Common questions

What is the function of empowerment (jiachi) and how does it work?

 There are many levels to the teachings of Buddhism, from folk beliefs, advanced levels of religious doctrine and philosophy, to the ultimate reality without form or characteristics. The level of an ultimate reality which is without marks is the root and foundation of Buddhism wherein real liberation is detachment from desire and freedom from pursuits, reliance, and attachment. One does not attach to extremes of having or not having, of good or evil, love or hatred, gain or loss. That is why Buddhadharma is said to be boundless or “without sides”; it is the ultimate freedom. Therefore, there should be really no need to pray for or bestow empowerment.

 However, this is a world where ordinary people reside; though they understand rationally that the state of no-desire and no-attachment is ultimate liberation and freedom, when they encounter afflictions of body and mind, calamity to family members, or setbacks in their career, they automatically pray for support from outside, seeking empowerment from deities, and help from the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Although empowerment is not exactly what Buddhadharma is about, Buddhism does not oppose or negate belief in empowerment; it accepts empowerment as something the masses need, and as an expedient means for introducing them to Buddhism.

 The effect of empowerment comes from the powers of mantras, vows, and the mind. Someone with a profound mantra practice can connect with spirits and deities through the resonating power of the mantras, to aid and support others. Someone who harbors a great vow can move the buddhas, the bodhisattvas, and the guardian devas for support and assistance. Furthermore, someone with strong and focused mind can directly affect the attitude of the receivers and strengthen their determination. Many common mottos such as, “turning bad luck into good,” “dispelling calamities,” and “curing illness,” are effected through the power of the mind. 

 The efficacy of empowerment is to transform the mind of the receivers, so as to strengthen their mind. The so-called divine empowerment helps the receivers calm their mind, and rest their body to overcome crisis. It is also to strengthen their courage and perseverance to face reality; it is not to encourage them to escape reality or avoid debtors. Of course, through empowerment one can cushion the impact of a crisis, and use it to alleviate damage to a minimum.

 At the level of the folk beliefs, however, the empowerment comes from others instead oneself; it is to use the mind, will, and mantra of those bestowing empowerment to directly relieve the receiver’s troubles. This is the common belief and hope of the general public, since it does not require engaging in cultivation, or paying the necessary price to resolve their crisis. This is also why belief in ghosts and spirits is so popular. However, most of the time, using empowerment only averts disaster temporarily; it will not permanently solve one’s problems. It is like being sheltered by some authority figure to escape debtors or gangsters, but when the protective forces withdraw, disaster will return with greater intensity. 

 Buddhadharma is quite different: If one is troubled and hindered by injustice and misdeeds, or has old debts from past lives, he or she can, with the empowerment giver’s power of compassion and perseverance, persuade and defuse hatred, stubbornness, and desire for revenge. It will help them stop feeling wronged and be redirected to a life of doing good deeds. The receiver of empowerment will then live free from disaster and have good fortune. Afterwards, however, the receiver should embrace the Three Jewels, practice and uphold the Dharma, and do good deeds for sentient beings; otherwise, they may again accumulate bad deeds, and endure suffering. 

 Some people chant the Great Compassion Dharani with an offering of water to be blessed. Others transfer the great power of mantras, vows, and blessings to prayer beads, Buddhist ritual objects, or ordinary items, and turn them into something auspicious that has power to heal, divert evil, safeguard homes, and bring blessings. The power of these blessed items are derived from the mantra vows, the empowerment giver’s own power derived from their practice and upholding of Dharma, their good fortune and high virtues, and their diligent effort.

 However, the duration and effect of empowerment on people and items at the receiving end vary according to the empowerment giver’s power. The effects are akin to resonation extending from the givers to the receivers, so long as one cultivates and practices in accordance to certain teachings, the effects can be achieved by anyone who wishes to give; but for the receivers, the effects are created totally by external forces. If the receiver does not practice or cultivate, it would be like borrowing money from the bank – it may be good fortune for a while, but the borrower will later encounter more problems, and accumulate more debts. Therefore, relying on empowerment is an expedient means, not the fundamental way to solve problems.