About Shang Rinpoche
Rinpoche’s spiritual pursuit began at a very young age and has spanned many years, in which he received lineages of all four major Vajrayana Buddhist schools—Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug—from numerous lineage holders and great yogis of our time in India, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Rinpoche has acquired all the necessary empowerments, transmissions, and teachings to become a fully qualified Vajrayana master. Furthermore, Rinpoche is a recognized tulku (reincarnate lama), authenticated by eminent lineage holders and distinguished masters of our time.
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The Noble Path Starts from the Trailhead
Shakyamuni Buddha compassionately accepted an offering of milk curds from a shepherd girl in order to help her gather merit. As well, he did not forego his bodhicitta when his followers left him during his ascetic practice in the woods, but made sharing the fruits of his attainment with the five of them his first priority after reaching Buddhahood. This imparting of wisdom was the first he would give as Buddha, known as the First Sermon in the Time of the Arhat, or as the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. The teaching was given for voice-hearers (shravakas) and solitary-realizers (pratyekabuddhas) on how to attain arhatship, specifically delving into the Five Aggregates, Twelve Sense Bases, Eighteen Compositional Elements of Cognition, Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Twelve Links of Dependent Origination and 37 Factors of Enlightenment. These would later be compiled into the Four Āgama Sutras.
Our modern pace of life is so rapid and technology changes so fast that our minds are unable to follow a practical, step-by-step approach. In mundane affairs, most people strive for speed and efficiency, which has led many to mistakenly believe that in seeking the Buddhadharma, there must also be a supreme practice for instantaneous enlightenment. In light of this, I often advise today’s students that they should not adhere to this belief in what is frankly impossible. If there were such a thing as instantaneous enlightenment, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni would have never needed to leave his palace in the middle of the night, visit all the greatest teachers of his time, and then still go through long years of toil. He could have simply sent a decree far and wide, offering a mountain of gold pieces and a personal invitation to anyone who could expediently bring him to enlightenment. Why, then, did he need to practice and realize the truth for himself? This is factual proof that correct practice must follow a prescribed sequence and be done according to the path laid out in the Buddhadharma.
I often get asked how newcomers to Buddhism should observe their thoughts throughout daily life. I usually give them some suggestions, among which are four methods taught by the historical Buddha. I find these approaches useful for today’s practitioners. The four methods refer to the Four Right Exertions (on the Noble Eightfold Path), describing how to illuminate and catch our thoughts before they start veering in harmful or unwholesome directions. This is encapsulated in the first tenet, “(a renunciate generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent) for the sake of the non-rising of unwholesome, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen.”
If you are not able to control your mind and let some unwholesome thoughts come in, you have to prevent yourself from following them. This is the second tenet, “...for the sake of the relinquishment of unwholesome, unskillful qualities that have arisen.” It is natural for both unwholesome and wholesome, good and bad to exist and be on two extremes of the spectrum. Before we've honed the skill using what we have learned in Buddhism to guide these thoughts through a transformation, it is only normal that they come to us in both wholesome and unwholesome forms.
Once we can clearly distinguish wholesome thoughts from unwholesome ones, we should endeavour to give rise to the positive thoughts, as illustrated in the third tenet, "...for the sake of the arising of wholesome, skillful qualities that have not yet arisen." Having developed skill in cultivating wholesome thoughts, we have to build this momentum until the occasional good thought becomes a torrent of unceasing good thoughts that follow without our need to direct the mind towards such effort. By so doing, we would have demonstrated a firm grasp of the Buddha's teachings on the 4 Right Exertions. Continuous diligence in perfecting the 4 Right Exertions will ensure that our efforts become second-nature. At such time we would naturally demand and urge ourselves to allow wholesome thoughts already there to keep going, whilst always digging to release more that haven’t arisen yet. In the same way, someone who had already attained the first level of bodhisattvahood would be continually striving and preparing to jump to the second level. This is the same exertion a Chan (Zen) practitioner would make in progressing in their meditative stillness from the kāma-dhātu-samādhi to rūpa-dhātu-samādhi. We have to constantly push ourselves to keep ascending higher from whatever wisdom we have already attained, no different from the Arhat starting as a stream-enterer would reach Nirvana and eventually Buddhahood.
Both Hinayana and Mahayana bodhisattvas follow the teachings of the Buddha and practice uninterruptedly and persistently, shaking off torpor and restlessness. In order to reach full attainment, one of Buddha's famous disciples, the Venerable Shouluona, remained in sitting meditation at night throughout Vassa (3-month annual retreat during the summer rains), during which he did not give rise to a single delusive thought. The Venerable Foshatian persisted unceasingly in his practice for 25 years before he attained full enlightenment. From these two examples, we can infer that, just as Rome is not built in a day, spiritual cultivation cannot be accomplished overnight. If I may offer a bit of advice to those who are new to Buddhism — spiritual practice is different from developing a worldly skill. It is determined by the combination of one’s capacity for practice, level of wisdom and merit accumulated in the past.
From Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche