Talk Categories Modern Spiritual Life | Talk Locations Complutense University

Meditation in Action, Dancing with Life

Today, meditation has become a very powerful tool to deal with our stress, pain and unhealthy mental afflictions. In this talk, Khenpo offers a very simple yet profound meditation instruction that can be applied to all our daily activities: allow the mind to look into itself while doing whatever comes to your mind. This practice not only brings comfort and ease to our lives, more importantly, helps us realize the nature of mind. When we realize the nature of mind, all our afflictions will be liberated by themselves.

Preview

When we look into the mind, we know it is restless without ever pausing for a moment like a naughty three or four year old child. However, by discerning its nature, we will discover it is simply as it is.

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

Meditation in action in different schools of Buddhism

When in Rome, do as the romans do

Good morning to all the faculty, students, and friends here, with and without religious belief. It’s nine o’clock in the morning in Madrid. As we are live streaming this speech, there might be time differences in different places. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to communicate with this audience here at the Complutense University of Madrid as well as those watching from afar. Yesterday, I gave a speech at this university in Tibetan with Spanish translation. We did not live-stream it as not many people are familiar with these two languages, so the audience was not as big as this time. Today, I will speak in Chinese with English translation.

This is the first time I am visiting Madrid. Yesterday, I was told a story about the origin of the name of this city “Madrid”. It goes like this: There was once a child who was very naughty. One day he was chased by a brown bear when playing outside, so he climbed up a tree to escape. At that time, his mother came out to tell him to come home. For fear that his mom would be hurt by the brown bear, he cried out “Madrid” to his mom, which in Spanish means “Mom, run away.” Therefore, I am giving a talk in this “mom, run away” city, so to speak. Of course,there are other different versions about the origin of the name “ Madrid”.

Having arrived here, I do feel people here, in terms of personality, are different from those from Northern Europe where I just visited. Comparatively speaking, the Spanish people tend to be more open and hospitable. Yesterday, quite a few local people tried to kiss me as a greeting. Here people kiss twice, while in France it’s three times. I don’t mind being greeted this way, but the people with me stopped the local people who were trying to kiss me. Not only that, they wouldn’t let me kiss anybody either. Actually, every place has its own local customs and everyone has their own preferences which are very much related to their personal experiences, such as their education, ethnic tradition, as well as the external environment where they live. So, when in Rome, we should do as the Romans do and learn to be understanding and inclusive of the different conduct and views of diverse regions, nations and countries, etc. This is what I’ve learnt from my trip to different places this time.

The significance of meditation in today’s society

Today we will talk about ‘Meditation in Action, Dancing with Life’. Meditation is something that attracts lots of people today, irrespective of whether they have faith or not. Yet, meditation in the eyes of the majority of people is often seen as maintaining stillness in the body and mind, usually with some specific postures. Actually, meditation is more than just abiding in one place; it can be applied to our each and every move in our daily lives, especially through watching our minds. This is what I am going to share with you today, which not many people know about.

Meditation, either stillness meditation or meditation in action, is indispensable in today’s world. Living in the 21st century, people are extremely busy, challenged by all kinds of stress, and troubled by unhealthy mental afflictions. At such a time, it is very necessary for us to turn to the inner world through meditation, especially by allowing the mind to look into itself, which is a spiritual luxury that will bring much comfort and ease to our lives.

Nowadays, there are people in life who hold an attitude of neither being too speedy nor too slow, neither too happy nor too resentful toward life. This is what they called the “Buddha-like-lifestyle” that gas gone viral recently among Chinese youngsters, which is actually far from the spirit of Buddhism. People who hold such an attitude concern themselves with few things as an expression of their free spirit, which, however, is the disguise for their lack of confidence in life and reluctance to face whatever life throws at them. This is not the right attitude to life; we need to be positive, energetic and resolute so as to prepare ourselves for hard times in life and to fully harness our potential.

There are other people who rely on material things to bring them happiness and a sense of achievement, believing that material things can satisfy all their needs in life. Undeniably, material things do somewhat contribute to boosting our happiness. However, when we take a closer look, we will find that, without a peaceful mind, material things alone cannot solve all our problems, no matter how much we have. Also, however many different kinds of possessions we have, we cannot actually enjoy all of them. It’s like dinning in a buffet restaurant with an array of delicious dishes. We cannot possibly eat all of them, as the amount of food we can eat in a meal is limited. Overeating or eating too many kinds of food in one meal could give you an upset stomach. Take sound as another example. Of all the different kinds of sounds there are out there, those which our ears can pick up are limited, since our ears cannot bear or hear sound that is either too high, too low or too far away. It’s the same with the wealth that one may possess. A person may be loaded with money or treasures, but what they can actually spend in his or her life is also limited. So to “live a life” is to take as needed from the external world within a limited extent.

If you contemplate that, you will know that what really matters in our lives is our inner mind. Therefore, to realize the nature of our mind through meditation or other applicable methods becomes extremely important. If we fail to understand or realize its nature, we might never feel satisfied and will experience great pain and pressure. This is where meditation in action can help.

Meditation in action in different schools of Buddhism

Meditation in action is practiced in all schools of Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism, Han Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism.

In the Theravada tradition, a popular way of meditation in action is mindfulness meditation. In the sutras, there are teachings on being mindful of our daily activities such as “I know I am speaking”, “I know I am doing something”, and so on. In the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha tells bhikkhus to maintain mindfulness in each and every activity in life. He says, “Bhikkus, a bhikkhu while walking knows, ‘I am walking’; while standing, he knows, ‘I am standing’; while sitting, he knows, ‘I am sitting’; while lying down, he knows, ‘I am lying down.’” This year, when we were in Thailand (holding the 7th World Youth Buddhist Symposium), we did meditation together in a local monastery under the guidance of some senior Theravada Buddhist masters. They taught us how to keep mindfulness while walking—to focus our minds on the movement of the left or right foot, as well as in other actionsl. This is actually a good way to tame our mind allowing many of our negative emotions to naturally dissipate.

In Han Buddhism, there is also the practice of meditation in action. As Master Yongjia, a famous Zen master, said, “Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen; Speaking or silent, active or quiet, the essence is at peace.” It means whatever we do, walking or sitting, speaking or silent, active or quiet, they are no other than meditative absorption as they are in nature at peace.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the essence of meditation in action is to abide in the nature of mind, as pointed out in a prevalent saying that all our conceptual thoughts are just illusions of the mind. When a thought arises, be it greed, anger or ignorance, it is self-liberated as you abide in the nature of that thought. Therefore, whatever we do, we can just abide in the nature of our current state of mind. Although all activities are actually no other than meditative absorption, it is very hard for one to put it into practice in daily life before one attains the corresponding realization, which is based on enough learning and practice.

Meditation, either stillness meditation or meditation in action, is indispensable in today’s world. Living in the 21st century, people are extremely busy, challenged by all kinds of stress, and troubled by unhealthy mental afflictions. At such a time, it is very necessary for us to turn to the inner world through meditation, especially by allowing the mind to look into itself, which is a spiritual luxury that will bring much comfort and ease to our lives.

The method of meditation in action

The method of meditation in action

Currently, there are many popular activities in the society that aim to relax our body and mind and help us go back to our nature and simplicity, such as painting, drinking tea, singing and dancing. These, to some extent, work to help elevate our mind and spirit. Before reaching the state where meditation and post-meditation are inseparable, we can practice meditation in action by observing our mind while doing things that help us relax. In the west, a popular type of meditation in action is dance meditation, a combination of dance with meditation, through which one tries to observe one’s mind, which is also applicable in our daily lives.

The method of meditation in action I want to introduce to you today is relatively simple, and there is no restriction on the number of people who can take part. Just choose a proper location and proper time. Then have some music and dance to it as you please or do whatever comes to your mind while being mindful of your mind. You may start by generating a positive motivation or intention for this practice, say to stay healthy and happy, or to pray for the peace of the world, or whatever inspires you. Then, you can do whatever comes to mind like dancing or singing or just letting your thoughts wander. Start off slowly, then make it quicker and more intense, then finally slow down again. At the end, take some time to observe the nature of your mind. Reflect on what you did or your state of mind just now: does it have any solid existence, how does it appear, and so forth. By reflecting this way, you may gain some different understanding or realization of your action and mind. At the end of this meditation, relax your mind and dedicate the merit of your meditation to all sentient beings. This is an effective way to get rid of the negative emotions and stress that come from our daily lives.

To benefit sentient beings through meditation is one of the utmost supreme and essential teachings of the Great Vehicle. In the Summary of Sublime Dharma Sutra, there is a verse that says: “While abiding in the absorption of suchness, [Bodhisattvas] see the truth of all phenomena. By seeing the truth of the world, great compassion toward all beings naturally arises in them.” This means that, through diligent meditation, we can realize the truth of all phenomena, and by realizing such truth, great compassion will naturally arise toward all beings who continue to wander in samsara with strong fixation because they fail to realize the truth of all phenomena, which is very sad.

Meditation in action is more specifically introduced and has more profound meaning in the Great Vehicle than in Theravada tradition which mainly speaks about being mindful and aware of the state of our body, speech and mind. In the Great Vehicle, meditation in action is practiced with the intention of benefiting beings in all our activities. Just as is taught in the chapter of Pure Conduct of the Avatamsaka Sutra, when we wake up in the morning, wish that all beings wake up from the sleep of ignorance. When we eat, wish that all beings be nourished by the delicacy of samadhi. When we open a door, wish that all beings open the door to liberation. When we close a door, wish that all beings close the door to miserable rebirths, etc. According to this chapter, all our activities are dedicated to the benefit of sentient beings. Therefore, the meditation mentioned here is a bit different from what is commonly interpreted, because, in addition to being mindful of our current actions like eating and walking, we need to relate them to benefiting sentient beings. This is an important aspect of the Great Vehicle.

The key of mediation is realizing the nature of mind

Many people like to practice meditation, but the meditation they prefer is calm-abiding meditation where no conceptual thought arises in the mind. When conceptual thought, such as greed or anger arises, not knowing how to deal with it, they get scared and blame themselves for letting these and afflictive emotions arise. In fact, it is very natural for conceptual thoughts to arise in ordinary people. As I explained in my previous lecture‘Self-Compassion from the Perspective of Buddhism’, in times when you are not diligent, or are bothered by afflictive emotions, as a practitioner, do not give up on yourself or lose confidence as it is quite normal for this to happen during practice. While practicing meditation, some people may not see obvious progress in themselves. It’s normal that progress in the mind may not appear right away even though we steadily practice observing our mind. However, as long as we do not give up, we are bound to make progress. Be it our practice or our everyday lives, once we lose interest or even feel so bored that we give up on it, it’s a sign that we are not making progress. So just keep on practicing meditation.

While practicing meditation, it is not enough to simply rest the mind. The key and purpose of meditation is to realize the nature of mind, whether it’s abiding calmly or generating thoughts. In the book Stages of Meditation, it says that the nature of mind is emptiness. How so? It cannot be found either in the past, present or future. Also, the nature of mind is empty like space. From this perspective, it is also devoid of intrinsic existence.

Failing to understand that the nature of mind is empty and self-liberated causes many practitioners to stray onto a wrong path. There is a frequently quoted saying by practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism: “Knowing only meditation, but not knowing liberation”. It means if we only meditate blindly, but do not know the nature of the mind is self-liberated, such meditation is no different from that of the gods in the four dhyanas, or four spheres of perception, which still does not transcend the realm of samsara. Many people are proud that their minds can abide in stillness for a long time. Others are pleased with themselves when they are always aware of their thoughts. Neither of these points to a high state of realization. Some people may boast that they can meditate for hours in one session without generating any thought. This is not necessarily a good sign. It’s like the marmots in the Tibetan region who can “meditate” (hibernate) throughout the winter months. Because it’s freezing cold in the Tibetan region in the winter so it’s comfy for them to sleep in the winter and wake up in the spring; and when they wake up, it means the weather will turn good. However, this is not an advanced skill in the animal world. Therefore, what is important and what really matters during meditation is to realize the nature of mind whether it is unsettled or at peace.

The significance and merit of authentic meditation

As the famous Tibetan Buddhist master Patrul Rinpoche said, “Our conceptual thoughts arise as always, yet by recognizing their true nature, they are instantly liberated by themselves.” It is the same with our afflictions in life. They are self-liberated once we recognize their true nature. Therefore, whether a negative or positive emotion is arising, simply recognize and accept it through the appropriate methods. For example, when you are in great pain or anger, try to see where the mind that feels pain or anger resides and discern the nature of it: the past mind is already gone with no trace to be found; the future mind is yet to be born like the son of a barren woman who is nonexistent; and the present mind is as empty as space. So, by allowing the mind to look into itself, we will find how amazing it is. In reality, mind will never be bound by afflictions or defilements because “defilement is bodhi”, which means our negative emotions are devoid of intrinsic nature upon observation. As mentioned in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Eight Thousand Lines, “Bodhisattvas should often practice meditation. What kind of meditation? Meditate on all phenomena as empty as space.” Through this method, we can gradually attain realization. When we actually realize the nature of mind, all our afflictions will be liberated by themselves. At that time, we will be free of any constraint both in mind and conduct.

At the age around 70, Dazu Huike, the Second Patriarch of Zen, frequently visited brothels, drank wine and did lots of unconventional things. When questioned by others, he would say, “What’s it to you when I am taming my mind?” Actually, this is a way for the master to develop his realization even further although it seems improper and unconventional. Ordinary people tend to judge others’ behavior by its appearance. However, with a relatively high state of realization, accomplished practitioners will have transcended the restriction of precepts, boundaries and convention. Therefore, be it meditation in action or stillness meditation, the key to authentic meditation is to be free of attachment to the notion of existence and non-existence. As a famous verse spoken by a great Zen master goes, “To be free from attachment to outer objects is dhyana; and to attain inner peace is samadhi.” “To be free from attachment to outer objects” is to be free from the grasping onto the notions of existence, non-existence, both and neither of the two. “To attain inner peace” means to remain in the peace of mind both in all our daily activities and during meditation. When we look into the mind, we know it is restless without ever pausing for a moment like a naughty three or four year old child. However, by discerning its nature, we will discover it is simply as it is.

As mentioned in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Eight Thousand Lines, “Bodhisattvas should often practice meditation. What kind of meditation? Meditate on all phenomena as empty as space.” Through this method, we can gradually attain realization. When we actually realize the nature of mind, all our afflictions will be liberated by themselves. At that time, we will be free of any constraint both in mind and conduct.

Extensive learning, the foundation for meditation

Extensive learning, the foundation for meditation

To focus on contemplating the nature of this mind is much more meaningful than to observe hundreds of external objects. However, despite who we are, we habitually pay attention to external things. For example, we tend to evaluate the quality of a certain product, assess a person’s personality or appearance, judge the flavor of certain type of food, and so on and so forth. To think about what the nature of our mind is, does it have any color or shape, or how it abides, has never occurred to us. It’s necessary that we learn to observe and train our mind, but before that we need to first learn the Dharma extensively, without which meditation alone will not lead to enlightenment.

To receive theoretical training is a must whether for academic research or spiritual practice. Many western practitioners, as I notice this time, are quite adept in mediation,  but seem to lack interest in learning the basic philosophies of the Sutrayana and Tantrayana. This is okay for those who are not interested in Buddhism and do not seek liberation. But if you are a serious practitioner, the Buddhist philosophies and theories are worth learning. Just like when one does academic research on physics, chemistry or biology, firstly one needs to gain thorough knowledge from a professor or expert in this area. Otherwise one’s way of doing research may contradict the correct method. As is taught by the great Tibetan scholar Sakya Pandita, “Meditating without first studying may temporarily bring achievements but these quickly vanish.” Temporary achievements without study will not last long time. However, studying as the first step is not valued by many, not even by some great masters. They simply ask their students to meditate directly. Yet, without a solid theoretical foundation, eventually their practice will be ruined. According to Tibetan Buddhism, advanced meditation must be based on theoretical learning and contemplation upon what one learns. As a famous teaching goes, learn extensively first and then contemplate on the meaning. Finally meditate on what you’ve absorbed day and night. Meditation with this as a basis is very secure.

After enough learning and gaining a good understanding of the spiritual teachings, it’s very necessary for us to put them into practice through meditation, either in solitary places away from distractions or in everyday life. For good practitioners, both ways work, as they can transform all their activities onto the path. However, for ordinary practitioners who are not so adept in practice, it is better to find opportunities to practice in solitude. In this society, if we fail to find the opportunities to practice, we may never be able to realize the nature of our lives.

Khenpo’s practice of mediation in action

I’ve always wanted to do meditation retreats, yet being bound up in lots of affairs, I haven’t really undertaken many. I planned to do retreat many times, and built one little wooden hut near the monastery back in my hometown. However, I meditated a few times in it, only several days at the most each time. Recently, I built a little wooden hut near a school, planning to do retreat in it, and hope that my plan will succeed this time.

My idea of doing retreat came about ten years ago from a phone call with Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö. Back then, there were no cellphones at the academy, only landlines. During the phone call, we agreed the time had come for us to do meditation retreat as we were both approaching forty and probably wouldn’t have too much time left. We felt that, given we have received many teachings from H. H. Jigme Phuntsok for years and also given teachings to others for many years as well, we must build our retreat huts and do retreat there. We chose the vacant land at the north side of our academy as the site. Then we decided to visit the chosen site together right after the phone call. After we arrived there, we located the positions where the huts would be built. He said, “Do not be too close to me, otherwise you will disturb me.” The two spots we chose were a little bit far apart from each other. Then he stacked some rocks on the spot he chose as a mark and I stacked some on mine. The story happened before we were forty. Now we are both well into our fifties, but the huts still haven’t been built.

I do want to do meditation, but what I want to do more is to encourage as many people as possible to learn and understand the Dharma. This is because the Dharma is an instructive education and science for a meaningful life, and it is very beneficial for people’s minds in today’s world. Life without the guidance of faith probably leads nowhere, as many people are living a less meaningful life characterized by socializing and chasing after fame and wealth. From the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism, without having an altruistic mind or realizing the nature of mind, one might seem to live a free life, but it may not be a meaningful one. If we realize the nature of mind or the purpose of life through learning the Dharma, then we are capable of embracing anything that happens in life, whether joy or suffering, success or failure, or having a good or bad reputation. We can also offer help to those who are emotionally or mentally stuck. And in particular in today’s era, it’s crucial we learn to ease and purify our minds. For those who have some realization of the nature of mind, even if something bad happens to them, or even if they are at rock bottom in life, say, becoming beggars or ending up in jail, they can still be happy and enjoy life freely. Whereas, those who fail to realize the nature of mind, although they may appear to be energetic and successful, are probably not happy or might even be at a low point in their lives. To me, sharing the Buddhadharma with others is more important than meditating alone by myself. This is my way of practice, my meditation in action.

Suggestions for Buddhist practitioners in the east and the west

Lastly, I want to point out it’s very necessary for Buddhist practitioners , from both the east and the west, to be inclusive and learn from each other. As I see it, westerners are particularly reliable and trustworthy in following the Dharma, as disciples from many Dharma centers have been following their teachers for decades. However, not so many have laid a solid foundation for the spiritual path through systematic learning and practice and it is hard to find many practitioners who have practiced ngöndro several times or have finished learning the five great treatises (which are compulsory subjects at Larung Gar). Except for people in the academic world, many western Buddhists, even though they have doubts in their minds, are reluctant to learn the Dharma extensively and systemically. However, as they are trained in rational thinking, this is actually a crucial process for them to dispel their doubts and to gain conviction in the Dharma and engage in further practice. This year, with all the proper conditions in place, I will teach the Vimalakirti Sutra in Chinese with simultaneous English translation, unlike in the days when I was teaching in Chinese and only Chinese speakers could receive the teachings. I hope that westerners who are interested in Buddhism will take this opportunity to lay a solid theoretical foundation.

In terms of eastern practitioners, although it’s easy for them to be attracted to and accept Buddhism, they change their minds easily as well. This results in a phenomenon of them seldomly following a teacher or staying in one Buddhist group for decades like those western practitioners. They are always enthusiastic at first, but this enthusiasm fades very quickly. They need to commit to long-term engagement. Life is short, and frequently changing groups and teachers is nothing but a waste of time, which is meaningless and unnecessary. Also, Buddhists from the east, including me, need to delve into meditation. Otherwise, when we leave the world, we will have made no practical progress, but only the knowledge gained from years of listening, which is quite pitiful.

I hope Buddhists from east and west can be introspective and find where they need to improve, whether it’s theoretical learning or practice. Buddhism has its own system of learning, just like worldly education. It’s very important for some western practitioners to borrow experience from Buddhists in the east who are more accepting of studying Buddhist teachings, and eastern Buddhists from western Buddhists who are more rational and steadier.

Finally, now that my journey in Europe is coming to an end, I would like to express my gratitude to all my friends, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, from the US and Europe who has given me support in different ways throughout my journey to the US and Europe. I am really grateful. Thank you everyone.

Question & Answer Session

How do ordinary people stay mindful all the time?

Does making my dedications to one person only contradict benefiting all beings?

Question #1

My child was born with disabilities. If I dedicate the merit of my practice, such as reciting mantras to my child only, will this go against the Mahayana Buddhism teaching of benefiting all beings?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Well, your child is one of those sentient beings. In Mahayana practices, such as meditating on immeasurable love and compassion, the object of our meditation usually begins with the ones closest to us, such as our parents and children, and then is gradually extended to all sentient beings. In this case, the way you dedicate your merit does not go against the teachings, and you may continue to dedicate in this way.

Will fortune-telling bring negative impact?

Question #2

I am currently dating someone. Because of my greed and grasping toward this person, I tried to foresee the future about us by way of fortune-telling or divination, of which there are many forms in China and abroad. As a result, I learned something that would happen to us in the future which I was not supposed to know at that time. This may have changed the predestined connections between us and now there is some trouble in our relationship. I was told this is the negative impact of knowing our future through fortune-telling. I was wondering if this could really be the case, and if so, how to solve it? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

For starters, I think what did might not have been the right approach because it is unreasonable to think you can get to know or assess someone through this method. Also, fortune-telling, coming from ancient culture, can only partly show what may happen in the future, but your relationship, or what will happen to you two in the future, is not determined by this, since fortune-telling can never be 100% accurate. If you have relied completely on future-telling to deal with your relationship, then I would have to say it is your fault that things have led to where they are now. However, I am not saying your partner has no faults at all, and I cannot say precisely it is the cause of the negative impact arises from attempting to foresee the future either. Although some things can be predicated through divination, it’s not advisable to rely completely on it to solve our problems. We need to use our own judgement. Take me for example. I planned to go to Israel tomorrow. Since it’s been a little turbulent there recently, I was going to do a divination myself yesterday, but I didn’t and decided it by my own judgement. Understand?

How do ordinary people stay mindful all the time?

Question#3

My question is about mindfulness. How can we control our mind in correctly so as to stay mindful all the time in daily life? Should we abide in emptiness and think nothing or should we recite mantras or the name of buddhas when all kinds of thoughts arise?

Khenpo Sodargye:

It’s hard for ordinary people to be mindful or to be aware of their mental states all the time. Only two kinds of people are exceptions: One is people born with a peaceful mind due to their spiritual practice from previous lives. The other is people who have realized the nature of mind through meditation in this life. Except for these two groups of people, it’s hard for other people to be always mindful of their states of mind.

Prayers for purifying negative karma

Question#4

Hello Rinpoche. Is it possible to purify the negative karma that inevitably produces a fixed or set result by reciting some sutras or prayers that one feels karmically connected to?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Well, it depends on what prayers you recite. Generally, it is good to confess our wrongdoings by chanting the Confession of Downfalls to the Thirty-five Buddhas  and the Eighty-eight Buddhas Great Repentance, both of which can be found in both Han and Tibetan Buddhism. The Hundred Syllable Mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, or The Hundred Syllable Praise as it is called in the Buddhist Canon in Chinese esoteric Buddhism, the name of Vajrasattva and his mantra, is also helpful. Prayers and mantras like these are widely accepted prayers in Buddhism that have the quality of purifying our negative karma. I am not sure what “karmically connected sutra” you are referring to. Is it the one you like most? Is it not convenient for you to say it? As you did not say it, I cannot tell whether it can purify your negative karma or not.

Confession is a very important practice in Buddhism and in Christianity as well, only that the view and methods of confession in these two religions differ. Since everyone must have engaged in wrongdoing at different levels, which will bring us negative karma, chanting those prayers as a confession is very necessary. Otherwise, it’s unavoidable for us to suffer the consequences that our negative karma brings us.

Transgressing conduct of accomplished practitioners

Question#5

Khenpo Rinpoche, about the practitioner you mentioned in your talk who practiced conduct that transgressed social conventions at various occasions in his 70s, is it responsible to display such conduct to other sentient beings? Or will such conduct obstruct or destroy others’ confidence in Buddhism?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Although the historical record of the story I mentioned is a bit different, it is mainly recorded in the biography of the second patriarch of the Ch’an tradition. It says that in his later years, he performed different kinds of ‘deliberate conduct’ as we call it in Vajrayana. Conduct such as this practiced by accomplished practitioners, and although it may not be understood by others temporarily, it will not obstruct or destroy others’ confidence, but instead is the skillful means of those accomplished ones that will gradually benefit beings directly or indirectly. However, it will obstruct or destroy others’ confidence if an ordinary practitioner who has not attained certain level of realization emulates such conduct.

How can beginners observe their minds?

What’s a guru & how many gurus can one have?

Question#6

You explained who a root guru is. If one has several masters, how would one think of them, as one root guru or several gurus?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Actually, a guru in Buddhism is a teacher who gives you teachings, which is the only bridge that connects you two as guru and disciple. Having established this connection, you respect and treat him like a teacher. It’s like when we receive education, we have teachers in physics, chemistry, biology, martial arts, art, and so on and so forth. Our connections with them may be different since some teachers may play more important roles, such as the class teacher. Likewise, in Buddhism, you can have many gurus, and among them, the one who offers you pointing-out instructions or guides you to realizing the nature of your mind is your root guru.

The number of root gurus one can have is not fixed. You can have several root gurus, or just one root guru. However, you may need to pay special reverence to your root guru and your behavior in front of him needs to be more careful because he gives you many more blessings and care on your path to enlightenment.

Meditation for patients of Alzheimer’s disease

Question#7

Rinpoche, I’m doing research on Alzheimer’s disease. As there is no effective medication to cure it, many institutions try to use meditation to cure patients in its early stages. My question is: Do you think meditation is effective in curing this kind of patient? If yes, what kind of meditation works for foreign patients who do not have a religious confession, and how can we guide them?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Meditation is the best method to deal with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, in Japan, meditation is usually combined with transcribing the Heart Sutra in longhand as a treatment for such patients. For non-believers, the best way for them to meditate is meditation in action as I recommended in the talk. For example, guide them to meditate, say for five or ten minutes with background music.

How can beginners observe their minds?

Question#8

What is the specific method to observe our mind, especially for a beginner?

Khenpo Sodargye:

In Buddhism, in the Cloud of Jewels Sutra, it is said that to make the mind settled is called calm abiding. To gain insight into the real nature of the mind is called clear seeing. According to this, the best way for a beginner to practice is to find a secluded time and place, stay there and try to rest the mind, and then strive to recognize the nature of this resting mind.

About the precept of sexual misconduct of lay people

Question#9

Venerable Khenpo, my question is about the precept of sexual misconduct in the five precepts for lay people and the challenge for westerners to learn the Dharma. Recently, in a conversation with a Spanish friend of mine who is very interested in Buddhism, we talked about the five precepts for lay people. In his understanding, not engaging in sexual misconduct means not to have a sexual relationship with anyone besides one’s partner after marriage. I was going to tell him it is more than that, as it includes not having a sexual relationship before marriage. However, as we probably know, premarital sex is very common today. Since my friend had two relationships and he lived with his girlfriend in each relationship, I didn’t tell him this for fear that he might lose interest in Buddhism. This happens when I talk to my other friends, so I’m wondering what the best thing is to do.

Khenpo Sodargye:

The precept of sexual misconduct is taught a lot in Buddhist scriptures, and it’s a little complicated. For lay people, it’s an unavoidable question. For those who live in the western world, when they share Buddhist ideas with westerners, being too rigid often triggers problems in their lives or families. This is why skillfulness is needed when we discuss this kind of question with them, which, however, is not deceit or cunning. According to different situations, one needs to analyze this precept skillfully in consideration of its category and its nature, and then introduce it in a proper manner to comply with each individual’s personality and interests.

Why do conceptual thoughts still arise after enlightenment?

Question#10

Why do conceptual thoughts still arise when I understand they are by nature empty?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Although one may have gained certain level of realization, if one’s realization is not complete, conceptual thoughts still arise. However, since the nature of conceptual thoughts is self-liberated, they naturally dissolve into the nature of mind, like waves into the ocean. To a truly realized practitioner, they appear to be conceptual thoughts, but are actually the magical play of wisdom mind.

Complutense University of Madrid