Today marked a significant milestone in the history of Kechara House (KH) as we embark on the path to the formation of a local sangha community in this beautiful land of Malaysia. Mama Jenny, who has been for the past 20 years, a loyal student of H. E. Tsem Rinpoche (the Spiritual Guide of the Kechara Organisation), took her first step towards ordination as a sangha member by being conferred the Upasaka vows or Lay-man’s vows by His Eminence.
Over 130 invited members and friends of Kechara House converged upon KH2 in support of and to witness this meaningful event steeped in Tibetan monastic tradition. As it was Tsok day, through our Guru’s kindness, they were lucky to be granted the rare opportunity to partake of the Tsok puja and drink in the beautiful chants and rites normally conducted behind closed doors by those with initiation.
KH is always a happy place to be, exuding the same kind of care and warmth extended by our Lama through the members. Nobody is left in a corner feeling unimportant. ?
Guests and members alike are received with open arms and made to feel welcome, and they are. Showing care and concern is dharma practice and we need to keep practicing it to make it become second nature.
The masters of ceremony were Margaret Lee and James Long, catering to both the English and Chinese speaking crowds. For those who required translations, head-sets were available with instantaneous Chinese translations so that none would miss any part of the proceedings held in English.
The audience waited in eagerness for Rinpoche; then friendly chatter gave way to silence and reverence as they took heed of the sound of the long horn heralding the arrival of His Eminence.
H. E. Tsem Rinpoche himself received the blessings and the cutting of the hair ceremony in Los Angeles in the 80’s from his Root Guru, the Grand Master of Gaden monastery, H. H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Rinpoche then took his ordination vows from the Spiritual Head of Tibetan Buddhism in December 1987 at Dharamsala and thereafter began his monastic studies at Gaden monastery.
At Kechara House, we are not expected to mechanically perform rituals and protocols without understanding why we are doing them. We are lucky that our Lama takes the trouble to explain every single action in detail so that our practice takes on a deeper meaning. The results of the practice become experiential and not hypothetical.
Before proceeding with the ceremony, Rinpoche gave a dharma talk reminding us that Dharma work is hard work only when we are very attached and pleasurable when we are not attached. When we face “difficulties” while doing dharma work, it is a purification process physically but mentally we should be very happy. The “difficulty” is not due to dharma work being unpleasant but our years of doing things contrary to dharma that makes it difficult. Therefore, we should stop complaining and blaming others when the real enemy is actually inside. By complaining, we reinforce our own wrong view that dharma is painful, we send a negative message to others and deter them from doing dharma and overall we end up doing double the work because our projects don’t get support as we had been pushing others away by our example and speech.
As somebody was taking a vow that night, everyone was encouraged to also take a mental vow to cut off all negative speech of complaint as it carries negative karma and by doing so, we create the cause of inner and outer dharma growth. The cause resembles the result. ?
The vow taking ceremony proper began with Mama Jenny making 3 prostrations and offering a gift of Body, Speech and Mind to the Vow Master, requesting him to confer upon her the ordination vows.
In response to her request Rinpoche agreed and this was confirmed by the hair cutting sequence which demonstrated her leaving lay life and embarking on the path to sangha-hood. Mama Jenny then changed into a set of white clothes and prostrated before her Guru.
Rinpoche began the puja by reciting “A Song Rapidly Invoking Blessings”, which is a prayer of invocation to Lama Tsongkhapa requesting blessings from the divine and all that is good in the universe to enter our mind streams.
As it was the first time for most of us, Rinpoche walked us through the entire process of Vow taking by explaining the types of vows, the procedure, the significance and the qualification so that we laypeople can gain knowledge and understand on what basis we show respect to ordained people.
The refuge taking was followed by reading and receipt of the vows. Rinpoche explained that within the Hinayana (Initial Scope), there are 4 sets of vows that can be taken:
• Upasaka/Upasika or Layman’s vows
• Rabjungpa or Renunciate vows
• Getsul/Getsulma or Novice vows
• Bhikshu/Bhikshuni or full ordination vows?
The taking of vows is not to restrict but to give us more time to practise and gain attainments. It is a natural flow of the development of spirituality. By taking and holding vows, we receive virtue continuously.
Tonight, Anila received her Upasika vows. At a later date, Anila (meaning Venerable Nun) will proceed to the mother monastery, Gaden where she will take her Rabjungpa and Getsulma vows.
Rinpoche’s care and concern for every member is embodied in his every action. Caring deeply for Anila’s well being, he even specially designed robes for her, taking note that her arthritis would make it difficult for her to tie the belt.
Rinpoche also set up a special fund for Anila for the purchase of her robes, other required items, her passage to Gaden monastery in India and for her daily sustenance. Rinpoche himself was on his own and did not enjoy this kind of support when he was starting out.
Rinpoche made known that this year the Kechara organization is on the threshold of something very big. The establishment of a sangha community in Malaysia made up of locals with Anila being the pioneer, heralds bigger things to come. As Kechara members pray, practice and hold our vows, we create the cause that there would be more sangha, real sangha who hold vows, who study and who can teach in Kechara House, in Malaysia and the region, causing the flourishing of Lama Tsongkhapa’s lineage.
H. E. Tsem Rinpoche’s hard work and dedication for the past 18 years in Malaysia have borne fruit. Not only have Malaysians been touched, but students from all over the world have been inspired to practice dharma, to work in dharma and many more, to take ordination. It takes one person to make an impact and the ripples can be felt far and wide. What a legacy to leave behind.
For us who are students, real guru devotion begins the moment we begin to let go and trust explicitly allowing our Guru a free hand to bring out the best potential in us that brings benefit principally to ourselves and from there, radiating out to touch many more.