December 4, 2018
Palyul Changchub Dargyeling Ohio
The Palyul Changchub Dargyeling Buddhist Temple is located in Richfield, Ohio. This name is translated from Tibetan as “The Glorious Island of Flourishing Enlightenment”, which, as I will later explain through their focused practices, serves as a fitting name for this small temple outside of Akron. The temple is concerned with the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, and throughout this essay, I will describe what that means in practice, both through a historical observation of those Buddhist traditions and a specific dive into the daily implementation that Palyul Changchub Dargyeling chooses to express its faith.
We will learn that foundations in the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism are incredibly important, so it is no surprise that the temple expresses who is responsible for the gift of their establishment with great reverence. Kenchen Tsewang Gyatso was born in 1954 in the Southern Region of Tibet but later fled to India in 1962. There he began his journey in monastics through a nine-year curriculum at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath, where he intensively studied English, Sanskrit, and the textual traditions of both Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. He was always paced at the head of his class, and this academic excellence was recognized when the Dalai Lama awarded him a silver medal in 1978. After graduation, Kenchen Tsewang Gyatso taught at Palyul Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe in South India. Under the tutelage of several masters, he received all of the major transmissions and empowerments of the Nyingma tradition and was enthroned as a Khenpo, or professor, by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche, who was the 11th Throne Holder of the Palyul lineage. After his extensive studies in India, Kenchen Tsewang Gyatso traveled for teachings internationally in countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Hong-Kong, the Philippines, and last but not least, the United States, which brings us to our temple of interest in Richfield, Ohio. Upon a visit to the temple in 2000, Kenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche was named as spiritual director and established the space as a legitimate branch of the Palyul Lineage.
(Kenchen Tsewang Gyatso)
The Nyingma tradition of Buddhism is seen as having been held up by six “mother monasteries” in Tibet. The most impressive of these monasteries was Palyul, established in 1665 in Eastern Tibet, as this place of practice was blessed by many great saints and bodhisattvas before being named Palyul Namgyal Changchub Choling, becoming solidified as a major Nyingma Buddhist institution. As such, when a community claims to be from the Palyul Lineage, they are tracing their Nyingma practices all the way back to this great teaching monastery, which encompasses all of the Mahayana sutras, tantras, and termas. The Nyingma School of Buddhism is known as the “Old School,” and was established when Emperor Trisong Detsen invited the great master Padmasambhava into Tibet to spread Buddhism. This partnership led to the translation of the Buddhist canon, which allowed for the propagation of Buddhism in Tibet to become a functional goal. Padmasambhava was known as a Siddha, or a Tantric Buddhist master, so his focus was mainly oriented on Tantric Buddhism and Vajrayana, otherwise known as the “Diamond Vehicle”. Tantric practices are transferred master to disciple and revolve around staged esoteric practices of meditation and visualization aimed toward empowering the individual to see themselves as the Buddha. Those practicing Tantric Buddhism and the Vajrayana believe that it is possible to accomplish the goals of Hinayana and Mahayana while still in this life, leading to the view that it is the greatest vehicle. In grasping the historical significance of the Palyul Lineage of Nyingma Buddhism, it is also important to detail the knowledge of Dzogchen, which is central to Nyingma. Dzogchen is described as teachings aimed at “discovering and continuing in the natural primordial state of being,” through a great perfection of the subtle mind and the nature of the mind.
The practicing community in Richfield, Ohio views themselves as connected spiritually to the Palyul Monastery in Tibet, gathering both strength and wisdom from that source to propel their mission of dispensing their Buddhist teachings to an American audience. This is clearly seen on their website, as they explain “we have the rare opportunity to receive Dharma teachings just as our teachers themselves have been taught by the great Masters before them, thus keeping this tradition pure, preserved, and vivid.” This grants insight into the importance that Nyingma traditions place on the master-to-disciple transmission of knowledge, which enables the community to feel confident in the application of those lessons in their lives. Functionally, this manifests through the invitation of many Khenpos and Tulkus, who then proceed to host teachings and discussions involving any questions the community may have in regards to the lessons of the Buddha. That is not to say that the temple relies on visitors for lessons exclusively, as they have resident teachers who lead the community in both daily expressions of faith and special occasion celebrations, all based according to the Tibetan Lunar Calendar.
(Example of a guest teacher’s schedule)
Some of the daily practices that the temple employs are described as “The Great Perfection: Buddha in the Palm of the Hand,” “Ritual Recitation of the Mountain Smoke Offering,” and the “Twenty One Taras” recitation. The latter two of these recitations have a similar goal, one that is focused on the belief in tangible change being possible through worship. The Mountain Smoke Offering seeks to prolong life and remove obstacles toward enlightenment through the addressing of karmic debts in past lives. The Twenty One Taras recitation seeks to invoke the Goddess of compassion and protection, or as the website describes, the “bodhisattva representing the miraculous activities of all Buddhas.” Tara is seen as similarly being capable of taking many forms to aid humans in living longer, more peaceful lives, along with overcoming obstacles. Each verse highlights one of the manifestations of Tara, encompassing all of the potential ways she can aid the practitioner. It is obvious that these practices are catered to the day-to-day aspects of living, and the hope that human struggle can be alleviated through proper invocations. The Great Perfection, on the other hand, is a preliminary lesson on the path of reaching higher Dzogchen practices, which has a deeper intention of realizing the nature of the mind. The temple informs potential suitors that this lesson entails “Refuge, Bodhichitta, Offering the Mandala, Vajrasattva and Guru Yoga.” This paints the picture of a diverse service with long-term goals, transcending the previously discussed practices that were exclusively recitations for daily aid and blessings.
(Imagery of Twenty One Taras)
Beyond daily morning practices, the community also celebrates certain days of special worship services. A Practice on The Inner Aspect of Guru Rinpoche, otherwise known as the aforementioned Padmasambhava, is completed on the 10th Lunar day of each month. Padmasambhava is remembered by the community as “particularly powerful when negative emotions are stronger and confusion is greater. The more confusions and difficulties, the more powerful Guru Rinpoche is. Even great masters when faced with a crisis also call upon him for help.” This practice is employed to vanquish the most troublesome of obstacles, and in contrast to the previously introduced practices, this special occasion is marked with an offering of food. If food cannot be provided for the feast offering, the sangha is still encouraged to bring flowers or another form of offering. On the 25th Lunar Day, there is another special service to worship Yeshe Tsogyal, the chief disciple of Padmasambhava, which also involves a feast offering. It seems that the daily practices are catered toward reinforcement of traditional Buddhist values, to bolster and strengthen those ties, and the special services call upon pointed veneration for massively important figures and deities in the Buddhist canon.
This Buddhist community in Richfield makes it abundantly clear that all are welcome to come and learn, expressing that desire with classes and lessons that are free of charge and have no exclusivity, even higher level discourses. This comes with the necessity for donations, though, which is in line with a more traditional approach to Buddhism in terms of the monastic relationship with the lay community, but that is never explicitly addressed as a factor. The community is comprised of members of all ages, gender, ethnic backgrounds, and even faiths. All they seek to do is create an accepting atmosphere that can introduce Tibetan Buddhist values to people in the area, even going as far as saying that they have no intention of conversion. They interact with the surrounding community in Richfield by opening up avenues on their website and social media pages for prayer requests. I think this is important because it is a real expression of the importance and applicability that the sangha views prayer with, along with a message to those in need that this place will take their problems seriously and address them with compassion. The caveat to this, though, lies in the absolute reverence held for the Palyul lineage, and how while they are accepting and open to faiths and people of other traditions, they feel that this is the oldest, most pure transmission of Buddha’s message, and should be treated as such.
(Palyul Ohio Sangha)
O’Brien, Barbara, and Zen Buddhism. “Vajrayana: The Esoteric Path or Diamond Vehicle of Buddhism.” Thoughtco., Dotdash, www.thoughtco.com/vajrayana-introduction-450182.
Palyul: About the Nyingma School, www.palyul.org/eng_biokhenpo_tsewanggyatso.htm.
“Palyul Ohio Temple | Prayers.” Home | Palyul Ohio Vajrayana Buddhist Temple, www.palyulohio.org/prayers.
“THE PALYUL LINEAGE.” The Palyul Foundation of Canada, palyulcanada.org/palyul- lineage/.