Lineage in the West

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

Well, today I’d actually like to tell you a story. And I think it is seasonal in one way in that this time of year we generally think about what we want or what we want to give or how, or maybe family relationships and what needs to improve in our lives. And a lot of times at the end of the year during this holiday season and at the beginning of the next upcoming year, we kind of reassess ourselves;. reassess our lives, and kind of take stock. And I would like to tell you this story to help you take stock a little bit, and to give you some motivation, you know, some perspective. Because I think that if you come to this temple and you practice, you may not necessarily understand or know what’s going on in the greater Dharma community. Some people travel around but some people don’t. Some people stay here down on the farm with me. And so you might need to be exposed to some context in the Dharma community.

When I first met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, that was quite a while ago, almost twenty years. I met him the first time that he came to the United States. And one of the reasons actually that he came to the United States, besides being invited, was that he heard that there was this American woman over there and he heard stories about me. And he knew in his mind that this was someone that he had been looking for for a long time. I came to find out later on that when he was a very young monk the first time he held the kapala, or the skull cup, of the first Ahkön Lhamo, it was before the Chinese invasion, and so it was whole, in one piece.  First time he held that cup, he said, “Oh.”  He made prayers:  “If there is any way I can find this dakini in this lifetime, I would like to do that.” He set his goal that way. And so of course with a mind such as his, when the goal is set, the deed is done. When he heard my name, and heard something about me, he knew immediately. But of course he didn’t tell me immediately. All I knew was that this lama was coming to my house. He’d never been to America before, and I really did not know what a lama actually was. I thought, “Guy sitting on rug. Guy wearing sheet.” I really didn’t know. I mean I had a great deal of respect for Buddhist thought and it was coming to my mind naturally. In fact, I was teaching meditation that I later found out to be based on Mahayana Buddhism. So, it was pretty interesting that this all came about so naturally. But then when he came to the house, we didn’t know protocol. We didn’t know respect. We didn’t know nothing. I knew how to barbeque, that’s what I knew. And so we had a barbecue and we moved my two sons to another room, and put Penor Rinpoche and Lobsang in the same room; and Lobsang’s like, “Oh God!  Save me!  Don’t you have another room?”  “Well, why? Is it crowded in there?”  “But you don’t understand.”

But you know, they were very nice. And then they asked for some tea. So, I thought, “These are Buddhists. They want to be calm.”  What did I know? So, I made chamomile tea, and I gave the teapot to Lobsang to give to His Holiness on a tray nicely set up. and His Holiness sent back a message, “What is that?  Bugs floating on top?”  You know how the little flowers float? “No.”  “Don’t you have some other kind of tea?”  “We have regular tea.”  “Oh yeah, we want regular tea.”  I thought, you know, Buddhists like to be peaceful. I thought.

And then the worst, the worst. He was so gracious and so kind. He never put himself up in any way or, you know, was anything less than the most humble of monks. I mean he never indicated that he was such a spectacular lama. And besides I didn’t even understand what the term meant—high lama, you know, lineage holder. I mean, I could understand the English words, but I didn’t have any way to put them all together. So, we had this barbeque and I served him a plate of hotdogs. And you know just the old America food, which he was pretty interested in actually. He sort of liked it. You know, he ate it. But then I remember plopping down right next to him and saying, “So, what’s Tibet really like?” or something like that, you know. You know him now. He’s such a righteous, orthodox, holy kind a guy. Can you imagine?  Can you imagine this Injee twit comes and plops down next to him and says, “So, how’s it going?”

I was used to Southern hospitality. So, I made another big meal (and I was a pretty good cook back then) and had some friends bring some stuff too. We sat him at the head of the table and said to His Holiness, “Please, help yourself to everything we have.”  He gets served. I didn’t know that. And so Lobsang’s going,… Lobsang was a lot younger then. “No, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”  Well, that was back in the day and the reason why I’m telling you this funny story is because things have changed so much since then.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Without Bodhicitta, There Is No Path: from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on Mediation, reprinted with permission from Palyul Ling International:

Many of you are interested and have asked, “Please give us the Dzogchen teachings.” But even I myself don’t know what is Dzogchen and I don’t have anything to teach you!

Anyway, as I explained to you earlier, if one practices the Bodhicitta, that kind of pure intention to really benefit all other sentient beings, and then the samatha meditation practices to establish one’s mind in full concentration, then of course there will be the Great Perfection (“Dzogchen”) meditations.

But if one cannot cultivate the Bodhicitta within one’s mind, the path to Enlightenment is already broken. Without Bodhicitta, there is no real path. Bodhicitta is that which is without any partiality. The pure intention of Bodhicitta, the thought to benefit all sentient beings without any exception, can be understood by realizing that in one or another lifetime, each being has been one’s parent. If we understand this and think of how dearly they have taken care of us, then we will feel grateful to all the parently beings and we can generate Bodhicitta to all of them.

This present body of ours is here because of our parents. If we did not have parents, there is no possibility that we could have these bodies. And if we don’t have this physical body, then we cannot accomplish any kind of worldly or Dharma activity. So our mothers are indeed very kind and we should be grateful.

Of course, there are many kinds of parent-child relationships in this world, but we should remember that whether or not we are close to our parents is based on our own desires and our own thoughts. Beyond that sort of thing, the main meaning here is that without our parents, we could not have this body, and because of this we should understand and be grateful for their kindness. So first one really concentrates on generating Bodhicitta based on one’s gratefulness to this life’s mother, and from that one can extend this Bodhicitta to all sentient beings equally.

So the most important points are to have faith and devotion in the Dharma, then meditating and contemplating on Bodhicitta and compassion. Then one can apply these into practice through the meditations on emptiness.

In the Dharma practice one should not think, “Oh, I am doing all this practice for the benefit of this lama or for these Buddhas.” Never think in this way. The Dharma practice is for yourself. Each and every one of you as individuals has to liberate yourself from Samsara. You are attaining Enlightenment for yourself. You are attaining Buddhahood for yourself. By your practice, your lama is not going to attain Enlightenment nor is Buddha going to attain Enlightenment! Buddha has already achieved Buddhahood! And if you cannot attend to Dharma practice in the proper way, then it is yourself who will fall down into the three lower realms. It is not the lama or the Buddha who will fall into the lower realms!

So, though it is important to think spiritually of one’s own benefit and how one can attain Enlightenment, still the achievement of that kind of liberation is by the path of benefiting all other sentient beings. Without that kind of Bodhicitta one cannot attain complete Enlightenment.

The Bodhicitta we can generate right now, however vast, is beneficial. In the future, when one attains Enlightenment, according to the vastness of that Bodhicitta, that many sentient beings can benefit and liberate themselves from the sufferings of Samsara. Right now we cannot really perceive all that fruition, but if we continue to practice, then in the future we will realize it as a direct perception.

Faults of Cyclic Existence

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider the rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the processes of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and of leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, some die as infants, some as adolescents, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering, human beings experience—birth, old age, sickness, and death—humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired. They even suffer from acquiring what is desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another rebirth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

Next, consider the god realm. Gods remain in their realm where they experience immeasurable bliss and happiness for long periods of time. They all have their own palace and gardens, wish-granting trees, and celestial food; everything in their external environment is inconceivably wonderful. Internally they experience only happiness and bliss throughout the entire course of their life. Eventually they exhaust their karma for that rebirth. Prior to that, the dying clairvoyant gods see the place of their future rebirth, which in most cases happens in the hell realm. They take such a rebirth due to having exhausted all tainted virtue that brought them rebirth in the god realm, and then nothing remains for them except an abundance of weighty negative karma. The vast storehouse of merit they once possessed is spent, and they have nowhere to go but to the lowest hell realm. Seeing the irreversible fate that awaits them, and knowing it is too late to reverse that, they experience tremendous suffering. They are powerless to reverse their karma of having to fall from the celestial realm of the gods to the lowest realms in existence.

Buddha therefore taught that there is not even a needle point’s worth of true happiness in samsara. Now you can understand the meaning of that teaching. Even if there is happiness, it always changes because it is impermanent. Happiness in samsara occurs as the result of the karma produced to cause it. Once that cause and result are exhausted, that happiness becomes something else, which is why the term cyclic existence is used to express the nature of life in the six realms. Sentient beings pass from rebirth to rebirth, revolving on this endless wheel of changing realms in dependence on their own karmic accumulations.

If your hair were to suddenly catch fire, you would immediately, without hesitation, try to put out that fire. Likewise, by understanding that cyclic existence is by nature permeated with suffering, and by understanding that it can never be anything other than that, you should immediately, without hesitation, focus on putting out the fire of cyclic existence. Focus totally on effort to extract yourself from this endless suffering of cyclic existence, so that you can achieve the state of permanent bliss and happiness, the state of fully enlightened buddhahood.

Thus it is taught that in order to be successful in reversing strong attraction and attachment to cyclic existence, we must practice dharma. Through the practice of dharma we can reverse attachment to existence and gain more momentum toward liberation, to the point where we realize the state of permanent bliss and cease to return to samsara.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

The Middle Way: From a Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

This leads to the third stage concerning the aspect of adjusting one’s intention [which is the first of four aspects of the preliminaries to the ritual for receiving the vow]: transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment by vowing to maintain the middle way. The practice of the enlightened mind, bodhicitta, involves two levels, the aspirational and the practical. Maybe you’re thinking, “If we reject the suffering of the three realms of existence and avoid attraction to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers, what is there for us to obtain?” What we are to obtain is the state of bodhisattvahood, which is dependent on bodhicitta cultivated for the sake of self and others. It is only bodhicitta that leads beings from the suffering of existence to the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. We must avoid the two extremes: the quiescence of ordinary nirvana and the endless cycle of samsara. It is only through cultivating bodhicitta that we can truly follow the middle way.

Through cultivating bodhicitta you will purify all nonvirtue accumulated in the past, present, and future, and compassion and all noble qualities, including the ability to meditate in samadhi, will blossom in your mind. As you dedicate yourself to the welfare of others, the [strength of your] vow will increase to the point where are you are truly able to help sentient beings as limitless as space. You will be able to bring limitless beings to enlightenment, until the ocean of existence is emptied. The Buddha taught that without the cultivation of the precious bodhicitta, there is no chance to achieve the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, for the purpose of all other living beings, with great enthusiastic joy you should give rise to the precious bodhicitta and engage in the actual practice.

Making Offerings: His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

Offerings

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Next, go for refuge in the sublime supports, the buddha as the embodiment of the three mayas, the dharma as the representation of all scriptural transmissions and realization, and the sangha as those who have attained the irreversible path of the sublime ones. From this moment until enlightenment, in order to liberate all parent sentient beings from their suffering, develop compassion. Realize that [in order] to accomplish your goal, aside from reliance on the Three Jewels of refuge, there is no other support for refuge. I would be impossible for you to bring all beings to liberation without the buddha, dharma, and sangha. With irreversible faith and devotion, repeat the vows of refuge.

According to the Mahayana path, we take refuge in the teacher who shows us the path to liberation: that is buddha. We engage on the path of Mahayana practice by cultivating the precious bodhicitta until we realize buddhahood: that is the dharma. The sangha is the spiritual community that is on the same path as we are on, assisting in the accomplishment of our mutual goals.

Next is the method for accumulating merit. Visualize in space in front a magnificent throne supported by eight lions, where your teacher sits, indivisible with Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. The eight arhats and a vast assembly of buddhas and bodhisattvas surround him like masses of clouds that fill the ten directions. Imagine countless emanations of yourself filling the entire pure realm of your environment, which includes the entire universe. You can countless emanations of yourself and all parent sentient beings join together to fill [all of] space. With humility, reverence, and faith, you and they all bow down and pay homage to the objects of refuge in the space in front. [Here you] prostrate by touching the five places of your body to the ground. That is the branch of prostration, a powerful antidote for pride. Having pride means having an attitude of cherishing yourself by thinking you are so great and special. Performing prostrations purifies that egoistic attitude.

Now visualize that you and innumerable emanations of yourself present boundless offerings. Offer all of your wealth and endowments, including the root of all virtue in this lifetime, all your past lifetimes, and in future lifetimes. Offer objects that are of this world and those that are transcendent. Imagine them to be inconceivably vast clouds of outer, inner, and secret offerings that completely fill space. In addition, offer the essential nature of reality.

General offerings please the senses. Imagine those offerings to be vast and inconceivable. However, if you were to [attempt to] compare the outer offerings with a single particle of the realms of buddhas and the quality of offerings made in the minds of enlightened ones, [you would find that comparison] to be beyond the scope of your imagination. That is why it is so important while presenting offerings to try to connect with the ultimate nature of offering, which is mental and not just material. Material offerings you make are supports for your mental or imagined offerings, which should be as inconceivably vast and wondrous as you are capable of manifesting. The actual offerings you use as a support should also be the best substances you are able to offer. At least they must not be old, dirty, or leftover substances; they must be suitable supports for the basis of virtue. The pure material offerings you make will be the support for the continual manifestation of inexhaustible offerings that will remain until samsara is emptied.

There is a well-known story of an accomplished practitioner named Jowo Ben. One day Jowo Ben made a very beautiful, clean, and pure offering on his altar. As he sat and looked at his offering, he thought, “What is it that makes this offering I’ve made here today excellent?” Then he remembered his sponsor was coming to visit that day, and he realized he had made the beautiful offering in order to impress his sponsor. He jumped up, picked up a handful of dirt, and threw it on the altar, saying he should give up all attachment and fixation on worldly concerns. Other lamas, on hearing what Jowo Ben had done, proclaimed his offering of throwing dirt on his altar to have been the purest offerings, because Jowo Ben had finally cleared his mind of attachment and aversion.

When offerings are made, they are rendered pure and excellent by a mind free from attachment and aversion to the ordinary, material aspect of the offerings–and they must be made with a mind that is also free from avarice. Don’t think you can throw dirt on your altar and think that will benefit you. You must adjust your mind. If your mind is free from attachment or fixation and aversion, then whatever you do will be right. If your mind is not adjusted and your intentions are impure, then no matter how beautiful and magnificent the offering is, it will be insignificant. If you present all offerings, whether abundant or meager, with fervent devotion from the core of your heart, that will produce profoundly amazing results.

In order to be free from the suffering of existence, the mind must be free from dualistic fixation. In freedom from duality, everything is inherently pure. Just imagine all the wonderful offerings that are made that are free from duality; pure water possessing the eight qualities, garlands of flowers, incense, light, superior perfume, celestial food, musical instruments, fine garments, beautiful umbrellas, canopies, victory banners, the sun, the moon–the finest and best of everything is offered. Consider those as offerings arranged in a magnificent array equal in size to Mt. Meru. Furthermore, know that those offerings are pure and free from duality. For example, if you were to pick a flower and think, “Oh, this is such a beautiful flower; I want to offer it,” but then you also think, “My flower is more beautiful than the others,” and you offer it with that dualistic thought, then that offering would be defiled by your dualistic fixation. On the other hand, if you focus on the pure nature of the offerings and present them with pure devotion, you will make offerings that are pure or free from dualistic fixation. Recite the verses of the branch for offering, and make the most excellent, immeasurable offering you are capable of with the enlightened attitude [bodhicitta], faith, and pure devotion.

It is important to understand that presenting offerings is the antidote for [having] desire. Offerings are not made to the Three Jewels because they are considered to be poverty-stricken and in need of receiving from their disciples; offerings are made to accumulate merit. By making offerings with actual material substances, we accumulate ordinary conceptual merit; by using the mind to manifest immeasurable offerings, we accumulate nonconceptual wisdom merit.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Adjusting One’s Mind

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

First, [during the preliminaries] one adjusts one’s intention [in order] to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction. There are three ways to do so, by developing repulsion or weariness toward the suffering of samsara, by developing an attraction to enlightenment, and by transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment through vowing to maintain the middle way.

When considering the first step to adjust the mind, one cultivates repulsion and weariness towards samsara as antidotes for strong attraction to worldliness, to ordinary phenomena, to one’s own life, wealth, and endowments, and to one’s friends and loved ones. Through cultivating weariness toward the suffering of samsara, we learn about impermanence come to understand the impermanence of all worldly phenomena.

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of an animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the process of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering human beings experience–birth, old age, sickness and death–humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another birth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Aspects to Receiving the Vow

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

In general, dharma consists of many divisions an distinctions of spiritual teachings, while at the same time the nature of all dharma is that it has the potential to liberate beings, both temporarily and ultimately, from the suffering of cyclic existence. The main cause or seed for that [liberation] is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Various traditions exist for the bodhisattva vow ritual and training. The lineage for these particular teachings, which was passed from Nargarjuna to Shantideva, is known as the tradition of the Middle Way as well as the lineage of the bodhisattvas.

There are four aspects related to receiving the bodhisattva vow: receiving the vow itself, ensuring the vow does not degenerate, repairing the vow if it is damaged, and methods for continuing to cultivate and maintain the vow.

The first aspect of receiving the vow itself has three aspects: the individual from whom one receives the vow, oneself as a qualified recipient, and the ritual for receiving the vow.

First, the individual from whom one receives the vow must have strong faith in the Mahayana vehicle and must be a true upholder of the vow. He or she must be someone within whom the vow abides and should also be someone who is very learned concerning the vehicles, particularly concerning bodhisattva training. Such a person must never abandon bodhicitta and must always keep the vows pure, even at the cost of his or her own life. That individual must also be a practitioner of the six paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and prajna, and must never engage in any activity that contradicts them.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, the way to receive the vow for the first time is from a spiritual guide. Later, if an individual’s vows degenerate, and if a spiritual guide is then absent, the person can restore the vows in the presence of an image of the buddha. It is not necessary that they be restored in the presence of a spiritual guide.

The second aspect for receiving the vow itself concerns the individual who qualifies to receive it.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, all sentient beings who desire to receive the bodhisattva vow qualify to receive it. The only exception is types of gods in the formless realm, called gods devoid of recognition, which are gods that lack cognitive abilities. With this one exception, basically all sentient beings qualify to receive the vow. But those who qualify in particular are those who have supreme knowledge, which refers to those who know what the bodhisattva vow is and what the benefits of receiving and maintaining it are. Such individuals are particularly worthy recipients because they have profound compassion and are able to use that compassion to bring both temporal and ultimate benefit to other beings. In short, any individual who has an altruistic attitude and wishes to take the bodhisattva vow qualifies to receive it.

The ritual [which is the third aspect of receiving the vow itself] also has three parts: the preliminaries, the actual ritual, and the concluding dedication. The preliminaries have four parts: adjusting one’s own intention, supplicating the objects that confer the vow, taking the support of refuge, and practicing the method for accumulating merit.

 

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche India

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Let us begin by considering limitless space. Then consider just as space is limitless, so too are parent sentient beings.

Since beginningless time, every sentient being has been our own parent in a past lifetime, and every sentient being from each of those lifetimes only showed us inconceivably great kindness. We must recognize that. We must also recognize that we have obtained that which is so difficult to obtain: the precious human rebirth–and that we have met with the doctrine that is so difficult to meet: the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Recognizing these things, we must understand that the best way we can repay the kindness of all parent sentient beings is by placing every one of them in a state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, (all of you here) please cultivate this aspiration. Having arrived at this critical juncture, you can now make your choice between samsara and enlightenment.

Now that you have obtained this precious human existence, you must extract its essence in order to make it meaningful. What makes this life meaningful is engaging with the spiritual path rather than just pursuing worldly activities for this life only, such as activities to increase wealth and material endowments or [activities to achieve] fame and personal gain. What makes this precious human existence meaningful is striving to realize the nature of this life.

This precious human existence is extremely rare. The following analogy illustrates just how rare it is: Imagine that upon the surface of a vast ocean floats yoke tossed continuously by wind and waves. Within that ocean swims a blind tortoise that surfaces for air once every hundred years. Of course, it is possible for the tortoise to emerge with its head [passing] through the yoke that bobs on the surface, but the chances that this will occur are extremely rare. Obtaining this precious human birth is just as rare as the tortoise surfacing for air one time in a hundred years with its head [passing] through the bobbing yoke. Surely this [surfacing] is possible, but it is so difficult and unlikely that it is next to impossible. Obtaining the precious human birth is likewise difficult.

If you use your precious human body just to accumulate an abundance of negativity, then you will certainly fall to the lower realms. If you accumulate the non virtue to fall to the hell realm, for example, you could remain there for the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of years, for incalculable periods, where you would experience inconceivable suffering. Eventually your karma there would be exhausted, and you would make it out to the peripheral hells; from there you would eventually make it to the deprived spirit realm and then eventually to the animal realm. In all these lower realms you would experience nothing but suffering; furthermore, you would accumulate only nonvirtue, because not even the thought of virtue exists in these realms. That is why if you fall to the lower realms of existence, you will remain there indefinitely, circling from hell to animal to the deprived spirit realm and so on, endlessly. Very few [beings] actually have the good fortune to leave the three lower realms. Considering this, you will appreciate just why it is so difficult and rare to obtain human rebirth.

Love For All Beings

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Think about all living beings that at some time or another, throughout the course of innumerable past lifetimes, have been your own kind father or mother. Consider how a mother will do anything for her child—even give her own life, without hesitation. Consider how all living beings have been that kind to you at some time in the past—not just once, but countless times, in countless different circumstances and situations over the course of countless lifetimes since beginningless time. Consider also that to not think carefully about repaying kindness, and thereby to go through your life without the intention to truly benefit parent sentient beings, and so to actually ignore them, is truly shameless.

Many people in the West may think, “Wait a minute! My parents were not very kind to me. In fact, we are not even close, and I don’t even like them, so why should I feel that I need to repay their kindness now?” If that is what you think, then take a moment to think about how you acquired your body. Is it not due to the kindness of your parents that you have your precious human body? From the time your consciousness entered the union of your father’s seed and your mother’s egg, your mother carried you in her own body. Her body nurtured you as you grew within it. Then with pain and difficulty she gave birth to you. Her kindness did not just stop there: for many years she cared for you and lovingly fed, cleaned, clothed, and wiped you; she provided shelter and cared for you when you were sick, and then she protected you and looked out for you constantly. If you think you don’t need to repay the kindness of your parents, just remind yourself of those events, which you were the recipient of time and time again.

If that still does not change your attitude, so that you still do not understand the kindness your parents showed you, then think about your body, the gift of your body, which is who you are; your parents gave you that. Because your parents showed you the great kindness of giving you your body, your precious life, here you are. Sure you had the causes for your precious human rebirth, but without parents you wouldn’t have your body. And you didn’t have your body, you wouldn’t be able to receive these vows.

In our present state of ignorance, we have an inability to recognize that all beings have been our parents in the past, and we certainly don’t know what the particular situations and circumstances of those lifetimes were. Nonetheless, it is certain that we have had countless sentient beings as our parents over and over again in countless past lives. The truth is, at the present time we just do not recognize that.

Imagine you are on the bank of a river with your mother and suddenly she falls in and is being carried away by the rushing water. There you stand on the bank, watching that happened. What would you do? Would you do something to try to save her, such as throw out a rope? Or would you turn your back and walk away rather than risk your own life? Would you be concerned for her, or would your concern be only for yourself? The intention of the hearers and solitary realizers can be likened to this latter case, while the intention of the Mahayana practitioners can be likened to the former. While it is important to develop attraction toward peace, you should never for any reason, be attracted to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

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