Later today I am leaving for a six week trip to India. I will be heading out to see His Eminence Gyaltsap Rinpoche, at either Rumtek or Ralang monasteries.
There may be the opportunity to also meet with Bhue Rinpoche. In addition to receiving further instruction, spending time in retreat, and pilgrimage, I look forward to discussing changchub.com (http://www.changchub.com) with Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Hopefully I will be able to secure an interview with His Eminence for the blog. Additionally, I’d like to see if I can add Akshobya practice to the list of practices that are offered through changchub.com. The practice of the Buddha Akshobya is one of the most well known means for purification of those who have passed away; it’s particularly effective in resolving the occurrence of anger at the point of death, and allows for a peaceful solid passing through the bardo. I had the wonderful opportunity to receive instruction on the practice from His Eminence in Bodh Gaya in 2007- and hope to see it added to the website.
There will also be some time spent in Mirik, the small town that’s home to Bokar Rinpoche’s seat, Bokar Ngedon Chokhor Ling. I hope to spend some time practicing in the presence to the stupa that holds the remains of Bokar Rinpoche, as well as meeting with Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche- the abbot of Bokar Ngedon Chokhor Ling, and close dharma brother to the late Bokar Rinpoche. There may be the opportunity to interview Khenpo Rinpoche for the website as well.
During this six week period, I’ll also be thinking of a variety of ways to open up the blog a bit- about ways to include other voices and other perspectives. I friend of mine recently got in touch with me and suggested that we create a council of blog contributors. I’ll spend some time in rainy monsoon Sikkim considering how best to make that happen.
It will be nice to have the opportunity to engage in slowing down, taking time to quiet the mind, and deepen practice. It is such a good thing to break the habits of daily business and preoccupations to remind ourselves of everything else, of all of the “ordinary” things that we tend to over-look as we zoom from here to there like busy bees.
Until the beginning of August, I wish you all the best.
In the palace of the immaculate Buddhafield of Ankanista, Buddha Akshobya Vajrasattva, the most excellent, remain present until the very final limits, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the Eastern land of Sahor in the jeweled gompa, Buddha Akshobya Tilopa, ultimate yogin, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In [Kahora] from the perfected gompa, Buddha Akshobya pandita Naropa, ultimate accomplishment, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the warm Lho, land of herbs, Buddha Akshobya Marpa Lhodrak, ultimate blessing, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the west where the wholesome king mount Kailash [resides], Buddha Akshobya yogin Milarepa, the ultimate tantra of meaning, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the eastern residence of the summit of mount Gampo, Buddha Akshobya venerable Gampopa, ultimate transmission of the teachings, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the sacred place of Tsurphu gompa, Buddha Akshobya glorious Dusum Khyenpa,the ultimate practice lineage, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the realm of supreme secret delight, Buddha Akshobya glorious Guyasamaja,ultimate illusory manifestation, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the bhaga of the supreme Vajra Queen, Buddha Akshobya glorious Chakrasamvara,ultimate Chakrasamvara, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
Retreatant in the assembly of [the secret abode of the dakinis], Buddha Akshobya Bhagavan Hevajra, ultimate creator of happiness [bliss], I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
In the gathering of purified completely blazing bliss, Buddha Akshobya Mahakala, with his consort and retinue gathered, ultimate guardian of the teachings, I supplicate. Please bestow the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra.
Having been supplicated, please transmit your blessings. Please totally remove all obscurity everywhere. To great liberation may I tread the highest path. Through this path of insight, may I immediately achieve Buddhahood!
Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887) was a great Tibetan meditation master of the Nyingma Lineage. While preserving that particular lineage of Buddhism in Tibet, and spreading the transmission lineage of the Longchen Nyingthig, Patrul Rinpoche was essentially a Rime (non-sectarian) master. Spending most of his time in retreat, he came to experience the essence of the dharma. What follows are his thoughts on the uncertainty of the circumstances of death- they are still quite compelling today. I’ve take this passage from Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Dza Patrul Rinpoche, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group.
The Uncertainty of the Circumstances of Death
Once born, ever human in the world is sure to die. But now, why, when and where we are going to die cannot be predicted. None of us can say for sure that our death will come about at a particular time or place, in a certain way, or as a result of this or that cause.
There are a few things in this world that favor life and many that threaten it, as the master Aryadeva points out:
Causes of death are numerous;
Causes of life are few,
And even they may become causes of death.
Fire, water, poisons, precipices, savages, wild beasts- all manner of mortal dangers abound, but only very few things can prolong life. Even food, clothing and other things usually considered life sustaining can at time turn into causes of death. Many fatalities occur as a result of eating- the food might be contaminated; or although normally wholesome it might be toxic in combination with other foods; or it might be the wrong food for a particular individual. Especially, nowadays, most people crave meat and consume flesh and blood without a second thought, completely oblivious to all the diseases caused by old meat or harmful spirits. Unhealthy diets and lifestyles can also give rise to tumors, disorders of phlegm, dropsy and other diseases, causing innumerable deaths. Similarly, the quest for riches, fame, and other glories incites people to fight battles, to brave wild beasts, to cross rivers recklessly and to risk countless other situations that may bring about their demise.
Furthermore, the moment when any of those numerous different causes of death might intervene is entirely unpredictable. Some die in their mothers’ womb, some at birth, others before they learn to crawl. Some die young; others die old and decrepit. Some die before they can get medicine or help. Others linger on, glued to their beds by years of disease, watching the living with the eyes of the dead; by the time they die, they are just skeletons wrapped in skin. Many people die suddenly or by accident, while eating, talking or working. Some even take their own lives.
Surrounded by so many causes of death, your life has little chance of enduring as a candle-flame in the wind. There is no guarantee that death will not suddenly strike right now, and that tomorrow you will not be reborn as an animal with horns on its head or tusks in its mouth. You should be quite sure that when you are going to die is unpredictable and that there is no knowing where you will be born next.
Today I’d like to share an essential instruction of mahamudra by the great Indian mahasiddha Maitripa. Maitripa was a student of the mahasiddha Shavaripa, an early master of the Mahamudra lineage, and originator a mahakala transmission lineage based upon his visionary experiences in a cave on a mountain just north east of Bodh Gaya. This site is also the location of Śītavana charnel ground, also known as Cool Grove charnel ground. It was commonly believed that Cool Grove was a place frequented by ghosts, a place where strange things happened, and where wild animals would come and eat the remains of people who were brought here after death. Śītavana is listed as one of the eight great charnel grounds. It was a place for profound meditation, but also a place of danger.
Maitripa was one of the central teachers of Marpa Lotsawa, the great Tibetan translator who brought the early Kagyu lineage instructions from India to Tibet. Maitripa’s mahamudra instruction was unique and goes back to the great siddha Saraha, who is credited with being the source of the Mahamudra lineage. It is believed that Maitripa spent a good deal of time in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, near the town of Mirik, in West Bengal.
Maitripa’s Essential Mahamudra Verses
To innermost bliss, I pay homage!
Were I to explain Mahamudra, I would say—
All phenomena? Your own mind!
If you look outside for meaning, you’ll get confused.
Phenomena are like a dream, empty of true nature,
And mind is merely the flux of awareness,
No self nature: just energy flow.
No true nature: just like the sky.
All phenomena are alike, sky-like.
That’s Mahamudra, as we call it.
It doesn’t have an identity to show;
For that reason, the nature of mind
Is itself the very state of Mahamudra
(Which is not made up, and does not change).
If you realize this basic reality
You recognize all that comes up, all that goes on,
The all-pervading dharma-body.
Rest in the true nature, free of fabrication.
Meditate without searching for dharma-body—
It is devoid of thought.
If your mind searches, your meditation will be confused.
Because it’s like space, or like a magical show,
There is neither meditation or non-meditation,
How could you be separate or inseparable?
That’s how a yogi sees it!
Then, aware of all good and bad stuff as the basic reality,
You become liberated.
Neurotic emotions are great awareness,
They’re to a yogi as trees are to a fire—FUEL!
What are notions of going or staying?
Or, for that matter, “meditating” in solitude?
If you don’t get this,
You free yourself only on the surface.
But if you do get it, what can ever fetter you?
Abide in an undistracted state.
Trying to adjust body and mind won’t produce meditation.
Trying to apply techniques won’t produce meditation either.
See, nothing is ultimately established.
Know what appears to have no intrinsic nature.
Appearances perceived: reality’s realm, self-liberated.
Thought that perceives: spacious awareness, self-liberated.
Non-duality, sameness [of perceiver and perceived]: the dharma-body.
Like a wide stream flowing non-stop,
Whatever the phase, it has meaning
And is forever the awakened state—
Great bliss without samsaric reference.
All phenomena are empty of intrinsic nature
And the mind that clings to emptiness dissolves in its own ground.
Freedom from conceptual activity
Is the path of all the Buddhas.
I’ve put together these lines
That they may last for aeons to come.
By this virtue, may all beings without exception
Abide in the great state of Mahamudra.
This was Maitripa’s Essential Mahamudra Instruction (in Tibetan: Phyag rgya chen po
tshig bsdus pa), received from Maitripa himself and translated by the Tibetan translator
Marpa Chökyi Lodrö.
© Nicole Riggs 1999. Reproduction welcome
if not for profit and with full acknowledgement.
I suppose that as a gathering, this ganachakra has been a little himalaya-heavy. I’d like to include other voices. Essence-dharma cuts deep and clean no matter what tradition it comes from, and I often find that the difference in presentation of a different lineage hits me in a way other than what I have become habituated to- that’s a good thing.
Since I’ve been walking the foot path of training in contemplative care through the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care I thought that I would turn to Bodhidharma’s Bloodstream Sermon. The direct and clear presentation of the Zen tradition is very refreshing. Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Chan/Zen Buddhism to China. Little is known of the details of his early life, but it is believed that he came from India where he left his life as a prince to become a monk and receive dharma transmission. Bodhidharma is counted as the 28th Patriarch of a lineage line that goes back directly to Buddha Shakyamuni himself. What is presented below is from The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated by Red Pine.
…The mind’s capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible. Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flavors with your tongue, every movement or state is all your mind. At every moment, where language can’t go, that’s your mind.
The sutras say, “A tathagata’s forms are endless. And so is his awareness.” The endless variety of forms is due to the mind. Its ability to distinguish things, whatever their movement or state, is the mind’s awareness. But the mind has no form and its awareness no limit. Hence it’s said, “A tathagata’s forms are endless. And so is his awareness.”
A material body of the four elements is trouble. A material body is subject to birth and death. But the real body exists without existing; because a tathagata’s real body never changes. The sutras say, “People should realize that the buddha-nature is something that they have always had.” Kashyapa only realized his own nature.
Our nature is the mind. And the mind is our nature. This nature is the same as the mind of all buddhas. Buddhas of the past and future only transmit this mind. Beyond this mind there’s no buddha anywhere. But deluded people don’t realize that their own mind is the buddha. They keep searching outside. They never stop invoking buddhas or worshiping buddhas and wondering Where is the Buddha? Don’t indulge in such illusions. Just know your mind. Beyond your mind there’s no other buddha. The sutras say, “Everything that has a form is an illusion.” They also say, “Wherever you are, there’s a buddha.” Your mind is the Buddha. Don’t use a buddha to worship a buddha…
I had the wonderful experience to attend a teaching by His Holiness the Karmapa in my kitchen earlier today. No, I’m not crazy!
A series of live webcast teachings by His Holiness are now accessible online though the following link: http://www.karmapa-teachings.org/live-webcast.
Right now His Holiness is teaching from Gampopa’s Precious Garland of the Supreme Path. Gampopa, one of Jetsun Milarepa’s students, is credited with blending the ear-whispered instructions that Milarepa received from Marpa Lotsawa, who brought them from India, with the Kadam monastic tradition. These innovations led to the monastic institutionalization of the early Kagyu lineage, thus preserving the lineage teachings. Thanks to Gampopa this lineage continues to this very day.
The Precious Garland of the Supreme Path is a direct and pithy text that lays out everything that a traveler on the Buddhist path might need to know- its simplicity is remarkable and clearly a result of Gampopa’s meditative experience.
If you have the chance, check out the link above. It’s exciting to see where these webcasts will go…
So, yesterday was the official launch date of http://www.changchub.com. It was very touching to receive all of the lovely support and kind words from everyone who took a look at the site and also those who sponsored prayer. Thank you all!
I’d like to bring another face to the ganachakra, and it’s the face of another great lama; Bhue Rinpoche. I first met Bhue Rinpoche in Sikkim in 1998 when he was invited by the Chungyalpa family to lead prayers for the death of Ani Dechen Zangmo’s mother. Not only had she been the matriarch of the Chungyalpa family, she also helped provide shelter, food, and care, to many of the Rinpoches, Khenpos, and monks who had escaped from Tibet to Sikkim during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Her husband had been a well known thanka painter and had painted the original murals at Rumtek monastery, the seat in exile of the Karmapas. She had come to act as the informal adoptive mother of H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche, and H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, and when her husband passed away while painting murals for a center in Denmark, she became a nun- devoting the rest of her life to dharma practice.
Bhue Rinpoche was born in Tibet, and began his training in both the Karma Kagyu and Drikung Kagyu schools, but soon found himself in trouble with the Chinese authorities in Tibet (post-invasion) and was thrown into a labor camp. He was lucky enough to find that he was imprisoned with other Drikung Rinpoches and was able to continue his training in secret-at night- while living in the harsh conditions of the Chinese labor camp. During the many years he was imprisoned Rinpoche also came to learn acupuncture and traditional Tibetan medicine. These skills became instrumental in his future activities in caring for other beings. Upon his release from the camp, Rinpoche fled to Sikkim.
In Sikkim, Bhue Rinpoche eventually came to engage in activities similar to Pathing Rinpoche; travelling from home to home to provide prayer service and pujas for those who are sick and dying. Bhue Rinpoche’s specialty is Phowa- the ejection of consciousness at the point of death, or shortly after the occurrence of death. I have never met anyone so tuned in to and aware of death. One evening he and I were talking on the roof of a building in Gangtok, Sikkim, when he stopped in mid-sentence and said, “Do you see that house? Someone just died in that house”. At that point in time he seemed a little distant and not really focused on our conversation. I was surprised the next day when a family member from that house came and asked for Rinpoche to come as his uncle had died the night before. Rinpoche left later that day to perform ritual prayers for the man who had just passed away.
Perhaps it is not surprising that someone who spends so much time doing Phowa has refined his awareness of death as it occurs. When I consider how easy it is to hide oneself from the recognition that death happens all the time (and in such obvious ways), it seems that such awareness rests on understanding what death is, what fears we may have regarding death, and coming to rest in a larger perspective. Easier said than done, but certainly worth a try.
Along with Phowa, Bhue Rinpoche commonly performs Chod practice, and offers both acupuncture and traditional Tibetan medical treatments. He balances both medical and spiritual care in a dynamic and exciting way.
Rinpoche’s personality is a combination of gruff and wrathful, mixed with gentle compassion. It seems like a fitting blend. In aspiring towards his realization we may indeed need to be a little wrathful in cutting through our fears, our insecurities, and our lack of comfort with death, all the while remaining gentle with ourselves and others as we discover that we are all unified in that we are all “in the same boat” so to speak. Perhaps this type of existential inevitability is the only true democracy.
In any case, Bhue Rinpoche certainly cuts through whatever neurosis exists as an impediment to the care of others. I feel particularly drawn to Bhue Rinpoche. The way he lives his life shows that no matter how full of hardship and pain life can be, when we bring the experience of such pain and suffering to our own practice, a natural and pure motivation to serve others is possible. This spontaneous motivation is truly inspiring!
Bhue Rinpoche reminds me of a line from Chakdrupa (six-armed Mahakala) practice: With devotion I go for refuge to the lama, inseparable from the protector. May I totally dispel the neurosis of all beings!
I am very pleased and excited to announce the arrival of the Ganachakra Blog and www.changchub.com!
Ganachakra is a traditional ritual-feast gathering held as an offering towards a particular Buddha, or in some cases, a dharma lineage holder. In the context of this blog, it is a gathering of like minded people dedicated to exploring Buddhism in its practice, as well as death, dying, and related topics. With that said, I welcome you to this ganachakra.
The inspiration behind changchub.com and this blog is rooted in the activities of an amazing lama from Sikkim, named Pathing Rinpoche. I initially met Rinpoche in 1997 when I was returning to India with my dharma brother Erik Bloom to study with our root lama the venerable Ani Dechen Zangmo, an inspiring and unique Sikkimese Tibetan Buddhist nun. At the time, Ani Zangmo was dying from complications of having had tuberculosis earlier in life and Pathing Rinpoche had been called in to offer prayers and to do ritual practice (puja) for her. During that painful period of time I came to meet Pathing Rinpoche and became his student.
Over the year that we were in India (spent mainly between Sikkim and the Darjeeling area), I was fortunate enough to spend some time in retreat with Pathing Rinpoche at his retreat site on the borders of Bhutan and Tibet. I also experienced the passing of Ani Dechen Zangmo, learning from her what living in the face of death means; and how we are constantly doing this even though we often, and with great convenience, choose to not notice this. Finally, and very fortunately, I had the opportunity to become a student of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, retreat master for the Karma Kagyu lineage, and lineage holder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage.
During that trip, and over many fairly long periods of practice and study in India under the kind and warm guidance of Bokar Rinpoche in India, I came to know Pathing Rinpoche more intimately.
He had lived an extraordinary life, which I will share with you from notes taken over the ten years that we knew one another. When I first met Rinpoche he told me that he no longer knew how old he was, but knew that he was in his eighties. He was incredibly mischievous, loved to joke around, but could also cut deeply with his penetrating questions, and could vacillate between being funny and quite serious; all in the same breath.
Rinpoche came to Sikkim from Tibet some time during the 1930’s and settled in Barapathing, hence his name: Pathing Rinpoche. His original title is Phul Chung Rinpoche. He was born close to Shigatse, Tibet. When he was born his amniotic sack was intact; afraid that this was a bad omen, his parents left him to die. He was left outside for long enough for crows to come and pick at the amniotic sack, thus freeing him, and a cousin ran to his defense and ended up caring for him. As a young child while the Panchen Lama and his entourage were passing through Shigatse, Panchen Rinpoche stopped and remarked on what a special child he was and instructed his cousin to take good care of him.
Pathing Rinpoche became a student of Jetsun Shukseb Lochen Zangmo (1865-1953), an incarnation of Machik Labdron (the founder of chod practice), and lineage holder of the Longchen Nyingthig transmission. He spent a great deal of time with her, receiving her instructions, and putting them into practice.
Rinpoche came to be recognized as the 19th incarnation of the mahasiddha Kukkuripa (a teacher of Marpa Lotsawa), an emanation of the terton Chogyur Dechen Lingpa, and exemplar of a perfect kadam monk (fulfilling the requirements of the vinaya). Pathing Rinpoche spent over forty years in retreat, wandering here and there, with no cares as to his safety, eventually settling in Sikkim. His retreat cabin is located about one hundred yards from a cave used by Guru Rinpoche on his way to Tibet, which contains two springs, both of which represent the blessed bodily fluids of the female Buddha Vajrayogini.
Rinpoche was unique in so many ways, but the thing that stood out very clearly was his activity. He spent most of the latter portion of his life travelling from home to home doing ritual practice and performing prayer service for anyone who needed it. He would often stay in any given home for no more than two days, tirelessly pushing on to the next person or family that requested his care. Sometimes he stayed for longer if the need was expressed. Wherever he went, his energy and dedication to quelling the sffering of others was truly admirable. Notoriously hard to locate, once he arrived at someone’s home he focused all of his care and attention to those who requested his presence, soothing the fears and uncertainties of all with his application of prayer, ritual and instruction, his stories, and his humor.
The day before he passed away (he died on March 4th 2007), he was more concerned about my dharma brother and I, giving us tsampa, blessings, and jinlab (blessed substances)- appearing to be unconcerned with the deterioration of his physical frame- and the intense pain brought on by his stomach cancer.
Pathing Rinpoche represents the swift and gentle compassion of a wonderful chaplain, ritual and meditation master, and great Buddhist teacher. It is in the spirit of his memory and that of Ani Dechen Zangmo- a yogini of natural ease, and Kyabje Dorjechang Bokar Rinpoche- the essence of patient ocean-like- compassion that I would like to dedicate the activities of changchub.com and the ganachakra blog.
I would like to take a moment to thank some of the people who helped me in creating this project. First off, I owe a great deal of gratitude to my present teacher His Eminence Goshri Gyaltsab Rinpoche for his encouragement in pursuing the chaplaincy training that I have recently begun and for his ambrosial instructions. My dharma siblings Erik Bloom and Dekyla Chungyalpa (Ani Zangmo’s daughter) have been so kind and supportive, thank you. I wish to also thank the venerable Ani Karma Lekshe Tsomo, whose enthusiastic support and suggestions in the creation of changchub.com, was extremely helpful, thank you. The instructors at NYZCC ( http://zencare.org/) have helped open my eyes to what contemplative care really means, thank you for your support over the past year, specifically Koshin Paley Ellison, thank you. Finally, none of this could have been made without the skill of my sister, Andrea von Bujdoss of superfreshdesign.com (http://superfreshdesign.com/) who used her exquisite knowledge of visual dharma in translating my ideas into something that others can see, thank you.
May it be virtuous! May all beings’ suffering be pacified! May we gather here at the ganachakra- or ritual feast- of those who are living in the face of death!