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The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures

This depiction of the Ten Ox-herding Pictures, also know as The Ten Bulls, stems from the Zen tradition of Buddhism and represents the stages one goes through in taming the mind. Though of Buddhist origin, it is relevant to the journey of gaining mastery over one’s mind, and being in the world with the intent and gifts to benefit others regardless of one’s faith tradition or beliefs. I revised the text to make the series more inclusive and to express a non-denominational vocabulary. 

(I carved the images from linoleum blocks while living in a little cabin on the coast of Orcas Island, by kerosene lamps, during a long cold winter. By the time I got done with the 10th one my carving had improved to to where I went back and re-carved the others!)

Carvings (1977 ) and narrative (2012) offered by Susan Shannon, M. Div.

1. The Search for the Bull       


One feels there is a missing piece that is preventing a sense of wholeness. Looking for fulfillment on the outside has not produced lastingly positive results. There is a sense that the ego is not all there is, but what else is there? One can feel the presence of a larger mystery, but is not sure how to find it.


 2. Discovering the Footprints    


One begins to see that the inner and outer conflicts created by ego directly relate to the pain in one’s life. In seeing this, the footprints of the bull become visible! There is a way out of this pain and the footprints just might lead to the mystery that just might lead to freedom. No choice but to follow them!


 3. Perceiving the Bull        


When you see the bull you also see the mystery. The ego lessens its hold that is replaced with a new sense of openness and generosity. You relax into simply being, without attachment and aversion, and become comfortable with the newfound self that contentedly exists regardless of the constantly changing events of day-to-day life.


 4. Catching the Bull             


Even though you catch the bull, you also see that your ego still exists and continues to try to steer you into judgment and criticism. You see that the skillful means which led you to seeing things just as they are must be used daily, just as a newfound muscle needs exercise in order to develop. You have the benefit of momentum as once you see the bull you are able to begin training the bull. Qualities such as patience, peacefulness, contemplative observation and compassion grow along with this new sense of being.


  5. Taming the Bull    


Once caught, the bull is tamed by the engaged awareness of meditative knowledge and the transcendent wisdom gained by an expanded view of self. The bull becomes gentle and obedient, more focused and content.


 6. Riding the Bull Home 


There is no longer a search for joy, as joy is felt within. The bull obeys the greater master and becomes a rich, creative energy, and singing the very song that leads one home.


7. The Bull Transcended    


Once home, the bull dissolves into oneness with being. There is no bull, and the true nature of all reality is seen from a place of total peace. The wisdom voice that was so new becomes more and more familiar as it reveals itself to be your own voice. All efforts to manipulate reality are abandoned in place of a pure, simple acceptance of what is.



8. Both Bull and Self Transcended        


One is relaxed in the absence of striving and non-striving. One finds the peace without any aversion or attraction of what simply exists.


  9. Reaching the Source       


There is a sense of spaciousness and openness and a distinct absence of fear. Energy exists which does not need to be looked for; one is rich within rather than needing to be enriched by outside means. One feels inner warmth. The pulsations of compassion increase and deepen one’s feelings of love and connection with self and others. There is the feeling of finding a treasure within from which communications and activities reflect.


 10. Into the World                                 


This is the fully awakened state of being in the world. One’s positive deeds multiply like one moon reflected in a hundred bowls of water no matter where you are or what the deed. What is in front of you is your task. You have merged with your true place in the world and are welcomed by all the wise ones who have taken this path before you.





The Dharma and Me

The Dharma and Me

I began studying Buddhism  at the age of 14, at the prompt of an 8th grade English teacher. He had written in the margins of a paper I wrote “your writing rings the bell of the dharma.” My life was forever changed at the deafening bells that rung within the walls  of my heart when my eyes first set sight on the word “dharma.”

Since then I have been tirelessly and lovingly focused  on dharma study, starting with a love Taoism and Confucianism. This led me ultimately to  Chinese Buddhism,  and later, to Tibetan Buddhism, where my main spiritual orientation  remains rooted today.

In 1976, after a  short stint in college, I  was fortunate to begin one on one studies with the great scholar and Tai Chi master Mr. T.Y. Pang on Orcas Island for several years. Mr. Pang lived near me, and took me on as his student. We spent many hours together in his home, studying the texts of Taoism and Confucianism, or the works of early landscape poets,  even doing little translations of our own. Mr. Pang’s depth of knowledge enhanced  my  love of Chinese poetry, philosophy, art and calligraphy. I felt incredibly blessed to be in his presence during those years.

One morning in 1979 I was sharing coffee with friends in their beach front cabin on Orcas Island, and read an article stating that the Dalai Lama of Tibet was coming to Seattle. My body began to shake and tears welled up. I had no idea what was going on, but knew I needed to go to Seattle and find out.

My life changed the minute His Holiness walked onto the porch of a house in Seattle (I believe this was the early Sakya Center of Seattle)  , chanting the Heart Sutra. Tears poured unexpectedly and inexplicably. I came to hours later, sitting on a curb nearby,  my heart and soul touched, spun, reminded, my spiritual set-point aimed at the North Star of my heart.  I had met my root guru. There was no turning back.

(I’ve taken teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama nearly every year since.)

Despite this turn in events of my spiritual study and focus, In 1980 I traveled to Taiwan with the goal of becoming fluent in Chinese. I quickly realized I did not want to join the cadre of westerners in Taiwanese universities with the goal of becoming partners in business ventures with the Chinese, and went off on a pilgrimage to study the Sutras and Scriptures of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism by visiting as many monasteries and nunneries as I could find.

I had fallen in  love with the Heart Sutra in my mid- teens and have never wavered in my complete love affair with this Sutra.  While in Taiwan, I was able to talk with several monks and nuns about this sutra, and attend many prayer sessions where, like in most Buddhist monasteries, the Heart Sutra is chanted constantly. I acquired every commentary I could find on this provocative teaching, from Chinese to Japanese to Korean to Thai, but was completely mind-blown at the depth of the Tibetan commentaries.

Upon coming back to the States, I naively hoped to continue studies with Mr. Pang in Chinese Buddhism, but he was not particularly interested. Neither was my other Chinese language teacher,  the artist and poet Paul Hansen from La Conner, WA.:“Buddhism-I haven’t had a good day since I heard the word…” he drawled. as we sat in one of La Conner’s cozy cafes during a rainstorm  before starting our weekly study of the Teachings of Mencius.

Shortly after I returned to the island,  I began a carving project of  an emblem I had found in an old  book called “The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism”, by L.A. Waddell . A friend came to visit me with a pamphlet announcing the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama  to Madison, Wisconsin to perform a ritual called the Kalachakra. To my surprise, the symbol of the Kalachakra was the very same I was carving! Once again, the Dharma found me, and I knew I had to attend this event.


My savings were low and it wasn’t a good time for me to leave the island, but I knew I had to get to Madison and explore further what had happened to me year before in Seattle. I did an all-day meditation, painted a Buddha on a friend’s water tank, and walked to the Post Office later in the day to find exactly the right amount of money waiting for me, in small amounts from various sources who had owed me money for years. I went straight to the local travel agent, bought my ticket to Madison, then went to the library to find out where Madison was!


His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso walking down the hill to the location of the Kalachakra, accompanied by Geshe What transpired at the Kalachakra Initiation in Madison is a complete story in itself, but this event once again changed my life in ways that continue to unfold.

As stated in my bio, I have been lucky to study and co-exist with some of Tibet’s greatest scholars, including His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14 Dalai Lama of Tibet, (My Root Guru, or ‘Tsawa Lama’ as the Tibetans would say; Ven. Dhubthob Rinpoche, ‘my lama’; Geshe Lobsang Khenrab and Geshe Thupten Dawa, my spiritual grandfathers, Geshe Gendun Tsepel, Geshe Karma, Lama Tharchin, Chagdud Tulku, and many many more* see “My Teachers” for more inf.

It is on my ‘bucket list’ to study in person with Robert Thurman.

I feel that all of my writings come through a lens which exists from my now 45 years of dharma study and practice. Some of the articles/papers posted here are from a more academic purview, some are from early journal entries, some are recent musings.

As for the more academic writings,  I humbly post them here with full admission that any mistakes are purely mine and mine alone.

Exploring the Rime Movement

Susan Shannon, M. Div.  2009

Exploring the Rime Movement



 My interest in Rime goes back several decades to the late 70’s, when I began studying Tibetan Buddhism. At that time, Tibetan teachers in the west were few and far between. A fledgling dharma student such as myself would take teachings from whomever came through, whether it be a Geluk, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, or even Bon teacher. I didn’t know that much about the differences between sects, and didn’t see any conflict between the various teachings I had taken. Many years later, someone asked me what lineage I “was” and I was stumped for an answer. When I explained that I took teachings whenever and wherever I could, from whoever, the questioner said, “Oh, then you are Rime.” 

That was the first time I had ever heard the word. I was intrigued that there even was a word for the nonsectarian study of Tibetan Buddhism, and was suddenly made aware that I was ignorant of what kept the sects separate. To me, all the teachings focused on developing a calm mind and kind heart. Though the roads in might look a little different, the destination was the same. Now, after over 30 years of study and practice, I still feel the same. 

From the first time I saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1979, I have continued to take teachings from all lineages, but my main focus has been from the Gelukpa lineage. I have also taken refuge within 3 of the 4 major sects and experienced no conflict whatsoever then or since.

 In 1999  I was asked by Ven. Thubten Ngodup, the Medium of the State Oracle of Tibet, to help him form a nonsectarian or Rime Tibetan Buddhist Center here in the Bay Area with the main goal of serving the Tibetan Community in Exile. I was intrigued by this request. It made perfect sense for the local Tibetan community to have a Rime center. Ven. Thupten Ngodup, the Medium of the State Oracle of Tibet is, himself, a good example of a Rime lama. He is of the Gelugpa lineage, but the Nechung Monastery is listed as a Nyingma monastery. Teachers from all lineages teach there. Likewise, in the ten years since our Nechung Buddhist Center has been in existence, we have hosted teachers from all traditions except Bon. 

I have come to ask many more questions about Rime. My goal in writing this paper is to find answers to those questions. This is not a scholarly paper, more of a reflection on my journey of delving into what the Rime tradition is.

What is in a name? Etymology of the word “Rime”


The Tibetan word “rime” (pronounced ree-may) comes from two Tibetan words “ris” and “med.” (Wylie transliteration ris-med) Ris, or phyog-ris can be translated as “sided, part, bias, partisan, sect, separation. Med is a negating particle and means “not, without, doesn’t have, etc. Therefore ris-med can be translated as “without parts, without division, without section, without bias, nonsectarian.” I looked this word up in 4 Tibetan dictionaries -odd to me it couldn’t be found in the Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology.

A  Short History of Rime


Though the Rime movement is usually said to have emerged in the time of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899) and Jamyang Khyentse (1820-1899) we will go back now even farther to the time of the second Dalai Lama, born in 1475. Tibet was totally immersed in Buddhism at the time, and had been for more than seven centuries. During the second Dalai Lama’s life, Tibet was a huge and very sparsely populated country. The distance between most large religious centers was significant. During his life, monasteries were open institutions. In his biography of the Second Dalai Lama, Glenn Mullin cites that “during this time, almost every monastery considered itself an independent tradition, having only loose affiliations with other institutes.” One can imagine that though the Rime tradition had not solidified as a path, in this time of reasonable secular harmony, it would not be uncommon to find Rime practitioners in many if not most of the monasteries. (I find this an interesting parallel here to that which I wrote about above, when authentic Tibetan Buddhist teachers were few and far between in the west and those interested in the dharma took teachings from whoever, whenever, wherever.)

In Tibet, the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism continued in their own environments, isolated by Tibet’s desolate landscape and climate.  Exclusion doesn’t happen over night. Over the next three centuries, however, the sectarian struggles for power and supremacy played out. 

By the 16th century, the Gelukpa school and its long list of monasteries had become a dominant force. By the 17th century, the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, the Gelukpa dominance had been established. Gone was the time of sectarian equality and interdependence, at least on the monastic/political/economic level. Though there may well have been many practitioners who claimed to be nonsectarian, it is highly likely that a loyalty prevailed to their lineages and teachers. This loyalty, undoubtedly caused certain prejudice towards the teachings and teachings of other sects. 

I posit that such loyalty might also have been part of a survival mechanism. Security in numbers, and in the feudal and isolating climate of Tibet, it makes sense that it was important to survival that one be linked to a sangha, a monastic community. In a country so vast, where at least one male from every family was expected to become a monastic, it is logical that there was a mentality of “united we stand, divided we fall.” People everywhere regardless of time are drawn to others who think and speak like themselves. There is a comfort in numbers. Our needs are more likely to be met when we are with the pack.


Isolation breeds misunderstandings. Of this era, Ringu Tulku states:

“If we examine the lives of the great masters of any School we find how many teachers of different Schools and lineages they studied with and how much respect they had for them. The conflicts between lamas and monasteries, and sometimes regions of Tibet, are often presented these days as religious or doctrinal conflicts. However, almost none of them have anything to do with basic doctrinal or even philosophical disagreements. Most of these conflicts were based on personality problems or mundane establishment rivalries.”

This was a time when the integrity of the dharma was being eroded. Many valuable teachings were on the verge of disappearing due to this sectarian bitterness. What was in its essence a mind-expanding collection of teachings had begun to implode and become lodged in narrow-mindedness. An example of this mentality is hinted at by this quote from Pabonka Rinpoche, a Gelukpa lama: 

“If you receive an off-the-cuff teaching without any headings, it would be hard to make the meditations beneficial for your mind-stream. It would be like trying to use tea, butter, salt, soda, etc., when they have all been put into the one jar.”

Enter Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye, 1813-1899. He was born in Kham, in eastern Tibet. Over his lifetime he was a prolific writer, scholar, teacher and traveler. His great scholarly journey included taking teachings from masters of all lineages. He became learned in the “ten ordinary and extraordinary branches of knowledge.” Most importantly, he was able to “crack the code” of sectarian confinement and release the teachings back to their essence. His major life work includes compiling the basic teachings of all Tibetan Buddhism regardless of sect into one epic work called “The Five Great Treasures” or,”The Five Treasuries of Knowledge.” (Tibetan Shes.bya.mdzod) Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was a contributor to this great effort as well, which established the union of all the teachings of all the schools, leading to a tradition of receiving teachings of various lineages and schools from a single teacher. 

This important work sought to harmonize once again all the teachings of the Buddha, not by emphasizing their similarities, but rather by respecting their differences. Jamgon Kongtrul had several experiences where he experienced states of realization that were beyond words. In one account, he writes: 

“I began sitting in meditation posture and recognized my awareness as having a lucid quality involving no conceptualization-something I could experience, but did not know how to talk about. I became so certain of this that I did not have to discuss whether or not it was so. In this way, it occurred to me that discussion of the nature, or essence, of them, and techniques of focusing the mind, resting in a non-conceptual state, and so forth were meaningless, just empty words; and that it was sufficient simply to guard this direct awareness of utter relaxation, complete and natural. Afterward, my experience of that essence never wavered or changed from this first glimpse. “

It is this state of the essence beyond words that he emphasizes in the Rime  tradition.

  Then What is Rime, Exactly?


“See harmony in all doctrines. 

Receive instructions from all teachings.”-Kadampa teaching

 “One of the unique features of Buddhism has always been the acceptance that different paths are necessary for different types of people. Just as one medicine cannot cure all diseases, so one set of teachings cannot help all beings. This is the basic principal of Buddhism.” -Ringu Tulku

Rime is not another school or sect of Tibetan Buddhism, nor is it an amalgamation of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Jamyang Khyentse states it clearly: 

“The ultimate subject we need to define is the Ultimate Nature, or Dharmata, of phenomena. The Prajna-paramita Sutra says, “Dharmata is not knowable (with the intellectual mind) and cannot be perceived in concepts”. Even Ngog Lotsawa, the jewel on the head of all Tibetan logicians, says, “The Ultimate Truth is not only beyond the dimension of language and expression, but it is also beyond intellectual understanding”. The Ultimate Nature cannot be fully measured by our samsaric mind. The great saints (Siddhas) and scholars examined it from different aspects, and each of the ways outlined by them has many reasons and logical sequences. If we follow the tradition of our own lineage and study our own lineage masters in depth, we shall find no need to feel sectarian. However, if we confuse the terms and systems of different traditions, or if we try to introduce the ways of other systems because we do not have a deep understanding of our own tradition, we shall surely make our minds as muddled as the yarns of a bad weaver. The problem of being unable to explain our own traditional teachings arises out of ignorance of our own studies. If this happens, we lose our confidence in our own traditions; neither are we able to copy from others. We become a laughing stock for other scholars. This way we can see the harmony of all paths. All teachings can be seen as instructions and therefore the roots of sectarian feelings should shrivel and die. The Lord Buddha’s teachings will take root in our minds. The doors to the 84,000 groups of teachings will open up at one time.”

Another proponent of  the Rime understanding, the great Nyingma teacher of the 11th century, Rangzom Chokyi Zangpo says it more simply:

“All the teachings of Buddha are of one taste, one way-all leading to the truth, all arriving at the truth.”

Rime Teachers of the Past and Present 



“Neither Nyingma nor Geluk-I am a yogin 

born of their union.

 Known here as Lama Shabkar, White Foot,

Not like anyone else,

But in harmony with all-how strange!”

                                                     –Shabkar, The Life of Shabkar, pg. 359

We have spoken a bit of the founders of the Rime movement, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Like all Rime teachers, they did not start out “studying Rime” but instead, began in one particular tradition. Jamgon Kongtrul came from the Kagyu tradition, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo came from the Sakya. It was after they realized the sacred commonalities of all schools of Buddhism that they became known as Rime practitioners.  

There are a number of other well known and lesser known Rime teachers. One thing they all have in common is an eclectic past, including a mix of lineages and schools. Most contemporary would be His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, (1935-) known to people all over the planet as a global citizen and peacemaker extraordinare. Not only does he teach from all different lineages, he has made a point to study all world religions. His work as peacemaker is based on his understanding of “that which is beyond words” but is core to being the global emissary he is. 

Ringu Tulku(1952-) Born in Eastern Tibet, Ringu Tulku is a great Rime scholar from the Kagyu tradition who writes and teaches extensively around the world. He emphasizes that Rime is not a new school, but instead is a concept allowing freedom of choice in taking teachings from whatever school of Tibetan Buddhism one wants. 

Trulshik Rinpoche(1923-2007) Trulshik Rinpoche was a very well known and highly realized Nyingma lama who was also a very close disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He lived in the Solo Khumbu area near the border of Tibet and Nepal, and was known for the great crowds that came to his teachings of  the Great Collection of Damngag Dzoe, a collection of  essential instructions of all the major Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, (1910-1991) the great Nyingma lama was considered to be the incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse, one of the founders of the Rime movement. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche studied with over 50 Tibetan Buddhist masters from all lineages. Though he wanted to spend the rest of his entire life in silent meditation and retreat,  he was told by one of his teachers that he needed to go out in the world and spread the dharma he had so thoroughly taken in. He became renowned within Tibet and later outside of Tibet by his ability to transmit the teachings of each Buddhist lineage according to its own tradition. 

Khunu Rinpoche, (1895-1977) Khunu Rinpoche as born to a Nyingma father and a Kagyu mother on the Indian/Tibetan border.  He entered the spiritual life at the early age of 7 years old. Over the course of his life he studied with many of the great Rime teachers of his time. His great work “Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea; Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta” is a passionate love story which showcases a life spent well saturated with the realization of Bodhicitta. Sogyal Rinpoche writes:

“Eventually he returned to India, where he lived as a true ascetic. When my master and I came to India on pilgrimage after leaving Tibet, we searched for him everywhere in Benares. Finally we found him staying in a Hindu temple. No one knew who he was, or even that he was a Buddhist, let alone that he was a master. They knew him as a gentle, saintly yogin, and they offered him food. Whenever I think of him, I always say to myself, “This is what St. Francis of Assisi must have been like.”

Patrul Rinpoche, (1808-1887) another Nyingma lama, was born into and a participant of the Rime movement. His classic book “The Words of My Perfect Teacher, is a well-loved treatise containing teachings  from the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche himself states in the forward to this book, that Patrul Rinpoche includes teachings on these schools “without any conflict between them.” One of my favorite parts of this book is when Patrul Rinpoche speaks of “boundless impartiality.”

When the great sages of old offered feasts they would invite everyone, high or low, powerful or weak, good or bad, exceptional or ordinary, without making any distinction whatsoever. Likewise, our attitude towards all beings throughout space should be a vast feeling of compassion, encompassing them all equally. Train your mind until you reach such a state of boundless impartiality. 

Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol(1781-1851) Shabkar was a wandering Tibetan saint, who spontaneously composed songs from the inspiration of his highly developed spiritual practice. His spirit is Kabir-like: humorously, joyfully recollecting the interconnectedness of all beings and the labors created by impermanence. He is always headed towards an expression of the divine – or, in his case, the recognition that all samsara is also nirvana, and that joy is always part of the Bodhisattva service. I have read the Life of Shabkar cover to cover at least five times now, maybe six. Shabkar speaks like a bhakta, a devotee, no matter the language locally used to praise it. From the translator’s introduction to  ‘The Life of Shabkar:’ 

“Shabkar did not merely receive teachings from all  traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, but he actively taught “pure perception” and open-mindedness. Moreover, he eloquently elucidated how all the many different Dharma teachings of the various yanas form one coherent, non contradictory whole. He contributed greatly to the nonsectarian movement that flourished in the nineteenth century…”

In Shabkar’s own words:

Some holy beings have said that 

Madhyamika, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen

Are like sugar, molasses and honey:

One is as good as the other.

For this reason, I have listened to 

And practiced all of them without partiality.”

Mipham Rinpoche, (1846-1912) Mipham Rinpoche was born into an aristocratic family in eastern Tibet. In the course of his travels he took teachings from the “Mount Rushmore” of the Rime movement: Jamgon Kongtrul Lodoe Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Patrul Rinpoche. The story of Mipham Rinpoche outlines him as a lama who was willing to shore up the teachings of whatever lineage was in more danger of decomposition, as his vast understanding and realization encompassed all lineages and schools. At the time, the school that was in need was the Nyingmapa. At the request of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Mipham Rinpoche  wrote commentaries for the Nyingma school, covering the whole range of the sutric teachings.

This is not an exhaustive list of Rime teachers. There are many others who bear recognition, but for the sake of my interest and this paper I will move on.

 Some Observations

 In reading the biographies of those listed above, I noticed that many of these teachers had parents who followed different lineages. Many were born into the time of the Rime movement. Their freedom to take teachings from masters of various lineages and schools was refreshing and in many cases stood to help preserve those lineages. As my mind stretches, I see this as a kind of “hippie movement” of the monastics. It might have been  a time of great expansion, the big exhale from the fear/isolation based exclusivity of the  “either/or” to the accepting, respecting inclusivity of the “both/and.”

In looking closely, it really seems like the effort made by Jamgon Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and others to strengthen the dharma by eliminating the stress lines paid off. It also shows the amazingly fearless, devoted, doggedly scholarly character of these lamas. Each one of them broke the mold, went out of the box, went beyond lineage while still respecting their lineage. What a bold time in Tibetan history!

The Central Tent Pole


“Bodhicitta is essential not only in the context of mahayana, but is like a  central tent pole for structuring and supporting all Buddha’s teachings.” 

-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, The Geluk/Kagyu Tradition  of Mahamudra

According to all Tibetan Buddhist teachings, bodhicitta, translated as “enlightened mind”  is what we as travelers in samsara really need to focus on cultivating. In doing so we will not only open up to our own buddhanature, but we will help others open to theirs, too. In reading through all the materials listed in the bibliography of this paper, I have found references to the importance of bodhicitta in every single one.  

In all the teachings I have ever received from any and all lamas, bodhicitta is also the core ingredient to us being able to make any headway at all towards a spiritual life. Looking at all the people I have known or only heard of, people who have made a great positive contribution to society, they all acted with bodhicitta whether they ever heard the word or not. The “enlightened mind” which is bodhicitta propels us out of our conventional experience into one of a more expansive, ultimate level. 

The founders of the Rime movement as well as all the teachers listed above talk about bodhicitta with the love and rhapsody of a Rumi poem or a Bengali love song. Shabkar sings the praises of bodhicitta repeatedly throughout the over 500 pages of his biography:

“Like a wish-fulfilling tree and a 

wish fulfilling jewel,

Effortlessly benefit others.”

-Shabkar, The Life of Shabkar, pg. 375.

Ven. Khunu Rinpoche’s book “Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea” is a collection of 356 stanzas written about bodhicitta with the heartfelt love of a lover to their beloved:

“If you ask what is the sweetest sound in the world,

even if many refined people were to investigate it,

I don’t think you will hear anything

but the word “bodhicitta.”

Verse 44

“Every Mahayana level and path

is included within bodhicitta,

just as every composite thing

is included in the five skandhas.”

Verse 200

Ringu Tulku, in his commentary on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, states:

According to Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta includes all the methods and techniques of the Buddhist Path. Every teaching of the Buddha is related either to the cause of bodhicitta, or to the way to attain it, or to its results, or else to bodhicitta itself. There is no Buddhist teaching that is not linked to bodhicitta in one way or another.- Ringu Tulku.

It is clear from my exploration into Rime that bodhicitta is, indeed, the “central tent pole” throughout Tibetan Buddhism.

Yes, We Have No Lineage?


“If we follow the tradition of our own lineage and study our own lineage masters in depth, we shall find no need to feel sectarian.” 

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

In one of my response papers, I wrote:

All the sectarian approaches include such great and long lists of lineage. If a lama/monk is identifying with lineage does that alone not infer he/she is holding to identity, which implies some aversion /attraction? Or at least, rejection of one lineage in favor of another? Jamgon Kongtrul states:

“A sectarian person is not worthy of being a holder of the dharmas. Not only that, he is unworthy of upholding even his own tradition. The noble ones share a single ultimate view.” 

If that single view is that of the teachings of the Buddha, it seems to pose a bit of a catch 22. All monastics study the teachings of the Buddha, but the lens they view the teachings through are influenced by the lineage they are involved in. So in a way, studying the ultimate view alone can be done in a nonsectarian way but if one comes to that view through lineage and identifies with that lineage, then they are, by way of that identification, “missing something?” On the other hand, if that lama or abbot has in fact achieved realization beyond the “I” then what difference is it whether he is associated with one lineage or another?

The Rime tradition hints that achieving the fruit of the Buddha’s teachings equates becoming nonsectarian. If proclaiming oneself to be a Rimed practitioner mean that one has respect for all lineages, without strict identification with one of those lineages, does that Rimed practitioner then lose affiliation?”

Before I began this paper, I was fortunate to meet a Geshe who identified with being Rime. He proclaimed that if a lama or monk is truly Rime, then they have no lineage. They have effectively renounced their lineage simply by way of attaining the realization that is beyond words. He went on to say that to claim a lineage is the equal of claiming a self, and if one truly has achieved ultimate realization, they would be beyond identifying with conventional alliances. 

I counter that renouncing lineage does not equate losing respect for one’s lineage. Indeed, Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo continued to praise their lineage teachers, but amassed equal praise to all the teachers they studied with. It is also true that we do all live in a relative conventional configuration of reality. A dog is a dog no matter what the language used to name it. By that argument, we have been a disciple or at least a student of some teacher in order to receive the teachings. Perhaps this is a bit semantic, but a lively point of discussion none the less. 

The Economics of Sectarianism


I also wonder how economics factor in to the sectarian division of Tibetan monasticism. If a lama, rinpoche, abbot, tulku or whatever has wealthy political connections, and his predecessor did, too, what would be the benefit of that lama or monastery declaring itself Rimed? It seems that to do so would possibly jeopardize that lucrative economic/political connection. 

From reading accounts of the founders of Rime, it seems that their commitment was to the teachings, but not necessarily linked to the monasteries. 

During the few centuries before the Rime tradition began, Tibet’s greatest monasteries held equal economic and political power. The Gelukpa tradition had begun to take the lead in this regard. The fearlessness of the Rime founders to go against the grain from exclusive sectarianism to the inclusive non-biased Rime approach to Tibetan dharma is profound. As we read above about the Second Dalai Lama, the Rime movement was not unprecedented, but sprang from a much more oppressive atmosphere during the time of Jamgon Kongtrul and his colleagues due to the stagnation of sectarianism that had befallen Tibet.  

Rime arose as a non-local approach to a Buddhism which had  become divided by the local sects and school, both geographically and economically. The non-locality of Rime “called out” the locality of the other sects, and mediated a response which included inviting them, along with all the others, to the big round table of Tibetan Buddhism. 

During my interview with the above-mentioned Geshe, I brought this point up. He emphasized the truth of this observation, but went a step beyond in his answer to my next question: “If Rime teachers are still available to us students in the west, why don’t more westerners consider themselves  Rime practitioners, instead, follow the lineage of the teachers they feel a connection to?”

Geshe-la made a parallel to the Christian denominations. He said that we in the west are more familiar with the sectarian approach to one religion. Also, the answer which was true in old Tibet is true now. If one claims to be “all inclusive” then they are probably jeopardizing their receiving financial  support from politicians and rich laity who don’t want all-inclusive. It is far easier to get supported if you are selling a certain product in a certain way that speaks to certain people. Think of the great financial support thrusted upon the common Christian denominations by people regardless of their ability to give.

I refer back to my earlier discussion about disciples being drawn to the “people, not the practice.” It is human nature to feel less or more inspired by individuals, depending on shared values, intellect, vocabulary, region, and other commonalities. If a person feels a direct link with a teacher, they are also likely to receive the teachings on a deeper level, thus bearing more spiritual fruit and realization, than if they were to take teachings from someone they felt little or no connection to.

    Rime as an Intra-and Inter-faith Movement


The Rime Movement could be seen as a Intra-and and Inter-faith movement. The definition of “intra” is within. In that way the Rime philosophy of freedom of choice towards  what teacher, sect, and school of Tibetan Buddhism  one wanted to study is an Intra-faith movement.

The definition of “inter” is “among, between.” In this way, the Rime philosophy can be considered and Inter-faith movement. At the time of the Rime rise during the 19th Century, it is doubtful that any other religion or spiritual practice existed in insular, isolated Tibet. Though the Bon had been displaced long ago, there may have been pockets of Bonpos here and there. Still, the Rime movement set about to honor the differences between the secular lenses of Tibetan Buddhism and thus bring about a wholeness once again to Tibetan Buddhism in general. Realizing our inter-and intra-connectedness is the a milestone on the footpath of cultivating bodhicitta, no matter what the lineage.  

As someone recently immersed in interfaith studies, I find this fascinating. In essence Rime mediated the split between powering institutions of monasticism and reinforced their oneness by equally valuing the many paths of Buddhism that were manifested. 

In the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen it is written:

“However, the process within the Rime movement of reviving transmission of teachings that had been thought lost and providing them with fresh commentary also embraced the traditions of the other schools. In the Rime collections of texts, works of the Kagyupa, Sakyapa, Kadampa, and Chod lineages are also found. The Rime teachers also advocated revival of the Bon teachings. In addition to their religious activities they also found time to be politically active as mediators with the central government in Lhasa.”

I was not able to find other reference to this comment about mediating with the central government in Lhasa, but to me it is very provocative.  The importance of the Jamgon Kongtruls collaborative piece The Five Great Treasures was, ultimately, a mediation of all the sectarian disputes at the time, and continues to be a collection of writing that acts as a mediative piece. 

Rime itself is a mediative movement. Though it is “without bias” the lines that make the differences in each sect remain intact. It is their unity that is emphasized. 

Rime as the Hologram of Tibetan Buddhism


“In a holographic “something,” every piece of the something mirrors the whole something.”

-page 105, Gregg Braden, The Divine Matrix

Russel Targ, cofounder of the cognitive-sciences program at the Stanford Research Institute, writes

“We live in a non local world where things physically separated from one another can, nonetheless, be in instantaneous communication.”

Gregg Braden writes in the Divine Matrix:

“By definition, every place in a hologram is a reflection of every other. And a property that exists anywhere within it also exists everywhere else.”

I see Rime as a hologram. No matter how you slice Tibetan Buddhism, no matter the brand, no matter the pieces, you have the essence which is beyond words. No matter how one tries to tie Tibetan Buddhism down into region, lama, community, deity, the essence remains non-local yet instantly recognized as essence. 

Reflections on Concluding this Paper

I am grateful for this opportunity to learn more about the Rime movement. I feel that all of my questions have been answered. I have gained a sense of the history of Rime, the what, who, where, why and  how it came about. I also can reflect on the relevancy of studying Rime at this time in my life, as I am trying to learn about the “common threads” of all the world ‘s great faith traditions. 

I am also grateful for my teachers from all the lineages, for having been so generous as to share their great wisdom and teachings. I am ultimately grateful for my root guru His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, for guiding me over the past 45 years on a journey encompassing all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Any inaccuracies to this paper are solely my own fault, and in no way a reflection of anything but my own ignorance.

The 14th Dalai Lama has composed a prayer for the movement praising various historic figures and lineages of Vajrayana from India and Tibet, part of which says:

May all the teachings of the Buddha in the Land of Snows

Flourish long into the future— the ten great pillars of the study lineage,

And the chariots of the practice lineage, such as Shijé (‘Pacifying’) and the rest,

All of them rich with their essential instructions combining sutra and mantra.

May the lives of the masters who uphold these teachings be secure and harmonious!

May the sangha preserve these teachings through their study, meditation and activity!

May the world be filled with faithful individuals intent on following these teachings!

And long may the nonsectarian teachings of the Buddha continue to flourish!


The Autobiography of Jamgon Kongtrul

trans. Richard Barron

2003 Snow Lion Publications

The Geluk/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Alexander Berzin

1997 Snow Lion Publications

Introduction to the Middle Way

Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara 

with commentary by Jamgon Mipham

trans. Padmakara Translation Group

2002 Shambhala Publications

Selected Works of the Dalai Lama II

Glenn H. Mullin

1982 Snow Lion Publication

Path to Buddhahood;Teachings on Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Ringu Tulku

2001 Shambhala Publishers

Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand

Pabonka Rinpoche

1991 Wisdom Publications

The Teacher-Student Relationship

Jamgon Kongtrul

1999 Snow Lion Publications 

The Life of Shabkar

trans. Matthieu Ricard

1994 State University of New York Press

Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea

Khunu Rinpoche

1999 Wisdom Publications

The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Patrul Rinpoche

trans. Padmakara Translation Group

1998 Shambhala Publications

The Divine Matrix

Gregg Braden

2007 Hay House Inc., New York

Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology

Tsepak Rigzin

1993 Library of Tibetan Works and Archives

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen

trans. Michael Kohn

1991 Shambhala Publications

The New English-Tibetan Dictionary

Acharya Karma Monlam

2000 Sherig Parkhang

New English-Tibetan Dictionary

Norbu Chophel

1985 Paljor Publications


The Rime Movement of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great

Ringu Tulku

web source

The Rime Foundation

“What is Rime?”

web source

Interviews with 

Geshe Gendun Tharchin

Dec. 2009

The Animal Chaplains of San Quentin State Prison

The day my chaplaincy supervisor at San Quentin State Prison asked me to coordinate a program that would bring animals into the prison was a happy day indeed. Animal chaplaincy has been a focus my entire life, though it was only after my formal chaplaincy training began several years ago that I heard the term animal chaplain. My excitement did not match the obstacles that met us in this endeavor. Starting a program in San Quentin is not something that happens overnight. Nine months after the idea came up, the program proposal is still an idea, stacked on the desk of an authority, wrapped neatly in red tape.

However, to my delight, I have come to see that Animal Chaplaincy is alive and well in San Quentin State Prison and shows up unexpectedly in many beautiful ways .

I always take note when anyone tells a story about animals, but especially at San Quentin where the sight or sound of any wildlife (except the birds on the yard) is extremely rare. Now and then one of the inmates will spot a deer walking across the distant hills. To the men this vision is akin to a sacred visitation, something that becomes a blessed memory, a memory that usually leads to other memories of their life outside the prison walls, times of youth, nature, connection.

To my delight, stories involving animals began coming in our Friday Meditation group. One day a man spoke about a crow that had taken up residence in the chow hall. This crow sat on a beam above the hall, observing all the prisoners. Now and then it seemed to blatantly mimic the correction officers, barking out commands in a staccato, almost sarcastic tone. Another usually reserved man spoke of seeing images of fish and turtles while he meditated, which led to a round of stories about childhood pets. Inmates spoke warmly of TV shows portraying animals of different species playing together or showing empathy for each other, which provided perfect material for our pre-and post meditation talks.

My favorite story is about an inmate named D. who always attends our Friday Meditation group. D. lives with chronic nerve pain that becomes unbearable when he has to be upright for any length of time. He arrives at our Meditation Class after spending the morning standing in the chow line, and lowers himself into his chair with obvious pain and discomfort.

Because of this, D. spends most of every day sitting in the far corner of the lower yard, his pain successfully mediated by sitting, as well as his love and companionship with the birds of San Quentin. Geese, starlings, pigeons, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, seagulls, even ducks; D. knows them all as individuals with their own personalities, habits and behaviors. D.’s “camp” in the corner is marked like bases around a home plate with various natural hollows and dips in the dirt that fill with rainwater. The birds come in close to get a drink as they roost or wander around on the yard. All the birds regardless of size or type are tuned into D.’s every move, physical or verbal.

D. told me that the geese, usually migratory birds, became permanent residents of the prison after the San Francisco Giants donated a grass mat for the ball field years ago. Since then, the birds’ constant presence along with the inmates walking the yard have become an integral part of life, a peaceful co-existence, one that can flourish regardless of anyone’s checkered past, present, or hopeful future.

One day, as D. and I talked about the birds, him on one side of the cyclone fence and me on the other, I noticed his feathered flock of friends come to attention and circle up slightly closer to us as if they thought me a threat to D’s safety. D. pointed to a goose standing alone with one leg held up. His voice thickened with sadness as he described how the goose had held its leg up for the past 10 months as if broken or at least hurt real bad! D. didn’t understand why none of the “outside volunteers” had offered to help this bird. The goose still flew fine, but hopped around the yard on one leg. Sometimes it’s disability kept it from getting food or drink, as the other birds kept it on the outskirts.

Together in silence we watched the injured goose for some time. I was struck by D. and the bird’s similar ailment, and said a silent prayer thanking the Great Universe for giving D. this perfect, feathered mirror. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a few men walking towards us from other places in the yard, men I didn’t know. One man approached and spoke “Yeah, that goose has been hurt ever since I got here over a year ago. I wish there was something we could do to help it. I hope it isn’t in pain.” Two other men coming into earshot echoed that sentiment. I was struck by their empathy for the goose. After all, these men are prisoners, tough guys. Their caring expressions and their warmth towards the goose stood in contrast to whatever past had ended them here. Many of them have maimed or murdered humans, and yet here they were so worried about this one goose with the hurt leg. I reflected on how this bird standing with it’s broken leg had induced such a depth of empathy in the men who gathered around, and I silently thanked the universe once more for the profound gift animals are to the healing of our spirits. Just then my class was called. I left my side of the cyclone fence and walked up the ramp to the classroom.

A few days later I walked out of the education building after class. To my surprise one of the guys sitting on the bench outside the building asked me if I’d found anything out about the one-legged goose. Another guy further down on the bench piped in, then another. Perhaps they had seen me talking with D. that day-in any case, I didn’t remember their faces, but remembered the entire conversation about the injured bird. The guys all echoed the sentiment of hoping the bird wasn’t in pain and wanting to get it help.

I asked the guys if any of them knew about Wildcare, an organization in San Rafael that rescues and rehabs wildlife in distress. I have brought live and dead animals into Wildcare over the years. I heard myself say “Someone should call Wildcare” but in that instant I also knew this job was mine. I promised the guys I would call Wildcare the next day and see what could be done about helping the goose with the hurt leg on the yard of San Quentin State Prison.

The next morning I called Wildcare. I barely got the words “volunteer in San Quentin” out of my mouth when I heard the soft voice on the other end of the line escalate with excitement. “I have been wanting to connect with someone at San Quentin for at least four years! Oh! Sorry! I didn’t mean to totally hijack the purpose of your call. What are you calling about?”

I told her about the goose with the damaged leg, and all the the inmates, who wanted to know if there was anything they can do to help it. Without pause she told me that state law mandates any one-legged or hurt-legged fowl brought in as a rescue must be euthanized. She confirmed my belief that the bird had adapted well to its chronic injury, was likely not in pain, and was probably going to live out a normal lifespan.

The kind, but knowledgeable woman went on to tell me that in her 7 years with Wildcare,  she has seen hundreds of birds from San Quentin treated for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was getting caught in razor wire. Knowing that the relationship between the inmates and the birds was tenuous, and knowing the prison rules against feeding birds, her hope was to provide more education to the men about the natural habits and needs of all the species of birds that freely visit and interact with the inmates daily, year after very long year.

I marveled at how this conversation about Animal Chaplaincy at San Quentin, and D., the Saint Francis of the prison yard, with all his birds gathered around their own Home Plate, had led to this person who knew and cared so much about the birds at San Quentin. I marveled at how the Men in Blue had shown so much empathy for the goose with the broken leg, and how that goose was the genesis for so many to have the wish to relieve its suffering.

The following week, I told D. and the other men about my conversation with the woman at Wildcare. They were greatly relieved to hear that the goose was probably not in pain, and would likely live out a normal life.

In hindsight, this Goose with the Broken Leg was also, in some ways, the Goose with the Golden Egg, as it is a catalyst for the emergence of empathy and compassion in the men on the prison yard, a feeling of connection, which led to connection with many others Once again, I find myself bowing in thanks to the sacred and crucial role animals play in the big picture we are all play a part in. There really is no us and them no matter what, and often the voice of Spirit speaks loudest when wearing feathers, fur or scales.

Spiderplants; The Legs of Intention


spiderplant copy

One day a few inmates and myself were waiting to get into our classroom for our GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power) class. We were talking about this and that-the greenery on the hills above the yard sparked me to ask if there were any gardens here at San Quentin aside from the rose gardens in the main courtyard. Two of the guys who had been there a long time told me that they have had gardens in the past, depending on the warden. During one phase they grew vegetables, which they could eat when ripe. Without notice or reason, the garden project was suddenly shut down. During another era, the men grew vegetables but were not allowed to eat them-the veggies were shipped out to the food bank-which the inmate gardeners were proud of, being able to help others through their hands.

One story impacted me deeply. For about 8 years there was a greenhouse. Some of the inmates, including the man who was telling me this, had all kinds of plants in there which ranged from peaches and avocados to rubber plants, from veggie starts to houseplants. He told me that over a period of eight years he propagated one spider plant, resulting in close to sixty healthy smaller spider plants, which decoratively filled the greenhouse.

His intention was to give these spider plants to the staff as an office-warming gift when they moved into the newly completed medical building.

One morning as he approached the greenhouse he was stopped in his tracks. A dumpster was next to the greenhouse, with all the plants uprooted and broken, even the avocado and peach tree. The greenhouse had been razed and gutted with no warning, no reason, and no notice, no chance to save the plants which had been so carefully tended.

As a gardener myself, I felt this story like a kick in the stomach. I recalled coming home one day to find that a crazy neighbor had bulldozed my young nectarine tree, in its first year of bearing fruit. The same misguided person also leveled a memorial garden I had made for a dear friend who had committed suicide.

After hearing this story, I began looking at my spider plants differently. Around five years ago or so I found a spider plant left on the top of an old phone booth near the bus stop in San Rafael. It was just barely alive so was light and dry to carry home. Since then I have propagated it into 14 other fully mature plants. Some I’ve given away, others are here and there in my backyard.

Before finishing this story I asked this man about this incident again, to get the details right.That afternoon after leaving the prison I went to visit a friend who works in those new medical offices at San Quentin. We went for a walk in her neighborhood. As we returned to her home, to my surprise I noticed a seemingly dead spider plant in a pot by her garbage. When I inquired she said “I have no idea what it is or where it came from, I found it in way back in the weeds and was going to throw it away.”

Feeling the hum of synchronicity, I offered to take it home and try to revive it. If it survived, I would repot it. She looked at me as if I was wasting my time, but said “sure-good luck-if it ends up living, maybe I could take some of the baby spider plant into work for some of my coworkers there in the hospital.”

Intention has legs. What a phenomenal example of this. Sometimes in our meditation group with the guys at the prison, we all marvel at the transformation they’ve gone through and wonder if, or how, the ripples of that positive change actually goes out into the world.

This example of the spider plant is just one story out of so many that might go un-noticed. The ripples of intention, the good of the all, the interconnectedness of all beings in this web of life and transformation!

-susan shannon, m.div