The world is filled with uncertainty,
But there is no means of stopping it,
Nor place of hope,
Other than you,
Undeceiving Three Jewels and Three Roots.
A Prayer to Avert Nuclear War
Today the world seems to have gone crazy. Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters seem to be much worse than before. Every day seems to bring news of another revolution in the Middle East. Civil war threatens in the Ivory Coast, Sudan and other countries. In the United States, the shrillness of the political debates seems to constantly increase, and radical, divisive agendas infiltrate the laws of the land. In Japan, the horrible news of the earthquake and tsunami is replaced by even worse news of radioactive contamination of the environment from the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima.
Meanwhile any improvement in the dire economic situation is difficult to detect. Gas prices are once again going through the roof. Everywhere we turn we are confronted by unsettling news. We start to feel trapped with no place to turn. We feel helpless and alone.
As Chatral Rinpoche, one of the senior lamas in the Nyingma school and the regent of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, suggests in his Prayer to Avert Nuclear War, there really is only place of refuge that we can turn to in times like these, and that is the Buddhadharma. As practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism, we understand that our Tsawa’i Lama, our root teacher, is the very embodiment of Dharma in our lives. We need look no further. No matter how bad things get, we always have our root teacher to turn to, and it is there and only there that we will find what we are looking for. Even death cannot separate us from this refuge.
We are taught that phenomena like those in the world today arise from the collective negativity in the minds of sentient beings. When our minds are unbalanced, the result is that the elements in the world also become unbalanced, and disasters like we are now seeing ensue. And when disasters occur, countless sentient beings suffer and die. The karmic consequences are magnified when those involved in dealing with the serious incidents occurring around the world engage in secrecy in an attempt (usually in vain) to cover up the seriousness of the situation, TEPCO in Japan, for example, downplaying the seriousness of the radioactive contamination spewing from their damaged reactors. Such secrecy does not allow people to take the proper measures to protect themselves and their families, increasing the suffering caused by the incident.
Since the root of the problem is in our minds, what then is the answer to the deteriorating situation of the world? The only thing that most of us can do is to clean up our own mind as we do not have control over the minds of others. Identifying our poisons, learning how to antidote them and purifying the negative karma we have created in the past has an effect beyond just ourselves.
Bodhisattvas, however, have the ability to take on the negativity of a given situation, such as the Japanese earthquake and its consequences, and purify the karma to ameliorate the effects. Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo of Kunzang Palyul Chöling has been involved in the tragedy in Japan from the beginning, attempting to put forth some peace and calm into the situation there, and her efforts have seemed to bring some result. This writer personally takes great comfort in knowing that she is out there for us. As long as she is there for us, there is nothing to fear in reality.
Seeing a bodhisattva like Jetsunma in action with no regard for her own safety or comfort inspires her students to increase their devotion and redouble their efforts to attain the very same state so that they also may be of benefit to sentient beings. This is the purpose of our life, the goal we all strive for, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Only by achieving the happiness that does not end can we truly be a refuge to those who yearn for refuge from the storm.
“The Great Master of Oddiyana warns:
‘Not to examine the teacher
Is like drinking poison.’”
from Words of My Perfect Teacher
by Patrul Rinpoche
We acknowledge the dubious honor of a response by William L. Cassidy to our recent post, “Haspori.” Cassidy responded on his blog, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, with a post entitled “Answering Echoes.” (He maintains his blog under the name “Tulku Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche,” titles to which, as we have shown elsewhere, he is not entitled.)
Cassidy begins his response with the following ramblings. (Really, lest you wonder why we bother, his writing is often more syntactically skillful than the following excerpt evinces.)
The use of the term “parroted phrases” is a cheap shot at those who repeat the Buddhist teachings as offered by qualified masters. Cheap, we say, because of the illogic of both deriding the use of the teachers’ phrasing AND insisting that “we are only talking basics.” In fact, we openly admit that we do not feel in any way qualified to instruct anyone in the Dharma. We do, however, feel not only free, but obligated, to repeat teachings given by qualified Teachers. We do so in the hope that they may bring some benefit to others who do not possess “lived through experience of the dawning of knowing the nature of their own minds,” as the DTBA blogger is inspired to put it.
In his post, Cassidy clearly suggests that he HAS lived that experience and is somehow able to instruct us on the nature of mind. Moreover, he claims learning and realization to the degree that he can assert that no Western translation of Vajrasattva practice is adequate—and we must trust him to give us the “real deal.” The hubris in this claim reveals the quality of his “knowing the nature” of mind.
Rather than debate his assertions point by point, we wish instead to place his remarks in perspective. We have shown over and over that the writer of DTBA is a con man.
Con men are successful not because people are stupid (although they may believe we are), but rather because people tend to be trusting, especially in the presence of something that “sounds” convincing. There is no question that Cassidy has devoted a portion of his life to studying Dharma texts, and has some familiarity with Dharma practice—but ask him any detailed questions and you will find you receive an evasive response. He knows only enough to put on a good show that he knows more than you. Watch for evasions like, “It isn’t important,” or “It depends,” before you follow him down the road of his logic. We have covered this point previously on this blog.
At this time, in the context of Cassidy’s latest display of his “wisdom,” we wish to examine once again the teachings about what to look for in a qualified Teacher, as well as some of the characteristics of those who, we have been warned, will try to lead us astray.
In recent post, Cassidy has shown a predilection for quoting Gyaltrul Rinpoche, so we will begin with an excerpt from Gyaltrul Rinpoche’s commentary on “Great Perfection Buddha in the Palm of the Hand” published by Yeshe Melong, 1992. Gyatrul Rinpoche refers to the teachings of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche, about the false teachers who were predicted to arise in these degenerate times:
“Also, Guru Rinpoche says that in these degenerate times demonic forces (demons, negative spirits, and harmful entities) are intentionally manifesting, sending forth deceptive emanations of themselves of spiritual teachers, appearing as great scholars and realized ones, honorable and disciplined on the outside yet actually harmful entities on the inside. They are intentionally trying to lead sentient beings into the lower realms.
Guru Rinpoche also said that during these degenerate times there are many demons and spirits who will say they are deities when they are not. Specifically, there are nine types that will come into human realms to lead beings astray on the spiritual path in these times. These negative spirits will manifest deceptive displays, making it appear that they have reached the first, second, and third bhumis when in fact they haven’t. They will display magical signs to cause you to believe they have. They will even appear as bodhisattvas when they’re not. They will manifest different signs and miraculous displays, through body, speech and mind, so inconceivable that they will take your mind away. Seeing these deceptive displays of power, beings with weak merit and karma will experience the arising of faith and will focus their devotion on these negative beings.
It is also taught in the sutras that in the future there will be demonic spirits, demons, who will become khenpos and will be called archaryas, and will be exceedingly honorable and peaceful. Yet you mustn’t trust only in this. They will be very skillful with words, but still you shouldn’t trust them. It is very difficult for such a being to show the signs of one who has been liberated from the snare of cyclic existence, and therein you can find your sign.”
Indeed, according to these teachings, it is very difficult not to be deceived. So, what are the qualities to look for? Gyatrul Rinpoche describes the qualified teacher in this way:
“He should have great pure vision, pure perception, and should work solely for the purpose of others. The lama should have abandoned the eight worldly concerns, and without a single concern for this life and for the things of this life, he should direct all efforts towards preparations for future lifetimes. He should be a true holder of a lineage containing the powerful blessings of great realized masters. . . .”
Gyaltrul Rinpoche continues in the same text to describe some things to look out for, such as one who mixes traditions.
“Such a teacher may be clever with words, there may be much to listen to, but the path is upside down. Such a teacher will say he is non-sectarian, saying this is why he’s bringing all these different teachings together (p. 47).”
Emphasizing the importance of all the traditions, Gyaltrul Rinpoche stresses that they should not be mixed.
According to Gyatrul Rinpoche, the clarity of the teacher, the teaching, and the lineage is essential because of the confusion in which we sentient beings find ourselves.
“You are already in a state of deep-rooted confusion. When a teacher doesn’t lay out a path clearly, when he can’t document its origins, its lineages, and has no proof of its validity, when he mixes traditions, creating his own path, and tries to convince you of its validity, confusion increases. On the other hand, if a teacher is very clear and teaches in a straightforward way: ‘This is our tradition; this is the origin, these are the principles, this is the path,’ no matter what religion or what tradition, keeping it in its proper context, this makes things much easier for the disciple (p. 49).”
We beg you to examine anyone who attempts to offer teachings in the same way.
“By not examining a teacher with great care
The faithful waste their gathered merit.
Like taking for the shadow of a tree a vicious snake,
Beguiled, they lose the freedom they at last had found.”
from Words of My Perfect Teacher
by Patrul Rinpoche
Buddhism is sometimes given a bad rap by women for being male dominated and misogynistic. For instance, there are some Buddhists who say that the only way to attain enlightenment is to be reborn as a male, and in the Vinaya, the monastic code of conduct, women have more vows than men. Buddhist leaders in Asian countries are almost always men. Is it true then that Buddhism is anti-women?
In Vajrayana Buddhism, women have always played key roles. Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the Indian tantric master who introduced Vajrayana into Tibet, had many consorts. Among these were two who played pivotal roles in his teachings. One was the Princess Mandarava of Zahor in India who chose the Dharma over wealth and power that was hers for the taking if she had so chosen. Padmasambhava came to Zahor specifically to teach her and make her his consort. After some initial problems with her family (her father attempted to burn him at the stake when he found him in her quarters), Mandarava was allowed to become his consort. Padmasambhava took her to Maratika Cave in Nepal where they accomplished the unified vajra body of life mastery as master and consort. She is considered to be a wisdom dakini who has manifested numerous times, including the yogini Mirukyi Gyenchen, Risulkyi Naljorma, Drubpey Gyalmo, Niguma, and Chusingi Nyemachen, the consort of Maitripa. Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo has been recognized as an emanation of Mandarava.
The other principal consort of Padmasambhava was Yeshe Tsogyal, a highly realized Tibetan yogini. Originally one of King Trisong Deutsen’s queens, she later became Padmasambhava’s spiritual consort. She was responsible for compiling the inconceivable teachings of Guru Rinpoche and assisted him in hiding termas (hidden treasures) throughout Tibet and surrounding countries to be revealed in later times when they would be of supreme benefit. According to Jamgon Kongtrul, she was “a direct incarnation of Vajra Varahi.” Padmasambhava considered the accomplishment of both Mandarava and Yeshe Tsogyal to be the equivalent of his own. Thus two of the foundational figures of Vajrayana Buddhism were highly accomplished women.
The history of Vajrayana in Tibet and other countries where it flourished, such as Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan, is replete with stories of highly accomplished female practitioners or yoginis. Among these, the great yogini Machik Labdron is particularly significant. Said to be a reincarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal, she studied under Phadampa Sangye, a great master believed to be the reincarnation of Padmasambhava. She originated and propagated the Chöd practice, the only Vajrayana practice to originate in Tibet and spread to India rather than vice versa. Tsultrim Allione, a Western female lama, has been recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdron.
These are but a few of many highly realized female practitioners in the history of Vajrayana. They make up an important and vital segment of the fabric of Vajrayana. But beyond the historical figures, there are also a number of female Buddhas and dakinis (female wisdom beings) that are included in Vajrayana deity practice, Buddhas such as Tara, the female Buddha known as Mother of all Buddhas as she represents enlightened wisdom. She is said to have sprung from the tears of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan), the bodhisattva of compassion, as he looked out upon the suffering in the world. In other stories she is said to be a fully enlightened Buddha who, when she was an ordinary sentient being striving for enlightenment, was told that she could only attain enlightenment as a male. Therefore she made a vow to attain enlightenment and always return in a female form for the benefit of sentient beings – the ultimate feminist!
Protectors of the Dharma in Vajrayana at times appear in female form, such as Palden Lhamo. She is the consort of Mahakala and is the tutelary deity of Tibet. She is closely identified with the Dalai Lamas.
For the ordinary practitioner, the role of women in Vajrayana Buddhism is equivalent to that of men. While it is true that in Tibet monastic institutions were nearly always headed by men, female practitioners were greatly respected and revered. For example, Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo, the sister of Kunzang Sherab, first throneholder of the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma School, was widely considered to be a living saint during her lifetime. So many nuns came to hear her teachings and practice with her that the hills around the cave in which she lived in retreat became known as the “Red Hills”, a name which persists even today.
Women are considered to be superior practitioners to men as they are said to have a greater capacity for wisdom. In the Vajrayana view, the female is symbolic of wisdom, while the male is symbolic of compassion, which is somewhat opposite of the way the sexes are viewed in the West. The union of the male and female principles, compassion and wisdom, is known as bodhicitta and is enlightenment itself.
Dakinis – enlightened female wisdom beings – are said to reveal the teachings to practitioners who are ready to receive them. Dakinis also represent the Three Roots as they may manifest as a guru, a yidam or a protector.
It is clear that women play a vital role in the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism and are essential to the attainment of the ultimate goal, enlightenment. Without them, there would be no Diamond Vehicle.
Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava, revealed by Samten Lingpa, translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro, Wisdom Publications, 1998
The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, recorded by Yeshe Tsogyal, translated by Erik Pema Kunsang, Shambhala, 1993
Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, by Gyalwa Changchub and Namkhai Nyingpo, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, 1999
The Biography of Machik Labdron (1055-1145), in Women of Wisdom, by Tsultrim Allione, Snow Lion Publications, 2000
In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress, by Martin Wilson, Wisdom Publications, 1992
The Religions of Tibet, by Giuseppe Tucci, University of California Press, 1970
Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism, by Judith Simmer-Brown, Shambhala, 2002