Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche’s Pilgrimage to India
By Peter Ober, from an interview with Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche
Ven. Tulku Yeshi Gyatso and a group of Monastery members traveled to India in November, 2013 to go on pilgrimage to the Buddhist holy sites of Bodhgaya, Vulture Peak, and Varanasi. This interview is about that trip.
Peter: Tulku Yeshi, what was your original motivation in organizing a pilgrimage to India?
Tulku Yeshi: In the beginning, my goal was to visit my parents. I had not seen them since I left Tibet twenty years ago! I missed them very much, and I was worried that they would soon be too old to travel. Since it would have been difficult for me to travel to Tibet, I thought of offering to fly them and my brother to Hong Kong and meeting them there.
Then I realized, Hong Kong is about a six hour flight from India; why not invite my Dharma sisters and brothers along, too? So I announced the idea of a pilgrimage and invited those who were interested to join me in India.
Peter: It must have been very emotional for both you and your parents to see each other after so many years and then to say goodbye again!
Tulku Yeshi: Don’t forget, we‘re Buddhists! I kept the lines from our Thursday Chenrezi Practice in my mind: “That which is united is separated, that which is accumulated is consumed, that which rises must fall, and that which is born eventually dies: These are the four conditions of impermanence.”
Peter: What sites did you and your fellow pilgrims decide to visit?
Tulku Yeshi: We decided to meet up at the Tibetan Refugee Camp in New Delhi and then to concentrate on the three places of central importance for the Buddha and his Teaching: first Bodh Gaya, then Vulture Peak, and finally Varanasi.
Tulku Yeshi: Bodh Gaya is the Center, the most important pilgrimage site for all Buddhists, because it was there, on the banks of the Naranjana River, that the Buddha meditated for six years and finally attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. King Ashoka built the first temple there, and that is where the great Mahabodhi Temple Complex is located today.
Peter: Is the original Bodhi Tree still there?
Tulku Yeshi: Children of King Ashoka carried a cutting from the original tree to Shri Lanka and planted it there. Later, Muslims destroyed the roots of the original tree, so a cutting from the Shri Lankan tree was returned to Bodhi Gaya and planted there, and now the blessing of the original tree is available once again. It’s just like the Buddha’s own blessing passing down through the Lineage to us today! We stayed in Bodh Gaya for four full days. While there, our group participated in reciting the Twelve Deeds of Lord Buddha and the Seven Branch Prayer and also offered up personal prayers. I also gave several short teachings, and, of course, we meditated. We also practiced Chod together on the banks of the Naranjana River
Peter: And what is the significance of Vulture Peak?
Tulku Yeshi: Lord Buddha gave many Sutra Teachings there including the Heart Sutra, which was translated into many languages over two thousand years ago. We chant it today in our Sunday Chenrezi Practice.
Two great disciples of the Buddha, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, also gave many teachings there. It is an extremely holy place. When the sixth Dalai Lama made a pilgrimage to Vulture Peak, he did not see grass and stones, but Dharma books piled as high as a mountain, and since they contained the sacred words of the Buddha, he refused to step on them. Instead he made prostrations at the foot of the mountain. Many other people have had similar experiences. Everything there is blessed, the plants, the wildlife, even the rocks. When the Buddha taught at Vulture Peak, by his power all the people on the mountain could hear him perfectly clearly, every one in his own native language!
Peter: We have a picture of you and your students in a cave labeled “Vulture Peak.” Can you explain its significance?
Tulku Yeshi: There are several caves there. The picture was taken in Shariputra’s Cave, where he sat after the Buddha’s Teachings to answer disciples’ questions. From the top of the mountain, the Buddha knew that the answers Shariputra gave were his own. I lit six candles in the Cave for the Six Perfections.
Peter: Now, please tell us about Varanasi. What makes it so special?
Tulku Yeshi: Many different religions made Varanasi what it is today. The Ganges River is there, and that makes it sacred to Hindus.
Peter: Why is that?
Tulku Yeshi: Because they believe that the Ganges came from Shiva’s hair. “Vara” and “Nasi” are the names of two rivers, and Hindu pilgrims will travel thousands of miles to bathe in the sacred waters there and to purify themselves.
It was a very holy site long before the time of the Buddha, so after reaching Enlightenment he traveled to Varanasi and began teaching the Four Noble Truths there, knowing that the five old friends who had performed austerities with him before his Enlightenment would understand the new Teaching. They were very strong practitioners and he knew many others would follow if they became his disciples, which they did. Many Hindu masters were at also Varanasi together with their students, and they also became his students. So Varanasi became the hub of the wheel of the Buddha’s Teachings and remained so until the end of his life.
Peter: How wonderful that the different faiths coexisted back then! Today, it seems so much violence has broken out between the different religions in India and in many other places as well. As Buddhist pilgrims, did you ever experience tension with the local people?
Tulku Yeshi: Not at all! The local people know the benefits of Buddhism and of being open-minded about other religions. That’s why the Dalai Lama himself says, “India is the best example of how other religions can coexist peacefully.” In Varanasi especially we saw Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim temples next to each other. Hindus believe that Vishnu has ten thousand emanations, and one of them is the Buddha. That’s why Gandhi said, “Buddhism is part of Hinduism.”
Peter: Do you think you will be leading any more pilgrimages in the future, and if so, what changes would you make?
Tulku Yeshi: Yes, certainly! If there is enough time, I would love to include southern India in the next pilgrimage and to visit the Ajanta and Ellora caves, which were made famous by the Buddha’s followers.
Westerners are actually at an advantage because Indians speak English throughout the country. The challenge is the food, water, and air, which are not up to the standards which Americans expect. Fortunately, we had no problems this time. One thing I did learn this time was how important it is for future pilgrims to be completely honest with themselves about their motivation. They should be 100% sure in their hearts before signing up. Then everything will go well.
Peter: Thank you so much, Tulku Yeshi. I’m sure many Sangha members will want to follow you on your next pilgrimage!
Kanjur Reading for H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s Long Life
By Stephanie Prince
On September 20, 2013, a special announcement was sent out that the Sakya Monastery would host a reading and viewing practice of the Kanjur texts. It was being held especially for the benefit of H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya's long life and for world peace. The Kanjur, composed of 108 volumes, is the speech or “Translation of the Word”, of the Buddha in the sutra and tantric traditions. For example, some of us had before us on our table sutras such as the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom), while others of us, were able to view the Kalachakra tantra.
The schedule for this auspicious activity began on September 24 at 9:30 am and was expected to continue during several sessions during that week. As it turned out we had very good attendance and thus this practice was able to be accomplished within two intensive sessions.
Reading/viewing of the Kanjur ("Shachey") is a very meritorious tradition often practiced in Tibetan monasteries. Those who understand Tibetan could read the texts in Tibetan. However, for those of us who cannot read Tibetan, we were able to participate by respectfully viewing and turning the pages of a volume of the Kanjur while reciting mantras. For this practice, members and friends mindfully recited H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche’s Long Life prayer, mantras such as those of the Three Long Life Deities (Amitayus, Ushinisha Vijaya, and White Tara), Chenrezi, or Green Tara mantras.
Everyone was welcomed to join Tulku Yeshi; Khenpo Jampa; Lama Migmar; and the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang family for these prayer services and we all had a very enjoyable, enlightening, and beneficial experience. And we all felt very blessed to be able to participate in this virtuous Dharma activity.
Khenpo Jampa Rinpoche Invited to Speak on Multi-Faith Panel in Bellingham, WA
by Kim Abbey
On April 13, 2013 Khenpo Jampa Rinpoche traveled north of Seattle, about a two hour drive, to Cornwall Church in Bellingham to speak to the congregation there. He and representatives of four other faiths were invited by the Pastor Bob Marvel to answer questions at the regular week-end services at the church. The multi-faith panel discussion was given at the Saturday 6:00 pm service and then repeated at the Sunday 9:00 am and 12:00 pm services.
At each of these services about 400 people attended. Cornwall Church is an evangelical Christian church first opened in Bellingham in 1900. Since 1992, under Pastor Bob Marvel, the ministry has grown, including the education program.
The panel speakers came from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Buddhist faiths. Each speaker was asked to answer four questions: What is God's role in your religion? What is your faith's scripture and how was it written? How does your faith view the life and role of Jesus? How does your faith view the afterlife? Each panelist was able to speak for about 5 minutes on each question.
At each service, there was an atmosphere of mutual respect and of the love and compassion for each faith amongst the congregation. Khenpo Jampa Rinpoche elucidated the main beliefs of the Buddhist faith with an open-hearted and gregarious enthusiasm. The congregation at Cornwall Church gained more knowledge and understanding of other faiths.
with H.E. Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche
submitted by Wendy Becker
“The opening of the gates of Dharma
Is not an initiation of a deity transmission to the body;
It is an initiation of the ultimate meaning transmitted to the mind.” ~ Machig Labdron
WB: How many lineages of Chod are there? What is your lineage?
HETYR: From the beginning we have to know who the founder of Chod Practice is and where it comes from. In Tibetan language the meaning of the word “chod” translates “to cut” and here, in Tibetan Buddhism, Chod means, “to cut the ego”. Machig Labdron founded Chod which signifies a specific practice of the dharma. She was born in Labchi in the year, 1015 and passed away 1153. Although her birth name was Rinchen Dronme she was later renamed from her original name of Dronme and her place of birth in Labdron, to “the shining light of Lab” hence, the name “Labdron.” Her practice was inspired by “perfection of discriminating insight,” otherwise known as Prajnaparamita and spread into the Gelugpa and Kagyu schools.
Three root gurus came before Machig Labdron: Yum Chenmo (Blessing Lineage), Vajradhara (Tantric Female Lineage), and Sakyamuni (Sutra Male Lineage) that was disseminated through Manjurishi, Dakini Sukhasiddhi, Nagarjuna, Lopon Aryadeva to Brahmin Aryadeva, Dampa Sangye, Sonam Lama, Kyosakya Yeshe, and Mara Sepo). Machig Labdron received direct transmission from Yum Chenmo, Great Mother of Prajnaparamita and “constitutes an original specific system, both from a philosophical point of view and in terms of the methods of realization...” (Machig Labdron and the Foundations of Chod, by Jerome Edou; pp.79-88).
From the three root gurus came three transmissions:
“The first main transmission came down from Dampa Sangye directly through Sonam Lama with precepts from the mahasiddha tradition as well as the Chod precepts connected with Prajnaparamita. The latter tradition, obtained from the Brahmin, is referred to as the oral transmission lineage and is also known as the Sutra tradition. The second transmission, the Vajrayana Chod, was directly revealed to Machig Labdron by Tara through visionary experiences and thus considered to be an emanation of the Great Mother Yum Chenmo, the Perfection of Wisdom, a wisdom dakini. The third originated with Machig herself and consists of a corpus of teachings born from the previous two, combined with her own meditative experience” (Ibid as above, pp. 79-88).
Also, the Ngingma tradition has Chod practice with masters like Jigme Lingpa. I have both both Ngingmapa and Gelugpa Chod lineages.
WB: How many years have you practiced Chod?
HETYR: Each time after I receive Chod empowerment and teachings, I practice Chod. I especially practice, when my ego destroys my peaceful mind, and when there are more obstacles, stress or depression.
WB: What is your most memorable experience with Chod?
HETYR: During their practice, the good practitioners can feel they are ready to give up everything they have and also feel countless sentient beings receiving what they have to give them. But an ordinary person like myself only has my visualizations to offer, yet they have helped me to generate more feelings of relaxation and calm when there is struggle and stress.
WB: Is Chod a deity practice or more like Tonglen?
HETYR: It is both. It is practice of Tonglen with the deity and to give more of everything. For instance you should give your happiness, your joy, your merit, your love, your compassion, your wisdom, your energy, your smile and physical body to free all sentient beings from suffering.
WB: What is the symbolism/meaning of Chod Instruments?
HETYR: The Bell represents wisdom. The Vajra symbolizes method. The Drum beats to the wisdom of unborn emptiness and the two faces of the drum represent compassion and wisdom. The Kangling is the symbol of selflessness.
WB: Is Machig Labdron a real person or a deity?
HETYR: She is real person, yes, but Tibetans believe she is a reincarnation of the Great Mother Prajnaparamita.
When Machig started to read the texts, she was able to complete twelve volumes in the time it took others to read four volumes. As she progressed on her studies she dedicated her tasks for the benefit of all beings to reach the Khecari realm of Sky-Goers (adapted from Ibid, pp 129-130).
WB: Why practice in graveyards/cemeteries?
HETYR: Because Buddhists believe that in those kinds of places, there is more spiritual energy. In Tibet, when we practice near water on edge of lake, beach or rivers and mountains, it is called Chumig Gyatsa. The Tibetan term is Nyensa, when practicing at different cemeteries or other haunted places. Chodpa. But in Western countries, is easier to practice Chumig Gyatsa. And, if someone can go to Tibet, India or Nepal, I think they can practice
WB: What is the purpose of Chod practice?
HETYR: To cultivate detachment, relax and generate more love and compassion. By gaining better understanding of all phenomena, you make yourself a Bodhisattva. When you become a less sensitive person vulnerable to getting angry, jealous, sad, depressed, or feeling need to isolate yourself or break up relationships with others you exist in the true nature of what you are.
WB: Are there more auspicious times of the month/year to practice Chod?
HETYR: Year and month don’t matter. But traditionally, practice during the night is best time in addition to Dakini days.
WB: How does a student learn the practice of Chod?
HETYR: First, you have to receive empowerment, transmission and teachings with your guru. Then you go on to 108 practices. Additionally, you should study the story of Machig Labdron, the history of Chod, Lama lineage and texts. I have composed two sets of practices for practitioners. One is An Abbreviated Chod Sadhana of Machig Labdron and the other the long one is A Complete Chod Sadhana of Machig Labdron. If people are very busy, the short sadhana is appropriate to practice while the long version is used for monthly practice and retreat.
5th Annual Live Animal Release
By Kristine Honda
On Saturday, April 6th, 2013, Sakya Monastery held its 5th annual live animal release in Anacortes. His Holiness Dagchen Rinpoche, Dhungsey Zaya Rinpoche, Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho, and Venerable Khenpo Jampa Rinpoche presided over the ceremony in Anacortes. Many people witnessed the miraculous and auspicious signs preceeding their arrival. Before the ceremony began, the weather in Anacortes was foreboding. It was rainy, and cold with torrential downpours and gusts of wind threatening to make the event very uncomfortable for participants. Just before Dagchen Rinpoche and entourage arrived, the rain and wind stopped and the skies became clear, blue, and sunny. During the recitation of prayers, it actually became hot!
The lamas and many Sakya Monastery members and friends recited Chenrezi mantra, Om Mani Padme Hung, the Aspiration of Samantabhadra, and long life Prayers for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche, H.E. Dagmo Kusho Sakya and the Khön lineage. Merit was dedicated to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Sakya Family, the lamas, and to all sentient beings.
Monastery members and friends generously donated $1370. A total of 175 Dungeness crabs were released, including 4 donated by Black Rock Seafood. This practice was begun in 2009 with Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche and I releasing 55 crabs. We are extremely happy that now more than 3 times that amount has been released. We are so blessed to have Dagchen Rinpoche, Dagmo Kusho, the Sakya Family and monastery members participate. The owner of the crab supplier, Tony Franulovich, Jr, shared with us how since he has worked with us over the past 4 years, he has seen his business grow, and considers the animal release a great blessing.
Thank you to everyone whose contributions helped save the Dungeness crabs from certain death. Thanks to Eric Dulberg for helping to bring the tent and supplies and thanks to Trinidad for bringing his rowboat. Thank you to our precious lamas for coming and blessing the crabs and everyone present with their presence and prayers.
The Sakya Monastery Tsa-Tsa Project
By Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche
Making Tsa-Tsas is a very important practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Anyone can make them, monks, nuns, or laypersons of any age, even those with physical or mental disabilities. Making them is a very simple, but also very profound practice. Different molds are used to produce small clay statues of deities, mantras, stupas, and various religious symbols. Specific mantras are recited for each successive step in this process. Some people knead the ashes of deceased loved ones and pets into their Tsa-Tsas. We Buddhists believe that enormous merit is accumulated in the making of even one Tsa-Tsa.
Once an auspicious day for Tsa-Tsa making has been determined, soil or clay is pressed into the molds, then carefully extracted and set aside for drying. After the statues are dry and hard, they are sometimes painted. Then they are consecrated by a Lama. Traditionally, they are then placed inside a Stupa constructed specifically for the purpose.
With the permission of H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche, we announced in the middle of last year that we were going to make Tsa-Tsas at Sakya Monastery. Many people contributed donations for the purchase of supplies. Chuck Pettis kindly contributed a number of molds, Kathleen Ramm ordered additional ones, and our Treasurer, Gillian Teichert, who is a potter, ordered the clay. Over a dozen people showed up on the auspicious day, including three children, and we spent the better part of two days working hard until well over a thousand Tsa-Tsas had been created! A special thanks is owed to those like Syrinda Sharpe, Kirsten Throneberry and her children, Peter Ober, and others who participated from beginning until end.
Once the Tsa-Tsas had been made, it took weeks for our Tsa-Tsas to dry, even in our furnace room! Painting each one individually turned out to be an even greater challenge, since the paint released noxious fumes, so everything had to be done outside. We owe great thanks to Dale Johnson and Kim Abbey, who had the patience to coordinate people and materials under Seattle’s notoriously unpredictable skies. At this point we are very, very close to the finish line, and I want to thank all who have contributed to this long-drawn-out project from the bottom of my heart. When we are finished, I shall dedicate all the accumulated merit to World Peace, the spreading of Buddha-Dharma, the long life of our spiritual leaders, and the rebirth of our deceased loved ones in higher realms.