Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Lhaktong (Vipassana)

DJKR 20191127 lhaktong 640px

Thimphu, Bhutan
November 27, 2019
90 minutes

Audio / Video

Commentary by Alex Li Trisoglio: “Introduction to Buddhism – Week 4: Vipassana”

Note 1: This is an edited transcript of a live teaching, and should not be taken as Rinpoche’s final word. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of Please see note.

Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.


1. Introduction

2. The meaning of lhaktong (vipassana)

3. Three insights: anicca, dukkha, anatta

4. Practicing lhaktong (vipassana)

Closing: lung (transmissions)

1. Introduction

The English language has limitations

Strangely I will be speaking in English. there are several reasons for this. My Dzongkha is basically non-existent, that’s one of them. And when I try Dzongkha it ends up becoming Chhokey1Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. The script is called Chhokey (“Dharma language”), and is identical to classical Tibetan., which will probably confuse a lot of you. So I think that for now, the best option just happens to be English. But this is kind of precarious, because English, as I’ve been using the medium, not necessarily just in Bhutan but elsewhere, is a very rich language. Of course, it has amazing nuances and vocabulary. It’s incredible. But even with all that, when we use the English language to express any kind of Asian or eastern wisdom, and especially Dharma, we realise more and more that this is really difficult.

And it’s not only difficult, sometimes we get so self-conscious. As I get older, sometimes I cringe to use English. For example, the word “compassion” is really not adequate to express the meaning of “nyingjé”2nyingjé (སྙིང་རྗེ་) = compassion, the wish to free all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering – see nyingjé.. Or the very famous word “enlightenment” is just one of the worst words you can choose for “tarpa”3tarpa (ཐར་པ་) = enlightenment, nirvana – see tarpa.. And so on and so forth. So before I go through this, I would like us to have this basic agreement between ourselves that the language I’m going to use is not going to be good enough. But anyway, although I feel that all the jargon that I have is not good, I will be using it anyway. No choice.

Many words and concepts about Buddhism are western inventions

I don’t know whether you know this, but so-called “Buddhism” is itself a recently invented term. Just like “Hinduism”. As many of you may know, “Hinduism” never existed in India. It was invented by Abrahamic people, British people. They invented this word. Anybody who belonged to some sort of a spiritual system and lived beyond the Sindhu4Sindhu is another name for the Indus river. river in Pakistan, they all got put together as “Hinduism”. This is why I think there is the discussion about whether Buddhism is part of Hinduism. In this sense, we can say yes, it is. Just because it happened to be on this side of the Sindhu river. So just like “Hinduism”, “Buddhism” is a newly invented word.

Not only that, but something else that you guys should know, is that the categorisation of Buddhism as a religion is also something new. Nowadays when we talk about different religions, we talk about Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Actually, this categorisation of Buddhism as a religion, I suspect is once again because of people like him [DJKR points to a westerner in the audience]. They invented it. I’m serious.

Buddhism is an attitude towards life

Several hundred years earlier, what is now so-called “Buddhism” is actually a way [of being]. More specifically, it is an attitude. I was thinking on my way here, how should we express this in Dzongkha? You may know that people talk about “kham”5kham (ཁམས་) = element, disposition, type, nature – see kham.. This word “kham” has an interesting philology6Philology is the “study of language in oral and written historical sources” (Google dictionary). by the way. And we talk about three different kinds of kham. There’s the Shravakayana kind of kham (attitude), then there’s the Mahayana kham (attitude), and then there’s the tantrayana kham which supposedly has no attitude7Ed.: an “attitude of no-attitude”.. There is a general kham, a more specific kham, and no kham. Supposedly these yogis in the mountains, they have no kham. There’s no attitude.

The shravaka people have a certain attitude. When I say shravaka, for the sake of those who are not so familiar with these words, you can say that this is the Buddhadharma that’s practiced in places like Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand. They have a certain attitude towards life. I used to have a secretary who worked for me, she is a very accomplished biochemist. And because she’s so good at biochemistry, she always travels with her suitcase half-filled with sanitiser or soap. The moment she moves or touches something, she has to use hand sanitiser. This is because she is trained, educated to see things – so she must see lots of bugs everywhere, because this is how she sees. Bugs everywhere, germs everywhere. She used to wear two or three face masks when she came to work for me in India. And yet It’s so strange. She would get sick the most. We build our attitude because we have certain information. In her case, she went to school where she studied chemistry and bugs and germs and all that, so that over the years she developed this attitude towards things, so that’s why she ends up using sanitisers.

Now likewise in so-called Buddhism, I hate to use this word “Buddhism”, there are certain trainings that you receive so that you will have a certain attitude towards life. And then we have the Mahayana, who also have a different kind of attitude. They’re connected, they’re very related to the Shravakayana, but they have a different kind of attitude. Then supposedly there’s tantrayana or Vajrayana, which is supposedly prevailing in our country, in which you’re actually supposed to have no attitude. No attitude towards life. That’s difficult though, it’s really difficult. I wanted to present this idea of “attitude” to you. By the way, the word kham is such a beautiful, profound word. It’s something to jot down for those who really want to understand.

2. The meaning of lhaktong (vipassana)

Lhaktong is the heart of Buddhadharma

So I think we are here because we are supposed to talk about lhaktong8lhaktong (ལྷག་མཐོང་) = vipassana, ‘special seeing’ – see lhaktong. (vipassana). That’s what we are going to do. A few years ago when I was in Bhutan, I was invited to dinner by the Bhutanese elite, and several of the members of this elite had just been to a Goenka vipassana retreat, a mindfulness camp. And they were so impressed, so moved. And they said “don’t we have that in Buddhism?” I actually got depressed for a few weeks upon hearing this. But then I realised it’s actually people like me – Rinpoches, lamas – it’s our fault. We’re not good at packaging, marketing and labelling. We have to speak that language. Because lhaktong, which is the Tibetan translation of the word “vipassana”, is sort of the core, spine, heart, head, and breath – if you like – of Buddhadharma. So I think maybe it’s good to dwell on the word “lhaktong”.

The word “meditation” doesn’t have the connotation of “getting used to”

This is interesting. The moment you hear the word “vipassana”, what is your attitude? Most likely your attitude is “Ah, vipassana, mindfulness”. And what does that mean? Sit straight. Meditation. And by the way, “meditation” is also a terrible word! In Chhokey it’s called “gom”9gom (གོམས་) = meditation, familiarisation – see gom., which actually means “getting used to” or “getting accustomed to”. It’s like you don’t know how to drive, so you go to driving school, and then you try to drive in the driving school with the proper set-up. But you can’t drive there your whole life. You have to go to the street. You have to see the dogs running, the cats going here and there, and the other traffic coming towards you. I don’t know. And then gom, you get used to the technique of driving. And then once you are so good at it, you can use the rear view mirror to fix your lipstick, you can text people, you can drive with one hand and talk looking back. Better don’t do this though! But anyway, this is what happens when we get used to it. Gom.

The word “meditation” does not really tell us this. Actually, the word “meditation” is a very Christian word, I would say. This is also the case for a lot of other things, by the way. I think it’s really important. Sometimes I get frustrated with this, because even here in our country, Bhutan, most of our education curriculum is very much from the British. So I bet that a lot of you, when you say “good”, you mean something that is not really Buddhist. I’m very sure. Yes, superficially of course there’s a similarity between Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism and all of this. But what is “good” in Christianity is different from what is “good” in Hinduism and of course in Buddhism.

Lhaktong means “insight” or seeing the real deal, the true color of life

Going back to lhaktong. The word “lhak”10lhak (ལྷག་) = special, supreme, beyond – see lhak. can mean “something extra”, “insight”, “real deal”, the “true colour”. For example, somebody might look good, polite, and gentle. But their true colour might be very different. So we’re talking about the difference between the superficial projection or superficial understanding of something compared to the real deal, the true colour behind it. That’s what lhaktong is all about. You have to get this. The true colour of life.

The irony is that the moment we use the word “lhaktong” or “vipassana”, people immediately seem to think it’s a meditation, but actually it’s really not. Not necessarily. In the entire Buddhist canon, there’s not a word called “lhak gom”11This would mean something like “special practice” or “real practice”.. The word is “lhaktong”, where the word “tong”12tong (མཐོང་) = seeing, noticing, experiencing – see tong. means “seeing”, “realising”, “awakened with”. When it comes to gom, the path of “getting used to”, then yes, you fabricate. Whereas “lhaktong” means seeing the true colour. The true nature13Here Rinpoche is saying that gom involves fabrication, whereas lhaktong is about seeing the unfabricated truth..

The true colour of life is something very ordinary, not something special

But again, the moment I use the word “true nature” I’m sure many of you are immediately rushing to “Ah, true nature – something very magical, mystical”. You think that if you try really hard, for example if you do kora14kora (བསྐོར་) = circumabulation – see korwa. around the Thimphu chörten15chörten (མཆོད་རྟེན་) = stupa – see chörten. ten thousand times, then maybe you will see this true colour. But this is really not true! It is important that we realise this.

Especially in the Buddhadharma, the true colour or insight, is so simple. It’s ridiculously simple and ridiculously mundane. It’s so ridiculous, that’s why it’s called “holy”. Actually the mahamudra lineage, the Drukpa Kagyupas, they actually use the word “tamel gyi shepa”16tamel gyi shepa (ཐ་མལ་གྱི་ཤེས་པ་) = ordinary mind – see tamel gyi shepa. which means the “ordinary mind”. They detest anything that is “special”. Ordinary. Naked. Raw, Uncooked. Unaltered. Unconditioned. Truth. This is what we are talking about.

But I know that many of us think, “Ah, he’s talking about something really profound, so profound”. The word “true nature” is so deceiving isn’t it? You think it’s so profound, and so immediately you distance yourself from this profound truth, thinking “me, I’m not so profound”. As if there’s a great distance between you and the profound truth.

3. Three insights: anicca, dukkha, anatta

I. Anicca (impermanence)

So let’s decipher this a little bit more. Lhaktong means seeing insight, seeing the real colour, seeing the truth. Let’s discuss this on a more chewable, more understandable level first. Impermanence, that’s one of them. Impermanence, that is one raw, naked truth. And when I say “impermanence”, most Buddhists think “Ah, Rinpoche is talking about death”.

Of course, I don’t even have to mention that you and I are going to die anyway. That’s given. But I’m not only talking about that. I’m talking about everything, including our paradigm of our life and our values. About 10 years ago I worshipped the BBC. I worshipped The New York Times. Now I detest them from the bottom of my heart. It’s terrible. You see? Impermanence. I never used to understand why people like to have tea. Now, I’m becoming a kind of tea connoisseur actually. I know about Earl Grey, about the right temperature at which to make tea, all of this.

Our values are impermanent

Values. How you relate to people. Individually. Nations. We Bhutanese may be so proud that we’re Buddhist and we may think this Buddhism is going to go on forever. You better think twice. Japan was once one of the most important and most powerful Buddhist countries. Look at Japan now. Almost all the temples are basically just a little bit more than a museum. Daitoku-ji temple, one of the biggest temples in Kyoto, only has something like 10 monks. If Japanese Buddhism cannot survive, what chance do we have? We’re so small.

Yes I’m sure that many of us, you and me, we think “for my whole life I’ll be Buddhist, that’s for sure”. You better think twice. You might end up becoming a Zoroastrian. Who knows? We never know. All it takes is a small cause and condition. What might that be? If you happen to fall in love with a very handsome Persian Iranian Zoroastrian. Oh my god! You know, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha [will soon be forgotten]. Do you understand? That’s all it takes. And vice versa, by the way. What we value today is impermanent.

Something more amazing is the impermanence of meaning. You know that words have meaning? Even that changes. It’s so shocking that in our lives even the meaning of words changes. Now that’s scary actually. Or I should say, that’s enlightening. This is something you need to see. This is something you really need to see. Lhaktong, extra seeing, insight, having the real picture, having the insight. This is what you need to see.

Vipassana is much more than sitting meditation

And that can be achieved not necessarily by sitting like this [Rinpoche assumes meditation posture]. That can be achieved through discussing like this. So if I tell you that today for two hours we are going to do vipassana – and not just talk about vipassana but actually do vipassana – but we will not sit, no mantras, nothing. Just talking. Just constantly pulling the rug out from under your feet. This is valid, a valid lhaktong. It is a valid vipassana.

While I’m on this subject, I want to just add something else. Many of the youngsters here, probably not the older generation, but the younger generations might think “Okay, what about circumambulating the stupa, lighting the karmé17karmé (དཀར་མེ་) = butter lamp – see karmé., lamp, prayer flags. Where does all this come in?” They are actually vipassana, I’m telling you. And I think you may enjoy printing a prayer flag more than sitting like this for three hours. It is actually vipassana.

All our mural paintings, even pouring the water bowl offering, they are vipassana. Do you really think that Buddha gets thirsty and you have to diligently feed him water? You can’t be that stupid! What good does it do, some lamp burning there? And then torma: you try to eat those. They’re supposedly food. You try to eat this, you’ll have diarrhoea! But it is a sacrifice. It’s a practice. And it’s not only vipassana, it’s also shamatha. Pilgrimage – you should go to pilgrimage, to Paro Taktsang or Bumthang, and every step you take [is vipassana]. Even if you don’t think anything good – maybe you’re only counting money from your doorstep all the way to Taktsang, or you may only be thinking about how to outwit other people etc. – but nevertheless the small effort that you took is a vipassana.

And not only that, but you can also turn [other] things into [vipassana]. For example, Bhutanese are really good with etiquette. And with the right motivation and right attitude – attitude, remember – all your etiquette, all your standing and so on, all of that could become a vipassana. I’m serious. Many of you might think I’m modifying Buddhism a little bit, but no, actually I’m not. I’m really like the most conservative Taliban of Buddhism. People somehow associate me with being very modern, but actually I’m not. What I have been saying is not something that I created or invented. I bring this from the sutras. If any of these khenpos or lamas debate with you, send them to me.

These are all words of the sutras. According to the Buddha, he said that if have a Kangyur text or sutra text and you never read it – if you don’t do anything, if you just have it in your house – it’s still a worthy act. Why? Because these books are big. They take up a lot of space, but yet you try to have them. And that’s a sacrifice. And also it involves a sense of wanting to appreciate, long for and venerate the words of wisdom. These are very much vipassana. You need to know this.

The external world is changing

Okay, so that’s one insight. Anicca18anicca (अनिच्चा) = impermanence – see anicca.. If you go to Thailand, they’ll call it anicca. Impermanence. That’s one insight. It’s having the insight that things are going to change. They’re changing rapidly. For instance, our neighbour India – some say that in about 20 years there will be more Muslims than Hindus. The Bhutanese say, “Oh that’s their concern”. No, you will have less phaksha paa19phaksha paa = pork with red chillies, a popular traditional Bhutanese food.. Muslims don’t eat pork, so more Muslims means less pork, which means that your phaksha paa is in trouble! This is how things work. The paradigm is shifting. The world is shifting. And then our small individual life. Oh my – so much changes! What you are thinking today is not going to be there tomorrow. Probably not next year.

How does this [insight about impermanence] help? It actually frees you. It liberates you. We all want freedom, don’t we? Freedom is the most important. And when you see the truth, the true colour, it really liberates you. Because when you don’t see the true colour or the real thing, you have all kinds of false expectations, false hopes, and false fears.

II. Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness)

And this then leads us to the next insight, which is dukkha20dukkha (दुक्ख) = suffering, unsatisfactoriness – see dukkha.. Again, the English word “suffering” is not good at all as a way to express the meaning of the word “duk ngel”21duk ngel (སྡུག་བསྔལ་) = the Tibetan translation of dukkha – see duk ngel.. I think in Chhokey it is directly derived from the Sanskrit duḥkha, “duhkh” in Hindi, which is a very profound word. I think the English word “suffering” only refers to a painful situation, doesn’t it? But the word dukkha is not only about pain. It refers to anything that has uncertainty, that is unsatisfying and that does not have a true substance.

It’s a bit like you won a lottery in your dream. In the middle of your dream you think you won a lottery, but then you realise it’s a dream. And you’re still dreaming. What to do with this [money] now? It’s kind of sad, isn’t it. But then if you’re savvy, if you’re good at it22i.e. vipassana. then you can enjoy the money. Okay, just imagine, hypothetically speaking, that you dream this around 11pm at night, “Lottery, oh!”. 12am, 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am, and maybe at 7am you get up – so you have eight hours to enjoy this money! Yes, buy a big flat in best part of town. Buy an SUV. Do whatever. eight hours – that’s a lot! If you are savvy, it can feel like 80 years. And the greatest thing about this is that by 6:45am, 6:50am, 6:55am – as you’re about to wake up – the greatest thing is there are no regrets! No regrets at all, as all this doesn’t exist anyway. You see? Seeing the truth, seeing the true colour. We’re talking about dukkha. That’s another one.

III. Anatta (selflessness)

Now the next one is going to be a little bit tough, but we should try not to avoid this. Anatta. Selflessness. That’s another true colour of things – the selflessness of things. We have already talked about this with the dream lottery money. This should also tell you that when Buddhists say “everything is emptiness”, now you should know that Buddhists don’t mean that things do not exist. The dream money exists in the dream. You can even spend it for eight hours. You can spend it for a long time. So when we talk about “everything is emptiness” we’re not talking about everything being totally non-existent. Okay, so that – lhaktong, seeing the true picture, the true colour – that is the wisdom of vipassana.

4. Practicing lhaktong (vipassana)

You need to develop the right attitude

How do we train ourselves to immerse ourselves in this wisdom? How do we utilise it, so to speak? Remember the example that I gave of my secretary, the biochemist who uses sanitiser and all that?

Okay, so let’s talk about becoming a Dharma practitioner, “chöp”23In the following section, Rinpoche uses “chöp”, which is an abbreviated form of chöpa – see chöpa. or “chöpa”24chöpa (ཆོས་པ་) = religious practitioner, Buddhist, Dharma practitioner – see chöpa. The word is based on chö (the Tibetan word for “dharma”), which has a wide semantic range including (a) Dharma, reality, true nature, (b) phenomenon, property, (c) practice, way – see dharma.. What is chöp? My secretary. [She is a practitioner] in the context of biochemistry. Diligently, because she sees things with germs and therefore constantly needs to clean her hands. Likewise, how does one become a chöpa? How does one become a Dharma practitioner? Contrary to what a lot of people think, you don’t have to quit your job. That doesn’t make you a chöpa, I’m serious. You don’t have to stop using foundation. Nothing. By all means do all of those. Use foundation, use shampoo, eat vitamins. Do all kinds of things. Exercise, yes. But know that it’s not going to help, fundamentally. We will all die. But just like the lottery money, yes, buy the best foundation. Buy the best everything. Do whatever.

It is about our attitude towards life. Because if you think that the moisturiser lotion is going to fix your skin forever, you’re doomed. You have a problem there. You have no vipassana. But if you put on the lotion and then think, “Yes, I’m getting old, I’m 60 now”, and you look in the mirror, “Anyway, it may still help a little bit, which is all I ask for. Just a little bit”. And also, “When I use it, it makes me think I’m young, and that’s all that counts anyway, right?” You’re beginning to become a chöp. I’m serious. So this kind of chöp will have a bathroom full of different lotions and different hand creams. But inside, you know that it is getting close to 6:55am. You’re about to wake up. And what is your attitude? “It doesn’t matter, I never had it anyway”. This is chöp. [This is the attitude of a Dharma practitioner].

And by the way, you may not necessarily carry a mala. You may not necessarily chant mantras or do all the kinds of things that Dharma practitioners do, or that they appear to do. And sometimes they’re very hypocritical. What did Milarepa say? Milarepa said “My religion is not deceiving myself”. Not telling lies to oneself – that is what makes you chöp.

And remember I told you that Buddhism somehow ended up categorised as a religion by the Europeans, the Abrahamic people? Whereas in the ancient times, [people understood that] Buddhism is a science. It’s about learning a certain attitude. And when you have that attitude you are chöp. Like you are a chemist [if you train yourself in developing the attitude of a chemist]. You are a mathematician. You are a soldier. You are a politician. When you are a politician, the moment you talk or think, you think in terms of politics. Or if you are a photographer, if you are a trained photographer, your mind thinks in terms of composition, colour, the moment, the lighting and all this. Just like that, the vipassana training trains you to have a certain attitude towards life.

You will develop empathy and caring for others

As you train yourself to have this kind of attitude, invariably you will develop empathy. So now imagine you are sleeping with somebody. And you are having the same dream. You dream about winning the lottery. And he also, or she also, dreams about winning the lottery. But you know it’s a dream, and she doesn’t. She’s seriously making plans. You on the other hand, you know this is [just a dream]. [Your attitude is] sort of like, “let’s enjoy”. But she’s running round Phuentsholing25A Bhutanese town on the south-west border with India. and Jaigaon26A town in India, just across the border from Phuentsholing., custom-made, safety deposit, all of this.

And it’s already around 6:45am. Also for her. And you really want to say, “You know, this is not really happening. Don’t you think we should just enjoy this?” Now if you have somebody who is really open and smart, you’re lucky. But most of them will think, “Ah, he’s jealous”. Or they might say, “You can do what you like, but who are you to be telling me these things?” But you really care. You really care for this person. You know she or he is having a delusion. Then what do you do? You tell lies. You tell lies with a right intention, so that she or he will understand that this is a dream lottery. And this is why we Buddhists call it “skilful means” by the way, “thab ké”27thab ké (ཐབས་མཁས་) = skilful means, skill in means – see thab ké. or “supreme mind”.

You don’t need to quit your job

I meet a lot of people, including many young people, and I’m quite impressed. Every time I come, they always say that they want to become a chöp. But every year they come back and they tell me they haven’t done it yet, but they really want to do it. This is actually not their fault. It is people like us, teachers. We haven’t given them the right information. You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to do anything. You start now. And when I say “you start now”, again a lot of people think “Okay, start now. So from tomorrow I will do the sitting for this many hours, and I will chant mantras for this many hours”. I think this will only hinder your attitude towards practice.

Practice is everywhere, all the time.

Yes, by all means, if you happen to have the inspiration at times. But you know, inspiration fluctuates. Sometimes it comes up, for example the inspiration “I want to become nun, I want to become monk”. All that. Other times, you have a lot of things to do, like catching up with the Game of Thrones, or calling up friends and hanging around. And there’s another thing that many modern young people think, [namely] that there are a lot of obstacles. And when I hear their obstacles, the reasons they give for why they are not practicing their chöp – what I call “attitude” – it’s always things like “not enough time”, “not the right environment”. They’re not really good excuses. They’re very lame. But I understand where this is coming from.

We don’t practice because we don’t understand what vipassana actually is

It’s coming from not really having the proper understanding of what vipassana actually is. And I think that in Bhutan, as I have said many times in the past, that the culture and the tradition many times hijacks the Buddhadharma. This happens everywhere, by the way, not just in Bhutan. Yes, Chinese culture has hijacked Chinese Buddhism. Japanese culture has hijacked Japanese Buddhism. This happens all the time. And it is kind of inevitable, because culture and tradition are somehow necessary, because it’s a vessel. You need culture.

Culture is a language, basically. Culture is a very gross language, and without it you just don’t know what to do. You feel like you need to do something, and this is also the reason why you are asking these kinds of questions. For instance, many of you come to me and not necessarily just me but many other teachers probably, with a sense of guilt that you have not lit enough karmé or that you have not chanted enough mantras. Because the culture and the tradition have told us that as a chöp you have to finish this set of numbers, or this set of days of practice.

I would rather you come with a sense of guilt, sort of saying “I only realised the lottery money when it is 6:59am”. You understand? The 7 o’clock alarm. The dream lottery money is no more, right? So if you come and say, “you know, I missed it” many times – the lottery-dream-alarm – it would be better. I don’t know whether you’re getting my analogy. Maybe I’m confusing you. This sense of not being able to understand that this is just a dream. Because that would bring lhaktong, insight. Seeing the insight. “Lhak” is insight, “tong” is seeing.

Just a little bit more about the methods. Many of these methods, by all means, many of them are precious. So as much as I was earlier seemingly sort of telling you that sitting is not vipassana, I want to explain that sitting is a good method. But I don’t want you to think that in order to do lhaktong, in order to do vipassana, that sitting is the only way. In fact, and I’m repeating here, lhaktong is seeing the true colour of life. I’ve basically explained anicca more, dukkha a little bit, but selflessness is a little difficult. Basically [it means that] things are not as they appear. Things do not exist as how they appear. This is vipassana, if you can apply it to all the aspects of you life. And again, I’m not making it up. Don’t think that I’m modifying this.

The tea ceremony

You must have heard about Zen? Japanese. Are there any Japanese here? If there are, I’ll be even more mean. They have lost it, they have lost a lot. For instance, like the tea ceremony28chado (茶道) = the Japanese art of the tea ceremony – see chado.. The tea ceremony is a really profound method to invoke shamatha and vipassana. And also the Japanese ikebana29ikebana (生け花) = the Japanese art of flower arrangement – see ikebana., flower arrangement. And so on and so forth. Now most Japanese people just think it’s culture. They think it’s just Japanese tradition. Of course, we in Bhutan can think that way as well.

For instance, imagine you have a tray like this. If it’s just yourself alone, with a tray, you place it [on the table], and you make a discipline. For example, this tray should be not even half an inch to the side there, not even half an inch here. [It should be nicely aligned]. That kind of discipline.

Because when we talk about method, we’re talking about means. Have you watched “Enter the Dragon”, the Bruce Lee movie? Bruce Lee says this. He’s quoting from a Zen teaching by the way, “When I point with my finger towards the moon, don’t look at the finger, look at the moon”. The finger is necessary. But many people look at the finger instead of the moon. Many fingers are necessary. You can point all ten of them if you want, but that might confuse you. Sometimes, just [pointing with just one finger] is good. Just like that. Other times, you know like the traffic police in Thimphu [you point with your whole arm]. It does add up. It creates the style. I’m serious.

And when you think about this [i.e. the discipline of your tea ceremony], don’t think about the argument that you had with your friends, or the text message that you should be sending. Just think about this. And then all these [aspects of your discipline], you create. And the cup, how do you want to put it? Like this? Or like this? And then this [napkin] is also very well folded. This is what it is, I’m serious. This is the tea ceremony.

Other ways to practice vipassana

And believe it or not, things like tshechu30tshechu (ཚེས་བཅུ་) = annual Bhutanese religious festivals (literally “day ten”) – see tshechu. and cham31cham (འཆམ་) = sacred dance – see cham. [are also methods of vipassana]. Have you watched cham? Supposedly every movement is [vipassana]. I’m sure that the guys there are maybe not thinking like this, but that’s how it is. Cham. You know, like balancing. Coordination. Really falling.

So just as the Japanese have come up with the Zen tea ceremony, why don’t we Bhutanese create an ema datshi32ema datshi (ཨེ་མ་དར་ཚིལ་) = the Bhutanese national dish of chilli peppers and cheese – see ema datshi. ceremony? Should we? I think we should. Because I think it’s really the most simple dish, and yet it’s the most tasty, isn’t it? You put everything together. And then you can do it three ways: the Shravakayana attitude ema datshi, the Mahayana attitude ema datshi, and then throwing everything with the Vajrayana attitude ema datshi. And then you can alter it. Let’s say you are one of those people who are like a pain in the neck, so disciplined, so meticulous. Then you can throw in some of the tantric attitude. Yes, by all means cook ema datshi in the momo33momo (མོག་མོག་) = stuffed dumplings – see momo. steamer? Why don’t you do this? Try. Or maybe you feel like a tantric ema datshi today – chilli, cheese, water, salt, and … chocolate! Lots of chocolate. Eat it without attitude. Without the attitude, “Oh, this is not right”. There is no right and no wrong. This is the tantric attitude.

So anyway, many times gom is like this [Ed.: Rinpoche sits in a meditation posture], and I’m telling you it’s also this [Ed.: Rinpoche drinks tea?]. There’s no difference between them.

When you are in the kitchen chopping onions, you can do vipassana. Even better, when you are having a heated conversation, fighting with your husband or wife – yes, this is such a good time to do vipassana. Okay, if your husband is talking like this [with his voice raised], decide to look at his upper lip. Just the upper lip, nothing else. Oh, by the way you need skilful means, so from time to time say, “eh … inna?”34”Inna” means something like “is it?” in Dzongkha.. It doesn’t matter [when you do this], but otherwise he may get more angry. So you need to respond. I’m really not making these things up. Of course, maybe I’m using contemporary analogies, but that’s okay. People have used this in the past also.

Confidence and discipline

Yes. That’s it. So when you do this, no judgment. And there are different kinds of attitude, remember? There’s one attitude, a second attitude, then no attitude. As you do that, what will then happen? This is a big subject, but as you do that, you will judge yourself less [and be less self-critical]. When you judge yourself less, you have more confidence. Confidence. It’s a bit like those cow herders in rural Bhutan, wadipa35wadipa (ཝ་དི་པ་) = cowherd – see wadipa.. Wadipa. It’s such a good word. You know, they have their cows here and there, and they’re so used to the act of whistling at these cows. They are totally confident. So confident. Now when these guys move here to Thimphu, they have no cows and they can’t do this whistle. And there are all the other people who are not wadipas, but basically they’re probably as insecure as any of the wadipas. But these poor wadipas from the countryside come here and they can’t climb trees because there are no trees, they can’t whistle at cows because there are no cows, and then their confidence goes down. And then I think they sing sad songs.

Don’t overdo it

There’s cooking, we talked about this. And by all means, if you can afford to, yes go shopping. Do 24 hours online shopping if you want and if you can. If you can spare the money. But how about incorporating vipassana into this? What do you think? With discipline, again. And maybe we [should] dwell a little bit on the topic of discipline. Many people, the younger generation especially, don’t like the word “discipline”. They think it’s all so dreadful, the very word “discipline”. But it doesn’t have to be.

[You can] start with a very small amount. Be consistent. These are the words of the Buddha. And start with things that do not cost you. This is the key word: “that do not cost you”. Remember I talked about chöpa? You can offer eight or seven bowls of water. It doesn’t cost you. Well, not yet too much, although the world is changing. This is why the past masters have suggested [water offerings]. Because until now, water is kind of free, cheap, it doesn’t cost you anyway. So this is why you can start your discipline with something that does not necessarily cost you too much. Be consistent. And be creative. If your so-called meditation is not working at all in the chösham36chösham (མཆོད་བཤམ་) = shrine room, altar – see chösham., do it in the kitchen. Not necessarily sitting. This is important. If your ngéjung (renunciation mind)37ngéjung (ངེས་འབྱུང་) = renunciation mind – see ngéjung. is not working in front of Thimphu chörten, do it in a drayung38Karaoke bar. The word is transliterated into English both as “drayung” and “drayang”. if you like. Really, kind of really sad isn’t it? Those dim lights – wow, they’re perfect, actually. But when you do it, don’t overdo it. Don’t do it for two or three hours, because this is a sign that you will not continue. You will only do it a day or two and that’s it.

Actually, when you feel like really wanting to do chö39chö (ཆོས་) = Dharma practice – see chö., for example let’s say it’s Saturday and you really want to do chö, to practice. Yes, practice for half an hour and then go and play archery or something. And watch this lingering feeling, “Oh, I should be practicing Dharma”, but keep on playing. Keep on playing archery or whatever. And watch this feeling, this longing, “I didn’t do enough, I didn’t go closer to the truth enough”. You need to create this. Be creative. [Do it] on the days when you really want to do it. And if you overdo it, you will not long for it.

Humility and confidence

You will think, “Ah, today I did quite a good job of Dharma practice!” You will boast about it, and you will feel that you have done a great job. You’ll be very proud, and you’ll be showing this off to other people. This is kind of interesting. The great Jigme Lingpa, one of the Nyingmapa masters, said we need the humility that “I must see the truth, I’m not seeing it enough”. We need that humility and also, when you see the truth even for a moment, thinking “Ah, that’s good”. We need that confidence.

On the way to actual gom or nyamlen40nyamlen (ཉམས་ལེན་) = Dharma practice, spiritual practice – see nyamlen. or Dharma practice, sometimes we think that what we do is never enough. So you end up being hard on yourself, and always compare yourself to other chöp [practitioners], thinking “I can’t do it like him or her”. Having this kind of reference, this kind of self-judgment doesn’t help.

If you manage to be aware of this truth41In other words, if you can see the true color of reality, i.e. practice vipassana. even for a moment, you should be happy and confident. You need both of these two: humility and confidence. I think it will take a little bit of time, especially in the beginning, to juggle these. Because if there’s too much humility, there’s loss of confidence. And if there’s too much confidence, it slowly transforms into pride and then there’s no more humility. So balancing these two.

Some traditional methods of vipassana

We will discuss some more traditional method of vipassana just briefly, so that you know. The one that has been popular recently, which I mentioned earlier – remember, some of my Bhutanese friends thought we don’t have it – I think many of you know about it. Nine days vipassana, seven days vipassana, one month vipassana. There’s that. There are countless methods on this, and each tradition, each teacher will have slightly different nuances, and they’re all great. Not one is lesser than the other. Also it depends on who you are, how you connect. Many of you may be not really inclined towards visualisations and all the choga (rituals)42choga (ཆོ་ག་) = rituals, sadhana practice – see choga., so by all means do something formless such as concentrating on the breathing.

Have you ever thought about this? A lot of vipassana instructors will tell you to concentrate on breathing. Why concentrate on breathing? It’s got nothing to do with your breathing being so holy. Your breathing is just breathing. It’s not special, it’s not not-special, it’s just breathing. But if you concentrate on your breathing, it makes you realise a lot of different things. For instance, it makes you realise that things are drifting all the time. Changing. Drifting. Shifting. All the time. So even just from that point of view [it’s vipassana].

One of the most popular methods here in Bhutan is chanting mantras such as OM AH HUNG BENZA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG or OM MANI PADME HUNG. Believe it or not, this is also a vipassana. [There are] many reasons. For one, when you are chanting OM AH HUNG BENZA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG even just a single time, during that time you’re saved from talking nonsense. You could be talking nonsense, you could be just gossiping, you could be slandering, you could be lying, you could be cheating. But instead, okay you’re not really thinking about Guru Rinpoche, you’re not thinking about compassion, you’re not thinking about anything that might be called “holy”. But when you chant OM AH HUNG BENZA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG, your mouth is occupied. So even from that sense, it brings you closer to the truth43Because even if you’re not doing anything positive, you’re doing less that is negative. So the overall direction is positive.. So don’t think that chanting mantras is not vipassana. It is. Any challenge is very welcome. I can explain.

Of course you can do much more. You can do utpattikrama, sampannakrama, visualisation meditation, and then you can do the mahamudra, mahasandhi, all that. Depending on how open you are. Remember I mentioned the three kinds of stages. There’s the Shravakayana kind of attitude, there’s the Mahayana kind of attitude, and there’s the tantric kind of attitude. If you think that you can be ready for the tantric attitude, yes, there are all the methods of tantric vipassana.

Seeing the truth and cultivating compassion

Basically, vipassana means seeing the truth, seeing the true colour. And this is the core, heart, eyes, lungs, breath of Buddhadharma. Seeing the truth. And when I say “the truth”, notice this: I’m not talking about anything mysterious, I’m not talking about something where you need to have some sort of revelation. It’s simple, raw, day-to-day, mundane truth. Such as impermanence. Such as dukkha. Such as selflessness. That.

And what does it do? The more you know this truth, the more you feel for those who don’t understand the truth. Remember the example I gave you? You feel for them and you will try to share this truth. If the person is open, share directly. If the person is not open, go round and try to bring them to the truth. And this – I hate to use the word – is called compassion. mahakaruna, nyingjé chenpo44nyingjé chenpo (སྙིང་རྗེ་ཆེན་པོ་) = mahakaruna, great compassion – see karuna.. It’s not at all “compassion” actually, that’s the wrong word45Compassion is defined in English as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others” (Google dictionary). The English definition lacks the connotation of “not seeing the truth” that underlies a Buddhist understanding of suffering and compassion. It lacks vipassana. For further information on the Buddhist definition of compassion, see: (glossary): 3 types of compassion.. But we have been using this word too much, so we somehow need to de-program ourselves from this one.

Yes in the process of translating the Buddhadharma, we learned a lot how language is so important, so special. A few days ago, we were talking about the political and social situation of the world, and how we in Bhutan, like a small nation, are bombarded with so much information and so many social changes. For example, names. How many of you are Pema? Raise your hands. How many Tashi? How many Wangchuk? How many Dorje? How many Sangye? You know, all these names are not Bhutanese names. I’m serious. Pema is Sanskrit for “lotus”46padma (Sanskrit: पद्म)..

Tashi is Sanskrit47Tashi (བཀྲ་ཤིས་) = “good fortune”, “good luck”, “auspiciousness”. According to Jeffrey Hopkins, it also means “swastika”, which is from the Sanskrit svasti (स्वस्ति) = “well”, “happily”, “successfully” – see tashi.. Phüntshok means “Lakshmi”48Lakshmi (Sanskrit: लक्ष्मी, IAST: lakṣmī).. The core Bhutanese names like Dengup, Kado and Yongba – wow, those are really almost dead, because of Indian Buddhism. Have you thought about this? And what about Tashi Tagyé49Tashi Tagyé (བཀྲ་ཤིས་རྟགས་བརྒྱད་) = The Eight Auspicious Symbols – see Tashi Tagyé.? Why do we care about those two fish50One of the Eight Auspicious Symbols is a pair of golden fish, sernya (གསེར་ཉ་) – see sernya.? You know, as Bhutanese we’re more worried about jasmine and the yak. But those two fish, what are they? And when you do mandala offering, you offer this holy cow. Guess where that came from. Holy cow.

Preservation and modernization

Nowadays, we have a different kind of invasion through the English language alone. It doesn’t just affect language, but also the way we understand, just everything. Everything that we try to decipher or try to value [is being influenced by the] European, American, western way. And many of them, even we Bhutanese think are immoral. I guess I can speak about this, since we have developed a certain feeling. There are no kids here, right? About 30 years ago, 35 years, I used to go to East Bhutan. You know, I studied in India, and every time I would come back, I would go to East Bhutan. And then these ladies would take off their shirts, “can you please touch here, because I have a heart problem”. Every time I came back from India, I would feel a little bit strange. What should I do? But after two or three days, the Bhutanese [attitude] came back, it just doesn’t even bother about this. But now the Christian culture of bra and all these things has begun, hasn’t it?

This is how the way things change – the we see things, the way we value things, the meaning of morality, the meaning of ethics. I don’t think we can do much actually, it’s a bit too late. But I think some people should speak about it from time to time. Because as Bhutanese we have some really good things. For example, have you ever imagined that you’re not Bhutanese and you suddenly land in Paro airport and you go through this building with this big penis painted on it? We Bhutanese are kind of proud of it. But those are going to go. In 20 years there will be lawsuits if you have that painted. I’m serious. [People will say] it’s pornography.

Yes. And we will be such suckers for these kind of values. Modernisation. Basically the world is changing and values are changing. And yes it’s so nice to see that all of us, our friends here, are still chewing the paan51paan (पान) = a stimulating, psychoactive preparation of betel leaf combined with areca nut and/or cured tobacco that is widely consumed in Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Indian subcontinent – see paan.. We still eat ema datshi, we still wear the gho and kira52The Bhutanese traditional national dress for men and women – see gho and kira., and we are still sort of singing those very sentimental and romantic songs. It’s fantastic. But you really need to know [this will change]. Because the nation is small. Much bigger nations have changed. We talk about cultural preservation and our values, but we can’t afford to be a museum. We can’t stay as a museum piece. We need to understand how things are. And anyway, that is lhaktong, remember – seeing the truth. We need to prepare for this.

Closing: lung (transmissions)

I think that’s about it for tonight. I’m very happy to see you. And yes, before I leave, those who are Buddhist here, those who are following the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, I will give you a lung53lung (རླུང་) = reading transmission – see lung.. Those who are not Buddhist, you don’t have to leave. You can just observe. It doesn’t mean that you have received this. First I’ll do the Tashi Tsekpa54Tashi Tsekpa (བཀྲ་ཤིས་བརྩེགས་པ་) = “Heap of Goodness”, a dharani from the Collection of Dharanis གཟུངས་འདུས་ – see Tashi Tsekpa.. I notice that everybody does this, so I will do this lung.

[Rinpoche gives lung for Tashi Tsekpa].


[Ed.: please note that Rinpoche has stated that you can only receive a lung (aural transmission) through a live transmission, not through a recording. So if you are listening to a recording of this teaching or reading a transcript, that does not constitute an aural transmission].

For those who are interested, this last mantra is for Guru Dragpo [Wrathful Guru Rinpoche]. The reason why I was giving you this mantra lung is because this so-called modern age has one big problem, and that is alienation. How do you say this in Dzongkha? Anyway, a big part of the alienation problem is that we asked for it: democracy, individual rights, everybody just stuck with their own things. So everybody alienates themselves. But everybody is lonely. So it’s such a contradiction, you know? Everybody wants to be alone, independent, [to be free to] do what they want to do, watch what they want to watch, read what they want to read. But then togetherness doesn’t happen, so everybody is sort of lonely. And then again the sad songs. And I feel that this alienation brings a lot of sadness. So when you have this kind of alienation, chant OM AH HUNG ARTSIK NIRTSIK NAMO BHAGAWATE HUNG HUNG PHAT AH HUNG HUNG PHAT. If you want to elaborate this a little bit, from Guru Rinpoche’s heart come a lot of scorpions, dikpa ratsa55dikpa ratsa (སྡིག་པ་ར་ཙ་) = scorpion – see dikpa ratsa.. They come to you. Drink all your alienation in the form of blood. You think about this. Thank you.


Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers

Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio