I dont know if you guys are still interested in the issue of recorded empowerments, but since I still find the matter disturbing (one reason being that I have watched them in order to get initiation) i tried ones more to get some unambigious information. Well I got "something", but i already say that it may not completly settle this thing.
I have been emailing lately with Gar drolma sanghas Mel, who has been very kindly and patiently answering my questions regarding the recorded empowerments. First of all, I asked two questions: In which occasion Garchen has said that recorded intiations are valid for receiving initiation?
Second: Why Garchen believs that recordings are acceptable way of receiving initiation (whats the “mechanism” behind receiving empowerment from recording)?
I got following answer. Its going to be bit long but I have highlighted most important things
"The conversation first started before Garchen Rinpoche's retreat at Gar Drolma in the spring of 2013. This is the retreat in which he gave the 13 Empowerments one weekend and Chakrasamvara on another weekend. It was the first time we had ever planned on streaming so we had to discuss with Rinpoche if it was even okay to do so. It was a two part question: 1. Is it okay to live stream Empowerments and do students receive the Empowerment if they aren’t physically present? 2. Is it okay to keep the Empowerment recordings out there and will students who watch them in the future be able to receive the Empowerment? Garchen Rinpoche said yes to both questions. He also went on to say that if there is some sort of disruption in the video or sound that as long as you maintain mindfulness and the visualization there is no problem. Also, he stated to think of the samaya and that all deities are bodichitta and receive the Empowerment. After receiving the Empowerment an individual does not have the permission to give an Empowerment or transmission.
Rinpoche never said why he believes this is possible. He has stated that he meditates so much because his students always need him. He tried to explain to me that when he meditates it’s like he is part of endless ocean of beings and he can feel student’s needs like ripples or turbulence in the water. When he is in mediation is able to open his mind to those who need him. I don’t know for sure but it may be something related to that since it involved sharing his mind-stream.
My overall take from nearly two years of addressing these questions to Rinpoche and Khenpo is that it is possible to receive an Empowerment from both live stream and/or recordings but that every person may not be able to do so. It might be safe to say that if you don’t think you can you certainly won’t. It seems that having a strong connection to the teacher giving the Empowerment is important. I also think that it’s worth stating that Garchen Rinpoche doesn’t offer these without any consideration. There are practices he won’t record or stream. When he was here this year he did practice that wasn’t to be recorded or streamed. I know at the Garchen Institute there is no recording or streaming of Yamantaka. I believe after being one of Garchen Rinpoche’s students for many years that I could receive a recorded Empowerment from him. I’m not so sure I could from a teacher I didn’t know or wasn’t familiar with. (Not that you were looking for my personal
I hope this is of some benefit. I have read some forums on this topic and I’m not so sure the debate will ever end. Different Lamas have varying instructions for their students and I think that is okay and really a good thing because of our different capacities. I’m not sure there is a right and wrong answer because what works for one may not work for another. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Many blessings & may all beings benefit,
Dayton, OH "
I do think that its safe to say that garchen has indeed stated that recordings are “legit”.
So I made my own conclusion from all this. The recordings can work, but not in the way we (or at least I) first thought.
What I believe is happening is that recording itself cannot bestow anything to you, but you can still get initiation anyway. If you are familiar with Garchen Rinpoche and have very strong devotion to him (and possibly some prior dharma connection to him due to previous initiations and transmissions) you make connection to his mind stream by thinking of him. Because garchen is able to sense the needs of student in meditation, he at that moment knows that some sentient being in somewhere wants initiation from him, so he opens his mind to that individual. So there is the connection to lama and student. Then, because you are doing the visualizations and prayers along the recorded video, Garchen is able to do he’s Vajrayana thing from his side and so you get initiation.
So notice that the video itself does not give anything to you, but tells you what to visualize, what to pray and so on.
This probably sounds too incredible, but that’s really only explanation that I can come up with. And even this has its own problems: Because this is internet, anyone can watch those videos anywhere and anytime. In order to ensure that everybody gets initiation, Garchen should stay in meditation 24/7. And surely even he has to do things that are not related to dharma, for example sleeping and eating. How does one know that right now Garchen is able to open his mind?
I also asked if Garchen intended these reocrdings to everyone, not just he’s students. According to Mel, Garchen intended them for everyone:
"I had an additional conversation with Khenpo Samdup this past Sunday about it. He stated that you really can't say who can or should watch it or who cannot or should not. He said it is like the story of Shantideva when the monks wanted him kicked out of Nalanda University because they didn't think he was worthy of being there. A person can't perceive another's level of realization by any sort of outward analysis. So he said that Rinpoche puts them out there for everyone because there are still blessings to be gained even if a person is not able to receive the empowerment itself. Like if a young child or an infant would sit in on an empowerment there would be much benefit but I wouldn't actually receive the empowerment because of his or her current level of understanding. Rinpoche certainly wouldn't agree to put anything out there that could be harmful to one's practice."
This message kind of message, however, seems to imply that you have to have some sort of siddhis to get initiation form Garchen recording.
So my conclusion is that maybe its possible to get initiation from Garchens recordings if 1:he happens to be in meditation at the time you are wathing recording 2: He is able to sense you and your needs.
But certainly nothing is quaranteed unless there is strong devotion.