Pamela Gayle White interviews the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje
The following teaching is adapted from an introduction to the Vajrapani-Hayagriva-Garuda empowerment at Karma Migyur Ling, in the Vercors, France, on August 4, 2012.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the empowerment ritual is a prerequisite to most deity visualization practices. Empowerments given by spiritual masters aim to connect practitioners to the wisdom energy of the master and meditation deities on several levels.
The purpose of empowerment is simply to achieve understanding and peace of mind. Empowerment involves taking refuge, generating bodhicitta, and developing pure view. We can seek refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; we can generate bodhicitta [awakening mind] and develop pure view, because it’s possible! Purification is possible.
But initially we have to work with what we already have. Right now we have an identity of you and I and we. It’s neither good or bad, it’s not solid. It’s there, it’s perceivable because everything is interdependent; nothing more than that. Just that only.
We don’t have to say “there is no I,” because there is, somehow, an “I.” If I pinch you, you will feel something, so we can’t deny this identification. But we don’t say, “Ah, I feel the pain, so I’m going to give up,” either. We can work with our identities; we can use them to our advantage. Taking refuge and generating bodhicitta is really about how we use them to our advantage.
In order to accumulate merit and wisdom, we seek refuge in the enlightened state of mind, the Buddha; the path itself, the dharma; and the guides, the bodhisattvas. From that base, we can build or develop something. What we can develop is merit and wisdom, and as we do, we develop understanding.
At the same time, our intention is very important, the intention to truly benefit others. It’s not about how many beings you can benefit; it’s simply the idea that you want to benefit others. It’s also not exactly about whether we can actually help or not— we don’t have to burden ourselves with this. As long as we have the motivation, that’s everything.
If we fixate and say, “I want to help, I need to help,” then if we cannot help we’ll feel agitated and frustrated. That’s why we simply generate this precious mind, this attitude that we are ready at all times to help. With this attitude we’re at peace.
We now have this experience of identity, of an I or me, but we don’t just stay content with this ordinary state. Actually, with the pure view [accessed through the empowerment and practice], our state of mind is that of true compassion, and we’re an embodiment of both compassion and wisdom. At all times we have this attitude of being of benefit and the means, the wisdom to make any situation beneficial. This means that if it benefits others for me to be a doctor, a cook, a painter, then I’ll be a doctor, a cook, or a painter. This attitude doesn’t make us feel superior or inferior about being or not being a cook. And it’s not because we see ourselves as wisdom aspects that we feel superior, or because we perceive ourselves as human beings that we should feel inferior. The only thing that really matters and gives us peace is to be very much at ease with this attitude of benefit. We don’t have to change much.
Most importantly, all of these qualities are so natural that we don’t have to buy or acquire them from somewhere else. They’ve been there from the moment we were born. We feel great joy when we realize that we have it all. So that’s what we’re doing.
Still, even though we know all this, the title of the empowerment—Vajrapani, Hayagriva, the phoenix Garuda—feels unusual, fantastic, and exotic, like something far away. In order to maybe make a bit more sense of it, we identify that it’s basically about removing obstacles. If we look it up on Google or Wikipedia, we’ll probably have some indication that it’s about removing obstacles.
What are these obstacles? Do they live out there as spirits or forces or—as mentioned in the Google search—in the form of nagas or demons, maras? If you keep things simple, you’ll see that, no, all of these outer projections really come from your own mind. Such forces or spirits begin to appear if the mind is conditioned. You can battle against your reflection or echo. You’ve conditioned your mind to such an extent that the reflection is somehow answering back and seems to be more than a reflection. You begin to forget that it’s actually very simple: it’s just a reflection, it’s just an echo. That’s why, in the end, the real mara or obstacle is actually one’s own habits, one’s own mind.
There is no truly existing mara. But if you live in that habit, one will come. And it will annoy you. Therefore we try to train the mind to realize that all of these obstacles are due to too much minding. Minding the mind.
But even after all this, we can still feel the pain of the pinch. Then we try to feel compassion for our habit; in a way, we can satisfy the habit. The habit says that there are outer appearances, outer obstacles and all that, and we say, fine, and accordingly we find a remedy. We manifest Vajrapani, Hayagriva, Garuda, and we develop a habit that because of this manifestation, the obstacles are gone. Then the habit is satisfied; it doesn’t nag any more. And as a result we’re happy, we’re at peace.
Now it should be clear, but if it’s too complicated and gives even more of a headache to hear all this, then just focus on taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and generating bodhicitta. During the empowerment I would ask you to contemplate what I’ve just said or simply rest your mind in a calm and peaceful state. Simply develop the motivation to benefit others.