The Sanskrit term adhiṣṭhāna has multiple meanings including “presence”. In the context of Vajrayana Buddhism, it is most frequently translated into blessings, or inspiration. The term chosen by the community of 8th century Tibetan lotsawas or “translators” in Tibetan is བྱིན་རླབས, jinlap. The Tibetan syllables have a metaphorical meaning of “stream, wave, thread, continuum”. In Vajrayana practices such as guru yoga and sadhana, the practitioner often envisions receiving blessings in the form of waves of light or nectar streaming forth from the guru, buddhas, and bodhisattvas.
In the Mahayana sutra, the Sāgaramatiparipṛcchā, “The Questions of Sāgaramati”, there is an entire chapter (Chapter 12) on blessings. The episode demonstrates the potency of a buddha to impact others. This potency or presence of blessings is not restricted to time or place, and it can be transferred in a continuum from one being to another, thus empowering them to perform buddha or bodhisattva activities. In the example cited here, Shakyamuni Buddha confers blessings upon his attendant Ananda, allowing him to uphold Dharma teachings.
The Blessed One understood the bodhisattva Sāgaramati’s request and sent forth a burst of light from his ūrṇa hair that filled the worlds of the great trichiliocosm with a brilliant glow. This caused all the grasses, trees, herbs, forests, stones, pebbles, and everything else in the worlds of the great trichiliocosm to appear in the form of the Thus-Gone One. In the jeweled pavilion, all the appearances that had been blessed as offerings also appeared in the form of the Thus-Gone One.
All these forms of the Thus-Gone One then proclaimed in unity, “Hark! This Dharma teaching is blessed by the blessed Śākyamuni. Anything that is blessed by a blessed one is blessed by all blessed ones. Anything that is blessed by all blessed ones cannot be obstructed by māras. Even if māras, their supporters, and their servants as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges were to try to obstruct it, they could not obstruct this Dharma teaching. Why is this? It is possible that the earth could crack open, that the oceans could evaporate, that the mountains could crumble, that the wind could be captured, that the sun and moon could plummet to the earth, that space could show itself as form, that fire could become water, that water could become fire, that the four elements could transform into other elements, that the minds of all beings could function as one, and that the earth and sky could get stuck together—yet, it is impossible that the blessings of the thus-gone ones could be agitated, shaken, or disturbed by anyone.”
Then the Blessed One placed his hand upon Venerable Ānanda’s crown, saying to him, “Ānanda, you must uphold the sacred Dharma to ensure it will last a long time. You must uphold this Dharma teaching and keep it, recite it, master it, and teach it broadly and genuinely to others!”
Then the bodhisattva Sāgaramati asked the Blessed One, “When there are bodhisattvas here who have attained the mindfulness and intellect of the truth seen by the Blessed One, which is as difficult to fathom as the ocean or a great sea, why is the monk Ānanda, with his partial understanding, to be entrusted with this Dharma teaching?”
“Sāgaramati,” responded the Blessed One, “the monk Ānanda will not uphold this sūtra by arousing his own strength of intellect. He will uphold it through the Thus-Gone One’s blessings. Sāgaramati, any being who hears this Dharma teaching from the monk Ānanda will be gladdened, and attain faith and supreme joy. It will occur to them, ‘It is through the Thus-Gone One’s blessings that this hearer is upholding and teaching this sūtra; such are the unfathomable and incredible blessings of the Thus-Gone One.’ ”Āryasāgaramatiparipṛcchānāmamahāyānasūtra, The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra “The Questions of Sāgaramati”, translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In the Vajrayana context, there is also reference to the Guru’s transference of blessings. The 17th-century master, Tsele Natsok Rangdrol (also known as Tsele Gotsangpa) includes the guru bestowing blessings (བྱིན་རླབས་བླ་མའི་འཕོ་བ།) as one of of the five types of transference, or powa. In order to authentically receive such blessings, Tsele Natsok Rangdrol writes that the student must “faithfully regard one’s master as a buddha in person”.1Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, The Mirror of Mindfulness, trans. By Erik Pema Kunsang, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 3rd edition, 1993.