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Aug 26
Dharma Teachings
Aspiration of Shambhala

Our commentator on the Shambhala chants turns his attention to the aspiration

by Russell Rodgers

clouds-1439324_640In the midst of our river of habitual thoughts, we tend to forget what is most important to us. Aspiration chants are reminders. If we consciously aspire to something, it’s more likely to happen. If we don’t aspire, the likelihood is pure chance. Worse, the future will probably reflect our collective habitual thought patterns and the contradictions held within them. The middle part of this chant is mostly self-explanatory. A lot has been covered in previous essays on “The Proclamation of Goodness” and “Supplication to the Shambhala Lineage.” The beginning and the end of this aspiration chant are less obvious. Mostly they follow the logic of a tantric creation story, and that is where I will add some comments.

Most cultures have a creation story. Our western creation stories center around Genesis or the Big Bang. Like those two, most creation stories take place somewhere in the deep past. The tantric creation story is different. It takes place in the present. This means that, if you have a strong meditation practice, you can check it out. In this case, even if your practice isn’t strong, the tantric creation story provides a way of understanding your experience, whatever it is.

“In the universal mandala of complete awakenment, the land of Shambhala resides. It is perfect, with the eight doors of liberation completely open, appearing as a pristine white lotus.” The land of Shambhala is symbolized by a pristine white lotus. Lotus flowers grow out of the mud; nevertheless, they are pristine. Like that, the land of Shambhala is pure, like basic goodness that cannot be destroyed by habitual thinking.

jurassic-coast-1406284_640According to tantra, in the beginning, there is emptiness. But this particular emptiness has radiance, a dynamic potential to give rise to anything at all. “Pulsating within this array of infinite possibilities is the essence of fundamental truth, the primordial Ashe.” The possibilities are infinite because the radiance of emptiness has no bias—there are no reference points, no habitual tendencies, no thoughts or hang-ups. There is not even any assumption that appearances to the mind might have external reality. None of these have formed yet and nothing is set in stone—that is why the possibilities are infinite.

Now we come to the second step in the creation story. Out the pulsating emptiness, a sound comes into being. That sound is a seed syllable. The Tibetan letter AH is one such seed syllable, and it can be abbreviated with a simple brush stroke, the Ashe. Although emptiness now has a manifestation, it retains the pulsating quality of primordial emptiness from which it came. Its essence is the fundamental truth, emptiness. Because wakeful mind stands at the crossroads of the emptiness and manifestation, it is wisdom.

“In this unbound space of nowness, the six realms are but a refraction of the infinite conceivable dimensions….” The six realms symbolize the ways that mind becomes trapped in its own projections. These range from hell (self re-enforcing cycles of aggression) to bliss (addiction to pleasure that blinds one to the collateral suffering caused by that addiction). Also included in the six realms are poverty mentality, comforting animal-like stupidity, the consumer mentality of the human realm, and competitiveness and jealousy. All these possibilities are like light refracted into rainbows by a crystal. In this case, it is the radiant power of the mind that is being refracted. Because of our habituation, these realms seem solid and real to us. Actually, all that has happened is that we have forgotten how the realms originated in mind.

marigold-1503876__340Just as the six realms arise out of ignorance of the original wisdom, conversely, the land of Shambhala could arise if one were in a state of remembering that wisdom. Shambhala is variously said to be a historical place, a pure land invisible to ordinary humans, or a place in the human heart. Here, the Sakyong identifies it with the mind of emptiness, purity and possibility.

“Within this splendor, continual wisdom never forgot its enlightened birth.”Significantly, the Sakyong uses the word “splendor.” Usually, the tantric creation story is described as starting from emptiness. But the English word “emptiness” is not expansive enough in its meaning—basically, it just means that nothing’s there. Therefore other descriptors, like “splendor” have to be added in order to complete the meaning.

The third step in the sequence of creation is the inhabitants of the land. “This undaunted courage is the all-victorious Rigden.” In tantra, out of the seed syllable come deities. In this case, the deities are the Rigden and his consort the Rigden Queen. These manifestations have human-like forms, with clothing that is vaguely familiar. They hold tools and weapons, ride horses and they each have specific jobs to perform. These attributes give us something that we can start to identify with, but we have to keep in mind that their basic nature is radiant emptiness.

water-lily-1510707_640“The cosmic play of such joy is the blissful Rigden Queen.” Sometimes the mind’s spontaneous movement is called “play.” At this level, because mind is completely free, pristine and self fulfilling, adjectives like “bliss” and “joy” often appear.

The Rigden and his queen are the symbols of ruling one’s world in the light of its pure nature and origin. Like all Buddhist deities, these deities also symbolize what we would see in the mirror if we could see our own essential nature. We might not see the same forms or clothing, but if we understood the symbolism of those attributes, we would see our own essence.

“Rigden” means “holder of the family,” so this particular deity relates to how we live together as humans. The Rigden symbolizes the fact that we are not separate from others, even though we have that strong impression. Almost every facet of our existence shows our interconnectedness—the clothes we wear, the food we eat, even the words that form the content of our seemingly private thoughts—all these are evidence that our basic being includes others. Amongst all the other Buddhist deities, the Rigden’s special job is to embody the principle that human society can be based on wakefulness, gentleness, and intelligence. This is simply an extension of our essential nature.

“The unborn union of this primordial spirit is the windhorse of the Kalapayana.”

lily-1512813__340The energetic aspect arising from the union of the Rigden and the Rigden Queen is the windhorse of the Kalapayana. Actually, the union is unborn– that is, not created. The Rigden and his queen were never,not in union. Sometimes, in order to talk about something, we use words that imply separation because words can only describe one aspect at a time.

The words “wind” and “horse” bring to mind qualities of the energy of the deity. The word “yana” in “Kalapayana” means vehicle or path. This is the path is for those who realize that we are interdependent with the society around us. One cannot attain enlightenment in separation from others, because they are part of us.

Reflecting on where we are in the creation story, we have journeyed down from the splendor of radiant emptiness, to the seed syllable, and then to level of deity. So far, those of us who are not enlightened have to imagine this, because we can’t perceive these levels with our ordinary senses. Now we come to the fourth level of manifestation, the Sakyong, whom we can actually experience as an ordinary human being.

“Held within this sacred palace of gentleness and benevolence is the daring universal monarch, the glorious Sakyong Dorje Dradül.” The “Glorious Sakyong Dorje Dradül” is Trungpa Rinpoche, father of the current Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche. Like the previous levels of the creation story, the Sakyong has a connection and origin in the original empty mind. But in order to remember that connection consciously, the Dorje Dradül had to work on it when he was in training as a youth.

marguerite-1507550__340The Dorje Dradül exists metaphorically in a palace of gentleness and benevolence. These are more descriptors for the primordial empty mind. If one thinks about it, gentleness and benevolence don’t exist when someone is full of his own ego. They are characteristics of open mind, empty of preconception. “Sakyong” means “earth protector,” which is an extension of the aspects of gentleness and benevolence.

Having gone from the level of radiant emptiness to seed syllable, to deity, and then to Sakyong, now we come down to our level—that of ordinary beings who are not regularly in touch with our original nature. The essence may be there all the time, however we simply don’t notice it. We forget that the world appears out of splendor and emptiness and that it has no solid, permanent nature. But somehow, we feel that we are missing something. Sometimes we feel close to finding what it is, and then it fades again.

The middle sections of the chant make suggestions for where to direct our attention so that we can contact our essential nature. They also suggest lifestyle approaches that will help us. This part of the chant is mostly self-explanatory, so only a few remaining lines need explanation.

culture-623783__340“In order to reawaken goodness and dignity, he places the A dot in the heart center of all humanity.” If one has a blank, white sheet of paper, the A dot is the place where the brush first contacts the paper. Similarly, the first manifestation, the ashe, appears out of the purity of emptiness. That purity is what the Dorje Dradül points out by placing the A dot in our hearts.

“……we put our heads in clouds of daydreams and speculation, always wanting there to be another now. Dralas of reality, when this occurs, please remind us immediately by reestablishing the view. Habitually, we think that we are surrounded by a world that is or at numb. We forget that the world is not just dead matter; it comes out of the splendor of emptiness. It speaks and communicates to us constantly through coincidence and felt presence. If we are sensitive to this communication, it can wake us up from the dream world of our thoughts. This can happen abruptly, as in a car accident. Or it might happen peacefully, as when our thinking mind is stopped by light reflected in drops of water. This communication is called drala.

Later in the chant, we ask Lord Mukpopa (the Dorje Dradül) “to gaze compassionately but fiercely upon us so that we do not forget the Tiger Lion Garuda Dragon vision.” These four animals symbolize both stages of the path and aspects of enlightenment that are present all the time in our essential nature.

dragon-42163__340The Sakyong offers a brief explanation of this vision, but a bit more might be helpful to round it out. The Tiger represents the power of being mindful and undistracted, completely present. The Snow Lion has discovered the energy and joy that arise from being disciplined and in tune with reality. The Garuda is comfortable in the vastness of empty space, not caught up in habitual thinking. The Dragon is at home in the play of phenomena. He or she does not have to be deliberate: he or she is at one with whatever arises, like a force of nature.

“May we courageously apply skillful means to squeeze out the golden nectar of luminosity inlaid in the fabric of phenomena.” The golden nectar of luminosity refers to the original radiance of the empty mind. It is always there, appearing to us as not as perception but as a solidified world out there. Because we have forgotten luminous nature of all phenomena, we need to apply effort to squeeze it out again. When we do, the Sakyong says it will be like golden nectar.

“May the Shambhala lineage flourish and prosper, enabling the golden sun of humanity to dawn.” When we experience our original nature, the radiance is symbolized by the image of sun. When the sun rises in the morning, there is a quality of fresh brilliance and possibility. This is the image of the “great eastern sun.” The Dorje Dradül says that this is not the usual sense of “east,” but the east quality of east. The “setting sun” symbolizes our tendency towards numbness and forgetting.

“May the dralas of the father and mother lineages perpetually balance fearlessness and gentleness, and constantly bring the sharp weapon of prajna into this very moment.” The sharp weapon of prajna is the intelligence and insight that cuts through the clouds of habitual patterning. When this happens, the primordial prince Shiwa (another name for the primordial Rigden) will play with our ayatanas for eons to come. In other words, our perceptions will become acute and alive.

May the glory of Shambhala be profound, brilliant, just, powerful and all-victorious. This line summarizes much of what has gone before. The glory of Shambhala is profound because the original nature is self-existing and primordial. It is brilliant, because emptiness is splendid and radiant. It is just, because it is not biased—everything partakes equally of the same nature. It is powerful because it can manifest all experience, and it is all-victorious because it saturates everything; there is nothing left for it to conquer.

Este artículo en español se encuentra aquí: http://shambhalatimes.org/2016/10/24/aspiracion-de-shambhala/

Russell RodgersRussell 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.

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2 responses to “ Aspiration of Shambhala ”
  1. Russell, these articles are really wonderful. How fabulous you are!

  2. Seann Tayler
    Aug 27, 2016

    Thank you, Russell.

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