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21 Tara | Naga Puja | The Benefits of Offering the Naga Vase | White Tara | Dzambhala | Mahakala Puja


Empowerments are rituals that have unique significance in the Vajrayana tradition. According to H.H. 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje, “The main point of them is that the student gets a dharma connection to the lama and a respective Buddha aspect.”

In the Vajrayana context, there exist countless numbers of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Though they all possess and share the same enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities, in order to aid our practices, we have created them to be embodiments and representations of specific aspects of the awakened mind. For example, Amitabha Buddha represents limitless light and the Medicine Buddha represents healing; Dorje Sempa embodies purification, Chenrezig is compassion, and Manjushri is wisdom; Mahakala is the aspect of protection on the Dharma path and Kurukulle is the magnetizing activity of the enlightened mind.

In order to develop each of these aspects, specific deity practices such as pujas, prayers, and mantras can be performed. To be able to do these practices effectively, we receive empowerments that create a direct connection to these enlightened aspects. In an empowerment, the seed of an aspect of enlightenment is planted in the consciousness. That seed is then cultivated through regular practice. The aspect of enlightenment then develops until it reaches full realization and bears fruit, and when all the different aspects of the bodhicitta mind reach this state of fruition, enlightenment is reached. This is the essence and ultimate goal of Vajrayana.

Technically, only one such empowerment is needed because each deity already possesses all the enlightened qualities and aspects of true Buddha nature. However, because of all the obscurations and delusions the human mind possesses, it is quite difficult for humans to fully understand what it means to have such an all encompassing nature. It is usually easier for the human mind to just think of separate deities and practices.

Having said this, there are three requirements that are fulfilled in each empowerment: wang, lung, and tri. Wang is the empowerment itself, lung is the oral transmission by an authorized holder of the practice, and tri is the giving of instruction on how to perform the practice. Wang opens the gateway to the practice, lung shows the
path and practice beyond it, and tri reveals how to navigate that path to liberation.

The main ritual of empowerment has four parts which prepare and purify those receiving the empowerment: the vase empowerment, the secret empowerment , the knowledge-wisdom empowerment, and the word empowerment. The vase empowerment purifies the obscurations of the body. This allows the practice of the development stage, visualization of the deity, and results in the attainment of Nirmanakaya, the manifestation body of the Buddha. The secret empowerment purifies speech to prepare us for mantra recitation and gives the attainment of Sambhogakaya, the radiant bliss body of the Buddha. The knowledge-wisdom empowerment is for purification of the mind to help us attain Dharmakaya, the truth body of Buddha. The word empowerment purifies the habits and tendencies that are the root of dualistic perception, leading to attainment of Svabhavakaya, the Vajra body which is the union of the first three bodies.

In receiving empowerments, a samaya bond, a spiritual connection between guru and disciple, is created between the teacher giving the empowerment and the practitioner receiving it. It is essential, then, to clearly discern which teachers one is willing to have this connection with. In this kind of samaya bond, ideally there is devotion for the guru and trust that the guru will be a guide and refuge until liberation is attained.

It is also important to remember that, as Karmapa teaches, “the extent to which the individual participant personally benefits from such empowerments depends on him and his practice.” Once one receives an empowerment, regular practice of the sadhana and mantra recitation is strongly recommended in order to maintain and strengthen the connection with the deity and for the seed that was planted in the consciousness to develop and bear fruit.

Receiving a lot of empowerments without the intention and commitment to practice leaves one with a collection of seeds that remain seeds. On the other hand, receiving just one empowerment with the commitment to practice it until enlightenment is reached will cause just one seed to develop into full realization.


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