How Important is Guru Yoga
by Ven. Lopon Osel
The Four Empowerments
With the skillful means of the Vajrayana, the practitioner receives the blessings of the teacher in the form of rays of light. This is the empowerment (abhiseka in Sanskrit, or wang in Tibetan). It is called “empowerment” because when we receive it we are empowered to follow a particular spiritual practice, and so come to
master its realization. Most of us have received empowerment from a qualified teacher, but to maintain the stream of blessings of the empowerment and to renew its power, we need to receive the four empowerments over and over again by ourselves, through the practice of Guru Yoga. This is in fact the most essential part
of the Guru Yoga practice. In Guru Rinpoche’s own words: If you received an empowerment every year and lived for a hundred years, it would add up to one hundred empowerments. Then, even if you had to be reborn among the animals, it would be as their king. Empowerment is the most essential way to receive the blessings of the guru’s body, speech, mind, and wisdom, which will dispel the veils and obscurations of our own body, speech, mind, and inherent wisdom.
In order for us actually to receive these four empowerments, first of all we fervently invoke the gurus of the lineage masters, yidams, dakas, and kakinis melt into light and dissolve into our root teacher, whom we visualize above our head in the form of Guru Rinpoche. Now he becomes even more radiant and even more resplendent than before, as within him are gathered the compassion and wisdom of all the buddhas of past, present, and future.
The Vase Empowerment
Brilliant rays of white light, radiating like the “water-crystal moon,” stream out from a white syllable OM at Guru Rinpoche’s forehead center. They are absorbed into a white letter OM visualized in our own forehead center, and completely fill our entire body-we are still visualizing ourselves as Vajrayogini. Through this, all the stains and obscurations due to negative actions of our body are dispelled, and our channels (nadi in Sanskrit, tsa in Tibetan) are purified.
Within our body, we have three main channels, but because of our ignorance and delusion, it is karmic energy (inner air or “wind”) that circulates through these channels. They are blocked by twenty-two knots that bind the two lateral veins to the central one and prevent the circulation of wisdom energy, thereby creating deluded perceptions. As these knots unite, two by two, we reach the levels of realization from the first to the eleventh bhumi, which is buddhahood.
Through receiving the blessing of the body of the guru in this first empowerment, all of the obscurations, stains, and impurities of the channels are purified. We receive the Vase Empowerment, which empowers us to meditate upon the development state, or Kyerim-in other words, to meditate upon a deity. We might ask: What is the point of meditating upon deities? This kind of meditation allows us to realize that all appearances are primordially pure: the universe is a buddhafield and all beings are dakas and dakinis,
manifestations of the guru; all sounds are the natural resonance of mantras; and all thoughts are the movements of wisdom. In our present state, we are deceived by appearances, so that whenever we see beautiful forms, we are attracted by them, and when we see ugly forms, we are repelled or disgusted. This is the very cause of our wandering in samsara.
Through the practice of Kyerim, pure perception will arise, and this is a sign that delusion has been dispelled. In truth, what is simply being revealed is the natural state of things, for example, that the five elements are the female buddhas of the five families, and the five aggregates are the male buddhas of the five families.
Through receiving the first empowerment, the seed for attaining the level of the completely matured vidyadhara, or “wisdom-holder,
is sown within us. At this level the mind of the practitioner has been transformed, or matured, into wisdom. Although his body is still there as an envelope, it is not made of ordinary aggregates, and is ready to dissolve into the wisdom body at the moment of death. In the same way that a fish placed on dry ground can be quite sure it will not survive for very long, the yogin whose mind has been freed into wisdom knows
that this is his last ordinary body, and that as soon as this corporeal envelope is destroyed at death, he will achieve liberation. The level of the completely matured vidyadhara corresponds to the path of accumulation and the path of preparation in the five paths of the Sutrayana teachings. Through this empowerment the seed for realizing the nirmanakaya is sown within our being. The Secret Empowerment
The second empowerment, which confers the blessing of the guru’s speech, is known as the Secret Empowerment.
From a red syllable AH at the throat center of the guru stream out boundless rays of brilliant ruby-colored red light. These are absorbed into a syllable AH visualized at our own throat center, and they completely fill our whole body. This purifies the four negative actions committed through speech: lies, divisive talk, harsh words, and irrelevant chatter.
There are three constituents to our body: the channels, energy, and essence. The channels were purified by the first empowerment; in the second empowerment the karmic energy (or wind: prana in Sanskrit, lung in Tibetan), which gives rise to attachment, hatred, and all ordinary deluded thoughts and actions, is purified into wisdom energy. This karmic energy is like a blind horse carrying the crippled rider of the mind here,
there, and everywhere. Since energy and mind are so closely related, by purifying the karmic energy into wisdom, the deluded mind is purified into primordial awareness. So when the red light pervades our body and all its channels, the wisdom of bliss-emptiness dawn in our being and we receive the second empowerment.
The Secret Empowerment empowers us to practice the recitation mantras. We might ask:
Why are mantras so important? It is because they are not mere words or ordinary sounds; they have been blessed by the deity to be the same as the deity itself. Mantras also include the name of the deity, so just as when you call someone over and over again they cannot help but reply,
the deities cannot fail to bless us. Of the four vidyadhara levels, the second empowerment will bring the realization of the vidyadhara who has power over life. The name itself shows that such a being has realized the unchanging nature of the absolute, and that both body and mind have been transmuted into wisdom.
Of the four kayas, this empowerment sows the seed for realizing the sambhogakaya, within which is found the display of the five celestial buddhafields, located in the center and the four cardinal directions.
The Wisdom Empowerment
This is the empowerment of the heart, or mind, of the guru and is known as the Wisdom Empowerment. At Guru Rinpoche’s heart center is a syllable HUM, clear blue like an autumn sky, which sends out boundless rays of dazzling blue light. They dissolve into another blue syllable HUM visualized in our own heart center, and completely fill our whole body. With this, the three defects or negative actions of mind- covetousness, malice, and wrong views-are purified, and we receive the blessings of the guru’s mind, the non-dual wisdom of all the buddhas.
Of the three constituents of the body, here the essence (bindu in Sanskrit, tikle in Tibetan), which is carried along the channels by the energy, is purified. There are both red and white tikles, which in ordinary states are the cause of the verified, all the obscurations of the mind as well as the latent tendencies are purified, giving birth to absolute wisdom.
We are empowered to practice the various concentrations of Samatha(shyine in Tibetan), or “tranquil abiding,” and Vipasyana(Ihaktong in Tibetan), or “greater vision,” through which we can recognize the true nature of the guru.
In fact, that which is to be realized, the nature of emptiness, has no substance, color, or shape, and recognition of this comes about when we experience the Great Bliss of Wisdom. This is an all-pervading bliss that has nothing to do with ordinary, deluded bliss. Great Bliss is generated through the practice of tummo. In this practice, the practitioner visualizes, below the navel center,
a point resembling the right stroke of the Tibetan letter A. From it rises fire, swift and strong, which ascends through the channels to a white syllable HAM visualized at the top of the head. Touched by the fire, the HAM begins to drip a precious nectar, which fills the practitioner’s body with an experience of Great Bliss, unstained by ordinary emotions.
Through the Wisdom Empowerment, of the four vidyadhara levels we will here attain that of the mahamudra vidyadhara. When Guru Rinpoche granted the empowerment of Vajrakilaya to his disciples, he assumed the form of Vajrakilaya at the center of the mandala. Such a capacity to display an infinite number of wisdom forms is the fruit, or characteristic, of the vidyadhara level. It demonstrates that body, speech, and mind are now pervaded with wisdom.
Of the four kayas, with this empowerment we establish an auspicious connection for realizing the dhharmakaya, which is the pure dimension of the mind.The Symbolic Empowerment
The fourth empowerment is known as the Ultimate Empowerment of the Absolute Nature. The blue syllable HUM at the guru’s heart center emanates another syllable HUM which, like a shooting star, flies into our heart, instantly filling our whole body with light. All the subtle defilements that mask realization are purified, and deluded perceptions, dualistic clinging to subject and object, as well as all latent tendencies,
are dispelled. The subtle defilements upon the universal ground (kunshyi in Tibetan) are purified. The universal ground is where the residue of past actions, our habits and tendencies, which create obstacles on the path to enlightenment,
are stored. According the Sutrayana, the subtle obscurations that veil realization are only cleared when we reach the tenth bhumi. However, according to the Secret Mantrayana, when our own awareness is seen as immaculate and becomes as vast as the sky, all the subtle defilements veiling the knowable are dissolved.
Now all the subtle stains caused by the ten unvirtuous actions of body, speech,
and mind are purified, particularly the defilements concealing the “vajra wisdom.” Here, vajra wisdom refers to the inseparability of the enlightened body, speech, and mind of the guru. For although on a relative level we may distinguish between the vajra body, speech, and mind, in reality they are all aspects of one nature,
known as vajra wisdom. The body of a buddha is uncompounded, like the sky; his speech is the source of the eighty-four thousand sections of the Dharma; and his mind is sheer awareness. Yet these three are indivisible, and any one of the body, speech, or mind of a buddha can express the qualities of the other two.
This empowerment is called the Symbolic Empowerment because it indicates the absolute wisdom. Yet a mere indication is not wisdom itself, because words cannot describe the absolute. Through the blessing of such an empowerment-the transference of the guru’s blessings-we will actually realize this wisdom for ourselves.
With this empowerment, we are empowered to meditate on Dzogpachenpo and we will reach the level of the spontaneously accomplished vidyadhara, which is equivalent to the level of the buddhahood, and the indivisibility of the three kayas-the svabhavikakaya.
Through the blessing of the guru, our body, speech, and mind and the guru’s enlightened body, speech, and mind will become indistinguishably one. Here, we simply remain in equipoise, within the state of emptiness and pure awareness.
At the end of the practice, we arouse an even stronger devotion towards the master, as a result of which the guru becomes even more resplendent in compassion and kindness, and smiles at us with tremendous love. Then a red light streams out from his hear like a shooting star,
is absorbed into our heart, and fills our whole body with inconceivable bliss. As we experience this bliss, our body melts into a mass of red light the size of an egg, which gradually condenses into an exceedingly brilliant red sphere. Like a spark of fire, it suddenly shoots out and dissolves into Guru Rinpoche’s heart. We then remain in this state, our mind inseparable from the wisdom mind of Guru Rinpoche.
Ordinarily speaking, the mind is that which constantly remembers different thoughts and actions, negative and positive, happy or sad. Yet if we examine this mind, we find that past thoughts are now completely gone; they are dead, like a corpse. Future thoughts are not yet born-we have no idea what will come into our mind tonight. So past and future thoughts do not exist.
Then, if we also look into the present thought, we will see that even that does not exist: there is nothing, in fact, but emptiness. So, just remain in a state of recognition, a fresh and vivid simplicity, the nature of the guru in which our mind is not inferior in comparison with his, but all is merged into one nature. We should remain in the natural state for as long and as often as we can.