Empowerment and the Path of Liberation
BUDDHAS HAVE APPEARED IN THE PAST and will do so in the future. We are now in the era of the Buddha Shakyamuni, the Fourth Guide of this present aeon. The Buddha, our Teacher, had tremendous ingenuity and immense compassion. He taught in countless profound ways, all adapted to the individual capacities of the beings who had the great fortune to be within his sphere of influence. During this era of Buddha Shakyamuni, we can receive the teachings of Sutra and Mantra. Tibetan Buddhism is the combination of Sutra and Mantra, which are in fact an indivisible unity (dbyer med). I am happy to introduce this translation of Tsele Natsok Rangdrol’s teaching on the ripening empowerments and liberating instructions. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol was a most illustrious master, excelling in both scholarship and accomplishment. His character resembled that of Dza Paltrul Rinpoche in Tibet and of Shantideva in India. His mind was gentle and disciplined and he displayed a profound sense of humility. At the same time he was also adept at exposing the faults hidden deep in others, and skilled in giving advice to remedy these faults. It is a fact that without removing our faults we cannot develop true spiritual qualities. Our secret faults and shortcomings must be exposed and skillfully altered by oral instructions. Tibetan Buddhism has three levels of precepts: the vows of individual liberation, the practices of bodhisattvas, and the samaya commitments of Vajrayana. These samaya commitments depend completely upon having received the ripening empowerments, upon being genuinely introduced to and recognizing the original wakefulness that is the nature of empowerment. To train in remaining evenly in that basic state of original wakefulness is itself the direct path to awakening to buddhahood within this very body and life.
We hear that Vajrayana is superior to other vehicles, but for what reason?
Its superiority lies entirely in receiving the ripening empowerments and liberating instructions in an authentic way, and in applying them correctly. By doing so we can reach enlightenment, ideally in this very life, or next best at the moment of death. At the very least, as long as we haven’t created severe negative karma through acts such as turning against the Three Jewels, breaking our samayas, or abandoning our bodhisattva vows by forsaking other sentient beings, our mothers from past lives, there is still the opportunity to realize the innate nature of dharmata in the after-death state of the bardo, and thus to reach liberation. The key instructions that enable us to accomplish this depend upon empowerment, meaning upon our experience of original wakefulness that is the nature of empowerment. There are different ways of conferring empowerment within the systems of Father Tantra, Mother Tantra, Nondual Tantra, Quintessence Tantra, and so forth. Some of these ways emphasize skillful means, others discriminating knowledge. Some place equal emphasis on means and knowledge, and some on the essential nature itself. The differences in emphasis apply to both the ceremony of conferring empowerment, when teachings are given, as well as the actual application of the meaning in practice.
Empowerment was written by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, a 17th century scholar, poet and Buddhist master, who had reached a very high level of wisdom and accomplishment in practice. In it he describes the precise nature of the ripening empowerments, the purpose and benefits of receiving them, what constitutes the authentic transmission of empowerment, how to attain liberation after empowerment, and what it truly means to be liberated.
In this book he also describes the true meaning of Mahamudra. He imparts the subtle and very profound key points needed to guide one through the critical stages encountered during the training of Mahamudra. In order to clear away our lack of understanding, misunderstanding, and doubt, Tsele Natsok Rangdrol presents his teachings in a question-and-answer format, with the replies spoken from his personal experience.
It is my opinion that this English translation of Empowerment will bring immense benefit. We find ourselves at a point of time in which the general teachings of the Buddha, and especially Vajrayana, are spreading all over the planet.
The true intent of Vajrayana is exceedingly subtle, and some people find it hard to correctly comprehend its nature. They may misconstrue the meaning of tantric teachings, or feel suspicious about them. I sense that this is the reason for some questionable translations that have recently been published. Some of these are produced by people without proper Buddhist education, while others are merely opinions formed from incorrect personal assumptions. Unfortunately, such books are in disharmony with the intent of the tantras. I harbor great misgivings about unrealized people who give talks and publish books on ‘Vajrayana’ while acting and thinking in ways that contradict the meaning of the tantras.
There seems only one way to remedy this fault, and that is to present the topic of the four empowerments (dbang bzhi) in a way that accords with the meaning of the tantras. I find it most beneficial to publish a correct translation of the instructions of an authentic master who was both erudite and personally accomplished. I have great trust in the teachings of Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, and it is exactly for that reason that I encouraged Erik Pema Kunsang to translate this work. By doing so, I believe we are not creating the demerit of divulging secret matters; rather, a book like this is comparable to a medicinal remedy, dispelling the illness of lack of understanding, misunderstanding and doubt. I feel confident that my yidam and gurus consent to this, and that this translation will bring great benefit. Our great master, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, on several occasions told me that people who harbor no ambition to become a great scholar, but who want to focus on truly realizing the view in this life and sincerely wish to reach the ultimate point of training should study just a few of the writings of Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, including his teachings on the bardo, Mahamudra, and the Great Perfection. If they study and reflect correctly on his teachings, they will find the pith instructions that are the very heart of the 84,000 sections of the Dharma are all complete within these.