The Gyalwang Karmapa Bestows the Empowerment of Lama Sangwa Dupa: Guru Rinpoche Appears Again
January 6, 2014
Continuing his immense generosity, the Gyalwang Karmapa bestowed a second empowerment of Guru Rinpoche, this time from the terma (rediscovered treasures) of Guru Chowang. This great terton (treasure revealer) was a speech emanation of the Dharma King, Trisong Deutsen, and a reincarnation of Gyalse Lhaje, who was predicted to have thirteen successive reincarnations. Guru Chowang was the second of these and the last was the great master, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, a pillar of the nonsectarian movement of nineteenth century Tibet.
Again today, the Karmapa is seated on his high throne, and rising behind him is the immense thangka of Guru Rinpoche. He first performs the preliminaries of the initiation: purification by pouring blessed water over a sparkling mirror; cutting the boundaries for the empowerment by making offerings; and setting the blazing tent of vajras as protection. He reads in a resonant voice the introduction to the empowerment, which explains that this is a guru yoga, a practice devoted to realizing the inseparability of our body, speech, and mind with those of the lama, so that we will be able to bring all living beings to full awakening. The lama is the essence of all the buddhas, and Guru Rinpoche himself is known as the Second Buddha. He remains in neither extreme of samsara or nirvana, and therefore, can benefit others through an immeasurable variety of activities. Until the end of samsara, he will remain as a wish-fulfilling gem.
Guru Chowang’s text for the empowerment comes from The Four Round Empowerments of Lama Sangdu cycle. The name can be translated in several ways: Guru Guhayasamaja; the Lama as the Embodiment of all Secrets; or in a meaning translation, The Practice of Guru Rinpoche (the lama): A Compendium of the Profound Meaning (which is self-secret). Among his eighteen terma, Guru Chowang discovered five heart termas, which are mainly concerned with practices of devotion to the lama (guru sadhana), the terton’s main dispensation. This Lama Sangdu empowerment comes from these heart termas and offers a sadhana of the peaceful Guru in the form of Vajradhara.
The empowerment text quotes the terton as saying that he is the embodiment of all the Tathagatas. On a more mundane level, the Karmapa explains that Guru Chowang was one of the most important among the greater and lesser tertons who appeared in Tibet. The great tertons, known as the great nirmanakayas, are enumerated as the five great kings and the two supreme nirmanakayas. Guru Chowang was one of these two supreme nirmanakayas.
At the very time of his birth in 1212, Guru Chowang’s father was writing out in gold ink the famous text, Reciting the Names of Manjushri. He had just come to the words, “Great Lord of Dharma” (Cho means “Dharma” and wangchuk means Great Lord”), so he gave this name to his son. That this child would be of great benefit to the Dharma was prophesized by many masters of the time ̶ Kadampa Geshes, Lord Jigten Sumgön, Lama Shang, and other tertons with precognition.
By his thirteenth year, Guru Chowang was fully trained in the common and uncommon arts and sciences as well as the disciplines of the Vajrayana. At the age of seventeen, he received the complete transmission of the ripening empowerments and liberating instructions of the famous terton Nyangrel Nyima Özer (13th century, the first of the great Tibetan treasure revealers) from his youngest son, Namkhape. Thus Guru Chowang became a holder of these termas and was recognized as a speech emanation of Nyangrel. For these reasons, the termas of Nyangrel are known as the former termas and those of Guru Chowang as the later ones.
At the age of eighteen, Guru Chowang met the great scholar Shakya Pandita and studied Mahayana texts on bodhichitta with him. The young terton also and also studied with masters of other lineages, so by the time he was twenty, he was both highly learned and attained.
In general, most tertons and their recovered texts belong to the earlier Nyingma tradition, but Guru Chowang was unusual in that he discovered nyingma cycles of Dharma and also cycles of Dharma from the later traditions, which is general refer to the Kagyu, Sakya and Geluk traditions. For example, Guru Chowang revealed a terma of Marpa the Translator known as The Tower Treatise (Sekarma), a text on the Six Yogas. Written in Marpa’s blood as it came from his finger, the text was concealed in Lhodrak. The indication for the treasure, which said that it should be revealed in seven generations, came into the hands of Guru Chowang and he revealed the text. Another special trait of Guru Chowang’s terma is that most of his retrievals of terma were performed in public (tromter), another reason why he was considered an undisputed great terton.
A great terton is distinguished from a lesser one by whether or not they have revealed three types of terma: a guru sadhana, a terma related to the great perfection, and one of the Great Compassionate One (mahakarunika). Not only did Guru Chowang reveal cycles of terma in all three categories, he discovered numerous guru sadhanassadhana, especially those related to Guru Rinpoche. Of all these, the most profound is from his five mind or heart terma and known as Lama Sangdu.
How was this terma revealed? A terton named Drakpa Ngonshe had revealed treasures from Samye Monastery, and one was a list (karchak), or parchment scroll, of mind treasures to be discovered. Based on this list, a disciple of his known as Lhatso Jamphel had made preparations to extract the terma, but he died. Other Vajrayana practitioners had also wanted to investigate the list but due to hail and lightning, they were forced to flee. This scroll then came into the hands of Guru Chowang when he was thirteen, but when he showed it to his father, he said, “What are you doing with this parchment scroll? It has been the cause of death and ruin. Do you want to die?” So the father took the list and hid it.
Later, Guru Chowang was able to repossess the list. When he was twenty-two, the terton traveled with a realized practitioner of severance (chö) to a place in Lodrak called Staircase to the Sky. Since he had both the list of the terma to be recovered and their keys, Guru Chowang gradually revealed them. There are many miraculous stories about this, but we do not have enough time today to talk about them.
The Karmapa concluded his explanation saying that since this a Guru Rinpoche practice, we regard him and our root guru as inseparable ̶ the main point of Guru Yoga. We should pray earnestly with complete devotion that he bestow the common and supreme siddhis for the benefit all living beings.
The Karmapa then began the main empowerment, during which Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche received the series of initiations on behalf of everyone present. Afterward, an extensive mandala was offered as a thanksgiving to the Karmapa, manifesting his brilliance as Guru Rinpoche and blessing all who had the good fortune to be in his presence as well as all those held in the vast embrace of his compassion.