Buddhists love to say, “Everything is impermanent.” So why is tradition so important in Buddhism? ~ Linda Lewis

Via on May 7, 2010

I asked my mom to explain why there were legitimate grounds for objecting to the removal of a sacred painting from the Boulder Shambhala Meditation Center, when everyone in Buddhist community loves to say, “Everything’s impermanent!” Which is true.

She mentioned ‘tantra,’ or thread, and I asked her to write it up.

Here’s her answer, in full. ~ed.

Tibetan gyu-d but the “d” isn’t really pronounced means thread, continuity, lineage, tantra.

As in Ka-gyud, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “Kagyu” Buddhist school or lineage—but of course he was also Rimé (unbiased lineage) and started the Shambhala lineage in the West.

From the most absolute level, gyud refers to the continuity of awareness. Our basic awake good nature is always present, it’s everywhere. Similar to how some Christians talk about God—it’s not external. It’s not internal, for that matter, either.

Actually, it was the first question I ever asked Rinpoche. It was at the Crazy Wisdom Seminar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in ’72 and I went up to him after the talk and asked him what tantra was. I had only been a closet Buddhist, studying Hinayana and Mahayana Dharma up until that moment, and was lost in his presentation of Padmasambhava’s “tantra.” [In Tibetan Buddhism, there are three "turnings" of the wheel of Dharma, or truth—the first two are Hinayana, Mahayana, and the third is Vajrayana or tantra. Padmasambhava was the great Indian Buddhist who first brought Buddhism to Tibet ~ed.].

But most of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students present already seemed to know the meaning.  I felt like a very shy “newbie” and well, I think the story was written up in Chronicles ages ago.

Click image to go to Chronicles:

linda lewis waylon trungpa buddhist halifax

Yeah, from the Hinayana point of view everything is impermanent and change is a given. But then that makes things like human birth and Dharma even more precious.

From the Mahayana point of view, there is nothing that has a self-entity…if you break time or particles down you can never find a unique moment or, well, even quarks have strings. And it goes on an on. But this discovery of empty-entityless phenomena is not emptiness—see my last lojong article, as Buddha Nature, basic goodness pervades everything.

Thus form is important—and that’s why Trungpa Rinpoche valued ikebana and oryoki and spent time making shrine design for the West (no butter lamps, simplified, use glass and photos in frames).

And then in the Vajrayana there is gyud, tantra, the continuity. We remember the lineage, which in the Kagyud tradition begins with Vajradhara and continues through the Karmapas to this day. It’s worth appreciating that and maintaining that connection.

I don’t know why things cannot be added without things like the Vajradhara thangka being taken away. I don’t think there’s any way for this Rigden thangka to be as empowered as that Vajradhara.

~ Linda Lewis

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11 Responses to “Buddhists love to say, “Everything is impermanent.” So why is tradition so important in Buddhism? ~ Linda Lewis”

  1. mary says:

    the dorje chang tanka could go on tour,visiting centers world wide or give it to us in dublin.the new primordial rigden is really beautiful, get over it.

    • Yah, while we're at it, why don't we stop reading old texts, they're old news, get over 'em!

      • Bill Schwartz says:

        Waylon,

        Last weekend at the Shambhala Meditation Center I asked members about the Vajradhara Thangka and received the same official talking point of impermanence.

        Ironically the most dismissive members have a very peculiar understanding of impermanence which boils down to Mary's comment above suggesting that you get over it.

        A true Buddhist understanding of impermanence leads to openness to the sensitivities of others instead of the vibe I got from the people I asked about this subject.

        I really enjoyed my experience at the Shambhala center here in Chicago but I must confess to not understanding Shambhala Buddhism as such.

        When I inquired further a member finally informed me that the sign in front said "Shambhala Meditation Center" and not "Shambhala Buddhist Center" which pretty much said it all for me.

        When I mentioned that the thangka was blessed by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa himself all I got was blank stares which is about how much they seem to care of this fact.

        Given Buddhism appears to be an extra for those interested in the subject to expect an explication of tantra to sway your sangha is asking a lot.

        If I had asked members about the privatization of parking meters here in Chicago I suspect I would have gotten a more revealing discussion of the fate of the Vajradhara thangka.

        Fortunately it's none of my business as a Karma Kagyu other than that the thangka is treated with due respect as a sacred object blessed by His Holiness which I'm confident it will.

        Bill

    • Stephanie Potter says:

      "Get over it?" That's rude. First, this is my experience and not to be judged. Do we throw out the Rain of Wisdom? What is our view, as a sangha, towards Mahamudra and everything else I was taught, with Vajradhara before me, was my lineage? Is this change different from a migration? It was already a complete path. Sigh, I thought I was so over this.

  2. Among many in the Buddhist and yoga communities, there does seem to be a tendency to talk about the ultimate importance of the here and now while idealizing and romanticizing every there and then they can think of…

    • I think one can care about the symbolic importance of this thangka without idealizing or romanticizing. This thangka oversaw the unfolding of Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings in the West. It's a connection to lineage, to those teachings. Clarke talks about this eloquently:http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/05/the-thangk

      Let's remember that many practices use symbolism to connect our present here and now states of mind with awake.

  3. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

    Brian A
    Here's my problem with this. Whenever anyone is relying on anything other than confidence in their own awareness, their own being, they have misunderstood the Dharma. They might as well be Christian.

    Personally, I agree that it would be better to keep the Thangka. But this is exactly how Buddhism gets turned into religion rather than simple … See Moreinstruction in how to understand the nature of suffering and the always present alternative.

    I think the best reason for the Sakyong to remove the Thangka is that so many people are clenched inside in a rejection of it. I'm not at all sure Trungpa Rinpoche would have disapproved. He was after all, very fun of finding people's hot buttons and poking the hell out of them.

    Vitor C
    Also this variety of different religions shows that humankind did not quite understand that God is one ,and that we're one to each other and one with God.

    Brian A
    I understand that the Thangka is a powerful reminder or even conduit for awareness of undefined being as our very nature. But to rely on it (to the point of forgetting our own unconditioned awareness as the original and best Thangka), is to forget the point.

    Jennifer Monk
    just to help answer questions and teach those who wish to learn.

  4. Clarke Warren says:

    From the original letterof appeal I wrote to SMR, Shambhala Intl, in 2007, from which the article on the Vajradhara thangka in the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa was drawn ( the letter was never responded to): "“All component things are impermanent”, as is said. Yet it is not the place of practitioners (or the Red Guard!) to add carelessly to this already quite natural impermanence. All will eventually be consumed by the kalpa-ending fire. And eventually all practitioners cross over the threshold into formless Suchness. Yet within the framework of impermanent Relative Truth, the Absolute Truth is able to convey itself through sacred images, inspiring and liberating countless sentient beings. In this case, the Absolute and Relative, formlessness and form, can said to be inseparable. (continued next comment)

    Clarke Warren

  5. Clarke Warren says:

    (continued from previous comment) I understand that the prescription for shrine format being disseminated by Shambhala Intl. is in the spirit of coalescing all the centers into a unified approach and expression. This may be more applicable to centers where there is not such a pronounced history and presence of particular sacred art such as there is at Dorje Dzong, although there may be other instances of such history and presence of powerful sacred art at other places which should also be considered. Dorje Dzong is a very special case nonetheless. Please contemplate its unique and enduring situation as a foundation and power place for Buddhadharma in the West. "

    Those who use impermanence as an excuse for destroying or removing precious embodiments of culture and spirituality are acting with a rationale based on a nihilistic view, one which has been used too often in this world by despots and dictators. This view of impermanence is the domain of runaway egos. This has nothing to do with the view of Buddhadharma. I would be happy to debate anyone on this issue.

    Clarke Warren

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