Introduction to the Three Traditions of Buddhism (Yanas) and Qualities that a Guru should possess
(From a teaching on the three Yanas during the Dragon Yogis Retreat held in Bhutan in 2015 and teaching on Guru-Student Relationship in Vietnam in 2013)
Introduction to the Three Traditions of Buddhism (Yanas) and Qualities that a Guru should possess
(From a teaching on the three Yanas during the Dragon Yogis Retreat held in Bhutan in 2015 and teaching on Guru-Student Relationship in Vietnam in 2013)
1.1 Essence of Theravada tradition
In Theravada, mind wise - renunciation is very important, and practice wise -Vinaya (discipline) is of utmost importance, especially the discipline of body and speech. In Theravada there are no mind vows. The vows are called “Pratimoksa” which means self-liberation. These vows are focused on the discipline of the body and speech, such as how do you walk, how you talk, etc. Pratimoksa focuses on taming the mind by taming the body and speech. The goal in this tradition is to be liberated from the sea of suffering. Basically, followers of this tradition want to be free of samsara and suffering but they do not have the desire to become Buddha for the sake of all sentient beings. The highest level achievement of this tradition is called Arhat (Drachompa). ‘Dra’ means enemies, in this case our negative emotions and ‘Chompa’ means to destroy – To destroy our negative emotions. An Arhat is someone who has destroyed all negative karma and emotions, who is free from samsara but they are not Buddha. I am not saying that they don’t benefit sentient beings but the wish to become enlightened for the sake of sentient beings is not there.
Begging tradition in Theravada practice. Monks of Theravada tradition is not allowed to engage in activities that will lead to arise of negative emotions. For example, they are not allowed to look at women in the eyes, not allowed to touch gold, not allowed to wear slippers, etc. They have to walk bare feet and they have to go begging for food. A monastery of Theravada tradition cannot have kitchen because having a kitchen and the need to cook will lead to the need to buy food, store food, have money to buy food which could lead to the desire to cook delicious food and get angry if the food is not delicious. Why are they going begging for food and how does it help in enhancing their practice? We should understand that they are not doing it out of desperation but they are doing it consciously to reduce their negative emotions. When you are walking around begging for food with no assets, there is nothing to boost your ego and no reason to get angry. Even while begging, they can beg only in the first three houses and if they don’t get food in the first three houses, then they have to go back empty stomach. That is why the Theravada monks are not vegetarian. But there is no negative karma because the owner does not know that you are coming and he did not kill for you. It is meat but it was never intended for you. Even Buddha was not a vegetarian. Of course he was Buddha and he is at a totally different level and even if he ate meet, he can liberate but the reason why Buddha was not a vegetarian was because he was going around begging. When you beg, you cannot demand for what you prefer. For example, I cannot come to your house to beg and say I came to beg for food and it must be vegetarian, otherwise I will not accept it. How can you say like that- begging and at the same time demanding with conditions? If you get delicious food today, it is very good but no need to get excited because you don’t know what you will get tomorrow. If you don’t get delicious food also, it is ok, tomorrow you may get delicious food. So the desire and attachment to food slowly reduces. For us, we have so much desire for delicious food, for that we kill tons of animals.
Another example is: when you have a good hairstyle and nice long hair, deep inside, you are little bit proud of it. Now if you shave it off, there is no reason to feel proud of it anymore. If you are going in a nice car, say a Land Cruiser, actually if you think about it, 100 years ago, it was good horses, now basically you are going in a 21st century version of a horse and you care about it so much that you would feel angry or upset if someone scratched your car.
Basically the point is that when you discipline your body- not touching gold, walking bare feet, begging for food, shaving your head, all these physical body and speech disciplines, which lessens your desire automatically controls your mind and gradually helps to tame your mind. Naturally, what you don’t see, you don’t desire for it. How can you have ego when you are walking around begging for food. How can you have so much attachment when you are allowed to have only two sets of clothes? So you don’t need to worry about having money for clothes, thinking how to get a nice watch, etc. You are not allowed to have a kitchen so you need not worry about the taste of food. Sometimes having a lot of money, can lead to attachment, pride and anger. But when you don’t have anything, automatically the negative emotions get controlled. Of course Theravada practitioners do meditation but the body and speech discipline vows, the Vinaya is the most important. For example, if I say, don’t get angry, it is difficult to control anger but if I say don’t kill, you can stop. Keeping these vows strictly automatically helps to tame the mind and that is the key.
1.2 Qualities of a Guru for Theravada tradition
Now what kind of a Guru do you need if you follow this tradition? You need a Guru who keeps his vows very well. For example, in Theravada, you can give a Bikshu and Bikshuni vow only after 10 years. So basically your Guru needs to be a very good Bikshu or Bikshuni, who keeps his/her vows very pure and who is disciplined. Only if he/she keeps the vows, he/she can give you the vows. In Theravada, Guru is someone who gave you the vows and a very senior monk. You don’t need to see your Guru as a Buddha or a Bodhisattva but definitely you have to respect your Guru. In the Theravada tradition, older the monk, more senior he is because older means you have kept the vow for more number of years. Since discipline is the most important, you go by the age. So a Guru for the Theravada tradition should be very learned in the Vinaya, keep the vows, and very disciplined.
2.1 Essence of Mahayana tradition
In Mahayana, body and speech disciplines are important but the most important is Bodhichitta, the mind discipline. The essence of Bodhichitta vow is to stop us from being selfish. As soon as you have a selfish thought, you are breaking the Mahayana vow. Bodhichitta actually means selflessness. While trying to keep the Mahayana vow, Theravada vows are also important because Theravada vows are mostly to do with prevention of negative action - stopping ourselves from harming others and Mahayana is about benefitting sentient beings. However, among the ten non-virtues, the seven non-virtues of body and speech are acceptable in Mahayana tradition as long as total selflessness is there, which is the essence of Mahayana. The reason why Mahayana practitioners do not go around begging is because the priority is selflessness. It is said that as long as selflessness is there, other Theravada vows like not touching gold, not looking at women can be allowed.
In Mahayana, whatever we do such as think, eat, sleep, walk, laugh, talk, etc. we do it not for oneself but for the sake of all sentient beings. For example, I drink water so that I survive and can practice dharma to help sentient beings. Selflessness means to do everything for the sake of mother sentient beings and nothing for oneself. Selflessness actually works very well in taming the mind because this is key in getting rid of our negative emotions. When you have the thought that whatever I do - my chanting, meditation, may it benefit all mother sentient beings and help them reach enlightenment, even if you get angry, it is easier to forgive.
Why do we have pride and ego – it is because we make ourselves more important than others. If you are selfless and truly care for all mother sentient beings, you will not make yourself more important than others. You will not be harming other people for your own benefit because you will not be more important than others. Why are we jealous - It is not because the other person is so beautiful but it is because we love ourselves so much and we feel like we are not as good as the other person. That is why we get jealous. If you are selfless, you will not be getting jealous because how can you get jealous of someone whom you love so much equally to yourself. If your son and daughter are doing well, you will not get jealous because you love your son and daughter. Similarly, if you have such selfless Bodhichitta mind, how can you get jealous, how you can feel proud and angry when you love them so much that their happiness and joy means so much to you. Why do we get angry? Anger arises when the other people are not fulfilling our wishes, not respecting us. These negative emotions come from selfishness.
In Mahayana practice, eating meat is not allowed. When we believe that all sentient beings are parents of our past lives, how can we eat them and say I want to benefit mother sentient beings. How can we take the life of another being, harm them for our enjoyment of ten minutes with tasty food and say I am practicing loving kindness? If we cannot stop ourselves from harming others, how can you say I will kill but I will liberate them and do life release. How can you selflessly benefit other beings like this? It is not really a true practice. Normally, for strict Mahayana practitioners, not only do they don’t eat meat, they also do not wear leather made products. This is because Bodhichitta, loving-kindness is the main essence of this tradition. That’s why I say we are so selfish. When it comes to ourselves, even if our nail is broken, we cannot bear the pain. However, when it comes to others, we can take their life. Why is it like this? It is because of our selfishness.
It is said that when Jangchub-sempas (Bodhisattvas) look at people who upset them, they look at these people like how a mother looks at her crazy child. When a mother looks at her crazy child, the mother knows that the child has no control over his/her behavior. Similarly, we are also out of control because of desire. For example, when we talk so much, we have no control over our mouth; when are getting angry, you can’t sleep, you want to kill someone, this means you have no control over your anger. With strong desire, insecurity and fear also comes. So Jangchub-sempas look at the people who try to harm them like their sons and daughters who have gone crazy and in return love them even more. A Jangchub-sempa thinks like this – “All sentient beings are my parents of past lives, but they don’t recognize me. It is out of ignorance that these people are trying to harm me. May they never go through suffering because this act of theirs. May they be liberated.” The Mahayana practice will focus very much on selflessness. Once you have selflessness, it is so strong that physically touching things does not give rise to desire. For example, generally speaking, Mahayana monks are not supposed to touch gold but if it is for the benefit of others, you are allowed to touch gold. This is because you cannot get attached to gold when you can only think of how you can benefit other sentient beings with this gold. Another example is that, when you have money, you don’t mind giving all you have to your children whom you love so much. You have no attachment when spending on them. This is because you love them so much. Similarly, Bodhisattvas love all sentient beings so much like a mother loves her child. For Mahayana practitioners, wealth does not make them egoistic and corrupted but for them it is to use the wealth for the benefit of others. Bodhisattvas can be born as a master, a teacher, a cleaner, even as a bee, they can be born as anything. Since bodhichitta is the key practice of a Mahayana practitioner, a lot of things that are not allowed for Theravada is allowed for Mahayana provided total selflessness is the basis for the action and speech.
2.2 Qualities of a Guru for Mahayana tradition
A Mahayana Guru has to have two qualities. Firstly, the Guru should be highly learned in the Mahayana sutras and teachings and; secondly, the Guru should not give up Bodhichitta even at the cost of his own life. What it means is that even at the cost of his life, he will never be selfish. Selflessness and loving kindness is the most important quality. He must keep the bodhichitta vow.
In Mahayana, sometimes we talk about Guru as a Bodhisattva but never as a Buddha. Bodhichitta is the wish to get enlightened for the sake of all mother sentient beings. Now within Bodhisattvas also, depending on the strengths of their bodhichitta, we say (i) Bodhichitta like a king - I want to first become king and then I will take care of my subjects. This means that I want to first become Buddha and then I will benefit the sentient beings like Manjushiri; (ii) Bodhichitta like an oarsman – Like an oarsman, I will cross the water body together with the passengers in the boat. This means that I want to benefit myself and all sentient beings together like Chana Dorji (Vajrapani); (iii) Bodhichitta like a shepherd – meaning who first goes and makes sure there is no wolf and then makes sure all the sheep are fine and goes after the herd protecting them. This means that first I will benefit all sentient beings and only after all beings are liberated, I will get enlightened like Chenrigzig (Avalokiteshvara). That is why Chenrigzig is called Jangchub-sempa Phagpa Chenrigzig because he promised that till every sentient being is enlightened and the world is empty of samsara, he will not become Buddha. That is why Chenrigzig is the example of the great Bodhisattva. This does not mean that Avalokiteshvara is not a Buddha (Sangay) but it just shows his commitment when they were beginning on this path. It is like if you fall from a cliff, you will die even if you say I don’t want to die. Similarly, even though Chenrigzig said he does not want to become Buddha but if he is doing all the practices and creating the condition to get enlightened, then he will become Buddha and he has become Buddha in terms of qualities of accomplishment of wisdom and compassion.
3.1 Essence of Vajrayana tradition
The main focus of Vajrayana practice is to stop or transform our ordinary conceptual mind by skillful method of visualization (keyrim) and realizing the non-fabricated nature of the phenomenon (zogrim), through the practice of realizing the calm and abiding nature of the mind.
To be a practitioner of Vajrayana, to some extent you have to be a practitioner of all three Yanas. Especially for beginners like us especially, on the outside we have to keep the body and speech discipline and have bodhichitta. Philosophy wise, Mahayana and Vajrayana, are same but there is a difference in the method. Actually you can say Vajrayana is a part of Mahayana. You have to have bodhichitta - selflessness is very much required. On top of that, the main practice in Vajrayana is the transformation of mind through visualization and remaining in the calm and abiding meditation which is to remain in the unfabricated nature of the mind.
The reason why Mahayana practitioners practice Vajrayana is because it is said that Mahayana is a great practice but to become a complete Buddha it takes about 3 countless aeons. Vajrayana is recommended for those people who have a very strong Bodhichitta, and they want to become enlightened immediately to benefit sentient beings within one to sixteen lifetimes. In Vajrayana, it is said that you can get enlightened within 16 lifetimes if you don’t break samaya. In Vajrayana, it is about blessings and skillful method. If we do not have a good understanding of Mahayana, it is very complicated and confusing. Vajrayana is a practice that gives you the ability to get enlightened much faster through skillful method. However, Vajrayana is said to be very complicated. It is a practice in which either you go up or you go down. There is no middle way. It is like a parachute, you reach very fast but you either go down or you go up.
What is ordinary conceptual mind that creates our visualizations in this samsara?
Ordinary conceptual mind is the mind that makes us understand things as per the samsaric visualization. This means right now you see this temple as a temple, beautiful watch as beautiful, men as men and women as women, feel cold as cold and hot as hot. Why do you want to stop the conceptual mind? This is because the main source of disturbance to the clear and empty nature of mind is the conceptual mind. For example, let’s say a watch, right now you don’t desire for it. Suddenly, someone says that it cost Ngultrum One Hundred Thousands. Then, you start thinking and suddenly you have this desire to get it. When something is worn by famous beautiful people, you also feel it is very beautiful. So after this concept, desire, anger, jealousy comes. We are not realizing it, but we are living in a conceptual world.
Living in the samsaric visualization all the time. We are living our life visualizing everything. If you say, we are not visualizing, then what is an enemy? Does any enemy inherently exist? No, it is our hatred that makes an enemy exist. So when we see him, we feel upset. Another person sees this same person as his friend so he feels happy when he sees him. The difference in this person is how we see him. Even husband and wife relationship is a very strong visualization. Before marriage, you don’t care what he is doing but from the moment you say he is my husband, visualization starts after that….then you start asking, where are you going, what are you doing, very painful, angry. Before you didn’t care, now you care so much - this is samsaric visualization. My husband, my house, my car, my enemy - very strong visualizations and attachment is very strong, emotions, then karma. So we are visualizing all the time. Right now with 100 people in the room, I am seeing a lot of people in this teaching hall this is also visualization. Maybe tomorrow, I go and give teaching to 10000 people and feel this is a small crowd. We are visualizing all the time, good, bad, happy, beautiful, and ugly. Even the self, if you really check, it is not there but you have visualized it so well such as our identity, ego, etc.. When you say Mr. X. oh yes yes why? Because we have visualized him so well. You are not born as a director, army, wife, so now why are you tagged that way? It is because our visualization is so good. We have to know that we are visualizing all the time. And depending on one’s concept of what is wrong and what is right, emotions follow. This shows that different people have different visualizations.
Another example of ordinary concept is how we label things. We label what is fashion nowadays. If we look at the fashion of dressing from the olden days, now it looks funny. This is because concepts have changed. Right now your hairstyle may look very fashionable but 15 years down the line, it will look old fashioned. Because the concept has changed. Fashion does not have reality. A Vajrayana practitioner can become the President or the Prime Minister of a country and it is not a problem but the moment he believes that I am the President that is ultimately existing, he has broken his Vajrayana vow. Basically what is a President? A President is made when many people vote for him and decide that he is the president. If tomorrow they decide, he is not then he is no longer the President. Where has the President disappeared? He was never there, it was a conceptual conditional thing.
A story of how different people have different concepts and different visualizations. Once a British leader led an expedition to Tibet in the olden days. There was a prophecy in Tibet that some foreigners will come to the country and bring lots of changes to the culture and so on in a negative way. So when they saw the British for the first time, they were very scared because they always thought that everybody has black hair and black eye like us. So when they saw yellow hair and green eyes, the Tibetans got culture shock and were very upset. In Tibetan tradition, there is a culture that whenever we want to chase away something, we clap to drive away the evil forces. It is said that all the Tibetans in the community stood up and lined up and started clapping to drive away the British team. And the British soldiers felt so happy saying we are being welcomed. They felt that Tibetans are so welcoming to the expedition force. So depending on the culturally created concept, one way clapping is to chase away but for another, it is welcoming.
A spiritual journey for you, a circus parade for another. Nowadays, when we are travelling to give teachings, we are going by so many cars, with lots of people in a group. If you are a practitioner, you should understand that this is also a visualization. Maybe for us it may seem like a very good way of respecting the dharma, respecting the Master and accumulating merit. Very good, if you respect the dharma why not, tremendous merit will be accumulated. During Buddha Shakyamuni’s time, when a Master was invited, there were no cars so they used elephants and chariots. But you should not get excited about these things. This time when we were going around, I could see that many tourist were taking photographs of our parade. Maybe from their point of view, we are like a circus parade you know. For them it is fun, interesting. That is their visualization. Different people have different visualizations. So what have you understood today from this? The emptiness of what we consider great. We consider such a parade as great and tourist consider it as fun. Then what is the truth? The truth is that, it is neither the one that we think nor the one they think. It is beyond good and bad.
Marketing is another good example of visualization. When people do marketing, what they are actually doing is teaching us how to visualize very well. That is why when a famous star advertises a car and walks very nicely showcasing it, we do not mind paying one million dollars for that car because we are trained to visualize it as a car worth that much.
Vajrayana vow. Vajrayana is like going to the heart of the matter. It is like rather than saying I don’t want the pain, it is saying let’s look at the pain and understand the true nature of pain. Pain, beauty, etc. is a concept and we should understand its true nature. The problem is never with the things but it is with our concept of how we project. Let’s say gold or diamond. From the Theravada point of view, don’t touch the gold or diamond because when you are allowed to touch, then you get the desire. From the Mahayana point of view, with Bodhichitta, it is how I can use the diamond to help the sentient beings and not feeling proud that I have a diamond. For a Vajrayana practitioner, if you see diamond as a diamond, you have broken the Vajrayana vow. A Vajrayana practitioner is not allowed to see diamond as diamond. Basically, this is to say that the diamond does not say that it is expensive but we say diamond is expensive. The society collectively with its concept label diamond as very expensive and nice and after we label it, we believe in it and then desire for it. From the Mahayana point of view, we have to check whether we are attached to something or not, and from Vajrayana point of view, we have to check whether we conceptually think that diamond exist as it appears to be. The concept of 100% existence, the dualistic concept – this is the killer in Vajrayana.
How can one understand the true nature of things through Vajrayana practice?
Vajrayana involves two methods – (i) visualization and (ii) dissolution. Visualization is to visualize everything as pure and dissolution is to remain in your unfabricated nature of mind.
Samsaric and pure visualization. Samsaric visualizations make us drown deeper and deeper in samsara, which makes us angry, jealous, sad, etc. In order to change the samsaric visualization, we need another visualization. Pure visualization is visualizing everybody as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas instead of ordinary people and visualizing all our surroundings as pure land. Pure visualization is an antidote to the samsaric visualization that is so strong in us. Instead of visualizing that I am staying in a very nice hotel and being proud of it, visualize that it is a pure land. Tomorrow even if you sleep on the road, you visualize that also as pure land. So whether it is your house or a nice hotel or on the road, it doesn’t make any difference to you. The difference between samsaric visualization and Vajrayana visualization is that samsaric visualization creates problems- beauty gives rise to desire, hatred gives rise to anger, and that makes us accumulate karma and samsara. Vajrayana visualization is called the pure vision because instead of having a strong concept of what is clean and what is dirty, entire place is pure land and everyone is visualized as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This visualization has no reason to create negative emotions. If you don’t do the pure visualization very well, it is difficult for you to understand the samsaric visualization.
Progress on the path of pure visualization – the first step in Vajrayana practice. It is said that as your visualization becomes better and better, it becomes true. However, it is difficult to immediately visualize everyone as Buddha and Bodhisattva. So we should try, and try as we chant and practice, then improve over time and one day we will be able to do it. The first sign of progress in visualization is when you will be truly able to see what you visualize. That is what you start to experience because the world is what you are visualizing. It is said that people who practice Buddha Amitabha a lot, after sometime time they see everybody as Buddha Amitabha and every sound is heard as Om Ami Dewa Hri. After a long time, even others see that person as Buddha Amitabha (this is a high level practice). This is the short term goal. If you visualize all sounds as Om Mani Pedme Hung, after some it becomes like that. Mother of His Holiness does Om Ami Dewa Hri so much that she says that when she hears a language that she does not understand, she hears it as Om Ami Dewa Hri. After you practice a lot, as you progress, you will not only see yourself but all others as the Buddha that you practice.
A story of how visualization became real. There is a story that in the past there was one Indian Master. He didn’t know how to do visualization very well. He did not know how to visualize Guru Rimpoche, the mantras. He was a buffalo herder before he started practicing. So the Guru said, if you cannot visualize Guru or Chakrasamvara, you can visualize a buffalo horn on your head. With so much respect for his Guru, he visualized a buffalo horn on his head very nicely respecting his Guru as pure vision. For a few years, he visualized the horn and after a few years he could feel the horn on his head. When he went around, he had to bend down to pass through and he could feel it, not sure if others could see but he felt it. Then the Guru told him that you didn’t have horn but now because of visualization you have horn. What is the truth? The truth is beyond having or not having. That is the middle path- Madhyamika. By nature, everything is in the Madhyamika - in the middle path, non-fabricated nature, but by concept of fabrication, it becomes either of the two sides - yes it exist or no it does not exist, good or bad, beautiful or ugly.
Why start with the visualization of your Guru as a Buddha?
Trying to visualize everyone as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and everything as pure land is difficult in the beginning. That is why, we say first start with the Guru. See the Guru as the Buddha. As a Vajrayana practitioner, whatever activity the Guru does, even if the Guru jumps up and down or the Guru may be very decent, however the Guru may appear and behave, you have to visualize as a pure Buddha’s activity. If you are Mahayana practitioner, you can ask the Guru about why he or she is doing this and that. If you are a Vajrayana practitioner you cannot say that. You can check your Guru before accepting as Guru. However, if your Guru asks you to do something that is not possible for you to do at all, then it is said that you can do three prostrations for purification and there will be no negative karma for being not able to follow that command of your Guru. However, this is applicable only for situations that are beyond your control and when not in line with the essence of the tradition. You have to be mindful that this cannot be used as an excuse such as for example, to not do your daily practices out of laziness. And when you visualize like that, you do get the merit of praying to the Buddha. Even relatively speaking also, it is said that in the degenerate time, enlightened beings will manifest in the form of human beings. After Tsangpa Gyare, the founder of Drukpa lineage passed away, relics of Avalokiteshvara were found on his back bone. So not only visualization wise but even in relative truth, we are fortunate to meet Avalokiteshvara in human form.
Pure visualization is a process to realize the ultimate non-dualistic nature of the mind. We start with the Guru, but it should not stop with the Guru. Slowly, the pure visualization should extend to our dharma brothers and sisters, then all sentient beings and after sometime whatever they do, whether good or bad, you have to understand that good and bad is my own concept, my samsaric visualization. Then we should have a pure vision to all sentient beings. The long term goal of pure visualization is to understand that, earlier on it was samsaric visualization, now it is Vajrayana visualization. But both are equally conceptual and equally not real. This step will lead us towards the next step which is emptiness, shunyata- realizing that ultimate reality is beyond all concepts and beyond all duality. That is the ultimate goal. Pure visualization is not the ultimate goal but a step and a process to realize the ultimate non-dualistic nature of the mind.
Dissolution - the second step in Vajrayana practice. The dissolution practice comes after the pure visualization practice. During this stage, you dissolve the Guru into yourself because ultimately, the Guru is non-other than your own non- fabricated nature of your mind. Then you remain in the present moment without fabricating. And when you remain in that state, you realize that good and bad is inherently not there in the nature of your mind, but we have fabricated it. We can see the true nature of things only by remaining in the un-fabricated nature of mind. At this stage, everything is understood as the middle path, the union of yes and no; existing and non-existing. When we try to remain in the non-fabricated nature of mind, we are trying to understand the true nature of phenomenon. Once you understand the true nature, then definitely there is no dualistic concept which gives rise to desire, anger, jealousy. When these negative emotions are not there, samsara will not be there. That is the focus of Vajrayana practice.
Why does Vajrayana Buddhas wear ornaments? The reason why Theravada and Mahayana Buddhas usually don’t wear ornaments and Vajrayana usually wears ornaments like earrings, necklace, etc. is because the path is different. Vajrayana is not about giving up things, rather it is about understanding the true nature of the things. It is about understanding the non-dualistic nature of all phenomenons beyond both attachment and detachment. Rather than saying and believing that diamond is good, it is to understand the true nature of diamond, which is beyond good and bad. That is more important for Vajrayana practitioners. It does not mean that one tradition is wrong. According to different tradition, the essence is also different. For Vajrayana practitioner, instead of rejecting desire and anger, you try to realize the nature of desire which is clear and empty. For example it can be bumpa (ritual vase) or vajra made of gold. These two have different makes but the nature of both is gold. Even though anger and jealousy look like different negative emotions, if you understand the nature of these emotions, it is clear and empty. Nature of compassion is also clear and empty. When the five negative emotions (anger, jealousy, desire, pride and ignorance) are recognized, these are the five wisdoms and called the five Buddhas (yeshey nga). That is why true Vajrayana practitioners are very hard to judge from outside. Vajrayana practitioners can be monks, nuns, yogis, yoginis, lay people, anyone as long as they are able to control or prevent, the ordinary conceptual mind.
It is important to understand our own level of realization. Among the three Yanas, Vajrayana is the most difficult. However, when people do not understand the three Yanas properly, there is a misconception of Vajrayana being easy to practice - I can drink alcohol, do whatnot things, do whatever I want and no need of discipline. But that is not true. Yes, if you reach the level of Lam Drukpa Kuenley, then you can do what you like because you have reached a level, which is beyond the concept of life and death. But we are not at that level. That is why when we criticize, we say “I don’t know whether your realization is like Guru Rinpoche but your behaviour is like Guru Rinpoche”. That means behavior is like eating meat, drinking alcohol, acting like you are highly realized when you are not. The great Master Jo Atisha said that - he never broke the Hinayana (Pratimoksha) vow; he broke the Mahayana vow few times a day because the moment you get angry on somebody, the moment you give up on somebody, the moment selfish thoughts arise, Bodhisattva vow is broken; Vajrayana vows are broken many times a day- the moment you see beauty as beauty, diamond as diamond, house as house, the vow is broken. That is why Vajrayana vow is very difficult to keep. That is why even though we are Vajrayana followers, as beginners, it is better to start with the Pratimoksha practice with some discipline. Before you become a good practitioner, you should at least be a good person first. That is why it is important to first develop body and speech discipline not to harm others and then develop bodhichitta. Then progress on to Vajrayana practice to understand the non-dualistic nature of things, which is nothing to do with the outside but with the mind.
Why is it recommended to have one Guru and follow one lineage?
In Vajrayana we say, devotion to my Guru with pure vision and respect towards every master and every lineage. It is recommended to follow one lineage because each lineage has so many profound teachings for all levels (beginners, middle, until enlightenment) if you really want to practice. If you receive a lot of teachings here and there but not practice any properly, then it is like dogs which go everywhere but don’t practice. You can say I belong to everybody but belong to nobody. How can you even have the time to go around like that? Then, after you receive a Vajrayana teaching from a Guru, you have to have a Buddha like vision for that Guru. So how can you have Buddha like visions to so many Gurus? How can you follow the command of so many Gurus? That is why it is recommended to have one Guru first (not forbidden to have more than one).
The importance to keep the samaya. At our level, it is difficult to have pure visions and therefore, it is recommended to have one Root Guru and follow one lineage to avoid breaking Vajrayana samaya. If you break the samaya, even if you receive 1000 initiations, you will never receive any blessings. Rather you might even go in the negative direction with the karma of breaking of samaya. If you receive teachings from so many masters and don’t practice, you are breaking the samaya. Then there is no enlightenment for you at all. When His Holiness comes to Vietnam and gives teachings, so many auspicious signs appear. It is because - you have devotion; of course His Holiness’s blessing is always there; and because Vajrayana is very new here so no samaya are broken yet, it is very pure right now. His Holiness comes here only once a year and whatever His Holiness instructs, you all practice. That’s why right now the blessing is answered really fast and signs are very clear. Slowly it will disappear if samaya are broken. That is why as a beginner, it is recommended to follow one lineage and one Guru because of our lack of capability of pure vision.
Guru is the best person to crush our Ego. From my experience, I can say that for example, if someone says to do something, you will always ask why do I have to do this work? I don’t want to do the work and so on. In a way this Guru-student relationship is very good. If you cannot respect and be humble to one person who is your Guru, then how can you be humble to other sentient beings? How can you respect all sentient beings? How can your ego go down? Right now, in many cases, our ego goes down only for our Guru – that is good. Gradually, you will also do the same with other people and do things to benefit others and say I don’t mind. Why, because Guru trained you. Some Gurus say that Mahayana Gurus are always on time but Vajrayana Gurus are always late. Actually in a way it is a technique because when you go and see a Guru, if the Guru immediately says welcome and extends a lot of courtesy, you feel a little proud thinking I am quite a special disciple. You feel like you have a special connection. On the other hand, if the Guru makes you wait for one or two hours, your feeling of ego goes down and that is good. Guru’s job is not to boost your ego, but to reduce the ego, which you already have so much. When my Guru made me wait for long hours, I feel it is a great teaching. Because if I can wait for a few hours for my Guru, then I can wait 15 minutes for others without a problem. If I cannot wait ten minutes for my Guru, other people forget it.
3.2 Qualities of a Guru for Vajrayana tradition
Generally speaking, a Vajrayana Guru should have both Vinaya vows and bodhichitta. A guru can be a lay person also and not necessarily have to be a famous Guru provided the Guru possesses the following qualities:
Must have a very good relationship or samaya with his own Guru; this means to have pure vision towards one’s own Guru. If he does not have a pure vision towards one’s own Guru how can he teach us? That is why we say the lineage has to be very pure and unbroken. Through the lineage, the blessing is there; the teaching is there.
Should be skilled in the Vajrayana practices of visualization, chanting, and teaching.
If possible, he should have fully realized the Mahamudra – the nature of the mind. Even if he has not realized the true nature of the mind himself, he should at least be able to introduce you to it and recognize it which means he should be someone who has been introduced to the nature of his mind by his teacher. When one reaches the first level of Bodhisattva, the first Bhumi, that time one truly see the shunyata. After every bhumi, one sees it more and more clearly- the clarity increases till one become enlightened.
A recap of the Three Traditions:
 Ref: Wikipedia- Samaya is a set of vows or precepts given to initiates of an esoteric Vajrayana Buddhist order as part of the abhiṣeka (empowerment or initiation) ceremony that creates a bond between the guru and disciple.
 An example of realized nature of mind and able to recognize and introduce is as follows:
Teaching on Buddha Amitabha (Sangay Yoepamed) and His Pure Land (Dewachengi Zhingkham)
How to positively help the deceased and the dying ones through Buddha Amitabha practice ~ Gyalwa Dokhampa
1. Cultural and Spiritual values
We should realize that our culture is about how we liv ...
Teaching on Buddha Amitabha (Sangay Yoepamed) and His Pure Land (Dewachengi Zhingkham)
How to positively help the deceased and the dying ones through Buddha Amitabha practice ~ Gyalwa Dokhampa
1. Cultural and Spiritual values
We should realize that our culture is about how we live this life. For example, what do we do - when we have a new born, when a couple is getting married, when someone dies, what prayers do we do daily, how do we live in this world, how do we maintain our relation with our family members. We should understand why do we do things in a certain manner and what is the meaning?
Any culture, which has a mix of Buddhism, has so many spiritual reasons behind what we do as a part of our tradition and culture. It is entirely about how you live your life in conjunction with the practice of Buddha dharma. Therefore, if we lose our culture, we are losing our entire way of living. Nowadays, people give more importance to modern education and don’t care much about their culture. I am not saying this is wrong. There is nothing wrong with modern education, which is important to survive in this world, but if you forget your culture, then our children and grandchildren will actually not learn how to live this life. Such as - how do we handle when our loved ones die, how do we pray and what do we do when we have a baby? All of these will be forgotten. Sometimes, when we say choe (spiritual practice), it seems like we have to do so many things but it is actually a part of our life. For example, how we talk to our spouse in the morning when we get up, how we talk to our neighbours and our office mates. If we can merge the practice of Buddha dharma in our daily activities, and on top of that do the prayers, this is a life of prosperity. Personally also, I handle things that happen to me as a Buddhist practitioner but at the same time, I learn how to use computers and Internet, which is important in this age. This is just my personal opinion.
I am talking about culture because it is related to today’s teaching – How to face death? What do we do when we are dying or when others are dying? How can we help them? Imagine if in future, our children do not know what to do when we die, there will be no prayers done for us which is a part of our culture and tradition and spiritual believe. They may hire someone who does the rituals after a person’s death as a part time job and that person may do some dances and so on. At that time, we are the sprit who has died. With this condition, how can we receive help from a part time ritual performer when we need so much help? When we are dead and going through so much difficulty, how can a person like that truly help us?
The purpose of today’s teaching is to understand - how to pray for a dead person, how to pray when we know we are going to die even if no one else is around, what should we do and what kind of practices we should do at this very important time in our life.
2. The two greatest fears during the time of death
From the dharma point of view, the experience of dying has two great fears – (i) the fear of losing things and (ii) the fear of the unknown path.
The fear of losing things due to our strong attachment – Let’s start with an example. Tomorrow if someone comes and by force takes away your job, your belongings, savings and everything that you have for which you have worked for many years, it will be immensely painful and scary. Even to get a divorce or say the loss of our iPhone is so painful. At the time of death, it is not only our belongings that we have to leave behind but we have to leave behind even this body that we are born with. With this fact, imagine how much pain and fear we will experience at the time of death. However, people should not feel that thinking of death is scary. Rather, thinking of death and losing things should and will make us appreciate this life more, enjoy life more and life will have more meaning. In the ‘Book of Living and Dying’ particularly in the bardo (intermediate stage) teachings, it is mentioned that, when people die, the being remains unconscious during the whole of the first day due to the shock of its separation from the physical body. After the being becomes conscious, it takes almost 4 days to realize that he/she is dead. During the first four days, - they talk to their family members and want to make a normal conversation but family members do not respond to them; they want to use things but they cannot. They don’t know why people cannot hear them and why no one is responding to them. During this time, people alive cannot see them but they can see people and can even read minds. During this time, if they see that their hard earned wealth is misused, it is of so much pain to them. Therefore, this first four days is the most painful period. When the dead being feels anger, jealousy and other afflictive emotions, they see strong winds, thunder storms, windstorm, loud noises and experience very scary things. Such experiences in the intermediate stage are actually projections of our own afflictive emotions. When we are alive we have a body which seems real and we can also imagine so many things which is called reality imagination. What is happening to our body is real, what we can see is real, but what we imagine is not real. But after death, there is no body. Therefore, our thoughts are projected as our experience. When we feel anger, it is manifested into storms. All fearful things are projected by our own mind. Within 49 days, most of the beings will be reborn except for some that get stuck in the intermediate stage for a very long time. During the 49 days, Buddha’s of the five directions come to teach us and bless us but, most beings run away from the Buddha’s at that time. This is because right now when we are alive, we always imagine Buddha as a statue, which is not alive, and pray to the statue. In addition, our devotion is mixed with a little bit of doubt. We do not really have the belief that Buddha Amitabha really does exist. Our belief is very much lacking with mix of doubt and our visualization is very static. We should know that every time we pray, Buddha Amitabha comes to bless us. Buddha Amitabha is real in the pure realm of Dewachen (Sukhavati). Then why can’t he move? This is why even when Buddha comes, we feel scared and run away. This is why it is important to familiarize and visualize Buddhas as real and alive (smiling, speaking, moving, showing loving kindness) and not like a statue.
In order to reduce the pain of losing things due to our strong attachment at the time of dying as well as after death, what we can do now is to understand that objects that we have around us are not something that we can hold on to forever. Everything is changing every second. We should understand that they are impermanent by nature. For example, let’s look at our own body. Is our body the same that we had five minutes ago? You will say it is the same. But actually that is not correct. Our body is going through change every second which is beyond our control. It is not like suddenly after 50 years you have become old and till then you were young. We are getting old every second. It is same with a building. Every second it is undergoing change with deterioration and the coming together of condition for it to fall down is a continuous process. We are holding on to something only by our mind but nothing can really be held on to. You can appreciate and enjoy our body and material wealth when we are alive and also benefit others. Holding on to something as if it will be forever with you is an illusion. And actually the more we hold on to something, fussier we become and more irritated we become from anything. For example, if we hold on to our body so much, everything irritates us - too hot, too cold, even breaking a nail. When you have a pimple, you cannot go out because you are so much worried that others will see it. In reality, I don’t think anybody will come so near to you to see your pimple and most of the time, nobody will even notice it. But when you are so concerned about your pimple, you waste your whole day.
Another example I can share with you is when I visit Europe, there are many old castles and historical buildings. For me, when I look at a 400 years old building, I feel quite funny. 400 years ago, the owner must have been Sir so and so and then after 50 years another owner comes in power and must have said ‘this is my castle’ and everybody at that time must have said yes to confirm his belief. All along, actually, there is nothing but to say this is my castle and people have agreed to it and you feel like you own it forever. I am not saying you have to give up everything. Basically, it is the mind that has to give up. Remember that attachment is not only to do with materialistic richness. Whether you have a lot property or not does not matter. You can get attached to your one shirt or your bag and it is the same attachment. Irrespective of the materialistic value, if you have attachment, pain is the same and therefore, a fear is also the same. It is key to understand that ATTACHMENT is the one, which we need to reduce so that the pain is not there. Now what can we do to reduce attachment at this stage? What we can do now is - in Vajrayana we say mandala offering. What it really means is that we have to do offering to the Buddhas. Actually we cannot offer anything in real. Buddhas do not need anything from us but we need to train our mind. Therefore, we should visualize offerings and offerings can be anything. For example, if you are a Director of a company, you can say I offer my position and status to the Buddha. This is because status, power and family are things that we can be attached to. This is a way to reduce our attachment.
We should know that everything that happens today is tomorrow’s dream. For example, just now we enjoy and laugh together, but this will be a memory by tonight. Our material possession is like a dream. With this essence of impermanence, rather than holding on to it, in this life and at the time of dying which will cause so much suffering, we should offer our body, wealth, status and the entire universe to the Buddha Amitabha. Pray for the acceptance of these offerings for our sake, for our accumulation of merit and to reduce our attachment.
One day, when my root teacher was in Nepal, he saw an old lady doing circumambulations and when he was trying to listen to her, he heard her praying and wishing for so many things. From what he was hearing, all her moenlams (aspirations) were for this life only. Although she was already in her 80s, she was still praying for her long healthy life, prosperity for her family, success of her family’s business and good education for her grandchildren and so on. And only one aspiration was not self-centered where she said may my root teacher live a long and healthy life. But she never prayed to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha. This shows that even when we reach the age of 80, we humans never realize that we have to die but still feel like we have so many more years to live on this earth. We never remember the impermanence of everything including ourselves. Whether we are young or old, we have to die one day and therefore, it is so important to accumulate merit. We have to do offerings for the prosperity of this life but we should never forget that we have to die one day and ask ourselves where will we be born after we leave this body? In one way we feel like this life is long but when we think of the many lives to come, this life is so short. Believing in the cause and condition, whatever good deeds we do, whatever merit we accumulate, we should not only think of this life but also of the future lives. The day when death comes our way, our family members, our status and title, our wealth and popularity has to be left behind. At this time, only the negative karma of our bad deeds and the positive karma of our good deeds will accompany us. Our next life is determined according to our karma. Therefore, when we do choe/practice dharma, it is very important to remember our next lives. The cremation ground is never empty and we are all same, although some go there young and some old. Irrespective of our age, we always forget impermanence and the inevitability of death. Therefore, always remember that while this life is important, afterlives are equally important.
The fear of the unknown path- not knowing where are we going next - If we don’t believe in rebirth then I guess maybe you think that after you die, chapter is closed. And I hope that for their sake that it is true and that there is nothing after this life because if there is and if they are not prepared for it, then definitely that is going to be a big problem. One master said that whether there is anything after death or not, better be prepared for it. In case there is something, you are prepared for it. And if there is nothing, it does not matter. Now what can we do to address the fear of where are we going next, the fear of the unknown path. This is where the Buddha Amitabha practice comes in.
3. Buddha Amitabha and his Pure Land (Dewachengi Zhingkham)
When Buddha Amitabha was a Bodhisattva, he made a prayer that “when I become Buddha, may I develop a Pure Land called Amitabha Pure Land (known as Sukhavati in Sanskrit) where even ordinary beings with defilements can be born because of my practice for eons and eons as long as they have the thought to be born in the Pure Land and develop the connection with me with devotion and belief”.
There are three important tasks for all the Bodhisattvas before they attain Buddhahood. These are: (i) accumulation of merit (sonam and yeshey ghi tshog) through practice of generosity, prostrations, etc.; (ii) meditation and; (iii) benefit countless number of sentient beings. The Buddha builds his Pure Land (zhingkham) through his moenlam (aspiration). It is said that it is difficult to be born in the Pure Lands of other Buddhas but because of the wish of Buddha Amitabha who said that even beings who are not yet enlightened can be born in his Pure Land, it is less difficult to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha.
If we think that the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha is like a heaven with enjoyment all the time and lifetime vacation, then we are wrong. It is not like that. It is a place with perfect conditions to enhance our spiritual practice. In the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha, you receive teachings from Buddha Amitabha and many other Buddhas, and practice and then get enlightened.
It is important to believe that Buddha Amitabha is living in the western direction many planets away from this universe. It is equally important to know how the Pure Land looks like and visualize the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha (available in sutra), the land of happiness. Buddha Amitabha is in the center with Chenrezig (Buddha of Compassion) on his right and Vajrapani (Chana Dorji) on his left in the presence of Jitsuen Drolma and Guru Rimpoche. Tshepamey (Amitayus) and Buddha Amitabha are the same. It is called Tsepamey when it is with ornaments. If we pray to Buddha Amitabha while we are alive, our life will be longer with no sickness, fulfilling all our wishes and when time of our death comes, he helps us to be born in his Pure Land. As portrayed in the visualization of the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha, the Tsawai Lama (Root Guru) of Jitsuen Drolma (Tara), Chenrigzig (Buddha of Compassion) and Guru Rimpoche is Sangay Yuepamey. That is why there is a Buddha Amitabha on the crown of Chenrigzig and Jitsuen Drolma. Guru Rimpoche is Buddha Amitabha’s Thugsey (Heart Son). When we say Guru Pema Siddhi Hung, Pema signifies that Guru Rimpoche is from the lotus family. Therefore, whoever we pray to is all the same. The most important aspect of praying is to accumulate merit and tame our mind.
If possible, always turn to the west side where the sun sets and prostrate to the west side. Buddha Amitabha is not a Buddha of the past but he is still living. He is the longevity Buddha and lives for a very long time. The Pure Land is made of gold, silver and precious stones, a place where whatever we wish for comes true and all sounds are of dharma. The landscape is extremely beautiful. Beings there live for thousands of years and have the opportunity to listen to teachings and practice.
If we think carefully, this earth has so many different landscapes, which are not manmade, but these are there because of some cause and conditions. Therefore, if the earth can exist, why not Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha that has been built because of Buddha Amitabha’s practice and his wish not exit.
The Ngotshar Sangay Moenlam (an Abridged Prayer for Rebirth in Dewachen) is very popular in the Himalaya region. Terton Trulku Migyur Dorji, at the age of 13, saw the entire Buddha Amitabha Pure Land in his vision and Buddha Amitabha himself taught this prayer. This is why this prayer is very sacred.
4. Can ordinary people like us who are not enlightened be born in Buddha Amitabha Pure Land?
Yes, we can. This possibility is not because we are great practitioners and we have worked so hard. But it is because of Buddha Amitabha’s hard work and his aspiration for the enlightenment of all beings. Unlike us, who do some prayers and practice once in a year, Buddha Amitabha practiced for three eons. He practiced the six paramitas (generosity, discipline, patience, perseverance, full concentration of meditation, and wisdom) for lives and lives and he has made it so easy for us to be born there.
4. a) Buddha Amitabha said that any being who has not committed the following five worst actions maybe born in his Pure Land.
Being disrespectful to the different yanas (different vehicles of Buddhism) especially the ones which you are not following is also a great sin. This is because this can lead to the deprivation of the opportunity for many others to follow the dharma path. You want to get to Buddha Amitabha’s Pure Land following the Buddha’s teachings and at the same time disrespecting the dharma, which causes deep misunderstanding for other people.
Therefore, as long as we have not committed the above mentioned grave sins, people like us who do both good and bad deeds, such as tell a few minor lies, drink a little bit and at the same time do some prayers - we can be born in the Dewachengi Zhingkham. This is not because of our karma but it is because of the immense hardships that Buddha Amitabha went through till enlightenment, which is of immense difficulty.
While we pray that may all good things happen to me after we go on a pilgrimage, Bodhisattvas pray that after I get enlightened, may I benefit all sentient beings to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha. It is because of the wish of Buddha Amitabha that makes it easier for all beings to be born in his Pure Land. However, it is not possible to be born there just by the hard work and prayer of Buddha Amitabha. We cannot be born there just by sleeping and relying on Buddha Amitabha. If this was the case, then there is no cause and condition. For example, even if other people have cooked delicious food, without your own effort to put it in your mouth, the food will not automatically get in your mouth. The existence of good food is because of the other person who has cooked it but for it to be in your mouth, you have to make the effort of putting it in your mouth.
4. b) Likewise, to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha, we have to have three conditions as follows:
One should have a Bodhichitta mind. This means that when you pray to Buddha Amitabha, you cannot pray for only yourself to go the Pure Land. Or even worse is thinking, I want to go but don’t let that other person come whom I hate. Rather, you have to pray that may I and all sentient beings be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha, receive teachings from Buddha Amitabha and then get enlightened because even if we are born as human beings, we may or may not encounter dharma and we have to go through a lot of sufferings.
One should have the devotion to Buddha Amitabha and his Pure Land. It is very important to have the devotion and visualize Buddha Amitabha’s Pure Land while practicing. Buddha Amitabha said that when we talk, pray, he listens and understands. Visualizing is important to familiarize oneself with the existence of the Pure Land. For example, some children do not want to come to dharma teachings but parents can force them to bring them here. Even though their mind is somewhere else, their body is here. But when we are dead, there is no body. So the mind goes where it wants to go. At that time, if the mind does not believe in Amitabha Pure Land, it will not go there. After we die, we do not have a body and our mind will go wherever it wants to go. Because of our attachment to this world, we will only be thinking of this world which will result in getting stuck in this realm. After we die, if the mind wants to go, it can reach the Buddha Amitabha Pure Land in one second. Therefore, the more we visualize the Buddha Amitabha Pure Land when we are alive, the more we will be thinking about it and this will help us to think of it even after our death. It is like if I am always thinking of going for shopping, I will definitely go one day. The mind will definitely take the body. Similarly, if we always think and visualize Buddha Amitabha Pure Land, we will know where to go when we die. And the mind will definitely take us there. However, if we doubt the existence of the Pure Land, even if we are born there, for 500 years, even if we can hear the Buddha’s teachings, the lotus flower through which we are born will not open and we cannot see his face.
That is why the second condition, which is to have devotion and visualization of Buddha Amitabha Pure Land in the west direction is very important.
Dedication of merit. Every time we do something good, it is very important to dedicate the merit for positive karma. Karma is like energy, which can be used for anything. If you pray to become rich, you will become rich but the prayer will not take you to Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha. That is why dedication of merit is very important. You have to direct your karma to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha. For example, when we offer butter lamps, we have to pray that by this light offering to the Buddha, I and all sentient beings when we are dying, when we are confused and lost in the darkness of intermediate stage, may the lamp guide me and all sentient beings to the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha. We should understand that if we are born in Dewachengi zhingkham where Buddha Amitabha resides with Drolma and Guru, we have the opportunity to receive teachings, practice and strengthen our spiritual practice. Therefore, we should dedicate our merit to be born there. Pray that with my prayers today, may I be born there and benefit all sentient beings and lead them to be born there.
These above three conditions are important because right now our sem (mind) is inside our body. Therefore, even if our mind does not want to do something, we can be forced to do things by our body. When we die, we do not have a body. Therefore, if our mind can have the devotion to be born in the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha, we can go there. This is why it is very important to develop that devotion. We should not be attached to the worldly happiness and rather should have the desire to be born in the Pure Land.
Practicing (reciting Dewachengi Moenlam - Aspiration Prayer of the Pure Realm of Sukhavati) supports the development of our devotion and the wish to be born in the Pure Land. Practicing while alive helps us to realize that we have done everything in this life, and now we have no attachment to this worldly existence; and may I be born in the Pure Land. You should realize that everything that I had in this life is like a dream and I offer everything to Buddha Amitabha.
5. Important things to remember at the time of death
When a person is about to die, I always tell them these:
Do not get attached to family members (parents, siblings, and children) and materialistic wealth. While we are alive and living together, we have to be good to each other but when we are about to die, we should remember that everything is impermanent and should not have attachment. Suffering comes because of attachment and attachment is because we do not contemplate on impermanence. We feel that it is nice to have everyone around when we die and say good-bye but this may cause the dying person even more sadness. Milarepa said “I don’t want anyone around me when I die. I will practice and remember my root Guru at that time. I do not want anyone crying.” When we are dying, our possessions such as wealth, family, everything is like a dream. We say ‘Junor Long-ched’ which means wealth to use. The word “Long-ched” means ‘able to utilize’. Whatever wealth we have is for using during this lifetime. After our death, someone else will use it. That is why we should realize that all that we have is only for using during this lifetime including this body which is everything to us in this life. This is very important to be realized at the time of death.
The mind at the time of death - For example, it is important to get ready to go to a place say the town. It is equally important to know which path to take to reach the town from a junction. If we chose the wrong direction at the junction, we will go to a wrong place. Similarly, it is important to pray and accumulate merit while we are alive but the time of death is also very important to ensure we reach the place we aspired for. If we get angry and die, it may lead us to be born in hell realm. The period between the time of death and next birth is the time when this life is finishing and before the ripening of our karma for the next life. If we make a mistake at this important junction, we may be born in lower realms. Therefore, at the time of death, it is important to contemplate on realizing the impermanence of this life and getting rid of attachment. We should also purify (shakpa) our negative deeds at the time of death.
It was said by Buddha Amitabha that if we practice the “Aspiration Prayer of the Pure Realm of Sukhavati (Dewachengi Moenlam)” prayer every day, he himself will come to rescue us from lower realms during the time of death. When we do this prayer, always remember that “I have to die one day and when I die, I will not be attached to all my material possessions and relations and I pray to be born in the Pure Land. Please bless me.”
Visualize Buddha Amitabha in front of us on a lotus flower on the sun and moon. As we chant “Om Ami De Wa Hri”, rays coming from the Buddha’s body, cleanse all defilements of body, speech and mind of all beings on my right and left.
We should confess our negative deeds and purify them for all beings.
Then all beings transform into light and dissolve into the heart of Buddha Amitabha.
After the dissolution, stay in the nature of your mind.
Do this not only for ourselves but for everyone. When we do good things to others, it is a training for ourselves to become a good person.
Finally, once again please remember that the greatest fears when we die is the fear of losing things caused by attachment and the fear of the unknown. In order to reduce attachment, we should practice offering and understand that everything is impermanent. In order to overcome the fear of the unknown, we should practice Buddha Amitabha. This is one way of how Buddhist practitioners handle death.
Lessons from a Himalayan Buddhist Master
By Raphael, Departure Magazine
When it comes to religion, I have been called a libertine, a blasphemer, a dilettante and a skeptic. But even for someone as irreverent as myself, there’s something intimidating about the prospect of interviewing a Himalayan Buddh ...
Lessons from a Himalayan Buddhist Master
By Raphael, Departure Magazine
When it comes to religion, I have been called a libertine, a blasphemer, a dilettante and a skeptic. But even for someone as irreverent as myself, there’s something intimidating about the prospect of interviewing a Himalayan Buddhist Tulku.
In Himalayan Buddhism, a Tulku is a spiritual teacher, a religious custodian who reincarnates through the ages, and who remembers the accumulated wisdom and experience of each life, which he imparts to others. In Chinese, Tulku translates into 活佛, which means ‘living buddha’.
His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the most globally famous example of a Tulku. But contrary to popular misconception, Himalayan Buddhism is not a monolithic belief system. It is a labyrinthine, organic composite of a myriad different schools – Drukpa and Gelug and Nyingma – each lineage a single branch in a vast tree of belief.
On the morning of 23 November, I found myself in a suite on the 11th floor of the Regent Hotel, deep in conversation with His Eminence the Gyalwa Dokhampa. His Eminence was in Singapore as part of Live To Love, a global non-profit organisation that has just launched its Singapore arm.
It can be strange how the events of our lives form patterns. If I were religious, I would perhaps use the word ‘fate’. In 2015, I had the privilege of interviewing His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa, the Gyalwa Dokhampa’s spiritual mentor. That interview had taken place in a beautiful hotel, a stark environmental contrast between the profundity of Buddhist teaching and the trappings of modern day luxury.
I had never thought I would interview a Himalayan Buddhist master again. And yet by sheer serendipity, I found myself sitting in another luxurious hotel, across from not just any Himalayan Buddhist Tulku, but one who shared deep, personal relations with the previous master I had spoken to.
One would expect a religious teacher to be solemn, possibly even humourless. But like his guru, the Gyalwa Dohkampa spoke in jokes, parables and the language of the everyday. “You cannot download happiness into somebody else,” he tells me, as we discuss the concept of happiness. “When you’re happy with something or someone, it’s because he, she or it matches your idea of happiness.”
His Eminence seems to believe that the lessons of Buddhism are deeply practical, less of a religion than a mindset that one can bring to everyday life. For the layman at least, meditation can be a practice that is less about spirituality than it is about taming a restless mind, as everyday a habit as brushing one’s teeth, or going to the gym.
The current Gyalwa Dokhampa was born in 1981. He studied first in Darjeeling, and then for nine years in Bhutan, at the Tango Monastic University, where he received a Masters Degree in Buddhism. He is believed to be the ninth reincarnation of Khamtrul Rinpoche, a Tulku of the Khamtrul Lineage, a line of lives that stretches back to the 16th century.
More important than biographical facts, however, are the Buddhist teachings that the Gyalwa Dokhampa would like to impart: On mindfulness, empathy and the interdependence of our lives.
His Eminence tells stories to make sense of Buddhist philosophy. As such, I would like to attempt my own humble retelling of an old story, to better understand at least one aspect of our conversation:
There once was a philosopher by the name of Diogenes, a man who was said to shun material comfort so profoundly that he made his home in a barrel. One day, the conqueror-king, Alexander The Great paid a visit to the city where Diogenes lived, and found the philosopher sunning himself by the public fountain. The king strode up to Diogenes, and offered to grant the philosopher anything he wished.
Diogenes merely gestured with his hands, requesting that Alexander move to one side. For the great king’s shadow was blocking the warmth of the sunlight. And that was all that Diogenes desired.
If you’re open to share, I’d like to ask you about your biography.
Yes, of course.
I understand that in Himalayan Buddhism, there is the concept of Tulku. Can you remember your past lives?
Actually, in Buddhist teaching, we believe that everybody reincarnates.
The only difference is that sometimes we reincarnate from human to animal, and when we reincarnate from animal to human we’re a little bit ‘dumb’. But in the human realm, if you lead a good life, with a clear mind and meditation, in your next life you can continue that intelligence, that wisdom. It is progressive… a progression.
But for yourself, personally?
I was told that when I was in my mother’s womb, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa had a vision, a dream that I would be born. His Holiness’s mother told him, “Don’t say that. Most Tulkus are born as a male. If you say that and the baby comes out as a female, they will say that you are lying.”
But His Holiness said “No, no, no , I can prove it to you.” And His Holiness guaranteed that the child would be a son, and the date on which I would be born.
When I was young, there used to be some flashes, memories of temples that I had never seen before. But as I get older the memories… I can still remember, but they fade.
I was recognised officially around age 3. My mother was ok about it, but my father was very unhappy. He did not want me to lead a monastic life.
Because he’s a very educated person, very successful, a principal of a school. He wanted me to be educated, live a normal life. And I was his only son. As a Tulku you have to stay away from your family, and he didn’t want that.
It took a lot of convincing for him to accept it. I think he was only happy about 7-8 years ago. Only then did he accept it, because he understood that we all have our careers. But if you have a spiritual career, it’s not only about yourself, but making a difference in the lives of others.
In Bhutan, I work with young children in schools, and I always ask them, “Would you like to be a Buddhist teacher like myself?” And they tell me no, they want to be lawyers, doctors, they want to pursue careers with good intention, to help other people.
And I always say, “That is a good answer.” If everyone were a monk, society wouldn’t function. There is no bad career. Everyone has their purpose; it is the intention that is important.
What was it like growing up?
It was tough. Monastery life is quite simple: The food is very simple, we don’t have that much sports or entertainment. But I think in one way it makes you more… the harder the life, the more you appreciate it.
I lost my mother when I was 11 years old. And in a way I was very sad, but Buddhist teaching talks about impermanence: Everyone who’s born must die, nobody lives forever . So I was sad, but I was not shocked.
You cannot define one way of life by another. So we should not compare lives. Every life has its own beauty, its own happiness and challenges. That is similar in every life, in every country.
And similarly, now I look back [at my monastic life]. When people ask me, ‘Was your monastery life very hard?’ I always say ‘What do you mean by hard?’ In one way I was separated from my family. But my teachers, my fellow students, they were my family. How can I say I was lonely?
And I always tell my friends: Yes it’s true that I didn’t go to nightclubs. I do not know how to dance the disco dance. But I know how to dance the lama dance. Who is to say you are a better dancer than me?
What do you think is the most important teaching Buddhism can impart to the modern world?
Central to Buddhist teaching is one word: ‘Interdependent’. In some ways this contradicts the modern view [on life]. The modern mindset focuses on independence as a good thing.
We carry our desire to be independent into many lives: In school, you try to top your class; in the West – after 18 – you want to live away from your parents; when we go to work we become very cutthroat.We think about ways to cut over, get to the top, maybe take our colleagues’ jobs.
From the Buddhist point of view, it is impossible to be independent. To believe that one can be independent is a misunderstanding. It is impossible to be independent from your parents, for example, because then you would not be born.
And that’s just individual relationships. Why are we facing environmental problems when you look at the larger world? Because we forget that we are interdependent: on the river, the air, the natural world.
So that is the big illusion of the modern world: The illusion that we can be independent. Buddhism says that you cannot be independent. What matters is how we relate to others.
But at the same time, with globalisation one could argue that our lives have become more interdependent than before.
Yes, but even though we are interdependent in that sense, we are still talking in terms of economics, the market. In terms of the environment, human relationships? I think we still have illusions of independence.
In the modern world, we have people who are very lonely, who feel like they have no purpose in their lives. Because if you’re only thinking about yourself, your life doesn’t matter to anybody else. You, yourself will not know what purpose there is in your life. And perhaps that’s why in the modern world you have a lot of depression, conditions…
Do you think modern technologies could be useful in creating human connection?
I think that any policy, any technology, is in itself neutral. It is our intention that defines it. For most of us, I think we are not skilful enough to use material things to be connected in a good way.
For example, in the case of somebody who is rich or powerful: It is very hard for them to use their wealth to give happiness to others. Many times they’ll use it for the wrong reasons. But fundamentally, I think anything can be positive or negative.
You’ve travelled extensively and seen many cultures. What are the common misconceptions you’ve encountered about Buddhism?
I think in terms of outsiders, there are not too many misconceptions. The misconceptions I see are within the Buddhist community. Many of our own Buddhists seem to focus on the ritualistic aspects of Buddhism. Buddhism [to them] means going to the temple, offering joss sticks, asking for luck, giving some money to Buddha for blessings.
It’s almost like you can bribe Buddha, you know? But the reason why we offer to Buddha, or give to poor people, is not to make Buddha happy, but to develop the sense of generosity within ourselves.
People see the ritual, but not the underlying meaning.
Yes, yes. Buddha doesn’t need money. Many people are good to Buddha, but not good to each other, not good to people who are suffering. If you help people, that is the biggest offering to Buddha.
We tend to get caught up in the rituals, so when young people look at Buddhism they think that Buddhism is a superstition. They don’t think of it as a way of life, a way of developing your mind.
Could you give me an everyday scenario to illustrate that? Buddhism as a way of life.
Even the way a husband and wife talks to each other, there is Buddhism in that. I always joke that if, in the morning the husband has an argument with the wife, in the evening he will not get dinner. That is karma. Why make karma so mysterious? It’s just the idea that every action has a result.
So worry about your actions, don’t worry about Buddha. Buddha will never get angry with you, but your own actions will.
I hope you don’t find this question disrespectful. The layman may think: A Buddhist master lives such a different life from myself, how can he teach me when he doesn’t understand my life?
I think that whatever life you lead, the fundamental problem is not found in material differences: House, family, money. All these are superficial differences. What really bothers us is our emotions.
If you stay in a mountain, you will worry about your cave; instead of your investments, you will worry about your farm. Whether you’re attached to your monastery or to your apartment, attachment is attachment.
In terms of worry, greed, attachment, desire, it’s the same. I think in terms of emotion there is no difference. Maybe it’s more magnified, but the emotion is the same.
I know Buddhism believes that no emotions are inherently negative, but have there been any specific emotions that you personally struggle with?
One of the biggest emotions that Gyalwang Drukpa also talked about is disappointment. That he feels disappointment with his students, because he expects his people to do well, be a good human being, and sometimes he feels a little bit disappointed.
But at the same time he gave a good answer. After thinking about it, he realised that it was not their fault but his fault, because he has too many high expectations. I think that’s the same for me. When we work with different people, different organisations, we may expect too much from people in our life. And then you feel disappointment.
But the problem is not with them, but with ourselves. How can we control the life of others? Everybody chooses their own lives. We can only provide the condition. Parents, for example, cannot control the lives of children. You can only give them the condition to make them happy, successful. But everybody has to walk their own path, their own karma.
Buddhism believes that everybody is responsible for their own happiness, wellbeing and success. That nobody can really make you happy. Only you can make yourself happy or unhappy. Other people only provide the conditions.
It is true that as a Buddhist master you can give people some wisdom, some help. But whether they feel happy with that is really up to them.
Do you think that there’s an unhappiness unique to large cities?
I think in many large cities, there is a deep sense of loneliness. Especially in the older generation. I feel that sense of human beings not interacting in a caring way: Suspicion, fear of another human being. It’s a bit like everybody is bad, and you have to prove yourself to be good. Rather than the belief that everybody is good, but some may do bad things.
And how does that contrast with countries that are more rural?
I live in Bhutan, and I think that in Bhutan you can go out of your home, talk to anybody in the street and when they look at you they have no suspicion of you. They have full trust that you’re another human being, talking to them, saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ The family integration is much better. There’s a lot of understanding.
In many developed countries, we talk about efficiency in the workforce. Efficiency, productivity. In some ways you’re a machine. You have to output a lot.
In Bhutan, even though you work in… a bank, for example. Sometimes you may have a family religious ceremony, a few times a year. If you ask for leave and say ‘I have a family prayer at home,’ the bank manager will give you leave. That kind of understanding is there.
How do you say? The value of humanity over productivity. That has an impact. That gives you time to be with your family. You and your family have good bonding, and you’re happy. And when you come to work, you come with a happy state of mind.
I understand that you enjoy Henry David Thoreau. He’s not Buddhist but there seem to be parallels with Buddhist teaching. Are there any books that teach similar lessons?
The title’s not that good, but I like Chicken Soup for The Soul-
I’m sorry, why’s the title no good?
Because chicken soup… you have to take the life of another being.
(Laughter around the room) Well, I certainly didn’t think of it that way.
Other than the title, I really like one particular story.
A mother asked her son to do some work in the house. After he did the housework he gave her a bill: For mowing the lawn; for cutting the grass; for cleaning the room.
The next day, his mother gave him a bill: For keeping you in my womb for nine months; for feeding you; teaching you how to walk and talk.
Many people in the modern world say they don’t feel loved. And they expect somebody to do something to make them feel loved. But I think in order to feel love, you first have to appreciate.
When you appreciate, you will feel loved. When you don’t appreciate, it doesn’t matter how much people do for you. Appreciation and gratitude are the secrets to feeling loved.
In your book The Restful Mind, you describe a mind at peace as being a mind that has achieved balance between gratitude on one hand, and an understanding that everything is transient on the other. Are those traits imbalanced in modern life, and in which direction?
I think that we have neither trait, actually. Firstly, we have no appreciation. When we are healthy – we can walk, have eyes to see – we focus instead on what we don’t have. People are funny because in order to appreciate, we first need to suffer.
For example, you need to have an appendix problem, go to the doctor, get surgery, pay $1000… and then you feel so happy! But day to day, when we don’t have appendix problems, we don’t find joy in that.
People say they want to enjoy life, but in order to enjoy life they want to have a nice car. When you’re in the car, do you say ‘I’m so lucky to have such a nice car?’ No. When you’ve driven the car for a few months, you start thinking of something else.
Or you’re thinking of how nice another person’s car is compared to ours.
Yes, we don’t appreciate. And on the other hand, we don’t understand that everything is changing, nothing lasts forever.
So when we lose the car we didn’t enjoy so much to begin with? We suffer. The relationship we didn’t value so much? When we lose it, we suffer. The health and wellbeing we have right now, when we don’t have it? We suffer.
So we don’t appreciate what we have, and we are not prepared for change.
The theme of travel is a big part of our publication. Do you have a travel story to share, in the vein of mindfulness in everyday life?
I was in a taxi in Los Angeles, and the cab driver was a man from India who had emigrated. In my opinion, whether you’re a taxi driver or a CEO, there is no difference: You’re working to fill your own stomach, take care of your family. You are neither great nor small. You’re the same.
So I was talking to him about his life. And he is my elder, so I called him ‘sir’, as we do with elders in Asian culture. I guess in America they don’t call people much by that [honorific], they use their first name. At the end of the ride, I asked him how much it cost, and was happy to pay the full amount, but he gave me a discount.
When I told that to my father he was so surprised. He said, usually in America, not only do you have to pay the cab fare, you have to pay tips. (Laughs) He told me, you are the only person who gets a discount from an American taxi driver.
I knew for the taxi driver, what was more important than the tip was to be treated as a human being, with respect. And why shouldn’t he be respected? He’s seen so much of life; he knows so much more than me.
You’ve worked with younger people in Bhutan. Do you think young people tend to have different difficulties in terms of mindset as compared to the older generation?
The younger generation dreams of doing the things that the older people are doing: Getting a job, getting relationships etc. And older people are thinking, “Oh my God… the job is so stressful, the relationship is so stressful, the house is so stressful… I was so happy when I was young”. We get caught up in a paradox.
One more thing I want to add about the younger generation, is that they get much carried away by material… by luxury fashion. I’ve seen in many schools a feeling of inadequacy, that you are not good enough because somebody else is better dressed than you, or has more luxury items.
So that’s something I try to emphasise: The value of luxury is a concept that’s sold to you. Goods don’t have value. People put value on them.
I understand it’s not the same denomination of Buddhism, but there are atrocities carried out in Myanmar by Buddhist extremists, against the Rohingya people. How does one make sense of that, in relation to Buddhist teaching?
All religion has two aspects. One is the religious part: The temple, the ceremonial dress, the statue. That is the physical form of religion. And that is what people can take away or destroy.
The real Buddhism, the real religion, is the spirit of it: The kindness, the compassion, the wisdom, the empathy towards others. That is the real Buddhism, and it cannot be destroyed by anybody. It can only be destroyed by yourself.
But many focus on the physical part of Buddhism: The temples; the statues; the number of followers. When that is being affected, whether real or imaginary, they get passionate about it. They think Buddhism needs to be protected. Maybe that’s why they are doing this. I cannot condone it.
But I always say that Buddha’s message and the people who practice Buddha’s message have to be separated. Teachings are good, but the people who follow them are imperfect.
We can only hope, and understand, and be as compassionate as we can be to both sides.
Live to Love is a secular non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing love and compassion in society. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
The article and interview was first published at The Monk in the Luxury Hotel. It is republished here with due permission from the original author.
Emotion: What’s anger? How does one manage this emotion? As naturally in men as this emotion sits, the questions are serious. They are vital to understand oneself. They are vital to relate oneself with others.
His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa Jigme Pema Nyinjadh and the referral hospital’s psychiatrist Dr ...
Emotion: What’s anger? How does one manage this emotion? As naturally in men as this emotion sits, the questions are serious. They are vital to understand oneself. They are vital to relate oneself with others.
His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa Jigme Pema Nyinjadh and the referral hospital’s psychiatrist Dr Chencho Dorji shared their perspectives about anger and how to manage it at the Royal Thimphu College yesterday.
Gyalwa Dokhampa Rinpoche said that by nature people are positive, but one becomes negative by habit and one can only manage anger by recognising it.
“Anger doesn’t solve anything, the emotion itself doesn’t protect you but it instead makes you lose your smartness. Anger if recognised becomes a wisdom and if it is not recognised then it becomes a negative emotion,” Rinpoche said. “If you recognise anger and leave it as it is, then it doesn’t become a negative emotion but it becomes beyond negative. If you leave an emotion in its own nature, it is beyond any sort of labelling or dualism but by our own grasping, the emotion becomes as anger – it’s given an identity and is labelled as anger.”
Where does anger come from?
Rinpoche said that a person gets angry when he doesn’t get what he wants. Anger is born of desire.
“Desire comes from a very fanatic belief that what we want is absolutely right. Everyone is fanatic in different ways because of one’s concept about what others need and what makes others happy. When this desire is not fulfilled or when someone does the opposite of what we expect, we end up being angry,” Rinpoche said. “Similarly, desire comes from fanaticism. We are fanatic about many things and we are fanatic about desire, when that desire doesn’t get fulfilled we end up becoming angry.”
Dr Chencho Dorji said that it’s also important to identify the triggers that cause anger. “Anger can be caused by many factors and it can lead to a fight or flight response. Through mindfulness, we can recognise whether it is real or presumed threat to your livelihood. We should also know how to respond and react to anger in the right way.”
Dr Chencho Dorji shared tips about how to control anger such as releasing anger through physical exercises such as jogging or gym, leaving the stressful situation for a moment, expressing your anger in a more positive way, practising relaxation through meditation and finally to seek counselling if anger gets beyond your control.
Rinpoche added that it is irritation at small things in life that feeds anger so one must learn not to get irritated easily. “Before controlling big anger, we must also learn how to control smaller anger like getting irritated easily at small things or situations in life.”
Rinpoche shared three steps of meditation to deal with anger. First step was to realise the nature of impermanence. There is nothing to be upset because everything is impermanent. If you can understand this and tame anger, then you are a hero. “The second step is compassion – putting yourself in other’s shoe – understand how imperfect everyone is. When anger arises, look at it, be aware of it and leave it as it is. By our concept, emotions become good or bad. The last step is to understand that everyone is equal and all is in samsara.”