I acted on the message I received in 2007 (i.e. ‘Go to the Gelug Temple’) in response to my prayers to H. H. Penam Rinpoche when I was experiencing a spiritual crisis after learning about the history between the Gelug and Jonang lineages that occurred back in the 17th century. Yet again, through the kindness and wisdom of this great Lama whom I have never met in person, I was skillfully guided on a path that led me towards more fully engaging in Dharma practice.
I knew from previous research that there was a local Gelug center here in Atlanta called Drepung Loseling. In fact, back in December of 2001 I was present for the construction of a sand mandala created by the monks of Drepung Loseling and dedicated to peace and protection (this was just three months after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York). The sand mandala painting was hosted at Sensua Gallery (a local art gallery, now defunct). So while I knew about the existence of Drepung Loseling from this event, I never actually visited the center itself. That was about to change.
I found the website for Drepung Loseling. I read through some of the basic information and also checked their calendar of events. I noticed that H. E. Sharpa Choeje Rinpoche was in town and was offering a Vajrasattva empowerment. This was in April of 2007. I registered for the Vajrasattva empowerment, which was just a few days away.
The lessons started before I even got to the empowerment. In fact, getting there was a lesson in itself because the night before I had a previous commitment with a group of friends which lasted into the wee hours. The empowerment was at 10 AM and I woke up around 9:30 fighting my sleepy mind and getting ready as fast as I could to drive over to the center. Needless to say I was a bit late. I found out afterwards what I actually missed. It was the opening section of the ritual where the students are led through a purification/cleansing and do prostrations before the Vajra Master. When I arrived the rest of the students had just reseated themselves in the main room and Rinpoche was about to start the next section. Feeling quite embarrassed and annoyed with myself about my lack of time management skills, I entered the room and quietly found an open seat. I tried to clear my mind and let go. I didn’t want the experience of my tardiness to distract me from the rest of the empowerment. I looked at Rinpoche sitting on the Dharma Throne. He had such a kind face. I could literally feel rays of compassion, love, and wisdom emanating from him. This put me at ease. I settled down – humbled and attentive.
A basic outline of a Vajrasattva empowerment follows (any mistakes or omissions are mine alone). Please note, while Vajrasattva practice is well known in Tantric Buddhist circles and is one of the ‘preliminary practices’ (ngondro), it is still considered a tantric practice and therefore details of the empowerment and sadhana are usually reserved for those who have received the empowerment from a qualified Lama. Yet this particular empowerment is not so secret. In fact there are published teachings on the subject by Lama Thubten Yeshe, Founder of the FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition), a well respected and loved Lama (see, for instance, Becoming Vajrasattva – The Tantric Path of Purification, Wisdom Publications, 2004). I merely provide a very general outline of the empowerment ritual, not any of the specific details or instructions. Nor do I provide any specifics about the Vajrasattva sadhana itself, though variations of it are publicly available.
- Vajra Master offers Torma cakes to appease hindering spirits
- Vajra Master generates the vajra ‘wheel’, or ‘tent’ over initiates for protection during empowerment
- Initiates perform cleansing ritual
- Initiates perform prostrations before Vajra Master
- Initiates perform formal request to Vajra Master to receive the empowerment
- Initiates take refuge vows, and bodhisattva vows
- Meditative absorption\dissolution (emptiness)
- Vajra Master guides initiates in self-generating as Vajrasattva
- Varja Master leads guided meditation on Vajrasattva
- Empowerment into the body of Vajrasattva
- Empowerment into the speech of Vajrasattva
- Empowerment into the mind (heart) of Vajrasattva
- Empowerment into the 100 syllable mantra of Vajrasattva
- The flower garland offering
- Dissolving Vajrasattva into your heart
I’m no stranger to ritual or initiation, but this was my first time receiving a Vajrayana empowerment. It was an extremely powerful experience for me. I studied public texts of tantric initiations and had some previous knowledge of what to expect, yet as we know, the map is definitely not the territory. Reading about something such as a Vajrayana empowerment can never replace actually receiving one from a Vajra Master. It is the difference between a dead snake and a live snake.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity of receiving this empowerment from H. E. Sharpa Choeje Rinpoche. This was the first time I formally took Refuge Vows, Bodhisattva Vows and received a tantric level initiation (though Sharpa Choeje Rinpoche explained that he did not lead us to take Tantric Vows for this).
I began a daily sadhana for the Meditation and Recitation of Solitary Vajrasattva.
Continued in part 6…