Initiation, or empowerment, belongs to the tantric
tradition of Buddhism. The Chö-practice is a practice of the Prajnaparamita in
its extended version, its middling version and its simplified version. All
instructions that are contained within the whole body of teachings of the
Prajnaparamita given by the Buddha are contained within the practice of Chö.
The source of Chö is the great Tibetan female master known as Machik Lapdron
(the only mother). Machik Lapdron was prophesied by name by the Buddha in the
sutra that distinguishes purity and impurity. The Buddha also prophesied her in
the tantric teachings by mentioning her name, Lapkyi Dronma (Labdron), and
saying that she would be a teacher and an emanation of the mother of
transcendental wisdom. Drolma means “torch” – the torch from Lap. She was also
prophesied by the great Indian master Padmasambhava as the emanation of Yeshe
Sogyal. In most sutra and tantric teachings of the Buddha, her great spiritual
accomplishment is mentioned.
The Chö practice that comes down from the great mother Machik Lapdron has been
transmitted through three lineages; the sutra lineage, the tantra lineage and
the combined sutra and tantra lineage.
The sutra lineage of the Chö practice can be traced to Buddha Shakyamuni – the
historical Buddha, who passed it down to the bodhisattva Manjushri. Then
gradually, this linage was transmitted to the great masters Nagarjuna and Arya Deva.
The source of the tantric practice of Chö can be traced to the great mother
Prajnaparamita. The great mother Prajnaparamita passed this down to the
samboghakaya Buddha Vajrasattva, who passed it on to the nirmanakaya female
buddha, the Great Tara, who passed it onto Machik Lapdron.
The lineage that bears the elements from both sutra and tantra can be traced to
the bodhisattva Manjushri who passed it on to Arya Tara. Arya Tara transmitted it
to the great Indian female master known as Sukasiddhi. She passed it to the
chief disciple of Nagarjuna, Arya Deva. Finally it came to Padampa Sangye, who
brought the lineage to Tibet where Sönam Lama received the transmission and
passed it on to the great mother Machik Lapdron.
The reason behind expounding how the transmissions took place is to prove that
this teaching has not been made up by some unenlightened individual. To practice
the Chö instructions according to the tantric tradition, one needs to be
empowered into the mandala of the Chö practice. Since the Chö instructions that
will be given here pertain to the union on the sutra and tantra Chö practice,
empowerment is required.
The empowerment that will be given at this moment is bodily, verbal, and mental.
The empowerment of the body of the deity is imparted on your body. The
empowerment of dharma is bestowed on the mind. The empowerment of mantra is
imparted on the speech.
The audience should be fit vessels to receive this empowerment. A fit vessel is
a purified mind that is ready to receive the blessings of the empowerment. You
are a vessel. The nectar that is going to be poured into the vessel is the
blessing of the empowerment. But if the vessel is broken or impure, whatever is
poured will be contaminated. If one is to receive empowerment by allowing
oneself to be a fit vessel, it is essential to purify one’s mind.
The view of the Chö instruction is emptiness. The action of Chö is an
unconventional action that is performed on the basis of being free from hope,
fear and hesitation. The voice of Chö is uttering the mantra of the
Prajnaparamita, OM GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SOHA.
One meditates on the Chö instruction with the aim of breaking the grip onto the
true existence of self or ego. All aspects of dharma are capable of cutting
through the ego, but the Chö technique has a unique way of doing this. We will
now begin the initiation.
Please repeat the refuge prayer by folding your hands over your heart and
visualizing them holding a lotus flower.
Rinpoche leads the refuge prayer
With this verse we have gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and to
the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. Now, we will repeat the following
verse, which generates the altruistic mind of bodhicitta. Contemplate at the
same time how past masters in the same way have generated the altruistic mind of
Rinpoche leads the prayer
This completes the preparation of the initiation. The main empowerment will now
Machik Lapdron said the following about this practice, “Your awareness should be
relaxed, so that it is neither too relaxed nor too tense.” When we can bring our
mind to such a balanced state of relaxation, we can comprehend the view of
When the empowerment of the Dharma is being imparted to our mind, we should
practice the phowa transference that opens the space. The phowa practice that
opens the space cannot be compared to other phowa instructions. To conduct the
visualization of the phowa practice, you should stand up. Place your hands on
the crown of your head.
Visualize your entire body as a balloon filled with air. Then visualize a small
ball of white light, a bindu, white in color, under the sole of your right foot.
Visualize a red bindu under the sole of your left foot. We will now offer the
supplication to the masters of the lineage of the Chö practice, and to the great
mother Machik Lapdron.
Rinpoche leads the supplication prayer
While I recite the following prayer, maintain your visualization, and the sense
that your body is hollow. Pray to Machik Lapdron that you will succeed in the
Rinpoche performs the melodious Chö ritual of cutting through
Visualize the two white and red balls of light gradually moving upwards though
your legs, arriving at your secret chakra where they mix and becomes the size of
Gradually it ascends through your navel chakra and heart chakra into the crown
chakra. As it moves upwards it leaves the crown chakra. While these bindus leave
the crown of the head one should be careful about not creating attachment
towards one’s body. Try to transfer your consciousness to the space without any
reference points. I will utter the sound “Phe!.” At this moment visualize your
consciousness leaving your crown chakra into the space without reference points
and simply dwell in this non-referential state of mind.
Your consciousness has entered the realm of space. Sentient beings pervade all
space. Wherever awareness pervades, so does dharmakaya.
Lower your hands. You might be a little tired, but this will alleviate your
disturbing emotions. Try to dwell without conceptual thoughts and emotions. You
In the sutra teaching of the Buddha, such phowa practice is “the samadhi that
perceives the crown of space,” “the samadhi that encompasses the totality of
space,” and “the essence of space.” If you can meditate in this manner, this
meditation is known as the supreme meditation of the view.
If such meditation is too profound for beginners, then one can alternate
meditation the withdrawal the energy of the consciousness into your body with
meditation. This purifies obscurations created by holding onto material objects.
Visualize yourself in the form of the great Machik Lapdron. Now for a brief
moment allow your mind to rest within the state of mind that knows no past or
This completes the bestowal of the Dharma empowerment on our minds. Now comes
the empowerment of the deity onto our body. This initiation is done through the
medium of the torma (ritual cake). You should visualize the inseparability of
the torma and the great Prajnaparamita and Machik Lapdron.
At this point you should visualize white light emanating from the forehead of
the great mother Machik Lapdron and striking your forehead. This purifies all
physical and karmic obstructions that you have created.
Rinpoche leads prayers ending with the Prajnaparamita mantra OM GATE GATE PARA
GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SO HA and performs Mandala offering
At this point you should visualize a red syllable AH at the throat chakra of
Machik Lapdron. It emits red light that strikes your throat chakra and purifies
all negative obstructions we have created with our speech. Imagine that you have
received the speech empowerment of Machik Lapdron.
From the blue seed syllable HUNG at the heart chakra of Machik Lapdron there
ensues blue light that strikes our own heart chakra and purifies all obstructive
forces created by our mind. We should think that we have received the mind
empowerment of Machik Lapdron.
At this point, visualize your body, speech, and mind as inseparable from the
body, speech and mind of Machik Lapdron.
During the practice of the Chö we work to untie the knots in our energy
channels. We do this by singing Chö prayers with beautiful melodies, and we try
to cultivate a mind that is free from attachment to reality. This completes the
initiation. We conclude the ceremony with prayers for dedication of merit. I
wish you all auspiciousness with the practice of cutting through the ego by
using the practice of Chö.
The empowerment of the Chö practice, together with the instruction of the Chö
practice and the oral transmission of the Chö practice is very well preserved in
the Monastery where I come from. The Dzogchen Academy is famous all over Tibet.
Thousands of monks study there. But when it comes to the empowerment of the Chö
practice, they invite a lama from my Monastery to give teaching on the Chö.
Oslo, June 2005
Translated by Lama Changchub at Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Centre, Norway
© Samye Buddhist Center - All rights reserved