The great Garuda dwelling above the crest of Kailash,
She has a body shaped like a woman
Yet like a bird she has feather plumage and wings,
She is neither woman, nor bird, nor in between!
She is the multicoloured garuda.
The turquoise dragon dwelling in space,
He has the body of a snake
Yet like a bird he soars in the sky!
He is neither snake, nor bird, nor in between!
He is the Turquoise dragon.
This ragged yogi who dwells in the mountains,
My body is clothed with robes like a monk's
Yet like a layman I have long hair.
I am neither a monk, nor a layman, nor in between!
I am a ngakpa
Song of Ngakpa Tsodruk Rangdrol Shabka Rinpoche
The Nyingma School is the oldest Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It has two ordained sanghas:
- the gendün marpo - the red sangha of celibate monks and nuns.
- the gendün karpo - the white sangha of non celibate tantric practitioners.
The white sangha (gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé or ngak'phang)is a community of yogic practitioners ordained according to tantric samayas. Although we are ordained, Ngakpas (male)and Ngakmas (female) are householders and are not bound to the same commitments as the monastic or vinaya vows of the Red Sangha.
Ngak'phang means mantra-holding and relates to the fact that we are ordained according to Tantra rather than Sutra. Gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé means long hair white skirt which accurately but perhaps rather unimaginatively describes our style of appearance!
Please note, however, practitioners of all the Vehicles of Tibetan Buddhism (i.e. Sutra, Tantra etc) may at different times practice each of the vehicles but this is done from within the context of their own vehicle's commitments. Also there are 'lay Tantrikas' and 'lay Buddhists' of the Nyingma school who have taken no external commitment to a particular tradition such as the ngak'phang even though they may be full time and highly accomplished practitioners. You can often easily spot which is the Ngakpa or Ngakma because of their commitment never to cut their hair which is often worn wound into a bun on top of the head!
Ngagmas and Ngakpas wear white shamtags (skirts), white, red and blue shawls of the yogic lineage and conch-shell spiral ear-rings; all of which represent specific aspects of the teachings. They never wear yellow which is associated with the vinaya of monks and nuns.
Monks and nuns renounce worldly life, emphasising the observance of celibacy, an abstinence from alcohol and meat and so on. Ngakmas and Ngakpas rely on internal renunciation rather than on external renunciation. We try to transmute our everyday life-circumstances as the means of practice. Relationships with one's partner, family, friends and colleagues at work are all regarded as the very basis of liberation and every facet of life-circumstances provides workable ground for practice.
Written in 1997