The significance of empowerments

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The significance of empowerments

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:36 am

I went to some 'remote empowerments' a couple of years back. I don't want to say for which teaching group, but they are well-known and well-regarded. The idea was that at a specific time, a group would all assemble at someone's house, and the teaching, or empowerment, would be transmitted via Skype (or something similar) whilst the attendees went through the ceremony, assisted by some printed materials.

The content of the ceremony involved very complex visualizations. There was a preparatory session lasting about an hour which gave attendees the chance to rehearse the visualizations and follow along with the ceremony, along with providing some explanations of the symbolic content.

From the remarks and questions of the others in this group, I formed the view that many of them did not have a very good grasp of what you might call 'Buddhist fundamentals'. They were a really diverse group - a couple of teens, and others of various ages and backgrounds.

I found the whole experience rather perplexing. Maybe I'm a cynic, but I am sceptical of the efficacy of vicarious empowerment ceremonies. How are they supposed to work? Like a magic spell? I suppose my own attitude was clearly not conducive to receiving whatever benefits might accrue from such activities.

I do recognize the efficacy of ritual and liturgy, so I'm not completely sceptical. The last retreat I went on was Thai, and they customarily bow three times to the Triple Gem at each meditation. I have carried on that practice ever since, and I think it is really beneficial. (Mainly because us modern Westerners usually bow to nothing and no-one.) But I still like to have some kind of understanding of what I am doing or chanting. I didn't get the sense of that in those empowerment sessions I went to. So I didn't continue with that group.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:03 am

It's really good to study a general presentation on tantra about the various stages of empowerment and the significance of each part. Of course, it is good to have an empowerment first, before you study these things.

In the beginning I didn't understand much of what was going on either, but as I continued to study and practice, gradually I understood the significance of the various parts of the rituals.

Geshe Sonam explains the symbolism of the various stages of the initiation when he has time, which people told me they very much appreciated, but when time is short often lamas will just "jump in" to the ritual.

As a translator I also make an effort to give a translation before the first repetition of the various verses the people have to recite three times at different points in the ritual. I think when people understand the import of the words it can have more meaning. But I have attended several events where everything was recited in Tibetan, sometimes so fast the translator wouldn't have had time to do that even if they wanted to.

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Ayu » Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:13 am

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Astus » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:18 am

To me it seems that the empowerments are teachings compressed into visual and verbal symbols in order to give an impression on the level of imagination, something that one can use for the practice once the meaning is known. It is somewhat like the short verses attached to longer teachings as memory aids, however, empowerment also has the elements of ritual giving emotional assurance that the practitioner can achieve high realisations and sets up a bond between teacher and disciple.
Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.



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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:33 am

Sure, I think that is quite true.

I hadn't meant to start a thread, the OP was a post I entered in another topic which the moderators have made a new thread. That is OK, it is an interesting topic. I was not meaning to be overly negative or critical in my post. It is more that I had doubts as to whether in the circumstances, the people attending could really assimilate and understand what they were hearing.

I think this is a lot about 'context', or, more to the point, lack of context. In a traditional setting, there is a context for such teachings. There is social recognition of the value of the teaching, and a social structure which validates and supports it. So the mentality of the participants is such that they instinctively relate to it. The situation in modern society is very different to that. People have a very different background, expectations, and understanding of life. So what it means to them is very hard to predict. I had the distinct impression that some of the participants were reading some very strange things into this ritual. One of them, from what I could pick up, really thought he was going to get magic powers, like the ability to become invisible. (Mind you, I could have misunderstood his remarks, as they were a bit incoherent. But nobody seemed to be paying much attention to what he was saying, and he seemed a bit addled to me.)

So I am not saying I think that these ceremonies are a bad thing. What troubled me was the lack of qualification of the participants. In the traditional culture, you would be talking to an audience who understood a lot about the context. I presume that for tantric visualization ceremonies, you would basically be addressing monastics who really lived the practice already. Here we have a casual audience, who have been attracted by word of mouth, living in our modern electronic culture, trying out all kinds of different ideas. One minute it's Tibetan Buddhism, the next - who knows? That is what concerned me.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:51 am


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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby kirtu » Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:22 am



"Even if you practice only for an hour a day with faith and inspiration, good qualities will steadily increase. Regular practice makes it easy to transform your mind. From seeing only relative truth, you will eventually reach a profound certainty in the meaning of absolute truth."
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Konchog1 » Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:37 am

Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Feb 06, 2013 11:25 am

Yes, that is very much what I imagine the requirements must be like. I wouldn't consider myself a candidate without considerable preparation.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby kirtu » Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:40 pm



"Even if you practice only for an hour a day with faith and inspiration, good qualities will steadily increase. Regular practice makes it easy to transform your mind. From seeing only relative truth, you will eventually reach a profound certainty in the meaning of absolute truth."
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby dakini_boi » Wed Feb 06, 2013 8:47 pm

Garchen Rinpoche, who gives empowerments through webcast, says that when you generate bodhicitta, that is the empowerment.

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Grigoris » Wed Feb 06, 2013 10:15 pm

The only "official requirement" at any of the empowerments I have received thus far is refuge.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Feb 06, 2013 11:26 pm

But you also have right aspiration. Presumably you're not engaged in it in order to attain magical powers.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:30 am


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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Ramon1920 » Thu Feb 07, 2013 1:34 am

Empowerments are often given to lots of unqualified people, it doesn't mean they receive the empowerment. Lots of people attend, but their views are so twisted they don't get the empowerment.

Isolate yourself from fair weather practitioners, you don't need friends that treat something so serious as a game. You can come back for them when you're strong enough to not be corrupted. That's my attitude now and I've avoided a lot of grief this way.

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Grigoris » Thu Feb 07, 2013 9:05 am

"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Feb 07, 2013 9:50 am

There is a verse that is commonly recited to generate aspiring bodhicitta in most jenangs and wangs near the beginning of the empowerment. Then the verse of actually taking the bodhisattva vows appears.
In the Gelug tradition a portion of the bodhisattvacaryavatara is used. I have never seen an initiation text that doesn't include those verses.

I am curious how different lamas do it because for example Geshe Sonam always insists that this verse is an integral part of the ritual. He says if people want to participate in the less heave jenangs or tsewangs (like White Tara) but not actually take the vows, the can generate the bodhisattva aspiration, but will not receive the full impact of the ceremony.

I know Lama Zopa Rinpoche sometimes for example excuses people from taking the actual Bodhisattva vows if they want to take the blessing as well.

I'm just interested in how it is being done these days. The traditional view AFAIK was that there was no tantra without Bodhisattva vows but of course in a non-Buddhist society in the West especially with well known teachers you might have different ways of accomodating people.

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Grigoris » Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:01 am

I've never "officially" taken Bodhisattva vows and have received many empowerments.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Vajratantrika » Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:07 am

Some of the benefits of tantric empowerments are...

1) being granted permission from a Dorje Lopön (Vajra Master) to practice the specific sadhana(s) associated with a particular tantra.

2) receiving an accurate description of the sadhana, and often of the cycle of tantra the sadhana is associated with.

3) receiving the transmission of (and instruction in) any related mantras, mudras, visualizations, etc. associated with the sadhana from someone who is both knowledgeable and attained in the practice (i.e. the Dorje Lopön).

4) taking the samayas (which will include Refuge and Bodhisattva vows and if the practice is part of the Yoga Tantra or Annuttara Yoga Tantra class, also the Tantric vows. This may be different with Nyingmapas and Dzogcehnpas. I do not know for sure. I am speaking here from a Jonangpa perspective, but I believe it is similar with Gelugpas, Sakyapas and Kagyupas as well)

There are many other aspects which could be indicated, and they are all important and beneficial, yet it seems that the primary significance of receiving an empowerment is to be able to subsequently engage in the associated sadhana for the benefit of all beings.

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Re: The significance of empowerments

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:46 am

I don't doubt any of that but the question I raised was about the efficacy of empowerments received via the Internet by modern urban people with little background in Buddhism. So the question is more about Buddhism in the modern world.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi


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