The Gyalwang Karmapa Bestows the First Initiation of "Knowing One Frees All" - White Tara
Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
20 December, 2014
The day began in magnificence with the rich pageantry welcoming His Holiness Sakya Trizin and the empowerment he bestowed. The brilliance continued in the afternoon with the Karmapa bestowing the first initiation in the cycle known as "Knowing One Frees All." True to his way of meticulously checking everything down to the smallest detail, before he left the stage, where he was the main recipient of Sakya Trizin's empowerment, the Karmapa gave instructions on how to set up the mandala in the golden mandala pavilion for the beginning of the initiations he would bestow.
Here, behind the traditional offering bowls and set in a row are the main articles for bestowing the initiation of White Tara: a vase with an image (wang tsa) of her set into a spread of peacock feathers; a painting of her emblem, the white utpala flower; a mandala disk; and another vase with a red tie. (Later, the Karmapa would mention that the vase in his hand had been used by the previous Karmapa.)Behind all these offerings and in the center of the pavilion stage is the main torma representing White Tara. It has delicately colored lotus petals at the base and a white cap near the top.
The center of the stage is dominated by a floor to ceiling thangka of the Buddha, which is flanked by two lithe sambhogakaya deities while above him sails a garuda with two gods on either side. Underneath this radiant image are laid out three tiers of extensive offerings. The top level displays a series of three-foot tormas decorated with brightly colored medallions of the eight auspicious signs and the eight auspicious substances. Alternating with them are ornately decorated bowls with long sticks holding opalescent tsampaka flowers arranged as blossoms in radiating petals. The next level has the traditional offerings of seven bowls (water for drinking and for bathing, flowers, etc.) made of silver and gold, while the flame of a butter lamp burns brightly in the middle. The final tier has fifteen double layers of gold lotuses surmounted by glistening silver images of the eight auspicious symbols and the seven articles of royalty (yogurt, a mirror, mustard seed, and so forth).
In front of the offerings and aligned perfectly beneath the Buddha is the new resplendent throne, elegant in gold and black. It is made of agar wood, so dense that it took twenty monks to barely move it into place. The back of the throne is crowned with a blazing golden jewel under which sits a very life-like Amitayus, almost more human than iconic. His mount is the peacock, two of which are depicted in the table set before the throne. Their heads face each other and their long golden bodies and tails flow gracefully down to the right and left. Traditionally, the Buddha's throne is supported by stylized turquoise and white snow lions, but here they are replaced by two powerful, life-like lions, looking as if they had just strode in from the savanna. Dragons swirl over the surfaces on the side of the steps leading up to the throne and on the ends of the table: they rise powerfully above surging waves, their round eyes staring straight ahead and the scales of their curving bodies flashing in the light, setting space into motion.
Befitting the splendor of this setting, today the Karmapa is wearing a special zen fashioned of golden yellow brocade in an elegant geometric pattern. The folds in the thicker fabric are delineated clearly, emphasizing the stately quality of the Karmapa's movements.
While the sangha chants the Twenty-One Praises to Tara, the Karmapa performs the preparations for the initiation, seated in front of the mandala pavilion and behind a screen of the kings of the four directions. After finishing, the Karmapa leaves for a short time and returns to make three bows to the Buddha and take his place upon the resplendent throne. As the Short Vajradhara Lineage Prayer comes to an end with "In all of our births may we never be separated from the perfect guru," H.H Sakya Trizin's two sons, Khondung Ratna Vajra Rinpoche and Khondung Gyana Vajra Rinpoche, come before the Karmapa to offer white scarves and their departing good wishes.
The initiation itself then moved through the traditional stages of purification,(the Karmapa poured water from a vase onto a crystal ball shimmering in reflected gold);clearing the space of negative spirits; setting up the vajra tent; the recitation of the lineage for the initiation; the presentation of a mandala accompanied by a long line of offerings; and the reciting of praises and supplications for the Karmapa's long life. At this point, he took the opportunity to give a short talk welcoming everyone―rinpoches, khenpos, all the shedra monks, the nuns, lay men and women. He also stated that His Holiness Sakya Trizin's coming to the Kagyu Monlam is a sign of virtue that will be recognized in many future generations. That this visit could happen is due to H.H. Sakya Trizin's great compassion, and the Karmapa extensively thanked him and his retinue.
The Karmapa continued to explain that when you take an initiation, you first have to examine the master who's giving it. Since our own mind is not hidden to us, he could look at his own to see if it's an authentic one or not. When he looked, he could also see that his strength was pretty much exhausted, since he has had so much work to do. To give an authentic initiation in this state is very difficult, like seeing a star during the day. However, so as not to lose the dependently arising opportunity of this occasion,the Karmapa said that he would do his best.
It is also true, he said, that the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions plus all the root and lineage lamas are always present and willing to give their blessing. If we have pure faith, they will take the opportunity to give us the blessing or initiation we wish for. The Karmapa said he was convinced of this and asked everyone to maintain the same attitude and pure vision while receiving the initiations.
He further mentioned that when he was young, he had the opportunity to practice White Tara and complete the one million mantra required, so he had some confidence in giving this initiation. He made the aspiration that through receiving it, we would have a long life, and in that life, be able to accomplish great things for ourselves and others. Since the time was short, he would not give other explanations now.
The Karmapa then proceeded through the next stage of the initiation: the description of the visualization, the evocation of the wisdom deities, and bestowing the initiations of body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities. He said it was not necessary to give the torma initiation but he would do this as well. Usually during the torma blessing, the lama should place it on top of the disciple's head, but there are too many people here to do that. He once saw an image of the previous Karmapa with a long arm of light reaching out to give the initiation to everyone. We'll have to wait and see, he said, what might happen on the final day. With these words, the Karmapa descended from the throne, and while ringing his bell and reciting the mantra, he blessed with the White Tara torma the tulkus on stage, beginning with Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche.
During the initiation, one could also hear the sounds of long radung horns and thigh bone trumpets as well as drums emanating from the back of the pavilion. This music belonged to a protector practice from “Knowing One Frees All”, performed just outside the pavilion gate (the far edge of the mandala) by Urgyen Topgyal Rinpoche and his monks. December twentieth in the Western calendar falls on the twenty-ninth of the Tibetan one, the special day for doing protector practices.
Completing the initiation, the Karmapa offered prayers for the lamas to live long and the teachings to remain in the world and flourish. A mandala of thanks was offered by everyone, along with their body, speech, and mind so that all beings throughout space may be benefitted.