Ngakpa & Ngakmo
The Importance of the Ngakpa Tradition
By Ven. La-kar Chökyi Wangchuk Rinpoche
Mar 2, 2007, 14:05

Ven. La-kar Chökyi Wangchuk Rinpoche
"In the degenerate era, when red faced beasts have ruined the Vajrayana teachings, those with white skirts will benefit sentient beings! Thence arises the need for longhaired practitioners! A carefree body donning a white skirt and head adorned with braids - this is the sky-like appearance of the trul-ku! Carefree uncut hair - this is the sky-like appearance of the long-ku! Carefree view of pure Mind - this is the chö-ku. Achieving the three spheres of being within oneself - this is the practice of Dzogchen!"
- from the Kuntuzangpo Ralpa Nakpo mDo (Kun tu bZang po ral pa nag poi mDo) The Primordial Black Sutra of Ralpachen.  

It is important that the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé is maintained not merely for its own sake, but for the survival of Buddhism in general. People have occasionally asked what real importance there is in a set of clothes; because: . . . surely, Dzogchen is beyond outer appearances. In terms of Dzogchen (with regard to the statement that it goes beyond outer appearances) it should be understood that it was the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé who were originally the chief proponents of Dzogchen. It was only during the later spread of Buddhism in Tibet that people adopted lay dress in order to practice without molestation from the then prevailing aggressive monastic assertiveness.  

The reason now that we place such importance on the outer appearance is a question of bodhicitta rather than of essential necessity. If Buddhism, let alone Vajrayana Buddhism, is to survive in the West - there must be an alternative to the monastic style. Buddhism will never be established even as a minor religion in Western countries as long as there are no clergy apart from monastics. This is why we have to be so scrupulous about our costume and the precise details of the vows involved. This is why we have to insist on uncut hair. Any deviation from the historical model undermines our position completely. Let us quote La-kar Chökyi Wangchuk Rinpoche again: "Every ordinary and extraordinary existence is a manifestation of the three spheres of being: realised manifestation; realised visionary appearance; and, unconditioned potentiality. These existences therefore melt back into the same. Everything emerges from the expanse of primal purity and dissolves again into undifferentiated vastness." When asked: "What is so wonderful about a ngakpa or ngakma?" It was replied (in the Kuntuzangpo Ralpa Nakpo mDo): "The wondrous thing about the existence of ngakpas and ngakmas is that Buddhas are found in the dimension of form as the bodies of ngakpas and ngakmas! The wondrous thing about ngakpas and ngakmas is that Buddhas are found in the dimension of visionary appearance as the speech of ngakpas and ngakmas! The wondrous thing about ngakpas and ngakmas is that Buddhas are found in the dimension of emptiness as the Minds of ngakpas and ngakmas! Hence it is wondrous to find a Buddha within the expanse of the three spheres of being which are none other than the three doors of body speech and Mind!"  

We have never spoken in such grandiloquent terms about the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé; and, of course, such quotations apply only to great masters. We simply advocate the gö-kar-chang-lo as a way of integrating with life in the West - a way of making working family life a method of practice that can inspire others. However, if you read texts on the appearance of monks, you will find similar honorifics to those employed in the description of the ngakphang sangha. So it is not the individual dualistic being who is being honoured, but the appearance. The appearance is the practice and the gift to others who witness the appearance.

Removing the darkness of ignorance - the suddenly arising song which deciphers the symbols of the yogis and yoginis three secrets "Thol-jung lu-zhé naljor sar-sum da dröl-thé tshom-mun sel-zhug so" (Thol byung gLu gZhas rNal byor gSar gSum brDa Grol the tshom mun sel bZhugs so). The text begins by invoking the lineage in a very broad sense - a style which crosses lineages in order to speak of a non-monastic sangha in all schools. Künzang Tobden Wangpo begins his teaching as follows: "To the eighty four male and female mahasiddhas of India; to Padmakara and the twenty five disciples; to the succession of gTértöns, and to the Father and son lineage of Marpa and Milarépa. I pay my profound and one-pointed respect!" He continues by explaining that: ". . . people's concepts are extremely gross. They ask me with derision: 'Who are you? What exactly is your view and teaching? Why is your style of dress and behaviour disharmonious with monastic religious convention?' He gives detail of his parents, but their names are symbolic of his realisation. He says: "My mother's name is Heroine of Wisdom; my father's is Hero of Supreme Method." This means that his Mind was born from the non-dual state. His mother's name signifies realised emptiness; his father's, realised form. He is their son. Rigpa. He then speaks of his life: "Currently I journey through mountain ranges drinking from springs and sucking stones, or else I hum songs of experience and realisation. Then I come upon towns, and stroll as I may through its streets expressing crazy wisdom. I drink chang and eat meat in actualisation of my connection with the pawos and khandros. I sing songs of joy and happiness in order to actualise realisation in others. This is probably the reason you find me disharmonious." Here, Rigdzin Künzang Tobden Wangpo creates another vignette of emptiness and form, in which the mountain ranges are emptiness and the towns are form. He wanders through either without distinguishing them as different. In this way he is disharmonious with those who need to retire from the world in order to follow a spiritual practice. The very nature of his life is the practice of Dzogchen in which emptiness and form are unified. The reference to sucking stones is connected with Dzogchen chu-len, (bCud len) in which one can exist for long periods of time without having to rely on food. It is irrelevant to him whether he experiences the emptiness of chu-len or the form of tsog. He is not attached to the puritanical image as a yogi who maintains harsh spiritual austerities - both having and not having are the non-dual experience that characterises the Dzogchen yogi or yogini. He makes this explicit by commenting on his dress in the following way: In the same way the lotus is uncontaminated by the slime in which it grows, so ngakpas wear white cloth because they are uncontaminated by concepts of impurity.  

Rigdzin Künzang Tobden Wangpo says of hair: "Dark Lustrous hair describes the ngakpas sphere of unconditioned potentiality! Hair ornaments describe the ngakpas sphere of realised visionary appearances! Immeasurable mats of hair describe the ngakpas sphere of realised manifestation! Fifty matted braids of hair describes the ngakpas skull as the seat of the wrathful yidams! The countless strands are khandros. If one winds ones hair into a top knot it is the exquisite ornament of the ngakpa! If one lets one's hair fall loose, it is the splendid style of the ngakpa! If it is wrapped around the forehead it protects against sun and cold! If it is whipped on the ground it abolishes enemies and obstructions! It is from within the context of this history, that the present manifests. It is upon this history, that the future will be based. . . . monks and nuns wear three monastic robes, and ngakphang practitioners wear their ngakphang dress. Both are equally followers of Buddha. Both styles of dress are equal. Therefore both styles of dress will have a purpose and be meaningful, or they will not!  

There were many thousands of ngakphang practitioners in Tibet up until the 11th Century, but thereafter the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé began to diminish and female practitioners in particular were forced into the background. This was the time in which the large monastic institutions arose, and from that time onward the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé were forced out of central Tibet into Kham Amdo and Golok. Many went to the border areas of Tibet just as the Bön practitioners had done before them. This was the time when they began to live in remote villages in order to continue their practises. They would live anywhere sufficiently far from the large monastic institutions. It would seem that the disparaging term 'village ngakpa' came from that period, as a way of diminishing respect given to the ngakphang sangha in places where the monasteries had less influence. The Nyingmas appear to have made the decision of adopting a stronger monastic form in order to survive in the period of the later spread; and through so doing, gradually lost many of their original largely non-monastic characteristics. One can see this monastic emphasis in the way in which many of the great Nyingma Lamas are depicted as monks, when they were patently non-celibate. OUR COSTUME WAS PRESCRIBED BY PADMASAMBHAVA. It was specified by Padmasambhava that the monastic sangha should wear yellow and red. He said they should eat the ngar-sum-kar-sum (the three sweets and three whites) and that they should not eat meat or drink alcohol. This would seem to have changed with the passing of time, because there now seems to be no restriction against monks and nuns eating meat. Padmasambhava said that the gö-kar-chang-loi-dé should either wear black, or wear white, red, and blue. He said they should eat meat and drink alcohol and make all the sense fields their sphere of practice without artificially discriminating between pure and impure. GÖ-KAR-CHANG-LO IS BASED ON PRIMORDIAL WISDOM. The gö-kar-chang-loi-dé traditions were all based on yeshé (ye shes - jnana - primordial wisdom) and that it was therefore very important never to fall into any kind of pure / impure dichotomy. It was because of this emphasis on yeshé that the later monastics felt obliged to dismiss the gö-kar-chang-loi-dé. He said that their perspective led them to imagine that the gö-kar-chang-loi-dé regarded themselves as superior and above the law of karma. He said that the builders of monasteries were unable to comprehend that the gö-kar-chang-loi-dé had no interest in judging other practitioners at all, and so were quite innocent of the view with which they were credited. There was considerable jealousy involved on the part of the power seeking faction of the new translation school, in terms of access to the Tantras. The monastic supremacist movement of that time wished to control access to the Tantric practices and the gö-kar-chang-loi-dé were a threat inasmuch as they lived their Tantric practice quite overtly. In order to maintain power and control, they emphasised Sutra over Tantra, and made Tantra the sole proclivity of monastics.

In the time of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel, the gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé were able to drink alcohol without any detrimental effect on their bodies at all, but in these days it is extremely rare.

Ven. La-kar Chökyi Wangchuk Rinpoche is a Nyingma Ngakpa and an incarnation in the family clan of Ratna Lingpa

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