There are three different vehicles in Buddhism: the Hinayana Path, The Mahayana Path and the Secret Mantra – Vajrayana Path. In order to enter the Secret Mantra – Vajrayana Path you have to receive empowerment (initiation).
Empowerment is the Vajrayana ritual which awakens the special capacity for primordial wisdom to arise in the mind of the disciple.
Empowerments can only be granted by qualified vajra masters and requires for the students receiving them to maintain the specific samaya (precepts), on the basis of the refuge and bodhisattva vows.
Can you make progress in Vajrayana without empowerment?
If you are motivated by the sincere wish to transform yourself so that you will be able to benefit others, you should receive the empowerment. It is important to have a dedicated attitude. In fact, according to Buddhist psychology, unless you dedicate yourself to others, you will never be satisfied. Instead you will be bored and lonely.
Fourteen root downfalls
In one of the most widely followed teachings on samaya, Sakya Pandita, a preeminent 12th century Tibetan Buddhism scholar, outlined fourteen primary points of observance to consider in keeping one’s samaya vow “pure”.
1. Disrespecting the vajra master.
2. Transgressing the words of the buddhas.
3. Insulting one’s vajra brothers and sisters.
4. Abandoning love for sentient beings.
5. Abandoning the bodhichitta in aspiration or application.
6. Criticizing the teachings of the sutras and tantras.
7. Revealing secrets to those who are unworthy.
8. Mistreating one’s body.
9. Rejecting emptiness.
10. Keeping bad company.
11. Failing to reflect on emptiness.
12. Upsetting those who have faith in the teachings.
13. Failing to observe the samaya commitments.
14. Denigrating women.
To receive empowerment or initiation is a big deal. Lama Tsongkhapa emphasizes that during initiation we should go slowly: penetrating, meditating, concentrating. We shouldn’t be too concerned if our meditation during an initiation seems to be only at the level of imagination and not the actual experience.
“To exert yourself in study and so forth without attending a master and without having received the empowerments, you will have no result and your efforts will be wasted. Empowerment is the entrance to the Secret Mantra. To enter the Secret Mantra without the empowerments being conferred is pointless, since it will yield no result and your stream of being will be ruined.”
The great Lotus Born Buddha, Padmasmbhava, in a teaching to the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal answered her direct question: “Withouth receiving empowerment from one’s teacher, will one attain accomplishment or not?”
When do I need the empowerment?
Within the Vajrayana teachings the giving of empowerments is a particularly special thing. The empowerment is like a seed planted on the path. This seed bears fruit and that’s the result of our practice.
If you want to enter a secret teaching of Vajrayana such as Six Yogas of Naropa (including Tummo!), Heruka and Vajrayogini.
Empowerment does not mean that a teacher gives you some incredible magic powers. The practitioner already has all the needed qualities within himself; empowerment activates the qualities of profound wisdom and great bliss.
Everything depends on you. Without your devotion and practice, no instructions will help you to progress on the path.
Lama Yeshe explains the four initiations:
“As you come to understand the process of tantric initiation, you will discover the real meaning of tantra. The initiation process, in fact, embodies the actual experience of the stages of tantric realization, from the beginning right up to the stage of mahasiddha attainment. The vase initiation emphasizes evolutionary yoga practice, the secret initiation emphasizes the illusory body, the wisdom initiation emphasizes clear light wisdom, and the word empowerment emphasizes the unity of the fully developed illusory body and clear light. The Six Yogas of Naropa explain exactly how to approach this realization of the word empowerment, which is the experience of full enlightenment”
So there are four types of empowerment. There is the vase empowerment, secret empowerment, wisdom-knowledge empowerment and the word empowerment or mahamudra empowerment. The reason of having four types of empowerment is to remove the body’s impurities and defilements and to purify and liberate oneself from physical illusions one needs the empowerment of the vase. So when one has received this empowerment of the body and purified all the bodily illusions, one is empowered to practise the development stage.
The secret empowerment relates to speech and this purifies all the illusions of speech. Within the body there are many types of wind. Based on the wind is speech. Having received the secret empowerment which is related to speech and the winds, one is empowered to practise what they call channel and wind and secret drop practices, such as trulkor and breathing exercises and so on. So we can do the vase breathing as demonstrated.
The wisdom empowerment is related to the mind, and this purifies the obscurations and illusions of mind. One is empowered to do the practice of bliss and emptiness.
The fourth empowerment is that of the word or mahamudra. It’s like talking or pointing out instructions with the words. But the meaning is mahamudra. So then one practises with the essence of one’s mind. This is the complete removal of all of the mental illusions. So there are these four types of empowerments. If you want to reduce all the empowerments into just one, it will be the last one, which is the word or mahamudra empowerment.
In the Secret Mantra Vehicle, there can be no accomplishment without empowerment,
For that would be like a boatman without oars.
Two causes and four conditions are necessary
Two causes and four conditions are necessary for an empowerment to fully take place:
1. The associated cause (mtshung ldan gyi rgyu) is the presence of the buddha nature
2. The cooperative cause (lhan cig byed pa’i rgyu) is the use of various substances (rdzas) during the empowerment, such as the vase, image cards and so forth.
1. The causal condition (rgyu’i rkyen) is the disciple who has faith and intelligence
2. The dominant condition (bdag rkyen) is the teacher who is fully qualified
3. The objective condition (dmigs rkyen) is the teacher’s knowledge of the empowerment, deities, and mantras, and samadhi
4. The immediate condition (de ma thag rkyen) is the previous phase or empowerment, since each phase prepares the student for what follows, and that is why empowerments must be given in the proper sequence.