This photo was taken Wednesday just before noon during the photo session at the end of the Dzogchen Retreat. The Ripas and Mukpos were having some family portraits taken after the monks and westerners were photographed with His Eminence, the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche and Lhuntrul Rinpoche. More photos to follow tomorrow…
December 30th 2008
Jigme Rinpoche gave a bit of an introduction to his talk last night by saying the wrathful guru practices are about getting into the hidden corners of the mind, places we don’t always look at, and he said this energy is unpredictable. As he talked about this and I considered my experience of late, I had to admit that my mental gossip for the last three days had been a bit wilder and more shocking than usual, as have my dreams. Two days ago I dreamed of being on my death-bed with sangha members practicing in my room. I was sad to be leaving this world and the memory of this dream lingered throughout the day and provoked me to open up more.
Today’s abhishekas were for Guru Trakpo and Dorje Trollo, two very wrathful forms of Padmasambhava. Dorje Trollo is a central feature of the Vidyadhara’s terma, The Sadhana of Mahamudra, discovered in Bhutan at Taktsang, the cave retreat place Padmasambhava practiced at before entering Tibet. Fans of this sadhana (practiced every new and full moon at Shambhala Centers everywhere) will be delighted to know that we said the mantra HUM HUM HUM a great many times during the day. One of the Dorje Trollo empowerments was written by the Fifth Dalai Lama whose name I am now fond of seeing on the daily empowerment lists.
It’s very busy here, so this is a very short entry. We are look forward to the day after tomorrow which will be a day off. However, what a day off will actually mean here is still a mystery.
December 29th, 2008
Here in Orissa there is an evolving question of how to be at the Rinchen Terdzo, how to receive these abhishekas day after day knowing it’s unlikely we’ll do many of these practices. The answer to the question is simple on one hand, but it has an interesting layer beneath the answer. The simple answer is just that His Eminence is passing on what he received from the Vidyadhara to the Sakyong. All one has to do is have devotion during the empowerments and fulfill the requirement a recitation requirement of 100,000 mantras of Padmasambhava, the guru who embodies all the gurus, and 100,000 mantras of Vajrasattva, the yidam who is the embodiment of all the yidams. One has opens one’s heart in the abhishekas, does the mantras and that’s that.
But telling oneself to have faith and do the mantras can seem a little naïve, especially when one is here for weeks on end. I suppose this is a combination of healthy western skepticism and being thrust deeper than usual into a Tibetan cultural context. The background to this is an instruction many of us in Shambhala have heard, “Don’t run after empowerments for practices you’ll never do.” Although this is a historic event and everyone attending has that reason to be there, we are still faced with how to place our minds without feeling somehow blind.
I don’t exactly know how to explain this, but it’s like I have been burning through the consequences of avoiding receiving lots of abhishekas. There is certainly a neurosis to going to lots of them, to hunting out teachers in a search for blessings. But at the same time, in sitting in the shrine room for more than three weeks and participating in well over 200 empowerments I have relaxed and opened my mind to the idea that there may be contexts when receiving a lot of abhishekas has more to offer than just a credential. Prior to coming here I had a frozen understanding of what this situation is about. There is more going on than just receiving a lot more practices.
The crux of this has to do with repetition and boredom. Whether sitting on a cushion, reciting a mantra, or struggling to memorize a text, the aim of repetition is to soften the mind and work it towards more openness along with better habits like patience and generosity. Abhishekas in the west are infrequent at least for me and I have not had the chance to relax into the experience for very long. At the Rinchen Terdzo abhishekas have become the norm and as a group we are hitting what the Vidyadhara called cool boredom. There is a phase of being bored where one gets past mental fidgeting and starts to genuinely sit and look at one’s world. Buddhist practice emphasizes repetition in order to provoke insight. I never would have thought this could apply to the process of abhisheka until coming here.
At this juncture I am making a connection with what it is during a dathun or when in retreat doing a daily liturgical practice with visualizations and mantras. Walking into monastery every day seems to be about thinking of the teacher, contemplating virtue and relaxing the mind much in the same way that I’ve experienced things in regular daily practice. Only here the practice session is very organic and participatory in terms of relating with a teacher. There is time to actively explore with what it means to be humble and open. It’s really wonderful to see the Sakyong doing this in the front of the room. Maybe all this description of slowing down doesn’t read like a big deal on paper, but personally speaking, this is a big deal.
The schedule of late has been quite tight with evening talks that sometimes take us close to 10 o’clock. Consequently it has been hard to write as much as usual. Last night’s talk was Jigme Rinpoche’s first about vajrayana topics and it turned out to be a real tour-de-force of useful information on view and practice. We have one final talk tomorrow night and the next night there will be a new year’s party at the Ripa family compound. We are wondering what a new year’s party at a monastery looks like. For the guests it will be a celebration with the Ripas and Mukpos along with a farewell party for the western students who’ve come for the Dzogchen Retreat.
We are still receiving the empowerments of wrathful forms of the guru, and the focus continues to be on the form of Padmasambhava known as Guru Trakpo. Soon we’ll shift to Dorje Trollo. In a day or so we’ll move to an entirely new section of the Rinchen Terdzo, the empowerments of the yidams and the famous grouping of them, the Eight Logos.
December 28th 2008
Today we began receiving the abhishekas for the secret practices of the wrathful guru. Secret can sometimes mean not ordinarily noticeable as opposed to a secret one hides from someone else. Compassion can manifest wrathfully if we disregard the peaceful messages of wakefulness. When Padmasambhava came to Nalanda to stop the black magicians who were threatening the monastery, he manifested in a wrathful form called The Lion’s Roar, Senge Dradrog. In this manifestation he is depicted as fiery red holding a vajra as a scepter and an iron scorpion. This kind of compassion works very directly with the difficult emotions like jealousy and greed. The heart of this kind of compassion is love and realization, but outwardly it is terrifying.
One of the cycles we received today was the inner practice of Guru Dragpo Tsal. A fresco of this deity is on the wall beside the westerners’ seating block. This terma was part of a cycle of guru practices revealed by Rigdzin Gokyi Demtru Chan. This terton’s name means something like ‘The man with the plume of vulture feathers.’ Rigdzin means Vidyadhara and denotes the complete realization of Dzogchen. He was born in 1337 and lived to the age of 71. His name comes from the fact that three vulture feathers grew out of the top of his head when he was 12 years old. Two more grew when he was in his mid-twenties. This was amazing to everyone and marked him as a particularly special terton; Padmasambhava’s crown has vulture feathers on its peak. He was the rebirth of one of Padmasambhava’s closest disciples.
Rigdzin Demtruchan (as he is also known) was the main author of what are called as the Northern Terma. Some termas are placed by location. This group is well known and comes from Northern Tibet whereas the earliest termas came from the South. Dudjom Rinpochem in his History of the Nyingma Lineage notes that the Northern Terma are like a minister who beneficially serves all of Tibet and Kham because the Northern Terma contains a complete collection of practices and teachings to care for a kingdom. These include rituals to increase the teachings, terminate the spread of infectious disease, control epidemics, pacify civil wars and so forth. In contains many ways to promote the happiness of Tibet also points out many hidden areas in Tibet where dharma practice can be particularly strong. Later in life he opened up sacred sites in Sikkhim as well.
Many of Rigdzin Demtruchan’s termas are well known. He wrote a three volume set of texts on Dzogchen which is regarded as one of the three highest transmissions of Dzogchen teachings in Tibet, the other two being the Longchen Nyingtig and the Nyingtig Yabshi. It is interesting to know that the reading transmissions from his sons, consort and disciples have all continued to the present day. Many of the practitioners of his lineage have achieved the rainbow body a sign of which can be that at death a person leaves no physical remains behind.
In the evening the Sakyong gave a very lively and useful talk to the western sangha. He started by telling everyone how he came to request the Rinchen Terdzo from His Eminence, the history of the Rinchen Terdzo with the Vidyadhara, and how things were going in general. After that he went on to give people a sense of how to be in this situation, three months of teachings in a difficult environment. From there he went on to discuss the relationship between view and practice in this context.
One poignant moment came in the middle of the talk came when the Sakyong said that what he admired most about the Vidyadhara was his courage. He said that the older generation of Tibetans, like His Eminence, have incredible strength and bravery. He encouraged us to develop those qualities in ourselves.
The most exciting moment in the talk was when the Sakyong was answering a question about communicating through symbolism. As he explained that it was possible to communicate with symbolism the elect abruptly cut out leaving us in pitch darkness. The dark room was filled with laughter. Everyone quieted down to hear the Sakyong continue to speak without a microphone. As he was saying that the various manifestations of the deities and other symbols were meant to communicate one primordial nature the lights came back on and an animal outside released a bizarre yelp. The room filled with surprised laughter.
December 27th 2008
Alan Goldstein and his wife Semo Palmo made an elaborate offering to the Buddha, Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara, His Eminence, the Sakyong and everyone else in the shrine room at tea today. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is a regular feature of life in the Tibetan community. Usually people give money to the monastics, but once in a while the donor also offers a nominal amount of money (maybe 30 rupies, enough for an egg roll and candy at the store, less than 75 cents in the West) to the western students. This is an interesting moment. One is forced to deal with one’s ideas about generosity, the sangha at large, monasticism, and having wealth all in a moment. Some people immediately want to give the money back, some are happy to make an offering later and buy a treat.
Several years ago I was on pilgrimage in Bodhgaya, practicing under the Bodhi tree a few days before His Holiness Karmapa’s first visit to the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. There is a steady stream of Buddhists from all forms of Buddhism along with Hindus and tourists rolling through there every day. At one point a large, poor Hindu family came by. It was clear they were Hindus because they devoutly walked counter-clockwise around the Bodhi tree. At the end of this procession was an older woman in a worn, faded yellow shawl. She saw me, placed a rupee in my lap and prostrated before me. I had two near simultaneous reactions. One was fear because I felt there was no way I could really help this person who would be in and out of my life in a moment. The other was non-verbal. The core of my heart involuntarily burst open with love. It was as though this moment itself was the real gift to me, and I have pondered it often.
It seems more common in Asia for practitioners to be supported through communal generosity. Many times I when have meditated a for a time at a holy place in Asia I have been given gifts by people I don’t know. I’d open my eyes after a visualization and find some fruit in front of me. At one site near Dharmasala people discovered I enjoyed bananas so I was given a bag of them every day before I started practicing. A very seasoned traveler once said to me that Asians understand karma far better than we do in the West. They know even a small gift or connection will nurture a link which will grow. In Tibet is very common to see pilgrims making aspirations and putting tiny amounts of money in front of every shrine possible in the larger monasteries. It’s a wonderful thing to make offerings to people and situations you may never see again because for both parties one is making a connection with goodness and kindness happening in the world.
Today the electricity was out for most of the morning, and this meant there was no printed list in Tibetan for the day’s upcoming abhishekas. Consequently one of the choppons asked us for the list of abhishekas. Patricia has started producing bi-lingual abhisheka lists for the Sakyong and the 60 or so westerners here. One or two copies circulate among our number throughout the afternoon while everyone keeps track of what’s going on.
We finished the main inner peaceful practices of the three kayas with an abhisheka combining them all into one and an abhisheka of Vajrayogini as the guru, and then moved to related auxiliary practices. These included several empowerments for sadhanas important teachers in various traditions, connecting them with Padmasambhava. These included practices of the second Karmapa, Virupa, Padampa Sangye, Maitriyogin and Dombipa. These five came from a terma cycle discovered by Rigdzin Mingyur Dorje, who was born at the end 16th century and passed away in 1607 at the age of 23. Yet in that short time he revealed 13 volumes of termas. 100’s of these were sky termas, objects and teachings found in space. A great many of his termas are in the Rinchen Terdzo. He was an amazing being and his own teacher wrote a biography of him.
In the evening we had a very detailed talk on the karma, the cause and result relationship of actions, from Tulku Kunchab Rinpoche, a nephew of His Eminence. Kunkyab Rinpoche is in his third year at Mindrolling Shedra in North India. He is one of the five main recipients of the Rinchen Terdzo, the others being Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche, Lhuntrul Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo Khandro Tseyang.
December 26th 2008
What follows is a short study of food at the Rinchen Terdzo. Yes, that’s today’s secular studies topic because it is the holidays. This study won’t be definitive because the cultural venues for the Rinchen Terdzo are broadening to outside the borders of Tibet. However, I am fairly certain that two things have remained constant: momos or Tibetan dumplings, and salted butter tea. We had the famous salted butter tea a couple of times at the start of the event, and since then we’ve had sweet tea with a bit of chai spice floating in the bottom of the cup now and then.
Another item that is always part of the Rinchen Terzo is torma—roasted ground barley flour mixed with butter and sugar to make a type of cake. This turns up now and again rolled into little balls that are distributed as part of the long life ceremonies. Other things we eat in the shrine room include the yellow sweet tea rolls that look like unsplit hamburger buns, and during the feast at the end of the day, cookies and a drop of blessed liquor that’s been mixed with a lot of orange soda.
Outside the shrine room culinary possibilities open up a tiny bit. There are rumors of chicken momos (and beer, generally off limits during the Rinchen Terdzo) at a small restaurant in settlement camp number three. Meat is not part of the monastery menu (free for the guests here), at the guesthouse or at the little shop behind the monastery run by a cheerful and energetic Tibetan man named Thonga and his family. The shop is like a restaurant and has momos and eggrolls (a thin bread wrapped around a fried egg and some vegetables with a special sauce, quite tasty and filling) along with more Indian fare, rice dhal and so forth. Thonga also sells candy, pens, paper, and soda to a steady stream of monks along with the Tibetans and Westerners here at the event. Occasionally a child (western or robed) is spotted wandering around with neon pink cotton candy.
At the guesthouse we enjoy Indian food with a lot of fresh vegetables, the occasional eggroll and momo, along with different kinds of eggs for breakfast. His Eminence said that the westerners should get a lot of fresh vegetables. These, with the exception of brocolli from Berampur, are organically grown at the settlement. We get a lot of okra which I am growing fond of, along with chapattis, the occasional ting-mo (steamed bread dumpling), and a great many styles of dhal with white rice. One vegetable I’ve not met before is the deep green kati which when sliced in half-moons looks like the back of a stegosaurus. The name means bitter which it certainly is. It’s easiest to get to know when well fried with something that turns it bright red.
I found another sangha member here, Siobhan Pathe, who’s come from Hamburg. I had not met her before, and she seemed suspiciously Shambhalian. There is a distinct flavor to Shambhala culture and community which is easy to spot in mixed sangha gatherings.
Today we nearly finished most of the remaining abhishekas related to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye’s terma about the Seven Line Supplication. These last abhishekas didn’t fit into the neat groups we had in the preceding days and were more eclectic. Several of them emphasized the union of Padmasambhava with specific groups of gurus (48, 50 or 108) or specific teachers like Shakya Shri or one of the root teachers for the Taksham Lineage, coincidentally the main lineage for the Ripa famil. Also we had the empowerments for the four additional forms of wrathful Padmasambhava.
The teachings with Lungpo Rinpoche in the event went into the famous eight freedoms and ten favorable circumstances or conditions. These point out one’s good fortune in being able to study the dharma by highlighting both what we need (a teacher, interest in the teacher, etc.) and circumstances that we don’t have but would have prevented study and practice (severe handicaps and so on.) Tomorrow his cousin Lungpo Kunkyab Rinpoche will talk about karma, the cause and effect relationship behind our actions. The Sakyong will teach the day after on ground, path and fruition.
Here are three photos related to the following post.
The five and nine manifestations of Padmasambhava can be seen in one large fresco, and the Wheel Of Life in a second. Shakyamuni Buddha’s statue, the center piece of the shrine room, is framed by the six other buddhas, the three preceeding buddhas of this age, and the three buddhas from the three prior kalpas.
December 25th Part Two
A belated Merry Christmas to you. Here’s how the fifty abhishekas related to the Seven Line Supplication have stacked up so far:
• 3 abhishekas of the three kayas
• 4 abhishekas of the four kayas
• 5 abhishekas of the five wisdoms
• 6 abhishekas of the six realms
• 7 abhishekas of the seven successive buddhas
• 9 abhishekas of the nine stages of the path (8 manifestations of the Padmasambhava and one more)
Kayas or bodies are a way of looking at the mind and manifestations of an awakened being, and the empowerments presented each of these separately. They kayas can be presented as three, four or more. The manifestations of Padmasambhava in relationship to the five wisdoms could be explained as the transformation of our five basic emotional energies or as the transformation the five elements (earth and so on plus space.)
The famous teaching diagram, the Wheel Of Life that is painted outside every monastery depicts our experiences as a cycle through six realms or manifestations of being. These are both outer and inner; heaven and hell really depend on us, not something external. These realms each contain a buddha, an opportunity to wake up in the midst of our various sufferings. These six realms also have a corresponding manifestation of Padmasambhava.
One very good thing to know about Padmasambhava is how he relates to Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha stated that eight years after his passing an enlightened teacher would come to teach the highest teachings and greatly benefit beings. The Buddha said Padmasambhava would be even more enlightened than he was, meaning that their realizations were equal but that Padmasambhava’s expression of enlightenment would be extraordinary. He called Padmasambhava ‘The Buddha Of Three Times.’ Another key point in the tradition is that while the Buddha primarily taught the hinayana and mahayana, Padmasambhava primarily taught the vajrayana or tantric teachings.
After those 18 abhishekas we moved to empowerments of the Padmasambhavas relating to the seven successive buddhas. Chogyur Lingpa had a vision that a buddha in this world would always be accompanied by a Padmasambhava. The seven buddhas are the three buddhas of the three previous world ages, the three prior buddhas of our own world age, or kalpa, plus Shakyamuni. His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche once explained a kalpa as the life cycle of a planet. I found this quite interesting and helpful.
Finally, we received nine abhishekas (putting us at 15 for the day, a new record) relating the famous eight manifestations of Padmasambhava plus himself as in the form of Yishin Norbu, The Wish Fulfilling Jewel, to the nine yanas. The eight manifestations connect with eight phases in Padmasambhava’s life and are chronicled quite experientially in Trungpa Rinpoche’s Crazy Wisdom.
Lhuntrul Rinpoche’s teachings this evening turned out to be on the nine yanas. The nine yanas are nine successive presentations of understanding and practice starting with achieving liberation for oneself alone and concluding with maha ati, the final path, the ultimate presentation the mind and how to realize things as they are, basic goodness.
Lhuntrul Rinpoche taught in Tibetan and was translated by a very knowledgeable Ripa sangha member from Minsk named Niccolas. He has a thick Russian accent. At times the layers of accents and languages filling the shrine room became pretty entertaining. Lhuntrul Rinpoche speaks with a soft and gentle voice beneath which lies a palpable eagerness to transmit the dharma. It was a treat to watch him starting to teach westerners. He was at once soft and peaceful backed by the power of a quick rising sun. The short talk covered the basic framework of the yanas and ended with some questions, mostly about the vajrayana vows or samayas, the commitments connected with receiving empowerments.