Initiation, or empowerment, belongs to the tantric tradition of Buddhism. The Chö-practice is a practice of the Prajnaparamita in its extended version, its middling version and its simplified version. All instructions that are contained within the whole body of teachings of the Prajnaparamita given by the Buddha are contained within the practice of Chö.
The source of Chö is the great Tibetan female master known as Machik Lapdron (the only mother). Machik Lapdron was prophesied by name by the Buddha in the sutra that distinguishes purity and impurity. The Buddha also prophesied her in the tantric teachings by mentioning her name, Lapkyi Dronma (Labdron), and saying that she would be a teacher and an emanation of the mother of transcendental wisdom. Drolma means “torch” – the torch from Lap. She was also prophesied by the great Indian master Padmasambhava as the emanation of Yeshe Sogyal. In most sutra and tantric teachings of the Buddha, her great spiritual accomplishment is mentioned.
The Chö practice that comes down from the great mother Machik Lapdron has been transmitted through three lineages; the sutra lineage, the tantra lineage and the combined sutra and tantra lineage.
The sutra lineage of the Chö practice can be traced to Buddha Shakyamuni – the historical Buddha, who passed it down to the bodhisattva Manjushri. Then gradually, this linage was transmitted to the great masters Nagarjuna and Arya Deva.
The source of the tantric practice of Chö can be traced to the great mother Prajnaparamita. The great mother Prajnaparamita passed this down to the samboghakaya Buddha Vajrasattva, who passed it on to the nirmanakaya female buddha, the Great Tara, who passed it onto Machik Lapdron.
The lineage that bears the elements from both sutra and tantra can be traced to the bodhisattva Manjushri who passed it on to Arya Tara. Arya Tara transmitted it to the great Indian female master known as Sukasiddhi. She passed it to the chief disciple of Nagarjuna, Arya Deva. Finally it came to Padampa Sangye, who brought the lineage to Tibet where Sönam Lama received the transmission and passed it on to the great mother Machik Lapdron.
The reason behind expounding how the transmissions took place is to prove that this teaching has not been made up by some unenlightened individual. To practice the Chö instructions according to the tantric tradition, one needs to be empowered into the mandala of the Chö practice. Since the Chö instructions that will be given here pertain to the union on the sutra and tantra Chö practice, empowerment is required.
The empowerment that will be given at this moment is bodily, verbal, and mental. The empowerment of the body of the deity is imparted on your body. The empowerment of dharma is bestowed on the mind. The empowerment of mantra is imparted on the speech.
The audience should be fit vessels to receive this empowerment. A fit vessel is a purified mind that is ready to receive the blessings of the empowerment. You are a vessel. The nectar that is going to be poured into the vessel is the blessing of the empowerment. But if the vessel is broken or impure, whatever is poured will be contaminated. If one is to receive empowerment by allowing oneself to be a fit vessel, it is essential to purify one’s mind.
The view of the Chö instruction is emptiness. The action of Chö is an unconventional action that is performed on the basis of being free from hope, fear and hesitation. The voice of Chö is uttering the mantra of the Prajnaparamita, OM GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SOHA.
One meditates on the Chö instruction with the aim of breaking the grip onto the true existence of self or ego. All aspects of dharma are capable of cutting through the ego, but the Chö technique has a unique way of doing this. We will now begin the initiation.
Please repeat the refuge prayer by folding your hands over your heart and visualizing them holding a lotus flower.
Rinpoche leads the refuge prayer
With this verse we have gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and to the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. Now, we will repeat the following verse, which generates the altruistic mind of bodhicitta. Contemplate at the same time how past masters in the same way have generated the altruistic mind of bodhicitta.
Rinpoche leads the prayer
This completes the preparation of the initiation. The main empowerment will now be given.
Machik Lapdron said the following about this practice, “Your awareness should be relaxed, so that it is neither too relaxed nor too tense.” When we can bring our mind to such a balanced state of relaxation, we can comprehend the view of emptiness.
When the empowerment of the Dharma is being imparted to our mind, we should practice the phowa transference that opens the space. The phowa practice that opens the space cannot be compared to other phowa instructions. To conduct the visualization of the phowa practice, you should stand up. Place your hands on the crown of your head.
Visualize your entire body as a balloon filled with air. Then visualize a small ball of white light, a bindu, white in color, under the sole of your right foot. Visualize a red bindu under the sole of your left foot. We will now offer the supplication to the masters of the lineage of the Chö practice, and to the great mother Machik Lapdron.
Rinpoche leads the supplication prayer
While I recite the following prayer, maintain your visualization, and the sense that your body is hollow. Pray to Machik Lapdron that you will succeed in the Chö practice.
Rinpoche performs the melodious Chö ritual of cutting through
Visualize the two white and red balls of light gradually moving upwards though your legs, arriving at your secret chakra where they mix and becomes the size of small egg.
Gradually it ascends through your navel chakra and heart chakra into the crown chakra. As it moves upwards it leaves the crown chakra. While these bindus leave the crown of the head one should be careful about not creating attachment towards one’s body. Try to transfer your consciousness to the space without any reference points. I will utter the sound “Phe!.” At this moment visualize your consciousness leaving your crown chakra into the space without reference points and simply dwell in this non-referential state of mind.
Your consciousness has entered the realm of space. Sentient beings pervade all space. Wherever awareness pervades, so does dharmakaya.
Lower your hands. You might be a little tired, but this will alleviate your disturbing emotions. Try to dwell without conceptual thoughts and emotions. You may sit.
In the sutra teaching of the Buddha, such phowa practice is “the samadhi that perceives the crown of space,” “the samadhi that encompasses the totality of space,” and “the essence of space.” If you can meditate in this manner, this meditation is known as the supreme meditation of the view.
If such meditation is too profound for beginners, then one can alternate meditation the withdrawal the energy of the consciousness into your body with meditation. This purifies obscurations created by holding onto material objects. Visualize yourself in the form of the great Machik Lapdron. Now for a brief moment allow your mind to rest within the state of mind that knows no past or future thoughts…
This completes the bestowal of the Dharma empowerment on our minds. Now comes the empowerment of the deity onto our body. This initiation is done through the medium of the torma (ritual cake). You should visualize the inseparability of the torma and the great Prajnaparamita and Machik Lapdron.
At this point you should visualize white light emanating from the forehead of the great mother Machik Lapdron and striking your forehead. This purifies all physical and karmic obstructions that you have created.
Rinpoche leads prayers ending with the Prajnaparamita mantra OM GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SO HA and performs Mandala offering
At this point you should visualize a red syllable AH at the throat chakra of Machik Lapdron. It emits red light that strikes your throat chakra and purifies all negative obstructions we have created with our speech. Imagine that you have received the speech empowerment of Machik Lapdron.
From the blue seed syllable HUNG at the heart chakra of Machik Lapdron there ensues blue light that strikes our own heart chakra and purifies all obstructive forces created by our mind. We should think that we have received the mind empowerment of Machik Lapdron.
At this point, visualize your body, speech, and mind as inseparable from the body, speech and mind of Machik Lapdron.
During the practice of the Chö we work to untie the knots in our energy channels. We do this by singing Chö prayers with beautiful melodies, and we try to cultivate a mind that is free from attachment to reality. This completes the initiation. We conclude the ceremony with prayers for dedication of merit. I wish you all auspiciousness with the practice of cutting through the ego by using the practice of Chö.
The empowerment of the Chö practice, together with the instruction of the Chö practice and the oral transmission of the Chö practice is very well preserved in the Monastery where I come from. The Dzogchen Academy is famous all over Tibet. Thousands of monks study there. But when it comes to the empowerment of the Chö practice, they invite a lama from my Monastery to give teaching on the Chö. Thank you.
Oslo, June 2005
Translated by Lama Changchub at Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Centre, Norway