Sunday, Oct. 2nd, the lamas of Montreal's Rigpe Dorje Centre held a Chi Lu ritual at 2:30 pm. A $25 donation was deemed suitable. There were around 30 people in attendance.
Chi Lu is a special Vajrayana practice during which we make offerings to representatives of our karmic creditors in exchange for any likelihood of our lives being untimely cut short through "accidents." It can also create conditions for the removal of many otherwise incurable illnesses.
It takes place within the context of a Mahakala puja, but only those who have received the Bernagchen empowerment could recite the text along with the lamas, and there did not seem to be any of those there.
Our lamas are extremely skilled at playing the cymbals and drum. Lama Sherab makes very clear and distinct use of the 3 types of cymbal strokes, and the hanging drum is in tune. This is the first time I have not gotten a headache at a Mahakala puja!
Before the puja, all participants received a ball of barley dough from which they make a simple torma or sacrificial cake, into which illnesses (except those affecting the head) are symbolically put, to be destroyed later.
People put a small scrap of cloth from a worn garment, bits of hair and/nail clippings, a coin, into the dough ball before molding it by rolling and then squeezing with the fingers of one hand and pressing with the thumb (as monks might do after finishing their bread, to leave some as an offering.)
[At our centre, even if you do not attend in person, you can send your token offerings. Normally these, and the offerings of those in attendance, all go together into a big bowl where the dough is mixed by the lama and/or helpers. Then it is randomly apportioned and distrbuted to all in attendance.]
When the puja ends, the figures are removed to be destroyed. While this is going on, the attendees avert their eyes or look in the opposite direction so as not to attract the attentions of any lingering unseen guests, and/or possibly, not to seem to be expressing any regrets over the departure of one's simulacrum.
The ritual took 2 and a half hours to complete, which was somewhat longer than many people expected. As I had an out-of-town guest waiting, I had to leave before the dedications.
Before the ritual, in private I asked Lama Yeshe:
Answer: These are two practices, each based upon a different view. Mahamudra is ultimate, and Chi Lu (and so on) are from a relative perspective.
[My thoughts were that, in the West, we risk the danger of introducing new superstitions. ]
Answer: [The figure is a tool] we also visualize as we perform Chi Lu.
The lama had said, in his introduction, that in Tibet people would request such a practice every month if they could find a lama to host the ritual.
Sept. 12 & 14, 2005
Sept. 13, 14 & 15th, at 7 pm: Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso explained and recited from Maitreya's famous text, Distinguishing Between Phenomena and Pure Being, and the Songs of Milarepa at Shambhala Centre in Montreal. It is at 460 Ste-Catherine St. West, #510 (across from St-James United Church. ) $20/session. There were over 150 people at the session of Sept. 14th that I attended there.
Since the Khenpo had been at Rigpe Dorje earlier in the day, I did not attend the first evening's session at Shambhala. The distinction between these two lineages of Karma Kagyu -- a distinction which I pray will fade over time through the leadership of His Holiness -- was exemplified by something I heard about the next day. When the lama rapidly read the text in Tibetan to give the transmission for any who might like to practice, a person inquired something to the effect of, "Why do you have to read it for us, when we can certainly do it for ourselves?"
I also heard that the lama's driver, who had to park the car, nearly was not admitted for having arrived late to the event. On the other hand, I observed kasung forgetting themselves as they became wholly absorbed and were laughing along with the rest of us.
Unfortunately, at the end of the session, it was impossible to get to speak to anyone regarding a donation and a report from a gompa that I would have liked to pass on to Khenpo Tsultrim: People were too busy conferring on cell phones and so on to see me.
Aug. 12-14th, 2005
Bardor Tulku Rinpoche is visiting Rigpe Dorje Centre in Montreal. On the warm Friday evening, there were almost 50 people in the shrine room -- a former gallery space. We introduced him with a one-page speech about the relationship of the Centre to the lineage, to Karmapa and to the Jamgon Kongtruls. Unfortunately, all the numbers and dates may not have made it easy for newcomers to grasp.
Rinpoche began by emphasizing the important role played by sangha and the dharma centre where they can get together to practice. Then he gave some context for Chenrezig (in Sanskrit, Avalokiteshvara,) whose practice is a fundamental one for Tibetan Buddhists. He explained bodhicitta ("enlightened mind,") as the basic Mahayana attitude that seeks enlightenment for the sake of all beings, not merely for oneself.
When we speak of the 3 Jewels, the third is Sangha, the community of students of the Buddha's teachings. There are two kinds of sangha: ordinary (like us) and extraordinary -- the "Noble Sangha." The latter is composed of the ones who were actually present at the first teachings, and they include Chenresi.
At that point, Rinpoche explained the role played by practice in the Vajrayana -- how visualization of deities (Tib. yidam) plays a transformative role to eradicate obscurations such as attraction, aversion (hatred) and ignorance that keep us bound to samsara (the endless and repetitive round of existence that is full of disappointment, dissatisfaction and suffering.) Yidams are of two basic types, female and male, and Chenresi is of the latter class. Then Rinpoche gave a clear and succinct explanation of the two stages of practice known as Generation and Completion. He emphasized that the forms we see in our mind's eye are not solid, but like a rainbow, and they are not taken as real (in a physical sense) but like a "water moon."
Chenresi is a Noble Bodhisattva of the 10th level (Skt. bhumi.) He works tirelessly to alleviate the sufferings of beings. No matter how many, or how hard it is, or how much time it takes, he made the aspiration to work until all realms of existence are emptied.
On Saturday morning, with more than 30 people in attendance, Rinpoche again emphasized the role of compassion. Devotion to Chenresi establishes one firmly in on of the 3 higher realms, but to be human is to be of greatest benefit to others. He referred to the 13 benefits of Human Existence. Compare our existence to that of gods and anti-gods: Anti-gods (Skt. ashuras) are destined to war continually with the gods, and always lose the battle; gods (Skt. devata,) despite a lifespan that can last for ages, and the intense pleasures they experience, their suffering in the seven days before they die is equally intense. Before a god dies, the other gods won't go near him, his garlands wither, water no longer rolls off his body, [his breath smells as he rots away from the inside.]
July 21st & 25th, 2005
When a window of opportunity opened for me this summer, I went to visit friends in Ayrshire, Scotland, and also fulfilled a long time wish to see Samye Ling and Holy Island. At Samye, to support a dharma friend, I attended a Refuge ceremony given by Choje Lama Akong Rinpoche. It was preceded by a morning talk (10am) given by senior student, Rob Nairn, which I thought was a very good idea.
Some of the points covered by Rob, a man in his fifties [?] originally from Zimbabwe:
1. Taking Refuge is a step in training the mind, for people have come to the realization they want to have some help from a teacher. Nowadays, we are fortunate to have the opportunity of asking the teacher, rather than trying to rely on books. The Refuge [for Kagyupas] is in the "3 Jewels and 3 roots."
2. We should know that the historical Buddha and the images for which Tibetan Buddhism is famous are merely symbols of the Dharma. Some books present the view that images are in themselves holy, but we should know they are symbols of the Teaching.
3. We take refuge not only in the historical Buddha, but in the reality of Enlightenment [or, Awakening.]
4. Sangha can mean the group of practitioners, but at the highest level it refers to the bodhisattvas such as Chenresi, and also the company of renunciates ("the ordained " / monks and nuns.)
At some point, I thought I heard Rob equate "passing into Nirvana" with "attaining Enlightenment," but I admit I was busy regarding the people around me and the interior of the main shrine. The shrine room is decorated in a style rather more elaborate and old-fashioned than that of KTD. The ceiling is fairly high, with a row of clerestory windows framed at their corners by triangular cut-outs of an auspicious linear interlocking cloud pattern. A motif carved on the extensively gilded cabinetry is the circular design of a pair of phoenixes (pheasants, really). It is echoed in dark red on a number of small Tibetan sitting carpets. The entrance is on one of the long walls -- to the right of practitioners near the back, so that from the row of chairs we could watch people come and go.
5. [These are merely this editor's numbers.] The path to Enlightenment is not a quick one. You do not have to believe in any one thing, and Shakyamuni asked us to question everything. Also, if you do not practice (that is, apply the teachings,) then success is not at hand, so the process begins here -- to free the mind from veils of illusion and confusion, so that it can experience the Awakened state.
Then Rob explained the 3 Roots, which he explained are characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism and what distinguishes it as Vajrayana:
1. The Guru is central, but that does not mean the other Refuges are not important. However, because "guru" is rendered into Tibetan as "bLama," early travellers called Tibetan Buddhism, "Lamaism."
2. The Yidam is a force that can take us to the path and can transform our "energy sources." Only after the preliminary practices do we discover which one is "harmonious with your personality and mind-set."
3. Protectors defend the Dharma, keep us on the path (many are depicted with a lasso,) and protect us from ourselves, ie. our mind. You will receive the lung for Mahakala after the Refuge ceremony, but it is not necessary for you to do the practice at this point.
One can look at Taking Refuge as becoming a Buddhist, or not. (A Christian minister was going to take refuge, which probably motivated that comment.)
Our kind of Buddhism is known as Mahayana, because without compassion for other beings, Enlightenment is not possible. Having this concern for others is called "bodhicitta," not to be confused with the wild version of "Dharma the Cat" -- the Bodhi Cheetah -- at which I smiled at not ever having considered that one, reflecting on Rob's African background.
This "generates a certain amount of positive energy" and it frees the mind from the usual egocentric, self-serving attitude. "But do not ignore yourself and become some kind of doormat."
Then RN went over the ceremony, explaining the position of supplication, the words, the offering, hair-cutting, etc. He addressed the issue of baldness, saying that some hair can usually be found somewhere at the nape. He made the point that normally the name-giving is by means of a card drawn at random, and that Akong Rinpoche says it is not necessary to know the meaning. Rob said that each time he asked someone about his, he got a different explanation.
The 5 Precepts
According to Akong Rinpoche via Rob Nairn: 1. Not to take lives, 2. Not to tell lies, 3. Not to use alcohol means not to get drunk on any substance, 4. Not to steal means in any way, 5. Not to engage in any harmful sexual activity.
He added that those seeking Refuge should try to choose one of these and stick to it strictly for the rest of the day (another idea I thought was excellent.)
Then he added 3 things to do and not to do: One should not take refuge in any worldly deities, such as spirits -- that is, not to regards them as worthy of religious observance. We should always abstain from harming others, and take no part in any group with destructive objectives. We should always respect representations of the Buddha as symbols of the enlightened state, and not extend our feet or backsides to them; nor should we put them on the floor and/or step over them. Thus we move away from casual and unmindful behaviours. We should show respect for the teacher, the lamas, and the sangha, although we may challenge and test what they say. The individual is not the issue, but the robe and what it represents.
1. Making offerings "generates a huge amount of beneficent energy." 2. Recite the 6-fold Refuge 7 times each day. 3. Conduct yourself in accord with the Buddha's teaching
So, in summary: Do no harm; be beneficent; change your mind. If you have erred you can use the 100-syllable [Vajrasattva] mantra to make repairs, saying it 3 times.
Q: When someone takes Refuge here, can they practice in another denomination?
A: That would be confusing. This is a very long term connection we make -- "until you are enlightened."
Then someone else wanted to know what to do with the katas [offering scarves,] so Rob suggested we gather before the actual ceremony, and he would show us. (At the Samye Ling shop you can buy them in 6 different colours, which surprised me as I had never seen 5-family coloured ones before, although I think pale blue ones are sometimes used by Mongolians.)
I was pleased to hear him dedicate the merit from this informal gathering "in consideration of the suffering of other sentient beings."
Musings on Mice
Then we recessed until the conch announced lunch in the dining hall, which is as spacious as a gymnasium. There at the buffet I briefly met Lama Sherab, the resident artist, who is a tall, imposing figure. He was accompanied by his French-speaking translator, so I could tell him about a mouse that unfortunately had fallen at the claws of the resident cat. Someone had noticed the cat attack and shooed off the predator so I could pick up the field mouse, but although it seemed unmarked, it quietly died in my hands while I was saying mantras. Then, not wanting the cat to have its body, I placed it in an empty tobacco pouch, hooking it onto a convenient out-of-reach nail on the side of the lama's small studio. Whenever he noticed it, I did not want the lama to be surprised, thinking it was some kind of prank.
This was the first of 3 Scottish field mice -- voles actually, I believe -- that I encountered on my trip. The other two were just going about their business, one in a hedge and the other in a comic book kind of hole at the foot of a stone wall at UNESCO World Heritage Site of New Lanark. This restored village is set in pleasant countryside by the River Clyde. Today it is an ecologically-sound site where, for example, water is filtered by beds of reeds, and one can purchase the dwellings if they abide by the principles of residency. New Lanark was created ca. 1800 by utopian philanthropist, Robert Owen, as a model industrial society.
Choje Akong Rinpoche conducted the Refuge ceremony late on this full moon day. By 4:30pm, the room held about 75 people, most of whom were friends and family of the Refugees. There were also some other visitors, many of whom found the ceremonies too long and did not stay through the whole event. Rinpoche gives the most complete and thorough explanations. Fortunately, the way he does it people do not have to crouch lined up on one kneebone in anjali posture throughout the whole ritual, but come up to him one at a time. At the end, he takes the opportunity of giving the lung for Green Tara and also reads the entire Mahakala text.
My dharma friend, Jamie, who has limited mobility being confined to a wheelchair for the past year or so, practiced getting in and out of the chair so he could participate in the traditional way. Things went very smoothly for him, but boy was he ever pooped for the next few days!
Being there for other people when they take Refuge is a rewarding experience, especially when we know it has taken them many years to get there, what with one obstacle or another. For me it was a delight to observe the personal dharma dramas unfolding all around me, for there are not many things as moving as watching friends congratulate the Refugee. One young woman clad dramatically in a long yellow skirt was very excited for her friend and could not wait to go over to embrace her, and present her with a beautifully wrapped gift, even while she, all in white like a bride, was still sitting on her cushion. But for those who likely had come merely out of curiosity, the event was long and tedious, and during a lull, in a flurry of hats and sundresses and a flash of bright sunlight, they slipped quietly out the door.
Now officially called Kagyu Samye Ling presumably to distinguish it from Samye Ling, the 9th-century monastery founded in Tibet by Padmasambhava, this is the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery established in the West. (Ling is used to designate a monastic estate, ie. a monastery with lands, otherwise the place is referred to in Tibetan as dzong.) In its almost 30 years, Samye Ling has developed into a hamlet that borders a burn or small stream, and rises up the side of a fairly steep hill where near the top can be found a conference centre and residence.
Midway is the temple or main shrine, and in front of it is a plaza where, on the lower part, one may park vehicles. The dining hall is nearby. Wheelchair access is possible but in a round about way.
To the left on about the same level are the Medicine Buddha stupa (where funerary urns can be stored for a relatively low fee -- an honour that in Tibet is nearly unheard of -- ) and the prayer wheel house project, along with an interesting pool emitting recorded mantras dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. In its centre is a statue of Padmasambhava and on the southern side is a naga (representing the Indian tradition,) while directly opposite (behind the Guru's back) is a dragon that seems to be trying to enter the pool.
There are small wooden dwellings such as might be found at a Canadian ski resort lower down, the tea room and dharma shop among them. A bit above and across the way are administrative offices and public "restrooms." Below those is the herbal garden, and running vertically downhill there is a pink gravel path with graded steps leading to the creek or burn.
The burn marks a boundary with fertile farmland for which Dumfries-shire is known. (The county is also famous for its wood lots. )
The stony shore has pleasant rustic seating for those who have not yet abandoned the smokey and some other rather more interpersonal kinds of pleasures. During the 8 hours I was there, I witnessed an entire lovers' opera unfolding that, during what was likely the final act, left my mind echoing with tears and the bitter taste of samsara. During an intermission in the drama, I also met a young man from Liverpool, England, who has the enviable job of watching over a plot of land bought 4 years ago by a foreign investor whom he has never even seen. He is one of many construction volounteers at Samye working under the direction of Akong Rinpoche, as were, I believe, the temporary residents who played the principal roles in the melodrama. "May they find the conditions for happiness . . . ."
In 1967, in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, on a 150-acre piece of land that once belonged to the Johnstown Contemplative Community, Chogyam Trungpa and Akong (the name should actually be transliterated as Akon) Tulku under the auspices of the 16th Karmapa, founded Samye Ling. The two had originally come to the UK to study at Oxford, England. (This was only a year after the completion of Rumtek monastery, the Indian seat of the Karmapas in exile that houses relics from Tsurphu, the Tibetan seat of the Karma Kagyu denomination.)
Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche is the founder of Rokpa Charitable Trust, and the indefatigable project director and chief administrator of Kagyu Samye Ling. Lama Yeshe Losal, Akong Rinpoche's younger brother (formerly known as Jamdrak) is the retreat master.
Traditionally, when a tulku (incarnation) becomes the abbot of a monastery one of his brothers goes to assist him and in their youth that is what happened with the brothers. Jamdrak, the younger by three years, also had been recognised as a tulku but due to the unsettled times this was not made official. They both studied with a succession of lamas at Lhakang Monastery in Kham (east Tibet,) but their education was interrupted by the 1959 Chinese invasion.
Like so many others, they undertook the perilous journey across the Himalayas. In a party of three hundred, they braved the altitude and raging rivers, courting near starvation. These factors and capture by Chinese soldiers all took their toll, so that of the 300 that had set out, only 13 including Akong and Jamdrak, his brother, along with Chökyi Gyatso (Chogyam) the young abbot of Surmang, later known as Trungpa Rinpoche, arrived safely in India.
Then, in India, one of their elder brothers died of tuberculosis, and Jamdrak also contracted the disease and had to have a lung removed. At the Young Lamas' Home School in Dalhousie, India, founded by the Dalai Lama, he was groomed to be an administrator of one of the larger Tibetan settlements. In 1967, he was called instead to become private secretary to His Holiness the 16th Karmapa. At Rumtek, Sikkim, he received teachings from many high lamas, but he was also enticed to visit the West, and so he joined Akong Rinpoche in Scotland.
There, exposed to hippies and jet-setters, he "shared their hedonistic lifestyle with enthusiasm." However, one day he went on a fishing trip with a friend. When they got back, Akong Rinpoche saw a photo of all the dead fish. He was appalled by the wanton slaughter and expressing his feelings of failure to his younger brother, saying he felt he had not fulfilled his duty of properly tending to the younger man's moral upbringing. This conversation redirected Jamdrak back to Buddha-dharma.
When Akong Rinpoche learned that the 16th Karmapa was going to tour the United States and Canada at the invitation of Chogyam Trungpa, he requested Jamdrak go along. (Trungpa Rinpoche had married a young Englishwoman by then, and also founded Shambhala, a syncretized application of Buddha-dharma that he felt would suit Westerners.)
When a Chinese benefactor donated land to the Karma Kagyu for a centre in New York State, Jamdrak was appointed its secretary-treasurer. There, he began preliminary practises and in 1980, was ordained and named Yeshe Losal by Karmapa. After completing five years of retreat enduring many hardships in one of the small cabins there, he emerged and was recognised as a lama.
At the request of Akong Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe moved back to Scotland to Purelands, the purpose-built retreat centre at Samye Ling, and in 1988 became retreat master. In 1995, Lama Yeshe Losal was confirmed as abbot of Kagyu Samye Ling by HE the Tai Situpa.
/\ Alistair Appleton's video of 2007 visit to Holy Island (Lama Gyurme's voice.)
Holy Island (in northern Europe there are a few others by that name) is around 3 km (2 miles) long, and around 1 km (half a mile) wide. Its highest point, which I had no intention of climbing, is Mullach Mor, a 314-metre (1, 030 feet) high hill with 3 bumps inclining to the north. Today, for the most part, the island is a nature reserve that is home to a flock of bronze-coloured horned Soay sheep (an interesting very ancient species that cannot be herded into flocks,) some Saanen goats, and a herd of small Pictish horses known as Eriskay ponies, whose habitual route around the island is clearly marked by their offerings of "road apples."
We were fortunate to see a seal fooling around in the waters by the shingle beach where salmon are currently being raised in nets. However, Lama Yeshe is actively involved in promoting the case for Lamlash Bay's being a marine wildlife reserve and no take zone.
Although this small island, once the hermitage of 6th-century Irish Christian saint, Molaise (see below,) lies in the Firth of Clyde just off the western Scottish coast, to get there you first have to take the 55-minute Caledonian ferry to the Isle of Arran. Then a 15-minute trip by Tom's motor launch will get you and the morning seagull, who I think is called "Charlie," back to the 625-acre island that since 1991 has been under the custodianship of ROKPA (and hence, Samye Ling and the Karma Kagyu denomination.)
Records of ownership of Holy Island only go back to the 13th century, when it was listed under the holdings of the laird MacDonald. It changed hands many times over the next 700 or so years.
In 1990, Kay Morris, an Irish lady came to Samye saying she was the current owner of the isle which she wished to sell in consequence of a vision she had had of Mother Mary, who asked her to approach the Buddhists at Samye Ling. When Lama Yeshe visited the island that December, he felt an immediate connection with the rugged place so reminiscent of his Tibetan homeland. In the evening, looking back at Arran and the lights of the town of Lamlash, he was reminded of a vision he himself had had while practising dream yoga, where he flew over a beautiful island surrounded by lights.
The half-million pound asking price was not affordable, so Lama Yeshe went up Mulloch Mor to meditate on the situation. Eventually, Ms. Morris compromised, so that in April 1992 Rokpa Trust was able to purchase the island. Since then, a Centre for World Peace and Health has been established there that is an environmentally friendly venue available to members of all peace-loving faiths for the holding of conferences and spiritual retreats.
When you disembark at the wooden dock, you immediately see a line of 8 small stupas (one closed and 7 with gaus marked by the Kalachakra mantra,) interspersed with five-colour standards, that lead to the conference centre. Nearby is a standing plaque where visitors are received, and behind that is a tea room. There are 3 ways to walk about the island, but circumambulation is not possible as there are two lighthouses at each side of its northernmost end.
On the Arran-facing side is found the saint's cave, the spring (see below,) and a series of Tibetan rock wall paintings of deities and Kagyu masters. The most complete, elaborate and best known so far is that of Green Tara, whose sculptural features seem to be enhanced by the surface. You can also see representations of White Tara, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. (Loitering as I did, there was not enough time to make it all the way to see the image of Karmapa, and the retreat centre buildings and still get back in time for the return boat.)
The path winds through large thick stands of bracken. It is a kind of fern, which at a distance resembles the sumac that we see by the roadsides of Quebec but it is much denser, and can conceal holes, rocks and other obstacles, so I did not much venture off the path. My Scottish companion said that it is not healthy to breath in the spores that it emits during prolonged hot, dry spells.
The shingle beach is made interesting by small cairns and other little manmade features such as one made by anchoring a vertical limb of driftwood so that it looks like the famous 1934 photo of Nessie. I was pleased to see another visitor had erected a small inukshuk (Inuit ["Eskimo"] cairn) properly called inunnguaq when it is man-shaped like the one on the beach.
The Hermit of Holy Isle
St. Molaise (pron. Molash,)
(566-640) was the son of the king of Ulster and the
Dedicated Celtic Christian pilgrims, or peregrini, observed 3 degrees of commitment: the Green, the White, and the Red martyrdoms. A Green martyr withdrew to an isolated place within his or her own country. A White one went away from the homeland, but a Red one such as Molaise would deliberately choose a desolate place where they could be at risk for their lives, since warlike people might come upon them. Although he did not fall victim to marauders such as Danes going a-Viking, some Norse runic inscriptions are found in his Holy Island cave, and legend has it that Las took upon himself 30 different diseases. Molaise only spent a few years on the island. He later visited Rome as a pilgrim, was ordained a bishop, and became the abbot of an Irish monastery.
The island has a spring that was likely sacred even before Molaise. A brass ladle is chained nearby so that passers-by can taste the sparklingly clear, tasteless, refreshing water. Remember to wash your feet only downstream from the drinking spot, please.
July 13/14, 2005
The night before leaving for KTD I had a dream that ended with a man facing to my left blowing a long curved horn (not a traditional Tibetan one, but it was made of a translucent glowing material that looked like thin horn or celluloid, and the bell of it resting on the earth curved up like an Alpenhorn.) The word "Chiri-Lupa" came to my mind.
Gas prices were up to 99.9/litre when I left with a quarter tank at 8 am on the morning of July 9th, so I intended to fill up in the US. However, a wait of over an hour at the border (I chose the line of an agent-in-training, I think) with the air conditioner running most of the time due to the hot, muggy weather, necessitated a stop at the Good Guy's, where a confusion between two customers' bills was a further obstacle. Still, I made reasonably good time, but missed lunch.
Larry at the office was pleasant, but had to take a break just when I turned up. Then, there was no record of my reservation via Jack, who had left on vacation, and the place was full. There was no interview slot available on Sunday morning for me either. This did not worry me, and after looking in the store to see what was new -- lots of "bandwagon" books (glossy and derivative) and cds (sentimental Chinese-style musical arrangements) -- at least there is still some fine Nagarjuna incense, and listening briefly to the amplified voice of Khenpo Karthar, I went to sit at the front gate.
There, the karma of 3 critters intersected in a most unfortunate event: I felt what seemed like small hard burr or pebble under my dress at the back of one thigh. After I pinched it off discreetly, without lifting the skirt, I found to my dismay that I had beheaded a large tent [?] caterpillar in a most unpleasant way. I went to clean up.
Later, when I needed to "use the facilities," I again checked my clothes and found this time, what I imagined to be the little child of the first one, but she was alive and well and I was able to return her to the bark of a birch tree. (Maybe there is another meaning for "chiri-lupa" but it seems that chiri is a term for mulberry paper upon which silkworms are fed. kLu is Tibetan for serpentine creatures. They are associated with Nagarjuna (who legend says beheaded an ant and was later himself beheaded,) and his elucidation of the doctrine of Emptiness. Also, right after that, I met a man [-pa] by the name of Lu, and our conversations seemed to have "cheery" benefits.
The Akshobya Empowerment
I am grateful to Marianne, who saved a seat for me at the back. I counted over 85 people in attendance, most from the 10-day teaching. The empowerment was preceded by a Refuge ceremony, which is always a joyous occasion. Kh. Karthar began by saying, via Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, that "Refuge means protection." Then he continued in the usual way by explaining that true refuge can only be found with the 3 Jewels.
Many people could be heard repeating the requests and so on along with the members of the family, who had chosen this most auspicious occasion for their entrance into the sangha. It was the anniversary of Chokor Duchen, and for that and other reasons, I had come to KTD.
Akshobya ("Unshakeable") or, in Tibetan, Mi'tupa ("Big Eyes") is the blue-black buddha who is the head of the vajra family. Vajrayana practitioners, such as Kagyupas, trace the origins of the denomination to him in the form of the Buddha as Vajradhara (holder or keeper of that which is indivisible, immutable, stable and imperturbable.) Along with the deity, the aspects and qualities of buddha-hood are visualized as 8 auspicious symbols. These play a key role in this transmission, and it was especially interesting to hear our cherished Khenpo explain each one.
Most readers will know by now that in almost every tantric empowerment, the master blesses every person with the touch of a vessel and a few drops of liquid. It is relatively rare at a large gathering that the officiant himself (or herself,) passes among the rows of people. Often monks are delegated to do this, or else people form a queue and pass by the throne. But here was Khenpo Karthar, now in his 80s, and after nearly 10-days of teaching twice a day, lifting the heavy vase and bending to carefully measure out just enough for each person without exhausting the supply. This requires experience, strength, stamina, mindfulness and control. Many people were visibly moved as they listened to the continuity of his chant while he smoothly passed along the rows.
I was told later, by several experienced participants, that this summer's 10-day session was a truly extraordinary one. It was a great blessing to have been able to have a small taste.
On the last weekend of the month, Yonge Mingyur Rinpoche's teachings in Toronto at KSDL (Canadian seat of Karmapa, Choje Lama Namse's centre) culminated in a Chakrasamvara empowerment. The lower floor of this Toronto Karma Kagyu centre is made of terrazzo. In the middle is a brass-delineated six-pointed star comprised of two interlocked triangles. In this case, one is green and the other orange. Usually known as the Star of David or the Seal of Solomon, it is a relic of the building's past, but it is also the seal symbolizing the union of Compassion and Wisdom -- a way of seeing Chakrasamvara with Vajrayogini.
I had recently lost my father, I just finished a rough semester of teaching that was compounded by a lingering case of the flu. I was also quite tired from an overnight visit from my little grandchild, and my finances were at a stretching point. Naturally, I did the only sensible thing: I hopped on the train Saturday evening.
The practice of Chakrasamavara is from the none-higher class of tantras, and the preparation can be as complex as for the Kalachakra, for example. However, the details are not generally public, and cannot be given here. Therefore I will only relate some of Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche's elaboration.
In attendance Sunday morning for the dedication of offerings and the empowerment of the Vajra Guru were about 60 people and Lama Namse, Lama Tashi, an elder monk who I think is Mingyur Rinpoche's attendant, and Lama Phuntsok, Lama Tenzin and another monk, whose name I do not yet know.
I recognized several people from as far away as Vancouver, Illinois, Ohio, and of course, Kitchener-Waterloo, as well as New York and New Jersey. (For the actual empowerment, which did not start until 2:30, the attendance had nearly tripled. People were sitting right to the back of the bookstore.)
The weather was very changeable that day, beginning with some sunshine, then at about 2 pm it became dark and began to rain. The ritual did not begin until 2:30 and it was around 3 pm when we came to the part where the deities, Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini, are invoked. Their entrance was heralded by the full complement of Tibetan ritual instruments including the pair of great horns. It was just then that the sun came streaming through the long narrow windows on each side of the hall and, for the second time that day, the sleek black cat entered in a stately fashion. It proceeded elegantly down the central aisle, hardly pausing as if merely tolerating those trying to stroke it, and made its way to Lama Namse as if to salute him. Then it turned and left in a rather more discrete way.
Addressing the concerns of others like me, Rinpoche said that the previous day's steps that included receiving the "ribbon" and kusha grass were preparatory, and not part of the actual wangkur [empowerment.] There are 4 main parts to this wangkur: the first two correspond to generation practice, the third corresponds to completion practice, and the ultimate one concerns Mahamudra, the direct way of Liberation.
About the "pointing out" instructions of Mahamudra, Rinpoche (as translated by Eric from the West Coast) told us about the yogi who wanted to go to prison:
I suppose we could say that Buddhism is about learning how not to put anything in. As Rinpoche said after the vase empowerment, "If you keep samaya and practice, you can achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. If you keep samaya, even if you don't practice you will attain enlightenment before 16 lifetimes."
The ultimate stage of the wangkur was introduced by a dramatic action that evoked, for me, the scene of Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by deer. The deer is also a symbol of the Mahayana and the aspiration of commitment to the welfare of all sentient beings.
At the end of some of the stages, offerings were presented, and Rinpoche joked that nowadays we might like to imagine that they included "pizza, hamburgers and Coke."
Finally, Rinpoche reiterated the essence of dharma as summarized in the Prajnaparamita. Via the translator, he said, "All phenomena are empty. There is no inherent existence. There is no Self." For example, matter may be composed of atoms, but at a certain level there is no matter, nor [at that level] is there any time. Yet Emptiness is not nihilism, because appearance exists." Then he emphasized by continuing in English himself: "Emptiness is like a dream. It looks as if it is real. But it is not Nothingness, because it can appear as anything."
Because of the number of people and the limitations of the space, the various personal empowerments were given one after another as we filed past the lamas. It can remind one of a graduation ceremony: Do you reach first and then shake hands, or do you cross hands, or what? (In this instance, you have to remember whether to incline your head, reach out your hand or whatever else to do with what is presented. )
By this time, I would not say I was confused, but I was not fully connected with physical reality, and I drew a blank when confronted by the objects for the final action. It was like the lama was a virtual or mirror image, and I was uncertain whether to compensate for the mirror (converting right to left) or whether to emulate the "reflection. " I realized, finally, that I was holding up the line, and the lama was looking tired. He was very patient, and I finally got it, but briefly felt very embarrassed. Later I laughed at the irony, for under the circumstances, the confusion over perception and the resultant return to "I" followed by the exaggerated compensation that we call self-consciousness provides an excellent reminder and an example for my own students.
On Jan. 29th, I drove 5 hours to KTD (and back again) for the Black Yamantaka empowerment offered by Khenpo Karthar. Our indefatigable 80-year old abbot, along with Ven. Bardor Tulku (who is currently in retreat,) has been going through the Chik Se Kundrol series, which affords an excellent opportunity for any Tibetan Buddhist practitioner. You can always check the monthly schedule to see which deity initiation is next.
"The deities are all of the same fundamental Buddha nature, and vary only in the way they may appeal to you. If you try to practice all the deities for which you receive empowerments, you will find that you have to give up one practice to do another. But that is fine, since if you realize one deity, you realize them all."*
This time, instead of passing out pendants/blessing cords, Khenpo Karthar surprised us:
"There is no point in possessing relics and samaya just for the sake of having them; they are to be used. There was a time when I was cautious about these things, but now I am giving each of you some relics to keep on your shrine or even in your car. You can swallow them but you can also immerse them in water, and consume them over a number of days."*
* These are not the exact words, which are available on cassette, but rather the gist of what our Khenpo said as translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso.
I found this decision of his to be a very poignant one.
Probably due to the uncertainty regarding the weather, only 50 people were there Sat. night. However, that meant that we could get a good view of him and appreciate the energy and strength of the lama as he passed among us bearing the vase and then the torma.
I was happy to do 2 hours of "karma yoga" that entailed polishing the large brass butter lamps at a table set up for the purpose in the library. The shrine keeper was most thoughtful, ensuring that my last minute request for a lamp offering was fulfilled just in time for the puja.
Despite the arduously cold past few weeks and the hectic preparations for Losar, almost everyone is looking sleek and happy. I was relieved to see that Tinley was feeling well enough to walk up the road.
There had been some changes in staff since my last visit (July 2003). A recent addition to the staff is Larry, who is taking care of the office. Maureen is now running the new publishing company from an upstairs office. Basia has acquired resident status, and now "young Peter" from eastern Europe is helping out in the store. There are a number of new, interesting items that include a complete set of Karma Kagyu tsokli by an artist working in Nepal.
Bill, who is the former midnight ramblin' housekeeper, has gone to devote himself more fully in a retreat at another location. The chef's post is now being filled by a cheerful couple and Saturday's lunch was delicious.
At 6:45 next morning, as I was getting ready to face the road again, I found myself on the receiving end of a hissy fit by a senior member. I stayed just long enough to thank Khenpo Karthar and receive a copy of volume one of Karma Chakme's Mountain Dharma signed by him.
It is based on 17th-century master Karma Chakme's text as expounded by Khenpo Karther in teachings given by him from 1999 to 2003. (The full Tibetan text will be published in volume four.)
It begins with the life stories of Khenpo Karthar and of Karma Chakme. At the end of each chapter are some interesting questions posed by students and the khenpo's answers, which reveal the great accomplishment of our master in his role of individual guide.
November 27, 2004
Some young monks accompanied by the khenpo and the umdze of Zongkar Choede Monastery (Gelugpa) were near the end of the Montreal leg of a fund-raising tour for their new, enlarged monastery at Gurupura, a Tibetan settlement near Mangalore, India, [visit the link] and just about to leave Manjushri Centre when I got the news. They had constructed a sand mandala of Amitayus -- not the one originally announced, so I counted myself fortunate to receive this blessing, especially since it was scheduled to be dissolved that evening. Fortunately, Geshe Norbu decided to conserve it for the temple "due to the merit of the members and for the sake of all."
A small shrine table was set before it on which were, besides two large tormas, some remarkable relics such as an ancient pellet drum, a 17th C Medicine Buddha pecha with wooden (repousse leather?) cover, an ivory bangle that belonged to Dagmema (Marpa's wife,) and a child's slipper once worn by one of the early Dalai Lamas.
There were about 50 people in attendance, who sat "contemplating bodhicitta" while the puja was conducted by the monastic sangha for our benefit. Besides some fine deep chanting, there were 2 shawms, well played, and the more melodious parts sounded like "Calling the Lama." Although there was no time for oral transmission, what with all 5 languages -- Tibetan to English to French to Chinese to Vietnamese -- I think I managed to get the mantra.
This denomination is prosperous and can afford to be generous: we did not have to pay for kathas with which to present our donations, and the monks gave each of us a tsakli (deity card) and a blessing with a long katha as a thank-you.
The tour seems to be going well. The monastics are accompanied by a pleasant Indian gentleman, who was kind to inform me about the KTC in Dallas. He handles the commercial transactions including the management of a small store of interesting goods the monks had brought along to sell. Small hollow silver amulet figures from Nepal with a mantra stamped into the silver back were interesting and cost $5. There are colourful fabric thangkas a bit overpriced at $70. One of the 4 Animal Friends would be nice gift to go in a child's room. The are traditionally made of silk bits appliqued or glued to a stiffened background, with embroidery or penned lines for the details, as eg. Temple Art Studio.
September 25, 2004
Under the auspices of Pierre Cardinal (Orgyen Gawa Paljor) of Le groupe Karuna, Nyingma master, the Taklung Tsetrul, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, was at Rigpe Dorje Centre this weekend.
I was told that in the afternoon 60 people were in attendance, but for the session that began at 7:45 pm, we were about 40. Many were Pierre's students, but a number from other centres were also fortunate to be able to hear Rinpoche's concise and logical exposition concerning the reasons for, and the role played by mind-training in the Mahayana.
The basis for the evening's discourse was Eight Verses on Mind-Training by Kadamapa master, Langri Thangpa Dorje Senge (1054-1153.) It was he who ordained Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079) of the Shangpa Kagyu.
Pema Wangyal Tulku is a refined man of middle age, whose knowledge of English is excellent, and who also has good French comprehension. He is a master at speaking in a situation that requires translation, maintaining good rhythm without "chewing off bits" so long or convoluted that they test a translator's memory. Maintaining his reputation for spontaneity, he still referred to notes, taking care not to overlook any aspect: "I may have neglected to mention . . . ." Learned and obviously practiced, nevertheless "I, myself, am only a beginner."
In two and a half hours, he covered quite a lot of ground in a touching elaboration on the basis for bodhicitta as encompassed by the phrase "all our mothers, limitless as space." This seemed to be a continuation of his afternoon talk, and he began by saying that whenever we fall we feel pain: A fall leads to suffering. We can "fall" by performing negative actions, by experiencing afflictive emotion, by forgetting Emptiness, and by overlooking the suffering of others.
Of course, we rely on our 6 senses, but we need to recall that all compound nature is impermanent. For example, one can say, "It's wonderful to see you again," but we do not really see the exact same person each time. For example, visiting a place by the river for a second time we might say, "I've seen it before," but the river is not the same. Like the body, which is made of particles, the river has been flowing all this time. It is not the same from second to second; the water has already passed even while we look at it.
All we see, hear, touch, has changed. "It's a good thing, otherwise it would be boring!"
As the Buddha taught, the body is composed of particles and has no permanence. And mind is really "mind-stream," like the river. Judgements of the self depend upon the mind, but on the level of emotion, it can also change.
The nature of consciousness is above that; change takes place only from a relative perspective. So mind-training also takes place on the relative level. Absolute mind is OK. Consider that we do not really wash the clothes. We wash the dirt out of them. Also, it is important to realize that there is no difference between people and animals as regards Mind.
It is due to our obscurations that the duality of attraction and aversion arise. When we are attracted, we want something for ourselves. This can give rise to jealousy: the fear of loss to someone else. So aversion arises and manifests as hatred. Pride can arise when we succeed in getting what we want. All this can lead to our falling from the Path. But if I know mental play is illusory, then I will not get caught.
It is important to know that others also feel important. So bit by bit I can take what they don't want and give what they want. Then we can realize that others are more precious than oneself. Also, I am only one; they are many. As masters of the past have pointed out, there is not one single being that has not been my mother. And this is not my first life in this universe.
There are only 2 places out of the 6 realms in which we have no mother: The hell realm which is merely a sort of hallucination, and the realm of the gods, where beings arise as a sort of miracle. But otherwise, we depend upon mothers. As Nagarjuna said, based upon Buddha's teaching, "We cannot, even with the tip of a very fine needle, poke it into this world saying, "In this place I was not born, nor did I die." So we are all interdependent. It is important to realize every being has been our mother.
Rinpoche then told a version of the parable of the fish-eater.
[As told by Vasubandha and Abhidharmakosha, we learn how] a disciple of the Buddha, Arya Katyayana ("Katayana") once was in a village where he came upon an ordinary family scene: A mother, fondly holding a child, was eating some a fish. Now and then, the mother would kick away a dog trying to get at some of the food.
Through his highly developed perceptive power, the monk saw them as they had been in a previous life: The fish had been the woman's father, the dog had once been her mother, and the child she cuddled had been her greatest enemy.
Observing this relationship, Katyayana wept, saying:
(Actually, Rinpoche told a version in which the woman's husband was also present at the scene.) How could those rebirths have happened? Because of attachment, positive and negative, they were reborn not far from each other.
In the late 19th century, Dza Patrul Rinpoche (Words of My Perfect Teacher,) traveled around, teaching to groups wherever he went. [In Laotang,] when his students could not provide a tent, they met in a ruin where a yogi had once practiced and where he had passed away. There they were interrupted several times by incredible thunder and lightning, voices and other mysterious happenings. Patrul Rinpoche suggested that everyone search for any of the yogi's belongings that might remain, such as a gao [reliquary], but none were found. Then he said that there must certainly be something there, and after a long while, a loose stone was found in the wall that concealed behind it a small piece of bone.
Only after the bone was reduced to powder and burned in a ritual fire, did the "spirit" of the yogi go away, so that the teaching could continue. Rinpoche made it clear that it was not the bone that was a problem, but the attachment to it that had created conditions of unrest.
[For the order of monks and nuns] The Buddha emphasized simplicity because of the dangers of attachment. For some few, it is not a problem. For example, King Indrabhuti [stepfather of Guru Rinpoche] was not attached to the wealth and beautiful women of his kingdom, so they did not bind him to existence.
We have such interdependent connections that we must respect all beings because they have all been our mothers, but this is not sufficient. We must also remember her kindness. We tend to take such things for granted. We can say she gave birth to us as a result of passion, or out of a lack of wisdom, but this is due to our own obscurations.
Levels on the Path
The graduated way (Tib. Lam.rim) to Enlightenment is described as having "5 Paths and 10 Levels:"
Once we reach the first level (Skt. bhumi), we can recall 100 past and 100 future lives. We have access to 100 buddhas and can receive teachings from them all. At each consecutive level it is said the benefits increase by a factor of 10. This happens as we eliminate all the obscurations, both gross and subtle, until finally we reach buddhahood. This process was not so hard for Patrul's students!
It is only a matter of that.
When a mother conceives a child, 1,000s of beings are there who desire to come into existence, and it is their relation to others that permits [this one.] It is like a queue for tickets to a rock concert!
Also, we are such a stranger to our mother, so she is incredibly generous to permit us. Normally we think, You are my mother, I can ask anything of you. But what right do we have? She welcomes us, not just into her home, but into her body! Consider how painful it is when you get a splinter in your finger. How kind is the mother who lets us grow in her womb!
And for over 9 months, she gives the very essence of her body [to sustain us.] If that is not kindness, then what is?
Have you ever tried to get a room in a hotel at 3 am? They usually say they have none. Or they ask for your passport and your Visa [card.] Without them, they will send you away, and maybe even call the police. (Maybe in Montreal it's different?) But your mother asks for nothing, and we are a complete stranger!
She may have some conflicts, but when she sees your face!
Also, in India, people who wash the toilets are the lowest caste, but your mother washes your bum! You know, in Tibet mothers carry their infants in the breast pouch of their chuba. Sometimes the baby uses that as a toilet but the mother does not complain.
Mother protects and teaches us; she teaches us language, how to walk and eat. Therefore, we should remember the kindness of our mothers. But we must also repay the kindness of our mothers, in this life, and in the past. When Buddha got enlightened, the first thing he did was to go to Tushita to repay his mother's kindness.
[As Buddha said to Ananda] If we could carry our mother on our shoulders all around [the circumference] of the world, this would never repay her. And we must never hurt our mothers. You might think she is demanding, but pleasing her is an investment in our future lives. We must always think how important others are, and reflect on how we can integrate this into our daily life.
With that, Rinpoche introduced the 8 Stanzas by Langri Thangpa, saying "We want happiness and not problems, so this will make it easier."
The first verse is an aspiration. The second is to remind us to regard ourself as smallest and others as supreme. The third tells us to observe our mind in all activities; when conflict arises put a stop to it immediately. It is easier to put out a small fire than large one. Compassion is the antidote; with its help we can forgive anything. This is different from pity. Here, it is the wish that everyone be happy.
When we feel jealousy, we aply the antidote of rejoicing. There is no virtue as great as rejoicing and in tolerance for others. True loving kindness towards others. When pride arises, we apply equanimity. So the 4 antidotes are: love, compassion, joy and equanimity.
We need to enlarge our vision -- to the loved, the neutral and the disliked. The 4 antidotes transform and purify negativities into wisdom.
This training is very important. It is like a war in which the generals strictly train the soldiers so they respond [in battle.] Inner conflicts are like wars in that they destroy the lives to come, and also put us into more uncomfortable situations in the here and now. They produce actual physical discomfort.
The fourth verse: See the evil being as a priceless treasure: A treasure is usually only beneficial in this life, but here the benefit extends to many lives.
The fifth: Yield victory to the one who mistreats us. You might think you are losing, but in fact you are being liberated.
The sixth: When one we have helped turns against us -- this develops patience. If we could understand karma, that person is our teacher. Without these we would not have the occasion to learn patience and tolerance. In the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, there was an elegant, very beautiful princess. People asked how she could have been born this way, and the Buddha explained that she had always been tolerant of others and exhibited love to her [troublesome?] dying mother.
The seventh verse is the heart of the text. It means to take on the evil and suffering of others on all levels, and to give comfort. This purifies the suffering of others. We can inhale suffering and exhale comfort. (See tonglen.)
The final verse: 7 is a practice of bodhicitta or enlightened mind from the relaitve standpoint. The 8th verse is from the absolute point of view. The 8th-century Way of the Bodhisattva speaks of aspiration and application. Asanga described bodhicitta as "wishing to attain enlightenment for the sake of others, with compassion."
So the 8th verse affirms this. If we could see "the 8 worldly concerns" as illusions, then the pure detachment [produced by this] would sever all ties. The concerns are for pleasure, gain, praise, friendship [viz. pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and shame, meeting and parting.] We run from pain, loss, criticism; why? Because we do not see all as illusion. We are caught by illusion. It is like a mirage of water to which we run with our empty buckets. If we coudl see them as illusion, we would be free.
What is important is peace in this lifetime and in the future one. The 14th Dalai Lama says our vision should be that of interdependence, and we should act out of compassion and tolerance. If we do not want suffering, we should not engage in actions that cause it.
Kanjur Rinpoche [of Riwoche] (fl. 1970) was an important master who relied on these stanzas. He applied v. 1 and 2 on Monday, and then v. 3 on Tuesday, etc. for all the days of the week.
If we have a good heart, all our steps of development will be positive.
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to repeat a few things I have heard. This does not mean I am a good practitioner. As I said, I am just a beginner. Thank you for your patience."
September 17 & 19, 2004
I went again to see the Buddhist relics that had stopped over in Montreal at the same location as last year. They had arrived early Thursday afternoon and the two larger gilded reliquaries were displayed for some time in the park across the street from the Vietnamese temple.
We cannot avoid contemplating the juxtaposition of the two institutions facing each other on boulevard Rosemont. Very interesting cultural changes have occurred in the past 330 years that place, directly in front of the Montreal park named in honour of le pere Jacques Marquette (1637-1675), the Huyen Khung Buddhist Centre, whose members speak mainly Vietnamese and some, Mandarin.
Marquette is the notable French Jesuit "black robe," who was inspired to offer to come to New France in order to convert the natives. Before age 30 he spent 2 years at Quebec City studying the Algonquin language, before departing for his placement in Huron territory, in the upper reaches of the Ottawa River.
When war erupted between the Huron and the Sioux affecting the interests of the French and English fur traders, he left the Outaouais, embarking upon a life of exploration further south with men such as Louis Joliet. He is noted for having discovered the relation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. The natives, of what is today Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, are reputed to have venerated the young priest, who died before age 40.
On Friday, the relics were displayed as before. This time, through the kindness of Ani Lhundrup Chodron of San Francisco, who is accompanying the relics, I was able to ask about the sample of writing purported to be that of Yeshe Tsogyel. It is actually the lower left corner of a page from a personal communication to Guru Rinpoche, and includes the expressions for "mandala" and "awareness." The lines in square Tibetan lettering are interspersed with lines of cursive script, both in black ink on yellowed paper. I found it touching that someone had carefully inscribed in English, in blue ballpoint at the foot of the piece, that this was her "writting."
As there were not many people around 1:30 pm, we could take our time examining the contents of the small stupa-shaped reliquaries made of glass and enameled golden metal. The little glass domes had been removed so we could more clearly see the contents sitting in gold saucers about the size of small egg cups, and protected from tipping out by a film of Saran. Above each item was an enlarged bird's eye photo of the contents and, where possible, a photo or drawing of the person associated with the relic.
I had the time to notice the difference among the ringsel: opalescent flakes associated with one master, the virtual pearls of uniform size but for an especially large one that are from Buddha Shakyamuni, and the jagged little tooth-shaped pills that are from ancient buddha, Kasyapa (although it seems more likely to me that they come from the Great Bodhisattva by that name.) Dusum Khyenpa's relics are numerous, tiny, ivory-tinged ringsel similar in appearance to grains of powdered milk.
Vajrapani, Shariputra, Atisha, Marpa, Milarepa, and a number of lamas of the modern era, such as Pabongka (1878-1941,) Lama Yeshe (fl. 1970,) and the 16th Karmapa are also represented. The manifestation of sacred signs such as a production of ringsel is not merely legendary. Even today this can happen. Recently, the body of deceased Karma Kagyu meditation master, Bokar Rinpoche, while being carried in procession, was observed to produce numerous ringsel that were quickly collected from the ground where they had sprinkled.
Ani Chodron was extremely generously and mindful in the manner in which she helped bestow the blessings of the Buddha's relics. She is a champion and we will not soon forget her kindness.
I must take this opportunity to warn people that they are not deemed to be appropriately attired if they are dressed in blue denim, or their legs are bare) they will be asked to put on a black robe before entering the shrine area. The irony -- imaginez-vous!
On Sunday morning at 9:30, I went again. A service was about to begin. In the tradition of that group it involves much kneeling and rising at cues from the drum. Nevertheless, visitors were permitted to go up to the front to see the relics, and I felt no pressure to move from one station to the next, so I had time to say mantras, pray, and reflect on the various extraordinary teachers who had done so much to lift the veils of ignorance, fear and superstition, and teach various efficacious ways to happiness.
Afterwards, while sitting on the square gomden I had brought along, -- Huyen Khong members use kneelers of extra firm foam, but the surface is on an angle -- I had the opportunity to meditate and to chant Chenrezi mantra along with the cd playing through speakers. This was a change from the main deity of practice at that centre, Amitabha.
Friday I had tried a kneeler as a seat but even turned back-to-front, it was not satisfactory for sitting. I'd like to have some of that extra high density industrial type foam for cushion, though; it's not available in stores.
I spoke a bit with Ty, an Asian man from West Virginia who has been accompanying the relics from city to city. To repay the kindness of Lama Zopa's group, he acts as security. He told me he had been to the Toronto Kalachakra, too.
Did you know the large golden bhumisparshamudra-Buddha travels with the relics? What a production it must be getting it from place to place and safely installed!
Later, while waiting in line for a blessing from the conscientious monk from Manjushri Centre, who recited out loud as he touched each person with the reliquary, I had the opportunity to closely examine the altar screen. Filling the central space between two central pillars, it is a pointed archway of carved dark reddish wood about 2 inches thick. It is so lavishly pierced in a design of sinuous leaves and various types of vines and flowers that one almost misses the small central figure: a little child, his right hand pointing up and his left, down -- gestures that let us know what he is reported to have said not long after his birth. "In worlds above or worlds below, there is none comparable to me."
August 20-23, 2004
To inaugurate Lama Tashi's Canadian gompa in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and through the auspices of some Chinese members of Toronto's business community, V. Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche gave the Shi Tro preparation and empowerment. The full program ran from the 20th -25th.
Shi Tro (or, Zhi Tro) is a Tibetan contraction referring to the great assembly of 41 peaceful (Tib. Shi.wa) and 50 wrathful (Tro.wo) deities, although it is commonly referred to as "the hundred deities." According to Vajra tradition, one's body is the combined mandala of all the Victors, so all deities, both peaceful and wrathful, are present within every sentient being. The practice of recalling and invoking the blessing of all these deities is actually a reminder that, at the time of one's death -- or rather after the dissolution of the bond of elements comprising one's individuality as consciousness is released -- when deities manifest to us as we experience the in-between or bardo state, they are products of our mind. So Shi-Tro practice is a preparation for the time of our own death.
We could say that the Kalachakra is an elaborate and complete overview -- a cosmology; as such, it includes the mandalas of the peaceful and wrathful deities. The Shi-Tro [in comparison] is from the perspective of the individual. The preparation for the empowerment is multi-stage and similar. It requires the use of various ritual objects for transmission, and this entails the lamas having to address each member one by one as they queue up, or by their passing among the congregants seated in rows.
When they did this, I was in awe of the energy, strength and stamina of our elder lamas, whose age is about 80 years. Khenpo Karthar looked half his age, and Lama Namse, whose form is like that of a bull, was playful and even spritely as he quickly touched every head with the bumpa.
The Empowerment was held at Shangri-la Convention Centre, in the former beer garden, a separate building at the rear of the Markham property. The second-storey hall, with windows on both long sides, had been completely and wonderfully transformed. There were thangkas on each side wall and many rainbow banners were suspended, interspersed among the Tiffany-style "chandeliers."
Assisting Thrangu Rinpoche, since they were officiating at the opening of Lama Tashi's centre, were Khenpo Karthar and Lama Namse. Khenpo on a throne at right angles stage left, and Lama Namse across from him. The five attending monks performed cham or lama dances. The protector dance was especially effective: Thrangu R.'s unwavering gaze as he confronted or addressed them, and the young lamas' expression of great power, instilling awe with lunging stamps as they rattled their hand drums.
An ani from Taiwan translated the teachings into Mandarin, following Welshman Peter Allen Roberts' mellifluous rendering in English of Thrangu R.'s Tibetan. The sadhana itself was not translated, but a condensed version was given to each registered person. The sound as controlled by Jurgen was the best I'd experienced at any dharma event -- from Thrangu's impressive rolling voice that came through clear and deep to the thin chime of a bell that was so bright people seated at the rear looked around to see if an officiant were standing beside them.
Although feelings were tempered by the fact that Bokar Rinpoche had just passed away, this was a momentously joyous occasion for the Karma Kagyu. It was a celebration of our presence in Canada, a fact that was emphasized at Saturday's dedication of Karma Thekchen Zabsal Ling by a gracious message from an absent Member of Parliament and a personal appearance and address by the Liberal Party MP, Derek Lee, Ll.B.
There was a reception to which friends and neighbours were invited that took place on the meadow at the back of the former Chalmers' property. During the speeches, chai and sweet rice were served to everyone; then later, there was a buffet meal with veg and non-veg choices.
Lama Tashi had asked the volunteers from his new centre to dress in traditional Tibetan dress, which made them easily recognizable. Two ladies in particular were extraordinarily gracious and capable. As is sometimes the case, and it is completely understandable given the fact that few of them knew what to expect, a few were anxious and authoritarian. The attendance swelled to over 300 hundred on Sunday, doubling from the previous day.
Parking was ample, as were the washroom facilities, but when other functions were taking place in the main facility (on Saturday, an Indian wedding, with gorgeous ladies in silk saris, male members of the wedding party in brocaded lunghis; on Sunday, an "urban outfitters" fashion show with scantily clad models) we had to walk all the way around the main building on the lawn so as not to intrude. A shortcut around back would be helpful.
My special thanks to Charlotte and Danielle, who were responsible for keeping track of an ever-changing interview schedule and all that that entailed.
July 31, 2004
Contemplation of Karma Pakshi
There are two practices of Karma
Pakshi. One is according
to sutra, the other is a gTerma ("treasure") of Namcho
Mingyur Dorje that is linked with Guru Rinpoche. At KSDL, the 11-step
empowerment for the second was given by Choje Lama Namse.
July 17, 2004
When I heard that Khenpo Lobsang Jamyang of Sera Mey Monastery (Karnataka, India) would be at Manjushri Centre in Longueuil, which is not far from where I live, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Though I had never heard him teach, he had impressed me with his compassionate presence when I met him in the fall during the sacred relics tour (see Oct. 10/03, below.)
Manjushri Centre is at the corner of Lemoyne and the Chambly road, in a former "Polynesian" restaurant that was donated to followers of HH Dalai Lama. On the South Shore of the St-Lawrence River, the group was founded by the Vietnamese and Tibetans living in the area, but the first time I visited was a few years ago at the group's first quarters in the basement of a house on Ste-Helene. At that time, I felt the joy of being able to offer public prostration to the Dharma in what was then a Buddhist outpost.
I did not expect that there would be a puja, but on Saturday, July 17th, Khen Rinpoche introduced a condensed version of the 1,000-armed Chenrezi sadhana as compiled by the builder of the Norbulingka, Kelsang Gyatso the 7th Dalai Lama (fl. 1750.) In limited but clear English, he explained the emanation of the deity in six stages beginning with Prajnaparamita, and tying that to the 6-syllable mantra. He said that each of the sounds stands for one of the paramitas, and that the first 3 (generosity, sexual morality, patience,) were especially of value to lay people. The other 3 (the cultivation of energy, concentration and wisdom) were the province of bodhisattvas. (In the Gelugpa system, the study of the virtues or Paramitas (Tib. par.chin) is one of the five main topics in the course of study.)
He took care to describe the visualization of the mantra and the relation of sound to letter, and the various stages of "movement" of deities and dharani, although I am not sure the meaning made it through the translations (French and then Vietnamese.) Since the aspects of visualization were covered only in brief, the company was later invited to return the following evening for further explanation.
Fortunately for those actively participating, the full text (French with transliterated Tibetan) was available, but not many people actually participated. Most of the 30 or so people in the hall sat patiently absorbed in the experience. I did not hear anyone besides myself taking part in the service, but that may have been due to the extremely loud sound level at the rear of the hall where I was seated.
Only one monk and a senior student played the ritual instruments, yet at the entrance and departure of the deities, you would have sworn there was a full complement of musicians.
It is a measure of Manjushri Centre's welcoming atmosphere that their pretty white cat can roam freely in the hall. But although local residents are accustomed by now to the Centre on this major Longueuil thoroughfare, I would doubt many passers-by spontaneously drop in, especially during a "service." One courageous young man, no doubt attracted by the Tibetan ritual music, came and sat receptively through the entire puja. Encouraged to join the queue for the lama's blessing, which mysteriously had swelled to more than 50 people, he later remarked on the powerful sensations of Lobsang Jamyang Rinpoche's transmission, which I also experienced.
Gelugpa system: The other 4 topics are U.ma (Madyamaka, or Middle Way,) Dul.wa (Vinaya, or Ethics), and Dzö (Abhidharma, or Metaphysics.) The course takes about 20 years, at which point if it is successfully completed the person is accorded the standing of geshe. The study of the tantras is a separate course entirely that is given at Gyurme or Gyuto Tantric Colleges.
The status of geshe is an academic one that has no other connotation, and there are actually 4 levels of geshe. Due to some misunderstandings, it is a new policy that only those awarded the highest degree of Lharampa ("Ph.D.") be addressed as geshe. Even then, the title does not relate to actual spiritual realization, unlike the term lama. A geshe may or may not be a lama, and a lama may or may not also be a geshe.
May 1- 5, 2004
Full Moon of the Third Month, amplified by a lunar eclipse -- a most auspicious time for any undertaking, but especially for those fortunate enough to be able to attend the Kalachakra 2004 Empowerment given by HH the Dalai Lama in the Canadian city that used to be known as "Toronto the Good." It would be his 29th.
Professional responsibility and financial constraint did not permit me to be able to attend the entire program that included all the teachings, but I did manage to make it to the Initiation, which lasted from Saturday through Tuesday. I tried to fill the extensive gaps in my knowledge of the Dalai Lama's favourite Anuttara Tantra by relying on Jeffrey Hopkins' translation of HH's Madison, Wisconsin Kalachakra in the 1980s. The most recent edition has an appendix containing all the Sanskrit mantras in the order required by the Kaydrup Gelek (15th C.) text, and also a brief biography of that foremost student of Tsongkhapa's, who had been a Sakyapa.
I was gratified to learn that HH had been recommending the Hopkins as preparation for many years, and like other coincidental, synchronous or serendipitous events that mark my association with Buddha Dharma, it just about rose to my hand from the jumble on my bookshelves the day I purchased my train ticket.
I have been relying on "signs and portents" ever since lightning struck the linden tree that shelters my car and set it a-smoking for three days. That tree had served as a "drey" for a pair of ravens and so, undecided as to whether I would go to Toronto, when the previous day a raven curled its wings to glide out of a clear blue sky and investigate the college parking lot just as I was leaving my car, my decision was made.
Consider: Seated two rows directly behind me, in this huge hall where I could have taken any seat, was another teacher from the same small college. About to board a streetcar, nevertheless I spontaneously hail a taxi. The Bangladeshi driver, Mazam, is from the same hill region where my (adopted) son was born. In a line-up of thousands of people awaiting security checks, I tell Mirella that her name is not as unusual as she imagines, having been popularized in that Can. Lit. jewel, Anne of Green Gables. She warmly embraces me when I utter my grandmother's words from more than 50 years ago -- a phrase in the language of the Eastern European country M. left 14 years ago.
And every single day near the Trade Centre entrance, no matter what time I arrived -- early morning, afternoon, early or late -- I encountered a sangha friend, the director of Rigpe Dorje Foundation. At the end of my second day there, from a crowd of 8,000 people, a Montreal s. f. I had not seen in years emerged. It's doubtful I would have found my way home without his help.
I am sure that this sort of thing was happening to many other participants. The energy was not only sublime but also extraordinarily harmonious. Even the dozens of security personnel and the teams of RCMP, unlikely to have been there out of any personal choice, will likely recall this assignment with a certain amazement for years to come.
The weather was cold and rainy. The ventilation in the cavernous hall sometimes resembled the breezy North Atlantic. Many people, especially men with bare heads, could be seen in caps with scarves or shawls covering their ears. By my third day, I was dressed in three layers most of the time, and the occasional cough or sneeze seemed to worry a Chinese neighbour, who may have experienced the SARS crisis.
But the sun finally came out on Tuesday, and when I arrived at noon the usually austere grey marble foyer presented a nearly magical sight. Seated on ethereal tablecloths of sunlight were small groups of chuba-wearing Tibetans. Girls in glowing brocade contrasted with the women, whose more sober gowns were concealed beneath striped pangdens extending across their laps. Here and there, a group was all in red; a lama explaining to a few young monks was a vignette come to life again from some ancient tangka.
The Teacher and Vajra Master
His Holiness is not merely the spokesperson for the Tibetan cause, nor is he only the jovial, saintly person you may have seen at roundtable discussions on world peace. He is a superior and yet still humble student of the Buddha's doctrine. He is one of the foremost teachers of the view and teachings of the Kadampa denomination of Tibetan Buddhism. And he is a fully qualified Vajra Master able to generate purely with full amplitude, the transformative energy of the complex transmission that is encoded in the Kalachakra Tantra. The power is not at all undisciplined, nor does it seem in any way to be modulated by personality. That is, it is pure; not at all altered or "interpreted."
At each stage of the empowerment, I sat in a different area of the room. Whether I was near the front or at the back; among sangha, near Tibetans, beside university students madly scribbling or with people who were not very informed but who had come only to sit in the presence of HH, the effect was constant, the sensation was not much different. Even in the little bazaar, I frequently overheard comments about "the incredible energy."
Most of the teaching did not deviate much from the text I had been studying. Yet, in response to the written questions submitted each evening, HH skillfully inserted his replies in the most suitable place of his explanation. For example, he took especial care to clarify his firm position on the question of the propitiation of deities, especially with regard to a practice he himself had done for years but which he finally determined posed regular obstacles. He was sensitive to the conflict this had caused in the hearts of some practitioners, and took care to explain at length and, reading extensively from a booklet in Tibetan also, that those who persisted could not in good faith take the Initiation.
He found a way to make mention of a text by the Jamgon Kongtrul, and went lightly on the distinction between the lhatong and shentong views, but he stressed that those holding the second of those interpretations were a minority. Nevertheless, he always emphasized the benefit of inclusiveness, and went out of his way to make everyone feel welcome. As he regularly does, he stressed that the practice of Buddhism need not entail a religious conversion, and that people could (and should,) participate according to their own inclinations.
For example, the opening ceremony began with an "Ecumenical Blessing." First, a Chinese pair of monastic blessed the water by chanting in close and touching harmony. Then a Theravadin nun with a crystalline voice pronounced the Refuge Prayer in Pali. The third offering was by HH's "Jewish friend," whose head was covered and who was wearing his blue-bordered talith for the auspicious occasion. Before playing, he recited the Shem'a, which certainly put Jewish practitioners at ease with regard to any concerns regarding deity practice, and then followed that with the Blessing of Peace. A brief silence, then the dramatically winding call of the Hebrew shofar (totally unlike the trumpeting which announces the Jewish High Holidays.) The horn was long and twisted like the one depicted in drawings of Naropa. As the sound of the shofar waned, it was joined by the regal call of the resonant conch. When the gyalings whined and the cymbals clashed to herald the entrance of deities, the effect was majestic, even magnificent.
HH then introduced a recitation of The Short Perfection of Wisdom by a small group of Japanese practitioners, joking about the time he was a young participant in an interfaith ceremony. He, too, was supposed to recite the Prajnaparamita but out of nervousness he lost his place. Later he was told that he had "invented a new version."
It was somewhat humorous to me that people applauded the "performers" but I joined in, reflecting on the distinctive ambience the West offers the Three Jewels.
By the way, on April 25 at the SkyDome 29,039 people (!) stood in line for hours in the bone-chilling rain to hear what the DL had to say about The Power of Compassion.
The Procedure: How can the Master initiate 8,000 people?
Each participant received a cotton "shopping bag" printed with the clever, dark red, Kalachakra Toronto emblem that contained a magazine with essential images and a general description of the event and also a booklet of prayers, half English and half Tibetan, but with no transliteration of the latter. A number of colourful flyers were also included. The Chinese stitching did not hold up well to all the stuff that eventually filled mine when one young security guy decided my nylon shoulder bag was a forbidden knapsack. The "knapsack" had to go into the cotton bag, too!
Before each of the afternoons of actual initiation, attendants were stationed at the security lines so we could purify ourselves by rinsing our mouths as we waited.
American television describes distance in terms of a "football field." The hall was at least that size. There were two huge TV screens at each side of the dais upon which was the mandala tent. In front was HH's throne, which although described as very ornate in the media, was not overly so. To his left on the dais was a space for the dancers who celebrated the beginning and end of the teachings. Later, it provided seating for the gathering of monastics, which included four or five older monks, who would be empowered to offer the Initiation themselves.
HH did not don a Wisdom crown for the occasion, but kept on his usual orange golfing shade. His text was illuminated by an Italian-style halogen desk lamp, such as one you and I might have, to his right. The sangha on stage acted as proxies for the rest of us. (If we could be expected to visualize 722 deities in a single mandala, we could certainly accept this transference.) Nevertheless, for steps that required the taking of holy water, receiving two sizes of kusha grass, a cloth band and so on, pairs of volunteers passed around section by section, row by row. Frequently we helped minister to our neighbours.
Later, the long stems of grass posed a certain difficulty for people manoeuvring through crowded streetcars, but no doubt the interest of the general public was piqued. A friendly Indian girl who waited on me at the Kingston Road Country Style recognized it, saying she had never handled any, saying that in her tradition it is for symbolic display and kept in red-tied bunches.
Importance of Correct View
HH repeatedly emphasized the Mahayana context of Buddhist tantric practice. Taking advantage of the conjunction of the termination of the ritual with the timing of the auspicious lunar eclipse, he requested we conclude with 21 recitations of the Bodhisattva Vows. The English text took twice as long as the Tibetan to recite, so most of us only got to 10.
Due to the samaya associated with tantric initiation, I am reluctant to give further details of the actual initiation. More information can be found in the text mentioned above, and on web sites about former Kalachakras.
If you feel you missed something this time, you can always attend the next one. One man I spoke to said this was his fourth. And please consider not wearing patchouli perfume!
We should all give special thanks to Thupten Jinpa, HH's translator, whose dignity, quick-wittedness, humility and exquisite mastery of English is beyond compare.
As part of the Maitreya Project, Lama Zopa's collection of relics was in Montreal between Oct. 9 and 13th, 2003. Huyen-Khong Tien-Tu at 1292-1298 Rosemont / 5740 Chambord sponsored the visit. The collection consists of some remains of Buddhas Shakyamuni and Kasyapa, and of the great disciples such as Ananda, Maudgalyayana and Vajrapani. Also on display was a sample of the handwriting of Yeshe Tsogyal, and ringsel and other items found among the ashes of Shariputra, Atisha, Milarepa, Dusum Khyenpa (the first Karmapa,) and others. [see above, Sept. 17, 2004.]
Early Thursday afternoon, when I had just learned that my dog was seriously ill, I went to see if the relics had arrived. Immediately my spirits were raised when I saw the many tables holding flower offerings and felt the atmosphere of devotion and generosity that this predominantly Vietnamese temple represents. I learned that the van was not expected to arrive before 4:30 pm, and though there was no question of my staying since I had a class to teach then, I spent some time muttering mantras in the spacious marble-floored shrine room before the two large images, and also visited the protector and the image that faces the rear entrance.
I was able to read the descriptions on the display case cards at my leisure, and also visit the store which has booklets, incense and small replicas of fruit suitable as symbolic offerings for a personal shrine.
I was fortunate in being able to return on Friday, the 10th just before noon when there were not that many visitors besides the Huyen Khong members. At the time of my arrival, the line of people waiting to receive personal blessings from a relic of Buddha Shakyamuni was coming to its end. Through the mindful and kind attention of Ms. Ewart or her associate, I was able to participate.
The lama and attending monks had their mouths and noses veiled with kathas to prevent any inadvertent pollution of the relics. We each made three bows or prostrations and then, while we went down on the right knee with our palms pressed, a large golden reliquary was touched to our brow.
Later, having circumambulated the main shrine and the four sets of relics, I found myself in a second line where Venerable Khenpo Lobsang Jamyang Rinpoche, of Sera May in South India and the Manjushri Temple in Longueuil, also gave his blessing. I arrived right at the moment when the reliquary in the form of a large torma was being returned to the hands of his attendant. However, I was so glad to see Rinpoche's kind eyes above the golden silk that I could not help but exclaim, and the touch of that compassionate lama helped sustain me through the time of difficulty that soon followed.
That meeting also allowed me to reflect on the importance of contact with the lama in the form of a living master -- something that no written teaching nor ancient relic can replace.
The relics will travel until 2008, at which time they will be enshrined at the heart of the gigantic Maitreya-rupa building planned for Kushinagar, India.
dog: Sprite, an 8 year-old fluffy white female Spitz, (in the USA, the breed is called "American Eskimo dog") died two days later due to haemolytic anemia, a condition often associated with cancer and one that is fatal in most cases. There is some evidence to suggest that the condition can be the result of exposure to onions or garlic. Though most people know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, that potatoes and green tomatoes can also be harmful, and that onions and other bulb vegetables should be avoided, many brands of dog food -- Purina dog chow for example and some dog snacks -- contain garlic extract. This is probably due to the mistaken belief that dogs enjoy the flavour, or that it prevents flea infestation.
In her lifetime, Sprite had made the acquaintance of a number of lamas. When she was a pup, she managed to eat chunks of The Life of Milarepa, and also the frontispiece of A Pilgrimage Guide to Tibet which is the image of a deity. These acts were generally interpreted as indications of a karmic connection with Buddha-dharma. May she, and all animals -- indeed all sentient beings -- achieve Happiness, which is the end of suffering.
Sept. 25, 2003
Sogyal Rinpoche's reputation as a teacher stems mainly from his interpretation of the Nyingma phowa tradition that he wrote about, in collaboration with Andrew Harvey and Patrick Gaffney (editor,) as The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (London: Rider /Random House, 1992.) It struck a particular chord in the minds of French readers, so it is no wonder that the organization that he founded called Rigpa seems particularly strong in France and Quebec, although it has branches in other countries.
Sogyal Rinpoche gave a public talk at Pavilion Judith-Jasmin of UQAM (405 rue Ste-Catherine est, Montreal) on Thursday evening that lasted from a little after 8 until 10:30 pm. The auditorium which is a modern facility located below ground level was virtually full, and a number of people seemed to have gone out of their way to attend, most notably a man who did not have an easy time manoeuvring his walker along the uneven passages, and a patient woman with her well behaved black aide-dog.
Before the speaker's appearance, a moderator surveyed the audience to see who had read the book that "sold 1.8 million copies," how many understood English, spoke only French and so on. He reminded the audience that this was to be a discourse of an introductory nature and that a workshop on the topic of Transforming Suffering would be given over the coming weekend at Dawson College, under the auspices of Rigpa . Then, after a short biography by the moderator concluding with "le grand honneur que vous desirez tous," Rinpoche took his seat.
He was wearing a mustard cotton chuba over a dress shirt, and had a cardinal red raw silk shawl draped around him which he raised to wrap his shoulders as the evening wore on.
The English-to-French translator was an excellent orator in his own right, employing gestures that did not imitate the lama's but rather transposed them in an elegant fashion harmonizing with the French phraseology. I wondered whether he had had extensive practice with simultaneous translation, for Sogyal R. did not seem in the habit of interrupting his flow of words in the patient, rhythmic fashion that is usual under such circumstances, even though he himself had been a translator for many years.
Sogyal Lakar is among the few fortunate East Tibetans who, after going to India, went to university in Cambridge, England, ca. 1971. One of the students of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, after he died in 1959 in Sikkim Sogyal served as translator and aide to several other lamas including the 17th Karmapa. He began teaching in the West in 1974. He is no longer a monk. His brother is the VIIth Dzogchen Rinpoche.
The text for the Rigpa weekend was by IIIrd Dodrupchen, Jikme Tenpa Nyima, "the teacher of my teacher," and is called "Transforming Suffering and Happiness Into Enlightenment." That is, Kyi Duk Lam Khyer. It was apparent that he had prepared a discourse for the general public but besides this, Sogyal Tulku kindly gave us copies of his translation-in-progress of the root text, too. By the last hour of the evening, he preferred to refer to it rather than to his notes.
Rinpoche began by displaying his familiarity with the French language, joking, "Is he a bon traducteur? Not a traductrice?" (Later he would correct the translator whenever he neglected an introductory phrase, and would frequently stop and ask, "Comprends?")
He asked for a show of hands to see how many were familiar with Buddhist teachings, and teased us about whether we could say the Tibetan title of the text. He was to continue on this theme, mumbling the name of his guru a number of times during the evening by running the syllables together in an exaggerated way. I found this kind of humour to be off-putting, though on reflection it does serve to de-emphasize the exotic connotations of Buddhism, the fundamental principles of which, when systematically applied, produce satisfying results no matter the language or culture.
Referring to the first contact that Tibetan exile lamas in India had had with traveling Westerners, Rinpoche referred to the Dalai Lama -- "holding him in the highest esteem .. a great scholar and yogi. " As an example of HH's incisiveness, he shared with us His Holiness' definition of hippie: A foreign national who refuses to wear his own [style of] clothing.
In reference to the relation between the Nyingma and Kadampa (ie. Gelugpa) denominations, he pointed out that the Dalai Lama uses the Dzogchen texts of the late Dilgo Khyentse, an older, influential student of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro's. And in the root text which condenses "a 100 different passages into one," for the benefit of the 'Noble Ones' -- a phrase used to refer to bodhisattvas "like the Dalai Lama" -- the link between the two school is emphasized with the reference to "precious Kadamapa masters." These texts contribute to making him what he is, "It is the most precious in the world." The teaching in the text comes under the heading of lojong (mind-transforming.)
Rinpoche told us that he had just attended the first conference of American dharma centres in the New York area during which the Dalai Lama remarked, "One of the mind's most wonderful qualities is that it can be transformed." When people ask the DL, "What is the art of happiness?" he would say that although external circumstances can help, it is the internal aspects that help bring happiness. "It is as Patrul Rinpoche said, 'We keep the elephant at home, and then go outside looking for its footprints in the snow.' "
"We are what we think ... with our thoughts we make the world." Then Rinpoche played with the phrase, "losing it" and also "losing one's mind," emphasizing that we've lost it for sure when we think samsara is external and nirvana is inside. "As [Blaise] Pascal (1623 - 1662) [French philosopher, author of Les Pensees] put it, 'Tous les malheurs de l'homme viennent de son incapacite de rester seul dans sa chambre.'
Further to that idea, "Guru Rinpoche -- Padmasambhava -- said, 'Seek not to cut the root of phenomena; cut the root of the mind.' "
"Emotions are not the mind, just like the rays of the sun are not the sun."
"This is a basic teaching, but basic does not mean low, but rather profound."
"We work on the nature of the mind while at the same time, we try to transform habit."
"We use common sense and intelligence to understand, and then you are free."
"It is attachment that is the cause of our suffering in most circumstances. Is that clear?"
(Unfortunately, it was not nearly as clear as the explanations by Mingyur Rinpoche, the previous night. See the article linked below this one.)
"Many great masters say that a good practitioner is one who can bring anything to the path."
Quoting Sir Winston Churchill: 'It is by benefiting others that our life takes on meaning.' and 'You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.'
"Anyone falling asleep? I will snore with you." "When this happens at home in bed [to a couple] the other person thinks, 'At last he understands me.' (Rinpoche puts on an exaggeratedly boring voice, then he says, "I have found that laughter is refreshing, so now we can come back to the main point .. . ."
Keeping Our Suffering
Rinpoche said that anger is a way of holding on to suffering. He thought the French in particular enjoy talking about occasions of hurt or suffering. This creates an attitude of suffering, so that they do not have much chance of ridding themselves of it, having already decided to suffer. If the event or a similar one occurs, then it is actually the third time the unpleasantness arises in the mind, and now the habit of suffering is well established.
"When we get angry, we need something to blame -- we need a target. That is where Ignorance enters into it, and that is what is the cause of violence. But the Buddhist view is of interdependence, so if you examine the situation, you will see that there are numerous causes and conditions."
Rinpoche gave the example of anger which leads to acts of violence -- in particular, he spoke of domestic or spousal abuse -- the man coming home, frustrated and tired by his boss and his work. "Do not take it personally; it is not about you. If you can take the anger in a dignified way ... ."
Though the wife is not the cause, she can become the object of his anger -- the person towards whom the violence is directed. He suggested that she ought to acknowledge the man's anger -- that he especially stressed, which I thought was extremely revealing-- but that she should realize she was not its source and then she could return understanding, love and compassion towards her husband.
Rinpoche told an anecdote about how, when he was a student in England, he often had to take a bus which had a particularly nasty bus driver. "I could have reacted with anger, myself, but because of my own practice I was not vulnerable to this reaction but rather, to his suffering. I did whatever it was that he wanted me to do [to comply] -- without smiling-- that would have angered him more. Later on, I learned what was 'eating him.' "
"Don't get angry at yourself. You don't deserve it."
Rinpoche wondered whether we had seen the recent film,"Anger Management" but thought better of advising us to see it, saying, "It's quite funny -- but also not!"
"Do not sacrifice long term happiness to short term [gratification of letting emotions roll.] Remember the consequences; catch yourself. Let sanity return. It's OK to have emotion, but don't do anything nasty with it." He told about some Japanese who he had heard keep an effigy of the boss in the toilet.
"Do deep analysis: What is the consequence of negative emotion? Develop an 'early warning system.' "
"On the other hand, there are many causes and conditions. If you share the anger with everybody, the object will dissolve, because all is interdependent. Is that clear?" (I confess that this part was not very clear to me, at least.)
Our interpretation is dependant on the faculty of discernment. Our suffering is due to our own negative reactions. When a good practitioner suffers, it is viewed as a purification, or a speeding up of one's progress. At the highest level, suffering and happiness are the same.
When the Nangchen hermit was dying, another great lama thought he heard him cry because he was afraid. But he was heard to say, "Please invoke all the buddhas so that I will be reborn in hell in order to help the beings in torment there."
A merely good practitioner might not be ready for more suffering. He wants to renounce. When you suffer, you begin to understand how it is.
We transcend suffering by seeing it as a way to help others feel joy.
"When as a student I was in Paris, I felt alone and useless. Then I recalled the condition of Milarepa during his time of darkest despair."
Sogyal Rinpoche's mild Cambridge accent and facility with vocabulary, and his knowledge of American idiom and culture contribute to making his teaching a more relaxing experience than that of many notable Tibetan teachers who have emerged more recently. However, the fluency contributes to a showmanship and informality of manner that some might consider diminishes the simplicity, coherence and sense of urgency that normally attends Buddhist discourse. Perhaps it is exactly this conversational and entertaining style that allows the Buddha-dharma, in its premier capacity as a source of solutions to life's problems, to reach such a broad audience and readership.
On the other hand, as Sogyal Rinpoche himself states, in the Afterword of his booklet containing the root text, "A teaching like this should really be taught by Kadampa masters, ... ."
Sept. 24, 2003
Mingyur Rinpoche, on Mahamudra
Sept. 5-7, 2003
Bardor Tulku on Prajnaparamita.
July 13, 2003
HH Sakya Trizin at KTD
On full moon night, following a weekend during which many people took Refuge and Bodhisattva vows with Ven. Bardor Tulku, and a fortunate couple got married, the 41st Sakya Trizin bestowed an empowerment for the practice of Vajrakilaya.
By 7 pm, the shrine room at KTD was filled to capacity and initially it was very warm. The Kagyu congregation was swelled by a large number of devoted Sakyapas besides His Holiness' entourage which also included some monastics recently returned from Canberra, Australia.
Before I could sit down with my back against a high wooden table, a little boy ran across the back of the room and nabbed one of my cushions, which almost caused the gong to come crashing down when I finally dared lower myself to the floor.
The entrance of His Holiness was accompanied by an extended fanfare of gyaling (trumpets) and percussion. At 7:15, after the prayers of Refuge and Bodhicitta, and other preliminaries including the Vajrasattva mantra, the Sakya lineage-holder began to teach. However, this was also the moment a nearby person chose to become busy with money, rustling innumerable small red envelopes and then hustling to the front and back more than once during His Holiness' opening words.
At least the distraction offered an opportunity to reflect on the Perfection of Generosity. This need to accomplish an act of giving despite the circumstances, to be seen to do so, and to present many separate envelopes, undoubtedly was based upon the firm but misguided conviction that many people share -- that the merit attached to acts of donation will be individually and distinctively apportioned.
His Holiness was heard to express his thanks for the invitation to visit KTD, a "warm and traditional" place in North America of "outer learning and inner, spiritual development." At this his third visit, he acknowledged "our common love and devotion" and he expressed his feeling of encouragement at "signs that so many are taking an interest in, and learning and practicing Dharma."
He then explained that Vajrakilaya (Tib. Dorje P'hurba) is [like most Buddhist deities,] a manifestation of the activities of all the buddhas, but in particular his role is to subdue wrongful or harmful impediments. His practice is beneficial especially in degenerate times, when the whole environment seems to be suffering from conflict and obstacles.
The particular form is from the Khon tradition. The Khon family traces its origins to the Lharig, a group of celestial beings that settled near the world's highest mountains about 8 generations before the time of Padmasambhava. They intermingled with the local spirits or rakshas, who counted among themselves those presenting disturbances that later required the invitation from India of Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava. Those two teachers worked together to subdue them.
The Khon lineage descends from the first group of monks who demonstrated by their example that Buddhism would be successful in Tibet. These men (3 older brothers, a separate individual and a set of 3 younger brothers) comprised this auspicious first set of seven monks. One of the younger brothers, Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102) was known as Khon (>Tib. quarrelsome,) and he and his younger brother received this Dorje Phurba empowerment from Guru Padmasambhava.
All the earliest [Tibetan] practitioners were great Vajrakilaya practitioners. (The line of practitioners following the initial introduction of Buddhism in Tibet is known as the Nyingma. HH translated this as "old ordination." The others, including the Sakya [and Kagyu] are collectively called the "Sarma" -- "new ordination.")
The Khon or Sakyapa Vajrakilaya practice, though established through terma, still carries with it the "old ordination in an unbroken tradition until now." Its upper action is to work towards Enlightenment, while its lower action is to subdue evil. It is characterized by the use of a torma to symbolize the deity.
Before proceeding with the actual transmission, the imposing red Sakyapa headdress was handed His Holiness by an attending monk, who only removed its cloth covering as he passed it up. The quality of the ceremony seemed to undergo a distinct transformation from that moment on, as the Lama, himself, was empowered.
Vajrakilaya is essentially a purification deity -- the wrathful manifestation of Vajrasattva, who embodies the purity of all buddhas. As such, the torma by means of which the various transmissions occurred via a single empowering act, was topped by a victory standard with flounces in the colours of the other buddha families.
A tangka of the deity had been prominently on display near the dining area since earlier in the day. Before the actual empowerment, we received a detailed verbal description of the visualization and the practice, and we recited the mantra several times using the Tibetan pronunciation for "vajra." The initiation was complete by 8:30, despite the two very long lines of participants, due to its intensely concentrated nature.
The structure of the actual sadhana practice in the Khon tradition had been explained with an emphasis on the mental preparation, and HH also took care to detail the nature of the 8-fold preparations that "purify the mental continuum."
In his closing, he admonished us to "keep Samaya" and he wished us complete success, and hoped we would continue to practice the Dharma.
Like several people I later talked to, it was not easy to fall asleep that night. Fortunate to come upon a copy of Cyrus Stearns' Luminous Lives (Boston: Wisdom, 2001) in the sitting room, I was absorbed in the lives of the early Sakya founders until the wee smalls.
May 25 & 26th, 2003
Traleg Rinpoche at KTD
I only sat in the presence of Rinpoche, an aristocratically handsome man with shoulder length hair, for a short while. He is one of the younger English-speaking teachers, whose manner is informal and easy going although Mahamudra, his topic for the weekend, is most profound. I had hoped to catch a few Q & As but was told that he probably would not take much time with that.
Only about 20 people were there for that Sunday afternoon closing session, but the rain had ended and the shrine room was filled with a golden light.
I caught his closing remarks which included a story about the conditioned mind -- how some people, thinking that their meal was dog meat, immediately began to get nauseous, and a related joke about expecting a "Mahamudra for Dummies" to appear any day now. I say "related" because Mahamudra concerns attitude, and I could immediately see the familiar shiny yellow cover with a big black heading ... .
I had only just arrived after a long drive and though my intention was to pay my respects, I realized I had not had the presence of mind to bring a katha (or anything else with me) and so I left instead of waiting in line for his blessing.
Raktrul is about 45 minutes from KTD, and the way is not a simple route, so be sure to get very detailed directions. It is situated at the end of a long driveway along which there are a few other country houses. An iron gate opens to a modest hilltop property donated for the use of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche. The top floor of the white clapboard house contains the shrine room and living quarters.
On Monday, there were about 18 people in attendance besides the eminent lama, Garchen Rinpoche, and two monks. There were a couple of chairs besides the rows of gomden on the floor. Most people seemed to be practitioners with some years of experience, and Rinpoche even remarked that the discourse would be more in the nature of a "picnic" rather than a formal teaching.
I arrived a few minutes late, and was amazed to find that my favourite seat was there as if waiting for me.
After the profound and skilful teaching, I was in somewhat of a daze. Still "buzzed" from the drive, from trying to absorb and yet not be overwhelmed by conflicting and complex energies, and also awash with gratitude and appreciation, I did not notice that everyone had risen when it came time for Rinpoche to leave the room. When he was almost in front of me, I was embarrassed to discover that I was the only person sitting, and I hid my face, pressing my palms together in front of my forehead.
Rinpoche kindly turned to me and put his left hand on my shoulder. I will feel the blessing for a very long time.
not a simple route: The directions on the Raktrul flyer are from exit 19 of route 87, and not from KTD. Note that on the way is a toll bridge costing $1, but only for one direction. I had hoped to return to Woodstock for lunch, and then get back to Raktrul for the 3:30 session, but my getting lost on the way back to KTD (despite the purchase of a map in one of the towns near Kingston) used up 2 hours of driving time, not to mention fuel, and I was far too "drived out" to attempt the two journeys again that day, even though the rain had stopped. (The previous day I had spent over 5 hours on the road, much of it in rain and fog.)
Beware the town of Kingston. Its centre is marked by an intersection with a mall on each corner. To a newcomer, each of the town's quarters resembles the other, so it is easy to get confused. Beware any small town with more than one McDonald's.