Reflection on the Meaning of the Initiation into the Twenty-one Taras
As the time for the initiation into the Twenty-one Taras approaches, I wanted to write about what having received this initiation in 1995 has meant to me, and what it might mean for those of you who decide to participate at the end of the month.
As I began writing, two things happened immediately. First, tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes. Gratitude for my teacher, for our relationship over these last 27 years, for the many teachings and blessings I’ve received from him. I felt as if many Buddhas were entering the room, a wonderful, spacious, and yet grounded feeling.
Secondly, the image of a strong, comfortable chair came to mind as the perfect metaphor for having this initiation in my background. I could feel the back of the chair, something I lean into for support, the sturdy yet soft seat supporting my body, and the ground under my feet resting on the floor. Every aspect of my being felt supported: intellectual, physical, subtle, and emotional.
The initiation arises out of the Three Jewels, or the three objects of refuge: the awakened consciousness of the buddhas, the dharma, and the sangha. The teacher, Lodrö Rinpoche, embodies the enlightened energies of the meditation deity, Tara. The teachings, practices, and mantras that are transmitted are the dharma. The sangha is represented by those taking the initiation in the present, but also in a mystical, subtle realm, all other practitioners and lineages who have practiced and transmitted these teachings through the centuries.
Rinpoche offers the energetic and intellectual transmission of the underlying wisdom and compassion that is the essence of Tara and the teachings associated with her. This comes to us in the present day through him and the lineage of teachers that stretches back at least 1000 years to the master Atisha, but even further back to his teachers as well.
My experience of the initiation 25 years ago was seemingly “ordinary.” No bells and whistles. I sensed a deeply joyful, kind, open-hearted feeling coming from Rinpoche to all of us, and from us back to him in return. I was interested in the ancient ritual itself, which I didn’t fully understand at the time, but even more curious about the teachings he gave about each of the emanations of Tara and their corresponding mantras. And of course, I felt tired and impatient at times, as the initiation took the better part of an entire day.
As we say about tantric practice, everything shows up, everything is welcome, everything must be included in a compassionate way.
Rinpoche brings to the initiation his decades of experience within this tradition, and his life-long relationship to Tara in particular. All this, along with the preparation he does before the actual initiation, makes the entire experience possible. My gratitude for his life work, his immense generosity, and his kind heart knows no bounds.
In return, we offer our sincere interest, one might even say, our holy curiosity about what all this means now, and what it could mean for our spiritual development going forward. We offer our highest intention that the blessings of this initiation strengthen our capacity to benefit all beings in every moment. We offer our gratitude and respect for our teacher, Rinpoche, and for his transmission of the essence of the Three Jewels: the awakened consciousness reflected in the Buddha Tara, the dharma, the sangha.
This initiation is not a conversion experience of any sort! We bring everything we’ve learned and loved from other traditions, heart practices, holy teachers, mentors, even from the natural world itself. We honor all the sources of refuge that have given us sacred shelter throughout our lives, as well as those yet to be discovered.
The initiation, like the practices themselves, invites us to rest in the vast potential and joy inherent in the Interconnectedness of all Being, or Shunyata. The practices of the Twenty-one Taras dissolve the barriers that often obscure our access to the infinite doorways to our buddha nature that lies within us. Sometimes referred to as basic goodness, this consciousness, our inner Tara nature, is always there to stabilize us as we meet the trials and fears generated by our day-to-day existence.
It goes without saying, this initiation is not required to do the practices of the Twenty-one Taras in the Kriya tantra tradition of the master Atisha! We wouldn’t be together doing the practices now if that were the case.
Please trust your intuition about the timing of this for you. The main thing to remember, as I’ve written and we’ve discussed in practice sessions: everything depends on your motivation. Hold in your heart: “My sincere motivation for my practice, or for taking the initiation, is to awaken fully in order to benefit all beings.” With that profound intention, you can trust that whatever decision you make will be right for you, and that your practice will deepen and be blessed as you continue on the path with Tara as your loving guide.
May it be so!
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