For the first time, the reclusive and secretive Tibetan monks agree to discuss aspects of their philosophy and allow themselves to be filmed while performing their ancient practices.
Jeffrey M. Pill
For the first time, the reclusive and secretive Tibetan monks agree to discuss aspects of their philosophy and allow themselves to be filmed while performing their ancient practices.
Jeffrey M. Pill
Part 2 of the English language black and white version of the classic French documentary:
Dharma Talk, March 2001
In honor of my mother who lived a life of generosity.
We have probably all heard the saying, “Give until it hurts.” I can’t agree with this statement at all.
I believe my mother’s saying is more aligned with the truth of giving. She would say matter of factually, “giving always comes back multiplied”. My own experience has found that to be true and also that the source of the return was “Absolute Reality”, the big “Self” the “Unknown”, “God”. I also found that in fact, I am just a vehicle to facilitate the pass through, that fundamentally, whatever I have, is really not mine at all. I think of it as “gifts of the universe”. Maybe Anne Morrow Lindberg would say “gifts from the sea”.
What is Generosity?
Most of us know what generosity is, that is, the quality of being generous (magnanimous); liberal in giving. In my investigation of generosity I have identified several aspects of generosity that appear to fall into two distinct categories, conventional understanding and Buddhist teaching.
Aspects of Generosity
In terms of conventional understanding “form” is the most familiar aspect. When we think of form, we think of material objects, money or other types of personal resources. There also “intangible forms”, such as, time, love, personal attention, advice, a smile, prayers, offerings (moonlight, blooming flowers, light of the universe). I’m sure you can help me build this list.
A second aspect of generosity is “intention”. What is the motive of the giver? Dogen states “giving” needs to be “genuine”. Then there is the aspect of “expectation of a return”. Is it present or not? In giving there’s the element of timing that necessitates an alertness to the moment. The realm of no hesitation. Like saying an immediate “yes” when asked to do something by another.
One aspect that I see in both categories is the “causal relationship of generosity”, cause and effect, the interconnectedness of all life. By this I mean, how generosity extends beyond the giver, the receiver and the gift into the seen and unseen world.
Three aspects from a Buddhist perspective are, “emptiness”, “non-attachment” and “compassion”.
In the Buddhist teaching of “emptiness”, I am referring to “no-Self”. In the context of giver, receiver and gift, all are interdependent and each lacks inherent self existence. An example is the dedication of merit chanted as part of our service. Here the idea is that when chanting the dedication, one is aware of the emptiness of oneself, those whom we dedicate the merit to, and the merit itself.
Zen Master’ Perspective :
Recently, I have been reading Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind. One of the talks by Suzuki-Roshi is entitled, “God Giving ” ‘To give is non-attachment,’ that is, just not to attach to anything is to give.”
His view of giving is magnanimous; all encompassing. He goes on to say that “every existence in nature, every existence in the human world, every cultural work that we create, is something which was given, or is being given to us, relatively speaking. But as everything is originally one, we are, in actuality, giving out of everything. Moment after moment we are creating something, and this is the joy of our life.” He calls the source, the “big I”.
One could say when we manifest our true nature, just being ourselves, we are giving. A dharma friend shared with me a teaching from a Zen priest who said, “Giving is giving back to ourselves”. Herein lies “compassion”.
Later in the same text Suzuki Roshi says, “It does not matter what is given. To give a penny…or a piece of leaf.. a one line teaching. If given in the spirit of non-attachment, the material offering and the teaching offering have the same value.
Not to be attached to something is to be aware of its absolute value.
In “The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas”, from Shobogenzo which I believe to be the source document for Suzuki-Roshi’s talk mentioned previously, Dogen says that “when one learns giving well, being born and dying are both giving. All productive labor is fundamentally giving. Entrusting flowers to the wind, birds to the season, also must be meritorious acts of giving.” …He further states, “…great giving… is not only a matter of exerting physical effort; one should not miss the right opportunity.”
In the same essay Dogen says that it is difficult to transform the the mind of living beings and giving can be the beginning of transforming the mind. He says that “one should not calculate the greatness or smallness of the mind, nor the greatness or smallness of the thing. Nevertheless, there is a time when the mind transforms things, and there is giving in which things transform the mind.”
Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind p. 65-71
Shobogenzo, Zen Essays by Dogen, ‘The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas”, p117-118
Shobogenzo-zuimonki 5-6 p.176
Instructions to monks:
A monk who has left home should never be overjoyed upon receiving offerings from others. Nor, however, should such offerings be refused.
The late Sojo (Eisai) said, “It goes against the precepts of the Buddha to rejoice upon receiving offerings. It also goes against the good will of the donor to be ungrateful.”
What we should bear in mind on this point is that the offerings are not to ourselves, but to the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). So, in acknowledging thanks, you should say, “The Three Treasures will surely accept your offerings.”
taken from http://justdzongsar.wordpress.com/
Now I like to point out, the word suffering again is overused. And it is kind misleading to lot of people. You know when I was teaching about four seals of buddhadharma, that all compounded things are impermanent, by large everybody can accept. Then, and with a good reason, they accept. They are very convinced. also if I say, when I was talking about all phenomena as emptiness, well, and also nirvana is beyond extreme, those two, they don’t even bother not accepting because most of the time, it is like, it pass this from the top, they don’t want. But you know, I have noticed, the second line, all emotions are suffering, oh my god, everyone, passionately disagrees with me. Passionately. Emotions, all emotions are …. Actually many people even try to correct me, maybe Rinpoche, maybe emotion is not the right word. And actually I think to the certain extend they are right. Emotion,, maybe the Tibetan word … is much bigger than the word emotion. But to up keeping my stubbornness and also actually now deliberately I use the word emotion, deliberately. Emotions are suffering….. Because people think: Oh yah okay negative emotions are properly of course suffering. But how about love? How about devotion? How about inspiration? How about creativity? How about ecstasy, how about all of that. Those are not suffering. This is where I think the definition of the suffering is something that we have to ponder.
Because the Buddhist definition of the suffering is quite a,(pause). One of the biggest element or character that really makes the suffering the suffering is time factor. The fact that it is impermanent. Anything that is impermanent, anything that is put together, they are subject to time. Anything that is subject to the time is basically synonymous to uncertainty. And if it is uncertain, does that recall something. Pain. Uncertainty is the biggest pain.
Because of uncertainty, things like insurance company works. It is the uncertainty that is really, the economy is working because of the uncertainty. You can sell things that might come, might not come. For the sake of protecting yourself and stuff like that. Uncertainty is a very very big problem. And if you look at emotions, love, compassion, even the religious, even the dharma, related to dharma love, things that we try to meditate upon, love, compassion, suffering. Of course the sticky love, of course it is a suffering. Of course. No need to mention that one. You all know that. But even the love and compassion that we are try to cultivate, yes it is suffering. If it is shocking you, it is nothing. In fact when we talk about…., the third suffering, the third type of suffering, in the mahayana sutras and shastras, it is clearly stated that even the tenth bhumi bodhisattvas meditative state is also a suffering. So of course, emotions are suffering.
Gesar and I lay in the semi darkness, and dissolved in the cold morning air. Around us the little monastery city went about its daily business of prayers and rebuilding. We had nothing scheduled for the first half of that day, and we took advantage of the break to catch up on some well earned sleep.
For once, time itself seemed to stop. Here we were, thousands of miles away from modern civilization as we knew it, living in a simple, window pane-less monastery shrine room, with prayers, barking dogs and singing workers busily engaged in rebuilding the only regular sounds to fill our ears.
We were exhausted from the ceremony of the day before, where the crowds and requests for this and that had kept us busy from dawn until well after dusk. Due to our language limitations, the constant strain of communication was taking its toll on us, and we were tired without any hope of real respite. Luckily, they left us pretty much alone that morning and we just became one with the darkness.
I dozed in and out of sleep. waking up occasionally to listen to some worker’s lilting voice as he toiled on the new building nearby. Occasionally, the voices of villagers down below drifted up through the window as they chatted about this or that or just passed time on their way to some business or other.
Life as mirror: In life, so often the definition of who we are and how we behave depends on where we are and who we are with. Sounds simple enough…To complicate matters further, we change over time, so that that which once was can be forgotten, lost, or erased, with personalities and memories becoming as indistinguishable as long lost friends. I had watched Gesar transform from a raging ball of incredible energy to a calm enigmatic person capable of showing incredible depth of feeling and care to others, without break for days on end. I, on the other hand, was generally the grumpy one, kicking out the attending monks when things got too crowded, or discipline was lost on the crowd when we moved about, which was always with great difficulty as we soon attracted a large crowd of followers immediately on standing up or making motions to move.
A photo that was taken of me at the time (unfortunately long since lost) shows a young man with long dark and unkempt black hair, pulled back off my forehead Japanese bushi style, a full beard and gaunt, exhausted expression. What struck me about the photo was the fierce look in my eyes, probably from being overly exhausted and struggling to keep things together as time took its toll on us. I had become some kind of western protecting spirit to this young tibetan treasure.
Gesar was transformed. He spent most of the days with a bemused expression on his face as request after request poured in, as it does for any Tibetan lama taking care of their people; please bless these prayer sheets, say some prayers for a sick child, come and bless our house, goats, child. He would just smile and carry out the task, regardless of whether it was repetitive or just the precursor to other tasks immediately following, which was usually the case.
My own sense of generosity was relative to my state of energy, and I personally struggled to deal with the constant requests to do something or be somewhere. Whenever I felt that people started asking too much of Gesar, I would find the highest ranking person in the room and beg for a break.
And it was thanks to one such request that we found ourselves free for half a day.
G- reflections, and projections.
In amongst this maelstrom of activity that had engulfed this remote Tibetan monastery over the last few days, sat Gesar. As an eighteen year old, more accustomed to fast food, cars, movies and a western lifestyle, I cannot begin to imagine what must he have felt. Without projecting too much hearsay into the story, I will try to picture, from my standpoint, what might have been going on within his mind. Excuse me for my discursiveness.
Being the son of a great man, recently deceased, and living in the shadow of both that man’s deeds and his western students’ expectations, the black sheep known as Gesar wandered. Many of these people around him more often than not talked at him rather than to him, this boy who had lost his father and needed a strong father figure to guide him; this boy,who manifested pure, uncontrollable energy.
Yet, here he was in this impossibly high forgotten valley, a prince; refined, gentle, loving, smiling, transformed in this land of snows and devotion. Life had truly become a mirror.
In the west, wildness abounded from him, a raw, sheer energy for life. This young Genghis Khan of the dharma was seen as an unpredictable force of nature by the mindful adult world, yet their children of those very same people flocked to him in droves, like the children to the Pied Piper, accepting him in his entirety.
In a sea of tranquility, he embodied the storm; not at all refined like the community had trained itself to be, but raw. Nor was this boy afraid to show his emotions, at any point in time, like liquid fuel, burning in his heart and vividly expressed like lightening. When happy, he was like the brightest of suns. When sad, he could rip out every heart nearby in empathy and sadness, for he radiated emotion, magnified them to marshall stack like volume. That is, was, and always shall be, his gift. His presence was way too much for many who had just lost their precious teacher, and many shunned him, fearing his spontaneous combustive qualities. It was just…too painful.The fact was that, whether many liked it or not, both physically and as a personality, G reminded them way too much of his father, the great Chogyam Trungpa. And no one knew what to do with him.
When we had first met two years earlier, G had just recently returned from a study trip to Nepal to see His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a mountain of a man who embodied a veritable well of compassion that flowed out of him through liquid eyes, huge smiles and hands. His Holiness had helped start this young boy on his way to spiritual study, but with the untimely loss of his father, the container was broken, and the contents ran free. Soon His Holiness followed after Trungpa, and those that cared for Gesar struggled to find a replacement mentor for him.
That replacement came in the form of my teacher, whose piercing inscrutability and irascible sense of humour powered right through to G’s soul. He was cool; not generations apart like so many of the elders, and Rinpoche could relate to G on a fresh and cutting level. Because of that auspicious link, perfect timing and a trust that bound us all together, here G was in Tibet.
Peaceful wanderings and the Shedrak. In the afternoon, after another meal of rice, meats and limited vegetables, we headed down the steep steps for a tour of the land and the old destroyed library and school across the little stream that cut the valley in two. Somehow, the number of attendants with us stayed to a bare minimum- with us was the Abbot, his trainee and about six or seven monks all buzzing around Gesar trying to hold an arm or to guide him over the sometimes rocky hillside down into the valley proper. Walking was laborious, each breath taxing, but we made steady progress and found ourselves below the little monastic city and stepping onto the beautiful rich spongy grass of the valley.
The Shedrak was a short distance away from Shechen proper, I am gong to estimate approximately a quarter of a mile away; perhaps put there as a way to encourage concentration in the young students who would study the higher forms and sutras and master themselves. But what we came to at that time was only the empty and shattered remains of what had once been a proud center of learning. It had been destroyed by the Chinese where they had first come to the monastery, burning or using the texts as toilet paper, destroying the classrooms and in general forcing all public forms of education underground. It was a mess; broken desks and tables, doors un-hung and classrooms open to the elements, yet another testament to Chinese intolerance at that time. Doors hung off frames, holes in the road gaped forlornly, and weeds grew through the floor. Having seen so much destruction evident right across the Tibetan landscape, I looked around at some of the faces of the monks as we stood there, their sad, silent faces, some with faint smiles as if to accept that for now, this was all that they could expect.
Without a word, we ventured on further up the valley, the stream beside us a transparent aqua blue that burbled in the background. Yaks wandered here and there, looking at our passing nonchalantly, chewing their curd and then quickly re-focusing their attention on some tasty clump of grass in front of them. What an idyllic life…
We wandered on down the valley and one of the shoes that I was wearing suddenly decided to give up the ghost, the sole ripping away from the upper leather, flapping wildly with each step. Laughing, and without having a choice, I took off the offending shoe, prepared to limp my way back to the main buildings some distance away, but I pleasantly discovered that the soft spongy grass underfoot was like the ultimate putting green, soft and gentle with every foot-fall. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about without a care in the world as the land that was Sechen embraced me.
Revealing the man. Stopping a little later for a break, we sat and sucked in air as the sounds of the quiet valley were pierced only by a bird of prey high above, gliding in the deepest of deepest blue. Everyone had started to relax- the Tibetans with us and we with them, for the busiest moments were already past us all. There was that wonderful silence that exists between humans when everyone is just resting in the moment, rather than quickly seeking to fill it with some activity or other. Gesar and I were just enjoying being there, Tibet, this land of dreams, or incredible suffering and tribulation, hard land and hard peoples existing together in harmony with one another.
Some time later, one of the monks got up, and proceeded to ceremoniously unwrap a large piece of silk cloth, only to reveal head shaving clippers as its contents. A hushed silence suddenly descended on the group in expectation, and then nine sets of eyes set upon Gesar. It suddenly dawned on me- they wanted to cut Gesar’s hair. Another ironic smile crossed big G’s face and a nod of acquiescence, and he was set upon by other helping hands as other sets of clippers appeared mysteriously from folded arms and garments.
G and I just laughed and laughed. The more holy this crew acted, the more it had me and him in hysterics trying to deal with it. Loving hands to every opportunity to touch him, and he sat there calmly while this busy work calmly proceeded around him.
Sitting some short moment later, bald of pate, I and everyone else suddenly saw the resemblance in full to the previous Sechen Kongtrul; here, before us again as a young man, reborn. Compared against an old photo of the previous teacher, pulled out from the folds of a robe, the likeness was uncanny. It was enough for everyone to line up and ask for blessings again, such was the effect that a shaved bald head and a huge smile could have.
We spend the rest of the next hour or so making our way back to the main temple, the shadows that had already started their steady crawl across the valley guiding us forwards, as the chill winds of coming night made their presence felt once again.
Movie directed by Gesar Mukpo on the Tibetan reincarnate lama system and its modern day ramifications for those recognized as “the chosen ones”.
You will see some sweeping views of Tibet, Bhutan and the Shechen area in Kham, Tibet in particular in this short movie.