Written by: Virginia Gregory

Since it is the best cure for the disease of emotionality, depend on your inner being;
Discover precisely its quality – Imbibe it and allow it to affect you straight away.

Excerpt from Now that I Come to Die, written by Longchenpa and translated by Herbert V. Guenther

During the Lunar New Year worldwide, practitioners of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism recognize the significance of a sacred and highly revered individual: Longchenpa. Encouraging and increasing a global sense of interconnectedness and non-duality, hundreds of thousands of humans the world over chant 24 hours a day, together. Our voices combine to invoke Longchenpa’s teachings of meditation, awareness, and nature of the mind.

The weeks leading up to the annual Longchenpa ceremony are filled with meditative study, work practice and preparation more so perhaps than any other time of year. Preparing mindfully for the blessings of this renowned and prolific Dzogchen enlightened master, our community at Ratna Ling, Dharma Publishing and Yeshe De Press take extra care in refreshing our private quarters, temple, and communal spaces. By maintaining a careful focus on mindfulness, awareness, and appreciation, we are able to bring greater purpose and aspiration to what might otherwise be considered a typical “spring cleaning.” For all who participate, these small commitments further emphasize gratitude and openness to receive guidance from the most significant scholar and yogi of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The Lunar New Year, which typically falls mid-February, is particularly auspicious for welcoming the teachings and blessings of Longchenpa, which is a reason for the unceasing devotion to chanting mantra. Feelings of hope and promise become nearly tangible; palpable energies seem to reverberate from each individual, growing and vibrating between and among us.

In the temple, the Vajra Guru mantra is chanted continuously morning, noon, and night. Decorative plates overflow with mandalas of desserts and savory treats. Fragrant incense and candles provide offerings of smoke and light while a variable rainbow of colorful petals bloom in floral arrangements around the room. These sacred objects, referred to officially as Tsok, represent delightful substances to be blessed and show gratitude in this opportune moment of accumulating merit and purifying obscurations, which are key concepts in walking the path to buddhahood.

Following a tradition that spans thousands of years, this ceremony may also include quietly setting intention, silently asking a key question or purposefully opening heart and mind. We attempt to foster and ignite our own inner peace, which leads naturally to outer peace for others. Participating in essential speech, we only communicate what is absolutely necessary; even the morning air feels quiet and full of promise. Everyone arrives freshly showered for the opening ceremony; our damp hair and scrubbed faces feel the cool bite of February. We smile and nod “good morning” at one another, silently respecting the honor and commitment of this experience we are about to begin.

Tibetan introductory prayers and recitations start the ceremony off with a hope for blessings, care, and happiness for all beings. A letter from Tarthang Rinpoche is shared to infuse an official sense of initiation. The Vajra Guru mantra is eight words we repeat to invoke the very heart essence of the Buddha, Padmasambhava. This chant can embody the power of clearing away inner and outer obstacles as well as compassionate wisdom.

Oṃ Āḥ Hūṃ Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hūṃ

With a group of 20+ for opening ceremony, slowly our numbers dwindle as the hours go by. Rotating in two separate groups, the dayshift wanes and waxes in size as people quietly drift away for mealtimes and work priorities that cannot be ignored. At the close of day, the Tsok food offerings are removed and the prayer of Ram Yam Kham is repeated in conjunction with the Vajra Guru chant. The combination of these two mantras at first sounds chaotic, but also injects fresh energy and focus. The overnight hours are a particular struggle as our hearty crew has diminished to a courageous few; between midnight and 4am merely two individuals might be present, trading off every couple hours with another team of two. In a rare few instances, one practitioner may be left in the temple alone to carry the responsibility, although this is not ideal when attempting a mantra without breaking the chant. Circumambulation is a helpful tool for increasing fluidity and mobilization as sleepiness and stiffness can often impede the experience of chanting mantra. By walking slowly clockwise around the group within the temple and continuing to chant, one is able to increase the effects of the mantra systemically while also staying awake. As the sun rises, the lonely late night crew is relieved by new recruits and the mantra swells once again.

Over the course of our shared experience, everyone enjoys a few bites of the Tsok offerings. These beautifully orchestrated mandalas of dried fruit, nuts, sugary sweets and other delicious snacks are now blessed and should not be mixed with other, unblessed foods. We taste them slowly and savor the rush of newness and nowness that this ceremonial time infuses into our lives. As we reflect and discuss, we come to the realization that although we all participate as individuals in the temple, we seem to function as one organism maintaining the mantra. And the mantra seems to evolve and fluctuate; we harmonize and our vocalizations are loud then soft, slow then fast. We adapt together as moving currents of energy ripple among, between and through us all. Traditionally the use of drums facilitates a consistent rhythm for the chant while chimes, gongs or bells may be incorporated at times. Experimenting with pitch, tone and vocal range, the mantra can sometimes sound like singing more than chanting.  The atmosphere in the temple feels deep and vast; the glow of this shared practice follows us when we leave. We seem to shimmer subtly as we attend to our basic needs (food, water, sleep), before returning to the temple to relieve our friends and continue the chant.

On the morning of closing ceremony, we gather all together as one in the temple. Reunited with our once again sizable group, the mantra increases in energy and strength, spreading around the room and reaching outside the walls, boundless and full. Halfway through a repetition, a bell chimes to tell us all this is the last chant, the final line, the very end. And we all fall silent… There is no lingering noise from anyone; no one misses the signal; we all stop chanting as one. We are quiet for a few full steady minutes; within the profound silence, we all continue to feel something vibrant and very real cloaking us delicately, deeply and divinely.

After the last words of Tarthang Rinpoche’s letter, final prayers and dedication of merit are completed, we rise with hopes for cultivating the seeds planted during this optimistic time full of promise. Through this intense bonding experience, an electrified mentality remains to help us observe and hear differently than before. The Longchenpa ceremony allows time for us to grow roots together and feel blissful joy with our hearts full, whole and open, supported by our interconnected community.

Pristine awareness is like clouds gathering in the sky:
From the nourishing clouds of holistic feelings, it lets fall the rain of prosperity
and bliss, and makes the crop of the wholesome prosper in all beings –

Excerpt from Now that I Come to Die, written by Longchenpa and translated by Herbert V. Guenther