Clarifying Potential Misunderstandings for Practitioners
June 22, 2014—on the second week of Shamar Rinpoché’s pariniravana.
Dear Dharma Brothers and Sisters,
As we all know, our precious teacher and my root guru, Shamar Rinpoché, passed away recently. Our meditations, prayers, and ceremonies when an ordinary person passes away are viewed as benefiting that person—in Abrahamic religious contexts as well as in Buddhist practice, our prayers help them during a crucial transition. Shamar Rinpoché is considered an emanation of Buddha Amitabha. An enlightened being who has achieved great realization, has led many sentient beings toward the path of enlightenment throughout his incarnations as Shamarpa, and in this life has exemplified a true bodhisattva in contemporary times—such a being would not need us to meditate for him, or pray for him, or perform ceremonies for him. So why are we meditating, praying, and performing ceremonies with such focus, for the traditional 49 days during which we would normally do this on behalf of a sentient being passing from confusion to confusion in the bardo? Shamar Rinpoché’s parinirvana is a very different event. Having followed the outpouring of fondness and invitations to practice in online posts from our dharma friends, I see that sometimes we are using the word for to describe these practices, which could be interpreted to mean that we are performing them on Shamar Rinpoché’s behalf. I feel compelled to clarify this potential misunderstanding.
We should, as Buddhists, examine and learn from this event as we engage in these practices. Please keep in mind and examine for yourself the following points:
From the perspective of absolute reality, we understand that Shamar Rinpoché’s parinirvana is a dissolution of his nirmanakaya form, just as a rainbow fades into the vastness of the sky. We understand that until he manifests again in nirmanakaya form, he abides in dharmakaya sphere. In our prayer, we relate to all awakened beings, supplicating Shamar Rinpoché to come back to manifest in nirmanakaya form in order to lead sentient beings to enlightenment, and to not abide in dharmakaya sphere. Buddhas and bodhisattvas manifest in nirmanakaya form so that sentient beings can understand the teachings through a relatable teacher. We are praying for buddhas and bodhisattvas to continually manifest—it is not as though a bodhisattva’s manifestation is contingent on our prayer, but having supplicated, we as students are accumulating merit and cultivating a connection with the late Shamar Rinpoché, as well as with his future incarnations.
From the perspective of relative reality, any realized master’s parinirvana, such as Shamar Rinpoché’s parinirvana, is a critical event for whoever has come into contact with that teacher. We understand the sudden passing away of a teacher of this stature as related to a lack of merit on the part of sentient beings: we collectively did not have the accumulation of merit and wisdom necessary to maintain a continuous connection with our teacher manifesting in a physical form. This relates with the idea of the collective degeneration of samsaric beings; that is to say, we are caught in a collective ego trip at an astronomical scale, whereby we constantly engage in negative actions due to confusion. That is not to say that we should now further fuel the ego trip by thinking that we are individually culpable for Rinpoché’s parinirvana; rather, we should take this event as a means to deflate ego and reduce our false sense of eternalism and permanence.
After an ordinary being’s death, 49 days is the conventional time set aside to practice and make wishes on their behalf as they traverse from one confused state of mind to another, demarcated at every week for 7 weeks, until the perceived reality of the coming life form emerges. Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings, who are free of the causes of confusion, do not have the confused reality to fuel such a process. That said, it is customary to engage in intensive practice during this 49 days as an opportunity to accumulate merit and wisdom—merit is wholesome action, and wisdom is the same action performed with an intent to awaken all beings—and to reflect on and integrate the exemplary teachings of the Buddha, in this case, those that you have personally received from Shamar Rinpoché.
We understand that Shamar Rinpoché, as he leaves his body, is leaving us the most important teaching of life: impermanence.
With best wishes,