Keeping Half an Eye on History


Lerab Ling, 24 September 2014

Keeping Half an Eye on History

Direct Pointing-out Instruction to an Old Lady

Stages of the Path

Lerab Ling, 24 September 2014

Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche gave this teaching on the morning of 24 September 2014, at the end of the annual Chime Phakma Nyingtik drupchen in Lerab Ling. It belongs to a series of teachings Rinpoche has been giving about how best to preserve and spread the Buddhadharma, and echos the 1 August 1999 teaching he gave, also in Lerab Ling. On this occasion, Rinpoche explains why it is so important to keep detailed records of everything that happens here at Lerab Ling, and in all Dharma centres.

Writing a Chöjung—Record and Authenticate

“You should now recite the mantra slowly while remaining undistracted from the visualization, and listen to what I have to say.” [1]There is an appendix to the main drupchen texts called the Tongtun, detailing the specific activities required during a drupchen, such as a daily teaching. It says that the Vajra King—in this case Neten Chokling Rinpoche who presided as the Vajra Master—or the Vajra Regent—his representative, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche—must address the assembly who have gathered for the drupchen, beginning with these words. (The text is the bla ma’i thugs sgrub rnam pa gnyis dang phur pa spyi khyab kyi tshogs sgrub skabs nyer mkho’i gtong thun rdo rje rgyu mang, and is found in thugs sgrub bar chad kun sel gyi sgrub chen skabs kyi 'don cha, p.775 l.1-2)

The other day I mentioned that when many people gather for a drupchen practice, it is important that those who know the benefits of large group practice enlighten those who don’t. When the knowledgeable explain, the ignorant learn. Once everyone taking part knows the key points of kyerim and dzogrim, the practice will be sound.

Let’s continue from yesterday, when I spoke about Lerab Ling and mentioned the ‘outer supports’ which are the temple, the monastic Sangha and the representations of the Three Jewels that are in the temple.

The teachings of the three vehicles spread to different countries and places for specific reasons, they can’t just be parachuted in from the sky, or suddenly pop up out of the ground.

In this case we need to consider two aspects of the teachings: the ‘support’ and the ‘supported’. The ‘supports’ are the representations of the Three Jewels and the ‘supported’ are all the teachings of the nine yanas, which can also be categorized as the three yanas: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

The Hinayana is the essence or root of the teaching. Its vows of individual liberation have been transmitted in an uninterrupted lineage from the Buddha down to our own teachers today. Shariputra first received them from Buddha Shakyamuni in India, then they were transmitted from master to master until the abbot Shantarakshita took them to the Land of Snows. In Tibet the lineage of transmission remained unbroken from Ba Salnang down to Kyabjé Trulshik Rinpoche. And today, we still have accurate lists of the names of all the lineage masters who passed down the vows of individual liberation.

At Lerab Ling there is a monastic Sangha. All of Lerab Ling’s monks and nuns were ordained by Trulshik Rinpoche. One or two fully ordained monks aren’t enough to be described as a ‘monastic Sangha’, as there must be a minimum of four fully ordained monks to accomplish all the practices of the three basic rituals of the Vinaya, according to the traditional instructions. Therefore the presence of a monastic Sangha that upholds the vows of individual liberation—the basis for the teachings—are an extraordinary blessing. In fact, the Dharma Lord Patrul Rinpoche said, “There is more merit from upholding the victory banner of ‘saffron robes’…” meaning being reborn as a monk, “Than from being a great King with dominion over the three realms of existence for thousands of aeons.”

Taking the Hinayana as our basis, we also practise the Mahayana, the vehicle of the bodhisattvas. There are two approaches to taking the bodhisattva vow: the son of the Victorious One, Manjushri’s approach, which is the tradition of the ‘Profound View’; and the Bodhisattva Maitreya’s approach of ‘Vast Conduct’. Everyone here has at one time or another requested the bodhisattva vow from various lamas who have granted them by following one of these two lineages, and meditated on the two bodhichittas of aspiration and action.

As Shantideva wrote, [2]The Way of the Bodhisattva, trans. Padmakara Translation Group, chapter 1, verse 9, Shambhala Publications 1997.

Should bodhichitta come to birth
In those who suffer, chained in prisons of samsara,
In that instant they are called the children of the Blissful One,
Revered by all the world, by gods and humankind.

This means that you must have accumulated an enormous amount of merit simply to be able to give birth to bodhichitta.

Both the Hinayana and Mahayana are the basis for the third vehicle, the Secret Mantra Vajrayana which takes the result as the path. The Vajrayana encompasses the four classes of Tantra which are the teachings of the Tantras, Agamas and Sadhanas. There are several accounts of the extraordinary way the Tantra and Sadhana teachings were first taught in this world which have been recorded in great detail and preserved to this day. You probably already know the history of these teachings. The important thing to realize, though, is that the transmission of the teachings from India to Tibet was accomplished perfectly and nothing was lost. In Tibet, Tantra was preserved faithfully. For example, the Guhyagarbha Tantra is still taught in the monasteries.

The other aspect of the Mahayoga is the Sadhana section, which, like cream, is the essence of the Tantra section, and contains the inconceivable and extraordinary practices of all eight Kagye deities, plus the practices related to each deity individually. At the heart of the Kagye lie the practices of the Three Roots. And so as everyone here has received the relevant empowerments, reading transmissions and pith instructions, the Three Roots practice we are doing now, in this drupchen, respects all the customary prerequisites of these teachings.

So, to my first point, which I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks yesterday and which is mentioned in the long life prayer I composed for Sogyal Rinpoche [3]The Excellent Stream of Nectar of Immortality (‘chi med bdud rtsi rgyun bzang) a prayer Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche composed in 2003 at Lerab Ling., “And skilfully you make a rain of sacred Dharma fall…”. A ‘skilful’ person is able to use many different methods to shine the light of the Dharma in new lands, thereby spreading the teachings of the three yanas. But the process of giving the teachings somewhere new is never easy. Even when these teachings were first given in India, it didn’t happen easily. Teachings spread only when all the right causes and conditions come together and as a result of the most abundant merit. Likewise in the Land of Snows, the teachings were first introduced at the inception of the nation. First the king and his ministers received them, then the king’s subjects—meaning all the ordinary people. The Tibetans offered everything they had to the Indian teachers they invited, paying all their expenses in gold, and for more than a thousand years, preserved, protected and strengthened the teachings they were given. Taking all this into consideration, the fact that these teachings have only been taught outside Tibet for maybe twenty years, fifty at the most, and are now being heard in places where they were previously completely unknown, is quite miraculous!

Let me give you an example of why it isn’t easy for these teachings to become established somewhere new. All the Tantra teachings given in Akanishtha were compiled by five sublimely noble beings, hidden in space and sealed with the seven intentions. Only when the time, the place and the circumstances were all right, did the first fortunate recipients see the books containing these teachings descend from the sky. Which shows how difficult it is to bring together the circumstances that allow the Tantra section of the Mahayoga teachings to emerge.

As far as the other component of the Mahayoga teachings, the Sadhana section, is concerned, the teachings each teacher was destined to receive were sealed and hidden in the great Deché Tsekpa Stupa, and their safekeeping was entrusted to hundreds of thousands of dakinis. Then the eight great vidyadharas gathered with Guru Rinpoche in front of the stupa and with their own hands, the dakinis retrieved each sadhana of the Eight Kagye, plus the sadhana of Kadü Chokyi Gyatso which contains all eight.

Similarly, when the teachings spread in Tibet, the Tantra section appeared only when the great master Guru Rinpoche was invited to Tibet by the Dharma King Trison Deutsen, who had extended a passionate and heartfelt invitation accompanied by an immense offering of gold. The teachings of the Sadhana section weren’t transmitted by Guru Rinpoche until King Trison Deutsen accompanied his request with the offering of all his sovereign power, his kingdom and everything it contained. Then, as the empowerment was conferred upon the king, he actually saw the Kagye mandala of the Kadu Chökyi Gyatso.

Bear in mind that such immense offerings were made because the teachings are in fact priceless, not because Guru Rinpoche or the panditas needed wealth. By contrast, Dharma teachings tend land in the laps of most westerners these days—which may be a result of great merit, but could also be something else entirely. Generally it is said that those who live during the time of degeneration lack merit, but perhaps they actually have a great deal?

The authentic regents of the Lotus Guru of Oddiyana, the second Buddha, are lamas who embody all the qualities of knowledge and accomplishment. Some of them have come to your country, granted empowerments and instructions and given you everything you’ve asked for. You are extremely fortunate! The one who ‘creates the right conditions’ is the person who travels and tirelessly trains students in order to establish Dharma centres that can then welcome the lamas who have the ability to help other beings. Their kindness is monumental!

When Guru Rinpoche went to the Land of Snows, many panditas and yogis followed him and were present when the teachings were first given. It is said that, “During the time of Guru Rinpoche, five hundred great panditas led by Vimalamitra came to Tibet.” But at that time there were also many fake panditas, acharyas and sadhus, and some of them also made the journey from India, avid for Tibetan gold. Historical records from that time state that they gave many false teachings. The same thing is happening today.

How can we tell an authentic lama from a fake? We often hear how important discernment and wisdom are. If you lack discernment, you are just plain dumb and very easy to fool, right? So we must use our own discernment.

The Dharma is spreading throughout the West right now, so you really must write a chöjung. A chöjung is a book that explains the history of how the Dharma came to your country. So you must investigate minutely the circumstances surrounding the spread of Dharma to your country and make a very clear, detailed record. For example, who first came and transmitted the teachings of the vows of individual liberation? When did he come? What was his lineage? Such records should be kept for teachings of all three yanas, and particularly those in the Tantra and Sadhana sections, right up to the Clear Light Dzogpachenpo teachings. How were the teachings passed on? From which lineages? Who were the lineage holders who came and gave the teachings? Recording all this is crucial to ensure that future students can be sure that the teachings they receive are authentic.

Lerab Ling is a ‘Dharma seat’ (Tib. densa), and a succession of lineage holders—great beings who maintain the teaching—will stay here. And I am sure that for a few hundred years at least, Lerab Ling lineage holders will continue to maintain the teachings. Therefore, all the teachings that are given at this Dharma seat, and every aspect of the teaching process—how teachings were passed on and held—should be recorded fully and completely. If this doesn’t happen, you won’t be able to hold these teachings for long

The Dharma seats in Tibet, like Kathok, Palyul and Orgyen Mindroling, all have denrab—texts that record the succession of abbots and great beings who have cared for their Dharma seats. The teachings of the Buddha that were transmitted in Tibet, were collected in the Kangyur, the Translation of the Words of the Buddha. Even the very short sutras mention the circumstances in which the Buddha gave that particular teaching. This is how we can account for each lineage holder from the Buddha onwards. And this is what you should do for Lerab Ling.

To clarify this point a little further. Today for Tibetans in Tibet, the teachings have begun to wane, while in the West the teachings have just started to appear and spread. But in India the teachings have virtually disappeared. The Buddha himself told us that his teachings would eventually decline everywhere. So the teachings only spread in the right circumstances, which is why you should write an historical account of how they spread here. My main point, therefore, is that it is crucial for a ‘Dharma seat’ to keep accurate records.

The History of Dzogpachenpo

There is something I have wanted to say for many years at this great Dharma seat of Lerab Ling, so I shall say it now.

Here at Lerab Ling, the name given to the Sangha is ‘Rigpa’, and Rigpa is the heart of Dzogchen. From Lerab Ling, numerous Rigpa centres have been established throughout the world and what they all practise, what they focus their minds on, is Dzogpachenpo. Now, there are people these days who say that Dzopachenpo has no lineage and even some Tibetan lamas don't know how to explain the teachings properly. They say that the Dzogchen teachings appeared spontaneously, ‘naturally’, like some sort of intellectual theory. These people are making a very, very grave mistake.

In India, the land of the Aryas, the teachings of Dzogpachenpo were held in many lineages. In the same way the Dzogchen teachings radiate from Lerab Ling to the Rigpa centres worldwide, the teachings of Dzogpachenpo first appeared in this world on the Blazing Meteoritic Mount Malaya, in present-day Sri Lanka. They then spread to the ‘central lands’ of Zahor, Oddiyana and India. At that time, Dzogpachenpo was an extremely secret Dharma and kept strictly confidential—which is why there aren’t many accounts of the circumstances surrounding each teaching event. And it is because the teachings were kept so secret that today their history is not clear. Details about where the teachings spread, the beings associated with them, the kings, accomplished practitioners and so on, were not written down. However, what is clear is that the teachings were taken to Bodhgaya and Varanasi.

The various histories of Dharma record that in Lanka, Glorious Vajrasattva went to the top of the Blazing Meteoritic Mount Malaya and taught five sublimely noble beings the six million four hundred thousand sections of the teachings—you’ve heard this, right? For a long time everybody thought that the Blazing Meteoritic Mount of Malaya was probably somewhere in India, and left it at that. Recently, though, it’s been discovered that Mount Malaya is in Sri Lanka, and this detail has made much more sense of everything we learned from history.

Another example is that the motherland of the great master Garab Dorje is Oddiyana and that he was the son of a king. Tibetans always thought Oddiyana was somewhere in India, but no one could identify its exact location.

Texts about the lives of Shri Singha and the masters that came after him were written more than a millenia ago. Those that still exist tell us things like where the lamas were born, and so on, and by carefully examining the various scraps of information we find in these texts, we can discover quite a lot about what happened then.

The Chronicles of the Chinese Imperial House of Tang report that in Srinagar, Kashmir, at the ‘Mound of the Elephants,’ [4]Tib. Glang po’i sgang, Skt. Hastithala, which according to Dorje and Kapstein (Vol.2, p.462) ‘probably to be identified with Hastināpura in modern Himachal Pradesh.’ Also known as Hastivana (glong po’i tshal) The Forest of the Elephants. there was a monastery and that someone called Vimalamitra was probably born nearby. It’s very likely that this was the famous master Vimalamitra who went to India, Tibet and China and gave many teachings about the approach based on adopting what is good, rejecting what is bad and going beyond cause and effect. The Chronicles tell us that as he gave these teachings, the earth cracked open and he fell into the lowest realm. The authors of the Chronicles had no appreciation of the teachings of Dzogpachenpo and some details are not true, but overall they corroborate the Buddhist accounts, because the Dzogchen teachings also mention that Vimalamitra was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, at the ‘Mound of the Elephants’. The difference is that our accounts say Vimalamitra never abandoned his body and that he continues to live on the Manjushri peaks of the Wu Taï Shan Mountains in China.

It is said that when Xuanzang went to Oddiyana, the people there were able to display signs of accomplishment and all sort of miraculous powers, like flying in the sky. But he distorted his account by adding that he thought they were just performing magical tricks and illusions, whereas the accounts in our Secret Mantra teachings say that in Oddiyana pretty much everyone was a Mahasiddha.

All of which proves that the history of the Dzogchen teachings stands up to scrutiny, the lineage is authentic, and how and where the teachings originated can be clearly traced.

We need to bear in mind that when the Dzogchen teachings were transmitted in the Land of Snows, there were three lineages. The first was the lineage of Guru Rinpoche, the second was the lineage of Vimalamitra, and the third was the lineage of Vairotsana. Guru Rinpoche was an Oddiyana man and Vimalamitra was a Kashmiri, so their lineages came to Tibet from India. In one of the Kathang texts about the life of Guru Rinpoche it says,

Invited from Oddiyana, Lotus-born,
Invited from Kashmir, Vimalamitra…
Invited from Zahor, Shantarakshita,

Shantarakshita was the ‘Zahor abbot’, right? At that time Zahor and India were different countries. Even though these are very short statements, they help us understand what happened.

So Guru Rinpoche and Vimalamitra both went to Tibet from India, and Vairotsana, who transmitted the third lineage, went to India from Tibet, where he met Garab Dorje and Shri Singha. Vairotsana saw Shri Singha’s wisdom body and received from him the transmissions of the entire six million four hundred thousand tantras of Dzogchen, including the three sections of Dzogpachenpo—Semdé, Longdé and the four cycles of Mengakdé. And all these teachings also reached Tibet. These three lineages were the only methods by which the Dzogchen teachings appeared in Tibet, which means the teachings of the Dzogpachenpo were not invented in Tibet.

According to a well-known calculation, Guru Rinpoche spent one hundred and twenty years in Tibet [5]Dudjom Rinpoche, History, p.516-517 and p.473-474. Mention all the options from 18 moths to 3600 years, explaining how they do not contradict each other., but according to Jonang Jetsun Taranatha these ‘years’ were calculated using the Indian method by which six months were counted as one year.

For a long time after he first arrived, Guru Rinpoche did not even say the word ‘Dzogpachenpo’ in public. He did not teach Dzogchen at all. So King Trison Deutsen sent messengers to Mount Kailash to invite Buddhaguhya to teach in Tibet. But Buddhaguhya sent the King a gift—the Stages of the Path, which is a commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra that he had written—with the reply, “I am practising on Mount Kailash and will not be going to S