Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome Back, Lama

This past week Khenchen, the first lama i ever met and received teachings from --- who effectively sealed the deal on me becoming a Buddhist --- returned to the Pensacola area to give another set of teachings @ Palyul Changchub Chöling (Gulf Breeze Dharma Center).

Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche, senior abbot of Palyul Namdroling monastery

This trip back to Pensacola was very productive.  I spent a good deal of time at my lama's side, whether it was getting Khenchen's blessing to become a translator and his practical advice on how to stick with that goal, or painting the butter sculpture offerings (torma) for the Guru Rinpoche day feast (tsok) and helping hold/cut the Mahakala text, or getting all my religious paintings (thangka) and statues (buddharupa) consecrated... Whatever i was doing, it was either in the lama's presence and we were laughing, or i was carrying the lama with me in my mind.  This must've been a taste of truly living in the present moment.  In a word:  inspiring.

While obligations to school and work (and a slight lack of planning) led to me being unable to attend the entire week, i was able to receive teachings on Mipham Rinpoche's Sword of Wisdom and an empowerment, retake refuge, and repair my individual liberation (pratimoksha) vows.  Let me take a minute to break it down.

The vows of pratimoksha (Skt. pratimokṣa-saṃvara; Wyl. so thar gyi sdom pa) or vows of ‘individual liberation’ (Skt. pratimokṣa; Wyl. so sor thar pa) mainly emphasize disciplining one’s physical behaviour and not harming others.

Pratimoksha discipline is called the foundation of Buddhism because for ordinary people physical discipline is the beginning of spiritual training and the basis of spiritual progress. The aspiration of the pure pratimoksha discipline is the achievement of liberation for oneself, as it belongs to the shravaka training. However, since Tibetan Buddhists are automatically followers of the Mahayana, they emphasize taking the pratimoksha vows with the attitude of bodhichitta.

The Five Pratimoksha Vows for Laypeople (Non-monastics):
  1. to refrain from killing
  2. to refrain from stealing
  3. to refrain from lying
  4. to refrain from sexual misconduct
  5. to refrain from taking intoxicants

As they were explained to me, the first 4 are considered root vows, and the 5th regarding intoxicants is considered a branch vow.  This means that transgressing the first four directly leads to non-virtuous action, whereas something like drinking alcohol is not inherently non-virtuous, but rather being unmindful while becoming intoxicated is what leads to non-virtuous action.  Pratimoksha vows are like a clay pot:  if they are minorly transgressed, such as in an instance where one's motivation is pure and one is helping protect another sentient being from harm, the pot gets scratched.  If one wantonly transgresses and/or motivation is not pure, the vows are broken and the pot shatters.  Having taken them before and transgressed, i therefore decided to retake the vows and get a new clay pot that i'll be be much more careful with.  A new year, a fresh start.

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