Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tea & Enlightenment

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageOn account of my long-standing daily association with tea, there is almost no tea which I would not taste. Early on, I even invented a special way to cook tea eggs, and have used all manner of natural ingredients in combination with different varieties of tea to the end of health cultivation... In order to provide a destination for all sorts of Buddhist practitioners to come and discuss practice over fine tea, I have established a variety of tea centers over the course of several years, setting the trend for a period of time, and now have in my possession more than a hundred different kinds of rare and precious teas, including some scarce types which have reached the century mark in age sitting on the cabinet shelves.

In recent years, my tea making style has been influenced by the Japanese tea ceremony, especially by the Tenmoku tea bowls which have come to play an indispensable role in the Japanese tea arts, and the price of which has skyrocketed overnight and shows no signs of relenting. Actually, in the literature about tea ceremony, before the seventh century, tea ceremony did not exist in Japan, and the earliest tea culture had a very important connection to the Japanese monastic community. This is due to the fact that when the Japanese went to China to do research into the practices of Chan (Zen), the Chinese Chan masters had the custom of discussing Chan over tea, particularly the monk Zhao Zhou, an enlightened Chan Master of the Tang dynasty. There is a story of how, once, two monks arrived at the temple in search of Zhao Zhou hoping that he would inspect and verify their level of realization. Zhao Zhou was an avid tea drinker, and as such he often used tea as a means for welcoming other Chan practitioners. At this time, Zhao Zhou greeted them in his usual fashion, abruptly inquiring of one of the two visitors, saying, “Have you ever been here before?” This monk replied, “I have.” Chan Master Zhao Zhou then told him, “Go drink tea.” Next, the Chan Master asked the other monk, “Been here before?” That monk replied, “Never been.” Zhao Zhou also said to him, “Go drink tea.” In that day and age, before Coca-Cola and latte coffee, tea was practically the most popular beverage around, drunk even by monks in the place of water. It was so popular, all of this activity related to the tea leaf, that this phrase - “go drink tea” - used by a Chan Master to welcome some disciples who were on the verge of enlightenment, was passed down with esteem for nearly a thousand years. In fact, Chan is just that plain and simple, while at the same time that profound. As to whether or not one can get to the essence of this Chan story and thoroughly perceive one’s original nature, that depends upon the perception and good fortune of the Chan practitioner.

And yet we owe the transmission of the way of tea from China to Japan to the Venerable Japanese monk Zui Cheng, who came to China to collect Buddhist texts and bring them back to his homeland. This later paved the way for the tea craze which would come to possess many of the larger monasteries in the country, and resulted in the plethora of stories which have been handed down to later generations. The most well-known at that time was the story of Sen no Rikyu, who originally served under Oda Nobunaga, and later on came to serve under Toyotomi Hideyoshi. At that time, his reputation was known throughout the entire land, and so he was at the pinnacle of his life. However, his staunch refusal later on to allow Toyotomi Hideyoshi to take his daughter’s hand in marriage, as well as two other serious matters, ultimately drove him to suicide. Rikyu’s abrupt rise to power also spurred the complete and far-reaching integration of tea and Chan in the temples of Japan.

Starting in the Tang dynasty, the story of tea has been intermixed with tales of enlightenment. There was a great enlightened master in the Tang dynasty by the name of De Shan who encountered an old lady, the owner of a tea shop. De Shan was just thinking about entering the shop to buy some cake and refreshments to allay his hunger, when the old lady suddenly asked, “What is that big sack of stuff you are hauling around?” The Great Master De Shan said, “It contains all of notes I have made in order to make annotations on the explanation of the Diamond Sutra.” The old woman then said, “Seeing as you have done such thorough research into the Diamond Sutra, I’d like to ask you a question. If you can answer my question, I will offer you some tea and refreshments. If you cannot answer, then I ask that you leave at once.” She then asked, “The mind of the past is unattainable, the present mind is unattainable, the mind of the future is unattainable. So what mind is it that you would like to ‘refresh’?” De Shan was dumbstruck and, in disappointment and frustration, left the place! Now I would kindly like to ask a question of each of you: which mind is it that is away from all three of these minds?

This is what I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, wrote after a cordial discussion about the different Chinese and Japanese figures related to tea and Chan with a Japanese tea master one holiday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Invent Your Self(-Nature), by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageModern science and every bit of convenience we enjoy in daily life without exception all stems from the dedicated, painstaking efforts of inventors. Yet it must be understood that this kind of achievement can be attained only through applying oneself and nurturing appropriate habits from a young age. The famous Italian physicist Luigi Galvani is the forefather of the Internet and cellular phones. If you really wanted to trace the history of all the personal devices at our fingertips, it would have its origins in the unintentional observation Galvani made of a frog in his laboratory. One day when doing experiments, he noticed that when the frog’s leg touched two different charged metal plates, it would cause the leg to spasm involuntarily. Inspired by this concept, Galvani threw himself into his research which served as the beginnings of transoceanic long-distance telephone calls. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, telegraph cables ran overland; once they were installed on the ocean floor, national boundaries no longer posed barriers to communication. If not for these advances, people would have still been relying on post horses changing at relay stations to deliver messages. Prior to the 18th century, some places still relied on the system of flag semaphores to convey information. Gradually, through further developments, the use of static electricity was discovered as a means to transmit information; then the Morse Code was invented. Development of telecommunications continued, and in 1857, telegraphic cables were first laid along the English Channel, linking England with Europe. The advances continue to this day, giving us e-mail and text messaging technologies which, with their far-reaching influence, have become essential aspects of our lives. Who could have known that this evolution would come about from the inference made by an Italian physicist observing a frog’s leg?

This story had a profound effect on me, as I realized that in every detail of our lives, whether we are walking, standing, sitting or lying down, if we can focus on our mind and observe the distracting and delusive thoughts, we would be sure to gain so much that it defies the imagination. Countless enlightened Chan masters in the past also applied themselves to single-minded observation in order to understand the grand questions of life and death and arrive at enlightenment by seeing their true nature. Some of these masters underwent long years of single-minded focus, diligently persevering in their practice, and building on this foundation for further advancement until suddenly in an instant they awakened to the Ultimate. Some wrote hundreds of Buddhist verses in a night, some could suddenly recite the entirety of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures by heart, others could instantly look into the minds of all sentient beings, still others could communicate with any and all animals, while some developed unwavering faith completely beyond any shadow of a doubt. This process is in fact what Galileo went through as a young man, when he suddenly became fascinated by a small oil lamp which was swaying as it hung in a church. For a full fifty years he toiled until he succeeded in inventing the pendulum. Ordinary people would just gloss right over a detail such as a swaying oil lamp hanging in a church. Yet, anything can be achieved if one resolutely puts one’s mind to it.

This often reminds me of the story of two great Chan masters: when they first met, Master Huairang used the analogy of grinding a brick to create a mirror to remind Mazu Daoyi of not becoming attached to any form in his pursuit for Buddhahood. It was an important turning point for Mazu Daoyi whose eventual attainment was also achieved by single-pointed concentration. Ordinary people can start by attentively observing the signs, nature’s tiny hints, just as Columbus saw sea grass bobbing on the waves and grasped the opportunity to tell his discouraged crew, “Undiscovered land is before us, gather your spirits!” Renunciate practitioners see the innate nature of afflictions in their incessantly galloping delusive thoughts. Another step and one will reach a state where the sky shatters and the earth collapses. The difference between gifted and ordinary inhabitants of the human realm is that some extraordinary, gifted beings can put all their attention on one point. Similarly, Chan masters have been able to transcend the world because they are constantly reflecting and examining their self-nature until their minds are completely free from affliction or attachment, at which time they progress into a state of omniscience and a kind of omnipresence--the luminosity of this pure mind, when unearthed, pervades the entire world; it speaks through the words of the Buddha and through all of existence; the pure mind’s delicate workings manifest everywhere in nature, whether in the form of a daisy or of the green leaves. Human beings need only diligently pay attention, and whether they live a worldly life or one of a renunciate, all can surpass the highest peaks, transform from within, and give birth to the divine that lives within these ordinary mortal shells.

This is I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, combining modern scientific ideas with methods for awakening consciousness, in a conversation I had with students interested in Chan.

The Diamond Path (English / Spanish Bilingual)

Jose Serrati, Paraguay
In Rinpoche’s talks, he sometimes asks the crowd, “Why are you all here? Why do you keep coming here?” We all react with surprise, not knowing how to answer during a long, silent pause. After learning with him for a while, I realized that this question was geared towards helping me reflect on the reason for doing everything I did in life. To help me be clear of the purpose of my actions in general, far more than to just reflect on the specific purpose of attending his lectures.

I started to apply this self-questioning in bigger decisions I made in life. It helped me see that sometimes I was basing my decisions on assumptions, and not on what I really wanted to achieve. It served as a big strainer to assess and filter decisions, big and small.

This type of teaching is intrinsic to Vajrayana, the school in Buddhism that aims at transforming negative thinking into positive, which by definition implies transforming the mind. Having to deal so directly with the mind and one’s personal experience, its natural that these teachings are easily misunderstood, as they cannot really be understood outside of a specific context.

Learning Vajrayana requires the close guidance of a teacher, who will observe students and guide them in the right direction. Students don’t know the way, but trusts in their teacher, who has walked the path before. If the teacher comes from an uninterrupted tradition of achievers, he will enable the students to realize things for themselves, as he has been taught in this way by his own teacher. This is the way in which Shang Rinpoche teaches.

This method takes a big effort from both sides. The teacher tirelessly observes the student´s progress and answers his questions. The students must be brave enough to face negative aspects of their thinking that they habitually avoid. Once these aspects are detected, though, they will have a choice to transform them into something positive.

In this unique process, the students always benefit from having an insightful perspective into their own mental process. And thus, there is also a unique chance to transform. At this point, it’s up to the students to decide if they want to follow on with the training and get rid of the cause of their afflictions, or to quit the training and just ignore the ugly stuff in their minds.

The choice of getting rid of the mental junk implies further effort and facing tough realities, but its eventual result is, in human terms, amazing. As the mind starts to clean up, the person experiences a gradual turn for good in every single aspect of their reality, because it is their inner self that is gradually returning to its original pure state. Even if the negative circumstances in their lives remain, it becomes easier to accept them.

The other choice, to quit the training, saves students from having to confront themselves honestly. Life can go on as before: nice when things are going well, frustrating when troubles appear. This is in fact the way in which most human beings live their lives. They are prisoners of their external circumstances. No right to request parole, and no chance to attain real freedom.

La dificultad de entender las enseñanzas del Vehículo Mayor (Vajrayana).

Vajrayana es la práctica del  budismo que busca transforma el pensamiento negativo en positivo, lo que implica por definición transformar la mente. Debido a que trata muy directamente con la mente a un nivel de experiencia propia, es natural que estas enseñanzas sean frecuentemente malinterpretadas, pues no se las puede entender acabadamente de forma abstracta, fuera de un contexto específico.

Aprender Vajrayana requiere la guía cercana de un maestro, quien observará al alumno y lo dirigirá en la dirección correcta. El estudiante se sentirá desorientado ante esta nueva experiencia, pero la confianza en el maestro le dará el apoyo necesario para animarse a continuar. Si el maestro proviene de un linaje ininterrumpido de maestros budistas que alcanzaron éxito en su práctica, él logrará que el alumno vaya de a poco descubriendo su propio camino, pues este  maestro ha sido entrenado en la técnica, a su vez,  por su propio maestro. Esta es la forma de enseñar de Shang Rinpoche.

Entonces, la práctica del budismo Vajrayana requiere un gran esfuerzo por parte del maestro, pues deberá seguir de cerca el progreso del alumno, así como despejar todas sus dudas. Y también requiere un esfuerzo por parte del alumno, porque él o ella  deberán ser lo suficientemente valientes como para enfrentar los aspectos negativos de sus procesos mentales, que antes habían sido evitados. Pero una vez detectados, ellos tendrán una chance de transformarlos en algo positivo.

El maestro no siempre tendrá éxito en lograr que el alumno cambie sus procesos mentales negativos, pero en el transcurso de este intercambio, el alumno siempre se beneficiará de poder tener acceso a una interesante perspectiva de su propio proceso mental. Y por lo tanto, tendrá una chance única de transformarlo.  Llegado este momento, será la decision del alumno el continuar con el entrenamiento y lograr librarse de la causa de sus conflictos, o por el contrario, abandonar el entrenamiento e ignorar toda la suciedad que pueda encontrar en su mente.

La elección de librarse de toda la basura acumulada  implica realizar más esfuerzos y de enfrentar más realidades no deseadas. Pero también traerá aparejado un resultado que, medido  en valores humanos, es simplemente sorprendente. Al ir limpiándose la mente, la persona experimentará un cambio para bien en cada aspecto de su realidad, pues en ese momentó será su ser interior el que se estará purificando. Y aún si las circunstancias negativas permanecen en su vida, le será más fácil aceptarlas.

La elección de abandonar el entrenamiento, por otro lado, ahorrará al alumno el mal rato de tener que enfrentarse a toda la basura acumulada en su mente. En cuyo caso, la vida sigue su curso normal, disfrutando cuando todo va bien, sufriendo cuando llegan los problemas. Esa es, en realidad, la forma en que la gran mayoría de la gente vive su vida. Prisionera de sus propias circunstancias externas. Sin derecho a libertad condicional, ni posibilidad alguna de escaparse.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Communication, by Mara Horowitz

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche
Mara, South Africa
I have always been a people pleaser and I find it difficult to say no and to admit my limitations. I want to always maintain an appearance of perfection and always want to be the best, the most kind, the most intelligent, the most committed.

This habit came to the forefront as I started to participate more at the Shang Rinpoche Center. Rinpoche’s activities have a vast reach and so there are always multiple ways to help and different projects that need assistance. As it has always been my predisposition to agree even if it brings me great inconvenience, I signed up for too many projects and started to feel overwhelmed.

At this point I realized that I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t perfect. I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t a completely selfless Buddhist practitioner and started to communicate with my friends that I wanted time for myself. For some this may seem completely natural but for me it was a breakthrough. To let others into the aspects of myself that my perfectionist Virgo mind detests was a first.

When I took a step back, nobody thought that I was being unreasonable.  The result of this made me realize that healthy communication is possible for me too. I’ve already seen a difference in my working and personal relationships.

When I started studying with Rinpoche, he mentioned to me that I shouldn’t just go through life trying to please everybody. I understand why now, and this inner transformation would have taken a lifetime had I not learnt the value of communication from such a wise master.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Green Beans and Barley by Ricky (English / Hungarian Bilingual)

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Ricky Student
Ricky from Hungary
In today's world people are crazy about success. We can see it on TV when a famous person arrogantly declares that what he demands from his employees is a perfect result. Or there is the classic story of the entertainer who hits the bottle when the good days are over.

But is it only celebrities that are preoccupied with success? I do not think so. Most of us are like that in our own way. As for me, I am a perfectionist, which means I often give myself pressure. This is good to a certain point, but it often just leads to unnecessary suffering. When I was younger, for example, I decided to read every book by a certain classical writer. Actually, many of them were just mediocre. Eventually, I did it, but was it worth it? Not really: it was a waste of time. 
We should learn to let go. And one of the best teachers on this is the Venerable Shang Rinpoche. I have often observed the way he gives advice to people. He usually only says it once. Not because he is conceited but because, as he has explained, if the person has no karmic affinity, he or she will not listen to him anyway. 
However, I have also heard Rinpoche repeat a suggestion several times. This he does out of compassion for us, who often disregard good advice, whether it comes from him or from others. For instance, every summer he will suggest that we should eat green bean and pearl barley soup every day (the grains boiled in water without anything added, just a small bowl daily). 
Last summer I followed his advice, and had also managed to stop snacking for some time. After 5 weeks I realized during a hiking trip that, although sweating profusely, my body did not smell at all. The stuff really did completely purify me! Anybody can try next summer. (It is a cooling soup for hot and humid weather so it is not for winter consumption.)
I could not help but include this little recipe. The bottom line is what Shang Rinpoche teaches us: don't take yourself so seriously and learn to let go.
Tedd, amit tenned kell, es ne foglalkozz az eredmennyel! 

A mai ember a siker megszallottja. Lathatjuk ezt a teveben, amikor a hiresseg arrogansan kijelenti, hogy tokeletes eredmenyt var el az alkalmazottaitol. Vagy ott a hires muvesz, aki inni kezd, amikor mar nem olyan nepszeru. 
De csak az ismert emberek a rabjai ennek a jelensegnek? Nem hinnem. A magunk modjan a legtobben ilyenek vagyunk. En, peldanak okaert, maximalista vagyok, aminek eredmenyekepp gyakran tul sokat varok el magamtol. Ez lehet  jo is, de sokszor ertelmetlen kinlodashoz vezet. Amikor peldaul fiatalabb voltam, elhataroztam, hogy egy hires klasszikus szerzo minden muvet elolvasom. Sok kozuluk kozepszeru olvasmany volt. Vegul elertem celom, de azt hiszem, nem erte meg: csak idopazarlas volt. 
Meg kellene tanulnunk nem ragaszkodni annyira a dolgokhoz. Shang Rinpoche pedig egyike a azoknak, akik ezt a legjobban tanitjak. Gyakran megfigyeltem, ahogyan tanacsot ad masoknak. Altalaban egyszer mondja csak el. Nem nagykepusegbol, hanem mert, amint egyszer emlitette, ha az illetonek olyan a karmaja, amugy se hallgatna ra. 
Mindazonaltal olyan is elofordult, hogy Rinpoche valamit tobbszor elismetelt. Ebben irantunk valo joindulata nyilvanul meg, hiszen gyakran nem hallgatunk a jo tanacsra, jojjon az akar Tole, akar mastol. Nyaranta peldaul tobbszor is elmondja, hogy egyunk mungo babbol es azsiai gyongyarpabol keszult levest minden nap. (A ket hozzavalot vizben kell megfozni, minden egyeb hozzaadasa nelkul-naponta eleg egy kis tanyerral.) Tavaly nyaron sikerult a nassolast egy idore abbahagynom. Ot het utan egy turazas alkalmaval eszrevettem, hogy, bar izzadtam rendesen, a testemnek semmi szaga nem volt. A leves tokeletesen meregtelenitett! Jovo nyaron barki kiprobalhatja. (Ez egy husito leves paras, meleg napokra, telen tehat nem ajanlott.)
Nem tudtam megallni, hogy ne emlitsem meg ezt a kis receptet. A lenyeg az, amire Shang Rinpoche tanit: ne vedd magad tul komolyan, es tanuld meg elengedni a dolgokat!
Ricky, Magyarorszag

Sunday, October 26, 2014

One World, One Family, by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageFor the past few years, I have had the profound feeling that we have truly entered Generation N. If all the different religions remain stuck in their old ways and isolated within their own customs, there is no doubt that they will be of zero benefit to modern beings and such rigidity may even lead to their own downfall. As such, for the past decade, I have been actively engaged in frequent exchange with people from different faiths. When the opportunity arises, I also openly and willingly contribute the little that I know for the benefit of those belonging to the Christian, Catholic, Islam, and Daoist faiths. I have a few friends from Germany and Greece with an erudite understanding of Buddhism who originally followed the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was also very surprising for me to learn that in Germany, a country with more than 50 million Christians, there are people who are so interested in Buddhism, and have sunk their teeth into it. As such, when one friend asked me about the meaning of sila (discipline), samadhi (stillness) and prajna (wisdom), it was quite unexpected. I had to consider for a moment what kind of reply might be most appropriate for him. During our discussion, he mentioned that during his time in middle school, he had the choice to attend a weekly class in religious studies. He chose to study Buddhism for a year and as a result, he had bought a few translated sutras to read. I then decided to give him a simple explanation to his question, “You could say that the meaning of sila is preventing all bad thoughts and stopping all unwholesome actions. You could say a state of samadhi is when your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and body are not disturbed by any external stimuli. Regarding your question about prajna, we might go a bit deeper to say that when something impedes on the mind as we face external circumstances or unexpected happenings, it is able to remain stable and unmoved. You could say that this is a kind of wisdom.”

Next, he asked me about the Diamond Sutra, which he had previously studied. There is a phrase in the Diamond Sutra — “there is no Dharma to be attained” — which he had a hard time understanding from the English translation and asked me if I might elaborate. I told him, “Shakyamuni Buddha used more than half of his life to teach the Dharma to people from different backgrounds, upbringings and mental capacities. According to their conditions and varying needs, he would offer them the teachings which would be most beneficial to them. Yet the final goal was to make it clear that all sentient beings, all people, all bodhisattvas, all buddhas and all the beings of the six realms possess Buddha nature. In addition, contained within every person’s mind is a storehouse of Dharma treasure. At the time when Dipamkara Buddha (the former Buddha before Shakyamuni) transmitted teachings to Shakyamuni Buddha, it was only when no Dharma was left to be attained that Shakyamuni Buddha truly understood the original mind of Dipamkara Buddha. This relates to the concepts found in Buddhist sutras about the absence of a self, others, living beings and a lifespan; that all Dharmas are equal, that there is no distinction of lofty or lowly and that the most important thing in practicing all Dharma methods is to be unattached to all appearances.” After I used this straightforward approach to explain my thinking to this friend visiting from afar, it seemed as though he came to a sudden and unexpected realization, vigorously nodding his head in understanding. Later on he asked me an even deeper question. He said that out of curiosity he had gone to attend a seven-day Chan (Zen) meditation retreat in Germany, and so he asked me a very specific question. “What is the meaning of a sudden or a gradual approach?” To this I replied, “Actually, everyone is just the same. Perhaps there is an issue with people’s differing levels of wisdom, but there is in fact no difference between someone with a favorable capacity or a blunt capacity. The only difference relates to a person’s motivation and view. So long as your motivation is right, you are of the highest capacity. But in the current era, no matter whether you are of the highest capacity or not, I advise people that it would be relatively more secure to match your practice with some of the gradual practice methods. It is kind of like how you can’t expect to be full after eating only a single mouthful of food.” After several hours of jovial discussion during which my guest seemed to feel quite delighted, I also let out a sigh of relief, for it appeared I had not disappointed him.

Over the past few years, I have sought to investigate and understand the perseverance and understanding of Christians and Catholics towards the three virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, as well as the basic credo and doctrines of Islam. Moreover, regarding the five daily prostration periods facing the Ka’aba in Mecca that Muslims so respectfully undertake, as well as their practice of zakat, I must confess my profound admiration. Regarding the principal teaching in Daoism which places equal emphasis upon both physical and mental practice, as well as the practice in which one must progress through the stages of appreciating, nurturing and transcending life until one reaches the stage where oneself and the Dao are indistinguishable — being diligent and never slacking in one’s attitude towards attaining the Dao — I am also full of admiration. In these times, if we can manage to integrate the devotion and love of all great religions, engage in unceasing prayer in order to bless this world and eliminate calamities, dedicating all positive merits for the aversion of disasters, and flooding all of the people of this world with love regardless of political inclination or racial distinction, then the positive vibrations from such endeavors will spread into the lives of all humanity on an instinctual level. This I believe without a doubt.

Herein expressed are some of the concerns that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, have long felt regarding our environment, global warming and the increased frequency of natural disasters. I hold the profound belief that if the selfless love and concern embodied in all great religions could be combined, so that they might unanimously join forces to proffer unceasing blessings, then by means of this great force, we ought to be able to benefit the well-being of the beings of Jambudvipa. For a very long time, this has been my hope and expectation, as well as the subject of my dedications, day after day.

Traditional Etiquette, by David Chronowski

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Student David C
David Chronowski, USA
Often, after meeting Rinpoche, people will notice the etiquette more senior students use around him. This could be anything from standing when Rinpoche approaches or enters a room, putting their hands together when speaking, or bowing slightly.

To observers from Western countries, this type of behavior seems strange or especially Eastern in its practice. Generally, all of this comes back to having a mind of respect. Rinpoche works hard to listen to and assist his students with any problems they might be having day or night. Having seen him selflessly work like this, many students feel that by showing respect in any way they can is a way of demonstrating their care for their teacher.

It’s also useful to put these customs in a cultural context. A simple gesture, such as bowing, can be observed pretty much anywhere in Taiwan. A couple of personal examples that come to mind took place at a 7-11 and a school. At the 7-11 I bought something and as I took the change from the cashier, without meaning to, I bowed my head slightly and the cashier mirrored my action. Another time, a student caused trouble in one of my classes. After getting into trouble, he came back in the room and when he was told to apologize, he bowed.

Whether standing or bowing, both of these actions demonstrate that a person is engaged and willing to listen or learn. The person has let go of their ego for a minute and put someone else first. This, many traditions attest to, is the true way to personal happiness.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Facing a Wall Without Fear, by Eric Lussier

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Student Eric L
Eric Lussier, Canada
If I don’t pay attention to this tendency, I often remind myself on a daily basis of all the things that I can’t accomplish. My mind is distracted with thoughts like, “It’s too much effort,” “I don’t have what it takes,” “I don’t have time to do it,” or “Let someone else do it.”

These voices may be quiet but their influence is great. If I don’t pay attention to them, what usually happens is I explain away golden opportunities to be successful, I am left with nothing, and I don’t know why.

After meeting my teacher Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, he would often give me chances to help with different projects which immediately triggered these thoughts of self-doubt or fear. It was through the difficult practices that I was given that I was able to see these negative mental patterns which kept me from reaching my true potential.

In the beginning, the voices would come quickly and before I knew it I would have found some way out of doing the homework. These difficult practices forced me to face my fear of such things as; failure, success, embarrassment, commitment, anxiety, looking bad, letting people down, etc. Everyone has their fears that limit them, and yet these practices that Rinpoche gives are usually individualized for each student, so they can face their own fears.

A quote from a lecture Rinpoche gave this year resonates the importance of facing our fears:
“The common failing of people today is that they collapse after even one tiny setback, whether it be temporary unemployment, breaking up with a loved one, or financial crisis. From that point on, they run for the hills at the slightest scent of failure or the faintest trace of setback. When you encounter what you deem as failure, first you need to ask and find the answer to the following questions on your own — what kind of attitude should you have in the face of failure? Is it really something you must avoid? Are you really that scared to face it?”

- from the October 12th, 2014 Facebook post Perseverance Is the Antidote to Failure 
Even after studying for a long time, students aren’t immune to having these thoughts (though they may recognize them faster than someone who doesn’t look at their thoughts on a regular basis). The determination you build in your practice, begins to seep into other parts of your life too, making it easier to see yourself clearly and reach your potential.

The Importance of Humor, by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageThere is a very important responsibility you have towards your life: to increase your happiness and reduce your troubles. A sense of humor plays a crucial role in one’s life. At the very least, it can eliminate the negative influence of the emotions you experienced during the previous day. Spend a little time each day to read one or two interesting or funny stories, and the next time you’re feeling blue, you might just find this can give you new strength and energy. No matter what difficulties come to you, remember that humor is your best friend. Many people are obsessed with increasing their wealth, but it’s rare to see anyone cultivate humor. It is, however, obvious that humor is extremely important. Take a closer look and you will find that when you smile and laugh out loud, problems gradually work themselves out and afflictions fade away. Lincoln once said, “When I look in the mirror, I can accept the ugly reflection staring back at me, but I cannot bear it without a smile.”

This is how I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, use humor to pass
quickly through obstacles which appear in my practice.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What Buddha Brought to This World, By Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog TibetIn recent years, I have been on close terms with a group of priests and greatly admire the warmth and brilliance stemming from their immense inner joy. It was unfamiliar at first, perhaps because of my comparatively reserved oriental background, to hug as a way of greeting, but I have become used to it and harbor great respect for their ardent devotion and pure innocence. One day I was meeting three priests and over the course of our conversation, they expressed the wish to learn about some very basic concepts of Buddhism. I started with the story of Shakyamuni Buddha descending from Tushita heaven to the human world, taking the monastic vows at the age of 29 until his enlightenment at 35. Upon enlightenment, the words he said also sum up his mission in coming to this world: he said that just like him, all sentient beings are endowed with buddha nature, only theirs has been obscured by attachments and illusory thoughts. After attaining Buddhahood he set out to unleash the inner wisdom of sentient beings and help them transform their attachments and delusive thinking. The intractable habits and heavy karma of these beings proved an arduous task for the Buddha, taking him through 49 years of exhausting all means in passing on his realization and teachings. The Buddha was still teaching the Mahaparinirvana Sutra right before he entered into parinirvana.

To teach sentient beings the way to liberation, Shakyamuni Buddha turned the Dharma Wheel three times. Turning the proverbial Dharma Wheel actually means turning the mind. The mind, affected all the forms it perceives, subsequently gives rise to all sorts of illusory thoughts and attachments. Form includes anything tangible, images, tastes, sounds and words that are perceived by our consciousness. Perception, in turn, generates various ideas, emotions, thoughts and opinions, which result in karma. This corresponds with what is mentioned in Buddhist sutras: phenomena lives in the mind, and from phenomena the various states of mind arise. Turning the Dharma Wheel was, in effect, to make sentient beings understand that the mind is affected by these conditions and these conditions create our states of mind, a cycle of unending arising and cessation. If we do not understand this concept that whatever arises must cease, the mind remains bound by these conditions and cannot be liberated from samsara. Out of compassion for the ignorance of sentient beings, the Buddha first turned the Dharma Wheel and gave teachings on how the mind can renounce the greedy attachment to external conditions by the four practices of mindfulness: impurity of the body, that all sensations lead to suffering, that the mind is impermanent, and that there is no such thing as an ego. Persevering in this practice will eventually lead to arhatship. During the second turning of the Dharma Wheel, the Buddha transmitted the profound Mahayana teachings and also started the discourse on the mind and forms. The crux of this is that the mind is the basis of the Three Realms - it all hinges on the mind to become liberated from Desire, Form, and the Formless, hence, the famous quote “everything is but a figment of the mind.” Just as mentioned in a verse by one of the previous Buddhas, “The mind is non-arising until conditions arise.” Evidently, the teachings during the Mahayana period were very versatile and dynamic, accommodating different circumstances and individual capacities with the goal to enlighten sentient beings by any means possible.

In his later days, the Buddha managed to spread the Dharma to Nepal and Tibet, where it would eventually reach Bhutan and Sikkim. In these areas, the teachings have been preserved in the form of sutra and tantra. After Shakyamuni Buddha had passed these teachings to Maitreya Buddha, they were later passed down to generations of patriarchs such as Asanga, becoming the Yogacara school. The other lineage started with the Buddha’s transmission to Manjusri Bodhisattva, who subsequently passed it to Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, Deva Bodhisattva, Buddhapalita Bodhisattva, Candrakirti Bodhisattva, and down a lineage of achieved masters up to this very day. When Buddhism was introduced into Tibet, it first appeared as the old school (Nyingmapa) and later formed into the new schools of Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug. The Kagyu school later developed into four major and eight minor branches. Regardless of the variety of schools, the goal of Tibetan Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment through different stages of practice in the context of bodhicitta, which is also our source of motivation and aspiration. Esoteric practices must be supported by the concept of emptiness and compassion in that we always dedicate any merits generated from our practice to the liberation of every sentient being who is dear to us like our father and mother. Therefore, properly giving rise to compassion and bodhicitta forms the foundation of a Vajrayana education. Amongst the different Vajrayana lineages, there is a wealth of esoteric and exoteric teachings pertaining to the expedient means to liberation, which is beyond the scope of this article.

This is a short clip of a conversation that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, had with a group of non-Buddhist friends.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Transcending All Suffering, by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog Image Buddha
I have been asked many times, “What is liberation? How can we be liberated?”. I have given numerous answers to this question from various perspectives. However for people nowadays, attaining ultimate liberation seems far from easy. From the practice perspective, we talk about liberation through Dharmakaya or Sambhogakaya. Liberation through Dharmakaya refers to the liberation of the mind--Buddha nature is inherent in all sentient beings; the world around keeps exerting a corrupting influence upon us from birth, in addition to accumulation of habits over countless lifetimes and the force of our karma at play, it would be impossible to rediscover our true self-nature if we are not fortunate enough to encounter the Buddhadharma and an authentic teacher, and persevere with our spiritual practice. As far as Sambhogakaya liberation is concerned, guidance from an experienced teacher with a pure unbroken lineage of teachings is essential. It certainly is not something that you can get from just looking around online, or watching some videos. To purify this body of karma of all its afflictive obstacles transforming it into a pure body, it can only be achieved by the purification of the qi, meridians and bright spots. In the end this body of aggregates will turn into a rainbow body. This process can be dangerous and should absolutely not be done without guidance, as if toying with your own body.

Our surroundings are the conditions from which we need to be liberated. These external conditions represent the material world we live in and are also closely related with our mind. If we look at this in the terms of our karma, the environment can be divided into the so called “central condition” and the “outside condition”. There are five types of central condition: form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness. The external condition is what is referred to in Buddhism as the Ten Dharma Worlds which is the Permanent Light Pureland, which is where the Dharmakaya Buddhas resides. The second type is the Ten Karmas Adorned Pureland which is the environment specifically for Sambhogakaya Buddhas to reside. The third being Skillful Means Pureland, residency of Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas. Next is the residency of all the Bodhisattvas and sages. Then among the Six Realms, humans who have maintained the five precepts and done the ten good deeds will be reborn in the heaven realm, which is further divided into 33 levels. Each of these levels corresponds to the extent of virtuous behavior in their previous life. The place where we human live is called the Saha World which is commonly referred to as the human realm. The characteristic of this place is that there are four courses of event: birth, aging, sickness and death, as well as the Eight Worldly Concerns. Such is the external circumstances that every human must face. The Asura Realm of the Six Realms is filled with ceaseless conflicts and struggle. The beings they battle with are those of the Heavenly Realm, so actually the beings of this realm don’t get a moment of peace either. The females there are extremely attractive, and the men are mighty, full of grandeur and fight bravely. However, they are never able to find peace. Remaining are the three lower realms of hell, hungry ghosts, and animals. These realms where beings end up as a result of greed, hatred and anger, suffering for eternity without any means to escape from their predicament.

There is probably no problem in understanding the relationship between the nature of the two kinds of karma (i.e. the relationship between the external conditions and our mind) and the Ten Dharma Realms. Actually this is what all people need to be rid of, to transcend and be liberated from. Falling prey to one’s environment as well as birth in the six realms primarily comes from the idea of reaping what one has sown. Becoming a Buddha, Bodhisattva, sage or virtuous person, no one can do this for you, there’s only one cause that determines where you’ll go--your mind. It can be the cause of your going to the pure land or hell. So how can one truly achieve ultimate liberation? You need to at least practice to the point where the five skandhas are empty. The five skandhas are everything in the external environment, which also brings about everything in the Ten Dharma Realms, so every sutra without exception starts from this idea of transforming and practice. For example, the Chapter of Expedient Means in the Lotus Sutra, the expedient methods of the Tiantai school, Satipaṭṭhāna or the four mindfulness of the Hinayana school, the transformation body of the Vajrayana school, are all methods that use expedient means to gradually bring beings to the palace of enlightenment. So in all sutra on prajna and emptiness, there is not a single one that is not heartfelt advice from Buddha Shakyamuni with the goal of helping sentient beings entering a state of non-arising and non-diminishing, seeing the five skandhas as empty in essence. So when seeking liberation, the most ultimate and the most convenient ways are prajna and emptiness. You don’t have to rely on anything, just utilize your mind. This is very difficult for beginner students to understand, for very often they become stuck in a conundrum between emptiness and the tangible, emptiness and non-emptiness.

In our daily life, whatever your eyes show you in the external environment, whether they're good or bad, pretty or ugly, you should start your practice right there. Whenever you see that you like certain objects, phenomena or people you should first observe why you like these things. How long do these things stay in your mind and how deep are their influence? And in the end when does this preference leave, to be forgotten, making room for new emotions. At all times and in all places our minds are always being influenced and driven by the external environment. If from observing the external states we can gradually transform form into emptiness, then the pain and afflictions of your mind will definitely, gradually diminish. Of course this is still a long way from ultimate liberation or the pureland, but this is the fundamental starting point. Everyone should use this as a stepping stone to get to higher states.

This is an excerpt of what I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, discussed over tea with a group of monks from Myanmar and Thailand.

Finding the Head of the Knot, by Jen Wen

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Student Jen
Jen Wen
Ever since I was 16, I’d been smoking and dabbling in drugs; first marijuana, later hard chemical drugs. I also had a short stint with being an alcoholic in my 20’s.

Since I could remember, I have always had trouble with my identity, controlling my thoughts and their effect on my emotional state. Growing up in the states, I oscillated between fighting with my grandma on cultural issues and arguing with my father - who lived in Taiwan - on the phone, about my obligations and how I ‘should be’. Needless to say, I was more than ready to flee the nest! I accumulated enough credits to graduate high school in 3 years and I was college bound!

It was there that I started experimenting with hard drugs, smoking pot daily and ‘raving’ for days on end (sometimes without any sleep). I managed to barely get through sophomore year with a 1.01 GPA. A relative was diagnosed with a variety of deathly illnesses and I found my escape through alcohol- lots and lots of it! I would drink until I would black out, and in one particularly memorable situation, I got behind a wheel and hit a car when I pulled out. The owner of the car chased me down and never pressed any charges, but instead, saved my life by calling a relative to get me home.

Those days are way behind me now… but the imprints they left are never too far away. Looking back, things people would say or something that would happen would easily throw me off my balance, causing me to act impulsively and rebelliously. It made me feel helpless, lost, and unhappy.

But then I met Rinpoche.

Shang Rinpoche started to help me to understand my afflictions, getting to know them instead of being afraid of them. He empowered me with confidence to be able to overcome challenges, however big or small, and become the person I wanted to become. Slowly, I relied on solely myself to get through hard times, instead of external things (like drugs, alcohol, etc.). And now, more often than not, I am able to find the head of the affliction… one by one, unraveling them…

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Loving Oneself, by Alex Syed ~ English / French Bilingual

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Student Alex
Alex Syed
"Only by loving oneself, can one extend one's love to others." These words, quite common to hear, entered my ears one day, and ever since would occasionally pop-up in my mind, as I mused on life, it's meaning, and ways I should live and conduct myself with those around me. You could call it an adage of popular wisdom. 

So there I was, going through the days, trying to figure out how to put this into practice. How to love myself? The question sounded simple, but below the surface lay a vast array of intertwining roots, I soon discovered, leaving me quite at a loss as to how to proceed. Where to start?

It was around this time I encountered the Buddhist teachings, focusing especially on the practice of meditation, on the form of silent retreats. This helped me greatly in helping to know my mind better. But still I felt something was missing. An so the road continued.

In time I would meet my teacher, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche. One of the first pieces of advice he gave me was "Don't think too much!", which made me laugh. As a young child, I would ask my mother then and again how to stop thinking. An ongoing problem, it seems... And a piece of advice I have since then heard more than once!

On another occasion, I read these words from Rinpoche: "An attempt should be made to appreciate others, before you will be able to appreciate yourself." These words struck a chord deep within, in particular since they expressed a view so diametrically opposite to one I had held thus far. I was confused, so asked about it, and in answer Rinpoche explained that my long-held position was simply an extension of self-centered ways; that this self-centeredness from which most of us function is precisely the cause of so much of our conflicts, outer and inner, hence of our suffering; that only by reversing this tendency, by learning to love others as a starting point, can genuine self-appreciation be found. It made so much sense.

In reality, from a very pragmatic perspective, as you take of your own time and devote it to others, you are focusing your energies away from your problems, and thus are happier during that time. In addition to this, other people's happiness cannot but bring at least the semblance of a smile to your lips and lighten your heart accordingly, if but slightly. Also, from a Buddhist perspective, as you help others, you create good karma, which will be the cause for good fortune, in the future, far and near; you also create good karmic connections with beings you will meet again in the future, far or near. Thus benefiting others is truly benefiting yourself.

Applying it is not so simple, I am again and again faced with my selfishness, but I feel now I have been endowed with a sensible means to approaching the rare and wonderful quality of selfless love. And the road continues...

L'Amour de soi

"Ce n'est qu'en s'aimant soi-même que l'on sera capable par la suite d'aimer un autre." Ces mots, que l'on entend assez fréquemment sous une forme ou une autre, je les entendais moi-même un jour. Ils pointerais alors occasionellement leur nez, lors de réflexions sur la vie, son sens, et la manière dont je devais vivre et me comporter auprès des gens m'entourant. Vous pourriez appeler ces mots un adage de notre sagesse populaire.

Et donc ainsi j'allais, de jour en jour, cherchant à trouver comment mettre cette idée en pratique. Comment m'aimer? La question semblait simple, mais alors de découvrir sous la surface un vaste réseau de racine s'entrelaçant, s'entremêlant, me laissant perplexe et quelque peu suspendu quant au prochain pas à prendre. 

C'est à peu prèà cette période que je découvris les enseignements bouddhistes, en particulier la pratique de la méditation, sous la forme de retraite silencieuse. Cela m'aida beaucoup à connaitre un peu mieux mon esprit si chaotique. Mais je sentais qu'il manquait à cela quelque chose. La route continuait donc... 

En bon temps, je fis la rencontre de mon enseignant, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche. Un des premiers conseils qu'il me donna fut: "Ne penses donc pas tant!", ce qui me fit rire. Ma mère m'a dit un jour que jeune enfant, je lui demandais de temps à autre comment faire pour arreter de penser. Un problème de longue date donc, il semblerait... Et un conseil que j'ai entendu plus d'une fois depuis! 

Plus tard, je lirais ces mots de Rinpoche: "Avant d'être capable de s'apprécier soi-même, une tentative doit être oeuvrée envers l'appréciation d'autrui." Ces mots résonnèrent profondément en moi, en particulier puisqu'ils exprimaient une perspective si diamétralement opposéà celle que j'avais jusqu'alors entretenue. Confus, je lui fis part de ma perplexité, et Rinpoche m'expliqua alors que ma position n'étais qu'une extension d'une manière d'être essentiellement ego-centrique; que cet ego-centrisme à partir duquel tant de nous fonctionnons est precisément la cause de tant de nos conflits, tant internes qu'externes, et donc de notre souffrance; que seul en renversant cette tendance, en apprenant à aimer les autres comme point de départ, peut-on espérer trouver une véritable appréciation de soi. Cela me parut plein de bon sens.

D'un point de vue très pragmatique, lorsque l'on prend de son temps si précieux et le dédie aux autres, il en résulte que nos énergies se concentrent ailleurs que sur nos problèmes, nous rendant ainsi plus heureux pendant ce temps. Le bohneur et la réjouissance des autres ne peuvent par ailleurs qu'induire ne serait-ce que le semblant d'un sourire a nos lèvres, nous allégeant ainsi le coeur un tant soit peu. De plus, d'un point de vue bouddhiste, lorsque l'on aide un autre, on crée du karma positif qui sera la cause de bonne fortune dans un futur proche ou lointain; l'on crée aussi par là même une bonne connection karmique avec un être dont on recroisera un jour la route dans le futur, proche ou lointain. Ainsi, aider les autres devient littéralement s'aider soi-même. 

En application ce n'est pas si simple. Je me retrouve continuellement face à face avec mon égoisme, mais je sens maintenant que j'ai été doté d'un moyen d'approcher cette rare et merveilleuse qualité, l'amour altruiste désintéressé. Et la route continue...