The Mysterious Journey of Mind Training
All our happiness and sorrows arise from the mind. When our mind is peaceful and calm, we are able to deal with whatever challenge and pressure in life. Here in this talk, Khenpo Sodargye provides us a very powerful mind-training method—the training in the six paramitas, which is applicable to people from all walks of life, with and without religious beliefs. Training in the six paramitas will help us tame our mind, transform our outlook on the world, and live our lives in a more positive and meaningful way.
“By transforming our mind, the world will also change for the better.”
Mind-training in a Nutshell
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. We welcome you today to the public speech, ‘The Mysterious Journey of Mind Training’. We are very honored and fortunate to have the renowned Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche here to deliver this speech.
As it is said, “Fate brings together people who are far apart”. We are all brought together today by this mysterious power. At times, even simple words may strike a deep chord with us and touch us deeply, so what shall we say about the benefit of listening to a great speech? Khenpo Sodargye visited Taiwan eighteen years ago and now he is back and will dedicate his first speech to all the esteemed guests here in Taipei. As Khenpo Sodargye once said: “A chance encounter may change one’s whole life”. May this unique occasion of listening to Khenpo’s speech today become our “chance encounter” that will enlighten our lives. Before the speech starts, I would like to invite Dr. Wu Zongwen to introduce the venerable Khenpo.
Dr. Wu Zongwen：
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. In such a grand gathering, I am honored to introduce to you the venerable Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche.
Khenpo Sodargye was born in 1962, in Sichuan Province, China. When he was young, he demonstrated such profound compassion towards animals—he couldn’t bear to see them in pain and he always treated them kindly. Years later, Khenpo was ordained at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy and began studying under His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, his root teacher’s guidance. After an intensive Dharma training, he obtained an inconceivable level of realization, leading a simple life, as he always did. Endeavoring day and night over the past thirty years, Khenpo has been translating volumes of sacred Tibetan texts into Chinese. Due to his hard work, Khenpo became acknowledged in the academic Dharma field as a prolific translator and writer. Through his academic activities, Khenpo became the most influential and acknowledged Tibetan Buddhist teacher in China, giving lectures incessantly across the whole country and abroad, explaining the Buddhadharma in a modern and scientific way, easier for modern people to understand. Apart from religion, Khenpo respects and cares for the society, environment and community of life. He is deeply concerned about global issues such as protection of the vulnerable groups within the society, environmental protection, and world peace.
Despite his busy schedule, Khenpo has managed to spare some time to visit Taiwan for cultural exchange and decided on his first stop here—National Taiwan University. So we are all truly blessed and very lucky today to attend his first lecture this time in Taiwan, eighteen years after his last visit here. We now give the floor to the distinguished Khenpo. Please welcome Khenpo!
Speech by Khenpo Sodargye
Mind-training in a Nutshell
Today, I feel very honored to be here with you today, at the International Conference Hall of the National Taiwan University to exchange ideas on the topic of ‘The Mysterious Journey of Mind Training’ with the faculty and students of the University, members of International Association of the Culture of Filial Piety amd Morality, as well as Geshes, Khenpos, Tulkus, and other scholars of the International Association of Tibetan Buddhist Studies. Most of you are well-educated and knowledgeable. I may not have any supreme spiritual realization nor any transcendent wisdom or compassion, however, I do hope to have an exchange with people who have knowledge, compassion and morality. This is a good chance to communicate, therefore, instead of saying this is a lecture, I prefer to call it an opportunity to share with you my own understanding. I also hope that you will give your suggestions and comments on my speech so that I can learn from you.
It is true that I was here once eighteen years ago to accompany my teacher, His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. We stayed here for almost a week. It was such a wonderful journey that it stayed with me. I should say that journey with my teacher was the most wonderful and happiest experience in my life. But now it is only a memory. Luckily, according to Buddhist teachings, cherishing the memory of one’s own teacher is a deed that accumulates merit.
Nowadays, in this fast-paced and stressful society, Buddhism functions to provide unique methods for pacifying people’s emotions. By applying these methods in practice, all of our negative emotions such as restlessness, anger, and frustration can be dispelled, and great joy and happiness obtained. However, it is rather difficult to share all the Buddhist mind-training methods in such a short time. Therefore, I have selected one method to share with you this time, the Buddhist method of mind-training comprised in six words, known as the Six Paramitas—dana, shila,kshanti, virya, dhyana, and prajna, or in other words: generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditative concentration and wisdom.
When I visited Taiwan eighteen years ago, I was impressed how inclusive, free and open this country is towards religions, which is a good environment to make you familiar with the term of six paramitas. Then why are we still learning the six words today? Some scholars here may have some understanding of the six paramitas, which, however, can be understood on a more profound level which you may not have thoroughly understood. Besides, they are crucial practices for Mahayana Buddhists. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that one first aspires to achieve the supreme enlightenment which is called “bodhichitta in aspiration”. After this, one starts to practice the six paramitas, which is called “bodhichitta in action”. Some people here are Mahayana Buddhists who have generated bodhichitta, so it is necessary to learn the six paramitas to take your bodhicitta into action. What’s more, even for non-believers, to understand and apply the six paramitas in life will help them receive huge value and inestimable benefit in work, family and life, irrespective of wherever they are from, what nationality they are, or whichever group of people they are in. That’s why we are discussing the six words today.
Dana Practice: The Practice of Generosity
The first word dana, or generosity means giving whatever we have to others without attachement. There are three kinds of generosity: giving the Dharma, material giving and giving protection from fear.
Giving the Dharma
What is giving the Dharma? Strictly speaking, it is giving teachings about the Buddhist philosophy to others. In a broader sense, sharing with others what one has learned through education can be understood as giving the Dharma. With a decent education, you are all able to practice this Dana. This practice is very important because if we fail to pass on the truth of wisdom and compassion to the next generation, we may fail to realize the meaning of life.
Material Giving—Giving Things
What is material giving? It is to give whatever material things we have, whatever we can manage to give, to others without stinginess. Material giving includes both giving our body and giving our wealth. Giving our body to others without any stinginess, i.e. happily making a gift of our own limbs, body or life to others, is a high level of generosity which is probably beyond our current state of mind. Right now, with stinginess still in our minds, even giving material wealth to others willingly is not an easy task for us to do.
Material giving is quite necessary and meaningful, especially nowadays, when the gap between the rich and the poor is so huge. In times like these when some people are extremely rich, having goods, property and money in abundance, great power and influence in the countries where they live; and many people are extremely poor, lacking the most basic human needs. Take the African poverty as an example. Millions of African people live below the global poverty line. A few days ago, I visited an orphanage in a refugee camp in Cambodia and the sight there was really shocking. Men can be very selfish at times. Many people today are leading an abundant life yet fail to care about the poor around them. There are many wealthy people who lead a luxurious life, indulging in excess; yet there are still many others in poverty. So I would like to appeal to everyone to try, within our own abilities, to give those in need a helping hand.
Giving Protection from Fear
The last type is giving protection from fear. It is to protect others’ lives no matter whether it’s the life of a human or an animal. This is very important. Today, people who are ignorant of the value of life belittle the value of animals’ lives, considering that animals are inferior to humans and that they are born to be our food. However, if these people could think from animals’ perspective—“what if I am one of them waiting to be slaughtered”, they will start respecting every single life, the life of every sentient being. Actually, the act of belittling the lives of other beings is a sign that one has disregarded morality. It is acknowledged that every human life in this world is very precious. But if we reflect more deeply, we will realize that the lives of animals and all other sentient beings are equally precious. Today, instead of releasing animals, some people criticize such conduct. However, any sensible person with a compassionate mind will arrive at a very different conclusion on such criticism.
Life becomes meaningful when we care for others, when we try to bring spiritual or material comfort to other lives. It is worthwhile to practice such conduct even just once or twice in a month or in a year. Even if we only make such an altruistic aspiration once every day, the merit it brings is inconceivable.
Practice Generosity While We Can
Ross Perot was a third party US presidential candidate and billionaire, and I heard an interesting story about how he became so successful. It is said that when he was little, there were many vagrants in the country. Every day many of them would come to knock on his door to beg, and the number was increasing day by day. He then asked one of them why so many were coming to his house. It turned out that the tramps had a habit of leaving marks on the gates of those who were very generous to them. The vagrants told him, “Because we left a mark on your gate, many vagrants from the surrounding railway station and other places flock to your house.” Ross felt that things shouldn’t go on like this, otherwise his house might become a base for the vagrants. So he turned to his mother and said, “We’d better erase the mark on the gate, otherwise the vagrants will keep coming.” His mother, a very kind-hearted lady, answered: “No, we shouldn’t do that. All men are created equal. The tramps are just temporarily affected by adversity. We should give a helping hand while we can.” These important words influenced him for his whole life. He took the words as his guidance in life and owed his success to them.
What Mrs. Perot said is really thought-provoking. Everything in life is impermanent and changes fast, so there is no reason to be proud or arrogant while things are going well for us. In today’s world, we often read of successful people who surprisingly declined in social status or crushed financially; like some entrepreneurs I know whose companies were worth billions became destitute, losing everything overnight. There are also those without means who couldn’t even afford a meal, but suddenly became extremely rich and get complacent. Some who are successful now may end up in prison one day, or become beggars, or be stricken by incurable illness. So we should be humble and try to help others while we can.
Nowadays, in this fast-paced and stressful society, Buddhism functions to provide unique methods for pacifying people’s emotions. By applying these methods in practice, all of our negative emotions such as restlessness, anger, and frustration can be dispelled, and great joy and happiness obtained.
The Meaning of Buddhist Precepts
Sila Paramita, the Interpretation and Function of Precepts
The second word is sila, or discipline.
The Meaning of Buddhist Precepts
Buddhist discipline is not a troublesome thing as some might think, something that tries to tie you down with restrictions and fetters. Like a track for a train, it functions to set us on the right track so that we won’t go astray, arriving at our destination safe and sound. Actually, discipline or restriction is not only found in Buddhism; it is applied everywhere—a country has its own constitution, a company has its regulations, and a school has its rules, teachers and professors have their principles to follow, drivers are guided by traffic rules, and pilots need to follow the navigation systems to fly airplanes. As a matter of fact, restrictions are observed by every noble-minded person, every organized group and every religion. So rather than feeling it as a tie, see it as a power or weapon that protects you from self-indulgence or going astray.
People nowadays, from both the East and the West, agree that human beings need restraints. With no restraint at all, one would become a drifter, which is neither favorable for a good social order nor for one’s own self-development. With no restraints, one may also incur problems in one’s family, job, and life, which could cause one to lose everything. This is because without restraints, one hardly has morals; without morals, one hardly will achieve anything meaningful. Many people, especially those who study law, understand the importance of restraints. Earlier at noon, while I was talking to a scholar who studies law at this university, he also agreed that the society needs restraints. From his perspective as a researcher on law, he feels that Buddhist precepts constitute an effective means of maintaining focus in today’s world, which works on people from all walks of life.
Discipline in Mahayana Buddhism
According to Mahayana teachings, there are three types of discipline—the discipline of restraining from evil activities, the discipline of gathering virtue, and the discipline of bringing benefit to beings.
Buddhism often says, “Abstain from all forms of evil, and engage in all forms of goodness”, which summarizes the essence of Buddhist discipline. It means that we should cultivate all that is virtuous and with positive energy, and abstain from all that is non-virtuous in regard to our body, speech and mind, such as lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, covetousness and wishing harm on others. By doing this, we are observing precepts.
Among the three types of discipline in Mahayana Buddhism, the most important one is benefiting sentient beings, and doing harm to them is a breach of precepts which is very grave. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is acceptable if one tells lies in terms of speech or engages in improper deeds in terms of the body if that brings benefit to others. So as long as the intention is purely altruistic, any improper speech or action is permitted in the Mahayana school, even if they are deemed a breach of precepts in the Theravada school.
Talking about this reminds me of the original title for my speech, ‘Altruism—an Beautiful Ornament’, which was later changed into the present one, which is also a good title. Many people like to decorate themselves with various types of ornaments. Girls like wearing lipstick. Boys in Taiwan, as I have noticed, like to have their hair dyed red or yellow and wear colorful clothes and ragged pants. Back in the days when I was herding yaks, only poor people would wear pants with holes, which has now become fashionable. The modern world, with its openness and diversity, has given us the opportunity to adorn ourselves and present our beauty in whatever way we like. However, among all the ornaments, altruism is the most beautiful one—it makes us shine in a splendor that never fades away nor becomes outdated.
The highest level of observing precepts, which is hard for most ordinary people to achieve, according to the Introduction to the Middle Way, is to abide in the state of emptiness of the three conceptual spheres, realizing that the observer, the act of observing, and the precepts are all without intrinsic essence.
To sum it up, one thing we must know is that observing precepts is a virtue which was taught by the Buddha over 2500 years ago.
Ksanti Paramita: Three Categories of Patience
The third word is ksanti, or patience, which can be understood as a strong mind. There are three types of patience.
Patience to Bear Hardships
The first type is to bear hardships in Dharma practice, in work, and in life, and not to become weak and susceptible to pain and suffering when encountering adversity. Some people, however, even when facing minor frustrations, may choose to commit suicide. Just now I heard that college students committing suicide is rare in Taiwan, National Taiwan University students even rarer. This is great news, because many university students, as far as I know, when challenged by difficulties in life, such as problems in their relationships, studies and finding a job, couldn’t face up to them but chose to end their lives. This is, in fact, the opposite of patience.
Patience When Wronged
Another type of patience is to endure offences or pain imposed by others. For example, when someone attacks you verbally, you remain calm and peaceful.
When I watch the news on TV, I really feel that to be a leader here in Taiwan, one must be patient, as one has to constantly bear harsh criticism and verbal attacks from the public. In this case, patience can be a quality to be considered when voting for a leader candidate. Some leaders are criticized from their first day in office until their last, as if they had not been publicly elected. On the one hand, this is a sign of freedom of speech, but on the other hand, it may suggest that some people are being too nit-picking—they find fault with every trivial thing that a leader does. Those critics probably don’t act like this toward their families. They probably only act this way towards people outside their families. If not, then these people are badly in need of practicing patience.
Patience to Face the Profound Truth without Fear
The last type is the patience to face the profound truth without fear. It is to be patient toward elusive concepts while learning.
To face and accept things that are beyond our understanding requires courage. There are some people who reject all kinds of Buddhism, some Theravada practitioners who deny Mahayana Buddhism and some who criticize the Mahayana teaching of emptiness as being illogical; they reject these traditions or teachings simply because they don’t accept them, not a decision based on their careful observation and logical thinking. This is irrational and it used to happen a lot in ancient India.
We should study and familiarize with something before we decide to reject it. For example, those who think that Tibetan Buddhism is illogical, should study it and find out what is illogical in it—its view, meditation, action or fruition. They can even go to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and debate with those practitioners there. Aftering learning, discussion and debate, and finding out what goes against the truth, you can reject it. However, based on my years of learning and practicing of Tibetan Buddhism, I am certain that it is impossible for anyone to refute it. Besides, nowadays, many advanced scholars and renowned Buddhist masters are engaging in dialogues between science and Tibetan Buddhism. If you learn more about this, you will find the value and popularity of Tibetan Buddhism today. By then, your wisdom will guide you whether to accept Tibetan Buddhism or not.
It is important to build our faith on rationality. Nowadays some people just echo the views of others without having their own opinions on something which is not a proper attitude. The Buddha taught his followers to rely on truth as their guidance, not to believe in anything blindly. After careful observation and analysis, when they find that it doesn’t agree with their reason, they may reject it.
As a summary, whenever you are faced with teachings that are hard to understand, such as the teaching of emptiness and Tantrayana, it is important to keep an open mind and get to know them first. This is the patience to face the profound truth without fear.
“This Is the Right Moment to Practice”
When running into difficulties in our life or Dharma practices, it is important to adjust our outlook. However, many people today can’t even bear a slight setback their lives. In fact, certain difficulties in life can be a good opportunity for our spiritual progress. During the Cultural Revolution, a lady in the Han region with high social status was criticized and denounced publicly, having had half of her hair shaven off. This undoubtedly angered her to the point that she wanted to curse those who had done this to her. At that time, a Zen master passed a note to her with seven words on it, “Now is the right moment to practice.” It means this is exactly the time for her to practice patience. She was a Buddhist and she pacified her anger after seeing this note. That piece of advice on the note remained very useful throughout her whole life.
When we are tormented by illnesses, we should bear it with patience. When running into difficulties in our careers, personal lives and any other aspects of our lives, we should carry on with fortitude. Instead of complaining and feeling resentful, see the occasion as the moment for your spiritual progress and tell yourself, “This is the moment to practice”.
Virya Paramita: The Meaning and Significance of Diligence
The fourth one is Virya, or diligence. In Mahayana Buddhism, technically speaking, diligence is the mind that finds joy in what is virtuous, positive or wholesome. However, as a common expression, it means hard-working.
To be hard-working is necessary if we want to achieve something well, either in studying worldly knowledge or pursuing transcendent spiritual realization. Speaking of this, it is important to note that it is actually a lack of diligence to think that “people as lousy as me can never make it”, which in Buddhism, is called the laziness of self-discouragement.
There are three types of diligence: armor-like diligence, diligence in action and insatiable diligence.
What is armor-like diligence? It’s a resolution in our mind. For instance, Buddhist practitioners aspire to be as diligent as buddhas and bodhisattvas who have achieved enlightenment through diligence; ordinary people who try to succeed in something, say starting a business, resolve to learn from those who are successful in that field, people who excel others in wisdom, capability and in other ways. So armor-like diligence is like wearing an armor of diligence on the heart.
Diligence in Action
What, then, is diligence in action? It is to carry out our resolutions.
Diligence in action is to do something with a clear goal and a workable plan, and to carry it through. It’s an unwavering spirit that is very much needed in the process of one’s spiritual practice. To give you an example, some masters here have been engaging for years, even dozens of years, in the actions which they had resolved to do, such as writing books, establishing Dharma centers and participating in academic exchanges. However, other people often make empty plans or resolutions and brag about them to others, but put nothing into practice and put off their plans day after day. They are big on words, making others feel that they are even competent enough to be the prime minister or president of the country, yet in actual practice are so incompetent that they mess up everything.
Then what about insatiable diligence? This is never being satisfied before something is accomplished. For example, as Buddhists, we do not stop practicing until we attain Buddhahood. It is the same when doing anything in the world; as long as it is still unfinished, we keep on doing it.
We often say, “You’re never too old to learn”, which somehow reflects people’s appreciation of this spirit of insatiable diligence. It is good to see that many people in Taiwan still work at their old age, as it may be an indication that they have the spirit of insatiable diligence. Yesterday I found a 60-year-old tour guide in our coach and he looked quite good. There are many other good examples of senior citizens who are still work with vigor. In Buddhism, there are many centenarian Zen masters who never stopped benefiting sentient beings until they left this world. Therefore, keep insatiable diligence throughout your life. Even when we reach our 50s or 60s, we should not feel satisfied with what we have done and feel too feeble to make any further progress in life. This will make our life meaningful.
Nowadays many people take their jobs as a source of pain and stress, as they have to work hard from dawn till dusk. In fact, if we change our attitude and begin doing it with passion, work can become a source of joy. With passion and diligence, we are more likely to succeed in our work and life, and if we take it a step further and apply diligence in our Dharma practice, we will attain great spiritual realization, finding the ultimate bliss.
It is the mind that changes everything. Just as a piece of iron can be made into an iron ball, a needle or other tools, or a piece of land can be made into a garden, a garbage dump, etc., likewise, our mind can guide us to practice virtuous deeds that bring us happiness in this life or it can lead us to do bad deeds which lead to pain in this life such as being confined in prison, and a painful rebirth in a hell realm in the next life.
Change the Mind, Change the World
Dhyana Paramita: Worldly and Transcendent Meditations
The fifth is dhyana, or meditative concentration, which includes worldly meditation and transmundane meditation.
Worldly meditation is the meditation that settles and stabilizes the conceptual mind. It is now attracting much intention here in Taiwan and worldwide. People today go to Nepal, Germany, Tibet, and other places to learn it. It is also very popular in businesses and universities. For people today, in order to ease our burden and pressure in life, calming our mind is very much needed. A tranquil mind will be very beneficial to our life and work.
Here’s an interesting story about how worldly meditation helps settle our mind. In the past, there was a monastery where the monks often practiced sitting meditation. A man used to sell Tofu near the gate of the monastery. Every time when the monks were practicing meditation, he could hardly sell any Tofu, so he became very unhappy. Then he went to ask the abbot, “You monks here meditate every day, but what’s the purpose of that?” The abbot told him that sitting meditation is a very good way to calm the mind and encouraged him to try for himself. So he started to meditate with his legs crossed, his hands on his knees, and with eyes closed. After meditating for a while, he seemed very pleased and said, “Wonderful! Wonderful! Sitting meditation is really great!” The abbot asked him, “Have you had some experience? Tell me about it.” The man replied, “My mind used to be very distracted and muddled, and I often felt frustrated and anxious. But when I sat there, all my thoughts and afflictions disappeared, and I felt very peaceful. While sitting in such a peaceful state, I remembered that thirty years ago my neighbor didn’t pay me for the Tofu he bought. Meditation helped me recall that, so how wonderful it is.” Although the story seems to be a little funny, it does suggest the power of worldly meditation.
Worldly meditation is very helpful to our life, and that’s why it has become so popular. Some people, after quarreling with their family, would go somewhere to take part in a seven-day meditation retreat. The mind-adjusting methods that meditation centers and Dharma centers teach are very much needed in this restless society.
If we meditate for about 15 or 20 minutes in the morning and at night every day, after some time our mind will get used to it. Then, out of propensity, our mind won’t be disturbed by all kinds of distractions in daily life. Even when we encounter serious problems, we can recover quickly.
Transmundane meditation is the meditation that leads to liberation and enlightenment. It may bring about different kinds of experiences—states of clarity, bliss and absence of thoughts. Some practitioners may abide in the state of clarity where they feel so comfortable and clear, as if they have achieved enlightenment. Some experience the state of absence of thoughts and can rest in that state for quite a long time. Others may abide in pure emptiness. However, none of them leads to realization if we are attached to them.
The highest state is the excellent concentration of the Tathagatas, or the concept-free samadhi of intrinsic reality, the state of realizing the nature of all phenomena, free from the four extremes (i.e. of existence, non-existence, both existence and non-existence, neither existence nor non-existence) and the eight extremes of conceptual elaboration (i.e. arising, ceasing, being non-existent, being permanent, coming, going, being multiple, being single). In such a state, meditation and post-meditation are of no difference and are inseparable.
Prajna Paramita: The Key That We Are Liberated
The last one is prajna, or the paramita of wisdom. Actually, wisdom is something that we all pursue. Students gain knowledge in schools and scholars conduct research to gain further understanding in their areas of study. Whatever knowledge we gain, we gain it through hard work not as a gift, except for people with innate wisdom.
What Is Wisdom
Wisdom can be understood as a quality that enables us to tell right from wrong. It can be divided into worldly wisdom and transcendental wisdom. The latter belongs to a higher level because it requires us to understand the emptiness of “I” and “mine” and the emptiness of all phenomena that is referred to in the Middle Way. To know this is crucial because this is the ultimate truth of the world, not a teaching exclusive to Buddhism. Those with some understanding of advanced knowledge such as quantum physics and psychology can accept the teaching of emptiness taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in his second turning of the Dharma wheel more than 2500 years ago, in which many findings of today’s scientific research were already well-explained.
Although worldly wisdom is very necessary for having achievements or gaining success in this world, only through transcendental wisdom can we free ourselves from samsara. Therefore, we don’t have to focus only on the worldly knowledge, but to move a step further to the pursue transcendental wisdom. You can become famous, rich and respected through academic studies, but all that would be in vain if you fail to gain spiritual achievement on the path to liberation. Life is very short, and can be wasted if we let ourselves be controlled by ignorance accumulating more negative karma which brings only suffering.
How to Accumulate Wisdom
Technically speaking, Tibetan Buddhism speaks of three types of wisdom which form a systematic step of gaining Transcendent wisdom: wisdom that comes through hearing, through reflection, and wisdom found through meditation.
What is wisdom that comes through hearing? It is the wisdom gained by hearing truth or teachings from a qualified teacher. The wisdom that comes through reflection is obtained by reviewing the teachings you’ve heard through analysis, debate and reflection. Then the wisdom through meditation is gained by putting what you’ve gained through reflection into practice.
Let’s take yaks eating grass as an analogy. Yaks biting off grass is compared to the wisdom of hearing; the process of chewing the grass is compared to the wisdom of reflection; and swallowing grass down is like wisdom of meditation. Human consumption of food has three steps as well: putting food into our mouth, chewing it and then swallowing it. Gaining knowledge is the same: first we hear it, after which we reflect upon it, then we put it into practice. For example, after we hear from the teacher the teaching that all phenomena are impermanent and changing in every split second, we should discern it using analysis like that taught in Tibetan Buddhism. It is like when we need to chew the food after putting it into our mouths, instead of swallowing it immediately. This is like the process of reflection. After this, we need to put it into practice.
Nowadays some people only pursue pure theories but do not apply their knowledge in practice. There are some Buddhists, including monastics, who have written some books that may have a certain influence in society. However, from the way they explain teachings, for example on samsara, renunciation, and bodhicitta in their books, it’s easy to deduce that they haven’t fully assimilated these teachings. In this way, they do not benefit but mislead their followers. So it is not appropriate to spread teachings before one has fully assimilated them through learning and practice, whether as lay people or monastics.
Anyway, it is necessary to pursue supreme transcendent wisdom, and to achieve that, to go to those great masters around you to study Dharma teachings seriously would be a good choice.
Many Buddhists, even some professors and college students, focus on superficial things and their faith in Buddhism is not based on reasoning and wisdom. Faith can be irrational or blind. Blind faith is to believe in something such as Buddhism and reincarnation without knowing the reason behind it. Rational faith, however, is to believe in something based on wisdom. Luckily now, many people tend to have more independent critical thinking and have taken their faith and practice in the Dharma to the next level. This shows that they have already possessed worldly wisdom with which they can go on to acquire transcendental wisdom.
Change the Mind, Change the World
In conclusion, by training in the six paramitas we can tame our minds and gradually change ourselves for the better. If we start to change, we can surely obtain inner peace, tranquility and happiness.
It is the mind that changes everything. Just as a piece of iron can be made into an iron ball, a needle or other tools, or a piece of land can be made into a garden, a garbage dump, etc., likewise, our mind can guide us to practice virtuous deeds that bring us happiness in this life or it can lead us to do bad deeds which lead to pain in this life such as being confined in prison, and a painful rebirth in a hell realm in the next life. Those practicing virtuous deeds will enjoy auspiciousness in every way in this life, such as successful career and good health, and enjoy great bliss in pure realms like the Western Pure Land in future lives.
I believe that by transforming our mind, the world will also change for the better. Thank you all.
How to Face Turbulence?
About Yab-Yum Union, Wealth Gap, and the Definition of Buddhism
Mr. Chen Shiwen (Maharishi University of Management):
In his talk, Rinpoche suggested that different schools of certain religions, as well as different schools within Buddhism, may hold different views on certain subjects. In Taiwan, there is some discussion about the differences between Tibetan Buddhism and Han Buddhism. I was wondering whether Rinpoche could kindly explain some of the concepts in Tibetan Buddhism over which Han Buddhism may seem to disagree. For example, regarding yab-yum union, Han Buddhism considers it to be incompatible with Buddhist doctrines. Could Rinpoche explain it so that practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, who may be confused about it, can gain a correct view on it which is also consistent with the paramita of wisdom that Rinpoche mentioned in the talk, and be free of confusion on their path?
In Tibetan Buddhism there are many profound practices, including some special tantric practices such as yab-yum union and subjugation. Some people consider such practices to be something secretive and which needs to be hidden, which is clearly a misunderstanding. It might be difficult for me to expound on this question due to our limited time, but I will try to explain it concisely to give you some idea of it.
Actually, deliberate forms of conduct, as a form of behavior that often transgresses social conventions, such as yab-yum and subjugation, do not only exist in Tibetan Buddhism. In many of the teachings of Chinese esoteric Buddhism, such as ritual manuals translated by the three great translators in the Tang dynasty, there is mention that to attain perfect Buddhahood, one must rely on a female consort. Even in the exoteric tradition of Han Buddhism, there are cases that confirm the validity of yab-yum union. In the Chinese version of the Sutra of the Heap of the Jewels, there is a story of a Brahmin named Lover of the Stars. Back then, the Brahmin Lover of the Stars had been practicing in solitude for quite a long time, keeping the vow of chastity. One day, when he went begging in a village, a girl fell hopelessly in love with him and demanded that he marry her, or else she would die. At first, he did not comply with her wish. Yet out of great compassion, he married the girl and lived with her for twelve years. This, instead of bringing him negative karma, became the cause for him to accomplish the accumulation of merit. Looking at this on the surface, it is ridiculous that this would bring merit instead of the fault of breaking precepts when a monk lived with a girl for twelve years. However, this is what is recorded in the sutra.
If we see it on a deeper level, yab-yum union and subjugation are no different from enlightenment. In The Sutra of Hui-neng, there is the mention that “defilement is Bodhi”. What is defilement? It’s the five poisons, i.e. desire, anger, ignorance, arrogance and jealousy. If defilement is Bodhi, is there a true existence of defilement? By realizing the nature of defilement, the five poisons transform into the five wisdoms. This is obvious for one with some understanding of this sutra. If the nature of the five poisons is nothing but Bodhi, so is that of yab-yum union and subjugation. It is essential to understand this.
According to sutras, nothing is defiled once we recognize the nature of afflictive emotions, which, however, is a very high level of realization that is hard to attain. Besides, practitioners can follow different codes of conduct based on their identities, such as lay or the monastic, and conduct like yab-yum union is not prohibited in the conduct of lay practitioners, neither in Tibetan Buddhism nor in Han Buddhism.
As such, we should know it’s not that Tibetan Buddhism advocates sexual relations, and that the male-female union is not the union of a man and a woman out of lust. It is in fact a symbol, just like the symbol of yin and yang in Taoism, and it is not correct for us to take it as something substantial.
Actually, this subject is discussed in many treatises and is also addressed by many masters, including Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro. I have translated many texts in this regard and explained it in many teachings. I suggest that those who are confused about this subject restudy Tibetan Buddhism with reliable teachings. It’s easy to understand if you look into it.
Buddhist Suggestion on Wealth Gap
Mr. Zhang Shifei (Chairman of Greater China Fraternal Association):
I would like to share some of my thoughts from Khenpo’s talk. Nowadays, whether in Taiwan, the mainland, South Korea, the United States, or other places, there exists the problem of economic inequality which gives rise to and magnifies many social problems. So Khenpo’s talk today about the training of the mind is very meaningful, since mind plays a very important role in our lives and determines how the world will be. Having heard Khenpo’s talk, I feel it is necessary to reflect on how we can make the world better.
Yes, whether we are monastics or ordinary people, everyone should be concerned about the livelihood and wellbeing of people. To improve people’s wellbeing is highly advocated by both governments and practitioners. However, it is always easier said than done. Some leaders may fail to implement what they initiated, and practitioners may only focus on achieving their own benefit and practice. That’s why they receive criticism from others.
Today’s wealth gap has become a major social problem; and to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor is not an easy task. As is taught in the Agama Sutra, sentient beings have different karma. Because of the functioning of karmic law, however hard we try to bridge the gap, it will be rather futile. For instance, a family has three children. Their parents divide the wealth equally among them. Due to their different karma, their later life may be quite different, such that one becomes impoverished, one successful and one in between. Nonetheless, we should still care about others, especially the impoverished, because helping others is everyone’s responsibility and also for practitioners, part of their spiritual practice.
The Role of Buddhism: a Religion or an Education
Mr. Chen Wenyan (Honorary Director of the United Daily News):
Tibetan Buddhism is a system mainly developed in the regions around Sichuan, Qinghai, and Xizang. As is widely known, Buddhism first originated in ancient India, and it seems that the Buddha considered himself to be an educator rather than a religious leader. I would like to ask, from your perspective as a follower of Buddhism, or more specifically one who actually engages in Buddhist practice, whether Buddhism is more of an education or something more religious and mystical?
As Khenpo mentioned, Buddhism teaches the transcendent wisdom of spirituality which, however, is mostly pursued by monastics. For ordinary people, these transcendent teachings regarding the connection between our existence and the universe, or the connection between the body, mind and spirituality, seem to be hard to understand, and spirituality in particular appears to be very metaphysical. In this age, what people need – especially college students – is to settle their minds, which is more critical than salary, subsistence or employment. So I hope that Khenpo Rinpoche will come to Taipei often to teach us the Dharma and guide us in meditation.
On one hand, Buddhism is a religion as it is one of the major world religions and also a member of the World Religions Conference. More importantly, though, Buddhism is an education in a broader sense. These two do not contradict each other, because Buddhist teaching completely conforms with the wisdom, spirituality, life and values of human beings.
The main purpose of education is to help people gain wisdom. Yet this aim cannot be accomplished solely through scientific education. In western countries where science is highly developed, common education also needs to derive nourishment from religion and faith such as Christianity and those from the east such as Buddhism. Modern education in general is badly in need of traditional cultural education and is in more need of the Buddhist education of compassion, from which we can learn how to behave properly.
If people receive such an education starting at an early age, our morality will be enhanced, faith fostered, and compassionate mind cultivated. Then, many of the problems we have right now, such as food safety issues, will not be a concern anymore.
To sum up, Buddhism is an education, but goes beyond ordinary education; Buddhism is also a religion, but cannot be confined to religion, as its teachings transcend the concept of religion.
Principles of Translating Sutras & the Most Beneficial Teaching from H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche
My first question is what principle you follow when translating Buddhist texts. I mean, you comprehend the meaning first and then translate the teachings in a way that we can understand. In this process, what’s your criterion so as to adhere to the classical teachings while catering to the modern world?
Secondly, what is the most beneficial teaching that you received from your teacher?
As for the first question, it is indeed a big problem that is difficult to reconcile in translation. If we rigidly stick to the language of masters from ancient times and translate classical concepts literally, ignoring the habit of contemporary language and people’s way of thinking, it may be difficult for modern people to understand; whereas catering completely to the thinking of modern people may compromise some of the original teaching. That’s what I’ve learnt from my years of translation. In the past, I translated many books in a rigid style, and they are not known to many people. Later, I wrote a few books in modern language and they seem to be much more popular. So, it is better to try to adhere to the original idea and style of the author while accommodating the mentality, thoughts, culture and values of modern people, which is my principle now.
To answer your second question, I followed my teacher His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche for many years. Many masters here from the International Association of Tibetan Buddhist Studies were also his students; even some teachers and scholars here received teachings in front of him. His Holiness’s thoughts and teachings have had tremendous influence on my whole life, and I believe on their lives as well.
Although his language and words may not be distinctive compared with that of other teachers, they are transformative as they carry great blessing. Words of different people carry a different weight. Even one word from some people has significant power to influence and inspire others. As a Tibetan saying goes, people differ from each other in qualities and power, otherwise why would one person become a king and another a servant? Timbers are different from each other in terms of qualities, otherwise why would one be used as a beam and another a pillar which lies below as the support of the beam? My teacher is indeed special for his inconceivable power and ability to bestow blessings, and his teachings have the power to greatly transform and inspire people.
Among his lifetime teachings that have been invaluable and beneficial to me, the most important, as he often told us, is to observe our own mind and to benefit others. To observe our mind means we need to realize its nature. To benefit others means we should be altruistic and not live only for ourselves. This is meaningful because there are always people around us who need help and we do have the ability to help. Besides, if we leave this world without having offered any help to others, then what makes us superior to animals, who mainly focus on surviving and self-interest? So, “to observe the mind and help others” are the most beneficial words in my life.
How to Face Turbulence?
As Taiwan is now in an economic downturn, there is a general unsettled feeling in people’s minds. Since the purpose of Khenpo’s visit here at the National Taiwan University, which is the highest educational institute in Taiwan, is to unveil the mystery of mind training, could you provide us with some further guidance on mind training?
Actually that the economy is unstable and that people’s minds are unsettled is a global issue that is not only occurring in Taiwan. Some countries, both developed and developing ones, who consider themselves to be doing well may fall into recession after some time, with various financial problems and crises manifesting one after another. It’s the same in our personal lives, families and relationships. In our lives, there are always separations and reunions, and we experience emotions like sorrow and joy. Thus, it’s not so surprising that people in Taiwan experience turbulence in many aspects of life. Such turbulence happened decades ago and will still be going on in the years to come. This is the law of impermanence that the Buddha taught which Taiwan cannot circumvent.
By developing the wisdom of the impermanence of all phenomena, we will be able to deal with whatever happens in the world, with trouble or turbulence. It is difficult to predict what it will be like in the future, so to engage in spiritual practice at all times is very important, and will prepare us to take things as they come, to accept them peacefully, and to embrace them with a smile, whether we are poor or rich, whether we have power and status or not.
How Buddhists Help Non-believers Face Death?
How Buddhists Help Non-believers Face Death?
When they face terminal illness, non-Buddhists or non-believers are often very much depressed. Especially during the period before death, they often fall into despair. Could Khenpo give some instruction on how we should help a group of such people?
Whether we like it or not, death is something no one can avoid. So, whenever we have such patients, whether they are Buddhists or not, or even if they are against Buddhism, we should treat them with open-mindedness and wisdom. Open-mindedness is indispensable, especially in today’s globalized environment. Buddhists should be open-minded towards those of other religions, and I’m happy to know that most fellow students of the International Association of Tibetan Buddhist Studies are very inclusive of Theravada Buddhism and Han Buddhism.
When non-believers face death, if they are willing to accept the Buddhist way of end-of-life care, including rituals of salvation, chanting mantras, or others that bring them blessings, then we can use such methods to help them. If not, we can silently chant for them some Mani mantras, the name of Amitabha, and so on. When I meet someone who is dying and refuses the Buddhist way of end-of-life care, I silently recite a few Mani mantras without letting the family members around hear it, otherwise it will bring up aversion. This is the only way to plant virtuous seeds in their minds. Aside from this, there is really not much we can do.
Also, for non-Buddhists, though it depends on you whether you want to believe in Buddhism or not, it is worthwhile to reflect before you decide not to believe in it. If your choice is based on careful and reasoned consideration, then no one will be able to criticize you. So take some time to observe whether the wisdom of Buddhism is beneficial to your life or not. If it is beneficial, it will be too late to start to develop conviction in it in your 70s or 80s. As when one is getting old, one may suffer from memory loss, bad health and slurred speech. In this case, it is even hard to learn worldly knowledge, not to mention following Buddhism, because practicing Buddhism requires certain intellectual and physical conditions. I’ve met with many intellectuals who begin to learn Buddhism in their 70s or 80s. Many of them have regret, saying, “When I was young, I was always preoccupied with worldly affairs. Now that I am getting old, death may catch me unprepared, so I want to focus on practice now.” I admire their spirit and faith in Buddhism, but when one is approaching the end of life, to well engage in the practice will not be as easy as when they were young. Therefore, we should take time to explore Buddhism.
How to Benefit Others?
During practice, as you always mentioned in your books and videos, we should generate the mind of renunciation and bodhicitta. When I make the aspiration to benefit all sentient beings, I often feel confused that to me as a Mahayana practitioner, to benefit beings is to let them know the suffering of samsara and the benefit of the Dharma. Yet, for those who have never got to know Buddhism, this might not be what they want, as they are more interested in worldly benefit. If I benefit them the way they want, I may somewhat encourage their afflictive emotions. So would you please tell us what the right thing to do is when benefiting sentient beings?
There are two ways of benefiting beings: bringing temporary benefit and benefit which leads to liberation. To bring them temporary benefit is to provide them with food, clothing, etc. when they are in need, just like the Buddha often did, to satisfy those with insufficient means in getting food and clothing. Of course, the best way to benefit them is not by giving them money, status and wealth; rather, it is to liberate them from samsara, the ocean of suffering.
Besides, benefiting others must be done on a case-by-case basis with careful observation of whether the way is harmful or not. If it is not, even though we can only benefit them temporarily, it is much better than to be indifferent and do nothing at all. If, instead, our behavior aggravates their afflictive emotions, say, by making their craving insatiable or causing the flame of their anger to be inextinguishable, then this is not benefiting them. In this case, it is better to choose not to do it.
The Difference Between Han Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism & How to Achieve Rainbow Body?
We all know that there is Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism and my first question is what is the difference between them?
Second, I heard about how many accomplished practitioners in the Tibetan region, when they pass into nirvana, manifested auspicious signs like attaining rainbow body and leaving relics. Could you please tell us what kind of practices led to such accomplishments?
Actually there is no such categorization of Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. The three major traditions of Buddhism are Tibetan Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and Han Buddhism, within each there are different schools. So by Chinese Buddhism, you probably refer to Han Buddhism.
From the ultimate perspective, Han Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are exactly the same. Han Buddhism acknowledges the spiritual path to bodhi, which starts with generating bodhicitta, proceeds with accumulating merit, and is perfected with the attainment of Buddhahood. So do the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Also, Han Buddhism acknowledges Buddha Shakyamuni as the founder of Buddhism who gave 84,000 kinds of teachings through the Three Turnings of the Dharma wheel, which has benefited countless beings and will continue to lead whoever practices according to these teachings to attain enlightenment, with which Tibetan Buddhism agrees as well.
There might be some minor differences between Han Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. For example, the practices, doctrines and Dharma texts emphasized by different schools within Han Buddhism like the Zen, Pure Land, and the Flower Garland School are different from those emphasized by schools of Tibetan Buddhism such as Sakya, Nyingma and Gelug.
In principle, there is no difference—they belong to the same education system, only with different courses. Just like in National Taiwan University there are different colleges, and within the different colleges, there are different departments; different departments have different deans and faculties, and the ideas of the faculties of the different departments, though they may differ, is actually an integral whole. This also applies to the relationship between different traditions of Buddhism.
Due to people’s lack of understanding of the Buddhadharma, some followers of Han Buddhism detest Tibetan Buddhism and vice versa. I met with an elder practitioner from the Pure Land tradition who detested Tibetan Buddhism to the extent of detesting anyone who wore red clothing. Once when he was taking a train, he saw a girl with short hair in red clothes. Thinking she might be a Tibetan nun, he began to reproach her, only to discover that she was not at all from Tibetan Buddhism. He then felt stupid. I chuckled as he recounted his experience; at that time he had already learnt and been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for some time. He also felt it was ridiculous and was sorry for what he had done. Therefore, it is important to understand Buddhist teachings correctly so as to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings.
For the second question, I would encourage you to find answers by yourself. On the spiritual path, adequate learning as a foundation is very necessary. And one of the best ways to learn is to attend group learning and discussions, in which many questions like the one you just raised will be answered.
How to Accumulate Ample Merit Within This Life? & The Pith Instruction for Relying on a Spiritual Teacher
How can one accumulate ample and great merit and receive its rewards in this immediate lifetime, but without letting it incur any obstacles in one’s pursuit of enlightenment, as merit usually take the form of wealth and possessions, as a fruition which, however, may become obstacles on one’s path to enlightenment?
My second question is: Are there any pith instructions for following a guru? In my view, there are reasons for Khenpo’s great achievement today. It comes from Khenpo’s own merit and qualities, but more importantly, from your having followed H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. So what are the key points for following a guru? How to combine the act of following a guru with bodhicitta?
To answer the first question, there are two interpretations of merit. To some, it is the cause for all kinds of good rewards such as wisdom, wealth, and physical health. To others, it is just the cause for wealth. To say someone has merit means that he or she is very rich; to say someone lacks merit means he or she is poor. I’m not sure which one you are referring to, but whichever case is, how much good fortune and rewards one enjoys now is very much related to one’s accumulation of merit in one’s past lives. For example, many people practice virtuous deeds to gain abundant wealth, outstanding ability, sharp intelligence, as well as a peaceful and happy mind. However, without merit accumulated in their past lives, they often experience bad mental states, and the harder they work to be rich, the further away they are from their goals, becoming poor and exhausted in the end.
Therefore, the key to accumulate ample and great merit and enjoy a happy life is to keep accumulating merit by engaging in virtuous activities. It is our previous accumulation of merit that gives rise to its rewards today; and for the benefit of our future lifetimes, we need to accumulate merit now. It is just like charging a battery. We charged the battery yesterday for today’s use, and the same for tomorrow. Likewise, having a good life today results from our diligent accumulation of merit in the past. Some wealthy people may regard themselves as having great merit, however, it’s hard to tell how their future lives will be if they simply consume it in this life.
As for the second question, there are many ways and pith instructions for following a guru. In particular, there is a treatise—Fifty Stanzas on Guru Devotion written by an Indian sage, on which Lama Tsongkhapa wrote a commentary. In Longchenpa’s The Wish-Fulfilling Treasury, there is specifically one chapter on how to follow a spiritual friend. In Finding Comfort and Ease in the Nature of Mind, he also elaborated on this aspect. Patrul Rinpoche too addressed this topic in the sixth chapter of The Words of My Perfect Teacher. Also, many other great masters have also taught on how to follow a guru.
In my opinion, following a guru should be in accordance to what Patrul Rinpoche stated in The Words of My Perfect Teacher: At the beginning, one should examine the teacher; after careful examination that one finds the teacher to be meritorious and qualified, then properly follow the teacher; and in the end, one should emulate the teacher’s realization and actions. Many people today get the order wrong. They follow a guru blindly and seek empowerment from him, and then after some time, they find faults in the guru and start to slander him. The correct order is to observe first, then follow the teacher and try to always maintain a pure perception no matter how the guru behaves.
It is quite important to keep a pure mind when one chooses to follow a teacher after careful observation. Now there is the phenomenon of students criticizing their gurus, which, quite possibly, is because of their own distorted perception. Because when our mind is not pure, however perfect the teacher is, even if he is no different from the Buddha in merit and qualities, we still find countless defects on him. This not only brings oneself negative karma, but also impairs others’ faith in the teacher and the Three Jewels.
Therefore, it’s very important to follow a teacher in the correct way. That is, examine the teacher before you follow him or her. Once you choose to follow, be receptive to whatever they teach, and with full devotion, recognize whatever they say or do, even just one simple smile or sentence, as profound guidance.
Does the Principle of Reincarnated Tulkus Go Against the Philosophy of Non-Self? When Will H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche Reincarnate?
I have three questions. The first one is that the Buddha stated in the Three Dharma Seals that all phenomena are empty and devoid of self. How then should we understand reincarnated tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism? The second question is: It has been a long time since H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche entered parinirvana. Why hasn’t he reincarnated? Did he prophesy when he would reincarnate? The last question is, as a staff member of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, I would like to ask whether you would accept my invitation for you to teach the Dharma in South Korea?
To answer the first question, the Three Seals refer to all that is conditioned is impermanent; all phenomena are empty and devoid of self; and nirvana is peace. The truth of non-self in this context does not conflict with the phenomenon of reincarnated tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism, because it is discussed in the ultimate sense. From the ultimate perspective, the “self” does not exist, whether it’s the “self” of a tulku or of an ordinary person such as a Korean or a Tibetan. About how the “self” is nonexistent, you will find out by learning the reasonings in the Middle Way, which specifically demolish the existence of the self and of phenomena.
From the phenomenal perspective, whether tulkus or monastics from Tibetan Buddhism or organizations like the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, all appear and exist in the world. However, in reality, neither the individual self nor the National Taiwan University exists; neither I nor you exist, because everything is without entity upon scrutiny. Just like this microphone appears to exist, yet when we analyze it, it is merely the assembly of many particles, atoms or molecules. With further analysis, nothing is to be found existent, even the smallest particles.
Phenomena and the ultimate reality or, in other words, the appearance and the nature are confused in this question. The nature of all phenomena is empty, but Buddha never said phenomena don’t appear. Otherwise, there would be no point in listening to the Dharma here, nor in generating bodhicitta. When he taught us to generate bodhicitta, he did not mean it from the ultimate reality of emptiness. This is what many people misunderstand.
Regarding the second question, about two months before His Holiness entered parinirvana, he indicated during a Dharma assembly that “I aspire to take rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha. Do not seek my reincarnation just after my passing. It’s unreasonable to determine my reincarnation within 49 days of my passing.” But he did not mean that he would never come back. If the time and conditions are ready, I believe His Holiness will return. As for when the time and conditions will be right, that is unknown to us.
In about a month, it will have been ten years since H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche passed into parinirvana. As his disciples, we often feel grieved thinking of his passing, and such a feeling can never be compared, even with the loss of family members. When the guru passes away, the disciples may feel forlorn, like a group of orphans being left in this world, as they have lost the guide on their spiritual path. Therefore I often think, “How wonderful it will be when our guru comes back!” Having been by the side of His Holiness for almost 20 years as a translator, this year, to remember him and repay his kindness, and to enable more people to benefit, I complied some of his profound yet easily acceptable teachings into a book called Always Present, which will be formally published in about two days.
In this lifetime, I may not see His Holiness’s reincarnation. Nevertheless the teachings left by him are actually his living embodiment, no different from the guru himself, which was mentioned by many great masters after His Holiness’s parinirvana. As it says in The Lotus Sutra, although the Buddha appears to have left this world, in fact, he has never left us and the Buddhadharma will not fade into oblivion. Therefore, whenever we pray to the guru, the guru is always there and has never ever left. I believe as long as one has faith in the guru, one will gain the blessing of the wisdom and compassion of the guru.
Regarding visiting South Korea, if the right time and conditions are all in place, I would like to visit there. Thank you.
Is Reformed Ngöndro a Good Choice?
My question is about the reform of ngöndro practices. When I propagate teachings such as The Words of My Perfect Teacher, I am often challenged by questions like there was no such tradition of practicing ngöndro back in the Buddha’s time. Also, many enlightened masters now offer “modified preliminaries” tailored to different cultures and environments. For example, they substitute the preliminaries with the practice of “Om Ah Hum” or analytical meditation. What is Khenpo’s opinion on such adjustments?
Well, actually all Dharma paths have their origin in the Buddha’s teachings and were passed down by a line of sages. Whenever you choose to follow a path, it’s important to follow the instructions within your tradition, as they are extracted by those masters from the Buddha’s teachings. For example, in the Zen school, there are practices of running meditation and walking meditation, which combines meditation with running and walking. Although these practices were not directly mentioned in the sutras, they took shape due to the efforts of great lineage masters, based on the Buddha’s teachings. If you follow this school and do these practices, it is better to follow instructions of the masters. If one does not want to follow it, it is fine to pioneer a new path. However, it’s quite hard for one to possess such capability.
Likewise, practicing ngöndro is a tradition passed down by great lineage masters of Tibetan Buddhism, not a personal and unreasonable demand. It is a shared tradition in many schools of Tibetan Buddhism and has been emphasized by many lineage masters, especially those from Nyingma school such as Longchenpa and Jikme Lingpa. In the Nyingma in particular, according to the lineage of Patrul Rinpoche, ever since his teacher Jikme Gyalwe Nyugu and Patrul Rinpoche himself, the tradition of practicing the preliminaries has been passed down generation after generation. All of the lineage disciples had practiced the preliminaries. Some practiced them 3 to 10 times, and some as many as 25 times.
Why practice 500,000 times? This is because without reaching such a quantity, our being may not be properly transformed. It is also a way to test disciples. Today, many people do not want to practice the preliminaries because they are busy with work and do not want to make too much effort. They prefer something easier and faster as a substitute so that they can easily enter the formal Vajrayana practice, even though they are not ready for it.
In addition, for practitioners of different schools who have completed the preliminaries, both monastics and lay practitioners, their minds are better transformed and are more stable in their practice. Those who have not, although they may boast about obtaining certain empowerments or the highest level of instruction, are likely to regress in their practice quickly.
Therefore, I also attach great importance to the 500,000 preliminaries. This year, when I was teaching the Essence of Clear Light at our academy, no one who had not completed the preliminaries was allowed to listen. Because even if they had listened, it is unlikely that they would have gained real benefit when their minds were not sufficiently transformed to absorb the teachings. It is like the manual for a product. When using it, you’d better follow the manual written by the inventor. Otherwise, if you try some other ways instead, it may not work as perfectly as when following the manual. Therefore, I suggest that it would be better for us not to find excuses in order to skip the preliminary practices, because however superior our wisdom is, it will still be far from that of the lineage masters. Therefore, everyone should pay attention to this point.