Receiving the Kalachakra Empowerment
Most empowerment ceremonies in systems of the Highest Yoga Tantric class are restricted to practitioners who have undertaken the necessary preliminary practices required to prepare their minds for receiving the empowerment. Kalachakra is unique in this regard in that it is often given openly in public to thousands upon thousands of participants. This means that a wide variety of people with differing levels of spiritual maturity may come in contact with this system.
Over the course of more than 60 years, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama has given the Kalachakra Empowerment a total of 33 times in a diverse number of places around the globe , with the 34th planned for January, 2016 in Bodhgaya, India. Hundreds of thousands of people from many different countries have attended these ceremonies, but only a handful have pursued the practice of this complex system. One major obstacle to practice has been the lack of materials and guidance from qualified lineage holders.
In this article we will discuss the purpose of the empowerment ceremony, and how individuals can make the most of this extraordinary experience. We will look at the general structure of the ritual and provide explanations of their meaning. It is our hope that you will find this article helpful not only as a preparation for attending such an empowerment, but also as a guide for how the empowerment is a key stage within the greater structure of the Kalachakra Path.
What is an Empowerment?
To understand the role of empowerment, consider a piece of land. You would like to use this land to plant some crops. If the land is not fertile enough, then you will need to fertilise it using a number of different methods. When you fertilise the land, you give it the capacity or power to sustain the crops.
Similarly, through empowerments you are able to make your mind fertile, so that new ideas and qualities can arise within it. While there are many ways to empower the mind, we use specifically designed ceremonies to bring about specific effects in the mind. These ceremonies are called “empowerments”.
The basic principle used in all forms of the Vajrayana is that through shifting our internal state of mind, we are able to shift the way in which we perceive and experience our external reality. This principle is used during an empowerment to help us transform our experience into something that is unique and ultimately meaningful.
We can see this principle at work in a wide variety of situations. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the highly ritualised setting of an empowerment ceremony. Imagine for instance that you were staying in a cave, free from all external distractions. While you may think this would be a nice experience, it might in fact be quite challenging. You may become bored, frustrated or depressed. But if you persevere, focusing on the practices, completely engaging with this reality, then what you may find is that a genuine sense of devotion and love arises. All of these conditions, the external and internal obstacles that come up, all of them contribute to giving rise to particular qualities. The shift or transformation that allows these qualities to arise is also a form of empowerment.
So in this way, empowerment is anything which catalyses internal transformation. It is a shifting of one’s view. Sometimes its very intense and sometimes its not, but it always involves some form of transformation in the mind. You see things that much differently. This means that empowerment can be an ongoing process, happening all day and all night. You can bring all of life’s ups and downs into this process. Whatever the source, it can be used to empower the mind.
The Kalachakra Empowerment Ceremony
The Kalachakra system has developed a number of skillful means to help prepare the minds of would-be practitioners to engage in Kalachakra practice. The Empowerment Ceremony is one such method. It is broken into two sets of empowerments:
- The Seven Empowerments of Entering Like a Child
- The Four Higher and Highest Empowerments
These two sets provide the basis for engaging in the practices of the generation and completion stages respectively. They can be taken individually or together as a larger set of eleven (or 16 depending on how you count). In this article we will look at the first of the two sets. The second will be presented separately.
The Seven Empowerments of Entering Like a Child
This set of empowerments introduce the practitioner to the enlightened universe of Kalachakra. It is an opportunity for the practitioner to develop a pure vision of how to understand and relate with his or her experiences. This is done through seven unique empowerments that are traditionally connected with seven phases of a child’s development. Just as a child matures towards adolescence, so too must a practitioner mature towards the enlightened mandala of Kalachakra. We do this by symbolically purifying how we relate to seven aspects of our experience. We transform each aspect by visualising them each becoming different sets of wisdom deities.
These seven empowerments can be broken into four categories: body, speech, mind and primordial awareness. Together they comprise the totality of our internally experienced universe. By purifying these four bases, we are able to actualise their enlightened forms.
The Empowerments to Achieve the Vajra Body
This first group helps us to transform our experience of gross phenomena from an external and internal perspective. We specifically are seeking to transform how we perceive the world out there and the person in here. This class of experiences correlate to the appearances that arise when the winds gather at the body drop giving rise to the waking state.
- The Water Empowerment: We begin with the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind and space. These five form the basis for our experience of the external universe. When we meditate on the empty nature of these phenomena, we realise they are the five Female Buddhas. This phase corresponds to the washing of a newborn for the first time.
- The Crown Empowerment: Having purified the external universe, we now need to turn inwards to the constituents of our sense of self. In this empowerment, we focus on the five aggregates of form, perception, feeling, conceptions and consciousness. By contemplating the empty nature of each aggregate, we realise they are the five Male Buddhas. This phase corresponds to the moment where the child receives its first hairstyle.
The Empowerments to Achieve the Vajra Speech
The next group of empowerments moves to a subtler level, specifically the subtle structure of our channels and winds. In accordance with the Kalachakra System, the movement of these winds within the channels are the supporting condition for giving rise to a wide variety of mental afflictions. This class of experiences correlate to the appearances that arise when the winds gather at the speech drop giving rise to the dream state.
- The Silk Ribbon Empowerment: Every day, ten types of winds are circulating throughout the body providing the subtle basis for its many functions. You can think of them as the energetic push and pull that keeps the body alive. When we meditate on the empty nature of these winds, we realise them as the ten Divine Goddesses (or Shaktis). This phase corresponds to adorning the child with ornaments.
- The Vajra & Bell Empowerment: While there are more than 72,000 subtle channels running throughout the body, two primary channels run parallel to the spinal column on the left and right. As winds pass through them, they stir the mind and give rise to karmic appearances. By meditating on the empty nature of these channels, we realise they are Kalachakra and Vishvamatha in union, also known as Kalachakra Yab-Yum (Father and Mother). This phase corresponds to the child enjoying the experience of laughing.
The Empowerments to Achieve the Vajra Mind
While the last two groups worked with our physical reality at a gross and subtle level, the next two groups focus on our mental reality. This particular group, looks at the gross level of consciousness and the way that those consciousnesses motivate our activities. This class of experiences correlate to the appearances that arise when the winds gather at the mind drop giving rise to the state of deep dreamless sleep.
- The Conduct Empowerment: There are six types of gross consciousness that we use to perceive our world: visual consciousness, aural consciousness, olfactory consciousness, gustatory consciousness, tactile consciousness and mental consciousness. Each of these types of consciousness arises when our sense organs comes into contact with six types of sense objects. Namely, shapes and forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and mental events. When we contemplate the empty nature of these two sets of six, then we realise the six types of sense consciousness are the six Male Bodhisattvas and the six sense objects are the six Female Bodhisattvas. This phase corresponds to the child enjoying the various sensual experiences of the desire realm.
- The Name Empowerment: On the basis of the different types of consciousness that arise in the mind, we form a conceptual interpretation of our world. On the basis of this interpretation we engage in a variety of activities. In this empowerment, we focus on purifying these activities and the faculties of the body which are used to perform them. The six faculties of the mouth, arms, legs, defecation, urination and the supreme faculty, are realise as the six Male Wrathful Deities. The corresponding six activities of speaking, taking, going, defecating, urinating and emitting semen, are realised as the six Female Wrathful Deities. This phase corresponds to the naming of the child.
The Empowerments to Achieve the Vajra Primordial Awareness
This final group of empowerments works with the subtlest level of the mind. It cuts through the gross conceptual mind and focuses on the very foundation from which all appearances arise. This class of experiences correlate to the appearances that arise when the winds gather at the primordial awareness drop giving rise to the state of bliss.
- The Permission Empowerment: Underlying every moment of mental activity is a subtle layer or cognition, a mere appearance and a subtle awareness. Within the dualistic mind they appear as subject and object, but ultimately they are inseparable. When we contemplate the nature of the subjective pristine awareness aggregate and the objective consciousness element, we transform them into Vajrasattva and Prajñaparamita in union. This phase corresponds to teaching the child Dharma.
Practicing the Generation Stage
After having received the Seven Empowerments of Entering Like a Child and the transmission of the Kalachakra Mantra you will be authorised to practice the generation stage practices of Kalachakra deity yoga. The primary purpose of this practice is to continue developing your pure perception and experience. While a detailed description of those practices are beyond the scope of this article, they include visualisation of the enlightened mandala, recitation of mantra and various subtle meditations designed to develop one’s experience of bliss and emptiness.
It is traditional within the Jonang-Shambhala tradition for practitioners to spend some time working with these practices before moving on to receive the next set of empowerments that authorise them for engaging in the completion stage.