Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
rDo-rje-‘Chang-Thung-ma, “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer,”
by Bengar Jampäl Sangpo
Translated from Tibetan by Peter Roberts
Speaker: On behalf of the Shambhala Community and the Sangha of Novia Scotia, I would like to welcome you to the Halifax Shambhala Center. I know that many of you know, respect, and love Thrangu Rinpoche from our many years of knowing him and for others of you this might be the first time you have met, so I would like to say a few words of introduction
The Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche was born in Tibet in 1933. He is the ninth, I believe, in the line of reincarnations of the Thrangu teachers. Following the invasion of Tibet, Thrangu Rinpoche escaped with many other teachers and helped establish Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, which became the seat of the Karma Kagyü Lineage. For twenty years Rinpoche served as the Abbot of Rumtek Monastery, so in a sense he is the Abbot of the Kagyü Lineage. He was Dharma brother with the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala in the West, and Thrangu Rinpoche serves as the Abbot of Gampo Abbey in Cape Britain at the Vidyadhara’s request. Thrangu Rinpoche also has a monastery, nunnery, and school in Nepal and he travels around the world teaching. He is renowned for his vast knowledge and his ability to express very clearly the instructions of the profound practices of meditation, which are held by his and our Lineage. Rinpoche, would you
please turn the Wheel of Dharma to benefit many sentient beings.
“Ever fresh and resplendent, the vivid display of the major and minor marks
Shines with the light of a hundred rays, auspicious and virtuous;
May the glorious treasure of the soothing moonlight that benefits others,
Brilliant and good beyond bound, spread like strewn flowers.”
Khenpo Karma Namgyal, New Year’s Greeting, Dec. 31, 2007.
Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
I am very happy to teach at the Shambhala Center. In particular, I am very happy to give teachings on “The Vajradhara Lineage Prayer.” To begin with, I want to extend my tashi-de-leg, my best wishes to everybody here.
In all Kagyü Centers – in the great and small Kagyü monasteries and centers – male and female practitioners recite “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” daily. There is a reason why practitioners of the Karma Kagyü Lineage recite this prayer every day.
“The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” was written by Bengar Jampäl Sangpo, who was a disciple of the Sixth Gyalwa Karmapa, Tongwa Dönden (who lived from 1416-1453). Because it is so important, Venerable Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated it into English as “The Supplication to the Tagpo Kagyü” so that his pupils could recite it as part of their daily practice. I haven’t heard a clear account about this, but I did hear that it was the first translation into English that Venerable Trungpa Rinpoche made. He did this and gave it to his pupils, because of its profound meaning and great blessing.
Bengar Jampäl Sangpo
The reason this prayer has such a great blessing is because its author, Bengar Jampäl Sangpo received all his Dharma instructions from the Sixth Gyalwa Karmapa. Then he went to a place in the north of Tibet in order to meditate the instructions he had received.
To describe the location where he went, there is the great Sangpo River that flows through Tibet and reaches down through India as the Brahmaputra River. The Nagchu River flows behind the Brahmaputra and into Burma, where it is called the Saween River. Between the Sangpo and Nagchu Rivers lies the very impressive Nangchen Thaklha Mountain Range, which in Dharma terms is the residence of Nangchen Thaklha, the deity bound through oath by Guru Rinpoche to protect and guard the Dharma teachings in that area, specifically the Karma Kagyü Teachings. The Nagchu River flows behind the Nangchen Thaklha Mountain Range. At its source is the great lake Namtso Thungmo, which is the residence of Nanghen Thaklha’s consort. So, there is the great lake behind the Nangchen Thaklha.
Two local deities are revered most highly in Tibet. The seat of one is located at Nangchen Thaklha and the other the seat of the other at Nagyäl Pumra Mountain, the spot where the Nagchu River bends and separates, one river flowing into China where it is called the Yellow River. The Nagyäl Pumra is seen as a local deity and guardian of the teachings, so one supplicates him too. There are two very important mountain ranges and therefore two very important mountain deities, Nangchen Thaklha in Upper Tibet and Nagyäl Pumra in Lower East Tibet. And so, having received instructions from the Sixth Gyalwa Karmapa, Bengar Jampäl Sangpo crossed the Nangchen Thaklha Mountain Range and arrived at the shore of Namtso Lake.
Tibet is far away from any ocean; there are only lakes, so there is no expanse like an ocean. The largest lake in Tibet is Namtso. Nam means “sky” and tso means “lake,” therefore Namtso means “vast like the sky.” There was a little island in the middle of the lake, called Tsenmodo, “fingernail-stone,” its name describing how tiny the island was, almost like a little hill. In the past, it is said that this island was in the middle of the lake; nowadays it is near the shore, because the lake is drying up. In the winter the lake would freeze and meditators and masters would walk over to the little island. In the summer the ice would melt, so they could stay in the cave there and practice for many months in solitude, until the lake froze again and they were able to return home the next winter.
Many Lamas went to Tsenmodo Island to meditate and it is said that some of them did have a hard time. There was a Drukpa Kagyü master whose name was Lorepa. He went there, took enough food along to do a retreat, and everything went quite well for a year. When the lake froze the next year, his pupils were able to consult him and receive instructions. He took an attendant along after he had completed his first retreat and both had enough provisions to last for a while. But the following winter the lake didn’t freeze, so they had to stay another year without enough to eat. They thought, “What should we do?” They had leather belts, cooked them, and drank the broth for a while. When they ran out of that source of nourishment, the Lama performed a sacred feast. The next day the local deities responded by washing the corpse of a deer to the shore of the tiny island. The attendant found the corpse, so they could live on the deer for a while. But the lake still didn’t freeze the following winter. The attendant was really worried and told the Lama, “We will die here.” He had an idea and thought, “If I die, it’s all right. The Lama can eat me.” He went to the Lama and asked, “You know, a human body has been washed ashore. Is it all right for us to eat it?” The Lama answered, “Yes, that’s fine.” So the attendant ran to the lakeside and was about to kill himself, when the Lama came running down to the shore and stopped him, saying, “No, you may not do that. I am happy to die while practicing the Dharma. That is fine with me. You may not kill yourself. We will just carry on with our practice.” That night the attendant had a dream that many Dakinis appeared in the sky and said, “Everything will be all right. Don’t worry. Tomorrow you will be able to leave.” When they woke up the next morning, they found that the lake had frozen and they could cross it. So, it wasn’t always easy for Lamas to meditate there.
Bengar Jampäl Sangpo did a retreat on that island for eighteen years and didn’t have any problems. Some say it wasn’t difficult for him because Nangchen Thaklha fed him; others say he lived on the food of meditation. In any case, he didn’t have any problems and stayed there in retreat for eighteen years. At the end of this time, on the basis of his realisations from practicing on the tiny island, he composed the rDo-rje-‘Chang-Thung-ma. On an ordinary level, it is said that it is a very special prayer, because it is the result of eighteen years of experience. In Dharma terms, though, it is said that it has a great blessing, because it is a prayer resulting from eighteen years of sincere and deep meditation.
“The Supplication to the Dhagpo Kagyü” consists of three sections, the first being a prayer to the Lineage Masters, which is like an account of the Kagyü Lineage. The second consists of the instructions and the wish that all living beings are able to practice them correctly. The third section contains a wishing-prayer that all living beings be benefited.
One: The Homage
Great Vajradhara, Tilo, Naro, Marpa, Mila, Lord of Dharma Gampopa,
Knower of the Three Times, omniscient Karmapa,
Holders of the four great and eight lesser lineages –
Drikung, Tag-lung, Tsalpa, these three, glorious Drukpa and so on –
Masters of the profound path of Mahamudra,
Incomparable protectors of beings, the Takpo Kagyü,
I supplicate you, the Kagyü Gurus,
I hold your lineage; grant your blessings so that I will follow your example.
“The Supplication Prayer,” i.e., “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer,” begins with Vajradhara, Dorje Chang in Tibetan. Now, the teachings come from Buddha Shakyamuni. How is it said that the Mahamudra teachings come from Vajradhara? Some people may think this doesn’t make sense. When one looks at the Buddha, though, he has three aspects: that of body, speech, and mind. Buddha Shakyamuni is the supreme nirmanakaya. He was born in Nepal, achieved enlightenment and turned the Wheel of Dharma in India - he spread the Dharma in the nirmanakaya emanation, while he embodies all three kayas.
Buddha Shakyamuni’s mind is the dharmakaya and therefore there is the aspect of the Dharmakaya-Buddha. It is said to have the qualities of perfect knowledge and wisdom, perfect love and compassion, too. Not only does he have wisdom and compassion but also power. That is the Dharmakaya-Buddha – the mind of the Buddha. As to the nirmanakaya, in the beginning the Buddha was born, in the middle he lived, and in the end he passed into nirvana. The Dharmakaya-Buddha is not born in the beginning, doesn’t live in the middle, and in the end doesn’t pass away. The dharmakaya is unchanging, which is symbolized by the vajra. So when one speaks about Vajradhara, the “Holder of the Vajra,” this refers to the holder of the unchanging permanence of dharmakaya-wisdom. So, the Dharmakaya-Buddha has perfect wisdom, compassion, and power, but he cannot enter into a relationship with those who have to be trained, because they cannot experience the dharmakaya. In order to be able to train beings, the Dharmakaya-Buddha manifests the rupakayas, the “form bodies.” There are two form bodies: The Sambhogakaya-Buddha appears to those who are pure and are Bodhisattvas who have achieved higher levels of realization. The Nirmanakaya-Buddha appears to ordinary living beings who have not achieved any higher realizations. So, there are two forms that manifest to beings in order to instruct and train them.
The Dharmakaya-Buddha, i.e., the Dharmakaya-Vajradhara, manifests in a sambhogakaya form to pure beings in the blue colour, with one face and two arms, both holding a vajra. When one looks at Buddha Shakyamuni and Sambhogakaya-Vajradhara, they seem to be different, but their nature is the same - both have the same wisdom-mind.
Tilopa received the Mahamudra instructions from the Sambhogakaya-Vajradhara. He encountered this emanation and received the teachings, and receiving the instructions from the Sambhogakaya-Vajradhara is not different than receiving them from Buddha Shakyamuni. Therefore, in the description of the Lineage, Vajradhara is mentioned first. The prayer continues: “Tilo, Naro, Marpa, Mila.” The life-stories of these great masters have been translated into English, so those of you who are familiar with the teachings will have read them. Therefore, there is no need for me to describe their lives to you here.
Milarepa had two disciples, one like the sun and the other like the moon. The one who was like the sun was Dhagpo Dashön, Gampopa, and the one who was like the moon was Rechung Dorje, Rechungpa. As Mr. Roberts, who is the translator here, is translating the life of Rechungpa from Tibetan into English, you will be able to read it when it is published, so I am not going to describe his life here. You will have to buy the book.
Gampopa, the pupil like the sun, received all teachings from Jetsün Milarepa, who told him, “You should go to the south of Tibet, to a mountain called Gampodar, a majestic mountain that looks like a king sitting on a throne and is surrounded by hills that look like ministers. Go and meditate there and teach pupils in that place.” Gampopa then had a dream that a bird flew to a mountain peak and many other birds assembled around it. He told Milarepa his dream, who responded that he would benefit many beings by going to that place and that there would be a great propagation of the teachings as a result of his practice there.
Gampopa went to Gampodar Mountain, as his teacher had instructed him to do, but it was a completely isolated place and nobody was around. He asked himself, “This is where Milarepa said I should be and that I should meditate in retreat for thirteen years here? This was his advice?” Then Gampopa had a dream that the thirteen-year retreat he was advised to do would benefit many beings. When he woke up, he thought, “What does this dream mean? How can I benefit anyone here? There is nobody in sight.” He had a few more dreams, built a monastery, and had 800 pupils in all.
In The Samadhirajsutra, “The King of Samadhi Sutra,” it is stated that Buddha Shakyamuni asked the assembly of disciples who were receiving teachings from him, “In the future, who will spread the teachings when they diminish?” In Gampopa’s former incarnation as Bodhisattva Chandraprabakumara, he stood up and replied, “I will do this. I will propagate the teachings in the future.” Eight hundred disciples of Lord Buddha were present on that occasion and all promised, “We will help Chandraprabakumara spread the teachings then.” Chandraprabakumara was reborn as Gampopa and all 800 disciples were reborn as his pupils. The teachings he professed were the Mahamudra teachings.
There were three men from Kham in East Tibet among the 800 great meditators who were pupils of Gampopa. One was to become the First Gyalwa Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa as he later came to be known. Before then, his name was Khampa Üser, the “White-haired Khampa,” because he was already old and had white hair. Gampopa passed on the transmission of Mahamudra to him, the reason he received the name Düsum Khyenpa, which means “Knower of the Three Times.” The Mahamudra teachings were transmitted onwards from the First Gyalwa Karmapa. The transmission was passed on through the four primary and eight secondary branches, known as the “Four Great and Eight Lesser Lineages.” Bengar Jampäl Sangpo described this in the prayer and wrote the aspiration that disciples accomplish the instructions that are transmitted through these Lineages.
The Mahamudra teachings are easy to practice – they are special and superior. If pupils wish to practice Vajrayana, they certainly have the aspiration to follow these teachings. During the times of Buddha Shakyamuni, devotees would spend their entire life practicing the teachings and would beg for their food instead of working for their living. During those times, one wealthy family would feed 1000, 2000, or even 3000 monks and supply them with their daily needs, so wealthy householders would accumulate merit by enabling monks to practice. This is not the custom anymore and begging is considered a bad way of earning one’s living nowadays. So people have to have a job and work for their living, which is good. Working does not stand in opposition to the Dharma, because it is possible to have a good job. Some people do experience a contradiction and think, “I am working and cannot practice the Dharma and when I practice meditation it is bad for my work.” What puts an end to this feeling? Mahamudra meditation. By practicing Mahamudra meditation and integrating one’s experiences in one’s life, working for one’s living does not stop one from practicing Dharma and practicing Dharma does not interfere with one’s job. So, Mahamudra is especially beneficial during these times. When I travel to America and Europe, I always give the Mahamudra teachings, because I feel that they are very beneficial for people living in these times.
There were 84 Mahasiddhas in India, who each lived a different kind of life. They gained accomplishments by practicing Mahamudra. King Indrabhuti, for example, was very wealthy; he ruled over an extensive kingdom and was involved with many activities that were necessary in order meet all his obligations. But his many duties did not stop him from practicing the Dharma, because he was practicing Mahamudra. He ruled while practicing Mahamudra and became a great Mahasiddha, an accomplished being. Nagarjuna was a great scholar who composed many texts; he used sharp logic and clear reasoning to refute erroneous ways. He wrote treatises that people could accept. Even if they didn’t totally agree, many people were different after they read his treatises, because they felt, “This is right. This is correct. This is how one should think.” Nagarjuna had many pupils and wrote many books, but teaching and writing were not obstacles to his practice, because he was practising Mahamudra. Tilopa made his living by grinding and pounding sesame seeds. He became a Mahasiddha by practising Mahamudra meditation while pounding the sesame seeds to win oil to pay for his living.
It doesn’t matter what kind of job one has – whether one works as a scholar or as a servant – one can practice Mahamudra. Whether one is a man or a woman, one can gain the result of Mahamudra meditation. I think it is a very beneficial practice and I want to give these teachings to you with this good intention. Sometimes I teach The Concise Words of Mahamudra by Naropa, or The Mahamudra Teachings Given along the Ganges River by Tilopa, or Moonbeams of Mahamudra by Dhagpo Tashi Namgyal. This time I will present the Mahamudra teachings according to “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer.” It is a very fortunate occasion to be able to teach this and it will be very beneficial to receive it, to practice it, and to gain benefits from it. I am very happy to give Mahamudra teachings at this time.
Two: The Instructions
We are looking at “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” that was written by Bengar Jampäl Sangpo, a teaching that deals with the power of supplicating the Lineage Gurus and how one relies upon the Lineage that comes from Vajradhara down to one’s own Root Lama. The prayer presents the entire path of practice, although it doesn’t speak about progression along the paths and bhumis. Instead, it shows how someone at the beginning should practice, how they practice next, and what benefit will be achieved. In this way, the entire path of
Mahamudra and its practices are explained in this short text.
When Naropa was teaching Mahamudra to Marpa, he said that the Lineage would be like a lion’s cub in it relation to its mother, because the cub would grow up to be stronger than its mother. In the same way, through the transmission of Mahamudra each pupil will be greater than his or her teacher.
There are Mahamudra instructions and the different ways in which they are practiced. In particular, there are the teachings of Gampopa, called “the union of the two rivers,” because Gampopa united the Mahamudra instructions he had received from Milarepa with those he had received from the Kadampa Tradition of Lord Atisha. A beginner needs to practice the preliminary teachings of Atisha in order to stabilize their mind. Having completed the preliminary practices, a pupil goes on to receive Mahamudra instructions. In this way, there is this method of practice transmitted by Gampopa - the union of the Kadampa and Mahamudra Traditions.
1. The Feet of Meditation
Revulsion is the foot of meditation, as is taught.
To this meditator who is not attached to food and wealth,
Who cuts the ties to this life,
Grant your blessings so that I have no desire for honour and gain.
In this verse, Bengar Jampäl Sangpo addressed the preliminary practices. While reciting and contemplating the short prayer, one meditates on the precious human existence, impermanence, karma, and suffering. Lord Buddha taught that meditating on impermanence is very important, because in the beginning it encourages one to enter the way of the Dharma. It is not pleasant for a beginner to contemplate impermanence; it doesn’t make anybody happy, rather sad. One actually wants to be happy and content instead of sad, however by contemplating impermanence one will wish to enter into the practice of Dharma. Sadness will have that effect; it works like this in the beginning. Contemplating impermanence in the middle enhances one to be diligent. One might think, “Having contemplated impermanence and having entered the Dharma, why bother thinking about it anymore?” That is a wrong way of thinking, because – seeing there is the danger of becoming lazy - recalling impermanence again and again will encourage one to continue practicing the Dharma. Contemplating impermanence helps one overcome one’s laziness, therefore in the middle it enhances one’s diligence. So, contemplating impermanence in the beginning causes one to enter into the Dharma, and in the middle it inspires one to be diligent. What happens in the end?
Diligence helps one achieve the result, and one will attain the result in the end. One will experience and conclude, “Now I have gained the benefit of practice,” a feeling that resembles holding it in one’s hands. The first two, entering the Dharma and persevering in practice, are temporary effects that one has from contemplating impermanence. The ultimate benefit of contemplating impermanence is gaining the result. This is why one engages in the practices of contemplating the four ways of turning one’s mind away from samsara.
Contemplating impermanence is also beneficial when one has doubts about the Dharma or when one’s interest in practicing diminishes or ceases. Contemplating impermanence will enhance one’s practice when situations like that arise. Sometimes one might have two states of mind: the aspiration to practice the Dharma on the one hand and laziness or lack of enthusiasm on the other. These two states of mind can cause one to waver and wane. What does one do when this happens? In accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, one contemplates impermanence, which will create within oneself the taste, enthusiasm, and diligence to practice the Dharma.
There are texts one can read on turning one’s mind towards the Dharma, such as The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche, and The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. Even if one doesn’t read these books, one can understand what Jetsün Milarepa meant when he sang: “I read the texts of apparent phenomena. I haven’t read texts written with black ink.” In the same way, one doesn’t really have to listen to a teacher explain impermanence or to read about it in books. One can just look at phenomena, at beings who live in the world, at one’s family or friends, or at one’s possessions to see that everything is impermanent and nothing lasts.
There are many machines that one can buy these days. They are new, wonderful, and shiny when one buys them. Maybe after a month something goes wrong, after another month something else goes wrong with it. Whether it is a car or a computer, when one bought it, one thought, “Oh, this is perfect,” but after a while it is second-hand and one doesn’t like it anymore. If one buys a car, one can drive around in it or just park it in the garage – no matter, something will go wrong. When one sees that something went wrong, one thinks, “Oh, this is the nature of things. Everything is impermanent.” In this way, reflecting and remembering impermanence encourages one to turn one’s attention towards practicing the Dharma.
2. The Body of Meditation
Awareness is the body of meditation, as is taught.
Whatever arises is fresh – the essence of realization.
To this meditator who rests simply without altering it
Grant your blessings so that my meditation is free from conception.
Following the explanation of the general preliminaries, Bengar Jampäl Sangpo offered an explanation of the special preliminaries. After having practiced both, then one goes on to practice shamata meditation. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was aware that this was another time and place, so he taught shamata before he taught the special preliminaries, the reason I will teach in that order now.
The verse on shamata meditation teaches that shamata means being undistracted. In the beginning, one cannot be undistracted, because one’s mind is so habituated to being involved with thoughts. Therefore, in order to stabilize one’s mind, in the beginning one practices shamata meditation.
What difference does it make if one’s mind is distracted? When distracted, one becomes involved with a lot of thoughts. If one examines what is happening while the mind is thinking, one can see that good and bad thoughts arise. One might think, “It’s fine to have good thoughts as long as there are no bad thoughts.” However, if one examines one’s mind to see what kind of thoughts one has been having, one will find that most of them are bad and only a few are good. One can be happy and have happy thoughts or one can be sad and have sad thoughts. If one is truthful, one will see that the number of happy thoughts are few in comparison to the number of sad thoughts that one has. This being the case, it is good to reduce the number of thoughts one has. It is like that on the relative level, but one also wants to develop wisdom and awareness. One might think, “A lot of thinking is needed in order to develop wisdom.” But if one thinks a lot, many of those thoughts will be obstacles to the development of wisdom. In order to develop good qualities in one’s mind as well as wisdom, it is good to make one’s mind stable. For that reason, it is important to practice shamata meditation.
A beginner in meditation has to do shamata. Someone who has been able to develop meditation also needs to increase mind’s stability as much as possible. Therefore, the practice of shamata meditation is very important for meditation in general. Then there is Mahamudra practice. There are three aspects of Mahamudra: the view, the meditation, and conduct.
Looking at view in general, there are two kinds. One usually develops and gains a view through reasoning and logical analysis. The Mahamudra view, in contrast, is not won through thoughts, but is a direct experience one wins though meditation practice. Shantideva wrote that what is fabricated by the mind is relative and the ultimate is not fabricated by the mind. In order to realize the ultimate truth, one does not create a view by means of conceptuality. The ultimate truth is directly experienced through meditation.
In seminars, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught about the ordinary mind, ta-mal-gi-shes-pa, and gave students direct pointing-out instructions; they were then able to gain for themselves the direct experience of “t-g-s.” Having been given the pointing-out instructions and having directly recognized Mahamudra, one does meditation based on that. One continues with that meditation and cultivates the experience through further practice. One can do a short period of meditation based on that each day. Whether one is doing one’s work, talking, writing, or driving one’s car, one maintains that experience through mindfulness and awareness. If one succeeds, it will affect any work or activities one does; it will also continually increase one’s experience.
In the text Creation and Completion, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye taught that one has to apply effort in meditation and increase one’s experience of meditation. If one is practicing only within the frame of formal sessions and forgets about it afterwards, then one will not develop one’s experience. One needs to maintain mindfulness and awareness after formal meditation sessions. Maintaining mindfulness and awareness does not mean one sits in meditation all day, rather one holds the experience of meditation with mindfulness and awareness while working and living up to one’s commitments and responsibilities. Therefore, one’s practice will not be detrimental to one’s work and daily activities or vice versa.
The main teaching that Marpa Lotsawa presented was blending meditation with daily events. There is the meditation phase and what is called “the post-accomplishment phase.” Whatever activity one is doing, one blends one’s meditation experience with every activity. One also blends one’s meditation experience with the emotions that arise, and this is how one attains the result.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is a great Siddha, so he gave his pupils the pointing-out instructions, which is very exceptional. Earlier Kagyü Masters did not give the direct introduction to the nature of the mind that freely, but expected their pupils to progress through stages before presenting pointing-out the dharmakaya to them. So, first there would be gaining the view or recognition of the mind in a state of stillness, then in a state of movement and so on. Stage-by-stage there would be pointing-out instructions of the nature of one’s mind. I want to thank you for studying the teaching on Pointing-Out the Dharmakaya and for practicing it. In that way, you can gain direct recognition of your own mind and cultivate your experience through practice.
The Mahamudra teachings are very important. When the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa came to the West, he was asked, “What would be the most beneficial text to translate into English for Westerners?” He replied that The Moonbeams of Mahamudra by Dhagpo Tashi Namgyal would be most beneficial to translate into English, because practicing it would not stand in opposition to the Western culture.
Continuing with the prayer, Bengar Jampäl Sangpo tells us that the purpose of meditation is to be undistracted, which is achieved through shamata meditation. Having accomplished an undistracted state, one also needs to gain the view. Having gained the view, one needs to cultivate and remember it. One needs to blend it with one’s daily activities i.e., with one’s conduct. As said, it is important to blend mindfulness and awareness with all activities in one’s life.
3. The Head of Meditation
Devotion is the head of meditation, as is taught.
The Guru opens the gate to the treasury of oral instructions.
To this meditator who continually supplicates him
Grant your blessings so that genuine devotion is born in me.
Bengar Jampäl Sangpo taught shamata in this prayer. He also taught the preliminaries and wrote that devotion is “the head of meditation.” When one has stable shamata meditation and is not distracted, then one can engage in the special preliminary practices, which are making prostrations, practicing Vajrasattva, and offering the mandala. These practices are primarily for the purification of one’s obscurations and for the gathering of accumulations - they are done for that purpose.
Making prostrations is a special means to accumulate merit, but that is not all. While one is doing prostrations, one can practice shamata, or rest in the true nature of one’s mind, or engage in the generation stage of practices, in which one visualizes the refuge deities before one. If one is distracted, there will not be that much benefit. One should practice resting in the nature of one’s mind or visualize the Gurus and yidam deities before one without being distracted by thoughts.
Vajrasattva meditation is practiced in order to purify one’s obscurations. At times one can have many disturbing emotions, or one’s interest in the Dharma diminishes, or one has doubts, or one is unhappy. One can practice Vajrasattva when such situations occur. One imagines that amrita flows from Vajrasattva and from the syllables of the mantra into oneself and one experiences that this dispels all harmful emotions, thoughts, mental unhappiness, etc. One practices Vajrasattva within the context of the preliminaries, but one can also practice it any time – when one is feeling depressed, when one has lots of thoughts, when one is lazy and one’s diligence in practicing the Dharma diminishes, or when one is sick. In all such situations, practicing and visualizing Vajrasattva will be very good, because one experiences that one is free of all obstacles.
In order to accumulate merit and develop wisdom, a disciple offers the mandala. If one has accumulated much merit, then meditation and wisdom will arise spontaneously. There are two kinds of meditation practices. One is by using reasoning. Through deductive reasoning, one eventually understands emptiness, which is the nature of all phenomena. In order to have wisdom that realizes the nature of all things, though, one needs to have accumulated merit. For instance, in the description of the previous lives of the Buddha, we learn that he even gave his body in order to feed the hungry. However, in the practice of Vajrayana, one doesn’t need to and one doesn’t spend a long time accumulating merit. Instead, one can accumulate merit as an aid to developing one’s wisdom by offering the mandala, i.e., by making an offering of the entire universe in one’s mind.
Whether one is able to follow the path of Dharma or not, whether one is able to develop meditation or not, whether one attains the goal or not, everything depends upon one’s devotion. Therefore Bengar Jampäl Sangpo offered an example when he wrote: “Devotion is the head of meditation.” Looking at our body, it is quite big in comparison to our head. The body does all the work and the head doesn’t seem to do much. One may think, “Well, the head isn’t that important, because it is so tiny and doesn’t do anything.” Actually, if the head were missing, we wouldn’t be able to see, to talk, to eat, or to listen to anybody. But one can do many things even though one’s head is small and seems to be insignificant. In the same way, one might think, “Well, devotion is small and not important.” In fact, it is very important - without it, one won’t be able to accomplish anything; whereas with devotion, one will be able to accomplish many things. Therefore it is important to have devotion.
The way to develop devotion while doing the preliminary practices is to supplicate one’s Root Guru and the Gurus of the Lineage; thereby one receives the blessings. Receiving the blessings increases one’s experiences and realizations. One does this within the context of the preliminary practices. Generally, through supplication to the Guru, through the development of devotion, then all qualities within the Dharma one wishes to attain will arise as a result of having devotion to one’s teacher. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche composed The Sadhana of Mahamudra while meditating at Tagtsang, the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan. When he accomplished his practice, a vision, i.e., a mind-terma, arose to him. When the time was right, he was able to write down the Sadhana and present it to his pupils. I think it is a very special practice to develop devotion and to receive the blessing. Trungpa Rinpoche taught this mind-terma to his disciples, because he saw that it would be very beneficial for them, that it would clear away their obstacles and enable them to receive the blessing and achieve realization.
In the practice of Guru Yoga, one does the generation phase of practice, which has three qualities. First there is the clarity of appearance of the visualisation. Secondly, there is stable pride, the confidence that one is the deity that one is meditating. Thirdly, there is the mindfulness of purity, which means that one is aware that one is not an ordinary being and one knows why. One can say that this is the completion phase or perfection stage. For example, when one visualizes Dorje Drolo, one knows the meaning of all features, signs, and symbols in the visualization. One will have studied and will know this, therefore, one is mindful of that during meditation. One can say that it is a Guru Yoga practice.
Deities like Chenrezig reside in other realms. Connecting with Chenrezig involves a relationship with someone living in this world, in a human form on this earth. Guru Rinpoche went to Tagtsang in Bhutan and manifested the form of Dorje Drolo. Manifesting that way, Guru Rinpoche was able to subjugate all negative forces in Tibet and establish the Dharma there. Later there was the manifestation of the Second Gyalwa Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. He had great clairvoyance, power, and miraculous abilities. He was able to manifest all these powers, too. So, Dorje Drolo and Karma Pakshi had slightly different physical forms, but in essence they are the same – in essence they are one. Through the practice of Guru Yoga one can receive their blessings, and by receiving the blessings one will develop experiences and realizations. Guru Yoga is an important practice to do.
That was the explanation of the verse stating that “Devotion is the head of meditation.” Next is the verse on the blessing to realize the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.
4. The Nature of Thoughts
The essence of thoughts is dharmakaya, as is taught.
Nothing whatever but everything arises from it.
To this meditator who arises in unceasing play
Grant your blessings so that I realize the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.
There are the pointing-out instructions that are given by the teacher so that a student recognizes the nature of his or her own mind and practices that. This is something you all know and have experience of. Therefore there isn’t much that I can add to what you know already, but I do want to say that one needs to cultivate and hold that experience.
In the general presentation of the paths, there are five – the path of accumulation, the path of application or juncture, the path of vision, the path of meditation, and the path of no-more-training. A practitioner on the first path
accumulates merit. On the second path, one is applying oneself to the practice, so it is created in one’s mind and is therefore a mental construct. On the third path, one has the direct experience and insight of the true nature of all things. In the Sutras it is said that it takes incalculable aeons to reach the path of vision, but through the practice of Vajrayana (if there are right pupils, the right teacher, as well as the pointing-out instructions and a disciple practices them correctly) it is possible to have direct insight into the nature of one’s mind and it doesn’t take incalculable aeons. Is that enough? One might think, “It’s enough. I have received the instructions, practiced them a month or two, and have seen the nature of my mind.” Is that it? No, one has to continue; one has to cultivate that experience. Having reached the path of vision, one may think, “I have arrived at the path of vision, so now everything is just fine. I needn’t do more.” But, one has to carry on. One has to go through the path of meditation. Achieving the path of vision is attaining the first Bodhisattva level of accomplishment, which is called “great joy.” There are ten levels of accomplishment, though, so one has to keep on.
You have the very special teacher who has given you the pointing-out instructions; you have been able to see the true nature of your mind, but that doesn’t mean one stops there. One has to continue cultivating that experience. One has to carry on until one reaches the ultimate goal. There is a saying in Tibetan: “If beginning practitioners have good food, a filled stomach, and sit in the sun that shines warmly, then they feel content. One can say that they are good practitioners, but when difficulties arise, they experience suffering, fear, regret, and so on; they become ordinary people again and the instructions are of no benefit to them.” It is necessary to develop further by cultivating one’s meditation practice and by not allowing oneself to become overpowered by disturbing emotions, by happiness, or by suffering either. One continues becoming habituated to the insight one has won on the third path of vision and then becomes skilled in practice, which means conditions do not disturb or distract. If one can do that, then one’s experience and realisation will increase and develop. So, that is the practice of vipassana. Through vipassana, one gains realisation, and that is what we practice.
Three: The Conduct of Progressing along the Paths
In “The Short Dorje Chang Prayer,” Bengar Jampäl Sangpo addressed four points: revulsion or non-attachment is the feet of meditation, non-distraction is the actual body of meditation, devotion is the head of meditation, and the nature of thoughts is the dharmakaya. Following is the statement of conduct. He wrote:
Through all my births may I not be separated from the perfect Guru
And so enjoy the splendour of Dharma.
Perfecting the virtues of the paths and bhumis,
My I speedily attain the state of Vajradhara.
Not being separated from the perfect Guru points to the fact that through practice one can be inseparable from one’s very special teacher. It doesn’t mean that one always needs to be with him or her in the ordinary sense, but that one is able to enjoy the good fortune or splendour of the Dharma because of having received the teachings. Having heard them, one contemplates them; having contemplated them, one meditates them, and through meditation one is able to enjoy all the splendour and fortune of the Dharma. In that way, one meditates the instructions and holds them during all walks of life.
There were many Siddhas who were great scholars in India in the past – Nagarjuna, Asanga, and those who are called the “Six Ornaments of the World.” They became Siddhas by being scholars and they became scholars by being Siddhas – they were both. When the teachings were spread throughout the world, they were spread in that way. The teachings were brought to China and Japan through scholars who practiced. Of course, there are different ways in which the Dharma can be approached. In Tibet, there is the practice of Vajrayana, the swift path, which does not mean it is not necessary to hear and contemplate the teachings. While the practice of Vajrayana is Vajrayana, hearing and contemplating is Sutrayana, so Hinayana and Mahayana are the bases of Vajrayana. One might think, “Well, if one is practicing Sutrayana, then one should study and contemplate the Sutras, and if one is practicing Vajrayana, then one should study and contemplate the Tantras.” One also wonders, “Why study the Sutras and practice Vajrayana? That seems a strange way of doing it.” But there is in fact a very good reason for this approach.
If one were to practice Sutrayana only, it would take many, many lifetimes to attain the state of Vajradhara. But Vajrayana does not have the immense body of teachings that Sutrayana has, rather presents the essence of the teachings. So, to study the Sutras and practice Vajrayana is an exceptional approach. If one can practice in that way, then it is very beneficial and one can realize the true nature of everything. If one can study texts such as The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, the Uttaratantrashastra by Maitreyanatha, The Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva, then one can gain certainty of the meaning. Doing that will be very beneficial for one’s realization.
There are two ways of studying and meditating, either first studying and then meditating or first meditating and then studying. If one meditates first and then studies the texts, then one sees, “Oh, this is exactly what I experienced in my meditation. It is so clear. It is definitely it.” If one studies first and afterwards meditates, one then sees, “Oh, the experience I have is what is explained in the texts. I have gained definite recognition.” So, there are two ways to practice, one in which study and contemplation are the companion or helper of meditation, the other in which meditation is the friend or helper of study. If we do that, we will progress through the paths and bhumis and attain the state of Vajradhara. It is not really that difficult and can be accomplished in one lifetime. This is what Bengar Jampäl Sangpo taught in the prayer.
I see you all as my Dharma brothers and sisters, so teaching “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” was done with my best motivation. I thought, “If I say this, it might help a little bit. If I say that, it might help a little bit.” That has been my motivation while teaching. So please, do practice well.
Questions & Answers
Question: Thank you very much Rinpoche for your instruction on how to practice in daily life. I had hoped that this was what you were going to say, of course, because I constantly tell myself that I don’t have time to meditate, so I try to be aware. Sometimes I wonder if I am not being too proud. What are the obstacles that can arise to this kind of practice in terms of going on and thinking, “Okay, I’m practicing. Then when I sit it’s fine.” Do you understand what I’m saying?
Rinpoche: I don’t think that pride is an obstacle in this practice, because it is natural to think, “I am practicing during my daily activities.” This is what one is doing, so it is not really a question of pride. Even if there is a tiny bit of pride, it can be like confidence, thinking, “I am able to meditate during my daily life.” So, it is more a question of confidence. Confidence is not an obstacle. What is an obstacle is forgetting to do it. That’s the biggest obstacle, so one needs to remember to actually do it - in the morning, afternoon, and evening, whether one is happy or sad. It is important to always have mindfulness and awareness that one is doing this practice.
If one is happy, then happiness often overpowers one’s meditation and one loses it. In that case, happiness becomes an obstacle to practice. Even when one is very happy, one needs to be able to maintain mindfulness and awareness. Sometimes one can be very unhappy and then unhappiness overpowers one’s practice. One then forgets to practice. Even when one is unhappy, one should be able to remember and maintain the practice at all times, whether one is happy or sad, whatever one is doing.
Next question: I have a question concerning education. I am just wondering what your idea is of the best type of education for western society in order to achieve enlightened society? How would you train people?
Rinpoche: Are you speaking about general education?
Same student: I mean generally. I don’t mean for instance training in the Buddhist meditation and teachings, but also just how to train the human being generally?
Rinpoche: Education is very important. It is important to be able to study and learn. Gampopa said that one would not be in error if one practices learning, contemplating, and meditating together. If one just does meditation by itself, one will not be able to develop. To hear, i.e., to learn, and to contemplate are important. It is said in the three yanas that you have to learn and contemplate.
Same student: Can I follow up on the question? I was referring more to training the human heart and emotions and just how to be in society.
Rinpoche: For example, if you look at the monasteries and colleges, there are two traditions. For instance, in the Gelug Tradition, there is often the study of logic and epistemology to develop a clear understanding. In other monasteries, there is emphasis on conduct and so one studies the Bodhicharyavatara. Even if one isn’t increasing one’s knowledge or wisdom, whether one is or isn’t, through studying conduct one will have this conduct and will be in harmony with others – one will have the good motivation towards others. For that reason, it is considered important to study Shantideva’s text, Bodhicharyavatara.
Student: Thank you very much.
Next question: Rinpoche, you were talking about the four reminders, in particular the importance of contemplating impermanence. You said that during the beginning and middle of the path, impermanence was motivating, causing one to enter and persevere, but in the third state that is brought to result. My question is: What is it that changes in one’s understanding of impermanence that goes from just persevering to bringing to the result?
Rinpoche: This is talking about the ultimate result that comes from contemplating impermanence. In order to gain the final result, one needs diligence. By contemplating impermanence, diligence will naturally arise and one will reach the final goal. Whatever goal one has, one needs to be diligent in order to reach it. For example, there is the Tibetan story about Norbu Sangpo. He entered into a business adventure and failed. Then he tried a second time and failed. He tried a third time and flunked again. He tried nine times in all and was unsuccessful. At that point he got really depressed and thought, “I am not going to make it.” He just sat around on a meadow and one day saw a little insect crawl up a twig. It was trying to reach the top of a little flower and fell down. Norbu Sangpo watched the little insect trying to crawl up to the flower nine times in all. It finally managed to reach the flower and then could eat it. Norbu Sangpo thought, “That’s how to do it. It’s just an insect but it carries on, even though it failed nine times. I should carry on too.” He gave his aspiration another try, started another business, was successful, and became famous. Now he is known as “the famous” Norbu Sangpo. In that way, anyone who has a goal and is diligent in just carrying on will reach the goal in the end.
Next question: Rinpoche, could you say more about what you mean by the term that was translated as “meditation increases”? Certainly, a large part of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teaching was the teaching on cutting through spiritual materialism. Often the teaching is that nothing happens and that one should not look for anything to happen. One should not grasp any experience that one might have. When you use the expression that the meditation increases, what is it that increases?
Rinpoche: There are two ways of explaining this, from an ultimate or relative view. From the ultimate view, as you just said, there is no increase or progress in meditation, because the natural state of the mind stays the same all the time, i.e., is changeless. From the relative point of view, we are in the state of delusion, so there is a gradual progress in one’s meditation as one is eliminating this delusion. So, it is a question of whether this is explained from an ultimate or relative view. For example, one might be dreaming that one is driving along in one’s car, has a flat tire, and must repair it. You have to do that, otherwise you can’t continue driving. When you wake up, you know that there was no flat tire, but that in the context of the dream you had no choice but to blow up the tire. In the same way, ultimately the natural state of the mind is always the same; it doesn’t change, but on the relative level, one has to progress and develop one’s meditation.
Same student: Could you say from the relative experience of the practitioner what the experience of the increase of meditation would be?
Rinpoche: First one has realization or the view of dharmata, “the true nature of phenomena.” One has this view or recognition and has to continue with it until one has that view or experience at all times - whether one is meditating or not, it is always present. Having first gained that recognition, then in the beginning one has that experience for a very short time and then forgets it; one has it again and forgets it again. By cultivating what one had at the time of having it, it starts growing and becomes bigger and bigger; one has it for longer periods of time and then has to make it even bigger and bigger until it is continuous. In that way it is increasing.
Next question: It’s about compassion. I’m having trouble, because it seemed I had more of it when I was an atheist and I don’t understand that. Perhaps you can explain the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion? I am getting a little mixed up about karmic debt, rebirth, and people are suffering. Could you explain the differences between pity, sympathy, compassion, and empathy?
Rinpoche: What is the actual question?
Student: The difference between compassion and sympathy, pity or empathy. They all seem to go hand-in-hand. Is there a difference?
Rinpoche: Well, I’m not really sure what these words mean, because I think there is only one word in Tibetan, which is ning-je. It’s an interesting point.
Student: Okay, just explain pity and good compassion. Pity, which isn’t really that good but can motivate someone to help someone who suffers, or should it be genuine compassion? I don’t know.
Rinpoche: When you have pity, do you feel upset?
Student: Yes, but I had more of it before I became a Buddhist.
Rinpoche: U-uh! It is said that when one practices the Dharma and has realizations, people think that they have more thoughts than before, like more anger, less compassion, and so on. They will think like this, because formerly they weren’t really aware of their faults and qualities. It seems as though emotions grow and qualities diminish when one practices, but actually that is not what is happening. The fact that you see this is a very good sign of progress.
Student: Thank you.
Next question: I want to ask a question about revulsion and how that translates for a western practitioner to cut the ties to this life?
Rinpoche: Attachment means concentrating one’s entire attention entirely on one’s own life. If one becomes free of attachment, then one still has to eat, dress, and live in a house. So, whether you have attachment or not, you still have to live.
Student: So, in a sense, one doesn’t just walk away from everything that is familiar and a part of one’s life before one takes up the Dharma?
Rinpoche: One doesn’t have to give up anything one had before practicing the Dharma, and one doesn’t have to give up anything while practicing the Dharma. Living a normal life is not in opposition to practicing the Dharma. However, if one gives up Dharma for the sake of food, clothes, and things like that, then that is attachment.
Student: So, it’s like attachment in reverse?
Rinpoche: Attachment in reverse – hm. Actually, the words in the prayer are shen-log, and log means “reverse.” If one is attached to one’s house, food, and various things, then one is abandoning the Dharma. If one is practicing the Dharma, then one doesn’t have attachment.
Speaker: Rinpoche, may I offer a poem?
Rinpoche: Yes, fine.
Speaker: Your mind is unchanging enlightenment, which is never non-confusing - the dharmakaya.
Your speech is compassion, a ceaseless flow of blessings to liberate beings - the sambhogakaya.
Your body is that of a Bodhisattva, manifesting for the benefit of others - the nirmanakaya.
You are Vajradhara in person, and the Lineage of Mahamudra flows through you to worthy students of the Dharma. May we all be worthy students.
May our revulsion, devotion, and awareness increase and may we realize our minds as dharmakaya.
May we each play a part, each in our own way, in expanding your good activity and that of the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa and that of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche so that in fact enlightened society manifests on this very earth.
You are our very good Dharma friend.
Please live for a long time and please come back to Halifax very soon to teach us more.
Please accept this small gift as a token of our appreciation.
Rinpoche: Thank you very much.
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
The Nalanda Translation Committee translated the supplication that was written by Bengar Jampäl Sangpo. Thrangu Rinpoche’s instructions were presented at the Shambhala Center in Halifax, Novia Scotia, and were transcribed and edited slightly by Gaby Hollmann in June 2000, responsible and apologizing for all errors, and rewritten for the website of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Nepal in 2008. Photo of Rinpoche courtesy of Katrin Weller from Stuttgart.