FULL MOON TĀRĀ AND SAKYA BLESSINGS: Noble Tārā’s ‘pure vision’ pith teaching to the Great Sakya Paṇḍita: Commemoration of Paranirvana of Sakya Paṇḍita by Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche

If whatever happens is OK, one will be happy whatever one does.
If the mind rests where it is, it’s OK wherever one goes.
If the mind goes by the Dharma, it’s OK even if one dies.
If the mind is realised to be unborn, there is no death.

–four-line verse spoken by Tārā in a pure vision teaching

“In this way, the whole integrated Mahayana path is in this teaching. Now, its up to us to practice it, to make this New Year one of integrated bodhicitta for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

–Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche

Introduction

Today for the full moon, was very happy to get the teaching and transmission on a ‘pure vision’ teaching from Arya Tārā received by the great Sakya Paṇḍita, Kunga Gyeltsen (the fourth of the five founding fathers of Sakya) (1182-1251) in English, called ‘The Verse of Profound Instruction Imparted to the Great Sakya Pandita in a Vision from the Most Venerable Tārā’. I looked for this text on BDRC but could not find it.

HE Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche (1993- )
Leading a resounding teaching of the Teachings of Vīmalakirti Sūtra in 2018.

The teaching on the verse was given online by contemporary Sakya lama, HE Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche as part of a commemoration of the Sakya Paṇḍita’s parinirvana, which is traditionally held on the 14th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar (5th January IST). As one of the most contemporary, fluent in English and Tibetan teachers, as well as one of the funniest (see some of his comedy videos here), it was a real joy to receive this pith teaching while residing at one of the holiest Buddhist sites in India, the place where the Buddha gave his first teaching.

Here, I offer a brief overview, with a transcript from the teaching and the text itself, which was provided to the general public on a Zoom meeting. In particular, the focus on the difference between relative/passive happiness and ultimate/dynamic happiness was something very valuable to think about and remember.

Music? For Sakya Paṇḍita, Supplication to Dragpa Gyeltsen. For the relative truth, Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. For the ultimate bliss truth, Nothing Even Matters by Lauryn Hill and for Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche, Perfect Day by Lou Reed.

As RInpoche said at the end of the teaching: “Whatever merit has arisen from sharing this Dharma teaching today, let’s dedicate the merit to the dynamic and ultimate happiness of all sentient beings!”

Written by Adele Tomlin, 6th January 2022.

 

TRANSCRIPT AND SUMMARY

First, Rinpoche began by talking about specific criteria that qualify the authenticity of a ‘pure vision’ and therefore are valuable for the development in the Dharma. He explained:

“Just having a vision of a buddha or Bodhisattva does not qualify, there are actually clear accounts in the hagiographies of great masters about seeing Buddhas or deities or Mahasiddhas and so on. If it was really a Buddha or or an unenlightened local deity appearing as a Buddha. Usually, not sinister on the side of the local deity, appearing that way to see if the yogi was really wise and to protect his or her retreat, something like that.

Yet a vision is not the same as a pure vision. A teaching just sounding profound or eloquent or just being spontaneous intuition rather than ordinary thinking is also not enough to qualify as a pure vision, not at all. A teaching has to be rooted, and aligned with the Buddha’s teachings. It needs authentic commentary, meaning it helps us, helps us to clarify an important point in the Buddha’s teachings in the correct manner by a qualified teacher or author who has the necessary training and learning. Most importantly, it needs authentic experience. An unequivocal transformation has occurred in the recipient of the teaching, and those who have subsequently received it in an unbroken line of transmission. All sorts of visions, ideas and intuitive experiences. The criteria for a pure vision teaching for actual transformation is both extraordinary and very specific. So, that we can trust it to be worth our attention. So, in the case of what we are looking at here, the root is the Buddha’s teaching on the two bodhicittas. That is the key point that we need to understand to integrate the teaching.

And the experience is a vision of Tārā, attested by Sakya Paṇḍita, and by the subsequent masters of the lineage who have studied, contemplated and meditated on this teaching. Way back in the early days of Sakya, there was a translator Lotsawa Dharma Yonten, who travelled to India and Nepal to receive many teachings from great masters, and he became one of the gurus of Jetsun Dragpa Gyeltsen (1147-1216) who in turn was a guru of Sakya Paṇḍita. He also went to India to translate them into Tibetan. From Jayasena he got the Dākārnava  teachings, which is a form of Chakrasamvara. In some sources it sounds like one person and sometimes there is confusion around that.  I think this is because they were equal in terms of learning and experience; who had a special experience, a pure vision while he was in Bodh Gaya to offer gold to the Buddha statue.”

It was not stated if the Tārā was green or red, however as there is a well-known lineage of Red Tārā of the Sakya Paṇḍita tradition, I have used a Red Tārā above.

Then Rinpoche went onto explain how the lineage of experience also makes it a qualified ‘pure vision’ teaching:

So in this pure vision, he (Lotsawa Dharma Yonten) received a mind training instruction at the Mahabodhi temple just as he was about to return to Tibet. So Varayoginī spoke to Tārā, and after he heard the vajra statements that Vajrayogini spoke to Tārā, a very definitive experience of realisation dawned in the mind Lotsawa Dharma Yonten. It was like all the teachings that he had received up to that point were clarified and he finally understood their deeper meaning. Everything became clear, and he in turn passed it onto Sakya Paṇḍita. That unbroken line of teachings is enough to qualify as a very authentic and inspiring teaching. It is like a double blessing that Tārā gave the teaching to Sakya Paṇḍita in a pure vision in Tibet and gave the verse that summarised this teaching. It had a very exhilarating effect on Sakya Paṇḍita. There have been many later Sakya masters who when asked to give a teaching on their most cherished heart teaching gave this verse that Tārā spoke to Sakya Paṇḍita.

To meditate, contemplate on this profound teaching today and receive Tārā and Sakya Paṇḍita’s blessing to be able to integrate and realise its meaning. First of all, we need the preliminaries that lay the foundation to build an effective and integrated meditation on such a previous teaching. First, is to establish the most conducive posture for the body. Then to generate bodhicitta.

Rinpoche then guided the audience through generating refuge and bodhicitta, with a visualisation reciting the prayer of body, speech and mind in unison, at least three times.  Then there was a contemplation on the four thoughts that turn (or reverse) the mind away from samsara, from the thinking that pushes us to undesirable states in samsara.

“With the first of these if we do the contemplating very thoroughly we will go through all the eight leisures and ten acquisitions that make life advantageous for practicing the Dharma. However, even with all these advantages that make us feel relatively free and comfortable, we still want more. We still get overwhelmed with circumstances,  what other people have we don’t have, we can get stuck. Then our perception gets distorted and it is all too easy to react out all kinds of crazy negative karma, instead of responding from love and compassion.

Then Rinpoche gave the oral transmission of the text’s four-line verse (in Tibetan and English) and the difference between passive and dynamic happiness:

If whatever happens is OK, one will be happy whatever one does.
If the mind rests where it is, it’s OK wherever one goes.
If the mind goes by the Dharma, it’s OK even if one dies.
If the mind is realised to be unborn, there is no death.

“The main practice is about the two realities, the relative and the ultimate. We start with the first. We have already explored the Buddha’s teachings, and that is all there in those teachings. So, the first line is not to be taken literally and superficially. Like it was somehow suggesting happiness comes from doing what you want and leaving the status quo as it is.  No, it couldn’t be further from that. The most important thing to remember when we talk about happiness in the Dharma, is when we talk about a difference between a passive happiness and a dynamic happiness. A passive happiness is one of the eight worldly concerns. It is temporary determined by karma and mainly related to the senses.

Dynamic happiness is interactive that we can do something with. What better thing to do with it than spread it. That’s why this is all actually about bodhicitta. So in the preliminary part, we transform passive happiness into dynamic happiness by our resolution to virtue.

In the main practice, we extend that and deepen it by utilising our experience to develop empathy. I feel good right now, but I want all sentient beings, who have been my mothers in previous lives to be happy. So I will bring all my happiness and all my virtue to all of them.

Use visualisations to do this. Like all the virtues are jewels showered out to everyone in need. Not just to humans, but food and drink for the hungry ghosts, clothing, heat rays for those who are cold, and so on.

We work with whatever we are feeling to do this and then it is really powerful. We also enforce the meditation by verbalising as we did before about training the mind in karma and relative bodhicitta. So that even if we were to die today, it would be OK because our minds are infused with the power of bodhicitta. So, we need to integrate our practice with the recollection of mortality. That is so important for a truly integrated practice.

Then Rinpoche explained the last two lines of the verse, referring to them as the ‘uncommon yoga’:

“Then, the uncommon yoga for this one, we are not talking about conceptual mind, but intuitive mind. The Dharma that is not the verbalised teachings but the actual nature of mind, free from all fabrications. Its characteristic is luminosity, but its nature is voidness [emptiness]. When we realise this, we integrate luminosity and voidness [emptiness] as non-dual. The practice is to sustain the view. With that view, dualistic thoughts that cause hope and fear don’t affect us. Even death cannot defeat us.

Finally, for the fourth line, this is the result of perceiving the teachings. We realise our body exists only by way imputing and the mind’s inherent existence has no identifiable origination. What is unborn cannot die, when we realise that mind is like space, free from all fabrications, from anything that dies and causes death, we defeat the Lord of Death.

This is the ultimate Phowa practice. This realisation has to be integrated in both meditation and everyday life. But if we practice in accordance with what this teaching shows us, that is exactly what we will achieve. So, in this way, the whole integrated Mahayana path is in this teaching. Now, it’s up to us to practice it, to make this New Year one of integrated bodhicitta for the benefit of all sentient beings.

So, whatever merit has arisen from sharing this Dharma teaching today, let’s dedicate the merit to the dynamic and ultimate happiness of all sentient beings. Thank you.”

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