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Taking the Kalachakra Initiation

Originally published as
Berzin, Alexander. Taking the Kalachakra Initiation.
Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1997

Reprint: Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation.
Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010


Order this book directly from Snow Lion Publications

Part IV: Guidelines for the Kalachakra Initiation

9 The Preparation Ceremony

Keeping Our Level of Participation Private

By evaluating our preparation for receiving Kalachakra empowerment and our ability to keep the vows and commitments, we can make a realistic decision whether to attend as an active participant or an interested observer. Spiritual practice, especially of tantra, is a private matter, so there is no need to tell anybody about our decision. Tantra, after all, is the secret or confidential vehicle. Keeping our status to ourselves prevents feelings of discomfort or embarrassment, especially if we choose to remain an observer. When red strings and ribbons are passed out during the ritual, we may certainly take them as an observer, so as not to draw undue attention to ourselves. Simply wearing a red string and a ribbon does not signify anything profound. We can drape them on our dog, but that does not mean the animal is taking the initiation.

With this in mind, let us examine the steps of the empowerment so that, regardless of how we attend, we can follow the procedure and gain something from it. Since higher, highest and great vajra master empowerments, as well as subsequent permission, are not always conferred with Kalachakra initiation, we shall look simply at the first level of receiving the empowerment – the preparation ceremony and the seven empowerments of entering like a child.

How To Visualize

From beginning to end, attending a Kalachakra initiation involves visualization. As a participant, we visualize the teacher, the place, ourselves and everyone around us in special ways. As an observer, if we wish to gain the maximum from our experience of attending, we can also do likewise. Therefore, let us begin our discussion by examining what visualization means and how to do it.

First of all, the English word "visualization" does not convey the full meaning of the Sanskrit or Tibetan term, since it connotes working only with the visual sphere. Visualization practice, however, involves sights, sounds, fragrances, tastes, physical sensations, mental feelings such as joy, and senses of who and where we are, what is around us and what is happening. The word "imagination" is perhaps closer to the meaning. Imagining is not just an intellectual activity of trying to bring into focus tiny details of a mental image. It is a process of complete transformation, involving equally the mind, heart, feelings, sense of identity and spatial orientation.

Within the tantric context, successfully imagining something requires two major factors – clarity of appearance and pride. "Pride" means a confident sense or feeling of identity. During the visualizations, we try to feel that our spiritual master and ourselves are actually Buddha-figures, where we are is actually a mandala, and what we picture occurring is actually happening – although of course we must not lose sight of the differences between reality and fantasy. The great meditation masters advise that, in the beginning, it is much more important to have this pride or feeling of actuality than it is to have clarity of details. Although we need at least a vague mental image as a basis for labeling the contents of our visualization, we need not worry about the intricate details. Clarity of them evolves gradually as a function of familiarity and concentration. Worrying about all the fine points that we are asked to imagine during the empowerment only causes us to become overwhelmed, lost and exasperated.

The key for avoiding this kind of frustration is not to worry about the specifics, but to focus instead on creating a deep feeling of our own and our teacher's identity and location. Our spiritual master is the Buddha-figure Kalachakra. Whether or not we can see him or her with twenty-four arms is not the point. The point is the feeling, the recognition of this person as being a totally enlightened being. Furthermore, we are a pure figure ourselves – we are no longer concerned about our weight or our hair. And we are in Kalachakra's symbolic world – we no longer care about the decor or comfort of the room or tent we are in.

The Clear Light Basis for Visualization

This visualization is not a kind of self-hypnosis or a fantasy-based therapy. The foundation of these visualizations is basis tantra – the everlasting continuum of clear light mind. Clear light mind provides each individual being with unbroken continuity from lifetime to lifetime, and into Buddhahood. Like the sky unaffected by clouds, it is unstained by disturbing emotions or attitudes, which fleetingly come and go, temporarily confusing the mind. Thus clear light mind is what allows for enlightenment – the state in which confusion and its instincts are totally absent. Clear light mind is also the foundation for all the abilities and qualities of enlightened beings. It allows for the omniscient mind to be aware of everything and everyone simultaneously, with full understanding, and to have total love and concern for all beings.

Just as we can label "me" onto the aggregate package of our everyday body, thoughts, emotions, attitudes and clear light mind upon which they all rest, and feel that this package is "me," we can do the same with this clear light basis itself as a container or vessel for our future attainment of enlightenment. When receiving or even observing an empowerment into a particular tantric system, we represent this "container aspect" of our clear light mind with the forms of various Buddha-figures that we imagine from that tantric system. We label as "me" our clear light mind with this imagined form, and, on the basis of this valid labeling, we sincerely feel this is actually me. It is not a lie. It is like calling our baby a big boy when he takes his first steps.

Likewise, when we receive empowerment from a tantric master, we are not receiving it from his or her ordinary body, feelings and emotions, but from his or her clear light mind as the basis for enlightenment. We represent this by imagining our teacher also as a Buddha-figure. Even if we do not accept this teacher as our tantric master and simply attend the initiation as an observer, we show our respect and understanding of the proceedings by seeing the teacher in this aspect and form. Similarly, just as we can label the site of the empowerment as an auditorium or circus tent, we can also validly label it as a place of initiation, whether we are a participant or an observer. We represent this by imagining it appearing in the form of a mandala palace.

Confirming Our Ability To Visualize

Let us prove to ourselves that we are capable of imagining such things and feeling they are actually so, even if we cannot see them in our mind's eye in vivid detail. For example, everyone has the feeling of being a man or a woman, and of being an American, a Swiss or some other nationality. If we take a moment and try to feel who we are, we discover that there is no need to conjure a mental picture or say any words in our mind in order to have a feeling of being a particular gender or nationality. It is this feeling of identity that we employ in holding the "pride" of a visualization, whether we are visualizing ourselves or someone else.

We can boost our feeling of someone's being a nurse, for example, by picturing her wearing a white uniform and holding a thermometer and chart, but this only represents her identity. The important things are our recognition and feeling that she is a nurse. Without them, the white uniform, thermometer and chart have no relevance for us and can be merely a costume for a masquerade ball. Also, if we can picture a refreshing glass of cold orange juice, as well as its taste, when we are hot and thirsty, we have the working materials to be able to picture anything. We just need to develop these skills. It requires merely time, practice and patience. It is not so difficult.

Concerning our location, we can all feel that we are down the street from our office building when we are walking or driving toward it. Whether or not we see it in our mind's eye, we know and feel with deep conviction that our building is there. It is the same with feeling we are outside a mandala palace. Moreover, when we are in front of our building and are late for work, we can have the feeling that our supervisor is sitting inside on the fourth floor waiting for us, whether or not we have a clear picture of him or her in our mind. The same is true with imagining our tantric master inside a mandala on one of the higher floors.

If we think about the room where we are presently located, we can all feel we are in that room. We can be aware of the four walls around us whether or not we can picture them all at once. This is how we imagine being inside a mandala palace. Furthermore, if we are standing in front of the elevator on the ground floor of a multi-storied building, we can feel that there are floors above us, whether or not we can see them in our mind. It is the same with the visualization of being inside a multi-storied mandala, standing on the ground floor. In fact, we can feel all these things at once when we are in front of the elevator – that we are an employee and late for work, we are downstairs inside our office building and the elevator is taking forever to come, and our supervisor and colleagues are already at work in the office upstairs.

Any details we can add to this scene – such as picturing our co-workers at their desks and ours blatantly empty – enhance our feeling of being late. If we can imagine all the details in living color, the situation becomes so vivid we might even take the stairs. However, even without the details, our recognition and feeling of being late are sufficient to get us moving quickly.

Visualizing the Mandala and Keeping Our Directional Orientation

To enhance the feeling of being either inside or outside the Kalachakra mandala palace, it is necessary to have at least a rough idea of what it looks like. This magnificent, ornate palace has five stories and is shaped like a square, five-layered wedding cake. Each story is half the size of the one underneath and rests on the center of the floor beneath it. There is a large gateway and entrance porch in the middle of each side. The building is very large, two hundred times our size in length, width and height, and is transparent, made of multi-colored light. In this sense it is reminiscent of a modern office building with walls made entirely of tinted glass.

The empowerment ritual always refers to our position in the palace in terms of the cardinal directions. As this is sometimes confusing, it is helpful to think of a map. If the initiation is taking place in the United States, for example, we could imagine the master conferring it standing in Chicago. We begin the ritual standing on the eastern entrance porch, in New York, facing our teacher in Chicago. To the south is Mexico; to the north, Canada; and to the west, California.

Our teacher, Kalachakra, in the center of the palace has four faces, each of a different color. The floor, ceiling and architectural trimmings of each side of the palace are the same color as his corresponding face. The four faces represent the results of purifying ourselves of the four subtle drops discussed in the internal Kalachakra teachings – the body, speech, mind and deep awareness drops. For this reason, the faces and directional sides of the mandala are the same colors as the seed-syllables that mark the location of these drops in the subtle body. In all tantric systems, we visualize a white OM, a red AH, and a dark blue or black HUM at the forehead, throat and heart respectively to represent body, speech and mind. Kalachakra adds a yellow HOH at the navel to represent deep awareness and explains the relation between these syllables and the subtle drops and subtle speech. The color of Kalachakra's faces and the sides of his palace are therefore white, red, black and yellow. This also symbolizes the four elements – water, fire, wind and earth, respectively.

By using simple methods such as mnemonic devices, we can remember the correlations more easily and thus keep our orientation in the mandala throughout the initiation. The east and main face of Kalachakra are black, standing for mind and wind. New York and the East Coast are often struck with hurricane winds, bringing black clouds and mental stress. The south and right face are red, representing speech and fire. In Mexico, people speak Spanish and the food is hot. The north and left face are white, standing for body and water. Canada is filled with snow and our body feels cold there in winter. The west and rear face are yellow, representing deep awareness and earth. California has deserts of yellow sand and people who are deeply aware of environmental issues.

Thus, with a proper attitude, we do not need to feel that the Kalachakra initiation and all the visualizations are too much for us. The empowerment is an introduction to the experience of expanding our awareness to hold many things at once, with mindfulness and understanding. It "plants seeds" to do this ultimately as a Kalachakra. We need to approach the initiation with confidence, feeling we can open up to this more advanced level of functioning in life. To upgrade our computer, we open it up and insert a new chip or card. Likewise, to upgrade our mind and heart, we open them up to receive new imprints, with confidence that we can digest and incorporate them into our life. Maintaining this conviction throughout the empowerment is the pride of being a proper vessel for Kalachakra.

Textual Traditions of the Empowerment Ritual

With these guidelines in mind, let us now discuss the initiation ritual itself. Since in recent times the Kalachakra empowerment is given most frequently by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we shall outline the procedures from the textual tradition he follows. He confers the Gelug lineage of Kalachakra according to the ritual text composed in the eighteenth century by the Seventh Dalai Lama, which is itself based on Kaydrubjey's fifteenth-century version. The Kagyu and Nyingma lineages follow the ritual composed in the nineteenth century by Kongtrul of the Rimey tradition, which revitalized the Jonang Kalachakra lineage, a minor tradition within Sakya. Sakya masters choose either Kongtrul's text or the fourteenth-century one by Buton. The differences are minor, especially concerning the preparation ceremony and the seven empowerments of entering as a child. In general, the ritual composed by the Seventh Dalai Lama is slightly more elaborate than the other versions. It includes ceremonies for purifying the site where the powdered sand mandala is to be made, meditation dances for claiming that site and making offerings once the mandala is built, and rituals for dismantling the mandala after the empowerment.

Entering the Site for the Ceremony

Discounting the rituals for constructing and dismantling the powdered sand mandala, the Kalachakra initiation itself has two parts – a preparation ceremony held the first day and the actual empowerment, which spans the next two or three days. To symbolize washing ourselves before coming to the ritual, whether we are a participant or an observer we rinse our mouth with specially consecrated water on the first and second days before entering the site of the empowerment. If the ceremony is outdoors, we discreetly spit out the water onto the grass; if indoors, into a bucket provided as a spittoon. After taking a bath, we do not drink the bath water.

We then imagine going to the black eastern porch of the palace, as if going to New York, and being unable to see what is inside. The palace and surrounding grounds are filled with 722 male and female Buddha-figures. Although the tantric master is manifesting in the form of the entire array, we imagine him or her primarily as the male central figure, Kalachakra. For ease of expression, we shall therefore refer to the master with the masculine pronoun. As the father, he embraces Vishvamata, the Mother of Diversity. Throughout the proceedings he always remains in the center of the fourth floor – counting the ground level where we are standing as the first floor. Whether we are a participant or an observer, we always remain either outside the palace or on the ground floor.

We may note that, as a father and mother in union – the meaning of the Tibetan term yab-yum – Kalachakra and Vishvamata symbolize the union of method and wisdom necessary for giving birth to Buddhahood. The tantric image of an embracing couple may have inspired the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung to develop therapeutic methods for uniting the masculine and feminine aspects of our psyche, but this is not the image's original implication.

Before taking our seat on the eastern porch, we prostrate three times to show respect. If there is no room at the empowerment site to make actual prostrations, or if as an observer we are not in the custom of bowing down to the ground as a sign of respect, we press our palms together and visualize bowing. We then offer a mandala, with the appropriate symbolic hand gesture, as a general request. A mandala is a round, symbolic universe – in this case, not the pure world of a Buddha-figure, but the universe we live in. It makes no difference in what form we conceive that universe. It can be a galaxy, a globe or a flat disc with Mount Meru and four continents. Our offering symbolizes that we are making a gift of the entire world of our life. As a participant, we are willing to give anything and everything in order to gain entrance into the Kalachakra system so as to reach enlightenment through its methods and be able to help everyone fully as quickly as possible. If we are an observer, we can also offer a mandala with the request to be able to gain inspiration, from attending the empowerment, to foster world peace.

Transforming Our Self-Image with the Inner Empowerment

Our teacher, Kalachakra, next gives instructions on setting the proper motivation and then confers an inner initiation to transform our appearance and our attitude toward ourselves and what will be happening. Since the symbolic world of Kalachakra is not an ordinary place, we cannot enter it in our usual form. Before entering an operating room, we don an antiseptic gown and take special care to keep ourselves clean. Similarly, as part of the preparation ceremony for entering the mandala, we transform our appearance into a form dissociated from confusion, and adopt and maintain a feeling of purity. We do this by imagining ourselves reborn as the spiritual child of our teacher, Kalachakra, in a simplified form that resembles him and which acts as a basis for growing to maturity. Whether we plan to participate fully in the ensuing empowerments or simply attend as an observer, if we all imagine we transform in this way it fosters an atmosphere of brotherhood and sisterhood. Similar to when the inhabitants of Shambhala joined together in the Kalachakra mandala, this spirit of union contributes to world peace.

The basis for any self-transformation during an empowerment or subsequent practice is voidness. Awareness of voidness withdraws the mind from its usual way of giving rise to ordinary appearances of ourselves and to feelings of pride or identification with those appearances. In that state, we focus on the absence of anyone existing solidly and concretely "out there" who corresponds to our projected image of ourselves, inherently existing as this or that from his or her own side. For example, if our mind ordinarily make us appear to ourselves as fat, ugly and unworthy of love or happiness, and we feel this is truly who we are, we focus on the total absence of any monster corresponding to our paranoid vision of low self-esteem. There is no such person. No one exists in this fantasized and impossible way. If we existed inherently in this manner, from our own side, then everyone should feel this way about us, including our loved ones. This is not so.

Like rebooting our computer, we withdraw our mind from its habitual program – which brings us such anguish and pain – and then reload our basic operating system, namely the pure appearance and feeling of identity of a Kalachakra. In the context of the initiation, the appearance and feeling our mind generates of ourselves as a Kalachakra represents the capacity of our clear light mind to act as a container for developing and using simultaneously all positive qualities. Clear light mind can function in this way on the basis of its being devoid, or purified of all shortcomings and stains. If we attend as an active participant, we imagine this container, during the stages of the ritual, being emptied of fleeting impurities and implanted with seeds for growing these qualities through Kalachakra meditation practice. If we watch as an interested observer, we derive the most benefit if we also readjust our mind in a similar manner during the proceedings. We turn off our usual self-image, with all its attendant worries and fears, and generate instead a view of ourselves as a Kalachakra. We do this on the basis of our clear light mind being a container for positive impressions, gained while watching the empowerment, to inspire us toward future spiritual development. Afterwards, although we do not engage in Kalachakra meditation practice, if we remember to readjust our self-image in this manner whenever a terrible mood arises, we benefit greatly.

During the inner empowerment, we imagine withdrawing to clear light mind and, thinking of voidness, generate ourselves in the form of a spiritual child of our teacher, Kalachakra – a spiritual child of clear light mind. We enact this procedure by imagining the rebirth process as described in the Buddhist systems. First we enter the mouth of our teacher, Kalachakra, like the consciousness of a bardo being entering the mouth of a father, or a meditator's mind entering the mouth of a state of blissful awareness. We melt and, in the form of a white drop of bodhichitta, descend through the center of the father, like a meditator's mind passing down the chakras in the central energy-channel and progressing through levels of awareness that are increasingly blissful and subtle. Through the father's organ, we then enter the womb of the mother, Vishvamata, like a meditator's mind entering clear light. Clear light mind is the "womb for enlightenment," a synonym for the principal aspect of Buddha-nature. In this womb, we focus on voidness and arise in the simplified form of our father – the Buddha-figure Kalachakra – like a meditator's arising, within the context of blissful clear light awareness of voidness, as a devoid form Kalachakra. We have one face, two arms, two legs and are standing upright. Our head, arms and trunk are dark blue, our right leg is red and our left leg white. As a mnemonic device, we can remember the color of our legs by recalling that in English the words "right" and "red" both begin with the letter "r."

Gender Issues in Visualization

Although Kalachakra is a male form, there is no need for women to feel uncomfortable visualizing themselves as this Buddha-figure. The male shape in this context has nothing to do with ordinary feelings of masculinity, nor does it imply anything inferior about a female form. Clear light mind, as a basis that continues from one life to another and which is the container for developing all good qualities, is not inherently male or female. In the beginningless cycle of rebirth, no one has exclusively been one or the other. Buddha-figures are beyond the limitations of any gender role. However, since clear light mind is a container for blissful awareness, it is inappropriate to imagine ourselves like some neuter plastic doll. Therefore, when generating an appearance of clear light mind in the form of a figure resembling a human, we include sexual organs. If we generate ourselves as a single figure, these organs must be either male or female, not both. Some anuttarayoga tantra systems, such as Vajrayogini, use the female form. Others, such as Kalachakra, use the male. The pride or feeling of identity maintained in either case is the pride of being clear light mind as a container for growing seeds for enlightenment, not of being masculine or feminine.

Concluding Procedures and Significance of Receiving the Inner Empowerment

Next, our teacher, Kalachakra, invites all the male and female Buddhas, who enter his mouth and pass into the mother's womb, in the same manner as we have just done, and confer empowerment on us there. This procedure empowers us to be a container for what follows, similar to the way a meditator's remembrance of the Buddhas empowers and inspires him or her, while appearing as a devoid form within the blissful clear light awareness of voidness, to attain Buddhahood. Thus, having arisen as a simple Kalachakra in the mother's womb, we remind ourselves, by thinking of the Buddhas, that we have transformed into a container for planting seeds – a container for reinforcing the Buddha-nature potentials of our clear light mind. Now, as the spiritual child of our teacher, Kalachakra, and clear light mind, we are born from the womb. Emerging from our mother, we return to the black eastern porch outside the palace.

The most essential point with this inner empowerment is to feel that now we have actually become the spiritual child of our teacher, Kalachakra. We need to feel strongly and deeply that we have established a strong link with Kalachakra, both in the form of the specific teacher conferring the empowerment, and on the deepest level, in the form of clear light mind as our Buddha-nature. Although, technically, only the active participants, by virtue of their taking tantric vows later in the initiation ceremony, go on to become vajra brothers and sisters, at this stage both participants and observers join together in one caste. The Tibetan term for caste is also used for Buddha-family trait, and when all family traits are united into one, that singular trait is the clear light mind. Thus, like the people of Shambhala, we discard our petty differences and all return to our common basis, the potential and quality of our clear light mind to act as a container for spiritual growth and attainment. We may decide to pursue a course of Kalachakra practice or to follow another religious or spiritual path. However, by reaffirming that each of us is progressing on the same basis, we assure ourselves and each other that our spiritual programs are all compatible. We can communicate, cooperate and work with each other in harmony and peace. If we continue the proceedings with this strong, deep feeling, it hardly matters whether we imagine that our body is blue, our right leg red and left leg white. Merely visualizing ourselves in this form, but without this feeling, is a trivial experience by comparison.

Taking Vows and Transforming the Elements of Our Body

After receiving the inner empowerment, if we are a participant we request safe direction, the trainings from the pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta, and the bodhisattva vows. If we are an interested observer who wishes to receive the first one, two or all three of these, we make the same request. After our teacher, Kalachakra, sets the appropriate tone for taking these vows by discussing the tantric context of refuge and the bodhisattva path, he confers them upon us as we repeat a short verse three times. Although the empowerment texts explain that the request and conferral of tantric vows follow next, it is customary to postpone this until the next day, during the actual empowerment.

The next step in the preparation ceremony is safeguarding the disciples' inseparable method and wisdom by transforming their six elements into the nature of the six female Buddhas. When the confused mind gives rise to an ordinary self-image, it projects an appearance of it onto the basis of the mind itself and the atoms of the body. Identifying with this self-image, we feel that this is who we inherently are – fat, ugly and unworthy of love or happiness. This is a discordant or "dual" appearance. It does not accord with reality.

In order to remain an open container for the empowerments that follow, we need to purify ourselves of this destructive habit. If our mind no longer focuses on the ordinary elements that comprise our body and mind – earth, water, fire, wind, space and consciousness – its tendency to project onto them the discordant appearance of an ordinary self-image is greatly diminished. It is then easier to maintain concentration on inseparable method and wisdom – blissful awareness inseparably functioning as a discriminating awareness of voidness. Therefore, to help safeguard this concentration so that our mind does not resume its discordant appearance-making, we transform our ordinary elements.

When we dissolve, at the six major chakras of our central energy-channel, all energy-winds that provide our mind with the force to create discordant appearances, we refine our blissful awareness of voidness and bring it to the level of clear light mind. Blissful clear light awareness of voidness gives rise to pure, nondiscordant appearances consisting of devoid forms – forms devoid of being based on ordinary atoms. The female Buddhas represent these devoid forms. To symbolize this yogic transformation of the very basis upon which we found our appearance-making, we visualize the six chakras in the form of discs and seed-syllables of the color appropriate to the six elements and corresponding female Buddhas. These discs and syllables represent the replacement of the elements with the female Buddhas. Visualizing them at the six chakras helps to eventually draw the energy-winds there.

Since variations of this visualization recur in the Kalachakra initiation and subsequent sadhana practice, it is helpful to create a mnemonic device to remember the colors, elements and locations. The body, speech, mind and deep awareness subtle drops, located, respectively, at the forehead, throat, heart and navel, are white, red, black and yellow. As water is white, like snow, it is located at the forehead, like the body drop. Fire is red and at the throat; wind is black, like a storm cloud, and at the heart; while earth is yellow and at the navel. Occasionally the positions of water and wind are reversed, in which case the elements are arranged in the order of increasing grossness – wind, fire, water and earth, going from forehead to navel. The space element is green – reminiscent of leaves overhead – and, in either arrangement, is at the crown of the head; while consciousness is blue, like the depths of a deep ocean of awareness, and is at the pubic region. Similarly, figures in the mandala palace representing space are green and located at the top of the building, while those representing consciousness or deep awareness are blue and underneath the structure. Even if we cannot visualize all these colors and details, it is important to feel that we have a pure basis for safeguarding the image of ourselves as Kalachakra, and that we have deleted the impure basis – confusing atoms – which would be a foundation for resuming our negative self-image.

As an observer, it is also helpful to reflect at this point about our ordinary self-image and how we believe it is who we permanently are. Although we project our self-image onto the elements of our body and mind, that image is not identical to those elements and we are not identical to that image. Our body is old, but we think we are young. In this way we can start to deconstruct our self-image and our instinctive belief that it is who we truly are.

Purifying Body, Speech and Mind and Determining Future Attainments

The next step of the preparation ceremony is transforming and elevating the disciples' body, speech and mind. We do this by visualizing white, red and black discs and syllables respectively at our forehead, throat and heart which are the locations of the body, speech and mind subtle drops. The purpose for this is similar to that of the previous step – to help keep the mind from projecting discordant ordinary appearances while awake, dreaming or in deep dreamless sleep. Since we examine our dreams during the night between this ceremony and the actual empowerment, we need this step as a preparation. Variations on this theme of purifying our body, speech and mind recur throughout the initiation and sadhana practice.

The major disciples for the empowerment, as well as a representative of the rest of the audience, now rise and approach the teacher's throne. Holding the twig of a neem tree vertically between their hands, they let it fall onto a tray while reciting a mantra, and then return to their seats. Neem twigs are the traditional toothbrushes of India and symbolize purification. The tray contains the drawing of a simplified mandala with a central region and four sides. The direction of the section in which the twig falls indicates one of the five types of actual attainments the disciples will have the most ease in gaining through Kalachakra practice. These five attainments are the abilities to pacify interference, to stimulate others' good qualities to grow, to exercise a powerful positive influence, to forcefully end dangerous situations, or to achieve the supreme attainment of enlightenment.

Next, blue Karmavajra, the emanated assistant of our teacher, Kalachakra, pours water from a vase into our cupped hands. First we take a small portion to rinse our mouth, and then spit it out. We drink the rest in three sips, to purify our body, speech and mind. Water is distributed similarly during the ritual proceedings of the ensuing days. If we are an observer, we may also accept and drink the water. Imagining that it flushes out negativities and obstacles from our body, speech and mind is beneficial for everyone.

Receiving Materials for Examining Our Dreams

Karmavajra also distributes reeds of kusha grass. That evening, we place a long reed under our mattress, parallel to our body, with the tips toward our head. We place a short one under our pillow, perpendicular to the long one, with the tips away from our face as we sleep on our right side, as Buddha always did. People in India traditionally tie reeds of this grass together to make a broom. Sleeping on top of these reeds symbolically sweeps the mind of impurities so that our dreams that night are especially clear. We examine the dreams we have at the break of dawn for indications of our success at Kalachakra practice. There is no harm, as an observer, if we also take the grass and examine our dreams. It may be good fun, but these dreams do not have any particular spiritual significance. Whether a participant or an observer, it is customary the next day to burn the reeds respectfully or place them among bushes.

Finally, Karmavajra distributes red protection strings to tie around either one of our upper arms. The string signifies Maitreya in two senses of the word. We wear it until either Maitreya, the future Buddha, comes, or we develop pure maitri, or love, for all beings. Since Maitreya is not predicted to arrive for several million years, and it may take very long before we develop totally pure love, we wear the string for only a token period of time – usually for the duration of the initiation ceremony – as a reminder to wish all beings to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. Afterwards, we may raise undue notice to ourselves and have to answer endless questions if we exhibit a weathered red string on our arm. To avoid this, we can carry the cord in our wallet or purse if we would like to keep it as a reminder to always be loving. Otherwise, we either burn the string or hang it on a tree. If, as an observer, we find it helpful to tie a sting around our arm to remind us to love our neighbors, we by all means go ahead and do so. If some people in the West tie a string around their finger to remind them of an appointment, we can certainly tie one around our arm to help us stay mindful of love.

Once more we imagine seed-syllables at the locations of our six major chakras in our central energy-channel. The six male Buddhas in the mandala emanate replicas of themselves, which enter and dissolve into these syllables. We then repeat a long mantra to invoke Vajrasattva and elevate our body, speech and mind. Our teacher, Kalachakra, recites verses to inspire and fill us with happiness at our rare and precious opportunity to enter the tantric path. Finally, he gives us the mantra, OM AH HUM HOH HAM KSHAH – the six syllables we just imagined on our body – which we repeat after him. In Tibetan the mantra is pronounced "om ah hung ho hankya." He instructs us to repeat this mantra for a short time before going to sleep this night and to examine our dreams upon waking. As an observer, we may also repeat this mantra whenever we feel the need to protect our mind from disturbing thoughts. With this, the preparation ceremony ends.

General Advice

It is difficult to understand and follow everything during an initiation, so we need not worry when we become perplexed or lost. Hardly anyone can manage all the visualizations perfectly. Serious practitioners of any tantric system receive its empowerment repeatedly. The more familiar we become with the ritual, the more fully we are able to participate in its visualizations. We try our best to follow on our own level, without worrying about it or feeling inadequate.

My late teacher, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche, gave an extremely useful guideline for tantric visualization practice. Empowerments, sadhanas, pujas and other tantric procedures are like a motion picture. Each frame and scene of a movie runs for only its slated time. It then passes and the next scene appears. We do not try to superimpose every frame of the movie and show them all at the same time. Similarly, we maintain specific visualizations of various Buddha-figures, discs, syllables and so forth at different parts of our body only for the short period of the step of the empowerment that calls for them. When the scene changes and the movie goes on, we drop that visualization and proceed to the next one. If we miss a scene or are unable to keep up, we simply forget about it and do not worry. We go on to the next scene. Otherwise, the movie gets tangled in the projector and cannot play at all. This is useful advice for our lives as well. Life runs more smoothly if we let its scenes pass like in a movie and do not hold on to them with guilt or recrimination.