The Sky Dragon’s Profound Roar by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

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Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

T H E   S K Y   D R A G O N ’ S   P R O F O U N D   R O A R
Up in the sky’s expanse, true being, unborn, forever pure
Beautiful is the world below me—how many colors do I see
But when I look I can’t find anything that’s born or has a root
So the time has come to meditate on true reality, of ego-clinging free
All my possessions, all that I enjoy, are like rainbows in the sky
Even their smallest parts have no essence—they don’t exist at all
So when I enjoy illusory pleasures, empty-appearing tea and beer
It’s time to rest in mind’s full moon—empty awareness, radiant clarity
The stages of practice of the Tathagata’s view and meditation
Are skillful methods that clear away ordinary thoughts
So I train in appearance and mind being without base or root—
When sickness and death suddenly strike, I’ll be ready, without regret
In the pattern that the world and life’s appearances weave
Visions of parents, relatives and friends are like illusions and dreams
Like morning mist, they are fleeting, and at the time they dissolve
That’s the time to search for unborn confused mind’s basic reality
In the baseless, rootless and empty confused appearances of life
We suffer from heat and from cold and from so many other things
But diligence in Secret Yana’s practices, so powerful
Makes fox-like cowardice be free all by itself—the time has come!
To what we beautify with hats and clothes—to this heap of elements
We offer tasty food and many other things—whatever we may find pleasing
But the carelessness and craziness of this life will end one day
So be ready to be fearless of the judgment of the mighty Lord of Death
From the country of great snow mountains—a realm of Dharma
Having crossed many hills and valleys and now flying through the sky
I purify illusory flesh and blood into empty-appearing deity
Paths and bhumis’ realizations self liberated—in this I train
Ha Ha! Dechen Rangdrol’s conduct that’s attachment-free
A Ho! It’s time to fly in the expanse of sky of spacious Mother
Composed by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.
Translation © 1998 Marpa Translation Committee.

T H E   S K Y   D R A G O N ’ S   P R O F O U N D   R O A R
by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

 

We practice the genuine dharma because it is a method for clearing away the temporary s tains that obscure our vision of the true nature of mind. The abiding nature of our mind is clear light. It is the buddha nature, the undifferentiability of clarity and emptiness. In its essence, it is primordially pure and primordially free from any stain at all. It has been free and pure from the very beginning. Yet, although this is the basic nature of mind, there are temporary, adventitious stains, which are not of the nature of mind but which, nevertheless, prevent us from realizing what it is.
The fact that the true nature of mind could be this clear light, the buddha nature that is completely free of any imperfection at all, and yet be obscured by temporary stains, is called the first of the “four inconceivable points” in a text called the Gyü Lama. This text presents the highest view in the continuum of the Mahayana teachings.  Why is this point inconceivable? It seems to be quite a contradiction to state that the basic nature of mind is pure and, at the same time, there are stains that prevent us from seeing it. If the true nature of our mind is pure, why then don’t we realize this?
The situation is like gold that is pure and yet is obscured by some coarser mineral; it is like water that is pure in essence, and yet is muddied by dirt; it is like the sun that is shining and yet is blocked from our view by clouds. The purpose of practicing dharma is to clear away these temporary stains so that the essence of mind shines forth. At that time, mind will be like pure gold that is refined of all impure materials. It will be like pure water, uncontaminated by any trace of dirt. It will be like the sun shining in a cloudless sky. We can understand how this apparently contradictory point is not contradictory when we consider such examples. On the surface, there might appear to be a contradiction while, fundamentally, there is not.

 

The qualities of the basic nature of this clear light, or buddha nature, are that it is naturally open, spacious and relaxed. When a person realizes this directly, they are freed from the bondage of their conceptuality; they are no longer bound by conceptual mind. Further, this realization benefits not only those who have experienced it directly, but it also benefits us while we are still in the process of listening to and reflecting upon these teachings. As we develop our understanding, we progressively gain certainty that the nature of this mind will help to release us from the bondage of our thoughts, and from the bondage of our own anger and desire.
Awareness and the Expanse
The glorious Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, described the true nature of mind as the “undifferentiability of awareness and the expanse.” The quality of the “expanse” refers to the transcendence of all conceptual notions; it cannot be described in words or grasped by thought. It is the great openness transcending all conceptuality. The quality of “awareness” describes the natural state of the mind, which is clear, luminous, and bright. This quality of luminosity is what is meant by awareness.
This description by the Third Karmapa of the basic nature of the mind as the undifferentiability of awareness and the expanse is the perfect unification of the intention of the Buddha’s speech in both the Second and the Third Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. The description of this mind as being in the nature of the expanse is the aspect that is in harmony with what is taught in the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. The Second Turning sutras of the Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom, or the Prajnaparamita, describe the basic nature of reality as transcending all conceptual fabrication, as being beyond any conventional name, term, or description. Furthermore, the awareness aspect, the natural clarity and luminosity of mind, is in harmony with the Buddha’s intention in the sutras on buddha nature, which constitute the Third Turning of the Wheel.
When one realizes this nature of mind that is the awareness and the expanse undifferentiable, then all conceptual fabrications are pacified and the darkness of ignorance is completely dispelled. It is through our realization of the aspect of the expanse—the transcendence of all conceptual fabrications—that conceptual mind is completely pacified; and it is through our realization of the aspect of awareness—the luminous nature of mind—that the clarity of awareness dispels the darkness of ignorance.

 

When one gains stable certainty that, in fact, the nature of reality is “awareness and expanse undifferentiable,” then realizing the nature of reality as bliss-emptiness, mahamudra, or as awareness-emptiness, dzogchen, becomes quite easy.
The great scholar and master, Mipham Chokle Namgyal, said, “If one seeks to master the basic nature of alpha purity, or kadak, it is necessary to perfect one’s understanding of the view of the Prasangika, or the Consequence School.” Alpha purity describes the basic nature of mind as it is expressed in the dzogchen descriptions. If one wishes to realize dzogchen, alpha purity, or trekcho, as it is also called, then one must perfect one’s understanding of the Consequence School. That is, one must realize that the nature of reality transcends all conceptual fabrications; it cannot be described by any conceptual terms. This is the aspect of the “expanse.”If one recognizes this, then it is easy to realize the mahamudra because, as Milarepa sang:
               The view is original wisdom which is empty
Meditation clear light free of fixation
Conduct continual flow without attachment
Fruition is nakedness stripped of every stain.

“The view is original wisdom, which is empty,” describes awareness, which is empty of any flaw, empty of any type of conceptual fabrication, and cannot be described by any conventional terms.
If one is able to gain certainty that the nature of mind is awareness and the expanse undifferentiable, then one will perfect the intention of the glorious Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, who expressed this realization again and again. The buddha nature, itself, is nothing other than the awareness and the expanse undifferentiable. It is very important for us to gain certainty that this is the case through the practices of listening and reflecting.  This has been a brief explanation of the view of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, and the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, which expresses the true nature of reality as awareness and the expanse undifferentiable.
T H E   S K Y   D R A G O N ’ S   P R O F O U N D   R O A R
Many people have asked Rinpoche to tell his life story. In response, Rinpoche composed this song, which tells about the past, the present and the future. This is a brief explanation of these words.
               Up in the sky’s expanse, true being, unborn, forever pure
Beautiful is the world below me—how many colors do I see
But when I look I can’t find anything that’s born or has a root
So the time has come to meditate on true reality, of ego-clinging free

In the first line, the true nature of reality, which is forever pure, primordially free, unborn, is likened to the expanse of the sky. In this expanse of sky, Rinpoche looked down from an airplane and saw the world below him with all of its beautiful colors. Thus, the second line describes an experience of the past. This was, nevertheless, a present experience, a time when the past had ceased and the future had not yet arisen. In that very present moment, this is what he saw: “But when I look I can’t find anything that’s born or has a root.”  Rinpoche comments that, “No matter how I examine this world’s experiences, I find that nothing ever really happens. Nothing is born. Things do not arise from themselves; they do not arise from something other than themselves; they do not arise from both themselves and something other than themselves; and they do not arise without any cause at all. Consequently, they just don’t happen. They never arise. They are without any root, without any ground.”

Realizing that this is the case, in the next line, Rinpoche reflects on what he must do in the future. Therefore, Rinpoche says, “the time has come to meditate on true reality, of ego clinging free.” The time has come to meditate on the nature of reality, which is free of clinging to this constant thought of “I,”“I,” “Me,” “Me.”
This explanation of things as being without any ground or root is in harmony with the words of the glorious Shepa Dorje, Laughing Vajra, otherwise known as Milarepa, who sang:
               The true nature of appearances is that they’ve never been born
If birth seems to happen it’s just clinging, nothing more
The spinning wheel of existence has neither a base nor a root
If things seem to be stable, that’s only a thought

The first verse of The Sky Dragon’s Profound Roar and these explanations are inharmony with the words of Milarepa’s song.
               All my possessions, all that I enjoy, are like rainbows in the sky
Even their smallest parts have no essence—they don’t exist at all
So when I enjoy illusory pleasures, empty-appearing tea and beer
It’s time to rest in mind’s full moon—empty awareness, radiant clarity

“All my possessions, all that I enjoy, are like rainbows in the sky.” In this line, Rinpoche is saying that whatever things he might possess or whatever experiences he might enjoy, all of these are just mere appearances, nothing more than that. Each of these experiences is just like a rainbow in the sky, something that merely appears without any substantial essence. Even the tiniest components of these things have no existence because they are neither one nor many. They have no more reality than the things we enjoy in dreams. This refers to a past experience, to what Rinpoche has come to understand. The next line, “So when I enjoy illusory pleasures, empty appearing tea and beer,” refers to a present experience. Here, tea, beer, and other enjoyments are all seen as being just empty appearances; they are appearance-emptiness undifferentiable, like illusions.
Following this, Rinpoche sings about the future. He says, “It’s time to rest in mind’s full moon–empty awareness, radiant clarity.” Here, the luminosity, the clarity of mind, is compared to the fifteenth day of the lunar month when the moon is completely full and bright. Rinpoche remarks that at this moment he is warning himself to be careful. He is saying, “Now it is time to rest like this” and if he doesn’t, it could be dangerous.
Thus, now is the time, while the mind that is focused outward is enjoying pleasurable experiences, for the mind that is focused inward to just rest in its own basic nature, to settle into its own clarity.
               The stages of practice of the Tathagata’s view and meditation
Are skillful methods that clear away ordinary thoughts
So I train in appearance and mind being without base or root—
When sickness and death suddenly strike, I’ll be ready, without regret

The Tathagata, the “thus gone one,” refers to the perfect Buddha. The stages of practice of the Tathagata’s view and meditation are as follows:
First, one learns about, reflects upon and meditates on the selflessness of the individual, as taught in the basic level of meditation. One then reflects on the view of the Mind-Only School, through which one determines that the nature of reality is consciousness, empty of the duality of perceiver and perceived.  Subsequently, one reflects upon and develops an understanding of the view of the Middle Way Autonomy School, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, which describes the nature of reality as being “emptiness like space.” The next step is understanding the explanations of the proponents of the Middle Way Consequence School, the Prasangika, which describe how the nature of reality transcends all conceptual fabrications as to what that reality might be. Finally, through reflecting on the view of the Shentong, or the Empty-of-Other School,one determines that the nature of reality is the buddha nature, the undifferentiability of the awareness and the expanse. This is the Buddha’s explanation in the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
The point of all of this is expressed in the line that says, “They are skillful methods that clear away ordinary thoughts.” What do ordinary individuals think? They think that things are real. Thus, the stages of practice are methods that clear away this type of clinging to things as real. These two lines describe Rinpoche’s past experience, the way that he has understood things to be. Given such an understanding, what is there to do? Rinpoche says, “So I train in appearance and mind being without base or root.” In other words, there is no reason to think about the past mind, because it is finished. There is no point in thinking about the future mind, because it has not arisen yet. It is time to focus on the mind that is occurring at this present moment and understand that it, itself, is without any base or root. “Training” in this context also has the notion of purifying or cleansing thoughts that think things are real.

The last line, “When sickness and death suddenly strike,” refers to the future.  “Sickness” refers to a time when the four elements that compose our bodies are disturbed or out of balance, and “death” refers to the time when the life force in our body is going to cease. Usually, these experiences do not come upon us gradually. Sickness and death are more often sudden occurrences, happening with little or no warning. Thus, when they suddenly strike, Rinpoche says, “I’ll be ready without any regret.”
This again is Rinpoche’s warning to himself: “When sickness and death suddenly strike, I had better be ready. I had better not have any regrets at that time.” In short, this means to be without any regret now, because if you wait until the time you are about to die, it is too late. Being without regret now is the best preparation.

 

Rinpoche is talking to himself about how he needs to be, but he says that it is probably the case that this advice will benefit us all.
               In the pattern that the world and life’s appearances weave
Visions of parents, relatives and friends are like illusions and dreams
Like morning mist, they are fleeting, and at the time they dissolve
That’s the time to search for unborn confused mind’s basic reality

“In the pattern that the world and life’s appearances weave”—this pattern is a beautiful picture if you just look at it as an image passing by. However, it is important to realize that, in this beautiful picture, all of the “visions of parents, relatives and friends are like illusions and dreams.” They have no more reality than that because they are appearance-emptiness. This line is describing Rinpoche’s past experience, the way that he has thought about it and the certainty he has come to regarding it. Rinpoche then remarks that these visions are “like morning mist, they are fleeting and at the time they dissolve”—this refers to how, when it is cold, the mist can gather on the ground; but later, that mist just disappears. It vanishes by itself, of its own accord. In a similar way, our visions of parents, relatives and friends are fleeting appearances, and when they dissolve, “that’s the time to search for unborn confused mind’s basic reality.” This mind, which never actually comes into being, while appearing to be confused, is by nature unborn and transcends all conceptual fabrications. Thus, this mind that never actually happens, that never comes into being, while appearing to be confused, its actual nature is unborn and it transcends all conceptual fabrications.  However, now is the time we must search for the basic reality of this mind, because if we wait until these appearances dissolve, it may be too late.
               In the baseless, rootless and empty confused appearances of life
We suffer from heat and from cold and from so many other things
But diligence in Secret Yana’s practices, so powerful
Makes fox-like cowardice be free all by itself—the time has come!

The entirety of samsara is confused appearances, but the nature of all these appearances is emptiness. The nature of this emptiness is that it is completely groundless; it has neither base nor root. Although that is the case, we still take these empty appearances to be real. They appear to our thoughts to be real, and we think they are as they appear. Because of this, we suffer from so many different things. We suffer from heat and cold. We suffer from meeting people we don’t like and not meeting the people we like. There are many things that cause us suffering; in fact, there is little point in trying to enumerate them all.

 

Here, Rinpoche is describing his own past experience. He is saying, “I understand this. This is the way it seems to be.” However, Rinpoche also says that when one has great enthusiasm and “diligence in Secret Yana’s practices, so powerful,” referring to the vehicle of Secret Mantra, the Vajrayana, then “foxlikecowardice” is freed all by itself. A fox is an animal that will not stand up to anyone. They are afraid of everything and tend to just run away. This is the type of cowardice where we think, “I can’t do it. I’m not good enough for this.  I don’t have the ability to do this now, and it’s only going to get worse for me in the future.”
If this is our past experience, then what is it time to do now? Rinpoche says, “The time has come to set this type of thinking free all by itself, because if I don’t do it now, later it will be too late. I’ll be discouraged and disheartened for he rest of my life, and when I die, I’ll be discouraged and frightened in the bardo. Then, in my next life, I will be even more of a coward, and this cowardice will only become greater and greater and greater. Therefore, now it is time to set it free, before it is too late.” Rinpoche says this is his own advice
to himself.
               To what we beautify with hats and clothes—to this heap of elements
We offer tasty food and many other things—whatever we may find pleasing
But the carelessness and craziness of this life will end one day
So be ready to be fearless of the judgment of the mighty Lord of Death

Our body is basically a heap of four elements. Yet we beautify this heap with hats and clothes and dress it up with earrings and other ornaments. We offer to this aggregate of the four elements tasty, delicious food and all the other things we like. We take this mass of matter and make it into an object of offering and veneration. This can go on and on in a careless and crazy way; however, the fact is that this life is quite short, and we need to be aware of the reality that it is going to end. When our life ends, we go before the mighty Lord of Death, who stands in judgment of us without any compassion or mercy. It is like going to the courthouse to appear before the judge. The judge is the fearless Lord of Death, and we are not even granted a lawyer. We must go all alone. Therefore, we have to prepare ourselves, now, to be fearless of this Lord of Death. If we wait until we are in the courtroom, with the judge staring down at us, it will be too late.
All of the past experiences that Rinpoche is singing about happened in Tibet, the Land of Snows. Who knows where the future events of one’s life will take place? Rinpoche says, “Those places where I will get sick and where I will die are dependent upon the coming together of causes and conditions, and therefore I have no idea where these events will occur.”
               From the country of great snow mountains—a realm of Dharma
Having crossed many hills and valleys and now flying through the sky
I purify illusory flesh and blood into empty-appearing deity
Paths and bhumis’ realizations self liberated—in this I train

“From the country of great snow mountains—a realm of dharma”—this describes Tibet. It is called the Land of Snow Mountains, the Snowy Region, and the Land of Snows. There are many different Tibetan phrases to describe Tibet. Those descriptions are accurate, but also it was a land of the practice of dharma, of sutra and mantra together. It was, in a sense, a realm of dharma.  Nevertheless, if you must leave Tibet, what do you have to do? You must cross the Himalayas, with all of their high mountains and their hills and valleys. Rinpoche remarks that after he left Tibet, he then went to India and stayed there for some years. Following that he went to Bhutan, where he also stayed for some years. Rinpoche says, “So where am I now, when I’m singing this song? I’m flying in the sky. Who made these machines that fly in the sky?  Was it scientists or somebody else? I’m not quite sure, but here I am, flying in the sky, in an airplane!” All of this describes Rinpoche’s past experience.
After all of this, what is there to do now? Rinpoche says, “I purify illusory flesh and blood into empty-appearing deity.” We ordinarily think of our bodies as something that is made out of flesh and blood. We think that these substances are real and, thus, that our bodies truly exist. In fact, our bodies, and the flesh and blood out of which they are formed, are just illusions because they are all of the nature of appearance-emptiness. Therefore, we purify our body and its elements into the empty-appearing body of the deity. This is a Vajrayana method of practice in which we visualize ourselves, as a deity that is of the nature of appearance-emptiness, like an illusion, like a dream. This practice purifies thoughts that think the body is the self, and think that the body is something real. Rinpoche says that this is the type of activity that needs to be done in the future.

The next line, “Paths and bhumis realizations’ self-liberated—in this I train,” refers to the Mahayana description of the Ten Bodhisattva Bhumis, or the ten levels or realizations, and the Five Paths, which correspond to those ten grounds. The bhumis and paths also correspond to the progressive stages of the view and meditation, mentioned earlier. Here, Rinpoche is referring to training in the realization of these as self-liberated. There are two ways this can be explained. One way is to train in self-liberating attachment to any realization that might arise as being real. We must train in the self-liberation of that attachment. Another way is to train in the self-liberation of whatever thoughts come up—the whole host of our thoughts is, by nature, self-liberated. To train in this is the practice of mahamudra and dzogchen.
Now is the time to train in these things, since if one waits, it will be too late.  Therefore, it is time to do it now.
               Ha Ha! Dechen Rangdrol’s conduct that’s attachment-free
A Ho! It’s time to fly in the expanse of sky of spacious Mother

 

In another context, the words “Ha Ha” could be described as the seed syllables of a deity but here, that is not what is being talked about. Instead, this is the sound of laughter, because the conduct of Dechen Rangdrol, which is Rinpoche’s Secret Mantra name, is attachment free. It is free of any type of thought that anything is real. It is conduct that knows everything is just like
a dream.
In the last line of the song, “A Ho! It’s time to fly in the expanse of sky of spacious Mother,” the term, “Mother,” refers to Prajnaparamita, the great mother. When Dechen Rangdrol’s conduct is completely free of any attachment to things as being real, then he can fly in the spacious expanse of sky of the great mother, the transcendent perfection of wisdom, and this is an occasion that is quite amazing and miraculous. Therefore, it is time to really laugh out loud.

 

This short song, which Rinpoche composed at the time he was “flying through the expansive sky” functions as Rinpoche’s autobiography. However, it is not an autobiography in which he tells us, “I went here and there, and I did this and that,” because those things are relatively unimportant. Rinpoche says that it is much more important to convey what his past experiences were and what his vision of the future might be, that is to say, what he needs to do in the future. Accordingly, if somebody asks for Rinpoche’s life story, then this is it; these are the experiences that are most important to share. In the future, if we find ourselves wondering about the story of his life, then we should sing this song.
This teaching on “The Sky Dragon’s Profound Roar,” by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche was generously given in response to a special request for teachings by the Nalandabodhi Sangha on October 10, 1999, on the campus of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Ari Goldfield served as Rinpoche’s translator.  Edited by Cindy Shelton and Amita Gupta, with assistance by Meg Miller.