Vajrakilaya Empowerment and Dance Tour

The following article is from the Spring, 1991 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Jetsun Sakya Center invites Buddhists of all traditions to receive the Vajrakilaya Empowerment of the Sermon Long Lineage in grand form from H.H. Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The Empowerment will take place in New York in the early part of October 1991, and will take three days to complete. As pan of the Empowerment, ten Tibetan monks will perform the Vajrakilaya dance, which portrays the entire practice, following which His Holiness will bestow an explanation in English of the practice and path of Vajrakilaya. The teachings will be held at a time that will not conflict with the Kalachakra Initiation of H.H. the Dalai Lama and the surrounding teaching program offered under the auspices of the Tibet Center.

One of the highest tantric teachings in the Buddhist tradition, Vajrakilaya is the manifestation of all of the Buddha's activities in a wrathful form. The practice of Vajrakilaya is an essential method to dispel the many obstacles that arise to block spiritual progress.

The Vajrakilaya of the Khon Lineage is unique in several aspects. The Khon lineage itself is historically descended directly from celestial beings. Formerly known as the Clear Light Celestial Race," the descendants of Khon settled in Tibet where they subjugated and intermarried with local rakshas (wrathful spirits). The name Khon, which actually means subjugator," was thus derived. The meaning of the Vajrakilaya tantra was explained through pith instructions by Guru Padmasambhava. This particular Vajrakilaya teaching was given in its complete form by him to Khon Nagendra Rakshita (one of the first seven fully ordained Tibetan monks) and his younger brother, Vajra Ratna, descendants of the Khon Lineage, H.H. Sakya Trizin's familial line. Since Khon Nagendra's time, this Vajrakilaya teaching has been passed from father to son only within the Khon lineage, making it unique in that the hereditary lineage and the teaching lineage are the same.

In the 13th century Khon Sakya Pandita, the first religious king of Tibet and one of the greatest scholars in Tibetan history, confirmed the authenticity of this teaching by discovering and translating the original Sanskrit text, which is now included in the Kangyur (the collection of the Buddha's original teachings).

All of the lineage holders from Adi Buddha until now have attained very high realization and have accomplished all of the common and excellent siddhis. The signs of this have been the many great miracles performed by each one of the lineage holders, such as stopping the flow of rivers, imbedding the phurba into solid rock, leaving impressions of feet and hands in solid rock, subduing the many worldly deities, and destroying the evil forces which are harmful to the teachings and practice of Dharma. There are many stories of the great accomplishments of each of these masters in all of the four activities, i.e., pacification, power, wrathfuiness and increasing.

The Vajrakilaya practice consists of three main parts: (1) the empowerment, which serves to ripen, the student for practice; (2) the teachings and explanation of the profound path, including the generation and completion stages as well as other related teachings; and (3) the actual practice, which includes (a) Nyenba, a retreat for accumulation of mantra, which is referred to as the practice of calling the deity"; (b) Drupba, in which one practices to accomplish the deity; and (c) Lajor, having accomplished the deity, one works for the benefit of sentient beings through the four activities.

In the Vajrakilaya of the Khon Lineage there are many elaborate rituals which incorporate melodic chanting and also sacred dances. The sacred dances consist of two parts: (1) the upper action, which is performed for the purpose of accomplishing enlightenment, and (2) the lower action, which is performed to destroy evil forces and obstacles.

The upper action has a very long and complicated dance which portrays the entire practice, beginning with the consecration of the place of performance, the blessing of the earth, the sky, etc., then continuing with the creation of the celestial mansion and the entire mandala of 51 main deities and 40 surrounding deities.

The second part of the dance, the lower action, which is meant to destroy the evil forces, is done in wrathful form, with the dancers wearing fierce masks representing emanations of the 20 wrathful deities.

At one time, as there was an inclination by the descendants of Khon toward learning the new" tantras, there was an attempt by them to conceal" or hide this Vajrakilaya teaching along with the other teachings of the ancient tradition. Due to the extraordinary power of the protectors associated with the Vajrakilaya of the Khon Lineage, this teaching alone was unable to be concealed, and thus remains to this day one of the most important practices of the Khon Lineage. At the same time the Khon Lineage through the establishment of a new order emphasizing the new" tantras, came to be called the Sakya Lineage.

In Tibet, the sacred dances of the Khon Lineage Vajrakilaya Ritual were performed traditionally every year during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. For the duration of the month, the assembly of monks in Sakya performed this extremely complex and elaborate ritual. Before the creation of the sand mandala, approximately 100 dancers would perform the Vajrakilaya upper action dance with traditional costumes and ornaments. Then came the creation of the sand mandala, to be followed by many days of chanting and prayers. At the end of the month, to conclude the ritual, the dancers would perform the lower action wrathful dance, wearing the special masks.

Even now, this tradition of the Vajrakilaya ritual of the Khon Lineage is performed by the assembly of monks in Sakya Centre, Rajpur, India every year during the seventh lunar month, which falls usually during August/September. The ritual includes the creation of a sand mandala and chanting for eleven days.

More recently, H.H. Sakya Trizin has revived the sacred Vajrakilaya dances by teaching them himself to some of his monks. As it would be extremely difficult to perform the dance in its entirety, certain sections have been chosen for presentation to the general public, as a very basic introduction to this ancient and unique Khon Lineage Vajrakilaya Ritual.

Independently of the empowerment ten monks will tour the country during October and November offering cultural presentations of the Vajrakilaya dances in honor of the Year of Tibet. The monks are expected to perform in the following cities: New York, Boston, Washington DC, Miami, Minneapolis, Boulder, Vancouver and Victoria (Canada), Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The performance will be in two one-hour segments, with a fifteen- minute break in between. The first dance will be the presentation of the Black Hat dance, which is the very beginning of the Vajrakilaya ritual. This will be followed by the dance of the Nectar Offerings. Both of these are from the upper action category. From the lower action wrathful aspect, two masked dancers will perform a dance representing the twenty emanations of the wrathful deities. This will be followed by two masked dancers representing the four direction guardians, and finally, two masked dancers representing the twelve protectors.

The program will conclude with five dancers who dance with drums and represent the Dakas, or celestial heroes. Although the final segment is not actually part of the traditional Vajrakilaya sacred dances, these celestial heroes are mentioned in the Vajrakilaya practice, so we have included this dance for variation. This final dance is also considered to be especially auspicious for those who have the opportunity to view it, and so gives a favorable conclusion to the performance.

All of the dances and melodies are in their ancient and authentic form, as are the costumes and masks. These dances, originally taught by the famous Guru Padmasambhava, are being performed publicly for the first time outside of Tibet. The occasion provides a rare and unique opportunity for unrestricted viewing of some of the most esoteric rituals of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

To raise the needed money to bring the monks to the U.S., the center is offering advance registration at a reduced rate of $90 for those who send in their checks by April 30, 1991. The regular fee is $140. Make checks payable to Vajrakilaya Empowerment." To register or for further information about either the Vajrakilaya empowerment or the tour of the Vajrakilaya dancers please contact: Jetsun Sakya Center, Vajrakilaya, PO Box 1603, Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025.

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