The Empowerment of Avalokiteshvara

by Michele Martin on 2 June, 2016

Bülach, Switzerland – May 29, 2016

Bülach’s city hall was filled to the brim with over two thousand Tibetans and westerners who came this morning to receive the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara from the Gyalwang Karmapa, who is considered an emanation of this deity embodying the compassion of all the buddhas. The sound of six-syllable mantra filled the air while the Karmapa performed the preparations in a curtained area of the stage. He then came to take his seat on the central throne, to the right of which hung an impressive image of Avalokiteshvara.

The ceremony began with the Praises to the Buddha, the request to teach, purification, and creating a protected space for the empowerment. After everyone took refuge and generated bodhicitta, and a mandala was offered, the Karmapa spoke about the empowerment itself. The source of the lineage for this the Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara, he explained, is the mahasiddha Tsultrim Zangpo from Nari, who is said to have lived hundreds of years. Among the many different types of empowerments, this is the one of transformative primordial awareness.

We should be taking the empowerment, he said, in order to engage in the practice of Avalokiteshvara, which is a practice focused on compassion since he represents or embodies the compassion of all the buddhas. When we engage in the practice Avalokiteshvara, we are practicing great compassion. How to understand great compassion? We wish, “May all living beings be free of suffering,” or “How wonderful it would be if all creatures were released from misery!” or “I will liberate all beings from suffering.” Great compassion is the wholehearted, powerful wish to free all living beings from their suffering.

“In order to generate compassion for other beings,” the Karmapa counseled, “it is important first to generate compassion for ourselves. Renunciation and compassion are like two sides of the same coin: renunciation—letting go of samsara and its suffering—is how we create benefit for ourselves, and compassion—the wish to free others from samsaric suffering—is how we benefit others.”

Bodhisattvas skillfully rely on instructions for practice. “Usually we think of ourselves when we think of being free of suffering and wishing for happiness,” the Karmapa noted. “In their wisdom, bodhisattvas think of others, knowing that just as one desires well being and happiness, so do others, and thus the bodhisattva’s compassion expands. Their skill in means is wondrous.”

“Usually when a real empowerment is given,” the Karmapa continued, “the one bestowing it has the true meaning or significance of the empowerment in their heart-mind and they convey this to those receiving the initiation.” Today, however, there was not enough time, so the empowerment would bring a blessing and create a good connection.

The words of the empowerment were profound and moving. For the empowerment related to the body, people became a radiant Avalokiteshvara who arose out of emptiness; for speech, compassion arose while not moving from the awareness of emptiness; and for mind, it was never separate from the nature of mahamudra.

After an offering of thanksgiving and dedication, the Karmapa made a few remarks on the practice and form of Avalokiteshvara. If our practice goes well, he explained, we will know because our compassion will increase. In speaking of form, he said that at first he thought he knew the manifestations of Avalokiteshvara well, the two-armed, the four-armed, the eight-armed, the thousand-armed, and so forth, but there are over one hundred forms—so many that it can be confusing. When he thought about it, however, he concluded that the thousand-armed form was the best. Why? It is difficult to help one living being and fulfill their wishes, he commented, and when one wants to help a vast number, the symbolism of the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara is more appropriate. The multiplicity of his arms suggests a dynamic and vast motivation to help all living beings.

The Karmapa added that while we are meditating on ourselves as Avalokiteshvara, the practice does not only involve taking on his form, but becoming the embodiment of the compassion of all the buddhas. We maintain this state, he said, through what is known as “the pride of the deity.” When we hold this kind of compassion in our mind, it would be strange to get angry or to be jealous, so this particular type of superior pride can be helpful in diminishing our afflictions.

“Meditating in a deity should inspire us and increase our mind’s capacity,” he remarked. “We should not think that there is some powerful being out there in front of us, but rather that we are connecting with a particular power or quality and ‘downloading’ this into our mindstream.” With this encouragement to practice Avalokiteshvara and deepen our compassion, the Karmapa concluded the empowerment.