March 28, 2007

Arrival of Buddhism

The introduction of Buddhism occurred in the seventh century A.D., when Tibetan king Srongtsen Gampo (reigned A.D. 627-49), a convert to Buddhism, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang in central Bhutan and at Kyichu in the Paro Valley. Buddhism replaced but did not eliminate the Bon religious practices that had also been prevalent in Tibet until the late sixth century. Instead, Buddhism absorbed Bon and its believers. As the country developed in its many fertile valleys, Buddhism matured and became a unifying element. It was Buddhist literature and chronicles that began the recorded history of Bhutan.

In A.D. 747, a Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava (known in Bhutan as Guru Rimpoche and sometimes referred to as the Second Buddha), came to Bhutan from India at the invitation of one of the numerous local kings. After reportedly subduing eight classes of demons and converting the king, Guru Rimpoche moved on to Tibet. Upon his return from Tibet, he oversaw the construction of new monasteries in the Paro Valley and set up his headquarters in Bumthang. According to tradition, he founded the Nyingmapa sect--also known as the "old sect" or Red Hat sect--of Mahayana Buddhism, which became for a time the dominant religion of Bhutan. Guru Rimpoche plays a great historical and religious role as the national patron saint who revealed the tantras--manuals describing forms of devotion to natural energy--to Bhutan. Following the guru's sojourn, Indian influence played a temporary role until increasing Tibetan migrations brought new cultural and religious contributions.

There was no central government during this period. Instead, small independent monarchies began to develop by the early ninth century. Each was ruled by a deb (king), some of whom claimed divine origins. The kingdom of Bumthang was the most prominent among these small entities. At the same time, Tibetan Buddhist monks (lam in Dzongkha, Bhutan's official national language) had firmly rooted their religion and culture in Bhutan, and members of joint Tibetan-Mongol military expeditions settled in fertile valleys. By the eleventh century, all of Bhutan was occupied by Tibetan-Mongol military forces.

March 26, 2007

Taktshang, Paro

Kinley Dorji, Kuenselonline, March 30, 2005

The legend of Taktshang (tiger's lair) evolves from tantric mythology when, in 747 AD, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) chose a cave on this sheer rock face to meditate and, assuming his wrathful form, Guru Dorji Droloe, astride a tigress, subdued the evil spirits that were haunting the region. Taktshang thus became one of the most important monuments to the establishment of Buddhism in Bhutan and one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the Buddhist world.

Guru Rinpoche?s principle consort, Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal, also meditated in the cave that has come to be known as the Pelphug - or the Drubkhang.

The Pelphug, which is the most sacred sanctum of Taktshang, is the essence of Taktshang?s spirituality and the unique monastery, with 10 main temples and numerous sacred spaces, is built around it.

The vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singye Samdrup, is recognised today as the guardian deity of Taktshang. The sanctity of Taktshang was also strengthened, over the centuries, by numerous saints and Lams who visited the site and meditated in the Pelphug.

Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktshang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Buddhism.

After Guru Rinpoche departed from Bhutan his principle disciple, Langchen Pelkyi Singye, returned to Taktshang to meditate. He passed away in Nepal and his Kudung was brought back to Taktshang by his disciple, Damchen Dorji Legpa. Today the Kudung of Langchen Pelkyi Singye lies in the Chorten lhakhang.

In the 11th century the famed yogi, Mila Repa (1052-1135), meditated at Taktshang. It was here that, when asked about his ability to survive without physical nourishment, he composed his famous song, the exposition of Ten Signs (Tag Chu) of yogic attainment.

In the 12th century, Mahasiddha Pha Dampa Sangye, the famous Indian saint also meditated at Taktshang. His disciple, the famous yogini Machig Labdron, is believed to have left a foot-print on a rock at Taktshang known today as Machigphug.

Around the same time, Duesum Khenpa Karmapa Choekyi Dragpa (1110-1193), who founded the Karma Kagyu in Tibet, also made a pilgrimage to Taktshang.

In the 13th century, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1154-1252), the founder of the Drukpa Kagyu School in Bhutan, Gyalwa Lhanangpa (1164-1224), the founder of Lhapa Kagyu, and the famous monk, Rinchen Moenlam, also meditated at Taktshang.

In the 14th century the Indian Buddhist Saint, Nagi Rinchen, visited Taktshang and, in the 15th century, Drubthob Thangthong Gyalpo (1385-1464) is said to have discovered important hidden manuscripts during his meditation at Taktshang.

In the 16th century, Terton Pema Lingpa discovered the religious texts of ?Kuenzang Yathig? and ?Kagyed Yangsang Lamed? after intense meditation in Taktshang.

Known religious leaders visited Taktshang throughout Bhutanese history, including successive Je Khenpos. The late Geshe Geduen Rinchhen was born in a cave near Taktshang.

Taktshang saw significant development as a monastic site in the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel took over its custody. The plan to build a lhakhang at Taktshang was originally that of Zhabdrung himself. It was at Taktshang, during the Tibetan war of 1644/46, that he and his Tibetan Nyingmapa teacher, Terton Rigdzin Nyingpo, first performed the ritual associated with the Tshechu, invoking Padma Sambhava and the protective deities to achieve victory over invading armies.

The local deity of Taktshang came to the Zhabdrung, in a meditative vision, in the form of a black man and offered Taktshang to him, saying that if he took it, he could ensure that no one could ever steal it. As it turned out Bhutan?s successes in battles against Tibetan forces defined the country?s history but the Zhabdrung was never able to carry out his plan to build the celebratory lhakhang.

The fourth Druk Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, was a part of the Zhabdrung?s entourage as a young monk. It was during the course of one such tour of the Paro valley, in 1692, that Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye travelled to the Taktshang Pelphug. There, upon the cliff, he organised the celebration of the Tshechu and commanded that the foundation be laid for a lhakhang dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, to be called the Guru Tshen Gyed Lhakhang (temple of the Guru with eight manifestations).

The work on the lhakhang began by the 10th month of the Water Monkey Year and the two-storied lhakhang was completed by 1694. He had assigned his chief artisan, Dragpa Gyamtsho, to supervise the construction of the lhakhang, a fete that was accompanied by many auspicious signs and miracles.

Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye once again travelled to Taktshang in 1694 to perform the consecration ceremony on the completion of the lhakhang. At that time the tradition of the annual celebrations was established. The Drubkhang is still opened once a year during the annual ceremony which is performed by 71 members of the Dratshang (monk body) led by the Tshennyi Lopon (Master of Metaphysics).

Between 1961 and 1965, the monastery was renovated by the 34th Je Khenpo, Shedrup Yoezer. Additions were made in 1861-65 and 1982-83, and then in 1992.

On April 19, 1998, the temples of Taktshang were destroyed in a tragic blaze that remains unexplained today. On April 23, 1998, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck visited the site and personally recovered a number of the precious nangtens from the ruins. Comforting a gathering of shocked devotees at the site, His Majesty promised that this precious monument would be restored to its former glory.

On March 26, Bhutan saw history revived when the nation celebrated the consecration of the nye that had been restored to a new grandeur, symbolising the preservation and strengthening of Buddhism, one of the world?s great religions.

March 24, 2007

The Four Seals of Dharma: The Fourth Seal

continued from the previous post

The Fourth Seal:
Nirvana is Beyond Extremes

Now that I have explained emptiness, I feel that the fourth seal, “Nirvana is beyond extremes,” has also been covered. But briefly, this last seal is also something uniquely Buddhist. In many philosophies or religions, the final goal is something that you can hold on to and keep. The final goal is the only thing that truly exists. But nirvana is not fabricated, so it is not something to be held on to. It is referred to as “beyond extremes.”

We somehow think that we can go somewhere where we’ll have a better sofa seat, a better shower system, a better sewer system, a nirvana where you don’t even have to have a remote control, where everything is there the moment you think of it. But as I said earlier, it’s not that we are adding something new that was not there before. Nirvana is achieved when you remove everything that was artificial and obscuring.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a monk or a nun who has renounced worldly life or you are a yogi practicing profound tantric methods. If, when you try to abandon or transform attachment to your own experiences, you don’t understand these four seals, you end up regarding the contents of your mind as the manifestations of something evil, diabolical and bad. If that’s what you do, you are far from the truth. And the whole point of Buddhism is to make you understand the truth. If there were some true permanence in compounded phenomena; if there were true pleasure in the emotions, the Buddha would have been the first to recommend them, saying, “Please keep and treasure these.” But thanks to his great compassion, he didn’t, for he wanted us to have what is true, what is real.

When you have a clear understanding of these four seals as the ground of your practice, you will feel comfortable no matter what happens to you. As long as you have these four as your view, nothing can go wrong. Whoever holds these four, in their heart, or in their head, and contemplates them, is a Buddhist. There is no need for such a person even to be called a Buddhist. He or she is by definition a follower of the Buddha.

March 23, 2007

The Four Seals of Dharma: The Third Seal

Continued from previous post

The Third Seal:
All Phenomena are Empty; They Are Without Inherent Existence

When we say “all,” that means everything, including the Buddha, enlightenment, and the path. Buddhists define a phenomenon as something with characteristics, and as an object that is conceived by a subject. To hold that an object is something external is ignorance, and it is this that prevents us from seeing the truth of that object.

The truth of a phenomenon is called shunyata, emptiness, which implies that the phenomenon does not possess a truly existent essence or nature. When a deluded person or subject sees something, the object seen is interpreted as something really existent. However, as you can see, the existence imputed by the subject is a mistaken assumption. Such an assumption is based on the different conditions that make an object appear to be true; this, however, is not how the object really is. It’s like when we see a mirage: there is no truly existing object there, even though it appears that way. With emptiness, the Buddha meant that things do not truly exist as we mistakenly believe they do, and that they are really empty of that falsely imputed existence.

It is because they believe in what are really just confused projections that sentient beings suffer. It was as a remedy for this that the Buddha taught the Dharma. Put very simply, when we talk about emptiness, we mean that the way things appear is not the way they actually are. As I said before when speaking about emotions, you may see a mirage and think it is something real, but when you get close, the mirage disappears, however real it may have seemed to begin with.

Emptiness can sometimes be referred to as dharmakaya, and in a different context we could say that the dharmakaya is permanent, never changing, all pervasive, and use all sorts of beautiful, poetic words. These are the mystical expressions that belong to the path, but for the moment, we are still at the ground stage, trying to get an intellectual understanding. On the path, we might portray Buddha Vajradhara as a symbol of dharmakaya, or emptiness, but from an academic point of view, even to think of painting the dharmakaya is a mistake.

The Buddha taught three different approaches on three separate occasions. These are known as The Three Turnings of the Wheel, but they can be summed up in a single phrase: “Mind; there is no mind; mind is luminosity.”

The first, “Mind,” refers to the first set of teachings and shows that the Buddha taught that there is a “mind.” This was to dispel the nihilistic view that there is no heaven, no hell, no cause and effect. Then, when the Buddha said, “There is no mind,” he meant that mind is just a concept and that there is no such thing as a truly existing mind. Finally, when he said, “Mind is luminous,” he was referring to buddhanature, the undeluded or primordially existing wisdom.

The great commentator Nagarjuna said that the purpose of the first turning was to get rid of non-virtue. Where does the non-virtue come from? It comes from being either eternalist or nihilist. So in order to put an end to non-virtuous deeds and thoughts, the Buddha gave his first teaching. The second turning of the Dharma-wheel, when the Buddha spoke about emptiness, was presented in order to dispel clinging to a “truly existent self” and to “truly existent phenomena.” Finally, the teachings of the third turning were given to dispel all views, even the view of no-self. The Buddha’s three sets of teaching do not seek to introduce something new; their purpose is simply to clear away confusion.

As Buddhists we practice compassion, but if we lack an understanding of this third seal—that all phenomena are empty—our compassion can backfire. If you are attached to the goal of compassion when trying to solve a problem, you might not notice that your idea of the solution is entirely based on your own personal interpretation. And you might end up as a victim of hope and fear, and consequently of disappointment. You start by becoming a “good mahayana practitioner,” and, once or twice, you try to help sentient beings. But if you have no understanding of this third seal, you’ll get tired and give up helping sentient beings.

There is another kind of a problem that arises from not understanding emptiness. It occurs with rather superficial and even jaded Buddhists. Somehow, within Buddhist circles, if you don’t accept emptiness, you are not cool. So we pretend that we appreciate emptiness and pretend to meditate on it. But if we don’t understand it properly, a bad side effect can occur. We might say, “Oh, everything’s emptiness. I can do whatever I like.” So we ignore and violate the details of karma, the responsibility for our action. We become “inelegant,” and we discourage others in the bargain. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often speaks of this downfall of not understanding emptiness. A correct understanding of emptiness leads us to see how things are related, and how we are responsible for our world.

You can read millions of pages on this subject. Nagarjuna alone wrote five different commentaries mostly dedicated to this, and then there are the commentaries by his followers. There are endless teachings on establishing this view. In Mahayana temples or monasteries people chant the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra—this is also a teaching on the third seal.

Philosophies or religions might say, “Things are illusion, the world is maya, illusion,” but there are always one or two items left behind that are regarded as truly existent: God, cosmic energy, whatever. In Buddhism, this is not the case. Everything in samsara and nirvana—from the Buddha’s head to a piece of bread—everything is emptiness. There is nothing that is not included in ultimate truth.

Question: If we ourselves are dualistic, can we ever understand emptiness, which is something beyond description?

Buddhists are very slippery. You’re right. You can never talk about absolute emptiness, but you can talk about an “image” of emptiness—something that you can evaluate and contemplate so that, in the end, you can get to the real emptiness. You may say, “Ah, that’s just too easy; that’s such crap.” But to that the Buddhists say, “Too bad, that’s how things work.” If you need to meet someone whom you have never met, I can describe him to you or show you a photograph of him. And with the help of that photo image, you can go and find the real person.

Ultimately speaking, the path is irrational, but relatively speaking, it’s very rational because it uses the relative conventions of our world. When I’m talking about emptiness, everything that I’m saying has to do with this “image” emptiness. I can’t show you real emptiness but I can tell you why things don’t exist inherently.

In Buddhism there’s so much iconography that you might think it was the object of meditation or an object of worship. But, from your teaching, am I to understand that this is all non-existent?

When you go to a temple, you will see many beautiful statues, colors and symbols. These are important for the path. These all belong to what we call “image-wisdom,” “image-emptiness.” However, while we follow the path and apply its methods, it is important to know that the path itself is ultimately an illusion. Actually, it is only then that we can properly appreciate it. be continued

March 22, 2007

The Four Seals of Dharma: The Second Seal

Continued from previous post

The Second Seal:
All Emotions are Painful

The Tibetan word for emotion in this context is zagche, which means “contaminated” or “stained,” in the sense of being permeated by confusion or duality.

Certain emotions, such as aggression or jealousy, we naturally regard as pain. But what about love and affection, kindness and devotion, those nice, light and lovely emotions? We don’t think of them as painful; nevertheless, they imply duality, and this means that, in the end, they are a source of pain.

The dualistic mind includes almost every thought we have. Why is this painful? Because it is mistaken. Every dualistic mind is a mistaken mind, a mind that doesn’t understand the nature of things. So how are we to understand duality? It is subject and object: ourselves on the one hand and our experience on the other. This kind of dualistic perception is mistaken, as we can see in the case of different persons perceiving the same object in different ways. A man might think a certain woman is beautiful and that is his truth. But if that were some kind of absolute, independent kind of truth, then everyone else also would have to see her as beautiful as well. Clearly, this is not a truth that is independent of everything else. It is dependent on your mind; it is your own projection.

The dualistic mind creates a lot of expectations—a lot of hope, a lot of fear. Whenever there is a dualistic mind, there is hope and fear. Hope is perfect, systematized pain. We tend to think that hope is not painful, but actually it’s a big pain. As for the pain of fear, that’s not something we need to explain.

The Buddha said, “Understand suffering.” That is the first Noble Truth. Many of us mistake pain for pleasure—the pleasure we now have is actually the very cause of the pain that we are going to get sooner or later. Another Buddhist way of explaining this is to say that when a big pain becomes smaller, we call it pleasure. That’s what we call happiness.

Moreover, emotion does not have some kind of inherently real existence. When thirsty people see a mirage of water, they have a feeling of relief: “Great, there’s some water!” But as they get closer, the mirage disappears. That is an important aspect of emotion: emotion is something that does not have an independent existence.

This is why Buddhists conclude that all emotions are painful. It is because they are impermanent and dualistic that they are uncertain and always accompanied by hopes and fears. But ultimately, they don’t have, and never have had, an inherently existent nature, so, in a way, they are not worth much. Everything we create through our emotions is, in the end, completely futile and painful. This is why Buddhists do shamatha and vipashyana meditation—this helps to loosen the grip that our emotions have on us, and the obsessions we have because of them.

Question: Is compassion an emotion?

People like us have dualistic compassion, whereas the Buddha’s compassion does not involve subject and object. From a buddha’s point of view, compassion could never involve subject and object. This is what is called mahakaruna—great compassion.

I’m having difficulty accepting that all emotions are pain.

Okay, if you want a more philosophical expression, you can drop the word “emotion” and simply say, “All that is dualistic is pain.” But I like using the word “emotion” because it provokes us.

Isn’t pain impermanent?

Yeah! If you know this, then you’re all right. It’s because we don’t know this that we go through a lot of hassles trying to solve our problems. And that is the second biggest problem we have—trying to solve our problems. be continued

March 21, 2007

The Four Seals of Dharma: The First Seal

This is a continuation of Buddhism in a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma

The First Seal:
All Compounded Things are Impermanent

Every phenomenon we can think of is compounded, and therefore subject to impermanence. Certain aspects of impermanence, like the changing of the weather, we can accept easily, but there are equally obvious things that we don’t accept.

For instance, our body is visibly impermanent and getting older every day, and yet this is something we don’t want to accept. Certain popular magazines that cater to youth and beauty exploit this attitude. In terms of view, meditation and action, their readers might have a view—thinking in terms of not aging or escaping the aging process somehow. They contemplate this view of permanence, and their consequent action is to go to fitness centers and undergo plastic surgery and all sorts of other hassles.

Enlightened beings would think that this is ridiculous and based on a wrong view. Regarding these different aspects of impermanence, getting old and dying, the changing of the weather, etc., Buddhists have a single statement, namely this first seal: phenomena are impermanent because they are compounded. Anything that is assembled will, sooner or later, come apart.

When we say “compounded,” that includes the dimensions of space and time. Time is compounded and therefore impermanent: without the past and future, there is no such thing as the present. If the present moment were permanent, there would be no future, since the present would always be there. Every act you do—let’s say, plant a flower or sing a song—has a beginning, a middle and an end. If, in the singing of a song, the beginning, middle or end were missing, there would be no such thing as singing a song, would there? That means that singing a song is something compounded.

“So what?” we ask. “Why should we bother about that? What’s the big deal? It has a beginning, middle, and end—so what?” It’s not that Buddhists are really worried about beginnings, middles or ends; that’s not the problem. The problem is that when there is composition and impermanence, as there is with temporal and material things, there is uncertainty and pain.

Some people think that Buddhists are pessimistic, always talking about death, impermanence and aging. But that is not necessarily true. Impermanence is a relief! I don’t have a BMW today and it is thanks to the impermanence of that fact that I might have one tomorrow. Without impermanence, I am stuck with the non-possession of a BMW, and I can never have one. I might feel severely depressed today and, thanks to impermanence, I might feel great tomorrow. Impermanence is not necessarily bad news; it depends on the way you understand it. Even if today your BMW gets scratched by a vandal, or your best friend lets you down, if you have a view of impermanence, you won’t be so worried.

Delusion arises when we don’t acknowledge that all compounded things are impermanent. But when we realize this truth, deep down and not just intellectually, that’s what we call liberation: release from this one-pointed, narrow-minded belief in permanence. Everything, whether you like it or not—even the path, the precious Buddhist path—is compounded. It has a beginning, it has a middle and it has an end.

When you understand that “all compounded things are impermanent,” you are prepared to accept the experience of loss. Since everything is impermanent, this is to be expected. be continued

March 19, 2007

Buddhism In a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma

by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was born in Bhutan in 1961 and was recognized as the second reincarnation of the nineteenth-century master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He has studied with and been empowered by some of the greatest Tibetan masters of this century, notably the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the late Dudjom Rinpoche. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche supervises his traditional seat of Dzongsar Monastery in Eastern Tibet, as well as newly established colleges in India and Bhutan. He has also established meditation centers in Australia, North America and the Far East. Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche won critical acclaim for his first feature length movie, The Cup, produced under his name Khyentse Norbu. Further information on Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and his activities is available at This article is based on a talk entitled, “What Buddhism Is, and Is Not,” given in Sydney, Australia in April of 1999.

People often ask me: “What is Buddhism in a nutshell?” Or they ask, “What is the particular view or philosophy of Buddhism?”

Unfortunately, in the West Buddhism seems to have landed in the religious department, even in the self-help or self-improvement department, and clearly it’s in the trendy meditation department. I would like to challenge the popular definition of Buddhist meditation.

Many people think meditation has something to do with relaxation, with watching the sunset or watching the waves at the beach. Charming phrases like “letting go” and “being carefree” come to mind. From a Buddhist point of view, meditation is slightly more than that.

First, I think we need to talk about the real context of Buddhist meditation. This is referred to as the view, meditation and action; taken together, these constitute quite a skillful way of understanding the path. Even though we may not use such expressions in everyday life, if we think about it, we always act according to a certain view, meditation and action. For instance, if we want to buy a car, we choose the one we think is the best, most reliable and so on. So the “view,” in this case, is the idea or belief that we have, that is, that the car is a good one. Then the “meditation” is contemplating and getting used to the idea, and the “action” is actually buying the car, driving it and using it. This process is not necessarily something Buddhist; it’s something we’re doing all the time. You don’t have to call it view, meditation and action. You can think of it as “idea,” “getting used to,” and “obtaining.”

So what is the particular view that Buddhists try to get used to? Buddhism is distinguished by four characteristics, or “seals.” Actually, if all these four seals are found in a path or a philosophy, it doesn’t matter whether you call it Buddhist or not. You can call it what you like; the words “Buddhist” or “Buddhism” are not important. The point is that if this path contains these four seals, it can be considered the path of the Buddha.

Therefore, these four characteristics are called “the Four Seals of Dharma.” They are:
All compounded things are impermanent.

All emotions are painful. This is something that only Buddhists would talk about. Many religions worship things like love with celebration and songs. Buddhists think, “This is all suffering.”

All phenomena are empty; they are without inherent existence. This is actually the ultimate view of Buddhism; the other three are grounded on this third seal.

The fourth seal is that nirvana is beyond extremes.

Without these four seals, the Buddhist path would become theistic, religious dogma, and its whole purpose would be lost. On the other hand, you could have a surfer giving you teachings on how to sit on a beach watching a sunset: if what he says contains all these four seals, it would be Buddhism. The Tibetans, the Chinese, or the Japanese might not like it, but teaching doesn’t have to be in a “traditional” form. The four seals are quite interrelated, as you will see. be continued

March 13, 2007

Lung Ta - The Wind Horse

~ by HE Tai Situpa Rinpoche
Arya Tara - Tibetan Buddhism UK

Today I was requested to talk about the meaning of prayer flags, known as the "wind horse" or Lung Ta. So I will explain it briefly here. Although it isn't necessary to know the meaning of prayer flags when you offer them, you will gain more benefit through developing faith and trust in them. For that you need to know what Lung Ta are, what they do, and what they represent.

In general there are two different kinds of prayer flag called, in Tibetan, Lung Ta & Jur Dar. Both are printed on cloth and are sewn on to a string, or are placed on a pole and put in a high place like a flag.

There is a third way that was practiced by people who couldn't afford the cloth to print the prayer flag. They would print them onto paper and then throw them into the air from very high places. But in Tibet the high places were untouched land so the paper prayer flags would stay in the snow and naturally disintegrate there. There was no danger of the paper prayer-flags being stepped on, driven over, etc. because if they were then there would be negative karma for both the donor and the passer-by.

Both Lung Ta & Jur Dar are prayers. The prayer-flags are blown by the wind. The air carries the blessing of the prayer printed on the cloth, so the wind becomes blessed. Wherever the wind goes, the beings who breathe it, live in it, receive the blessings of the prayers. That's the general purpose of the prayer-flag and in that way you can say that the prayer is carried by the horse of the wind.

Lung Ta and Jur Dar, though different, are based on one principle. In people's life there are four things that make one successful; 1) long life, 2) merit, 3) power, and 4) luck. Prayer-flags increase and maintain the four. We loose them because of the negative things that we do or through being involved in a negative environment.

The Difference between Lung Ta & Jur Dar

Lung Ta are mainly offered to increase peoples spirit, success and luck. Improving the spirit, improving the success, improving the luck. When somebody attempts something and it does not work or fails many times, then we say that person's lung ta is down. With another person everything works without obstacles, very successful and easy, then we say that person's lung ta is up.

Lung Ta normally have a horse in the middle, and in the 4 corners are the four majestic mystical animals; the snow-lion, garuda, dragon & tiger. Which represent the four human and four heavenly qualities of a majestic human being.

Jur Dar are made to increase merit. Often they are offered on behalf of beings who have died or who are sick. So the form that Jur Dar flags take are texts such as the Liberation Sutra, mantras like ~ Om Mani Peme Hung ~ for increasing merit, or long-life prayers for increasing lifespan. We offer them annually to increase our personal stock of merit.

Jur Dar have prayers or mantras printed on them. No images of animals or birds, only Tibetan text. It is absolutely prayer and it is not for success, nor for any of these worldly aspects of qualities. Jur Dar is purely sending the prayer through the wind to repeat it constantly. So however much wind blows on the prayer that is like how much the prayer is repeated by the wind. So that is carried, and blessed and fills the environment.

So although they may superficially look the same - they are different and their motivations are slightly different.

March 12, 2007

Approaching the Guru

This is a rather long post, but I do hope that you will bear with me and try to read till the end.
Thank you for your patience. May peace prevail on earth!

A talk on devotion by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, given in 1996 in Boulder, Colorado at the commemoration of the death of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

To tell you the truth, I think I am the wrong person to talk about guru devotion, because I don’t have it. This is not because there is any deficiency in my teachers; it is entirely because of something lacking in me. Believe me, I have so much ego, and devotion is bad news for the ego. On the other hand, I have studied devotion, so I may have some theoretical knowledge about it.

Why devotion?

Why do we need devotion? Generally speaking, we need devotion because we need enlightenment. In one way, enlightenment can be understood very simply as a release from certain obsessions and hang-ups. Until we are free from these obsessions and habits, we will wander endlessly in samsara, going through all sorts of anxiety, suffering, and so on.

The cause of all these sufferings is our fundamental insecurity. We are always wondering whether we exist or not. Our ego, or rather our attachment to the idea of self, is completely insecure about its own existence. Our ego may seem strong but it is actually quite shaky. Of course, we do not ask such questions consciously, but we always have a subconscious feeling of insecurity about whether we exist.

We try to use things such as friends, money, position and power, and all the everyday things that we do, like watching television or going shopping, to somehow prove and confirm our existence. Try sitting alone in a house and doing absolutely nothing. Sooner or later your hands will reach for the remote control or the newspaper. We need to be occupied. We need to be busy.
If we are not busy, we feel insecure.

But there is something very strange in all this. The ego searches constantly for distraction, and then the distraction itself becomes a problem. Instead of helping us to feel reassured, it actually increases our insecurity. We get obsessed with the distraction and it develops into another habit. Once it becomes a habit, it is difficult to get rid of. So in order to get rid of this new habit, we have to adopt yet another habit. This is how things go on and on.

In order to undermine this kind of habitual pattern, Lord Buddha taught us many, many different methods. Some of these are very skillful methods, such as overcoming the emotions by making friends with them. Even a single word of the Sakyamuni Buddha can liberate us from all these obsessions and habitual patterns. Take, for instance, the teaching on impermanence. When many of us, including myself, hear teachings on things like impermanence, the precious human body, and love and compassion, we tend to dismiss them as very simple and preliminary. But this is because we do not actually understand them.

Training the Mind

The quintessence of the path is to have the wisdom that realizes egolessness. Until we have this wisdom, we have not understood the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.

In order to achieve this wisdom, first we have to make our mind malleable, workable—in the sense of being in control of our own mind. As Shantideva said, if you want to walk comfortably, there are two possible solutions. Either you can try to cover the whole ground with leather—but that would be very difficult—or you can achieve the same effect by simply wearing a pair of shoes. In the same way, it would be difficult to train and tame every single emotion that we have, or to change the world according to our desires. In fact the basis of all experience is the mind, and that’s why Buddhists stress the importance of training the mind in order to make it workable and flexible.

Yet a flexible mind is not enough. We have to understand the nature of the mind. This is very difficult to do, precisely because it involves the wisdom of realizing egolessness. We have been in samsara from beginningless time. Our habitual patterns are very strong. We are completely deluded. For this reason, it is very, very difficult for this wisdom to appear.

So what is to be done? There is only one way to obtain this wisdom—by accumulating merit. How should we accumulate this merit? According to the general vehicle of Buddhism, the method of accumulating merit is by having renunciation mind, by contemplating impermanence, by refraining from all the causes and conditions that will strengthen the ego, by engaging in all the causes and conditions that will strengthen our wisdom, by refraining from harming other beings, and so on. In the mahayana school, the merit is accumulated by having compassion for sentient beings.

To cut a long story short, if you want enlightenment you need wisdom. If you want wisdom, you must have merit. And to have merit, according to mahayana, you must have compassion and bodhichitta, the wish to establish beings in the state of freedom.

Blessings of the Guru

The vajrayana is renowned for its many methods and techniques, some of which are quite easy. The most important one, however, is to have a “sacred outlook.” And guru devotion is the essence of this sacred outlook. It says in the commentary to the Chakrasamvara Tantra that, “Through the blessings and kindness of the guru, great bliss, the realization of emptiness, the union of samsara and nirvana, can be obtained instantly.” This quotation talks about buddhanature.

Generally speaking, the ultimate message of Buddhism is that you possess buddhanature. In other words, you already and quite naturally have within you the qualities of complete enlightenment. But you need to realize this. The fact that you don’t have this realization is the reason why you are wandering in samsara. According to Nagarjuna, the Buddha didn’t say that you need to abandon samsara in order to gain enlightenment. What he said was that you need to see that samsara is empty, that it has no inherent existence. This is the same as saying that you need to recognize your essential buddhanature.

There are many different methods for recognizing this Buddha within. Of these, the quickest and easiest is to receive the blessings of the guru. This is why guru devotion is necessary.

For example, you may be having a nightmare about monsters. But then suddenly, somebody throws a bucket of cold water over you and you wake up. The cold water doesn’t really make the monsters disappear, because there were no monsters in the first place. It was just a dream. But on the other hand, when you are having a nightmare, your sufferings are real, and the person who throws the bucket of water over you is indeed very kind and special. If you have a lot of merit you are able to meet such a person, a person who can throw the water. On the other hand, if you don’t have merit, you may never wake up from the nightmare.

The guru lineage originates with someone called Vajradhara or Samantabhadra. Our masters tell us that he is our own mind, the nature of our own mind. This means that when we trace back through the lineage, we actually end up with our own minds, the essence of ourselves. The guru is not some kind of almighty sponsor that we have to worship or obey. The most important thing to understand is that the guru is the display of our buddhanature.

On the ordinary level, one can say that the guru is someone who tells you what to do and what not to do. A small child may not realize that hot iron burns, so his father tells him that it burns and saves him from getting hurt. The guru is doing this for you when he tells you what is right and what is wrong.

In Vajrayana, though, the guru does something even more important. You must have read many, many times that your body, speech, mind and aggregates have all been pure from beginningless time. But we don’t realize that. As Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche said, it is precisely because the truth is so simple that people don’t understand it. It’s like our eyelashes, which are so close that we can’t see them. The reason why we don’t realize this is our lack of merit. The guru’s role is to grant us empowerment and introduce us to this purity—and finally to point out directly the mind’s nature.

Putting the Guru to the Test

The great vidyadhara Jigme Lingpa said that it is very important to analyze the guru first. As I said before, we are naturally very insecure people. Because of this we are easy prey. We make all sorts of mistakes that are difficult to clear up later on.

Before you start to follow a guru, you should have a good understanding of the dharma. I don’t mean that you have to understand it completely, but at least you should have some understanding. You should analyze, and you should be skeptical and critical. Perhaps you should argue, and try to find fault by using logic and reflection.

But while you are doing this, you should not have the journalist’s approach of looking for faults. The aim here is to find the path, not to find faults. So, when you study Buddhism, you should try to see whether this path suits you or not, whether this path makes sense or not. This is very important.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that we want to go to New York, and we are hiring a guide. We need to have at least some idea where New York is. To take a guide without knowing whether New York is in the east, south or west is what I call the “inspirational disease.” It’s not enough just to find the guide attractive—to like the way he looks, talks and behaves. You should have at least some knowledge where New York is, so that if in the middle of the trip he begins to act a little funny, you feel okay because you know that you are heading in the right direction. He may lead you through strange or rough roads, but that doesn’t matter if you know you are heading in the right direction.

On the other hand, if you don’t know the way at all, you are obliged to place all your trust in this one guide who claims that he can do anything. Maybe if you have lots of merit, you might accidentally find an authentic guide and actually reach New York. But if I were you I would not trust this kind of accidental success all the way. It is good to analyze the path first, and then you can have one or a hundred or thousands of gurus if you like.

Approaching the Guru

What should we do next? One of the great Sakyapa masters, Jamyang Gyaltsen, said, “First you have to think about, contemplate, and manufacture devotion.” You need fabricated devotion, which is to consider that the guru is the Buddha. Make believe, so to speak. After a while, at the second stage, you will really start to see him as the Buddha, without any difficulty. And finally, at the third stage, you will realize that you are the Buddha. This is the unique approach of the vajrayana. As I said at the beginning, I personally don’t have real devotion. I don’t see my guru as the Buddha, but I try to contemplate and think that he is the Buddha. This is what we call created or fabricated devotion. In the beginning we consider that all the faults we see in him are nothing but our own projections. But the truth of the matter is that the guru has all the qualities of the Buddha. He is the Buddha, he is the dharma, he is the sangha; he is everything.

We think like this again and again. This may strike you as nonsense, but actually it’s very logical—after all, everything depends on the mind. It is because of our delusions that it is initially very hard for us to see the guru as the Buddha. We have to practice and get used to it again and again, and then it will definitely work.

Shantideva has said that if you get accustomed to something, there is nothing in this world that is difficult. Let’s say this is the first time in your life that you are going to a bar. You are introduced to someone and, due to some past karmic connection, this person proceeds to give you all the initiations and oral instructions and teachings on how to mix various drinks. Tequila with lemon, martinis dry and sweet—all sorts of details about drinking.

Being a very devoted and diligent student, you practice drinking. In the beginning, it burns your throat, it hurts your stomach, and you get drunk. You vomit and you get up the next morning with a headache. With lots of enthusiasm you keep doing this. This is what we call foundation practice. You keep going to this person, and even though he occasionally gives you a hard time, it doesn’t matter. You are a very diligent student. Then one day your mind and his mingle: you know everything about alcohol, you know how to drink. At this point, you are a perfect lineage holder of alcohol drinking. You can then begin to teach others.

The Universality of the Guru

We think that the guru is only good for giving teachings, that the guru is only good for special things but not good for headaches or other problems. This is not the way to think. For every problem that you have, pray to the guru, receive his blessings and you will be free from it. In one Tantra, it says, “Years and years of doing meditation on the development or completion stages, or years and years of chanting mantras, cannot compare with one instant of remembering the guru.”

How should you behave with a guru? As an offering you can think of things like dress code, etiquette, politeness, but it doesn’t really matter. However, there are two very important things that you should never forget. The first is that you should never have pride. This is because you are there to learn, to receive teachings, to find enlightenment. As Tibetans say, “A proud person is like a stone.” No matter how much water you put on it, it will never get soaked. If you have pride you will never learn. So it’s very important to adopt an attitude of humility.

The second important thing is never to waste an opportunity to accumulate merit. Having merit is so important. When you watch a movie, if you don’t know that it’s a movie and think it’s real, you will go through all sorts of emotional trauma. But if the person next to you says, “This is just a movie,” from then on you will be free from this kind of delusion. On the other hand, if you don’t have merit, then just at the moment when the person next to you says, “Look, this is just a movie,” someone behind you might cough very loudly, and you may not hear what the person next to you says. So you miss the opportunity of realization—all because you don’t have merit.

Also, if you don’t have merit, your ego is always there ready to interpret everything in its own way. Even though the teacher gives you the most important teaching, you will always interpret it according to your own agenda.

So at this point, instead of trying to outsmart the ego, the most important thing to do is to accumulate merit. How? There are lots of different ways. You can wear a tie and look handsome and think “This is an offering to my teacher.” If you are driving at night, when you see the street lamps, you can immediately visualize them as lamp offerings to the guru. If you can’t do this yourself, and if you see somebody else doing it, at least rejoice in what they are doing. There are so many things we can do. Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche said, “Accumulating merit is so easy, in fact much easier than accumulating non-virtue.”

We need to have a grand, magnificent attitude. Devotion should be grand. I think if you have true devotion, everything can be taken as a manifestation of your guru.

Approaching the Guru, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, November 2000.

March 3, 2007

Words of My Perfect Teacher

Words of My Perfect Teacher
Director: Lesley Ann Patten
Running time: 103 minutes
Format: 35mm
Available @

From the World Cup to the mythical mountain kingdom of Bhutan, Words of My Perfect Teacher follows three students on a quest they hope will lead to wisdom. The catch is... the teacher aka Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. Soccer obsessed, charismatic filmmaker, and citizen of the world: Khyentse Norbu may be one of the world's most eminent Buddhist teachers, but it's a job description he slyly rejects at every turn.

Words of My Perfect Teacher is for those who wish they'd met Yoda or Merlin, and long for the opportunity to engage with a teacher who defies convention.

YouTube courtesy of SiddharthaTV