Here is an excerpt from Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche’s commentary on Bhante Dharmaraja’s Jewel Treasury of Advice: 100 Verses from the Heart. The Drikung Kagyu master (whose Sanskrit monastic name is transliterated to respect a regional accent as) Bhande Dharmaradza, lived from 1704 to 1754, and is considered a reincarnation of the great Dharmakirti (1595-1659).
The ripening four empowerments are like a stream of nectar.
They purify the four obscurations and plant the seeds of the four kayas; they are the root of the path of mantra.
This is my heart’s advice.
When we have a qualified lama and have kept the samaya, then we can receive Vajrayana teachings. If you ask for the distinction between the sutra and tantra systems, it is the empowerment ceremony, abhisheka in Sanskrit. Any practice for which empowerment is required, that is what we call a Vajrayana practice. If a practice does not need an empowerment first, then it is from the sutra system of practice. Many masters have different explanations of this point, but this one from Lord Jigten Sumgön [1143-1217] is very clear and precise.
Our ordinary mind is hard, unripened. So, it must be ripened with the empowerments. In Tibetan, the word for nectar is dutsi, which means a substance that transforms poison into nectar. It is also called stainless ambrosia or un-afflicted nectar. So the reference here recalls this quality of transformation, like alchemy.
In alchemy, base metals are transformed into gold. Our mind is like that base metal, which is transformed into gold by the empowerment ceremony. While the stream of the nectar is poured into us during the ceremony, we meditate that we transform into the deity state, thereby purifying all our negative thoughts and obscurations. We manifest our mind as the deity’s mind. Our whole being is transformed into the mandala of the deity.
Through the four empowerments we purify the four obscurations. By purifying the four obscurations, we plant the seed to achieve the four kayas the future. These steps are the basic elements of tantra, the root of the Vajrayana system. Without these ceremonies, we have no authority to practice Vajrayana, so we cherish this so much.
The four empowerments are:
• wisdom, and
The four obscurations are:
• mental, and
The four kayas are:
• Dharmakaya, and
Through the meditation of the first, the vase, empowerment we purify our physical obscurations. We see ourselves now as ordinary beings of flesh and bone, which is the source of our suffering. If we see clearly during the empowerment ceremony, we manifest our physical body into an enlightened form. In other words, we transform ourselves into the deity. By attaining the state of the deity, we plant the seed to achieve the Nirmanakaya.
During the second empowerment, called the secret empowerment, we purify the obscurations caused by our speech. Our ceaseless chatter and all the negative words that we use are transformed into Buddha’s speech. By purifying our verbal obscurations, we plant the seed to achieve the Sambhogakaya.
By receiving the third, or wisdom, empowerment we purify our mental obscurations. All our delusions are transformed into wisdom nature, and our minds manifest without boundary. By purifying our mental obscuration, we plant the seed to achieve the Dharmakaya.
The fourth empowerment is sometimes called the precious word empowerment, but usually is called “the fourth.” By receiving this empowerment, we purify the subtle obscurations to enlightenment. The subtle obscurations of duality are transformed into primordial awareness. By purifying our subtle obscurations, we plant the seed to achieve the Svabhavikakaya.
~ courtesy Ani Trinlay at
These four initiations are usually associated with the highest of the four main classes of tantra, such as Hevajra (Kyedorje), Chakrasamvara (Demchog), Vajrayogini (as Dorje Naljorma) or Kalachakra (Dukhor)