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Sometimes, gurus will perform empowerment ceremonies or give lung in-person (or more recently, online) to recite a certain mantra or practice a certain deity. Sometimes this comes with samaya vows.

What exactly is empowerment & lung?

It is said that reciting certain mantra without empowerment is ineffective, possibly even useless.

It seems that empowerment 'activates' certain aspects in the practitioner that makes the mantra 'useful'. I've heard the analogy is driving a car without fuel & driving one with fuel to describe the difference between mantra without & with empowerment.

What is it about the empowerment that makes the mantra useful? What is the mechanics of this, how does this happen?

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Empowerment and lung are two particular forms of samaya (damtsik) that, within the Tibetan Buddhist traditions at least, are seen as aiding personal Buddhist practice. Both traditions are seen as (i) creating a lineage of practice that links the practitioner back to the author of a specific tradition, and (ii) to provide the practitioner with the necessary faith (dad pa) to drive their practice forward through the walls and snares of self-doubt. This is particularly the case with “empowerment” (wong), which is a formal initiation into tantric practice. Contrary to many popular views regarding this word, tantra is not necessarily associated with sexual yoga, but is rather understood as the permitted ritual use of divine power (hence, ‘empowerment’). Tantra itself emerged out of the wider South Asian religious milieu and is indeed found in both Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions, and is generally recognised as something that can be used for either good (in which case, because of its divine empowerment, leading to VERY good results) or bad (thus leading to VERY bad results). For example, the Tibetan saint Milarepa used tantra to invoke divine power to destroy his uncle’s family (so: bad), but upon repenting his negative actions sought tantric empowerments from his guru Marpa in order to finally attain purification of those acts and, ultimately, enlightenment (so: good).

Simply put, Buddhist empowerment in the Tibetan tradition involves adopting a tantric practice in which one sees one’s own form, actions and thoughts as being those of a Buddha. This daily practice, called a sadhana (druptap – literally , ‘means of attainment’ of that Buddha) combines visualising oneself and others in ways that at the same time give symbolic form to the Buddhist teachings, and provide one with the confidence (lha rgyal, literally ‘divine pride’) to move beyond and overcome your own self-doubts and deep attachments to one’s own form, actions and thoughts, thus rendering spiritual progress. Suh progress involves revealing one’s own ‘Buddha nature’, which is hidden unalloyed under layers of attachment, delusion and harm. To do this, however, we need to ‘borrow’ that faith from someone else, someone that we have genuine confidence and trust has also attained that deity and overcome their own faults. In this sense, the Buddha that we receive empowerment into is, in essence, the teacher that we receive the empowerment from, and the teacher that we have great confidence in is in turn only a reflection of our own inner Buddha-nature. Thus, to have faith in ourselves we must first have faith in another. After all, we can read about a mantra and give it a go without receiving an empowerment, but in the end it will only reflect our own inner doubts, neuroses and follies. But if we take empowerment from someone we DO have faith in, it improves our faith and confidence in our own subsequent practice. The mantra now feels worthy of confidence because we received it from someone we trust. This is what ‘supercharges’ a mantra: trust, not magic.

Obviously, to do this therefore means that we need to have first developed trust, confidence and faith in a particular teacher, and that needs to be done prior to receiving empowerment. The standard advice here is to observe and study under a teacher for at least twelve years before seeking empowerment from them. This is good advice, not least because tantric practice also needs a firm foundation in Buddhist ethics and meditative experience of bodhicitta (both in its conventional and ultimate forms – that is, the development of compassion and insight into emptiness) and calmness of mind. Such a foundation will take at least twelve years. A teacher will give an empowerment if sincerely asked; the trick here is not to sincerely ask until you are sincerely ready! (Don’t worry, twelve years will pass quicker than you expect).

As for lung, it is something of an adjunct of the principles described above: it is hearing from someone you trust and have faith in the practice of a particular sadhana, mantra or other set of recitations. Here, you must have faith that the person delivering the lung has insight into the practice, its meaning and realisation. You cannot actually inherit these realisations, but you can inherit some confidence that they are genuinely possible – that you can achieve these things, just as they did before you.

Hope that helps.

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This is an informed opinion from my own experience and understanding of tantric Buddhism and these practises. Though I have no sources and this may seem divisive, my intention is only to inform not berate or show disdain, anyone is free to edit or delete my answer/opinion.

Empowerments is/are what is known as "black magic" The practice involves the guru invoking a persona of a (fictional) deity, using their sexual energy (white bindu) in their shashamura and "ripening" (manipulating) the other persons mind with their sexual energy. The intention is to create a samaya bond with the guru. Lung is the tibetan word for the inner bodily energy, synonymous with chi (white bindu being jing chi) prana, or in even more basic western science and laymans terms biochemical electricity! In this case it is the energy given by the guru explaining the tantric subject.

These inner energy body systems all have a common ancestry in India and the far east, Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Tibetan Bon. I have tried for many years to get to the information of the source of these practices and the claim that these teachings were taught by the actual Buddha with no avail. The furthest the sources go to is "vajradhara" which in of itself is a manifestation of the "adi-Buddha" The simple fact is, from my own research and understanding these practices are NOT the actual Buddhas teachings and are in fact what we now call Hinduism that has been mixed culturally with Buddhism, especially in the Tibetan region as well as other Tibetan religions that are mixed with Buddhist teachings. (dzogchen, bon)

Traditionally in Tibet it is customary for a student to spend 12 years training with a guru before he/she fully commits to the guru and takes empowerments though in the modern age Tibetan "gurus" are very quick to dish out empowerments to anyone for the price of admission, dishing them out like they are collectable cards or something for one to collect.

Ultimately it is faith (in the guru) and the samaya bond that (somehow magically) allows saying syllables repeatedly (mantras) a purposeful practice.

I would suggest for anyone wanting to do these practices to fully seek sources and information regarding these practices rather than just following a "guru" and doing these things which quite frankly may be an obstacle to liberation rather than a upaya tool towards liberation.

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