Explanation of Medicine Buddha Empowerment
the 19th of May 2006 in Helsinki, Finland
It's very nice to see you here again today. This afternoon it's my great pleasure to say a few words about the Medicine Buddha empowerment. So let's start this moment we share with a very fine motivation turning our loving care to all beings and dedicating our studies and understanding to them.
So, this afternoon we have the great fortune to receive the Medicine Buddha Empowerment from Akong Rinpoche. First just a few words about the empowerment itself. Sometimes in English we call it empowerment, sometimes we call it initiation. Both words are very relevant. Rinpoche himself has several times described the process as an initiation and it is like the first time that you are introduced to something.
So let's imagine you are going to learn wood carving for instance. And you turn up with the master wood carver's place and he shows you his tools, shows you round the workshop, and maybe gives you just couple of simple demonstrations. That's your first sort of glimpse of what it's all about. Then after that there is probably months or years of training or working with all those things until you acquire the skills. So initiation is really a first glimpse of a practice, the things that we are shown or the things we do. It refers to our first approach to the practice.
Then the other word, empowerment, is also very relevant. In Vajrayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism one needs three things in order to be able to practice. One needs empowerment, scriptural transmission and practice instructions. In Tibet those are called respectively wang, lung and tri. Empowerment is the wang. That is empowering as much as it is what we call the blessing. It comes through the lineage of transmission, which somewhere opens the door of practice and makes practice results possible. Without that transmission we do the technique but the results won't come properly. I think many people in the West in Buddhist centres have read Milarepa's life story, it's a most common thing. There is a very vivid example where after doing so much hard work he cracks and he runs away with help of his guru's wife! And he is cracking out because he is doing so much, but he is not getting the practice instructions he is longing for so deeply.
So his guru's wife, who feels really sorry for him, forges a letter saying it's from the guru to one of his main disciples saying: "This is Milarepa, please look after him and give him the instructions." Actually she was quite naughty because she, I could say, "borrowed" couple of precious relics from her husband and sent them along with the letter.
So he went to the other lama who was delighted to receive such a highly recommended student, and he sent him to retreat to practice and gave him the instructions. After some time he went to check out what kind of experiences Milarepa had achieved, and he started to feel there was something not quite right, because he was just not having the experiences he ought to have had, even he had been practising very hard.
So the transmission, the authorisation from a true lineage master is really what opens the door to practice. From that point of view the lineage is really the important thing. The lama who gives the empowerment is during the empowerment the very embodiment of this pure lineage that goes all the way back to the buddhamind, and from the outside, from the point of view of receiving an empowerment with an intention to practice, openness to that lineage is the main thing.
In the past, when lamas gave empowerments, they usually came with a practice commitment, so one should be introduced to the practice and then you have to do so much practice every day or every month, depending on what the lama asked to do.
When Rinpoche gives an empowerment today or in general, he gives it in two ways: one is for those who do intense practice soon or in near future, but even in that case he wont ask you for any practice commitment, except for what he always asks to live more compassionately. Even if he doesn't ask for commitment, because he has the lineage blessing, then that door to practice will be opened and you can benefit from that.
The other way Rinpoche gives empowerment is what we call a blessing and this means that anyone – you don't have to be Buddhist – anyone can come along and just share this moment of ceremony as a contact with this particular master, particular lineage and with the Medicine Buddha practice. I think Rinpoche will probably explain that whereas in the West we go through a flu injection every year, in Tibet people will try to get Medicine Buddha empowerment every year!
That's just a few words about empowerment and a bit later on I go through the actual ceremony of the empowerment. Then you'll see how the opening up takes place. Before that I'd like to say a few words about Medicine Buddha and Medicine Buddha practice. Yesterday we talked about a topic called ultimate reality and what I said is that either there is some supreme sacred ultimate reality or there isn't. Either all our religions and faiths are trying to understand that ultimate reality or else there is nothing there and our religious fantasy just helps us with. We are just biological accidents with big imagination. If there is something eternal and sacred behind the regular fabric of life, whatever we humans call it won't change it a bit. We can call it God, Buddhanature, we are just human beings trying to give it a name and understand it with our poor limited minds.
In Tibetan Buddhism we definitely believe there is a sacred reality. Its nature is pure wisdom, unimaginable infinite love and compassion and the power to reach the heart and mind of anyone who opens to it. We think that it is full of thousands of different qualities and yesterday I compared these to all of the vivid colours, patterns that you can see in a diamond when you turn it. In one way these colours and patterns are there because you can see them, but in other way there is nothing there, because no-one can actually take the diamond apart and pull out the red colour and the blue colour and all those lovely patterns.
So this ultimate mind, which we call Buddha, is full of qualities and amongst those qualities one is the great power to heal. Healing does not just mean physical healing. It means to put right everything which is painful and wrong. All the way from physical sickness to our basic ignorance of this divine sacred timeless reality.
I think we have the time just to mention what we call the five main fields of learning, or at least the first two. They are often quite poorly translated. The first science of learning is about causality throughout everything, the whole universe. Nothing just happens. Otherwise in two seconds I could become a reindeer and it won't happen. If I'm like this it's because of my mother, my father, my English genes and so many things, millions of factors that stretch back through time. Everything has its reasons. Everything around us and everything inside us. So the first science is the science of causality. It's called the science of creation. I think you can appreciate how vast that is. It's often translated as "arts and crafts". There is nothing wrong with arts and crafts but it's a bit large for arts and crafts.
The second science or the second field of study is that of healing, and when those processes of causality hurt, when there is mental pain, physical pain, suffering, then how can we act to change things for the better? And the second science usually, when our teachers explain it, covers everything: if you are cold you put on a coat, and when you are warm you apply the second science. So the second science, healing, was taught in many ways by the Buddha, in particular through three main teachings on the Medicine Buddha. Some of these were turned into Medicine Buddha practices as time went by. And then in Vajrayana we take these teachings of healing of Medicine Buddha and we make them very powerful, very reflective.
I have to be careful because if I start to talk about Tibetan Medicine I run out of time very quickly. But the place of medicine in Buddhism and the role of the mind are very fascinating. In Tibetan Buddhism – not just Tibetan but in Buddhist medical science the Medicine Buddha practice is everywhere: at the time of gathering plants, processing the plants, making medicines; of the time of diagnosis, and the time of treatment. The general idea is that one cannot really separate the spiritual from the physical. And I think one of the vivid examples I found came from a very great Tibetan doctor, professor Khempo Tsenam. He was both a lama and one of the abbots of the great Khatok Monastery, a very important monastery; and he was a very eminent doctor. And he was one of the main people who built up the Lhasa Mentsikang, The Medical Institute.
Now, because of the regime in which that happened, his students weren't officially allowed to learn any of the spiritual side of Tibetan Medicine, just mechanical herbal side. And some of them were not at all Buddhists; they were very modern pragmatic doctors, who saw Buddhism old-fashioned and superstitious. Even they said, you know: "It's strange, if I give the patient this medicine or if he gives the patient the same medicine, the results aren’t the same." And having worked with him for quite a few years I have seen it's very true, there is definitely an extra plus that comes along with the spiritual component compared to normal medicine.
Most specifically in Tibetan medicine there are some ailments that can be cured by medication and there are others that can't, where there normally would be no hope, but sometimes some can be helped purely through spiritual practice. In fact our vajramaster today is 2nd Akong… the 1st Akong actually became very famous because of his healing power. There was a very famous Lama in Tibet called Kongtrul Rinpoche, who become very ill and none of the regular doctors could cure him, nor could the prayers that his monks were doing for him. And so, very worried for him they said, maybe the only thing to do is to go and see Lama Akong, which he did. People saw the first Akong as an emanation of Medicine Buddha. Mainly through his prayers and practice he healed the Kongtrul, who then said that this Lama is very worthy of respect. He instated him as someone of great importance and said that when he dies we must find his incarnation.
Anyway, there we were back in the physical ailments, but let's look a bit more broadly the meaning of Medicine Buddha. I think sometimes we think Buddhas and great Lamas as super beings, but in Buddhism we see them as normal, and that's how it ought to be. We – at least I – are just little bit insufficient. If we look at the qualities of the Buddha, let's just take one of them: total generosity. The idea is that that should be normal, to give whatever is needed if you have it that should be normal. And to want to keep for oneself when you don't need it and not to give to others who need it, is that normal? We do it because we are human and we might have fear and so many needs.
To have natural beautiful love for everyone, same love for everyone, is that extraordinary or is that how it ought to be? To have a mind so clear that when it encounters anything it understands it perfectly. That's normal. And to misunderstand things, to project our own conditioning on them, to not really understand what is there and to have all sorts of wrong ideas, that's not normal.
So we have this idea of percentage of Buddha that a 100 % healthy being is. So then, compared to that we can score 80, 60, 20, 1, ½ percent. And when we are looking what is blocking our being so that we can't be natural like that, then we make a list of the three or four obscurations. This is the karma that we carry from past lives, which is one thing blocking us up. In one way our karma is totally invisible and unknowable, but in other way so obvious, because I am me and you are you. We are all so different – that is our karma.
Some people carry great heaviness and darkness that is one thing that is blocking the natural mind. Then there are the habits that we have, especially the negative ones of anger, passion, jealousy, pride. Then on a much more subtle level there are all the ways we think. All the thousands of ways we define ourselves and we define our world around us. Behind all of that there is a basic not knowing of the divine eternal reality. So the Medicine Buddha practice is there to help us heal, repair all those things which aren't quite right, and the most profound way they help us with the time is to link us up to the Buddha-mind.
So, those are just few words about the Medicine Buddha and let's now look at today's empowerment ceremony. Or there is maybe one more thing that I should say. I hope it makes sense and doesn't confuse things more. With the Medicine Buddha, Tara, Chenrezig and most practices you often get two explanations of what the practice is about. One is a personal explanation and other is a cosmic explanation. So with Chenrezig for instance we say: "When we do Chenrezig we tune into the compassion, combine the compassion of all Buddhas." That's cosmic explanation. But at the same time we get a story that a long, long time ago somebody first took a promise and then went through the bodhisattva vow and then in the end became Chenrezig. We have the same thing with Taras and Medicine Buddha.
It's very interesting with those three kayas I mentioned yesterday. As we follow this path and in the end go to that eternal changeless Buddha-mind, what we each become is exactly the same as drops of water going to the ocean. But how we manifest to others will be different. When we become Buddha, deep within we all go to the same place, but on the outside manifest differently. And how we manifest depends on all the connections we made with people on our journey to end, the specific prayers we made, the motivation we had. So if we look for instance in one sutra, it's called the Vajrakalpa-sutra about the thousand Buddhas of our age, we see that each Buddha has an activity that reaches to different number of people, its own particular "style", and its not the same, the each one. And in fact there is quite a good argument for taking your time with enlightenment, because you can link up with millions and millions of people. Then when you become enlightened you radiate into their lives to help them.
Now in the case of Medicine Buddha we have this coming together which is timeless and somebody's particular wishes and intentions. So it says: "A long, long time ago there was a Bodhisattva who made twelve profound promises to help beings. And these promises were particularly connected with helping them in sickness in all its levels. What he wanted to do is to give the easiest access possible to help all sentient beings.
If you would allow a personal example I would like to give an example which for me at least makes this very vivid and real. Now, my own dharma-life has been incredibly lucky, a jackpot. It all started about 1969 – 70. Through great kindness of a friend I, who had not a penny, was able to go to India, to Dharamsala and spend a year out there. Not only that he financed it, he knew about Dharamsala and took me there, and then later on he introduced me to Samye Ling, to Akong Rinpoche and to my wife – and then he died. Normally to have gone to India I would have needed to have worked and worked probably for many years in order to save enough money to first go there, then to stay there and then to get back. But somehow he had the wealth, there was a connection between us and I was lucky.
Now, the bodhisattva who was became Medicine Buddha had this similar intention. He wanted on his journey to enlightenment to create such spiritual wealth that simply by opening up and making connection beings could have very good health indeed. A great lineage tutor Thrangu Rinpoche said about Medicine Buddha and his promises: "It's so good nobody would even believe it!" It's too good; better not to talk about it too much.
But one of the main points of the practice is that simply if we open up to what is there, a lot happens. Either in the process of healing our mind and our body, or even when we die; one of these specific prayers was to help people who are dying, to find a state of purity very easily after their death. When Buddha Shakyamuni taught about Medicine Buddha at the request of Bodhisattva Manjushri, he said that one of the main things you need to do is to open your mind and to recite the name of the Medicine Buddha.
You know if I gave you my phone number in Scotland and you push the buttons you get me on the other end. You have to get that number, otherwise you get somebody else! It's just like that, it's the way phones work. The way we connect up with the Medicine Buddha is by doing this practice and specifically by reciting the name and having faith in it. As Akong Rinpoche said: that's all there is to do, the power is in Medicine Buddha, the power is already there, we just need to know how to tap into it.
Now, the actual empowerment is in two parts. There is a preparation and the empowerment itself, and in the preparation there is the preparation of the preparation, we find this in the beginning of nearly every empowerment. The idea is one of entering into a sacred space. So just like we leave our shoes outside the shrineroom, we try to leave our worldly thoughts, cares, preoccupations outside the shrineroom. We try to imagine the space of empowerment as a very vast and pure space and that all of us here together are friends. So, even if normally you can't stand the person who is sitting next to you, during the empowerment think that person with the finest love you can imagine.
On the outside we imagine we are moving into a pure space, but most importantly we try to find the most sacred receptive space in our hearts. That's what we should be doing in the beginning when Ven. Gyamtso, the assistant, will be pouring water onto a crystal while we are reciting the Vajrasattva mantra. The crystal represents our mind, which in its true nature is primordially pure. The water is the power of the empowerment. It washes away the dust of our temporary samsara. You know, samsara is just a temporary accident. It's only a dream.
Then in the next step of this creation of the sacred space we try to imagine that we are really in a vast, pure, very protective space. It's a space in which we can relax and open our minds to the blessing of the lineage without any fear or anxiety. Then, after that (that's the preparation of the preparation) – after that we make the mandala offering. This is the traditional offering of 37 amazing things, which many of it you may not know, but the idea during that time is that even if I had the most wonderful fantastic things in this whole universe, material things, I would give them away very, very happily to have this deep healing power that comes through pure mind.
We are reborn time after another and houses and properties come and go. We put so much time and effort in that. Who can remember their husband or was it wife of the past life or the house they had? Was it in Finland, Scotland or Tibet? But you probably spent years and years putting lot of time in those things. Well, that's life. But the thing is: all of that comes and goes, but our mind we have to live with. You can't get out of your mind even for one second. Without mind where would you go, what would you experience? You would be stuck. So when we think about it we feel how precious it is to have peace, love and wisdom in yourself. We think about those things when Gyamtso is making the piles of rice and chanting the mandala offering. We think about how precious these things are.
Then after that Rinpoche will chant in Tibetan, and except for one or two of you, you won't understand a word. At the beginning of most empowerments the lama says a few words about the practice and in particular about the particular transmission of this practice, where it started, how it travelled through the time to the present day. So he talks first about how Buddha Shakyamuni taught the Medicine Buddha sutras, how various practices developed on the basis of those sutras, how those practices went to Tibet and when, and in particular how this Medicine Buddha sutra is rather extraordinary, because it combines the sutra tradition with the very profound meditation style of atiyoga. (Atiyoga is the highest level of the Nyingmapa tradiotion.)
Then he will talk about some of the main qualities of the Medicine Buddha practice, which are too good even to mention, no-one would believe in them. And he tells us how this particular practice is a terma, a hidden teaching revealed by somebody called terton Mingyur Dorje. Mingyur Dorje was just a teenager when he found this, and he was someone who was fostered, cared for by the great 17th century master Karma Chamey. There has been since that time an unbroken line of this practice.
After Rinpoche has chanted those things, he will ask us to make a request for empowerment. In fact we make two requests for empowerment. This one, the first one, is the general request for a vajra master to give us empowerment. So we repeat the words of request in Tibetan after Rinpoche. There won't be any translation.
Next thing is refreshing the refuge commitment and bodhicitta. Any vajrayana practice is based on a loving and compassionate mind of the bodhisattva and the bodhisattva mind is based on in the good ethics of refuge. So we repeat the words of refuge and bodhicitta in Tibetan after Rinpche.
Then the next thing is visualization. This is very important. It is one of the most important parts of the empowerment process. You see empowerment is a connection between us and a lineage, it's a transmission of something from the lineage to us. That's not a material thing, it's a mind to mind thing and the way we enable it to happen as well as possible is visualizing something by us and by the vajramaster. It's like two walkie talkies tuned into same frequency. So, what we need to do from our side is to visualize that we become the Medicine Buddha. Before the empowerment Rinpoche spends for an hour doing the Medicine Buddha practice and visualizing himself as the Medicine Buddha. So, it is this placing our minds in the same resonance that envoys the most transmission to happen.
Another way of looking at that is that we awaken the Medicine Buddha in ourselves, so we identify with it, visualize ourselves as Medicine Buddha, and in that process we want help from someone in the lineage in which Medicine Buddha has already been awaken. So we imagine our vajramaster being the very presence of the Medicine Buddha.
So, there we are, in this vast and pure space with our friends. We can afford our poor wounded hearts to open and we imagine that the vajramaster and ourselves become the Medicine Buddha, and then the empowerment happens. This is how it's described. It says the entire universe becomes Medicine Buddha's Pure Land, called Tanadu. Tanadu means "Beautiful to behold" and in that Pure Land everything is medicine. Not just plants, but minerals and earth. Even the sound of flowing water and song of birds has a healing quality. Heal the body, heal the mind, heal all the unnatural things.
Now this practice is in the maha-ati style, so what we imagine happens in an instant. There is no gradual transformation. In the middle of this Pure Land is a throne held up by elephants and on that throne is a lotus. On the lotus is a flat disc, flat plate. That just appears. Elephants, lotus, throne, the disc. Standing upright on that lightdisc is a deepblue syllable hung which instantly becomes the Medicine Buddha. Medicine Buddha like any other buddhas we visualize is hollow form of light. Not solid but like a soap bubble, they say like a tent, it's just an outer appearance, it's hollow, empty inside.
The colour of the Medicine Buddha is deep blue, it's like the colour of a gem which is called vaidurya. It actually says it's not a gem that exists in this world. You find many translations out of which no-one is correct, because it doesn't exist. You find lapis lazuli, beryl, all sorts of things. The closests that I have found after having asked many questions is that Medicine Buddha is deep blue sapphire. So lapis lazuli is about the right colour, but the problem with lapis lazuli is that it is solid, opaque, whereas Medicine Buddha is totally transparent.
You visualize yourself and the vajramaster as being like that, and if you can't actually visualize the image, that doesn't matter, as long as you are really trying to feel that's what happens.
Now, you know that we have come to the end of that visualization phase when Rinpoche says titra benza three times. That's the end of preparation.
Then we have the actual empowerments. At this point we make the second request for the empowerments and there are six of them. They all take place through an object, which is called torma. So, just as we visualize that we become Medicine Buddha, Rinpoche become Medicine Buddha, now we turn our attention to the torma. We think it is a perfect microcosm of the Medicine Buddha's Pure Land.
So, the torma is a Pure Land and in it there are the elephants and the throne, the lotus and the moondisc, and a perfect tiny form of the Medicine Buddha. The first empowerment is called the body empowerment. We imagine that from the foehead of the Medicine Buddha in the torma a beam of white light radiates. It penetrates our own body through forehead, fills up the body with white light, and through that we receive what's called the body empowerment of the Medicine Buddha. At that time Rinpoche will be holding up the torma reciting the text. We should feel that our body is purified and try really believe that we receive an empowerment to meditate on the form of the Medicine Buddha. It sews the seed of our own attainment of Nirmanakaya.
The second empowerment is that of the speech of Medicine Buddha. So, again concentrate or imagine Medicine Buddha in the torma. This time a beam of red light, brilliant as sunlight comes from the Medicine Buddha's throat to our throat and fills up our body with its light. We should feel it really purifies our power of speech and communication. It transmits the blessing of speech of Medicine Buddha and sows the seeds of our future attainment as Sambhogakaya. This happens, when Rinpoche holds up the torma the second time.
The third empowerment is the mind empowerment. This time we imagine a blue beam of light from the heart of the Medicine Buddha coming to our heart. This clears our mind of its various obscurations and enables us to do the deeper meditations of Medicine Buddha. It sows the seed of our future attainment of Dharmakaya.
The next empowerment, the fourth one, is simultaneous empowerment of body, speech and mind, qualities and activities of Medicine Buddha. So we imagine five different colours of light coming from five places in the Medicine Buddha: white from the forehead, red from the throat, blue from the heart, yellow from the navel and green from between the legs. Those five lights make like a rainbow beam which comes up and enters our body at the navel and fills up our body with its light. We should feel that it has a particular power of healing complicated diseases, and it sows the seed of our attainment of the Essencekaya.
The next empowerment, that's number five, is called the torma-initiation. Up to now they all need the torma, this one is just called torma-initiation. At that point you will all come up one by one to receive the torma blessing from Rinpoche. There is a visualization associated with this which Rinpoche will ask to be translated at the time. And there is a particular prayer from both him and ourselves, which talks about the benefits of this practice.
So, when you come up, if you have got white scarf (khata) or an offering, the first thing is to put that on a chair or table in front of the throne. You present your offering and come close to Rinpoche – please do come close, because otherwise he has to stretch a long way. What he is going to do he is to touch to your head and your hands with the torma. If he had time and if it were practical, he would actually touch the torma to the first four places. But when people come up one after another that's very impractical, especially the throat and heart, so it's not done.
You bend your head so that he can put the torma on your head and you present your hands and he touches them with the torma. Bring the blessing into yourself imagining that it comes into those places.You don't need to do lots of complicated movements, just bring it to yourself.
Once we have done that we sit down again and there is number six: the mantra-empowerment. Rinpoche requests us to repeat the Medicine Buddha mantra after him. He will be turning the blue mala upwards and he says the mantra.
Up to now in the empowerment we focused on the torma. We have been visualizing the Medicine Buddha in the torma. At this stage we turn our focus to Rinpoche remembering, thinking of his presence as Medicine Buddha. We think of Medicine Buddha's mantra as coming from his heart, up and out through his mouth, coming like a garland of light to our own mouth and setting in our own heart. That is what we visualize as we are saying the mantra.
Those were the six stages of the empowerment. At the end we do a mandala offering gratitude and we share the goodness and Rinpoche will give us the lung, the scriptural transmission of this particular practice. So that was quite a lot of information but I hope it helps with the empowerment. Do you have any questions?
Ani Sherab: If one doesn't have any offerings or a white scarf it is completely all right to go to Rinpoche with your folded hands and offer your pure mind.
Ken Holmes: Pure mind, yes, the biggest offering is to really sincerely want to give yourself and to help others, that's fine.
Question: When we start to visualize during the preparation, how long does it take to complete it?
KH: Three or four minutes. I'd like to say one thing about visualization which I think many people don't get. Most people think visualization is bit like mental gymnastics: you have to hold an image. Many people say: "I can't visualize, I find visualization very, very difficult, I'm not visual." Much more important than the image is the feeling. Once you become the Medicine Buddha you become this pure wisdom, which is in itself the very heart of all healing. Any medical process depends on the wisdom of the doctor being very clear about what's happening in the patient. Wisdom is in the heart of healing, whichever way we look at it. Buddhas always have this wisdom which in its very heart is compassion.
So you are becoming a vivid presence of compassion and wisdom that has all the answers to sort things out. And if you can't visualize the crossed legs, you can feel the stability of meditation that they represent. That wisdom comes from totally calm, clear and stable mind. Medicine Buddha, the whole relationship to healing is one of compassion. So, if you can't visualize a blue face, you can feel that your own face is filled with loving care as you look upon other beings. Calm, peaceful; it's a question of becoming rather than making some mental picture.
Question: Is it right after mandala we start visualize those things?
KH: No, mandala comes earlier on. After the mandala Rinpoche goes through the history of this text and then there is the request, refuge and bodhicitta. Rinpoche will tell you: now we are doing refuge and bodhicitta, so it's after that, at the time gap you get between bodhicitta and when we make the next request.
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