Pleas coming in on the teletype from Brother Lungtog, Sister Tenzin and others of my dear ones in Melbourne, Australia that we direct our positive attention and prayers in their scorched direction. Most of you have probably heard that they have just endured their hottest temps ever, peaking at 117F/47C on Saturday. Lungtog was forced to seek shelter elsewhere, his flat, along with so many others in the area, without AC and simply becoming a large crock pot. Explosive wildfires have been catastrophic and shockingly deadly; in dedicating good wishes, please don’t forget the countless critters large and small who were also unable to escape.
Here in Ulaanbaatar, conversely, we’ve had a bit of a respite. Temps this week have almost grazed the freezing mark, an occurrence unfelt since Nov. 21; actually ventured out today without my woolies. But I see that Mother Siberia merely has us on a rope-a-dope. Her icy hammer’s gonna slam down again by next weekend, perhaps wreaking havoc with my Valentine’s Day plans.
No matter. I’ve been content in my crib, since Ani Aileen shot straight to the top of my BFF list by dispatching some crucial reading material. Out from the slightly mangled packing, like a fresh pea from its pod, popped the newly-translated “outer liberation story” of Terton Migyur Dorje (UK/Euro site, US site), sporting one of those subtle Tibetan titles: “The All-Pervading Melodious Sound of Thunder.” I bolted the door, clicked the cell to silent, and immersed myself in the deepest mystical corners of the 17th c. for two straight days.
A “terton” is a very special being, but I’m not sure I really got how very special until I read this text. The term means “treasure revealer.” The treasures in question are the unfathomable spiritual legacy of Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche as he’s more familiarly known, the Indian Tantric Buddhist master invited by the Tibetan king to plant the sublime dharma in his land in the 8th c. Guru Rinpoche propagated the teachings and practices appropriate for the people of that time. With a Buddha’s limitless vision, however, he saw that the majority of the teachings, sacred objects and substances, and blessed, hidden retreat sites that he was aware of or created would bring greater benefit to generations far in the future. Aided primarily by his spiritual consort Yeshe Tsogyal, Guru Rinpoche concealed these treasures – called terma by the Tibetans – all across Tibet. He then blessed his 25 closest disciples in such a way that they would awaken their inner potential in future incarnations and serve as discoverers of these treasures (Migyur Dorje was said to be the incarnation of Shubu Palgyi Senge). This constant refreshing of the most profound inner tantra began in the 11th c. and continues to the present day. One living terton, the incomparable Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, was my ordaining lama.
A certain class of terton is more unusual still. These receive the majority of Guru Rinpoche’s revelations in “pure visions,” where buddhas and other enlightened deities appear and transmit the teachings directly to the terton’s mind. Migyur Dorje was such a terton. And what’s more, nearly all his visionary experience occurred when he was still a child; he only lived to age 23.
From the ages of 11 to 14, Migyur Dorje went into retreat with one of the greatest masters of the day, Karma Chagmed Rinpoche, the biography’s author. During that time Migyur Dorje occupied what for us seems an almost inconceivable universe. He experienced near-daily visions of buddhas, bodhisattvas, deities, protectors, dakinis, local spirits (some benign, some decidedly not), etc., etc., most of whom related to him the most subtle, esoteric teachings known in this world. Migyur Dorje would narrate or recall (and sometimes draw) what arose in his mind and Karma Chagmed served as scribe. Now these writings fill 13 large volumes and are known as the Nam Chö, Dharma from the Space of Awareness.
The Nam Chö system of inner tantric practice was primarily upheld by Palyul Monastery. And somehow, 350 years later, it was the encounter with these teachings and their extraordinary lineage lamas, that switched the lights on for this smartmouth punk from New Jersey. Migyur Dorje’s short Amitabha practice is the first I ever received in this life, direct from the incarnation of one of his close disciples, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, in 1990. And just this afternoon, I led a chant of that very same practice with a group of Mongolians in an Ulaanbaatar temple. How strange and unpredictable this world is.
I absorbed this liberation story with genuine awe. Not only is Migyur Dorje’s history virtually beyond parallel, but I found myself moved to tears by the humility with which Karma Chagmed described it. He also brought in a stunning breadth of knowledge, interweaving some details of related subject matter that I had never encountered anywhere else before. From the translators' introduction:
"The namthar [liberation story] is not only the tale of one extraordinary terton, revealing as it does – through anecdotes, letters, poetry, visions and dreams – the deep personal relationship that existed between two great masters...[i]t also contains considerable information on the nature of liberation stories themselves, how authentic tertons and tulkus [reincarnate lamas] can be identified, the importance and significance of treasure teachings and sacred places, the nature of the guru-disciple relationship and other crucial topics. The text is further graced with a wealth of stories of many other tertons, prophecies by Guru Rinpoche and other masters, as well as insights into the daily life and times of some of the great practitioners of 17th century Kham."
Now I’m going back to read it again, carefully.
Tomorrow: Migyur Dorje and the Mongolians!