Drupcho in Japan


On January 3, as the Japanese year-end holidays drew to a close, members of the MSB Japan sangha gathered in Shizuoka Prefecture at our mountainside retreat center Tashi Chöling on the beautiful Izu Peninsula south of Mt. Fuji. The occasion was momentous, for this was to be the first drupchö ever held in Japan, to be conducted by Kongtrul Rinpoche, assisted by Dungse Jampal Norbu Namgyel. This was a high point for us in our development as a sangha, and we all felt stirred by a sense of both the historical importance of what we were about to do, and the immense opportunity, and responsibility, this drupchö represents to us all.

There were 11 participants from Japan and abroad, but our small number was more than compensated by the setting, and by the power of the occasion itself.  The shrine room of Tashi Chöling is a place of quiet grandeur. It has been converted from a traditional Noh stage, constructed by the previous owner using the finest Japanese cypress, with minute attention to traditional detail. As Rinpoche noted, for the conversion of this room to our purposes, not much was required. It would, in fact, be hard to imagine a space more suited to use as a shrine hall than this one, with its fine squared pillars and polished hardwood floors, its slightly elevated stage surrounded by elegant rice-papered sliding screens, and, to the rear, a view of the Pacific far below. Even the long, low lacquered tables left by the previous owner seemed ideally suited to our practice.

The center consists of the main complex, including the shrine room, teacher’s quarters, and other rooms, and, a few steps away, a large service building where offerings and meals were prepared each day. The service building also contains the living quarters of Dai and Rie Inaba, who care for Tashi Chöling throughout the year. The center and the surrounding land originally came into Dai-san's custodianship quite unexpectedly through auspicious circumstances a few years ago, and he and Rie-san have worked hard to adapt the grounds and buildings to our use.

After an evening of torma-making and early-morning offering preparation, the drupchö got underway on January 4 and continued through the 7th. In addition to the drupchö itself, we practiced the Riwo Sanchö Sang Offering once each day, opening the rear doors to allow smoke from the offering fire to circulate through the shrine hall. Kongtrul Rinpoche paused during the liturgy to comment on the significance of what we were doing. He asked that in our practice we remember the previous owner of the complex and its land, Mr. Hayakawa, who, Rinpoche noted, must have been a person of considerable vision, and to whom we owe a tremendous debt. Although Mr. Hayakawa surely never imagined that the fruit of his efforts would one day support our Buddhist practice, Rinpoche felt that he must have had a karmic connection to us all, and that he would certainly be pleased to see the use we have made of his fine hall.

Rinpoche asked that we also include in our practice all the people of Japan, and especially those who have suffered so terribly in the recent disasters, as well as the past leaders of Japan who contributed so much to making the country what it is today. He spoke of the great lords Hideyoshi, Nobunaga, and Tokugawa, and the many daimyos, shoguns, and emperors of Japan, who through their power and genuine presence were able to change people's lives instantly for either better or worse. Rinpoche noted that as these beings are still wandering in the six realms, there is no doubt that they can benefit in their present lives—whatever these lives might be—from the merit of our practice.

In the past, Rinpoche had presented the center with two old statues, which, for the drupchö, were placed to either side of the shrine. One statue is a sinuous wooden figure of Kannon (Avalokiteshvara), housed in a black lacquer cabinet.  On the first day, Rinpoche asked that this statue be taken out and placed atop its cabinet. He acquired the statue some time ago, he said, because he strongly felt it would protect this area of Japan from natural disasters. (The Izu area was in fact spared in the recent tsunami.) Rinpoche expressed his wish that this statue will one day become the centerpiece of a temple to Avalokiteshvara. The other statue is a ceramic Edo-era figure of Bodhidharma, a famed monk who lived in the 5th-6th century and taught reliance on the lineage of awakening and the importance of bearing faith in the true nature of all beings. On the second day of drupchö, Rinpoche stopped beside the statue as he was leaving the room and gestured toward it with his hand, "We must have faith…this is our faith. A person without faith is lost and lives without principles."

On the final day, before siddhis were received, Rinpoche stressed the foremost importance to each of us of embracing the view and living in the view both day and night, until the end of our breath in this world. He said that while we cannot abandon the many duties, concerns, and minor pains of our daily lives, we should not allow ourselves to succumb to small mind and be pulled down into the abyss of our habits. Rather, he encouraged us to "think about the sacred world and the siddhi that is right there before us" and to "manifest as yogins with the perspective of siddha."

This first drupchö was a profoundly moving experience for the sangha in Japan, and a milestone for us in our lives as practitioners. We feel enormously grateful to Kongtrul Rinpoche for returning to Japan for the last 12 years to teach us, and for his unceasing encouragement to trust in our aspirations and in the blessings of the lineage.