Sunday, 2 December 2012

Friday, 19 October 2012

Enlightenment in a woman’s body

I’ve been pondering recently something which no doubt many others have pondered before me. Namely, what influence, if any, does being male or female have on the attainment of enlightenment. Of course, being a woman I’m thinking mainly in terms of how this relates to my attainment of enlightenment with a female body. I also realize that―fortunately―whatever inequality there is in the social and cultural world between men and women, they are still equal in terms of mind. There is so much misogyny in Buddhist literature in general―and not only in literature!― that it’s rather surprising and noteworthy―in fact quite striking―that according to Padmasambhava, when Yeshe Tsogyal mentions the difficulties of being a woman, he counters this with the assertion that ultimately a woman’s body is in fact superior to a man’s for gaining enlightenment. The source for this is the treasure text revealed by Taksham Nüden Dorje in the eighteenth century where the colophon says that the text had been written down by one of her disciples, Gyalwa Changchub, during Yeshe Tsogyal’s own lifetime as she recounted her story orally to her disciples. In fact, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, who will be here at Lerab Ling next month to conduct the Kurukulla Drupchen, is the activity incarnation of Taksham Nüden Dorje.
Yeshe Tsogyal’s story was already well known in Tibet before this text appeared, as it had previously been recorded in biographies of Padmasambhava. This “secret” autobiography, revealed around 1,000 years after Yeshe Tsogyal herself existed, offers a rare glimpse into Tibetan spiritual life from a woman’s point of view (or, at the very least, from a man’s ideas of what a woman’s point of view would have been!). While it is clear that certain events in her life happened to her because she was a woman this in no way detracts from her ability to transcend all aspects of mundane existence―including gender―and attain enlightenment.
Of course, Padmasambhava wasn’t the first to declare the equality of men and women in terms of attaining enlightenment as the sutras record that Buddha himself also said this. In literature from the Pali Canon, namely the Stories of Elder Nuns, the Therigatha, there are inspiring stories of nuns who attained enlightenment at the time of the Buddha. They renounced the usual life of a woman of that time in order to become nuns and follow the path without being hampered by a husband or children and all that entailed. I’ve also chosen to follow the path that way for the same reason, having led that lifestyle earlier in my life and then renounced it to become a nun. In fact, a high percentage of nuns at the time of the Buddha were older women. This means that for me these stories resonate very much. For further reading see the following: "Therigatha: Verses of the Elder Nuns", edited by John T. Bullitt. Access to Insight, 23 April 2012, . Gyalwa Changchub and Namkhai Nyingpo, Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala 1999. Keith Dowman, Sky Dancer: The Secret Life & Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, Snow Lion, 1997 (first edition published in 1983). Nam-mkha'i sNying-po, Mother of Knowledge: The Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, translated by Tarthang Tulku, Dharma Publishing, 1983.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

An end and a beginning ...

Sunday marked the end of the series of summer retreats here at Lerab Ling and the whole summer has been an incredibly precious and inspiring time. Not only have we received empowerments from Yangthang Rinpoche, and teachings from Samdhong Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche, and Khenpo Pema Sherab but for many of us the highlight of the whole summer was the presence of our own very dear teacher Sogyal Rinpoche. Now the summer is at an end but the programme of events here at Lerab Ling continues with teachings by Phakchok Rinpoche in October and a Kurukulla Drupchen in November presided over by Neten Chokling Rinpoche, Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche and monks from Chokling Monastery in Bir, India, with the possible presence of other masters as well.
At the moment work is continuing on the commemorative stupa for Khandro Tsering Chödrön so Tulku Rigdzin Pema Rinpoche is back with us again to oversee and conduct the necessary ceremonies. In fact, Monday, the day after the end of the summer retreats, saw the filling of the next level of the stupa with, amongst other precious items, the whole of the Kangyur, the actual words of the Buddha, and the Tengyur, the treatises composed by the learned and accomplished masters of India and also Tibet―in other words the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon.
On a personal level, the summer has been an opportunity for us nuns and monks to spend time together again which not only nourishes us and gives us joy but very much reminds us of the purpose of a monastic sangha―more on this later as it warrants a post of its own! In the meanwhile enjoy the photos of some very happy nuns taken on Monday when we had an afternoon free of duties and could just relax in the sunshine in our garden.
The Temple and the stupa are in the background of many of these photos. How extremely fortunate we are to live in this sacred realm .....

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Khandro-la's Commemorative Stupa

What I didn’t know when I took some photos of the stupa that was built for Khandro Tsering Chödron’s cremation ceremony, was that it was a very impermanent one which would disintegrate in the months following the ceremony and that a more permanent one, a commemorative stupa, would be built in its place . The bone relics and ashes were carefully collected from the cremation stupa and prepared in accordance with tradition. Small clay stupas called ‘dung tsa-tsa’ which will contain relics and ‘zung’ – small mantra rolls - are being made and will be enshrined in the new stupa, together with consecrated vases and other items. So at the moment we’re quite busy preparing the zung and tsa-tsas in readiness for the new stupa. Tulku Rigdin Pema Rinpoche, a master stupa builder, is here to give guidance and to do the necessary ceremonies for the preparation and enshrinement of the relics. All the photos were taken by Tenpa-la. The first photo below shows Tulku Rigdin Pema Rinpoche (left) and Lama Yönten who is assisting him. The second photo shows the vases being prepared, and the third is of Tulku Pema Rigdzin Rinpoche performing one of the ceremonies associated with the stupa.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A beautiful evening at Lerab Ling

This is the first evening it’s been possible to go for a walk owing to the rather awful wet weather just recently. So a beautiful, calm, peaceful evening for a leisurely walk to take in the beauty of the landscape here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Venus, Jupiter, or Mars?

When I lived in London in the sixties I worked in an office on the thirteenth floor of New Zealand House in the Haymarket. Just a short distance away was the Queen’s Theatre. At the time there was a musical playing there called ‘Stop the World I Want To Get Off!’ starring Anthony Newley, I seem to remember. The title was memorable for many reasons, one of which is because I really empathised with it and so often in my life I wanted the world to pause for a moment or two while I got off for a while― or maybe even permanently― depending on the circumstances at the time. Or maybe I could search for another planet which would provide me with the happy, carefree existence I was seeking, seeing as this one was failing heavily on that score. Many years later I encountered Buddhism for the first time (in 1986) and, of course, came across something called ‘meditation’. In fact, one of the first teachings I ever heard was an audio tape of Sogyal Rinpoche who was translating a teaching of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. I can still remember that one of the questions asked was “What is mind?” Up until that point in time I had never really thought about my mind at all. Like most people my main focus was outwards rather than inwards. It really stopped me in my tracks and forced me to look inwards at this mind of mine which I had taken for granted for so long and had never ever ‘looked’ at. This really was quite a turning point in my life (in more ways than one!), especially as soon after that tape I met Rinpoche for the first time and became much more familiar with meditation and other Buddhist practices. Now I was no longer looking for another planet to move to as this one seemed much more promising than before. It was as if I was seeing the world in a different light, in a way that had not been possible before. And all it took was to turn my mind inwardly and look .....

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Back to the basics

More and more I appreciate the basic teachings of the Buddha, like the four noble truths. They really are the foundation for everything else that follows. The traditional example given is that when you need to build a house the foundation is the most important thing and without it the house would collapse. If we take the first noble truth, the truth of suffering which is to be understood, there really is a lot to understand here! You don’t try to overcome suffering, you don’t try to change it, you don’t try to make it better, you don’t try to escape from it – you understand it. When times are difficult these are wonderful opportunities (!) to sit down and face suffering, to understand it fully and not take the easy option of always running away or of trying to avoid it. In the Therigatha there’s the famous story of Krisha Gotami which Sogyal Rinpoche tells in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – it’s at the beginning of Chapter Three. The Buddha’s strategy for moving Krisha Gotami away from the grief and suffering caused by the death of her son was to show her that other people die as well: that the death of her son was not a solitary event in the universe but was connected to every other death. He wanted her to understand the suffering of death. That death is a natural part of things and you can’t escape it. Whatever is born will die. When we understand, it doesn’t mean that we just accept things fatalistically, but respond by accepting the facts of life and death in a different way to how we normally respond to events and things of the outer world. Instead we disengage and turn inwards. You might say we feel a certain disenchantment for the things of the world. They’re not going to bring us the happiness that we’re all seeking. Instead we begin to see very clearly how it’s our mind that is at the root of everything we experience. And we start to see the need for training our mind. So here begins the path.....