December 20th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
Here is a photo of the shrine room from my seat on Friday. As you can see, His Eminence is reading aloud a section of the text. I think it was the history of a particular transmission. This comes at the start of every abhisheka. To his right you can see Jigme Rinpoche. Behind Jigme Rinpoche are many members of the Ripa family.
To His Eminence’s right one can see Lhuntrul Rinpoche and his sister, Khandro Tseyang. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is unfortunately behind the column, but you can see the back of his low seat. You can also see the some of the implements the choppons are using. They are tied to the column: white scarves used to carry implements back and forth from the shrine and the dignified yellow hat worn by an ordained choppon when wafting incense. The red curtains can be pulled along strings to conceal or reveal the shrine mandala during the ceremonies.
In front of the column you can see a standing black Bose speaker. The sound system here is incredibly good and especially intense if Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is playing a bell next to the dual microphone set-up. Those of you from Halifax may recognize the hair of Anky Aarts on the bottom left.
December 20th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
The first time I visited the Potala Palace of Dalai Lamas in Lhasa I didn’t know much Buddhist history. I was surprised to see a long shrine hall in the Potala devoted to large statues of Padmasambhava and his eight main teachers—the space looked so Nyingma rather than Gelugpa (the school of the Dalai Lamas where there is not so much emphasis on Padmasambhava). That was when learned there were other Dalai Lamas besides the current Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tendzin Gyatso, who had had strong connection with the Nyingma School.
Today we had an empowerment for a pure vision revealed by the 5th Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso. He was born in 1617 and was said to be the enlightened activity of King Trisong Detsen as well as being the embodiment of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. At twenty-one he took full ordination and was already extremely learned having mastered the classical curriculum. He studied impartially with masters in many traditions including the Nyingma. The Fifth Dalai Lama had disciples from all four schools of Buddhism.
There had been prophecies that the fifth Dalai Lama would find both termas and pure visions. He visited Samye, the first monastery in Tibet and the auspicious circumstances were there for him to find termas, but the conditions didn’t mature so that he did not reveal any. However, later on he had visions and empowerments from the three roots, and he wrote these down with his own commentaries in a book called The Twenty-Five Sealed Pure Visions. Several of these practices are included in the Rinchen Terzo and today’s Bringing The Essential Power of Amitayus was the first. Amitayus is the buddha who confers long life.
The Fifth Dalai Lama is known for a great many political achievements. He built the Potala Palace, one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen. The Mongol Gushri Khan took over most of Tibet and then gave all the civil and religious property to the Fifth Dalai Lama. Later the Dalai Lama went to Beijiing where the emperor venerated him and began a patron-priest relationship. The Fifth Dalai Lama ruled both Tibet and the neighboring region of Kham according to civil and religious law.
In 1682, Dalai Lama Lozang Gyamtso passed away at the age of sixty-one, and his next incarnation took birth in a family descended from the terton Pema Lingpa. Though not included in the Rinchen Terdzo the Sixth Dalai Lama is very well known for his poetry. In fact, the manager of our guesthouse was reading some to us two nights ago. The Sixth Dalai Lama was only Dalai Lama who was not a monastic. He had many girlfriends in Lhasa and was fond of chang, Tibetan beer. His love poetry mixes devotion, dharma and longing much in the style of the poetry of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
The present Dalai Lama has, we learned at tea during the empowerments the other day, has accepted the invitation to come and formally open Ripa Monastery. It is difficult to say if this will actually happen because His Holiness saying he’d like to come is different from his actually being able to come. He has so many obligations and requests from all over the world. I think all the Tibetan community here is hoping mightily he will come as are we Westerners. The other day we added an especially lengthy prayer for the activity and longevity prayer of His Holiness.
By the way, last night I noticed many of the littlest monks here have already memorized the chant for the Sakyong’s longevity written by Namkha Drimed Rinpoche . This was something I found both inspiring and amusingly embarrassing as most of these monks are as tall standing as I am sitting.
December 19th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
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.
December 19th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
December 18th Part One
Yesterday a big change happened in the shrine room. Another wave of the Ripa family arrived and the available space in the dignitary seating area on His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s side left overflowed. This made things more difficult for the choppons and so today we found the Sakyong, the Sakyong Wangmo and Lhuntrul Rinpoche to the right side of Namkha Rinpoche’s throne. Along with this it was decided that the main recipients should come to Namkha Rinpoche’s right rather than left side because it is easier for His Eminence. This means that westerners who are seated shrine right now have a clear view of the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche and so forth when they are receiving things from Namkha Rinpoche.
In elaborate abhishekas like the ones we are receiving one is doing one’s best to visualize many things in succession. Often it is hard to keep up because we don’t know the Tibetan, and Namkha Rinpoche will speak very quickly. But even without the hearing the words, knowing the structure of events allows one to keep up here and there. For example, early on in every abhisheka one retakes the refuge vows, the commitments to the Buddha as teacher and example, the dharma as the path and the sangha as the community on the path.
Usually I let the main recipients ‘go first’ mentally when Namkha Rinpoche is offering something that people must get in a line for. I wait for all the main recipients, the Sakyong and so forth, to receive an icon symbolizing whatever aspect of wisdom is being emphasized and I do the corresponding visualization. This has seemed a way to go about things.
But yesterday, as soon as I could see how the Sakyong was actually receiving things, my outlook changed. I don’t know exactly triggered the change, but I began to notice the Sakyong in the role of a student rather than a teacher. His body and actions were those of someone completely attentive and humble in the presence of Namkha Rinpoche. He really was soaking everything in, becoming an empty vessel to ready to receive. He was very soft and gentle while being alert and strong.
As I watched, I saw in his motions a lot about relaxation and devotion. It became clearer to me that while I am lucky enough to receive these empowerments, I also here to witness the Sakyong. Seeing him receive the teachings, how he receives them, I was shown a lot about myself—where in contrast I am held back, how I could open more. I feel a bit weepy writing this because I feel like watching the Sakyong enabled me to drop some of my ambition and my heart has relaxed.
In the evening a friend mentioned she thought a blog entry about the Sakyong as a student would be great. She described what she saw in earlier days when the Sakyong sat on the other side of the throne. It was impressive to her how the Sakyong conducted himself when he was seated. While on his cushion near the bottom of the throne, the Sakyong has been closely watching His Eminence, attentively listening and reading his texts in order to keep up. I feel really fortunate to this side of him.
By the way, there is a lot of humor on dais by the throne. Namkha Drimed Rinpoche will start chuckling at the occasional soft-shouldered collision in everyone’s efforts to quickly and smoothly get to his side for an icon to be placed on the head. The Sakyong regularly seems to be checking in on his students in the assembly and often sends one or another of us a smile or some raised eyebrows. Yesterday while standing beside his Eminence, the Sakyong noticed I was perking up my posture a bit and he playfully mimicked this by poking up his head and neck while briefly moving his eyes like he looking at the sky. We both laughed.
December 17th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
Today we continued with the empowerments for practices related to the inner guru. Before I got to Orissa, I thought these practices would all be guru yogas—meditations where one visualizes the form of the teacher, such as Padmasambhava , and supplicates them for blessings. Such practices help increase the stability of the mind, along with opening one up to the qualities of the teacher, which in turn brings out one’s natural appreciation and devotion.
However, I have been surprised to see how many practices in the guru section of the Rinchen Terdzo are not guru yogas. There have been many yidam and protector practices bestowed on us within this section as well. Last night I learned that in these cases the yidam practices are written from the point of view of guru yoga; here the yidam is considered expressly as an aspect of Padmasambhava. Thus, the mantras for the yidams all have the mantras of Padmasambhava woven into them.
I’m starting to realize that the ordering of the Rinchen Terdzo isn’t simply a big list or a bunch of bins to pick things out from. The ordering of the entire treasury of empowerments, pointing out instructions, and reading transmissions is in itself a major teaching on the evolution of how to practice, moving from the most important thing, the teacher, and going out to the practices which rely more and more on confidence in one’s own buddha nature, or basic goodness, and finally into practices that recognize goodness as being immovably present in the world. I think this is another reason why giving and receiving the transmissions of the Rinchen Terdzo is such a big deal for lineage holders. It is a direct and subtle, deep and wide-ranging presentation of the path.
When I reflect on this and some conversations I have had with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche here in Orissa, I can better see why he is receiving the Rinchen Terdzo. While he is very much a part of our Western heritage, he is also a part of the East’s. Even without his recognition as the rebirth of Mipham, one of the most important lamas in the Nyingma lineage, he is the son and lineage heir of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It was inevitable that the Sakyong return to Surmang Monastery, his father’s seat in Tibet and begin to offer whatever is necessary for the people there in his role as a traditional teacher; the hopes and expectations of him are very great. By receiving the Rinchen Terdzo, the Sakyong will be able to give whatever transmissions are requested of him when he is in Asia, and people will have confidence in him based on knowing that he upholds all the lineages of the Rinchen Terdzo.
For the West (and the East), the Sakyong is receiving a big part of what made his father who he was. In Born In Tibet Trungpa Rinpoche explains that the Rinchen Terdzo contains all the wisdom his guru received from the 10th Trungpa. Somehow the last living person able to pass that lineage on to the Sakyong is doing that here in Orissa today. For the Sakong this is a chance to absorb more of what made the Vidyadhara who he was in order to pass that on both to his students and to the next Sakyong.
December 16th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
A month or so before flying to India I heard that the something one needs at the Rinchen Terdzo besides the master giving the empowerments, the students receiving them, texts, shrines and so on is a good choppon. A choppon is a master of offerings. This person brings object from the shrine to the teacher and then from the teacher to the students. For example, the very first part of an empowerment is a symbolic purification of the students as they enter the environment. This is done through the recitation of a mantra and drinking water from a vase which symbolizes Vajrasattva, the buddha associated with purity as well as being the unity of all the buddhas. The choppon with take the vase around to the general assembly after the teacher gives some water to the main recipients and the choppon too. The choppon also takes care of the offerings on the shrine, replenishes the incense and so on. The Rinchen Terdzo is so complicated, changing shrines and icons so often, that eight choppons are needed here, one of whom is in charge of keeping track of where we are in the text.
Today we continued receiving abhishekas for the inner practices of the guru. I must confess that a huge computer malfunction severely slowed writing and preparations these last days and contributed to the effect of feeling totally lost about what was going on. This was inevitable given the complexity of things, I just didn’t know when we’d first get off track. Patricia and I got lost somewhere between today’s abhishekas having many unlisted sub-abhishekas and the fact that two of our empowerment lists didn’t agree. I recall a story Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche told a few years ago. He was attending a long series of empowerments given by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The Sakyong said the entire front row of lamas became lost about what part of the text they were in. They asked the choppon who looked at them and said he didn’t know either. This meant that the only person who knew what was going on was Khyentse Rinpoche. [Fortunately, the main thing at an empowerment is to see the teacher as the Buddha, relax and follow the teacher’s instructions about what to do next.]
Sometimes it seems like that we have that situation here when Kunam, the choppon in charge of the text, sorts through the various sections of an empowerment to find the right line for His Eminence to jump to. Tibetan pagination is not like English and often a text will say, ‘Finish as before’ or something like that. So you’ve got to be on the ball. His Eminence seems completely on the ball, but in need of more hands to keep up with what all that needs to be done. A few times each day he is will be directing choppons who’ve fallen behind in bringing this or that vase or icon. Overall the choppons are doing an amazing job, continually helping each other, and with great respect for His Eminence. Their sense of humor and light touch is evident as is their incredible precision about what needs to be done and, most importantly, when it needs to happen.
Within the section of the text that presents abhishekas for the inner practice of the guru, we have now reached the nirmanakaya guru, the aspect that is more focused on compassion. Tomorrow night the western students are hoping to have our first (of many, we think) briefing meeting with Jigme Rinpoche. It was supposed to happen tonight, but the abhishekas lasted two hours longer than expected—that is to say we went from one in the afternoon to eight at night.
December 16th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
December 12 – 14th
[Sorry to have been gone for a bit. There have been technical difficulties in the West and and the East.]
Over the past few days have passed through more of the empowerments in the Rinchen Terdzo related to practices of the guru. As I explained earlier, the first of the three roots, the root of blessings, is the guru. There are three types of practices here—outer practices which are generally supplications to the historical figure of Padmasambhava. We had one abhisheka only relating to this section, one from Chogyur Lingpa. The other two of the three groups are inner forms of the guru which are peaceful, and secret practices which are the wrathful form of compassion.
One of the abhishekas from this section was related to The Seven Chapters. Last night I noticed it is in the Ripa Monastery Chant book. The monastery found several new copies for the Tibetan reading westerners to share and we got them yesterday. There are about seventy or eighty chants in the book, and what’s chanted changes every day, so we have to set about the task of getting pointers from young monks. Generally at the end of the day there are supplications for the long life of the teachers. These include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche and so on. Prayers for the longevity of His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche happen throughout the day.
The other type of chant we do at the end of the day is an aspiration . Chants like these express wishes for the well being of everyone both in life and at the time of death, for the strength and spread of the teachings, for health and harmony for all communities, good weather, healthy crops, etc. In short, this kind of chant is for everything possible to go well. One chant we do often is The King Of Aspirations, The Aspiration For Noble Excellent Conduct, the first ten verses of which are included in the Vajrayogini Sadhana.
The chanting speed here is really, really fast. Only one or two of the Tibetan speakers in our group can keep up with the monks verbally. Most everything is in meter and with someone clicking the side of a muffled hand bell to keep up the pace. The Tibetan language is quite terse as well, so even if you can keep up, keeping up with the meaning is another matter. It’s kind of challenge and my goal is to shoot for the first two to four syllables of a line and then move on. The best approach in my experience is memorization. I am not sure many of the English speaking Tibetans would fare much better in the West chanting with us racing through our own liturgies.
After the empowerment related to the outer guru practices, we moved to the inner practices, those more related to the guru from the inner point of view. Traditionally ‘inner’ is said to be what we can feel physically or internally as opposed to an experience everyone shares. For example, I feel my indigestion; nobody else does because it is an inner experience. With respect to these type of practices, we are not talking about a vague emotionalism like ‘I feel very good about so and so,’ but instead we are talking about meditations that help develop confidence that the wisdom and sanity of the teacher is also at the core of one’s own being. These particular practices get divided into three areas of emphasis—the three kayas. This is a big topic, but suffice it to say that some of the empowerments bring out the essence, the ultimate aspect of emptiness as the inner teacher; others bring out the aspect of the luminous nature of this essence, and the third group emphasizes the compassionate display of the guru. Empowerments for this latter group will continue for some days.
On the 13th, in middle of the afternoon there was a sudden commotion on the veranda. No inside one knew what it was and the whole room hushed a bit. Usually the only cause for a wave of quiet is Namkha Drimed Rinpoche coming to a moment of meditation in the text. But this time even His Eminence was quiet and everyone was slowly shifting around to look. For a moment I wondered if someone had died or had a seizure. After about 10 seconds of staring to adjust to the bright light outside the building I could see that there was growing wave of movement outside. People were getting up. There was a swarm of bees sweeping through the crowd on the porch and very quickly everyone began running in the shrine room with doors were being slammed everywhere. Total pandemonium! Namkha Drimed Rinpoche started to laugh quite heartily. The adventure with the bees continued through the afternoon until a sensible Tibetan layman filled a censer with lots of broken incense and made a big smoky offering to wave around the porch.
During these days Jigme Rinpoche wrote a long letter to be sent out to the Ripa sangha and this will be posted on this blog shortly. Helping type this letter I was called to the shrine room a few times and brought up on stage to sit beside Jigme Rinpoche to review the text during the morning lungs. If you haven’t guessed by now, it is sometimes a bit boring in the shrine room and any unusual events in the empowerments—related or not—rapidly get the attention of everyone in the room. The close inspection by the Tibetans, particularly the lay Tibetans when I have to weave through there groups to get to a meeting, makes me realize they are trying to figure the westerners out just as we are trying to make sense of them. In many ways our cultures as well as approaches to practice are quite different.
December 13th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
This event is a sort of massive group retreat. It has turned out many of the westerners are attending the lungs as opposed to doing their own practice in the mornings. People start the day in the shrine room at six-thirty in the morning and listen to the reading transmissions until eight o’clock breakfast. Ideally one is silent during the lungs letting the words pour inside. For the most part, attending a reading transmission is sitting meditation with an emphasis on resting the mind on sound. Although it is hard for the younger monks to stay silent I have notice that a large proportion of the older Tibetans in the back are quiet during the day.
At eight o’clock there is breakfast and the lungs continue on for another three hours. In a group retreat like dathun or on solitary retreat this would be the second session. There is another hour’s break for lunch at noon. These breaks are tightly timed and it is inspiring and entertaining to see hundreds of us running around to stay in sync.
His Eminence enters the main shrine room at one o’clock. Traditionally the appearance of a major teacher is heralded by gyalings, shrill Tibetan horns. These have become a last moment’s warning for the rest of us to get to the main temple. Namkha Drimed Rinpoche then gives the abhishekas until six or six-thirty, five and a half hours with a ten to fifteen minute break somewhere after four. There’s a tea just before the break, but His Eminence is usually continuing the initiations in some way during this time.
So, that works out to about ten hours a day in the shrine room for the general populace. A group of older monks performs a practice called chod after dinner while the Rinpoches continue with meetings and audiences and the rest of us sometimes collapse in bed.
Namkha Drimed Rinpoche has a different schedule that the all the rest of us. He starts his preliminary rituals at four in the morning and is in the shrine room until dinner, stopping only a short while for meals. Occasionally I am reflecting on the question of what I will be able to accomplish at the age of seventy. His Eminence’s devotion to the Rinchen Terdzo is palpable, as is the strength of his focus on Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche throughout the day.
Looking at Trungpa Rinpoche’s account of the first time he gave the Rinchen Terdzo, around 1954 in Tibet, I see that he had a different style of giving the transmission. Much to my surprise everyone started listening to the lungs at 2:30 AM. This is four hours earlier than we are doing it today.
Instead of giving the empowerments all in one batch (which I suspect saves a bit of time) Trungpa Rinpoche gave them at four different times during the day, twice in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening starting at six. In between those times I am guessing the Vidyadhara was doing the preliminary ritual practices necessary to offer the subsequent empowerments. He started his morning at 4:30, half an hour later than Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is. It is amazing to think that Trungpa Rinpoche was only 14 at this time in his life. In the West he’d have been a 9th or 10th grader.
December 12th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
December 12th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
Christoph Schoenherr, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s aide de camp, has taken some very fine photographs of the events here in Orissa. The photos preceding this post were taken at Rinpoche’s arrival and during the first day of empowerments. They will give a glimpse of the Tibetan community coming to the lungs and empowerments every day, twelve hours a day.
The main shrine room is for the most part full of monastics. The twenty or so westerners have their places off to shrine right, near the empowerment shrines. The very back of the room, the veranda and the porches outside the windows on both sides hold large numbers of Tibetans camped out for the day on blankets and small carpets. It is striking how similar it looks to the areas Tibet I have travelled to in recent years.
Some of the lay attendees are old enough to have walked out of Tibet on foot, and some of them will stick out their tongue a little when they see me. This is a Tibetan gesture that means one’s tongue is not black, one is genuine. This reminds me of Eastern Tibet and Surmang, Trungpa Rinpoche’s monastery, where I lived for a month ten years ago. Many of the older group seem poor in what they own while happy in spirit at the same time. The day before the events began some of the Shambhala students had tea with Kaling, Khandro Tseyang’s attendant. Several of her relatives had arrived, coming one or more day’s journey to be at the Rinchen Terdzo. Some went off to visit a stupa in a nearby camp, a mini pilgrimage before things got started.
The Tibet settlement here is about fifty years old. There are five different camps that hold around 3,000 people altogether. Because it is winter some of the residents have gone to sell sweaters in South India. This is an echo of the seasonal nomadic work that happens in Tibet. Apart from the heat, vegetation, tribes living in the area and the Hindus visiting the temple now and again, this is one of the more Tibetan environments I have visited in India. I think this is due to the isolation; there’s no tourism.
When the Tibetans started arriving in India in the late 1950s they were given 20 parcels of land by the Indian government. These became the settlements for the community in exile. His Eminence Namkha Drime Rinpoche took this place site unseen and founded the settlement in 1963 with about 500 people. He came with his students and their families from Kham and Pema Khod. They had to build everything from the ground up. At that time it was a jungle with wild animals including elephants and tigers.
Now the forests are cleared but the short, steeply rounded hills on our flat plateau are green with trees. Birds sing throughout the day and sometimes fly through the guesthouse. The three or four streets closest to the monastery are paved, although for the most part the roads are a bit bumpy. After the teachings a small army of battered motorcycles and jeeps gear up to take those who are not on foot people back to where they will spend the night. People from out of town sleep in the homes of friends or family living in one of the camps in the settlement.