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Posts from the ‘mahamudra’ Category

24
Jan

on the shakedown, being a contender and the tantric rub…

for a few dollars more

In my training as a chaplain there was a fair amount of emphasis on learning how to connect and remain with difficult feelings that others were in the midst of negotiating.  Sickness, old age and death certainly shake up a lot of feelings- add depression, psychosis, loss, and physical/emotional/spiritual pain and you really have a lot to learn to become familiar with.  We were encouraged to sit in, remain with, and thoroughly explore what these feelings bring up within us.  Something always arises, we don’t have to look deep, as the game of thought/feeling association is something that the mind/heart just seems to naturally play.  I’m not sure that you can, or want to, change that.  What we can do is become more aware of these associations, and in so doing, get some room within this process that normally, on an average day has the effect of being like a big heavy ring in our noses that lead us this way and that without our knowing what is going on.

Lately I have been mulling over an uncomfortable notion that leaves me often feeling grumpy, pessimistic and a little exhausted: Buddhism in America is doomed to fail.  Or, we really run the risk of mucking-up the whole affair.  I don’t really feel this way all of the time, but I do feel this way from time to time.  It’s good to to sit with this discomfort and not whitewash it with the quick spiritual bypass of an investigated pure view.  Besides, when I look around I find plenty of reason to feel this way.

In a recent blog post on Tricycle.com, one which I found profoundly disjointed and dissatisfying seemed to help confirm these speculative worries.   Check it out here.  It seems that we as Americans have a hard time approaching Buddhism outside of a self-help, therapy-related arena.  It’s not really very surprising I suppose, given the huge publishing and marketing machine that has arisen around the self-help-industrial-complex and that of therapy.  Millions of dollars are invested every year and many millions more are reaped from soft, happy, easy to read, and even easier to hear books that promise some kind of feeling of connection and meaning in a life that can be quite challenging.  Yet, these new hybrids of Buddhism lacks most of what makes Buddhism, Buddhism.  In reading some of the comments, one person suggested that people want to learn about Buddhist meditation but not follow any religious path. I suppose this person is referring to Buddhism as an adjective and not a noun, it’s hard for me to not feel like I’m standing in quicksand in reading the comments- there appears to be little solid ground.

Snake Oil anyone?

I occasionally vacillate between the ‘standard’ Buddhist compassionate response to this dilemma by saying: “Well, at least the dharma is making it into people’s lives in some way- albeit in drips and drabs”, and a more militant feeling of disgust rooted in the sense that these little candy coated titles, prosaic presentations of the perfection of wisdom, are peddled more like Prozac than anything else.  Where is the gnosis?  How is the seemingly real and hard-fast rule of reality poked at and re-examined by these titles and ‘Buddhist’ forms of meditation? How does Buddhist therapy, psychotherapy in particular, negotiate the fundamental paradox that the Self that we seek to free and know better doesn’t exist? Is shining a light on the Psyche, bringing it into the realm of conscious mind, the same as enlightenment?

These are no small equations to balance.

In fact, I still find it bizarre that many of today’s western Buddhist dharma teachers are psychotherapists. Why is this necessary?  Does it lend more credence to the Buddhadharma? I appreciate the desire to integrate psychology into Buddhism from time to time, but I don’t see the value of a permanent amalgam of the two.  I also can see the value of presenting a parallel structure in order to help present Buddhism, yet I feel the need to remind myself at the very least, that parallel doesn’t mean the same. There is a real risk of creating hybrid Frankenstein-like equivalencies in which the experience of familiarization of mind (and by extension, reality itself- apparent and otherwise) is the same as having an integrated-Self.

19th century pusher-man...

When in meditation it’s pretty clear that trying to describe the way we subtly grasp after time, or after having an experience and then trying to quantify it, that words fail us.  This is nothing new, but it is startling when we settle ourselves into meditation and just rest our minds and then let ourselves notice the grasping that we are prone to.

Try and describe a remedy to grasping.

Already the use of the word ‘remedy’ creates a dynamic that is problematic- and before you know it meditation easily feels like a mess.  Yet when we let go into a natural awareness (and can truly see that there is nothing to take away or add), somehow we gain the clarity to ‘see’ again.  Words in their relative function are amazing.  They are magical jewels that ornament, they provide meaning and bless us with the ability to express ourselves, and yet they have limitations as well;  so to for concepts, notions, ideas, and other components that buttress meaning within our experience of the universe.  When we hold on and let our habitual grasping go it seems like the structures that we like to use to help explore Buddhism gain a sense of permanence and then what do we have?  How easy it can be to subtly miss the mark and assign permanence to the ideas that we use towards our own liberation.

And yet, for some reason we fail to spend our precious time in these investigations.  We fail to massage the heart and sit with whatever arises and learn how to experience it as an expression of enlightenment, and instead we opt for the self-help and therapy structuralism that seems rife with hypnotic distractions which may, at the end of the day, not serve us well if we want to follow the Buddhist path.

Oh, man, but to charge $150 an hour to teach ngondrö or shamatha, that ain’t gonna happen.

But, $150 an hour is reasonable for a jog on the never-ending treadmill of analysis, that’s some good shit!  Snake oil never felt so luxurious!

So is hitting a home-run with a best-selling book on finding the everyday wisdom of Buddhism in five minutes.  You’ll definitely have plenty of jonesing people lost in the foggy mist of the American dream lined up to buy your sequel or pay obscene prices for retreats complete with yoga.  Don’t forget to wear the latest DKNY dharma inspired sweatpants!  That way everyone will know how serious you are about Buddhism.  If you are finding it hard to stabilize your energies in the central channel, don’t worry, you can buy jeweler that does it for you.  Wow, I can just imagine how jealous King Indrabhuti might be- this makes Guyasamaja seem so pedantic.  We can all relax, the NY Times says that Glam is the new Om!  Oh, for a few dollars more…

Modern day pawo?

I finally wrapped up Christian Wedemeyer’s Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology and Transgression in the India Traditions. Its a real masterwork in many ways.  Christian’s writing is lucid, evocative and filled with well pointed wit.  He brilliantly describes the varying academic “approaches” to the point of origin, development, audience, and practitioners of Buddhist Tantra in haunting detail; haunting in how easy it is to miss the mark and get caught up in one’s own academic back-story while attempting to treat a topic as complex and elusive as Tantra.  That part of the Buddhakapala Tantra is translated and included as an appendix is a special gift.  All in all, Christian’s delivery feels like the smooth cut of Manjusri’s sword, cutting through all of the ways that we feel the need to add more to things as they are.  In fact, one of the most profound take-away from the work is how we as Buddhists bring our own back-stories to our Buddhism, or that as humans rather, this is a very automatic thing- as Buddhists we are no different.  The way the events of our lives, the pains and joys, the highs and the lows, the limitations of our scope of vision (inner and outer) as well as our limited understanding of time all make us see what we see when we approach the dharma.  It’s difficult to see clearly.  Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book, so much so that I’m using it in a year-long course on exploring Buddhist Tantra at New York Tsurphu Goshir Dharma Center– if you haven’t become familiar with the work of the good Dr. Wedemeyer, I encourage you to do so.

I savor the sense of discomfort that I am left with from reading this book in seeing just how easily we miss the mark in thinking that we know how things are, how comfortable we get in our places of ‘knowing’, and how in order to get close to definitive meaning, perhaps we have to become comfortable with the discomfort of wandering, solitary, a hero- or vira/pawo, not unlike the symbol of a cowboy.

lawman_japanese_poster

Somehow when we get a Buddhism that is comfortable, cozy and full of the humorous wisdom of smiling Asian men- the Buddhism of cups of afternoon herbal tea- of the slow spiritual by-pass that separates us from the aspects of ourselves that are blood-thirsty, that are impatient, that can be uncomfortable we begin to fool ourselves.  At moments like these our spiritual path becomes a re-living of our back-story, what we want to believe (often out of convenience), and we are lead by that same thick metal nose-ring along our stupid spiritual path.  All the while the times of sand pass (as they naturally do) and we fail to head the silent whispers of the possibility of death.  Yet when we can see these dynamics more clearly, it is easier to wake up to the freshness and clarity of all that arises- it is as if we remove the Vaseline on a camera lens that gives everything that soft hazy, lazy, comfy, lack of urgency.  With clarity comes the ability to act- something which great cowboys like Hevajra, Chakrasamvara and Buddhakapala do with great effect.

once upon a time in the west

Maybe there’s not enough room in town for the both of us after-all.  Maybe there’s not enough room for the dualistic discursive ground that informs us in our spiritual paths when we use our path to run away from discomfort, inadequacy, complacency, homogeneity, and fear of truly addressing our needs.

Like Chakrasamvara or Hevajra, or Vajrayogini and Palden Lhamo, the solitary hero, the lonely cowboy often does what she needs because it is what needs to be done.  Ungrateful work, no doubt, but vital.  Facing the demons of bandits, posses of violent drunken thugs, the cowboy negotiates the law, killing as she needs, reluctantly at times, and at other times becoming the very law that she seeks to uphold.

Can we take hold of our practice in a way that makes it real and authentic, that honors/connects it to it’s roots without welding it to facile sub-structures that may speak more to our own inability to make our own origami shapes out of the never-ending supply of dharma?

Can we shed our soft assumptions, see our back-story, and our addictions to reality being a particular way for what they are?

We all know that sooner or later the hangman’s noose will tighten around this neck of ours, and that Yama’s posse is hot on our trail.  Time to roll up that blanket, cowboy and act.  You know what to do.  Tantra is unrepentantly non-dual, be careful of how you approach it.  If you can see the lama in appearance you’ll be alright.  If you don’t, there are other gunslingers out there- try one out, learn from them…

solitary hero

So, as I redouble my efforts to remain hopeful that our impatience and childish desire to run away from scary monsters is just an adventitious temporary stain (to reference Rangjung Dorje’s Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer), and rest in my feelings of grumpiness, futility and desperation I wonder: can you connect with the pimp and the pusher? With the snake oil salesman who rolls into town with a bottle and a bunch of promises? With the soft pastel clothes of a self-help guru? What about the lone hero who just wants a fist full of dollars?  Could you have been a contender?  What part of you wants to look hot on your cushion, with sexy mudras, and a bedroom-eyes meditation gaze?  From where do these impulses arise?  To where do they go?

These seductive subtle demons are tricky in that they are comfortable.  They speak to us in just the way we want to be spoken to, they look good (like us), and they just want us to be comfortable.  In fact, they may appear less like demons and more like attractive young gods and goddesses that urge us to bring some of accoutrements of the long-life gods’ realm into our lives, but beware of comfort- look deeply at what you are grasping after- I wonder what it is…

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12
Dec

On the view: the false dichotomy between dzogchen and mahamudra…

An old dharma friend named Jonny wrote me the other day with a question that he had.  We had first met in 1995 down by Mungod in south India where he was teaching English at Drepung Loseling, and I was studying with Geshe Wangchen, under the kind graces of Lelung Rinpoche who at the time was dividing his time between Drepung Loseling and Nechung Monastary in Dharamsala.

Over the years as I came to meet and study under the late Kyabje Dorje Chang Bokar Rinpoche, and my path crossed with Jonny’s and other dharma friends amidst the annual groundswell of dharma that occurs during the fall months in Bodh Gaya. It was there that I had the opportunity to introduce Jonny to this wonderful oceanic meditation master.  From that point onwards that my relationship with Jonny changed to that of dharma brother, which is where we are in this moment.

After the tragic, unfortunate death of Kyabje Dorje Chang Bokar Rinpoche, most of his students were left in a place of loss and sadness.  The confounding suddenness of his death created a barren confusion- I remember from my own experience that this was a terribly painful and confusing time.  The loss of a teacher can be very painful.  I had felt that there was an intimacy in my relationship with Bokar Rinpoche that made him feel like a father- it took a number of years to be able to return to his seat monastery in India without feeling a profound sense of loss and sadness.

Over time the, winds of karma, the great teacher that might be described as the impermanence of appearance, blew Jonny into the lap of Yangthang Rinpoche, and I into the lap of H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche.  As our experiences arising from meditation practice change, and as we slowly try to blend whatever insights that arise from such experiences into our daily lives, we email from time to time- to check in and see where the other is.

In an email last month, Jonny wrote:

I have a question arising from the Tsele Natsok Rangdrol book I’ve just finished reading. He mentions the “traditions of practice of the different lineages – recognising the meditation from within the view or establishing the view from within the meditation”. This has provoked a lot of interest in my mind, and I keep coming back to it. As far as my very limited understanding is concerned, the first approach in this quote seems to be that of Dzogchen, and the second Mahamudra. The Kagyupas seem to talk more about meditation, while Nyingmapas focus more on the view. In mahamudra there seems to be more emphasis on shinay and then lhaktong in order to realise the view, while in Dzogchen it seems to be more about instantaneously, effortlessly seeing what is already there. And this seems to fit with what I said about the quotation above.
Am I on the right track here? Can you comment on the quotation for me? Or can you recommend a book which illuminates clearly m’mudra and dzogchen and the differences?
Upon reading this email, I put down what I was doing, and with a deep sense of joy and excitement, considered what he was asking.  What an important question- what wonderful subtlety implied in this question!
At first glance I tend to feel that there is a distinct “stylistic” difference between mahamudra and dzogchen in a way.  On an ultimate level, however, there is a false dichotomy between view and meditation. This is something that Tsele Natsok Rangdrol touches on in the book The Heart of the Matter.  Rangjung Dorje, the 3rd Karmapa, in his wonderfully succinct Mahamudra Aspiriation Prayer, and Karma Chakme, in The Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen support this perspective.
In the Tibetan tradition there is often a reference to the term definitive meaning (nges don) which generally translates as: ultimate meaning, ultimate truth, truth, objective meaning.  Definitive meaning exists separately from relative meaning.  Relative meaning refers to the comparing and contrasting between things, it is a means through which we can know and understand one thing from another.  The experience of definitive meaning- ultimate truth- occurs in some combination of gaining clarity of relative truth.  In the experience of resting within our mind as it arises, within our experience of the arising of phenomena/appearance, we are afforded glimpses of the definitive meaning.  It is a process of familiarization, and in some cases even described as a homecoming of sorts; the reunion of the mother and the child.
I sometimes gain some clarity in viewing both mahamudra and dzogchen as something akin to mathematical sets.  They are two ways to approach the realization of mind, the definitive meaning of its experience, and the various qualitative ways in which we experience “mind”.  These two unique sets, mahamudra and dzogchen, are distinctive incredibly rich paths that undoubtedly lead to the experience of a definitive meaning, an inner vocabulary, of our experience of mind.  This “mind” that we experience, is the same for both “systems”, and when we look at their differences, they often seem to drift into the misty edges of mind essence.
Both approaches recognize that experiencing the mind’s essential nature is an experience akin to a mother being reunited with their child; or something similar to realizing that we have been carrying a priceless jewel with us through out our life experience, but failed to notice it- until now.   That noticing, that knowing awareness, and the inner confidence which arises announcing awakening.  In fact, the mere suggestion of there being an awakening, or a change in our being, draws us out of relationship with the experience of mind in a definitive manner.
Both mahamudra and dzogchen describe the freshness and immediacy of our experiences- they are now.  Not something planned for the future, not based upon trying to recreate a past experience.  This experience is often described as clear, blissful, and empty.  These four words are translations from the Tibetan, and what they truly mean for us within our own experience, is unique to our own particular journeys.  Some experience more of the illusory aspect of mind, others experience the mind’s clarity, and still yet others experience the bliss associated with resting within definitive meaning.
Bliss can be very dangerous and seductive, not to mention hypnotic.  I have spent much time with patients who have been admitted to locked in-patient psychiatric facilities who struggle with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia; people who in the throes of their mania exert phenomenal enthusiastic energy in trying to convey the perfect experience that they feel.  Oh, how the bliss lit their soul ablaze in a way that nothing else could.  The feeling that I am often left with when with such patients is that of awe and respect- I find it very compelling to be allowed to witness the expression of their experience of blissfulness that often occurs within the experience of mania. I have often found myself hypnotized while in the presence of such people, dazzled by the passionate feeling of blissful unity- and yet I am left feeling a profound sadness that I experience while trying to chaplain patients who appear addicted to a sense of bliss that disconnects them from the rest of the world.
Bliss arises, and we are taught to not be attached to it- it is one of the many things that we may experience.
And yet, bliss is important.
Similar shadows exist around the experience of mind as illusory. Indeed, the profound experience of the emptiness of all phenomena as experienced through our interface with the illusory appearance of every moment- a joining with the totality of what arises as empty of all characteristics and the awareness of the interplay between ourselves and this field of experience- holds the danger of being overly reductive.  It’s shadow may be a depressive state.
Bliss, emptiness, and clarity/luminosity- these are three ways that we experience mind.
Yet, mind is mind is mind is mind…. and yes, just as there can be distinct aspects of the mind that we relate with, or experience, and just as there is a particular style, or even flavour, that is distinct regarding dzogchen and mahamudra, we must remember that these distinctions arise from mind.  We feel and think, and yet from where do these feelings and thoughts arise; these created worlds, what is their source?  We interface with different aspects of mind, but they are temporary appearances, waves lapping at the edge of a lake- no two are the same, and there is no end, they just happen.  To hold onto the distinction may be problematic.
I tend to wonder if we can say that these distinctions have more meaning outside of our personal experience of mind, than say, as opposed to within our individual experience of mind.  The three masters that I refered to above, Rangjung Dorje, Karma Chakme, and Tsele Natsok Rangdrol all occupied places within their practice traditions as Kagyu/Nyingma masters and the two former masters were recognized as tertons in their own right.  All three were able to hold both: mahamudra and dzogchen.  They were able to come into direct relationship with mind.  From this place, I wonder if all distinctions around how practice is described, or how mind appears/in experienced is secondary.  While I feel that it is safe to say that individually we may all exhibit a predilection towards experiencing glimpses of the definitive experience of mind somewhere within the traditional nomenclature of bliss, emptiness, or clarity, with one aspect perhaps feeling more “natural” than another, it seems important to recognize that our experiences change, and that it is possible to form an attachment to the way we experience mind-essence.
For example, usually our relationship with our yidam has something to do with the way in which we interface with the experience of awakening as each yidam offers a model/modality through which we can act seated within our experience of buddha-nature.  I marvel sometimes how much we really become our yidam (or they become us)- in many ways it seems that there is a profound transference of quality and of action within the modalities of expression through body, speech, mind, and essence.  At our best, there is an experience of natural simultaneity, a natural ease and effortlesness in which we are the yidam- in moments where practice feels forced and contrived, we get hung up on the details, on experiencing things only one way, that there is a specific way in which we have to practice, a way that we have to interface with appearance.  All of the sudden we are working to get some where, to be something, or to induce a particular experience.  In yidam practice there are handy “tricks” through which we return to focusing upon the implements or mandala of the buddha of our practice, or a quality, or the transparency of our visualization so that an antidote of sorts is applied to falling out of relationship with our experience of the yidam; that which is no other than us.
Similarly, in approaching mahamudra from the perspective of shinay, lhaktong, and their union, a structural path laid out by the polymath Jey Gampopa, and as passed on from him down to the 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje in the Ocean of Definitive Meaning as well as Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche in his essentialized distillation of Wangchuk Dorje’s seminal work, entitled Opening the Door to Certainty, yes, there may be more emphasis placed upon “establishing” or perhaps “easing” into the view through meditation. This approach to mahamudra, sometimes termed the Path of Liberation, or sometimes refered to as sutra mahamudra, is methodical and graded- often a gradual path, but not always so.  And I feel that much thought must be inserted here.  As dharma practitioners, or anyone really who follows a particular spiritual tradition, textual exegesis is vital to the maintenance of tradition- it is what connects us to the group, to our lineage.  And yet, we must realize that the exegesis that we interface with surrounds the way we experience mind, which ultimately ends up being a relatively individual experience.  That the Path of Liberation can only be said to be a gradual path ignores the fact that the possibility of “instantaneous” realization is always a present- in fact instantaneous insights do occur.  Karma Chakme spends time treating this particular “problem” as it were.  For him  spontaneous realization is always a possibility, no matter what the practice may be.
Then there is the Path of Means, often refered to as mantra mahamudra, or the approach to mahamudra through the six yogas and or inner and secret yidam practice.  In these approaches there is often a more instantaneous type of resting in the view, something that I feel offers a similar feeling of sudden realization that dzogchen often refers to.  I guess you could say the Kagyupa have bridged both sudden and gradual; Gampopa introduced the first Lam rim literature into the Kagyu lineage and from that point in time it appears that Sutra and Mantra mahamudra was presented as separate approaches to realizing the mind’s essential nature.  Peter Alan Roberts in his recent book entitled Mahamudra and Related Instructions, describes just how distinct Gampopa’s work was in codifying the Kagyupa approach to mahamudra, and how often the delineation between gradual and instantaneous approaches, especially in the associated forms of sutra and mantra approaches was made along the lines of monastic and lay.  As the first person to translate much of the core essence of the early kagyu lineage into a monastic tradition, a split had to be made between some of the tantric practices that challenged the conduct maintained by the monastics and his lay followers.
I suppose what I am trying to stress is that I’m not so sure that looking for the difference between the View as described within the context of dzogchen and that of mahamudra is as helpful as modulating between both Views within our practice.  The View helps keep meditation fresh- it is necessary to be familiar with the View (how the mind arises).  Meditation, the process of developing familiarity with the View (putting it into practice and actualizing it)  prevents the View from becoming a concept that appears more real and rigid than perhaps it ought to be.  There is a binary relationship that we need to maintain, a relationship that shifts and eventually blends into a naturalness in which there is no longer any applied effort- we just are.  Some of us have been lucky enough to meet people who manifest being in this way- they are indeed buddhas.
The false dichotomy lies within the fact that there is no real difference between meditation from within the view and the view from within the meditation.  The View is mind-essence, the mind as it arises, as it appears, and how we relate to appearance.  Meditation is resting within that experience of mind.  Even the practice of shinay carries all of the aspects of mind.  What is the stillness?  What is it that we are we focus upon in a single pointed way?  Where is the stillness?  True, asking these questions is similar to lhaktong, and indeed may be, but that knowing, that awareness, is always there while we do shinay- it is not necessarily something that we add to the mix.  As far as literary exegesis is concerned there is a lineal distinction between the approach to mind as we find in mahamudra, dzogchen, lamdre, and other forms of practice, however when we look at the works of great realized siddhas we find descriptions that offer resounding clarity.  For example, Rangjung Dorje says:
Free from being mind-made, this is mahamudra;
free of all extremes, it is mahamadhyamaka;
this contains all, and so is “mahasamadhi” too.
Through knowing one, may I gain firm realization of the meaning of all.
Great bliss with no attachment is continuous.
Luminosity without grasping at characteristics is unobscured.
Nonconceptuality that goes beyond intellect is spontaneous.
May unsought experiences occur without interruption.
Preferential grasping at experiences is liberated on the spot.
The confusion of negative thoughts is purified in the natural expanse.
Natural cognizance adopts and discards nothing, has nothing added or removed.
May I realize what is beyond limiting constructs, the truth of dharmata.
And Tsele Natsok Rangdrol follows:
The Middle Way, the unity of the two truths beyond limitations,
Mahamudra, the basic wakefulness of the uncontrived natural state,
And the Great Perfection, the original Samantabhadra of primordial purity-
Are all in agreement on a single identical meaning.
This mind that is present in all beings
Is in essence an original emptiness, not made out of anything whatsoever.
By nature it is unimpeded experience, aware and cognizant.
Their unity, unfathomable by the intellect,
Defies such attributes as being present or absent, existent or nonexistent, permanent or nothingness.
Spontaneously present since the beginning, yet not created by anyone,
This self-existing and self-manifest natural awareness, your basic state,
Has a variety of names:
In the Prajnaparamita vehicle it is called innate truth.
The vehicle of Mantra calls it natural luminosity.
While a sentient being it is named sugatagarbha.
During the path it is given names which describe the view, meditation, and so forth.
At the point of fruition it is named dharmakaya of buddhahood.
All these different names and classifications
Are nothing other than this present ordinary mind.
With these words as a guide, we find our way, succeeding and failing to realize the nature of mind- working to familiarize ourselves through practice with mind and with phenomena.  As we settle into natural awareness, an effortlessness in being, I wonder where all the words go.  Perhaps they too, dissolve into the soft edges of graceful wakeful knowingness.
12
Feb

on how we can be close to the karmapa: what it means to be kagyu

The recent events surrounding His Holiness Orgyen Trinley Dorje have been extremely painful to watch. I realize that I am not the only person who has strong feelings about the present situation.  Right now it feels important to bring these feelings inward and let those who are much more skillful and experienced with the complexities of these issues remain at the forefront.  Perhaps directing all of the emotions that arise from the present situation towards practice, and using this present moment to reflect upon the Kagyu lineage can be a powerful tool for connection and empowerment.  Rather than add to the frenzy of internet activity through discussing what has been going on, I would like to respectfully let the Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa with its advisors lead the way, they are wise, capable and have my complete confidence.

So let’s go deeper.  What does it mean to be Kagyupa?

Practice.  Devotion.  These qualities are certainly not solely owned by the Kagyu lineage, or even vajrayana buddhism for that matter, but they are the special signature of this precious ear-whispered lineage.

What does that mean?

The relationship that the great Pandit Naropa had with his radical, skillful and essential guru Tilopa was one of great intimacy and tenderness.  It was a relationship of sharing, where a master tested and took great care in exhausting the neuroses and misapprehensions of his student, who through his own dedication and drive, applied the special instructions and worked hard to guard and tend to the experience of enlightenment.  Master and student lived side by side so that any ordinary experience could be used as a tool for revealing the dharma.  In creating the a relationship of close intimacy Tilopa challenged Naropa, he knew what buttons to push, he chided Naropa’s intellectualism, and ultimately empowered him to experience buddhahood.

Marpa the indomitable angry Tibetan farmer- stuborn and hard-headed- decided to leave Drogmi Lotsawa to find and experience dharma on his own, for himself.  Undergoing a series of journeys through out Nepal and India he eventually found his guru, Naropa.  Marpa had to bear the brunt of being Tibetan in 11th century India, not an easy task Tibetans were generally regarded as rough and not that intelligent by their Nepali and Indian contemporaries.   Indeed, the mahasiddha Sri Santibhadra (aka Kukkuripa) to whom Marpa was directed to initially receive the transmission of the Mahamaya Tantra asked why he should give the empowerment of the Mahamaya Tantra and subsequent explanations to a “stupid flat nosed Tibetan?”  That must have really pushed the buttons of this precocious, driven seeker who was known for having a short fuse!  The relationship between Naro and Marpa, like that of Tilopa and Naropa, was also intimate and close- Marpa spent years actualizing the paths that were offered to him from his primary guru, Naropa.  Marpa also maintained close relationships with the mahasiddhas Maitripa, Kukkuripa, as well as Saraha (in the dream-state).  Marpa brought the instructions of these great masters back to Tibet and firmly placed the victory banner of the kagyu ear-whispered lineage upon the Tibetan Plateau.

Milarepa, the repentant magician suffered great loss early on in his life.  Imagine the loss of everything you know as one of your parents die, imagine that all you have every owned, or all that has ever been promised to you has been taken by family that you trusted.  Imagine the shame and guilt, the remorse and regret that Milarepa must have felt growing up- imagine those feelings distilling into the deep focus to harm others.  Marpa, the farmer lama, with his liberating presence, took the time to be there for Milarepa as a teacher in the best way possible.  He had the skill to know that forcing Milarepa to perform nearly impossible tasks of physical labor to ripen his karma, to help push the reset button, and to reveal wholeness where previously there was just suffering, was appropriate.  After all, Milarepa had been to a teacher before Marpa who was much looser in his teaching style which didn’t fit with Milarepa’s attitude.  As a result not much occurred between Milarepa and this other teacher.  Marpa, ever the farmer, planted the seeds of dharma within Mila’s being and carefully, tenderly raked, weeded and fed these seeds until the grew into a rich crop.

Rechungpa and Gampopa, the left and right hands of Mila Laughing Vajra, expressed the wisdom, instruction and blessings of their father-like lama.  Gampopa did this through codifying and merging the ear-whispered lineage of experience with his experience as a Kadampa monk thus providing a monastic base for the Kagyu lineage; his famous Jewel Ornament of Liberation is a classic lamrim (stages of the path) presentation of the dharma.  Rechungpa, a repa or cotten-clad yogi, continued more within the activity tradition of Marpa Lotsawa, returning to India to procure the empowerments and instruction for the practice of the Formless Dakini, a lineage that is still maintained within the Drikung Kagyu lineage. Both Rechungpa and Jey Gampopa were cared for by Milarepa- they had very close and different relationships with Milarepa.  The devotion and sadness that Rechungpa expressed upon learning of Milarepa’s death is a beautiful reminder of the internal connection that they had.  It also feels important to note that the last thing that Milarepa shared with Gampopa was showing him his calloused buttocks- a final testament that practice is essential, that the experience of liberation is supported by practice.

The Kagyu lineage, and all of its branches, is often refered to as a practice lineage.  And indeed, if one took a look at the lives of the lineage holders, one can see that great care has always been applied to the maintainance of the purity of the lineage, as well as experiencing or tasting its essential essence.  When we look at the lineage of the Karmapas, Tai Situpas, the Gyaltsabpas, the lineage of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Traleg Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, Sangye Nyepa Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Chokgyur Lingpa, Karma Chagme Rinpoche, Khamtrul Rinpoche, and many other great Rinpoches, and unknown practitioners, it is amazing how alive and energetic the Kagyu lineage is.

I sometimes feel that people believe that being Buddhist involves shunning the world and keeping ourself calm and without emotion.  In the hospital I am often asked by patients how I have the strength to not feel or to remove myself from the world.  I don’t have that strength, I’m not even sure if that is a strength, and even if I did, I wouldn’t want to remove myself from the world.  There are worlds upon worlds within us, physical isolation or separateness alone doesn’t change that.   The freedom we seek is found in embracing what is right infront of us.  Buddhism is in the midst of being translated to the western idiom.  It has firmly taken root in many respects, however I feel that a significant point of focus may need to be how we as Buddhists (perhaps more so for vajrayana Buddhists, although maybe not) can maintain sacred-outlook as well as a realistic understanding of the world around ourselves.  How can we connect to the visionary nature of our lineages, create real connection, feel that we are part of them, recieve the blessings of their transmission history without having an overly utopian notion of how everything constellates with the world that we live in?

A few years ago I read a translation of a text by Raga Asay, the first Karma Chagme Rinpoche in which a  story was related about Raga Asay who after recieving instruction from the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje,  prefered to live far away from Tsurphu.  When asked by a friend why he would choose to live far away and not be able to attend public events (empowerments, reading transmissions, teachings, etc.) Raga Asay replied,” when I am in retreat the lama on the top of his head is near and I always feel his blessings.  When I am at Tsurphu my mind is plagued by insecurity, jealousy and gossip.” Karma Chagme found the balance; his balance,  a confidence in his relationship with His Holiness as well as with the larger lineage.  At the same time Karma Chagme seems to be suggesting “people are people are people”- we gossip, brag, and in all our enthusiasm during special religious functions often inadvertantly act unskillfully.

In terms of the present situation, it is easy to pick up on and focus on the politics, the gossip, and the intrigue and forget that this is all appearance.  By all means we should support His Holiness, but as his children perhaps we should bring what arises within us to the path.  This is what Gampopa refers to when he lists the ways to deal with obstacles to practice, we can try to abandon obstacles, or we can transform them, or we can rest within them as they arise.  Gampopa suggests that transforming obstacles is good, but that resting in them may be better- it is a way to bring direct experience of the present moment to our practice.  In facing our fears, our insecurities, our rage, our frustration, and being able to be aware of this as none other than the play of our mind, we are able to be clear and free.

When His Holiness came to Mirik to consecrate and install the kudung stupa of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, His Holiness told the large group of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche’s students that our greatest offering to Bokar Rinpoche is our practice.  That to put into practice his instructions, and to aspire to completely master master them, we are connecting in a profound manner to Kaybje Bokar Rinpoche.  This sounds like timely advice for the present moment, but also something to keep in mind at all moments.  While we can not always serve our lama in an everyday setting, we can serve our lama by holding dear and practicing the instructions that she or he offers us.

The office of His Holiness recently offered a statement of thanks to everyone who has supported His Holiness and his labrang and suggested that we offer our practice towards the removal of all obstacles towards the problems that His Holiness has faced.  You can read it here.  This is wonderful!  I cannot think of a better way to maintain a connection with such an amazing teacher.  In practicing for him, we are generously offering our time, our effort, our spirituality as well as our connection with the lineage from which the instructions that we follow flowed from.  This is an offering beyond time and space; an essence offering which when fused with the intention of benefiting His Holiness and his labrang- doubtless, this is a powerful way of maintaining connection, it’s a way through which we can feel the heartbeat of Tilo, Naro, Marpa, Mila within our very being.

Although all practitioners have a lineage,

If one has the Dakini lineage, one has everything.

Although all practitioners have a grandfather,

If one has Tilo, one has everything.

Although practitioners have a lama,

If one has Naro, one has everything.

Although practitioners have teachings,

If one has the hearing lineage, one has everything.

All attain the Buddha through meditation,

But if one attains Buddhahood without meditation,

There is definite enlightenment.

There is no amazing achievement without practice,

But there is amazing achievement without practice.

By searching, all will find enlightenment,

But to find without searching is the greatest find.

-Marpa

3
Feb

ordinary everyday teachers


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.

8
Dec

A feast song by the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

As the Kagyu monlam begins I would like to share a feast song, a ganachakra celebration, composed by the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.

With the monlam and all of its blessings in mind, I offer this song.  May the Kagyu monlam benefit all beings, and may the activities of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje be vast!

A Feast Song in Lhasa

I salute the guru Jewel.

In the ocean of true essence

arise multitudes of unreal concepts,

like varied patterns in the water.

Therefore I practice the following.

This heroic feast- the culmination of merit

for the profound mother tantra-

was taught to increase the merit of beings.

Thus do I understand its meaning:

Beings of the beginning stage

should visualize their body as a deity

at this stage of imaginative engagement.

Purify food and drink into nectar,

and offer the skandhas to the victorious sages.

This is called the great feast:

heros and heroines equal in number,

who have attained high realizations,

contemplate the essence of void and bliss

amid the abundance of food and drink.

Great is the assembly at the feast!

Since all heros have gathered,

it is called the joyous feast of heros.

The Master knows the way of mantra,

his mindstream is empowered,

he understands the essential precepts;

disciple-hosts of heroines and heros,

together engage in full absorption-

the stages of generation and completion-

immeasurable are the attainments of the feast.

Those who do not possess such virtues,

and wrongly take out of self-importance,

will encounter obstacles; this is foretold.

Though I have not seen the assembled heros,

I have sung the essence of the tantric scriptures;

for this is called the essential instruction.

Be inspired with wondrous admiration.

Join the celebration, partake fully in the feast!

(This poem was sung in Lhasa at the assembly gathered to celebrate a religious feast on the evening of the eighth day of the tenth month of the dragon year)[i]


[i] Taken from Songs of Spiritual Experience, trans. By Thupten Jinpa and Jas Elsner.  Shambala, 2000.


25
Nov

Kalu Rinpoche and Bokar Rinpoche, Father and Son, protectors of the Kagyu Monlam.

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.


2
Nov

Milarepa on the nature of mind

This is a particularly intimate and moving song of instruction by Milarepa for his student Gampopa.  The imagery of a parent concerned for his child contributes to the sense of closeness between the teacher and student in this song, it also shows how subtle some of the maras (perceptual delusions) that we experience along the way can be.  Milarepa as the tender father helps to point out some of the pitfalls that obscure the natural luminosity of the mind’s essential nature.

Following along with the parenting metaphor for a moment, I am reminded of a teacher who once reminded a friend and I that once one begins to meditate, no matter how much time spent in meditation, or its frequency, we should act as if we are pregnant; or we should know that we are pregnant with the innumerable qualities and benefits of Buddhahood. How long the gestation period will be is hard to know, but one day we will give birth to the clear and stainless realization of our mind.  All it takes is to begin a meditation practice and examine what effects it has on our perception and our relative well-being; once we are pregnant with this potential awakening, we should guard ourselves against that which complicates and distracts our meditation practice.  The tone that Milarepa sets in this song is gentle and supportive; how can we be this way with ourselves in our practice?

 

A Song of Instruction to Gampopa

By Milarepa

 

 

Son, when simplicity dawns in the mind,

Do not follow after conventional terms.

There’s a danger you’ll get trapped in the eight Dharma’s circle.

Rest in a state free of pride.

Do you understand this, Teacher from Central Tibet?

Do you understand this, Takpo Lhajey?

 

When self-liberation dawns from within,

Do not engage in the reasonings of logic.

There’s a danger you’ll just waste your energy.

Son, rest free of thoughts.

Do you understand this, Teacher from Central Tibet?

Do you understand this, Takpo Lhajey?

 

When you realize your own mind is emptiness,

Do not engage in the reasoning “beyond one or many”.

There is a danger that you’ll fall into a nihilistic emptiness.

Do you understand this, Teacher from Central Tibet?

Do you understand this, Takpo Lhajey?

 

When immersed in Mahamudra meditaion,

Do not exert yourself in virtuous acts of body and speech.

There’s a danger the wisdom of nonthought will disappear.

Son, rest uncontrived and loose.

Do you understand this, Teacher from Central Tibet?

Do you understand this, Takpo Lhajey?

When the signs foretold by the scriptures arise,

Do not boast with joy or cling to them.

There’s a danger you’ll get the prophecy of maras instead.

Rest free of clinging.

Do you understand this, Teacher from Central Tibet?

Do you understand this, Takpo Lhajey?

 

When you gain resolution regarding your mind,

Do not yearn for the higher cognitive powers.

There’s a danger you’ll be carried away by the mara of pretentiousness.

Son, rest free of fear and hope.

Do you understand this, Teacher from Central Tibet?

Do you understand this, Takpo Lhajey?[i]


[i] Songs and Instructions of the Karmapas.  Nalandabodhi Publications.  2006.  Pg. 25-26.


30
Oct

Naro Khachoma, Naropa’s Space Lady

Recently I was contacted by a member of Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s sangha who asked if I could write a blog post about Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s activities and recent birthday.  In familiarizing myself with his activities, I was really happy to see that within the larger website for his organization, Kechara, there are a number of specific blog posts about the Gelug approach to Vajrayogini: Naro Khachoma.

I invite you to take a look: http://blog.tsemtulku.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/category/vajra-yogini

This form of Vajrayogini was given directly to the Mahasiddha Naropa by Vajrayogini herself.  Naropa passed the practice of Naro Khachoma to the two Nepali Pamthingpa brothers (Vagisvarakirti and Bodhibhadra) who after spending years studying and practicing with Naropa, brought the teachings back to Nepal.  According to Glenn H. Mullin the Pamthingpa brothers spent years in retreat in their hermitage in Parping, a very important site to Vajrayogini practice.  Below is a picture of the main Vajrayogini temple in Parping that I visited in 2008.

Eventually the Pamtingpa brothers eventually ended up teaching Melgyo Lotsawa Lotro Drakpa, an early Sakya translator/practitioner and teacher of the great Sakya teacher Kunga Nyinpo.  In this way Naro Khachoma practice was included within the Sakya lineage, and later worked its way into the Gelugpa lineage.  Naro Khachoma, or Naropa’s Space Lady, is still a very highly regarded practice within these two lineages; a practice that is profoundly powerful in its effacacy of transmuting one’s experience of ordinary being into that of the blissful immediacy of Vajrayogini and her consort Heruka Chakrasmvara.

Perhaps Tsem Tulku Rinpoche could one day share his thoughts on death and the process of dying and aspects of bringing Vajrayogini to these events with us here…

Praising Vajrayogini and the Dakinis

I prostrate of the glorious

Vajra Dakini, queen of the dakinis,

The savior of beings who has

The five wisdoms and the three bodies.

I prostrate to all of the many vajra dakinis

Who cut the bonds of conceptual thought

Even while doing various forms

Of worldly activity.

(Taken from Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche’s Sublime Path to Kechara Paradise.

12
Aug

Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche on Practice for Others

I recently arrived home from a wonderful and highly recharging six-week period in India.  While there, I split my time between Mirik, near Darjeeling, where Bokar Ngedhon Chokhorling (Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche’s seat in India) is located, Ralang, Sikkim, where His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s seat-in-exile is located, and in Varanasi/Sarnath.

As I posted before I left, I had intended in requesting the ven. Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche, the dharma brother and direct heart-son of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, for some thoughts regarding the way we may be of benefit for people through the practice of ritual and the recitation of prayers and mantras for those who are sick, dying or who have passed away.  While I was in Mirik, an old friend and former professor emailed me regarding the launch of changchub.com.  He was quick to offer compliments regarding the structure of the site, and also expressed: “offering prayers on the behalf of others is something deeply established in the monastic tradition of the Himalayas; however, it is quite new to our culture.”  Then he posed an excellent question: is it time for this in the west, and may such prayers be offered by lay people as well as monks?

This question is a good one.  Thank you for bringing it up Robert!

For me, it raises questions in terms of what the true difference between the lay practitioner and the ordained practitioner may actually be- it reminds me of both the Vimalakirti Sutra and also the spirit of enquiry expressed in Vipassana (Tib. Lhaktong) meditation.

So, what is the difference between lay and ordained?  Additionally, the question can be extended to what is the difference between “eastern” and “western” cultures?

Clearly, the goal of reflecting on these questions in an open way is not to carelessly toss the relative differences aside, as wonderful beauty exists in both lay practice with its endless possibilities for practice, as well as that of the cloistered support of the ordained sangha member.  Then there is the natural beauty of the difference between being from Brooklyn and Darjeeling, for example.

However, perhaps it is possible to see that despite the apparent differences the same dharma is shared; the nun and the householder share the same essence- the root of the essential sameness is the point.  At least that’s the way I came to formulate my answer to the question posed.  We bring the tone and flavor to our own actions- a monk or nun with a busy distracted mind is the same as a layperson with a similarly distracted mind.  Likewise, a layperson with clear penetrating recognition of the suchness of their mind is no different from a nun or monk with a similar view.  That said, the ordained sangha performs the vital role of preserving the actual lineage- but it should not be forgotten that as lay-people, when we receive instructions and practice them, we too are preserving a practice lineage.

As for offering prayers or performing ritual practice for others; making such offerings and dedicating the merit of practice for others is of immense benefit to the recipient.  It helps to create the conditions of peace and the alleviation of suffering; it is an act of kindness, a reminder of our interconnectedness, and an act of skillful-means.  It seems to me to be the fresh-faced other-side-of-the-coin that is meditation practice; something that is often seen as solitary, often aimed at individual personal spiritual development, and perhaps in the West presented in an all too myopic fashion. Maybe we could benefit from being shaken up a bit and made to exercise more of the compassion side of the wisdom/compassion relationship…

I would like to return to this subject in the near future, as I feel that it’s an important one, but for now, I’d like to share Khenpo Rinpoche’s wonderful instructions.

As I had previously intended on asking Khenpo Rinpoche what should be done to benefit those who are sick, dying, or have passed away, on July 5th, I happily took this extra question to him as well.  There’s a great bio of Khenpo Rinpoche at the gompa’s website: http://www.bokarmonastery.org, if you’d like more information about him, the late Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, and Bokar Ngedhon Chokhorling.

Ven. Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche on Practice for Others

When one is going to die, you should try your best to pacify the dying person’s mind.  Try to bring peace.  If the person is Buddhist then you can recite the lineage masters’ names, or for example “Karmapa Chenno” (Karmapa think of me), as well as one’s own root master’s name.  If the person has died, you can whisper these in the person’s ear in a pleasing voice.  You can also recite the names of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, for example, Amitabha (mantra: Om Ami Dhewa Hri), or Chenrezig (mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum), or some other mantra; whatever you know.

These are very important.  You see, when one is dying as well as for the person who has passed away, after their death, while in the Bardo state hearing the names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and lineage masters makes one recall the Dharma; it is like a positive habit where one remembers the dharma and then can easily be liberated.  This is very important.

If the person is non-Buddhist you can see if the person likes hearing the names and mantras of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or not.  If one likes to hear the names and mantras of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and they are not Buddhist that’s fine.

If one dislikes hearing such names or mantras then you shouldn’t say them, but mentally you can visualize or recite the names and mantras of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help the person who is either sick, dying, or has died.  You should also visualize yourself as Chenrezig or Amitabha while your mind and the mind of the deceased person are merged, and then meditate.  Also, you should do tonglen.  You see, you should send your happiness, your virtuousness, your peace, to the person who has passed away- expelling their sorrows, fear, and unhappiness.  This is an excellent time to do tonglen practice.

Without saying anything, you can also mix your mind with the mind of the person who has died and rest in the Mahamudra state.

These things, along with meditation on love and compassion are the best things that you can do.

When one is sick you can do Sangye Menla (Medicine Buddha), Lojong, and others, Guru Yoga, Dorje Sempa (Vajrasattva)- anything that purifies.  You should try your best to examine what is best for the particular person- check the situation.

Basically, any practice can be done for the person who has died.  Often though, it is good to do Amitabha so that the person may be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land.  You can do the Dewachen Monlam many times, for forty-nine days, or three weeks, or one week even- or alternatively you should do the longer Amitabha practice if you know it and have the time.

All of these things will help.

[Note: While Rinpoche and I were talking, I specifically brought up to him the fact that for some in the West the dedication of prayer or ritual offerings for the benefit of those who are sick, dying or have died, may seem new as it tends to be less emphasized when one normally thinks of Dharma practice, and I asked if it is okay to perform such activities.  Khenpo Rinpoche was very enthusiastic in his response, saying that indeed anyone can do practice for others.  One can do whatever practices that they know.  The most important thing is that one is trained in the practices that they are doing for others- this means that if the practice requires an empowerment and reading transmission, then these must be obtained, as well as whatever subsequent instructions are necessary to perform the practice.  Practicing for others should not be seen as limited to ordained sangha members.  He was very definitive in expressing this.]

May this be of benefit!

28
Jun

gone fishing… …in India!

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.

H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche

Ralang

Rumtek

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.

Akshobya

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.

Bokar Ngedon Chokhor Ling

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.