Rinchen Terdzö (2)
The Life Of Chogyur Lingpa by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche Born In Tibet by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche Blazing Splendor by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche Journey Without Goal by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche The Lion’s Roar: An Introduction To Tantra by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche For those who have attended vajrayana seminary, the transcripts with general information most related to the Rinchen Terdzö are the years: 1973, 1974, 1975, 1996, 1999, and 2000. Patricia1 and I arrived in New Delhi at five o’clock in the morning, well rested, and surprisingly awake after the eight-hour flight from London. Neither of us had slept more than six hours in two days. We had the strange luck to be upgraded to first class for no apparent reason and so the flight from London to New Delhi had been quite enjoyable.
After making it through passport control with a large crowd of fellow travelers—tall and strong Sikh men with thick blue turbans, Indian women in saris or in t-shirts and jeans, devout Muslim men with trimmed beards and proper pants and tunics—we eventually located the last of our bags. Two of our suitcases had found their way from the carousel to rows of standing luggage without our knowing. We changed money at a 24-hour exchange in the airport and received an inch thick stack of 100 rupee notes stapled together into a block. I asked one of the tellers what would be a good tip to give someone asking to wheel our bags to the car. With a somewhat mischievous smile, the teller recommended 100 rupees. That would be about two dollars. He added that 50 rupees were enough to get a good cup of tea. 1 Patricia Kirigin is a member of the Nalanda Translation Committee and my girlfriend. We live in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Since we had asked our bed and breakfast, Likir House, to send a car to the airport, we were on the road in remarkably good time. As we drove through the early morning traffic toward the city I remarked, “They don’t know how good they’ve got it,” meaning people in the West who’ve never been to places like Delhi. It was shocking to enter an area of pollution so intense that you could feel dust on your teeth within minutes of getting off the plane, even indoors. The dust, electric lights over the highway, and pre-dawn fog created a yellowed atmosphere where light seemed to hang physically in the air.
On the highway into the city, we saw all sorts of new and used vehicles driving alongside men wheeling pushcarts loaded high with long bamboo poles. Foot traffic on the highway blacktop also included tribal women dressed in worn-out colored shawls and thick silver ankle bracelets. Seemingly everywhere there was dirt, garbage, and a weird mixture of poverty and rampant advertising surrounding new and decaying modern buildings that were often covered with a thin layer of powder.
The sense of chaos was increased by Asia’s freeform driving style, one that communicates oncoming turns by beeping and small swerves to indicate one's future intentions. After settling into our room at the Likir House, we were surprised to meet our friend Tharpa Chödron, a long-time student of the Vidyadhara and seasoned Asia traveler. She had been staying at the guesthouse for a few days and was trying to get a room for the wonderful thangka painter, Noedup Rongae. During breakfast, Tharpa and some students of Lama Palden (an excellent Western teacher from the Bay Area) filled us in on the main dharmic event of the week in Delhi, His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche’s teachings on the Samantabhadra prayer.
Likir House is in a relatively quiet neighborhood whose backstreets bustle with westernstyle shops, typical Indian businesses, and street bazaars. On the more commercial avenues, it was possible to find establishments like mountain bike stores near Western-style coffee bars, and second-hand mobile phone dealers next to ma-and-pa tailor shops. Here and there we saw corn-roasting street vendors, beggar girls ready to pull on our sleeves, and curious schoolchildren eager to ask, “Hello, where are you from?” We were told it was a slow day because of an oncoming national election. After a nap, we walked around the neighborhood and ordered some makhani dhal, nan, palak panir, and aloo gobi from a nearby hotel.
Our friends from Halifax, Anky Aarts and Kristine McCutcheon, arrived at the Likir House late last night. The four of us had arranged to travel the rest of the way to the Rinchen Terdzö together, and it was nice to have things finally falling into place. We enjoyed breakfast with Noedup Rongae, his nephew, and a monk who’d come down with them from Kullu, a Himalayan town many hours’ drive north of Delhi. Noedup is one of the great treasures in the Shambhala community. His paintings are among the finest contemporary thangkas I have ever seen. There is life, dignity, and detail to everything Noedup paints.
His understanding of dharma together with his seamless devotion to the Vidyadhara and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is humbling and inspiring. The reason Noedup made the long journey to Delhi was to show Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche the progress on the Shambhala lineage tree thangka. After coffee, toast, and omelets, we went up to Noedup’s room adjacent to the rooftop terrace. He unfurled the six-foot wide sketch of the thangka across two beds. It turned out to be only the top half of the image because the lower half of the sketches remained in Kullu. It was affixed to a piece of plywood too large to travel with. The finished thangka will be six feet wide and nine feet tall. A lineage tree depicts all the teachers and deities of a tradition in a tree or in the sky surrounding a central figure that is the embodiment of them all.
In the center of the Shambhala lineage tree is the Primordial Rigden, the embodiment of the Great Eastern Sun, the full manifestation of our inherent wisdom. The Primordial Rigden in the center of Noedup’s sketch was regal, dignified, and peaceful. Surrounding him were many, many deities, notably all the kings and queens of Shambhala seated in pairs. In the sky above the tree were the great teachers of India and Tibet like Padmasambhava, Marpa, and Yeshe Tsogyal, and the great ancestral rulers such as the Indian Dharmaraja Ashoka and the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen. Below the Primordial Rigden, in the section that remained in Kullu, were the yidams, or meditation deities, and the deities that protect the teachings. Below them, at the very base of the tree, Asian and Western students, along with gods and animals, prostrated and paid homage to the Primordial Rigden and the lineage. The balance of male and female teachers and deities in the assembly was striking.
It was the most unified blend of masculine and feminine I’ve ever seen in a lineage thangka. Noedup told us about coincidences that were pushing the thangka forward and giving him the sense that no matter what, this thangka must be finished. One coincidence was the fact that he was able to get three of the most in-demand artists from Tibet to work on the preliminary sketches with him. He explained that because they were so sought after all over Asia it was hard to get their help on any project. However, although they’d planned to stay only a week with Noedup, they became so inspired by the Shambhala lineage tree that they extended their visit to three months in order to sketch the full thangka with him. Another coincidence concerned a series of individual thangkas of the Rigden Kings made by the 8th Tai Situ Chökyi Jungne (1700-1774).
These paintings were thought to be among the most authoritative images of the Rigdens, but they were believed lost during the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Noedup possessed a set of instructions on how to paint the images, but he had never seen the paintings themselves. The instructions were written by the Nyingma master, Rigdzin Kathok Tsewang Norbu (1698-1775), who was a guru of Tai Situ Chökyi Jungne, but questions remained about the specific visual details that the words of the instructions could not express. Noedup mentioned this dilemma to His Holiness 17th Karmapa who surprised Noedup with professional photos of the thangkas, which had only recently emerged from hiding in Tibet. Noedup was able to share the instructional text with the Karmapa, a text that the Karmapa had never seen before.
After breakfast with Noedup, we went to a small, middle-class shopping district a kilometer or two from the hotel. We rode there in a tuk-tuk, a natural gas powered trike with room for three people to sit hip to hip in a canvas-covered booth slightly wider than a loveseat. Tuktuks are all over Delhi, mixing freely with the cars, trucks, motorcycles, horse carts, elephants, busses, and the rest of the undulating mass of self-monitoring movement that stretches itself over every street and alley in the city. At each major traffic light we were invited to purchase things like fistfuls of car-lighter cell phone chargers or copies of Vogue magazine.
One boy pushed his arms over the railing of the windowless tuk-tuk and placed plastic-wrapped copies of current best sellers in our laps. We silently shook our heads as he dropped his asking price by seventy-five percent. This determined, bright-eyed salesman caught up to us at the next traffic light and resumed his pitch, this time touching the corner of a book to my heart over and over again. The shopping trip had the flavor of being on a low-end amusement park—sort of fun and slightly out of sync. It brought a heighted sense of illusion and improbability to our journey.
As we turned on one street, we noticed a family of four relaxedly riding beside us on a 150 cc motorcycle. The mother sat sidesaddle as if watching TV. A toddler was sandwiched her and the father, who was driving. In front of him sat a baby, perched upright on the gas tank. We purchased supplies like a hot water kettle and luggage locks at a cluster of shops that formed an impromptu mall. Through a gap in a row of billboards sandwiched between two small office buildings, we spotted a group of women wearing orange and purple saris and dirty, sparkle-fringed headscarves. They were in a deep, wide ditch, digging the foundation of a new building by hand. The brown sandy earth was being hauled out of the lot with the help of an army of pack-laden donkeys. Besides donkeys, we sighted an elephant, horses, various dogs, cows, squirrels, pigeons, hawks, and a fat nursing dachshund during our stay in Delhi.
We flew to Bhubaneswar today. At the airport we discovered we were on the same flight as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the Sakyong Wangmo, Semo Pede, Lama Gyurme Dorje (the Sakyong’s half-brother), Kaling (the Sakyong Wangmo’s friend and kusung), and the rest of the group coming from Shambhala to attend the entire event—kusungs Mark Whaley, Christoph Schönherr, Esther Fraund, and Craig Mollins, and the machen (head cook) Marvin Robinson. The flight was peaceful and the food was great. Airlines in India generally serve really good food. This time it was curries, steaming chapattis, white rice, and makhani dhal.
The Sakyong, Sakyong Wangmo, and their entourage were greeted at the Bhubaneswar airport by Jigme Rinpoche, along with other members of the Ripa family and representatives from Rigön Thupten Mindroling. Many khatas, smiles, hugs, and laughter were exchanged at baggage claim. After the luggage had been properly stowed in a line of cars and jeeps, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche, and their party left in a motorcade to make the drive halfway to monastery before nightfall. Anky, Kristine, Patricia, and I found a couple taxis and drove into the city for the night.
We checked in the Ginger Hotel, which had been highly recommended by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The rooms were very clean, mosquitoless, and had a spare, Northern European appeal. The Ginger Hotel had a modest coffee shop that offered lattes for about a dollar, but no substantial food. So we visited the hotel next door. They offered a delicious dinner menu. This included a complementary serving of ice cream, which was greatly appreciated after the heat we encountered on the tarmac, 31 Celsius (87 Fahrenheit). After dinner, we sorted through the snacks and provisions that Kristine had purchased for everyone while she was shopping in the city during the afternoon.
Today we drove from Bhubaneswar to the monastery, Rigön Thupten Mindroling. It was a long drive that lasted seven hours, from mid-morning until after dark. It started with our driver being late. Even after he arrived, he was hard to locate at the busy hotel because he spoke no English. When we finally met the driver, his mobile phone malfunctioned and prevented him from answering any calls.
By that point his boss had started frantically telephoning him, trying to put him in touch with us. A flurry of calls jingled in and out of his phone while Kristine, Anky, Patricia, two hotel clerks, and I jammed a patchwork of baggage into the back of the Tata Sumo truck that would take us southward. Bhubaneswar is a typical mid-sized Indian city filled with people and businesses pressed together into a colorful mosaic at every downtown corner. We were soon on the highway headed south, passing truck stops thick with cheap hotels, stone carving businesses, and roadside Hindu temples.
One temple had a twelve-foot high entry archway that was shaped like the mouth of a wrathful, blue-faced god, a man with a black moustache, sharp white teeth, and bulging eyes. Palm trees and simple farms with high rounded piles of hay soon predominated the view on either side of the highway. The air was hot and hazy, but not as densely polluted as it was in Delhi. The farms in this region were unlike their counterparts in North America’s mid-West. All the farmland we saw was meticulously planted, tended, and harvested by hand. There was no farm equipment anywhere in sight.
Women in dirty saris and men in sleeveless shirts squatted and worked in the hot sun. People carried bundles of straw on their heads, and the active highway lanes were sometimes used for drying grain. As we moved further south, short steep hills jutted up amidst the fields, towns, and tiny villages. No hill was more than five hundred feet high; most were well-vegetated humps, shaped like walnut halves rising here and there in the distance on either side of the highway. White sea birds, like small egrets, occasionally flew up from the dark marshes, and sometimes perched themselves on the backs of domesticated black water buffalos that had found their way into cool streams or muddy fields near the road.
At first, the highways were flat and smooth. They soon gave way to more rough and Photograph by Benny Fong battered blacktop. By Berampur, the last major town on the way to the monastery, the road became unpredictable with potholes and sections of dirt. Even on the paved roads, cars and trucks sometimes drove towards us on our own side of the highway even though the opposite lane seemed to be open. Sometimes there was only one dirt lane and the occasional oncoming vehicle pulled aside for us to get by.
At the very end of the afternoon we entered Chandragiri district, somewhere inside of which was the monastery and five Tibetan camps. Kristine, who had been at the Indian wedding of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo, said we were starting to get close because we had finally started driving up the low ridgeline that had supplanted the round hills to the west. At one point, I noticed we were driving stretches without seeing people or domestic animals—an oddity in India. By then, the road was mostly unpaved and surrounded by patches of forest. Because our location was far from city or town, and because it was getting dark, our driver began regularly asking people for directions. One never wants to get lost in India, especially at night in an unfamiliar region.
He was slightly freaked out. After being waved at by two Tibetan kids on a motorcycle, we knew we were close. We soon entered the first of the five Tibetan camps and were given directions to the monastery. A few people emphatically pointed the driver onto a dirt road that took us through a five-minute stretch of brush that rose high above our line of vision. This made the driver even more anxious, but we got to the monastery ten minutes later and learned we’d been sent on the short cut. It was dark when finally we rolled into a small parking lot by the monastery. Sonam Palmo, a kind and elegant Tibetan woman in a grey chuba, was waiting to greet us. She was in charge of transportation and hospitality for Western guests. A troop of red-robed, teen-aged monks hauled our baggage into the monastery guesthouse. Soon we were enjoying rice, warm dhal, and panir for dinner, and puzzling over how safe it was to eat the hot green chilies. Pema, a cook from a Tibetan camp in North India, remarked that this place was ‘remote’.
Rigön Thupten Mindroling sits on a plateau dotted with steeply rounded, rocky green hills. As you enter the main monastery compound, you walk into a courtyard nearly the size of a city block. The courtyard is framed on either side by two-story residential buildings, white with red trim. To the right and left are beautiful little gardens of hand-trimmed grass, flowers, and small trees. Ahead, in front of the new main temple, there is a large square courtyard used for lama dances and other public events. The second floor of the monastic residences has a running balcony, which gives access to its long rows of bedrooms.
Many of the Western students—Ripa and Shambhala sangha members—were housed in the rooms at the far end of the courtyard facing the monastery. These rooms were designated a hostel and were separated from the monastery for the duration of the Rinchen Terdzö. Kristine, Anky, Patricia, and I went pay a visit to His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche this the morning. After offering him khatas, we chatted for a few minutes. His Eminence was very well, jovial, and warm. Earlier we’d met the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo in the main monastery courtyard.
They’d come from their suite at the Ripa Ladrang (the Ripa family compound near the monastery), in order to see how the preparations for the Rinchen Terdzö were proceeding. Later in the afternoon Kristine, Anky, Patricia, and I had tea with Kaling, the Sakyong Wangmo’s good friend and attendant. Her family compound was in a cool grove of trees down the street from the Ripa Ladrang. Several of Kaling’s relatives had arrived recently, and had travelled a day or more’s journey from other parts of India to attend the Rinchen Terdzö. As we sat down for tea, some of Kaling’s family went to visit a stupa in a nearby camp—a mini pilgrimage before the main event began. After tea we returned to the guesthouse to unpack and prepare for the start of the program.
Anywhere we went today, there was activity in preparation for the Rinchen Terdzö. Monks bustled around with all manner of objects, from small piles of construction materials to enormous brocade couches. It had the feel of the start of a major program at a center in the West, only a lot bigger. During the day, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to use the satellite internet antenna that would send the blog to readers in the West and the East.
After the blog was over I discovered we had followers on every continent except Antarctica. In the morning, Patricia and I met with the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo at their suite in the Ripa Ladrang. The Sakyong was staying there until the dignitaries’ rooms in the main temple were ready. Later in the day, we enjoyed a long chat with Jigme Rinpoche, who gave a wonderful overview of the Rinchen Terdzö including more information about the Vidyadhara. Contents of these and other interviews appear later in this book.
The mahayoga empowerments were divided in two major parts, called the tantra section and the sadhana section. The divisions of the tantra section and sadhana section come from the main divisions of the kama mahayoga teachings that the mahayoga termas are connected with. Termas, as revitalizations of vajrayana practice, connect with elements in the Indian vajrayana tradition.
The tantra section termas are connected to the practices and teachings drawn from the mahayoga tantras that form the basis of vajrayana study and practice in the Nyingma. The tantras are the root texts of the Indian vajrayana tradition. The sadhana section termas are related to the Eight Logos, the main group of Indian sadhanas that are practiced in the Nyingma mahayoga tradition. The tantra section of the mahayoga was short and lasted about five days; the sadhana section lasted two and a half months. Each section of the Rinchen Terdzö will be described over the course of the empowerments.
When the Westerners arrived at the monastery for the formal opening of the Rinchen Terdzö this afternoon, they found they had their own section on the left side of the room, directly in front of the shrine that had been set up specifically for the abhishekas.
We were remarkably close to the action. Behind the shrine, running the entire width of the room, was a wide black marble stage. In the center of the stage stood Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s high throne. This was the seat from which His Eminence bestowed the empowerments over the next three months. To the right of that, facing His Eminence was the Sakyong’s seat, a very low throne. Behind the Sakyong’s place on the stage was the seating for the Ripa family already in Orissa: Jigme Rinpoche, Lhunpo Rinpoche, the Sakyong Wangmo, His Eminence’s wife, Khandro Chime, the Semos (the daughters of His Eminence), Lhunpo Rinpoche’s wife, (also called Khandro Chime), Tulku Karma Shedrup (His Eminence’s brother), and some of the Ripa family cousins.
Behind Namkha Drimed Rinpoche stood a towering rupa (statue) of Buddha Shakyamuni, 10 times bigger than life. To the Buddha’s left stood white Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of compassion, in the form that has a thousand arms and an eye gazing out from each palm. To Shakyamuni’s right sat a huge, gold skinned statue of Padmasambhava. His Eminence entered the room with a procession of gyalings, and was followed by the Sakyong and the rest the dignitaries. Then His Eminence sat down and gave a brief explanation of the lineage of transmission of the Rinchen Terdzö from Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye to himself. He spoke about the auspiciousness of the situation for the monastic and lay community, and said it was extremely good fortune that the monastery was about to open and at the same time it was hosting the Rinchen Terdzö, the collection of all the main termas in the Nyingma lineage.
For a Nyingma monastery to have the Rinchen Terdzö be the first event in its new main shrine room is an extraordinary blessing. After the traditional offerings and request for teachings, the abhishekas started immediately and we were in the first major section of the collection, the mahayoga, almost without realizing it. There were two empowerments—or rather, one and a half – bestowed after the opening talk. The first was an empowerment of Vajrasattva, who is known as the embodiment of all deities, all the buddhas.
Minling Terchen, the very influential teacher and prolific tertön, discovered the terma for this particular Vajrasattva empowerment. In the 17th century, he and his brother, Lochen Dharma Shri, assembled the two-volume collection of termas called The Wish-Fulfilling Vase that became the seed for the Rinchen Terdzö. Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye fittingly chose this empowerment this empowerment to commence the Rinchen Terdzö. The ‘half abhisheka’ was a preliminary empowerment for a peaceful and wrathful deity practice by Karma Lingpa.
Karma Lingpa is famous in the West for his book, The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. A preliminary empowerment is a feature of some elaborate abhishekas. Often it will happen one day with the main empowerment rituals following on the next day. Preliminary empowerments focus on renewing vows, creating harmonious conditions for receiving empowerments, and clearing away obstacles. Often one is asked to look at one’s dreams for auspicious signs the night before the main empowerment is given. In addition to the empowerments today, His Eminence read several important instructions (Tib. tri) on such topics as Vajrasattva, completion stage meditation, and the practices of luminosity, dream, and chöd. All of the tris were authored by Minling Terchen and Lochen Dharma Shri.
Today’s empowerments were related to the peaceful and wrathful deities. The cycle of 42 peaceful and 58 wrathful deities practice is called Shitro (peaceful-wrathful) in Tibetan. While Shitro is a practice in itself, the 100 Shitro deities are all embodied in Vajrasattva and correspond to the hundred syllables of the long Vajrasattva mantra. The Shitro deities are also a major element in the Nyingma root tantra, the Guhyagarbha. Many commentaries are devoted to bringing out the meaning of this tantra, and the termas that are related to this tantra are the main focus of the tantra section.
Jamgön Mipham Gyatso (1846-1912) wrote a commentary on Guhyagarbha now translated English under the title, Luminous Essence, A Guide To The Guhyagarbha Tantra. Three of today’s Shitro empowerments were based on the revelations of Karma Lingpa. Karma Lingpa was born in the first half of the 14th century, the child of an accomplished Nyingma master. He started to reveal termas about the peaceful and wrathful deities when he was fifteen years old. Today’s final empowerment was based on the revelations of a Bön tertön, Trangpo Sherab Öser.
Karma Lingpa’s most famous text, The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, is more properly titled, The Great Liberation By Hearing During The Intermediate State. “Intermediate state” is the English for the Tibetan word bardo and here it refers specifically to the time when one’s life is ending. The Tibetan Book Of The Dead is chiefly a series of instructions to be read to someone who is dying in order to help him or her relate to the experience of death in a clear, relaxed, and open state of mind. Having a relaxed mind at the time of death is very important.
The peaceful and wrathful deities are a big part of the experience of dying. It is taught that at the time of death, the mind and body separate and one has internal visions or hallucinations. These visions are the deities. They manifest in the mind, but they are not real. The visions appear at first as peaceful and kind. Later the visions appear in more ferocious and challenging forms. The important point here is that all the deities arise from one’s mind, not from outside. If one is confident in this at the time of death, then the peaceful and wrathful appearances become self-liberated—they dissolve into the mind from which they came. If one has trained well in recognizing the self-liberation of thoughts into the mind from which they came, one can attain enlightenment at the time of death. The shrine room is huge. After a day of feeling totally overwhelmed I am starting to look around from my seat in the sea of monks. I can’t tell you how ornate the space is; there is just so much color and symbolism.
Photos and videos will convey something of how alive the wall-to-wall frescos are, how vivid the huge statues make this space. Because the main temple has just been completed, everything sparkles and shines, and because Western construction methods have made the galleries and windows wide and open, there is lots of light. As I relax, the noise in the shrine room is what gets me. The front section of the assembly—the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche, and the rest of the Ripa family on the stage; the front row of distinguished teachers, yogis, khenpos, and monastic officials; the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the local community leaders seated near the right side entry to the temple; the Westerners in their section on the other side of the room; and the older monks in between—all the front half of the shrine room is relatively silent.
But the back half of the room—from the younger members of the four hundred monastics on back to where many lay people sit in the shrine room and out on the veranda where people camp on rugs with their children—all of that is a constant ocean of sound. The noise of conversation, kids squealing, the occasional tin cup being dropped on the marble floor by a then startled young monk—are all are taken in stride, thanks to an especially good sound system. The amplifiers boom out Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s powerful speech, punctuated occasionally by drums and the unearthly, shrill harmonies of gyalings, the Tibetan trumpets. It is more than most of us would want to deal with in the West during a talk, empowerment, or dathün. However, the front rows are silent and focused, as are the older monks and more serious lay practitioners dotted throughout the crowd.
This morning we started the reading transmissions. It was a bit unexpected because last night there was an announcement that would be an empowerment this morning. The shrine room was full at 6:30 A.M. although the crowd appeared to have thinned out slightly from last night. As it turned out, there was no abhisheka, and instead Lhunpo Rinpoche began the lung. His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche entered the room as we waited for the lung to begin.
Instead of taking his seat on the throne center stage, he went off to the right side of the room, behind a large red curtain that now hung in front of the empowerment shrine. Every morning, His Eminence performed all the preliminary liturgies for the empowerments he bestowed in the afternoon. Soon after His Eminence disappeared behind the curtain, Lhunpo Rinpoche took his own place on a low throne placed at the front of the stage, After a brief talk, he began the reading transmissions. Lhunpo Rinpoche’s remarks included an explanation of the three oral lineages of the reading transmission that he received. One of them came from Tenga Rinpoche who gave the lung many years ago when the previous Kalu Rinpoche was bestowing the Rinchen Terdzö. Most mornings I worked on the blog, but it seemed best to attend the first day of the reading transmissions to get the flavor of things. At the start of the session, the Sakyong Wangmo offered a mandala on behalf of everyone in the assembly.
A mandala offering is symbolic offering of one’s whole world. It is created as a visualization in the mind while one simultaneously creates a symbolic arrangement of rice during the recitation of the visualization liturgy. The liturgy describes all of the very best things one could offer in order receive the teachings. Today’s lungs contained histories of Padmasambhava and all the tertöns in the Rinchen Terdzö. Padmasambhava, who firmly established Buddhism in Tibet through his incredible power and insight, continues to inspire many practitioners today, particularly Tibetans. Without him, these teachings and Tibetan culture would not have survived to the present day. The Rinchen Terdzö is a kind of celebration of Padmasambhava and all the termas as well as bringing the teachings forward into the present moment. Lhunpo Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
[This was article was the first piece of writing from a distinguished Shambhala or Ripa sangha member. Acharya Larry Mermelstein is an early student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the director of the Nalanda Translation Committee in Halifax, Nova Scotia.] Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the Vidyadhara’s close teachers from Tibet, republished the entire Rinchen Terdzö anthology sometime in the 1970s, adding to it somewhat, I believe. He kindly gave a copy of this to the Vidyadhara. Proper cloth wrappings and text labels were sewn for each volume, and Lama Ugyen Shenpen carefully reordered the 111 volumes into the more traditional 63-volume arrangement in order to facilitate the use of its index.
Lama Ugyen was very familiar with these texts, as it had been his job to prepare the texts needed each day for his guru, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, during the six-month-long empowerment ceremonies he conferred in Asia, which he did on several occasions. Sometime after all the texts had been wrapped and shelved nicely in a specially constructed lacquer cabinet in A-Suite, in the sitting room next to his personal office, I remember Rinpoche commenting about how excited he was to have these books so close to him. He exuded what seemed to be a very visceral feeling of gratitude and deep devotion to these particular teachings. Whenever the Vidyadhara left his home in Boulder to teach the three-month Seminary program, he always wanted us to bring the entire Rinchen Terdzö, along with 30-40 other volumes of his Tibetan library, to the Seminary. These filled several large trunks. Simply put, he wanted this collection near to him at all times possible.
At the start of the third day of the empowerments, the room seemed more crowded. One of the yogis from the front row, a lama in his 40’s with a black ponytail, had brought several young nuns and some lay people with him to receive a blessing from His Eminence. A train of red-robed nuns and traditionally dressed lay practitioners stood by the left near the front of the room. The nuns shyly held khatas (traditional white offering scarves) to be presented when they met Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. The entire group was visibly nervous about going up to the shrine in front of such a huge assembly before the start of the empowerments.
A clear wind of relief swept through them when they learned they had to wait until the four o’clock tea break to make their offerings. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon tea was a big production. His Eminence and the rest of the dignitaries were served first. Immediately afterward, dozens of young monks surged through the room to serve the rest of us from huge metal kettles that made the smaller monks hunch with the weight of the liquid. Everyone brought his or her own teacup to the empowerments. The monks moved quickly and one-pointedly through the crowd and the tea got served to 800 of us within ten minutes. On the very first day of the Rinchen Terdzö, the tea was the famous Tibetan butter tea— tea with butter and salt.
This beverage is gladly welcomed at high altitudes, but it is a bit strange to drink in 80-degree heat. However, the cook went light on the butter. Yesterday we had sweet chai. The Westerners were hoping chai would be served throughout the Rinchen Terdzö, but today we switched back to butter tea, which left a few uncomfortable stomachs. Tea usually included a treat, often a yellow bread roll, slightly sweet like cake, but shaped like an uncut hamburger bun. Yesterday, the bun had a dash of sugared mustard jam slipped inside it.
A second wave of monks, working in pairs, followed the tea monks and handed the buns out from big baskets. Then, everyone waited for Namkha Drimed to pause the activities so that we could perform a brief offering chant before having the tea. It was at this point that the little troupe of nuns and lay people got to make their connection with His Eminence. They each went up to his throne with a khata and a small envelope containing a gift of some money. As I mentioned in the introduction, this style of offering seems to be about linking oneself with virtuous activity. Everyone in the group appeared to be happy after their brief visit with Namkha Drimed Rinpoche; it was a relief for the vicarious onlookers to see the group finally get their moment.
A regular feature of teatime was the formal reading of the sponsors of the tea offering. The din in the room dropped down a bit at this point so people could pay more attention to what others in the community were wishing for, who was being specifically practiced for the benefit of, and so on. Traditional aspiration prayers made by the assembly on behalf of the sponsors would then follow this. In the first days of the empowerments, the tea sponsorship and practice requests seemed to come in turn from the representatives of each of the five Tibetan camps. A little group would walk to a standing microphone facing His Eminence to read a personal aspiration for the longevity of His Eminence and good wishes for the Rinchen Terdzö. Them, the assembly would do its short practice. Finally, the donors would weave through the crowd and offer each member of the monastic assembly a few rupees as a gift.
Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche gave the following overview of the meaning and purpose of terma during an interview at the start of the Rinchen Terdzö. Jigme Rinpoche: To the Shambhala community the Rinchen Terdzö is a fairly unknown area. To the larger public in Asia the nature of this kind of large volume of empowerments is a fairly unknown area as well. They generally consider such empowerments as the Rinchen Terdzö to be something very important. But even though everybody sees it in terms of being an enormous source of blessings, not so many people are actually informed or even aware of the basic details.
I think what you need first is a brief overall history of the origination of the Rinchen Terdzö. And that brings up the subject of kama and terma. Kama and terma are the two major transmissions as far as the Old School, the Nyingma School, is concerned. Every part of the tantric lineage is rooted in the kama first. Terma is drawn from the kama teachings. The termas are extracted [from the kama, and then] rewritten, recomposed, and done in a manner that is fitting for a particular time, a particular situation. So, the source of the terma teachings is basically the kama.
Kama is where all the root tantras start. In the Nyingma lineage we have the three major modes of transmission, which are the gyalwa gong gyu, enlightened mind-tomind transmission, the rigdzin dak gyu, the vidyadharas’ way of transmission through symbol, and the gangzak nyan gyu meaning person-to-person verbal transmission. These are the three modes of transmission. So kama is transmitted in that style. Every major part of the root tantras is contained with it. Terma is made in Tibet. Terma is a true local product of Tibet. Kama comes all the way from India and goes all the way back to the dharmakaya. Terma is especially related to the life and work of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche. The reason he brought the terma teachings into existence is mainly because he saw the events that were going to unfold in Tibet in the future. He saw that the kama teachings would no longer be secure because, first, it’s a very long time so there is always the possibility of distortions somewhere. Second, [he saw that] due to the general disintegration of elements [the kama teachings might degenerate].
Even though a lot of practice would unfold that was constant, particularly in Tibet, Guru Rinpoche foresaw that the dharma would come under heavy destruction. There would be moments when the kama teachings would be directly affected. In order to save the kama teachings, Guru Rinpoche drew out the essence of the kama [and made the termas). Another reason he did this is because the kama is very elaborate. It sometimes has highly complicated rituals because it’s coming from a long way back in time. So, he extracted and drew out the essential part of the kama. Then he made it into what is known as terma. Therefore, the termas are all based on the kama teachings, particularly timed in a way that they will be revealed when the right time came. This is how terma teachings flourish—beginning in history with the 108 great tertöns and thousands of minor tertöns.
These terma renewed, gave life to, the actual essential part of the kama teaching so that they were not distorted, not retouched by any person. The termas have a direct link to the source in terms of closeness of the lineage. Here we are talking about the tertön, whoever it may be. The tertön can be a present, living tertön of this century, but he is directly linked to Padmasambhava. So it cuts through all possible paths of destruction. This is why now is the time for terma. And this is why terma is so precious, so important. We do still have kama teachings continuing, but not in their fullest form. We still have the kama form of ritual practice being preserved in certain monasteries, but the majority is now practicing terma.
The empowerments and practice instructions of the Rinchen Terdzö are actually part of the third of three sections of the overall arrangement of the collections. The two short preceding sections are the section on history, which is the life stories of the tertöns and so on, and the technical instructions on how to set up and perform the Rinchen Terdzö. The third section is called ‘The Actual Instructions Section’ and forms the bulk of the collection. You can find outlines for the Rinchen Terdzö in the back of Richard Baron’s translation of Jamgön Kongtrül’s autobiography, in the back of Tulku Thondup’s Hidden Teachings Of Tibet, and in the appendix of this book.
There are three parts to The Actual Instructions Section. They are called the development stage, the scriptural transmission, and the direct transmission. These three correspond to the three yanas of mahayoga, anuyoga, and atiyoga, the three uppermost stages of the vajrayana path, also known as the three inner tantras. These three yogas are progressive presentations of mind and meditation, with each one being more subtle and direct than the previous one. The mahayoga section contains most of the major sadhana practices in the Rinchen Terdzö.
Although each of the three inner tantras contains aspects of the other two, mahayoga is the one that concentrates the most on visualization practice, rituals, and so forth. Of the two major divisions of mahayoga, the tantra section and the sadhana section, the tantra section takes up only 3 of the 111 volumes of the Rinchen Terdzö. Its practices concentrate on the paths of means and liberation. The path of means emphasizes arduous inner yogas similar to the famous Six Yogas of Naropa. The path of liberation emphasizes understanding, contemplating, and meditating on the view. The volumes of the sadhana section fill up most of the Rinchen Terdzö. While elements of the paths of means and liberation are part of the practices in the sadhana section, it is divided according to the different types of deities that one visualizes.
Today we received four different empowerments after receiving a final section of a peaceful guru abhisheka that we started yesterday. The first new empowerment was for a wrathful guru practice, a meditation on the form of the teacher in a wrathful manifestation. Then we received an empowerment of Mahakarunikaya, a form of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, called The Body of Great Compassion. Sometimes this name refers to the form of Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms, a thousand eyes, and eleven heads. This is the form of Avalokiteshvara that is one of the three main images in the temple. The last two empowerments we received today were for Hayagriva, the wrathful form of Avalokiteshvara, and Vajravarahi, a wrathful embodiment of wisdom in female form.
All of today’s empowerments plus the one we finished from yesterday came from The One Mind Of The Siddhas, a terma cycle discovered by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. During a recent interview, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche suggested several ways for people to make a practice connection with the Rinchen Terdzö. He stressed that it really depended on the time we had, saying that it might be different for someone at a practice center as opposed to someone in New York City. Here are the Sakyong’s recommendations: There are certain practices people can do to connect. They could do Werma, the Gesar practice, or Magyal Pomra [composed for lifetime members of the Dorje Kasung).
Those would be directly connected. Another practice that could be done is the Sadhana of Luminosity because that has Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal, and Ekajati. For others, it may be a good time for them to read up, study the suggested readings. It’s a good way to come along. In order to work with obstacles, one could be do a protector chant and dedicate it so that things go well. One can do that kind of very simple practice. It depends on how much time people have.” For vajrayana students, the Sakyong also recommended The Blazing Guru. Acharyas can give the lung for this short guru yoga written by the Sakyong.
It seems to me that the Rinchen Terdzö was so important to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche because he was able to immerse himself deeply in the instructions and practices of the termas and pure visions for months at a time. The Rinchen Terdzö is like a huge family tree that enables one to meet the essence of all one’s ancestors. It must be particularly meaningful for a tertön to receive it. During an interview last week, the Sakyong pointed out that the Vidyadhara was involved with the Rinchen Terdzö for a large portion of his life in Tibet, about two years. There are times I have been looking at Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and seeing this event as a window into the life of the Vidyadhara and the many, many teachers before him. We nearly finished the empowerments connected with the tantra section this afternoon.
Today’s empowerments were mainly for Shitro practices, although some empowerments were for branch practices (such as protectors) probably related to Vajrasattva and the hundred peaceful and wrathful deities. The morning reading transmissions came very close to concluding the first overall section of the Rinchen Terdzö, the life stories of Padmasambhava and the tertöns. Having finished the lives of Padmasambhava, Lhunpo Rinpoche started the life stories of Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye, who compiled the Rinchen Terdzö, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo who travelled Tibet receiving many nearly-extinct terma lineages that came to be included in the collection, and Chogyur Dechen Lingpa, an extraordinary tertön who discovered and revived many terma lineages in the Rinchen Terdzö. Chogyur Lingpa was a good friend, student, and teacher to both Khyentse and Kongtrül.
The earliest tertön in Tibet was named Sangye Lama. He was born at the start of the 11th century and became a monk who practiced vajrayana. Sangye Lama is said to have lived eighty years. During his life he travelled and propagated the dharma widely, particularly in central Tibet. This is the area of Tibet where the dharma first flourished, where King Trisong Detsen lived, where the first monastery, Samye was built, and so on. Sangye Lama discovered several termas some of which were vajrayana practices and some of which were rituals from the sutra tradition translated from Chinese into Tibetan. The sutra texts may have been needed at that time because the monastic tradition was rebuilding itself in central Tibet after the suppression of King Langdarma in the 9th century.
All that remains of Sangye Lama’s original termas are some of the sutra rituals. However, Sangye Lama left a yangter, a re-concealed a terma called The Twenty One Dialogues Of The Sadhana That Combines The Three Roots. In the Nyingma tradition, the three roots are the guru, yidam or meditation deity, and dakini. The guru is often said to be the root of blessings. The yidam, or meditation deity, is explained as the root of accomplishment or siddhi [Tib. ngödrup.] The dakini is explained as the root of enlightened activity. In the Kagyü tradition, the protector is explained as the root of activity. The three roots are often practiced individually, but sometimes they are combined into one liturgical practice, as they were in Sangye Lama’s yangter.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was a reincarnation of Sangye Lama and discovered the yangter of Sangye Lama’s terma during the 19th century. This yangter is said to contain the essence of all of Sangye Lama’s termas. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo later arranged two empowerments for the practices of the yangter: the essential empowerment and the torma empowerment. A torma is a colorful offering cake, often a representation of a deity in a symbolic form. A torma empowerment uses a torma as the main item to confer the abhisheka. Often this type of abhisheka is short and is a condensed means to confer a practice upon a student. The two empowerments from Sangye Lama’s yangter were the first empowerments in the sadhana section, which we entered today after receiving the final empowerment in the tantra section, Chogyur Lingpa’s terma called The Supreme Bliss Of The Buddhas, which is a
Nyingma form of Chakrasamvara practice.
The sadhana section is divided in two parts: the root sadhanas and the auxiliary sadhanas. The word ‘sadhana’ is sometimes translated as ‘the means of attainment’. A sadhana is a liturgy combined with instructions that when practiced helps one to confidently experience and stabilize a recognition of one’s true nature, basic goodness, things as they are. The root sadhanas section contains empowerments for sadhanas of the guru, yidam, dakini, and protector.
The auxiliary sadhanas of activity rituals section follows the root sadhana section and contains empowerments and instructions for a wide range of practice situations such as setting up a retreat, performing beneficial activities like pacifying obstacles, and so on. After the two empowerments for Sangye Lama’s yangter, the root sadhanas section continued with empowerments for practices combining the three roots, revealed by three other tertöns: Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (also known as Karma Lingpa), Ratna Lingpa, and the founder of the Northern Terma tradition, the Rigdzin Gökyi Demtruchen (also known as Rigdzin Demtruchen.) In the present day, the supreme lineage holder of the Northern Terma tradition is Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche.
Changling Rinpoche, who recently began to teach in several Shambhala Centers, is also an important lineage holder in the Northern Terma tradition. For those of you who’ve never been to an empowerment outside of the West, it is a very different situation in the East. In the West, empowerments are usually given in contained situations with a quiet atmosphere. In Orissa, besides the ongoing general chatter, it was not uncommon to hear babies crying or to see young monks playing beside you. In the midst of all the chaos the struggle was to keep one’s mind on the ball, on what the teacher was doing. Today, however, I abandoned this discipline from time to time and made a study of four young monks sitting beside me. They were cute and, as we say back home, they were goofing off.
I don’t know what I would have done at their age if school had been cancelled for three months and I was told to sit in a shrine room for 12 hours a day. I would probably be fooling around like the What did I see? Well, first of all, if you take a loose bit of fabric from a ceremonial scarf and blow lots of air underneath it, it will float around. Two or three people can play at this. Also, it can be exciting to bring a rock into the shrine room. Smooth rocks slide well on the black marble floor and add a bit of suspense because the noise can attract the master of discipline, an extremely genial looking monk who periodically walks between the rows and quietly stands behind the monks who loose their attention. Teatime can be higher entertainment and sometimes dramatic.
The two monks passing out the slightly sweet yellow bread rolls to our row overlooked one of the foursome. This led to a very pain-faced anxiety that I relieved by calling for another roll. Once you actually get a roll, I learned from watching my new friends, you can push the whole thing into your cup of chai and turn it into something looking like a grey sponge. I didn’t watch how this was actually consumed, but later I noticed that the floor was slick with tea in front one of the little monks. Later on, my posture became a point of curiosity for the group.
There doesn’t seem to be much personal interest in posture among the younger monks yet. Someone sitting up straight, especially if he is 6’4”, turned out to be a big attention-grabber. Imitating a Westerner’s straight back will make your face turn red if you get caught. The smallest, cutest, and most earnest of the lot was genuinely trying to get into half-lotus with me by the end of everything. He turned and gave me a proud smile when he was finally able to accomplish it. Other shrine room pastimes we heard about included writing your entire name in leftover offering rice. The best one was secretly tying the upper robes of neighboring monks together just before everyone has to stand up at the end of a session. (")%(".))%*44$'% K)-)?@).%MM$"% Today we continued with the series of empowerments for sadhanas combining the three roots combined into one deity. The three roots are the guru, the yidam, and the dakini or protector.
In the Nyingma school the third root is the dakini, but in the Kagyü school the third root is the protector or dharmapala. The Rinchen Terdzö has sections for each in the collection; the dakini is presented as the root of enlightened activity and the dharmapala is presented as the protector of the teachings. In the tantric approach of relating to a teacher, the guru is the root or source of blessings. Wisdom, in the Buddhist tradition, is transmitted from person to person. The teacher is someone we can meet, and someone who has already walked the path and thus knows the mind and the world from top to bottom. Having done that, the teacher possesses an enormous amount of understanding, ability, and compassion for others. From that perspective the teacher is the root of blessings. Without a person-to-person connection there is no way to go forward on the path. A yidam is a visualized deity that is an expression of one’s fully realized nature. There are hundreds of yidams presented in the Rinchen Terdzö. Visualizing a yidam is one of the many methods employed by vajrayana Buddhism to help purify our perceptions of ourself and the world. Usually we see the world in a limited way, based strongly and unconsciously on our habits.
For example, if someone we don’t like walks into our room, the gap between simply seeing someone without bias and believing the person is inherently dislikable is almost nonexistent. It can happen so fast that our feeling of dislike and the person walking in the room don’t appear to be separate things. This binding together of basic perceptions, emotions, and ideas about others without any rational judgment has the potential to drive us into a lot of difficult situations. Training in the yidam is a way of separating neurotic habits from unbiased perception.
In contrast to sitting meditation or meditation on the breath, there is a lot of color and excitement to this style of meditation at first. But gradually one comes to see that the visualized deity is an expression or manifestation of one’s own natural sanity or basic goodness. It is a training that brings one back to earth, rather than bringing one to an imaginary world. Coming back to earth carries its own kind of richness because of the contrast of the contrast between natural sanity and our habitual preconceptions. The yidam is called the root or source of accomplishment. It accomplishes the basic sanity, kindness, ability, and love that one recognizes in the guru. The third root is the dakini or protector. The Rinchen Terdzö categorizes the protector as the guardian of the teachings, and the dakini as the root of enlightened activity. Sometimes the protector is explained as the root of enlightened activity. Enlightened activity is the manifest expression of accomplishment and can range from virtuous conduct to being able to perform miracles.
The Sakya master, Deshung Rinpoche once explained that miracles are nothing compared to being able to generate bodhicitta, the mind of great compassion for all beings. Dakini is the name for the feminine aspect of enlightenment, which is emptiness from the ultimate perspective. Dakinis are depicted iconographically in female form. The word dakini can refer to female buddhas, female yidams and protectors, women who’ve realized enlightenment, or ordinary women who embody the energy and wisdom of a dakini. If a dakini practice is done well by a woman, it can transform the practitioner into a dakini, the embodiment of wisdom. Dakini [Tib. khandro) means she who goes through the sky or space, meaning the sky of realization. The male counterpart of a dakini is called a daka.
Protectors can be masculine or feminine. Both the dakinis and the protectors nurture our development as practitioners and protect us from losing our way on the path. A lama at the Rinchen Terdzö explained that, according to the Nyingma teachings, if one does dakini practice perfectly, one does not need to do the protector practices. He added that even though that’s true, everyone still does the protector practices. Ultimately speaking, the protectors and dakinis are like the guru and the yidam, they are nothing other than—or separate from—our own mind. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave a great explanation of protector principle in his book, Training The Mind And Cultivating Loving-Kindness.
This book is commentary on lojong (mind training), the mahayana tradition of developing insight and compassion through contemplation of the slogans and related practices of presented in Tibet by the renowned Indian teacher Atisha (982-1054). Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said the protectors “represent our basic awareness which is not so much absorbed in the meditative state of being, but which takes place or takes care of us during the post-meditative experience.” He goes on to say that the experience of the protector principle is like when one is totally involved in anger at a friend, and then accidentally slams a door on one’s own fingers. It’s like that. We have environmental energy reminding us of wisdom and keeping us out of trouble all the time, if we are willing to train ourselves to stay open to the messages.
Protector practice helps open us more to recognize wisdom and environmental reminders more and more. The topic of the three roots is detailed and subtle. Just like a good novel that can present a tremendous wealth of detail and richness about the lives of its characters, so the teachings on the three roots present an amazing amount of detail and richness about our experience and the mind. The difference is that the tantric teachings are a living experience rooted in devotion to the teacher as the source of blessings. Everything spreads out from there. The teacher can then present us with many methods to progressively enter into a more natural and open relationship with the world. As for the empowerments we received today, most of them were revealed by a tertön named Garwang Shikpo Lingpa. Some of the empowerments were elaborate, and some were shorter, like a torma empowerment. It was sometimes hard to tell what was what, and we were happy to learn that Jigme Rinpoche will start briefing the Western students about what is coming up.
Visually speaking, it was easy to see that the shrine room was filled mostly by red-robed monastics. The twenty or so Westerners sat off to the side in their section, a little block with five or six of us to a row. Behind us sat a few rows of monks, and the last few rows of the shrine room were filled in with lay people. The front porch and its wings outside the windows were filled by another 200 Tibetans camped for the day on blankets and small carpets. The feeling was remarkably similar to places in Tibet that I have been on pilgrimage.
Apart from the heat and cultural changes, the monastery was one of the most Tibetan-feeling environments I have visited in India. I think this was due to its isolation from industry and heavy modernization. The oldest of the lay attendees at the Rinchen Terdzö must have travelled to India on foot, and some even stuck out their tongues upon seeing me. This is a Tibetan gesture that means one’s tongue is not black, one is genuine. The greeting reminded me of Kham-Nangchen and Trungpa Rinpoche’s monastery, Surmang Dutsi Til, where I lived for a month about 12 years ago. Many of the people I met in Tibet, particularly the elders, were happy in spirit and showed their good cheer without embarrassment. The Tibet settlement in Orissa is about forty-five years old. The five different camps are now home to about 3,000 people. After the Tibetans arrived in India in the late 1950s, they were given 20 parcels of land by the Indian government. The land became the settlements for the community in exile.
While in Pema Kö, Namkha Drimed Rinpoche had visions of the tantric importance of this region. Therefore, he took the parcel of land in Orissa site unseen, and founded the settlement in 1966 with about 500 people from. They built everything from the ground up. At that time this region was a jungle where wild animals like elephants and tigers still roamed freely. These animals still can be found in the forests a few hours drive from the monastery. The forests around the Rigön Thupten Mindroling were cut down long ago, but some trees and little groves remained in the Tibetan camps and on the short steep hills surrounding the settlement. During the day, many types of wild birds sang and flew through the guesthouse via open doorways. This was quite magical and added to the flavor of a sacred realm. Oddly, there were no monkeys in the area. Monkeys are ubiquitous in most places I’ve been in India.
Jigme Rinpoche sent the following letter to his sangha in the West as the Rinchen Terdzö got under way.
Warmest greetings from Orissa!
The Rinchen Terdzö, a precious collection of rediscovered teachings compiled and structured by Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye, being bestowed by His Eminence, the tertön Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, got off to an auspicious start here at the new Ripa Monastery in Orissa on December 5th, the day of Medicine Buddha, a day of healing. The Rinchen Terdzö consists of more than 100 volumes of empowerments, pointing-out instructions, and oral transmissions.
These were originally authored by Guru Padmasambhava along with his famous disciple-consort, Lady Yeshe Tsogyal, and the twenty-five great highly accomplished students. Guru Rinpoche foresaw great difficulties in the future, times of confusion and conflict, and miraculously hid these precious teachings all over the country in the rocks, water, earth, sky, and in the advanced mind streams of individuals. These were then rediscovered at appropriate times by specific tertöns and brought immeasurable benefit by becoming a fresh source of liberation during times of great distress. To compile the Rinchen Terdzö, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye (1813-1900) painstakingly went on the historic task of collecting these rediscovered teachings, some of whose transmission lineages were on the verge of collapse, from every corner of the land. Kongtrül and Khyentse Wangpo personally received all of the transmissions of materials from whatever remaining sources were available. Kongtrül is therefore credited for having rekindled and renewed the life-force of the terma teachings.
The Rinchen Terdzö is centered around the eight great herukas of the Nyingma tradition. These are divided into five classes of deities—guru, yidam, dakini, protector, and wealth gods2. They are conferred on the levels of the wang (empowerment), which is ripening, the tri (pointing-out), which is liberating, and the lung (oral teaching or reading transmission), the historical background. It is through wangs that one enters the tantrayana; through the tris one accomplishes the deity; and the lungs help gain confidence in the practice. Samaya is what binds all three together in an individual and establishes close links to the vajra master, the heart and soul of the mandala. It is for this reason that the vajra master, Tertön Namkha Rinpoche, during the Vajrasattva abhisheka on the opening day, asked all recipients to promise to do one hundred thousand long Vajrasattva mantras and one hundred thousand Guru Rinpoche mantras, as a prerequisite to receiving the complete Rinchen Terdzö. A vajrayana program of this scale doesn’t happen too often and cannot be conferred by every lama.
Many auspicious conditions must come together for such an event to take place. This is only the second time (and the first time outside of Tibet) that His Eminence is conferring the Rinchen Terdzö. Kyabje3 Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche made special requests for this transmission. The transmission lineage is very close to his heart because it was his father Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche who gave the transmission to my father. The lineage masters of this transmission lineage are Lodrö Thaye (Jamgön Kongtrül), Gyurme Pema Namgyal (Shechen Gyaltsap), Pema Trime Öser (Shechen Kongtrül), and Chökyi Gyatso (Surmang Trungpa Rinpoche). For general practitioners, the occasion of the Rinchen Terdzö is a means to receive enormous blessings and has the power of ripening one’s body, speech, and mind. For eminent masters, the Rinchen Terdzö has a special significance as they are traditionally looked upon as the perfect recipients and guardians of such transmissions for the sake of future generations. Therefore, it is extremely important that they receive this transmission.
Those here include Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and my brother Lhuntrul Rinpoche—who is transmitting the lungs, and an assembly tülkus, khenpos, and lamas. Orissa, a coastal region in the east of India, was known as Odibisha in the past 2 Wealth deity practices are done to improve the conditions in the world and to benefit beings. These practices are presented primarily in the auxiliary rituals section of the Rinchen Terdzö. Many wealth deities are in the class of worldly protectors, but there some who are transcendent, like Lama Norlha who is a manifestation of Padmasambhava. WB 3 Lit. Lord of Refuge. This title can refer to one’s root lama, the head of a dharma center or monastery, or the head of a lineage.
and is mentioned in many tantric texts as one of the powerful places of tantra. Many siddhas of the past were from Odibisha. It is clear that Orissa played an important role in preserving and propagating the Buddhadharma around the tenth and eleventh centuries. The mahayana and vajrayana forms of Buddhism flourished here. Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism here. Many of the mind termas of my father, Tertön Namkha Rinpoche, were revealed here. There is no doubt that Orissa is blessed with powerful energies. This coastal state is also home to the Phuntsok Ling Tibetan community, resettled here after the 1959 tragedy of Tibet, as well as home to the Ripa family and community. In 2003, the foundation stone for a sprawling five-story monastery and one hundred and fifty room hostel for the monks was laid.
Now, the new Rigön monastery is completed, as though it had been especially prepared as the auspicious venue for the Rinchen Terdzö abhishekas. Close to one thousand people, consisting of members of my family, tülkus, khenpos, lamas, and the ordained and general sanghas from the East and West, attends daily. I am indeed happy to see the place already serving its purpose. What better way to begin a new monastery than this? The wonderful gathering of guru, sanghas, and precious abhishekas being conferred, brings the whole place alive. It makes it feel like the monastery has been standing here for a long time. I am grateful once again to the people who shared my vision and work, and supported it generously. I believe the merit and virtue coming out of such an endeavor will surely benefit many generations to come. Most importantly it helps to secure the precious Buddhadharma, a true source of help and happiness.
In this time of great confusion and conflict, where so much fear and unhappiness prevail, not to mention all the destruction and devastation of nature, the Rinchen Terdzö is happening. It is a great source of encouragement, help, and healing for the world—for oneself as well as for nature. I understand that due to unavoidable circumstances, many of you are not able to attend. However, you can always connect to the precious mandala of the Rinchen Terdzö from your home. His Eminence remarked during the opening day of the Rinchen Terdzö, “Since Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, is the root source of the Rinchen Terdzö, and since all deities of tantra are united in him, we should recite one hundred-thousand mantras of Guru Rinpoche.” So I ask everyone to recite Guru Rinpoche mantra as much as possible during the period of the Rinchen Terdzö to stay connected.
Due to the sheer power and blessings of masters and students coming together in one place in the mandala of the Rinchen Terdzö, it is also beneficial to contribute materially in whatever way you can. Offering a candle, tsok, incense, or tea, goes directly to the service of buddha, dharma, and sangha. This is also the best time for requesting prayers of healing and liberation for those who’ve died recently or in the past, and for those who are still alive. The Rinchen Terdzö is scheduled to complete in two and a half months, but that is not definite. The weather here is beautiful—misty in the morning and evening, but at least the people here seem to have clear heads. During the day there is a clear blue sky with temperatures around 20 Celsius. The air is filled with the smell of incense, chai, and people.
The day begins at 5:30 A.M., for some around 4:00 A.M., depending on where you sleep, and goes late into the evening. I am happy for all that is happening here. This is our great fortune. And if this letter seems long, you don’t know what really long means! Just come for a day. You get lots of sitting, a long sitting practically from 6:00am to 6:00pm. You actually float by the end of the day—not because you’ve attained rainbow body, but because you don’t feel your bottom half because it’s become completely numb. Welcome to ‘the floating mandala’. I finished writing this during the morning hours of oral transmission. I can feel I am just beginning to float.
Is indeed the beautiful blessing of the Lama
Today we finished the abhishekas for the sadhanas combining the three roots into one, and started the section of empowerments for the sadhanas of the guru, the source of blessings. This part of the Rinchen Terdzö is divided into many sub-sections starting with the outer practices, which are supplications to Padmasambhava as an outer figure or a person in a historical context, so to speak. One empowerment in this section was drawn from a famous terma cycle discovered by Chogyur Lingpa called the Barche Kunsel, Eliminating All Obstacles. Receiving the Barche Kunsel was particularly significant for Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye; during the empowerment he realized that Chogyur Lingpa was Padmasambhava in person. At that point in his life, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye had been stricken with a seemingly incurable leprosy that severely affected his eyesight.
Chogyur Lingpa gave him a meditation practice from the Barche Kunsel, and it cured the disease permanently with no medical explanation. The reading transmissions related to this section of the Rinchen Terdzö contained another famous terma, a set of supplications known as The Seven Chapters. One part of this terma is well known in the Shambhala community because Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche popularized it as ‘The Guru Rinpoche Song’. The Seven Chapters in their entirety are included in Sogyal Rinpoche’s beautiful Tibetan-English publication of major Nyingma supplications, titled A Great Treasure Of Blessings. At the end of the day we moved to a preliminary abhisheka for the next series of empowerments, those for the inner practices of the guru. Chogyur Lingpa (1829-1870) was one of the most remarkable figures in the Rime (nonsectarian, unbiased) movement that started in Tibet during the mid-19th century.
He was a student, teacher, and friend of Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Throughout his life, Chogyur Lingpa experienced many visions—direct encounters with the deities—and he performed numerous miracles. One exceptional thing about him was that he revealed many termas in full view, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. On one occasion, he publically flew to the ceiling of a cave and pulled objects out of solid rock. On another, he pulled a vajra (a ritual scepter) halfway out of solid rock, leaving it partway in so that people could see what was happening.
Chogyur Lingpa was widely renowned during his lifetime. Besides being a tertön, he upheld and transmitted most of the kama lineages. Many of his termas are included in the Rinchen Terdzö. Among the terma objects he discovered were medicines, more than one hundred statues of Guru Rinpoche, and relics belonging to the Indian siddhas. Chogyur Lingpa discovered termas, yangters, and had pure visions of deities who gave him instructions. He could recall his former lives in such detail that he was able to give teachings from those lives with great clarity. And, not only that, Chogyur Lingpa could visit Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche
Padmasambhava in a pure realm and converse with him as if he was there in person. In short, he was one of the most amazing people you could ever hope to meet. At the time of his passing in 1870 there were many auspicious signs, including mild earthquakes and rainbows.
At the start of the Rinchen Terdzö, the old monastery was made available for the Westerners to do their personal practice in the mornings. It turned out that many of them decided to attend the reading transmission instead.
That meant arriving in the shrine room at six-thirty and listening to the lung until lunch, with a one-hour break for breakfast. Ideally one is silent during lung to let the words pour inside. For the most part, attending a reading transmission is sitting meditation with an emphasis on resting the mind on sound. The schedule was long and most people were in the shrine room for around ten hours a day. A group of older monks performed an additional practice called chöd after dinner, and the rinpoches continued their evenings with meetings, audiences, and concluding practices. Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s discipline was astonishing, particularly for someone who was seventy years old. His Eminence’s devotion to the Rinchen Terdzö was palpable, as was the strength of his focus on Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche throughout the day.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s account of the Rinchen Terdzö in Born In Tibet shows he had a different style of scheduling the first time he bestowed the empowerments. Much to my surprise, I read that the reading transmissions began at 2:30 A.M., four hours earlier than we started in India. Instead of giving the empowerments all in one batch (which I suspect saves a bit of time), the Vidyadhara gave them at four different times during the day, twice in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening, starting at six. I am guessing he used the breaks to perform the preparatory practices necessary to do the next empowerments. He started his morning at 4:30, half an hour later than Namkha Drimed Rinpoche did in Orissa. Like His Eminence, the Vidyadhara had incredible discipline, but in another way. During the Rinchen Terdzö, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was the age of a 9th or 10th grader.
In the evenings after the empowerments, the assembly recited chants from the monastery’s 220-page chant book. This chant book has about eighty liturgies in it. Some of the chants are more than ten pages long and can take ten minutes at a brisk pace. The Seven Chapters is included in the chant book in its entirety. This evening we also used an auxiliary chant book that I have only seen two copies of—in the whole room—on any of the nights it has been called for. Many of the monks have memorized all the monastery’s rotation of daily liturgies.
Unlike in the West, the closing chants at the monastery varied each day. The umdze (chant leader) would start a new liturgy and everyone joined in as soon as they recognized the chant. The supplications for the longevity of the teachers always remained the same, as did the very final dedications. Aside from those, it was sometimes hard to predict what would come next. We quickly learned to get help from the monks closest to us, although it was not often the case that we were near someone who knew what was going on. Sometimes our chant book would get passed back and forth in a row until it found a monk who knew the pages well enough to help us.
At other times, we were lost until the umdze started a chant we recognized. The longevity chants for the teachers included those for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche (who passed away just after the Rinchen Terdzö), Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche, Lhunpo Rinpoche, and Tulku Kunchab Rinpoche. Prayers for the longevity of His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche were chanted at the end of every session during the day. Other than the longevity chants, most of the chants we did in the evenings were aspirations.
Aspiration chants express wishes for the benefit of all beings, both in life and at the time of death. They also express wishes for the strength and spread of the teachings, for the health and harmony in all communities, for good weather, healthy crops, and so on. In short, this kind of chant is for everything possible to go well. One chant we recited on many occasions was The King Of Aspiration Prayers, The Aspiration For Noble Excellent Conduct. The first ten verses of this aspiration are included as part of the Vajrayogini sadhana that is commonly practiced in Shambhala. The chanting speed at the monastery was really, really fast. Most Tibetan chants are metered, which allows for things to move quickly, and the umdze clicks the side of a muffled hand bell to keep up the pace. Only one or two of the Tibetan-speakers in our group could keep up with the monks. The literary form of Tibetan language is terse, so even if you can keep up with the sound of the text, keeping up with the meaning is another matter.
My goal soon became to recite the first two to four syllables of each seven or eight beat line. The best approach is memorization, and it was quite a thrill when I could keep up with the monastics during the few snatches of text I knew by heart. I am not sure if many of the English-speaking Tibetans would have fared much better during evening chants at a dathün (month long retreat) in the West. During the last three days we continued to receive empowerments related to practices of the guru, the root of blessings. There are three categories of practices related to the guru: outer, inner, and secret. First came the outer practices, which are generally supplications to the historical figure of Padmasambhava. We had only one abhisheka in this category, an abhisheka for a terma discovered by Chogyur Lingpa. The inner practices of the guru are practices that emphasize the guru in peaceful manifestations of compassion, and the secret practices of the guru are practices that emphasize the guru in wrathful manifestations of compassion.