Rinchen Terdzo

New Year’s Letter from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

January 6th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

New Year’s Day is much like any other day. We rise early to the sound of the gyalings (Tibetan horns) as a light mist rolls off the hills of Orissa, surrounding the monastery while the various monastics and lay community gather to receive the next series of empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzö. The pujas start early in the morning. This I know quite intimately, since my room is above the main shrine room and I can hear the monks playing their instruments from three in the morning until late at night.

Today we will receive empowerments of the eight aspects of Padmasambhava. I am amazed by how precisely and carefully His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche has been conducting the ceremony. We are all struck by his strength and stamina, especially for someone who is seventy years old. The other day he went for six hours straight, performing this complicated ritual until seven o’clock at night. Everyone was quite tired, but he seemed to pick up more energy and his voice was booming. It was quite something to think about. He had been going more or less all day, which he has been doing every day for weeks. At one point I asked him how he was doing, and he immediately recounted when he had been with the Vidyadhara in Tibet as if it were yesterday. It struck me that this ceremony was profoundly important to him. He mentioned to me several times how he has held this transmission for many years and it is now going back to its rightful owner. I feel very moved to be here and very grateful to His Eminence and to the Ripa family for providing such a hospitable environment.

The monastery itself is beautiful—the only one I can recall that has consistent running water. Orissa is surprisingly pleasant at this time of the year and the Tibetan settlement is completely and wholeheartedly committed to His Eminence and the Ripa family. They feel overwhelmed and blessed that the Rinchen Terdzö is happening here. Likewise, since we arrived, Khandro Tseyang has been completely in her element, very cheerful while introducing me to a myriad of friends and prominent individuals in the surrounding Tibetan community.

As time goes along, more of the local sangha returns from their annual sweater-selling business abroad, gathering for the culmination of the Rinchen Terdzö and the celebration of the new year. In this way, the winter months here are much like the summers in the West: a time for holidays and family reunions. The Rinchen Terdzö is clearly an important and timely undertaking for the community here as well as for our own Shambhala lineage, especially during this time of instability in the world. By receiving these transmissions, we safeguard the precious wisdom that they contain.

In many ways, the Rinchen Terdzö is like a marathon of abhishekas. I believe we are past the warm-up phase and are now hitting our stride. As in any long ordeal, it is better not to think about the end, but to remain present. As we go through volume upon volume of rich wisdom held within Tibetan Buddhism, it is inspiring to touch its depth and vastness. Day after day, as we hear the quintessential instructions and collected wisdom of yogis, scholars, and rulers, both lay and monastic practitioners, the insights and realizations pouring forth live up to the name “Treasure Trove of Precious Jewels” (Rinchen Terdzö).

I am proud and delighted that many Shambhalians are sponsoring this unique transmission, and I welcome people to make offerings as they did at last year’s Gesar pujas. Along with your offering, it is customary to make an aspirational prayer with the name of the person or project that the prayer is being done for, as well as your own name, which is then read aloud at various breaks throughout the day. This Buddhist custom karmically binds the patrons to the ceremonies, gaining the patrons merit. The monastic sangha performs the rites and dedicates them to the lineage, to those who are either sick or encountering difficulty, to the assembly, to the patrons, and to all sentient beings. Additionally, I encourage people who wish to participate at home to connect to the events here by engaging in Padmasambhava-related practices.

That’s it for now; my break is coming to an end. I send you my love and blessings. You are all in my heart.

The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche
1 January 2009

Manifestations of the Guru

December 29th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 28th 2008

Today we began receiving the abhishekas for the secret practices of the wrathful guru. Secret can sometimes mean not ordinarily noticeable as opposed to a secret one hides from someone else. Compassion can manifest wrathfully if we disregard the peaceful messages of wakefulness. When Padmasambhava came to Nalanda to stop the black magicians who were threatening the monastery, he manifested in a wrathful form called The Lion’s Roar, Senge Dradrog. In this manifestation he is depicted as fiery red holding a vajra as a scepter and an iron scorpion. This kind of compassion works very directly with the difficult emotions like jealousy and greed. The heart of this kind of compassion is love and realization, but outwardly it is terrifying.

One of the cycles we received today was the inner practice of Guru Dragpo Tsal. A fresco of this deity is on the wall beside the westerners’ seating block. This terma was part of a cycle of guru practices revealed by Rigdzin Gokyi Demtru Chan. This terton’s name means something like ‘The man with the plume of vulture feathers.’ Rigdzin means Vidyadhara and denotes the complete realization of Dzogchen. He was born in 1337 and lived to the age of 71. His name comes from the fact that three vulture feathers grew out of the top of his head when he was 12 years old. Two more grew when he was in his mid-twenties. This was amazing to everyone and marked him as a particularly special terton; Padmasambhava’s crown has vulture feathers on its peak. He was the rebirth of one of Padmasambhava’s closest disciples.

Rigdzin Demtruchan (as he is also known) was the main author of what are called as the Northern Terma. Some termas are placed by location. This group is well known and comes from Northern Tibet whereas the earliest termas came from the South. Dudjom Rinpochem in his History of the Nyingma Lineage notes that the Northern Terma are like a minister who beneficially serves all of Tibet and Kham because the Northern Terma contains a complete collection of practices and teachings to care for a kingdom. These include rituals to increase the teachings, terminate the spread of infectious disease, control epidemics, pacify civil wars and so forth. In contains many ways to promote the happiness of Tibet also points out many hidden areas in Tibet where dharma practice can be particularly strong. Later in life he opened up sacred sites in Sikkhim as well.

Many of Rigdzin Demtruchan’s termas are well known. He wrote a three volume set of texts on Dzogchen which is regarded as one of the three highest transmissions of Dzogchen teachings in Tibet, the other two being the Longchen Nyingtig and the Nyingtig Yabshi. It is interesting to know that the reading transmissions from his sons, consort and disciples have all continued to the present day. Many of the practitioners of his lineage have achieved the rainbow body a sign of which can be that at death a person leaves no physical remains behind.

In the evening the Sakyong gave a very lively and useful talk to the western sangha. He started by telling everyone how he came to request the Rinchen Terdzo from His Eminence, the history of the Rinchen Terdzo with the Vidyadhara, and how things were going in general. After that he went on to give people a sense of how to be in this situation, three months of teachings in a difficult environment. From there he went on to discuss the relationship between view and practice in this context.

One poignant moment came in the middle of the talk came when the Sakyong said that what he admired most about the Vidyadhara was his courage. He said that the older generation of Tibetans, like His Eminence, have incredible strength and bravery. He encouraged us to develop those qualities in ourselves.

The most exciting moment in the talk was when the Sakyong was answering a question about communicating through symbolism. As he explained that it was possible to communicate with symbolism the elect abruptly cut out leaving us in pitch darkness. The dark room was filled with laughter. Everyone quieted down to hear the Sakyong continue to speak without a microphone. As he was saying that the various manifestations of the deities and other symbols were meant to communicate one primordial nature the lights came back on and an animal outside released a bizarre yelp. The room filled with surprised laughter.

Appreciating the Heart of Transmission

December 22nd, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 21st

Today I found myself on the upper floors of the monastery during the mid-afternoon break between the empowerments. It’s a pleasant place to visit and there is a spacious gallery that looks down on the shrine room below through big glass windows. I’d come looking to ask a question of Jigme Rinpoche, but suddenly a kusung appeared and said “the Sakyong can see you now”—they must have thought I was seeking an audience with the Sakyong. It’s a natural mistake since all the main dignitaries are staying on the same floor of the monastery.

Seizing my good fortune after a moment of surprise, I went into the Sakyong’s small audience chamber. He was seated on a small couch, relaxing during the brief break. Every time I’ve had a chance to speak with Rinpoche since the start of the Rinchen Terdzo, I’ve found him to be content, happy, and eager to chat a bit about one point or another. One meeting last week dwelled on his excitement about the Rigden Lineage tree. He must have talked about it for twenty minutes while he showed me photos of the artist, Noedup Rongae’s, sketches and photos of the Rigden statues he encountered in the Gesar palace he visited in Tibet (he mentioned the Tibetan statues were more nirmanakaya in manifestation than what will be in the thangka.)

On this occasion, the Sakyong chatted briefly with me about how the Rinchen Terdzo was progressing. Toward the end of our conversation, the Sakyong said, “He’s crying.” Not knowing what Rinpoche meant, I asked. The Sakyong told me that the last two days, His Eminence had been crying sometimes during the abhishekas. During one abhisheka yesterday, they paused to wait for two minutes while His Holiness wept. A moment after telling me this Sakyong had to return to the empowerments. I stood there speechless and contemplated what His Eminence has been through and how much he is giving of his heart to the Sakyong, his family and the Ripa and Shambhala communities at this time.

The other day the Sakyong remarked that His Eminence, given his age, is probably thinking about many things we are not aware of during the empowerments. This seems worthy of reflection, as we sit on the edge of a major point of transition from the last generation of great teachers who left Tibet in the 50s and 60s and the present generation who have entered a world very different from their predecessors’. As the importance of this transition becomes more and more vivid, I often find myself making the aspiration that the Sakyong absorb as much as possible during this retreat without obstruction.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Waving from Shrine Room

December 21st, 2008 by Walker Blaine

This is a photo of the Sakyong as waved to to me and the camera after lunch, just before we started the first abhisheka of the day, the Ridzin Dupa from the Longchen Nyingtik.

Big Changes, Seeing Another Side

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.

Sakong Mipham Rinpoche during Procession

December 17th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

The Inner Guru, the Eastern and Western Guru

December 17th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 16th

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.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on Opening Day

December 16th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Photo by Christoph Schoenherr.

Photos of Rinchen Terdzo by Christoph Schoenherr

December 12th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche bestowing the Rinchen Terdzo on Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Khandro Tseyang and members of the Ripa Ladrang and Shambhala sangha over the course of three months from December 2008 to February 2009.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Receiving the Rinchen Terdzo

December 9th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

 Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche receiving the Rinchen Terdzo with Khandro Tseyang to the right.