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.
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 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!