Rinchen Terdzo

The Great River Of Blessings - The Rinchen Terdzö In Orissa, India

July 28th, 2010 by Walker Blaine


The Rinchen Terdzö blog is now available for download as a free, edited e-book called The Great River Of Blessings. Its 268 pages are filled with pictures and stories about the events in India, the history of the Rinchen Terdzö, its relationship with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and much more. The book concludes with supplementary essays on the connections between Shambhala Buddhism, the terma tradition, and creating enlightened society. The Great River Of Blessings also gives a basic overview of the Nyingma lineage in the context of Tibetan culture and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s life when he is in Asia.

The sponsor for the book is The Sakyong Foundation. If you enjoy the work, please consider making a donation to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s humanitarian work in Asia.

All the best,

Walker Blaine

Please follow the link to download the book: The Great River Of Blessings.

The Ceremonial Conclusion of the Rinchen Terdzo

March 20th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche

This entire web page was updated on Saturday March 21st.

There are several new and updated posts following this article. The links at the top of the page have all been updated. The new articles include a talk by His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, an article on the Rinchen Terdzo and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, descriptions of the empowerments after the concluding ceremonies, and more.

March 4th

Breakfast this morning was followed by a meeting for all the western students with Shambhala’s president, the indefatigably cheerful Richard Reoch. Richard had come from a meeting with the Sakyong with a list of various offerings to be given to His Eminence, all having been paired up with the names of many Western guests at the Rinchen Terdzo. In gratitude for the empowerments, His Eminence is receiving a variety of gifts from both the westerners and the Tibetans at the event. We spent a good twenty minutes working out the order of the long line of westerner offerers who’d be carrying such gifts as vases, kapalas, kilas all made of sliver and a set of the eight auspicious symbols leafed in gold. These are the kind of gifts worthy of a dharma king.

Western and Tibetan Guests Waiting for the Ceremonies to Begin

Western and Tibetan Guests Waiting for the Ceremonies to Begin

The day was quite a big one and also turned out to be one of the hottest of the season in Orissa, possibly surging over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 Celsius. A large pavilion had been stretched over part of the monastery courtyard to shade the overflow guests from the different Tibetan camps. Since the start of the dzogchen empowerments, the veranda had had barely enough room to walk through.

The Sakyong Wangmo Before the Enthronement

The Sakyong Wangmo Before the Enthronement

Inside the shrine room there were now three thrones set up, each with a canopy overhead. As we waited for the events to begin, I watched the Rinchen Terdzo empowerment shrine nearly buried behind bag after bag of food being readied for the final feast that everyone would partake of. While we were waiting for His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Lhuntrul Rinpoche (who was also being formally empowered as a lineage holder) to arrive, the Sakyong Wangmo entered the room in the robes she wore last year at her enthronement. During the ceremonies themselves she wore the Yeshe Tsogyal cape. She looked particularly regal and radiant on this day.

Eventually, the three empowerments of the day began, starting with The Blazing Jewel of Sovereignty, the ritual used to confirm a dharma king. This empowerment was conferred at least three times on Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, once when he received the Rinchen Terdzo from Sechen Kongtrul Rinpoche, and twice from His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The Vidyadhara was about eight years old the first time he received the empowerment from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and the second time was when he was enthroned as the Sakyong of Shambhala in 1982 in Boulder, Colorado. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche used this same empowerment to enthrone Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche as Sakyong of Shambhala in 1995.

His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. Photograph by Christoph Scheonherr

His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. Photograph by Christoph Scheonherr

The Blazing Jewel of Sovereignty starts with the recipient sitting in a chair before the master performing the ritual. Gradually, as the ceremony progresses, the recipient, or in this case the two recipients, are gradually clothed as a sovereign of the dharma, and brought to the throne wearing clothing much like the robes worn by Padmasambhava. After assuming the throne, the new dharma king receives the lotus crown and the many offerings befitting a monarch of the teachings.

It was quite a magical environment. I will let the photos speak for themselves. Everyone was dressed for the occasion, especially the Tibetans. While it’s been quite normal to see the Tibetan women wearing chubas and colorful aprons at the events, this was the first time I have seen so many of the laymen wearing dignified chubas and the occasional fur and brocade winter hat. After the enthronement, there was a tea and rice ceremony for everyone assembled served by the women from the five Tibetan camps.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Lhuntrul Rinpoche during the Enthronements.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Lhuntrul Rinpoche during the Enthronements.

After tea and rice (cooked with almonds and raisins) there were mandala offerings made to the two new lineage holders. First, the Ripa Lhadrang and His Eminence’s monasteries in India and Nepal made offerings to the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Afterwards, the two monasteries made mandala offerings to Lhuntrul Rinpoche. And at the end, the two monasteries made mandala offerings to the Sakyong Wangmo, Dechen Choying Sangmo.

Khandro Chime, Tulku Karma Shedrup and Semo Sonam making a longevity offering to His Eminence

Khandro Chime, Tulku Karma Shedrup and Semo Sonam during a longevity offering to His Eminence. Photo by Christoph Schoenherr.

After the conclusion of the enthronement ceremonies, His Eminence began a long textual empowerment. This ceremony was from a very well known cycle called the Union of All The Gurus, and was discovered by the terton Sangye Lingpa. It presents every aspect of the path leading up to the final section of dzogchen and has a very long section of reading transmission as part of the empowerment.

Khenpo Pema Tenpel

Khenpo Pema Tenpel. Photo by Christoph Schoenherr.

Following this, the chief khenpo of the monastery, Khenpo Pema Tenpel, read a very long, ceremonious and traditionally appropriate description of how the dharma came to Tibet and how the Rinchen Terdzo along with His Eminence and his lineage came to benefit us in the present. The text for this description, really a long praise read by Khenpo Pema Tenpel, was taped together like a scroll and seemed to be about twenty feet long.

After the formal expression of gratitude to His Eminence from the Shambhala community, offerings were made to Lhuntrul Rinpoche in gratitude for the reading transmission of the Rinchen Terdzo. Following this there were no less than 13 organizations making offerings to His Eminence. The procession of monks and lay people carrying texts, grain, medicines, carpets and other expressions of gratitude took nearly an hour. Then, slightly behind schedule, we broke for a fine Indian lunch prepared by the monastery for all the guests present for the events.

President Richard Reoch, Allya Burka, Alexandra Kalinine and Theresa Laurie lead the procession presenting the offerings from the Sakyong, Sakyong Wangmo and Shambhala.

President Richard Reoch, Allya Burka, Alexandra Kalinine and Theresa Laurie lead the procession presenting the offerings from the Sakyong, Sakyong Wangmo and Shambhala.

Following the lunch break there was a final long-life empowerment which itself was followed by three or four more hours of a blessing line, a time for individual offerings to all the teachers from everyone in the community. The monks were very clever about this in terms of crowd control. They barred the door to the shrine room shut so that all 700 or 800 of us inside could move through the line before the next 700 or 800 people were let in the room. During this time, every one of us passed before His Eminence, the Sakyong, Lhuntrul Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche and Tulku Kunkhab Rinpoche who were all seated behind high piles of white khatas and envelopes of monetary offerings from the community. At the very end of the row of teachers stood various monastic officials and President Reoch giving out protection cords, commemorative books in Tibetan, and other keepsakes to mark the ceremonial end to the empowerments.

Lhuntrul Rinpoche. Photo by Christoph Schoenherr.

Lhuntrul Rinpoche. Photo by Christoph Schoenherr.

As I write all of this back in the west I am sad. Often it is said that there is no way to really repay the kindness of the teacher, there’s no way to show adequate thanks to a person who shows you the path and the genuine truth of reality. It seemed that even with all the formal praises and the offerings, a line of gifts that took dozens of people nearly an hour to give, we had not really done any justice to what His Eminence had given us. He has spent his entire life training and meditating to benefit others and during the three months of the Rinchen Terdzo he unreservedly gave every single moment of his time and heart to the Sakyong and everyone assembled, never thinking of himself. His kindness and generosity continues to amaze me. May his life be long and healthy and all his wishes be fulfilled.

Culture, Enlightened Leadership and the Rinchen Terdzo

March 20th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

An ongoing contemplation during and after the events in Orissa has been the relationship between the Rinchen Terdzo, enlightened sovereignty and community.



While the Rinchen Terdzo can be seen simply as a treasury of practices for meditators in monasteries, in retreat, and so forth, looking at the collection in the context of buddhist history is illuminating. There is a theme that runs through how the vajrayana teachings manifested in India and Tibet and how the vajrayana is transmitted both in the tantric tradition in general and in Shambhala. For the most part, although there was occasional royal patronage of the dharma in India, a stable vajrayana buddhist kingdom never arose in India the way one did in Tibet. Once a genuine vajrayana culture was established through support of a royal lineage in Tibet, it paved the way for an unparalleled development of buddhist lineage, practice, and scholarship. Padmasambhava’s activities in Tibet, and the eleven centuries of Tibetan termas highlighted by the Rinchen Terdzo, would not have arisen without the vision and example of King Trisong Detsen. 

King Trisong Detsen

King Trisong Detsen

From another perspective, the Rinchen Terdzo is a record of what can flourish, and likewise, what is needed, in a dharmic culture. The collection preserves the very best of the revitalizing practices that arose in the mindstreams of tertons who were the rebirths of realized teachers who helped create the foundations of Tibetan culture. In some ways the collection is like a photographic image of everything needed in a dharmic kingdom. Within the large mahayoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo, the practices of the guru provide the means for everyone to discover the principle of awakened leadership within themselves. The practices of the eight logos provide a comprehensive means develop all possible attainments. The practices of the dakinis and protectors provide the basis for various beneficial activities to spread throughout a dharmic realm. All of these qualities of practice manifested in Tibet. The vajrayana can flourish only in a dharmic community. It needs a culture to appreciate it. 


The Drala Manifestation of Gesar of Ling

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s brilliance in his vision of transplanting the dharma in the style of both Padmasambhava and a warrior-king like was to create a culture, not just a sangha, for the dharma to exist within. He deliberately created a dharmic society with a family lineage at its center as a container to receive the buddhist world in a new context. We often say that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche brought the dharma to the west, but we can also he say he created a world, a culture and a context for the dharma to arrive from the East.

This wisdom is mirrored in the history of the vajrayana coming to our world. Generally speaking, the vajrayana came to us first through a royal lineage. The vajrayana was initially presented by the Buddha to king Indrabhuti, the ruler of Shambhala who had requested a way to practice the dharma without becoming a monastic and renouncing his kingdom. The histories of the arrival of the mahayoga, anuyoga and atiyoga teachings in this world are similar. Often, a divine being presented the teachings to a ruler requesting the dharma.

Empowerment rituals in the vajrayana tradition generally emphasize the practitioner holding the view of an enlightened monarch. In most empowerments, the disciple is symbolically made a king or queen in order to emphasize the creative display and power of awakened mind. The mind and its world, its mandala, form the experience or kingdom of a realized practitioner, someone who has confidently realized basic goodness, buddha nature. This view forms the basis of enlightened society. It all revolves around the idea of the student being awakened into their own inherent wisdom and thus becoming a king or queen of their experience. Enlightened society is about sharing that experience with others.

Royal patronage leading to the flourishing of the dharma in Tibet was not a normal coincidence. The Buddhist explanation of causality is that things happen because of beings’ karma and aspirations. A Buddhist culture or kingdom arises because of the collective aspirations of everyone involved. It comes from aspirations coming together with the right causes and conditions rather than good luck or a ruler’s ambition. King Trisong Detsen was, in a sense, waiting to foster the dharma, and the right conditions were there for such good fortune to happen.


Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche During the Concluding Ceremonies

It was poignant to see the Sakyong enthroned at the end of the Rinchen Terdzo in the same way that both he and his father were made sovereigns of Shambhala. While the Blazing Jewel of Sovereignty is a general text for the enthronement of a dharmaraja, a dharma ruler, it holds a special place in Shambhala because of the Vidyadhara’s use of the text. In a way, the empowerment marks the beginning of a cycle of dharmic culture because of the intimate relationship between the vision of community and culture, and having a leader for such a situation. This is similar to the recognition of one’s own inherent goodness. Confidence in that knowledge makes one a ruler of one’s own world, and from there one can go forward into improving one’s own life and the lives of others.

In the Blazing Jewel of Sovereignty ceremony, the emphasis is on the enthronement of a dharma-protecting king. All temporal signs of rulership are bestowed upon the disciple. As all of this comes at the end of the Rinchen Terdzo, or in the case of Shambhala, at the end of the training of a Sawang, a future Sakyong. The future dharmaraja has already been filled with the riches of the teachings when the Blazing Jewel of Sovereignty is bestowed. It seems especially fitting that the Sakyong was again crowned a dharma king after receiving another wave of spiritual riches belonging to his father. May Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s wish for the new golden age, the dawn of enlightened society, come to quick fruition in our lifetime.

The Conclusion After the Conclusion

March 20th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

Blessing Line on the Final Day  

Blessing Line on the Final Day

March 5th and 6th 

[The events in this post occurred after the ceremonial conclusion of the Rinchen Terdzo posted above. There were a few more empowerments to be given after we closed on an astrologically appropriate day. There is more information in the February 28th to March 3rd entry.]

The last days in Orissa were very hot. The heat in India starts in March on the eastern coast and slowly moves its way west toward Delhi and Mumbai before the start of the summer’s monsoons. News reports said it was over 40 Celsius or 104 Fahrenheit in the coastal city of Bhubaneswar early in the week. In the shrine room we got used to the afternoon wind blowing through like hot air coming from a dryer’s exhaust vent. 

After the ceremonial closing of the Rinchen Terdzo on the 4th, most of the lay community attending the empowerments departed. There were still about 20 or 30 who remained along with the monastics and the westerners who weren’t forced to leave by schedule or frozen return flight tickets. As I sat in the more quiet and peaceful shrine room during the last empowerments, I was struck by a feeling of affection and love. Things were dissolving and at the same time there was such appreciation for and by everyone. In the final days people seemed to glow. The change in schedule gave those who remained an easier time of letting go of the experience than during the day of final ceremonies earlier in the week


Last Blessings

As things wound down, the monastery slipped into a new routine, probably the closest thing to ‘normal’ that such an institution can have. The young monks had a bit more room to run around during the breaks, and I was pleased to see a Tibetan layman, a gardener, spraying a hose after one or another of the red robed boys in the mid-day heat. It felt much like the ending of a major seminary in the West, a mixture of sadness at the impermanence of a wondrous world, and relief at the end of a great effort.

The Sakyong was very generous with his time at the end of the Rinchen Terdzo, and I was able to meet with him twice more before departing . He said that it was very rare to see a Tibetan settlement in such a cohesive situation as during the Rinchen Terdzo and final empowerments. Often, when big events happen at one monastery in larger communities there are still other other activities happening at the neighboring monasteries. But here in Orissa everyone joined in. He said that the Rinchen Terdzo would have a big effect later; people had never seen a situation like it in Orissa before.

Lhuntrul Rinpoche on the Final Day. Photograph by Christoph Schoenherr.

Lhuntrul Rinpoche on the Final Day. Photograph by Christoph Schoenherr.

The last session of the empowerments was quite poignant. Everything was the last—the last time we took refuge with Eminence together, the last censer being brought around by the chopon, the last moments. In the end, after we’d dedicated the merit and finished the closing chants, His Eminence simply stood up and left the room smiling. He gave us a wave goodbye as he has done often throughout our time together. It was as though everything had come and gone like a dream, and now there was no reason to hang on to anything even if it was sad to finally say goodbye.

The Rinchen Terzo gave a deep glimpse into the Tibetan culture and community. In the final blessing line during the concluding ceremonies on March 4th I noticed a woman with a tiny baby in her arms. I asked her if it was the child of Thonga, the canteen manager, and she said it was another baby. The whole wheel of life proceeded around the Rinchen Terdzo with babies being born and family members passing away during the three months of ceremonies. And that wheel of life, along with the blessings of devotion and faith in the dharma has brought the Rinchen Terdzo to us today. May its practices and wisdom nurture not only the East but also the West in many centuries to come.

A Talk by His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche

March 20th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

His Eminence During the Enthronements

His Eminence During the Enthronements

February 20th, 2009 

[This is an edited transcript of Jigme Rinpoche's translation of a talk given by His Eminence at the end of the Mahayoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo.]

It is important to understand that what abhisheka does is ripen our mindstream and the state of our body, speech and mind altogether. What does an unripened mindstream mean? An unripened mindstream is our ordinary state, which is very hard, very arrogant, and very difficult, like infertile, very hard soil. Over time, over the days [of the Rinchen Terdzo], the abhishekas pour into the mindstream so that it becomes more soft, gentle, and transformed, so that we are able to sow the crop and reach the fruition of enlightenment rapidly, without any obstacles. Basically, we are taking our mindset or mindstream, our rough state or condition, and making it more soft, gentle, and workable. This happens not only due to the blessings of the gurus, but also through the power and strength of one’s trust and devotion.

 One of the most difficult obstacles to this is pride and arrogance, the ego. One can see that ego is an inevitable part of everyone; you can even see a child displaying ego. The ego has always brought us into unfortunate states, into problems, into pain and suffering, rather than doing any good. So it is important that we try to bring our ego down by transforming it with the power of devotion and trust. Then, over time, the blessing of the abhishekas will help us to go through further transformation.

Back in Tibet, when I was receiving the Rinchen Terdzo from Trungpa Rinpoche, his chopon, the one who handles the mandala set up, used to come and see me often. He used to come by just to chat and talk.* The chopon said that he had seen a marked change in the monks of Surmang. He told me how the monks of Surmang used to be quite arrogant, quite unruly, full of ego and not really humble. But the monks changed once Khenpo Gangshar was sent there as a tutor and teacher at the request of Trungpa Rinpoche. Like Trungpa Rinpoche, Khenpo Gangshar was a student of Shechen Kongtrul. He was also Shechen Kongtrul’s nephew. Both Shechen Kongtrul and Khenpo Gangshar were regarded as having accomplished the fourth and highest stage accomplishment of Dzogchen.

 The reason the chopon said Khenpo Gangshar had brought a change to Surmang was that when the chopon returned to monastery, he found it had totally changed. It had become much more quiet. The monks had become much more gentle and more silent, and it seemed that everyone was observing their own minds a lot. The chopon found a big change in Surmang. This is what I was told, and I believe this happened due to the power of the teaching, the teacher, and also, most importantly, due to the power and practice of devotion.

 When I received the empowerments from Trungpa Rinpoche, I never had the feeling of seeing him as just an ordinary person even for one instant. I have always believed in and been able to see through pure vision, pure perception, which is essential on the path of tantrayana. Even though sometimes Trungpa Rinpoche would sleep on the throne during the abhishekas, I never had ordinary feelings about him. I always felt that when he was sleeping he was not in this world, but was communicating with numerous pure realms and deities and so forth. I never saw him in an ordinary way, even for one second. I always felt that when he taught, a lively, living bodhisattva was giving all the precious teachings and empowerments. This is because I know what pure vision means; I have felt it myself, I have experienced it myself.

 When pure vision actually enters into you, you are moved by the sheer power of purity, the sheer power of the wholesomeness of the blessing deities, and then your body begins to shiver, you begin to have tears. But these tears are not coming because you have pain, or because you have suffering; they are coming out of the power of the purity and because you are so moved by the deity that you come into contact with this whole world of pure phenomena.

 When you come into contact with pure phenomena, what happens is that impure perception, impure vision, stops. When there is no more impure vision, when impure perceptions stop, that is exactly the mind of the buddha, the mind of enlightenment. The only difference is that after enlightenment, the buddhas are never separate from, they never look away from, that state of mind. Ordinarily, beings can look away from that mind, they can have a glimpse of it but look away from it. That’s the only difference. Besides that there is no real big difference.

I would like to say once again to everybody to put the focus back on devotion, back to keeping samaya. Otherwise, even if there is a real buddha is in front of us, it will be just like in the time of Shakyamuni when his own nephew and student, the gelong Legpe Karma, never really saw anything good in the Buddha even though he spent a great many years with him. He never saw any good quality in the buddha and that was his loss. Without having real devotion, trust and observance of one’s own mind and samaya, it is impossible to actually see the full qualities of the lamas and the deities. Therefore I want to ask you all once again not to forget that the purpose of the abhishekas here is to help us ripen our heart, our mindstream, our being, into a soft and gentle nature so that we can  then actually use our mindstreams to become enlightened, possibly in this very lifetime, or at least to produce better causes and conditions to reach enlightenment in future lives, and most importantly to develop compassion for all beings.

The way that your practice will go well is when you stop caring so much for this life alone. When your whole focus is on this life alone, you forget the next lives. For the real practitioner, the next lives are more important than this life. When everybody just sees and works and thinks only of this life, enlightenment will not be accomplished. Every practitioner of the past has in fact reached enlightenment because they cared for and were concerned about—they understood the implication of—the next lives. For this reason observe the causes and conditions of karma well. Do please remind yourself about these things. Then they will definitely produce a real good practitioner. At the same time, continue to do all the mantras I entrusted all of you to accumulate. This is my advice.

[* This is likely the chopon that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche mentions in Born in Tibet. The main chopon for the Rinchen Terdzo at Yak Gompa was the uncle of the thanka painter, Noedup Rongae.]

The Great Stupa and The Rinchen Terdzo

March 19th, 2009 by Walker Blaine


The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Shambhala Mountain Center


The Shambhala Terma and the Rinchen Terdzo

The symbolism of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, the Buddhist monument at Shambhala Mountain Center that commemorates Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is a way to understand the context for the Rinchen Terdzo in Shambhala. The general Buddhist path, the vajrayana traditions of buddhism, and the Shambhala terma are all neatly brought together in the symbolism of the stupa. A stupa is a living architectural representation of the Buddha, of the path, and of the awakened state of mind within us all. The form of a stupa is designed to symbolize the form of the Buddha in seated meditation upon a throne. The exterior details of a stupa represent the various stages of the path—from initially meeting the dharma, to developing a stable mind of practice, to finally realizing the complete enlightenment of a buddha. This is one reason why seeing a stupa can be profound and liberating.

After Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche passed away in 1987, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the Vidyadhara’s main teachers and close friends, oversaw the planning of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. The stupa is part of a larger vision to build stupas at eight major Shambhala centers. These eight stupas are to follow a particular motif, the eight deeds of the Buddha, eight major occurrences in the Buddha’s life. The first stupa, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, is a Descent from Heaven stupa. It depicts the moment the Buddha returned to this world after spending three months in a celestial realm teaching the dharma to his mother, Queen Maya, who had passed away a week after the Buddha’s birth.


The Buddha in the First Level of the Stupa

Inside, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya has three levels. These present the buddhist path and practice from the perspective of the Shambhala teachings within the greater framework of tantric buddhism. One of the main features of the first floor of the stupa are an eighteen-foot tall statue of the Buddha teaching the dharma. Painted on the ceiling is the mandala of Kalachakra, the earliest tantra. The Kalachakra was taught by the Buddha to King Indrabhuti, the first of the seven dharmarajas or dharma sovereigns of Shambhala. These seven proceded the 25 Rigdens, the universal sovereigns who are also central figures in the Kalachakra tantra.

While the teachings of the Kalachakra are the most detailed presentation of vajrayana practice found in the tantras, it is traditional that the empowerments for these practices are offered publically to anyone who’d like to receive them. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche asked the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche to bestow the Kalachakra empowerment on the Shambhala community in 1986. The Kalachakra was again given to Shambhala in 1995 by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche when he enthroned the current Sakyong. The first floor of the stupa represents the general dharma tradition of the Buddha along with nirmanakaya aspect of buddhahood, a buddha’s compassionate manifestation in this world.

The second floor of the stupa houses a three dimensional representation of the mandala of Chakrasamvara, one of the main yidams (meditation deities) of the Sarma tradition, the buddhist schools that came after the earliest tradition in Tibet, the Nyingma. Chakrasamvara is a major practice of the Kagyu, the practice tradition that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche upheld along with the Nyingma. The practice of Chakrasamvara is done widely in Shambhala. It is also one practice traditions maintained at Surmang Dutsi Til, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s home monastery in Tibet. The second floor of the great stupa represents the Sarma or new school vajrayana traditions as well as the sambhogakaya aspect of buddhahood, the radiant display of the mind of wisdom.*

The uppermost level of the stupa is home to a statue of Vajrasattva, the transcendent buddha who is the union of all yidams (meditation deities). Vajrasattva is often the presenter of the Nyingma tantras. The third floor of the stupa represents the Nyingma lineage teachings, the original Buddhist tradition in Tibet, as well as the essential, ungraspable aspect of the mind of buddhahood, the dharmakaya. Above Vajrasattva, painted on the interior of the vault at the base of the spire to the stupa, are paintings of the eight vidyadharas, the eight realized Indian teachers who taught the mahayoga tantras and practices. The mahayoga practices, in particular, the terma revelations of them, make up the foundation of Nyingma practice today. The mahayoga practices are also the largest section of the Rinchen Terdzo and take around two and a half months to bestow.

Another major feature in the uppermost chamber of the stupa is the base of the sokshing, the massive wooden life-force pole that runs through the entire spire of the structure. The sokshing represents the central channel, or yogic meridian, of the body of a realized meditator. If one is looks at the entire stupa as the body of a buddha, the sokshing is the core of the energetic body. The life-force pole has many texts calligraphed in golden letters upon it. The main text is The Letter of the Black Ashe. This is one of the principle termas that the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche discovered while in the West. The presence of The Letter of the Black Ashe on the sokshing marks the guiding vision for Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s presentation of the dharma in the west, the Shambhala teachings. Shambhala is likened to an umbrella or a parasol protecting the buddhadharma in general.

If we look at the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya as a presentation of the teachings coming down from above, we see can see the stupa as a presentation of the entire path moving outwards from the Shambhala terma. From the central realization of the teacher comes the Shambhala dharma. Around this are the eight vidyadharas, the source of the mahayoga practices that are likened to the ground for realizing dzogchen. At the base of the life force pole is Vajrasattva, the embodiment of all the yidams, symbolic here of the eight logos practices. The mahayoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo follows a similar layout; Vajrasattva is initially presented in the tantra section as the embodiment of all the yidams.

Another theme here is the three floors of the stupa. The realization of the mind of enlightenment, the ungraspable dharmakaya, comes first, and out of that comes the creative display of the sambhogakaya, the second level. Finally, the teachings descend to our world with the nirmanakaya form of the teacher, someone who communicates with us directly, face-to-face, in ordinary experience.


The Great Stupa

This brief description of the interior symbolism of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya gives a sense of the interconnections between the Shambhala terma, the vajrayana dharma and the buddhist path in general. While the Nyingma teachings are symbolized by the upper level of the stupa, when the Sakyong pointed out these features to me, he emphasized that because all vajrayana teachings come from purity there is no conflict between one practice or another. For example, during the height of the ecumenical movement in Tibet there wasn’t the hard line between Kagyu and Nyingma practice that we find in some Western academic presentations. Surmang, like many others monasteries, has retreat facilities for both Kagyu and Nyingma styles of practice. These two traditions complement each other. And in Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s vision, both are protected by the central channel of the Shambhala vision and teachings. 

*  The difference between this and the first floor of the stupa is that the sambhogakaya is related with mind’s energetic display rather than something visible in everyday life. The sambhogakaya is said to be experienced through meditative realization, whereas a nirmanakaya—the form of a buddha, a statue, or a realized teacher for example—is perceivable in the everyday world.


Final Reflections

March 18th, 2009 by Walker Blaine


Lama Dances

Lama Dances

March 19th

[This post was written upon my return to the West.)

If one goes on retreat or does a series of retreats, long or short, it can sometimes take months or years to understand the meaning and the impact of what of the experience. The more one brings to meditation during a retreat, the more far-ranging the effect it can have on one’s life. While I did have some sense of what the Rinchen Terdzo meant to the Sakyong and to Shambhala before I came to India, I had little idea what receiving three months of transmissions in group retreat would mean to me. It will no doubt be some time before I understand the depth of the impact of attending the Rinchen Terdzo, but I want to share some preliminary reflections with you at the end of the blog.

One major point of insight came in the context being at the Rinchen Terdzo and receiving hundreds of empowerments for practices that I am unlikely to do. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche warned against receiving lots of empowerments without an intention to practice them when he taught on spiritual materialism, our tendency to convert the spiritual path into something to secure our own emotional world of attachment and thus avoid genuine surrender into the meaning of the dharma. Over the years, while admiring people who attended long empowerments like the Rinchen Terdzo, I sometimes wondered what was the point of doing such a thing in light of the Vidyadhara’s teachings.

There was an irony to my predicament because a few years back Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche asked me to go on pilgrimage in Asia dressed in white like Milarepa or a sadhu. Though there are white-robed lineages within the Tibetan tradition, until that pilgrimage I viewed Westerners in that sort of attire as potentially misguided and overdramatic. Once I was dressed in robes like that myself and enduring the direct praise, criticism, curiosity and avoidance of Western and Asian monastics and lay people alike, I was forced to confront some of my own spiritual conceit and armchair prejudice. I realized that something that seemed materialistic on the outside could be transformed by a dharmic outlook and application of practice. Living the experience from the inside helped me see some of my naïveté and lack of understanding. 

Attending three months of empowerments turned out to be an active process of opening up to His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, one of the most accomplished disciples of the Vidyadhara. I realized that the point of being at the Rinchen Terdzo wasn’t to gather teachings I might not practice, but to learn from a realized teacher who was showing me how to practice. I came to see the Rinchen Terdzo as a group retreat and an opportunity to witness the Sakyong’s path, rather than making it an avoidance of my own path while gathering personal credentials. This seemed to be the case for the other western participants as well. 

The environment at the Rinchen Terdzo was remarkably respectful and grounded. The straightforward, earthy engagement with the process by devoted practitioners in the Tibetan community, and, in particular the senior monastics who worked tirelessly to support the event, was humbling and inspiring to participate in. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a great deal about a level of boredom that isn’t agitated, but is gentle, appreciative and aware. In many ways, the Rinchen Terdzo was like a dathun except the focus was not on sitting meditation, but on opening to a teacher and the lineage over and over again. This situation is invaluable for anyone seriously engaged in vajrayana practice. As the weeks went by in Orissa I found myself increasingly grateful to the Sakyong for asking me to come.

While in Orissa I saw more vividly the difference between an ordinary practitioner like myself and someone like Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche who has the responsibilities of passing on the lineage to his successor and of training tens of thousands of others. As I watched his devotion and confidence while he participated in the countless rituals His Eminence was conducted from the throne, I could see how the Sakyong’s years of study with the Vidyadhara, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche and many others have ripened him into an extraordinary being. Many conversations with the Sakyong left me amazed by the breadth of his vision and understanding. I was often humbled by the kind and patient way he dealt with my speed while walking me through a variety of complex topics. Often I would wince when reviewing our discussions because of the number of points I’d missed the first time around.

His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche impressed me tremendously. He seems to be 100% about carrying on the practice tradition. The Rinchen Terdzo placed incredible demands on him, yet I never saw anything other than good humor and luminous brilliance from start to finish as he presented the teachings over the winter. I do not think a person without genuine realization can accomplish that. It gave me a glimpse of how hard people worked to the preserve the dharma in Tibet, and it gave a glimpse into the degree of training that gave us Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It was very edifying to witness all of this. It is easy to take the dharma for granted in this age of email, fast food, and mail-order shopping. 

For my own practice, it is still difficult to say what I have gained. Jigme Rinpoche, during an opening meeting with the western students in December, said that we would be receiving a lot of seeds. I’ve heard this kind of statement for years and not appreciated the meaning of it. It sounds like something we say to people to cheer them up in case they don’t get the full impact some spiritual event. The truth is that the only person in the history of the dharma who completely realized the meaning of an empowerment on the spot was King Indrabhuti, the first tantric student of the Buddha. The rest of us have seeds of enlightenment planted within us that are our responsibility to ripen. In Orissa I began to get some small sense of how significant these seeds are. This came through in moments like seeing the Sakyong’s determination and joy to receive his father’s lineage of the main Nyingma termas in order to pass it on the future Sakyong. The memory of His Eminence’s presence continues to be a reminder not only of the seed, but also of the fruition.

These were some of the major things that have come to mind in regards to attending the Rinchen Terdzo. May all beings quickly realize the wisdom inherent in their own nature, their basic goodness. May all genuine spiritual traditions nurture and open all beings into the path of complete enlightenment.


Dzogchen, The Missing Section

March 18th, 2009 by Walker Blaine

February 28th – March 3rd

After three days off for Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the Rinchen Terdzo resumed for the last of the three major sections of empowerments, the empowerments of dzogchen. Dzogchen or atiyoga, as the ultimate, final stage of empowerments and practice instructions in the Nyingma tradition is already quite famous in the west. There already many books about it, far more books than have been published about mahayoga and anuyoga. Besides being more simple and direct, the dzogchen instructions are popular in the west because the practices are not elaborate, there are not a lot of complex visualizations or yogic practices to do. They are said to be difficult practices to accomplish because the instructions are so subtle and direct, and the fruition, what we practice to achieve, cannot be put into words.

 The atiyoga section of the Rinchen Terdzo has eighty or ninety empowerments. Although there are a lot of general categories, three important subdivisions are the empowerments and special instructions coming from Vimalamitra, Padmasambhava and Vairocana. All three of these great masters hid termas to be discovered in later times, and there are still oral lineages of the transmissions from some of them coming from the time of Padmasambhava too The empowerments of these sections were given in groups according to the individual teachers, and after these came some empowerments combining the three masters’ traditions into one.

 Some of these empowerments happened during the time Patricia and I spent at the clinic, so I can’t say so much about them. It was sad for us to miss a few of the ultimate empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzo. Although not so much the case in modern times, dzogchen was originally taught in strict secrecy, so perhaps it’s all well and good that there’s not so much for me to say about dzogchen in this blog. Of the empowerments we did attend, there seemed to be a lot more descriptions of mind and meditation as opposed to the elaborate ritual displays that were more common in the earlier sections of the Rinchen Terdzo.

The Tibetan tradition puts importance on doing things in an astrologically auspicious way, so it was decided to end the Rinchen Terdzo on the 8th day of the New Year, the 4th of March. However, the dzogchen sections empowerments were not fully completed at that point, so some of the empowerments were held back to be given on the 5th and 6th. These empowerments were from the less commonly known dzogchen practices that people are less likely to do. They included such things as empowerments for retreats done in total darkness, and a cycle of empowerments from termas discovered by Ratna Lingpa.

 When we returned from the clinic on the third I had the chance to visit with the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. They were in very good spirits, and both were very concerned about how Patricia had been doing. Patricia and I received so many good wishes, prayers and gifts from friends and teachers, that Patricia later joked it was worth getting sick for. On the night of the third, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche gave us the protection cords he’d received during the days of dzogchen empowerments when we had been gone.

 A couple of points came up in conversation with Their Majesties that night which caught my attention. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche said that people in the Tibetan community had been coming to thank him for requesting His Eminence to give the Rinchen Terdzo. People said they had no idea of the breadth of teachings and empowerments His Eminence carried. In many ways I am not surprised by this because I have found Namkha Drimed Rinpoche to be incredibly humble and quiet about his activities. I’d thought this was the case only with the western students, but learned otherwise.

 The second interesting point in the evening’s conversation came when Khandro Tseyang explained that it had never before happened that people who had not finished ngondro were asked to leave the shrine room during empowerments from His Eminence. Up until the Rinchen Terdzo, the empowerments His Eminence has given to the general community have tended to be short and he’s made no distinctions about who could stay. During the Rinchen Terdzo, many of the empowerments for the protectors were to be given only to people who’d completed ngondro.

 Khandro Tseyang said that a number of lay people in the community had received ngondro but never completed it. Aside from members of the Ripa family and tantric practitioners wearing robes, there were less lay Tibetans than westerners at the closed empowerments. Khandro Tseyang said that the situation had inspired people to get back to finishing their ngondro. I think this must have been in part inspired by the number of westerners remaining in the room. This situation reminded me of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s remarks that eventually people from the west would be returning to Asia to teach the dharma. 

Letters from the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo

March 9th, 2009 by Walker Blaine


Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo, Dechen Choying Sangmo, have sent letters from Orissa following the conclusion of the Rinchen Terdzo. The links to the letters are below:

The Sakyong’s letter.

The Sakyong Wangmo’s letter.

The ‘After’ Photo

March 6th, 2009 by Walker Blaine


Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo, Dechen Choying Sangmo today about fifteen minutes after the conclusion of the Rinchen Terdzo.

The Rinchen Terdzo blog will resume in about a week, around March 15th. A message will go out on the Shambhala News Service announcing this.