Wednesday, July 29, a day dedicated to Chenrezig practice. Thayé Dorjé, His Holiness the XVIIth Gyalwa Karmapa, conferred the empowerment to more than 1900 people gathered in the great tent.
Before going directly into the ritual, the Karmapa took the time to share more teaching, once again on compassion, as he had done previously the day before. He can never repeat enough that the veritable essence of Buddhism is compassion practice. We can unfortunately forget that sometimes and become more fascinated by the outer aspects of the path – such as rituals which maintain a strong element in the Vajrayana. The heart of the practice, compassion, could appear difficult to apply but numerous methods exist for us to train and they are accessible to us. To illustrate the importance of this quality of compassion, Karmapa demonstrated its essential aspect to our existence. Without it he assures us, we would lose all hope and meaning. He explains that compassion is present in each being without exception, and that from birth. Even in its most basic forms of affection or willful attention, even limited to certain carefully chosen beings in the category of “love”. And that is very good news as he also reminds us that compassion is the foundation of all spiritual development (it is of course one of the causes of enlightenment, as he specified the previous day). However compassion cannot remain just a sort of noble idea: it is essential to truly experience it. But, we could confuse compassion or devotion with common attachment. Karmapa warned against this error and explained a way to distinguish attachment from compassion or devotion. When it arises, attachment is often too subtle to perceive, but it is possible to look into it and question it deeper. If the feeling which arises is based on personal interest, or a trace of worry, then it is attachment. Compassion on the other hand, is completely disinterested. Karmapa encourages us to keep that in mind, all the while cultivating this precious quality since it is fundamental and is a great source of goodness. Chenrezig practice can help us. It is a truly efficient method and each word of the ritual carries meaning and value.
Having laid down these indispensable foundations to have a good understanding of this quality that we try to deploy, Karmapa proceeded with the empowerment in the afternoon. What is an empowerment? It is a transmission that is carried out in Vajrayana practice by a master who has himself received it from the uninterrupted lineage from the Buddha; it is a pre-requisite to properly do yidam practice. So now we can ask, what is a yidam! Even though this word is generally translated as “deity”, a yidam is in fact a support which links (dam) the spirit (yi) to the enlightened dimension. It is not about an entity which might truly exist outside of ourselves; it is simply the expression of enlightened qualities present within us but not yet realized. Karmapa explains to the listeners that the attributes associated with Chenrezig (as all the yidams) are symbolic – the four arms for example, refer to the four unlimited thoughts: love, compassion, joy and equanimity. The empowerment is thus a transmission from one mind to another which authorizes the disciple to meditate on the yidam, benefiting from favorable conditions for his realization. Traditionally, it is said that the master “plants a seed”, but it is then up to the disciple to take care and to the make the seed germinate (meaning to cultivate the qualities that represent the yidam)! If the empowerment of Chenrezig seems simple compared to Gyalwa Gyamtso which Shamar Rinpoche conferred over two days in 2013, it is equally as profound. It is what will allow practitioners to develop more and more compassion – the heart of the Dharma practice! – as well as to dissipate anything which may veil this naturally innate quality of the mind.
This day, the empowerment lasted three hours…taking more than two hours for everyone to pass in front of Karmapa and receive his blessing! But who’s counting the hours when we’re in front of such a bodhisattva who incarnates this sublime quality of compassion. His demeanor carried through, smiling and attentive to the last person, with no concern of fatigue. He is, without a doubt, the principle source of inspiration of all the aspiring bodhisattvas gathered in the hall today.