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Jul 02
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Scorpion Seal Opens

Nearly every night during the first Scorpion Seal Assembly at Karme Choling, clouds descended into the valley. As people began to stir in dormitories and tents, rising to make coffee or brush their teeth, the mist lingered on the fringes of the farmhouse, at times concealing the riverbed entirely. On those mornings, the lhasang that burned in the courtyard entrance to the main shrine room created white smoke that rose into the clouds, bringing fragrance to nature’s obscuring mists.

As chanting rose from the main shrine room, and as ngondro participants did lujong in front of the pavilion, the sun would begin to warm the air, and the mist would lift. It was the perfect metaphor for the unveiling of the long-awaited terma, Scorpion Seal of the Golden Sun. For years, curiosity and longing have drawn practitioners towards this practice, and finally, in June 2009, Sakyong Mipham opened the Scorpion Seal for the community at large, lifting a mist that has been hanging over the terma for decades.

Fulfilling the Wishes of the Druk Sakyong

“According to Vajrayana Buddhism, great teachers have visions, profound teachings that
are hidden in the mindstream, which then become revealed… Out of the various terma that the Vidyadhara discovered, the majority was based upon Shambhala.” – Sakyong Mipham

In 1980 and 1981, the Druk Sakyong, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, received the terma text The Scorpion Seal of the Golden Sun. As Acharya John Rockwell describes, “It was rather secret, a bit ahead of our times.” Many people were given the Werma sadhana at Kalapa Assemblies, but few realized that this practice was based on a terma. While the Druk Sakyong spoke about the Scorpion Seal to his students, and clearly stated that he wanted the community to aspire to practice it, this never happened in his lifetime. “It has been a hidden treasure,” Acharya Rockwell points out. “There has been a long deliberation about how to best open these teachings, what it would mean for people to be ready, and how they would engage on the path to the retreat that’s outlined in the terma text.”

As Sakyong Mipham has said, “The Druk Sakyong has been gone for quite a while. Some of us knew him—either well or not so well—and some barely knew him at all. Others never met him. To keep his work, dedication, and memory alive, it is vital that we engage in and continue what was most essential to him. All the sweat and tears that he went through were for a reason: he was genuinely thinking about how to preserve and adapt the teachings. Buddhism has always adapted through changing times, preserving the essence of what enlightenment is and how that fire continues to be handed on for generations to come.”

The Path to the Scorpion Seal

Acharya Adam Lobel says that, “Many times I’ve tried to ask the Sakyong whether this was worked out in a perfect plan, leading us forward step by step. In retrospect, there were many prerequisite steps necessary to get us to this point. There’s a logic to how it has all unfolded. But the Sakyong usually smiles at me and suggests that he’s responding to now — to the immediate situation, which is what a lot of our teachings are about. A live and compassionate response to right now.”

When the Dorje Dradul empowered his thirteen-year-old son as the Sawang, he handed down the responsibility of ensuring that the full range of the Shambhala teachings be sustained, propagated, and taught. As the Sakyong has often stated, his whole life has been oriented towards fulfilling this wish. “The reason that I persevere is out of my love and devotion to him, and faith in what he was doing. I feel it a privilege to trail-blaze the upper reaches of the snow mountain of Shambhala. It is an honor to practice and discover the deep profound terma that the Druk Sakyong left for us to discover.”

At Shambhala Mountain Center in 2004, Sakyong Mipham received the Primordial Rigden Ngondro, a practice that prepares and develops practitioners to engage with the vajrayana sadhana practices. Using the familiar language of the Shambhala Buddhist path, and with practice requirements that accommodate a modern lifestyle, the Primordial Rigden Ngondro is a vital preparatory step on the path to experiencing the profundity of the Shambhala teachings. According to Acharya Lobel, “The Sakyong talked about the ngondro as acupressure, bringing various pieces of our path, community, and teachings together into alignment. And at the time, none of us understood how aligned it would get.”

In January 2005, Sakyong Mipham entered the Scorpion Seal Retreat for the first time.
As he wrote from that retreat, “On his last retreat, the Druk Sakyong himself primarily practiced the Werma sadhana, in hopes of then accomplishing the Scorpion Seal retreat. Since this never occurred, the responsibility has fallen to me. I am the first individual to do this retreat, the culmination of all of the Vidyadhara’s terma.”

Last summer, in June 2008, a proclamation was read to the garchens that declared the Scorpion Seal the main path for our vajrayana sangha. Acharya Michael Greenleaf comments that, “the Sakyong is precisely picking up in the footsteps where the Vidyadhara left off. That sense is palpable. It is organic and natural rather than premeditated or dogmatic.”

This year, the Sakyong was clearly energized and inspired to receive the vast collection of terma know as the Rinchen Terdzo (Precious Treasury of Terma). As he says, “Now I feel even more dedicated to creating an enlightened society. It is clear that the wisdom and transmission held in the Ridzen Terdzo needs to be protected and practiced, but it must be done in an environment that can appreciate the
profundity and subtleties it contains… In order to preserve and propagate such wisdom, there must be a culture that can accommodate it and manifest in this way.”

When the Sakyong met Khandro Tseyang and married her in 2005, male and female elements joined, and with her empowerment in the summer of 2008, their relationship has created a full court environment. Acharya Emily Bower describes the tangible impact of their marriage. “In the Scorpion Seal retreat, we have the Sakyong Wangmo practicing with us. It is so beautiful to see them together as a couple, as Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. It brings to mind all of our chants and resonates with the truth and meaning of the teachings. They’re very happy, they share a vision, and they’re devoted to each other — and us as a community. Their union feels like Shambhala vision coming into reality, into shape before our eyes.” Jane Arthur echoes a similar feeling in her observation that “her presence balances things. Her natural grace and gentleness manifests the Sakyong Wangmo principle. In some ways, just watching her sit on her throne is enough.”

Throughout this time, the Sakyong has been working to clarify the governance, organization, and structure of the kingdom. Through the development of the Way of Shambhala, he has clarified the overall path for students and teachers. To Kalapa Acharya Adam Lobel, “all that has led to a growing sense of confidence and clarity, and trust in proclamation. This summer really feels like a culmination of that.”

Ashe Acharya John Rockwell comments that “the Sakyong is a deepening mystery. People think they know who the Sakyong is, but they probably haven’t seen him in a while. And particularly when he goes off and does intensive practices, he comes back and in some ways he’s the same person, and in some ways he’s very different. The Dorje Dradul was the same way: it was very hard to pinpoint who he was. I feel that after the Ridzen Terdzo and the Kalapa Valley retreat, the Sakyong has made another leap.”

As Sakyong Mipham points out, “The Scorpion Seal of the Golden Sun is the most sacred and secret of all the teachings the Druk Sakyong revealed to us… The Scorpion Seal says that this is the path to complete enlightenment in one lifetime.”

Creating the Container

Smoke from the lhasangs in the courtyard

Smoke from the lhasangs in the courtyard

“It feels really right that the first Scorpion Seal retreat happened here,” says Jane Arthur, director of Karme Choling. “This is the first place Trungpa Rinpoche landed in North America and started to teach. We’ve always felt Karme Choling holds the essence of his vision. In many ways it holds that seed syllable of Shambhala.” Rather than having the retreat in the pavilion, which can seat more people, the assembly was held in the main shrine room. “This is where the Vidyadhara taught, where the Karmapa was hosted, and where the Vidyadhara’s body was prior to cremation. So much history has happened in that shrine room that it feels like the blessings are well planted in that space.”

The main goal for the Karme Choling staff was to create a situation in which the Sakyong could play as things unfolded. Just three days before the retreat began, they received instruction to completely rearrange the main shrine room. The shrine and thrones were moved, walls painted white, carpet replaced, and all wall hangings removed. This sort of immediate responsiveness came to characterize the retreat because no day was the same. “We kept laughing about having a normal day. It has been really delightful to say to the Sakyong, ‘Sir, whatever you would like to manifest today, we’ll make it happen.’” Often big programs with a lot of energy can run over the staff and create a not so pleasant experience for them. But as Jane points out, “The peaceful aspect of the Scorpion Seal has really been evident. Many people have said to me that it doesn’t seem like there are over 200 people on the land because the nature of the program is so settled.”

Shifting Up a Gear

Ashe Acharya John Rockwell observes that “There is a kind of energy, inspiration, and excitement that is pouring forth through from the Sakyong in his writings and his interaction. Just how much he is giving to us has been almost overwhelming — totally inspiring and exciting. I think many of us arrived here for this retreat already excited, but we were surprised at how powerful it has been. Teachings pour forth from him effortlessly. So we feel that is possible in us too. This Scorpion Seal Assembly has brought a shift that is small in some ways, but has the potential to really help us on our path and as a community. The Scorpion Seal retreat is very much a community program.”

(Click here to read Sakyong Mipham’s 2005 letter to the sangha, when he completed the first Scorpion Seal retreat.)

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