Padmasambhava is a name well-known to anyone who is a student of Tibetan Buddhism, and in particular those who follow the Nyingma School. To all Tibetans he is known simply as Guru Rinpoche – Precious Teacher. It was he who singlehandedly transformed Tibetan culture from a warlike society into a deeply spiritual peaceful one that has persevered until today despite obstacles and tragedies with his introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism in the 8th Century c.e.
Guru Rinpoche had two main consorts who helped him establish his teachings in the world. One was Yeshe Tsogyal, his principle Tibetan student who helped him hide his terma teachings throughout the Himalayan region to be revealed in the dark times we now live in. The other was Indian, a princess of the small kingdom of Zahor. That princess was Mandarava, named after the beautiful mandara flowers of the coral tree, one of the five fabled trees that grow in the paradise of Sukhavati.
Mandarava’s beauty was legendary, and suitors from the entire known world sought her hand in marriage, but she refused all of them to devote her life to the study of Dharma. She first met Guru Rinpoche when she was in secluded retreat with 500 female attendants and under strict orders from her father the king to have no males present. But Guru Rinpoche knew his student when he saw her and began teaching her and her attendants. This led to their discovery and the unleashing of the king’s wrath. Mandarava was thrown into a pit lined with thorns as punishment, while Guru Rinpoche was arrested and set upon a pyre to be burnt alive. However, Guru Rinpoche was no mere mortal but a fully enlightened Buddha. He transformed his funeral pyre into a pure lake which exists today as Tso Pema where he was discovered by the king’s ministers seated upon a lotus at the center of the lake. This led to the king renouncing his anger and prostrating to Guru Rinpoche as his teacher. Mandarava was released from her confinement, and the entire kingdom is said to have attained enlightenment.
Mandarava then accompanied Guru Rinpoche to Marathika Cave in the Himalayas where she became the first of his consorts at age 16. It was at Marathika that they practiced and accomplished the heart essence of Amitayus, the Buddha of boundless life. Both attained the rainbow body at this time. Because she attained the rainbow body, she is held to be present in the world today spreading and inspiring the Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings.
And indeed, she is present in the world. Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo was recognized by His Holiness Orgyen Kusum Lingpa as an emanation of Mandarava in 1995. In 1996 she undertook a pilgrimage to sacred places in India and Nepal associated with Mandarava, including Marathika Cave, Tso Pema, and Mandi, the former capital of the kingdom of Zahor. At Tso Pema she visited the small cave where Mandarava practiced. In the wall of the cave near the entrance there still exist the deep imprints of what is said to be the hands of Mandarava who clung to the living rock for dear life when her father’s soldiers came to drag her off to the thorny pit. Those who were present said that Jetsunma’s hands fit into the imprints perfectly. Jetsunma also said that she had a direct vision of Mandarava in that cave. And at Marathika Jetsunma experienced a clear vision of Buddha Amitayus. In 2007 at Dakini Valley, Arizona, Jetsunma’s students were blessed with a transmission of the Chime Tsog Thik, the very practice that was accomplished by Mandarava and Guru Rinpoche at Marathika Cave.
The stories of Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava are told in books like Advice from the Lotus-Born: A Collection of Padmasambhava’s Advice to the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal and Other Close Disciples (Rangjung Yeshe Publications) and The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava, The Indian Consort of Padmasambhava (Wisdom Publications).
Jetsunma is a living teaching on how a bodhisattva does not abandon samsara but returns again and again, lifetime after lifetime, for the sake of sentient beings, despite obstacles and negative forces. We pray that she may never abandon us.
Yesterday Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo gave a superb teaching (or tweeching, if you prefer) on Twitter about how to learn and practice forgiveness. You can read it for yourself on her blog, Tibetan Buddhist Altar. This teaching, particularly in view of the tremendous attacks she has been under for the last several years, is particularly profound and demonstrates the pure qualities of an enlightened mind that refuses to bow to threats and attacks of any sort and still has enough compassion to forgive the attacker or the cyberstalker. As she says in her teaching, to forgive is not easy and takes true courage. To attack someone behind the curtain of anonymity offered by the internet, on the other hand, takes no courage whatsoever and is indeed the very essence of cowardice. It is a symptom of a dysfunctional mind rather than an act of bravery.
To live compassion, one has to understand the nature of that which we call “enemy”. To do that is in itself an act of compassion because you are putting yourself in the shoes of another, trying to understand what makes him or her tick. She teaches that to react to their attacks in kind would be neither compassionate nor useful. Rather, it would just keep the whole thing going. She goes on to say that eventually rage will take over completely and you will become obsessed with it. You will soon go totally out of control. Thus it is much wiser to practice compassion, for your own benefit and that of the attacker.
It is the function of a dakini to cut through the obstacles that prevent us from realizing our own true nature, our Buddhanature. Her only purpose in life is to guide sentient beings to realization so that their suffering is brought to an end forever. This teaching by Jetsunma is a perfect example of this purpose. She teaches us how to turn away from our habitual tendency to protect ourselves by fighting back when attacked and opens our minds to a very different alternative, love.
The dakini is associated with space, as is reflected in the Tibetan word for dakini, khandro, which literally means sky (or space) walker. This concept of space is symbolic of the ability to give birth or to actualize the full range of potential, the space of becoming where the four enlightened activities of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and destroying can be fully actualized. Jetsunma embodies these qualities in her life and teaching and empowers us to actualize them as well through teachings such as this one on forgiveness.
As sentient beings who wander lost in samsara, our only way to find the way out of suffering, the end to samsara, is through a guide such as Jetsunma, one who can teach us the way to change our way of relating to the world and to ourselves. When one can tame the enemy within, then no external enemy will ever threaten us.
We offer our thanks to Jetsunma for her kindness in offering this teaching to all who wish to partake of it.
Buddhists have always been at the cutting edge of new technologies in spreading the Dharma throughout the world. Before there was writing monks committed to memory all the sutras – the words of the Buddha – so that they would be preserved over the centuries. When writing was developed, the monks were right there putting down the precious words of the Buddha on tree leaves because no one had invented paper yet. When paper was invented, Buddhists began collecting commentaries on the sutras and published them, some of the first books in history. The libraries in India, China and Tibet became full of books about Dharma.
Now in the 21st Century the ability to communicate instantaneously throughout the entire world has become as easy as clicking a mouse, and Buddhists are still there at the forefront, exploring new technologies as they emerge, whether they be oral, video, or electronic. One of the most innovative communications technologies at present is Twitter, a fairly simple and straightforward medium that limits statements, or tweets, to only 140 characters. Several major Buddhist teachers have taken up this new medium and have been exploring its ability to teach the Dharma to those who might never have heard it otherwise. Such teachers as the Dalai Lama, Tsem Tulku and Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, have been pioneers in this effort. Last year Ahkön Lhamo introduced a simple Amitabha practice that was done with her active participation every day on Twitter all over the world, introducing Buddhist practice to thousands.
Some Buddhists have come to use the internet as their virtual sangha, particularly those who live in places with no sanghas or temples. These people are also busy exploring ways to use this medium to improve their practice. One such organization is called Buddhist Geeks, and they have lively discussions of innovative new ways to practice online.
However, as anyone who has spent any time at all on the internet knows, it can be a wild and crazy place with all sorts of anonymous psychopaths and other dangerous sorts lurking in the shadows. Twitter is a favorite place for these types to hang out and exercise their pathologies as it is essentially unmonitored and uncontrolled. Spammers proliferate, hate mongers spew their vicious bile, bullies intimidate and destroy with virtual impunity. When these sick individuals start attacking Dharma, it becomes very disturbing as they can spread whatever lies and gossip they want without fear of retribution and without limit. We have documented such cases on this blog. It is sad to see Dharma being exposed to such filth, but the Dharma has always come under attack from those who feel threatened by anything good and positive in the world.
It is also sad to see imposters and con men on the internet pretending to be spiritual teachers and attempting to lure students. If one reads Bill Cassidy’s blog, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, you see that he claims to be the “12th Urgyen Tenpa Tulku”. Of course, he makes this claim without one shred of evidence. Tulkus have a lineage, and they must be officially recognized and enthroned to be legitimate. He has none of these qualifications. There were no predecessors, no first or second or third or eleventh Urgyen Tenpa. In fact, there have been no tulkus known as Urgyen Tenpa in the entire history of Tibetan Buddhism. You do not have to take our word for it; investigate for yourself and you will see.
This imposter should not be confused with the real Tulku Urgyen, a well-known and well-loved teacher in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions who was born in 1920 and died in 1996 in Kathmandu. He was recognized at an early age and taught his entire life. You can read about him here. His legacy lives on in his sons, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Chokling Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and Migyur Rinpoche, and who are also well-known Buddhist teachers. Compare this marvelous lama with the imposter, who has no students, no temples, no monasteries, no lineage, and no good works and who will soon be forgotten after he dies.
Such a case study is useful for any student of Buddhism who ventures onto the internet. It is always important to investigate who you are talking to or reading about because there are many out there who are not who they pretend to be and who do not have your best interests at heart. The message is take full advantage of the marvelous tool the internet is but do so always with caution and prudence!
Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter. — Longchenpa
What is Emptiness?
It must be admitted that we are big fans of tibetanbuddhistaltar.org, Kunzang Palyul Chöling’s blog. Today we discovered a beautiful teaching there, which was originally given as a “tweeching” on Twitter, by KPC’s spiritual director, Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, on emptiness and why the Buddha’s teachings on emptiness are so difficult for us as Westerners to grasp. Or perhaps one should say “not grasp!”
Westerners as a rule hear “emptiness” and immediately think “empty”, nothing there, just a void. But that is not at all what the Buddha was talking about when he talked about emptiness. What he was talking about was a state free of conceptualization, a direct experience of reality. It might better be described as the richest of experiences to experience emptiness, not an empty experience by any means. But having grown up in a materialistic culture, we have no experience of such a state. We are taught from day one to believe in things and concepts and “self”. Therefore when we hear a teaching on emptiness, it too becomes a thing or a concept. That is why it is so difficult for us.
Orgyen Terdag Lingpa, a well-known Tertön who lived in the 17th Century and was recognized as a speech emanation of the great translator Vairocana, described it thus:
The primordial reality and the nature of all phenomena is profound, tranquil, unelaborated, luminous and unconditional. Apply yourself in the methods of realizing exactly what it is, the vajra mind, perfected in its ground and unchanging.
As Jetsunma says in her teaching, this idea of emptiness must be approached with caution for the Western mind because of our tendency to grasp onto ideas and make them solid. Learning how to simply accept reality as it is goes against our habitual tendencies. We are really experts in learning ideas and concepts but not so good at breaking through to a direct experience of reality. So how do we do it? Unsurprisingly, Longchenpa has something to say on the subject:
Knowledge is as infinite as the stars in the sky;
There is no end to all the subjects one could study.
It is better to grasp straight away their very essence —
The unchanging fortress of the dharmakaya.
Longchenpa was the preeminent teacher of Dzogchen in the Nyingma tradition. The essence of Dzogchen is awakening to the realization of the empty nature of the self and of all things. His teachings are identical in their nature to those we find in Jetsunma’s teachings. And like her, he also experienced the slings and arrows of those who pretended to understand the truth but in reality had no realization.
At this time and place, principles are perverted. Being the opposite of ones’ mistakes, good qualities are reckoned as erroneous. Just as the beings of Tsuta [a land of one-legged beings] laugh at two-legged humans, saying one leg is extra, the one called Samyepa [Longchenpa] who composes, teaches and debates, now faces insults for acting in accord with the Dharma! When I expound the truth, the throng of heedless, ignorant fools, the most stupid who pretend to be studying and contemplating the systems of logic, the foolish hypocrites with their imposing air of mastery of the supreme precious trainings, and those lofty associates who easily befriend them are most displeased.
And like Jetsunma and all pure teachers, Longchenpa exhorts us to go beyond the ordinary, to leave the well-trod path, to go beyond concepts and materialism, and to awaken to our true nature.
You are not free because of constantly being born again and again in samsara. So, today, here in this life, by capturing the throne of reality itself in the primordial space-like sphere of unchanging Dharmakaya, I urge you to achieve the level of the Dharmakaya of self-cognizant awareness!
How fortunate we are to have such teachers in the world!
For some time this writer has been following the assault on Palyul by certain deluded folk on Twitter, led by the criminal imposter William Cassidy and his accomplices. The person they have chosen to focus their attack on is the Mother of Palyul, Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo. She is the very heart of Palyul, yet these twisted minds have chosen to attack her in the most vial, most disgusting ways. One can only have pity for sentient beings who create such horrendous karma for themselves. According to the teachings, they will suffer unthinkable suffering for what will seem an eternity to them, all of it self-created. It is terrifying to even contemplate.
I say that Ahkön Lhamo is the Mother of Palyul because she was recognized by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, then the Supreme Head of Palyul, and His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, then the Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of which Palyul is a part, as the reincarnation of the Tibetan saint Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo, the sister of Kunzang Rigdzin Sherab, the first Throne holder of Palyul. She and her brother were the foremost students of Tertön Migyur Dorje, whose terma revelations of the Nam Chö formed the basis for the lineage. When she was enthroned, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche presented her with the miraculous relic of the fragment of bone from the kapala (skull cup) of the First Ahkön Lhamo with the Tibetan letter AH naturally appearing on it. Since her enthronement over twenty years ago, numerous high lamas of the Nyingma and Kagyu Schools have visited her temple, Kunzang Palyul Chöling, and praised her accomplishment and the depth of her bodhicitta. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche said that she is the very Dharmakaya, that she is on the same level as Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche, himself. There is no one higher in the world today. There are many videos on You Tube that record these statements for those who doubt. His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, the current Supreme Head of Palyul, said that she must stay in the world until the stars fall from the sky to save sentient beings. To Tibetans, this was a rare and remarkable statement of support.
But the hate mongers would have you believe that there is a conspiracy afoot by Ahkön Lhamo to create a “New Palyul” for her own. How ridiculous. Why would she do that? She and her brother created Palyul! They lie that Khenpo Norgay is coming to Kunzang Palyul Chöling to try to bring them “back into the fold”. Another outrageous lie! Khenpo Norgay is a great friend and devoted admirer of Jetsunma. He recognizes her for what she is. He refuses to sit on a throne in her presence because it would make him look superior to her, and he would never do that. Palyul has no problem at all with Jetsunma. It is only these self-appointed critics who would ever say that. And who are they? Just ordinary, deluded sentient beings. Would you bet your future lives on believing them? I don’t think so!
These deluded people think that she is fair game to all sorts of abuse. What do they think they can accomplish by their rash actions? In the case of Cassidy it is not so hard to understand. He is an antisocial psychopath and a longtime con man who thirsts for revenge against Jetsunma. Her crime? She outed him when he was pretending to be a tulku, trying to bilk her sangha. But how about the others, those who shout for “truth” and “transparency”, the freedom to publish hateful lies with impunity? For the most part, they seem to be wannabes. They are untrained in Buddhism while putting on a show of being practitioners. But that is all they are, all show, no substance. They use Buddhism to puff up their pathetic egos, to show everyone how clever they are, what independent thinkers they are. They think they don’t need a teacher, that they’re so clever they can figure it all out for themselves. The only thing in the world that they respect is their own overinflated egos. Many no doubt are jealous of her, a woman, an American woman! Unthinkable that she could be recognized when they, as clever as they are, haven’t been! How pathetic they are! One can only have compassion for such ignorance.
But ignorant or not, they cause harm to those who are new to the path and have no understanding of what is going on when they read their ridiculous lies on Twitter. They spread confusion and leave chaos in their wake. This has to stop. Buddhism, in my opinion, is the last, best hope for humanity in these dark times, yet these people would rob the world of any hope. What vile karma to accrue in this life! How deluded they are. This is why I have chosen to speak up at this time. I am sick and tired of ignorant people who attack lineages they know nothing about and who do not have the capacity to either understand or criticize. These lies and vicious attacks must cease. Those of us who follow the teachings of the Buddha cannot stand idly by and pretend we don’t hear or see anything. We must protest in the strongest way possible. We must make clear that this behavior is intolerable. We must make our voices heard, whether it is on Twitter or Facebook or in our temples or wherever we have the opportunity. The darkness is coming closer every day. We are the only ones who can hold it back. Please wake up to the danger of these apostates and collaborators!