Sunday, December 7th
On the third day of the empowerments, the room seems a bit more crowded. One of the yogis from the front row, a lama in his 40’s with a black ponytail, has brought a number of young nuns and some lay people with him to receive a blessing from His Eminence. The little train of nuns and lay people stood nervously to the side of the room when Namkha Drimed Rinpoche arrived, but they dissembled when they learned there was no chance to come see him until later, at the four o’clock tea break.
The tea is a big production. Everyone brings their own cups or bowls and after His Eminence and the rest of the dignitaries have been served, young monks move through the rows with large kettles (sometime nearly too heavy for them) pouring tea for everyone at the event.
On the first day, the tea was the famed Tibetan butter tea—tea with butter and salt. This is great at high altitudes and a bit strange down here in the 80-degree heat. However, the cook seems to go light on the butter. Day Two we had chai. The westerners were hoping for sweet chai throughout but Day Three throughout, today, the tea switched back to Tibetan butter tea.
Also at tea they have been serving some kind of yellow bread, slightly sweet like cake but shaped more like an uncut hamburger bun. Yesterday it had a dash of sweet mustard jam baked or inserted into it. A second wave of monks follows the tea monks handing these out from big baskets. Then we all wait until a pause in Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s activities and the whole assembly does a brief offering chant before having the tea. At least those who remember.
It was at this point the little troupe of nuns and lay people got to make a short connection with His Eminence. Everyone went up, one-by-one, to his throne with a khata, the traditional white scarf, and a small envelope containing a little bit of money. As I mentioned in the introduction, this style of offering seems to be about connection and participation. Active connecting is very much the way things are done in Tibetan culture. It was a relief to see the young nuns get their moment as they seemed quite nervous beforehand—not so different from us.
Another feature in the tea is the formal reading of the sponsorship for the tea, preceded by the aspirations of the sponsors. The din in the room does drop down a bit at this point as people pay attention to what their community is wishing for, who is being specifically practiced for the benefit of, and so on. Right now the sponsors seem to be people in the five Tibetan settlements. On top of the readings, today members of the group coming with the lama and his nuns gave each member of the monastic assembly a few rupies as a gift—presumably from the lama and his sangha.
After tea the group gets a ten-minute break which lasts exactly as long as ten minute breaks at teachings in the west.
This morning Dungse Lhuntrul Dechen Gyurme Rinpoche also known as Tulku Lhuntrul Rinpoche began the reading transmissions. These start in the morning at 6:30 sharp. Everything is pretty tightly timed to keep the events on track. Last night there was an announcement that there’d be an empowerment this morning so everyone is here, the lay community included though the crowd might have been a tiny bit thinner than last night. As it turned out there was no abhisheka, but a lot of reading.
His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche entered in and I expected him to take the throne center stage, but he went off to the right side of the room, behind a large red curtain that surrounds the shine being used for the empowerments. I realized that His Eminence has to do the liturgy for every meditation practice that he will bestow in the afternoon and that was why he has to be in the room during the lungs. His son, Tulku Lhuntrul Rinpoche soon took his own seat on a low throne placed in front of the (empty for the morning) main throne and started the reading transmissions after some brief remarks included an explanation of the three lineages of transmission through which he received the lungs himself. One of them, I heard, was from Tenga Rinpoche who gave the lungs several years ago when the previous Kalu Rinpoche was bestowing the Rinchen Terdzod.
Most mornings I will be working on the blog and practicing but today it seemed good to go and get the flavor of things is like. Just as the Sakyong offered the mandala for the wangs, the Sakyong Wangmo offered the mandala, the symbolic offering of one’s whole world, in order to receive the lungs, the reading transmissions. In the west we are used to making a formal offering like this with a tall arrangement of rice being piled during the liturgy describing all the very best things one could offer in order receive the teachings. Here we are using a permanent representation of that kind of offering, a round plate symbolizing the ground and upon it five golden heaps symbolizing the world and its inhabitants.
The lungs today are several life histories of Padmasambhava, the teacher who firmly established Buddhism in Tibet through his incredible yogic powers and insight, and also the stories of the lives of all the tertons. Padmasambhava is a very remarkable figure. He entered Tibet in the 7th century and is a great inspiration to many practitioners, particularly Tibetans because without him these teachings would not have survived to the present day. Padmasambhava planted the terma teachings in order that they be discovered at times when the dharma was weakening. And this event, the Rinchen Terdzod, is a kind of celebration of all the gathered termas as well as bringing them forward into the present.
December 6th 2008
The shrine room is huge and I am starting to relax and look around from our seat in the sea of monks and the murmurs and constant chatter of the lay community and children that spill out the back of the massive shrine room onto the veranda. I can’t tell you how ornate the space is—it is just so much color and symbolism. Photos and video as they come will help, and I hope they will start to convey something of how alive the wall-to-wall-to-ceiling frescos are, how vivid the huge statues make this space. Because the main temple has just been completed, everything sparkles, and because western construction methods have made the galleries and windows wide and open, there is so much light on everything.
As I start to relax in the shrine room the noise is what gets me. The front half of the room—the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche and so forth on back through a row of distinguished meditators and yogis, the khenpos and monastic officials, the local leaders off to one side of the temple near the front, the westerns on the other, and the older monks in between—that half of the shrine room is relatively silent. But the back half of the room, the rest of the four hundred monastics on to where many lay people sit, and on out to the veranda where a great many people camp on rugs with their children—this part of the room is a constant ocean of sound. Somehow all of this is some sort of strange organic whole. The noise of conversation, kids squealing, the occasional tin cup being dropped on the marble floor by a then startled young monk all is taken in stride thanks especially to a very good sound system booming out Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s powerful speech, occasionally punctuated by drums and the shrill unearthly harmonies of gyalings, the Tibetan trumpets. It’s more than most of us conceive of being able to deal with in the west at a talk or dathun, but as I said the front rows are silent and focused as are some older monks and lay people in the crowd.
December 5th 2008
Today the Rinchen Terdzo opened.
When the Rinchen Terdzo opened this afternoon at the monastery, the westerners were seated in their own section to the left of the monks as you face the shrine. There is a wide black marble stage and a high throne on which Namkha Drimed Rinpoche sits giving the initiations, or in Tibetan wang. To his left, seated on a very low seat is the Sakyong. And behind the Sakyong are the Ripas. Behind them, about 40 times bigger than life is the Buddha, Shakyamuni with golden hands large enough to hold any of us. To the Buddha’s left is a 1000 armed, white standing Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. To the left is Padmasambhava.
His Eminence entered with a procession of Tibetan horns followed by the Sakyong and the rest the dignitaries. Then His Eminence sat down and gave a brief explanation of the lineage of transmission of the Rinchen Terdzo from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye to himself. He also spoke about the auspiciousness of the situation for the monastery and lay community—that the monastery is about to open and at the same time it is hosting Rinchen Terdzo, the collection of all the main termas in the Nyingma lineage. There was much more said, but this is what I gathered from a friend who understands Tibetan.
The lineage to Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye to Sechen Gyaltsap who then passed it to Sechen Kongtrul who then gave the empowerments to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Then Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave the empowerments twice in his life. The second time he bestowed the Rinchen Terdzo he was eighteen. He offered it at Yak Gompa in Tibet. There were two principle recipients of the abhishekas, Yak Tulku Rinpoche and His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. This is an extraordinary coincidence. One could not hope for a better person to give the Rinchen Terdzo to the Sakyong other than the Vidhyadhara himself.
As it turns out, we are receiving the abhishekas almost immediately. There were two—or rather one and a half bestowed today. The first one was a Vajrasattva empowerment. Vajrasattva is known as the embodiment of all the deities, all the buddhas. And so this particular empowerment for a Vajrasattva practice discovered by the terton Minling Terchen was symbolically the start of the whole cycle of teachings, and one that contained them all.
The half abhisheka was a preliminary for a peaceful and wrathful deity practice by Karma Lingpa. Karma Lingpa is very famous for his book, the Tibetan Book of the Dead as it is known in English. The ‘half’ part is that one is preliminarily were one is blessed and obstacles are symbolically removed, and then the next day one returns for the next part of the empowerment ritual. Often with this kind of two-day empowerment one is asked to look at one’s dreams and see if there are any auspicious signs.
As we get settled, we’ll be posting a regular listing of the empowerments as well as an explanation of the structure of the Rinchen Terdzo. This will give a chance to understand more about how the dharma is transmitted in the vajrayana, and particularly in the Nyingma. This is one of the Sakyong’s wishes for this blog, that there is an on-going flow of information about what is happening here and how it pertains to the dharma and all of us.
Then there were several reading transmissions on such topics as Vajrasattva practice, completion stage practice, luminosity, dream and chod practice. All of this was in Tibetan, and all these instructions are very important within the Nyingma and other lineages. More to follow on the authors as well as the titles of the texts.