May 5, 2002

Dear People,
I returned from my visit to India and Nepal March 26th, 2002 and am just now getting to an update of the Namo Buddha Newsletter.


I received an email from Michele Martin who is in Dharmasala, India and she tells me that Thrangu Rinpoche is well and currently teaching the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa. He teaches an hour in the morning and then again in the afternoon. The rest of Thrangu Rinpoche’s time is spent organizing Buddhist texts. For the last several decades Thrangu Rinpoche has been trying to find as many precious texts that escaped the Chinese destruction. Through Dharmakara Publications (Beautiful sound of Dharma) Rinpoche is planning to republish them so that they will be preserved.   Many texts, including those by the previous Karmapas have been missing.


While I was in India I attended the Vajra Vidya retreat. It was, as you might expect, wonderful. While I was there the monks from the beautiful Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnarth, India were studying for their exams.  Rinpoche’s monks were studying hard at the Shedra, a Tibetan religious college. The monks get up at 6:00 AM, say their prayers and then circumambulate around the monastery. They then eat a simple meal of tsampa and tea for breakfast and then begin studying. Classes are held until noon. They go through the texts basically word by word. In the  afternoon, a period of an hour or two is spent memorizing the root texts, and taking classes until dinner. After dinner they debate each other on the points studied. This goes on until 10PM unless they get carried away in heated debating which can go on until midnight. This routine is 6 days a week for 48 weeks a year. This technique of intense memorization allows them to quote any number of different texts by different authors. They are able to debate even the subtle differences in interpretation of these works. In the debate process they can present any position until the logic of the correct view is proven. It is an incredible method of education hard to find in other places in the world today. Hopefully some of these monks will in the near future teach here in the West.  There were also three nuns living in the monastery (times have changed from when no women were allowed to stay in monasteries at night). These nuns were studying even harder than the monks. They were studying to get into the Tibetan Institute. The Institute is also in Sarnath and allows 8 Kagyu, 8 Nyingma, 8 Gelug, 8 Sakya, and 8 Bon students from the monasteries and nunneries in India and Nepal. The program is 9 years long and allows only 40 new monastics per year! From what I hear, Thrangu Rinpoche’s nuns may take 3 of the 8 places available. Thrangu Rinpoche has 2 nuns who are in, I believe, their 7th year in this program and a few others in their 5th year.

In January of this year, his HH the Dalai Lama, his HH the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, and Thrangu Rinpoche gathered for a ceremony at the Dharmakaya Stupa located in the Deer Park to commemorate the Buddha’s first teaching. This stupa is in sight of Thrangu Rinpoche’s monastery. (Pictured on the right) Going from right to left is Khenpo Kathar, Bardo Tulku Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, HH Karmapa, and the Dalai Lama.

Later, the Karmapa had the first Kagyu Drogon conference (Pictured below) . Important Kargyu lamas from the Karma Kagyu and other Kagyu schools came together and discussed propagating the dharma. His Holiness Karmapa, at the age of 16 provided great leadership. He said the monasteries should begin to represent the 12 mandalas of Marpa and take up their respective practices. These are elaborate practices of the major yidams of the lineage such as Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, and so on. The various monasteries had to get together and take a few days to work out which monastery would do which mandala. Monasteries were encouraged to work together and to build bridges of communication and cooperation. Vajra Vidya was given the Chakrasamvara mandala.   While His Holiness was staying at Vajra Vidya, he began visiting its library and came across the book, The Seven Points of Mind Training by Thrangu Rinpoche (published by Dharmakara). These teachings were given at Namo Buddha by Rinpoche in October, 2001. The Karmapa asked that all the Karma Kagyu monasteries teach the dharma to all monks and nuns and that they should use Thrangu Rinpoche’s book to help do this.  There was also a very emotional moment during this conference in which it was told to me that Thrangu Rinpoche and other lamas were crying.   Thrangu Rinpoche was saying that the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, had always wanted to have a monastery at Sarnath, but wasn't able to build one.  Thrangu Rinpoche said that he had therefore built this beautiful monastery and named it after his root guru, HH Karmapa whose Tibetan name in Sanskrit is “Vajra Vidya.” Other lamas thanked Thrangu Rinpoche for all the work he had done in preserving the teachings of the Kagyu lineage. This Kagyu conference will now happen yearly at Vajra Vidya. A picture of this conference was not taken at the UN, but was taken in the library of Vajra Vidya which was especially decorated for the conference.


I asked Thrangu Rinpoche questions about the current obstacles to the dharma. Rinpoche said that in India and Nepal there are many who want to become monks and nuns. This intention was very good because it would provide the continuity of the dharma and assure its preservation. The ancient process of transmission had relied on the older monks teaching the younger ones. There was so much that had to be transmitted and absorbed. However, the obstacle right now was that there were only a few older monks to teach large numbers of younger ones. This applies to the nuns of Tara Abbey as well. In the West and Far East he said there is great interest in the dharma, but the obstacle was that only a small percentage of the dharma teachings and dharma practices have been translated. Because of this, a problem of accessibility of translated texts exists in the East as well as the West. There are a number of projects to use modern technology to gather the ancient texts by putting them on CDs for future translation. One of the goals for the Crestone Center will be a library that will house the ancient texts themselves as
well as have them in a modern format. With the future in mind the intention is to connect the ancient wisdom with the modern world.


Thrangu Rinpoche also told me of a number of his new projects. In the late 1970s Thrangu Rinpoche wanted to assure the continuity of the dharma and felt that a strong monastic system would provide this. He was told he would never get any Tibetans to become monks because they were into the carpet business and making money and celibacy did not appeal to them. However, there was one man who walked from the very remote area of Nubri in northern Nepal. These places require that you walk for 7 days or more to get to any kind of bus transportation. This man became Rinpoche’s first monk from this area. Since that time Rinpoche has gotten many monks and nuns from this area as well as other remote areas.  To commemorate this first monk, Rinpoche is building a monastery in the Nubri area. He was given a nunnery from that area and so Rinpoche already has nuns doing their 3-year retreat there. He is also building a 3-year retreat center about 30 miles from Kathmandu at a cave where Milarepa stayed. To commemorate Milarepa, Thrangu Rinpoche will build a replica of the famous 9 story tower built by Milarepa for Marpa in Tibet.


While I was in Nepal, I visited another monastery to see the beautiful paintings on the wall. While I was looking at the paintings, the monks were doing their daily practice. The monks were throwing things at each other, pulling pages out of their neighbor's prayer book, and generally fooling around. This is something I had not seen in Thrangu Rinpoche's monastery. In a later conversation it was relayed that Thrangu Rinpoche's monks are known for being the most disciplined among the twenty Tibetan monasteries surrounding the great stupa in Boudhanath.  Thrangu Rinpoche's monks and nuns are constantly learning and studying everything from English to computers to dharma topics. Thrangu Rinpoche gives every single one of them the possibility of becoming a khenpo. He tries to prepare them for the future while also maintaining access to the profound Dharma. I saw a 120 page book in Tibetan that was required material for all his monks and nuns to memorize. It made no difference if they were the cooks, the drivers, or those headed for the shedra all were required to know this material. Other monasteries do not emphasize
education. They usually have their monks and nuns do a few hours of  pujas every day. When you go around the stupa, you see monks from other monasteries in the tea shops, in the video arcades, mauling around.  However, when I asked one of Thrangu Rinpoche’s monks I had been working with to go buy materials for consecrating a statue, he had to first get permission from the monastery to go. The commitment to discipline was an obvious and joyous thing to observe.


Returning from Nepal was cultural shock. Fortunately getting organized for Thrangu Rinpoche’s Vajra Vidya July retreat program this summer in Crestone and our own move there brought me back to the basics. The retreat program is now filled. We will have Khenpo Kathar from Woodstock with us. Khenpo Kartar Rinpoche and Thrangu Rinpoche escaped together from Tibet in 1959. They also taught together for many years in Rumtek, India.


Plans continue for Thrangu Rinpoche's Vajra Vidya retreat center in Crestone. There will be a brochure sent to people in the near future.  Many of you have asked questions and hopefully these answers from Thrangu Rinpoche will cover most of them.  Thrangu Rinpoche was asked about the new retreat center and here is a summary of his answers.  Since western students have difficulty with time and financial resources the retreat center will not be a strict three-year retreat format and the participants will be able to do much shorter retreats depending upon their needs. The retreat center will be a large building with individual rooms designed for individual practice. The retreatants will come together for morning prayers and evening prayers and will eat together in a community dining room. On staff will be a monk and two nuns trained in Rinpoche's monastery who have completed a three-year retreat and they will provide the instructions for practice. Thrangu Rinpoche has also left open the possibility that if significant there are people interested in doing the traditional three years then that will also be possible.  The Crestone project will be an opportunity to establish a place where Rinpoche's Western students can themselves build a bridge. The establishing of a practice environment as well as a repository for the teaching and practices can bring the energy that has existed in the Far East for thousands of years on to this American soil.


There are now three websites that have teachings by Thrangu Rinpoche that can be downloaded:
Thrangu Rinpoche's website done by Lee Miracle has a lot of information on Thrangu Rinpoche and his incredible activities as well as numerous downloads.
Shenpen Osel's website done by Lama Tashi has many teachings by Kagyu lamas including Thrangu Rinpoche's wonderful Medicine Buddha teachings:
The new website: makes Thrangu Rinpoche's teachings and teachings by other great teachers available for free downloading.

We have Ani Yeshe from England coming to the Maine Retreat and to the July Crestone Retreat.  Many have met Ani Yeshe in previous retreats where she has taught the details of practice. There are a few of Thrangu Rinpoche's students that have already contributed to airfare and accommodations. If any one is interested in contributing to the covering of some of the other costs please send your contribution to VV Retreat Program and note that it is for Ani Yeshe. Thank you

Many blessings in the Dharma to all of you,

Vajra Vidya Retreat Center
Clark Johnson
Namo Buddha Publications
1390 Kalmia Avenue
Boulder, CO 80304-1813
Phone (303) 449-6608
Fax (303) 440-0882

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