Written by Nga Pham Drime Jampa
Once again our Toronto Buddhist Terma Foundation (BTF) Sangha was blessed to have H.E. Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche returned for more teachings and empowerments this summer. Within five days, from June 7 to June 11 inclusive, Rinpoche provided us the Preliminary Great Perfection teachings and bestowed us with the Yamantaka and Mahakala empowerments as well as the Fire Puja of both of these deities.
In the evenings of June 7th and 8th, Rinpoche gave us the overview of the preliminary Longchen Nyingthig Dzogchen – Ngondro. He began his teaching with a brief introduction of nine vehicles in Buddhism that take our mind to different levels of realization, liberation and enlightenment. We learned that the first three are dealing with basic sutra levels and the later six are dealing with tantra levels. The Sutra Vehicle, or Sutrayana, contains two distinct approaches: the Theravada Traditional Vehicle and the Great Vehicle, or Mahayana. The Theravada tradition includes the Listeners and Solitary Buddhas vehicles which contains the most basic teachings of the Buddhist tradition: the Four Noble Truths, impermanence, and interdependence. The basic mindset of these two vehicles is the same, in that both approaches focus on individual liberation, rather than the liberation of all beings. The end point of the Theravada Vehicles is a lesser level of realization known as the state of the foe destroyer, or Arahat. The Great Vehicle, Mahayana, includes both the Bodhicitta and the Tantra vehicles which expands the view and scope of the foundational vehicle with concepts like bodhicitta and emptiness. In this approach, the outcome of spiritual practice is the attainment of Buddhahood. The core teachings like renunciation and compassion are equally important in all nine vehicles, though they may be expressed in more subtle ways. In the Foundational Vehicle, for instance, renunciation involves leaving behind worldly activities and taking up the life of a celibate monk or a nun, while in the Great Perfection, renunciation means to leave behind all dualistic perception and contrived spiritual effort. Therefore, monastic and lay practitioners alike can achieve Buddhahood through Mahayana or Vajrayana paths without leaving mundane activities.
Rinpoche then introduced the Dzogchen Longchen Nyingthig lineage of the Nyingma tradition. He began by explaining the word Longchen Nyingthig which we hear of very often but did not quite understand what they really mean before. We learned that Longchen means something that is as vast as space. Nyingthig means the heart essence. When we look upon the sky at night we can see so many stars and how vast space is. Space is the motherland that we can return to if we practice well enough. In the universe, there are many Buddha pure lands that we can be reborn into instead of this samsara. Yet, we continue to choose this “motel” instead of a “five-star hotel” due to our attachment, aversion and ignorance. Rinpoche’s analogy made us laugh so hard and realize how “silly” we have been in so many lives, life after life.
The next evening, Rinpoche went over the preliminary practices of Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro including the common outer preliminaries and the uncommon inner preliminaries. Rinpoche covered the six topics of the outer preliminaries which are: precious human existence, death and impermanence, the shortcomings of samsara, the principle of karma, the benefits of liberation and the principle of a guru. Through the first two topics, Rinpoche encouraged us to contemplate on the reasons why we should undermine the tendency to become obsessed with trivial matters and shortsighted goals such as wealth, fame and fortune, and instead, we should focus on what is more meaningful and long-lasting benefits of liberation. Rinpoche clearly unraveled the next two topics: the shortcoming of samsara and the law of karma. Through these topics that we can realize that no matter anywhere in samsara we are born (god, asura, human, animal, hungry ghost or hell realms) there is no end to suffering. Building upon this recognition, Rinpoche helped us to see the virtues of attaining freedom from confusion and suffering.
Overall, Rinpoche triggered the feeling disenchantment toward mundane activities that most general human beings are usually stuck in ordinary states of desire and attachment. At the same time, we are encouraged to develop a sense of enthusiasm and appreciation towards the state of liberation and enlightenment. While Rinpoche were taking us to the final contemplation of the outer preliminary, the role of the spiritual teacher on the path to liberation, an interesting question was raised “How can we find a realized teacher?” In Rinpoche’s response, he mentioned the most two important characters in a pure teacher that one should find are honesty and compassion. When responding to another question: “As Buddhists, should we eat meat or not?”, Rinpoche stays firm on the choice of being vegetarian instead of omnivore unless we achieve certain level of a Bodhisattva. Rinpoche explained if we eat meat, we would absorb the negative energies of the animals at death experience such as fear, anger and suffering into our bodies. Those energies are the cause to samsara, not nirvana. Finally, due to the time limit, Rinpoche went over the inner preliminaries which are going for refuge, cultivating bodhicitta, offering mandala, the purification practice of Vajrasattva, and Guru Yoga. Tulku Rinpoche stressed the importance of Ngondro practice especially the Guru Yoga practice since they are the doorways to enter further higher tantric teachings.
On June 9th and 10th, Rinpoche bestowed us the two precious empowerments which are Yamantaka and Mahakala deities. Prior to the actual empowerments, Rinpoche shared with us the history of the unbroken lineage of Yamantaka that continues to pass down from the two translators Ra Lotsawa and Mal Lotsawa. Yamataka is the wrathful manifestation of Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom, that can cut through ignorance and conquer all evil spirits, including the Lord of Death, Yama. Mahakala is the protector for Yamantaka’s practitioners. Therefore, we feel very fortunate to receive the empowerments of both these two deities consecutively. During the empowerments, Rinpoche carefully went through the rituals of purification of the sangha place, the creation of the protecting rink, and introduced us to the associated mandala. Rinpoche followed with the purification and transformation of our body, speech, mind, qualities and conducts to the five Buddha families’ natures. Rinpoche’s genuine devotion and concentration in his prayers touched us profoundly. We could feel there were so much blessing came from the associated deities through Rinpoche. At the end of the Sunday as per practitioners’ request, Rinpoche reviewed the technique of dark meditation and guided us through it once again like last year. We were really touched by Rinpoche’s patience and compassion which consistently manifested in his effort to fulfill every single of our wishes.
The morning of June 11th was a pleasant one as well as a meaningful event when all attendants gathered for the Yamantaka and Mahakala’s Fire Puja. Everyone was instructed to write one thing that we wish to achieve and one obstacle that we wish to overcome. Many substances such as oils, beans, seeds, grass, nuts, and woods were used to represent the obstacles that we wish them to be destroyed by wisdom fire of Yamantaka and Mahakala. Some attendants observed the flame of the fire puja and stated that the flame often had the shape of Yamantaka with the two horns of a buffalo. The two split flames could represent the two relative and absolute truths or they could represent the two short-term and ultimate accomplishments that we wish to achieve in this occasion. In that afternoon, the Sangha consists of practitioners with various backgrounds brought their own traditional foods such as Chinese, Vietnamese, and European dishes to share with each other in the potluck lunch.
The five days spent with H.E. Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche went by so fast like a flash of light. However, Tulku Rinpoche’s compassion, knowledge, and guidance still linger on and stay with us as a model that we long to attain in a near future. We are looking forward to the next reunion with Tulku Rinpoche next year. During the meantime, we will try our best to practice and apply what we have learned in our daily life.