Compassion & The Nine Yanas

Ngak’chang Rinpoche

at San Francisco Shambhala Centre, February 1997

Part XI – Seven-line song

Seven-line song:

Seven-Line Song is sometimes called Seven-Line Prayer/Tsig-dun Soldep, or Dorje Tsig-dun/Seven Thunderbolt Phrases. We both sing and chant Seven-Line Song. When one practices it as Song, one finds the presence of awareness in the dimension of sound. One simply sings – the words and the movement of the melody are in themselves a meditative practice. Finding the presence of awareness in that movement, according to those particular vocal textures and ways of breathing, is the practice. We use Seven-Line Song in many different ways. As a precursor to meals, we chant it. We sing one version which uses the gCod drum. There is also a manner of singing it that is called ‘The Flight of the Vulture’. There are many tunes like this within our lineage; and you can hear how the vulture moves its wings, hangs for a moment, descends, rises, and hangs again.

Seven-Line Song is a complete practice in itself. Tharchin Rinpoche once said that he had known people who had achieved realisation through the practice of Seven-Line Song alone – which does not just mean singing it; it means studying it; it has different levels of meaning that apply to certain practices. If one actually understands Seven-Line Song, then this comprises a whole path in itself. It is a powerful practice; and it is useful that one has some practice that uses the voice which one can actually know by heart. Texts are limitless, and one can chant from them; but it is useful if the world runs out of Xerox machines one day, that one has something to practise that one knows.

In its outer form, it is a description of the birth of Padmasambhava – who he is, where it was, what his manifestation is, and what his nature of practice is – this is what the seven lines say. There are many levels of interpretation of the syllables, according to the different yanas.

Q: Rinpoche, would you please translate some specific words of the Seven Line Prayer? The translations that are here are beautiful. But I was wondering about individual words, such as yul-gi or nub-chang – only because I love the Tibetan.

R: Yul-gi means land-of, nub-chang means Northwest. These would be the outer meaning; but they also have other meanings that relate at each level of practice – Mahayoga, Anuyoga, Atiyoga. In our Song Book you have the outer and inner meanings together. Then there are secret and most-secret meanings. Each syllable has levels of meaning; and then the Seven Line Song becomes an instruction on every level of Tantra. At the level of to-gal it becomes a highly profound teaching. There is a text on this by Tulku Thöndup, in his book ‘Enlightened Journey’. This is something you would need a Lama’s advice with, because it is dense; but it expands into a lifetime study.

Yeshé Tsogyel Mantra and gTérma of Pure Vision:

Singing the mantra of Yeshé Tsogyel is a sem’dzin practice. Singing is a funny word; but it is the only one I can find. There is no translation for this term ‘Dzogchen gar-dang’, because it is not a chant. One is finding presence of awareness in the dimension of sound; it is a meditative practice. The tune is not simply decoration – it is not used because it is attractive or enjoyable to sing; although if you enjoy it that is helpful – it will encourage you to practise. The function is that the tune itself has a particular quality that enables one to enter into the state of awareness. The tune of this mantra is a gTérma, like the mantra itself; it was realised in Pure Vision. This is a special method; like the tune that is used with gCod drum in Seven Line Song; and the Flight of the Vulture – these are all gTérma tunes.

Q: Rinpoche, when you say Pure Vision, is that synonymous with sambhogakaya vision?

R: No. We use the word Pure Vision in many different ways; that is the only translation for a group of terms in Tibetan. Here it is translation of the words dag-ngang gTér. There are different kinds of gTérma: There is sa gTér, which is earth gTérma – but it also means all the elements. This is nirmanakaya Padmasambhava/Yeshé Tsogyel, from whom the gTérma is revealed and discovered. Then there is gong gTér or mind gTérma – this category contains various subtypes; but this is sambhogakaya Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel, from whom one receives transmission. Dag ngang gTér, Pure Vision gTérma, is something that arises from Dharmakaya. Because of this, it has no historical link; so here Padmasambhava or Yeshé Tsogyel is the nature of your own Mind. You will find in gTérma systems like the Dudjom gTér, for example, occasionally there will be a section that says: ‘From Pure Vision’; this will be his own dag gang gTér, which will be separate from the rest of the gTérma. Dag ngang gTér can arise any time, anywhere in the world – one need not specifically be an incarnation of one of the Twenty-five Disciples in order to realise that kind of gTérma.

There are gTérmas outside the Nyingma School, in the Kagyüd and Sakya traditions. There is a famous modern gTér of Milarépa, as a matter of fact, that is held in the Drukpa Kagyüd School in one monastery in Manali where Sé Rinpoche lives; he was the son of A’pho Rinpoche. There is a small Drukpa Kagyüd gompa where they do the Naro Chö-drug, the Six Yogas of Naropa; they turn out fabulous tu-mo yogis there. I have a photograph of them all with their white shawls on; they had just come out of retreat. It is a nice little family gompa. They practise the gTérmas of Shakya Shri – a Lama of the last century who was a cook at a monastery. He was an interesting man; he used to practise all the time and sit in on the teachings. There is one nice story about him: He is sitting in on the teachings one day, and then has to go back to the kitchen to do something. The monks are laughing and saying: ‘Isn’t this stupid – this cook sitting in here – what does he know?’ The Lama is angry with them, saying: ‘You are all stupid; because one day you will be grateful for a drop of this man’s piss to drink.’ He had these gTérmas of Milarépa that would be classed as dag ngang gTér; and a whole Milarépa nam-thar that contains aspects of Milarépa’s life that aren’t in the other biographies. I had a look at it some time ago; it is interesting. There is a whole section on Milarépa’s sang-yum, his spiritual consort, that you do not find elsewhere.

Dag ngang gTér can be one of two types: either from a source – such as Milarépa, Yeshé Tsogyel, or whomever – or as a direct revelation of Dharmakaya. This particular one is the revelation of Khyungchen Aro Lingma, a female gTértön who gave rise to this in Pure Vision from Yeshé Tsogyel.