Sunday, November 01, 2020

Background History on the Construction of the National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, Bhutan

 The National Memorial Chorten is one of the most important landmarks of Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. This beautiful stupa is a sanctuary for a lot of senior citizens and retirees who spend their time reciting mantras, circumbulating it or meditating in peace and calm.  It is also one of the must visit tourist attractions in Thimphu, and the venue of various religious events throughout the year.

Picture of Thimphu Memorial Chorten (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

People generally know it as a Chorten built in memory of His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is fondly remembered as the father of modern Bhutan. It was during his reign that Bhutan opened up to the outside world and started the modern development with the first Five Year Plan in 1961. He passed away in 1972 at the young age of 43 years. In his 20 year reign, he achieved much for Bhutan including many important reforms in the legislative, executive and judicial arms of the Government.

His Majesty the Third King was also a great supporter of the Buddha Dharma. According to the biography of Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden (His Majesty the Third King’s mother), written by Lopen Yonten Phuntsho and published in 2013 (see cover picture below), the Third King wanted to build four chortens in the four corners of Bhutan and a Jangchub Chorten with Rigsum Gonpo as Nangten in Bumthang, Central Bhutan, for the peace and security of the country. When his Majesty shared his idea with Lam Gyalwang Nyima, one of the Lamas that His Majesty used to consult on religious matters, then serving as the Principal of Semtokha Rigzhung School, and asked him about his thoughts, Lam Gyalwang Nyima submitted to His Majesty that it was indeed very wonderful that His Majesty had thought about such a project that would greatly benefit all sentient beings in this degenerate age. Lam Gyalwang Nyima suggested to His Majesty that it would be best to consult the peerless master Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorji, the one revered as the living representative of Guru Padmasambhava himself. At that time, Dudjom Rinpoche was residing in Kalimpong which is just few hundred kilometres from the Bhutan border in Phuentsholing.

Front Cover of the Biography of Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden by Lopen Yonten Phuntsho

Accordingly, the Third King deputed Lam Gyalwang Nyima with a letter to go to Kalimpong to consult Dudjom Rinpoche. Dudjom Rinpoche, based on his spiritual contemplation and prediction, advised that building a Jangchub Chorten in Thimphu, capital city of Bhutan, with Ka-Gong-Phur-sum as the Nangten would be great for the world peace in general and the peace and security of Bhutan in particular. He further assured that he would personally ask his son, Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche to oversee its construction from start to finish.

Dudjom Rinpoche had already visited Bhutan several times before that. Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi's book 'Nyima Shargi Chhogley' mentions that Dudjom Rinpoche visited Paro Taktshang to perform the Phurpa Namchapudri Drubchen in 1937 at the age of about 33 years. The same book mentions the following: In 1939, Dudjom Rinpoche visited eastern Bhutan via Guwahati in India, which happended to coincide auspiciously (not planned) with the time for the consecration of the newly rebuilt Trashigang Dzong. That started the connection with the then Trashigang Dzongpon, Thinley Tobgye, alias Sey Dopola (Grandfather of Yab Dhondup Gyaltshen, father of our Queen Her Majesty Gyaltsuen Ashi Jetsun Pema Wangchuck). Dudjom Rinpoche visited Trashigang two more times at the invitation of Sey Dopola in 1944 and 1952. After that, he again visited Trashigang in 1970 at the invitation of Lama Sonam Zangpo, Mongar Dzongdag Samdrup and Trashigang Dzongdag Dasho Tenzin Dorji.

Now, coming back to the Chorten construction, given the myriad responsibilities vying for His Majesty’s time and attention, the project could not be started before his Majesty’s untimely death in 1972. The biography of Ashi Phuntsho Choden by Lopen Yonten Phuntsho mentions that His Majesty asked his mother to complete this project after his death as his health was failing fast and he knew that he would not live too long.

Ashi Phuntsho Choden was an epitome of natural grace, beauty and compassion, and also well learned in Buddhist philosophy and grammar. A true Dharma practitioner and believed to be an embodiment of a dakini, people who served her in her old age recall how gentle, compassionate, understanding and generous she always was. His Majesty the Third King was her only surviving child, having lost a daughter at a very young age. Incidentally, Ashi Phuntsho Choden is a sister of our Queen Gyaltsuen Ashi Jetsun Pema's maternal grandfather. 

Therefore according to the wishes of the Late King, the Chorten construction started under the patronage of Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden after he passed away. According to the biography of Ashi Phuntsho Choden, the ground-breaking ceremony (Salang Tendrel) for the construction was held on 10th September 1972 by Dujom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, coinciding with the 3rd day of the 8th month of the Water Male Rat Year as per the Bhutanese calendar.

Bartsham Lama Ugyen Namdrol (alias Lama Daupo) also recalls serving as an assistant for Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche one very early morning (before dawn) in the rain in performing a pre-construction ritual for the Chorten. "I had spent the night in the same house where Dungsey Rinpoche resided. It was a house inside the current RBP compound below the Chorten. We woke up very early, much before dawn and walked in the rain to the spot where the Chorten stands today. When Dungsey Rinpoche and I made it through the mud to perform the rituals from one side of the spot identified for the Chorten construction, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was already there in one corner under a big umbrella chanting prayers."

Bartsham Lama Ugyen Namdrol at the Memorial Chorten during the Phurpai Drubchen ceremony in October 2020 (Picture by Gomchen Ugyen Chophel of Bartsham Gomde)

The construction was overseen by Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, son of Dudjom Rinpoche, and was completed in three years. It is quite remarkable that it was completed in such a short time, given so many intricately designed statues inside the Chorten. Even in this day and age, such projects take a long time, many stretching into five years or more.

Dudjom Rinpoche and his descendents continue to bless and benefit the Bhutanese people to this day, with his grandsons Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Garab Rinpoche working tirelessly to keep the flame of Buddha dharma burning bright in Bhutan, though they have great many followers outside Bhutan vying for their precious time and teachings.

The ground floor of the chorten contains the statues of Vajrakīlaya (ཕུར་པའི་ལྷ་ཚོགས), the middle floor is dedicated to Drubpa Kagyed (སྒྲུབ་པ་བཀའ་བརྒྱད་ not འབྲུག་པ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་ as sometimes mistaken) and the top floor is dedicated to Gongdü teachings (དགོངས་འདུས་) of Sangay Lingpa, as confirmed by Dr. Karma Phuntsho, a well-known Bhutanese scholar, and author of a comprehensive history of Bhutan titled 'History of Bhutan'.

The consecration ceremony was performed by Dudjom Rinpoche on the 9th day of the 4th month of the Wood Male Tiger Year (1974). Ashi Phuntsho Choden's biography mentions that attendees saw flames emerge automatically from the statues of Vajrakilalaya as Dujom Rinpoche performed the rites of the consecration ceremony – a true sign of the accomplishments of Dudjom Rinpoche and true mark of the blessedness of the Chorten.

For more detailed information on the Memorial Chorten, it is recommended that one refer Dunsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's account titled "Duddul Yul ley Nampar Gyalwai Cheten Chenmoi Karchhag Dorduepai Tshulgi Koedpa Norbu Bedruryai Doshel".

Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje performing the consecration ceremony of the Memorial Chorten (Picture from Ashi Phuntsho Choden's biography)

Key people behind the construction of the Memorial Chorten. Left to right: Lyonpo Tamzhing Jagar, Dudjom Rinpoche, HM Ashi Phuntsho Choden and Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. (Picture source: Ashi Phuntsho Choden's Biography)

The following prayer, composed by Dudjom Rinpoche in dedication to the Chorten mention that it has the power to clear all obstacles and bestow good health on all devotees who circumbulate it as many times as they can.


Prayer composed by Late Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje about the Memorial Chorten's power to bestow blessings on devotees 



Bartsham Lama Ugyen Namdrol chants the prayer of Memorial Chorten composed by Dudjom Rinpoche, on 14 Oct. 2020, during the Phurpai Drubchen 2020. Video recorded by Gomchen Ugyen Chophel of Bartsham Chador Lhakhang Gomde. 

The Prayer of Memorial Chorten composed by Dudjom Rinpoche, chanted by Bartshampa Gomchens on the closing day of Phurpai Drubchen 2020, on 16 October 2020.


The following are the key people involved in the construction of this beautiful Chorten that was completed in three years, according to the biography of Ashi Phuntsho Choden:

1. Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden – Patron

2. Kyabje Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche – Overall Project Director

3. Lama Sonam Zangpo – In-charge of Zung and Gold plating

4. Lyonpo Tamzhing Jagar – Chief Coordinator of Works

5. Phongmey Drungpa Drep Dolma Tshering – In charge of workers

6. Begarna Jigmela – maker of wood replica of Chorten as per design

7. Tsangpa Lopen Phuntsho Zangpo – painter

8. Begarna Lopen Yeshe Dorji (father) and his sons Lopen Wangchuk and Lopen Lodroe – painters and sculptors

9. Lopen Damchoe from Paro Hephu (elder brother) and his younger brother Lopen Dendup – sculptors

10. Lobzang from Paro Tsentochukha – head mason


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Doing the Thimphu-Dungtsho Trek in One Day - a Test of Endurance

We had planned a one-day trek to Drakey Pangtsho with a group from JDW National Referral Hospital via Paro Drukgyal Dzong on 2nd May 2020 coinciding with Zhabdrung Kuchhoe, the death anniversary of the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founding father of Bhutan. It was also a Saturday and we would have the whole Sunday to rest after the trek. But the night before, a notification had been issued by the Gewog Administration of Tsento Gewog in Paro that the visit to Drakey Pangtsho lake was being restricted with immediate effect given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation. So, the group immediately changed our plans to visit the Dungtsho instead.

Fig. 1. Google Map showing Dungtsho, Phajoding and Motithang. See how far Dungtsho is from Phajoding to get a proper perspective on its distance. 

It is generally advised that the Thimphu - Dungtsho trek be undertaken over the course of two days given the long distance (See the review by here: ). However, our group decided to do it in one day. We were not really used to trekking much and we had members of both gender above the age of 40. Yet, our decision was driven more by our courage and determination than by our real abilities. As you would see from how arduous it was for us and how long we took to do this, we would also recommend that this trek be done in two days, unless you are a group of young people with good experience in undertaking long mountain treks.

We started our trek from the roadpoint above the Royal Takin Reserve in Motithang at 5 am. By 8 am, we passed the Phajoding monastery and reached the Jambayang temple below Thujedrak. However, from there on wards till the Thujedrak top, it seems we took it rather easy allowing our friends lagging behind to catch up. So, it was 10 am by the time we all reached Thujedrak top (Altitude: over 4000m). Getting till here and back to Thimphu is itself  considered a tough one-day trek for many, especially for non-Bhutanese who are not used to high altitude. 

From there to the lake, we thought it may be only two hours. But we were gravely mistaken. The distance turned out to be four long hours. I had been there once in the year 2000. We did it as a two-day trek then. But I had forgotten how long it took us. 

From Thukjedrak top, the trek follows the Tourism Council of Bhutan - approved Drukpath trek route. The path is wide and follows almost a level path except for few gentle climbs. You can get great views of the surrounding mountains as you trek along. I really admired the natural rock formations that made the whole landscape look like a well crafted Japanese garden. 

There is something indescribable you can receive from the vast beautiful mountain landscape. It is there so solid and unshakable, yet so welcoming in it's warm and quiet embrace. Your whole body and soul feels rejuvenated. So I really love taking time to be in the mountains once in awhile, away from the mundane meetings in Thimphu. Please experience it yourself if you are not into it already.


From Thukjedrak, the next milestone target is the Labala pass, considered to be the highest point on the Drukpath trek between Paro and Thimphu, and it is roughly half way between Dungtsho and Thukjedrak top. We chanted Jigten Wangchuk prayer (supplication to Zhabdrung Rinpoche) and medidated there before proceeding further.

After passing Labala, there is a gentle descent after which we come across few small lakes. Some had dried up since monsoon was yet to start. Then there is another climb up to cross another small pass. After passing this pass, we begin to see more lakes. We would then soon pass by a lake just beside the trek route. I am not sure what the name of the lake is, but it lies just beside the path we have to take.

Soon after passing this lake, we reach the diversion from the Drukpath trek route to go towards Dungtsho. It is a diversion to the right. There is a sign showing the direction to Dungtsho, but without it, it can easily be missed. The path is faint and not well trodden like the drukpath trek that continues forward.

After taking this diversion, the next milestone is the view of the Simkota Lake. After the view of the Simkota lake, we were quite tired and thought that Dungtsho must be near. But it was still quite far. May be another hour or so. From there on wards, our path was filled with snow. It made walking more difficult. The wind was cold and carried hailstones with it.

We trudged on, and suddenly, as I descended a small slope, I got a feeling that we were reaching the lake. But it was Ja Nya Tsho, not the Dungtsho. Disappointed, i trudged on through the snowcovered path.

When we at last made it to Dungtsho, it was 2 pm. Nine hours had passed since we began our journey at 5 am. The majestic view of the Dungtsho was worth all the effort we had put in. Over the next 30 minutes or so, we chanted prayers, made a fire and offered incense offerings, and took many photographs. Our tired limbs felt rejuvenated by our achievement and all tired faces seemed fresh.

Having relished the climax of our journey, we started back. We still hadn't eaten the packed lunch. The snows at Dungtsho didn't make a perfect place to eat there. So, on the way back, we had our packed lunch above the Simkota lake once the snow-covered path ended.

From then on, it was a gruelling journey back. I was worried that some of our lady friends might find it hard to move on. The hailstorms started falling and slowly turned to snow. It was a very bad combination of conditions: we were thoroughly tired but had a long way back and we were in the middle of nowhere, and the hailstorm and snow pounded on us from the top. Our shoes were wet. That made walking difficult. I had read somewhere before - when you trek, never allow your socks to get wet and reach your feet inside. But we were now all walking with wet socks. We crossed the Labala pass under hailstorm and snow. Somewhow, everybody was able to keep up pace.

When we finally made it to the Thujedrak top above Phajoding, it was around 5.30 pm. 12.5 hours had passed since our journey started that morning. Our only worry was that we would have to walk in the dark. Most of us had used up our phone batteries by taking too many pictures in excitement.

We slowly started our descent. By the time we passed the last temple in Phajoding, darkness was slowly creeping in. We walked in groups. In my group, we were four of us, and luckily, we had two phones which had sufficient batteries to light the way down. But then again, rain did not spare us from time to time making the way slippery. Even in daylight, it is common to slip and fall on this way down. In the night, we had to be extra careful.

We might have walked very slow given the condition of our legs and also the slippery path downhill. It was 8.30 pm when we finally reached the roadpoint where we had parked our cars in the morning. We were happy that at least we all made it to Duntsho and back in one day without any mishap. We had taken a total of 15.5 hours. We thanked the Triple Gem, Guru Rinpoche and the Guardian Deities for their blessings.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

THE BUDDHADHARMA - A Talk Given By Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche to His Western Disciples


to His Western Disciples

This article was copied from the book "Counsels from My Heart" with the sole aim of disseminating this to wider audience because the article is one of the most concise and clear introduction to Buddhadharma with explanations on the difference between Thervada, Mahayana and Vajrayana paths. May it help all readers achieve greater understanding of the Buddhadharma and dispel ignorance!

Faithful Dharma friends gathered here, I am very happy to be able to talk to you a little about the Buddha’s teaching!

             All of us here, human beings of this world, from every race and background, feel an instinctive and genuine devotion for the supreme Dharma. We have gained a clear confidence in it and have entered the door of the profound teachings. We are so very fortunate!

             What we call the sacred Dharma is something unbelievably precious and difficult to find. Our present wish to commit ourselves to it, and the fact that we have all the favorable circumstances and good fortune of actually being able to practice-all this is happening to us thanks to the enormous reserves of merit we have generated in the past.

The Three Vehicles

What is the origin of this supreme teaching? It has come to us from the perfect Buddha, the fourth of the one thousand and two Buddha’s due to appear in the course of the fortunate kalpa. And we ourselves are living at a time when his teaching still exists. Moreover, although all the buddhas are alike in expounding the Dharma of the three vehicles, it was only Buddha Shakyamuni who revealed-in a period when the life span of humankind was about one hundred years-the diamond vehicle of Secret Mantra.

           According to the fundamental doctrines of the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas, our teacher Shakyamuni was a person of sharp, superior faculties, who first accumulated merit for three immeasurable kalpas, purified defilements for a further three, and at length attained the perfection of Buddhahood. According to this point of view, he was an ordinary man who achieved enlightenment through the accumulation of merit and the purification of defilements. The view of the Secret Mantrayana of the Great Vehicle, however, is that the Buddha actualized the dharmakaya, thus accomplishing his own fulfillment, innumerable kalpas in the past. It was his rupakay, his body of manifestation that compassionately descended into this world for the sake of others, appearing as Buddha Shakyamuni. An emanation of compassion, “coming from above,”necessarily appears for the benefit of the inhabitants of this samsaric world, and, in order to help them, manifests in a form that harmonizes with their condition. This is why the Buddha displayed the twelve deeds of an enlightened being-descending from the heaven of Tushita, taking birth in this human world, and finally manifesting his enlightenment.

          Afterward, the Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma for the sake of beings, teaching according to their varying needs and particular outlook. For those with limited capacity of mind and a smaller stock of karmic fortune, he set forth the path of the shravakas and pratykabuddhas, where the main emphasis is on the avoidance of nonvirtue in word and deed. For those with greater capacity and excellent merit, he gave the teachings of the Mahayana, where the emphasis is on mind-training, which is the cultivation of bodhichitta. Here the vows and precepts relating to body and speech are taught as auxiliaries. Finally, for those whose mental horizons and reserves of merit are even greater, and who are ready to receive them, the Buddha set forth the teachings of the resultant vehicle of the Secret Mantra of the Mahayana, which go far beyond the doctrines of the causal vehicles.

Refuge and Bodhichitta

So, to begin with, what is it that brings us into the Buddha’s teaching? What is the door through which we must enter, the “mental soil,” so to speak, in which we can plant the seed of Dharma? It is taking refuge. This marks the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist, between one who is inside the teachings and one who is outside. To take refuge is to recognize the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as one’s unchanging protectors, and to turn to them sincerely and with full confidence. This opens the door of the Dharma at the very outset.
           When we have taken refuge in the Three Jewels, what should our fundamental attitude be? We should understand that the whole of space is pervaded by living beings; there is not one there is not one of them that has not been, at one time or another, our father or our mother. We should recognize that they have been our parents and feel gratitude toward them for the love and kindness they have shown us. We should also realize that all these beings, once our mothers, are sinking in the ocean of the sufferings of samsara. We should cultivate the attitude of bodhichitta, taking the decision to practice the supreme Dharma for their sake. Bodhichitta is thus the fundamental preparation and basis of our practice of the path.
             Those who have the attitude of shravakas or pratyekabuddhas are not able to appreciate that the whole of space is filled with beings who were once their parents, and that it is for their sake that they should practice Dharma. They are satisfied simply with the idea of freeing themselves from the ocean of samsaric sorrow. And it is in accordance with this deal of individual liberation that they observe ethical discipline, abstaining from evil actions of word and deed. They spend their lives in the practice of purification and meditation, through which they reach the level of pratyekabuddha. This happens, however, only after practicing for as long as one measureless kalpa, or at least for three lives, sixteen lives, and so on.
               People who have the attitude of the Mahayana think that it is somehow shameful to want liberation only for themselves, when other beings who were once their loving parents are sunk in the ocean of suffering. They are unable to imagine anything worse, and resolve to practice the Dharma in order to be able to lead beings, their parents, to liberation. They are determined to do this regardless of the consequences, and are ready to remain in samsara for as long as it takes to accomplish the task. This is the vast, great-hearted attitude that we too must have.
             Nothing we do-not a single prostration or recitation of a single mani, not a single meditation on the stages of creation and perfection, no practice, no sadhana – should be without prayers of refuge and bodhichitta at the beginning, and prayers of dedication aspiration at the end.
             The sacred Dharma, as we have been saying, is extremely vast and profound, containing innumerable instructions. It is said that to suit the different mental capacities of individuals, the Buddha set forth no less than eighty-four thousand sections of doctrine. When we practice, our task is to condense all these teachings into a single, essential point. But how are we to do this? In fact, although the Buddha gave innumerable teachings, the crucial message of all of them is contained in one verse:

Abandon every evil deed,
Practice virtue well,
Perfectly subdue your mind:
This is Buddha’s teaching.

             The Buddha did indeed say that we should not do evil but practice virtue. Well, then, what is an evil action? An act of body, speech, or mind is an evil when it brings harm to others. And as Buddha said, we must refrain from doing anything that injures others. Conversely, actions are positive or virtuous when they bring benefits to others.
             What is the root of all this, the source of both good and evil? The doer of all virtue is the mind, when it makes positive use of body and speech, its servants. The doer of all evil is also the mind, when it uses the body and speech negatively. The root and cause of good and evil is in the mind itself. Nevertheless, in a sense, this mind of ours is something unknown to us. It does anything and everything, like a lunatic running here and there at the slightest impulse. This is how it accumulates karma.
              The mind is the root of every defilement. It is here that anger is born; and from anger, every kind and injury to others: fighting, beating and the rest. The mind is the soil in which all this grows: all malevolence, envy, desire, stupidity, arrogance and so forth. That is why the Buddha told us to get a grip on our minds. Having realized that the mind is the root of all afflictions, we must be vigilant in keeping it under control, holding down our defilements as much as we can. We have to be completely focused on this, gaining mastery of whatever arises.
              The mind can move in a positive direction as well. It can recognize the qualities of lamas and Three Jewels, thanks to which it experiences faith, and so takes refuge. Through the practice of Dharma, the mind can also accumulate the causes for its own liberation and that of others. Therefore, since the mind is the root of good and evil, it stands for the reason that it must be corrected and transformed. The examination of one’s mind is thus the principle features of the practice; the mind is the common concern of all vehicles of Dharma. This is particularly true of the tantra teachings. Once again, it is the mind that enters the mandala of the Secret Mantra of the Vajrayana and accomplishes all the practices.

The Secret Mantra of Vajrayana

It is thanks to the lama, our spiritual friend, that we have been able to cross the threshold of the profound teachings of the sacred Dharma. We did not have the good fortune, defiled and impure as we were, to meet the Buddha in person while he was alive. But we have had the good fortune to encounter the Dharma, his teachings, and this is actually better than meeting him in person. These instruction, which reveal to us what we must do and what we must refrain from doing, have been given to us by our teacher. It is crucial to understand that we are incredibly fortunate to have been accepted by a spiritual friend. It is a lama who opens our eyes to what we must do and what we must avoid. It is he who points out the defilements we must abandon, and in so doing, he fulfills the activity of the Buddha himself. If we truly assimilate and carry out all that he says with regard to actions to be done and actions to be avoided, we will attain our objective, namely liberation.
        It is important to understand how to practice the buddhadharma properly. We have to do it well, condensing all the hundreds of methods into a single point. If we do this, our practice will become easy and very effective. What is more, the teachings of Secret Mantra, the Vajrayana, have not yet vanished from the world. They still exist. To have entered them and to abide in them is our supreme good fortune. We are amazingly lucky.

          Why, you may ask, are the Mantra teachings to be kept secret? It is not because of their profundity, but rather to preserve them from people of limited and narrow attitudes.The path of Secret Mantra has unusual features such as ease, rapidity, great subtlety, and skillful techniques. In other words, it is endowed with many methods, it is without difficulty, it is for those with sharp mental faculties, and its practice is very subtle. Those who are naturally fitted to the Secret Mantra will by this means attain the fruits of Buddhahood easily and quickly. Indeed, the very word mantra combines the notions of ease and swiftness.

          The difference between the view and practice of Secret Mantra and that of the other paths is often illustrated by the image of a field in which a poisonous plant has sprouted. People of little courage, narrow minds, and limited resourcefulness think that if they eat the poisonous plant, they will certainly die. So they cut down the plant and throw it far away. And fearing that new shoots might grow from plant’s root, they dig it up. This is what people without much courage do.

          The poison in this image represents ignorance. And since even the tiniest fragment of the poisonous root must be removed from the soil and thrown away, it is evident that such people must go to a lot of trouble to extract it.

This is comparable to the way in which the fruit of liberation is attained by practicing according to the view of the shravakas and the pratyekabuddhas.

              Now suppose an ingenious, stout-hearted person comes along and asks the people what they are up to. They will say that if the poisonous plant is allowed to grow, it will be very dangerous. Not only must they cut it down, they must uproot it so that no trace of it is left in the soil. Now, what will be the approach of the clever person? He will agree that the plant must be properly disposed of, but he will know that it is not necessary to go to such lengths to make sure that the plant stops growing. He will point out that the plant can be killed easily by pouring boiling water over its roots. His approach is similar to the way defilements are dealt with according to the Bodhisattvayana. To remove defilements, it is not necessary to go through the same difficulties as the shravakas at the level of adoption and abandonment of actions. Nevertheless, in the Bodhisattvayana, it is still necessary to use antidotes. Meditating on love, for example, is a remedy for anger. Antidotes are certainly adopted with the understanding that they are different and separated from defilements they are intended to cure.

             What if a doctor were to come along and ask the people what they were doing? On being told that they were getting rid of the dangerous plant, he would say, “Ah, but I’m a doctor. I know how to make medicine from this plant. I can use this plant to make an excellent remedy to the very poison that it contains. Indeed, I have been looking for a long time. Give it to me. I’ll take care of it.” This doctor is like a practitioner of secret Mantra. He can concoct powerful medicines from the poison. Such a practitioner does not need to go through the trouble of avoiding defilements, considering them distinct from the remedy. Defilements themselves can be transformed into wisdom. This is the path of secret Mantra.

             Finally, imagine that a peacock comes upon the poisonous plant. Without a moment’s hesitation, it will eat it with great relish and its plumage will become even more ravishing. For the peacock, which represents the practitioners of the Great perfection of the secret Mantra, poisonous plants are not something to be shunned at all. Practitioners of the Great Perfection are aware that there is no such thing as a real, solid defilement to be abandoned. Just as the peacock consumes the poison, with the results that its feathers become more and more beautiful, the practitioner of Secret Mantra does not reject defilements but brings to perfection the enlightened qualities of the kayas and wisdoms. This gives us an idea of the differences between and lesser paths.

             Only a peacock is able to nourish itself on poison. In the same way, the teachings of the Great Perfection of the Secret Mantra are found in no other spiritual tradition. On the other hand, different people belong by their character to different paths, and these may be greater or lesser. It is essential for them to train according to their capacity, otherwise they will be in great danger. In order to be able to practice the Great Perfection, it is essential to be completely convinced, to be absolutely certain, of the view. For this reason, I am going to say a few words about it: the view of the Great Perfection of the Secret Mantra of the Mahayana.

The Great Perfection

The manner in which we, devoted yogis and yoginis, should practice the teaching of the Great Perfection has been taught by Guru Rinpoche, the precious Master. He said that while our view should be that of the Great Perfection, our actions should not get lost in the view. What did he mean? The view is normally understood as the certainty that all phenomena, both of samsara and of nirvana, are empty. This, however, is something that we practitioners are not yet able to realize directly, and until we do, the fact is that we experience benefits and harm, virtue and non-virtue, and the so-called karmic process of cause and effect. All this exists for us. So if, while still in our present condition, we go around saying, “Everything is empty. It’s all one. There’s no such thing as virtue,no such thing as sin,” and if we do anything and everything we like, this is called “losing one’s actions in the view.” If this happens to us, it will be as Guru Rinpoche himself said. We will fall into the evil view of demons.

           The view, then, refers to great emptiness. If we have a correct understanding of the ultimate status of phenomena, and if we are able to maintain and assimilate this through meditation, we will find in due course that dualistic perception will fall apart all by itself. There will come a moment when there is no such thing as benefit or harm, no such thing as happiness or sadness. It is then and only then that we will really have mastered the view. Guru Rinpoche said, “My view is higher than the sky, but my attention to actions and their results is finer than flour.” We may well have an intellectual understanding of the view, the ultimate state of emptiness, but with regard to the practice, it is important to preserve this ultimate state continually, until our dualistic perceptions completely collapse.

            On the other hand, Guru Rinpoche also said that we should not “lose our view in our actions.” What did he mean here? Simply understanding and saying that things are empty does not make them empty. Our bodies and minds, and all the things that stimulate our thoughts, will stay just as they were; they won’t just vanish! As a result, we may lose confidence in the view and concentrate exclusively on physical and verbal activities, dismissing the view as unimportant. If this happens, a clear realization of the view will never come to us. The teachings say therefore that we should avoid one sided attitudes regarding the view and action. Like eagles soaring in space, we should be clearly convinced of the view, but at the same time we should heed the karmic principle of cause and effect, as finely as if we were sifting flour.

              As Buddhists, we rely on the teachings of the Buddha, and must therefore have heartfelt confidence in the supreme Dharma. Whoever we are, we need to have a good heart, sincere and without deceit. At all times and on all occasions, we must maintain an irreversible trust in the sacred Dharma, and our minds must be steady and constant. These three things are our firm foundation: steady faith, sincere devotion, and constancy. Furthermore, whatever the Dharma contains, it is all Buddha’s teaching. We must therefore have pure perception and an appreciation of all Dharma traditions, those of others as much as our own. We must respect them all. Finally, we must nourish within ourselves a constant, uninterrupted affection for our Dharma brothers and sisters.

The Three Supreme Methods

Whatever practices we do, whether the common ones of taking refuge and making prostrations, the various trainings in bodhichitta, the methods for purifying the defilements of body and speech, or the uncommon practices of the Secret Mantra (the visualization and recitation of Vajrasattva, guru yoga, or meditation on the yidamdeity), all that we do- and this is very important-should be accompanied by the three “supreme methods.”

             The first of these methods is the attitude of bodhichitta. All beings possess the tathagatagarbha, the seed of Buddhahood, but this is obscured and veiled. As a result, they wander in samsara. The first method is therefore to be determined to liberate them from this ocean of suffering. The second supreme method is to have a mind free from conceptualization, which means to practice without distraction. Even if we make only a single prostration, we should not just go through the motions mechanically, with our thoughts and words elsewhere. On the contrary, we should practice with a concentrated mind, and never be carried away by distraction. The third supreme method is to conclude with dedication. Whatever merit has been generated must be dedicated for sake of beings, who are as many as the sky is vast. In fact, if we forget to round off our practice with the excellent attitude of bodhichitta, dedicating the merit to others, this merit could be destroyed in a moment of stronger anger or defilement. For this reason, all positive actions should immediately be followed by act of dedication for the welfare of all beings. The benefits of this supreme method are immense; dedication renders merit inexhaustible and causes it to increase constantly.

               What is the sign that someone has received the teachings of the supreme Dharma and is practicing them? Whoever has heard and absorbed the teachings becomes serene and self-possessed. Ours is not a tradition that inculcates anger and encourages us to fight; it does not encourage us to get involved with our defiled emotions. On the contrary, the Buddha has taught us to get rid of our defilements as much as possible. The point is that, having received the dharma teachings, we should find when we examine ourselves, that, even though we may not have been able to eradicate our defilements totally, our anger has at least diminished a little. We should find that, even if we do get angry, we are less involved and are able to keep ourselves in check. This is sort of sign we should be looking for. The sign that we are assimilating the teachings is an increase in serenity and self-control. It is said that if practitioners do not examine themselves frequently, and if they fail to practice correctly, the Dharma itself will lead them to the lower realms. Some people claim to have received the teachings, but they don’t practice them. On the other hand, it is obviously impossible to eradicate defiled emotion just by listening to the teachings. We have been in samsara from beginning less time and are immersed in the habits of defilement. These cannot be whisked away by the mere act of listening to something. So turn inward and examine your minds. You should at least have a glimmer of understanding!

                In addition, we have all entered the Vajrayana. We have received profound empowerments   and instructions of the Secret Mantra. This is said to be very beneficial but it is also very dangerous. Even if we are unable to bring our practice to accomplishment, if we keep our samaya unbroken, it is said that liberation will be achieved in seven lifetimes. After crossing the threshold of the secret Mantra, however, if we ruin our samaya by displeasing the lama, causing havoc among our fellow Dharma practitioners and so on, the only possible destiny for us is the vajra hell. The saying goes that practitioners of secret mantra either attain Buddhahood or go to hell. There is no third alternative. It’s like a snake inside a cane: it must go either up or down. There’s no way out halfway! Think carefully about the benefits and hazards of samaya, and observe it purely and perfectly. To do this, it is crucial to keep a close watch on your mind, a practice in which all the essential points of the teachings are condensed. It is vital to examine and atch your mind. You have all received instructions through the kindness of your teachers. This is what your Dharma practice should be like.

Samsara and Ego-Clinging

But now I must tell you one or two things. In the mind of everyone, of every living, sentient being, there is a fundamental nature or ground, the so-called sugatagarbha.  This is the seed of Samantabhadra, the seed of Buddhahood. Although this is something we all have, we do not recognize it. It is unknown to us. This ground, which is our spontaneous awareness, has been with us “from the beginning.” It is like a mirror. When someone with a happy face looks in a mirror, the reflection of a happy face appears. When someone with a sad face looks into it, a sad face appears. The primordial ground is just like a mirror.

              The reflection of a person with a happy face looking into a perfectly clear mirror, the primordial ground, is like Samantabhadra, who awoke to his ultimate nature. Samantabhadra, it is said, “captured the citadel of the primordial ground, awoke, recognized his own nature, and was free.” But we ordinary beings fail to recognize this nature, the mirrorlike primordial ground. For us, the situation is like someone with a downcast face looking into the mirror: a sad reflection appears! This is precisely what happens when, through our habit of samsara, the primordial ground is transformed into the so-called alaya. A subtle ego-apprehending consciousness emerges from it, and the sense of “I” and clinging to “I” manifest. When this happens, another mental state occurs, projected outward onto objects, which are perceived as being outside and separate from the mind.

               The primary mechanism of “I apprehension” maybe compared to a house with six doors, corresponding to the six consciousnesses. This is how it works: “I-apprehension,” the thought of “I,’ expands into other mental states.

Thus a second thought arises and is projected (let’s say through one of the doors of the house) toward various patches of color that are the objects of the visual sense. After this, there is a thought of recognition: the object is identified and named as this or that. The apprehension of the characteristics of colors and so on, grasped as outer objects, is the definition of visual consciousness. Similarly, a consciousness projects onto objects of hearing, so that we hear sounds. 

Then other, even coarser, thoughts develop and run after the sound, recognizing it as this or that, this word, that word, apprehending it as pleasant or unpleasant. The coordinator of these thoughts is the auditive or ear consciousness. Then there is a consciousness that projects out, toward objects of smell. Steadily adverted to, these are apprehended as outer realities and are experienced as pleasant or unpleasant, and thus we have the smell consciousness. 

Again, another consciousness expands out toward objects of taste, apprehended as delicious or revolting, sweet or sour. This is the taste consciousness. Finally, there is a consciousness projected onto the body, the consciousness of touch, which apprehends physical contact, rough or smooth, as the case may be. We can see therefore that, based on the state of mind that thinks “I” is experienced as somehow inhabiting the body, which is in turn regarded as a single entity, the five kinds of consciousness project outward by means of the  five sense organs. There are six consciousnesses altogether: the five sense consciousnesses plus the mental consciousness, and it is thanks to these that samsara unfolds.

             Samsaric activity proceeds apace and we remain in delusion. The root of delusion is ignorance, and the root of ignorance is ego- apprehension, the idea of “I.” Samsara occurs simply because we do not recognize our true nature. It is on accounts of this “I,” this clinging to the notion of self, that we conceive of “others.” As a result, we enter into subject- object relationships, and these prevent us from escaping from samsara.

             Because we have a sense of “I” and cling to self, pride occurs. Because we cling to self, anger and the other emotional poisons arise. If we are practicing according to the lower vehicles, we must discard these emotions by the application of antidotes – remedies that vary according to the poisons and sense objects in question. But for us practitioners of the Secret Mantra, only one supreme instruction is necessary, a single antidote that liberates everything. We must acquire a deep conviction regarding the true nature of phenomena. Once again, the root of delusion is ignorance. And what is ignorance? It is clinging to slef.

What is the Mind?

Well, then, where is this self-clinging? That which clings to “I” is the mind: that which clings to ”other” is also the mind. So the next question is: where is the mind? It must be somehow in the body, because when the mind is not present, we have only a corpse. So ask yourself, is it in the top part of the body or the lower part? How big is it? What color is it? If you pull a hair out of you head, it hurts, doesn’t it?  If you prick your foot on a thorn, it hurts, doesn’t it? The mind and body must be somehow coextensive, musn’t they?  It’s as though the mind and body were stuck to each other. On the other hand, when someone is killed in an accident, where does the mind go?  How did it leave the body and from where? It’s only when we examine the mind correctly that we discover how many false assumptions we have- false assumptions that, for the moment, are completely unnoticed. We cling to things as though they were permanent and will last forever. This is the measure of our delusion, tightly fettered as we are by this so-called “I” of ours-this “I,” in the interests of which, our mind enslaves our body and our speech, and creates all sorts of difficulties and hardships.

              When we arrive at the correct understanding of the mind, we can see that our present thoughts are just like waves on the water. At one moment they arise; at another they dissolve. And that’s all there is to it: the mind is nothing but thoughts. The mind, which is empty, arises as thought, and that is also empty. The stream of consciousness, which is empty, is carried away by thoughts that are likewise empty. This is how the mind falls and remains in six realms of smasara. It is the mind itself that fabricates samsara, and it does so because it fails to recognize its own nature.

               Now that we have some idea of the minds nature and how it works, we must bring it under control and master it. In order to do this, it is said that we must keep our body perfectly still. Moreover, if the body is straight, the subtle channels will be straight. If the subtle channels are straight, the wind-energy will be unobstructed. And if the wind-energy is unobstructed, the mind will rest in its natural, unaltered flow. Therefore, keep your body still and reduce your speech to a minimum. Don’t think about what you have just been doing. Don’t think about what you are going to do later. Without concern for the past or the future, let your mind rest in its natural state. This state, in which the mind is left as it is, untampered with and natural, is called “rest” or “stillness.” This “stillness” is actually just the mind itself. You could call it the “mind of the present moment,” or the “awareness of the present moment.” But whatever you call it, it is what-in this way moment-is actually knowing and joyfully aware.

               A mind that is not agitated by thoughts concerning the past, present and future, a mind that is thought free, is a state that is stunningly vast and open. It is full of joy. Even when the mind’s nature is recognized, it is impossible to describe. It is empty. It rests in awareness. But this resting in the radiance of awareness does not last long. There is nothing permanent about it, for thoughts will certainly arise, strong and clear.

              We talk about “arising” because thoughts flash into appearance like lightning in the sky, or swell like waves on the ocean. They are in constant movement. At the outset, thoughts appear and disappear in endless continuity. So, when beginners like us meditate, we must recognize thoughts as they arise. If we fail to recognize them, their movement continues unnoticed below the surface and we are carried away by them. Meditating like this is of no help to us.

                If you are able to continue meditating properly, certain signs will appear. For instance, some people experience a kind of physical well beings. Others, because of the particular disposition of their subtle channels and energies, experience a powerful sense of bliss. For others, it is more like a deep sleep or an all-engulfing darkness. Whether you experience bliss or clarity, avoid any kind of expectation. Do not think to yourself, “Oh, my meditation is working. I’m making progress. If only I could have more of these experiences!” on the other hand, if you experience a kind of darkness, a thoughtless blankness, clear it away over and over again. If you don’t, your meditation will sink slightly. Some people have lots of thoughts when they meditate-an unstoppable flood. If this happens to you, don’t get upset and think that your meditation is a failure. It is just a sign that you are becoming aware of all the thoughts that under ordinary circumstances pass unnoticed. So don’t let it bother you. Don’t think you have to suppress or eliminate your thoughts. Whatever happens, it is said that you must meditate without hope or fear, doubt or expectation. That’s the main thing.

              It is thanks to the blessings of the lama that realization will dawn. Therefore pray to him, mingling your mind with his. If you do, there will come a moment when you will see that what is called the Buddha is not different from your own awareness, and that there is nothing to subdue or master other than your own thoughts. The sign that your meditation has hit the mark is that your devotion to the lama will deepen and your compassion for beings will gain in strength. You will be your own witness and you will gain great confidence in the practice.

                If you gain control over your mind, then even if you are at the point of death, you will understand that it is only because of a particular thought that there is an impression of dying-but that the nature of mind is utterly beyond both birth and death. It would be excellent if you could gain this confidence.

              So keep this little, essential, instruction in your hearts. This conviction and confidence is what we call the Dharma-the inner qualities that you gain. If you vacillate and think of Dharma as something extraneous to you thought up by somebody else, you will not benefit from it. Instead, do yourself a favor and get out of samsara! Be convinced that your mind must   separate from samsara, with its karma and defilements. If you do, everything will be fine. Please practice. Pray constantly that you will have no obstacles on your path and that you might be able to capture, in this very life, the primordial citadel. And I will add my prayers to yours.


Acknowledgement for typing this text: Thanks to Ms Rinchen Lhadon, graduate of Gedu College 2019 and Ms. Yeshey Choden,  graduate of Taktse College 2019, for typing this while they were working as interns at Thimphu TechPark in February 2020. 

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