An interview with His Holiness The Sakya
During his last teaching visit to New York City, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin agreed to be interviewed by Gerry Reilly, a member of the Palden Sakya Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies and Meditation. His Holiness is the forty-first in the line of throne holders of the Seat of Sakya and heads the worldwide Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1952, at the age of six, he was enthroned as the Sakya Trizin in a simple ceremony. Then, in 1959, his full enthronement took place in Sakya. Almost immediately afterwards, he fled to India and into exile. Since then, His Holiness has established Sakya colleges in India and Nepal, has re-established Sakya monasteries, and has traveled the world giving teachings.
Gerry Reilly: Your Holiness, I would like to begin by saying what a pleasure it is to have this chance to talk with you. Would you please give a general account of your life?
His Holiness the Sakya Trizin: I was born into the Khön lineage, which is a hereditary lineage from more than a thousand years ago. Members of this lineage are believed to be the direct descendants of celestial beings that were settled in Tibet then. After many generations, they started the Sakya monasteries. The family has a long history. I was born in the Sakya Dolma Phodrang in 1945.
When I was very young, I received teachings from my father, and then I received other teachings from many of my own gurus. In 1959 when I was still quite young, I went to India, and ever since then, I have been studying and giving teachings.
GR: Aren't hereditary lineages rare? Westerners are used to the notion of tulkus, individuals declared to be reincarnations. Are there other examples of families that have continued to have such famous teachers and accomplished masters?
HHST: Although the Khön lineage is hereditary, many of the famous teachers are emanations of Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani, and some later ones were reincarnations of their forefathers, and so forth. Apart from the Khön lineage, we also have many great masters who are reincarnated lamas in the Sakya tradition.
GR: Would you talk about your own gurus-in particular, about their accomplishments or stories that might inspire your own students?
HHST: My first guru, of course, was my father, who gave me the Vajrakilaya empowerment. He was very great. One of the incidents from his secret life accounts, which I heard much later from Deshung Rinpoche, is that when he was meditating, there was a Manjushri image in his shrine room. This Manjushri image had belonged to Sakya Pandita. When Sakya Pandita debated Hari, the Hindu scholar, the image was with him. The name of this image was the victorious-debater Manjushri image because Sakya Pandita won that famous debate. So when my father was meditating, this Manjushri image came to life, stood up, and talked to him. My father rose up and did prostrations and offered confession prayers. Manjushri said to him that instead of reciting confession prayers, if one performs guru practice and then meditates on the ultimate reality, this is more effective in purifying negative deeds.
After my father, my most important guru, from whom I received the Lam Dre and all the other important teachings, was Ngawang Lodrö Shenpen Nyingpo, the abbot of the Ngor Monastery. He was a very great master and holder of all the teachings, and he performed many great miracles. One of the very important incidents in his life occurred when he was traveling in Eastern Tibet. At a place there, many people saw evil spirits in the form of a large camp with tents. Many people were captured by these evil spirits and died because of them. My guru performed a special Mahakala puja nearby and destroyed all of the evil spirits. Ever since then, the evil spirits have disappeared and people can travel safely.
My third teacher was another abbot in the Sakya monastery from whom I received Lam Dre teachings. This teacher was very humble and would never reveal any of his accomplishments. People believe that he must have had great experiences in meditation, because sometimes when he meditated, he used to wear his robe over his head and he used to cry a lot. That was believed to be the evidence that he experienced actual visions of hell. It is believed that when one meditates, one's air and elements go through the veins, and when they go through the hell-realm veins, then one experiences actual visions of hell, which means that such a person will never go through that experience again because the hell-realm veins inside the body are destroyed. So at that time, one feels as though one is in hell and sees the hell-realm beings, but it also means the destruction of the hell-realm syllables. This has happened to many other great yogis, such as the disciple of Lama Kunga, Lama Sakayapa.
GR: What was this teacher's name?
HHST: Abbot Jampal Sangpo. I had another abbot from Nalendra named Ngawang Lodrö Rinchen as a teacher. He was also a very great master in the sense that he could perform miracles. For example, he possessed the power of inner heat. Tibet is a very cold place, and during the winter, the water in all our rooms would be frozen, but in his room it was never frozen. Everything remained warm. He had inner heat. Altogether I had nine great masters from whom I received teachings.
GR: Could you talk a little bit about one of the first Sakya teachers to spread the dharma in the West, Deshung Rinpoche, who established many centers in the West and with whom many of your American students studied? Could you talk a little about your experiences with him and tell any stories about his accomplishments?
HHST: Deshung Rinpoche came to Sakya when I was very young. At that time, my father went to India on pilgrimage, and during that time, my father asked Deshung Rinpoche to take care of me-not physically but spiritually-to give the blessings every week and long-life initiations and bathing rituals. Deshung Rinpoche was very kind. The funny thing was that at the time his attendant was a Tibetan monk who was very tall and had a big nose, so his nickname was "the American." Deshung Rinpoche told me that he must have had some kind of karmic connection to America because his personal attendant was called "the American." Although that monk died and never left Tibet, Deshung Rinpoche managed to come here. He was one of the earliest Tibetan lamas to come to the U.S. When he was in Sakya, he never dreamed of coming to America.
Deshung Rinpoche's main deity was Avalokiteshvara. He was also very humble and never said that he was accomplished, but when I asked him to give the Avalokiteshvara initiation, he gave me a hint. He said that although he didn't think he had the ability to give major initiations, as far as Avalokiteshvara was concerned, since he had been practicing Avalokiteshvara all his life and had recited 100 million mantras while in the United States and since he had practiced Avalokiteshvara so much, he had the confidence to give the initiation. In other words, I'm sure he had a great realization through Avalokiteshvara.
GR: You mentioned that your father was one of your initial gurus, and you have two sons who also have studied with you. Could you talk a little bit about what it's like to have a father-son relationship as well as a guru-disciple relationship since you've been involved in both?
HHST: I have two sons. My elder son is Ratna Vajra. He's a very good student. Of course, in the beginning, he was a child just like any other child. As he grew older, he completed all his studies and training in all the rituals, and in 1990 he enrolled in Sakya College for advanced studies in philosophy. He's a very serious student. In fact, in his first year, he was the top student in his class. He never thought of me as his father; he always thinks of me as his real guru. My younger one is Gyana Vajra.
GR: In one of your earlier interviews, you mentioned that in order to achieve spiritual accomplishments, it is necessary to go on spiritual retreats. Earlier in your teaching, you told the story of Birwapa, who was teaching full time, but secretly he was practicing. I was inspired by that because I have to work.
HHST: Actually, Birwapa is rather special. As I've said many times, you can practice dharma in a busy, modern city like New York City. Dharma practice is not just sitting in a room and reciting mantras. Dharma practice can take place everywhere: while you're traveling, while you're in the subway, while you're in a car, while you're in the middle of the town. You can practice. You can practice your love and kindness. This is all dharma practice.
But as far as accomplishing specific deities is concerned, I think an intensive retreat at some point, not the whole time maybe, but at some point in a lifetime, is necessary.
GR: So even if one can't go into retreat for years, if one practices dharma diligently, one can make progress.
HHST: There are different retreats-a basic retreat, a major retreat. Even if one can make only basic retreats, this is necessary for everyone to do. On the basis of this, I think one can practice and gain accomplishments.
GR: Can you talk a little about your meditation?
HHST: The Sakyapas have a practice called the four special practices, which everyone who has received Lam Dre must do every day. Guru yoga, Birwapa, Hevajra, and Vajrayogini-these four are my main practice.
GR:Yesterday, you talked about suffering. In your life, you have endured much suffering. Your parents passed away when you were young, and you were forced to flee from Tibet. Could you share with us how you have used such events in your practice and what you've learned?
HHST: To experience suffering is a great lesson. The teaching tells you about impermanence and suffering, but knowing it intellectually and experiencing it in real life are different. Books can tell you many things, but experiencing what it is in real life helps you realize the practice. It makes the practice more meaningful, more profound, and more effective.
GR: How much intellectual comprehension is necessary for tantric practice, since the nature of the mind is not within the area of intellectual comprehension? Could you talk a little about this? The Sakyapas have a tradition of practice and scholarship. Could you talk about this, too?
HHST: I feel that those who are teachers should have a full understanding of tantric practice. However, the practitioner doesn't need to know all these detailed instructions, only the essence of the practice, which one has to study thoroughly.
GR: When a beginner starts to practice, he is taught the preliminary practices as well as a sadhana. How much time should one spend on preliminaries and how does this change over time?
HHST: This again depends on the individual. It is customary to do preliminary meditations with specific numbers, etc. But personally, I feel the number is not what's important. What's important is how one feels about one's practices. Some people could spend their whole life just doing preliminaries, and from this they could achieve realizations. Some people do the preliminaries and then devote most of their time to the main practice. Some people may not do many preliminaries and devote most of their time to main practices. It all depends on the individual's understanding and how he practices. For example, Ngwang Legpa, the guru of Deshung Rinpoche, according to his biography, spent most of his life doing preliminaries. He did millions of mandala offerings, prostrations, and recitations of prayers. It seemed that he achieved realization by doing preliminary practices. I think he was unique in doing so much preliminary practice. Most people do one hundred thousand and he did millions.
GR: The recitation of a mantra is only part of sadhana practice, but of itself, can it bring aspects of realization or accomplishment?
HHST: Again, it depends on the individual. Some people achieve realization by mantra or by meditation or by preliminary practices.
GR: Could you talk about the prerequisites for Vajrayana?
HHST: The very first thing is that someone needs a very sincere wish to obtain enlightenment for all other beings. The bodhisattva vow is absolutely essential because Vajrayana practices are the highest form of Buddha's teaching. One cannot practice it with impure motivation. One also needs unshakable faith in gurus and the teaching, and one needs to keep the samayas as well.
GR: Are there some individuals who should not take the bodhisattva vow even though they wish to?
GR: Karma? Are there instances where it might be better to avoid it rather than risk gathering karma of downfalls?
HHST: The Vajrayana is such a profound teaching that even a glimpse of it will be a great benefit. Therefore, even if one can't be a perfect practitioner, one reads the texts. It is better to enroll in it than to miss this kind of chance.
GR: Better to try and fail than not to try at all. Do you think the Vajrayana practice needs a monastic base for it to flourish?
HHST: Not necessarily.
GR: Could it occur in a context where monasticism is not as strong as in Tibet?
HHST: To bring the full Buddhist teaching to a country, to a new place, the monastic tradition is very important. In fact, it is essential. As for individual practitioners, I don't think the monastery system is absolutely essential. I mean, there were great yogis, such as Milarepa, who didn't have a monastery. He replied to the question of where his seat would be when he passed away by saying his seat would be in the snow mountains, in the forests, in the plains, and in other enormous places.
GR: One aspect of monasticism requires great centralization and one of the terrible historical occurrences was the end of Vajrayana Buddhism in India. Do you think there's a problem with such centralization? Is there a danger that it might not reach out to the general population?
HHST: The general public and the monastery have kept such close contact that it would reach the public rather than the other way around.
GR: What is the best way to serve one's guru?
HHST: It is said that there are three kinds of offerings, and the best offering is the offering of practice. So you must practice the teaching the guru gives, and that is the best offering you can make. I guess that must be the best way of serving, too.
GR: Could you talk about different ways of looking at the guru, for example, outer guru, inner guru?
HHST: In the tantra teachings, it says that one should look at the guru as one's father and mother, as one's teacher, and as the most precious thing in one's life. The outer guru is the combination of all the Buddhas. The inner guru is one's own mind, the basic clear light, Buddha's nature that all possess. And the guru of ultimate reality is devoid of self-nature and all phenomena and all descriptions. It's the ultimate primordial wisdom. The ultimate or secret guru.
All these gurus are different aspects, but are all in one.
GR: Does a Buddha see suffering?
HHST: A Buddha never sees impure visions-just as a man who is awakened from sleep can never see a dream.
GR: Does a Buddha's consciousness ever vary? For example, when he's meditating?
HHST: No, a Buddha's consciousness never varies. One unique thing that differentiates a Buddha from a bodhisattva is that a bodhisattva's consciousness does vary, but for a Buddha, there's no variation. He always remains in dharmadhatu, or ultimate reality. And without intention, without thought, a Buddha spontaneously turns the great wheel of activities constantly.
GR: So the Buddha wouldn't make a distinction between himself and his perceptions?
HHST: No, it's all pure matter and pure realms.
GR: Are there moments when an individual can recognize enlightenment for a few seconds at a time?
HHST: Not full enlightenment. To achieve full enlightenment, you have to go through the whole process. But a glimpse of clear light could arise, not accidentally, but at special times, such as when receiving an empowerment or when one is in the presence of gurus or great images.
GR: Could you talk a little about the distinction between dreamless sleep and an enlightened sleep? Not that they are alike, but in our experience, deep sleep might be the closest we come to the dharmakaya experience.
HHST: It is said in certain texts that the best opportunities to experience clear light are during dreams or at the time of death. At those times, one is in a state in which one can witness one's thoughts.
GR: What is it that remains the same in sentient beings at the time of death, and between the time of death and reincarnation?
HHST: Ordinary sentient beings go through the bardo state. Very good practitioners don't go to bardo, but go directly from this life to the pure realms or wherever they wish to go. Those who have a very heavy karma also don't go to bardo, but go directly to lower realms. Average people, the people in the middle, don't necessarily go straightaway after death, sometimes a few days later. It is said that there will be a sign that consciousness has left the body. As long as consciousness remains inside the body, even though one is dead and one is not conscious, one's body remains like a living person. As soon as it leaves, the body changes and deteriorates.
After that one goes into the bardo realms, where one forms a mental body, not a physical body but a mental body, that has five sense organs. Once one is there, one goes through great anxiety, great suffering. One experiences every week a death and new rebirth. Average people remain there for 49 days, seven weeks. After that, they will be born wherever their karma forces them to go, from heavenly realms to lower realms. There are exceptions. Some do remain for a very long period of time in the bardo state.
GR: What is it that reincarnates?
HHST: Consciousness. The stream of mind.
GR: Could you describe the nature of the stream of mind?
HHST: It's clear, void, and the combination. When we say mind, we can mean gross mind. The most important thing in this life is the mind. Without mind, we would not be working, would not be moving, would not be talking. But if we ask where the mind is, we cannot find it. Is it inside the body, outside the body, or in between? If there is a mind, where is it and what does it look like? Does it have color or shape? You can't find mind. It is devoid of self-nature. Therefore, it is void and empty. Yet there is continuity. Like the one who is searching, the one who is trying to find the mind, that is the mind, that is the clarity. So emptiness is one aspect and clarity is the other aspect, and the two are inseparable. Just like fire and the heat of the fire, you cannot separate the two. So the special characteristic of mind is clarity, the nature of mind is emptiness, and the essence of mind is the two combined. That is what continues. It continues right up to now. We grow bigger, we age, and the mind continues. From the time we are born, our bodies change-we grow and age, but the mind continues. It does not cease, but continues. And when we leave this body, this mind continues. The body will be cremated, but the mind must go on. One cannot burn the mind; one cannot bury the mind. The mind has to remain; therefore, the mind has to take another form.
GR: Were you in the company of any of your teachers or gurus when they died? Have you had the experience of witnessing that process?
HHST: Yes. Actually not right at the time of passing away, but close to it. I was with my main guru, Ngawang Lodrö Shenpen Nyingpo. And I was also present when my guru Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö passed away.
GR: Could you give us some advice that we as Buddhists might be able to offer non-Buddhists at the moment of their passing away?
HHST: At the time of death, your mental state is a very important factor. It will have significant effect. If at the time of death, you are angry or you have a strong attachment, then it causes you to be born in the lower realms. Therefore, at the time of death, it is important to be very calm. Any anxiety or fear will not help. There is no way to escape. All you have to do is to face death with a relaxed attitude and with love and kindness, compassion, a good heart benefiting other beings. This is the most helpful advice that one can give.
GR: How should we practice compassion?
HHST: Compassion is the cognizance that we wish those sentient beings who are suffering be free of suffering. First, we practice compassion with family members and intimates, for whom it is easy to arouse such thoughts. Then we gradually build up compassion for all sentient beings.
GR: You've been to the United States five times now. Do you have any impressions on this trip?
HHST: I think that dharma is not only growing but also the quality of the dharma is improving. The quality of questions that I have been asked shows that they're making great progress.
GR: Do you see any difficulty in introducing guru yoga to Westerners?
HHST: Teach that it is important. So far, nobody has questioned it or complained about it, yet.
GR: The reason I bring it up is because in the U.S., terms like self-reliance, independence, and self-initiative put enormous focus on the individual.
HHST: Well, the Buddha also says you are the savior of yourself. Only you can save yourself. In order to save yourself, you have to enter the path and have to learn the teachings. However, the actual help has to come from yourself. In order to cure yourself of a disease, you have to consult a doctor. But the patient has to take the medicine, to do the right things, avoid the wrong things. If you don't do this, even if you have the best doctor, you will not be cured. The main practice of the treatment has to be followed by the patient himself.
GR: Your Holiness, I would like to ask you about ways to practice. If you've received empowerment, there are many sadhanas to perform, many vows to keep. Is it advisable to concentrate on one-deity practice?
HHST: It is better, in fact. There is a saying: Indians practice one deity and accomplish a hundred deities. Tibetans practice many deities and accomplish none. One of the great Tibetan mahasiddhas mentioned that in order to gain enlightenment, it is very important to put all the deities into one, your karmic-link deity, and then practice that one exclusively.
GR: If one has received the Lam Dre transmission, is it acceptable if one practices a single practice to encompass the others?
HHST: The four unbreakable practices is kind of a special thing. Once you have taken Lam Dre, you have to maintain them. But you can do that as a side practice, and in the main practice, you can concentrate
on the main deity.
GR: Is there anything you'd like to say about your vision of the future of the Sakya order?
HHST: We have many scholars in India. What we are now emphasizing more is practice and meditation. Chogye Trichen Rinpoche has a meditation center in his monastery, and there is a three-year retreat program. The monks are doing individual retreats. The next step is that we should emphasize this.
Also at the moment, there is no organized nunnery. So these are the two areas we have to organize.
GR: What about the United States?
HHST: At the moment, we need to emphasize the studies.
GR: Your Holiness, thank you very much.
Interview with Khempo Troru Tsenam Rinpoche
Q .. Would you be kind enough to tell us how far back Tibetan medicine goes and where it originally came from?
A .. Tibetan Medical science has its main roots in the land of Tibet itself, in the age-old experience and ingenuity of the Tibetan people, who have always lived close to nature and had to rely on their own resources to survive. To this has been added, over the last two millenia, the medical wisdom of other lands and civilisations, integrated into the indigenous system either intentionally or by the natural cross-fertilisations of cultures which have taken place over the ages. All in all, we can identify three main streams which have contributed to make the waters of the healing lake which is Tibetan medicine. These three streams are depicted on the insignia of the Central Institute, the governing body of the Lhasa Astromedical Institute (Mintsikang). The longest stream in the insignia comes from the snow mountains, representing Tibet itself. This is joined by two other streams which represent Chinese medicine and Indian ayurvedic medicine.
The many facets of medical knowledge which together form the wealth of Tibetan medicine were all brought together in what is undoubtedly the best-known of all the Tibetan medical treatises - the rgyud.bzhi - the Fourfold Medical Treatise. Tibetan medicine itself has a recorded history of about 2000 years and the Fourfold Medical Treatise dates back about 1,000 years. Although there have been so many ups and downs in Tibetan society during that long period of our history, the Tibetan medical system was preserved throughout, without damage either to its integrity or to the living lineage of the transmission of knowledge from doctor to doctor. It is, without doubt, one of the greatest glories of the Tibetan people.
Q .. I think that the extent and influence of Tibetan Medicine is little known in the West, could you say something about this please ?
A .. This ancient tradition of medicine has helped maintain the health and longevity not only of the people of the five kingdoms known collectively over the centuries as "Tibet" but also of neighbouring countries, such as Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, Ladakh, Mongolia, Sinkiang etc., where its use was widespread. Moreover, Tibet has long been reputed as the land of medicines throughout Asia. Tibetan medicine is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most profound medical systems in the world and it has contributed a lot to humankind's understanding of health and sickness. It is not simply one simple localised national medical folklore among others. It has been a vast and complete science will fully-elaborated notions of the bases of health and sickness, a simple but exceptionally efficient system of diagnosis and a very full range of treatments, based on diet, lifestyle, medication and external treatments. In my opinion it is unexcelled.
This opinion is reinforced when I observe people from various countries, most benefitting from the finest of modern scientific development, nevertheless showing a lot a interest in, and doing research into, the Tibetan ways of diagnosis and treatment. For instance, in the East, in Japan, I found a very strong interest in Tibetan medicine. Also in the West, many people are keen to study Tibetan medicine. I visited Hungary in 1987 and there also I met many doctors who not only showed much interest in Tibetan medicine but also came to understand certain basic points of its practice and sincerely expressed a strong appreciation of it. For me, this is a small proof that the Tibetan medical system holds some profound understanding about the nature of the human body and mind and that this is intuitively recognised by people even though they come from very different cultural backgrounds than the Tibetans.
Q .. We are all aware of the tremendous social changes which have occured in Tibet over the past 35 years. Is Tibetan medicine in Tibet today the same as it was traditionally?
A .. Tibetan medicine as it is now being taught and practised these days in Tibet is much the same as it has always been. There has been little qualitative degradation. Quantitatively, it is hard to estimate. In earlier times hospitals or training centres were not established - as they have been in recent times - by the local governments of the five kingdoms. Medicine was principally studied in monasteries, with almost every monastery having some medical activity, and there were also doctors in private practice as well as clinics sponsored by local aristocracy. The transmission of medical knowledge was carried out through apprenticeship and through family tradition.
All in all, medicine was practised in a highly proficient way. To give you an idea of the wealth of Tibet's pharmacoepia, you must understand that the number of plants alone involved in medicine-making numbered more than 3,000. These were combined in all sorts of ways to produce medications containing sometimes 8 or 15 or 30 or up to 100 different ingredients. Then there are mineral and animal ingredients as well. Doctors obtained some of these raw material for their medicines locally, some from other parts of Tibet and yet other ingredients were imported through traders. Not only has it always been an efficient and excellent system in itself, but also something implemented in the highest way, inasmuch as medicine was a vocation based upon a very high moral code and altruistic approach.
Q .. Are you referring to the Buddhist ethics ?
A .. Yes. Throughout the centuries, the ethical code of the doctor was that of the bodhisattva, a person inspired by the buddhist motivation to free all beings from suffering. There is a wealth of teaching on this in mahayana Buddhism, explaining how to keep one's mind pure and in an altruistic frame and how to live in a way which aspires to perfection of action - perfect generosity, perfect self-control, perfect forbearance, perfect diligence, perfect meditation and perfect wisdom. It is with this in mind that one practised medicine. As long as there are beings with physical bodies which suffer, one of the noblest professions is to practise medicine, to alleviate that suffering.
So many Buddhist scriptures say that all the many qualities of the bodhisattva can be summed up by one word - compassion - and the role of compassion in the healing art is a vital one. Compassion, as it was traditionally understood in Tibet down the centuries, involves a very careful and skilful refinement of the human mind. In the case of medicine, compassion is not a fixed attitude of the doctor's mind, rooted subjectively in abstract notions of love, but is a clarity of awareness and a quality of openness and sensitivity on the part of the healing physician concerning what is objectively happening in the patient. This is why compassion is described as being, "inseparable from wisdom". It means being as fully aware as possible of what is taking place in the body and mind of the patient being treated, not just at present but over all sorts of timescales.
Q .. Could you speak some more about the doctor's wisdom and the Tibetan understanding of sickness and health ?
A .. One obvious aspect of the wisdom involved in the diagnostic phase is to be able to detect the imbalance of the humours which is the cause of the symptoms which the patient is presenting. You have probably heard of the three "humours." The word itself means ill - the three ills. They are three absolutely fundamental sets of systems within the body's functioning. When a person is healthy these three work together in harmony. But when one or more of the humours is deficient, over-active or upsetting the others, there is ill-health - hence the name nyes.pa, ill.
The humours themselves are manifestations of the interplay of the elements. To understand to flux of the elements in a patient's body at any given time, one needs to be aware of the nature of the elements where the patient lives and works, the play of the elements due to the changes of the seasons, the times of day and so forth and the power of the elements in the patient's diet. Everything is a manifestation of these prime elements, by which I mean earth, water, fire, wind and space. We can also describe the elements as wood, fire , earth, metal and water. To understand the meaning behind these simplistic names - earth, fire, water etc. - requires much study and experience.
Q .. Would you be kind enough to explain them simply for me?
A .. The elements exist on many different levels and their manifestations vary according to the level. Earth is the material quality of things - their matter, weight, hardness, resistance etc. - which means, in the case of the human body, the flesh and bones etc. Water is really the power of bonding between the various aspects of matter - between particles etc. - and also therefore the fluid, lubricating quality. In the body this is the fluids and the overall cohesion between the physical constituents. Fire is the development, the transmutation, the coming to maturity, of matter. In the body it is its physical heat, of digestion and so forth. Wind is the dynamic aspect - movement, flow - represented in the body by all the circulations of oxygen, the flow of blood in the veins and arteries, the impulses in the nervous system, the lymphatic system etc. Space is the dimensioning that allows the other elements to fulfil their functions - in the human body it is the hollow spaces and the orifices.
The elements within the body are in constant interplay with those outside it, as it relates to its environment. The body-environment dialogue occurs through the ingestion of nutrients, such as oxygen, food and drink, through the impulses received through the senses and through the way the person reacts in response to other people and the world around. Those nutrients are composed of the elements; the world, experienced by the senses, with its trees, rocks, sun, sky and so forth is composed of the elements and likewise other sentient beings are composed of the elements. The person himself or herself is composed of the elements.
To correct what goes wrong in the body-world dialogue, we compensate by administering medicines. Medicinal compounds are also concentrates of the elements. Not only the prescribing of medication but also advice on diet and behaviour is seen as a very important factor in bringing the patient back to good health. It is a question of using the resources at one's disposition - whatever they might be - to bring the imbalanced elements in the patient's body back into harmony . Deficiency in one or another of the elements can be compensated for by a diet or an environment rich in that element. Likewise, excess of one or another of the elements can be corrected by reducing the power of that element in the diet, environment or behaviour, and so on and so forth.
Q .. And is sickness simply an accidental elemental imbalance, then?
A .. Besides the shorter term elemental and humoural causes of the ailment - due to the diet, lifestyle and the specific behaviour of the person - there are also the psychosomatic triggers of illness which, according to the traditional teachings of medicine, exist on three levels, called remote cause, long-term cause and proximate cause. These are, respectively:
a. the degree of lack of contact between the person and the innate purity of their mind,
b. the powerful tendencies to strong emotions such as craving or anger in the more distant past, including past lives, and, finally,
c. more recent emotional patterning.
Of course, one could continue. Medicine is a complex subject. What I have just mentioned is just a glimpse of the complexity of the composite phenomenon which is a human being, from the Tibetan medical point of view. In actual medical practice, sometimes mind and body are quite distinct, the one from the other. Sometimes they are indistinguishable and very often they are powerfully interconnected.
Q .. We live here in a world very concerned with diet, foodstuffs, additives, vitamins, whether to eat fats or not etc. Is the quality of these sort of things considered important in Tibetan medicine?
A .. Besides the psychosomatic triggers of illness and short-term elemental factors, there are also longer-term physical considerations related to the proper functioning of the metabolism; particularly in terms of the intake of nutrients and the elimination of wastes.
Tibetan medicine discusses this health of the metabolism in terms of a sevenfold cycle. It is almost as though the prime nutrients, by which we mean the food we eat, the liquids we drink and the air we breathe, go through seven reincarnations within us to produce the very substance of life; the glow of health. These seven reincarnations are seven major steps of transformation, each of which produces by-products and wastes which need to be eliminated. All the major organs and systems of the body are involved in this complex and subtle process of refinement. When there is some malfunctioning in this constant process of refinement, there is a potential cause for illness; the longer and more serious the malfunctioning, the more serious the consequences can be. In fact, it is remarkable how many illnesses have their root in one of the major steps in the metabolic cycle, namely digestion and, indirectly therefore, diet. Digestion is one of the earlier stages in the sevenfold process and a lack of suitable nutrition at this stage will have its repercussions throughout all the later stages. Needless to say, Tibetan medicine aims to detect the long-term deficiencies or excesses in the overall metabolic picture and to correct them as much as is possible, given the circumstances of the patient.
Q .. So a tibetan doctor has to be aware of many things when making a diagnosis?
A .. Yes. Let us return to compassion. The compassionate task of the doctor is to arrive at an accurate appreciation of what is truly ailing the patient, by taking into account all of the aforementioned factors. Without compassion, which is the sensitivity the physician has for what is taking place in the patient, there will only be an awareness of the symptoms related to the immediate physical condition of the patient. Sometimes this is enough, when a patient is suffering merely from a cold, a minor food poisoning or the like. In such cases a straightforward diagnosis will lead to a simple treatment or sometimes no treatment at all and the patient recovers, But other than in these instances, the main task of Tibetan medicine is to bring the whole psycho-physical unity of the patient back into true health. Without the clear awareness of all the long-term and short-term factors involved and a truly compassionate motivation, what a doctor can achieve in this domain is relatively limited.
This is in fact a very important point, because the doctors are the main persons responsible for helping the patients -those who, by their very definition, are suffering. The role of the doctor in providing not just medicine but overall support for the patient has been stressed greatly in the traditional Tibetan medical texts and in earlier times this was given its due emphasis in daily medical practice. More recently, since doctors in Tibet did not receive a full bodhisattva training and saw medicine in a more materialistic light - as a job among others for which they received a salary from the government - this has fallen into the background. Fortunately it is now being restored, thanks to the relative liberty we enjoy to follow the bodhisattva training and due to the drive we are leading to restore traditional Tibetan medicine in all its fullness. As I mentioned before, the medical art was the great glory of Tibet and now it is vital that new doctors learn it as it was, in its entirety.
My own aim therefore is to be able to train all these doctors according to the traditional Tibetan system - with a high standard or ethics and altruism and also how to use all the aspects of traditional medicine, including the use of rarer mineral and precious substance medicines and the ancient operation skills using the spoons etc. That is our plan.
Q .. Is physical health connected with spiritual well-being, in your opinion ?
A .. The understanding of what true health really means, in the long term, is a very profound one. Since, as I mentioned above, it is the purity or impurity, the maturity or immaturity, of mind which is the main long term factor in determining the well-being, the health, of the person, it follows that it is only the enlightened who have true mental and physical felicity. This does not necessarily mean however that more highly-evolved beings have less physical sickness. It is a question of how "well" a human beings feel and how well they can cope with life situations, including physical health. This is quite a subtle point but one which also needs to be taken into consideration. One is not simply treating the body with its specific problem but the body as part of a body and mind combination which is suffering. Although in daily medical practice the physician is not assuming responsibility for the spiritual or psychological progress of the patient, some understanding of this longer term spiritual and emotional dimension is needed for there to be a wise analysis of an ailment, especially where hard-to-treat, deep-rooted or chronic ailments are concerned. Besides these considerations of mind's effect upon the body, there is also serious mental sickness itself - a whole branch of Tibetan medicine.
Q .. How does our mind influence our health ? I know this is a big question but perhaps you would care to mention some important points.
Q .. I would like to speak briefly about the commonplace and longer-term psychosomatic triggers of illness. In Tibetan medicine these are discussed under three groups -that of desire, covering all sorts of human feelings from those of greed through to sexual passion, that of anger, ranging from frustration to real hate, and that of ignorance, ranging from thick mental torpor through to ignorance of the innate purity of mind. These three areas are called the three poisons. They each have many subcategories and there are many states of mind which contains elements of two main groups or even all three - such complex things as jealousy, for instance.
In the long term a predominance of desire, attachments, frustrated longings etc. will create an imbalance in the physical system known as "wind (rlung) humour". Wind is the dynamic quality within the various physical systems. When the wind humour is in harmony, the digestion, the nervous system, the blood flow etc. are all working fluidly. A long-term predominance of anger will create imbalance in the "bile (mkhris.pa) humour". This does nor mean just the physical bile or the gall bladder. It refers to the production of heat and energy in the body, especially through the ingestion and transformation of nourishment. A long-term predominance of ignorance will create imbalance in the "phlegm (bad.kan) humour". This particularly concerns the fluid balances in the body and what we might describe generally as its coolness.
Q .. I know it is not easy for you to speak of what has happened to Tibet since 1960, but I would appreciate it if you could say how this affected Tibetan Medicine and you personally.
A .. The widespread application of this wonderful healing science by dedicated physicians was the status quo in Tibet for more than a thousand years but, during the cultural revolution, as in many other things all over China, the Tibetan medical system suffered very great damage and, with the exception of one or two, the great centres of medical learning were destroyed. Moreover, the medicine practised by individual doctors in rural areas almost came to an end too. One of the few things to survive partially was the Lhasa mintsikang - the Astro-Medical Institute. The indigenous Tibetan medical system suffered because it was viewed by the communist regime of the time as being solely based on superstition - an invention of the lamas - and not a real medical science. It was not until after the 3rd National Assembly that there was the beginning of a restoration of some Tibetan national cultural activities. Since then there has been a steady revival of Tibetan medicine, sometimes through the initiative of governmental bodies, sometimes through that of local authorities and sometimes, more recently, with the support of Rokpa, an international charity deeply committed to the restoration of Tibetan medicine in Tibet. Actually, it is not simply a question of restoring what was there previously but of reviving Tibetan medicine in a way which responds intelligently to the needs of today.
The revival has resulted in a significant and organised growth of medical schools. Some hosptals and medical centres have been established in places where there were none previously and certain institutions have been restored far beyond their previous capacity. The Lhasa Astromedical centre, for instance, has been significantly developed and its present form and capacity - in terms of number of dcotors, beds, machines, buildings and allocaton of funds - is much greater than it was formerly. The staff number almost 1,000, there are several hundred patient beds, a major medicine-producing factory and it is a teaching hospital with university status.
Large astromedical centres have also been founded in Shigatse, Chamdo, Nagchu, Soka, Nyitri, etc. These have provided hospitals, doctors and medicines where there were none before and made regional centres of health care. Other astromedical centres which have been restored in major towns are the likes of De-Ge, Pa-Yul, Dartse-Do and some in the Chinghai province. Thu s, in one way, at present Tibetan medical science and education is going through a period of great development. In all these centres, Tibetan medicine is taught according to the tradition and also they have started using modern scientific methods and machines and are trying to see how modern ways can be combined with ancient wisdom. This is of course an ambitious task and at the same time a very necessary one which has to be tackled one day or another. It is being approached in a pragmatic and open-minded way and should, if handled intelligently, move both medical systems further towards joint overall goal of eradicating and preventing all diseases, thereby rendering great service to all beings.
It is evident, for instance, that a Tibetan doctor who has successfully diagnosed a tumour in a certain location in a patient will be happy to have an x-ray or other information which shows the exact size of the tumour and its effect on the internal organs around it. In the past, the strength of Tibetan medicine came through it absorbing and integrating things from other medical systems which proved to be of real use - you will remember the analogy of the three rivers. There are many medical systems throughout the world and we are not averse to adopting what they might have to offer. In the other direction, it is now seeming more and more likely that in many cases traditional Tibetan herbal and mineral remedies will be able to provide more effective and less intrusive solutions than present-day surgery or modern chemical medicines can. For instance, our preparations for removing kidney stones and gallstones, some of which I have developed in recent years, have impressed modern Chinese scientists by their efficacity. Another area where there is great promise is that of Tibetan medicines based on detoxified mercury. From what I am seeing of illnesses in the West and the modern world, these medicines may bring great benefit to sufferers of some of the diseases prevalent these days.
In the traditional Tibetan society, these mercury-based compounds could not be manufactured by each doctor. The preparation of the detoxified mercury which is the basic ingredient requires a great deal of time, money and manpower. Hence it was only produced in the very large monasteries or at the request of exceedingly rich spnsors. The knowledge of how to produce this detoxified mercury is kept a secret. It is an oral tradition handed down from master-physician to master-physician. Although some of the technique has been committed to writing, certain key steps are purposefully omitted in order to keep this knowledge tightly controlled and free from abuse.
The knowledge of how to produce detoxified mercury was almost completely lost. The actual practise had not been carried out for a long time and the first revival was performed by myself and Dr Tenzin Chodrak, who later becamethe private physician of H H the Dalai Lama. After the initial revival it was manufactured by me in Pomi, before I went to take up my post at the Lhasa Astromedical Centre. Since then I have transmitted the know-how to many people - students and colleagues - and the continuity of this rare and important aspect of Tibetan medicine has been preserved for posterity. I have since manufactured this improtant medicine in Dege, Chinghai, Yushu, Chamdo and many other places. Having made the mercury, I then proceded to revive production of the various complex precious-substance medications based on mercury, gold, gemstones and other rare substances. This has proved very successful, to such an extent that now there are many doctors all over Tibet well trained in the production of these vital medicines. Now there is no longer fear of losing this knowledge forever.
The process for producing detoxified mercury in Tibetan medicine is not quite the same as that of Ayurveda. It comes not from the vedic tradition but from the revelation of Urgyenpa, the great siddha and Kagyu master. Besdies this, the Tibetans have always had a good deal of alchemical knowledge and understood how to transform one thing into another, when sucha transformatiobn is possible. The mercury process itself involves some 100 people, working constantly for about one month. Hundreds of grams of gold are needed. Through the transformations which it undergoes, mercury which is at first highly poisonous, shiny, highly mobile and like a liquid metal, becomes medicinal, matt black, immobile and solid. It becomes the king of antidotes for all types of poisoning.
The detoxified mercury is not just mercury alone - it is a complex compound the making of which involves mercury, gold, silver, copper, various sorts of iron, 8 types of mineral etc. During the preparation some astounding things happen. For instance, during its transformations and detoxification, the gold, which is a noble and immutable metal, becomes oxidisable i.e. it burns. This amazed Chinese scientists who witnessed each stage of the gold preparation, during which it was beaten and boiled in special ways and treated with various natural chemicals over a period of several days before being fired in an oven. In the old days it used to have to spend 45 hours in a charcoal oven, but with modern kilns the time necessary has been reduced to about 10 hours. The end product isa gold powder which can be burnt. There is an old Tibetan saying, "Don't worry if the gold falls in the fire - it can never burn but on the contrary will improve." However, the detoxified gold compound does burn and once burnt is of a black colour. When we have prepared gold in the Lhasa Astromedical Centre, we have at times burnt up to 3lbs of gold in these processes. As you will understand, since just the preparation of the gold catalyst in the mercury prepartion takes so many days and is quite complicated, when one takes into account the preparation of all the other metals and minerals and so forth then it is not surprising that the whole process takes 30 days of non-stop activity.
The preparation of detoooxified mercury to which I have alluded above, and which we currently use, is also slightly different from the process talked about in the Fourfold Tantra. The technique was given to Khedrup Orgyenpa, by Vajrayogini, in the land of Orgyen. He taught it to Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, who taught it to Sonam Zangpo, who was the grandfather of Sungkar Nyamme Dorje and it became the Tsurpu tradition. During the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama it was made by Dharam Nyammo. Later Situ Choji Jungnas made it in De-ge. Other famous lamas of more recent times, in the last century, such as Kongtrul Lodro Taye, Jamyang Chentse Wangpo, Mipham Rinpoche and so forth maintained the tradition, many of them having a strong link with Derge, my own region. As the mercury detoxification involves many people, much wealth and resources, its making was a rare event.
There are many secret techniques, preserved through an oral tradition, for making very powerful and special medicines such as these. They involve wonderful phenomena such as those mentioned above or such as the powdering of diamond, to make it blend with other substances in medicinal preparations.
Although now there are many people involved in the practice of Tibetan medicine in Tibet itself and there is much medical equipment and many medicines are available nowadays, there are still, in my opinion, many requirements to be fulfilled and much deeper study required, before we can consider the fullness of Tibetan medicine to be well established for centuries to come. Especially now, that the Tibetan Medicine Institute in Lhasa has been redeveloped, there is the scope for doing this. A lot of money was spent on it and a lot of foresight has gone into it - and it has been given the status of an indepenedent university. I myself hold the post of Directing Physician and Professor of Medicine and am responsible for assuring the preservation of Tibetan medical study for future generations - I try to do my best but you will appreciate that I am old and there is still a lot left to do. I am very concerned to transmit my own know-how in many specialised domains, while my health still permits. This will involve, among other things, gathering the necessary rare ingredients to make many traditional medicines which have not been prepared now for some decades and which present-day doctors do not know how to prepare. As with the mercury preparation, they will need to work alongside me as I prepare these compounds so that they understand clearly all the steps involved.
Much skill, knowledge and experience goes into the preparation of Tibetan medicines. I am told, although I have not been able to look into it myself, that the medicines prepared in Tibet itself are often more effective than the same remedies prepared in other Himalayan countries. If this is the case, one can imagine many reasons why it would be so. First there is the land itself: it is certain that its geography, climate and altitude are quite unique. A religious person might also say that the centuries of widespread and profound religious practice imbibed the hills and the valleys with something very special too. One must also take into account the location of specific plants and the manner in which they are collected.
Over the millenia, we have come to know the best places to collect each herb and it is very important that this knowledge be preserved and that the environment in which the herbs grow remain unpolluted. Each area, as well as a specific location within each area, has its floral speciality and the plants there have a particular potency. One needs to know exactly when to pick the plant - not only in terms of its life cycle but also in terms of astrology and the time of day etc. The traditional explanations even explain who should pick the plant and how it should be gathered. Following all these criteria properly produces a very different raw material than would just the gathering of plants bearing that name, anywhere and at any time, as I fear might happen elsewhere. Once one has the finest raw materials, gathered as mentioned, these need to be processed and combined to make the various medicines. Not only does this need to be done properly, from a technical point of view, but, according to the medical tradition, with prayer and in the proper state of compassionate mind
In the Lhasa Insititute we study the traditional Tibetan medical literature, the Tibetan astological literature, but also grammar, language and composition, Chinese language, English language, as well as politics and other related subjects. Since in the Tibetan medical literature and in the Tibetan medicine system, the purity of motivation and conduct of doctors has always been greatly emphasised, it is essential that there be enough training and instruction given on these topics. I am referring to the bodhisattva attitude mentioned previously. In the past this was nurtured by studying the classical Buddhist scriptures about the bodhisattva path - the ratnavali, the bodhicaryvatara etc. These traditional studies are gradually being reintroduced and I am very happy about this since the quality of the physician's mind is quite determinant in establishing the quality of the medical treatment itself. We also have plans to establish a research wing in this Institue where we would investigate the newly-discovered diseases now prevailing all over the world. There is tremendous scope here and an enormous amount of work to be done, and to be done in such a way as to satisfy not only our own doctors but the criteria of the present-day worldwide scientific community. Over a fairly long term and a significant number of patients, we would need to employ traditional treatments and also to produce new medicines adequate enough to tackle those diseases, from the Tibetan medicine point of view. Some people are very optimistic in this domain. Personally I feel that in some areas a lot can be done - either to cure or to attenuate serious illnesses - but there is no point in raising false hopes. Proper research must be carried out and we will see, as time goes by, what contribution Tibetan medicine might have to make to the healing arts of the coming century.
Besides the restoration of all the traditional medicines and traditional medical ethic, there is another area of restoration which interests us, namely that of techniques used in more ancient times. It would seem that in earlier times Tibetan medicine was studied in a very exceptional way. Later, it became, relatively speaking, a little degenerated. We have records and evidence of many things which were there before - such as operations on the human brain, use of long, spoon-like implements to perform operations on various organs etc. Unlike the type of operations one sees in the West, where the body is opened up on a large scale, the latter was a minimally-invasive form of surgery, mainly used to remove tumours, from all sorts of different organs and parts of the body, These were part of Tibetan medical practice at one point but seem to have been almost forgotten now. We hope to regain the know-how of these old wisdoms and to re-introduce any of those things which may be of use today. In brief, both in terms of quality and quantity, we hope to restore Tibetan medicine to its fullness.
Looking beyond Tibet, it is evident that there are many new diseases in the world, such as Aids, and new predominances of diseases causing death, such as cancer. There are also diseases new to Tibet itself, now that there is greater contact with the outside world. Through research and an enthusiastic re-establishment of Tibetan medicine, we hope to be able to contribute to the effort being put into combatting these maladies and bring some hope of partial or total cures for at least some of them. The healing art is a wonderful one - one of the finest sciences a human being can apply himself to - and I am convinced that the traditional wisdom and the exceptional possibilities offered by Tibetan medicine will have something to contribute to the medical understanding of the new millenium.
Interview with Ngak'chang Rinpoche
Q Ngöndro is the foundation practice for all Tibetan Buddhist Schools; can you say a little about these practices?
R Certainly, but I may have to be a little semantic. I need to start by clarifying something about the use of the word Ngöndro. Ngön means 'before', and dro means 'going' - it's the same syllable 'dro' as in the word Khandro (which together literally mean Sky-goer). So Ngöndro means 'before going or starting' or, perhaps, 'before setting out'. Before setting out on a journey, we have to know something about our intended destination and something about the route we propose to take. We have to look at the routes that are available to us, which means we have to make some inquiries. If we're beyond journeys, that is to say, if we have the realization that our destination is exactly where we are, then whether we journey or not is irrelevant. We could wander, or we could remain in one place, it wouldn't matter. Conversely, if we experience our world as decidedly unsatisfactory and if the quality of our experience still alternates energetically between happiness and sadness, the idea of taking the journey beyond dualistic fixations could be rather significant.
In Tantra, the idea of "Journey" is vital - Rig'dzin Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche described the practice of Tantra as a 'Journey Without Goal'. This would seem rather poignant in terms of the fact that we're not trying to get to any place other than where we are. There is, in fact, nowhere to be other than where we are. So, when we can learn to commit ourselves to the journey, rather than the destination, we may possibly discover that we arrive sooner than we might have imagined. (Laughter) Or that's the theory... We just have to set out and see where the journey goes. But if we harbor ambitions for a destination, it makes that destination impossible to reach. The journey has to be the destination, if you really want to be a Tantrika. When the journey becomes the destination you discover that you've always been there. Where we are is home. Until then, there are many wonderful journeys we can set out on and Ngöndro is one of them.
Q Does this mean that it is not really necessary to go through this quite demanding routine...?
R (Laughter) That's like asking whether you can dispense with the procedure of taking your clothes off before having a bath. If you have clothes on, then you need to take them off. But if you happen to be naked then the removing of clothes becomes somewhat irrelevant. But here, I should say something about the fact that there is not one solitary institution called Ngöndro. There are may kinds of Ngöndro. The kind of Ngöndro you are asking about is the Tantric Ngöndro. This is what is commonly called Ngöndro. But there are other kinds of Ngöndro. In fact there are Ngöndros for every level of practice. There is the Ngöndro of Dzogchen Sem-dé, which is known as the Four Naljors - the practices I will discuss in the book Roaring Silence. Maybe an alternative translation for Ngöndro could be preparation, or method of establishing the experiential ground for practice. I have come across people who regard Tantric Ngöndro as some sort of ordeal to get through before they get to the real practice. Alternatively, of course, there are people who imagine that by outwardly performing Ngöndro they'll change in some mysterious way. The point is that practicing Ngöndro might not change you at all. It is you who must change yourself through the practice of Ngöndro. Tantric Ngöndro is a prerequisite for certain Tantric practices but is not an essential preparation for all practices. Every practice has its unique function and purpose whether at the level of Sutra, Tantra or Dzogchen. These multifarious practices are each specifically tailored to practitioners of varying abilities. It would be sheer spiritual bureaucracy for anyone to insist that everybody had to follow precisely the same set of steps as everyone else, irrespective of their capacity. People are different and their practice requirements are different. If your Teacher tells you that you must practice Ngöndro, it means that your Teacher has recognized this practice is an appropriate one for you. The same Teacher may tell somebody else they are not ready for such a practice and tell another that there is no need to go through Tantric Ngöndro. These questions only really arise when you have a real relationship with a Teacher.
Many people talk about higher and lower practices as if only the 'highest' practices facilitated the discovery of enlightenment. But this is really like saying a chisel isn't as good as a shovel or that a drill is better than a saw. All Buddhist practices lead to enlightenment. In essence this means there are no higher or lower practices, only higher and lower practitioners. Each practice is perfect in its function. Each practice is perfect for the capacity or the level of practitioner to whom it is geared. The practice that is geared to your capacity is the highest possible practice. Tantric Ngöndro can be described as the gateway to Tantra, but it would be foolish to imagine that once we have 'got it out of the way' we'll be able to get on to more 'advanced practice' which will lead to enlightenment. Ngöndro, itself, will lead to realization of enlightenment - if you practice it properly.
Q Would you mind describing what exactly Tantric Ngöndro consists of?
R Essentially, Ngöndro consists of four sets of 100,000 repetitions of practice. Firstly, there are 100,000 prostrations performed. These are performed in the awareness of Refuge and whilst generating the wish to enable all beings to realize Enlightenment. There are 100,000 Kyil-khor practices of giving away the entire visualized universe. This kyil-khor offering is made in order to cultivate the capacity for unlimited generosity and to eradicate self-protective meanness. There are 100,000 recitations of the One Hundred Syllable Ngak (Awareness Spell - mantra) of Dorje Sempa (Indestructible Mind Warrior Vajrasattva) which is a practice of purification. Lastly, there are 100,000 practices of Lama'i Naljor (unification with the Mind of the Lama). In the Nyingma School the Lama is almost always visualized as Padmasambhava (Pema Jung-ne or Guru Rinpoche), because he represents the unity of all the Masters of all traditions. He is the Buddha of the six Tantric Vehicles. He is the one who brought the Tantras to Tibet, as prophesized by Shakyamuni Buddha. In this last practice (which in itself is the most important practice of Tantra) the Lama is visualized as dissolving into light and merging inseparably with your very Being. In that moment we recognize the nature of the Lama as being the naked awareness of Space.
Q The Tantric path is spoken of as being dangerous
R Yes. Being alive is also dangerous... Being dead is dangerous That is why the practice of some form of preparation is vital. The Tantric path is very swift and powerful like pure whitewater rapids. Unless you know how to ride these rapids, certainly you could be in danger of battering yourself to death on the sharp edges of your own arrogance. Lamas of all Lineages give grave warnings about the practice of Tantra and stress that we must be well equipped with the correct motivation. In order to practice Tantra, you need to be well equipped for your journey. You need a guide who knows the destination. You need maps, provisions and suitable clothing. You need the determination to follow through. If you don't have these things, your journey may lead you into danger! At the most benign or banal level your 'journey' might just lead you round in ever decreasing circles...
Q Could give us some picture or taste of what Tantra is like in terms of having established the ground through Ngöndro?
R Possibly... but we would still need to approach that from the perspective of preparation... Let's take the analogy of going to a party... If you are going to a party you need to prepare. Tantra is a great feast, so you shouldn't bloat yourself with junk food before you set out. It would be preferable to develop a keen and discriminating appetite. It would be preferable to have listened to the advice of the Lama, the Tantric gourmet who is well versed in feasting. You need to wash before you go. You need to put on some fresh, clean clothes that you reserve specially for festive occasions and, dare I say it (laughter), you need to look as sharp as hell! In short, you need to be in the right frame of mind. The Tantric feast is incredibly sharp and witty, so your communication must be impeccable. If you shovel food into your mouth and behave in a disgusting way, you insult your host and abuse the generous hospitality you've been offered. If you sit in the corner and do not communicate, if you refuse to let anyone know anything about you, you fail to enter into the spirit of the party and gain nothing from it. The chances are that this sort of behavior will result in you not being invited again.
Q What would you say was involved in entering into the spirit of the party?
R Damtsig (Samaya); that is to say, commitment. The wholehearted willingness to celebrate. This celebration, in Tantric terms, is complete commitment to the texture of existence and non-existence, through the relationship with the Teacher. The Tibetan word for this commitment is Damtsig or terminal connectedness that's my word... The party of Tantra is not a rowdy, head-banging affair where you can slump senseless in the corner and where the loudness of mechanical fashion-music hides the sound of two-part monologues that are either vain, aggressive or trivial. This is not some sort of acrid smoke-filled escape into oblivion with people weeping in the bathroom or throwing up in the garden. Neither is it some sleazy gathering where people are out to polish their vanity at your expense. The Tantric party is a wonderfully organized, well-provided picnic, and the company are your Vajra sisters and Vajra brothers. The scenery is magnificent and inspiring. The communication is totally honest. It is the last moment before the end of the world, so there's no need for pretence. There is no need even for terror because acceptance of circumstances, exactly as they are, is the only possible option. There is an electric sense of hilarity!
Q So to get back to Ngöndro, I get the sense of Ngöndro being quite Tantric, in some respects, at the same time as preparing us for it.
R Yes. Ngöndro prepares us for Tantra, whilst actually being Tantra itself. So in a sense the preparation for the journey is in itself the first step. The Tantric Ngöndro comprises methods that work directly with the energy of the five elemental configurations of perception. The prostrations are a method that works with the air element in terms of exhausting the confusion caused by physical and intellectual hyperactivity.
Q Can you say something about the importance of 100,000 as the number required in these practices.
R It's a large number.
Q (Laughter) I mean...
R It's the take-off point. It's the speed that the plane has to hit on the runway before it leaves the ground. But there's nothing absolute about the number. It's a little bit like 40 days and 40 nights; it simply means "a lot". There's no guarantee whatsoever that 100,000 repetitions of any set of acts in themselves will bring about beneficial results. It simply represents a large number in Tibetan terms. It has also been found from the experience of practitioners that at a certain level of practice, 100,000 is the smallest number of times it takes for the repetition of a practice to have a worthwhile effect. This discovery is obviously a generalized one and cannot apply to all practitioners. We should look on each prostration as an opportunity to realize our Beginningless Enlightenment, so it could take as little as one, two or three prostrations to realize the fruit of practice, but it could take 100,000...or maybe more. If you're still proud and lacking humility, even if you've performed 300,000 prostrations, it is not enough. If you're still mean, then even though you've given away the visualized universe 300,000 times it is not enough. - If you're still full of negative emotions, hostility and resentment, even if you have recited 300,000 Ogyen Dorsem Awareness spells (mantras), it is not enough. If you lack respect for your Lama (criticize instructions you're given because you think you know better) then even if you've practiced Lama'i Naljor 100,000 times, it is not even a start!
Q So practice in that sense would just be a waste of time.
R Yes, exactly. Endless repetition of Ngöndro practice without kind hearted motivation would have little effect apart from seeding your consciousness with a link for some future time when your motivation might be more open and honest. If Ngöndro is practiced with spiritual ambition and spiritual pride, it becomes merely an exercise in spiritual materialism. This is incredibly harmful to spiritual progress and it would almost be better if you'd never engaged in practice at all. Spiritual materialism seeds negative causes which make it very difficult even to change and to start practicing properly. Basically, if you treat your Teacher with disrespect by pretending you're a sincere practitioner (whilst all along keeping the world of your real emotions private) then the practice of Ngöndro could become completely hollow. Without genuine openness, without real self-disclosure and the willingness to abandon masks, Ngöndro could become nonsense.
Unless you're prepared to be real, Ngöndro becomes 100,000 aerobic exercises; 100,000 sandcastles; 100,000 meaningless mumbles; and, 100,000 daydreams. You'd do better to engage in some activity that had some real benefit for others, such as voluntary work for the elderly, underprivileged, hungry, homeless or handicapped. But if you entered into voluntary work of ambition you'd just end up playing the same sad game. You'd have to rise in importance so that you could hob-nob with the higher echelons of the voluntary organization. If you want to practice Ngöndro, you must make sure that you have the right motivation. The only possible motivation is the strong and deep-rooted wish to liberate all beings of suffering. This motivation when galvanized by a good, true and open relationship with an authentic Teacher is the only possible combination of causes that opens the gateless gate of Tantric practice in all its multicolored vibrancy.
If you receive Ngöndro Teachings and decide to commit yourself to them, you shouldn't go to your Teacher and say: "I've finished prostrations and started Kyil-khor practice." If you were to do this, you may as well start your prostrations all over again. To act in this way shows no real respect for your Teacher. If it doesn't occur to you that you should seek permission from your Teacher to continue to the next practice, you have the wrong attitude. You should say you have completed the prostrations and ask whether your Teacher considers that you have benefited sufficiently from the practice to continue. If you complain that activities inaugurated by the Lama, whatever they may be, get in the way of practice, then you've not only failed miserably in your cultivation of generosity, but you have never really understood the value of anything your Teacher has ever taught you. This lack of gratitude and lack of generosity toward your Teacher damages your spiritual lifeline, the Damtsig or Tantric commitment that is the lifeblood of practice. If you erode this vital commitment you degenerate your practice into meaninglessness. Throughout Ngöndro, tremendous respect should arise for the Lama, along with the energy to follow through in terms of promises.
Q Does this mean that for practice to actually have any effect you must put your Lama before yourself. That you must place his or her interests before you own, or perhaps you must offer absolute obedience? Or is it something else you must generate or find within yourself toward your Lama that if you have to "think about what you should be doing" means you are not?
R It's confidence. Working with the Lama in the Tantric system is a very powerful and excruciatingly direct method. You must be very, very sure of your Teacher - because once you've established that confidence, once you have entered into that relationship, all doubt has to be treated as your confusion rather than the fault or unsuitability of the Teacher. Many people in the West are seduced by the prospect of such a fantastic relationship and attempt to establish it with the first Lama they meet. But this is wishful thinking of an outrageous order. It is quite understandable that people should be deeply moved by the stories of Marpa and Milarepa and I do not want to deflate such enthusiasm. But it is important to realize that this kind of relationship is only possible when you are willing to give up absolutely everything, completely, for ever. So you should be honest with yourself and with your Teacher. You should not whisper sweet nothings in the Lama's ear that you can't really fulfill. You shouldn't get too 'blissed out' and promise things that are unrealistic in terms of your everyday knowledge of yourself. You should avoid the temptation to 'say the right thing', or seek approval by offering more of yourself than you can possibly give.
Approaching a Teacher in the same way that you customarily approach a lover leads to all kinds of problems. You become carried away with some kind of inflated emotionality that poses as spiritual thirst. When this happens people tend to make all kinds of commitments which are in fact, on their part, often simply props for self-image. Some people just want the prestige, or emotional buzz of having such a relationship with a Teacher; so they can say: "He or She is MY Teacher!" But that creates all kinds of problems. As soon as there are aspects of the practice that you can't stomach too easily, the idea of divorce occurs. Then people say: "Oh such and such a Lama isn't my Teacher any more, I've gone over to Lama so and so whose Teachings are more suitable." You might even throw in a bit of scandal to add spice to your justification. And so, sadly, some people go on from one Lama to the next. Falling in love with Lamas is very easy. They are very lovable (Laughter). I'm not talking about myself you understand. So... you must learn to temper your own need for the 'love to end all loves' and think about the real function of such a relationship. If you ask a Lama to guide you in the practice of Tantra, you're making the ultimate commitment, so unless you're absolutely confident, you shouldn't take such a step. You shouldn't contemplate Vajra Commitment to the Vajra Master in Tantric practice until your relationship with him or her is unshakable. This should and must take exactly as long as it takes.
Q It could take a lifetime then?
R No, not that long (laughter) unless you don't intend to stick around that long! His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said on various occasions that you can take up to 13 years to be sure of your Tantric Teacher before making Vajra Commitment. He has also said that you should wait at least 5 years before entering Tantric relationship with the Vajra Master. You cannot rush such a relationship on the basis of desire or wishful thinking. Although I am saying this relationship cannot be hurried, if you practice Shi-né with regularity, determination and commitment, if you study the View with the motivation of completely internalizing it, then you should quickly arrive at a point where such a commitment is possible.
Q So then it's possible to move more quickly if you really have the determination and devotion?
R Yes, but people shouldn't be too greedy. Students must learn to work with the Lama first as the Spiritual Friend. You need to do this to open yourself. You shouldn't ask your Spiritual Friend to become your Lama, in the Tantric sense, unless you're absolutely certain. There is certainly no rush from the Lama's point of view. When you're ready, you're ready. Teachers are often so completely and utterly generous that they would rather let you move on too quickly - they'd often rather do that, than dampen your enthusiasm by telling you that you're not ready to make the commitments that you're offering to make. They have more trust in you than you have in yourself, because they see and trust your intrinsic enlightened nature. Lamas will often work with whatever you present them with. This obviously puts a high degree of responsibility on your shoulders. Being the disciple of a Lama is not like being a fan of a superstar. A relationship with a superstar is a relationship with which you may become disenchanted. The relationship with the Lama is one that lasts throughout your life and lives.
Q What does the word Lama mean?
R The word Lama means Teacher, but it doesn't just mean the external Teacher who manifestly Teaches you. It also refers to your own Beginningless Enlightened Nature. The frustration and sense of unsatisfactoriness you experience as you live your life is your own intrinsic Teacher telling you that you are struggling to maintain the illusion of duality. Your personal parallax of Enlightenment and dualism is Teaching you all the time, but you need the external Teacher to reflect that to you.
Q Thank you very much Rinpoche.
interview with the Dalai Lama
Interview conducted by Dawn Engle & Ivan Suvanjieff at the residence of His Holiness,
the 14th Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India, May 22, 1995
Q: Do you ever get mad? Do you ever get so frustrated that you feel like giving up?
Perhaps, at the emotional level, it may happen sometimes. But, I believe, as a human being, our emotions must go along with human intelligence. If you were without emotion, a person would become very dry, very cold, so emotion must be a part of our lives.
Emotions are a kind of blind, natural thing and so they can be either very helpful, or very harmful. So here, human wisdom and intelligence has the responsibility to check those negative emotions which have no basis in reason. Actually, some emotions such as compassion do have a basis in reason, and they can go along very well with human wisdom and intelligence.
This is my basic training, my basic belief. When frustration or feelings of hopelessness come, then intelligence comes to help out. Sometimes for no sound reason, you just have desperate feelings that come. But because we are human beings, we have ways and means to work on that. That's the gift of being a human being. For animals, there is emotion, but in a desperate situation, they have no reason to help them out of it.
In my own case, when emotion is about to come, wisdom helps me out, so it is not much of a problem.
Q: A young man from Chicago asks what to do about violence. He says that everyday he is surrounded by gangs and guns, on the streets and in his school. He wants to walk the path of nonviolence, but he is wondering how he can do this and still survive?
Hmm. For such a situation, the question that arises under these particular circumstances, the answer is very difficult. Under these circumstances, in such an exceptional case, you may need similar action to counter this violence, unfortunately. We cannot say that the similar action is right; this we cannot say. But the real answer is, we must make an effort to change that entire situation. This is our real task.
Over the last few decades, I think we neglected something. So now, today, a new situation has developed in society. The human way is to make an effort to change that entire atmosphere of hate and violence. If we take a similar action or counteraction to deal with the current situation, that may succeed or it may not, but it is only a temporary solution. It does not solve the problem. It is not the real answer.
When a desperate situation occurs, I focus more on how to prevent such things from happening in the future. The current situation is terrible, terrible, but there is not much we can do, just accept it. Like the current situation in Bosnia- sometimes people ask me what we can do and I say, there really is nothing. Sometimes human beings become almost mad with negative emotions. In such circumstances, only force can work. You cannot use human intelligence to counter the negative emotions in such extreme cases. It is too late, too late.
But we should not feel hopeless; that would be wrong. We must work to prevent such things in the long-term future-that is the human way and the best we can do. That is our task, even if it doesn't happen during our lifetime. We must do this for the future generation.
So that always gives me hope. Yes, the immediate situation is hopeless and nothing can be done. But that doesn't mean that it is hopeless for the future. Since there is determination to do something for the future, there is always long-term hope.
For this specific question, in this particular situation, I don't know. If it was me, with all of this pressure on me, including a gun pointed at me, I don't know what I would do. Maybe I would do this (laughing and hiding his head between his hands), or perhaps I would do this (throws an imaginary punch), which would be violent, too. (laughs long and hard) Really, I don't know what I would do!
Q: If you are young, no one listens to what you have to say. How do I get people to take me and my ideas more seriously?
(thinks, then laughs) I don't know. I feel sometimes, in my own experience, I have some idea and I never think that it is silly, but it really is a silly idea. But I think it is a great idea and I try to convince other people of how great it is. Then later on, you realize what a silly idea it was. At that moment, the response to your idea will not be positive; but you get so convinced that your own idea is so great.
Also, sometimes, older people, when they hear an idea from a young person, they think, "Oh, no experience," and they don't really listen. That kind of thing definitely happens. Then sometimes, human nature is such that we rely more on the person than on the substance of the message. If an idea comes from someone very gentle or great, without much thinking about the idea itself, one tends to be more accepting of the idea. I think that this is one of the important teachings of Buddhism. We must rely more on the substance of the idea, rather than on the authority of the person who it comes from.
So if the idea comes from a young person and it has real value, then we should accept it. If it is silly and it comes from the king or the Prime Minister of Sweden, then no. We need to focus on the message, not on the person who gives it. If we have adopted this attitude then even very young people, we can hear their good ideas and accept them.
I feel that sometimes, from young people, their minds are not biased and they can see things in a different way. They are more natural and spontaneous. Older people have more biases and tend to have been more influenced by society and the brain side of their nature. Young people are more innocent. The basic quality of human nature, the basic innate goodness in each of us, is more intact. Older people tend to be less spontaneous, more biased. (Laughs) But, I don't know.
Q: At school, we have been studying the importance of the rain forest and preserving the environment. How do you feel when you see the pollution, the garbage, the forests being cut down, the dirty air?
Now, this is a new problem, in part due to population, also, humans using natural resources too extensively. That also contributes to the problem. In my own case, when we were in Tibet, there was a large area and a small population, a cold, dry climate, so even though we didn't pay much attention, nature took care of things and we were in balance. Now, it has become very clear that the environment is so important and how much can be done by each person in your daily life to help.
When you leave your room, switch off the light, recycle garbage, this is easy, it becomes part of your daily life and each individual can help a lot. Similarly, if one, ten, one hundred, ten thousand people don't pay attention, the effects are very bad. Each individual must carry some of this discipline in daily life; together we can make a big impact on society. Education is very helpful, too, but the most important thing is that these simple practices become a part of your daily life.
Q: The entertainment media, TV and the movies portray and glorify violence. Do you think these are making our society more violent?
I think so, I think so, particularly to those people who don't do much reflecting inwardly, especially for these sorts of people the outward influences make a greater impact on their mind. If it is someone who meditates and reflects inwardly on a regular basis, then I think that the outside influences become less.
In society today, particularly toward younger people, the media has a great, great responsibility. I have always believed that on this planet, we are one human family and now because of many new factors today, the concepts of they and we should be gone. We have to think of the entire human race as "we." There is no more "my interest" or "your interest," all of our interests are related to the whole world, to all people-including the media. We are now one global family, so when there is a problem or a threat to one of us, all of us will suffer. There is no escape. We all have the responsibility to look after the world.
Now that the world has become a much smaller place, much depends on each one of us. In order to go forward positively, the main factor is human mind, human consciousness. So here, the sense of commitment toward a better future world, that sort of sense of responsibility, that is our real hope. All professions should play a role-educators, the media, scientists, religious leaders, economists, and of course politicians. They all have different activities, but they all must be for humanity, because now when we talk about humanity we cannot make a distinction between us versus them. So of course the media has a huge responsibility.
Basically, I believe that human nature is gentleness, that the basic human nature is compassionate. But then, the human brain, as I mentioned before, gets involved. And so, too, do the human emotions.
I have always believed that this human body we are in, our human body structure, if this human body is surrounded by an environment filled with affection it will be healthier and at peace and all the physical functions of the body will work properly. If this human body is in an atmosphere of tension and stress, the response from the body is very negative. So the very nature of this body is that it works best when surrounded by human affection; it needs human affection. If a person's mental state is more affectionate, more compassionate and less fearful, angry and stressful, the result is that the blood pressure goes down, etc. Fear, hatred, these are very bad for the body. Because of these reasons, I believe that the basic human nature is gentleness.
But then how, you would ask, is it that some people become so arrogant and aggressive? And basically, I believe that it is because of human intelligence. It gives us this option. Basic goodness becomes subdued and human intelligence gives fuel for negative emotions. So today, I believe that the destructive nature of society that now threatens the existence of the entire human world has much to do with human intelligence.
The way to overcome all human sufferingÑthat also is through human intelligence.
Generally, today, I think people are getting the impression that human nature is more negative. It is the negative stories that become news because they strike us and they strike our mind because they are something unnatural. When we hear that someone takes care of someone else, we think, oh, that is natural. So I think this shows that compassion and kindness, we take for granted. Murder and killing, this is something not natural for human beings, so this becomes news. Always the bad news is covered. So eventually we feel human nature is negative and it creates hatred toward ourselves.
Media has a real responsibility to create a truer picture of the real nature of human beings. And I feel that this is very, very important because it affects the human consciousness and our determination to create a better future. If we do not believe in ourselves and in our own essential goodness, how can we have the belief that we can create a better future? Self-confidence is very, very important. So if the media is always giving negative information, making things look hopeless, it will discourage our basic human qualities.
Q: If you could be invisible for a day, completely invisible for just one day, what would you do?
Well, actually, according to the Buddhist point of view, there are these sorts of times. So at such times, there are new responsibilities, new work to do.
But your basic nature is the same, and your goal is to be helping others. Whether in a visible body or in an invisible body, your basic work is still the same. You would have the same feelings, you would want the same happiness, you would not want pain. Whether your body is visible or invisible, it doesn't matter, it is still the same.
But I think if I was invisible, it would be much easier to spy on other people (laughs). It would be a new opportunity, a good opportunity (laughs long and hard).
Q: What about when the feelings of depression become overwhelming? Why continue to live when it all seems so futile, if there is so little hope?
I think that that kind of concept is wrong. Of course, always there are problems, but also, always there is hope, if you have this sort of determination and will power. Then always there is a good chance and hope is always there.
Q: You are a great man, and I am a very small person. How can I make any sort of difference in this world?
I do not consider I myself to be something special. I always consider all human beings to be special, whether they are educated or uneducated, they all have the human mind and the human spirit and that is what is important.
So now the question is whether you utilize that human potential with confidence. That is the question. Every human being has the same potential without losing confidence, with great determination. You need to try. Education is also important in realizing one's full potential. I believe that education is very, very important.
Q: How much time do we have left on planet earth, given the environmental destruction and all the damage we have done. Is there hope for survival on this planet?
In spite of many problems, much suffering, many tragic situations, I believe the human race has the ability to survive and not only to survive, but also I think because of our experiences over the last century we have learned so much. Perhaps as a result of our experiences in these complicated, difficult times, I think humanity in general is becoming more mature. So if we really put every effort, more concentrated effort, with more clear vision about the future, I think our next century will certainly be a much happier one.
The future is on our own shoulders. If we find failure-again make an effort. Failure-again make an effort. Failure-again make an effort. There is always the possibility to have a better future. If we give up hope and we give up the effort, then we will be asking for ruin and destruction.
Q: Are you ever embarrassed by all the attention you receive? I would like to be a leader, but I don't know how to put myself forward in that way and still retain any sort of humbleness at all.
Usually, my attitude is that I am just another human being, meeting other human beings. On that level, there is not much difference. Of course, on another level, there are different positions and stations and titles, etc. But these are secondary. If you take these things as being important, then really, they become an obstacle to communicating with the other person. If you stay on the basic human level, then there is no barrier.
That kind of attitude has been very helpful to me. That way, when I am meeting with a president or a beggar, to me, there is very little difference. As long as on the other side, there is a genuine smile, genuine sincerity, it is easy. That is the real human value, real human feeling and the willingness to share in another's suffering or in another's happiness as brothers and sisters.
Q: Is there hope for Tibet? What can the rest of us do to help the Tibetan people and their cause? Do you really think that the policy of nonviolence can work to save Tibet?
In spite of the very serious, harsh, repressive nature of what is happening in Tibet today, basically, I am very hopeful, because the overall situation in the world is that the totalitarian communist way of ruling does not work. And then in China, the democratic movement not only survived, but is now very active. Also, economic development, I think, has brought political liberalization.
At the same time the Tibetan spirit is very, very high, very strong, especially among the younger generation. Also awareness about Tibet is increasing around the world, year by year and as a result, the feeling of sympathy, the feeling of solidarity is increasing. So due to these factors, for the long-run, I am optimistic.
In the meantime, I earnestly request our brothers and sisters around the world to help us. In the past, Tibet was very remote and isolated. Now today, the world situation has changed very much and particularly in the case of Tibet, because of geographics.
If Tibet becomes a zone of peace, it would be a great contribution to the cause of peace in Asia, because India and China are the world's two most populous nations and it would be a great contribution to peace in the world. Then Tibetan culture and Buddhist culture, that way of life (and not just the Buddhist religion, because there are Tibetan Muslims, tooÑI am speaking more of a culture, a way of life) is today facing extinction. This culture also has great potential to make a tremendous contribution to peace of mind not only to the six million Tibetan people, but to people all over the world. And also of great help to millions of young Chinese.
Holding events to educate others about preserving and protecting Tibet and Tibetan culture would be of tremendous help and most welcome. I earnestly request this of our brothers and sisters, on this beautiful planet.
Q: If you had one thing to say to the young people of the world, what would it be?
Brothers and sisters, as human beings on this small planet, time is always changing, always moving. In a way, the way things always keep changing is good, because if they did not, all of these negative things would remain. Because things are always changing, there is always hope.
Now, what I want to share with you is that there is always the possibility for things to change and to change for the better. Changes full of human value. I think that is our goal. We have the opportunity-particularly you, the young people-you are the main people who are carrying the responsibility for a good future in the long-term.
You are the seed to develop a prosperous, friendly, harmonious, peaceful world. So much depends on you. Education is important, but education alone is not sufficient. Education of the brain and development of the good heart-these must go together.
Good heart gives you courage, gives you the confidence and the determination. These are the prime movers for a better future. And the brain, it is like an instrument, it can solve all our problems. So with a good instrument used by a good heart, then there is real hope, there is a real good future. So you see, much depends on our own shoulders, on our own hands. Let us try to achieve that kind of happy world. Yes-definitely-there is good hope, there is good potential. It is very important to have full confidence and determination to lead that kind of world.
With optimism, even difficult things can be realized. If you lose hope and remain pessimistic in attitude, then even the easy things to achieve, you will never achieve. So therefore, so much depends on our own mental attitude. That is what I really wanted to share with you.
Interview with Tsoknyi Rinpoche
(published in the Pundarika Foundation Newsletter)
could you outline your future teaching plans in the United States and the Pundarika
Presently I am organizing things so that I'll have two or three months, maybe more, to come to the United States each year. I've been teaching now about nine or ten years and I can see a lot of progress by my students since I began coming here. Somehow I have a very strong karmic connection with this country. In that I agree with the Buddhist view that it depends on karma - the students' karma and the teacher's karma. So somehow my karma is not finished in America, so that's why I like to come and teach. Maybe in the future I will see if I can do more solitary retreat. If I do more practice myself, then naturally it will help those who are receiving teachings from me because I will have something more to offer. It makes me happy to share my knowledge with my students.
For the time being, I want to put my energy more into actual teaching of students than in building a big center. It's not that I'm opposed to having a center - if karma indicated that I would be happy to do so. But I prefer to put my energy into teaching. And besides, there are already enough Dharma centers in America, too many centers I think, and I feel people have a greater need for teaching at this time. As for the Pundarika Foundation, its purpose is organizing my teaching, but I also have a karmic link to projects I maintain in Nepal and Tibet. So the foundation also helps in the maintenance and progress of these projects.
Rinpoche, why do you think the Dzogchen teachings are appropriate for westerners?
I think in general any Buddhist teaching is very suitable in the West. In the West, I think, the human mind is already too much "out", so there's little knowledge of one's own nature. The focus is on everything but your own nature. There is little in the way of traditions or practices or techniques in the West to see self nature because the mind is going out, looking at other things. There are few teachings on the mind here. But in general, the whole Buddhist teaching is for focusing on yourself fist, and then others. Especially in Dzogchen instructions it is made so clear that we need to know the mind and mind essence. There is a very long explanation introducing how to recognize your mind essence and this is something that I think people in the United States need. I believe that Dzogchen can make a major contribution to humanity by helping us see our own nature, then others.
In regard to that, there are those who say that Dzogchen cannot be or should not be attempted until one has done a lot of foundational practice. Is there a particular reason why westerners might be able to benefit from Dzogchen without having first done all that?
In my approach I am not so strict such that one must first have the foundational teachings before receiving Dzogchen instruction. I am not so strict, but I highly recommend that even if you have received the Dzogchen teachings and practice them, you should do ngondro [the traditional foundational practices of refuge and prostrations, mandala offering, guru yoga and Vajrasattva recitation]. Many of my students are doing ngondro. But I don't restrict them to first completing ngondro before receiving Dzogchen teachings. Traditionally it would be done that way, but in the West, doing ngondro alone at the beginning doesn't make any sense, in fact it can make one more neurotic and could prevent a true understanding of Dharma. Students should understand real Dharma as a wisdom path. Then they will naturally realize that wisdom and accumulation of merit are equally important. Many of my students, without my asking them to, have come to me for the ngondro transmission. They see the importance and interdependence of merit and wisdom. So without wisdom, without understanding of the nature of your mind, just doing ngondro alone doesn't make much sense in a western context.
In Tibet it is different. There you have natural faith in reality beyond concepts. But here that has to be shown and proven first. It's the influence of science. Without proof they will not do it. But with ngondro how can you prove it? It is very difficult. How can you prove peace in a place where so many things are happening? How can you prove relaxation? How can you prove non conceptual mind? But when you first realize something beyond conception mind, then the importance of ngondro is naturally understood.
Then you feel that practices such as ngondro, yidam practice, Madhyamaka study and shamatha practice are important complements or supports for Dzogchen?
O yeah. Very much so. If you do Dzogchen and then you study Madhyamaka, that makes a lot of sense. And if you do Dzogchen and then ngondro, then ngondro makes sense and it also helps your Dzogchen improve faster. The realization of mind's nature becomes more sustained and the confusion dissolves faster. Another interesting thing - for those who have practiced shamatha or vipassana for a long time, Dzogchen works very well. They have good sittings, they know what to practice and they know what meditation is, they know what conceptual cultivation is. So when I give a teaching to "let it go," they really know how to because there is something there to let go of. People new to meditation sometimes have difficulty, but sometimes it goes very well for them - it all depends. Sometimes new people do better than old practitioners. So wisdom and merit are equally important. Even if you realize mind nature you have to do ngondro, you have to do all the accumulations. They really help and support each other very nicely.
Rinpoche, do you have to make adaptations in your teaching style to enable westerners to understand the Dzogchen teachings?
I think the teaching itself is the same whether I teach Tibetans or westerners because the Dzogchen teachings are an approach to reality. Reality is reality. There is no separate reality for westerners and another for Tibetans. But the way I teach each is slightly different. Westerners don't have so much natural trust to "let it go" so I need to give them good reasons. All the reasons are there in Dzogchen actually. Dzogchen is vast. In some areas I don't need to explain so much to tibetans because the already understand. And in some areas I don't have to explain to westerners, because they already have it. But the principle is the same. Also I emphasize modern examples. Some of the older ones are 2,500 years old - too old - and they don't function now. So I use the same concepts, but bring them up-to-date.
Rinpoche, what cultural differences between Tibet and the West make it most difficult for the Tibetan Dharma to succeed in the West?
Tibetan Buddhism is very large, very complex, and you really need a lot of intelligence to understand the whole thing.
And in general Buddhism is not based on just belief. And it is not so simple that you can simply believe something and expect,
for example, to be reborn in a pure land in the next life. Buddhism is really very systematic, it's a science, sort of, with reason, positive motivation, an understanding of mind - a whole structure. And also there are no guaranties - especially in Tibetan Buddhism. There is no guaranty that if you do five years of retreat that you will have a very high degree of realization. If you do only four days you might have a very high degree. The state of mind is not really like some kind of physical structure. Buddhism is a wise teaching with many angles, many things to know, with great variety and richness.
All this richness cannot survive in a modern lifestyle, I think. That's because people are too busy. They want something compact, short, and easy - and with a guaranty. In this culture people want something easy, guaranteed, like, "You do ten days of retreat and we'll guaranty this and that. If you become a Buddhist, you will be reborn in a Buddha Realm." But it's not that simple. You could do the practice, but with wrong motivation - so there is no guaranty. That kind of expectation creates obstacles.
So you're saying westerners are less likely to be able to penetrate and be patient enough, because we want everything fast?
Fast, and in this lifetime. Buddhism is sometimes designed into many lifetimes, not only this one. A westerner may expect "everything within one or two years, and now I'm 40 and if nothing happens in five years I'm not going through with it." And also in modern culture you have to study, finish college and only then you might come to the Dharma. Then, after that you study it and it takes a long time. Few people here are born into the Dharma. And then you have to work and support yourself, live a fast-paced life and all this stuff. And that, I think, presents a general obstacle. So some people take one part of Buddhism and its experience and they just teach that.
And this wouldn't happen so much in Tibet?
No, not so much. You must know Buddhism in general, as a whole. Without general knowledge of Buddhism, it's very difficult. That is why most of my retreats are five to ten days, rather than only one or two days. I cannot give students very much knowledge otherwise.
This interview was conducted in July, 2000 at Santa Rosa, CA by Brian Hodel
published in the Pundarika Foundation Newsletter
April 30, 2004 Episode no. 735
BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Buddhist meditation techniques are widely popular, and one such method is called Shambhala meditation, a simplified version of Tibetan practice. Recently, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, author and meditation leader, told a group of beginners to relax, note their breathing, set aside their thoughts, and just be -- quietly -- who they are. The setting was All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C.
SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE (Spiritual Leader, Shambhala Buddhist Movement): "Shambhala" is a word that really connotes how a human being can live in the world and practice spirituality and not renounce anything, in a sense. It's a notion that one can have a family, one could have a job, and one can still deepen and meditate and understand. And that life is a journey and that one does not have to become a renunciator or monastic in order to do that.
In Shambhala one needs to have what we call "windhorse" -- developing your life-force energy. People struggle in their life -- working, just getting through the day, trying so many things just so that they are able to survive. And they need energy, and they need strength. Discord and argument weaken our energy.
Meditation to me is strengthening the mind. In the Buddhist tradition, we say, in order just to feel a sense of joy -- the word is "dewa," bliss, happiness -- one needs sleep, one needs food, one needs meditation, and one needs well-beingness. What I find interesting about this particular list, as it were, is that meditation is thrown in there. Just like you take care of the body, just like you need to sleep, at some point one needs to meditate. And that means a period in the day when one can strengthen, calm, and then you're ready. Otherwise, life becomes overwhelming, and the level of agitation and stress begins to reduce our energy.
Meditation really doesn't have to take more than five or ten minutes. It's better to do ten minutes than not to really focus and drag on for an hour. If one wants to meditate longer, great. But really the notion is consistency -- just some time in the day when you reflect.
The word "meditation" in Tibetan is "gom," and it means "familiarity." So what do we become familiar with now? Our breathing. We'll just breathe. So, everybody can breathe?
Whatever our thoughts are, those little ones, those are okay. Thoughts that are engrossing about the future, going over stories of the past where it takes us away totally from this room, those we should recognize that we are drifting and come back to the breathing.
We're just trying to be at peace. Rest comfortably. And every time we rest, every time we follow the breathing, feel the breathing, our mind becomes stronger.
And, once we begin to strengthen, and our mind begins to settle down, then we're able to perceive things in a deeper way. We begin to look and say, "What about love, what about compassion, what about the notions of egolessness or selflessness?" Those insights don't come very often.
At a very basic level, every single sentient being is the Buddha. You discover the Buddha, as opposed to you become the Buddha.
Enlightenment is that rediscovery, you can say. And the process of meditation is sort of like cleaning a window -- you finally get to see through.
BUDDHA: Bringing the Tradition Home
An interview with Choyin Rangdrol
By Rebecca Walker
© Turning Wheel Magazine, Summer 2003
Choyin Rangdrol is a Vajrayana teacher in the Nyingma tradition whom I had the good fortune to meet at the historic African-American Buddhist retreat held last summer at Spirit Rock in Woodacre, California. After listening to his nuanced teaching on the importance of both honoring cultural heritage and transcending it in order to achieve complete realization, I visited his website, www.rainbowdharma.com and requested a meeting. We have been in communication ever since.
What led to your decision to bring Dharma to African-Americans?
When I discovered that it was possible to avoid becoming ensnared in the mentality of an angry black man by applying Buddhism, I felt I had found a great treasure not just for me but also for my people. I could immediately see the potential for resonance in millions of black people's minds. I could see how this could reverberate down to the core of the hurt so many of us carry and that one could emerge from Buddhist study and practice healed.
The most profound injury that Buddhism can address in African-Americans is the fracture in our identity we continue to hold as a result of slavery. The nature of the injury is disconnection from our ancestral lineage and indigenous Divine. When we ask the question, "Who are we?" Buddhism offers us great clarity in realizing that being a human being is enough, and the rest is a footnote.
Do you think Dharma needs to change in order for it to speak more directly to the needs of people of African descent?
Dharma doesn't need to change, people need to change. They need to begin to understand the difference between inclusion and exclusion in terms of the environments they create, the books they write, the language they use, and presentation of the structure that houses dharma. At the centers, they need to look at who is in charge, who greets who at the door, what the Buddha statues look like, and what resources are offered for African-Americans to find their own inherent connectedness to Dharma. Finally, there needs to be an admission of the fact that African-Americans have not always been welcomed into the inner sanctum of Buddhist activity. There must be a heartfelt analysis of how past intentional and unintentional exclusion is reverberating in the identity of American Buddhism.
For instance, how can a dharma center be in existence for a decade or more and have no connection with the African-American community they see right outside their own window? How is it that American Buddhists can create something that is so alien and foreign to African-Americans that even though they stand and look at it they still don't know what it is? How does this happen?
Do you think this lack of connection with the African-American community is pervasive in the American Buddhist community, irrespective of tradition?
There have been Buddhist communities in America that have been more open, like Soka Gakkai International (SGI)-USA for example, but at the same time, this issue of Asian ethnocentrism is real. Buddhism that is encased in Tibetan, Japanese, or Chinese cultures can be very confusing because often people can't see where culture ends and Buddhism begins. With African-Americans, you're dealing with a people who have had to fight to maintain their culture through two hundred years of slavery and another hundred years of segregation. In order to practice Buddhism, they now have to figure out how to hold it as well as be the agent of the culture they find it in. It feels as though there is no such thing as practicing Buddhism without assimilating to Asian culture under the watchful eye of the dominant culture. To African-Americans this can appear to be a destructive cultural process that goes against the grain of their historicity, their heritage, and their legacy in America as survivors of cultricide.
There is also a sense of narrowness in the presentation of Buddhism from Asia. It does not seem inclusive of the black people in Asia. We know that there are hundreds of millions of black people throughout Asia. They were there before there was an Asia, and yet when we go to a dharma center where are they represented? Conversely, we find many European Americans in American Buddhism. Sometimes the statues of Buddha in the west even have a chiseled European nose. When one considers that Europeans en masse are not found in Asia's antiquity, but black people are, then the puzzlement and disinterest in African Americans minds is better understood.
Which black people are you talking about?
Look at the statues at Angkor Wat or look at Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, who is depicted with a broad nose, thick lips, and curly hair. There are also some interesting murals in India's Ajanta caves depicting black people handing a lotus to a prince. Or look at Runoko Rashidi's book African Presence in Early Asia and read about black people in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and so on. I have personally met black people from Burma and I have a student who is currently living among the black people of south India. And that is just skipping the rock over the surface because we don't have a lot of archaeological information to discern the complete history of black people in Asia. The African diaspora in Asia has been mislabeled and African Americans continuity with the black Global diaspora has been broken as well. African-American's disconnection with the black people of the world is an injury resulting from slavery in America and in some way, western Dharma's exclusion of the black Asiatic experience in Buddhism has become conjoined with that continuum of injury.
Do we do injury to ourselves by focusing on ethnicity while practicing Dharma?
Buddhism's pedagogical structure moves step by step. We don't start with enlightenment, we start with suffering, and then we proceed in a direction. The purpose of that is to clear obstacles that prevent us from living as a fully awakened, unobstructed human being. Some of these obstacles are intellectual, some are emotional, some are psychological, and some of them are cultural. It is how we move through these obstacles that gives Buddhism its ability to penetrate into the depths of people's hearts.
It is important for African-Americans to be free to use their culturalisms as a means of liberating themselves from their culturalisms. We're not in competition with our Asian Buddhist counterparts, but just like Tibetans or Chinese or Japanese people can use their culture to achieve enlightenment, African-Americans can use their own culture, too. No one questions Tibetan, Japanese or Chinese culture in Buddhism, but the moment African-Americans say, "this is my culture and I am doing Buddhism," people say we are being ethnocentric. In fact, culture itself can be a vehicle for liberation when we use its narrowness and divisiveness as a teaching of what we must transcend. This is not just for African-Americans, but also for all human beings to consider carefully. What is your culture and has your practice allowed you to transcend it, or are you maintaining your culturalisms under the guise of Buddhology?
Ultimately, we must always remember that the seed syllable Om is Buddha's gift to all of humanity. Buddha was not thinking about giving it to ensure the longevity of one cultural group.
What do you say to practitioners who feel isolated?
Over the past seven years I have heard from many African-American practitioners from all over the country on this subject of isolation. I get questions like, "I am in this major metropolitan city, do you know any place I can go where there are other African- Americans practicing?" Although they are in a major metropolitan city with millions of people, they feel alone. So I have recommended and also adopted as a teaching style a very intimate presentation of Buddhism in the African-American community. Buddhism in my view needs to spread like the works of a good country doctor, from one house to the next, so that the teacher knows the living rooms of all of his or her students.
The adoption of a new faith practice in the African American community is confidential and its power lay in people being able to hear the teachings unobstructedly. It is the genesis of establishing dharma in one's family, not just as an individual practitioner, but in teaching people the legacy of how Dharma is transmitted from parents to children. Very quickly a small living room can become a safe haven for new practitioners. That does not mean that larger organizations and centers have no role, but time is of the essence. No further delay is necessary. It is a matter of understanding that Buddhism in the African-American community is an idea whose time has come.
How can we bring European-American and African-American practitioners together? Should we?
We have to. Despite all that has happened in America between African-Americans and European-Americans, the answer for the Buddhist community, for America, and for peace on earth is for the descendants of slaves and slave-owners to use Buddhism to become One.
The only Buddhism that needs to be practiced in America is called world peace. We can see that peace is disappearing from the world. It is no longer a matter of the environment or the devastation to the animal kingdom, it is humanity itself that is perishing. To the extent that we can disallow our history to be a factor in what we must do together, the potential for us to save humanity and the world has its best chance. We have to become bigger than our differences and to know that we are the same in our ability to improve the world or to serve as obstacles that will lead to its destruction. This is not a racial issue, this is not a cultural issue, this is not a Buddhist issue, it is now an issue of human survival.
What is the role of black people in the bringing of Buddhism to the West?
America plays a pivotal role in Western Buddhism, and that role is not separate from the history of America. The plight of African-Americans and their ancestors is living testimony to the barbarism that samsara can yield. When African-Americans as a community find an indisputable, irrevocable, unshakable healing, America is likewise healed from the karmic onus of its devastating history. When we as a society intentionally or unintentionally obstruct the path of African-Americans' quest for self-healing, we are in essence still enslaving the minds of our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings. How can we say we have a new realization when the essence of our conduct remains the same?
I don't think white people need to be told what to do. I think they already know what to do. Really what is needed are offerings from people outside their group to help them to jump start the deep compassion that dwells within their hearts, and maybe a little bit of direction about where to put the accumulated resources that are at their disposal as a result of the privileges they have had. White people are human beings and human beings are white people, just like everyone else. Privilege can be a burden like blinders on a horse and so again we must figure out how to be one so that the mutuality of our hearts can resonate together. Buddhist philosophy and practice alone has enough instruction. The rest is just knowing that to do the right thing has boundless benefits for many lifetimes.
Can you give an example of how you inflect the teachings for African-Americans?
African-Americans are known for their appreciation of ritual -- music, dance and an affinity for written doctrine. However, I teach my students to look at the meaning of ritual itself, the meaning of sacred art, and how a doctrine is used to create or alleviate suffering. I ask what is the purpose of the symbolism, what is it all pointing to? What is it that transcends these things and is uniquely common to all human beings?
Just the pure statement of Buddha nature itself without any elaboration is a quintessential instruction to African-Americans because it is the essence, like a basketball is to Michael Jordan, or a tennis racket to the Williams' sisters, or a golf club to Tiger Woods. Mastery of this one tool, Buddha nature in and of itself, is liberative, and then having mastered that one tool, to feel free to evidence it in the world through one's own culture is the process. And the goal perhaps could be that one day we may see a Buddhist version of Martin Luther King, and then the meaning of what I am saying will be abundantly clear and the benefit to humanity immeasurable.
Interview with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche
Editors' Note: On May 25, 2001, in Seattle, Washington, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche met with the editors of Bodhi. We presented our questions to Khenpo Rinpoche through Elizabeth Callahan, who was assisting as translator. We requested that Khenpo Rinpoche explain to us the meaning of "bodhi "and how meditation practice relates to "bodhi." Without hesitation, we received this reply:
Meaning of Bodhi
The meaning of Bodhi is to awaken.
Awakened means delusion has been purified.
Awakened means the two kinds of benefit are accomplished.
Awakened means mistaken ideas have been removed.
Awakened means samsara has been brought to an end.
How to Attain Bodhi
To attain awakening, we must meditate.
First, we meditate on that which involves delusion:
Impermanence, suffering, and so forth.
Second, we meditate on that which lacks delusion:
The lack of a truly existent self-entity, emptiness, and so forth.
But to transcend all conceptual elaborations
Those involving delusion, those lacking delusion, and so forthis supreme.
It is the ultimate of all meditations.
Yah! This describes the three stages of meditation. First, we meditate on that which involves delusion, which is quite easy. Then, we progress to the second stage where we meditate on that which doesn't involve any type of mistaken perception. And third, we transcend both meditating and not meditating. If this way of meditating is understood, it will be beneficial to everyone, those of the lowest capability, those of intermediate, and those of supreme.
O.K. Sarva Mangalam! Deleg pe! Ah!
This interview is part of the contents published in Bodhi Issue 8 (Fall 2001).
An interview with Traktung Rinpoche, on the betrayal of radical critique by the Western Buddhist Movement.
Interviewer I recently heard you say that Herbert Marcuse was one of your favorite western philosophers. You said that Marcuse is the quintessential radical philosopher, and that your recent criticisms of certain trends in the "Western Buddhist Movement" have been inspired by his writings. Yet those who have criticized your writings on the Damtsig website have accused you of being politically conservative. Could you clarify this?
Traktung Rinpoche My personal politics are really beside the point. Marcuse's genius was for understanding the ways in which modern culture enforces domination and oppression through the mechanics of conformity, which numb people to any and all radical critique - societal or individual. My critique of the "Western Buddhist Movement," and most especially Surya Das and Helen Tworkov (editor of Tricycle Magazine), are rooted not in conservatism but in the fact that they are what Marcuse called "tools of the mechanics of conformity." They work, perhaps unconsciously, to destroy the radical and liberating nature of the Buddhadharma. My view of them stems from Marcuse's philosophical investigation of domination within "technological society" in his book One Dimensional Man.
Q I find it interesting that you consistently base your critique of the "Western Buddhist Movement" in Western philosophical and historical traditions rather than in Buddhism itself. Why is that?
TR It is because their distortions of the Buddhadharma arise from the western cultural, historical, and philosophical context. There is no battle between eastern and western Buddhism. The very notion is merely a cover for the racist and imperialistic tendencies of the "Western Buddhist Movement." What Surya Das, Tworkov, and others are doing, concerns the nature of domination in our culture - with how one establishes territory. It has nothing to do with the philosophical tenets of Buddhism, and has very little to do with cultural differences. What we are really looking at here is how our cultural assumptions, history, and philosophical stances affect our ability to encounter the radically liberating critique of the Buddhadharma - and to recognize when it is being distorted. How does viewing the dharma through the lens of these assumptions and stances distort the teachings and rob them of their effectiveness?
My overall critique of the "Western Buddhist Movement" is rooted in Marcuse's philosophy. My strong distaste for its founders is based on knowledge of their personal tendencies to abuse power, and to be racist and duplicitous. I noticed that in a recent Tricycle interview, Tworkov and Surya Das continued their efforts to shape the perception of this debate along cultural, or perhaps racial, lines. The interviewer said: "Certain Tibetan teachers and some of their students attack you -" This question implies that it is only Tibetans and those who are influenced by them, the pawns of their authoritarian structures, who take issue with Surya Das. I myself have never been asked by any Tibetan teacher to engage in this debate, and I personally find this presumption patronizing and racist. Ms. Tworkov and Mr. Das do not represent "the west" - as if they were the Pope representing Catholicism - in some attempt to save us from the nefarious Asians. They certainly don't represent me. There is no homogenized megalithic "western" view and so the idea of a "Western Buddhism" is absurd - as is the idea of an Eastern Buddhism. They are attempting to mold Buddhism into a "Western" harmonious pluralism where dissent can be discounted as the infiltration of unneeded "foreign influences." This is grotesque to say the least. It is also exactly the style of effort Marcuse said would be made by those working to castrate authentic radical critique in technological society. 1.
Q I am sad to say I have never read Marcuse and so do not really understand what you are referring to.
TR Marcuse was concerned with how we might live happier and freer lives. He was, at heart, a philosopher - but one who combined psychological, sociological, and political analysis. His roots are in Hegelian dialectics and in the existential phenomenology of the likes of Heidegger and Husserl. Like them, he had insights into the trends in technological society which robbed people of freedom and individuality. Marcuse deeply analyzed the fashion in which societal forces of oppression and domination strove to eliminate the possibility of "radical critique." This is accomplished by shaping the perceived needs of its populace through an amalgamation of consumerism, mass culture, ideology, advertising and constructed sentimentality. This force, which displays itself in obsessive consumerism, offers much greater satisfaction, in physical terms, to those who maintain the status quo. Surya Das exhibits this tendency in the way he "markets" Buddhism, changing it to make it more palatable to his intended market. He removes what might be considered to be radical or uncomfortable about it. He seems to think that his understanding supersedes the Buddha and Padmasambhava, because he throws out aspects of dharma that they viewed as critical to its effectiveness, such as pure view, faith, the vajra master, the non-existence of self.
In his book, One Dimensional Man, Marcuse explores the oppressive, alienating and dominating forces of "technological culture" which create a society of such conformity that all genuinely radical critique is subsumed in the integration of opposites. The result is "One dimensional man-" a culture where critical thinking is numbed and change is only allowed within the parameters of the culture itself. The "Western Buddhist Movement" is a movement whose goal is to subvert the radical nature of Buddhism, to absorb it into the culture within the parameters of the culture itself. In other words, they will allow Buddhism, but only a Buddhism castrated and robbed of anything "alien" which might act as a basis, outside of commercialized values, for radical social and personal transformation. Through strategic assimilation, the power of change is stripped while the façade is celebrated. Surya Das promotes Dzogchen with pith commercial jingoism - "Dzogchen, it's more fun!" By transforming the mirror of Dzogchen into the mirror of Narcissus, Surya Das effectively and simultaneously castrates and popularizes Buddhadharma. Being popular is then equated with being "democratic." The "Western Buddhist Movement's" emphasis on democratic values is a sham, an Orwellian doublethink, and that is why it can be combined with fantasies of collectivism. It is designed to polarize and to promote fear of the dangerous "Asian system."
At its core Surya Das' actions, like the actions of many within the "Western Buddhist Movement," stem from what he believes to be noble motives. Sadly, because those who have created the "Western Buddhist Movement" are unconscious victims of the very forces of oppression that they serve, they corrupt, co-opt, defuse, and castrate the radical critique of Buddhadharma while maintaining that they are serving it. In order to serve their new and improved, societally acceptable, neutered Buddhadharma, they can justify deceptive and duplicitous behavior as beneficial to their noble cause. Marcuse commented on the great "counter-revolutionary" force of consumerism alienated from radical critique and its power to destroy radical critique through absorption. As my grandmother said many times, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
Marcuse coined the phrase "The Great Refusal." The Great Refusal is the refusal to sell short our potential for liberation for the paltry comforts of consumerism. In Golok, in Tibet, they say that the desire for comfort is the death of honor and truth. My denunciation of the "Western Buddhist Movement" stems not from political conservatism but from my embrace of Marcuse's Great Refusal; the refusal to trade freedom and happiness for cheap consolation. Surya Das - the Barnum and Bailey of the dharma, Helen Tworkov - the propagandist, Stephen Batchelor - the anaemic intellectual, and Thich Nhat Han - the token Asian, are merely foot soldiers in service of a megalithic delusion which shapes and controls our culture. They are sheep in lion's clothing. Marcuse wrote about their movement when he said, "The new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference." In the context of the struggle of the Great Refusal, I really cannot find words strong enough to express my revulsion for these peoples' activities and my disgust for their behavior.
Q That is a strong statement. It makes me think of another criticism I have read of your writing which is that you are not nice and that what you are doing is contrary to the compassionate roots of kindness at the heart of Buddhism.
TR Yes, it seems that to be "nice" one must cease and desist from all critical dissent and debate. To be nice, one must say things obliquely rather than directly, or better yet, say nothing at all. One should try to focus on points of agreement and smooth over differences in a fog of blandness. This emphasis on being nice is a form of oppression. Feminists pointed this out in the 70's and encouraged us not to teach our daughters to be "nice" because it was disempowering to them. Now we just want our Buddhists to be nice. This niceness which is being referred to is what Trungpa Rinpoche called "idiot compassion." It seems that it is fine for the Western Buddhist Movement to castrate the power of the Buddhadharma, but if anyone says "Hey, wait a minute, you are distorting the teachings of liberation," then they are branded with the scarlet letter - "not nice."
This supposed niceness is in fact merely a tool for the suppression of radical critique that often takes its form in disagreement, debate and critical discussion - all forms of interaction which are historically central to Buddhism. Are we, as Western practitioners of Buddhism, so scared of our internal rage that we imagine any serious disagreement might turn into violence? I found it interesting at the American Buddhism Conference that, while pretending to offer an "atmosphere of serious discussion and the possibility of strong disagreement," great lengths were taken to insure that there was no face to face interaction of any real depth between opposing viewpoints. The entire event was structured to protect the environment and its participants from heated debate or serious disagreement. In this fashion, we allowed ourselves the luxury and comfort of being avant-garde while saving ourselves from the discomfort of Buddha's radical critique. In other words we become, and turn Buddhism into, exactly what Marcuse predicted - tools for the mechanics of conformity (while maintaining our veneer of spiritual specialness). In short, the stance that we should not disagree or denounce is merely the command, by dominating forces, that we should conform.
This vision of being "nice and compassionate" is different from the Buddhist vision. Compassion and kindness demand strong dissension and response in the face of harmful delusion. It is, of course, a matter of motivation. The precious Buddhadharma teaches me that all people have been at one time my mother, my lover, my child, and my best friend. One day my friend becomes my enemy, and then later my friend again. When we contemplate Buddhadharma we come to a stance of vast equanimity in the midst of debate, but this equanimity does not deny the need for valid, well-reasoned response. I understand that each of these people I have mentioned, like all of us, only wants happiness. Sadly, they are ignorant as to the causes of happiness. They are excellent examples of the manner in which those who are deeply oppressed and alienated are often completely ignorant as to the existence and source of their alienation. In fact, they confuse the sources of suffering with the cessation of suffering, and so they are like moths drawn to the flame.
Is it kinder to let the moth burn alive or to point out to the moth that the object of it's obsession is, any moment, going to become the source of its greatest suffering. What is compassion? The prefix "com" means "with" and the body of the word passion, from the root pathos, means suffering. Compassion is to be with the suffering of others; not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of all sentient beings. In the Buddhist sense, compassion means to actively remove the causes of suffering as a function of love. It is not kind, loving or compassionate to see the causes of suffering and not try and remove them. The great Buddhist teacher Atisha said we should drive all blame into one. I am not saying that that the "one" is Surya Das or Helen Tworkov. It is, of course, ignorance. Compassion and kindness for all beings demands that we respond when, out of ignorance, someone is acting in ways which cause suffering; especially if that ignorance is dressed in the garments of the liberating wisdom tradition of Buddhadharma. Surya Das and Tworkov are seducing people who have a genuine spiritual longing into their sphere and then offering them a teaching which will never liberate them but only increase their ignorance and suffering - and presenting it as the precious Buddhadharma. I am reminded of an ancient Persian story:
Once, in the beginning of the world, when the archetypes lived in the heavens and the planets were young, the essential forms of beauty and ugliness decided to spend a day on earth. While picnicking next to a pond on a hot summer day, ugliness devised a cunning practical joke. She coyly suggested to beauty that, in order to cool off, they go skinny dipping in the pond. While beauty was lost in oblivious enjoyment of the water, ugliness snuck out, put on beauty's clothes and ran away. It is said that since that day, human beings have been mistaking ugliness for beauty and beauty for ugliness.
A failure to address the causes of suffering embedded in the Western Buddhist Movements" aggressively marketed vision is not kind, nor is it compassionate. So much of what Marcuse described in One Dimensional Man describes the oppressive vector of the Western Buddhist Movement. It can be seen in their cultivation of indifference in the midst of vapid harmonized pluralism or the way in which image makers such as Helen Tworkov suppress intellectual freedom by shaping public opinion so that it is hostile to or immune to oppositional thought. In order to be "Nice" to Surya Das one must cease to care about the suffering of sentient beings. That does not seem very nice to me. Surya Das has suggested to me that I take all of this too seriously. How can it be taken too seriously?
Q Oh, I didn't realize you two had met. What was the context of that comment?
TR I went to the Conference on American Buddhism in Boulder because I remembered some good advice that my father had given me. He told me once that one should never criticize another if one were not willing to meet that person face to face - human being to human being. Otherwise, he said, one's critique would be tinged with cowardice and a lack of honor. So I went to the conference in order to meet my adversary, human being to human being.
I attended a talk by Surya Das, a truly uninspired presentation on the ways in which Buddhadharma was becoming "mainstream." It was a guide map to the assimilation and castration of the radical power of Buddhadharma by commercialized culture. During the question and answer time, I asked Surya Das about the implications of some of his statements and writings. His response was to laugh and say, "Why do you take it all seriously? I don't really even know what is on my web site." Everyone laughed and the microphone never came my direction again, and so I was unable to respond publicly.
Q And what would your response have been?
TR I would like to point out that Surya Das' answer was fundamentally a manipulation of power in order to silence dissension. I have heard from several people that this form of power play - mocking, or embarrassing the questioner, is frequently used by Surya Das. It is the public forum version of Helen Tworkov's abuses of power in Tricycle magazine. In light of the common tendency to project ones own flaws onto others, it is not very surprising that Tworkov and Surya Das both fixate on the alleged abuse of power amongst Buddhist masters.
If I had been allowed a response, I would have said that I take it all so seriously because we are talking about the potential to end suffering for all beings. We are talking about liberation from delusion and the structures of delusion in society, which have caused untold horrors across the world and throughout time. What could possibly be more serious than that? Personally, the blatant callousness and smugness of Surya Das' response shocked me. Sadly, I had hoped that there might be more substance to Surya Das in person than there is to his writings. At least his writings make a pretence of caring about sentient beings and Buddhadharma. In person, his concern was limited to the market penetration of neutered commercialized pseudo dharma.
Well-reasoned dissent and debate are not unkind. I do not believe that it is unkind to criticize people for duplicity and abuse of power. It seems that Surya Das feels that it is unfair to criticize him based on what he writes, says or does. He resorts to the abuse of power to control dialogue, the denial of responsibility for his own words or simple whining about being unfairly persecuted. This last and most tedious stance reminds me a bit of a certain ox.
In addition I would have suggested that the construct of study in Dzogchen - view, meditation and action - make the careful inspection of our view very important. Dzogchen is not a mollifying force of social oppression or a marketable commodity. It requires careful and precise understanding as its foundation. Without this foundation, the view, Dzogchen practice tends to stray into forms of extremism rather than liberation. It seems from my small encounter with Surya Das that what is important to him is the analysis of market penetration and therefore analysis of "view" does not need to be taken seriously. In fact, the suggestion that it should be considered turns out to be laughable. I am not amused by the oppressive posturing of panel leaders who squelch dissent, or by the callous destruction of the most liberating system of philosophy and meditation ever offered for the ending of all suffering.
Q I am interested in your implication, earlier in this interview, that Buddhadharma is a "radical critique" along the lines of what Marcuse was talking about. Could you elaborate a bit?
TR Marcuse looked for solutions to the problems of alienation and oppression in the structures of society, but the Buddha discovered the roots of the human existential problem in the structures of consciousness itself. By discovering the cause of suffering he also discovered the end of suffering and the path to that end. The Buddha's teachings are an argument against the habitual structures of suffering. They are a radical critique of what it means to be human and to live in human society. This ancient and precious teaching is the most all-encompassing and disturbing analysis of alienation ever offered to humanity, and if we listen to its argument we will be changed forever. If we are liberated from the lie of suffering then we also cease to be the pawns of shallow and temporary consolations sold to us by the dominating and oppressive powers of delusion. This is why the most revolting act of all is to take this revolutionary teaching and transform it into little more than a Madison Avenue sound bite - "Dzogchen, it's more fun!" To turn Buddhadharma into a consumer product, just more window dressing of samsara - well - that's something even Langdarma didn't consider.
An Interview with H. H. Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche
Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) was head of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
His Holiness Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche is the son and lineage successor of Dudjom
Rinpoche. he was personally trained by His Holiness in all aspects of Vajrayana
meditation and medicine. His Eminence has formed Dudjom International Foundation
(now called Dudjom Shenphen Foundation) to carry on the activities of his father.
This interview was conducted for the Sun by Tensho David Schneider and Susan Garner in Berkeley, California, on October 12, 1988, for the Vajradhatu Sun. The Shambhala Sun
Sun: Could you tell us a little about your early life and training?
Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche: I was born in Kongbu, that's in Tibet, now China, in the Iron Tiger Year in the early morning of the Tibetan New Year. On the morning of my birth a peach tree appeared near my bedside. Iwas raised there. I was recognized as Khengken Tulku, the incarnation of Tulku Pema Yeshe. I belonged also in part to the Taksham Monastery, as I was also recognized as the incarnation of Taksham Tulku.
S: Rinpoche, how were you recognized?
SDR: I was partly recognized by His Holiness Karmapa, actually. It's quite intricate. What happened is that Dudjom Rinpoche didn't want me to go back into the Taksham Monastery. Since he didn't want that, he asked His Holiness Karmapa to recognize me as Tulku Pema Yeshe, which I was. I was an emanation of Tulku Pema Yeshe as well as Taksham Tulku. It's a double emanation Happening at the same time. His reason was that at Taksham at that time there was not so much harmony between the lama and the monks, and all the Taksham lamas were living very... their life was not long, because of disturbances in the monastery. So on that ground, my father requested His Holiness Karmapa to recognize me as Tulku Pema Yeshe.
Taksham was also in the Nyingma lineage. Taksham Tulku was a famous Nyingma terton master, who discovered many teachings. The reason His Holiness Karmapa had to recognize me was that he was an arbitrator. The monks that came to get me from Taksham monastery had definite indications that I would be born as a son to Dudjom Rinpoche, and to my mother - they were given all the locality and everything. According to the Tibetan government, then, if you belong to a specific monastery, you have to go to that monastery. Parents do not have the right to hold the child back. So in my case they wanted me to go to that monastery. Later, they agreed that if His Holiness Karmapa would intervene and divine, then whatever he said would be the final word. So in fact, His Holiness recognized me as Tulku Pema Yeshe, and he had to recognize another Taksham Tulku, in another locality. There are tulku emanations of body, speech, and mind, so another was recognized.
Tulku Pema Yeshe was a Nyingma too. In fact, Tulku Pema Yeshe was an emanation of my father's father, Jamphel Norbu. Jamphel Norbu passed away and became Tulku Pema Yeshe. Tulku Pema Yeshe passed away, and then, there I was. My father would normally say that he had already seen me change three incarnations. My mother would say two, because she had me me when I was Tulku Pema Yeshe. That time when I was in Tibet, I passed away quite early. In my thirties, after having received the Rinchen Terzod wang from my father. My father said I made a definite commitment to him, saying that I would be reborn as his son, if he would pay that kindness back to me, because I had been his father in a previous life. My father, agreed, so there was a definite communication.
When I was Tulku Pema Yeshe, I received a lot of teachings from Rinpoche. I was receiving the Rinchen Terzod from him and I passed away during the transmission. This is one of the most important Nyingma transmissions; it's the collected works of all the tertons basically, the totality of the lineage teachings. It's a seven month transmission.
S: Your formal training after that...you went to a monastery?
SDR: I wasn't given to the monastery, because I was the only son of Dudjom Rinpoche's from my mother. Moreover, Rinpoche already had a prophecy as to my training, and particularly where I should be and so on. It's very lucky that I went to India, and was able to come out here. If I had been given to a monastery, I think I'd still be stuck in Tibet.
Through this mother of mine, no son was yet born. All she gave birth to were several daughters. And then I'm the only son. At the moment I have two sisters, before that I had a few more who have since passed away in childbirth. My mother holds very clear vision, basically. Even my father would consult my mother for a lot of things. Still at that time, most of the lamas were asking my mother to recognize tulkus and so forth. She has a very clear way of divining things. So in her dream, a lady came to her and gave her a nine-pronged dorje wrapped in a blue silk scarf and told her, "Keep this. This is terma. It will be beneficial to you." As she looked at it she found one of the heads of the dorje...well, not damaged, but slightly shaking. It wasn't firmly in place. And my mother thought with such a beautiful dorje, if one head is shaking...she was a little worried about it. It just happens to be that way, but it doesn't affect the purity of the dorje."
At that time Dudjom Rinpoche also told my mother that I would be conceived. My mother had a dream of my coming into her house, and she sort of didn't want me in the house. The house was representing her womb and she didn't want me to come in, but I sort of forced my way in, saying that Rinpoche had given me permission to stay in the house, and really I should stay in the house. She said that when I came into the house there was a retinue of people saying that I had come from one of the buddhafields. Immediately she felt that I had come into her womb and she wrote back to my father - Rinpoche was giving the Terzod wang on the other side of Tibet and my mother was in another area. So Rinpoche said yes, that's me, and that's how it happened. My mother's name is Sangyum Rigzin Wangmo.
S: Did she connect you with the prong of the dorje that was shaking?
SDR: No, that prong of the dorje was for my leg, because I was born with one of my legs weak. That indication of the prong was referring to my leg.
S: Oh, I didn't understand the meaning...
SDR: (Laughing) Oh, it's just a story, though, it's like a fairy tale.
S: Then you were raised mostly with your mother?
SDR: I was mostly with my father, and mostly I was able to observe the way my father lived, the way he carried on his practices, the kinds of people that he met. In India I went to a Catholic school and a Protestant school. My mother felt it was important for me to study the English language. She felt it would be beneficial. I also had tutors that Rinpoche appointed who were working very closely with him. I had one especially qualified tutor named Lachung Apo who I studied with for a couple of years. He had studied in Mendro Ling monastery and almost became the abbott there, but instead he lost his vows. After that he went totally into secret tantric practices. He was a very realized teacher.
S: He lost his vows?
SDR: Yes. It's a stage of development where he felt that he wanted to transcend the monastic path and become a yogi. Also he lived with this lady who was a prostitute, who was in fact a dakini. She gave up her body and left one day, without leaving any trace behind. My tutor was involved with her.
S: Did you have any trouble coming out of Tibet?
SDR: No, there wasn't any problem there, because my father went for medical treatment, so to speak. We left much before the invasion.
S: He had a prophecy?
SDR: Yes, he had a prophecy and he also advised many of his disciples to leave Tibet. Tibet was already prophesied to be invaded by China. In our monastery especially, there were a lot of signs of the deities that indicated that it was bad. Several of the protector statues...from their mouths blood was oozing out, and their directions changed too. The whole state was shifted to the East. And then, you know, diving by crystal...all the divinations pointed out to move. So we moved.
S: Where were your monasteries?
SDR: Mine was in Kongbu, and Rinpoche also had build one there too.
S: How old were you when you came out of Tibet?
SDR: Seven or eight. But I have a very fresh memory of all that, somehow. I remember fortunately enough, meeting Rinpoche's mother before leaving Tibet. At that time I must have been only two or three years old, but I remember meeting her, staying with her at a restaurant.
S: Are you practicing these days as a monk or householder or...?
SDR: I'm a lay practitioner. I was married once before, and then separated. I was married to a Bhutanese before, but in relating to my world, and the many things that came up, I was separated. Since then, I've just remained as I am. My wife and child are still in Bhutan.
(Note: Rinpoche is now remarried to Sonam Chokyi with two wonderful daughters, Dechen and Tseyang.)
Are you Thinly Norbu's younger brother?
SDR: Yes. I am. My mother was the second consort. My father married once before and she produced Thinly Norbu and all of them. That marriage broke up. Then Rinpoche married my mother, and from that union, there are two sisters and myself. My sisters live in France.
S: Rinpoche had a prophecy that he had to marry my mother. It was important for him to extend his life. You see, normally the Nyingma tertons don't live that long at all, unless they marry the right consort. My mother happened to be the one that was predicted. After my father's first marriage, my father didn't get involved in looking for my mother. What happened was the protectors got involved. One of Rinpoche's principal protectors himself went and approached the father. My mother's marriage to my father is something very unique.
To prolong his life the protector went to find the right dakini. He went in person and made the connection from my mother's family to him. He went and asked for her, and then connected my father to her. He appeared in my father's vision and said, "Stay, the right lady will now come to see you." My grandfather, my mother's father, was completely fascinated, because he realized it was a protector. The visitor was of a very aristocratic family and approached to give a ritual object from my father's monastery - which was missing from my father's monaster. Things like that happened.
He came in a physical form, and told my grandfather that a certain book, containing certain transmissions that he was looking for was in Dudjom Rinpoche's monastery, and nobody else had it. He said he should go and ask for Dudjom Rinpoche to give him that transmission. He said. "As a present, I give you this. You should send your daughter to see him for the book." My grandfather was surprised that somebody had walked right into his room, and talked to him. He called the guards and servants, and they said that nobody had come in, that they had been guarding the place very thoroughly. Earlier he had had a dream and he connected these things together, and that's how it happened.
S: If I understand you correctly, your father, His Holiness, held transmissions from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism?
SDR: That's right.
S: Do you hold transmissions from all four schools?
SDR: No. At the moment I'm not holding transmissions from all four schools, although I will be receiving those transmissions. That definetly will be an important part of my evolution. But at this moment, I'm holding His Holiness's direct terma transmissions, which is called Tersar lineage or "New Treasure" lineage. Rinpoche called all the revelations he received from Dudjom Lingpa, his previous incarnation, and during his life, all the treasure that was revealed to him at that specific time by Guru Rinpoche was called the "New Treasure". Rinpoche himself also being a terton further propagated all the teachings of his predecessor.
S: When did Dudjom Lingpa live?
SDR: He was born in 1835. Before that Rinpoche had already emanated as Dorje Thogme, Dudul Rolpa Tsal...he emanated four times as four different tertons. And the last was Yeshe Dorje. In this last emanation he was known as Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje. He is more widely known as Dudjom Rinpoche, but his real name was Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje.
As a terton, he emanated four times. But from the point of the emanation itself, I think he is the 14th. He was the first Buddha who gave empowerment to the thousand Buddhas, and he promised to manifest as the last Buddha, Mopa Thaye. So from the point of view of the emanation, it's quite a long lineage.
ther a special training for tertons? Or are you just recognized as a terton? How
does that work?
SDR: At this moment I'm not recognized as a terton or anything. I don't claim to be a terton. It depends on the specific time. If the time is arising, then these mind transmissions will arise. At that time one will get the indications from the wisdom dakinis where the specific terma is. And terma can be in the ground or in the mind. It depends - there are so many kinds of terma: space terma, earth terma, water terma, air terma, and mind terma.
S: Are there particular practices to prepare one to receive terma?
SDR: There is nothing to prepare. It's prophecy and fulfillment of prophecy. It just depends on the right time. At the right moment the revelations will occurr. The quality, and practice, and training can also remove a lot of the obstacles and make a clearer path for these transmissions to arise. One could put one's total effort into the practice, and one would be a more suitable vessel in that respect.
S: Rinpoche, has your practice and study been particularly focused in specific areas?
SDR: My trainings have been in the trainings of yoga. My speciality is in the training of yoga. Therse are the teachings of the Buddha, and more particularly, these are the teachings of Guru Rinpoche. These relate to the three essences: essence of nerves, essence of wind, and essence of the seed - it's called "thigley". From the yoga point of view, the training is to learn how to bring purification to the wind, nerve, and essence. The heart of the teachings of the protectors and dakinis - their essence is based on the practice of the yoga. This has been my training. It's a whole field of awareness. We are totally affected by that: we have so many nerve obscurations resulting from sicknesses, wind obscurations manifesting as mental disturbances, thigley obscurations arising as a degeneration of our cells, bringing negative emotions up. "Tsa" is nerve, "lung" is wind, and "thigley" is seed. In the gross aspect, it is seed, in the subtle aspect it is the realization of the mind, which relates to clarity and luminosity. So when we are talking about rainbow body, and the perfection of Dzogchen, perfection of Dzogchen comes with the perfection of tsa-lung, which will greatly enhance complete understanding of awareness. This is another sphere of training.
It is important to understand this, because in Tibet there have been very few tsa-lung pratiotioners. The yoga of tsa-lung-thigley practice, is actually three different ways the mind receives the three kayas. Perception of the nerves arises as tsa, the internal movement of the wind which the mind is resting on is lung, and thigley is penetrating the core of the depth of realization itself. It's nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, and dharmakaya.
It's a whole training on it's own. That training we have in the monastic tradition as well as in the lay tradition. In that, we have two approaches, which are "penetrating through somebody else" and "penetrating through self". It may be in the other traditions, but I would think that most profoundly, this is a Nyingma teaching. It deals with the dakini practice, and the terma of dakini practice. It means that it's the core of realization.
From the time of your birth you are already bringing obscurations of your nerves, and the winds, by being in the wrong circumstances, or environmental situations. There can also be coincidental negative actions that you have commited in birth that can affect you as you are growing up too.
There are certain right etiquettes. From the time you are conceived in the womb it depends how your parents are thinking about you, there are certain negative memories of their thought that you cling to, are attached to and then later on don't understand. The way you relate to your parents can come directly from being caught by that thought. It's a very delicate thing here.
Some sense of gross negativity happening can be the influence of karma. Many things happening simultaneously can also be an indication that it is arising so you can work with it.
But some things can be accidental and coincidental too. I mean, if you walk on the road and a car hits you, that doesn't mean that the karma was for the car to hit you. It's your negligence of not looking properly...(laughs). To define that as karma is very, very difficult. Everything that we don't understand, we can't say, "It's karma". From the time you are in the womb, through growing up, you could have had obscurations. Say there was a negative person, and your parents, let's say, let you wear their clothes - there are an infinite number of obscurations...wearing other people's clothes can bring obscurations, running under defiled things can bring obscurations, negative energy of defined things can bring obscurations. That doesn't mean it's karma, right? You are running into it.
Karma really means freezing of your past negative actions, and in that freezing there is no way to escape it. From practice you can purify it, but from any other point of view there is no escape. Karma is something very serious concerning life and death. It won't be something light - things just not working for you, or you just having a little bit of sickness - that's not karma. Karma is more heavy.
When karma accumulates, and you have not paid back that karma debt owed, sometimes it can fall altogether at the same time. Or it can be spread out. It just depends on your psychic strength, where you can spread it out evenly so you can take it - or your weakness in which everything just falls down at once. Basically it's karmic debts that haven't been paid back. So those have to be paid back, so you have practices like incense offering, fire practice, there are many practices that repay karma to beings with form or without form. Doesn't matter. It's the action itself that has to be purified. Karma from the tsa-lung-thigley point of view, we understand that in the meridian channel all your actions are engrained in the form of movement, subtle movement. In tsa-lung-thigley we learn how to bring it out, so that it can be heated and purified by the wisdom heat.
S: As I understand it, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche died last year in France.
SDR: Yes, that's right.
S: Can you say anything about the period of time before his death, the parinirvana itself, and the time afterwards - the samadhi?
SDR: Well, there are many extraordinary things that happened, but at this moment, since his body has not been taken back to the original destination which is in Nepal, and he has not been consecrated in the stupa, much of these activities cannot be disclosed, because the activity is not fulfilled. Within that, any misunderstanding or projection that might arise with regard to the pure state of the displays can cause confusion, and might also create some imbalance in the way things should work. Not much has been disclosed at this moment. Suffice it to say that since he is one of the greatest realized masters, there is no question that he displayed perfect signs of realization - there is no question about it at all. It has affected those of us who are practitioners, those of us that are non-practitioners, even the physicians who attended His Holiness - all of us have been greatly moved by this.
One thing is that he remained in meditation for fourteen days. He went into total meditation. He changed his posture completely; his passing away posture was different from his meditative posture. He was in the posture of subdueing all negativity; he had one hand in his lap, and the other hand was back. When he passed away he was sitting up with his hands in front, on his knees. Then he put his hand back into the subjugating posture and he remained in that posture for fourteen days. We believe that during that process of meditation was the fulfillment of his aspiration to remove...basically, war, disease, famine, things that need to be removed. At that point he was really manifesting the full force of the kayas. Locked in nirmanakaya, displaying brilliance in sambhogakaya, and in dharmakaya, his mind remained unganging. So it has moved us.
And his passing away has not been unpredicted. He already made very clear from the very beginning. He manifested the signs of illness, so that we could have less attachment to him. That is a skillful means for us to let him leave his body in that way. That is out of total compassion. From the point of view of passing away, in the innermost sense of it, he had already passed away two years ago. What remained was the outer form that gave us a sense of working with our emotions.
S: His body is currently being preserved?
SDR: His body is currently being preserved as it is. That's very unique and very rare. In Tibet, a terton's body being preserved is very rare. And that preservation requires many qualities, to keep it that way.
Normally it's the aspiration. Having passed away, he leaves his body behind so that future students can connect, just by seeing himin the stupa. Because as he's put in the stupa, his face will be visible for all the devotees.
S: His body is being preserved in salt?
SDR: At the moment we take the precaution of putting salt, so there will be no moisture, so that the body dries. But the important aspect is that the posture of the body is remaining in meditation still, and it is as it is. The body is in that posture as a benefit for future generations.
S: And the body will be placed in the stupa, and there will be a way that one can look in and see?
SDR: Oh yes, definetly, the face will be visible.
S: It sounds like an extraordinary stupa.
SDR: Well, the stupa is being build according to our tradition. There are many different ways of building it, but Venerable Chadral Rinpoche, who is one of the foremost teachers, is the one who has been making the stupa. He is the master modeler of the structure. So he's been doing that, and that's ready.
S: So there will be a window.
SDR: Where the vase section of the stupa is - the vase is the circular, cylindrical shape. Within that there will be a glass, and within that the devotees can see.
S: Is that unusual?
SDR: The body will not decompose in a situation like that. It will remain as it is...the face, every expression.
S: As if one were looking at a picture of His Holiness?
SDR: Exactly the same. But it won't be a picture. It will be the real thing.
S: Why has there been such a long time until his body could be placed in the shrine?
SDR: There is enormous work in building a stupa, and particularly there, because the whole monastery is being renovated. New buildings are being put up. In fact, what we've done is broken down the old walls of the monastery and built up a new temple there. So that the whole temple which is three stories high is for him. That's taking time. And the fresco paintings which are being done by the top artists we have in our lineage take time. When you visit the monastery, you will see the enormous amount of work that is needed for that. Until the monastery is ready, until the stupa is ready, there is no way to just take his body back. It is better to keep it where it is, because in France we have all the practitioners there, and it a pure blessing to have His Holiness there - we still feel his presence. We feel that he is very much there. That's in Dordogne, in the south of France. That's where we have our retreat center, and other centers are also there. It's right next to the Kagyu center there, they are very close.
S: Your father was head of the entire Nyingma school?
SDR: That's right.
S: And now His Holiness Khyentse Rinpoche is the head of the Nyingmapa.
SDR: Officially speaking, the appointment has to come from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As we know, in our lineage, there are many heads of lineages. But I think to this point the Dalai Lama hasn't yet appointed anybody to take over the head of the Nyingma lineage. It's very important that Dudjom Rinpoche's bodily remains are brought back first, and we can complete that whole cycle.
S: You are your father's dharma heir?
S: Meaning that you hold the Tersar lineage.
S: Did he give transmission of the other lineages that he held to other people?
SDR: Whoever wanted whatever teachings...he was like a vast treasure house that way. So that's why he became one of the foremost lineage holders during this century. There is no lama that he has not taught, there is no lama that he has not given to. So in fact, according to certain of the inner prophecies, Rinpoche was holding the key of the four schools, and being, really, the aspect of accomplishment.
S: Was His Holiness Khyentse Rinpoche a student of your father?
SDR: Yes, Khyentse Rinpoche received a lot of teachings from my father. Yes, he was a student of my father.
A lot depends on the activity, on having a popular way of reaching out, of being able to penetrate that title. People are very free these days in calling someone a lama or a rinpoche or anything for that matter.
S: More from Western students?
SDR: It's coming more from this side (laughing) than from anywhere else.
Everything will ultimately go back to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, because he is the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet. Our aspiration and focus is totally towards the Dalai Lama, because he is the symbol of unity. We have many centuries of skillful means of his manifestation. There is no doubt for anybody, for any lama or any being. He is the final authority.
S: May we ask a bit about your plans?
SDR: At this moment, I don't have many plans, frankly. My most important task is to take my father's remains back to Kathmandu, so that thousands and thousands of disciples coming from Tibet, India, and all over, will be able to come and participate in the offering pujas that he will do. And my main emphasis at this time is just to fulfill that last cycle of paying homage to His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. When this is brought about, all the disciples will be happy, and can at least participate in the accumulation of merit. We can be together to do all these practices and so forth. That's my main focus. Dudjom International Foundation (now transformed into Dudjom Shenphen Foundation) is a foundation I just recently started connected to my father's work. My main work is to translate his bodhisattva activity into a very physical aspect. Not that he hasn't done that - he has started schools, he has started dharma centers. But this is a continuation of that in the field of charity.
I hope that over a longer period this will become a very important foundation, bring Rinpoche's aspiration in the field of charity, and making it more tangible - in the sense that it can reach out to every kind of person, not just the dharma practitioners. Offshoots of dharma: translating into education, training in the Vajrayana path, the field of medicine and psychotherapy. In my father's terma there are a lot of teachings dealing with that.
I have many other priorities that are set in my mind that I need to go more deeply into. I want to go more deeply into my own religion. I want to bring the work of the lineage to a more open public so that they can realize the beauty of the depth of the teachings.
I'm in a position where I have to consolidate the centers, rather than put more centers out. I think, fortunately, that there is no gap at this moment in the way the centers are. There is no political gap, or whatever you want to call it. It just came directly from His Holiness that I'm to hold the lineage, and everyone has accepted it, and we're all working together, so I think we have a very harmonious situation now. I'm not thinking of really expanding at this moment, at all. I'd rather consolidate those old students who have made some connection to His Holiness, and some new students who want to come in. But I want to keep that to a minimum. I want to place emphasis more on my own internal training that I have to go through.
S: More retreats?
SDR: Yes, I'm looking forward to that. More retreats, and more consolidating all the older students of His Holiness, getting them together, setting up schools, setting up education that can train people in the Vajrayana path. Many things we can't know now will arise. But as far as setting up the priorities, it's just to finish the whole thing in Kathmandu, so that's stabilized completely.
S: Will you be doing your retreats in France, or Kathmandu, or where?
SDR: It really depends. If I can put lamas who are responsible in the various centers, and lamas who can communicate the teachings, or lamas who can take the administration, and really bring it about, that will give me time to practice. Definitely I will practice in the holy areas, if possible, where the great sages have practiced before, bringing that energy bringing that blessing of the special quality. But if not, then I won't be stagnated by having to think that's the only way I could...I could be anywhere. I could even be out here.
S: In the barbarian lands of California?
SDR: Anywhere. Most important is, do I have the right instructions, do I have the right guidance? That's important. If I have that, place wouldn't matter.
S: Rinpoche, do you have a date in mind for bringing your father's remains to Nepal?
SDR: Yes, more or less. It's not an exact, specific date, I would think it will be in the middle of Janurary (1989). That would be the right thing to do. The date hasn't been fixed yet, but according to the French government, we have to pick an exact date, because when we take His Holiness's body, each territory we cross, we have to get permission.
S: You're taking his remains over land?
SDR: Well, from Dordogne to Paris, each division you cross, the mayor must okay it. From Paris we'll definetly fly. When I go back, then an exact date will be finalized. We have to have at least two months for the government to do all their paperwork.
S: In reading the flyer of which teachings you are giving during your visit here, it seemed that you were giving what looked like rather advanced Vajrayana teachings. We've been exposed to two different styles with regard to that. Our teacher Trungpa Rinpoche was very strict that way: one had to do this practice first, then the next, and os on. On the other hand, Kalu Rinpoche had a feeling to do more public events. What is your feeling about giving Vajrayana teachings to Westerners. Which style would you say you are more inclined toward?
SDR: (Laughs.) Actually, it depends on the mind of the teacher really. What is the skillful means? It doesn't mean one way is right and one way is wrong. According to the different mental make-ups, the approaches are different. Normally in the Vajrayana training, you have to go thoroughly. It's a very systematized approach. There is no way one can be very lenient about it. You have to go though the right process of trainig. Though one can be more formative in making a structure, while some lamas don't want so much structure as going into the opening of the teachings first, and then later, bring them into a structured form. You can start from a structured form, or you can open up, and then, after giving a taste of the teachings, then structure.
Both approaches, what can you say? There is no fault in either approach. Now obviously, if you are going to get too stuck in the formative stage of the trainingt, then sometimes, practitioners can be disillusioned with a very structured way, and not see the absolute inner opening of the Vajrayana, which is very important. It's important to have at least a glimpse and a taste of these teachings. The approach can be from East or West, doesn't matter.
The important thing is that the students are maintaining the samaya, that the students are understanding, and removing their basic poisons. It's not so much a technicality of what is, but the profoundness of wisdom and compassion of Vajrayana teaching.
As far as I've seen, I've seen many teachers teach very different ways. There is not one set way of going about it. Some teachers go straightaway into Dzogchen, and then later go into lower yana perspective and training. Some teachers start from the lower yana progressive training and go up. It just depends on what the teacher envisions to be the best.
Certainly at this moment it seems that dharma is becoming a sellable item. The danger may be there, when the false teachers arise. One can be very vulnerable and opened up, and exposed, and all of a sudden somebody comes and taps that energy, and misuses it. That's where I see the danger. As long as the teachers are genuine, I don't see anything wrong with the approach. Where you have to be careful is with all the self-made teachers that are arising now.
S: Have you encountered much of that?
SDR: Well, coming out to the West, I've seen many. I encountered ordinary people who are now having titles of "rinpoche", or l"lama". Certainly"lama" is a selling item, at this time.
S: Do you mean other Tibetans have been taking these titles?
SDR: Yes. It's like an ordinary practitioner who comes here seeking to make fortune. They have some close students who refer to them as "rinpoche". From the organization of the spiritual body, it's very facile. There is nobody to say "That's not it." There is no kind of order coming, which recognizes or doesn't recognize. There is no board. But that's a problem in any religion, so it's not specifically us.
S: Are there Nyingma ngondro practices; is the Nyingma approach to Vajrayana the same as the Kagyu?
SDR: Exactly the same. Exactly. There is no difference. Between the Kagyu, Nyingma, basically all the teachings of Buddha in the Vajrayana approach, all would be the same. You go through the same stages of ngondro: starting by refuge, bodhicitta, accumulation of merit, purification, Dorje Sempa, coming to the Guru Yoga practice. Those trainings are the same. In some practices, the wrathful practices, there are some wrathful ngondros. Then there may be slight variations, but generally the approach will be the same.
Usually though, the visualizations will be the same; Dorje Chang, or Guru Rinpoche in the center with the refuge tree, left bodhisattvas, right Buddhas, in front dharma protectors, in the back, sound of the holy syllables. It will be exactly the same. In some cases, certain protectors and their aspects have been more emphasized. When we do the general practice, appropriating all the protectors, it will be exactly the same. All the protectors are there, but some are connected to a particular terma to be protected, and then they will be more involved.
S: Well, Your Eminence, I've run out of questions. If there is anything you would like to say to Western students of Buddhism...especially the readers of the Vajradhatu Sun.
SDR: Well, my message is just, foremost, to take the Vajrayana path as a gem. Definetly work towards harmonizing inner and outer - balancing their nature. Try to reach a part of the practice where they have united. The essence of all teachings comes to understanding emptiness, clarity, and compassion. I would simply say to practice sincerely and not just be caught by the outer appearance of dharma. Really penetrate the inner essence.
With regard to Trungpa Rinpoche, I met him in Boulder. I met him in New York before that. I think you have had a very qualified and a very skillful teacher. By practicing in harmony, staying together, one can create the situation for him to come back, meet with you again and continue the teachings. Once you have aspiration, and dedicate yourself to the practice, I think that will unfold.
In Europe, we have people doing practically the same practices. Betweek Kagyu and Nyingma, it's practically the same. Unlike in the past, when some distance was kept, I think it's time to bridge that distance, and have more open mind, more honestly look into what are the possibilities of every school. I feel that now we can not work in a limited way at all. We are in a stage now where we have to respect every form of practice in the teaching of Buddha. I think you are setting an example here in the West which will be very crucial in the East too. My hope is that the West, and the kind of community that is happening will speak loudly to the East. Really that sense of unity in the East is rare - anyway that's my hope.
All the heads of lineage of the Kagyu lineages are all qualified teachers. There is no question, no doubt of their ability at all - transmission point of view - I think the Kagyu lineage is very fortunate to have it. If you follow together, and don't try to make a distinction between this and that, and try to cause confusion within that, then I think you have a very stable dharma growing. What Trungpa Rinpoche has planted is like the seeds, and what will come out of it will be shoots, and what the fruit will be will be your realization, bring more clarity, bring not only our minds into balance, but our exterior environment into balance, respecting every form of life. That respect, and that compassion I think is the key to Buddha's teaching.
What Changes and What Doesn't
An interview by Kelly Roberts
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is an outstanding Buddhist teacher and director of The Cup, arguably the first great Tibetan feature film. He's young, thoroughly modern, and deeply concerned about corruption of the dharma. He challenges Western Buddhists to uphold the unchangable truths of Buddhism while letting go of its cultural trappings. Too often, he says, we do the reverse. Dzongsar Khyentse is interviewed for the Shambhala Sun by his student, Kelly Roberts.
Kelly Roberts: I just wanted to say that your film, The Cup, reminded me so much of you, particularly when the Coca Cola can dissolved into Manjushri.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: Really.
In many places in your film, you replace traditional items with modern ones. For instance, the offering bowls on the shrine are replaced by the Coke can and the prayer flags on the roof of the monastery are replaced by a satellite dish. I'm wondering why you did this, because usually you are so worried about Buddhist tradition being corrupted.
This is something that I want to tell my fellow Tibetans and Bhutanese-that modern technology is not a threat to so-called traditional Buddhism. Their society is just beginning to be exposed to the world of the fax, the telephone and the internet. They may feel uncomfortable with change, but the fact is we can no longer go to any place where there is no modern technology.
We cannot avoid technology-it's already at the doorstep, if not already inside our house. So instead of allowing these things to influence us, the wise thing to do is make use of their power and speed-to be the influence rather than the influenced. We can use the telephone, the web and television to teach, instead of them teaching us. We can use their power and the speed.
You have compared your film to a modern version of a traditional thangka painting or a Buddhist statue.
Every culture has a different way of telling a story, and I felt that maybe I should just tell a story in a Tibetan way.
Would that be your way of teaching?
No, not at all. Buddhism has a long tradition of using images to represent wisdom and compassion. In its 2,500-year history, we can see that Buddhism has adopted many methods of expressing the dharma-through painting, sculpture, architecture, performing arts. These existed even during the Buddha's time. The Buddha himself in the Vinaya Sutra discusses how to paint the five realms and the twelve interdependent links as we see in the wheel of life. So there is an old tradition in Buddhism of using images, and film can do that, too. Why not? For me, film can be modern day thangka.
Well, what is a thangka painting? It is an aid for your visualization. In the same way, film can help with visualization, perhaps even more effectively. For example, if you want to show what the hell realms are like, film could do that much better than a single painting.
Don't you ever worry, though, that with modernization certain aspects of the old tradition will be lost?
As long as the fundamental view of Buddhism is not lost, there is no problem. We may try for sentimental reasons to preserve the traditional aspects as much as possible, but they will eventually change. Don't forget that the customs and traditions that we are trying to preserve today were once modern and progressive.
In the film, the Abbot writes about his wish that, "Nyima and Palden would continue to uphold the Buddha's teachings according to these modern times." What is it you're trying to say with that?
It doesn't mean they will change the Buddha's fundamental view. That should never be changed. I have met people in the West who are excessively attached to the external trappings of Buddhism. There is all this sentimental attachment to Tibetan customs and culture, and the actual Buddhist view is overlooked. In fact, I have heard that in creating a so-called "American Buddhism," some people are saying, "Okay, maybe the Buddha's view should be changed, now that Buddhism is in America." And that's not good.
I would prefer that Americans really stick with the Buddha's view: the emptiness of inherent existence, that everything composite is impermanent, and so on. It doesn't matter if they leave out Tibetan culture. The really important thing is that they should accept the dharma. They should not worry about trying to design something better suited to Americans. The Buddha was an omniscient being. What he said was good for all sentient beings, and that includes us 2,500 years later. Nothing additional is necessary now.
I see Westerners wearing chubas and showing off their malas. But I think the more people do that, the more they forget the essence, the actual point of the Buddha's teaching. It's amazing to see how eager some people are to adopt what is not essential, and throw out what is essential!
I was a bit surprised that the Abbot would say something like this, since he is so attached to his homeland and its traditions, and doesn't understand much about the modern ways.
Although many of these older, experienced Tibetan teachers are attached to their homeland and might seem rigid, beneath this rigidity there is an openness. Sometimes it's quite surprising to see certain lamas incorporating modern ways of life into the ancient Buddhist thinking, especially when you know Tibetans. Tibetans can be so narrow-minded, so racist. They have such a superiority complex. Some of them are like missionaries who go to other countries and demand that the native people learn their culture. But at the same time, teachers like Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche created within the Tibetan wisdom lineage a space to accommodate Japanese, French, British, American ways of teaching.
You say about the monks in the movie that Buddhism is their philosophy and soccer is their religion. Do you think someone could become enlightened by playing soccer?
You never know. Maybe. Some of the saints of the past, the mahasiddhas, achieved enlightenment by telling lies or playing flutes. So if you meet the right master, and if you have the merit, why not?
Because you're now in the film world, you seem to have become quite famous and are living a bit in the lap of luxury. Are you getting attached to it?
So much. I'm really going downhill! I'm getting more and more attached to this comfortable life. Even a small sesame seed in my bed bothers me. I used to travel in Indian buses, bumping along the whole night with Hindi film music blaring away, and still manage to do a lot of things the next morning. Nowadays, I might be driving in a limousine, but when things go wrong, I get very irritated. That is why I really think I need to shut myself in retreat far away in India.
Mind you, many other Rinpoches, from my impure perception, seem to be getting that way, too. They are far too attached to the comfortable life. The life of simplicity seems to be less and less important and a life of distraction seems to be getting more and more popular.
Do you tire of samsara?
No, no, I am very much in love with samsara, not tired at all. Well, perhaps a little, thanks to years and years of being brainwashed when I was younger. The impermanence and futility of samsara does come to mind from time to time. But it only comes for nine seconds, and then it disappears for another nine months.
You have always said that of the eight worldly dharmas, you have the greatest weakness for praise. How have you worked with all the praise you have received since your film came out?
The Buddha said that if you know a trap is a trap, you will not be caught. The Buddha is talking about mindfulness. But mindfulness is something that is foreign to me, so of course I get very much trapped by all the praise and criticism. Having said that, my gurus are very special, and I always say that if I do have a little bit of a spiritual quality, it's because of my teachers.
I remember something His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse once told me. I used to be very wild, and sometimes people would report my actions to him in hope that he would scold me and discipline me. But instead, he would tell me who it was who told on me and would make a game of it. He used to say, "Don't worry. You must remember that whenever there is one person out there who doesn't like you or who thinks you are crazy, there will be a hundred people who are going to like you. And similarly, whenever there is one person who likes you, you shouldn't get too excited about it, because there will be a hundred people who can't stand you." So liking and disliking are completely irrelevant.
Speaking of being wild, you talked on The Roseanne Show, as well as on NPR, about visiting strip clubs. I don't know how many people would view that favorably. Why did you go?
I didn't have any profound reason. But it does show that you shouldn't come to me if you are looking for inspiration.
Why do you sometimes wear monk's robes?
In Buddhism, we talk about several different stages of degeneration. There's one degenerated time that Buddha called tagtsam zinpey du, the time when monastic robes are maintained just as a mark or symbol. That's where we are now. At least I'm trying to hold on to that symbol.
Do you have any regrets regarding your film?
A lot of regrets, but I think I will take the regrets as stepping stones for my further learning.
It seems that one of your aims in the film was to demystify the Western idea of Tibet and its culture. Why is this so important?
Preconceptions are not so good because they always mislead you.
So you tried to show the ordinary side of monastic life and how that was profound.
Whatever I do, I have no profound motivation. I just wanted to make a film.
But your film contained quite profound teaching.
That depends on the person watching. Not everybody sees it that way. Maybe the success was just an accident.
You talk about your next film being the life of the Buddha.
Only if I get enough money.
Isn't The Cup making enough money to finance another film?
No, not nearly enough. Not even 10% of what I need to make my next film.
So the life of the Buddha that you want to make is on an epic scale.
You must have done at least a hundred interviews by now. Are there any questions which you are surprised were never asked?
I am surprised that no one has ever asked if I'm gay or not.
Are you gay, Rinpoche?
I have a tendency.
If you were going to ask yourself a question, what would it be?
I only have one big fear, that's all. Not a question.
What is your fear?
As much as I want to be successful, I also have this growing fear that I will become a prisoner of fame.
If you could have anything in the world, Rinpoche, what would make you happiest?
Spiritually, I would be so happy if I could see my twenty past lives and twenty future lives. That would probably give me some renunciation mind. On an ordinary level, I would be very happy if I could get my act together and finish the novels that I am writing.
I hear that you just offered 100,000 butter lamps at the Boudhnath Stupa in Nepal. What makes you happier, doing that or making films?
I can definitely say that I am happier offering the butter lamps.
Thank you, Rinpoche.
An interview with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
September 18, 2001
Voice of Clear Light: People in this country are having many strong
emotional responses to last week's terrorist attacks in New York City
and Washington D.C. What advice would you give to someone who came to you
overwhelmed with emotion or feeling anger and a desire for revenge?
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: It is natural to have deep feelings like
shock, loss, confusion, or anger. >From the practice point of view, it
is good to allow these feelings, as we do in the rushen practice, while
not losing connection with oneself. Allow the grief, allow the anger,
but stay connected also. It is better to not watch television too much
since these images can get into your system in a way that is not very
helpful. Instead it would be best to engage in one's own day-to-day
activities in as normal a way as possible. Then, when these feelings
arise, try to cultivate compassion for people who have passed away and
their families, as well as for the people who committed the terrorist
One needs to reflect on one's own side of how these terrorists came to
exist. Innately every being is good. How did the evil force awaken in
them? We should pray,"May this evil force not manifest again." But
also, as Americans, we need to look honestly at our actions in the world
and reflect on how we have created these enemies. We mean well, but we do
not always have very skillful means. Perhaps in the future we can
have more awareness about our own behavior and how we create enemies for
Also it is important that people from all the different spiritual
communities pray together. This is very helpful, to help people come to
peace with themselves. We need to pray for the people who have lost
family members, for the souls of those who have died, and also for the
people who are afraid of dying. In Afghanistan, many innocent people
are very afraid, running to the border, trying to get out and save
themselves from being bombed. We should pray for them also, not just
for our own citizens. To awaken compassion fully, it helps to put
oneself in the place of the other. Can you imagine if, because of
something our government did, another government was about to bomb
Charlottesville? We would run away and not even know why we were being
attacked. How frightening that would be for us.
As for the incidents of extreme hate, of individuals attacking Sikhs or
Indians or people of Middle Eastern descent, that is just ignorance. If
someone cannot tell the difference between a Sikh and a terrorist, they
need more education. That is very ignorant behavior.
VOCL: I have heard some community members express concern about
President Bush's apparent rush to go to war. At a time like this, as
good spiritual practitioners, we do a lot of practice and prayer, but
should we also speak out in the world even if it means doing so with
TWR: From the Buddhist point of view, of course it is important to not
allow strong emotion to cause one to lose the connection with oneself.
At the same time, one should not ignore the fact of what happened, which is
Actually I have a lot of compassion for the President. His job is to
worry about the whole country. This is very different from a
practitioner's point of view or from a dharma teaching point of view. As an
individual practitioner I can say, "If the airlines shut down,
fine, I'll do my meditation." But that cannot be the point of view of
the president. One week shut down, a billion dollars lost. Every
airline is losing millions of dollars. This effects the stock market
and the whole country. This is the material world and we are in a
capitalist society. When the world markets are affected, everybody
feels the shake. This financial structure is an essential part of this
country, its ego and identity. What is happening is enormous.
It is proper to show the terrorists that what they have done is not
fair. Karmically they need to pay for it so the rest of the people
understand that it is wrong and not allowed. They can't just do it and
get out of it, that's not right. Of course, the president needs to be
very skillful. The whole world is very vulnerable and there are lots of
sensitive issues. For example, there are long-term issues between
Pakistan and India, between Muslims and Christians and Jews. There are some
who are just waiting for an excuse to get into it. So we pray
that the President is skillful and that innocent people are not hurt.
VOCL: As Buddhist practitioners, we are non-violent. How should one
respond when there are bad things in the world?
TWR: If you see an airplane about to crash into the World Trade Center,
there is no question that if you have the power to shoot it down, you shoot
it down. You would have the negative karma of killing the people inside,
but you would save so many other people. Of course, you try to be as
peaceful as possible in the situation.
VOCL: Many people are doing practice and praying. For many this is a
great comfort and they feel that they are helping. But I have also
heard some people express a sense of despair. One friend of mine said,
"It's so big, a million mantras can't touch it." What would you say to her?
TWR: There is no limit to compassion, no limit. Prayer has no limit.
One has to open one's heart to everybody, bigger and bigger. As it is
said, "Great compassion is to all sentient beings." We don't limit it.
Prayers are very important. Collective prayers especially are very
>From the shamanic or causal vehicle point of view, important prayers and
rituals need to take place. The energy of shock in New York City is
huge and could be very negative. The World Trade Center area is an
important place for the whole country, especially practitioners on the
spiritual path, to focus their prayers on a long-term basis. Six
thousand people, dead in an instant. Think of how these people died.
We ourselves are in shock, but we are still alive. We know how to come back
to our homes, we can eat breakfast and lunch, we don't end up at somebody
else's door. But with a death like this, sudden and
terrifying, a soul can become very lost. We need to pray for them and
for a long time.
Even when one is feeling overwhelmed, still one can say, "I dedicate my
practice to all the sentient beings who most need it. I dedicate to
all." Do not limit who you love. Dedicate to those who are dead and
those who are afraid they will die. Dedicate to the Afghani women who
are hungry and thirsty, running away from bombs, with children in their
arms. Pray for everyone. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.
VOCL: One last question, Rinpoche. Buddha gets up in the morning and
turns on the TV. The World Trade Center is on fire and thousands of
people are dying. What does the Buddha do?
TWR: The Buddhas want nothing but peace on this earth and they
continuously send us their blessings. Since they are not on one side or
the other side, the Buddhas see a completely different picture. They see
the confusion and ignorance of both sides. And there is enormous
compassion for everyone. Enormous compassion.
Excerpts from an interview with Kyabje Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche
does the succession in your lineage work? Succession in the future?
In the Nyingma tradition, until recently there have been no established rules of succession for a head of
our tradition. In fact, such a function did not exist in Tibet. Students would naturally turn toward the most
accomplished, learned and realized spiritual master for teachings and advice. Indeed some monasteries
and their heads have played a special role in preserving the authenticity of the Nyingma tradition. One
speaks of six main Nyingma monasteries: Mindroling and Dorje Drak in Central Tibet; Shechen and
Dzogchen, in eastern Tibet; and Kathok and Peyul in far eastern Tibet. In exile, it has become necessary
for many practical reasons to designate a head of the Nyingma Tradition. Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche,
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Drupwang Penor Rinpoche and Minling Trichen Rinpoche have so far
assumed this role. The two last patriarchs have been designated by general consensus of
representatives from many Nyingma monasteries on the occasion of the Nyingma Prayer Festival that
is held yearly at Bodhgaya in India.
Concerning Shechen monastery, its abbots have traditionally been the successive incarnation of the first
Shechen Rabjam. The fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) sent three of his main Nyingma disciples to eastern
Tibet - Dzogchen Pema Rigdzin (1625-1697), Shalam Rabjampa Tenpai Gyaltsen (1650-?) and Rigdzin
Nyima Trakpa (1647-1710) - and entrusted each of them to build a monastery. After he had reached
Kham, Rabjam Tenpai Gyaltsen had a vision in which Guru Padmasambhava prophesied that if he would
build a monastery near a white rock resembling a jumping lion, immense benefit would ensue for the
beings and the Buddhist teachings. Accordingly, in 1695, Rabjam Tenpai Gyaltsen built Ugyen Chödzong,
the first Shechen Monastery, where he taught to many disciples. He also made the prediction that later
a large monastery should be built on the other side of the valley and where the Buddhadharma would
vastly flourish. This wish was fulfilled by the second Shechen Rabjam, Gyurme Kunzang Namgyal, who
founded Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling in 1735.
Shechen soon became one of the six main Nyingma monasteries in Tibet, and counted up to one 145
affiliated monasteries. Many great masters lived and taught in its fold. Among them, Shechen
Mahapandita Ontrul Gyurme Thutop Namgyal (b. 1787), Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912), Shechen
Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal (1871-1926) and various incarnations of Shechen Rabjam.
Shechen was razed to the ground during the Cultural Revolution. Since 1985, the rebuilding of the
monastery, the monastic college and the retreat center has been undertaken.
In Exile, are there some changes in training and studies, and what are the advantages respectively
There is some difference indeed between the way students and practitioners trained in Tibet and now
outside it. For studies, in Tibet the material conditions for poor students was much more difficult, but
they also had a very strong determination and endeavor. They usually were not provided with food, only
lodging and teachings. Some of them used to study at night at the light of a burning incense stick that
they would hold close to the book, because they had no resources to buy oil for lamps. Perhaps because
of such hardship, they were valuing their studies very much and many great scholars came out of the
rank. Even nowadays in Tibet, in the few places where studies have been restarted, the monks or nuns
have to provide for their livelihood. Outside Tibet, the conditions are much easier, monks and nuns are
usually given accommodation, food, clothing and teachings for the whole duration of their studies. For
practitioners, the conditions in Tibet's wilderness were very conducive to spiritual practice. There are much
more distractions outside Tibet and therefore less people determined to undertake serious contemplative
practice and long retreats. But there are still a few who persevere.
of lay-practitioners for tradition?
There have been many greatly accomplished yogis in the Nyingma tradition, such as, in our days, Kyabje
Dudjom Rinpoche and Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, but these are exceptional beings. Regarding
lineage holders, the only thing that matters is the degree of spiritual realization. In general, the six main
Nyingma monasteries inside and outside Tibet and most of their branches were following strict monastic
discipline. For instance, this is the case of Shechen. There can be very good and committed lay
practitioners, but ordinary people will find that to lead a professional and a family life naturally consumes
a great deal of their time and energy.
is the importance of Kalachakra and Shambhala within your tradition?
From the perspective of the Nyingma tradition, the Kalachakra constitutes one of the Eight Chariots of
Spiritual Practice , and within a non-sectarian approach (ris med) it should be known and practiced at
appropriate times. My root teacher and grandfather, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991) would perform
a daily Kalachakra practice throughout the third month of the Tibetan calendar, which is the month
dedicated to Kalachakra. On the full moon of that month, he would also perform an elaborate ganachakra
offering related to the Kalachakra ritual found in the Treasury of Spiritual Instructions
(gdams ngag mdzod).
special advice for Westerners?
It would be very helpful for them to realize the vital importance of the practices that constitute the
foundation of the path, such as the four changes of mind: appreciating the value of human existence,
being constantly aware of impermanence, exercising discernment regarding the laws of cause and
effect and pondering with lassitude the shortcomings of samsaric life. Without doing this in great depth,
there is little chance that the practices that follow will be useful. Khyentse Rinpoche used to teach again
and again the "foundation practices" and we never got tired listening to them because they truly bring
some inner transformation. Otherwise, simply by aiming at lofty views, the teachings might be of the
Great Perfection, but if the disciple is not at the Great Perfection's level, it does not help.
Sectarianism particularly a Western problem?
It is a problem for all those who are sectarian, whether in East or in the West. Sectarianism comes from
a very narrow attitude and a lack of proper knowledge of the richness of the various traditions.
Khyentse Rinpoche used to say that when one discovers and appreciates the depth of the meditation
and practices of all the traditions that have developed in Tibet, there is no way one can become sectarian.
to lead a spiritual life within a modern, worldly life? How to combine spiritual
life with family?
Study and practice the best one can. One has to take the necessary time. For this, it helps to think about
our true priorities in life.
of women within the particular tradition?
In Tibetan society, there was and there is a significant social difference between man and women, but
the condition of woman was certainly not as bad as in many neighboring countries. This has probably to
do with fundamental appreciation of the fact that all living beings have exactly the same potential to
accomplish Buddhahood. In fact, the feminine principle symbolizes wisdom and should be respected as
such. There have been many accomplished female teachers in Tibet and many nuns and lay practitioners
as well. Nowadays, outside Tibet, more and more nunneries are trying to establish a curriculum of studies
at the same level than that of the monks. But there is still some progress to be made.
A Buddhist Perspective
An Interview with the late Topga Yulgyal Rinpoche
Conducted by Joseph M. Lynch
Joseph M. Lynch: Rinpoche, would you give a working definition of generosity within the parameters of Buddhism? Is it simply having an open mind towards everyone or is there more?
Topga Rinpoche: There are many faces of generosity. The generosity that is concerned with Buddhists and Buddhism is slightly different than what we might consider as generosity in the common every day sense of the word. The Bodhisattvas, having a mind which is prepared to help all sentient beings in any manner, give the term "generosity" a much deeper and more profound meaning, a limitless perspective.
However, when we talk about Bodhisattva-level generosity, that means you have to be selfless. Whatever is needed by any kind of being, we, possessing a Bodhisattva mind, should be ready to help. Also, cultivating the mind of a Bodhisattva, you already know how to be generous and you know who is in need, what is required and everything. I think it comes sort of automatically, and it is achieved at the first level of the ten bhumis, this real generosity. Then there are many ways of giving material help, but mainly giving teachings, "Turning the Wheel of Dharma," is the most practiced form of generosity.
JML: Is there a difference between giving money, giving work or something else? Do they have the same value or are they different?
TR: First, we should frame our talk as it relates to the Bodhisattva level, because I think that this is the real necessity. Giving material things, as far as Bodhisattvas are concerned, is good. It is one of the ways of practicing generosity. But giving teachings, above all else, would be considered as the most important act of generosity.
Why, you may ask? Because teachings will reduce negativity. Desires, ambitions, and suffering will be limited when you know the causes for why you want this, or why you want that. Yes, Bodhisattvas would focus on the teachings; it is more important than anything else. On the other hand, they also cannot stand to see someone who is physically suffering and needy or almost dying of hunger or whatever else. They would give their lives, like Buddha has done so many times in his previous incarnations. He gave his body because it was needed. But normally Bodhisattvas give the teachings as the main theme for generosity.
JML: I have some very wealthy friends. They spend all their lives making money, but it is very difficult for them to give even a small amount because they are so attached to their wealth. What is a good initial mind training for people with such attachments?
TR: This is a big problem. There is a frequently told story in Tibet. Once there were two brothers; one had ninety nine horses and the other brother had only one. So the poor one always thought, "Why doesn't my brother give me at least one horse, so my horse can have a little company." On the other hand, the rich brother thought, "If he would just give me his horse, I would then have one hundred! Why can't he just give me this one horse?!"
This is our human nature. But giving material things for good causes is wonderful, I think.
But back to your question. They can begin by giving just a small thing. Why not? Yes, this is very important, even if you possess a lot of money; it isn't necessary to give 100,000 dollars. You can begin by giving just one dollar. It's fine; at least you've started with a good heart! And, being attached to your money, you won't feel bad about giving only a dollar.
JML: There are teachings that if you cannot give a piece of food with a good heart, give half. But many people have such deep attachment that they can't even do this. Is it then better that they just keep the piece of food altogether until they are able to give without attachment?
TR: If you cannot give with a good heart, then it is better to keep it. Otherwise you'll regret it afterwards. Also, it won't bring any positive results according to the workings of karma. But I think in the West, and also in India, people are very generous, even though they may not be religious.
JML: Would you explain the difference between mundane and supramundane giving?
TR: In regards to Dharma practitioners generating Bodhisattva mind, the way of thinking as it pertains to giving becomes a little bit different. But then I admire people who are so generous, like large corporations who give millions of dollars for social welfare programs without any self-interest. I know that from my own experience of working with Tibetan refugees in the early 1960's. We received a large number of donations from abroad and the vast majority of people who gave, didn't even ask for a reply! Maybe they are not Bodhisattvas but they have a good heart.
JML: So, then, supramundane generosity is to give without self and mundane giving is giving with attachment?
TR: Right. But even if you give with attachment, you are starting something. Who among us is really selfless? That is a big question. Books say so many beautiful things, but nobody really goes by the books, right? And I don't think you should either. But you have to start something somewhere; just beginning is the most important step.
JML: Is there really any difference in giving to an individual or to the society or the Sangha?
TR: Maybe it sounds a little too diplomatic, but as a practitioner, I would say the main point is to give whatever is needed, to whomever is in need.
JML: So you should give to the first person you see?
TR: Sure, right... why not?!
JML: Often, Western students would like to make some kind of offering to an individual monk or nun. However, because of our past cultural upbringing, whereby we've been conditioned in making a single weekly offering to a church or a temple, e.g., on the Sabbath, we feel uncomfortable giving directly to an individual. Is there an appropriate way to do this?
TR: It is good to think of the monk or nun receiving your offering as a representative of your tradition. If the Dharma is to flourish in the West, it is important that they receive your support. There is no reason to feel shy about doing something kind.
JML: Now, in the West, there is a big movement to supplement sitting meditation with some contribution to the community, such as working in a soup kitchen, hospice or an adult education center. People think that just saying, "I dedicate all the merits of this practice for the benefit of all sentient beings throughout time and space" is too abstract, and that it is important to make some tangible form of offering as well.
TR: Traditionally, the monastery was the focal point for the Buddhist community. And today, because of this cultural and traditional background from which Asian Buddhist teachers come, they still follow this idea. However, now that Dharma centers and monasteries in the West have matured to the point where they are in a position to make a contribution to the society, they of course should.
For example, Shamar Rinpoche frequently gives the advice that we must do something for the people, not only through prayers and teachings, but something physical, different types of charity work. So, times are changing.
JML: Any final thoughts?
TR: The main idea concerning generosity or any of the other paramitas is that self-attachment or desire should not be there. Then, everything you do will be so much better and purer.
Joseph M. Lynch is for six months of every year a student and volunteer librarian at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute. For the other six months he is both a travel writer and English instructor based in Seoul, Korea.
The interview was conducted in January, 1995 at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute.
for Vajradhatu Sun, 1985
The following interview with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was recorded on the 16th day of December, 1985, at Nagi Gompa, outside of Kathmandu.
When Rinpoche was asked if he would grant an interview for the Vajradhatu Sun, his reply was, "What is the use of the tiny light of a firefly when the sun has already risen in the sky?" referring to Trungpa Rinpoche's presence in the West.
Q: Can Rinpoche please tell us about his life, his teachers, and the retreats he has done?
R: I was born in Eastern Tibet, in Kham, in the area called Nangchen. The Dharma teaching of my family line is called Barom Kagyu. My grandmother was the daughter of Chokgyur Lingpa, the great terton, so my family line also practices the Nyingma teachings. Since I hold the lineages of both Kagyu and Nyingma, my monastery in Boudhanath is therefore called Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, The Kagyu and Nyingma Place for Teaching and Practice.
From the time I was quite small until the age of twenty-one, I stayed with my father who was a Vajrayana teacher and tantric layman. His name was Tsangsar Chimey Dorje. My father was my first teacher and from him I received the transmission for the Kangyur, the entire teachings of the Buddha, and also for the Chokling Tersar, "The New Treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa." Later, I studied with my father's older brother, Tulku Samten Gyatso from whom I received also, among other things, the entire transmission of the Chokling Tersar.
Later on I studied with an incredible great master named Kyungtrul Karjam and from him I received the entire Dam-ngak Dzo as well as Chowang Gyatsa, the Hundred Empowerments of Cutting Practice. He also passed on to me the reading transmission for the Hundred Thousand Nyingma Tantras and the Jangter Gongpa Sangtal, the Northern Treasure of Unimpeded Wisdom Mind. In particular, I received from him a detailed commentary and clarification of the important treasure of Chokgyur Lingpa renowned as Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo, the Gradual Path of The Wisdom Essence.
From the time I was eight years old, I received teachings on the nature of mind from my own father, and I was lucky later on, to receive detailed instructions in the form of "guidance through personal experience" from Samten Gyatso on the teachings of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. From my other uncle, Tersey Rinpoche, who was a close disciple of the great siddha Shakya Shri, I was also lucky to receive teachings on Dzogchen.
Moreover, I again received detailed teachings on Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo from Jokyab Rinpoche, a disciple of Dru Jamyang Drakpa. The body of teachings known as Rinchen Terdzo, the Precious Treasury, I received from Jamgon Kongtrul, the son of the 15th Karmapa. As for the other of the Five Treasuries, I received the Gyachen Kadzo from my third uncle, Sang-ngak Rinpoche, the Kagyu Ngakdzo from H.H. the 16th Karmapa himself, and the Sheja Kunkyab Treasury from Tana Pemba Rinpoche. I addition, I have received the root empowerments of Jigmey Lingpa from H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche several times.
In Eastern Tibet I spent three years in retreat just reciting the Mani. [Laughs]. Later on at Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapas, I also spent three years in retreat and then again in Sikkim I was able to spend almost three years in intensive practice. Lately, I have been here at Nagi Gompa for a few years. That's my life story.
Q: What lineages does Rinpoche hold?
R: My family line is the holder of the Barom Kagyu teachings which originate from Gampopa's disciple Barom Dharma Wangchuk. His disciple was Tishi Repa whose disciple was called Repa Karpo. His disciple again was Tsangsar Lumey Dorje. His disciple, Jangchub Shonnu of Tsangsar, is in my paternal ancestral lineage. The line of his son and his son again, all the way down to my father, is called Tsangsar Lhai Dung-gyu, the Divine Bloodline of Tsangsar.
My incarnation line is called Chowang Tulku. With that same name I am just the second. My past life was said to be an incarnation of Guru Chowang. He was also said to be an emanation of one of the twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava called Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, but who knows that for sure. [Laughs]. My former life, Chowang Tulku, was a "secret yogi." No one knew how his practice was, but when he passed away his body shrunk down to the size of one cubit without decomposing.
Q: What does Dzogchen mean?
R: Dzog, "perfection" or "completion," means as in this quote from a tantra, "Complete in one - everything is complete within mind. Complete in two - everything of samsara and nirvana is complete within this."
"Dzog" means that all the teachings, all phenomena, is completely contained in the vehicle of Dzogchen; all the lower vehicles are included within Dzogchen. "Chen," "great," means that there is no method or means higher than this vehicle.
Q: What is the basic outline of practice according to the Dzogchen path?
R: All the Buddha's teachings are contained within nine gradual vehicle of which Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is like the highest golden ornament on a rooftop spire, or the victory banner on the summit of a great building. All the eight lower vehicles are contained within the ninth which is called Dzogchen in Tibetan, Mahasandhi in Sanskrit [and the Great Perfection in English]. But Dzogchen is not contained in the lowest one, the shravaka vehicle. So when we say "perfect" or "complete" it means that all the lower yanas are perfected or completely contained within the Great Perfection, within Dzogchen.
Usually we say that Dzogchen, sometimes called Ati Yoga, is a Dharma tradition but actually it is just the state of one's mind, basically.
When it comes to combining these following two points into actual experience, we can use the statement of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, "It is not existent as even the buddhas have not seen it." This means that the basic state of mind is not something that exists in a concrete way; even the buddhas of the three times have never perceived it. "It is not non-existent as it is the basis for both samsara and nirvana. This is not a contradiction, it is the middle path of unity." Contradiction is like having fire and water on the same plate. Its impossible. But that is not the case here. The basic nature is neither existent nor non-existent - these two are an indivisible unity. "May I perceive the mind nature free from extremes." Usually when we say "is" it contradicts "is not." And when we say "non-existent" it contradicts "existent." But this middle path of unity is devoid of such contradiction. When it is said "to attain the unified state of Vajradhara," that actually refers to what I discussed here.
This unity of being empty and cognizant is the state of mind of all sentient beings. There is nothing special about that. A practitioner should encompass that with "a core of awareness." That is the path of practice. Again, "the unity of being empty and cognizant with a core of awareness."
The special feature of Dzogchen is as follows: "Primordial pure essence is Trekcho, Cutting Through." This view is actually present in all the nine vehicles, but the special quality of Dzogchen is what is called "The spontaneously present nature is Togal, Direct Crossing." The unity of these two, Cutting Through and Direct Crossing, Trekcho and Togal, is the special or unique teaching of Dzogchen. That is how Dzogchen basically is. That's it.
Q: That is a very wonderful teaching. It seems like Dzogchen is very direct and doesn't seem to have a linear quality in terms of the way one would approach it. In the other yanas sometimes one would first do the set of preliminaries, then a yidam practice. tsa-lung practice etc., this and that. It seems like Dzogchen is very immediate, like the essence is already present, available. Is there any kind of linear path in the way one would approach these teachings or is it always direct, like this?
R: We do in the Dzogchen tradition have the gradual system of preliminaries, main part and so forth. But the special characteristic of Dzogchen is to introduce or point out directly the naked awareness, the self-existing wakefulness. This is for student who are suitable, meaning those who have sharp mental faculties. In stead of going through a lot of beating around the bush, one would introduce them directly to their mind essence, to their self-existing awareness.
Dzogchen is said to have great advantage but also great danger. Why is this? Because all the teachings are ultimately and finally resolved within the system of Dzogchen. This can be divided into two parts, resolving all the teaching through intellectual understanding and through experience.
To resolve through experience is what is the great advantage or benefit in the sense that having pointed out and recognizing directly naked awareness and simply makes that the main part of practice. That is the point when there is an incredible great benefit because that itself is the very direct and swift path to enlightenment.
On the other hand, the great danger is when one just leaves it as intellectual understanding, that "In Dzogchen there is nothing to meditate upon. There is nothing to view. There is nothing to carry out as an action." That becomes just a concept of nihilism and is completely detrimental to progress. This is because the final point of the teaching is conceptlessness, being beyond intellectual thinking. Yet, what has happened is that one has created an intellectual idea of what Dzogchen is and holds on to that idea very tightly. This is a major mistake that can happen. So, it is very important to take the teachings into one's personal experience through the oral instructions of one's teacher. Otherwise, simply to have the idea "I am meditating on Dzogchen" is to completely miss the point.
Self-existing wakefulness is present within the mind-stream of all sentient beings since primordial time. This presence is something which should not be left as theory, but should be acknowledged though one's experience. One first recognizes it, then trains and attain stability in it. That is when it is said that Dzogchen has great benefit. There is actually no greater benefit than this.
Great danger means that when this is left as words of mere intellectual understanding then one doesn't gain any experience but merely holds some concept about it and lack the nonconceptual quality. Conceptual mind is merely intellect whereas experience to remain in the continuity of naked awareness; growing used to it what is called "experiencing."
It is the same principle whether one talks of Madhyamika, Mahamudra or Dzogchen. As is said in the Bodhicharya Avatara, "When one's intellect holds neither the concept of concreteness nor of inconcreteness, that is the state of not conceptualizing." As long as one is not free from concepts, one's view remains as mere intellectual understanding and the Dzogchen view is then left as mere theory. One might then think "Dzogchen is primordially empty, it is free from a basis. There is nothing to meditate upon, no need to do anything If I meditate in the morning, I am a buddha in the morning. When I recognize at night, I am a buddha at night. The destined one does not even have to meditate."
Actually, Dzogchen is the way to purify the most subtle obscuration of dualistic knowledge - it is something quite in credible. But if one only imagines it, if it is a mere theory, thinking "I don't need to do anything, neither meditate nor practice," [one's has completely missed the point]. There has been many people thinking like this in the past.
Compared to straying into an intellectualized version of Dzogchen, it is much more beneficial to practice according to Madhyamika or Mahamudra where one goes along step by step, alternating theory and experience within the structure of theory, experience and realization. Proceeding gradually in this way one becomes more and more clear about what is to be resolved and then finally captures the "dharmakaya throne of nonmeditation." In this graduated system there are some reference points along the various paths and levels. But in Dzogchen the master will from the very beginning point out the nonconceptual state, instructing the student to remain free from concepts. It then happens that some student will think, "I am free from concepts, I am never distracted!" while walking around with vacantly gazing eyes. That is called straying into intellectual understanding.
Later on, when we have to die, mere theory will not help us whatsoever. Tilopa told Naropa, "Theory is like a patch. It will wear and fall off." After dying, we will undergo various pleasant and unpleasant experiences, intense panic, fear and terror. Intellectual understanding will not be able to destroy those fears; it cannot make confusion subside. So, merely to generalize that one's essence is devoid of confusion is useless. It's only a thought, another concept, which is ineffective at the moment of death when it comes to deal with one's confusion.
Q: What will help then?
R: One needs to recognize the view of one's essence. If one hasn't thoroughly acknowledged the correct view but only constructed it from concepts, this intellectual understanding will be useless. Its like knowing that there is a delicious meal to be eaten. Without putting it into one's mouth one will never know what is tastes like. Likewise, one needs to be totally free from the merest flicker of doubt concerning the state of naked aware ness. Jigmey Lingpa said about having stability in awareness, "At this point there is no need for 100 panditas and their thousands of explanations. One will know what is sufficient. Even when questioned by these scholars, one will not give rise to doubt. So the main point is to be stable in awareness through experience.
This awareness is not introduced through an intellectual understanding where one only has the idea of it. When a qualified master encounters a worthy student it is like iron striking flint creating fire immediately. When such two persons meet together it's possible to be free from doubt.
When one doesn't feel any doubt, no matter how much one may try, that is the proof of having recognized the mind essence. But if it's possible to start doubting, thinking "I wonder how it is, what shall I do?" that is the proof of having mere intellectual understanding.
This difference between theory and experience is what I basically meant by saying that Dzogchen has both great benefit and great danger.
When a practitioner is introduced to naked awareness he will be able to attain enlightenment in that very body and lifetime because in the moment of recognizing the essence of awareness, the obscuration of dualistic knowledge is absent. This is called "touching the fruition." In this respect there are three ways: taking ground as path, taking path as path, and taking fruition as path. Receiving the pointing-out instruction means that one takes fruition as path. That is why it is so precious. So don't let it stray into mere theory.
Experience is said to be the "adornment of awareness." Awareness is present within all beings; whoever has mind has awareness since it is the mind's essence. The relationship between mind and awareness is mind being like the shadow of one's hand and awareness being the hand itself. In this way, there is not one single sentient being who does not have awareness. We might hear about awareness and then think "I understand, awareness is just such and such." This mental construct is totally useless - from the very first the absence of mental fabrication is crucial. As is said, "Within the naked dharmadhatu of non- fabrication."
Introducing awareness means to point out the absence of mental fabrication. Otherwise it becomes an introduction to mere discursive thought. [Laughs]
Q: What is the difference between the practice of Dzogchen and that of the Anuttara Yoga Tantra in the system of the New Schools, (gsar ma)? It was taught that all the eight lower vehicles are contained within Dzogchen, so how does the difference come about?
R: In the system of the New Schools, there are first of all the four tantras of Kriya Tantra, Charya Tantra, Yoga Tantra, and Anuttara Yoga Tantra. The fourth is divided into Father Anuttara Tantra, Mother Anuttara Tantra and Nondual Anuttara Tantra. This correspond exactly to the structure of the Old School, Nyingma, in that father tantra of Anuttara is Mahayoga, mother tantra is Anu yoga and the nondual tantra is Ati Yoga, [Dzogchen]. However, there are no explicit teachings on Togal in Anuttara. That is the main difference, whereas it is taught that there is no difference whatsoever between "essence Mahamudra" and Dzogchen in meaning - only in terminology.
Concerning the inclusion of the lower vehicles in the highest is "All phenomena of samsara and nirvana are included with the expanse of awareness." That is the meaning of "inclusion."
Q: There are many kinds of conceptual practices in Anuttara Yoga such as visualization and manipulations of the nadis and pranas. How do the fit into the Dzogchen system?
R: These practices actually belong to the systems of Mahayoga and Anu yoga. However, in Ati Yoga which should be effortless, free from fixation, these practices are applied as "means for enhancement." Q: From where does the tradition of giving the transmission of the pointing-out instruction originate?
R: The first origin is what we call the "mind transmission of the victorious ones." After that there was the "sign transmission of vidyadharas" and today we have the "oral transmission of great masters." First, the mind transmission of the victorious ones, was when the manifestation aspect of Samantabhadra appeared in a bodily form and the five families of victorious ones recognized dharmata by merely seeing this bodily form. This was mind transmission through simply manifesting as a deity without the need for any conversation. This mind transmission seems to have gradually degenerated. Following that, by means of the sign transmission of vidyadharas such masters as Garab Dorje, Shri Singha and Guru Rinpoche recognized the self-existing wakefulness of dharmata through a simply gesture such as a finger pointing at the sky. Finally, Guru Rinpoche, The Eight Indian Vidyadharas as well as the Tibetan King, Subject and Companion [Trisong Deutsen, Vairotsana and Yeshe Tsogyal] and so forth gave teachings through oral transmission. This oral transmission which comes from India and is not a Tibetan invention, was originally imparted by whispering through a copper tube such as in the case of Vairotsana into whose ear was whispered the sentence, "The single sphere of dharmakaya, self-existing wakefulness, inconceivable reality, is present within the mind of sentient beings. Oral transmission literally means "transmitted into the ear."
In the case of the Kagyu lineage, Tilopa stated, "I have no human masters. My master is Vajradhara himself." So, figuratively speaking, Vajradhara gave the teachings to Tilopa and Tilopa transmitted them orally to Naropa who then passed then on to Marpa. He gave them to Milarepa and he again to Gampopa from whom they were orally transmitted to the "four great and eight lesser lineages.
In the case of the Nyingma lineage, Guru Rinpoche, Vimalamitra and Vairotsana passed the teachings on chiefly as an oral transmission to the Twenty-five Disciples headed by the King, Subject and Companion. Here Dzogchen was transmitted as the pointing-out of the expression of awareness; not to awareness itself but to its expression which is dharmata. From this point, the Twenty-five Disciples passed the teaching on to the Eighty Tibetan Siddhas and others such as the various oral lineages as well as the treasure lineages, so that this transmission has been uninterrupted down until our own root guru. If the lineage had been broken there would be no pointing-out and recognition
Q: Why is this pointing-out instruction considered so important?
R: That is self-evident. Isn't awareness the actual path for attaining enlightenment? There is nothing more important than recognizing it and become a buddha [laughs]. If you put all the riches in the world on one side and the pointing out of awareness on the other, awareness will be more valuable for enlightenment.
Q: Having received the pointing-out instruction and recognized, will that itself be sufficient or how should one train?
R: Once one has received the pointing-out instruction there is the chance of either recognizing it or not. But a student who has actually recognized will have enough for this entire lifetime in the "single sufficient instruction." The same goes for the bardo state. Yet, one can still apply the paths of Mahayoga and Anu yoga for enhancement and for clearing away hindrances. Once one has recognized one's essence, it is like a fire that only will blaze up more intensely the more firewood is added; the fire will never diminish with the adding of wood. Similarly, there will be benefit from applying the paths of Mahayoga and Anu yoga; even Hinayana practice will be beneficial.
According to one's ability one can apply what one feels inclined towards - like gathering honey from many different flowers. Or, simply to cultivate and practice the recognition of awareness alone will be sufficient for attaining enlightenment within this body and lifetime. All the different practices of Mahayoga and Anu yoga, as in the system of Jamgon Kongtrul the First, are for the purpose of attaining stability in awareness. While benefiting beings one can become more stable in awareness. As I already mentioned, fire blazes up and increases the more wood is added; it is not the opposite way.
Having recognized one's essence, one should sustain its continuity. There will be no benefit from simply leaving it with "I have recognized!" It is necessary to maintain the continuity of awareness until all confusion and conceptual thinking has been exhausted. That itself is the measure; when thoughts are exhausted then it is enough. There is no more need for meditation or for "sustaining the continuity."
Q: Although Rinpoche has a large monastery in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, I notice that he spends most of his time up at Nagi Gompa Retreat Center. Why is that?
R: As a matter of fact, it is said, "In this age of degeneration, carry the burden of the Doctrine. If you are not able to do so, simply the fear that the teachings will die out occurring in your mind for but instant will have tremendous merit." For this reason, the purpose of building a monastery with a gathering of the sangha of monks - as just an image of the doctrine in this dark age - is that we have the great hope that they will practice the tradition of the Dharma. Whether or not the monks individually do any practice is their own business. But if they just wear the robes on their bodies, cut the hairs on their heads and gather together in a group of merely four monks, the benefit of accumulating merit and purifying one's obscurations will result from the respect, faith and donations one can make as a benefactor, no matter how insignificant one's contribution or faith may be. This is independent of whether or not the monks misbehave or misappropriate their donations; that is totally up to themselves. For the benefactors, their will be the blessings of the Buddha when they make a donation to a gathering of just four monks. Their will be no failure in that for the patrons themselves. It is for this reason that I took the effort to build a monastery. Moreover, this age is the time when Buddhism is slowly dying out, like the sun about to depart while setting over the mountains in the west. Considering this combined with having received the command of His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, we have constructed this insignificant monastery.
The place up a Nagi Gompa was initially build by the meditator and hermit Kharsha Rinpoche as a hermitage for his following of monks and nuns. After he passed away, the place was offered to Karmapa who then placed me as a caretaker. So I, this old man here, is just a caretaker [laughs]. That is the only reason why I live up here; I am not at all like Milarepa, living in mountain retreats and caves after renouncing samsara. But I have a nice spot to sleep on and a warm place in the sun [laughs]. That is how I live.
Q: What is the benefit and purpose of doing retreat practice?
R: With many distractions one is not able to practice the Dharma properly. Distraction means a lot of business, noise and things to do. When going up in the mountains there will be less distraction. That is the reason for mountain retreat. In addition to that, if one is able to keep some discipline, remaining in solitude without allowing outsiders to visit and not going out oneself, there will be no other distraction than that made by one's own mind. External distractions have been eliminated. That is the purpose of seclusion.
When distractions have been abandoned one can exert oneself in the practice. Through exertion it is possible to destroy confusion. When confusion falls away, enlightenment is attained. That is the whole reason [laughs].
Q: Finally but not least, does Rinpoche have any special advice for the readers of Vajradhatu Sun who are primarily householders?
R: They should first of all receive the pointing-out instruction and recognize their essence. Having recognized, they should refrain from losing its continuity and then mingle that with their daily activities. There are basically four kinds of daily actions traditionally called moving, sitting, eating and lying down. We don't always only sit or only move about; we alternate between the two. In addition we eat, shit and sleep. So there actually seem to be five kinds [laughs]. But at all times, in all situations, one should try not to lose the continuity of the practice. One should try to be able to mingle the practice with daily life. As one gets more accustomed, any amount of daily life activities will only cause nondualistic awareness to develop and become the adornment of this undistracted awareness, free from being obscured or cleared.
When one is able to mingle practice with the activities of daily life, these activities will then be beneficial and devoid of any harm whatsoever. That is if one has already recognized one's essence correctly. Without the correct recognition one will get carried away by the daily activities - one will have no stability. Lacking stability is like a strand of hair in the wind bending according to how the wind blows whereas a needle will be stable no matter how small it is. Even a very thin needle cannot be bent by the wind. Once one has truly recognized one's essence one cannot be carried away by the activities of daily life, just as a needle that is stable. Dualistic mind is completely unstable, like a hair that is just ready to move by the tiniest breeze; it falls prey to the five external sense objects. Awareness, on the other hand, when properly recognized, does never fall subject to sense objects. It is like a needle that is unmoved by the wind.
-Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang. © Rangjung Yeshe Translations & Publications, 1985.
with Chkyi Nyima Rinpoche
for the CTF newsletter and The View Magazine March 19, 1998
questions by Mikaela and Marcia, interpretation by Erik
Question: What do you feel is most vital for your Dharma groups in the West, both in Denmark and in the United State that are establishing centers?
Rinpoche: First of all, the view of Dzogchen or Mahamudra and the practice, should not be in name only. It shouldn't be mere words, but the view actually applied. That is the way to uphold the tradition of the definitive meaning. Many masters give teachings on the nature of mind. It was the tradition of my father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who especially emphasized the nature of mind. Whenever he taught, that would be what he placed the highest importance on, the understanding of the nature of mind. If his followers could actually practice the view and really realize it, that would be the best offering to give to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Moreover it would be what they could really take with them when they leave this life. It is what is of the highest benefit. It is the single most sufficient practice. If you have it, everything is perfect. If you don't, then so many doors are closed.
Question: What would you like to see your students to do in those places in Denmark and the United States?
Rinpoche: They need to turn the three wheels. Best is if one person can turn all three wheels. The first is called the wheel of beneficial action, which means the activity that provides the facilities for people to study and practice. In connection with that, it is wonderful to undertake the tasks of constructing temples and shrines, building or offering statues, tankas, stupas and printing books. These are representations of enlightened body, speech and mind. Once these things have been gathered and built, it is of utmost importance to take care of their preservation. All of that is beneficial endeavor.
The second wheel is the study wheel of learning which means to listen to, understand and reflect upon the words of the Buddha, the teachings. The third is the meditation wheel of simplicity where you go through the steps of training and meditation. This includes the different details of the preliminaries, the main part, and so forth, until you progress to more and more subtle practices. Finally you get to the point of meditation practice where you don't move at all. You don't speak; you don't need to form any concepts, either. That is the deepest practice. This is a very reasonable progression. When one has a lot of concepts, development stage with big visualizations are important as their remedy to these thoughts. If one feels like talking a lot, then the remedy for that is to say a lot of mantras. As these fade, later you can remain totally without saying a word, without thinking a thing. That is how to train.
These three wheels are mutually helpful. The Buddha said beings differ in their inclinations, so therefore, let whoever feels most inclined to a particular one of the three wheels do that.
Question: The Dharma is often criticized in the West as not being engaged in social service, not offering the kind of help that unfortunate people need. How would you address this criticism?
Rinpoche: In Buddhism, the six paramitas, the six transcendent actions are considered very important. The first of these is giving; being generous. There are different ways of being generous. The first one mentioned is the giving of material things. Second is called the giving of protection against fear. The third one is the giving of wisdom, the giving of truth.
The third, the giving of wisdom, is the highest act of generosity. Why is that? The giving of material things makes our physical life comfortable. The giving of protection against fear can alleviate the deepest anxiety, the deepest; the most unpleasant feelings' people have. Therefore, the giving of protection against of fear actually is of deeper benefit than simple material things. You could be deeply concerned with the welfare of others. You could go out and spend huge funds on making life comfortable for others. However, no matter how hard you try, even if you said "the whole world is yours, I give it to you"; the other person can only enjoy that until the end of his life; no longer. However if you can make true insight, perfect wisdom grow forth, in another person, that can make a permanent end to suffering forever. In your opinion which is the most beneficial?
Who can give the perfect knowledge? It should be someone whose being has already been liberated through realization. To liberate your own being through realization, you have to be realized. Therefore, someone who makes up their mind to spend the rest of their life in retreat is someone who aims at becoming able to benefit all sentient beings. If that is the situation, such a person is worthy of deep respect. Otherwise, if that person is merely sitting there for him or herself, and on top of that, not even working and we have to provide the food, it is a really selfish retreat.
Question: Most westerner students are going to be able to devote that much time to spending their whole life in retreat. Based on this assumption, what is the best combination of study and practice, in your vision for Western students?
Rinpoche: I feel that it is very important to devote every year a couple of months for retreat. Secluded practice is very important.
Question: In a Western job many of us only have three weeks of holidays in a whole year. If people did have the leisure to take a few months out of the year, how would you divide the time between study and practice?
Rinpoche: There are three things that are important in a spiritual person's life. One is to provide the means, in other words, to work. The purpose of taking a job is to get money so that one can use that money to do something meaningful; to study and practice.About study, the purpose of study is to know how to practice. Practice here means the meditation practice. At least one needs to study enough to know how to do the particular practice one is doing; even if one is not studying in a very detailed, long term way. One needs to know what kind of perspective, what kind of view, what kind of training, what kind of behavior, what kind of results should come out of their practice. Otherwise, since our habitual tendencies, the deeply ingrown habits of forming concepts are very subtle; we may pretend to ourselves that we can easily practice a very high form of meditation. Whether or not this is really genuine, we ourselves need to ascertain; we need to be totally free of doubt. The way to be free of doubt is through learning. It is important from that angle.
Question: Is there a way to combine Dharma, worldly life and work in the West? What should westerners do if we want to practice but still need to have a job?
Rinpoche: The main practice in Buddhism is, after recognizing the view, to compose your mind in equanimity and continue like that. That is the main practice and for that practice there are conducive conditions and unfavorable conditions. Conducive factors for the training of equanimity are compassion, devotion and renunciation in the sense of the wish to be free. It also includes being conscientious, mindful, alert as well as diligent and intelligent.
What are the unfavorable conditions? It is to allow one's attention to be distracted outwardly. It is to be complacent, lazy and careless. All of these make it more difficult to remain in composure. This is especially true when we are caught up in the five toxic emotions of desire, hatred, dullness, envy and conceit. It is very hard to be calm and clear at the same time.
Of course the main thing is your mind; what is it you really want? If you take it upon yourself, to really want to practice, and not I want anything else, then complacency, laziness, distractions, won't have that hold over you any longer. They cannot make obstacles in the same way as before. Therefore, someone who is really determined to sustain the view, even when involved in so-called ordinary activities, will have the attitude of being among children building castles of sand. You can't say the person is uninvolved, because he or she is doing a job, but on the other hand you can't say that he or she really is, because of not being attached.
Honestly isn't it true that if we feel something is of vital importance, whether it is the world, or our spiritual practice, if it is imprinted on our mind that this is the most important, that nothing else matters, we will always find the time. We will not be that distracted from it, and we will definitely have a chance to reach accomplishment, to reach the results.
Question: When would you say that the Dharma has truly been implanted in the West?
Rinpoche: When the minds of the students have been softened up and are gentle, peaceful and compassionate. Likewise when the view that is the direct remedy against ego-clinging, the root cause of samsara has been understood and applied, that is the establishing of the Dharma. Honestly speaking, this is genuine.
Question: Do you see that those qualities are already happening? Is the Dharma implanted in the West?
Rinpoche: When you see the great number of Dharma centers, retreat places and ordained sangha in the West, those are definitely the signs that show the presence of the Dharma.
Question: Finally what is the main difference between the analytical approach of training and simply resting in meditation?
Rinpoche: There are two main approaches, one is analytical and the other is the simply resting way of meditation.They each get their names from their main emphasis. It is not the case that one is only analytical and you never compose the mind; it isn't like that. One is primarily analytical and the other approach is primarily one of resting meditation, rather than examining. But when training in resting meditation there always has been some analytical questioning prior to that. There has to be some prelude. For example, there is the examining of the moving mind and the quiet mind and the arising, dwelling and ceasing of thoughts and so forth. However there is one thing that is totally without analytical attitude and that is what is called natural mind, untainted by thoughts of the three times. That itself is free from any judgments, any discrimination, it is totally non-analytical. The word analytical meditation doesn't mean that one analyzes forever; because then it wouldn't be meditation. It means one analyzes until the topic of analysis is exhausted and there is some resolution arrived at, at which point the meditation begins.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
After a recent teaching on the Longchen Nyingthik Ngondro at Vajradhara Gonpa [Dec. 24-30, 1998], Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave this interview to the Gentle Voice
Could you firstly say something about this Longchen Nyingthik Ngondro, Rinpoche?
In the Vajrayana the concept of doing the preliminary practice, before one gets into more serious business like receiving initiations, is very much emphasised. That's something very important to do in the Vajrayana in general. So each of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism has foundation practices. But I'd like to clarify something here. Many people think that there's a set of foundation practices. Now foundation, obviously, is like when you build a house, you need a good foundation so that whatever you build will be stable, reliable and for the long run. Likewise, the foundation practice that Vajrayana Buddhists talk about is exactly the same. It's like building a foundation for the spiritual practice. Actually, everything that we do prior to the main practice is a foundation practice, such as compassion and Lojong or the Seven Point Mind Training. Even, as you can tell from the story of Milarepa's life, building houses, dismantling the houses, building them again, things like th! at, are a foundation practice.
Basically, it's a mind training stage. You see, our mind is rigid. We have to make it flexible. And the foundation practice does that. That's the purpose of the foundation practice. But out of the skilful means of the past lamas, they have come up with this idea of a set of foundation practices such as refuge with prostrations, bodhicitta, mandala offering and so on. That's a very wonderful method because that's what is necessary. See, human beings need a certain system. If a master tells a disciple to build a boat, this is going to be his or her foundation practice unless the disciple is very devoted and intelligent. Nowadays, people would not take this as a foundation practice. Foundation practice has to be some kind of mantra chanting and all that. That's why we have to understand foundation practice in this way, as a mind training.
So Longchen Nyingthik is a foundation practice mainly for the Nyingma lineage. And especially for those who wish to practise Dzogchen, this is like the mind training or the foundation practice. But having said that, it's not as though, once you've finished certain numbers that you're supposed to do, you've finished your foundation practice. You'll finish your foundation when your mind is trained, when your mind is flexible! I have seen great lamas like His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, even just before he passed away, doing foundation practice many times. So it's not as if you do it for a few years and then forget it and go on to a higher or bigger grade of practice. It's not like that at all. I mean, guru yoga in particular is something that you continue from now until enlightenment.
Now this particular Longchen Nyingthik Ngondro teaching which I gave was compiled by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. So I thought it would be auspicious for those who wish to practise the Khyentse lineage.
During the preliminary practices we complete large numbers of prostrations and recitations. What effect may these have on practitioners?
Basically, there are these concepts in the Vajrayana of the purification of defilements and the accumulation of merit. These two are very important abilities that a Vajrayana practitioner must have. I mean, even in the Mahayana it's the same. But in the Vajrayana the way we purify defilements and the way we accumulate merit is much more clever, more subtle and more powerful. In the Mahayana or in the other vehicles the way to accumulate merit might involve things that are not necessarily easy to practise, such as giving up your own limbs, or things that are time-consuming such as those requiring three aeons. But in the Vajrayana, because it's so skilful and because it's a wisdom-oriented practice, even methods such as the accumulation of merit and the purification of defilements are based on chanting the mantras.
But then, of course, Vajrayana's root is Mahayana, so here motivation is very important. I mean, if you chant a mantra without the proper motivation or without enough concentration on the visualisation, the mantra might not work as well as it should. This is why, when we talk about motivation, we're talking about bodhicitta basically. And as Buddha said, everything is dependent on circumstances and situation. So if you could chant these mantras based on bodhicitta, the right circumstances and situation can arise. Chanting a mantra is actually creating very profound and subtle circumstances in a way. So this is why it works.
In years gone by, Tibetans always completed their preliminary practices before receiving any tantric initiations. Nowadays many students receive tantric empowerments before starting the foundation practice. Could you say something about this, Rinpoche?
Yes, even the concept of foundation is something that you do first, then you do the main one. But that has actually been quite misleading because many people think that preliminary practice is something that you do first and then you never do it after you finish it. That's not the case here. As Patrul Rinpoche himself said, in a way preliminary practice is much more important than the main practice. This is a slogan. But it makes sense because, as you can read in any foundation practice text, it has bodhicitta, it has refuge and so on. It's like a main practice even though, in order to encourage students, we call it a foundation practice. Anyway, generally you do the foundation practice first and then you get the main initiation or instructions from your teacher. But that's a very standard way of understanding things. It depends totally on your teacher, totally on the lineage, totally on the individual practitioner. Some teacher might teach you Ngondro practice together with a! mai n practice, another might ask you to do the Ngondro several times and then teach the main practice. This totally depends on the individual. But traditionally, the standard interpretation of the foundation practice is something that you do first.
One of the cornerstones of the preliminary practice is guru yoga. Yet the student/teacher relationship may not yet be established. Can you comment on this, Rinpoche?
Especially in the West not many people have an individual guru. And even if they have found a guru, then there's an ongoing relationship problem with the guru. So it's a difficult one. But even if you find a perfect guru and then you practise, it's important to realise this. If you've found the perfect guru, that means you found the perfect guru. It is you who have found the perfect guru. That means you're quite accomplished. So in this way guru yoga is a process of trying to find the perfect guru. And even if one doesn't have an individual guru, I would advise people to do the guru yoga, then find the right guru through this guru yoga. Find one guru or two gurus or whatever. I would not like to disillusion people by letting them think that first you have to find the perfect guru and then you do guru yoga. That sounds a little unrealistic to me.
And on that same subject, what would you advise in order to maintain pure vision towards the teacher?
There are several pieces of advice. I think it's always important that whatever interpretation we make (not only about the guru, but about other people too), it's always coming from one's own interpretation, one's own expectation, one's own fear. And this is the first step that people should learn. It's easy to blame or worship someone. But whatever you do, you are the one who is doing it. As long as you know that and then practise devotion, nothing dramatically wrong can happen. Then apart from that, I always advise people to spend as little time with the guru as possible, unless it's necessary. If it's not necessary, there's not so much point. And then, of course, there's the classic advice such as reading the biographies of past gurus, which might help. But basically, I think it's very important to know that whatever you are thinking or whatever judgment you're making, you are the one who is doing it. That always does seem to help.
Could you say something about the pitfalls and risks for new practitioners of the Dharma, Rinpoche?
Expectation! I think that's one big problem. Of course, motivation also. You know, motivation of why we're practising the Dharma because most of us practise the Dharma from a very limited motivation, wanting to be happy, wanting to be relaxed, wanting to be stronger or whatever. If you do that, you'll be disappointed because we're living in samsara and to be really happy is quite difficult. But the ultimate aim for Dharma practice is not for that. It's for enlightenment. And I think that's my important advice. If you're practising Dharma, you practise it for enlightenment, not for rights, not for freedom, not for justice, not for healing, not for getting better in a worldly way.
What is your advice for those who are undertaking the Ngondro?
Think that from now on until I attain enlightenment, I'll do this. This should be kept in your head. Never think that you're doing this to get a main teaching.
Could you explain a little about the Gesar of Ling ceremony that took place at the gonpa recently, Rinpoche?
I've always thought that during this degenerate time we're tormented by all kinds of suffering. Of course, we always have a lot of different kinds of suffering, different kinds of pain and anxiety. And one of the most difficult is mental conflict, mental confusion, especially depression, getting down and all that. And sometimes when we feel that very strongly, both individually and in a group, it can actually harm the energy of the place, the energy of the country, the energy of the whole environment. So Guru Rinpoche, out of his great compassion, has created a great many treasure teachings for the sake of degenerate times like this. And one of them is the treasure of Gesar of Ling which has got a lot to do with cheering oneself up, strengthening one's own way of looking at things, starting the day with joy, basically, starting the day with something uplifting. As guru yoga is very much emphasised in the Vajrayana, I thought that Gesar of Ling, since he's the manifestation of ! Guru Rinpoche, would be appropriate. It will become not only the dharmapala or protector practice, but it will also become a guru yoga in another form. And those who wish to know about Gesar of Ling should get familiar with some of Chogyam Trungpa's teachings.
Would you like to say anything further in conclusion, Rinpoche?
Be happy. No worries, mate!
with H. H. the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee
By Tsering Dhondup, Published 02/23/2005
Dhondup: It is said that at the time of your birth numerous auspicious signs were
witnessed in your village. Do you remember your past life and the circumstance
of your birth?
H.H. Karmapa: Frankly speaking, I do not remember anything about my birth; I am a normal child like any other. What has or has not happened were beyond my decision. Yes, my parents and relatives told me that there were numerous auspicious signs- signs like the sound of conch shell being blown, which occurred during the time of my birth, was similar to that witnessed when the 5th and 13th Karmapa were born.
Tsering Dhondup: How do you compare your life here in India to that back in Tibet?
H. H. the Karmapa: Tibet is my country and I feel that I was happy living there; but I do not feel any unhappiness living in India.
Tsering Dhondup: What in your view is the essence of Buddhism?
H. H. the Karmapa: In my view, the essence of Buddhism consists in reducing physical, mental and verbal defilement. We should not harm other beings even if we cannot help them. It is important to develop love, kindness and sincere motivation. It is very important to practice these Bodhisattva qualities and contemplate on the essence of Bodhichitta.
Tsering Dhondup: How can one manage negative emotions like attachment, fear hatred, pride, etc?
H. H. the Karmapa: Lord Buddha has shown that there are limitless methods to tackle one's problems. We must understand these methods. The important qualities are contemplation on the loving kindness, compassion, emptiness and meditation and practice them in our daily life. We must sincerely dedicate these qualities for the benefit of other sentient beings. It is also very important to have a genuine master to guide one in the right way.
Tsering Dhondup: The human society is beset with numerous problems, or rather, conflicts. How do you think they could be best addressed?
H. H. the Karmapa: There are many problems in our society and all these occur due to selfish motives. Important tools to resolve conflicts can be developing compassion to other beings, developing sincere motivation and putting effort to bring unity and harmony. It is important to think others as more important than oneself.
Tsering Dhondup: How can we make our life more meaningful by applying the concepts of Buddhist philosophy?
H. H. the Karmapa: Our body, speech and mind are laced with defilement due to which we find ourselves subject to various kinds of suffering. We must strive for happiness by training our mind. If we manage to train our mind, we can bring peace, happiness, harmony and joy for all sentient beings. The problem is that we are not practically achieving them because we fail to train our mind. Buddhism is a very strong tool for taming the mind and bringing it to a peaceful state. So, if we can train our mind, we can definitely achieve peace and happiness, which is the ultimate aim of our life.
Tsering Dhondup: How do you compare modern life to the ancient?
H. H. the Karmapa: The only difference that I find between ancient and modern life is the development of modern scientific technology. With the development of science and technology, there are fast communication between nations and individuals. But despite the absence of these, I feel that our ancient ancestors had more joy and happiness. People in the past were more peaceful, more motivated, more patriotic, and there was more love among the people. I respect the ancient people because they were very genuine and sincere in nature and understanding. And ancient culture is richer.
Tsering Dhondup: Do you have any special advice for our readers?
H. H. the Karmapa: I have not much things to say now, yet I believe that it is very important to build one's life in a very meaningful way. Thinking about making one's own life as well as dedicating work for the goodness of other beings is equally important. The modern life is more busy and tougher, so it is important to strive to build sincere intention, motivation and indulge in positive and pure actions. As a Tibetan, we should not waste our time. We must do our own work as well as we must think about our nation to bring more unity and harmony among ourselves as well as with other people. Development of positive wishes is also very valuable.
Source: Tibetan Review
Interview with Lama Lodru Rinpoche
Subject: Three Year Retreat
Rinpoche, when I talked to some of the people going into 3-year retreat I was
amazed at their joy -- it was as though they had won the lottery. Yet, for most
Americans the idea of being sequestered and engaging in rigorous meditation practice
for three years is not a very entertaining prospect, so where does their joy come
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: Your question requires a two-part answer: the people you met had been students of the Buddha/Dharma for many years. They had listened again and again to the teachings and over time through practice their experience was transformed from an intellectual understanding to a genuine understanding. So they view 3-year retreat as an opportunity to free themselves from suffering and realize perfect Buddhahood to benefit sentient beings. Faced with such an opportunity they experience great joy. Secondly, although many Americans have heard the same teachings and have even practiced what they've heard, their karmic relationship with 3-year retreat is not as strong. The people you met had some past-life con nection with 3-year retreat, had followed the lineage, had practiced -- and so all these habitual tendencies, this familiarity gave them the feeling of coming home rather than going to some tortuous place.
Q: The 3-year retreat is very prescribed, it is very precise -- could you please tell us the nature of this particular 3-year retreat you started in Mendocino County.
LLR: Actually, all 3-year retreats are essentially the same but each school has unique traditions, unique ways to transmit and practice. Our Mendocino retreat follows the tradition of the Shangpa/Kagyu lineage -- the lineage holder being his Holi ness Kalu Rinpoche. So we are following in his foot steps.
Q: What is the Shangpa/Kagyu lineage?
LLR: Shang is a region not far from Lhasa. The founder of this lineage practiced in that area. He built a big monastery there and gathered many accomplished students. So the lineage Shangpa/Kagyu comes from Shangpa, the region, and Kagyu which means oral tradition.
Q: Who was the founder of the Shangpa/Kagyu lineage?
LLR: The founder of the Shangpa/Kagyu lineage was the Tibetan great master Khungpo Naljor. Khungpo was his family name. Khung means magic bird. You see, an extraordinary bird laid eggs on the roof of a certain house. The eggs hatched -- five dif ferent young boys. Many generations later the great master Khungpo Naljor was born into the Khung family. This is the same family Milarepa and many other great yogis come from. Naljor means yogi. So Khungpo Naljor means yogi from magical bird family. Khungpo Naljor was a Bonpo, a practitioner of the White Bon religion. He completely accomplished the Bon teachings and became abbott of the Bon Monastery. Yet he wasn't satisfied with these accomplishments since the Bon religion did not come from the Bu ddha. So he began studying the Nygingma tradition of Buddhism and again became a well-known accomplished teacher. Although the Nygingma contained hidden spiritual treasure and he received great benefit, he concluded after some research that there was so mething unsatisfactory in continuing with this tradition, so he came to the Kagyupa practice. One day his Kagyupa master said, "Khungpo, you are equal to my realization." Khungpo Naljor's reaction was that since he, Khungpo Naljor, had no realization, h e needed to move on and look deeper. So having availed himself of all the Buddhist teachings in Tibet, he decided to travel to India, to Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha where there were many great yogis and the teachings were alive. When he left Tibet for India he was already 50 years old. In India he studied with 150 different teachers. He learned the language; he studied with great care, and he practiced in accordance with the yogi tradition. Eventually he became a well-known yogi in India. Although he had 150 teachers, his root guru, his principle guru was Niguma, Wisdom Dakini, who received teachings directly from Vajradhara/Dorje Chang. Another female guru of Khungpo Naljor was Sukkasiddhi -- who also fully transformed the ripening Karmic body to Wisdom body and was a great accomplished Mahasiddha. He received teachings from the great Mahasiddhas, Rahula Gupta, and Maitrepa. Those four were his root gurus. Among them, however, Niguma, was the most im portant guru for him, for his realization. He lived in India for 50 years studying, learning, practicing. After 50 years he returned to Tibet to spread the Dharma. At that point he was 100 years old, and had almost 100,000 students who had accomplished true enlightenment. For seven generations from Niguma to Sangye T'npa these Shangpa/Kagyu teachings were "a whispered transmission" passed from one teacher to one perfect disciple. At the end of seven generations Sangye T'npa's disciple, Tsultrim Gompo, compiled the teachings into a text which is now available throughout the world. Whoever is connected karmically can receive them. And of course Tsultrim Gompo was an incarnation of Khungpo Naljor himself.
Q: Rinpoche, you worked very hard to create a 3-year retreat facility for 5 nuns and 5 monks, and yet people might question the benefit of only 5 men and 5 women practicing.
LLR: Now we only have 5 men and 5 women because these people are completely refined students who really want to practice, and really desire to do 3-year retreat. So, I thought since their desire is so strong, and if they will practice thoroughly and become truly accomplished, and deliver these teachings in the world, then even though the number is small they will create great benefit, beyond what I can accomplish by myself. I felt the future benefit outweighed the short-term sacrifices involved in creating the conditions for this 3-year retreat.
Q: What qualifies a person to enter 3-year retreat? Is it just a matter of requesting permission?
LLR: Well, if someone comes and just expresses the wish to participate I probably would not allow it since they do not know the teachings and the lineage, do not know me as a teacher, which could create many obstacles, confusion and misunderstanding. And also if I don't know them, don't understand them, I won't know how to teach them. So the knowledge has to be on both sides. The people presently on retreat have known and studied with me for 12-13 years.
Q: So 3-year retreat depends not just on the connection with the lineage but with yourself, the Vajra Master?
LLR: Yes, you can use the term Vajra Master or Du B'n which means chief of the retreatants, head of the retreatants. But I don't identify with any title like that. I am not Du B'n; I am nobody. I just do my best.
Q: In glancing through Jamgon Kongtrul's retreat manual, it said even if you have just a flash of disrespect or doubt of the teacher, this can create great obstacles for one's retreat.
Q: What did he mean by that?
LLR: Well, the teacher is the one delivering, transmitting the teachings of the Buddha. These teachings can bring enlightenment. If one distrusts the teacher, one defiles the teachings you are receiving. If a doctor gives medicine to cure your illness and you don't listen how to administer this medicine, what to eat and not to eat while taking the medicine, if you ignore his instructions, the medicine meant to cure you could kill you. This is somewhat analogous to the retreatants' relationship with the teacher. The teachings are coming from the Buddha but one is receiving them from a human teacher. Three-year retreat follows the Vajrayana system and in the Vajrayana the teacher is the Buddha, the one who gives realization. So anything the teacher teaches must be received respectfully with confidence. Without this confi dence the teachings are poisoned and one will not be able to accomplish what one wishes to accomplish.
Q: One thing that seems to awe people who hear about 3-year retreat is the rigorous routine retreatants experience. For example, getting up at 3:00 a.m., and sleeping sitting up. Do people get used to these practices?
LLR: The physical obstacles are not so difficult for people. After one week people have no problem with fewer hours of sleep. After several weeks the pain of sitting cross legged is overcome. The physical obstacles are not the problem; physical problems we can control. Mental problems are more difficult to control. It is very difficult to discipline the mind. No matter how much discipline you have, when a thought comes you have no power to stop it, unless you can employ very powerful effective techniques to cut off those thoughts.
Q: Are these techniques only available to people on 3-year retreat?
LLR: People outside 3-year retreat have no time to employ these techniques. First of all you have to tame your mind, make your mind soft and gentle, and then you can utilize more active techniques. Without this taming of the mind the techniques are not useful, and could even bring lots of difficulties. It is not so much that people outside 3-year retreat cannot learn or be given these techniques it is just they have no time to apply them. They have to make a living, there are lots of distractions, and this type of distracted mind is not good for the pr ofound teachings you learn in 3-year retreat. Also during 3-year retreat the teachings are given in sequence, not all at once. When one teaching is complete another is introduced.
Q: What kind of obstacles are faced by people on 3-year retreat?
LLR: At the beginning they face the obstacles of being away for the first time from the samsaric world. When one is on 3-year retreat one is really cut off from samsara which at first makes people uneasy, and depressed. But actually by experiencing these emotions one learns more, one is taught more, and then gradually one set tles down.
Q: So the afflictions are helpful. But how do you use them?
LLR: Outside 3-year retreat these afflictions make one more afflicted. But in 3-year retreat the afflictions deepen our understanding of the teachings because one has time to consider the afflictions, watch them carefully.
Q: What if someone on 3-year retreat is completely overcome by negative emotions? Although they do their best to transform these emotions, they feel compelled to leave 3-year retreat, to give up. Would you advise them to leave?
LLR: If he or she has Karma with 3-year retreat the situation as you describe it may not occur. But even if the karma is there, many obstacles may arise. I will examine that person and say, "Don't worry about it. Just practice. It's okay," and use some skill to comfort them and make them do better. If they have karma with me and I have karma with them they will change their outlook and be cured. If he or she has no karma in the first place, they will never enter (3-year retreat). For exampl e I have two students who two or three times now have attempted and failed to go into 3-year retreat. They are close disciples and very devoted, but karma for 3-year retreat is not there.
Q: In talking about these results...when I am around you, Rinpoche, for example, I am amazed by the breadth of your activity, how much you accomplish even in an ordinary sense -- how many people you see, how many people are drawn to you for help. Is this the kind of result we are talking about? What is the result -- the aim of the 3-year retreat?
LLR: I think the aim is to escape from samsaric suffering, to cut off the causes of suffering, the root of suffering, to attain full awakening. When you have rooted out the causes of suffering and attained full awakening naturally, spontaneously benefit comes for sentient beings. So the aim is two fold: (1) to free ourselves from the causes of suffering, and achieve full awakening, (2) to free all sentient beings from suffering so they have everlasting happiness. This is the aim generally of Mahayana Buddhism and particularly the teacher should have this attitude. This is wh at I teach.
Q: Before going on 3-year retreat people must have completed Ngondro, and yet is it true that they begin these practices again from scratch after they go in?
LLR: For the first seven days they do the Vajrakilya practice to remove the obstacles from the path. Then they go to Ngondro practice -- normal preliminary practice: prostration, Vajrasattva mantra, Mandala offering, and Guru Yoga for six months. After that, particular to this lineage, they do Milarepa guru yoga practice for a month. After that, Seven Point Mind Training for one month, then Calm Abiding practice, and Insight practice, and then they go to the Four Deities practice, and so on.
Q: All of this is taught in Tibetan, all the texts are in Tibetan?
LLR: It has to be Tibetan. There are no translations.
Q: So in order to participate in 3-year retreat you have to have a good reading and writing knowledge of Tibetan?
LLR: It is very helpful if you are ready for it -- reading, writing and understanding Tibetan is very helpful.
Q: So if you don't have this knowledge...?
LLR: You will miss many things.
Q: Are there still whispered transmissions?
LLR: Although whispered transmissions are now written down those who can receive them must still be chosen. The teacher has to know the student is ready to receive them. So it is not the student's decision. These whispered transmissions are still very secret. Recently, for example, we gave an empowerment to 15-20 people. Certainly if this teaching had been open to the public thousands would have attended but it was limited to a select group of students we knew well who may go into 3-year retreat in the future.
Q: Are you speaking of the Five Golden Dharmas?
Q: What is the significance of these Five Golden Dharmas to the 3-year retreat?
LLR: The Five Golden Dharmas are the main body of the Shangpa/Kagyu lineage transmission. They express the Shangpa/Kagyu practice in five different categories which together create the image of a tree. So the root of the Shangpa/Kagyu practice is the Six Yogas of Niguma: 1. heat yoga, 2. Illusory yoga, 3. dream yoga, 4. clear-light yoga, 5. Bardo, and 6. Powa. The trunk of the tree is Mahamudra. This Mahamudra practice is called "Chag-chen Ghau-ma," the "Mahamudra of Amulet."
Q: Why is it called Mahamudra of Amulet?
LLR: During Kungpo Naljor's time the Indian people were very concerned that their scriptures were being stolen and smuggled out of India into Tibet. They were very possessive and jealously guarded them. Knowing this Kungpo Naljor wrote the Mahamudra teachings on a leaf of the Bodhi tree and put it in his blessing box, his amulet, which he carried past the border guards into Tibet. This is why we call it the Mahamudra of Amulet (blessing box). The branches are referred to as "carrying the three into the path." The three being: carrying the guru as path, carrying the deit ies as path, carrying the afflictions as path. The flowers of the tree are red and white ones who enjoy space (Red and White Dakinis). The fruit of the tree is the result being the attainment of deathlessness and birthlessness.
LLR: In my time with Kalu Rinpoche one received the Five Golden Dharmas in sequence; first one, then the others. But when Bokar Rinpoche came to our retreatland in July 1996, I asked him to give them all at once. These empowerments require learned assistants, and it would have been very difficult for me alone to give them without this skilled help. Since Bokar Rinpoche was traveling with several lamas, they were able to assist him with these very complicated empowerments.
Q: Why are they called the Five Golden Dharmas? Why Golden?
LLR: Khungpo Naljor brought gold from Tibet which he offered to his teacher. So now it is traditional for students receiving these empowerments to give a small piece of gold. But when we received these teachings from Kalu Rinpoche we did not eve n have food to eat, much less gold, so Rinpoche gave us a piece of gold to give back to him as a symbol. This is what happened when I received the Five Golden Dharmas. Western students are more fortunate and most of them are able to make a small offering of gold--this is not necessary, but symbolically by giving the same offering as Kungpo Naljor they will gain the same realization.< P> Q: The Five Golden Dharmas came directly from Niguma?
LLR: Yes, directly from Niguma.
Q: Recently I spoke to one of your students who had entered 3-year retreat and what surprised him was how little leisure he had during the day -- less than 1/2 hour free time? Why is there so little free time during 3-year retreat? Why is the practice so intense?
LLR: Because this is the reason they are in 3-year retreat. Outside the world is intense and our involvement in that intensity causes suffering and pain. When you realize you only have these 3 years you want to use every moment of this leisure in the proper way to lead you in the right direction. If you become lazy during th e retreat there is no benefit. You might as well be outside. So, in retreat every moment is consumed in positive activity. If you have a lot of free time you have time for confusion and negative activity.
Q: Does someone come around to see if you get up at 3:00 a.m.?
LLR: Actually, that's my responsibility! Not all the time, but once in awhile I check up on everyone.
Q: You have led lots of different people in 3-year retreats. Is there a difference between Americans, Europeans, or Asians?
LLR: Europeans and Americans are the same but students from Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet are slightly different in that they have memorized most of the texts because it is their scripture, what they have grown up with. Most of them retain the rituals very well and it is easy for them. But for Europeans and Americans it is difficult because they have to learn the language and read scriptures and learn t he Mudras and chanting. All of these things together make it a bit more complicated than for the Tibetans or Sikkimese. Yet the Westerners have great intelligence and diligence and if they want to learn, they will learn thoroughly and precisely. Howeve r Western people are somewhat undisciplined in that they always sit in chairs, drive cars, drive when they could walk. In Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim people walk miles and become used to physical hardships such as no electric light, no heaters, no air condi tioners. During my 3-year retreat we relied on a small candle for light, had no heat and no coolers. But, so what. When the weather is hot, it is hot, when it is cold you put on more clothes. Nothing more than that. Here people cannot live like that. They like electricity for heat and light, coolers and so on. Also, in Tibet and in Sikkim I never taught women.
Q: So women usually only have women teachers?
LLR: Usually there are women teachers for women and men teachers for men, and my experience in the East was teaching only monks. However, certainly men can teach women, and women can teach men. And when I began to teach women it was an amazing experience because I saw the different qualities men and women have.
Q: How different?
LLR: The women have great faith, devotion and intelligence. They learn more easily than men and teaching women is easier. They are very intelligent, diligent, and open. The men may be intelligent but they don't use their full intelligence at times.
Q: What does that mean, use their full intelligence?
LLR: They don't work as hard -- give 100%. They use their intelligence up to a point but don't put extra effort in. This is my experience, at least, with Western men. They also learn more slowly compared to women. The only weakness in women is when they experience emotion one has to counsel them -- use many skillful means to remove their emotion. The men, athough they don't have as much intelligence and diligence, never give up. This is my experience. The women at a certain point, even if a little problem arises, may say, "okay I can't do this." But when the teacher's advice is available to them they, without exception, will respond, "Oh, yes. Oh, okay. I get it. Thank you," and the problem is overcome. Of course six months later one may face the same situation. Not all men and women fit in these categories I have described. I am speaking of general observations.
Q: Why does the retreat have to be 3 years? Why not one year or two years?
LLR: If one can live 3 years, 3 months, 3 days, in a positive state with the mind not influenced by negativity, one is then purified enough to realize full enlightenment according to the tantric system. This is a complicated subject to discuss here today. There is a sequence of teachings that have to be completed before your question can fully be answered and understood.
Q: But what about stories where people experience instant enlightenment?
LLR: Oh, I see. These people who realize instant enlightenment have in a past life practiced much longer than 3 years. They may have lived their whole life in a mountain practicing so in this life they just have to come back to this body to finish and instantly are enlightened. By his/her karma with the past life guru, other karmic connections with the guru and disciple, his/her familiarity with the teachings -- all of these causes create instant enlightenment. So this does not mean that such and such a technique will bring enlightenment in an instant. The technique did not bring enlightenment. He/she was karmically ripened already.
Q: Is 3-year retreat the only means to enlightenment?
LLR: Well, there are many other ways to enlightenment. Milarepa took twelve years, Buddha took six years. We have 3 years through the blessings of Milarepa and the Buddha. So, yes there are other techniques besides the 3-year retreat. You can practice outside if you are ready for that. But if you don't go into 3-year retreat usually your worldly activities do not allow you to practice. In 3-year retreat you are committed. Everything settles down. You just have to c oncentrate on practice. If you are outside, today you go on retreat, tomorrow you come out because something happens. But people on 3-year retreat are committed. They can't come out. They are protected by their commitment.
Q: After some students read this they may feel, "I missed my precious opportunity to go on 3-year retreat. I must not be a worthy person." Is this the right attitude?
LLR: Not everyone who comes to Kagyu Droden Kunchab goes to 3-year retreat. They can still do good things which will help them on the path both in this life and the next life. Some people will want to go on 3-year retreat but conditions will not allow them to do so. I have had many students who have wanted to go on 3-year retreat for a long time but were not able to do so because of obstacles.
Q: It does sound as though if one is serious about practicing the Dharma one should think about going on 3-year retreat and work toward that goal -- that 3- year retreat is the best, the fastest and most useful technique in benefiting beings and reaching enlightenment?
LLR: In 3-year retreat one completes from beginning to end the whole vision of the lineage, the practice, what the lineage offers. Yet, just because a person doesn't plan to go on to University doesn't mean she shouldn't finish high school. So, similarly if someone were to say, "If you don't go to 3-year retreat why bother being Buddhist" -- that's nonsense. Even a little knowledge of the Buddha/Dharma teaches you how to live positively in the world.
Q: Is it possible to come to complete awakening and understanding while living in the world?
LLR: Many Mahasiddhas lived in the world. They were farmers, they were dice players, they grew figs. Through these activities, these pursuits, they became enlightened. The thing to remember is the action does not bring enlightenment. The view b rings enlightenment. Playing dice in an ordinary way does not bring enlightenment but the Mahasiddha who gained enlightenment playing dice had one-pointed, unwavering contemplation. When we see him we see a dice player; but we don't see inside, we don't see the yogi. So there are ways to become enlightened through ordinary activity. Some yogis sleep for twelve years, wake up and (Rinpoche snaps his fingers) are enlightened.
Q: So is enlightenment a true understanding of the dream like quality of existence?
LLR: Yes, that's the understanding, but you have to stay in that state of mind for twelve years, completely accustomed, completely habituated. Asleep, the state of the yogi's mind, was clear light. Staying for twelve years in clear light removed ignorance completely and when he came back to reality he became enlightened. But these are examples beyond the reach of ordinary people. Those yogis demonstrated enlightenment in one lifetime through simple actions, but that lifetime was a culmination of countless lifetimes of effort toward enlightenment. For those interested in the stories of the Mahasiddhas there is a book entitled, Buddha's Lions, The Lives of the Eighty-four Siddhas, Dharma publications. There is a saying which says, "A tiger can jump from mountain to mountain but if a dog tries to jump he will fall off the cliff and die." If you are a tiger you can jump; if you are a dog you should find a bridge to walk over. There are some like Milarepa who can practice alon e, outside of 3-year retreat, but most people need the protection of the commitment which is the 3-year retreat.
Q: What if one of your students said they want to go off on their own and practice for 3 years?
LLR: If I know them well enough I could trust them, yes. But if I don't know them then no. Karma is very important in relation to 3-year retreat. I have students who for 13 years worked hard and thought of nothing but 3-year retreat. They wanted to do it. I put all effort into making this happen for them as quickly as pos sible but I wasn't able to finish. But as soon as they left all the conditions for the 3-year retreat were accomplished immediately. This indicated there was some unfortunate karma.
Q: I remember Kalu Rinpoche speaking at length of the value of going on 3-year retreat, but he spoke of it very matter of factly like suggesting the value of going to Europe. For many of us it still feels like a huge undertaking, a huge commitment.
LLR: Yes, if the karma is not there it is a huge commitment, very scary. But if you have this karmic connection 3-year retreat will seem too short. Many people after completing 3-year retreat will do 6-year retreat, 9 years of retreat. In Canada there were many people who after completing one 3-year retreat went on to do more because in their last life they were mature enough, ripened enough, so in this life when the door opened they did not hesitate.
Q: Do you think in the future there will be a 3-year retreat American style, in English and a little bit easier?
LLR: (Rinpoche laughs) I'm afraid I'm not authorized to make it any easier for Americans. A great Tantric master came to teach an American audience comprised of people interested in Tantric Buddhism. He was scheduled to teach early in the day but he was not on time. The audience became quite angry, "I paid for these teachings -- so where is the teacher. This is unfair -- this shows no compassion, why should we have to wait." Yet all along the teacher was examining the audience to see if they had sufficient patience and devotion to receive these very rare and profound teachings. Finally he appeared and said to those assembled, "I am sorry, I hoped to offer you these basic tantric teachings which came from Milarepa who sacrificed and labored to receive them. Yet you could not wait patiently even 2 hours. Clearly you are not fortunate enough to receive them. So, I am sorry but I am leaving now."
LLR: We have many students who want teachings, but unfortunate karma prevents them from gaining them.
Q: That seems sad.
LLR: It is sad, but what can we do? It is karma. if you are sad it doesn't help. Better just enjoy whatever happens.
DBJ: Thank you very much, Rinpoche.
LLR: You are welcome.
This interview was given in August 1996. The interviewer was Deborah Price-Janke.
with Lama Yeshey Gyamtso
by Jim Sande
Sande: Tell us about yourself, where you are from, and anything you want to say
Lama Gyamtso: I'm from Montreal, Canada. My parents were Canadians and had no connection with Buddhism, particularly. I went to school in Montreal and got involved in Buddhism in my late teens. I went into my first three-year retreat when I was twenty-one, the second one when I was twenty-six and came out when I was thirty. And I've been teaching and translating since then.
J.S.: How old are you now?
J.S.: Under whose guidance did you do the retreats?
L.G.: Well, the retreats I did were at Karma Thubten Chöling in Wappingers Falls. So it was under the direction of Lama Norlha. And the retreats were, in general, under the direction of Kalu Rinpoche.
J.S.: I was thinking that we could get involved in a discussion. I talked to a couple of people about the kinds of questions to ask you, and several people came up with the same kind of question, so maybe it's relevant. So I'll read to you this complex question that I wrote down and we'll take it from there.
We have tremendous expectations in our lives, maybe because we are so saturated with media images of whom we could be like or of things we could own. Many of us have a very difficult time being happy with our lives as they are. There's this big gap. Almost everyone that we meet talks about not liking their career or job, or relationship, parents, money, or their lifestyle, this is a very common kind of thing, this dissatisfaction. There is an idea of wanting a better life, and that is connected with some improvement in their career or place. And almost everyone who feels this way is simultaneously dissatisfied. And yet, on one hand, we have so much materialistically, and yet, simultaneously, we feel so terribly dissatisfied. That's one thing to respond to and maybe open up a dialogue about.
And then there is another thing which is sort of fundamental, and that is that, besides being internally at war with these issues, we seem to be externally at war with our neighbors and in adversarial relationships, and that, as a consequence, seems to make us feel, I think, terribly lonely. You can go to the mall or out driving on the highway and experience a feeling of terrible loneliness even though there are a number of people around who live in the same community and share many things, but yet we are terribly lonely in America. And I know that some people that read this can relate to this idea and would love to have some kind of relief (laughter) from these problems.
L.G.: We seem to be experiencing a great deal of pain. And when pain comes from external circumstances - being at war, being impoverished, being ill - then it's easy to account for. But, when everything is going right in our lives, and we're still not happy, it makes us investigate the situation very deeply. That is one of the things that is happening right now. And there is a great deal of hard work being done by people as individuals and people in the various helping professions in investigating what this problem is and what we can do about it. So, I think that what has to happen is an individual, either on their own or with the advice of friends or therapists or teachers or someone, has to look very carefully at their own situation and see what it is that they want that they are not getting.
Now Buddha's idea about this, as it is traditionally stated, is that the basic problem is that we are addicted to wanting. The problem is that not that we don't get what we want, but we use wanting itself as an occupation to keep us entertained, and therefore once we get what we want, it does not cure the fundamental problem. We stop wanting that, we have it, and we switch to wanting something else. So we never enjoy what we acquire and we never enjoy fully. We do enjoy, of course, to some extent, but we never enjoy fully what we experience. The way that one can transcend this, and it's easy to transcend a coarse degree of this - subtle degrees of this are another matter - but a coarse degree of this, is by somehow slowing down the speed of one's acquisitiveness, and that is one of the major reasons why people practice meditation.
There are a million different meditation techniques that people use in the Buddhist tradition and in other traditions but, fundamentally, what the proper practice of meditation is based on is somehow gently cutting through the speed of always looking for satisfaction in a future moment through some future acquisition of some kind. And that's all that's necessary in order to heal this particular problem.
Now as far as the social situation of loneliness is concerned, if you look at your own moods and at how you are with people around you, you'll see that when you're happy you are friendly and nice, and when you're unhappy you're not very nice. Especially if you feel that you are suffering more than those around you, you're not nice at all! And so what is happening is that people are becoming obsessed with their own misery. And the reason is fundamentally the same problem: we feel we shouldn't be unhappy--we have everything or most things, we know we have more than most people, and yet we seem so unhappy. And that makes us resent ourselves, we resent ourselves for feeling unhappy. And we regard ourselves as spoiled children. But we're not really like spoiled children. We're just ordinary human beings.
What is necessary from a Buddhist point of view is just simply to introduce some space into the situation. And that is the function of meditation. So if meditation is practiced properly then one becomes friendlier. One is less in a state of panicked agitation. And that makes one more able to relate to other people's needs, and more able to be sympathetic to others. Because you start to see that whatever is going wrong in our life is probably going wrong in other people's lives too. You're not the only one who's going through your particular type of pain. This gives you a sense of kinship with others that also helps minimize the suffering.
At the same time, as you relax your mind, some of what's going on starts to stop being a problem. But at the same time it's very important that people not turn meditation into some kind of get healthy quick scheme. That they have a sense - it's very important that people have a sense of their own fundamental richness, their own fundamental strength and intelligence. And this has nothing to do with who you are in particular. The very fact that you are alive is a testament to the fact that your basic nature is something good, something positive. We do not, in our tradition, regard the nature of life as neutral. We regard it as fundamentally good.
Now when we say that all experience is pervaded by suffering, we mean that there are severe problems, imperfections. But the fundamental nature of experience itself, the fundamental nature of beings having minds, is considered to be good. And this is something that is entirely traditional. We say in our tradition," kun zhi la lo chin gay wa", which means that the basic ground of experience is in its nature good or virtuous. Meditation of whatever kind has to reveal that basic ground of goodness. And if it does, then you discover that you contain the remedies to all your problems, that your fundamental mind contains, so to speak, the medicine that will cure whatever is afflicting you.
Until you reveal that ground, then you think that you are going to get the cure from outside, from your teachers, from the techniques of meditation, from books, from belief systems so forth, and teachers are necessary because teachers show one how to practice. Belief systems are less important because it has to be based on experience. But the most important thing is that practice will reveal your own basic fundamental strength, intelligence, and goodness, and because that is where the answers come from.
The answers don't come directly from books. And the answers are not conceptual, the answers are direct experience. As direct in experience as the taste of milk or the taste of sugar which can't really be described. I can say that sugar is sweet, but unless you've had it you don't even know what I am talking about. And I can describe the taste of milk but not very effectively. Well, books are like that, and, in fact, any kind of belief system is like that as well, it's only an approximation.
So meditation practice can deal with loneliness and deal with this bizarre pain that we experience. But in order to do so it has to be based on the understanding that all you're doing is revealing a fundamental excellence within you that's always been there, you're not trying to transform yourself from a bad person into a good person. All you're trying to do is remove something that is obscuring your basic nature.
J.S.: Let's see, what can we talk about? That's basically it.
L.G.: That's basically it. When you look at the various things that we are coming up with to deal with our pain, we are developing very sophisticated and, in some cases, I think, very intelligent approaches to therapy, and we're also looking at traditional disciplines such as meditation and the various things associated with traditions of meditation, and, in some cases, we are trying to find the common ground between these, but I think that the basic point of all successful approaches to healing the pain, I think what is really common to all of them is that they're based on a recognition of a fundamental excellence or goodness within the individual, him or herself. And as long as what you do is based on that I think, it will help tremendously. As long as what you do, whatever it is--it could take Buddhist form--as long as what you do is based on trying to find a cure outside yourself, something to take away your pain, I don't think it will work. So I think it depends on that, more than on what you call it, whether it's called Buddhism or not. And because as long as you are afraid to look at yourself and afraid to go deep enough in to find that ground of excellence that is underneath all this ruble that is so disturbing, then you're running away. And I think that if you stop running, and you turn back, and you start digging through the ruble, you will find that it's not so bad after all. The problem that we have is that when you say it's not so bad after all, if you hear someone say that and you're still running, you don't believe it. You think it's some kind of trick.
It's an interesting thing when Buddhism is taught to Westerners. It's very different from teaching Asians, I think, because, I can't say Asians in general, but Tibetans, unless something particularly horrible is going on, they are basically pretty cheerful people. And basically they like themselves. It's changing now because modern society is becoming much more homogenous than it used to be. The world used to be very different in different places, but we in the West at this time are always coming from a fundamental sense of poverty, a fundamental sense of depression that is poignant considering the external richness of our society.
So that means that while it may be appropriate when teaching in Tibet to lay on the fire and brimstone, because, if you lay on the fire and brimstone to a Tibetan, then he will hear the message as, "I am a fundamentally good person who needs to be careful." But if you lay on fire and brimstone in the West, people hear the message as, "I am a miserable worm who deserves misery." In fact, the message is the first, not the second, but we don't hear it that way. That's why when we teach in the West you have to be very careful to make it clear to those listening that you have respect for them and that you're not considering them to be benighted, ignorant, lost souls, miserable worms crouching in the darkness of the pit, that you recognize them as human beings who want to heal and grow. Then the whole of traditional Buddhism or any system can be taught perfectly well, but it has to be clearly presented from the very beginning that, ultimately, where you're headed is a revelation of the peoples' fundamental goodness. And that is why, for example, 'The Jewel Ornament of Liberation', begins with a chapter on Buddha nature. That's why that is the first thing presented.
J.S.: So in stepping back to what you originally said, the addiction to wanting seems to be the salient point of why there such a miserable sense of self. You find that that addiction to wanting is --
L.G.: Well, the addiction itself is not particular to our own culture and time. We just have a particular situation where it is poignantly obvious. It's easier to disguise that addiction as something else when your external circumstances are "horrific". If you are starving or if you are a political prisoner or you're physically ill, then it makes sense that you're miserable. In fact, the ultimate reason is still because of a fixation. Nevertheless, the external circumstances are very difficult. But if you're healthy and wealthy, and you're miserable, then you wonder what would make me happy? If I have all of this and I'm not happy, what do I need? And you start to realize that the one thing you lack is contentment. There's a story that - I think it was one of the emperors of China but I'm not sure - a Tibetan teacher was teaching someone in another country during what we would call the middle ages. And this person in the other country was very powerful and wealthy and who may have been an emperor of China or something similar, asked the teacher, "Who was the wealthiest person in the country of Tibet?" And the teacher said, "The wealthiest person in Tibetan history was Jetsun Milarepa." And the emperor said, "Well what did he own?" And the teacher said, "He had one cotton robe and a kind of bowl that he ate in and cooked in." And the emperor said, "Well why do you say he was the wealthiest person?" The teacher answered, "He had contentment, and that's the greatest wealth there is-- contentment!"
J.S.: It seems like we confuse the sense of contentment. Contentment for people is always the same idea, you're contented when you've had a victory or you've made a made a lot money or something.
L.G.: Well, that's sort of temporary contentment because you've filled what were your aims. But then the problem is that, once you've filled those, your aims start to expand further. And we encourage this in our society. When children grow up and go to college they are told, "Be ambitious! If you lack ambition you'll never get anywhere!" And there's some wisdom to that. There's a kind of ambition which consists of vision and is without fixation. But if it's obsessive comparison of oneself to others, then that is unhealthy because it makes you miserable. No matter who you are there will always be someone who has more or who is more. And this is true in any sphere.
So you need a kind of joyful or delighted sense of energy that keeps you moving, keeps you doing whatever it is you've chosen to do in your life. But you also need a sense of relaxation and contentment. And genuine contentment comes not from having so much, from having fulfilled certain aims that you have set out as it comes from recognizing that happiness comes from enjoying your own basic nature. Rather than enjoying something that is outside you. Because if all enjoyment in life is the temporary circumstances in which you find yourself, then there's no security, no stability in your enjoyment because they'll change. If I'm happy because I saw a good movie, then tomorrow I might be unhappy because I won't see a good movie. But if I'm happy because the movie reminded me of something fundamentally good in myself, that's different.
JS: It seems so true that people get to that point of instability, insecurity, and, in order to ease that, will just continue again to say the same thing over and over again, just continue for another goal, another acquisition, another object, another amount of money, whatever.
LG: Yeah, and that's basically the same thing that heroin addicts do. You know, you get to a certain point and that just makes you normal, so then you have to take stronger and stronger doses, until finally you overdose and die. Well, what happens to people in aggressively competitive occupations is that they--long after they have reached a level of standard of life and income, that is, that should be satisfactory to them--they are still not enjoying it because they have to, first of all, protect it from competition, and then they have to conquer further territory because they see that other people have more, and that disturbs them, prevents them from enjoying what they have.
And the irony of this kind of situation, if it degenerates into an absolute panic, is, if you have a family and a beautiful living situation, that you never enjoy them. You're never home because you've got to work more and more and more and more and more. If you don't, you're like someone driving slowly in the fast lane. I think that there is a way to take part in that lifestyle without losing groundedness. And I think that that way would consist of setting aside at least a certain amount of time every day, a small amount of time to create space. Buddhists would do the practice of meditation. And, somehow, having that little bit of space in your life would not slow down your speed of accomplishment the rest of the time, but it would relax you throughout the rest of the day because you would know that there is a bit of a gap somewhere - the domino effect of agitation--one minute's agitation produces the next minute's, and so forth--would stop. One domino would be missing, and then one of them would fall down but not knock down any other one. So I think that kind of thing is very important.
JS: It is sort of interesting when you're saying this. It is like a person, let's say, is in a position where they have acquired a lot of things, have a nice family and yet they're still driven to move forward on, conquer more territory, yet on the other hand, they could be, let's say, attacked. And that is another very common thing in the very competitive atmosphere we seem to live in. You'll read in newspapers someone is being flailed in public about their - about someone who is successful - they are vulnerable to tremendous criticism or something. It seems like when you take the case of the President, you know, he's like -
LG: That is a combination of things. Part of it is that one of the things people hold most sacred in our culture is the right to criticize those in power because the very foundation of the political culture of this country is the right to do that. And that becomes an opportunity for those who wish to discredit someone in a position of power to do so, so that it gets misused. But the fundamental right to criticize is a legitimate one, and it is unfortunate that it gets misused. But I think that, as we are seeing now, like in the case of the President, I think it is dying now to some extent.
On a more personal level, this happens to us all the time. This political philosophy is reflected now in our notion of interpersonal relationships, in relationships between men and women, and between people in general, the notion that each person has certain rights and when someone is abusing you, you have the right to give them feedback about it immediately. And while this does become a situation, occasionally, rife with misunderstandings, resentments and aggressions, I think it is still better than what we had before because even though it means people are somewhat suspicious of each other and there is sometimes a little more hesitancy to trust, it does protect people, and I think that there is a lot of good. I think that our society in general, not only in North America, but modern society, has, for the first time in human history, given a proper place to basic human rights, and that is something that does not come from any religious tradition, fundamentally. It has certainly been influenced by just about every religious tradition, and I think there is something wonderful about that, something thoroughly respectable about that. Of course, at times it gets turned into an excuse for other witch hunts with some misguided reactions to previous forms of oppression leading to new forms of oppression, but still, still, I think we are better off that way than we have ever been.
JS: One thing in circling back again and redefining another sort of feeling or observation I get, and this has to do again with the adversarial quality, the problematic adversarial quality that we are engaged in. Sometimes we see people; we don't have that friendliness or they are not friendly to us, and again we feel that loneliness. It seems almost sometimes we are unable to view other human beings simply as that, as other human beings. It is almost like there is a perception between groups of people that one group is human beings and the other group is a group of objects. It is like some kind of basis for racism -
LG: That comes from fundamental ignorance. I mean it is a fundamental fact that our basic goodness is somehow masked or filtered by ignorance, so that the light that we perceive of our own goodness is like sunlight filtered through clouds. Nevertheless, the basic nature of experience is still goodness.
Ignorance is a limitation of experience, it is not the nature of experience. Just as when you see light coming through clouds, that light is still sunlight, it's not cloud light. It's limited by clouds, the nature of that light is not clouds.
Well the nature of, I mean the characteristic of that ignorance is a lack of clarity, the fact that we don't think straight. One of the most common examples of that is we don't look at things in an environmental way, we look at things in an egocentric way. Which ironically makes us very unhappy. But we don't think that, we don't realize that. So one forgets the fact that every being equally wishes to be happy, has the same basic needs, same basic nature. And one identifies certain individuals as like oneself as a part of the retinue of I, of me, and other individuals as potential threats. And the criterion on which one makes this division is always spurious, and it can vary. Some people make it based on race, some people make it based on language, some people make it based on eye color, some people make it based on religion, political affiliation, taste in films, allegiance to sports teams, anything, we do this all the time. And we do it in subtle ways within our families, all the time. And this is the characteristic behavior of beings afflicted by ignorance which is one aspect of what we are. And there is no simple antidote to this other than learning to see oneself clearly. And if one sees oneself clearly through whatever means - meditation, therapies, a combination of the two, whatever. If one sees oneself clearly than one will see how one's thinking is muddled; how, while you and so and so are essentially the same, you have decided that you are OK and they are not because so and so voted Republican and you voted Democrat. And we are very clever at thinking up rationalizations, the biggest rationalization for prejudice is the statement, " They're prejudiced." Usually, for example, if I have liberal political tendencies, I will feel antipathy towards someone I identify as a conservative. And my rationale will be, "Because conservatives have so much aggression." And that becomes my rationale for aggression. What that means is that the fundamental nature of these prejudices is always fear. And prejudices can be individual as well as general.
with Leigh Brasington
from May 2004
for the Bodhi Garden Newsletter
What have you been up to recently?
I've recently returned from teaching a retreat in the Sierra foothills near the town of Nevada City, California. I also attended four days of meetings with Jack Kornfield - I'm in his current teacher training class. I've just added the ability for my free Tibetan Word Processor and Database program to support Tibetan Braille. And I'm well into adding another new feature to the program I support at my "day job" as a software engineer.
You seem to 'get around'!
I seem to. And I really treasure my time at home when I get it.
Do you have a regular international route?
Sort of. I seem to be coming to Europe in the fall of the even numbered years.
Do you stay in one place for long?
I have a home in Alameda, California, which is in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I don't teach in the winter, I get to spend 3 months in a row there at that time. But from March to October, I'm usually gone more than I'm home.
What are your favorite places to visit?
I'm particular fond of visiting Asia; especially Southeast Asia. I also like Scandinavia, Germany and the UK.
What do you 'do' when you travel?
Lately, most of my travels have been in connection with teaching meditation retreats, so that's mostly what I do. I very much enjoy visiting with friends and often make trips back to the "South" (the southern United States) to visit college friends and family. I have friends in Scandinavia and Germany that I have known since the late 70's and especially like visiting with them. I also like architecture and art, so I often visit architecturally interesting buildings (temples, churches, etc) and museums.
Are meditation students much different between countries?
A bit. In the USA, students tend to ask more questions, especially verbal questions. In the UK, I get more written questions. People from Mediterranean countries are more passionate about their practice and often find it easier to enter the jhanas - not surprising since the jhanas are emotional states of mind. Basically, the stereotype character traits you think of for each country apply to meditation practitioners from that country and hence influence their practice in the obvious ways. Of course, this is a very broad generalization and there is a huge amount of variation within any population.
Can you tell us a little about Ayya Khema and how you came to meet her?
There is a short biography of Ayya Khema on my web site. Ayya was a German Jewish Theravadan nun. She had a German no-nonsense approach to doing things plus a wonderful sense of humor to provide balance. If you are familiar with her guided Metta meditations [examples can be found at here], you get a good sense of her deep ability to love. She had a brilliant mind and a very deep understanding of the Dhamma. And she was a very good teacher - the thing that all of her students comment on was how clear she was. This clarity comes across in her many books.
In 1985, I had injured my knee and my massage therapist suggested that meditation might be good for me. I said, "Yes, sure" which is what I said to everyone who made such suggestions. But she later told me that a Buddhist nun was going to be teaching a 10 day meditation retreat and that I should go hear her give a talk at the San Francisco Zen Center and decide if I wanted to attend the retreat. I went to the talk and, although I don't remember what the talk was about, I was very impressed with the clarity of Ayya's presentation. So I signed up for the retreat and headed off to the desert for 10 days - never having actually meditated before in my life.
Why did she pick you as her senior American student?! What and how did she encourage you to teach?
She didn't really pick me to be her senior American student; it just turned out that way. She liked what she saw in my practice, both in terms of my skill with the jhanas and my understanding of the Dhamma. So she authorized me to start teaching in 1991. I thought that was very premature - I could see how much I didn't know and how caught I was (still am) in greed, aversion and delusion. But she kept suggesting that I do small things to start with and I soon found myself the senior student in a weekly small sitting & discussion group. So I took a leading role and eventually began leading other small groups for beginning students. In 1994 she put me to work helping with doing interviews - and that 24 day retreat was really when she taught me to be a teacher. I would do interviews in the afternoon and we would meet in the evenings and discuss each student and what the student had said and how I had responded. We repeated that same setup in 1996 for a 7 day retreat. And at that retreat, I said "If someone will organize a retreat, I'll teach it." And one of Ayya's students did just that.
So I taught my first retreat in February of 1997. And as it turned out, I'm the only one of her American students who was crazy enough to actually try to teach.
What is your connection with Tsoknyi Rinpoche?
I met Tsoknyi Rinpoche in the summer of 1992 at James Baraz's weekly vipassana sitting group. I was very impressed with him and the Dzogchen practice he taught. He began coming to the USA regularly the next year to teach retreats and I have been sitting with him ever since.
In 1995 Rinpoche's translator asked me if I could help out with some computer work for the Tibetan Text Preservation project that Rinpoche was sponsoring. I wound up writing a Tibetan Database and Word Processing program that was used as an electronic dictionary by the people doing the editing for the text preservation project. I made a couple of trips to Kathmandu to work on the program with the people doing the preservation work and that had the happy side effect of getting to know Rinpoche even better. The program is now in its 3rd incarnation and is freely available for downloading.
Do you easily integrate the Theravada and Mahayana into your personal practice, and your teachings?
The Dzogchen practice fits very well with Theravada practice (it must - many of the American Theravada teachers are students of Tsoknyi Rinpoche). It is an especially good practice to do after being in the jhanas and generating a very concentrated mind. However, I don't attempt to teach Dzogchen or any Mahayana practices. I'm really a beginner at those practices and certainly am not qualified to teach them!
Have you ever thought about 'taking robes'?
I've thought about it a bit - but I'm definitely not ready to do that just now. I like the lay life I lead and I especially enjoy the company of women in general and my sweetheart in particular. So, monastic life is not for me at this time. However, I deeply admire people who can make that commitment. When I look at the teachers I have learned the most from, they all are/were monastics or live a lay life 100% devoted to the Dhamma.
You were a software engineer for years. What changed? Why did you take such a 'radical' change in direction?
I'm still a software engineer - I have a part time job and show up there whenever I'm back home in Alameda. It's just that I have added an additional career - which seems to be taking a larger and larger percentage of my time as I go along. The change doesn't feel radical to me. Before I started teaching, for many years I often spent a good bit of time away from my programming job sitting retreats. So now I'm just doing that more and more and I sometimes I have to sit in the front instead of the back and don't get to keep silence.
Is there a relationship between computer programming and meditation?!
Computer programming is certainly enhanced if you can concentrate; meditation is certainly enhanced if you can concentrate. I do feel that all those years of practicing concentration while programming have helped me to be able to concentrate well while meditating.
You are interested in Asian religions and Asian art. What first drew you to these?
In 1979, '80 & '81 I took a three year trip around the world. The nine months I spent in Asia were certainly the most interesting (and most fun) part of the whole trip. That's where the interest in Asian art and architecture began. What do you do in Bali? Go look at art, go look at temples. What do you do in Java? Same thing. I found it interesting; I continued to do that all through Asia. I lived for several years within walking distance of the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park after I returned to San Francisco. I became a member and would often just wander in when enjoying the park.
Why choose the study and practice of Buddhism, and not the traditions of the West?
I grew up the son of a Presbyterian minister in Mississippi. The summer I finished high school I stopped believing the literal Biblical teachings I'd heard all my life. In my first year at university, Huston Smith did a series of guest lectures and that was my first exposure to Buddhism. But basically I was a confirmed agnostic until my travels in Asia in the early 80's. There it was impossible to not notice that there really was a spiritual dimension to life. I remember writing down the Eight-Fold Path in my journal and vowing to practice it - not having a clue what that meant. But I didn't really begin to get seriously interested in Asian religions until my knee injury in 1985. (Ayya Khema would say "Dukkha is our best teacher.") Some of my university buddies in Arkansas were students of Chögyam Trungpa and it was through their influence that I began to get serious about a spiritual path. I bought a used copy of Huston Smith's "The Religions of Man" and read it looking for something that made sense. Buddhism was definitely the teaching in there that I felt most drawn to. Then the opportunity to sit the retreat with Ayya fell into my lap and the rest is, as they say, history.
What other teachers or traditions inform your teaching?
The other religion I found appealing in Huston Smith's book was Taoism and I studied it a good bit back in the mid and late 80's. But there is no support for practicing Taoism in the West (and very little left in the East). So although I greatly admire and have learned much form the Taoist writings, I have been much more informed by Buddhism because I could practice it.
Like most American students of meditation I greatly admire Rumi and the other Sufi poets. However, I don't tend to populate my Dhamma talks with Rumi poems; I figure the Buddha has plenty to say on most subjects and since I'm trying to teach what he taught, I don't often go directly to other sources, even if they do influence me indirectly.
My Christian background certainly has an influence, more so since I read Stephen Mitchell's "The Gospel According to Jesus". And occasionally, people refer to me as a "sutta thumping preacher" - that fits; I come from a very long line of ministers, getting up in front of people and talking about spiritual matters comes very easily.
I have also been influenced by the writings of various Advaita Vedanta teachers such as Ramana Maharshi, Ramesh Balsekar and Sri Nisargadatta. Additionally, many of my friends are Jewish and Judaism is the foundation for Christianity, I'm probably more influenced by Judaism than I'm aware of.
I'm also quite influenced by Wester Science. While it's not a formal spiritual tradition, it certainly seems to have taken on such a role for many people. Examples and metaphors from physics to neuroscience do sometimes show up in my Dhamma talks.
Basically, I'm a seeker of the Truth and I'm happy to use whatever methods help me understand the Truth. But undoubtedly the tradition that has helped the most has been Buddhism.
You teach the jhanas and satipatthana - I take it this means: just samatha and just vipassana as well as the two yoked?
How do you see these two practices as related?
The essence of the Buddha's path is Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom. To put it in plain English, "Clean up your act, learn to concentrate, use your concentrated mind to gain wisdom." The role of the jhanas is to generate a mind that is "concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability" which you "incline and direct to knowledge and vision" of things as they are. Morality is the foundation of all practice. With a mind that is free from disturbances (because you have been leading an ethical life), you can generate deep states of concentration. With a deeply concentrated mind, you are much more likely to see things as they really are rather than from your normal egocentric perspective.
Can you have one without the other?
Yes, but that is not what the Buddha primarily taught.
Do you think samatha practice is 'overlooked' in some way?
Since it is seldom taught in the West and yet it is a very central aspect of the Buddha's teachings, it does indeed appear that it is overlooked. And that's a real shame. Even if someone cannot get jhanically concentrated for a given period of meditation, nonetheless their insights will be enhanced if they can get as concentrated as circumstances allow.
What do think is best suited for the needs of busy, stressed westerners trapped within secular, materialist culture?!
Take time away from the busy, stressed, secular, materialist culture! Go on retreat, long retreats, as long as you can "afford" to be away. Then when you return, although you won't be able to keep the same depth, you will have a deeper understanding of what is important in life and you will have some enhanced ability to concentrate your mind. Use that ability in conjunction with vipassana practice and learn whatever you can until you can again take time away from the busy, stressed, secular, materialist culture.
Samatha and vipassana is not an either/or situation; it's a both/and situation. It is extremely beneficial to concentrate as best we can before we launch into our vipassana practice.
Can you explain the jhanas - a little bit?!
The jhanas are eight altered states of consciousness brought on by concentration and yielding progressively more concentration. The first four are emotional states focusing on rapture, joy, contentment and equanimity. The primary object grows more and more subtle as the number of the jhana increases [i.e., first jhana to second, second to third, etc.], hence requiring more and more concentration to stay with the increasingly subtle objects and yielding more and more concentration when you manange to stay with these sublte objects. But they are not a big deal; they are simply a warm up exercise for insight practice; a tool; a way to sharpen the mind for the deeper work of vipassana.
What are the most important qualities to cultivate, develop and employ in one's meditation practice?
Patience. Kindness. Curiosity. Not Holding to Fixed Views. Consistency.
What have you been learning yourself recently?
I'm in a study group that is looking at Peter Harvey's book The Selfless Mind. It has some very thought provoking passages on viññana, which usually is translated as "consciousness", but Harvey translates it as "discernment." I've been particularly interested in looking at the link between sankhara and viññana. I prefer Santikaro's translation of sankhara as "concoctions" so it means I've been exploring the relationship between "concoctions" and "consciousness", this of course being one of the initial links in the teaching of Dependent Origination.
One of your favorite quotes is: 'Don't take yourself so seriously - you'll never get out of this alive'. What's the secret of not taking things too seriously, but also not being too flippant either? (Does death put our life in context?!)
Death definitely puts our life in context! That's what the quote is saying for sure. One of the most valuable things to have in this human incarnation is a good sense of humor. Without one, life is way too tragic - the best outcome you can hope for is to die of old age?! Humor is a very good way of breaking out of any narrow view. But Dukkha is real (1st Noble Truth), and keeping that in mind will generate compassion. A balance between humor and compassion will help with not taking things too seriously yet not being too flippant.
Humor has to be used skillfully, just like anything else. It can be used as an escape to avoid dealing with Dukkha. It can be used as a weapon if you laugh at someone, although it can be very skillful to laugh at yourself! When used wisely, it has the power to break the grip of seriousness that we all too often fall into.
How do you see the evolution of Buddhism in the West, particularly in your country and in the UK? What forms is it taking?
The major "form" shift is from a primarily monastic focus to a lay focus. This is both wonderful and has pitfalls. The major advantage is that more people can "get serious" about practicing and do things that will help them to wake up in this life. The major disadvantage is that the Dhamma is being preserved by a bunch of part-timers (myself included).
How will it change from the countries of origin?
The people who started IMS intentionally brought along as little of the so called "cultural baggage" as possible. That has meant that Theravada Buddhism in the West has had the opportunity to incorporate new cultural baggage! The major shift is away from rites and rituals toward more of a psychological approach. This has advantages and disadvantages, of course.
Mahayana Buddhism in the West seems to have changed less that Theravadan, but as time passes, it too will drop some of the cultural aspects of the countries of origin and will pick up more of the Western orientation - which right now seem to be primarily psychological.
The real question is whether or not the heart of the Dhamma will still be easily accessible or will it get lost among the new accreditations. Only time will tell; but, those of us practicing at this time do have a responsibility to ensure that the heart of the Dhamma continues to shine brightly.
How has it changed already?
As I mentioned above, the lay focus, less emphasis on rite & rituals and the addition of psychological elements seem to be the big changes so far.
What do you make of it at the moment?
Definitely a work in progress!
What will you be teaching at the Bodhi Garden in October?
We will take a detailed look at the 8 Jhanas. Exactly what are they? What are the instructions for entering them? How are they used in spiritual practice? This will be mostly an information session because anything less than a 10 day retreat is just not enough time for one to get concentrated sufficiently to actually experience them. But I think people will find the de-mystification of the jhanas helpful and will learn whether or not this is something they are interested in pursuing in depth at a later time. And we will have some time to meditate and try out the instructions for the first jhana and see what is involved.
with Topga Yulgyal Rinpoche
KIBI, December 1994
Question: Can you tell what is the main principle of Buddhism, and the Vajrayana (the Diamond Way) in particular?
Rinpoche: The main idea of Buddhism is to see the cause of suffering, to put an
end to that suffering and to stop it for others as well.
Vajrayana is a method. Basically it has the same goal [as the Mahayana] but the way is different. The Vajrayana has a more direct approach. It is said that the Vajrayana path is shorter than the other Buddhist paths. I would say Vajrayana does not have a special way, but rather it has a different way than other yanas. This does not mean that you do not have to go through the Mahayana process in order to practice Vajrayana. They are very much related to each other. Vajrayana puts more emphasis on initiations, rituals and meditations, which focus not only on the mind, but also involve physical practices such as yogas and so on. Once you have a proper knowledge about Mahayana you can ask a qualified teacher how to approach Vajrayana. It is something one cannot just explain in a minute.
Q:What is the Karma Kagyu Tradition?
TR:The Karma Kagyu tradition started with the first Karmapa. Actually, it is named after him and there is not much difference compared to any other Buddhist school. The main practice in this tradition is Mahamudra(1). One of the texts which describes the basis for the Mahamudra and the Ngondro(2) is The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. Another main text is The Supreme Path, the Necklace of Jewels by Gampopa.
There is also a short
text by Gampopa called The Four Dharmas of Gampopa which includes everything:
" How to direct one's mind toward the Dharma
" How to apply the Dharma as one's path
" How to remove illusions
" How to transform illusions into wisdom
No matter how many books you may read on Buddhism they are always concerned with these four points. So, why should we meditate? Without meditation you cannot rely on your own mind. Without meditation you cannot see the cause for suffering. Having understood this, you develop compassion and Bodhicitta (3), but you have to practice. First you have to know that countless beings suffer and really need help. They are sort of at the edge of a cliff which is several thousand feet high, and down below is a very dark sea. So everybody is in danger of falling. If you know that they need help you will have compassion, there is no choice.
Q:What is the main philosophical school in the Karma Kagyu tradition?
TR: The Madhyamaka (4). Within that school the 3rd, 5th and 7th Karmapa emphasized the Shentong (6) view. The 8th Karmapa, emphasized the Prasangika-Madhyamaka(5) school, but Shentong as well, thus embracing both schools. The 16th Karmapa emphasized the Shentong view.
Q: Which methods of practice are used in the Karma Kagyu school?
TR: This depends on the person and his guru. If the guru is in a position to know what kind of student or disciple he has and how his mind works then he can immediately guide him accordingly. Either through a direct approach which will make him understand the Mahamudra view, or by leading him on a longer way through, for example, The Six Yogas of Naropa (7). Both ways are valuable and belong to the Karma Kagyu Tradition, but it depends very much on the guru, it is a very personal thing.
Q: What kind of illusion should be removed?
TR:Any kind of illusion. First, it is good to know what illusion is. Any kind of imagination, any destructive thought is not good for meditation. Through meditation these illusions subside automatically. You don't have to do a particular meditation for the purpose of cutting through illusions and thoughts. Meditation in itself means cutting through them. So there is no difference between cutting through the illusion and meditating. It happens simultaneously.
Q:How does one integrate the Dharma into one's ordinary life?
TR:Most of us have families, friends and responsibilities. I don't think we can avoid that. We cannot just leave families and friends behind, go somewhere and say, "Now I am becoming a Buddha." This probably does not work, but you can meditate while you have family and friends around. We say that all sentient beings are our parents. Maybe you don't accept everybody as your parents, but at least you can accept your own family as your parents. So, out of all countless beings, at least you can take the 5 to 10 people around you and try to help them. This is a practice. Teach them how to meditate, show them the right path, if possible. This is very good, and you have a direct contact with human beings. Theoretically, we can say, "Today I'm doing this or that particular practice and I am going to lead all sentient beings to the Buddhafields tomorrow and the day after tomorrow all of them will be Buddhas and Bodhisattvas". This does not make much sense. But in dealing with your family and friends you are really doing something for people, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is very good.
Q:Sometimes we have problems in our families because they don't accept us as Buddhist practitioners. What advice can you give?
TR: Maybe they don't accept you because for them you seem to be a kind of fanatic. Maybe they are conservative, they might have different ideas, they might be very materialistic. That's fine, they can have their own view, but you should try to show them that you are not just following a belief, but that you know what you are doing. Communicate this in a nice way, don't fight, don't disapprove and don't be aggressive.
Q: When some people become Buddhist they just want to leave everything behind in order to meditate. But there are many possibilities in life. Others are not sure if they should aim for a career or avoid it. What is your opinion about this?
TR: You should neither leave your job nor your meditation, you can do both together. Treat these two equally at different times. In the morning you may concentrate more on your work, in the evening you may concentrate more on your meditation. I think it will work beautifully. Because whatever you do, it is somehow associated with your meditation, and therefore you won't do negative things like many other people do. It is a very good thing. If you think, "I want to leave the whole world and go somewhere to meditate," then this day will never come. So close that chapter. Do whatever you can, here and now. Of course it depends on one's personality. Concerning yourself, once you know what you are doing then why should you stop? Just go on. But if you don't know what you are doing, then take a break.
Q:Is it possible to cultivate the highest view in one's ordinary life. How does one do this?
TR:Yes, it is possible. You should have a correct view first! The view for Mahamudra is something like Madhyamaka. Through meditation it will develop. The view is intellectually understandable, but since you have not experienced it yet, it is something you have to develop. To experience the view, you go through practices, then you realize it. Finally, one reaches the highest level. However, one cannot point to where the highest level is, because there is no form which indicates it. But, when you reach that level through your own meditation, you will be sort of shocked. You will wonder, "How come I never saw it before, it is within me. It is not that I received it from Russia, China or India, but it is within me, how can it be?"
Q:How can one deal with attachment to wealth, particular principles, pride, and spiritual activity?
TR:When you develop your spiritual power, bad characteristics subside. What is spiritual development? It is mind training through which the ego subsides by itself. When you develop your spiritual mind your unwanted qualities disappear naturally.
(1)Mahamudra: The great seal of reality. Buddha gave this as the ultimate/final teaching. It leads to a direct experience of the mind.
(2)Ngondro (Tib.) The four preliminary practices are a collection of four meritorious practices which have to be repeated 100000 times. They create enumerable good impressions in the subconsciousness, and work deeply in one's mind. They are the foundation for Mahamudra practice.
(3)Bodhicitta: Awakened mind. Mental attitude having two aspects. The relative aspect means to perfect oneself for the benefit of all sentient beings. The ultimate aspect is the recognition of the inseparability of emptiness and compassion.
(4)Madhyamaka: The highest philosophical school in Buddhism. Its viewpoint is that ultimate reality is beyond any concept. Phenomena are beyond all pairs of opposites, beyond all extremes.
(5)Prasangika-Madhyamikas: Lit. Those who show the consequence. By showing the consequence of all wrong conceptual ideas they approach ultimate truth.
(6)Shentong: The teachings of the Shentong relate to the third turning of the Wheel of Dharma, where the ultimate reality is called the Buddhanature, which is present within all sentient beings.
of Naropa: Very effective methods of the Kagyu lineage. Their goal is the recognition
of the nature of mind. The following meditations are included: inner heat, clear
light, dream yoga, illusory body, intermediate state and transference of consciousness.
From Kagyu Life International, No.3, 1995
life be without friends?"
WHAT IS THE SANGHA?
To clarify, there can be some confusion in the way the Sanskrit word Sangha is commonly used. In fact, there are three distinct definitions:
1. A currently popular definition is to include all Buddhist practitioners.
2. Most generally applied term includes only the community of ordained monks and nuns.
3. A more strict definition from the scriptures applies to the practitioners who have at least realised emptiness.
During his life, the Buddha gave advice to many people on ways to avoid distraction from following the spiritual path. The Buddha never actually taught "a set" of monks or nuns vows, but these vows have been extracted afterwards by Buddhist Masters from the teachings of the Buddha.
It is important to realise that monasteries and nunneries have proven absolutely essential in preserving the Buddhist teachings and practice. One could say that monasteries are the "power plants" of the Buddhist tradition.
SOME GENERAL NOTES ON ORDINATION
- To be a Buddhist, one does not need to be ordained as monk or nun. Even to become a Buddha, ordination is strictly spoken not necessary - although it may be very wise to avoid distraction.
- To become a monk or nun, one should at least have taken refuge. Next, with a limited number of vows (always including celibacy) one can become a novice. Later, by committing oneself to a very extensive set of vows, one can become a fully ordained monk or nun.
- A monk or nun is usually not a fully enlightened being. One should consider this when looking at monks or nuns. Like everyone of us, they are only trying their best at living a spiritual life and they have as important task to keep their vows, which is often not easy; criticising them is easy, but usually not helpful to anyone.
- In general, all traditions use the same sets of vows. Celibacy (no sex) is always part of the monks and nuns (novice) vows. In traditions where celibacy is not included in the vows one could question their origin or degeneration.
- Depending on the tradition, the vows are taken for life or any shorter period. For example, in Thailand it is even tradition that virtually all men become novices and live at a monastery for at least for a short period during their youth. In contrast, in the Tibetan tradition, taking monks or nuns vows is basically for life, although the vows can be given back if one feels one cannot keep them.
- It is considered important to try and receive teachings about the vows before and after being ordained.
- For people wanting to be ordained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself, often a special possibility exists after his Losar teachings (usually end of February) in Dharamsala, India.
- It may be confusing at times, but not everyone who appears to wear robes may be a monk or nun. For example, there is a Tibetan tradition of (often long-haired) tantric practitioners who are not ordained, although they wear similar robes. Also, at some monasteries, lay people can stay and wear similar (though not identical) robes.
- Why becoming a monk or nun? Lama Zopa Rinpoche can answer that better than I ever could.
THE WELFARE OF THE SANGHA
In the 'Mahiparinirvana Sutra', Shakyamuni Buddha gave a number of conditions the Sangha should fulfil to ensure the welfare and growth of the Sangha, which I tried to summarise below.
- Assemble frequently and in large numbers
- Meet and disperse peacefully and attend to the affairs of the Sangha in concord - Appoint no new rules, and do not abolish the existing ones, but proceed in accordance with the code of training (Vinaya) laid down
- Show respect, honour, esteem, and veneration towards the elder Bhikkhus, those of long standing, long gone forth, the fathers and leaders of the Sangha, and think it worthwhile to listen to them
- Do not come under the power of the craving that leads to fresh becoming
- Cherish the forest depths for their dwellings
- Establish themselves in mindfulness, so that virtuous brethren of the Order who have not come yet might do so, and those already come might live in peace
Seven further conditions
- Do not delight in, be not pleased with, or be not fond of: activities
- Do not delight in, be not pleased with, and not fond of talk
- Do not delight in, be not pleased with, and not fond of sleep
- Do not delight in, be not pleased with, and not fond of company
- Do not have bad friends, associates, or companions
- Do not harbour and do not come under the spell of evil desires
- Do not stop halfway on account of some trifling achievement.
Seven Good Qualities
- Have faith
- Have moral shame
- Have fear of misconduct
- Be proficient in learning
- Be resolute
- Be mindful
- Be wise
Seven factors of enlightenment
- Cultivate mindfulness
- Investigate into phenomena
- Investigate and cultivate energy
- Investigate and cultivate bliss
- Investigate and cultivate tranquillity
- Investigate and cultivate concentration
- Investigate and cultivate equanimity.
Seven further conditions
- Cultivate the perception of impermanence
- Cultivate the perception of egolessness
- Cultivate the perception of (the body's) impurity
- Cultivate the perception of (the body's) wretchedness
- Cultivate the perception of relinquishment
- Cultivate the perception of dispassion
- Cultivate the perception of cessation.
Six Conditions to be Remembered
- Attend on each other with loving-kindness in deed, both openly and in private
- Attend on each other with loving-kindness in word, both openly and in private
- Attend on each other with loving-kindness in thought, both openly and in private
- Respect of what is received as due offerings, even the contents of their alms bowls, not make use of them without sharing them with virtuous members of the community
- In company with their brethren, they train themselves, openly and in private, in the rules of conduct, which are complete and perfect, spotless and pure, liberating, praised by the wise, uninfluenced (by mundane concerns), and favourable to concentration of mind
- In company with their brethren preserve, openly and in private, the insight that is noble and liberating, and leads one who acts upon it to the utter destruction of suffering.
The Shenpa Syndrome: Learning to Stay
the late 1960s, Deirdre Blomfield-Brown was an elementary school teacher in New
Mexico, going through a painful divorce. Searching for answers, she found a wisdom
path in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and in 1974 was ordained as a nun by His
Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa. Today she is known as Pema Chödrön-one
of the world's most beloved authors, and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova
Scotia-the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners. Here, she shares a rare teaching
she received from Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche, and one that has become critical to
her personal practice.
You're trying to make a point with a coworker or your partner. At one moment her face is open and she's listening, and at the next, her eyes cloud over or her jaw tenses.
What is it that you're seeing?
Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste in your mouth, it has a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever.
The Tibetan word for this is shenpa. It is usually translated "attachment," but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we're likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It's an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That's the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy, and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.
Remember the fairy tale in which toads hop out of the princess's mouth whenever she starts to say mean words? That's how being hooked can feel. Yet we don't stop-we can't stop-because we're in the habit of associating whatever we're doing with relief from our own discomfort. This is the shenpa syndrome. The word "attachment" doesn't quite translate what's happening. It's a quality of experience that's not easy to describe but which everyone knows well. Shenpa is usually involuntary and it gets right to the root of why we suffer.
Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, we smell a certain smell, we walk into a certain room and boom. The feeling has nothing to do with the present, and nevertheless, there it is. When we were practicing recognizing shenpa at Gampo Abbey, we discovered that some of us could feel it even when a particular person simply sat down next to us at the dining table.
Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy-food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.
So we could also call shenpa "the urge"-the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is. Sometimes shenpa is so strong that we're willing to die getting this short-term symptomatic relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a substance; it can be saying mean things, or approaching everything with a critical mind. That's a major hook. Something triggers an old pattern we'd rather not feel, and we tighten up and hook into criticizing or complaining. It gives us a puffed-up satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from uneasiness.
Those of us with strong addictions know that working with habitual patterns begins with the willingness to fully acknowledge our urge, and then the willingness not to act on it. This business of not acting out is called refraining. Traditionally it's called renunciation. What we renounce or refrain from isn't food, sex, work, or relationships per se. We renounce and refrain from the shenpa. When we talk about refraining from the shenpa, we're not talking about trying to cast it out; we're talking about trying to see the shenpa clearly and experiencing it. If we can see shenpa just as we're starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there's the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it.
Without meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do. Generally speaking, we don't catch the tightening until we've indulged the urge to scratch our itch in some habitual way. And unless we equate refraining with loving-kindness and friendliness toward ourselves, refraining feels like putting on a straitjacket. We struggle against it. The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern.
In practicing with shenpa, first we try to recognize it. The best place to do this is on the meditation cushion. Sitting practice teaches us how to open and relax to whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge fully, and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following after the thoughts and learning to come back to the present moment. We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of shenpa. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives. This is how we weaken the patterns that keep us hooked into discomfort that we mistake as comfort. We label the spinoff "thinking" and return to the present moment.
What we really need to do is address things just as they are. Learning to recognize shenpa teaches us the meaning of not being attached to this world. Not being attached has nothing to do with this world. It has to do with shenpa-being hooked by what we associate with comfort. All we're trying to do is not to feel our uneasiness. But when we do this we never get to the root of practice. The root is experiencing the itch as well as the urge to scratch, and then not acting it out.
SPIRIT OF THINGS
ABC Radio National with Rachael Kohn on Sunday 2/6/2002
The New Believers #4 - the Dalai Lama
second to the Pope as the world's most popular religious leader yet the
Dalai Lama says he's not interested in converting the West to Buddhism just
teaching it how to be happy in a material world. But is Buddhism itself
getting too materialistic? The Dalai Lama speaks with Rachael Kohn.
also hear from the first Westerner to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist
tradition, Professor Robert Thurman, director of Tibet House in New York
City (and father of the actress Uma Thurman).
Details or Transcript:
Rachael Kohn: The
Dalai Lama is a key figure in the Spiritual Revolution
that is changing the way we think and believe in the West. He's my guest on
The New Believers, the monthly series on The Spirit of Things, here on ABC
Radio National. I'm Rachael Kohn.
His title means 'Ocean of
Wisdom', which he dispenses with ease and much
humour to his audiences around the world. But the Dalai Lama, who is the
recognised leader of Tibetan Buddhism, is careful not to drown his audiences
in too many technical Buddhist concepts.
was chosen at the age of two, in 1937, to be the 13th Dalai Lama and he
embarked on a long period of monastic education, which culminated in his
final examination before 20,000, qualifying him as a Geshe, or Doctor of
Tibetan scholastic tradition emphasises philosophical debate, in the
monastery. But outside the monastery other aspects of the tradition are
important, such as the possibility that the Buddha can be manifested in
people, right here on earth. Through its practices inherited from Indian
Tantric traditions, Tibetan Buddhism teaches methods for the attainment of
Buddahood in this life (or in a future life). The Dalai Lama may be the
Buddha himself, but he likes to emphasise that he's just an ordinary person,
as you'll hear.
on today's program is the first Westerner ordained a Buddhist monk in
the Tibetan tradition, Robert Thurman. A delightful man who is sure he was a
koala in a past life. Well I don't know about that, but I do know that he is
the father of the actress, Uma Thurman. He didn't remain a monk, but he did
become an important Buddhist scholar at Columbia University, and is now
Director of Tibet House, a cultural institution of the Dalai Lama in New
we hear my interview with the Dalai Lama, recorded during his trip to
Australia, just a reminder that this program is heard on Sunday, and again
on Thursday at 7.10pm.
Your Holiness thank you
so much for receiving me today. When I last
interviewed you here in Sydney in 1996, your general outlook was optimistic.
Do you have as much optimism about the spiritual well being of the world
Lama: Yes, basically the same. I feel that because of very painful
experiences which we have learnt in the twentieth century, human beings I
think have become more mature. I think, also through our own experiences now
people begin to realise the importance of spirituality.
Kohn: The Buddha taught people how to avoid suffering in a material
world, and you teach people how to be happy in a material world. Is this a
more optimistic way, a more western way, of putting the Buddha's teaching?
Lama: No, actually I always try to promote secular ethics or human
values not as a religion, not as Buddhism. Of course to Buddhists,
see, I explain the importance of the suffering nature, then the causes
of suffering, the cessation of suffering, then the ways and paths to
overcome the suffering. So I always, you see, emphasise the importance of
the realisation of the suffering nature.
But my partisan approach
that is simply the promotion of human values, not
religion, it's not a religious thing. In fact I make this always clear, in
order to be good person, a warm hearted person, it is not necessarily to
have religious faith. Without religious faith, there can be a nice person, a
warm hearted person, and happy person.
think that among the 6 billion, more than 6 billion human beings on this
planet, strictly speaking I think the majority are non-believers. Of course
officially, "I belong Christian...Judaism..." like that. But strictly
speaking, in daily life, I think majority are non-believers.
Kohn: Well, non-practicing anyway. One of the ways which you promote
generally, that people can achieve this happiness and avoid suffering is
through meditation, which you have outlined as a nine step process and in
the final step the ninth step, there is a 'perfect abiding calm'. Is that
more of an ideal or a reality?
Lama: No, this one is special training for single pointed mind. So
this is not for everybody practice, including myself. I'm very, very, poor
in the practice of single pointed meditation, my mind is always attracted to
different directions, but amongst practitioners at least whom I know, some
practise this practice and again some experience this. Of course, it's
certainly not easy and you need a lot of effort.
It takes an enormous amount of inner control, you talk about
especially the idea of the enemy of peace is not outside but inside one's
self. What is your advice then when the enemy is clearly outside, such as
today in the post-September 11th world, when we have examples of external
threats. What do you advise?
Lama: Well these very unfortunate, unthinkable destructive actions,
essentially come out of certain motivations, certain emotions. So these
actions also actually are brought about by the inner enemy, that is negative
emotion. Basically everybody, every human being wants a happy life, peaceful
life. But because of our inner enemy, which for no sort of reason, simply
strong emotion. So that emotion, is blind and mad. So therefore, I describe
the real enemy is within ourselves. So called external enemies, also these
people, once their negative emotion reduce and positive emotion increases,
then these people, the same people with the same name, same face become our
best friends. So the real enemy is the emotional level.
Rachael Kohn: Your
Holiness, in Tibet there is one kind of Buddhism I
believe and that's probably true of Dharamsala, where you have your
headquarters. But in the West we see many kinds of Buddhism. People speak of
Western Buddhism. What do you understand by this concept?
Dalai Lama: Buddhism,
certainly is just one tradition that's come from
Buddha. Whether the Therevada system, or the Vajrayana system, originally
come from Buddha, within this tradition some little differences and
different emphasis are there and different concepts, but basically all come
the cultural aspects is different. Therefore we call it the original
Indian Buddhism, and then later Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan
Buddhism and so on, Thai Buddhism, Sri Lanka Buddhism. Now eventually some
people in the West now are showing interest about Buddhism, so eventually
Buddhism that [originally] comes from India, from Asia, at the same time
[gets] a cultural aspect, a more western cultural aspect, then through that
way, then certainly, Western Buddhism.
Rachael Kohn: Is that a good thing?
That's good, certainly, through evolution that will come. But as
far as teachings are concerned, they should be very authentic. There are
some cases, what are they called New Age or something, that I think we must
be very, very careful. If you call something a new religion, then of course,
that's alright, but if you call something Buddhism, it must be very
Kohn: In the West there are not many monasteries, Buddhist
monasteries. In fact in Christianity, monasteries were dismantled and monks
and nuns went into the world, not very much away from the world. Do you see
any signs of this occurring in the Sangha (community of monks and nuns), a
dismantling of monastic life?
Dalai Lama: Of course in the
West there are very few Buddhist monastery and
nunnery, and in a few cases very few monks and nuns. Whereas in Thailand,
and Sri Lanka and Burma, still I think very strong traditions remain there.
So too the Tibetan community, also generally speaking I think, still quite
strong traditions remain there.
think one factor in India now, in our bigger monastery, monastic
institution, the new students who enter the monastic institution, now
recently the larger numbers come from Tibet, not from our own refugee
community children. So now, that's an obvious development. So children in
India, Tibetan young children who got an education in our school prefer some
Kohn: Many years ago you dispensed with some of the traditional
ceremonies associated with your role as the Dalai Lama. Why did you do that?
Lama: Actually there are some ceremony, form of ceremony, that I don't
like, and don't have much meaning. After all we are refugees. Of course the
way of giving teaching to the public, I always carry it in a complete
informal way. I believe the formal way is sometimes an additional obstacle
or barrier to communicate with another, one another. And I don't think when
Buddha himself sat there, I don't think there was any formality. I don't
think any elaborate ritual things. Buddha himself always went as "just a
simple monk" and he'd give teachings according to circumstances and that we
Kohn: What do you think the Buddha would say to the Maitreya
Project, the building of the world's biggest Buddha at the cost of $US 200
million in Bodhgaya. A place that doesn't even have sanitation, Do you think
that's consistent with the Buddha's way?
Dalai Lama: I
can't say on behalf of Buddha. if he was alive today. I don't
course on the human level, there are two opinions. One opinion, of course
now is the construction of the Maitreya Buddha. So inevitably, this is, I
think one important way to accumulate virtues. The other view is rather
critical. As you mention while millions of poor people, especially young
children without any education or any proper school and health-care why is
it the spending a lot of money on the construction of the statue, better to
spend it on health and education. That I think is quite well thinking.
my own view, since this project is already initiated by Lama Zopa
Rinpoche, as a buddhist monk, any work of construction of a buddhist statue,
is of course positive. So therefore I support it. And meantime I made very
clear to the concerned people, now with that project the local people should
get some benefit, so they've planned accordingly some education facilities
and also some other sorts of project that will be of benefit to the local
Kohn: Your Holiness, people looking at the Buddhist web sites see
that there are many things to buy, many ways to give money. Some people
think Buddhism itself is becoming too much a part of the material world,
maybe that's because some Hollywood stars are becoming involved in it as
well. Is Buddhism becoming too materialistic?
Dalai Lama: That
depends on the individual. Buddhism itself, of course as a
man of Buddhism, is a way of thinking, a way of life, a way of guide, and
especially I think a proper way to confront our negative emotion. That will
remain, that is Buddhism.
the construction of temples or construction of monasteries these are of
course a part of the activities of the Buddha Dharma but not Buddha Dharma
itself. Buddha Dharma means 'mental quality', so it's not a money matter. We
can't buy with money, mental quality. So mental quality must develop through
training your mind. Not by injection or straining your mind. Those people
who have great merit, they may find it more easier and less obstacles,
otherwise only through training your mind.
The Spirit of Things - Part 2
Robert Thurman is the ebullient man who heads up Tibet House,
the cultural institution of the Dalai Lama in America. Located in New York
City, it's a drawcard for the rich and famous as well as ordinary folk who
want to use its library or look at the excellent collection of Tibetan art
in its gallery.
was a very popular professor at Columbia University, but now he
spends most of his time at Tibet House, receiving guests, giving lectures
and raising money for Tibetan refugees. I caught up with him last year, just
before the attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks away from Tibet
Bob Thurman explains why the Dalai Lama takes his message around the
Thurman: The irony is that although he goes at the invitation of
Buddhist groups, he very adamantly is against proselytising Buddhism and
changing Christians or Jews, or even secular humanists into Buddhists.
appeals to other world religious leaders, 'Please, please, let's not have
new religious competition', which they don't heed too much in fact nowadays.
But he continuously makes that plea and he'll give a Buddhist talk to lots
and lots of people and he'll spend the first ten minutes of an hour about
how he's not giving them this talk because he wants them to be Buddhist, he
wants them to use anything that they find that's useful for their lives, he
wants them to enjoy their lives more, he wants them to control their mind to
talks about the common human religion of kindness, this type of thing,
and he says, 'Don't become Buddhist', actually. Everyone gets so puzzled but
I think it's good for them, he stimulates a little bit of cognitive
Kohn: Nonetheless, wouldn't it be fair to say that he's stimulated
their interest? Is the star of Tibetan Buddhism on the rise?
Thurman: Well I think yes. But you have to realise that when you say
that, that the star of Tibetan Buddhism has risen, you're talking about zero
to 50, because it was zero 20 years ago, or 25 years ago, there was no
knowledge of Tibetan even 40 years ago, except as some sort of faraway thing
with a Yeti, you know, the Abominable Snowman, or something like that. And
so the fact that Tibet has become known more widely by the presence of
Tibetan refugees everywhere, it's something about Tibet giving a new boost
to the Buddhist interest that was already there, stimulated by Zen, by
Therevada Buddhism, by Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, and Tibet then sort of
built on that.
what Tibet really has brought is the kind of original Buddhist matrix
that existed in India. Because Tibet was the country where Indian Buddhism
went lock, stock and barrel, a thousand years ago when it was wiped out by
various invasions in its homeland, which was India. But not that many have
really said 'Oh, now I'm going to leave my other kind of Buddhism and become
a Tibetan Buddhist', very few. And the Tibetan Buddhists don't actually
Kohn: Tibet House has attracted the attention of a lot of
celebrities. Have you consciously gone out to seek their support?
Thurman: No. We haven't gone, in Tibet House, particularly to seek
Of course in any non-profit,
when you do get celebrity support, that's when
you can begin to become viable as a non-profit, because the way America
works, the way our democracy works, we don't have any Princess Di, you know,
we don't have a Royal Family, so charisma is focused on theatre and film
celebrities, and therefore when you can attract one, when they do become
interested in Tibet, then Tibet House, and they will come to Tibet House
functions, then more people will come to our function, and we will be able
to develop a sort of fiscal viability.
the person who attracts them though rather is His Holiness the Dalai
Lama, and Tibet House is his cultural centre, so that it natural some will
help us on the cultural level. Mostly they have worked on the political
level, you know, testifying in Congress and helping the refugee situation,
and we're sort of third in line, you could say, amongst the Dalai Lama's
institutions in America.
Kohn: Western spiritual thinking is often associated with a certain
degree of self-centredness; to what extent do you think Buddhism is an
antidote to that? Or in fact, does it promote it?
Thurman: Buddhism can be exploited for self-centred reasons, it's
just like any other thing can be exploited. There is no thing made by human
ingenuity, and human ingenuity cannot subvert and exploit as well.
Buddhism may be almost the hardest thing for self-centredness to
exploit because the foundational philosophy of Buddhism is expressed as
selflessness. In other words, that's a philosophical and also an ethical
term in Buddhism that is absolutely central and they constantly harp on it.
They sometimes talk about emptiness, selflessness, you know, egolessness,
they have all these terms.
although the self-centred people still manage to use Buddhism in a
narcissistic way, it's hard for them, because they're constantly harping on
that you have no self, that your self-obsession, or self-occupation is your
worst enemy and so forth, it's constantly reinforced in Buddhist teaching.
So although it makers it very difficult, it's still not foolproof.
Kohn: How well do you think Westerners understand that concept of no
Thurman: Well I think not only Westerners, I don't think Easterners
understand it very well. I think it is something which is actually rather
hard to understand viscerally. It is actually easy to understand
intellectually, and in a way modern materialistic culture and science agrees
example, most modern people who are materialistic, I don't mean they're
greedy, I mean that philosophically, they believe that when they die they
will cease to exist. Like if you want to find your social security number
engraved somewhere in your heart valve, so you won't find it, you won't find
a barcode on any particular joint of the spine, you know what I mean? You
won't find a neurone that says 'Rachael', or that says 'Bob', it won't be a
Bob neurone. And that's easy to understand intellectually. But then again,
we appropriate our experience from the point of view of a functional self
centre, and therefore we sort of then have a hard time connecting that
intellectual understanding that there's nothing we can find easily that
really is this durable self to the feeling of being a durable self.
where Buddhist meditation and Buddhist critical thought and
Buddhist ethics even, becomes a long, gradual, slow process of making
visceral that intellectual understanding, and I might add, avoiding the
mistaken idea of nihilism which modern materialism falls into. They think,
well I don't really exist, so therefore nothing matters, so it doesn't
matter what I do' type of thing, which is eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow
we may die, and after we die we're not going to be anything, so there's no
consequence. They usually don't have to finish the sentence. And so that
aspect is not easily understood, and that's where all of the Buddhist
methods, and all the Buddhist education focuses on that element.
Kohn: Almost going to the other side of the spectrum, Tibetan
Buddhism is quite fantastical, it's filled with incredible magical
scenarios, reborn Lamas and deities; how easily can Westerners believe that
Thurman: It's hard for Westerners to overcome the disbelief in future
life and former life which they inherit from their scientific upbringing.
Buddhism presents the existence of an individual life as part of a
continuity of lives, many past lives, like you and I have been all different
kinds of animals, dinosaurs, I'm an American but I've even been a koala
bear, you know, speaking of Australia, in a former life, I've definitely
been a koala bar, and so on. And that's very hard for Americans, because we'
re taught that there is no irreducible spirit and therefore when we die, the
body dies and the brain ceases, that's the end of you.
But, and therefore I often
say when people ask 'How come Buddhism is
sweeping America?' or something. I say, 'Buddhism is not yet at all sweeping
America', because Buddhism is not just a few religious practices, it's not
just a few abstruse magical tricks or beliefs, Buddhism is a different
vision of life, including a different scientific vision of life, and it sees
life as an evolutionary continuum where individuals are born and reborn
infinitely actually. We'll have infinite future life, we had infinite past
lives. And until that belief from the Buddhist point of view, until a person
feels comfortable, feels almost at its commonsensical, that belief, that
person cannot be a Buddhist actually.
Kohn: Bob Thurman, how did you come to believe that it was a
Robert Thurman: Well it took time, actually.
At first I intellectually
thought it was quite acceptable, because after
all, no-one has ever proved that anything becomes nothing, or anybody
becomes nothing, no- one has ever heard about it. Carl Sagan is not around
to verify that he became nothing.
I was open to it intellectually for that reason, but after almost a year
or two of practising Buddhism and intellectually trying to hold that view,
it was pointed out to me by one of my teachers that viscerally I did not
hold that view, and I really only lived for what I would get out of, and I
did things for what I would get out of them just in this life, and I
basically considered my worry and my responsibility and my positive option
even, positive horizon, was only whatever I could do or become or achieve in
this life, because I really didn't viscerally think I would be facing
situations after leaving this body.
after a few years, I had a funny experience as I was walking along,
buying some milk at the store for tea, for the monastery where I lived, and
as I was walking along, I suddenly felt as if a pressure pushing me was had
been taken away from me. In other words I suddenly realised that I had been
living as if there was a beginning to my living, and I was being pushed by
that beginning in a sort of a rush to get somewhere. And suddenly I realised
there was nothing behind me pushing me, and there was endless space behind
me. I came from an endless past, and I suddenly realised that I wasn't
really rushing, there was no point in rushing to get somewhere, I would get
there and I would get that milk, and there would be many more expeditions
for milk for many more cups of tea.
And it just changed the
way I lived, the pressure of the way I had felt, the
driven- ness of the way I was living, basically. And that was kind of
revelatory for me, and ever since then, the idea that there would be future
experiences and future problems and future considerations, became
commonsense to me.
like for example right here in Tibet House, I feel it's commonsense
that 15th Street is still out there. I can't prove it's still out there,
somebody might have blown it up in a bomb, you know, or the world might have
dissolved, but I think it's there, sort of, without having to invest any
energy in that, it's part of my world picture. Similarly future existence is
like that to me nowadays, and to me, a person who would think that there's a
yawning nothingness waiting out there for them. The burden of proof is on
them because that's a very abstruse thing to think.
Rachael Kohn: Can't
you also feel driven to do things for its consequences
in a future life?
Thurman: You can, but you have a little more time. The driving-ness
is a little slower, let's say, but on the other hand, of course yes, this is
a very important point. I used to debate with Carl Sagan a little bit, I had
a little debate with him because he was very bent that there was no future
life, and that was very crucial to the scientific world, he felt.
in that little bit of a debate, I noticed that he was assuming that
people who believed in a future life were taking it easy, therefore, he
thought things would be taking care of them, like it was a naïve childish
notion of immortality, so they didn't really strive in this life. Whereas I
pointed out to him that people who have a notion of future life are worried
about coming into a negative circumstance or having an unhappy future life.
That increases the possibility of negative possibilities by a huge factor,
and therefore by having future existence, did not relieve you of the burden
of concern for how, what would the quality of that future be.
in fact what the Buddhists have discovered is that can drive you to be
more virtuous, to be more kind, would not be hostile to people because they
might get you later, you know, even if you escaped them in this life etc. It
in fact encourages people to behave a little bit better, a lot better,
because they can't come with that idea of there'll be no consequence of what
I do, therefore what I do ultimately won't matter. Everything matters if you
have an endless consequence.
Kohn: That's Robert Thurman, scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, and
Director of Tibet House, the cultural institution of the Dalai Lama in New
York City. You're listening to The New Believers, Leading the Spiritual
Revolution, the monthly series on The Spirit of Things, here on ABC Radio
Thurman, you were the first Westerner to be ordained as a monk in the
Tibetan tradition, and you were educated under the watchful eye of the Dalai
Lama; has that made you something of a celebrity?
Thurman: I don't think so, because I'm also the first person to
resign from having been a monk.
You know, it's
embarrassing to me, I don't like to promote the idea that I
was the first person ordained as a monk, because I then did resign after a
few years, which did upset His Holiness, and more than him, the older
teachers who had also ordained me. But eventually they accepted that
decision, they realised that the type of life that I faced here in America
at that time, in the '60s, wasn't really ready for a sort of pale white monk
with an extra large head, you know, shaved like Kojac or something, they
weren't really ready for it, and so they accepted that decision of mine,
although I regret that I wasn't able to maintain.
do take the monks' vow in the Tibetan order for life, and it is
considered a little bit shameful to renounce it if you have once taken it.
So therefore I don't consider myself a celebrity, I consider myself a slight
bit of a disgrace, to be honest.
Rachael Kohn: Well then, tell us why did you resign as a monk?
Thurman: Because it seemed well, I fell in love with a beautiful
woman, that's my human weakness. On the other hand she won't accept blame or
responsibility because I had decided anyway, that being a monk without a
monastery, and there is no monastery really in America for Euro-American
Buddhist monks. Some Tibetan refugees come and they make sort of an ethnic
monastery for their people, but there's really no social set-up for Buddhist
monasticism for Euro-Americans in America yet. That's another reason why I
don't consider Buddhism really sweeping America in any such way, I think
that's media hype.
Kohn: Do you have any reservations about the monastic system? I mean
what if we all became monastics?
Thurman: If we all became monastics I would have no reservations
about that, it would be excellent if we all became monastics. If we all
became monastics, then we would level off the population problem, it would
be definitely levelled off. We would be all living at a higher level of
ethical kindness and gentleness, and pretty soon a few of us would resign
and then there'd be a little bit more appropriation probably after that.
ex-monks and nuns make good parents actually, they're more kind usually
to their children, because by having been a monk or a nun for a while, they
get rid of some inherited family authoritarian behaviours that often descend
in secular families. I'm sure you're familiar with what I'm talking about.
so I think it would be just fine if everybody became a monk or nun, it
certainly would give the planet a break. Imagine the human population curve
decreasing, getting back to one or two billion, just by people voluntarily
renouncing procreation for a couple of decades, but within a few years, many
would resign and you would still have a little bit of procreation, so not to
worry too much.
Kohn: Well isn't there a bit of a contradiction in that? Because
monastic life relies on the generous contributions of people who work hard
and make money.
Thurman: Well that's because not everybody is a monk you know, so
many people do work and make money, and then some people who make money
realise that the purpose of life is not money, and rather the purpose of
money is to have a handsome life and part of a handsome life is to be
generous and to give and to support non-profits, especially those that seek
to preserve a culture, to preserve the environment, to preserve the world to
diminish domestic violence, to reduce the population growth that is so
destructive to the planet etc. and so the point is, there's really no danger
of everybody becoming monastic to start with, and second, furthermore you
know, if everybody were monastic, that doesn't mean that everybody would do
fact monastics produce tremendous amount of value in history,
voluntarily. They've created an enormous amount of art, they've created a
tremendous amount, the medical systems of most of the countries were
developed by monastics; in the West too, until the Protestants destroyed
monasticism in Europe. In Asia monastics were great healers, and incredible
before we dismiss monasticism out of hand based on the Protestant ethic
which we have inherited, in our over-industrialised societies, we should
think more carefully about what it means as an institution. That's one of my
main academic points that I have written books about.
Kohn: May I ask you then, do you have any reservations about a kind
of Westernisation of Buddhism?
Robert Thurman: I don't
have reservations about the Westernisation of
Buddhism because I think that Buddhism is more than a religion. I do think
that in the current era I follow His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in thinking
that it is not correct or necessary, or even beneficial, to proselytise
Buddhism and like convert America to Buddhism or something, as a religion.
agree that people should use Buddhist philosophy, psychology,
ethical ideas, even social advances that the Buddhist societies advance,
particularly the non-violence social advance that Buddhism developed so well
in so many countries, I think these should be used, but they can be used
perfectly well within a Jewish or Christian or secular humanist matrix.
you add Buddhism as a religious institution and try to sort of go in and
start competing with the Baptists and the Methodists and the Orthodox and
the Reformed etc and the Muslims, then we're talking new religions wars, new
religious competiton for market share. I think that's very, very negative
and unfortunate. Buddhism actually is not just religion, it is not just a
is defined as composed of a special kind of ethics, a special kind
of meditation, and a special kind of science and wisdom. And the ethics of
the science are not religious, and they should interact with our educational
institutions and with our legal institutions, and promoting the idea
respectively of non-violence and the idea of individual insight into the
nature of reality which is very, very crucial, I think for us all to gain.
those aspects can be widely used and Westernised would mean that Western
people would develop their wisdom and would develop their ethics, and that
to me is very, very crucial. And so I have no reservation about that at all.
But I have many reservations about the attempt to appropriate Buddhism as a
new cult, as a new sort of membership group, as a new sort of 'in' group,
you know, we versus them type of thing, and sort of what one Buddhist
teacher calls spiritual materialism, you know having malasand wearing red
costumes and doing this sort of thing. I have lots of reservations about
I also have reservations about some ideas within some Buddhist writers
who like modern times, you know, Westerns would say 'Oh we can be Buddhists,
but we don't have to worry about forming a future life, we can be Buddhists
and yet materialists.' Or they say, 'Oh we can be Buddhists, but we don't
need monasteries any more, that's old-fashioned, we want everybody to work'.
And so that's the modern ethics, that 'We'll be Buddhists and yet we'll be
secular Buddhists'. I have much reservation about that.
Kohn: But isn't that inevitable that when Buddhism comes to the
West, it will change, just as it did when it went to China and Korea?
Thurman: No. When it came to China Buddhism, the Confucianism and
Taoism that existed before Buddhism came there had no such concept as
monasticism for example. It was considered disrespectful to your parents to
shave your head, because the hair was inherited from the parents, and
everyone had to work in the Confucianism thing, and had to do what,
worshipped ancestors, this sort of thing. There was no such tradition in
China like there was in India.
Buddhism brought that tradition to China, and actually that tradition
created a social escape valve for many women who didn't have a role except
in a village working more or less like slaves, for many men who didn't want
to fight in armies or who had some higher aspiration than just planting
seeds, and it created a kind of matrix for what we would today call kind of
liberal education where you would go and open your heart as your own purpose
Buddhism institutionally did create that over several centuries in China
and Chinese Buddhism then flourished for thousands of years, and so Buddhism
did create that change there.
the West we have a special unique thing where we do have Catholicism,
which does accept monasticism and many monks and nuns do a great deal of
useful things besides spiritually purify themselves in the world. But the
problem is that industrial culture has gotten all on its high horse with its
technical mastery of things, and destroyed monasticism in Northern Europe,
it became extremely militaristic, it has a bit triumphal attitude that we
should all be secular.
it's facing a population explosion that is planet-destroying, a
consumer pollution level that is planet destroying, and we all know about
the nuclear and the high tech military weapons that loom over everybody's
head, so we still are very much endangered actually by not allowing people
not to produce, not allowing people to be free to pursue their spiritual
development, and therefore Buddhist monasticism in industrial Protestant
countries, and other countries that have adopted that ethic, would be able
to reinforce say Catholic monasticism and the general idea that some people
should be free and peaceful in life and should pursue their spiritual
fulfilment, and that that's a worthy thing for them to do, which is
something that the Catholics have maintained, but is very weakened in our
You know you
have Thomas Merton's monastery has 25 monks on 2,000 acres.
They could have 500 monks, easily. In Tibet they would have 5,000 monks
actually. And that country flourished and never had famine and never had
extreme poverty until invaded 50 years ago, with a high degree of monastic
population, very balanced population curve, minimal destruction of their
environment, and a very peaceful life, even if a little unwashed, as the
Dalai Lama likes to say.
Kohn: Bob Thurman, the building of the Maitreya Project and other
huge Buddhist temples are meant to draw pilgrims and tourists. Is there any
worry that this is becoming a hugely competitive, even materialistic
expression of Buddhism?
Thurman: Well, religion is ludicrous, all religions are ludicrous
from a certain point of view, from a materialistic point of view, right? I
mean go to any - the Communists for example destroyed 6,250 monasteries in
Tibet by saying that 'Putting all this gold in these statues of these
Buddhas and things, this is ludicrous, you need the gold, you need the
money, you can invest it in a sock factory or something you know.'
in 1980 when the late Chinese leader went to Tibet and saw what a
disaster the Chinese colonisation and invasion had wrought there, he gave
the Tibetans total tax exemption and totally let them do what they want, and
to his amazement instead of starting laundries, they rebuilt some of those
monasteries that he had destroyed, that Mao had destroyed.
people can say Yes, it's ludicrous, you should only do utilitarian
things. I mean the way Protestantism has been doing utilitarian things for
350, 400 years, right? But what has it gotten us, these utilitarian things?
A couple of flush toilets, yes, but it genocided the native Americans,
enslaved the African American, it is threatening our environment with
pollution, it is threatening our whole civilisation with militarism and with
high tech weapons, and heaven knows, genetically altered food. Heaven knows
what even is in our own intestine at this moment. And so too much
utilitarianism seems to also put things out of balance, you see.
So the idea
that somehow the spiritual destiny of the human being, and the
condition, internal condition of the being of hope in the future, and a
feeling of viability of life, that is just as crucial, the feeling of
viability of life, that is just as crucial as some toilets and some other
things. So there should be a balance, shouldn't there, between some sort of
spiritual investment let's say, and actually a spiritual investment really
finally should take priority because this is the great Buddhist insight, you
you have a bad mind, it's just filled with surging impulses that you have
no control over. You can be in the most beautiful mansion, with the most
beautiful automobile, with a beautiful, well you won't have beautiful
relationships because you'll be such a pain you'll drive them all away, but
maybe temporarily you'll have some relationships, and you will still be
miserable yourself. You will have to be on Prozac, you'll be on something
because your mind will be discontented with whatever it is.
But if your
mind is controlled, you live in a modest place, now you don't
have to be in a sewer, you can be in a modest place, you can be peaceful,
you can be contented, you can find something beautiful in a little pot of
flowers outside your window, like a little old lady in Kyoto or something
like that. Fine. Because the mind is balanced, the spirit is satisfied, do
a famous writing from a thousand years ago, it says, 'If you don't
like stepping on sharp things when you walk around town, you have two
choices: cover the whole surface of the town with leather. That's one
choice. Or make yourself a pair of shoes, that's the other choice. Which is
Kohn: Two different points of view; which would you choose? That was
Robert Thurman, Buddhist scholar and Director of Tibet House, speaking to me
in New York City.
The Dalai Lama's message
to the West is how to find happiness in a material
world. No-one would doubt that the West has been the most successful in
making material wealth available to more people than anywhere else. But the
East is no stranger to material extravagance. So when Lama Zopa Rimpoche
announced that he was going to build the world's biggest Buddha at the
pilgrimage site of Bodhgaya in the Indian State of Bihar, at a cost of
$US200-million, it caused a heated debate.
Kohn: Before Bob Thurman we heard from the one and only 'laughing
Buddha', the Dalai Lama. He's been our special guest for this edition of The
New Believers, Leading the Spiritual Revolution, a monthly series on The
Spirit of Things, here on ABC Radio National.
you'd expect his mental training to give him a pretty good memory, but I
didn't expect the Dalai Lama to remember my hairstyle from six years ago.
Dalai Lama: Same style, your hair, or different? (LAUGHS)
Kohn: A man who I think proves that holiness and humour can go
Spirit of Things is produced by me and Geoff Wood with technical
production by Anne Marie De Betencourt.
THREE REQUIREMENTS OF CH'AN PRACTICE
On May 3, 1981, on WBAI radio program "In The Spirit", Lex Hixon read an excerpt from a lecture by Shih-fu (Master) Sheng-yen entitled The Three Requirements of Ch'an Practice (see Chan Magazine Vol. 2. No. 3 pp 34), and asked Shih-fu to elaborate in more detail :
you do not have faith in yourself, then not only will you not get far in the practice,
but you will not succeed in anything you set out to do. The accomplishment of
faith must come from your daily life experience as well as from an understanding
of Buddha Dharma. Understanding of Buddha Dharma gives rise to faith in yourself
because you know that Sakyamuni was originally just an ordinary sentient being,
and yet he reached Buddhahood. And he said that every sentient being without exception
can become a Buddha. So faith in yourself is connected with the faith that what
the Buddha said must be true, that you can reach Buddhahood. From historical records,
we know that many practitioners, using the methods taught by the Buddha, including
the patriarchs of the Ch'an sect, attained enlightenment. The fact that you are
able to practice these methods means that you can also attain enlightenment. Related
to this, not only must you have faith in the Buddha, but in those who have experience,
notably, your master or teacher. But it is quite a difficult thing to have 100%
absolute faith in the master, or Shih-fu, upon first meeting. Likewise, it is
difficult in the beginning to have the confidence that you can definitely reach
Buddhahood. Only after deriving some benefit after considerable practice will
you be able to have this kind of faith that you can definitely get enlightened.
That is why I do not require my students to believe in anything at the very beginning. Rather, I just give them certain methods of practice. These methods vary according to the personality and level of practice of each student. And even the same person may be given different methods at different times. Only after students have derived some benefit from using the method will they develop faith in Shih-fu. At that time whatever method I tell the student to use, he will go ahead with diligence. Then I will tell them to give up their attachments to their own life, their conceptions of themselves, and their experience. If they can do this, they will be close to the door of enlightenment.
Yet, even after faith is attained, if the student does not bring forth a great determination to reach the goal of enlightenment within a fixed period of time, then in spite of his faith, he will not derive much benefit very quickly. This type of person must put in a long time of gradual practice before he can naturally enter into a state of enlightenment. As if rowing a boat upstream, if you do not keep on increasing your efforts, then even though you may once have had an experience, not only will you make very little progress, but there is a good chance that you may regress. But after you practice for a length of time, you may feel exhausted physically and spiritually. If you don't doze off while sitting, you find that you cannot bring yourself to exert any energy. Under these conditions, you may think : "Maybe I'll take a rest for a while. If I can't get enlightened today, then I'll try again tomorrow. If not tomorrow, anyway, eventually it will happen." This is called being lax in the practice. Thus we have a second requirement, namely, great angry determination, which is simply to put aside any consideration of your health, or your capability of pushing forward in the practice, because you are aware that, "If I don't continue practicing now, if I were to suddenly die, then I would not be able to accomplish my practice in this lifetime." With this attitude, you simply must work hard, putting aside any consideration of your own life and death. If a Ch'an practitioner does not have a very close, direct feeling that he may die at any moment, then it is difficult for great angry determination to arise. Some people, observing the way I train students in Ch'an, may think that my demands are unreasonable, especially on retreat, where I may ask them to minimize their sleeping time as much as possible. So long as you are not about to collapse, you should continue working on the method. However, some students simply cannot sustain this kind of practice. In this case, I may take a comforting, alternative approach, suggesting that they should take a good rest until they are completely recovered, and then come back and practice again. Very often, this approach also works and after sleeping, those students will practice even harder and develop great angry determination.
But for those who still cannot manage to bring up this determination, I will say that Sakyamuni Buddha dedicated himself to hard practice for six years because he wanted to save sentient beings from suffering, and after he reached Buddhahood he taught his disciples the method to practice. Likewise, the great Ch'an masters through the ages all practiced for a great length of time before they got enlightened, and they transmitted these methods and experiences down to our generation. Now, passing through so many people's efforts for such a long time, you are extremely fortunate in so short a time to have come into contact with such a good method of practice. Knowing this, if you still do not practice you should feel a great sense of shame when you think of those past Chan masters and Buddha himself. Furthermore, your body was given to you by your parents. And during your lifetime, so many people have contributed to you in various ways. If you do not make good use of this life of yours, if you do not practice hard and get some result, you are in fact doing injustice to all those people who have given so much to you that there is no way you can repay them. Therefore you simply must work hard.
After one has given rise to great shame and developed great angry determination, we give this person a direct method to practice Ch'an, called ts'an ch'an, or "investigating Ch'an". The purpose of this method is to bring up the great doubt, the third requirement for practice. The difference between great doubt and doubt in the ordinary sense, is that great doubt is not being suspicious of anything but in fact having absolute faith in the method of practice. We use the method as a guide to ask what we originally are. The Buddha said, all sentient beings have Buddha nature. Why is it that I don't recognize myself as Buddha? If I am not Buddha, then after all, who am I? We do not try to answer these questions using our knowledge, experience or reasoning. But rather we continuously ask ourselves until all thoughts suddenly vanish, the mind and environment disappear, and we are naturally in a state of enlightenment.
Wild Mind of Gary Snyder
For the nineties, the celebrated Beat rebel advocates "wild mind," neighborhood values and watershed politics. "Wild mind," he says, "means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating. That's what wilderness is. Nobody has a management plan for it."
Asked if he grows tired of talking about ecological stewardship, digging in, and coalition-building, the poet Gary Snyder responds with candor: "Am I tired of talking about it? I'm tired of doing it!" he roars. "But hey, you've got to keep doing it. That's part of politics, and politics is more than winning and losing at the polls."
These days, there's an honest, conservative-sounding ring to the politics of the celebrated Beat rebel. Gary Snyder, though, has little in common with the right wingers who currently prevail throughout the western world.
"Conservatism has some very valid meanings," he says. "Of course, most of the people who call themselves conservative aren't that, because they're out to extract and use, to turn a profit. Curiously, eco and artist people and those who work with dharma practice are conservatives in the best sense of the word-we're trying to save a few things!
"Care for the environment is like noblesse oblige," he maintains. "You don't do it because it has to be done. You do it because it's beautiful. That's the bodhisattva spirit. The bodhisattva is not anxious to do good, or feels obligation or anything like that. In Jodo-shin Buddhism, which my wife was raised in, the bodhisattva just says, 'I picked up the tab for everybody. Goodnight folks...' "
Five years ago, in a prodigious collection of essays called The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder introduced a pair of distinctive ideas to our vocabulary of ecological inquiry. Grounded in a lifetime of nature and wilderness observation, Snyder offered the "etiquette of freedom" and "practice of the wild" as root prescriptions for the global crisis.
Informed by East-West poetics, land and wilderness issues, anthropology, benevolent Buddhism, and Snyder's long years of familiarity with the bush and high mountain places, these principles point to the essential and life-sustaining relationship between place and psyche.
Such ideas have been at the heart of Snyder's work for the past forty years. When Jack Kerouac wrote of a new breed of counterculture hero in The Dharma Bums, it was a thinly veiled account of his adventures with Snyder in the mid-l950's. Kerouac's effervescent reprise of a West Coast dharma-warrior's dedication to "soil conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority, astronomy, geology, Hsuan Tsang's travels, Chinese painting theory, reforestation, Oceanic ecology and food chains" remains emblematic of the terrain Snyder has explored in the course of his life.
One of our most active and productive poets, Gary Snyder has also been one of our most visible. Returning to California in 1969 after a decade abroad, spent mostly as a lay Zen Buddhist monk in Japan, he homesteaded in the Sierras and worked the lecture trail for sixteen years while raising a young family. By his own reckoning he has seen "practically every university in the United States."
As poet-essayist, Snyder's work has been uncannily well-timed, contributing to his reputation as a farseeing and weatherwise interpreter of cultural change. With his current collection of essays, A Place In Space, Snyder brings welcome news of what he's been thinking about in recent years. Organized around the themes of "Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds," it opens with a discussion of Snyder's Beat Generation experience.
"It was simply a different time in the American economy," he explained when I spoke to him recently in Seattle. "It used to be that you came into a strange town, picked up work, found an apartment, stayed a while, then moved on. Effortless. All you had to have was a few basic skills and be willing to work. That's the kind of mobility you see celebrated by Kerouac in On The Road. For most Americans, it was taken for granted. It gave that insouciant quality to the young working men of North America who didn't have to go to college if they wanted to get a job.
"I know this because in 1952 I was able to hitch-hike into San Francisco, stay at a friend's, and get a job within three days through the employment agency. With an entry level job, on an entry level wage, I found an apartment on Telegraph Hill that I could afford and I lived in the city for a year. Imagine trying to live in San Francisco or New York-any major city-on an entry level wage now? You can't do it. Furthermore, the jobs aren't that easy to get."
The freedom and openness of the post-war economy made it possible for people such as Snyder, Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lew Welch and others to disaffiliate from mainstream American dreams of respectability. And as Snyder writes, these "proletarian bohemians" chose even further disaffiliation, refusing to write "the sort of thing that middle-class Communist intellectuals think proletarian literature ought to be."
"In making choices like that, we were able to choose and learn other tricks for not being totally engaged with consumer culture," he says. "We learned how to live simply and were very good at it in my generation. That was what probably helped shape our sense of community. We not only knew each other, we depended on each other. We shared with each other.
"And there is a new simple-living movement coming back now, I understand," he notes, "where people are getting together, comparing notes about how to live on less money, how to share, living simply."
When Gary Snyder points something out, it generally warrants attention: his thinking has consistently been ahead of the cultural learning curve. Nowhere is his prescience more obvious than in "A Virus Runs Through It," an unpublished review of William Burroughs' 1962 The Ticket That Exploded.
Snyder regarded Burroughs' portrait of a society obsessed with addiction and consumerism, "whipped up by advertising," as an omen. He concluded that Burroughs' "evocation of the politics of addiction, mass madness, and virus panic, is all too prophetic."
"We were very aware of heroin addiction at that time," Snyder explains. "Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Holmes and their circle in New York became fascinated with the metaphor of addiction in the light of heroin, smack. Marijuana was not an issue, but the intense addictive quality of heroin, and the good people who were getting drawn into it, and the romance some people had for it, was a useful framework for thinking about the nature of capitalist society and the addiction to fossil fuels in the industrial sector. It was obvious."
Many of Snyder's original arguments addressing pollution and our addiction to consumption have by now become mainstream: reduced fossil fuel dependence, recycling, responsible resource harvesting. Others remain works-in-progress: effective soil conservation, economics as a "small subbranch of ecology," learning to "break the habit of acquiring unnecessary possessions," division by natural and cultural boundaries rather than arbitrary political boundaries.
As an ecological philosopher, Snyder's role has been to point out first the problems, and then the hard medicine that must be swallowed. Snyder has become synonymous with integrity-a good beginning place if your wilderness poetics honor "clean-running rivers; the presence of pelican and osprey and gray whale in our lives; salmon and trout in our streams; unmuddied language and good dreams."
"My sense of the West Coast," he says, "is that it runs from somewhere about the Big Sur River-the southern-most river that salmon run in-from there north to the Straits of Georgia and beyond, to Glacier Bay in southern Alaska. It is one territory in my mind. People all relate to each other across it; we share a lot of the same concerns and text and a lot of the same trees and birds."
Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder grew up close to the anthropomorphic richness of the local Native American mythology, the rainforest totems of eagle, bear, raven and killer whale that continue to appear in school and community insignias as important elements of regional consciousness. It is unsurprising that they-and roustabout cousins like Coyote-have long been found at the core of Snyder's expansive vision. Literal-minded rationalists have had difficulty with Snyder's Buddhist-oriented eco-philosophy and poetics. His embrace of Native Indian lore only further ruffled orthodox literary imagination, and in the past his poetry was criticized as being thin, loose or scattered.
As Snyder readers know, the corrective to such interpretations of his work is more fresh air and exercise. Regarding Buddhism, his take is offered simply and efficiently. "The marks of Buddhist teaching," he writes in A Place In Space, "are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering and connectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and a way to realization."
"It seems evident," he writes, offering insight into the dynamics of his admittedly complex world view, "that there are throughout the world certain social and religious forces that have worked through history toward an ecologically and culturally enlightened state of affairs. Let these be encouraged: Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, Druids, Taoists, Biologists, Witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, Anarchists, Alchemistsprimitive cultures, communal and ashram movements, cooperative ventures."
"Idealistic, these?" he says when asked about such alternative "Third Force" social movements. "In some cases the vision can be mystical; it can be Blake. It crops up historically with William Penn and the Quakers trying to make the Quaker communities in Pennsylvania a righteous place to live-treating the native peoples properly in the process. It crops up in the utopian and communal experience of Thoreau's friends in New England.
"As utopian and impractical as it might seem, it comes through history as a little dream of spiritual elegance and economic simplicity, and collaboration and cooperating communally-all of those things together. It may be that it was the early Christian vision. Certainly it was one part of the early Buddhist vision. It turns up as a reflection of the integrity of tribal culture; as a reflection of the kind of energy that would try to hold together the best lessons of tribal cultures even within the overwhelming power and dynamics of civilization."
Any paradigm for a truly healthy culture, Gary Snyder argues, must begin with surmounting narrow personal identity and finding a commitment to place. Characteristically, he finds a way of remaking the now tired concept of "sense of place" into something fresh and vital. The rural model of place, he emphasizes, is no longer the only model for the healing of our culture.
"Lately I've been noticing how many more people who tend toward counterculture thinking are turning up at readings and book signings in the cities and the suburbs," he says. "They're everywhere. What I emphasize more and more is that a bioregional consciousness is equally powerful in a city or in the suburbs. Just as a watershed flows through each of these places, it also includes them.
"One of the models I use now is how an ecosystem resembles a mandala," he explains. "A big Tibetan mandala has many small figures as well as central figures, and each of them has a key role in the picture: they're all essential. The whole thing is an educational tool for understanding-that's where the ecosystem analogy comes in. Every creature, even the little worms and insects, has value. Everything is valuable-that's the measure of the system."
To Snyder, value also translates as responsibility. Within his approach to digging in and committing to a place is the acceptance of responsible stewardship. Snyder maintains that it is through this engaged sense of effort and practice-participating in what he salutes as "the tiresome but tangible work of school boards, county supervisors, local foresters, local politics"-that we find our real community, our real culture.
"Ultimately, values go back to our real interactions with others," he says. "That's where we live, in our communities.
"You know, I want to say something else," he continues. "In the past months and years Carole my wife has been amazing. I do my teaching and my work with the Yuba Watershed Institute, but she's incredible; she puts out so much energy. One of the things that makes it possible for us and our neighbors to do all this is that the husbands and wives really are partners; they help out and trade off. They develop different areas of expertise and they help keep each other from burning out. It's a great part of being a family and having a marriage-becoming fellow warriors, side to side."
In 1968, Snyder stated flatly that, "The modern American family is the smallest and most barren family that has ever existed." Throughout the years his recommendations concerning new approaches to the idea of family and relationships have customarily had a pagan, tribal flavor. These days he calls it community.
"I'm learning, as we all do, what it takes to have an ongoing relationship with our children," he says. "I have two grown sons, two stepdaughters, a nephew who's twenty-seven, and all their friends whom I know. We're still helping each other out. There's a real cooperative spirit. There's a fatherly responsibility there, and a warm, cooperative sense of interaction, of family as extended family, one that moves imperceptibly toward community and a community-values sense.
"So I'm urging people not to get stuck with that current American catch-phrase 'family values,' and not to throw it away either, but to translate it into community values. Neighborhood values are ecosystem values, because they include all the beings.
"What I suspect may emerge in the political spectrum is a new kind of conservative, one which is socially liberal, in the specific sense that it will be free of racial or religious prejudice. The bugaboo, that one really bad flaw of the right wing, except for the Libertarians, is its racist and anti-Semitic and anti-personal-liberty tone.
"A political spectrum that has respect for traditions, and at the same time is non-racist and tolerant about different cultures, is an interesting development. I'd be willing to bet that it's in the process of emerging, similar in a way to the European Green Parties that say, 'We're neither on the left nor the right; we're in front.'
"One of the things I'm trying to do, and I believe it's the right way to work," he says, "is to be non-adversarial-to go about it as tai chi, as ju-jitsu. To go with the direction of a local community issue, say, and change it slightly. We don't have to run head-on. We can say to the other party, 'You've got a lot of nice energy; let's see if we can run this way' "
Yet as anyone involved in community activism learns, amicable resolutions are not always the result. "Sometimes you do have to go head to head on an issue," he agrees, "and that's kind of fun too. 'Showing up' is good practice."
Snyder remembers a fight some four years ago over open pit mining. "I was the lead person on this one, to get an initiative on the ballot that would ban open pit mining, or at least put a buffer zone around any open pit mine. The mining companies from out of town spent a lot of money and did some really intense, last minute, nasty style campaigning, so we lost at the polls.
"But not a single open pit mine has been tried in our county since then. We understand from our interactions with these people that we won their respect. They were smart enough to see that they may have won it at the polls, but we were ready to raise money and willing to fight. That's standing up."
With the growing importance of community coalition-building, Snyder says he is finding it increasingly useful to narrow down his ideas about bioregionalism, or his notion of a practice of the wild, to a shared neighborhood level.
"That's why I talk about watersheds," he explains. "Symbolically and literally they're the mandalas of our lives. They provide the very idea of the watershed's social enlargement, and quietly present an entry into the spiritual realm that nobody has to think of or recognize as being spiritual.
"The watershed is our only local Buddha mandala, one that gives us all, human and non-human, a territory to interact in. That is the beginning of dharma citizenship: not membership in a social or national sphere, but in a larger community citizenship. In other words, a sangha; a local dharma community. All of that is in there, like Dogen when he says, 'When you find your place, practice begins.' "
Thirteenth-century master Dogen Zenji is a classical Asian voice which Snyder has discussed frequently in recent years. "There are several levels of meaning in what Dogen says. There's the literal meaning, as in when you settle down somewhere. This means finding the right teaching, the right temple, the right village. Then you can get serious about your practice.
"Underneath, there's another level of implication: you have to understand that there are such things as places. That's where Americans have yet to get to. They don't understand that there are places. So I quote Dogen and people say, 'What do you mean, you have to find your place? Anywhere is okay for dharma practice because it's spiritual.' Well, yes, but not just any place. It has to be a place that you've found yourself. It's never abstract, always concrete."
If embracing the responsibility of the place and the moment is his prescription, a key principle in this creative stewardship is waking up to "wild mind." He clarifies that "wild" in this context does not mean chaotic, excessive or crazy.
"It means self-organizing," he says. "It means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating, self-maintained. That's what wilderness is. Nobody has to do the management plan for it. So I say to people, "let's trust in the self-disciplined elegance of wild mind". Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness."
This is Gary Snyder's wild medicine. From the beginning, it has been devotion to this quality that has served as his bedrock of practice, his way of carving out a place of freedom in the wall of American culture. In his omission of the personal in favor of the path, he exemplifies the basics of the Zen tradition in which he was trained.
The influx of trained Asian teachers of the Buddhadharma to the West in recent years has raised questions about whether the first homespun blossoming of Beat-flavored Buddhism in the fifties actually included the notion of practice. As one who was there and has paid his dues East and West, Snyder's response is heartening.
"In Buddhism and Hinduism, there are two streams: the more practice-oriented and the more devotional streams," he explains. "Technically speaking, the two tendencies are called bhakta and jnana. Bhakta means devotional; jnana means wisdom/practice. Contemporary Hinduism, for example, is almost entirely devotional-the bhakta tradition.
"Catholicism is a devotional religion, too, and Jack Kerouac's Buddhism had the flavor of a devotional Buddhism. In Buddhism the idea that anybody can do practice is strongly present. In Catholicism practice is almost entirely thought of as entering an order or as becoming a lay novitiate of an order. So that explains Jack's devotional flavor. There's nothing wrong with devotional Buddhism. It is its own creative religious approach, and it's very much there in Tibetan Buddhism too.
"Our western Buddhism has been strongly shaped by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Asian intellectuals," he notes. "D. T. Suzuki was an intellectual strongly influenced by western thought. And the same is true of other early interpreters of Buddhism to the West.
"We came as westerners to Buddhism generally with an educated background," Snyder continues. "So we have tended to over-emphasize the intellectual and spiritual sides of it, with the model at hand of Zen, without realizing that a big part of the flavor of Buddhism, traditionally and historically, is devotional. This is not necessarily tied to doing a lot of practice, but is tied to having an altar in the house-putting flowers in front of it every day, burning incense in front of it every day, having the children bow and burn incense before it. The family may also observe certain Buddhist holy days such as the Buddha's birthday by visiting a temple together, and so forth.
"With that perspective in mind, it isn't so easy to say, 'Oh well, Jack Kerouac wasn't a real Buddhist.' He was a devotional Buddhist, and like many Asians do, he mixed up his Buddhism with several different religions. So it's okay; there's nothing wrong with that. You can be a perfectly good Buddhist without necessarily doing a lot of exercises and sitting and yoga; you can be equally a good Buddhist by keeping flowers on your altar, or in winter, dry grass or cedar twigs..
"There's a big tendency right now in western Buddhism to psychologize it-to try and take the superstition, the magic, the irrationality out of it and make it into a kind of therapy. You see that a lot," he says. "Let me say that I'm grateful for the fact that I lived in Asia for so long and hung out with Asian Buddhists. I appreciate that Buddhism is a whole practice and isn't just limited to the lecture side of it; that it has stories and superstition and ritual and goofiness like that. I love that aspect of it more and more."
Snyder says that at age sixty-five, he's "working like a demon." For the past ten years he has taught creative writing at the University of California, leading workshops and participating in the interdisciplinary "Nature and Culture" program. This year will also mark the arrival of his long-awaited sequence of forty-five poems called "Mountains and Rivers Without End," portions of which have appeared intermittently since Jack Kerouac first dropped word of it in The Dharma Bums.
"I realized I wasn't going to live forever and that I'd started a lot of parallel projects, with lots of interesting notes to each one, so it'd be a pity not to put all that information to good use. Once 'Mountains and Rivers' is done I won't have to write anything further. Anything after that is for fun. Maybe I won't be a writer anymore. Maybe I'll clean out my barn."
Aging and health are not at issue with Snyder. He works at keeping in good condition and several months ago spent three weeks hiking in the Himalayas with a group of family and friends.
"We trekked up to base camp at Everest, went over 18,000 feet three times, and were seven days above 16,000 feet," he says with obvious relish. "Everybody was in pretty good shape and I only lost four pounds in a month, so I'm not thinking a whole lot about aging."
Snyder's recent journey provided him with insights into the questions of karma and reincarnation, which eco-philosopher Joanna Macy believes may hold special relevance for North Americans. She argues that deeply ingrained American frontier values such as individualism, personal mobility, and independence may contribute to the idea that, "If this is our only one-time life, then we don't have to care about the planet."
"The concept of reincarnation in India can literally shape the way one lives in the world," Snyder notes, "and many Tibetans also believe in reincarnation quite literally. So in that frame of mind, the world becomes completely familiar. You sit down and realize that 'I've been men, women, animals; there are no forms that are alien to me.'
"That's why everyone in India looks like they're living in eternity. They walk along so relaxed, so confident, so unconcerned about their poverty or their illness, or whatever it is, even if they're beggars. It goes beyond just giving you a sense of concern for the planet; it goes so far as to say, 'Planets come and go' It's pretty powerful stuff. It's also there in classical Buddhism where people say, 'I've had enough of experience.' That's where a lot of Buddhism in India starts-'I want out of the meat wheel of existence,' as Jack Kerouac says."
An ecosystem too, Snyder concludes, can be seen as "Just a big metabolic wheel of energies being passed around and around. You can see it as a great dance, a great ceremony. You can feel either really at home with it, or step out of the circle."
"We are all indigenous," he reminds us. So it is appropriate that in relearning the lessons of fox and bluejay, or city crows and squirrels-"all members present at the assembly"-that we are promised neither too little, nor too much for our perseverance. This poet, who for so many now reads like an old friend, invites us to make only sense. After all, in recommiting to this continent place by place, he reckons, "We may not transform reality, but we may transform ourselves. And if we transform ourselves, we might just change the world a bit."
Theism, Atheism, and Rationality
Plantinga has been called "the most important philosopher of religion now
writing." After taking his Ph.D. from Yale in 1958, he taught at Wayne State
University (1958-63), Calvin College (1963-82), and has filled the John A. O'Brien
Chair of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame since 1982. He was president
of the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association during 1981-82
and president of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which he helped to found,
from 1983 to 1986. He frequently directs summer seminars for the National Endowment
for the Humanities. He has received numerous honors, including an Award for Distinguished
Teaching from the Danforth Foundation, a fellowship from the Center for Advanced
Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation,
a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, separate fellowships
from the N.E.H., and a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.
He has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University. He has been
invited to deliver more distinguished lectures series at American, Canadian, and
British universities than can be listed here, except to note that he was selected
to give the eminent Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen University in 1987-88. He was
recently honored by a volume of essays bearing his name in D. Reidel's Profiles
series. Widely acclaimed for his work on the metaphysics of modality, the ontological
argument, the problem of evil, and the epistemology of religious belief, he is
the author or editor of seven books, including God and Other Minds, The Nature
of Necessity, and Faith and Rationality. Several of his articles, which have appeared
in journals such as Theoria, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies,
Journal of Philosophy, and so forth, have been hailed as masterpieces of the metaphysician's
Atheological objections to the belief that there is such a person as God come in many varieties. There are, for example, the familiar objections that theism is somehow incoherent, that it is inconsistent with the existence of evil, that it is a hypothesis ill-confirmed or maybe even disconfirmed by the evidence, that modern science has somehow cast doubt upon it, and the like. Another sort of objector claims, not that theism is incoherent or false or probably false (after all, there is precious little by way of cogent argument for that conclusion) but that it is in some way unreasonable or irrational to believe in God, even if that belief should happen to be true. Here we have, as a centerpiece, the evidentialist objection to theistic belief. The claim is that none of the theistic arguments-deductive, inductive, or abductive-is successful; hence there is at best insufficient evidence for the existence of God. But then the belief that there is such a person as God is in some way intellectually improper-somehow foolish or irrational. A person who believed without evidence that there are an even number of ducks would be believing foolishly or irrationally; the same goes for the person who believes in God without evidence. On this view, one who accepts belief in God but has no evidence for that belief is not, intellectually speaking, up to snuff. Among those who have offered this objection are Antony Flew, Brand Blanshard, and Michael Scriven. Perhaps more important is the enormous oral tradition: one finds this objection to theism bruited about on nearly any major university campus in the land. The objection in question has also been endorsed by Bertrand Russell, who was once asked what he would say if, after dying, he were brought into the presence of God and asked whyhe had not been a believer. Russell's reply: "I'd say, 'Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!'" I'm not sure just how that reply would be received; but my point is only that Russell, like many others, has endorsed this evidentialist objection to theistic belief.
Now what, precisely, is the objector's claim here? He holds that the theist without evidence is irrational or unreasonable; what is the property with which he is crediting such a theist when he thus describes him? What, exactly, or even approximately, does he mean when he says that the theist without evidence is irrational? Just what, as he sees it, is the problem with such a theist? The objection can be seen as taking at least two forms; and there are at least two corresponding senses or conceptions of rationality lurking in the nearby bushes. According to the first, a theist who has no evidence has violated an intellectual or cognitive duty of some sort. He has gone contrary to an obligation laid upon him-perhaps by society, or perhaps by his own nature as a creature capable of grasping propositions and holding beliefs. There is an obligation or something like an obligation to proportion one's beliefs to the strength of the evidence. Thus according to John Locke, a mark of a rational person is "the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proof it is built upon will warrant," and according to David Hume, "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence."
In the nineteenth century we have W.K. Clifford, that "delicious enfant terrible" as William James called him, insisting that it is monstrous, immoral, and perhaps even impolite to accept a belief for which you have insufficient evidence:
Whoso would deserve well of his fellow in this matter will guard the purity of his belief with a very fanaticism of jealous care, lest at any time it should rest on an unworthy object, and catch a stain which can never be wiped away.
He adds that if a
belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence, the pleasure is a stolen one. Not only does it deceive ourselves by giving us a sense of power which we do not really possess, but it is sinful, stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind. That duty is to guard ourselves from such beliefs as from a pestilence, which may shortly master our body and spread to the rest of the town. 
To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
(It is not hard to detect, in these quotations, the "tone of robustious pathos" with which James credits Clifford.) On this view theists without evidence-my sainted grandmother, for example-are flouting their epistemic duties and deserve our disapprobation and disapproval. Mother Teresa, for example, if she has not arguments for her belief in God, then stands revealed as a sort of intellectual libertine-someone who has gone contrary to her intellectual obligations and is deserving of reproof and perhaps even disciplinary action.
Now the idea that there are intellectual duties or obligations is difficult but not implausible, and I do not mean to question it here. It is less plausible, however, to suggest that I would or could be going contrary to my intellectual duties in believing, without evidence, that there is such a person as God. For first, my beliefs are not, for the most part, within my control. If, for example, you offer me $1,000,000 to cease believing that Mars is smaller than Venus, there is no way I can collect. But the same holds for my belief in God: even if I wanted to, I couldn't-short of heroic measures like coma inducing drugs-just divest myself of it. (At any rate there is nothing I can do directly; perhaps there is a sort of regimen that if followed religiously would issue, in the long run, in my no longer accepting belief in God.) But secondly, there seems no reason to think that I have such an obligation. Clearly I am not under an obligation to have evidence for everything I believe; that would not be possible. But why, then, suppose that I have an obligation to accept belief in God only if I accept other propositions which serve as evidence for it? This is by no means self-evident or just obvious, and it is extremely hard to see how to find a cogent argument for it.
In any event, I think the evidentialist objector can take a more promising line. He can hold, not that the theist without evidence has violated some epistemic duty-after all, perhaps he can't help himself- but that he is somehow intellectually flawed or disfigured. Consider someone who believes that Venus is smaller than Mercury-not because he has evidence, but because he read it in a comic book and always believes whatever he reads in comic books-or consider someone who holds that belief on the basis of an outrageously bad argument. Perhaps there is no obligation he has failed to meet; nevertheless his intellectual condition is defective in some way. He displays a sort of deficiency, a flaw, an intellectual dysfunction of some sort. Perhaps he is like someone who has an astigmatism, or is unduly clumsy, or suffers from arthritis. And perhaps the evidentialist objection is to be construed, not as the claim that the theist without evidence has violated some intellectual obligations, but that he suffers from a certain sort of intellectual deficiency. The theist without evidence, we might say, is an intellectual gimp.
Alternatively but similarly, the idea might be that the theist without evidence is under a sort of illusion, a kind of pervasive illusion afflicting the great bulk of mankind over the great bulk of the time thus far allotted to it. Thus Freud saw religious belief as "illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind."[4 ]He sees theistic belief as a matter of wish-fulfillment. Men are paralyzed by and appalled at the spectacle of the overwhelming, impersonal forces that control our destiny, but mindlessly take no notice, no account of us and our needs and desires; they therefore invent a heavenly father of cosmic proportions, who exceeds our earthly fathers in goodness and love as much as in power. Religion, says Freud, is the "universal obsessional neurosis of humanity", and it is destined to disappear when human beings learn to face reality as it is, resisting the tendency to edit it to suit our fancies.
A similar sentiment is offered by Karl Marx:
Religion . . . is the self-consciousness and the self-feeling of the man who has either not yet found himself, or else (having found himself) has lost himself once more. But man is not an abstract being . . . Man is the world of men, the State, society. This State, this society, produce religion, produce a perverted world consciousness, because they are a perverted world . . . Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The people cannot be really happy until it has been deprived of illusory happiness by the abolition of religion. The demand that the people should shake itself free of illusion as to its own condition is the demand that it should abandon a condition which needs illusion.
Note that Marx speaks here of a perverted world consciousness produced by a perverted world. This is a perversion from a correct, or right, or natural condition, brought about somehow by an unhealthy and perverted social order. From the Marx-Freud point of view, the theist is subject to a sort of cognitive dysfunction, a certain lack of cognitive and emotional health. We could put this as follows: the theist believes as he does only because of the power of this illusion, this perverted neurotic condition. He is insane, in the etymological sense of that term; he is unhealthy. His cognitive equipment, we might say, isn't working properly; it isn't functioning as it ought to. If his cognitive equipment were working properly, working the way it ought to work, he wouldn't be under the spell of this illusion. He would instead face the world and our place in it with the clear-eyed apprehension that we are alone in it, and that any comfort and help we get will have to be our own devising. There is no Father in heaven to turn to, and no prospect of anything, after death, but dissolution. ("When we die, we rot," says Michael Scriven, in one of his more memorable lines.)
Now of course the theist is likely to display less than overwhelming enthusiasm about the idea that he is suffering from a cognitive deficiency, is under a sort of widespread illusion endemic to the human condition. It is at most a liberal theologian or two, intent on novelty and eager to concede as much as possible to contemporary secularity, who would embrace such an idea. The theist doesn't see himself as suffering from cognitive deficiency. As a matter of fact, he may be inclined to see the shoe as on the other foot; he may be inclined to think of the atheist as the person who is suffering, in this way, from some illusion, from some noetic defect, from an unhappy, unfortunate, and unnatural condition with deplorable noetic consequences. He will see the atheist as somehow the victim of sin in the world - his own sin or the sin of others. According to the book of Romans, unbelief is a result of sin; it originates in an effort to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." According to John Calvin, God has created us with a nisus or tendency to see His hand in the world around us; a "sense of deity," he says, "is inscribed in the hearts of all." He goes on:
Indeed, the perversity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that his conviction, namely, that there is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were in the very marrow. . . . From this we conclude that it is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother's womb and which nature itself permits no man to forget.
Were it not for the existence of sin in the world, says Calvin, human beings would believe in God to the same degree and with the same natural spontaneity displayed in our belief in the existence of other persons, or an external world, or the past. This is the natural human condition; it is because of our presently unnatural sinful condition that many of us find belief in God difficult or absurd. The fact is, Calvin thinks, one who does not believe in God is in an epistemically defective position-rather like someone who does not believe that his wife exists, or thinks that she is a cleverly constructed robot that has no thoughts, feelings, or consciousness. Thus the believer reverses Freud and Marx, claiming that what they see as sickness is really health and what they see as health is really sickness.
Obviously enough, the dispute here is ultimately ontological, or theological, or metaphysical; here we see the ontological and ultimately religious roots of epistemological discussions of rationality. What you take to be rational, at least in the sense in question, depends upon your metaphysical and religious stance. It depends upon your philosophical anthropology. Your view as to what sort of creature a human being is will determine, in whole or in part, your views as to what is rational or irrational for human beings to believe; this view will determine what you take to be natural, or normal, or healthy, with respect to belief. So the dispute as to who is rational and who is irrational here can't be settled just by attending to epistemological considerations; it is fundamentally not an epistemological dispute, but an ontological or theological dispute. How can we tell what it is healthy for human beings to believe unless we know or have some idea about what sort of creature a human being is? If you think he is created by God in the image of God, and created with a natural tendency to see God's hand in the world about us, a natural tendency to recognize that he has been created and is beholden to his creator, owing his worship and allegiance, then of course you will not think of belief in God as a manifestation of wishful thinking or as any kind of defect at all. It is then much more like sense perception or memory, though in some ways much more important. On the other hand, if you think of a human being as the product of blind evolutionary forces, if you think there is no God and that human beings are part of a godless universe, then you will be inclined to accept a view according to which belief in God is a sort of disease or dysfunction, due perhaps, to a sort of softening of the brain.
So the dispute as to who is healthy and who diseased has ontological or theological roots, and is finally to be settled, if at all at that level. And here I would like to present a consideration that, I think tells in favor of the theistic way of looking at the matter. As I have been representing that matter, theist and atheist alike speak of a sort of dysfunction, of cognitive faculties or cognitive equipment not working properly, of their not working as they ought to. But how are we to understand that? What is it for something to work properly? Isn't there something deeply problematic about the idea of proper functioning? What is it for my cognitive faculties to be working properly? What is it for a natural organism-a tree, for example-to be in good working order, to be functioning properly? Isn't working properly relative to our aims and interests? A cow is functioning properly when she gives milk; a garden patch is as it ought to be when it displays a luxuriant preponderance of the sorts of vegetation we propose to promote. But then it seems patent that what constitutes proper functioning depends upon our aims and interests. So far as nature herself goes, isn't a fish decomposing in a hill of corn functioning just as properly, just as excellently, as one happily swimming about chasing minnows? But then what could be meant by speaking of "proper functioning" with respect to our cognitive faculties? A chunk of reality-an organism, a part of an organism, an ecosystem, a garden patch-"functions properly" only with respect to a sort of grid we impose on nature-a grid that incorporates our aims and desires.
But from a theistic point of view, the idea of proper functioning, as applied to us and our cognitive equipment, is not more problematic than, say, that of a Boeing 747's working properly. Something we have constructed-a heating system, a rope, a linear accelerator-is functioning properly when it is functioning in the way it was designed to function. My car works properly if it works the way it was designed to work. My refrigerator is working properly if it refrigerates, if it does what a refrigerator is designed to do. This, I think, is the root idea of working properly. But according to theism, human beings, like ropes and linear accelerators, have been designed; they have been created and designed by God. Thus, he has an easy answer to the relevant set of questions: What is proper functioning? What is it for my cognitive faculties to be working properly? What is cognitive dysfunction? What is it to function naturally? My cognitive faculties are functioning naturally, when they are functioning in the way God designed them to function.
On the other hand, if the atheological evidentialist objector claims that the theist without evidence is irrational, and if he goes on to construe irrationality in terms of defect or dysfunction, then he owes us an account of this notion. Why does he take it that the theist is somehow dysfunctional, at least in this area of his life? More importantly, how does he conceive dysfunction? How does he see dysfunction and its opposite? How does he explain the idea of an organism's working properly, or of some organic system or part of an organism's thus working? What account does he give of it? Presumably he can't see the proper functioning of my noetic equipment as its functioning in the way it was designed to function; so how can he put it?
Two possibilities leap to mind. First, he may be thinking of proper functioning as functioning in a way that helps us attain our ends. In this way, he may say, we think of our bodies as functioning properly, as being healthy, when they function in the way we want them to, when they function in such a way as to enable us to do the sorts of things we want to do. But of course this will not be a promising line to take in the present context; for while perhaps the atheological objector would prefer to see our cognitive faculties function in such a way as not to produce belief in God in us, the same cannot be said, naturally enough, for the theist. Taken this way the atheological evidentialist's objection comes to little more than the suggestion that the atheologician would prefer it if people did not believe in God without evidence. That would be an autobiographical remark on his part, having the interest such remarks usually have in philosophical contexts.
A second possibility: proper functioning and allied notions are to be explained in terms of aptness for promoting survival, either at an individual or species level. There isn't time to say much about this here; but it is at least and immediately evident that the atheological objector would then owe us an argument for the conclusion that belief in God is indeed less likely to contribute to our individual survival, or the survival of our species than is atheism or agnosticism. But how could such an argument go? Surely the prospects for a non-question begging argument of this sort are bleak indeed. For if theism-Christian theism, for example-is true, then it seems wholly implausible to think that widespread atheism, for example, would be more likely to contribute to the survival of our race than widespread theism.
By way of conclusion: a natural way to understand such notions as rationality and irrationality is in terms of the proper functioning of the relevant cognitive equipment. Seen from this perspective, the question whether it is rational to believe in God without the evidential support of other propositions is really a metaphysical or theological dispute. The theist has an easy time explaining the notion of our cognitive equipment's functioning properly: our cognitive equipment functions properly when it functions in the way God designed it to function. The atheist evidential objector, however, owes us an account of this notion. What does he mean when he complains that the theist without evidence displays a cognitive defect of some sort? How does he understand the notion of cognitive malfunction?
W.K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief," in Lectures and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1879), p. 183.
Ibid, p. 184.
Ibid, p. 186.
Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 30.
K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol. 3: Introduction to a Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, by Karl Marx (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975).
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3 (p. 43- 44).
This article appeared in the Winter 1996 issue of "Tricycle" magazine;
The Emperor's Tantric Robes
An Interview with June Campbell on Codes of Secrecy and Silence
An idealistic young Scottish woman goes East to study Buddhism. Twenty-five years later she delivers a radical and unsparing critique of religious structures in Tibet. How much of this system is taking root in West? And how much of it do we really want? June Campbell studied Tibetan Buddhism in monasteries in India in the early 1970's. Subsequently she traveled throughout India, Europe, and North America as a translator and interpreter for various Tibetan lamas. Her book "Traveler in Space" examines the patriarchy of Tibet's political, religious, and social structures, and the real and symbolic role of women in Tibetan society. Today Ms. Campbell teaches women's studies and religious studies in Edinburgh. This interview was conducted by Helen Tworkhov in New York in June 1996. All text in tinted boxes is excerpted from Traveler in Space, available in the United States from George Braziller, Inc.
Tricycle: What was your motivation for writing Traveler in Space?
Campbell: It was a way for me to work through some of the personal confusion that my own experiences left me with. Also, because as time has gone on and Tibetan Buddhism has become more popular in the West, there is much being written by people who know less about the inner workings of the Tibetan system than I, and I thought that what I had to say may be of benefit to others.
Tricycle: Are you referring to the Orientalists' view of Tibet-the kind of Shangri-la myths that still define Tibet in the popular imagination?
Campbell: Yes, but also the academic approach as well, which can take hard lines on certain issues in ways that limit the voices that are heard. Such as the role of women in what is called tantra.
From "Traveler in Space":
Buddhist tantra makes use of the notion that to enlist the passions in one's religious practice; rather than avoid them, is a potent way to realize the basic non-substantiality of all phenomena. The Buddhist tantric deities are invoked and visualized in meditation, and practitioners identify with them in such a way as to enable them not only to be released from the limitations of ego-clinging, but also to transmute the various mind poisons into various forms of wisdom or enlightenment that the deities represent. This is reputed to help break the boundaries between "self" and "other" and ultimately between all dualities that are experienced as part of mundane existence. The highest form of realization is said only to come about through the secret tantric practices that involve sexual relations, and that are depicted iconographically in many religious paintings and images. Among celibate practitioners and the "not-so-advanced," these actions are visualized in the mind during meditation as a way of experiencing the "non-dual" through the images of the dual.
In iconography the male and female forms are complimentary, and the facts speak
exchange of equal energies. Yet in your book you portray the institutions of Tibetan Buddhism as
dependent on the subjugation of women. On the other hand, Miranda Shaw, in her book Passionate Enlightenment, speaks of the tantric female masters.
Campbell: But they were all from a thousand years ago; for five hundred years tantric female voices have largely disappeared.
Tricycle: How do you explain their disappearance?
Campbell: To my understanding, it is partly explained by the very unusual social structure that developed in Tibet. Other societies developed kinship, or a monarchy- or lineages that were passed through kinship or, later on, through wealth, or other mechanisms that created a cohesive social system.
The Tibetans incorporated an aspect of Buddhist teachings that had to do with rebirth and reincarnation into the social system, so that you had divine incarnation or what are called tulkus-- little boys--that are identified as being the reincarnations of previous lamas and are born with advanced capacities for enlightenment. In other words: power by incarnation. And these boys are taken away from their mothers and from the domain of the family and raised in the all-male environments of the monasteries. And even misogyny, which was extensive in the monasteries, was used as a way of helping these young men in their practice. In order for patriarchy to survive, women had to be subjugated.
Tricycle: How did misogyny help male monastic practice?
Campbell: In the very popular text of Milarepa's life story-which all lay people and monastics read--there are many expressions of ambivalence about women: how women are polluting, how they are an obstacle to practice, that at best women can serve others and at worst they are a nuisance. At the same time, women are transcendentalized into goddesses, dakinis, female aspects of being that men must associate with in order to reach enlightenment. On the one hand, the monastic boys were cut off from women, from maternal care, from physical contact, from a daily life in which women played nurturing and essential roles, and this whole secular way of life was devalued in favor of a male-only society. And yet these boys grew into practitioners who needed women, either in symbolic form or real women as consorts, to fulfill their quest. So even misogyny, which was extensive in the monasteries, was used as a way of helping these young men in their practice. In order for patriarchy to survive, women had to be subjugated.
Tricycle: Is the tulku system responsible for silencing women?
Campbell: What I argue in the book is that if it is the case that women did once have a more prominent religious role, then it had certainly declined by the time the tulku system was introduced. I argue that early Tibetan Buddhism replaced much of the Mother Goddess worship and incorporated all the female symbolism of the Lotus Goddess into Chenrezig [the Bodhisattva of Compassion]. The tulku system was what put the tin lid on any potential for women to gain equality in the religious sphere, or for their voices to be heard. It ensured the power of the divine male. Women were excluded from the sacred domain, except under conditions laid down by men, and "tantra" was used as a means of polarizing male and female as opposites. As a result, women and their role in the system had to remain hidden. This created very ambivalent attitudes. And in order to keep alive the tantric tradition-as it was being practiced-women had to be kept secret.
Tricycle: Do you mean the actual woman and their relationship to her had to be kept secret, or that their sexual practices had to be kept secret?
Campbell: Both. Because you had lamas who openly had wives and that was quite acceptable. But a lot of them had secret consorts in addition to their wives. And then you had so-called celibate yogis who had secret consorts.
Tricycle: Are the benefits of tantric visualization practices considered parallel to actual sexual engagement?
Campbell: No. They may be presented that way in texts. But in the functioning of the system, to have an actual sexual consort is considered the most important ingredient in the path of tantra. That's where so much of the confusion and ambivalence and misogyny come into play, because you have both: the emphasis on male monastic society and, at the same time the need for women, but without the acknowledgment of the role women play. The centrality of the hidden sexual relationship is terribly important.
Tricycle: In Traveler in Space, you speak of your own sexual relationship with the late Kalu Rinpoche [1904-1989]. And the revelation was truly shocking to anyone in the West or the East who had known this master. He was considered to be a great Tibetan teacher; who was presented to the world as a celibate yogi. Most of his closest disciples did not know that he had consorts. His secret sexual life seems to have been well protected in his lifetime.
Campbell: When I have asked why details of sexual encounters often emerge after a lama's death I have been told that it is because ordinary people might misconstrue events, and lose faith in their lama, thus breaking their own personal vow of faith in him, and also helping to bring about the lama's downfall. Naturally any fall in the status of a lama who outwardly maintained a position of celibacy would threaten the whole hierarchical system of theocratic rule, itself dominated since the 1500's by monasticism, and as a consequence the heart of the society itself.
The tulku system lay at the center of the monastic way of life, and symbolically depended not only on the exclusion of women, but also on the metaphorical idea of male motherhood and divine succession. Seen in this way, any lamas outwardly transgressing the rules of the system threatened the very life of the system itself.
Tricycle: Is it your understanding that Kalu Rinpoche broke his vows?
Campbell: I don't know what his vows were. We never spoke of them. What I do know is that clearly I was not an equal in our relationship. As I understand it, the ideals of tantra are that two people come together in a ritualistic exchange of equally, valued and distinct energies. Ideally, the relationship should be reciprocal, mutual. The female would have to be seen on both sides as being as important as the male in the relationship.
My relationship with Kalu Rinpoche was not a partnership of equals. When it started. I was in my late twenties. He was almost seventy. He controlled the relationship. I was sworn to secrecy. What I am saying is that it was not a formal ritualistic relationship, nor was it the "tantric" relationship that people might like to imagine.
The etymology of the word tantra is similar in Sanskrit and Tibetan. In Sanskrit, the word means loom, or warp, but is understood as the principle underlying everything.
In Tibetan, tantra is known as ju (Tibetan rgyud), which means thread, string, or 'that which joins things together."
Tricycle: You ended up feeling sexually exploited? Used for personal indulgence?
Campbell: Obviously at the time and for some years afterwards I didn't think this. How could I? It would have caused me too much distress to see it in this light. It took me many years of thinking about the whole thing to see it differently, and to begin speaking about my experience. This wasn't easy. I tried through writing to understand why people rationalize these acts as beneficial, and it made me question a lot of things. I've got no doubts now that when a male teacher demands a relationship that involves secret sex, an imbalance of power, threats, and deception, the woman is exploited. You have to ask, "Where does the impulse to hide sexual behavior come from?" Especially if it happens in a system that supposedly values the sexual relationship. Of course, there are those who say they are consensually doing secret "tantric" practices in the belief that it's helping them become "enlightened," whatever that means. That's up to them, and if they're both saying it, that's fine.
But there's a difference between that and the imperative for women not to speak of the fact that they're having a sexual relationship at all. What's that all about if it's not about fear of being found out! And what lies behind that fear? These are the question I had to ask.
Tricycle: You were sworn to secrecy by him?
Campbell: Yes. And by the one other person who knew. A member of his entourage.
Tricycle: What might have happened if you had broken the silence?
Campbell: Well, it was assumed that I wouldn't. But I was told that in a previous life, the last life before this one, Kalu Rinpoche had a woman who caused trouble by wanting to get closer to him, or by wanting to stay with him longer. She made known her own needs, made her own demands, and he put a spell on her and she died.
Just the way child abusers deal with their victims: "If you tell, something
bad will happen to you.
Yes, there are many similarities. It instills fear in the context of religion.
Put yourself in my
position. If I had refused to cooperate I would still have known something that was threatening to the lama and his followers. Where would I have gone from there? If I'd wanted to talk about it no one would have believed me. Some people don't believe me now. And what if I'd spoken out and the lama had denied it publicly? Could he still have been my teacher? I don't think so. As it was I was happy to comply at the time because I thought it was the right thing to do and that it would help me. But I was still very, very isolated and afraid for years to speak about it.
In my own experience, despite the absence of a Tibetan upbringing, there were quite specific motivating factors that helped to keep me silent over many years. These factors were probably similar to those which influenced Tibetan women over the centuries. . . . Firstly, there is no doubt that the secret role into which an unsuspecting woman was drawn bestowed a certain amount of personal prestige, in spite of the fact that there was no public acknowledgment of the woman's position. Secondly, by participating in intimate activities with someone considered in her own and the Buddhist community's eyes to be extremely holy, the woman was able to develop a belief that she too was in some way "holy" and the events surrounding her were karmically predisposed. Finally, despite the restrictions imposed on her, most women must have viewed their collusion as "a test of faith," and an appropriate opportunity perhaps for deepening their knowledge of the dharma and for entering 'the sacred space."
Tricycle: There are Westerners who knew you when you were with Kalu Rinpoche, who were also close disciples. They did not explicitly know what was going on at the time, yet some of them say now that they are not surprised by your book, that they "knew" without really knowing and that the sexual behavior of lamas, so-called celibate or not, is so pervasive that, in addition to their respect for your personal integrity, there would be no reason to question your veracity At the same time, students in the West who never knew Kalu Rinpoche are disputing you story. And I have already received phone calls from two Tibetan lamas in the Kalu Rinpoche lineage asking me not to publish any of your work and accusing you of making all this up, saying, in both cases, "this June Campbell had a fantasy of having an affair with Kalu Rinpoche."
Campbell: Well, it's not the first time that the "fantasy" argument has been used against women. Freud gave in to the social pressures of his day to suppress the truth about what he knew about sexual abuse and incest, and came up with the "female fantasy" theory, now totally discredited. Of course, it's understandable that those lamas should react in this way; after all, they knew nothing of what was going on. But I'd rather face up now to people abusing my character than go on denying the truth. In any case, my book isn't about Kalu Rinpoche. It is about much wider issues than my own personal experience, although obviously the effort to write it came from that experience. I left Tibetan Buddhism thirteen years ago and I spent most of those years thinking about the complexities of what happened. If what I've written is dismissed by Buddhists as irrelevant, or a fantasy, or a lie-so be it, it doesn't bother me. I know that writing the book helped me acknowledge m)r past and come to terms with a lot of difficult feelings. It helped me to understand what happened by myself and on my own terms. No one can tell me that isn't true.
Tricycle: What advice do you have for women who are currently in the position you were in twenty-five years ago?
Campbell: This is a difficult one. Twenty-five years ago I would only take advice from men in maroon robes called "Rinpoche," so I imagine women in a similar position today will be very, very unlikely to listen to a middle-aged Scotswoman, especially one who's just been slandered by Tibetan lamas as being a neurotic liar! Still, you've given me the opportunity, so I'd have to say: Don't agree to a long-term secret relationship; it's a burden you'll have to carry all your life, and in the end you'll have to be true to yourself and face up to why you entered into it. If you're afraid of what might happen next, or how you'll deal with the stresses of secrecy, try to take control of your life again. If you're being passive and compliant because he's your teacher, do as I did eventually: think for yourself, take action, and end it. Never allow part of yourself to be hidden away under threats of "bad karma" or anything else. The truth never made "bad karma." If you need to, look for supportive people to help you. If you've started to feel that in some way you're special, that maybe you've been chosen to fulfill some kind of destiny, well, think again. These kinds of thoughts won't help you to become strong in yourself. They may seem to explain things now, but they'll only hold you back in the long run.
Tricycle: What do women attracted to Vajrayana practice need to know?
Campbell: Well, they need to know that Vajrayana has a long history and social context that is worth studying before submerging themselves in the glamour of it all. That the philosophy underlying so many of the practices is very ambiguous with regard to women's place and role. That if they expect to find an encouragement of women's voices within the system, it'll be hard to find. That there is a lot of emphasis on hierarchies and status. That the system's pervaded by secrecy.
Tricycle: Is there any safeguard, and will it make a difference once the Western heirs have moved to the forefront?
Campbell: It's sad to say but I don't think any advice about standing up to teachers would stop some young women from wanting to have a safe and comfortable relationship with a male teacher and later on being exploited. I wouldn't even bother saying anything to the men who do it. Because they would only rationalize or deny everything or accuse others of all sorts of things. And it's crazy to put all the blame on the Tibetans. It's obvious that Westerners have lots of problems themselves about how to relate to gurus, and we're not exactly perfect in the ways we relate to one another as men and women. What's terrible, though, is that ordinary men and women seem to be happy to give up all responsibility when they know something's wrong and then don't act when they need to. After all: no student, no teacher. I think exactly the same issues would be around for "Western heirs," some of whom might be keen to realize, as Peter Bishop put it, their "dreams of power. "
Tricycle: Is Kalu
Rinpoche less enlightened than we thought he was, or do we have to change our
understanding of what an enlightened guru is?
Campbell: It's tempting to stonewall this question altogether because I can already hear howls of outrage and indignation in some quarters at the thought of asking a mere woman about the status of a lama's enlightenment. But I don't think the issue here is about my opinion of Kalu Rinpoche, because, like everyone else's, it's highly subjective and is based on personal experience. I think it's more to do with the problems of squaring up the idea of perfection alongside what is perceived to be dubious behavior. One understanding of the "enlightened guru" is that everything about his behavior, no matter how strange or morally wrong, is a manifestation of enlightenment. That view may have been sustainable in Tibetan society-even promoted-but I think it's certain that Western society will be unable to sustain it. It's my view that if people resist looking at this question, certain groups will become more and more insular in Western society, in an attempt to protect themselves from challenge and to avoid change. They'll never go beyond a simplistic view of the guru as perfect, and the gurus themselves will never go beyond wielding complete power and being adored. To my mind this kind of insularity would either hasten the demise of the whole system, or create closed, cult-like groups that have no influence on society at all.
Tricycle: As in the case of other controversies over Buddhist teachers, the real issue here seems to be about power; and as you describe it, this power is not a corrupt or aberrant twist within the Tibetan system, but is essential to its entire social fabric. How do think this is going to play out in the West?
Campbell: Obviously those involved closely will have a better idea than I have of the ways it'll play out. But I think the issues will be around how power is being used-for example in male-female relationships, elitism, teacher-student issues, materialism. Having said that, it's very important not to lose sight of the fact that the Tibetan system's not unique in there being a link between power, religion, and gender. and it's not the first system in the world to face change or be challenged. OK, many of the Tibetan customs may seem very different, but in essence we have the same problems in the West to do with abuses of power. This is what I tried to highlight in the book--they're the same old problems but in new disguises.
Tricycle: There seem to be both Western men and Western women in the Vajrayana lineages who share your views. But unlike, say, Japanese or Korean Zen or the Thai Forest tradition, the Tibetan scene in the West is still dominated by Tibetan men who have a great deal invested in the old ways.
Campbell: It's not surprising. I think part of the problem lies in how isolated the Tibetan monastic system is. It was a very unique sort of environment in which these young boys grew up-especially the tulkus. I think that's where their need to keep control originated. After all, these young boys had little or no say in anything in their lives. Their mothers gave them up. Their identity was constructed by an institution their potential power as men was completely tied up with it. If they had desires for women they had to be kept secret. In the case of the tulkus they were worshiped as divine. It was a very unusual upbringing. In the West we've developed a different view-that children don't benefit from being brought up in institutions. I think it'll be recognized sooner or later that the monastic upbringing is not helpful in the lives of young men and boys, especially in the absence of living, loving women who are actually present, visible, and for real, inside the system. If Western boys are sent to Nepal or India for that kind of upbringing, all you'll get is a repeat of the past. They'll have difficulty giving up power, too, and they'll have ambivalent or even warped feelings about women and their place in the system. I think that if men maintain a rigid position that excludes the female dimension, it is not only harmful for women, but must be harmful for men as well, in the long run. I believe that.
with any analysis of a system like this is that a lot of people assume that they
examine the ways in which it obviously doesn't work for women. What also seems very important to uncover now are the subtleties of the ways in which it doesn't work for men either.