Advice To Those Receiving Wangs (Empowerments)

Introduction: The Tibetan term "wang" is literally "empowerment", although it may also be translated as "initiation" or as "consecration" (Sanskrit: abhishekha). It refers to a ceremony in which a lama, on the basis of his own spiritual attainments and his understanding of the rituals, places a disciple in contact with a particular tantric deity, and empowers that disciple to visualize the deity, recite the mantra, and seek to realize the non-duality between his own mind and the mind of the deity. Much happens during a wang, and everything that happens has its special meaning, and is not just for ceremonial decoration.
Classification of Wangs: Each wan belongs to one of the four classes of tantra: Kriya, Carya, Yoga and Anuttarayoga Tantra. Wangs belonging to the lower tantras (Kriya, Carya and Yoga) are termed "lower wangs"; Anuttarayoga Tantra wangs are "higher wangs". Most wangs given by lamas in America are lower wangs, such as the usual wangs for Chenrezi, Green Tara and Manjushri. For some deities, such as Tara, there are wangs at all levels of tantra, For others, such as Hevajra, there are only higher wangs. In addition to the classification of wangs as "higher" and "lower", wangs may also be classified as "major" and "minor". Major wangs are much more complicated than minor wangs. The usual Chenrezi wangs are minor wangs, but there is also a major Chenrezi wang belonging to Anuttarayoga Tantra.
The Content of a Wang: A wang always involves several different consecrations; the number and nature of these depends on the kind of wang. A major wang may have four consecrations, some of which themselves are sub-divided into several consecrations. A minor wang generally has three consecrations, one each for Body, Voice and Mind. These are the "three doors" through which we act (and thus create karma). To purify our actions we must purify each of these three doors; actually they are already pure, though we do not realize this. The goal of Tantra is to purify all our actions of Body, Voice and Mind by removing our moral and mental defilements, so that our actions become not different from those of a Buddha. Receiving a wang is like the planting of a seed; later, with the right conditions, this seed will sprout and grow into Buddhahood. During the wang each of the three doors is blessed individually, and thus there is a Body Consecration, a Voice Consecration and Mind Consecration.
The specific empowerments conferred by these three consecrations are as follow: The Body Consecration purifies all your defilements of body, and empowers you to visualize yourself in the form of the deity (to visualize yourself as, for example, Chenrezi, with one face, four arms, holding a rosary, a lotus, etc.). The Voice Consecration purified all your defilements of voice, and empowers you to recite the mantra of the deity. The Mind Consecration purified all your defilements of mind, and empowers you to realize the non-duality between your own mind and the mind of the deity (in which state the ordinary dichotomy of subject and object is transcended). Taken together, these consecrations empower you to perform a specific meditation practice in which (among other things) you visualize yourself as the deity, recite the mantra, and allow any though of a distinction between yourself and the deity to slip away. By such practices you seek to realize your true nature as not different from Buddhahood.
The four consecrations received during a major wang for a higher deity have a similar purpose, although the specific empowerments conferred are for more profound types of meditation. The first consecration, which itself may be sub-divided into six consecrations. In some lower wangs there is also a short Vase Consecration as part of the Body Consecration. If a wang includes a Vase Consecration then there will be a ritual flask (the "vase") with peacock feathers among the lams' ritual objects. The liquid in this flask will have been consecrated before the wang by the lama, and the flask on your head and give you some of the nectar from the flask to drink. This makes the Body Consecration firm in you.
What to Do in the Wang: You should prepare yourself for a wang as if you were going to receive consecration from the Buddha Himself (as, in a sense, your are). During the preparation ritual performed by the lama before the wang, he has created himself as the deity; throughout the wang you should think of the lama as not different from the deity, and visualize him in the form of the deity. The consecration is more effective if you cultivate a firm belief that you are receiving the wang from the deity itself. For example, if you are receiving a Chenrezi wang then you should constantly imagine the lama in the form of Chenrezi, and believe that it is Chenrezi Himself who is conferring the empowerment upon you.
Before entering the area where the wang is to be given you should remove your shoes and wash your mouth with water. Then upon entering the presence of the lama you should make three prostrations toward him, and then take your seat on the floor. It is best to make three full prostrations; before each one touch the palms of your hands together t the forehead, throat and heart (these symbolize the three doors of Body, Speech and Mind). If for physical or mental reasons you cannot make full prostrations then it is sufficient to bow three times in the direction of the lama. It is best to sit cross-legged, but if you are prevented by physical causes then it is permissible to use a stool or a chair. If, when sitting cross-legged, your legs or back become tired then change position quietly. You should not lie on the floor or sit with your legs stretched out toward the lama.
Before the wang begins, the monk who is assisting the lama will usually give you a small amount of rice, which you should keep handy. This rice is for use in the mandala offering which occurs shortly after the beginning of the wang. As there are always at least two mandala offerings during a wang (at the beginning and at the end), you may care to save some rice for the final mandala offering.
While waiting for the wang to begin, instead of looking around at everyone else you should reflect on your reason for being there. It is important to cultivate the right attitude, which is as follows: Sentient beings suffer under conditions of dissatisfaction and sorrow caused by moral defilements (passion) and mental defilements (delusion). Although you may recognize this condition of universal suffering, you cannot do much about it because you are as bound as everyone else. Only by attaining the wisdom, compassion and power of the Buddhas can you rescue yourself and others from this condition; and so for the sake of all sentient beings you are receiving this consecration.
A wang always has two parts: the preparation and the main part. In the preparation you first perform the mandala offering to the guru, whom you visualize in the form of the deity, surrounded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The mandala offering begins when the monk who is assisting the lama makes three prostrations and begins to heap rice upon a silver mandala. While he is doing this you may perform the mudra (in which the tow ring fingers together pointing upward symbolize the axis of the cosmos according to the ancient Indian cosmology), but this is not necessary. What you should do is to imagine that in offering this rice you are really offering the whole universe, with millions of worlds containing all good things. You are offering this to the llama to request him to bestow the emowerment upon you.
This is worth more than anything material which you could offer, so even if you offered the whole universe (as you are doing symbolically) this would still not be enough n return for what the lama is giving you. When the monk assisting the lama concludes the chanting of the mandala offering verses he will throw rice in the air; at this point you should also throw some rice forward, with a movement of the hand beginning at the heart (these offerings are from your heart).
During the preparation you have to recite certain prayers, such as requesting prayers. The lama will recite these in Tibetan and you should repeat them after him as best you can. It is customary to place your hands together at the heart when reciting prayers, as an expression of devotion. During the preparation you have to recite the Sevenfold Prayer, as an expression of devotion. During the preparation you have to recite the Sevenfold Prayer, in either its Tantric or its Mahayana form. In its Tantric form the Sevenfold Prayer has the following parts: firstly you confess all your sinful actions which you have performed during your countless past lives. Secondly you rejoice in all the virtuous deeds performed by the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas and by all sentient beings. Thirdly you promises to hold the Absolute Bodhicitta, which is the realization of the Ultimate Truth ("emptiness", "nothingness"). Fourthly you take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha form this time until you attain Enlightenment. Fifthly you promise to hold the Relative bodhicitta, which is the desire to attain Enlightenment for the sake of rescuing all sentient begins from their sufferings. Sixthly you resolve to take all steps necessary for attaining Enlightenment for this purpose (this is also part of the Relative Bodhicitta). Finally you dedicate the merit produced by all these good actions for the welfare of all sentient beings. The Mahayana Sevenfold Prayers is similar to the Tantric.
Throughout the wang there are various visualizations to be performed. These are normally explained by the lama at the appropriate time. The visualizations during the main part of he wang are more complicated than those of the preparation. During the main part you may have to visualize, for example, deities emerging from the lama's heart, and Tibetan letters appearing at certain places on the lama's body and on your own body.
The main part of a lower wang consists of the Body, Voice and Mind Consecrations as described before. Usually at the beginning of each of these you visualize light issuing form the lama's heart and shinning upon yourself and all other sentient beings, purifying them of all other sentient beings, purifying them of all defilements. During the Body Consecration you visualize yourself in the form of the deity, according to the instructions of the lama; this Body Consecration is made firm in you when incense is wafted about by the monk assisting the lama. During the Voice Consecration you usually have to visualize the mantra of the deity (in Tibetan letters) emerging from the heart of the lama and entering your own heart. The lama then recites the mantra, which you repeat after him three times. During the Mind Consecration you visualize the see-syllable of the deity in your heart and by concentrating on this seed-syllable, which is the essence of the diety"s mind, you try to realize the non-duality of your own mind and that of the deity/lama. The visualizations to be performed during major wangs are lengthy and complicated in comparison with those of minor wangs.
The wang is concluded by various prayers and a final mandala offering of thanks to the guru for bestowing the wang. The disciples should then file past the lama to receive any special blessings, such as the placing of the vajra, flask, etc. on top of the head, and to make offerings to the lama. If the mandala of the deity has been constructed (it is always present n major wangs) then you should look into it and offer homage to the deity at its center. It is customary to offer white scarves (Tibetan: Khata) at this time, but this is not strictly necessary. If a khata is offered then it should be placed in front of the lama or at his side.
Offerings: It is customary to make offerings to the lama at the end of a wang; if you understand what you have received during the wang then you will feel a natural inclination to make offerings to the lama out of a recognition of his kindness. The value of a wang cannot be measured in dollars, but that does not mean that money is unsuitable as an offering. Lamas do not need money for themselves, but they do need it for their work of teaching and fostering the growth of the Dharma (and especially for building monasteries and schools). Flowers and fruit are more suitable as offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Each person should offer what he feels is appropriate. For a rich man, $1,000 is not too much; for a poor man, a few dollars is not too little. You should also remember that the lamas themselves have already made many offerings to their own gurus, and in some cases they have on several occasions offered all they possessed to their gurus in gratitude for teachings received.