December 27th 2008
Alan Goldstein and his wife Semo Palmo made an elaborate offering to the Buddha, Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara, His Eminence, the Sakyong and everyone else in the shrine room at tea today. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is a regular feature of life in the Tibetan community. Usually people give money to the monastics, but once in a while the donor also offers a nominal amount of money (maybe 30 rupies, enough for an egg roll and candy at the store, less than 75 cents in the West) to the western students. This is an interesting moment. One is forced to deal with one’s ideas about generosity, the sangha at large, monasticism, and having wealth all in a moment. Some people immediately want to give the money back, some are happy to make an offering later and buy a treat.
Several years ago I was on pilgrimage in Bodhgaya, practicing under the Bodhi tree a few days before His Holiness Karmapa’s first visit to the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. There is a steady stream of Buddhists from all forms of Buddhism along with Hindus and tourists rolling through there every day. At one point a large, poor Hindu family came by. It was clear they were Hindus because they devoutly walked counter-clockwise around the Bodhi tree. At the end of this procession was an older woman in a worn, faded yellow shawl. She saw me, placed a rupee in my lap and prostrated before me. I had two near simultaneous reactions. One was fear because I felt there was no way I could really help this person who would be in and out of my life in a moment. The other was non-verbal. The core of my heart involuntarily burst open with love. It was as though this moment itself was the real gift to me, and I have pondered it often.
It seems more common in Asia for practitioners to be supported through communal generosity. Many times I when have meditated a for a time at a holy place in Asia I have been given gifts by people I don’t know. I’d open my eyes after a visualization and find some fruit in front of me. At one site near Dharmasala people discovered I enjoyed bananas so I was given a bag of them every day before I started practicing. A very seasoned traveler once said to me that Asians understand karma far better than we do in the West. They know even a small gift or connection will nurture a link which will grow. In Tibet is very common to see pilgrims making aspirations and putting tiny amounts of money in front of every shrine possible in the larger monasteries. It’s a wonderful thing to make offerings to people and situations you may never see again because for both parties one is making a connection with goodness and kindness happening in the world.
Today the electricity was out for most of the morning, and this meant there was no printed list in Tibetan for the day’s upcoming abhishekas. Consequently one of the choppons asked us for the list of abhishekas. Patricia has started producing bi-lingual abhisheka lists for the Sakyong and the 60 or so westerners here. One or two copies circulate among our number throughout the afternoon while everyone keeps track of what’s going on.
We finished the main inner peaceful practices of the three kayas with an abhisheka combining them all into one and an abhisheka of Vajrayogini as the guru, and then moved to related auxiliary practices. These included several empowerments for sadhanas important teachers in various traditions, connecting them with Padmasambhava. These included practices of the second Karmapa, Virupa, Padampa Sangye, Maitriyogin and Dombipa. These five came from a terma cycle discovered by Rigdzin Mingyur Dorje, who was born at the end 16th century and passed away in 1607 at the age of 23. Yet in that short time he revealed 13 volumes of termas. 100’s of these were sky termas, objects and teachings found in space. A great many of his termas are in the Rinchen Terdzo. He was an amazing being and his own teacher wrote a biography of him.
In the evening we had a very detailed talk on the karma, the cause and result relationship of actions, from Tulku Kunchab Rinpoche, a nephew of His Eminence. Kunkyab Rinpoche is in his third year at Mindrolling Shedra in North India. He is one of the five main recipients of the Rinchen Terdzo, the others being Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche, Lhuntrul Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo Khandro Tseyang.