When my first teacher, and spiritual mother, Ani Dechen Zangmo, taught the text for the prostrations and refuge part of the Karma Kagyu ngondro (Four Foundations practice) she spent a great deal of time talking about the different ways in which beings have been our mothers in the past.
In the most classical aspect of this practice, we make our prostrations to the wonderful field of refuge: our lineage forefathers and foremothers. In this way we seek to enter and become part of a lineage. We join our lineage through repeatedly receiving the blessings of the lineage; in fact, we are instructed to help lead all sentient beings in the meritorious activity of supplicating and joining our specific lineage with us. Why do we do this? It is said that all beings have at one point in time been our mothers, having cared for us with selfless beauty and having made endless sacrifices, protected us, nurtured us, and also supported and enriched us. Through time immemorial, through the various combinations and permutations of the manifestations of karma, all beings have been, at any given point in time, our mothers. Indeed every person we meet has done this for us. Every animal. Every friend. Every enemy. Every being, seen and unseen, has done this for us- and in this way we are all inextricably linked. What better way to repay these countless mother-beings than to act as a raft to lead them to the banks of spiritual realization?
And so, as is the case within the Kagyu lineage, when we visualize the field of refuge and as we make each prostration while reciting the refuge prayer, we doing so with each being who has been our mother. We keep their desire for well-being and happiness in our heart. In this way, in a manner similar to Indra’s Net, it becomes impossible to locate a source or an end with regard to our connection with others.
Where is the border between myself and another? Where are our points of overlap?
Indeed, in taking a moment to check in and notice this we can very naturally, perhaps effortlessly, find ourselves left with a deep feeling of connection and an awareness ornamented with the jewels of empathetic concern.
Suddenly the well-being and quality-of-experience of others becomes a natural concern.
That we are all interdependent is also driven home in the practice of Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. There is a portion of this practice in which one imagines oneself moving throughout the six realms of existence (illustrated above). In the practice we engage in helping to alleviate the suffering of beings in all six realms.
Within this practice, and in many others we make the vow to do this; to benefit all beings who have been our mothers as an expression of gratitude and gentle concern for all those who suffer and who have provided us with the selfless love and support that only parents could. These beings who have loved us unconditionally, may be experiencing the anger and depression of the hot and cold hell realms, the dullness of the animal realms, the jealousy and infighting of demigod realms, or the perfect complacency of the gods’ realm.
How can we be there for them, how can we cool the anger, warm the depression, enlighten the dullness, sooth the jealousy and enliven and express the immediacy of the present moment to perfect eternalism?
In another sense, perhaps in a way that differs from the classical presentation of how all beings have been our mothers at one point in time, all beings are our mothers in another way: they give birth to our identities; the way we present and imagine ourselves to be.
It seems we cannot exist in a relative way without existing in relation to others. The acceptance of our wonderful qualities and our faults, the very perception and even projection upon us of what we appear to be, is a birthing of an identity. The quality of our being in a horizontal sense, as it pertains to our diverse qualities, is defined and experienced through others, through the way that they experience us. We are given context and we are given meaning. What we do with that and how we react to it is up to us.
While we like to think that we are the architects of our appearance, and in many ways we are the often unintentional archtect, it may be that we are only ever known through the experience of others. Perhaps this way of looking at the manner in which we have created our identities, the way that we are animated by, and get carried away with our experience of self, a fleeting momentary illusion, can be best seen reflected in the eyes of another.
I find that whether I am at the hospital acting the role of a chaplain, on the subway on my way to the hospital, or going about my daily activities as a parent or partner to another, I am always humbled when I have the chance to notice how I am engaged in an interpenetrating relationship with others. What an amazing thing to just meet and reflect the pure appearance of another, the fleeting transience, and the deep connection that we all share; and what a difficult thing to do. I find it especially humbling when I catch myself caught in the midst of reacting and judging, of comparing and compartmentalizing the spontaneity of occurence. But when I can rest in naturally meeting others, the sheer simplicity and profundity of that experience remindeds me of how extraneous our elaborations of dharma can become.
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!