Guhyasamaja commentary by aku sherab gyatso and geshe jampa gyatso II
Tuesday morning, 27 January 2004
The stages in Tsongkhapa’s realization of the paths of tantra are described in the following verses [in the Secret Biography of Great Tsongkhapa]. The verse “As chief of the Manjushrivajra mandala...” relates the realization of the practices of Guhyasamaja; the verse “When engaging in the approximation of Great Bliss Wheel...” relates the story of his realization of Chakrasamvara; and “By the yoga of combined tranquil abiding and insight...” narrates the account of how Tsongkhapa received the experiential lineage of the Yamantaka practice. The verse “Manjushri, in person , imparted to you...” tells us how Manjushri gave instructions to Tsongkhapa on a daily basis. Because of this, Tsongkhapa gained insight into many difficult points of both sutra and tantra, many of which were not understood by past Tibetan masters. Perfect realization occurred in Tsongkhapa, which then led to the founding of a new tradition never seen before in this “land of snows.” Therefore, as Maitreya was prophesized by Buddha Shakyamuni and the king Chandrabhadra by the Kalachakra Tantra, Tsongkhapa’s coming too had been foretold.
These verses are cited from the Secret Biography of Great Tsongkhapa. Manjushrivajra is an aspect of Guhyasamaja, Guhyasamaja Manjushrivajra being the system of Ghantapada. “When engaging in the approximation of Great Bliss Wheel” recounts how Lama Tsongkhapa, when practicing this tantra, had a direct appearance of the entire supporting and supported mandalas of Chakrasamvara. Likewise, “By the yoga of combined tranquil abiding and insight…” reveals that Lama Tsongkhapa was also a practitioner of Yamantaka. The yoga of combined calm abiding and special insight mentioned here is specifically the union of calm abiding and special insight that is obtained in the context of tantra.
The verse “Manjushri, in person, imparted to you...” indicates that Lama Tsongkhapa was able to see and receive teachings from Manjushri directly, whereby he was able to realize all the essential points of tantra in his continuum. Prior to being able to see and speak with Manjushri directly Lama Tsongkhapa communicated with Manjushri by way of Lama Umapa. This lama, Pawo Dorje, was able to perceive Manjushri directly and from Manjushri received a series of ten empowerments known as “the Dharma wheel of Manjushri,” even though they are not all empowerments of Manjushri. In this way Lama Tsongkhapa was able to gain an understanding that other lamas did not possess, and founded a new tradition, never before seen in Tibet, which enables a single person to practice both sutra and tantra without any contradiction. The statement “Therefore, as Maitreya was prophesized by Buddha Shakyamuni and the king Chandrabhadra by the Kalachakra Tantra, Tsongkhapa’s coming too had been foretold” is difficult to understand in the Tibetan, as it seems to say that Maitreya prophesized the coming of Buddha Shakyamuni whereas the opposite is more correct. The coming of king Chandrabhadra was prophesized by the Kalachakra Tantra.
Although the Jonangpas and others have extensive discourses on Kalachakra, owing to their shortcomings in the understanding of emptiness, they are felt to be lacking. Tsongkhapa, on the other hand, undertook an in-depth and comprehensive study and contemplation of both sutra and tantra, leading to a settled understanding. However, not contented by the understanding alone, he put into meditative practice the knowledge he had gained, thus attaining high stages of learning and meditation.
Jonangpa was well versed in the subject of Kalachakra and wrote extensive commentaries and treatises on this tantra. However, he did not have a correct view of emptiness, his view being similar to that of Hvashang. For example, Jonangpa asserted that all sentient beings already possess a buddha body adorned with the signs and exemplifications but it is covered with stains. However, since it is impossible to posit a buddha body that is covered with stains, Jonangpa was referring to the buddha lineage by the term “the buddha adorned with the signs and exemplifications.” While his view of emptiness was inferior, his conduct was impeccable.
Lama Tsongkhapa did an in-depth study of both the vast and profound, and integrated his knowledge into meditative practice, whereby he attained a high state of learning and practice. In spite of this, he did not show the aspect of attaining enlightenment during his lifetime, but showed the aspect of dying and attaining enlightenment in the intermediate state.
Amongst past Tibetan masters, there were many who not only had the lineage of the exposition of the tantras like Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Mahamaya, Hevajra, Den Shi , and so on, but who also implemented these in serious meditative practice. There is no doubt that masters such as Marpa and Milarepa, who had attained the state of union in their lifetimes, had perfect understanding of the sutras and tantras. Yet owing to certain factors, be it related to the mental faculties of the audience, there are many aspects in their instructions where [at times] clarity and precision are lacking. Thus there is no one like Tsongkhapa when it comes to the presentation of the essential points of the difficult themes in general of sutra and tantra and, in particular, the instructions pertaining to the illusory body and clear light.
Among the Tibetan masters of the past there were many who were learned in the various tantras. The tantras of Mahamaya and Hevajra mentioned here are mainly practiced by the Sakyapas. While masters such as Marpa and Milarepa had realized the difficult points of sutra and tantra they did not teach them clearly, probably because their disciples were not yet ready for these teachings. For a similar reason it is said in the Ornament for Clear Realizations that Arya Asanga did not teach the Middle Way view but instead taught the Chittamatra view, that is, not because he himself had not realized the Middle Way view but because his disciples were to be subdued by his teaching the Chittamatra view.
Not only did Tsongkhapa earlier experience the vision of Manjushri, but also when he was immersed in meditative retreat at Ölka he had the mystical experience of his heart being pierced by Manjushri’s sword, from which a stream of nectar flowed into his heart. Tsongkhapa felt satiated by a pervasive experience of pure bliss. Amongst his retinue, he saw many faces, some familiar and some not, all opening their mouths to the nectar. At the head of the congregation were Gyaltsap and Khedrup. He saw that in the mouths of some, a large quantity of nectar was received, in some a little, and yet in others none at all. This was perhaps a prophesy about how, if one follows this great master, even the simple generation of profound admiration in the Buddha could lead someone to liberation.
Lama Tsongkhapa has a vision in which his heart was pierced by the sword in Manjushri’s hand, from which nectar flowed into him, filling his mental continuum with uncontaminated bliss. At the same time Lama Tsongkhapa had a vision of his retinue, some familiar and some not, opening their mouths to receive the nectar.
[As Abhidharmakosha states], “The Buddha’s doctrine is of two kinds...”, [the scriptural and the realizational]. The scriptural teachings of the Buddha must be upheld through study and contemplation, while the realizational teachings must be maintained through practice and meditation. Without a combination of these two, it is said that the teachings of the Buddha cannot survive. A successful perpetuation of this lineage is dependent on the survival of the sangha community. It is because of this that Tsongkhapa instructed his disciple Jetsün Sherap Senge to establish a tantric community. Thus Sherap Senge founded Gyüme [i.e., Lower Tantric College] in central Tibet, while his student Dulnakpa founded Segyü monastery in the upper regions of Tsang province. Sherap Senge handed his charge to Jinpa Pelwa. It was Gyüchen Kunga Dhöndup, a great scholar and adept and a student of both the two teachers of Gyüme, whose extensive teaching activities related to tantra in the upper regions of central Tibet led to the founding of the present day Gyütö [i.e., Upper Tantric College].
The doctrine of the Buddha is of two types: the scriptural doctrine and the realizational doctrine. Hearing and thinking are related to the scriptural doctrine, and meditation to the realizational doctrine. The definition of a scriptural wheel of Dharma is: a completely white excellent quality included in the Buddha’s words. The definition of a realizational wheel of Dharma is: an exalted knower existing in the continuum of one who has entered a path. The scriptural wheel of Dharma and the scriptural doctrine are different, as are the realizational wheel and the realizational doctrine. This is because the scriptural doctrine includes even texts such as the Commentary Clarifying the Meaning by Haribhadra, which, however, is not a scriptural wheel of Dharma because it is not the Buddha’s words. Likewise, all of us here possess the practice of the three higher trainings of morality, concentration, and wisdom which are the realizational doctrine but are not a realizational wheel of Dharma. Also when we recite the Heart Sutra, it is a scriptural doctrine but not a scriptural wheel of Dharma. Likewise, when we recite the Guhyasamaja Tantra, it is a Guhyasamaja Tantra that is a scriptural doctrine but it is not a scriptural wheel of Dharma.
When hearing, thinking, and meditation are mentioned, they refer respectively to the wisdom arisen from hearing the teachings of the Buddha, the wisdom arisen from thinking about the teachings of the Buddha, and the wisdom arisen from meditating on the teachings of the Buddha. When there no longer exists anyone who listens to and thinks about the scriptural doctrine and there is no one who meditates the realizational doctrine, then the doctrine will no longer exist. In order to ensure that the explanation and practice of the doctrine continue, it is necessary for the sangha to exist. Because of this Tsongkhapa instructed his disciple Jetsün Sherap Senge to establish a tantric community in central Tibet, called Gyüme (Lower Tantric College), while his student Dulnakpa (who composed the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga) founded a tantric monastery, called Segyü (Se Tantric College), in the Se region in the upper part of Tsang province. Sherap Senge then handed his charge to Jinpa Pelwa. Gyüchen Kunga Dhöndup was a great scholar and adept and a student of both Sherap Senge and Jinpa Pelwa. It is said that when he entered the Lower Tantric College many students were jealous of him, due to which he eventually left this monastery. He later went to the upper regions of central Tibet, that is, the area above Lhasa called Trag Yerpa, where he gave many teachings on tantra and became renowned for his knowledge of this subject. This led to the founding of the present day Gyütö (Upper Tantric College). It is said that eighty mahasiddhas resided in the area of Trag Yerpa, which is a place of pilgrimage not far from Lhasa.
According to a popular account, it was the jealousy of some small-minded people that caused Gyüchen to depart to the upper regions of central Tibet. Coincidentally, the congregation at Gyüchen’s exposition of the Guhyasamaja Tantra numbered exactly the number of deities of the mandala! These two colleges came to be known as the Upper and Lower Tantric Colleges of central Tibet. Earlier, it was the Segyü monastery of Tsang and Gyüme which were known as the Upper and Lower monasteries. The members of these two monasteries – Gyüme and Segyü – used to traditionally observe the rainy season retreat, during the second half of the monsoon, together at Chumik Lung. This custom abruptly came to an end when the ruler of Tsang stirred conflicts [in the region]. The monks of Segyü were unable to visit Chumik Lung, but the monks of Gyüme continue to this day to spend their rainy season at Chumik Lung.
There are thirty-deities in the Guhyasamaja mandala and Gyüchen Kunga Dhöndup taught the Guhyasamaja Tantra to an equivalent number of disciples. The Upper and Lower Tantric Colleges that are extant today in Tibet are the very same as those mentioned here, whereas nowadays the Lower Tantric College is located in south India and the Upper Tantric College in Assam. However, there are plans to move the Upper Tantric College to Dharamsala, to the place where the Karmapa is now living. A part of the Segyu monastery has been relocated in Siliguri, India, and another part in Nepal.
At one time the monks of Gyüme and Segyü used to observe the rainy season retreat together at Chumik Lung, which is near the birthplace of Lama Thubten Yeshe. However, this tradition came to an end when the ruler of Tsang, Devasangpa, caused conflicts in the region, due to which the monks of Segyu were unable to go to Chumik Lung. However, the monks of Gyüme continued to spend the last part of the rainy season at Chumik Lung.
At one time when the monks of the Gyütö monastery were performing certain rites sponsored by a lay devotee, a young boy of the family kept noticing in the chanting a frequent mention of a deity with “three faces – yellow, black, and white – and six arms.” He immediately thought that this must refer to a little image that the family had on its altar, which he thought perhaps ought to be offered to the monks. It was the statue of yellow Dzambhala, with three faces and six arms. The family offered the image to Gyüchen Kunga Dhöndup. The monks offered regular ablutions to the image and the financial base of the monastery flourished tremendously. The statue remained as part of the Gyütö monastery’s icons and was later transferred to Phuphor. It is said that once when Gyütö monastery was based at Ramoche, a dog stole the image and dropped it in the garden of Lhalu house! Apparently the seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, saw a rainbow shooting up into the sky from this site and sent someone to check it. They found the statue, which was then retrieved and re-consecrated by the seventh Dalai Lama and later returned to Gyüto. Whatever the truth, this story tells us something about the quality of the statue itself.
It is recounted that a family having offered an image of Dzambhala to Gyüchen Kunga Dhöndup, the monks regularly offered ablution to the statue. Due to this practice, the monastery obtained whatever it needed in abundance. Later the statue was invoked to a bowl, that is, it was taken from the altar and placed in a bowl for performing the offering of ablution. When Gyuto was located at Ramoche a dog stole the bowl with the statue in it and dropped it in a park that could be seen from the southern part of the Potala. The VII Dalai Lama saw a rainbow in that place and sent someone to see what was there, and in this way the statue was found. As there was some damage to the statue of Dzambala, the VII Dalai Lama asked that it be repaired and then reconsecrated it and returned it to Gyutö.
Tuesday afternoon, 27 January 2004
The two, Manjushri and Venerable Maitreya, Clearly dreamed of being given a fine jeweled vase Filled with the water that makes one into a migrating being of Dharma By the chief of the Manjushrivajra mandala. I make requests at the feet of the glorious lama
When engaging in the practice of Great Bliss Wheel He directly and clearly saw the mandala beings. He was pleased by the offering of vajra songs By the assembly of sky-goers of the three outer and inner places. I make requests at the feet of the glorious lama.
When the meditative stabilization of the yoga Unifying calm abiding and special insight increased like the waxing moon. He saw the supreme body of magnificent Bhagavan Vajrabhairava With the faces and arms thoroughly complete. I make requests at the feet of the glorious lama.
With respect to the statement “Therefore, as Maitreya was prophesized by Buddha Shakyamuni and the king Chandrabhadra by the Kalachakra Tantra, Tsongkhapa’s coming too had been foretold,” the Secret Biography of Lama Tsongkhapa says:
When considering the points of the six branches Of glorious Kalachakra, the final of tantras, He directly saw the Bhagavan Kalachakra. He was prophesized like Chandrabhadra. I make requests at the feet of the glorious lama.
“Manjushri directly imparted to you…” indicates that Lama Tsongkhapa received the complete teachings on the generation stage and completion stage of Guhyasamaja from Manjushri. The teaching on the generation stage includes the instruction on bringing the three bodies into the path. In the Guhyasamaja sadhana, in the context of the generation stage, there is the binding of the forty-nine thusnesses. The preliminary part of the sadhana also possesses the six thusnesses. The teaching on the completion stage includes the six stages: the isolation of body, isolation of speech, isolation of mind, illusory body, clear light, and union.
The great Tsongkhapa grounded his exposition of the Clear Lamp on the basis of an interweaving of four explanations, the tradition of which is still alive today. As regards the lineage of the commentary on the two stages, he passed on the transmission to all of his principal disciples, so there exist many lineages. In particular, the manner in which these teachings were imparted to Khedrup Rinpoche is recorded in the biography [of Tsongkhapa]. During the day, expositions of sutra and tantra were given, while at night the instructions on the stages of generation and perfection were given. This is recorded in the miscellaneous writings [of Khedrup] found listed in the contents of [his Collected Works]. Therefore, Khedrup Je received all the essential instructions as if the contents of one vase was transferred into another. He then compiled his notes on the five stages [of the perfection stage] in his Twenty Short Pieces and wrote an extensive work on the generation stage of Guhyasamaja Tantra. With respect to the perfection stage, it is difficult for anyone to supercede Tsongkhapa’s own writings, especially his Lamp Thoroughly Illuminating and the Completion of Five Stages in One Sitting. From Khedrup Rinpoche, the lineage passed through Se and Ensa, while from Sherap Senge, the lineages passed through the Upper and Lower Tantric Colleges and thus flourished. It is due to the contributions of these masters that the teachings of tantra survive up to the present day without any degeneration.
Lama Tsongkhapa’s Four Interwoven Commentaries, which is based on Chandrakirti’s Clear Lamp, is a very large and extensive volume. He passed on the lineage of the commentary on the two stages to his disciples, including those called “the eight pure disciples.” In particular, he passed it on to Khedrub Rinpoche, to whom he explained sutra and tantra during the day and the generation and completion stages at night. This is recorded in the Khedrup’s miscellaneous writings (literally, small letters). Khedrup’s extensive work on the generation stage of Guhyasamaja Tantra is the Ocean of Attainments. From Khedrub Je the lineage passed through Se and Ensa. Ensapa, so-called due to being from Ensa where he founded a monastery, is considered to be the first Panchen Lama as he was the former incarnation of Panchen Losang Chokyi. The two lineages of Se and Ensa are still extant, for example, there is a Lama Chopa (Offering to the Spiritual Master) of the Se lineage and one of the Ensa lineage.
Many successive masters of Segyü appeared, of whom Gyüchen Könchok Yarphel lived well beyond eighty years of age. However, no successor emerged amongst his students who could carry on the lineage of oral transmissions and Segyü monastery thus went through a period of decline. It is reported in the fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography that once the monks of Segyü were invited to perform rituals at the Potala Palace. The Great Fifth posed several questions, to which Gyüchen gave spontaneous responses, which impressed the Dalai Lama, except for one question pertaining to chakhar ritual. So the fifth Dalai Lama repeatedly spoke highly of Segyü monastery and this is believed to have contributed to an increase in their renown.
The chakhar (lcags mkhar, iron-space) ritual involves the stacking up of many sixty-four part tormas after which they are put into a fire. The Fifth Dalai Lama also asked a question to Gyüchen about a ritual in which one suspends sheets of paper, on which the enemies of the doctrine are drawn, that are connected to each other by a string over a pan of boiling oil. The lama holds up a skull cup of nectar and pours the nectar into the pot of boiling oil due to which flames blaze upward and burn the pieces of paper.
Around this time, it is said that Gyüchen performed the rites of Kalarupa, exhorting the protector to help attract suitable disciples. Gyüchen is said to have exclaimed, “Unless the time has come for the lineage of Se to come to an end, I must have successors, for I am already eighty!” [Finally] Gyüchen had four disciples, who became known as the “four vajra brothers.” Gungthang Rinpoche says that he had heard it from his teacher Yongzin Rinpoche that as Gyüchen did not want many students, he was extremely strict with their number.
Yongzin Rinpoche, Gungthang Rinpoche’s teacher, is Kachen Yeshe Gyeltsen, who composed many texts and was called “Yongdzin” due to having been a tutor of one of the Dalai Lamas. Gungthang Jampelyang was also a great scholar who composed many texts.
Chankya Rinpoche and the previous Jamyang Shepa [[[Ngawang]] Tsöndru] were teacher and disciple around this time. They agreed that if the opportunity were missed to receive the instructions while Segyü Könchok Yarphel and Könchok Gyaltsen – the master of Tashi Lhünpo – were still alive, there might be the danger for many of the lineages of the Geluk oral traditions to disappear. Thus Changkya Rinpoche received extensive teachings from Könchok Gyaltsen and also some instructions related to Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja from Segyü Dorjechang. The previous Jamyang Shepa took these transmissions from Changkya Rinpoche; he also went to Gyüme and received the transmissions of the Ensa tradition from the then Ganden Throne-holder, Lodrö Gyatso. The year following his trip to Gephel, Jamyang Shepa fell ill on his way to Segyü and stayed at a nearby town. Se Dorjechang sent him food and clothes and asked him to come to see him the next day. Jamyang Shepa left early on the following day [to see him]. At their meeting, he offered a scarf with five interwoven colors and bowed at the feet of Gyüchen. Jamyang Shepa then spoke to Gyüchen, stating that he was offering this scarf to request the entire transmission of the Geluk oral tradition.
It is said that Jamyang Shepa’s trip was quite uncomfortable due to the cold and rain, for which reason Se Dorjechang sent him food and clothes. At their meeting, in order to request the entire transmission of the Geluk oral tradition, Jamyang Shepa offered Gyüchen a scarf with five interwoven colors – white, yellow, red, blue, and green – representing the five enlightened activities of pacification, increase, power, wrath, and the countless.
He then went on to make the following statement:
Everything depends on how one relates to one’s guru through thought and deeds. Who would listen to teachings given for the sake of wealth accumulation? And the talk about the size of offering is of interest only to mundane people! Of course, if the disciple does have something to offer, then certainly it must be offered, as in the story of Marpa sending Ngog to fetch even his goat with a broken limb.
One should not give teachings in order to receive a certain amount of offerings, and not give them if the offerings are not enough. In other words, the giving of Dharma teachings should not be turned into a business. On the other hand, if the disciple has something to offer the teacher he should give it. For example, when Ngog went to Marpa to receive teachings, Marpa asked him what he had to offer him and when Ngog said that all he owned was a goat with a broken leg, Marpa told him to bring it to him. Also when Milarepa first went looking for Marpa he was told that he could be found plowing a nearby field. Milarepa saw a fat man plowing the field. The fat man asked Milarepa who he was, and Milarepa said that he was from the region of Latuk and had come to seek teachings from Marpa. They sat down and Marpa drank some alcohol and offered it to Milarepa to drink. Marpa also had some bread and radishes, which he shared with Milarepa. Marpa told Milarepa to finish eating and drinking and then to finish plowing the field before coming to him later that evening. Marpa returned home, while Milarepa finished eating, drinking, and plowing. Milarepa’s actions were very auspicious: that fact that he had fulfilled all of Marpa’s wishes indicated that Milarepa would accomplish Marpa’s realizations. When Milarepa arrived at Marpa’s home and requested teachings, Marpa said that he could not yet give him teachings because Milarepa had committed many great negativities which he needed to purify. Marpa told Milarepa to build a nine-story tower. When Milarepa was just about finished the tower, Marpa came to see it and, because one of the stones used in the lower part had been carried by Marpa’s wife and not by Milarepa himself, he told Milarepa to dismantle the tower and return all the stones to the places from which they had originated. This happened several times until finally Milarepa finished building a tower and Marpa agreed to give him teachings. Marpa taught him how to generate meditative stabilization whereby he remained absorbed in concentration for seven days. In this way Milarepa gained realizations in just a few days due to having followed Marpa’s instructions.
At this meeting, Gyüchen asked Jamyang Shepa a number of questions, pertaining especially to Madhyamaka philosophy. The responses pleased Gyüchen greatly. When requested to give the entire transmissions of Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja, and Yamantaka, Gyüchen said that he could not give all three, but only one. He asked Jamyang Shepa to choose one; Jamyang Shepa requested the teachings of Guhyasamaja. This pleased Gyüchen even more. He told Jamyang Shepa that the choice was flawless, for if one understands Guhyasamaja, one understands the whole of sutra and tantra. “I shall now give you the teachings of Guhyasamaja in their entirety,” said Gyüchen. Thus Jamyang Shepa received the entire lineage. Although such was the strict instruction of Gyüchen, because Jamyang Shepa stayed for more than a year [at Gyüchen’s] the circumstances were such that he also received teachings on Chakrasamvara and Yamantaka, as attested to by his notes. He also received the transmissions of many other teachings.
Guhyasamaja is called “the king of tantras” because if one understands it, one will understand all the sutras and tantras because in order to understand tantra one must have acquired an understanding of sutra.
Wednesday morning, 28 January 2004
When Jamyang Shepa was leaving, Gyüchen asked him to ensure that there would also be a tantric division when he established a large monastery in Amdo. Gyüchen gave Jamyang Shepa a yellow robe and a mandala base that had the inscription “offered in the presence of Vajradhara” and was studded with a conch in the middle and many shells around it, representing the thirty heaps , with Mount Meru at the center. This was a good omen, for it symbolized the establishment of a new base. The mandala was later given to the tantric college and is used to this day to make the mandala offering in the teaching courtyard. The History of [the Teachings of] the Yamantaka Tantra states that in Amdo, two centers of tantra made great contributions towards the flourishing of the Dharma. This is a reference to Gönlung monastery and its tantric division. Jamyang Shepa also requested the Dharma king of Midröl to establish a tantric center in Serkhok. It is said that the reason that tantric centers flourish in the branch monasteries of Jamyang Shepa is that he is believed to share the same continuum of mind with Tsongkhapa. It is also due to the auspiciousness of spreading the teachings that unite the view of emptiness with tantra. This is, at least, what the tantric master Chogdrup Tsang and Geshe Rinchen Chösang used to say.
When Jamyang Shepa was leaving, Gyüchen told him to establish a monastery with a tantric section and auspiciously offered him a Dharma robe and a mandala base. In general a mandala offering is composed of thirty-seven heaps whereas in the case of Guhyasamaja it is either of twenty-three or twenty-five heaps.
Drogon Chokyi Pagpa created the mandala offering of thirty-seven heaps based on the scriptures. This lama was the spiritual teacher of a Chinese government official who was said to be an emanation of Manjushri. At that time, Mongolia ruled Tibet and when the head of Mongolia received teachings from Drogon Chokyi Pagpa he thanked him by offering the three regions of Tibet to him together with a large stupa located on the border. This stupa was built at the place where the founder of Sera, Jamchen Choje, had passed away. Jamchen Choje was a previous incarnation of Drogon Chokyi Pagpa. At the time of Aku Sherab Gyatso the mandala given by Gyüchen to Jamyang Shepa was still used in Tashi Kyil Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in Amdo. The two centers of tantra that made great contributions towards the flourishing of the Dharma are Gönlung Monastery and Tashi Kyil Monastery. Jamyang Shepa also requested the Dharma king of Midröl to establish a tantric center in Serkhok. In Tibet there is a large region called Serta. Recently in this region there was a well-known lama with ten thousand ordained disciples, including both monks and nuns. The Chinese officials asked him why he was surrounded by so many monks and nuns and he responded that he had not called them but that they had just come of their own initiative. The Chinese officials ordered all of them to return to their homes, and sent Chinese soldiers to make sure that this happened. While originally it seemed that a thousand of them would be permitted to remain in the monastery, in the end none were allowed to remain. After this event the lama also left the area. Later he fell sick and was taken to a hospital where he passed away. The official version is that he could not be cured but the unofficial version is that he was poisoned. The Dharma king of Midrol is the header of the Nyingma tradition, whose present incarnation lives in Rajpur, India. His daughter, Khadro Rinpoche, is a nun who is said to be a dakini. From the point of view of his external aspect the present head of the Midrol lineage appears to be weak and ill and constantly asleep, whereas internally he is said to be a great scholar and practitioner. When he was asked by His Holiness to accept the position of the throne-holder of the Nyingma tradition, he originally refused, saying that he was crazy. However, a couple of years ago he accepted this position. Jamyang Shepa is believed to share the same mental continuum as Tsongkhapa. In other words, he is believed to be emanation of Lama Tsongkhapa. Jamyang Shepa founded tantric monasteries that spread the teachings that unite the view of emptiness – the absence of inherent existence – expounded by the Prasangika Madhyamikas with tantra. In general the practice of tantra can also be united with the Chittamatra view or the Svatantrika Madhyamaka view of Shantarakshita, that is, the Yogacharin Svatantrika Madhyamaka view. In other words, one can practice tantra based on the view of the non-duality of apprehenders and apprehendeds and the indivisibility of bliss and emptiness. This is mentioned in Lama Tsongkhapa’s Great Exposition of the Stages of Mantra.
Although one would have expected Jamyang Shepa to succeed to the throne of Ganden, he concentrated much of his energy in upholding the scholarly tradition of the five great treatises. He therefore assumed only the abbotship of Gomang College and the monastery at Phabongkha retreat . One of Jamyang Shepa’s spiritual sons, Gendün Phüntsok, who was believed to be an emanation of Sherap Senge, assumed the position of Ganden throne-holder. [[[Jamyang Shepa]] ] was also responsible for committing to woodblock print the four interwoven commentaries of Guhyasamaja; he also turned the great stupa of Tsongkhapa into a golden monument; he was also responsible for raising the appropriate funds from the government to institute the rites of Chakrasamvara as part of the regular practices of Gyüme monastery. The story of the Segyü lineage can therefore be told through the interrelationship of masters and disciples and how it reflects the wonderful auspiciousness of this bond.
While it is said that Kunkyen Jamyang Shepa could have succeeded to the throne of Ganden, due to the need to continue his study of the five great treatises (Valid Cognition, Perfection, Middle Way, Treasury of Manifest Dharma, and Discipline), he only became the lama of Gomang and the abbot of Pabongkha. At that time the position of Gomang abbot did not exist due to a decree of a Tibetan king. Gendün Phüntsok, the spiritual son of Jamyang Shepa, assumed the position of Ganden throne-holder. He was an incarnation of Gungtang Jampelyang and was responsible for committing to woodblock print the four interwoven commentaries of Guhyasamaja and turning the great stupa of Tsongkhapa into a golden monument. He was also responsible for raising the appropriate funds from the government to institute the rites of Chakrasamvara as part of the regular practices of Gyüme monastery.
Therefore, the lineages of both Se and Ensa are [fully] present in the tradition of the “guide” on the two stages, which stems from Jamyang Shepa. In Sera Lobsang Norbu’s biography, he narrates an account of how he once requested Jamyang Shepa to give teachings on the generation stage of Yamantaka. Surprisingly, in response, Jamyang Shepa reprimanded him for this, exclaiming, “What is wrong with taking teachings on the perfection stage as well?” So he requested the commentary on the perfection stage too. Jamyang Shepa told him that although he himself and the great Kaushri and Thangsakpa all received the transmission from Segyü Dorjechang, he would impart to Lobsang Norbu certain instructions that were not channeled through the other two masters.
Jamyang Shepa possessed both the lineages of Se and Ensa. When Sera Lobsang Norbu requested Jamyang Shepa for teachings on the generation stage, Jamyang Shepa scolded him for his limited request due to which he also requested teachings on the completion stage.
Thangsakpa is known as Shang Thangsakpa Ngodrub Gyatso and was one of the lamas of Gomo Tulku’s monastery, Penpo Ganden Chokor. There is a series of ritual dances called Thangsak Drub Cho consisting of thirty different types of dances, which are almost unknown these days. For this reason Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked Gomo Tulku to teach these ritual dances at Lama Tzong Khapa Institute which he did in 1985, including the Black Hat Dance. He also the taught the Tor Gya ritual. Jamyang Shepa, Kaushri ,and Thangsakpa received the lineage from Segyü Dorjechang. Jamyang Shepa later gave certain instructions to Lobsang Norbu that the other two lamas had not received.
Though Thangsakpa received the teachings on Yamantaka and Guhyasamaja from Segyü Dorjechang, he took the Guhyasamaja initiation and an in-depth guide from Jamyang Shepa. There exists the incredible story of how the two masters [[[Jamyang Shepa]] and Thangsakpa] revealed to each other the body-mandala deities during these teachings. Shok Dönyo Khedrup also went to receive teachings on the two stages of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara from Jamyang Shepa when Jamyang Shepa was staying at Gephel as an ordinary monk and hermit. It is said that Jamyang Shepa was rather busy, so he gave a short version of these teachings and encouraged Dönyo Khedrup to take more extensive instructions from his student Thangsakpa. We find this story in the biography of Dönyo Khedrup. After Jamyang Shepa’s return to Amdo, Thangsakpa and Dönyo Khedrup became most well known. Thus in much literature of the lineage masters, Jamyang Shepa’s name appears to have been left out. However, as clearly attested to in the seventh Dalai Lama’s Record of Teachings Received, both Thangsakpa and Dönyo Khedrup received their lineage from Jamyang Shepa.
Thangsakpa received teachings on Yamantaka and Guhyasamaja from Segyü Dorjechang. He also received the detailed commentary and the empowerment from Kunkyen Jamyang Shepa. It is said that during the empowerment, these masters revealed the body-mandala of Guhyasamaja to each other, that is, they manifested as the deity with the parts of their body also transformed into deities.
Gephel Hermitage is located behind Drepung Monastery in Tibet. Jamyang Shepa lived there as an ordinary monk, however as he was well-known many people came to receive teachings from him. Due to this he just gave a short version of the teachings on the two stages of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara to Dönyo Khedrup and encouraged him to take more extensive instructions from his student Thangsakpa. Dönyo Khedrup did this and after Jamyang Shepa’s return to Amdo, Thangsakpa and Dönyo Khedrup became well known. While Jamyang Shepa’s name was originally not included among those of the lineage lamas, it was later included by the VII Dalai Lama.
The master who is responsible for the subsequent flourishing of these teachings is Pönlop Jhampa Rinpoche. It is said that Jhampa Rinpoche once went to see Jamyang Shepa at Gomang with the thought of taking teachings. However, on that day there were important dignitaries like the Lhasang Tsang paying a visit, so it was only possible to have a meeting, but not to receive teachings. Yet because of the efforts he put into seeking the teachings, he felt deeply inspired and blessed. It is said that because of this experience, Jhampa Rinpoche would always offer a cup of tea for any new person who came to attend his teachings. Jamyang Lama Sönam Wangle tells this account. From Jhampa Rinpoche, the teachings were transmitted to Södrak Dorjechang, then through to Nyendrak Dorjechang, and to Jamyang Lama Sönam Wangyal.
Jampa Rinpoche is Purchok Ngawang Jampa. He went to see Jamyang Shepa hoping to receive teachings from him but was unable to have more than a short meeting with Jamyang Shepa due to the visit of a Mongolian king. However, because of Jampa Rinpoche efforts to see this lama he received blessings. Due to having received a cup of tea from Kunkyen Jamyang Shepa when he arrived there thirsty, after that Jampa Rinpoche would always offer a cup of tea and some Tibetan bread to the new disciples who would come to his teachings.
These stories are recounted to attest to the qualities of the lineage lamas.
Wednesday afternoon, 28 January 2004
I did not receive the lineage from Jamyang Lama Sönam Wangyal. My own teacher, Kyapgön Dorjechang, gave brief teachings on the two stages of Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja both in the central and Tsang provinces of Tibet and also at Chin in Mongolia. But in our monastery, only the tradition of the two stages of Yamantaka exists, not those of Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja. This is unfortunate and we must strive to re-establish these. Nyendrak Dorjechang did give a guide on the generation and perfection stages of Guhyasamaja, but as I was in the middle of my doram examination I could not go. Apart from this, I have not heard of any teaching on the guide of the generation and perfection stages being given here at our monastery. This meant that when I became the deputy abbot of a tantric college, I had still not received the transmission of the guide on the two stages . This was truly embarrassing. So I pleaded with Drakar Rinpoche, who was already seventy years old, to come and stay for a period of more than a month to teach. I received many teachings, such as the two stages of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara, especially those of the five-deity mandala .
Kyapgön Dorjechang refers to Aku Sherab Gyatso’s teacher, Jamyang Shepa Ngawang Tsondru. Jamyang Shepa, literally, the laughter of Manjushri, is a title that indicates that when this person wishes to check a particular passage in the Kangyur (the Translation of the Words of Buddha) or Tangyur (the Translation of the Treatises), upon opening that particular text he immediately finds that passage on that very page, and also indicates that this person’s understanding of the text pleases Manjushri, thus making him smile or laugh with delight. Kyapgön Dorjechang gave a brief commentary on the two stages of Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja both in the central and Tsang provinces of Tibet and also at Chin in Mongolia. The notes taken during these teachings are still extant in his Collected Works.
In Aku Sherab Gyatso’s monastery, either Gonlung or Trashi Kyil, only the tradition of the two stages of Yamantaka exists. Aku Sherab Gyatso finds it quite sad that the tradition of the two stages of Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja do not exist there and says that they should put effort into reestablishing them. Nyendrak Dorjechang gave a commentary on the generation and completion stages of Guhyasamaja, but Aku Sherab Gyatso was unable to attend because at that time he was doing the doram examination in Drepung Monastery. The equivalent examination given in Sera is called the riglam examination. “Doram” refers to the stone courtyard in Drepung Monastery where the examination would take place, that is, it would take place out in the open with the monks sitting on the stone-paved courtyard. The doram examination consists of a series of questions and answers. In Sera there is a ceremony in the assembly hall called rigtra assembly, and those who become geshes during that assembly are called riglam geshes. When Aku Sherab Gyatso became the abbot of the tantric college he felt embarrassed by the fact that he had not yet received a commentary on the two stages of Guhyasamaja. For this reason, he asked Drakar Kachu Rinpoche, who was from the monastery of Dragong in Drakar (white boulder). This lama was called Kachu Rinpoche, translated as “the precious master of the ten difficult ones,” a title given in Tashi Kyil Monastery and other monastic seats. Aku Sherab Gyatso received teachings from him on the generation and completion stages of Yamantaka, Chakrasamvara, and Guhyasamaja.
Drakar Rinpoche would impart every aspect of the teachings he had received from his own teacher, including the hand gestures and manners of speech, without any omission or exaggeration. He would say that instruction is something that needs to be kept hidden from others, but when being given to others it must be given in its entirety. He said, “In the past there was no need to actually recite the sadhanas to undertake the practice of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara. It was adequate simply to mentally review the stages of meditation to impart the transmission of the guide. These days, I know neither the sadhana nor the guide by heart! The meditators living in the mountains know these by heart.” Saying this, he pledged that in his next life he would be a hermit who would dedicate his life for practice. This is how he would tell his own story with such humility.
Drakar Rinpoche said that while the teachings in general should be kept hidden, when they are explained they should be explained in their entirety without any omissions. He said that in the past there was no need to recite the rituals of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara, it was enough to mentally review the stages of meditation in order to give the transmission of the commentary because at that time people were very sharp. He said that nowadays he did not know either the rituals or the commentaries by heart. There are hermits who mentally give up this life and those who mentally give up the next life. He said that he was a hermit mentally gives up the next life in order to reduce his pride, however without doubt he had mentally given up this life.
Drakar Rinpoche had received the transmission of the guide on the two stages of all three – Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara – three times from Phurbuchok Pönlop Rinpoche. There are notes based on these teachings. Apparently, Phurchok Rinpoche quite often followed a custom of teaching Path to Bliss in the spring and Sacred Words of Manjushri in the autumn. These autumn teachings would be followed by commentaries on the two stages of either Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, or Chakrasamvara in turn.
Phurbuchok Pönlop Rinpoche is Purchok Ngawang Jampa. He would teach the Path to Bliss, a lam-rim text by Panchen Losang Chokyi, in the spring and the Sacred Words of Manjushri, a lam-rim text by the V Dalai Lama, in the autumn. Panchen Losang Chokyi was the teacher of the fifth Dalai Lama. At one point in his life he received teachings from Nyingma lamas and would wear a big dagger stuck in his belt. Similarly, his friend Dagpa Rabjampa would wear a wooden stick, used to poke the fire and blackened at the end, in his belt. Together they would go for teachings to the V Dalai Lama. The V Dalai Lama asked what they were doing with the dagger and the stick and they explained that at that time if one did not have a stick in one’s belt, one did not fit into society. While Dagpa Rabjampa was explaining this he was walking around the room, meanwhile dirtying the wall with the end of the blackened stick. The V Dalai Lama said “You are dirtying my place,” to which he responded “Is this stick dirty?”
It is recounted that one day Dagpa Rabjampa took a statue from the altar in this room and hid it in a fork in a tree. The tree then grew around the statue. Some time afterward Dagpa Rabjampa said to the V Dalai Lama, “I will extract a treasure from a hidden place.” The V Dalai Lama ordered all the Tibetans to go to Jarag park for this event. Dagpa Rabjampa began the ceremony with a ritual dance and then ordered someone to split the tree open, whereupon the statue was revealed. He wrapped up the statue and returned it to the V Dalai Lama saying “This is the object that I have extracted from a hidden place.” The V Dalai Lama said it was not a treasure extracted from a hidden place, but a statue that Dagpa Rabjampa had stolen from him! Dagpa Rabjampa replied wrathfully, “What are you saying? To extract a treasure from a hidden place implies that someone hid it there in the past! Even the hidden texts that are found later are only found because someone put them there.” On another occasion Dagpa Rabjampa said to the V Dalai Lama, “In the Gelug tradition even an immoral monk knows what is to be abandoned and what is to be adopted, whereas the nuns living behind your palace do not know this.” The V Dalai Lama was shocked asked how that could possibly be. Dagpa Rabjampa suggested that they call the best known among the nuns and ask her this question. They did this and asked her, “What is to be abandoned? What is to be adopted?” With great authority the nun replied, “That which is to be abandoned (pang cha) is a bird (cha) of the plains (pang), and that which is to be adopted (lang cha) is a bird (cha) of the lang tree (lang).” This reply made the V Dalai Lama very embarrassed. Then they called in an immoral Gelug monk who was returning to his monastery staggering drunk. They asked him the same questions: “What is to be abandoned? What is to be adopted?” The drunken monk replied, “That which is to be abandoned is that which I have not been able to give up, such as drinking. In fact I have transgressed my vows due to not having been able to abandon that which is to be abandoned. On the other hand, someone who is able to abandon the objects of abandonment, such as the ten non-virtues, is one who is practicing that which is to be adopted.” In this way Dagpa Rabjampa proved his statement correct. There is also the story about the oracle Nechung who did not like Dagpa Rabjampa because he was always competing with the V Dalai Lama. Although Dagpa Rabjampa wished to die he knew that Nechung was watching him, planning to possess his mind and transform him into a member of his retinue. Dagpa Rabjampa thought about how he could trick Nechung, and composed a prayer of exhortation to him:
The one who is neither a demon nor a god, To you Dharma King Nechung, I, who am neither a layman or a wearer of yellow robes, Offer that held in my hand, neither a scarf nor clothing. Accept this liquid that is neither tea nor water. May all my desired aims be realized.
He gave this verse to his disciple and told him to make this prayer of exhortation in the Nechung Chog, a shrine dedicated to Nechung. Prior to this prayer of exhortation, the monk performed the Sixty-Four Part Offering and carried the torma offering outside. A crow, an emanation of Nechung, came to eat the torma, and while he was busy eating it, Dagpa Rabjampa died and went to Shambala. However, it is said that even having been born in Shambala he is still chased by Nechung, although he is protected by guard dogs.
The V Dalai Lama composed the Sacred Words of Manjushri and offered it to Panchen Losang Chokyi, who was pleased with it and thought that it would cause the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa to flourish. Soon afterward this event Panchen Losang Chokyi died.
First Hortsang Sertri Rinpoche, who was a classmate of Drakar Rinpoche and knew him well, was asked to attend the teachings. I too began taking teachings at the same time. He [Drakar Rinpoche] lived like an ordinary monk, wearing simple clothing, robes, and shoes made of rough wool and walking about in halting steps. When approached by strangers asking questions, he would simply respond “Who knows? But this is what I have heard.” Since he was not very forthcoming, many regarded him as someone who was not learned. Nevertheless, when he did teach, he would often do so straight from memory.
Thus many of the past scholars and adepts have gained realizations from taking to heart the profound instructions and have also imparted their insights to their disciples. The disciples, too, attained high levels of realization and have taught to their students, and so on. Thus, not only the lineages of the teachings thrived but also realized masters ornamented the country like pearls strung together to form a rosary.
Rik Dratsang, after showing the literature of the Se and Ensa traditions, had once exclaimed “Observe this! There is a rosary of [[[masters]] who have attained] the union of beyond learning.” Therefore, in the Geluk contemplative tradition there have been many great beings who have attained full enlightenment within their lifetime.
In short in the Gelug tradition there were many who attained enlightenment in their lifetime. “The Geluk contemplative tradition,” literally “the mountainous Gelugpa tradition” (ri bo dge lugs pa), is so-called because Ganden Monastery was constructed on the side of a mountain. The word “Gelug” (dge lugs) means “the virtuous tradition,” which was founded when other traditions had become corrupted. It is a system that asserts the three types of vows to have their own individual entities, that is, it says that they are not one entity. The three types of vows are those of lay people, novices, and the fully-ordained. Previous to this tradition, it was said in Tibet that the three vows were one entity because having taken a subsequent level of vows the previous one would become non-existent. In other words, this system asserted that when a lay vow-holder takes the novice vows, the lay vows are transformed into the substance of the novice vows, and when a novice takes the vows of full ordination the novice vows are transformed into the substance of the vows of full ordination, due to which a single person can only possess one set of vows at a time. Similarly, this system asserted that when someone with the vows of individual liberation takes the bodhisattva vows, the vows of individual liberation are transformed into the substance of the bodhisattva vows, and when someone with the bodhisattva vows takes the tantra vows they are transformed into the substance of the tantra vows. According to this, there does not exist a person who possesses all three vows: the vows of individual liberation, bodhisattva vows, and tantra vows. However, that this is mistaken is clearly set forth in Distinguishing the Three Vows by Kunga Gyeltsen.
Thursday morning, 29 January 2004
Also the instructions on the guide to the stages of generation and perfection were given only to one or two genuinely qualified disciples who, upon gaining experience, then instructed others. This is unlike the present practice, whereby such teachings are given in public as if [setting out a stall] in a market. The instructions too were conducted [in the past] according to the level of the disciple’s mind, so that what was taught was immediately put into practice. Only once certain mastery was gained was the instruction for the next section given. This is the appropriate way in which one should receive the guide. Today, since [entire] instructions are given in one stretch, it is very rare to see a guide being conducted in the ideal way. Manipa Sherap Tashi laments for this situation in some of his songs of experience.
The experiential guide of the generation and completion stages was given in the past to just one or two qualified disciples at a time. They would then put the instructions into practice and only when they had generated their realization were they given further teachings. Thus, in the past the master would teach in accordance with the minds of his disciples, and then they would put the teachings into practice. Unlike this, nowadays these teachings are given publicly and entire teachings are given in one stretch, without any break. In this way, it has become rare that teachings are given in the ideal way. In other words, nowadays those who explain do not do as before and those who listen do not do as before. Manipa Sherap Tashi would chant OM MANI PADME HUM and encourage others to do the same. He said that this mantra is the essence of all the Dharma.
Nevertheless, we owe great debt to masters like Changkya Rölpai Dorje and Jamyang Shepa, who helped disseminate these teachings widely to many students. The transmission of the guide on the two stages of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara all comes from the lineage of Jamyang Shepa. According to the oral tradition belonging to this lineage, there is the following saying: “The instruction should come through a lineage of gurus, uninterrupted such that there are no dogs intervening between human beings, no ghosts intervening between gods. The power of the blessings shall be poignant and as fresh as if the breath of the dakinis is still warm.” So the lineage has come to us through successive Vajradharas.
Changkya Rölpai Dorje and Jamyang Shepa taught tantra to many students, as a result of which the tantra teachings were widely disseminated like the rays of the sun. Aku Sherab Gyatso received the commentary on the two stages of Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Chakrasamvara in an unbroken lineage extending from Jamyang Shepa. This is the correct way in which to receive a transmission, that is, it should be without dogs intervening between humans and without ghosts intervening between gods. In this way the power of the blessings remains fresh, as if the breath of the dakinis were still warm. Thus, Aku Sherab Gyatso’s lineage came to him from one Vajradhara to another.
Today it may be rare to encounter a pure lineage, but then it is the age when the Dharma goes from north to north. And it is due to the great kindness of Künkhyen Lama Jamyang Shepa and his spiritual disciples that we have the good fortune to have the opportunity to listen to these instructions to our heart’s content. It is difficult to determine why someone like myself ends with the role of playing verbal games with tantra. Perhaps we have truly reached the end of an era! Of course I do not have any profound realization but, due to the blessing received from my teacher Kyapgön Rinpoche, who has instructed me to teach, and due to the kindness of many teachers who are truly enlightened and also due to the kindness of many good colleagues, my ears have been conditioned by the sacred words of the masters. So I am today playing a role similar to a parrot repeating the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM!
To encounter a pure lineage has become rare. It was prophesized in a text that there would be a time when the Dharma would go from north to north, meaning that while originally the Dharma went from India to the north, that is, to Tibet, later it would go even further north. It is due to the great kindness of Künkhyen Lama Jamyang Shepa and his spiritual disciples that the monks of Tashi Kyil had the good fortune to have the opportunity to listen to instructions, whether on sutra or tantra, to their heart’s content.
Aku Sherab Gyatso reduces his pride by saying that he is an inferior being who, without any realization of secret mantra, just plays with the words of secret mantra. However, he was blessed by his teacher Kyapgön Rinpoche, Kunkyen Jamyang Shepa, who told him to give teachings. He also relied upon many virtuous spiritual friends who were actual buddhas, and had many good companions, due to which he was able to hear many words of Dharma. He says that what he has heard, he now repeats like a parrot. However, while a parrot does not understand the meaning of words such as OM MANI PADME HUM, human beings are able to understand meanings. In fact the definition of a human being is: one who can speak and understands meanings.
As the masters say, “It is not adequate simply to be present in the congregation; you must listen well and take to heart what you have heard.” So ensure that what you understand here today does not go to waste. You should integrate [the teachings] within your mind; and through the combination of learning, contemplation, and meditation, you should make your life most purposeful. It is a fault if you do not listen well, for you cannot understand if you do not listen with attention. And if you do not take the teachings to heart, you cannot register anything. The length of the discourse should not matter.
It is not enough just to be present at a teaching, it is also necessary to listen well and then hold the teachings in one’s mind. In other words, one should listen to the teachings free from the three faults of an improper vessel. For example, just as when nectar is poured into an upside down vessel nothing goes inside, similarly when someone attends a teaching but falls asleep nothing will go inside. Also just as when nectar is poured into a dirty vessel the nectar becomes undrinkable, similarly if someone listens to the Dharma with an impure mind, for example, with the thought to find fault with the teachings, the Dharma itself will become impure. Also just as when nectar is poured into a vessel with a hole it does not remain inside but leaks out, similarly someone who goes to a teaching and listens carefully and without an impure mind, but immediately forgets what has been heard does not retain anything.
In short, one should listen well to the teachings, one should listen thoroughly, and one should retain what one has heard in one’s mind. The amount of words does not matter, it is important to understand the meaning. At times even if the words are few, the meaning is great.
It is said that when the Buddha spoke the following simple sentence – “This is the truth of suffering” – many attained the fruits of realization. The Buddha himself saw the truth and thereby experienced the stages of the path in their entirety by responding to the simple call, “Come here!” from Manjushri. The Buddha was ready for such a call because of the fruition of his past aspirational prayers and also [due to] having developed a genuine desire to seek emergence from the pervasive suffering of conditioned existence and seeing cyclic existence to be like an ocean of suffering. Thus, for him, the simple instruction “Come here!” signified a call to the shores of nirvana and to leave behind the realm of samsara. My teacher said, “These days, if someone is addressed saying ‘Come here!’, they will just turn their head and look back!”
The Buddha said “This is the noble truth of suffering” with respect to the aggregates. When he said this many of his listeners achieved the four results: those of abider in the result of stream enterer, abider in the result of once-returner, abider in the result of non-returner, and abider in the result of foe-destroyer. In fact, when the Buddha taught the four noble truths the five close disciples realized the truth of suffering directly, whereupon they spontaneously took on the aspect of a monk, with a shaved head and wearing the yellow robes.
When Manjushri said “Come here,” the Buddha realized the stages of the path and became a fully-ordained monk. Among the various ways in which ordination is received, there is a type of ordination that is obtained by means of the call “Come here.” This call is an exhortation to leave the ocean of cyclic existence behind and to come to the city of nirvana. There are two types of ordination, the ordinations of the past and the ordinations of the present. Among the past ordinations there is the ordination by the call “Come here,” the ordination by means of the clear realization of the truths, the ordination by means of a message, and the self-arisen ordination, the last being the case of the Buddha. Prince Siddharta gave up life in the palace for the life of a wandering ascetic, after which he renounced cyclic existence and naturally obtained ordination. These types of ordination were present in the past when people had more fortune, due to which by means of the simple call “Come here” they would generate a mind of definite emergence and generate the vows. On the other hand, nowadays if someone were to hear “Come here” they would merely turn about and ask “For what?” We would not at all think that we were being called to come to the city of liberation. What is cyclic existence (‘khor ba)? Tibetan lay people would answer that it means “to have a home and a family,” whereas for them a monk is “free from cyclic existence,” that is, free from the bondage of a home and family, or free from a lay life. However, more specifically cyclic existence is “the constant joining from life to life,” that is, the constant joining of present aggregates with future aggregates under the power of actions and afflictions. What makes us remain in cyclic existence? Actions and afflictions are what bind us in cyclic existence. We ourselves create this bondage; we allow afflictions to arise and increase, due to which we create actions. In this way we continue to cycle. In spite of this, we tend to think that it is someone else who is preventing us from becoming free from cyclic existence, and point to others as the source of our problems. While the sufferings that we experience come from different causes, including nagas, spirits, and so forth, the real cause is our negative actions. For this reason we need to purify our negativities and apply the antidotes to the afflictions in order to become free from the suffering of cyclic existence.
Therefore, sentient beings’ karma is like the vessel and the Buddha’s enlightened deeds [are like] the clouds; when the right time and conditions are met, new shoots will grow. It is this kind of auspicious meeting between the spiritual aspirants’ positive merits and the fruition of the buddhas’ enlightened aspiration that is called a “fortunate eon.” There are said to be one thousand such eons.
Due to the rain from the clouds the seeds planted in a field grow into shoots. Similarly, due to the Buddha’s enlightened activities the shoots of realization are generated in sentient beings who are ripe. In other words, sentient beings must have the necessary merit in order for this to happen. Because a thousand buddhas will come in the present period, it is called “a fortunate eon.”
This realm [i.e., the earth], which appears negative but is positive and which seems good but has also negative aspects, is a place where the five signs of degeneration are replete. It is said that this planet is found to be impossible to tame [even] by many buddhas. Thus it was Buddha Gyatsoi Dul who took it into his care. The [[[birth]] on earth now] is said to be inferior, in that we are at a time when the lifespan is 100 years and decreasing. Yet it is also [said to be] positive because the present human existence offers the chance of attaining buddhahood within a single lifetime. Also, the instructions to attain buddhahood, i.e., the teachings of tantra, are unique to the beings of the present era. Our existence therefore has both positive and negative aspects.
This period seems to be negative because of the flourishing of the five degenerations and because the beings of this period could not be tamed by other buddhas. In this era of the thousand buddhas, four have come, including Buddha Shakyamuni who was the fourth. The beings of the time when the lifespan is 100 years and decreasing have taken into the care of Buddha Shakyamuni.
On the other hand, this period is positive because the Buddha’s teachings still remain, including the teachings on tantra which enable us to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime. Unlike this, the teachings on tantra will not exist during the periods when other buddhas come to this world. In this sense we are very fortunate.
Thursday afternoon, 29 January 2004
Tantra also flourished in central India; there are many stories of heroes and heroines present in Udyana, northern India. As it is said that the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras emerged from the south and traveled through Paratani, and from north to north, Nagarjuna spread the teachings in south India. Judging by Milarepa’s songs, Paratani appears to be a reference to the translator Rinchen Sangpo’s bringing of the Dharma to the Ngari region [of Tibet]. From there, the teachings traveled further north.
“Central India” refers to Bodhgaya, Varanasi, and so forth, in that Bodhgaya is considered to be the center of the world in terms of the Dharma. Nagarjuna spread the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras in south India and then they spread to the north. Rinchen Sangpo and other translators brought the Dharma to the Ngari region of Tibet, which is referred to be the name “Paratani.”
Nagarjuna was born in the village of Beta in southern India, beta being the name of a tall grass. His birth there as well as his original name “Glorious Bhikshu” were prophesized by the Buddha, who said that he would overcome the view of existence-non-existence, that is, of superimposition and deprecation. In fact, Nagarjuna founded the system of the Middle Way that is free from the extremes of permanence and annihilation.
As the line “The supreme object is taught so that the supreme subject lies hidden” suggests, the stages of clear realization remain the implicit subject matter of [even] the Wisdom sutras. So there is indeed a great meaning to Path to Bliss’s identification of “expansive deeds,” “the heart of the profound path,” and “the heart of hearts” with “illusory body” and “clear light.” It was Marpa and Gö who brought tantra to the north and when the time came for it to go further north, masters like Mindröl Chökyi Gyalpo and the fifth Gyalse Dönyö Chökyi Gyatso brought it to the north of Machu river. Kalden Gyatso spread the Dharma in the region of Rong; in particular, the successive reincarnations of Künkhyen Jamyang Shepa have propagated the perfect tradition of the union of sutra and tantra widely in this part of the country.
The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras explicitly present emptiness and implicitly present the stages of the paths and grounds of the clear realizations. It would seem that tantra is included in the hidden meaning of these sutras as part of the clear realizations. The Path to Bliss teaches the expansive deeds or extensive conduct, the essence of the profound path, and the heart of the heart, which correspond to the illusory body and clear light. The stages of the clear realizations are included in the vast, and emptiness is included in the profound. The seventy topics mainly explain the stages of the path, therefore they are included in the vast. When emptiness is explained in detail there are twenty, sixteen, and four types. Having traversed the vast, which includes the mind generation and the stages of the path, and the profound, emptiness, one enters tantra in order to attain the illusory body and clear light.
Marpa Lotsawa and Gö Lotsawa brought tantra to the north, that is, to Tibet, which lies to the north of India. From there it was brought further north to the region of Amdo by masters such as Mindröl Chökyi Gyalpo and the former and later reincarnations of Gyalse Dönyö Chökyi Gyatso. Kalden Gyatso spread the Dharma in the region of Rongbo, which is also called Rekong. In that area there were many Nyingma practitioners, many of whom were disciples of Mindröl. The mere name Rongbo Rekong frightened people because these tantric practitioners with their matted hair were known for casting spells. The successive reincarnations of Künkhyen Jamyang Shepa widely propagated the perfect tradition of the union of sutra and tantra.
It is truly amazing that we are living in such an auspicious time. You should therefore listen to the teachings with special motivation and make a pledge that, at least, you will not let this teaching session go waste. Your state of mind should not be such that when the qualities of the Buddha and liberation are mentioned, you get impatient, but when the causes and conditions necessary for these attainments are mentioned, you feel discouraged. Furthermore, sealing your deeds with the appropriate dedication at the end is one way of making your existence purposeful; so constantly strive in this.
When the qualities of the Buddha and the benefits of liberation are explained one wishes to quickly taste them (that is, one finds them mouthwatering). The qualities of the buddhas include those of the exalted body, exalted speech, exalted mind, and the enlightened activities. The exalted body possesses the signs and exemplifications, the exalted speech possesses sixty-four melodious qualities, the exalted mind possesses twenty-one exalted wisdoms, and the enlightened activities are of twenty-seven classes. In addition, there are the benefits of liberation, for example, that nirvana is a state free from suffering that is characterized by being peaceful. Hearing about these qualities and benefits, one wishes to quickly attain them. on the other hand, when the master explains that it is necessary to collect the causes and conditions for these attainments, the laziness of indolence arises.
There are three types of laziness: the laziness of attachment to bad activities, the laziness of indolence, and the laziness of discouragement or procrastination. The laziness of indolence causes one to not engage in study but instead to sleep, watch a film, and so forth. However strangely enough when the movie begins the tiredness disappears! This laziness prevents one from engaging in meditation and so forth. The laziness of discouragement causes one to think that one is unable to meditate, to recite prayers, to achieve enlightenment, and so forth. Aku Sherab Gyatso advises us not to waste this session of listening to teachings, but to make it meaningful. Then, one should seal that listening with a dedication, this being the way to take the essence of this life. It is said that if one puts a drop of water into the ocean it will not dry up as long as the ocean itself does not dry up, and similarly if one makes a dedication for the enlightenment of all sentient beings that merit will not be exhausted until they attain enlightenment. Thus, because dedication is extremely meaningful, one should constantly dedicate one’s merit. For example, whenever one recites prayers or mantras and so forth one should make prayers of dedication at the end. Even if one just recites a few mantras, one should dedicate the virtue created by that recitation to complete enlightenment, before going on to the next activity. If one does that, like depositing money in the bank in that one’s money remains there safe and cannot be lost, by dedicating one’s virtue to complete enlightenment the virtue remains until their enlightenment.
In the past, guides to the two stages were taught by Kadam masters in fragments and individuals gained partial experiences based on the practice of these teachings. However, amongst these teachings there were some that did not accord with the instructions of Marpa and Gö, yet many others which did. It was Tsongkhapa who put into words the entire instructions without error; so today, apart from a few minor instances, the scope for misunderstanding remains small.
In the past teachings were given by the Kadam masters to individuals who practiced them and then taught them, however not all of these teachings accorded with the instructions of Marpa and Gö. It was Tsongkhapa who settled the entire meaning of the teachings and put the instructions into words. Nowadays it is difficult, apart from a few minor instances, to find even minor mistakes in his writings. Among the mistakes, some of them are made by those who made the woodblock prints, those who put them into a computer, and so forth. Lama Tsongkhapa made many commentaries on the explanatory tantras of Guhyasamaja, added annotations to the Clear Lamp, and so forth. In fact, his Collected Works consists of many volumes.
If these teachings are heard from one’s guru, one is empowered to practice the instructions and will also receive in one’s heart the blessings of the lineage masters of the root tantra. Segyü Könchok Yarphel once informed his teacher that, despite one’s having read many commentary texts many times, when the guru teaches, it feels as one is reading the text for the first time! His teacher, Gyüchen Könchok Gyatso, replied that when the guru gives the instruction, it makes a great difference in helping one to recognize [the nature of] one’s mind. One saying from the past masters of this oral tradition goes, “Even if you read a text on the guide to the generation and perfection stages 100 times, without the guru’s instruction, it will all remain mere words.”
Having received empowerment and the instructions, the blessings of the root and lineage lamas enter one’s heart. Empowerment is the entranceway to tantra, the mind generation is the entranceway to the great vehicle, and refuge is the entranceway to the Buddhist teachings. By receiving blessings from one’s root lama, one also receives the blessings of the lineage lamas as the instructions were passed down through them in an unbroken lineage.
Although one reads a text and comprehension is gained, one lacks the lineage of the instructions. On the other hand, when one reads the text together with the instructions of a lama it is if one were reading it for the first time. There is a story about a tulku who had an elderly master who was not particularly learned, yet he received daily teachings from this master on dialectics and so forth. Someone once asked the tulku why, since he was already learned in these philosophical texts, he continued to receive teachings from the elderly master who was less learned than himself. The tulku replied that while he did not learn anything new from him, the teachings that he received stabilized his understanding such that he did not forget the meaning. In other words, he took teachings from this master because he received blessings from him. It is said that when one reads a text about the generation and completion stages even a hundred times, if one lacks the instructions of a lama they will remain dry words.
Therefore, listening to teachings on the guide serves two purposes: it introduces to you the instructions and you receive the transmission of the blessings. Even if you take only the reading transmission you receive the transmission, which empowers you. It is therefore a source of blessing and inspiration. Södrak Dorjechang has said that as our present age is the era of scriptural reading, even the transmission of reading makes contributions to the Dharma. It also leaves in us positive imprints pertaining to the understanding of the meaning of these scriptures. Some people, without realizing this point, assert things like “What is the use of listening if you cannot understand? To whom is the teaching being given?, etc.” This is like asking an ordinary worldly person, “Why do you accumulate wealth? To whom do you plan to give all that you accumulate?”
If one listens to the commentary of the lama one will be introduced to the instructions and will receive the lineage of the blessings. What is the meaning of being introduced to the instructions (dams ngag)? If I were to introduce Sixte I would say, “Sixte is from Paris, France. He is now studying in Pomaia. He is a monk and a chant leader.”
Even if one just receives the oral transmission there is benefit because it deposits a special latency on one’s mind. There are some who do not understand this and ask “What is the use of listening if one cannot understand the meaning? In this case, to whom is the teaching being given?, etc.” One can respond with a similar logic asking: “Why do you accumulate wealth? To whom do you plan to give all the wealth that you accumulate?” Because this person thinks that one should only listen to teachings in order to give teachings to others in the future, one responds with the question “Then why are you accumulating wealth? To whom will you give all your accumulation of wealth?” This is because when one dies one leaves all one’s wealth behind, after which it may even become a source of conflict for one’s relatives.
In brief, as an ideal of one’s study, one should be able to discern all the teachings of sutra and tantra as essential instructions. It is not possible to attain buddhahood within a single lifetime on the basis of the sutra path alone. Some early Tibetans discarded tantra in their youth, when they were engaged in sutra practice. In the later part of their lives, however, when they engaged in tantric practices, they discarded [the ethical teaching of] vinaya. This is reported in [Jamyang Shepa’s] Great Exposition of Philosophical Tenets and in writings of early Kadam masters.
As a result of one’s study one should come to realize that all the teachings of sutra and tantra are instructions for a single individual. That is, one should come to realize that they are a means to subdue the mind that is unsubdued, to ripen the mind that is not ripe, and to liberate the mind that is not liberated. This is the sole purpose of the oral instructions.
(Note: There were no teachings Friday, 30 January 2004)