Best resource on empowerment details
Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 8:17 am
I've been going over posts on this site, and Malcolm's posts on the details of empowerment (what's actually going on, the requirements for a valid one, etc.) are the best I've ever read. Are there any good books or other resources out there that explain empowerments to the same level of detail? Specifically, I'm looking for something that someone (myself) can read before I actually receive my first empowerment, to understand them better.
Re: Best resource on empowerment details
Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 8:22 am
I'm not talking about the details of particular empowerments. I'm talking about the very concept of an empowerment itself, the foundation of all the varying practices. His posts addressed concepts like what makes any empowerment valid, the mandalas of the empowerment, the role of logic/faith in considering their validity or power, etc.
Re: Best resource on empowerment details
Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2019 7:59 pm
For the benefit of people here, I'll include a compilation of quotes from Malcolm (a former knowledgeable user who has left the site) on the details of empowerment I'm interested in. Everything below is a quote from one of his posts, sometimes with quotes within, except for titles I've added in bold.
Why (as he sees it) empowerment by video recording is not valid:
Yes, there is a difference, as I told you. For example, a master has to create the mandala: there is the master's creation of himself as the mandala, the front created mandala, the mandala in the vase and so on and so forth. Once the ritual has finished, all these mandalas and so on are dissolved so they do not exist anymore since they are not being maintained by the master's visualization, having been dissolved. I explained all of this already in the other thread on this point. Not only that, but the recording generally only covers the activities for the disciple. All the activities that the master has to do before conferring the empowerment are not recorded. Thus the recording is incapable of doing recreating these things since a recording has no mind, no volition and so on. Really, there is no chance a recorded empowerment can actually confer empowerment, it is just not possible.
On the role of critical inquiry in empowerment
Let us say some one claims "Oh, there is God in Buddhadharma, I heard my guru say so" and even goes so far as to find a quote where this or that guru says there is God in Buddhism. This does not mean that this is correct, or that there is fact the doctrine of God in Buddhadharma, or that we need to take that statement literally. Let us say for example, that someone claims "My guru says that there is no rebirth and no karma in Buddhism" and even goes so far as to find a quote where this or that guru says there is there is no rebirth and no karma in Buddhadharma. This does not mean that this is correct, or that there is fact no doctrine of rebirth and karma in Buddhadharma. This is why, in the end, even what one's guru says must be subjected to scrutiny, it must be measured against what is taught in the tantra and the authoritative opinions of masters of the past. If someone who one regards as a guru teaches something that does not correspond with Buddhadharma, one must ignore those statements. Since we subject all the Buddha's words to scrutiny, why should we not do the same with respect to what our gurus say? Why should we abandon our critical thinking merely because we think our guru is a Buddha? We should not. In particular, when confronted with novelties such as the assertion that people can receive empowerments from recordings of past empowerments, people must use common sense in addition to reason. Who is making this claim? Why is this claim being made?, and so on.
On what is actually going on during an empowerment
What the master visualizes and does before the empowerment does not show for the receiver either when he is present physically or when it is through a live broadcast. How is it any different for the person watching a recording? Whether the master followed the prescribed procedure to give the empowerment or not, it cannot be known by the receiver. Whatever is received by the disciple exists only as physical sensory perception, so anything beyond that does not have any role in receiving the empowerment. But if you say it does, then what and how?
That is not the point. The point is whether the rite is complete or not with all its parts. A master does a sadhana, creates a mandala, invites the students into that mandala and closes the mandala. If the master does not do the sadhana before hand, creating the mandala, even if he reads the portion of the initiation text meant create the students as the mandala, it won't happen. The master must be visualizing himself as that specific deity for which he is giving the empowerment having already properly performed the sadhana himself, before he can give the empowerment. Likewise, during the empowerment, the master must visualize all the students in the form the deity, he must summon the wisdom continuum of that deity to merge with the visualized form of the students he has visualized as the deity, make it firm, and then bestow the various blessings of body speech and mind will maintaining all of this visualization continuously. Also the student from their side must try their best to follow and do the described visualizations at the same time the master is doing them. Finally, and importantly, at the end of the ritual the master dissolves the mandala completely. Once he finishes his sadhana, the mandala has been dissolved. One cannot receive empowerment into a mandala that has been dissolved, just as one cannot enter a house that has been constructed and then dismantled. For example, while one can watch a video of a house being constructed and dismantled, one will never be able to enter that house at any time while one is watching the recording. If one the other hand you are there for the raising of the structure, you can enter the structure until it has been dismantled. Likewise, in terms of receiving an initiations, if you are present for the master's creation of the students as the mandala, then you can enter that mandala, but if you are not present in real time, then it does not work. Why? Because the master and the student have to be engaged at the same time in the process of the giving and receiving the empowerment, they have to be in the mandala together. This is impossible with a recording.
[He recommends reading Clear Differentiation of the Three Sets of Vows by Sakya Pandita for more info. Have yet to find a good translation...]
On the mandalas of the empowerment
For the purposes of an empowerment there are three kinds: a drawn mandala, a powder mandala and a body mandala. With respect to the first two, there is a procedure of setting out the mandala, i.e. preparing the site, laying it out, coloring it and so on. With respect to the last it is based completely on the samadhi of the master conferring the empowerment, whereas the other two are supports for the samadhi of the master, but primarily as a aid to students of lesser capacity. Whichever the case may be, the mandala is in any case created and then dissolved at the end of the rite. After that it is up to the students to do the daily practice themselves. So for example, the Vajrakilaya empowerment you attended with HHST has been dissolved — it no longer exists in that space, in that place. The minute HHST was done with the rites of conferring the empowerments, he began to finish the Ganapuja (empowerments are actually a branch of ganapuja activities), offer tormas and in the end he dismissed the wisdom beings in the front created mandala and the vase mandala and dissolved his self-creation thus ending the rite completely apart from the dedication of merits, aspirations and benedictory prayers. The only sense in which we can say that mandala continues is in the mandala of students who attended the empowerment. But until you yourself do the retreats, and so on, you cannot give that empowerment to someone else. That mandala does not exist on the video as a living entity. It cannot practice the sadhana, it also cannot grant empowerment, etc. The misconception which ... has is the notion that an empowerment is merely communicating information received through the five senses, thus for him there is no difference between an empowerment and a recording of an empowerment, it is merely information. While it is true that information is being communicated through the five sense, that is not all that is happening, there are samadhis involved on the part of both the master and the students at the same time, there is the dependent origination which needs to be actively created between the master and the student at the same time, particularly in the lower empowerments; there are the samaya vows conferred and received and the agreement to follow them.
On requirements for conferring an empowerment
In this case, the master must do his job, before the disciple can do their job, and if the master has finished the empowerment and dissolved the mandala, it is too late. You say it is the rite that matters, and it can be completed only when both the master and the student works together at the same time. But isn't the very point of performing the rite is to benefit the disciple? The question then is how the presence of the master and what he visualises affects the disciple. How can one enter a mandala that is mentally created by another? At the most basic level, it is simply a question of procedure: in order for a master to confer an empowerment, he must first create himself in the form of that mandala or deity, as well as create a front-created mandala or deity (from which one actually receives the empowerment) before he can introduce students to that mandala in the form of a series of guided visualizations, which he does through a series of verbal instructions and visual cues, which include mantras and mudras. If the steps above are not taken, no empowerment will be have been conferred. That is just how it is. For example, if on an assembly line you do not assemble the parts in the proper way, your product will not work. So it is with an empowerment: if the procedures of the ritual are not carried out properly and in their correct order, the empowerment will not be valid. If the master conferring the empowerment has not himself received the empowerment, the empowerment will not be valid. If he has not done the basic retreats, or at least received permission from his own guru to give the empowerments, the empowerment will not be valid, and the master will himself have broken his own samaya regarding revealing secrets to those who have not been ripened by empowerment (you may ask whether I am breaking samaya by discussing this — the answer is no, because I am not discussing specific details of Vajrayāna practice). If he omits parts of the ritual of the empowerment, the empowerment will not only not be valid, it will not have taken place at all. Empowerments are very precise formula of ritual procedures which are designed to give transmissions into very specific practices in a structured way. Thus if the structure of the empowerment is violated, the transmission does not happen. Therefore, the idea that a recording of a mere part of an empowerment (the activities for disciples) can serve as an empowerment is a deeply mistaken idea on the part of anyone who holds it. Not only will there be no master conferring the empowerment; since there is no master, the conditions for the creation of the mandala/deity are absent, thus there is no mandala/deity. If there is no mandala/deity, there is nothing into which the student may be initiated. Therefore, the empowerment depends on the creation of the mandala/deity, the mandala/deity depends on the samadhi of the master, and the master's ability to confer the empowerment itself depends two things: a) he himself has received the transmission and b) he has either done the retreats for that practice or been commanded by his own guru to confer the transmission. In addition there are ten things a master must know to be qualified to give empowerments. This can be looked up elsewhere.
On the general role of logic and inference in empowerment (with authorities):
I think I understand that for empowerment to happen the described procedures have to be followed, as that is the definition of what an empowerment is. Similarly to marriage that is defined in a specific way by the law, and regardless of how people live or what they do, they are not married as long as the correct procedure was not followed. However, people can do the same things both with and without a marriage certificate. That is, one can still live together and have children without marriage, while it is said that without empowerment one cannot practise Vajrayana effectively. So, the disciple must obtain something during empowerment that makes him different from the uninitiated. That is why I first of all try to analyse from the perspective of the receiver and ask the question of what is transmitted from master to student. Everything delivered through the five senses can be obtained from a recording as well. The methods of the practice and the precepts to follow can also be learnt from other sources. What makes the recipient of a correctly performed empowerment different from the one who did not receive it when they both engage in the same practice and uphold the same precepts? Is it perhaps related to the knowledge that "I have the empowerment" in the former that is missing from the latter person?
The difference between the former and the latter is that the former is a like a field that has been tilled, fertilized and planted; whereas the latter is like field that has not been tilled, has not been fertilized and not been planted. A person who has received an empowerment is termed "ripened", whereas those who have not received empowerments are termed "unripened." If one has not been ripened, one is not a candidate for the liberating instructions. And as I have written elsewhere, logic and inference are not authorities in Vajrayāna, scripture is. The Abhibodhikramopadeśa of Master Āryadeva states:
At the time of the ultimate view of secret mantra,
the direct perception by the mind and sense organs
as well as inferences are not authorities;
the profound scriptures and intimate instructions are authorities.
This being the case, the Mahāmudratilaka Tantra states:
There is no siddhi for one who lacks empowerment,
just there is no butter from churning sand.
If one pridefully expounds the tantras and agamas
immediately upon death master and disciple
go to hell even if siddhi has been attained.
So, you see, for Vajrayāna the issue of proper empowerments is not really something that depends on reason and inference. It depends on scripture and intimate instructions. And understanding that intellectuals might argue with such ideas, again Aryadeva writes in the Abhibodhikramopadeśa:
In evil future times,
without relying on profound scriptures and intimate instructions,
those who prioritize the twin reasonings of validation and proofs
will each grasp their own philosophy as sublime;
satisfied with a mere hidden meaning
and without any interest in the ultimate profound view,
again they make refutations,
destroying themselves and others.
So when it comes to Secret Mantra, the tantras are the definitive authority. Also the rites must be properly performed, as the The Great Commentary Tantra of the Mayajala states:
Akaśagarbha, you should listen!
All of the tantras like mine
endowed with nondual wisdom,
like wishfulfilling gems, wish-granting trees
and excellent vases
are proper places for devotion.
Even one [tantra] has inconceivable power
through different methods,
yielding accomplishment in the same way.
However, there is no accomplishment with defective rituals.
This is why it is very important to understand and follow the proper ritual procedures if one is both a master of Vajrayāna as well as a student of Vajrayāna. One's very realization is at stake.
Requirements for receiving an empowerment:
All that is necessary to receive the empowerment is one) a guru with the lineage; two) interest in the practice; three) willing participation in the rite (as it is occurring), just as in any other kind of ordination rite.