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.
What empowerment is
The teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni are classified into three vehicles: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Empowerments or initiations (Tib. wangs) are an integral part of the Vajrayana vehicle.
Among the two main sections of the Vajrayana: a ripening empowerment and liberating instructions – initiation is the first one.
According to the view of Vajrayana, every sentient being possesses Buddha Nature – a potential for enlightenment which we have since the very beginning. A tantric empowerment is a ceremony that activates our potential to become a Buddha.
Through the ritual of empowerment, the vajra master shows the qualified student a glimpse of this pure realm beyond the habitual patterns of the mind. Based on their experience during empowerment, students will learn to sustain and expand that initial experience through the subsequent practice of meditation.
All the rituals in an empowerment serve one function: to temporarily transform our normal way of perceiving reality. In Vajrayana, the various meditations are associated with a particular meditational deity (Tib. yidam), which symbolizes an aspect of enlightened mind. Through the Wang, we are empowered to practice the various stages of meditation associated with that deity. Also an empowerment is a very strong blessing, a cause for attaining state of Buddha in future.
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 visualize yourself in the form of the Deity, to recite the Deity’s mantra and to meditate on the mind of the Deity.
Our ordinary mind is hard, unripen. So, it must be ripened with the empowerments. In Tibetan, the word nectar means a substance that transforms poison into 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 in the future. These steps are the basic elements of tantra, the root of the Vajrayana system.
A complete Vajrayana empowerment is usually divided into four parts:
1. Vase empowerment
2. Secret empowerment
3. Knowledge-wisdom empowerment
4. Word or “suchness” empowerment
The vase empowerment purifies our obscurations of body. We are empowered to visualize ourselves as the deity. The result is the attainment of the manifestation body of the Buddha – the Nirmanakaya.
During the secret empowerment we purify the obscurations of our speech. We are empowered to practice the mantra recitation and meditations on the subtle channels (nadi), subtle winds (prana) and spheres (bindu) of the body. The result is the attainment of the Radiant Bliss Body of a Buddha – the Sambhogakaya.
The knowledge-wisdom empowerment purifies our mind. All our delusions are transformed into wisdom nature. It empowers us to realize the non-duality of our own mind and the mind of the deity. The result is the attainment of the Truth Body of the Buddha – the Dharmakaya.
The word empowerment purifies the subtle habitual tendencies which give rise to dualistic perception. The subtle obscurations are transformed into primordial awareness. We are empowered to practice the ultimate teachings of The Great Perfection. The result is the attainment of the Svabhavakaya, the union of the previous three kayas.
How to receive empowerment
For implementation of an empowerment, there must be three conditions:
– 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.
– 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.
– Ritual objects such as image, vase [bumpa,] tormas and other suitable offerings must also be there.
Before the empowerment it is important to cultivate the right attitude, bearing in mind all sentient beings who are suffering in samsara. 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.
During the main part of the ceremony we imagine both ourselves and the vajra master in the form of the particular meditational deity for that empowerment, and the environment is seen as a celestial palace or mandala. Throughout the wang you should think of the lama as not different from the deity. The best way is to cultivate a firm belief that you are receiving the wang from the deity.
Throughout the empowerment there are various visualizations and actions to be performed. They may be introduced beforehand, or explained by the lama just at the appropriate time.
At the end of the ceremony a lama gives a samaya – a commitment, which is the actual path for students. There are different kinds of samayas, associated with a vajra master, who gives empowerment, a meditative deity and a practice itself.
Though each initiation has its appropriate commitment, samayas given during big public initiations are usually not specific. Nevertheless, having received a tantric empowerment, both students and a teacher are considered to be in the same mandala. Students are pledged to respect a teacher, a deity and to stay in harmony with other brothers and sisters who have received this empowerment together.