Wang (དབང་), meaning empowerment, is a rite that introduces a practitioner to a specific esoteric Buddhist practice. Empowerment is considered to be the tool that ripens or matures (སྨིན་བྱེད་) the mindset of a practitioner for spiritual practice. There are many kinds of wang but one can generally place them into one of two categories. One is jénang (རྗེས་གནང་), which literally means giving permission. A lama gives jénang as an authorisation to visualise a deity and chant the mantras associated with that deity. It is not because the practice is off limits to those without the authorisation, but rather it aims to ensure the practice is being done correctly.
The second type is the wang, which is a full initiation into the Vajrayana path and also has many types. It is called wang because it empowers the disciple to follow the esoteric Vajrayana path, just as a coronation ceremony empowers a prince to be a king. A wang rite usually has three stages. In the first preliminary stage, the guru has to meditate, accumulate the mantra of the associated deity for which the wang is given, bless the ground or venue, exorcise any negative forces, and then ask the disciples to make an offering before requesting the wang.
In the actual stage, the lama bestows the wang after the he and the disciples visualise themselves as a maṇḍala of deities and invites the Buddhas to immerse themselves in them. There are four types of wang a lama normally bestows after this:
Bum wang (བུམ་དབང་) or vase empowerment, sang wang (གསང་དབང་) secret empowerment, sher wang (ཤེར་དབང་) or wisdom empowerment, and tsik wang (ཚིག་དབང་) or word empowerment.
During the bum wang, the lama and disciples visualise the vase as a mansion filled with enlightened deities. Then, they visualise the enlightened deities melting into a liquid form, the essence of enlightened energy, that then flows down from the vase into the disciples. In the process, the disciples are cleansed of spiritual impurities. The vase empowerment purifies the disciple of all negativities associated with the body and sows the seeds for the disciple to actualise the trülku (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་), or emanation body of the Buddha.
In the sangwang or secret empowerment, the lama introduces disciples to secret tantric practice of consuming the secret nectar or semen that is generated by tantric union. To symbolize this, the disciples are given dütsi or sweet alcohol from a skull cup. If visualised properly, it will cleanse the disciple of impurities associated with speech and help them actualise the longku (ལོངས་སྐུ་), or enjoyment body of the Buddha.
The third, sher wang or sherab yeshekyi wang, is the wisdom empowerment that introduces the disciple directly to practice of tantric union by giving them spiritual consorts. Symbolically, during this wang, the lama shows a picture of a consort and gives the blessings of wisdom. Through wisdom empowerment, the impurities of one’s mind are cleansed and one actualises chöku (ཆོས་སྐུ་), or dharma body of the Buddha.
In the tshik wang or word empowerment, the lama shows a symbol such as a crystal or peacock feather to illustrate the nature of one’s mind. The lama illustrates through the symbol how the mind is empty, luminous, open, compassionate, and fully enlightened. This empowerment helps one get rid of all the propensities or bakcha (བག་ཆགས་) of impurities and actualise the ngowonyiku (ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་སྐུ་), or innate body of the Buddha.
What should one do after receiving a wang?
After receiving the empowerment, one is entitled to practice Tantric Buddhism utilising that particular deity. Every empowerment is connected to a deity and a maṇḍala, and when one receives empowerments, one receives the authority and entitlement to do the practices based on that deity and mandala.
In the third phase of the initiation, one has to make a maṇḍala offering that symbolises the universe as a token of gratitude to the lama, who will then administer the precepts called samaya or damtsik (དམ་ཚིག་), which is the final part of the empowerment ritual.
A wang or empowerment, when properly understood, is a meditation process, and through it one commits to a set of principles and rules to live by. If one violates the samaya-s, then one is called damnyam (དམ་ཉམས་), or transgressor. If one cannot follow the precepts it is better not to receive the wang, as receiving a wang is not an easy matter. Many don’t realise this and rush to receive the wang, yet they neither fully understand the process nor follow the damtsig. Most people think receiving the substances distributed during the wang ceremony is the wang, yet the real wang is a mental spiritual process and one takes oath to live by certain norms and rules. For instance, after receiving the four wangs, one cannot hate someone or mistreat a woman. If one hates a sentient being, one breaks a damtsik precept. The whole point of receiving empowerment is to enter a path with strict rules of self-discipline with the hopes of gaining enlightenment more quickly.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”