Interview with Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche on his new book Handbook for Half Buddhas

By Peter Ober


Peter: What made you decide to write a Handbook for Half Buddhas?

Tulku Yeshi: There are lots of books on Tibetan Buddhism, but the authors are almost all Westerners. Although educated and qualified, they only know Tibetan culture from afar. I was born into a Tibetan Buddhist family and brought up in their faith and culture and then studied Buddhism for over 30 years in Tibet.

Peter: You are now a monk. Were all your studies within Tibetan monasteries?

Tulku Yeshi: No, it was about fifty-fifty, half my studies were by myself and half were in monasteries at the feet of Buddhist Masters.

Peter: I know you are also a poet; your love of nature is obvious from your autobiography and your talks at Sakya Monastery, but most Westerners imagine that the religious practices of a Buddhist monk must be “other-worldly” and unrelated to the everyday experience of people who have to work for a living and scarcely have enough time to relax over a cup of coffee. How will they find your Handbook relevant to their lives?

Tulku Yeshi: If they just start reading it, they will find that there isn’t such a sharp divide between Tibetan Buddhist practice and everyday life in the West. In fact, I hope they will discover that “the daily grind,” as you Americans call it, won’t be so grim and oppressive once they realize that it can also be a vehicle for their spiritual practice. Take that cup of coffee you mentioned. The Handbook will show them how to make it an offering to the Three Jewels as well as an opportunity for relaxation. That’s just one example. In addition to covering details of Deity Yoga and other more advanced practices, I devote plenty of space to the daily routines we all share. I give detailed instructions, including specific mantras, for all these mundane activities. My hope is that readers will realize that things as “worldly” as washing your face and brushing your teeth can be done from a spiritual perspective and can, in turn, enrich and deepen that spiritual perspective.

Peter: So how would you sum up your over-all goal in writing the Handbook?

Tulku Yeshi: I hope readers will become more mindful in everything they do and cherish others more than themselves.

Peter: From what you have just said it is clear how the book encourages and inspires us to be mindful about everything we do rather than going through life on automatic pilot; but would you say a little more about the second goal, cherishing others more than ourselves?

Tulku Yeshi: The Buddha emphasized the great importance of recognizing the interdependence of all things. That’s what Mother Nature teaches us, too! Look at that tree out there. (Rinpoche points out the window.) Although it may be on “our” property according to the laws people have made, it takes in carbon dioxide from the whole neighborhood and replaces it with oxygen, freshening the air for everyone who walks by. If we sealed it off from everything else as if it were self-existing, it would quickly die, and so would all the birds and other beings who depend on it.

If you extend this observation to yourself and the people in your life, you can’t deny that we are all tied together in a web of interdependence within which, no matter how hard you look, you‘ll never discover an unchanging “self” at the core of anybody or anything! The more deeply you feel the wonder and the beauty of the web of life as a whole, the more you realize how silly it is to project an imaginary duality of “self” and “other” into it— just as silly as it would be to insist that that tree out there is “ours!” The only sensible strategy is to be as mindful as possible when referring to our experience as some imaginary “me” within us and to cultivate love and compassion for all the “other” sentient beings who are woven into the same web of life that supports us.

Peter: Thank you, Rinpoche! It sounds like you have been speaking about emptiness without calling it that.

Tulku Yeshi: I don’t discuss emptiness as such—that comes with advanced meditation and the study of philosophy. The Handbook is a down-to-earth, practical book. I‘m more concerned with how people deal with karma in their everyday lives. Once they understand their interdependence with other sentient beings from this perspective— from the perspective of the laws of karmic cause and effect—then they will have a basis of experience in which an understanding of emptiness can take root.

Peter: We’re almost out of time, and I feel we’ve just scratched the surface of the Handbook for Half Buddhas. I know you include instructions for quite a few fairly advanced practices as well as detailed instructions for beginners. What kind of response have you received from your own students?

Tulku Yeshi: (Laughs) A lot of them were happy that I added so much detail about setting up shrines and taking care of their sacred implements. After reading the section on prayer wheels, for instance, one student became curious and looked inside her prayer wheel. She found that all the mantras were up-side down! It’s practical tips like that which more seasoned practitioners seem to appreciate.

Peter: If you had to sum up the book in a single sentence, how would you describe it?

Tulku Yeshi: That’s easy. The book is a teacher. If you’re a beginner, just turn to page one and start reading! If you’re an advanced practitioner with a specific question, you should be able to skim over the table of contents and then zero in on the answer you’re looking for.

Peter: Finally, Rinpoche, do you have any other books “in the oven?”

Tulku Yeshi: Yes, I do. I have just finished one for children entitled 108 Questions about the Life and Teachings of the Buddha. While there are already books about the Buddha for children, they consist almost entirely of storytelling, while my book interweaves basic Buddhist teachings with stories.

My next book will be Tibetan Zen. Along with other material, it will introduce a range of simple, deep meditations in relatively poetic language. I hope to show that profound meditative states need not involve complicated visualizations, but can also be evoked by peaceful settings in the natural world or by beautiful music and other experiences dear to all of us.

Peter: Thank you, Rinpoche, for your precious gifts to all of us!

2015 Losar Speech

by David Spiekerman


On behalf of His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, I would like to welcome all of you to our Losar celebration.  We live in a time and place that encourages New Years celebrations among the diverse world cultures calling America their home.  Today we celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the most important holiday in Tibet.

In ancient times, Tibetans celebrated Losar on the Winter Solstice when they performed their rituals of gratitude for the sacred nature of the internal and external elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space.  After Buddhism came to Tibet and Tibetans adopted the Chinese lunar calendar and astrology, the modern form of Losar developed.
In Tibetan monasteries several days before Losar, monks perform Vajrakilaya and other protector diety pujas.  On New Years day, special preparations for the Dharma protectors are offered.  And traditionally, everyone wishes His Holiness Dalai Lama “ Good luck!”  In other words, an auspicious state resulting from favorable outcomes.
The New Year is a natural occasion to wish everyone “Gook luck!”  Of course, as good Buddhists, we strive to practice loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom at every moment.  We are grateful that the New Years is a ripe opportunity to assess the condition of our wisdom.  How we behave, in other words, how close we adhere to the Bodhisattva’s vow to put others before ourselves, will determine the measure of “Good luck” that we shall experience in the coming year.

The other day, I was fortunate to hear an interview on Public Radio with a Seattle nurse who has been to West Africa twice and is going back a third time to help people stricken with Ebola.  The clarity and purity of her profound selflessness and her utterly true compassion in action were mind blowing and brought tears to my eyes.

We are all capable of such fearless selflessness.  Although we all, due to present circumstances and karma, may not be now capable of such heroic activities as this Seattle nurse, we all can engage skillfully in smaller acts of kindness, which fostered over time in our daily lives and Dharma practices, will lead to the accumulation of significant merit. The New Year renews our precious opportunity to imbue our altruistic intentions with the greatest strength that we can muster.

I do not know if Lord Buddha taught about New Year celebrations.  The concepts of New Year and old year have no ultimate meaning. However, it is obvious that human cultures need order and regularity in their lives to live harmoniously with one another and with Mother Nature, who passes through regular and annual natural cycles. Just as our bodies are made up of the physical elements, the five aggregates, our minds are a mirror image of space.

So it is fitting that once a year, we are happy to celebrate the annual passage of time, which manifests in our bodies as birth, sickness, old age and death.  Recognizing this turns our mind to the Dharma.

As a community of Dharma practitioners, Losar affords us the precious opportunity to renew together our commitments to the Triple Gem.  The happy in Happy New Year, as in all auspicious states, is rooted in our faithful practice and understanding of loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom.  As we have Bodhisattvas in our midst here today, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, His Eminence Avikrita Rinpoche, His Eminence Asanga Rinpoche, His Eminence Abaya Rinpoche, the Khon lineage of Dunghseys, Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho, and our resident lamas, we are fortunate to have these human beings as our cherished teachers, who walk in the footsteps of Lord Buddha, the blessed one, who is an unsurpassed teacher.

May the New Year bring health, happiness, and holiness to our precious teachers and all sentient beings.

Tsenshug 2014 for His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya

by Adrienne Chan

“The Buddha said that anyone who had developed the Four Bases to Success, had made them his vehicle and his foundation could, if he wished, live out the age. The Exalted One had done all that, and he could, if requested, live to the end of this age. Although Ananda was given such a plain and broad hint, which certainly coincided with his longing, he did not beg the Buddha to stay alive, out of compassion for all beings. Not only once, but a second and third time, the Buddha addressed Ananda in this way. But Ananda did not take these hints…” [1] and the Buddha entered Parinirvana.

So it is that the Tibetan Buddhist Tenshug ceremony, requesting for a lama’s long life, is practiced and revered.  At the request and sponsorship of Ponlop Tashi Rinpoche of the Tsechen Thupten Dekyi Choling, Taiwan, Tenshug prayers/ceremony were held for His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya at Sakya Monastery, Seattle, from September 26-28, 2014. For three consecutive mornings, Khenpo Jampa Rinpoche was the Dorje Lopon (chant leader).  Our resident lamas Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche and Lama Migmar; guest lamas Phonlop Tashi Rinpoche from Taiwan, Lama Lungrick from Olympia, WA, Ven. Lekshey from Seattle/Nepal; members of the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang family, and our sangha all participated in the Drolkar Yeshin Khorlo puja (Six Rays of Light-White Tara Long Life Ritual).

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On the third morning, September 28th, the Tenshug prayers began at 7:30am.  The prayers stopped briefly to await the 10am arrival of HH Dagchen Rinpoche.  At 10am, the Dhungseys greeted His Holiness at the entrance of the Monastery.  Tsering Gaga held a special and beautiful Dharma ceremonial umbrella over him.   According to Tibetan tradition, the ceremonial greeting procession included Sakya family members, students and friends carrying incense and katags, while gyaling (Tibetan trumpet) music played in the background.

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Special guests who attended Holiness’ Tenshug ceremony were Her Eminence Chimey Luding Jetsun Kusho, Luding Tse Kusho from Vancouver, BC.; from Taiwan came Phonlop Tashi Rinpoche, Chen Shih-Fang, Emma Lin; Sophia Chen came from Singapore; Mr. Gu arrived from Shanghai; Lekshey Chan, Roland Yeung, Jamyang Dolma came from Hong Kong; Madame Hong Dang and an entourage of five others flew in from Vietnam. Geshe Jamyang Tustrim, his family and students drove up from Olympia, WA.  Officers and members of the Tibetan Association of Washington also joined the Tenshug.

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Upon entering the Shrine room, one was struck by its gold/red shimmering grandeur. His Holiness’ throne was decorated with new brocade coverings—top table cloth, front table cloth, and back seat covering offered by Mr. Norbu from east Tibet.  A beautiful floral arrangement was offered by Marilyn Harris. A colorful and elaborate 4’x4’ mandala shrine table set was up near the altar. The 7 royal symbols (Wheel, Jewel, Queen, Minister, Horse, Elephant, General) and the 8 auspicious symbols (Parasol, Golden Fishes, Treasure Vase, Lotus, Conch Shell, Endless Knot, Victory Banner, Wheel) were arranged on a table in front of His Holiness’ throne.

After His Holiness sat on his throne, Dorje Lopon Khenpo Jampa resumed the Tenshug prayers.  Then Chen Shih-Fang, Roland Yeung and Madame Hong Dang made the elaborate 37-point Mandala Offering to His Holiness.  Phonlop Tashi Rinpoche named the 37 symbols as Dorje Lopon Khenpo Jampa pointed to each symbol on the Mandala plate. The offering continued with the Khon Dhungs offering the Body (an Amitayus long-life statue), Speech (Dharma text), Mind (Stupa), Vase (Qualities) and Double Dorje (Activity) of the Buddha to His Holiness.  Following this Khon Dhungs, Phonlop Tashi Rinpoche offered the 7 royal and 8 auspicious symbols.

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The Tenshug ceremony reached its climax when Ponlop Tashi Rinpoche made his long-life request to His Holiness.  His Holiness replied:

         To all of you Dharma practitioners, it is wonderful that you
         have joined together to perform the White Tara ritual and recite
         the Three Long Life deities prayers (in my honor).  I will remain so
         long as I can benefit all sentient beings. For the benefit of all lamas’
         long lives, and for all sentient beings, do I pray.

Everyone responded Joyously! The program continued with Ven. Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche sharing with the audience His Holiness’ biography.

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Next the groups listed below made their traditional 7-point Mandala offerings to His Holiness:

 Sakya Tsechen Thubten Ling, Vancouver, BC---HE Jetusn Kusho
 Tsechen Thupten Dekyi Choling, Taipei, Taiwan---Ponlop Tashi Rinpoche & members
 Sakya Tsechen Phuntsog Choling, Hong Kong---Roland Yeung & members
 Sakya Tsechen Shide Choling, Vietnam---Tho Luu, Madame Hong Dang & members
 Nalanda Institute, Olympia, WA---Geshe Jamyang Tsultrim & members
 Tara Meditation Center, Whidbey Is, WA---Chuck Pettis, Earth Sanctuary President
 Tibetan Association of Washington---Tenzin Chokey, President of TAW & other officers
 Tulku Urgen and Family
 Sakya Monastery Teen Dharma School---Colin Lamb, Jacob and Diego Alcarez, Leif Crefwell,
 Metta Mayes, Hanaha Pham
 Sakya Monastery Virupa Educational Institute---Coordinator Dr. Kristine Honda & teachers
 Sakya Monastery Board of Advisors---President David Spiekerman & other Board members
The Tenshug Ceremony closed with the recitation of “Prayers for the Three Long Life Deities” and His Holiness Dagchen Rinpoche’s long life prayer.  This was followed by the presentation of huge decorated cake and a roaring rendition of the song, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”!!!    

The blessed event was tremendous success - thank you to everyone who helped!



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Birthday Speech for H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya

by David Spiekerman

To celebrate today the birthday of HHJDS is to acknowledge that we here are fortunate to know him as our true spiritual true friend.  HHJDS is that rare and precious being who nurtures our trust so that we can discern for ourselves, like Manjushri, the truth of our nature and of the impediments blocking our experience of liberation.

Each of us can count on one hand the number of friends that we can trust to always tell us the true truth.  Our friendships generally are based on emotional affinities and common interests and values that happen as a result of our circumstances.  In our lives, we have had many “fair weather” friends and friends that we out grow.  However, with HHJDS, we have carefully and consciously chosen to admit him into our lives so that we can learn to be free of fear and to be happy serving others.

We recognize HHJDs as a being who with his pristine activities and qualities accesses the universal mind.  In our friendly exchanges with him, he reflects back to us the nature of reality.  And he has the power to help us dispel, like Vajrapani, the demons dancing a war dance around our egos, scaring us to death and demanding complete loyalty.

In our service to HHJDS if we are diligent, faithful, and patient, we learn to model our behavior after his Vajrasattva like integrity.  He has taught us what the great sages of India discovered.  That is that we can rewire our brains when we devote ourselves to a guru that we can trust as a true spiritual true friend.

HHJDS, like Chenrezi, has tirelessly and kindly guided us through the beguiling and sticky morass of samsara to reveal to us the diamond like quality of the Dharma. When we truly trust the meaning of the Dharma and unequivocally incorporate its truth into our behavior, consciousness, and practice, we experience our defilements and delusions disappearing into emptiness.  HHJDS has taught us that the Dharma, the precious teachings of Lord Buddha that have been tested and revealed for over 2500 years by great spiritual masters, is a faithful spiritual friend as well.

Although birth is considered one of the imperfections of samsara,  HHJDS, through his vast spiritual activities and faithful devotion to the Buddhadharma, has transformed the “fault” of birth into a jewel.  Fortunately, his birth made it possible for the brilliance of his being to shine into our hearts and motivate us to become bodhisattvas.

Happy Birthday Rinpoche.

Birthday Speech for H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya

by Khenpo Jampa Tenphel Rinpoche

Today is the 86th birthday of His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche, founder of Sakya Monastery in Seattle and Lamdre lineage holder of the heavenly Khon family. When we celebrate his birthday, we are not simply celebrating the life of one man, we are celebrating the 900 year unbroken lineage of the glorious scholars of the Sakyapa tradition. We are celebrating the incredible wisdom and profound realization of the Five Founding Lamas. We are celebrating the unbroken direct transmission of the Lamdre teaching from Mahasiddhi Virupa. His Holiness Dagchen Rinpoche brought our Sakyapa tradition here to America and established his seat in Seattle, Washington. Since then he has continuously bestowed teachings, empowerments and blessings for the development and cultivation of the Dharma here in this new world. With body, speech and mind he manifests the Rigsum Gonpo: Chenrezi, Manjushri and wrathful Vajrapani. I would like the thank the president, the board and the members of the Sakya Tsechen Association for hosting this event and inviting me to celebrate the life of one of our great living lamas for the first time here in New York. Let's continue our life practice in accordance with the instructions of our wonderful, compassionate gurus. Happy Birthday to His Holiness Dagchen Rinpoche! Now let's dedicate the merit of our rejoicing and celebration to wish long life to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin and of course His Holiness Dagchen Rinpoche, as well as peace on Earth and the preservation of the Tibetan culture and spirit! Thank you!

H.E. Dagmo Kusho’s Teachings at Sravasti Abbey

by Bhikshuni Thubten Tarpa , Sravasti Abbey

With great joy we welcomed back Her Eminence Dagmo Kusho Sakya to Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington in late July, August 2014. The Buddhadharma teachings with Dagmo Kusho were filled with joy, heartfelt warmth, and Dharma friendship. Dagmo Kusho, with her deep practice and devotion as well as wonderful warmth, was an inspiration to all over the four days of teachings and activities.

First Dagmola gave two teachings on the topic of Refuge in the Three Jewels. She opened with teachings helping us to put our lives into a proper perspective with regards to the Dharma, our fortunate opportunity, and putting this into action each day. Then she explained preliminary practices related to refuge and how to put our hearts into the prayers and practices regardless of our individual circumstances.

The next day, August 1st, were two teaching sessions on the Aspiration of Samantabhadra. In introducing this prayer we learned that in the 8th century this was inscribed into a rock near Dagmola’s home town in Kham; and that in modern times over the course of 20-30 years it was inscribed on a bell in Lhasa. Dagmola carefully gave a commentary on all 63 verses of this incredible prayer with a text prepared by Ven. Tulku Yeshi of Sakya Monastery.

For the video playlist of the above teachings (in full) Click Here.

The Orange Mañjuśrī initiation was bestowed the next morning followed by a commentary on the practice sadhana that afternoon. And on the morning of the last day Dagmola led us in a Sur fire offering. The Tibetan word “sur” (Tib. gsur) refers to the smell of roasted flour that is offered to spirits. She kindly provided the Abbey with all the supplies and text needed to perform this offering on a regular basis which is now happening every two weeks.

One late afternoon we all had the pleasure of sitting with Dagmola and viewing the well-produced and moving video of the history and celebration of 30 years of the Sakya Monastery: Our Precious Guru and His Monastery. The feeling of spiritual friendship was palpable. Personally, this was an especially meaningful activity as it allowed our Abbey community and guests to connect more in depth with all the amazing people who have been instrumental in the founding and flourishing of the Sakya Monastery in Seattle

Speaking for our abbess, Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, and all the monastics at Sravasti Abbey, we are extremely grateful to have had the most excellent fortune to have received these teachings from H.E. Dagmo Kusho. We wish to thank the all the many people from Sakya Monastery involved in making this a possibility.


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