In September 2023 the Tibetan Buddhist Society is hosting a Medicine Buddha empowerment bestowed by a qualified tantric master, in this case Venerable Geshe Doga of Tara Institute. In this article we address some of the questions commonly asked about taking initiation and practising tantra.

What is tantric practice?

Tantric practice involves the imagined visualisation of a deity and meditative concentration on their qualities. By harnessing the power of imagination and with all the various qualities of enlightenment embodied by the form of the deity, the journey towards enlightenment can be greatly accelerated. Medicine Buddha is known as an Action tantric practice.

We will explore more about tantra, and especially Highest Yoga Tantra, in part two of Introduction to tantra in coming weeks.

What is an initiation?

The process of taking an empowerment or initiation is to be led through a series of meditations by the initiating lama. The lama describes a sequence of meditations, such as developing bodhicitta and visualising Medicine Buddha. By attending the Medicine Buddha initiation ceremony and by following the different meditations we receive the Medicine Buddha initiation.

Initiation plants a seed within our mental continuum, which over time, ripens to yield common and superior powerful attainments. Common powerful attainments include long life, good health, good conditions and so forth. Superior powerful attainments are the realisations that bring liberation and Buddhahood.

In the case of Medicine Buddha, taking the initiation, in itself, is a blessing to have good health.

Having taken initiation will there be any commitments?

The initiating lama will set commitments during the ceremony. For initiations such as Medicine Buddha it’s usual that there will be no daily practice commitment. Occasionally, the lama may set a mantra recitation commitment, say to recite the mantra twenty-five times a day. This is a very easy commitment to keep, taking less than a couple of minutes.

 We should be mindful that if we are taking initiation, we should be happy to keep the initiation commitment, should there be one.

When do you know you’re ready to take an initiation?

For practices such as Medicine Buddha, we can attend the ceremony just for its blessing power, without actually taking the initiation. This is fine for anyone, even people who are not Buddhist, so long as they are respectful of the initiating lama, the temple and the centre.

However, if we want to practise Medicine Buddha, and if we want step-by-step to gain common and superior powerful attainments, then we need to be Buddhist. And we need to be committed to remaining Buddhist for our entire life.

Additionally, we should be familiar with the teachings on the three principal paths – renunciation, bodhicitta and the wisdom perceiving emptiness. And finally, we must be happy to take the initiating lama as one of our gurus. This will be a lifetime relationship. We can’t take someone as a guru one year and then change later.

Do you need to seek permission to take initiation?

No, there is no need to seek permission. However, if you have any questions, it’s always good to discuss them with dharma friends.