The Shambhala Protector Chant
In our continuing series on the Shambhala chants, we take a look at protectors manifesting as coincidence.
by Russell Rodgers
A constant stream of coincidence shapes our lives. You get up in the morning. It’s raining and that always makes you depressed. There’ s a traffic jam on the way to work. At work you lose an important client. Then the sun comes out, so you go for a walk during coffee break. You hear a bird singing and you wonder what it’s doing there. Your mood lightens. You go back to the office and find that a new client has called. Your mind begins to race with possibilities. On your way to lunch, you step off the curb and a speeding car brakes and swerves. The driver honks his horn at you for not noticing. You feel angry. You feel vulnerable and incompetent.
Reality speaks to us through coincidence. Sometimes coincidence wakes us up in a very direct way. Sometimes coincidence sends us into a dark place, where we circle about in endless depression and resentment. Through the coincidence of being exposed to carcinogens, people get sick and die. We like to think that our lives are planned and under control, but actually, the best we can do is ride the waves of coincidence. In fact, each moment is a new now, a fresh coincidence. We just don’t notice it. We are oblivious and wrapped up in stale thought patterns.
Most cultures, especially ones that are close to the land, have some sense of an unseen world that guides our existence. To them, this world is not remote: it speaks to them through coincidence. In our culture, we have various ways of explaining to ourselves how this happens. There are common sayings like “what goes around comes around,” or “as you sow, so shall you reap,” or “he who lives by the sword, dies by it.” Or, we just talk about “luck.”
Most people, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, have some relationship with the idea that the universe acts on us in a way that is determined by our behavior. Usually these actions have a certain logic. In theistic cultures, the logic might be associated with God and His biases. In Buddhist cultures, this logic is called karma. The agents of karmic action are symbolized by worldly and enlightened deities. Some of these are local deities associated with particular landforms, and some have a more general presence. Some are enlightened wisdom protectors who are committed to assisting practitioners on the path of wakefulness. Some are worldly, like us, in that their effects may be chaotic and out of proportion.
Sometimes even the wisdom protectors have worldly retinue deities that follow them around. Perhaps this reflects the fact that whether we get the message of wakefulness depends on our interpretation of what reality has presented to us. As we saw in the example of someone getting up in the morning, coincidence doesn’t necessarily wake us up. It’s possible to go through a whole day and not appreciate the ordinary magic of life.
How might someone who does protector practice regularly look at the examples of coincidence mentioned previously?
Our practitioner looks outside and sees that it’ s raining. He notices that his energy is low. He takes that as a signal that he needs to look at his state of mind. Exactly what is this mood composed of? In the traffic jam on the way to work, he takes the opportunity to enjoy the present moment and feels compassion for his fellow drivers who are bored and frustrated. When he loses the important client, he reflects on emptiness and is slightly grateful. Then the sun comes out, and he goes for a walk during coffee break. He hears a bird singing. His thoughts stop for a few seconds and he thanks the bird for waking him up. His mood lightens and he takes the opportunity to appreciate the transience of his moods. He goes back to the office and finds that an important new client has called. He recalls his earlier lost client and reflects on impermanence. At noon, he goes to his favorite lunch spot. When steps off the curb and the speeding car brakes, he feels impermanence and at the same time sad that the driver is so wrapped up in his hurry. He rejoices in being alive.
One way to tune into the protector principle is to become more aware of the ever- changing, dynamic, aspect of reality. Much as we would like life to be stable and predictable, this is just a thought. We actually don’t know what is going to happen in the next moment—it could be something completely unexpected. Being conscious in this way makes life more magical. For instance, we might see patterns fulfilling themselves, but we see them with fresh eyes. We see a child let go of her mother’s hand so that she can stomp through a puddle. We see the child-ness of the child—her goodness of being a child. We see the quirks and the surprises and the humor of it. Against this background of basic goodness, the protectors of wakefulness play their tricks.
In one sense, protectors are a way of characterizing the mysterious ways that coincidence affects our lives. Often, we feel that there is some guiding principle— that even difficult events in our lives present us with learning situations that in retrospect feel appropriate and completely matched to our real needs. In that case, we feel protected by reality.
One consequence of doing protector rituals is that we begin to lean towards coincidence. Rather than feeling victimized by events, we take an interest and begin to examine ourselves. We begin to read the coincidental happenings in our lives. We might start to notice more and more subtle feedback from the environment. Just as in interactions with people, when one pays attention, an opening is created for communication.
For instance, our Shambhala Centre had been looking at buying a new building. Our old one was up for sale and we were feeling insecure, even though we loved our old space. We found a building that was within our price range, but rather plain and unattractive. We couldn’t make up our minds, and put off making a decision for several months, thinking that nobody else would want the building either. We went back and forth, sometimes leaning one way and sometimes leaning the other, with the same people shifting between different viewpoints. Some people would alternately feel positive that we could do a makeover, and then become discouraged at the magnitude and uncertainties of the undertaking. There was always enough diversity that we couldn’t come together on a decision.
Finally, our landlord doubled the rent, and we put in an offer. Suddenly, it felt as though the timing was right. The community coalesced around the project. It felt as though we were being coached by a benevolent reality—in this case a signal coming from our landlord. Although our landlord is by no means enlightened (as far as I can tell), he did send us a clear message. The day after our offer on the new building was accepted, someone else tried to buy the same building at a higher price. I mention this story not because I have the higher perceptions or have any certainty that a protector was involved, or that our experience due to anything but pure chance. However, being conscious of protector principle and doing the practices has made me confident that when the time is right, events will likely show the way. In the meantime, I can be patient and respect the fact that circumstances haven’t spoken yet.
Traditionally, there are enlightened dharmapalas, and worldly ones. The worldly ones are like people: sometimes they help and sometimes they do their own thing and create chaos. Wisdom protectors are ones that are committed to wakefulness. Generally speaking, those are the ones mentioned in the chants. Sometimes protectors are associated with particular lineages or practices. Sometimes they are connected to particular places that have been conducive to propagation of dharma. They guide us on our path through feedback, or create circumstances that enable us to practice and propagate the dharma.
The Shambhala Protector Chant
The Shambhala protector chant refers to those protectors that are associated with our lineage—the ones that protect the profound, brilliant Shambhala dharma. Just to make sure none are left out, we invite the protectors of the ten directions—the four main and the four intermediate ones, and the ones above and below. We also invite the protectors associated with lha, nyen and lu. Those live in high places, intermediate places that are friendly to human habitation, and watery places, respectively. They reside in the “universe of unseen phenomena.”
The Shambhala lineage is connected with the fearlessness of seeing through cocoon to underlying basic goodness. There are forces that naturally align with that. For instance, it is said that things that are put together will naturally fall apart—the basic principle of impermanence. So feedback about our cocoons is built into having a cocoon in the first place. Coincidental events in the world will show us our cocoon.
Guardians of Mukpo Dong, do not forget your commitment: dispel outer, inner and secret obstacles. Mukpo Dong refers to the clan of Mukpo, Trungpa Rinpoche’s family name. His students and students of his son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, are included in that clan. This is possible because clan membership is more connected with the deities and practices of a particular teaching lineage than it is with bloodlines.
Outer obstacles are those that occur in the outer world—floods, famines, wars and so on. Inner obstacles are variously described as obstacles manifesting in the body, or psychological obstacles. Secret obstacles usually refer to obstacles to awareness, especially obstacles to seeing basic goodness. They are secret because no one can see them but us.
When we do this chant, we are invoking trust that the world can teach and guide us. We open our awareness to the universe of unseen phenomena that govern what happens to us. The act of doing so makes us aware of the basic goodness that arises in each coincidental moment of now.
Este artículo en español se encuentra aquí:
Russell Rodgers has been wondering about this kind of topic for the 39 years that he has been practicing. He resides in the Kootenay mountains of British Columbia, in the town of Nelson, and has graciously agreed to allow publication of his beautiful essays on the Shambhala chants here in the Times.