The Importance of the Online Shedra by H.E. Ganteng Tulku Rinpoche - July 2013

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The Importance of the Online Shedra by H.E. Ganteng Tulku Rinpoche - July 2013

Beginning prayers.

I would like to say tashi delek, give my welcome and regards to everybody who are a students of the Online Shedra.

Perhaps my tashi delek to you is slightly a little late because it has been two years that we've started this shedra and I have not been able to say hello to you; so I am sorry for that as well.

Today I would like to discuss the reasons and the necessity for anyone studying in the Online Shedra. What are the reasons that we study, what is the purpose of our studies? That is something I already spoke about during several recent visits to Europe. That is what I want to talk about now as well.

Also in America and all the other countries like Russia and so on.

Back in the days if one wanted to study Dharma, to pursue any studies in the Dharma, the tradition was to go searching for a teacher, find the teacher and then one would have to meet that teacher and the teachings could be received personally and directly from a teacher – from a lopön or anybody who gives the teachings. Nowadays in the 21st century, that is not necessary anymore because of all the new technology that we have. For example: if someone wishes to study Dharma nowadays, one doesn't even have to know that teacher; one doesn't even have to have any direct connection; one doesn't even have to have met the teacher directly or personally. It is possible to study the Dharma through the means of technology, sort of wirelessly.

Actually nowadays it's really, really easy to study if you want to: you can sit nicely and comfortably on your chair and looking at your computer you can study. Sometimes you can even sit in your bed or maybe you can study while having your meal. If you are really an industrious kind of person, if you know how to do it, it might be even possible for you to pursue your studies while sitting on the toilet, even that is possible. It has all become so easy because of the technology.

Back in the days, on the other hand, if one wanted to study – for example everybody who became a khenpo, everybody who became a lopön, somebody learned, a scholar – they had to go through lots and lots of difficulties. There was no electricity, there was no power, and you couldn't just turn the light bulb on and then continue to read your text. What you would have to do, for example if you wish to study at night, you would have to rely on the radiance of the moon and then as the moon was traveling on the firmament of the sky, you would have to perhaps climb a certain mountain to catch that rays of the moon so you could continue reading your text. Such was the perseverance of the scholars of the past. On the other hand what some others used to do – if you have like a piece of the dry cow dung, you can put a needle in that, burn that, and as it smolders –similar to incense, you just put that close to your text so it illuminates just a few letters and you can read like that. It was a very difficult thing to do, to even be able to read; but because the teachers and the learned scholars of the past went through all that, the depth of their learning is also in accordance with the efforts they put into acquiring the knowledge. Nowadays it is really very easy to study, but also the results correspond to that. So if we want to compare the learned masters of the past and the learned masters of the present, those of the past have acquired their knowledge through lots and lots of perseverance and lots and lots of patience. Those of the present have acquired their learning quite easily. If we compare, the masters of the past have more depth of learning. If you put it on a scale, the ones of the past would be heavier than those who are here in the present. So there is a corresponding result to how much effort we put into our studies.

Some people might think also that whole Buddhism is something really very difficult. It is so difficult to study, it is very deep; so it would be like a never ending endeavor to try to learn about the Dharma, to study about the Dharma. But we do not have to think like that – that it's something endless, something that is never going to end and we are never going to the end of that pursuit. Actually, what we call hearing and contemplation is something very difficult. Acquiring new information and reflecting upon that – that we call studying – is something of very crucial importance. But we do not end with that. After we have gathered all the information, after we have learned what we were supposed to have learned, then we take the essence of that and we utilize that essence when we put it into practice. If we do not do that, then simply gathering loads and loads of information about the Dharma, even though the subject or the topic of our studies is the Dharma itself, we couldn't say that simply learning about it without putting it into practice constitutes the path of the Dharma. It would be very difficult for us to actually practice the Dharma if the information that we have is not really assimilated in our minds and put into practice.

Atisha, the great Indian scholar pandita, said: "This life is very short but the topics of studies are very very vast. Studying more and more can be a never-ending task; therefore, extract the essence of the meaning in a way that wild geese extract milk from the mixture of milk and water.”

Also the glorious Longchenpa, Longchen Rabjam Drimé Özer said that: "The subject of studies, the things that can be known (shes bya) are innumerable like the many stars and planets in the sky. The topics of learning are innumerable. It would be better, it would be much better to reach the point of safety means to reach the point where one doesn't have to worry anymore; the point of safety that comes from realizing the bliss of the dharmakāya, to reach the unchanging point of the realization."

So here in the Online Shedra even though there are so many subjects of learning, so many topics that we could learn about, we have only got certain topics that are going to help you to develop the understanding of the development stage, the generation stage and all that should be put into practice. Our curriculum has eight or perhaps nine years and within these years one should pay particular attention to not separating the hearing or the acquiring of the information with the reflection and with the meditation “thos, bsam, sgom” meaning: hearing, reflection and meditation should never be separated. It shouldn't be that: “ok now I am meditating, now I am studying.” It should go together.

There is the question of how similar Buddhism or Dharma is to science. Some learned people would say that Dharma is just like science, some people would say Dharma is just like philosophy. But even though while studying and practicing the Dharma, the manner in which we come to a conclusion about things – for example, the manner in which we ascertain the selflessness of the phenomena or emptiness – might be similar with the manner that scientists do their research. The objective, the main objective of the Dharma pursuit is not really in accordance with the objective of the scientists. That is to say, the real point in studying the Dharma is mind – something that scientists cannot really reach the definite conclusion about. Instead of looking outwards we look inwards and we examine the mind: what the mind is, what knowledge is, what awareness is, and with that we come to a definite conclusion about those topics and then we can gradually work on purifying the habitual tendencies, obscurations, and afflictions of our mind. So then our mind becomes purified and we get a result in the Dharma. Only the methodology of the Dharma practitioners is similar with the methods that the scientists might use but the objective is not the same; the objective is very different – the objective is to purify and realize the mind. As we do it we can get deeper and deeper into the understanding of the mind with those methods, and as we go deeper and deeper the mind becomes more and more purified.

Many people get very impressed with the achievements of the so called modern science and we cannot disregard that – obviously because there are some great achievements of science. Scientists are mainly concerned with outer objects and they do research based upon those outer objects – as opposed to the inner object that is a mind. But we should not immediately jump to conclusions about how amazing and great those scientists are and the science itself is. One of the reasons for that is, as we have seen, some of the scientists or scholars actually fabricate facts or misinterpret facts simply in order to achieve fame, the good name of a great scholar, and so on. After some time those things are also exposed, and so for that single reason we couldn't say that Buddhism and so-called science are in complete harmony. That is because what Dharma is, one of its qualities is that it has to be straight or truthful. One of the epithets or synonyms for a Buddha is “drang srong chen po” which means a great rishi. “drang srong” means somebody who has gone straight without any lying or deception, just completely straight and honest…

…who never deceives beings, who never follows a path that is a deception or never gives others a path that is a deception, somebody who just tells it like it is – to be honest, just straight. So that is one of the qualities of the Buddha that perhaps some of the modern scientists cannot possess, and therefore, we have a slight difference there as well. Even in The Recollection of the Three Jewels we say “legs par bzhugs pa”, “drang por bzhugs pa” meaning: remaining properly, remaining in the straight, in the honest. That is one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s qualities. We should not think that science is the ultimate because of such similar reasons. Sometimes what we think is true in the end turns out to have been a miscalculation or even a fabrication.

Some people, even though they are considered to be like scholars of Buddhism – somebody who knows about the Dharma – some of them still consider science to be something even greater than the Dharma and its traditional understanding, its traditional meaning as Buddhism. That is one of the signs that, even though such a person might have a great knowledge and has accumulated lots of information about the Dharma, such a person has not really gained the deep conviction in the path of the Dharma, in his own tradition or religion, in his own teacher, and in what Dharma essentially says. One has not developed a real conviction about the law of cause and effect, karma, and so on if one really gets so very enchanted by the scientific tradition or the scientific style of seeing the world.

But on the other hand I am not definitely saying that science is to be entirely mistrusted and that there is no value to it. Obviously the value is there, but the main value that science holds is in the present or in the relative. We do not examine the ultimate within science; but as for the relative, as for the temporary it serves the purpose. On the other hand, if we do not [remember that science is for the relative], if we do not say that science does not ultimately bring the ultimate result, then there is a danger that some people might actually take refuge in science in this life from their depths of the hearts and even want to take refuge in scientists, science and the great scientific discoveries in their future lifetimes: “I take refuge in this and that great scholar of science and so on.”

Within our curriculum in the very first year, the first topic of our studies was "The Sutra of the Recollection of the Three Jewels" - "Dkon mchog rjes dran". The reason for that is that everybody who wishes to engage in the studies of the Dharma should know what really the Three Jewels are, and what really makes you a Dharma practitioner is the fact of taking refuge in this Three Jewels. The sutra discusses such topics as: what the Three Jewels are, what their qualities are, how do we take refuge in them; and so then we really know how to enter the path, how to start and how to lay a foundation for all the Buddhist practice and studies.

I am aware of the fact that some people while studying that subject, "The Sutra of the Recollection of the Three Jewels", had some doubts. I am not saying that having doubts is something bad; actually we should have doubts and we should generally try to figure things out – how things really are. We shouldn't just take information at [their face value], but also I would like to remind you that as good as it is to have a doubt, there are also ways and methods to clear that doubt. If you cannot clear your doubt then the danger is that with that doubt you can fall into the wrong views. I am not saying that the students who study in the Online Shedra are necessarily following into the wrong views, but they do have doubts. For example, one such doubt I have heard is that while studying about the ordinary and the extraordinary qualities of the Buddha – like such as the quality of the Buddha's body that is supposed to be much larger than anybody else – people would not really believe that. People are very confused about it, having lots of doubts about that. For example, how is it really, humanly possible that Buddha has such and such marks, that Buddha has such and such qualities of his body? If we have such doubts then we should do research; we should actually try to clarify those doubts. How do we do that? We can actually try to go to places where Buddha resided and so on such as Bodhgaya and see whether or not the measure of the Buddha's body was like that or not like that; or we can try to get into some archeological research and see what they have unearthed or what have they discovered about the Buddha [in regard to] how he looked, how he was and so on. Those qualities that are described in the sutra are not some qualities that appear only to the people who see him in a pure way. Those are the qualities that Buddha chose to manifest in this time, in this day and age, in this particular place for everybody that encounters him – those who are wise, those who are unwise, for people with faith, for people without faith, for people who were his followers and also for the outsiders. Those are the general qualities that should appear as they are described, so we should try to actually figure it out. Was really Buddha that tall and so on.

Our second subject was "The Six Points of Becoming Skilled"*. [* Please note that is the first text of the second year, not the second text of the first year]. That is the text that summarizes all of the path, studying from the Shrāvakayāna ending with the great Atiyoga of the Dzogpa chenpo. All the nine vehicles are included within that text and they are included in a very concise manner. The author of the text is the Dzogchen Khenpo, Khenpo Shenga. He wrote that text in a very brief manner. Those six points are presented in a brief manner and that commentary tries to explain and expose all the main points of all the practice of the buddhadharma. We chose that text particularly for the beginners and newcomers, bringing them interest in something that, unlike very lengthy texts, is not going to bring much confusion and perhaps also boredom; because if you have a very long and extensive text, some people might actually lose interest and there is a danger that you might not be able to proceed with your studies. So to explain the path and its main points in a concise, brief and interesting manner, we chose that text to be the second text in a first year*. [* first text in second year]

Then our next subject was "The History of the Nyingma School" written by Shechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Even though there is another book on the same subject written by Dudjom Rinpoche, that is a very extensive long book and it has lot of details and it's a very thick volume; therefore, we chose the more brief and concise Shechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche's version of The Nyingma History. Still if you do have the English translation of the Dudjom Rinpoche's book it is a good idea to read it; but as brevity was our big concern, we settled on the Shechen Gyaltsab's "Chönjung" (chos ‘byung) as the actual subject in our Online Shedra. It describes the manner in which Buddha Shakyamuni came into this world, how he came into this world, what he did, what his influence and what kind of footprint he left in a very concise and also precise manner. Then it goes on to describe the followers of the Buddha, gradually arising and coming into this world; and it explains the progression of the teachers in a manner of an uninterrupted continuity like the beads of the rosary one after another. It talks about how many great scholars produced by the Indian Subcontinent, and also how many great accomplished masters of the general vehicle of the Mahayana. Also it describes the masters, the translators and the scholars of Tibet. It talks about how Dharma gradually spread to Tibet, how the accomplished ones and scholars appeared. The reason for us learning all this is so we can actually try to follow their footsteps and try to follow the path that they themselves have tried. That was our third subject in the first year - "Nyingma Chönjung" by Shechen Gyaltsab Rinpoche. [text not yet translated]

Another subject in the first year was the "Semnyi Ngelso" - "Finding Ease in the Nature of Mind". There are different translations for the word 'ngelso'. 'Ngelso' could be rendered in English as relaxed, finding ease, or just resting. Anyway, this text belongs to a trilogy of "Finding Ease". Let us use the words "finding ease". The first one is called "Finding Ease in the Nature of Mind" - "Semnyi Ngelso"; the second one is called "Samten Ngelso" - "Finding Ease in the Meditative Stability"; and the third one of the trilogy is called "Gyuma Ngelso" - "Finding Ease in the Illusory Nature". Those three texts correspond to the trio of the ground, the path and the result. Here with the "Semnyi Ngelso" we lay the ground or the foundation of all the studies within our Nyingma system. It describes all the vehicles starting with the Shrāvakayāna and ending with the highest vehicle of Atiyoga Dzogpa chenpo. It also describes all the stages of the path that one travels through. It talks about how one takes the vows of the individual liberation, what they are, how to maintain those vows. Then it goes on to describe the vows of the Bodhisattva, the vows of the Vajrayana and so on. It talks about the development stage – kyerim. It talks about dzogrim and then also talks about the practice of great perfection. It actually contains all the stages of the path. There is a certain doubt that some non-Nyingma scholars express. What is the doubt? It concerns the very title itself. "Semnyi ngelso" means relaxing or finding rest in the nature of mind - 'semnyi'; not in the ordinary mind but in the nature of mind. Some scholars would say there is no finding rest in the nature of mind because within the nature of mind there is no such distinction as being at rest and not being at rest - that's one. Also there is no such distinction as trying to get – the process of finding ease. The one who finds ease and ease itself in the nature of mind that is obviously free from all fabrications and all elaborations “spros bral”. That's the doubt – (sems nyid la ngal gso mi ‘thad) some people say, it follows that it is not possible to find ease in the nature of mind. Then the reply is, it is indeed feasible to find ease in the nature of mind. How is that? Actually we have two kinds of individuals: one is the kind of individuals for whom the awareness arises instantaneously, not having to rely on the stages of the path; then there is the gradual sort of individual that needs to rely on different stages of the path. Therefore it is feasible to say there is a finding of the ease in the nature of the mind because, first, for such an individual that has to rely on the gradual path, there is an occasion before one has found that ease. Then one tries to gradually find that ease and then finally it finds it. There is a doer and there is the action; there is the subject and there is the object for the person who has that intellectual, gradual mind. For that kind of person 'semnyi ngelso' is indeed possible. It is indeed possible to find ease in the nature of mind, so that doubt doesn't really apply. "Semnyi Ngelso" is great exposition by Gyalwa Longchenpa of the stages of the path in our Nyingma system - 'lamrim', meaning the stages or the gradation of the paths. It encompasses all the paths and levels, starting from the vehicle of shravakas, continuing with the bodhisattva vehicle and going upto Dzogpa Chenpo, the Great Perfection. That is why it is considered a very important text in the shedra. In the Gelugpa tradition there is a Lamrim by Tsongkhapa called Lamrim Chenmo (lam rim chen mo), there is also Jangchub kyi Drönme (byang chub lami kyi sgron me, The Lamp of Path to Enlightenment, by Atisha). Also Kagyüpas have their 'lamrim' called “Dagpo thargyen” (Dwags po thar rgyan”, Jewel Ornament of Liberation”) as well as Sakyapas who talk about "Lamdre" (lam ‘bras) - "The Path and Result". For us the great text on 'lamrim' in Nyingma is "Semnyi Ngelso" and therefore that is why we took it as the main subject still of the first and second year.

We are doing all our best in trying to maintain the continuity of the teachings, not only for the next couple or few years but in the long term. We are trying to figure out which texts and which topics we should study in order to benefit as many people as possible; so we keep asking, requesting our khenpos, our lopöns to continually give the teachings so that we can record them and be of use for those who wish to study.

We are trying to create means for you to be able to discern what Dharma really means, what does it mean to practice the Dharma and how to really achieve any result from the practice of the Dharma, because obviously we would not want to leave empty-handed without having achieved anything. For you to be able to do that and to facilitate that for you, we are doing all that we can.

To really sum it all up for everybody, for every one of you who study and practice it is important to have the four thoughts that turn the mind away from samsara. One should never forget about this to develop that revulsion towards samsara, and then on top of that one should always remember to have in one's mind stream the compassion and love for beings - that should also never be forgotten. As the basis of all our Dharma practice we should remember to keep the vows and the samayas intact without breaking them and transgressing them. Then whatever sort of Dharma practice we engage, whether it would be kyerim or dzogrim or any kind of practice, even if we can meditate only for five minutes a day, there is a great benefit in doing that. We should not forget that there is a great profit and great benefit from doing that. It is very important for us to keep striving and keep trying to practice as well as we can.

Now for everybody who started this project, who helped us start the great project of the Online Shedra, the main person was obviously Karl Gross and then Cassell Gross and also Rainer from Austria - for those who really helped us begin I am very grateful and now I want to say thank you very much. Also for those who helped to maintain the continuity of the Online Shedra such as, first of all, the translator Andrew or Sangye Dorje (this is the one) and also behind the camera now – Kadri, and everybody else who helped maintain the project from all these countries such as professor Jeanne Mallet in France, Corinne, and people in Germany, people who work on the project in Poland, in America, other people in France, Austria, all these other countries for everybody I would like to say great thank you, thank you very much for what you have done.

I am also obviously very very happy for everybody who made a connection with the Online Shedra, who joined as a student and I would also like to thank you all very much for studying and continuing your studies with the Online Shedra. Thank you. Thank you very much, ciao ciao, thank you, bye bye, see you again, again and again…