Thursday, January 31, 2008

Urgyen Tulku

Tomorrow, January 31, 2008, is Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's anniversary day. A good way to begin is with a visit to the Blazing Splendor blog site.

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Adopt A Rescued Rabbit Month

The House Rabbit Society (HRS) has designated February 2008 as "Adopt A Rescued Rabbit Month." To find out more about adopting a rabbit, contact your local shelter or your your nearest HRS chapter. For more information on House Rabbit Society's rescue and education work in your area, please call House Rabbit Society at (510) 970-7575. Pictured above is "Bamboo Rabbit," a young Belgian under the protection of Tenpa Rinpoche's daughter and friends. Rinpoche was always extremely fond of rabbits, and kept them off and on for over 50 years. One of the funniest and bittersweet things anybody ever heard was Tenpa Rinpoche attempting to explain the "Easter Bunny" to Ogyen Rinpoche. "They're like us," he said. "Everybody wants one for a little while, but later, when they find out they actually have to care for them, they let them go to wander around alone." Rinpoche often spoke about how much he would've liked to build a rabbit sanctuary.

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It seems we will have both a solar and lunar eclipse during February 2008, the former directly proximate to the New Year. These charts, from the U.S. Naval Observatory, give the details. As Buddhists, we understand the practice implications, so keep these dates in mind.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Original Purposes

When Tenpa Rinpoche originally began this blog, it was for the purpose of keeping notes handy. With that original purpose in mind, here are notes on the Atiyoga Samaya, supplementary to our previous post, below:

Twenty Adjunct Vows:

1. Do not destroy the throne of the king of wild animals.
2. Do not pour poison on the rare Zamatok flower.
3. Do not cut down a precious new bush.
4. Do not drink boiling lava.
5. Do not expose the pollen heart of a lotus flower.
6. Do not pour the essence into a bottomless pot.
7. Do not rely on meaningless substances.
8. Do not insert a crystal into mud.
9. An impure vessel is not to be considered pure.
10. Do not cut a wish-fulfilling jewel.
11. Do not separate the wings of a garuda.
12. Do not strike with a sharp meteorite weapon.
13. Do not eat the leftovers of wild animals.
14. Do not destroy a great vajra rock.
15. Do not cross the boundary of the corral.
16. The wind cannot extinguish a butter lamp.
17. Abandon cutting off the flowing river of primordial wisdom.
18. Do not openly disclose the utterances, indications, and mudras.
19. Do not destroy the diamond house.
20. Do not bring the wish-fulfilling crown down to a low place.

NB: If you want the commentary on the above, go ahead and buy the book.

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Swimming in the Mirage

One of our favorite blogs is, where there is currently learned discussion on the hermeneutic evidence of early Dzogchen in Tibet. It seems we have mentioned this discussion here on our own blog, before.

In the context of this discussion, the author raises the issue of the Nyingma Great Perfection samaya, consisting of three and twenty-five words of honor, and some really rather disingenuous person has written in to us, to ask for "clarification."

The definitive clarification in the English language is the translated work entitled Perfect Conduct, published by Wisdom Books. This is actually Panchen Pema Wangyal's 16th century work Ascertaining the Three Vows, together with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche's commentary.

The clarification requested is with reference to the twenty-five words of honor, expressed at thusly:

"The other 25 vows are placed in four groups: (i) The five to be accepted (ii) The five not to be rejected (iii) The five to be practised (iv) The five to be known (v) The five to be accomplished"

In proper order, these would ordinarily be expressed as the five to practice (liberating, union, stealing, speaking untrue words, and idle speech); the five not to be rejected (desire-attachment, hatred, delusion, pride, and jealousy); the five to accept (urine, feces, menstrual blood, marrow, and semen); the five to recognize (five aggregates, five elements, five objects, five organs, and five colors); the five to accomplish (the buddha, vajra, ratna, padma, and karma families).

So, in Tenpa Rinpoche's words, "what do you know now that you didn't know before, and how is it you think you have helped yourself by selfishly acquiring this knowledge?" You cannot, you see, take these things at face value, without clarification. A confused person would immediately ask, "What do you mean! Somebody should practice speaking untrue words?" In this instance, it is an intellectual artifice which refers to constructing explanations according to relative truth in order to avoid inculcating extreme views of nihilism. Similarly, "idle speech" means open talk about inexpressible realization, such as saying: "inexpressible realization," in order to point to that which cannot be narrowed.

Maybe, as Rinpoche also likes to say, we "don't need to put 'Keep Out of the Water' signs around a mirage."

Actually, the samaya of the Great Perfection is of two sorts: that of "nothing to guard," and that to be maintained. With respect to the latter, there are twenty-seven words of honor: nine each of the body, speech, and mind., further divided into three each outer, inner, and secret. If we want to take an example, then the nine of the speech are the three outer (to avoid lying, slander, and harsh words), the three inner (never verbally disrespect a Dharma teacher, anyone who contemplates the meaning, or anyone who meditates upon the fundamental nature), and the three secret (never to disrespect the speech of the vajra family, speaking negative words about the conduct of the lama, and disregarding any of the lama's teachings or advice whether given by him or members of his immediate mandala). The others follow similar concordances.

Tenpa Rinpoche once explained this to me as follows:

"We can say that the first task is to acquire basic information about the dharma, the next task is to enter into the practices, and the lifelong task is to keep the samaya. Keeping samaya is what allows us to actually accomplish the practices. Doing practices is really rather easy, but keeping samaya is actually challenging: a sort of chicken and egg type thing, because the more you understand, the easier it gets, but understanding is difficult without the samaya. It is symbiotic, you know? Maybe you could say that in Great Perfection it is particularly challenging, especially when we deal with the vows about taming wild beings and so forth. It isn't always easy in this society, and sometimes entails great personal cost. Since we need to remain flexible in order to deal with circumstances as they arise, and we can't always stop to read the rule book, the main thing is to proceed from an absolute tenderness, or kindness, in each and every situation, even if you have to become overtly wild in order to dance with the energies. It is actually difficult to break samaya if you have a loving heart. If you honestly have a loving heart, then I could even say it is almost impossible to break samaya. Since Buddha honestly has a loving heart, it is possible to repair broken samaya. All sorts of methods are used, and we of course immediately think of Vajrasattva in that regard, but what makes the repair possible and what accomplishes the repair is none other than an honest, loving heart. What goes on outside is less important than what goes on inside. Rescue workers smash down doors, tear down walls, jump through ceilings, and throw people out of windows."

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Buddhist Modern Dance

Tenpa Rinpoche is a big fan of classical ballet, religious dance, interpretive dance, and art "outside the lines." He observes, "Dancers make offering of their bodies by means of the dance," and has also discussed the relationship between Chinese medical exercises and dance. So, when notice came to us from his friend in Portugal of this duende dance vision, we thought we would pass it along. If I understand correctly, this is a fusion of Shambala teachings with expressionistic dance. Interesting, quite beautifully done, multi-lingual site.

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Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion

Here is a useful link to Asvaghosa's Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion, also known as Fifty Stanzas of Guru Devotion, with oral commentary by Geshe Ngawang Dhargey. Tenpa Rinpoche strongly believes that it is necessary to memorize this work, and adds that at least one can read this work at regular intervals.

Also, please note the rabbit in the above photograph, taken at a temple in Burma. We shall have more to say about this rabbit, but unfortunately technical difficulties at Google have caused us some problems, and we must resolve these.

Update: We wished to publish an extensive commentary on the Śaśajâtaka, relating the story of the rabbit who threw himself into a fire in order to provide food for someone, but the machines confounded us and the commentary is now lost. You can check here for a version of the story, while we figure out a way to get our pixels back from the digital trolls.

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The Lake Dakini's Lasting Admonition

"Like drapes, suddenly pulled back and a startled window thrown wide, the bright morning promises only an immediate moment, opening into brilliantly basic space. The market and fair sounds of tradesmen, and dancing children laughing across the valley augur continuity: inherent music as close to immortality as birdsongs. Reacquainted with sunlight, remembered languages, endlessly whispered prayers of effortless character: one promise leads to another, and again we come to wander, once more here beguiled, in empty dependence upon the decisions habit makes, and that other arising from old vows."

So begins the opening chapter of Tenpa Rinpoche's last book, which he was working on when he fell ill. It is very difficult to describe this book, or to categorize Rinpoche's writing. One way to explain it would be to say it is an inner dialogue that he allows us to watch: he lets us witness the exact processes of his view, so that we can make comparison with our own experiences. I do not know if that is an accurate assessment or not, but that is how I feel.

Tenpa Rinpoche's writing is so difficult to translate into other Western languages, and only a little less so in Asian languages. I know, because I have tried to translate him into Vietnamese several times. Everything he writes is simultaneously operating on three different levels. In the above passage, for example, there is the strange beauty of the English just as he uses it: a window thrown open, the sounds one hears, and the feelings this invokes. Then there is the expression of awakened mind, or watchfulness, where we see the world through the eyes of someone who knows how to see, and who inspires us with his vision. Finally, there is what I call the "secret" level, which in the above paragraph is Tenpa Rinpoche's commentary on the moment following rebirth in the human realm, when one realizes one's human status. I call it his "secret" level because of something a lama who came to visit once said: "If Tenpa Rinpoche writes a shopping list before he goes to the store, that list will have an outer, inner, and secret meaning."

I do not think it is any mystery that Rinpoche's writing is most frequently compared to the writings of those teachers who had or have the greatest command of the English language. There seems to come a point where expressions of realization composed in English flow together, and become almost interchangeable. Again, I do not know if that is accurate, but it accurately states my own idea.

Here we are struggling to prepare a number of Rinpoche's books for publication, including his commentaries originally scheduled for release in 2007, his compositions Eastern Fortress of Evident Treasure, and Lake Dakini's Lasting Admonitions, and one absolutely stunning composition I am not yet at liberty to discuss. Susan Nevis was handling most of the editorial work, along with writing Rinpoche's biography, and I will be working on a small collection of his writings treating South East Asia. In this last case, we are hopeful that 2008 will see the publication of his masterpiece of historical writing, Investigation at Seven Mountains, which was briefly released in limited edition in the 1990s, and then withdrawn.

Before we proceed, we'll be taking time off to celebrate the New Year -- not far away, on February 7th. We hope that your new year will be filled with light and beauty: that your mind be easy, and your heart stay strong.

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

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Konchok Norbu

We receive late word that the great Drikung Kagyu yogi Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche (1921-2007) left his body around ten in the evening of December 25th, in Singapore. Drubwang Rinpoche visited the United States in the summer of 2000, for the consecration of the Garchen Institute near Prescott, Arizona, and made an immediate and lasting impression upon everyone who met him.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Baby Sambhota

Click here for a really splendid effort to provide Tibetan educational films and children's items. If you have small children, perhaps the kindest thing you could do would be to introduce them to the Tibetan language.

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Longchenpa Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of Longchen Rabjam, who would be 700 years old this year. It would seem the party is at Lotsawa House, and everyone is invited. They're giving out free mp3 audio as party favors, so get yours before they're all gone.

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Non-negotiable Dharma

Photo of Rawak Stupa from Don Croner. Click here for more information.

Following is excerpted from a presentation Tenpa Rinpoche gave to some very good friends of his, who are students of another teacher. While not entirely out of context, I want to remember that he is very specific: what he says to one group is expressly for that group. Still, it seems there is something here for everybody:

Sometimes, it seems we bring a component of self-deceit to our relationship with the teacher. This self-deceit is characterized by a process of negotiation. I want to briefly examine this in a way that I hope will be useful to us all.

When I was still a teenager, I once had an emotional exchange with my teacher. It appeared to me, that despite all best efforts, he was still rather dissatisfied with me. I worried that he misunderstood me, so I told him, "Rinpoche... don't you understand I will do whatever you say? Don't you understand that I love you?"

His response was immediate, like a shot from a gun: "It isn't enough."

I think I was around seventeen years old, and I admit this was confusing to me. I recall feeling a little wounded by his remarks; a bit startled, actually. I remember asking, incredulously, "It isn't enough if I love you with all my heart?"

"If you love me, that is fine for me, but it doesn't do you any good," he answered.

So a fairly confused and dejected, teenaged boy went slowly walking down the alley, fighting back tears, contemplating all this Lama Drama, because I had absolutely no idea what he meant. It felt like a rejection, you know? It felt cold. I took the long way home that night, and when I arrived, I sat down and tried to decipher the day's events. While I was sitting there, the solution suddenly came to me, and I have carried it around ever since. I have so many things like that, in so many pockets, that if I ever fall in the river I will drown. Maybe I should take these things out and give them away.

Sometimes, we try to barter our delusions; to make them into a kind of currency we can spend with the teacher to buy his or her approval. As an example: perhaps we have a certain skill with painting. So, whenever our teacher needs some painting done, we do the painting. We become the "teacher's official painter," and this becomes a status thing, you know? Anybody else tries to paint for the teacher we immediately become territorial. We become jealous.

We also become negotiators.

If, for example, we haven't finished ngondro, it is because we were painting. If we put off doing 100, or 1,000 mantras in the morning, it is because we have to go painting. If we fail to make them up in the evening, it is because we are tired from painting all day. It doesn't have to be painting. We can be the teacher's driver, or the accounting person who pays the teacher's bills, or maybe even the teacher's personal friend (!) No matter what it is, we are using this as an excuse for our failure to discharge the most basic obligation we have to the teacher and hence, to ourselves. This is the fundamental obligation to practice, gain the results of the practice, and put these results into the discharge of our ultimate obligation, which is the welfare of all sentient beings. Maybe we are big sponsors, you know? Maybe we are trying to buy our way through the spiderweb? It isn't exactly fair to go to somebody and say, "Hey! I'm crazy! Help me stop crazy!" and then resist the process when our crazy perceptions don't let us see that this somebody is actually taking us on.

It isn't exactly fair to negotiate. This is actually quite common, and the master of transforming this was Trungpa Rinpoche. He organized his students according to their fundamental poisons. For example: he made the people with anger and aggression into his guards. He made the people with grasping and greed into his business managers. He gave very specific injunctions. To the guards he would teach tenderness. To the business people he would teach generosity. So, there was the poison, the antidote, and the transformation.

What we need to do now is wander down the alley, kick a few cans, take the long way home, and take a naughty little inventory to discover precisely how we are bartering and negotiating with the teacher -- how we are evading our basic obligations to our own lives and the lives of others. This is the way we deceive ourselves, do you see? This is just one more example of self-deception. There comes a point when being the court painter or the perfect butler becomes a kind of self-cherishing perpetuation of our own bewilderment. This becomes a very ornate portrait of all the things we are doing wrong. How about we learn to really love the teacher? How about we learn what devotion really means? How about we learn what service really means? How about we open up our stingy little paws and actually give? You know, if you say to westerners, "Go empty out the bank account and dump it all in a pile in front of your teacher," they will get a rope, form a posse, and ride out to the lynching. They'll be looking for the swindle. On the best day, maybe they'll be cajoled into paying monthly dues at some miserable "center." Marpa didn't do that when he was hopping around India, dumping out bags of gold, but then I guess maybe Marpa was gullible, eh?

The bottom line is simple: how about we take all the neurotic energy, and the sociopathic charm, and pour it into taking our lives on real terms and practicing the dharma according to the dharma, without any ancillary bartering or negotiating.

Do you think the teacher will be pleased?

I need my room painted yellow, or maybe a nice warm orange. Anybody know how to do that without getting drops on the floor?

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Chewing on the Cannibals

Chinese ostentation is not something we usually think about. It hides in our consciousness behind the gauze screen of quaint visage. We summon up images of a million imperial drones attending the Forbidden City easily enough, and for some strange reason we think it harmless: an artifact of the past. Yet, we somehow miss entirely the ten million commune-capitalist drones making poison toys, quivering in expectation of yet another fat fish dinner. Anyone who spends any time whatsoever in the "new" China will walk away impressed by the sheer weight of swaggering Chinese arrogance.

The latest example is of course China's new "tulku law." We have previously posted the complete, authoritative text of this regulation in translation. You can read it for your own interpretation of what it actually means. According to the Reuters item we reprinted yesterday, "The new rules, which went into force on Sept. 1, bar any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation for himself or recognising a 'living Buddha'."

We thought it would be entertaining to collect the reactions of Western tulkus to this assertion. First, we interviewed Alyce Zeoli:

DTBA: What can you say about western tulkus, just from your own perspective, and in light of the new Chinese regulations?

ALYCE: One can only state the patently obvious: That the boundless compassionate intention of the Bodhisattvas cannot be contained by man-made borders, by time or by space. Nor can Bodhicitta be limited in it's capacity by ignorant opinions. Beyond that, what can one say to such fixed ideation?

DTBA: Should we even enter into a dialogue about this?

ALYCE: [W]e just jump in the viper pit with them. Why should we do that? It is just more war.

Next, we visited an interview Tenpa Rinpoche gave on the subject late last year, with a broadcast journalist from Great Britain:

INT: How do the Chinese regulations touch you personally?

TENPA: I already have Chinese documentation that acknowledges whatever arbitrary status it is that some people may believe I have, and some other people may believe I don't have, and I myself could care less about, and I received this in advance of the new regulations. I telephoned the Chinese Consulate and asked them what obligations, if any, I have under the new regulations and they told me that they didn't know; they had no instructions on how to implement these. Other than that, these regulations don't have any bearing on me as a person. They may impact my travel in the region, that sort of thing, but I never really have any problems in that regard.

INT: Do the Chinese make you sign the "promise not to preach" the way they typically do? And have you ever been asked to make a statement against His Holiness?

TENPA: I have never been asked to sign that, but I know many people who have. Neither has anyone ever asked me to say or sign anything against His Holiness. My activities on the Mainland are completely apolitical, and this to the extent that I have personal friends who are well-placed government officials. They visit me to get away from politics, I visit them to talk about hobbies, that sort of thing, and they clearly understand I do not involve myself in China's internal politics. I have opinions, like everybody else, but there is no law against having opinions. The thing to remember is that there is public diplomacy and then there is the reality of what people actually believe. The issue of Tibetan Buddhism in China is far, far different from that which is portrayed in the West by activists and so forth.

INT: How is that?

TENPA: Nobody in China believes for five seconds that the government can control how or where a tulku chooses to manifest. They understand that the government can show up with tanks, but they harbor no illusions the government can do anything else. So, it is a non-issue. Really, it is something like a joke the government played on itself. People all over the world are just laughing.

So here are two not entirely dissimilar opinions that seem to dismiss the issue out of hand. The Dalai Lama's spokesmen, in contrast, meet the issue directly and isn't that what gives it velocity? They state it is directed squarely at His Holiness, in a ham-fisted attempt to control who will be the Fifteenth Dalai Lama, as if this were possible. The identity of the Fifteenth Dalai Lama is decided by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and this is something extraordinary that the entire world will get to witness. Can you imagine the impact on the countless beings of this world when the Fifteenth Dalai Lama gives unmistakable evidence that yes, indeed, he is back again in a new envelope? I hope you will not think me silly, but the issue of recognizing the 15th is moot: what would it be like if you met the 14th, and then you met the 15th, and he recognized you?

Clearly, the impact of the new regulations goes far beyond His Holiness, because it reaches into the lives of all other tulkus. It will be most keenly felt in Tibet, of course, but in the West -- in the new home of the Dharma in the 21st century -- it would seem that China's bluster will have absolutely no impact at all.

Isn't that why there are Western tulkus?

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mind's Ultimate Nature

Mind's ultimate nature, emptiness endowed with vividness,
I was told is the real Buddha.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with thoughts of hierarchy.

Mind's ultimate nature, its emptiness aspect,
I was told is the real Dharma.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with thoughts of political correctness.

Mind's ultimate nature, its vivid aspect,
I was told is the real Sangha
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with thoughts of equal rights.

One cannot disassociate emptiness from vividness.
This inseparability I was told is the Guru.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with depending on chauvinist lamas.

This nature of mind has never been stained by duality,
This stainlessness I was told is the deity.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with the categories of "gender" or "culture."

This nature of mind is spontaneously present.
That spontaneity I was told is the dakini aspect.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with fear of being sued.

—Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

This bit of verse was published in 1997, in an epistle entitled "Distortion," which appeared in a magazine. To re-read Dzongsar Khyentse's remarks after an interval of ten years is quite an exercise. One wonders what, if anything, has changed. To read the entire article, click here.

If you don't wish to read the entire article, then at least consider his poem, above, and the following remarks:

"It is important to remember that a thorough transplantation of dharma cannot be accomplished within a single generation. It is not an easy process, and as when Buddhism was brought from India to Tibet, it will undoubtedly take time. There are enormous differences between the attitudes of various cultures and different interpretations of similar phenomena. It is easy to forget that such supposedly universal notions as "ego," "freedom," "equality," "power," and the implications of "gender" and "secrecy," are all constructions that are culture-specific and differ radically when seen through different perspectives. The innuendoes surrounding a certain issue in one culture might not even occur to those of another culture, where the practice in question is taken for granted."

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Tulkus In Trouble, Reincarnation Politics Redux

This Associated Press photograph from Beijing, showing the level of pollution in China, suggests that the "Dirty Olympics" will be far from the showcase China's Communist leadership intends.

BEIJING, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A senior Tibetan lama and Chinese government advisers have spoken out in defence of contentious rules apparently aimed at empowering China to name the next Dalai Lama in the event Tibet's exiled spiritual leader dies.
China's State Administration of Religious Affairs issued regulations in July banning reincarnations of "living Buddhas", or holy monks, that fail to seek government approval, ostensibly to manipulate the centuries-old practice and legitimise future appointments by the atheist Communist Party.
Tubdain Kaizhub, himself a living Buddha and vice-chairman of Tibet's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the regional parliament, affirmed the regulations on Monday, China's official Xinhua news agency said in an overnight report.
Xinhua quoted Soi'ham Rinzin, a member of the advisory body, as saying the 14th Dalai Lama ignored religious ritual and historical convention to unilaterally decide reincarnations, disturbing religious order.
The Dalai Lama, 72, fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Communist rule, but remains the single most important influence in Tibetan life.
China's presence in Tibet has become yet more controversial ahead of this year's Beijing Olympics, which activists hope to use to draw global attention to the plight of the region.
The Dalai Lama told Britain's ITV in an interview that Tibet supporters should protest peacefully in China during the Olympics to highlight their cause, the Free Tibet Group said in a statement.
"(In) the eyes of millions of Chinese I think (it) worthwhile to remind them there's a problem. That I think is very important," the group quoted him as saying.
Critics say China continues to repress Tibetans' religious aspirations, especially their veneration for the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whom China denounces as a "separatist".
The new rules, which went into force on Sept. 1, bar any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation for himself or recognising a "living Buddha".
Reincarnations of about 1,000 living Buddhas have been approved in Tibet and Tibetan populated areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan since 1991, according to a government Web site.
In 1995, the Dalai Lama and China's Communist authorities chose rival reincarnations of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989. The Panchen Lama is the second-highest figure in Tibet's spiritual hierarchy.
The boy anointed by the Dalai Lama, then aged 6, swiftly disappeared from public view, prompting international rights groups to call him the "world's youngest political prisoner". (Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Introductions, and How to Use This Blog

In the upper left corner of the page, you will see the search function. By entering your search criteria, you will be able to sample this web log's rich treasury of commentary on topics of continuing interest.

In the meantime, let me introduce myself. My name is Trinh, and I'll be helping with editing and posting chores while Rinpoche is convalescing. I might disclose that I am related to Rinpoche, and have known him all of my life. I was born in America and attended university in Massachusetts. I am recently married.

We're in the process of lining up some guest authors to contribute to this web log, and we're also busily editing some of Rinpoche's heretofore unpublished writings. We have much material to go through, and will publish this as it becomes available. If you have specific requests for things you'd like to see, please take a minute to leave a comment, below.

UPDATED 5/27/09 by Tenpa: Some mean-spirited people have floated the rumor that Trinh and Tenpa are one and the same. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Trinh is Tenpa's niece and doesn't post in here anymore because Tenpa thinks sicko cult monkeys will almost certainly try to harm her.

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Eighteen Root Bodhisattva Vows

The eighteen root vows require that you abandon the below actions of body, speech, and mind:

1. Praising yourself and denigrating others.
You must avoid praising yourself and, with delusion, criticising and denigrating others through wanting to gain offerings, respect or some sort of profit. Praising yourself and criticising, denigrating or complaining about others creates heavy negative karma as well as breaking this root bodhicitta vow.

2. Not giving wealth and Dharma.
If you refuse to help others with financial assistance or Dharma teachings when you are able to do so in response to their requests, you will break this root vow. You must practise generosity of material things and generosity of Dharma to those who are suffering, confused and dissatisfied. You should teach those who want teachings and show them how to meditate and remove their suffering. This root vow is part of the perfection of generosity

3. Not forgiving though someone apologises.
Refusing to accept the apology of someone who wrongs you and then apologises, breaks this root vow. Also, if someone breaks vows or precepts and confesses that negative action to you, you must be prepared to accept their confession.

4. Abandoning the Mahayana.
If you reject the Mahayana, or any part of it, saying that it is not the teaching of the Buddha, you will break this root vow. To some, the Mahayana seems complicated and overly mystical. The teachings assert the existence of countless manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Some people are unable to come to grips with this vast scope and such things as the sophisticated tantric methods contained in the Mahayana. They may come to think, or even say to others, 'The Mahayana is mixed with non-Buddhist practices. It is not a pure teaching of the Buddha as is the Hinayana.' By thinking in this way you abandon the Mahayana and break this vow

5. Stealing offerings to the Three Jewels. ("Kings vow")
You break this root vow if you steal anything that was offered, or intended to be offered, to the Three Jewels. Even stealing from others or taking things intended for others will break this vow.

6. Abandoning the Dharma. ("Kings vow")
Criticising or claiming that any part of the Hinayana, Mahayana or Vajrayana is not part of the Buddha's teachings will incur this root downfall. You should not criticise or denigrate a teaching from the Vinaya, sutra or Abhidharma baskets of the Dharma.

7. Disrobing monks or nuns. ("Kings vow")
If you force monks or nuns to give up their ordination by disrobing, or force them to do actions which break their ordination, you break this root vow. Harming the Sangha must be avoided as they are essential to the continuation of Buddhist teachings.

8. Committing the five heinous crimes. ("Kings vow")
The five heinous karmas are killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing a Foe Destroyer (Arhat), wounding a Buddha and creating a schism in the Sangha. Doing any of these very heavy negative actions will break this root vow.

9. Holding wrong views.
Wrong views are such as denying the existence of the Three Jewels, the law of cause and effect, the conventional and ultimate truths, the four noble truths, the twelve links of Dependent Origination and so on. Holding such wrong views will break this root vow because you will be unable even to benefit yourself, let alone others. For example, by denying karma you will not be concerned about the consequences of your actions and, with such carelessness, will continue to create negative karma and hurt others.

10. Destroying towns and so on. ("Kings vow")
If you completely destroy any place inhabited by living beings, you will break this root vow. Destroying a city or country habitat, whether by means of fire, bombs, black magic or any other means, will kill many living beings.

11. Teaching emptiness to the untrained. ("Minister vow")
If you teach the profound subject of emptiness to those who are not able to interpret it properly, or perhaps do not wish to practise it anyway, you will break this root vow. The danger is that some may misinterpret emptiness to mean nothingness, or non-existence, and fall to the nihilist extreme denying the relationship of cause and effect. The true meaning of the emptiness of inherent existence of self and phenomena is very profound and difficult to understand. Many believe that the great Acharya Nagarjuna, who strongly propagated this system, was a nihilist, but this was because they missed the brilliant subtlety of his thought. You should therefore only teach the final view of the nature of phenomenon to those who are ripe to understand it.

12. Reversing others' aspiration for complete enlightenment.
Inducing someone who is practising the Mahayana into the Hinayana path will break this root vow. If you were to tell someone that the six perfections are beyond his capacity and suggest that, since he will never attain enlightenment, it is better to practise the Hinayana - whereby liberation is attained quickly. You will then lead him or her from a greater goal into a lesser one and break this root vow.

13. Causing someone to abandon individual liberation.
You must not cause others to abandon their individual liberation vows, whether they be the two hundred and fifty three precepts of a monk, the thirty-six precepts of a novice, the eight or five precepts of a layman, or the practice of the ten virtues. You should never suggest that these are part of the lesser vehicle and not important for the Mahayanist. Neither should you encourage someone to ignore their vow not to drink alcohol, or other vows, by implying that such vows are of a lower level than the Vajrayana vows and therefore not important. If you cause others to abandon their individual liberation vows, you will break this root vow

14. Denigrating the Hinayana.
If you disparage the Hinayana with a negative mind, especially in the presence of a Hinayanist, you break this root bodhichitta vow. Some say that the Hinayana is a very low vehicle and it takes a long time to traverse that path, and therefore it is better that to practise the great Mahayana and rapid Vajrayana. This is not a suitable attitude because both the Hearer and Solitary Realiser paths lead to liberation and to the realisation of renunciation, which are fundamental to the Mahayana path.

15. Falsely claiming to have realised emptiness.
Falsely claiming to have the full realisation of the emptiness of inherent existence of self and phenomena breaks this root vow. It is a specific form of lying, whereby you deceive others into believing that you have special attainments. It is not necessary to claim explicitly that you have high realisations to break this vow. Just implying that you have high realisations also incurs the downfall.

16. Receiving the property of the Three Jewels.
If you accept things that were originally offered to the Three Jewels, then stolen or misappropriated and given to you, you will break this root vow. It also refers to people such as kings or government ministers who use their position of power to unjustly acquire wealth and then pass some or all of it on to you. Accepting such gifts is a form of wrong livelihood.

17. The person practising concentration giving his belongings to others.
Where a yogi, engaged in a concentration retreat, reluctantly accepts the offerings of a benefactor and then with some anger gives the offerings to others who are not seriously engaged in Dharma practice, he will incur this root downfall.

18. Giving up bodhichitta.
If you give up your aspiration to attain enlightenment, or your determination to benefit all living beings, or any single living being for that matter, you will incur this downfall. Having taken a vow to benefit all living beings, to give up this purpose is to abandon them and doing so cheats all living beings. You destroy the very basis of your Mahayana practice.

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The Tempest

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

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Monday, January 21, 2008


It seems a shame to do away with this blog, doesn't it? Maybe we can keep the spirit of the thing going forward somehow, with new authors. Stay tuned while we try to work out something with special friends.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008


We extend condolences to the family, friends, and spiritual companions of the Western monk Yeshe Nyompa, who passed away at dawn on January 18, 2008. A monk of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism for over 20 years, he is remembered with extraordinary respect by all who knew him. Death and rebirth is just like changing clothes.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Here is a "get well" post for Rinpoche, and a link to the Monty Python Killer Rabbit With Big Pointy Teeth slippers we got for him. We think this will be an incentive for him to "get well soon." (Leaving a comment to this post will be like signing the card.)

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Dear Reader:
Rinpoche composed the following quite recently and asked that it be posted here. He also said that he will be unable to continue actively contributing to this web log, as his health no longer permits him to make the effort. The following should therefore be regarded as his way of thanking everyone for their readership. I will post it in stages, as it is not quite finished, and he is sending parts to me as he is able.


When my daughter and I
went to Lotus Lake
we saw a red dragonfly,
beautiful for but a moment.
Some fleeting things you remember

I wrote that snippet of verse four years ago and then it wrote itself again this morning when a red dragonfly visited me. That is impossible, you know? Red dragonflies are not in their season.

So what do you think? Should we examine the red dragonfly, or just leave it alone?

Maybe we will do both.

I was thinking last night about my spiritual companions, in and out of uniform, and one picture came into my mind. It was of a rather strange little girl I used to know, many years ago.

I think it was around 1954 or 1955, and I was living alone with my parents, in the country. I did not have any playmates, and in fact never had any playmates, but I read books, and from books I learned that one is supposed to have friends when one is a child.

Therefore, when the little girl suddenly appeared one afternoon, I was not surprised. I asked her name, and when after a long interval she didn't reply, I asked if it would be alright if I could call her "Alice." To this proposal she neither agreed nor disagreed, so on the theory that silence implies consent, I began to call her Alice. That is how I have always referred to her in my mind, that is how I have written to her in my poetry, and that is how I will refer to her now.

Alice was a good listener. I have no independent recollection that Alice ever said anything at all, but she was a good listener. Sometimes, she would listen to me and then just sit there, looking at me while I stuttered, trying to further explain myself. Sometimes she would listen to me and then wordlessly get up and walk away. Occasionally, she would come back later -- maybe later in the evening, when I was in bed -- and she would listen as I offered all the things I should have said, but didn't.

Alice was of great comfort to me and grand solace for my loneliness. She provided me with endless hours of interest and diversion. I would try to imagine what her voice might sound like, if ever she would speak. I tried to imagine her singing. I tried to imagine where she went when she left me, and what would make her decide to appear. I spent an entire summer with Alice, sitting out by the pond in my backyard, watching red dragonflies buzzing over the water.

That was the summer Alice taught me about kindness. I would talk to her for hours about things that went right and things that went wrong. I would point out things to her, and to all of this she would listen so patiently, never making any judgment, never saying any word. It was by her quiet example that I came to realize what it is that human beings actually require for their happiness in this world. Alice taught me that kindness is really nothing more or less than patience.

Tick, tick, tick. There goes the clock, and there goes Tenpa through the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. The century turns, the life draws to a close, and for all of these years I have been telling my troubles to a little girl who has always listened and never judged. A little girl so compassionately skillful that she could make a coat for me from the colors of the past. So, today, I would like to thank her for many extraordinary kindnesses all of these years, and for the coat she made me, which I must now lay aside.

I lay it aside, because it does not make any sense at all to fight leaves on branches, nor branches swaying wildly in the wind, nor indeed the trees themselves. It only makes sense to cut the root.

Tarthang Rinpoche used to say, "Whatever you do, strongly do, and have no regrets." If are familiar with Tarthang Rinpoche, then you know he can speak very forcefully, even to the point of screaming. This is something he used to say very forcefully, so I took it very forcefully. I used that advice as an excuse to raise Hell, until I finally figured out what he meant. Likely as not, it means something different to you, but to me it means: why inculcate regret by failing to execute one's obligation to the welfare of others with anything less than spontaneously correct action? To put it another way: why leave open any possibility for regret?

You know, we all of us have these things that arise, and we rather wistfully say, "Oh, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that." That's not necessarily what I mean by regret. Properly speaking, regret is the thought that one has failed to do something perfectly. In the case of our obligation to sentient beings, regret really means a kind of subtle, unspoken anger that we feel toward ourselves for not being Buddhas.

The thing is, you see, that all sentient are already Buddhas, so this anger is quite unnecessary. If we conduct ourselves with vigor, and if we sometimes fail to meet our catalogue of expectations, then at least we are consumed by noble endeavor as distinct from unnecessary anger. This thing called anger can be useful in other contexts but in this context it is self-destructive. This anger we have toward ourselves is in fact far more destructive than the anger we might feel toward others. You can say that the anger we have toward ourselves is in fact the very origin of the anger we feel toward others, and that collectively, these angers arise from the same root.

There are several ways to get rid of a tree. You can climb up in the tree and start lopping off branches. These branches fall to the ground, and then you can stuff them into a chipper and cart the whole mess away in a truck. In the alternative, you can chop the tree down like a woodsman, and do all your branch lopping and so forth while the thing is lying on the ground. In this case, you might have to come back later and dig up the stump, or haul it out by means of some contrivance. In Buddhism, about which I know very little, there is always this analogy of a tree and its roots, and we sometimes say that it is useful to cut the root of something. In America, about which I know even less, we sometimes use dynamite to simply blow the whole thing up and be done with it once and for all.

In American Buddhism, about which I know absolutely nothing, we just intellectualize the thing to the point of nausea.

I do not want people to know who I am. I only want the one called Tenpa to know who I am. I am not judged by people; neither do I judge myself. I am only judged by dakinis, and dakinis are merciless judges. There is in fact nothing to be judged but we can say that there is something to be examined. If you spend your time examining me, or reading this blog, then your time is wasted. Better you should spend it examining yourself.

I was leading up to something before I became too old and tired to play with Alice anymore. Regrettably, the sequence of thoughts was interrupted by a fit of coughing, which is very good training, because sooner or later the whole damn thing is going to be interrupted by a fit of coughing and I will go on vacation.

Specifically, I was thinking about Chatral Rinpoche's admonitions, and about Chatral Rinpoche generally. I was wondering what it would be like if someone in 21st century America actually tried to follow his advice: what it would be like to follow in his footsteps. This thought naturally led to other thoughts, like the rolling of a web log or the din of people-without-practice in the forums or the crap that starts when froggy goes a' courting.

And then that dragonfly visited me.

So, in conclusion, may I say that my lama thanks you, my yidam thanks you, my dakini thanks you, and I thank you. And the rabbit. Don't forget the rabbit.

After all, where would Alice be without him?

When my daughter and I
went to Lotus Lake
we saw sorrows burning,
blazing to better purpose.
Some things that cannot be consumed
are nonetheless extinguished

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mi mnomi bsammi shesmi dpyodmi sgomrang sar bzhag
(1) Let go of what has passed.
(2) Let go of what may come.
(3) Let go of what is happening now.
(4) Don't try to figure anything out.
(5) Don't try to make anything happen.
(6) Relax, right now, and rest.

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In May 2004, in Sydney, Australia, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave a talk on the topic of "How to Find A Guru and Be A Student." The transcript of that talk, which is available on the web through Khyentse Rinpoche's organizational web site ( you have to establish an account first), should be required reading by every student of Tibetan Buddhism.

Maybe if it were, we would have less confusion about what is and is not important.

I could carefully craft excerpts from Khyentse Rinpoche's talk into something here, but why bother with a road show when you can visit Broadway? My suggestion is that you seek out the transcript and read it very carefully. Here is just a small sample:

"So how do we find someone who is realized? How do we know whether he is realized or not? As someone who is an ordinary being, it is impossible to know whether he is a realized being or not, using direct cognition. Impossible. There is no way. So the only way to judge whether the person has any sort of realization or not, is through inferential logic. When using all kinds of reference, experience, it becomes very messy again. Because when we use inferential logic, we are applying this very small and limited capacity of so-called rationalism. We may think that we are so skeptical and so intellectual and not easily brain washed but the small skepticism that we have is pathetic. It is really very small. In fact nowadays, among the many modern critics of the spiritual gurus, and of spiritual guru disciple relationship, their critique is so very, very small."

Here is another passage that I find particularly relevant today. I think some of us need to read this very carefully:

"These lamas, those who have understood emptiness, those who are fearless, compassionate: they don’t negotiate. There is no negotiation table. That is sort of the criteria, if you can accept that. If you can go with this mentality, “Okay I am not going to negotiate,” then fine. Then you will get a lot of profit, I guess. But if you go there with a mentality of “I will give you this, can you give me this” it doesn’t work with this kind of person. This is why most of these kinds of lamas are forgotten or lost for us. For them, they want to be forgotten anyway. They want to be left alone. Sometimes they deliberately sort of magnify their kind of edgy, difficult to be with, kind of quality, just so that they will be left alone. But the incredible thing is that they also, of course, as I said earlier, they have disciples. They have students - good students, non-negotiator students who are really interested in enlightenment. My observation, these are all my observations."

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Monday, January 14, 2008


Only once in a blue moon does Rinpoche speak in public, but the experience is not something one easily forgets. I thought it would be enjoyable for our readers if I were to transcribe a brief talk he gave several months ago. In this way, perhaps you will come to understand what it is like to meet him in person. So, here is just a very brief excerpt from a talk he gave that we have titled, "Never Trust An Undefeated General," and Rinpoche calls, "The Day the Moths Eat the Brioni." Here is just a small sample of what it can feel like in the presence of Tenpa Rinpoche."

I like to see these newly-minted tulkus, coming out of the cocoon of their years of instruction, go fluttering around the world like butterflies. The first world tour is very prim, very proper. They discuss introductory topics, they tell us what their teacher told them, and they give empowerments, which is of course how the money gets made. You can get photo ops, maybe get one or two polite questions answered, and that is that. The red envelopes begin falling like winter's first snowflakes.

The second world tour is a little different. Maybe the entourage is a little bigger because the red snow is getting deeper. Usually, by the third or fourth world tour, they are running like rock stars. By now, they are in their late 30s or early 40s, and they know what women look like. They know how the food tastes in the better hotels. They know where the door handles are on the Mercedes-Benz. Maybe by now they are just beginning to learn how to listen -- how to listen to the questions. If they are lucky, they have begun to experience a few little disappointments, so the questions are beginning to strike a resonant chord. Maybe just now they can begin the rudimentary framework of answers.

We are the same, aren't we? I don't know about you, but when I was in my late 30s and early 40s I was also very busy. Strangely enough, I also seemed to have so much extra time for beautiful women, beautiful dinners, shopping for luxuries, engaging in intrigues, and did I mention women? My companions were all so charming, and witty, and complex. I would stay for months on end in the hotels, which were my palaces, exploring the poetry of this relationship, the cinema of that relationship, endlessly fascinated with the ladies of the kingdom. There were times when I flew 10,000 miles just for a poignant scene with a fancied favorite. It really was astonishing. I started with $1,000 suits, moved to $2,500 suits, and eventually it reached the point where even $5,000 suits simply would not do. If those people at Brioni ever start making robes, you know, I will probably be first in line.

People ask me all the time: why weren't you teaching then? Why weren't you being who you are? The answer is simply that I was being who I was then, and I found myself to be a very dangerous person. I was an undefeated general, and there is nothing more dangerous than an undefeated general. I have some good advice to give you right now: never trust an undefeated general.

Lamas have been running around the developed nations for almost 50 years now. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the time when those who vowed never to leave sentient beings, left the sentient beings of Tibet in Chinese hands, and turned their attention elsewhere. I am not being critical. I don't have any axe to grind. I am just showing you how undefeated generals you can't trust begin to turn into defeated generals upon whom you may rely.

Once they got to India, a lot of these people had to open themselves to new experiences. In Tibet, the tulku class was spoiled rotten. All of a sudden, guys who never had to ask the price were having to ask the price. Fortunately for us, guys were suddenly able to take centuries of repeated teaching and apply it to what was happening right in front of them. So, we started to get the first wave of defeated generals. Maybe Trungpa Rinpoche was the vanguard, I don't know. He went to Britain. He got himself smashed up. He visited Scotch whiskey, teenage girls, and American poetry after dark. I traded shots of whiskey with Trungpa Rinpoche, sitting in a car, in the parking lot of the White Horse liquor store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, and I know what he said and I know what I said. He was absolutely for real.

The early students of the first wave of defeated generals are now all in their late 50s and 60s, and we also have an entire group in their early 70s. The big question in the back of everybody's mind these days is, "Who is going to be first?" Who is going to be the first non-Tibetan to get anything useful out of Tibetan Buddhism?" When that question is posited, it is being posited in terms of enlightenment, so let us not be shy about this. A lot of people are wondering what went wrong.

Now, the rock star lamas will be happy to tell you what went wrong, and this they will do with varying degrees of candor, disingenuity, and wit, and you will feel properly chastened or inspired as the case may be. A traditional Tibetan education delivers something like full tenure in a world-class bullshit school, and rock star lamas are world class bullshit artists. You can stop me right now and say, "Oh, my God! Rinpoche! Your speech is so harsh! Your speech is so wrong!" The thing is, I don't think the truth needs to be gilded. I am not trying to get in your pocket and I am not trying to get in your pants. I think the plain, unvarnished truth is useful. I think a straight shot of cheap whiskey hits a drunk in the place fine wine goes to waste. I also know that I am not alone in my observations, and that when a lot of lamas hear I said this, they will think, "Right on. Wish I could say that."

They are being packaged and marketed, and sold to the highest bidders, so they really aren't free. They are corporate representatives, so they have to uphold corporate policy. They don't feel themselves free to just start fearlessly drawing from their own experience. These are the guys who sit around and secretly read Trungpa Rinpoche, or Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, or Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and wistfully think, "Someday I'll wish upon a star... " [Rinpoche sings opening line of Somewhere Over the Rainbow]. Speaking for myself, I don't have students, I don't do this for money, I don't have anything to prove, and I don't care what happens today or tomorrow. I am not a team player. If you want to sit around and listen to me, that is good. If you want to get up and go, that is good If you ask me for advice, I will give you advice, and if you tell me to shut up, I will shut up. My education is not so fine, not so elegant, so all I really have is my own experience. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, you will still be you, and I will still be watching.

The tulku doesn't come from recognition. Recognition comes from the tulku. What matters is the ability to use a broken heart for the benefit of others.

Let me take a little rest. O.K., a couple of questions so I can relax a minute.

Question: Do you mean that we have to get a broken heart to get anywhere?
Answer: You are going to get a broken heart whether you want it or not. There is no way to avoid this. The question is not how do you mend a broken heart, but how do you learn to fearlessly operate from the foundation of that broken heart in an ethical, compassionate, and useful manner, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Question: How are you using the label 'broken heart?' What do you mean by that?
Answer: I mean the fundamental integration of the teachings and lived-through experience. I mean the antithesis of hypocrisy. I mean honest tears, honestly shed, with no pretense, no second-guessing. I mean the ability to walk up to a teacher and say, "I am sick of the bullshit, and I want to get better so I can help everybody else. I don't care what I have to do, just as long as I can help everybody else." I mean the end of illusion, when the car has been repossessed, the beautiful woman takes off the silk clothes you bought her in front of some other man, and you are out in back of the hotel going through the garbage, looking for something to eat. I am talking about the day you find that the moths ate the Brioni.

Question: Are you an undefeated general, and is your heart broken?
Answer: I am a thoroughly defeated general. I have done everything wrong that it is possible to do wrong. Yet, I think I still have many more defeats to suffer. There are so many pieces of my heart scattered around that I cannot pick them up, examine them, and tell you whether they, too, are broken or not.

O.K., so now I am rested, and I want to continue with that big, unspoken question on everybody's mind: what went wrong?

Nothing went wrong. If anything went wrong, it was the expectation that something would go right. All the girls were dakinis and all the guys were yogis. Everybody read Milarepa. Everybody thought some reward or payoff was going to happen. You do your prostrations, you offer your mandalas, you get your little star and put it on the picture in the place for little stars. You go to college and you get the diploma. Then, you fly away to the sky... enlightened. It just doesn't work that way. The payoff is the broken heart. The payoff is the defeat. The payoff is that integration I spoke of a moment ago. That is where we, in the developed countries, dropped the ball. We failed to integrate. We kept up our resistance. We kept up our expectations. Really, I can say that what we lack is faith. Pure and simple.

When you lower someone into the grave, you'll wish for just that one moment you could save. You'll want to die, until you learn to cry... until you learn to have absolute faith in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. In this case, faith means giving up what isn't real and embracing what is real. It means finally wearing yourself out, giving up, and saying, "O.K., I am ready for refuge."

What happened, I think, was a lot of people took refuge who weren't ready for refuge. Then, after they took refuge, they went on with their lives. Once they were able to give up filtering and censoring their lives with false Buddhism, trusting undefeated generals, and once they actually began living their lives, they began experiencing disappointments. Now, these collective disappointments have reached the stage where the people experiencing them are now... only now... ready for refuge. So, my advice to all you gray-haired Buddhists in your 50s, 60s, and early 70s, is start all over again from the beginning. Stop your socializing and reminiscences. This isn't some god-damned lawn bowling club where we all dress in white. Maybe it should be, but it isn't just now. All you saggy old dakinis, and all you pot-belly yogis with your falling teeth, do you know how much I love you?

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Sunday, January 13, 2008


We are aware that there are self-appointed arbiters of what is and is not the "best" of contemporary Buddhist writing. Frankly, we find that we see a rather narrow, commercially-centered editorial view and a cast of usual characters. Therefore, we see the "best" that others direct us to see from profit motive, and then we see the rare jewels reflective of true experience.

Take just a moment and read these observations by a Western nun, living in solitude, caring for abused creatures. Take just a moment and see what you've been missing. Go there, learn what the English language can do when driven by a clear heart, and then find a way to support this nun's modest requirements.

Rinpoche always taught us that loud falsehoods are drowned by the wind of whispered truths. He told us that even if we whisper the smallest truth to the wall of a cave, it will meet with assent at a thousand miles. I therefore do not intend my words to be harsh. I rather intend them to underscore the beauty we do not see because some organs of Buddhist media in the West neglect their higher obligation.

For some reason, I am reminded of Rinpoche's favorite passage from the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra, which reads in part: "He visited the fashionable teachers, yet always kept unswerving loyalty to the Buddha. He understood the mundane and transcendental sciences and esoteric practices, yet always took pleasure in the delights of the Dharma."

We do hear a great deal from the fashionable teachers. Now lets take pleasure in the delights of the Dharma.

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Dear Readers:
Because many of you have written to request an update on Rinpoche's medical condition, we now provide the following information. Rinpoche was admitted to hospital under emergency conditions for massive hemoptysis and placed in intensive care. He received treatment, tests, and monitoring. We are aware of the tremendous outpouring of prayer and letters of concern from all over the world and are deeply grateful. We are particularly grateful to those of you who liberated creatures destined for death. We believe that during the period of the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo, we should liberate as many creatures as possible, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

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The collected works of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, are now available for immediate download by clicking here.

The Third Karmapa, author of the Karma Nyingthig, shared a close relationship with Longchenpa, with whom he studied under Rigdzin Kumaradza. Theirs was in many respects an extremely fortunate friendship: one that spawned a shower of blessings for those of us in the generations that followed. This is a perfect example of what can come from personal relationships and collaborations between Dharma masters: they become catalysts in each others lives, and all sentient beings reap the benefits.

The only drawback to this really super internet resource is one needs to purchase and install the commercially promoted Nitartha Sambhota font in order to make use of the pdf files. This product does not seamlessly integrate into the Macintosh OSX operating system: the platform of choice for Tibetan language word processing (Apple wisely built Tibetan into OSX). Since it is possible to save fonts into pdfs in a fashion not requiring the purchase of additional software, we ever so gently chide the producers of this collection on the issue of "strings attached." However, please DO NOT interpret these remarks as anything more than collegial in nature, and do not permit these remarks to detract from what is a really excellent effort.

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Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008

Buddhists throughout the world today dedicate their prayers to Sir Edmund Hillary, who passed away yesterday morning in Auckland, New Zealand. Conquering Mt. Everest was his smallest achievement. His greatest achievement was what came after.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008


Dear Readers:

Before he became ill, Rinpoche was working on several posts. One of these is of particular interest: his comments on remarks by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche treating the subject of respect for digital versions of sacred texts and images. I want to be so careful to point out that Khyentse Rinpoche's remarks are taken out of their original context, and are reproduced here only as a point of departure for further dialogue. I think it is very worthwhile to publish this because of Tenpa Rinpoche's very unique insights and experience.

Khyentse Rinpoche's Remarks:
"Printed versions of sacred texts and images are treated with great respect. They are placed in a high place. Even the dirtiest nomadic Buddhist will pick up a dharmic text that has fallen on the ground. The respect to the sacred texts and images will extend even to viewing them; monks will not even open a text for which they have not received initiation. Somehow digital versions of the same texts and images are not treated with the same respect. They are carelessly strewn everywhere on people's computers, jumpdrives, emails, and on the Internet. The Internet is the worst, since it is a vehicle for introducing the carefully guarded secrets of the Vajrayana to the global marketplace. Just as the onset of the Dark Ages may be slowed but ultimately cannot be stopped, there is probably little hope of doing more than slowing the Internet publication of the Vajrayana secrets."

Tenpa Rinpoche's Comments:
Khyentse Rinpoche is quite correct in raising this topic, and as it happens, this is a topic I have been thinking about for a very long time. In the past, we would print images, mantras, and so forth, and during the course and scope of the printing processes we used at that time, there was an enormous amount of waste. Particularly when we were doing color images, when we would be registering the different colors, you could walk into the shop and see all sorts of distorted images scattered all over the place. Therefore, for a long time I had a special container for "sacred waste," and I used to dispose of this in a particular way.

Then, one day Trungpa Rinpoche came to visit the shop. He saw my special container and remarked, "It seems a little selfish doesn't it?" I understood his thinking very well, because the same thought had already occurred to me.

We did not, in those days, have the good fortune to be born in a Buddhist country. Most of us were not born into Buddhist families. Growing up in the Western countries, we had precious little opportunity to be exposed to Buddhist imagery. Yet, for many of us, the very instant that we came into contact with Buddhist imagery -- in whatever form -- there was an immediate sense of attraction, and connection, and from this seed many of us eventually ripened into a deep commitment to Dharma.

Did you ever travel in a remote country for a long period of time? Sooner or later, maybe you run into some symbol that reminds you of home -- maybe the Coca-Cola sign -- and there is an immediate connection.

In this circumstance, any form of contact with the imagery of Buddhism is useful, beneficial, and in accord not only with the Buddha's teachings, but with the very heart of compassion. Nirmanakaya is unbreakable. If, for example, somebody crumpled up a picture of the Buddha and tossed it into the gutter, perhaps somebody else would find that picture, open it up, and smooth it out, and make it the center of an entirely new way of life for themselves.

Nirmanakaya is powerful. If I show an image of Padmasambhava to an unlettered person, perhaps someone living in primitive conditions, he will not understand anything other than that which he understands; yet, still the image will leave an imprint on his mind that will ripen over time. In time, the thing we might fail to immediately recognize becomes clearer: the image and its place in our lives comes into focus.

So, my idea is that respect for texts and images has to come naturally from the heart. It is a reflection of the nature of our relationship with the sacred; it is in some respects a form of self-respect. I sometimes get letters of criticism and censure from lamas and tulkus around the world saying, "How can you even mention so-and-so in public? How can you publish so-and-so on the Internet? How can you reveal secrets?"

In response, I can only say that there are no secrets in lifeboats. In response, I can only say that one of my life's purposes is to make Buddhist texts and images available to as many people as possible. If I can reach 100 million people I am happy. If I can reach 200 million people I am even happier. In the little houses I have for my rabbits, I have images they can see every day of their lives. I have enormous personal confidence in the emanations of deities that manifest themselves as pictures. Otherwise, all of this is just flickering light.

To be fair, I also get letters of praise and congratulation from lamas and tulkus around the world saying, "Don't stop! Don't listen to anybody who tells you to stop! Do more!" So, you see, we all have different methods of achieving our purposes, just the way the deities have different methods.

I have discussed the imagery of Buddhism with some Western tulkus. These discussions were in the context of their inner experiences, and this illuminates an interesting aspect of the issue. In several cases, the tulkus discussed childhood visions involving Christian imagery. One very prominent lineage holder told me directly -- and has stated in public -- that their earliest visionary experiences were of Christian deities. This is easily explained. The individuals had no exposure to Buddhist imagery, and a great deal of exposure to Christian imagery. When the mind opened to the display of the deity, the mind momentarily enforced a particular view -- we might say a focal view -- on that which was naturally arising. Thus, if the person had been born in Bhutan, they might have seen Tara, but if they were born in Boston, it might be the Virgin Mary.

This is a very difficult, very subtle point for many people to grasp. They will throw up their hands and say, "What? So-and-so Rinpoche saw Jesus? What kind of bullshit is that?"

There is nobody alive today who can tell you what Buddha looked like. The ancient Greeks interpreted Buddha according to their own eyes. The ancient Indians had other interpretations. The Tibetans have their Tibetan ideas. These are cultural imprints. If you talk to people who have pure visions of the deities, there are striking similarities of the initial impressions --- the initial moment the deity appears. Yet, in every case of which I am aware, people who have such visionary experiences will tell you that the artistic depictions bear absolutely no resemblance to what appears. So, these pictures on the paintings, while valid emanations, are just one more aspect of an infinite, ever-changing, multi-faceted display.

The deity is not something separate, so if you respect yourself then of course you respect the deity. If you are lazy, or careless, that is quite a different matter.

If there are images of the deity on your computer's hard drives, that presents an interesting question. When the computer is turned off, is the image still there? Is it there in the form you see when the computer is turned on?

This is actually a great meditation, you know?

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