Sometimes, I think it is useful to simply call upon the deity and then take note of what he looks like when he arrives. White Mahakala may appear one way at one time and another way at another time. There may come a time when all appearances are White Mahakala.
The next matter to be considered is the offering. Primarily we are performing what is known as an inner offering; so called because it is of the inner components of humans and animals. These impure components are transformed into elixir, in order to bless the outer offerings.
Naturally, we do not cook this in an actual vessel. Instead, we visualize this process. If we wish, we can also then symbolize the visualization with black tea or wine in a skull cup.(*) We can place the ring fingers of our right and left hands together and encircle the skull cup three times, setting it to the left side of our table.(**) It is not strictly necessary for us to do this: we can do this entirely as visualization. However, if we find it useful to adopt such formalities, we can use an actual skull cup as noted.(***)
On the altar, we have the external torma, if possible, and the offerings of water and so forth, arranged in bowls. Many people are confused about this aspect of practice, so we will review a few details.
a torma is not an object. An object can symbolize a torma, and we can call that symbolic object a torma. a torma is in fact a space. To the extent that an object symbolizes this space, then that object is a vessel. We want the torma to be free from physical impurities, and want it to be free from conceptual impurities. We therefore understand that the torma arises from emptiness, is an inherently empty, uncreated offering vessel, ultimately devoid of form, and dissolves into emptiness.
We arrange our offering bowls from left to right in the following fashion: in the first bowl, we place pure drinking water. When we offer this water to the deity, we think that it completely and simultaneously quenches the thirst of all sentient beings. actually, we are giving this water to the deity to deliver. White Mahakala is not thirsty.
Next, we offer water for bathing. again, White Mahakala is not dirty, but rather serves as the medium to wash all sentient beings clean of their defilements.
We next offer flowers, and the surroundings of all sentient beings become beautiful by this action. We offer incense, which similarly soothes and beautifies the surroundings of all beings, cleansing the air.
Next, we offer light, eliminating the darkness of ignorance. We follow this with perfume, which purifies the stains of immorality.
We now offer food, bestowing freedom from deprivation, followed by music, which purifies all sound.
allowing for the above, you should understand that this practice might be done in the middle of traffic, if you have the mind for it. There are all sorts of things that nobody owns, such as wildflowers, or the songs of birds. There are pure waters in mountain springs. There are delicious fruits growing wild in the fields. You can offer all of these, and all the other treasures your mind can conceive.
The point is that you are giving these offerings to White Mahakala, who in turn is delivering them to all sentient beings. Therefore, you can afford to be creative. For example: when you give light, you can specify that it bring light to those who are blind. When you give music, you can believe that it removes harmful or fearful words. When you give food, you can understand that beings will ultimately be delivered from reliance on external sources. The possibilities are as endless as you wish. The corresponding benefit is inconceivable to the human mind.
The next matter to consider is that of supports. When you are concluding this practice, you can invite White Mahakala to stay in a picture, or a statue. This is up to you. It is my idea that White Mahakala is inherently present in pictures of my teacher. You may find that he is inherently present in pictures of your teacher.
We should also discuss the mantra. White Mahakala’s mantra has thirteen syllables. Were you to recite the mantra 100,000 times, this would represent 1,300,000 syllables. This cannot hurt anyone. as to the appropriate mala for counting this mantra, it is considered traditional to use 108 lotus seeds, or bodhi seeds, or even 60 rudraksha tree berries having specific characteristics. actually, any mala with 108 beads of any material will be just fine. We must learn not to be neurotic about such matters.
A few notes are in order.
A novice monk -- a young westerner, from Belgium, for whom English was a second language -- produced the first English translation of this text, which Kalu Rinpoche personally selected. This was done in Alhambra, California, in 1988. The resulting edition was limited to 250 copies, of which no more then five or six survive.
In 2002, Lama Lodro, of San Francisco, California, published an expansion of the original text under an identical title, with a lightly revised English translation. One suspects this edition was also limited.
There is also a Sakya version, given out at the Sakya empoerments, in both English and Mandarin. I have examined them both.
I did an abbreviated English text with phoenetic Sanskrit in 2007, in support of an empowerment given by the Ninth Ogyen Tulku (Ogyen Gyurmed Wanggyal Rinpoche) in Alhambra, California -- very close to the one I will present here as Part 5 of our series.
I want to add my hope that this series has been of some benefit.
I will tell you quite candidly that it would be not entirely appropriate to attempt this practice without the associated empowerment.
However, I fully understand that your circumstances may be such that you have little hope of receiving such empowerment. For example: you may live in a far off place, where lamas never wander. You may have limitations that prevent you from traveling to receive the empowerment. Maybe you know a lama, but he has not accomplished this practice and so cannot give the empowerment.
A khenpo that I respect very much -- Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche -- has written about this issue, and I like his approach:
"Some people try to practice without having received empowerment or lung. Without these prerequisites -- or if their practice is incomplete -- though there may be some blessing, it will not be as effective. And certainly all aspects must be complete in order to attain any kind of realization."
If you require a particular empowerment, and if your motivation is pure, it has been my experience that you can practice the deity's mantra as a form of request. You are in essence telling the deity you want to engage in the practice, and that you desire a connection, but you lack the empowerment. For example: after accumulating 100,000 mantras, it often happens that the necessary conditions suddenly materialize.
This really depends upon your sincerity and the purity of your motivation. If your motivation is absolutely pure, the deity himself will come and bestow the empowerment -- but, most people seem to think that is very rare. Even if it isn't as rare as people suppose, there is always our capacity for self-deception to consider. We may deceive ourselves that the deity has bestowed the empowerment, when in fact nothing at all has happened.
So, really, to remove all doubt: the best thing is to create the conditions that make it possible for you to receive the empowerment.
Did I tell you?
White Mahakala grants wishes.
This is Part 4 of a 5 part series:
Part 1: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-1.html
Part 2: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-2-of-5.html
Part 3: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-3-of-5.html
Part 4: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-4-of-5.html
Part 5: http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/07/white-mahakala-part-5-of-5.html
(**)We place the dorje, bell, damaru, vase, and mala to the right.