Tulku Ogyan Kyab Begins his Studies in India
By Laura Ellis
In November 2014 four year old Tulku Ogyan Kyab began his studies at the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang in New Delhi. Born in the Year of the Iron Tiger (2010) in Seattle, Tulkula was recognized by His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche as the reincarnation of Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche. Tulkula is the fourth reincarnation of Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche of Yaten Gompa, an 800 year old Sakya monastery located in Minyak, Kham, East Tibet. There are over 200 monks in residence at Yaten Monastery.
Tulku Ogyan’s parents are both Buddhists and are devoted students of H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche. Tulkula’s father, Tsering Lama, is Tibetan. His family, most of whom reside in Minyak, have been devotees of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism for hundreds of years. In that time there have been several great masters that were born into the family. Tulkula’s mother, Laura Ellis, received the Lamdre initiation from Dagchen Rinpoche in Nepal in 2007. Her family have been in America for many generations. Some of her ancestors were British pilgrims that arrived on the Mayflower ship in 1620.
According to Tibetan tradition tulkus begin their monastic studies at the age of 4 or 5 years old. Tulkula is presently studying Tibetan language and Buddhism in India. He will need a foundation in Tibetan in order to begin his formal Buddhist studies in Tibet next year. The Phuntsok Phodrang, Sakya Heritage Foundation in New Delhi is home to over 100 young monks, teachers, and staff. It is the perfect environment for a lama of Tulkula’s age to learn Tibetan language. When he is not engaged in formal classes with his teacher, he is playing games with the other young monks. By the time Tulkula is ready to move to Yaten Monastery in Tibet in summer 2016, he will be fully conversant in Tibetan.
When Tulkula arrived in New Delhi on November 7, 2014, accompanied by his mother, he was greeted by his paternal uncle, Venerable Jamyang Gyaltsen, who is the administrator of the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang. Lama Jamyang made all of the arrangements for Tulkula’s education in India: appointing his personal teacher, Venerable Ngawang Lodro, his attendants, and arranging for audiences with important lamas. It is fortunate that Tulkula can be under the supervision and guidance of his caring uncle, Lama Jamyang Gyalstsen.
The timing of Tulkula’s arrival in India was auspicious in that so many great Sakya lamas were gathered for the Golden Jubilee Celebration of Sakya Center. Shortly after arriving in New Delhi, Tulkula traveled to Dehra Dun for the Golden Jubilee Celebration where he met His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche and received special blessings. He received blessings from the Sakya Dhungseys of the Drolma Phodrang and the Phuntsok Phodrang : H.E. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche, H.E. Abhaya Rinpoche, and H.E. Asanga Rinpoche. Also, from H.E. Ngor Luding Khen Chen Rinpoche Tulkula received a hair cutting blessing. He had the good fortune to meet with Dezhung Yangsi Tulku Rinpoche at his residence in Sakya College.
Tulkula will be traveling to Tibet in the summer of 2016 for the formal enthronement ceremony at Yaten Monastery. The upcoming trip to Minyak will be Tulkula’s second visit to Tibet. The first trip was in September, 2013, when Tulkula was 3 years old. The purpose of that visit was mainly to visit Tulkula’s paternal relatives. He spent one month at the family residence in Minyak along with his mother and sister. He traveled to several of the major monasteries in the area. Auspicious signs manifested at many key moments during his visit to Minyak.
The people of Minyak, and especially the monks of his own monastery are eagerly awaiting Tulkula’s return. He will be cared for by devoted monk attendants and taught by the most accomplished teachers. It is important for tulkus to receive the teachings and then to contemplate, study, meditate and practice the teachings. A tulku’s duty is vast. All of the monks at his monastery expect Tulkula to be their lama (teacher). Eventually Tulkula will be able to teach the Buddha Dharma, which will be of immeasurable benefit to all beings.
H. H. Dagchen Rinpoche, out of his supreme kindness and compassion for all beings, recognized Tulku Ogyan, so that Tulkula can fulfill his chosen destiny: to liberate beings wandering in the ocean of samsara. May Tulkula follow in our Precious Teacher’s footsteps, victorious over every obstacle, in order to bring happiness to all sentient beings.
May all beings benefit and may the precious Sakya teachings long endure!
Princess Ashi Kesang of Bhutan Visits Sakya Monastery
By Heydi Carter
In January 2015, Princess Ashi Kesang Choden T Wangchuck, granddaughter of Her Royal Majesty 3rd Queen of Bhutan, and her daughter came to spend a couple months in the US. They spent much of their time in the Seattle-Bellevue area where Ashi Kesang was training and working on fundraising efforts for monastic conservation projects in Bhutan.
On the evening of Guru Rinpoche Tsok they had their first visit to Sakya Monastery of Seattle, where Ashi Kesang payed her respects to H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche, H.E. Dagmo Kusho and the Sakya family. We are grateful to Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche for introducing Ashi Kesang to the Sakya family and Sangha in Seattle. Princess Ashi Kesang’s family was especially happy to hear of her meetings with H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche and the Sakya Family. H.E. Dagmo Kusho is her grandmother, the Queen’s, long-time friend. After the Tsok ceremony, Ashi Kesang expressed how happy she was to finally see a stupa – it was the first stupa she had seen since she left Bhutan! Her 10 year old daughter, Tashi, was especially impressed to see an American woman at the Tsok who had all of her prayers memorized in Tibetan language!
Sakya Monastery’s VEI program kindly welcomed Princess Ashi Kesang to be a part of their Guest Lecture Series in February. Ashi Kesang presented historical accounts and heart-warming narratives of Bhutan’s ancient sacred sites and artworks, as well as their current-day preservation efforts. The accompanying slideshow contained breath-taking imagery, including photos of statues and sacred sites of Guru Rinpoche which are not usually available for public viewing (in fact the only other place they could be seen is in her editorial publication, Zangdok Palri: Lotus Light Palace of Guru Rinpoche).
The Sakya Monastery is very grateful to Princess Ashi Kesang for gracing us with her presence and providing us with a unique opportunity to see a glimpse of the rare and sacred images in Bhutan. We are very grateful to Dagmo Kusho and Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche for gracing this presentation with their attendance, to the Sakya Monastery and VEI program for providing this unique platform, and to all the Sangha members who energized the evening with their wonderful enthusiasm!
Photos courtesy Lincoln Potter
Details from the 7th Annual Crab Release
By Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche
For seven years now, Dr. Kristine Honda and I have been organizing an annual crab release for the long life of H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, other spiritual leaders, and for world peace.
On the morning of Saturday, March 21st, 2015, some of the Sakya Sangha members gathered at the Monastery to prepare all the tents, tables, chairs and prayer books for this event. All the supplies were packed up to bring to Anacortes where the crab release event was to take place. This year, we released 170 crabs, each crab cost $14, a total value of $2,380, into the Puget Sound waters near Anacortes.
Around 8:30 in the morning, as I was standing outside the Sakya Monastery, waiting for my ride to arrive, suddenly there was a loud ruckus from a flock of birds in a nearby tree. I looked up to see a large hawk swoop down and attack a small bird. The two of them fell to the street, grappling. I ran to shoo the hawk away and he flew off, leaving the small bird on the street. The bird tried to hide himself inside the sewer grating on the edge of the street. I was worried that if he got inside, he might drown or not be able to get back out. So I grabbed him by his tail feathers just in time to pull him out of the grating. I held him in my hands and could feel his heart racing. I recited OM MANI PEME HUNG, the mantra of the Buddha of compassion, and then placed him safely under some bushes behind the Monastery. I was so sad because he almost died, but I was also so happy because I had been able to save his life!
Ngawang Choegyal-la, the Tibetan lady who was driving, and her son, Losal, arrived and we headed out towards Anacortes. Just north of Lynnwood, a heavy rain began pour down on us. We could not see more than a few feet in front of us. I thought, “Oh no! I better pray for the rain to stop!” Then I realized that Dagchen Rinpoche, such a powerful lama, is with us today so he will be able to stop the rain. As we neared Anacortes, the heavy downpour turned into just a light sprinkle. By the time we arrived at Black Rock Seafood Company the rain had completely ceased. Dr. Honda, Lama Migmar and others had already arrived. We purchased the crabs from the Black Rock Seafood Company and headed to the beach where they would be released.
At the beach, we set up a beautiful orange tent that Dr. Honda and other Sangha members had purchased with their donations. Underneath, we set up all the tables, chairs, prayer books and a photo of H.H. Dalai Lama. The business people brought four big bins full of the crabs we had purchased. After about a half hour, Dagchen Rinpoche, Dagmo Kusho-la, Sakya Dungsey, Ani Rinpoche, Zaya Rinpoche, Sadu Rinpoche, Sakya Jestunmas and Dagmos, and around 30 other guests gathered. First, katags were offered to Dagchen Rinpoche. I was very thankful because he has come to this event every year since it first began, and even now that he is 86 years old, he still comes! I am also very thankful to have Dagmo Kusho-la’s blessings every year, and the support from the Sakya family and Sangha members.
Dagchen Rinpoche began by leading the group in reciting OM MANI PEME HUNG 108 times. During this time, Lama Migmar and Tsering Gaga sprinkled the crabs with holy water which had been brought by Dagmo Kusho-la and me. I used the sound system brought by Zaya Rinpoche to lead the chant of Aspiration of Samantabhadra, the mantras of Buddha Amitabha, Medicine Buddha and Three Long-life Deities, and Long-life Prayers for H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Sakya Trinzin, H.H. Sakya Dagchen and HE Dagmo Kusho-la. Then we released the crabs into the ocean. Two bins of crabs were released by hand, one by one, at the water’s edge. The other two bins were taken by Trinidad and kids, Losel and Meadow-lark, by boat to be released in the deeper waters where the sea gulls could not catch them. Zaya Rinpoche took many beautiful pictures. Marsha and Keli also documented the event with photos.
Then we packed up all the supplies, put the tent and chairs and everything back in the car. Most of us went to Sakura, a Japanese restaurant in Anacortes, for lunch. We took up 3 tables; one for the whole Sakya family. The hibachi grills were fired up in front of us and the cooks prepared our meals with much flair. We had a total of 27 people; some people had already left right after the crab release. Dr. Honda generously sponsored the meal for the whole Sakya family, Lama Migmar and me. After lunch, we returned to Seattle to find amazingly sunny weather. A few light clouds danced in the sky, a gentle breeze flowed through the tree tops. I felt so thankful, blissful and joyful for this day’s wonderful practice. May our great spiritual leaders have long lives! May there be world peace! May all sentient beings be happy!
We saved $300 for an upcoming fish release in the ocean waters of Hong Kong . We will be releasing fish in Hong Kong because it is less expensive this way and therefore the money we spend can have a greater impact; saving more lives!
2015 Live Animal Release Photos
Interview with Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche on his new book Handbook for Half Buddhas
By Peter Ober
Peter: What made you decide to write a Handbook for Half Buddhas?
Tulku Yeshi: There are lots of books on Tibetan Buddhism, but the authors are almost all Westerners. Although educated and qualified, they only know Tibetan culture from afar. I was born into a Tibetan Buddhist family and brought up in their faith and culture and then studied Buddhism for over 30 years in Tibet.
Peter: You are now a monk. Were all your studies within Tibetan monasteries?
Tulku Yeshi: No, it was about fifty-fifty, half my studies were by myself and half were in monasteries at the feet of Buddhist Masters.
Peter: I know you are also a poet; your love of nature is obvious from your autobiography and your talks at Sakya Monastery, but most Westerners imagine that the religious practices of a Buddhist monk must be “other-worldly” and unrelated to the everyday experience of people who have to work for a living and scarcely have enough time to relax over a cup of coffee. How will they find your Handbook relevant to their lives?
Tulku Yeshi: If they just start reading it, they will find that there isn’t such a sharp divide between Tibetan Buddhist practice and everyday life in the West. In fact, I hope they will discover that “the daily grind,” as you Americans call it, won’t be so grim and oppressive once they realize that it can also be a vehicle for their spiritual practice. Take that cup of coffee you mentioned. The Handbook will show them how to make it an offering to the Three Jewels as well as an opportunity for relaxation. That’s just one example. In addition to covering details of Deity Yoga and other more advanced practices, I devote plenty of space to the daily routines we all share. I give detailed instructions, including specific mantras, for all these mundane activities. My hope is that readers will realize that things as “worldly” as washing your face and brushing your teeth can be done from a spiritual perspective and can, in turn, enrich and deepen that spiritual perspective.
Peter: So how would you sum up your over-all goal in writing the Handbook?
Tulku Yeshi: I hope readers will become more mindful in everything they do and cherish others more than themselves.
Peter: From what you have just said it is clear how the book encourages and inspires us to be mindful about everything we do rather than going through life on automatic pilot; but would you say a little more about the second goal, cherishing others more than ourselves?
Tulku Yeshi: The Buddha emphasized the great importance of recognizing the interdependence of all things. That’s what Mother Nature teaches us, too! Look at that tree out there. (Rinpoche points out the window.) Although it may be on “our” property according to the laws people have made, it takes in carbon dioxide from the whole neighborhood and replaces it with oxygen, freshening the air for everyone who walks by. If we sealed it off from everything else as if it were self-existing, it would quickly die, and so would all the birds and other beings who depend on it.
If you extend this observation to yourself and the people in your life, you can’t deny that we are all tied together in a web of interdependence within which, no matter how hard you look, you‘ll never discover an unchanging “self” at the core of anybody or anything! The more deeply you feel the wonder and the beauty of the web of life as a whole, the more you realize how silly it is to project an imaginary duality of “self” and “other” into it— just as silly as it would be to insist that that tree out there is “ours!” The only sensible strategy is to be as mindful as possible when referring to our experience as some imaginary “me” within us and to cultivate love and compassion for all the “other” sentient beings who are woven into the same web of life that supports us.
Peter: Thank you, Rinpoche! It sounds like you have been speaking about emptiness without calling it that.
Tulku Yeshi: I don’t discuss emptiness as such—that comes with advanced meditation and the study of philosophy. The Handbook is a down-to-earth, practical book. I‘m more concerned with how people deal with karma in their everyday lives. Once they understand their interdependence with other sentient beings from this perspective— from the perspective of the laws of karmic cause and effect—then they will have a basis of experience in which an understanding of emptiness can take root.
Peter: We’re almost out of time, and I feel we’ve just scratched the surface of the Handbook for Half Buddhas. I know you include instructions for quite a few fairly advanced practices as well as detailed instructions for beginners. What kind of response have you received from your own students?
Tulku Yeshi: (Laughs) A lot of them were happy that I added so much detail about setting up shrines and taking care of their sacred implements. After reading the section on prayer wheels, for instance, one student became curious and looked inside her prayer wheel. She found that all the mantras were up-side down! It’s practical tips like that which more seasoned practitioners seem to appreciate.
Peter: If you had to sum up the book in a single sentence, how would you describe it?
Tulku Yeshi: That’s easy. The book is a teacher. If you’re a beginner, just turn to page one and start reading! If you’re an advanced practitioner with a specific question, you should be able to skim over the table of contents and then zero in on the answer you’re looking for.
Peter: Finally, Rinpoche, do you have any other books “in the oven?”
Tulku Yeshi: Yes, I do. I have just finished one for children entitled 108 Questions about the Life and Teachings of the Buddha. While there are already books about the Buddha for children, they consist almost entirely of storytelling, while my book interweaves basic Buddhist teachings with stories.
My next book will be Tibetan Zen. Along with other material, it will introduce a range of simple, deep meditations in relatively poetic language. I hope to show that profound meditative states need not involve complicated visualizations, but can also be evoked by peaceful settings in the natural world or by beautiful music and other experiences dear to all of us.
Peter: Thank you, Rinpoche, for your precious gifts to all of us!
2015 Losar Speech
by David Spiekerman
LOSAR TASHI DELEK
On behalf of His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, I would like to welcome all of you to our Losar celebration. We live in a time and place that encourages New Years celebrations among the diverse world cultures calling America their home. Today we celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the most important holiday in Tibet.
In ancient times, Tibetans celebrated Losar on the Winter Solstice when they performed their rituals of gratitude for the sacred nature of the internal and external elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space. After Buddhism came to Tibet and Tibetans adopted the Chinese lunar calendar and astrology, the modern form of Losar developed.
In Tibetan monasteries several days before Losar, monks perform Vajrakilaya and other protector diety pujas. On New Years day, special preparations for the Dharma protectors are offered. And traditionally, everyone wishes His Holiness Dalai Lama “ Good luck!” In other words, an auspicious state resulting from favorable outcomes.
The New Year is a natural occasion to wish everyone “Gook luck!” Of course, as good Buddhists, we strive to practice loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom at every moment. We are grateful that the New Years is a ripe opportunity to assess the condition of our wisdom. How we behave, in other words, how close we adhere to the Bodhisattva’s vow to put others before ourselves, will determine the measure of “Good luck” that we shall experience in the coming year.
The other day, I was fortunate to hear an interview on Public Radio with a Seattle nurse who has been to West Africa twice and is going back a third time to help people stricken with Ebola. The clarity and purity of her profound selflessness and her utterly true compassion in action were mind blowing and brought tears to my eyes.
We are all capable of such fearless selflessness. Although we all, due to present circumstances and karma, may not be now capable of such heroic activities as this Seattle nurse, we all can engage skillfully in smaller acts of kindness, which fostered over time in our daily lives and Dharma practices, will lead to the accumulation of significant merit. The New Year renews our precious opportunity to imbue our altruistic intentions with the greatest strength that we can muster.
I do not know if Lord Buddha taught about New Year celebrations. The concepts of New Year and old year have no ultimate meaning. However, it is obvious that human cultures need order and regularity in their lives to live harmoniously with one another and with Mother Nature, who passes through regular and annual natural cycles. Just as our bodies are made up of the physical elements, the five aggregates, our minds are a mirror image of space.
So it is fitting that once a year, we are happy to celebrate the annual passage of time, which manifests in our bodies as birth, sickness, old age and death. Recognizing this turns our mind to the Dharma.
As a community of Dharma practitioners, Losar affords us the precious opportunity to renew together our commitments to the Triple Gem. The happy in Happy New Year, as in all auspicious states, is rooted in our faithful practice and understanding of loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom. As we have Bodhisattvas in our midst here today, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, His Eminence Avikrita Rinpoche, His Eminence Asanga Rinpoche, His Eminence Abaya Rinpoche, the Khon lineage of Dunghseys, Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho, and our resident lamas, we are fortunate to have these human beings as our cherished teachers, who walk in the footsteps of Lord Buddha, the blessed one, who is an unsurpassed teacher.
May the New Year bring health, happiness, and holiness to our precious teachers and all sentient beings.