The other day I posted about the importance of the spiritual teacher in a general kind of way. The three texts that I drew from, by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, Milarepa, and Gampopa respectively, all highlight different approaches to how we benefit from out teachers. These are our ‘ecstatic’ or extraordinary teachers. What I would like to focus on today are the ordinary teachers, our everyday teachers.
Recently I met a patient in the hospital where I’m doing my clinical chaplaincy training. He had undergone extensive surgery several months ago to remove cancerous tissue that was spreading throughout his abdomen. He had also received radiation to help destroy any last bit of the cancer. He was young, only forty years old, and had only recently had the chance to experience life outside of the hospital. His cancer had gone into remission, he went home for the holidays and spent them with friends and family. All of the sudden, quite recently, he had begun to feel pain in his abdomen and went to his doctor to have it checked out. His doctor suggested that he come into the hospital for some tests. This is where I met him. He was laying in bed, his mother sitting by his side expectantly. As we started talking he described all of the tests that had just been done on a variety of his organs all of which presented the possibility of cancer. He was thin and animated despite being hooked up to a morphine drip to control his pain. As our conversation continued he started to cry and describe how angry he was with god about his present situation. As we spoke I asked him how not knowing, how the uncertainty of his present situation made him feel, and this lead to his anger with god or whatever force put him in his present situation. I asked him if he could share with me all the ways in which he was pissed off, to which he offered a lengthy, articulate and powerful list of feelings that lead to his anger. One of the feelings that he described involved his relative youth and what the reason for his being on earth actually was. He was afraid that he would never truly help others, that his desire to be a positive force for change in the world would be cut short by his illness. I was struck by his openness and the kindness with which he shared his fears, his pains, and also his joys, his hopes as well as his dreams. I felt so included by him in his life and in his story that I told him that I found him to be a graceful, compassionate and caring teacher- someone who I will never forget, who has touched me with gentle simplicity. I also mentioned that his mother may feel similarly, at which she started to cry as she said, “Yes, yes, he is wonderful.”
This patient has become a profound teacher for me. Part of his impact may have come from his circumstances, his illness and vulnerability, as well as his clarity and honesty with which he could share his feelings with me; but I tend to feel that we connected. His heart was open towards me, and mine towards him: we entered into relationship. It was meaningful for both of us. Towards the end of our meeting we seemed connected and full, we gave to, and supported one another.
There are an estimated 6,897,395,150 people on Earth, and the person who I just described above is just one of them. How amazing it is that we feel transformed in connecting with just one person, and yet there are so many others that we don’t or can’t open up to. I find this very humbling. Perhaps this is what an open heart truly is.
I am reminded of a portion of a text on mahamudra that was composed by Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche; it was his distillation of a much larger text by the ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, entitled the Ocean of Certainty. In his text (Opening the Door to Certainty) Bokar Rinpoche describes the different types of lamas, or teachers. These are, the lama as a human being belonging to a lineage, the lama as awakened word, the lama as appearance, and the lama as ultimate nature. The lama of appearance is described as appearance as teacher; that all that we see, hear, touch taste, and smell, all of our thoughts are all our teachers. How do we react to them? What do they cause to arise in us? There is a beautiful simplicity in appearance as teacher; it is loose and freeing; it allows us to go out and interact with the world around us; it allows us to enter into relationship with everything around us. This is wonderfully special. We are constantly surrounded by countless ordinary, everyday teachers, all of whom offer us the possibility of connection and growth.
It has always felt to me that if Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche was the essence of Milarepa, then Kaybje Bokar Rinpoche was the essence of Gampopa. While I never had the chance to meet Kalu Rinpoche, I have met many Tibetan, American, British and French students of Rinpoche who often spoke of his direct orientation towards practice, his passion for transmitting instruction, and his easy going trust in the dharma- these seem to be qualities that I associate with Milarepa.
Similarly, Bokar Rinpoche with his purity of heart, emphasis upon transmission of the lineage teachings and stainless vinaya, truly does remind me of qualities that were emblematic of Je Gampopa. In expressing the direct simplicity of mind, Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche was known as a great master of Mahamudra.
That they both maintained, preserved and expanded the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya is important. Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche can be credited with establishing the Kagyu monlam in Bodh Gaya. When he began the monlam it was a small informal gathering. After his passing, Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche continued the practice of maintaining and further developing the Kagyu monlam; it slowly grew and grew. I attended several of these earlier monlams where Bokar Rinpoche and Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche presided over a much smaller number of monks, nuns and lamas than those that attend present monlam celebrations. They were a combination of grand and intimate, which seemed just right for reciting aspiration prayers and receiving inspiration.
After His Holiness the 17th Karmapa escaped from Tibet in January of 2000 and was allowed to travel inside of India, he presided over the monlam. Its as if Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche and Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche were keeping his Holiness’ seat warm under the bodhi tree. Since the sudden death of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, the monlam has been run by Lama Chodrak (the lama he appointed to organize the monlam) and the monlam committee. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has also taken a strong role in monlam planing, and feels strongly about its mission and goals.
With their activities in mind I offer this song of supplication written by Kaybje Bokar Rinpoche. May it be of benefit!!
Wide Wings That Lift Us to Devotion: A supplication
A Vajra song by Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche
Spiritual master, think of me! Think of me!
Source of all blessings, root spiritual master, think of me!
Spiritual Master, think of me! Think of me!
Epitome of all accomplishment, root spiritual master, think of me!
Spiritual master, think of me! Think of me!
Agent of all enlightened activity, root spiritual master, think of me!
Spiritual master, think of me! Think of me!
All refuges in one, root spiritual master, think of me!
Turn all beings’ minds, with mine, towards the Teachings.
Bless me that all stages of the faultless path-
Renunciation, the mind of awakening, and the correct view-
Genuinely arise in my being.
May I dwell untouched by the faults of pride and wrong views
Toward the Teachings and the teacher of freedom’s sublime path.
May steadfast faith, devotion and pure vision
Lead me to fully achieve the two goals for others and myself.
The Human tantric master introduces my intrinsic essence.
The master in the Joyful Buddha’s Canon instills certainty.
The symbolic master in appearances enriches experience.
The ultimate master, the nature of reality, sparks realization of the abiding nature.
Finally, within the state of the master inseparable from my own mind,
All phenomena of existence and transcendence dissolve into the nature of reality’s expanse;
The one who affirmed, denied and clung to things as real vanishes into the absolute expanse-
May I then fully realize the effortless body of ultimate enlightenment!
In all my lifetimes, may I never be separate from the true spiritual master.
May I enjoy the Teachings’ glorious wealth,
Completely achieve the paths and stages’ noble qualities,
And swiftly reach the state of Buddha Vajra Bearer.
In 1995, in response to requests from two translators, Lama Tcheucky and Lama Namgyal, on behalf of my foreign disciples, I, Karma Ngedon Chokyi Lodro, who holds the title of Bokar Tulku, wrote this at my home in Mirik Monastery. May it prove meaningful.[i]
[i] Zangpo, Ngawang. trans. Timeless Rapture: Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters. Snow Lion Publications. 2003. Ithaca, NY., Pg. 215-217.
A friend and classmate in my chaplaincy training program recently alerted our class to a newly conducted study led by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University on the efficacy of prayer for people who are ill. Dr. Benson is no stranger to the world of prayer and meditation, in fact he has built an entire career around studying the physiological effects of meditation and prayer. His findings have generally supported the belief that beyond the spiritual benefits of meditation, the meditator experiences a whole host of benefits ranging from a decrease in stress levels, lower blood pressure, and a general slowing of the body’s metabolism.
In the past Dr. Benson studied a variety of Tibetan monks, including the meditation master Bokar Rinpoche, while they meditated. Dr. Benson focused upon meditators who were practicing Tummo, a vajrayana completion stage yogic meditation that fuses a form of pranayama (breathing exercises) with visualizations of the body’s internal energy matrix. He relates in a documentary based upon his findings, that he could not believe what he discovered: breath and heart rates decreased dramatically, and measured brain activity appeared completely unlike that of a person in waking state. Recent interest in exploring the relationship between meditation and neuroscience by the scientific community, especially in collaboration with H.H. the Dalai Lama and H. H. the 17th Karmapa will undoubtedly clarify the benefits of meditation, and thereby help many people who may become interested in including meditation within their daily lives.
Here is a link to a Harvard Gazette article on the subject:
Additionally, I would like to share a link to a short video clip of Dr. Herbert Benson’s research: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WajTafbG7II.
The efficacy of prayer seems much harder to measure than that of meditation. The results of the study of meditation upon the physiology an individual meditator seem clear; they are easy to quantify, and allow for useful comparison of data recorded in studying a variety of meditators. The study of prayer in this way seems immensely difficult by comparison. Here is the link to the article that my friend emailed us last week:
Many salient points are raised by this study, and perhaps the most important one revolves around how such studies are structured. Prayer is a mysterious subject and it seems that it will take a number of attempts to be able to skillfully measure it’s effects. I do tend to agree with Dr. Richard Sloan’s warning in the New York Times article linked above that we must be careful not to destroy what prayer is about by deconstructing religion to “basic elements that can be easily quantified”. It would be ideal if future studies could honor the place and importance of science as well that of religion and sensitively examine where and how they overlap.
The vajrayana perspective on prayer is fairly clear: prayer is vital. Generally, ritual is included within prayer- often they are interwoven. The performance of prayer in this multi-dimensional way helps to form an active identification with the historical transmission lineage (from the Buddha directly to you), and allows you to rest in your basic-state as a particular buddha in body, speech, mind, as well as in essence. All of these coalesce around acting to benefit others (based upon our pledge to liberate all sentient beings). So important is this type of activity that most recensions of the Hevajra Tantra and Chakrsamvara Tantra, as well as most other root tantras, have chapters dedicated to engaging in the actions of Pacifying, Enriching, and Subduing. These kinds of actions can be best described as psycho-spritual activities to alleviate suffering, promote peace, and plant the seeds of liberation for others; prayer in this context, I would suggest, is quite important. Within the framework of Tantric Buddhism there is an active application of visualization, prayer, ritual and mantra recitation that help the individual to loosen up their conception of the ordinary identification of oneself as an independent being living in opposition to the external world with which they interact, so that one can glimpse the rich wealth of their buddha-nature which is deeply interconnected with the world around oneself. The tools: meditation, prayer and ritual help to clarify the recognition of our basic-state. In this context, prayer is a means to center oneself, to remain intimate with one’s teacher, a particular buddha or protector, or as a means to rest in the mind’s essential nature. It is also an offering; an act of generosity and kindness. Prayer also focuses the mind, making it a support of meditation, it can function as a means of clarifying doubt, as well as a means to receive inspiration. I am sure that this is not unique to vajrayana, or even Buddhism, but lies at the core of prayer regardless of one’s faith.
From the perspective of chaplaincy, specifically around the application of pastoral care in which prayer is requested, the exact physical result of prayer may not be the central goal as much as what the prayer does for the individual requesting it. The relationship between the person conducting the prayer and the person receiving it is a sacred and intimate relationship. Prayer may be directed towards aspects of the self that have little to do with the individual’s physical condition. Prayer can help relieve fear, a sense of separation from others, or help reinforce the inner ground that provides greater support for dealing with one’s particular situation. These factors, and a great many others may indeed lead towards an ability to heal more effectively, but it might have less to do with the actual prayer and more to do with the inner process that prayer energizes, relaxes, empowers, or clarifies. Perhaps it is this inner process that contributes to recovery from illness. Prayer and the use of ritual for a person who is actively dying may also help promote a greater sense of connection and meaning to a life that is transitioning into the experience of death- this can be profoundly important. Ultimately, prayer may not be best approached from the perspective of what it can do with regards to only physical responses, for surely prayer is mysterious, and some of the beauty involved in prayer is how it can return deeper meaning to various moments in an individual’s journey through life, creating a point of orientation that is more imaginal, timeless, and transcendent.
Today is the six-year anniversary of the parinirvana of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche. With that in mind I want to share a prayer for the return of Bokar Rinpoche by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. May there be no hindrances in his swift return!!
A Prayer for the Swift Return of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche
by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
From the empty, unimpeded play of dharmadhatu-awareness
The myriad objects of refuge abiding in oceans of pure realms
Perpetually radiate compassionate enlightened activity.
Grant your blessings that the intent of these aspirations is expediently fulfilled.
Treasury of the secret and profound teachings of the practice lineage,
Your wisdom having fully blossomed, with fearless confidence
You expound the essence of the dharma of definitive meaning.
Unrivaled supreme lama, please heed our call.
Upholder of the heart essence of the Victor’s teachings,
Benevolent nurturer of beings, we beseech you to continuously
Provide refuge to those endowed with faith and without protection.
Gazing upon us with compassion, may your incarnation swiftly appear!
By the potent waves of the authentic blessings of the peaceful and wrathful three roots,
Unencumbered by obstacles and unfavorable circumstances,
May the desired fruits of our intentions fully ripen and
May they continuously manifest in glorious abundance!
The illuminator of the practice lineage, Bokar Karma Ngedon Chokyi Lodro Rinpoche having quite suddenly entered the state of peace, his monastery and Khenpo Lodro Donyo with offerings have requested me to write a prayer for his swift return. Thus I, the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, a monk of Shakyamuni’s tradition, have written this on the 23rd day of the 7th month on the Wood Monkey year of the seventeenth cycle, September 7, 2004.