A few weeks ago I was watching a dharma teaching through streaming video. During the breaks I decided to review the parts I had missed, and then switch back to "live" mode. At one point I realized that I wasn't quite in "live" mode, but about five minutes behind. Of course, given the inherent constraints of the speed of sound and light, there will always be a delay.
I like the baptism analogy, which is close to my wedding analogy. (Note that both are Catholic sacraments.) Similarly, the Catholic teaching on Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, involves mystical assertions such as the Real Presence, while most Protestants see it merely as a commemorative ritual. Of course, arguments from analogy are weak, and there is no reason to think Buddhist empowerment is the same sort of thing, but these examples really do bring out the crucial issue that we seem to disagree about--namely, whether Buddhist empowerment involves "magic" (for want of a better word), or whether its existence is purely social. If empowerment is magic, then it makes sense to worry about various things that might affect its validity. On the other hand, if it is just a ritual--a symbol of commitment--then its validity is only a matter of acceptance by the group.
Returning to my wedding example, a "Catholic" view would distinguish between natural marriage, which is regulated by law and custom; and sacramental marriage, which is a matter of theology. The former is found in nearly all societies; the latter is limited to baptized Christians, who must further meet various preconditions and postconditions (such as consumation). Note that in both cases, it is possible for uncertainty to arise as to whether one is (validly) married, and disagreements periodically arise. In Taiwan, for example, an actor hosted a banquet with his girlfriend, who later claimed that it was a wedding banquet. In Texas, a couple exchanged "marriage vows" in bed, an act which was later declared by a court to be valid (when the woman filed for divorce, and the man claimed they were never married). In Egypt, a court found that an actor had accidentally divorced his wife (an actresss) by speaking the formula for divorce as part of a stage play. Disputes about whether a sacramental marriage has taken place may involve questions about the baptism of one of the parties, the priestly credentials of the officiant, the existence of prior marriages, etc.
Marriage at a distance (i.e., by proxy) is possible in some jurisdictions, and I am unaware of any serious conflict over the recognition of marriages so conducted. It is harder to think of an analogy for the issue of recorded transmissions.
At any rate, the analogy breaks down on a number of fundamental points. For example, marriage vows are given to couples (even in case of polygamy), while Buddhist empowerment is conferred upon individuals, yet establishes a bond between preceptor and initiate for which there is no marital analogue. (In any case, a wedding need not be performed by a married officiant--the bestowal of wedding vows, unlike ordination, does not follow the Indic model which assumes the necessity of disciplic lineage.) While it is entirely possible for a Buddhist to receive a valid empowerment without the knowledge of the empowering guru, it is difficult to imagine a valid wedding being conducted without the knowledge of both the bride and the groom! (Of course, one may assent "after the fact" to any such lapses.)
If there are rules governing the validity of Buddhist empowerments, from where do these rules arise? Were they established by Buddha, perhaps, or decided by the Buddhist community at some point? Or are they closer in status to universal laws, which are discovered rather than legislated?
(no longer participating on this board)