[From a teaching by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche given in Arizona in January 2010. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Transcribed by Liz Summers. Edited by Basia Coulter. All rights reserved.]
In a general sense we can say that there are two parts to the Barom Kagyu lineage: the long oral lineage and the short lineage of profound vision. The long lineage is what was originally received by the dharma lord Sonam Zangpo. Sonam Zangpo was one of the two major disciples of his master, the holder of the Barom Kagyu who was called Marmo Sonam Dondrup and who founded the original monastic establishment at Kyodrak Utse. Marmo Sonam Dondrup had two main disciples who were called his disciples like the sun and the moon. Those were the dharma lord Sonam Zangpo, who spent his life in practice at Kyodrak monastery, and the dharma lord Trungmase Lodro Rinchen who founded Surmang monastery. So in a sense both of these very important Kagyu monasteries are a result of the long oral lineage of the Barom Kagyu. These monasteries were founded 700-800 years ago and since that time they have continued in their traditions enriched by the visions of Barway Dorje.
The teachings of the Barom Kagyu, like the teachings of all four primary and eight secondary divisions of the Kagyu, are the teachings of mahamudra given by Lord Gampopa. All of these teachings originally come from Lord Gampopa, we can therefore regard the four primary and eight secondary divisions as being like the four children and eight grandchildren of one family. Each of these lineages has continued down to the present day and many of them are very well known. The Barom Kagyu still exists; all four of the primary subdivisions still exist; and the eight subdivisions do as well. Among these, many are well known to you. The Karma Kagyu is one of the four primary divisions; the Drikung Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu are the two of the eight secondary divisions that are best known worldwide. All of them are fundamentally the same in that what they are focused on, what they transmit, is the mahamudra of Lord Gampopa. This was taught by Vajradhara and so on, and in the case of the Barom Kagyu, it was passed from Vajradhara down, through the Kagyu tradition, to Marmo Sonam Dondrup and so forth. Countless siddhas have been born through these practices of mahamudra taught by Lord Gampopa.
The two volumes of visionary teachings found in the collected works of Barway Dorje are concerned with the lineage of mahamudra. The nine volumes of terma (or treasure) teachings are concerned with the other great tradition—the great perfection (or dzogchen). In these nine volumes there are many different practices, which have been used and continue to be used by practitioners to achieve the supreme attainment. Barway Dorje transmitted these teachings to his disciples who requested them, and as they practiced those teachings, many of them showed manifest signs of attainment. For example, when Kagyu Tashi of Kyodrak monastery practiced the White Khechari (or White Vajrayogini) sadhana to perfection, in the perception of others his body began to physically change into that of Vajrayogini. The standard of practice, which has been maintained in the lineage of Barway Dorje at Raktrul monastery, is recognized widely to be among the highest. There are two retreat masters currently in residence at Raktrul monastery and they and their peers are recognized throughout Tibet as having one of the best trainings possible.
The Buddha taught that his teachings consisted of two things and two things alone—the doctrine of transmission and the doctrine of realization. He said that they comprised the entirety of his teachings and they were maintained through study and practice respectively. Of these two, the aspect of the buddhadharma that actually brings its final and intended result is what we call the dharma of realization, the actual practice. It has its roots in study of the scriptures—and this is important and significant—but the point of study is to prepare the mind for practice, so that through practice one can reveal to oneself the nature of one’s own mind. By doing so one achieves liberation and subsequently liberates others through compassion. In other words, for someone to be able to bring others to liberation it is necessary that they have already achieved that liberation themselves. Once someone has recognized and fully revealed the nature of their mind then they can spark that realization in others; they can transmit it to others because they have it to transmit.
There are two traditional analogies for this. One is of a candle flame being passed from a lit candle to an unlit one. For this to happen first of all the first candle has to be already lit or it cannot light the second candle. Also when the flame is passed to the second candle, the first one stays lit; it does not lose its flame. The second analogy is that of a mold which one uses to make clay tsa-tsas (or images). If the mold is perfect and correctly made then no matter how many tsa-tsas you make with that single mold, they will all be good; they will all be perfect. But if the mold is lousy, then every single tsa-tsa that comes out of it is going to be lousy.
In the same way, one first has to liberate one’s own mind through realization of its nature and then through compassion bring others to liberation. So while both aspects—the buddhadharma of transmission and of realization—are important, it is the dharma of realization that brings the final result.
The Barom Kagyu is not well known in the West but this does not mean that it is not still widespread in Tibet. Traditionally, the Barom Kagyu has focused primarily on the intensive practice of meditation. In Eastern Tibet there have been nine three-year retreats for the Barom Kagyu teachings associated with the Kyodrak monastery alone. Five of them are for men and four for women. A tenth one—a new one for women—has just been opened. The new retreat for women focuses specifically on the White Khenchari (or White Vajrayogini) practice system. An eleventh retreat is also being created now in association with the Kyodrak monastery at the Kyodrak Peak (Kyodrak Utse). It is designed to be what we would call a postgraduate three-year retreat. To enter into that retreat the candidates must have done at least two or more three-year retreats and achieved the status of a retreat master. Thirteen such individuals will be selected and they will undertake this postgraduate retreat. The number is based upon the thirteen accomplished disciples of the dharma lord Sonam Zangpo who did retreat in the cave at Kyodrak Utse and for the sake of that auspicious connection, these thirteen postgraduate retreat masters will be in the eleventh retreat. All those retreats are connected with one monastery, the Kyodrak monastery. Also the original monastery of Lord Gampopa now has a Barom Kagyu three-year retreat, as does the original seat of the Barom Kagyu in northern Tibet. At both locations five sessions of the retreat have now been completed. Each of those three-year retreats has produced between forty and fifty graduates. There is also a growing connection between the Barom Kagyu practice system and the sacred site of the tower of Milarepa (the tower built by Milarepa for Marpa’s son, Tarma Dode). There is a practice facility for the Barom Kagyu at that site as well. In addition, there are thirty-five other branch monasteries, which are a part of the Barom Kagyu. Most of them also have a three-year retreat facility and all of them practice the Barom Kagyu tradition according to the visionary lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje. So if, as the Buddha said, we are supposed to achieve realization through practice, the Barom Kagyu is not doing too badly; we are not the worst of the Buddha’s followers.
But this obviously begs to question why nobody in the West has ever heard of the Barom Kagyu up to this point. And this is where I have to say that the buck stops here, because if you ask whose fault it is that nobody has ever heard of the Barom Kagyu, I would have to say that it is my fault. Why is it my fault? It is my fault, because I am the source of the Barom Kagyu, and therefore it is my responsibility. So it is my fault that nobody has heard of it.
You might wonder why I have never talked about the Barom Kagyu. My root guru was the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, and because of great devotion for him and great faith in him for more than thirty-six years I thought only of the service to his teachings, service to his activity, and service to his particular lineage. Out of devotion for my root guru I never mentioned the Barom Kagyu even by name. It is not that I did not care about the Barom Kagyu or that I did not know about the Barom Kagyu. It is just that first and foremost must always come our devotion for our root guru. For example, a prayer that I wrote says that I would willingly cast away even my aorta on which my life depends as heedlessly as I would a blade of grass in the service of my root guru. That is how I felt when I wrote that and that is how I feel today. My devotion for my root guru, the Gyalwang Karmapa, is unchanged. I mention this because some people might say that Bardor Rinpoche has separated from his root guru; he has gone off on his own now. This is untrue. The depth of my relationship with the Gyalwang Karmpa, and especially with the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, will be evident to you when you read the Light of Dawn, the biography of the 2nd Barway Dorje, which will be eventually translated. In that text are recorded actual conversations between the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa and the 2nd Barway Dorje. During one of them the 16th Karmapa, Ranjung Rigpe Dorge, said to the 2nd Barway Dorje, “From now on your mind and my mind are always and forever inseparable and indivisible.” This is not a misquotation; it is an attested and verified quotation. And when His Holiness said this to my predecessor he was being very sincere. In a conversation with the 16th Karmapa myself, when he asked, “What shall our relationship be in the future?” I said to him, “For eleven generations my family has depended only on you as our guru for prayers at difficult times, for prayers for the deceased, and so. As well in my previous life, as you well remember, I depended totally on you and you alone. Therefore I will continue in this and future lives to depend only on you. I do not need anyone else. There is no one better. I need no one better. I need no other guru.” I had no doubt about this. I understand my own path and I understand my own destiny. I have no worries about my relationship with my root guru but I mention this because nowadays there are lots of rumors and gossip flying about. People say all sorts of things. I advise you, if you want to practice dharma purely and sincerely, do not listen to gossip and rumors. All you need is a clean, straightforward samaya and a relationship with your own particular root guru. If you recognize your root guru as Vajardhara, then you will receive, through your root guru, Vajradhara’s blessing. If you recognize your root guru as the embodiment of all buddhas of the past, present, and future, you will receive the blessing of all the buddhas of the past, present, and future. If you recognize your root guru as the embodiment of all buddhas and bodhisattvas and all the yidams, you will receive all their blessings and siddhis. There is no question that through such devotion, through such trust, you will achieve for your own benefit the dharmakaya. But if you doubt, if you are swayed by gossip and rumor, then obstacles will arise for you in your life and your practice. Your degree of faith, your degree of devotion does not particularly affect your root guru, but it will affect you. What happens to the guru is a function of his or her own deeds.
I care very much about all of you and that means, among other things, that I hope that everything will go very well for all of you in every way; that all of you will achieve final liberation from samsara; that all of you will attain the state of realization exemplified by the Kagyu siddhas of the past. And it is this attitude—this intention—that I learned from my guru, because it was and is his as well. So I urge you—this being my intention, this being why I care so much—I urge you not to be misled. Dharma itself is pure. It is pure in all its forms. That means not just the dharma of the Karma Kagyu, but the dharma of the Barom Kagyu, and other traditions as well. But while dharma itself is pure and unchanging, nevertheless we live amongst the dregs of time.
We live in a spiritually dark age. One of the symptoms of this is that the dharma is misused by unenlightened people. Those who misuse it cannot change the dharma itself but they can distort its presentation. Dharma itself is, of course, not a person; it is the truth. And a truth is what is true; that is not going to change. For example, the Buddha taught how he traveled the path and achieved awakening. Based on his own awakening, he gave a map leading from where we start [the path] to the state of perfect awakening. However, in reinterpreting that map, repackaging that map, some have falsified it; some have created misleading maps that keep people dependent on them by leading them in potentially endless circles. Nevertheless if we have true faith and pure samaya we will still find our way. On the other hand, if we lack faith, even if we meet an authentic spiritual master and receive an authentic map, we will not be able to follow it. Someone without faith is like a burnt seed. If you plant a burnt seed, even in the most fertile soil it is not going to grow. We need to mature. We need to lessen our kleshas. We need to achieve liberation. This is our intention; this is why we have entered the path. We share this intention with all authentic gurus. Their intention is the same—that we mature, that our kleshas diminish, and that we achieve liberation. It is important for us periodically to remind ourselves of why we are doing this, of what it is that we are really trying to do.
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