Introducing Pemako Buddhism
Dear Sangha-members and other Dharma Friends.
Open Heart-teachings have been molded into their present form and presentation over the last 9 years. The method has taken shifts and turns as it has been an experiment laboratory in finding out what would benefit the modern people the most. For few years The Two-Part Formula for awakening and Tibetan Heart Yoga (THY) for mind transformation has been our main methods of insight (skt. vipashyana) practice, combined with dzogchen atiyoga-meditation. Throughout the years our sangha has worked and meditated closely with masters who have given these teachings. Tantric Guru Yoga has been the method's backbone for the whole of it's existence. Last year we found our home with Guru Padmasambhava and Lady Yeshe Tsogyal which was a significant occasion. On top of some alterations to THY, Guru Rinpoche has given us wonderful practices such as Dzogchen Metta, 13 Pure Land Jhanas and advanced dzogchen-practices.
It is almost always the case that when some dharma method is established eventually it loses it's essence and becomes a mere lifeless frame of what it used to be. Even the most beautiful lotus loses it's luster and withers. I don't think there are but a few (if even that) lineages that have avoided this. For this reason the basic principles of buddha dharma have been introduced again and again in different ways and places to help us erring samsaric beings remember where the finger should be pointing to, and where not.
For many years, Open Heart has been an attempt to squeeze out the essence of buddha dharma, and share it openly with anyone who might be interested. Like all other similar attempts, it has drawn both educated and uneducated criticism from many directions, while doing an excellent job in terms of recognition of the natural state of our practitioners.
Anyone who has followed my work knows that I have made an effort in making dharma both easily approachable and understandable, with an extra spin of demystification. A problem with the old forms of any religion is that as the dharma eye of realisation closes more and more, they end up with piles of books and complex rituals that are dead inside. I have talked about the consequences of this on many occasion, for example here, in the context of Pedagogy of Dharma. This withering can be seen all over buddhism today, as it's various schools have come from the East to the West over the last several decades after having been in the Orient for many hundreds of years. It is a curious thing that once a dharma culture reaches it's peak on some specific area, it is already going full steam towards it's inevitable decay and demise.
The people of the world need simple, clear and profound instructions that can be understood quickly and applied easily. We who do not have a buddhist culture, cannot use the old ways of training that were developed by and to monastics in a very different culture to ours.
The main purpose of buddhism is to make us realise our buddha nature, in full. Glimpses are good but won't do in the long run. We actually have to get rid of glimpses and shifts. We have to take personal responsibility of becoming buddhas in this very body.
Some time ago I heard a famous Tibetan nun say,
”It would be nice if someone would come along and find a method by which people could awaken.”
Whether or not it was her point, to me it meant that during the last 2500 years the many forms of buddhism have failed to awaken the human kind. We don't see a notable number of people becoming living buddhas because something crucial is missing. The success or failure of buddha dharma lies largely on the shoulders of teachers, who are responsible of passing the dharma, the know-how of buddha nature to others. It seems to me that the main problem, despite of the back breaking efforts many millions of people put into buddhist meditation practice everyday is that, they do not recognise their true being. I say it is not that difficult if the know-how is there. I am not saying it is very simple either because that would be idealistic. A special kind of know-how is needed.
Regardless of who we are, in the end we have to take responsibility for ourselves. If we don't know our karmic situation, we cannot rely on getting enlightened in future lives. We have to take the matter of attaining buddhahood in this life very seriously. We have to start making sense of things.
Dharma needs pragmatism, demystification and lucidity of expression. They were always needed but rarely available. We; you, me and everyone with connection to dharma, have to do better.
What makes you a buddhist?
Some time ago I asked the Open Heart Sangha if they felt they were buddhists or not. All who answered said that they didn't think of themselves as buddhists but practitioners of dharma. As we don't have any buddhist vows and ceremonies they don't have those things to identify with. They simply focus on their mind training for the liberation of all beings. I was pleased to hear their answers.
Usually it is the refuge ceremony and taking buddhist vows which is considered to make one a buddhist who has a teacher with a lineage and a set of teachings. But I see this a bit differently.
I think it is the direct recognition of the natural state and the ever expanding insight into the selfless nature of the mind that makes one a follower of the buddhas. Even though practices, recitation, refuge and bodhicitta are all parts of the same package, it all can be condensed to the recognition of awareness. Understanding this principle and how awareness (tib. rigpa) takes dynamic expressions, explains all forms and practices. Understanding this leaves little room for spiritual materialism which spreads like a weed if it is given a change to do so.
If you have awakened, you have glimpsed the enlightened nature and are therefore a follower of the buddhas. Unless one is involved with a lineage, having a glimpse does not make one a follower of any lineage or a make one a ”buddhist” but certainly such person knows more of the essence of buddhism than those who have spent ages reading the doctrine without ever having a glimpse, not to even mention of more. I think it is the simple act of recognising awareness (buddha nature) that is the essence of buddhism which when taken as a path makes us buddhists, that is, those interested in being awake.
Recently I published a text entitled Guru Rinpoche's Pure Land which told about Guru Rinpoche's Pure Land called Zangdok Palri, the Copper-Coloured Mountain. In the context of Open Heart-teachings I introduced a specific name of Pemako (lit. Land of Lotuses) which refers both to Zangdok Palri but also to the pure land of our natural awareness (tib. rigpa) that is hidden because of dualistic delusion.
It is the will of Guru Rinpoche that Open Heart-method is introduced and established as a method and tradition of buddhism, specifically vajrayana buddhism and dzogchen.
Pemako buddhism, also known as Open Heart, is not Tibetan buddhism, even though it has little Tibetan and Asian buddhist influences. Some foreign influences cannot be avoided because those cultures are where buddhism has survived in one way or the other for a long time. I don't consider it harmful or unpleasant that Pemako buddhism has some oriental features as long as the sangha understands the practice and stays true to it. At this cross-cultural age it would be pointless to start a branch of buddhism that was distinctly ”Tibetan”, ”Japanese” or whatever because distinct cultural features are becoming less and less anyway, thanks to pragmatic buddha dharma. But also it would not be smart to entirely disregard what the old buddhist cultures have to give.
If we look at Open Heart-teachings we can see a very unique set of teachings brought together by the grace and support of Guru Padmasambhava and other mahasiddhas. It's a very unique vehicle.
Within few short years we have seen that these teachings bear a lot of fruit. It has been worth all the hard work, experimentation and refining of the method why this has happened. As the study materials indicate, these teachings are filling their purpose very well. This is purely a pragmatical comment based on analytical observation*.
I feel it is a great blessing for us that Guru Rinpoche has started a new and fresh (!) buddhist school and a lineage in Pemako buddhism. I am certainly proud of our teachings and of everything we have accomplished and are yet to accomplish. All this would not be possible without Guru Padmasambhava so my devotion and gratitude goes firstly to him.
The entry of the terms, Pemako buddhism and Pemako buddhist, defines who we already are. We didn't have those terms before but now we do, and it feel just right. It is a fitting name for the work and the sangha. A wonderful blessing!
In case if someone is worried whether this buddhist status will bring in some religious features, no worries. Our practice will remain as before.
Names and titles
As is the common habit in spiritual traditions, we also used to have spiritual names. I have passed names to perhaps 20 students. I used a spiritual name myself until early 2016 when I dropped it because it didn't feel right anymore. At the time I didn't know whether I was going to use a name again but was open to it.
It has not been easy for me to speak of Open Heart as a ”buddhist” method even though it has had the main features of a buddhist teaching for a few years already. Two years ago I received Shakyamuni Buddha's blessing to do this but because both I and the sangha wasn't ready for it, I dropped it. It hasn't been easy because despite of my criticism towards orthodox buddhism, I respect the existing traditions and consider all buddhists one family. I know some people have hard time believing me when I say that I respect them tremendously but I do. So, I didn't want to do hasty and inconsiderate decisions regarding the buddhist status of Open Heart.
I have always underlined that I am not an authorised teacher in any existing buddhist lineage and that Open Heart-teachings come from what I and Pau have received from Guru Rinpoche and others. These teachings are not from any existing buddhist lama. But still, I haven't wanted to say that Open Heart is buddhist, even though it clearly is. It has felt contradictory being a dharma teacher myself yet not having authorisation, other than from my subtle gurus, and not being adressed as one. It has been a weird situation for me where I could feel that the energy wasn't flowing. This might sound self-important but hear me out.
In all professions we have titles, like ”doctor”, ”police officer”, ”cook” and so on. Professionals of different fields also have indicative uniforms. For example, when we go to see a doctor, we meet a medical professional glad in white jacket who we adress as ”doctor”, and not by other titles. We don't meet a guy in dirty t-shirt and broken jeans whom we adress by his nick name Jimmie or Jimbo (unless we know him personally). We receive medical help from the doctor based on his in-depth training in medical science. When we see a real doctor, we don't get quackery from him. We can see the validity of the doctor in the healing of our ailment that we experience ourselves. It is the healing that makes the doctor a doctor. Are you getting my point? We have titles, definitions and external signs for things in this relative world to know what we are dealing with. If we didn't, we couldn't make sense of things.
Not having any of these external signs myself it has been conflicting to me to be a dharma teacher. The conflict has not been great but something that has bothered me, like having sand in one's shoe.
About a month ago Guru Rinpoche conferred me a spiritual name and a title: Orgyen Pema Rinpoche. Orgyen refers to both natural awareness and to the historical land of Oddiyana where vajrayana- and dzogchen-teachings started on Earth. It also refers to Guru Rinpoche. Pema (skt. padma) is lotusflower which symbolises enlightenment that grows from mud and dark waters (samsaric mind). Pema or padma (skt.) which is also in guru's name, implies to my connection with him. Rinpoche is a Tibetan rendition of ratna (skt.) which means a jewel. Rinpoche is a honorary title widely used for respected buddhist teachers (tib. lama) with good reputation.
Because I know who my guru is, it was a great honor and blessing for me to receive this name. To me it shows his approval and encouragement towards the work I have done so I deeply thanked and bowed to him. At the same time, however, I thought I would never use it because using a traditional Tibetan buddhist title (rinpoche) publicly would surely create needless controversy. Keeping it to myself, I told about it only to few people.
However, every time when I meditated or thought of Guru Rinpoche, he pressured me to use it. His persistence was like that of a child who wishes for a certain kind of toy and doesn't yield an inch. I knew from the moment he started pressuing me that I was in trouble. But as I have been in similar situations before, opposing to my guru's instruction, I didn't fight it but simply waited for him to do his thing. After some time it started to make sense to me, along with establishing Open Heart as it's own separate school of buddhism. So I consented. Therefore, from now on I will use this name and title given to me by my guru.
Among our teaching staff we have also discussed of having a teacher-title for Pemako-teachers as well. In time when other teachers become active, they can use the title of ”lama” in front of their names. Lama is Tibetan and is widely used for buddhist teachers.
Regarding the external symbol of teachership, we have thought about it carefully with Karl. We have considered different options and finally ended up with a simple solution which is a variation from East-Asian Buddhism. If our teachers want they can wear a custom made (preferably by themselves) hangesa or rakusu around their neck. My recommendation for teachers is to use both the title and an external symbol for the previously mentioned reasons.
I pray for the liberation of all beings. I pray for peace on Earth. I pray for harmony and understanding between people.
May the grace of Guru Padmasambhava and all the buddhas shower upon samsaric beings like a heavy monsoon rain for us to realise our innate freedom. Let it pour down on us, master! Let it pour down!
May all beings be free!
- Pema Rinpoche, 12.6.2017