Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Buddhist Practice’

5
Jan

On a more pastoral vajrayana and haughty lamas…

Dalai Lama with cat

A few weeks ago I read an excellent article about Pope Francis shaking up the ecclesiastic leadership in the United States, and the subsequent reactions from more conservative Catholics. I found myself, despite my own sense of satisfaction in learning more about how the nuts and bolts of how Catholicism in America works, feeling sad and emotional around how far it seems that we as practitioners of Vajrayana have to go in the West before such conversations can occur around the quality of presence of our own spiritual leadership.  In a way, we Vajrayana Buddhists are lacking when it comes to real authentic pastoral presence.  When I say this I certainly don’t mean to imply that His Holiness Karmapa, or His Holiness Dalai Lama lack pastoral presence.  They don’t.  I have had the chance to be in their presence in very intimate settings and the degree to which they appear attuned to even the smallest concern of another person is astounding to witness.  I refer to the lamas and administrators that represent our gompas, our Buddhist Associations, as well as the general dharma center leadership across the western world.

As it turns out, Pope Francis recently appointed Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the new head of the Congregation of Bishops, replacing Cardinal Raymond L. Burke for his conservatism and lack of pastoral affect.  This change in leadership, while subtle in some respects, will hopefully produce long standing effects in how the church presents itself, to whom the church ministers and in what position it will take in relationship to the experience of the transcendent.  Pastoralism is something that we commonly find within Christendom; in it’s most basic form it presents a spiritual concern centered around giving spiritual instruction and guidance to others.  In this case, the parish priest who is intimately connected to the concerns and needs of his “flock”, needs spiritual, emotional and otherwise, comes to mind.  Someone who works tirelessly for the benefit of others- in real terms, not just an aspiration to perform this task but to actually roll ones sleeves up, and get into the mucky mess that comes with being.  Pastoralism also has applications that relate to music, art and philosophy, and a personal and ethical desire to return to the simple, the immediately real and what occurs naturally.  As a hospice chaplain who operates from within the Vajrayana tradition as an ordained Repa, I am comfortable with discussions around the importance of pastoral presence and what that means.  Yet I often find my Vajrayana contemporaries uncomfortable in challenging themselves in a way other than the way that tradition dictates.  That the lineage of Tilo, Naro, Marpa and Mila has gotten so rigid and insecure is unfortunate.

pastoral_1

I think that one could definitely say that Milarepa had mastered a pastoral presence, or pastoral affect.  In suggesting this I feel that it has less to do with the fact that he lived in retreat, in the pastoral wilds of Tibet as coincidence would have it, but that he could naturally -with simple immediate ease- sense the needs and suffering that others were consumed by because he could sit honestly with what arose within himself.  This sounds easy to do, but in actuality it is quite painful and heartbreaking.  It is difficult to see others stuck within their own experiences of themselves and even harder to see where we get stuck in similar ways.  We generally don’t want to recognize how compelling the hallucinations that we have created actually are and how we lead ourselves around and around in circles, let alone try to work through the baseless obsession with the fact that we are imperfect and need to get somewhere before we can stand on our own two feet.  Retreat is certainly a great way to develop spiritual insights, and it is very important, yet retreat does not necessarily produce compassion, and I am not so sure that it produces pastoral presence nearly as well and being fully engaged by what life brings our way.  In fact I would argue the latter: compassion arises more uniformly, with more stability outside of a comfortable retreat setting.  When living life in full one can easily get to the heart of difficult feelings that arise within the experience of pain and suffering, feel them and then let them flow into the next experience. Retreat can be helpful in this regard, however, I tend to feel that it is easier to seduce ourselves into a comfortable homeostasis in which we are never really forced to face our fears, never asked to consider the shadows, and never really asked to cut deep to the bone and feel that cold pain of the roots of our own suffering.  This is why Milarepa is considered semi-wrathful within the text of his guru-yoga; the only way that he could go deeper and deeper within his practice is to cut with skill, precision and power.  Cutting deep is important- it is hard and very uncomfortable.  Yet, at the end of the day, we are best served when we can access the pain and suffering that we hide from.  When we can do this pastoral presence is much more authentic.  There is no better model for Vajrayana Buddhists than Milarepa if we are looking to foster a more pastoral Vajrayana.

milarepa

Occasionally I fear that much of the way that the Vajrayana perspective is presented in the West is somewhat split between pedagogic models that either have students memorize terminology, acquaint oneself with logic, and years of study before they can say that we are Buddhists, and the other extreme that we can simply blend our curiosity of Buddhism with our practice of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.- that we don’t need to worry about to committing to any one tradition.  We are either definitely going to be born in one of the Hell Realms because we are terribly ignorant, or we are going to be just fine and we need not really worry about specifics- just show up say your prayers and do a bit of instruction without committing to a teacher or cogent path of practice. It is much easier to just follow the rules and sheepishly hide who we are in relationship to dharma than integrate the dharma into our experience of life.

We also seem to suffer from an overly Mahayana perspective around the long period of time through which we must practice before we become realized. We are very infrequently told (or shown) that liberation can come in this moment, on this very seat, in this very session.  We are given a practice and generally told that it will take an incalculable (or at least an unknowable) amount of time before enlightenment occurs.  We venerate past masters who were exemplary and also taught to believe that we are nothing in comparison to them- we are but just mere shadows.  But is this really so?  Why are we not taught to take greater responsibility for our realization?  Why are we not taught to be creative in our practice, to take our seat and settle into our own pastoral authority?  In fact, more often than not, the specific lineage that we are shown is presented more like a line which we shouldn’t deviate from, yet when one looks, most of the great masters struggled to challenge and confront such preconceived ways of being.  Eveny lineage has masters who did whatever they needed to do to effect realization- if it meant breaking the rules, so be it.

I fear that some of the leaders that one finds within the mainstream presentation of Vajrayana lack the natural ease that Milarepa brought to the tradition at large: no monasteries, no particular school of thought to tether oneself to, no institutional affiliations, no orthodoxies, no expectations, no roles, just the experience of pure experience.  Even though I say this, it should be noted that the growing interest by scholars in the development of the Milarepa’s hagiographical literature presents us with compelling evidence that the creation of the story of Milarepa morphed into what we know today from a wide variety of projections of what his life was thought to have been like by others centuries after his death.  Even still, despite the fact that we may only be able to interact with our own inner Milarepa, and the true Milarepa may never be known, there is some indescribable inspiration that he evokes, not unlike the feeling of an early warm Spring day that leaves one feeling naturally resolved and content and excited for whatever comes next.  For me part of the joy of Milarepa is that everything is okay, that within the experience of Mahamudra there is nothing to add, nothing to take away, nothing to do, and that we can rest in everything because it is all essentially one taste. This is a powerful root to a penetrating pastoral presence that is without fault.  I try in my own way to allow this to inform me as a chaplain and as a teacher at the dharma center rather than whatever ‘rules’ or traditional norms may exist; whether this is a benefit and serves me well in either role is certainly up for debate.  Lord knows, I am probably more of a hindrance than a benefit to anyone.

tibetan lamas

Instead many in the Vajrayana tradition here in the United States, especially those in positions of spiritual leadership seem to fall back upon textual dictates and scripture, the rules and maxims of form and function rather than engage directly, naturally, with how life, and thus, appearances arise.  Spiritual bypassing, or the use of spirituality to disengage from actually experiencing what arises and resting within it, appears to be as much the western Buddhist’s unique disease as much as diabetes and obesity are the illnesses that currently define Americans. This bypassing appears to be caused by the constant retelling of the same old story that we are imperfect, that we are not enough and that we are somehow not whole in this moment.  More than this, this type of undigested view lacks the rich fertility that provides us with the needed confidence, or escape velocity,  to no longer be hindered by the gravity of our habits and misguided constructions of the universe around and within us.  It is easier to build a fancy dharma center, easier to go into 3 year retreat, and easier to tell ourselves (and others) that we will never taste any of the fruit of the dharma as we are fundamentally obscured than it is to try to cut through our sad, sorry, slothful sense of being imperfect.  There is no better way to blind oneself (and build up one’s sense of importance) than with dogma.

I am reminded of a story I was told about a group of western monastics who criticized a flower offering that a student at a dharma center made one morning.  She had happened upon a field of wild flowers while during a morning walk and decided to pick a few to bring to the shrine as an offering.  New to the dharma she was motivated by fresh devotion.  By the following morning the offering was removed- I was told that the imperfections found upon the leaves of the flowers and the petals reflected the ignorance of the student.  The group of monastics were quick to point out that all offerings have to be perfect, the very best- as this is what texts explain.  Needless to say, I had a hard time hiding my mixture of disgust and sadness that the inner efforts of devotion made by someone new to the dharma was seen as a violation of protocol and a cause of negative karma due to ignorance.  The unbending parochialism of this argument is a constant source of amusement for me.  As a chaplain I often find myself having to operate from a place of creativity and skillful means to help provide others with a supportive environment even if it challenges the static spiritual dictates of a given person’s faith.  Such rigidity would do more harm for a person who is dying than good.

I wonder what Pope Francis would say of the Catholic version of this event? What do we do when we become overly dogmatic at the expense of killing the experience of another?  When do we let our religious dogma undermine our abilities to manifest the connection created by pastoral presence?  What makes us Buddhist puritans?

puritans

How we work towards achieving this reconnection to our essential wholeness, our naturally expansive and vast experience of all that arises is ultimately up to us.  This includes the specific techniques, degrees of effort, and the conceptual models that we temporarily use to get us to a place of spontaneous confidence and certainty.  Most important however is that we don’t concertize the path, that we don’t rigidly hold onto our techniques (lest we become cold chauvinists  regarding Buddhadharma), as well as a dialectical obsession with how much effort we must apply (we are tying to ease into the experience of Mahamudra, not train for a triathlon), or assign too much of an eternalist reality to the conceptual models we use (whether lay or ordained, male or female, well schooled or illiterate, whether we follow sutra or tantra, are logicians or ritual specialists or neither, we are working with the essence of mind; no one path is necessarily better than the other).  Otherwise, the very vows that we take to benefit others become the very cause of perverse haughty dogmatism that does more harm than good.  Before we know it we are no better than the demons that we thought we were feeding or coming to learn from and rather than spiritual friends become judges, applying dialectics gathered from scripture and commentarial literature rather than from the direct experience of mind. When does that shift occur?  When do we go from spiritual friend to tormentor and judge?  When does our fear prevent us from being with what arises and cause us to snuggle up within textual dictates to provide us with comfort and a defensive justification of laziness?

Sometimes rigid orthodoxy makes demons of us

In a way, Pope Francis offers us a wonderful reflection of the ways in which we can become rigid and overly concerned with outer appearance.  The conservatives in the church, those who apply the checks and balances of church dogma to the world around them as a way to orient themselves and assert meaning, often lack the same experience and sense of certainty than those who were parish priests and are familiar with the joys and sorrows of their congregations. This is obviously not unique to Catholics, in fact, this kind of separation feels much more prevalent in the Tibetan Buddhist world- and it also appears that we are too afraid to explore this lest we criticize the sangha (let alone cause a rift within it).  It may be that ordained sangha and the large dharma organizations that we have created in the west are the biggest sacred cows that we as Buddhists need to confront.

Captain America fights Buddhists

In a podcast on Mahamudra that I happened upon by Reggie Ray, Ray artfully suggests that the lineage doesn’t care about us. Perhaps more to the point, he reinforces the point that our practice of dharma isn’t about our identities in relation to the lineage.  The lineage doesn’t care if we become involved as teachers or administrators.  The lineage doesn’t care about gompas or lack of gompas.  It doesn’t care about dharma centers and their creation, maintenance and growth.  The lineage doesn’t care about anything other than our work to recognize our natural face: enlightened being.  Everything else is extra.  Lineage doesn’t do anything other than reflect our essential nature.  We do the rest.  We create the world of systems, we collate texts, we publish books, we create limitations and neurotic obsessions, often in the name of lineage.  If we are blessed with the chance to look back at our lineage and see how easy it is to get wrapped up in the peripheral details maybe we can return to the experience of simplicity: the experience of naked awareness.  When we can do this we don’t have to become anything, or wear anything, or observe any vow, or follow any textual dictate, because we become, in that moment, the Dharma.  There is nothing to add or take away from this basic reality.

Bodh_Gaya_1899

A close friend who was recently trying to determine where she should be in late December and the beginning portion of January told me, “I could go to Bodh Gaya to participate in the Kagyu Monlam for “Dharma” or I could go home to be with my family and actually live Dharma”.  Her time at home would be challenging and ordinary as time spent with family often is- in her case it would be more so as a relative had recently died and there was much support to be offered.  The Kagyu Monlam, replete with lavish offerings, is a sophisticated mechanism for making aspiration prayers, a place to see and be seen as a Karma Kagyu practitioner, a place to go from lama to lama for blessings and teachings, and is in many ways the ultimate place to go for generating merit.  Yet it is easy, it is obvious, somewhat predictable, and spiritually fattening; you can go there and haughtily throw your weight around feeling that you have unique karma and subtly build your ego.  After all, look at me, I’m in Bodh Gaya at monlam, how fortunate am I?  Going home to be with family, on the other hand, and all of the challenges that accompany providing support for the children and husband of the family member that recently passed away is a way to live all of what spiritual practice is about.  It is also hard, confusing and sometimes boring and not very much fun.

I am grateful for my friend’s distinction here, it was timely and very well put.  At the end of the day she answered the question for herself as to which one she decided to do. The question remains for us, which one would we prefer to and why? One is not necessarily better than the other, yet our decision says a lot about where we are right now and it is important to check-in and see where we are from time to time.  Where are you?

Advertisements
4
Nov

on text, owning our language and the ghostly apparitions of self…

I have been somewhat remiss in writing over the summer- my primary excuse is the time consuming work that I have put into renovating the space that we will be using for New York Tsurphu Goshir Dharma Center. My secondary excuse cuts a little closer to the bone; I was feeling uninspired and unsure about claiming the role as one of the two resident teachers at the dharma center.

Lately I have found myself struggling between feeling like a defender of vajrayana orthodoxy and a greater rebelliousness around how vajrayana is presented here in the United States.  Or, more specifically, I have been struggling to make sense of the way that tantric Buddhism has come into being as we know it according to the latest historical research, versus the way that Tibetan common religious history describes it.  A recent trip to India only helped to add more fuel to this struggle.

Right now I feel that I am swimming in text and coming to appreciate that the dharma is so fluid and hard to pin down that any attempt to understand it historically is very difficult.  Tantric Buddhism is often a murky world where definitive meaning is less commonly found than one might like.  Yet there is a great benefit in exploring the historical record; what better way to learn than through the experience of others?  What better way to appreciate a sadhana than to see how it has come down to us from the 8th century to this moment? What better way to try an connect to a lineage than to see just how syncretic it has been up until recently?

Pulled in these two directions (the orthodox and the rebellious), I occasionally find myself desiring the room and time to distill and slowly mull-over, consider, and explore the rich complexities that surround the foggy notion that there is an objective definitive knowledge of tantric Buddhism.  More appealing to me is when I feel able to dance between my connection to orthodoxy and rebelliousness, between the sneaky rebel, ready to shift identity and push through my own stogy norms, and a sense of connection to a definitive lineage, a member of a family of lineal descendents that ground, orient, and provide me with a feeling of connection to those who have come before me. Such a dance can be hard, even exhausting, other times it can be blissfully easy and infectious, like a warm breeze in the early spring, igniting a deep happiness that presages a sense of well-being.  Indeed this is the well-spring that inspires me in planning the curriculum of classes that will be offered at New York Tsurphu Goshir Dharma Center.

As previously mentioned, I recently returned from Palchen Chosling Monastery in Sikkim, India.  I was there to attend the Kagyü Ngak Dzöd empowerments and the related oral transmission offered respectively by His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the retreat master at Palchen Chosling Monastery’s retreat center, Drubon Rinpoche.  An astounding event, the Kawang ceremonies were elaborate and extensive. The chief recipient was His Holiness Taklung Shabdung Rinpoche Rangrig Dorjee Nyima, the head of the Taklung sub-lineage of the larger Kagyu lineage.  There were also a variety of other tulkus and khenpos from all over the Himalayan area who came to receive this vital transmission.  The Kagyü Ngak Dzöd is one of the “Five Treasuries” that was compiled in the 19th century by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye.  Out of the five, this is a collection of all of the empowerment texts, sadhanas, commentaries, and pith instructions of the thirteen major tantric practices  that Marpa Lotsawa received in India at the feet of Naropa, Maitrepa, Sri Santibhadra and others.  Included are the major and minor practices of Vajrapani and the long life practice of Amitayus from Machik Drupai Gyalmo as received by Rechungpa from his teachers in India, Balachandra and Machik Drupai Gyalmo herself.  Also added by Kongtrul are the empowerments of Chakshipa (four-arm Mahakala) and Dusulma (Vetali) and Tseringma.

Of all of Kongtrul’s five treasuries, the Kagyü Ngak Dzöd has always held a special place in my heart.  I think that the main reason for this is that I have a strong interest in the early roots of the Kagyü lineage, especially the transfer/transplanting of the core lineage practices from 11th century India to Tibet.  Even the very act of bringing the texts that comprise the Kagyü Ngak Dzöd from Ralang to Brooklyn felt like a way to connect to Marpa Lotsawa- in the right setting it could even be seen as a form of guru yoga.

When we read the biographies of Marpa and similar figures of that time period, most of which were composed centuries after their actual lives were lived, we read of the hardship experienced in travel, of the dangerousness of the water and roads, of the corruption of the custom agents, even the identity/racial tensions between the enlightened Indians and Nepalis and their otherwise dim-witted neighbors from the north.  In short, it was not easy for Marpa- and when we look closely, and perhaps even more importantly, when we look honestly, most of these same factors still exist today for western students of dharma who travel to India to learn at the feet of great masters there. The only difference is that it is often the Tibetans now, and not the Indians,  who assume that we are naturally dim-witted vessels capable of nothing more than confusing the dharma for which we have come to learn.

This sensibility is so powerfully present within our conception of who we are in relation to Tibetans, and it was demonstrated with great clarity during a break in the empowerments I attended in Sikkim.   A western woman who was attending the Kawang ceremonies tried to convince me that English is inherently a violent language in comparison to Tibetan, a language which she said was naturally coded with self-arising compassion and enlightened activity.  There was, she claimed, evidence proved by brain scans that showed that when one speaks English there is an activation of all of the centers of the brain associated with anger, and of course, when one speaks Tibetan, an activation of all of the brain centers associated with compassion.  Tibetan history certainly stands as a witness, as it should, to prove that such views are overly facile and fairytale projections that I would love to see expanded upon.  Nevertheless, I was saddened and curious as to why this otherwise intelligent and motivated person wanted to assume that she was inherently flawed by the language that she spoke, indeed, even gravely hindered by this language to the point where dharma practice seemed more of an aspiration than something she could actually allow herself access to.  For her, the practice works better if you are Tibetan, or at least speak Tibetan.  What then of the 11th and 12th century Tibetans who never knew Sanskrit, the language from which the tantras were translated?

I am beginning to wonder whether or not dharma practice can really take root and generate fruit in the West without a deep exploration of the way we blend it within ourselves to reveal our conceptual habits- especially those of language.  I am by no means a linguist, nor am I sure that one needs to be a linguist in order to explore how we use language, how we appreciate language, and how we unconsciously express ourselves (especially our habits and frames of reference) through language.  There seems to be a great deal of power and transformative value within examining, and perhaps even unraveling all of the assumptions that we create through rote linguistic responses to the events and circumstances around us.  Language is, after all, a set of symbols.  Words often have a variety of meanings, ephemeral like soft wispy smoke starting out in one form and transforming as if through an alchemical process, into something else.  We craft dialectics out of these words, define stances, elucidate positions, hammer-out identities and create entire worlds out of these words.  Often these worlds are created out of a dialectic that supports us in our self-oriented perspective of the world within which we find ourselves; a position that creates suffering.

These powerful words can take on such seemingly real and concrete meaning that a critical investigation of how we create our identities (and thereby reinforce them through language) is vital to ensure that we can blend dharma practice (whichever form it takes) into our experience of life.  This contemplative practice of examining how we continue to bind ourselves to a samsaric dialectic is very important.  The woman I described above is a great example of someone who while well-meaning, has placed herself in a position in which she can’t allow herself the fruition of dharma practice because of the identity that she has created for herself- an identity that is not Tibetan.

How we use language and whether or not we can gather the guts to claim our practice within our linguistic (and perhaps even cultural/genetic backgrounds) is thus very important and not something to be taken lightly.

During my recent time in Sikkim I was grateful (and lucky) to share a handful of evenings with a friend who is both a gifted lama and translator.  He happens to be American, did a three-year retreat in Mirik at the seat of the late kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, Bokar Ngedhon Chökhor Ling, and is now very interested/concerned with how dharma practice appears in the West and what it will look like as it continues to be transferred from India, Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan.  Of the many topics that we discussed, one of the primary ones that we came back to was the translation of dharma texts from Tibetan to English.  In his eyes this seemed to be vitally important (for him as a translator) and for me in the sense that I happen to be convinced that we may just be playing “buddhist” house until we pull our practice (including practice texts and all commentarial literature) into our experience of life.  A real sustained and honest exegesis is important if we really want to honor the spirit demonstrated within the core existential frustration and soul-searching (for lack of a better term) engendered by the Buddha and countless later masters.  It may be that in failing to do this, the galvanizing factors that lead us to practice risk being lost by the sedating power of scented candles, plush meditation cushions, expensive meditation clothing, and prohibitively expensive weekend retreats.

In a dharma world where people seem to vacillate between ‘sitting’ dharma and ‘service’ dharma, sometimes in a cycle of burnout where one replenishes the other, I don’t see dharma but a cycle of subtle suffering within the dharma. Such a dynamic seems to lack depth and a greater awareness of how to become the dharma, how to integrate it.

How humbling that even great bodhisattvas, before achieving the 8th bhumi known as Achala (or Immovable) are still susceptible to wrong view, mistaken perspectives and mistakes in guiding others.  No wonder it is possible to misinterpret our surroundings, our direction and even our intentions.  Perhaps for this reason a sustained exegesis may be central to spiritual growth; a way to bolster and reinforce personal meditative experience.

What does sustained exegesis mean, or what might it look like?

There is no one answer to this question.  After a number of evenings of conversation that lasted several hours with my friend in Sikkim we retired feeling passionately about our individual interests, paths, and the fiery topics that inspire and create the conditions to re-double our effort and energy around practice.  What we found was that our interests, and perhaps by extension, our paths are and will be different.  They are unique to who we are, to our qualities, and the way that we manifest in relation to, and within the dharma.

Whether it be Karma Chakme’s commentary on Rangjung Dorje’s writings on Chöd contained within the Rinchen Trengwa, or Pawo Tsugklag Trengwa’s commentaries on Vajrayogini, or any number of practice texts and their supporting literature, it is important to blend ourselves into the text.  It is important to examine how our habitual linguistic theories about ‘ourselves’ and the way we ‘are’ remain discordant from the paths laid before us.  How do we achieve a sense of connection to lineage?  What does it take to breathe our exegetic process? What would it look like to constantly occupy a sense of connection to the center of whatever mandala that we practice?  How will we manifest that in a manner that honors our natural abilities?

Not only are these are profoundly important questions that need to be resolved on a personal level within the context of our  individual practice as well as within our dharma communities, they are not new. Ronald M. Davidson touches on this topic in relation to the way in which Marpa Lotsawa achieved experience within his dharma practice as well that of Gampopa in his thought provoking book Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture.  Davidson relates that Marpa and his student Ngok Chödor, who was the central inheritor of his lineage of textual exegesis, especially with regard to the Hevajra Tantra, was a proponent of the earlier Indian tradition of textual exegesis through which Marpa was able to master the large amount of tantric textual material that he learned from Naropa and his other teachers.  Of this he writes:

It may be strange to some readers to stress the difference between tantric study and tantric practice, but Marpa himself was said to have obtained Buddhahood without meditating, and Drokmi’s pandita Gayadhara was noted for seldom practicing contemplation. In fact, by the late eleventh and early twelfth century, tantric exegesis had become an important area of study and exercise, and Gampopa’s received writings seldom quoted the tantras and almost never made reference to the normative points of controversy in the tantric commentaries.

Davidson points out the value that was placed upon tantric exegesis which when fully engaged can offer a powerful compliment to contemplative practice.  It may be that this aspect of ‘practice’, one which I like to think of as ‘breathing text’ or perhaps more accurately, ‘becoming text’, seems to fall by the wayside by our often simplistic modern romantic sensibilities that suggest that text and textual study is less important than meditation practice.  To create this kind of dichotomy is unnecessary. In fact it doesn’t make sense.  When our practice becomes so natural that we have memorized parts of our sadhanas, where does text end and where does the practice of meditation begin? The same goes for mantras; when we blend mantra recitation with resting in mind, how can you make a distinction between the two?

Another great consideration comes from the potential power of words.  As I have mentioned in previous blog posts in reference to the late Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche’s wonderful condensed commentary on the ninth Karmapa’s Ocean of Definitive Meaning, the mind is pointed out as the lama, as is appearance, and by extension, text.  In this regard I am reminded of reading a number of dharma texts that electrified me, gave me goosebumps, and seemed to shift my perspective so that I could see more clearly.  In fact, the feeling created in those moments can be incredibly profound and if not always life-changing, perhaps practice-changing.  Several pointing-out texts come to mind, as do certain sufi texts and a variety of chan Buddhist texts.  It seems clear that no one spiritual tradition seems to have a monopoly on the power of well placed words (nor does any specific language).

The brilliance of Gampopa, one of the heart sons of Jetsun Milarepa, may lay in his synthetic approach to exegesis.  He was known for many things, a gifted meditator, a focused monk,and a Tibetan doctor, as well as other attributes attested in his biographies.  What is less emphasized is the uniquely ‘outsider’ approach that Gampopa took towards exegesis.  Lacking the same traditional training emphasized by Marpa and Ngok Chödor, Gampopa created his own doctrinal line that blended Kagyu traditions with Kadampa traditions often using traditional Mahayana language to explain tantra, and vice versa.  This fusion, was indeed new and kicked up quite a storm that lasted for centuries.  His blending of the yogic tradition maintained by Milarepa, Marpa, Naropa and Tilopa with the primarily Mahayana monastic tradition that was represented by the Kadampa was in many ways unprecedented.

It took centuries for Buddhism to take root in Tibet from India in a way that was Tibetan.  I tend to feel that it will take a similar amount of time in the West.  In a sense, we are living in the midst of a very exciting time, a time not unlike that of Marpa.  If this is the case, how can we take the dharma that has been brought to us and allow for it to take root and blend within our general culture?  How can we do this within our individual cultures of language, or perception, and experience?  Will we allow ourselves to empower ourselves to breath the texts that have been passed down over a thousand years and let authentic dharma arise? What does that look like for us right now?

When we look at how we practice in this light, as part of a continuum, in which we help to shape the future just as those who have come before us helped to shape us where we are now, these issues feel more alive and immediate than they are often presented.  Our texts, our service, and our mediation seats beat with the life of dharma that is so full of vitality and unbelievable potential.  I pray that we can allow ourselves to express this fully and thereby let the seeds of untold realization take root on these shores!  May great fields of indigenous mahasiddhas arise in this moment!  May we arise as buddhas!

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.
10
Sep

on making offerings to those who have passed: bearing witness to september 11th


It is not uncommon when I am working in the hospital for people to ask me why it is that they suffer.  Why, for example, is their loved one dying?  Why is their medical treatment not working as well as they would like? Why they have been put in this terrible position? How could any of this be possible?

These are all personal september 11ths.  They are intense moments of tragedy and fear, of worlds (and lives) imploding, of being touched in a way in which life will never be the same.

I was speaking with a friend recently about September 11th- she shared with me the fact that for her, the worst thing about September 11th was the sense of fear and uncertainty.  Of course, the massive loss of life and the ripples of pain that were caused on that day is tragic and truly difficult to fathom, yet there is something of importance and meaning in my friend’s admission. September 11th created a sense of vulnerability and profound uncertainty.   This uncertainty, and it’s attendant vulnerability, was so palpable and new that it seems to remain a confounding symbol of the fear, the shock, and the seemingly unreal nature of what occurred on that day.

Just as I cannot provide an answer to a patient who asks me why their cancer has metastasized, why a newborn baby dies, or why God created the depression or psychosis that a patient may experience and suffer from, I am not sure that we will ever know what September 11th means in an absolute and definitive way.  The meaning of such difficult and painful experiences seem to change as we do.  Indeed, perhaps the meaning is different from moment to moment- it may be that an absolute meaning is convenient in that it lets us off the hook from continuing to feel, and interact with, what arises.

In this spirit, I feel that spending a moment to consider what September 11th means for us right now can be of value.  How does it sit with us now?  How do we sit with it? What has our process of getting here been like?  Can we let ourselves sit with whatever comes up, with whatever feelings arise?

I would like to offer a prayer to Amitabha, written by the wonderful Karma Chagme (a 17th century Kagyu and Nyingma Buddhist master), for all of those who passed away on that terrible day, as well as for all of those who passed away afterwards, suffered afterwards, and to all who have suffered during the two wars that arose following September 11th. May they not be forgotten, may we remain witness to their stories, may their suffering be pacified, and may they experience expansive wholeness.  May it be auspicious!

Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhavati – The Blissful Land of Amitabha Buddha

E ma Ho!
In the direction of the setting sun, beyond a multitude of innumerable worlds, slightly raised, is the perfectly pure realm of Sukhavati, a land of the noble beings. Although invisible to our fleshy eyes, Sukhavati can appear clearly within our mind. There resides the Subduer and Victorious One of Measureless Light, Amitabha, ruby red and with blazing radiance.

He is adorned with the ushnisha top knot on his head, the chakra wheels on his feet, and all the 32 signs of perfection and the 80 minor marks. He has a single face, two arms in the mudra of equanimity, holding an alms bowl, and wears the three dharma robes. He sits in vajra posture on a thousand petalled lotus and moon disc, with a bodhi tree to his back. From afar, he looks to us with eyes of compassion.

To his right is the Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, white in colour, his left hand holding a white lotus. To his left is the Bodhisattva Vajrapani, blue in colour, his left hand holding a lotus marked with a vajra. They both extend their right hands towards us in the mudra of bestowing refuge.
These three main deities appear like Mount Meru, the king of mountains.

Radiant, pouring forth splendour and illuminating, – they dwell accompanied by their retinue of a thousand billion bodhisattva monks, all of whom are of golden colour, adorned with the marks and signs, wearing the three dharma robes, and of great resplendence. With devotion – free of discernment between near and far, – and through the 3 doors we prostrate with utmost respect.

From the right hand of the Dharmakaya Amitabha, of Limitless Radiance, Lord of the Buddha family, emanate light rays becoming Avalokiteshvara, and with a billion more emanations of the mighty Avalokiteshvara. From the left hand, emanate light rays that become Tara with a further billion emanations of Tara. From his heart, light radiates out manifesting as Padmasambhava together with a billion other emanations of Orgyen. We prostrate to you, Dharmakaya Measureless Light.

With the eyes of Buddha and throughout the six periods of the day and night, he constantly regards all sentient beings with love. His enlightened mind is ever aware of whatever thoughts and ideas arise in the minds of all sentient beings. He forever hears clearly and distinctly, whatever words are spoken by all sentient beings. We prostrate to the all-knowing Amitabha.

It is said that, – except for those who have abandoned the dharma, or committed the deeds of immediate retribution, – all who have faith in You and make wishing prayers to be born in Sukhavati; their prayers will be fulfilled: you will come to us in the bardo, and guide us into this land. We prostrate to you – the guide Amitabha.

To you whose life spans countless kalpas, who resides here without passing beyond suffering; to you we pray with one pointed respect, as is said that, apart from specific karmic ripening, and with the averting of all kinds of untimely death, so our life may last one hundred years. We prostrate to protector Amitayus.

It is said to join the palms with faith on hearing the name of Amitabha and about Dewachen is of greater merit than offering countless three thousandfold universes pervaded with jewels as gifts. And so with respect we prostrate to Amitabha, Measureless Light.

All who hear the name of Amitabha and develop true faith from the depths of their heart, just once, will never leave the path to enlightenment. We prostrate to the protector Amitabha of Measureless Light.

From the time of hearing the name of Buddha Amitabha until obtaining Enlightenment, we are freed of lower rebirths, only taking birth in a good family and having pure conduct in all lives to come. We prostrate to Amitabha, Boundless Light of bliss.

Our bodies and all our possessions, together with our roots of virtue, whatever offerings that are actually present or conceived in mind including the auspicious substances, the eight auspicious signs, the seven precious objects, all offerings within all time: billions of the three thousand fold universes with the central mountain, four continents, the sun and moon, the wealth of gods, nagas and humans – all this arising in our mind – and by offering to you, Amitabha, may we benefit through the power of your compassion.

We lay open and confess all the non-virtuous deeds which have been committed from beginningless time up to now, by ourselves – by all sentient beings, headed by our fathers and mothers. Through time without beginning, we and all beings, especially our mothers and fathers, now acknowledge and regret our wrongs:
We regret and confess the three physical non-virtuous actions, those of killing, stealing and impure conduct.
We acknowledge and confess the four verbal non-virtuous actions: lying, slandering, harsh words, and loose talk.
We confess with remorse the three non-virtuous actions of mind: covetousness, malice, and erroneous views.

We confess with regret committing and accumulating the five immeasurably evil deeds of killing our father, our mother, our teacher, an arhat, and intending to harm the body of a Victorious One.
We admit and confess the evil deeds similar to these immeasurably evil deeds: killing a fully ordained monk or a novice, causing a nun to fall, destroying a statue, stupa or temple, and the like.

We openly confess the evil acts of abandoning the dharma, like abandoning the three supports: the Three Jewels, temples, and the Holy Scriptures, blaspheming and such similar deeds.
We confess with deep regret all these extremely negative and meaningless actions like abusing bodhisattvas – an evil greater than killing all sentient beings of the three world spheres.
We confess with remorse, all previous disbelief on hearing of the benefits that virtue produces, and how evil deeds bring one the intense sufferings of hell,– this making liberation so difficult to attain, and so is worse than the five immeasurably evil deeds.

We confess and lay bare all falls and infringements of the discipline of individual liberation including the five kinds of faults: the four root downfalls, the thirteen remainder downfalls, the transgressions, the defeats, the individually confessed damages, and the faults.
We openly declare with sorrow all the transgressions against the developing of bodhicitta: the four negative dharmas and the fifty eight downfalls.
We confess with deep remorse spoiling the samaya of the secret mantra: transgressions of the 14 root downfalls and the 8 branch vows.

We admit and confess the non-virtuous deeds gathered by not requesting vows, impure conduct, taking intoxicants and the like, indeed all harmful actions which I was not aware of and unable to voice.
We regret and confess any and all of the transgressions and downfalls of the vows of refuge, empowerments and so on that we received, – with or without knowing how to keep the respective samaya commitments.

Since confession without regret will not fully purify, we confess our previous harmful deeds with deep remorse and shame, with the fear as if our bodies were filled with poison. By not keeping to our vows from now on, there will be no purification. So, even at the cost of our life, we must now determine to refrain from all further non-virtuous actions. Through the blessings of the Sugata Amitabha and all his heirs, may our mind streams be completely cleansed.

When hearing about others who have accomplished wholesome acts, may we abandon all unwholesome thoughts of jealousy and rejoice in their virtuous deeds with heartfelt joy, so accumulating merit equalling theirs, as it is said.
For this reason, let us rejoice in whatever virtuous deeds are accomplished by both realised and ordinary beings.
We also may rejoice in the vast activity accomplished by developing the mind of supreme and unsurpassed enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Let us rejoice in abandoning the ten unwholesome deeds and performing the ten wholesome acts: protecting others’ lives; making offerings; keeping our vows; speaking the truth, reconciling adversaries; speaking calmly, gently and sincerely; maintaining meaningful conversations; reducing desires; developing loving kindness with compassion; and practising the Dharma with understanding – in all these virtuous acts we rejoice.

Let us exhort all the perfect Buddhas, dwelling in all the myriads of worlds of the ten directions, to quickly and extensively turn the wheel of dharma right away. Please hear our prayers through the power of your perception.

We entreat all the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, holders of the dharma, and spiritual friends who are planning to enter nirvana, to remain here and not pass beyond suffering.

May we appropriately dedicate all virtue of the three times to be of benefit to all sentient beings.
May all of us quickly obtain unsurpassable enlightenment and stir the three realms of samsara from their depth.

May these virtuous actions quickly ripen for us and so pacify the eighteen causes of untimely death in this life.
May our bodies be free from illness and blossoming with the vitality of youth.
May our material wealth ever increase as the Ganges in the monsoon.
May we practise the sacred dharma free from the dangers of demons or enemies.
May all wishes in accordance with the dharma be fulfilled.
May we accomplish great benefits for the Doctrine and for beings.
May we make this human existence meaningful.

At the moment when we, and all who have connections with us, pass beyond this life, may emanations of Buddha Amitabha surrounded by his sangha monks actually appear before us.
On seeing him, may our minds be happy and joyful, – free from the sufferings of death.
Through their miraculous powers, may the eight bodhisattva brothers appear in the sky to guide us and show the path to Dewachen.

The torment in the lower realms is unbearable; the happiness and joy of gods and humans is impermanent – may our minds develop a fear of this. May we be concerned about the enduring nature of beginningless samsara.

If we are born as humans again, still countless are our experiences of birth, old age, sickness and death.
In this difficult and degenerating time when obstacles abound, the happiness of humans and gods is like eating poisonous food, may we abandon even our tiniest desires.
Relatives, food, wealth and friends are but like a dream, impermanent – illusory. May we be free from even the slightest of desire and clinging.

May we recognize countries, places and dwellings as unreal – like a ghost town in a dream.
May we escape from the ocean of samsara – like convicts released from prison without even a backward glance – and attain to the pure realm of Dewachen.
May we cut all ties of attachment and desire, and like a vulture released from a net, may we traverse innumerable universes to the West and at once reach the pure realm of Dewachen.
May we see the face of Amitabha Buddha and, in his presence there, purify all our veils.
May we take miraculous birth within the heart of a lotus blossom, the supreme of the four modes.
So may we instantly attain a perfect form complete with all the marks and signs.

Those, who have doubt of being born there, will remain five hundred years, happy and joyfully contented within the unopened blossom, still hearing the words of the Buddha though not seeing his face. May we be free from this uncertainty. May the lotus flower open so that we see the face of Amitabha as we are born.

Through the force of our virtue and refined powers, may we emanate inconceivable clouds of offerings through the palms of our hands as offerings to the Buddha and those attending.
May the Tathagata at that moment place his right hand on our heads and bestow prophecy of enlightenment.
On listening to the profound and expansive Dharma, may our minds ripen and so be liberated.
May the principal bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, bless and guide us.

With every day, as myriad buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions come to make offerings and behold Amitabha and his pure realm, so may we at that time offer reverence to them and attain the nectar of the dharma.

Through our infinite miraculous powers, may we in the morning go to the sphere of True Happiness, to the Glorious Land, to the realms of Perfected Activity and Abundant Array. On offering profusely to the Buddhas Akshobya, Ratnasambhava, Amoghasiddhi, Vairocana and more, may we request empowerments, blessings and vows. Then may we return effortlessly to Sukhavati in the evening.

May we travel to the Potala, Alakavati, Kurava, Orgyen and the billion fold pure realms of Avalokiteshvara, Tara, Vajrapani, Padmasambhava and the billions of pure emanations. Once there, may we make oceans of offerings and request empowerments and profound essential instructions. So may we return swiftly and freely to our own places within Sukhavati.

May we guard, protect and impart blessings to our previous friends, monks, students and others, clearly seeing them with our celestial eye. May we thus, at their time of death, lead them to this land.

A single day within Sukhavati continues for the complete Fortunate Aeon in which we reside.  May we remain in Sukhavati constant and free of dying for countless aeons. From Maitreya through to Möpa, may we see all the Buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon, as they appear in our world.
With magical powers, may we proceed there, make offerings to the buddhas and listening to the noble dharma. Finally, may we return unhindered to the pure land of Sukhavati.

May we be reborn in this especially sublime pure land of Sukhavati that manifests all the qualities of the buddha realms of myriads of buddhas.
May we be reborn in this gentle, peaceful land of bliss, where the ground is of jewel, even like the palm of one’s hand, vast, spacious, radiant and sparkling with light rays, cushioning pressure and then returning level.

May we be reborn in this wondrous land where wish fulfilling trees are arrayed with numerous gems, with leaves of finest silk and fruits as jewel ornaments. On them appear flocks of birds, harmoniously intoning and proclaiming the sounds of the profound and expansive dharma.

May we be reborn in this most astonishing of lands where the many rivers are of scented water with the eight pure qualities as is the water of nectar in the bathing pools. The surrounding stairs and ornaments are adorned with the seven kinds of jewels. Fragrant lotus blossoms bearing fruit are radiating innumerable light rays, the tips of which are adorned with emanations of the Buddha.

May we be reborn in this Land of Great Bliss, where talk of the eight adverse conditions or hell is never heard. Where no form of suffering is experienced, be it the three or five emotional poisons, physical or mental disease, enemies, poverty, discord, and the like.

May we be reborn in this land of boundless pure qualities where, not having lower forms or births from a womb, all are born from lotus flowers. All bodies are of golden colour and equally endowed with the excellent marks and signs, like the ushnisha, and so on; all possessing the five precognitions and the five clairvoyances.

May we be reborn in this realm of all arising bliss and joy; where bejewelled celestial palaces appear of themselves; where enjoyments effortlessly arise at their very thought, and all ones needs are spontaneously fulfilled; where cherishing a self and differences of you or I no longer exist. All wishes arise as offering clouds from the palms of one’s hand, and everyone practices in accordance to the dharma of the unsurpassable Mahayana.

Fragrant breezes bring great showers of flowers, and heaps of offering clouds of pleasing forms, sounds, fragrances, tastes and touches – all that one may enjoy  arises  from the trees, rivers and lotus flowers. With concepts free of femininity, hosts of goddesses appear. These offering goddesses of various forms forever present offerings.

Jewel palaces arise through ones mere wish to rest; and on wishing to sleep, there appear magnificent jewel thrones adorned with various cushions and pillows of delicate silk, surrounded with birds and wish fulfilling trees, rivers, music, and more. At ones wish, the sound of Dharma resounds; when one no longer wishes to hear, there is silence. As for the soothing bathing pools and streams, they become hot or cold to ones wishes. May we be reborn in this realm of accomplishing all wishes.

The perfect buddha Amitabha will remain in this pure land for myriads of aeons, before passing into Nirvana. May we serve him until then. On passing into peace his teaching will remain for aeons as numerous as the grains of sand in two Ganges rivers. At that time may we uphold the noble dharma, not being separated from his regent Avalokiteshvara.

As the sun of the dharma sets in the West, so will manifest the dawn of the enlightenment of Avalokiteshvara. Renowned as “the Buddha, the utterly sublime sovereign, glorious and radiant”, may we behold him, make offerings and listen to the noble dharma.
For the sixty-six trillions of myriad aeons that he manifests, may we continue to serve and venerate him; and ever mindful, may we maintain the holy dharma.

After his passing into nirvana, his teaching will remain for thrice six billions of myriad aeons. For all this time, may we maintain the dharma and be inseparable from Vajrapani.  With life span and teaching equalling Avalokiteshvara, so shall Vajrapani become the buddha “The utterly stable Tathagata, Sovereign with arrays of precious good qualities”. May we present our offerings and serve this Buddha continuously by upholding all the noble dharma.

When one’s life is over, at that moment may we obtain unsurpassed perfect Enlightenment in this pure land or in another pure realm.
On the attainment of perfect Buddhahood and in the same way as Amitayus, may all beings be ripened and liberated through the hearing of our name. With limitless skill and countless emanations, may we guide sentient beings, spontaneously accomplishing their welfare.

The life span of the buddha, his virtue and qualities, his pristine awareness, his splendour are infinite. So is it said that whoever recalls the names – Amitabha Dharmakaya of Boundless Brilliance, Immeasurable Radiance, or Amitayus Lord of Immeasurable Life and Primordial Wisdom – will be protected from all dangers of fire, water, poisons, weapons, harmful and demonic forces, and more besides, the only exception being fully ripened previous karma.

We prostrate and beseech you by name, protect us from all fear and suffering and grant your blessing of abundance and auspiciousness.

Through the blessing of attaining to the three bodies of the Buddha, through the blessing of the truth of unchanging dharmata, and through the blessing of the unceasing aspirations of the sangha, may all our prayers be also accomplished.

We prostrate to the Three Jewels. Teyata Pentsan Driya Awa Bhodhanaye Soha.
We prostrate to the three jewels. Namo Manjushriye. Namo Sushriye. Namo Utama Shriye Soha.

This prayer was composed by the renowned buddhist teacher Karma Chagme. Since this original composition was drawn from the sutras of the Buddha Sakyamuni, no transmission for reading this prayer is required.

[This rough translation to English of this magnificent prayer is offered as a basis for others to read, take to heart, copy and distribute with their glorious intention to benefit others; and specifically that all – wishing to make connections to buddha Amitabha and aspiring to be reborn in Sukhavati – may make the efforts to gather the 4 causes and so reap the experience and joy of rebirth in this wondrous land of bliss.  With apologies for imperfections!  Karma Zhisil Drayang.]

12
May

On Chod and the demons of silent destitution and slave burial grounds…

In the quest to explore Chod sites in New York City, I came across a unique place; a site with a long varied history as a slave burial ground, the site of legendary street battles of the late 19th century gang The Bowery Boys, a crossroads for the homeless, and now the site of recent gentrification and the boutique galleries, nightclubs and restaurants that follow.  Unknown to many, the very earth that supports Bowery Mission, The Salvation Army, the famous/infamous Sunshine Hotel and a variety of other SROs and temporary housing for the homeless once held the remains of hundreds of slaves.  Indeed, during the excavation for the foundation of the New Museum, the remains of a number of these forgotten people, nameless and homeless, had been unearthed.  This area is memorialized by the M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden (pictured above) in Sara D. Roosevelt Park which has been built on the eastern portion of the former burial ground.

I’ve wanted to practice Chod here for a while with the specific goal of dedicating the offering of my body to all of the local spirits and protectors of these specific four square blocks.  Anyone who has spent anytime on Rivington or Stanton Streets between the Bowery and Forsyth Street can attest to the intensity of the place.  People in various states of suffering wander across this area; they struggle with the demons of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, domestic abuse and many other terrible sufferings.  In a way these people resemble zombies; they are here, but they are living within another world, possessed by intense feelings that may keep them somewhere between the everyday world and one of pain and terror.  Whats worse, these people are invisible to most who walk by them; they are disregarded and ignored, their suffering is easily explained away or rationalized by sophisticated social theories that diminish and abstract their pain, their suffering, and their deep-rooted desire to escape the pain they feel.

I cannot seem to separate the fact that these few square blocks have been so intense, home to so much destitution and violence (inner, outer and secret), and that this area was once a slave burial ground.  It does make sense though.  It’s easy for me to feel open to the anger and rage, the numbness and depression, and the chaotic reaction that qualitatively remains in this area; it feels powerful, and it feels very interwoven with the very brick and mortar, the cast iron and wood, and the glass and tar that make up all of the structures that have been constructed over this site.

When visualizing the local gods and demons approaching the offerings that I was to make; enemies hostile to us, obstructing spirits who harm, demons who create disruptive conditions, the mara of the Lord of Death, and demons of the body, I summoned my own inner demons of anger and rage, of numbness and depression, and especially chaotic reaction. All of the feelings of what it means to be endlessly disrespected, tortured, enslaved, made fun of, spit on, beaten, and then ignored and disregarded perhaps even abstracted.  In my mind’s eye I visualized these demons and their attendant entourage rising above me, finally heard and seen, bringing the raw reality of what this place means, as well as it’s present constellation of past and present occurences, their interaction, and the momentum that has been created here.

As I sounded the kangling, a horn made of an old human femur bone, I invited these demons…   …it felt as if they were truly there.

This burial ground came into use after the one near city hall was closed in the late 1700’s.  That burial ground was re-discovered in 1991 during an excavation of a site that was going to be used for an office building for federal government offices; human remains were discovered and a larger study was done.  All building was halted and the site was designated a national landmark known as African Burial Ground.  I remember reading an article about some of what was found.  Much of it included bodies found in coffins shorter than the individuals who were placed within them.  Those who were buried there had their legs broken so that they would fit into more conveniently sized coffins.  In a very real way, an act like this, seems like it would easily anger the consciousness of someone who had recently died.  Indeed, in most Buddhist traditions, it is suggested that if possible, the body of someone who has just died should be left for three days (if that is possible).  What happens if some people were to come and break your legs to fit you into a cheaper box?  It seems like a final indignity; other than being completely forgotten, which subsequently happened.  Perhaps the trajectory of such a hard life, the habitual mistreatment and pain, complete disrespect and deliberate torture can remain, a psycho-physical ruin, and crumbling landmark that can be felt by those a century later?

Last summer a Tibetan monk friend of mine was telling me of a place near to where he was raised in Tibet where a family was brutally murdered.  The place, so he said, became a place where misfortune befell may other people.  It became a place to avoid, a place to fear, a place of dread.  Needless to say, he never went to that place, but in performing Chod, these are great places to visit.  Places of fear and horror are ideal places to make offerings to the beings who reside there.  It’s a way to touch those same beings with us.

There are many stories of chodpas (people who practice chod) who are able to completely pacify the local god or demons who live in such sites.  Perhaps that can only be done by pacifying those same demons within ourselves; within the same psycho-physical matrix of our being.

It may be that the only way that we can pacify these demons, especially the ones encountered on Rivington and Stanton streets, is through knowing our own urine soaked alleys of destitution, our sense of deep emotional pain of addiction and neglect, of how it feels to be belittled and ignored, beaten and left behind, an insignificant ghost of anonymity.  Perhaps it is only in making offerings of compassion and joy to these haggard aspects of ourselves, witnessing and honoring them, allowing them to come to the ganachakra of appearance, that we can bathe them, clothe them, and see that they are no different from any other aspect of the misapprehended notions of who we are.

With that said, I would like to close with a passage from a related text:

Until full awakening, I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the supreme assembly.  To accomplish completely the benefit for myself and others, I give rise to the mind of awakening.  Once this supreme bodhicitta has arisen, I invite all beings to be my guests.  I will engage in the pleasing and supreme conduct of a bodhisattva.  To benefit all living beings, may I attain awakening.  Just as the protectors of the three times gave rise to unsurpassable bodhicitta, which surely brings about perfect awakening, I will generate genuine bodhicitta.  All that is generated I will remember.  All that is remembered, I will make vast.

Emaho!