Buddhism is divided into the Sutrayana and Tantrayana. Tantra is divided into empowerments and commentary. Initiation is the first stage, which is absolutely necessary. Not only that, according to Buddhism, all the empowerments have been passed down in an unbroken lineage from Buddha until today. Although one has a strong wish to practice tantra, without empowerment there will be no accomplishment. It is like squeezing sand to get oil. There are two parts of empowerment, the activities of the guru and the disciple. There are the preliminary activities performed by the guru alone. This morning I have done the generation of the deity, the accumulation of merit, and the removal of obstacles, by giving the ritual offering cake to those who might obstruct the empowerment.
There are the outer obstructions of spirits and inner obstructions of afflictive emotions. One should visualize both have been removed with the offering cake. Next is the verse performing the purification. Here the guru gives you some water to purify the three poisons. Water by nature is clean and removes dirt. Likewise we are going to receive the empowerment and we should visualize it cleaning the container that the empowerment is going to be placed in. If you buy food, you will clean a vessel before you put the food in it. Likewise, we should visualize ourselves being cleansed or else the empowerment will be weakened. The visualization process is like this. Visualize Vajrasattva on your crown. When you taste the water, visualize white nectar running through your body and cleansing all the negativities and defilements and then it comes out of your pores and bottom and your body becomes clear as crystal. When the water is poured on your palm, drink most of it a wipe your hand on your crown. The water fills your body and overflows your crown.
Whatever activity one engages in one should have the proper motivation. The way to cultivate proper motivation is to rejoice that you have precious human birth and have decided to pursue the causes of happiness and not suffering. One should realize it is not easy to be born as a human. For many eons one must have held and kept the vows and practiced the six perfections in order to be born as a human. Just take a look in the difference in numbers between humans and other beings. Shariputra once asked about this. Buddha compared it to the dust on his fingernail versus the dirt of the Earth. By comparison humans are much more rare and the number of beings in the hungry ghost and hell realms are much more common than animals. Take the population of the world. The number of animals in a state is much greater than that.
The reason why we call this precious human life is that if we have a wish fulfilling gem, you can ask it for anything. In this life we have the possibility of eradicating all suffering and pursuing happiness by eliminating the causes for one and cultivating the causes of the other. Not only have I been born as a human being but I have encountered the teaching of the Buddha and the secret tantra, which allows you to attain enlightenment in one lifetime. This is the result of merit encountered in countless lives. Not only have you met a Buddhist teacher, you also have faith. You have to make use of that by utilizing the teachings, by hearing, contemplating, and meditating on them. If you have a wish fulfilling jewel and never use it, what is the use of it? Similarly if you have a human life and don’t use it for the dharma. Although you have a human life, it is impermanent and some day will be destroyed. So you must make an effort to practice the dharma. So Milarepa said, before it is too late resolve to practice the dharma. When you are reborn as an animal even if a Buddha appears in front of you and teaches the mantra “om mani padme hum,” you will be unable to make use of it. Animals kill each other not realizing it is wrong and even if they are in this shrine room cannot discriminate the meaning of the teachings.
In order to cultivate an altruistic motivation, think this way. Think no being wants to suffer. They all want happiness. But they don’t know how to do it. We who have the good fortune to take this empowerment, will take the responsibility of helping all these beings. With that mind of helping all beings without exception is bodhicitta. It is important because we spin in cyclic existence because of our strong self cherishing thoughts and making distinction between self and other, friend and enemy, and developing attachment and aversion to them. In order to eliminate this, generate the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings. So the main cause of suffering is self cherishing thoughts. Buddhism does not only talk about suffering, it talks about happiness, the Pure Land, where not even the word suffering is uttered. This imperfect world can be transformed into a Pure Land by developing love and compassion for all others and if they do likewise. In this world they fight, kill and bomb in the name of peace. But the only stable peace comes through love and compassion. Instead of spending billions on arms, we could help poor countries. So the world would be happier. Now we lack the ability to create a happy world. But if we put love and compassion into action and make prayers, gradually the world will change. So ultimately it comes down to mind.
If our wild mind is tamed and we have attained inner peace, no external phenomena can harm us, because we have control over our minds. Let’s take the example of Tibet. China has transformed it into a prison. Although the prisoners are suffering like a hell realm, the Dalai Lama says those who have control over their minds are happy when they come out. Others without mind training would possibly go crazy from the treatment. For example Garchen Rinpoche said on the conventional level what the Chinese have done was done for his own sake. He was busy before he was imprisoned and prison gave him the chance to do intensive practice, as if he were in a retreat. So the way you approach a situation makes all the difference. I have met many prisoners like him. Those who have a strong intention to do the dharma practice are not depressed when they come out. Though they say they are kicked and beaten between times they can practice. For the past several years I have visited a prison in Florida. One guy was totally depressed, hating the government for being imprisoned. He told me the government was very bad and I don’t want my sons living in this country, and wished they could live in Tibet. When I listened to him I could sense the negativity. I told him that Tibet was part of the world and the freedoms here are much greater. Even the prisons are better. I taught him some techniques to change his view. The second year I returned and met the same guy. He told me he was happy and could spend his entire life in prison. I tell you his story to show that your mental attitude can change the entire world. So if you have a proper attitude with a good sense of your practice, external things don’t matter that much. So it is very important to have the right motivation. Think that today I have the blessing to receive this empowerment, but I receive it so I become enlightened for all sentient beings. That is the attitude you should take to the empowerment.
Initiations have lots of rituals. These are not the initiation. You have to make a connection with your mind. Mind is empty and clear. The blessing you receive is internal. How you can receive it is explained by two causes and four conditions. The first cause is the cause of similarity. The ultimate result is achieving the three bodies of buddhahood. The similarity in us to the nirmanakaya is that in our body we have hundreds of channels. The similarity to the sambhogakaya is the winds. The similarity to the dharmakaya is the drops. The similarity we have to the ultimate nature of mind is mind itself. So we have the full potential to become a buddha. The next cause is the innate cause. When the channels are purified, it creates the emanation body of the buddha through the vase initiation. Through the secret empowerment, one creates the seed of purified speech, the sambhogakaya. The wisdom initiation creates the seed of the purification of the drops and creates the cause of the dharmakaya. The fourth initiation, the word, creates the seed of achieving the svabhavakaya.
The first condition is the causal condition. In order to receive the initiation properly, the disciple must receive it willingly, with faith and respect. The fundamental condition is the lama’s ability to know the mental continuum of the disciple and the lama’s realization of emptiness, the lama’s bodhicitta and freedom from attachment to material gains. The empowerments must have come to him through and unbroken lineage from the deity who bestowed that practice. But I cannot say I have all these conditions. Humbly I can say I have received this initiation from an unbroken lineage and have done the practice. But if you form a relation by practicing I’m sure you will get a certain degree of blessings. All buddhas and bodhisattvas have pledged to help all sentient beings so if we practice there is no way they will abandon us. The objective condition is the visualization performed during the empowerment. The immediate condition is the initiation rite itself, the vase and the water, and so forth. So this completes the explanation.
Do you have any questions relating to the empowerment?
Q: Does the union initiation purify the speech?
A: It’s known as the the word initiation. Body speech and mind have been purified and the three kayas attained in the three previous initiations. Their union is purified in the last initiation. Some texts say all the defilements of body speech and mind are purified equally. There are various explanations but this is the resultant initiation of the true wisdom body.
We go to refuge because we realize we are suffering. Knowing we cannot free ourselves from it, we look to a guide. There are various levels of refuge. Some go to refuge to deities or spirits, or seek refuge in powerful governments, or our relatives and friends. But according to Buddhism these are not ultimate refuges. The reason why is that we need an object of refuge that is free of suffering. If they are not, they cannot liberate us from our suffering. Many bodhisattvas have attained freedom from suffering, but Shakyamuni Buddha is the core refuge. Although countless buddhas have appeared the teachings we have met in this life are Shakyamuni Buddhas, so he is our refuge. If we go to protection to him, he can save us. Why? Before Buddha became fully enlightened, he was a being like ourselves. In one life he was born in hell and cultivated bodhicitta. Because of this mind he was freed of the hell realm. He practiced for three eons and attained full enlightenment. He made a pledge never to abandon sentient beings and so he can help us. In a way we were unfortunate not to meet Shakyamuni in this lifetime. But we are fortunate to meet with his teachings by which we can attain the bhumis. So he has shown us the way to pursue happiness and eliminate suffering. His teachings are the second object of refuge, the dharma. The teachings of Buddha have been practices mainly by the sangha community. They have worked tirelessly to preserve these teachings, so we should also go to refuge to the sangha.
You may have a refuge to go to refuge for a fixed period like a month, but I think this is wrong. Rather you should go to refuge until enlightenment. Similarly I think it is mistaken to go to refuge for the sake of yourself alone or to avoid lower realms. So I think it is important to go to refuge for the sake of others, so you can help them in the most appropriate way. If you are hungry and someone feeds you you would appreciate it greatly. We should also be grateful for meeting the dharma and the teacher who transmits it. We have attained a tool that can lead us to the total liberation from samsaric existence. The refuge ritual contains the transformation of physical existence. The physical transmission is symbolized by cutting the hair. The speech is symbolized by reciting the mantra, and the mind by the meditation I will ask you to do. So we should all rejoice that we have met the teaching of the Buddha, which is like a blueprint to lead us to enlightenment. It is also the foundation for the other vows. So refuge is important. Having taken Buddha as our refuge, you are superior to external spirits and mundane gods so you should not go to refuge to them. Having gone to refuge in the dharma, you should refrain from harming others, but rather be helping them. Having gone to refuge in sangha, you should stay away from people engaging in negative activities and seek friends who will enhance your practice. So this is a short explanation of refuge.
Next I will explain the practice of Avalokiteshvara. He is the embodiment of the compassion of all the Buddhas. Wherever there is supreme compassion, he is there. When we see the awakened Buddha in ourselves, we don’t have to look for him externally. Ordinary states of defilement are transformed into the wisdom mind of the Buddha, so within ourselves we have the potential for becoming the Buddha. But it is up to us. Once one of Milarepa’s disciples told him that he must have engaged in many practices in previous lives to be so special. He replied that it’s very good you have such faith in me, but this is a greatly erroneous view. Forget about the merits I might have accumulated in the past. If I had not purified the negativities I had done earlier in my life, no doubt I would have been reborn in hell. So you can see me as the most ordinary person. You should think that my practice and the potential of any person has come together to achieve this wonderful result.
There are two kinds of generation stage practice, visualizing in front of oneself and self generation. In either case it is important to have a clear visualization. Here the visualization is external. You do not visualize the deity having an ordinary body of blood and flesh, but instead having a rainbow body. It is quite important to have the clarity of the visualization, but if when doing the practice you lose the clarity, don’t worry about that. Whether it is clear or dull, that is your mind. When reciting the mantra, instead of worrying and grasping at useless thoughts, if you have the conviction that the visualization is the true deity, with that divine pride you can recite the mantra. The seed syllable of Chenrezig is HRIH. It is surrounded by the six syllables of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM in the clockwise direction. In some practice one can visualize a lotus flower covered by a moon disk, on which the mantra syllables and HRIH stand. Verbally we are reciting the mantra. The visualization is the form of Chenrezig with the moon disk in his heart, surmounted by the mantra in the form of clear light, with the mantra rotating, and with light rays radiating rainbow light in the ten directions invoking the offering dakinis, and then you and the offering deities making offerings to Chenrezig and all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. They are overjoyed and the lights that you have extended to make the offering return in the form of bliss and wisdom qualities of all the buddhas which clarifies all your negativities. You are overjoyed that you have achieved all these qualities and can practice and help others through the four activities of pacifying, enriching, subduing and destroying. You radiate light rays so that you can share these qualities with all beings in the ten directions. The light rays blessed with the Buddhas’ qualities radiate to the lower realm of hell. When it touches them they are relieved from their sufferings and liberated. Likewise for the preta realm. And when the light rays reach the animal realm they are liberated from their sufferings. After benefiting sentient beings by radiating the light, bring it back and abide in placement meditation viewing all external beings are the deity, all sounds are mantra, and all thoughts are the display of wisdom.
OM is the head of most mantras and signifies good fortune. MANI symbolize the precious jewel. PADME symbolizes the lotus flower. And HUM is the invocation sound, which invokes the mind of Chenrezig. If the mantra is translated literally, it would be one who holds the crystal rosary and lotus. These symbolize the union of method and emptiness. What are the benefit of reciting the mantra? In one sutra Buddha says since our physical body contains millions if miniscule beings and they are all freed by hearing this mantra. Those who recite the mantra regularly even the form of them brings happiness to others. Anyone who recites this mantra every day is counted as one who practices the six paramitas and who has put a stop to lower rebirth and will gain the ordinary and supreme attainments, eradicate suffering and attain the qualities of the Buddha’s body speech and mind. If you recite it your body itself will become a source of merit for others, like a stupa. In Tibet we have Mani wheels turned by water. It eliminated the eight or sixteen different kinds of fears. In short, if one practices the mantra properly, it will lead you to the state of enlightenment, like Chenrezig. There are different varieties of the mantra. OM MANI PADME HUM is the medium length mantra. The short form is just the syllable HRIH. Some practices add the HRIH, so seven syllables are recited. Whatever the practice says is fine. If you have questions, I will answer.
Q: Is OM any deity’s seed syllable?
A: No, OM is the leader or head syllable.
Q: Does it matter how you pronounce the mantra?
A: We say “pay-may,” but you can recite it either way.
It may happen that you have a deep concentration in which all phenomena disappear. At that point if a thought appears and you grasp at it, it can destroy your meditation. Of course, the experience may be blissful, but if you grasp at it, it can obstruct your practice.
Q: Should we do shamatha meditation before doing Chenrezig practice?
A: Let’s just talk about the single pointed meditation. We are all beginners. When we don’t pay attention we don’t see how wild our minds are. When you sit down and try to practice you see how wild your mind is. In the Buddha’s time there were different techniques of meditation. But in Tibet we were instructed to concentrate on Buddhas image, particularly on the curl of hair between the eyebrows of the Buddha. In the beginning it is not easy. Without realizing it your mind will wander somewhere else. But with training we will realize immediately when your attention wanders and the object of meditation will appear clearly. When that happens, when you can hold your concentration for long periods of time and external phenomena disappear you can transfer this technique to watching your breath by using the syllables OM AH HUM on inbreath, retaining the breath, and outbreath. When you get quite good at that you can meditate without any kind of object. Since you have no object it is possible more thoughts appear. Now the training is letting them go without paying them any special attention. It is like thoughts are like waves and the mind is the sea. The waves are part of the sea, but the return back to it. Similarly thoughts are of the nature of mind and dissolve back into it. When meditation goes well you will experience extraordinary feelings of joy. If you grasp at them or try to repeat them, they will become obstacles to your practice. If you need help in meditation I can answer your question and help you.
Q: Is meditation on fearlessness a special technique?
A: The highest form of meditation is where you abide with the ultimate nature of mind. There is no fear there. At the more advanced levels of meditation your mind becomes clearer and physically your body becomes light. When these practices are joined with the practice of mahamudra, you understand the subtle sufferings of all beings and you develop immensely powerful compassion.