Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Causal Seed of Esoterica

"The covert intention with respect to interpretation refers to teachings given in a form which is extremely difficult to understand in order to pacify the fault of those who think:

This doctrine is inferior to others
Because it is easy to understand."

~ Dudjom Rinpoche
The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism
Wisdom 1991 p 221

Monday, October 18, 2010

Encouraging Study

"Sometimes, in the Tibetan monasteries, a younger student or junior khenpo would review the teachings given by a senior khenpo. He might go over the teachings with the other monks. Perhaps they would study the teachings once or twice, and then get together and encourage one another. They often debated, asking each other difficult questions. This, too, is contemplation."

Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche
PSL Shedra Series, Vol. 3 p 47

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lake-born Vajra

Indrabhuti, king of Oddiyana, was old, blind and lacked an heir. His aged queen had recently given birth to a son but the child soon died. A great famine was raging. The king was depressed; Asenya, the local seer, gives him sagely advice to pacify his heart. As a result, on the first full moon of summer, the king makes great offerings to the Three Jewels, chants Mahayana sutras and vows to open his treasury for the relief of the country.
"This was the time of famine
when men even ate flowers."
While out foraging on the northwest margins of Lake Danakhosha, Trigunadhara, a minister of the royal court, discovers a beautiful child seated upon an extraordinarily large lotus in a forest of udumbara flowers. The boy appeared to be about eight years old. His complexion is radiant, the color of purple seashells. The minister hesitates to bring the child to the palace, for if this turned out to be a problem, he might lose his head. Better to tell the king and let him decide what to do about it. Presently, the king was out at sea and if all went well, was expected to be returning soon.

It had been another rough year, and the treasury was now empty. A council had been held to discuss economic concerns. Schemes involving farming, trade and warfare were considered. And so far, no royal baby was forthcoming. Sorcerers and astrologers were invited to make their calculations. All were predicting happiness and blessings. "Since he has distributed alms without limit, it is sure that a son will be born." King Indrabhuti got caught up in this optimism and felt he might be closing in on his goal. He arranges for massive assemblies of Buddhist and Brahmin pandits to intervene with the gods. The king himself makes great offerings and dramatizes his affliction but nothing changes.

Asenya came with his retinue to beg alms only to be told the treasury was empty. He complains, saying that if they were not given their share, all the sacrifice was for naught. The king trusts his old friend and to show that he is sincere in his efforts to make sure everyone is covered, Indrabhuti invites the old magician and his gang to move into the palace. The situation had gotten so bad, the king had been contemplating a risky sea voyage to seek out gems on distant shores but instead decides to give it another shot using more traditional means, employing the assembly of 1002 Brahmins and Buddhists to propitiate the gods. A sacrificial fire is prepared but as luck would have it, the demons are aroused by all of this and in union, unleash their dark powers. Oddiyana is assailed with 'gnawing sickness' and armed conflicts. Meteor showers rain stones from heaven, violent winds and thunderstorms destroy villages and lives. The king reconsiders his plan; perhaps the sea journey was a good idea after all.

Upon consultation, an old salt warns him that this kind of trip is only for poor folk and desperadoes, not kings, much less a blind one. Many supplies are required, from live pigeons and good rope, to sails and the ship itself. There are countless dangers. The king is not intimidated. He sees to everything and hires the old trader as captain. After the craft and a crew of 500 is in place, Indrabhuti insists on accompanying them. The captain makes some parting comments, giving the king and any crew member another chance to change their minds in light of the dangers. He then offered a few words of encouragement regarding the rewards of a successful adventure before the sails were spread and the ship 'moved forward like an arrow'. Arriving safely at the Land of Gems, the king and captain disembark and row off together in a little boat. Carefully following the captain's instructions, the king soon obtains the wish-fulfilling gem and vision is restored to his left eye.

Upon his return to Oddiyana, the minister Trigunadhara has arrived from his sojourn to the northwest and informs the king of the miraculous child. Indrabhuti is carrying the gem which will restore the health and happiness of his kingdom, but he is intrigued by this news. "We must go near. I had a dream last night that a radiant golden vajra with nine points appeared from the sky and came into my hand; and I dreamed that the sun was rising in my heart." They sail out across the lake and upon encountering the child, the king is amazed. He asks six very ordinary questions.

"Who is your father?"

"My father is the Knowing of Knowledge."

Who is your mother?"

"My mother is Samantabhadri, holy joy and transcendence of the Void."

"What is your country?"

"I have none, having been born on the Essence Plane with its unique caste."

"On what do you nourish yourself?"

"I nourish myself with both clarity and perplexity."

"What are you doing here?"

"I am here devoting myself to the destruction of suffering."
The king and minister both wept. Indrabhuti's right eye now opened. Given the name Tsokyi Dorje, Indestructible One Born of the Lake, the miraculous child was adopted by the king. As the royal entourage approached the palace with the child still seated upon the massive lotus , the town welcomed the procession with banners, dancers, mimes and musicians.

" The greatest actors of the land
put on masks and began their acts."

Song of the Sixteen Great Dakinis


On the stem and in the corolla of the wonderful lotus
of Shining Immaculate, pure Plane of Essence,
attaining the pure happiness of the truly unfeigned,
Being unique with the eight names, to you praise and homage!

To the east of the spontaneous lotus, formed with a single stroke,
appearing as Shakya Senge, Lion of the Shakya, perfect incarnation,
surrounded by the host of the Vajra Dakinis,
sitting in the midst of radiant light, without origin and all pure,
to Shakya Senge, homage!

To the south of the lotus, wide and rich in resources,
appearing as Padma Gyalpo, a great wave of gnosis,
surrounded by the host of the Jewel Dakinis,
luminous Universal Knower,
sitting and persuading each one according to his understanding,
to Padma Gyalpo, homage!

To the west of the lotus, most wonderful form on the expanse of the waters,
appearing as Padmasambhava in the body of heaven,
surrounded by the host of the Lotus Dakinis,
sitting among the wonders whose power is to his liking,
to Padmasambhava, homage!

To the north of the lotus of the All-Embracing Work,
appearing as Dorje Dorlod, conqueror of the demons of misery,
surrounded by the host of the Karma Dakinis,
enthroned among the fivefold gnosis, quintuple perfect primacy,
to Dorje Dorlod, homage!

To the southeast of the lotus of the Members of the Awakening,
appearing as Nyima Odzer dispelling dark ignorance,
escorted by Heroes of the Vajra, his retinue,
enthroned among the Bodhisattvas, benefactors of human beings,
to Nyima Odzer, homage!

To the southwest of the lotus, exercising the power of the Nine Vehicles,
appearing as Padma Jungnay who makes the cannibals shut their mouths,
surrounded by Heroes of the Jewels, his escorts,
abiding within the access to the five paths and ten stages,
to Padma Jungnay, homage!

To the northwest of the original lotus of the Being without Birth,
appearing as Senge Dradog, Master of the Dharma of the six knowledges,
escorted by the Heroes of the Lotus, his retinue,
enthroned, pure enchanter, among the cardinal points,
to Senge Dradog, homage!

To the northeast of the Unshakable Lotus
appearing as Lodan Chogsed, the flame of wisdom,
escorted by Heroes of Consuming Karma, his retinue,
enthroned in the midst of the depth of the four immense merits,
to Lodan Chogsed, homage!

To the throng surrounding the Master, to the host of the dakinis and servants,
to the four warrantors of the Dharma
and to the four goddesses of the threshold,
to the mamos and to the dakinis who, outside and inside, protect from dangers,
to the sworn guardians of the Dharma, homage!


from The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Canto 19 Padma bKa'i thang, Dharma, 1978

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Pillar Inscription at Samye

King Trisong Detsan's Royal Declaration
that Buddhism should be the state religion of Tibet;
pillar inscription at Samye Monastery (767 ce)

As the monasteries at Ra-sa (Lhasa), Red Rock (Samye) and other places have now been established as sanctuaries for the Three Jewels, the practice of Buddhadharma in Tibet is never to be abandoned or destroyed and the material support at those sites will never cease or diminish. Hereafter, each generation of the mighty kings in Tibet, along with their royal entourages must swear to such a vow which they must never alter or renounce. Taking as witness the world-transcending deities, the worldly deities, and all non-human beings, the present King with his Princes, nobles and ministers have now sworn to this vow. Further details of these edicts are kept in other places.


Copied from the brass plaque translation of the Tibetan characters carved 
into a large wooden slab on display in the Sangha House at 
Padma Samye Ling, Delaware County, New York

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mandala Beyond Origination

THU JUNE 10, 2010:

Through the mysteries of interdependence, we had been called last fall at the request of the Lamas to come to Padma Samye Ling, their New York monastery, to help work on the temple. We made two trips three weeks apart and anticipating future projects, had promised to return in the spring. Due to dharma-centre politics, I had been steering clear of gatherings for a few years. Changes in the mandala and the time spent in New York last fall renewed the connection. The experience was so valuable I encouraged the rest of the sangha to make the effort to spend some time there. Zhibde was ready in May and offered to drive her van and pay gas but only Gyatso was able to go with her. After nearly a week working in the monastery kitchen and tiny garden, they too came back very inspired. Members of my family would have joined them but had other obligations. In the second week of June master carpenter Silas Rigdzin was ready to fulfill our promise to return. His wife Tsering, recently unemployed and would accompany him. As it happened, Dechen didn't have any work at that point, so at the 11th hour, we decided to join them. An open circle in the living room that morning allowed us to sort some of the samsaric confusion which had rocked the house over the past few days, and after a big loving goodbye, we left the hollow at 4:30, descending from our highland camp into the green bottoms of Maury County, soon crossing the Duck and Harpeth Rivers. We made one short stop to meet Mark and load up many boxes of Pema Mandala, PSL's community magazine, published in Nashville. These will be postmarked and sent out from PSL in New York. It sounds incredibly inefficient, and since the usual cost of shipping them would be unnecessary if they could be mailed from Music City, I assume someone has already checked out the options.

Ascending out of the Nashville basin, we ramp up onto the Cumberland Plateau where I-40 makes three crossings of Caney Fork before we stop at a fourth and walk down through the woods to the river. A twilight fog about three feet thick covers the water. We said some prayers and burned some offerings for a safe excursion before continuing into the night. East of Knoxville, we leave I-40 for I-81 and the hills of southwest Virginia. Tsering cues up James Asher's Tigers of the Raj. I nod off. Two thirds of our travel time will be spent on I-81 which slithers across valley & ridge topography, long parallel thrusts and folds of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks covered in deciduous forest. We stop after midnight to sleep in a motel room that smells of cigarette smoke. Wytheville VA was the site of a raid by Union forces in the summer of 1863. An attack intended to destroy rails, bridges, salt and lead mines was repulsed by a small, hastily assembled confederate force. The Yanks had better luck in December 1864 with similar targets in Marion, 25 miles south.

Caney Fork, Putnam County, Tennessee


Over incredibly expensive morning coffee, Rigdzin and I agree that Tsering's new purse resembles an elephant's scrotum or rather, what we imagine one might look like. The day is beautiful. We stop to throw a frisbee at a grassy rest area and say some prayers on Roanoke Creek before continuing north, crossing two junctions with the Appalachian Trail & talking American history. Over the headwaters of the James (named after the English King) or Powhatan River (named for a Native American confederacy), past exits for Appomattox courthouse, Virginia Military Institute, the farm of Cyrus McCormick who did not fear the reaper, Jefferson and Washington National Forests, Monticello, Woodrow Wilson's birthplace, and James Madison's home. I-81 passes over the Shenandoah River before paralleling it into the valley, Blue Ridge rising dark blue to the east, Appalachians rise green to our immediate left. Signs for Massanutten Mountain recall Stonewall Jackson's military genius, valley campaign (1862) excellent maps and finally, how a late night recon ended with 'friendly fire' from a nervous pickett, his amputated arm and subsequent death. Fields covered in crops today reflect abundance and no sign of social breakdown but it was said a crow flying across the valley would have to pack a lunch during General Sheridan's 1864 campaign. His troops employed the same harsh tactics favored by Sherman in his march from Atlanta. We roll by exits for Manassas, Harper's Ferry, Antietam, & Gettysburg. Beyond the Potomac and Mason-Dixon line (1767) Pennsylvania and the ghosts of James Buchanan, Molly Pitcher, and the Tuscarora (lit. hemp-gatherers), a North Carolinian tribe with ties to the Iroquois. Long abused by British colonials, they asked the Five Nations in New York if they could move back near them. The Tuscarora were embraced as a sixth nation settling in both Pennsylvania and New York.

Afternoon we exit the machine for a second break at a picnic table in sunny Cumberland County before zipping along the base of Silurian-era Blue Mountain, the easternmost ridge of the Appalachians, a great wall running for 150 miles, separating the populous southeastern corner of the state, the Cumberland Valley, from the mountains. A mile long bridge spans the gap where the Susquehanna has penetrated the ridge on its way to Chesapeake Bay. Commercial traffic is prohibited on this longest river draining into the Atlantic. I-81 passes north of Harrisburg, the state capitol. I think of my mysterious ancestors who settled here in a Jewish enclave after leaving Kiev late in the 19th century. Second Mountain is the name given to that section of Blue which lies between the river and Fort Indiantown Gap, after which Blue Mountain continues northeast into the Kittatinny Mountains of New York. I-81 leaves the valley and climbs north through Swatara Gap. The AT descends again to cross the road at this point before regaining the ridge. Well-forested slopes, stunted white birch trees, ancient beds of rock dramatically exposed in roadcuts, darker seams reminding us we are in coal country and cueing the fiddles of In the Blue Diamond Mine. Passing between Mahantango (mid-Devonian) and Sharp Mountains, followed by Nescopeck, and anntenae-studded Penobscot Knob, all outliers of the Appalachians cresting below treeline, some ridges lined with dozens of tall white wind towers.

Out of a relatively green samadhi, patches of white and brown urban chaos appear in the valleys below as we negotiate the Scranton corridor to the music of King Crimson. The Susquehanna parallels the interstate here for ten miles although it is on the far side of town, invisible from the road. Upstream, we cross a tamer Susquenhana for a second time before a final stop at dusk to burn in the bushes outside the police station at the first rest stop in New York. A third and final crossing over a on Rte 17 precedes entry into the Delaware River watershed. Upon learning Rigdzin has never heard the Stone's Gimme Shelter, Dechen cues it up. Now on two lane blacktop we climb past the darkened Cannonsville Reservoir and roll up through the woods to the Buddha Highway and Padma Samye Ling. After turning off the lights and engine, we stumble out into the silent night and carry our bags inside where we soon find Peter sweeping on the third floor of the Bodhicitta Inn. Excited to be here, there is no one around so we settle into a room on the first floor and sleep in yacht-like bunks after noting the position of Polaris.

Buddha Highway, Padma Samye Ling,
Delaware County, New York

SAT JUNE 12: NEW MOON, MIPHAM (1846-1912)

At breakfast in the Sangha House we meet Michelle who is a doctor in New York. As we set up for the day's work, Laya, recently ordained as lama, gives the ladies a tour of the temple and grounds. Rigdzin and I unload magazines, lumber and tools. Our efforts will focus on the western entrance to the temple known as the 'moon gate' which we helped build on our second trip here last autumn. This has become the primary entrance for practitioners. On the farside of the gonpa, the eastern or 'sun entrance' now has a handicap ramp covered with a tough composite like they are using at rest areas and national parks. The temple has no rain gutters. Come winter, icicles four foot long form on the balconies and drop off without warning. Since we have been here, the eight stupas carved in Indonesia had been delivered, installed around the temple and painted. Five life-size dhyani Buddhas from the same igneous quarry had arrived on a previous ship and patiently waited in their crates outside the Khenpos' house for a season. Now they were all seated against the outer walls of the temple giving darshan to beings in the four directions. We met with Ani Lorraine to discuss a design for coat racks, a sign-in table and benches with cubby holes below for shoes. With funds from Turtle Hill Sangha, Rigdzin had ordered planed cedar which we carried from Tennessee. This first morning, we tongue & groove the boards to assemble a double rack for short coats. Lama Laya passes through and asks us to save the cedar shavings for smoke offerings. Khenpo Tsewang also soon comes by and tells us his older brother, Khenchen, is on retreat. This is their mandala as well as their home. We do not expect to see much of Khenchen, if at all, on this trip. He has given us all so much, traveling and teaching relentlessly over the last twenty years, he naturally needs to rest and recharge his batteries once in awhile. We have come to work and be of service. Invariably, we receive more than we could have imagined.

Everyone who passes by comments about the smell of the cedar. Michelle says a fistful of sanded cubes in a little bag would sell for ten dollars in Manhattan. We have plenty of them. Anyone want to hit the streets and hawk them in the city? Other comments ranged from 'just like my grandma's cedar chest' to 'smells like a gerbil cage'. In setting up a work table, we make use of a box labelled 'Nirman plywood and blackboard Co.' Is that ironic? I had to ask. The skies are sprinkling rain. Sergei, resident Russian artist responsible for almost all of the beautiful images on the gonpa walls tells us about the elaborate paintings he once saw in a Nepalese Buddhist temple. By the quality of the work and attention to detail he figured it must have taken years. When told it was all completed in six months, he could not believe this until learning the project was due to the devotion of three talented, young Nepali acidheads. Closer to home, a young man who was not on acid but responsible for lunch got a late start in the kitchen resulting in hard beans and rice that was fairly terrible. The ladies took inventory and Tsering rode with Michelle to town for supplies. We worked late and came down to eat while everyone was attending evening practice in the temple. Dinner was excellent as the beans were re-cooked into a chili sauce served over potatoes with tofu sour-cream. After dinner, we talked with Sergei & his wife Kelly. At 1:08 we were still stargazing on the front steps of the Bodhicitta Inn.

Buddha Vairocana, Padma Samye Ling


Another late start today, overcast skies, and it is very muggy. Some of the small crew on hand are heeding Khenpo Tsewang's recent admonition to take Sundays off. Rigdzin and I take a moment to rethink the original design for racks and benches, and the suggested changes are soon approved by Ani. We begin work on a rack for longer coats. More tongue and grooving. Sanders begin to buzz removing any roughness in the grain or sharp edges. Sergei stops by to comment on our talk the previous evening. I had introduced Herbert Guenther's ideas about the now dessicated Aral Sea being the legendary Lake Danakhosha and Urgyen being Old Urgench near the once-upon-a-delta of the Amu Darya River. Sergei tells me one of the men who helped build Samye, Tibet's first monastery, hailed from that area and was actually sent for by Padmasambhava. And among the 25 heart disciples in Tibet, one hailed from Sogdiana, one of the few place names that sounds anything like Oddiyana.

Khenpo Tsewang Rinpoche, approaching with upward palms takes your hands, his bronzed forehead leans forth to touch your own. We exchange good mornings before he put palms together to regard someone behind me - the black Amitabha statue seated near the moon gate, here on the western side of the temple. This gesture was so natural to Khenpo, for a moment I felt like I was ignoring a living person. He smiled and repeatedly thanked us for coming, sincerely praising our efforts in a way that almost made us blush. Marveling at the pattern and color of the wood, he says, sandalwood trees are considered sacred but do not grow in Tibet, so Himalayan Cedar is used instead. The wood we are working with, commonly known as cedar or eastern red cedar is actually a native specie of juniper (Juniperus virginiana), but hey.... In discussing work to be done with Sergei, Khenpo Tsewang suggests that the buddhas remain black with some selective gold trimming on the lotus seat and robes, perhaps the ushnisha bump atop the head. He also says something about, 'opening the eyes.' Sergei indicates that traditionally, each Buddha should have a small canopy shielding them from the elements. There is no end to the detail, no finality to the building of this mandala. If there were a thousand people here, they could all stay busy with projects contributing to Khenchen's vision.

Having discovered our love of Pecan Sandies, Ani makes sure we have a whole bag to go with our coffee breaks. Tsering advises stretching like Vajrayogini to loosen up a sore hip, likely acquired by a long sit in the truck. Laya has asked her to paint one of the 'Nirman' boxes red. It will bv used to carry offerings in outdoor pujas. Ngakpa Drakpa and I talk in the Sangha House whereI learn of two new books coming out based on Khenchen's teachings, a large one on the Guhyagarbha Tantra and another which will include the zhi-khro revealed by Karma Lingpa, which is the basis for the Bardo Thodrol, better known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. We both marvel at the unique Nyingma perspective offered by Khenchen Palden on the Rangtong & Shentong debate.

An amazing spinach-garbanzo-potato soup and cornbread was served for dinner after which I copied the Samye declaration from a large slab of wood carved in Tibetan on display in the main room of the Sangha House. After the sun sets, an orange salamander on a dark road gets attention. We run into Sergei, who is in a rare mood, somewhat excited about a set of thangkas he was commissioned to paint. Over the course of our exchange, he shares some of his unique experiences and perspectives as trained thangka painter in Asia and America. Dechen and I lost track of Rigdzin & Tsering later that evening and in looking for them, re-ascended the large stone steps leading up to the temple, silky new prayers flags waving in the breeze. On the return trip we stopped in the Sangha House for toast and hot soymilk before retiring.

Tripod for fire pujas,
Khenpos residence in background


Woke to rain, coffee and oatmeal for breakfast before shuffling up the hill to begin setup. Turn on compressor, unroll cords, assemble router, table and chop saws to fashion wood for benches, putty over nail holes, fill nail gun, mucho sanding, always have a tape and sharp pencil ready and general gofering for Rigdzin. His ability to visualize what he wants to build is admirable. I have told him many times that he would likely excel at visualizing the yidam, should that ever become a primary practice. For now, Rigdzin's main contribution is in practical service as a master carpenter in support of the Guru and his community. Khenchen Palden is travelling to Oneonta with Ani to see the doctor today. We might have hoped to see him pass along the road but this did not happen. The ladies are highly praised for the Tibetan Noodle Soup - tukpa, served for lunch. A continuity of good food coming from the kitchen is apparently one of the weaker points in this small, ever-changing gathering of practitioners. As cooks, farmers and carpenters with a strong background in community, our earthiness and hands on experience with the material plane is obviously one of the stronger points we are able to offer.

Come afternoon, the ladies bring coffee to the work site before we take a short walk n the woods behind the temple to top of Dharmapala Hill, the peak above the Khenpos residence. An old road winds past a rotting little hunting cabin, an artifact of the previous owner. We continue up through a thick understory of ferns in an oak and maple forest. Sky is gray and the tang of fungus hangs in the air. Many dead trees standing in these woods. In Tennessee, theywould have been harvested for firewood but the crew here is especially small in winter and all of the buildings run on oil. Exposed Devonian boulders exfoliate horizontally in slate-thick sections. Someone has collected enough slabs to build a small stupa off to one side of the clearing. The grassy crown of the hill is broken up by trees both living and dead between which old prayer flags are strung in great numbers gradually returning their substance to the elements.

Upon return, Ani says KPSR is not improving, that he is actually worse than last year. This was a little disturbing to hear, as she is very close to him. One of the young retreatants asks why we don't come sit with everyone in the temple at morning or evening prayers which happen every day. Dechen explains that because we have prior obligations and can only stay for four days, we have decided to put all our efforts into seva.

The Stupa of Complete Victory
commemorates Buddha successfully prolonging his life by three months
marking victory over all misadventures


Whatever it is we are able to do here, we have to finish it up today. Lots more puttying nail holes and seams, sanding, vacuuming. Everyone has been enriched, re-energized in relation to the Three Jewels on the basis of sheer proximity to the physical presence of the Guru. Some of the newer people have spent months working and retreating on the land but very little time with Khenchen. We are gaining a better appreciation of how generous and familial both of the Khenpos have been with us over the last twenty years. Everyone feels it and this is exactly why we wanted to bring the ladies who are both enthused and already talking about returning in autumn. Khenpo Tsewang stops by with Ani and after telling us Khenchen is not doing so well, suggests, 'so maybe say some prayers for him.' Knowing we are leaving in the morning, Ani invites us all to come over to the Khenpos residence at 8 pm. Rigdzin and I stand with hands folded at heart-level as they slowly progress along the path circling the gonpa. Khenpo Tsewang turns to acknowledge us from a distance, smiling under a faded red ballcap. Now Ani turns and with a gaze that is so full of love it can be hard to fathom until you understand what she does, she too raises her palms, bows her head slightly. Before they are out of sight around the corner, Khenpo and Ani turn our way once again; we are honored, blown away by their warm regard.

As the hour approaches, the phrase, 'You might be late for your own funeral but you'd better be on time for the lama' runs through my head. Dechen and Tsering have been helping us today and we manage to wrap it up but are still fairly covered in fragrant cedar dust when we arrive for a short goodbye meeting with the Khenpos. We all sit on the back porch to remove shoes before entering. Ani leads us into the main room where, to our amazement, both of my beloved teachers were sitting, facing west, enough light still pouring through the southern windows that we needed no more. Khenpo Tsewang occupying the closer chair, lovingly motions me to greet Khenchen first. Khenchen is quietly but audibly saying mantra. Rigdzin and I sit to their left, the ladies to the right. Khenchen looks a bit frail. He is in robes but has on socks and longjohns. His features are sharp like he has lost weight, but he does not look like he is in any pain. He is very present, surprisingly youthful and seems almost enthused as if he is about to start on a journey. "How is it in Tennessee?" he asks. Rigdzin replies that it is very hot and that its been nice to work up here in some cooler weather. Khenchen came back with, "you should move up here" all in English. "Maybe we will," I said. Khenchen does not usually speak in English. He looks my way to see if I have anything more to say. I imagine we will be able to talk about more philosophical and scholarly things sometime in the future when he is feeling better. I said, "We want you to get healthy. We still need you. Please do everything you can to get better soon." Dechen having heard about a reluctance to take medicine and his insistence that practice would be sufficient, pleaded, "Please take your medicine, we want you around for a long time." Khenchen held his hand out and made a gradually upward motion from left to right, as if to say, 'I am slowly improving'. "Please..." we implored again. They both thanked us profusely for coming and working, then showered us with gifts, including bells & dorjes, pictures of Padmasambhava blessed by Dudjom Rinpoche's wife, practice texts, a CD of chants from the nuns of Sravasti, jewelry for the ladies and a large thangka for the sangha. Again, one by one, each of us took both their hands in our own, closed eyes and touched foreheads together to receive their blessings before making our way back outside. Dechen said she could feel the energy surging between herself and Ani when they bumped heads, "As we were leaving I felt that Ani wanted to share something with me but then decided not to."

Heated leftovers were more than adequate for dinner. I was exhausted from the day's labor but Rigdzin soon headed back uphill to build a rack for two copper prayer wheels to be installed by the door leading into the temple from the moon gate. Relaxing together that evening, concerned about Khenchen Palden's health, talk turned toward the literal meaning of Khenchen's long life prayer. Upon returning to the Bodhicitta Inn, Sergei gave us some high-quality postcard-sized reprints of his work. I chose an image of the powerful Black Yang-Phur Vajrakilaya and one of Garab Dorje. Sergei encouraged us to make and sell puja tables over a cup of red wine in their little apartment. Kelly showed us their fossil collection. We soon learn the sangha will be holding special services and a general assembly this weekend to pray for the long life of Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche.

In the Medicine Buddha Temple


We pack the truck which is now parked in front of the Bodhicitta Inn. Sergei hands me a hardcover book entitled The Silk Road, A History as we say goodbye. The ladies have requested a tour of the Medicine Buddha temple and Drakpa obliges. The only full-time resident here is the wonderful art collection and a hot tub which has never been used. Over in one corner of the main shrine room, amidst all the Buddhas and thankgkas, sits a simple bedroll, a felt hat and a walking stick, a touching reminder of Bill, the Chicago devotee and maha-patron who bought the land PSL now occupies, the luminous red tile that covers the floors and wainscot, and so much more. Bill died of a heart attack the day after the temple was consecrated.

At the Cannonsville Reservoir we say a few more prayers for Khenchen Palden and protection on the road ahead. Too soon stuck in traffic for too long south of Wilkes-Barre; all kinds of rock and roll. At one point, we were parked in the left lane, two cars behind an 18-wheeler. In front of him the lane was clear as far as anyone could see, but jammed just around the bend. No one in the right lane paid it any mind as we inched forward. A small pickup tried to pass to our left, rolling over the grass in the central divide. The big truck driver sees him coming and quickly whips his cab to the left shoulder, over onto the grass so that the little guy is forced into the steeper part of the drainage ditch and must accelerate to get around the big guy. Traffic is barely moving again when another driver, this one a woman in a small sedan, attempts to pass around the right side of the truck but he will not let her get by easily either. She drops back as traffic comes to a halt. She wants her place back in the left lane behind the semi. The man in the car ahead closes the gap behind the big truck, shutting her out. Rigdzin slows to a halt and leaves her plenty of space to get in between us, but she doesn't want it, insisting that the guy ahead of us let her in front. She is screaming at him when he thrusts a hand out the window implying WTF! and then decides to let her occupy the space between himself and the psycho in the big truck. DBT sings stories for us as the sun sets, the diesel taking us back across the Susquehanna at Harrisburg. After a promotional build-up inflating expectations, we learn that it was all for naught because the Mexican dude who ran the little restaurant in Woodstock VA went out of business over the winter. We settle for China Wok, where one lovely Chinese girl, an overworked young waitress, inspired possibilities for offbeat fiction. Spent the night under the stars without a tent at Wolf's Gap. After everyone fell asleep, a police car made the rounds illuminating license plates of those camped here before heading back down the hill to Virginia. Wind blows strong all night long.


We took an early morning walk on the trail that leads to Tibbet's Knob and chanted prayers at a beautiful overlook before speeding south through the Shenandoah Valley, beside rolling fields of knee-high corn, barns covered in bright red or rusting tin, silos capped by shiney domes, others topless, abandoned to ivy and creepers. Narrow, tall colonial farmstead homes of brick or stone, dark green patches of garden potatoes out back, waving fields of alfalfa, the color of wildflowers blooming in the divide, past Elliot's Knob (4458 ft) on the ridge known as Great North Mountain. Black bear and Bobcat still thrive here. We pass the monadnock Sugarloaf (3626), musing on the dark history of Brush Mountain, site of the crash that killed Audey Murphy in 1971 and the kind of violence on the AT that one hesitates to repeat. Blue Ridge runs to our east for over 300 miles until the highway curves sharply west, passing between Walker and the Iron Mountains as we approach the TN-VA border. On the far side of Walker Mountain the hills contain the largest deposits of the best quality coal in Virginia. A bridge south of Kingsport Tennessee spans the dark rocks of a steep-walled gorge over the Holston. We have crossed the point where water drains to the Atlantic and are now in the watershed of the Tennessee River and greater Mississippi basin. In the 18th century, this was the west. The Dead Weather fills the cab as we roll by Sycamore Shoals where a group of Cherokee sold most of Kentucky to Richard Henderson, a real estate speculator, in 1775. The Henderson purchase was illegal and provocative, but in the meanwhile, Daniel Boone was hired to spearhead settlement in the 'dark, bloody ground.' Exits for President Andrew Johnson and Davy Crockett. Soon, the road is suspended above the earth as it bows through north Knoxville. Tall white towers of the Clinch River plant bring to mind the coal ash pond that ruptured and sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge across 300 acres of surrounding land in December 2008. TVA is being fined for that so naturally, our rates have gone up. Climbing the eastern slope of Walden's Ridge, along the base of the Crab Orchard Mountains onto the Cumberland Plateau, past the exit to Padma Gochen Ling, the retreat center built after the Khenpos first came to Tennessee in the late '80's. We originally met them in an old log cabin which occupies the same hollow. Last autumn we met with the Khenpos and the greater sangha for a Vajrakilaya empowerment, the third time they opened this mandala in Tennessee. I was fortunate to have been there all three times. We stop again at the rest area on Caney Fork, leaving the cars and descending through the woods to watch the twilight fade on the cliffs and mist creep over the water, grateful for a safe and productive journey.


Rigdzin & Tsering, Caney Fork, Tennessee

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Seven Line Prayer

The Seven Line Prayer is the primary invocation of Padmasambhava for Nyingma devotees, chanted thrice at the begining of any sadhana. The prayer is said to have originated in eastern India, revealed by a 'black dakini' who referred to Padmavajra as her brother. This was Kali or Smashan-Tara, suggesting inherent accord among the highest levels of tantric realizers from both Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions. [1]


Line 1: On the northwest border of Oddiyana

Oddiyana; a medieval kingdom in central Asia associated with tantric wisdom, translates as going by flying

Oddiyana, the province of Mind, the axial Sushumna, blue Uma, central channel, middle way between extremes and ancient context of spiritual freedom

Invoking Guru Padma 'On the northwest border' - at the extreme periphery of ordinary perception, where samsara meets nirvana

One ground, two paths.
~ Jigme Lingpa

One and the same primordial space allows for the adventures of samsara as well as the peace of nirvana.

The two most obvious objects in earth's sky appear to be round & about the same size but could hardly be more different.

From the heart of the Ganges basin,
  • west is the direction from which came both conquerors & civilization (reloaded)
  • north is certain death, barren wastelands, barbarism beyond the pale of society.
Border, junction, frontier, horizon, crossroad, liminality;
Tibetan bardo means between two, the twilight zone of inner/outer, solar/lunar, form/emptiness; rigpa

Line 2: On the pistil stem of a lotus

Yab-yum flowers, luminous differentiation of attraction
Union of intrinsic awareness & emptiness of objective expanse

Corolla petals as expanse of appearances
Pistil as reflective awareness; joined at stem in
Union of great bliss & true nature

Objective field and the one cognizing both empty, dependent, co-emergent
Unchanging primordial awareness ornamented with rose apples

Padma gazes void of self-nature, ever-unfolding regeneration
Time's brother, radiant wholeness bearing every apparent division

Line 3: Endowed with marvelous supreme attainments

Liberating presence and power of primordial radiance
Illumines & transforms individual beings whole environments

Emanations of Guru Rinpoche are transcendent skilful means
Arising in response to diverse needs of complex sentient beings

Supreme Siddhi is awakening to Buddhahood;
Flying, healing, alchemy, invisibility, all lesser accomplishments

Solar plexus, seat of rays of power emanating
Into the crystalline world of atomic events

Line 4: You are renowned as the Lotus Born

Ground, support and source of all has neither
Come into being nor abandoned the world.

Of supreme value to transient beings, the Great One
Is invoked through divine names & forms

If the rapture of devotion overwhelms you,
Breathe out strongly, and then leave everything as it is.
~ Padmasambhava

Padmasambhava; always present unchanging wisdom
Song of liberation seducing mind fixated
On the uncertainties of impermanent phenomena

In Vajrayana, fruition is not associated with the crown but in
Falling out of the sahasra into the heart as in OM AH HUNG

Infinite Light utters HRI &
The Lotus-Born appears [2]

Three dimensions of the heart; outer, inner and secret
  • the physical organ
  • the chakra
  • the secret or vajra heart
The dorje's central sphere, an uncarved thig-le, pre-cosmic seed, mahabindu, nying-po; akin to dharmakaya, secret essence or Vajra Heart - not the anahata chakra associated with the dorje's lotus petals (sambhogakaya) conneted to the central sphere.

Line 5: Surrounded by a mandala of many dakinis

Samsara .:. 'khor ba translates as cyclic existence
Mandala or retinue is 'circling a center'.:.'dkyil 'khor

The difference between simply wandering in circles and
Pradakshina in a mandala lies in one's relation to the center

Sangha is the third Jewel; wherever you find it,
True sangha is a refuge & treasury of friendship & wisdom.

In place of the relative abstraction of Three Jewels
  • Buddha
  • Dharma
  • Sangha
Vajra refuge invokes the immediacy of Three Roots;
  • Guru
  • Yidam
  • Dakini
Padma's mandala or retinue is the natural radiance of pristine cognitiveness

Sanskrit Dakini, Tibetan Kha-dro translate as sky-goer
Transcendent power & activity on the basis of emptiness wisdom

The Guru-kula is the sphere of mystical love, responsive action
Compassion as consort, spontaneous conductivity

Dakinis' native capacity to sublimate karmic winds, outshine mind,
Drawing demons of ordinariness into the central fire

Four Dakini Gate-Keepers surround You;
  • dark blue pacifying
  • golden enrichment
  • deep red magnetizing
  • dark green subjugating

Among the qualities of attainment are five wisdoms
Omnipresent in essence as five skandhas

Form is a five ton elephant wandering a beach, holding a vajra mirror at dawn

Feeling, a horse-mounted jewel at noon, reflecting the emptiness/equality of all things

Perception, a peacock at twilight in the spring, perfectly discerning all individual qualities

Conception, thunderbird siddhi of accomplishment soars above the northern wilderness at midnight as the world sleeps

Consciousness, a yawning lion, at ease anywhere.

Line 6: Following You I will practicethis is the first line of the actual prayer

Samaya in Sanskrit, Dam-tsig in Tibetan, translates as mind-bond.

This is the way of guru yoga, devotion to dharma
As taught by the lama, realization of supreme bodhicitta.

Of the three precepts of Garab Dorje
'Absolute conviction in the practice is the second imperative'

Having found a qualified teacher, effective vajra praxis rides on
True devotion also called faith, trust or confidence.

Confidence; a deep conviction, lucidity & longing for
Those things which are real, have value & are possible.

The root is the development of confidence.
The root of everything happy is this trusting confidence.
~ Nagarjuna

Line 7: Please come, grant your blessings!

This is the second and final line of the actual prayer

Opening As Vajrayogini we magnify /intesify
Padma's Siddhi, the force of purification & realization.
She is what Awareness Is and Does.



[1] Indian origin of The Seven Line Prayer reflected in Seven-line structure as keys to open chakras; Tibetan system only names 5, fusing 1/2 and 6/7
[2] Hridaya means heart, central to both Tibetan & Indian systems

The Lion's Roar

He reduced the three worlds,
he subjugated the three domains,

and received the name of Sange Dradog.

The manifestation for the Fifth Month is named Sengé Dradog, the Lion's Roar, one of two wrathful manifestations among the eight, this one appeared in India. Sengé Dradog is the first of the emanations to actively confront non-buddhist doctrines and practices. He appears in a wrathful form like Vajrapani, the Lord of Secrets empowered by the Buddha to be the teacher and protector of the mantrayana teachings. Padma originally received the name Sengé Dradog while residing in Lotus Pile, a large charnel ground in Oddiyana, in the center of which is a self-manifesting, luminous stupa, where Padma taught for five years. Then, in the cemetery Piled-up Black Clouds, Vajrapani himself, who was like a segment of rainbow, taught Padma the inner tantras, including the Guhyagarbha.

When Padma was practicing in Chilly Grove, a group of buddhist scholars at Nalanda were worried about an upcoming debate. While confident in philosophical matters, they were nervous when it came to demonstrating siddhi or magical power as they were facing highly developed competetitors. Protocol of the day demanded the defeated must wholeheartedly embrace their opponents' tradition. As the scholars discussed this, a black dakini appeared in the sky. Aware of their plight, she announced that her brother would be able to help. When asked who her brother was, she replied, Padmavajra and went on to explain that he could he summoned by reciting the Seven Line Prayer, which she taught them. So from the rooftops of Nalanda the pandits chanted the prayer with great devotion. Guru Rinpoche immediately appeared and agreed to help them.

This situation evokes a familiar theme; the need to complement transcendent wisdom with a wide spectrum of compassionate means to carry this awareness into the world for the benefit of beings. Buddha's two heart-disciples, Maudgalyayana and Sariputra, were boyhood friends before they joined the sangha. The latter was considered Buddha's wisest disciple while the former was highly adept in siddhi or magical attainment. The same binary theme appears a thousand years later in the story of Khenpo Santiraksita's first mission to Tibet. As subtle and insightful as the Khenpo was, ordinary Tibetans were not moved by his scholarly presentation of the Buddhadharma. To remedy this, he suggested the king invite Guru Padmasambhava, renowned for his 'marvelous attainments' and miraculous powers.

The buddhists easily won the dialectics phase of the debate. In response, the tirthika magicians tried to intimidate them, causing strong winds to blow while thunder rumbled and crashed for a week. They were obnoxious in their inability to accept defeat. In a moment of externalizing his anger at them, Padma summoned Singhamukha, the Lion-faced Dakini, who instantly granted full accomplishment and mantras to defeat all challengers. This was a form of Lekyi Wangmo, the Dakini of Deeds who had initiated Padma along with eight other vidyadharas in Chilly Grove. Awakening the knowledge he had originally explored through this connection, he transformed into Sengé Dradog, wrathful in a dark blue body he wears a garland of freshly severed heads, a tiger-skin skirt with a pot belly and a shawl made from the pelt of a white lion. Employing the subjugation mudra with his left hand, the terrifying apparitions and subtle obstructions disappear. Overwhelmed by the ferocity of his lion-like energy, the tirthikas left the area. Nalanda would remain a buddhist university for centuries to come.

According to Dudjom Rinpoche,
Once, when five hundred extremist teachers began to dispute the teaching at Vajrasana, the master defeated them in a contest of debate and occult power. When they cursed him, he warded off their spells by using the wrathful mantra which has been given to him by the dakini Marajita[1]. He brought down a mighty thunderbolt which "liberated" those teachers and set fire to their city. When he initiated the remainder of them into the Buddha's teaching and raised aloft the victory banner of the doctrine, he became known as Simhanada (Lion's Roar).
On another occasion, he appeared in Orissa at the site of a famous lingam. Every day people would slaughter and burn many animals there in ritual sacrifices. Sengé Dradok arrived and pointed his mudra at this lingam until it cracked and burst. People took that as a sign and animal sacrifices were discontinued in that area. In this same wrathful form he took up residence in Nepal at the charnel ground Many Mounds Self-Formed where he turned the Wheel of Dharma for five years while subjugating dakinis and the eight classes of gnomes.

Did Padma really fry those teachers and set fire to their city? The thunderbolt wielded by Vajrapani is the flash of Primordial Awareness which reveals the true nature of things. This terrifies the hounds of complacency and the hens of mediocre aspiration. The Lion's Roar is the thunderous reverberation of blessing energy and extraordinary activity as the vajra encounters the city of conventional conception and ignites the spiritual process. We should all be so fortunate.


[1] Mārajitā - Subduer of Mara, a dakini who gave Padmasambhava empowerments in Chilly Grove

Friday, May 14, 2010

Song of the Denma


The Earth Goddesses in Oddiyana, along with their retinues, exalt and glorify the Guru:

He is born of the lake, he has come to Oddiyana;
there he was a prince and worker of prodigies.
Detached from the world, as his method he chose playfulness.
To him, Padma Gyalpo, obeisance and praise.

He came to India and presided on the Diamond Throne,
triumphed over the fourfold Mara, [1] equaled all the Buddhas,
and assumed the guise of a bhiksu in accordance with the rules of the code.
To him, Shakya Senge, obeisance and praise!

He came to Zahor and presided in Magadha;
in the Chilly Grove cemetery he practiced necromancy
and made twelve Baskets [2] shine in the depths of his heart.
To him, Padmasambhava, obeisance and praise!

He came to the tirthikas and presided in the Garden of Joys,
filling the horizons with his voice and his renown
and clarifiying in peoples' hearts the Formulas [3] outer and inner,
To him, Dorje Dolod, obeisance and praise!

He came to Vaisali and presided in the Funeral Land,
neither conceiving of repose nor seeking contemplation.
Indivisible and containing every directions, he extended as far as heaven.
To him, Padma Todtreng, obeisance and praise!

He came to Kashmir and presided at Singhapura,
winning over all who stayed to listen,
and the Greatly Benevolent was like a father and mother.
To him, Loden Chogsed, obeisance and praise!

He came to Khotan and presided in Yang Leshod Grotto;
he mastered, in the castle of the yaksas, the eight classes of the gnomes of pestilence,
brought to submission the three worlds [4], and dominated the three realms. [5]
To him, Senge Dradog, obeisance and praise!

He came to the heart of Tibet and presided in the enclosure of Tiger's Cave.
Emanation of Amitabha, he protected men,
leading a multitude of the dakinis of the four orders.
To him, Dewa Ngodrub, obeisance and praise!

He came to the rakshasas and presided on Tail of the Yak Island,
tamed the ogres and red faces on the Glorious Copper Mountain, [6]
and bore off the living to felicity.
To him, Padma Jungnay, obeisance and praise!

~ from Canto 49 of The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava (8th c.), Padma bKa'i thang as recorded by Yeshe Tsogyal, rediscovered by Terchen Urgyen Lingpa (b. 1323), Dharma Publishing, 1978


[1] The four demons of the skandhas, emotions, death and optimism[2] The twelve divisions of Highest Yoga Tantra (Anutarrayogatantra) consist of six father tantras comprising the aspect of skilful means and six mother tantras of discriminative awareness.
[3] A reference to mantra.
[4] The nether world of nagas, the surface world of humans and the upper world of gods.
[5] The realms of desire, form, and formlessness
[6] Padmasambhava manifested the pureland of Zangdog Palri (Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain) after he left our earth for a different world system. Here is "An Aspiration Prayer to Journey to the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain" by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche.