Ven. Chöje Lama Phuntsok:
Explanation of Amitabha Initiation
Kagyu Samye Ling 1997, translator Ken Holmes
Later on this afternoon Jamgon Tai Situpa is going to bestow the empowerment of Amitabha, so Lama Phuntsok is kindly going to give us some explanation about the empowerment and its history at the request of Ani Chödron. We don’t have too much time, so this will be quite brief.
If we consider Amitabha in terms of the Five Families of enlightenment, then of the five he belongs to the speech aspect which is also the lotus aspect. Generally when we talk about the Five Enlightened Families and their Purelands what we are talking about is the Sambhogakaya level of experience of enlightenment. Now these Sambhogakaya Purelands imply very, very pure aspects of enlightenment. Because of their purity and because of the impurity of so called ordinary beings, individuals, then normally we would need to accumulate merit, goodness and all these things for three long cosmic aeons before we would have enough power to be reborn into such a state.
So that’s when we speak about the Sambhogakaya Purelands in general. A long, long time ago there was once a bodhisattva, whose name was Dharmasambhava, it means the Origins of Dharma. And in order to help beings he made a very deep commitment that when eventually he would achieve enlightenment he would create through his enlightenment a Pureland which would me more easily accessible to ordinary beings.
And so this bodhisattva, Dharma Origins or Dharmasambhava eventually did reach enlightenment and from his enlightenment generated this Pureland which we call Sukhavati, in which is easier to be reborn for the likes of ordinary beings. That particular Pureland which he eventually generated and which now exists and which is accessible to us if one does the right things, is a Pureland in the western direction, that we call Dewachen in Tibetan or Sukhavati if we use the Sanskrit.
And the value of this is extraordinary, because we live in a time which, if we look in a larger cosmic historical picture, is the time when beings’ lives are relatively short. It’s a time of darkness when there are many obstacles; it’s what we call a time of dregs, a time of confusion. And so it’s very important, that in short time when so difficult to practice there is a possibility, nevertheless for one to develop enough goodness to be reborn in such close contact with enlightenment.
As far as the actual appearance of Buddha Amitabha is concerned in this Pureland, then generally he is red in colour with one face and he wears the three dharma robes. What Rinpoche said before is that if we look now in some more detail, the way he appears to beings, which is called the Nirmanakaya aspect, is red in form with one face and the three dharma robes. From that point of view that’s the Nirmanakaya aspect that beings can experience. The Sambhogakaya is Amitays, which means Limitless light. The absolute aspect of both of these two is of course Dharmakaya.
The difference between these is that the Nirmanakaya aspect is something that can be experienced by individuals – or what the text calls, if we translate it literally: ordinary beings. It is the way they can when the circumstances arrive, experience the enlightenment of Amitabha. The Sambhogakaya aspect is how that same enlightenment can be experienced by those very pure beings, who are bodhisattvas in the ten levels. Both of these aspects emanate from the Dharmakaya.
The Dharmakaya is something which is totally universal; it’s something which pervades everyone and everything. It is the ground state of all existence. From this ground of everything, this ground of all things in mind there can manifest what we call samsara and nirvana. They can manifest confusion and suffering as samsara and they can manifest nirvana, which is liberation from that.
This ground state, which is enlightenment, which is Amitabha, manifest differently according to the quality of perception. So for ordinary beings and for bodhisattvas it’s experienced slightly differently and then they [bodhisattvas] can experience something of it other beings can’t. According to the way things can be experienced because of various manifestations then sometimes there is Nirmanakaya, sometimes there is Sambhogakaya, sometimes neither is experienced. But all of these are in terms of manifestation. The root of them all is the Dharmakaya, which is the never changing basic perfection, which is the basis for everything.
And Lama is saying it is really quite important for us to understand the difference between these two things, which in Tibetan are called netso and namtso. The way things really are and the way they manifest. And once we start to understand the difference between those two: the ultimate changeless nature and the basis of that, the way that all of samsara and nirvana can manifest, once we’ve understood that point, then we will understand that as far as nirvana is concerned then all of these various aspects of enlightenment, degrees of enlightenment can manifest; peaceful ones, wrathful ones and so on.
So that concludes the brief introduction to general nature of Amitabha and now Lama is going to speak more specifically about this afternoon’s empowerment.
As Lama has explained on previous occasions about the empowerments, there is need to the introduction to the empowerment to get rid of all the obstacles and to bring together all of the favourable positive circumstances. This afternoon we won’t go into the details of the preparatory phase of the empowerment, which will be the same as before: the removing the obstacles where we take refuge and do various things in order to bring together the right positive state of mind.
If we move on to the empowerment proper in its specifics, then in order to receive it we will need to visualize ourselves and the Vajramaster in the form of Amitabha. This form has one face, two arms, is red in colour and wears the three dharma robes. And to the right of Amitabha is Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezig, and to the left Bodhisattva Vajrapani or Chana Dorje in Tibetan.
As in previous empowerments what we do is at the face of actually becoming Amitabha there will be a time when first we should be visualizing the Vajramaster, Tai Situpa as Amitabha flanked by Chenrezig and Vajrapani, and then when he makes the invitation we should imagine that from this Pureland of Sukhavati he is inviting the real presences of Amitabha, Chenrezig and Vajrapani to come here to this place of empowerment so that the empowerment occurs. And that their presence does indeed come, it comes and it fills the Vajramaster, and it fills ourselves like fall of snowflakes, so with myriads of forms of Amitabha and Chenrezig and Vajrapani we feel that we become and the Vajramaster becomes completely transformed into this pure form of Amitabha.
And one aspect to the empowerment proper will be the empowering through the arrow. There is an empowerment arrow that has five coloured silks, ribbons, attached to it. The significance of this is the drawing in of the power of the five elements, drawing them together and bringing them into our body as a blessing of health and long life. As you may know everything has a fundamental relative nature of these five elements, earth, water, fire, air and space. Their balance and imbalance is the key to health, so this is the drawing together of the balanced five elements for the long life blessing.
This is followed by an empowerment of the vase or bumpa. Through the bumpa we receive the blessing of the presence of Amitabha, Chenrezig and Vajrapani. So the outer form, which is the bumpa, with which the empowerment is bestowed, we should be visualizing that the bumpa is the Pureland of Sukhavati and that the contents of the bumpa, which is the liquid of the empowerment that we are given to drink is in fact the very clearly visualized presence of Amitabha and the two bodhisattvas Chenrezig and Vajrapani.
When we actually receive the empowerment with the bumpa, there is one point in the ceremony which is the bumpa of empowerment. At that time and also at the end when we come up and actually become touched with the bumpa, this vase, then we should be feeling, believing from the depths of our being that is the real presence of Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara Vajrapani, and the Pureland of Sukhavati and that purity, total presence comes into us through the top of the head where the bumpa is placed and that it comes down progressively through the various chakras: through the great bliss chackra in the crown, through the throat chakra, the heart chakra, the navel chakra, all the way through the body to the tips of the toes and we become imbibed with the nectar or essence of wisdom.
As this essence of Amitabha and the two bodhisattvas comes into us from the bumpa and pervades the whole body, we should be feeling with great conviction at that time, that the former impurities, blockages that we have created with our body, speech and our mind and then all three of those together in various combinations, so body, speech and mind altogether, those four things: body, speech and mind and body-speech-and-mind, all those obstacles are removed by this essence of wisdom. And through that we receive the four empowerments of body, speech and mind and then body, speech and mind all together. So through the impurities being removed we receive the empowerments. And through receiving that empowerment we become qualified, as it were, to achieve later the four kayas, the Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya and then the essence of all of them, the Svabhavikakaya.
I just go through it again because I think I said something wrong. The body, speech and mind, and then body, speech and mind together, the impurities are removed. Through that we receive the body, speech and mind and body-speech-and-mind empowerments. Through that the seed is sown for the future attainment of Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya and Svabhavikakaya.
Then the next stage of empowerment is given with a form, it’s called a form of Amitabha, and in this case it will be one of these empowerment pictures. And we should be imagining at that time, that five different colours of light come from the form of Amitabha on the empowerment card, and that they come into us to give us a blessing. So the five lights are white light from the forehead, red light from the throat, blue light from the heart, yellow light from the navel centre and green light from the secret centre. And we should feel that we receive the five levels of empowerment from the five chakras, from the five centres of Amitabha.
Then the next stage of empowerment will be bestowed through the torma, and although the form used for the empowerment is a torma we should be considering this torma as we considered the bumpa earlier on to be the actual presence of Amitabha flanked by Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani in the Pureland of Sukhavati. So the torma is Sukhavati, and when we receive the blessing of the torma then we should feel that physical presence, speech presence, mind presence, qualities, activity, all of these aspects of Amitabha and the two great bodhisattvas come into us and fulfill our lives in every dimension. They make our lives longer, healthier, they bring more power, and they bring greater intelligence, more wisdom. Everything becomes enhanced by the perfection of their presence.
Then the next stage of the empowerment again occurs through a tsale or card, and this time on the card there is an image of a vajra. And the main point of this phase of empowerment is that the vajra represents the deepest wisdom of the mind or the heart – it’s the same word – of Amitabha. So when we receive the blessing through the card which represents the vajra, we should feel that what we in fact are receiving is the deep intimate contact with the profound wisdom of Amitabha’s mind, we receive that empowerment.
Then the next stage of empowerment comes through an image of Buddha Amitabha’s begging bowl, alms bowl. And this begging bowl, alms bowl of Amitabha we imagine is filled with all various potions and medical creations that enhance the power of life. So, long life pills, long life nectars, long life alcohols, all the various special things which can enhance the power of human life. And they are gathered together in his begging bowl. When we receive the empowerment then it enhances not just life in terms of length of life and good health but also the quality of life and all of its power to make us better, more prestigious and wealthier, healthier and so on. And then also through receiving that we receive the connection with the Pureland Sukhavati and it’s this connection which will help us at the time of death to be reborn in the Pureland of Sukhavati.
So those are the main points of the empowerment. Now there can be two other empowerments that take place here. There can be. And they take place through the eight auspicious symbols and the seven royal attributes. Normally the explanation covers the points up to now; it doesn’t deed to cover the other two. And when we receive empowerment with these two (if one does), and with all the other aspects of the empowerment, besides of visualizing how we should be feeling, we should be in a state of deep prayer praying, that through receiving each part of the empowerment the various obstacles, blockages and difficulties of one’s life are removed. That the quality of this particular human life is enhanced and that both the life itself and the health and also what that life is used to do, everything becomes better.
Also during the empowerment we will be given long life alcohol and long life pills. So the alcohol (what we take is actually alcohol, a small amount), but what we should be considering it is the very quintessence of the life-enhancing power and the infinite life power of Buddha Amitabha. So that as we take it we are thinking of it as something which removes specifically obstacles to health, obstacles to long life and through removing those obstacles it gives us long life and it does improve one’s health. So it’s the same idea with the alcohol and so forth. The small doe-pills which are given, which are pills of long life, although they are pills, we should be thinking them as imbibed with the blessing power of Amitabha to give long life.
Similar idea with the long life pills, we are given them, one eats them and one feels they remove the obstacles, bring extra life, and also they make connections that in the future we achieve a vajra-body, the changeless immortal body of enlightenment.
They are the main points of this afternoon’s empowerment and some of the significance of the various objects which are used and the things which we are given to take. At the end of the empowerment we of course dedicate all of the goodness of the ceremony that we have just gone through to the welfare of all beings. And besides of dedicating in the usual way we make a specific prayer through the Dewachen prayer, the Sukhavati prayer, praying that when beings do die that their mind is instantly reborn in the presence of Amitabha in the Pureland Sukhavati.
And at the end we can conclude as we conclude all empowerments with taking the samaya commitment the offering of the mandala of thanksgiving to the Vajramaster. So very briefly and quite quickly that was quick journey through this afternoon’s empowerment.
Lama: As far as we know the main commitment will be that from time to time one should recite the mantra of Amitabha which is om ami dewa hri.
Lama: It’s a bit hard. We have gone through the details of what Rinpoche does, but it’s when he plays the drum and the bell. There will be the first bit when Lama carries out the torma, you will see the torma going out from the door and then there is the chanting of the history of this particular text. And then after that when Rinpoche is playing the drum and the bell that will be him inviting the presence of Amitabha.
Lama: We don’t really have time to go it through deeply, but one thing that is maybe useful to know is that there are what are called the Eight Great Bodhisattvas and that these really represent the eight main qualities of all of the bodhisattvas. So in those eight we find Avalokiteshvara/Chenrezig, we find Vajrapani, we find Manjushri and five others. So we can think of him as being one of the great archetypal bodhisattvas, if we can use that word.
Lama: It’s white from the forehead, red from the throat, blue from the heart, yellow from the navel centre and green from the secret centre.
Lama: You can consider this as having received the empowerment into Chenrezig for the practice. Of course if it was a specific Chenrezig practice it would be even better to receive this specific empowerment, but one could consider that through having received this one has been empowered into Chenrezig.
Question: [inaudible, about Vajrapani empowerment]
Lama: As the previous question, it’s not an easy question to answer because of the meaning of empowerment and the contact it makes. The whole idea of empowerment is that one is empowered or initiated into a mandala and the whole idea of the mandala is one central figure with an entourage of other figures. It’s one central power or energy all goes with it. So in this particular empowerment being empowered to the nature of Amitabha is the central thing and the entourage, the accompanying energies of beings of those of Chenrezig and Vajrapani. So there is a context, there is a sense of empowerment in one way, but in terms of being empowered into a mandala we are being empowered into the central energy of Amitabha with those of entourage, side aspects. So with other practices Chenrezig would be the central thing and the entourage would be different and Amitabha would take different role in that empowerment and the same with Vajrapani. So, in terms of empowerment, if one needs to do a certain practice of a certain mandala, then one needs a certain empowerment of that specific mandala to do the practice. But it wouldn’t be right to consider that having received this empowerment we don’t have some empowerment link with Chenrezig or with Vajrapani. See the difference, it’s not a, yes or no answer it’s yeas and no depending on which way one looks at it.
We should stop there, thank you.
Sönam deyi tamche chikpanyi
tobne nyepe dranam pam che ne
che ga na chi palab drupa yi
sipe chole drowa drolwar sho.
Through the virtue of this goodness, may I attain omniscience
And overcome all adversity,
Thereupon liberating beings from the ocean of existence,
Which is rocked by the waves of birth, ageing, sickness and death.