Tuesday, July 7, 2009

KTD 10-Day Teachings/Machik Labdron and the Practice of Severance (Chod)

The picture of Machik Labdron, above, is from an absolutely beautiful thangka that was won in a fundraising raffle (for the benefit of KTD) by one of our Western lamas.

I came to these teachings, a continuation of a teaching that was begun last year, for three reasons—first, because I am fascinated by the Tibetan woman Machik Labdron and her system of practice, chod or the severance of self-fixation; second, because the only relief I have ever experienced from being stuck in this bag of bones and flesh has come while writing or working with the tarot cards, and I think there must be some other way to overcome being stuck on “I”; third and finally, because as a Buddhist I have vowed to try to help all sentient beings, and so eventually being able to practice Machik’s system of severance on self-fixation may enable me to do this.

I have learned from my teachers—and it does seems to me to be true—that fixating on my own wants and desires is the source of numerous, all-pervasive problems. Severance offers the opportunity to cut through self-fixation once and for all, in order to benefit both the individual practitioner and, by extension, all sentient beings.

So I arrived in Woodstock and at KTD with a keen interest in getting further instruction from Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche on the text titled Machik’s Complete Explanation.

What I did not realize (and this falls into the category of things about which I can only say, DUH!) was that the teaching encompassed not only the reading transmission of the severance practice text, but also the full instructions on the practice itself! Rinpoche let this cat out of the bag in response to a question during the first couple of days of the teaching. My first clue about this should have come from the title of the text and the teaching—Machik’s COMPLETE Explanation—but for some reason, the idea that I would be receiving transmission and practice instructions went right over my head, probably because I have received these kinds of teachings in a different order in the past.

Usually I have taken an empowerment as part of a group and received the reading transmission (if it wasn’t done as part of the empowerment) and practice instructions later. So I asked Rinpoche if we weren’t getting the information backwards this time, and he explained that no, this is how practice instructions were usually given in Tibet—reading transmission and instructions first, and empowerment later. He explained that it’s fine to do things in this order, “as long as you plan to take the empowerment at a later date.”

So right away, my mind was blown; it got really blown apart a day or two later (see next post).

Here, in no particular order, are some gems from the teachings, things that I believe it’s okay to share:

-You include your parents in the practice of severance because they gave you the gift of your body. Your mind comes from your previous karma.

-The liturgy of the “Charity of the Body” (lu jin in Tibetan) was written by Machik herself. Note from A Word Witch (AWW): So when we hear the liturgy, or chant her words, we are really hearing her.

-Machik’s system begins with love (or lovingkindness, the wish for all beings to be happy) because “Love is like a pipe; compassion is the water that runs through the pipe.” (Compassion = the wish for beings to be free from suffering.)

-We are born with self-fixation, life after life. We mistake the absence of a self as the existence of a self. The seventh consciousness, which is the afflicted consciousness, mistakes the eighth or all-basis consciousness as a self. Note from AWW: So we are, in a sense, born trapped. This idea does not help my claustrophobia. L

-The idea that beings spend 49 days in the bardo (the in-between state between death and rebirth) is “a gross generalization.” For some beings, the time is shorter; for others, longer; and some beings don’t go into the bardo at all, but rather go straight to a pure realm or a hell realm.

-A highlight of the 10-day experience was watching some of the lamas who have gone through KTD’s three-year retreat perform the chod ritual, complete with mesmerizing drum and trumpet sounds and melodious chanting. Rinpoche encouraged us to pray to Machik throughout the ritual: “Great Mother, please grant me your blessings.” Note from AWW: I did as Rinpoche suggested, and felt that I had already received her blessings just by being there!

-Powa, or the transference of consciousness done at the time of death, was performed on animals (as well as people) in Tibet.

-Less effective: “May we get rid of swine flu.” More effective: “May everyone’s swine flu dissolve into me.”

-What we call death is simply the separation of body and mind. Note from AWW: Body rots. Mind doesn’t.

-There is no “near” or “far” with regard to the guru’s blessing. Blessings can be received anywhere, regardless of locality. Whenever anyone thinks of Buddha, Buddha is there—and the same applies to His Holiness Karmapa, Guru Rinpoche, and all other enlightened beings. People who hear statues speak (as is the case in Tibet; there are many stories) are those who are certain of the Buddha’s blessing; these sounds are not hallucinations. “Pray to those whose compassion is beyond near and far.”

-Someone asked a question about the relationship between taking pain medications at the time of death and doing the Buddhist practices that are usually performed at that time—good idea, or bad? Rinpoche said that if the medications help you to concentrate, they are okay; if they make you woozy, no.

-The very first question I ever asked Rinpoche, back in 1991, was related to my curiosity about whether some places were more conducive to meditation practice than others—so I was interested in hearing him say, in relation to a similar but not identical question, that the place of practice does not really matter for us as long as we are confident that the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are present. It’s good to think that “All wisdom dakas and dakinis are gathered in this place”; then your practice will flourish, and obstacles will be dispelled. When teachers have told students to go to certain places to meditate, it’s because the teachers have seen “through their wisdom vision” that the students have connections to those places that will help to ripen their dharmic development.

-Positive meditation experiences are not necessarily good. Negative meditation experiences are not necessarily bad.

Now, about the vultures…(see next post).

No comments:

Post a Comment