Tuesday 25 September 2012

A reminder of what it's all about - Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche

I found the following via Facebook, and felt supporters of the appeal would enjoy it.  To my knowledge it was first posted here, but regardless of its first posting, we present it here so more people might see it.

Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche knew the gö kar chang lo'i dé, its history, lineages and practices .  He was a master og the gö kar chang lo'i dé.  He asked us as Nyingma ngakpas to preserve it, through practicing the Dzogchen practices of the Aro gTér Tradition, and through the establishment of Drala Jong.

Read and enjoy!


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An Historic Description of Awareness Holders of the Great Secret Mantra who are Resplendent in White Clothes and Long Hair

a brief oral commentary by Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche 

Ever since the time of the meeting of the three masters, Khenpo Shatarakshita, Lopon Padmasambhava and the Dharma King, Trison Detsen in 8th century Tibet, there were two divisions of sangha, known as the sangha of monastics with shaven-heads and the saffron robes (rab byung ngur smig gi sde) and the sangha of ngakpas with white clothes and long, plaited hair (gos dkar lcang lo’I sde).

In the upper and lower regions of Kham, these ngakpas are known as ‘amnyes’ (a myes). In the district of Ngari, they are called ‘jopas’ (jo pa) and in provinces such as U and Tsang, they are called‘ngakchangs’ (sngags ‘chang). In Bhutan, Sikkhim and other bordering kingdoms, these practitioners are known as ‘serkhyimpas.’

The sovereignty of both sanghas was equal during the reign of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen (790-858). This is clearly indicated in historical accounts. Moreover, during the reign of King Ralpachen (813-836), the monarch weaved silk into two ends of his matted hair as a sublime object of offering and requested that both sanghas sit and walk back and forth upon it. This appears in all of the reliable sources of monarchy annals.In these historical accounts, there were four different jopa practitioners who worked to reverse adverse conditions for the Dharma kings of Tod Guge and Gungthang. Similarly, in lower Nangchen and Dege, it is known that there were four different great lamas at the center of the region, four ministers in the middle of the region and four amnyes in the low part of the valley, working for the Dharma Kings.

These ngakpas performed the three esoteric ‘do’ rituals in places where earth and sky form a triangular shape like a ham khung. When there are many indications that obstructing forces such as gods and demons are hindering the practice of those in a particular place, then yogis with sharpness, swiftness and the ability to enact wrathful activity are extremely beneficial.

In Central Tibet, during the reign of Drogon Chogyel Phakpa (1235-1280), it is said that there were four great ngakpas in the four directions of Drogon Tsang. In the time of the Great 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682), there were also four ngakchangs who controlled the four directions of serkhang. These ngakpas performed healing and obstacles reversing ceremonies, rituals that were performed by ngakpas only.

Furthermore, it is ngakpas who would preside over the activity rituals related to the seven types of transgressors (nyams pa bdun) including beings who contradict the Buddha’s teachings, beings who have broken their samaya commitments, enemies of the Three Jewels, Personal enemies of the teacher, the ten enemies to be destroyed and antagonistic protector beings. Through the activities of destruction, the rituals of suppression, burning and throwing, the violators’ form and aggregates are completely annihilated and reduced to particles of dust, so that not even so much as their name remains. Then, their consciousnesses are liberated into the dharmadhatu.

(The Activity of Suppression:) The offending enemies and hindrances are first commanded and invoked but the power of the Three Truths. Once summoned, they are bound through mudra and then forced nine levels underground, unable to re-emerge.

(The Activity of Burning:) In the same way, the hindrance being is summoned through the power of the truth and bound by mudra. Then, they are destroyed through the method of Me Lha.

(The Activity of Throwing:) Alternatively, after they have been summoned and bound, their forms are bound to the torma effigy, which is then thrown.

The method used to destroy dreaded foes of the Buddhist doctrine, Dharma people and especially, beings that threaten the Lama, is great compassion. This is accomplished by joining skillful activity with the three aspects of clear visualization. Through these wrathful activities, the continuum of unwholesome karma is cut through and the offending being is places in a state of permanent bliss. Ngakpas are known for these three methods of suppressing, burning and throwing: these are their primary daily activities.

The Magical Weapon Activities

The magical weapon activities of reversal can be classified into divisions of nine types of reversal, seven reversals, one reversal and so forth. The nine magical weapons of reversal include the mantra weapon (thunn zor), the stone weapon (rdo zor), the blood weapon (khrak zor), phung zor, the thorn weapon (tsher zor), the white mustard seed weapon (yung zor), the arrow weapon (mda zor), the torma weapon (gtor zor) and the poison weapon (gug zor).

There is one magical weapon that is sufficient for all purposes – the horn of wrathful revelry (kro bo rol ba’I rwa zor). This horn should be the right horn of a drong, or the right horn of a yak from the southern Tibetan jungle, ‘Kyilgyi Sin.’ If one cannot obtain such a shorn, one may use the right horn of an ordinary yak, the right horn of a dzo, or the right horn of an ox. According to the teachings of the Inner Tantras, one fills the horn with poisons, blood and a variety of other sorcery substances and then the substances are thrown.

There are two types of blood: poisonous blood and mixed blood. Poisonous blood is a mixture of three black poisons: tsenduk nakpo, tharnu nakpa and bongwa chen nakpo. it is best if one can obtain all three. If all three cannot be acquired, it is necessary to have at least one of them. These poisons grow in rocky ravines, gorges and other places that are not reached by the sun’s rays.

Mixed blood includes the heart-blood of a warrior killed in hand-to-hand combat. If this cannot be obtained, one must acquire the heart blood of a person who has been killed by one of three things – an arrow, knife or spear. This combined with the mixture of three poisons is called mixed blood. This is needed for effigy rituals and the magical weapon activities of the horn.

In any case, it is absolutely necessary that those who perform these activities manifest signs of accomplishment of the approach, accomplishment and activity stages of the Three Roots sadhana. One must actually have the power to first summon the ten types of obstructing beings, liberate them and finally, lead them to pure realms. One must be a Tantric master.

There are two types of ngakpas – those of family lineage (rigs rgyud) and those of Dharma lineage(chos rgyud). Ngakpa family lineages are passed from father ngakpa to their sons from generation to generation. At present, these are family lineage holders such as the great lamas of the Nyingma tradition, Minling Trichen Rinpoche and Sakya Trinzin Rinpoche, the throne holder of the Dharma Potrang lineage.

There are Dharma lineage nagakpas in both the Nyingma and Sarma traditions. Since one may enter the Tantric mandala by receiving empowerment, scriptural authorization and practical instructions from a qualified Lama, it is not necessary to be born into a ngakpa family lineage. Once one has properly received these transmissions, one must authentically enter into the sadhana practices of approach, accomplishment and activity.

Ngakpas such as these allow their hair too remain long and uncut. They dress in simple, white clothes. Their minds reside in the unfabricated, natural state. These are the three aspects of the ngakpa’s non-contrivance (ma bcos rnam gsum gyi sngags pa).

Further, in colloquial language, there is a custom of referring to ngakpas as ‘white,’ ‘black’ and ‘multi-colored.’ Those who rely on alms and essence extraction as food, mystic heat and a single piece of cotton for clothing, and fully integrate their lives with sadhana practice are called ‘white ngakpas.’ Further, those who engage in sadhana practice in solitary retreat for only three months out of the year and perform rituals for lay people are called ‘multi-colored ngakpas.’ Similarly, ngakpas holding the family or Dharma lineages that spend less than seven days in retreat but perform village rites, are known as ‘black village ngakpas.’ These are well known designations in colloquial language.

These days in Tibet, there are only three ngakpa gomdes that are very well known. In the region of Amdo, there are the Rekong (reb kong) ngakpas who generally wear long, matted hair, a multi-colored shawl worm across the shoulder and red clothing. The Vajra Masters of this gompa are similarly attired, although they usually wear a white skirt.

Similarly, at Chakri Phurdrak (chags ri’I phur brag) gomde, a place where there is a spontaneously appearing letter ‘A’ on a rock, the renowned ngakpas who serve the government wear clothing similar to the general ngakpa’s attire described above.

On the border of U and Tsang, in Shang Zabphulung (shangs zab phu lung), there is a community of ngakpas known as ‘Zabphu’ zab phu’ ngakpas. These yogis wear uncut hair, multi-colored shawls and white skirts. There, once one has completed the general practices, the accumulations and purifications of the preliminary practices and has received empowerment, scriptural authorization and practical instructions for Lama Gongdu, one is allowed to wear the white clothing. When I was 27 or 28 years old, I lived at this ngakpa gomde for several years.

Generally speaking, in Tibet, there are many ngakpa gomdes, but one cannot possibly explain in detail the descriptions, histories and so forth of each and every one of them.

Once, on a previous occasion in Dharmsala, India, the Tibetan government office of Dharma affairs organized a five-day event focusing on general and specific aspects of Tibetan religious and secular issues. The sangha of monks, nuns and ngakpas, came together in order to accumulate 100,000 tsog accumulations from Rigdzin Dungdrup of Rigdzin Godem’s Northern Ter.  On that occasion, initially, the ngakpas were belittled and called ‘phagen.’ Although a general order had been issued that the office of religious affairs would provide everyone with five rupees apiece each day, the ngakpas were not given any. The following day, myself and another ngakpa decided that we would go to the feast gathering attired in our white clothing and full nagkpa accouterments andthat if we were not shown proper respect and given our money accordingly, we would report the incident directly not only to the Dala’i Lama, but to the media. The next morning, we went as planned. When we arrived at the door of the assembly hall, some officials from the religious affairs department were seated upon stools in the doorway collecting donations. As soon as they saw the two of us, one of them said, “Look! Some handsome looking ngakpas have arrived!” Another one replied, “They are Tso Pema ngakpas.” Subsequently, we received our five rupees without any argument.

It is our own fault that ngakpas are belittled. It is fine for a ngakpa to be a father, but when ngakpas enter the assembly hall and are afraid to sit in the assembly row, then they shave their heads or wear monastic clothing as well as shave their heads, when they wear ordinary chupas and do not dress in the various accouterments of ngakpa attire, this is what happens.

In bordering countries such as Bhutan and Sikkim, there are ngakpas who don’t keep their hair long or wear white skirts. They dress in monk’s clothing, but have wives and are family lineage holders. They are called ‘serkyim’ ngakpas. In Tibet, there are a few gomdes like this, one of them is called ‘Wonpo’ (bdon po). Again, in this place, ngakpas have bald heads and wear informal chupas. They pretend to be ngakpas but they spend their lives doing business and performing rituals for ordinary pursuits, so they are neither ngakpas nor monks. The ordinary chupa is the dress of worldly, lay people.

On a previous occasion, the prince of Sikkim asked me to establish a three-year retreat center. When the appointed retreat master released the retreatants from the retreat boundaries, Chatral Rinpoche came and said that now that the retreat was complete, Sikkim was an extremely sacred practice place of Guru Rinpoche. From then on, if all of the retreatants left their hair uncut and wore ngakpa attire, it would be auspiciously beneficial to the country. He told the prince not to remain a bachelor and that he should find a kind-hearted consort. His instructions were very clear.

The ultimate Dharma lineage and the ngakpa family lineage, the beings who are the extraordinary holders of the practice lineage teachings, the great Vidyadharas of India as well as the sublime Tibetan masters of the kama and terma traditions who possess the three virtuous qualities of knowledge, love and power transcend the possibility of expression and cannot be written about here.

Furthermore, the seventh samaya vow precludes revealing secret teachings to sentient beings that are not completely mature. Thus, the secret mantra vehicle is called so because it is secret. The secret mantra teachings are without fault and must accordingly remain secret to beings that are unsuitable vessels or have wrong view. There are indeed many hidden yogis and yoginis who have mastered the practices of the Tantric classes of the superior Vajrayana and have accomplished the two-fold siddhis.


This brief account of the white-skirt, long-haired ngakpas was given at the request of a few Dharma friends who hold the name ngakpa, especially the ngakpa lineage holder, Tenzin Samphel and the French woman, Kechog Zangmo.
Based on the understanding, awareness and experience of Kunzang Dorje, a ngakpa of the Horja family lineage, this brief ngakpa history was written in his 70th year, the year of the earth-rabbit, at Tsogyel Gephel Jong, which is in the foothils of Yanglesho, a sacred place of Nepal.

Translated in March 2004 with the support of Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin.

Translator’s Footnotes:

1 sngags pa General name for ordained Tantric practitioners who are neither monastic, nor lay.
2 ser khyim pa According to Lopon P Ogyan Tanzin, ‘serkhyimpas’ refers to practitioners who wear yellow (ser) monastic clothing, but live as householders (khyimpa).
3 The text lists King Trisong Detsen’s life span as 790-844, but I have chosen to go with the more commonly accepted 790-858.
4 The text lists the reign of Ralpachen as 866-896, but I have chosen to go with the more commonly accepted 813-836.
5 mdos Most important type of ransom ritual used to dispel harm and obstacles caused by the lha, nyen, lu and the eight classes of gods and spirits. (Drung, Deu and Bon, Narrations, Symbolic languages and the Bon tradition in ancient Tibet, p. 77, Namkhai Norbu, Dharmsala, 1995.) These are the rituals of suppression, burning and throwing which are described further into the text.
6 ham khung Also known as ‘brub khung.’ The ham khung is a black, triangular-shaped, iron receptacle used in sacrificial rites. Its function can also be accomplished by any conjunction of three points formed by earth, sky, valleys, rivers, etc., or established points on the ground. (Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, 2002).
7 zhung beu tshang ba’I dgra bo The ten enemies to be destroyed include: 1)beings who damage the doctrine 2)beings who slander the Three Jewels 3)beings who steal the sangha’s possessions 4) beings who slander the Mahayana 5)beings who harm the Lama 6)beings who cause upset to one’s vajra siblings and friends 7)beings who obstruct practice 8)beings who do not rely upon love and compassion 9)samaya violators 10)beings with perverted view of karma and its consequences.
8 bden pa gsum The Three Truths: 1) the absolute truth of transcendence or emptiness 2)the relative truth of temporary phenomena 3)the inseparability of the absolute and relative truths.
9 me lha A deity associated with the fire offering rituals, related to the Hindu fire god, Agni.
10 ling zor Effigy torma to which a harmful being is bound and then thrown as a means of destruction. (Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin)
11 gsal ba gsum The three aspects of clear visualization related to generationstage meditation which include 1) the clear visualization of the deity’s appearance 2)maintaining the stable pride of the deity 3)recalling the pure, insubstantial qualities of the deity.
12 zor zlog Rituals in which substances or objects are empowered as magical weapons through mantra and visualization, and then used to avert enemies and obstructing forces.
13 thun zor ‘Thun’ refers to the use of mantra as a magical weapon. According to Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin, it is not necessary to involve a particular sorcery object – the recitation alone is the weapon. According to Norbu (p.257) ‘thun’ refers to the substances themselves, which are first empowered through mantric recitation and then hurled from the wrathful horn in the zor zlog rituals.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Counting the pennies

Counting the Pennies, by photographer Sylvie Goy

A big thank you this week to Lama Nor'dzin and Lama 'ö-Dzin for kindly donating a sack full of pennies that have been gradually totting up in a jar in the family home over. . . well years now really.  Over a thousand of the little devils have now been contributed towards the appeal. 

Pennies from the household of such fine folk are indeed pennies from heaven. . .

(I know - not really related - just a great excuse to reference my favourite sitcom of all time)

Anyway, in all seriousness, every little really does help.

Thank you!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Camera for sale (Thank you Dad!)

Just a quick post to tell you that there is a nearly new Fuji digital camera up for sale on e-bay at the moment - kindly donated by my father, Cliff Watkins, member of the Beckenham Photographic Society.

If you want to bid, act now - after some costs are covered, all profits will go to the Drala Jong appeal.

These things for £140+ but the auction is starting at under £100, so if you want a bargain, and to help the appeal - bid away!

If you want to donate an item for auction for the appeal, do get in touch.  Of course you can just send a credit or debit card donation to us via Paypal by going to the Paypal website and donating to sncd.treasurer@gmail.com.

Anyway, happy bidding.  As they say in all good elections (sort of), bid early and bid often!

Best regards


Sunday 12 August 2012

A Wish Fulfilled

Lama Shé-zér & I just returned from a week-long Ling Gésar retreat with Lama Bar-ché and Lama Mé-sèl at Talli Fageräng, outside Helsinki, Finland.  To date the Gésar retreats have focussed primarily on martial arts and the physical yogas, so it was a delight to help bring a different aspect of this gTérma into being.  After the formal dinner at the conclusion of the retreat, all the guests remarked what a fine occasion it was, in terms of ambience, cuisine and conversation.

Neither the Natural Dignity dining nor the Dance would have been possible of course without the hostess' entirely excellent serving staff, who performed sterling work in the kitchen and at table.

Amongst the many wonderful things we experienced on this retreat was the fact that it showed what will be possible when Drala Jong is established.  The wonderful Maria Mäkinen as well as her families - both relatives and the extended vajra family of apprentices - have created an amazing space for practice.

This is the first place since our experience of pilgrimage to Boudha that has felt naturally imbued with an atmosphere completely supportive to practice.  It was a real honor to be part of the first teachings in the Gompa that Maria has built.  This was especially the case because in doing so we in some small way have been able to help the Father Lineage Gésar gTérma come into being. 

Included within the shrine area is a Raven, who used to visit Lama Bar-ché in retreat on the land, but who recently passed away, and the Raven's family continue to nest in the forest.  If felt like we were under the watchful eye of the lineage, and of the extended vajra families of yogic practitioners everywhere whilst we taught.

To honor the passing of this fine fellow, The Raven was performed at the fire-side celebration on the first weekend of the retreat.  During the celebration we were fortunate enough to witness the sun conjuring rainbow light into the cloud-filled sky.

Indeed the whole retreat had the atmosphere of celebration.  Our son Tomas had his first ever riding lesson, and it seemed apt that the Icelandic Pony upon which he rode was a family favourite - and one of the oldest of the herd - who name was Osku, which means 'A Wish Fulfilled'.

Talli Fageräng really demonstrates the joy that can be created by fulfilling the wishes of others in making such a space available for practice.  Drala Jong will feel the same, when we finally fufill the wishes of Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel, and bring it into being.

Help us do that today, by sending a credit or debit card donation via Paypal to sncd.treasurer@gmail.com.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Green Man Marathon Update - Don't Panic - Mirek is Fine!

First of all, and most importantly, I want to start by letting the readership know that Mirek is perfectly fine in spite of the travails and tribulations of the Green Man Marathon which supporters and friends of the Drala Jong Retreat Centre Appeal walked (slipped, slid, tumbled and almost swam) on Saturday.

The walk started well, with the Vanguard heading from Blaise and linking up with the main body of walkers coming down off Dundry Hill. 

Sky Larks were playing over the heads of the wheat fields, and spirits were high. . .

. . .although after a while the Gaveller was starting to look pensive, perhaps due to his weather sense kicking in. . .

. . . and then, it came. . .

Of course the benefit of a day that saw wind and stillness, rain and bright sunshine, thick black clouds, and clear blue sky (and an occasion that is supporting the vision of Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche), is that a rainbow was inevitable.

The final leg is where 'Uncle Mirek' nearly came unstuck, and started at the Compton Inn.  Here the advance party of Drowang, Thrinlé, Shé-zér, 'ö-Dzin, Mirek, Isa, and A-gyür were joined by Namgyal, Libby and the four children (Raechel, Tom, Milan and Jana) for the final 3.7 mile section - all seen on their way by Khandro Déchen, for whom a knee injury had alas sidelined her from being able to take direct part in the walk itself.

It turned out that following weeks of heavy rain, and a downpour during the penultimate section of the walk, the final leg had somewhat treacherous footing.  Fortunately however the six inch deep mud cushioned the various impacts that happening during the home stretch.

Two of the team of walkers did take major tumbles during the 22.5 mile 'Moon-wise' secton of the Green Man course, which follows the Bristol Community Forest Path around the City.  A-gyür took the first dip in the murk, shortly followed by Isabelle.  Despite this, fortunately 'Uncle Mirek' survived his nasty brush with death (aka a mud-soaked Isa) without a scratch upon him.

Various records were set during the walk (albeit none of them relating to the pace of travel), including most biten by horseflies (Thinlé - 5) most times having a shoe sucked off her feet (Jana - 3), most times teased about not wanting to get even a spot of mud on him, whilst his wife was virtually swimming through the murk & mire (Mirek - 547) and most times staring down a charging Bullock that seemed intent on attacking the walkers from behind (again Mirek - 1).  Also Drowang (The Gaveller of the Honorable Order of Woodwoses) has officially declared that this was the muddiest excursion ever for a Green Man event.

All who participated enjoyed the event immensely, and are thinking of walking the other half of the 45 mile route next year.  Well, nearly all. . .

. . . and in addition to the mud, they are all now proudly sporting a Drala Jong Appeal wristband (send £2 + £1 P&P to sncd.treasurer@gmail.com for yours. . .)

Having been introduced by Drowang, run by Rin'dzin (the Mad-as-a-Snake Khandro) last year for Aro Ling, and now walked by sangha, friends and family this year, the Green Man (now renamed by those who walked it the 'Green Man, Brown Woman' walk looks set to be a sangha fixture

With about half the donations for the event declared, we're delighted to advise that so far £488 has been pledged to the appeal. 

If you still want to make a contribution you are of course most welcome to do so, by sending a credit or debit card payment via paypal to sncd.treasurer@gmail.com

My profound thanks to all who took part, Lama 'ö-Dzin who took the photos, all who came along to support, all who couldn't attend but have pledged their petrol money to the appeal, to those who donated, or who just wished they'd been there to see Mirek jump a full 12 feet in the air when Isa approached him covered in mud.

Here's to brilliant blue skies, and the swift establishment of the Drala Jong Retreat Centre, and the enactment of Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche's vision.

Friday 22 June 2012

Green Man Challenge

On Saturday June 30th - fifteen apprentices and friends of the Aro Tradition will be undertaking the Green Man Challenge as a sponsored walk to raise funds for the Drala Jong Appeal.

The Green Man Challenge follows the 45 mile course of the Community Forest Path around the city of Bristol.

We will be undertaking the challenge as a relay team with people undertaking legs of between 4 and 22 miles each depending on their age and ability. Two hardy souls - Naljorma Thrin-lé and Drowang Pawo have both committed to completing half the walk each - 22 miles, and our younger participants Tomas (age 5) and Raechel (age 9) have committed to walk 4 miles each.

If you would like to sponsor our team effort you can do so via Paypal or for other methods please get in touch. 

Just 5 pence per mile for Thrin-lé & Drowang's efforts would make all the difference.  Send your £2.20 donation to sncd.treasurer@gmail.com via www.paypal.co.uk and if you are a UK income tax payer include your name, house number and post code marking it 'Gift Aid' and we'll claim 55p tax relief on your donation.

Now we're just hoping it won't rain. . .

Saturday 12 May 2012

Fundraising 101 - part 2 - Little and Often

Now okay, 101 part 2 is probably 103 (think about it) but I hope you'll forgive my mathematical meshuggenations after our little discussion about 101.

Let us proceed. 

Raising money is much like eating an elephant - a subject with which Tantrikas should be intimately familiar.  Having first established that you don't have to work as hard as you originally thought (based on the - don't do more than you have to principle) despite the joys of the tax break, you're still confronted with a mighty target.  When approaching the Drala Jong project I had not the slightest experience of raising funds (unless you count bob-a-job week - the first time round in the early 1980s).  At first I thought we had to raise the whole £500,000 in one hit. 

And I was wrong wrong wrong.  The most important thing about being wrong, is recognising that you're wrong.  In most circumstances everyone will see it pretty quickly, so you can always ask the opinion of others. . .

. . . anyway, I digress.  The best way to raise a large sum of money, is to start.  Why?  Well, because if you wait for a big donor to come along you'll be waiting a long time.  Like many things in life, it's better to pitch for little, and often.  As a Management Consultant colleague once advised me (stay awake, this bit will be over quickly) 'Waiting is not an activity. . .'

If you're not used to fund raising, you should start small - simply because if you set achievable goals you set yourself up in a pattern of succeeding.  Once you've got some success under your belt you can go for something grander.  And remember, nothing sucks seeds like a parrot. . .

So, here are some simple suggestions you might like to consider

1) Sell your old junk

- two donors have been selling unwanted CDs and DVDs on Amazon and e-bay, and raised £170 in 6 months
- in a variant on this, another volunteer has gather together other people's unwanted stuff, and sold it on e-bay on their behalf, raising £240

2) Sell your skills

- table top, garage and street-front sales of home grown plants and home made cakes have raised £500 in the last few months
- you could even donate the prize money from your successes in a local horticultural show, if you fancy it

3) Go without something that you won't really miss

- one supporter is putting 1/3rd of their restaurant tips towards the appeal
- one supporter is going without their daily Starbucks hit, and putting the money aside in a jar for the project

don't go too far unless you're pretty confident of the outcome

4) And there are always sponsored events (although again set yourself an achievable target)

I'd welcome hearing of other fundraising ideas that people have put to good effect, and we can flag them here for others to learn from - not just for this project, but for any charitable cause that folk wish to support.

If you've enjoyed this post, why not donateto the appeal, by sending a Paypal donation to

Sunday 6 May 2012

The one thousand nine hundred dagger wielding ngakpas

This is a post that has been floating around for a few months, whilst I've been waiting for a good time to pop it up.  Now the title has got the better of me, and I can't keep it back any longer.  Enjoy!

Recently had a remarkable day at the ARHC/SOAS conference on 'Unity & Diversity: Monastic and Non-monastic Traditions in Amdo', where the conveners were kind enough to let myself and Lama 'ö-Dzin attend as observers.  The material from the conference will be published presently through an academic publishing house and before rolling on I should make it completely clear that although I have received academic training I make no pretence at presenting an academic assessment of the proceedings here.  I am simply so inspired to hear of the sheer number and range of Nyingma and Bon ngakpas and ngakmas in Amdo that I'm moved to write about it.  More specifically, there are some lessons about the form and function of the 'community of ngakpas' (or ngak mang) that touch on what we're doing with Aro Ling and with the Drala Jong project.

One of the conveners & speakers was Professor Geoffrey Samuel (above) who wrote Civilized Shamans.  This is a book which for me when I was a new young apprentice back in the 1990s closed the door on the vajra-Muppet's I'd encountered early doors in my practice career.  Back then there were westerners who suggested that there was no such thing as the go-kar chang-lo'i de and Ngak'chang Rinpoche had 'made up' the ideas that the ngakpa style of practice had ever been widespread.  Indeed some challenged the very existence of this style of practice, suggesting if it had ever existed at all it was 'reserved only for High Lamas'.  Now nearly 20 years have passed and so much more is known - such that today the conference was presented with 5 very different papers each of which illustrated different aspects of the ngakpa tradition.  In fact some of the early critics have even taken ngakpa vows in the intervening time (vajra-muppetry duly recanted - good show chaps - no hard feelings, we all make mistakes). 

Well, the conference certainly laid flowers at the gravestone of the idea that being a ngakpa was somehow a fiction, a thing of the past, or something distant and unobtainable to mere mortals.  In Repkong in fact there something in the order of 2,000 ngakpas practising today from the Nyingma and Bon traditions (perhaps 80% Nyingma), and in the wider Amdo region this figure increases to around 3,500.  In Repkong itself between 5% and 10% of the male population are ngakpas, and the number of ngakmas whilst much smaller is growing at a pace.  I say much smaller, but the conference recognised that in fact ngakmas are much harder to spot than ngakpas, with neither party overtly displaying the white skirt of the tradition and thus only being identifiable by their hair (which women wear long anyway) and their presence as major rituals (which tend to be male dominated affairs).

The reasons as to why there should be so many ngakpas in this area seem many and varied, and there was not a single core view as to how this came to be the case.  What is certain is that the vajrayana house holding style of practice had been present in the region for some centuries before monasticism arrived (which it did circa the 16th century).  A number of small assemblies of ngakpas are noted from 12th century onwards, including in the 12th century when Rig'dzin Dorje established the 100 tantrists of Zho'ong, and the 14th century where Drupchen Dorje Tsering (1325-1403) established the 30 'Ja' mo Tantrists in 'Ja' mo village.  The key spark for the huge spread and also survival of ngakpas in the area is attributed to Rig'dzin Palden Tashi (1688-1743) who was deeply troubled by the politically motivated massacres by Mongols that reached as deep into Tibet as Lhasa. 

Although trained at Drepung He ceased to be a Gelug monk instead taking ngakpa vows at Mindroling.  He organised the somewhat disparate Nyingma ngakpas of the region, enlarging structures, merging some traditions and encouraging new lineages where he could.  This organisational force was cemented in a 15 day ceremony where he started giving out wooden phurbas to ngakpa attendees.  By the end of the ceremony he had given out 1,900 - so the first major large scale establishment in the area was the '1,900 phurba wielding ngakpas' (phur-thog gos'dkar' lcang-lo-can) also called the 'Community of many yogis' (sngags-mang).  The name ngakmang survives to modernity, most recently embodied by the excellent ngakmang institute, which strives to support this style of practice in Repkong today.

In modernity there are several overlapping structures which seem to knit the Repkong ngakpas together in a variety of different ways, and some of these structures seem entirely applicable in terms of Drala Jong, Aro Ling, and the evolution of go-kar chang-lo practice in the west.

Many of the ngakpas practice as part of a family lineage, and fullfil a local social role in their village and immediate surroundings.  They often assemble and practice in a local village ngak khang.  Their external ritual practice here tends to be focused on the needs of local people, and their personal focus is often on a local yidam or protector and on their family lineage.  Larger gompas also exist, both with their own contingent of ngakpas and ngakmas and also as centres which draw practitioners from the surrounding areas to events specific to that gompa, or the lineage to which the gompa is affiliated.  There are 6 major gompas, 3 older ones on the 'shady' side of the valley which are associated with Mindroling, and 3 newer ones on the 'sunny' side of the valley associated with the Longchen Nyingthig tradition.  Major events also occur throughout the year, some of which are specific to a single gompa, and others which cycle through different major locations in the region.  There is a strong reflection here of the model which we hope to create in the Aro gTér, where Drala Jong will act as that central hub, with centres like Aro Ling providing local focus for practitioners in one particular geographical area.  All we need now is one thousand nine hundred phurbas. . .

If you've enjoyed this post, why not donate 1,900 pennies to the appeal, by sending a £19 / Euro19 / $19 Paypal donation to

Sunday 29 April 2012

Tibetan Buddhst Calligraphy Gallery & Charity Sale - Scorpion Seals aplenty

Well, you lucky people, here is an opportunity for you to indulge your own artistic interests, your desire to acquire, AND your charitable spirit. 

Some of the calligraphies created by Ngak'chang Rinpoche for the talk in Bristol have found their way into our tender care, and we display them here for your delight and delectation, and most importantly your purchase!

Below are images of the last remaining calligraphies created for the Drala Jong appeal. . . get 'em while they're hot!  Each of the calligraphies pictured here is for sale (bar the last one - see below) and each is a unique and original artwork.

Price: £150 plus postage and packaging (£4.99 UK, £9.99 airmail Rest of World)

Orders can be placed and payments made via the e-mail address at the top of this page.

Size: 30" x 20" (75cm x 50cm)

(Apologies by the way for my imperfect photographic efforts - I was unable to get a completely square-on shot of the artworks, despite standing on various pieces of furniture and trying various tacks.  I did think of trying to suspend myself from the chandelier to get a better angle, but realised that might have hurt my back - not least because we don't actually have a chandelier).

Just as an aside - before proceeding - but did you know that the blog piece on the Scorpion Seal is the most read item on this site?

Anyway, on to the calligraphies. 

É Ma Ho:

(exclamation of delighted-surprise, wonder, or amazement)


Seed syllable
(2 available)

empyrean ebullience
(enrapturement, great joy, overjoyed, boundless beatific delight)

spatial wind
(the subtle motility  which animates being, breath, breathing, air, vital current [vayu / prana] the subtle energy which moves within the spatial channels)

magical radiance
(dynamic appearances generated through conjuring with energy of phenomena)

miraculous vision
(sGyu ’phrul ’drwa ba chen po’i ting ’dzin – meditative absorbtion within the interconnectivity-web of reality)
Seals central 

immensity of empty-potentiality
(that which allows all phenomena to arise, uncreated, unborn, unoriginated, non-produced, unmanufactured, unobstructed, devoid of artifice)

 vast expansiveness of reality
(space basis space, immensity, limitless scope, unboundedness)

spatial enchantment and miraculous orchestration of phenomena
(creation of apparitions, magical power and display, telekinesis / psychokinesis, et cetera)

miraculous vision
(sGyu ’phrul ’drwa ba chen po’i ting ’dzin – meditative absorbtion within the interconnectivity-web of reality)
Seals to the left

as it is - reality
(Dharma [and dharmas as in ‘phenomena’], teaching of Buddhas, religion [teachings / doctrine / scripture / text / tenet /precept] quality, attribute, characteristic, ability)


This is the only calligraphy which is not currently for sale.  You may notice both the fine profusion of ink spots, and accompanying Scorpion Seal - associated with Wrathfulness - and also the fact that this is the only calligraphy where the script lies outside of the circle.  When asked, Ngak'chang Rinpoche confirmed that this is the first time he has written script outside of the circle on any of his works.  Thus it is that this work is particularly distinctive - and particularly desirable.  Several offers have been made for this work, but none yet accepted, and the current thought is that it will be raffled auctioned at a charity dinner later this year.  If you wish to submit a speculative electronic bid for this work, you could chance your arm via the e-mail address above.  This *may* be the only calligraphy Rinpoche ever creates in this way in his lifetime. . .

[Update - this last calligraphy was sold by auction mid-2012, with a final bid several times higher than the normal sale price of the other calligraphies - thank you to those who bid]

BTW - Blues Masters up next.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Diggin' it

Well, we're back from the latest Apprentice Retreat here in good old Blighty, and although the event itself was nothing to do with fund raising for the project, various folk have been diggin' the Drala Jong fundraising effort one way or the other.  Nearly £2,000 has poured into the appeal as a result.  It's particularly good to see this sort of casual fund raising happening, with lots of little projects providing people with things that they want and need, for small contributions here and there - including vajrayana instruments, gZi stones and shawls all donated to the project and sold to grateful practitioners.

As well as vajrayana artifacts 13 Sky Signature calligraphies were sold in Finland by Bar-ché and Me-sel, and several more found new owners during the retreat.

My lovely wife Shé-zér has also added a few pennies to the coffers in her one woman Dig-For-Dharma campaign - by selling 50 strawberry plants for the appeal. 

On it's own it won't keep Jerry from the door (but it will give Margo something to peer at over the hedge row).

Most significant though was the arrival in Britain of several of the Blues Masters images courtesy of Ngak'chang Rinpoche.  Their creation was sparked through his work on his autobiographical work An Odd Boy
Shortly we'll be posting images of the first set of Blues Masters works on the Blogsite - and they will be available for sale here, as well as being hung for viewing and sale at Aro Ling some time in the summer, when volume two of An Odd Boy is launched.  These images are a collection of works, that have been extensively recoloured and restored by Rinpoche using a host of tools available through the wonder that is Photoshop.  Up until this point they were only visible via Facebook, but thanks to the work of Lama Shardrol's sangha in the USA, they are now available on canvas.

Some of the source images were black and white, or of very low resolution, and have been touched up, sharpened and refined.  The Jimi Hendrix image was in fact sourced from a photograph of an original painting by Rinpoche himself - and again has been retouched for the Blues Masters collection.  Each image has had something like 60 to 100 hours of work put into it, before being printed to canvas in medium and large scale, for hanging.

Images include a host of Blues artists from both the USA, and also from the British Blues boom.  Where images were cut or cropped, instruments have been restored from scratch by adding them from other photographic sources from the period.  Friends and relatives of many of the Blues artists pictured have been good enough to get in touch with Rinpoche and express their appreciation of the work that has gone into bringing these performers to life.  Now they will be made available for public sale - with 100% of the proceeds going to charity.

The most ambitious part of the Blues Master project will appeal to fans of An Odd Boy.  Amongst the images there are several restored pictures of the band Savage Cabbage - in which Rinpoche himself played. As no extant image of the band on stage could be found, these works have required sourcing faces, bodies and instrument images from a host of different sources - including Rinpoche's son - a bass player himself - providing a body double for the performers in their stage poses.

The next two posts will catalogue the currently-available Blues Masters and Calligraphy images that are available to buy - and will detail how supporters of the appeal can get these unique works to hang upon their walls at home.