From 1981: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
In Lama Yeshe’s last week at Chenrezig Institute he taught on Chenrezig guru yoga. He also gave a talk on tantra, conferred a thousand-armed Chenrezig initiation and held a question-and-answer session. On 22 July Lama Yeshe also gave a Mahakala initiation.
“When Lama put the vase on my head during that Chenrezig initiation I thought I would physically explode,” said one student. “I had to concentrate every ounce of my energy as I felt a force like a blissful thunderbolt, a cyclone, a volcano, synthesize in my head. A few seconds later I was aware that my memory of this experience was already fading in an exponential wave. I knew that if I multiplied whatever memory I could rescue of it by a hundred, it still wouldn’t be anything near the experience. Somehow, that made me feel very secure. It became my personal quality control as the most amazing experience of my life.
“That standard of pleasure Lama had set for me didn’t so much make me detached as put pleasure into perspective. Now I find the only way to solve the suffering of attachment to pleasure is certainly not to try and be detached while practicing asceticism, but to experience what real pleasure is. Then the rest can be seen for what it is. For me, no orgasm, however ‘spiritual,’ can come close to a Chenrezig initiation.”
From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara at Chenrezig Institute, 1981:
Your conscious psychic energy is transformed into Avalokiteshvara. This is the tantric method that serves to eliminate the heavy energy blanket of concepts. One identifies with such a profound emanation in order to connect with the profound non-duality image. Of course, you can argue that the blanket of concepts is still there. But by understanding that its characteristic nature is non-duality, then there is no heavy blanket of concepts.
Throughout our history we’ve never had any chance to experience ourselves as totally developed buddhas, have we? Avalokiteshvara is a buddha, is he not? So when you transform into Avalokiteshvara, you emanate as a buddha. Have you ever experienced yourself as a buddha, having a total understanding of shunyata, with no dualistic concepts? Well, this is the time to bring enlightened experience into the actual moment. This is why tantra is so very powerful. We bring Buddha’s experience into the path to enlightenment.
Every day, we criticize our bodies, don’t we? Relatively, our ego is never satisfied with our own body. There always seems to be something wrong, always. So we criticize, always saying things like, ‘My body is blah, blah, blah,’ and ‘I am this, this, this.’ This is one way we have to build up and energize our ego. We develop it in that way.
Carl Jung explained that every group of people living in a common environment develops a kind of individual ego. I think in a way it is true: In each different environment the people develop a similar ego in the way they criticize, the way they grow, the way they experience difficulties and problems. In my own experience, the ego conflicts of Himalayan mountain people and those of modern Western society are different. I am not sure but this is my observation. Both are ego, but the specific ways of the ego, the way the ego criticizes is different. Therefore, I think that each civilization has a different group ego. I think if you understand this it can help you to understand Buddhism better. That is what I say.
Nevertheless, whether we are talking about a group ego or an individual ego, there is a great need to eliminate it. We need to eliminate that ego because it makes our life sick. It becomes the heavy blanket of concepts that plagues us and makes us sick. So the reason that tantra uses such a particularly profound quality emanation is to demonstrate reality so that we can change. The vision of Avalokiteshvara serves to demonstrate the reality, to demonstrate non-duality, to demonstrate our ego’s vision, to demonstrate our own pre-conceptual ideas. I really feel that if one has the experience of identifying oneself as Avalokiteshvara’s form, it becomes so very, very profound.
First of all, it is kind of a peculiar form isn’t it? A thousand arms, so many eyes…it is quite peculiar. If you imagine yourself in that form for one hour and then go out into the outside world, maybe you will feel that the outside world has become strange, that you no longer belong to the outside world. So instead of your ego being strongly involved as the group ego and individualistic ego were, this identification starts to break down. Maybe you experience things as very strange. Perhaps you think to yourself, “Maybe I am a human being, maybe not.” Sometimes such an experience happens. It is really quite interesting. If you have good sessions when in retreat, this experience can be quite strong, unbelievably strong. When you have a good session, it can be painful to come down from such an experience—for example, when you talk to somebody during the break between sessions. Also your old ego, the previous group or individual ego, considered many things in life as being so important. But when you are in retreat and when you come out at the session break time, there are none of the normal importances. They don’t belong to you any more; they belong to somebody else. It is like when somebody you know has changed and now you can’t take it. This is the experience.
For this reason we imagine ourselves emanating as white radiating light of compassion and we identify with the non-duality character nature of Avalokiteshvara’s body. For example, when we look at a rainbow, at rainbow light, somehow we don’t grasp as strongly as usual. When that light disappears we just think, “Oh, it’s gone!” We seem to be able to let go of the experience in a normal, reasonable sort of way. But usually we don’t let go of other things so reasonably. We don’t let go of chocolate so easily, do we? Our grasping for some things is so strong, isn’t it? So, it is very important in one way.
Just as I said before, your ego’s criticism of the body is actually very bad. “I am sick, I am this, I am that, I am no good, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the time you are putting yourself down. No one else puts you down like that. Your ego develops by constantly thinking, “I am not good quality.” So, that makes you ugly, doesn’t it? You are no longer handsome. So when we strongly emanate ourself as and identify ourself as Avalokiteshvara, we also emanate as white radiating light. When you worry, you get many wrinkles, don’t you? But if you strongly emanate yourself as Avalokiteshvara, after one hour the wrinkles will disappear. (Lama laughs.) I believe so. Because in one way the wrinkles are from being too tight. The nervous system is not flowing because of the tightness. Because you are uptight you get wrinkles. I am sure I must have quite a few, don’t I? (Lama laughs again.) I think I am bad example. Never mind. It is really possible.
I have interviewed many students who have done retreat about their experiences. They have already had these kinds of experiences during retreat. For this reason I am very convinced that Westerners can practice tantra effectively. If we Tibetans present tantra in the simplest way so that it is therefore understood in a simple way, not only can Westerners understand and practice it but they experience exceptional results. So I am really confident that you can all practice tantra and experience the profound positive results.