A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and practice

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A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and practice

Postby LolCat » Sat Jun 14, 2014 8:53 am

Long story short, I was in a, what was for me, an extremely terrifying and stressful situation last week. Coming from a non-spiritual phase in life into Buddhism, I was open to deity practice and devotion, but not particularly attracted to it. However I turned to Amitabha and Guanyin mantra chanting to help me through this situation. I don't know if the mantras are intended for such purposes, but they provided me some solace anyway. One thing led to another, and by yesterday, I had gone through Garchen Rinpoche's Amitabha empowerment video given in this page:
http://www.drikungseattle.com/march-2014-archive.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Now that I am out of that situation, I am sort of happy that I got to view a different take on things, but also have a bit of regret since I am not at all sure whether this is right path for me, at least right now. This is a set of doubts that came up during the last week:

1. Are the Buddhas real beings or are they supposed to represent aspects of our own enlightened minds? How are we supposed to think about them during practice? If they represent aspects of our enlightened mind, would it be possible to totally make up a Yidam and have the practice work if one believes in it sincerely?

2. What does it mean when we beseech the Buddhas to stay in samsara? I mean where can they possibly be off to? I could understand this if it were from a Theravada point of view, with the analogy of a flame going out, however I thought that Mahayana taught that samsara and nirvana are like the two sides of the same coin. What would happen to Amitabha Buddha after his lifetime for example?

3. According to Garchen Rinpoche, all the Buddhas have the same nature or basis(or something to that effect I think), so doing one practice is equivalent to keeping one's commitment to all of them. How does this extend to the benefits of each different practice? Can one expect to live a long life if one does a Amitabha sadhana instead of White Tara, or expect to take rebirth in Dewachen by doing a White Tara sadhana? How about purification similar to the Guru Rinpoche mantra by chanting the Mani mantra instead? While this may sound a bit ridiculous, I am trying to make sense of this in relation to my first question. This easily makes sense to me if I think about the Buddhas as beings "out there", however if it is one's enlightened mind we take refuge in, then is it because we are invoking those specific aspects which give rise to these specific benefits?

6. What exactly gives the mantras their power? Or the seed syllables? Out of all the possible sounds, why are these ones special? Is it because we associate them with the Buddhas? If so, does it mean that they don't have any power unless one believes in them?

7. After reading up a bit on empowerments a bit more, I really am not sure whether I got it at all. I did not visualize Garchen Rinpoche as the deity throughout the empowerment neither did I visualize myself as the deity, however I followed all the instructions in the video to the best of my ability, and imagined the vase touching the top of my head. I understand that the view on recorded empowerments is divided, however it seems Garchen Rinpoche believes that it is possible, so assuming that it is, did I actually receive the empowerment?

8. I really do not have much of an idea about how to go about the practice. The translator mentioned that one visualizes the red Hri symbol at the heart, visualizes Amitabha Buddha in one's mind in space, and then chants the mantra Om Ami Deva Hri, thus purifying one's body and speech. At the end one was asked to imagine little small Hris coming out of Amitabha's mouth, and settling into the Hri being visualized at the heart centre. So this is what I am doing, after which I read the Dewachen Wishing Prayer by Karme Chagme Rinpoche. Finally I finish with reciting Guru Rinpoche's mantra for a while. Am I doing this right?

9. Probably the most helpful thing I took away from this was Garchen Rinpoche's teaching that the Self Grasping is the cause of all suffering, and that loving kindness and compassion are the causes of all happiness. So am I understanding this correctly if I understand that the goal of the practice is to minimize suffering by eliminating all self grasping and maximizing happiness with cultivating Boddhicitta? Does wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism mean understanding and comprehending emptiness?

10. What is the difference between Metta and Boddhicitta? Is the nature of Theravadan nirvana incomplete according to Mahayana because their adherants have not developed absolute boddhicitta? I ask to understand the difference in the nature of the practice between Theravada and Mahayana, since both aim to develop(according to my lowly understanding) compassion and wisdom.

11. I understand the need to have a teacher now. These are not all the questions that I have, and no doubt I will encounter many more in the future. I would like to keep things simple now, go back to a practice of cultivating shamatha and compassion. However, is it okay if I do so now after vowing to do the practice to the best of my ability? Garchen Rinpoche said that the root samaya is Bodhicitta, I am screwed in that case. :rolling: I say this since I find developing compassion and feeling connected to people quite difficult(oddly enough, I find it ridiculously easy in the case of animals).

12. Are there any practices I can do so that I can come across a teacher faster?

I know these are a lot of questions, and I don't expect anyone to answer all of them, I would be grateful though if I could receive an answer for at least some of them.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Jun 14, 2014 10:28 am

Boy there sure is a lot in that post. The immediate thought that strikes me is 'information overload'! That is not taking a shot at you. But I think you're suffering from information overload to some degree. It is characteristic of our current age - there is just an enormous volume of information around - sometimes it's like trying to drink from a hydrant. That goes for information about Buddhism also.

So my advice would be, slow down a lot, and focus on something really simple. Like, your breath. I would really stick with samatha practice - maybe for a long time, don't do anything else.

I think a problem we have nowadays is trying to focus on the kinds of questions you're asking with 'conceptual mind'. Really the ideas you're talking about come from another aspect of mind - the deeper parts of mind, not the 'conceptual mind'. Perhaps 'heart' would be a better expression. But the way to approach that is to slow down and just really notice very simple things. You have to let the answers emerge in their own time from the depths of the heart~mind, but they won't do that if the conceptual mind ('monkey mind') is trying to figure them out or make things happen. (Of course, we all do that.)

Are the Buddhas real beings or are they supposed to represent aspects of our own enlightened minds?


The fact that this is an 'either/or' question is significant in its own right! You have a picture already of 'own enlightened mind' and 'real being' as two basically different things - one 'here', the other 'out there'. But that is also a cultural construct, a vikalpa. To those who teach 'buddha is your own enlightened mind', that division is unreal - that is the meaning of 'non-duality' - no division. But again that needs to be appreciated through real concentration on the basics. There is no way to understand non-duality through trying to figure it out - it needs the 'path of not-knowing', which again requires real simplicity, a lot of 'just watching'.

That is my take, no doubt there will be others.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby LolCat » Sat Jun 14, 2014 11:13 am

So my advice would be, slow down a lot, and focus on something really simple. Like, your breath. I would really stick with samatha practice - maybe for a long time, don't do anything else.

Would love to. :smile: I actually want to develop the jhanas, I hear Ajahn Brahm has a method to look into past lives in his book using the jhanas, I would love to be able to do this, would make having faith in the Dharma a lot easier. Perhaps in a few decades. Hopefully.
Could you please comment on the issues about commitment to the practice after an empowerment, or whether the question is irrelevant because I may not have received it in the first place?
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Simon E. » Sat Jun 14, 2014 11:17 am

I think we need to very careful about whose advice we heed concerning Vajrayana Lolcat.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Lhasa » Sat Jun 14, 2014 12:27 pm

You can send all these questions to Garchen Rinpoche, he answers all his emails.

questions@garchen.net
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby LolCat » Sat Jun 14, 2014 1:43 pm

Lhasa wrote:You can send all these questions to Garchen Rinpoche, he answers all his emails.

questions@garchen.net

That is excellent! I would feel a bit uncomfortable about sending a large list of questions though. Perhaps I will ask the questions that make me the most anxious if I don't get any responses.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby smcj » Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:30 pm

1. Are the Buddhas real beings or are they supposed to represent aspects of our own enlightened minds?

Both, with no contradiction.

How are we supposed to think about them during practice?

First, think that they are separate beings. Next, that they are not different than our own minds. Finally, that their true nature is beyond our imagination, so keep your mind open and receptive without limiting them with your defiled imagination as to what they may or may not be, and do the practice.

If they represent aspects of our enlightened mind, would it be possible to totally make up a Yidam and have the practice work if one believes in it sincerely?

No.

2. What does it mean when we beseech the Buddhas to stay in samsara?

That they remain accessible to us as the form kayas. The Dharmakaya is formless and so we would never know about it if not for the form kayas of physical manifestation (Sangha/Nirmanakaya) and communicative expression (Dharma/Sambogakaya). From their fully enlightened perspective everything is "perfect just as it is", so therefore the impetus for them to continue to help us has to come from our side, not their side.

I know these are a lot of questions, and I don't expect anyone to answer all of them, I would be grateful though if I could receive an answer for at least some of them.

I believe that my answers are fairly accurate in terms of traditional perspective. If you ask a lama that is ethnically Tibetan about my answers I don't think that they will find anything objectionable. However 21st century internet consensus strongly disagrees.

I think we need to very careful about whose advice we heed concerning Vajrayana Lolcat.

You can send all these questions to Garchen Rinpoche, he answers all his emails.

I agree with both these posts.
Last edited by smcj on Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:47 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Motova » Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:38 pm

LolCat wrote:12. Are there any practices I can do so that I can come across a teacher faster?


You can chant Guru Rinpoche's mantra which doesn't require an initiation: OM AH HUNG BENZA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG

http://www.rinpoche.com/gurumantra.html
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:41 pm

You can also ask questions about Amitabha specifically in the Pure Land forum to get a different take on what working with that particular buddha can look like :)
No intiation required for Amitabha either.

Deity practice can be a wonderful thing, especially for those of us who get weighed down in our own conceptual thinking.
Best of luck.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:58 pm

9. I understand that to be a matter of focus. Yes, ignorance is the root cause of suffering but that ignorance causes self-grasping with causes the negative actions which cause negative karma which cause suffering.

Emptiness is difficult to understand and even more to practice. Cutting self-grasping more quickly leads to happiness and promotes bodhicitta which is crucial for the path.

10. Metta (love) is the first step to bodhicitta. Tsongkhapa presents the stages as love leads to compassion, compassion leads to resolve to help, resolve to help leads to the desire to attain enlightenment for all beings. That is Bodhicitta.

You may wish to read Shantideva's Engaging in Bodhisattva Deeds. He explains Bodhicitta very well in the first few chapters.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby theanarchist » Sat Jun 14, 2014 9:05 pm

LolCat wrote:
1. Are the Buddhas real beings or are they supposed to represent aspects of our own enlightened minds? How are we supposed to think about them during practice? If they represent aspects of our enlightened mind, would it be possible to totally make up a Yidam and have the practice work if one believes in it sincerely?


The buddhas are real beings as well as aspects of your own mind.
No, it's not possible to make up a yidam, a yidam is an expression of enlightened mind of an enlightened being. A deluded being can not create a yidam.



3. According to Garchen Rinpoche, all the Buddhas have the same nature or basis(or something to that effect I think), so doing one practice is equivalent to keeping one's commitment to all of them. How does this extend to the benefits of each different practice? Can one expect to live a long life if one does a Amitabha sadhana instead of White Tara, or expect to take rebirth in Dewachen by doing a White Tara sadhana? How about purification similar to the Guru Rinpoche mantra by chanting the Mani mantra instead? While this may sound a bit ridiculous, I am trying to make sense of this in relation to my first question. This easily makes sense to me if I think about the Buddhas as beings "out there", however if it is one's enlightened mind we take refuge in, then is it because we are invoking those specific aspects which give rise to these specific benefits?


One of my teachers told me that it's quite possible and okay to use Guru Rinpoche practice as purification practice. So yes, I guess you can do one practice that suits you very much as an "all purpose" practice. But if you are reborn in Dewachen as a result, I doubt it.



10. What is the difference between Metta and Boddhicitta? Is the nature of Theravadan nirvana incomplete according to Mahayana because their adherants have not developed absolute boddhicitta? I ask to understand the difference in the nature of the practice between Theravada and Mahayana, since both aim to develop(according to my lowly understanding) compassion and wisdom.

Bodhicitta is the wish to be reborn in samsara to help all other sentient beings to also attain liberation. It's what makes mahayana mahayana. Metta is loving kindness, plain and simple.


11. I understand the need to have a teacher now. These are not all the questions that I have, and no doubt I will encounter many more in the future. I would like to keep things simple now, go back to a practice of cultivating shamatha and compassion. However, is it okay if I do so now after vowing to do the practice to the best of my ability? Garchen Rinpoche said that the root samaya is Bodhicitta, I am screwed in that case. :rolling: I say this since I find developing compassion and feeling connected to people quite difficult(oddly enough, I find it ridiculously easy in the case of animals).

You do as best as you can. That's enough.


12. Are there any practices I can do so that I can come across a teacher faster?.

I don't see what more you can do. Apart from keeping your eyes open for possible teachers
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Jun 15, 2014 12:08 am

Lolcat wrote: I find developing compassion and feeling connected to people quite difficult...


Let it come to you. It can't be forced. There comes a stage in your practice when the heart~chakra opens. (I don't say this on the authority of a teacher.) When that happens, it is very subtle but real. From that time forwards, those feelings of karuna and mudita begin to occur more spontaneously. Then you begin to have joy for others' achievements and to feel compassion for their sufferings. It doesn't mean the end of all obstructions and hindrances but it is an important milestone in the practice in my view.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Alfredo » Sun Jun 15, 2014 2:43 am

1. I agree with the anarchist (two posts above). That is--both, and no you can't.

2. This may be more to remind us of the centrality of bodhicitta, than to remind them.

3. Again, the anarchist answers this well. Ultimately it all boils down to your own actions, attitudes, and decisions--no deity can save you from these. Subtle differences between Buddhas, or their images, are not so crucial at this point in your practice.

(4 and 5 seem to be missing)

6. Since mantras can be pronounced in different ways, depending on local phonology, and have evolved somewhat over time, this lends support to the suggestion that they are derived from particular cultures. However, the traditional Indian assumption would be that such sounds are eternal.

7. This has been a subject of some controversy on this board. My own view is that it is no stranger to receive a transmission over the internet, or with a time delay, than to receive it in person. It is a bit like arguing over what constitutes a legally valid signature. (Can it be done electronically? Does the writing have to be illegible?) Of course there is no magic in the signature itself, it is only a social convention. So I would recommend being guided by Garchen Rinpoche's advice on this.

8. I cannot answer this. Is this what Garchen Rinpoche has instructed? Perhaps his organization has published some sort of ideal daily sadhana. From my limited understanding, the practices themselves that you have listed seem entirely positive.

9. What you wrote sounds fine to me. I would point out that (recognition of) "emptiness" and "compassion" are actually related, and are ultimately a single goal.

10. Several posters pointed out the distinction between metta and bodhicitta. However, few of us are advanced enough for this distinction to matter very much.

11. No one really "gets" bodhicitta until they are enlightened! So until then, do what you can. I would say it is enough to be kind and patient with others around you (even when you don't feel like it), and continue to study and practice as you have been doing. Your attitude may transform over time. There is no teaching or practice higher than compassion.

12. Take your time. Listen to teachings from a number of teachers and traditions. Don't rush into commitments, but think about them carefully.

Deriving comfort from chanting the mantras of Guanyin and Amitabha is in fact very traditional. However, if you feel that you have acted hastily in choosing Tibetan Buddhism, Garchen Rinpoche, and/or some particular practice, then you should feel free to change your mind. There are many forms of Buddhism, and for that matter, other spiritual paths. Have you made any specific commitments?
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Malcolm » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:21 am

LolCat wrote:
10. What is the difference between Metta and Boddhicitta?


Metta is love. [Mahāyāna] bodhicitta is the wish to attain complete buddhahood for the benefit all sentient beings.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Malcolm » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:23 am

Alfredo wrote:11. No one really "gets" bodhicitta until they are enlightened!



This is not correct.

Compassion is the cause of bodhicitta, bodhicitta is the cause of buddhas.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://www.bhaisajya.guru
http://atikosha.org
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby LolCat » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:24 am

Thank you for all the responses people, they were reaally helpful. :thanks: I actually came across an Amitabha sadhana yesterday at this link:
http://www.garchen.net/resources.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
and it seems what I was doing earlier was indeed very different. I think it would be better for me to go back to my normal shamatha and metta practice, and wait till I have a teacher for deity practice, I suppose the best person to ask about my commitments would be Garchen Rinpoche himself.

This may seem like a silly question, but how does one address a Lama in an email? Or would it not matter because Garchen Rinpoche is not going to be directly reading it anyway?

Regarding questions 4 and 5, I am not sure whether they were inappropriate and removed, or whether it was like that from the start. :D Going to pay more attention to numbering in my writings from now.

duckfiasco wrote:You can also ask questions about Amitabha specifically in the Pure Land forum to get a different take on what working with that particular buddha can look like :)
No intiation required for Amitabha either.

Deity practice can be a wonderful thing, especially for those of us who get weighed down in our own conceptual thinking.
Best of luck.

I actually started out with the practice after reading some of your posts on the matter. :smile: I have some questions which I will ask in the Pure Land forum I guess.
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Malcolm » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:25 am

Alfredo wrote:6. Since mantras can be pronounced in different ways, depending on local phonology, and have evolved somewhat over time, this lends support to the suggestion that they are derived from particular cultures.


Mantras are the speech acts of awakened beings — they can be in any language. But they must have been pronounced first by a buddha for a given purpose.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Malcolm » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:26 am

LolCat wrote:Thank you for all the responses people, they were reaally helpful.



Recite refuge and bodhicitta. Then recite whatever mantras you have received, focusing on the sound.

Eventually, you will be able to find the correct sadhana and receive instruction. For now, it is excellent if you can maintain the stream of recitation daily.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://www.bhaisajya.guru
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby LolCat » Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:38 am

Malcolm wrote:
LolCat wrote:Thank you for all the responses people, they were reaally helpful.



Recite refuge and bodhicitta. Then recite whatever mantras you have received, focusing on the sound.

Eventually, you will be able to find the correct sadhana and receive instruction. For now, it is excellent if you can maintain the stream of recitation daily.

I think I do have the correct sadhana right now:
http://www.garchen.net/resources/Amitab ... 0FINAL.pdf

Would it be okay for me to continue this practice without a teacher?
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Re: A bunch of questions about empowerment, deities and prac

Postby Malcolm » Sun Jun 15, 2014 4:20 am

LolCat wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
LolCat wrote:Thank you for all the responses people, they were reaally helpful.



Recite refuge and bodhicitta. Then recite whatever mantras you have received, focusing on the sound.

Eventually, you will be able to find the correct sadhana and receive instruction. For now, it is excellent if you can maintain the stream of recitation daily.

I think I do have the correct sadhana right now:
http://www.garchen.net/resources/Amitab ... 0FINAL.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Would it be okay for me to continue this practice without a teacher?



Definitely. You do your best.

You will eventually find someone who can give you instruction, or you will find the book, etc.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://www.bhaisajya.guru
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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