lama tenpa

Lama Tenpa Gyamtso

Refuge & a Few Accounts

of the Great Shangpa Kagyü Masters

zufluchtsgebet tenpa
"May the Buddha, Dharma, and the noble Sangha
be my refuge until I reach enlightenment.
By the merit made from giving and the others
may Buddhahood be reached for the sake of all living beings. “ The Refuge Prayer

Speaker: Venerable Lama Tenpa Gyamtso has practiced the Golden Dharmas of Niguma in solitude for many years, twice for 5 years and once for 7 years. In between his retreats, Lama Tenpa Gyamtso visits his teachers in India and Tibet and his students in France and Heidelberg. He was the first Tibetan master I met - it was in the year 1982. At that time he was retreat master at Kagyü Ling, a Dharma center founded by Venerable Kalu Rinpoche at Chateaux du Plaige, Bourgogne, in France. At 5 o'clock in the morning there was the opportunity to practise calm abiding meditation together with him in his small cabin and it was truly a great inspiration. It is an exceptional honour and a great joy for us that he has returned to Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling after his last visit eight years ago. We wish to welcome him and request him to speak about the nature of mind and to offer meditation instructions to us.

Venerable Lama Tenpa Gyamtso

Let me greet you kindly and tell you that I am very happy to meet you and to be here, a center that is dedicated to His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and a place where Dharma students gather and practice together. Let us meditate the calm abiding practice that you are familiar with and that you like to practice before beginning with the instructions. If you have not received instructions on how to meditate calm abiding, then I suggest that you focus your attention on your ingoing and outgoing breath.

Now that His Holiness is residing in India, his activities are spreading throughout the world. I am extremely happy to see that his picture can be seen by members of the Sangha in the many centers. In The Seven-Line Prayer by Guru Rinpoche it is stated that the Sangha is very important. The Buddha is important - the Dharma is important - and the Sangha is important. I see that they are spreading in the name of His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa and under his auspicious tutelage. The Sangha is very important, because it is due to the Sangha that followers and practitioners are inspired to develop deep trust and devotion, which enable them to engage in virtuous activities with enthusiasm and therefore to accumulate wisdom and merit.

When taking refuge, we take refuge in the Buddha, who is the Enlightened One, in the Dharma, his teachings, and in the Sangha, the spiritual community of practitioners. Whether someone is a Hinayana or Mahayan practitioner, all Buddhists take refuge in the Sangha. There are Sangha members who are devotees or lay practitioners. There are now more committed Sangha members who have taken ordination vows and are monks and nuns. There are exalted Sangha members who have accomplished high realizations. In any case, the Sangha consists of all these individuals. And so I am more than happy to see that His Holiness' activities are reaching a growing community of Sangha members worldwide.

His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa's activities are those of Noble Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of all-embracing compassion. Just like His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the manifestation of Chenrezig's enlightened activities, the Gyalwa Karmapa is the manifestation of Noble Chenrezig, and they do not differ in the least. And therefore it is possible for us to have deepest devotion for the Gyalwa Karmapa, who is inseparably one with the Lord of Compassion. One newer beneficial display of the Gyalwa Karmapa's enlightened activity is that according to His Holiness' requested at the Kagyü Mönlam a few years ago, no meat is served and eaten at the Karma Kagyü Monsteries in India. Many lay practitioners have given up eating meat altogether due to the Gyalwa Karmapa's recent request.

Some people may have doubts whether Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the true Karmapa, but these doubts are not justified, seeing that Tertön Chögyur Lingpa (who was one of the great treasure revealers of teachings concealed by Guru Rinpoche and who was a disciple of the Fourteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje, and a contemporary of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great) had prophesied that the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa would be deeply connected to His Eminence the Twelfth Tai Situpa, Pema Dönyö Nyingje Wangpo. This prophecy has come true. Furthermore, like a wish-fulfilling jewel, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa has renewed his link with his American disciples when he visited the United States this year. I am convinced that it will not be long and His Holiness will visit his European centers. I, too, am very happy to continue my connection with Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling in Heidelberg and to see the Lamas I have known for many years.

It doesn't really matter if one is new to the Dharma or has been a disciple for many years, the decisive factor is taking, i.e., seeking refuge in the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha - and acknowledging and appreciating with heart-felt devotion and trust that they truly offer refuge. As mentioned earlier, all Buddhists share the act of taking refuge in the Three Jewels and this distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Mahayana practitioners are differentiated into adherents of the vehicle of characteristics, called Sutrayana, and adherents of the vehicle of results, called Vajrayana. Disciples of both vehicles take refuge in the Three Jewels, whereas Vajrayana practitioners also take refuge in Three Roots, which are the Lamas, Yidams, and Protectors.

Buddhism almost vanished from Tibet after the 11th century, and that is why the great Indian Pandita Jowo Atisha (who lived from 985 until 1054 C.E.) came to Tibet and renewed and restored the Mahayana teachings. He turned the Wheel of Dharma many times in Tibet and gave an immense number of teachings, but the most important practice that he taught was taking refuge. He offered many teachings about relative and ultimate Bodhicitta "the mind of awakening ), but he never grew weary of teaching that the most important practice was taking refuge. Disciples realized the benefit of taking refuge, so it didn't take long and Pandita Atisha became renowned as The Refuge Lama.

Mahasiddha Tangtong Gyalpo (whose names means "King of the Empty Plain and who lived from about 1361 until 1485 C.E.) was an unprecedented talented child. Since there were no schools during those times, he received his education from his parents. They told him to learn the letters of the alphabet, but he wasn't interested and responded, "What use are the letters of the alphabet? Refuge is important.

Refuge is most important, followed by the meditation practice and recitation of the Mani-Mantra of ˜Phagpa Chenrezig. Taking refuge is vast and limitless and is the golden thread that runs through all practices of the Kagyüpas and Nyingmapas. It is also seen as extremely essential by every disciple of the Shangpa Kagyü Tradition. The Shangpa Lineage is based upon the instructions of the Indian Dakinis Niguma and Sukhasiddhi and was founded by their disciple, Mahasiddha Khyungpo Nöljor (who lived from 990 until 1139). Mahasiddha Tangtong Gyalpo, also a main lineage-holder and patriarch of the Shangpa Tradition, had received the sacred transmissions directly, i.e., personally, in a vision from Dakini Sukhasiddhi.

Let me tell a story illustrating the benefit of taking refuge that Jowo Atisha recounted and that took place in India between Buddhists and heretics. There are various kinds of heretics, one being adherents of black magic who engage in a practice called "killing with ones breath. If someone becomes a victim of the ritual that they carry out, they die. Once there was a sorcerer who tried to kill a little boy by resorting to the practice of killing with his breath. The sorcerer had managed to kill his dog through this method, but he couldn't kill the little boy. This irritated the practitioner of black magic, so he asked the little boy, "Why can't I kill you? Do you have extraordinary abilities? The child answered, "I don't do anything extraordinary. I only take refuge continuously. This convinced the man who practiced black magic “ he converted and took refuge.

Another story speaks about an entire community of people who suffered from a contagious disease. A man had immense compassion for everyone living in that district. He entered a house in which three persons had died of the epidemic. The compassionate man left and met three wandering yogis. He asked them to perform a puja "a ceremonial ritual ) for the three persons who had died. The three yogis agreed, went to the house, made tormas "ritual cake offerings ), and recited the liturgy for the deceased, while the compassionate man looked on. After sunset, the evil spirit, whose entire body was covered with eyes and who was responsible for the epidemic, appeared and killed the three yogis. The compassionate man witnessed their death and thought, "Oh, now I have to find other Lamas to pray for the three yogis. He searched, found a monk, and asked him to perform a puja to assist the three yogis on their journey through the intermediate state. The monk told him, "I'm not learned and don't understand much, but I will come if you give me a meal in return. The compassionate man agreed, and the monk went to the house where the three yogis had died. He sat down and, without taking a break, recited The Refuge Prayer, while the compassionate man looked on. The evil demon arose again after sunset but didn't want to be seen, so it hid in a corner of the room, while the monk continued reciting The Refuge Prayer. The monk addressed the demon and said, "You needn't hide from me. I don't see an evil spirit anyway. In order to gain control over the monk and to harm him, the demon that would not come out in the open had to blow his breath on the monk, but it only managed to blow out the light of the candles. Having witnessed the power of the monk's recitation, the demon that had brought on the epidemic was convinced “ he converted and took refuge. The monk who would not let the demon distract him from reciting The Refuge Prayer was Jowo Atisha, and the compassionate man who always called for help was Dromtönpa, who became Jowo Atisha's foremost disciple.

There is another story about an Indian king. Usually a king is very busy, because he has to look after his fields, administer the law, and see to it that his subjects finish their work and are doing well. This king refused doing anything. He just sat in his room and recited The Refuge Prayer. He accumulated so much merit that the country he ruled was very prosperous and all his servants and kin were always happy and content.

Tangtong Gyalpo was an extraordinary master - he was clairvoyant. His main practice was recitation of The Refuge Prayer. One of his disciples watched him and remarked, "Oh, today you are reciting The Refuge Prayer quite fervently and so often. Why? Tangtong Gyalpo replied, "Heretics are fighting at the Vajrasana (the seat of Lord Buddha's enlightenment at Bodhgaya in India), so I am reciting The Refuge Prayer extra for them. The disciple asked, "Is the situation that bad at Bodhgaya? Tangtong Gyalpo answered, "No, I'm reciting The Refuge Prayer for them. And so, the different views that were topics of controversy and that were being argued at Bodhgaya were settled. Tangtong Gyalpo was one of the most accomplished Tibetan Mahasiddhas and recited The Refuge Prayer uninterruptedly, so we shouldn't underestimate the benefit of reciting it.

One day villagers approached Tangtong Gyalpo and told him, "A vicious tiger is roaming through our fields and is eating our sheep. Please help us. Tangtong Gyalpo wrote down a few letters on a piece of paper, gave it to them, and said, "Take this with you and always recite what I have written down. After the villagers had started the recitation, the tiger lived peacefully with the other animals and stopped causing harm.

Tangtong Gyalpo was very learned and he was the first person to construct 58 iron suspension bridges, 60 wooden bridges, 118 ferries, 111 stupa monuments, and countless temples and monasteries in Tibet and Bhutan. One day he looked up a very rich man who refused to help him, though. His students remarked, "A whole bunch of bears are coming closer to us. Fearful, they ran away. Tangtong Gyalpo stayed, but was all alone. An earth spirit appeared and the bears carried all the things that were lying around to the disciples. They were astounded, but Tangtong Gyalpo stayed calm. He told his disciples that it meant nothing to him.

Tangtong Gyalpo was already a Mahasiddha when he was young. Once he came to a river that nobody could cross, not even the cow standing at the shore. He picked up the cow and carried it to the other side. The people who saw this didn't know that he was a Mahasiddha and thought that he must be crazy.

Like other Tibetans, he was involved in trade and walked with friends to and from TibetNepal and sold his musk for a really high price. At that time the king wanted to execute seven thieves, but it was possible to pay ransom for them. Tangtong Gyalpo bought them free and returned home with these seven men. The people were shocked at the sight of the thieves and thought Tangtong Gyalpo must be crazy. He was truly a great Mahasiddha. selling his ware. One day he arrived in Tangtong Gyalpo decided to move to a kingdom in India that was ruled by a non-Buddhist king who demanded that human lives be offered to the might gods that he worshipped. The king was surrounded by a huge number of bodyguards and soldiers. Tangtong Gyalpo arrived at the palace of this king, entered his room, and just sat down on his throne. The king became extremely upset, called his bodyguards, who came running but couldn't see Tangtong Gyalpo. Of course, they searched for him all over the room and in the palace and when they found him, they buried him deep down under the earth. The bodyguards left him locked in the dungeon and walked away, but Tangtong Gyalpo followed their heels and again took his seat on the king's throne. The king was so angry that he had his bodyguards throw him into the strong river. He stepped out of the flowing current, returned to the room of the king, and again took his seat on the throne. The king was furious and the bodyguards and soldiers felt helpless, so they decided to throw Tangtong Gyalpo into a fire. But he stepped out of the fire and sat on the throne of the king again. The king was shattered at the sight and asked Tangtong Gyalpo, "Why can't I vanquish you? By the way, where do you come from? Tangtong Gyalpo replied, "I come from Tibet but have lived in India many times and therefore know the language. He had been Kamalashila in a former life. The king asked, "What brought you here this time? Tangtong Gyampo answered, "I am here for your sake. I want to help you. Killing so many people causes calamity and will bring you disaster. Please stop killing. Instead, make tormas and offerings. The king promised to stop killing, took refuge, practiced Chenrezig, and benefited his kingdom as a result. When he saw that the king had become somewhat stable spiritually, Tangtong Gyalpo returned to Tibet. After a few years, the king got sick and returned to his evil ways of offering animals and human beings to the gods he believed in, but all his sacrifices did not cause him to become well. Distressed, he asked a Tibetan merchant who happened to pass through his kingdom whether he knew Tangtong Gyalpo. The merchant replied, "No, but I know Mahasiddha Tangtong Gyalpo. Do you mean him? The king brought many offerings to the Mahasiddha in Tibet and confessed and regretted his evil ways. Tangtong Gyalpo replied, "You knew that you should not do that. The king tried to defend himself and blamed the mighty god that he believed in. Mahasiddha replied, "Wait a minute. I will write something down for you. Take this with you and read it to your god. The king did as told. What was written on the sheet? Stop killing! When the king read this out loud to his god, he promised to stop killing.

The wondrous qualities of great Mahasiddhas are that they can protect living beings from succumbing to temptations that incessantly lurk everywhere.

Tibet is a Buddhist nation, but there are the white and black indigenous religions called Bön. The black Bönpo believe in worldly deities and resort to killing, thinking they can appease the gods they believe in; they do have magical powers. One day a black Bönpo sorcerer wanted to destroy a Buddhist stupa "reliquary shrine ). Stupas, too, have spiritual energy. The sorcerer couldn't harm the stupa, because Tangtong Gyalpo was seated on its top. More black Bönpos came running and threw stones at the Mahasiddha, who fell down and lay at the bottom of the stupa, covered with rocks. They thought they had managed to get rid of him and were very happy. When they returned the next day, they saw Tangtong Gyalpo seated on the top of the stupa; they bowed to him and brought him offerings.

This is what I wanted to say about the great Mahasiddha Tangtong Gyalpo, who benefited living beings immensely, who built many stupas, and who taught The Refuge Prayer to many living beings. He built the many stupas as a symbol of the power of refuge, which was most important to him. The qualities of Buddhahood become evident when reflecting the life of Tangtong Gyalpo, who had attained omniscience, i.e., the eye of wisdom that all great Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have. One should not think that these great beings are distanced from oneself.

There are five eyes of wisdom (spyan-lnga in Tibetan). The first is called "the eye of flesh, i.e., the physical eye through which one perceives the physical surroundings at an extremely far distance. It is said that a Mahasiddha sees a thousand arm lengths far off. This ability increases to the stage at which a Buddha sees in all distances of the cosmos.

The second is called "the divine eye, at which stage a highly realized Mahasiddha can see what ordinary beings cannot see, e.g., what is taking place under the earth. The divine eye of a Bodhisattva can see all levels of samsaric existence - the desire, the form and formless realms.

The third eye is called "the eye of discriminating wisdom, at which point realization of the two types of non-self (that of an individual and that of objects) has been perfected. The eye of discriminating wisdom unfolds slowly through practice and grows until perfect omniscience of Buddhahood has been achieved.

The fourth eye of wisdom is called "the eye of Dharma that sees reality without obscurations. At this stage an advanced Mahasiddha has attained nine of the ten powers or strengths of a Buddha. The ten strengths are: knowledge of appropriate and inappropriate actions; knowledge of the ripening of karma, of natures, aptitudes, and aspirations; knowledge of the destination of all paths; the possession of mental absorption, divine sight, memory of previous actions, and peace.

The fifth eye of omniscience is called "the eye of a Buddha. At this stage there is no duality anymore, nothing is far or near or out of reach.

The ability to develop what is also called "the wisdom ear unfolds along the path to Buddhahood. At first a diligent practitioner can hear sounds at a greater distance than ordinary beings can hear. This ability increases until Buddhahood has been attained and duality has finally been overcome. A third ability is to be able to read thoughts and recognize the mind of living beings. The fourth ability has to do with seeing the karma of others. The fifth ability is having perfected the accumulation of merit and having exhausted all disturbing emotions. This is the fulfilment of the wisdom of a Buddha, i.e., it is the omniscience of a Buddha.

The five eyes of wisdom are abilities that practitioners gradually attain by practicing the path to Buddhahood. All-embracing compassion is like the hook that is flung out to those who are ready and open. The hook cannot take hold if it lands on a rock, rather it needs to attach to an eye of a living being in order to lead them to Buddhahood. Thank you very much.

Dedication Prayers

Through this goodness may omniscience be attained

And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.

May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara

That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.

May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its


Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception

swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.

 blume tenpa

Presented at Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling in Heidelberg in September 2008. Sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for sending the precious Refuge Prayer in the original Tibetan script, to Börbel Reinschmidt for having translated into German; translated into English by Gaby Hollmann, solely responsible for all mistakes.