In a world as stricken with hardships and misfortune as ours is today, and in a society as jaded and cynical as ours, a little compassion can go a long way. And a lot of compassion can go an even longer way. It can cross oceans and continents and cultural barriers. This weekend it will find itself in Bridgehampton.
Our culture is one to make fads of religions. Who can forget the now dwindled Kabbalah craze? And celebrities spearheading Scientology still make headlines. But Buddhism has carved a niche for itself in Western society. As its popularity has continued to grow and its universal messages spread, Buddhism has proven to be much more than a fad for the usually fickle Westerners.
Its widespread acceptance in our country can be seen in the success of the Zangdokpalri Foundation for Great Compassion's Healing Chod tours. A Healing Chod is a Tibetan ceremony intended to alleviate stress and maladies from those who attend. One such ceremony will be held over the course of two days, beginning this Friday, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork Meeting House in Bridgehampton.
"It's like psychological vitamins," said Moke Mokotoff, who has been president and head usher for the non-profit organization for the past seven years. It was Mokotoff who in 2001 first brought over the Lama Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche from
. He lived in the northeastern region of
, where he had fled in exile just four years before the Chinese occupation of
. The Lama requested that the organization should be founded, as a way to raise money for his
still under construction in
. Mokotoff, a practicing Buddhist for 39 years, assures that the Healing Chod ceremony is beyond religion.
"It's completely secular and generic," he said. "And it's open to anyone. In fact, most of the audience isn't Buddhist." Mokotoff explained that the ceremony was specially designed by Rinpoche to be performed only by the monks and nuns. For those participating, no prior knowledge is required. "That's what's so groovy, it's completely pluralistic," Mokotoff said. He continued with a laugh, "You basically come in and take a nap."
It was designed to be like a hospital for those who wish to be healed. According to Mokotoff most who follow the tour and repeat the experience aren't physically sick, but are just people who have normal, everyday stress and anxiety. "A lot of us just haven't felt that relaxed, open feeling before."
"The ceremonies have been very helpful for me," said Marybeth Armstrong. Armstrong, a
acupuncturist and one of the coordinators of the Bridgehampton event, has been studying Buddhism for the past 15 years. She has been involved with the Zangdokpalri Foundation since its inception in 2002. Armstrong first felt the power of Rinpoche's teachings at a healing ceremony he held in
in 2001 for those who were suffering in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Armstrong explained how the ceremonies are run. Members of the audience lie down while keeping in mind the "obstacles" they wish to be removed from their karma. Some may write these obstacles down. There are also methods of healing for those who cannot attend the Chod ceremony. Then the healing begins. The ceremony is comprised of four "feasts," as they are called, with breaks in between. The monks and nuns from the
sing and chant, allowing the millennium old music to waft over the attendees and purge them of whatever ails them. "Chod," in fact, literally means "cutting through." The organization stresses that the ceremony is not a kind of exorcism, something to remove malcontented karmic demons, but is rather something that can soothe and placate them.
Armstrong added, "And the melodies are really very beautiful."
is the residence of 170 other monks and nuns. It is also the only equipped medical center in the isolated and impoverished area. Lama Kunzang Rinpoche was a Master of Dzogchen in the Ancient School of Tibetan Buddhism, who studied with the greatest Lamas of the twentieth century. There were many prophecies made regarding his birth, and he later became recognized as a true living Buddha, a fully realized and enlightened being. Towards the end of his life he designated that the new monastery should be built for a new generation of monks and nuns. He hoped to protect and let flourish the secret oral tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, which he described as "like a small butter lamp in a strong wind."
Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche passed away in 2006. However his son and spiritual heir, Dungse Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche, has continued the tours to great acclaim. The younger Rinpoche, now 44 years old, has also accepted the responsibility of the education and welfare of the 170 monks and nuns at Zangdokpalri.
All of the proceeds from the Healing Chod ceremonies go towards the construction of the monastery and sponsorship of the monks and nuns in residence. Donations can also be made on the foundation's website, www.totalgoodness.org, and those interested can purchase professional quality CDs of the healing chants.
The Tradition of Chö
Chö is a unique spiritual practice and a path to complete enlightenment. It can also be used as an extremely effective method for healing others in body, mind and spirit. The chief way it does this is by clearing the karmic obstacles and blockages arising from our negative interaction with others in countless past lives. Harming others through physical, verbal or emotional aggression results in a karmic seed, which ultimately ripens in various sufferings of body and mind. These sufferings are particularly of the kind that are not readily explained by our immediate actions, attitudes or life context. Rather, they stem from our taking of life, vitality, property, honor, confidence or hope from others. They may also arise from past actions, speech and thoughts, based on greed, attachment, apathy or egotism. Similarly, the limitless ways in which humans disrespect or despoil the material and spiritual forces of nature, the planet, or the elements (fire, water, air, earth) are the basis of numerous difficulties and life obstacles; socially, materially, physically and mentally
The way these many debts are repaid in Chö is by offering our most previous and closely guarded possession - our own bodies - to the universe. Our physical form is left behind, and our consciousness takes on a pure, enlightened form, appearing as the wrathful feminine Wisdom Dakini. One’s corpse is then transformed and prepared in a variety of ways so that each and every being receives offerings of exactly what they desire. The highest, enlightened guests are offered beautiful objects, nectar, divine sounds and so on. Humans, animals and other sentient beings receive food, shelter, happiness, a mate, love and whatever they lack or need. In particular, those whom we owe a karmic debt are repaid, and are given back whatever we have taken from them, or whatever eases their suffering. This may even take the form of our flesh, organs and bones, or whatever demonic beings may desire (thus causing our illness). While undergoing Chö ritual one may merely rest and relax, or one may visualize this process of paying back all debts, multiplied a million fold in our mind.
Thus, on one hand, by making exquisite offerings to enlightened spiritual beings, one creates tremendous positive karma that generates health, prosperity, happiness and ultimately enlightenment. On the other hand our negative karma and its consequences, is purified.
Note that Chö is not "exorcism," nor does it simply banish or aggressively attempt to destroy or hurt attacking or injurious entities. On the contrary, demonic or obstructing forces, and all those that have karmic debts with us, are satisfied and placated. They are healed and brought towards the spiritual path, giving up their negativity and rage.
The Chö Cycle
Healing Chö uses the profound power of sacred ritual, sacred sound and mantra, combined with the meditative power of Lamas and Anis trained since early childhood to perform these practices. The thousand-year history of Chö inherently carries extremely potent blessings, as it is connected to numerous lineages of enlightened beings, mahasiddhis, realized yogins and Archetypal Spiritual Beings (or Yidams). Chö particularly calls upon the enlightened Feminine Wisdom Energy, in the form of a Dakini, the Wrathful Black Troma.
While this all brings incredible vitality and veracity to the practice, its greatest strength lies in the leading force behind those rituals - Kunzang Rinpoche, a renowned Master of Dzogchen in the Ancient (Nyingmapa) School of Tibetan Buddhism. His own life reads like a fantastic tale: from the prophecies about his birth to the enlightened visions and experiences of his early childhood, and from his study with the greatest Lamas of the last century to his flight from Tibet, arriving at his recognition as a true living Buddha, a fully realized and enlightened being. those who meet him see a deeply loving and compassionate human being whose openness and wisdom illuminate his simple, straightforward approach.
Excerpted from a paper by Asa Hershoff