Guru, Deity, Protector 9
Contemporary perspective on the three pillars of vajrayana practice.

Conclusion, part 2 – GDP9Download

Questions and comments on prayer text, magnetization, taking refuge in mind itself, the continual process of meeting what arises in experience, reactive emotions like desire, the eight concerns, working with the type of practice that best engages your internal material

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Section 1


Still waiting for a few people so if there are any questions? Julia?

Julia: I have a question about the sky gazing.

Ken: Yeah?

Julia: I found it quite hard to discriminate between looking at the sky and awareness, and being sort of zoned out.

Ken: Well. Clearly you discriminated between the two of them. What’s the difference?

Julia:I went back to the breath to sort of come back from daydreaming and I was out wandering. So I wasn’t actually doing anything with my body, but I was doing a lot of things in my head. Making lists, you know, remodeling my house, cleaning out the garage, that kind of thing.

Ken: I thought you were meant to be doing nothing. [Laughter]

Julia: Right. Then I go to breathing. I mean, is that a good way to kind of come back? I didn’t quite know how to come back.

Ken: What’s the qualitative difference in this—for lack of a better term—state of mind, between zoning out and being present, even when you’re using the breathing? What’s the qualitative difference in what you experience?

Julia: Clarity.

Ken: Yeah. And that’s the differentiation. It’s all about clarity.

Section 2


Okay. Any other questions? Susan.

Susan: When I was doing this sky gazing, I felt pretty blissed out and then an irritating thought came in and I crashed. It took over. I knew what I was supposed to do and I tried it again and it didn’t work.

Ken: What were you supposed to do?

Susan: Try to return to attention.

Ken: That didn’t work. It kept crashing?

Susan: It was too powerful. And I thought, okay, experience it.

Ken: Did you experience it fully?

Susan: No.

Ken: Guess you should follow your own instructions. [Laughter]

Susan: Is that really all it is?

Ken: Is that an effective method to work? Yes. Now, one of the things about sky gazing is that it’s an energy transformation exercise as well. You’re transforming things into clarity. That’s part of its purpose. The trick—or the danger—of energy transformation practices is that if you don’t stay in attention, guess what happens to all of that energy?

Student: Runs into annoying thoughts.

Ken: Ran into that annoying thought.

Susan: Yeah, it was like so weird. But it became huge.

Ken: Yeah. You know, in a different way, this is why it’s extremely important not to have someone who’s emotionally unstable in a retreat such as this. Because all of the energy that develops in the retreat, if a person is unable to hold it, will pour into that dysfunction in a person. The consequence of that is that everybody experiences a drop in energy so it’s harmful to the retreat.

But that person’s neurosis, or whatever, is also magnified because they’ve got twenty, thirty, fifty, one hundred people’s energy pouring into it. That’s what actually induces psychotic breaks. It’s not that the person is that fragile. It’s just that in that environment, all of that energy is transferred.

The same thing happens within. So the option that’s available to you is to experience it completely. In the body, with all of the emotions connected. I’m sure there are a few. And you’re just right in it.

Susan: I think I gave up too quickly because it did feel like there was so much energy I was experiencing that I couldn’t work up the energy to bring attention.

Ken: How much energy does it take?

Susan: I felt like it would take a lot.

Ken: Yes. Part of the story is that it actually takes none. It takes no effort at all to drop into whatever you’re experiencing right now. But the story is, “Ah, this is going to be really hard! And going to be really painful! This is going to be terrible! You’re going to have to work up to this.” Right?

Student: Why are you always saying it takes a certain level of attention to be in this practice?

Ken: There’s a difference between a level of attention and an effort. The practices that we have been doing, as everybody here can say, kicks up a certain level of emotional reactivity. And one of the reasons why I said people have to have a certain amount of experience is so that they have the capacity in attention that they can actually experience that level of reactivity. You follow?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: The effort that that involves is just the decision to do something.

Student: Once the attention is in place?

Ken: Yeah. And that’s why one practices meditation: to build up that capacity in attention. So the difference is between developing the capacity in attention and just experiencing what is. If there isn’t that capacity of attention, then you open to the experience of what is and just get swamped and thrown into reactivity. Because the attention’s at a lower level and what is just takes over. What’s arising just takes over. Follow? Kate.

Section 3


Kate: I have a question about protectors. When you were teaching about it yesterday, most of the images you were using were pretty violent and warlike. Are there other kinds of protectors? That kind of protector, I haven’t able to get in touch with it so far. So, so I’m just wondering if there are other forms of protector.

Student: Any with wings?

Ken: Pardon?

Student: Any with wings?

Ken: Ahhh. You don’t want to meet the ones with wings. [Laughter]

Student: She wants a nice one.

Ken: Yeah. Well. We’re a bit short on nice around here. There are at least two things going on. One is all of that very dark imagery, which goes back to those dark, unspoken roots of the psyche, or however you want to talk about it. And the other is—and this has more to do with a wrathful mien of these figures—this is not anger. It’s not aggression. It is energy. And, as I mentioned yesterday, you have the four kinds of activity. The protectors just go out and do it. Pacification, enrichment, magnetization, and destruction.

Section 4


I’ve been trying to remember a story about a Chinese emperor who was completely undone because he sent his general off to take care of a problem. The general ended up making peace with the opposing party. He got out there, saw what the situation was, and did what was called for. I can’t remember whether it was the emperor or the general that lost his head. One of them did.

But another example. This is from a very good t’ai chi teacher. In the book called There Are No Secrets, right at the end, he describes that he’s well on with his t’ai chi training and quite confident in his ability to meet situations. He was on a subway in New York and a drunk was accosting a young woman. And he thought, “Oh, well, I can step in and do something here.” He was just going to move in when this elderly Japanese man stepped in front of him and started engaging the drunk in a conversation. And the drunk became so entranced with the conversation with the Japanese gentleman he forgot about the young woman completely. And the author went, “Oh. Pacification.”

So you may have the experience when you invoke the protectors, they’ll go to work and come down and say, “What’s your problem? There’s nothing wrong here. Now you’ve got another situation. It’s all in your head. There’s no problem.” They can come back with that. You follow?

They say, “Oh, we took care of it.”
“You didn’t do anything.”
“Yes we did.”
“But you didn’t do what I wanted.”
“That’s tough shit.”

You have no control. You have no control about how they address it, which is very important.

Student: What’s enrichment?

Ken: Bribery. You know, putting more emotional feeling into a conflict. In a number of lawsuits around sexual abuse, for instance, the victim wants something very explicit. And it actually doesn’t cost any money. They want an apology. Lots of people go to court, they pay millions of dollars so they don’t have to make an apology.

Student: You’re right.

Student: He did make an apology.

Ken: Yeah, but that’s enrichment, you see. You work it out, fine. You may need a little more than would ordinarily be the case. Training is another form of enrichment. We bring in outside resources to resolve the situation. That’s the characteristic of enrichment.

Student: Tara, isn’t she like a soft protector?

Ken: She’s not so soft. But very definitely, she has that same kind of thing. She has pacification, enrichment and destruction. She doesn’t bother with magnetization. If it’s not working out, that’s it. [Laughter] Which is why she’s green. She’s a little on the impatient side. A little different than White Tara.

Student: According to [David] Snellgrove, she was, like, actually the first tantric deity.

Ken: Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised. Very old deity. Of course, that’s where Kali comes from.

Okay. We’re not going to get everything done.

Section 5

This is a story about yidam. That’s one way to see it.

Once upon a time there was a merchant named Abdul Malik. He was known as the good man of Khorasan because from his immense fortune he used to give charity and hold feasts for the poor.

But one day it occurred to him that he was simply giving away some of what he had. And that the pleasure to which he obtained through his generosity was far in excess of what it really cost him to sacrifice what was after all such a small proportion of his wealth. As soon as this thought entered his mind, he decided to give away every penny for the good of mankind. And he did so.

No sooner had he divested himself of all his possessions, resigned to face whatever events life might have in store for him, Abdul Malik saw, during his meditation-hour, a strange figure seem to rise from the floor of his room. A man was taking shape before his very eyes dressed in the patchwork robe of the mysterious dervish.

“O Abdul Malik, generous man of Khorasan,” intoned the apparition. “I am your real self, which has now become almost real to you because you have done something really charitable measured against which your previous record of goodness is as nothing. Because of this, and because you were able to part with your fortune without feeling personal satisfaction, I’m rewarding you from the real source of reward.

”In future, I will appear before you in this way every day. You will strike me and I will turn into gold. You will able to take from this golden image as much as you may wish. Do not fear that you will harm me because whatever you take will be replaced from the source of all endowments.“

So saying, he disappeared.

The very next morning a friend named Bay-Akal was sitting with Abdul Malik when the dervish specter manifested itself. Abdul Malik struck it with a stick and the figure fell to the ground transformed into gold. He took part of it for himself and gave some of the gold to his guest.

Now Bay-Akal, not knowing what had gone before, started to think how he could perform a similar wonder. He knew the dervishes had strange powers and concluded that it was only necessary to beat them to obtain gold.

So he arranged for a feast to be held to which every dervish who heard of it could come and eat his fill. When they had all eaten well, Bay-Akal took up an iron bar and thrashed every dervish within reach until they laid battered and broken on the ground.

Those dervishes who were unharmed seized Bay-Akal and took him to the judge. They stated their case and produced the wounded dervishes as evidence. Bay-Akal related what had happened at Abdul Malik’s house and explained his reasons for trying to reproduce the trick.

Abdul Malik was called and on the way to the court his golden self whispered to him what to say. ”May it please the court,“ he said. ”This man seems to me to be insane. Or to be trying to cover up some penchant for assaulting people without cause. I do know him. But this story does not correspond with my own experiences in my house.“

Bay-Akal was therefore placed for a time in a lunatic asylum until he became more calm. The dervishes recovered almost at once. through some science known to themselves. And nobody believed that such an astonishing thing as a man who becomes a golden statue—and daily at that—could ever take place.

For many another year until he was gathered to his forefathers, Abdul Malik continued to break the image that was himself and distribute its treasures which was himself to those he could not help in any other way than materially. [The Golden Fortune. Tales of the Derivshes]


Section 6

This one is about protectors, maybe:

There is a proverb that, The opposition of the man of knowledge is better than the support of the fool.

A horseman from his point of vantage saw a poisonous snake slip down the throat of a sleeping man. The horseman realized that if the man were allowed to sleep that the venom would surely kill him.

Accordingly, he lashed the sleeper until he was awake. Having no time to lose, he forced this man to a place where there were a number of rotten apples lying upon the ground and made him eat them. Then he made him drink large gulps of water from a stream.

All the while the other man was trying to get away crying, ”What have I done, you enemy of humanity! Why should you abuse me in this way?“

Finally, when he was near to exhaustion, and dusk was falling, the man fell to the ground and vomited out the apples, the water and the snake. When he saw what had come out of him he realized what had happened and begged the forgiveness of the horseman.

The man who was saved said, ”If you had told me, I would have accepted your treatment with good grace.“

The horseman answered, ”If I had told you, you would not have believed. Or you would have been paralyzed by fright. Or run away. Or gone to sleep again seeking forgetfulness. And there would not have been time.“ [The Horseman and the Snake. Tales of the Dervishes]

Section 7

Didn’t have time to find the one about the guru.

Now, as you are aware, what we’ve been working with didn’t arise out of thin air. This whole approach to practice has evolved over centuries. It’s been shaped, enriched, by the experiences of numerous extraordinary individuals.

If I can, I want to go over two aspects of this. First, starting on the bottom of page 10. The verses that begin with Padmakara, Yeshe Tsogyal. The kama and terma lineages culminating in Trimé Özer—more widely known as Longchenpa—all refer to the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

This tradition started with the invitation of Shantarakshita by one of the western Tibetan kings in the eighth century. Padmasambhava, I think, was the third Indian master to be invited, because there were problems. His role was such that, for most Tibetans, he became a figure as important or more important than Buddha Shakyamuni. Because this person really opened the doors for the dharma in Tibet.

The student and a consort of his, Yeshe Tsogyal, I think was originally a Chinese princess. Am I right on that?

Student: I think she was Tibetan.

Ken: She was a Tibetan princess?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Okay. She became a very highly regarded teacher in her own right, and actually from both of them came lines of transmission. Kama refers to lines of transmission that are traced back to Padmasambhava or to India. And terma refers to teachings that have been revealed at various points in time by particular teachers known as treasure revealers, tertöns, when the time and conditions have been appropriate. There are vast collections of these lineages put together in the nineteenth century, actually to preserve them.

Some of you may recall a teaching I gave on how to work with reactive emotions from a dzogchen point of view. It was several years ago.

Student: I think four or five.

Ken: Yeah. That was such a terma. There are hundreds and thousands of them. I talked a little bit about Longchenpa or Trimé Özer, who’s regarded as codifying the many disparate elements of the Nyingma tradition.

Student: What century, Ken?

Ken: Thirteenth, fourteenth, as far as I remember. I think the dates are in the book.

Student: They are, page 27.

Ken: Yeah. 1308 to 1364. Fourteenth century.

Section 8

Student: Ken?

Ken: Yes.

Student 3: May I ask a question about the termas? Are they still finding new ones? Because supposedly they are hidden and that….

Ken: Yeah. Oh yeah. Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa was a nineteenth century tertön. Quite an extraordinary figure. Also Dudjom Rinpoche, who has died In the 80s or early 90s, somewhere around there. He was a contemporary teacher. I met him a couple of times. He was a tertön and there are a huge cycle of teachings, which are widely practiced now, which he discovered and wrote down. So, yes, it’s still going on.

Section 9

After this initial release and a change in the monarchy in the tenth century, Buddhism was subject to a period of vicious persecution. Many of the aristocracy tried to drive it out of Tibet completely. So a lot of teachings went underground. Eventually that king was assassinated. At that point Buddhism was kind of in shambles. Some streams continued on but there was a lot of confusion. So, members of the aristocracy and some of the kings invited Indian masters and many of them journeyed to India. This is in the eleventh century.

Of these, one of the most notable is Atisha, who was pretty comparable to the pope of Buddhism in India at that time, a very, very high ranking teacher and master. He committed a faux pas, shall we say. He had a very close relationship with Tara to the point that whenever he just thought of Tara she’d appear in front of him. They’d converse like two people, but after this faux pas, he’d pray to Tara and—no Tara.

So he performed a lot of offerings and did a whole bunch of confessions. She appeared, but her back was turned.

”Did I do something wrong?“

”Yep,“ she said.
”What’s the karma?“
”You’ll be born as a worm and you’ll circle the world seven times and be put to death every day for 500 million years.“
”Is there an alternative?“
”Yes. Go to Tibet.“
”I’ll take the worm.” [Laughter]

And about that time Rinchen Zangpo showed up, so Atisha agreed to go to Tibet.

Atisha did a great deal to revitalize, but this comes two or three hundred years later than the original way. So the teachings from this era have a very different flavor than the original Nyingma tradition. Nyingma means the old ones. Atisha’s coming to Tibet is generally regarded as the beginning of the new school of translation.

Marpa was a Tibetan landowner of ferociously bad temper who journeyed frequently to India. Among his many teachers was the great master Naropa. And he brought back an esoteric tradition, the Six Yogas of Naropa and the yidams. His main disciple was Milarepa who is one of the great folk heroes of Tibetan tradition, living in the mountain vastness for most of his life. He had many disciples, of which the most prominent was Dakpo Rinpoche, also known as Gampopa. And these three, Marpa, Mila and Dakpo are taken as the patriarchs or the founders of the Kagyu schools of Buddhism.

What Lord Atisha gave rise to became known as the Kadampa school.

Dakpo Rinpoche had four principle disciples. One of them was Phagmo Drupa; another one was Karmapa. The first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa. And a whole line of transmission became associated with the Karmapas. It became known as the Karma Kagyu.

Phagmo Drupa gave rise to eight separate lineages. He was a great teacher. He had eight great disciples. So when you read down in the next verse, you have the four great and eight lesser lineages. You see, this also in the Vajradhara prayer. These are four Kagyu lineages coming from Gampopa and then the eight minor ones coming from Phagmo Drupa.

Some of those are still extant today. The Karma Kagyu is, of course, extant. As well as the Drukpa Kagyu, which is considered one of the lesser traditions, but became very important, and the Drikung. There are some very good Drikung teachers in the States.

Section 10

Another whole line of transmission was the Sakya. Beginning with Panchen Kunga Nyingpo. This was another person who studied with Indian masters. Took a journey to India. Brought back a whole other set of teachings that became a whole other line, and became one of the four major schools of Tibet.

And then on the next page, you find Shangpa. Well, actually I should go back. At this point, you have the four major traditions. You have the Kadampa—which eventually became the Gelugpa after a bunch of permutations—the Nyingma, the Kagyu and the Sakya.

The Shangpa line of transmission goes back to a Tibetan teacher called Khyungpo Naljor and Tongtong Gyalpo, who was a sixteenth or seventeenth-century teacher.

Student: Mmm hmm.

Ken: One of the great Shangpa masters. A great visionary. The Chenrezi sadhana that we did last year, that particular practice comes from Tongtong Gyalpo, who received it in a vision from Chenrezi. He had a lot of visions, this guy. Quite extraordinary.

Student: Is he in the picture?

Ken: Yes he is, actually. But let me come to that, okay?

Student: Okay.

Ken: Then you have Padampa Sangye, another Indian master who came to Tibet at about the same time. He was a contemporary of Milarepa. They actually met, as did Marpa and Atisha.

One of his principal students, with whom he collaborated a great deal, was Labkyi Drönma. The two of them gave rise to two separate traditions. One called the Shi Jé, associated with Padampa Sangye, which means the pacifying or calming tradition. And the other, of course, is Chö, which takes its name from the Diamond Sutra and is associated with Labkyi Drönma, Machik Labdron.

Her biography has been translated by a colleague of Dan’s and mine, Sarah Harding, who has done a very, very thorough job on it. It’s available as Machik’s Complete Explanation. It’s wonderful because there’s a great deal of really great teaching in it. It also gives you a pretty good flavor of what it was like being a student and a teacher in Tibet at that time.

Another line of transmission, from Dolpo Sangye, is the Kalachakra. I don’t know a lot about the Kalachakra. It is something that has not had a lot of resonance for me. But for many people, something about it just captures them completely. It was the last major tantra to be transmitted from India to Tibet and in a certain sense it represents the culmination of Indian Buddhist tantra. There is a vast body of learning invested in it.

Taranatha is a seventeenth-century teacher who was also lineage holder of the Shangpa and the Jonangpa, which in Taranatha’s time were completely suppressed because of political machinations. This was around the time when the Fifth Dalai Lama was in power. And the consequence of that is that all of the Jonangpa texts, including all of the Shangpa texts, were locked up. Nobody had access to them for 400 years. So the Shangpa tradition survived that period only by being transmitted through mountain yogis, totally out of the purview of the major Tibetan institutions.

Section 11

Then the next three verses, I think, I’m not positive, all refer to Jamgon Khyentse Wangpo, who was one of the great nineteenth-century teachers. He was one of Kongtrül’s primary teachers. Then the next four verses refer to Kongtrül. You get a name when you become a monk, you get a name when you become a bodhisattva, you get a name when you take Vajrayana initiation, you get a name when you become a scholar of a certain level. That’s why you have all of these different names.

In this prayer, Kongtrül is acknowledging the sources of teaching which he had a close connection with and which spoke to him very powerfully. He was raised initially in a Nyingma monastery. The Kagyu snatched him up, and to stop the Gelugpa snatching him, they recognized him as a tulku. There was an unspoken rule that if you were recognized as tulku, you couldn’t be snatched up. Politics, you know.

He had very deep Nyingma roots, along with his association with Khyentse Wangpo, but the two of them—and this really comes from Khyentse Wangpo—were very, very concerned about the extreme sectarianism, which had created a condition where people of different traditions really didn’t speak with each other anymore. That’s very sad. They wanted to revive at least a bit of respect among their traditions. They worked very, very hard at this in the nineteenth century in eastern Tibet.

Kalu Rinpoche, my own teacher, who is regarded as an incarnation of Jamgön Kongtrül, continued this approach in his own life very ardently. It’s something that I think is very, very important. I haven’t studied a lot in other traditions, but I’ve taken teachings—significant teachings—in both the Karma Kagyu and the Shangpa Kagyu, and also in the Nyingma. Dezhung Rinpoche, who’s a Sakya teacher, is also one of my teachers.

Section 12

One of the reasons why I feel this is particularly important now is that in the last 20 years, there have been what can be described as four major disruptions that I know of personally in the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another. This happened because the transmission was going through a lineage and just down one narrow line. The most recent, which affects Dan and me quite personally, is that Kalu Rinpoche’s spiritual heir, Bokar Rinpoche, died unexpectedly of a heart attack about two months ago. And we suspect it’s before he had transmitted the whole Shangpa teachings to the new Kalu Rinpoche. So this represents a very significant disruption. It’s very sad.

I’ve come to the conclusion from this that the lineage model of transmission is extremely fragile. It wasn’t always this way in Tibet. Back in the time of Gampopa, Rangjung Dorje and these earlier people, there was a tremendous amount of interaction, and this is what Kongtrül and Khyentse Wangpo were trying to reignite. So, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been a proprietary teacher. That is, some teachers say that if you study with me, you can only study with me.

It’s very helpful to absorb different perspectives from other traditions. And learn. And it also brings more robustness and vitality to what has passed from generation to generation. Because you have this enrichment that goes on, so that’s something that I encourage people to do. That being said, at a certain point in your practice you have to go deep into one thing because you really do need to go deep. And if you constantly move around, you’re always leaving yourself an escape hatch. So, you know, there’s some balancing to do.

Now, the next thing I want to do is to talk a little about the Shangpa lineage.

Student: Excuse me, what were the other three?

Ken: Other three?

Student: Dramatic things that have happened.

Ken: Oh, there’s the whole thing around the Karmapa. And then, there’s the disruption that took place with the Zurmang tradition and Trungpa Rinpoche. And what’s the fourth one?

Student: Jamgön Kongtrül.

Ken: And Jamgön Kongtrül, another Kagyu teacher, who was unexpectedly killed. In fact, I was here when I received the news of that. It was 1992. I think it was Sogyal who came up to tell me that Kongtrül had been killed.

Student: How was he killed?

Ken: He was killed in a car accident. I had a particular relationship with that Jamgön Kongtrül. So that made me very sad.

Section 13

Now. This page here: page eight. In the center is Khyungpo Naljor, who was originally a dzogchen master. The dzogchen people will hate this, but it didn’t work for him. Actually, he was originally a Bönpo master, and that didn’t work for him, so he did dzogchen. That didn’t work for him either, so at the age of 57, which was a ripe old age for a Tibetan back in the eleventh century, he went to India. Tradition says he studied with 150 different teachers. But the four most important—well actually the two most important—are Niguma, who is the figure very top left, and Sukhasiddhi, who is the figure at the very top right. Both women.

Student: Who’s top left?

Ken: Niguma. N-i-g-u-m-a.

Student: Khyungpo Naljor: In the back it says that he lived from like 900 to 1100 and some.

Ken: I think it must be a typo there. You’re right. I hadn’t noticed that. It’s difficult to tell sometimes because the Tibetan calendar was a sixty-year cycle. There wasn’t much way to distinguish things that were just 60 years apart. But 984, that was too early a date for him to have been born.

Anyway, Niguma and Sukhasiddhi were his two main gurus. And then you see, on either side of Vajradhara, the blue figure, two other teachers. They’re Maitripa and Râhula, two other Indian teachers, who are really important gurus. And then around Khyungpo Naljor are his own teachers, his own students—or the lineage that came from him, from Kyergongpa and Mochokpa and so forth. Immediately underneath Khyungpo Naljor is Tongtong Gyalpo, who is shown in his usual iconography as holding the vase of long life. He had a very close connection with Amitabha, the buddha of long life. In his other hand he holds an iron chain. He had this extraordinary ability to smelt iron into steel long before steel had been discovered and he built bridges out of it that lasted into the twentieth century.

If you go down and you see the figure directly below Tongtong Gyalpo, I think that’s Taranatha. If I had my original version of this I could read the Tibetan inscription. But the figure immediately to the right—the one with the mustache if you can just make it out—this is Kalu Rinpoche.

Section 14

Student: As a young man?

Student: He has a mustache?

Ken: Yeah, yeah. There’s one photograph of him and, you know, he looked like an RAF officer. [Laughter]

Student: Dashing.

Ken: Dashing. Yeah. Gyaltsen, Rinpoche’s secretary, said that Rinpoche was so handsome, when he walked down the street women would faint. [Laughter]

Student: They don’t even do that for Johnny Depp. [Laughter]

Ken: So, anyway, this is the Shangpa tradition. It’s a different line of transmission than the Kagyu transmissions, which come through Marpa, Mila and Gampopa. It’s very special in many, many ways. It’s been the secret practice of many of the great figures of Tibetan Buddhism. For Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, who wrote the prayer that we use, it was one of his special lineages. He was hauled out of one three-year retreat to teach the 14th Karmapa grammar. The then-Situ Rinpoche showed up and said, “I hate to do this but you’re the best grammarian.” Kongtrül was all of about 22 at the time. He said, “You’re the best grammarian around, so can you teach him, please? Thank you.” And hauled him out of a three-year retreat (so much for spiritual progress). Kongtrül did, however, extract a promise so that he’d get to do another one.

So, later around Kongtrül’s late 20s, early 30s, Situ Rinpoche and Kongtrül went wandering in the mountains to look for an old retreat site. They got totally lost because it was misty and foggy at which point this bird landed in front of them. They said, “That’s odd.” They started to approach the bird and it flew about 50 yards away. They almost lost it in the mist, but they kept following the bird and it led them right to the retreat site that they were looking for, which was in ruins.

So Kongtrül fixed it up and started the three-year retreat that he’d gotten permission to do. And in the middle of this, a yogin showed up and said, “I’m here to give you these teachings.” And he gave him the Shangpa transmission. Not the whole thing. He just gave him a whole bunch of stuff, just the really core stuff on the Six Yogas and said, “Bye.” So Kongtrül started to practice it and found it very fruitful. A year later, yogin shows up again and says, “Here’s the rest of it.” And then disappeared. It was very close to Kongtrül’s heart. He wrote a lot of the texts.

As I said, all of these texts were locked up. After he’d done all of this, he went to central Tibet and persuaded the person who was in charge of the warehouse,

“Well, the Jonangpas, they’ve been out of business for 400 years. Do you think you could release the texts now?”
He went, “Mmm, no!”
“Well, could you let me run one copy off the wood blocks?”
“Mmm, okay.”
So Kongtrül ran one copy off the wood blocks. Of course all of the transmissions had been broken because they’d been locked up for 400 years. And Kongtrül read them and studied them and then wrote and rewrote them all. And started a new line of transmission. A very important figure, of course.

Student: Are any of these practices we did this weekend directly related to him or anything like that?

Ken: Well, if you look on page 25, you see at the bottom the very last line, written by Taranatha. The Great Path of Awakening is written by Kongtrül. And many of the texts that we studied in retreat were. Yeah?

Student: What are your thoughts on another means of transmission? This is a loss…this is a huge loss.

Ken: Oh, I think teachings have to be given much more liberally so that they go out. And that they don’t try to keep the silos. I think that’s what’s important. I think it’s the only means, the only way to do it.

Student: But you feel as if real teachings from the Shangpa have been lost because of this?

Ken: Well, I knew they’d been lost back in the nineteenth century. One of the practices that I feel a special connection with is the five tantric deities, which is another one of the pictures in this. They’re five deities and you do all of them simultaneously. But once upon a time, there were particular visualizations connected with each deity. I was reading a recording of one of Kongtrül’s question and answer periods back in the nineteenth century. I had to write all this stuff down. No, actually it’s in his biography. And somebody asked him a question about differences in the visualizations for these five deities in the Shangpa tradition. And Kongtrül says, “Oh, yeah. I wrote that down on a list so I wouldn’t forget it, but I can’t remember where I put it.” So, it’s gone. And that was a hundred years ago.

You know, so, how much of this stuff has been lost over the centuries. I mean, in the Shangpa tradition, they have this sgyu ma lam khyer (pron. gyuma lamkyer). Yeah. It’s this really, really weird text. And I can get just enough out of it to understand that this was some very strange method of working with the four immeasurables using energy transformation techniques. Well, all we have now is the texts. Don’t have any of the instructions. You know, I’d be really interested in that. Heaven knows when that was lost. So, yeah, things have been lost. Okay, Deborah.

Deborah: Most of these methods of working—you mentioned one of the teachers was a great visionary….

Ken: Yeah. Tongtong Gyalpo.

Deborah: And that’s how a lot of them are explained. When you have a hint of something that was lost, where does it come back? Does somebody have a vision again or…?

Ken: It all comes out of your practice. It goes back to that basic principle: Whatever works. I mean, new stuff will come up. No matter what form it will take. It’ll be there.

Section 15

Student: I was at a function at a monastery in July and there were [reading] materials that we were given. Then there was a discussion and I put the materials under my chair. And I was descended upon by several nuns. I didn’t know that I was doing such a bad thing.

Ken: In the Tibetan tradition, the printed word was developed solely for the expression of dharma in Tibet originally, and was held in great veneration. So, when I took refuge we were told to never desecrate anything that’s printed. Which, for westerners, is totally absurd. We have candy wrappers flying around all over the place. In the tradition, there is tremendous veneration for the recording of the dharma, and print is the principle method of recording it. So it would never be put on the floor, you’d never step over it, never carry it under your arm. I never put food on top of it, and so forth. Those are very, very deep elements of Tibetan cultural protocol. Many of them have been adopted by Westerners who have been trained in those traditions.

Many years ago, I came up here to do a sesshin and had all these chant booklets. And after we’d finish the chants I was wondering what to do with them and everybody slipped them under their zafu. Ooooh.

So, these are very precious words, and an aspect of our practice is to treat these and other booklets that contain teachings—such as traditional Tibetan form booklets—with respect. And what constitutes respect, unfortunately, varies tremendously from culture to culture. So, be sensitive to this and do what you can.

Student: It reminds me at the very beginning of the retreat, you were talking about being weird. And I wondered—you know connected to transformation—wondered if that was the root of word?

Ken: Mmm I don’t think so. I could check, etymologically. Anyway, we need to close, because we’re over. Let’s do the Vajradhara Prayer. Get your text.

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