Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Wheel of the Dharma, by David Schultz

Shang Rinpoche Blog
David, USA

In Buddhism, there are the Three Jewels:

The Buddha
The Sangha (community)
The Dharma (the teachings)

At the Tea House, these three jewels are represented in Rinpoche, the community, and the teachings offered. Shang Rinpoche embodies and channels the spirit of the Buddha, the community of expats and locals alike make up a modern-day sangha, and the the teachings of Rinpoche and practices of his disciples put the Wheel of the Dharma into motion.  

Although my time at the Tea House was brief, only a few years from 2007 to 2009, and my depth of practice limited, the wheel of my personal spirituality was certainly put into motion during my time spent at the tea house.

David Schultz
Monday, 19 July 2015
Dusseldorf, Germany

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Importance of Having a Teacher, Part 1

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Ceremony
Abbot of Vietnamese Temple,
Shang Rinpoche Dharma Ceremony,
Melbourne, Australia

The lineages associated with guru yoga, like golden necklaces linked unbroken from every generation of master and student, each have their own oral tips. For example, in the practices of guru yoga wherein the guru is outside of you, you visualize yourself as a deity that you’ve been authorized to practice in an empowerment. On the crown of your head, you visualize a lion throne, on top of which sits a lotus; on the lotus pad rests a moon disk, the shape resembling a sliver of the earth. On top of this seat sits Vajradhara. If the practitioner wants to receive his master’s blessings, he must visualize Vajradhara as a representation of his master. This practice falls under external guru yoga. Once the visualization is very clear, if the practitioner wants to receive blessings, she can at this time recite the supplication prayer to the lineage masters. This is the simplest way to pray to the master for the blessings of correspondence. There are also prayers to the master’s dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. Finally, the practitioner visualizes ambrosia flowing from Vajradhara’s body through each of the lineage masters and into the crown of her head (herself visualized as yidam). The ambrosia flows very slowly into the yidam’s crown chakra, throat chakra, heart chakra and solar plexus chakra. Finally, Vajradhara becomes a ball of light and melds with the practitioner’s master, who then himself becomes a ball of light and melds with the practitioner herself. In this state, the practitioner rests in meditative stillness. This is the most expedient method to receive correspondence blessings from your own master. However, you first need to receive an empowerment or an oral transmission and explanation directly from your own master, then follow the sequential steps outlined in the practice text. You cannot just practice this from the book itself.

The unique quality of Vajrayana as compared to other Buddhist schools is the relationship between the master and student. In Vajrayana, to transform yourself from an ordinary being into the supreme Buddha, which is already inside of yourself, you must receive empowerments from a qualified master. Empowerments, of which there are four major, authorize you for practice. Next, the student receives oral tips directly from the teacher, absorbing his compassion. The root master might directly instruct the student on the practice of the meridians, or perhaps decide to send him to another qualified master to receive all the oral tips on Mahamudra. This master can also be seen as your root master. Briefly, if you receive teachings from a true yogi that lead you to liberation, show you how to transform your habits related to the three poisons, and teach you about bodhicitta and helping sentient beings, this is your root teacher. This is the most important teacher within your lifetime. Each school has a different definition of “root master,” but the basic premise is that a root master is one who shows you how to use this relatively comfortable human life to attain liberation, whether it is by transforming your scatteredness, anxiety or confusion, or helping you to understand that achieving the states of bliss, clarity or no-thought are not the highest practice methods; or giving you an oral tip that points to your self-nature and liberation, gives you supreme understanding and sweeps away the clouds of ignorance, unfolding and expanding your mind: all of these functions define the role of a root master. In the Kagyu lineage, although Gampopa spent his whole life paying homage to countless good knowledge holders and was able to enter into deep meditative stillness in which he gave rise to no delusive thoughts for seven days, Milarepa told him this attainment was merely a slightly more unique form of stillness. When Milarepa finally transmitted to Gampopa the key oral instructions for recognizing the true mind, only then did Gampopa see his original self-nature. For this, Gampopa treated Milarepa as his only root master, feeling more respect and reverence for him than could be bestowed upon millions and millions of fathers. Correspondence with the master, no matter whether the external, internal or secret methods are practiced, will eventually lead you to see your innate buddha nature. From the beginning stages of correspondence all the way to enlightenment, guru yoga is of extreme importance.

When you successfully correspond with your guru yoga practice, you will very clearly feel in every moment that the master’s mind is the same as your own mind. The master’s body, speech, mind, activities and merits are all within our self-nature, not separate even for an instant. Once the practitioner grows accustomed to this state, her mind will merge with the master’s like rain mingles with the ocean, becoming one and the same. Once you’ve reached this state, the mind of the master, in whom all the buddhas have converged, is no different from the mind of the student. From then onwards, there is no need to look for any external buddha outside of one’s own nature, because once you’ve seen the quality of your own nature, all the buddhas of the ten directions simultaneously attest to your awakening and bless you. The only thing left to do is to never let your mind become separate from this supreme Dharma even for a moment. These are the essential concepts regarding the practice of guru yoga in Vajrayana.

Published by Shang Rinpoche, June 1, 2015 on

Mindfulness is an Attitude, by Neil Swanson

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Student
Neil from Canada
Mindfulness is an Attitude & the Rewards of Sacrifice

I often reflect on what exactly it is I’ve taken away from my studies with Shang Rinpoche. Having made a conscious decision to stay in Taipei for so many years, I must have derived some benefit, right? The answer to this question is a resounding YES, I have benefitted greatly from over a decade under Rinpoche’s guidance. In a word, I’d say the biggest change I’ve experienced is ATTITUDE. If you knew me as the introverted adolescent I once was, you would also see that compared to then, my attitude towards life now is as different as night and day.

When facing an unexpected challenge, all I need to do is to bear in mind any one of the many encouraging talks I’ve heard Rinpoche give and my heart is immediately steadied and calmed. When an emergency arises, all I need do is apply any one of the dozens of methods Rinpoche has shared with me over the years, and my mind is immediately relaxed and sharpened. When physical ailments strike without warning, I have the strength of mind to deal with them, and a plethora of physical tools such as qigong techniques, meditation practices, Chinese medicinal principles, nutritional tips, and more, through which to regain balance.

Now in my mid-thirties, this attitude, which is based in mindfulness and bolstered with self-confidence, has allowed me to pursue my dreams with more vigor than when I was a young man. Though I’m not there yet, I feel that it is because of the attitude engendered in me through Rinpoche’s guidance all these years that I finally have the persistence and resolve to master skills which require years and years of continual effort. At the same time, I feel that this mindfulness allows me to appreciate the fullness of the moment in a way which I would otherwise miss out on, simply by being mindful of the experience of the present. This awareness often grants me a childlike sense of joy at the simplest of experiences, as if any small occurrence can reveal the miracle of our existence.

My goal while staying in Taipei all these years has been to learn how to benefit myself and others with the traditional methods and wisdom of Buddhism. Of course, any great goal requires sacrifice, but to me anything I may have lost along the way seems insignificant. And though some may say I've given up a lot, when I reflect on what I’ve gained during this time, I am filled with gratitude for the many priceless gifts - a broader perspective, a touch more courage and resolve, more wisdom than ever before, not to mention a loving community which supports me like family - that I’ve received.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Group Practice of the Smoke Offering, by Alex from France

Alex Syed, Paris France
At the beginning of 2015, an event was held to mark the end of the year of the horse and the beginning of the year of the sheep, according to the Chinese calendar. It was a culturally rich occasion, a blend of traditional Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist practices, attended by close to a thousand heads, hailing from Hong Kong, Taiwan and abroad. The event, including the preparations and cleaning-up, spanned the entire weekend and left many people feeling quite washed out albeit visibly happy and light-hearted.

This ceremony, marking as it does the passing of one year to another, holds a deep significance. It symbolizes a making of amends for the past year's mishaps, and also wishes of auspiciousness for the year to come. It is also an occasion for the community of Rinpoche's students to gather together in practice and share the merits with their loved ones and the world at large.

During the first part, the attendees all recited the Medicine Buddha Sutra in unison, led by the monks and nuns at the fore. Rinpoche then made his entrance and gave a speech on the Tibetan practice of Smoke Offering, which dates back to the time of Padmasambhava, the second Buddha of Tibet. He spoke of the degrading state of our world, increasingly beset by natural calamities and strife, violence and disease on scales small and large. Rinpoche stated that the worst affliction in the world, which brings him the most concern, is the increase of mental disorders and depression. These all result from our collective as well as individual karma. Hence the need to gather and assuage the wrath of negative forces and propitiate positive ones through our offerings, and then dedicate the merit.

Thereafter, the Smoke Offering was performed and all proceeded to circumambulate the offering hearth so as to receives blessings of good fortune for this coming year from the offering's smoke. The ceremony ended with a ceremony in which the plaques with the name of relatives written on them were burnt, symbolizing the removal of any obstacle and inauspiciousness that may come their way.

All in all, the ceremony lasted close to 5 hours, and I was amazed to see everyone very patiently going through the whole process, old and young, Taiwanese and foreigner alike. Perhaps the smallest ones were slightly more restless, needless to say...

But in the end all were happy, and as the ceremony reached it's close, everyone received a scroll of Rinpoche's own calligraphy, inscribed with good wishes for the New Year. The buzz in the hall was quite tangible as people chatted cheerfully, collecting a few fruit and biscuits from the offering and slowly making their way out, leaving the hall once again empty.

My Personal Practice

I myself have received an oral transmission of the practice from my root teacher, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche. I practice everyday, usually in the morning before starting my day. As a matter of fact, of all the practices I have received or been exposed to, I can quite confidently say it is the one I bear closest to my heart. It is an offering made to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the one hand and to all beings in all realms of existence on the other.

When offering to the Buddhas, we imagine the smoke becoming everything beautiful and wonderful in the world; when we offer to the beings of the six realms, we imagine that it brings them whatever they need or desire. For example, if one offers to the hungry ghosts, the smoke becomes nourishment for them, and were one to offer to hell realms, it could be anything that brings the beings there respite and comfort in the throes of their suffering. When we offer the smoke to the beings of the human realm we imagine it soothes all their sorrows and brings them all happiness.

The practice in itself has a ritualistic aspect to it, from the placing of the sang offering powder in the bowl and sprinkling it with saffron water to purify it, to lighting the offering and then bringing it to a window sill so the smoke may drift into the sky. This whole process has a way of stroking an emotional chord within me, and when I manage to focus enough to clearly imagine the smoke reaching the different realms and bringing joy and comfort to the beings there, I feel a true sense of connectedness which makes me feel very peaceful.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Zhu Yuanzhang’s Secret Yidam

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog
Shakyamuni Buddha

In modern Fenyang in Anhui province, there is a monastery where Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, took his vows and became a monk because of his family’s poverty. At that time, the temple was so old and dilapidated that it didn’t even have a main gate. Once Zhu Yuanzhang took the throne, he relocated and restored the monastery, bestowing it with the name of Dalongxing. For hundreds of years, it was one of the most respected monasteries in China. In this majestic complex, there are nearly 1,000 monk cells and more than 20 large pavilions and halls. It is an important tourist attraction for both domestic and international visitors and keeps countless mysterious stories within its walls.

Zhu Yuanzhang’s deep affection for Huangjue Monastery (its original name) was directly related to his ability to ascend the dragon throne and unify the country. Zhu Yuanzhang also gave Huangjue Monastery the name Longjue Monastery, which means “the place the emperor reached realization,” signifying that this is where he met his spiritual master. The abbot of the monastery saw that Zhu Yuanzhang was not an ordinary person, bearing the marks of someone with the potential to be a great leader. He told Zhu Yuanzhang, “I will transmit a mantra to you. This mantra will give you fortune that surpasses that of 10,000 men, but I hope that when the day arrives that you are ready to set forth into the world, you will honor the three jewels and temples near and far.” And so, Fangzhang gave the young man Cundhi Buddha’s mantra, which Zhu Yuanzhang recited night and day, never expecting that it would completely change his life. Thereafter, in the war between himself and Chen Youliang (his greatest adversary), Zhu Yuanzhang called on Cundhi’s powerful guidance to come to his aid, eventually enabling him to conquer all. Otherwise, the Ming dynasty would have been ruled by the Chen family.

To understand the mysterious power of Cundhi’s mantra, you must read the Tripitaka Koreana, which includes a lot of related information. This mantra comes from Buddha Shakyamuni, who one day suddenly felt that in the future Dharma Decadence Age, sentient beings’ karma would be extremely heavy, their merits continuously decreasing while diseases spread and people’s minds filled with vexation. The Buddha thought about this powerful mantra and hoped that it could help those future beings, fewer and fewer of whom would believe in Buddhism or observe precepts. So many Dharma practices would be unavailable to anyone except those with very good roots. The majority would have little opportunity to practice and humanity’s calamities would become insurmountable. 

So, the Buddha released his supernatural abilities and transmitted Cundhi’s mantra of inconceivable blessing and power. He said that those who practice this mantra would eliminate the karma they had amassed in past lives when they ignorantly committed the 10 unrepentable bad deeds and the five inexpiable sins, as well as extend their lives. Practitioners of this mantra would receive whatever they desired, whether an official post or sons or daughters. Renunciates and laypeople alike could fulfill all their wishes, even becoming a ruler in a future life, receiving supreme authority and respect. The Buddha said in a sutra that this mantra is especially useful for those who want to be revered by others; they would be showered with love and respect and have prosperous dealings with others. When traveling for business or leisure overseas, recitation of this mantra prevents harm by fire or water, karmic debtors, poison and demons. Yuan Liaofan (of the Ming Dynasty) also found fortune, wealth, offspring and the attainment of government rank through the recitation of the Cundhi mantra, showing that it is as powerful as the Buddha proclaimed.

People with a mind of faith and understanding should request this mantra and its practice method from a qualified master. Once this is done, you can visualize Cundhi in the space in front of yourself, radiating light from his heart to yours. If a practitioner with bodhicitta and a mind of faith and understanding recites the mantra continually, day and night, for 49 days, he or she will have an auspicious dream and blessings.

Hear Shang Rinpoche's recitation of the mantra here on his YouTube Channel:
Cundhi Mantra on YouTube

The Buddha showed his compassion by not placing many restrictions on the recitation of this mantra. Laypeople and renunciates alike can recite it, and there are no specific disciplines like eating vegetarian. This is an incomparable mantra (dharani), and it takes amazing merit to come across it.