Monday, May 31, 2010

Weekly Tibetan Astrology: May 31 - June 6, 2010

These monks are planting trees.

NOTE: The year is just about half finished, so take stock of what you have accomplished thus far. June is a good month to get busy. Save summer recreation for July. This week you have one extremely positive day surrounded by so-so days, so make the best of it. The big story this week is the environment. Anything you can do to placate earth spirits, or offer to nagas, you should do. I am sorry to say there may be sudden misfortunes this week.

May 31, 2010 - Chinese 19th, M-T-K 19th. Tiger, Kham, White 1. This is Memorial Day in the U.S., and a very good day to spend with the family, or friends. Relax. Don't wear yourself out.

June 1, 2010 - Chinese 20th, M-T-K 19th. Rabbit, Gin, Black 2. Note duplicated day in Tibetan practice. Pleasant surprises are possible.

June 2, 2010 - Chinese 21st, M-T-K 20th. Dragon, Zin, Blue 3. Today, you make a choice. Risk is possible, but so is reward. Good day for naga offerings. Good day to plant trees. 

June 3, 2010 - Chinese 22nd, M-T-K 21st. Snake, Zon, Green 4. Following on yesterday's energy, you can decide to be fortunate. A good day to acquire precious or semi-precious stones.

June 4, 2010 - Chinese 23rd, M-T-K 22nd. Horse, Li, Yellow 5. Drubjor. This is an extremely favorable day.

June 5, 2010 -  Chinese 24th, M-T-K 23rd. Sheep, Khon, White 6. Today is zin phung. Negative energies today. The environment is in an uproar. The planet is fighting back. Good day for naga offerings.

June 6, 2010 - Chinese 24th, M-T-K 24th. Sheep, Khon, White 6. Note duplicated lunar day in Chinese practice. Today is nyi nak. Let go of the controls. The negative energies continue.

Naga observations for the fourth month: Six excellent days this month -- 5, 9, 20, 23, 25, 30. Seven bad days -- 1, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15, 18.

Consult our extended discussion of 2010 astrology by clicking here.

Published every Monday at 00:01 香港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2010, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here.  Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Weekly Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nyungne In Taiwan

From 8:00 p.m. June 11th through 6:00 p.m. June 14th, the Ninth Ogyen Tulku will be leading a Nyungne Retreat in Taiwan, under the auspices of the Buddha of Compassion Society.

The location is 2F, Number 62-6, Beitouzi, in Taipei County's Danshui Township. 

If you are planning to be in Taiwan, why not attend? Never know who you'll see at these events. For more information, contact the Buddha of Compassion Society, 4F, Number 6-1, Lane 16, Shuanghe Street, Yonghe City, Taipei County, ROC. The telephone numbers are 02-32332199, or cell 0910338868.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tibetan Roulette

"One Western person must attain full enlightenment in the same way as Marpa, Milarepa, or Guru Rinpoche. If one Westerner—man or woman, doesn’t matter—attains that level of realization, then pure dharma will be established in Western culture, Western language, and environment, and so forth. Until that time, dharma can be taught in the West, which is already happening; it can be practiced in the West, which is already happening; and it can be recited in Western languages. But it’s not yet one hundred percent complete."
--Tai Situpa Rinpoche

We begin with a grab quote from an opinion piece running in a magazine that shall here go nameless. You can read the whole piece by clicking this link, and we earnestly suggest you do so, because it seems useful. However, as useful as this may seem, I want to present the above quote in juxtaposition to the following, taken from Trungpa Rinpoche's foreword to Thomas Frederick Rich, Jr's rather grandly titled book Buddha In the Palm of Your Hand. Those of you who are old enough will remember that Thomas Rich, also known as Osel Tendzin, was Trungpa Rinpoche's Vajra Regent:
“Many Oriental advisors have said to me, ‘Do not make an Occidental your successor; they are not trustworthy.’ With the blessings of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, and through working with Ösel Tendzin as my Regent, I have come to the conclusion that anybody who possesses tathagatagarbha is worthy of experiencing enlightenment. Moreover, Ösel Tendzin is my prime student. He has been able to commit himself and learn thoroughly the teachings of vajrayana. I have worked arduously in training him as my best student and foremost leader, and His Holiness Karmapa has confirmed his Regency. With His Holiness’ blessing, Ösel Tendzin should hold his title and the sanity of the enlightened lineage. He is absolutely capable of imparting the message of buddhadharma to the rest of the world”
Except it did not turn out that way.  According to his widow, at the time of his death,, in the spring of 1987, Trungpa Rinpoche was speaking of "dismantling" his "best student and foremost leader."

I am not writing this to reopen old wounds. I am not writing this to inflict any new wounds. I am writing this because, in the heady glow of the commodity flogged in the West as "Tibetan Buddhism," there is a tendency to engage in fairy tale thinking.

The quick, hard summary is found in a letter dated 29 December 1988, from the Board of Directors of Trungpa Rinpoche's umbrella organization to Thomas Rich. You can find the letter on-line, by clicking here. The letter itself is best evidence, as they say, but I do want to excerpt a few paragraphs:
"Sir, at this time the future of our sangha and the continuation of the Vidyadhara's teaching are in great danger because of your actions.
"You have engaged in unprotected sexual activity after knowing you had HIV disease and AIDS illness, with individuals whom you did not inform of your condition.
"You have used your position as Vajra Regent in order to induce others to fulfill your sexual desires.
"Also, you have in our view engaged in the three main symptoms of corruption described in The Court Vision:
'The first is pleasure-seeking, love of luxury and sexual indulgence; the second is love of power and indulgence in the abuse of one's subordinates; the third is infatuation with one's charisma and intelligence.'
"These violations have become the source of great pain, confusion, and loss of heart in our sangha... . Even now, your attempt to continue in power is causing further pain and divisiveness in our world."
So, there it was. That a crisis arose is not instructive. Given what we, as Westerners, understand about each other, a crisis of some sort was inevitable: a foregone conclusion. What is instructive is the response to that crisis.


You will recall that the Sixteenth Karmapa had passed away in early November, 1981.  Kalu Rinpoche had passed away in May of 1989. Because Kagyu leadership was in disarray, the role of elder statesman therefore fell upon a Nyingmapa -- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche -- who the evidence suggests was hammered on all sides. In October 1989, he wrote in response:
"As I have communicated to you earlier, it is my deep conviction that the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin was carefully appointed by Trungpa Rinpoche and was confirmed by His Holiness Karmapa. It is my feeling that all students having had a connection with Trungpa Rinpoche should respect his appointment and in this way follow Trungpa Rinpoche's instructions.

"If they follow the Regent's instructions that is good, since in doing so that is serving Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa Rinpoche appointed the Regent knowing his capacities and seeing completely his capabilities to continue his lineage. Those who are experiencing difficulties following the Regent now should realize that it is necessary to do so in order to follow Trungpa Rinpoche's instructions."
The above is a remarkable letter, also available on-line, and I recommend that you read it in full. What is not clear, at this stage in history, is whether or not Dilgo Khyentse knew the whole story of the Regent's excesses. What becomes clear,  is that four months later, he gave very different advice, in a letter dated 15 February 1990:
"I feel strongly that it is very important that the Vajra Regent do a strict retreat, starting with this New Year of the Horse, and at least for the duration of this year."
He also recommended that everyone come together, as "a constructive solution must be found to resolve the current conflicts."

By August 1990, Osel Tendzin was dead, in San Francisco, of AIDS. He had infected others, who also died. There are even open allegations that the predicate sexual encounters were not consensual; in one case, it was charged the Regent had ordered his "Vajra Guard" to immobilize a man, who he then raped. This is America, and anybody can say anything about anybody -- particularly after they are dead.

Tibetan logicians -- arguably the finest in the world -- often fail to grasp Western logic. They think they do, but they do not. To Westerners, this had nothing to do with Vajrayana Buddhism. This was a clear-cut question of right or wrong. Was Trungpa Rinpoche, a fully enlightened Mahasiddha, wrong? Was the Sixteenth Karmapa wrong? Were they capable of making mistakes?

Westerners get stuck there, unwilling to consider the alternative possibility: it was our people screwed up. High hopes are not guarantees. There are six cylinders in the average revolver. If you are lucky, you can put one bullet in one cylinder and squeeze the trigger five times with no problem. That sixth squeeze is going to be instructive. 

There are, of course, a number of other possibilities -- Vajrayana is Vajrayana -- but there is also common sense. Names, endorsements, public displays of confidence, and all the other stuff of politics are not a claim of entitlement on enlightenment. There are no further shortcuts available on the already short path.

In the Regent's Wikipedia entry (linked above), there is a lengthy passage worth reproducing here, because it illustrates the issue most Tibetan teachers miss:
Stephen Butterfield, a former student, recounted in a memoir:
Tenzin offered to explain his behavior at a meeting which I attended. Like all of his talks, this was considered a teaching of dharma, and donations were solicited and expected. So I paid him $35.00 to hear his explanation. In response to close questioning by students, he first swore us to secrecy (family secrets again), and then said that Trungpa had requested him to be tested for HIV in the early 1980s and told him to keep quiet about the positive result. Tendzin had asked Trungpa what he should do if students wanted to have sex with him, and Trungpa's reply was that as long as he did his Vajrayana purification practices, it did not matter, because they would not get the disease. Tendzin's answer, in short, was that he had obeyed the guru."
Butterfield noted, "Tendzin's account of his conversations with Trungpa was challenged by other senior disciples, who claimed Trungpa would never have led anyone to believe that the laws of nature could be suspended by practice." Butterfield also wrote, "it was a difficult dilemma: if you chose to believe Tendzin, the Trungpa had simply been wrong in telling him he could not transmit the disease . . but what then became of the axiom that the guru cannot make a mistake? But if you chose to disbelieve Tendzin, then Trungpa may have been wrong in allowing him to remain Regent, or perhaps in choosing him at all. . . I heard Tendzin's illness explained by his servants in this way: it was not a consequence of any folly or self-indulgence on his part, but the karma of his infected partners, that he had deliberately imbibed for them. In what way they benefited was never made clear to me, although one could safely assume the benefits did not include physical cure."
In the annals of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, the year 1987 should be studied with great care. For, in addition to the death of Trungpa Rinpoche, and the rise of the Regent, it also marks the year that Penor Rinpoche recognized Brooklyn hairdresser and "psychic channel" Alyce Louise Zeoli as the incarnation of an otherwise obscure lineage personality, Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo.

Almost immediately, the same misconduct attributed to the Regent -- "pleasure-seeking, love of luxury and sexual indulgence" -- came to be attributed to Zeoli, who liked to call herself "Jetsunma." Inevitably, this led to a revealing book, The Buddha From Brooklyn: A Tale of Spiritual Seduction, by Martha Sherrill, a respected reporter for the Washington Post.

The parallels between Thomas Rich and Alyce Zeoli are striking. Both are bisexual, both are of a sometimes violent temperament. Zeoli was arrested and charges filed for assault in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1996.  Both became the subject of justifiable controversy, and the decisions to acclaim them were reportedly bitterly regretted by the involved teachers, on their deathbeds. Both are excused, defended, and rationalized by followers on the "lama said so" model. Both maintain armed guards. In both cases, one offers criticism at one's peril.

True to precedent, since the death of her teacher, Penor Rinpoche, in 2009, Zeoli's conduct has become more and more bizarre. According to police, her organization has hired aircraft to fly over the homes of critics, and take photographs. Lately, she has taken to posting hateful diatribes against her legion of imaginary "enemies on Twitter," enjoining her followers to do violence. 


There are those who have suggested that like the Regent before her, Zeoli is long overdue for a lengthy, strict retreat. There are and have been attempts to discipline her, and, as in the case of the Regent, her critics can claim her "attempt to continue in power is causing further pain and divisiveness in our world." One imagines that numerous, plaintive letters and contacts with Tibetan Buddhist leaders have also been written. These would be reminiscent of the letters that bombarded His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, in the wake of Trungpa Rinpoche's death. 

No doubt, this will follow the same, predictable pattern. 

Those who fail to learn from history....

.... well, you know the rest.


[Field Comment: No matter what Rich or Zeoli did to themselves, there is no denying that each made their own unique contribution to the development of Buddhism in America. 

Further, there is no denying that each in their way, maintained noteworthy devotion to their teachers. 

It sometimes seems easy to criticize, yet difficult to praise. Therefore, to the extent that their positive achievements may be said to be praiseworthy, we can take joy in this. 

I did not know Tom Rich well -- I only encountered him once, at Tail of the Tiger, when he gave me a box of oranges as a wedding gift. This would have been in 1971, and I believe this was shortly after he first met Trungpa Rinpoche.

Neither do I know Alyce all that well. I spent about a year in her company one month, and we used to maintain a lively correspondence. Thereafter, it became my opinion that her illness makes any contact a rather useless exercise -- if you know that old story about the frog and the scorpion you already understand -- so I began to feel very badly for her.

In any event, I want to emphasize that neither Tom nor Alyce were or are monsters. To the contrary, both are simply human, or perhaps, in a very special way, more human than most. What we need to try to understand is that a great many people thought Tom no less than divine. A great many people think Alyce no less than divine. However, in neither case has that belief  alone -- in the absence of other factors -- resulted in the particular benefit one experiences from following a fully qualified Vajrayana master. Rather, in both cases, that belief resulted in rivalry, divisiveness, and schism in the sangha, as a cult of personality formed and fought to justify its existence.

People tend to forget that when teachers like Tarthang Rinpoche, or later, Trungpa Rinpoche arrived in America, nobody had the slightest idea about lineages,  tulkus, or rinpoches, or even lamas. These men came to prominence through the sheer force of their realization; of their genuine accomplishment. Here, I believe, is where the distinction needs to be made. One does not follow  teachers to the exclusion of their actual accomplishment. Great teachers are like great trees. You can rest in them, nest in them, and take sustenance from them, but they do not try to hold you when it is your time to fly.  Their goal is your liberation. Cult figures, on the other hand, cannot exist apart from their followers, and that presumes goals not altogether compatible with letting go.]

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Travel Season

Did everyone have a splendid Saga Dawa? Certainly hope so. I am busy preparing for another round of travel, so for me, simplicity was the word. Apart from pujas, mantra accumulations, and so forth, we made numbers of tsa-tsas, arranged the liberation of some birds, and hoisted new flags. Only half the flag shipment arrived, so that aspect wasn't quite as grand as intended. We got lovely orchid garlands to offer the stupa, and made continuous 108 lamp offerings, throughout the day and night. We  arranged donations to selected projects, which we always try to do on all auspicious occasions, and dedicated special prayers to the success of those projects. The day ended with a rather pleasant moon, as seen in the above photograph.

So, now the year's early business is well and truly concluded, and I am off to see the world again. This will be a busy summer for me, so I hope you will not mind if we slow down the pace of posting for two or three months.

Actually, in terms of teachings, empowerments, and the annual wandering of the lamas, 2010 is in some respects one of the busiest years on record. There are major events all over Europe, Asia, and the Americas, well into the autumn. 

In this latter regard, Orgyen Dorje Den has announced the complete Rinchen Terzod cycle of empowerments for October, to be bestowed by Yangthang Tulku Rinpoche, somewhere in the neighborhood of Alameda, California. I will miss this, as I will be in Asia, but I feel for those who plan on attending. Here is the latest from Orgyen Dorje Den:


Don't you love this? Less than six months to go before an event that typically takes about four months, and "Please refrain from asking many questions for which we can't answer yet!" Takes me back to China. Somebody in Alameda needs to adjust attitude, and shape up that operation. Finding affordable housing in the Bay Area from October to January is a quest rather more elusive than the Rinchen Terzod itself.

Other major events are Dilgo Khyentse's centennial, and the world tour of his incarnation, Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche. The First North American Kagyu Monlam is running in July, in Woodstock, and Sakya Trizin is pacifying the Western Hemisphere from now through September. I believe he is in Boston right now, on his way to Walden, New York, isn't that correct? There is a Kalachakra initiation in Vermont, in July, by Choden Rinpoche, and numerous empowerments planned by Gyalwa Drikungpa, including Marpa's Hevajra-Nairatmya, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, Drigung Great Phowa, and others. I could go on and on.

One very sad note is that Dungse Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche's 2010 tour has been canceled. The nuns could not get visas due to new Obama Administration policy restrictions now in force. Even "Congressional interest" letters could not move the Clinton State Department off the dime. This is just disgraceful, as the Healing Chod Tour has been coming to the U.S. for the past several years with no problems whatsoever. It is not like they are an unknown quantity.

Now, in the old days -- and here I am remembering the late 1960s and early 1970s -- we would make up lists of where the lamas were going to be, and then we would just take off and follow one or more of them all over the globe. In the U.S., the old "circuit" is still in effect -- polished by time -- and there are still people who observe that noble tradition to this very day. If ever you wanted to immerse yourself in teachings, this is the summer to give it a try.

Of course, there is an alternative to all this running around. You can take the empowerments you already have, and the teachings you already have, and actually practice. I realize this is almost unthinkable, so I just toss that suggestion out there in passing.

Does Volkswagon still make buses?



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Friday, May 28, 2010

Bhutan Boneyard Brouhaha


[Thimphu, 27 May 2010, Bhutan Observer] At least eight graves were found exhumed at a secret forest graveyard in Lamperi, Thimphu.

After a tip-off, three resi­dents of Lamperi discovered the graveyard beside the Thimphu-Wangdue highway, 5 km from Dochula towards Wangdue.

Namgay, a canteen owner in Lamperi, who was one of the three residents who dis­covered the graveyard, said they had found about 20 graves in the forest a few me­tres from the road.

According to him, eight graves had been dug up by thoedpa (cranium) and kang­dung (thighbone) hunters. “We saw skulls without crani­ums and a hand sticking out of a grave,” he said.

When Observer visited the graveyard a few days later, it was in a smelly mess. There were three skulls a few me­tres from one another. One of them was next to the road. At least eight graves had been freshly dug up.

Hand gloves, khadar, a cur­rency note, a wooden cross, and a wooden hammer lay scattered all over. A partially-decayed left hand stuck out of a grave amid skulls, ribs and cloth pieces.

Damcho Wangchu, a resi­dent of Thinleygang, said he was shocked to hear the story.

Four years back, Damcho was on his way to Thimphu at around 7:30 am when he saw a group of people taking out a dead body from a car at the same place. He thought they were taking the body for a bath before cremation. “It never struck me that they were taking it for burial,” he said.

According to Damcho, the whole area surrounding the graveyard is holy. He said the hailstorm and windstorm that blew away the roofs of some houses in Toebisa Gewog, the death of three students in Thinleygang Middle Second­ary School and four other peo­ple in the area this year could be because of this. “We never experienced such misfortunes in our gewog before,” he said.

Besides, Damcho said the drinking water source for eight villages of Toebisa, in­cluding Mesina, is near the graveyard.

Punakha Dzongda, Toebisa Gup and Punakha Superinten­dent of Police have been in­formed about the graveyard.

People say that the grave­yard may have been created by the Christian community in the capital and nearby dzong­khags.

Christians in the country say that there should be an official recognition that there are Christians in the country, and other things like burial rights will naturally follow.

Article 7 (4) of the consti­tution guarantees freedom of religion but burial rights have not been deliberated.

“No area has been identi­fied for a cemetery so far but it is possible to locate poten­tial burial sites around the country,” said Karma (name changed on request), a Chris­tian.

Earlier, most burials took place in Pungshi (Charkilo) in Mewang Gewog, some 23 km from Thimphu town towards Paro. “The people from the west used that burial ground,” Karma said. “In other parts of the country, local authorities advised the people to bury the dead in obscure and inac­cessible areas or in their own land.”

Burial in Pungshi was banned after the villagers complained of improper fu­nerals and bodies being un­earthed by dogs. Pungshi graveyard was also associated with stories of skull and thigh­bone hunters.


A 1.4-acre plot of land in Hongtsho in Chang Gewog, Thimphu, has been proposed for a cemetery. The site is pro­posed to have a compound fence, lighting and a perma­nent gate where a gatekeeper will be stationed. But nothing has been confirmed yet.

Observer learnt that, in the absence of a proper cemetery, people are buried in many places. According to a man from Chhukha, he has heard of a graveyard a few kilome­tres from Chapcha.

Lawyers say Bhutan has no law against secret burial or digging up graves for bones. “If we are allowed to burn dead bodies, I think burial should also be allowed,” said a lawyer.

Another lawyer said that digging up graves for bones could come under larceny if the dead bodies are buried in one’s own land or land iden­tified by the government for burial.

The penal code of Bhutan prohibits organ trade but lawyers say bones do not come under organs. The pe­nal code also prohibits tam­pering with dead bodies but it is only in case of unnatural deaths.

Bhutan's bone trafficking earned this sharp editorial commentary from the Observer:

Recently, at least eight bodies were found exhumed from a forest graveyard behind Dochula. Some of the putrid bodies invited scavenging dogs that scattered half-decayed parts around the place. Skulls with missing craniums and rotting limbs and ribs lie exposed to the elements and scavengers. It is a chilling scene.

It is not clear how and why that forest became a graveyard. A wooden cross lies flat on the forest floor. Nearby, a crisp one ngultrum note is on a grave. Close by lie scattered some incense sticks. Possibly, some people in the capital and nearby dzongkhags laid the dead to rest in the forest clandestinely. But it did not escape the notice of human bone traders.

Going by the remains left behind exposed, grave robbers wanted thighbones and skulls popularly used in Buddhist rituals. For a long time now, we have heard that the trade in human skulls and thighbones has become lucrative and, therefore, rampant in Bhutan. There are religious people who have taken up kapli and kangdung making business. Since buying the bones from across the border has become difficult, they have turned to the easier option of robbing the graves within the country.

Our law does not have specific provisions for trade in human bones. According to the penal code of Bhutan, tampering with a dead body is a crime, but it is only in case of an unnatural death. The penal code also forbids buying and selling of human organs. However, it is not clear whether bones would qualify as organs.

Many countries, including India, have criminalized the trade in human bones even if the process of acquiring bones does not involve digging up graves. Elsewhere, bones are usually traded for scientific research and laboratory experiments. There are stories about rampant, lucrative bone trade leading to murder.

Today, we assume that the bone trade in Bhutan has started with hunt for skulls and thighbones. We already seem to have a strong network of traders. It may not be long before the traders find out that it is not only skulls and thighbones that are lucrative.

The trade in human bones and exhuming bodies from graves are undeniably criminal in nature. But to tackle them, first the provisions of our law must be clear. Our hunt for the criminal will probably lead us from the unplanned graveyard to the sacred altar. It is how the bone trade network looks like.

Our law must also be clear on burial sites and graveyards. While everybody has the right to be buried or cremated, any place cannot be a graveyard or a cremation ground.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Free, Free, Set Them Free

So, then.

Today is Saga Dawa Duchen, and it is our shared belief that the effects of one's actions, positive or negative, are magnified ten million times on this day. Thus, if you need an excuse to do something positive, now you have one.

I have been thinking what we could do here to celebrate, and I have decided to reprint an item we ran a couple of years ago. I hope this inspires you to jump up from behind the computer, and run out to set some critters free. 

May it be auspicious.

When the Wind Moves Across the Grass:
A Perfectly Natural Reaction to the Cries of
Small Creatures of the Water, Air, and Earth

AH


Freed from the idea that compassion is a deity;

Freed from the idea of a deity as an external being;

Freed from the idea of separate compassion;

We hear, and rapidly take careful notice of the cries of frightened beings throughout the six realms.

We think that we cannot bear to have them remain in fear for even one millisecond longer.

Like the wind moving across the grass, we express a perfectly natural reaction to their state, and offer them a self-created expanse of tranquility in which to approach.

With complete gentleness, we extend refuge, simultaneously releasing them into the freedom from all fear, assured that they will be reborn as humans, will hear the Dharma, and will reach enlightenment for the benefit of others.

Wasting no moment, with no thought of wisdom, and no time for method, we are confident of the spontaneously correct activity in which we engage together with the Buddhas of all times and directions.

Our minds melt into the minds of the suffering beings, bringing them solace, instantaneously setting them to rest. We do not pause to consider that we have done anything at all.

Do not ask how you will remember these words. When the wind moves over the grass, it is Buddha’s mercy remembering you.

HUM


Commentaries


Abbreviated Commentary


With this practice, we articulate the intention to help beings; we perform the action of helping beings; we are satisfied with the action we have performed; we dedicate the results of the action to others.


Line-by-Line Commentary

AH
This arises and is defined primordially.

Freed from the idea that compassion is a deity;

We realize that compassion is not a deity, such as Chenrezigs for example. Chenrezigs is the deity of compassion, may embody, or personify compassion, and may evoke, or activate compassion. Nevertheless, although Chenrezigs is the essence of compassion, in the sense here, compassion is a naturally ever-present heart-stream.

Seeing a deity may signal the moment we fully enter the heart-stream, or when that stream enters us, but the deity neither defines nor delimits compassion. Rather, compassion defines the deity. Do you understand that the deity is but one expression of compassion, and that you are another?

Freed from the idea of a deity as an external being;

We realize that we are constantly abiding in a state beyond duality, where the forms of compassion no longer appear as gods or demons, separate from ourselves.

Freed from the idea of separate compassion;

We realize that compassion is not something we pick up and put down; we do not go to and from compassion.

Compassion is not something separate from us. If there is compassion, then it is right here, right now, and if there is to be an embodiment of compassion, then we are that embodiment.

The meaning of these three opening lines is that we do not go to somebody to do our compassionate work for us, because there is no “somebody” to approach.

Further, there is no “compassionate work” because compassion is not a “thing” or “status” we can use or not use, as the case may be. In fact, we are the compassion, and we are accepting the condition where other beings may come to us.

What we fundamentally admit is our recognition of the expressive character of realization inherent in the different states of “needing help” and “giving help.” We are saying that we leave our bewilderment and delusions behind in order to help other beings that urgently require our help. We become the very source of help.

We hear, and rapidly take careful notice of the cries of frightened beings throughout the six realms.

We are in the middle of emptiness, and we hear a cry for help. We cannot pretend we do not hear this. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to someone or something else.

What, precisely, is needed? It is not enough to merely hear the cry. We must also simultaneously apprehend the correct response.

Note that although this practice focuses upon fish, birds, animals, insects, and so forth, we also encompass beings of the other realms.

We think that we cannot bear to have them remain in fear for even one millisecond longer.

The clock is ticking and the situation seems grave. Our sense of obligation does not permit us to just stand there, wringing our hands, agonizing about what to do.


Like the wind moving across the grass, we express a perfectly natural reaction to their state, and offer them a self-created expanse of tranquility in which to approach.
Here is the heart of this practice; this moment fuels this practice. There is no more time for the neurotic fantasy of Samsara versus Nirvana, or what we do or do not understand.

There is no more time for the agitated game of enlightened or not enlightened.

We cannot run home and ask our big brother to come help.

Plainly speaking, we must kick ourselves out of the entire equation, stop being lazy and stupid, and actually become something useful to others.

I suddenly throw a ball at you, and I say, “Look sharp!”

You will not sit there thinking, “I wish I was a professional ballplayer. Then I could really catch this ball.”

You will not sit there thinking, “I better get somebody over here to help me catch this ball.”

Without thinking, you reach up your hand and catch the ball before it hits you on the nose. That is a perfectly natural reaction.

In this case, our obligation is to stop threatening the immediate environment, and instead allow our ever-present bodhicitta to become perfectly accessible to others. We accomplish this instantaneously, by effortlessly relaxing into the state of equipoise that is always available to us.


With complete gentleness, we extend refuge, simultaneously releasing them into the freedom from all fear, assured that they will be reborn as humans, will hear the Dharma, and will reach enlightenment for the benefit of others.
This is where we grow up. We hear beings crying for refuge. We do not say, “Please wait, let me go get the Buddha, or the Rinpoche, and then he will give you refuge.” We are now a source of refuge and we must act accordingly.


Wasting no moment, with no thought of wisdom, and no time for method, we are confident of the spontaneously correct activity in which we engage together with the Buddhas of all times and directions.
We must be immediately and supremely confident that the continuous activity of the Buddhas includes our activity. We cannot mire ourselves in discursiveness. Whatever we do, we must strongly do.


Our minds melt into the minds of the suffering beings, bringing them solace, instantaneously setting them to rest.
We enjoin a state of complete empathy, becoming indivisible with those we seek to help. We comfort them and believe they come to rest.


We do not pause to consider that we have done anything at all.
We immediately transfer any merit gained by our thoughts and actions to the welfare of all sentient beings. We do not pause to consider that we have done anything special or extraordinary.


Do not ask how you will remember these words. When the wind moves over the grass, it is Buddha’s mercy remembering you.
This is how the deity communicates.


HUM
In this context, the buddhas and bodhisattvas of all times and directions descend into the minds of the sentient beings.



Extended Commentary


Below, I discuss certain elements of the framework of practice in classical terms, i.e. comparing all sentient beings to one's parents. This is how it has been evoked for centuries: this is the traditional exposition.

Yet--- and I have briefly touched on this elsewhere--- I do recognize that many westerners fancy themselves to experience great difficulty using the memory of their parents to rouse bodhicitta. In fact, many westerners believe this to be a "uniquely western" circumstance, and demand that lamas make all sorts of accommodations. However, I would like to point out that this is not a peculiarly or uniquely western situation. For example: in Tibet, it was not uncommon to wrench youngsters from their parents at a very early age and send them off to the monastery. Many of these children -- some as young as five or six -- never saw their parents again. As they became older, they would of course hear these comparisons and they would think, "I don't even know my mother. How can I equate my experience of my mother with my feelings toward all sentient beings." More often than not, these were private thoughts -- in the old days one didn't have the luxuries one has now: one didn't confront teachers or go strutting about, mouthing off. Tibetan monasteries were not democratic institutions, you know?

In recent years, I have come to understand that a seemingly large number of people have very conflicted feelings about their parents. I have been absolutely astounded to hear stories about parental abuse. These things are so foreign to my own experience that I confess I was shocked. I simply had no frame of reference.

I do not think it is useful to avoid these feelings. It would seem that many people are still struggling with issues of forgiveness, and that their struggle is clouding their understanding of bodhicitta. So, I think one should confront these issues head on, and come to some sort of emotional resolution as quickly as possible. I recognize that this is not necessarily a "quick" process, but I still think a certain speed is essential. It is a medical certainty that people who exercise forgiveness live longer, healthier lives than those who do not or cannot.

In a worst-case scenario, let us assume that you were abused by a parent, and now you don't know how to grip the unconscious aspects of the experience. You may have intellectualized the conscious aspects, but the unconscious aspects keep evading you. For example: you may have a particularly disturbed or suspicious thought process around the holidays. You may be playing the perfect host, or hostess, but something comes up to throw you off.

Holidays in your childhood may have been a nightmare of drunken beatings. You may be overtly attempting to rectify this by making your own version of the holidays picture perfect, but something always comes up to throw you off. Maybe you, yourself, have begun drinking. Maybe you, yourself, are unconsciously seeking to return to the chaos in order to fix it. Maybe you are unconsciously and continually seeking cathartic episodes -- like the ones in your childhood -- simply because that is your only experience with love or what passes for love. So, you are covertly derailing what you are overtly trying to fix.

Please look at an image of Padmasambhava, or of your teacher, or of your yidam. I can assure you that you are loved unconditionally. I can absolutely promise you this. There is no mistake. Somewhere in this universe, you are loved unconditionally. What you must do is learn to gradually exchange your experience of broken love for this other love -- this unconditional love that is continually being offered to you by all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions.

People usually take one of two approaches to an injury. Either they say, "I'm going to find a way to help others who have received, or are about to receive this injury," or they become quite cold and callous. In the case of parental abuse, this is insidious, because the childhood coping mechanism may include withdrawal, or the deadening of one's emotions.

So, along with the exchange of experience -- or "replacing memory" -- there is the additional task of confronting the experiences head on and putting them to good use.

Thus, if your mother beat you without mercy in a drunken rage, brought sailors home to join in the horror, and if you simply cannot work up any family feeling for her at all, then try thinking that all sentient beings have, at one time or another, experienced like and similar abuse. Try thinking that the poor creatures in front of you have been abused, and that it is likely they will be abused again --- it is likely they will be killed -- but, because they have met you, they have the opportunity to experience something beneficial.

They have this opportunity because you are a Buddhist, and in some respects, that makes you a messenger of that unconditional love of which I spoke earlier.

I want to add that, as time goes by, you will stop being the messenger and you will become the message.

To do otherwise is to become that thing you find it difficult to forgive.

I am always praying for your happiness.

Framework of Practice


As an example, we consider a live turtle in a market. Because the cycle of existence is unfathomably broad, this turtle was our mother at one time or another.

While it is true that our fathers cared for us by working to supply necessities, or teaching us various things, it is equally true that our mothers carried us within their own bodies, enduring pain and suffering for our benefit.

After giving birth, still weak from exertion and loss of blood, our mothers gladly fed us from their bodies. Thereafter, they gently cleansed us of urine and excrement when we soiled ourselves. When we consider how unselfishly our mothers have loved us, tears fall at the sight of our helpless mother struggling in a terrifying environment.

Insensitive hands roughly throw our mothers into a filthy tank with but an inch of stale water; she is surrounded by dozens of others who have equally been our mothers.

There is no food.

Their fate seems certain.

They either will die in this tank—of injury, starvation, shock, or asphyxiation—or be killed for food. Some lucky ones will have their heads chopped off. Most will be thrown alive into boiling water. As their skin burns, the salt in the water increases the pain of their wounds. They die in utter agony, amid the callous laughter and idle chatter of beings who care nothing of their torment.

Our mother does not know what is happening to her. She is wracked with uncertainty and anxiety. She feels pain, hunger, and fear. She cannot communicate these feelings to anything or anybody. She wishes to escape, to find a place of safety, far from the threatening sounds, sights, and smells.

A hand belonging to a being she is powerless to fight reaches in and lifts her from the tank. She cannot prevent this from happening. She is placed in a container, and taken into a vehicle. She struggles frantically, to no avail.

The experience is foreign to her normal life. The last time this happened, she wound up in the hellish tank. There, at least, others of her own species surrounded her. Now, she is utterly alone.

Our mother’s suffering becomes horribly intense, but suddenly her sensory experience changes.

Suddenly, instead of frightening sounds, she hears a strangely soothing sound.

Suddenly, instead of frightening smells, she detects a familiar odor.

Suddenly, she is gently released back into customary waters.

For the moment, her intense suffering is relieved and she is able to return to her normal, instinctual behavior.

Knowing the suffering experienced by our mothers, who have shown us such loving kindness, why would we prolong her experience one moment longer than necessary with abstract ritual?

I have seen many live release ceremonies—involving thousands of water creatures for example—where the beings are kept waiting in foam boxes, under the sun.

People pose for photographs; famous lamas chant sutras; people congratulate themselves for behaving as great bodhisattvas; then they dump the creatures into the water like garbage. Why do we do this? Why would we even hesitate to release beings with the greatest possible haste and care?

No matter what our intention, no matter the power of this mantra or that sutra, temporal ease will reach beings no more quickly than the time it takes to immediately return them to their natural habitat.

That should be our first priority. If we want to say prayers or mantras, we can do this on the way to the release site. This might make the beings more comfortable during transport. However, once at the release site, we should gently set them free without fanfare or delay. If you are going to do something, then just do it!

Please understand there are circumstances where you hurt beings rather than help them. I once saw two people from a temple, throwing turtles into the water like stones. They were having a contest to see who could throw the farthest. What is this?

In Thailand, where Buddhism is the state religion, many people want to release turtles into various rivers.

Unfortunately, some of these rivers are so polluted, the turtles frantically try to crawl out once they have been set free. People are standing on the bank throwing them back in. This forced the Royal Thai Police to go around to all the temples and arrest the people who sell turtles to other people who wish to gain merit.

In one California lake, another circumstance occurred, and I confess my own involvement.

Nearby, there is a notorious Chinese market selling live turtles. I used to visit this market every other week, buy as many turtles as I could possibly afford, and then go turn them loose in the lake at the local park. On alternate weeks, I would purchase prepared turtle food, and go back to the lake.

I was not the only one. Many other Buddhists in the region did the same, with the result that this lake became home to thousands of turtles. The problem was, not everyone thought to bring food. The turtles were hungry, and hungry turtles become aggressive to other species.

As the turtle population multiplied, an ecological crisis developed, ultimately causing the authorities to drain the lake and relocate all the turtles.

The point is to use common sense, and genuine care, thinking about what you do before you do it. You are releasing creatures back to their natural habitat for one reason only: to save their lives. Do not do something that might hurt them, or another species, simply because you view your acts in a vacuum.

We want to stress “natural habitat.” I release all sorts of creatures: birds, insects, reptiles, and so forth. I am always careful to put them in areas where they are native. This is quite important, so this is something you should research beforehand.


Questions and Answers

question: How do we use this text?

rinpoche: Memorize the prayer When the Wind Moves Across the Grass, and then recite it mentally as you release creatures. This reminds you what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you are doing it. This becomes a fully formed intention. When you follow this intention with action, you create a particular result.

question: Can we say the prayer out loud? Is there any benefit?

rinpoche: There could be. If the objective is to help the creatures, and if you are sure they will hear you, then you should end by saying om mani padme hum six times.

They must be able to hear you. I am not certain that fish can hear if they are not in the water. I am not certain some insects “hear” the way we might suppose. However, the mantra will reach them on subtle levels.

Another method is to recite the mantra and then blow over water, which you keep in a water pot. You can then pour the water over the creatures. This method works in the same way the prayer works, so really, the choice is yours.

question: What other mantras are good for animals to hear?

rinpoche: The 100 syllable mantra of Vajrasattva, without question. This mantra leaves an extraordinarily powerful imprint. The Medicine Buddha mantra is also quite powerful.

In addition, you can use the essence mantra of Amitabha. There is Namgyalma’s essence mantra: om dhrum soha om amrita ayur dade soha. Some authorities recommend the Wish-Granting Wheel: om padmo ushnisha vimale hum phet.

Whenever I encounter any creature, I always repeat the essence mantra of Avalokitesvara, om mani padme hum, six times. This is what my teacher taught me to do.

question: When I go to the market, I see so many beings. I cannot afford to buy all of them. How do I pick which ones to save?

rinpoche: It is a mistake to discriminate between the beings based on, “Oh, this one looks so sad,” or “This one looks so cute.” Just take whatever you see first. Do not let your personality become involved. Take them at random.

question: What does this prayer work with? When do we use it?

rinpoche: You use this prayer mentally—this prayer becomes what you are thinking as you carry out the activity of releasing the creatures. You can use this with any animals, fish, reptiles, birds, insects, or what have you. The prayer imprints your mind, so to speak, and through you, the minds of others.

question: How many times should we repeat the prayer?

rinpoche: Once is enough. If you like, you can begin repeating this prayer when you first see the creatures, and continue up to the point you release them.

question: Do we only use this prayer when we are actively releasing animals?

rinpoche: You can use it any time, to bring peace to beings of other realms. You can visualize great clouds of beings eased by your compassionate intention.

question: Will this prayer “release” ghosts?

rinpoche: I believe it will. Most people are afraid of ghosts, but actually, ghosts are afraid of people. Releasing ghosts from their fear is a valid activity.

question: How does this prayer work?

rinpoche: It is important to make yourself as calm as possible, to become the thing the creatures are seeking.

There is also another aspect, similar to riding a horse. If you are nervous, the horse becomes anxious. He becomes anxious because he wonders what he is missing. He feels your fear and he wonders what you see that he does not.

The other thing is empathy. There have been times in your life when you wished somebody could make things stop hurting. Become that “somebody” for others.

This is a deceptively simple practice, but it is actually quite profound. In many cases, you can use your own unhappiness, grief, or sorrow to awake your feelings of compassion for others.

question: Do animals read our minds?

rinpoche: In a way, they certainly do. This does not mean they are clairvoyant. In order to survive, animals become adept at reading intentions. Animals perceive intentions rather more clearly than we do sometimes.

question: Should we think about what happens to the creatures after we release them?

rinpoche: You should think about this before you release them! Do not take them out of the frying pan and put them in the fire.


question: You end the prayer with a line about not thinking we have done anything. I do not understand what this means.
rinpoche: Many people engage in this practice with the idea of extending their own life, overcoming illness, gaining merit, and so forth. Since we are giving all the merit of our action away to others, it is as if we have done nothing at all. It also means we have not done enough; that we should do more. There are other, deeper levels of meaning, but I think this is enough.


question: I have heard long ceremonies, with different mantras. What should we know about these other prayers? What do you recommend?
rinpoche: There is the Amrita of Love, by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. This is actually a compilation of Mipham Rinpoche’s The Glorious Gift of Longevity and Granting All Desires: A Liturgy for Saving Lives, and the First Dodrupchen Rinpoche’s Ladder to the Realm of Bliss: A Liturgy that Plants the Seed of Liberation in Animals. This is excellent.

In a sense, Dodrupchen’s blessings are flowing from the great Jigme Lingpa—who made a lifelong practice of protecting animals. He once bought an entire mountain just to protect the bees from being disturbed. So, you might also want to read Jigme Lingpa’s parable, The Hunted Deer: The Messenger of Renunciation. This is a beautifully written cautionary tale that many people feel is germane to the practice of freeing creatures.

Next, there is Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s Increasing Life and Prosperity: A Method for Freeing Lives. There is also the approach given in Jamgon Kontrul Lodro Thaye’s The Essence of Benefit and Joy: A Method for the Saving of Lives. This is also quite popular.

Then there is the great Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche, who wrote down Thang-tong Gyalpo’s Aspiration Prayer for the Liberation of Fish. He also wrote The Benefits of Saving Lives, among others.

These are just a few examples. There are hundreds of others. I think the message is clear: if so many realized masters think releasing creatures is important, maybe we should investigate why.

question: Do the animals know anything special is happening?

rinpoche: They certainly do. To again use turtles as an example, they will actually thank you. Turtles will swim away, but then they will turn around and nod their heads three times.

Perhaps they do three turtle prostrations this way. I have seen this happen many, many times. So has Tulku Pema Wangyal, and he has written about this.

Often, birds will thank you by flying away and then returning to fly around you. Sometimes the birds will come back to your hand.

I have also seen rabbits run for a bit, then stop, turn around, and bow their heads.

question: Should we release our pets?

rinpoche: In general, I do not think so. Our pets are not in danger and live without worry. While it is true they are not free, it is equally true they are well loved and cared for. They have come to rely on a human for food and water, so if we release them, they may not be able to care for themselves.

I recognize there are so many pets that some of them are neglected, and wind up in shelters. If nobody adopts them, the shelters kill them. Here is a case where we should adopt them rather than setting them free.

question: Do you keep pets?
rinpoche: I am unreasonably attached to rabbits.

question: You talk about small animals, but what about large animals?

rinpoche: This is a very good question. If you ever visited a slaughterhouse, you would want to do something immediately. I visited the slaughterhouse in Manila, many years ago, and the images are still in my mind. I saw dead piglets, torn out of their mother’s womb, lying in the gutter. I saw a buffalo killed with a short knife driven into its brain. The butchers were already disemboweling the animal before it hit the ground. A visit to the slaughterhouse is a good teaching.

There is a problem with releasing large animals. In India, for example, you can get away with freeing cattle. In the United States, there is no way to do this. You would be arrested and charged with animal cruelty if you tried. Therefore, you have to think carefully about the best way to accomplish your altruistic purpose.

There are large animal shelters, but there is no way they can accommodate the volume of large animals that need to be rescued. Where can we put them? In the American West, some wealthy ranchers open their ranches as sanctuaries, but this takes an enormous commitment.

question: How does becoming vegetarian, or not using animal products fit into all this?

rinpoche: The argument usually goes something like this: if we all stop eating meat, nobody will kill animals for meat, and animals will not be afraid. This ignores the simple fact that animals kill each other.

Mankind has been domesticating animals for their flesh for over 9,000 years that we can prove by archaeological means. Animals have been killing each other for as long as we can imagine. This is part of the karma of being an animal.

It is a wonderful idea to stop eating fish, birds, and the flesh of land animals. There are substantial health benefits. In addition, instead of leather shoes, belts, and hand-bags, you can wear man-made materials. This makes a statement.

These are demand issues. In the industrialized nations, on the supply side, there is always a surplus of animal products. By the time these products reach us, that surplus has already been declared. Whether these creatures should die in vain becomes an equally valid question.

I believe we must decide these issues individually, according to our own understanding. For example: merely becoming a vegetarian does not guarantee anything. Millions of beings are killed during the course of vegetable cultivation. Every time you take an antibiotic, millions of beings are killed.

In another example, I once knew a rather confused old monk who adamantly refused to allow meat products on his property—which he thought of as some sort of religious institution—yet he everywhere set out traps to kill mice, and kept electrical devices to kill flies. He also refused to put a bell on his pet cat, which killed everything that moved. Visitors in residence were forced to walk across the street to warm their canned chicken soup on a camp stove, only to witness the old monk’s blithe nonchalance when his cat tormented and killed small creatures.

In the sutras, I believe Buddha states that the eating of meat is permissible in five circumstances: (1) flesh of an animal we do not see killed, (2) flesh of an animal we do not hear killed, (3) flesh of an animal that was not killed for our sake, (4) flesh of an animal that died by itself, and (5) flesh left after others have scavenged. The concept is that these five kinds of meat are a type of transformation, devoid of any life force. Elsewhere, however, I believe the Buddha gives advice against wearing silk, leather boots, furs, and goose down, or consuming milk, cream, and butter. The idea is that when you wear something taken from a living creature, or consume something taken from a living creature, you create karmic conditions bonding you with that living creature. This advice concerns fully ordained monks, but you get the general idea.

I believe we have to be flexible. We cannot go around telling people what to do. We cannot be didactic. We cannot coerce people. Throwing red paint on a woman wearing a mink coat, or ramming a whaling boat on the high seas seems terribly romantic. However, the long-term results are questionable. We need to find a middle ground, between extremes, and then lead by example.

Speaking personally, I would be happier if fewer beings were killed for human consumption. This includes beings of the land, sea, and air.

question: What about breaking in laboratories to rescue animals?

rinpoche: Violence just breeds violence. The use of animals in laboratories seems reprehensible, but the best we can do is educate people.

For example: blinding rabbits to test cosmetics for women is unconscionable.

Nevertheless, we will not accomplish the goal of educating people if we anger them by breaking into their laboratories.

If we have the opportunity, we can adopt the laboratory animals whenever possible, and then show them love. However, this is a delicate matter. In some cases, the laboratory animals are bodhisattvas who have deliberately chosen this form in order to use their bodies for the benefit of others.

question: I am not a Buddhist. Do you have to be Buddhist to set animals free?

rinpoche: No, you do not. If you like, you can visualize yourself working together with Saint Francis, and believe that all the creatures will go to heaven. You can even visualize yourself as Saint Francis. I am sure Saint Francis would not mind. After all, he visualized himself as Saint Francis and it apparently worked quite well.

question: Are the benefits of doing this somewhat exaggerated, just so people will do something good?

rinpoche: To avoid killing creatures is within the ability of any gentle person. To protect lives, rescue the helpless, and free beings from fear is the business of bodhisattvas.

question: If that is true, why don’t we free condemned prisoners?
rinpoche: Why not?


Another Brief Method


Here is another approach that has the benefit of being fast. The creatures do not need to be inconvenienced any more than is minimally necessary. This comes from the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Refuge and Bodhicitta:
sang gye chö dang tshok kyi chok nam la. jang chup bar du dak ni kyap su chi. dak gi jin sok gyi pay sö nam kyi . dro la phen chir sang gye drup par shok.
(Recite three times)
Until I reach enlightenment, I take refuge in the Buddha,
In the Dharma, and the noble Sangha.
Through the merit of accomplishing the six perfections,
May I achieve awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings

Prayer of Praise to Chenrazig:
jo wo kyön gyi ma gö ku dok kar,
dzok sang gye kyi u la gyen,
thuk jey chen gyi dro la zik,
chen re zik la chak tshal lo.
(Recite three times)
Lord, not touched by any fault, white in color,
Whose head a perfect Buddha crowns,
Gazing compassionately on all beings,
To you, Chenrazig, I prostrate.

Mantra:
om mani pame hum
(repeatedly, while releasing animals)

Dedications:
sö nam di yi tham che zik pa nyi.
thop ne nye pay dra nam pam je ne.
kye ga na chi ba lap thruk pa yi,
si pay tsho le dro wa dröl war shok.
By this merit may all attain omniscience.
May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing.
From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness and death,
From the ocean of samsara, may I free all beings.

jam pal pa wö ji tar khyen pa dang,
kön tu zang po de yan de zhin te,
de dak kün gyi je su dak lop ching ,
ge wa di dak tham che rap tu ngo.
The courageous Manjushri, knows everything as it is,
Samantabhadra, who also knows in the same way,
And all the bodhisattvas – that I may follow in their path,
I completely dedicate all this virtue.

Copyright (c) 2007, 2008, 2010 by Tulku Urgyan Tenpa Rinpoche. All rights reserved.


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The Excellent One

 
Look at this photo,
Then look at your mind.
Look at the one who is looking.
If you see this, you are the excellent one.

Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche



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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Only Ourselves to Blame

This may well be the worst environmental disaster in recorded history. We have only ourselves to blame. Although it may seem difficult to think in terms of any good coming from this, some good is possible. We can act now to put offshore drilling out of business forever. This disaster will be compounded if we do not take positive steps to see that nothing like this can ever happen again.

This terrible offense to nature was brought upon by greed. To think that this is the only result is to misunderstand both nature and the law of karma.



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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Meditation Lesson

When I was seventeen, my teacher's infinite ocean of compassion inspired him to pretend that he required a secretary. Due to causes and conditions, I became that secretary. 

Every day, I would attend my teacher's puja room. He would sit behind his small puja table, the altar to his left. I would sit upon a cushion to his right, and together, we would go through the day's correspondence. 

My teacher's correspondence was considerable. This was just shy of a decade following the fall of Lhasa, and it seemed that every refugee lama in the world was writing to him.  My teacher read each letter quite carefully, sometimes more than once. Sometimes, he would read the same letter over and over again, for a period of several days. After he did so, he would translate the letters for me, and then we would discuss their contents. 

This was how I was first introduced to some of the most famous teachers of that era. I don't think it serves any useful purpose to name names. Were I to do so, I would feel disloyal. For the most part, these letters touched confidential and sensitive matters. You can imagine emigre politics, social struggles, survival issues, and all the other baggage that goes along with refugee life. 

These daily discussions about the mail also became the opportunity for me to speak freely with my teacher about various other matters. When we concluded whatever business was at hand, he would always ask me if there was anything I wished to discuss with him, or if I had any news for him. Usually, whatever matter I happened to raise would be dispensed with in a few minutes. Sometimes, the resulting discussion would last all day. 

Need I add that I relished these times? I was seventeen, as I have said, and loved my teacher so dearly that I absolutely treasured every hour spent in his company. 

How strange it seems to say those hours were spent more than 40 years ago. Lately, a young Tibetan friend of mine has repeatedly asked me to spend them again, by writing of my experiences. So, today I will tell a story about what happened one day when we finished reading the mail.

"Rinpoche?" I asked. "Can you teach me how to meditate?"

First, he looked startled. Then, he looked incredulous. He began laughing, and he laughed so loud and so long that other people in the house peeked in the room to see what was so funny. He laughed so hard that I began to blush. I blushed bright, beet red. I felt embarrassed to have asked the question, and wished I could take it back. He could demolish a city with his laughter, so you can imagine what effect it had on the fragile ego of a seventeen year old boy.

The outburst of mirth ended abruptly, when he changed his demeanor and quite seriously asked me, "Why do you think you need to learn how to meditate?"

I believe my answer was something along the lines of "everybody else is doing it," or some such cringing nonsense. I clearly recall stammering, and trying to explain, but he cut me off.

"If you start thinking about meditation," he said, "It is just going to be an obstacle for you."

"Well, you meditate," I replied. "Didn't your teachers teach you how?" My teacher had twenty-five different teachers, of whom seven were his root gurus. I was willing to wager that the subject of meditation had come up with at least one of them. Yet, my question met with no response. My teacher just studied his fingernails.

Meditation is a peculiar subject in the West. 

People try to package meditation and sell it like a vitamin or something. You hear all sorts of foolishness about meditation does this, and meditation does that. No wonder it becomes tempting to think of meditation as a commodity. Maybe if you meditate, you will be able to manage stress. Maybe your blood pressure will be lowered. Maybe you will feel better, look younger, and meet interesting people. Maybe someone will become interested in you, and fall in love. Maybe you will become powerful -- some sort of abstract power, some sort of tangible power -- and this will change everything for you. Maybe your meditation will gain something for you. In the West, that is how we tend to think about meditation: in terms of gain, or benefit, or accumulation.

Meditation is looked upon as an objectified quality. "Oh, he is such a strong meditator," I once heard someone say about someone else. How could we possibly know such a thing? Is it because of how the person sits? Is it because of how the person looks? Is it because of the amount of time involved? Is the judgment based on frequency? 

Meditation is also branded. We have Tibetan meditation, Japanese meditation, Chinese meditation, Buddhist meditation, Hindu meditation, Christian meditation, and so forth. You don't need me to tell you these things. You can go on Amazon and enter the search word "Meditation." You will find thousands of books. Chances are good you can look at your own bookshelf, and find all sorts of experiments you have already conducted.

In such climate, it becomes all too easy to get confused. You can begin to confuse Buddhism with meditation, or meditation with Buddhism. However, sooner or later, no matter how much you circle around, you are going to come back to the ship. Like the crow, remember?

I've told the crow story before, because my rabbits like that story.

There is a fellow who snares a crow, puts him in a burlap sack, slings the sack over his shoulder and saunters down to the docks. 

He boards a ship, and the ship sails out to the middle of the ocean. There, the man opens the sack and sets the crow free. In classic exposition, the matter is set forth thus:
"Flying upwards it finds that the sky is empty, and flying back down the space between is empty. Below there is nothing but water. Flying up and down and in all directions, it finds no place to go, no place to land. So it returns to the same ship and lands there."
That is from Sarah Harding's translation of Patrul Rinpoche's Clear Elucidation of True Nature. You can find it quite easily. Patrul Rinpoche is also the one who said that the most important thing is to be kind. He said you can leave meditation until just before death, because by then you will meditating anyway.

On that afternoon, those years ago, I had not read Patrul Rinpoche. All I had was the man in front of me, who counted among his seven root gurus the incarnation of Patrul Rinpoche.

After an interval, he sighed, and said, "Well, if the matter ever comes up in the future, and if someone ever asks you, you can just tell them it is very easy. Very simple. The main thing is not to make it complicated."

My teacher snapped his fingers. "That is thought arising," he said. 

He snapped his fingers again. "That is thought passing."

He snapped his fingers a third time. "That is thought dispersing."

"So, what is meditation?" I asked.

My teacher snapped his fingers. "Between here... " He snapped his fingers again. "And here."

I thought that was pretty simple, so I laughed. "That's all? That's ordinary!"

He smiled at me with a kindness in his eyes that I have no words to describe. 

To keep the memory of that kindness in my heart seems selfish. 

I want to give it away to you.

To make a proper gift, I should not give you something that belongs to someone else. I should not give you something meant for other eyes, like an old letter, forgotten between the pages of a book. People also press flowers between pages. But, a pressed flower only makes sense to the one who also saved a corresponding memory. Although these may represent some transient comfort or passing solace, you cannot take someone else's old letters and pressed flowers into battles and expect them to protect you. 

Yet, because I lack any particular quality or ability, these memories are all I have to give you. Sometimes, when old cherry trees shake in the wind, there are only a few petals left to fall. From them, we may with some imagination infer the tree in its blossomed prime.

Therefore, from this shared memory of a long-past afternoon, it is my earnest hope you may infer something of my teacher's boundless generosity and inexhaustible loving kindness, and like the crow on the ocean, find this place to return and calmly rest.



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