Thursday, November 18, 2010

Too Cool for School

"Shambala Buddhists pay money to Tibetan witch doctors 
to wave things over their heads." 

Some may wonder why I juxtapose an obscure quotation from Gesar Mukpo with a photograph of Gyatrul Rinpoche. At first blush, it would seem they represent different backgrounds, different traditions, different generations. 

Gesar Mukpo is the formally recognized and enthroned tulku of Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, and of course, he is Trungpa Rinpoche's son -- a child of the "Shambala Buddhists," so to speak. He was born and educated in the West, and seems to spend much of his time usefully contemplating that psychopomp of Western culture known as film-making. 

Gyatrul Rinpoche is the formally recognized and enthroned tulku of Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab of Palyul. He was born and educated in the old country, has little if anything to do with the Shambala Buddhists, and although he has lived in the West for over thirty years, has only minimal fluency or interest in Western culture.

Actually, Gesar Mukpo and Gyatrul Rinpoche seem to have much in common -- beyond the obvious, that is. Both have engaged in critical examination of the tulku institution -- one through his documentary film on the subject, and the other through polemics. 

But, whereas Gesar Mukpo's film Tulku is rather well known, and even celebrated, Gyatrul Rinpoche's thoughts on the tulku institution have never achieved much circulation. I think that is a pity. I used to know Gyatrul Rinpoche quite well, and there was a period when we used to spend quite a bit of time in one another's company. Having thus come to some sense of his insight, if you will, I am always pleased to hear his views on any subject under the sun.

The other day, someone sent me a copy of the March 2006, Pacific Region Yeshe Nyingpo Newsletter -- which is the admittedly slender medium where his thoughts were published -- with an anonymous note that read, "Reprint this before it disappears." Seems there is yet another battle raging  somewhere, about what is and isn't, and one or the other partisan would like to use Gyatrul Rinpoche's polemic as ammunition or armor, as the case may be.  After you read this, I don't think you'll want to use it either way; at least, I hope you won't, because it is neither ammunition nor armor, but food -- food for introspective thought.

Actually, we have quoted from this in the past, but we have never reproduced it in its entirety. When I received that note, I went back and re-read the material again. It seemed to me that Gyatrul Rinpoche's thoughts are particularly timely. So, I have decided to re-print them here.

Some people who have read this material have asked, "Well, who is he talking about?" or they have asked, "Why doesn't he just come on out and name the names?" That really isn't Gyatrul Rinpoche's style. On the one hand, he can seem very direct, or outspoken, but he is actually a person of great delicacy and tact. He also expects you to be smart enough to "read between the lines." Thus, when hereinbelow he is openly critical of "Western tulkus who boast about visions," or recounts how he really didn't want to go to Arizona, you can hark back to 2005 and ask yourself who is the only person who fits the description.

However, if you get caught up in the specifics, you might miss the larger issues he addresses. One of these larger issues concerns groups or centers or "sanghas" that don't seem to make very much progress. For example: you see cases where people have been at something for over twenty years, but everybody is still stuck in the same pigeonhole. This seems like it could be a complicated problem, but he gives a very simple diagnosis.

The other interesting issue is the emphasis on training, which he approaches using the example of children who will come to carry the name "tulku" in the future. You know, these days there are people running around who think they are too cool for school. You might think you are a great bodhisattva, and you may even find a small group of people who are willing to call you a great bodhisattva, but you will never find a great bodhisattva who is too cool for school. If you think that's what you heard, you are quite probably mistaken, and sooner or later events will conspire to rather forcefully bring that point home.

His comments on pouring blood into milk are really most useful. These days, it seems there is some sort of imperative to jazz up buddhadharma for the Western audience. You see all sorts of table-pounding about, "We are Western Buddhism," blah, blah, blah. You even see lamas who should know better falling into the trap of jazzing up Dharma to "fit" the West.

Speaking personally, whenever I see that sort of thing, I think of the prostitutes during the Asian wars, who got plastic surgery because they thought it would make them more attractive to the foreign soldiers. So, you saw once-beautiful Asian ladies who had disfigured themselves -- cutting their eyes to appear Caucasian, dyeing their hair blond, or pumping up their chests with implants.

Sometimes, in the glare of the information explosion, when people are "liking" this and "tweeting" that, it even becomes difficult to recognize the line between Dharma and non-Dharma. Fortunately, Patrul Rinpoche gives us a handy rule of thumb, quoting Geshe Tonpa:
"If it counteracts negative emotions, it is Dharma. If it doesn't, it is non-Dharma.
If it doesn't fit with worldly ways, it is Dharma. If it fits, it is non-Dharma.
If it fits with the scriptures and your instructions, it is Dharma. If it doesn't fit, it is non-Dharma.
If it leaves a positive imprint, it is Dharma. If it leaves a negative imprint, it is non-Dharma."
So, in the following, and herewith -- something which I trust will counteract negative emotions, won't fit with worldly ways, will fit with your instructions, and will leave a positive imprint on your thinking. My suggestion is that you read this, and then go make the effort to watch Gesar Mukpo's film. I think if you do, you will be surprised to find how greatly the two stories intertwine. 


"This message from Gyatrul Rinpoche was read to the sangha by Sangye Khandro on the last day of the 2005 Vajrakilaya retreat at Tashi Choling. Rinpoche did not attend the retreat as he was preparing for a month-long trip to China to visit his sisters, whom he had not seen since leaving Tibet 55 years ago.

"I am so grateful to Lingtrul Rinpoche and Pema Tenzin. They always come to our ceremonies, especially to Vajrasattva and Vajrakilaya. Their kindness cannot be repaid. I hope that both of them will always bless us with their presence during these ceremonies in the future. I am also grateful that Lama Yönten participated in our Vajrakilaya practice this year. Lama Yönten is a direct disciple of Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche. He lived with H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche and his family and learned in the Tersar monasteries in Bhutan and Nepal. While he was here, he taught the students at Tashi Choling how to play the instruments and just how to be good practitioners. In the future, I am hoping that Lama Yönten will continue to be one of our teachers and to help us as he did this year.

"To the entire sangha, including the geku Nick O’Connor and the chopons, I would like to say: please continue to increase your knowledge, your skillful means, your incisive knowledge and your loving kindness so that you will always uphold the Buddha’s doctrine in a very pure way. All disciples should know that we are not here practicing dharma just to dispel obstacles, even though dispelling obstacles is one of the functions of Kilaya practice. The main function of dharma practice is to completely tame and control one’s own mind. If we can do that, we will be able to achieve siddhis. It’s as simple as that. Everything that we hope to achieve in order to accomplish our own purpose and the purpose of others is completely dependent upon taming our own minds. Everyone should always be considering this. In order to become Buddha, to clear all obstructions and increase all indwelling noble qualities, we must tame our minds. 

"Everything is dependent upon refuge. I always repeat this. I want to drive the point home again and again, because people still do not get it. Refuge is the single most important practice. The worst obstacle is not knowing refuge. 

"The proof that refuge is not being understood is that people are not progressing rapidly on the path, because dharma’s methods produce rapid results when they are practiced correctly. 

"A lack of true faith in the objects of refuge comes from not understanding the qualities of the objects of refuge. It’s extremely important to come to know their qualities very well. Then your path will be meaningful. If you keep your refuge vows, then all three vows— pratimoksha, bodhisattva and vajrayana—are subsumed there. 

"Refuge vows contain all three kayas; they contain Buddha’s enlightened body, speech and mind. Generation and completion stage are subsumed in refuge. Refuge also includes the result of all of our efforts to receive empowerment, transmission and upadesha instruction.

"As for the children, you children are my special little fresh sprouts. That’s because your seed is your own little Buddhanature. You must not allow your sprout to be ruined or burned. Parents are responsible for this. Children need to learn dharma as much as possible. They need to cultivate the three wisdoms of listening, contemplating and meditating and parents must be responsible for giving them this opportunity. The rest of the sangha must be responsible to help ensure that the children are learning. In that way everyone will be harmonious. For myself, this is the future. When these children become tulkus, khenpos, translators or lamas, they should never be arrogant or boastful. Everyone must always work to tame his or her own mind. And once again, that’s dependent on how well we hold the vows of refuge.

"These days it’s a very sad time because many people are given dharma names like ‘tulku.’ Then right away they pop up, but they are empty of qualities. There’s nothing more sad than that. So please don’t follow this empty tulku tradition where the demon of godliness is cultivated. That demon of godliness is meant to be eradicated, not encouraged. 
"You are the kings of spiritual materialism, you are the queens of spiritual self-importance. Nothing matters ultimately. Watch it decompose."
"Therefore, all disciples must keep samaya. Keeping samaya vows doesn’t mean looking at one another and pointing to see if others are keeping them or not, saying he or she is good, he or she is bad. Of course, all beings are having a hard time keeping samaya, just as you are. That’s because they are wandering in samsara. So rather than faulting and judging them, we must have compassion and love for them continuously.

"Tulkus can really destroy the doctrine, especially these days when they compete with each other for positions, like who sits on the highest seat in the shrine room. It’s a sign of not knowing the dharma at all. Whoever sits on the lowest seat in the shrine room is the one who has the highest qualities. For example, it’s a well-known fact that there’s no owner of the Ganden Tri, the throne of the Ganden. Whoever has the qualities takes the seat on that throne. But these days, lamas and tulkus are fighting over positions.

"That’s the tradition of kings; it’s not the dharma tradition. Buddha Shakyamuni never worried about a throne. Guru Rinpoche never worried about a throne. Our root guru, Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, never worried about a throne and in the history of his lineage there’s never any history of anyone fighting over who held the throne or competition about how many tulkus there may be. This has never existed in Dudjom Lingpa and Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche’s lineage. Usually there are 5 tulkus for body, speech, mind, qualities and enlightened activities. All of these tulkus are busy increasing the doctrine. They’re not thinking, “My monastery’s the seat,” or “I’m the only throne holder.” So don’t take the pure dharma and bless it with demon’s views.

"Think about the future and about keeping the lineage pure. It doesn’t matter if you’re a monk or a ngakpa. You should tame your own mind. That is the main responsibility of dharma practice. And also not breaking samaya. No matter how scholarly you may become, if you don’t have pure samaya, your mind will become like a poisonous snake and you’ll never be a good practitioner. You will only be a reflection.

"In the future, always remember it doesn’t matter what you look like with your dharma clothes on, whether you appear to be handsome, pretty, powerful, even if someone is always praising you. You need to understand that all these ways of thinking about dharma are detrimental because they don’t help you to tame your mind and cultivate compassion for others. So just work on taming your mind and don’t worry about the rest of the stuff. Stay happy with who you are whatever status you have. However much you can tame your mind, that will bring you more happiness.

"Have excellent thoughts toward others and give offerings as much as you can without being proud or boasting. These days people do one good thing and right away they want to tell everyone, pretending they’re so great. There’s never any reason to tell anyone anything when you do something good. They will notice it. It will be conspicuous.

"Remembering that all parent sentient beings are equal to space we should always have love for them and whatever happens, we should always attribute that to the kindness of our root guru and our parents. This is very important, to think that whatever qualities you have are because of your guru’s kindness, not because of yourself. For example, for me, I know that I don’t have any qualities, but because of the kindness of my gurus, I have been able to do something meaningful in my life. I do have confidence in that. But I have never thought that I did this myself. I always thought that it was because of their kindness and their kindness alone that I had this opportunity. That makes me special. That makes me someone who can give the gift of dharma. When I think about myself doing something good, I attribute all the credit to my root gurus. So if you are my friends, then you should do the same. I would expect that of you.

"As for this name tulku, a dog can be called a snow lion. The tulku lineage does not matter any more. Just tame your own minds. That’s the real tulku.

'We’ve worked hard to create this little gompa of Tashi Choling. It’s filled with blessings of body, speech and mind; it’s been blessed by the greatest gurus of our time. So take care of it for the rest of your lives, and take care of one another. And when the lamas die, as they will, for example myself, my corpse, I don’t want anyone making a big deal about my corpse. I don’t want a stupa. I would prefer cremation or giving my body to the birds. Or you could throw it in a river. I really don’t care. Milarepa didn’t care what happened to his body. I would like to be like him. He didn’t need a stupa. A pure Buddhist doesn’t care what happens to the body after death. So please keep that in mind and don’t forget my words. Also, I wanted to say that ordinary dharma practitioners should not have stupas for their bodies.

"Many of you misinterpret what to do with people when they die. You put ordinary practitioners’ pictures on the altar and then make offerings to their pictures. This is really incorrect. You should learn from lamas like Pema Tenzin what should be done when people die. Do not put their pictures on altars. This is not the way. That would cause the deceased person to go to the lower realms. Keep things in the proper context. If I die, please don’t do that. And don’t blow the trumpets either. This is different from Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. You may say, “Well his students did that for him, shouldn’t we do that for you, Rinpoche?” But Chagdud Tulku and I are very different. Don’t forget that his mother was a great dakini and she would actually pretend to pass away and go into the realms and liberate thousands of beings from the bardos. And Chagdud Tulku’s sister did the same. Chagdud Tulku came from an amazing lineage and he himself was an amazing guru. So of course the way he was treated by his disciples was entirely appropriate. We don’t have to say these things. Everyone knows that.

"Please listen carefully. If we follow Buddha Shakyamuni’s tradition, even though Buddha Shakyamuni lived two thousand five hundred years ago, we don’t need to worry about eight worldly dharma concerns and we can always only practice pure dharma.

"You shouldn’t boast about visions. There are many of these so-called western tulkus and lamas who are busy boasting to their disciples that they had this vision and that vision trying to impress their disciples. This is just worldly concern. I hope none of you will ever do that. Why should you boast? If you’re my friends, in the future you won’t do that.

"Just be harmonious with each other and do your very best and follow the pure tradition, not “my way.” Don’t follow the highway of “my way,” that’s very shameful. That will cover up the pure Buddhist doctrine. And don’t mix the tradition with other things, with your own ideas and your own cultures. Don’t follow cultures for that matter. You don’t need to follow any culture, just the pure Buddhadharma, and nothing ever needs to be changed. It’s so sad when people think they need to adjust Buddha’s speech, like pouring blood into pure milk.

"As for the translators, especially the future translators as I mentioned before, translators are the second lama and all of you really need to respect this. Translators are not just like the postman delivering letters, handing it over. You shouldn’t think like that. In order to become a true translator— and I know many of you are aspiring to do that— you really must accomplish the dharma as a practitioner through listening, contemplating and meditating. Then when you serve, you are really serving. You must be tireless. You shouldn’t be a complainer saying I’m too tired, I’m so busy and ruining your merit. So many westerners are always ruining their merit by complaining right after they do something good. It doesn’t make sense. Why do you always have to complain? Just be tireless.

"For myself, and I don’t mean to boast, the only reason why I went to Arizona was to keep samaya. I didn’t want to go. I went there because I had some samaya commitment that I should go there. It was hard for me to go but I tried to keep that commitment.

"Like that, all of you should always try to keep your samaya no matter how difficult it is. You’re not keeping samaya just for the lama, you’re keeping samaya only for yourself. So please keep this in mind.

"What would we have done if the 25 disciples in Tibet including Beirotsana had not gone through all their hardships to bring the dharma into a language that the Tibetan people could understand? We wouldn’t have the dharma. So you see the importance of this work of bringing dharma now into the English language. It’s entirely dependent upon how the translator can realize that information and present it accurately and correctly. Translating is a skill that must be perfected. It is not just some ordinary job. You can’t just think, I’m going to be a translator, and think that it will be easy to learn to read, or that you can just learn some words and all of a sudden you will start translating. It’s really not quite like that. As a translator, you’re becoming a major servant of the doctrine, spreading the doctrine in a most potent way by bringing it into a language that people can understand. So be very careful and keep your samaya. Otherwise you will be just like a postman. It’s important for all students to respect translators. Encourage one another.

"The sponsors of the dharma should always rejoice if in this lifetime they have an opportunity to be generous. They should try their best to offer with purest intention, skillful means and prajna wisdom. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to come to Kilaya this year. I really had every intention of coming. As you know, I always like to come. And in the future, I’ll be there next time to bug you guys again, especially the children, my children, who are the future seeds, and my shedra students, who better not be hanging out or trying to be slick. I want them all to be like Shashi and Ila and to guard the doctrine. I love those girls and I love these students. They are supporting my life more than anyone.

"I’ll see you all soon when I come back from China and maybe Taiwan. My final word is to keep samaya with the guru. Everyone has that responsibility. Watch yourself and see whether you have pure samaya. Whether someone else is a god or a demon, it really doesn’t matter. Just watch yourself."


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1 reader comments:

Eva said...

Thank you for posting these teachings!