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The Enlightenment Machine The Enlightenment Machine
by Linda Lane
2009-05-30 09:34:03
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Tibetan Buddhists claim to have an Enlightenment Machine which guarantees personal enlightenment, complete freedom, in as little as one lifetime's effort. This claim could be considered suspect had it not already produced a steady stream of remarkable saints such as the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace award winner and United States Congressional Gold Medal award winner in 2007, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. One merely needs to shake his hand, spend a short amount of time in his presence, or read one of his books to know this is a remarkable man.

Basically, a man we know as Shakyamuni Buddha, born 500 years before Christ, left sets of instructions on how to become a saint, tailored to fit every possible level of individual need, and as I understand it, to transcend even that state. These instruction sets were and continue to be codified, explained, and demonstrated, by a long line of Tibetan men and women, and a few others who traveled to the ancient kingdom of Tibet. These individuals made an investment of their lifetimes, and some of them left behind a rich legacy of written works and libraries, as well as a teaching tradition. They left numerous clues and relics of their adventures which are collectively termed the Dharma, and practices and discourses --some specifically called tantras, with biographies, and many thousands of texts explaining the short accelerated path to freedom.

Since Tibet broke open in the late 1950's these instruction sets are available to anyone who wishes to learn the secret to win enlightenment themselves. One way of thinking about the term 'secret' is the secret of discovery and self-examination and practice.

I am a student of this living tradition, Tibetan Buddhism. While I make no claims whatsoever of my own stage of awareness, I think it is valuable to say something from inside my journey – I openly invite you to take part in my spiritual career. An important fact I need to mention here, is that personal enlightenment is best obtained for the benefit of others, all of whom have been our mothers and fathers lifetime after lifetime.

Today I come to you from inside Tharlam Monastery in Boudhnath, Kathmandu, Nepal. It is October 5, 2007. A little history about myself, I am a 4th generation Caucasian and American Indian Alaskan woman, who moved to Seattle in 1979 to study at the University of Washington. I come from a long line of risk takers, and a rare matriarchal lineage --the Murry clan of Scotland and Wales. Lucky for me, I was born in 1956, the year of the fire monkey, only three days before the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha. (Alaska became the 49th state of the United States of America in 1959. As was common in territorial families I was born in Seattle so that should I wish to run for the highest office, if I wanted to, I could become President of the United States when I grew up. Also at the time hospitals were better "Outside".)

As the result of a miracle, within 3 weeks of reaching Seattle to study fine art at the university in 1979, I was introduced to His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, the head of the Sakyapa Branch of Tibetan Buddhism at his house in Seattle, Washington, USA, by the magician Magic Mike (but that is a story for a different day).

Right now I am nestled down at the front of a large, beautiful traditional shrine while we offer a mandala of all good things in the Universe, and the Universe itself to my lama and teacher of 28 years, as the living embodiment of enlightenment, and the Buddha's representative. I am surrounded by 400 – 500 fellow practitioners in this Monastery shrine room: mostly monks in deep maroon robes, facing 3 ornate shrines. The central figure is a heroic statue of Buddha in the 'earth touching mudra' (mudra =body/hand position) depicted as he announced his enlightenment in answer to a taunting question from Mara (equivalent to the Devil) and the earth shook to confirm the Buddha's enlightenment.

In front of this gigantic statue of the Buddha is a large 4 and a half foot elaborate dragon and snow lion throne upon which sits my root guru HH Dagchen Rinpoche, born in 1929 into the royal Sakya family. His father was King of Sakya Tibet, the 39th Sakya Trizen. His direct lineage of saint –rulers extends back more than 900 years, to the founding of the original Sakya Monastery in Tibet, 1073 AD.

Outside in the sunshine under blue edged white tent awnings and on the close cropped grass lawns sitting on pillows, cardboard, and carpets spread over the concrete pad, are another 500-600 Buddhists. The number grows each day as word travels to all parts of Asia, India, Tibet (now China), Sikkim, Lhadak, Bhutan, the Himalayan foothills, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe that this extraordinary lama is giving a high empowerment and teaching.

Light joking, even during a serious ritual of offering or empowerment is really part of this tradition from my perspective. My "job" here, in addition to my commitment to religious practice, is as a photographer, and to document. Beside me sits my oldest Buddhist friend Steve Dalos, from Seattle, who serves as the image archivist.

In order to write this, I did not photograph this particular mandala offering.

"Oh, it's just a regular one," I remarked to Steve, sitting on a thick blue mat on the gray white marble floor.
"In opposition to a shiny one perhaps?" he queried.
"Ok, ok," I cracked up, "how about if I visualize offering 10 sapphires the size of the sun?"
Steve smiled but didn't really look pleased. You are not wild about sapphires I thought, rubies? Then I considered what Steve likes.
"Ok," I bargained, "how about 10 TV's the size of the sun?"
"TVs" beamed Steve with his round eyes glowing like a child.
"You happy?" I whispered as I threw rice in the direction of the mandala, and visualized offering our lama TVs the size of the sun, broadcasting endless fabulous entertainment.

Today is the third day of the Great Initiation Cycle known as "Lam Dré". The name I call my lama "Rinpoche" means "Precious One". Rinpoche is bestowing a single 'wong' in the cycle, that of Diamond Simhamuka, the Lion Headed Dakini (Dakini= loosely translates as angel, and wong means initiation). Her practice is said to confer special properties if the instructions are followed with diligence, one of the thousands of practices which absolutely will lead to enlightenment.

As Rinpoche begins the initiation he explains that the great masters Jamyang Choki Lodro, and excellent Jamyang Khenshe Wangpo were the qualified spiritual masters from whom he received this set of instructions. HH Dagchen Rinpoche also studied this particular practice with HH the 14th Dalai Lama, and lamas from all 4 sets of Tibetan Buddhist traditions while on his own spiritual quest in Eastern Tibet in the 1950s before Tibet fell.

At its core the concept of empowerment or initiation is simple – if you wish to practice a mediation which requires a support, called a yidam (translated loosely into English as 'deity') you should be introduced properly to that deity by someone who knows them. The tradition of masters doing the practice and handing it down to the next master is termed a "lineage."

Now I have read from time to time authors making a warning when writing in the first person such as this, that I agree with; if the thought of the Buddhist religion, or of reincarnation is disturbing to you for any reason such as it seems too farfetched, please read no further. Everything I write about is from my own point of view and you should double check anything you read of mine. As I have heard even the Buddha himself recommended that one check out the practices for yourself and investigate them to make sure they work for you.

As we take our vows a monk sitting to my right tends three copper and brass censors of frankincense, and powered brown incense which smells fresh like juniper or cedar tree branches, producing a white smoke. As we promise to do the practice and take our vows both collectively and individually, we are sealed into a mandala which makes us all dharma brothers and sisters.

Keeping the little ornamental copper pots alight is an art. Carefully placed chunks of charcoal and a lot of huffing and puffing do the job, and I am lucky to get to lend a hand from time to time retrieving the long handmade reddish brown sticks of Tibetan incense used as pokers and handing them to a monk, or adding the white frankincense and incense myself. Now the censor pots are swung on their three chains by monks walking through the entire assembly, held a loft with white katags (white ritual scarves) tied to their tops. White ritual scarves may be the most versatile and hard working tools in Tibetan Buddhism (more about them soon!)

With this pass of incense, and visualizing many tiny red Simhamukas emanating from the lama to the mandala back our lama's body and many from him into the top of our heads we receive the Body empowerment of Lion Headed Dakini, one of my favorite yidams. The incense is offered to each practitioner as the deity. We will be blessed with the red, dancing, attractive energy of Diamond Simhamuka (Simha = Lion, Muka = face), in order of first her body, then speech, and lastly mind.

The term 'diamond' as used here is related to the concept of love; that is love that is unbreakable, with the durability of a diamond. It also means valuable, but in the myriad ways that love for others and loving kindness is valuable.

Empowerment means that once we have been introduced to this yidam (body, speech and mind) we are empowered to do her practice or mantra every day for the number of times promised during the initiation.

Instantly I feel her form in my body, almost without effort. She is fun and very active. I want to dance!

When you are thinking about what does "speech" mean for a meditational deity, it is the deity's mantra itself. Mantra is a set of sounds which may or may not have a literal meaning. Part of the effect of reciting transcendental speech is to transform the habitual syllables stored within our own bodies and mind.

This is not a very strange idea if you consider it. Think of any one you know that repeats the same old story from the past and refers to something that happened in the past and just cannot let it go – pretty dull, stuck in a rut. Well, in a similar way we all have internal and external stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and what is going on around us – the internal dialog or internal chatter we all have of describing our world view to ourselves. In a way speech is what forms how we think about our world – it forms our world view. So thinking of yourself as an enlightened being helps to become one.

Think of growing up and how your mother or father might explain to you that you are just going through a phase when you thought such and such was a certain way. In the same way even as adults we come to understand that there are always ways to mature and become better people. It is by reliance on the transmission of the yidam through initiation and practices, including mantra that we may improve. This is termed the Mantrayana or mantra path (yana means path or wheel.) Why do these instructions work? Because these deities are enlightened beings, and this living tradition has enlightened teachers to guide and direct us, and change our views into correct ones.

In very old English texts I have read "mantra" translated as "spell" like magic spell. While it could have that meaning, I prefer to think that a light body (yidam) with the intention to provide for enlightenment's sake is more than any idea of a black or white magic spell, which has worldly goals, in comparison to the goal and absolute nature of freedom.

It is likely however that the idea of mantra is bifurcated – some people practiced a lower form of magic and others prayed for the well-being of all that lives, and thus the concept of magic spells were born. To paraphrase science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, technology appears to be like magic when you don't know what creates it. If you place a person who has never used a computer before in front of one, it is unlikely they'd even be able to figure out how to turn it on even if they knew one should turn it on. In the same way the instructions on the path to enlightenment need to be given to be successful, even if you are strikingly intelligent and understand the meaning immediately. The role of the lama is to keep you on the correct path.

There are two symbols of the Lion Faced Dakini's representation in the Monastery, first the Lama him or her self embodies this energy and practice from having accomplished thousands or hundreds of thousands of repetitions of the sacred mantra. The other form is indicated by the presence of a consecrated mandala. The mandala is set (in this case) on top of two wooden cabinets placed together to form a square, covered with an elaborate offering cloth, and a central large silver plate (the mandala plate) with offering candles and flowers ('metok' in Tibetan). Next to them, in large ornately beautifully decorated bowls there is bright yellow saffron scented water. The offering water is a very clear bright happy shade of yellow, and the silver reflects light in a golden glow bouncing off the bottom of the bowls. This kind of water offering is also used in what is called the "Seven limbed prayer."

The torma offering of flower shaped and colored clay made of tampa (Tibetan for 'barley flower' which is a staple, and 'torma' could be translated as 'holy food' or 'ritual cake') is decorated with concentric wheels on a roughly triangular base. Below a red and white small silk umbrella is an image of the deity attached to the top of one of the tormas. For this deity a large mound of white rice on the silver mandala is placed on top of a raised ritual silk cloth. The entire effect is both simple and lovely. For those with pure vision, the yidam, summoned from her abode, appears right above the mandala, and for others, she may appear as wisps or streaks of energy, for others there is the feeling she is just there.

Lion Headed Dakini is a happy and semi-wrathful meditational deity. Our introduction concludes with an offering of the mandala of the universe, accompanied by the ringing of cymbals by Avikrita Rinpoche, age 14, who, as the eldest grandchild will inherit responsibility for the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang tradition. He is a handsome young man with grace and naturally balanced demeanor. Fortunately for me this Tibetan palace, my lama's royal lineage, is now based in Seattle, Washington, USA.

Sakya is the only purely hereditary branch of the 4 schools of Tibetan Buddhism. While all 4 traditions have tulkus, the recognized re-incarnated lamas, all respect meritocracy. If one gains realization and personal development and growth, one will be respected within the Tibetan hierarchy. The heads of all four schools generally can recall details of their prior births. Sometimes they can recall a great range of details, or almost all of their former lifetimes.

The late monk, HH Trinley Sakya told me himself he could recall more than 3000 years back to the time of a prior Buddha, Kasayapa, before Shakyamuni Buddha (but again, that is a different story.) As a monk, vow taker and my friend, after watching him for two decades, I remain certain that he spoke the truth.

My own lama is a Rimé master that means he believes in and practices all 4 traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, even though he is a head of one branch. His family are royalty in Tibetan Buddhism, and once the family ruled all of Tibet from their homeland in Sakya. The country of Tibet was given to the Sakyas (also called the Khon family) as an offering from Khubla Khan, as thanksgiving for receiving the Hevajra initiation and detailed teachings on the practice. Khubla Khan in part stabilized his father's, the conqueror Genghis Khan's acquisitions but more importantly as a Buddhist, took vows which precluded killing. Taming the Khans meant saving many people from ongoing wars.

Here I wish to underline that the central figure in the Lam Dré, the Hevajra practice is that valuable to give back as a mandala offering an entire country to rule if that is a measure of one's wealth as it was for Khubla Khan. The saint-miracle worker who was gifted with Tibet is my lama's predecessor 40 generations ago, more than 900 years ago.

The lights flickered off and on as power in Nepal is still part of a developing infrastructure, and the big brown fans slowly stop spinning. It is both hot and dark in here. I fidgeted for hours, but as long as I can bend my knees I can do this. Many more mandala offerings of money and beautiful pure white katags are offered by abbots of local monasteries, who not only pay for the food to feed the thousand plus people here today, but also each vow taker monk and nun is given an equal stipend of cash.

Today in this monastery are rime practitioners, and those whose main practices are Nyingmapa (old school), Kagupa (Marpa's tradition, from whence came the first enlightened Tibetan Milarepa, and Kalu Rinpoche), and Gelugpa (HH The Dalai Lama's school). There may be some Bonpos (old Tibetan religion) in this crowd. There are many local Nepalese Buddhists, for whom I have the greatest respect for their continuing contribution to Buddhist Arts, sculpture and painting. Chinese practitioners join us from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Canada.

The most curious about Buddhist teaching by far and away are the Chinese students from mainland China. "They don't have Buddhism training there," is the most critical they will be of their government, "it's really a show for tourists."

Now concluding prayers for auspicious conditions, happiness and enlightenment for all who live are offered, this lasts nearly an hour. Our lama climbs down from his throne assisted by the 4th of Rinpoche's five sons, Zaya Sakya (also referred to as 'Rinpoche'), and senior monks with smiles and courtesy. Rinpoche is escorted from the room lead by a monk holding a vajra (Sanskrit 'thunderbolt' or 'diamond') scepter which holds a bundle of fine incense with two or three lit, and preceded by musician monks playing gamling horns, with their special wailing and echoing, double breathing, it reminds me of Scottish bagpipes.

People rush forward against the nuns standing in the hallway to get close enough for him to reach out and bless them, and to have their malas (rosary beads) blessed by touch or by the lama's breath. Just seeing him once is said to prevent re-birth into the lower realms such as hell realms of hot or cold. Nepal seems to encapsulate both at times, with its leprosy ridden beggars and starving limping dogs – still it is so much better than when I was here in 1990 and 1994. The World Bank, tourism, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among many other organizations have worked wonders.

We began at 8 am sharp, we are done with this session by 10 am. Outside in the Guest house breezeway we joke around about the practice of tantra "There is nothing like that OLD time religion", and then amidst calls of "Hallelujah brethren and sisteren" my dharma brother Tashi Paljor, supporting himself on his cane, joins me in singing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

One of the new students asks questions about the bodhisattva vows we are about to receive the following day. I think about the meaning of Bodhisattva.

The electric charge which permeated the monastery courtyard floats away slowly. It still feels really good on these grounds. I still feel like dancing, and so I do, twisting around slowly in the manner of lama dancing, catching the passing rays of light energy, enhancing, and passing them along to others throughout the universe. What a joy this is!

More on the Enlightenment Machine soon, this environment takes more out of you, comparatively living in the States is easy. Nearly every day is filled with initiations, tours of holy places, and preparations for more … for those about to pray, we salute you! 


   
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Emanuel Paparella2009-05-30 10:59:04
Interesting and insightful report Linda. Obviously this is a different kind of "enlightnment" from the one of the Enlightenment founders of Western Civilization deluding themselves that they could do light unto themselves best represented by the famous, or perhaps infamous, lantern man of Dante holding his own head in his hand in a dark cavern and doing light unto himself, the perfect narcisist and idolater worshipping his own intelligence and cleverness. Thank God for the saints. They remind us that enlightenment transcends the material and even the intellectual (the delusion of Voltaire...) and it certainly transcends the ego and its manias; rather, it has to do with the spiritual.


Alexandra Pereira2009-05-30 13:42:33
Rather than considering both as two completely separated, different things, you should explain that these are in fact the roots of Enlightenment in Western Civilization.


Emanuel Paparella2009-05-30 15:25:30
Ah, the roots of Enlightenment in Western Civilization rooted in Descartes' "clear and distinct ideas" with no imagination and no poetical...How about considering Humanism as the real roots of the modern world. And what is Humanism but a synthesis of the best in Greco-Roman civilization and Christianity? That proposal of course goes agains the "politically correct" grain and ideology that dictates that enlightenment in Europe began with Voltaire and his blatant disrespect and bias against religion; therefore it can be safely be predicted as a knee-jerk reaction that it will be promptly shot down.


William Harryman2009-05-30 21:31:05
Great article, as someone who is working on his own path in this tradition.

Peace!


Linda Lane2009-06-02 09:08:44
Thank you for the comments and compliments. for the saints yes!

-Linda
El Rosario, Baja California North, Mexico


Linda Lane2009-08-25 01:52:08
The sentence that needs to be added is that the requirement to do deity or yidam practice is an authentic and qualified guru.


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