Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Wednesday afternoon in Bodhgaya, breezy and cool. We’re in the process of retreat commencement, which gets underway for real in about two hours.

The retreat I’ll be participating in is Cittamani Tara, which is the highest yoga tantra aspect of the Tara manifestation. It is “under” Cittamani Tara that the various Taras abide, including the popular Green and White Taras.

This afternoon there will be a formal ceremony in which each of the retreatants will, under Rinpoche’s guidance, be granted the permission (i.e., empowerment) to take this retreat. Rinpoche (Khensur Rinpoche) is in the gompa now, with a small handful of monks, preparing it for the events to follow.

Last night was the first retreat-related event and it was quite wonderful. Rinpoche conferred the oral transmission of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s 14th century text The Principal Aspects of the Path on those in attendance.

An oral transmission is quite interesting, and precious.

As many of you know, the Principal Aspects of the Path is Tsong-Ka-Pa’s pithy description of the importance of renunciation (the mind that seeks liberation), bodhicitta and wisdom, these three teachings provide the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings. It is a short text (we’ve studied it at Chenrezig Project) consisting of 15 verses.

When a lama provides students with an oral transmission of a teaching, he is inviting the students to join the lineage of the teaching, and he both reads and explains the text as he knows it to be best understood -- his intention is to transfer and implant the meaning of the text in the mind of those who are receiving the transmission. He does this by merging his mind with each of the students and “delivering” the meaning of the text directly into their minds.

Students traditionally do not take notes or allow their mind to wander during the transmission, but instead sit still, with meditative open mind, listening to what is being said. It is in a way like listening to music, REALLY listening to music, not through headphones sightseeing from a bus, but in a quiet peaceful place with no intrusive distractions.

So, this is what occurred last night, receiving the oral transmission of The Principal Aspects of the Path from Khensur Rinpoche. A mind-to-mind-to-mind lineage connection all the way directly to Tsong-Kha-Pa. Unbelievable.

Now, the day after, is the meaning of this text in my mind in a way that it never has been before? Perhaps. Time will tell. I have been thinking about it a lot, in particular how the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment -- renunciation, bodhicitta and wisdom -- are all interrelated. Like so much in the vast mandala that is Tibetan Buddhism, everything leads to something else, and is dependent on that something else, and this goes on and on. Moments of consciousness, skhandas, impermanence, occurrence, dependent arisings . . . the mala of the mind, always moving from bead to bead.

Khen-Rinpoche delivered the transmission in Tibetan, he has a deep strong voice which can be sing-songy in that endearing Tibetan way when appropriate. He smiles a lot, broadly, and can also be quite serious. He is not a large man, but has unmistakable presence. A dharma-bum friend who is here and is quite familiar with the Himalayan/India dharma scene, simply calls him “the jewel.” Rinpoche has brought with him from South India a translator (into English) monk who is a scholar, very clear and easy-to-understand.

So that’s where it’s at for now. I am undecided as to whether I will do any blog writing during the retreat or not. I’m not ruling it out, if I see it as a distraction I won’t write, but if it becomes a vehicle for processing what’s occurring in a different, beneficial way (which writing can frequently do), then I will. Certainly sharing what's happening here feels good in a bodhiciita-ish kind of way, I will apply wisdom to the situation and renounce writing if that arises as the correct path. There you go: bodhicitta, renunciation and wisdom, all working together -- ha!! (But very samsaric, clearly NOT the "applications" Lama Tsong-Kha-Pa had in mind.)

Until the next time, am stopping the finger now. Thank you for reading.

And ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.