Once again our summer of visiting teachers was started by the brilliantly clear, powerful, compassionate, humorous Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, whose visits are always very eagerly anticipated. Over the past five years that Rinpoche has visited the Centre, she has definitely made her way into our hearts. It looks like we need her awakening and sharp pointers to show us all the sneaky ways in which our ego is trying to maintain its foothold even during the practice, not to mention in our everyday life.During the last weekend of May 2016, nearly a hundred people again gathered at Palpung Changchub Dargyeling to be shaken, stirred and guided in the right direction. Rinpoche taught the topic View, Meditation and Conduct, which is practically teaching on the whole Buddhist path from beginning to end. We had also requested Rinpoche to bestow the Green Tara empowerment, but unfortunately she fell ill on the Sunday morning and had to rest completely for a few days. However, that gave us a great opportunity to see how many causes and conditions have to come together before anything will really manifest. It was such a precious teaching in itself, and it also gave us an opportunity to give something back to Rinpoche, so Choje Lama Rabsang led a practice of the Praises to the 21 Taras, which we dedicated especially to removing obstacles to Khandro Rinpoche’s health and Dharma activities.
The following is transcribed and written from the teachings Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche gave on View, Meditation and Conduct. It is not the whole of the teaching, but the most of it. Any mistakes are mine. To get a full experience and benefit from these teachings, I’d recommend you listen to it yourself. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for the recording.
More photos of the visit HERE
View, Meditation and Conduct
“It just happens” or karma
Rinpoche started the teachings by talking about karma, causes and conditions. She gave the example of how amazing it can be to find a Buddhist centre and a Tibetan teacher in a Welsh valley: “If you sit back and think about it, it is very disorienting. just incredible to imagine the karma that a village like this would have a very established Buddhist centre, and that it has happened is the result of the contributions of many people – all our teachers, of course, the teacher’s blessings are very important and can be credited, but then there is hard work involved that is dedicated by many people.” She pointed out that: “If there is a karmic connection, if there is merit, if there is interdependent auspicious coincidence”, anything is possible. She urged us to sit back once in a while and have a proper look at these conditions, and not to become complacent. We usually have a habit of being a bit complacent and thinking “it just happens”, but we should not just leave it like that, but look at the amount of investment, hard work, energy, and material resources that create such places as Dharma centres.
Dharma is about perspective
Rinpoche also thoroughly examined our investment in our own practice. What approach are we taking to the Buddhist path? What are we investing in this practitioner’s life? We should check whether it is worth it. Since we are investing so much time and energy in the practice, we should check whether we are losing – she pointed out that if not a profit, it should definitely not be something that is an utter loss Rinpoche said that it is easy to be a Buddhist collecting a “Dharma bag”, and that is ok for a year or two, but we cannot fool ourselves all the time; we should have a good look at what we are really investing in this path of practice. She clarified: “Sitting is practice, shamatha is practice, visualization is practice, reading books is good, attending the teachings and transmissions is fine, devotion and lineage are absolutely good and useful, but they are not Dharma. They are means and methods having a purpose of their own, but Dharma is about perspective. Who you are you today? Having done that meditation, what’s your perspective today? Having been connected to a path of practice that we call Dharma, Buddha’s teachings, who are you today? Having invested so much in this individually and collectively, who am I today, what’s my perspective on life? How do I view things? How has it changed my relationship to how I see things, how I hear things, how I think thoughts? What is my view? If we are to talk about view, meditation and action, it would be foolish to think that view is something to patch onto an old pattern. Longchen Rabjampa in his teachings says: do not patch the Dharmakaya onto rotted clothes, clothes that are rotten and falling apart. In the same way, really keeping an understanding of this analogy, view cannot be something to be told, something to be adopted, to be believed in, have faith in, and then imposed over a base that seems to be the same; continuing with the same kind of habits, continuing with the same ways in which you interpret your relationships, your thoughts and your perspective. View is about outlook, perspective, how we see things. Having invested so much in Dharma, how has it changed your perspective of what reality is, of how you see your relationships? Has it made us more understanding, kind, compassionate, flexible, spacious?” Rinpoche reminded us that we have a tendency to pick and choose things that are suitable for our ego. With a spark of laughter in her eyes she said: “If we have changed, then good – then the 15-20 minutes of meditation are working!”
View cannot be something to be told, something to be adopted, to be believed in, have faith in, and then imposed over a base that seems to be the same; continuing with the same kind of habits, continuing with the same ways in which you interpret your relationships, your thoughts and your perspective.
Have we understood the view?
“The sound of Dharma is softening the rigid attitude” was the message that Rinpoche tried to convey. She said that after investing so much in the path of practice, our minds should have become at least a bit more spacious when dealing with everyday life. She brought our high expectations closer to reality: “We are not saying something as extraordinary as selflessness – you know, we jump into selflessness much too soon – let’s try being less selfish, or being selfish with less stickiness to it. Let’s not talk about endless patience – that would very nice, but that’s the end game. Let’s talk about getting angry for less time.” She said that at this point in time we should not talk about becoming completely rid of negative emotions, but rather about learning more sophisticated ways of dealing with them. If we are able to do this, it will show that the investment is having some results. If this is not happening, no matter how much we are sitting, attending teachings and transmissions and increasing our vocabulary of fancy-sounding words, it means that we might be just becoming a devoted Buddhist, but not necessarily a true practitioner. That means not having a view. “As I said earlier, view has not to be understood as something that someone has presented, which you then impose upon a basis which is maintaining its old habits.” Rinpoche put it like this: the view is about that elixir you put in your mind, that goes through it and enables the transmutation of things.”
A sentient being is characterized by movement
Rinpoche defined the words “sentient being” as referring not so much to a being possessing consciousness, but rather as being characterized by movement. The movement of sentient beings is towards happiness. When we explore ourselves, we can see how our every movement is towards ease, happiness, harmony, peace. Sentient beings are in pursuit of, and inspired by, the search for happiness. We are never at rest: there is always some physical, verbal or mental movement and the movement is inspired by the search for contentment. In the spiritual life there is also a lot of movement towards liberation, awakening. We think that more movement has to be created for this. We are propelled by the wish to find happiness. Rinpoche again made us at look at whether our practice is really bearing fruit: we have to really look at whether all that movement we are making is really going in that direction, awakening, liberation. She stated : “Propelled by the wish to find happiness, we get into a movement called cyclic existence.” In this movement called samsara, we don’t have the discrimination to know what the cause of happiness is. We don’t have clarity, and are in fact planting the causes of suffering and neurosis.” Rinpoche put it simply: “If you want happiness, plant the seeds of virtue.
Am I a Buddhist or a practitioner?
“What do we invest in as Buddhists? Why are we doing this? The sensible answer is: for the liberation of all sentient beings and enlightenment.” Rinpoche came back to investment and showed how much we are really investing: we are building Dharma centres, giving up weekends with the family, collecting books, reading, and not even buying nice paintings any more! We have so much external investment, and a good heart which is trying to bring about the state of liberation as the result. However, one linking factor might be missing. We might have all the necessary ingredients there, and yet we might not be doing what should be done. We might just have been collecting the ingredients, and now we are planning to really do it when we have more time, when we are older… we are going to do it soon. The important question is: are we actually using the ingredients that we have collected? Rinpoche revealed the ego’s games by saying that we might not have so much gross ignorance, but rather the subtle ignorance which is sustaining the ego by being more satisfied with the check-list, rather than having the sanity and awareness that when we have gone through collecting all the necessary ingredients for liberation, it now has to arise as a taste that comes from the digestion of those ingredients. She asked us to check with ourselves: am I a Buddhist or a practitioner? She described a Buddhist as “being one who is good, faithful, devoted, diligent, does whatever he is told, sits, recites, retreats, follows teachers’ instructions… Practitioners are a little bit beyond that, they talk less, do more, learn less, accomplish a great deal. There is a sense that one is not being blocked by paraphernalia .” Practitioners are not talking about emptiness all the time. When one is a practitioner, one can see that three days of struggling with some issue previously have been reduced to, for example, one hour. Rinpoche explained that in a practitioner’s mind negativity always has an opening to something sane, clear. When one is showing off arrogantly, there is a part of the mind that says: “That’s not a very good thing to do, that was too much.” One could say “Stop” or “Shut up” to oneself, creating a speed bump for oneself – this is being a practitioner. It is not dependent on structures. The structures have their uses, but they are supposed to bring us to the point of clarity, mindfulness, awakenedness; reminding oneself, observing oneself, leaving a breathing space for discernment to happen. Rinpoche said that being a Buddhist to start with is fine, but that’s not the destination.
Samsaric ego and holy ego – falling in love with the milestone
Rinpoche quoted Padmasambhava: “When path is mistaken for fruition” we become satisfied with being on a path. This is like falling in love with the nirvanic path, or the milestone. Rinpoche urged us to see that our ego is just shifting gears from destructive, negative patterns to constructive, good patterns. That’s our romantic relationship with spirituality. Rinpoche again said that we bring in solidification and think that is the practice. She asked: “What did you become a Buddhist to do? Sit on a cushion for half an hour? Did you become a Buddhist to say om mani pemehung?” She said that they are important methods and have their uses, but doing just that easily brings complacency, and we feel good about doing so much spiritual movement and get lost in it. There is always a layer of ignorance, and a sense of ego that does not quite want to let go: it is what tells us that there is no urgency about seeing this. Rinpoche pointed out our mind’s habit of leaving fruition to chance, and showed how the ego has only changed from being a samsaric ego to a spiritual, holy-looking ego. But it is the same thing – ego retains its dominance. This just prolongs the relationship to the path of practice. “Dharma was never taught or practised to create a beautiful membership that would last until the day we die,” said Rinpoche, again cutting a few strings of attachment to our holy-looking ego.
The whole point of becoming a Buddhist is that you are not a Buddhist
Rinpoche reminded us that the view is not just in what we think, but has to be evident in the way we build relationships in life: If we believe things are impermanent, we should live life as this is really understood; our perspective has to go through a change. For example, if you really believe and think compassion is true, and you are truly a Buddhist, you have to be nothing but kind. However, we mostly just prostrate to the ideology. “The whole point of becoming a Buddhist is that you are not a Buddhist, ” said Rinpoche. At the beginning, that is the carrot that make us move, as we might not move only by believing in our potential. Talking about Buddhahood, benefiting sentient beings, that is the carrot. At the beginning, being a Buddhist makes you move forward, but after a while it means not getting a label, but breaking free from anything that is conceptual: “I am going to be good because I can be”, not justified by anything. You are compassionate just because you are.
Falling in love with an old skin
On many occasions Rinpoche brought up the teaching that the path is not the fruition. Fruition has to be the path. Fruition is one’s own nature. This is what we need to understand. “It is not the inside relating to the outside, or the outside relating to the inside, but it is this spaciousness within one’s own self that is the basis of one’s experience.” Rinpoche described the path in the following way: “Knowing one’s own potential and being responsible to that potential – that’s the Buddhist path.” She explained about the potential and the methods: “Discovering one’s true potential is truly empowering oneself. You have the freedom to be what you truly are. All the methods that are creating our movement are trying to bring us to realize our potential, but they are a shell, a skin that has to be shed at some point, though they have their uses as long as it is necessary. Imagine a snake shedding its skin, and then it turns back and falls in love with its old skin.”
The traps when we haven’t understood the view
Rinpoche pointed out different ways in which we might get stuck on the path when we don’t have a true view of the path of practice. The teachings say that an emotional person gets caught in kindness, an intellectual person gets caught in emptiness, and the one who wants a pat on the back gets caught in something called Buddha nature.
The fruition is our own awareness and the path is to not to be separated from it
“If the true view of knowing that the whole focus and the crucial point of Dharma are about discovering the potential of human beings to create nothing but happiness and sanity within themselves and then being true to that, if that view is recognized, then that’s really getting the point, being a practitioner,” said Rinpoche, and she continued: “You are a Buddhist because you applied certain methods that are useful, but having shed that, now you are seeing your own mind’s potential as a path of practice.” Fruition is the recognition of our own awareness, and retaining more steady focus and not being separated from that awareness – cultivating that view is our main practice, Rinpoche concluded.
At what point did we start thinking that Dharma is about becoming someone?
Rinpoche asked us: “At what point did we start thinking that Dharma is about becoming someone?” She explained that there are no defined characteristics given in the Buddha’s teachings of what you should be, or what you should be believing in. Buddhism only can teach what you shouldn’t be, and it’s left up to each person to understand within themselves who they are truly and unearth that innate true potential, the truth – which is not copyrighted by Buddhists. What Buddhism can do is explain those things in which we can get stuck, which are not our true nature, and then help to eliminate the destructive causes that impede our realization of our true nature. Rinpoche gave many examples of paradoxes showing how our belief, view and action go in different directions, and so are unable to bring the result of awakening and liberation for which we are aiming. We talk about emptiness and yet get angry. We talk about impermanence and then go and buy one more pair of shoes, and make sure they are long-lasting! We are keeping ourselves spiritually busy by not doing what we really should be doing.
We are good at not grasping
We should continuously question ourselves and discern whether we have the true view, or whether it is just a hypothesis. We should explore: what is the nature of a sound, what is the nature of a thought, what is the nature of emotion? How do we see things and how do we hear things? What is the difference in view between you and someone who has never heard a word of Dharma? How do we behave in a difficult situation – is our behaviour any different from that of the person who has never heard a word of Dharma? We experience emotions and stress, but how do we relate to them – with more spaciousness or with neurosis? We should be checking ourselves, checking how much our rigidity has softened. If it has, then you have the view. Rinpoche quoted Padmasambhava: “Rigidity softened, ambition loosened, offence is not stuck, blame rolls off like the water off the ball, expectations are not the end of the world, hope and fear are the play of the mind, nothing particular but content.” She stated that these are said to be the remarkable qualities of a practitioner. Rinpoche laughed and said: “These things are not difficult – you just have to have a bad memory! We are good at not grasping. We are actually really bad at grasping – look at all the things you are encountering in your life, how many things are you actually able to grasp? How many thoughts do you really remember? Not many. Build up that potential!” Have the attitude: ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ It is the exaggeration, the modification which we bring into everything – that is the problem.” The problem is that our demands are not met. Rinpoche tried to encourage us to find lightness in our life and practice: “Bring in a bit of a sense of humour !”
We become victims of our own addiction to habits
According to Padmasambhava, the true view is described as follows: “Confidence in the view is that which cuts doubt about the basis of our true nature. The essential point of meditation is to remain undistracted from this and the supreme conduct is training in the meaning of view and meditation.” Rinpoche developed this by explaining that the essence of Dharma is to recognize our true nature. To cultivate the view, we should look at what impedes that view. Rinpoche quoted Padmasambhava’s saying that we are a pile of habits, we are nothing other than habits, and those habits are not just habits, but we have become addicted to them. We have the belief that by sticking to those habits we will achieve happiness; and even though we continuously fail we still cling to one more puff of smoke, one more cup of coffee, and we think that at least they are a moment of relief. Rinpoche admitted that we are smart enough to know that anger is not the solution, but there is still pleasure in thinking that we’ve tried. Habitual impulses drag us into this addiction of trying and we become victims of our own addiction – victims of our own anger, our own desire, our own ego, our own arrogance. It is not a good feeling, but it is a familiar one. Even in the pain there is familiarity, and that familiarity encourages us to create that habit again and again. Rinpoche called this a sort of self-abuse that we inflict upon our own selves.
We still try to find that perfect situation
“Why is it so essential to discover our true nature?” Rinpoche asked, and continued: “It is simply because there is no other way – we have tried everything else, we have tried to change everything. Where is there a form that we have not tried to alter and modify, or a sound? We are choosing the sounds we want to hear or not to hear.” If we look more deeply at this, we can see how we bring this control into everything; We always try to tweak the situation to make it 100% perfect. We’ve done this for lifetimes and lifetimes, and we still try to find that perfect situation. But do we find rest by doing so, do we find freedom from unnecessary restlessness? The saddest thing in a human being is this inability to be content and restful. Being smart human beings, with every ability, quality and knowledge, one might think we would already have created the perfect situation. Our whole life is spent being constantly busy, tweaking and modifying every situation to make it peaceful abiding. There are busyness, dissatisfaction and movement in spiritual practice too. Seeing all this, Rinpoche kindly suggested that we should actually be correcting the perspective: maybe the answer is not outside, but rather in the way we see things. Maybe the change should not be in the sound, but in the one who hears the sound. Maybe the change should not be in the thoughts, but in the one who experiences them. The change should be in the base that is relating to every experience.
The very pith view of Buddhist teachings
Rinpoche gave a quote from the mahamudra teachings: “Whether the noble ones of the three times appear or don’t appear, whether the bodhisattvas realize it or not , whether the Buddhas teach it or not, whether the scholars comment and explain it or not, the pure elaboration, the free, luminous nature of one’s own innate nature, that which is primordial and naturally present, neither increases nor decreases.” This is the very pith view of Buddhist teachings. That nature is not brilliant and pure because the Buddhas have taught it that way. It is just simply innate. Rinpoche said that of course we are thankful that some have taught, explained and commented on it, but we need to recognize it innately. She explained that in order to recognize that potential, Dharma view can be put in the very simplest of ways, as three essential perspectives or views: “Not indulging in neurosis, recognizing the opposite, and abiding inseparably within the pure nature that is devoid of neurosis and is cultivating its opposite qualities.” This is the basis of the three yanas. The Hinayana view is “Do not indulge in neurosis or discursive emotions”, the Mahayana view is “Recognizing the opposite of the disturbing emotions”, and Vajrayana can be described as “abiding inseparably within that nature that is free from that which is negative and is cultivating all its opposite qualities.”
“Whether the noble ones of the three times appear or don’t appear, whether the bodhisattvas realize it or not , whether the Buddhas teach it or not, whether the scholars comment and explain it or not, the pure elaboration, the free, luminous nature of one’s own innate nature, that which is primordial and naturally present, neither increases nor decreases.”
You have to ask yourself – what ARE you doing?
Keeping these three views in mind, we need to ask ourselves: are we abstaining from that which is poisonous? Have my desire, attachment, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance decreased? If they have, you have become a more perfect Hinayana practitioner. But if the kleshas are still there, you have to ask yourself – what ARE you doing? In the same way in Mahayana practices: have we cultivated all the opposite qualities instead? Do we have more friendship? Rinpoche brought the ideals down to a realistic level by saying that rather than embracing and loving everyone, we should at least get along with everyone. We should be able to give others enough respect as individuals and accept them for what they are. We can also check that instead of indulging in desires and attachment, there is more of a sense of flexibility with a situation as it arises. Are we able to do simple things like speaking when necessary and keeping quiet when it isn’t, and can you do them without making a big deal out of them? Rinpoche explained with her inner sense of humour that all this doesn’t have to be a spiritual experience. We don’t have to frown and think: “You have been my mother over several lifetimes, I don’t like you, but nevertheless I am going to breathe my compassion to you, and may that dissolve your ignorance.” Instead, can we sort of relax our tightness and rigidity? Rinpoche gave a different view of our ignorance by asking: “Has your ignorance changed – have you begun to loosen the judgemental mind and having very quick opinions?” Ignorance is changing when we begin to have a vaster perspective, when we start seeing that so many things come into being that we cannot say one is better than another.
Rinpoche gave an example from Patrul Rinpoche’s “The Words of My Perfect Teacher”: how many beings are involved in getting you a simple cup of tea? If you take a sip in your mouth, how many beings are you relating to by doing that? No less than 500 beings with whom you have a direct connection. Rinpoche pointed out that this is the global, wholesome view, and then asked how we can then justify saying that the tea tastes bad. To say that would be non-appreciation of all the hard work by all the beings who were involved in producing the tea. She went on to say that we people are so busy with our own selves that we don’t really have time to consider all these things! That’s why we go around saying: “Good, bad, I like you, i don’t like you.” We have these very blunt judgements and are very strongly opinionated, and we are judgemental on the basis of how convenient something is or is not to us. Rinpoche called this having a linear perspective, and explained how that linear perspective leads us into such a point in life that we have to learn compassion and kindness from spirituality – we have to read books to learn to be kind! She made the poignant comment that this is the greatest mark of human ignorance. If we are cultivating something that is positive, a wider, vaster perspective that appreciates everyone and everything, she asked who is better than another. She said that when the biases, partiality and discrimination of a very demanding egoistic mind cease or decrease, one doesn’t have to study something called Mahayana to develop a much more gentle heart. She again pointed out that this does not come from anywhere external, that there is no independent demon called desire, or arrogance. It comes from one’s own mind. Likewise, kindness, a greater, vaster perspective, flexibility and all those beautiful qualities are not dropping from somewhere outside, but are awakened within oneself.
Since both all the negative qualities and their opposites arise from our own mind, it is the mind mind we have to look into. We need to see the destructive things it can create. But when the mind is sufficiently tamed that it ceases to be a victim of its own addictions and habits, there is also an awakening of what is inherent in it, which is the basis of the happiness we seek for ourselves. This happiness could be the basis of happiness for all sentient beings. Rinpoche explained that when this intrinsic mind is awakened, you have the whole 84,000 teachings of Buddha intrinsically within yourself. She said that then it does not matter if you don’t know who Padmasambhava is, or who Tilopa and Naropa are; you don’t need to read those huge volumes of books about mahamudra and dzogchen, which only say one single thing over and over again: “Sit still, be quiet, don’t pursue those mad thoughts, just rest.” Rinpoche laughed, saying it is quite incredible how many thousands of different ways of saying the same thing there are, but acknowledged that the stubborn mind does not “get it” because it is so used and addicted to its own habits. All the complicated teaching of Buddhism came about because our mind does not understand this simplicity. All this complexity is just trying to convey the simplest of things. The view is not the most profound because of how complex it is, but because of how simple it is.
Encapsulating the view, meditation and action
Khandro Rinpoche translated a beautiful, amazing description by Patrul Rinpoche which encapsulates the view, meditation and action:
“If you wish to look into the mirror of the nature of mind, do not look outwards, but look within. Look outwards and it is perpetual delusion, look inwards and you will see your own mind. When you look inwards, do not try to adjust or modify it in the slightest, but leave it as it is, totally free in the natural resting place of the mind, and then through that very experience of leaving the mind in this way, you are on the verge of meeting with the primordial ground. As soon as you leave the mind in its natural state, thoughts naturally cease and are gone. What is left when the natural radiance of the thought ceases, the essence of mind, vivid, free of any fixation or dimension, arises as an experience like that of space. In this empty space, lucid and clear, free of any actual characteristics that one could point to, spacious clarity, unrestrained and unimpeded, there is no one who sees; what is seen is empty, the one who sees is cognizant. These are not two or one; nature being empty, essence clear, is itself impartial compassion when realized by anyone.”
Beginning to understand the capacities of one’s mind
Rinpoche examined this teaching in detail. “If you wish to look into the mirror of nature of mind, do not look outwards, but look within. Look outwards and it is perpetual delusion, look inwards and you will see your own mind.” This should be cultivated in meditation by beginning to understand the capacities of one’s mind and how it functions. Our mind is not a single thing. When we say “mind”, that means various different levels of functioning and capacities, which are usually divided into what are called the eight consciousnesses. Many of us who don’t know what we are talking about when talking about the nature of mind should start by appreciating the first five sense consciousnesses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smell and tactile sensation. We should learn to meditate using them, becoming more aware and observant of them. To be able to be watchful and observant of the activities of the five sense consciousnesses is a doorway to meditation. In Vajrayana there is a sense of rushing to the ultimate. We try to jump into the ultimate, and cannot see that our habits have made our mind so blunt that it cannot even appreciate the subtleties of sensations. So if we cannot understand experience, it is very hard to jump to the nature of experience. We should spend time practising with the senses. Rinpoche encouraged meditators not to take things for granted and never to underestimate the power of distraction. She pointed out that our mind is very unobservant, and we easily lose track of what we are working with. She reminded us that meditation is all about experience, not about intellectual thought.
The five sense consciousnesses
Rinpoche went into detail about the eight consciousnesses, starting with the five sense consciousnesses. She explained that the only activity of which they are capable is to experience, nothing beyond that. They cannot discriminate. The responsibility for discrimination of the sensations is left to the sixth mental consciousness. When an experience arises through a sense consciousness, the mental consciousness evaluates whether it likes it or not.. The activity of the five sense consciousnesses is to experience; the sixth mental consciousness’s activity is discrimination, but it can only discriminate one thing at a time. The more distracted we are, the more the five sense consciousnesses are continuously bombarding the mental consciousness with experiences, and the mental consciousness is working very hard to keep up with what is coming in. This causes its ability to respond to become very clouded, so it actually does a very poor job of discriminating. When this happens it starts giving very gross discernment, such as: “I like it, I don’t like it, maybe I like it, maybe I don’t like it”; basically it starts going between those two, liking or not liking. This is called ignorance. The mental consciousness is ignorant because it is trying to be so smart. It is trying to respond without clarity. The responses based on this unclarity are called karma. When Buddhist teaching talks about ignorance being the cause of suffering, this is what it is talking about.
All the teachings on how to sit, how to think, keeping eyes focused, body still, speech silent, retreat in solitude – all these methods we are given are intended to slow down sensory experiences. We are learning to shoot one thing at a time at the mental consciousness. Rinpoche explained that we are decluttering so that the sixth consciousness has more space to discern more clearly what it is looking at, hearing, thinking; to see a form for what it is, to hear a sound for what it is, to look more penetratingly at thought and its nature. If we have more spaciousness for the mental consciousness, we are really able to look at a form for what it is, without trying to make it into something exotic, imposing an intellectual understanding of emptiness or impermanence on it – which Rinpoche called patchwork.
Give the discriminating consciousness some space
Secondly, we learn to observe the discriminating consciousness. In the beginning we just see how busy it is. Rinpoche advised that in meditation we should let the discerning mind rest, knowing it doesn’t need to be discerning anything . Give it space so it can look at things clearly. Developing virtue, turning negative into positive – all that becomes possible when we give the mental consciousness more space in meditation, when trying to train to be aware of the five sense consciousnesses and their experiences, and then becoming very mindful of the discriminating consciousness. Then we see how much it may be being bombarded, and how much space and clarity it has. We can also see that when it is not continuously in that discriminating mode, it can find more rest and be able to be still for a while.
There is something in the background that can observe
When one is a bit more aware of this, one can move to the third section of meditation, which is to be aware that there is an observing quality to the experience. There is something in the background that can observe the sixth consciousness’s ability to discern. When you are discerning, there is someone watching the discernment. There is someone watching the experience. In Buddhism this pervasive background is usually called awareness. It’s a subtle background or a space which has an awareness quality: you are aware that you are experiencing, aware the consciousness is discriminating, aware it is not discriminating. When we say: “Look at the nature of your mind3, we are not looking at the experience of the discriminating mind, we are looking at this awareness. The characteristic of awareness is two-fold: outward awareness and inward awareness. Outward awareness is so focused on the out-flowing of the discrimination and the experiences, and the awareness becomes so involved in the sixth consciousness’s experience and the discrimination, that the focus is outward. This is called distraction. Rinpoche explained how different methods like the developmental stage, the mandala offering practice, focusing on an object etc., aim to show how we are creating the experiences and projections with our own mind . Then she asked how fascinated we are going to be about that. We are being distracted by a very creative, imaginative mind, our own mind. We live in daydreams, could be’s and why not’s. We perpetually create stories and get drowned in our illusory projections, our imaginings, our own suppositions and assumptions. That is distraction. It is the consequence of awareness facing outwards. We have been following our experiences all our lives, there is nothing new about it, so she suggested giving it a break and continued: “Release the fascination with experiences. Give your awareness a chance to look inwards and you will see your own mind.”
Everything can arise from it
“When you look inwards, do not try to adjust or modify the experience in the slightest, but leave it as it is, totally free in the natural resting place of the mind and then through that very experience of leaving the mind in this way, you are on the verge of meeting with the primordial ground.” Rinpoche explained this as meaning that in this way we are able to see the basis of what it is called awareness. Here one has to question: what does it look like, seemingly feel like, is there anything you can pinpoint as being the nature of your inward awareness? Not seeing anything, yet appreciating it as the basis of everything. First we have only a glimpse of this, but we don’t really see it in all its clarity. Since it is merely a glimpse it is not necessarily an experience, but that is enough as a reference to begin cultivating it further and further.
However, if at any time we say “I am aware”, we are stuck in the seventh consciousness. The seventh consciousness is only an assumption that there is someone seeing, hearing and experiencing. If we are stuck with that, we don’t proceed to the eighth consciousness. The seventh consciousness does not usually need mentioning because it does not exist, though it thinks it exists. It is the mistaken assumption that there is someone. When one is able to see that even though the ground has the potential for anything, it is empty of a someone, this is when the seventh consciousness dissolves into the eighth. There is nothing to see, nothing to hold. Rinpoche described it as almost like a blank state, like just before you fall asleep and are sinking into the ground consciousness. At that time, however, it lacks clarity and instead of becoming meditation it becomes sleep. Then our discriminating mind is taking a break. To develop this we should give ourselves a break from being so dominating in every situation. There is no need to puff up the supposition that there is “me” looking at this. Knowing the nature, knowing that there is nothing other than the nature of emptiness, but yet that within that emptiness there is deepened appreciation of the beauty of whatever it can arise as. Colours can arise from it, beauty can arise from it, ugliness can arise from it – everything can arise from it, and that’s the vivid expressive quality. When that is freed from our demands, freed from our trying to control it, it is called bodhicitta. Compassion is when you free everything from the domain of your constant demands. It is that perfect ease with whatever arises from moment to moment. Rinpoche asked exactly how we were thinking of benefiting all sentient beings. By saying: “You come here, sit here, you go there”? She pointed out humorously that we think that’s how it is going to be when we become Buddhas: we’ll have massive control over everything and be untouched by our own neuroses because we are bodhisattvas, but the rest of them have to be sentient beings utterly grateful for our compassion! She urged us not to be stuck with this kind of thinking. She took a very refreshing view of the verse: “May I liberate all sentient beings”, and said that it has to be correctly understood as: “May I truly liberate all sentient beings from MYSELF.”
Cognizance does not reap the fruit of experience
Rinpoche further explained Patrul Rinpoche’s teaching. When we are able to release experience, discrimination and supposition of ego, when we are truly able to relax within the pervasive, spacious nature of the mind, thoughts naturally cease and are gone. What is left when the natural radiance of the thoughts ceases is vividness, free from any fixation or dimensions; an experience of that space which is lucid and clear arises. Within that spacious, lucid openness, Dharmakaya is nothing other than that moment. Rinpoche clarified: “Free from any actual characteristics that one could point to”as meaning that it is that utterly indescribable state which is spacious, unrestrained by a very demanding mind, unimpeded and absolutely freed from the domination of your impulses. That vivid state without characteristics is usually called Sambhogakaya. What is seen is empty, the one that sees is cognizant. There is no one that sees. In that emptiness, if there is still someone who thinks that he sees, that is retaining the habits of the seventh consciousness. But the teachings are not saying there is no one either. There is cognizance. Is that cognizance a self? It isn’t. Is it clear? Yes. Is it true? Yes. It would not be cognizance if it was biased. If the cognizant aspect of one’s awareness had even a hint of discriminating mind profiting from it and pumping it up, it was never cognizance. It was the sixth consciousness. Cognizance does not reap the fruit of experience: if you say it was a brilliant experience, you are talking about discriminating consciousness which is able to say “brilliant” and “experience”. That’s very dualistic, it is not cognizance. You have to allow cognizance to be as it is. Rinpoche gave an example: “Does the sun ever celebrate its luminosity?” Cognizance does not have to gloat over its cognizance. When you free it from that hope and the subtle grasping at it, what is called non-duality of emptiness and clarity arises from it.
Introduction, familiarization and confidence
Inseparable clarity and emptiness are called one taste, Rinpoche explained. It is empty in nature, vivid and clear in its potency. It is that which is introduced as one’s own nature. The introduction to that intrinsic, non-dual, emptiness cognizant nature through meditation needs to become stronger; you have to become familiar with it until it becomes confidence. The introduction to this nature is called the view, and it may be introduced to you through what is called pointing out the nature of mind. After it is introduced you have to introduce it to your own self, which is called the direct glimpsing. When one trains in becoming familiar with it, that’s called meditation. When the meditation and the familiarization transform into confidence which is so deep and so steady that you are not removed from that state by normal daily activities, that is called conduct. Confidence is when the view becomes the conduct itself and there is no distinction between them. Then you have to burn the bridge of meditation, since it is just a bridge between the view and the conduct. That is when someone can say that there is no difference between meditation and post-meditation. Before this happens you cannot really say: “My daily life is my practice.” That is really laziness and fooling oneself. When the view is missing, even the marvellous small things we do, like breathing light for the benefit of all sentient beings, look like a nice picture but are really just candy floss. “Holding onto this, commenting on that, suffering this, feeling success in that, all these things are just making us feel useful, they are just the drama of grasping,” Rinpoche said, shaking us and trying to make us wake up. Only when one is truly free from them do eating, sleeping, walking and talking become meditation. However, Rinpoche softened the message by saying that those things might be better than doing nothing, since there is some blessing in them.
The result of millions of lifetimes of aspirations and merit
Rinpoche did not spare our ego, but questioned again: What are we doing as Buddhist practitioners?! Are we just trying to fool everyone, the Buddhas, the bodhisattvas, sentient beings, ourselves? Or are we truly able to reflect on the preciousness of this opportunity that we have of being endowed with the brilliant potential of our mind, which can be a source of blessings and great goodness for ourselves and all beings? We are always faced with these two opportunities. Countless lifetimes of merit have brought us here into a state close to fruition and enlightenment. We have the opportunity to move from uncertainty about our own nature to certainty. If we are then able to use this potential, that is the result of millions of lifetimes of aspirations and merit. The other possibility is spiritual materialism – our head just becomes bigger with knowledge and we are keeping ourselves continuously (spiritually) busy. If all the practice we are engaging in is not transforming our attitude, there is not much sense in what we are doing. This is a precious life, so much has been invested in it, and fruition is right there in front of you all the time. Don’t only look and marvel at how wonderful it is and how fortunate you are, and just leave it at that, but be brave enough to bring it into working with your own mind. Rinpoche said that if you still do not have confidence and think you need to remind yourself more about this, there are nine ways of proceeding on the path.
Taking the scenic route
First you take refuge. We know we are equipped with this potential, and we take refuge to give us a sense that we are reducing the ground on which we can revert back to our old habits. When we have taken refuge we have fewer excuses for indulging in neurosis. Taking refuge is a commitment to ourselves to give ourselves less space in which to revert back to distractions and delusions. It is a way of becoming more awakened to our own nature.
Secondly, we develop all of the qualities we are introduced to in the paramita teachings, the four immeasurables, goodness, kindness, and learning to remove all the negative tendencies. This has less to do with religion or dogma, and more to do with taking on a supportive structure to work more closely with our own nature. This is when we are treading on the bodhisattva path.
Thirdly, it is advised to look clearly at what prevents those good qualities from arising. We can find three mistaken ideas: not seeing impermanence, not seeing the truth of interdependence and not seeing the truth of emptiness. Seeing this allows us to remove the flaws and false assumptions and false views which don’t allow us to bring that in which we took refuge to fuller fruition. This is the path of the prajnaparamita and madhyamika teachings.
Fourthly, the Buddhist path encourages us to be more confident in our own nature. It tells us that we are all right , that we could be absolutely happy and content with our own inherent nature. However, we struggle with uncertainty about our own pure nature. This is why Vajrayana becomes an extremely important aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. It speaks to us of one great hindrance: while we are so egoistic, we don’t understanding that ego sustains itself upon enormous fear and insecurity. Ego is nothing other than sophisticated insecurity. If we really look at it, ego is actually lacking in confidence. While we like the idea of the basic pure nature, we are not confident that we are so good. All our lives are about habits and being a victim of those habits. The “victim” mindset is so very present, and so we start acting like any abuse victim. As long as the the idea of the basic pure nature comes from the ego, we like it, but when we start crossing over the boundary and really challenging it, ego shows its true side and becomes very insecure. That’s when fear comes in very strongly and manifests in saying things like: “I can’t do it. I can’t meditate. I am a bad student. I don’t have the time.” We would like to trust more in our positive nature, but it does not seem to be very apparent. That’s when we think: “I can’t be free from grasping / anger / habits.” This is the security of the victim, the psychological security of suffering as a victim but being happy with that suffering because it is comfortable and familiar. This is when relating to perfect purity somewhere outside, Buddha, guru or a deity, becomes valuable. By practising through these methods you eventually start giving your mind the opportunity to see and experience that the purity is not just out there but within. These methods are called the kriya, charia and yoga tantras. Through these methods we have just taken a scenic route. They are all effective in helping us progressively take refuge in our own mind. After them the inner tantras of maha, any and ati yoga begin.
All the teachings have only one aim
Whether Hinayana, Mahayana or Vajrayana, all the yanas, all the teachings are oriented towards just one thing: discovering your own inner potential, intrinsic to yourself. We can take the long route of first seeing it as extrinsic and then slowly proceeding to seeing that it was always intrinsic; or taking the simple, direct approach of mahamudra and dzogchen, seeing that everything arises from one’s own mind and knowing all appearances to be mind, and mind’s nature to be emptiness – as simple as that, and remaining within it.
Nothing changes and yet everything changes
Rinpoche condensed the message, repeating again: “Introduce yourself to it, gain familiarity until it becomes confidence. Confidence is always challenged and checked by how we relate to the world. When anything you encounter becomes too sticky, how are you going to relate to it? If you can take a deep breath and relax a little bit with it, it is the full fruition which sometimes only comes after being on a retreat for 15 to 20 years.” She gave another example by saying that if you are really expecting something and it does not happen, you feel bad about it, but you move on to something else gracefully and with natural simplicity. Someone may reach there by reading a thousand books, and someone may reach there within a moment: “It is entirely up to you,” said Rinpoche, giving us the responsibility. We could have a very long relationship with the Dharma, with lots of pleasure and pain, or our relationship to everything that is Buddhist could be as it should be – a simple, straightforward thing which could be just that little drop of an elixir that has the alchemical potency to bring about nothing but purity in everything we do. Rinpoche said, surprisingly, that the fact that we remain Buddhists for a long, long time is a great concern. She explained that the whole point of the Dharma is that you meet with the Dharma, get the elixir, apply it to your heart, and then somehow you sort of lose yourself and yet develop a very different perspective. Nothing changes, and yet everything changes. In one way nothing changes and yet the way you look at things is completely different. When you can cultivate that ability, then you are truly a practitioner. If you look at our great teachers, they are all human beings. They eat, sleep, go to the toilet , are lazy, get distracted. They do all the normal things humans do. The outer aspect is no different at all. In the case of our great teachers nothing changes, yet the way in which they look at things is very, very different. They would be able to laugh off what might be a very big issue for us, not because they underestimated the issue, but because they would be able to see it in the light of impermanence, emptiness and interdependence. Suffering is suffering for them too, but it is not a catastrophe as it is for some of us. Success is success and one can be happy about it, but without blowing it up to become an identity. Our identity is not based on success or failure. This is how we should practise. Otherwise everything will change and yet nothing will have changed. You’ll have abandoned family, gone into a cave, and you can mumble and bumble and jingle and jangle Buddhist things, and yet there will be the same rotten arrogance, anger, laziness and so forth. Rinpoche finally brought the whole teaching back to where she had started, investment: “None of us should invest in such a mistaken approach.”
From the teachings of:
Her Eminence Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche
Palpung Changchub Dargyeling, Wales UK
28th May 2016
Transcribed / written by: Pauliina Kossi
Proof read by: Sash Lewis