20 December, 2014 Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
At the request of the Kagyu Monlam Committee, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa is kindly bestowing a special series of initiations, the twenty-four peaceful deities of “Knowing One Frees All”(Chig shes Kun drol), composed by the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (1556–1603). Though the Karmapa has given a great number of individual empowerments, this is the first occasion in this lifetime that he has bestowed such a series of initiations. This special program from December 20 to 25 is given in commemoration of the First Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche, who passed away twenty-five years ago, and of the Second Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, who passed away ten years ago.What follows below is some background information for “Knowing One Frees All”―its traditions, structure, and the present Karmapa’s connection to it.
Depending on the capacity and inclinations of beings, the Buddha taught various types of dharma, which can be subsumed into two categories, the sutras and the tantras. The key difference between these two is the initiations given in the tantric tradition. The tantras are further divided into four main types: kriya, charya, yoga, and anuttara yoga, each one of which has its own special empowerments. The Hevajra initiation, for example, has a particular structure and way of being given. In order to receive these initiations and their practices, many Tibetan masters travelled to India, and in turn, Indian masters came to Tibet to bestow them. In doing so, the masters transmitted the specific view, initiation, and practice related to each individual deity.
It was difficult, however, to receive this immense variety of initiations, and so collections were made. Two famous ones came from India. The realized master Mitra Yogi gathered one hundred initiations into a text known as “The Hundred of Mitra” (Mitra brGya rtsa), which was translated into Tibetan by Rinjung Zhiwa and known as “The Hundred of Rinjung” (Rin byung brGya rtsa). Another Indian compilation was made by Abhayakara (Mijikpay Jungne,Mi ‘jigs pa’i ‘byung gnas) and known in Tibetan as “The Ocean of Sadhanas,” (sGrub thabs rGya mtsho).Compendia of initiations were also created in Tibet, such as Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye’s “Precious Treasury of Termas.”
The Ninth Karmapa’s initiation text “Knowing One Frees All”and Mitra Yogi’s text of one hundred initiations differ from other collections that have specific initiations for each deity. In”Knowing One Frees All,”the ways of bestowing the initiations are the same: a template serves as a basis for giving the initiations, while the names of the deities are changed. This stable framework is what the One in the title points to. The practices, however, are different depending on the deity. (Recently, they have been translated into English and Chinese, so that disciples may do a practice to which they feel a special connection.)
It seems that this type of compilation created by the Ninth Karmapa is unique in Tibet. Why so? In his Introduction to A Compendium of the Classes of Tantra, the Sakya scholar Loter Wangpo (a disciple of Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye) explained that it takes a very special lama to bring together so many initiations and distil them into one. First of all, the lama must have realization, and secondly, the yidam deities must give their permission. And in order to receive these initiations, a disciple must have received an empowerment from one of the four classes of tantra. To make sure that this happens and to show his great respect for the Sakya tradition, the Karmapa invited His Holiness Sakya Trizin to bestow an initial empowerment from his own tradition of the highest kriya tantras.
Turning to the text itself, it is divided into three sections:(1) the practices of the peaceful deities known as “The Garland of the Peaceful Ones;” (2) the practices of the fierce deities, known as “The Garland of the Fierce Ones;” and (3) the protector practices known as “The Garland of Lightning.” At Palpung Monastery in Eastern Tibet, the Eleventh Situ Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo (1886–1952) made a wood block print of “Knowing One Frees All” but it did not include the protector section. When the Sixteenth Karmapa gave the initiations to his four heart sons, he gave the protector section from a text, handwritten in ume script, which subsequently disappeared. So when Situ Rinpoche offered the initiations to the present Karmapa, he could only offer the first two sections. To keep the transmission of the protector practices unbroken, the Karmapa had searched for them extensively. In 2007, when he met with Shamar Rinpoche in Delhi, the Karmapa asked him to share a copy of these initiations if he had one. Shamar Rinpoche replied that he would go back and look, but nothing ever came of it.
The Karmapa then heard that Yuthok Khenpo was going to Tibet and asked him to search for the text. When he arrived there, Yuthok Khenpo asked around and discovered that a lama in Eastern Tibet had a copy. Yuthok Khenpo travelled there, found the lama, and made a photocopy, which came into the Karmapa’s hands about a month ago, in November of 2014. Once the Karmapa receives these protector empowerments, he will have received the entire range of empowerments from his own tradition as well as many from other schools.
Though the text is now complete with all three parts, the Karmapa is only bestowing the initiations for the peaceful deities. If he gave the fierce deities, there might be some misunderstandings, and one should be very careful not to create confusion, so this year the Karmapa is just bestowing the twenty-four peaceful initiations. For each of these, the Ninth Karmapa created three different lengths of initiations, extensive, medium, and brief. The present Karmapa will be giving the medium length, which has five main sections related to body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities. There is also a torma initiation which can be given.
The tormas that are actually offered during the initiations are divided into four types. (1) In the Kriya tradition, all the female deities are combined into a torma called chokdok (lCog rDog), which probably refers to the single peak of these tormas. (2)For all the six initiations of Manjushri, the torma is known as the Sword Torma (Ral gri ma), referring to the sword he carries aloft. (3) The torma for Maitreya is known as the Stupa Torma, referring to his emblem. (4) For all the other initiations, there is a general torma known as the Torma of One Hundred Deities, where “hundred” has the meaning of many.
In general, these initiations are known as “permission initiations” or “permission blessings” (rJes gnang), because they give the permission, or lama’s blessing, to meditate on the deity, recite the mantra,practice samadhi in relation to the deity, and also to care for or benefit others through this practice. Eventually, through meditation and realization, one can also give the initiation, though many conditions have to come together for this to happen.
Finally, for this series of initiations, the Karmapa has created new wang tsak (dbang tsak), the cards of images that are found in the deity’s mandala and also shown by the lama to disciples during the initiations. The Sixteenth Karmapa had the wang tsak for “Knowing One Frees All” as did Gyaltsap Rinpoche who printed copies and gave a set to the present Karmapa. However, in comparing these images with the descriptions in the text, His Holiness found that some of the emblems and the adornments were incorrect. He sent instructions to the painter in Tibet on how to redraw the images, so some are the same and some are redesigned. In addition, the Karmapa also altered the traditional size of the cards, increasing it to about six by nine inches so that people taking the initiations can see them more clearly.
In this flow of his great kindness, the Karmapa has opened the door to important practices of his lineage, through making sure that people have the right preparation; bestowing the actual initiations; giving explanations; and finally, providing the practices to bring his blessing and that of the deities into our direct experience.
The day began in magnificence with the rich pageantry welcoming His Holiness Sakya Trizin and the empowerment he bestowed. The brilliance continued in the afternoon with the Karmapa bestowing the first initiation in the cycle known as “Knowing One Frees All.” True to his way of meticulously checking everything down to the smallest detail, before he left the stage, where he was the main recipient of Sakya Trizin’s empowerment, the Karmapa gave instructions on how to set up the mandala in the golden mandala pavilion for the beginning of the initiations he would bestow.
Here, behind the traditional offering bowls and set in a row are the main articles for bestowing the initiation of White Tara: a vase with an image (wang tsa) of her set into a spread of peacock feathers; a painting of her emblem, the white utpala flower; a mandala disk; and another vase with a red tie. (Later, the Karmapa would mention that the vase in his hand had been used by the previous Karmapa.)Behind all these offerings and in the center of the pavilion stage is the main torma representing White Tara. It has delicately colored lotus petals at the base and a white cap near the top.
The center of the stage is dominated by a floor to ceiling thangka of the Buddha, which is flanked by two lithe sambhogakaya deities while above him sails a garuda with two gods on either side. Underneath this radiant image are laid out three tiers of extensive offerings. The top level displays a series of three-foot tormas decorated with brightly colored medallions of the eight auspicious signs and the eight auspicious substances. Alternating with them are ornately decorated bowls with long sticks holding opalescent tsampaka flowers arranged as blossoms in radiating petals. The next level has the traditional offerings of seven bowls (water for drinking and for bathing, flowers, etc.) made of silver and gold, while the flame of a butter lamp burns brightly in the middle. The final tier has fifteen double layers of gold lotuses surmounted by glistening silver images of the eight auspicious symbols and the seven articles of royalty (yogurt, a mirror, mustard seed, and so forth).
In front of the offerings and aligned perfectly beneath the Buddha is the new resplendent throne, elegant in gold and black. It is made of agar wood, so dense that it took twenty monks to barely move it into place. The back of the throne is crowned with a blazing golden jewel under which sits a very life-like Amitayus, almost more human than iconic. His mount is the peacock, two of which are depicted in the table set before the throne. Their heads face each other and their long golden bodies and tails flow gracefully down to the right and left. Traditionally, the Buddha’s throne is supported by stylized turquoise and white snow lions, but here they are replaced by two powerful, life-like lions, looking as if they had just strode in from the savanna. Dragons swirl over the surfaces on the side of the steps leading up to the throne and on the ends of the table: they rise powerfully above surging waves, their round eyes staring straight ahead and the scales of their curving bodies flashing in the light, setting space into motion.
Befitting the splendor of this setting, today the Karmapa is wearing a special zen fashioned of golden yellow brocade in an elegant geometric pattern. The folds in the thicker fabric are delineated clearly, emphasizing the stately quality of the Karmapa’s movements.
While the sangha chants the Twenty-One Praises to Tara, the Karmapa performs the preparations for the initiation, seated in front of the mandala pavilion and behind a screen of the kings of the four directions. After finishing, the Karmapa leaves for a short time and returns to make three bows to the Buddha and take his place upon the resplendent throne. As the Short Vajradhara Lineage Prayer comes to an end with “In all of our births may we never be separated from the perfect guru,” H.H Sakya Trizin’s two sons, Khondung Ratna Vajra Rinpoche and Khondung Gyana Vajra Rinpoche, come before the Karmapa to offer white scarves and their departing good wishes.
The initiation itself then moved through the traditional stages of purification,(the Karmapa poured water from a vase onto a crystal ball shimmering in reflected gold);clearing the space of negative spirits; setting up the vajra tent; the recitation of the lineage for the initiation; the presentation of a mandala accompanied by a long line of offerings; and the reciting of praises and supplications for the Karmapa’s long life. At this point, he took the opportunity to give a short talk welcoming everyone―rinpoches, khenpos, all the shedra monks, the nuns, lay men and women. He also stated that His Holiness Sakya Trizin’s coming to the Kagyu Monlam is a sign of virtue that will be recognized in many future generations. That this visit could happen is due to H.H. Sakya Trizin’s great compassion, and the Karmapa extensively thanked him and his retinue.
The Karmapa continued to explain that when you take an initiation, you first have to examine the master who’s giving it. Since our own mind is not hidden to us, he could look at his own to see if it’s an authentic one or not. When he looked, he could also see that his strength was pretty much exhausted, since he has had so much work to do. To give an authentic initiation in this state is very difficult, like seeing a star during the day. However, so as not to lose the dependently arising opportunity of this occasion,the Karmapa said that he would do his best.
It is also true, he said, that the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions plus all the root and lineage lamas are always present and willing to give their blessing. If we have pure faith, they will take the opportunity to give us the blessing or initiation we wish for. The Karmapa said he was convinced of this and asked everyone to maintain the same attitude and pure vision while receiving the initiations.
He further mentioned that when he was young, he had the opportunity to practice White Tara and complete the one million mantra required, so he had some confidence in giving this initiation. He made the aspiration that through receiving it, we would have a long life, and in that life, be able to accomplish great things for ourselves and others. Since the time was short, he would not give other explanations now.
The Karmapa then proceeded through the next stage of the initiation: the description of the visualization, the evocation of the wisdom deities, and bestowing the initiations of body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities. He said it was not necessary to give the torma initiation but he would do this as well. Usually during the torma blessing, the lama should place it on top of the disciple’s head, but there are too many people here to do that. He once saw an image of the previous Karmapa with a long arm of light reaching out to give the initiation to everyone. We’ll have to wait and see, he said, what might happen on the final day. With these words, the Karmapa descended from the throne, and while ringing his bell and reciting the mantra, he blessed with the White Tara torma the tulkus on stage, beginning with Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche.
During the initiation, one could also hear the sounds of long radung horns and thigh bone trumpets as well as drums emanating from the back of the pavilion. This music belonged to a protector practice from “Knowing One Frees All”, performed just outside the pavilion gate (the far edge of the mandala) by Urgyen Topgyal Rinpoche and his monks. December twentieth in the Western calendar falls on the twenty-ninth of the Tibetan one, the special day for doing protector practices.
Completing the initiation, the Karmapa offered prayers for the lamas to live long and the teachings to remain in the world and flourish. A mandala of thanks was offered by everyone, along with their body, speech, and mind so that all beings throughout space may be benefitted.