Posted by: mkl325 | June 14, 2013

Celebrations and Empowerments at Samye Ling

The weekend that I went to Samye Ling was dedicated to Tara prayers and empowerments. The 25th was Lama Yeshe’s 70th birthday, which also fell on the 33rd anniversary of his ordination, as well as day of Buddha’s Enlightenment. In honor of this occasion, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa advised that White Tara prayers should be said for Lama Yeshe’s good health and long life. As a result, I was able to participate in both the Green and White Tara empowerment ceremonies as well as a set of “Neten Chachok” prayers (prayers to the 16 elders).

What is the difference between Green and White Tara?

Tara is a Bodhisattva of compassion and action, and is considered to be the female aspect of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara). The Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are considered to be earthly manifestations of Chenrezig, who reincarnate in order to help free others from samsara (the continuous flow of birth, death, and rebirth). In fact, her origin story is rooted in Chenrezig who, upon seeing the suffering of man, cried– the tears from his right eye became Green Tara and the tears from his left eye became White Tara.

Green Tara is the goddess of virtuous activity. She is believed to help followers overcome fear, anxiety, dangers, and acts quickly for those who ask for her help. She is depicted as though she is ready to leap up and come to the aid of those in prayer.

Green Tara Image from the Empowerment Ceremony

Green Tara Image from the Empowerment Ceremony

White Tara represents the motherly elements of compassion, signifying purity, wisdom, and truth. She is associated with longevity and the removal of obstacles. She is depicted with seven eyes (one on each hand and foot, as well as on her forehead). This depiction is meant to represent her constant vigilance and ability to see the suffering of man.

White Tara Image from the Empowerment Ceremony

White Tara Image from the Empowerment Ceremony

While Green Tara and White Tara are the most common, there are actual 21 Tara deities, all representing different elements, most of which are combined within Green Tara.

What is an empowerment ceremony?

An empowerment is a ceremony during which you make a close connection to a particular deity. It is a way to call on the qualities that the deity represents in order to bring those qualities forward in your own nature.

The ceremonies are very similar to each other. We had the Green Tara one first and I was very thankful that there was an explanation of the ceremony beforehand. I walked up in line with everyone else, chanting the Tara mantra (Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha) to Akong Rinpoche. He placed a blessing on my head and poured consecrated, saffron-infused water into my hands for me to drink. Then I was given an image of Green Tara to aid in my visualization (I have a couple friends who refer to these images as my Buddhist Pokémon Cards). After everyone had taken the empowerment, we left the temple and allowed Rinpoche to finish the ceremony on his own. The White Tara one was extremely similar, except for the fact that Lama Yeshe was in attendance, sitting next to his brother and participating in the ceremony.

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Afterward receiving the empowerments there were explanations on how to use the Green Tara and White Tara prayers. They were amazing classes that didn’t simply go over the text of the prayers but what the deities mean and how to include their enlightened qualities in our own lives.

Celebration of Buddha’s Enlightenment

The Buddha Statue with the Katas that we offered in the morning prayers

The Buddha Statue with the Katas that we offered in the morning prayers

In order to celebrate the day of Buddha’s Enlightenment we conducted a set of “Neten Chachok” prayers. These are prayers to the 16 elders, those who have already attained Enlightenment. As I am new to chanting meditation, I had been stumbling over the Tibetan (which I do not know so is quite easy to stumble over). However, this was the first time that I was able to get through a chant without getting lost after the first three sentences.

Lama Yeshe and Akong Rinpoche

Lama Yeshe and Akong Rinpoche

Afterwards the prayers continued as participants carried copies of the “Tengyur”, the Teachings of the Buddha, around the Temple. I opted out of this part, as the texts were going to be delivered to the New Tibetan Library at the center, through a window. I am short and clumsy – I just saw it ending badly.

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Lama Yeshe

Lama Yeshe

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My friend David carrying a copy of the Tengyur

My friend David carrying a copy of the Tengyur

Lama Yeshe’s Birthday

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There was a celebration of Lama Yeshe in the lecture hall. There were several performances and gifts given in honor of Lama Yeshe. The Karmapa even sent him an image which was made with ink mixed with the Karmapa’s blood. It sounds a little gruesome but it really is a very meaningful gesture.

Me and Lama Yeshe. One of the children had made him that card, he pointed out to me that it was supposed to be him - because of the beard of the person in the center of the picture.

Me and Lama Yeshe. One of the children had made him that card, he pointed out to me that it was supposed to be him – because of the beard of the person in the center of the picture.

Biggest misconception about Buddhism

When I was in school, I can remember learning about different religions and filling in a chart where you listed the country it was mainly practiced in (or originated from), 2-3 basic ideological points, and the “god” that the religion focused on. This is how a lot of people learn the idea that Buddhists pray to Buddha. Even though I have been talking about deities and origin myths, this is not the case. In fact, Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. Every deity is a representation of an aspect of the nature of every sentient being and is used in order to visualize a physical form and aid the development of those enlightened qualities. Yes, we bow to our gurus, and prostrate to statues of Buddha but this is not because we think of them as gods, but are instead showing respect to great teachers who are helping us on the path to Enlightenment. It is simply easier to teach children that Buddhists pray to Buddha, rather than explain that we believe that our consciousness is beginning-less and therefore there is no creator for it.

* Thanks to Gelong Thubten and David for teaching me a lot of the specifics of these deities.

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Responses

  1. This posting is absolutely lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.


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