Thursday, August 04, 2005

Excerpts from Blazing Splendor

This string will contain the excerpts that appear on the web, in magazines, emails, etc. You are then free to email them around to your friends.


Erik Pema Kunsang said...

From Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche Prologue:

Since you have asked so many times, I will tell a bit about my life. In our Tibetan tradition, we begin a life story by tracing back one's family to its origins. My family name is Tsangsar. My other name, as I am considered a reincarnation of a yogi, is Chöwang Tulku.

I was born in Central Tibet, taken to Kham, then went back and forth between the two several times. I fled the communists to Sikkim and finally moved to Nepal, where I am now living as an old man. That's my life in a nutshell. I haven't accomplished any great deeds. Mostly it's just one sad event after another.

Whenever I tell a story, I always avoid the two shortcomings of exaggeration and denigration-neither adding any extra qualities that someone does not possess nor refusing to acknowledge qualities that are truly present. As I am not the type of person who remembers specific dates, don't look for any clear chronology here.

I can, however, tell you some of the stories I have heard, many of which come from my grandmother.

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

From "My father's Abduction":

..... Not long after the funeral, Grandmother had to travel to Tsikey. As her party came out of a narrow pass, they suddenly confronted twenty-five monks on horseback. The monks blocked the trail; except for the absence of rifles, it was like facing a division of an opposing army ready for battle. They demanded Grandmother hand her son over to them right then and there.
Chimey Dorje, was only three, but he was clever. When the monks were about to grab him, he objected, "I'm not Sönam Yeshe's tulku. It's him!" and he pointed at his brother, my uncle Sang-Ngak, who was standing next to him.
Unfortunately, one of the monks in the "welcoming party" knew better and retorted, "It's not true. That's his brother."
During this confrontation, Grandmother's attendants had their hands on their knives. "We can at least kill a few of them," they whispered to her. "What do you want us to do?"
"No, today there is no need to shed blood," my grandmother cautioned. "Anyway, there are twenty-five of them; you would be lucky to overcome eight or ten. They have the upper hand, so they win this round. Rainbows don't appear every day-let's be patient. Our day will come."
You can see how obstinate some Khampas can be: Könchok Paldrön's small child was being abducted in front of her very eyes and there was nothing she could do.
In the meantime, a monk had grabbed Chimey Dorje, wrapping him up tightly in his shawl and the maroon-clad gang of monks carried him off.

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

About his personal teacher:

Samten Gyatso always considered being a vajra master or guru for others a personal obstacle, even though he was very successful at it and became very famous. Because his chief aim had actually been to spend his life practicing alone in caves, he lamented to me, "I have the feeling that my whole life has gone in the wrong direction-that I fell under the sway of obstacles."
In the past, the tradition was that one obeyed the command of one's guru, who would say, "Go to such-and-such a place and raise the victory banner of realization. When you have reached accomplishment, then you can truly benefit beings."
The disciple would go to that spot and practice one-pointedly until reaching realization. Afterward, he or she would venture out into the world to benefit beings. That is the way it should be. Without receiving permission or the command from one's guru, one does not start to work for the welfare of others as a vajra master. But after receiving the command or permission, one should definitely undertake the task.
When Samten Gyatso grew older, he often thought, "I should have stayed in caves, but instead I fell under the power of hindrances."
This wasn't just talk: he actually felt that way. He had no ambition to become a vajra master or sit above anyone else. He once explained, "Being successful is actually called the pleasant obstacle. Whereas any unpleasant obstacle is easily recognized by all, success is rarely acknowledged to be a barrier on the path. Unpleasant obstacles include, for example, being defamed or implicated in scandal, falling sick or otherwise meeting with failure and misfortune. Able practitioners can deal with these. They recognize these situations as obstacles and use them as part of the path.
"But with pleasant obstacles-such as becoming renowned, having disciples gather around you and working for the welfare of others-one starts to think, 'Well, now! I'm becoming really special. I'm benefiting many beings. Everything is fine! I'm so successful'-without recognizing that the infatuation with success is a major hindrance to progress."
When this happens, Samten Gyatso warned that people only think, "My altruistic capacity to benefit others is expanding!" This is what they tell themselves, all the while failing to notice that they have actually fallen prey to an obstacle.

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

Preparing to leave Tibet:

I had left my two sons and their mother at Drong monastery, north of the city, and sent a messenger to fetch them. When they arrived I told them of my decision to go to Sikkim.
Hearing of this my brother-in-law Wangdu, who was a Central Tibetan aristocrat, exclaimed, "The Potala palace in the heart of the Lhasa valley is like a splendid tangka painting upon which the Dalai Lama shines like a radiant sun. How can the Chinese communists be any match for such a lofty presence? The communist army may run over you Khampas without any problems, but there is no way in the world that they can conquer the Central Tibetan government."
"The Chinese army has an incredible number of battalions, each with thousands of soldiers," I replied. "Please tell me the exact number of conscripts in the Central Tibetan army, which you consider so formidable. I wonder if they can muster any more than a mere ten or twenty thousand troops. When a mountain comes crumbling down in an avalanche, simple trees and bushes are unable to hold it back."
My brother-in-law would hear nothing of it. His attitude was typical of most the Central Tibetan aristocracy: unwilling to entertain even the thought that his country was about to be crushed. So, my wife and her family simply refused to go.
As one of them put it, "There is no way we can just abandon our property and wealth!"
So I left on my own.

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

From The Master in the Hollow Tree

By the time Jokyab had set off to see him, Jamdrak was eighty-three years old. He lived contentedly in the hollow formed by the roots of a huge tree at a remote hermitage way up in the mountains. The old master couldn't sit up straight, as his spine had curved with age. Jamdrak was not only extremely old by Tibetan standards, but he was quite peculiar in his ways. He wore a large cotton bib around his neck because he tended to drool, and he never blew his nose but let it run freely. He couldn't care less what people thought about how he looked. He was a real yogi. He didn't wear the shirt and shawl of an ordained practitioner-just a coat fashioned out of scraps of old sheepskin, the outside patched together with different kinds of cloth. One of these was a large piece of exquisite brocade with a golden dragon design. Apparently, he had stitched this fine swatch of silk on his tattered robe after someone offered it to him, though it cost him a few bitter remarks from the manager of the nearby monastery, who hated to see such good brocade go to waste like that. Jokyab made the arduous journey-several weeks on foot and horseback-to Jamdrak's hermitage accompanied by a friend who was an incarnate lama. But once they finally arrived, Jamdrak's first words to them were, “Three years ago I started life-retreat.” By that he meant he'd made a commitment to remain in retreat until death. “I don't teach anymore,” he continued. “I'm far too old for that. Please don't be angry.” Jokyab and his friend weren't angry, but they were extremely upset. To be turned down this way, especially after traveling such a long distance, was a huge disappointment. So they kept insisting. “Come back tomorrow morning,” was Jamdrak's only reply.

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

An eye-witness report of Karmapa's unusual bird dying.

Many extraordinary things happened in the company of the Karmapa. For example, he kept a lot of birds, somewhere between four and five hundred. Karsey Kongtrul had given him a bird with an extremely melodious voice, and he considered it very dear. When this bird got sick, he kept it alone in a special room. Then he was told the bird was dying and asked that it be brought to him.
The bird was placed on the table before him.
“This bird needs a special blessing,” he said. So he took a small vessel with mustard seeds and made his usual chant for dispelling obstacles as he threw some of the grains on the bird. Suddenly, he said, “There’s nothing more to do—it is dying. No blessing can prevent it.”
Then he turned to me, saying, “Pick it up and hold it in your hand.”
The bird was still alive, and it sat there in my palm with one eye half-open. But soon I saw its head slump, then its wings. But, strangely enough, the bird then straightened back up and simply sat there. An attendant whispered, “It’s in samadhi!”
I didn’t want to disturb it, so I asked him to put it on the table. The attendant seemed used to handling birds in this state, because he didn’t disturb it as he put the bird down.
Somewhat astonished, I commented to the attendant, “How remarkable! A bird that sits up straight, right after death?!”
“That’s nothing special. They all do that,” he replied matter-of-factly.
A second attendant chimed in, “Every single bird from the Karmapa’s aviary that dies sits up for a while after death. But we’re so used to this, it has ceased to amaze us.”
“When birds die,” I objected, “they keel over and fall off their branch to the ground—they don’t keep sitting!”
“Well, when the Karmapa is around, this is what they do,” replied the attendant. “But you’re right—when he’s away, they die the normal way.”
At this point, the Karmapa entered the room, together with his brother Pönlop Rinpoche and the general secretary, and we had dinner. I couldn’t help keeping my eye on the bird while we ate. Halfway through dinner, its right wing slumped, and soon after the left followed.
An attendant whispered, “Wish-Fulfilling Jewel, it seems the samadhi is about to finish.”
The Karmapa paid no attention and kept eating, even when the bird finally keeled over. I looked at my watch—approximately three hours had gone by. No matter what the attendants said, I was still pretty amazed, because I saw it die in my hands. Most people probably wouldn’t believe this unless they saw it with their own two eyes.
The Karmapa was very fond of dogs as well, and he had several Pekingese that, I was told, also died sitting up with their forelegs parallel.
In short, the Karmapa was an incredible human being.

From Blazing Splendor, the memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

Karmapa's horse

The next time I met the Karmapa was at Surmang monastery, where I had gone to greet my father on his return from Ziling after a long journey. Fortunately, this coincided with the Karmapa's visit to that monastery. In those days, I alternated between being my father's and Samten Gyatso's attendant, depending on which of them was in the Karmapa's entourage.

At Surmang I had a chance to see the Karmapa's horse. This horse was quite unusual, known to give blessings by placing one of its hooves on people's heads. People would stand in line, and as the horse touched their head it made a sound that—with a bit of imagination—sounded like hung hung hung. Most people got touched very lightly, but once in a while someone got whacked.

I thought to myself, "Who knows what that horse will do to me? Maybe it will split my skull open!" So no one was going to make me get a "blessing." I preferred to stand and watch the others.

Word went around that the Karmapa's horse was giving blessings. There was a long line of people who, each in turn, gave white scarves and offerings of money to the horse. In Khampa style, they would not make such a request empty-handed.

Of course, the horse didn't speak. But it did make a sound each time it touched a person's head, and many people heard the sound as om mani padme hung. I was waiting for someone to receive one of its "dynamic" blessings, but it didn't happen that day; the horse was quite gentle with everyone.

Many years later, I heard that one day the horse just sat down on its hindquarters and passed away, then continued sitting there. Pretty amazing, wouldn't you agree?

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

This is not exactly an excerpt, since it never made it into the book. But a fine man Drubpob Dechen was, and the 16th Karmapa sent him back to Tibet with the task of rebuilding Tsurphu ...

"Drubpön Dechen told me another story that he had once witnessed at Tsurphu. He leaned close to me and said, “I hear your father is known for being clairvoyant, and I know for sure that it’s true.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“One time your father went to Tana gompa and my brother was there. Again people were asking for lifespan predictions and to one elderly couple he said, ‘it seems to me that you two will die together.’ They asked how and where but he just repeated that they would die together. The old man said that he wanted to go on pilgrimage to central Tibet before that. Your father said to wait three years and then he would see if there is enough time. Just as the three years were over an epidemic spread through the region. The old man died in the morning and that evening he was followed by the old lady. Their bodies were carried to the cemetery on the back of the same yak, one on either side.”
After the old couple’s funeral all three of their sons prostrated all the way to Lhasa to accumulate merit for their parents. One of the brothers was Drubpön Dechen. They continued all the way up to Tsurphu which was to be their destination and here they witnessed the Black Crown ceremony of the Karmapas. As Karmapa was walking by Drubpön Dechen threw himself on the ground in front of him and grabbed ahold of his ankle. He said, “I offer myself to you completely!” The Karmapa’s attendants demanded he let go of the Karmapa’s ankles, but you know how tenacious Khampas can be and he didn’t let go. Finally, the Karmapa said, “okay, I accept you!” He then proceeded to perform the Black Hat ceremony. A new three-year retreat was to begin in three days and one of the young men who was to enter it, had just died. So it happened that this man’s father agreed to sponsor Drubpön Dechen’s retreat. Drubpön Dechen went the full three years and when it was over the retreat master passed away and among retreatants there was no one more qualified to take his place than Drubpön Dechen. He was very bright and well-educated. So he became the teacher of the next batch of retreatants. While I was at Tsurphu we became close friends."
--Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Erik Pema Kunsang said...

Drubpon Dechen was a close friend of Tulku Urgyen and I saw how they enjoyed spending many afternoons exchanging stories. Here is a link to a brief biography of this great meditator.