Sunday, March 4, 2018

EXPLORING RI-ME (Non-sectarianism)


By Susan Shannon

My interest in Rime goes back several decades to the late 70’s, when I began studying Tibetan Buddhism. At that time, Tibetan teachers in the west were few and far between. A fledgling dharma student such as myself would take teachings from whomever came through, whether it be a Geluk, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, or even Bon teacher. I didn’t know that much about the differences between sects, and didn’t see any conflict between the various teachings I had taken. Many years later, someone asked me what lineage I “was” and I was stumped for an answer. When I explained that I took teachings whenever and wherever I could, from whomever, the questioner said, “Oh, then you are Rime.” 

That was the first time I had ever heard the word. I was intrigued that there even was a word for the nonsectarian study of Tibetan Buddhism, and was suddenly made aware that I was ignorant of what kept the sects separate. To me, all the teachings focused on developing a calm mind and kind heart. Though the roads in might look a little different, the destination was the same. Now, after over 40 years of study and practice, I still feel the same.

From the first time I saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1979, I have continued to take teachings from all lineages, but my main focus has been from the Gelukpa lineage. I have also taken refuge within 3 of the 4 major sects and experienced no conflict whatsoever then or since.

In 1999 I was asked by Ven. Thubten Ngodup, the Medium of the State Oracle of Tibet, to help him form a nonsectarian or Rime Tibetan Buddhist Center here in the Bay Area with the main goal of serving the Tibetan Community in Exile. I was intrigued by this request. It made perfect sense for the local Tibetan community to have a Rime center. Ven. Thupten Ngodup, the Medium of the State Oracle of Tibet is, himself, a good example of a Rime lama. He is of the Gelugpa lineage, but the Nechung Monastery is listed as a Nyingma monastery. Teachers from all lineages teach there. Likewise, in the ten years since our Nechung Buddhist Center has been in existence, we have hosted teachers from all traditions except Bon. 

What's in a Name? Etymology of the Word "Rime"

The Tibetan word “rime” (pronounced ree-may) comes from two Tibetan words “ris” and “med.” (Wylie transliteration ris-med) Ris, or phyog-ris can be translated as “sided, part, bias, partisan, sect, separation. Med is a negating particle and means “not, without, doesn’t have, etc. Therefore ris-med can be translated as “without parts, without division, without section, without bias, nonsectarian.” I looked this word up in 4 Tibetan dictionaries - odd to
me it couldn’t be found in the Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology.  

                        A Short History of Rime

Though  Rime  is usually said to have emerged in the time of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899) and Jamyang Khyentse (1820-1899) we will go back now even farther to the time of the second Dalai Lama, born in 1475. Tibet was totally immersed in Buddhism at the time, and had been for more than seven centuries. During the second Dalai Lama’s life, Tibet was a huge and very sparsely populated country. The distance between most large religious centers was significant. During his life, monasteries were open institutions. In his biography of the Second Dalai Lama, Glenn Mullin cites that “during this time, almost every monastery considered itself an independent tradition, having only loose affiliations with other institutes.” One can imagine that though the Rime tradition had not solidified as a path, in this time of reasonable secular harmony, it would not be uncommon to find Rime practitioners in many if not most of the monasteries. (I find this an interesting parallel here to that which I wrote about above, when authentic Tibetan Buddhist teachers were few and far between in the west and those interested in the dharma took teachings from whoever, whenever, wherever.)

In Tibet, the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism continued in their own environments, isolated by Tibet’s desolate landscape and climate. Exclusion doesn’t happen over night. Over the next three centuries, however, the sectarian struggles for power and supremacy played out.

By the 16th century, the Gelukpa school and its long list of monasteries had become a dominant force. By the 17th century, the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, the Gelukpa dominance had been established. Gone was the time of sectarian equality and interdependence, at least on the monastic/political/economic level. Though there may well have been many practitioners who claimed to be nonsectarian, it is highly likely that a loyalty prevailed to their lineages and teachers. This loyalty, undoubtedly caused certain prejudice towards the teachings and teachings of other sects.

I posit that such loyalty might also have been part of a survival mechanism. Security in numbers, and in the feudal and isolating climate of Tibet, it makes sense that it was important to survival that one be linked to a sangha, a monastic community. In a country so vast, where at least one male from every family was expected to become a monastic, it is logical that there was a mentality of “united we stand, divided we fall.” People everywhere regardless of time are drawn to others who think and speak like themselves. There is a comfort in numbers. Our needs are more likely to be met when we are with the pack.

Isolation breeds misunderstandings. Of this era, Ringu Tulku states:

"If we examine the lives of the great masters of any School we find how many teachers of different Schools and lineages they studied with and how much respect they had for them. The conflicts between lamas and monasteries, and sometimes regions of Tibet, are often presented these days as religious or doctrinal conflicts. However, almost none of them have anything to do with basic doctrinal or even philosophical disagreements. Most of these conflicts were based on personality problems or mundane establishment rivalries."

This was a time when the integrity of the dharma was being eroded. Many valuable teachings were on the verge of disappearing due to this sectarian bitterness. What was in its essence a mind-expanding collection of teachings had begun to implode and become lodged in narrow-mindedness. An example of this mentality is hinted at by this quote from Pabonka Rinpoche, a Gelukpa lama:

"If you receive an off-the-cuff teaching without any headings, it would be hard to make the meditations beneficial for your mind-stream. It would be like trying to use tea, butter, salt, soda, etc., when they have all been put into the one jar."

Enter Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye, 1813-1899. He was born in Kham, in eastern Tibet. Over his lifetime he was a prolific writer, scholar, teacher and traveler. His great scholarly journey included taking teachings from masters of all lineages. He became learned in the “ten ordinary and extraordinary branches of knowledge.” Most importantly, he was able to “crack the code” of sectarian confinement and release the teachings back to their essence. His major life work includes compiling the basic teachings of all Tibetan Buddhism regardless of sect into one epic work called “The Five Great Treasures” or,” The Five Treasuries of Knowledge.” (Tibetan Shes.bya.mdzod) Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was a contributor to this great effort as well, which established the union of all the teachings of all the schools, leading to a tradition of receiving teachings of various lineages and schools from a single teacher.

This important work sought to harmonize once again all the teachings of the Buddha, not by emphasizing their similarities, but rather by respecting their differences. Jamgon Kongtrul had several experiences where he experienced states of realization that were beyond words. In one account, he writes:

I began sitting in meditation posture and recognized my awareness as having a lucid quality involving no conceptualization-something I could experience, but did not know how to talk about. I became so certain of this that I did not have to discuss whether or not it was so. In this way, it occurred to me that discussion of the nature, or essence, of them, and techniques of focusing the mind, resting in a non-conceptual state, and so forth were meaningless, just empty words; and that it was sufficient simply to guard this direct awareness of utter relaxation, complete and natural. Afterward, my experience of that essence never wavered or changed from this first glimpse. 

It is this state of the essence beyond words that he emphasizes in the Rimed tradition.

                    Then What is Rime, Exactly?

“See harmony in all doctrines. 
Receive instructions from all teachings.”
                                                 -Kadampa teaching

“One of the unique features of Buddhism has always been the acceptance that different paths are necessary for different types of people. Just as one medicine cannot cure all diseases, so one set of teachings cannot help all beings. This is the basic principal of Buddhism.”
-Ringu Tulku

Rime is not another school or sect of Tibetan Buddhism, nor is it an amalgamation of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Jamyang Khyentse states it clearly:

"The ultimate subject we need to define is the Ultimate Nature, or Dharmata, of phenomena. The Prajna-paramita Sutra says, 'Dharmata is not knowable (with the intellectual mind) and cannot be perceived in concepts'. Even Ngog Lotsawa, the jewel on the head of all Tibetan logicians, says, 'The Ultimate Truth is not only beyond the dimension of language and expression, but it is also beyond intellectual understanding'. The Ultimate Nature cannot be fully measured by our samsaric mind. The great saints (Siddhas) and scholars examined it from different aspects, and each of the ways outlined by them has many reasons and logical sequences. If we follow the tradition of our own lineage and study our own lineage masters in depth, we shall find no need to feel sectarian. However, if we confuse the terms and systems of different traditions, or if we try to introduce the ways of other systems because we do not have a deep understanding of our own tradition, we shall surely make our minds as muddled as the yarns of a bad weaver. The problem of being unable to explain our own traditional teachings arises out of ignorance of our own studies. If this happens, we lose our confidence in our own traditions; neither are we able to copy from others. We become a laughing stock for other scholars. This way we can see the harmony of all paths. All teachings can be seen as instructions and therefore the roots of sectarian feelings should shrivel and die. The Lord Buddha’s teachings will take root in our minds. The doors to the 84,000 groups of teachings will open up at one time."

Another proponent of the Rime understanding, the great Nyingma teacher of the 11th century, Rangzom Chokyi Zangpo says it more simply:

“All the teachings of Buddha are of one taste, one way-all leading to the truth, all arriving at the truth.”

  Rime Teachers of the Past and Present 

“Neither Nyingma nor Geluk-
I am a yogin born of their union.
Known here as Lama Shabkar, White Foot,
Not like anyone else,
But in harmony with all-how strange!"

-Shabkar, The Life of Shabkar, pg. 359

We have spoken a bit of the founders Rime.  Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Like all Rime teachers, they did not start out “studying Rime” but instead, began in one particular tradition. Jamgon Kongtrul came from the Kagyu tradition, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpocame from the Sakya. It was after they realized the sacred commonalities of all schools of Buddhism that they became known as Rime practitioners.

There are a number of other well known and lesser known Rime teachers. One thing they all have in common is an eclectic past, including a mix of lineages and schools. Most contemporary would be His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, (1935-) known to people all over the planet as a global citizen and peacemaker extraordinare. Not only does he teach from all different lineages, he has made a point to study all world religions. His work as peacemaker is based on his understanding of “that which is beyond words” but is core to being the global emissary he is.

Ringu Tulku, (1952-) Born in Eastern Tibet, Ringu Tulku is a great Rime scholar from the Kagyu tradition who writes and teaches extensively around the world. He emphasizes that Rime is not a new school, but instead is a concept allowing freedom of choice in taking teachings from whatever school of Tibetan Buddhism one wants.

Trulshik Rinpoche, (1923-2007) Trulshik Rinpoche was a very well known and highly realized Nyingma lama who was also a very close disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He lived in the Solo Khumbu area near the border of Tibet and Nepal, and was known for the great crowds that came to his teachings of the Great Collection of Damngag Dzoe, a collection of essential instructions of all the major Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, (1910-1991) the great Nyingma lama was considered to be the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse, one of the founders of the Rime movement. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche studied with over 50 Tibetan Buddhist masters from all lineages. Though he wanted to spend the rest of his entire life in silent meditation and retreat, he was told by one of his teachers that he needed to go out in the world and spread the dharma he had so thoroughly taken in. He became renowned within Tibet and later outside of Tibet by his ability to transmit the teachings of each Buddhist lineage according to its own tradition.

Khunu Rinpoche, (1895-1977) Khunu Rinpoche as born to a Nyingma father and a Kagyu mother on the Indian/Tibetan border. He entered the spiritual life at the early age of 7 years old. Over the course of his life he studied with many of the great Rime teachers of his time. His great work “Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea; Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta” is a passionate love story which showcases a life spent well saturated with the realization of Bodhicitta. Sogyal Rinpoche writes:

Eventually he returned to India, where he lived as a true ascetic. When my master and I came to India on pilgrimage after leaving Tibet, we searched for him everywhere in Benares. Finally we found him staying in a Hindu temple. No one knew who he was, or even that he was a Buddhist, let alone that he was a master. They knew him as a gentle, saintly yogin, and they offered him food. Whenever I think of him, I always say to myself, “This is what St. Francis of Assisi must have been like.

Patrul Rinpoche, (1808-1887) another Nyingma lama, was born into and and avid practitioner of  Rime. His classic book “The Words of My Perfect Teacher, is a well-loved treatise containing teachings from the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche himself states in the forward to this book, that Patrul Rinpoche includes teachings on these schools “without any conflict between them.” One of my favorite parts of this book is when Patrul Rinpoche speaks of “boundless impartiality.”

When the great sages of old offered feasts they would invite everyone, high or low, powerful or weak, good or bad, exceptional or ordinary, without making any distinction whatsoever. Likewise, our attitude towards all beings throughout space should be a vast feeling of compassion, encompassing them all equally. Train your mind until you reach such a state of boundless impartiality. 

Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol, (1781-1851) Shabkar was a wandering Tibetan saint, who spontaneously composed songs from the inspiration of his highly developed spiritual practice. His spirit is Kabir-like: humorously, joyfully recollecting the interconnectedness of all beings and the labors created by impermanence. He is always headed towards an expression of the divine – or, in his case, the recognition that all samsara is also nirvana, and that joy is always part of the Bodhisattva service. I have read the Life of Shabkar cover to cover at least five times now, maybe six. Shabkar speaks like a bhakta, a devotee, no matter the language locally used to praise it. From the translator’s introduction to “The Life of Shabkar:”

Shabkar did not merely receive teachings from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, but he actively taught “pure perception” and open-mindedness. Moreover, he eloquently elucidated how all the many different Dharma teachings of the various yanas form one coherent, non contradictory whole. He contributed greatly to the nonsectarian movement that flourished in the nineteenth century…

In Shabkar’s own words:

“Some holy beings have said that
Madhyamika, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen
Are like sugar, molasses and honey:
One is as good as the other.
For this reason, I have listened to
And practiced all of them without partiality.”

Mipham Rinpoche, (1846-1912) Mipham Rinpoche was born into an aristocratic family in eastern Tibet. In the course of his travels he took teachings from the “Mount Rushmore” of the Rime movement: Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Patrul Rinpoche. The story of Mipham Rinpoche outlines him as a lama who was willing to shore up the teachings of whatever lineage was in more danger of decomposition, as his vast understanding and realization encompassed all lineages and schools. At the time, the school that was in need was the Nyingmapa. At the request of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Mipham Rinpoche wrote commentaries for the Nyingma school, covering the whole range of the sutric teachings.

This is not an exhaustive list of Rime teachers. There are many others who bear recognition, but for the sake of my interest and this paper I will move on.

                      Some Observations 

In reading the biographies of those listed above, I noticed that many of these teachers had parents who followed different lineages. Many were born into the time of the Rime movement. Their freedom to take teachings from masters of various lineages and schools was refreshing and in many cases stood to help preserve those lineages. As my mind stretches, I see this as a kind of “hippie movement” of the monastics. It might have been a time of great expansion, the big exhale from the fear/isolation based exclusivity of the “either/or” to the accepting, respecting inclusivity of the “both/and.”
In looking closely, it really seems like the effort made by Jamgon Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and others to strengthen the dharma by eliminating the stress lines paid off. It also shows the amazingly fearless, devoted, doggedly scholarly character of these lamas. Each one of them broke the mold, went out of the box, went beyond lineage while still respecting their lineage. What a bold time in Tibetan history!

                         The Central Tent Pole

“Bodhicitta is essential not only in the context of mahayana, but is like a central tent pole for structuring and supporting all Buddha’s teachings.” 

-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, From ‘The Geluk/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

According to all Tibetan Buddhist teachings, bodhicitta, translated as “enlightened mind” is what we as travelers in samsara really need to focus on cultivating. In doing so we will not only open up to our own buddhanature, but we will help others open to theirs, too. In reading through all the materials listed in the bibliography of this paper, I have found references to the importance of bodhicitta in every single one.

In all the teachings I have ever received from any and all lamas, bodhicitta is also the core ingredient to us being able to make any headway at all towards a spiritual life. Looking at all the people I have known or only heard of, people who have made a great positive contribution to society, they all acted with bodhicitta whether they ever heard the word or not. The “enlightened mind” which is bodhicitta propels us out of our conventional experience into one of a more expansive, ultimate level.

The pioneers of  Rime as well as all the teachers listed above talk about bodhicitta with the love and rhapsody of a Rumi poem or a Bengali love song. Shabkar sings the praises of bodhicitta repeatedly throughout the over 500 pages of his biography:

“Like a wish-fulfilling tree and a
wish fulfilling jewel,
Effortlessly benefit others.”

-Shabkar, The Life of Shabkar, pg. 375.

Ven. Khunu Rinpoche’s book “Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea” is a collection of 356 stanzas written about bodhicitta with the heartfelt love of a lover to their beloved:

“If you ask what is the sweetest sound in the world,
even if many refined people were to investigate it,
I don’t think you will hear anything
but the word “bodhicitta.”
Verse 44

“Every Mahayana level and path
is included within bodhicitta,
just as every composite thing
is included in the five skandhas.”
Verse 200

Ringu Tulku, in his commentary on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, states:

"According to Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta includes all the methods and techniques of the Buddhist Path. Every teaching of the Buddha is related either to the cause of bodhicitta, or to the way to attain it, or to its results, or else to bodhicitta itself. There is no Buddhist teaching that is not linked to bodhicitta in one way or another."

It is clear from my exploration into Rime that bodhicitta is, indeed, the “central tent pole” throughout Tibetan Buddhism.

                  Yes, We Have No Lineage?

“If we follow the tradition of our own lineage and study our own lineage masters in depth, we shall find no need to feel sectarian.” 

-Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

In one of my response papers, I wrote:

All the sectarian approaches include such great and long lists of lineage. If a lama/monk is identifying with lineage does that alone not infer he/she is holding to identity, which implies some aversion /attraction? Or at least, rejection of one lineage in favor of another? Jamgon Kongtrul states:

A sectarian person is not worthy of being a holder of the dharmas. Not only that, he is unworthy of upholding even his own tradition. The noble ones share a single ultimate view.” 

If that single view is that of the teachings of the Buddha, it seems to pose a bit of a catch 22. All monastics study the teachings of the Buddha, but the lens they view the teachings through are influenced by the lineage they are involved in. So in a way, studying the ultimate view alone can be done in a nonsectarian way but if one comes to that view through lineage and identifies with that lineage, then they are, by way of that identification, “missing something?” On the other hand, if that lama or abbot has in fact achieved realization beyond the “I” then what difference is it whether he is associated with one lineage or another?

The Rimed tradition hints that achieving the fruit of the Buddha’s teachings equates becoming nonsectarian. If proclaiming oneself to be a Rimed practitioner mean that one has respect for all lineages, without strict identification with one of those lineages, does that Rimed practitioner then lose affiliation?”

Before I began this paper, I was fortunate to meet a Geshe who identified with being Rime. He proclaimed that if a lama or monk is truly Rime, then they have no lineage. They have effectively renounced their lineage simply by way of attaining the realization that is beyond words. He went on to say that to claim a lineage is the equal of claiming a self, and if one truly has achieved ultimate realization, they would be beyond identifying with conventional alliances.

I counter that renouncing lineage does not equate losing respect for one’s lineage. Indeed, Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo continued to praise their lineage teachers, but amassed equal praise to all the teachers they studied with. It is also true that we do all live in a relative conventional configuration of reality. A dog is a dog no matter what the language used to name it. By that argument, we have been a disciple or at least a student of some teacher in order to receive the teachings. Perhaps this is a bit semantic, but a lively point of discussion none the less.

                   The Economics of Sectarianism

I also wonder how economics factor in to the sectarian division of Tibetan monasticism. If a lama, rinpoche, abbot, tulku or whatever has wealthy political connections, and his predecessor did, too, what would be the benefit of that lama or monastery declaring itself Rimed? It seems that to do so would possibly jeopardize that lucrative economic/political connection.

From reading accounts of the founders of Rime, it seems that their commitment was to the teachings, but not necessarily linked to the monasteries.

During the few centuries before the Rime tradition began, Tibet’s greatest monasteries held equal economic and political power. The Gelukpa tradition had begun to take the lead in this regard. The fearlessness of the Rime founders to go against the grain from exclusive sectarianism to the inclusive non-biased Rime approach to Tibetan dharma is profound. As we read above about the Second Dalai Lama, the Rime movement was not unprecedented, but sprang from a much more oppressive atmosphere during the time of Jamgon Kongtrul and his colleagues due to the stagnation of sectarianism that had befallen Tibet.

Rime arose as a non-local approach to a Buddhism, which had become divided by the local sects and school, both geographically and economically. The non-locality of Rime “called out” the locality of the other sects, and mediated a response which included inviting them, along with all the others, to the big round table of Tibetan Buddhism.

During my interview with the above-mentioned Geshe, I brought this point up. He emphasized the truth of this observation, but went a step beyond in his answer to my next question: “If Rime teachers are still available to us students in the west, why don’t more westerners consider themselves Rime practitioners, instead, follow the lineage of the teachers they feel a connection to?”

Geshe-la made a parallel to the Christian denominations. He said that we in the west are more familiar with the sectarian approach to one religion. Also, the answer which was true in old Tibet is true now. If one claims to be “all inclusive” then they are probably jeopardizing their ability to receive financial support from politicians and rich laity who don’t want all-inclusive. It is far easier to get supported if you are selling a certain product in a certain way that speaks to certain people. Think of the great financial support thrust upon the common Christian denominations by people regardless of their ability to give.

I refer back to my earlier discussion about disciples being drawn to the “people, not the practice.” It is human nature to feel less or more inspired by individuals, depending on shared values, intellect, vocabulary, region, and other commonalities. If a person feels a direct link with a teacher, they are also likely to receive the teachings on a deeper level, thus bearing more spiritual fruit and realization, than if they were to take teachings from someone they felt little or no connection to.

      Rime as an Intra-and Inter-faith Approach

The Rime approach could be seen as a Intra-and and Inter-faith movement. The definition of “intra” is within. In that way the Rime philosophy of freedom of choice towards whatever teacher, sect, and school of Tibetan Buddhism one wanted to study is an Intra-faith approach.

The definition of “inter” is “among, between.” In this way, the Rime philosophy can be considered and Inter-faith approach. At the time of the Rime rise during the 19th Century, it is doubtful that any other religion or spiritual practice existed in insular, isolated Tibet. Though the Bon had been displaced long ago, there may have been pockets of Bonpos here and there. Still, the Rime movement set about to honor the differences between the secular lenses of Tibetan Buddhism and thus bring about a wholeness once again to Tibetan Buddhism in general. Realizing our inter-and intra-connectedness is the milestone on the footpath of cultivating bodhicitta, no matter what the lineage.

As someone recently immersed in interfaith studies, I find this fascinating. In essence Rime mediated the split between powering institutions of monasticism and reinforced their oneness by equally valuing the many paths of Buddhism that were manifested.

In the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen it is written:
However, the process within the Rime movement of reviving transmission of teachings that had been thought lost and providing them with fresh commentary also embraced the traditions of the other schools. In the Rime collections of texts, works of the Kagyupa, Sakyapa, Kadampa, and Chod lineages are also found. The Rime teachers also advocated revival of the Bon teachings. In addition to their religious activities they also found time to be politically active as mediators with the central government in Lhasa.”

I was not able to find other reference to this comment about mediating with the central government in Lhasa, but to me it is very provocative. The importance of the Jamgon Kongtruls collaborative piece The Five Great Treasures was, ultimately, a mediation of all of the sectarian disputes at the time, and continues to be a collection of writing that acts as a mediative piece.

Rime itself is a mediative approach. Though it is “without bias” the lines that make the differences in each sect remain intact. It is their unity that is emphasised.

   Rime as a Hologram of Tibetan Buddhism

“In a holographic “something,” every piece of the something mirrors                                     the whole something.”            
-page 105, Gregg Braden, The Divine Matrix

Russel Targ, cofounder of the cognitive-sciences program at the Stanford Research Institute, writes
“We live in a non local world where things physically separated from one another                         can, nonetheless, be in instantaneous communication.”

Gregg Braden writes in the Divine Matrix:

“By definition, every place in a hologram is a reflection of every other. And a property that exists anywhere within it also exists everywhere else.”

I see Rime as a hologram. No matter how you slice Tibetan Buddhism, no matter the brand, no matter the pieces, you have the essence, which is beyond words. No matter how one tries to tie Tibetan Buddhism down into region, lama, community, deity, the essence remains non-local yet instantly recognized as essence.

       Reflections on Concluding this Paper

I am grateful for this opportunity to learn more about the Rime lens of dharma. I feel that all of my questions have been answered. I have gained a sense of the history of Rime, the what, who, where, why and how it came about. I also can reflect on the relevancy of studying Rime at this time in my life, as I am trying to learn about the “common threads” of all the world ‘s great faith traditions.

I am also grateful for my teachers from all the lineages, for having been so generous as to share their great wisdom and teachings. I am ultimately grateful for my root guru His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, for guiding me over the past 40 years on a journey encompassing all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Any inaccuracies to this paper are solely my own fault, and in no way a reflection of anything but my own ignorance.

The 14th Dalai Lama has composed a prayer for the movement praising various historic figures and lineages of Vajrayana from India and Tibet, part of which says:

May all the teachings of the Buddha in the Land of Snows
Flourish long into the future— the ten great pillars of the study lineage,
And the chariots of the practice lineage, such as Shijé (‘Pacifying’) and the rest,
All of them rich with their essential instructions combining sutra and mantra.

May the lives of the masters who uphold these teachings be secure and harmonious!
May the sangha preserve these teachings through their study, meditation and activity!
May the world be filled with faithful individuals intent on following these teachings!
And long may the nonsectarian teachings of the Buddha continue to flourish!

Reprinted with kind permission by the author.

For more about Susan Shannon's Chaplaincy work visit her website

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.