Turning a Corner

December 18th Part Two

Today was a major milestone. We received the empowerments of the Konchog Chidu, a set of abhishekas for practices of the guru, yidam and dakini discovered by the terton Jatson Nyingpo. This terma cycle is one of the most widely practiced in the Karma school while the Longchen Nyingtik is the terma cycle most widely practiced in the Nyingma.

When the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche passed into parinirvana in 1987, his cremation was lead by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It took many weeks to prepare for the ceremonies that were held at Karme Choling in Vermont. At that time there were about five hundred people living mostly in tents around the center and another 2500 came for the cremation itself. After the event Khyentse Rinpoche stayed at Karme Choling another ten days and started to teach on Dzogchen, the highest teachings in the Nyingma school of Buddhism, as well as give the abhishekas for the Konchog Chidu, the Longchen Nyingtik and Vajrakila, the most widely practiced yidam in the Nyingma.

These events seemed to be the start of a fulfillment of one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s remarks that Dzogchen would be taught at Karme Choling in the future. Today I felt like I experienced things, at least from the perspective of my life, coming into a new cycle. The events at Karme Choling that spring were pivotal. I was one of a handful of new students who were permitted to go to the empowerments at that time. I was so inspired by Khyentse Rinpoche’s presence and the importance of what he was giving that I abandoned my vacation to travel to Halifax and receive the empowerments from him again later in the summer. And here I am now in Orissa receiving the Konchog Chidu again.

Thinking ahead, in 1987 I kept all the empowerment descriptions from those weeks in my life, filing them away for future use. After a great deal of digging last September I found the papers again and brought them here. And so, this afternoon four of us were able to follow exactly what was happening in the empowerments (not included ten minutes of added stuff we determined was an extended empowerment to hold the lineage). Seeing things live and in print helped us make sense of a lot that had been happening earlier that we couldn’t keep up with. Also I was reminded of some bits of symbolism that I’d totally forgotten about, for example that a text symbolizes both the teaching and the empowerment to teach. This was a strong reminder of the importance of translation work for the future of Buddhism in the West.

Somehow the whole day was filled with unexpected understandings. In the earlier part of the afternoon we figured out the progression of the three section abhishekas—long, middling and short versions one after another—which happen in some of the terma cycles. These three-parters weren’t specifically mentioned in some of the empowerment lists produced by the monastery, so we were getting lost over and over again. This also made sense of why some Rinchen Terdzo descriptions say there are well over a thousand empowerments given, while the actual empowerment lists sometimes number around six hundred and forty.

In the end of the day we by a monk who had memorized the chants in the Ripa Monastery chant book and was able to get us to all the right pages at the right times. Up till today Patricia and I had been going bananas trying to navigate the sink-or-swim realities of practicing beside a sea of high-speed chanting adolescent and pre-adolescent monks who generally doesn’t speak English and are not always aware of what page we’re on. We left the shrine room with a fist full of post-its stuffed in our chant book—although beside knowing the Sakyong’s is number five of twenty we still have a bit of work to do.

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