Connecting Oneself with Bodhisattva Activity

In our previous post we reflected on the nature of the lama’s blessings and how we can receive them. But what a nonsense it would be, were we to think of these as if they were just for ourselves. As explained in that post, such blessings are an element of the Vajrayana: to enter which we must first have taken the bodhisattva vow, the resolve to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all beings; hence the only valid context for seeking and receiving blessings is to help us in our development of bodhichitta.

Patrul Rinpoche says in his Words of My Perfect Teacher that if one were to distil all the qualities of a dharma teacher into one essential point, it is that, to be genuine, he or she must be a true bodhisattva. Therefore a skilful course of action for oneself as a student is to join one's own energy to the bodhisattva activity of the teacher. Traditionally, this is expressed as serving the teacher.

  An aspect   of dharma teachers' work is establishing dharma centres; and this provides one of the ways that students can engage with and support their teachers' bodhisattva activity.

An aspect of dharma teachers' work is establishing dharma centres; and this provides one of the ways that students can engage with and support their teachers' bodhisattva activity.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Sakya Dechen Ling, London, in 2015, Lama Jampa Thaye spoke about this (hear all this short talk here) when he reminded those present that, while Buddha’s teaching shows each of us the way we can become free of suffering, as followers of the Mahayana, the root of which is bodhichitta, we must go much further than practising the path for ourselves alone. We must practise it with concern for all beings. All beings are afflicted by suffering, some having far more intense suffering at this moment than ours. All those beings are intimately connected with us, we are indebted to them. Therefore, whatever we do from this moment should be for their benefit.

For ourselves, Lama Jampa said, we could perhaps just make do with the teachings we have received and practise in isolation. But the compassionate resolve of bodhichitta means that we need to think about others - and for them to come into contact with dharma, there need to be dharma centres as there have been throughout Buddhist history. And this is certainly one area, although by no means the only one, where we can connect ourselves with the enlightened activity of our teachers.

For those wishing to pursue the Vajrayana, it is recommended to receive teachings on the classic Indian text, Fifty Verses on the Guru, using a commentary such as Opening the Door to the Precious Accomplishments by Tsarchen Losal Gyamtso. This explains how one should develop one’s spiritual relationship with, and service of, one’s vajra master. The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche is also extremely helpful in this regard.

When teaching the latter of these texts some years ago, Lama Jampa quoted his own teacher, Karma Thinley Rinpoche, who had remarked to him that the mark of a good disciple, having strong devotion, is that they don't make a show of serving their lama. 

This blog is the work of students in Dechen. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on those teachings . Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to blog@dechen.org.





 

The Lama’s Blessings: What are they and how can we receive them?

When we see someone we admire, perhaps because of their eloquence or just because of their apparent ability to be positive and happy, it’s natural to think, “I want some of that - some of what he or she has”. Seeing an accomplished lama, we can easily have a similar feeling of wishing we had some of what he or she has. The extraordinary thing is that we can!

 The wish-fulfilling tree of the Kagyu Lineage: source of blessings

The wish-fulfilling tree of the Kagyu Lineage:
source of blessings

This is why the lama is likened to a wish-fulfilling gem. The kindness of the lama is that he or she is dedicated to sharing whatever realisation he or she has, with the wish that others, all of us, may realise our own buddha nature. But of course, as with everything in life, effort is needed on our side before any qualities can begin to become a reality for ourselves.

To quote a couple of lines from a vajrayana teaching given by Lama Jampa in Manchester recently (a summary of which is available here):

"If you see the lama as an ordinary person, you will just get an ordinary person’s blessing.
If you see the lama as a buddha, you will receive a buddha’s blessing."

 

 

How can we be certain whether a lama is truly worthy of being seen as a buddha? For who knows where an unqualified and unworthy guide may lead us?  

We are well advised to put in significant groundwork ourselves in terms of learning and investigation, before committing ourselves to anyone’s spiritual guidance, let alone seeking their blessings. First of all, we must be aware of what qualities and qualifications a lama should have to be worthy of the title.

In his recent teaching, Lama Jampa quoted from the nineteenth century Tibetan master Patrul Rinpoche’s Words of My Perfect Teacher (a text he taught in full in the nineties). Patrul Rinpoche provides a whole chapter on how to find a properly qualified teacher, how to start to follow him or her in an authentic way, and thus begin to receive their blessings.

A verse early in that chapter conveys something of how we can be positively influenced by those we look to as exemplars:

Just as the trunk of an ordinary tree lying in the forest Absorbs the perfume of a neighbouring sandalwood tree,

So you come to resemble whomever you follow.

Of course, this works the other way round as well. We are all too easily influenced by those who would lead us further into the mire. So one should be very careful who one follows, who one looks to as a role model. Patrul lists four kinds of fake lama that a student is sensible to avoid.

Teachers to Avoid

Teachers like a millstone made of wood. This type of teacher has somehow been given a title, due to their heritage or some such reason, but actually has never really practised dharma properly and so has no ability to teach anyone. Consequently they are as useful as a millstone made of wood would be for grinding grain to make flour. They are all title and little else in terms of spiritual qualities.

Teachers like the frog that lived in a well. Lama Jampa retells this story of the frog in the well in his book Wisdom in Exile as an introduction to the chapter entitled ‘Conceit’. These individuals don't actually know anything beyond the narrow confines of an ordinary person's world.

Mad guides. These individuals have never studied the sutras and tantras properly under an authentic teacher, let alone been part of any lineage. But ‘though lower than ordinary beings they ape siddhas and behave as if their actions were higher than the sky’.

Blind guides. These ones lack any qualities superior to your own and lack the love and compassion of bodhicitta.

These four types of bad teacher were seen by Patrul Rinpoche, a true master in 19th century Tibet, to attract gullible followers. And so we see human traits live on, albeit in a different time and place. The power of modern communications now seems to exaggerate the confusion even more. Beware!

It is obvious that to try and see any teacher fitting one of these descriptions as a buddha would be the utmost folly.

However, there are still teachers to be found who are authentically trained, realised and free of these egoistic faults. So there is no need to be put off just because bad teachers still attract less fortunate people. Wherever there are humans ….

Training in Seeing the Lama as Buddha

The long life prayer for Ratna Vajra, His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin, contains the lines:

Protector, you are inseparable from the holy lord Manjushri.
To the fortunate and unfortunate respectively, you appear or do not appear as him.

How can we become that fortunate person? The sensible answer to this question is: by gradually applying “common sense and intelligence which,” as Lama Jampa said, “are actually the same thing as each other”.

Step one is, of course, to begin learning about Buddha’s basic teachings. As Lama Jampa explains, even the highest, most subtle Mahamudra teachings rest on the basic teachings, so an authentic teacher will always return to and restate these in their original and unaltered form.

Having obtained a good grounding in the basic teachings of the Hinayana and Mahayana, one will have come to know what qualities should be evident in the teacher. His or her moral behaviour should be completely in accord with the teachings, in which they must be well versed.

After you have spent some time finding out about a teacher and decided that you can rely on him or her, from then on the Vajrayana way is to train in seeing that teacher as a buddha. In his teaching of Patrul’s text, Lama Jampa made the point that this is to be seen only in the context of the spiritual path into which we have entered. To an ordinary person, the lama is an ordinary person.

What Are These Blessings?

In the context of dharma, blessings don’t actually add anything to qualities already innate within all of us. What they do is shine a light on our buddha nature.

It is said that the lama shows us our face in the manner of a mirror. This allows us not only to get a sense of our buddha potential but also of the ‘defilements’ in us that are masking that potential.

In his recent teachings on Mahamudra from the ninth Karmapa’s The Finger Pointing at the Dharmakaya, Lama Jampa explained how the ultimate nature - buddhahood - is conveyed by the direct mind-to-mind transmission that occurs in guru yoga at the highest level:

"It is the ultimate nature that is the real guru. This is the Mahamudra itself. The human guru is simply reflecting this and alerting his student to its presence."

In the teachings, it is made clear that this is only possible when the lama is part of a lineage from which he or she has received the teachings; a lama of the words of the Buddha - sutra and tantra - having no teachings of his or her own invention; a lama of the ultimate nature, meaning that he or she has fully realised the ultimate nature.

Clearly, that is guru yoga at the highest level and it will require some years of preparatory learning and development of meditational experience before a student will be sufficiently matured to engage in it fully. However, it seems helpful and inspiring, even for a relative beginner, to know that this is where the path leads for someone who commits themselves to making the necessary effort in their study and practice.

Serving the Lama

In his text, Patrul Rinpoche explains that the skilful way to follow the lama and open ourselves for receipt of blessings as described above is to serve the Lama. That is an excellent means to join our own aspiration of bodhichitta with the enlightened activity of the Lama. A further post, to follow this one, will elaborate on that theme.

This blog is the work of students in Dechen. Posts are typically inspired by an aspect of a teaching recently given by one of our lamas and are the result of reflection and contemplation of that teaching, considered worthy of being shared. A key purpose of the posts is to stimulate readers into their own further contemplation of teachings received.



 

Can Science Aid The Understanding of Buddhism?

Between them, the master and scholar Karma Thinley Rinpoche, born in Eastern Tibet in 1931, and Lama Jampa Thaye, born in north west England in 1952, are very specially qualified to examine the relationship between western science and Buddhist teaching, the dharma. This is a meeting of minds that spans the two cultures of a Tibet that knew almost nothing of western science, and that of westerners  awakening to the wisdom embraced in Tibetan Buddhism.

karma-thinley-rinpoche.jpg

The topic of how science relates to Buddhist teaching, when discussed by such scholars and masters as these, invokes the most profound thought. In his essay ‘The Telescope of Faith’ Rinpoche, making reference to astronomic and cosmic constellations as examples of scientific knowledge where he says:

“Just knowing the size of the universe and the distances and numbers of stars and so on is not the same as complete omniscience.

With skilful means, from his perceiving the nature of things to be the Four Noble Truths, one should know that it is the Buddha who is omniscient, possessing the unsurpassable benevolence of enlightened activities, undiminished by time”

 

There is clearly great profundity wrapped up in these lines. One question they raise in one’s mind is: Could any scientist, however great yet still limited to describing that which is tangible in the world, ever attain the extraordinary reach of the omniscience to which Rinpoche refers?

 

The reader may wonder what concern this may be of theirs?

The omniscience of a buddha, which relates to mind rather than matter, has very direct relevance to all of us; for if it were not for that, the Buddha’s insight into the nature of each and every one of our mind-streams and how they function, would no longer have any relevance. So, therefore, having confidence in Buddha’s omniscience means the world to us as Buddhists because it provides a means of removing suffering and achieving happiness and contentment.

But, why concern ourselves with how science does or does not relate to that?

IM2A5326.JPG

Lama Jampa, in his book ‘Wisdom in Exile’ and in his recent teaching in Bristol in January on Rinpoche’s ‘Telescope of Faith’, explained that there is a need to recognise that, even as lay-people largely unversed in science, we are all influenced to some extent by the pervasive idea that a scientific approach is the most superior way of getting to the truth of things.

Science may well be the best way mankind currently has of understanding the material world and manipulating parts of it through technology based on science. But a a real understanding of mind and consciousness still eludes scientists.

In his commentary on ‘Distinguishing Consciousness and Primordial Wisdom’, Rinpoche notes the important role played by the brain that has always been known in dharma.

“It is not to be thought that the mind is the brain. Rather, the brain’s ability to perform functions is due to the power of mind’s existence.”

This is a very different perspective from that of the materialists; a point that has long been understood by Buddhist masters.

Does this mean that, from a dharma perspective, we should discount or even try to debunk science?

Nowhere does Rinpoche suggest that. During the teaching Lama Jampa gave on Rinpoche’s Telescope of Faith in Bristol recently, he related anecdotally how Rinpoche took a keen interest in the findings of Western astronomy soon after settling in Canada in the 1970s and sees no need to dispute them even though they are in stark contrast to the ancient Indian cosmology referenced in the dharma texts from which he was educated and which he mastered years ago in Tibet.

It is obviously beyond the scope of this blog to attempt to elucidate and answer these subtle points and big questions. For that, we need to study the writings of our learned teachers and, whenever possible, go and listen to their analysis and elucidation of these questions. The experience of being present when the Lama is explaining these matters cannot be bettered, if one really wants to find a way into a profound understanding of immense topics like the omniscience of buddhas and the nature of consciousness and, to bring it right on home, our own minds.

Hearing the Lama expound on such matters and then contemplating his words helps us identify, and begin to strip away, patterns of thinking that have obstructed clear comprehension of Buddha’s teaching.

There is an opportunity to hear Lama Jampa teach once again on this topic on 2nd June when he will present the second (and concluding) part of his explanation of Rinpoche’s Telescope of Faith in Bristol. See the website for full details.





 

Mahamudra in the Kagyu Tradition

 Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

Mahamudra, the ‘great seal’, is one of the two principal streams of practice in the Karma Kagyu tradition. The other is the Six Yogas of Naropa, a set of ‘completion stage’ practices. Introducing his teaching on mahamudra at the shedra in Manchester in December last year, Lama Jampa explained that both of these practices can only be done after completion of all the foundation practices and vajrayana preliminaries (Tib: ngondro), as well as some accomplishment of deity (yidam) practice. Although mahamudra is therefore clearly an advanced practice, it is extremely inspiring to hear about it, even as a beginner on the path.  This is because its truth is already present as a seed within our mind stream, so there is a sense in which one can begin to relate with it right away.

What is mahamudra?

In his book 'Garland of Gold', Lama Jampa says that mahamudra, which can be translated as ‘great seal’, is the ultimate teaching of vajrayana, transmitted by Buddha Vajradhara, the embodiment of the dharmakaya, the true nature of reality. Mahamudra is presented in terms of three phases - basis, path and fruit – though in reality these are one. The fruit, Lama Jampa explains, is simply the recognition of one’s buddha-nature mind. He quotes the Indian siddha, Saraha:

‘Mind itself is the one seed of everything,
Both samsara and nirvana flow from it.
To that which, like a wish fulfilling gem,
Grants all wishes I prostrate.’

Lama Jampa presented a comprehensive introduction to mahamudra when he was invited in 2015 to teach at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute, New Delhi. Read a transcription here

The text that the Lama began to teach in Manchester in December 2017, 'Pointing the Finger at the Dharmakaya', is one of three manuals of practice of mahamudra composed by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1555 - 1603).

Lama Jampa taught part of this text in the late 1990’s but this is the first time he will be giving it in full. He taught the longer text, 'Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance', in 1983 and again more recently in 2011. And, going further back, he was already beginning to give these teachings to students informally as early as 1975, the year he founded Kagyu Ling in Manchester.

The practice of mahamudra is not unique to the Karma Kagyu, as it was transmitted in the supreme yoga tantras from Buddha Vajradhara. What is special about the transmission in the Kagyu is that here there is a ‘sutra’ transmission of mahamudra, found in the discourse (sutra) teachings given by Shakyamuni Buddha. Hence, in this tradition there is a union of the tantric and sutra teachings. This unified stream of teaching is called the ‘simultaneously arising and joining mahamudra’.

At the time of Indian and early Tibetan masters such as Marpa and Milarepa, instruction on how to practise the mahamudra was given orally direct to disciples. The stages of practice as set out by Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in his three manuals are a distillation of the original oral teaching passed down from master to disciple up until that time. The manuals present the teaching in a systematic way, from the four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma, through the preliminary practices of the ngondro, to the main practices of calm-abiding and insight meditation that together lead to the experience of mahamudra.

At the shedra on 6th and 7th December last year, Lama Jampa explained the sections of the text dealing with the common foundations (the four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma) and the first three of the four ngondro practices. He will resume his teaching of the text in February and conclude it in July. See the Dechen website for details.

Ancient Teachings Free Modern Hearts and Minds

How remarkable that a short text composed in Tibet some 750 years ago should carry such a recognisably authentic message of liberation in this age of social media. Of course, Jetsun Drakpa Gyalten’s ‘Song of the Eight Practices of Dreams’ goes far deeper than advising on how to deal with today’s world-wide monster, as Lama Jampa clearly showed us when he taught the the text last Saturday at London's Wetland Centre. For it shows how cunning and resourceful ego follows us all into our dharma lives - and, importantly, how to watch out for it so it doesn’t keep its hold.

 The Wetland Centre, London

The Wetland Centre, London

These days it seems, especially in the Twittersphere, that we have to have an opinion about everything - about every little thing and every big thing that happens. And we have to come out on the side of the good guys or else we’re seen not to care. As Lama Jampa says in ‘Wisdom in Exile’, it seems like it’s the age of compassion now. The key is to check out which team, which tribe, to support as being on the side of good and revile the other.

Or is it?

What does Jetsun Drakpa’s teaching say about this? What does Lama Jampa himself actually say about this?

Explaining the Jetsun’s advice, Lama Jampa simplified the whole business for us last Saturday. One of the song’s liberating messages is that if we develop pride in our own side as being right, as being the side of the ‘good ones’ and if at the same time we are trying to practise the dharma, then we are making a mistake.

Realising this frees us up to have compassion for both sides and all sides. We can be totally free with regard to our dispensation of compassion. The Lama even put it like this, in answer to a question: “We are promiscuous in our compassion. It’s not us versus them. Not goodies versus baddies”. So truly freeing our hearts. 

A further aspect of the teachings from last Saturday, which seems connected with this, is that if we are seriously trying to practise dharma, then sooner or later we will need to live without approval from others with respect to what we think we think about everything that’s going on. This is reminiscent of a point made by Karma Thinley Rinpoche in his ‘Lamp that Dispels Darkness’:

“Since the ways in which beings experience a thing are various, what is non-existent for one is fully existent for another and there is no need for any similarity.”

In the afternoon, Lama Jampa gave an initiation that enables us to cultivate meditation on the principal bodhisattvas of the three Buddha families: Manjushri of Vairocana’s Tathagata family, Chenrezik of Amitabha’s Lotus family and Vajrapani of Akshobya’s Vajra family. This is very special as it provides a way to cultivate the three innate qualities that we need to sustain us on the path: wisdom, compassion and power.

Those of us who have embarked on this mode of meditation can see that such practice actually does help to turn us around in our hearts. Rather than seeing the kind of teachings we heard in the morning as an onerous giving up of what we really want to do, we gain a freer way into a lighter compassion which doesn’t need to carry a heavy heart.

What is Tantra? Removing the Mystique

To all outward appearances, Buddhist tantra can seem strange and mysterious as well as, perhaps, exotic and exciting. We could easily come to believe that the essence of its power lies in its inaccessibility to intellect and reason. So we could get the idea that for its very efficacy, any detailed understanding of its methods will always remain inaccessible, perhaps as some kind of divine mystery.  We could even think that the more we are able to manufacture faith in the mystery of tantra and throw ourselves into its practices, the greater our chances of emerging as an enlightened being.

Concluding his teaching this summer, at Changlochen Ling in France, of ‘The General Presentation of the Tantra Sets’ by the Sakya master Sonam Tsemo, Lama Jampa said it would be quite mistaken to maintain any such idea.

He issued a warning to beware of mystifiers. He explained that false mystification of tantra is quite a different thing from the secrecy that is necessary in the tantric system. Elements of secrecy are essential to protect tantric methods from their premature use and misuse in general, but this does not prohibit masters of Vajrayana from explaining what Buddhist tantra is and what the requirements are for its effective practice.

There is always a meaning, a point, that is accessible to understanding even though initially aspects of the path are presented in a covered way. Finally, everything is to be understood. This protects us from mystification and mystifiers. Genuine masters share the intelligence of the dharma with their students. Mystification of Vajrayana is a betrayal of the dharma. To know that all is accessible to our intelligence in the end is good for our confidence.”

His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin has offered presentations of what tantra is on a number of occasions, both in print and in teachings which can be found online: eg Melody of Dharma, issues 7,8 and 12. In his article in issue 8, His Holiness refers to misconceptions stemming from the esoteric nature of tantra. Before proceeding to clarify these, he says:

Since the time of the Buddha, the tantras were always taught secretly and selectively. For their correct understanding, they have always required the oral instructions of a qualified master; without such explanation, they can easily be misunderstood in wrong and harmful ways.

He goes on to say that he is prevented from providing explanations which are only appropriate to be given to tantric initiates, but he is able to use explanations from Sonam Tsemo’s text, as Lama Jampa has done, to explain to us what Buddhist tantra is. Another place where we can hear His Holiness present an overview of what tantra is, is from a recording of a teaching he gave in Madrid in 2016.

So, a valid message for aspiring Vajrayana disciples would be: do not abandon your intelligence and ability to use reason. However, do learn, step by step, to understand and practise the tantric methods as taught and explained by your lama and vajra master in order to cut through the dualistic conceptualisation that traps us in samsara.

Upcoming Teaching Event

There will be an excellent opportunity in late September to hear Lama Jampa give teachings on Vajrayana based on his book ‘Rain of Clarity’. So, a trip to Bristol on Saturday 30th September will be thoroughly worthwhile for any serious dharma student who wants to understand what Buddhist tantra is and the benefits of practising it.  

The Essential Requirements for the Practice of Tantra

What are the essential requirements for effective practice of tantra? From the Lama’s teaching from Sonam Tsemo’s text, they can be summarized as:

  • One must begin by taking refuge in the Three Jewels and keep the moral precepts. Then one should study the Mahayana teachings on bodhichitta, since the only correct motivation for tantric practice is to pursue one’s bodhisattva aspiration.

  • One must find a vajra master who is qualified to give initiations and be accepted as a student by a lama who is able to explain details of sadhana practice and generally give one guidance on the detail of how to progress with one’s practice of the Vajrayana.

  • One should only attempt to engage in practice derived specifically from initiations one has received and then only under the guidance of one’s lama

  • One should be careful to understand whatever tantric vows one is taking as part of an initiation and be meticulous in keeping those vows in order to protect one’s practice from unwanted consequences.

  • It is important for the Vajrayana student to have confidence that his or her lama will reveal the meaning of their practice step by step and only according to their developing level of maturity in that practice. To look outside of that teacher-disciple relationship by, for example, referring to modern attempts to explain tantra or trying to study texts that are not recommended by the lama and hence are not appropriate, will only cause harm to one’s spiritual development.  

Why I Need to Tame My Mind

Reflections on a Dharma Talk By HH Ratna Vajra Rinpoche

 Lama Jampa Thaye introducing His Holiness

Lama Jampa Thaye introducing His Holiness

One of the questions asked by a member of the audience at the public talk on The Power of Buddhism given by His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche in Bristol on the evening of Friday 26th May (full report here) was about anger. It is not easy to turn to love and compassion, the questioner said, when something has made us furious - how are we to deal with anger in such situations?

His Holiness began his reply by pointing out that for all of us anger and negative thoughts have been in our mind-stream for a very long time, not just in our current life but in countless lives before this. For that reason, anger is not easy to control.

He then went on to ask us to consider what purpose anger serves. If, for example, we have had something stolen from us, anger will not cause our property to be returned to us. Nor will it make us feel happy. Whichever way we look at it, anger does not help but only brings suffering for all concerned.

So, how should we view a situation when someone becomes angry? His Holiness referred to this as someone ‘showing us anger’. Anger, he said, can arise without any invitation, at any time and anywhere in our own mind or in another person’s mind, owing to all kinds of sudden factors, sometimes apparently quite trivial. What will be helpful for us when someone shows us anger is to remember that the person showing aggression is himself under the control of anger. We should think that it is not the fault of the person but of anger itself. This is a perfect opportunity for us to practise tolerance and avoid causing more suffering by returning aggression with more useless aggression.  

His Holiness gave the analogy of being hit by someone with a stick. We don’t get angry with the stick. It produces pain but has no intention of hurting us: it is the person wielding the stick who is in control. But is the angry person truly in control? No, it is anger that is in control of the person who can be likened to the stick, simply being used to act, physically or verbally, in a harmful way by this disturbing emotion.

In conclusion, His Holiness referred back to his talk, in which he had pointed out that it is mind that gives the orders for physical and verbal actions. They are merely the servants of mind. Mind is the boss. That is why, as he had earlier explained, we need to begin the task of taming our mind, so that we will be equipped to deal with situations such as those provoked by anger when they arise.

The key to success in the twin endeavours of overcoming negative emotions and taming the mind is developing loving kindness and compassion towards all beings without exception. In his talk, His Holiness emphasised the crucial importance of these long-term endeavours; which we undertake on our Dharma path with the guidance of our Lama, who provides us with more detailed explanations on how we can gradually extend the loving kindness that we already naturally feel towards those dear to us.

This, as His Holiness said at the conclusion of his talk, is The Power of Buddhism to tame our mind.

Hear His Holiness’s talk again (and again) at this SoundCloud link.
 

Rebirth Explained

Lama Jampa recently gave a talk in Stuttgart entitled ‘Death and Dying from a Buddhist Perspective’ and a recording of this talk can be found on SoundCloud here. This post provides a brief synopsis of the Lama's talk using much of his own introduction to the topic.

Lama Jampa (2).JPG

Learning how to live properly we need to learn how to die properly. In Buddhism, life and death are seen as twin faces of reality.

“In the modern world the sight and significance of death have been put out of view and we have come to see it as a fading away into nothingness or an abrogation of everything wondrous about life. That leads to embarrassment or fear about the subject as well as other emotions. This not only impoverishes our lives but is a foolish move, since we all will come to know death in the most intimate of ways.

“What Buddha discovered on the night of enlightenment was the state beyond birth and death, the clear light, unborn and unceasing, which is the fundamental nature of our mind. To experience this freedom from birth and death, we need to learn to pass through the gates of death.

“The way to do that is to become aware of how death and birth are woven into every moment of our existence. In this way we prepare for death at the end of this physical life. Every moment there is the opportunity to awaken to the space beyond birth and death. It is the space that is there between death and rebirth.”

The technical term for this space is bardo (intermediate state) and, in his talk, Lama Jampa goes on to describe what are known as the three bardos: the bardo of life, the bardo of death and the bardo of dream. It is possible to recognise the fundamental nature of our mind, the clear light, in each of these bardos. Hence it is possible to attain the deathless state in this life and great masters have done so throughout the history of the Buddhist tradition.

It is clearly difficult for us to awaken from the bewitchment of self into which we have fallen in this physical life but, as Lama Jampa explains, at the time of death, when the sense of physical identity dissolves, there is greater opportunity to recognise the deathless state.

We can prepare for that opportunity simply by the practice we do in this life and by knowing about the intermediate states. Lama Jampa emphasises that preparing for the bardo of death is the most natural thing in the world and not some extraordinary or esoteric excursion. In this, we are returning to the fundamental, simple state, the actual nature of mind as it really is.

In his talk, Lama Jampa delineates the processes of dissolution in some detail, including how, as explained in the Tantras, each of the dissolutions results in a kind of hallucination. Having described these bardo experiences, Lama Jampa then explains how the process of rebirth occurs. This happens through the force of karmic imprints, through which one’s consciousness is impelled forward into the ‘next life’ -  which, in the case of a human birth, is into union with the unifying male and female elements, the sperm and the ovum.

In summary, the Lama says that in his talk he has tried to highlight the parallels with our own experience in this life to show that the bardo, the intermediate state, is just an encounter with the true nature of reality, which is always there between each thought, between one moment and the next, between one emotion and the next. The bardo is always there.

No Self Found

It comes as a shock to us when we hear the Buddhist teaching of non-self. How can we deal with that? And what does it mean?

On YouTube, as part of his answer to the question “What is the Essence of Buddhism?”, Lama Jampa Thaye explains that it is the false notion of self that leads us into frustration, disappointment and suffering. Whereas if we learn to abandon this false belief we can awaken to our natural state and thus gain freedom from suffering.

Since the habitual belief in a self and our apparent need for one are so strong, we need to gain conviction that the notion of 'self' is indeed a fiction. Such conviction will not be gained simply by hearing someone say there is no self. A more effective way, one that has been taught by Buddhist masters for centuries, is to actually search for the existence of a self, using the power of reasoning.

 How are we to understand the emptiness of self?

How are we to understand the emptiness of self?

In Bristol on Saturday 21st January, teaching from his book, “Rain of Clarity”, Lama Jampa carefully walked students through the classical Buddhist method of applying such reasoning. We will then be able to apply this in our  own study and practice of the Path, and hence in our own experience.  

What do we mean by self? We first need to be clear about what it is we are looking for. As Lama Jampa explained, a self is something or someone that is independent, autonomous and permanent. With this in mind we can then examine our experience to find out if such an independent, autonomous and permanent entity can be found anywhere within it.

The search takes us into our body and mind, to see if the self exists within them or outside them. Investigating the five aggregates of classical Buddhist psychology that make up all possible physical and mental experience, Lama Jampa showed that no such self can be found to exist.

 Lama Jampa explains

Lama Jampa explains

It is crucial for us to learn from the teacher how to use analytical tools such as these, as it helps us move a step closer to the liberating understanding we seek. This was felt in a short period of meditation when we sat together on Saturday having heard the teaching.

Lama Jampa will resume his explanation from Rain of Clarity, looking at the second of the two kinds of non-self, that of all phenomena, on Saturday 25th March in London.



'Rain of Clarity'

This year, at Dechen's Sakya centres in London and Bristol, Lama Jampa has been giving detailed explanatory teachings based on his text 'Rain of Clarity' that covers the entirety of the Buddhist path.

He continues to teach from the text this coming Saturday, 5th November, in London when he will go through its fourth chapter, Viewing Emptiness.

As well as teaching at Dechen centres in the UK, US, Mexico, Germany and France, this year, Lama Jampa has accepted invitations to teach in Hong Kong, Dharma centres in the West and East coasts of the US and in France and Germany. See lamajampa.org/news to read reports of Lama Jampa's extraordinary teaching programme which has embraced all aspects of the Buddhist Path, as followed in both the Kagyu and the Sakya traditions, from its foundation practices through to subtle Mind Training and Vajrayana teachings.  

 Lama Jampa teaching the Sakya Mind Training teachings, Parting From the Four Attachments, in Stuttgart 

Lama Jampa teaching the Sakya Mind Training teachings, Parting From the Four Attachments, in Stuttgart 

 Lama Jampa answers questions at the Sakya Centre, Bristol following teachings on 'Rain of Clarity'

Lama Jampa answers questions at the Sakya Centre, Bristol following teachings on 'Rain of Clarity'

 Receiving teachings on the Kagyu view of Zhentong in Manchester

Receiving teachings on the Kagyu view of Zhentong in Manchester

 Lama Jampa gives a public talk hosted by the Dechen centre in Los Angeles, Sakya Samten Ling

Lama Jampa gives a public talk hosted by the Dechen centre in Los Angeles, Sakya Samten Ling

 Teaching The Tantra Sets at Sakya Changlochen Ling, Le Bugue, France

Teaching The Tantra Sets at Sakya Changlochen Ling, Le Bugue, France

 Students receive teachings in Harrogate on Milarepa's Song of the Middle Way

Students receive teachings in Harrogate on Milarepa's Song of the Middle Way

 Students receive teachings in Bristol from Rain of Clarity

Students receive teachings in Bristol from Rain of Clarity

The images above  offer a glimpse of Lama Jampa's  teaching events at Dechen centres to date, this year. 

Read more about Lama Jampa's wider activities and ongoing touring and teaching programme at lamajampa.org.

Teachings on Rain of Clarity (part 2) in London

On Saturday 12th March, Lama Jampa Thaye continued teaching Rain of Clarity, his text on the Buddhist path, in the pristine setting of the Wetlands Centre in London. Lama Jampa completed the first chapter of the text with the explanation of the Pratimoksha vow and provided invaluable insight into how Buddhist view and morality relate to the modern age and the issues of the 21st century. Lama Jampa then went on to teach the second part of the text, which focuses on the development of bodhichitta and entering into the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana.

Following the methodical and gradual pattern of the text, Lama Jampa expounded on how one develops the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all beings and how this wish is formalised through taking the bodhisattva's vow. Rain of Clarity provides an extraordinarily sophisticated, yet accessible explanation on the meaning and the strength of the vow and how practitioners can train in the aspiration and application of bodhichitta. This particularly useful part of the text provided guidance on how students can deal with the obstacles that are commonly encountered on the path of bodhisattvas.

Over the two sessions in London, Lama Jampa presented this chapter in a gentle and relatable manner while explaining sophisticated concepts such as the significance of Buddha nature and the two types of bodhichitta, alluding to the following chapters on the Six Perfections and the Madhyamaka view.

The next part of Rain of Clarity will be taught in June in Bristol.  Study Groups will be held on Saturday mornings in London and Wednesdays in Bristol.

In the afternoon, Lama Jampa bestowed the Vajrayana initiation of Red Tara from the Sakya lineage, a deity related to the achievement of magnetising siddhi.

Teachings on Buddha Nature at the Mikyo Dorje Shedra

Last weekend Lama Jampa taught a text by Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, ‘The Correct Discrimination of Zentong Madhyamaka’. 

People came from all over to hear Lama Jampa explain this very subtle way of  viewing the world. The purpose of this is to enable us to gain freedom from suffering by uncovering our Buddha nature and thereby experiencing the true nature of one’s mind. As ever Lama
Jampa was able to give the explanation of this deep subject matter, in a way that made it accessible even to those new to the dharma.

On the Sunday afternoon Lama Jampa gave the initiation of Namgyalma from the lineage of the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje for the first  time.

Lama Jampa will continue teaching this text at the next shedra session in Manchester on Saturday July 2 and Sunday July 3.

‘Rain of Clarity': teachings on the Buddhist path by Lama Jampa Thaye

“A gateway into Buddhist spiritual thought.” His Holiness Sakya Trizin on ‘Rain of Clarity’

Saturday 6 February in Bristol saw the first in five teachings by Lama Jampa Thaye on the stages of the Buddhist path in the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Attended by around 150 people from across the UK, this first session outlined the purpose of the text, which serves as a map to the destination of Buddhahood, from becoming a Buddhist through taking Refuge and then practising the path, to the wisdom, compassion and power of enlightenment itself.

This first instalment focused on what it means to become a Buddhist through taking Refuge and why people decide to do this. It could be a wish to find some happiness in this life; for some it may be the recognition of the suffering in the world, and, for others, a wish to help others find a way out of such misery. The concept of Refuge – protection from suffering – was also explained, as well as how the Buddha, his teachings and those who practise them can provide a reliable refuge, in contrast to other more changeable sources of happiness such as relationships, possessions and so on.

What faith means in Buddhism was also defined, in that although being inspired by beautiful images and knowledgeable teachers is helpful, actually it is only through applying our reasoning to the teachings that we can develop real confidence. Finally, because the potential to become a Buddha dwells within our mind right now, Lama Jampa explained how enlightenment truly is possible.

In the afternoon, Lama Jampa gave the vajrayana initiation of White Manjushri, a deity renowned for increasing wisdom, from the lineage of Mati Panchen. Mati Panchen was an elderly and illiterate buffalo herder who, through the power of this practice, went on to be a great scholar, dedicating the rest of his life to teaching others.

Sunday morning saw a well-attended Chenrezik puja at Sakya Buddhist Centre, with Lama Jampa and his family in attendance, followed by tea, cake and conversation.

The next part of ‘Rain of Clarity’ will be given in London on 12 March, with Lama Jampa returning to Bristol for part 3 in June. The next part of ‘Rain of Clarity’ will be given in London on 12 March, with Lama Jampa returning to Bristol for part 3 in June. For further details,  see our What's On page for details of further teachings on this text. 

Lama Jampa teaches at the Mikyo Dorje Shedra in Manchester

On the weekend of 5th and 6th December 2015 Lama Jampa completed his teaching of the Third Karmapa Ranging Dorje’s text ‘Showing the Buddha Nature’ at the Mikyo Dorje Shedra in Manchester. Using the commentary 'Clarifying the Thought of Rangjung' by the eminent 19th century master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Lama Jampa explained this profound view in great detail and with perfect clarity. 

Lama Jampa reminded the appreciative audience that receipt of the teachings is just the first stage, and that having received them we must go on to study and meditate on their meaning in order for them to have their full benefit.