Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Hill to Die For

"[H]ow do you put a price on a 5000 year old buried city containing multiple monasteries and settlements possibly going back to the Bronze Age, a site at least as significant as the tragically lost Buddhas of Bamiyan?"

That is the question being asked by an important new effort to save, from certain destruction, the most important Buddhist archaeological site in the world: Mes Aynak, in Afganistan.

The effort is mounted by the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH), and I strongly urge everyone to visit their Mes Aynak website, establish links, and widely promulgate notice of their activities.

There is an aspect to this story -- not widely known -- that deserves to be told. Basically, the Chinese paid the Afghan government three billion dollars for rights to mine copper from Mes Aynak. The copper they seek to mine is underneath a 5,000 year old Buddhist monastic complex the size of a city. Evidence suggests that this site may well have some bearing on the story of Padmasambhava's oft-mentioned Copper Colored Mountain.

Meanwhile, as part of its "security program" for Afghanistan, the United States has deployed American soldiers to guard this site on behalf of Chinese interests. The weapons that are killing those American soldiers are being provided to the Taliban by Chinese military intelligence sources. 

As a Buddhist, given the overall importance of this site, Mes Aynak may well be my proverbial "hill to die for." I sincerely doubt it holds the same sanctity for those American soldiers who have died there, in an ugly game of international greed.

Time somebody on the Hill -- in this election year -- starts sweating out the future of Mes Aynak, and saves something that, once lost, can never be replaced.

Please feel free to distribute this post widely.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Catching the Scent

[Field Notes] Maybe it was 1970, or 1971, when I came to visit my Precious Teacher after one or the other eastern misadventure. He took me in the backyard and showed me some things he was doing with stupas and prayer wheels, and we generally passed the time. I told him I was tired. I told him my practice lacked energy. I told him I was stalled.

It was then he told me that he always harbored the wish I would study with Kalu Rinpoche and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche -- individually or both, as the case might be. I was not inspired by running to some other lamas, and I told him so, but he replied that it was "necessary." He also shared the thought that I would probably enjoy easy access to Kalu Rinpoche, but a connection with Urgyen Rinpoche would be more elusive, and problematic.

Indeed, it came to be so. I almost immediately thereafter developed a beneficial relationship with Kalu Rinpoche that lasted up until his death in the spring of 1989. Unfortunately, as of his death in early 1996, I still had not met Urgyen Rinpoche.

My Precious Teacher held Urgyen Rinpoche in the highest possible regard. I know they often corresponded with one another, and when Urgyen Rinpoche passed away, my teacher wrote a moving eulogy. I am deeply sorry I was unable to fullfil my teacher's wish and develop a connection with Urgyen Rinpoche, but sometimes, such barely tangible links disappear like dew after sunrise.

Naturally, as works in English by Urgyan Rinpoche began to appear, I tried whenever possible to make a special read of them. Over time, I came to realize why, in fact, my Precious Teacher thought it "necessary" to study with Urgyan Rinpoche. I found Urgyan Rinpoche's written works a perfectly balanced commentary on my own teacher's oral instruction. When I could sit down and consider them both, at leisure, it became most rewarding in every sense.

Here then, a brief excerpt from Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's as it is, Volume 2, which, in many ways, is as rich yet unvarnished a written exposition of the Dzogchen training experience as you are ever likely to find these days.

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"When we first receive teachings, we usually get an extensive explanation covering all topics of the Dharma, known as the expedient and definitive meaning. As that point we are are introduced to the fact that the definitive meaning is about buddha nature, the essence of mind, which we need to eventually realize. We are given a general layout, an overview, and gradually we hone in on what is of ultimate importance among all the Buddha's teachings. We narrow it down to the 'pointing-out instruction,' through which one is introduced to and is able to recognize this nature of mind, the buddha nature.

"The moment of recognition is like catching the scent.

"A carnivore out hunting needs to first catch the smell of the deer, then he can hunt it down. The pointing-out instruction is for this little carnivore to get the whiff of buddha nature. Once we smell it, we do not have to speculate so much about it anymore. We are finally on track. Most important is to get the whiff of buddha nature. Before that it is all right to spend a lot of time analyzing. Once you get the scent of it, there is no need to fill up your mind with a lot of intellectual speculation.

"What is meant by catching the scent is like this. At some point your guru leans over towards you and says, 'Now we need to speak just between the two of us. When you recognize mind essence, what do you see?' A good disciple would say, 'Honestly, I don't see a thing.' The guru replies, 'Well that is true, that is really how it is. Your nature is empty. But in the moment of recognizing that your mind is empty, are you totally blank and unaware at that point? Are you oblivious?' A good disciple would say, 'No, I am not. I experience what is present..' Then the guru might say, 'Isn't it true that this emptiness and cognizance are a unity; that one always occurs in conjunction with the other?' The disciple would again say, 'That is true.' The guru continues, 'Isn't that moment a vivid state of being awake which is at the same time empty, really without clinging?' In this way, one is gradually introduced to the scent of buddha nature.

"After that, the tracking down of the deer does not need to be imagined anymore, because the scent is already there. You don't have to dream up this empty cognizance any longer. You don't have to make up ideas about how it is. You don't have to indulge in fantasies like those I mentioned earlier, imagining how the buddha nature looks and trying to keep that fantasy constantly in mind. Once we receive the pointing-out instruction and recognize buddha nature, the training is not in meditating in the sense of imagining buddha nature; the training is in not losing track of it, in the sense of not being distracted. We do not have to imagine buddha nature, it is already present. There is no point in trying to make it up. The emptiness that the buddha nature is, is an original emptiness; the cognizance is an original cognizance. The unity of being empty and cognizant is an original unity, isn't it? It is not that we need to create the unity through practice. That fact becomes absolutely clear. Meditation practice is no longer an act of making the mind empty and cognizant, not at all.

"Yet what happens is that we do forget it, we do get distracted. This is when the training comes in. The training is to simply recognize again. We need to acknowledge how it already is. Again we forget and are carried away, because of the coemergent and conceptualizing ignorances. Coemergent ignorance is simply losing track or forgetting, getting distracted. Conceptualizing ignorance occurs when, in the moment you are distracted, you start to make thoughts about what you have wandered off towards. This needs to be eliminated. This twofold ignorance is not someone else's doing; it does not come from outside. The twofold ignorance is your own manifestation, just like your own shadow. It is an expression of the essence itself, but directed outwardly.

"The training is simply in letting habitual fixation gradually fall away, by recognizing again and again. The more we train in this way, the easier it becomes. It is like memorizing, although not exactly the same as this analogy. When I chant the Dusum Sangye supplication a few times, I don't have to think even as much as a hair's tip in order to get from the beginning of it to the end. It comes automatically, because it is already imprinted in the all-ground, the alaya. Similarly, once we become more stable in the recognition, it will last for a while, not deliberately but automatically.

"Because we have never been separate from it for an instant, the nature of mind is not something to meditate on, but to get used to.

"Distraction makes the division between these two states. We need the undistracted nonmeditation. If you chant a prayer by heart, do you have to think about it? That is the idea of automatic. Nondistraction should be automatic, not requiring any deliberate thought. You do not need to congratulate yourself every single time, 'Wow, now I recognize the unity of empty cognizance. Now I recognize it again.' That is a thought, isn't it? If you know this Dusum Sangye chant by heart, once you have said the first line, 'Dusum sangye guru rinpoche,' do you need to think, 'Now, what is that next line? Oh, it is such-and-such.' You don't have to think that at all. When you know a prayer by heart, no thought is necessary to recite it. Rigpa does not require any thought. Once you have grown used to rigpa, it is automatic.

"When a master teaches his students the direct knowing of buddha nature, it is the same as introducing a carnivore to the scent of the deer. Once you get the scent, then you have it. The scent is there. You have gotten the scent of the dharmakaya; there is no thing to see. You have gotten the scent of the sambhogakaya; while there is no thing to see, there is still knowing. Finally, you have gotten the scent of nirmanakaya, that these two are indivisible. Just keep on sniffing it, like tracking down prey in the mountains.

"It's quite wonderful, isn't it? It is through this path that we can attain buddhahood."

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Monday, September 03, 2012

Ogyen Tulku Nominated for Award

Our beloved friend, Ninth Ogyen Tulku's seven CD set of recordings has been nominated for Taiwan's Best Religious Music Award for 2012 -- something like a Grammy, if the Grammy had a Buddhist music category.

This is a wonderful set. As we've mentioned before, Rinpoche has a beautiful voice and the mantras are recited with absolute perfection. This set can be used to teach yourself different smoke offerings, and can be used as an all-day sound offering with a variety of full-length mantra recordings such as Seven Line Prayer, Kurukulle Mantra, Mani Mantra, Vajra Guru Mantra, and others. This is not the annoying mantra set to music one usually hears, but, like Lama Gyurme's recordings, this is music set to mantra. There is a difference.

We want to encourage all of our readers to purchase this set, which is being offered at a promotional price for a short time. You can obtain further details from this website.

Ogyen Tulku's center in Taiwan is thriving these days, and we extend very best wishes to him and all members of his center.

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