Bir, India, October 2020
In October 2020, at the end of the Nyaluk Phurba drupchen that he holds every year at Tsering Jong, his home in Bir, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche thanked his monks and explained to them why he does so many drupchens. Anyone connected with this tradition would probably like to hear, or read, his explanations.
The Nyingma Tradition
The Nyingma tradition of the Early Translation school refers to the teachings that were brought to Tibet when the Buddhadharma originally spread in the Land of Snows. The other schools that appeared later, such as Sakya, are known as Sarma, or ‘New’ schools. They are all Buddhists and all follow both Mahayana and Vajrayana paths. As Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche said, the Nyingma tradition of the Early Translation school is defined by the teachings of Sutra, Illusion and Mind,It is an abbreviated reference to three items: The Sutra that Gather all Intention; the Tantra of the Magical Net, also known as Secret Essence or Guhyagarbha Tantra; and the Mind Section which refers to Dzogpachenpo. This is the terminology used in the kama teachings to refer respectively to Anuyoga, Mahayoga and Atiyoga. and the eight Kagye, the yidam deities which are practiced through the phases of approach, accomplishment and activities. The result is the attainment of complete realization, or at least the mastery of special powers and the ability to display miracles, which has happened numerous times in our history.
The name “Nyingma” is a late ascription by the many Sarma schools such as Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, Jonang, Zhijé, Dolpo, Shangpa Kagyü and so on. We all love the latest products—we speak and make videos about them, we advertise them—all because we think that they are better than the old thing. That’s the reason they gave us this name. They began to say that the teachings that spread in Tibet from the 7th to 12th centuries are the old, or nyingma, teachings, while the teachings they have are new, or sarma, and therefore are much better. The name Nyingma was tagged on us to give this message.
Although this is the view with which the name was given, it doesn’t correspond to reality. When the Buddha’s teachings spread, they had to come from India. The owner of the teachings, the perfectly enlightened Buddha Shakyamuni, and the great beings who held his teachings, such as the seven patriarchs, the six ornaments, the two supreme ones and the eighty-four mahasiddhas, all appeared in India early on. So the teachings that came to Tibet closer in time to the sources of the teachings are purer and more authentic. The earlier the source of the teachings the better, because it is closer to the time when Buddha Shakyamuni was alive and gave his teachings of the three pitakas, and to the time when the seven patriarchs were flourishing, for example.
It is the same for the Vajrayana that takes the fruition as the path. Guru Rinpoche and Panchen Vimalamitra who were both students and teachers of the eight great vidyadharas of India came to Tibet in person. The twenty-five disciples, the thirty mahasiddhas of Yerpa and so on, all received empowerments and instructions directly from Guru Rinpoche and Vimalamitra. They meditated on what they had received and reached accomplishment, and every single one of them became a mahasiddha. We still find depictions and continue to draw images that represent the twenty-five disciples and their miracles—Namkhai Nyingpo who was able to ride on the sun’s rays, Gylawa Chokyang who grew a horse head above his own head after he accomplished Hayagriva, Nupchen Sangye Yeshe who miraculously sank his phurba into a rock, and Yeshe Tsogyal who brought back to life someone who had been killed. Those are just some examples—they were all mahasiddhas.
If you look at history, you will notice that the Vajrayana that takes fruition as the path brings accomplishment when it is practiced. The way to attain accomplishments is, first to receive the empowerment, then maintain the samayas which are the life-force of the empowerment, and to practice approach, accomplishment and activities. It is said that there are many Nyingma practitioners who reached accomplishment and were able to perform miracles, and that there are still some today. Again, what I want to tell you is that they all reached this level accomplishment through practice.
In our tradition Vajrayana is practiced on retreat, during which people practice by themselves. They stay alone for three years and three months, or nine years and nine months, or even their entire life, or until reaching accomplishments. Even if they don’t stay that long, some stay by themselves for a few months, or even just seven days for example. In solitude, they erect the mandala, arrange the practice supports they have gathered, set the retreat rules and follow them. This is what we call staying on retreat, right? This is one way to practice.
There is also another way to practice, which is called “great accomplishment” or drupchen, which is a very special feature of the Nyingma school. It was practiced in India, in Oddiyana and in Zahor, where the entire country could come together to perform drupchens—sometimes two or three hundred people, or one thousand practitioners. This is where the tradition originated from, which later came to Tibet—great accomplishment practices were performed at Samye, and in Kham too. Guru Rinpoche stayed many years at Yegyal Namkha Dzö in Kham, and with King Trison Deutsen and his three sons, the twenty-five disciples, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal and her three girl attendants for example, practiced for seven years. They manifested signs of accomplishment that we can still see today at Yegyal.
There are numerous Nyingma vidyadharas and lamas of the kama and terma teachings who have all practiced and attained siddhis, and could show miraculous signs of accomplishment. Like them, we practice drupchens and follow this tradition which is more than one thousand years old, doing our best to emulate the perfect way of performing this kind of practice.
Why Do We Do Drupchens?
I will tell you why we do drupchens. In this world, there are two approaches: dharma and worldly. People who think that they want to practice the dharma in this life need to some extent to put the worldly aspects on one side. We think that we should practice the dharma when we give a bit more importance to our next life over the present one. There are many different traditions one can follow to practice the dharma.
Those who think that they want to follow the worldly approach study from a young age, go to school, high school and university, with the objective of getting job—no one, in any school in the entire world, goes to school with the motivation of attaining the state of perfect buddhahood and bringing all sentient beings who pervade the expanse of space to enlightenment. Instead, they are told: “You need to study well, graduate from medical school and become a doctor”, or “graduate from engineer school”, “nursing school”, “business school”. If you graduate, you will be able to work and to make money, and ultimately get a good reputation; basically you’ll be able to get what money brings. The result is money, which is what the seven billion people on the planet are doing.
“Dharma practitioners” are very rare. And what does every dharma practitioner do? They aim at liberation from samsara and lower rebirths, and the attainment of complete and perfect buddhahood. To attain buddhahood there is a path that takes three countless eons and one that takes a single lifetime—as I said, there are different approaches. If you want to follow the approach that reaches enlightenment in one lifetime, you must practice the Vajrayana that takes the fruition as the path. To follow the Vajrayana path, you need to receive an empowerment. When you have received an empowerment, you need to practice, as it is the life-force of the empowerment. Practice means to cultivate the two phases of approach and accomplishment and, once you have gained the power that comes from practicing approach and accomplishment, to perform the activities—pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, subjugating and so on. If you don’t practice approach and accomplishment properly, you won’t have the capacity to perform the activities.
To repeat what I said earlier, you can practice by yourself a yidam deity that you pledge to meditate on until signs of accomplishment arise. But there is also the great accomplishment practice or drupchen. Guru Rinpoche said that seven days of great accomplishment practice is more beneficial than seven years of undistracted personal retreat. Why is that? If you think about it, a few hundred people can accomplish very quickly what one person alone is unable to do. This is where the power of drupchen comes from—great accomplishment brings together the power of many people.
Benefits of Joining a Drupchen
If you practice in a drupchen, you might not reach the siddhis immediately, but you will have certain signs of accomplishment, the best being meeting the deity, middling to see the deity in a dream, or at least to have a meditative experience—these are signs that you have developed some accomplishment from the practice. These kinds of signs are bound to come if you do a drupchen. Other benefits, which come as a by-product of performing this kind of practice, include securing a long life that is free from illness, acquiring wealth, and getting good circumstances.
Nowadays, when people are seriously ill, they ask for pujas to be done for them. Everyone knows the world over that they are effective—people queue to get their puja done. No one says that it doesn’t work, right? People who have difficulty to offer as little as Rps 5 don’t think further when the doctor tells them they have cancer and that they will die soon. But people who know the dharma ask a lama for a divination and make sure that the pujas that the divination indicates are done. They don’t perform the puja themselves, as they are often not able to do it, but they offer money to others to do it on their behalf, which is less effective than practicing for yourself. They offer a little bit of money, at most $10,000, which is quite rare. A few people offer a few $1,000, some a few $100, and some just $20. Still, they say that the pujas helped them. Sometimes people don’t even have trust in the puja, or even faith in the Buddhadharma, but they ask as a last resort as they know they will die soon. Even in those cases, the people say that it worked for them. This is a sign that these practices are powerful, which is what I want to tell you: these practices work and have great power.
In the past, all the lamas from the time of Guru Rinpoche until Chokgyur Lingpa’s third incarnation, my father Pema Gyurme, gave the empowerments, reading transmissions and instructions of drupchen practices; they practiced themselves and encouraged others to do the same with words such as, “even if you can only practice for seven days, join the drupchen and practice.” They used to perform drupchens in their monasteries and also outside. In summer and winter, they would do drupchens in different houses in the villages. This is the path, a well-established tradition which is the lamas and monks’ only task—I want you to understand this.
Nowadays though, monasteries look more like schools. You hear monks say, “I am going to class” or “I am going to a teaching”. Then they pass a sort of exam, and receive a kind of diploma. Khenpos, the spiritual friends, should be regarded with utmost respect—we should regard and respect the khenpo who shows us the path with the veneration of a root teacher, right? However, modern monks think of them as school teachers, while they consider themselves as people who study. From their side, teachers say a bit what they like, trying to show how learned they are. Khenpos speak very eloquently only thinking about what people will say of them—“He is extremely learned! He explained this point so well!”—and don’t relate to the situation in terms of lama and disciple. These days, you don’t need faith, you don’t need pure perception, you don’t need to keep samayas. This has blighted the dharma. This is the great sign of the degeneration of the teachings.
In what way has the dharma degenerated? “You need to practice virtue and avoid negative actions. The way to practice virtue is this, the way to avoid negative actions is that”—everyone knows this instruction, but there is no one who puts it into practice. It is the same with Vajrayana. We hear, “You need to accomplish the deity, you need to recite the mantra…” but there are very few people who actually do it. Nowadays there are many khenpos, but almost none of them has done a three year retreat. You can even go further and ask “did you stay as much as seven days in retreat?” The majority will probably reply that they didn’t. Many don’t even observe the 10th and 25th days, they just kind of do some daily recitations. There are many lamas and tulkus like that. But they are busy, thinking that they must accomplish something—“I will do something that others haven’t done so far,” “I will find something that others haven’t found”—all with the hope of becoming famous for it.
Remember, dharma knowledge alone is not useful, it must be put into practice. But even when people put into practice their knowledge, they are puffed up and conceited, and perorate. These are signs of the degeneration of the dharma. To give you an example, say that someone claims,
“I practice kyerim; I meditate on Vajrakumara”.
So you ask,
“When you do, you need to bring clear visualization, vajra pride and remembering the purity into your meditation, right?”
“What?! Who knows that?! And how do you know that anyway?”
Or imagine someone tells you,
“I meditate on Mahamudra”, or “I meditate on Dzogchen”.
So you ask,
“Really? How can you meditate on Mahamudra since it is beyond the ordinary mind?”, or “How do you meditate on Dzogchen? Dzogchen is beyond mind—thoughts are not the Great Perfection. There is nothing to meditate on.”
These are signs of the degeneration of the dharma.
How It Began
We owe much to the kindness of my late father, the previous Chokling Rinpoche. When he first went to India, even though he only had a few monks with him such as Putse, Gaudi and Wangchen Dorje, he went to Nubri and performed a large drupchen there with people wearing red chubas, Nepalis, Mönpas and so on. He also did drupchens at Tsopema and other places in tents. At the time, I thought they were really big and elaborate practices. But when I look back, there were only a few people, the food was not very good, and the drupchen articles and substances were either missing or of poor quality. But they were really practicing, thinking that they were doing something important.
When my father arrived at Bir’s settlement in 1966, he immediately pitched a tent where the monastery was going to be and performed a Zabdun Phurba drupchen. From then on, we have done drupchens there without interruption, one in the summer of Tukdrup Barche Kunsel and one in the winter of Zabdun Phurba. When Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche came, I spoke to him about it, and he gave me INR 700 to make copies of drupchen texts. I offered them to Drungyik Tsering—who received them with folded hands above his head—and I asked him to write down the original for printing the drupchen texts of White Amitayus. He said, “You are young, you gave me INR 700 to write the original drupchen collection of White Amitayus, so I will do that for you.” He wrote them on yellow paper with red ink. But after he had finished, no one had money to pay for the printing. Some time later, Dzonang Rinpoche offered to sponsor it when I showed him the original that Drungyik Tsering had written. It is with these texts that we were able to perform the first White Amitayus drupchen, in 1967 or 1968. Then I organized annually a drupchen of Tukdrup Barche Kunsel and a drupchen of White Amitayus. We continued to do these practices and improve the way we have been performing them until today, when we conduct eight drupchens every year. Which, if you think in terms of dharma practice, is extremely beneficial.
Why is it beneficial? Because Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Rinpoche said that to practice the dharma is beneficial. The only way for us ordinary people to know is to look at the original teachings. We know that evil actions are negative based on the scriptures. Say that someone kills 5, 10 or 30 people: as ordinary human beings, we cannot see the negative karmic impact of these actions, but we can know about it based on the words of the Buddha. We also need to look at the scriptures to learn about the benefit of drupchen practice. The scriptures say that it is very beneficial for a dharma practitioner to participate in a drupchen. It is actually extremely beneficial, from a spiritual perspective, for someone to join a drupchen, if that person is a practitioner, which is what I want to make clear to you.
As we continued to improve, we now have two practice places: the monastery and Tsering Jong. At the monastery, over the years, we have continued to ameliorate the way that we perform the drupchens that we have been practicing. Others, such as Zabdun Phurba, Yangdak, Ngagsöl have been added later, fifteen or twenty years ago. At Tsering Jong, we do Chime Phakme Nyingtik, Pema Khandro and Nyaluk Vajrakilaya.
Why I Make You Do Drupchens
My thinking concerning all these drupchens is the following. In these times of the five degenerations, people have short lives—we live less than one hundred years, which is only 36,000 days. In such circumstances, I want to help the people who have taken the appearance of monastics, who are sort of wearing zen and shantap and have become monks. For example, if you ask the ex-monks who now reside in Belgium how long they lived in Bir, most of them will tell that they stayed at least ten years, so they all have done eighty drupchens or more. I don’t know how much enthusiasm they had, but they participated in each drupchen. This is a good thing. As Guru Rinpoche said in the treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo or Ratna Lingpa, which are the authentic dharma treasures, even those who sit at the end of the row in a drupchen and simply recite the mantra, will be reborn on the Copper-coloured Mountain in their next life, if they don’t have wrong view and have not committed major samaya breakage. Therefore, the drupchens we organize have been of great service to all these people. Even if you only stay three years at the monastery, you can still join in quite a few drupchens. So I take the responsibility to make sure that drupchens are performed continually. Over the years, we’ve had many obstacles that made it difficult to do these annual drupchens. When we didn’t have so much money, the advice we followed was that it was not a good idea to get all excited and spend everything in a few days on one big offering; what was important was to be able to maintain the continuity of the practices.
The teachings say that we will accomplish the four levels of vidyadhara through drupchen practice. I have heard people wonder, “This is probably true, but for people like us, is there really a point?” In any case, there is no doubt that it is extremely worthwhile for anyone who engages with these practices with a pure motivation and in the best way they can. No one can do these practices perfectly from the word go and get signs of accomplishment immediately. The only way is to learn and progress. If you do that, doing these drupchens will be of great value to you. It might help you a little in this life, but it will be especially beneficial for your in the next life: you will see the difference as soon as your breathing stops. When a bird flies in the sky, we cannot see its shadow on the ground, but when it gets closer to the ground to land, the shadow appears. The accumulation of merit and elimination of negative actions that we do are like that, and it is particularly true of the result of performing these drupchens. When we’ll die, what will appear once the appearances of this life have dissolved? That’s when the result of these practices will really have a positive impact. I wanted to tell you that.
I have organized these drupchens with great zeal. I spent a lot of money to organize them, without stinginess. Especially this year, the very strict regulations that have been put in place because of corona virus made it really difficult to hold drupchens—we heard so much talk such as “gatherings of more than three people are not allowed”, and then “gatherings of five people maximum”, or “people who contract covid will not survive”. All the countries of the world are in panic. But here, we have prayed to the lamas, to the yidam deities, and entrusted the activities to the dharma protectors. As a result we have been able to do all the Tsering Jong drupchens—earlier than usual actually. We have also been able to perform the drupchens generally held at the monastery. For us, the most important moment of the year is the celebration of Guru Rinpoche’s birth, on the 10th day of the 5th month, with a cham ceremony which is said to be unbelievably beneficial—I have sent you the text that explains it, right? I thought that it wouldn’t be so good if we didn’t do it this year, so we still went on with it and were able to perform the ceremony, including the cham dance. Many major monasteries have been unable to perform the 10th day cham ceremony this year, and had to cancel many of their group practices, but we have been able to do all the practices on our calendar.
All these practices are the result of my planning. I also acted as vajra master, and all of you have supported me and didn’t create any problem. We prayed to the lamas and the three jewels and didn’t think too much—this is what brought this good result. So, I want to thank you all. On reflection, we have done everything that we normally do in a year—no one was sick nor died of corona virus, we didn’t have any problem to perform our group practices and cham, and we have even already completed them on schedule. Therefore, although corona is creating havoc around the world, we have been able to overcome this obstacle.
Translated by Gyurme Avertin
Edited by Philip Philippou