Teacher’s detailed explanation: Process of seeking the teachings of the Four Interwoven Annotations
Process of seeking for the teachings and source of lineage
A virtuous teacher is a great treasure. Should one possess the good fortune of meeting such a teacher, life will suddenly be enriched, like the poor who found a most valuable treasure. One’s heart will also seem to move from darkness to light and filled with hope.
Everyone has something that must be accomplished in this life. As for myself, looking for a virtuous teacher and learning the Dharma from him are my greatest ideals.
I was hit by a kind of pain concerning the issue of life and death. Why must birth, old age, sickness and death exist? This issue bothered me relentlessly, as though being pursued by a raging flame. In fact, the longing to hear an explanation on this from a virtuous teacher, had become a protracted pain since I had no idea where and how to find him. If there isn’t this person to explain to me this knot of life and death, what should I do? While bearing such a pain in me, my timid and cowardice self finally worked up the courage to leave my hometown and embark on the journey to look for my virtuous teacher.
This was how I arrived in Beijing. It was as though I was searching for my very own sparkling star amidst the star-filled sky. I hoped to borrow its light to give me the courage to move forward through the darkness. Whilst looking for my virtuous teacher, I learnt the Pure Land Buddhism and also meticulously studied the Zen Buddhism, leaving no stone unturned, in the hope of finding answers to where life came from and where one would go after death.
One day, a friend gave me a book entitled “Lamrim”. That was my very first sight of “Lamrim”. I was totally absorbed in it. After reading it for a period of time, I was deeply touched by the parts about Virtuous Teachers, Mindfulness of Death and Spirit of Enlightenment. Consequently, I enquired around looking for a Teacher who could explain the “Lamrim”. After several twists and turns, I heard there was such a Teacher. I asked, “[Does he] explain every sentence?” and the reply was “Yes”. As this affirmation made me very keen to get hold of this Teacher’s tape recording, I earnestly enquired around for it. Finally, a Venerable managed to borrow it on my behalf. I could not wait to listen to it. Once I heard Master Jih-Chang’s voice, my tears could not stop falling. It was as if a ray of light illuminated my heart. The feeling of being rescued instantly touched and filled my heart. From then on, I was unable to leave this voice.
It was summer. I was gathering again with a group of Buddhist devotees who were interested in morning/evening chanting. They hoped that I would join them in paying a formal visit to the Living Buddha at the West Yellow Temple. I was told that it was a rare opportunity as it was not easy to meet him. I asked， “What is a Living Buddha?” I had no knowledge about Tibetan Buddhism then. They replied， “He is a highly accomplished reincarnated monk with knowledge of supernatural powers and incantation.” I then asked, ”Why do we need to pay a formal visit?” They replied, “He is a close disciple of the Panchen Lama. More significantly, the Living Buddha knows mandarin and we could ask him questions directly.” Subsequently, we discussed about the questions we wanted to ask the Living Buddha. One student said, “I wish to seek the Living Buddha’s divination knowledge to ascertain whether I should study abroad.” Another said, “I wish to learn about Tibetan Buddhism.” All of us expressed our respective wishes and anticipated our visit to the temple. As for myself, I still wished to ask the most pressing question that had deprived me of any peace: What is the faster method to escape life and death?
On that day, we took a bus early and amid transferring of buses, we finally arrived at the West Yellow Temple. I was moving closer towards my Guru!
Upon entering the West Yellow Temple, what came into sight were the yellow glazed tiled roof with the red walls standing out against the bright sunlight. The antique temple appeared solemn and dignified. Its grandeur was simply extraordinary.
Before our scheduled meeting time, I was taken through the side door in the west, to circumambulate the reputable Purification Stupa. This was constructed by orders from Emperor Qian Long specially in memory of Panchen Lama VI - Lobsang Baidain Yeshe, who went into nirvana in the West Yellow Temple in Beijing. The stupa reportedly contained the Lama’s robes and head-dress. It is made of marble, standing 15 meters in height, and pristinely white. A pair of white lions stood outside of the barricades. I ran towards the lions as I somehow felt a certain sense of familiarity with them. I patted them on their head and even touched their long tongues which seemed so soft. There was a monk, bare footed, who was circumambulating the stupa with earnest concentration. I followed suit, and strangely, was overwhelmed with emotions. I didn’t stop my circumambulation until I was told that it was time to meet the Teacher. Through the main door of a building and after turning right, a seemingly long and dim corridor stood ahead. As we slowed our pace along the quiet corridor, it felt as if the corridor was widening and the pace of my heart slowed down quickly. But for some strange reasons, there was yet calm and excitement within this silence. There was a sudden sense of déjà vu, as if it was all pre-destined, that my Teacher has been waiting for me since eternity as I traversed through my journey, and it could well be in one of the rooms within the deep recesses of this corridor. While it had been a long journey to reach my Teacher, I know I will eventually get there, I must get there!
After knocking on the door, it swung open and a venerable invited us in. My eyes swiftly fell on the Teacher, looking so dignified with a sutra in his hand, bespectacled and smiling so kindly which seemed like deja vu to me. It felt like I have been to this place before. I was so joyous as the Teacher was like my next of kin, as if he was my father. He became my Master from that day onwards.
Rinpoche first taught me “Yellow Manjusri”, “Taking Refuge” and “Praise of the gods in Tusita” etc. He also taught me precious lineage transmission such as “Vajrasattva”. Owing to my frequent meetings with the Rinpoche, I often saw many lay practitioners and monks seeking the Dharma from him. I often asked if I could remain behind to listen to his Dharma teachings. Rinpoche often agreed and I was overjoyed as I also learnt from the teachings which these visitors had sought from Rinpoche.
I have always meant to disclose to Rinpoche my practice of listening to Master Jih-Chang’s discourses on the Lamrim, which was fulfilled one day. Rinpoche was happy to learn this and encouraged me to listen well and to learn earnestly. He said he was aware of Master Jih-Chang, someone remarkable from the Chinese region, who was giving discourses on Lamrim. I showed Rinpoche the note-book which I had used to take notes while listening to Master Jih-Chang, with the sole intent of seeking blessings from him. To my surprise, he leafed the note-book through every page and read every single word I wrote, much to my trepidation - because I had numerous doodles in my notebook and illustrations of my own creation, which I worried Rinpoche might disapprove of. For instance, on the chapter of Contemplating Death, I had drawn a huge glowing hammer with the statement “To hammer out all attachments of the current life” under it.
To my surprise, Rinpoche was very happy with what he saw. He encouraged me to continue learning fervently and expressed his delight at my diligent attitude in learning the Lamrim. I retrieved my note-book joyously and continued to take notes and doodled. Sometime later, on my next visit, Rinpoche remarked, “You are making good progress with your Lamrim study and have attained a good level of foundation on the Lamrim. It is best when there is transmission of Lamrim on the foundation that has been established.” Tibetan Buddhism is passed down through lineage. What is this lineage? For example, from the perspective of the Lamrim, its meaning and contents are euphemistically transmitted through the oral discourses by Shakyamuni Buddha and passed on to Master Tsong-Kha-Pa. After Master Tsong-Kha-Pa created the written texts for "The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment", he then created the oral transmission of the same treatise which has been passed on to the present days until it reached my Guru; just like what was elaborated in the "Lineage Masters Prayer". Our lineage is specifically passed down from A-La-La-Ke Rinpoche of Labrang Monastery. You will receive immense blessing if you could receive the lineage of the oral transmission of the Lamrim because it originated directly from the Great Master himself. There are many types of lineage for the Lamrim. Besides oral transmission, there are also that of "Recitation" (through lungs) and "Guidance" (through bloodline). Without lineage, it is not in concordance with the Dharma when one conducts a discourse to others." I began to better comprehend the importance of lineage after listening to Rinpoche's comments, and arose immense confidence. This led me to request receiving of the oral transmission of “The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment" by Rinpoche to which he happily acceded.
The day to receive the lineage teachings was finally arriving. However, it started snowing unexpectedly in Beijing. The snow continued until the next day and with the falling snowflakes, the whole Beijing was wrapped in snow. All the trees by the roads were crystalized and it was such a beautiful sight. My mother brought me to the roadside to wait for taxi cars to fetch us. It was a world of white, which resembles the pure motivation of the Teacher, as if displaying to me a rigorous yet pure lineage of the teachings. We waited very long in the snow and as we were waiting, we were also supplicating. Out of a sudden, a car stopped by and the window winded down, in it, someone asked, “Where are you all going? I will give you a lift.” Therefore, we quickly sat in to his car and realized that it was not a rented car but a privately-owned one. He rejected our payment and said, “I was worried that you would be standing long time in the snow and there were no cars to pick you all up.” I was so touched by his words! It felt that it was better to have a car sent in the snow than having charcoal delivered (translator note: providing help in the hours of need)!
Finally, we reached the monastery. In that snowy evening from six till nine o’clock, Rinpoche started to give me a discourse. Rinpoche said, “The teachings that I want to pass to you is the lineage of “long”. This lineage is pure and it is from my teacher. I am now passing on the teachings to you.” After saying this, Rinpoche opened the scripture and started reciting the Lamrim. The world became quiet and the place was filled with peace and compassion. Gradually, the universe seemed to disappear, leaving only the voice and figure of Rinpoche. Our hearts felt like they were infiltrated in the beautiful, fluid and poetic ancient melody, and the heart was opening as if there was no boundary, such that we forgot that time was passing by. Just like that, everyday for fifteen days, Rinpoche would recite Lamrim and at times, explained a few sentences. A venerable, my mother and I became the first few Han Chinese students of Rinpoche to receive the transmission of the Lamrim.
That time, I could feel that Rinpoche was getting tired but whenever he was persuaded to take a break, Rinpoche would say that he was not tired and said, “I am very happy to be able to learn the Lamrim one more time!” Only after a few years did I realise that when Rinpoche was in the Buddhist Institute giving the transmission on “Bao Sheng Bai Fa”, of which there were more than 300 initiations to be given with the transmissions. Everyday after giving the discourse, he continued to give me a discourse on the Lamrim for another three hours. Now that I think back about it, I feel so touched again! In order to propagate the Dharma, the teacher looked pass his own tiredness and took it as his sole responsibility. As his disciple, how could I take the teachings lightly, and not cherish or respect it?
As such, I continued learning the Lamrim. There was once I asked Rinpoche, “Is there any annotation for the Lamrim? Any lineage Masters from Tibet wrote annotation for that?” Rinpoche replied, “There are many annotations for it in Tibet! There are a few hundreds of it.” In shocked, I replied, “There are actually so many of it! Is there any of it that has already been translated?”, “I cannot seem to find it anywhere.” Rinpoche then replied,” Looks like no one has translated it.” I then asked politely, “At that time when Venerable Fa Zun translated Lamrim, why did he not translate some of the annotations? The annotations were not translated thereafter as well.” Rinpoche replied, “Ah! There are many reasons for that!” I said,” I really wish to have annotation on Lamrim!” Therefore, I asked Rinpoche, “Which annotations are the more popular ones?” Rinpoche replied, “’The Four Interwoven Annotations’ is very popular.” When I heard of the Four Interwoven Annotations, I was startled and immediately knelt down and said to Rinpoche, “Please give me the teachings of the Four Interwoven Annotations!” I then continued on to say, “It is a need for me to learn the Lamrim and I have benefited greatly from listening to Master Jih-Chang’s recorded discourse, but I would really love to learn insight meditation. I want to know how to completely get out of cyclic existence. I beg of you to give me the transmission!” Rinpoche replied, “Panchen Lama set up an Advance level Tibetan Buddhism in China in 1987, and I was the first batch of student. That time, the main textbook that we used during lessons was the Four Interwoven Annotations. I listened to the Four Interwoven Annotations discourse by Xia Ri Dong Rinpoche for nine months. I suppose on one hand, it is the transmission of the teachings, and on the other hand the four Interwoven Annotations can be learnt by discussion!” Since then, I have been longing and looking forward to learn the Four Interwoven Annotations. Once I have the opportunity, I would confess to Rinpoche about this desire to learn. It was as if I was like a poor son, jusr when I was longing for help, a father sailed back with loads of limitless treasures on a boat, anchoring in my heart once again.
Later when I met Master Jih-Chang, I told him, “I have been seeking to obtain the teachings of the Four Interwoven Annotations from Rinpoche but with no success yet.” Master replied cautiously, “Oh! You must strive to get this extremely important teachings, you must strive for it. Firstly, you must have a clear motive and with continuous supplication, the dharma goal will then be achieved.” Hence, I continued to supplicate earnestly. One day, Rinpoche called and told me he had found time to deliver the Four Interwoven Annotations. I was overwhelmed with joy when I received the good news!
Arrangement was made for the lessons. As Master Jih-Chang was also around, Rinpoche would start by giving me a four-hour lesson daily, with two hours each in the morning and afternoon. After the lesson, I would report to Master Jih-Chang what I had learned. Master Jih-Chang was always very happy. He said, “I am old and not well, now you have the blessings to learn them, do cherish this rare opportunity! As this lineage has never been passed on to the Chinese region before, this is an earth-breaking matter, even the deities are very happy!” Master also encouraged me, “You must listen attentively and properly, as an excellent teacher is hard to meet, the Dharma teaching is difficult to come across. You mustn’t disappoint Rinpoche as he spent so much time and effort in delivering the teachings to you.” At that time, both Rinpoche and Master met. Master Jih-Chang was very impressed with Rinpoche, and said, “In this era, it is not easy for him to conduct the teachings with a pure mind, maintaining good discipline in the monastery and value greatly the importance of practice, it is very touching indeed to see such a great teacher.” Master also warned me not to seek Dharma in Tibet alone hastily in the near future, I must follow an experienced teacher to seek and learn Dharma, and I need to always ask and seek advice from the excellent teacher.
During that time, Rinpoche was always reading the scriptures besides teaching. He had many scriptures in his study room, he was always found reading throughout the day. I was very happy then as I always felt moved when listening to Rinpoche’s teaching on the Four Interwoven Annotations. Rinpoche explained the profound teaching using simple terms, he was able to move our mind and continuously turn our power of contemplation. Whenever his wise words of Dharma struck deep into my heart, I could feel the intense strength of it, and after listening, I had a strong determination to put them into practice. Hence, I truly felt the difference of obtaining the teachings of the lineage and without it. It made a vast difference in our views and practices.
Although I have obtained the teachings through recitation then, the learning process was mainly through discussion. Later, as Geshe GuJia-ZhiHua of Labrang Monastery transmitted the lineage teachings of the Four Interwoven Annotations to Rinpoche, hence, Rinpoche had obtained the transmission from Jia-Wa Rinpoche too. After some time, Rinpoche delivered lineage teachings of the Four Interwoven Annotations in the Canada Buddhist Institute. Ever since, many sangha members also owned these precious teachings. As I got to listen one more time, I obtained the transmission of the Four Interwoven Annotations twice in total.
I felt the happiest during the class discussion as Rinpoche allowed me to ask questions at any time. I was a troublesome and inquisitive student who always had many questions in mind, and yet Rinpoche used this method to conduct the lessons. I was overjoyed with the way Rinpoche conducted the lesson. I asked whenever I was in doubt. And each question was answered. Rinpoche would listen compassionately to my questions and explain each and every one of them clearly. I felt happy and touched in each lesson, like flying happily in the sky, free and full of joy!
Initially when we decided to start the class, we wanted to invite Rinpoche to deliver it in Mandarin, but he said it would be more precise with translation. So Master Jih-Chang sent a venerable from Feng Shan Monastery to be the translator. Miraculously on several occasions, when the sangha translator finished the translation, Rinpoche would say, “It is not like this.” He would then translate and explain again in Chinese one more time. The sangha translator stuck out his tongue and admitted that what Rinpoche had explained was more accurate instead.
After the intense, fast pace learning, I really wished to further my learnings. If time would allow, I would like to translate what I have heard from Rinpoche, and by documenting them into a book, it will be of great benefit to all sentient beings.
However, an unfortunate event befell. Master Jih-Chang passed into pari-nirvana! In the midst of shock and grief, the Sangha of Feng Shan Monastery started the curriculum of The 5 Great Treatises, which spanned across more than 10 years. In the 10 years of learning journey, the vast coverage of Tibetan language studies, memorising of the Sutras, Dharma debates, left no time and energy to translate and compile the Four Interwoven Annotations.
This precious Dharma treasure was left in stillness for this period of time, until the learning of The 5 Great Treatises ended for the first batch of Sangha members. In the year 2014, we started the compilation and translation. A lot of time was spent to listen, translate and cross-reference the materials word by word, sentence by sentence. In the same year, we translated the original copy of the Four Interwoven Annotations. Hence, we spent many years and finally compiled the first copy of Four Interwoven Annotations commentary, after matching and combining what Rinpoche had taught with the original text.
Everyday, the Sangha would gather in a very tiny classroom (it was a tiny classroom because the tables and chairs were really small, and were old furniture collected from other schools. They were little old, and small because they were meant for children in schools. However, everyone was very grateful; this was starting point of our Sutra Translation Institute!) So this was how we started translation word by word, from the blooming Spring to the white snowy Winter, we translated and learnt concurrently, discussed, and we were deeply touched and blessed by Rinpoche’s discourse.
We are so fortunate to have met a humble and wise saint, who led us into the true meaning of Buddha’s teachings! Reflecting on the preciousness of the Dharma source, tears welled up in my eyes, and such feeling in my heart is beyond explanation!
To be determined with learning from a Mahayana master, being certain that attaining Buddhahood is my ideal, determined the Bodhi path is our path of cultivation, for this lifetime and all infinite lifetimes, constantly pursuing without change, is the most wonderful event.
A tree with beautifully bloomed flowers is the result of the person who planted the seed, and carefully nurtured it. Didn’t the virtuous deed that I do today stem from the excellent teachers’ blessings and development?
Following the desire of the heart, we found our way to Rinpoche, leading us to the ocean of the lineage teachings.
The water from the snow mountain top will flow into the river, nourishing all sentient beings, including the me that is so miniscule.
The pain of life and death is very subtle if you don’t observe them, such that one may even feel safe with it. But once one is aware of it, it is in fact shocking. Hence, how can we find a way out of sufferings without the guidance of the Teachers?
A navigator who leads in the darkness with a torch, perhaps I may know the directions ahead, but because of the deep pit ahead I could never overcome it; And it is the one with the torch, that turned around and stretched out their hands to save us from the limitless danger ahead —— is the excellent teacher! My greatly indebted master! My Refuge! My ultimate Teachers and Gurus whom I shall forever respect and follow!