December 23rd, 2008 by Walker Blaine
When reading the lives of amazing beings one is humbled. That is especially true when learning about Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. His activity in life was so vast and his desire to benefit so strong that afterward he passed away, he took many simultaneous rebirths. Two of them—Shechen Kongtrul and Palpung Kongtrul had direct connections with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Shechen Kongtrul was one of the Vidyadhara’s main gurus.
As an aside, I’d like to say that is interesting to note that three of the Vidyadhara’s main teachers—Shechen Kongtrul, Khenpo Gangshar, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche were successive abbots of the Shechen shedra or monastic university. The founder and first abbot of the Shedra at Shechen was Mipham the Great, the Sakyong’s predecessor. Shechen at the time of the Vidyadhara’s youth was like Oxford or Cambridge, a great university that everyone aspired to go to.
Jamgon Kongtrul was born in 1813. His father, or as we’d say, his stepfather who raised him, was not a Buddhist, but a practitioner of Bon, the native religion of Tibet. Historians suspect this probably influenced Jamgon Kongtrul’s non-sectarian approach. He genuinely wanted to find the heart of every tradition along with preserving what was unique in each tradition. As a child he loved to dress like a monk, play at performing rituals and he learned the alphabet as soon as he saw it. Details like these are seen differently in the Buddhist perspective. Being able to read that easily isn’t just ‘being smart.’ It means that positive habitual tendencies and aspirations from prior lives are very strong.
As a youth, even before he’d practiced intensively, he had great faith in Padmasambhava and saw him and other teachers in his dreams. He was well liked because of his gentle demeanor and at sixteen his employer, a local chieftain, sent him to Shechen Monastery to study with a guru there, Shechen Ontrul. At this time there was no shedra although it was a famous monastery. While at Shechen he studied a great many topics and soaked things up quickly. At this time he began receiving empowerments and teachings on terma, quite normal at Shechen, a Nyingma monastery. The Konchog Chidu which we received the other day was among the first practices he received there.
Jamgon Kongtrul took full ordination at the age of 20, and at 21 the local chieftain who’d sent him to Shechen now insisted he now go to Palpung Monastery. Palpung was presided over by the great Kagyu teacher, Tai Situ Pema Nyinche Wangpo. Ontrul Rinpoche sent Jamgon Kongtrul off with the advice, ‘Don’t become sectarian.’ At Palpung Jamgon Kongtrul furthered his studies immensely and he received many, many Kagyu and Nyingma teachings from His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche and others. By this time he was also studying medicine. When requested what meditation deity would be best for to practice, Situ Rinpoche told Jamgon Kongtrul to practice White Tara, a feminine aspect of compassion that has a strong connection with long life and vitality. He had a very successful retreat on White Tara in the Jonang tradition—a school of Tibetan Buddhism which was thought to have been destroyed by the Cultural Revolution until ten or fifteen years ago when several gurus emerged from Tibet.
By his mid-twenties Jamgon Kongtrul had done many retreats on a variety of yidams and he’d already started teaching. The 14th Karmapa insisted that Jamgon Kongtrul teach him Sanskrit. His name, Kongtrul, came from being recognized by Situ Rinpoche as the rebirth of a former student of his, Kongpo Bamtang Tulku. This name became contracted to Kongtrul—trul being short for tulku, meaning emanation or enlightened manifestation. Lodro Thaye, Limitless Intellect, is the name he received when taking the bodhisattva vow, the vow to liberate all beings from suffering. Jamgon means gentle protector and is a name for Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.
In his late twenties, Jamgon Kongtrul began an extended retreat in a hermitage above Palpung. This began as a three year, but soon extended to the rest of his life. He only came out of retreat in order to teach, join intensive group practices, mediate in wars or disputes, or in some way benefit beings. Although they’d met around eight years earlier Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo began to work together intensively around the time Kongtrul was 36. They both had the same desire to go beyond the sectarianism that was causing the deterioration understanding and good relations between the many different schools of Buddhism as well as Bon. Together with Chogyur Lingpa they collected and exchanged whatever teachings they could. This began what is now known as the Rime movement, a renaissance of unbiased teaching that continues to this day.
For many years Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo urged Kongtrul to write his Five Great Treasuries. The Rinchen Terdzo, The Treasury of Precious Termas is one of these. The best known is probably the Treasury Of Knowledge. It is a massive ten-part presentation of all objects or topics one could know, starting with the variety of Buddhist cosmologies and moving from there to describe the appearance of the Buddha from many perspectives, the various schools of dharma, the classical sciences and all aspects of training from entering the dharma up to the fruition. Everything is described from a variety of perspectives, impartially. The last three great treasuries are the 8 volume Tantric Treasury of the Kagyu Vajrayana Instructions, the 18 volume Treasury of Spiritual Advice, and the 20 volume Treasury of Extensive Teachings. Two of his other major works are The Compendium Of All Sadhanas and The Compendium Of All Tantras. Jamgon Kongtrul wrote a large number of smaller works, some of them very influential too.
We’ll pick up on Jamgon Kongtrul’s life in a later entry.
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
Today we continued a series of empowerments related to the Seven Chapters terma. This text was revealed by a terton named Ngari Panchen. He is most well-known in the West for a remarkable book called Perfect Conduct. This book describes all the levels of conduct in the dharma from how to be a monastic or lay person, to how to properly be a bodhisattva in whatever we do, to how to be a tantric meditator.
Ngari Panchen lived from 1487-1542, the period when North America was first being visited by the Europeans. He was an emanation of King Trisong Detsen, the ruler who made Buddhism the state religion of Tibet and invited Padmasambhava to firmly establish the dharma. In his early life he was somewhat of a prodigy because he is said to have mastered and realized the teachings of the Nyingma and the later schools as well as what are known as the major and minor sciences. Maybe this would be like getting doctorates in philosophy, religion, medicine, and science all at once.
Then at 21 he started to meditate more intensively. He went into retreat at pilgrimage sites both in Tibet and in Nepal where he received transmissions and teachings from both Tibetan and Newari gurus. He was a true renunciate, never staying in one place very long and he had few possessions. While in retreat he had many visions of the deities he was meditating on and more importantly he began having dreams and visions of Padmasambhava who bestowed empowerments and blessings on him. At this time he fully recollected his life as Trisong Detsen.
Even with all these incredible experiences it is interesting to note that he did not become very active in teaching until he was 38. Up until that time he concentrated on retreat, receiving teachings and transmissions, and realizing the meaning of all the meditation practices that he had received. This is both startling and humbling to think about, personally speaking. At this time in his life he put a lot of energy into impartially helping the different schools of Buddhism in central Tibet.
Only at the age of 46 did he begin to reveal his termas. Ngari Panchen as a terton was somewhat unusual because he did not have a consort. It is quite rare for a terton be a celibate monastic. Tertons often have a consort, children and possessions. These consort relationships are not ordinary because the consorts are also very well-practice, realized meditators. The terton and the consort find each other, so to speak, because of very strong aspirations made in earlier lives to help each other in revitalizing the teachings. Though they are relatively rare, it is the same situation with female tertons and their consorts.
Ngari Panchen passed away at the age of 56 after having benefited beings widely. His book, Perfect Conduct, Ascertaining The Three Vows remains as one of the main texts on the topic used in the Nyingma lineage.
December 16th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
Today we finished the abhishekas for the sadhanas combing the three roots and moved to the empowerments for the sadhanas related to the guru, the source of blessings. This section is divided into many parts starting with the outer practices, supplications to Padmasambhava as an outer figure. There was one empowerment related to this section, drawn from the very famous terma cycle discovered by Chogyur Lingpa, the Barche Kunsel, Eliminating All Obstacles. Students of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, whose reincarnation was enthroned last month, will be familiar with this text. Receiving the Barche Kunsel was particularly significant for Jamgon Kongtrul the Great because at this time he recognized Chogyur Lingpa to be Guru Rinpoche in person. Around that time in his life, Jamgon Kongtrul was afflicted by a form of seemingly incurable leprosy affecting his eye. Chogyur Lingpa gave him a meditation practice to do for this and the disease disappeared with no medical explanation.
The lungs for this section of the Rinchen Terdzo contain a very famous terma, set of supplications known as The Seven Chapters. One section of this text is already well known to the Shambhala community as it is has been popularized by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche as the ‘Guru Rinpoche Song’. A prose translation of this can be found in the supplications for the long Vajrakilaya sadhana as well as in public translations. The Seven Chapters in their entirety are included Sogyal Rinpoche’s beautiful two-language publication of all the major Nyingma supplications titled (I think) A Great Rain Of Blessings. At the end of the day we moved to a preliminary abhisheka for the next series of empowerments related to the guru, the inner practices.
Chogyur Lingpa (1829-1870) is one of the most remarkable figures in the Rime movement of the 19th century. He was friend as well as both teacher and student to Jamgon Kongtrul the Great who put the Rinchen Terdzo together, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo who traveled all over Tibet to gather the many nearly extinct termas and transmissions included in the collection. In Chogyur Lingpa early years he studied extensively with Drukpa and Kagyu masters as well as with teachers from Surmang.
Throughout his life Chogyur Lingpa experienced many visions, direct experiences deities, and performed many miracles. One amazing about thing about him was that he revealed many termas in full view, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. On one occasion he flew to the ceiling of a cave and publically removed objects from solid rock. On another he pulled a vajra, a ritual scepter, half-way out of solid rock leaving in part way in so people could see what was happening.
Chogyur Lingpa was very renowned during his lifetime and many of his termas are included in the Rinchen Terdzo. He upheld and transmitted most of the kama lineages, discovered many terma objects and medicines including more than one hundred statues of Guru Rinpoche and relics belonging to the Indian siddhas, spread a large number of rediscovered termas (yangters), revealed mind termas (termas that arise solely in the mind of the terton), had pure visions of the deities, recalled his former lives and transmitted teachings from those lives with great clarity, and could visit Padmasambhava in a pure realm and converse with him as though in person. In short, he was one of the most amazing people you could ever hope to meet. At the time of his passing in 1870 there were many signs, including earthquakes and rainbows.
December 11th, 2008 by Walker Blaine
The earliest terton in Tibet was named Sangye Lama. He was born at the start of the eleventh century and became a monk who practiced vajrayana. Sangye Lama is said to have lived eighty years. During his life he travelled and propagated the dharma widely, particularly in Central Tibet. He discovered several termas some of which were vajrayana practices, some of which were rituals from the sutra tradition translated from Chinese into Tibetan. This might have been important at that time because the monastic tradition was re-establishing itself in Central Tibet after the suppression of King Langdarma in the 9th century. All that remains of Sangye Lama’s original termas are some of the sutra rituals.
However, there is a kind of terma called a yangter, a rediscovered terma. These are termas that were discovered by one terton, and then re-concealed for the future because it was not the right time for the terma to be revealed. Sangye Lama re-concealed a terma called The Twenty One Dialogues Of The Sadhana That Combines the Three Roots in this manner. [The three roots are the guru, yidam or meditation deity, and protector, to be described in the coming days.]
Sangye Lama’s terma was then rediscovered by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the 19th century. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo is said to be a reincarnation of Sangye Lama, and the rediscovered terma is said to contain the essence of all of Sangye Lama’s termas. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye later arranged this text into two empowerments: the essential empowerment and the torma empowerment. A torma is a colorful type of offering cake. Often a torma is a representation of the deity in a symbolic form.
Today we moved from the tantra class empowerments to the sadhana class. The essential and torma empowerments just mentioned were the first two empowerments in the sadhana class. After them came three more terma traditions of sadhanas combining the three roots, those of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Ratna Lingpa and the Northern Terma tradition, the terma cycles revealed by Gokyi Demtru Chen. The current lineage holder of the Northern Terma tradition is Changling Rinpoche who recently taught in Halifax and western Canada.
At the start of the session, just before we started the sadhana class empowerments, we received the final terma in the tantra section called The Empowerment for Chogyur Lingpa’s Supreme Bliss [Skt: Samvara] of the Union of the Buddhas. Lama Gyurme Dorje told us The Union Of The Buddhas is a Nyingma form of Chakrasamvara practice.