Sunday, April 16, 2017

New Ri-me organisation established in the USA

A group of students of the late Venerable Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche have recently started "Ri-me Society", a non-profit organisation registered in the USA.

A great and much needed addition to the Buddhist world based mostly on the Vajrayana teachings, the group offer ecumenical program's designed to 'celebrate the living dharma' and support practitioners from all lineages. Here we share their introduction:

Introduction to Ri-mé Society-Celebrating the Living Dharma

The Ri-mé Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the study, preservation, and continuation of the teachings and practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. Ri-mé Society provides talks, seminars, classes, and group practices for those seeking an introduction to the Buddhist teachings as well as for experienced practitioners.
Ri-mé is a Tibetan word that means non-sectarian or unbiased. The Ri-mé Society is named for the renaissance of spiritual practice that originated in India and Tibet, ignited by brilliant and highly realized teachers and practitioners. The Ri-mé spirit represents—then and now—a great emphasis on direct meditative experience and realization combined with deep intellectual understanding and insight—an openness not constrained by sectarian bias.
The Ri-mé spirit recognizes all traditions and lineages of Buddhism as authentic, effective spiritual paths. Ri-mé also refers to a disposition and outlook in relation to the spiritual path, to life, and toward others of varying beliefs. This seems vital in these times of sectarianism, intolerance, and violent extremism.
Ri-mé Society was founded by students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a consummate Ri-mé master of the Buddhist teachings who introduced Vajrayana Buddhism to the West. He is known for his penetrating teaching style and highly skillful manner of presenting the core of Buddhism in the idioms of the English language and through modern intellectual disciplines, cultural expressions and the arts. As Trungpa Rinpoche himself said, “The Dharma is always up to date.”
Through the offerings of Ri-mé Society, we have discovered that when we gather for practice and learning, a powerful atmosphere and sense of meaning emerges. It is in such an environment of mutual journey and insight that we can mutually celebrate the living Dharma. We aspire that in so doing this world may benefit—now and in the future. We invite you to join in.
For more information you can find the link to their website here:

And for some very interesting freely offered talks on the site, one by Ringu Tulku on the Ri-me principle and another from a senior student of Trungpa Rinpoche on his teachers young life in Tibet:

Also for more about the founder of Ri-me society, Clarke Warren, and a conversation about its establishment:

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Nonsectarian Movement

by John Powers

"When you study, study everything under the sun.
When you reflect, keep an open mind.
When you practice, do one practice and go deep."
– Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, 1813-1899

In spite of the many similarities in view and practice among the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, sectarian controversy has been a recurring feature in Tibet since earliest times. Every order has produced scathing attacks on its perceived rivals, and the history of Tibetan Buddhism is marked by oral debates between competing groups as well as persecutions and factional wars. In the late nineteenth century, several prominent lamas in eastern Tibet began a countermovement, commonly referred to as “Nonsectarian” (Ris med; pronounced “Rimé”). It was a direct challenge to the scholastic approach of the Gélukpa order, whose educational system mainly relies on textbooks (yig cha) that summarize key philosophical and doctrinal points. The definitions (mtshan nyid ) they contain are derived from Indian “root texts”; these are memorized by students and form the basis of their curriculum and examinations.
The Nonsectarian lamas, by contrast, required their students to study Indian sutras and philosophical texts, and much of the Nonsectarian literature consists of original commentaries on them. The philosophical basis of most Nonsectarian lamas is the “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong) view, which posits a self-existent ultimate reality that can only be understood by direct meditative perception. Another important aspect of Rimé is the vision of the great perfection developed by the “treasure discoverer” (gter ston) Jikmé Lingpa (1730–1798). His revelation of the Heart Essence of Longchenpa cycle of practice is one of the foundational sources of the movement.

His reincarnation Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo (1820–1892) became one of the leading figures in the Nonsectarian movement. Like other Nonsectarian lamas, he advocated a universalist approach to Buddhist teachings, according to which all were said to have value for particular practitioners. Students were encouraged to study extensively in various traditions, and as Gene Smith has pointed out, one of the key features of the movement was an encyclopedic orientation. Nonsectarian lamas produced a number of compendia of Buddhist learning, most notably Jamgön Kongtrül’s (1813–1899) Compendium of All Knowledge. Unlike some scholars of his time, who focused on certain works they regarded as normative and rejected others, Kongtrül and his students traveled throughout Tibet searching for texts, initiations, and oral lineages—both those that were widely popular and others that were obscure and local—and brought them together in huge collections. Contrary to those who claimed that one approach was superior to all others, they sought to make available as many teachings and practices as possible so that students could choose those that were most effective. Their sources were not limited to religious or philosophical texts, and they incorporated folk traditions and popular literature, including such classics as the Epic of Gésar of Ling.

By contrast, the Gélukpa scholars of the time tended to reiterate the paradigms that had been handed down to them and to engage in rote and unoriginal scholarship. There were some notable and original scholars among the Gélukpas, but the main monasteries of the order were generally bastions of dogmatic conservatism, and authors of the time mainly composed textbooks that elaborated on definitions and debates found in earlier texts. Many of these laid out possible debates and counterarguments in great detail, and these were memorized by students. They provided set refutations against potential opponents, and so students learned to simply identify a mistaken view and apply the appropriate label rather than examining philosophical positions on their own merits. The Rimé masters, however, urged their students to look at the Indic root texts and to take in the oral instructions of a variety of teachers in order to become acquainted with a range of perspectives. The emphasis was on direct understanding rather than repetition of established “correct” positions.

The Gélukpa tradition following Tsong Khapa sought to sift through texts, doctrines, practices, and opinions and discern the most philosophically cogent or normative ones. These were encoded in set definitions and debates, which were memorized by students. The Nonsectarian lamas took an eclectic approach that valued the multitude of tantric practices and lineages as suited to the proclivities of certain practitioners. Thus Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo—a Sakya lama who also practiced the Nyingma great perfection—and Jamgön Kongtrül, a Kagyupa, gathered tantric lineages from Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Kadam, Jonang, and other sources. Kongtrül and his students compiled them in large collections. When the texts, empowerments, and oral instructions from various sources had been incorporated in one individual, he or she could then pass on the whole range of what they had received to students.

The Nonsectarian masters took a similarly open approach to religious practice. Many of the main figures of the tradition were nonmonastics, and some of the treatises associated with the movement disparage monks as plodding dogmatists of limited intelligence. Some Nonsectarian lamas moved between the state of ordination and that of lay tantrics (sngags pa), but others maintained monastic vows throughout their lives. The general attitude of Rimé practitioners was one that recognized the potential value of different modes of practice and lifestyles and that refused to categorically regard one as superior to another in all circumstances.
In keeping with its nondogmatic approach, the Nonsectarian movement was not a distinct school with fixed doctrines, nor did it create a distinctive monastic order with its own institutions. Instead, its proponents maintained allegiance to their own lineages, but adopted elements from the various Buddhist traditions available to them. No one approach to Buddhist doctrine and practice was dogmatically asserted, and the essence of the movement was an openness to different approaches.

Like Jikmé Lingpa, many of the great Rimé masters came from nonaristocratic backgrounds, and generally shunned institutional Buddhism. Because of the emphasis on lineage, there is generally a particularly close bond between lamas and students. Retreats are a core element of the tradition, and students are often guided by their teachers for extended periods of practice in solitude. The literature of Rimé emphasizes the beneficial results of long retreats and the importance of regular engagement in solitary meditation. Not surprisingly given this emphasis, biographies of the luminaries of the tradition emphasize visions, trances, revelations, and oral instructions. Many of the prominent Nonsectarian lamas were also treasure discoverers, and disclosures of new “hidden treasures” are an important aspect of its history.
Most contemporary lamas of the non-Gélukpa traditions are directly influenced by this important movement, and many of its practices have also found their way into the Gélukpa order. One key difference between Nonsectarian traditions and the Gélukpas is the doctrine of other-emptiness, which is a cornerstone of most Rimé practice, but is staunchly rejected by the Gélukpas. (Not all Rimé masters hold to this view, however; Mipam is a prominent example of a Rimé lama who adhered to the self- emptiness view.)

As we have seen, the doctrine of emptiness figures prominently in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist thought. Questions regarding how emptiness should be interpreted have been a major source of debate between the various orders of Tibetan Buddhism, and they continue to generate controversy today.
The two most influential factions advocate respectively the doctrines of “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong; pronounced “shendong”) and “self-emptiness” (rang stong; pronounced “rangdong”). The latter position is held by the Gélukpa order, which follows the interpretation of Madhyamaka developed by Tsong Khapa. He contended that emptiness is a “non-affirming negative,” meaning that it is simply a radical denial of inherent existence (rang bzhin, svabh›va), a quality falsely attributed to phenomena by ordinary beings. From the perspective of an ignorant consciousness, phenomena appear to exist by themselves and are not viewed as composites of smaller parts created by causes and conditions and subject to decay, and persons appear to possess enduring selves that are independent of the vicissitudes of birth, death, and change. The Gélukpas deny that there is any enduring substance and hold that all phenomena are collections of parts that are constantly changing due to the influence of causes and conditions.

According to the other-emptiness interpretation, emptiness is the ultimate truth and is conceived as a self-existent, unchanging reality that pervades all phenomena. It is empty of what is other than itself—that is, the mistaken perceptions attributed to it by deluded beings. But it is not void of itself, since it is the final nature of all phenomena. The emptiness of the Gélukpas is said to be “dead emptiness” (bem stong) because it would be a state devoid of any qualities. Proponents of other-emptiness claim that it is in fact the repository of all the qualities of buddhahood and is inherent in all beings. It cannot be known by logic or conceptuality, and is only realized by advanced yogis through direct, nonconceptual insight. The Gélukpas denounce this position as an attempt to reify the Absolute and smuggle Indian substantialist notions into Buddhism.

One of the key debates between the Gélukpas and their opponents who advocate the “other-emptiness” position concerns how the doctrine of the “womb of the tathagata” (de bzhin gzhegs pa’i snying po, tath›gata-garbha) should be understood. This notion, found in some Indian Buddhist texts, holds that all sentient beings have the potential to become buddhas. Advocates of other-emptiness conceive of this potential as a positive, self-existent essence that pervades all existence and is made manifest through meditative training, but is not created by it.
Buddhahood is the basic nature of mind, and it is subtle, ineffable, and beyond the grasp of conceptual thought. It cannot be described in words, and can only be understood through direct experience. According to this position, all phenomena are of the nature of mind, which is a union of luminosity and emptiness. They have no substantial existence, and merely exist within the continuum of mind. Initiations by Rimé masters—particularly those who belong to the Nyingma and Kagyu orders, which emphasize the formless meditations of the great completion (dzogchen) and great seal (mahamudra) respectively—commonly feature oral instructions in which lamas “point out the nature of mind” to students, who are then instructed to cultivate a direct apprehension of this reality themselves. Those who succeed in grasping the nature of mind and perceiving all phenomena as emanations of luminosity and emptiness are able to attain buddhahood in a single instant of awakening.

Extract from "Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism" by John Powers, published by Shambhala publications.

John Powers has published twelve books, including Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. He received his PhD from the University of Virginia and specializes in Indian and Tibetan intellectual history. He is currently Professor of Asian Studies at Australian National University.

Thursday, March 21, 2013



"If possible you should all give serious thought to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgön Kongtrül and Chogyur Lingpa. They are really, really special people. Their approach to Buddhism, their interpretation of Buddhism, their intention, their action, is something that ordinary people cannot [imagine]. Incredible masters!" 
Great praise indeed from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. This article explains some of their extraordinary activity.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) is one of the great figures of 19th century Eastern Tibet. He worked with Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899) and Chogyur Lingpa (1829-1870) to find treasure texts and artefacts and together they established the non-sectarian or ri-me movement.

In a short article it is only possible to touch on a few aspects of their extraordinary activity and it may be helpful to put it in some historical context. One of their most important predecessors was Jigme Lingpa (1730-98), the promulgator of the Longchen Nyingthik, the Innermost Spirituality of Longchenpa. It became both the foundation of the main Dzogchen teachings in the contemporary period and the ri-me movement. The Longchen Nyingthik gave the ri-me movement an emphasis on yogic self-discipline rather than imposed monastic discipline and a conception of the enlightened state as pure and open and beyond all logic and conventional description. Jigme Lingpa was a major treasure discoverer who had spent many years in meditation retreats. In activities that prefigured Kongtrül's creation of the Five Collections, he published and promoted Nyingma texts that had become rare, beginning by having copies made of the Nyingma tantras held in the manuscript collection of the major Nyingma monastery of Mindroling. He went on to write a history of the Nyingma and other works which, when collected, numbered nine volumes. These include several important mind treasures.

As a significant example of non-sectarianism, Jigme Lingpa could count disciples from amongst the Sakya, the Drigung Kagyu and the Gelugpa, among others, not to mention the Nyingma. Jigme Lingpa's teaching lineage flourished in Eastern Tibet around Dege, and after his death three incarnations were recognised as being his emanations. These were Do Khyentse] [1800? -1859?], Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, [1820-1892] and Patrul Rinpoche, [1808-1887]. All of these lamas were important in the ris-med movement.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo's and Jamgön Kongtrül's work in promoting ri-me or non-sectarianism, their compilation of texts and treasure finding, came about when both Eastern Tibet and the non-Gelugpa schools were on the defensive. In the political field, the armies of the Gelugpa-allied Lhasa government had been victorious in deciding the outcome of a local conflict involving the Dege royal house. In religion, the earlier schools of Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya had to compete with an increasingly well-organised and standardised Gelugpa with compelling scholastic manuals and debating powers. Their response, in promoting non-sectarianism, diverse lineages that needed to be gathered and maintained, Dzogchen and treasure discovery, all found their precedent in the person of Jigme Lingpa.

Jamgön Kongtrül is principally famous for compiling the Five Collections. These are: 
1. The Store which Embraces All Knowledge, (also known as Kongtrül's Encyclopaedia) probably compiled between 1862 and 1864.
2. The Mantra Store of the Lineages of Transmitted Precepts, a compilation of tantric practices from the Kagyu school. Probably the first compiled of the Five Treasures as the complete initiation into this collection was bestowed by Kongtrül in 1856.
3. The Store of Precious Treasure, a collection of introductory instructions for the major treasure cycles, the cycles being preserved separately, as well as newly written liturgical texts, important supplementary works and smaller basic texts. Probably compiled between 1864 and 1886. 
4. The Store of Precious Instructions is a collection of oral instructions of teacher to disciple in the practice of the different lineages, such as Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga. Kongtrül perceived that arguments over metaphors were often at the base of sectarian disputes, and so by compiling all the various instructions, he sought to point out their inherent non-contradictoriness. 
The Uncommon Store includes Kongtrül's own discovered texts, compositions on Guruyoga and liturgies as well as philosophical exegesis. He expounds his interpretation of gzhan-stong (a technical term to describe the mind of the Buddha) as a unifying concept amongst the diverse traditions.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was recognised to be one of the Five Kingly Treasure Finders, who are considered to be emanations of the ancient Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen (reigned 704-755). He is most well-known for treasure finding (or terma) and he found all types of treasure. These include earth treasures, which are physical objects such as texts or statues or clothes of a departed master. They are often found in locations such as caves. He also found mind treasures, which are memories of receiving teachings in a past life that are activated at an auspicious time, treasures which had been found in the past and then reconcealed, and pure visions. Through pure vision he was able to receive eight lineages through visionary means. These were of Nyingmapa; Kadampa; Lamdre; Marpa Kagyu; Shangpa Kagyu; Kalachakra; Zhi-byed and Chod, Pacification and Object of Cutting; and Mahasiddha Orgyanpa.

Receiving a lineage through visionary means is called a "short lineage", and its importance is in its directness. What is communicated is not only the words but the experience. It is also a means of dealing with the problem of change over time. It is almost impossible to find an original unchanged manuscript of a text that was first written a thousand years ago. 

In general, lineages have three elements, the initiation, transmission and instruction. The initiation and instruction are always likely to be added to, changed a little bit, adapted over time, and the lung, the transmission, will be dependent upon the manuscript version that is available. The short lineage takes the visionary directly to the founder of the lineage and is particularly potent as a source of grace and blessing. It may be a way of renewing a lineage that was lost, of deepening the understanding of a lineage received in a conventional manner, or even a method of creating a connection before receiving a lineage in a conventional fashion.

Khyentse's receiving of the eight lineages straddled both dual and non-dual experience. On the one hand, much of what he described are meetings; he had visions of Atisha, Marpa, Thangtong Gyalpo and so on. On the other hand, these gave rise to non-dual experiences such as achieving the various lineages of Dzogchen. In terms of the ri-me movement, the idea of the accessibility of all of these historical figures and lineages of teaching gave Khyentse and Kongtrül a potency as a focus wherein all divergent traditions came together. Impartiality was demonstrated through the physical compilation of different texts, and the gathering through short lineage of different traditions.

In the twentieth century the work of Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrül has been continued by luminaries such as His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and other ri-me lamas.

Di Cousens

(Di Cousens received an M.A. in History in 1996 after completing a thesis on the life of Jamgön Kongtrül and is also the editor of Pure Vision, the newsletter of Sakya Choekhor Lhunpo in Melbourne, Australia. In July 2000 she gave a paper on the Visionary Lineages of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo at Leiden University, Amsterdam.)