Rinchen Terdzo

The Three Roots

December 12th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Today we continued the series of empowerments that relate to sadhanas combining three roots combined into one deity. Later we will have empowerments related to each of the three roots individually. The three roots are the guru, the yidam or meditational deity, and the dakini or protector. In the Nyingma school the third root is the dakini. In the Kagyu school the third root is the protector or dharmapala. The Rinchen Terdzo has sections for each one later on in the text.

In the tantric approach of relating to a teacher, the guru is the root of blessings.  Wisdom in the Buddhist tradition is transmitted from person to person. The teacher is someone who has already walked the path and thus knows mind and the world from top to bottom. Having done that, the teacher possesses an enormous amount of understanding, ability and compassion for others. From that perspective the teacher is the root of blessings. Without a person-to-person connection there is no way to move forward. Connecting with a fully realized being is the best way to move toward complete realization.

A yidam is a visualized deity that is an expression of one’s fully realized nature. There are hundreds of yidams presented in the Rinchen Terdzo. Visualizing a yidam is one of the many methods in vajrayana or tantric Buddhism to help our purify our perceptions of ourselves and the world. Usually we see the world in a somewhat limited way based strongly and unconsciously on our habits. For example, if there is someone we don’t like walking in our room, the gap between simply seeing someone without bias and seeing someone with dislike is almost non-existent. It happens so fast that our feeling of dislike and the person walking in the room don’t appear to be separate. This binding of basic perceptions, emotions and ideas about others can drive us into a lot of difficult situations without any rational judgment.

Training in the yidam is a way of separating neurotic habits from unbiased perception. In contrast to sitting while meditating on the breath there is a lot of color and excitement to this style of meditation initially. But gradually one comes to see that the visualized deity is an expression of one’s own natural sanity or basic goodness. It is a training that brings one back to earth, rather than an imaginary world. That coming back to earth may carry its own richness because of how strangely one’s perceptions had been coloring the world in the first place. The yidam is called the source of accomplishment. It accomplishes the basic sanity, kindness, ability and love that one recognizes in the guru.

The third root is the dakini or protector. Dakini is the name for feminine environmental energy that is inseparably bound with to wisdom. Dakinis are depicted iconographically in feminine form. Protectors can be either masculine or feminine.  Dakinis and protectors are the energy that both nurtures us and protects us from straying from the path. Like yidams, and ultimately speaking, the guru they are nothing more than our own mind. They are not external to us.

For me, the best example of protector was given by Trungpa Rinpoche in his teachings on mind training, teachings on developing compassion in through the mahayana tradition of lojong. He said the protectors speaking to you are like when one is totally involved in anger at a friend, and then accidentally slams a door on one’s own hand. It’s like that. We have environmental energy reminding us of wisdom and keeping us out of trouble all the time if we are willing to train ourselves to be open to the messages. Training in these kinds of practices helps open us up to that more and more. The sole aim of protector or dakini energy is to support beneficial activity. Therefore the dakinis and protectors are known as the root of activity.

The topic of the three roots is very detailed and subtle. Just as a good novel can present a tremendous wealth of detail and richness about the lives of its characters, so the teachings on the three roots present an amazing amount of detail and richness about our experience and the mind. The difference is that the tantric teachings are a living experience rooted in devotion to the teacher as the source of blessings. The teacher can then present us with the methods to progressively enter a more natural and open connection with the world. 

As for the empowerments we received today, were revealed by a terton named Shikpo Lingpa. I haven’t found out much about him yet. Some of the empowerments were for main practices, and some for branch practices such as a torma empowerment. It was a bit hard to tell what was what, and we were happy to learn that Jigme Rinpoche would like to start briefing the western students every few days about what is coming up.

Little Monks in Big Shrine Halls

December 11th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Little Monks In Big Shrine Halls

December 10th

For those of you who’ve never been to an empowerment outside of the west, it is a very different situation here. In the west, empowerments are usually given in quite contained situations, and the people who attend them are generally quiet and attentive. As I mentioned, here the shrine room is noisy, progressively more so as one goes back from the front rows where the distinguished meditators, teachers and the monastic and lay officials sit. It’s not uncommon to hear babies crying or watch young monks playing beside you.

In the midst of this chaos one is always struggling to keep one’s mind on the ball—what the teacher is doing. Today, from time to time I was not doing this and instead making a study of four young monks sitting beside me. They were cute and as we say in the west, goofing off. I don’t know what I would do at their age if school was cancelled for the one of the most important religious ceremonies possible—one that ran nearly 12 hours a day. I would probably be fooling around now and again like the four eight-or-somethings between me and the pillar.

What did I see? Well, first of all, if you take a loose bit of fabric from a ceremonial scarf and blow air underneath it, it floats around. Two or three people can play at this. Also, it can be exciting to bring a rock into the shrine room. Smooth rocks slide well on the black marble floor and add a bit of suspense because the noise may attract the master of discipline, an extremely genial looking monk who periodically walks between the rows and quietly stands behind people who tend to loose their attention.

Teatime is higher entertainment. One of the foursome was overlooked by the monks passing out the slightly sweet yellow bread rolls. This lead to a short period of distress which I relieved by calling for another roll. Also, if you do have a roll you can drop the whole thing in your cup of chai and it kind of looks like a grey sponge. I didn’t watch how this was actually consumed, but did notice the ground was slick with tea in front of another of the four.

Later my posture became a point of interest. There doesn’t seem to be much investment in posture for the younger monks these days, so someone sitting up straight, especially if they are 6’5” as I am becomes a major attention grabber. Imitating a straight back can make you turn red if you get caught. The smallest, cutest and most earnest of the lot was genuinely trying get into half lotus with me at the end of everything. He turned and gave me a wide, proud smile when he was able to accomplish it.

PS Other pastimes we’ve heard of include writing your entire name in leftover offering rice and tying the robes of neighboring monks together just before everyone has to stand up.




Monks Waiting During Empowerments

December 10th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Reflections, General Outline

December 10th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 9 2008

Sometimes I have been thinking one reason why the Rinchen Terdzo was so important to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was that he was able to immerse himself in all the practices and instructions of termas and pure visions deeply, for months at a time. It seems like some huge family tree that one enters and then lives in the essence of the life of every single person one is related to.  During an interview last week the Sakyong pointed out that the Vidyadhara was giving or receiving the Rinchen Terdzo for a large portion of his teenage life. There are times I have been looking at Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and seeing this event as a window into the life of the Vidyadhara and many, many teachers before him.

To give an overview again, there are three major sections to the Rinchen Terdzo. These are the history section, the instructions on how to set up and perform the Rinchen Terdzo, and then all the actual instructions. This latter part is the bulk of the text. By the way, you can find a complete outline in the back of Richard Baron’s translation of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Autobiography, and in the back of Tulku Thondup Rinpoche’s Hidden Teachings of Tibet.

Within the instruction section are three major groups, the Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga, also known as the three inner tantras. These three yogas are progressive presentations of mind and meditation with each one being more subtle and direct than the prior one. The biggest section of the Rinchen Terdzo is the Mahayoga section and within this are many major sadhanas, or liturgical practices which may be familiar to those who study the Nyingma school of Buddhism. 

Although each of the three inner tantras have aspects of the other two, Mahayoga concentrates the most on visualization practice, rituals and so forth. The Mahayoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo has two major parts with the tantra class coming first, followed by the instruction class which is very, very large. Yesterday I mistakenly said the tantra and sadhana classes were a part of the instruction section.

We will finish the empowerments connected with the tantra section this afternoon. These empowerments have mainly been connected with the practice of Vajrasattva and the hundred peaceful and wrathful deities, though there are other practices that were given, probably branch practices related to Vajrasattva and the hundred peaceful and wrathful deities.

The sadhana section is divided into two parts—the main sadhanas and the secondary rituals. Sadhana is sometimes translated as ‘means of attainment’. A sadhana is a liturgy combined with instructions that when practiced help one to confidently experience and stabilize a recognition of one’s true nature, basic goodness, things as they are. The sadhana section begins with practices related to the three roots. I’ll write more about them in the coming days.

The reading transmissions happening in the mornings are finishing the first overall section of the text, the live stories of Padmasambhava and the tertons. Today Tulku Lhungtrul Rinpoche begins the life stories of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye who compiled the Rinchen Terdzod, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo who travelled Tibet receiving many nearly-extinct terma lineages that came to be included in the collection, and Chogyur Dechen Lingpa, an amazing and extraordinary terton who discovered and revived many terma lineages and was a good friend as well as both student and teacher to Khyentse and Kongtrul.