The Pellucid Mirror
From the murals of Shechen Monastery. Used with permission of Rabjam Rinpoche.
The Pellucid Mirror
Behavioural Guidelines for the Saṅgha
by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö
Sages who have crossed the ocean of relinquishment and realization
And gained the splendour of spontaneously bringing twofold benefit,
The sacred Dharma, which soothingly extracts saṃsāra's faults,
And the noble assembly who uphold it—before you all I bow.
Unrivalled amid the snowy peaks in overcoming erroneous tenets,
And upholding the teachings of the omniscient victorious ones,
Abounding in the discourse of the learned and accomplished—
Before the highly celebrated Sakyapa, I bow.
Especially the one who was lauded in the Sage's prophecy,
Kunga Zangpo, holder of the treasury of Buddhadharma,
Whose liberational life, like a white lotus, was unparalleled—
Before the omniscient Evaṃpa, respectfully I bow.
May the Mañjughoṣa guru, together with the lineage,
Peaceful and wrathful yidams who skilfully bestow twofold accomplishment,
And the ocean of awesome and terrifying dharma guardians,
Scatter flowers of auspiciousness throughout the ten directions, I pray.
Having thus invited virtue and excellence through verses of homage and auspiciousness, I shall now set out the regulations for the saṅgha community which resides in the great temple of Sagang Tupten Gepel, and which upholds the Sakya tradition in the country of Amdo, to the north of the blissful land of Domey.
The Ācārya Vasubandhu said:
Observing discipline, and having heard and contemplated the teachings,
One applies oneself intensively to meditation.
It is necessary to practice in accordance with the meaning of this statement. Thus, all those who belong to the ranks of the monks of this monastery, who have no other allegiances and are not wandering abroad, as well as all those who remain in the ranks of dharma assembly, should take the vows of refuge. Novice monks should begin to learn to read from a reading instructor as soon as they take their vows. They must also learn the daily recitations, fulfillment and healing (bskang gso) rites, and other rituals. Those with specially appointed positions and those without such positions should also learn, according to their capacity, the procedure for an accomplishment ceremony (sgrub mchod), how to draw maṇḍalas of coloured sand, how to make torma, and how to play the three types of musical instrument—i.e., those that are blown, chimed and beaten. Those of greatest intelligence should study sūtra and mantra and the sciences as well. When they reach the appropriate age, it would be best for them to travel to Sakya or Ngor; but if this is not feasible, they should take full ordination from the resident preceptors who possess the vows themselves. They must then observe the fundamental precepts without impairing them; for impairment brings major faults:
One might take lightly the compassionate guide's teachings,
And transgress them ever so slightly,
But that would still lead to suffering.
Just as cutting down a bamboo grove spoils a grove of mango.
As this suggests, it is important to avoid straying from the status of a virtuous practitioner and thereby transgressing prescribed rules, such as the four fundamental precepts (or five with the inclusion of the rule against alcohol), the partial offences, downfalls that require forfeiture (spang ltung) and so on, and instead possess the four qualities of a virtuous practitioner. It is especially inappropriate for women to travel to and stay overnight at the monastery and for alcohol to be consumed therein, so rules related to females and alcohol consumption must be strictly enforced. It is also unacceptable for anyone, no matter how powerful or humble, to slaughter animals in monastery's vicinity. Screaming, shouting, musical performance and other such forms of misbehaviour are likewise impermissible.
Anyone who violates the core precepts should be expelled from the ranks of the saṅgha. Monks must always refrain from wandering through towns and villages and remain in the monastery. It is very important that you put effort into study, practicing approach and accomplishment, and so on. There must be no quarreling or fighting within the monastery. Traditions related to rituals and daily recitations should be learned through observation and never allowed to decline. All arrangements for the assembly should constantly improve. Government grants to the monastery, general endowments and the like should not be spent or removed; were this to happen, the amount would need to be replaced.
Instead of pursuing other dharma schools and traditions, it is crucial that you maintain the view and conduct of the glorious Sakya's own immaculate systems of sūtra and mantra. The rainy season retreat (dbyar gnas; varṣā) and rite of healing and purification (gso sbyong; poṣadha) should also be carried out according to one's own tradition, by following Jamgön Ngawang Lekdrup's advice on the three foundational rituals.
Communal religious offerings should not be wasted but distributed among the saṅgha and used to sponsor representations [of enlightened body, speech and mind] and so on.
These are some of the most important things a saṅgha should do in order to inspire others' trust. Other internal regulations should also be kept; there is no need to check whether or not they are included here among the general saṅgha guidelines.
In short, it is crucial to restrain the three doors [of body, speech and mind] with mindfulness, vigilance and conscientiousness and to have respect for the precepts, as explained in the Pratimokṣa Sūtra, the immaculate words of the omniscient Lion of the Śākyas:
Monks with all sense faculties under control,
Go forth for the sake of unchanging buddhahood.
Those who seek definite liberation,
Must always observe the pratimokṣa.
One who harms another is not a monk,
One who injures another is not a śramaṇa.
Just as the clear-sighted
Seek to avoid misery,
The wise avoid misdeeds
In this world of living beings.
Correctly joined to a higher mentality,
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.
It is important, therefore, to cultivate an utterly pure higher mentality by considering the difficulty of obtaining a free, well-favoured human form, the difficulty of encountering the precious teachings of the victorious buddhas, and how this excellent opportunity will not last even though the precious teachings themselves may endure.
It is said to be more meritorious to keep just one of the foundational precepts during this degenerate age than it was to observe all two hundred and fifty rules in a past fortunate age. The King of Samādhi says:
One who practises a single training by day and night
At a time when the sacred Dharma is disappearing
And the teachings of the Sugata coming to an end
Attains exceptionally high levels of merit thereby.
Keep this in mind. At this time, when the five degenerations are on the rise and the teachings of the Buddha are like a butter lamp on the verge of going out, it is up to the saṅgha to preserve the teachings. Maintain harmony and pure discipline, therefore, as you apply yourselves to the precious teachings of the peerless Teacher and the treasury of the three trainings by striving in the learning sphere of study and contemplation and the renunciation sphere of meditation. The Verses of Nāga King Drum says:
People will sacrifice their wealth to preserve their bodies,
And forfeit wealth and physical wellbeing to save their lives.
Yet, everything—wealth, physical wellbeing, even life itself—
Must be relinquished in order to safeguard the Dharma.
As this says, losing the body and life that we cherish so strongly or the wealth of Indra, even a fraction of which is hard to fathom, would be insignificant compared to the extinction of the sacred Dharma teachings. Since that would entail the loss of all virtue and happiness throughout existence and quiescence, the Dharma is to be dearly cherished and protected.
In short, it is vitally important that you turn away physically, verbally and mentally from the corrupt, careless, uninspired conduct of ordinary householders and instead act with physical, verbal and mental integrity and with a pure, altruistic motivation that is free of hypocrisy and deceit. Be entirely conscientious as you perfect the qualities of a Buddha, and always be mindful and vigilant as you monitor good and bad. As Śāntideva said:
With my palms together I say
To all who would guard their minds:
Make every effort to preserve
Both mindfulness and vigilance.
By always acting calmly, in a controlled yet relaxed manner and never transgressing the rules, you will contribute to the arising of vast virtue and excellence in this world. And with a determination to be free, to 'awaken under the rules of the saṅgha', it is right that you strive in the methods to become a supreme object of merit for all gods and human beings, someone who values their own teachings.
It is well for a community to be especially amicable,
To be always harmonious, garbed in robes of threefold purity.
Bringing joy to people who are then rewarded for their faith— May there be the fortune of a peerless saṅgha, adornment to gods and men.
May the lives of the holders of the teachings be secure.
May patrons of the teachings flourish and prosper.
May the happiness of devoted followers of the teachings increase.
And may all who would bring harm to the teachings be pacified.
Base of the precious treasury of the Sage's teachings,
Great Dharma centre of Tashi Gepel Ling,
May you never stray from teaching and practice,
And may the teachings flourish and endure.
These behavioural guidelines were written in Dzongsar Monastery in Derge during the Earth Tiger year by the Dharma teacher Jamyang Chökyi Lodrö, who holds the name of an incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. May virtue and excellence abound. Maṅgalaṃ.
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2020.
'Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros. "dge 'dun pa'i bca' yig rab gsal me long" In 'Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros kyi gsung 'bum. TBRC W1KG12986. 10: 397–405. Bir, H.P.: Khyentse Labrang, 2012.
Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé, Treasury of Knowledge, Book Five: Buddhist Ethics. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1998.
Jansen, Berthe. The Monastery Rules: Buddhist Monastic Organization in Pre-Modern Tibet. Oakland: University of California Press. 2018.
Abhidharmakośa, VI, 5 ↩
From Vinayastotra ('dul ba la bstod pa) by Dharmaśreṣṭhin ↩
dge sbyong gi chos bzhi. i.e., 1) not repaying abuse with abuse, 2) not growing angry in response to anger, 3) not retaliating when struck, and 4) not exposing others' faults even when these others reveal one's own. ↩
Ngor Pönlop Ngawang Lekdrup (ngor dpon slob ngag dbang legs grub, b. 1811) was the author of a commentary on the three sets of vows, sdom gsum 'jam dbyangs bla ma'i dgongs rgyan. ↩
Bodhicaryāvatāra V, 23 ↩