Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

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Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:34 am

I know that of course there are several important lineage holders within Nyingma, such as in the Palyul Lineage, who are monks. But I am wondering if the spirit of the tradition is basically a non-monastic/householder one. On Wikipedia the scholar Georges Dreyfus was quoted saying this, but since his background is largely Gelug I wondered if the Nyingmapas here thought is was a fair opinion or not:

In 1848, Dzogchen Shri Sengha (rdzogs chen srwi sengha), was founded by a charismatic teacher, Zhanphan Thaye (gzhan phan mtha' yas, 1800-), in association with the active participation of Do Kyentse (rndo mkhyen rtse). As scholar Georges Dreyfuss reports,
The purpose of this school was not . . . the study of the great Indian treatises . . . but the development of Nyingma monasticism in Kham, a particularly important task at that time. Up to then, the Nyingma tradition had mostly relied on non-ordained tantric practitioners to transmit its teachings through authorized lineages. The move toward monasticism changed this situation, putting a greater emphasis on the respect of exoteric moral norms of behavior as a sign of spiritual authority. This move participated in the logic animating the nonsectarian movement, the revitalization of non-Geluk traditions so that they could compete with the dominant Geluk school. Since the Geluk hegemony was based on a widespread monastic practice, it was important for the other schools to develop their own monasticism to rival the dominant Geluk tradition. This seems to have been one the goals of Zhanphan Thaye in creating the Dzokchen commentarial school. . . .A further and equally important step was taken a few decades later with the transformation by [Khenpo] Zhenga of this institution into a center devoted to the study of the exoteric tradition. This step was decisive in creating a scholastic model that could provide an alternative to the dominant model of the Geluk seats and could train scholars who could hold their own against the intellectual firing power of Geluk scholars.[7]
For Zhenga and his followers, the way to return to this past was the exegetical study of commentaries, the proper object of scholarship. By downplaying the role of debate emphasized by the Geluk monastic seats and stressing exegetical skills, they accentuated the differences between these two traditions and provided a clear articulation of a non-Geluk scholastic tradition. In this way, they started the process of reversal of the damage inflicted on the non-Geluk scholarly traditions and created an alternative to the dominance of Geluk scholasticism, which had often tended to present itself in Tibet as the sole inheritor and legitimate interpreter of the classical Indian Buddhist tradition.[7]
This scholastic movement led by Khenpo Shenga came on the heels of the work of Mipham, who "completely revolutionised rNying ma pa scholasticism in the late 19th century, raising its status after many centuries as a comparative intellectual backwater, to arguably the most dynamic and expansive of philosophical traditions in all of Tibetan Buddhism, with an influence and impact far beyond the rNying ma pa themselves."[8]
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Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:00 am

JKhedrup wrote:But I am wondering if the spirit of the tradition is basically a non-monastic/householder one. On Wikipedia the scholar Georges Dreyfus was quoted saying this, but since his background is largely Gelug I wondered if the Nyingmapas here thought is was a fair opinion or not:


But profoundly non-monastic? I don't see the Dreyfus quote supporting "profoundly".

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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:12 am

You are right, too bad I cannot edit the title of the thread. But what I mean is, monasticism was basically a framework developed later in Nyingma to allow the tradition to continue to flourish in the paradigm of Buddhism dominated by the Gelug tradition-this seems to be what he is arguing here.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:37 am

JKhedrup wrote:You are right, too bad I cannot edit the title of the thread. But what I mean is, monasticism was basically a framework developed later in Nyingma to allow the tradition to continue to flourish in the paradigm of Buddhism dominated by the Gelug tradition-this seems to be what he is arguing here.


That certainty seems to be the case. Nyingma is not dominated by yogic-siddhi teachers although they definitely exist and are known. More to the point - the yogic-siddhi lamas seem to have monks and nuns for the most part. Outside of some communities in the Himalayas, communities of yogic practitioners have not been an emphasis. A fuller history of the various Nyingma traditions probably needs to be researched to determine the actual relationship between monasticism and the various Nyingma traditions. Perhaps HH Dudjom Rinpoche's history goes into this aspect but I don't remember it if it does.

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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby heart » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:02 am

JKhedrup wrote:I know that of course there are several important lineage holders within Nyingma, such as in the Palyul Lineage, who are monks. But I am wondering if the spirit of the tradition is basically a non-monastic/householder one. On Wikipedia the scholar Georges Dreyfus was quoted saying this, but since his background is largely Gelug I wondered if the Nyingmapas here thought is was a fair opinion or not


I don't think so, first monasticism in Tibet is as old as Buddhism so the roots of monasticism in Tibet is certainly Nyingma. The Nyingma tradition today really heavily on the traditions of the six mother monasteries of the Nyingma, the Dorje Drak, Mindrolling, Shechen, Dzogchen, Kathok and Palyul. All of these exist both in Tibet and in exile.
Also what he says about Shri Singha isn't correct as you can read on the website of Dzogchen Khenpo Chöga here: http://www.dzogchenlineage.org/university.html

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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:10 am

Thanks Magnus. Could you say that there are separate lines of transmission associated with each of those 6 monasteries? Or were several of them practicing Longchen Nyingthig for example?
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby Yudron » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:18 am

kirtu wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:But I am wondering if the spirit of the tradition is basically a non-monastic/householder one. On Wikipedia the scholar Georges Dreyfus was quoted saying this, but since his background is largely Gelug I wondered if the Nyingmapas here thought is was a fair opinion or not:


But profoundly non-monastic? I don't see the Dreyfus quote supporting "profoundly".

Kirt


I think these forums disproportionally bring the non-monastic lamas and communities to the fore because English is the language spoken here, and we non-monastics like to hear about people like us. The main Nyingma monasteries are incredibly important to the lineage.

That being said, lay people from Nyingma families I have encountered generally do not have the idea that lay yogins (or women or children) cannot attain enlightenment,
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:24 am

That being said, lay people from Nyingma families I have encountered generally do not have the idea that lay yogins (or women or children) cannot attain enlightenment,

But even in the Gelug traditio, the most monastic of all the Tibetan lineags, this is not the belief. Generally Dromtonpa, Milarepa and several others are regarded as non-monastics who attained enlightenment. And the tantric lineages practiced in the school are coming through Ghantapa, Luipa, Machig Lhabdron and so forth.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby Sherlock » Tue Dec 04, 2012 3:39 pm

There is the old legend of Nubchen scaring Langdarma into letting white-robed lay practitioners continue in peace even during the Dark Age of Tibet. It's historically very unlikely (the idea of Langdarma being an enemy of Buddhism is also being called into question in light of evidence from Dunhuang) but it does show how central the concept of non-monastic continuity from the Imperial era was to the early Nyingmapas.

Nyingma lineages were transmitted outside of monastic circles, often through families. The history of both the Nyingthig as well as the Dzogchen Longde lineages were all passed by and through laypeople for example, and the Nyingma lineage of the Khon family in the Sakya has always been held by laypeople. And of course, Guru Padmasambhava himself was not a monastic. I think in light of all that, the early Nyingmapas probably never really felt that monasticism was that important in achieving enlightenment.

Up until Kumaraja who passed them on to Longchenpa, the Nyingthig teachings seem to have been transmitted in a non-monastic lineage.

The early Kadampas seemed to have an ambivalent at times even negative attitude towards tantric practice which seems to have come from Imperial proscriptions against mahayoga. They didn't want to let Atisha teach the dohas of the mahasiddhas he intended to and set in advance his teachings for him -- mostly related with sutras. Milarepa called Dromton a great mara because of this. I think Atisha did manage to change some of their minds and most of the sarma lineages come from around his time or after.

Still, I think the Kadampas' incorporation of tantric teachings was gradual and the greater body of the Kadampas (who later became identified as Sakyapas and Kagyupas) had a sceptical view of Nyingma tantras and Dzogchen even when some of them did incorporate these teachings into their monasteries.

According to the internal history of the Dzogchen teachings, they have always been mistrusted by the monastic establishment of course. Malcolm once said that the Kadampas "monkified" Dzogchen, which I think is true.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby conebeckham » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:37 pm

JKhedrup wrote:You are right, too bad I cannot edit the title of the thread. But what I mean is, monasticism was basically a framework developed later in Nyingma to allow the tradition to continue to flourish in the paradigm of Buddhism dominated by the Gelug tradition-this seems to be what he is arguing here.


Well, there was no "Nyingma" originally--there was only the initial transmission of Dharma to Tibet, and it was certainly monastic at that time,a s Magnus has pointed out. Perhaps not entirely so, but I think the "non-monastic slant" only came later, after the persecution of Buddhism, and it's period of "hiding in plain sight," as it were, with "householders." I'm not up on my Nyingma history, but I'm going to venture a guess that the six "Mother Monasteries" of the Nyingma actually post-date the "second wave" or Sarma transmissions. In fact, in a general sense, the differences in liturgical/practice emphasis are based on the importance of the various Terma cycles associated with the various monasteries. As far as I know, all four institutional lineages (five, if we count the Jonang) adhere to the Mulasarvastavadin Vinaya tradition, which was the one Shantarakshita brought to Tibet, during the initial transmission.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby heart » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:39 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Thanks Magnus. Could you say that there are separate lines of transmission associated with each of those 6 monasteries? Or were several of them practicing Longchen Nyingthig for example?


It isn't just six monasteries, there are numerous other affiliated monasteries. They all some practices and studies they specialize in but there is a lot of overlapping I think.

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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby dzoki » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:09 pm

Sherlock wrote:Up until Kumaraja who passed them on to Longchenpa, the Nyingthig teachings seem to have been transmitted in a non-monastic lineage.


Even Longchenpa was not a monk in his later years. When he left Tibet and came to Bhutan, he got married there and had a son.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby conebeckham » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:14 pm

Sherlock wrote:The early Kadampas seemed to have an ambivalent at times even negative attitude towards tantric practice which seems to have come from Imperial proscriptions against mahayoga. They didn't want to let Atisha teach the dohas of the mahasiddhas he intended to and set in advance his teachings for him -- mostly related with sutras. Milarepa called Dromton a great mara because of this. I think Atisha did manage to change some of their minds and most of the sarma lineages come from around his time or after.

Still, I think the Kadampas' incorporation of tantric teachings was gradual and the greater body of the Kadampas (who later became identified as Sakyapas and Kagyupas) had a sceptical view of Nyingma tantras and Dzogchen even when some of them did incorporate these teachings into their monasteries.

According to the internal history of the Dzogchen teachings, they have always been mistrusted by the monastic establishment of course. Malcolm once said that the Kadampas "monkified" Dzogchen, which I think is true.


A few things: First, there are some accounts that Maitripa taught Atisha his presentation of Mahamudra, sometimes known as "nonengagement," as well, and that Atisha taught it to someone in Tibet, but it was not passed on as there were concerns about it's potential contradictions with a gradual, more ethically-centered path, so to speak. So, it wasn't just the Dohas that were verboten, according to some, but all "Quick Paths."

Second, I think the Kadampa emphasis on Buddha's Word, and especially on the adherence to that gradual, ethically-centered path, influenced all the schools who came later, including most of the later Nyingma monastic communities. But there's an account that the Nyingma were actually the main reason Atisha and the Kadam lineage spread. In fact, the legend is that the Nyingma as a tradition came about because of three monks who escaped from Central Tibet and traveled to Amdo, under Langdarma's reign, and during the subsequent dissolution of Tibetan hegemony, setting up there and maintaining and expanding the Dharma, and creating disciples and teachers themselves. Eventually, some students from the Samye area were sent to Amdo to learn, and then came back, met Atisha, and started a sort of Buddhist Renaissance of sorts.

Of course, Tibetan history is never quite clear or factual, so you have to treat these accounts with caution, IMO.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby Sherlock » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:39 pm

conebeckham wrote:Second, I think the Kadampa emphasis on Buddha's Word, and especially on the adherence to that gradual, ethically-centered path, influenced all the schools who came later, including most of the later Nyingma monastic communities. But there's an account that the Nyingma were actually the main reason Atisha and the Kadam lineage spread. In fact, the legend is that the Nyingma as a tradition came about because of three monks who escaped from Central Tibet and traveled to Amdo, under Langdarma's reign, and during the subsequent dissolution of Tibetan hegemony, setting up there and maintaining and expanding the Dharma, and creating disciples and teachers themselves. Eventually, some students from the Samye area were sent to Amdo to learn, and then came back, met Atisha, and started a sort of Buddhist Renaissance of sorts.


Certainly. The Mulasarvastivada vinaya dates back to Shantarakshita and was carried on in Amdo and Atisha wasn't allowed to teach on his own vinaya (which also dates back to Imperial proscriptions only allowing the Mulasarvastivada lineage). No doubt the Kadampas heavy emphasis on the teachings of the sutras was an influence on all later teachings, however, I think whether or not that influence had a positive effect on how the tantras and Dzogchen were taught is a different matter.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:45 pm

Yes Shantarakshita was a hugely important figure and established Tibet's first monastery. But the emphasis in the historical accounts I have heard (albeit limited) from Nyingma lamas and students tend to emphasize Guru Rinpoche far more. Shantarakshita is not spoken about so much. Of course, my teachers in all the traditions emphasize that Guru Rinpoche had to prepare the land of Tibet using his miraculous siddhis to receive the dharma.

Was the situation such that without the Kadampa renaissance the Sutra teachings would have been overlooked entirely in favour of Dzogchen etc., or is this an exaggeration?
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby ngodrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:51 pm

So, clearly the original Buddhists in Tibet included a monastic Sangha.
The monastery was so important that the king was advised to bring the
supreme Ngakpa, Guru Rinpoche to Tibet to ensure the success of the Samye
project.

This first transmission of Buddhism was just that-- the complete Buddhism that
existed in India-- both Monastic and yogic. Thus from that time forward there were
always two sanghas. Nyingmapas generally do not speak of a distinction between
Monastic and lay, rather we have two sanghas --and there are also householders who
are practitioners bu who were not members of the white sangha of yogis. One doesn't
have to be ordained in either sanghas to accomplish high realization, nor is ordination
a criterion for being authorized as a lama.

Nyingmapas generally feel that the view of the Sarma is overstated when they say
that Atisha had to come to re-establish Buddhism that had become corrupted during
the suppression. The monastics were an easy target, but the ngakpas were not so easy
to take out and could pass for bonpos! ;) We like to recall that Lord Atisha once met
and debated with the Omniscient Mahapandita Rangzom Chokyi Zangpo and lost!
Lord Atisha's response was that had he known there were such great Buddhist scholars
in Tibet, he would not have come.

Well the "new-fangled" Buddhism came, and a new schools were born sakya, kagyu, etc.,
and this also resulted in a new school called "old school." It had its original monasteries
and continued to build new ones such as Kathog ca 1160, Dorje Drak in the 1300's, Mindrolling
during the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama... All these followed more or less their own
local traditions. Some were sacked by invading foreigners, sometimes by followers of other
traditions.

In response to the sectarian warfare, a new model was proposed: the Rime Movement.
Some Scholars now say that because of the Terma tradition and the textual basis such as
the Rinchen Ter Dzod, that the Nyingma is now the most recent and modern of the Tibetan
Orders. That may be overstated. :)

As the role of non-monastics, I think we only need to look at who has been selected to lead
the community in exile. Dudjom and Khyentse Rinpoches, and Mindrolling Trichen were Ngakpa.
Penor, Trulshik and now Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche were/are monks. So it is easy to conjecture
that equal status is given to the two sanghas in the minds and hearts of Nyingmapas.
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby Yudron » Tue Dec 04, 2012 7:44 pm

JKhedrup wrote:
That being said, lay people from Nyingma families I have encountered generally do not have the idea that lay yogins (or women or children) cannot attain enlightenment,

But even in the Gelug traditio, the most monastic of all the Tibetan lineages, this is not the belief. Generally Dromtonpa, Milarepa and several others are regarded as non-monastics who attained enlightenment. And the tantric lineages practiced in the school are coming through Ghantapa, Luipa, Machig Lhabdron and so forth.


In theory, but there has been a history of great deal of disrespect toward actual ngakpas and female practitioners by Gelugpa communities. The older ngakpas can tell many a hair raising story of oppression, imprisonment, up to and including murder of ngakpas in Tibet, and incredible disrespectful treatment in the early exile community of the 60's and 70's. Thank goodness for HH Dalai Lama who eventually came to Orissa, partook of tsog with the ngakpa community and said publicly something like "Outwardly I'm a monk, but I think inside I'm a ngakpa, too" to the shock of the Gelug community there.

Also, it is said that in general Gelug monks who return their vows and marry then tend to feel a lot of shame, and stop practicing almost entirely, while Nyingma monks who do the same simply change to being serious lay practitioners with not so much shame and stigma. As an aside, a lama who lives in Golog told me that Kongpo (the seat of HHD Dudjom Rinpoche's community in Tibet) is known as where monks go to "loose their vows." :lol:
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Dec 04, 2012 7:55 pm

Yudron,
Those are sad stories and I will certainly try to research and inform myself better of those sad events...

Most of the Tibetan Ngakpas I have met are very nice. However, some Western ngakpas have told me bluntly that monastic vows are outdated and unnecessary. When I explained what Lord Buddha said about the monastic Sangha in the Mahayana Sutras that we all uphold, they simply told me this was a lower path.

Once I saw a poster advertising a Ngakpa ordination for a fixed price on the Internet, telling people to come to an event and pay the fixed fee for this ordination, so too be honest I was very doubtful.

Others have told me that to be a ngakpa means that one already has a high realization, can rest the mind in its ultimate nature every single moment etc. So then I though one already has to be very advanced on the path to even consider this ordination. Like it was an ordination for holy beings.

Fortunately, I had the good fortune of meeting Namkha Rinpoche of the Rigdzin Community in France and even had the honour of staying in Rinpoche's home in Switzerland as a guest with Geshe Sonam. Rinpoche explained to me a little about what he termed the "Red and White Sangha" and how we need both to maintain the dharma, and that neither could do it alone without the other. He explained to me what being a Ngakpa actually meant and I met several of his students who seemed to be very kind, sincere practitioners.

Namkha Rinpoche is a truly non-sectarian teacher and invites many great Ngakpa lamas as well as Gelug monks, including Geshe Sonam who I translate for, to teach at his centre. I am glad I was able to learn a little bit from him, as it has helped open my mind to this lay tantrika tradition.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 04, 2012 8:12 pm

Yudron wrote:Thank goodness for HH Dalai Lama who eventually came to Orissa, partook of tsog with the ngakpa community and said publicly something like "Outwardly I'm a monk, but I think inside I'm a ngakpa, too" to the shock of the Gelug community there.


Is there are concentration of ngakpa's in Orissa?

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Re: Is the Nyingma tradition profoundly non-monastic?

Postby Yudron » Tue Dec 04, 2012 8:15 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Yudron,
Those are sad stories and I will certainly try to research and inform myself better of those sad events...

Most of the Tibetan Ngakpas I have met are very nice. However, some Western ngakpas have told me bluntly that monastic vows are outdated and unnecessary. When I explained what Lord Buddha said about the monastic Sangha in the Mahayana Sutras that we all uphold, they simply told me this was a lower path.

Once I saw a poster advertising a Ngakpa ordination for a fixed price on the Internet, telling people to come to an event and pay the fixed fee for this ordination, so too be honest I was very doubtful.

Others have told me that to be a ngakpa means that one already has a high realization, can rest the mind in its ultimate nature every single moment etc. So then I though one already has to be very advanced on the path to even consider this ordination. Like it was an ordination for holy beings.

Fortunately, I had the good fortune of meeting Namkha Rinpoche of the Rigdzin Community in France and even had the honour of staying in Rinpoche's home in Switzerland as a guest with Geshe Sonam. Rinpoche explained to me a little about what he termed the "Red and White Sangha" and how we need both to maintain the dharma, and that neither could do it alone without the other. He explained to me what being a Ngakpa actually meant and I met several of his students who seemed to be very kind, sincere practitioners.

Namkha Rinpoche is a truly non-sectarian teacher and invites many great Ngakpa lamas as well as Gelug monks, including Geshe Sonam who I translate for, to teach at his centre. I am glad I was able to learn a little bit from him, as it has helped open my mind to this lay tantrika tradition.


Yes, one will encounter the view that monasticism is lower path for a serious practitioner, and thereare arguments to be made for and against that, but it is outrageous to say that monastics and monasteries are not necessary. Of course they are!

Looking at texts by the old great writers one can see that there have always been sublime non-monastic yogins who can engage in enlightened conduct (trul zhug) and so forth, and there seem to have always been fakers, too, who loose control when drinking alcohol, who manipulate women to come to bed with them under the guise of giving blessing that they don't have, who say they abide in the view but really abide in arrogance, and so on. And their are sublime pure monks and nuns, and lots monks and nuns who are total hypocrites. What can you do? It's true of religions the world over.

Regarding the so-caled ngakpa vows, most commonly the "hair vows" of the Throma cycle: I think one takes vows because one support for one's practice, not because one has already accomplished the practice, eh?
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