Garchen Rinpoche

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                                  Garchen Rinpoche with ever-present mani wheel.                     

8th Gar Konchok Nyetong Tenpei Nyima Choekyi Palsangye         


His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche was born in 1936, in East Tibet.  The senior lama of the order of the Drikung Kagyu, his incarnation is traced to Gardampa Chodengpa, a disciple of Lord Jigten Sumgon, the 12th-century founder of the Drikung Kagyu. 

Rinpoche had received complete lineage teachings and nearly completed the traditional three-year retreat when, at 22, he was imprisoned during the turmoil of the 1960's that was China's "Cultural Revolution."  All through his 20 years in a labor camp, he received meditation instruction from Nyingma master, Khenpo Munsel.  Enduring severe hardship and practicing secretly under the guidance of his root lama, Garchen Rinpoche attained realization of the Wisdom mind, such that Khenpo Munsel called him, "an emanation of a Bodhisattva."

Garchen Rinpoche on Bodhicitta

Raktrul Monastery, Red Hook, NY, May 26, 2003

Garchen Rinpoche is a person one can truly describe as "of indeterminate age." Of medium height and build, his eyes are deeply set and hooded, so it is not always apparent where his gaze is directed. Yet the impression is one of profound awareness.

He wears the dark red garments of a Kagyu monk, and his shawl is secured to the right side of his chest by a circular white conch brooch with a coral centre. 

Upright and ever-present in his right hand is a copper prayer wheel with a whirling ruby-red weight that he keeps almost in constant rotation with barely any discernible wrist movement.  The whirling continues freely whenever Rinpoche touches the tip of its handle to a horizontal surface -- almost like a tuning fork.   

Inside the drum of the wheel is the mantra of Chenrezi, the bodhisattva of Compassion, his main practice.  The form that he distributed to us, as a small colored print, was the eleven-headed, thousand-armed figure known as "King Songtsen Gampo's Self-arisen Chenrezig," whose mantra includes the heart syllable, HRI.

Rinpoche conveys great depth of feeling in his dedication to teaching the End of All Suffering.  He consistently relates the individual condition of suffering to the suffering of all beings.  This is the fundamental Mahayana view that follows naturally from the realization rooted in memory, experience and logic --  that since beginning-less time we have all, for one existence or another, been this one's mother and/or that one's child.  This awareness is called bodhicitta in Sanskrit, and it can be translated as "awakened mind."

A person who succeeds in consistently behaving with this knowledge foremost in mind is called a bodhisattva.  The excellent guide to the maintenance of this attitude is Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo's "The 37 Bodhisattva Practices." 

From a pecha-packet wrapped in a flowered white cloth, Rinpoche gave out a small (2" x 3.5") yellow-covered copy of an English translation that he requested we read aloud together.  He said that there are three aspects to the booklet.  It benefits through seeing, on the body and through recitation.  Regarding the second of these, he drew our attention to the mandala printed on the back that will protect us against obstacles.  Inscribed within the circumference of a circle is a lotus diagram.  Each of the syllables of the 7-syllable mantra is inscribed inside the centre and 6 petals, and each space between the petals also contains a single "seed" letter.

The Discourse

Garchen R.'s words were transmitted via Chojor Radha.   Some of the things he told us:

Without cultivating "relative mind" we cannot [hope to] understand "ultimate mind." For, as Shakyamuni Buddha says, 'All beings are momentarily obscured by mind.'

It is ego-clinging that is the cause of this obscuration.  Therefore, we should cultivate compassion, as  laid out in "The 37 Practices."  Reciting it as a daily practice is very beneficial.

After we had read it together, he said, "Thank you," and added that this phrase was his best expression in English.  He remarked that it was in impressively prevalent use in the USA, where a police officer will say 'Thank you' after handing out a ticket, and people also sometimes thank the officer for the ticket.  He emphasized that accepting the ticket is part of the practice of a bodhisattva, since the law is there to protect drivers and the officer is doing his duty. 

He told us that the Dalai Lama had once said that whoever practices without bodhicitta is like a body without any heart.  A body is only a corpse without the life force to animate it.  

Then, as he speaks, he makes a vertical swinging motion with his left forearm with the hand in pinching gesture.  All the while, the wheel in his right goes on turning. "The Buddha is the Great Compassionate Being.  Remember, the reason for his Enlightenment is his compassion."  [I recall the earth-touching gesture -- the earth is witness to that compassion,  and it is that that protects him from Mara and his minions.

There are so many religions in the world.  It seems that the phrase associated with Buddhism is "The Three Jewels."   (This is quite different from the "one," as in "One God.")  Three stands for that fact that 1.  All limitless [in number] beings are under the historic being, Shakyamuni.  2.  [His teaching, which is the] Dharma is about how to overcome attachment to the Ego.  3. Sangha refers here, to those who have applied his method successfully, and have the experience to help others do so.

We [here] have come to understand the importance of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but whatever practice you do, it must start with Refuge and Cultivating Bodhicitta.  Remember, it is the vital energy that animates the corpse.

Also, consider someone receiving as a gift, a rupa [statue of a buddha.]  How much more impressive is its impact when it is shining with gold!  And the gold seems to give it more solidity.

When you engage in Buddhism, you take refuge in the 3 Jewels.  When we follow the example of the one who first prostrated to the Jowo in Lhasa, we do so only because the rupa is an example of Accomplished Bodhicitta-that-leads-to Enlightenment. 

We all have Buddha Nature.  What is it? It is Mind.  It is incorruptible since beginning-less time.  It is only momentarily in obscuration.  Dzogchen (Nyingma terminology) describes it as "primordially pure." 

How do we attain Enlightenment?

A bodhisattva is one with chang-chup sem -- this Tibetan phrase literally means "purified mind" or "perfected" [or, 'distilled'? ] mind.  The "perfected" in this context means "benefiting others."  [Perfection is used in a way that, in other systems,  they use the term Virtue.]

We already have this Mind, but it is like this analogy:  Consider a cup of water which, once given to you becomes "my" cup of water.  We need to get rid of this "my," this attachment to self or what is often called "ego-clinging."  Another analogy:  A rock is only a rock, and sometimes people throw rocks, but it is when the rock is directed at your house that the rock can make you angry.

Why take refuge in an Enlightened Being? 

People are busy, all over the world.  Even animals and insects are always busy -- collecting things so they can be happy in the future.  But this accumulation is one of the causes of suffering.  Refuge in the Buddha is protection against this suffering.  (The application of the Dharma is the ultimate goal of a Buddhist, and the Sangha, and a spiritual friend, have the experience to help with this. )  Since our life has taught us to depend upon this accumulation or personal gain, therefore we get the correction we need through spiritual practice.

In olden times, a student could be reluctant to Take Refuge, and wanted to know, "Why?" The teacher would remind the student of the nature of life in the lower realms. The causes for rebirth in these realms [animal, ghost, "hell"] is due to accumulations of the "Three Poisons" -- attachment, anger and ignorance / confusion.  In fact, these are what leads to any rebirth.

Then, the teacher would ask, "Do you have any attachment?  ... any anger?  ... any confusion?   (With the mention of each of these, Rinpoche makes a kind of whipping motion with his free arm.  The other hand continues to keep the prayer wheel spinning.)

So, if you really want freedom and to experience Enlightenment [or, Awakening] then you have to cultivate bodhicitta towards all sentient beings.

Do you love your mother? Well, we have all been the mother, and we all have the three poisons, and we all have taken rebirth an uncountable number of times.

Bodhisattva is sometimes translated by a term that means "warrior" or "courageous one."  This is someone who does not worry about his or her physical well-being.  Getting rid of our attachment to self is like throwing away old, worn out clothes.

Then Rinpoche continued the imaginary dialogue for awhile, beginning with, 

What is the effect of bodhicitta?

One is, that it benefits oneself as well as giving happiness to others.  We become like a family.  People can be annoying at times, but we are not angry at them -- we love them.  In this way, you gain and so do they.  And the family members appreciate your tolerance, too.  So. not only does it bring happiness to others and but it benefit you by bringing you closer to others.

Remember, at the moment of death there is no benefit at all from acquired things, but bodhicitta is benefit -- at the moment of death, and also afterwards. 

Here is an example of the nature of this benefit:  If you give a beggar a handful of tsampa [toasted, buttered barley flour] with the bodhicitta attitude, this is much better than giving him a jugful of it without , for then the gift is [somehow] polluted.

What is the relation between love and compassion?

Loving compassion is better than mere compassion.  It is like when someone you know visits you in your room -- there is a physical reaction; you get excited. 

Which is the stronger of these, love or the sun? 

The warmth of love is deeper and stronger than sunlight. The sun sets.  It can burn you, but loving compassion never does harm.  It is beyond any comparison.

How do I get that [loving compassion]?

It is achieved by the practice of the Four Limitless-nesses [or, Boundless-nesses].

Then Garchen Rinpoche held up his pecha packet that also contains pictures of Chenrezi, saying, "Why practice the deities?" [That is, do sadhana or ritual worship practices]

We do them to unfold one's own Buddha-nature.

But [if we all have Buddha-nature] what is there to develop [or, unfold?]

Our bodhicitta is limited [at first,] so sadhana practices can help us develop it towards all sentient beings.  Chenrezi practice does this, too. And [using] the 37 Practices booklet will develop both relative, and ultimate, bodhicitta.  It is like swimming, for Westerners --  you have to keep practicing to get better at it.

Then we recited the 7-syllable version of the mantra a number of times and Rinpoche, as umdze [choir-master] indicated the final one with a resoundingly deep polyphonal Hri!

The morning's session ended with a short dedication of merit.

On Meditation

Ratnashri Tibetan Meditation Center, Sept. 15, 2001 

"A few years ago when I was in my monastery in Tibet, an American visited me and asked for teaching. I had a difficult time talking to him because I knew no English and the American didn't understand Tibetan. So I composed this prayer in Tibetan and gave it to him. He spent a week with me in the monastery. He didn't know how to eat Tibetan food like tsampa [salt butter-tea and roast barley mix] and I had to show him. I had a nice time with him. The teaching I gave him was later translated, but it has been a long time since I wrote it and I've forgotten what that teaching was all about.

Buddha Shakyamuni taught eighty-four thousand different teachings according to the interests and abilities of his disciples. There are three types of disciples: those of greater, middling and lesser abilities, and Buddha taught them accordingly. There are some teachings for the very intelligent that liberate in this lifetime. For the middling there are teachings that will liberate in the next life or in some future life. And for those of lesser ability, there are teachings that will prevent rebirth in the lower realms

There are immense benefits in practicing and hearing the dharma. You don't have to feel discouraged because of lack of improvement in your practice, because there are many layers of obscuration. Just as deep snow takes a long time to melt, those with thick obscurations will see improvement slowly. So don't feel discouraged.

The teaching of the Buddha is that the nature of mind contains the seed of enlightenment. All sentient beings, even the smallest insect are equal in that regard. But insects must endure more suffering as a result of their negative karma. There are special means for saving beings like insects, through mantra and blessing pills that will liberate them from their suffering.

Even though the nature of mind carries the seed of enlightenment, we have many sufferings. Enlightened beings like Shakyamuni Buddha are liberated from suffering. The qualities of buddhas are vast -- like space or the ocean. We are obscured, like a cloud[-y sky], and enlightened beings are un-obscured, like space. There are few enlightened beings and many who are ordinary. Enlightened beings [are those that] have realized the equality of samsara and nirvana. They have realized the inseparability of appearance and emptiness. But ordinary beings have not realized this.  Once they understand impermanence and that the mind cannot be found, they will have no attachment to phenomena. When they have no attachment, they will be freed from samsara.

In reality, the basic mind of ordinary beings and buddhas are equal. It is like water colored with different colors. Despite the colors, it is all water. Similarly, the minds of ordinary beings and buddhas are the same. But because we search all the time for happiness in this life and [seek] to avoid suffering, we are bound by afflictive emotions. That is how ordinary beings and buddhas are different.

The deluded minds of ordinary beings see the unreal as real. It is like a jaundiced person who sees a white conch shell as yellow [sic.] The deluded mind sees phenomena as existent, concrete, and permanent. Even though there is no self in form, the deluded mind grasps at form as a self.

There are different levels of people. Some have practiced the dharma in previous lives. When they hear the teachings, they immediately have confidence in them, because their obscurations are few.  Others do not have such confidence, because their obscurations are thick. Some scientists are brilliant, but they cannot see the nature of mind. Only an enlightened being like Shakyamuni Buddha can really understood the nature of mind.

There are many jewels in this world, but only the dharma is the Wish-fulfilling Jewel: It can remove the root of suffering.  That is why the dharma is regarded as the incomparable jewel. The three refuges are Buddha, dharma, and sangha. Buddhas were once like us, but through their practice, they have become a refuge to all beings and show the way to attain enlightenment. The essence of all the methods for attaining enlightenment is relative and ultimate bodhicitta. The refuge [that is] the Buddha are the enlightened beings of the past, present, and future. Their teachings are the dharma. And those who hear and practice this teaching are the sangha. In order for the sangha to be enlightened, they have to understand the nature of mind. The teacher represents all three refuges, because the teacher's mind is Buddha, his teaching is Dharma, and his form is Sangha.

Teachers have two kinds of teaching, the absolute and relative teachings. The absolute teaching is very simple. It is just understanding the nature of mind. When mind is understood, so are all phenomena, because all phenomena come from the mind. Then all phenomena are seen as impermanent and all suffering and happiness are seen as coming from mind. When you look at mind you will discover absolute truth for yourself. Those students who are ready to practice the absolute teachings will definitely trust what the Buddha has taught. They will trust the teaching that happiness and suffering comes from the mind and all phenomena arise from mind.

When they look at thought in meditation, it will disappear. By being mindful of thoughts in this way, no further karma will arise for them. When no karma arises, there will be no suffering.

When you understand the genuine teaching of the Buddha it will remove your suffering because from the teachings you understand the truths of impermanence and suffering. With this understanding, a mother will see her own child is impermanent and must eventually die. If the child suddenly dies, the mother will be aware that this is just how things are. But if the mother thinks of the child as permanently existing and the child dies, the mother will suffer greatly. The reason we do not understand our own mind is because of so many layers of  obscuration. When a child is born, attachment and obscurations are born at the same time in the mind of the mother.

You have to look at the nature of obscurations and eliminate them, whether they are greed, anger, or ignorance. It is very important to know how obscurations develop. If you don't know this, you can't dispel them. I spoke of the analogy of the child and its mother. First the mother likes the child, which is one layer, then the mother sees the child as beautiful, which is a second layer, then as intelligent which is a third layer. It is like being bound by a rope. If the child dies because of impermanence the mother will suffer greatly. If you know how obscuration develops, you can immediately look at the nature of the obscuration when it appears. Our minds are like ice that is frozen by the cold of the afflictive emotions. In order to melt it, we need sunlight, which is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Ordinarily, if your enemy harms you, you will feel anger. This is like cold freezing water into ice. In a situation like this it is important to be mindful and to cultivate bodhicitta.

If you can make the distinction between thoughts and mind, within that moment you can be enlightened. If you see the nature of mind and remain in that awareness you are enlightened. But when thoughts appear and you fail to recognize their nature, you become ordinary. So ordinary beings and enlightened beings are only separated by one moment. So first you must know the nature of your own mind.

If you have questions, you can ask them after the break.

Q: What is the difference between relative and absolute bodhicitta?

A: Relative bodhicitta is based on the understanding of cause and effect and karma. Absolute bodhicitta is based on seeing the nature of afflictive emotions. When you see their nature is emptiness, that is absolute bodhicitta. Then you are beyond these concepts. Cause, effect and karma do not affect absolute bodhicitta because absolute bodhicitta is beyond concept. But until you have realized absolute bodhicitta, you must believe in cause, effect, and karma. Until then you should practice virtuous actions. The unity of absolute and relative bodhicitta will happen when you understand emptiness as the nature of the mind. At this time you will develop great compassion for those who have not seen it. So at that point relative and absolute
bodhicitta unite.

Q: I have meditated for eight years and once when working I lost my mind and didn't know what to do for ten minutes ... ?

A: You have to continue with your practice of meditation, you can't start and stop.

Q: Please tell us a mantra to use for animals.

A: Recite Om mani padme hum. You can chant any mantra, but the 'mani' is the best and easiest way to practice. When you chant you should chant to dispel the sufferings of all sentient beings. If you wish to practice for those who have died in this attack [of Sept. 11, 2001 when over  3,000 died as a result of terrorist acts including plane crashes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and in a field outside Pittsburg] visualize Amitabha and dissolve all beings who have died into his form.  Then dissolve Amitabha's form into emptiness and rest there. That is a very effective practice.

When you practice absolute bodhicitta, you meditate on the nature of your own mind. Milarepa has said that this nature is our ordinary mind. Tilopa says when you look at the mind there is nothing to be seen. This may be a familiar teaching to you, but those new to the dharma may not have heard it. For beginners, when you meditate you should not chase after your thoughts, just recognize them. Through practicing in this way, experience develops and you get a glimpse of the nature of mind.

If you have trust in your teacher, when you look at the nature of your own mind you can also think of him or her, or remember the kindness of Milarepa. Then [that] devotion and the practice of recognizing the mind can work together. Especially in Kagyu, devotion is emphasized. Having devotion to the guru, you will gain enlightenment in this life. There are two teachers, the outer teacher and recognizing the mind. The combination of these two teachers is the best teacher.

The practice of recognizing the mind will weaken your afflictive emotions, strengthen your compassion and [your] devotion to your teachers and lead you to see the nature of your own mind.

Progress in your practice depends on devotion. With great devotion, there will be great progress. If you see your teacher as enlightened, you will receive the blessings of an enlightened being. If you see him or her as an ordinary being, you will get the blessing of an ordinary being. If your teacher does a negative action and you only see him or her as enlightened, you can only receive blessings.

The mind of the teacher and the mind of enlightened beings are connected, even if the teacher is not fully enlightened. It is like electricity and a wire. When the connection is made, there is light. The teacher and the student are also connected like that. So it is important to practice with devotion to the teacher. It is also important to make practice a habit. You should practice at all times by working with emotions. You should graduate from observing the smaller emotions when you are relaxed, to observing stronger emotions. When you have succeeded in doing this, your ability to see the nature of mind will be like a raging fire and emotion will be like grass which only feeds it. Naropa said that once you are well trained, you will not grasp after appearances. Good or bad things will happen but they will pass you by

Obscuration has no form that you can see. Still, there are countless layers of obscuration. All these layers are removed by confidence in the law of cause and effect and by practice and devotion to the root guru. These will dispel obscurations no matter how strong. Obscurations will lessen and the nature of the mind, which is like a clear diamond, will shine forth. Then there need be no effort to see it. It will shine effortlessly. Reading the life story of Milarepa will lessen your obscurations. So will the practice of Chenrezig, or chanting the mantra of the guru. 

Until now our life has been like watching a movie which increases our obscurations.  Chenrezig's practice is like watching a movie which decreases them. When they are gone, there will be enlightenment.

Until now we have not practiced mindfulness. That is the basis of our obscurations and how our perceptions have become deluded. Now is the time to be mindful of our thoughts and how they arise so that our afflictive emotions will lessen. In that way mindfulness is like a strong fire.

Even though you have received this method, through past habitual tendencies you cannot dispel your emotions. To do so you should put more effort into your practice. But in the practice of absolute bodhicita you cannot make an effort, except by strengthening your devotion. When looking at the mind, the mind must remain natural. You cannot apply effort. But when practicing relative bodhicita you can apply effort by generating compassion. From now on you must make a decision that the nature of your own mind is enlightenment. In order for this nature to appear you must apply effort in practicing relative bodhicitta. It is like an antidote for your obscurations. It is like warmth which melts the ice of your obscurations.

The great Jigten Sumgon, who is like the Buddha, said the only way to understand absolute bodhicitta is to practice relative bodhicita.  You start with the person who you love the most and then expand that love to your friends, those you you feel indifferent to, then to your enemies and finally all sentient beings. If you practice relative bodhicitta it will liberate you from the suffering of the bardo, because when you practice relative bodhicitta all being become like your mother and there is no way you will gather afflictive emotions. In that way you will not fear the bardo state. you will see all beings in the bardo as your mother.

If instead of practicing compassion you have anger, it will lead you to hell. When you are angry you will never be happy. It will even influence your dreams and you will have nightmares. If you have anger in the bardo you will also have bad experiences. When I was young I was very short tempered and I had horrible dreams. But my root teacher taught me compassion and I no longer have bad dreams.

If you practice detachment it will be easier to keep it in the intermediate state. If you are mindful and do not follow your attachments now, when you are in the bardo and see your future parents, you will not be attached to them and not be reborn in this world. The mind is like a flowing stream. It will not stay in a cup but will go where it will go. If you do not practice well your mind will flow away. When the glass of your body is broken, it will go where it will, just as water would land where it spills.

I have said many things but there are two main points. First, you have to see all beings as your beloved. This has an immense benefit, like a wish fulfilling jewel. This is the practice of relative bodhicitta. The second point is absolute bodhicitta. You have to be aware of the nature of mind, no matter how many thoughts arise. You should not be distracted by thoughts, but be mindful.

All disasters are caused by mistaken thought. Mistaken thoughts cause disasters when you are careless. Not only will there be attacks from the outside, but from the inside too. The attacks from the inside are the afflictive emotions. Supporting the practice of recognizing the nature of mind is relative bodhicitta, Of all emotions, anger is the worst. It will destroy yourself and others. So you have to be careful. The result of anger is obvious in the recent attacks. There will be endless destruction if you engage in anger. If you attack one, they will attack two, and so forth. So you should be mindful of the result of anger. Think that if anger arises again it is like committing suicide.

The members who come here are very fortunate to have this center. You have a wonderful teacher and you should learn from him. He [Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen] has been practicing from childhood. I am like nothing. I am just myself. So you should feel happy about that. The spiritual teacher is very important, like your eyes or heart. You should respect them like your own eyes."

~ courtesy Bernie Simon who was there in Fredericksville, Maryland.


Long Life Prayer for His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche

The one known in the Holy Land as Aryadeva,.

Emanated into the Gar clan of Eastern Tibet as Chödingpa

The heart son of Jikten Gönpo

May the life of glorious Garchen remain steadfast for a hundred aeons!

In this age of strife when the Victor's teaching faces hardship

through his powerful, vajra-like conduct,

He takes on himself the heavy responsibility of the unbiased teaching.

May Garchen, the Sun of the Teachings, live long!



Drikung Kagyu:   In the dialect of eastern Tibet, Drikung is pronounced chi-gung.

tuning fork: a two-pronged silver instrument that is struck against the edge of a solid object, such as a table.  The tone is heard afterwards, but only when the tip of the handle is touched vertically to the tabletop while the prongs are upright.  In other words, the sound of vibration is not audible until it sets another substance vibrating along with it.  It is used to coordinate the tuning of an orchestra -- usually to about 440 cycles per second; that is, the note called A or la

Some of the things: These notes do not reflect every word the teacher said, and there may be some mistakes or misunderstandings, for which I am sorry and accept responsibility. In a few instances where I have interjected my interpretation or explanation, this is indicated by square brackets and smaller size writing.  

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