REVIEW OF A NYINGMA YESHE TSOGYAL EMPOWERMENT

(930504, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto, CA)

By Tyagi Nagasiva

Part I - Reflections (This page)
Part II - Supplementary Materials (Another page)

Part I - Reflections on the Empowerment


My Abyss (shakti/lover, Lisa Karpinski) and I have been enchanted and intrigued by the stories of Yeshe Tsogyel for a few years. My own research into tantra and the phenomena of termas had prepared us well to attend.

As I made clear in my essay on _The Necronomicon_ and its relationship to Eastern termas and Western grimoires, termas are teachings (lit. 'treasures'), hidden by the Guru (in the Nyingma school this is often Padmasambhava) and given various manifestations (physical form, vision and consciousness-energy).

Yeshe Tsogyel's role as divine consort, adept, teacher and dakini is a beacon of wonderful power for women of all cultures. She stands on her own as an incredible adept, and, as my Abyss had met the Lama, Ngakpa Chogyam Rinpoche, previously, and enjoyed him so much, an invitation to a Yeshe Tsogyel empowerment was impossible to bypass.

For us the experience began on the journey to the general area of the event, where Lisa had an appointment. I began reading aloud passages of supportive text regarding the dakini (lit. 'skywalkers' or 'celestial voyagers'), terma, yidam, and a tangental definition of one of the important terms within them ('phurba' - lit. 'nail' or 'wedge). These may be found in Part II of this reflection, accompanied by materials we received later that evening.

After her appointment we proceeded to the empowerment. It was held at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) in Palo Alto, CA, which I'd never before visited. There was some confusion, as ITP was having an open house the same evening in a different section of the building, and we wandered a bit before finding the correct location.

This was not to be a social affair for Lisa or myself. We were welcomed and then left more or less on our own. The first thing I remember seeing is the Lama himself, seated upon a comfortable chair in traditional Tibetan garb. I was surprised as our gaze met and, further, by my impulse to avoid this interaction and find my Abyss. As I discovered she'd not yet walked in, I began to slowly take the people and place into my perception.

Rinpoche is European ("English-born"). This was obvious at first glance and though I'd remembered Lisa's description of him, I think I was slightly thrown by this when our eyes first met across the expanse of people, books and space of the room.

Finding my Abyss, encountering the almost invisible staff, and then selecting floor seating quite near to Rinpoche, I examined the people and environment more carefully. This was ITP's library. One wall was completely covered in books and there were study tables against the walls, now supporting an array of pillows ostensibly for use as floor cushions.

The people were, on the average, between the ages of 30 and 50, with few exceptions of European heritage ('caucasian') and apparently of mostly upper middle-class socio-economic status. This was perhaps to be expected, given both the esoteric nature of the event (Westerners tend to approach tantra intellectually I'd imagine) and the location.

By and large there was an equal distribution of men and women. Though some of Rinpoche's male apprentices sat closer and face-front, those people nearest him were predominantly women (appropriately, given the quite feminine focus of the empowerment). I sat behind my Abyss and watched with interest.

His apprentices were easily identified by the traditional length of fabric they wore across their shoulder and upper body. This identification marker was maroon or red in color, centered by a blue pillar and flanked by a white line to either side. The pillars and lines were of various shades and widths, but the intent was clear. To my knowledge there was only one woman apprentice in attendance. He called her 'the resident dakini' and she was to physically carry out the more mobile activities of the rite.

After a brief period while people arrived and settled in, the Lama began talking about the empowerment, its elements and what it symbolized. Before him was a large, square table, cluttered with colorful objects of origin and function initially unknown to me. To his right (before us) was a large green-shaded object which turned out to be a drum, with two smaller versions set upon the table.

These drums were of the kind which one holds, like a rattle, and twists back and forth, rhythmically, to set in motion the tethered weights attached to either end which strike the drumskin on each side as their tether wraps around.

As Rinpoche spoke I noticed a few things about his manner. The first was his obvious English accent. The second and more jarring characteristic was the way he emphasized the first consonant in most of his words, followed by a very slight pause, or intake of breath. The third was his genuine humility and ease in speaking before our group, occasionally evidencing possible hints of embarrassment.

Attendance reached 20-30 at most and this was fairly compressed. The library was really not the ideal place for such an event, besides its symbolic value, and with many more present there might have been difficulties with space. Even so, a feeling of intimacy pervaded and Rinpoche could be heard easily while speaking at a conversational volume.

I noticed (and heard mention of) some infirmity on the Lama's part. It seemed to have to do with his back or legs, caused him a minor amount of pain, and perhaps encouraged him to remain in his seat the entire time, only getting up and walking when later preparing to depart.

Behind him was a small atrium and to his right was a good-sized potted plant - all in all quite aesthetically pleasing. The room was quiet as he spoke, all present intent upon the phenomenon of the Lama - his experience, his perception and clarity.

He first mentioned termas, which he called 'Ter'. I found this revelatory, due to the variation in the word root, which up until that time I'd seldom thought much about. It was less his exact words (much of which I'd under- stood already) than the way he used them which inspired my fascination.

The root, Ter, is apparently appended with 'ma' for those 'hidden treasures' of feminine origin (ma: mother/female). The suffix 'ton' is added to indicate one who discovers or receives them ('Terton/Tertons'). See Part II for more on this. We were given many handouts and one of these had a paragraph or two regarding Ter.

After a word or two on this subject he talked about the empowerment itself, which he explained could also be called an 'initiation'. He described how it would proceed and what his role in it was to be. The goal of the evening was to initiate the dakini Yeshe Tsogyel within us.

It is presumed, in the practice as a whole, that one is capable of reaching what Rinpoche described as a 'state of emptiness' (sunyata). A 'return to form' can be effected through the use or engagement of feminine energies symbolized by Yeshe Tsogyel in a manner similar to a shield.

The Lama compared the experience of the return from sunyata with that of a space shuttle re-entering orbit. The friction of the formal world can be difficult, and this 'shield of tiles' functions in a way like a teflon coating, which he humorously compared to the efficiency of teflon frying pans when making scrambled eggs. The dakini allows us to re-enter the formal world without letting the experience become samsaric; without having it stick to us or our becoming attached to it.

Rinpoche's job, as I understood it, was to be a dynamo, providing the catalyzing force necessary to begin this arising of Yeshe Tsogyel within. I'll describe the tools of the empowerment as I remember he did and then relay my experience of the rite itself.

The first was a sort of teapot (I forget the technical name he gave it), which he said was some 700 years old and was a gift to him by a respected guru in India. The teapot contained water that would later be poured into our hand(s) by the 'resident dakini' during the first phase of the first element ('ritual transmission'). He suggested that we use our right hand, cupped in our left, drink the water, and then place our right hand on top of our heads to 'seal the spell'.

The second was an ornate container, slightly smaller than the teapot, which had on it a picture of Padmasambhava ('the Lotus-born', whom the hand-out literature claims is "the Second Buddha, who brought Tantra to Tibet"). The Lama said that the container held a piece of Padmasambhava's hat. This would be carried around by the same woman and placed successively upon our foreheads, throats and chests.

The third was a smaller container than the first, similarly ornate and in some ways resembling the first. It had a picture of his teacher upon it, inset, in the manner of the picture of Padmasambhava on the first, and contained a lock of his teacher's hair.

Rinpoche said they respectively symbolized the worlds of form, sound and vision, and linked directly, it seemed, with the three elements of the rite as a whole. The fourth and last was a fossilized conch shell from Tibet, slightly larger than fist-size. He explained that Tibet had once been an island and that there are many such shells to be found there, millions of years in age.

The Lama said that he would hold this shell in front of him after the first three phases of ritual and that we were to focus as a group upon it, realizing the unity of the three previous symbols and their realms of initiation. Later he was to mention that the conch shell is a symbol of dakini energies generally and also represents the world as a whole.

When my Abyss asked him about them later, he explained that his conch earrings (rings of shell suspended from smaller golden ringlets) were symbolic of hearing all sounds as his guru and the ringlets of treating all sounds as 'golden' (presumably valuable).

This, then, would complete the ritual element of the empowerment (transmission through form). The second would be transmission through sound and he would be chanting and using the other tools (drums, dorje) at that time. The third and final element of the empowerment was to be verbal, the transmission through mind, the intellect, by explanation.

With that (described at a very comfortable pace) he began singing/chanting, playing his bell and the largest one-handed drum. A few of his apprentices had drums of their own and as the rite progressed they joined in with some of the playing and chants. He played the large drum and the bell during the form element, 'charging' each of the tools and handing them to the woman. She took them around to everyone, as he'd explained.

During the first phase - the one involving the teapot and water - I'd got it in my mind that the right hand was for me not an appropriate cup, and that I would instead use my left as this was more connected with my feminine energies. The guru had suggested the right, or, if one did not mind the inefficiency of it, both hands. Everyone I saw receive the water did so as recommended, and when it came time for me, the resident dakini did not seem to mind my variation.

This was as much a test of their flexibility as it was my attempt to address the dissonance in our symbolic associations. It was in fact a crux of the rite for me, and as she moved on I completely relaxed, perhaps self- satisfied in my individualistic expression.

The other tools were charged and brought around as the Lama had explained, and when he held up the conch shell we knew that the ritual, or formal element of the empowerment, was crystallizing.

Rinpoche then proceeded to chant in rhythmical fashion and began using the other, smaller drums as well. They were of successively descending size, each about half that of the previous. At this time he chanted/sung a long mantram that was repeated at successively increasing speeds, in parallel with the velocity and pitch of the drumming, perhaps doubling it each time.

The effect was quite remarkable. Once focussed upon the sometimes jarring large drum and the repeated chant, it was a geometric progression of emotional and sonic energy. At its height, the chant was almost incomprehendably verbalized, virtually slurred, yet still recognizable and intense.

Stepping down the velocity and pitch while moving back to larger drum sizes, he came back to the largest and then stopped, moving on to the last element of the empowerment, that of explanation. At this time he asked the woman who had functioned as resident dakini to read from two handouts regarding the envisionment and the meaning of Yeshe Tsogyel's appearance within it. These documents are appended in Part II: Readings.

He later explained his use of terms such as 'awareness spell' (as a translation for 'mantram') and 'envisionment'. Rinpoche preferred the the latter to the now commonly used 'visualization', and did not mean by it intentional imagination so much as a complete experience of BEING the deity which arises out of a state of focussed calmness (sunyata). The envisionment is unfashioned by the conscious mind yet prepared for by attaining the state of emptiness, the awareness spell acting as a kind of 'mind protection'.

The Lama then led the chanting of an awareness spell which he associated with the practice of allowing the upwelling of the energy of Yeshe Tsogyel. Aside from a short question/answer session during which he mentioned the upcoming retreat which would focus on the practices used to attain this state of emptiness, of sunyata, this concluded the empowerment.

Lisa and I sat and waited for many of the people to leave, assisted with the cleanup of the area, examined some of the literature and the books in the library, and then commenced our journey homeward, frequently gazing upon a large and pregnant Luna coursing through the clear and starry skies.

The Nyingma School of tibetan tantra is, I find, most closely aligned with my own path. While last night's event was quite inspirational and instructive, I do not feel moved to apply for Apprenticeship at this time. These two feelings encompassed the entire event for me - admiration and satiation.


This concludes the reflections on the Yeshe Tsogyel empowerment. Part II includes materials received that evening and supplemental notes and comments regarding the tradition as a whole.

Completed 930524.


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