Rinchen Terdzo

Pema Lingpa, New Colors in the Shrine Room

January 6th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

January 5th 2009

The shrine room got even more color yesterday. Up till now I’d been wondering if they’d ever add a few hanging banners, or chöpen, to the decor. There is now, from ceiling to floor, a chöpen hanging on the outward facing side of each of the columns in the room. They are made from four rows of four-inch wide chevrons pointing downward in alternating colors of blue, white, yellow, red and green with matching tassels at the end of every chevron. At the back end of the space, hanging from the ceiling halfway to the floor near the doors to the shrine room, is a pair of long circular canopies in the same motif.

It’s all about color here, which is sort of funny because the shrine room is filled by monastics who wear the some colors every day out of tradition since the eighth century. That was when Tibet chose red as the main color for robes because it was warmer than the other possibilities presented in the monastic code from India. After the destruction of the monastic tradition by King Langdarma, full ordination was brought back to Tibet via a Chinese tradition which wears blue. And so you’ll see some monastics have a blue ribbing on the right shoulder of their formal shirts to represent the connection with the Chinese monastic lineage.

Today’s abhishekas continued into the section of the yidam sadhanas combining the eight logos. Kristine McCutcheon says that this section may have more complex abhishekas than the guru section. For example, the guru tormas are all sculpted on a set format, but the tormas for the yidams are all different. I was skeptical about the increased complexity when she told me this because a few of the empowerments in the guru section were very long. But today we had one empowerment last more than an hour; long enough to have most of us start asking each other, ‘Where are we?’

An empowerment lasting more than an hour is ‘long’ because His Eminence is reading at a fast pace with little explanation. The only people coming to the throne for the empowerments are the Sakyong and the other four principle recipients. The members of the Ripa family on the dais, the lamas and khenpos in the front rows, and the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama sitting at the wall near the lamas, all get the abhisheka items brought to them from one of the main recipients, but His Eminence doesn’t stop for that. He reads onwards. The rest of us receive everything at the end of the day when a line of rinpoches, lamas and khenpos walk through the crowd in a train brining the abhisheka items to every single one of us in a process that takes ten or fifteen minutes.

So, an abhisheka lasting more than an hour in this environment is a real attention grabber. That’s after a month when you’re really settled into things. By point of contrast I would say that reading through the longest, most complex English abhisheka text I know at a fast clip with no gaps would take no more than twenty minutes.

The last abhisheka of the day, The Extremely Secret Mirror of the Mind, came from a terma revealed by Pema Lingpa. Jigme Rinpoche, as many Ripa Sangha members will know, is a rebirth of a manifestation of Pema Lingpa, Gyeling Yonten Lhundrub Gyatso Rinpoche.

Pema Lingpa was born in Bhutan in 1450 and is the last of the five King Tertons. He found a great many termas in Bhutan showing how Padmasambhava had blessed that land alongside Tibet. He had an extraordinary childhood and would gather children to build stupas, and teach them the dharma. Sometimes he left impressions of his hands and feet in solid rock. He would listen to no one (a trait common to young reincarnate lamas notes Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in his autobiography) and earned the nickname, ‘Lord of what he wants.’ He recognized the alphabet without any training.

When he was 26 Pema Lingpa had already become a monk as per the will of his grandfather. At that age he actually saw Padmasambhava who gave him a list of 108 termas. Tertons usually receive such a list cataloging the termas they can find should the right conditions prevail. When Pema Lingpa was 27 he revealed his first terma from Lake Mebar witnessed by several people. He did this by entering the lake holding a lit candle in his hand and returned from under the water with the candle still lit and with a treasure chest under his arm. From this he revealed the first of his termas, Cycles of the Great Expanse of Great Perfection.

The story of how this first terma was initially presented is instructive because it shows how extraordinary tertons really are. The prophecy that went with the terma said it had to be explained in detail to a layperson, but Pema Lingpa didn’t know what to do because he’d never heard the melodies or seen the dances that go with the text, nor did he know how to explain it in detail. One night while worrying about this he dreamed of Padmasambhava’s consort, Yeshe Tsogyal who told him not to worry and showed him the dances of the dakinis that went with the text. He practiced these and showed them to his disciples. Every night during the twenty-one days of the initiations Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal would come to him in his dreams and explain both how perform the next part of the initiation and give him the next part of the exposition.

The list of the written termas revealed by Pema Lingpa is quite voluminous. He found jewels and many other items from the royal court at the time of King Trisong Detsen. He also revealed a temple that had been obscured from view that can still be visited in Bhutan. I can’t help thinking a temple is a very large thing to reveal, but the Dzogchen are bigger.

By the time of his passing, Pema Lingpa had only found about half of the termas on his list of 108. His son Dawa asked if he might try to find them, and Pema Lingpa replied that if Dawa kept his spiritual commitments and prayed to him one pointedly he might find some of the hidden teachings. This happened which I find quite amazing and interesting. The terma lineages and instructions from Pema Lingpa continue quite strongly to the present day.

Eye on the Shrine

January 5th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

January 4th 2009

The shrine room is a lonelier place with 30 guests gone after the Dzogchen Retreat. About the same number remains here with a few more scheduled to depart in the coming weeks. On the up side, there is a bit more space and it is easier to sit close to the front of the room. Today I sat in the front row of westerners for the first time, about eight feet from the huge empowerment shrine.

The shrine faces to the right as you look at it so that it is more oriented towards His Eminence’s seat on the throne. Usually one sees shrines directed outward, towards the assembly, but not so at the Rinchen Terdzo. We were asked not to get to close to the shrine until after the empowerments each day. I am not sure if this tradition has to do with more than making sure a crowd doesn’t jostle something, but today it was nice to be able to get a good look at things before all the implements and offerings had been distributed, and so forth.

As I mentioned before the shrine is about eight feet square. There’s a lower level at the perimeter for what we call the symbolic outer offerings. These are offerings of things in the perceivable outer world as opposed to an inwardly experienced offering like joy. And on the front of the shrine, that is to say the side closest to Eminence, there is a slightly lower table that is covered with offerings and implements, many for the daily token feast practice. Underneath that is are more offerings for things as needed. For example, at the end of the day the chopons take out a number of tea offerings in a long stemmed metal cups called a serkyem. So many of these are needed that the chopons refill the tea (perhaps it is saffron water) from a bucket below this table. Another item under the table is metal bowl with smoldering coals. The coals are occasionally to ignite pine resin which smells similar to frankincense.

In the middle of the outer offering level at the four sides of the shrine is a central group of five offerings that appear to be quite similar the five sense offerings on a Shambhala shrine right down to the mirror for sight and the fabric tied in a bow on a short stick as the offering of touch. Things change every day, so there is nothing definitive here. On the outside of those five, at the corners of the lowest level of the shrine, there is an ever-changing group of tormas and butter lamps. These seem to shift each day according to Jamgon Kongtrul’s instructions and they may also relate to the actual abhishekas given each day.

Above the shrine is an elaborate canopy mirroring the upper section of the palaces that the deities are said to reside in. This is pointing out, as does the abhisheka itself, the richness and power of our own mind. The elaboration of the symbolism is sometimes overwhelming. Tashi, the head chopon burst into laughter the other day when he explained that the following day’s abhisheka set up involved eighteen ritual vases, every single vase available at the monastery. It seems there are a great many subtleties going on with the Rinchen Terdzo. When the full tradition comes to the west there will be a great many interesting things to learn.

Eight of the nine of the abhishekas today were practices discovered by Nyangral Nyima Öser. Of those. three were for protector practices connected to the combined eight logos cycles he revealed. Sometimes the lay sangha is asked to leave the shrine room during protector practice empowerments. This is because some of the protector practices have a very strict commitment of daily practice. At a monastery daily practice is the norm and so it is easy to keep this commitment. The non-monastic sangha as a group is not able to keep such commitments and so people are asked to leave, though some people request to stay.

Today for some reason these empowerments opened up to those of us who have finished ngondro, a set of preliminary practices for a yidam. Ngondro usually requires 100,000 or more recitations of a mantra or short stanza as part of a series of meditations to help a student firmly establish a connection to the dharma and in particular to the vajrayana path. Even with long sessions of daily practice ngondro takes several months to complete. It was a treat to be in the shrine room for one of these sections of the Rinchen Terdzo. The doors to the veranda were closed. The room was markedly more attentive and almost completely silent.

Entering the Eight Logos

January 4th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

January 3rd 2009

After starting the day with familiar sound of Lhuntrul Rinpoche’s reading transmission filling the valley at 6:40 AM the Rinchen Terdzo slipped back into its familiar, intense and now somewhat comforting rhythm. I found myself reassured by His Eminence’s voice and energy during the abhishekas in the afternoon and toyed with the word ‘addictive’ for this blog entry. But, ‘right place at the right time’ seems the best way to put it.

Today we concluded a large section of the Rinchen Terdzo, the part of the collection devoted to the guru. We ended with several empowerments of Guru Dragpo and Dorje Trollo, wrathful forms of Padmasambhava. To put things in context, we are now in the mahayoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo, the largest part of the collection. It is a presentation of many styles of liturgical visualization practices consisting of hundreds of empowerments. There are four main divisions here: guru, yidam, dakini and protector. We are starting the yidam section which is broken into two major parts: the root sadhanas or liturgical practices that are the means to attain realization, and the auxiliary rituals, things like practices related to retreats feasts, and so on, as well as rituals devoted benefiting beings and the environment through the activities of pacifying, enriching, and so forth.

All the sadhanas of the yidam, or the root of attainment, are contained within a classification of deities known as the ka gye or eight logos. The eight logos are the overall catagorization of deities with the Nyingma system. The phrase ‘eight logos’ was coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In his book The Lion’s Roar he explains logos is the closest thing in the English language to the meaning of the Tibetan word ka, he and adds that ka can also mean ‘command’ or ‘language.’ The yidam section starts with practices the present the eight logos as a unit and then moves to individual presentations of each logos.

The last abhisheka of the day was a preliminary abhisheka for a practice called The Hundred Families of the Vajradhatu; the peaceful deities of the Union of the Sugatas from the Eight Logos. This terma was discovered by Nyangral Nyima Oser in the 12th century. He was born in 1136 and is known as the first of the five Terton Kings. This title refers to the fact that these tertons were all rebirths of King Trisong Detsen who established Buddhism in Tibet with Padmasambhava. This is of great significance because of the close relationship between the king and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava). The other Terton Kings are Guru Chokyi Wangchug, Dorje Lingpa, Pema Lingpa and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

From his childhood onwards Nyangral (pronounced nyang-ral) Nyima Oser had many visions. During a month of such experiences when he was only eight years old, he had a pure vision of receiving abhisheka from Guru Rinpoche who was seated on a horse being carried by four dakinis. The experience produced such a strong change in his conduct that afterwards everyone thought Nyangral Nyima Oser had gone insane. Such changes are not uncommon for tertons. There’s a famous story of Chogyur Lingpa in his youth getting out during a large dance performance at his monastery. He was severely reprimanded for doing this. During the lama dances Chogyur Lingpa had entered into a pure vision of lama dances with Guru Rinpoche and had followed the group dancing for Guru Rinpoche rather than the people at his monastery.

Later in his youth, Nyangral Nyima Oser’s father gave him the empowerment of Hayagriva, the wrathful aspect of Avalokitesvara. This practice is associated with the horse; the main principle of the practice is called the horse’s neigh. The three neighs of the horse destroy the body, speech and mind of Rudra, the personification of our deepest ego clinging. When Nyangral Nyima Oser practiced Hayagriva in a cave retreat the kila or ritual dagger, on his shrine actually neighed. At that time he had a vision of the deity and he left his foot and hand prints in solid rock.

Nyangral Nyima Oser discovered a large number of terma texts and objects that remain in his family line. From these there are about forty practices presented in the Rinchen Terdzo. The very first terma in the entire collection is a 240 page life story of Guru Rinpoche called the Kathang Zanglingma. The termas he discovered include practices of the peaceful and wrathful aspects of the guru, Avalokiteshvara, Mahakala and the dakini.

The practice we received the preliminary empowerment for today was discovered after Nyangral Nyima Oser looked inside the broken finger of an statue that had been given to him by a merchant. Inside the finger he found a list of two terma inventories which brought him to discover two chests of termas behind an image of Vairocana the great translator, one of Padmasabhava’s main disciples, in a temple in Southern Tibet. It is said that the original terma for the practice we started receiving today was hand written by the great translator Vairocana, a highly realized principal disciple of Padmasambhava) and Denma Tsemang for King Trisong Detsen’s personal use.

In his life Nyangral Nyima Oser demonstrated a great variety of miraculous abilities and lived until the age of 69. At the time of his passing there were many wondrous signs, in particular a white HRIH syllable emerged from his heart and went off in the direction of Sukhavati. At the cremation, his student Chak Lotsawa was unable to light the fire which then spontaneously lit itself. Inside the fire everyone could see a small boy surrounded by dakinis all chanting the mantra HA RI NI SA. Many extraordinary relics were found in the ashes

Since you’re probably wondering what the eight logos are I thought it best to give short list at the end of the blog. The eight logos fall into three groups. The first five are the transcendent group. They are related to the aspects of body, speech, mind, quality and activity. These are the five buddha families and the herukas for these, at least in their peaceful aspects, will be familiar to many of you. The last two of the logos are worldly, not transcendent, and the sixth logos, can be either worldly or transcendent. Tai Situ Rinpoche said that it isn’t that the deities of the last two logos are only worldly, it is just they their concentration is on the enrichment of life and removal of obstacles. The Lion’s Roar gives a quick overview of the eight logos from an experiential viewpoint. I am simplifying things a bit below, and we’ll get into more detail as we proceed through the next 275 abhishekas.

The Eight Logos

1. Body – Manjushri/Yamantaka
2. Speech – Amitayus/Amitabha/Avalokitesvara/Hayagriva
3. Mind – Vajrasattva/Vajra Heruka (Yangdak)/Vajrapani
4. Quality – Amritaguna (Dutsi Yonten)
5. Activity – Vajrakilaya
6. Mamo – Mamo/Simhamukha
7. Worldly Offerings and Praises
8. Wrathful Mantras