Empowerments: A Wealth of Blessings

Since mid-February 2016, Rinpoche has been in the misty mountains of Takila, Bhutan, conferring the Rinchen Terdzö empowerments (wangs) to thousands of practitioners, many of whom have given up their routines and their livelihoods to live for months in tents in harsh conditions. Hailstorms and heat, rainbows and talking ravens are commonplace in this unpredictable environment. All day long, Rinpoche’s voice echoes across the valleys that extend from this part of northern Bhutan into Tibet. By the end of the empowerments, he will have spoken for more than a thousand hours. Many of the participants have come out of lifelong retreat to receive the wangs. Dignitaries who have come to receive blessings include the 5th king and the prime minister of Bhutan, representatives of the official monk body, and many others.

This massive event is organized by the Druk Oddiyana Foundation, Khenpo Karpo Rinpoche, and hundreds of hard-working monks, who are preparing and distributing thousands of offerings and substances, as well as performing rituals and compiling the materials for participants. The ceremonies also depend on the generosity of many patrons, who have sponsored the empowerments as well as the lunch and tea for all participants.

Rinpoche’s commitment to meticulously completing these ceremonies is part of his lifelong dedication to preserving lineages  and ensuring that authentic Buddhadharma will be available for future generations—the mission of Khyentse Foundation. Just as Rinpoche received the empowerments from his own root guru, Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and his grandfather Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, a small group of tulkus from different lineages are receiving the empowerments so that one day they may confer them on their own disciples.

To learn more about Rinchen Terdzö, read articles by Tsoknyi Rinpoche and by Dudjom Rinpoche’s disciple Gyatrul Rinpoche.  An informative handbook was distributed in Takila, with articles about the purpose of empowerment and the importance of samaya vows. Here are some excerpts.

The ultimate goal of all traditions of Buddhism is the same: to enable practitioners to become fully enlightened. But the difference between all the skillful means and methods to reach that goal are as vast as the earth and the sky. One of the methods specific to tantric Buddhism is receiving empowerments from a realized master. Empowerment is a skillful means to ripen the seed of our Buddhanature while exposition fully liberates and textual transmission supports both ripening and liberation of the Buddhanature. It is believed that without having proper empowerments, one cannot visualize, recite mantra, and otherwise complete the deity practices. If one practices without the required transmission, the Dharma protectors may send obstacles to the practitioner, including shortened life spans and loss of worldly goods, even loss of sanity. So it is said that one should never practice a tantric sadhana without receiving the empowerment (Tibetan: wang), a reading of the text by an authorized holder of the practice (Tibetan: lung), and instruction on how to perform the practice or rituals (Tibetan: tri). Many tantric texts say that practicing tantra without empowerment is like wishing to find oil in a sack of sand.

On the positive side, if one receives empowerments and complete teachings from a realized master and practices accordingly, it is said the practitioner will be born as a bodhisattva with the ten endowments and the ten wealths of Dharma and will continue on the path to liberation with great joy and happiness. Tantric texts also explain that just by receiving the tantric empowerment and not transgressing and vows and pledges will result in the ability to fully achieve enlightenment within three or seven life times.

But what is empowerment? An empowerment is a ritual in Vajrayana which initiates a student into a particular tantric deity practice. The Tibetan word for this is wang, which literally translates to power. The Sanskrit term is abhiseka, which literally translates to sprinkling or bathing or anointing. A tantric practice is not considered effective or as effective until a qualified master has transmitted the corresponding power of the practice directly to the student. This may also refer to introducing the student to the mandala of the deity.

Empowerment is a powerful means to purify the four main defilements or two obscurations, it destroys obscurations and transforms the practitioner into a pure vessel in order to contain the blessings of the Tantric teachings. After receiving empowerments or transmission one must abide by the vows or Vajra pledges taken, which is known as the samaya. Samaya is like the life force of the empowerment and without observing samaya, the possibility of attaining siddhi remains like a dead body that cannot move due to absence of life force. In many tantric texts samaya is said to be as important as the empowerment itself.