“In Riwoche Monastery, there are three departments: the (1) Sarma Dratsang, (2) Nyingma Dratsang, and (3) Dratsang Dratsang. These three monastic colleges were always competing with one another, trying to prove who was better. Khenchen Rinpoche was placed in the Sarma Dratsang when he came to Riwoche. The Nyingma Dratsang had another good student who was very smart. According to the Vinaya teachings of the Buddha, at the end of the Yarney three-month retreat, practitioners have a Gakye ceremony for releasing the summer retreat rules, and everyone has a party. Gakye means to “open or lift the restrictions.” The night just before the end of the summer retreat, it is traditional that all of the shedra students from all of the three departments gather and some of them give Dharma talks on what they’ve been studying. This is a big traditional ceremony that lasts all night until dawn the next morning.
In order to talk during these concluding ceremonies, you have to sign up and request permission in advance, since there may be many monks who want to talk. About a week before the ceremony, Khen Rinpoche decided with his friends that he would talk, but he didn’t sign up or let the administrator know because he wanted it to be a surprise. Behind the scenes, they secretly organized everything.
That night there was such a big audience—there were many tulkus and khenpos, and about one hundred monks and two hundred lay people who came to hear the final talks of the summer retreat, and to give offerings to the monks who had been studying. The entire room was completely bright from all of the butter lamps that had been offered. After everyone completed the Gyunchag Sumpa ceremony of purification, prostrations, and recitation of certain Vinaya sutras, some monks asked if Khen Rinpoche had already given his name to the monitor, and he didn’t say anything—he just sat there.
According to the ceremony, right after everyone chants a long mandala offering and the head khenpo opens the event with a few auspicious words and prayers, the first person on the list has to get up and begin their talk. During the long mandala offering, Khen Rinpoche noticed that the smart student from the Nyingma Dratsang began moving around as if he was about to stand up, but before he could, Khen Rinpoche immediately stood up, put his small monk’s mat on the floor, made three prostrations to the shrine, and then stood there. The mandala offering wasn’t even finished yet!
Khen Rinpoche later told me that for a few moments he was a little nervous because he didn’t know what he was going to say, but then he began by praising the Buddha and all the great Indian and Tibetan lineage masters. He talked about how the Buddha previously developed bodhichitta and accumulated merit, and how he came into this world and reached enlightenment in the context of his twelve deeds. The Buddha’s principle deed was teaching the Dharma, so Khen Rinpoche continued by explaining the scriptural lineage (lung tenpa) and realization lineage (tokpa tenpa) of the Buddha’s teaching. The scriptural lineage includes the three turnings of the Wheel of Dharma according to the Buddha’s own words and according to the main Indian and Tibetan commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings. The realization lineage discusses how to apply these teachings in meditation and practice. Khen Rinpoche then discussed the history of how these lineages developed and spread in India and Tibet.
When the lineages of scripture and practice are combined together, they are understood in terms of ground, path, and result. The ground is divided into relative truth and absolute truth, the path is divided into the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, and the result includes the dharmakaya and the rupakaya. Khen Rinpoche discussed each of these topics in detail.
He also talked about how in general, there are two types of religion: Buddhist and non- Buddhist. Non-Buddhist religions are mostly based on five ancient Hindu systems that believe in either realism or nihilism, or a combination of the two. In contrast, Buddhism can be divided into the four schools of Vaibashika, Sautrantika, Mind-Only, and Madhyamaka. The final result of studying and practicing Buddhism can be summarized according to the three, four, or five kayas, and the five wisdoms, and can be understood in terms of two categories: the vast and the profound. Khen Rinpoche taught the subtle points of all of these topics, and thoroughly discussed the nature, characteristics, and distinctions of everything he talked about.
His teaching was mainly based on Longchenpa’s Treasury of Doctrine (sdrub mtha’ mdzod) and Mipham Rinpoche’s Gateway to Knowledge (mkhas ’jug), as well as Longchenpa’s Treasure of Wish Fulfillment (yid zhin mdzod), a Vinaya sutra known as the Beautiful Lotus Garland, Chandrakiriti’s Entrance to the Middle Way (Madhyamaka-vatara), Nagarjuna’s Root Verses on Madhyamaka (Mula-madyamaka-prajna), and teachings by Shantarakshita and Acharya Bhavya.
Khen Rinpoche talked for a long time. In fact, he talked for so long that the monitor had to ask him to pause so that everyone could go to the bathroom. After everyone returned, Khen Rinpoche continued his Dharma talk, and again he talked for so long that the monitor asked him to pause so that everyone could take another break! This happened three or four times, so he really ended up talking all night long for about six or seven hours! Khen Rinpoche still had more to say, but dawn was about to come, so he stopped. Traditionally, the sunlight of dawn marks the official conclusion of the ceremony.
Everyone was amazed. People said that he must not be just a regular man, but that the famous dharmapala Jowo Zegyal near Gochen Monastery must have entered into his heart and brain! The head abbot who was Khenchen’s main teacher, Tenzin Dragpa, was laughing he was so pleased. Everybody in the Sarma Dratsang was also very happy because Khen Rinpoche had represented their department so well. The Gochen villagers who went to the ceremony were talking so much about how Lama Chimed’s son, Palden Sherab did so well! Everyone was so proud.”
Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche
Spring/Summer 2010 PBC Pema Mandala magazine
Free download: www.padmasambhava.org/sermon/spring-2010-issue
Painting of Riwoche Monastery from Padma Samye Ling temple murals.
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