Guru Rinpoche comes to the Kagyu Monlam Part I: An Introduction to the Tsechu Practice

Tsechu Practice from January 7 to January 10, 2014

Guru Rinpoche was very present at the Monlam this year. The usual practices of the Monlam, which are based on the sutras of the mahayana, were shortened to five days. For four days beforehand,from January 7 to 10th, the sangha engaged in the vajrayana practice of Guru Rinpoche known as Tsechu, or Tenth Day Practice, the day of the Tibetan lunar calendar when Guru Rinpoche promised to be present. Beloved by the Tibetans, he is known in the Land of Snow as the Second Buddha.

During his teachings, the Karmapa often referred tothe Nyingma tradition, the earliest source of Guru Rinpoche practices,emphasizing the importance of the link between the Nyingma and the Kagyu. "There is avery strong and intimate connection that is historical, Dharmic, and of samaya," he said,"between the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma traditions."  Historically, the first and second Karmapas were born into Nyingma families. The third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, had important Nyingma teachers and blended Nyingma practices, especially dzogchen or the Great Perfection, into his Kagyu tradition.When depicted in thangkas, Rangjung Dorjeis the only Karmapa to sit on a lotus like Guru Rinpoche(who is also calledPadmasambhava, the Lotus-Born). One way of looking at the incarnations of the Karmapas is to pair them with the eight emanations of Guru Rinpoche. Another links each Karmapa with a special terton, or treasure discoverer, most of whom have been Nyingma.

The life of the 17th Karmapa is also intertwined with Guru Rinpoche. While his mother was still pregnant, she had a dream in which three cranes came to her.  One had a bowl of yogurt (a symbol of purity and goodness) and another had a letter around its neck.They explained to her that the letter was the letter of recognition for her son. When she asked who had sent them, they replied, "Guru Rinpoche."ThepresentKarmapa's name, Ogyen Trinley, means "the enlightened activity of the One from Ogyen (Guru Rinpoche)," and it comes from a prophecy of Guru Rinpoche discovered by Chokgyur Lingpa. The young Karmapa spontaneously knew the Seven-Line Prayer of Guru Rinpoche andwas regularly asked to recite it so that his nomad family would find good pasture land for their herds. The head of his village requested the young boy to say the prayer to prevent a wildfire from spreading to their homes.

On many levels,therefore, the two great masters, Guru Rinpoche and the Karmapa, are interconnected and inseparable, a relationship which was apparent this yearat the Monlam in both image and in words.The central focus of the practices was the image of Guru Rinpoche in a great applique thangka, which filled the center of the Pavilion stage with its luminous depiction of Guru Rinpoche surrounded by his eight manifestations [ ] . Another visual presence was a tall, hollow statue of Guru Rinpoche thatresided on the Karmapa's elegant white chair in the center of the stage for three days of the Tsechu practice.During the Golden Procession in the lama dancing, the Karmapa sat inside the statue, a golden umbrella floating above, as he was carried to his place in the center of the stage.

During the previous year, the Karmapa had painted a picture of Guru Rinpoche with the inscription: "May unsurpassed well-being and happiness arise for all the living beings with a connection." To further extend these relationships, the image was reproduced and given to many who came to Bodhgaya.On the final day of Monlam practice, the sponsors were invited to come up and sit on the stage. To thank them for their generosity, the Karmapa offered each one an impressive statue of Guru Rinpoche. In this pervasive and artistic way, Guru Rinpoche's presence was invoked from the very beginning with the empowerment of The Embodiment of the Three Jewelson January 5 rightthrough to the end of Monlam practice on the 15th.

Guru Rinpochealso appeared on the cover of an academic book that the Karmapa had published this year for the Monlam. It contains two long pieces on the positive relationship between the Kagyu and Nyingma,one by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, (1507-1554)and the other by Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa (157-1592), both major scholars in the Kagyu tradition. In particular, Mikyö Dorje wrote to defend the authenticity of the terma, or rediscovered treasure, tradition of the Nyingma, which had come under criticism. In this way, the Karmapa gave support to the Nyingma on perhaps the most controversial aspect of their tradition.

During the four days of Tsechu practice, the sound of Guru Rinpoche's Seven-Line Prayer filled the long, open-sided rectangle of a tent just outside the Pavilion, in which hundreds of people were accumulating repetitions of the prayer. Slips of paper were given out for recording their numbers and werecollected at the end ofeach day for counting.Khenpo Garwang explained: "There are two reasons for including the Seven-Line Prayer during these days of the Tsechu practice. These seven lines are the most famous and important of the prayers to Guru Rinpoche. This is also a way of bringing everybody together, monks and nuns, lay men and lay women.(Since this is a vajrayana practice, men and women are seen as equal.)Not everyone will have a text of the Tsechu practice buteven those who cannot read Tibetan know this prayer by heart so that everyonecan participate."A beautifully printed card has the prayer in three languages, Tibetan, English, and Chinese:

On the northwest border of the land of Ogyen,

On the pistil of a lotus flower and stem

You attained wondrous, supreme siddhis.

Renowned as the Lotus-born,

You are encircled by many dakinis.

We practice following your example.

Please come to grant your blessings.

Guru Padma Siddhi Hung

On January 6, the Karmapa gave an explanation of these lines and the reading transmission.[] In this way everyone's needs were taken care of, from simple lay practitioners to the ordained sangha and the reincarnate lamas, who received copies of the new Tsechu text, with its elegant indigo blue and gold cover.

In terms of empowerments, the Karmapa's generosity was immense as he bestowed not one but two of Guru Rinpoche: on January 5, the Embodiment of the Three Jewels, a terma of Jatsön Nyingpo, and on January 6th, Guru Chowang'sterma, Lama Sangdu, The Lama as the Embodiment of All Secrets. This latter empowerment was the basis for the four days of practice of Guru Chowang's Tsechu that followed. As with all guru yogas, the purpose of the Lama Sangdu practice is to receive the blessing and the siddhis of the lama's mind. We aspire that the qualities of Guru Rinpoche's mind enter into and blend with ours

Newly printed for the 31st Monlam, the text of the Guru Rinpoche practice is included in a volume of twelve sections that were edited and arranged by the Karmapa himself. Meticulous in his scholarship, he workedup to the last possible minutebefore the manuscriptwent off to the printer in late October, 2013. The central texts included in this special volumeare the two practices related to the Guru Rinpoche empowerments the Karmapa gave plus those of the protector Shingkyong anda middle length Mahakala. The volume also containslineage supplications, the practice of Gonpo Maning, a special torma offering,and a beautiful prayer for the spread of the teachings.

At ease with the computer, the Karmapainput the thirtypages of the essential practice. He also wrote an introduction with a scholarly discussion of the source texts he consulted to make his final editing decisions.From the Nyingma tradition, he looked at the versions of Minling Terchen and the Northern Terma tradition of Dorje Drak. After referringto numerousprint editions from his own Kagyu tradition, the Karmapa mainlyrelied on the version fromSitu Rinpoche's Palpung Monastery while also considering the edition from his own monastery of Tsurphu, and another from Karlep, thesmall Kagyu monastery near his birthplace in the mountains of Lhatok where he stayed as a boy under the tutelage of Amdo Palden, his first teacher. It must have given the Karmapa special pleasure to have found this text.Leavinghis homeas a young nomad with little schooling, hehas come full circle,returning to his origins as a great lama and scholar.


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