Serkong Dorje Chang
From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
Following tradition, upon arriving in Nepal Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche paid their respects to the highest Gelug lama in the Kathmandu Valley, Serkong Dorje Chang. Zina loved meeting high lamas and Thubten Yeshe had prepared some questions for her to ask. Arriving at Serkong Rinpoche’s gompa at Swayambhu they asked directions from a nondescript passing monk, who directed them upstairs and told them to wait. To their surprise the great Serkong Dorje Chang and this seemingly insignificant monk turned out to be one and the same person. There were many tales told about Serkong Dorje Chang’s ability to disappear and reappear at will, and that he almost never appeared in photographs taken of him.
Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche knew that when you ask questions of a great yogi, he may not answer, may respond wrathfully, or may even ask you to leave. But if it is the right time of day (for example, dusk is considered inauspicious), and if your heart is sincere and your karma good, he will talk with you. Zina piped up confidently with a question about guru devotion, a central tenet of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Serkong Dorje Chang replied with a small lesson. “I couldn’t comprehend any of it,” Zopa Rinpoche admitted later. “The only thing I heard was, ‘When the guru is sitting on the floor in front of you, just think, “This is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.”’”
Serkong Dorje Chang had a text open beside him. In her direct Western manner Zina asked him to read from it. He refused, saying, “No, no, I’m completely ignorant.” “He often spoke like that if he felt there was no good purpose in teaching more,” said Zopa Rinpoche. However, Serkong Dorje Chang was soon to demonstrate another lesson on guru devotion. Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche arrived at Samten Ling just in time for a nyung-nay, the two-day fasting retreat associated with Avalokiteshvara, the buddha of compassion. The nyung-nay practice lineage was particularly important at Samten Ling. All the Samten Ling monks had come from the same monastery in Tibet near the Nepalese border north of Langtang, whose founder had authored an important nyung-nay practice text. The Samten Ling monks invited their guests to join them in the practice, which was scheduled to coincide with Lhabab Duchen, one of the four auspicious “wheel-turning” days that celebrate significant events in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Typically, nyung-nays are sponsored. A benefactor pays for the food on the first day and gives generous offerings to each monk at the end. The Samten Ling monks invited Serkong Dorje Chang to perform the daily Mahayana ordination ceremony that takes place every morning during nyung-nay, in which one vows to keep the eight Mahayana precepts for twenty-four hours.
Serkong Dorje Chang entered the crowded gompa, sat on the throne, opened his text, and began the Mahayana motivation that precedes all practices and focuses on directing one’s efforts to the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings. “Real Dharma practice,” he said, “is if your guru tells you to eat ka-ka (feces), you eat it while it is still hot. There is no other motivation. Guru devotion leads to realization of the three principal aspects of the path leading to enlightenment.” He then closed the text, descended the teaching throne, and without another word left the room. The monks sat in silence contemplating his words. That day they took their vows by visualizing the Buddha leading them through the ritual, rather than receiving them from an actual teacher.
Zopa Rinpoche said later that those few words had struck him so deeply that he immediately accepted Serkong Rinpoche as a guru, including him in his visualization of the merit field.