A few weeks ago Awakened Heart Sangha teacher Pema Ozer came all the way from her home in North Wales (near The Hermitage) to Malvern, Worcestershire, to give a teaching organised by local Sangha members.
The teaching was called The Three Mysteries: Body, Speech and Mind and Pema used a prayer to Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) ‘All These Forms’ as the basis for the teaching. The prayer can be sung, which is something the Awakened Heart Sangha is known for, being a ‘singing sangha’.
This is thanks to our Tibetan Buddhist lineage connection to the famous singing yogin Milarepa, and encouraged by Lama Shenpen‘s teacher Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, another yogin who has been linked to Milarepa because of his profound extemporaneous songs.
The Guru Rinpoche prayer and a recording of it (at the bottom of the page) can be found HERE on Rinpoche’s website, which also contains an archive of his songs and others that he’s encouraged his students to sing.
Through this prayer, Pema taught us about the connection between our ordinary body, speech and mind and the Buddha body, speech and mind, the three kayas. She taught us about the interface or ‘play’ between our unenlightened and enlightened aspects and that by exploring and understanding our ordinary experience of Body, Speech and Mind, we can gain greater insight and confidence in our Buddha-nature.
Throughout the day we listened, sang, meditated, reflected and discussed the topic. It was such deep subject matter with so many, many layers to it, it gave us all a lot to reflect on and to take home and practise with, not to mention a new song/prayer to sing!
Pema also explained why Khenpo Rinpoche really encouraged singing for his Western students: he could see they were particularly reserved or even a bit uptight at times! He felt singing songs might bring his students out of their comfort zone, possibly feel a bit silly or uncomfortable, which was good for loosening up the ego!
I was really surprised at all the singing when I first joined the Sangha, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all and I associated it in my mind with church and hymns. I didn’t realise that Buddhists sang, so it all felt a bit weird! I did feel outside of my comfort zone and a bit uncomfortable with it at first, so I can now see how right Rinpoche was!
Once I got over the initial weirdness and got to understand the lineage and historical context of yogic songs through Milarepa and there purpose, I really changed my tune – pun intended! I now love yogic songs and singing!
The songs we sing as a sangha, some composed on the spot by Rinpoche, some by Lama, other traditional yogic songs; some by Milarepa himself and passed down through the centuries, are really profound! It’s a different way of teaching. Learning songs by heart can be a very helpful practice and the true meaning can gradually get deeper and deeper the more you sing it.
Singing can be a great way of opening the heart and expanding your Bodhichitta. You can feel that opening or movement when you sing from your heart. It’s a very fun and joyful thing to do, so if you’re singing auspicious yogic songs about the Dharma or in praise of teachers and the lineage, what a wonderful way to practice!
Lama gave a teaching last year about yogic singing and talks about her experiences of Khenpo Rinpoche’s singing and how he would learn texts by singing them, which is very poignant now he can no longer speak. She says we can learn a lot from his singing Dharma texts, as when we learn things off by heart, it means they are in our heart, they are always with us and always available to us. Even if it’s just a few lines of Dharma, it’s very valuable to have that with us. Through learning Dharma songs, we’re listening, reflecting and meditating in the sense that we uniting with the song, taking it into our heart.