and again, different time or even on the same day, you have to receive. Because, today you receive the empowerment, simply means you receive the blessing from him; that’s what we called, officially receive, but not ultimately.
For example, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had given me 10 times of the Manjushri empowerment, when he is going to bestow the same empowerment for the 11th time, I would never say that I had already received the empowerment. It is totally foolish for one to think that way. For the 11th time empowerment, I will receive with equal respect and devotion, and by doing so, I shall receive the corresponding blessing or even more blessings.
An empowerment is truly received, only when you have awakened through that empowerment. The moment of awakening, is the moment you genuinely received an empowerment, where the real transmission and inner transformation have taken place. When you ultimately receive, that means you are awakened. The blessings of Vajrayogini or Dorje Sempa is transmitted; the moment of transmission is the moment ripening, and you awaken.
If you haven’t enlightened, means you still haven’t received the empowerment. So, when we received an empowerment of a deity, it has not ripened. Ripen means enlightened. Until that happened, every empowerment is merely blessing, blessing and blessing. You received it for one time; it is not fully received. Its essence, strictly speaking, has not been transmitted. The real transmission will awaken you; that’s the ultimate received of an empowerment.
Empowerment is a profound way of ripening one’s mind stream to that of the Buddha. Empowerment plants the seed to realise one’s Buddha-nature, the primordial co-emergent wisdom within all sentient beings. Through the plantation of seed, every time you receive the empowerment from that master, it is again and again blessing. That’s why in the Vajrayana tradition, there are certain empowerment you receive for 100 times, repeatedly, the same day for 100 times. If in one time one can obtain it, why we have to do 100 times, that’s a simple reasoning.
Therefore, it’s terribly important for one to understand, receiving the same empowerment, from one’s root guru, repeatedly, is very blessful and vital for one’s spiritual attainments. So, when your master is given the same empowerment, one must always, with equal respect and receive it. Then, you will be able to receive his blessings, over and over. The more you receive; one day, it will ripen, and one’s get enlightened. Each time you receive, it’s always blessings, to purify one’s karma and obscuration; helping one to progress towards the awakening of the inherent wisdom and enlightened qualities. Just like mantra recitation; you recite the same mantra repetitively, until its ripened, where one realised the mind of the deity.
The primordial wisdom had always been present in its obscured form. Through the lama’s blessings and one’s diligence practice, the realisation of the innate wisdom shall dawn on oneself once all the obscuration has been completely purified.
EMPOWERMENT FROM THE WRONG MASTER
That’s true. I have met some of the people like that. In this dark age, lots of people suffer that way, and get complicated and confused. If someone has formally received teachings or empowerment from a master, somehow or at some point, he or she is hundred percent sure, knew or convinced that the master is not an authentic teacher; you can stop following him and immediately distant yourself.
What you have received is received. Don’t go against the master, don’t criticise him, because you have already received his empowerment. Nevertheless, you knew that he is not the right teacher. Buddha has never said if the master is wrong, you still keep following them. He at no time has said that. However, Buddha did say that one should never criticise the teacher after one received certain teachings.
Since the teachings and empowerment have already been received; it’s inappropriate for the students to look negative or take negative actions or criticising; all these are wrong. In this instant, one needs skillful means. One must be very skillful to stay away, not to continue, if possible, immediately. As you already knew he is not the right teacher, so it’s no point to keep going more and more. If immediately is not possible, gradually distant yourself. And, to fulfil those broken samayas, again, perform Tsok and do lots of Dorje Sempa recitation. Those practices you have received, can be set aside.
In short, when you realised that you have received the teachings from a wrong person, most importantly is not to continue the relationship, but never go against. Exert yourself in purifying the negativity and fulfilling the samayas. That’s important.