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FOOTPRINTS ON THE JOURNEY - The Diary of Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sat Jan 09, 2016 1:53 am
FOOTPRINTS ON THE JOURNEY
- The Diary of Khenpo Sodargye
At long last, I have finally completed this manuscript. I can’t help letting out a deep sigh of relief.
That this diary now makes its debut is not without twists and turns; after a good initial start it nearly didn’t make it. This bride-to-be “young maiden” has been hiding out for almost two years. It is only now that she, after nearly turning into a fading beauty, gingerly and bashfully, steps out to meet her future “parents-in-law”. But even at this moment, my mind is still vacillating. I can’t decide if I should have it printed. Many years from now, I am afraid, I may be plagued with regret over a decision made in a moment of weakness.
The genesis of this diary came from my reading of Opening the Door to the Mind: Training on the Graded Path to Enlightenment by Gyalwa Lodro Gyaltsen Palzang while I was staying in Xiamen. At that time I was free from trivial responsibilities and had the leisure to read and savor very much this wonderful teaching. But to hoard such a Dharma feast selfishly runs against my sense and sensibility. Why not select a few excellent passages daily from it and share them with others? It would benefit not only myself but also others. That is, one gets twice the results with half the effort. Why not go ahead with it?
Thus the rudimentary form of this diary started to take shape. Yet serendipitously, I was so enthralled by Opening the Door to the Mind that I could not resist translating it from beginning to end. Having finished that, I ran into an awkward situation as to what to do with the bulk entries in my “diary.” I tried to resolve the dilemma by revising it, but never got the job done due to my indolence and limited vigor.
I found some high-sounding justifications for myself: The purpose of my writing a diary is not for winning public applause or bouquets of flowers; rather, it is for reflection on my own conduct, thoughts, and everything I do, such that I could keep my efforts going and make progress. Why put so much emphasis on external perfections? What’s more, as the adage says: “Reviewing old material, one gains new insights;” by reviewing the entries once more, there shouldn’t be any harm but there could be many benefits. Why worry and toil over changing the diary beyond recognition? Armed with my own rational excuses, all of a sudden, I felt relieved.
Although called a “Diary” in the beginning, the entries of this book were not necessarily made on a daily basis. Sometimes I had to make up for a few days’ content because of a stagnation of thoughts resulting from being overly busy. At other times my mind would bubble with ideas that rushed over me like pounding waves or the galloping of wild horses, and could not be contained on the pages. My pen, trying to keep up with the torrent of inspiration, would jot down in a flowing and bold style many days’ entries in one stretch.
In the early phase of this work, ample time allowed me to finish articles of a few hundred words quickly with seemingly little effort; this made me very confident and proud of myself. However, after returning to the Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy in the second half of the year, I was immediately ensnared by many heavy and trifling matters. My thoughts were jumbled; it became almost impossible for me to sort out clear thinking for even one diary entry. I can’t describe the frustrations over the feeling that my inspiration had dried up. It was like riding a tiger and I found it hard to dismount. What’s more, there was a leap month of October in that year, a realization that almost made me throw away my beloved pens, if not for the encouragement from many Dharma friends. Biting the bullet, I trudged on, but I felt like a destitute person being chased by creditors, running here and there to hide, but finding no way to flee from the ever growing pile of debt.
I was just too exhausted to deal with it, and so had to leave it half done. Yet as someone with a strong affinity for writing, I managed to fabricate an excuse to get out of this embarrassing situation: At some point in the future, when not too busy in the second half of a year, I would catch up with the unfinished part of my diary. I even thought of a perfect title for my diary-to-come—365 Days Out of 730 Days. But in truth, finding a not-too-busy half-year in the rest of my life is almost out of the question. So my wish was never realized. This draft of my incomplete diary ended up at the bottom of the drawer, sinking into deep sleep for nearly two years.
Then, on a bitterly cold winter day—January 7th, 2004—the Master of the Three Worlds, the Protector of all beings and our most beloved Guru Wish Fulfilling Jewel, H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, left this world. Totally caught off guard by his sudden departure, every student was stricken with utter sorrow, grieving even more than when losing relatives. My frail body collapsed at this heavy blow, almost unable to recover; the sense of total loss whipped again and again on my already painful heart. Long after the Cremation Ceremony, I could find nothing to fill my hollow and blank mind. Our teacher chose to show us what impermanence is by this stark reality, which will be forever engraved in our bones and hearts. I was shaken and made keenly aware of the impermanence of all phenomena as never before.
“Wait no more!” This calling started ringing in my ear, tapping at my heart that had almost gone numb. It dawned on me that I could not keep on making long-term plans and waiting for one of these days to complete the diary. Retrieving the dust-covered draft and flipping through the pages, I was absent-minded until I caught sight of some teachings from our revered teacher in it. How lucky that I had written them down and how precious these entries seemed, now that our teacher had left us! If I could make the diary available soon, wouldn’t it help many of us to struggle through this chilly and dark period? Thus, without much fanfare, I made simple edits to my words and sent it off on the road hurriedly—incomplete as it was in many aspects. What would be the fate awaiting this diary? I cannot but worry about its future.
Assessed from the viewpoint of writing, this humble little diary is nothing when lined up against the works of numerous professional authors in the world. As to the command of Chinese phraseology, I cannot compare with even an ordinary Han Chinese, let alone with those of great masters behind whom I could only be left in the dust. This diary, on all accounts, can only be qualified as a faithful recorder which takes glimpse after glimpse into the adventures of my mind; it faithfully reflects the thinking process, the everyday life, the perceptions, the daily encounters with the world and its people, of an ordinary Buddhist. Lacking any unprecedented idea, profound or complicated theory or shocking proclamation, this diary can only be likened to a plain musical movement. Spontaneously assembled from a few fragmentary pieces, it nonetheless plays out the vicissitudes, bit by bit, of my life throughout the year. Leaving marks on life’s vast desert plain, it is like the footprints that trace the actual passage of my time.
You may find in this diary, besides being commonplace or merely echoing others’ words, some of my judgmental views and criticisms of others. They contrast glaringly to my own advice to others, for example, to not become too distracted by the outer world, and to not get involved in sectarianism, turning only inward to the mind, and so on. What’s more, I also noticed the over-usage of aggressive statements and little mention of my own faults. Some of the quotes or teachings—my favorites—that I recommended with enthusiasm may not strike a chord in others.
For each practitioner, various experiences may arise while walking on the spiritual path. Some prefer to keep such experiences to themselves; their silence provides me with the exact opportunity to show off. Unwilling to be neglected, I am here prattling like a melon salesman extolling the sweetness of my fruit. In Compendium of Trainings, it says: “In the bark of sugarcane, there’s no sweetness, no matter how one chews on it. Should one teach Dharma without going through deep meditation, he is just like the bark of the sugar cane”, and: “It’s a fault to babble like an entertainer giving a show, it does not provide any service as you might have imagined, you may actually diminish your own merit” Here I, the “entertainer,” ignoring advice and overrating myself, present the lazy lady’s foot-wrap, or “sugarcane bark” of mine, as an offering.
Nonetheless, I do know my limitations. If you ask me to make recommendations about my own work, no doubt the translation and commentary on The Words of My Perfect Teacher and the commentary on A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life are at the top of the list. But how can the discursive thoughts of an ordinary person be compared to the wisdom of the supreme beings? So, if this diary does not interest you at all, please do not hesitate to leave it on the shelf. I really don’t want to take on the blame of wasting others’ time.
On the other hand, should you like to read something leisurely during breaks of your practice, leafing through the pages of this diary may be more meaningful than spending time on worldly entertainment that caters to desire, hatred, and delusion. Furthermore, if this little book arouses in you or those around you even only momentarily the respect for the Three Jewels or compassion for sentient beings, all my hard work will have not been in vain.
Here I am making these silent prayers:
Manifested as a beam of light this diary may be,
The wild wish for it to match the brilliance of the sun or the moon I do not have.
Only, like an inconspicuous little star in one moonless dark night,
May its feeble light shine in the gloomy darkness!
Manifested as cool comfort this diary may be,
The wild wish for it to sweep away summer heat as the autumn gale I do not have.
Only, like a nameless little tree on a sweltering hot day,
May its shade provide cool shelter for beings tormented by heat!
Manifested as a medicine this diary may be,
The wild wish for it to be a panacea to cure all diseases I do not have.
Only, like a soothing palliative for the jittery and the restless,
May it offer peace and comfort during a time of distraught!
Oh wild geese, high in the sky,
Flying back north in the spring
Could you please tell me:
Will my wishes ever come true?
I dedicate this book to all my Dharma friends who, like me, will forever remember our most revered Guru!
Written with reverence at Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy
On the birthday of H.H. Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche
January 3rd, Year of JiaShen
To be continued...
Footprints on the Journey: Life Liberation - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Jan 13, 2016 1:33 am
“Flying by are the years and ever weakening is my body; gone is my prime and looming near is my demise.” This poem by Lucretius of ancient Rome depicts precisely my present state of affairs. I will soon be 40 years old, one of the life stages as defined by Confucius: “At 30, I planted my feet firmly upon the ground. At 40, I no longer suffered from perplexities.” But for an ordinary person, the eradication of karmic obscuration and confused emotions is not an overnight job: “It takes more than one cold day to freeze the river three feet deep.” How many 365-day years can a human have in life? With not too many days left, how can I catch the fleeting time and use it meaningfully? The supreme beings in the past have left numerous teachings; if I can apply even one verse to discipline myself and watch my own mind and actions, it definitely will be beneficial. On this New Year’s Day I had a sudden urge to write down my experiences and feelings every day. It will remind me to treasure our precious human existence that is hard to come by, and it may bring benefit to others and myself. That’s how I have decided to write this diary.
Today is Losar, New Year’s Day on the Tibetan calendar. It is also the second day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and an intensely festive mood pervades the streets and neighborhoods. Many people put on their most stylish Tang outfits to celebrate, and they go to the marketplace to buy live animals—chickens, ducks, fish, shrimp, birds and so on—as special treats for the New Year. But for these poor animals, this festive period is actually the ultimate doomsday. I resolved to make releasing live beings as my task to commence the New Year.
No sooner had I walked into the marketplace than I was presented with a shocking scene. A young man menacingly grabbed a quail in a cage and mercilessly pulled out its feathers while the bird was still alive. The poor bird twittered painfully, yet its wail was too meek and too brief to affect the butcher in the least. Without any hesitation, he cleared out all of its feathers, exposing fully the quail’s naked pink body. A sharp knife sliced open its body cavity, the internal organs were thrown out, and its head and feet cut off and cast to one side—all this was done in less than a minute. The quail’s body, emptied of its contents, still quivered faintly; its eyes remained open on the discarded head, as if to protest the utterly unfair treatment: “Why? Why?”
I could not bear to behold this scene any longer. Buying up all the remaining quails, 150 in all, I brought them to the Minnan Buddhist Academy and released them into the woods. Reciting the lifesaving sadhana, I prayed silently: May the local people abolish their bad habit and the misconceptions “dragon meat in heaven, quail meat on earth,” and that “by eating quail meat, one will live to be 99 years old.” I also hope I will be able to make more contributions to release live beings in the latter part of my life.
Today is also the first day of the Great Prayer Dharma Festival of Vidyadhara (Vidyadhara Puja) at the academy. Our Choeje (King of Dharma) Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche called from Chengdu to all Sangha members at the academy, advising them to recite mantras diligently and said he himself would do the same practice with others in Chengdu. These words from our revered Guru brought tremendous joy and encouragement to everyone; some could not help starting to cry with tears of gratitude and intense longing.
Due to medical reasons, I was advised to stay away from the snow-capped high plateau and have been to Xiamen, a southern city with a pleasing spring, for more than a month now. As a lonely visitor to a strange city, I can’t help feeling like a rootless wanderer traveling to the far ends of the earth. How fondly do I miss the days at the academy! On impulse, I called my brother there and asked him to place the phone receiver next to the loudspeaker. Soon a melodious chanting came through the receiver, filling my heart with a deep yearning. How I wish that the snow and ice will melt, and that the warm season for blossoms and green leaves will arrive soon. May the beautiful Larung enjoy spring always and the Sangha members no longer suffer from the bitter winter. May they bask in the warm sunlight of spring and be showered with the Dharma nectar!
May such a day arrive soon! Lama chen!
1st of January, Year of RenWu
Feb. 13, 2002
Footprints on the Journey:Practice ImmediatelyKhenpo Sodargy
Posted: Sun Jan 17, 2016 6:57 am
Many lay practitioners today are often entrapped in trifles—parents, children, job, family; they worry about these things constantly and have never learned to let go. Similarly, robe-clad monks and nuns who should be concentrating on Dharma practice are busying themselves with building Dharma centers, erecting Buddha statues, and caring for disciples. They are concerned about these token good deeds all day long, leaving little or no time for inward reflection. This is not a proper trend and I worry about it. To be a genuine Dharma practitioner, one should give up external affairs and realize the mind’s essence. This is also the secret of success from many past great siddhas.
In the Life Story of Milarepa, there is such a passage: Once Jetsun Milarepa was about to leave for his hometown; his teacher Marpa, bidding goodbye reluctantly, imparted to his student the following golden advice as spiritual sustenance:
My heart son! Unless you renounce worldly affairs and never mix the supreme Dharma with mundane trivialities, your practice will be neglected or wasted.
My heart son, you should reflect deeply on the suffering of samsara, which is the so-called nature of samsara.
Even if I grow a hundred tongues with magic, and spend countless kalpas, I cannot completely describe all the sufferings. So don’t waste the marvelous Dharma that I have taught you.
Keeping these words firmly in his heart, Milarepa practiced accordingly and finally attained complete enlightenment.
Not only great Buddhist masters feel this way, but also worldly sages who recognize that running after fame and money is a waste of valuable time and ultimately gains nothing. In Tending the Root of Wisdom it says:
Striving hard you seize power and wealth; yet finally you must give it all up, all gains are but losses.
To live to 100 years old is wonderful; yet rushing through it, a long life still meets its final end.
What we call life is something that hinges on this breath and the next, that’s it.
Just learn to let go of attachment!
2nd of January, Year of RenWu
February 14, 2002
The Footprints on the Journey:Master's BirthdayKhenpo Sodarg
Posted: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:48 am
The Footprints on the Journey: Master's Birthday - Khenpo Sodargye
Today is our Guru Wish Fulfilling Jewel, H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche’s birthday. According to the Tibetan way of counting, he has reached the ripe old age of 70 years.
Any amount of compassion or wisdom that arises in students’ minds, even for just an instant, is a blessing bestowed by the teacher’s great compassion.
Even without mentioning the incalculable merits our Guru has accumulated throughout his past numerous lifetimes, in this life alone he has attracted countless beings onto the Dharma path with his great compassion beyond concept. What he has done to benefit beings is as high as Mount Meru; his mighty name is known throughout the East and West, resounding all over the world and vibrating in the three realms. It would be impossible for me, even if I were to take my entire life to do it, to describe a mere drop of our Guru’s ocean of boundless qualities, immeasurable compassion, and incomparable kindness. To sum up, his qualities are: having perfect wisdom, having vast compassionate aspiration, keeping pure precepts, and turning the Dharma wheel far and wide. But how could these few words match up to our Guru’s towering kindness?
“From ancient times, it has been rare for humans to live to the age of 70.” These days our Guru appears to be advancing to senior years and he has been inflicted with various illnesses. Yet his efforts to benefit sentient beings, instead of becoming stagnant, are growing stronger. Ignoring his deteriorating health, he still confers blessings to followers coming from different places, even when confined to the sickbed. He continues to plant virtuous seeds in other beings’ minds in all possible ways.
Disciples from all different locations are involved extensively in releasing live beings today, and they all pray that our Guru will remain long in this world. Through his blessings, countless lives are saved from glittering, murderous knives; if these creatures had known the kindness behind saving their lives, how would they express their gratitude? Moreover, upon hearing the holy names of Buddhas and sacred mantras that are recited for them, how would they express their eagerness in repaying the kindness? And what worldly language can adequately describe the merit generated by the disciples through saving lives? All these are unfathomable to my unenlightened mind. The benefits of his living in this world, even for a mere instant are just incomprehensible.
Today, physicians arriving from the United States are tending to and treating our teacher meticulously. I press my palms together in reverence and pray from the depth of my heart: May our teacher recover swiftly from illness and regain health. May we be blessed with his great kindness each and every day. Lama chen!
3rd of January, Year of RenWu
February 15, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: The Nurse - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Jan 24, 2016 9:21 am
The little nurse who seems incapable of putting even a faint smile on her stiff face just came in. “How many bowel movements did you have yesterday?”
Since I was hospitalized here more than a month ago, she has asked me the same routine question every day. There has been no other greeting from her, which I feel is quite ridiculous: “You have been asking me only this one boring question all along, why not ask me how I am feeling?” She tilted her dignified head, glared at me, and walked away, leaving me with a mind rushing with thoughts.
Oh well, indeed it is a time of the five degenerations. Some hospitals no longer deem saving lives and healing the sick as their main purposes; quacks are found everywhere, so are fake medicines; people’s hunger for money is at its extreme. The image of the nurse as an “angel in white” is long gone; to some people, the health sector is a synonym for corruption. I have witnessed the sad situation where some dying patients are denied admission due to insufficient funds to pay for medical fees.
In Buddha’s previous lives, he assumed the responsibilities of doctors and nurses; he took tender care of patients suffering from long illnesses and relieved them of misery. He offered his own medicine collected over 12 years when he himself was a patient. Shantideva, a Bodhisattva, makes these aspirations in A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life: “For all those ailing in the world, until their every sickness has been healed, may I myself become for them the doctor, the nurse, the medicine itself.” Many great Buddhist masters also have devoted themselves totally to benefit beings, without the slightest concern for their own safety or welfare.
Such altruism is not limited to Buddhists only; people with high ideals in the world also have made their wishes such as:
How can I build thousands of big houses with plenty of rooms?
I’ll use them to provide shelter to all the poor scholars and make them smile happily…
Even if my thatched hut is the only one destroyed by the elements and I am to die from freezing cold, I am willing.
How I wish Buddha’s teaching would penetrate the minds of people, such that the world will have one ounce more of goodness and one ounce less of ugliness!
4th of January, Year of RenWu
February 16, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Internet Surfing- Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 12:14 pm
The rapid and continuous advances in scientific fields have brought dramatic changes in human life. Products of modern technology such as cell phones and computers are no longer out of reach to common people: Even in remote Tibetan areas there are Internet bars. The constraints of time and space seem to disappear with new tools—no matter how far away we are from one another, we can feel like we’re right next to each another; in cyberspace we connect with people of ancient and modern times. It is exactly like “without even leaving the house, a scholar knows what is happening in the world.” Many people have become more knowledgeable by using the Internet or even have become better people.
Many distinguished Dharma teachers have also set up their own websites and discussion forums one after the other. By using convenient modern tools, they lead many tormented souls onto the path to liberation.
Nonetheless, there are also negative influences of the Internet that cannot be ignored. The information available on line is a mixture of good and bad. Many teenagers, lacking prudent judgment, indulge in surfing the web all day long and pile up the three poisonous emotions, adding destabilizing factors to society. Even some ordained Buddhists favor forbidden sites of violence and sex while neglecting their study, reflection, and meditation on the Dharma. It is really worrisome that the fruits of scientific discoveries are being misused and wasted.
A wise person will use skillful means to benefit self and others. A foolish person, on the other hand, will employ handy ways to create non-virtues. This is described exactly in the Jewel Heap Sutra (Ratnakuṭa Sutra): “The Buddha told Kasyapa: The wise use skillful means to attain liberation; the unwise use clever ways to bring about shackles.” This passage applies perfectly to the issue of adopting or ignoring information posted on the web.
May people remember well this particular teaching!
5th of January, Year of RenWu
February 17, 2002
Re: Footprints on the Journey: Internet Surfing- Khenpo Soda
Posted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 7:40 am
Footprints on the Journey: On Retreat - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Feb 10, 2016 1:25 am
It’s been 142 days since I left Larung Gar. Before my departure, 360 practitioners there vowed in unison that in the supremely blessed land of Larung, they would devote 142 retreat days to Vajrayana practice, following strictly the retreat manual to meditate at least 4 to 6 sessions every day. I had the same aspirations at that time, but alas, my busy administrative duties and illness thwarted my wishes.
Instead, I have been confined to a hospital bed for almost the entire three months, wasting this precious time period. I have witnessed the suffering of many patients, and listened enough to the horrible shrieks of the sick. Some fellow patients of yesterday were escorted away by the Lord of Death, and who knows how many of today’s roommates will still be able to enjoy the spring day tomorrow? Unless we take advantage of our excellent opportunity to practice, at the time of death we will be propelled by karmic force into the rounds of samsara; there will be no protector whatsoever.
As of today, the 142-day group retreat is completed; this occasion is indeed a feat to commemorate. Such celebration is far more worthwhile than those elaborate ceremonies carried out on worldly, meaningless days. In this period of five degenerations, there are very few people who meditate daily on the mind’s true nature. The retreatants, whatever their actual level of accomplishment may be, must have generated tremendous merit.
“Sariputta, one practitioner, listens to Dharma teachings while upholding the 10 precepts; this same person also practices meditation on the mind’s true nature one-pointedly, just for one instant. When comparing the merits of these two activities, the latter is far more superior.” This is a saying from the scripture, an unfailing truism. For earthly wishes—wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep—worldly people would strive until “pining away without regret”, how much more effort we should exert for the liberation of self and other beings! Wouldn’t it be great if practitioners were to continue to apply the retreat’s instructions to broader scopes!
6th of January, Year of RenWu
February 18, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Sleeping Sparingly-Khenpo Sodargy
Posted: Sun Feb 14, 2016 3:43 pm
We should not sleep too much, nor should we be too lazy. Otherwise, nothing can be accomplished, worldly or spiritual.
In fact, sleep is just a habit. There are some people who never sleep.
In one of his previous lives, Buddha Shakyamuni was reborn as Prince De Kuang. In order to make offerings to the Buddhas, for many years he did not sleep and took breaks only for eating and going to the bathroom.
Geshe Chengawa devoted all his time to Dharma practice; he never slept either. His master Dromtonpa said to him: “You better rest, my son. You’ll make yourself ill if the four elements become imbalanced.” “Yes, it’s nice to be healthy,” Geshe Chengawa replied. “But when I think how difficult it is to find the freedom and advantages that we have, I have no time to rest.” In his life, he recited the mantra of Akshobhya Buddha 900 million times.
Many successful people in the world also choose not to waste their priceless time snoozing in bed.
The French author Balzac slept only four hours a day, from 8 pm to midnight. After he got up, he would write zealously, to make the best use of the quiet hours of the night. With such ongoing diligence, it’s no wonder that he authored 96 masterpieces of universal acclaim, such as Human Comedy.
In Treasury of Good Advice Sakya Pandita says: “The human’s life span is short; half of it is spent on death-like sleep at night. The remaining half, plagued by miseries such as sickness and old age, is no time to enjoy either.” In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life it says:
Take advantage of this human boat,
Cross over the mighty river of suffering.
This vessel will be hard to find again,
Don’t be so foolish as to sleep it away!
As spiritual practitioners, we should remember these rich legacies left by our predecessors and squander no time in drowsiness and sleep.
7th of January, Year of RenWu
February 19, 2002
Footprints on the Journey:Becoming Disillusioned-Khenpo Soda
Posted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 1:50 am
Footprints on the Journey: Becoming Disillusioned - Khenpo Sodargye
This is a Buddhist Academy located in the suburb of a coastal city, at a good distance from the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan area. It has exquisite surroundings and enjoys nice weather year-round. Among lush trees and vivid green fields, a winding brook babbles through the grass and over pebbles; nameless flowers bloom lavishly on vines and bushes, giving off subtle fragrances. Birds, chirping melodiously in the woods, fly through treetops and in no time reach the clouds. All these remind me of the blessed places where many siddhas of Tibetan Buddhism practiced. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a practitioner who has renounced the world builds his retreat hut right here?
When Lord Atisha was about to leave this world after he had completed his Dharma activities both in India and Tibet, a student yogi Cha Tsokche made his pledge: “Master, after you pass into nirvana, I will practice diligently.” The master was not pleased and answered: “I hope you will give up chores.” The student tried again. “Well then, should I teach?” The teacher responded the same way. Again, the student asked: “How about if I practice and teach at the same time?” The teacher gave the same answer as before. “Then, what should I do?” The master replied: “You should give up all the trivialities of this life.”
Bearing his teacher’s instruction firmly in his mind, Cha Tsokche cast away all worldly affairs and set off to a quiet wood in Redreng. The place was surrounded by rows of magnificent snow-capped mountains; numerous waterfalls from the melting snow rushed down among the boulders, nourishing the trees and meadows, and sustaining the harmonious birds and animals in the forest.
In the morning, the sun sent its warm light from atop the mountains, greeting the practitioner and his animal companions. In the evening, the wind blew gently and they retired into the dark night in profound silence. A cool and sparkling mountain spring provided him sweet drinks; fresh tasty wild fruits sustained him. He made contact with no one, nor did he care about any worldly activities. Persistently, he practiced until the end of his life and finally attained a level unreachable by ordinary people.
8th of January, Year of RenWu
February 20, 2002
Written at the secluded back side of the Minnan Buddhist Academy
Footprints on the Journey: Religious Government - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 1:16 am
For practitioners, it is deemed necessary to “shut your ears to affairs outside the window; endeavor only to practice for liberation.”
But occasional reading of the newspaper could stir in us compassion toward suffering in the world, smother our fantasies about the future, and arouse renunciation; it may thus support our practice also.
Turning the pages of the newspaper, I read what Premier Jiang Zemin said to the President of the United States George Bush: “Many citizens of China are religious. Although I don’t follow any religion, I am interested in it. I have read The Holy Bible, The Noble Quran, and The Diamond Sutra….” This passage elicited deep thought in me.
In The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says: “Subhuti, unthinkable and incomparable is this discourse on Dharma. The Tathagata has taught it for the weal of beings who have set out in the best, the most excellent vehicle. Those who will take up this discourse on Dharma, bear it in mind, recite, study, and illuminate it in full detail for others, they are completely known by the Tathagata; they are completely seen by the Tathagata. Such people accomplish immeasurable, inexpressible, boundless, inconceivable merit and virtue and thus sustain the Tathagata’s anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
It is clear that for anyone—from the king or a monarch to common people—to recite the Diamond Sutra is to plant virtuous seeds that will accumulate inconceivable merits.
In the history of Tibet, Buddhism has played an indispensable role in the country’s long-term stability and welfare. There are innumerable beautiful accounts on the lasting bond between patron kings and great Dharma masters in historical annals.
The profound connections of King Trisong Deutsen, Master Padmasambhava, and Abbot Shantarakshita are most famous. But those between Khublai Khan, Emperor of Yuan, and his Dharma Master Phagspa are equally remarkable. Khublai extolled the master this way: “Under the heaven and above the earth, you are the Buddha’s heir from the Western Heaven and the emanation of the Buddha. You established the national language and assisted in reigning policies. I now honor you, the Pandita of five sciences, as the Court Priest Phagspa.” Thus the Dharma played inconceivable important roles in the imperial court as well as for the general public during that time period.
The mighty emperor Fu Jian, urged by his strong wish to retain Dharma Master Dao Ang, did not hesitate to wage the war of Xiangyang. This, again, is a proof of the extreme value of the precious Buddhadharma.
Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty had more than just great respect toward the Buddha’s teachings. She wrote the famous Verse for Opening a Sutra:
The unsurpassed, profound, and wonderful Dharma,
In hundreds of billions of eons is difficult to encounter.
Now that I’ve come to see and hear it, receive and uphold it,
I vow to fathom the Tathagata’s true and actual meanings.
This verse has been passed down to the present, and for many practitioners, it is an indispensable aspiration prayer before reciting any sutra.
The elusive relationship between Master Bodhidharma and Emperor LiangWu has been the subject of many misinterpretations. People regard Emperor LiangWu as a fool who could not comprehend the truth in the Dharma. In my opinion, we can hardly say that Emperor Liang did not have a high level of realization. It is only the circumstances and the acumen of his people that prevented him from subscribing solely to the Zen “beyond any word.” However, he did make vast offerings in worldly ways and showed his subjects how to accumulate merit in the context of relative truth. His skillfulness and vision surpass those of other sovereigns. I can’t help rejoicing in what he has done.
If the ruler of a state has generated heartfelt respect for Buddhism and wishes to bring short and long-term benefits to all citizens, rather than to control them, it indeed is a great fortune for all beings!
9th of January, Year of RenWu
February 21, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Karmic Consequences - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Feb 28, 2016 1:17 am
Today I visited a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine reputed to be a modern Huatuo. Having me first go through a deliberately mystifying examination, the “Huatuo” then handed me his prescriptions. He repeatedly cautioned me that I should adhere to his medicines only; any other formulas should absolutely be avoided. He then went on in a brassy manner to denigrate Western medicine in all aspects of theory and treatment modality.
As he talked gushingly, many thoughts ran through my mind. Chinese medicine and Western medicine usually interpret the same disease in different ways. In Synopsis of Golden Chamber it says: “Human beings with the five elements are nurtured by external climate chi. The climate chi that sustains the growth of all living things, however, can also turn around to cause harm, just as the water that bears the boat is the same one that swallows it. When positive chi flows smoothly throughout the five major organs of the human body, health and peacefulness follow. When the internal chi is weakened or invaded by external foul chi, then illness or even death ensues.” Thus Chinese medicine regards the blockage of nine vital points and the disturbance to the energy channels as the major causes of illness. Western medicine, on the other hand, holds the weakened cellular immunity of the human body as the culprit. Although these viewpoints are different, we should acknowledge that each has its own merit, and not haphazardly take one side while belittling the other.
Similarly, there is a huge difference in the perception of the universe between Buddhism and science. Many people, failing to find a definitive answer after long pondering, eventually resort to their wisdom-less, conceptual thinking. They presumptuously conclude that because the Buddhist’s description of Mount Meru and the four continents disagrees with modern scientific findings, Buddhism is contradictory to the truth.
In fact, such deviations are similar to the differences between theories of Chinese and Western medicine. Anyone with some understanding of the Dharma knows that the profound secret of perception lies in the unique predisposition of each individual. The fruit durian, for instance, is an absolute delicacy to some people, but to others it is totally repugnant; a woman could be seen by some as beautiful as the divine goddess, while to others she might as well be the incarnate of ugly Wu Yan.
As ordinary beings, we should not make hasty conclusions on uncertain issues without prior thorough investigation. Do not slander recklessly. Otherwise, the negative action of speech will result in unimaginable karmic consequences. The Sutra of One Hundred Stories on Karmas describes many cases of people who, through verbal misdeeds, are reborn in hell and suffer from the horror of their tongues being ploughed as the farmland. Koans like this, I bet, will make the readers do some hard thinking!
10th of January, Year of RenWu
February 22, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Until Tomorrow - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:24 pm
If we do not practice as quickly as possible, when will we get the chance to do it?
No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. Turning the pages of The Collection of Deliberate Sayings, I found this passage: “Who is sure he will live until tomorrow? Today is the time to be ready, for the legions of Death are not on our side.”
Shiwu Qinggong, an ascetic Zen master of Yuan Dynasty, lived in rocky caves for years and had little contact with the outside world. He passed down poems on life at the mountainside; every one of them is imbued with refreshing valley flair:
Tranquil is my cave dwelling all day, could there be one flicker of earthly thought?
Wearing clothes and eating porridge I must be, yet unmoving as dead with no fire burning is my being.
This poem shows that the Zen master has transcended life and death. He advises that one should renounce worldly preoccupations and be willing to sacrifice oneself for the pursuit of truth.
Life is like an oil lamp wavering in the wind; at every moment it faces the danger of being blown out. Milan Kundera said: “Life is a tree laden with potential.” Nobody is certain what one will encounter at the next moment.
Neither can anyone be sure of waking up the next morning. Lord Nagarjuna says in Letter to a Friend:
Life flickers in the flurries of a thousand ills, more fragile than a bubble in a stream.
In sleep, each breath departs and is again drawn in; how wondrous that we wake up living still!
Master Dan Cho was a disciple of Mipham Rinpoche. When he was doing a retreat in the woods at Panma de Duoku, he would prostrate or circumambulate immediately after waking up at night. He says: “Are you so sure that you will live until tomorrow? Do you really want to go back to sleep?”
Wise people in the world also appreciate acutely the impermanence of life. Konnerup says: “Finish the task today that’s assigned for today. The sun never rises again just for you.” In The Song of Tomorrow Master Wen Jia of the Qing Dynasty says: “Tomorrow after tomorrow, too many tomorrows. Waiting always until tomorrow, nothing ever gets accomplished. ”
Fake practitioners like myself and others always put off things until tomorrow and waste precious life in distractions. Now, having the instructions given by the masters, I must urge myself: Relinquish all the trifling affairs, just practice!
11th of January, Year of RenWu
February 23, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Wisdom and Compassion - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Mar 06, 2016 7:24 pm
Wisdom and Compassion
To speak impressively does not make one an authentic spiritual practitioner. What really counts is to genuinely turn the mind toward the Dharma while casting away the mundane world.
The great Zen master Damei, after realizing the nature of the mind as pointed out by his teacher Mazu Daoyi, retreated to Mountain Siming in Zhejiang. Years later, Qi An, a salt trading officer and once his friend, learned of his whereabouts and sent emissaries to cordially invite him out. The Zen master declined the offer with these two verses:
To a ruined dead tree in chilly forest,
Many seasons of spring have brought no revival.
Even passing woodcutters heed it not,
Why do you, the man of Ying County, still pursue me so hard?
By describing himself as a useless dead tree, he declined the offer politely. And:
Clothing is plenty from the lotus leaves in the pond,
Food is abundant among pine berries and flowers.
My hideout will be moved deeper into the woods,
As the old one has just been exposed to visitors.
These verses clearly show that he has firmly denounced the secular world; let there be spring flowers or the autumn moon, his heart will not be enticed into blossoming or sprouting. All his seven earthly emotions and the six sensory pleasures have been thoroughly cleansed away. He is content with wearing lotus leaves and eating pine berries. This imposing manner of his—transcending the three realms, free from the five aggregates, and unshakable by mundane affairs—is truly the conduct of a great practitioner. I feel deeply humbled when reflecting upon it.
Khenpo Choja of Sertha Huoxi was exactly like this. Following his teacher’s footsteps, he went to Shiqu for Dharma teachings. Just like the great Kadampa masters, all his life he denounced fame, wealth, profit, and power; his dwelling in Huoxi for decades was a shabby room made from wood planks. Although his life was extremely difficult, he was worry-free and carefree; he practiced persistently until his final days. Once he said: “With wisdom, a genuine practitioner clings to nothing and his compassion for sentient beings arises effortlessly. Having wisdom and compassion, all the essence in the sutra and tantra is within reach. Missing them, he will easily revert to scheming for personal gain, even if a few days earlier he has just given big talks on altruism and doing a retreat.” Longchenpa the Omniscient also says: “Your training should bring a change in you as noticeable as if you had worn your clothes the wrong way.” Therefore, without wisdom and compassion, no amount of talk means anything. Bear this in mind!
Early morning, 12thof January, Year of RenWu
February 24, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Be Diligent - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 2:50 am
Delicate fragrance wafted from the jasmine tea; the sun, through the leaves of the tall arbor tree, beamed down warm shafts of light.
Sitting on the balcony in this refreshing scent and with the book A Treatise on Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind in hand, somehow I found it hard to concentrate.
The neighboring Xiamen Middle School started its new term today. Students wearing smart uniforms poured onto the beautiful campus. Gone was the serenity of this place; my mind, which is easily distracted by surroundings, also started rushing around.
This middle school is well equipped with modern facilities. It has brand new buildings; big open sports fields, colorful gardens, as well as kind and capable teachers. Students conduct group physical exercises in harmonious unison, while during recess they play actively and cheerfully. Unknowingly, my mind drifted back to my beloved days at the Zong Ta Middle School.
Even though such nice facilities were nonexistent at that time and we wore only ragged clothes, we were happy all the same. Alas, things have changed! Three out of my seven roommates and dear friends from those days—Huaze, Zebi, and Danbi—have already passed away in succession. In my dreams, I often revisit those tender years, enjoying our blissful youth together. But upon waking up I have to face the reality that that enchanted time and place are all gone. I have no idea into which realms my friends were reborn. Regardless, how I wish they could have happiness and peacefulness. “Om Mani Padme Hum Hri!”
I am now a man of 40, even if I can live into my 60s, there are only 20 rounds of seasons left. “Our life comes with an expiration date; sadly the number of days is scarce.” The English playwright Shakespeare mentioned that time moves on with silent steps, it will not pause even for a moment just because you have many things to tend to. To a diligent person, the passage of time brings wisdom and strength; to the indolent, only regrets and aching void.
If it is not today, when is the time to be diligent?
13th of January, Year of RenWu
February 25, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: No Craving - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Mar 13, 2016 4:31 pm
Gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and defamation, praise and blame, these eight worldly concerns are what ordinary people care about most. However, they are huge impediments for spiritual seekers whose job is to see them as essence-less as the banana tree and to give up on them. In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life it says:
When all things are devoid of true existence, what is there to gain, and what to lose? Who can be honored or humiliated by whom?
From where can pain and pleasure arise, what can be liked and what loathed? When examined as to its true nature, who is craving, what is there to crave?
Upon analysis of this world of living beings, who will die in it? Who will come to exist? Who has existed? And who, indeed, are relatives and friends?
May beings like myself realize that everything is just like space!
To attain a high level of realization, one must eliminate clinging to all external objects and realize the emptiness in self and all phenomena. It is only then one becomes firmly unshakable by the eight worldly winds.
Once, Dromtonpa’s followers at the Serdung Valley sought him out for teachings. He asked his disciple Jixiang Zizai (Auspicious Ease) to go instead: “I am now practicing on renouncing the secular world, should I head out, it would be a disservice to my practice.” Staying put, he wore nothing but tattered clothes covered with patches, often he took off the upper garment and threw it over his back, with two sleeves hanging over his shoulders. Sometimes he disappeared into the pinewoods, at other times he leaned against his rattan cane for breaks. Often he recited the verses in Letter to a Friend: “Gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and defamation, praise and blame, see them as the eight concerns of the secular world. To pacify your mind, abandon them all.” Sometimes he murmured to himself: “Being the one seeking liberation, I am not bound by fame, power, money, or gain.” He would finish the whole verse, but many times he entered meditative absorption when he was only halfway through or barely at the beginning.
His unique instruction to his disciples was: “Chase not after the eight worldly concerns in this brief human life.” His main disciple Chengawa took this teaching to heart and practiced most tenaciously, forbearing adversities and braving the elements. Finally Chengawa subdued the eight worldly concerns and reached the state of “no lightning thunderbolt can shock his concentration; no scorching flame can inflict his mind.”
15th of January, Year of RenWu
Feb. 27, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Purification Practice - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Mar 16, 2016 10:39 pm
Today is the Lantern Festival. It also falls in the Month of Miracles in the Tibetan calendar. Many Tibetan practitioners are performing virtuous deeds this month, such as nyungne fasting, circumambulation, prostration, releasing live beings, and so on. In Han Chinese, on the other hand, people are enjoying themselves setting off firecrackers, lighting lanterns and performing lion dances in festive ways.
However, some fools, in order to make their reunions with friends and relatives “more cheerful”, choose to entertain at the expense of other beings’ lives. Behind the facade of joyful celebration, many beings today are executed mercilessly. The cruel punishment inflicted upon them––shearing with knives, frying in oil, or cooking in boiling water––is the playing out of bloody purgatory right here in the human realm.
Like humans, animals feel pain when suffering;
Unlike humans, they can only weep silent tears.
Let us, then, do the purification practice for the woeful slaughtered beings as well as for the evil perpetrators!
In Collection of Good Deeds, Chagme Rinpoche imparts a simple pith instruction: “Visualize Vajrasattva at the crown of your head, and from him emanating numerous Vajrasattvas, each sitting on the top of other beings, either alive or dead. Recite the Hundred Syllable Mantra as many times as you can and visualize that the nectar, flowing down from Vajrasattva’s body, cleanses the obscuration of yourself and all others. Recite the mantra another 108 times, and then visualize that Vajrasattva dissolves into light and melts into yourself and all beings. Recognize emptiness while seeing that neither the support for purification nor the one who does the purification has any real existence. Remain unmoved in the state of emptiness momentarily. This is the way for confession in the context of both absolute and relative truths. By this practice, even incalculable downfalls in previous lives can be purified.”
This practice suits well for today’s occasion, however, it does not stop here. In everyday life, we should use it to purify the non-virtues of our family members and others. It is not only necessary, but also very convenient.
14th of January, Year of RenWu
February 26, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Reflecting Inward - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Mar 20, 2016 12:51 pm
Longchenpa, the embodiment of the Buddhas of three times, says in A Treatise on Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of the Mind:
In brief, one should first realize the luminosity of the mind’s nature and its changeless essence, and moreover, see all phenomena are mere provisional concepts and thus empty in nature. Then, by practicing on the path ardently, one can completely transform or purify the impure phenomena arising from the confused mind of false perceptions, thus approach the primordial state, and perfectly accomplish pure land as the mandala of ornament of the inexhaustible body, speech, and mind. This is the crux of all Dharma teachings.
This one instruction, in which the master has subsumed 84,000 teachings for future destined disciples; even the world’s best treasure cannot compare. How fortunate that we have now encountered it!
Turning the mind inward and remaining absorbed in this state constantly, the mind’s primordial luminosity will reveal itself. Otherwise, seized by dualistic grasping, one will become perverted and confused, “one produces two; two produces three; three produces all things.” Hauling on one’s shoulder life’s baggage—the toil for food and daily needs, love or hate, honor or disgrace, gain or loss, right or wrong, success or failure—is a sure way to make the gate of samsara’s throughway wide open.
The unconventional monk of the Tang Dynasty, Zen master Shi De, once said:
Not knowing the mind’s true nature, one seeks fame and wealth always.
Having gained fame and wealth, one appears careworn and haggard.
Not to mention those who failed in the game, wasted are their whole lives indeed.
Again the master, seeing that ordinary people are still oblivious to the Doctrines and labor painstakingly for minuscule gains, teaches:
Unmindful are worldly folks, immersed always in sensual pleasures.
Arising in my heart is compassion, when beholding these beings.
Worrying about their suffering, how can I not feel sad?
The master’s earnest compassion is palpable. But alas, as the saying goes,
Yearning for love, the flower on the bank sheds its petals,
Yet the heartless brook heeds not and babbles on.
No wonder the Zen master can only sigh deeply in vain!
May the master’s sincere guidance not dissipate into nothingness as time passes!
Footprints on the Journey: Life & Death - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Wed Mar 23, 2016 2:02 pm
Life & Death
Life, in the music of composers, is the faint melody of flutes drifting from a remote tower; as penned by writers, it is a refreshing spring in the desert; as seen by sociologists, it is a charging train of desires…. Life, filled with poetic charm as it may be, remains unfathomable. Humans have made great strides in material civilization as time passes; yet life’s enigma, like the eternal riddle from Egypt’s ancient culture, remains an impassable chasm for most Westerners.
The Westerners’ comprehension of human consciousness remained a void until Evans-Wentz first translated The Tibetan Book of the Dead into English. This book, a classic of Tibetan Buddhism and now published in many languages, reveals the mystery of living and dying and has attracted great attention in the West. Tibetan Buddhism became well-known in the world and people started to ponder the topics of living and dying. But this kind of musing is different from that of the prince in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who died a tragic death after mulling over life and death every day. Instead, people nowadays try to deal with the issue of how to face death, and institutions devoted to terminal care have thus come into existence.
In 1973 Ram Dass founded a hospice center to provide services for terminal cancer and AIDS patients. Caring for patients and trying to understand their pains, hospice staffs help patients to find hope in a hopeless situation. Ram Dass visited a dying patient named Bruce in San Francisco; he shared with him the teachings in The Tibetan Book of the Dead: “Escape not from the pains and confess your mistakes; learn to be calm and at peace. Slowly you will recognize the innate luminosity of your mind….” Guided by Ram Dass, Bruce’s twisted, agonized face gradually relaxed, and he made a tranquil and graceful exit.
What baffles Westerners most is that nearly every elderly Tibetan can be termed an expert in hospice care. They have been taught since a very young age how to squarely face death, and many practitioners have long followed the teachings of great masters. Their practices make them see death as a turning point, one that leaves the corporeal body behind and allows them to spring into liberation. As death approaches, Tibetan folks regard it as a transformative process of life, while Westerners feel completely lost and can only plead to medical doctors. Comparing these two attitudes, we must say the Tibetans are lucky.
The teaching on the secret of life and death is the most precious, we are forever grateful to Guru Rinpoche for leaving Tibetans such a rich spiritual legacy!
17th of January, Year of RenWu
March 1, 2002
Footprints on the Journey: Being Fearful - Khenpo Sodargye
Posted: Sun Mar 27, 2016 4:54 pm
As society progresses, we are privileged to enjoy tremendous material well being resulting from science and technology. But bad influence is part and parcel of modernization. Once getting jumbled in and staying on, the evil force becomes a putrid, fermenting thing giving off nauseating odors. It demolishes the peacefulness we once knew and delivers destructive blows to old traditions.
The Utopian life described as “no one pockets anything found on the road, nor is there a need to lock the door at night” has been reduced to a fairy tale these days. People are subject to horrific attacks at any time and any place. We fear brigands by day and burglars by night. Sitting at home, we are terrified; going out, we are scared. Security fences like birdcages are erected around the balconies of every household for protection, yet they have no power to mitigate people’s fearful mindsets.
After 9•11, many countries in the world have attempted various means of fatally cracking down on terrorist activities, but their outcomes are anything but effective.
A bestseller in the United States, the book Profile of a Terrorist Network revealed that the American government, for the sake of peace keeping and saving innocent lives, had offered a reward of $25 million for tips regarding Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The offer also promised total privacy for the tipster as well as relocation assistance, etc. Regardless of the rich reward, no progress has come about so far.
In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, it says:
Wicked beings are as unending as space; they cannot possibly all be subdued.
But when the mental attitude of anger is slain, slain is every enemy.
Trying to conquer all the enemies in the world without first overcoming one’s own mind is nothing but wishful thinking!
In one of his past lives, Buddha Shakyamuni was reborn as a Brahmin. During one of his gatherings with a snake, a pigeon, a crow, and a beast, the beast said: “Horror is the worst suffering.” The crow said: “Hunger is the worst suffering.” The snake said: “Hatred is the worst suffering.” The pigeon said: “Avarice is the worst suffering.” The Brahmin then taught them how to eradicate these four worst sufferings: “The root cause of suffering is ignorance. To be free from suffering, one must uphold the five precepts.” The snake, pigeon, crow, and beast all followed the instruction and were reborn as humans; they eventually attained liberation through practice.
In fact, the dwellings of spiritual seekers through the ages, whether set in rocky caves or by mountain streams, were all auspicious locations devoid of terror and fear. The Zen master Shiwu Qing-gong of the Yuan Dynasty retreated to a place where no human had ever set foot for miles around. He practiced unremittingly in three stone huts located near rocky boulders; his twig door was never locked, as there was no one else around. He wrote:
Fallen yellow leaves float away freely in the stream,
White fluffy clouds sail toward the mountains.
The plain hut of three stone caves by the cliff is my dwelling,
Its twig double door is always left open all day long.
How easygoing and carefree was his mind, I am totally envious!
18th of January, Year of RenWu
March 2, 2002