Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Passion Without Regrets, By Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageAmongst the calligraphers and painters of Qing Dynasty, both Zhao Zhiqian's excellent talent and fine character have garnered him a degree of respect. On account of some great adversities encountered by his family when he was young, he suddenly found himself poverty-stricken. To get through that time, his art was all he could rely on to sustain himself and to provide for his family. He remained without any scholarly success throughout his life, failing numerous times in the imperial examinations, the dissatisfaction of which pushed his artistry to an even higher level, fostering new and improved style and technique. In an instant, he attained great success and his reputation became well known, his calligraphy and painting rising high on the tide of his achievement.

Because of my considerable interest in calligraphy and painting, I also practiced calligraphy and learned to paint in my early years, modeling after the various schools. I developed a particular affinity for Zhao’s maneuvering of the brush pen in the ancient Beiwei style. You could say that his unique ability and technique remains unmatched to this very day. Although Zhao Zhiqian made no significant contribution to politics, yet to the China of his time, which was weak in the face of invasion from powerful countries towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, through his unobtrusive influence amongst the literati, he still managed to make an indelible and significant contribution.

Fortuitously, I had an encounter with a hanging scroll couplet by Zhao Zhiqian, the contents of which read, “不俗即仙骨,多情乃佛心” (saintly demeanor transcends the mundane whereas the mind of a buddha brims with compassion). I was somewhat shocked by the vigorous style of his writing, so forceful, rich, and full of grace that the characters seemed to penetrate the paper upon which they were written. The sight unconsciously instigated in me exquisite thoughts of the ancients, as well as my great respect and admiration for the strength of character possessed by the noble gentlemen and literati of yore. Then, out of nowhere, I found myself having dejected thoughts about the present state of morality and ethics, so unlike those ancient times. The so-called true nobleman refers to someone whose moral character shines like the sun and the moon upon all things, following all things like a shadow, and just like the waters of the open sea, flows in all directions. To transcend the mundane means someone who, regardless of whether at leisure or in a hurry, or when oscillating between success and failure, can remain yielding and unrestrained, unconcerned with trifling matters, maintaining a magnanimous air, free and fresh and beyond convention—this is an immortal among men. What a shame that such a one has not been seen for ages!

People in this human world are so easily oppressed by emotions, while the majority of the time it is upon love and hate which we become fixated, wanting to claim something as our own, focusing on our own attachments and on the scandals of personal relationships. And yet pure sentiment means to not be bound by any emotional attachment, not be worn down or squandered by selfish greed, without anguish in the face of severance or cessation. What’s more, it means no quandary whether being physically close or apart, no fear of sentimentality between people, only fearing the feeling of mundane love. Worldly people are engaged in constant pursuits, perpetually led on, and all depend upon personal love relationships. In the end, when their love goes sour and turns into hatred, it then leads to anger and jealousy, forming unsatisfactory situations which are difficult to resolve. This is the most inane of all tragedies. The so-called pure sentimentality does not mean a multitude of personal love relationships, or the feeling of jealous and greedy desire—this is a kind of possessive love arising from desire. When the day comes that both people lose their feeling for one another, or some trivial matter troubles one of the two, this will breed tremendous harm and disturbance. True love will elevate the souls of both people involved. The other will in all situations be considered more important than oneself. Whether together or apart, gathered or dispersed, at ease in both going and staying, without any obstruction, you will wish each other well and hold each other in mutual consideration. Whether the time is long or short, you will always love the other like your family from a past life, your father or mother, your brother or sister. It is transforming and elevating. Do not, on account of a fleeting moment of jealousy, form an emotional debt which will forever remain unresolved life after life. Such a thing is truly not worth the effort.

These are some thoughts that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, had after happening upon the words “不俗仙骨多情佛心” while going through old painting and calligraphy collections.

It's All the Same Buddhism, by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog Image
Too many people ask me how they should distinguish between the Mahayana and the Vajrayana. Aren’t they both Buddhism, they ask? How many sects does Buddhism have after all? These distinctions are perplexing for many and for me as well, as I have been answering these same questions over and over again for years! In reality there is only one type of Buddhism, which was passed on by the Buddha and only later branched out into many different sects as it was transmitted to different areas, which has led later generations to question its authenticity. For example, when Buddhism was transmitted into China, there were sutras and shastras (classics and commentaries) transmitted by the Buddha himself, and there were also sutras in translation. There were two systems, one of which used Pali, while the other Sanskrit. The Pali system spread towards the south of China and the Sanskrit system to the north, from where it spread through northern India into Tibet, and then later on from Tibet back into China. Afterwards, the entire Tripitaka was translated into Chinese, along with the Tibetan scriptures. The Tibetan is also divided into two parts, the two large systems known as the Kangyur and the Tengyur. It was roughly during the East Han Dynasty that Buddhism was transmitted to China. Emperor Ming of Han dreamed one night of a huge figure resplendent with golden light flying down into the throne room. Behind the figure spread forth enormous brilliant rays of light. The emperor hurriedly consulted his ministers first thing in the morning, who said that a great sage had been born in the west and that he would transmit his teachings to the east over the next millennium. Emperor Ming then dispatched Caiyin and a dozen or so others to travel westward in search of the Buddhadharma. Along the road, they met with two senior monks who were leading a white horse upon which were stacked numerous sutras. All together, they returned to the Luoyang to establish a shrine hall, which they named White Horse Temple. The first sutra which they translated was called The Sutra in Forty-two Sections, a signal for the arrival of Buddhist sutras within China.

Esoteric Buddhism is also differentiated into two systems, Tang Esoteric Buddhism and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. Tang Esoteric Buddhism is classified as the original esoteric sect of China, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the three great founding patriarchs. The first sutra to be translated in the Tang Esoteric Chinese tradition was likely during the Western Jin dynasty (265-316 CE). Later, great masters came to Jiankang (old name of the capital, now Nanjing) from the Indian subcontinent and translated the Mahamayuri Dharani Sutra. The Chinese Tang Esoteric tradition was begun by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty, and later Śubhakarasiṃha, Vajrabodhi, and Amoghavajra (the three great founding patriarchs) came to China. Upon their arrival, Śubhakarasiṃha translated the Mahāvairocana Tantra, and transmitted it to the Chinese Acharya (master) Yixing, the lineage of which was later broken. Another branch was started by Vajrabodhi and his disciple Amoghavajra, who transmitted the lineage to the Chinese Acharya Huiguo. These individuals made up the founding generation of Chinese Tang Esoteric Buddhism. Afterwards, Japan and many other countries dispatched emissaries to China to learn. After spreading into Japan, Tang Esoteric was renamed Eastern Esoteric. Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism can be traced back to the time of Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, who had firm faith in Buddhism at the young age of only seventeen years. From the histories, he understood that his ancestor Tuotuo Liezhen was the manifestation of Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva. Fifth-generation Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo married Princess Wencheng of China, and himself was the manifestation of Guanyin Bodhisattva. From that time onwards, monasteries were established, the Tibetan script was formulated, and translations were conducted of Esoteric Buddhist rituals such as the Dharmas of the Great Compassion Mantra and of Cundi Bodhisattva, among others. Later on, the founding patriarch of Tibetan Buddhism, the Lotus Born Master, was beseeched to come to Tibet, where he demonstrated numerous supernatural abilities, subduing the local demons and turning them into Dharma Protectors of esoteric Buddhism, then establishing Tibet’s first monastery at Samye. This delineates the origins of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Tang Dynasty was the height of Buddhism in China, with 13 different sects. Mahayana Buddhism was taught spontaneously by the Buddha according to the situations and karmic connections he encountered. Its doctrine can be taught universally so that students with varying capacities could directly understand the Buddhadharma. Since it iss classified as an expedient path with its teachings made open and accessible and written in words that can be directly understood, this became known as exoteric. Esoteric teachings, popular to common belief, are not about rousing gods and devils and performing secret rituals behind closed doors. Indeed the term esoteric was only given by later generations. The reason it is the “secret” Buddhism (in Chinese) lies in the samaya precepts involved and the carefulness with which the teachings are transmitted between the teacher and their student(s). Teachings are not passed without discretion to students with impure faith. Furthermore, esoteric teachings point to the absolute truth (as opposed to the relative truth) and it’s known to be extremely subtle and difficult to understand. Without a master giving an empowerment and oral transmission, most people could not fathom its mysteries. The sutras say that if a bodhisattva one stage away from Buddhahood could not measure the depth of Vajrayana, what need to speak of ordinary people? This is why it’s called secret and esoteric. In the past, there had been no differentiation between the two, because exoteric has esoteric causes within it and vice versa. Exoteric sutras also contain esoteric mantras and dharanis. The Karandavyuha Sutra describes the merits of the Six Syllable Mantra, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra contains the Śūraṅgama dharani and there is a mantra found at the end of the Heart Sutra. Esoteric teachings are often praised in many of the Mahayana sutras. For example, the Most Secret, Well-Established Dhāraṇi of the Vast Gem-Encrusted Tower Sutra states that “I’ve practiced asceticism since countless kalpas ago, but I couldn’t attained the full enlightenment. Upon hearing the dharanis, to which I had tremendous correspondence, eventually I attained Buddhahood.” In one segment of the Da Chen Shi Wang Sutra it states “There are four vehicles in Buddhism: they are Śrāvakayāna, Pratyekabuddhayāna, Mahayana, and the supreme Vajrayana.”

In the Dharma Decadence Age, it is not possible to find people with the wisdom and capacity of those alive during the time of the historical Buddha, for whom it was easy to have faith and understanding. It is difficult these days for those walking the Mahayana and Vajrayana paths to open their hearts and sincerely aspire to study the complete teachings. Instead, often is the case where they praise themselves and slander others, unable to accept their training with humility and even throwing criticisms back and forth between students, cutting off their avenue to awakening. It is saddening to see this. As students of Buddhism, we cannot conduct ourselves in this way and hold this attitude.

This is a cursory explanation that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, offer to the many people who have asked me about the similarities and differences between Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism.