The Rinjung Gyatsa Empowerments
by Thubten Gyatso
In September 2009 I requested Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to give the Rinjung Gyatsa series of empowerments at the Thubten Shedrup Ling/Atisha Centre/Great Stupa of Universal Compassion complex. My thought was that these three centres are uniquely suited to helping preserve the Vajrayana tradition and, if this rare empowerment that covers all four classes of tantra is given here, we can maintain the lineage, learn the necessary rituals, and provide the best retreat conditions for those wishing to perform tantric meditation.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche remarked that this was an unusual request from a Westerner, but his observation indicated that it would be suitable, and Rinpoche added that he would like to teach Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara at the same time. I had anticipated that this event would occur on completion of the Great Stupa, but apparently there’s no time to waste and it is happening before then. So I hope you don’t mind living in tents.
“The Precious Source of Attainment of an Ocean of Mind-Bound Deities” (Rinjung Gyatsa) is a collection of sadhanas and initiation methods for three-hundred and five deities compiled by Jonang Jetsun Taranatha who lived from 1575 to 1634.
Jetsun Taranatha, a prolific writer and renowned scholar, wrote the History of Buddhism in India as well as many other works. He also founded an important Jonangpa monastery in the Tsangpo Valley, about 200 miles west of Lhasa. Having studied with two Indian gurus and several learned Tibetan masters, Jetsun Taranatha collected the Rinjung Gyatsa sadhanas from many sources and traditions. He did so through concern that the rare lineages may be lost. If that was a worry in Tibet four centuries ago, how much more is it a worry today?
It is said that Jetsun Taranatha went to Mongolia where he founded several monasteries. He died there, and his reincarnation was known as Zanabazar, the First Jetsun Dampa of Mongolia. In my four years in Mongolia I was deeply impressed by the works of Zanabazar, an incomparable scholar, yogi, and artist. Many of his magnificent sculptures are preserved in a museum across the road from the FPMT centre in Ulaan Bataar. The holy images of Tara and the Five Wisdom Buddhas at TSL Monastery were created in Vietnam from photographs of Zanabazar’s works.
In the summers of 1977 and 1978, Kyabje Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche and the Tibetan, Nepalese, and Western monks and nuns at Kopan Monastery received the Rinjung Gyatsa transmissions from the perfect master, Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche. In the early eighties, Lama Zopa Rinpoche offered these transmissions to a great number of his and Lama Thubten Yeshe’s students at the first two Enlightened Experience Celebrations in India.
In Australia, Rinpoche plans to give the 305 rinjung gyatsa transmissions over several years, in combination with continuing commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara.
The rinjung gyatsa initiations traditionally begin with a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, which involves taking bodhisattva and tantric vows and making a commitment for daily practice and possibly a retreat according to Rinpoche’s instruction at the time.
The five general requirements for entry into tantric practice are to train in the meditations common to the sutra path; to hold Pratimoksha vows; to take the bodhisattva vows; to study the Fifty Stanzas on Guru Devotion; to request initiation and have pure devotion to the initiating master. A strong feeling for renunciation, bodhicitta, and the wisdom of emptiness is essential.
In 2018, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche will begin the Rinjung Gyatsa series of empowerments with the Highest Yoga Tantra initiation of Heruka Chakrasamvara. As the rinjung gyatsa empowerments contain practices at all four levels of tantra, a prior highest yoga tantra initiation is necessary for receiving the particular empowerments that are at that level. For most of the empowerments, however, it is not necessary to have a prior highest yoga tantra initiation.
As Rinpoche will continue to teach “The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” during the rinjung gyatsa phase of the retreat, participants without a highest yoga initiation can attend those teachings and then choose to attend any lower empowerment as they wish. Again, you have to be aware that due to serious obstacles arising during the past two retreats Rinpoche has not yet begun the rinjung gyatsa empowerments. We feel, however, that as Rinpoche himself has chosen to be here for six weeks in 2018, it might be a case of third-time lucky. Either way, six weeks spent with Rinpoche will undoubtedly be of supreme benefit to all.