Ritual Offering to the Tsurphu Protector Sangharāma

Ritual Offering to the Tsurphu Protector Sangharāma

Tergar Shrine Hall
11 February 2024

At 4.00pm on the second day of Losar, a group of thirty nuns from Palmo Drubdey Chӧkyi Dingkhang, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso’s nunnery in Bhutan, gathered on the veranda outside Tergar Shrine Hall to sing the ritual for the protector Sangharāma. The Secretary of Tsurphu Labrang Office, Karma Gyaltsen Sonam, also took part, while other representatives from Tsurphu Labrang watched.

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa has worked steadily to preserve and revive Karma Kamtsang rituals. This was one of the Losar practices at Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapas in Tibet. However, when the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, escaped from Tibet in 1959, the original text of this ritual was lost and the continuity of the practice was broken. The 17th Karmapa compiled a new ritual to replace the one that had been lost. His Holiness also composed all the melodies for the ritual as well as the accompaniment with cymbals, bells and drum.

An elaborate form of this ritual, in Tibetan and Chinese, was performed at the. Kagyu Monlam in March 2017.  []

Sangharāma was originally a famous Chinese general called Guan Yu or Guan Gong. He had admirable qualities such as courage and integrity, but as a general he caused much death and suffering. Consequently, when he died, he became a ghost, haunting Jade Spring Mountain, near modern-day Beijing. However, after he had been converted to Buddhism, he changed into a dharma protector, and was given the new name Sangharāma.

The connection between Sangharāma and the Karmapas began when the emperor Yung Lo of the Ming Dynasty, wanting to learn more about the Buddhadharma, invited the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa to China. Sangharāma also heard the Karmapa’s teachings and witnessed various miracles; he was so impressed that he followed Deshin Shekpa back to Tsurphu in Tibet. Once there, he was given a new home on a mountain behind Tsurphu Monastery. This mountain became known as “the mountain of the Chinese deity,” and Sangharāma became one of the protectors of Tsurphu Monastery. Sometime later, the Karmapas began the tradition of offering a practice for the Sangharāma protector during the Losar festival.

As Sangharāma is a mundane protector, the ritual cannot be performed in a sacred space so it is performed outside. This was the custom at Tsurphu Monastery, and it continues now at Tergar, where the ritual took place on the veranda in front of the shrine hall. A statue of Sangharama stood on an altar stationed at the main entrance to the shrine hall and the nuns stood to either side, dressed in full ceremonial costume: yellow prayer shawls; white leather and brocade boots; vests with a brocade inlay; and chabshu—the rectangular, brocade pouches which dangle from the waist and are a traditional part of ceremonial dress.In perfect harmony they sang the melodies of the ritual to the steady beat of the Chinese drum, punctuated by the clash of cymbals, and the ringing of a handbell.

In the final section of the puja, multiple Chinese firecrackers exploded abruptly, startling many of the on-lookers. This was for auspiciousness!

2024.02.11 Ritual Offering to the Tsurphu Protector Sangharāma
Wood Dragon Year Begins

Wood Dragon Year Begins

Tergar Shrine Hall and Monlam Pavillion
10 February 2024

At 8am on Losar morning, monks, nuns and laypeople all gathered together in Tergar’s Shrine Hall to bring in the Wood Dragon Year. The celebration began with some general prayers and rousing bodhicitta. Dechen Drupon Rinpoche acted as vajra master for the performance of a long-life offering to the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

The ritual used was The Three Roots Combined, in the form of Amitayus, a practice which originated as a terma of the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. It was also used by the 8th Karmapa Mikyӧ Dorje whose yidam was Amitayus. These days, it is still the ritual traditionally used for making long-life offerings in the Karma Kamtsang.

After reciting the practice, usually the Lama is invited, but as the Gyalwang Karmapa was unable to be there, his brocade ceremonial cape was brought down from his quarters on the roof of Tergar and placed on the throne to symbolise his presence. Drupon Dechen Rinpoche first offered the mandala to Karmapa’s throne, followed by the eight auspicious substances, the seven articles of kingship, and the eight auspicious symbols.

At the conclusion of the ritual another mandala offering was made.

Following the ritual, sweet tea, Tibetan butter tea and sweet rice were served to all present in celebration. Then, everyone was given the opportunity to go up on the stage and offer katas to Karmapa’s throne. It was also possible to offer a kata to Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche’s throne and to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s throne. As people exited the stage, all were given a blessing cord.

Everyone received a copious amount of kabsey—Tibetan fried biscuits which are a Losar treat—combined with fruit, sweets, and other edibles to take home.  As the congregation exited, Losar Tashi Deleks resounded across the shrine hall.

The morning ended with a festive lunch, sponsored by Tsurphu Labrang, which was served to VIP guests, khenpos, nuns, monks, staff and many lay people over in the Monlam Pavillion, which had been specially decorated with potted plants and flowers for the occasion.

This year’s Losar celebration is more subdued, in accordance with the Tibetan custom when there has been a death in the family. In this case, it was the passing of a great lama of the Karma Kamtsang, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, who was appointed as tutor to the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. For many years, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche served the teachings, benefitting many beings worldwide, and his contribution was commemorated during the recent Kagyu Monlam Chenmo

2024.02.10 Wood Dragon Year Begins
Ritual Preparations for Losar

Ritual Preparations for Losar

Tergar Shrine Hall
6 – 9 February 2024

Debating and classes were suspended during the four days preceding Tibetan New Year. From 6th – 9th February all those attending the Arya Kshema, the khenpos along with the nuns and other faculty members, engaged in the Mahakala Puja.  Drupon Dechen Rinpoche presided.

On 6th February there was the short Mahakala Puja (Tselma) in the afternoon.

Then, from 7th – 9th February, the nuns offered the Extensive Mahakala Puja. From 6.30am to 11.30am and 1.30pm to 6.00pm, they sat in their dharma robes, row by row, in the Tergar Shrine Hall, their puja texts resting on special wooden stands. The puja culminated on the morning of 9th February with the Ritual for Receiving Siddhis, which began at 3.30am and included a Sang puja, the purifying smoke offering.

Fresh marigold garlands hung from the thangkas in the shrine hall and the main altar of special offerings to two-armed Mahakala Bernakchen stood to the left of the stage. An additional altar stood on the right. Nuns holding the great, green hand-drums lined the central aisle; the umdzes, who also play the cymbals, sat on the right. The ritual is impressive and other-worldly: the nuns’ chanting combines with the steady beating of the hand-held drums, the rumble of the two great drums, punctuated by blasts from the gyalins and rachens [medium long horns] and the wailing of kanglins [thigh-bone trumpets].

Mahakala Bernakchen is the special protector of the Karma Kamtsang and these rituals are performed just before Losar in order that the protectors purify negativities accumulated during the year and clear away any obstacles to the Buddhadharma and the welfare of all living beings in the year ahead.

2024.02.06-09 Ritual Preparations for Losar
The Significance of Samaya

The Significance of Samaya

Spring Teaching 2024 • Fifty Verses on the Guru • Day 2 •
5 February 2024

Gyalwang Karmapa began with some encouraging words for the nuns. He reminded everyone that he had started the Arya Kshema as a place where all the nunneries could come together to study and discuss the Dharma. Listening to the teachings and thinking about them were the crucial foundation for Dharma practice.

Heroes first scrutinize the connection
Between the master and the student,
Because the guru and student would have
The same violation of samaya.

He then continued his discussion of the Sanskrit texts, the manuscripts’ origins, and the five points of the 50 verses, all drawn from original research.

As I mentioned the other day in the first teaching, there are two Sanskrit manuscripts of the Fifty Verses on the Guru, as well as a Chinese translation, and the Tibetan translation. These are the three main sources. Today I would like to say a bit about the Sanskrit manuscripts we have.

There are two different Sanskrit manuscripts that are excellent. The first was found by the French scholar Sylvain Lévi who discovered it amongst some writings said to be by Aśvaghoṣa. In 1929, he edited and published it. However, it is incomplete, missing from the last line of verse 33 to the end, and the author is not mentioned as there is no colophon. Later, several scholars, notably Rinchen Tsangpo, from the Central Institute of Tibetan Studies in Varanasi, edited it, translated the missing passages from Tibetan into Sanskrit, and published a complete edition of the Fifty Verses in Sanskrit.

His Holiness Karmapa continued with the second Sanskrit manuscript found by the Hungarian scholar Péter Dániel Szántós in a library in Hamburg and published in 2013. Rather than editing the original, Szantos transcribed it exactly as it was in the Roman alphabet and published it together with a facsimile of the original Sanskrit manuscript. It was incomplete, missing the fourth folio, but it had a colophon identifying the author as Vāpilladatta.

This name is similar to the Tibetan Bhabilha. There is no consensus as to who wrote it however. Some say Ashvagosa, some say Vapila, some say that Ashvagosa and Vapila are the same person, some say they are different people.

There are some differences between the two Sanskrit manuscripts so it is difficult to establish their relationship. Are they the same text or not? In fact, none of the manuscripts exactly tally with the Rinchen Sangpo translation, which seems closer on first glance to the Hungarian manuscript. In addition, some of the words in the root text used in the commentaries by Je Tsongkhapa, the 7th Karmapa and Tsarchen Losal Gyatso are not found in Lévi’s manuscript,

Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s Elucidation of the Fifty Verses on the Guru explains the Fifty Verses according to five general points: 1. the individual who wrote the text, 2. what tantras he based it on, 3. the reason he wrote it, 4. the time it should be taught, and 5. teaching the actual topic of the text. “Today I would like to speak about which tantras it is based on.”

The tantras listed below are what Drakpa Gyaltsen based his analysis on and are the most important sources for the Fifty Verses on the Guru The Net of Illusion of Vairochana; Vajroshnisha; the Tantra of Yamantaka, the Black Enemy; Shri Parama; Guhyasamaja of the Unexcelled Yoga; and the Vajra Dome.

What was the author’s intention? There are several different explanations.

According to Drokmi Lotsawa, the root of all siddhi is the guru. Therefore, it was written to prevent disdain or any disrespect for the guru, to know the correct protocols of respect, and how to please him.

Another, Master Anangavajra asserts this reason: that students would have all the background they needed to practice and become receptive to the dharma. To become truly authentic required assembling many different qualities and abilities, and the text was written so that students would be able to recognize which they had and which they lacked.

The great Marpa Lotsawa claimed to have a tradition passed down from Naropa, which said that the Fifty Verses was written to examine the connection between the master and student. We need to know clearly the qualities of the authentic guru and student, particularly when tantric practices are involved,. To paraphrase the Karmapa: If the master is a charlatan and a student is an inappropriate vessel, the samaya is endangered.

The Karmapa gave the example of an Indian master, Anangavajra, the lowest of the castes, an untouchable, who did not even know how to read, yet was able to practice the Vajrayana, in particular the oral tradition of mahamudra..After Master Padmavajra taught him the instructions, he went to meditate at Kotampi Mountain, and  achieved the wisdom of mahamudra. Having achieved this realization, he asked the master what activity he should engage in. The master told him, “Take a female swineherd as your consort and work as a swineherd. Eventually you will become Vajrasattva.”

He did what he was told, lived with the woman and worked as a swineherd in a town in the northern parts of Uḍḍiyana until he achieved realization. He came to be known as Glorious Master Pigsty. He is included in the lineages of the seven transmissions of the Jonang, as well as in the lineage of four yogas of Naropa [Mahamudra, Tummo, Luminosity and Karmamudra], and the six great transmissions in the Golden Rosary of the Kamtsang Kagyu.

The Time It Should Be Taught

Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s Elucidation quotes two different times according to Drokmi Lotsawa:

One is on the evening before the preparation. At that time the student should go for refuge and arouse bodhichitta. The morning after the preparations, the student should be taught the 50 Verses.

A student with pure intentions
Should go for refuge to the three jewels
And following the guru,
Should be given recitation.

According to Naropa and Gungthangpa, the 50 Verses should be taught at the very beginning of making a connection between master and student.

When receiving empowerments and instructions from the master, the student should be asked, “You have already taken vows of personal liberation and of the bodhisattva, and do you agree to take more vows?” If they reply that they are willing to take more vows, then teach the Fifty Verses on the Guru and examine the mutual connection. If they have not yet taken vows but agree to take them, then give them refuge and bodhichitta and teach this. This is the mutual examination.

The guru should teach the text before actually creating the master-disciple connection.

།How the Fifty Verses on the Guru was Taught in the Karma Kagyu

In the Kamtsang, the first shedras for study of the sutras were founded during the time of the 7th Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. The 8th, 9th, and 10th Karmapas established the growth of both sutra and tantra shedras, so that many scholars became learned in the scriptures of both.

Among the constitutions written by the 9th Karmapa for monasteries and especially tantric colleges that are still extant, it is clear that before a connection of master and disciple is made, one should study the Fifty Verses on the Guru and then receive empowerment from a qualified guru. One must know and understand how to keep samayas and vows as explained in The Ocean of Samaya and other texts. The Karmapa followed up with an example from the rulebook for the tantric college at Topgyal Tashi Trikor by the 9th Karmapa:

First study Fifty Verses on the Guru and gain certainty in the meaning. Take an empowerment properly from a qualified guru who holds the transmission of profound secret mantra, and then study samaya and vows in The Ocean of Samaya and learn them. Keep them as directed, treasuring them more than your own life.

The Ocean of Samaya

The Ocean of Samaya by the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje is a compilation of all the samayas taught in the four classes of tantra, both ancient and new translations. There is a root text in verse and an auto-commentary entitled The Stainless Essence. The 7th Karmapa wrote an annotated commentary on it. Mahapandita Shakya Chokden’s explanation of the three types of vows speaks on it at length. From the passage on the vinaya of the awareness holders:

There are two traditions of explaining the root downfalls, the one known from Manjushrikirti’s Great Commentary and a contrasting explanation, The Explanation That Eliminates Confusion. Glorious Rangjung Dorje’s treatises, The Ocean of Samaya, explains it in comparison with The Great Commentary.

His explanation of the root downfalls of the unexcelled tantra accords with The Ocean of Samaya. Regarding how much The Ocean of Samaya accords with Manjushrikirti’s Great Commentary, the 7th Karmapa wrote:

In the auto-commentary, he quotes heavily from Master Manjushrikirti’s Great Commentary, and if you do not examine it carefully, they seem to have the same thought. But when scrutinized in depth, other than a few good points, there are many differences.

The Ocean of Samaya appears to have been studied widely in the past but it is no longer well-known, so the Karmapa was considering teaching this text, as a follow-on from the 50 Verses.

The Fifth General Topic: Teaching the Actual Text

The Karmapa said he was following the outline from the commentary by Karmai Khenchen Rinchen Dargye

The text could be divided into three parts:

I. The Introduction

II. The Meaning of the Text

II. The Concluding Text.

The first section has three parts:

A. The meaning of the title

B. The Homage

C. The pledge to compose

The name in Sanskrit Gurupañcāśikā is given first. The Kadampa forefathers gave three reasons for this1. to know it and be grateful to the people from the past, 2. to quote the venerable source, and learn the language.

1.The purpose of knowing and being grateful for what they have done

The first should be understood as maintaining long ties with people who helped you in the past. Geshe Sharawa said that even if someone harmed you and that was the circumstance that brought you to the dharma, you must be grateful to them.

The story of Milarepa who first wished to kill his relatives for stealing his birth-right, is a case in point. In the end, his fear of going to the hells brought him to meet his guru and to practice until he reached enlightenment.

Among all benefits, the greatest is the dharma. In the past, there was no dharma in Tibet, so it was said it was as if Tibet was in pitch darkness. People did not know virtue from misdeeds or how to make ethical choices of karmic cause and effect. The ornament of dharma spread in Tibet due to the kindness of the three dharma kings and people could enjoy happiness equal to the gods. Where did the dharma come from? It came from India, so we must be grateful to India.

It was this sense of indebtedness to India which ed the Tibetans to treat Indians with great respect. During the time of the Kadampa forefathers, when monasteries accorded with the dharma and there were fine gurus and spiritual friends, they would give Indians a welcome different to anyone else.

To emphasize this point, His Holiness added that even beggars who came from India to Tibet were called by the name Master or Acharya—pronounced ‘atsarya’ by the Tibetans—and seated at the heads of rows. It was said to be a sign that the teachings had not diminished.

Later, because people lacked this understanding, and because many of the Indians who came to Tibet were beggars, the word deteriorated into meaning a beggar or a clown, and they became a feature in cham dances.

The Karmapa shared his childhood memories of watching cham and seeing these strange-looking pantomime figures who brought comic relief to the dancing,

“When I was young, in my homeland, before I was seven,,,we'd go to see the ‘atsaras’ with their long noses. They were a little frightening and funny. Everyone would say, ‘The atsara is coming,’ and the crowd would surge forward to watch.”

2. The purpose of the venerable source

When we say “In Sanskrit,” we know that this dharma originated in or was translated from India. The origin of dharma is India, and it was translated directly from Sanskrit, so we can understand the venerability of the source and its reliability. When the terminology for translating from Sanskrit had been revised, the editors added “In Sanskrit” to the beginning and a colophon listing the editor and master at the end. In general, not only was the source of the dharma venerable, but also the gurus from whom one takes views, the masters who taught the sciences, and one’s companions Even the house where you live should have a good, reliable source. It must be appropriate for the way you lead your life. You can’t just live anywhere at all.

The Karmapa cited the example of ‘fake rice’ in Tibet. It looked like rice but it was actually made from plastic. It didn’t come from a reliable source!

3.The purpose of learning the language
The purpose is to make imprints of the Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit title Gurupañcāśikā can be broken down into ‘guru’ meaning ‘lama’ and ‘pañcāśikā’ meaning ‘fifty’. In this way you learn to associate Sanskrit words with their meaning.  As it says in the Prajnaparamita, “Transcendent prajna is taught with these very words, these very letters, these very phrases.” As the Mahayana dharma was taught in Sanskrit, it is important.

However, you might wonder doesn’t it say in the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct:

May I teach Dharma in every single language—
The language of the gods, the tongue of nagas,
The tongues of yakshas, kumbandhas and humans,
And all the languages that beings speak.

This is true but it refers to teaching dharma to ordinary people in general. If you really want to research deeply into Buddhism, you need to know four languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese and Tibetan, which covers most of the Buddhist dharma that is extant. The mother language is Sanskrit. The southern traditions primarily use Pali, and the northern traditions, Chinese, or Korean.

The Kadampa masters emphasized making imprints of Sanskrit as part of the learning process. However, they were referring to the written text which was difficult for Tibetans to learn, not the vernacular. “Even Indians had to study and learn Sanskrit”, the Karmapa emphasized.

The Title
As a final addendum the Karmapa noted there were many different ways in which texts were given a name. It could be according to topic, or in terms of time and place, sometimes by the name of the person who requested the teachings, sometimes by the name of the author, as a metaphor, describing its function, or, as in this case, by denoting length either in number of points or number of verses or number of pages.

The Chinese title is the clearest and means “Fifty Ways to Serve the Guru”. Similarly other masters, like Je Tsongkhapa agreed, “It teaches the way to serve the guru in fifty verses”.

The Karmapa explained, even though the Tibetan only says ‘guru’ in the title, it is
really a teaching in fifty verses on the way to follow and serve the guru, so its Tibetan
title also describes both length and topic.

A Day of Chӧd Practice

A Day of Chӧd Practice

Tergar Monastery Shine Hall
5 February 2024

This day of Chöd practice has become one of the central rituals of the Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Gathering.
Chöd literally means " to cut" and the practice aims to cut through the practitioner’s attachment and ignorance, especially attachment to the body, ego-clinging and the dualistic idea of a self, and by doing this, lead to a realisation of emptiness. This practice lineage originated with Machig Labdrӧn, and of the eight practice lineages which reached Tibet from India, it is the only one founded by a woman. It is seen as a practice especially suitable for female practitioners and many have become skilful adepts.

The Karmapas have traditionally had a strong connection with the Chӧd practice, and the text used at the Arya Kshema is called Chöd: A String of Jewels, which was composed by Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.

The ritual started at daybreak and lasted all day.  Drupon Dechen Rinpoche acted as vajra master for the ritual.

The nuns in their yellow dharma robes sat in rows in the shrine hall, turning the special green Chöd drums in their right hands and ringing their bells with the left, providing a strange rhythm as background to the ritual. This had an extraordinary effect, both visual and sound-wise. The Chöd ritual also contains some complicated, haunting melodies, expertly led by the nun chant masters. Then, at points, the eerie wail of thigh bone-trumpets penetrated through the hall, conjuring up visions of charnel grounds, the traditional setting for Chӧd practice.


2024.02.05 A Day of Chӧd Practice