December 31st, 2008
Today was the final day of the Dzogchen retreat, and it was the end of the western calendar year. While working on the blog near the end of the morning there was a knock on our door. Pema, the solidly built secretary of Jigme Rinpoche, was visiting all the westerners, urging them to hurry up to the monastery steps for the group photo. We had a long session of picture taking in the sun with His Eminence, the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche, Lhuntrul Rinpoche and Kunkyab Rinpoche. First, all the monks surrounded the teachers on the steps, then the westerns scrunched in, then all the monks withdrew off camera, and finally some Ripa family photos were taken in the shade of the veranda.
The abhishekas in the afternoon were a bit shorter than usual, and tea was longer as there were offerings made on behalf of the western sanghas at the retreat. Everyone was well dressed, though our faces were smeared by some of the blessing substances. After a formal ceremony for the long life of His Eminence, the westerners had a chance to present a khata individually to Namkha Drimed Rinpoche on his throne. The day concluded with a few more abhishekas, the moving blessing line of His Eminence and the other teachers winding through row after row of us with various tormas and icons, and our usual closing chants.
The plan had been for westerners then to have a dinner at the Ripa Family compound followed by a party, but this changed to dinner at our respective dining areas, and everyone met at the compound later for the party. The Ripa Lhadrang is about a one minute walk from the monastery gate, best done at night with a flash light in case of cow dung. The compound itself is framed by a wall so one enters by a metal door next to a car gate. Inside are about four two-story houses built surrounding a central garden area with enough trees and shrubs to remind one of a tropical jungle in the dark.
Upon entering the party one was struck by two things—very appealing dance music pounding out of the middle of the garden and a very cheerful Tibetan woman offering cups of chang, home-made Tibetan beer. I must say that I like chang a lot after last night. It’s a bit sour, sort of like apple cider in some way. It feels like on could easily drink an enormous quantity of it and be very content. I’ve had a head cold, but it altogether vanished between the time I started drinking chang and when we left the party a few hours later.
One thing was for sure, it is pretty surreal to be dancing to house music in a jungle drinking beer with people from all over the world after 24 days of abhishekas in a monastic environment. Everyone seemed to have an incredibly good time and the party went well past midnight, five and a half hours altogether, though some of us bowed out after a couple hours of steady dancing. I hear that the four Ripa sisters—Khandro Tseyang, Semo Sonam, Semo Pede and Semo Palmo—danced a great deal as the evening wore on. I think the Rinpoches kept a low profile preferring to relax a bit as past few week’s intensity eased up for a bit.
December 30th 2008
Jigme Rinpoche gave a bit of an introduction to his talk last night by saying the wrathful guru practices are about getting into the hidden corners of the mind, places we don’t always look at, and he said this energy is unpredictable. As he talked about this and I considered my experience of late, I had to admit that my mental gossip for the last three days had been a bit wilder and more shocking than usual, as have my dreams. Two days ago I dreamed of being on my death-bed with sangha members practicing in my room. I was sad to be leaving this world and the memory of this dream lingered throughout the day and provoked me to open up more.
Today’s abhishekas were for Guru Trakpo and Dorje Trollo, two very wrathful forms of Padmasambhava. Dorje Trollo is a central feature of the Vidyadhara’s terma, The Sadhana of Mahamudra, discovered in Bhutan at Taktsang, the cave retreat place Padmasambhava practiced at before entering Tibet. Fans of this sadhana (practiced every new and full moon at Shambhala Centers everywhere) will be delighted to know that we said the mantra HUM HUM HUM a great many times during the day. One of the Dorje Trollo empowerments was written by the Fifth Dalai Lama whose name I am now fond of seeing on the daily empowerment lists.
It’s very busy here, so this is a very short entry. We are look forward to the day after tomorrow which will be a day off. However, what a day off will actually mean here is still a mystery.
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.
December 25th Part Two
A belated Merry Christmas to you. Here’s how the fifty abhishekas related to the Seven Line Supplication have stacked up so far:
• 3 abhishekas of the three kayas
• 4 abhishekas of the four kayas
• 5 abhishekas of the five wisdoms
• 6 abhishekas of the six realms
• 7 abhishekas of the seven successive buddhas
• 9 abhishekas of the nine stages of the path (8 manifestations of the Padmasambhava and one more)
Kayas or bodies are a way of looking at the mind and manifestations of an awakened being, and the empowerments presented each of these separately. They kayas can be presented as three, four or more. The manifestations of Padmasambhava in relationship to the five wisdoms could be explained as the transformation of our five basic emotional energies or as the transformation the five elements (earth and so on plus space.)
The famous teaching diagram, the Wheel Of Life that is painted outside every monastery depicts our experiences as a cycle through six realms or manifestations of being. These are both outer and inner; heaven and hell really depend on us, not something external. These realms each contain a buddha, an opportunity to wake up in the midst of our various sufferings. These six realms also have a corresponding manifestation of Padmasambhava.
One very good thing to know about Padmasambhava is how he relates to Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha stated that eight years after his passing an enlightened teacher would come to teach the highest teachings and greatly benefit beings. The Buddha said Padmasambhava would be even more enlightened than he was, meaning that their realizations were equal but that Padmasambhava’s expression of enlightenment would be extraordinary. He called Padmasambhava ‘The Buddha Of Three Times.’ Another key point in the tradition is that while the Buddha primarily taught the hinayana and mahayana, Padmasambhava primarily taught the vajrayana or tantric teachings.
After those 18 abhishekas we moved to empowerments of the Padmasambhavas relating to the seven successive buddhas. Chogyur Lingpa had a vision that a buddha in this world would always be accompanied by a Padmasambhava. The seven buddhas are the three buddhas of the three previous world ages, the three prior buddhas of our own world age, or kalpa, plus Shakyamuni. His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche once explained a kalpa as the life cycle of a planet. I found this quite interesting and helpful.
Finally, we received nine abhishekas (putting us at 15 for the day, a new record) relating the famous eight manifestations of Padmasambhava plus himself as in the form of Yishin Norbu, The Wish Fulfilling Jewel, to the nine yanas. The eight manifestations connect with eight phases in Padmasambhava’s life and are chronicled quite experientially in Trungpa Rinpoche’s Crazy Wisdom.
Lhuntrul Rinpoche’s teachings this evening turned out to be on the nine yanas. The nine yanas are nine successive presentations of understanding and practice starting with achieving liberation for oneself alone and concluding with maha ati, the final path, the ultimate presentation the mind and how to realize things as they are, basic goodness.
Lhuntrul Rinpoche taught in Tibetan and was translated by a very knowledgeable Ripa sangha member from Minsk named Niccolas. He has a thick Russian accent. At times the layers of accents and languages filling the shrine room became pretty entertaining. Lhuntrul Rinpoche speaks with a soft and gentle voice beneath which lies a palpable eagerness to transmit the dharma. It was a treat to watch him starting to teach westerners. He was at once soft and peaceful backed by the power of a quick rising sun. The short talk covered the basic framework of the yanas and ended with some questions, mostly about the vajrayana vows or samayas, the commitments connected with receiving empowerments.
December 24th 2004
We resumed having morning fog after a few days of clear skies. The reading transmissions start to broadcast on the speakers outside the monastery each day at 6:40 and our little valley fills with the voice of Lhuntrul Rinpoche. The logic is that people can hear the lungs wherever they are working and therefore don’t need to be in the shrine room. There is a speaker in the old monastery building so the westerners practicing there from 9 to 11:30 can hear the lung too.
I have learned a bit more about Lhuntrul Rinpoche who will teach for two nights starting tomorrow. He will speak on the nine yanas or paths, the graded presentation of understanding and practice laid out in the Nyingma tradition. The Rinchen Terdzo is a systematic presentation of the last three yanas (mahayoga, anuyoga and atiyoga.) Rinpoche’s talks will put things in context.
Lhuntrul Rinpoche is about 32 years old, the second son of Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and his wife, Khandro Chime who arrived a few days ago. Lhuntrul Rinpoche, sometimes called Lhunpo Rinpoche, studied for nine years at His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s monastic college at Namdroling Monastery in Mysor, India. He has received the Rinchen Terdzo three times before. He is noticeably joyful during the ceremonies here, playful with the lamas as he brings them this or that icon during the empowerments, and he has the look of someone who practices a great deal. He divides his time between Toronto and Asia.
This afternoon we had a record 12 abhishekas in one day. They were divided into two groups plus the start of a third set, all part of the series of fifty terma practices related to Padmasambhava and the Seven Line Prayer. I’ve typed the prayer below, but it is missing a crucial bit of punctuation at the end of every line. I was unable to kern the font for a ‘tertsek,’ commonly called a terma mark. This mark shows a line break in a terma. The tersek usually appears as a pair of stacked circles with a horizontal line between them. His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse’s tertsek look like the Tibetan letter A missing the first stroke of the letter.]
In the Northwest of the land of Uddiyana,
On a blooming lotus flower,
You have attained supreme, wondrous siddhi.
You are renowned as Padmakara,
Surrounded by your retinue of many dakinis.
We practice following your example.
Please approach and grant your blessing.
GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM
Translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee.
This short chant is among the most well known supplications in Tibetan Buddhism. It was written by the dakinis, female wisdom deities, to call Padmasambhava when the early Buddhist university, Nalanda, was threatened 500 arrogant religious extremists who were also skilled in black magic. In that era, feuds were settled on the debating ground with the loser and his or her followers obligated to switch to the winner’s philosophical position. The extremists were not above using magic to achieve their aims. Padmasambhava was renowned for his learning along with the magical force of his meditative attainment. The scholars of Nalanda supplicated with this chant, and Padmasambhava saved the monastery.
Later, when Padmasambhava arrived in Tibet, he gave this chant to King Trisong Detsen and his subjects. The Seven Line Supplication is included with many termas, often at the start. I have heard it sung by His Eminence dozens of times during the past three weeks. Often it appears in the section of the empowerment where the deity is first invoked. It is everywhere because Padmasambhava is the main author of the termas.
The other day an exasperated friend said something like, “What is it with this tradition? Everything is all about Padmasambhava.” It’s really true. Padmasambhava’s presence is overwhelming, unstoppable and unavoidable. We sit in a shrine room modeled after Padmasambhava’s pure realm, Copper Colored Mountain. The 800 of us sing his mantras at the end of the day. We were asked at the start of the Rinchen Terdzo to commit to saying his manta 100,000 times. These last few weeks we’ve listened to and open to terma after terma written for dozens of manifestations of him. He’s everywhere.
In such a situation one is forced to contemplate why this man, an Indian, is so revered by the Tibetans. They cry out to the Buddha, but they cry out to him a lot louder. I think this is because Padmasambhava really, really cherished the Tibetans, and in turn they took on and protected the Buddhist tantric teachings which were soon to vanish from India. Padmasambhava first made sure the dharma was secure at the start in Tibet, and then did everything he could to make sure the Buddhist teachings would survive as long as possible through the terma teachings.
I confess that I too hadn’t really gotten the point that without Padmasambhava we would not have the tantric teachings, we wouldn’t have terma, we would not have the Shambhala Teachings, and we would not have our two Sakyongs. So supplicating Padmasambava begins to seem like watering the roots of a huge tree, nurturing that connection as much as possible, and asking it to grow, protect and nourish everyone in the midst of this chaotic and difficult life.
December 23rd 2008
Tonight we began the annual Winter Sangha Retreat with Jigme Rinpoche. Usually this retreat happens in Europe, but because of the Rinchen Terdzo and the opening of the monastery, the retreat is happening here in Chandragiri. This year the Ripa Sangha will hear talks both from Jigme Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. This may be the first group retreat joining our sanghas on Ripa land just as last year’s Gesar festival was the first on Shambhala land.
Lhuntrul Rinpoche will be making his English-language teaching debut this week too. This came as a pleasant surprise to us when it was announced last night. I have been wondering what he is like. He has a broad smile and takes great care when he carries the abhisheka implements to the crowd at the end of each day. I don’t know much about him yet, but he is said to have a fluffy white puppy that once in a while turns up in the shrine room at the end of the morning lungs, snuggled in the folds of someone’s maroon outer robe.
The winter retreat teachings are being given after dinner at the old Ripa Monastery. It is about a minute’s walk from the new monastery complex. The building is quite small and stands in a shaded compound with some older monks’ quarters making a little square in front. The old monastery seems very peaceful and is a reminder of the humble beginnings for the Tibetans here in India.
The shrine room itself makes up most of the building, it is 30 by 30 feet. It has four columns in the middle, and has a small gallery in the center to let in extra light from above. In front, behind a wood framed glass panel is the same motif of statues as in the main temple—a statue of the Buddha in seated meditation flanked by Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara on the Buddha’s left, and Padmasambhava on his right. These statues are simply carved and painted. They fill the space with a gentle radiance. The walls are have no frescoes, everything looks slightly faded from decades of candle and incense smoke. The space has the atmosphere of the ancient shrine rooms I have visited in Tibet except that much of the structure has been done with stone or concrete, not wood. How difficult it must have been for people to leave home with such finality.
The Ripa sangha is an international group. The students are German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swiss, American, Canadian and Russian. The packed shrine room also includes English-speaking students from Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Before Jigme Rinpoche arrived, preparatory remarks were made in French, Spanish and English. The sound system includes additional microphones for simultaneous French and Spanish translations. Several students eagerly awaited the talk with sparkling blue earphones in hand.
Jigme Rinpoche arrived a little after eight and gave a short talk after welcoming us to the retreat. He said that much of what he wanted to say was already included in the letter he sent out last week, and added some things I found of interest. A major point that struck me was that one of the main things that makes an empowerment possible is the fact that all of us have within us the pure being, the buddha nature. An abhisheka is not adding anything new, but is instead clearing away the stains around what is already there. Jigme Rinpoche explained that related to the symbolism of being washed in the start of all the empowerments. Having faith in own our buddha nature, our own pure being, is one of the requisites to receiving an empowerment. It’s the way to open up.