WordPress Share: An Historic Description of Awareness Holders of the Great Secret Mantra who are Resplendent in White Clothes and Long Hair

A brief oral commentary by Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche

“…Ever since the time of the meeting of the three masters, Khenpo Shatarakshita, Lopon Padmasambhava and the Dharma King, Trison Detsen in 8th century Tibet, there were two divisions of sangha, known as the sangha of monastics with shaven-heads and the saffron robes…”

Source: An Historic Description of Awareness Holders of the Great Secret Mantra who are Resplendent in White Clothes and Long Hair

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On Buddhist Robes in 21st Century Western Culture

In Chicago's Union Station At the outset, I would like to thank the two other people that made it happen.

And now, on with the show: 

On Buddhist Robes in 21st Century Western Culture. Facebook talk and lengthy outtakes

From this unpopular (actually nearly unknown!) misleader of wrong views Sherab Gyatso Alex

In the facebook or the so called social media we have a very dynamic communication of back and forth, at times no one knows who will join in and what feedback will they affect.

Many choices:

-A one-liner that that seems consequential but too short to be meaningful.

-An argumentative post that seems to argue no matter what comes about even if agreed with.

-A series of argumentative posts, where no one knows after a while as to who is arguing with who, let alone why.

-Posts written without any adherence to spelling, grammar or punctuation, making it hard to understand.

-All other choices are also available obviously.

Now, sometimes there is a discussion that can be recognized as one on a relevant  topic. What makes a topic important or relevant in my eyes? If you have repeatedly heard same ideas, similar discussions online and offline, and for years, there then maybe something to it, but it’s just a guess.

Let’s open up with who is who in this particular one. I will replace their names enough so that they are or anyone that read it knew who is who but general public would not get all the details of the sort. Original post was written by some one from Europe and after a while I wrote up a few messages in reply. Then author came back into the discussion and politely continued, acknowledging my comments. Then we had an input from some one with a Geshe in their name which indicates about 20 years of scriptural study in a major Tibetan Gelugpa Monastery and successful passage of final exams. Contribution of the Venerable Geshe opened up the discussion to better degree, it became more interesting.

The Original Post:

“…[name removed] My dear friends, especially Tibetans, I. want your competent opinion. Recently I saw a lama dressed in a dark red “skirt” (shamtap) like a monastic skirt and a yellow shirt with long sleeves. No additional articles. Is this lama a monk (when judging on his clothes) or a layperson? What do normally wear Tibetan lamas who are not monks? Your comments are welcome both here and as messages…”

[My further comment:]

This is very interesting idea, the dress codes capture a lot of attention because nearly always there is quite a bit of difference in regards to what spiritual or religious practitioners wear and other people that say are going to work, or are going shopping wear. All with quite natural level of fascination. Also, as we seem to like all sorts of simple linear structures like top to bottom hierarchy. We want to unfailingly figure out who is higher, lower, more or less distinguished, learned, or married / celibate.

The top post, shows acute interest from the original poster, because they have changed it bit, working the discussion material in. Hope they do not mind my usage here.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Could be anyone. Best, healthiest way to treat this as just another type of clothes. That person was emulating the Buddha in the dress-code. What his commitments and meditations are? That is a different thing from what they wear. Dress\suit\clothes do not have any importance by them selves and people are mostly free to wear what they want.

[My further comment:]

There are so many, many different particulars that come up in regards to the clothes that Buddhist Spiritual practitioners wear. The original idea is to wear something that is by no means is expensive or beautiful. Rather to illustrate act of renunciation, In original Indian context monk’s robe should be always previously used and possibly rejected by others for any other use. A robe made from something quite torn and patched, a robe in which a dead body was previously wrapped, there are many old, traditional ideas on how to illustrate the act of crossing the invisible border that separates everyday life and the life of some one that renounced all that is associated with it. All in order to devote them selves to the spiritual pursuits.

While in the past in countries of Asia some of these clothes could be identified as similar to the mainstream and in the same time still identifying the wearer as not being part of. Come today and some of these dress-codes are hard to fit in. Imagine a male Buddhist follower with possibly shaved head (or a long, uncut in a while hair) wearing what amounts to a skirt and a shawl and walking in mid-town Manhattan. They are unlikely to fit in and somewhere outside of the middle of world’s class mega city it maybe even harder.

What we are left with in the 21st century is to try to figure a common sense role, what do these clothes mean? In a Christian background country we can come across the idea that robes are bestowed and with the robes comes bestowal of a higher, priestly status of some sort. Which in fact goes contrary to the original Buddhist ideas of non-establishment, renunciation and individual practice, decidedly on the margins of the society. The idea of the Clergy, the institution, how does it work?

If some one is highly realized when it comes to the timeless wisdom of Buddhism, on the ultimate level it is never a reason to be above anyone, the words “high priest” can’t apply, it is rather a means to be on anyone’s level and be able to connect ever-so-perfectly, high, low, anything. The idea of veneration comes only from our recognition of good qualities of others and in Buddhism it is more so that no one will ever ask for the veneration, ideally even the common formula of “it is not asked for, it is only earned” would not really work, because any kind of veneration is never by any means the goal from the side of the person venerated. After demonstrating perfect awakening Buddha Shakyamuni remained silent for a long while because he found his experience to be pointless and impossible to communicate. However after recognition of his highest realization and requests for teachings from others there came to be what we know as teachings on the many paths to awakening ( the Buddhahood).

[name of original poster removed from this reply] “…Oh, thank you very much for your reply! It was lama [ name removed] ,one of quite well known lamas on the [name removed] lineage. I saw him in Moscow. I believe he is a good lama. I simply could not find out whether he is a monk or a layman. (I still cannot 🙂 Yes, and I understand Russian, surely. Thank you much once again!…”

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Well, what a practitioner wears can clear these questions only some of the time. “Layman” also works better if exchanged for married or householder.

[name of original poster removed from this reply:]

Yes, I meant householder, it really sounds better.

[My posted comments:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: This is an important distinction because sooner or later within Tibetan Buddhism you will be getting glimpses of Mahayana and Vajrayana, while monks / nun / lay vows are common to the transmission of Hinayana vehicle practice these other higher vehicles also have practices and vows. Keeping these 3 in perspective is very important topic.

As a side note on monks and nuns ordained with Hinayana vows of individual liberation in a monastery. There is a total of 5 robes plus one more zen available (possibly 6 then) and lower golden robes are the ones that should stay on even during the night. Here is a link on that, that however does not discuss Mahayana and Vajrayana.

[My further comment:]

There are these robes that a fully ordained monk can wear:

Skirt and sleeveless shirt of golden color, over that skirt and sleeveless short of mostly red color. A red colored zen (shawl) and a yellow colored zen made of patches. The above is in Tibetan Buddhist monastic traditions that draw the lineage of commitments from India in unbroken line from the Buddha Shakyamuni himself.

All in accordance to the Hinayana tradition teachings of Vinaya (vowed morality) common to this casual vehicle of individual liberation.

*

2nd Chapter in the discussion

A learned Geshe enters with an important comment:

[Name removed, Geshe:]

If he/she follows the vinaya rules, there’s no place to say that they can wear what ever they want.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Good point. Thank you.

[My further comment]

There is a difference in perspective here.

In initial post one maybe left under impression that the person whose clothes we are talking about could be on the street, walking by. If from the point of view of the actual person assuming commitments, if that is what we are talking about now, from their point of view, if they took the commitment to wear the clothes of a renunciate, abandoning such will constitute breakage of these very commitments. Unless, and this is important and huge “unless” they would like to demonstrate to all of us that whatever was the goal of the path that the dress-code was a part of is perfectly attained. And they are realized as an awakened Buddha. So, we are told not to worry about judging others until we can clearly know their mind. And after all Buddhism is a living, breathing tradition that makes it possible. Now another possibility is that they gave up in a formal way on the commitments, which is not an easy move, because the commitments are called: Lifelong.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: To sum this important point if some one undertakes to uphold monk/nun vows the dress code is an important part of upholding that.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Also it is a custom to already wear monks robe if one is studying for ordination. As wearing these robes is considered to be a positive act. In the Christian countries there is a persistent belief that robes “make the man” while it is somewhat true. It is study/meditation/realization that are really important. Milarepa famously at one time had nothing to wear at all.

[My further comment]

General idea that is common to this discussion here is that this spiritual path, even if it does contradict general dynamic of the society it is the path of virtue, path of cultivation of all things positive, not so much the path of identification of negative. It is in these terms more of the path of focus and of positivity.

As is illustrated by possibly an oldest Buddhist teaching continuously extant in this world today. It is attributed to the Buddha Kashyapa, Buddha previous to the Buddha Shakyamuni, it is something along these lines:

To avoid negative

To cultivate positive

To master one’s mind

These are the Buddha’s teachings

So, is the focus it seems on really mastering one’s mind rather then common to today’s thinking of imaginary judgment of others, because however wrong they may possibly be, we here still need to master that mind of ours. To find a good teacher and to emulate them is a good and meritorious thing then, if it is possible to do on the way of wearing similar clothes, that is too easy to pass by.

*

3rd Chapter in the discussion

[name of original poster removed from this reply:]

Oh, thank you, Geshe-la. It is Lama [name removed] of the [name removed] lineage. I believe he is a good lama. I just do not know if he is a monk or a layman. Do laymen wear monastic skirts? Or can all practitioners wear them?

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: The layman is not a good term to use as I have pointed earlier. I am offering following choices: married and householder.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Everything in outer expression of a practitioner is connected to their inner work. Guru Padmasambhava is pictured wearing 3 types of robes to offer a metaphorical message of realization of 3 paths for example. Also our opinion of some one as good Lama is highly subjective quite naturally, until we get a bit more learned, experienced, realized.

[My further comment:]

I should offer this better wording to illustrate the idea that I did not present clearly before:

Everything in outer expression of a practitioner can be connected to their inner work. –In our own understanding, if we are thinking about them. In other words from a perspective of a spectator.

Then:

Everything in outer expression of a practitioner should be connected to their inner work.

–Quite naturally, from our own perspective, we are able to make many, many choices all the time. And it is an important part of the spiritual practice, the choices that we make.

[Name removed, Geshe:] Well we are talking about Buddha and HIS followers Buddhist. So it is correct to make a precise distinction between ordained (monk) and not ordained (lay men) person. No ordained person is not necessarily be a house holder either. There are many son/daughter of noble one (rigki phu, phumo) who looks forward to become a (vinaya follower) monks/nuns. Padmasambhava also shown one aspect of Gelong (fully ordained) monk, which wore chokhoe and shamthap, which means to show the difference. So, strictly speaking, shamthap is given to those who takes the vows of give up lay cloths. He/she should not embrace the lay dress.

[My further comment:]

My comments to the above are along the lines of the idea that some people accept Guru Rinpoche the Padmasambhava as a 2nd Buddha with complete mastery of all 3 types of paths, as nature of a Buddha is something we can only speculate about, it is correct to talk about depictions for the sake of establishing a common ground. In the other words it is easier to talk about picture painted by an artist that we can see, then an experience of a Buddha. Even Buddha himself preferred talking to us about the direction, the path to these experiences. So, the Padmasambhava shows mastery of Hinayana through both lower monk’s robe and upper lay person robe, through the rest of clothes and accoutrements in the images Padmasambhava is understood to be demonstrating mastery of Mahayana and Vajrayana.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Thank you venerable. Can we agree that to emulate Buddha in dress-code is meritorious? For the benefit of the readers?

[My further comment:]

Comment on the above. In my narrow understanding, it is important that Buddhists did not seek to establish a Christian-like clergy. We can instead concentrate on generation of merit through our body, speech and mind. One of such things without doubt is to emulate Buddha in body / conduct (wearing of particular clothes), speech and mind, -Go to teachings, read books, master teachings to the best of your ability, meditate.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: In case of visible spiritual practitioners there are is a number that are married (a good number of famous Sakyapa lamas for example) and these are the people that we seem to be talking about. So to call a married Lama “lay” may be a bit off. Reason for this is that in Tibetan Buddhism there is both, strong celibate monk and married yogi (whom it may be a bit off to call lay) tradition.

[My further comment:]

There is no special magic, recognition or entitlement. If you received the teachings, if you practice them, if you feel that “this is it” for you, then obviously it is. It is very easy to encounter the Buddhist teachings from the point of view of logistics, there is a sea of books in many languages, many Buddhist Temples through out and connection through internet is even more effortless. It is only really a matter of inclination, of your previous karma. All that we have done in the past makes who we are here and now. Quite naturally some people are inclined to search out Buddhist teachings and feel it is “it” for them and some even after connecting to these teachings remain a spectator.

There is many levels of practice that are available within Tibetan Tradition of the transmission of Buddhism. None of these transmissions are there for their own sake, all are to lead the disciples to the ultimate result of awakening. And ultimately it is up to us to make our own journey. On that journey we work on refining our perception of others in positive direction, not judging them in any way negatively if they seemingly to us are failing. Because there is always a possibility that we have no idea of their inner experience, at all. Or, even if they are failing, how our condescending judgment be any good to them? –That would be the time, if we could to try to hold them up, to offer support. And even possibly, worst of all, we can be just producing useless act of criticizing others, that is of no help to no one.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Then, there is “lay vows” That are from the same level as monk vows of individual freedom, as you already mentioned.

[Name removed, Geshe:]

Upasaka/ upasika (who holds the lay vows) and gotra (rig ki phu/phumo) are different. However, I think whenever we talk about vinaya (codes and conduct) we have to look into vinaya, not what people does. It helps me a lot. No matter how high and practitioners they may called, according to vinaya, even Buddha himself have to wear the chokhoe and shamthab. here are many bodhisattva who are lay and there are also many ordained one. From the vinaya prospects we could say lay/ordained bodhisattva.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: Well If you call a Lama “Lay” I find it off in a way of English Language, because Lama (if some one is called thus) most often means a realized person, so I would call them Householder Lama, or a Married Lama, not a Lay Lama. This was the original point.

[My further comment:]

The above discussion would make sense if we were to make some substitutions:

Subsitute Lama for somewhat synonymous here: Master.

Then substitute Lay Person for a Beginner (which they could in many instances be). While it is possible to say that some one is a Lay Master, it is all about their style of outer expression. They still are master. However if one is in some way thinks that to be a married realized practitioner is somehow less, they contradict the fact that that practitioner is established to be realized, to be the master. They just are taking road that does not set marriage aside. But from the point of view of result, their path is more challenging but is the same, if not more complete then a monastic who with care avoids all distractions. –This is contrary to the common sense wisdom of everyday, material values that tell us that abandoning the everyday material values is the hardest thing to attain. However that attainment can never figure as ultimate goal, because the goal then would amount to nothing, possibly madness. Renunciation is cultivated in order to focus on the path of wisdom of awakening. And when there are distractions of a household, this path is much harder to focus on.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: In regards to The Buddha. Well There are many depictions of many Buddhas. Buddha Tara, Buddha Vajrakilaya, Buddha Kuntuzangpo. In none of the representations do they wear any of the lower monk’s robes. And some are depicted in Union with the consort.

[My further comment:]

Within Tibetan transmission of Buddhism, which is if researched is thought to be the most complete transmission possible that encompasses living tradition of practices of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. To ignore one or two of these three in favor of one or the other will in reality contradict the spirit of the living transmission that is out there. Also, over time there is quite a lot of thought and guidance that went into how to practice all three together, without conflict. Above mentioned Buddha Tara, Vajrakilaya and Khuntuzangpo have most prominent places in the Vajrayana, which because of it direct explanation and direct method of practice is thought of as the highest of the three. So, it can’t be ignored. If at least for the simple fact that from the point of view of the result it is the path that allows perfect awakening of the Buddha and in one lifetime. Unlike other two paths that do not account for a possibility of the result in one lifetime at all, with much greater focus on the path of cause and effect and inherent to a long path hardship.

[My posted comment:]

Sherab Gyatso Alex: In regards to what Guru Padmasambhava instructed his followers to do is to adopt very humble Hinayana outer conduct, to be as peaceful as possible on outside and to have highest possible view inward. As Buddha himself told us that there is no one responsible for our own liberation but us, that idea of “high view” the inner practice becomes very personal matter, in most cases no one also even cares.

Final remarks, in conclusion on all of the above

How to deal with the different robes? The robes can be purchased in a store, they can be worn as any other types of clothes. There are even famous beggars on the streets on New York City that smoke cigarettes, text through cell phones with heads of full hair that wear a kind of Asian monk outfit with a hat and beg for money. A lot of what calls these into focus today in the West has to do with the idea that these are outdated (very old) fashions of a country far away. The ideas in so many cases are not known, because often they are too cryptic even in their native countries of today.

Unlike some special garments bestowed on the clergy of say Christian denominations that elevate the person to the higher rank. These robes are thought to be by some Buddhists the best dress code, simply because they are same as what previous masters down to Buddha and Padmasambhava wore and made famous through their practice and realization. By wearing same, we say in our heart, I dedicate to the practice and I want to be like you. Even if by a simple act of wearing something.  Curiously by wearing these totally dated fashions today in the West, a renewed sense of renunciation of materialistic, societal values is required.

This article does not address “Upward Inclusion” which is established to be the principle by which Tibetan Buddhist paths can be practices cohesively. And is the most important point, the principle by which a realized master of Vajrayana is determined to be also the master of Mahayana and Hinayana, without fail.

If I could, if it was in my power, I would do anything to encourage others already entering into Buddhism to engage in the practice on all levels, to make it their own, to become comfortable, to call it home.

It is too easy to try to stick to some sort of “Dogma” or even take a thing that is most alive and try to convert it into a dogma. It is hard to stay open minded, simple spoken (that one is my problem too often!) and also eloquent (which is clearly the challenge here as well). With best possible wishes from unlearned foreign yogi in an alien land that was called Alex by his parents and Sherab Gyatso by a miraculous Lama that I imagine frowning at me, kindly from above my head.

 

 

Ngakpas – Snow Lion Publications Newsletter

The Ngakpa Tradition: an Interview with Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche

That was published in Fall 2006 issue of Snow Lion: Buddhist News and Catalog – http://www.snowlionpub.com, it is reposted here with permission from the publisher.

Jeff Cox: Not many people in the West understand what ngakpas are, though many have seen photos of these long-haired, white-robed yogis. Perhaps the one that is best known is the late Yeshe Dorje, who was His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s “weatherman”—that is, he was called on to control the weather for certain occasions. I’d like to understand more about the pure ngakpa tradition.

Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche: Ngakpas can marry and have families. Their practice is essentially inward and a true spiritual practice.

JC: Is a ngakpa lineage more involved with working with the natural forces, the deities of the weather, the local deities? Do they have a more shamanic tradition?

KSR: They are engaged in similar rituals and ceremonies as those in the shamanic tradition but there is a distinct difference. This is, for the ngakpa the purpose and final goal is enlightenment in order to liberate others and self. Usually in the shamanic tradition no one talks of enlightenment—it’s only for healings and temporary performance, which are maybe only for this life’s well-being. The goal is not as high.

JC: I see. You are saying that ngakpas will do similar kinds of things as shamans but the purpose is for creating better conditions for enlightenment, either mental or physical?

KSR: Yes. Simply, ngakpas do what they do not only for the present moment’s well-being but also for future enlightenment.

JC: I see. Is there anything else Rinpoche would like to say about the ngakpa tradition?

KSR: Buddhist monks take pratimoksa vows, of which there are two hundred fifty-three. But ngagpas, with their tantric vows and the samayas [commitments], there are a hundred thousand they have to keep in their mental level. It’s about practice in every single moment to keep all this and not engage in non-virtuous things.

JC: When you say “one hundred thousand vows” it’s like saying that at every moment of your day you have to maintain your awareness. It is not that there really are one hundred thousand.

KSR: Yes, it’s metaphorical.

JC: To keep the mind pure all the time.

KSR: Not pure but just aware.

JC: Aware?

KSR: You need a very high awareness to keep one hundred thousand samayas. So if people are keeping that kind of awareness, even though they appear outwardly as just simple beings they actually are great beings—they are realized or high practitioners.

Otherwise, most people, if they cannot take the ordained vow or keep all the samayas, then they can only make some connection to the Dharma but enlightenment would be very difficult. No matter what you do, if you don’t want to take ordained vows then become a lay practitioner. All you have to do is keep all those samayas well and then you become a true ngagkpa.

JC: Are you saying that tantric practice in the ngakpa way is more strict than that of the average practitioner who does tantric practice?

KSR: Exactly. On the mental level it is much stricter.

JC: So a practitioner in a Nyingma monastery who has taken pratimoksa vows or whatever and is also a tantric practitioner wouldn’t have the same expectation as a ngakpa tantric practitioner would?

KSR: Yes, the difference is that if you are a lay person, in order not to break all these vows every moment you need a high awareness. If you stay in a monastery the vows are much easier to keep.

JC: Okay, I guess the question is: if people were serious about practicing, why would they choose to be ngakpas when it may be easier another way? What is it inside one that makes one choose a ngakpa life?

KSR: Many people begin to follow the ngakpa tradition because to outward appearances the life looks like that of a lay person in which you can engage in everything: you can take a woman or you can drink alcohol. But what they don’t initially know is that there are very subtle restrictions and disciplines or awareness that must come with that. It is even harder than staying in a monastery.

JC: Because the practitioners stay in life, they are transforming the conditions of natural life, not an artificial life, which, in a way, a monastery is. So if your mind is disciplined enough to maintain inward awareness as you are saying, then the ngakpa way may actually have more power?

KSR: Yes. If you follow all the tantric samayas, you can recognize all those poisons and you progress much faster and much more powerfully than others, but also it is a very dangerous path if you cannot keep all the samayas. The broken samaya is even worse and it brings worse results. Being a ngakpa is like being a snake in a bamboo hole—you have to go up or down, there is no side way you can exit. It is much more dangerous and risky. There are only two ways: If you really follow the samaya practice you will gain the fastest result, gain enlightenment and help others, or if you break samaya you go to hell.

JC: So it doesn’t sound like a job everyone would want. Sometimes people choose this path because they are born into a family of ngakpas?

KSR: Yes, that is one reason, and also, what one prefers. Because of one’s physical nature or mental inclination or because one has reached a certain stage to take a consort or whatever.

Loppon (translator): Or if you come from a family of ngakpas—in my hometown, the twenty-five disciples and their descendants in the area kept the dharma in the family. The ngakpas from the family came together in the village and built a temple we call the ngag kang, meaning the ngakpa’s assembly hall. We didn’t have such formality but because of influence from the monastic tradition we built this temple, gathering on the auspicious days every month to make rituals, and give teachings and empowerments. But this is just a particular family lineage: always the eldest son will become the ngakpa and the rest of the children are sent to the monastery. But of course there are many others not from the family lineage who just want to become ngakpas in order to learn tantra without leaving the social life. There are a lot like that.

JC: The ngakpa path appeals to Westerners but it may not be something that is recommended.

KSR: No one tells you to become a ngakpa or not; it all depends on your practice. You come to the teaching, you start practice, and slowly progress. When you cultivate your merit, your wisdom is rising and you gain this awareness and then you spontaneously can keep all the practices. Such ones are the true ngakpas, the true practitioner ngakpas. The others are appearance ngakpas, who wear the clothes and leave the hair long. Tibetan lamas are shy to do that in the West but surprisingly many Western students wear these things like yogis.

JC: Yes, these days many Westerners look like ngakpas.

KSR: Tibetans don’t try to look like ngakpas. That is the difference: If you really follow those samayas you are a great practitioner and nobody can see it from the outside. On the other hand those who cannot follow anything but wear the clothes, it is nothing but costumes and emblems that they hold. Everything goes the opposite way if you really cannot hold the samayas.

Interview by Jeff Cox.