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Sogyal Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche during an empowerment

Empowerment (Skt. abhiṣeka or abhisiddhi[1]; Tib. དབང་, Wyl. dbang, wang) or granting an empowerment (Skt. abhiṣiñca; Tib. དབང་བསྐུར་བ་, Wyl. dbang bskur ba)[2] refers to the Vajrayana ritual which awakens the special capacity for primordial wisdom (Tib. yeshe) to arise in the mind of the disciple.[3] It is called 'empowerment' because when we receive it, we are empowered to follow a particular spiritual practice, and so come to master its realization.[4] It is said:

In the Secret Mantra Vehicle, there can be no accomplishment without empowerment,
For that would be like a boatman without oars.

And also:

Without empowerment there's no accomplishment;
You can't get oil from pressing sand.[5]

Empowerments can only be granted by qualified vajra masters and requires for the students receiving them to maintain the specific vajrayana precepts (Skt. samaya), on the basis of the refuge and bodhisattva vows. (See Two Causes & Four Conditions for further details.)

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche reminds us of the real meaning of 'empowerment':

"The most common description of abhisheka is that it is a transfer of power during a ceremony to give recipients the authorization to hear, study and practise the teachings of the vajrayana; we therefore “receive an empowerment.” But the problem is that receiving an empowerment suggests someone is giving us a power we previously lacked[...], and is a long way away from the true spirit of tantric initiation. During an initiation we are introduced to an aspect of ourselves that already exists within us but that we have yet to recognize, and it is the activation of this recognition that we call 'empowerment' or 'initiation'. This is the real meaning of abhisheka."[6]


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche writes:

"Abhisheka is a Sanskrit term, and its two fundamental meanings have been translated into Tibetan as torwa and lugpa. Torwa is usually translated as “dismantling” and refers to the cocoon of ignorance in which we are wrapped and that needs to be dismantled; and lugpa is translated as “pouring”—as in “pouring blessings”—and more obliquely, as “discovering our buddhanature.”"[7]

Tsele Natsok Rangdrol explains the etymological definition of empowerment in the following way:

"Formerly your body, speech and mind followed deluded habitual tendencies and possessed no independent power. The method that now provides you with natural authority over the indivisible state of the four kayas is called 'empowerment'."[8]

The Function of Empowerment

Empowerment is to ripen or mature our buddha nature. Even though all beings possess the buddha nature, without receiving empowerment it is not possible to receive blessings and accomplishments through a particular practice, just as it will never be possible to get oil by pressing sand.[9]

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:

"When an empowerment is conferred on you, it is the nature of your mind—the buddha nature—that provides a basis upon which the empowerment can ripen you. Through the empowerment, you are empowered into the essence of the buddhas of the five families. In particular, you are ‘ripened’ within that particular family through which it is your personal predisposition to attain buddhahood."[10]

In addition, to these aspects, Patrul Rinpoche adds that empowerments:


In General

According to Khenpo Ngakchung:[12]

"In general there are three types of empowerment:
  1. the ground empowerment
  2. the path empowerment
  3. the result empowerment
The ground empowerment is so called because when the nature of mind, sugatagarbha, is realized, this constitutes the "empowerment" of nirvana, and when it is not realized, this constitutes the "empowerment" of the three worlds of samsara. This nature is actually what is to be matured in the ground empowerment of the path empowerment .
The path empowerment is divided into three: ground, path, and result:
  1. [the ground empowerment of the path empowerment
  2. the path empowerment of the path empowerment
  3. the result empowerment of the path empowerment]
The result empowerment: In the very instant following the result empowerment of the path, one gains mastery of the wisdom of omniscience and has authority over everything in samsara and nirvana."

When other sources refer to ground, path and fruition empowerments, they most usually refer to what Khenpo Ngakchung presents as the ground empowerment of the path empowerment, the path empowerment of the path empowerment, and the result empowerment of the path empowerment.

In this context, Patrul Rinpoche explains that:[13]

And Tulku Thondup says that:[14]

  1. empowerments given to disciples who have not been initiated before are called causal empowerment;
  2. the empowerment given to students for developing their maturation or restoring the broken precepts are classified as empowerment of the path; and
  3. empowerments given to those who are ready to achieve the final attainment and which cause the disciple to attain the ultimate fruition are classified as empowerments of result because they bring the final result.

In the Inner Tantras

According to the inner tantras, there are four levels or stages within any ground empowerment of the path empowerment:

  1. the vase empowerment (Skt. kalaśābhiṣeka; Tib. བུམ་པའི་དབང་, bumpé wang, Wyl. bum pa'i dbang)
  2. the secret empowerment (Skt. guhyābhiṣeka; Tib. གསང་བའི་དབང་, sangwé wang, 'Wyl. gsang ba'i dbang; )
  3. the knowledge-wisdom empowerment (Skt. prajñājñānābhiṣeka; Tib. ཤེས་རབ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་དབང་, sherab yeshe kyi wang, Wyl. shes rab ye shes kyi dbang)
  4. the precious word empowerment

Two Causes & Four Conditions

Two causes and four conditions are necessary for an empowerment to fully take place:

Two Causes

  1. The associated cause (mtshung ldan gyi rgyu) is the presence of the buddha nature
  2. The cooperative cause (lhan cig byed pa'i rgyu) is the use of various substances (rdzas) during the empowerment, such as the vase, image cards and so forth.

Four Conditions

  1. The causal condition (rgyu'i rkyen) is the disciple who has faith and intelligence
  2. The dominant condition (bdag rkyen) is the teacher who is fully qualified
  3. The objective condition (dmigs rkyen) is the teacher's knowledge of the empowerment, deities, and mantras, and samadhi
  4. The immediate condition (de ma thag rkyen) is the previous phase or empowerment, since each phase prepares the student for what follows, and that is why empowerments must be given in the proper sequence[15]

Empowerments Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Many great masters have bestowed the most important empowerments needed for our practice upon the Rigpa sangha over the years, in particular, Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in 1987 and 1990, Kyabjé Penor Rinpoche in 1988 and 1995, Kyabjé Dodrupchen Rinpoche in 1999, Kyabjé Trulshik Rinpoche in 1999, 2003, and 2005, and Yangthang Rinpoche in 2012 and 2013.

For the complete list of empowerments given to the Rigpa Sangha, see the 'Empowerments Given to the Rigpa Sangha' page.


  1. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, Empowerment and the Path of Liberation (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1993), page 17.
  2. Philippe Cornu, Dictionnaire encyclopédique du bouddhisme (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2001), page 29
  3. Mipham Rinpoche, Essence of Clear Light, si khron mi rigs dpe sprun khang, p.501.
  4. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Guru Yoga (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1999), page 63.
  5. Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), page 332.
  6. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, Not for Happiness (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2012), page 192.
  7. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, op. cit., p.192
  8. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, op. cit., page 17.
  9. reference needed for sentence.
  10. source?
  11. Patrul Rinpoche, op. cit., page 331.
  12. Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2004), page 277.
  13. Patrul Rinpoche, op. cit., page 332.
  14. Tulku Thondup, Enlightened Journey (Boston: Shambala, 1995), page 113.
  15. Based on Tulku Thondup (1995) pages 115-6 and Khenpo Namdrol, oral teaching January 2012

Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha on the Topic of Empowerment

  • Khenpo Petsé Rinpoche, Lerab Ling, 21-22 August 1997
  • Ven. Sean Price, Lerab Ling, question & answer session, 15 June 2019
  • Ven. Sean Price, Lerab Ling, question & answer session, 15 August 2019

Further Reading

  • Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Journey Without Goal, The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Four (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2003), Ch. 10 'Abhisheka'.
  • His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Pure Appearance (Halifax: Vajravairochana Translation Committee, 1992, 2002—restricted title), pages 1-14.
  • Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, Not for Happiness (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2012), Ch.13 'Abhisheka and the Four Empowerments in Guru Yoga'.
  • Herbert V. Guenther, The Dawn of Tantra, The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Four (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2003), Ch. 9 'Empowerment and Initiations'.
  • Jamgön Kongtrul, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Six, Part Four: Systems of Buddhist Tantra, translated by Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2005), Ch. 12 'Initiation'.
  • Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche and Jigme Lingpa, Treasury of Precious Qualities Book Two (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2013), 'Empowerment that Brings to Maturity', pages 112-134.
  • Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, Vol. Two, translated by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999), Chapter 16.
  • Thinley Norbu, The Small Golden Key (Shambhala Publications, 1999), '12. Empowerment'.
  • Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, Empowerment and the Path of Liberation (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1993).
  • Tulku Thondup, Enlightened Journey: Buddhist Practice as Daily Life (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), 'The Empowerments and Precepts of Esoteric Training', pages 106-133.

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