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Review of a Nyingma Yeshe Tsogyal Empowerment

Doc 1 of 2

Subject: Review of a Nyingma Yeshe Tsogyal Empowerment 
(930504, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto, CA)

By Tyagi Nagasiva

Part I  - Reflections (
Part II (Separate Post) - Supplementary Materials (9305.nyngma2.ncr)


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 

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.

(c) 1993
tyagi nagasiva
House of kAoS
871 Ironwood Drive
San Jose, CA 95125-2815

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