Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shrine or Altar Designs

Any cabinetmakers out there want to attempt something like this?
Check out : the same people who made a throne for the
Dalai Lama also made a bed for Richard Gere.

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Prayer Balloons

You heard it here first.

We have prayer flags, right? So, operating on the same principle, I think we should also have prayer balloons. We could print thousands of mantras on latex balloons, fill them with helium, and release them en masse into the atmosphere. We could even affix little postcards to instruct anyone who found them.

ate... this from the Audubon Society site:

"At best, free-flying balloons become litter; at worst, they jeopardize wildlife. Once airborne, they can travel far afield and often end up joining the flotsam riding the world's oceans. One that was unleashed in a science fair experiment to investigate wind direction was retrieved on an island 1,300 miles from its release site. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identifies balloons as a commonly reported source of marine debris. In 1999 more than 32,000 were collected during coastal cleanups around the world. Balloons can choke, smother, or cause starvation. Their strings and ribbons can cause entanglement. In water, they bear an uncanny resemblance to jellyfish and other organisms eaten by turtles, fish, cetaceans, and shorebirds. Dead sea turtles have washed ashore with balloons hanging from their mouths, and scientists have found whole balloons and parts of balloons in whales during necropsies. Mass launches have been banned by numerous entities, including the states of Florida, New York, and Texas; the National Park Service; the White House; and even Walt Disney World and Six Flags Great Adventure. Balloons should be handled responsibly—don't release them—and disposed of properly."

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Beryl of Perfect Learning

The beryl of perfect learning
Ornaments a precious banner.
My dear one, noble and gentle
Ornaments a loving mind.

The sky is bright and clear,
Its luminous colors shining.
My dear one, full of kindness
Is the focus of my thoughts.

The powerful and golden world
Brings forth many types of garden.
My dear one, so delicate,
Takes pleasure in things of peace.

From the overcast mountains
Rain falls in sheets.
My dear one, straight and true,
Brings forth the noble things.

In the smiling sunlight
The waterlily drifts and sways.
My dear one, my friend,
Discovers me in life.

It is more elegant and skilled
Than soft, rippling water.
My mind continually longs
For an equal beauty.

In brilliance, melody, scent, shape, and taste
It is exquisite.
But who, in truth, is the knower
Of these five great senses?

Mount Malaya is perfumed
By gorgeous sandalwood.
May this scent be borne towards us,
Continually, on the wind.

Though the great moon
Is truly far away,
With the grant of good fortune
We shall follow its example.

The rainbow was gifted
With its bright colors.
But who has painted it,
So clearly to be seen?

Though the deep ocean and
The waters of many rivers
are called to act out special circumstance,
The quality of the water remains the same.

Near and far
Exemplify duality
But, where they meet in air
No two exists.

The nature of vanished things
Is universal, everywhere.
There is pleasure in magic:
Let us enjoy sweet equanimity.

The vast riches
Of a long life
Resound throughout the world,
Close by your noble family.

From now, together,
Until peaceful enlightenment,
May good fortune
Bring us eternal happiness.

Your kindly face
In the shining, pure mirror:
May we enjoy forever
Unobscured clarity.


This remarkable work was composed long ago by somebody who understood the heart of others as no separate from his own; yet, alas, others do not always share the same understanding quite so easily.

If there is anyone, anywhere in the world, who can clearly perceive this song, please cast aside your reticence and let there no longer be any hesitation.

These old words we send to you across the centuries take but brief form before they burst upon the bright air like cold, crisp autumn morning.

Winter is coming.

We long to spend the winter with you in the place not so very far from here that only you will know.

We long to show you precisely how the seasons appear to change.

(translated from the Mongolian by Simon Wickham-Smith, with added commentary by somebody I used to know)

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In the Eight Directions

Just as lotus leaves sway in the eight directions

Your form swirls in the heart of the sun.

My only companion!

Elegant words of your song enchant me
Like the pi-wang's sweet melody.
Though I have only small honor,
I am more fortunate than the other weaklings.

Purity and fragrance of sandalwood originate simultaneously:
Your love and its fragrance rise from beginningless moments to rouse the mind.

Like heaven's pure water, you raise sweet desires
Like the new moon, you soothe my grasping mind.

Lovely is your way!

Just as the sun:
You cause the lotus heart to blossom and eliminate wild darkness.
Close to Padmasambhava,
Let us know happiness... let us be joyous!

(This is
a free rendering of Danzanravjaa's original poem, done by request)

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Yesterday, in Burma

The only useful news source on Burma still standing, Ko Htike's weblog, published these smuggled photographs of demonstrations in Burma yesterday.

It is important to keep things like this in perspective. When we hear that Buddhist monasteries are being raided, Buddhist monks are being carted off, and the military is in the streets, we naturally become concerned. However, things of a similar nature are also happening all over the world to countless thousands of others who are not Buddhist. This is Samsara, is it not?

Nevertheless, Burm
a is one of Communist China's "Buddhist targets" that I have written of in previous posts, so perhaps we are justified in watching very carefully to see what Beijing's architects of destruction might have in store for the next Southeast Asian Buddhist target: the Kingdom of Thailand. While we watch, let us not forget the following:

"At this very moment for the people and the nations of the earth may not even the words - disease, famine, war and suffering be heard; but rather may their moral conduct, merit, wealth and prosperity increase and may supreme good fortune and well being always arise for them."

H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Tenpa Rinpoche on the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra

Introduction (by Susan Rockefeller-Nevis:

Urgyan Tenpa Rinpoche has an affinity for the great Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra that expresses itself in the most wonderful form of commentary. When he speaks on this sutra, it is precisely as if he is speaking from direct personal experience.

We are in the process of editing and preparing a book of his spoken and written commentaries on the Vimalakirtinirdesa, entitled The Exquisite Expedience of Mercy, which is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2008. We wanted to give you all the early opportunity to sample this work, and so we have decided to publish this brief excerpt here:

The Exquisite Expedience of Mercy
The Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra: a Commentary

The Vimamalakirtinirdesa Sutra, or “Discourse on the Expositions of Vimalakirti,” was originally composed in the Sanskrit language. We do not know precisely where or when it was first written, nor do we know the author. Hermeneutic conjecture indicates its origin to Northern India, sometime between 100 and 180 ce. Since the text does not appear until after Nagarjuna’s time, it is tempting to think this was composed by Nagarjuna, himself. Unfortunately, we cannot determine much with any certainty because the original text is lost. For over one thousand years, the work itself existed because of reconstructions from quoted fragments in other Sanskrit texts, and translations in other languages, principally Chinese and Tibetan. However, soon we may learn more. In July 1999, a group of Japanese academics working in the Potala, in Lhasa, chanced to find a Sanskrit-language edition of Vimalakirtinirdesa dating to the ninth century. In 2004, Taisho University published a facsimile of this edition, capturing the attention of Buddhist scholars the world over.

This sutra is ostensibly the story of a Buddhist layman from northeastern India who in some respects appears normal, but who is actually rather unusual. He seems to have a mysterious, chameleon-like ability to “fit in” with others no matter who they may be. Nobody knows who this man “really is.” The priests all think he is a priest. The businessmen all think he is a businessman. The lawyers all think he is a lawyer. The criminals all think he is a criminal. Everybody seems to know, and to like, this man—named Vimalakirti—and to enjoy his company, except that strangely enough, the bodhisattvas are very reluctant to see him. They are so intimidated by his radiant intelligence they even refuse Shakyamuni Buddha’s request to go inquire after Vimalakirti’s welfare. They beg off, explaining that they do not know where to begin.

As the story progresses, Vimalakirti reveals an extraordinary understanding and mastery of the Buddhist teachings—surpassing that of the bodhisattvas and equal to Buddha himself—and he begins to display siddhis, or supernatural powers unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Ultimately, we are left with the inescapable notion that Vimalakirti and the Buddhist teachings are identical; that on the one hand, because of his acts, and on the other hand, despite or regardless of his acts, the man himself is the lesson.

During the approximately nineteen centuries since we first hear of Vimalakirti, scholars, priests, and practitioners have repeatedly embraced his story as the sine qua non of Mahayana Buddhism. This sutra is an immensely popular and influential work, which became the subject of numerous learned commentaries. Some of these claim Vimalakirti was the first “Zen Master,” and his story the foundation of Ch’an or Zen Buddhism. However, while everyone agrees this sutra is a Mahayana work, when I read it, I get the impression it is the sine qua non of Vajrayana Buddhism and that Vimalakirti was the first Dzogchen Master.

I do not know anything about Ch’an or Zen Buddhism because I do not yet know how to differentiate between this or that Buddhism. I also do not know anything about Dzogchen, so maybe I am terribly wrong. Many scholars have written about these things, but I am not a scholar and I have not read what they wrote. Instead, to investigate further I decided to re-tell Vimalakirti’s story to myself, in the way my understanding allows. Since I have no understanding, that which I am able to re-tell is only a product of this one re-telling, not of any knowledge or insight.

Perhaps you, who know and understand these things so much better than me, will do me the small courtesy to read this book and tell me where I have gone wrong. If our spiritual practice is a failure, as mine is, we cannot be angry, or depressed, or run around trying to fix things. All we need to do is just stop whatever we are doing and admit the truth. I admit that this is an imperfect commentary on a sublimely magnificent teaching, so now I have stopped explaining it and instead let it explain itself.

I. The Buddha Fields

I heard that there is a place in India: a city called Vaishali, and in Vaishali they have a place called Amra Gardens. To be fair, I do not think it matters very much at all, and we could just as easily be talking about Beijing, or New York, or Ojai, or San Francisco, or Paris, or Taipei. We could be talking about some miserable town out in the middle of nowhere, where everybody is in a hurry to leave and go somewhere else. We could be talking about somewhere else, where people are in a hurry to leave and go nowhere. This city was the capital city of a republic, so maybe it is useful to imagine that this city is the Gotham City of our human imagination: when we are tired of suffering where we are and we want to go some other place, that holds out hope, or an ideal, or what we imagine as a better life.

I heard that once, Buddha was in residence at Amra Gardens, together with 8,000 saints, 32,000 bodhisattvas, 10,000 creator gods, 12,000 kings of gods, supernatural beings from at least eleven other categories, numerous monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. You could say there were multitudes of beings; hundreds of thousands of them, all expressing the finest qualities. For example: the saints are pure and unafflicted, masters of themselves. Their minds are transcendent and they are calm. They have done what they had to do and achieved what they needed to achieve. They had other qualities, but I am just summarizing. The bodhisattvas are likewise perfected, and the text of the sutra enumerates their qualities in some detail, describing over one hundred perfections such as expertise in knowing the spiritual abilities of all living beings, perfect voices and the ability to comprehend and speak all languages, absolute mastery of medicine, and so forth.

The important thing to grasp is that there is this unimaginably perfect situation, and we are there right now. Through the power of the Dharma, we are sitting right there in Vaishali with the Buddha and all the rest, and we are going to hear what is being said and we are going to know what is being done, just as if we were there whenever this first happened. Maybe the "whenever" is right now. Maybe this is happening right now.

Let me say that another way. Through the power of the truth of things as they are, we are not separate in space or time from the enlightened display of primordial wisdom. Sutras, tantras, and termas are not dead books with shuttered pages, recording philosophy, but direct, actual manifestations of enlightened activity. Merely reading them or hearing them is enough to make contact with that which is always present. Some things we think of as static are in fact so direct that merely seeing them or wearing them is enough.

Why is this possible? This is possible because a perfect assembly of that which is beneficial is constantly available, at every moment. This is happening right now, and is completely open and accessible to us. This is mind, of and in itself.

So often, we constrain our appreciation of Dharma’s inherent power to liberate in terms of past or future. We read sutras and hear stories about things that happened in some hypothecated golden age, or we imagine that someday, in the future, a Buddha is going to come again and fix everything that is broken. Stop and think what we are doing. This sort of ideation is actually insulting the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Instead of just stripping away our dirty clothes and running for refuge to the Three Jewels, we are sitting around saying, “Oh, well… wish I had lived in Buddha’s time,” or, “I just can’t wait until Maitreya gets here.” Do we ever stop to think that maybe Buddha is here right this minute? Do we ever stop to think that Maitreya is walking around with us when we walk and sitting with us when we sit? Does Buddhism’s ability to liberate us through the power of truth diminish, or is it merely our ability to hear the truth which diminishes?

Human life is precious, human life is in fact rare, and there is no guarantee we will be reborn human next time around. Circumstances surrounding our present status rather militate against this. I am not saying we are all going straight to Hell because of what we did or did not do, or cannot undo, but it is far more certain that some of us will go to Hell compared to our chances for human rebirth.

If Buddha’s mercy were confined merely to this or that epoch, or this or that situation, or this or that world system, then it would make a mockery of mercy, which I understand to be one eternal and infinite, spontaneously perfect, unconditional, and continuous heart-stream. Therefore, if human life is uncertain and mercy is unconditional, then mercy must have a face for every vagary of this or any other arising situation. Such mercy must be accessible to us at all times and in all places. We can never be separate from this mercy. The only fire we need to quench is the one consuming our own hearts, fueled with our passions and our aggressions; the burning fire we make of the ever-present possibility to give and receive mercy.

That day in the grove at Amra Gardens, a local rich man’s son named Jewel Mine came, together with 500 other sons of wealthy men. All bore parasols, made of gold, silver, pearl, sapphire, ruby, emerald, and diamond. Each one of them stood before the Buddha, bowed, circumambulated him clockwise seven times, laid down the parasol as offering, and stepped aside.

The Buddha then caused all 501 parasols to be transformed into a single parasol so vast that it covered the entire billion-world galaxy. Every aspect of the galaxy was reflected: heavenly bodies, supernatural realms, mountains, oceans, rivers, wildernesses, cities, and villages. The voices of all the Buddhas of the ten directions were heard, preaching the Dharma to all the worlds in the space within the great parasol.

(from The Exquisite Expedience of Mercy, Copyright (c) 2007 by Tulku Urgyan Tenpa Rinpoche. Rights reserved.)

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The Big Ten

Here is a little note on the Big Ten, for those of you who like to keep this sort of thing in mind.

Non-meritorious acts are ten in number, comprised of three of the body, four of the speech, and three of the mind. These are:

1. Killing, defined by a living being which is the object of the action, the absence of any mistaken identity, a specific intention to kill that being, an act that one knows will result in the death of that being, and the consequent death of that being.
Types of Killing
The three principal types are (1) killing because of desire, such as killing for animal products, or killing in defense, (2) killing because of anger, such as murder with malice aforethought, and (3) killing because of ignorance, such as stepping upon insects.
Results of Killing
The completely developed result of killing is rebirth as a sentient being in hell; if reborn as a human the result is one likes to take life; one will have a shortened life, plagued by illness; one will, for a succession of lives meet with being killed, and one will be born in a dangerous, unfavorable environment.

2. Stealing, defined by something in the possession of another, knowledge that it is another’s possession, a knowing act, and the transfer of possession.
Types of Stealing
The three principal types are (1) stealing by force, such as armed robbery, (2) stealing by clandestine means, such as burglary, and (3) stealing by deceitful means, such as fraud.
Results of Stealing
The completely developed result of stealing is rebirth as hungry ghost; if reborn as a human the result is one likes to steal; one will be born in conditions of poverty and will be obliged to lose what little one has, and the environment will be impoverished, subject to snow and hail.

3. Sexual Misconduct, defined by knowledge that the act of sexual intercourse is prohibited, the act of sexual intercourse itself, and satisfaction upon completion. Note that there is a differentiation between sexual misconduct and improper sexual conduct.
Types of Sexual Misconduct
Sexual misconduct is described as (1) sexual intercourse with otherwise committed persons, such as someone else’s wife, husband, significant other, or concubine, (2) sexual intercourse with relatives, such as one’s parents, siblings, or children, (3) sexual intercourse that takes advantage of another’s particular status, or against someone’s will, and (4) sexual intercourse that violates one’s vows of chastity, or those of another. Improper sexual conduct is differentiated as sexual intercourse that does not rise to the level of misconduct, but otherwise occurs at inappropriate times and places, or in an inappropriate manner.
Results of Sexual Misconduct
The completely developed result of sexual misconduct is rebirth as a hungry ghost; if reborn as a human the result is one is always dissatisfied with one’s partner and continually seeking another; one will have unattractive, argumentative and disloyal partners; one’s partners will side with enemies and become hostile, and the environment will be squalid and filthy.

4. Lying, defined by the absence of any mistake, an intention to deceive, conscious utterance of a lie, and actual deception of the hearer. Note that the deceit may be of commission or omission, i.e. failure to disclose that which one has a duty to disclose.
Types of Lying
Lying is described as (1) deceitful words that neither benefit one’s self nor injure another, such as the lies told by children, or elderly people suffering from senility, (2) lies that actually result in benefit to one’s self or harm to another, and (3) lies that claim qualities one does not possess.
Results of Lying
The completely developed result of lying is rebirth as an animal; if reborn as a human the result is to like to lie. One will be the subject of libel and slander, one’s voice will be unpleasant, and one’s breath will be foul. There will be instability in personal influence and material fortune, and one will be at odds with one’s surroundings. One will be liable to trickery perpetrated by friends, enemies, and strangers, and will fearfully live in conditions of extreme tension and nervousness. One will be abused without apparent cause, and will be betrayed. The environment will have extremes of temperature and terrain.

5. Verbal abuse, defined by a specific person who is addressed, harsh speech to that person, and that person’s resultant discomfort.
Types of Verbal abuse
Verbal abuse is described as (1) public speech that exposes someone’s faults, (2) indirect speech that wounds someone, and (3) private speech that wounds someone.
Results of Verbal abuse
The completely developed result of verbal abuse is rebirth as a sentient being in hell; if born as a human the result is to like to engage in harsh speech. One will hear unpleasant words and sounds. One will be constantly criticized. Even if one tries to make amends, this will become the cause of further criticism. The environment will be hot and dry, with numerous diseases, and poor water.

6. Divisive Speech, defined by two people who are either neutral or in harmony, speech intended to divide the parties, and actual discord between the parties because of said speech.
Types of Divisive Speech
Divisive speech is described as (1) public speech, directly addressed to the parties, (2) indirect speech, and (3) private speech.
Results of Divisive Speech
The completely developed result of divisive speech is rebirth as a sentient being in hell; if born as a human the result is to like discord, and to live an exceedingly lonely life. There will be numerous family quarrels, and one’s family will be broken. The environment will be inhospitable and travel will be difficult.

7. Idle Speech, defined by speech motivated by defilement, a straying mind, and the actual occurrence of talk leading to attachment or aversion.
Types of Idle Speech
Idle speech is described as (1) meaningless incantations, (2) speech to no purpose, such as storytelling, (3) common gossip, and (4) explaining doctrine to beings incapable of grasping its meaning.
Results of Idle Speech
The completely developed result of idle speech is rebirth as an animal; if born as a human, one will like to chatter but no one else will like to listen. One will not be trusted. Nothing will be gained from one’s efforts, and one will experience a series of failures. The environment is unstable, with confused seasons.

8. Covetousness, defined by the wealth, possessions, status, or reputation of another and an obsession with said wealth, possessions, status, or reputation.
Types of Covetousness
Covetousness is described as (1) desire for the wealth or conditions of others, (2) attachment to one’s own wealth or conditions, to the extent that one denies another their benefit, and (3) desire for wealth or conditions that belong to nobody, such as desire for hidden treasure, artistic abilities, or abstract fame.
Results of Covetousness
The completely developed result of covetousness is rebirth as a hungry ghost; if one is born as a human, the result is constant desire attended by great frustration and anxiety. The environment will not be productive, subject to sudden changes.

9. Evil Intent, defined by a living being that is the object of rancor, and a deep wish to injure that being, whether said injury be physical, mental, or circumstantial.
Types of Evil Intent
Evil intent is described as (1) evil intent arising from anger or hatred, (2) evil intent arising from jealousy, and (3) evil intent arising from resentment, vengefulness, or ignorance.
Results of Evil Intent
The completed developed result of evil intent is rebirth as a sentient being in hell; if reborn as a human, the result is to have an angry disposition. People will, for no reason, treat one as an enemy, and one’s physical constitution will be weak. There will be sudden reversals of fortune. Difficulties will arise for no reason, and happiness will suddenly disappear. There will be wars and wicked rulers. Dangerous reptiles and predatory animals will abound. The environment will be subject to earthquakes, floods, droughts, and storms.

10. Wrong Views, described by conscious belief in an ill-conceived doctrine, in the face of substantial evidence that refutes such doctrine.
Types of Wrong Views
Wrong views are described as (1) disbelief in the law of karma, (2) belief that everything is permanent, or conversely, nihilistic belief, (3) belief that rules or ritual behaviors are the sole means of liberation, and (4) belief in a self-entity.
Results of Wrong Views
The completely developed result of wrong views is rebirth as an animal; if reborn as a human, the result is to be thoroughly stupid, and to be of dishonest and deceitful temperament. Alternatively, one will be gullible and careless. The body will be weak and malnourished. The environment will be poor and barren, and comforts will be few.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

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Tenpa Rinpoche and the Furies

There was no shock of recognition.

No coup de foudre; no love at first sight.

It did not happen that way.

There was instead a chiaroscuro day of etched shadows and pacific blues in the early winter sun of the western ocean.

We had been together for years by then, but we did not really know why.

The experience was neither sudden nor gradual; it was suspended. If I had to find a single word to define it, I would use the word “coincidence.”

By coincidence, one suspended afternoon in a place along the western shore, the present incarnation of my previous incarnation’s mirror began shining through the luminous appearance of my present incarnation’s mirror.

It was as if the sun emerged from behind clouds, striking a ray of light from the heavens to the street where we stood.

By coincidence, the synchronous experience of mutual respect and conjoined divinity awakened memories of all we had been before; neither sudden nor gradual, but steady, like the continuous rain that builds the instructive flood.

The unprompted power of the steady suspension of time and space, and the self-dawned knowledge of our continuity, buckled our knees. As tears of joy kindly washed our faces, we stopped on the sidewalk and held each other so tightly against the winds of death, intermediate stage, and rebirth, and we knew, yes we knew why we were together.

Here was the finest moment of our life together, and today, even with all my caprice, I believe I may have remembered the last time I truly cried in the street:

I am an old garden
beside a river
grander than its shores,
where flowers no longer
turn to the light
but become stained glass
that admits color, not life.

I am an old garden
no one is left to harvest,
where nothing else matters
except the weathered glories
of sun, moon and stars
fallen to the ground
like neglected bounty.

I am an old garden
where once you paused
and inhaled the afternoon;
where the things you planted
grow wild without you,
as careless as your samaya;
careful as wind across long grass.

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Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and the Sisters

Found this on another site.
When you re
ad this, please remember that the dakini is your mind.

From Thinley Norbu's
Magic Dance: The Display of the Self-Nature of the Five Wisdom Dakinis.

(Shambhala, 1999):

Five Wisdom Sisters,
If we do not complement you,
You become five witches,
Making us ill and bringing us suffering.
Because we cannot banish you,
Always our fate depends on you.

Five Wisdom Sisters,
If we do complement you,
You become five angels,
Making us healthy and bringing us happiness.
Because we cannot separate from you,
Always our fate depends on you.

Five Wisdom Sisters,

Nothing can be done without depending on your mood.
Farmers cannot grow their crops,
Politicians cannot rule their countries,
Engineers cannot work their machines,
Doctors cannot heal their patients,
Scientists cannot do their research,
Philosophers cannot make their logic,
Artists cannot create their art,
Without depending on your mood.

Five Wisdom Sisters,

Nothing can be known without depending on your grace.
Tibetan lamas cannot chant with cool highland habit,
Indian gurus cannot sing with warm lowland habit,
Japanese roshis cannot sit with dark cushion habit,
Muslim sheikhs cannot dance with bright robed habit,
Jewish rabbis cannot pray with soft-voiced habit
Without depending on your grace.

Five Wisdom Sisters,

Even the most mysterious miracles cannot occur without complementing your purity.
Buddha Shakyamuni cannot rest with tranquil gaze of his lotus eyes underneath the Bodhi tree,
Guru Padmasambhava cannot play magically with countless sky-walking dakinis,
Lord Jesus cannot walk weightlessly across the water,
Prophet Moses cannot see the radiantly burning bush,
Brahmin Saraha-pa cannot straighten arrows, singing wisdom hymns with his arrow-maker girl,
Crazy saint Tilopa cannot eat fish and torture Naropa,
Greatest yogi Milarepa cannot remain in his cave, singing and accepting hardships
Without complementing your purity.

You are so patient.
Whoever wants to stay,
If you don't exist,
Cannot stay.
Whoever wants to go,
If you don't exist,
Cannot go.
Whoever wants to taste or touch,
If you don't exist,
Cannot taste or touch.
Whatever our actions,
You are always supporting
Patiently without complaining.
But we ignorant beings
Are always ungrateful,
Stepping on you,
Calling you Earth.

You are so constant.
Whoever wants to be purified,
If you don't exist,
Cannot be purified.
Whoever wants to quench their thirst,
If you don't exist,
Cannot quench their thirst.
Whoever wants to hear,
If you don't exist,
Cannot hear
Whatever our actions,
You are always flowing
Ceaselessly without complaining.
But we desiring beings
Are always ungrateful,
Splashing you,
Calling you Water.

You are so clear.
Whoever wants to fight,
If you don't exist,
Cannot fight.
Whoever wants to love,
If you don't exist,
Cannot love.
Whoever wants to see,
If you don't exist,
Cannot see.
Whatever our actions,
You are always glowing
Un-obscuredly without complaining.
But we proud beings
Are always ungrateful
Smothering you,
Calling you Fire.

You are so light.
Whoever wants to rise,
If you don't exist,
Cannot rise.
Whoever wants to move,
If you don't exist,
Cannot move.
Whoever wants to smell,
If you don't exist,
Cannot smell.
Whatever our actions,
You are always moving
Weightlessly without complaining.
But we envious beings
Are always ungrateful,
Fanning you,
Calling you Air.

You are so open.
Whoever wants to exist,
If you don't exist,
Cannot exist.
Whoever doesn't want to exist,
If you don't exist,
Cannot cease to exist.
Whoever wants to know phenomena,
If you don't exist,
Cannot know phenomena.

Whatever our actions,
You are always welcoming
Spaciously without complaining.
But we ignorant beings
Are always ungrateful,
Emptying you,
Calling you Space.

You are our undemanding slave,
Tirelessly serving us,
From ordinary beings to sublime beings
To fulfill our worldly wishes.

You are our powerful queen,
Seductively conquering us,
From ordinary beings to sublime beings,
Into desirable qualities.

You are our Wisdom Dakini,
Effortlessly guiding us with your magic dance,
From ordinary beings to sublime beings,
Into desireless qualities.

And so, I want to introduce you.

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Sean in Nepal

Here is an interesting web log with numerous photographs of altars, temples, caves... all the good stuff. I have no idea who Sean is, other than he's seemingly a good-time guy from California and a Nyingmapa. Nevertheless, he's hitting all the high spots: stupa at Kopan, above, being a case in point.

Well worth the visit:

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Rainbow Scarf

There is a person who writes to me.

Today, they composed the following, and as they did so, a rainbow appeared over their house.

They sent this composition to me as an offering, I massaged it with the lotion of the English language, and herewith is the result... with my profound gratitude to the person who shall here go nameless.

How are parents known
For that which dwells beyond cause?

To the one beyond names,
Undiscovered yet ever present
Unseen yet ever visible
Not apparent, yet manifest;

Born of the radiant Vajra

The profound, centerless space:
I offer the scarf of the five rays
Mounted, like the evanescent jewels of
The diamond drop of the sweet morning dew.


Speech like this is limitless

Inhaled and exhaled as mantra
Everywhere on the gentle morning wind;
Sweet perfume offers itself to the sky;
Silently, you pass like a gathering river.

In your silence, the gates of the open sky

Ephemeral and light, dissolve in the vast expanse.
This is your proclamation: loud, and soft, without sound
This is indeed Vajra Speech, beyond saying and not saying.
How could one be deceived?

Pointing signlessly to the great center without location
The work is done without motion.
Effortlessly arising all beings are your children
Delusion of delusions, ah AH! not even a wind remains
In the absolute great Compassion, just resting evenly I remain.

In each dream, in each believed awakening
Your soft presence appears: guide and refuge of beings
In this dream-like flower we call emptiness
In the illusion of a lotus you manifested
These elements are the dhatu, your Awareness never altered.

Beyond the dream that begins or ends,
I s
alute the naturally arising guru who dwells within basic space.

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Meditation on the Healing Buddha

Hello, my friends.

I receive a very large number of requests for a Medicine Buddha sadhana that can be performed in exigent conditions by those in need or simply those wishing to be of benefit. I have considered these requests very deeply and offer the following in response. You do not need any particular empowerment to perform this practice as I send it to you quite powerfully complete in itself. If you are alone in this world or in distress, then when you do this practice, please believe I am there with you. Thus, even if you have difficulty with the mantra, or if you feel that you are doing something not quite precisely right, you should understand that I am there, "filling in the blanks" for you, and that the practice is being perfectly performed. Do not think in terms of "near" or "far," as it is possible to direct this practice---and have its effect immediately sustained---over thousands of miles.

Begin with refuge:

I take refuge in primordially perfected basic space.
All beings are actually Buddhas,
I must awaken this true nature through honest intent.

We proceed from an absolutely firm and unsullied wish to benefit others, and begin by visualizing a pure, open, clear, primordial and featureless sky: like a beautiful, empty, celestial sea of blue. We are not separate from this sky. 

Effortlessly, a large lotus takes form in this sky, surmounted by a shining moon cushion. On this moon disk, the seated Healing Buddha appears.

[In Sanskrit, the Healing Buddha is called Bhaishajyaguru baidurya-prabha-raja, which means Lord of Aquamarine Light, Master of Healing.]

He appears exhibiting 112 signs of physical perfection, radiant and vital, and his perfection reaches the perfection within our being, and resonates.

We are moved toward devotion to this cause of healing perfection, and wish to open an avenue of communication that will permit the experience to naturally and spontaneously unfold. We pray:

tad-ya-tha, om, bhe-kha-dzye bhe-kha-dzye, maha bhe-kha-dzye, ra-dza sa-mud-ga-te, so-ha.

[Thus, OM, of Healing, of Healing, of Great Healing, the King the Fully Exhalted, Pure Word of Truth.]
Thus, we pray, aloud or mentally, softly or at volume, and we merge into a sense of oneness with the aquamarine light of the Healing Buddha. A great sense of trust in this experience arises, and we believe that the power of healing is present, manifest in the light, energy, warmth, and sound of this miraculously effortless environment. This power emanates from the Healing Buddha and flows into us: an unconditional love that heals all disorders whether mental or physical, and bestows perfect health.

As we inhale, we inhale light, energy, warmth, and joy. As we exhale, we exhale the afflictions that trouble us. These afflictions have no substance: they burst like tiny bubbles in the great expanse of air. Our mind and body are firmly understood as one. Inhalation and exhalation involves every pore of our skin.

We begin by considering our body, piece by piece. We see that every part of the body we study is made of an infinite number of cells. These cells begin glowing with the aquamarine light of healing. We visit but a single one of this infinite number and find that is as vast as the universe, open and boundless. This cell and all other cells fill with healing energy, in the form of warmth and joy. Healing light and healing energy emanate from all the infinite, boundless cells.

Spontaneously, the syllable AH arises from our lips, first loud, then soft, then dissolving in our mind. We rest in silence, and our hands come slowly together at our heart, like a lotus bud. They separate slowly, and gather in healing power and essence. We alternately bring them together and separate them, collecting energy, which we can direct, to all sentient beings.

Every cell of our empowered being reaches each cell of every other being, bestowing the Healing Buddha’s infinite healing power. There is nothing to wish for.

We cannot do this correctly or incorrectly, as it happens through the power of infinite mercy. If some good comes of our actions, we dedicate this to others, as we have no thought to ourselves. We think only that all beings should have happiness, contentment, and joy. We think they should never be separate from the blessings of the Healing Buddha. The Buddhas of all times and places and characteristics will help us achieve such benefit for all sentient beings, without fail.

There are variations and refinements on the above practice. The practice can be long, and exquisitely detailed. The practice can be done in a split second, in conditions of emergency. You can believe that all sentient beings are joining this practice with you. You can believe that beings from every dimension are joining this practice. You can believe that this practice is a continuous stream of blessing, and you are joining this stream. You can believe that the practice is immortal and that there is nothing to join because you have never been separate. The latter belief is the play of the intrinsic awareness of original medicine. I do not know of a single circumstance when this intrinsic awareness is not manifest. I cannot imagine a circumstance when the healing radiance is not available. I do not think there is a time in this or any other world when this practice is not being performed.

My own intention is that your suffering be relieved. All of the merit involved belongs to you.

Search Enginology: Medicine Buddha, Healing Buddha, Sadhana, Practice, Meditation, Pr
ayer, Invocation, Spell, Mantra, Medicine Buddha Sadhana.
Copyright (c) 2002. Rights reserved.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So, this Heruka walks into a bar....

Some guy complained that in all his years hanging around Dharma centers, he never heard anybody tell a joke. He said, "I rarely see these people express real warmth or a smile, and would be completely surprised to see any of these people dance."


So, this Heruka walks into a bar, and says to the bartender, "I want a drink."

Bartender puts a drink down in front of the Heruka and says, "That'll be twelve dollars, please."

Heruka pays up and downs the drink.

Bartender says, "I don't mean to be a wise-guy, but the thing is, we don't get many Herukas in here."

Heruka says, "No, and at these prices you won't get many more."


Buddha walks up to a hot dog vendor in New York City. He says to the guy, "Make Me One With Everything", and gives him some money.

The hot dog vendor makes a hot dog, hands it to Buddha, and says "Here you go."

Buddha says, "Where's my change?"

The hot dog vendor says "Change comes from within."


How many Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb?


One to change the bulb, one to not change the bulb, and one to neither change nor not change the bulb.


Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused his dentist's Novocain?

He wanted to transcend dental medication.


A wandering monk walked barefoot everywhere he went, to the point that the soles of his feet eventually became quite thick and leathery. And because he ate very little, he gradually became very frail. Several days often passed between opportunities to brush his teeth, so he usually had bad breath.

Therefore, throughout the region, he came to be known as the super-calloused fragile mystic plagued with halitosis.

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In California, They Sue

Question: Why are some teachers violent with their students? Why would a teacher beat a student? That happens in Buddhism, doesn’t it?

Answer: Sometimes it does. I can hypothecate all sorts of answers to that question, but the real answer is locked in the dynamic of the student-teacher relationship. The reason is thus highly individual. Somebody wrote a book about this and gave it a nice title: Dangerous Friend.

Question: What would be some reasons?

Answer: How should I know? You want me to speculate? The teacher may wish to show the futility of violence to a violent student. The teacher may wish to work through some karmic obstacles. The teacher may whack a student to produce an endorphin rush. I really do not know, because this is an area where the student shapes his or her own experience. So not only how should I know, but how could I know ex post facto?

Many years ago, I went to visit the xvith Karmapa. My friends all argued that I should show proper respect, and dress up for the occasion in a gold brocade robe. Therefore, I dressed up for the occasion although I felt a little silly. My reasoning was, it should not be necessary to visit the Karmapa as this or that, because the Karmapa is a come-as-you-are proposition.

Anyway, once I got there, somebody else said I should give him something. I did not have anything to give him because I thought he did not need anything. People insisted, so I scrambled around and I found a feather. I knew he liked birds, so when I came to see him, I gave him a feather.

The Karmapa accepted the feather, and lightly traced a line on my forehead with the tip. He did not say anything to me on this occasion and I did not say anything to him. That was the whole of the exchange.

We all left this venue and traveled to another venue where he was to give a lecture. On the way there, I was involved in an automobile accident, and I received a hairline fracture of the forehead that duplicated the line the Karmapa had traced.

So, should I tell people that the Karmapa once beat me up with a feather and fractured my head?

Western students really whine too much, you know?

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Rabbit Rinpoche

Herewith a photograph of my best friend, Marshi, who I have decided to formally recognize as a tulku. I am going to issue a really flash certificate for him and use all of my pretty vermilion seals so people will not dare question his qualifications. In point of fact, I am recognizing him as the tulku of the 13th Karmapa's rabbit, and I am forwarding my findings to the 17th Karmapa for confirmation (and also the "other" 17th Karmapa----can't be too careful).

I do so on substantial evidence. Marshi...excuse me....Rinpoche never fails to identify a person's karmically-appropriate Buddha Family. We present him with five cards, each card corresponding to one of the five Buddha families. We tell him to look at a person and then pick a card. He glances at the person---much the way he is glancing in this photograph---and then he grabs a card with his teeth. Now, we do this with people who have already had their Buddha Family auspiciously determined by High Lamas with Posh Spice Certificates, and the thing is....Rabbit Rinpoche has never, in over fifty tries, ever failed to pick the very same Buddha Family!

In the above photograph I also direct your attention to the coin laying next to his left foot. This Lagomorph Lineage Lama is constantly finding coins, jewels, and small casks filled with yellow scrolls! You know what that means, don't you?

The First Marshi Rabbit Rinpoche (seated on Monkey)

So, there you have it: I've recognised him, I've given him a certificate with pretty seals, he has performed miracles, and he is behaving mysteriously. Now we have to ink a book deal, pump out a CD with his inspired chanting, and start raking in the cash to build him a lavish

I tell you the truth.... this Rinpoche is profound. The other day I asked him, "So, Rinpoche, would you care to expound on the spontaneous play of wisdom in basic space?" So, he just looked at me and then he said nothing....get it? He said nothing!

Isn't that precious?

So sorry!

I just read Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chögyam Trungpa, by his widow; in particular, the account of his death, which I could never bring myself to consider.

When Trungpa was introduced to me, it was with the admonition, "he is perhaps the last Mahasiddha you will ever see."

I am so very sorry to learn that he died this way, surrounded by that which surrounded him, murdered by the ignorance and neglect of those upon whom he lavished the full magnitude of his loving compassion.

In her words, the cause of death was eurosepsis.

Every year, in the Christian nations, horrid, spoiled children beg their parents, "Mummy, Daddy, buy me the Easter Bunny!"

The indulgent parents purchase rabbit, cage, feeder, and so forth, and for a while, the rabbit is King of the Castle.

But, the thing about rabbits is, one actually has to care for them. They crap ever so constantly and pee with great vigor. This festers in their bedding, and if one isn't diligent about changing their straw, they can develop infections.

They can develop eurosepsis, for example.

So, what happens to the Magical Easter Bunny when the eggs are all found, spoiled children tire of their new toy, and indulgent parents tire of cleaning the cage?

Do you know?

Can you guess?

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Questions, Part 6: Buddhism and Monkey Business

Question: Can you say more about false teachers?

Answer: My own education and experience allows me to understand that some people have a very twisted view of the Vajrayana. For example: some masters discourage followers from taking refuge with anybody else. They say that if you take refuge with anybody else, you lose your connection to a special lineage. That is utterly ridiculous. You take refuge in the Three Jewels, and you can take refuge as many times as you like. Actually, you should continuously take refuge. Lineage is separate issue, having to do with individual means. For example: His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche studied with how many teachers, do you remember? I can promise you he took refuge with every single one of them.

To take another example: when you visit some temples, you can find all sorts of Kagyu imagery for sale, such as Kagyu lineage tree tangkhas and suchlike. However, when you talk to the people, they will swear up and down they are not Kagyu and their teacher is not Kagyu. So, what Tibetan Buddhist lineage is involved?
Certainly not Nyingma.
Certainly not Sakya.
Certainly not Gelug.
Are we talking about the Bon lineage? Well, the Bon do not claim the place either.

Did some arcane, but nonetheless legitimate Tibetan lineage transplant to Taiwan and then come sneaking over here when nobody was looking? I do not think so. Such things are tracked quite carefully by a large number of well-educated people.

In addition, other things are very irregular and disturbing.

Some so-called Buddhist teachers are printing and selling “hell money.” I know many legitimate lamas, but I have yet to meet one in the hell money business.

I once visited a temple where they have stacks of Tibetan Buddhist books. These are traditionally produced books in the Tibetan language. I walked in one day, and I saw these books so naturally I had to have a look. Many precious objects have gone missing from Tibet only to reappear in the wrong hands, and I try to restore these things to their rightful owners whenever I can.

The issue of books is very important to me, because the preservation of Tibetan religious texts formed a part of my life’s work.

As it happened, I was in uniform the day I visited that temple. By “uniform,” I mean to say I was wearing my robes, which is something I occasionally do to make the girls sigh and the dogs bark. (laughter) I walked over, took down a book, unwrapped it and started reading. I managed to read a couple of words, when suddenly I was set upon by a very abrasive young lady who told me, “You can’t read that!” Well, my eyesight is failing and my Tibetan isn’t all that fluent, but I can still manage to sound out a few words, so I responded, “Bet you a dime I can.” She became very angry with me at this point, and said, “No you can’t! These books are for worship. These books aren’t for reading!”

We were off and running.

I remember asking her, “What if the Dalai Lama walks in here and wants to read this?”

I remember her response. “He can’t read it either!”

Turns out nobody in that temple can read those books. They are sitting there like dead decorations, of absolutely no use to anyone, and the people are downright proud of it. A friend of mine wrote something about this once. He wrote, “Average people, blind with the cataracts of dimwittedness, not only have a heap of defiled, perverted behavior, but even produce proofs and charts about it, and present it as wonderful subject matter.”

Therefore, when on balance I examine some so-called Tibetan Buddhist temples, I think there is monkey business. I dwell on this because of the damage such monkey business causes in this and future lifetimes. Eventually, the people who have been deceived are going to experience the result of that deception. When they do, the chances are good they are going to blame Buddhism rather than themselves, and perhaps even turn away from the Dharma into some other path. That is a tragedy.

I also have a great deal of compassion for those who are practicing these deceptions. Eventually, these people are going to visit the fully ripened results of their wrong actions, which in this particular case might be rebirth as an animal, or possibly a sentient being in hell. Maybe that is why they mint the hell money.

My teacher used to repeat a marvelous story. When you go around and visit the various temples, and meet the various masters, maybe you will remember this story.

There was a tribe of monkeys living on an island, ruled by a monkey king. One monkey discovered a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea surrounding the island. The treasure chest was too heavy for one monkey to recover, so he appealed to the monkey king for help. The monkey king thought for a moment—probably he scratched his head the way we see a monkey do—and then he came up with a plan. He decided he would grab the other monkey’s tail, then that monkey would grab another monkey’s tail, and they would get all the monkeys to form a chain so the monkey at the end could hoist the treasure.

This is what he planned, but it did not work out very well.

When the last monkey grasped the treasure chest, the monkey chain could not bear the weight. They all tumbled head over heels into the sea and drowned.

The Vajrayana is like that treasure chest. A false guru is like that monkey king. False teaching is like that monkey king’s plan. The sea is a sea of suffering. The island is an island of mistaken belief. Unless you know how to escape the island, and unless you know how to swim across the sea, please learn to beware of monkey business.

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Questions, Part 5: Buddhism and China

Question: Can you discuss Buddhism and China?

Answer: It tears at my heart to see the state of Buddhism in the Chinese expatriate community here in the United States. It really does. There are beautiful temples, and all manner of stage dressing, but the levels of teaching and understanding do not match this external display.

The most popular deity is Dzambala—you know, the one who holds the mongoose vomiting up jewels—a so-called wealth or treasure deity. The worship is the worship of material gain. People are praying for money. It is like show business, or what you might call spiritual materialism. The whole arena is foreign to essential Tibetan Buddhism—although we have our own expressions of Buddha, Incorporated, to be sure. Go look at the newsstand.

I think the main issue is language. For example: I am very fond of the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra. I have a substantial connection with this sutra. You could even say I have an attachment to this sutra that I should probably try to overcome. (laughter) Anyway, I always bothered my Chinese friends, asking them to read this sutra, and one Sunday morning everybody woke me up and said, “O.K., we’ll go find this thing in Mandarin and we’ll all read it.” We set off in a gang and found a library that had five or six versions in Mandarin. Now, in English, the operative translation is the Thurman translation, which was done in about 1976. I know this translation quite well, so I used it to compare with what was available in Mandarin. The variations were interesting. I also know the Sanskrit pretty well, and again, the variations were interesting. To tell you the truth, even though it was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva in 401 or thereabouts, I am not convinced that the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra is at all “there” in the Chinese language, at least at the commentary level. When we consider the centuries that have passed, and the forms Buddhism has taken in China, this seemsremarkable. Scholars class it as a Mahayana sutra, and it is, but in many ways, it is a foundational text of Vajrayana Buddhism and it is so very, very important to learn in that context. Really, in many ways it is.

The Chinese Buddhism I see expressed here in the West seems to foster the notion that Buddha is a God; or, at least the great mass of followers seem to express their beliefs that way. The people pray to Buddha for big money, male children, quick business, faithful spouses, and so forth, promising good conduct in return. I think Buddha wishes us well, but I do not think Buddha is in the god-like business of granting temporal wishes. I have read every word ever attributed to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, and every word attributed to Buddha’s manifestation Padmasambhava. I have studied all of the sutras and most of the tantras. This, I have very painfully done in three languages, having mastery of none of them. I have spent over forty years doing this. Quite possibly, I have missed a great deal, and most probably, I have not understood what I have read. Nevertheless, it is my current understanding that, intellectually, Buddhism is unconcerned with anything other than coming to know mind, in order to benefit those who have yet to know mind. Spiritually and practically speaking, Buddhism is fundamentally unconcerned with anything other than benefiting others. I have never known a lama who uttered a Buddhist prayer to his own benefit in his entire life. I do not see how anyone could, or more to the point, why any teacher would allow such a thing to happen.

Question: But seriously, are you prejudiced against Mainland Chinese because of what happened in Tibet?

Answer: I cannot be. I am realistic, and I understand what happened very well. We cannot say that what happened was a good thing—it was a genocidal atrocity in fact—but we cannot hold an entire race accountable for the deluded actions of an uncivilized, morally bankrupt, totalitarian political regime that rules by repression. There were, in the distant past, Chinese emperors and members of their immediate family who were devout followers of Tibetan Buddhism. For example: there was one Chinese emperor, I forget exactly which one, who took very close counsel from the Karmapa. The Cult of Mao destroyed temples and monasteries, and killed tulkus, monks, and nuns. The cultists destroyed libraries, medical schools, and desecrated or stole hundreds of thousands of religious treasures. Nevertheless, on a relative scale of values, they did not destroy anything that cannot be replaced. Tibetan Buddhism reformed itself, and transplanted itself in the West where we have sufficient freedom and resources to guarantee a long and fruitful rain of blessings.

The greater atrocity is done by false teachers—and these seem to proliferate in Taiwan as well as the mainland—because they attack from within, destroying the Dharma with false teachings and wrong views. This phenomenon is not unexpected; it is in fact the subject of prophecy that dates to the very inception of the Buddhist religion in Tibet. This phenomenon is a feature of the degenerate age in which we now live. That it is rampant should be enough to establish precisely where in this age we now find ourselves, and what we can expect to happen next.

When I began to formally study Tibetan Buddhism, I was extremely fortunate. Tibetan Buddhism was not very strong. Nobody really cared very much. Thus, Tibetan Buddhism presented no threat to anyone’s interests, and was not particularly attractive to anyone’s interests. Authentic spiritual friends were easy to find.

As Tibetan Buddhism began the process of transplantation, the numbers of followers increased, as did the political profile. When the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the world began to take notice of what had happened in just a couple of decades. When the truth rises, it is like the sun. When the great sun rises, even small creatures have to shade their eyes. Thus, the Chinese Communist Party—which I firmly believe is an expression of demonic activity that hates everything related to peace beyond suffering—expanded its interest in the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism because it perceived Tibetan Buddhism as a potent threat to its demonic mission. At the same time, charlatans began springing up, laying claim to this or that mystery, and temples began springing up that are nothing more than businesses.

This is why it is so very important to meet and practice with an authentic spiritual friend. If you cannot do this, then you run the risk of being dragged into destructive and perverted actions that are the very opposite of what your heart is telling you to do.

Question: How do you judge who is true or false?

Answer: That is the question I have been waiting to hear. I will give you the simple answer, and then I will give you the complicated answer. Real teachers do not go looking for students.

Real students go looking for teachers.

The authentic teachers practice generosity that is completely free from attachment; have a way of teaching that is attuned to the students’ minds; have the ability to introduce students to practices that lead to freedom, and in general, practice what they preach.

True spiritual masters have few extraneous activities. They are focused on the Dharma, and when we are in their company, we are moved to similarly focus ourselves. True spiritual masters know an infinite number of ways to lead others out of suffering, and belong to an unsullied lineage. True spiritual masters work for others, not for themselves, and that is their sole concern.

Charlatans practice Dharma dishonestly, out of a sense of pride. Maybe they want to preserve a line of tulkus, or bring increase to a family. Maybe they want to build a reputation for their temple, because they fear having no place to reside. They will adopt haughty manners because they receive offerings and service from credulous fools. Charlatans do not care for their students, seeing them only as beasts of burden, like oxen plowing fields or horses drawing wagons. Such teachers are demons to their students, because they rely on a cult of personality to gain their livelihood.

To differentiate between a true spiritual master and a charlatan is not an easy task. True spiritual masters can behave in unconventional ways. Their actions and words can shock or astound us, and even offend us, seeming exactly contrary to the Dharma. Nevertheless, even if their actions and words appear controversial, there is wisdom and purpose and we should not
judge them wrongly.

The thing is to carefully study the teacher’s ultimate purpose. For example: a person might gather hundreds of students and benefactors, build huge temples, hold elaborate ceremonies, and then run away to an island and live in luxury, saying, “Now I am in retreat.” Does this benefit the student, or does this benefit the teacher?

While a true spiritual master may only rarely accept students, he or she will nevertheless be willing to meet anyone. Be wary of the self-styled master who “never sees anyone,” and is allegedly engaged in arcane practices. Be wary of the self-styled master who makes himself the focus of all activity, building a cult of personality that becomes the object of all activity. All activity of true spiritual masters is directed to only one purpose: the student’s enlightenment, by any means necessary.

We have so many questions for our teachers. Perhaps we ask the teacher about somebody who interests us, like a potential girlfriend or boyfriend. The charlatan will give a long answer, and offer opinions, whereas the true teacher might say, “I do not know this person and I would rather you spend your time examining yourself instead of others.” This is just a hypothetical example.

Perhaps we ask the teacher about a house we want to purchase. The charlatan will give a long answer, and offer to “correct” perceived problems, whereas the true teacher might merely say,
“The house is empty.” Again, this is just a hypothetical example.

Once we find a true spiritual master, it is important to conduct ourselves appropriately. One of the things I find disturbing is the absolute lack of etiquette in many of the temples and groups. This bespeaks a sort of mindlessness and laziness, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the teacher’s central role in Vajrayana Buddhism.

What would you do if Buddha walked into your temple? How would you conduct yourself? Would you slap him on the back? Would you joke around with him? Would you tell him, “Hey,
Buddha, you are always this way, you are always that way.” Would you say, “Wah! This guy is sure in a bad mood today!” I hope you would not.

In the Mahabheri Sutra, Buddha himself said:
Ananda, do not sorrow!
Ananda, do not weep!
In future I will come again
Appearing as your spiritual friend,
To act for your and others’ sake.
By this, we understand that a true teacher is the Buddha, come again, so please learn the etiquette and conduct yourself accordingly.

Question: What is the proper etiquette?

Answer: Proper etiquette is simple because it rises from profound love and respect. If, for example, you have a dream where your teacher seems at fault, you should wake up and apologize. When a teacher stands up, you should not remain seated but stand up immediately. You should not sit down until the teacher first sits down and then directs you to sit down. When the teacher is seated, you should inquire as to his health, offer him refreshment, or give him small things that might please him.

If a teacher has to go from place to place, you should see that his way is unobstructed and pleasant, even to the extent of sweeping the ground and freshening the air. You should also offer to accompany the teacher, and provide him with transportation.

When you walk with a teacher, walk only on the left side, and do not step in his shadow unless he explicitly instructs you otherwise.

When the teacher is present do not make loud noises, dress ostentatiously, or make a nuisance of yourself. Be quiet, and respectful, and never lose your temper. Never lie, and do not engage in overly familiar or impertinent behavior, attempting to ingratiate yourself or show how clever you are. The correct attitude is one of humility and awe. Although there are numerous examples of extreme service and devotion in the literature—Milarepa’s relationship with Marpa the Translator provides an example—you need to maintain perspective.

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