Thursday, December 10, 2009

Basking In Reflected Glory

Over the past several months, a few people have written to me asking that I discuss my teachers and my lineage. If I understand correctly, they are asking me for some form of credential or authorization  that entitles me to be me. Based on these putative credentials or authorization, the questioners propose to engage in the continued practice of accepting and rejecting.

I am reluctant to play along, because it goes against my understanding of what is and is not necessary. However, it would seem that my reluctance has opened the door to all sorts of confusion among beings difficult to tame. Not only confusion, but negative actions and misconduct of all types. When I look at this, I am overcome with pity for those who are wasting their precious human birth with puerile ideas about cops and robbers.

We are taught that there are different reasons for seeking out teachings, some wholesome and some not so wholesome. In the latter category, we are taught that there are those who seek out teachings in order to sell them elsewhere.

It has been my observation that people who fall into this category often make a great deal of noise about who their teachers are, what their lineage is, and so forth.

Speaking personally, I did not approach the teachings with such thoughts in mind. I have never in my entire life depended on the dharma for my upkeep. I don't have anything to sell, so this really isn't a concern for me.

Nevertheless, it is a guidance.

My teachers were and are completely realized masters. I hold them in inexpressible regard. If I choose not to bandy them about like some form of spiritual currency, trying to buy recognition or belief, please try to understand and respect my decision. While I might tell the odd "old days" story here or there, if it seems of some benefit to others, under most ordinary circumstances I would prefer to let things rest as they are.

Can you think of any reason why I should do otherwise?

I think many of the questions which are addressed to me about lineage come from a fundamentally mistaken view of what lineage actually represents. For example: I could list all of my teachers, and my teacher's teachers, and I could say that because my teacher had these teachers, then that is my lineage.

It would actually be rather easy for me to do that, offering up photographs of myself with this one or that one, and letters from this one or that one, and all sorts of hyperbole about everyone's glorious deeds. E MA HO! There are even circumstances where more than one lineage is involved!  My own famous teachers had many famous teachers, and their famous teachers had really famous teachers, so maybe I could trot that all out.

However, to do so would be an action at odds with my views.

One often hears about the "purity" of lineage. This seems to be a favorite theme with some childish people who still cling to dualistic thought and conduct. If you are engaging in lying, verbal abuse, divisive speech, and so forth, then where is your pure lineage? The purity of your lineage depends entirely upon intrinsic factors, not extrinsic lists of dead people.

There is that, and then there is this ---

All lineages rest in the same reality, which is that the nature of mind is primordially buddha, with no creation or cessation, so I cannot say where one realization begins or ends. I do not know anybody who can. While it might be conventionally appropriate to say that Master 2's realization mingled with Master 1's realization, and Master 3's realization mingled with Master 1 and 2's realization, it would be highly inappropriate to quantify realization as having a sought-after independence.

The only absolutely pure lineage is spontaneous presence.

In the English language, we have a phrase to the effect that so and so is, "basking in reflected glory." This even has its opposite in the idea of "guilt by association." In either case, we are labeling ourselves through reference to others, without looking at our own face. If I point to my teachers, and my teacher's teachers as some sort of authority, or justification, or credential, or even excuse for myself, this is a wholly incorrect and mistaken appreciation of what lineage actually means.

Lineage is both delimited and defined by accomplishment. One cannot be said to "hold" a lineage in the absence of actual accomplishment. If accomplishment is present, then one may give credit where credit is due, and offer all respect to one's lineage of teachers. However, in the absence of such accomplishment, it would be wrong to point to one's lineage and say, "I am a part of this." Even if you take robes and so forth, practicing all night and all day, that is just an admission ticket until realization finally dawns.

You know, the admission ticket isn't anything to boast about. You can take a hundred empowerments, but never accomplish the practice of one of them.

That is what I believe, and that is how I am guided. Since I have no particular accomplishment, no particular activity, and no particular goals, I don't feel the need to run around shouting about lineage this or lineage that. This is like schoolyard fighting, you know? One kid says to another kid, "My big brother is coming to beat you up!"

The other day, somebody came to my house, and saw pictures of lamas on the wall. "Wow!" they exclaimed. "Is that your lineage?"

No, those are pictures of lamas on the wall.

Lineage is encompassed in the continuity of ear-whispered instruction and practice leading to actual accomplishment. Lineage is not encompassed by pictures, biographies, beautiful diplomas, ornate certificates, or any other useless pomp and circumstance you could name. Lineage is not encompassed by "lama collections," or "empowerment collections," or ambitious projects.

If it would give anyone even the slightest comfort or peace of mind to know more about such things, then I would bring to your attention Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje's A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems. If you are desperately searching for some generous meat in which to sink your poisoned teeth, then please be informed that I knew and know some of the people named in that book. This does not mean that I was able to learn what they were eminently able to teach me. That does not mean I have any accomplishment whatsoever. Actually, it doesn't mean anything at all beyond explaining that I had a wonderful opportunity to be the very worst student of the very best men.

In that regard, I am right now looking at a letter that one of the gentlemen named in the book wrote to me thirty-six years ago, which reads, in part:
"It seems O.K. We could write pages and pages to one another, but what you understand I understand and what I understand you understand -- this we know, so what use is our communication. I am writing you now for only sentimental reasons."
I found that letter by accident a few years ago, and I have kept it only because I find it helpful to constantly remind myself of certain things, and not in any nostalgic sense, I assure you. It is  merely bittersweet evidence that I wore out the patience of a saint.

This brings us to the ancillary question I occasionally get, to the effect of, "Are you really a tulku, and if so, then prove it." One person even wrote in to suggest that the best way of proving it would be to (a) make a miracle, or (b) die.

I really don't know what to say about that. If you see a tulku, then I am a tulku. If you don't, then I am not. Apart from the institutional sense, a tulku really isn't defined by his recognition, you know? I don't know how to impress that upon you strongly enough. There are some lineages where such things are very important, but this is because of pressing institutional necessity. There are many, many mouths to feed.

As a spiritual issue, being seen as a tulku -- or not -- is absolutely unimportant to the matter of actual accomplishment.

Tulkus do not drop from the sky as fully realized masters. Every Karmapa since the first had teachers, instruction, study, learning, practice, and so forth. Every Dalai Lama since the first had teachers, instruction, study, learning, practice, and so forth. Just to take a single example, and with reference to ngondro, or the so-called "preliminary" practices that most people believe are beneath them, even a fully realized master like the immaculate Source of Refuge Dudjom Rinpoche completed ngondro not once but several times during his lifetime. So, if these great beings spend their lives engaged with their teachers, instruction, study, learning, practice, and so forth, what should we understand about tulkus?

A tulku who has failed to realize his or her potential is much, much worse than the poorest student of the poorest lama in the poorest temple in the poorest country in the world. Regardless of how you shake it up, tulku status is of absolutely no consequence to anyone. Study and practice are of consequence. Kindness is of consequence.

I don't need anything, I don't want anything, and I am not interested in doing anything. I have no practice to speak of, and I am not a teacher. I am not paid a salary for teaching, nor do I sell dharma for a living in some sort of competitive marketplace. I am just an old man who lives in the desert with pet rabbits, and plays around on the Internet while he waits to die.

Well, that and the odd bit of sorcery every now and then.

So, now 2009 draws to a close, and I have responded to the polite and not-so-polite inquiries by expressing my feelings. I have few thoughts on the matter other than those offered here. If this offends those of you with great learning, accomplishment and realization, then I am so sorry. I had absolutely no idea those with great learning, accomplishment and realization could be so easily offended by someone like me.

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12 reader comments:

Tom Garnett said...

Long have I read your blog, partially for amusement and partially to get irked because I so frequently disagree with you but just as frequently find what you write worthy of reflection. This posting, dear sir, hits the ball out of the park. Your analysis of the abuse to which the word “lineage” has been put is accurate. Your emphasis on what pure lineage needs to be heard. Tears came to my eyes reading your words. Thank you.
Tom Garnett

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the 'old man who lives in the desert waiting to die.' Hopefully this self-proclaimed 'buddhist' will realise that he could die any day too.

J.Crow said...

i know tom, and whatever he says, goes for me in vast multiplier's!

long life prayers to tr!_

and on this day hufo po posts this interesting link:

don't stop posting yet baby!

David said...

Well, yes, a person can name drop and wave around his teachers as a means of "basking in reflected glory," but it is at the same time rather straightforward and reasonable to simply state what lamas he has studied with, and if he uses title like "tulku," and "rinpoche," who it was that recognized him. It seems a bit disingenuous to use the name "Tulku Urgyan Tenpa Rinpoche" and then write a post about how you don't want to reveal your lineage or teachers because you don't want to play the "credentials" game. If you don't care about credentials, why not just use your legal name or a less exalted pseudonym? Why would you quote some anonymous lama that told you that you and he have the same understanding, but then not say who he was? Really, what is the big deal about revealing your lineage?

TENPA said...

You really think he was saying that he and I have the same understanding?


David said...

Well, you quoted an unnamed teacher as saying: "It seems O.K. We could write pages and pages to one another, but what you understand I understand and what I understand you understand -- this we know, so what use is our communication. I am writing you now for only sentimental reasons."

What did you mean by including this quote then?

TENPA said...

I sort of thought it meant that I was so arrogant and asleep that he couldn't teach me anything because I wouldn't listen.

You ever feel that way?

Anonymous said...

Tenpa, thanks for sharing! I am one of the provoked, confused and often grateful readers of DTBA.

This whole topic of credentials and credential-ing is timely. It goes on and on...

TENPA said...

All sentient beings are buddhas. That is the best place to start and the best place to finish.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I just read your blog for the first time tonight and was so fascinated that I couldn't go to sleep when I should be sleeping because I am expected at work tomorrow. But, your blog was so interesting that it felt worthy of the lost sleep and I have a feeling I won't be as tired as usual. I don't give a hoot about lineage but I like your straight talk. Keep it coming and don't die yet. I just found you!

TENPA said...

We can't say that lineage isn't important, because it is actually very important. However, the point needs to be made that lineage doesn't really exist in the absence of actual accomplishment.

Tomorrow is Wednesday. My guess is that nobody will notice whether you are sleepy or not, because they will all be looking forward or backward. You, however, will be in the moment, so you will be more or less invisible.

Buddhist Jihad said...

We're all tulkus.

No biggie.

Really, so what?

Back to "work out your own salvation with diligence," no?