The words of the Buddha Tathagatas are never false. There are no other vehicles, only the single Buddha vehicle.
—The Lotus Sutra
Preface: All Buddhist Traditions as One
1. An Interview with Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche
2. An Interview with A-sang Tulku Rinpoche of Yarchen Gar
3. An Interview with H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche
4. The Direct Path to Enlightenment—An Interview with Venerable Master Delin of Gaomin Temple
5. Remarks on the Shikoku Pilgrimages and Their Significance to the Return of Tangmi—An Interview with Acharya Zhiguang by China Tencent Network
6. An Interview with Acharya Zhiguang by Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine
7. Being Happy and Carefree: The Transforming Power of Chan
—An Interview with Acharya Zhiguang by Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore
8. A Dialogue on the Revival of Tangmi (Part One)
—The Great Significance of Tangmi’s Revival to Modern Society
9. A Dialogue on the Revival of Tangmi (Part Two)—How to Keep up with the Times and Spread Tangmi in Modern Society?
10. Meditation and Art—A Dialogue between Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno and Acharya Zhiguang
11. The Rimé Philosophy Originating from the Buddha—A Dialogue between Namkha Rinpoche and Acharya Zhiguang
12. A Dialogue between Master Olivier Reigen Wang-Genh, President of the Buddhist Union of France, and Acharya Zhiguang
13. When Buddhism Encounters Cultural Diversity—A Dialogue between Prof. Chen Yangguosheng and Acharya Zhiguang
In the Buddha worlds of the ten directions, there is only the Dharma of the single vehicle. Apart from the skillful means of the Buddhas, there is neither a second nor a third vehicle.
—The Lotus Sutra
All Buddhist Traditions as One
Every disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha hopes that Buddhism can thrive and the Dharma can be widely propagated, but in the present era, Buddhism has declined significantly from its peaks in the Age of True Dharma and the Age of Semblance Dharma. This is something that all Buddhists are unwilling to witness.
So, why isn’t Buddhism flourishing? Personally, I think one of the main reasons is that different Buddhist traditions do not know each other well and problems in communication have led to prejudice and misunderstanding. Under such circumstances, if Buddhist practitioners do not have an impartial attitude and a thorough understanding of the Dharma, they will make the prejudice and misunderstanding even worse. It is often seen that some practitioners of one Buddhist tradition make false comments on other traditions simply because they know little about them. Not only have they committed the sins of slandering the Truth and rejecting the Dharma, they also have hurt the feelings of the practitioners of other traditions and exerted a negative impact on the solidarity of different Buddhist traditions. Harmony among people is based on good communication and mutual understanding. Without them, it will be impossible to learn what’s special and sublime about other traditions; hence negative comments on them will most likely be made. However, is there any truth to these comments? It’s really hard to say.
Moreover, not only should different Buddhist traditions know each other better, different religions in the world should also communicate with each other well to avoid conflicts. Nowadays, there are still many places in the world that are afflicted by disharmony or wars. I think it is due to poor communication after all. Just like the Afghan war initiated by the 9/11 terrorist attack has failed to generate much positive outcome and terrorists are still active around the world, this kind of problems cannot be solved by violence or by handing out some kind of favors. Faith-related issues are very difficult to deal with. Even if you give people a lot of money, they might not necessarily appreciate it but might still hate you. Such problems can only be solved through communication. Above all, we should at least try to understand other people’s ideas if we want to find solutions. As people’s actions are determined by their thoughts, if they do not change their thoughts, it’s impossible for them to change their actions. Therefore, communication is essential between countries, between people, between religions, and between different Buddhist traditions. Only by communicating with and learning from each other, can we achieve mutual understanding and live peacefully with each other.
In Chinese Buddhism, every Buddhist disciple will make a vow to “learn the infinite Buddhist teachings” when they take refuge in the Three Jewels. What should they do after making this great vow? They should study and learn all the teachings imparted by the Buddha. There is an ancient saying that goes, “As for the most meaningful words there are in the world, the Buddha has said them all.” That means the Buddha would never impart teachings that are meaningless, nor would He ever say anything that could cause harm to others. All the teachings the Buddha imparted are truly valuable. The Buddha wouldn’t have given these teachings if they were not good. Every Buddhist tradition has its own special merits, so we must respect all of them and have a proper understanding about them. Living beings are of different capacities, and different teachings are absolutely needed to save them. Therefore, Buddhism can only thrive when we respectfully learn about or study every Buddhist tradition. We can make a vow to promote a certain tradition, such as the Pure Land sect, Chan, the Tiantai sect, the Ningma tradition, or the Kagyu tradition and so forth, because we have confidence in their teachings and there are living beings who have appropriate capacities to receive such teachings. There’s nothing wrong about that. But in the meantime, we must respect other traditions because all teachings of the Buddha are meritorious. Therefore, communication and mutual understanding are exceptionally important.
All Buddhist traditions are one actually, because we are all disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Many people ask me, “What tradition are you studying exactly?” My answer is that I am studying the “Buddha tradition”, and that I belong to whatever tradition Shakyamuni Buddha belongs to. Many practitioners of the Pure Land school say to me that I am making my Dharma practice too complicated by studying so many teachings of various traditions. However, we must know that many eminent monks and masters in history were also engaged in very diversified and complicated Dharma practices. For example, Chan Master Yongming Yanshou, a patriarch of both the Pure Land sect and the Fayan school of Chan, performed one hundred and eight kinds of Dharma practices every day, thirty of which were Tantric practices. Can we say he had practiced in the wrong way? Another example is Master Ouyi, the ninth patriarch of the Pure Land sect, later considered also as the founder of the Lingfeng school of the Tiantai sect. He called himself an “informal” but faithful disciple of the Tiantai sect who held this tradition in high esteem. When he was about to explain the Sutra of Brahma’s Net, in order to decide what kind of view he should employ to explain it, he actually had to draw lots in front of the statue of the Buddha. Although the result showed that he should use the view of the Tiantai sect, we must be aware that Master Ouyi had also studied and learned various teachings of many different traditions, such as Chan, the Tiantai sect, the Vinaya school, the Faxiang (Dharma-character) school, Faxing (Dharma-nature) school and so forth, and that he directed all his Dharma practices to gaining rebirth in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. During his life, he chanted many different mantras, and a great number of them were chanted hundreds of thousands of times. Once he even did a one-hundred-day retreat and chanted the Ksitigarbha Mantra of Eliminating Fixed Karma five million times. Such records can be found in his chronicles. It should be noted that the Pure Land sect does not have a direct inheritance system of patriarchs, unlike the “master-to-disciple-transmission” model adopted by other Buddhist sects. Many of the Pure Land patriarchs were actually awarded the title only after they passed away, in recognition of their great contribution to the Pure Land sect. However, in many cases they were already recognized patriarchs of other Buddhist traditions when they were alive. There are many such examples.
Therefore, it is very important that Buddhist disciples should not have any sectarian bias. It causes lots of divisions that will result in the decline of the Dharma. It is out of the question to compare various Buddhist traditions for superiority. Each and every one of them is the best. The Tiantai sect is of course the best, the Pure Land sect is also the best, and so is the Huayan school. Why? Because the capacities of sentient beings are different. Cold medicine and ginseng, which one is better? You cannot say ginseng is better simply because it is a kind of tonic and more expensive. People who catch a cold may get worse if they eat ginseng, instead, they will get better and be cured by taking cold medicine. So, can we really say one of them is better than the other? We cannot, because it actually depends on what kind of illness people have. In the 19th century, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo Rinpoche of the Sakya school, Jamgön Kongtrül Rinpoche of the Kagyu school, as well as Orgyen Chokgyur Lingpa of the Nyingma school, jointly launched the “Rimé Movement”, also known as the “Non-sectarian Movement”. Since then, Tibetan Buddhism has taken on a new look, and many endangered lineages have been revitalized. I think this is very good. The Rimé approach promotes the harmony and solidarity among various Buddhist traditions, and facilitates the development of Buddhism.
In the present era, we should inherit and carry on all traditions of Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism, so that we can have a comprehensive understanding of the Dharma, and can avoid prejudice or sectarianism. If there were only one tradition, we would inevitably look at things only from our own standpoint and miss the big picture. Nowadays, the world is getting smaller and smaller, and communication is becoming more and more convenient. The Theravada Tripitaka has already been translated into Chinese; in the future, maybe the Tibetan Tripitaka will also be translated into Chinese, and the Chinese Tripitaka into other languages, and then Buddhism will really flourish.
On a larger scale, the same logic is also applicable to the relationships between people, organizations, religions and countries. Without communication, serious problems will certainly arise in this world. Why are there so many conflicts in the Saha World? It is simply because you don’t know what’s in my mind, nor do I know what’s in yours, so speculations, prejudices and misunderstandings arise and cause many conflicts. In the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, everyone has the supernatural ability to read the minds of others; hence there are naturally no such problems and no conflicts. But what shall we do without this ability? That leaves us no choice but to communicate with sincerity and frankness, and to discuss the issues in an open manner. Things will turn out well this way.
The flourishing of Buddhism as a whole largely depends on the communication and mutual understanding between various Buddhist traditions. That is very important. I personally have also vowed to contribute to the development of Buddhism as a whole by promoting such communication and mutual understanding. In the meantime, I also hope that all of us can make some efforts in this regard. Not only in Buddhist endeavors, but also in the more general social activities, I hope we can all communicate with each other, understand each other, and live in harmony with each other. We should never talk to sow discord but should always put harmony first. Wherever we are, I hope we can always bring peace to the people there, enhance communication and mutual understanding, and eliminate misunderstanding and prejudices. It would be great if we can all do that.
Of course, some people may be very stubborn. They may have a lot of attachments and are unwilling to communicate. For such people, we must treat them with wisdom on one hand, and be tolerant towards them on the other hand. I believe that tolerance and compassion can change literally anyone. Let’s look at what happened between Shakyamuni Buddha and Devadatta. Devadatta kept on harming the Buddha, but the Buddha always responded with tolerance. Who won in the end? Therefore, our compassion may not be able to change anything for the time being, but eventually we will be able to transform other people. It is only a matter of time. That is beyond all question.
Narrated by Acharya Zhiguang in April 2002
The Sutra and Tantra teachings are perfectly integrated. The foolish cherish their own lineages and discriminate against others. All Dharmas are of one nature, and should be widely spread without bias.
—H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche
An Interview with Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche
Date: August 23, 2014
Location: Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, Sertar County, Garze Prefecture, China
Interview participants: Khenpo Sodargye and an Ekayana Magazine reporter
Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche
About Khenpo Sodargye
Khenpo Sodargye is a world-renowned great master of Tibetan Buddhism. With profound knowledge and practices of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, he has been committed to systematically guiding practitioners over the past three decades. Moreover, he has also spent his free time translating scriptures between Tibetan and Chinese and taking part in charitable activities. In order to enlighten more people of the essence of the Dharma, he has been trying to explain to them the truth of life in modern ways.
In 2013, he was selected as “The Religious Face of the Year” by People because “although born as a humble son of a herdsman in Western Sichuan Province and educated only in a secondary vocational school, he has established himself as a reliable character that has nurtured the spiritual lives of his disciples in today’s world with an emerging yet disorderly market of religions.” In May 2014, he appeared in the cover story of Southern People Weekly, and that issue sold out quickly.
Interview with Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche
Transcript of the interview
Ekayana Magazine: Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. We are finally here at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, a sacred place that we have been longing to visit. Many masters here are our lineage teachers, including H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, H. H. Dakini Muntso, and many Khenpos and tulkus. We all have strong faith in the Academy. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, his virtues, his accomplishments, and how he founded the Academy, so that the younger generation of practitioners can generate more faith and practice better?
Khenpo Sodargye: As predicted in the prophetic teachings, a successor to Guru Padmasambhava, H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche was an eminent master who came to save the world in the Degenerate Age. We are not saying this because we are his disciples but from an objective and unbiased standpoint. Universally recognized is his immeasurable contribution to the revitalization of Buddhism, including the spreading of the Buddha’s theoretical teachings and experiential practices.
When His Holiness first founded the Academy, he had only a small team of 32 people. Three decades later, it has become recognized as the largest Buddhist academy in the world. Such development would have been impossible without his immense power for spreading the Dharma. Leaving aside the spiritual practices and enlightenment he had achieved in his previous lives, his accomplishments in this life alone would hardly be rivalled, including founding the Academy on such a scale, preaching, cultivating his disciples, spreading of the Dharma, and benefiting beings. Among the many eminent spiritual leaders in the 20th and 21st centuries, I think he is very special. Just think about his power to bless others, his spontaneous capacity to attract and benefit disciples effortlessly, his vital contribution to saving the tumbling Tibetan Buddhism from the brink of extinction during the catastrophic Cultural Revolution, and you will easily see the dependent origination and significance of his life.
We have witnessed the development of the Buddhist Academy even after his nirvana. The number of Buddhist monks and nuns in the Tibetan region of China has been decreasing. However, there is no decrease evident in the Academy. Although we might hope to have fewer people for the sake of management, we have found it hard to downsize because we can’t stop them from being drawn to the Academy. That is because of the invisible empowerment by His Holiness. In addition, we must also recognize the power of his aspirations and the causal conditions in which he was spreading the Dharma.
Ekayana Magazine: As you just mentioned, Buddhism was nearly devastated during the Cultural Revolution. H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche upheld the Dharma during those challenging times, later referred to as the “Renewed Propagation Period”, which can be paralleled with the “Prior Propagation Period” of Guru Padmasambhava and the “Post Propagation Period” of Master Atisha. Although His Holiness has passed into nirvana, the Academy still enjoys strong momentum in spreading the Dharma and benefiting sentient beings as you just mentioned. What do you think are the reasons that His Holiness was able to achieve such grand success?
Khenpo Sodargye: Had it not been H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and his committed efforts, indeed Buddhism in Tibet would have been gravely endangered. At that time, many eminent masters either passed into nirvana or left Tibet. As a result, the younger generation in Tibet had little chance to learn even the basics of the Dharma and had no idea about Buddhism. At such a critical juncture, His Holiness bravely put on his armor of boldness and re-established the banner of Buddha Dharma. It is difficult to imagine what he had been through in order to fulfill that mission. At present, people in the secular world are very distracted and anxious. There must have been extraordinary aspiration that enabled him to bless the world with the sublime nectar of authentic Dharma.
As early as one or two centuries ago and again seven to eight decades ago, many eminent masters predicted that H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche would be a reincarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. These predictions were explicitly documented. Since I am a person with quite differentiated thoughts and I have learned logic and hetuvidya (Buddhist logic or logical reasoning), thus I do not believe predictions easily. However, after thinking independently, I have developed strong faith in those predictions. For example, over two hundred years ago, Bodhi Vajra predicted that H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche would be a reincarnation of Padmasambhava, that many disciples of the four assemblies would gather in the Larung valley, that both sutra and tantra teachings would spread across the world, and that every being with a connection to him would gain rebirth in the Pure Land, so on and so forth. All those predictions have turned out to be true. So I think His Holiness must either be Guru Rinpoche’s reincarnation or a virtuous teacher with his special empowerment. Only in such cases would he have such mighty power. In the secular world, when a hero or celebrity passes away, so does his or her cause usually, no matter how great it was. However, in the case of His Holiness, his cause kept expanding even after he passed into nirvana. There is a special empowering force behind this. It is also a manifestation of the effortless and spontaneously-accomplished power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to attract and benefit sentient beings.
Ekayana Magazine: There are many traditions in Buddhism, and some defame or even slander one another. In light of this, H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche said in his Remarks of the Time on the Power of Attracting and Benefiting Sentient Beings: “Be very careful not to get biased with your own tradition; otherwise, you will create the grave karma of rejecting the Dharma and it will destroy both yourself and others that are involved; perform the Yidam practice you have a causal connection with, yet hold a pure perception to teachings from other traditions. These are my heart-felt advice.” Could you please elaborate on the message conveyed in that verse? What is your opinion on how different Buddhist traditions should get along with each other?
Khenpo Sodargye: He was trying to teach us that, while establishing our own traditions, we may create devastating karma if we slander other traditions. Each and every tradition exists for its own historical reasons, causes, and conditions. No matter which tradition you choose, it is just fine to engage in the Yidam practice that’s causally connected with you. For example, in the Tibetan tradition, there are different lineages such as the Gelug school, the Sakya school, the Nyingma school, the Kargyu school, and such, each with apparently different methodologies in its Yidam practice. As long as your Yidam has a special connection with you, it is just fine for you to do that practice. There is no need to change. If you have chosen a certain tradition of practicing, then do it well; but in the meanwhile, do not discriminate against other schools or traditions.
As a matter of fact, when we choose a school, it simply means that we have a connection with it. If my guru is from the Gelug school, I shall learn the teachings of the Gelug school. But if my guru is from the Pure Land school in the Han region, then I shall learn the teachings of the Pure Land school. In the meanwhile, we should be really careful. Do not consider your own school the most authentic one while despising or even detesting others. That would be very inappropriate. His Holiness meant that we must also see other traditions with a pure mind.
Not only that, we must also try to learn from others with an inclusive mind. Once your understanding and practice with your own school become quite solid, you might as well try to study teachings from other traditions and other religions or even non-religious knowledge. That will help you greatly in upholding your own school. It is very important for people with different views to seek common ground while reserving differences, to understand and learn from each other. His Holiness is trying to remind us not to engage in endless arguing between different views. His teachings have put an end to some conflicts between monks and between different traditions along with some unpleasant things happening at that time.
In our Academy, we do not merely advocate with words for a pure mind in seeing other traditions, but we also earnestly put it into practice. If you want to study or practice teachings of other schools or traditions, we will give you plenty of freedom and opportunities. The more inclusive we become, the more friends we will have. On the contrary, a narrow-minded person who rejects and disapproves whatever or whoever is different will eventually become cornered himself. That is a law of nature.
I did not think much about that teaching in my earlier years. Later, I became more and more assured that even a teaching as short as one sentence from His Holiness is an invaluable asset to mankind, especially in today’s world. If I consider myself as someone from the Tibetan tradition and then reject and disapprove the Han Chinese tradition or the Theravada tradition, then I will have less and less space to develop my tradition as well. It is impossible for the Dharma to spread unless different traditions of Buddhism unite or coexist in harmony.
Of course, being inclusive does not mean that we should give up the principal thoughts of our own school. It would not be wise to follow one tradition today and another tradition tomorrow. We should carefully seek the balance between being inclusive and holding on to one’s own principles.
Ekayana Magazine: The Academy holds four major events every year: the Vidyadhara Dharma Assembly, Vajrasattva Dharma Assembly, Samantabhadra Dharma Assembly, and Sukhavati Dharma Assembly. Our centre also organizes Buddhist followers to actively participate in these group-practicing events. Can you tell us what we should pay attention to when doing the group practice?
Khenpo Sodargye: Now we are in the age of the Internet, and people can communicate without barriers. People in different corners of the world can communicate by convenient means if they wish. Therefore, almost all the ceremonies of the Academy are available live on the Internet, providing a convenient way for everyone to participate.
We rejoice at all the virtuous deeds, such as attending Dharma assemblies, releasing lives and offering lights. However, it should be noted that we are against any act of raising money or soliciting alms through our platform.
Even if you are doing some good deeds in your hometown, you’d better keep clear accounts of all the money used. The Academy upholds the principle of promoting the Buddhist group practice without any financial involvement whatsoever—a fact that we have emphasized repeatedly. Otherwise, the Academy, with such a large scale and so many volunteers, has found among them very good people who are doing virtuous deeds with sincere hearts as well as some people who have come with hidden agendas as has been noted before. Therefore, we should always keep a clear mind and should have a pure heart in doing good deeds wherever we are. Senior Buddhists understand that point, but some newcomers do not. I hope that everyone can adhere to this principle and tradition, which is very important.
Ekayana Magazine: Nowadays, when laypeople learn the Dharma, many often have difficulty in dealing with their work and life, including their family relationships. I am sure you’ve heard much about it. How should lay practitioners deal with the relationship between Dharma practice and their life and work?
Khenpo Sodargye: Some people did not have faith before. When they encounter the Dharma, they get excited and often make decisions on impulse. Such decisions are not necessarily wise. So, when you are just beginning to learn or practice the Dharma, you should not be too impulsive. Learning the Dharma is a long-term matter that can even take many lifetimes.
As a lay Buddhist, you may encounter enormous obstacles if you fail to get along with your employer, family, and friends. Because they are an important part of your life, you won’t have freedom if you don’t handle them well, which will undoubtedly affect your learning of the Dharma.
Before learning the Dharma, some people have strong attachments to their children, spouses, and parents, and everything is centred around them. But after becoming a Buddhist, they leave their loved ones behind. Going to extremes is not good. You should do everything possible to balance the relationships with your family. Because you are likely to change your mind, you may end up with nothing if your faith in Buddhism becomes weak in two or three years and you have ruined the relationships with your family. So, you need to be mentally prepared before practicing Buddhism. You must not upset your family. Otherwise, you may become homeless when you are not so interested in the Dharma anymore.
A truly successful practitioner will handle everything well, including his relationships, life, and career. On top of that, he also manages to set aside some time to learn the Dharma. After studying the Dharma, you may feel that your previous way of life has been quite boring. That’s when you need to patiently endure and adopt expedient means. You should at least not annoy your family or compromise your work. Only in this way will your own practice not be undermined.
In fact, you know the person closest to you best. Use your wits, and you will know what words you should use to convince him. You must be considerate of his weakest spot. Otherwise, if you ignore him, neglect to call him, or even yell at him and often argue with him, then he will cause hindrances to you. If you practice patient endurance, always care about him, and aim to be considerate, then he will create more favorable circumstances. You don’t always have to play tough because being too tough will instead make you weak.
Ekayana Magazine: In the modern society, we have made great progress in terms of material wealth, and the Internet is also highly developed. However, modern people are full of discriminating thoughts and have doubts about the Dharma. We also note that you have delivered speeches in several universities in recent years and have been invited to colleges and universities in Europe and the US particularly to teach the Dharma to intellectuals. You are also trying to spread Buddhism by organizing and participating in forums and seminars, publishing best-selling books, running schools, engaging in charitable activities, and using modern means such as Weibo and WeChat. It seems that you are teaching the Dharma in a different way from traditional eminent masters. Do you think it’s better to use modern methods to guide the beings to Buddhism in today’s world?
Khenpo Sodargye: The Dharma I’m spreading is perhaps not very much different from what the traditional Buddhist teachers teach. However, it is the 21st century, a special age of information explosion, and most people in this age are indulged in the virtual world on the internet. It would be hard to benefit more people without media such as the Internet, WeChat, and Weibo. In fact, I am not particularly interested in the Internet or Weibo. Reading them is not good for the eyes, and their meaningless information will become the cause of distractions. However, we can’t afford not to use those tools for teaching the Dharma in this age.
I have associations with some college teachers and students and other intellectuals, but I don’t deliberately maintain contact with them. As a Buddhist, I spread the Dharma as the occasions arise. I will try my best to teach the Dharma whenever I am asked to do so, be it someone poor or noble. But I will not force it to happen if the causal conditions haven’t ripened.
I don’t know what has led me to where I am. I once jokingly said that I wanted to use the Dharma to help people in different fields such as politics, business, and education. I hoped to help them by, for example, publishing a few books and holding talks with them. I particularly hoped to give lectures at one hundred universities. However, not even middle or elementary schools would invite me when I made that vow, not to mention colleges. Later, maybe because the causal conditions had ripened, a few schools asked me to give talks, which were followed by more. I made my vows and leave the rest to causal conditions.
During that process, I find that such communications are very meaningful. If a teacher values traditional culture, many students around him will be influenced. In fact, nowadays, many students have all kinds of distresses and miseries, and their teachers can help a lot by giving them some good advice. When these students reach our age, the world will be theirs. The positive influence they will have received will in turn help with their lives and the future society.
So later, I became more and more interested in going to schools to give lectures, and beyond that, many other places like prisons.
In general, my principle is to do things as they come. Although it’s tiring sometimes to take long flights to give lectures, I think it’s quite worthwhile if so many people can be helped through the Dharma I teach with my impermanent body and humble life.
I also believe that the future of the Dharma requires our collective efforts. On the one hand, people are complicated and are difficult to tame by the Dharma teachings. On the other hand, many young people who have sufficient merits, as well as many middle-aged people who realize how precious the Dharma is after they have experienced a lot of things, are willing to accept the Dharma. Particularly, when people are in great agony, the Dharma can extinguish all their pains like cool rain. Why do so many people feel that hearing the Dharma is really rewarding? Because they find it useful.
Most people today are realistic. They do not care about history or traditions; they are only interested in what is useful to them. In today’s world, people have strong desires, are highly competitive and always in rivalry with others. The theoretical knowledge and sequential practice of Buddhism can surely help people address their physical and mental stress and bring true benefits to them. Therefore, the fact that so many people are interested in the Dharma nowadays is a supreme causal condition for Buddhism.
Ekayana Magazine: Thank you very much for your insights. Finally, we wish you good health, longevity, and a prosperous Dharma teaching career!
All of the Bhagavats teach the path of the single vehicle.
—The Lotus Sutra
An Interview with A-sang Tulku Rinpoche of Yarchen Gar
Date: August 27, 2014, morning
Location: Yarchen Gar, Pelyul County, Garze Prefecture, China
Interview participants: A-sang Tulku Rinpoche, Acharya Zhiguang, and an Ekayana Magazine reporter
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche
About A-sang Tulku Rinpoche
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Thubten Songden Rongpo, is the wisdom incarnation of Namkhai Nyingpo, one of the twenty-five close disciples of Guru Padmasambhava (the well-known founder of Vajrayana Buddhism) and a realized master of Dzogchen (“Great Perfection”) who had attained the rainbow body and had reincarnated though his vows and aspirations for the sake of all beings. At an early age, Rinpoche took refuge in and followed his guru, Dzogchen Master Lungtok Gyaltsen (also known as Lama Akhyuk Rinpoche), at Yarchen Gar. He has strictly conformed to Vinaya rules and served the guru whole-heartedly with pure body, speech and mind and with the Three Faiths. He was bestowed with the initiation and pure lineages of Manjushri Sakyapa and the Longchen Nyingthig and the Longsal of the Nyingma school. Lama Akhyuk Rinpoche verified that A-sang Tulku has attained the same great achievements as the guru. Inspired by Guru Rinpoche’s prophecy, His Holiness Lama Akhyuk Rinpoche recognized him as the reincarnation of the great master Namkhai Nyingpo. With his merits and achievements, he became the chief disciple and successor to his guru, Akhyuk Rinpoche, who has conferred upon him the responsibility for the monastery and its disciples. A-sang Tulku Rinpoche abides in the great compassion of his Dharmata (“Dharma nature”). His kindness, joy and modesty have flowed out naturally, guiding countless disciples and followers towards liberation. He is humorous, free spirited and approachable, manifesting the daily practice of the principle “the Way is found in daily life, complete and unobstructed.”
Note: Translated from the official website of the Yaqên Orgyän Temple (“Yarchen Gar”)
About Acharya Zhiguang
Acharya Zhiguang was born Zheng Fu in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province of China. He became a Buddhist at an early age. During the past thirty years, he has studied Sutra and Tantra teachings of Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Theravada tradition and Japanese Buddhism from more than ninety masters in China’s Han and Tibetan areas, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, India, and more. He has also studied traditional Chinese culture. He has been teaching the Dharma since 1993, and tried to apply the ancient wisdom of Buddhism in the rapidly-developing modern society to benefit beings.
Acharya Zhiguang has no sectarian bias. He advocates that Buddhists should uphold the principle of the Buddha and equally respect all Buddhist sects with pure lineages. For many years, Acharya Zhiguang has been making relentless efforts to revitalize Buddhism as a whole by promoting communication and solidarity among different Buddhist sects and committing himself to the preservation and transmission of the teachings of various Buddhist sects and lineages.
Acharya Zhiguang is currently the Abbot of Ichijo Temple in Shimeisan of Kyoto Japan, the Mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centres around the world, and the Mentor of Chinese Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Cultural Exchange Association (Taiwan). He is the first Chinese who has been granted the title of Great Acharya of Sanbu-to-ho of Japanese Tendai sect and the rank of Chusojo of Shingon Daigo-ha lineage.
Conversation with A-sang Tulku Rinpoche
Transcript of the interview
Acharya Zhiguang: Your Holiness, we came to Yarchen Gar last year and received your great teachings. Thanks to your blessing, six Singaporean practitioners in the delegation have completed their Ngöndro practice (Five Preliminaries Practices) on their half-year retreats. So far, more than one hundred and twenty people in our Ekayana group have completed Ngöndro. Most members of our delegation here have done Ngöndro once or twice.
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: Last time we met, we didn’t know each other very well. Now, a year has passed and I can tell that you and these disciples are very good Buddhist practitioners. I am very grateful that you are making such a diligent effort to carry out the Ngöndro practice. I know the environment for your practice in Singapore or Chinese mainland is not as favorable as ours. Here in Tibet it’s easy to practice; there are less obstacles. There are fewer Buddhists and real practitioners where you are, and there are many obstacles that may unsettle the mind and increase greed, anger or ignorance. Yet under such conditions, you are still able to believe in and practice Buddhism, make vows, have faith, practice step by step according to the teachings of your guru and carry out the Ngöndro practice—not just once, but twice for some people. I really take delight in your virtuous deeds—thank you. As a monk, my task is to help all beings relieve their sufferings and to promote Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings. I rejoice in the fact that you can practice earnestly. I feel grateful for and take delight in your practices.
Acharya Zhiguang: Thanks for your encouragement, and we earnestly hope that you can further instruct the Ekayana disciples in our practice.
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: You must start with your current renunciation, Bodhicitta and faith in the Dharma and the Three Jewels, constantly build them up without any regression. This is very important. Nowadays, whether in Tibet or in Chinese mainland, some people are very fickle and insincere, having faith this year and losing it next year, having renunciation this year and losing it next year, following a certain guru this year and abandoning the guru next year. This is against the Dharma. I hope your renunciation, Bodhicitta and faith will be able to grow. But how? The answer lies in earnestly studying and practicing The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche. If not, none of your renunciation, Bodhicitta or faith in your guru will grow.
Acharya Zhiguang: We are very grateful for your enlightening words. We pray that you can come to Singapore in the future to give teachings and pith instructions to the disciples there who are unable to come to Yarchen Gar.
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: You’ve invited me out of intentions to promote the Dharma and benefit all beings, so I will accept your invitation to go to Singapore in the future to promote Dzogchen and the great teachings of the Nyingma school. I hope I can make it. And if you have time, you are welcome to come to Yarchen Gar and stay for a month, or a week. It would be good if you could learn a pith instruction here before going back to your practice.
Next, A-sang Tulku graciously agreed to an interview with Ekayana M**agazine.
Ekayana Magazine: Thank you, A-sang Tulku Rinpoche! We know that Yarchen Gar is one of the most famous Buddhist monasteries in the world today. Its founder, H.H. Akhyuk Rinpoche, has attained rainbow body. His reputation has spread throughout the whole world. Could you please tell us about some of the merits and deeds of His Holiness to help us learn more about His Holiness and build more faith?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: Yarchen Gar is an excellent place for practicing Dzogchen. In the past, there used to be a monastery called Tromgé Monastery, belonging to the Red Hat sect (Nyingma school) and the lineage of Kathok. Its abbot was Tromgé Arik Rinpoche. At the age of eighteen, Tromgé Arik Rinpoche rid himself of the eight worldly concerns and went into the mountains to practice in life-long seclusion, attaining his achievements in a cave. He is an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. Starting off with the Sakya school, Lama Akhyuk Rinpoche went to study in a monastery at the age of seventeen. The monastery was near his home, so he often had to commute between the two places, which was an obstacle to his practice. Eight months later, Lama Rinpoche decided he wanted to study somewhere further away from home, including places like Shechen Monastery and Dzogchen Monastery.
A bit later, when a guru from Litang was giving Lamdre teachings of the Sakya school, Lama Rinpoche met Tromgé Arik Rinpoche and they shared a tent, where Tromgé Arik Rinpoche got to learn about Lama Rinpoche. Tromgé Arik Rinpoche said, “Come with me.” Lama Rinpoche was a little hesitant at first, as Tromgé Arik Rinpoche was retreating in a cave at the time. After he returned home, his mother said to him: “You must follow Tromgé Arik Rinpoche, and practice with him all your life. Don’t go anywhere else.” His mother added: “Don’t come back even if I die. Your body, speech and mind are all meant to be offered to Tromgé Arik Rinpoche. Whether you attain achievements or not, just follow Tromgé Arik Rinpoche and be his attendant. If you can do so, I’ll be satisfied.”
Then Lama Rinpoche followed Tromgé Arik Rinpoche to the cave and received the teachings of Dzogchen (Longchen Nyingthig Lineage and Longsal Lineage). While following Tromgé Arik Rinpoche, Lama Rinpoche had to learn both the Dharma of the Sakya school and Dzogchen of the Nyingma school. Lama Rinpoche stayed with Tromgé Arik Rinpoche and studied Dzogchen his whole life. When studying Dzogchen, he would listen to the guru and practice until he gained experiential understanding of the teachings before Tromgé Arik Rinpoche would transmit the dharma of the next stage. If Tromgé Arik Rinpoche did not intend to transmit dharma, Lama Rinpoche never requested it, never saying, “Guru, I need this dharma, I need that initiation, I need pith instruction, I need this or that…” No, not even once.
After Lama Rinpoche went to Tromgé Arik Rinpoche’s place, all he did was make tea, milk the cow, collect and dry cow dung, and receive guests. Some people without faith said, “Akhyuk Rinpoche is not worthy. He has not done even a seven-day retreat in his whole life. How can he transmit Dzogchen? How can he attain achievements without even a seven-day retreat?” To this, Lama Rinpoche responded: “Yes, they are right. I haven’t done even a seven-day retreat in my life—I have never left my guru my entire life.” His merits come from serving the guru!
For forty years, Tromgé Arik Rinpoche and Lama Rinpoche studied and practiced Dzogchen together. Later, Tromgé Arik Rinpoche made a prophecy. At that time when Lama Rinpoche was serving Tromgé Arik Rinpoche, Aga Nyima, a disciple of Tromgé Arik Rinpoche, had a dream in which Lama Rinpoche was lighting a lamp, and when the lamp was lit, the whole place was lit up. What did that mean? Tromgé Arik Rinpoche explained that the dream meant in the future his teachings on Dzogchen would spread around the world. After he made this prophecy, Tromgé Arik Rinpoche transmitted all the teachings on Dzogchen to Lama Rinpoche.
According to the prophecy by Yeshe Tsogyal and Guru Rinpoche, if we established a Dharma centre here at Yarchen, ten thousand rainbow body achievers would emerge. So we built a pagoda and the number of disciples gradually grew. When they study here, they can feel and see the manifested auspicious signs of achievements, which leads to greater faith and more disciples. Why is Yarchen Gar so well-reputed around the world now? First, our guru enjoys a pure lineage. Lama Rinpoche is famous around the world and those who have heard of him are eager to come. Second, Dharma transmission at Yarchen Gar is systematic and Lama Rinpoche is serious about pith instructions, all in line with the lineage. Some people say that I transmit pith instructions the same way as Lama Rinpoche and have maintained the lineage. I often tell the monks here: “When we are criticizing others, we must do it in the same way as Lama Rinpoche did; we must maintain the lineage, even when it comes to making jokes. If the lineage is changed, the great blessings and empowerments that rely on the guru’s lineage will be lost.”
Now, some young people say that the thoughts in past teachers’ heads are outdated. Now we are in the 21st century when the whole world is developing science, so we must change and keep up. I responded that my guru’s head is the head of Kuntuzangpo! Isn’t it pretty good? I will not change, I jokingly said.
When they are practicing, they can feel the empowerment of the Dharma themselves. The Dharma is truly great and precious, and it can lead them to achievement. Gradually, Yarchen Gar has gained a good reputation across the world. It’s now three years since Lama Rinpoche passed away, but the blessings and empowerments can still be felt.
Ekayana Magazine: Thank you. Akhyuk Lama Rinpoche has great merits, whether he is alive or not. What do you think are the main reasons for that? What can we learn from that?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: Just like I mentioned, you have to completely rely on the guru and practice with diligent effort. The most important thing is that after Lama Akhyuk Rinpoche’s mother offered him completely to Tromgé Arik Rinpoche, Akhyuk Rinpoche did not leave his guru for a single day. I would say this is the reason: the complete offering of body, speech and mind. Be it our Red Hat sect (Nyingma school), the Yellow Hat sect (Gelug school) or the White Hat sect (Kagyu school), to attain any achievement, a disciple must rely on the guru. There is no achievement to speak of without the guru.
Ekayana Magazine: We all know Yarchen Gar is famous for its genuine practice. Just like you said, many people have attained great achievements here. Could you please tell us about the significance of genuine practice and the relationship between practice and study?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: Some people say that Yarchen Gar is a place for practice, not study. That is not true. Some people say that the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sertar is a place for study, not practice. That is also not true. On our way to liberation, practice and study cannot be separated, just as we need both feet to walk. We also study at Yarchen Gar and they also practice at Larung Gar. Lama Rinpoche has named Yarchen Gar “Yarchen Vddiyana Meditation Monastery.” As for Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, it was more than just a Buddhist academy from the very beginning. At the time of the First Dudjom Rinpoche, the place had already witnessed thirteen rainbow body achievers. How can one attain achievements through studying alone? His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche also said many times that Larung Gar was a place for practicing Dzogchen and it just happened that there was a Buddhist school nearby. What matters most is that it is a place where…I don’t know how to translate its former name, “Larung (speaking in Tibetan)…”, which means a quiet place where we Vajrayana practitioners can achieve the rainbow body. It was not until later that the name was changed to “Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy”, focusing on both study and practice that are not to be separated.
We have a different focus in terms of extensive practice and extensive study. At Yarchen Gar, we are not so extensive and intensive in terms of studying; we certainly don’t study constantly from morning till night. Take these last two days, for example. From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., many of our khenpo gave lessons, and from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., I shared with them some teachings of the Guru Lama Rinpoche. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., some of them practiced and meditated. Sometimes they had to recite our teachings and what they had studied. Both studying and practicing feature in the schedule. Theories written by renowned monks of the past and other people of great virtue all highlight the need to practice. There is not a single chapter that doesn’t mention the need to practice. Not one. So those people who say that Yarchen Gar is a place for practice, not study, are mistaken—they simply don’t know the reality. In fact, practice relies on study. Without study, how can you practice?
Nowadays, many people think that to practice is to enter a state of no thought. In fact, the state of no thought is not meditation, much less Dzogchen. You see, when starting out in Dzogchen practice, the emphasis is on motivation—one needs to both study and practice to shape the right motivation. It’s impossible to practice without studying. Some people say that to learn meditation and Dzogchen, you are not allowed to think, and you have to keep preventing your thoughts from popping up, and just sit in this state of no thought. They think that is Dzogchen. Well, it isn’t. If they continue to do that without the teachings of a guru, and they keep suppressing their thoughts, many of them may experience backaches or feel some discomfort in the heart. Suppressing the thoughts can be very problematic.
Ekayana Magazine: Another thing I want to ask is that there are so many different Buddhist schools and traditions, and sometimes their opinions may differ on certain issues, making it difficult for many practitioners to choose one over others. How should we view or deal with different Buddhist schools and traditions?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: All the Buddhist schools and traditions are the Buddha’s teachings and they are not different from one another by nature. The Buddha has used eighty-four thousand Dharma doors to fit the eighty-four thousand different capacities of sentient beings. It’s not that the Buddha is inconsistent in his teachings, but just that the Buddha uses varying means to teach different sentient beings. Now since we are in the causal stage, many teachings we learn are sequential. There are many schools in Tibet and all of them are passed down from the Buddha. Masters of these schools transmit the Dharma depending on the situation and the capacities of the audience. Let’s say we want to go to Lhasa: if we have no money we have to walk there. But with money, we can drive or even take a plane to get there. Specific methods of practice may differ according to the individual’s karmic hindrances, virtues and merits. But the destination remains the same, no matter whether you walk or drive. All the schools result in the same attainment stage: the Buddha for Exoteric Buddhism, Kuntuzangpo for the Red Hat sect (Nyingma school) and maybe Vajradhara for other schools. They are of the same nature, just with different names. They are just different manifestations for beings, be it the appearance of the Emanation Body, or the Complete Enjoyment Body, or the Dharma Body; they are no different from one another. You can never say, “my school is superior to yours.” That is completely wrong and will result in serious negative karma.
All schools can lead you to a path to become a Buddha. Their methods are different, but they lead to the same destination. It is true that different schools may debate sometimes, but it’s not because one school has greed or the other has hatred. It’s not like that. The debate is about the respective merits of each school. However, some people who do not understand this may jump to the conclusion that from the perspective of the Yellow Hat sect (Gelug school), the Red Hat sect (Nyingma school) is mistaken, saying, “Guru Rinpoche is not a monk; it is not appropriate to have Vajrayogini; the lineage comes from lay practitioners.” Or perhaps, “Our Gelug is passed down from Master Tsongkhapa and there is no Vajrayogini, so our lineage is superior.” Don’t ever make such comments. We must avoid those verbal attacks. We Buddhists should work together to promote the Dharma. If we work together, there will be no impediments, and that is good. One can only know whether a school is good or not by practicing it oneself, and it would be impossible to know the thousand-year Dharma inside out after just one or two decades.
Ekayana Magazine: We lay practitioners find it difficult to live in seclusion as Lama Rinpoche did, since we still have to work. Could you please enlighten us regarding how to practice despite the hustle and bustle of life and work?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: It would be impossible to copy the lives of past masters, lamas and Rinpoches, even for one day. But we can make a wish; we can wish to be like them. We should hold this wish in our hearts. We can take delight in the fact that past masters, lamas and Rinpoches were able to diligently practice the Dharma against all odds and aspire to be just like them.
Another important thing is that the 21st century is regarded as a happy century, but it is not that happy from the perspective of Buddhist Dharma, because everything we do in the Degenerate Age results in negative causes for pain. It’s good for urban practitioners to hold on to the right view and mindfulness and to bear in mind the defects of Samsara, or else you might commit negative actions out of greed and anger. It would be too much to ask to completely eliminate greed right away. It takes time to improve. We should also focus on cultivating Bodhicitta, and it is vital not to hurt other people.
Some people do meaningless things which can hurt others, such as putting nails on the road to burst people’s tires in the hope of getting money. I will never accept a penny made this way. Do not do things that hurt others. For example, when we go to big cities, we cannot spit anywhere we like. What is there to gain out of spitting? Nothing. We must not pollute the environment. It is important to have right views and be mindful. Even if no one sees us spit, we will still have created bad karma. As Buddhist practitioners, we need to stick to the right views and remain mindful, even in the smallest aspects. If lay practitioners want their practices to be effective, right views and mindfulness are the most important. Without them, it is easy to commit negative actions.
Ekayana Magazine: Word has it on the Internet that Tromgé Arik Rinpoche has done Ngöndro seventy times. Is it true?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: Seventy times? I am not so sure. Patrul Rinpoche has listened to the Ngöndro teachings twenty-one times and practiced twenty-one times. I do not know whether Tromgé Arik Rinpoche had practiced twenty-one times or not, but it is true that as a result of his lifetime of prostrations, some very thick planks were worn through, and his knees and feet were injured twice from the friction.
Ekayana Magazine: Some disciples at Yarchen Gar have said that one can directly practice Dzogchen without doing the Ngöndro practice. Is it true?
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: I would say perhaps yes, but it is not recommended at all, as this diverges from the lineage. I noticed that phenomena two years ago, but now I am more aware and strict in this regard. In the past when I went to the Han region and told the disciples there that they needed to do the Ngöndro practice, they freaked out. Nowadays things are different. At Larung Gar, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö and Khenpo Sodargye both made it clear that the Ngöndro practice is mandatory. In the past, Han Chinese people tended to be fearful of hardships, but that is not the case anymore. When I gave them pith instructions in the past, they would bargain with me, saying, “How about fifteen days or seven days?” and would give all kinds of excuses, like, “I’m not feeling well” or “the weather isn’t good today.” To that, I’d say “I am not doing business with you. No. There’s no room for negotiation.” We must maintain and carry forward the lineage of our gurus, and the Ngöndro practice is a must. Without it, it is difficult to realize emptiness through the Great Perfection.
The interview was carried out in a relaxed and warm atmosphere. The blessings and wisdom of A-sang Tulku Rinpoche flowed into the heart of each one of us. In particular, the touching story about Akhyuk Rinpoche dedicating his whole life to serving his guru, Tromgé Arik Rinpoche, deepened our understanding of the profound teachings in the book How to Rely on a Spiritual Teacher and made us realize that relying on the guru is the fundamental way to attain both mundane and supramundane achievements.
Acharya Zhiguang: We pray that A-sang Tulku Rinpoche can get to know the Ekayana disciples further and guide them through the sequential practices step by step, so that we can attain Buddhahood to relieve the sufferings of all beings as soon as possible.
A-sang Tulku Rinpoche: It is important to observe disciples. Disciples are just like patients: how can doctors treat them without an understanding of their situation? Before writing a prescription, a doctor needs to take into account what “illness” the patient has, when it started, the current situation and what medicine they need. Likewise, when taking on disciples, gurus need to understand their capacities and use dharma accordingly to change their mind streams. Some disciples can only change their mind streams by being lectured, criticized or even temporarily expelled. There are more than ten thousand disciples here at Yarchen Gar, and I know most of their personalities—not only from observing their daily behaviors, but also by understanding their family histories and personal experiences.
I only take on disciples after proper observation, as that is the only way to really help sentient beings. The reason I want to go to Singapore is not to spread the Buddhist Dharma for the sake of fame and such. What I really want is to see a change in your mindstreams and for you to truly receive the supreme benefits of the Dharma.
I do not talk much with visitors usually, as I am very busy. But today, you are here in my home, and I’ve said quite a lot. Why? Because you are serious about practicing the Dharma and have all done Ngöndro once or twice, so of course I had to say a few words.
Acharya Zhiguang: We are very grateful to the compassionate Rinpoche!
Just as mental engagements are unceasing, one cannot possibly engage in all the inconceivable numbers of vehicles.
As places to rest leading to the only true path, each one possesses its own corresponding pinnacle and result.
Although these are obtainable as the individual renunciations of each vehicle, what result will be obtained without entering the one path of all vehicles?
—Perfect Conduct: Ascertaining the Three Vows, by Ngari Panchen Padma Wangi Gyalpo.
An Interview with H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche
Date: August 29, 2014
Location: Kathok Monastery in Palyul County, Garze Prefecture, China
Interview participants: H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche and an Ekayana Magazine reporter
H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche
About H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche
H. H. Kathok Moktsa Jigdral Lodrö Tenpe Gyaltsen Rinpoche, one of the “Golden Throne Holders”, was born in Jomda in the Rabjung cycle of the Year of the Golden Horse. He was recognized as a reincarnation of the great Master Moktsa Rinpoche by Master Thubten Chodor, an accomplished practitioner from Dzogchen Monastery and the Great Khenpo Akhu Wangpo. They named him Chakdo (Chakna Dorje, or Vajrapani) and held a grand enthronement ceremony for him at Kathok Monastery. He received from Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Kathok Getse Rinpoche, Jigme Tenpa Namgyal, and other lamas, all the transmissions and empowerments of Kama and Terma in the Nyingma school. In addition, he was in charge of Kathok Monastery for many years. Rinpoche established the Zangdok Palri Mandala in Kathok Monastery, made magnificent giant Buddha tangkas of fine craftsmanship, and built the Shakyamuni Buddha Hall, the golden-domed Mahavira Hall, and the Rongge Retreat Centre. He provided the retreatants with subsidies for daily necessities; over the years, Rinpoche has helped the different branches of Kathok Monastery by building retreat centres, making Buddha statues, and building stupas, among many other virtuous and profound endeavors. In 2007, a large, gold-plated copper statue of Kathok Dampa Desheg was bulit in the open air. Particularly worth mentioning is the crystallization of Rinpoche’s compassion and wisdom: the mandala of One Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of Kathok.
Note: Translated from the official website of Kathok Monastery – the cradle of Nyingma.
Interview with H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche
Background of the interview
On the evening of August 29, 2014, under heavy rain falling on Kathok Monastery, the second Vajra Seat in the world (located in the foothills of Mount Do-Nian in Palyul County), after spending the entire day giving Dharma transmissions and empowerments, H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche still accepted with compassion the request for an interview from the Singapore Ekayana delegation. Known as the “holder of the golden throne, the Father of Kathok”, although H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche is already 86 years old, he still appeared hale and hearty, high-spirited and radiant, with a fatherly look and smile, giving feelings of warmth and kindness to Dharma friends who were present.
His Holiness offered to each Dharma friend a very special tangka of Amitabha and also offered us the complete transmission of the “Ritual of Amitabha Practice” that was composed by the founder of Kathok Monastery, Kathok Dampa Desheg. His Holiness told us with love and affection that Kathok Monastery had a very special karmic connection with Amitabha, and that, as written in the “Ritual of Amitabha Practice”, the Buddha Amitabha said directly to Kathok Dampa Desheg Rinpoche that every sentient being who would remember the merits of the Buddha Amitabha, or who would recite His name, will be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Because of this interdependent connection, His Holiness produced 6,000 tangkas of Amitabha to offer to the causally-connected beings.
Then, H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche gave a teaching, saying, “As long as we have a compassionate mind, give rise to uncommon devotion towards the Buddha Amitabha while remembering His extraordinary merits and inconceivable power of His vows, and pray to Him with folded hands to bless us and all the sentient beings to be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, it is absolutely certain that at the moment of our death, He will come and lead us to the Pure Land.” Especially for people who are about to leave this world, the best is to let them often look at the tangka of Amitabha and let them recite the name of Amitabha because they are at a crucial point in their lives. If they can give rise to devotion toward Amitabha, wish to be reborn in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, and pray to Amitabha with such a state of mind, there is no doubt that Amitabha will arrive to welcome them to the Pure Land. This is one of the inconceivable vows of Amitabha, the vajra speech of the Buddha Amitabha, which is undeceiving and true! Buddha Amitabha never deceives sentient beings, but the key point is this: do we have enough trust and devotion? If we have devotion in our heart, and enough trust, we will certainly obtain the blessings of Buddha Amitabha; it is without question!
While H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche was giving pith instructions and crucial pieces of advice on how to perform the “Ritual of Amitabha Practice”, he said, “Your venerable master (Acharya Zhiguang) already received the empowerment of this Amitabha practice; therefore, he is absolutely qualified to give this empowerment to you all.” H. H. offered a Dharma garment to Acharya Zhiguang and gave him personally the practice manual of Kathok Dampa Deshek Rinpoche, saying that this was the ticket to enter the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. H. H. requested again and again that Acharya Zhiguang give more empowerments and Dharma transmissions in the future.
Even though it was quite cold on the rainy evening at Kathok Monastery, the Dharma friends sitting in the presence of His Holiness Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche were filled with spiritual joy, warmth, and happiness. To the request of the Dharma friends, His Holiness joyfully received an interview by Ekayana Magazine, talking about stories of the past; what he transmitted to us is the quintessence of the Dharma practice and wisdom of a great accomplished being.
H. H. Kathok Moktsa Rinpoche was presenting the Dharma garment to Acharya Zhiguang
Transcript of the interview
Ekayana Magazine: Kathok Monastery is a famous centre of Tibetan Buddhism, a place that had been blessed by Guru Rinpoche in person thirteen times, and it is known as the second most extraordinary place after the Vajra Seat of Bodh Gaya in India. During the ceremony this afternoon, you also explained to us that throughout history, hundreds of thousands of cases have been recorded of accomplished practitioners obtaining the rainbow body, and you also told us about the history and origin of Kathok Monastery. During the Cultural Revolution, Kathok Monastery was nothing but ruins, and when it rained, people even had to go to villagers’ homes to find shelter from the rain. May I ask where you got the strength to undertake the rebuilding of Kathok Monastery?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: This is thanks to many Masters’ explanations. At the outset of the Cultural Revolution, I kind of knew that there would be a time of trouble, and the masters had already prophesized that this would happen. Since I knew many things beforehand, I fled toward Lhasa. A sacred land of Guru Rinpoche is there, which has never been discovered, and it is a place that men have no means to enter. It is only by relying on many tertöns who need to open the sacred mountain that we can gain direct access to this place. So I really wanted to go there, to reach that place where we don’t need to leave our bodies behind us. At that time, because the karmic causes and conditions were not yet ripe, the entrance couldn’t be made. This was because the great tertön had to take a dakini as a consort, who was the niece of the King Drubpa, and if he could marry her, then through this interdependent connection, the opening to that sacred place could have been made. However, since the great tertön of that time, Dudjom Rinpoche, was a vagabond and had neither social status nor position, the King Drubpa didn’t want to let his niece marry him. As the karma as well as the interdependent connection with the tertön had not ripened yet, the entrance could not be made.
At that time, my masters were Khyentse Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche, and Dudjom Rinpoche. When I arrived in Lhasa, Chatral Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche urged me to return to Kathok Monastery. Meanwhile, Khyentse Rinpoche, who was at Kathok Monastery, kept sending me letters asking me to come back quickly, and he also wrote letters to Chatral Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche, telling them that Moktsa Rinpoche must come back to Kathok Monastery. Even though I read the prophecies of many great tertön, that such a time of troubles would definitely happen, because my masters urged me to come back, I didn’t dare not to do so.
When I finally returned, all the people had fled, and I was the only one left. At that time, my mother was saying that if she had to die, she had to die here; she refused to go elsewhere. I did not dare to go against the request of my masters nor to refuse to listen to their words, and next to that, my mother refused to go away, so for these two reasons, I remained in Kathok Monastery. Throughout all this period of the Cultural Revolution, I was sad, so sad. I was thinking, “Why did they ask someone like me who is unable to do anything to remain there and witness with his own eyes the Kathok Monastery, such a great monastery, becoming a heap of ruin?” So I was like this, suffering in silence and being very sad secretly.
Starting in 1984, the government finally approved the restoration of the printing house after we tried all kinds of ways. After it was restored, we gradually obtained permission to rebuild the monastery. From that time, little by little until today, we built the rooms, restoring Kathok Monastery to its original appearance and even more magnificent and extraordinary than before. I think that my Lamas at that time already knew that I would need to take on this responsibility and task, and that I should be able to take on such a heavy responsibility. This thought roused in me even more devotion toward my Lamas, and I was joyful and delighted. Nowadays, the country’s policy has loosened; there is freedom in religious beliefs, so the conditions are very good in all aspects. I have always loved my country and my religion; therefore, in order to build Kathok Monastery even better and to benefit sentient beings, I will follow each and every law of the country.
Why did Kathok Monastery have to face these kinds of problems? There is also an interdependent origination there. In the past, in Kathok Monastery was a great accomplished master called Mani Rinchen, and all his Dharma brothers were studying there. One day, his master told him, “You must now go to Guru Chöwang and request teachings from him”, meaning he was to go to Lhasa. So he went, and after having stayed there a very long time requesting the Dharma, he finally obtained all the lineage transmissions from the Guru, and not only this, but the Guru also gave him his daughter. Because the master was offering his daughter to him, he had no choice but to accept, and so he returned together with the dakini. On the road, when he was about to arrive at Kathok Monastery, he found people there who were about to start their meditation retreat, and seeing these pure monks all wearing their Dharma robes, he felt ashamed to have been away for so long to study Dharma, and to come back with a wife, so he felt embarrassed. As he was having this thought, because of her powers, the dakini knew his thought and then flew away. At that moment, already regretting his thought, he wanted to grab her, but he was only able to grab thirteen of her hairs. So, karmically, it was like this. At that time, if he had come back to Kathok Monastery together with the dakini, the monastery wouldn’t have had any obstacles or negative circumstances. Because of this past karma, Kathok Monastery has experienced many things connected with the number “thirteen”: for example, the thirteen generations of Moktsa as well as the thirteen incarnations of Trungpa, the thirteen incarnations of masters at the extraordinary and auspicious Vajra Seat of Kathok, and the thirteen generations of Khenpos, so for many incarnations, when they arrived at the thirteenth generation, they faced some negative circumstances. This is all because of the interdependent connection of the dakini: at that time, if the dakini had been brought to Kathok Monastery, the monastery would never have met with any negative circumstances or destruction. At that time, when the dakini left, she didn’t leave her body behind but directly vanished to go to a pure land.
Ekayana Magazine: Your Holiness, you just said that during the Cultural Revolution, Tibetan Buddhism suffered great damage, and we know that you suffered much in this catastrophe of history, spending more than 20 years in prison. Can you tell us something about how this hard part of your journey affected you and your practice? What should a practitioner do when confronted with negative circumstances?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: Here is a joke I can tell you about the “undeceiving causality of acts”. (His Holiness said this term in Chinese.) Although it was not called “prison” at that time, it was even more scary and more terrifying than a prison. They named it a “study class”; they chose a very nice name, but inside was nothing but suffering. They did not give us food, and many people passed away. But a mouse came to feed me. At that time, I was using a piece of wood as a pillow. During the night, I would hear it entering my cell, and in the morning I would see that the mouse had brought as many peanuts as would fill a bowl. My consort and I ate half, leaving the other half to the mouse. The nutritional value of peanuts is quite high, and so we survived a few months by only eating half a bowl of peanuts each day. This is a story of the infallibility of karma. You ask me whether it is a true story or not. It is true, of course, and it is my personal experience.
Ekayana Magazine: If practitioners have to meet with such a negative circumstance, how should they face it?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: First, I prayed immediately to the gurus and the Three Jewels, I prayed to the protector of Kathok Monastery, Palden Lhamo (“Victorious Goddess”) and other powerful Dharma protectors, I was continually praying, hoping that this negative circumstance would soon vanish away. And second, I made the wish to take upon myself the similar negative circumstances of all the sentient beings, and this kind of Dharma practice is extremely powerful. But the blessings of the gurus and the Three Jewels are inconceivable. Take my consort for example. They didn’t treat me in the same way they would treat her. I was not allowed to go outside, but for her it was a bit better, and she was allowed to go outside. However, the new door guards didn’t know that she had the right to go outside freely. They thought she violated the rules, so they shot at her. But the bullet whizzed past her, and she didn’t have any injury at all. However, by missing her, the bullet hit the people who were opposite her, and so two persons died and two others were injured. Even though they shot the gun, she remained invulnerable—so this is the protection and blessing of the Dharma protectors. “The Three Jewels are really present.” (His Holiness said this in Chinese.) Sometimes, she might cry out, and then the guards would shoot at her from outside. They shot at her many times, but no wounds could be found after she was hit. The bullets just couldn’t get into her body. Sometimes, the bullets might be found in her cotton clothes. All these were the blessing of the Three Jewels.
Nowadays, a zi (Tibetan agate) can be worth millions, but at that time, if you had a zi, it was just enough to exchange for a half-bag of sweet potatoes, which was not bad at all. During that time, we had to do things like this to survive. Normally, according to the arrangement of Kathok Monastery, I should have married the daughter of the wealthiest and most famous local nobleman or king to be my consort. But I didn’t follow any of this, and we two simply ran away secretly. Fortunately, later in this kind of epoch, because her family was very poor, the country was not very strict with her, which was why she could come and go quite freely. If I had married the daughter of this King of Secret Mantra as my consort, I wouldn’t be alive today.
Ekayana Magazine: We know that you have many masters, and among them is a very important master, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. He was the great reincarnation of the first Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. The author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche, considers him as the master of all the masters, who enjoyed a very high reputation in the Tibet of that time. Can we ask you to speak of the merits and virtues of the second Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö? What kind of teachings did you receive from him? In what way did the master influence your practice and your activities of benefiting sentient beings?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: My first Lama was the Venerable Akhu Wangpo, and he was also the one who recognized me as a Tulku. At that time, Lama Akhu Wangpo didn’t go to my birthplace, but he could tell people that my birthplace was in such and such location and could tell them who my parents were, my astrological sign, what year I was born, and how old I was at that time. He described all in great detail, and this was how they went to find me. Then, Kunsang and others went to look for me. Kunsang was the son of my previous incarnation. Since Lama Akhu Wangpo gave very detailed explanations, he really did find such a family, but the family had just left to settle in Jomda in Tibet. Having heard news of Chinese Han coming there to bury children alive, they got so scared that they took me, the baby, and left for Jomda. Once we arrived in Jomda, we were so poor that we were living in a sheep shelter. We were all living inside the sheep shelter that someone else had loaned us. At that time, I already knew many things, and I knew which day they would arrive to take me with them. Thus, I ran in silence to the side of the road and waited for them for a long time. When they finally arrived, riding on their horses, I spoke loudly to them, saying, “Are you coming to take me with you?” Without letting them go past me, I continued, “You are for sure coming to take me.” They were delighted to have met me right there on the road. It would have been so difficult to find me, and even more so to find me inside the sheep shelter, so it was fortunate for them that they met me at the roadside where I was waiting for them. They brought many things with them: two bells, two drums, two malas, etc. Each pair of the things had one that my previous incarnation had used, and the other not. So I recognized fully without error all these objects that had belonged to my previous incarnation. Then they asked me questions like, “Where is your house? What is the name of your monastery?” And I answered that it was Kathok Monastery, explaining where the monastery was located and answering each question in great detail. They also asked me to tell them where my house was and what the door of my house was like. I answered correctly, and I passed this exam more or less. But at that time, the examination was very strict, and even after I had provided them with such accurate answers, they still didn’t take me with them. They went back to Kathok Monastery and gave this report to Lama Akhu Wangpo. Only after he approved, saying that this was the child indeed, did they come back to take me with them. At that time, the exam for recognizing a tulku was very strict.
When Lama Akhu Wangpo saw me, because I had dark skin and a dark head, he chose a nickname for me, calling me “dark maroon”. Then he gave to me all the oral transmissions and empowerments of Thubten Dorje and Longsal Nyingpo. During the empowerments, he used a crystal and asked me questions—when Lama Akhu Wangpo was joking, he would always use me as a toy, asking me some questions. In this way, he asked me, “What is your mind like?” Kathok Situ Rinpoche, two years older than I was, would tell me quietly, “You have to say, ‘It is white.’” I thought this was the truth, so I answered, “It is white.” This made everyone present for the empowerment laugh, and seeing me a bit embarrassed. Kathok Situ Rinpoche again whispered to me, “You need to say, ‘It’s red.’” So again, I said, “My mind is red.” Everybody laughed again. Lama Akhu Wangpo often joked with me.
From Khyentse Rinpoche, I received all the oral transmissions and empowerments of the “Rinchen Terdzö”. At that time, Khyentse Rinpoche gave permission to only eighty persons to receive these empowerments, and all were great masters, and I was there with them. Each time before an empowerment, Khyentse Rinpoche would let me come alone into his presence to give me pith instructions, and all these Dzogchen pith instructions were given only to me specifically. The empowerments lasted for a total of about eight months.
At that time, I was quite good, I had wisdom in many aspects, and I was very capable. Now, I’m worse than you: my negative emotions are also very strong, and in many aspects, I am just retrogressing. Because I had to rebuild the monastery, I went everywhere to beg for donations. Because of the obstacle caused by using too much from the offerings of the devotees, I don’t have any supernatural power anymore; I don’t know anything. The people in the past had such great accomplishments only because they had a very simple and unsophisticated life. In all aspects, and in their Dharma practice, they didn’t have many desires. But now, in appearance, we are building a gorgeous and magnificent monastery, but in fact, there are always some worldly affairs mixed with it, some fame and profit. In the past, “the mind relied on the Dharma, and the Dharma relied on poverty”; now, “the mind relies on the Dharma, but the Dharma relies on money.” Many things are degenerating. In the past, even though the retreatants of Kathok Monastery were not many—thirteen in total—they could all fly. Only one among them could not fly because his bowl, which he also used when taking the donations of the devotees, was bigger than those of others.
(Editor’s Note: Rinpoche uses very humble words to speak of himself as a way to teach the world.)
Ekayana Magazine: We all know that when the first Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Jamgön Kongtrül, and Chokgyur Lingpa as well as other very high Lamas started the Rimé Movement, and it played a critical role in preserving the lineages of each school of Tibetan Buddhism. Then, in our modern world where there is an abundance of Buddhist lineages, slander and defamation can sometimes happen between different schools. Could Rinpoche tell us how to consider all these different schools and lineages and the relationships among them from the Rimé point of view?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: These kinds of disputes or controversies have indeed happened throughout history. During the Cultural Revolution, because people were going through hardships, there was no rivalry or disputes like now. If we compare the past and present: now is better than before, we are very much in harmony, and we respect each other very much. However, as the society becomes more and more developed, inside the Buddhist community or in different aspects, sometimes, due to our fierce five poisons, arguments will arise between one another, praising one’s own tradition, defaming the tradition of others and some places. This may happen to some extent. These problems are caused by excessive self-grasping and negative emotions. When our material conditions improved, people started to feel dissatisfaction, wanting to have more. We often used to say, “There is no bitterness that can’t be swallowed, only happiness that can’t be enjoyed.” In the monastery, it was the same. Sometimes, when all the conditions were improving, people couldn’t remain still but would start to make comparisons and argue with others. These days, things are still relatively good; generally we are all quite in harmony and united.
Strictly speaking, the teachings of the Buddha are like a big chunk of brown sugar: no matter from which side you eat it, it will always be sweet and always be right. But when people start to have strong attachment and negative emotions, seeing themselves better than others, this shows that our negative emotions are too strong, and the Dharma has not yet mingled with one’s mindstream, that the Dharma has not yet destroyed our afflictions. In theory, the Dharma is a method to put an end to our afflictions. It is because we haven’t employed the Dharma well that we have not managed to put an end to our negative emotions, and this is one manifestation of negative emotions. To praise oneself while denigrating others means that the Dharma is not truly integrated into one’s mindstream, and if such a problem arises, it is because this mind of ours is full of negative emotions and still conditioned by them. When we have negative emotions, we feel good when things go as we wish but unhappy when things don’t correspond to our way of thinking. There is no difference with an ordinary layperson—not even the slightest difference. We can say that the worldly dharma has been mixed into the Buddha-Dharma.
Ekayana Magazine: We have one more question to ask you, Rinpoche. It is because of our “strong self-grasping” that we study the Dharma. And among those who study the Dharma, there are still many laypersons. Do you think it is possible for laypersons who study the Dharma to accomplish enlightenment in this very life? If you think so, if the answer is positive, how can we achieve this goal?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: It is possible! Any practitioner can achieve enlightenment. It is definitely possible to achieve that in this very life. The same applies to laypersons, too. There are real cases. When I was young, I often went to beg for alms for Kathok Monastery, and in Derge was an old man who attained the rainbow body through having recited the six-syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. In the first part of his life, he had committed all kinds of possiblenegative actions, and often hunted for his living. One day, he realized that he had accumulated very serious negative karma, so he stopped all evil and did only good actions. He corrected each one of his mistakes and started to accumulate merits through virtuous actions while continuously reciting the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. At the end, he attained the rainbow body, leaving behind only his hair and nails. Someone took these relics and wore them around his neck as a protection amulet. I was 17 years old then. Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche told me it was still a very good period since there in Derge someone could achieve the rainbow body. This old man knew only how to recite the six-syllable mantra, and in the early half of his life, he had hunted for a living. So, as long as one makes the effort and has devotion, it is possible to accomplish enlightenment, even to attain the rainbow body! The Buddha said that among four persons wearing the Dharma robes, there is for sure an emanation of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. But nowadays, we can have 100 persons wearing the Dharma robes and won’t be able to see any emanation of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. So, What is the problem?
Ekayana Magazine: Is it because of our heavy karmic obscurations that we are not able to see them?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: For one part, it is because of our heavy negative karma, and for the other part, it is because of our lack of faith. The Buddha Amitabha said that whoever prays to him and thinks about him, the Buddha Amitabha will come in person to take him to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. But do you believe it?
Ekayana Magazine: Yes, we all believe and trust in this. With your blessing, we will have faith in it!
Ekayana Magazine: We heard that in your life, you witnessed some people attain the rainbow body. Can you please tell us about the cases of rainbow body that you saw personally?
H. H. Moktsa Rinpoche: In 1998, Khenpo Achuk from Lhemo Monastery in Xinlong realized the rainbow body even without any remains hair or nails. Then, there is also the previous life of Zhingkyong Rinpoche. There were two Zhingkyong Rinpoches when they passed into parinirvana. Many people had doubts about this at that time in Qinghai. In the end, both of them passed into parinirvana at the same time. Both of them were only one elbow in height when they passed away, because they were the reincarnations of Denden Dorje. Each reincarnation of Denden Dorje will have their body shrinking to the same height of one elbow. The same happened to Zhingkyong Rinpoche when he passed into parinirvana. This is also a case of rainbow body achievement. These are what I saw and what I heard. I am 86 years old now. I saw and witnessed everything in my life.
Ekayana Magazine: We thank Your Holiness for having accepted our interview! We wish you a very long and healthy life! We pray that you will come to Singapore, Malaysia and other places to turn the wheel of Dharma!
We will make contribution to the entire Buddhism, national culture and so on if all our different Buddhist schools are united.
—The Tenth Panchen Lama
The Direct Path to Enlightenment
—An interview with Venerable Master Delin of Gaomin Temple
Date: November 7, 2014
Location: Gaomin Temple, Yangzhou, China
Interview participants: Venerable Master Delin, Acharya Zhiguang, and the Ekayana delegation
Ven. Master Delin and Acharya Zhiguang
About Master Delin
Venerable Master Delin (1915-2015), whose Dharma name was “Miaowu”, styled himself as “Wucan” and “Delin”. He had personally followed Venerable Master Laiguo for over twenty years and gained the essence of his wisdom through heart-to-heart transmission. In 1952, he was empowered by Master Laiguo as “the Forty-seventh Patriarch of the Linji school” and as the Dharma successor of the Gaomin lineage. On the eighth day of the fourth lunar month in 1984, the seventy-year-old Delin became the abbot of Gaomin Temple. He then took on the responsibility of rebuilding Gaomin as a major temple of Chan school and reviving the Linji traditions of Dharma practice. He successfully fulfilled this responsibility by restoring the traditional daily rituals of uninterrupted “incense sittings” (sitting meditation rounds) and agricultural activities. Gaomin Temple thus has formed its unique Dharma practice style which pays equal importance to old traditions and demands of the new era, becoming an exemplary Chan temple that attracts tens of thousands of visitors and followers each year from all over the world. The Meditation Hall designed by the Abbot himself can accommodate five hundred people for sitting meditation and walking meditation, and is renowned as “the number one meditation hall in China”. Deeply respected by all walks of life for his noble demeanor and great achievements, Master Delin was appointed as Vice Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Buddhist Association of China and Advisor to the Buddhist Association of Jiangsu Province of China. Master Delin entered nirvana on June 22, 2015, at the age of 101. (Translated from the profile provided by Gaomin Temple)
Background of the interview
On November 7, 2014, the delegation of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre visited the Dharma teacher of Acharya Zhiguang, the highly prestigious centenarian Master Delin, at the holy Gaomin Temple in Yangzhou, a very famous Buddhist site of Chan school in China. Upon the request of Acharya Zhiguang and the delegation, the Master gave the following precious and right-to-the-point instructions, which were found to be utterly enlightening and immensely beneficial.
How do we learn and practice Buddhism in today’s world?
Disciple: How do we learn and practice Buddhism in everyday work and life?
Master: It’s very simple: do no evil and do all good. The Buddha Dharma is both simple and complicated. How simple can it be? Do no evil and do all good; it’s as simple as that.
The Buddha Dharma is too complicated; the Dharma of enlightening sentient beings is too extensive; the Dharma of the mind is too profound.
While a Buddha also has a heart, how is it different from that of the sentient beings? Why is he called Buddha, and why aren’t we called Buddhas?
There is one path leading the sentient beings towards Buddhahood. First of all, we have to understand the difference between Buddha and sentient beings. Why is he called Buddha, and why are we called sentient beings? What is the difference?
Disciple: A Buddha has attained enlightenment, so his heart is pure, while ours aren’t.
Master: What is a pure heart?
Disciple: A pure heart means that it is free from differentiating thoughts and thus free from all defilements.
Master: When you say a Buddha has a pure heart while sentient beings don’t, you must be clear about what a pure heart is, and how this pure heart is cultivated.
Disciple: It is cultivated by keeping away from all evil, doing all good, and purifying one’s mind.
Master: What is the “evil” to keep away from?
Disciple: The evil lies in the wavering of mind and arising of thoughts.
Master: Can you constantly keep your mind still and prevent your thoughts from arising? I am afraid not. Your mind wavers and thoughts arise all the time! That is the biggest challenge. According to the teachings of the Chan school, “When no thought arises, the entire substance is revealed; once the six sense organs start to interrupt, our true nature is clouded.” The biggest enemy to enlightenment is having thoughts. Who doesn’t have thoughts? We humans have thoughts all day long, but we must transform that. We have thoughts both when we are doing mundane things and when we are learning the Dharma, but the thoughts we have in these two situations are quite different. The thoughts we have when doing mundane things will only create karma, but those we have when learning the Dharma will create completely different results. This might sound quite simple but it is by no means easy. The Dharma is easier said than done. The habit of having (mundane) thoughts is so deep-rooted because it has been continuously reinforced since beginningless time, but it must be transformed.
There is a path leading sentient beings to Buddhahood
Disciple: Just now Venerable Master mentioned a path leading sentient beings to Buddhahood, could you please elaborate on it?
Master: It’s very simple. If one does a perfect job on keeping away from all evil and cultivating all good, he becomes a Buddha.
We all understand that basically, but we simply can’t do it. Can we keep away from all evil? No, we can’t, much less cultivate all good. Buddhas are different from us sentient beings because they have attained Buddhahood after having kept away from all evil and cultivated all good throughout numberless eons.
But it doesn’t mean that one is necessarily a good man if he can keep away from all evil. Do you understand? If a person has not done and will not do anything evil, what is he?
Disciple: He’s not a bad person.
Master: At best, he’s not a bad person. Not only should one do no evil, one should also do all good. He who does lots of good is a very good man, and he who does less good is a less good man.
The Buddha Dharma is based on the law of cause and effect, so are worldly matters. The whole ten Dharma-worlds are subject to cause and effect after all. If you sow the seed of Buddhahood and keep cultivating it, you will reap the fruit of Buddhahood in the end.
Disciple: Then could you please explain more about how to sow the seed of Buddhahood?
Master: It’s very simple. You just need to keep away from all evil. But make no mistake, the so-called “evil” doesn’t mean only one or two bad things. There are so many of them! Do you really know what “evil” actually means? And do you really know what “good” actually means?
You must be absolutely uncompromised in keeping away from all evil. But you must know that you are already compromised even when your mind wavers and thoughts arise, because this in itself counts as evil. In that case, can you still do it? You have to anyway. But how? There’s this one path, and you must be very clear about it.
You should be absolutely uncompromised both in keeping away from all evil and in cultivating all good. When you succeed in both cases, your heart will be purified. That is how a pure heart is cultivated. So, you can ask yourself whether you are keeping away from all evil. Anyone can talk Buddhism, but it’s no use paying only lip service.
Transmission from heart to heart through thunderous silence
Disciple: What do you mean by “absolutely uncompromised”?
The Master was silent for a moment.
Master: Did you get it? I already answered your question.
To learn the Dharma, one must cover the basics first
Disciple: But how can we be absolutely uncompromised? What are the criteria for it?
Master: Just keep away from all evil and cultivate all good. The Buddha Dharma is too profound to be apprehended only through our brief conversation here today. It’s just not that easy.
When you learn the Dharma, it’s important that you learn the basics first. The Dharma can lead you to Buddhahood; would it be simple? The length of the path leading a sentient being to Buddhahood is beyond the comprehension of someone who doesn’t know anything about Buddhism, no matter how hard you try to explain it to him. Do You think it is easy to become a Buddha? Buddha Shakyamuni himself said: “I became Buddha in the far distant past. For instance, suppose there were five hundred thousand myriad kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeya three thousand-great-thousandfold worlds; let someone grind them to atoms… and count an atom as an eon, the time since I became Buddha still surpasses such an unfathomable number of eons.” Do you understand what that means? “I became Buddha in the far distant past. For instance, suppose there were five hundred thousand myriad kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeya three thousand-great-thousandfold worlds; let someone grind them to atoms…” Can you count the number of all these atoms? I don’t think so. And the Buddha said, “…count an atom as an eon, the time since I became Buddha still surpasses such an unfathomable number of eons.”
Let me tell you: to learn the Dharma, you must not be disrespectful or arrogant. You must have a big heart, not a big ego. How big must your heart be? “It encompasses the universe and embraces the boundless worlds in it.”
You learn by asking
Master: To learn the Dharma, you must ask questions. What can you learn if you don’t know how to ask questions? It’s very important. “Xue wen” (“knowledge” in Chinese) literally means studying and questioning. To put it simply, you learn by asking questions. But this may be a big problem to some people. They simply don’t know anything about how to ask questions and what to ask. They are the so-called “sentient beings” because they are ignorant and confused. Buddhas, on the contrary, are enlightened.
How can we develop a firm resolve to attain Buddhahood?
Master: “The way ahead is long; I see no ending, yet high and low I will search with my will unbending.” The path to Buddhahood is a long way to go. To put it another way, learning the Dharma is to keep raising the level of enlightenment while walking the whole path from the lowest state of existence in hell to higher ones of hungry ghost, animal, asura, human, god, Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva, and in the end, to the state of Buddhahood. It’s such a long journey that you really need to be patient. And it’s very important to have a firm resolve to take the Buddha path.
Disciple: How did you develop such a strong resolve yourself?
Master: It all comes from practice. A Buddhist must make great vows, such as the “Four Universal Vows of a Bodhisattva”. What are they? “Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to enlighten them; Afflictions are inexhaustible, I vow to eliminate them; Dharma doors are immeasurable, I vow to master them; The path of the Buddha is unsurpassable, I vow to fulfill it.” Every Bodhisattva must take these four vows.
What kind of resolution must you make? “I now resolve never to seek for myself the blessings of gods or humans, or the attainments of Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, or Bodhisattvas of the Temporary Vehicle. Instead, I rely solely on the Supreme Vehicle, and bring forth Bodhicitta, vowing to attain Annutara-samyak-sambodhi together with all living beings of the Dharma Realm at the same time.” “Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi” means the highest complete enlightenment of Buddhahood. You must be resolved to attain that enlightenment together and at the same time with all sentient beings in the Dharma Realm.
What is Bodhicitta? It’s the enlightened mind and a must for all Buddhists.
By the way, let me ask you: you all came to Gaomin Temple to learn the Dharma, but what kind of vows and resolutions have you made? Vows are vast like oceans. You can’t just make a vow and then do nothing about it. What follows must be actions to fulfil it. We call it “fill the ocean of vows with the mountain of actions”.
A Buddhist must not have a “small heart” but a big heart. What is a big heart? A big heart encompasses the universe and embraces the boundless worlds in it. We should examine our actions, words and thoughts and ask ourselves whether we have a big heart or a small one. We should reflect whether “we resolve never to seek for ourselves the blessings of gods or humans, or the attainments of Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, or Bodhisattvas of the Temporary Vehicle”; whether we “rely solely on the Supreme Vehicle, and bring forth Bodhicitta, vowing to attain Annutara-samyak-sambodhi with all living beings of the Dharma Realm at the same time”. Annutara-samyak-sambodhi, or the unsurpassable perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood, is the goal we should pursue.
To reach an unfamiliar destination, one must ask directions from those who have been there
Disciple: You mentioned earlier that sentient beings are confused and Buddhas are enlightened. Could you please explain why Buddhas are enlightened?
Master: “Enlightenment” means “Bodhi” (perfect wisdom), which means being omniscient. There’s nothing Buddhas do not know. Buddhas are fully enlightened, while sentient beings are unenlightened. Knowing everything is enlightenment.
There are plenty of books that contain teachings of the Buddha and past enlightened sages. These teachings are all meant to awaken us and show us the right path. “To reach an unfamiliar destination, one must ask directions from those who have been there”; “To see big waves in the ocean, one must seek guidance from an experienced captain.” Waves are part of the ocean which symbolizes the Dharma. Many people never get to see any big waves in their lifetime. Why? Because they have never been to the ocean. An experienced captain has been through lots of big waves in the ocean and therefore is the best person to guide you on the voyage.
One Vehicle, the expedient means, and the ultimate truth
Disciples presented an Ekayana m**agazine for the Master’s comments.
Master: “Ekayana” (One Vehicle) comes from the Lotus Sutra.
Disciple: You know the Lotus Sutra very well. What you just said about Shakyamuni Buddha attaining Buddhahood in the far distant past also comes from the Lotus Sutra, from the Chapter of “the Lifespan of the Tathagata”.
Master: “The three types of carts outside the burning house” are only expedient means.
Buddhist teachings consist of two integral and indispensable parts, namely, the expedient means and the ultimate truth. Neither of them is able to save all sentient beings only by itself. The two must be integrated, because sentient beings are of different capacities. Some of them are meant to learn the Mahayana while others the Hinayana. To some, it’s okay to teach the ultimate truth directly, while to others, the ultimate truth can only be taught using expedient means.
During your visit here at Gaomin Temple, you can also learn something from the way we have planned our buildings and facilities. You may have been to many monasteries or temples, but have you ever seen one with two libraries of Buddhist scriptures?
Disciple: None indeed.
Master: The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are the Three Jewels of Buddhism. The Mahavira Hall represents the Jewel of Buddha; the Library of Buddhist Scriptures represents the Jewel of Dharma; and the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats represents the Jewel of Sangha. Gaomin Temple is the first to build two libraries. They are located on both sides of the Mahavira Hall, rather than behind it as with other monasteries or temples.
Without my explanation, you may not understand that after the first visit here, and probably not even after several visits. It’s all about the Dharma. Let me explain it in a nutshell. Unlike other temples, our Mahavira Hall has one lion and one white elephant in the front. Can you get the underlying meaning of that? Probably not. The lion represents the Greatly Wise Manjushri Bodhisattva, in other words, it represents wisdom. And wisdom is like our eyes. The white elephant, on the other hand, represents the Samantabhadra Bodhisattva of Great Practices, in other words, it represents actions. And actions are like our legs. Can we walk if we only have eyes but no legs? Of course, we cannot. Can we walk safely if we only have legs but no eyes? We certainly cannot either. Shakyamuni Buddha once said, “It takes both ‘eyes and legs’ for one to reach the ‘clear and pure lake’.” As the “clear and pure lake” here actually refers to the Buddhahood, what the Buddha really meant to say is that one needs both wisdom and actions to attain Buddhahood and neither of them is dispensable. That is the reason why a blue-green lion and a white elephant are placed in front of the Mahavira Hall at Gaomin Temple. You won’t see them in any other temples or monasteries.
So, the structures in Gaomin Temple are used to symbolize the Dharma. The two libraries on both sides of the Mahavira Hall symbolize the combination of “expedient means” and “the ultimate truth”. Such a combination is indispensable because neither expedient means nor the ultimate truth is able to save all sentient beings only by itself. The two must be integrated. Why? Because sentient beings are of different capacities, and, in some cases, expedient means must be used to teach the ultimate truth. This is well demonstrated by the story in which the Buddha saw a small child who was about to fall into a deep well, he had to lure the child to walk away from the well by clutching an empty fist and telling the child there’s candy in it and he could have it if he came over to him. This story vividly shows how the Buddha uses different methods to save living beings of different capacities.
At Gaomin Temple, the Mahavira Hall at the centre of the premise symbolizes the Jewel of Buddha; the two libraries represent the Jewel of Dharma, with one standing for the teachings of expedient means and the other for teachings of the ultimate truth; and the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats in the front symbolizes the Jewel of Sangha. It is rarely seen in other temples or monasteries in China that such profound Buddhist teachings are embodied by architecture.
How to attain accomplishments in Dharma practice while busy with work?
Disciple: Since lay Buddhists are always occupied with work, could you advise on how they should practice the Dharma to attain accomplishments?
Master: How should they practice? It’s simple—chant the name of Buddhas. Let me ask you: why do you practice the Dharma? Because you want to become a Buddha, right? You can become a Buddha by chanting the Buddha’s name, as simple as that. What else could you become other than a Buddha if you keep chanting the name of Buddhas? I chant the name of Buddhas whenever I am free. Which Buddha’s name do I chant? It’s the name of Amitabha Buddha, “Namo Amitabha”. Isn’t it great that we can gain rebirth in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss through chanting “Namo Amitabha”? No other worlds can compare with the Western Pure Land. “From here, passing through hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddha lands to the west…” From our Saha World, the land of Shakyamuni Buddha, passing through hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddha lands to the west, there is a world named the Ultimate Bliss. “All living beings of this land never suffer, but enjoy every bliss; therefore, it is called ‘Ultimate Bliss’”. Those who chant the name of Amitabha will be reborn in his land. Amitabha Buddha guides living beings of the Saha World to be reborn in the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss so that we can fulfil the Buddha Path there to attain Buddhahood and save yet more sentient beings in the future. For those reborn in the Western Pure Land, there will be no backsliding on the Buddha Path, because there are simply no conditions for regress there. And Amitabha Buddha has deliberately made the vows to such effects, so living beings with negative karma can still be reborn in the Western Pure Land.
In the Degenerate Age, Buddhist practitioners in the Saha World must understand the principles about how to practice the Dharma, so as to avoid taking the wrong ways. Otherwise, you may practice for one eon and yet accomplish only what others achieve in one day if they really know how to practice.
Disciple: What is “really knowing how to practice”?
Master: Whether you can really do as I tell you depends on your good roots, blessings, virtues, and causal connections. According to Buddhist teachings, “all things are created by mind alone”, be it heaven or hell. Every single thought of sentient being creates karma. So, you must transform your mind and thoughts. Since everything is created by mind alone, if you keep your mind free of incorrect thinking and single-mindedly chant the name of the Buddha throughout your whole life, what will you become in the end? Of course, you will become a Buddha! What else could it be? Chanting the name of Buddha is the cause, and attaining Buddhahood is the effect. That is exactly how it works!
Since none of “the three minds” can be found, what mind are you pointing at?
The delegation offered the Master some dim sum from Singapore (dim sum is “dian xin” in Chinese and “dian” can also mean “to point at something”, and “xin” can mean “mind”, so, dim sum can actually be the namesake of “pointing at the mind” in Chinese).
Master: Since none of the three minds can be found, what mind are you pointing at? I once wrote a couplet for the Mahavira Hall of Gaomin Temple. The first half of it goes: “If you reside not on this riverbank or the other, nor in the middle of the river, where do you reside then?” There’s a river beside our temple, and we have to take the ferry to reach the east bank of the river. There’s no other way. But can this ferry always remain on this riverbank? Can it always remain on the other riverbank? Can it always remain in the middle of the river? It can’t always remain on this riverbank or the other, nor in the middle of the river; but neither can it constantly stay away from this riverbank or the other, nor the middle of the river. The essence of Buddhism lies in “abiding nowhere”. Where do you reside when you do not reside on this riverbank or the other, nor in the middle of the river while not staying away from them? That is Buddhism.
The second half of the couplet is: “When your mind doesn’t abide in the past, the present, nor the future, your true nature will be revealed.” When you realize that the three minds cannot be found, you will have found your true nature.
You are here to learn the Dharma. The layout of Gaomin Temple is quite simple. You come straight in and go straight out. You might have noticed that there is something written on the door. You’d be pretty good if you understand what it means. Let me run a small test on you. Remember the first door you had to walk through to get in here? There is a couplet written on it that reads, “Do not stay where there are Buddhas; and leave quickly where there are no Buddhas.” Do you get it?
Disciple: Does it mean we shouldn’t abide in anything?
Master: It means we should develop a mind that doesn’t abide in anything. If we must not abide where there are Buddhas, where should we abide then? If we must leave quickly where there are no Buddhas, where should our mind stay then? The answer is nowhere. It should stay nowhere. It’s so profound that those who have just made the initial resolution to seek enlightenment may not accept or understand it. When you say that we must not abide where there are Buddhas, they may wonder why not and where they should abide then. As for “leave quickly where there are no Buddhas”, it’s even more profound and more difficult to understand.
On the back of the door, there’s another couplet that goes, “Although all return to One Nature at the source; There are many expedient methods for the purpose.” This couplet is on the door this year, but it will be replaced by another one next year, and it will come back on the door the year after. The Buddha Dharma is so profound with immeasurable meanings, and is therefore impossible to be mastered by those who are narrow-minded or literal-minded.
Invite the Master to be the mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre
An invitation was offered for the master to be the mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre to guide the disciples in their Dharma practice.
The Master humbly declined at first, but finally accepted the offer. He said: “In Buddhism, it is believed that everything arises from conditional causation and hence has no self-nature. I think our meeting here today is no exception. ‘Whatever is dependently co-arisen. That is explained to be emptiness. That, being a dependent designation, is itself the middle way’. Alright, I will accept the offer.”
The fundamental purpose of all the teachings of the Buddha is to help beings understand the truth. Japanese Buddhism, Burmese Buddhism and Thai Buddhism are all priceless, and every one of them is just like Tibetan Buddhism. Each and every word of the Buddha is so precious.
—The Third Khyentse Rinpoche (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse)
Remarks on the Shikoku Pilgrimages and Their Significance to the Return of Tangmi—An Interview with Acharya Zhiguang by China Tencent Network
Date: February 22, 2016
Location: Jizō-ji Temple, the fifth temple of the Shikoku Pilgrimage
Interview participants: Acharya Zhiguang and Miaoshi (reporter of the Buddhism Channel of China Tencent Network)
About the Buddhism Channel of China Tencent Network
The Buddhism Channel of China Tencent Network is a network media platform with the purpose of “spreading the correct views, advocating the correct faith, and establishing the correct connections with the true Dharma”. (Translated from the website of the Buddhism Channel of China Tencent Network)
Acharya Zhiguang was being interviewed by the reporter at Jizō-ji Temple, the fifth of the Eighty-eight Temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan
Background of the interview
A Shikoku Pilgrimage of 88 temples by over thirty Chinese pilgrims can be called an unprecedented event either in China or in Japan. However, two such pilgrimages had taken place in a short period of merely four months, both led by Acharya Zhiguang, the mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre. One hundred and five Chinese pilgrims in total went on the two pilgrimages, together with a number of local Japanese pilgrims who were attracted and joined them on the way. Such events of international cultural exchange full of positive energy attracted the attention of domestic and foreign media in Japan, and local media such as NHK TV even made tracking reports on them. These neatly-dressed and devout Chinese pilgrims faithfully paid homage to all the holy sites on the tours and dedicated every step of their pilgrimages to the propagation of the Dharma, leaving behind their footsteps along the route, and leaving the Japanese people with many delightful memories. Their Shikoku pilgrimages have also made thousands of Chinese Buddhists gratefully remember and yearn for the glorious culture of the Tang and Song Dynasties as well as the Buddhist treasure of tantric teachings inherited from the Han and Tang Dynasties of China.
The reporter was fortunate to have followed Acharya Zhiguang on two “awakening tours” to Tokushima and one “austerity and discipline tour” to Kochi. All along the tours, the reporter was deeply touched by Acharya Zhiguang’s teachings of wisdom, and was immersed in the Dharma joy of all the tour members and the warm friendship they built with the local monks and residents. What still lingers in the reporter’s mind is not only the familiar Tang-Dynasty elegance of the 88 temples in Shikoku, but also the heart-warming and soul-nourishing holy Dharma and rich culture exchanged between China and Japan over one thousand years. The two Shikoku Pilgrimages led by Acharya Zhiguang are truly journeys of the soul.
During the pilgrimage, Acharya Zhiguang kindly accepted the interview of the reporter.
Transcript of the interview
Tencent Network reporter: Venerable Acharya, may I ask if there are any intentions behind the journey of your delegation coming all the way from China to Japan for the Shikoku pilgrimage? What do you want every participant to gain from it?
Acharya Zhiguang: First of all, the 88 temples of Shikoku are the sacred sites where Master Kukai had performed his Dharma practices 1200 years ago. The pilgrimage through these 88 temples can be divided into four stages, namely, first, awakening; second, austerity and discipline; third, attaining enlightenment; forth, entering nirvana. It symbolizes the path that an unenlightened being has to fulfill to attain Buddhahood. If we can complete such a pilgrimage with utter devotion, we will be actually following the footsteps of Master Kukai and emulating the process of his Dharma practice in a lifetime.
One thousand two hundred years ago, Master Kukai went to China in the Tang Dynasty to seek the Dharma and brought back to Japan the sublime teachings of Tangmi (Esoteric Buddhism of the Tang Dynasty) and the advanced technology and cultural knowledge of the Tang Dynasty, benefiting generations of Japanese people. Thanks to the strenuous efforts made by Master Kukai and Acharya Huiguo centuries ago, we are still able to appreciate the spiritual and cultural treasures here in Japan today, which were passed on from our Chinese ancestors there. The Shikoku Pilgrimage offers us, the descendants of such honored ancestors, a great opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the ancient culture of the Dynasty, and to see for ourselves the great achievements of ancient China.
In the tradition of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, there is a saying that goes: “The Pilgrimage is just like the path of life.” In a way, the Pilgrimage does resemble our lives, filled with all sorts of hardships, joys and pains. How do we transcend such hardships and attain joy and happiness eventually? That is something we need to contemplate during the Pilgrimage. I hope that everyone can achieve the supreme state of being “happy and carefree” through such a spiritual journey, following the four stages of the Buddha Path: awakening; austerity and discipline; attaining enlightenment; and entering Nirvana.
In the meantime, I also hope that our pilgrimage will promote mutual understanding and friendly exchanges between the Chinese and Japanese peoples.
Tencent Network reporter: I have heard that you have been seeking the Dharma in Japan since 2004 for the return and revival of the precious Tangmi teachings back in China. So, is it supposed to be part of this great undertaking that you have organized the Shikoku Pilgrimage for the Chinese pilgrims to follow the footsteps of Master Kukai?
Acharya Zhiguang: The return of Tangmi has been an ambition of the Chinese Buddhist community for the last century. Although my ability is very limited, I still hope to make some efforts to this end. When Master Kukai went to China in the Tang Dynasty to seek the Dharma, he was taken on as a disciple by Acharya Huiguo of Qinglong Monastery in Chang’an. Acharya Huiguo imparted the complete Tangmi teachings to this disciple from a foreign land without reservation, and entrusted him to spread and carry forward these teachings in Japan.
Today in Japan, we have also been taken on as disciples by many eminent monks and masters of the Japanese Shingon Sect, including Rev. Nakata Junna Daisojo and Rev. Shodo Habukawa Daisojo. Just like how Acharya Huiguo had taught Master Kukai one thousand two hundred years ago, these great masters in present Japan have also shown great compassion and kindness to me, granting every request I made and imparting to me many supreme Tangmi teachings. Of course, I am by no means comparing my humble self with these great masters. I simply want to say that I am deeply touched by their gratefulness towards China and their sincerity in repaying the past kindness.
In the past ten years, I have met many prominent monks, great masters, scholars, professors and entrepreneurs in Japan. All of them share the same wish to repay China for the wonderful culture and Buddhist teachings they received from China that have been benefiting Japan for centuries, and they all hope that such great culture and Buddhist teachings can return to China.
A perfect example is Ven. Syuzen Yoshimura, the abbot of Ryōzen-ji Temple, the very first sacred site of the Pilgrimage where we held the departure ceremony. He had been practicing Mandarin in order to give us a warm reception at his temple, and he deliberately gave us a speech in Mandarin at the departure ceremony, saying that the Japanese Shingon Sect of Tangmi originated from China and he really wanted to repay China’s kindness. Although it was very difficult for him to speak in Mandarin, what he said really touched me.
Personally, I also aspire to rejuvenate the wonderful traditional culture of China. I think our ancestors in ancient China had indeed benefited Japan. I have seen that many eminent monks and masters in Japan, as well as many people with lofty ideals in China, all hope that Tangmi will be brought back to China to benefit Chinese people in return. This vast and arduous undertaking cannot be accomplished by any individual but through the joint efforts of everyone who shares the same wish. Although my strength is very limited, I still hope that I can make a little contribution to the return and revival of Tangmi.
Tencent Network reporter: During the speech of the abbot of Ryōzen-ji Temple, I remember him saying “It seems that traditional Chinese culture is ‘sleeping’ in China. I hope that it will wake up soon.” I would like to ask Venerable Acharya Zhiguang: “Do you think traditional Chinese culture has disappeared in China? Has Tangmi been lost in China or does it still exist? If it still exists in China, what is the current condition of it? And what can we do for it? ”
Acharya Zhiguang: It is impossible for traditional Chinese culture to be extinct, and Tangmi has not disappeared in China. This conclusion is based on my personal experiences. I have been in contact with many elderly teachers and masters ever since I was a child, learning the Dharma and traditional Chinese culture from them for more than thirty years. I can say with certainty that traditional Chinese culture has not been lost in China. Although it has been damaged and disrupted in the long history of China, its total extinction is simply impossible because the truly valuable Chinese culture is deeply rooted in the hearts of Chinese people.
Acharya Zhiguang was in front of the memorial hall for Master Huiguo at Shōryū-ji Temple, the thirty-sixth of the Eighty-eight Temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan
And even though many of these elderly teachers and masters also suffered a great deal of tortures and hardships, the wisdom in their mind simply cannot be wiped out. It is from them that I have learned the wonderful culture of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, and even the precious teachings of various Buddhist traditions. I feel very grateful for their tremendous compassion and kindness towards me. So, personally I don’t think traditional Chinese culture has disappeared in China. And in fact, Tangmi teachings are not completely lost in China either. In the morning and evening sessions of monasteries of Chinese Buddhism, we can see that sublime tantric teachings are still practiced every day, such as the Shurangama Mantra, the Great Compassion Mantra, the Ten Small Dharanis, the Mengshan Food-offering Rite, and the Yoga Ritual of “Feeding the Searing Mouths (of hungry ghosts)”. Many other teachings of Tangmi have also been carried on in China, such as the Ucchusma Practice and the Cundi Practice. However, it is true that some Tangmi practices have already been lost in China; it can be said that traditional Chinese culture is indeed somewhat in decline. As people of Chinese descent, many of us don’t know much about traditional Chinese culture. That is indeed a regrettable fact.
Therefore, one thing we have been working on diligently for many years is “carrying forward lost teachings for past sages and establishing peace for all future generations”. I believe that all the precious Buddhist teachings and excellent traditional Chinese culture should be inherited and carried forward so as to benefit the Chinese nation and all sentient beings. That is also the wish of our Chinese ancestors: “to carry forward lost teachings for past sages and establish peace for all future generations”. Our strength might be limited, but we are working very hard to this end!
Acharya Zhiguang is the 64th Ajari (Acharya in Japanese) of the Shingon Daigo-ha Sanbo-in lineage, and the 75th Ajari of the Tendai Anou-ryu Sojibo lineage. He is the first Chinese Ajari who was awarded the title of “Monk of Chusojo” (a high-ranking monk, next to Daisojo) of Shingon. He is also the first person from Chinese mainland who attended the Tendai Lotus Sutra Assembly and passed the Examination of Learning and Argumentation, the highest level of examination for Tendai monks.
Acharya Zhiguang is currently the Honorary President for Life and the mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre in Singapore and Australia. He is also the director of the Sutra and Tantra Study and Practice Institute of Wuxi Xianyun Monastery, and the Sutra and Tantra Study and Practice Institute of Maha Cundi Monastery in Henan. In recent years, Acharya Zhiguang has been striving for the return of Tangmi to China and its revival around the world. In Singapore, Australia, China’s Maha Cundi Monastery in Henan, and Xianyun Monastery and Hengshan Monastery in Wuxi, he has carried out multiple Buddhist ceremonies, such as the Cundi Dharma Assembly, the Medicine Buddha Dharma Assembly, and the consecration ceremony for the Stupa of the Treasure Chest Seal Dharani. Moreover, Acharya Zhiguang has organized and led multiple tours to Japan for Chinese Buddhists to receive empowerments and go on pilgrimages there, enabling them to savor again the supreme nectar of Tangmi teachings passed on by previous lineage teachers since the Tang Dynasty.
Namo Vairocana Buddha,
Whose body, speech and mind are all pervasive in space,
Expounding the Three Secret Gates of the Tathagata, and
The profound one-vehicle Vajra teachings.
—The Yoga Practice of Samadhi of Vairocana Buddha from the Vajrasekhara Sutra
An Interview with Acharya Zhiguang by Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine
Date: July 2015
Location: Rigdzin Namkha Dzong – Orgyen Khandro Ling Retreat Centre in Bedar, Almeria city, Spain.
Interview participants: Acharya Zhiguang and Serta Tsultrim, the editor of Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine
About Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine intends to unite all the practitioners of the Nyingma tradition by presenting and reporting on the main activities of great masters of this tradition. This magazine is distributed for free in Nyingmapa monasteries, Buddhist centres and communities all over the world. It is devoid of any political content whatsoever. It particularly emphasizes bringing into review the biographies of great masters in Buddhist history, to inspire the practitioners of this modern age. It also explains in detail some of the precious teachings and practices of the Nyingma tradition.
The magazine was founded and sponsored by Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche in 2012, who entrusted its edition to Serta Tsultrim, an experienced Buddhist practitioner and journalist himself.
This magazine is revered by the great masters of the Nyingma tradition, such as Khenpo Sodargye, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö, Sangye Pema Shepa Düdjom Rinpoche, Chomchok Patrul Rinpoche and Orgyen Thobgyal Rinpoche. They all consider it a very important source of information and a good platform for Nyingmapa practitioners to join their forces in Dharma practice.
Background of the interview
From July 14th to 26th, 2015, led by Acharya Zhiguang, the delegation of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre visited several countries of Europe including Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain, to study and spread the Dharma. At the request of the local disciples and Buddhist organizations, Acharya Zhiguang blessed the diverse audience with a series of remarkable lectures and Dharma transmissions tailored to their faculties and causal connections. With his perfect combination of wisdom and skillful means, he kindly bestowed the benefits of “seeds (of enlightenment) planted, ripening and liberation” on the causally-connected living beings in the European countries on his tour, nourishing their roots of virtue and strengthening their connections with the Dharma. From July 18th to 21st, after having given Dharma transmissions to the students, Acharya Zhiguang gave a public lecture on the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha to a full room of audience at the Rigdzin Namkha Dzong – Orgyen Khandro Ling Retreat Centre. Later on, Acharya Zhiguang was interviewed by Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine. The article of this interview can be found in its fourth Issue of 2015.
The full transcript of the interview
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: In today’s interview, we would like to hear about Rinpoche’s life story, as well as your efforts in spreading the Dharma.
Acharya Zhiguang: All right. Ever since I was a little child, I suffered from a serious health condition known as Meniere’s disease. When it attacked, I was unable to go to school. Doctors told me that this disease was difficult to cure because there was no good medical therapy for it. I was thus in great agony at that time.
Then, I met a wise teacher who told me, “If possible, you should recite the Great Compassion Mantra, as the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra states that it can cure 84,000 diseases. You can try it.”
Fortunately, there was a temple near my home, Qita Temple (Seven Pagodas Temple). So, I went to learn this Great Compassion Mantra from the monks there. This temple happened to be a Bodhimanda of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, and I got a sutra of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva there. I learned the mantra and started to recite it seven times every morning. Oddly, my Meniere’s disease has never appeared again since then.
That came as a big shock for me. We were brought up in a time where our education system officially denounced Buddhism as an ancient superstition. But reality proved that my incurable disease was cured by the supposed “superstition”. Awed by this experience, my past beliefs were totally overturned. It was this incident that really motivated me to explore Buddhism and understand why it was so powerful. I began to visit many Buddhist masters, asking them questions to dissolve my doubts.
At the time, there were many senior masters who survived the Cultural Revolution. They were still alive, so I began to study with them. In fact, very few others at the time wanted to get involved with them in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Naturally, they had plenty of time, because not many people were studying the Dharma. Sometimes they would give Dharma teachings on a small scale, for example, in the homes of some lay Buddhists. The teacher would be an elderly master and the students were mostly old ladies. I was the only young man there, and received special attention. For them, I was the future and hope of Buddhism. So, I became their favorite student. At that time, the masters were unable to do much in spreading the Dharma teachings, so they had a lot of time for me. Whenever I had a question, or wanted to inquire about a specific field, they were readily available. This was very convenient and conducive for my learning.
I was full of questions, which was due to my previous ignorance of Buddhism and traditional Chinese culture. The teachings of these wise teachers completely changed the views I had before and resulted in my great devotion to the Dharma. Since then, I settled myself on the path of hearing, contemplating and practicing the Dharma. In the following decade or so, I visited many monasteries of Chinese Buddhism, studying from over thirty great masters, learning, practicing and doing retreats with them. I studied all the major lineages present in the Chinese Buddhism, and among them the Tiantai, the Chan and the Pure Land lineages were the ones I delved most deeply into.
Since 1993, a few masters gave me the permission to teach the Dharma. From then on, I mainly stayed at and helped in monasteries. The first monastery I worked in was Baoshan Pure Monastery in Shanghai, followed by Xuedou Monastery in Fenghua. I worked for quite a while in both monasteries.
In Baoshan Pure Monastery, I received quite a lot of Chinese Tantric teachings (Tiantai Tantric lineage) from Acharya Huimei. I made Tantric retreats under his guidance. Acharya Huimei viewed me as his last lineage-holding disciple. He was then over 90 years old. He was an amazing elder, a Mahasiddha with supernatural powers. When I was receiving his transmissions and doing the retreats under his guidance, I was considered to have displayed many signs of success. He was the first guru that empowered me to become a Vajra Acharya.
At that stage, I gave a lot of Dharma teachings. In this process it was inevitable that many questions were raised, many of them involving Tibetan Buddhism. However, I had only learnt a little about Tibetan Buddhism from Master Qingding, who was known as a guru in both Chinese Zen lineage and Tibetan Gelug lineage. So, my knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism was quite limited back then. Another teacher of mine who was learned in Tantric teachings was Master Huang Nianzu, who was a Vajrayana Master. I have never met him in person, but I studied almost all his books. Many of my Chinese teachers spoke highly of him then. He was proficient in both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, and I think he held the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.
Then, something special happened to me: I dreamed of Guru Rinpoche three times. On all three occasions, Guru Rinpoche appeared in three different forms, leading me to think that I was, by karma, associated with Tibetan Buddhism. Master Qingding had a very good relationship with His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. Since I had great faith in Master Qingding, I believed H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche must also be a great master, as Master Qingding gave him much credit.
From that point onwards, I wished to be able to travel to Tibet to learn the Dharma. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, many Han Chinese had limited knowledge and even misunderstandings of Tibetan Buddhism at that time. So, I truly wanted to learn about Tibetan Buddhism accurately. I believed that I could understand the real Tibetan Buddhism only by going to Tibet to study it intensively myself. Secondly, I hoped that there could be more communication between Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism. In other words, I wanted to be the bridge between the two. In the Han region of China, people commonly held two wrong views. They either believed that Tibetan Buddhism was utterly fallacious and superstitious, and that Chinese Buddhism was the best; or thought that Tibetan Buddhism was the best and that Chinese Buddhism was outdated and fading out. In fact, even today, these two views are still around.
In 1996, I started to study Tibetan Buddhism intensively. In April 1997, I made my first visit to Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy in Tibet. Ever since then, I spent many years there studying the Dharma.
At that time, I bought a hut in Larung Gar, which cost me 3,000 yuan. It was in a great location, just behind the Lama Temple, very convenient for me to attend the classes there. Life, however, was very hard. Being a vegetarian, I did not have much to eat. I remember eating only potatoes for four whole months. Besides potatoes, I ate mostly instant noodles. My kind Lama, Khenpo Tenzin Lhakpa once told me, “It is most convenient for us two to go on retreats. A bag of tsampa for me, and a box of instant noodles for you will be just enough.”
Back then I spent most of my time in Larung Gar and received a multitude of empowerments, transmissions, and pith instructions from H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. I had successfully received most of the transmissions imparted by him during that period of time, including most transmissions recorded in his prominent books, especially the transmissions of all the Dzogchen teachings. Of course, besides receiving transmissions from H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche himself, I also requested Dharma teachings frequently from all of his major disciples.
I spent much of my time in Larung Gar before the H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche entered into parinirvana. The most profound knowledge I got from Tibetan Buddhism was from the great Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche’s lineages. In this perspective, H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche’s kindness to me is incomparable. During my studies in Larung Gar, I had to leave the Academy from time to time, mainly because I ran out of money. I had to come home to make some money and then return to Larung Gar to continue my study.
Acharya Zhiguang was talking with Anjam Rinpoche
My deeper understanding of Tibetan Buddhism arose only after my studies at Larung Gar. During that period of time, I also visited many other great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, most of whom are closely affiliated with the Academy. Among them, Lama Anjam Rinpoche in Xinlong in particular, gave me much help. I received from him all the transmissions and empowerments of The Complete Works of Great Master Lerab Lingpa and The Complete Works of Pema Düdül. I also received from him most transmissions and empowerments of The Entire Works of H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, as well as many other teachings. Later on, I further studied the Dharma in other monasteries including Kathog Monastery, Yachen Monastery, Dzogchen Monastery, etc., among which spent the most time at Dzagyal Monastery. My first master there was Khandro Kunsang Wangmo Rinpoche, who gave me many transmissions and empowerments.
Acharya Zhiguang was appointed as the Secondary Abbot of Dzogchen Osel Rangjung Ling Retreat Centre of Dzagyal Monastery by the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche
It was then that I got to know the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche, as we were receiving empowerments together. At that time, life in Dzagyal Monastery was extremely hard. We had such poor food and accommodation that Patrul Rinpoche felt our misery and invited us to have dinner at his home. I remember that during my first visit to his home, he personally cooked noodles for us. Over time, I developed an even deeper relationship with Patrul Rinpoche, who gave me many teachings, especially the teachings of Longchen Rabjam, including the Four Heart Drops and the Seven Treasures. He also gave me the complete transmissions and empowerments of the Self-liberation of Profound Truth by the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities by Karma Lingpa, and most transmissions and empowerments of the Complete Works of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa. Meanwhile, Patrul Rinpoche took us for many practice retreats, personally guiding us through the complete practice of Yeshe Lama. Later, we built a retreat centre just in front of his retreat cave. Almost every year, I bring students there to receive his teachings and take some short retreats.
Acharya Zhiguang was giving Dharma teachings at Dzagyal Monastery
In hindsight, I have studied with a total of over thirty masters in Tibet. While many of them were of the Nyingma lineage, there were also masters from Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug lineages. Of course, I am still studying and practicing those teachings to this day. That concludes the brief summary of my study of Tibetan Buddhism.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: According to some sources, in China there are a lot of people who are practicing and studying Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism. Some say there are as many as 400 million. I then inquired about this figure in particular and was told they are not just general believers of Buddhism, but engaged Buddhist practitioners. If that is true, what do you think the percentage of Buddhist practitioners will be in the future in China?
Acharya Zhiguang: I am not very familiar with the exact figure, but the demand for the Dharma among Chinese people does appear to be enormous.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: It is said that in China, many are following fake masters and Lamas to study the Dharma; they are obsessed only with their supernatural powers. Those masters claim that they have supernatural powers and have attained enlightenment. Unfortunately, it appears that those followers have neither the will nor the ability to find truly enlightened masters. What is your opinion on this phenomenon?
Acharya Zhiguang: This phenomenon is indeed present, and it worries me. If this situation continues, it will certainly become a major factor that will ruin Tibetan Buddhism. According to some sources on the web, there are as many as 300,000 supposed Rinpoches in the Chaoyang District of Beijing alone. Perhaps this is an exaggerated figure and is not necessarily the real statistics, but nevertheless it really exposes some deep underlying concerns for the development of Tibetan Buddhism in the Han region of China.
Many of my Lamas are also very worried about this. They authorized me to teach the Dharma in the Han region, as it was their hope that we could spread the authentic Tibetan Buddhist teachings. After I got their permission, I have tried my best to spread the true teachings from pure lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. In China’s mainland and many other parts of the world, we devote all our efforts to altering the status quo. What we teach is all from the pure lineages of these masters and Lamas, without the slightest addition of our own. These are, from what we have observed, extremely powerful teachings, and are widely welcomed. As far as we know, we now have over 200 students who have finished the Ngondro. Among them, there are exceptionally diligent ones who have completed it more than once, twice, or even three or four times.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: Nowadays, many Tibetan Lamas have come to the Han region to teach the Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings. On the other hand, however, fake Lamas are causing substantial destruction to Tibetan Buddhism. Which of these two, in your opinion, will be more likely to gain the upper hand?
Acharya Zhiguang: Currently, Larung Gar Buddhist Academy is doing an exceptional job in teaching Tibetan Buddhism in the Han region of China. I think it is the most influential figure currently, mainly thanks to its three great Khenpos: Khenpo Sodargye, Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok and Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö. They have great power in spreading the Dharma in the Han region. They can speak fluent Mandarin, and have a lot of assistant Dharma teachers under their instruction. They have done an excellent job in spreading the Dharma in the Han region of China. When I see the Dharmic activities of these Khenpos, I am instilled with confidence, and believe strongly that Tibetan Buddhism will thrive in the future. For my part, I will also try my best to promote these Khenpos, and although I am probably the worst disciple of H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, I certainly share the ambition that the Dharma teachings of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy will spread increasingly farther and wider over time. I have been trying my best to spread the teachings of the Academy. Many of the Dharma teachings that we give now are from Larung Gar Buddhist Academy’s lineage. I think the greatest good Larung Gar Buddhist Academy has done to Han Chinese Dharma students is the translation of vast volumes of texts of the Dharma from Tibetan Buddhism.
However, whenever I hear negative news about Dharma teachings, I often become worried that this might lead to another attack on Tibetan Buddhism. It is said that a lot of negative news on Tibetan Buddhism is also coming from Chengdu. If this goes on, it might bring great damage to Tibetan Buddhism.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: The modern China has more and more influence over the world nowadays, due to its population and culture. To some extent, the world is directed and affected by China, both positively and negatively. If the Dharma is widely spread in China, it will surely bring positive influence to the world as a whole too. So, what does Rinpoche think we can do to promote and speed up the spreading of the Dharma in China so the Chinese influence to the world becomes more positive?
Acharya Zhiguang: First of all, I think that the current Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping, has a positive attitude towards Buddhism in general, which is evident from many of his talks. He thinks that Buddhism is an important aspect of Chinese culture.
We have already made a lot of effort in China. We started the work of spreading the Dharma in 1995, when I became the leader of Dharma teaching team in Xuedou Monastery, and later the chief director of the Sutra and Tantra Study and Practice Institute of Maha Cundi Temple in Henan. Last year, we founded a Sutra and Tantra Study and Practice Institute in the Xianyun Monastery in Wuxi. Teaching the Dharma is our full-time, daily work.
Overall, the situation for Dharma teaching in China is improving, even though negative news can still be found all around. What I can do is to try my best to spread authentic teachings with pure lineages as much as possible. However, I am not sure precisely how much we can help Chinese Buddhism, as our influence is quite limited.
In fact, there are many difficulties in spreading the Dharma today. Personally, I prefer to practice in retreat. But many of my Lamas do not agree that I spend all my time doing that.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: In terms of the percentage of world religious populations, Buddhists only rank fourth. Some say that this is because the Buddhist tradition contains a strong element of ordination, thus limiting its popularity and activity in the worldly society. While the Christianity following, claimed at about 3 billion, consists mainly of laypeople. So, we would like to ask Rinpoche, “Should we start teaching the Dharma in ways that suit both the ordained and lay Buddhists?”
Acharya Zhiguang: This is a very important question. There are four groups of disciples of the Buddha: bhikshu, bhikshuni, upasaka and upasika, and I think that all the four groups need to be treated with equal importance.
Traditional Buddhism usually pays more attention to ordained disciples. However, in modern society, just as you said, religions really need to be spread among the general public, although ordination is indeed very important. So, I think Buddhism is a little weak in this aspect.
There are two major directions we can work towards:
The first direction is to guide Buddhist practitioners to walk the profound path of liberation and attaining Buddhahood, step by step, from the beginning stages of developing renunciation and giving rise to Bodhicitta, till the ultimate stage of realizing Dzogchen and gaining rebirth in the Pure Land.
The second direction is for us to work hard in spreading simple Dharma teachings to the public, with the goal of developing positive connections between the public and the Dharma.
These are the two directions for us to spread the Dharma to benefit sentient beings. For those who are ready in their mind, we will guide them deeper into the Dharma teachings. As for the majority of the population with inadequate understanding of Buddhism, we will do our best to first familiarize them with Buddhist knowledge, and help them create a positive connection with the Dharma.
A recent example of this is a talk that I gave at the Amicale Centre of the Council of Europe. They asked for the topic, “the Secret of Happiness,” for which I told them in response that happiness could be found in Buddhism. The reservations were fully booked, and we have received very positive reactions. Most of the audience was without any Buddhist background. Furthermore, after the talk, the director of the centre told me that this kind of talk should be given regularly for a longer period. In fact, they would host the talk every year. She even suggested that we could invite national leaders to our talks, convinced that doing so would greatly promote world peace.
We need to disseminate the Dharma in the spirit of Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana, and in a way that is preferred by the general public. This can include informal lectures or discussions, charitable activities, arts and cultural exchanges such as tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arrangement), or singing, and dancing. We can also, for example, build many stupas around the world. In this way, the general public will get to know more about Buddhism. When people really understand Buddhism, I am certain that they will want to engage in further study on it. This is in fact what we have been doing the whole time.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: For this interview, we would like to know if there is any message that you wish to pass on to all the Nyingma practitioners and communities?
Acharya Zhiguang: I myself do not have anything to say. However, I think there is great advice of H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche that I would like to share with everyone. He said, “Be very careful not to hold favoritism and attachment to any traditions, as this will result in the negative karma of rejecting other Dharma teachings, thus destroying ourselves and others. We should not only do the sadhana of the Deity with which we have a special karmic connection, but should also have a pure view of the teachings of other lineages. These are the words from my heart.” That means we can have complete confidence in our own lineage, but we should also respect and try to understand other lineages and traditions.
Although H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche mainly promoted the Nyingma lineage when he was spreading the Dharma to benefit sentient beings, he had also shown great respect for other lineages and traditions, and had made efforts to spread their teachings. He built many temples around the Mandala of Great Illusion in Larung Gar. H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche’s assertion is to equally respect all lineages and traditions. In fact, he built a temple for each school, one of them being a Han Chinese Buddhist temple. He said that we need to have complete confidence in our own lineage while having a respectful and impartial attitude towards other lineages, as well as being open for communication. I think this is very good advice. Historically, there have been many great masters who held the same opinion, including Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Mipham Rinpoche, Patrul Rinpoche etc. They all held the same point of view.
I believe that my ability is quite limited. However, I have tried my best to practice H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche’s teachings. Especially in recent years, we have initiated a lot of activities aimed at promoting communication among Theravada Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism. As you mentioned just now, the followers of Buddhism are minorities worldwide, so we need to unite with each other to spread the Dharma and benefit sentient beings together, instead of creating conflicts between each other. This is my very humble idea.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: Before formally introducing you to the readers of our magazine, we would like to ask you a question: How should we identify you with respect to Buddhism? For example, what kind of vows have you taken?
Acharya Zhiguang: The fact is, my identity is a little complicated, as I have studied quite a few Buddhist lineages.
At first, I studied Chinese Buddhism for more than 10 years. Then, starting in 1996, I have been studying Tibetan Buddhism. Moreover, since 2004, I began to visit Japan in order to study the Tantric lineages that have almost perished in China altogether, even though they were originally brought to Japan from ancient China.
Tangmi (Tantric Buddhism of the Tang Dynasty) has been well preserved in Japan ever since it was introduced from China during the Tang Dynasty. In its homeland China, however, this lineage is very weak and in fact most of its teachings are lost. Since 1911, the Chinese Buddhist community has been trying hard to restore this lineage, and many Buddhist students wished to study it. When I discovered that the Tangmi lineage was still available in a pure and complete form in Japan, I decided to travel there to study its teachings and bring Tangmi back to China. Tangmi is considered to be the teaching that came from Buddha Vairocana who imparted it to Vajrasattva, who then transmitted it to Bodhisattva Nagarjuna.
I was officially granted the qualification to study Tangmi in Japan in 2012. However, there is a rule prohibiting Tantric teachings from being taught to laypeople. This rule is followed by both major branch lineages of Tangmi in Japan: the Shingon school and the Tendai school. So, I had first to be an ordained monk of the two schools to be able to study the lineages. I got ordained in the Japanese Shingon school in Daigo-ji Temple, became their “monk pupil,” and accepted their formal Tantric lineage training to the last detail. At last, I received the qualification of Acharya, and became entitled to give teachings and empowerments of Shingon lineage.
Acharya Zhiguang was authorized as “Acharya of the Shingon school” at Daigoji Temple, with the permission to bestow Shingon teachings and empowerments
Certificate of Acharya of the Daigo-ha Sanbo-in Lineage of the Japanese Shingon school with the permission to bestow Shingon teachings and empowerments
Lineage chart of the Daigo-ha Sanbo-in Lineage of the Japanese Shingon school
My studies in the Tendai school proceeded similarly. First, I had to become a monk of Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple. It was only after stringent and difficult training that I obtained the qualification of Acharya in Tendai school to give tantric teachings and empowerments. As far as I know, I am the first Chinese that has been ordained and became an Acharya in both the Shingon and Tendai schools. From this point of view, you can say that I am an officially-registered and legitimate monk in Japan.
Acharya Zhiguang was authorized as “Acharya of the Tendai school” at Enryakuji Temple, with the permission to bestow Tendai teachings and empowerments
Certificate of Acharya of the Hieizan Lineage of the Japanese Tendai school with the permission to bestow Tendai teachings and empowerments
Lineage chart of the Anou-ryu Lineage of the Japanese Tendai school
The vows that a Japanese monk takes are different from those taken by monks of Chinese Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism. To my knowledge, there are mainly four monastic lineages in the world. Having studied Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka, I found that most of the monks there only take the Hinayana self-liberation (Pratimoksha) vows, and there are no Mahayana or Vajrayana vows. Monks of Chinese Buddhism normally take two kinds of vows: the Pratimoksha Vows of the Hinayana and the Bodhisattva Vows of the Mahayana. Tibetan Buddhist monks usually take three kinds of vows: the Pratimoksha Vows of the Hinayana, the Bodhisattva Vows of the Mahayana, and the Samaya vows of the Vajrayana. As for the monk vows I have taken in Japan, Japanese monks generally take the ten precepts under the Self-liberation Vows of the Hinayana first, and then the Bodhisattva Vows of the Mahayana, and finally the Samaya vows of the Vajrayana. Basically, this is the case of monk vows for both the Japanese Shingon and Tendai schools that I belong to. Therefore, you can see that the vows a monk takes in the Japanese Shingon and Tendai schools are different from those taken in Chinese Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism. My actual experience in Japan was like that. I had to become a monk there first, because otherwise they would not have given me the systematic and complete Tantric teachings.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: Thank you so much. I am sorry to take so much of your time. You have told us a lot, and we appreciate it very much. It is a great honor for our magazine to cover such an experienced Buddhist master like you, who has a Han Chinese identity. We will especially emphasize in our article the part that Rinpoche plans to bring Tangmi back to China.
Acharya Zhiguang: Actually, there was one more reason for me to study the Dharma in Japan. H.H. the 15th Karmapa once made a prophecy about Japanese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.
At that time, a Bhutanese disciple offered to him an ivory sculpture engraved with the story of the Buddha. During the offering, the disciple told him that the sculpture was from Japan, and that Buddhism was very popular in Japan and most of its people believed in Buddhism. The disciple also told him that, other than Tibet, Japan was one of the rare places where Tantric Buddhism flourished. As he was quite surprised to hear that, he specifically spent three days practicing rituals, chanting sutras and making wishes. After that, he made a prophecy that in the future, if the Japanese Tantric teachings joined forces with the Tibetan Tantric teachings, various Buddhist traditions would unite and Buddhism would thrive in this world.
There are thirteen different schools under the Japanese Shingon Sect, and they had jointly founded a university called Shuchiin University, where I was formally invited to give a talk on the topic of “Initial Studies of the Relations between Tibetan and Japanese Tantric Buddhism”. I specifically mentioned this prophecy in my talk. When I was giving an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, I emphasized the most on the Nyingma school, and naturally, the audience became very interested in it. Later on, I presented to them a complete collection of books and digital discs from Larung Gar Buddhist Academy. I did the same to the Enryaku-ji Temple of the Tendai school and the Daigo-ji Temple of the Shingon school. This was my “advertisement” for the Nyingma school. In addition, I offered Larung Gar Buddhist Academy one set of the Complete Works of the Shingon s**chool and one set of the Complete Works of the Tendai s**chool from Japan, hoping to promote communication between different Buddhist traditions.
Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine: Thank you very much for taking this interview. We will share the talk with our readers faithfully. We are very grateful.
Acharya Zhiguang: Thank you very much!
say, in all sincerity, that no Buddhist traditions are superior or inferior to others, and there are no contradictions among them at all. If you think there are contradictions, it is simply because you do not understand them.
—H.H.Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche
Being Happy and Carefree: The Transforming Power of Chan
—An Interview with Acharya Zhiguang by Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore
Date: October 2016
Location: Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre (Singapore)
Interview participants: Acharya Zhiguang and Hele (reporter of Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore)
About Buddhist Fellowship
Buddhist Fellowship was established in 1989. The magazine mainly focuses on covering the monthly activities in the local Buddhist community and intends to spread the teachings and the educational philosophy of the Buddha by publishing Buddhist scriptures and commentaries from Theravada Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as words of wisdom from eminent masters. As a window of the Buddhist world, it tries to provide a wide range of Buddhist information and activities for people to share and communicate with each other.
(Translated from the official website of Buddhist Fellowship)
Background of the interview
Slow down, listen to your inner voice, and experience the joy of meditation, the bliss of tranquility, and the peace in your body and mind.
From October 7th to 9th, Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre (Singapore) held its “Happy Chan—the First-stage Meditation Camp on Tiantai Samatha (calm abiding) and Vipassana (insight)” on the Indonesian island of Batam. This meditation camp aimed at introducing to the participants a series of meditation skills starting with Tiantai Samatha and Vipassana practices in sitting position and in off-the-cushion circumstances, so that the participants can taste the meditative joy not only when sitting on the cushion, but also in their daily life. Acharya Zhiguang was the mentor of this meditation camp.
Transcript of the interview
Buddhist Fellowship: Master, could you briefly introduce the practice of Samatha and Vipassana of the Tiantai school?
Acharya Zhiguang: The Tiantai school has a very long history in China. Its main lineage starts from Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, down to Chan Master Huiwen, Chan Master Huisi, and then to Master Zhiyi in the Chen and Sui Dynasties. Master Zhiyi summarized all the Buddhist meditation techniques available at that time and developed the meditation practices of Tiantai Samatha and Vipassana, presenting them in four major texts:
1) “Concise Calming and Insight ” (or “Samatha and Vipassana for Beginners”);
2) “Explanation of the Gradual Dharma Door of Dhyana Paramita”;
3) “Direct Insight without Any Gradual Process of Samadhi” (or “Six Subtle Dharma Gates”);
4) “Great Calming and Insight (Mohe Zhiguan**, also known as The Perfect and Sudden Samatha-**Vipassana, which represents the largest part of Tiantai teachings).
Buddhist Fellowship: Practicing meditation and concentration is not unique to Buddhism. What distinguishes Tiantai Samatha-vipassana from non-Buddhist meditation?
Acharya Zhiguang: Generally, meditation techniques of other religions tend to focus on Samatha (calm abiding) only and overlook Vipasyana. Master Zhiyi once said that Samatha can suppress afflictions but cannot eradicate them. Therefore, although meditators of other religions can also achieve very advanced states of Samadhi (meditative absorption) and can even be reborn as devas, their afflictions can only be eliminated through the union of Samatha and Vipassana, which is the essential doctrine of the Tiantai school.
Buddhist Fellowship: How does the Tiantai Samatha and Vipassana help meditators to perceive that all five skandhas (five aggregates) are empty?
Acharya Zhiguang: In our modern age, most people suffer tremendous stress from work and life. Therefore, mental diseases are seriously prevalent in modern society. Recently, a young Chinese artist died from depression. The root of psychological disorders, in fact, lies in people’s inability to tame their mind. The Buddha Dharma can empower us to do so and thus help us to be free from sufferings and obtain bliss.
In the Lotus Sutra, which is the most important root sutra of the Tiantai school, the Buddha remarked that “I appear in the world…to pour enrichment on all parched living beings, to free them all from misery and so attain the joy of peace, joy in the world, and the joy of nirvana.” This is exactly the function of Buddhism. In this Sutra, the Buddha also said that “He who rightly cultivates his mind is able to dwell in happiness.” What the Buddha meant was that we suffer only because our mind is not tamed, and the Dharma can help us tame our mind and attain happiness.
If we can tame our mind, we will at least be able to deal with stress and other problems in our lives and will obtain worldly pleasures, even though we may not become Buddhas immediately. Moreover, if we practice the Dharma properly step by step, we will be able to attain the realization that all the five skandhas are empty, obtaining the supramundane joy and eventually becoming Buddhas ourselves.
Buddhist Fellowship: How are beginners trained in the Tiantai practice of Samatha and Vipassana?
Acharya Zhiguang: The teaching on the Samatha and Vipassana within the Tiantai school is very systematic, comprehensive and profound. It cannot be mastered in a short time but should be learned gradually in a step-by-step manner.
At first, we will teach them some easily understandable meditation techniques that are simple yet powerful. These techniques will enable the beginners to initially settle down their mind at work and in other activities of daily life. When they can set their mind at peace in this restless society and personally experience the joy and benefit of meditation, we will then lead them towards further practices. Meditation practice knows no boundaries and should be done by following the instructions from a pure lineage. The meditation techniques we are teaching today, which have been passed down to the present through pure lineages of prominent monks and masters, are strictly based on Buddhist scriptures and treatises. These techniques have been proved highly effective by countless successful cases over the past one thousand years.
Buddhist Fellowship: How should we interpret “Happy Chan”?
Acharya Zhiguang: Master Daoxin once gave a concise and plain definition of Buddha in his Treatise on the Mind (Fang Cun Lun)—“One who is happy and carefree is Buddha”.
“Happy Chan” helps us to understand and subdue our mind gradually. People in modern society are deeply troubled by competition, stress and social problems. Buddhism believes that all afflictions arise because we do not understand our mind and are unable to tame it. Therefore, the root of “Happy Chan” can be found in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, as in “one who rightly cultivates his mind is able to dwell in happiness”.
The ultimate purpose of “Happy Chan” is, as stated in the Lotus Sutra, to “show the wisdom of the Buddha to living beings and enlighten them to it”, which is also the ultimate purpose of all Buddhas’ activities to save sentient beings. No matter which school or which lineage of Buddhism we are learning, as long as we keep on studying and practicing it, our negative emotions will diminish continuously and we will all attain Buddhahood eventually. Having eliminated all our afflictions, we will dwell in happiness and be free from worries. That is our ultimate goal.
Buddhist Fellowship: Although the pleasure experienced in meditation might be referred to as “ultimate bliss” or “ecstasy”, it is not the ultimate enlightenment in nature. If the meditators are attached to it, it will become a severe hindrance to their liberation from Samsara. So, how do we refrain from being attached to the joy we feel during meditation?
Acharya Zhiguang: Indeed, the joy of meditation is the greatest joy in the Three Realms of Samsara. Therefore, many religions have meditation techniques that can lead to very deep concentration.
Buddhism has developed some illuminating insight into this issue. Master Zhiyi of the Tiantai school, in particular, had made an in-depth analysis of various experiences arising during Dharma practices and had presented much valuable advice. In his teachings on the four types of Tiantai Samatha and Vipassana, he provided specific methods to address the issue of being attached to the joy of meditation.
In brief, the Buddha Dharma consists not only in meditation but also in wisdom. The reason why people indulge in and attach themselves to the joy of meditation is that they lack wisdom. This problem will be well addressed if we can combine Samatha with Vipassana.
Buddhist Fellowship: What are the main characteristics of Japanese Buddhism?
Acharya Zhiguang: In 2004, I went to Japan to study Japanese Buddhism, which was introduced from China during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Personally, I have mainly studied the following traditions: Japanese Tendai school, Shingon school, and Zen school.
A remarkable feature of Japanese Buddhism is that Buddhist traditions have been well preserved. Most of them have remained virtually unchanged. Therefore, we can still see many historical traces of the Tang and Song Dynasties in Japanese temples, including scriptures, cultural relics, Buddha statues, and costumes, Dharma rituals and rites, and so forth. Japan has done such a wonderful job in preserving the splendid culture of the Tang and Song Dynasties when traditional Chinese culture was considered in its prime. That is something worth learning from.
Buddhist Fellowship: We know that The Thirty-eight Secrets to Lifetime Happiness is one of your popular works. Could you please talk briefly about how lay Buddhists should practice the Dharma correctly, based on the teachings in this book?
Acharya Zhiguang: When I visited Sri Lanka, a ruling Buddhist master imparted me the teachings of the Mangala Sutra, in which Shakyamuni Buddha taught 38 practices to cultivate auspiciousness that leads to a happy life. I think everyone can get inspired by the Buddha’s teachings in this sutra. The former parts of the sutra mainly focus on instructing lay Buddhists on how to achieve worldly auspiciousness, while the latter on how to attain liberation, which both lay and monastic Buddhists need to learn.
Nowadays, everyone wants to be happy and blessed, but people do not know the causes of happiness and blessings. So, although they try to seek happiness, they are doing nothing but planting the seeds of suffering. That is why it is critical to pursue happiness in the correct way. Therefore, after having consulted many eminent Buddhist masters, I have used easy and simple words to explain in The Thirty-eight Secrets to Lifetime Happiness the 38 practices of cultivating auspiciousness from the Mangala Sutra so that the readers could easily understand and put them into practice.
Note: This text is taken from Issue No. 331 of Buddhist Fellowship
The flourishing of Buddhism as a whole largely depends on the communication and mutual understanding between various Buddhist traditions. That is very important. I personally have also vowed to contribute to the development of Buddhism as a whole by promoting such communication and mutual understanding. In the meantime, I also hope that all of us can make some efforts in this regard. Not only in Buddhist endeavors, but also in the more general social activities, I hope we can all communicate with each other, understand each other, and live in harmony with each other.
A Dialogue on the Revival of Tangmi (Part One)
—The Great Significance of Tangmi’s Revival to Modern Society
On October 15, 2016, the First International Academic Symposium on the Revival of Chinese Tangmi (tantric teachings that had flourished in China during the Tang Dynasty) was successfully held at the Samadhi Academy in Bayuquan of Yingkou City, China.
The sublime causal affinity of the symposium has brought together at the Samadhi Academy a galaxy of eminent Buddhist monks and masters, scholars and distinguished guests from all over the world to offer their insights on the return of Tangmi and its revival. In the afternoon session, the guest speakers carried out in-depth discussions on the two themes of “the great significance of Tangmi’s revival to modern society” and “how to keep up with the times and spread Tangmi in modern society”.
Location: Samadhi Academy, Bayuquan District, Yingkou City, China.
Panelists: Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo, Acharya Zhiguang, Prof. Wang Yiming, Mr. Chen Chao, Mr. Qiu Xu
Moderator: Ms. Xia Weijuan, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Ekayana Magazine
Topic: Significance of the revival of Tangmi to modern society
Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo:
Abbot of Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei, the head temple (Honzan) of the Tendai school;
Kanshu of Enryaku-ji Mizumadera temple;
Chief Priest of Enryaku-ji Guhoji Temple in Kaizuka, Osaka;
Professor of the Eizan Academy;
Official Tendai Scholar (Kangaku)
Mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centres around the world;
Acharya of the Shingon and Tendai schools, with the authorization to bestow teachings and empowerments
Prof. Wang Yiming:
Professor of South China Normal University;
Researcher of the Japan Foundation
Mr. Chen Chao:
Director of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre of Singapore
Mr. Qiu Xu:
Director of International Relations, Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre (Singapore)
Panel discussions in the first half of the symposium
Photo of the symposium
Transcript of the dialogue
Moderator: Good afternoon, eminent masters, and distinguished guest speakers. After our paper discussions in the morning, many participants believed that a symposium of this kind can enable the general public to get in touch with Tangmi, and to learn about and benefit from its teachings. This afternoon’s first discussion topic is “the great significance of Tangmi’s revival to modern society”. First, Let us welcome Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo to share his insight with us.
Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo: The revival of Tangmi is of great significance. It involves a mutual exchange of cultural ideas. Buddhism was founded in India and flourishes in China after it was brought in through the Silk Road. One thousand and two hundred years ago, Buddhism was introduced to Japan by Buddhist patriarchs such as Master Kukai, Master Saicho (also known as Dengyo Daishi) and Master Jikaku, becoming the spiritual refuge of the Japanese people.
After its transmission to Japan, the tantric teachings integrated with the local culture and gave birth to a new culture fit for Japanese society. However, just like the warp threads on the loom are fixed throughout the weaving process, the true meaning of the Dharma has remained unchanged. For more than one thousand years, the Buddha Dharma has been blossoming and bearing fruits in Japan. Likewise, to rejuvenate Tangmi in China today, we also need to take into account the local policies and social conditions to develop a new version of Tangmi with Chinese characteristics to benefit society and people.
Today’s society is economy-oriented and dominated by economic activities. People’s minds are very fragile, and many unpleasant incidents have occurred in modern society. Against this backdrop, we need to help people develop compassion through Dharma practice and take Dharma as their spiritual guide.
Acharya Zhiguang: I have also pondered over the significance of Tangmi’s revival to modern society.
First, as extensively recorded in history, one vital function of Tangmi is to offer protection and benefit to the nation. In particular, many emperors in the Tang Dynasty advocated Tangmi, and it played a significant role in protecting the nation. Many eminent monks, from Vajrabodhi (Jingangzhi), Subhakarasimha (Shanwuwei) and Amoghavajra (Bukong) to Master Huiguo and Master Zhihuilun (Wheel of Wisdom), had spent a considerable portion of their time carrying out Dharma practices for the peace of the nation.
Secondly, in many scriptures such as the Cundi Dharaṇi Sutra and the Medicine Buddha Sutra, the Buddha has emphasized that the tantric teachings can offer great blessings and protection to the sentient beings of the Degenerate Age. Just as Ven. Take Kakucho has mentioned, most sentient beings of the Degenerate Age only pursue material comfort. On the material level, they are very wealthy, but they have more and more sufferings on the mental level. In this age of troubles and decadence, teachings of the secret mantra can offer them great relief and refuge. So, living beings in the Degenerate Age need these powerful teachings to eliminate their sufferings.
Therefore, from the perspectives of protecting the nation and benefiting the people, Tangmi has a lot to offer in the present era.
Prof. Wang Yiming: I am greatly inspired by the words of the two speakers.
First, Ven. Take Kakucho mentioned the Silk Road. I think the relationship between the Silk Road and Tangmi is one like water and fish. Without the Silk Road, there would have been no Tangmi.
Tangmi originated in India, flourished in China, and remains in Japan. The history of Tangmi tells us by itself what love is. It starts from loving oneself first, then it extends to one’s family and nation, but it does not stop at that. Love transcends race, time, and borders. Tangmi, at its very core, is the child of love that goes beyond the limitations of race, time and boundaries.
It can be seen as a miracle in the world’s cultural history that Tangmi was founded in China not by any Chinese monks but by three great masters from India (known in China as the Western Regions at that time), who were honored later as “the three great masters of the Kaiyuan period in the Tang Dynasty”. Similarly, Master Kukai and Master Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) came from Japan to China to seek the Buddha Dharma. And when they brought it back to Japan, it was treated as the rarest treasure by the Japanese people. Were they ever too arrogant to learn from China? Did they ever say anything like “What is so good about China? I am not interested in learning anything from China”? When did they ever have such an attitude? They never did. So, when it comes to Buddhism, India is the benefactor of China while Japan and China are more like mutual benefactors. During the Tang dynasty, China acted as the master and transmitted tantric teachings to its disciple, Japan. And now, the revival of Tangmi in China dramatically relies on the support of Japan. Therefore, during the Tang Dynasty, China was the benefactor of Japan; and today, it is the other way around. This is my personal view, and I think it is an objective one.
Second, Tangmi was introduced to China through the Silk Road and thrived in the Tang Dynasty. So, Tangmi was directly connected with the Silk Road, which was already a part of the national strategy of China even at that time. Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty deliberately hosted a World Expo in Jiuquan, a strategic town on the Silk Road. Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty ordered a great general to welcome Master Subhakarasimha at Dunhuang and received him with high honors at his reception. From the perspective of the average person, the Chinese government’s current Belt and Road Initiative and strategy of revitalizing China’s traditional culture might be a coincidence only, but isn’t there something mysterious and profound about it? It is hard to say.
Thirdly, I strongly agree with Acharya Zhiguang that Tangmi can protect the nation and benefit the people. Nowadays, ordinary people as individuals are too weak and are driven by the powerful force of society to go after material wealth. Although their personal attitude might be against the pursuit of material, they always end up being forced into it. Even though it might seem that people are enjoying a life with better material conditions, their heart and soul are actually in great pain. It is in this very aspect that Tangmi can truly bring them great comfort and relief in a way that no other teachings and religions can. This is my humble opinion. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Mr. Chen Chao: As regards the necessity and significance of revitalizing Tangmi in the current era, the previous speakers have already made a comprehensive exposition. Personally, I feel that Tangmi’s return and revival in this era are also of considerable significance to the cultural exchanges between China and Japan, and the long-term peace and friendship between the two nations.
It can be said that in the past one hundred years, due to certain historical reasons, some unpleasant incidents have occurred between China and Japan. These incidents have seriously hurt the feelings of the two nations. I believe this goes against the general will of their peoples.
In the early 1970s, China and Japan resumed normal diplomatic relations. Actually, the two nation’s cultural exchanges started even earlier in the 1950s and 1960s. These exchanges have significantly contributed to the later re-establishment and normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China.
Now, in order to revitalize Tangmi, as Ven. Take Kakucho said, we need to request the Dharma in Japan from the authentic Buddhist teachers there to bring the precious teachings of Tangmi back to China. Therefore, this is an essential and meaningful cultural exchange between China and Japan. An ever-deepening-and-expanding cultural exchange of this kind is bound to exert a positive influence on the peace and friendship between the two nations.
Despite the close bilateral ties between China and Japan at present, some destabilizing factors still exist. I hope that the great undertaking of reintroducing and revitalizing Tangmi will not only bring benefits to the two peoples in the aspect of Buddhism, but will also make significant contributions to the cultural exchanges, peace and long-lasting friendship between the two nations!
Acharya Zhiguang: Just now, we talked about the topic that Tangmi’s revival can promote Sino-Japan friendship. Since the essence of Buddhism is compassion, the spreading of Buddhism will surely carry forward this spirit of compassion that will greatly benefit numerous sentient beings.
During my speech in the morning, I quoted the Tang Dynasty’s Tripitaka Master Zhihuilun, who said that “the essence of Buddha is Bhagavat Mahavairocana, from whom all Buddhas originate; the essence of the Dharma lies in mantra and Dharani, from which all Dharmas originate. All the Tathagatas and their virtuous embodiments, who gather in the countless Dharma assemblies in myriads of Buddha lands in the Dharma realms of the ten directions, manifest their bodies for self-enjoyment, bodies for the joy of others, and bodies of transformation, from the pure and profound Dharmakaya (Dharma body) of Vairocana. All the Dharma teachings they expound are rooted in the mantras and Dharanis and are categorized as doctrines of various schools in the Tripitaka. The distinction of a Hinayana Tripitaka and Mahayana Tripitaka is only to suit the different capacities of sentient beings. Therefore, the teachings of the Secret Mantra are the primary source of all Buddhist teachings. If we can revitalize Tangmi, we will revitalize the whole of Buddhism.
The most important spirit of Buddhism is compassion. Therefore, if all the Buddhist teachings thrive, the spirit of compassion will also prevail. Wherever there is compassion, peace and harmony are bound to follow. So, I believe that the relations between Japan and China or between any other nations, even the relations among all human beings, will all get better. I think this is something truly amazing about Tangmi.
As Buddhists, we need to carry forward the spirit of compassion wherever we are and benefit the living beings there. I think this is a vital mission for us.
I find one of Prof. Wang Yiming’s remarks particularly relevant. He mentioned in his paper that Tangmi is not only a religion, but more importantly a culture. Actually, in ancient China, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were not merely religions in a certain sense as they have very profound cultural connotations. During the Shikoku pilgrimage, we have seen much great cultural heritage from the Tang Dynasty such as the architectures, sculptures, paintings and calligraphy. All of these are very beautiful and worthy to be studied and appreciated. At the same time, the communications between us, the Japanese monks and lay people are even more precious. Only through personal experiences can we truly understand the genuine friendship and warm relations between the two peoples. Therefore, I believe that Tangmi’s return and revival are greatly beneficial to all nations and peoples around the world.
Mr. Qiu Xu: I have long been based in Singapore, where the eastern and western cultures converge, so I have got to experience both cultures, and I want to frame my talk from that perspective.
Nowadays, society enjoys rapid scientific and technological development as well as unprecedented material wealth. However, the problems present in modern society, from certain aspects, loom even larger than in the past.
In today’s society, countries and peoples are all facing various problems. Nevertheless, we can find every practical solution in Buddhism, especially in many Tangmi teachings. For example, there are many ways available in Tangmi to eradicate calamity, protect the country and benefit the people, increase merit and wealth, improve interpersonal relationship as well as eliminate sufferings and unfavorable conditions.
A few years ago, we introduced some Tangmi teachings to Singapore and many Dharma friends there have performed practices such as the Mahakala practice, Cundi practice and Medicine Buddha practice, which greatly helped some of them to alleviate their confusions and sufferings.
Whether in ancient China and Japan, or in modern society, there are many stories of people who managed to solve their problems through the practice of Dharma. If we can further spread Tangmi teachings and its spirit of compassion, it will have a significant impact on the harmony or economic growth of the society, and on the physical health, emotional life or material wealth of individuals.
Therefore, I think this also shows the great importance of Tangmi’s revival to the present era, to the general public and international relations. I am convinced that the propagation of Tangmi teachings will improve the international landscape, the interstate relations and the life of every nation, every family, and even every individual.
Moderator: I believe the significance of Tangmi’s revival can be approached from another perspective. As I recall, Acharya Zhiguang has mentioned in his paper, The Significance of Mount Wutai’s Manjushri Worship to the Revival of Tangmi, that the 15th Karmapa had predicted that when Tibetan tantric teachings became integrated with the Japanese tantric teachings, Buddhism would thrive in this world.
As a representative figure of Tibetan Buddhism, the 15th Karmapa did not say Tibetan Buddhism alone was enough. Why is that? Tibetan Buddhism is indeed extraordinary and enjoys strong momentum, but why did he say that the integration of Tibetan tantra and Japanese tantra will make Buddhism flourish in this world? To answer this question, let us welcome Acharya Zhiguang to share his insight with us.
Acharya Zhiguang: I find the 15th Karmapa’s prediction very interesting because it happens to echo with the opinion of venerable Master Taixu during China’s Republican Era.
At that time, there were also signs of Tangmi’s revival. Efforts and attempts were made by great masters such as Taixu, Chisong, Dayong and Xianyin, and by lay Buddhist practitioners such as Wang Hongyuan and Gu Jingyuan.
There were also controversies at that time, and Master Taixu proposed that to establish “Zhongmi” (Chinese tantra), we must learn Tibetan tantra and Japanese tantra first, and then build up Zhongmi by integrating their precepts and the fundamental principles of their teachings. This viewpoint happens to echo with the words of the 15th Karmapa.
To revitalize Tangmi in this era, not only should we carry forward the traditional Japanese Shingon and Tendai teachings, we should also be embracive and eclectic, drawing upon the advantages of other Buddhist traditions.
We all know that nowadays Tibetan Buddhism is widely spread in Chinese mainland and the rest of the world. Its great success can only be justified by its merits.
Therefore, the revival of Tangmi requires that we not only study the teachings of Japan’s Tendai school and Shingon school but also to draw on the advantages of Tibetan tantra and other Buddhist traditions in an embracive and eclectic manner. This is the way to increase the momentum of Tangmi’s revival.
I take that as the implication of the predictions made by Master Taixu and the 15th Karmapa. Of course, I am merely offering my views for your reference.
Master Take Kakucho touched upon a fundamental view in tantric Buddhism, which is the lineage. Prof. Wang also said that the teachings of the Secret Mantra played a significant role in protecting the country and benefitting the people in the Tang Dynasty. Why are tantric teachings so powerful? It is because they are transmitted through pure lineages.
With pure lineages and proper practice, the great power of tantric teachings will manifest, to help us address many personal and social problems. That is also why Tangmi’s revival and spreading in the modern age is of great significance.
In the Degenerate Age, although people seem to enjoy enormous material comfort, their mental pain has not reduced but increased from a certain perspective. For example, a growing number of people are suffering from depression. What does that tell us? The excessive pursuit of material wealth not only fails to bring us real happiness, it also causes us many troubles, both physically and mentally.
In such an era filled with troubles and pains in various aspects, the Dharma is of vital importance. Buddhist sutras and treatises of generations of great lineage masters are very powerful to eliminate the troubles of sentient beings. Master Daoxin, the fourth Chan Buddhist Patriarch, once defined “Buddha” as the one being happy and carefree. Therefore, the Buddha is someone who has rid himself of suffering, and is always happy and free from worries.
Therefore, the Dharma is the way to be happy and carefree. In particular, tantric teachings can be even more powerful than general non-tantric teachings. From a certain point of view, the non-tantric teachings draw mostly on the personal strength of the practitioner itself as an ordinary living being, resulting in relatively slow progress and minor effects of the practice.
As for tantric teachings, one of the essential principles of tantra is to identify oneself with the “three mysteries” (Buddha’s body, speech and mind) of Buddha. We can attain accomplishments much faster through identifying ourselves with the three bodies of the Yidam deity. Therefore, practicing tantric teachings can yield twice the result with half the efforts in many aspects.
This is not only elaborated in many scriptures but also proved by many real cases of success in the history. The biographies of lineage masters in the tantra, in particular, are full of such cases, which happened not only in China during the Tang Dynasty, but also in Japan. There are many miraculous stories about the Japanese Buddhist patriarchs such as Master Kukai, Master Saicho and Master Jikaku.
What does that imply? I believe it implies that teachings of the secret mantra should be actively spread as they can be very beneficial for relieving the sufferings of sentient beings. That is also part of the vital significance of Tangmi’s revival.
The Single Vehicle of mantras and dharanis is the root of the Buddha Dharma and the origin of the Tripitaka. Initially revealed and expounded by the Buddha, the profound teachings of the Single Vehicle have been passed down by lineage masters through tantric empowerments. When entering the ultimate truth through sudden awakening or gradual enlightenment, one’s three karmas will remain pure and non-backsliding. He will then receive the same precepts as those taken by the Buddha, and abide in the state of the Buddha’s Dhyana (meditation). Even though the teachings, practices and results of the Tripitaka may seem endless, they are perfectly contained in each and every syllable of all mantras and dharanis. Like the full moon or a shiny pearl, the perfectly enlightened mind is thoroughly luminous and constantly perceiving all phenomena without any obstruction. Its inexhaustible compassion and wisdom pervade the entire Dharma realm and benefit sentient beings spontaneously according to their conditions.
—The Tablet of Illuminating the Root of the Buddha Dharma
A Dialogue on the Revival of Tangmi (Part Two)
—How to Keep up with the Times and Spread Tangmi in Modern Society?
Date: October 15, 2016
Location: Samadhi Academy, Bayuquan District, Yingkou City
Panelists: Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo, Abbot Fukue Zenkou, Acharya Zhiguang, Prof. Xing Dongfeng, Associate Prof. Wang Tong
Moderator: Ms. Xia Weijuan, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Ekayana Magazine
Topic: How to keep up with the times and spread Tangmi in modern society?
Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo:
Abbot of Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei, the head temple (Honzan) of Tendai school;
Kanshu of Enryaku-ji Mizumadera temple;
Chief Priest of Enryaku-ji Guhoji Temple in Kaizuka, Osaka;
Professor of the Eizan Academy;
Official Tendai Scholar (Kangaku)
Abbot Fukue Zenkou:
Abbot of the Hieizan Gyoin (Practice Hall);
Chief Priest of Shuzenin and Sougonin of Enryaku-ji Temple
Mentor of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centres around the world;
Acharya of the Shingon and Tendai schools, with the permission to bestow teachings and empowerments
Prof. Xing Dongfeng:
Professor of Ehime University;
Vice Chairman of Ehime Chinese Association
Associate Prof. Wang Tong:
Researcher of Sutra and Tantra Academy of Mahacundi Monastery of Henan;
Associate Professor of Qingdao Hengxing College of Chinese Classics
Panel discussions in the second half of the symposium
Photo of the symposium
Transcript of the dialogue
Moderator: The topic of the second half of the panel discussion is “how to disseminate Tangmi in adaptation to the conditions of modern society.”
We all know that Japan has done an excellent job in modernizing the country, and in the meantime it has also done very well in preserving and promoting Buddhist culture. Such experience is especially worth learning from for us. So first, let’s welcome Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo to talk about his idea on this issue.
Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo: The Esoteric Buddhism transmitted to Japan is headed by Tangmi (Vajrayana Buddhism that had flourished in China from the Tang Dynasty), and is centred around two major sutras, namely, Mahavairocana Sutra and Vajrasekhara Sutra. In these two sutras, the sublime worlds of the Buddhas are demonstrated intensively in the descriptions of the Diamond Realm (Vajradhatu) and the Womb Realm (Garbhakoṣadhatu). Those who visualize these splendid Buddha worlds cannot help but be touched by the dignified and serene state of the Buddhas. It is really important for living beings to form connections with such supreme teachings, and it is equally important to have teachers to offer instructions on such teachings. But in order for the teachers to do so, majestic Buddha halls and Mandalas need to be established since it is also of great significance for people to get in touch with these holy buildings and objects so that they can form connections with the Buddhas.
In this respect, Tangmi that was brought from China to Japan by Master Jikaku has been passed on for 1,200 years on Mount Hiei. At the beginning, the root monastery of Esoteric Buddhism was built on Mount Hiei in copy of the Qinglong Monastery in the ancient city of Chang’an in China, under the direct order from the emperor of Japan at that time. Back then, Master Jikaku did not only bestow empowerments on monks, but also imparted many different teachings to form a causal connection between the people and the Buddha. There are various types of tantric empowerment. For example, bowing or prostrating to the Buddha’s mandala while contemplating it is also a type of empowerment, which forms a real causal connection with the Buddha. Whoever comes to the place of empowerment will meet the Buddha causally connected with him.
In addition, for those who wish to get connected with Buddha, Mount Hiei also has a type of connecting empowerment, which is also a part of the Dharma teachings brought back by Master Jikaku from Chang’an. This form of empowerment was first put into practice in Japan about 1,200 years ago. Even the Japanese emperor of the time took part in the empowerment ceremony. Many people also came from the then capital Kyoto. About one thousand people formed a connection with Buddha through this ceremony. This kind of practice is called the “connecting empowerment” on Mount Hiei. It has been passed down to this day, and many people still receive this kind of connecting empowerment on Mount Hiei.
There is another form of empowerment, in which the person receiving the empowerment is blindfolded first, enters the ceremony venue with the Buddha’s mandala in it, and tosses a flower onto the mandala. The Buddha image on which the flower falls shows the Buddha who is causally connected with him. He then forms a connection with this Buddha and therefrom worships him as the guardian deity. This form of empowerment is not once and for all, but can be taken multiple times and continuously strengthen the connection. Nowadays, some people have even received twenty or thirty times of such empowerment to form extensive connections with the Buddhas.
On top of this, there is also a form of empowerment for monks. It is called the “seal,” or the “mudra,” which is an encoded sign made with the hands to present the gesture of the Buddha. This is called the “mudra empowerment,” meaning to accept the secret teachings of the Buddha through the mudra. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara have different mudras. Making mudras can help people to form a deep connection with the Buddhas and make offerings to them in this way.
In a word, various forms of empowerment are all good ways to bond with Buddha, and I hope it can be promoted as a basic Dharma practice.
Abbot Fukue Zenkou: Acharya Zhiguang was trained at the Hieizan Gyoin (the main training temple on Mount Hiei) before. I gave a talk at the ceremony held before the trainees entered the Gyoin. First, I asked, “What is the most important thing to a religion?” It is praying. Praying is the most important thing for a religious person. Praying has three essential elements: reflection, gratitude and vows. Only when all these three elements are completed can a prayer be established. Such a prayer is equivalent to Bodhicitta.
The training manual currently in use at the Gyoin, which Acharya Zhiguang also used during his training days there, was originated from India, perfected in China and inherited in Japan. Among the practices listed in this manual, there are nine expedient means, or nine types of prayers, which are expressed in three forms: repentance, gratitude and vows. Chanting the prayers in these three forms fulfills the essential elements of praying. The chanting ritual is concluded by the Five Great Vows: “Living beings are numberless, and I vow to save them all; blessings and wisdom are infinite, and I vow to accumulate them all; Dharma doors are innumerous, and I vow to learn them all; Buddhas are immeasurable, and I vow to follow them all; and enlightenment is unsurpassed, and I vow to achieve it.” So, the praying practice focuses on repentance, reflection, gratitude and vows. The vows here refer to the great vows. They are not selfish ambitions or one’s own impulsive thoughts, nor are they for one’s own sake. These vows should be made with the genuine hope that all sentient beings will be happy, and thus Bodhicitta can be cultivated.
It is only after the five great vows are made can one start the main practice. This means if you have made the five great vows, you have aroused Bodhicitta.
In addition, there is the Three-fold Power Verse: “On account of the power of my merit, the power of the Tathagata’s empowerment, and the power of the Dharma realm, I abide in universal offering.” This verse means that we all have the same wisdom and virtues as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We are no different from Buddhas. They are always around us but we cannot see them due to the hindrance of our desires. If the desires can be removed, we will always be with Buddhas. When that happens, everything will be blessed and perfect.
In our daily life and Buddhist practice, we often treat things with preconceptions. If we can eliminate them, our world will become the Buddha’s world, and people will live in peace and happiness.
Master Saicho used to say in his Dharma teachings that “Food and clothes can be found in the aspiration for enlightenment, but the aspiration for enlightenment cannot be found in food and clothes.” This is to teach us that a true Buddhist life is to be lived with Bodhicitta, which brings peace to the world. If we live only for our selfish ambitions, we will not be living a true Buddhist life, and the world will not become peaceful. Only when we can face our life with Bodhicitta at all times will we be living in the true Tantric world.
To spread Tantric teachings either in Japan or China, we should first discard preconceptions, and then disseminate the teachings and live our life with Bodhicitta and a pure mind. In this way, the sublime world of Tantra will become known to more and more people.
Moderator: I remember Acharya Zhiguang once said that Buddhism is not merely a religion, but actually has a thoroughly complete teaching system, including theories, methodologies and successful cases of cultivation. Abbot Fukue Zenkou also specially stressed that a systematic and efficient approach is essential either for the return and revival of Tangmi, or for our own Dharma practice and cultivation. And, just like Acharya Zhiguang, he equally emphasized the importance of cultivating Bodhicitta.
Next, let’s welcome Acharya Zhiguang to talk about how to carry forward the dissemination of Tangmi in adaptation to the conditions of modern society.
Acharya Zhiguang: Here are some of the initial thoughts I have about how to spread Tangmi in modern society.
Firstly, we need to learn from the experience of the Shingon school and the Tendai school, the two tantric traditions in Japan, to establish a sound sectarian management system and a complete teacher-training system.
Because Japan entered into modernization very early, its Shingon or Tendai school has already explored a lot and accumulated rich experience in adapting to modern society. This is particularly worth learning from for us. For example, both Japan’s Tendai and Shingon schools have a very complete sectarian management system, which is a critical factor for a Buddhist school to spread its teachings in modern society.
Then, we need to establish a complete teacher-training system. Just now, Abbot Fukue Zenkou of the Hieizan Gyoin also mentioned this issue. The “Gyoin” is a place where teachers are trained. In Japan, almost all the eminent monks of the Tendai school are graduates from the Gyoin. Such valuable experience is absolutely worth learning and emulating for us.
Secondly, we must follow the two important principles that the Buddha has followed in carrying forward the Dharma in the past two thousand and five hundred years: “To correspond with the wondrous truths that all Buddhas have realized” and “to adapt to the capacities of sentient beings.”Whether we are spreading Tangmi or other Buddhist traditions, we all need to abide by these two principles strictly.
Above all, what we teach must conform to the Buddha’s teachings. We must have a pure lineage. It is absolutely unjustifiable for us to recklessly invent a new set of teachings by ourselves. Now, some people in China claim that they are spreading Tangmi. But when we visited them, we found that they couldn’t even explain their lineages clearly, nor could they name the sources of their teachings, for which no grounds or evidence can be found in Tangmi scriptures or the words of authentic lineage masters. This obviously fails to abide by the principle of “corresponding with the wondrous truths that all Buddhas have realized.”They may have corresponded only with their own realizations but not with that of the Buddhas. In that case, it cannot be regarded as “spreading Tangmi,”
The tantric teachings handed down from Vairocana (also known as Mahavairocana) must be carried on through pure lineages. During my study in Japan, whenever I received an empowerment, a lineage chart would always be given. Such a chart must state clearly the whole lineage of the empowerment, starting from Mahavairocana and then carrying on to the present through the masters from generation to generation. The name of each and every lineage holder is recorded on the chart. It has been passed down to us all the way through. And this provides clear and solid evidence for the origin of the lineage. Therefore, the principle of corresponding with the wondrous truths that all Buddhas have realized means that the dissemination of the Dharma must be based on pure lineages and the teachings in the sutras or tantras.
The two most important conditions of “adapting to the capacities of sentient beings” are to keep up with the times and to adapt to the local conditions of the time. Any Buddhist teachings that have been successfully spread must have met these two conditions: they fit with capacities of the local living beings of the time, and they keep pace with the times, so they are welcomed by the living beings.
Of course, we don’t have much experience in disseminating Tangmi. So, I think we should learn more from the eminent monks and masters of the Shingon and Tendai schools. This is even more important.
While learning from these eminent monks and masters, I also hope that the Buddhist community, academia and lay Buddhists will work together and pool their wisdom to contemplate whether there are better ways to disseminate the teachings of Tangmi in adaptation to the needs of the living beings in modern society. I hope that the eminent monks and masters, honored experts and scholars here can exchange views and explore this subject together.
Ven. Take Kakucho Daisojo: From the perspective of friendly communication between China and Japan, the most important thing for the return and revival of Tangmi is to train teachers. We should set up the training guidelines first, establish the training system, and then carry it out in a comprehensive and extensive manner. This was also the same approach used by Master Saicho to spread the teachings of Tendai school in Japan.
The Tangmi teachings of Tendai school of Mount Hiei were passed down by Master Saicho. He did not only introduce the lineage to Japan, but also made great efforts in developing a training system to train good Buddhist teachers who could carry on the Dharma. To fulfil this great undertaking, Master Saicho went all out to establish the training guidelines in the first place, in others words, he made clear what kind of principles should be adopted to spread Tangmi teachings; and on top of that, he decided on what kind of training system should be set up, what kind of training materials should be used, and how Tantric teachings should be propagated in Japan.
In this sense, I think it’s the same with the rejuvenation of Tangmi in China, Teachers also need to be trained. As regards to how to train them and what kind of training system is to be established, I hope contemplation, planning and implementation will be conducted with Acharya Zhiguang taking the leading role. This is really critical.
The teachings originated from Mahavairocana, are referred to as “the theoretical aspect” of the Dharma. They can be understood as doctrines or principles, which form the foundation of Tantric Buddhism. Just as important as the theoretical aspect is the practical aspect, which Acharya Zhiguang also mentioned earlier as practical principles to put into practice. Tantric Buddhism is the Dharma door of the secret mantra, or secret teachings, which can only be transmitted in a one-on-one manner. This is very important. Master Huiguo passed the secret teachings on to Master Kukai. Master Saicho also went to China to receive the transmission of Tantric teachings from Acharya Shunxiao. Both cases are one-on-one transmissions.
We very much hope that China will also train many teachers who inherit the lineages to spread the Tantric teachings.
During his study in Japan, Acharya Zhiguang first studied the teachings of the Womb Realm, the Diamond Realm and Susiddhi that were brought to Japan by Master Jikaku, who followed the footsteps of Master Saicho and went to the capital of China in the Tang Dynasty to seek the Dharma. In order to carry on the lineages of these Dharma doors, Acharya Zhiguang received various Tantric transmissions, which are very difficult to get. It took him two months of painstaking training in the Hieizan Gyoin on Mount Hiei to study the Tantric teachings passed down over one thousand two hundred years. The abbot of the Gyoin is also present today.
After he accepted these Tantric teachings through strict training, Acharya Zhiguang then entered the stage of receiving empowerments in the mandala. First, he received the empowerment that authorized him to perform Tantric ceremonies, and then he passed the most difficult theoretical test of Tendai school, the Examination of Learning and Argumentation of the Tendai Lotus Sutra Assembly. I gave a brief introduction to this exam in my paper submitted for this symposium. Acharya Zhiguang started studying only one month before the exam and passed with excellence. Then he accepted the Perfect and Sudden Precepts. Master Saicho went to China and received the transmission of the Mahayana precepts when he followed Acharya Daosui at a monastery in Taizhou now known as Linhai. Later on, he brought to Mount Hiei the lineage of the Mahayana precepts, which have become the moral code of Japanese Buddhism.
In addition, Acharya Zhiguang is planning to receive the Great Acharya empowerment next year. After receiving this formal empowerment, he will become a Sanbu-to-ho Great Acharya, a highest-ranking Acharya of Tendai school who can impart all the teachings of the three sectors.
Acharya Zhiguang, as a pioneer for Tangmi’s return to China, has received the transmissions of the Tantric teachings and is now reintroducing them to China. I really hope that he will keep cultivating excellent teachers like himself in the future, who will not only learn the theories, but will also put them into practice, praying for the nation and the people.
I hope that he will make continuous progress in training Buddhist teachers, improving the system of transmission and empowerment, and promoting the fundamental principles of Tantra. This is something really rare and commendable, and we all look forward to it.
Although we use the word “return,” the transmission of Buddha’s teachings has never been really interrupted as Buddhism had simply spread from India to China, and then from China to Japan. On Mount Hiei, our lineage has been passed to the two-hundred-and-sixtieth abbot currently, and it has never been interrupted. This lineage is very, very important. I hope it will be brought back to China and benefit the Chinese people. This is my heartfelt wish.
Prof. Xing Dongfeng: On one hand, we need to restore Tangmi, and on the other hand, we need to keep pace with the times. I heard this for the first time in Acharya Zhiguang’s speech today.
Honestly, I am shocked today. Considering that Sino-Japanese relations are not very good currently, it’s a big surprise for me to see several professional Japanese monks, in fact, all eminent monks, presenting themselves here for this cultural event. While I am amazed by this rare occasion, I was thinking to myself: this is absolutely fabulous!
We can see that the organizer of this seminar is intelligent, knowledgeable, courageous and committed. He has the wisdom to discover the truly precious personages and things that we can really learn from; and he has the courage to organize such a valuable activity in our country.
China’s tantric Buddhism was very successful in the Tang Dynasty, and it attracted Master Kukai and Master Saicho to seek the Dharma in China. They brought the tantric teachings to Japan, and passed them down as the most cherished treasure to the present. However, such precious teachings didn’t carry on in China as an uninterrupted lineage system. Although some traditions have managed to survive here and there, Tangmi hasn’t been systematically preserved as a whole in China as it has been in Japan. At least, the academic circles generally think so.
The restoration and rejuvenation of Buddhism in China has a long way to go. Japan has more than seventy-seven thousand temples and monasteries. Its size and population are similar to those of a province in China, but it has nearly 80,000 temples and monasteries, not counting shrines, churches, and etcetera. While China has a population of 1.34 billion and a size 26 times that of Japan, even if we add up all the religious sites of different religions in China, the ratio is still far below that of Japan.
In the early post-liberation days, Hangzhou had 600 temples and monasteries. Throughout the history of Beijing, there should have been three or four thousand temples and monasteries in total. Given that the population in the past was smaller than it is now, we are still far below the norm in history. I’m not saying that we must build a specific number of temples or monasteries, but what is certain now is that the scale of existing religious services in China is not large enough to meet the religious needs of its citizens.
Moreover, even when monasteries are built and monks and nuns come to live in them, there is still a long way to go before they can function properly on a considerable scale with the monks and nuns being generally well-trained as qualified Buddhist teachers and practitioners. If all this has not been achieved, it will be by no means easy to restore a Buddhist tradition that has not been passed down through a rigorous lineage system.
So, as far as I have noticed, whoever engage in spreading Tangmi at present, be it laity groups, overseas or Chinese monks, are seemingly not very successful in mainstreaming their endeavors.
That’s why I think that, as Acharya Zhiguang just mentioned, it is very important to join the efforts of the monastic circle, the academic circle and lay Buddhists.
For example, it might be better if there are a number of monasteries that specialize in Tantric practices, because the influence will be limited if we only depend on lay Buddhists for the revival of Tangmi. It needs a strong support system, and there are still many technical issues that we need to address.
Furthermore, we need to adjust our mindset. First, we must hold a humble and modest attitude towards Japanese traditional culture. Never reckon that since it was passed down from China, we should still be able to find it in China. The fact is a large part of it may not be found in China any more. And some of our existing traditions may not be able to withstand scrutiny.
That’s why I truly respect Acharya Zhiguang and every one of you, because you are capable of being so humble and modest. It is exactly such an attitude and viewpoint that are particularly worthwhile for me to advocate.
Acharya Zhiguang said that we must have a lineage, which, in my own words, is a reference or a standard. Whatever it may be called, many cultural traditions have been passed down to the present from generation to generation in Japan. Although there might have been some changes, they are at least more reliable than those of unclear origins, aren’t they?
Therefore, what comes first is respect. Master Taixu once said that the Chinese valued the Buddha while the Japanese valued the patriarchs. The Japanese insist on preserving the teachings exactly as they were originally when handed down by the patriarchs. This attitude is a little different than ours, and it’s exactly what we need to learn from. So, I think it is highly necessary to restore Tangmi. Of course, it’s going to be quite difficult and it requires a lot of hard work.
Moderator: Talking about tallying with the current situation in China, I think Acharya Zhiguang mentioned an important point at the sub-forum. The return and rejuvenation of Tangmi really need the strong unity and concerted efforts of the root monasteries of Tangmi, and all the four divisions of Buddhists.
As Professor Xing said earlier, we should see that Japan has passed down the Tantric teachings sought from China by the Japanese patriarchs, and this has been done with a very rigorous, conservative, respectful and devout attitude. This attitude is highly important. We must put aside our pride as in China being the root patriarch of Japanese Buddhism, and bring Tangmi back to China humbly and respectfully.
Next, let’s welcome Associate Prof. Wang Tong to share his views on this topic.
Associate Prof. Wang Tong: How should the return of Tangmi keep up the times? And how should it be spread in modern society? I think this is a very valuable and meaningful topic.
This morning’s paper presentation and the previous discussions have inspired me a lot. I have also organized my thoughts and made some reflections on this topic, and I’d like to share them with you next.
I have summarized my reflections into “one expedient means and two tracks.”
What is the “one expedient means?” It is to promote extensive communication. This is the one expedient means. Communication can take place in many forms, including the discussions we have here today about the return of Tangmi, and the tours, visits and pilgrimages Acharya Zhiguang and his students have taken during the past few years to seek and study the Dharma in Japan, as well as academic exchange activities in Singapore and China with the participation of eminent monks from Japan invited by Acharya Zhiguang. These are all very good expedient means to help people understand the value and significance of the return of Tangmi, and to help them to generate or increase faith in its return and revival. I believe that with increased communication and extensive promotion, more and more people with wisdom, ability, resources and relevant background will join in the dissemination of Tantric teachings. Therefore, I think extensive communication is an expedient means necessary for carrying forward the Tantric teachings in adaptation to the current conditions.
“Two tracks” means that even these precious teachings have been handed down for thousands of years, we will not benefit from them if we do not put them into practice. Therefore, the first track is how we should practice strictly and vigorously the teachings of the lineages we have inherited. The second track refers to building the team and training personnel. Neither of the two tracks is dispensable, just as a train needs to run on two tracks and a person needs to walk with two legs. If we do not practice what we have studied, we will not be able to benefit from it. Then anything based on that will be nothing but empty talk.
What has been the most important spirit of Buddhism in the past several thousand years? It’s called benefiting oneself and others. Everyone wants happiness and avoids pain. Therefore, if one does something but does not truly benefit from it, there is no way for him to continue doing it.
On top of that is to build and train the team. Why have teachings of Shingon and Tendai sects spread so extensively in Japan? It is because they have never been short of talents, isn’t it? Therefore, it is unimaginable to carry out an undertaking without a very strong team and talents. In the process of rejuvenating Tangmi, the cultivation of talents is especially important, and an important foundation for talent cultivation is the training mechanism and system.
Today I feel deeply about this. In China, we are not short of talents, but we are in need of a strong mechanism, a simple and effective mechanism that can bring out the best of the talents. There is a saying in the west that a good mechanism can make good people better and bad people good. People are the products of the environment, and the mechanism is to guide people in a good direction. In this respect, Acharya Zhiguang has made considerable attempts over the years, including establishing various kinds of academies, promoting training courses, setting up retreat centres, and cultivating students year after year.
However, I think there is still much to be improved in this aspect. The purpose of this symposium is also to draw on collective wisdom. I also hope that everyone can pool their wisdom and make suggestions regarding the mechanism in future exchanges of ideas. At present, there are many good teachers in China, but the cultivation of talents, as far as I know, is still relatively slow and it does not match the needs of the society. I think the most important problem lies in the mechanism. We have not really set up a complete, effective and powerful mechanism. If such a mechanism is in place, the cultivation of talents will be greatly accelerated.
Of course, from another perspective, “Haste makes waste,” and “he who fixes his eyes on petty profits will fail in great endeavors.” Since the return and revival of Tangmi is a great undertaking, we must not rush to seek quick success and instant benefits.
We must look far and aim high, but also keep our feet on the ground. The first step is to benefit ourselves with the Dharma. We must lay a solid foundation. On top of that, we will integrate various resources, including the current human resource to build the team, and establish a good mechanism to cultivate talents. We need to set up short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, so that we will finally achieve the grand objective of this era, reviving Tangmi to benefit both ourselves and others.
All these Bhagavats taught the Dharma of the single vehicle, led and inspired immeasurable sentient beings, and enabled them to enter the path of the Buddhas.
—The Lotus Sutra
Even though the Buddhas of the future will teach hundreds of thousands of koṭis of innumerable paths to the Dharma, their teachings will actually be for the sake of the single vehicle.
—The Lotus Sutra
Meditation and Art
—A Dialogue between Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno and Acharya Zhiguang
Date: October 2, 2017
Location: Kenko-ji Temple, Yokohama, Japan
Participants: Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno and Acharya Zhiguang
Moderator: Ms. Xia Weijuan, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Ekayana Magazine
Acharya Zhiguang and Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno
About Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno
Shunmyō Masuno is a Japanese monk and master of meditation, the eighteenth abbot of Kenko-ji (an ancient Zen temple in Japan), a primary representative of the gardening style of contemporary Karesansui (literally, “dry landscape” or “rock garden” ), as well as one of the 100 most respectable contemporary Japanese celebrities selected by Time. By integrating his inner spirituality into each of his works of landscape through calm and serene practice of Zen, he presents to the world a spiritual space full of enlightening inspirations.
Conversation with Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno
Background of the interview
On October 2, 2017, a dialogue took place at Kenko-ji Temple in Yokohama, Japan, between Acharya Zhiguang and Zen Master Shunmyō Masuno of the Japanese Soto Zen school on the following topic:
Transcript of the dialogue
How can meditation help people of modern times?
Moderator: Today we are greatly honored to have the two venerable masters to conduct some discussion about the Dharma and share your insights with us.
As we know, both of you have been engaging in promoting Buddhist meditation, and we can see that meditation has already become very popular around the world. Many companies regard meditation as an important part of their corporate culture. So, could you, the two acharyas, talk about what benefits meditation can bring to modern people?
Master Shunmyō Masuno: We can say that today’s society is very convenient, and the pace of life is fast, with rich material supplies, and the Internet and airplanes which were not seen in ancient times.
Even though we are living in a world of great convenience, people’s heart and mind are in a state of extreme restlessness, as if they were always being chased after by something.
Therefore, first of all, we should realize that Buddhism itself exists within the natural process of change, recognize that our life is also impermanent and subject to changes, and then taste the joy of living in our daily life.
However, people in metropolises such as Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing and Shanghai are all living in high buildings, and for convenience they all use cars or other means of transportation for their commute. As a result, they have no chance to feel and get in touch with nature. People in such a society are driven to seek more conveniences, more wealth, more this and more that … and are thus trapped into a “world of obsessive attachments,” so to speak.
The original intention of Zen meditation is to help us eliminate this kind of attachment as much as possible, so that we will be grateful for our own existence and everything that we possess, and be able to perceive them through our body.
For example, if we eat too much, we will suffer from modern Metabolic Syndrome such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high blood fat, high cholesterol and other symptoms of obesity. Metabolic Syndrome of the body is physical and can be cured by sports or medications under the doctors’ advice. However, one’s “metabolic syndrome” of the mind is often overlooked by oneself, and is consequently the most dangerous.
Zen, or the self-being inherent within us, is the mind that is completely pure from any foggy mist, and it is the way to meet what is called “the true self”, “the Buddha”, “the Buddha nature” or “the Tathātā (suchness)”. Through this method, not only will we be able to maintain a state of calm and peace, but also overcome our selfish desires or attachments that we just talked about. Of course, it is kind of difficult to eliminate them completely, but at least we can weaken them gradually.
If we think about it, this principle is very philosophical, but it is only through our bodily practice and cultivation that we can actually experience and verify the truth of Buddha and Zen. We should not only think about them with our brains, but experience them through constant Dharma practice. The continuous practice will make our body understand “Oh, so that’s what they are.”
Therefore, we can say that Zen consists in the four actions of “walking, standing, sitting and sleeping”, and it can be practiced during each and every moment of our life, whether we are walking, sitting or sleeping. If we express it in our modern language, walking, standing, sitting and sleeping are in themselves Zen meditation. For example, when we are drinking a cup of tea, the action of drinking will be in itself a Zen meditation practice if we concentrate on the tea and think about nothing else. As the Zen phrase “drinking tea and eating rice” says, when I am drinking tea, I’m only focused on drinking it; and when I am having my meal, I am only focused on eating it. It is only by living each moment fully that we will experience wonderful feelings like “how can this cup of tea be so delicious?”
Around 750 A.D. during the Tang dynasty, there was a famous Chan master in China called “Zhaozhou Congshen”. He was known for a question-and-answer episode he had once, later called “Zhaozhou Washes the Bowl”, in which a young monk who was practicing asked the master: “How should I practice meditation?” To this, the master questioned him, “Have you eaten your porridge for breakfast this morning?” The monk replied “Yes, I have.” The master then said, “Then go wash your bowl.” So, what is the ultimate meaning of this episode? It means that there is no special way to get enlightened, but if we are fully attentive and careful in everything we are doing, then the nature of enlightenment that we seek will manifest itself.
Chan Master Linji Yixuan, founder of the Linji school in Chinese Buddhism, once said, “Be the master of every situation, and wherever you stand becomes the place of truth.” It means that if you can be the master of time in any situation, then the true nature of all things will reveal itself to you at the present moment. At all times and on all occasions, to know how to make good use of the present moment is in itself a Dharma practice.
Therefore, we are only living in the present moment, and this is also called “living in each inspiration and expiration.” It is the only thing that we can do, because things that already happened only belong to the past and should be forgotten, and things in the future aren’t happening yet. Therefore, how we are living this very moment is so important, because our life is nothing but the accumulation of these tiny moments.
If we are caught up in regret over things of the past or our failures, thinking “If only I had decided otherwise…” and so forth, it is useless no matter how much you regret. And if you are anxious about the future, thinking “What shall I do if this or that situation happens?’ and the like, you won’t be able to solve it before it actually arises anyway.
In brief, what we can do now is to live fully each present moment.
Acharya Zhiguang: You explained it very well. I have learnt a lot from your words.
Meditation is indeed very popular nowadays, and many companies among the world’s top 500 are encouraging their staff to practice meditation. The well-known Steve Jobs also learned meditation and then got inspiration from it, which made “Apple” company so successful.
As you just mentioned, although our modern society is greatly developed on the material level, our inner suffering has not decreased, but might as well have increased. In our epoch, everything is changing so fast that sometimes we all feel that we are unable to keep up with this rhythm. And that’s why many people are having psychological problems.
In the past few years, we all saw some pop stars or celebrities who committed suicide because of depression. Of course, there are probably even more common people who committed suicide. Therefore, in this modern epoch of highly developed material conditions, meditation has become even more important because it relaxes our mind and unties all our inner tensions and knots, and many psychological problems can be solved through meditation.
In the West, a lot of research has been done in this field, and they believe that both physical and mental diseases can be cured through meditation.
In recent years, we have been making a lot of efforts in teaching the meditation of Samatha and Vipassana of the Tiantai school. Some of our Dharma friends shared their experience with me, saying that their serious depression got completely cured though the meditation. The messages of gratitude that they sent me encouraged and inspired me greatly. In our times, to spread the practice of meditation will truly benefit people physically and mentally.
Actually, many people get troubled from “excessive thinking”. When they eat, they are not focused on eating, and when they drink tea, they are not focused on drinking. Because of this, they experience a lot of suffering.
During the practice of meditation, I teach people to be relaxed, focused and aware, i.e., to live in the “now”, as you said. Being aware means being fully conscious about whatever you are doing in the present moment: be present while you are drinking tea, be present while you are eating, and be present while you are attending a class. In this way, your mental afflictions will greatly decrease.
In our modern age of advanced material development, meditation has become more important than ever, because sentient beings are having more and more mental afflictions. I totally agree with your view that we definitely need to promote meditation to help people to grow spiritually and find inner peace in this era of abundant material wealth.
Over the past few years, we have been promoting the practice of Samatha and Vipassana meditation, calling it “Happy Chan”, with the intention that all the people who practice it will gain happiness and free themselves from suffering. When practicing “Happy Chan”, the most important thing is to maintain awareness. Master Zhiyi in his Jueyi Sanmei (Samadhi of Constant Awareness)—an Explanation to the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra, explained that “awareness” means “thorough illumination” or “being fully conscious of the present situation”. The light of our awareness is like a lamp that illuminates where we are and enables us to see all clearly.
If our heart is aware, we will be able to live the present moment with clarity, and dissolve many of our afflictive emotions. To perceive the reality of the present moment is something of great importance. This is also the most important principle in the meditation practice that we are teaching.
Master Shunmyō Masuno: That’s why the more convenient the society becomes, the more burdened people’s mind will be. The number of people suffering from mental or psychological disorders is increasing continuously around the world. Up until three years ago, there were more than 30,000 people who committed suicide in Japan each year. Recently, the number has slightly decreased.
The society is becoming more and more convenient, but there are more and more people who commit suicide or suffer from mental diseases. Our temple organizes a meditation session each Sunday, and among the attendants there’s no lack of people who suffer psychological disorders. Through the constant practice of Zen meditation, most of them are able to return to a normal life in society. So, we can see that continuous practice of meditation can bring a positive influence on people’s body and mind.
Especially as Master Zhiguang mentioned about the IT workers, because of working day and night on research and development, many of them are suffering from depression. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, actually took the Buddhist refuge vows with our Soto Zen school, and came many times to Eihei-ji Temple to do meditation. He was also the disciple of the late Zen Master Kobun Otogawa of the Soto Zen school.
In fact, Tencent, a famous IT company in China, recently requested me to design a room where people would feel peace and tranquility. I have completed the design so far, and the project is currently under construction. I haven’t met their president, and it was the project manager who came and discussed with me. Tencent is the one that created the WeChat app, which I think you are all using
How should we deal with our thoughts and emotions during meditation?
Moderator: We feel so honored to have listened to both venerable masters instructing us on how to use our mind through meditation, and I think these instructions are extremely precious.
As both venerable masters said, our suffering originates from our distracting thoughts, emotions and so on. We might not be able to give up all these thoughts and emotions and have to deal with them. I would like to ask both venerable masters how we should regard and deal with them from the perspective of meditation and Buddhism.
Master Shunmyō Masuno: Zen means to first align our mind, which is accomplished by adjusting the posture of the body and its movement. In Kanji (Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system), this is called Chōshin, which means “to control the breathing through adjusting the movement and posture of the body”. When I say “breathing”, it has nothing to do with the usual breathing through the lungs; it is rather the breathing with the lower belly, or “tanden” (“energy center”). If we do so, our mind will naturally become harmonized.
Therefore, we can’t work on the mind right away from the beginning. In Zen meditation, the correct order of proceeding is to adjust the body first, then the breathing, and the mind at last. It is impossible for us to directly go to the stage of harmonizing the mind. It is first through adjusting our bodily posture, and then using the “tanden breathing” to equalize the breaths that we will be able to reach the goal of harmonizing the mind.
For example, when we hear someone say something unpleasant about us, we will get angry and this energy of anger immediately rushes into our brain. Our breathing then turns into chest breathing, and the meridian chi and blood will flow into the brain. At this moment, if we manage to lower our breath down to the abdomen, we won’t fall into anger immediately and the chi and blood will be kept in the abdomen, instead of surging into the brain.
Take Ms. Lu (who is the interpreter for the interview) for example. If she says something bad about me, I will think “why is she saying that about me?” At this moment, the energy of anger will rush into my brain. But if I imagine that she said something interesting, and breathe three times slowly using my abdomen, and if I can even recite mantras on top of that, then the energy of anger won’t rush up into my brain.
Therefore, if we can keep doing meditation in our daily life, we will naturally cultivate the habit of tanden breathing. In this way, when something unpleasant happens, anger won’t easily flow to our brain because we have stabilized our breathing. After getting into this habit, whether we are sitting or walking, we will be able to maintain this way of breathing even when we are not doing meditation. Of course, it is very difficult to achieve this level without a long-term and constant practice of Zen meditation; it has to be accomplished through daily cultivation.
Acharya Zhiguang: I would like to talk about how this issue is addressed according to the teachings of Samatha and Vipassana of the Tiantai school.
We all have so many thoughts and emotions, and most of us can’t avoid them. During the process of meditation, there are mainly two ways to work with these emotions or thoughts.
The first is to be aware of them. You need to maintain awareness to be able to see our problems. You should be aware, “Oh, I gave rise to this thought. I have anger…” This is the first step we should take.
Second, when you realize that some thoughts or angry emotions arise, you should try to replace them with some good thoughts. For example, when we have negative thoughts, we need to transform them into positive ones. Actually, you just talked about this method: when some people are saying unpleasant words, we can visualize them as actually being the pure sound of Buddhas. In Vajrayana there is a very crucial view, which is to regard all sounds as being the sound of the mantra. By doing such visualization, our attitude will change and become positive.
That is a way of transformation. When an emotion or thought arises, we can transform it. In this way, some bad ideas or negative emotions could be turned into virtuous thoughts or a positive mentality.
The second method is maintaining awareness. When we produce thoughts or emotions, we shouldn’t fight against them, but instead be just an observer of them. This is what Master Zhiyi meant by “awareness” (or thorough illumination). In other words, you are illuminating your thoughts as if with a flashlight. You only need to watch the thoughts, without adopting nor rejecting them, only observing them. It is impossible for any thoughts or emotions to remain forever, because they are all impermanent and will arise and vanish. Therefore, once you truly become an observer of these thoughts and emotions, you won’t be taken away nor hurt by them. This is a good way to work with thoughts and emotions.
In brief, there are two ways: one is the way of transformation, and the other is maintaining awareness in which one doesn’t adopt or reject thoughts but only watch them come and go, without being taken away or harmed by them.
I think these methods are very effective. They can be found in the teachings of the Theravada tradition, Samatha and Vipassana of the Tiantai school, and Mahamudra or Great Perfection of Tibetan Buddhism. So, I share them with you for your reference.
How to discover our inherent Buddha-nature in our thoughts and emotions?
Moderator: These explanations reminded me of some books that Master Shunmyō Masuno wrote, and also some teachings that Acharya Zhiguang gave in the past. Both of you speak of the same thing, which is our inherent Buddha-nature. It is like water or the ocean, and all the thoughts, emotions and so forth, are like the waves on the surface of the ocean. Just now I learnt that meditation not only helps us solve our problems of the mind, but also makes us recognize the true nature of our mind. Regarding the metaphor I just mentioned, I would like to request both masters to explain to us how meditation can help us discover our Buddha-nature under the waves of thoughts and emotions?
Master Shunmyō Masuno: The Buddha nature exists inside the heart of each one of us, so how do we discover it?
First of all, we need to discipline ourselves in our life. Our present world is filled with temptations. When explained in terms of Zen, a disciplined life actually sets a boundary, with which we define the things that we should do and should not do. If we do these things that are within the boundary every day, we won’t have the leisure to get attracted by temptations, and our mind will become purified.
Through this constant accumulation of our practice, we will meet our Buddha-nature inherent within ourselves since primordial times. That’s why we consider the sitting meditation to be the best method.
Acharya Zhiguang: Meditation can help us achieve some peace of mind and some joy, but this is not the ultimate goal, only a temporary one. The ultimate goal is to make us realize the nature of our mind, or the Buddha nature, just as Master Shunmyō Masuno mentioned.
So, whether the sitting meditation of the Zen tradition, the Samatha and Vipassana of the Tendai school, or Mahamudra and Great Perfection of Tibetan Buddhism, their ultimate goal is all to realize the nature of our mind. So from this angle, all these Buddhist traditions have a common goal, although they may use different methods to achieve it.
Especially, the Perfect and Sudden Samatha and Vipassana of the Tiantai school is a method to truly realize our inherent Buddha-nature. There’s a verse in the Great Calming and Insight (Mohe Zhiguan) that says, “Through Samatha, one realizes the stillness of the Dharmata (Dharma nature), and through Vipassana one maintains this realization together with the ever-illuminating insight.”
The “stillness of Dharmata” means that the ultimate nature of phenomena is empty and serene. Everything we know of is empty by nature, but the inherent emptiness is not “nothingness”, because it is always accompanied by the illuminating insight or awareness, also known as the luminous essence of all phenomena. Therefore, Samatha and Vipassana enable one to maintain the realization of the still and serene Dharmata together with the ever-illuminating insight, hence the name the “Perfect and Sudden Samatha and Vipassana”. As Master Zhiyi said, this is in itself the “Perfect and Sudden Samatha and Vipassana”.
Actually, the “Perfect and Sudden Samatha and Vipassana” is all about realizing the inherent nature of the mind. You will literally be in the state of the Perfect and Sudden Samatha and Vipassana when you realize that everything is inherently empty while, at the same time, maintaining illuminating awareness and knowing that awareness and emptiness are non-dual but one.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the concept of “non-duality of clarity and emptiness” also expresses such a relationship between clarity and emptiness, and it is in fact the state of realization that is to be achieved ultimately through meditation. Of course, the words we use to describe this kind of state are mere concepts, and the actual realization is beyond concepts. It cannot be described by words and transcends languages and thoughts.
We should do our best to practice the Dharma according to the pith instructions we receive from pure lineages, and this is the path that will lead us to the realization of our Buddha-nature.
The Relationship of Buddhism with Culture and Art
Moderator: I would like to express my gratitude to both masters for sharing your insights.
Master Shunmyō Masuno, we know that you are the representative figure of Japan’s Karesansui, and are regarded as the best garden-making designer. Acharya Zhiguang, you have been leading fellow practitioners of Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Cenres to Japana to study the Kadō (“way of flowers”), the tea ceremony, and other arts. We note that many forms of culture and art seem to have derived from Buddhism. As you said, “Garden-making is a Dharma practice; every step we walk is a step taken on the Buddha Path.” Acharya Zhiguang also instructed that “Kadō is also the way of the Buddha.” What is the relationship of Buddhism with culture and art then? Can we integrate Dharma practice into culture and art and benefit from it? Now, would both masters give us some guidance in this regard?
Master Shunmyō Masuno: Basically, both culture and art are forms that people use to express and demonstrate things they feel and understand with their heart, so they are a way of expressing things.
As a way of expression, it can therefore take many forms. For example, my way of expression is through designing gardens by making the best use of the space. In Kadō of course, it is through the floral arrangement. When we receive guests, we use tea ceremony to express our respect and attentiveness towards them. There are many ways to do it.
So, on one hand, people are trying to seek an attitude and a way of life through these various techniques and arts. On the other hand, they are also trying to express their inner state through these artistic forms. This is a very important point of convergence between religions, the Buddhist tradition, Zen meditation, culture, and art.
To express our inner state in the form of either a cup of tea, painting or Chinese poems (literature) is, after all, a way to express and constantly elevate our our mind.
Gardens, for example, use nature as an object of reference. And nature itself transcends the thinking capacity of human beings, and manifests the Buddha-nature. Gardens (nature) are very special in themselves because it is through this art form that one can understand how to work with nature, and how to discover one’s Buddha nature.
Acharya Zhiguang: “Every step we walk is a step taken on the Buddha Path” in fact means that anything we do is a Dharma practice in itself. So when the master creates Zen gardens, it is also a kind of Dharma practice.
Over the last few years, we have made great efforts in teaching Kadō and tea ceremony. Why should we learn them? Because we can learn to integrate our Dharma practice into our daily life, and to uplift our inner state of mind through practicing tea ceremony or Kadō.
While performing tea ceremony or Kadō, we are training our concentration, our ability to live in the now, and our awareness of the present moment. To be focused and aware in the now is a very important practice of meditation. Of course, there is also some deeper meaning in this practice. With concentration and awareness, Kadō and tea ceremony become a kind of Dharma practice. In fact, whatever we are doing will become a kind of Dharma practice if we are focused and aware, and can make us live in the now.
Of course, there is a more profound technique, that is, we can turn inwards to reflect on the nature of our mind, and finally realize the nature of our mind. In this way, we can actually enter the Buddha Path through Kadō or tea ceremony, and Kadō or tea ceremony itself will become the Buddha Path.
Once, I wrote a verse about tea ceremony:
“The roji(garden) and chashitsu**(teahouse) are sites of enlightenment.
As soon as the guests meet, they sit down to drink tea.
If they realize the flavor of the tea is the taste of meditation,
they will smell the illusory flower of Samsara and Nirvana.”
This is to really understand the nature of our mind through drinking tea. We should integrate Dharma practice into our life and work, and live in the present moment.
Master Shunmyō Masuno: Now let’s all experience meditation together. People nowadays are aware that sitting meditation has great benefits from the medical point of view. For example, when we do meditation, it generates more alpha-waves in our brain, and there is higher secretion of serotonin, which is a substance that conveys information in the brain. But this is not our goal in meditation: if we can be totally focused while meditating, the result will naturally manifest.
Now, let’s have a taste of meditation together.
People may consider Rimé as something new, but it is, in fact, the quintessence of the Buddha’s teachings, not a new thing. All the Buddha’s teachings are called “Rimé”, meaning a non-sectarian mind. When you stick to a view, you start to lose balance, and become confused in your practice. The Buddha said that no matter what you do, even if you practice the Dharma, it will be in vain if you do it with greed, hatred, and ignorance. Therefore, if you see yourself as a Mahayana practitioner but lack in faith and devotion, practice the Dharma only to win fame or benefit yourself, and even harbor strong hatred towards other traditions and judge them carelessly, then you will never attain Buddhahood through the practices. You will not attain Nirvana but continue to be entrapped in Samsara because you practice with greed, hatred and ignorance. This is the basic and simple concept of “Rimé”.
Why is the first Dzongsar Khyentse Wangpo famous, and why did he become a great practitioner? Because he put forward this idea clearly. There were many Buddhist schools and traditions in Tibet then, and everyone was very selfish. As a result, many important lineages were on the verge of extinction. So Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo thought this was not good, because we would get hurt if the sectarianism continued, and the great teachings and lineages would not last for a few years because no one wanted to learn from other schools. So, he personally went to study the teachings of different traditions, accepted their lineages, read their scriptures and books, and then taught them to his students. This is why people think that the Rimé movement was launched by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. But in fact these are the teachings of the Buddha.
—The Third Khyentse Rinpoche (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyen
The Rimé Philosophy Originating from the Buddha
—A Dialogue between Namkha Rinpoche and Acharya Zhiguang
Date: November 6, 2017
Location: Retreat Centre of Rigdzin Namkha Dzong—Orgyen Khandro Ling, in the village of Bédar near Almeria City, Spain
Participants: Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche and Acharya Zhiguang
Moderator: Ms. Xia Weijuan, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Ekayana Magazine
Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche
About Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche
Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche was born in December 1967 in Dzachukha in Kham Tibet, where he studied for four years in Dzogchen Shri Singha Monastic University. Then, he attended the Namdhun Buddhist school in Beijing, China, spending another four years there. Namkha Rinpoche has received transmissions from many great lamas such as the tenth Panchen Lama (Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub Chökyi Gyaltsen), Alak Zenkar Rinpoche (Thupten Nyima, who in Tibet is believed to be the true reincarnation of Do Kyentse Yeshe Dorje), and Semo Dechen Yudron, daughter of Jigdral Yeshe Dorje. And he has completed multiple retreats. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche recognized Namkha Rinpoche as a reincarnation of Rigdzin Trak Ngak Lingpa and, thus, named him Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso. Namkha Rinpoche is also recognized by Domang Yangthang Rinpoche as the reincarnation of a tulku from his own lineage, namely Domang Yeshe Dorje, who was the root lama of both Domang Yangthang Rinpoche and Drubwang Penor Rinpoche. The latter has confirmed in a letter bearing his signature and stamp that Namkha Rinpoche is the reincarnation of Domang Yeshe Dorje. Namkha Rinpoche began to teach the Dharma after he arrived in India. He has also taught in other areas like Tibet, the United States of America, Nepal, Lithuania, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, and more. For the benefit of all sentient beings, he founded an international organization called the Rigdzin Community.
Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche was talking with Acharya Zhiguang
Background of the dialogue
Since 2012, Namkha Rinpoche has invited Acharya Zhiguang to Europe many times to have friendly dialogues and exchanges, and to teach the Dharma to the students of the Rigdzin Community. From November 4th to 8th, 2017, Acharya Zhiguang gave Dharma teachings and participated in exchange activities at the Retreat Centre of Rigdzin Namkha Dzong—Orgyen Khandro Ling. On November 6th, Namkha Rinpoche and Acharya Zhiguang had a dialogue on the Rimé (non-sectarian) Movement.
The inspiring and guiding role of the Rimé philosophy in spreading Buddhism in modern times
Moderator: My greetings to Namkha Rinpoche and Acharya Zhiguang. I am very happy to have this dialogue today with both of you on some Buddhist issues.
In the second half of the 19th century, a very meaningful movement called the “Rimé Movement” took place in Tibetan Buddhism. Its main purpose was to counter religious bias, with the hope that the teachings from all the pure lineages of the Buddha would be treated with equal respect. This movement had a great positive outcome in the history of Tibetan Buddhism and greatly contributed to its overall prosperity. I would like to ask both of you whether the Rimé philosophy can still play an inspiring and guiding role in spreading Buddhism in our current epoch.
Namkha Rinpoche: I’m very happy to have this opportunity to have communication and discussion on Buddhism. Thank you.
Actually, in general, the Buddhist Rimé Movement or Impartial Movement didn’t really start in the 19th Century with the great Lama Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and so forth. It’s actually from the time of Buddha Shakyamuni himself, from all the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, known as the Kangyur, as well as the commentaries written by great masters. All those who practice the teachings of the Buddha are considered to be Buddhists, while all those who go against these teachings of the Buddha are not considered to be Buddhists. So, in itself, the Non-sectarian Movement has always been there, for those who follow the teachings of the Buddha are, without any distinction of different traditions, only following the same path.
Generally, the teachings of the Kangyur, i.e., the direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, and the Tengyur, i.e., the commentaries by great masters such as the Six Ornaments and Two Supreme Ones including the great master Nagarjuna, have been translated into the Tibetan language.
At the time of the King Trisong Detsen, the Abbot Shantirakshita and Master Padmasambhava established the Samye Monastery. One of the temples in the Samye Monastery was the Sanctuary of Translation. This is where the translations were performed.
Translators were sent from Tibet to India to learn the Sanskrit language. When they came back, they translated the Kangyur and the Tengyur (commentaries on the Buddhist teachings) into the Tibetan language.
Nowadays, in Dharamshala and Varanasi, it is found that ninety-seven percent of the Kangyur and the Tengyur had been translated at the time of the King Trisong Detsen, the Abbot Shantirakshita and Master Padmasambhava. Only the remaining three percent were translated later at the time of the New Tradition, by other translators such as the great translator Lochen Rinchen Zangpo.
Actually, we all practice the same teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, all the schools and traditions are just one. So, the Impartial or Rimé Movement has always been there since we all practice the same teachings. The reason why we need to practice the Non-sectarian Movement is that all teachings, commentaries and practices are from the same Buddha and the same teachers.
So, whether we are the Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma or Gelug tradition, we all practice the same texts and have the same Kangyur and Tengyur in our temples as objects of offering. Therefore, the Non-sectarian Movement is something that is actually natural.
What really amazes me is that the Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra (the Perfection of Wisdom) is recited in Japan, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and such, each time in their respective languages. For example, the Theravada monks who wear the orange robes also recite the same Heart Sutra. So, actually we all recite the same sutra. This shows that we all have the same teacher——the Buddha, and the same object of refuge. So, we are naturally part of the Non-sectarian Movement.
The Buddhist teachings themselves are, by nature, non-sectarian. There’s no need to doubt whether we should act in a sectarian or non-sectarian way. It’s obvious that we should act in the non-sectarian way. However, among those who practice the teachings, there are some who want to do the Non-sectarian Movement and some who want to stay in their own sects. In this case, I don’t know what to say about that.
It seems like the Degenerate Times are advancing, and more and more teachings of the Buddha are becoming only names or only external signs. That is the main reason why the non-sectarian idea is being lost many times in Tibet and all over the world.
In the Tibetan tradition, there is the Sutra Vehicle which we call the Vehicle of Paramitas or Perfections, and the Secret Mantra Vehicle or the Diamond Vehicle. So, there are two different paths. In the Sutrayana path, we need to wait three entire eons until we attain enlightenment. We need to accumulate merits for three entire eons before we attain enlightenment. While in the Secret Mantra path, we can attain enlightenment in this very lifetime. This is the difference between the two paths, which has nothing to do with the sectarian difference between one tradition and another.
As for the rest, we all take refuge in the same Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and we all cultivate Bodhicitta in the same way.
That’s what I want to say about the Non-sectarian Movement. I’m sorry it’s a little bit too long.
Acharya Zhiguang: During the time of the Buddha, there were not many Buddhist sects or schools at all, and he taught 84,000 different Dharma practices according to the faculties of sentient beings.
According to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha was teaching all these different Dharma practices for one purpose only: to enable all sentient beings to be liberated and attain Buddhahood. At that time, the sentient beings heard different teachings from the Buddha, and many of them obtained liberation and became enlightened. The Lotus Sutra explains that all the teachings of the Buddha ultimately intend “to help all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood,” which is the meaning of “the single Buddha vehicle.” From this angle, all the Buddhist teachings are equally precious.
All Dharma practices spoken by the Buddha are very precious because they are surely able to benefit certain beings. Of course, after the Buddha manifested his parinirvana, his disciples then spread his teachings all around the world. Generally speaking, the teachings are divided into three major traditions: Theravada, Chinese Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. These three major traditions all come from one source, which is the Buddha himself.
Each of these three major schools is divided into many different schools and lineages. They all have been established by generations of lineage masters who used necessary and extraordinary skillful methods to guide sentient beings according to their different faculties.
This, however, resulted in some problems later because the disciples of many schools or lineages began to forget the origin of their teachings and the fact that these teachings were all from the Buddha, and many branches of different traditions didn’t understand each other well. The three major traditions of Theravada, Chinese Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism, for example, also didn’t have much mutual understanding in ancient times and didn’t even know about the existence of each other. However, nowadays, many ways are available to help us understand each other better.
Disciples from different Buddhist schools sometimes can hold the view that “my school is the best.” Then, they start to praise their own school highly while denigrating the schools of others. Of course, this phenomenon is not widely present in Buddhism; it is only a small part. But this behavior is not a good thing for the flourishing of the whole Buddhism.
As sectarian prejudice was growing increasingly serious, many eminent masters stood up to promote the unity of Buddhism and eliminate the sectarian partiality. That’s why the Rimé Movement initiated within Tibetan Buddhism in the 19th century had such a great impact. In fact, I think it was aimed at restoring the fine traditions that were present during the Buddha’s time.
Many great masters within Chinese Buddhism also advocated the same idea. During the Song dynasty, a Buddhist master named Yongming Yanshou was an advocate of non-sectarianism. He broadly studied the various schools of Chinese Buddhism, and later, he was considered to be a lineage patriarch in both the Chan school and in the Pure Land school. His books had a huge impact not only in China but also in ancient Corea (now Korea) and Japan.
According to Master Yongming Yanshou’s notebook, Zi Xing Lu (Records of Self Cultivation) ,his daily program for Dharma practice was astonishing: each day he would recite one time the Lotus Sutra, recite 100,000 times of “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” which were only a small part of his daily program; he would do 108 different Dharma practices every day. Among those 108 practices, there were 30 practices of the Secret Mantra. This shows that he was also a great practitioner who fully integrated the tantra and sutra teachings without sectarian bias.
During the Ming dynasty, Master Ouyi widely studied almost all the different schools of Chinese Buddhism and wrote many books. Nowadays in Japan, we can still see some of his books. Later, he was considered to be a lineage patriarch in both the Pure Land school and the Tiantai school.
Master Ouyi read the whole Tripitaka very carefully from the beginning to the end. The Chinese Tripitaka actually includes all the scriptures in the three baskets of the Vinaya, the Sutra, and the Abhidharma. After reading the Tripitaka, he wrote a book called The Abstracts of Tripitaka, which is actually a guide to reading the Tripitaka. In his own biography, he recorded in great detail many different Dharma practices that he did during his life, and many of them are practices of the Secret Mantra.
Master Yongming Yanshou and Master Ouyi are two representatives among those masters in Chinese Buddhism who went beyond sectarianism.
Later, Chinese Buddhism arrived in Japan and has developed into many lineages. But we can still see some great masters who transcended sectarianism. For example, Master Saicho, the founders of the Tendai tradition in Japan, left Japan to study the Dharma in China during the Tang dynasty. He learned many lineages in China: some say that he received the transmission of four lineages, and others say he received five.
When he was seeking the Dharma in China during the Tang dynasty, Master Saicho not only studied the teachings of the Tiantai school, but he also studied and practiced the Chan tradition, the precepts of the Mahayana, the Tantric teachings and so forth. He received the lineage transmission of the Perfect Teachings of the Tiantai school, the Perfect-sudden Precepts of the Tiantai school, Tangmi Tantric teachings, Chan teachings of Bodhidharma, and more. So, he learned many things. Later, he brought to Japan all these teachings he had learned in China, benefiting countless sentient beings. I consider Master Saicho as another representative of this non-sectarian philosophy.
So, as Rinpoche said, this kind of non-sectarian idea has existed since ancient times. My personal understanding about non-sectarianism includes mainly the following points:
First, I think that all the Buddha’s teachings are precious and can benefit sentient beings.
As a disciple of the Buddha, I think we should strive to preserve all the different Buddhist lineages and should not let their transmission be interrupted or lost. Any loss or interruption of a Buddhist lineage will cause an irreparable loss to Buddhism and sentient beings.
In both tantra and sutra traditions of Chinese Buddhism, there is the great vow to “learn all the infinite Dharma teachings.” This vow has to be recited and made in daily Dharma practices. Of course, nowadays, many people don’t recite it anymore, and some of them say, “I’m doing only one Dharma practice.” While there is nothing wrong in saying that, I think we should have an open attitude and respect all the Dharma practices in equanimity.
Therefore, preserving and continuing the transmission of all the different Buddhist practices will greatly benefit the Buddha Dharma and sentient beings. This is the first understanding I have about the Rimé philosophy.
Second, I think that that the purpose of advocating the Rimé philosophy is mainly to promote the unity between different Buddhist traditions and schools.
The flourishing of Buddhism requires mutual solidarity, mutual support, and mutual understanding among all Buddhist traditions and schools. If there is no mutual understanding but many misunderstandings and even conflicts among them, the whole Buddhism will break up and decline. That’s why I personally think that mutual understanding and communication between different Buddhist schools is extremely important.
I began studying Chinese Buddhism from an early age, and later, I studied Tibetan Buddhism and the Theravada. Then, in Japan, I studied the Buddhist teachings of the Tang dynasty that had been brought to Japan from China. I consider all the Buddha’s teachings to be truly precious and extraordinary. I have great faith in all these different lineages and, at the same time, I have developed great devotion toward the Buddha.
That’s why I think that non-sectarianism is utterly important.
Today, a very good thing is that different schools can communicate with and learn from each other through many channels—something not possible in ancient times. Nowadays, thanks to modern transportation, we can easily travel around the world. The Internet provides us with many means of communication. Translation technology is also advancing. When artificial intelligence technology is mature in the future, translation will become much easier, making it convenient for all Buddhist schools to communicate with each other, understand each other, and learn from each other.
As far as I know, the Tripitaka of the Theravada must have already been translated into Chinese. Additionally, more and more scriptures and commentaries in Tibetan Buddhism are being translated into Chinese, especially by some of the great Khenpos of the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy who have made great contribution to the translation work, thus facilitating our learning and understanding of the real Tibetan Buddhism.
I also heard that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has already initiated the project of translating the whole Tibetan Tripitaka, i.e., the “Kangyur” (words of the Buddha), and the “Tengyur” (commentaries on the teachings of the Buddha) into English.
Therefore, the mutual understanding between the Theravada, the Chinese Buddhism, and the Tibetan Buddhism will continue to deepen in the future. Of course, this involves a huge amount of hard work, and difficulties are expected. Taking the tradition of Longchen Nyingthik in Tibetan Buddhism as an example, it is advisable to prepare a standard textbook for it in various languages such as Tibetan, Chinese, English, and French so that people from different countries and areas can practice it according to the textbook.
I personally hope that I will be able to help in this field. Some of the Dharma texts that we have published in our magazines are in two languages like Chinese and Japanese, as well as in Chinese and English, to facilitate study.
In 2016, we also held a symposium on Tangmi (Tantric teachings of the Tang Dynasty) and invited some greatly accomplished masters and scholars from China and Japan to discuss on some issues regarding the Tantric teachings in Chinese Buddhism.
I still have a wish that is yet to be realized. That is, I hope to invite great masters and scholars of Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan Tantric traditions to have discussions to promote their mutual understanding and avoid making wrong comments about other traditions and schools while spreading the Dharma.
For example, some time ago, I saw a Tibetan lama say on a WeChat public account that Tantric teachings didn’t exist in Chinese Buddhism. Then I asked his disciple, “Did your Lama read the Chinese Tripitaka?” Because in the Chinese Taishō Tripitaka, there is the “Section of Tantra,” and it is full of tantric scriptures and rituals. In Japan, there are also the two tantric lineages of Tendai and Shingon, and these two lineages have preserved many tantric scriptures and rituals that were brought from China.
A few years ago, I offered a full set of the Complete Works of Shingon School and a full set of the Complete Works of the Tendai School to the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy. The purpose is also that the Tibetan masters would understand the Tantric teachings in Chinese Buddhism. In this epoch, if we want Buddhism to thrive, all Buddhist traditions and schools should know more about each other.
In April 2002, I gave a speech with the title All Buddhist Traditions as One. All the different traditions and schools of Buddhism are actually one big family. I noticed that on April 19, 2013, Khenpo Sodargye also spoke of the Rimé Movement during his speech at Columbia University.
Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche is truly amazing. He elevated the Rimé philosophy even more because he has a very good point of view, and I very much agree with it. He said that the core of the Rimé philosophy is the absence of partiality and the absence of bias. He said that the first level of the Rimé philosophy is the equanimity and impartiality among all the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the second level is equanimity and impartiality within the different traditions and schools of Buddhism in general, for example, between Tibetan Buddhism, Theravada, and Chinese Buddhism; and the third level is even more transcending in that he believes Buddhism and the other religions should respect each other in equanimity. I think that his tolerance and openness are truly remarkable.
Of course, all the different traditions and schools of Buddhism should be united with each other, but there must also be a very harmonious relationship between Buddhism and other religions. It is only in this way that we can create a happy and harmonious environment for the entire human race and the whole world. Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche’s views coincide totally with those in All Buddhist Traditions as One that I wrote. That’s what I wanted to say about the Rimé Movement. Thanks for letting me share my shallow opinions.
Namkha Rinpoche: I myself had a dream long ago. I want to express this dream or hope now.
It is about an important project. So far, I have never had the finance to even think of accomplishing it. So, I haven’t talked about it to anybody yet.
My idea is to establish a big congress in a country. I think Thailand would be a good country for that because it’s a very peaceful country. And every year this big congress would gather some of the great teachers from all the Buddhist countries like China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, including some of the great Tibetan masters such as Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö or Khenpo Sodargye.
So, we could communicate together and discuss how to spread and establish the Buddhist teachings, how to stay together in harmony and how to practice in a non-sectarian way. I have had this desire for a long time.
So, the purpose is to invite all the great masters of the world to discuss together. All traditions including Secret Mantra Vajrayana, Sutrayana, and Theravada. But I know that it would cost a lot of money to organize the congress, and I always think it would be very difficult for me to find sponsors to finance it. I will not start something if I’m not able to finish it. So, that’s why I haven’t done it so far.
Because I think that the non-sectarian culture or philosophy will naturally happen if we manage to invite all the lamas and the great teachers of the world to gather and communicate together. I’m one hundred percent sure of that.
If we don’t manage to really meet and talk with all the great lamas of different countries, we can always say we are non-sectarian and we want to promote the Non-sectarian Movement, but it will never really happen. For example, now Lama Rinpoche and me are meeting together. Then, it’s really like milk mixed with milk and they become really like one.
I think if you also like this idea, then both our communities, the Rigdzin Community and your community, could work together to organize the congress. I think it’s a very good auspicious connection. We could organize it representing the West, and you representing the East—Asia.
Acharya Zhiguang: Yes, yes!
Namkha Rinpoche: The only idea should be to serve the Buddhist teachings.
I think if we manage to do that, even to organize one of these meetings, it would be an even greater service we give to the Buddhist teachings than building one thousand large monasteries. Because the Buddha statues or the stupas cannot speak, I don’t think spending a lot of money on such art supports is the most important part of the Buddhist teachings.
Now, thanks to technologies and airplanes, the world has become like one big family. I think gathering all the great Buddhist teachers of the world would be really the most important thing to do to serve the Buddhist teachings.
In Tibet, we sometimes hold great prayer festivals or empowerment ceremonies that gather like ten thousand or hundreds of thousands of people. We think that’s very good. Still I don’t think this is the best way to serve the Buddhist teachings. I think it would be even better to serve the Buddhist teachings by accomplishing my idea of gathering all the great masters.
But for me, it is just a dream and something I can’t accomplish by myself. I still have problems to repay the debt at the moment. So, I really don’t have the power to accomplish this kind of huge projects.
Now that Lama Rinpoche was talking about this and asked me about it, I found courage to express this idea for the first time.
I think maybe the auspicious connections have all come together and it is time to start it. This is the feeling I have after I heard everything that Rinpoche said about this topic.
I think it’s a very good auspicious connection that Lama Rinpoche came here and we have this occasion to talk about the Non-sectarian Movement. Khenpo Sodargye will come to Switzerland in three weeks and I will also be able to talk to him about that. So, my feeling is that maybe now the auspicious connections have come together and the time is right to accomplish this now.
This is my idea.
Acharya Zhiguang: I also have an idea that is in connection with Rinpoche’s dream.
I think our ultimate goal is to create a great platform for great masters of different Buddhist schools to meet and communicate with each other. I’m not so capable, and I can’t promise to realize it soon. However, I am greatly inspired by the idea raised by Rinpoche today. Personally, I do not have much power. But if Rinpoche and other masters try to accomplish it, I will certainly do everything I can to help.
Moreover, I also think that we may gradually realize this huge project in a step-by-step manner, considering that the ultimate goal of the project is quite big and it requires the participation of a large number of great masters as well as a large amount of money to realize it.
For example, we may start by organizing a symposium on Tantric Buddhism, inviting masters from Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhism to attend it. We can start with such symposiums on a small scale. This is easier to achieve. During the seminar, we can discuss bigger plans. In this way, I think Rinpoche’s idea will be accomplished gradually and more easily.
Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre held such an international seminar last year. According to our experience, the big dream that we are talking about is not something to be accomplished at once.
I think Tantric teachings can be regarded as the essence of all Buddhism. So, the prosperity of Tantric teachings should play a critical part in the prosperity of Buddhism as a whole. I think we can start with the exchange and communication among different schools of the Tantric teachings. If we manage to unify or integrate many ideas of the Tantric teachings, it will be of great help for the spreading of Buddhism as a whole. It is just like someone’s having a strong heart can be helpful for his overall health.
Discussion on the prophecy of the 15th Karmapa
Moderator: Thanks to both Rinpoches. Today, we had a deep discussion about the Rimé Movement. So, I strongly feel that all the great masters from ancient times to the present, including the ones you mentioned, have carried on the initial intent of the Buddha.
From your conversation, I believe that you both are not merely talking about or analyzing the Rimé philosophy in a superficial way but truly hope to promote it, to push forward the development and unity of Buddhism. I am very grateful to both Rinpoches.
There is one more question for discussion. It is said that the 15th Karmapa made a prophecy that when the Japanese Tantric teachings (i.e., Tantric teachings from China) and the Tibetan Tantric teachings merged together, all the Buddhist schools in the world would unite together and thrive as one. I would like to invite both Rinpoches to share your opinions about this prophecy.
Namkha Rinpoche: I have never read this prophecy directly myself, but I heard about it from Lama Rinpoche two years ago when he took the interview of Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine.
Generally, we say the Karmapa is omniscient and knows everything of the past, the present and the future, or everything of the Three Times. In Tibet, it happens that we give the name of “the Omniscient One,” or “the one who knows everything of the Three Times,” only out of respect. But in the case of the Karmapa, it is not out of respect. It is a true fact that he knows everything of the Three Times.
Particularly, the 15th Karmapa was absolutely amazing. The 15th Karmapa, for example, clearly predicted the situation that happened between Chinese mainland and Tibet. He predicted that Tibet would fall down under the central power and Buddhism would be greatly damaged at some point, and that many of the great lamas would have to leave Tibet.
He also clearly prophesized that there would be troubles with the 17th Karmapa because there would be two tulkus to be recognized and there would be troubles with that. The 15th Karmapa had expressed many kinds of prophecies. The fact that he said Buddhism would spread all over the world when the Japanese tradition of Secret Mantra and the Tibetan tradition of Secret Mantra merged together, is something I have a hundred percent confidence in.
I’ve never been to Japan, but I dreamed of going to Japan many times. In these dreams, I went to a very deep forest where there was a Japanese temple. In the temple there was a very old mandala carved on a stone. And a lady came and offered me white clothes, and I put them on. I looked at the mandala. It was very similar to the mandala of the Guhyagarbha Tantra that we use in Tibetan Buddhism, the Tantra of the Secret Quintessence. Guhyagarbha, the essence of secrets. So I think the secret mantra tradition in Japan is actually very similar to the secret mantra tradition in Tibet, particularly the Nyingma tradition of this Tantra of the essence of secrets. I have the feeling that we could unite these two traditions.
I had dreamed of that a couple of times. In another dream, I was also in a temple in Japan, and there was a master wearing clothes very similar to these, but in black.
Acharya Zhiguang: It is true that many monks wear black clothes in Japan. Usually, they wear an outer yellow Dharma robe, and a black inner robe.
Namkha Rinpoche: This Japanese master was sitting on a throne, which was not a Tibetan throne, but a different kind of chair. The Japanese master gave me many empowerments and said, “Now I’ m giving you all the empowerments of the secret mantra of Japan.” But surprisingly, I was receiving these empowerments all in the Tibetan language in these dreams.
At the end, he said, “Now you have received all the empowerments of the secret mantra of Japan.” Then I woke up and of course I was not in Japan. But I have a very strong feeling that the Japanese secret mantra tradition and the practice I do must be very strongly connected. Especially after I read the interview of Lama Rinpoche in Ngagyur Rigdzin Magazine, I became more certain of that.
Many times I have thought about going on a pilgrimage in Japan, but because I don’t know anybody there, it has never happened so far. So, that’s my personal feeling and experience about the connection between the secret mantra in Japan and the secret mantra in the Tibetan tradition. But because I have not learned enough about the secret mantra in Japan and have no actual knowledge about it, this is only my feeling.
Acharya Zhiguang: I think this is a very auspicious interdependent connection. I now formally invite Rinpoche to visit Japan for a pilgrimage.
Just as we said, there must be many connections between Tibetan Tantric teachings and Japanese Tantric teachings. Many Tantric scriptures translated from Sanskrit into Chinese have the same versions translated in Tibetan language, in fact. Many of their mantras are actually the same, too. I have learned many mantras in Tibetan Buddhism before. When I studied in Japan, I found that many of them are the same as those in Japanese Buddhism.
Of course, some characteristics are specific to the Tibetan Tantric teachings and others are specific to the Shingon Tantric teachings. So, mutual understanding and learning between different lineages is extremely meaningful.
Recently, I also noticed that the high lamas such as Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche and the like are quoting more and more texts from the Chinese Tantric teachings while explaining Tibetan Tantric teachings. So, personally, I think if there is more mutual understanding between Tibetan Tantra and Chinese Tantra , Buddhism will surely be more united and prosperous.
This is also the one thing I have been praying for. So I am very happy to have this opportunity to invite Rinpoche to Japan for a pilgrimage. I hope we will meet there in the near future.
Namkha Rinpoche: I will talk about this with Sangye Dorje because he arranges my schedule.
I feel that if I go to Japan, I will search for the mandala carved on the stone. I have a feeling that I can find it. I have quite a strong attachment to this. That’s because I didn’t dream of this only one or two times, but many times.
Acharya Zhiguang: Rinpoche, did you have any indications about a certain location or direction in your dream?
Namkha Rinpoche: I don’t know.
Acharya Zhiguang: It doesn’t matter. We will see if we can find time to search for it.
Moderator: What Rinpoche just said reminds me of the karmic connection through which Acharya Zhiguang started his Dharma study in Tibet. Acharya, in 1996, you dreamed of Guru Padmasambhava three times, and in all these dreams he had instructed you to go to Tibet. Is that right?
Acharya Zhiguang: Yes.
Moderator: So, that is how Acharya Zhiguang decided to go to Tibet to study the Dharma. Later, he embarked on the path of practicing Tibetan Buddhism. In this way, Acharya Zhiguang was inspired to learn both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism and spread them around. And now we learned that Namkha Rinpoche also had similar dreams. I think this must be the common aspiration of all the great masters and the Three Jewels in the Dharma world. I hope that in the future, we will all make efforts toward this goal and work together to achieve it.
I hope we can join our efforts in realizing the prophecy of the 15th Karmapa.
If all of us work together to make Buddhism purer and better in all aspects, even if we only play a small part in it, I think there is nothing better than this.
—H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche
A Dialogue between Master Olivier Reigen Wang-Genh, President of the Buddhist Union of France, and Acharya Zhiguang
Date: November 10, 2017
Location: Strasbourg Zen Buddhist Centre, France
Participants: Zen Master Olivier Reigen Wang-Genh and Acharya Zhiguang
Moderator: Ms. Xia Weijuan, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Ekayana Magazine
About Zen Master Olivier Reigen Wang-Genh
Zen Master Olivier Reigen Wang-Genh is a native of Mosheim, France, with a quarter of Chinese descent (his grandfather was from Guangdong, China). He started to study in 1973 under the guidance of Deshimaru Taisen, a master from the Japanese Soto school, and was ordained in 1977. He established in Weiterswiller the Kosan Ryumon-ji Temple, which is one of the famous Zen temples of Europe that can accommodate seven hundred people for daily practices. From 2007 to 2012, Master Reigen served as Chairman of the Buddhist Union of France and has been re-elected since 2015. The purpose of the Buddhist Union of France is to establish links between the Buddhist world and promote inter-religious dialogue. There are one million Buddhists in France, three-quarters of whom are from Asia, and the French Buddhist Association includes 80% of the Buddhists in France.
Background of the dialogue
From November 9th to 10th, 2017, Acharya Zhiguang accepted the invitation of Olivier Reigen Wang-Gehn to visit the Kosan Ryumon-ji Temple and the Buddhist Centre of Strasbourg and had in-depth talks and exchanges with him. Although the two masters are from different countries, they both are ordained monks in Japanese Buddhism, and also share the same Dharma lineage of Soto Zen. Together, they engaged in a subtle and intelligent conversation of wisdom.
How to spread the Dharma better in today’s global village, and how to revitali**ze Buddhism?**
Moderator: My greetings to both Masters. In our times, science and technology are developed, communication and transportation are very convenient, and such an environment has greatly promoted exchanges between major religions and various sects of Buddhism. Therefore, I would like to request both of you masters to discuss how we can better spread the Dharma and revitalize Buddhism in such a “global village” environment.
Master Reigen: Good morning. I am pleased to meet Master Zhiguang. I think maybe the most important thing for us in the West is to try to go beyond the cultural aspect and get down to the roots of what we call the Dharma. As we know, Buddhism has been greatly influenced by the traditions and cultures of different countries where it has come and developed. However, in the West, for example here in Europe, I think the deep meaning of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha is so precious and strong that it is already good enough, and the cultural aspect may not be significant for us.
Acharya Zhiguang: I am delighted to discuss this important topic with Zen Master Reigen. As the Master mentioned earlier, the primary role of the Dharma is to free all sentient beings and lead them to Buddhahood. I think it would be the best if we could reveal the heart of the Dharma and share it with all. Everyone needs inner liberation; therefore the Dharma is essentially suitable to each one of us, and we all need it.
Also, from the perspective of the Dharma, there is another fundamental principle. When we are spreading the Dharma, first of all, we must conform to the Buddha’s mind, which is, “to act in conformity with the intent of all the Buddhas;” and the second is “to act in accordance with sentient beings’ faculties.” It means that we have to spread the Dharma in a way that is suitable to all sentient beings, and in a form that they like.
The Zen masters who can spread Zen Buddhism in Europe as you do, I think this is very remarkable and very rare. I believe that the Master must have much experience in this field.
Master Reigen: Thank you very much. Yes, but I think that the first thing is to teach the right way.
For example, for our tradition of Soto Zen, one of the most important practices is Zazen or Shikantaza. This practice of sitting meditation, or silent meditation, is the heart of our tradition, and maybe the heart of the whole Buddhism because all the Dharma comes from inner peace.
We have to focus really on transmitting this right way of practising Zazen, of course, not only Zazen, but also Shamatha, Vipassana, and all the other different ways to meditate. Because here in Europe, we are an ancient country with an ancient culture, and Buddhism is very new, but we have this French capacity of taking a very ancient tradition and transforming it into a kind of method that is useful for us. Then we have to take care not to fall in certain hindrances. We have to take care of what we are transmitting. Then, based on the profound awakening attained through Zazen, you can turn your true self to other beings. However, you must first awaken your mind and then turn your light to other people and help to save sentient beings.
Acharya Zhiguang: It is right as the Master just said, and it is my personal experience too. As I am mainly spreading the Dharma in many Asian countries, I can see that Buddhism indeed leads people to awaken, freeing them from suffering to gain happiness. From my previous experiences, spreading the Dharma should be done in a way that is practical and pleases sentient beings, so that they can have a real taste of the Dharma and use it to solve their problems. It is only in this way that the Dharma can spread more widely. Nowadays, people pay generally more attention to the reality of our lives and what is effective. If someone thinks that something is not useful for him, it is likely that he will not be interested in learning it or putting it into practice. Therefore, we should spread the Dharma in ways that please sentient beings, that can solve issues related to work, to daily life and psychological problems. If we can do this, we will attain quite good results.
Yesterday during the lecture at the Council of European Union, we did a very simple meditation. During this lecture, I have briefly introduced the benefits that one can get from meditation, and I used much evidence based on modern science. I believe that it was quite easily acceptable because it is proved by modern science.
So, we went through a very short meditative experience, letting everyone experience inner peace, mindfulness and also compassion. In this way, we all had some deep feelings, and I saw that most people were thrilled. So, I think it would be a good idea to use this way to let people get in touch with the Dharma or with Chan meditation.
Master Reigen: That is also exactly my experience. I think that one of the main problems that we face in the West, I don’t know how it is in the East, but I think it’s quite the same: most people do not know, or do not really know how to use the thinking, and lose the true contact with what we call the mind; they only focus on the mental activity and develop this discriminative way of thinking, as if this was the only way of thinking, seeing, or perceiving the world.
So, that is the main problem of modern human beings. We lose contact with what we call the true mind. We lose the real and direct experience, or the non-dual contact with oneness, the actual reality or the non-discriminatory mind. So, we have to learn how to use the mind: how to think with a mental activity when it is useful; and how to think in another way when we do not have to discriminate, compare, or to use the mental function. So, when people can experience things directly, they understand very quickly: “It is not my thought, so I can let go and see or perceive something else.” This is a very valuable experience, and people having this experience begin to smile. So, I totally agree with you.
Acharya Zhiguang: I feel honored to have been able to practice sitting meditation together with you this morning, and our Dharma friends had a wonderful experience. I saw many European Dharma friends doing excellent meditation, and they were really involved. May I ask how you made the Europeans so interested in meditation, and so dedicated?
Master Reigen: My teacher always uses the image of someone who is fishing. We, as Dharma teachers, are like fishermen. We wait, but when the fish comes and takes the bait, if you go too strong, the line may break; if you go too slow, the fish is gone. So, you have to be very smart. Of course, you are not going to eat the fish. If you catch the fish, it is okay, but after that you liberate it.
How should all the religious traditions and Buddhist schools relate to each other with more harmony, to gather and unite in a better way?
Moderator: In the global village, various Buddhist schools and major religious traditions are also developing. I request both of you masters to discuss what we shall do to better deal with the different Buddhist schools and religious traditions. For instance, both of you are working on spreading the Dharma in the whole world. Master Reigen is transmitting the Buddhist tradition of Soto Zen here in the West, so you must also have contacts with Western religions such as Christianity and Islam, besides other Buddhist schools. How can these spiritual traditions unite to contribute in the best way to world peace and the flourishing of the Dharma?
Master Reigen: It is a very big and important question because today the relations between different religions are very central to peace in the world. We see conflicts between religions every day, for example, what happened in Myanmar and some other countries. It is an important issue not only for Muslims or Christians but for Buddhists also. We can see that there are also some difficulties with Buddhism. However, here in France and Europe, I think we have a very special position for different Buddhist traditions; in a country like France, all the different Buddhist traditions live together in harmony.
Only a few hundred meters from here in Strasburg, we have one Vietnamese pagoda, one Lao Theravada pagoda, two Tibetan Buddhist schools, and one Zen centre. So, we learn to understand each other. We organize events together regularly, not in a communalistic way, not restricted to only Tibetan Buddhism or Zen school, but in a way that involves all the traditions. We perform Buddhist ceremonies together; we practice meditation together, and we talk and organize concrete things together. It is a very good way to learn from each other.
And it is the same with other religions. After all, speaking is useful, but it is not the most important. I think the most important thing is to try to do things together and to share our experiences during the course. By sharing our experiences, even only a kind of intellectual knowledge, we can learn from other people about how they do things and the way they see how things should be done. I think this is very precious.
Acharya Zhiguang: This is awesome! Your experience as a Zen master is worth learning and spreading.
I also have some experience in this. For many years, we have been making great efforts to create more dialogues, collective learning and communication between the various Buddhist schools. I think that mutual understanding and respect within all the Buddhist and non-Buddhist spiritual traditions are crucial.
I think that many conflicts or disunity are mainly due to mutual misunderstandings and personal prejudices. We can overcome them only through communication based on good intentions and through mutual learning.
Within the various Buddhist schools, it is important for us to understand two things. First, how has the transmission lineage of a particular school passed down in purity, because all the lineages that come from the Buddha are there to benefit sentient beings. Second, for each school, we should discover its value and benefits for the Dharma and sentient beings. If we can do this, we will be able to respect the other schools and also give rise to a kind of ready-to-learn attitude. By always trying to find out the value and the meritorious aspects of other schools, all different schools will be able to respect each other and learn from each other, and there will be harmony and unity among all the different Buddhist schools. Master Reigen: Yesterday, Master Zhiguang offered us the Lotus Sutra. I think this sutra teaches that there may be different “yanas” (vehicles) such as Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, but ultimately there is only one “yana,” the Dharma itself. That is the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. So, maybe the next step is to understand that different religions are also like different “yanas,” but in the end, there is only one mind for all human beings. Maybe it is a good message for the 21st century to think like that.
Acharya Zhiguang: Yes indeed, Master, what you said is excellent!
Master Reigen: It is my dream.
Acharya Zhiguang: We have also held some seminars, inviting great masters of various transmission lineages, to enhance mutual understanding. In the future, if we organize similar activities, we will also invite you to participate.
Master Reigen: With pleasure.
How can the practice of Chan and ancient wisdom fit the sentient beings of this present place and time?
Moderator: The Buddhist wisdom came from the teachings of the Buddha back to 2500 years ago. In our modern times, we need to take into account the factors of place and time, as well as the faculties of sentient beings while spreading the Buddhism, so that the teaching would be adapted to them. In this regard, I would also like to request both of you masters to tell us how to use the ancient wisdom of Chan meditation to fit sentient beings of this place and time.
Master Reigen: Easy question.
I think it is very important that before we change something in a tradition so old as Zen, we have to study deeply what we are and understand the true meaning of what we transmit.
You spoke about the Kesa earlier. If we do not understand the meaning of the Kesa, we might think that we do not need these clothes and we can do Zazen in blue jeans and a shirt or T-shirt. We would think that it is enough. Why should we wear a Kesa? But if we understand the purpose of wearing a Kesa, and the experience of wearing it that makes us understand something deeply, we can transmit this tradition to others. However, today maybe many people think we do not need to use the traditional aspect, but only what is practical or what is useful. We need what is useful, but I think it is not a good way of thinking. We should study first, and then decide if we need to change some things because they are merely cultural, but we must preserve and transmit the lineage to others. This is the way we choose.
Acharya Zhiguang: Yes, I very much agree with Master Reigen. This is the same meaning as I just mentioned about “acting in conformity with the intent of all the Buddhas” and “acting in accordance with sentient beings’ faculties.”
First of all, we have to preserve the essence and the principles of all the traditions, and this is something that must never be changed or abandoned. So, we need to first preserve the essence of the tradition, before talking about how to adapt the teaching to the faculties of sentient beings according to place and time. This is my opinion.
Master Reigen: I totally agree.
Importance of Dharma lineage in Buddhism
Moderator: I would like to request both of you masters to explain about the respect for one’s Buddhist Master, one’s teacher and the lineage of transmission. Is that the most important essence in Buddhist transmission and lineages, as you both mentioned?
Master Reigen: In Zen, Dharma transmission is very essential. We compare Dharma transmission to blood transmission. When the document of the Dharma transmission (the Ketsumyaku) between the teacher and the student was made, it usually was written with their blood. Today we do not do it anymore because it may be dangerous to mix blood. However, in ancient times, the teacher and his student would mix their blood and then use the blood to write the transmission document. So, it is essential.
That means the transmission between the teacher and the student is to perpetuate the blessing of Shakyamuni Buddha or maintain the “blood circulation” of the lineage, so all the patriarchs’ lineages become alive. However, this has to come back to Shakyamuni Buddha or to the origin; then the blood will go on and on as the heart keeps beating. This is transmission. If the transmission stops, it is a heart attack.
Acharya Zhiguang: According to the experience I got through study and practice, whether it is in the Theravada, in the Mahayana or in the Vajrayana, including the traditions of Chinese Buddhism such as Chan and Tiantai, they all regard the lineage transmission as extremely important. The Buddha Dharma has been passed on from generations to generations, until our own Guru, who is transmitting the teachings to us. So, it is an obvious inheritance and is also one vital core in Buddhism.
The importance of the transmission lineage can be discussed from the following points:
Why do we need a transmission lineage?
First, the “transmission lineage” means that the very source of Dharma is exceptionally pure, instead of being made up by someone. The origin of the Dharma is immaculate, without any stain, and is not a careless invention of someone, but has come from the Buddha himself.
This is a very important criterion for us to identify the true Dharma from what is not the Dharma. In our present epoch, many people easily give Dharma talks out of their invention. In reality, I doubt this can genuinely benefit sentient beings.
Second, the “transmission lineage” has also the very important utility of providing us with a basis for confidence and giving us great motivation. The generations of past masters were all accomplished ones, so their example gives us great confidence and encouragement. Each person in his lineages can receive the blessings of the Three Jewels, and gain accomplishment to become like the past lineage masters one day. This is a perfect basis for devotion.
Third, I think that the “transmission lineage” is also a very important and good tradition that teaches gratitude. Because without the Buddha, there would not be any lineage masters, and without them, we would not be able to practice. Therefore in these transmission lineages, we will learn to have gratitude, towards the Buddha, towards the Three Jewels, and towards all the lineage masters. It is because of their compassion that the Dharma could be transmitted. That is why I think that this is a tradition of compassion and gratitude.
Finally, I feel that the “transmission lineage” is also one kind of transmission of the Buddha’s enlightenment or transmission of blessings. In the Chan tradition, there is a phrase of “sealing the mind with the mind,” and this is a kind of transmission of the enlightened mind. In the Vajrayana, they speak about “the power of blessings,” so a lineage really has the power of blessings.
For example, every light bulb must have a wire connected to the power plant. So, the Buddha and the lineage masters are like the power plant and the wire, and we are like a light bulb: if we possess this lineage, we will obtain the blessings and transmission power of the enlightened mind of the Buddha and the lineage masters; whereas if we don’t have this lineage, even if we only have one light bulb, without the wire and power plant, it would be totally useless.
Therefore, if one does not possess a lineage, it will be very difficult for him to study the Dharma by himself to attain any accomplishment. This is a rough understanding I have about the transmission lineage.
Master Reigen: Totally shared, thank you!
How to manifest “skillful wisdom” in our present culture, according to time and place?
Moderator: Today we discussed an important topic which is “to act in conformity with the intent of all the Buddhas;” and “to act in accordance with sentient beings’ faculties.” In Buddhism, wisdom is also divided into “ultimate wisdom” and “skillful wisdom.” Just now, both of you masters not only talked about preserving the tradition and the lineage, but also about some “ultimate wisdom.” On this basis, some aspects can be transformed according to sentient beings of a particular time and place. Take culture as an example. Both of you are travelling the world to teach the Dharma, so could you share some of your experience and opinions on how to express this “skillful wisdom” in the cultural context of our epoch? Of course, this may also be a very academic issue that we could develop in the future. But today, would you like to give some preliminary talks about it?
Master Reigen: I will be very brief. But I think, for us in Zen, it is the present moment. That means if you are aware in this present moment, you know what the right words are, or what the good attitude is. It is not the kind of mental things, but direct things. If you speak with your heart or with your wisdom, you can touch the heart of others.
Acharya Zhiguang: This is fantastic! I think the answer of the Master is perfect. With this principle, we can understand what “skillful” means.
How to face and deal with emotions?
Moderator: Today, some practitioners and Dharma friends are also present in the room. We would like to receive from both Masters some guidance regarding the meditation.
Everyone has to deal with his emotions and problems in daily life, at work, and even during meditation. I request both of you to tell us what emotions mean to you, and how we should work with our emotions.
Master Reigen: I will be short also. So maybe we must never forget that we are living beings, and that our emotions are a kind of treasure because, without emotions, we would be strange beings. But we have to know that emotions are like thoughts. That means they appear, they are there, and they disappear. And this is very natural and healthy, for example, joy, or even anger. We are angry, but okay, it is ten seconds or thirty seconds, not necessary to put wood on the fire of emotion. And that is what most people do. They have the emotion, and it is like a fire; later they put wood on it, so the fire gets bigger and bigger. They may stay angry for one day, two days, one week, some of them for one or many years, angriness over angriness.
This is not healthy. So, emotions are okay, but when they appear, observe and let go. In this way, I think we can express our living capacity. Maybe that is what we have to learn to do in our daily life.
Acharya Zhiguang: Great! Master Reigen spoke about a very important point, that is, we should not consider emotions to be enemies. Many people try to remove their emotions, but it is impossible to do so. In the past, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna taught how to deal with our emotions and thoughts, and it is “if a thought arises, you are aware of it, but you do not follow it.” Emotions and thoughts naturally arise, because in every being this is instinctive and so this phenomenon will definitely manifest. But where is our problem? It is that we got caught in our emotion or driven away by it. As the Master just said, you added wood to it so it can only grow stronger. If we can look at the emotion or thought as it arises, and “be aware of it but without following it,” then the emotion or thought will in reality, like the Master said, arise and dissolve. We only need to be aware of it, to see it arise and dissolve, and it will not harm us any longer. So this sentence of Nagarjuna is, I think, an excellent method to deal with our emotions.
In the Chan tradition, there is also a similar sentence as follows: “I do not fear the arising of any thought; I fear to recognize it too late.” We should not be afraid when thoughts and emotions arise but should fear not being aware of them. When you are entirely following them and are caught by them, at this moment, you will have emotions troubling you. But if you have enough awareness, there will not be any problem.
Master Reigen: Totally okay! This is the experience of Zazen.
During Zazen, when deep emotions arise, observe and let go. It is about not being caught up in them. It is not to become a kind of vegetable, but rather to become a living being that can face things without being moved by them. That is the essence of Zazen.
Moderator: Thank you very much! We are looking forward to meeting you again in the future, maybe here in this beautiful place in Strasbourg, or Japan, or wherever in the world, to continue this dialogue. Thank you once again!
Master Reigen: Thank you so much and I just want to say that I am so happy to meet Master Zhiguang. I think I met a Dharma brother, also a friend, simply a friend. So, thank you very much! Thank you to everybody, to all of you.
Acharya Zhiguang: We were probably brothers in a past life, and that is why we have this deep feeling of having already met.
Moderator: We also had the feeling of having come back home, yesterday during the visit of the Kosan Ryumon-ji Temple and also today here. We are so happy, so delighted! Thank you both masters! Thank you, everybody!
In the future the impure will hear the Buddha teach the single vehicle, tut they will be confused and will not accept it. They will reject the Dharma and fall into the troubled states of being.
—The Lotus Sutra
To those who are modest and pure, and seek the path of the Buddhas, I will praise extensively the path of the single vehicle.
—The Lotus Sutra
When Buddhism Encounters Cultural Diversity
—A Dialogue between Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN and Acharya Zhiguang
Date: November 26, 2017
Location: Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN’s residence in Melbourne, Australia
Participants: Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN and Acharya Zhiguang
About Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN
In 1984, Ms. Guosheng Yang CHEN started working in the field of education in Australia as an exchange teacher. Since 2015, she has been working as the director of the Chinese-Australian Studies Forum of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), the director of the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) Centre at RMIT, as well as a member of the advisory committees of several disciplines. In 2015, she received RMIT’s medal of highest honor of the year; and in 2016, she was appointed as a Lifelong Honorary Scholar and a Lifelong Honorary Professor of RMIT. Her research interests include global studies, language and cultural education, internationalization of higher education, Asian studies, globalization of Chinese culture, development of women and youth.
Prof. Chen Yangguosheng was talking with Acharya Zhiguang
Background of the dialogue
On the afternoon of November 25, 2017, the public speech of “When Buddhism Meets Business” took place at RMIT and was well received by the audience. After the speech, Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN, the director of RMIT’s Chinese Australian Studies Forum, who had been greatly supportive to the organization of the speech, took a photo and had a further exchange of views with Acharya Zhiguang.
Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN highly appreciated the wonderful speech by Acharya Zhiguang. They expressed the hope to have further discussions on how to integrate traditional culture into modern society and how to promote intercultural communication. Upon the sincere invitation of Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN, Acharya Zhiguang visited her in her home on the following day. They had a candid and in-depth conversation for more than two hours.
Transcript of the dialogue
Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN: When the organizers from Ekayana Sutra and Tantra Buddhist Centre of Australia first presented to me the content of your speech, I suggested titling it as “When Buddhism Meets Business”, and they adopted it. After hearing your speech, I feel that this is a very good way to spread the Dharma because it makes the Dharma more comprehensible and readily acceptable to the audience so that they can benefit from it immediately. My impression is that you are the first Buddhist master ever spreading the Dharma in this way. I think it’s very good. In the future, we can also present similar theme talks that aim to resolve prevailing social issues with Buddhist wisdom, such as “When Buddhism Meets International Politics”, “Buddhism and Asia-Pacific Security” and so forth.
Acharya Zhiguang: Instead of focusing on the superficial and formal things, What I really hope to do is to present to the public the substantial and quintessential part of traditional culture and Buddhism in a simple and easily comprehensible manner, so that people can actually tap into their true essence and gain real benefits from it. In fact, it is not important whether you officially become a Buddhist or not, and it doesn’t matter what kind of outfit you are wearing; what is truly important is to understand that the wisdom of Buddhism is practical and useful, and it can be very helpful to everyone.
Whether you have faith or not, you only need to know what the essence of Confucianism is, what the essence of Taoism is, and what the essence of Buddhism is. And you can always use and benefit from their essential wisdom. Furthermore, we can also share the essence of different Buddhist traditions with others. For example, the core of Hinayana teachings is renunciation (the determination to liberate oneself from Samsara), which can be generally inspiring to most people; the essence of Mahayana Buddhism is an all-embracive heart, resolved to help all sentient beings; and the quintessence of Vajrayana lies in the sublime pure views and attaining Buddhahood in one lifetime. I think that the study of Buddhism should aim to break through its external form and extract the essence of Buddhism, in order to make people understand how the wisdom of Buddhism can inspire the people, the society and politics in the modern era.
Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN: I think the loving-kindness meditation practice guided by you is brilliant. In the past, there seemed to be no practice in such form in the traditional monasteries. I hope that more people will have the chance to hear such very helpful wisdom. There are so many social activities for Chinese residents in Melbourne. Everyone is too occupied with these activities. It is so important that we spare nine minutes to practice this loving-kindness meditation every day and let our heart settle down. People will benefit greatly if they take your words seriously. For example, one of my friends that I had invited was very happy to hear your speech. She said that you had naturally integrated the core teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, and had presented them so clearly that she found your words exceptionally inspiring.
In the past two years, more and more Chinese Australians living in Australia started to learn Buddhism. Australia has a tolerant social environment. Although it is far from Eurasia geographically, the Australian continent is by no means culturally isolated. It has extensive connections with various cultures in the world and has formed its unique social environment of multicultural integration. In such a unique environment, how do you think we should better spread the Dharma to benefit the people?
Acharya Zhiguang: I think that the propagation of the Dharma must keep pace with the times and be adapted to local conditions to suit the needs of the local sentient beings at the time. Meanwhile, we must realize that globalization has already become a trend in the world. We must have a broad vision and an open mind. Both economy and culture should be viewed from a global perspective. I have travelled to many places around the world. It is more of a learning process for me. I have studied traditional Chinese culture for more than 30 years, mainly in the fields of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. I think traditional Chinese culture is lively and vigorous, not self-enclosed or stagnant. We must step out of our own circle and communicate with different cultures in the world to see and learn from their strengths. We need to find out if the views of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are acceptable to people from different cultural backgrounds, and see if traditional Chinese culture, including the Buddhist meditation techniques and such, can benefit not only Chinese people, but also people from other parts of the world.
Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN: Yes, it is very important to learn with an open mind. I am 68 years old now, spending 34 years in China and living just as long in Australia. The most valuable things I have learned in my life are “learning” and “giving”. I think they are the two most important things in life. Only the spirit of constantly learning from others can make us more tolerant. You don’t develop this kind of tolerance on purpose, but when you are learning from others, you will tolerate and respect others naturally. I think a good religion must be tolerant and inclusive.
Melbourne has more than 210 ethnic groups speaking over 190 languages. All these languages are not considered foreign languages here, but are called “our languages”, our own languages. And we have always insisted on this inclusive approach in our language education programs in Melbourne. What is needed here is a culture of great amalgamation, and Chinese culture is an indispensable part and quintessence of the ethically-diverse culture here. I think that Buddhism is also the quintessence of the world’s culture, but it still needs to learn from the strengths of other religions.
There are many different Buddhist schools and lineages in Australia. It is really important for them to support each other and form a mutually complementary and supportive Buddhist culture. Only in this way will Buddhism stand firmly. The same is true for civil groups. The 4.2 million ethnically Chinese population of Melbourne has more than 1,000 civil groups. I think they should speak out as a whole on important issues, and avoid saying alienating words about each other. Not only should they focus on their self-development, they should also help each other, nurturing a culture of mutual support. This spirit of harmony, integration and mutual complement is also strongly emphasized in Buddhism.
Acharya Zhiguang: I totally agree with you in this respect. It is very important for different Buddhist traditions and schools to learn from and communicate with each other. More important than the communication among the followers is the communication among their teachers and masters, because they set examples for their followers. The ancient Chinese said that all social ethos is established from top to bottom. Only when the Buddhist teachers and masters are very open-minded will those who follow them become the same. Otherwise sectarian bias will arise among different traditions and schools.
Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN: Sectarianism exists in many religions in the world. I hope that Buddhism can take the lead in sectarian unity and integration.
Acharya Zhiguang: More than thirty years ago, I followed a number of eminent monks and masters to learn the Dharma. The Cultural Revolution had just ended at that time. Those rare few great masters of Confucianism, Buddhism or Taoism, who luckily survived “the decade of catastrophe”, harbored no sectarian bias and were on very good terms with each other. All the thirty-odd masters I visited at the time had recommended each other for my study. They knew each other very well as regards what lineages the others had and what tradition or school their expertise lay in, and they would write recommendation letters for me to learn from the other teachers. Through my studies in various Buddhist traditions and schools, I realized that, in essence, they were all propagating the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. In fact, all Buddhas preach the same spiritual path actually, and whatever expedient means they might employ are all meant to lead sentient beings to enlightenment. Therefore, the thriving of Buddhism as a whole can only be achieved when different Buddhist traditions and schools can stay in harmony and make progress together through mutual respect and communication on an equal basis.
Time flew by so fast during the pleasant conversation. In conclusion, both sides expressed the will to join hands in future endeavors to promote peace in the world and welfare of the people by putting into practice the ideas discussed in the conversation. Afterwards, Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN and Acharya Zhiguang took a photo together and bid each other farewell.
Acharya Zhiguang was presenting his book The Thirty-eight Secrets to Lifetime Happiness to Prof. Guosheng Yang CHEN as a gift
Wherever we are, I hope we can always bring peace to the people there, enhance communication and mutual understanding, and eliminate misunderstanding and prejudices. It would be great if we can all do that.