Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
The Way of the Tathagata: Day 1
Three-day teaching at Savitribai Phule Pune University Campus, Pune, India
Day 1: December 27, 2019
Part 1: 87 minutes, Part 2: 55 minutes, Part 3: 36 minutes, Part 4: 57 minutes
Transcript: Day 1: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
Audio: Day 1: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
Commentary by Alex Li Trisoglio: “Introduction to Buddhism – Week 3: Authenticity”
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 madhyamaka.com. 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.
The meaning of tathagata
Gone beyond samsara and nirvana
- The Mahayana understanding of tathagata: gone beyond samsara and nirvana
- The Vajrayana understanding of tathagata: the Buddha’s qualities are spontaneously present
- Being cool and being liked
The teachings of the Buddha are a compassionate display
- The nirmanakaya is a manifestation
- We should not dismiss any of the Buddha’s teachings
- Tathagata also refers to the view and its realization
The nature of the path
- A Buddhist paradox: Buddhists believe in emptiness and no-self, yet they practice
- Path-dwellers have defilements and obscurations
- Enlightenment is not about stopping thoughts
The six root kleshas
- (1) Acceptance / receptivity = desire (attachment)
- (2) Avoidance = anger
- (3) Satisfaction = pride
- (4) Indecisiveness = doubt
- (5) Not understanding = ignorance
- (6) View
- View: it’s happening, but it’s not really happening
Q & A
- If we think “it’s happening, but it’s not really happening” won’t that lead to apathy instead of compassion?
- Isn’t saying “it’s all emptiness” a way of turning away from suffering?
- Do the Hindu and Buddhist paths lead to the same result?
- How should we deal with the suffering of knowing we’re still ignorant beings?
Approaching the authentic state
- Liberation is having the right view
- Any method that takes you towards the authentic state is vipassana
- How Naropa and Saraha reached the authentic state
- Hearing, contemplation and meditation
- The four kinds of direct cognition
The three marks of existence
- Anicca = impermanence
- Nonduality = everything is simultaneously there and not there
- Dukkha = unsatisfactoriness (uncertainty, but not necessarily suffering)
- There are many modern sufferings
- What about an enlightenment pill?
Practice and realization
- What does it mean to live within the spirit of the tathagata?
- Understanding, experience and realization
- Realization and understanding other people
Q & A
- Why are we so distracted?
- If satisfaction is a defilement, does that mean we shouldn’t look for satisfaction?
- Is visualization inauthentic?
- How can we cultivate the state of referencelessness?
I wish to express my joy and happiness to be back in Pune. And professor, thank you so much for the elaborated and somewhat exaggerated introduction about me. But I think this is all your doing, so we will have to thank you, and the university, the faculty and the WCC and all of the people who are involved with this for making this happen.
Objectivity and devotion
Now this is an academic setting. So for religious figures like myself, kind of cultish figures like myself, being here with all the statues and prayers and incense and flowers and all of this might be very special. But this is India, isn’t it? And this is the beauty of India. [And yet] for some reason, India has now sort of adopted the western way of thinking, in other words the [belief that] academic institutions such as this [should be] places where you are objective and empirical. There’s no room for things like devotion. But anyway, I’m here and so many of you have come from far and wide.
It is challenging for me to address those who are purely here for academic pursuit. And at the same time, some of you may also be here to enhance your spiritual knowledge. So for me it is a little challenging to address both [groups]. But anyway, for the next few days, I’ll try my best to articulate and share my thoughts, my understanding and my very little knowledge about Buddhadharma, Buddhist philosophy, the path of the Tathagata.
I’m using English as the language to communicate with you for many practical reasons, but this is also a very big challenge because more and more I realise that language is so important. Language, philology, the meaning of words, phrases, idioms – [all] this makes a big difference. So I’m already assuming that as we go through these [teachings] there will be a lot of misunderstanding between us. That’s already a given because of language.
Study, practice and admiration
I’m not going to be using a specific text, although I will be quoting from texts from the Shravakayana tradition and the Mahayana tradition and probably some of the tantric tradition also. [However,] most of the things I will be covering are very information-based and academic – you could call it an interpretation of words and quotes of different masters of the past – [so] I’m not going to really say that this series of lectures will be a constructive method for your practice. If you are expecting some sort of homework or things to do after you hear this, there will be nothing.
And actually I have recently realised that to be a Buddhist does not necessarily mean that you have to have some sort of homework1i.e. formal study or meditation practice.. What you need is to admire the spirit or the principle of Tathagata2tathagata (तथागत) = thus come / thus gone, syn. the Buddha – see tathagata.. Once you have that, once you become a fan of the Tathagata, once you admire the Tathagata, once you really can’t have enough of the spirit of the Tathagata then I think [that even if] you may not be chanting mantras, and you may not be sitting for hours and hours, and you may not be changing your outfit3e.g. wearing robes in the way of monks or nuns., [nevertheless] you are a follower of the tathagata.
The meaning of tathagata
The word “Tathagata” is really just incredible. Just like all Pali and Sanskrit words, it’s a very rich term. On the most basic level, “tathagata” has this connotation of “authentic”, something like “authentic presence” or “authentic element”. [Something that is] not a concoction4i.e. not something made up or put together. The dictionary definition of concoction is “a mixture of various ingredients or elements” or “an elaborate story, especially a fabrication” – Google Dictionary..
Cabbage and salad
So let’s say that a cabbage is tathagata. But once you add Thousand Island Dressing or vinegar or basil, then there is no more tathagata. You understand? Tathagata is something that is not diluted, not contrived, not fabricated, not made up. Authentic. As it is. In Tibetan we translate the word “tathagata” as “dézhin”5dézhin (དེ་བཞིན་) = that itself – see dézhin., “whatever it is”. And you should make a note of this, because Buddha used to call himself [by this name] many times. Instead of saying “Buddha said this” he said “tathagata said this”, which is an incredible declaration. [He calls himself this instead] of calling himself Shakyamuni or Siddhartha or even Buddha, “awakened one”. [In just the way that we use] all these words, how many times have we used the word “tathagata”, for example in the very beautiful bhajan6bhajan (भजन) = devotional song – see bhajan. [that we heard] earlier – “hey Buddha”, “hey Tathagata”.
Yes, at times it refers to somebody [i.e. a person], and for Buddhists most of the time tathagata refers to the Buddha, the person. At times in the Shravakayana sutras it also refers to an arhat. We will go on [to explore] a deeper level of understanding [of the word] tathagata. But on the most basic level, [it refers to] someone who is authentic. Someone who is not fake.
And, for example, on the most mundane level, I think I am authentically a man. So I have no qualms going to the gentlemen’s toilet. I don’t have to think twice. I don’t have to look up and down. I don’t have to sort of be nervous. And when I go to the men’s toilet, other men or women will also accept it, graciously. Of course. [They will think] “it’s a man, he will go to the men’s toilet”. Now if I’m not so sure if I’m a man or not, then I have to really think about it. Then I’m nervous. Then I’m fidgety. [I think to myself] “what to do now?” So in this sense, tathagata is someone who really has achieved the most authentic level on every aspect of life or reality or the world.
Coming and going
If we separate the word [“tathagata” into its parts, we have] “tatha”7tatha (तथा) = that itself, like that – see tatha., which means “as it is”, “what is”. And “gata”8gata (गत) = gone, departed, arrived at – see gata. – now here is another rich Indian word. And by the way I never studied Sanskrit, [except] for about two weeks [as part of] my Rinpoche training, amidst my other Rinpoche trainings and schedules. My Sanskrit teacher was very traditional. In the first week he only taught us how to pronounce “A”9अ – the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet., and I was so bad. So he had to correct my “A” again and again. And after one week, he taught us the word “Krishna”10Krishna (कृष्ण) = Krishna; wicked, evil; black, dark, dark-blue – see Krishna. and that’s it. That is the end of my Sanskrit knowledge. I really regret that I haven’t put any effort into this, because you know years later I realise that even a word like “Krishna” can refer to divine, god, the colour black, and I was even told that sometimes it can even refer to a black deer. This is the richness [of the Sanskrit language].
“Gata” is translated into Tibetan as “shekpa”11shekpa (གཤེགས་པ་) = to approach, proceed, depart, go away, dissolve into – see shekpa.. Now this is where [the] English [language] is not so good. You can translate “tathagata” as “thus gone” but actually it’s not only “gone”, it’s also “coming”. The word “gata” is going and coming together. Only an Indian can think of these kinds of things. It’s like it’s going and coming together. And where? Not somewhere, [but] tatha: wherever it should be. Basically, you have gone and arrived together where you have never departed from. It’s so twisted. For those of who you who are not Indians, now you know. For those who have just come to India for the first time, you have to be really careful when you are talking because [a word] could mean a lot of things. Maybe for you it is one thing but for Indians it is myriad things.
Tathagata and authenticity
Anyway, on the most fundamental level, I want to begin with you and I coming to a conclusion that “tathagata” has something to do with authentic presence, with authenticity. It has nothing to do with concoction. So with this in mind, when the Buddha, when the tathagata drank – you know, in the sutras, there are a lot of phrases like “the tathagata drank” and “the tathagata walked”. And he also refers to himself as tathagata, e.g. “the tathagata will not speak”. And actually – now this is more for the academic students here – there are even very famous questions like “is the tathagata still there after he is gone?” Do you remember these very famous questions? Now this question is irrelevant. You know why? Because “gata” means coming and going, and “tatha” means the primordial state. So who would ask questions like “after he died is he still there?” Because on the deeper Buddhist philosophical level, even when he was alive he was sort of never really alive. The tathagata was never there. Never gone, never come. All this is very twisting and very mind-boggling. This is something we need to prepare ourselves to hear.
And Buddhists, or followers of the Buddha, are supposedly followers of the tathagata. What does that mean? Buddhists are followers of the value of authenticity – the value of not concocting. Followers of cabbage, not salad. As it is. Not made up technically, or genetically modified. Not created. Not fabricated. Authentic. Appreciating authenticity. Raw. Authentic. Unaltered. Followers and admirers of this value. Fans of this authenticity, authentic presence. Those who are fanatically wanting to be authentic. [This is what it means to be a] follower of the tathagata. You have to have that spirit.
Gone beyond samsara and nirvana
The Mahayana understanding of tathagata: gone beyond samsara and nirvana
We will come back to some of these basic principles of the tathagata, but I think I will have to throw out all my list [of Buddhist terms] first, so then we can come back [to them] again and again. Generally in the Buddhist sutras, but especially in the Mahayana, the word tathagata also refers to someone who is neither in samsara nor in nirvana. This is kind of important: someone who has gone beyond [both] samsara and nirvana. Let’s talk a little bit about [definitions] once again.
Let’s talk about something very fundamental: good and bad. I don’t think the English words “good” and “bad” really do justice in translating the words “gewa”12gewa (དགེ་བ་) = virtuous, wholesome, good, positive – see gewa. and “mi gewa”13mi gewa (མི་དགེ་བ་) = non-virtuous, unwholesome, bad – see mi gewa.. We can always debate this. [After all,] I’m in the land of argumentative people, so all kinds of arguments are very welcome. [However,] I think in the Abrahamic religions or in the west, “good” and “bad” are very distinct. Bad can never be good, and good can never be bad. They’re really black and white. Not so in India. Everything can be bad for five minutes, and then for the next five minutes it’s all good. [This is the case] generally in India, and especially in philosophy like Buddhism.
There’s a very famous shloka14shloka (श्लोक) = verse, stanza – see shloka. from Nagarjuna15Nagarjuna (नागार्जुन) = the 1st century Indian master that founded the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism – see Nagarjuna.:
“Lord,” (referring to the Buddha) “you have never said that there is liberation by abandoning samsara.
But you have said that the inherent non-existence of samsara is nirvana”.16DJKR did not specify the verse in question. However verses XVI: 8-10 of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika make this very point:
It is not, on the one hand, the bound that is liberated; nor indeed is the not-yet bound liberated.
If the bound were undergoing liberation, there would be simultaneous binding and liberation.
“Being without appropriation, I shall be released; nirvāṇa will be mine.”
For those who grasp things in this way, there is the great grasping of appropriation.
Where nirvāṇa is not reified nor saṃsāra rejected,
what saṃsāra is there, what nirvāṇa is falsely imagined?”
(trans. Mark Siderits & Shōryū Katsura)
The commentary by Siderits and Katsura on these verses in their book “Nagarjuna’s Middle Way” is helpful in illuminating their meaning – see Mulamadhyamakakarika.
Going back to the word tathagata, we generally hear the word “thus gone”, “one who is gone thus” – even in the Heart Sutra we read this, “gone, gone, gone beyond”. So the word somehow makes you believe that someone has gone from “here” to “there”, and most probably from a not-so-good place to a really really good place. And that is called nirvana or liberation. So for now, [we can say that] one way of interpreting the word “tathagata” is that it refers to someone who has gone beyond samsara and nirvana.
The Vajrayana understanding of tathagata: the Buddha’s qualities are spontaneously present
But it’s not that simple. Now, I can’t really elaborate too much as this is not the right time, but [there is also the] tantric or Vajrayana interpretation of tathagata. The Vajrayana’s take on the word tathagata is very simple but at the same time very profound. And for ordinary people [it can be] very difficult in one way. [Tathagata] is unaltered, unfabricated. And this has a very peculiar connotation. Unaltered, unfabricated also means that everything you need is there spontaneously17i.e. it’s already there, so it doesn’t need to be fabricated. This is the meaning of “unfabricated”.. Nothing, not even a single lock of the Buddha’s hair, needs to be made or created.
Generally, Buddhists have this idea: if I’m a good Buddhist, if I work hard, life after life, for countless eons, then slowly slowly the colour of my skin will change to gold. I’ll then have a lump on my head, and then it will slowly become an ushnisha18ushnisha (उष्णीष) = the protuberance on the head of a buddha, one of the 32 major marks of the Buddha – see ushnisha., and all the buddha qualities [will manifest]. Many ordinary people [think this way]. And maybe some really traditional villager Buddhists, especially those who are stuck with the philosophy of karma, may think “if I behave well now, if I work hard, if I do good and don’t do bad things, then I will be reborn in a [better place, maybe] even in a buddha realm”. However, from the tantric point of view, the tathagata is not like this. Not a single lock of hair, not a single quality of the Buddha has to be made. You are already tathagata – tatha means “here and now”, gata means “[both] gone and come, together”. Already. So this is another way of looking at the word tathagata. I think, basically, the tantric understanding is this.
I think we may have discussed this last time. Imagine you’re a gold merchant. What do you want? You want gold. And someone gives one kilo of ore, not polished or anything. But because you’re a smart goldsmith or gold merchant, you’re totally happy. You [know that you] have a kilo of gold. Nothing needs to be added, nothing needs to be deleted. [Of course] if you’re looking for gold earrings, now that’s different. Then your aim is not really for tathagata, your aim is for salad. Your aim is for something made up, so you have come to the wrong place.
Being cool and being liked
And as you can see, these things are so important, especially for this generation. My goodness, especially now, we are going so far from being cabbage. We are really becoming Thousand Island, yes, we are Million Island now. So many sauces, so many dressings, and so much chopping and mincing and fixing and not fixing. And what does it do? Well, supposedly we do those things to gain confidence. Speaking young people’s language, everybody wants to be cool, don’t they? Being cool is the thing to do. You want to be cool. But if you are not cabbage, you have lost your coolness. Once the cabbage has been cooked and things put [on top of it] then it’s so difficult.
I think the message, the spirit, and the value of the tathagata is even more important in this day and age of Instagram and Facebook. Because if you can appreciate the cabbage, you will not care about this and this [DJKR points to social media apps on his iPhone?] Do you understand what I’m talking about? You know when you think so much about salad dressing, then this [i.e. social media] is all you dream of. People may even commit suicide when there are more than one or two of these [social media “dislikes”]. In America people go to psychiatrists, and in Korea people go to get plastic surgery when there are too many of these. This is how serious it gets. So the spirit of the tathagata is ever more important [right now].
The spirit of the tathagata is timely. For everything. For parenting. For a good sleep. Forget nirvana, are you just looking for a good sleep? Tathagata. Most of the time people are sleepless because they are concocting. There’s too much fabrication. And what about relationships? Even dating? If you have authentic presence, people will just melt for you. So for those of you who claim you’re Buddhist, you’re basically saying “I’m a follower of the tathagata. I’m a follower of being authentic, of authenticity”.
The teachings of the Buddha are a compassionate display
The nirmanakaya is a manifestation
There are a few more definitions on my list. The next one is more technical. Generally in the Mahayana, and especially in the Vajrayana, the word “tathagata” tends to refer more to the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya. Of course, it refers to all the kayas, but more the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya. There’s a reason for this. For the Mahayana people, they think that the nirmanakaya such as Shakyamuni Buddha is a show. It’s a display. It’s [manifested] out of the compassion of the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya. You could almost call it an entertainment. We call it trülpa19trülpa (སྤྲུལ་པ་) = magical appearance, emanation, manifestation – see trülpa.. It’s like a display, a show. It’s not really the “true colour”.
I think we talked about this last time also, I remember. So whatever the nirmanakaya [Buddha] said, he did not mean all of it. Not all of it. So when the Buddha said “once when I was a bird”, it’s a relative teaching. The proper way of putting it is that it’s “expedient”, an expedient teaching. Teachings like karma and reincarnation are all expedient teachings. And by the way, when I say expedient teachings I’m not looking down on them. In fact they are important, so important. Any mother can tell you this. If a young child is not sleeping, the mother can’t say “look, if you don’t sleep it’s bad for your health.” That’s not expedient. You have to tell stories and sing songs and lullabies, and all kinds of things like that. Because you know the baby needs sleep. And later, when the baby is about twenty years old, then you [can] talk about how sleep is important. Not right now.
We should not dismiss any of the Buddha’s teachings
In this way, there are many teachings [that might not seem rational or logical to us, but we can better understand their purpose when we remember that they are] the tathagata’s show, the tathagata’s display [manifested out of compassion for sentient beings]. Yes, [the teachings are] the tathagata’s display. [The Buddha] has taught many teachings, but every one of them is precious and [not a single] one of them can be dismissed. And I’m stressing this because we the listeners, the followers [of the tathagata], tend to pick up something that we like and then dismiss all the methods that are taught to others. This happens a lot.
So many times the word “tathagata” refers to dharmakaya and sambhogakaya. For those who are very new, please don’t worry too much about terms and jargon like dharmakaya and sambhogakaya. We will come back to this and discuss it if time allows.
Tathagata also refers to the view and its realization
Finally, and this may be important for you, “tathagata” also refers to the view of the Buddhadharma. So far, you have been hearing about tathagata as a being, a person. But not necessarily. Actually, and more importantly, “tathagata” – or at least “tatha” – [also refers to] madhyamaka. When the word “gata” is used, it has the connotation of somebody involved. But in many Mahayana texts, the view itself and especially the state or occasion of realisation of the view is referred to as “tatha”, “tathagata”.
So these are the things that we will be discussing for the next few days. I hope it won’t be too dry and academic or too intellectual. I hope that for those who are practicing, those who are following a certain path of Buddhadharma, that it will also help you. For instance, even making an offering of a flower can begin with the spirit of the tathagata, can be done with the spirit of the tathagata, and can be concluded with the spirit of the tathagata. So this is what we will discuss. Let’s have a break. We will have lots and lots of breaks, because I don’t have many things to say.
[END OF TALK 1] [Back to Top ↑]
The nature of the path
A Buddhist paradox: Buddhists believe in emptiness and no-self, yet they practice
[Q]: [Question not part of recording. Student is asking something like: if all the Buddha’s qualities are spontaneously present, then why do we need to practice?]
[DJKR]: Very good point. Yes. There are many techniques that talk about “removing” obscurations, defilements, and kleshas20klesha (क्लेश) = afflictive emotions, mental afflictions, factors which disturb the mind – see klesha.. And there are a lot of other teachings that talk about “adding”, enhancing, and accumulating – in the sense of the accumulation of merit21punya (पुण्य) = merit, virtue, meritorious karma – see punya. and so forth.
If you go a place like Burma or Sri Lanka, [you will hear] the very profound Shravakayana teachings, or in other words the Theravada teachings, such as anatta or selflessness. [You will hear that] self is an illusion, and so on and so forth. But then, suddenly, you see monks begging alms and devotees offering alms, and [both] considering that as an act of accumulation of merit. [That’s a] seeming contradiction, isn’t it? And then if you go to Japan, they read the Heart Sutra, which says, “no nose, no eyes, no this, no that, no spine, no butt” and all of this. But then they sit on their zafus22zafu (座蒲) = round meditation cushion, best known for its use in zazen Zen meditation – see zafu. for hours and hours with their spines straight. [That’s a] seeming contradiction, isn’t it? And of course if you go to Tibetan monasteries, [the monks] go on and on about Nagarjuna’s [teachings] which say, “this does not exist, that does not exist”. And then if you walk into a Tibetan temple it’s basically like [something] shamanist. There are [all kinds of] deities with all kinds of heads, in all kinds of positions. So you see this [in all traditions of Buddhism].
This paradox is at times very challenging, but at other times it’s also very rewarding. To answer your question very strictly, because there is fundamental tathagata23Ed.: i.e. because our nature is fundamentally tathagata, or alternatively because we already have Buddhanature., [therefore] actually the removing works. Can you understand my logic? If there is no tathagata, then removing [obscurations and defilements] or adding [or enhancing virtuous qualities] won’t work. It’s because it’s [already] perfect, therefore [we can remove defilements]24Ed.: DJKR returns to this theme on Day 2 with the example of washing a cup. We can only remove the dirt from a dirty cup if the cup itself is clean. If, for example, the cup is stained because of some impurities introduced during the manufacturing process, then we cannot clean it..
This is a bit confusing probably. So then, you will ask this question: [if it’s already perfect, then] why are we doing this removing and purifying [of obscurations and defilements]? I’ll give you a very pain in the neck answer, which is that [you are removing obscurations and defilements], because you think you need to remove them25Ed.: i.e. in reality our nature is already tathagata, but as long as we do not experience or realise this, then we need to practice in order to remove our obscurations and defilements. In other words, as long as we think or experience that we have obscurations and defilements, we need to remove them – even though they do not truly exist.. It’s that annoying. [You practice to remove obscurations and defilements] because you think you need to. And yes you do, because you think you have lost the tathagata nature. You have departed from that tathagata nature26Ed.: i.e. your experience is that you have departed from the tathagata nature, even though you have not departed from it in reality. Indeed, you cannot depart from it even if you want to, because it is spontaneously present as your fundamental nature., [so] now you think that you need to do things [to return to that state], you need to remove [things], you need to add [things], you need to beautify – you need to do this and that.
So it’s basically like the prayers that we started with [this morning]. Prayers have [an element of] longing, but in the spirit of tathagata you already are there. So what are we longing for? In one sense, we’re training in longing for something that’s un-longable [i.e. something that cannot be longed for27Ed.: there is no purpose in longing for something that we already have.]. And why do we do that? Because [otherwise] we end up longing for other things. And what’s wrong with that? Longing for other distractions, longing for all kinds of worldly entanglements leads you to pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction, disappointment, disillusionment, and so forth.
Okay we will now continue.
Path-dwellers have defilements and obscurations
We are talking about the way of the tathagata, and the moment we talk about a “way” we are obviously talking about a path. When we talk about the path, we’re talking about a path-dweller, someone who is walking on this path. And when we’re talking about someone walking on or using the path, then obviously we’re talking about someone who has not yet reached wherever they are walking towards. In other words, someone who has not yet perfected or achieved [the state of the tathagata]. So [when] we’re talking about a path-dweller, this means someone who has kleshas or defilements or obscurations.
So, we will talk a little about the different emotions28Ed.: the word “klesha” includes a sense of mental obscuration or defilement that is not fully captured by the English word “emotion”. The dictionary definition of “emotion” is “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others” and “instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge” – Google Dictionary. that are distracting you from the state of tatha, as it is, the nature. Why are you not in that [state]? Why are you not cabbage? Why do you always end up becoming salad? Anyone walking into this place must think this is a [talk about] cooking!
Enlightenment is not about stopping thoughts
First of all – fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t know – you have cognition. You are stuck with something called “mind”. It’s very painful to have this thing called “mind”, because it always ends up knowing something. It’s so painful. I sometimes wish I was a table. No hope, no fear, nothing. Maybe I’m wrong, but [this is also] what existentialists are asking, something like “Why am I here? Why do I keep on knowing?” This [comes up] a lot with Buddhists too. Many times when Buddhists meditate, they try to stop [this] knowing, which is impossible. I frequently hear the complaint, “Oh Rinpoche I can’t meditate, I just think too much”. One of my teachers, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, said that if you want to stop [the flow of] water, for example a river, then you build a dam. But if you try to stop the water by building a dam made of water, what will happen? The water will become bigger. Stopping thoughts is just not possible. You cannot.
The so-called state of “enlightenment” in Buddhism isn’t like reaching a state of stone-hood or wood-hood. It’s not like becoming inanimate. You have mind. You have cognition. And this cognition or cognizance29Ed.: the English words mind, cognition, thought, awareness etc. do not have the same semantic range as the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms for which they are translations. Google Dictionary offers the following definitions:
• mind = “the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought”, “a person’s mental processes contrasted with physical action”
• cognition = “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”
• cognizance = “knowledge, awareness, or notice”. is [always] going to move. It will always know something. In one way, this [might appear to be] very unfortunate. But on the other hand, the great [Buddhist master] Saraha offered his prostrations to sem30sem (སེམས་) = mind, thoughts, ‘cognitive act’ – see sem., mind: it’s because of this mind [that] there is cognisance. We have ups and downs. We have happiness and sadness, and then suddenly through this sadness we long for the truth. We aspire for the truth. And then through that, we long for higher and higher truth.
The six root kleshas
We are talking about what is making you lose that authentic state. There are many reasons, but the Mahayana lays out six different things31mulaklesha (मूलक्लेश) = the six root kleshas – see mulaklesha. They are presented by Vasubandhu in the Abhidharmakosha, and although they are ordered differently in different commentaries, almost all commentaries have “view” as the sixth and final klesha – see Abhidharmakosha. that make you inauthentic.
(1) Acceptance / receptivity = desire (attachment)
We talked about cognisance, the way that we always end up cognising, knowing, referring. And a part of this cognisance has the flavour or energy of “embracing”, like hugging, taking in, receptivity, openness, accepting, panglen32panglen (སྤང་བླང་) = accepting and rejecting – see panglen.. And since I was also invited here by some of our people who studying and exploring psychology, I thought it would be good to discuss this. Some of this cognisance, this mindstream of accepting, openness, receptivity – later, for the sake of communication I’ll use the word “later” – some religious people labelled it as “desire”33raga (राग) = desire, attachment – see raga.. It is important that I tell you like this, because the moment I talk about desire [people think] “Oh, [desire is] something smelly, something bad”. But when I talk about openness and receptivity, you don’t mind do you? You think openness is something nice. But actually this is also [a way that] you lose your authenticity. And then of course that receptivity and openness gets enlarged, and then you go to places like Woodstock and you wear rainbow-coloured t-shirts. That also happens a lot. Anyway, receptivity [ends up being] labelled as “desire”, this smelly, sticky thing that nuns and monks are so paranoid about. Now this is a really big subject, and it has created so many phenomena, such as six-pack and mini-skirt. All this comes through this mindstream.
(2) Avoidance = anger
You know I was saying you always end up knowing something? Among all these cognitions, this mind, there is [another] part of this mind that is usually one that avoids, stays out of trouble, doesn’t want to be involved. You don’t want to notice things. You don’t want to bump into them. Later, religious people label it as “aggression”34pratigha (प्रतिघ) = anger, wrath, enmity – see pratigha.. That’s actually what very lovey-dovey Buddhists are so paranoid about – fire, anger, etc. Actually, it’s a mindstream that wants to stay out of trouble, to avoid, to not get involved, to be careful and alert – and this ends up becoming labelled as “anger”. That’s fairly easy to understand I think.
(3) Satisfaction = pride
I’m talking about what makes you salad, why you are not cabbage. i’ve already given you two reasons. The third reason is satisfaction. You’re satisfied with your nose, satisfied with your ears, and so on. But later, it gets labelled as “pride”35mana (मान) = pride, arrogance, self-conceit – see mana.. The moment I use the word “pride” then it becomes smelly and a little bit strange. But everybody wants to have satisfaction, don’t they? Yes, you have to contemplate on this one a little bit.
(4) Indecisiveness = doubt
[So we come to] the next one that makes you salad. By the way, if you record this teaching – you can, I don’t mind – later when you listen to it, I don’t think it will make any sense! The next reason that we end up becoming salad is a big one. Even the order [of these six reasons] is kind of important, as we’re talking about things that are much more subtle but also much more vicious. Wasabi dressing is easy to spot, isn’t it? But here we’re talking about something like lemon juice. It may be very small, but it’s stubborn. This next one is indecisiveness, when you cannot decide which is which. This is a big subject in the abhidharma, if you want to explore this a little bit more. For those who are studying psychology and especially Buddhist psychology, there are long explanations in the abhidharma. Anyway, indecisiveness and the inability to decide later gets labelled as tétsom36tétsom (ཐེ་ཚོམ་) = doubt – see tétsom. or “doubt”37The Sanskrit word is vichikitsa (विचिकित्सा) = doubt – see vichikitsa.. Doubt includes things like critical thinking, by the way. This is also something that makes you salad. Doubt. When you have doubt, a big chunk of your authenticity is gone. You just can’t decide – man? woman? Doubt.
(5) Not understanding = ignorance
The next one is simply not understanding, which is labelled as “ignorance”38avidya (अविद्या) = ignorance – see avidya..
I would say the sixth one is very exclusive to Buddhism. The other five, maybe the Jains or many other traditions talk about. We have many Jains or ex-Jains here, and we can talk about this if you want. But the sixth one is very Buddhist exclusive. The sixth dressing that makes you salad. And it’s really tough. It’s so invisible, yet it’s the toughest. It really is the one that fundamentally makes you salad, and almost irreversibly so. This is view, tawa39tawa (ལྟ་བ་) = view – see drishti.. As long as you have a view [you are salad]. This is why Nagarjuna goes on and on in the madhyamaka about “no view”. This is also why the Mahayana people always praise the Buddha saying “I praise the Buddha who has taught us the path that has no view”40This is from verse XXVII:30, the final shloka of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika: “I salute Gautama, who, based on compassion, taught the true Dharma for the abandonment of all views” (trans. Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura) – see Mulamadhyamakakarika.. [No view], shunyata, emptiness, inherently nonexistent, etc. – basically, as long as you have a view, you’re doomed. You’re salad. Authenticity is lost. How depressing is this?
Let’s talk about view since this is the most challenging one. How do we un-view? Is there such a word? [To have] no view, to go beyond view basically. How do we delete the view? Most of you have heard this many times, and you will hear it again and again many times. But for some of you maybe it’s new.
View: it’s happening, but it’s not really happening
Okay, you’re watching Game of Thrones, and you have been watching it – how many years? Eight years? I’m not so familiar with [the series], but at the end of eight years some people were very disappointed, as the person [that they think] should be sitting on the throne did not manage [to do so]. Anyway, the disappointment is not that bad. Do you know why? Because it wasn’t really happening. We talk about how the blonde girl [Daenerys Targaryen] should not have sat on the throne, and how she should not have been killed. Why? Because she has dragons, all kinds of reasons, it doesn’t matter. Or how the curly-haired boy [Jon Snow] should have sat [on the throne]. Why? Because he had this and that. But nevertheless, it’s not that bad. After all, it never happened. And even as you were watching for eight years, it has never been happening.
[Q]: I don’t know about Game of Thrones.
[DJKR]: You don’t know? Where have you been living?
Anyway, I’m telling you something quite important. This is what we call the experience of view-less. It doesn’t matter actually [what happened on Game of Thrones]. You might fight a little bit [about what happened], but it didn’t really happen. You understand? For eight whole years it was there, but it has never been there. It’s there, but it’s not there. So there [you might experience] a tinge of the view-less, no view. But most of you are – how old are you? At least 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years old – this episode that we’re having [i.e. our lives], [throughout] this episode [we have been thinking] “Oh, that is really happening”, haven’t we? And many things have happened, and when something happens such as winning the lottery, we never manage to think “Oh, it’s not really there” as well. So then we get excited.
Maybe the lottery is not a good example. Perhaps [we have a] promotion, or this bit [DJKR points to “likes” on social media apps on his iPhone]. When you have about ten days of this, you get excited, and you want to put more of your photographs [on social media]. So you take a photo – I should say, a selfie – and you [upload it to] Instagram, and then immediately there are ten of these [i.e. “likes”], or a heart, or all kinds of emojis. Then you get so excited. And because you’re excited, now you take a second photo and you post that. But then for one or two of these [photos], [there’s] no response. What happened? You got carried away by the appearance of this [i.e. the “likes”] for the first photo, and then you got carried away by the non-existence of this [i.e. the absence of “likes”] on the second one. This is what we call view, falling into view.
I’m a little worried that I’m confusing everybody here. Please ask me questions specifically on this topic. Before you ask questions, I will tell you this. [If we use] the classic terms in Buddhism, we talk about “appearance and emptiness”, and we say that “while everything is apparent it’s also empty”. And ‘“while everything is empty, it’s also apparent (appearing)”. Like the reflection of the moon in water, it’s there but it’s also not there. And in the Buddhist understanding, life in general – everything – is like the reflection of the moon in water. It is there, but it’s also not there. So it’s never [just] “it’s not there”. Many people tend to interpret the word “emptiness” as a negation. No.
Q & A
If we think “it’s happening, but it’s not really happening” won’t that lead to apathy instead of compassion?
[Q]: [Question is mostly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]. I understand how the concept of having no view applies in the case of show like Game of Thrones, as this is only happening on television. But what about things like wars and ecological destruction that are happening in the real world? If one takes the view that these things really don’t matter because in a certain sense they’re “happening but not really happening”, how do you reconcile that with compassion for the suffering of sentient beings?
[DJKR]: Very good. Actually there are degrees [of achieving the authentic state], and we are talking about the highest achievement. For someone who actually achieves that authentic state, someone who finally reaches the cabbage stage, actually they will engage [in the world]. Let’s use a classic Buddhist example. [They are] like a lotus that is born in the mud, but never stained by the mud. Pristine. Likewise, once you reach the view-less [authentic state], then that very reaching of the view-less is what we call compassion, nyingjé41nyingjé (སྙིང་རྗེ་) = compassion – see nyingjé., mahakaruna42mahakaruna (महाकरुण) = great compassion – see mahakaruna.. I really don’t want to use the word “compassion” because I don’t think it’s doing justice at all [to the Tibetan and Sanskrit words nyingjé and karuna]. There are a few [English] words that are sort of okay, that we can use [as translations of Tibetan and Sanskrit words], but there are some that I think we really should not use, such as the words “compassion”, “enlightenment” and “suffering”. Buddhists should really get rid of those words.
Anyway, let’s suppose you [have reached the view-less] and understand karuna. Let’s say you have a friend or family member who is so obsessed with the blonde girl [Daenerys] becoming queen that this friend can’t eat or drink, and then they quit their job just because the blonde girl didn’t become queen. However, you know [the truth]. And because you are a good friend of this person, you are also skillful43Ed.: i.e. because you know them well, you know how best to explain the truth to them. Perhaps you know that you can speak plainly, or perhaps you know that a more indirect approach will be more likely to work with them.. So [you do] not necessarily [say] “Hey, this never happened. This is only television”. You may not say that, because you are skilful. You may even agree with this person, and say “Oh yes”. You might play along. But I think your question is about the problems of war and ecology?
[Q]: Yes, if we take the view that [wars and ecological destruction] didn’t happen, there could be a little bit of apathy in the situation.
[DJKR]: It’s not “it did not happen”, remember. That’s the whole point. It’s there also. It happens. But at the same time, it’s not happening. This is difficult. The Buddhist view of nonduality is a little difficult. I think many times the Buddhist view of nonduality gets interpreted as nonexistence. We need to avoid that. When Buddhists are talking about shunyata, we’re not talking about negation. Of course not. When we chant the Heart Sutra, how can we say “no nose?” There are about 200 noses here. That’s an outright lie!
[Q]: [Question is mostly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]. I understand what you’re saying, but I’m saying that in terms of human beings actually taking action and doing things, then we really need to see that war and ecological destruction is actually happening and something needs to be done about it. If someone takes the view that it’s happening but it’s also not happening, then they might think this isn’t their problem, or this is happening due to the karma of the people affected and there’s nothing they can do about it.
[DJKR]: If they think like that, like “this is someone else’s [problem]” or “this is [their] karma” [or] “this is inevitable” – this proves that they do not understand the view. Buddhists have never said that this is not happening or this is someone else’s karma. In fact, Buddhists talk about dependent arising, so you have to act with compassion, right intention, and bodhicitta. All this [i.e. our motivation to act] falls into this [i.e. it is guided by compassion and bodhicitta], because of that [dependent arising]44Ed.: i.e. because Buddhists accept dependent arising, they do not believe in independent arising such as problems that are “totally separate” or “independent” from themselves, and for which they therefore bear no accountability. Rather, since all phenomena arise dependently, Buddhists understand that their action must be guided by compassion and bodhicitta..
Isn’t saying “it’s all emptiness” a way of turning away from suffering?
[Q]: [Question is partly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]. Rinpoche, I have two questions. First, I understand when you say there are degrees [of realisation], and when you have reached the highest degree, your [compassion and bodhicitta] is perfect. But I have so many friends inside the sangha and outside the sangha who use this [idea of emptiness, that “it’s happening but it’s not happening”] in a sort of escapist way. It seems that these days many Buddhists are turning away from suffering. But the Buddha never said turn away from suffering, he said engage with suffering.
[DJKR]: Next time your friends say this …
[Q]: That’s my question. Right now I only tell them that Guru Rinpoche said “My view is as vast as the sky, and my attention to action is like flour”.
[DJKR]: Well, invite them to your home, and don’t feed them breakfast, lunch or dinner. Don’t even give them a glass of water, and tell them “it’s there, but it’s also not there” and then see what happens. If they get agitated, or if they have one of the six things…45Ed.: i.e. if a person holds the view that we shouldn’t get so caught up in worldly problems because all phenomena are emptiness and “there, but also not there”, then why can’t they apply this attitude to their own thirst and hunger? Everyday problems are no less “real” to us just because they are impermanent and without a truly existing self-nature.
[Q]: People want to avoid suffering, I feel, and they use this kind of view.
[DJKR]: How are they using this view? I want to know. [Are they using it] as a negation, [to say] that it [suffering] doesn’t exist?
[Q]: [Question is partly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]. No, not as a negation. But [rather] why are you so [passionate] about things [i.e. doing things to alleviate suffering in the world], because after all, it’s all emptiness. People of high intellect [understand] buddhahood and skilful means, but if you give it to ordinary people, I think it gets misused like this.
[DJKR]: Yes, of course. For that, there is a very important quotation from Shakyamuni Buddha. He told Kashyapa that [having] an ego and self-clinging as big as Mount Meru is actually okay. It doesn’t matter. But [having a] clinging to emptiness even as small as a sesame seed is much worse. What was your second question?
[Q]: My second question was … it will come back.
[DJKR]: So, it does not exist?
[Q]: Is it better to say “let’s try for no view” rather than say “let’s not get attached to any view”?
[DJKR]: [To audience:] I have to be really careful, as he’s always twisting things! You see, when I have that fear, I’m going through number two and number four. [To person asking question:] Please can you repeat your question?
[Q]: Is it better to aspire to a consciousness which has no view or – because we are not at that level yet – should we say, “let’s not get attached to any view” and “let’s engage with the world with the Eight-Fold Noble Path”46Ed.: i.e. is it better for ordinary practitioners to hold the relative view and practice of the Eight-Fold Noble Path, but without attachment, rather than to attempt to aspire to having no view?.
[DJKR]: I’ll answer in a different way. According to Milarepa, the great singer, he said that to become a spiritual vessel – again, “spiritual” is not the right word. [Perhaps a better translation might be] “Dharma vessel” or “Dharma practitioner” – fundamentally you need two things. First, you need to have sadness towards worldly life, material life [i.e. you need renunciation]. Second, you need wisdom. You need to have the capacity to chew this grand view [of emptiness]. Without these two, with even one missing [you are not a Dharma practitioner]. This is a very important statement. I think many so-called spiritual practitioners, so-called Dharma practitioners, invest only in one. I mean, we don’t have many people who invest in this path in the first place. Secondly, even if they do, they either invest [only] in the sadness part or the wisdom part. Both are necessary. After the next question we’ll go to lunch.
Do the Hindu and Buddhist paths lead to the same result?
[Q]: [Question is mostly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]. How should we understand compassion if we hold the view of “it’s there, but it’s not there”?
[DJKR] Can you wait about this compassion? We’re going to talk about it based on the authenticity we have been talking about. Based on that, we’ll come back to compassion.
[Q]: [Question is mostly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]. My second question. You said yesterday that there are so many different religions in India. [I am wondering whether the result of the Hindu path is the same as the result of the Buddhist path]. What is the difference with dharmakaya? [Is the result of the Hindu path] also cabbage or is it something different?
[DJKR]: First, I cannot claim to have any knowledge of their path. [However], generally some of their [teachings], especially the later so-called Hindu tantras are very similar [to Buddhism]. Just to tease you before the break, I think the biggest difference is relative bodhicitta. Think about it and eat. It’s just me saying this, it’s not written here or there. [The difference is] relative bodhicitta [rather than] ultimate bodhicitta. The wish that all be enlightened, emphasising that in the beginning, the middle and the end – that may one of the big [differences].
How should we deal with the suffering of knowing we’re still ignorant beings? [Back to Top ↑]
[Q]: [Question in Chinese]
[DJKR]: Can you translate?
[Q]: [translator] [First], she said she was very excited about what you said earlier, so she took a video and tried to post it on WeChat. But it didn’t go through, so she tried to use the cabbage mentality to deal with the situation. [Next,] she brought up about how you talked about human rights. She thinks most of the time she’s salad instead of cabbage, so she feels quite [a lot of] suffering. Is this just a process you need to go through?
[DJKR]: We are going to talk about how important salad is towards the end. It’s very important. Because especially with all the dressings that are available, how can we miss [out on] it?
[END OF TALK 2]
Approaching the authentic state
Liberation is having the right view
So we will continue with view. This morning we talked about six different kinds of obscurations or defilements, [which mean] a force that takes you away from being authentic. And the sixth happens to be the view. It doesn’t matter what [kind of view] – good view, bad view, right view, wrong view – just any view. As long as you have a view, then you lose authenticity. We are going to talk about this for the whole afternoon I think, because this is the most important [reason that we are not authentic].
Until you have the right view, it’s impossible to be awakened, to be liberated. That’s how the Buddhists think. Basically, Buddhists think that so-called liberation is having the right view. Not only intellectually, of course not, but actually [having] total realisation of that view. It’s a bit like – we have used this example a lot – it’s a bit like a child looking at a stage, and there’s a performance. There’s a demon dance, and the child gets scared. But the moment the child goes behind the stage and realises that’s just a mask performance, then that’s the end. That’s the end of that illusion of demon. The child has discovered the view. Whether the child [then] continues to watch the dance or the play, that depends on their motivation, companion, whatever47Ed.: i.e. once a sentient being attains liberation, whether or not they choose to remain in samsara depends on their motivation and also the needs of sentient beings..
Having the right view, that is what is is actually [meant by] vipassana. The vipassana technique is getting quite a lot of attention [these days], which is [something] really great that I totally rejoice in. But we need to always come down to this knowledge that basically vipassana – [the Sanskrit word is] vipashyana48vipashyana (विपश्यन) – see vipashyana., in Tibetan it’s translated as lhaktong49lhaktong (ལྷག་མཐོང་) – see lhaktong. – means “seeing extra”, seeing something that you don’t [normally see], i.e. [seeing] the real color, the true color. The real deal, so to speak. When you see that, then that’s the end of the vipassana.
Any method that takes you towards the authentic state is vipassana
Any kind of method that assists you or takes you to see that real deal – the real colour, true colour, genuine, authenticity, whatever word we are using – you can call it vipassana actually. I know that the moment the word “vipassana” is mentioned, immediately it brings the image of a zafu, meditation cushion, sitting straight, not moving, etc. This is fine. It is a specific way. It is a method, and it’s quite a good method. It’s very economical to begin with, because you just sit. It’s quite risk-free, so to speak. And yes, it’s easy to do, kind of.
But it’s absolutely boring, I’m telling you. There’s nothing much going on unless you’re some peculiar person who gets into this kind of lifestyle. And then we are not so sure whether you are actually having the vipassana of seeing the truth or whether you are just having some sort of trip. Trip is the opposition [opposite] of vipassana. Vipassana means no trip. As it is.
That’s what vipassana is. I know that nowadays people put a lot of effort in [vipassana]. Not a lot, but a handful of people are fascinated by sitting straight, breathing, and all that. But there were times, like in Japan where people would make tea, an elaborate ceremony of making tea. And of course, the taste of the tea is not the point. I’ve [been part of a traditional tea ceremony] several times and it’s not so good actually, Japanese tea. It just takes like leaf. Nothing much. Actually chai is much better. But that’s just [my] habit. But in India, we could easily do an Indian version of the tea ceremony. I don’t know, cooking [the tea and milk] and all that, [serving it in a] small glass rather than big glass, all that paraphernalia. It’s a certain discipline. You create the discipline.
And in Japan they have oryoki50oryoki (応量器) = the formal style of eating practiced in Zen temples – see oryoki. for instance, where there’s a really conscious mindful way of eating. I can see some people here who have done dathün51dathün (ཟླ་ཐུན་) = month-long meditation retreat popularised by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche – see dathün., and you know about that52Ed.: i.e. oryoki, which is practiced during dathün.. And it’s not as if this oryoki, this mindful eating, can only be done with miso soup and edamame, you understand? You could easily do it with chapatti, paan, basically you could easily do it with anything to eat. And [you could practice the vipassana of] chewing 108 times. [This is not part of the] tradition, but if the master tells you “chew 108 times”, then you chew. These are all methods. There are so many. Then there are methods of writing poetry, I’m [still] only talking about Japan at the moment. The whole tradition of haiku, if you look at it carefully, it’s very much to do with vipassana. Just here and now. Authentic presence. Authentic experience. And the Zen garden [is also very much to do with vipassana].
And then if you move to [places] like Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka – you could almost call them the ambassadors for vipassana. It’s a big thing [there]. Then if you come to the Himalayas, to the Tibetan monasteries, you have all the rituals – the mudras, the Tibetan spiritual Dharma dance, mandalas, visualisations, chants – actually they are all meant or designed to take you to the true colour, that authentic state. That’s what it is. And keep in mind that we are followers of the tathagata and we want to follow the authentic state. We are followers [of the authentic state]. We treasure the authentic state. We are scared, we are very suspicious about anything that is not authentic, supposedly anyway.
Again, this is really a contradiction. I’m talking about view-less-ness, but at the same time I’m talking about having the right view. We have to start somewhere.
Okay, you are interested in being cool, in being authentic. And for that, you now realise there are these six different distractions that you can fall into. Now you really want to [know] how do we begin to approach this authentic state, as a human being, people like you and me?
How Naropa and Saraha reached the authentic state
[This can happen] if the right cause and condition are together, meaning the right timing, the right situation, the [right] usage of words, etc. It’s like [the story of Naropa and Tilopa]. Naropa had attended the great master Tilopa for many years and he had never given up, even after [going through] a lot of difficulties and time. And [during] all these years, Naropa really [wanted to ask] Tilopa for a teaching, for instructions, for pith instructions, for a path to the authentic realm. After about twelve years, one day they were walking by the bank of the Ganges, and Tilopa said to him “I have nothing to say to you. I have nothing at all whatsoever to say to you”. And that did it. That just did it. And wow. The lineage that [has come from] this great Naropa. He was Bengali, right?
I know that for most of us, this is just a fairy tale. It’s maybe romantic at best. And most people will think it’s [about] some sort of revelation. Not at all. If you really know how to listen and hear Tilopa’s remark “I have nothing to tell you”, it’s quite profound. But if it was someone like me, I could have beaten Tilopa up. “After twelve years of serving you, you have nothing to tell me? What do you mean?” You know, stuff like this.
The same thing happened to the great Saraha53Saraha (सरह) = one of the 84 mahasiddhas – see Saraha.. Where’s he from? Maharashtra, no? He was supposedly the dean of Nalanda university. It’s a big deal. Indian Buddhists even claim this is probably one of the oldest universities in the world. Buddhists are very proud of Nalanda, it’s a very big deal. Saraha was supposedly the dean, and the majority of the students were bhikshus and disciplined monastics, so you can imagine [the context]. We have professors sitting here. They have a certain position. And then what did Saraha do? He said “all these years of intellectual pursuit, this is not leading me anywhere”. So he just took off.
And he met a woman who was making arrows. She was a part-time arrow-maker and part-time prostitute. And she was shooting arrows her aimlessly, everywhere – that’s an important detail by the way, this aimless shooting. Saraha was very puzzled, and he asked her “why are you shooting your arrows aimlessly?” And she said, “that’s your problem. You always have an aim. I have none, that’s why I’m liberated”. And that did it, again. The dean of Nalanda University got the right answer from a part-time arrow-maker, part-time prostitute. We are talking about getting the truth.
So anyway, people like Saraha and Naropa, they are prepared to get it. But don’t get discouraged thinking “Oh no, we’re not”. We never know. I don’t know if I should be telling you these things. But I’m very inspired to tell you this [story], because this happened in our lifetime. Some of you must have known the Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He was really special, from my point of view. Anyway, he had to go and pee. And he did his business, and his attendant was there. You know how usually we Tibetans have so many racist problems? We think we Tibetans know about these things [i.e. the spiritual path], but [we think] westerners are like the low caste, people who don’t know anything, that kind of thing.
But anyway, Trungpa Rinpoche had a westerner as his attendant, and after Trungpa Rinpoche did his business, Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Time to put it back”. And he tried to put the thing in [his pants]. And Trungpa Rinpoche said, “You have to wiggle it”. And that’s it. I actually met that attendant. He said that after that – and he wasn’t claiming anything [special] by the way, he wasn’t claiming any kind of enlightenment or satori or recognition of authenticity – but he said that his life changed forever from then on. For someone like me, who you can call very devotional, that’s so special.
So it’s not like it can’t come or it can’t happen to us. For many people, these things can happen. With just a surprise, it can happen.
Hearing, contemplation and meditation
But there’s [also] all this backup [provided by the path]. It can also be systemically achieved. So to do that, what do we have? Well according to the masters of the Tibetan tradition, and also according to the masters of other traditions, we only have three tools – hearing, contemplation and meditation. And by the way, I said that hearing, contemplation and meditation are tools, which means that at the end [of the path], you have to get rid of them. You may sort of kind of accept, “Oh yes, one day I’ll stop studying, but [then I’ll] contemplate”. You might even think “Oh maybe one day I’ll just stop contemplating”. But discarding meditation? It doesn’t even occur in your head. I meet so many Buddhists who think that the whole aim of Buddhism is to do meditation. That’s so depressing.
The whole aim of meditation, and hearing and contemplation, is to discard them. Like tissue paper actually. Once used, discard them. You don’t even look at it again once you throw it away. Tibetans have the expression that when you spit, you don’t look at how your saliva is landing. [You don’t look at] where it’s landing, and what kind of impression it’s making. You don’t. You’re supposed to hear, contemplate and meditate – and [then] discard that. Because if you don’t, then authentic presence doesn’t happen. If you don’t [discard your vipassana meditation], vipassana only creates constipation. If you’re worrying all the time about “I’m not mindful”, that must create some stress.
So it can happen, like Saraha and Naropa. This can happen to you. And for that, you need to be open. You need to be really daring and open. But as a backup plan, you also have the tools of hearing, contemplating and meditation. But you need to know that they’re just tools. They’re a means, but they’re not the end.
The four kinds of direct cognition
So, what are they? First, why hearing, contemplation and meditation? This is for the benefit of academic people who are studying Buddhism more on an academic level. This is how Buddhists think: in order to experience the true nature of anything, you can use two kinds of tools to validate whether or not something is true54Dignaga (c.480-c.540 CE) was the first to systematise the Buddhist theory of pramana or means of cognition. He only accepts two means of cognition, direct perception (pratyaksha) and inference (anumana).. One is inferential logic55jépak (རྗེས་དཔག་) = inferential cognition, inference – see jépak.. The other is direct cognition56ngönsum (མངོན་སུམ་) – direct perception – see ngönsum..
When we talk about direct cognition, Buddhists talk about four kinds of direct cognition57Ed.: this list is from Dharmakirti‘s Nyayabindu I.7–11., and only one of the four is the real direct cognition. The first three are [considered] only mediocre direct cognition.
- (1) [sense perception58indriyapratyaksha (इन्द्रियप्रत्यक्ष) = sense perception – see indriyapratyaksha.]: The first kind of direct cognition is, for example, us looking at the wall. And that’s it. I mean, there is no interference, we’re not drunk, we’re not tripping right now59Ed.: i.e. our sense faculties are not impaired.. We’re all human beings, [so we see] the wall. That’s one form of direct cognition.
- (2) [mental perception60manasapratyaksha (मानसप्रत्यक्ष) = mental perception – see manasapratyaksha.]: The second is slightly more complicated. Think about your mother, the image of your mother. Not necessarily using the senses, but your direct consciousness. When you think about something, it’s there. It’s not inferential. You’re thinking about pain or heat or feeling or whatever. That’s imperative almost. And it’s a direct cognition.
- (3) [self-cognition61svasamvedana (स्वसंवेदन) = self-cognition – see svasamvedana.]: The third is slightly more complicated still. Your mind knows itself. There’s no need for any inferential logic. For example, mindfulness, when you do the vipassana, that’s what you are doing basically. Knowing. Being mindful. When you are mindful of your thoughts, you’re not using any inferential logic. You just experience them directly.
- (4) [yogic direct perception62yogipratyaksha (योगिप्रत्यक्ष) = yogic direct perception – see yogipratyaksha.]: The first three are direct cognition, but the great Buddhist logicians such as Dignaga and Dharmakirti consider them to be a kind of mediocre direct cognition, because we can’t really trust ourselves and our mind63Dignaga and Dharmakirti rejected the approach of the Vaibhashika school with its complicated Abhidharma-based description of how mental objects are connected to the external world. Instead they posited that the mental domain never connects directly with the external world, but instead only perceives an aspect based upon the sense organs and the sense consciousnesses – see pramana.. So the only valid cognition, the only valid and direct cognition, is what Buddhists call nenjor ngönsum64nenjor ngönsum (རྣལ་འབྱོར་མངོན་སུམ་) = yogic direct perception, the Tibetan word for yogipratyaksha – see nenjor ngönsum., the direct cognition of the yogis, the meditators’ state. That is direct cognition, completely uncontaminated by any kind of external force. This is total direct cognition. But if you tell this to scientists, they’re not going to buy it. We know that.
We can debate this if you want, maybe some other time if we have time. But anyway, as I was beginning this morning, I was talking about the academic approach and being objective. And I think that when people talk about being objective, especially in the academic world, probably they’re talking about the first three [kinds of cognition], as these are [more] empirical and hands-on. And there’s also inferential logic. We’re talking about establishing the right view, and so what we will do is use two methods – inferential logic and a little bit of direct cognition.
This time we won’t be dwelling too much on direct cognition, because I won’t be giving you any meditation instruction. By the way, “meditation” is not a good word. It’s a word that I have to get rid of from my system. [Vipassana] includes anything, [any method] that will take you closer to the authentic state. Whereas the word “meditation” has something to do with pondering and contemplating, which is not necessarily [the only method to take you closer to the authentic state]. Can you now see why even offering incense is a correct method to reach authenticity? It’s because of the motivation. If you have a certain motivation, “I will do such and such so that with this power of longing, with the power of this merit, may I be able to understand the truth”, that motivation, that dedication, that aspiration becomes a force or a cause to bring you closer to the truth. Okay we will take a break. It’s so hot.
[END OF TALK 3]
The three marks of existence
[Q]: At some point you mentioned that vipassana has something “extra” …
[DJKR]: Extra seeing.
[Q]: … and it seemed like we have to believe that to some degree from our confused point of view, but what you’re pointing to is that it’s already there …
[DJKR]: Very good. So you’re wondering about the “extra” bit. Actually maybe the word “extra” is misleading. “Insight” is one of the terms that people use. So is that what you’re asking? About the extra bit? Yes you are right – [the words] extra, insight, real colour, true colour – [they] somehow make you believe that there’s something [more] “inside”65Ed.: i.e. that you can’t see by looking at ordinary surface appearances.. But this is definitely not true. When Buddhists talk about the insight, the true colour, they’re not talking about anything mythical or mystical, nothing like that. It’s actually blatantly, ridiculously not-mystical.
Anicca = impermanence
The easiest example is impermanence. For instance, we’re supposed to have this thing [i.e. the teachings] going on tomorrow, remember? Are you here tomorrow?
[DJKR]: Exactly, you say “yes”, as if you are really sure that you’re going to come. Well you are not sure. We don’t know what happens. You might eat the wrong betel nut outside there, and you could choke to death. Or you might win the lottery tonight, and you could have [so much] excitement that you die there. So we don’t know. Every moment of our lives is changing and is conditioned – and this is the blatant truth. And vipassana is supposed to [be about] seeing that.
In fact, I think from the Theravada point of view, the [purpose of] vipassana is really to see anicca, anatta and dukkha66Ed.: i.e. the three marks or characteristics of all phenomena, namely: impermanence, non-self, and unsatisfactoriness. Here DJKR is talking about them in terms of three insights.. We are not going to go through this completely, because we need to finish [talking about] the experience of authenticity or authentic presence. But anyway, this is an important question. I know that the moment we talk about vipassana, there’s this sort of “Oh, we’re going to see something hidden”. But it’s not really hidden. Actually it’s there, it’s so close. Some masters say it’s so close and so simple that it’s like your eyelashes. It’s too near [so] you don’t see it. So anyway, impermanence is one [insight].
Nonduality = everything is simultaneously there and not there
Another one, which is actually the most important insight, is what we talked about this morning. Everything is simultaneously there and not there, but we miss this all the time. Something happens [and] you either get hijacked by “it’s there” [or by “it’s not there”]. Okay, let’s say that something happens to you. From a tantric point of view, three things could happen.
- (1) [Eternalism67takta (རྟག་ལྟ་) = eternalism – see takta.] When something happens to you, you could get hijacked by “it’s there”. So then what does that do? It makes you hopeful, it makes you think, “Wow, I can do this”. Eternalist, hopeful, assumptions, expectations. Things like planning, vision, wedding ring, planning, scheduling what I’m doing next year, all that. You get hijacked by that.
- (2) [Nihilism68chéta (ཆད་ལྟ་) = nihilism – see chéta.] Other times, we get hijacked by “it’s not there”. Let’s say you apply for a job, and you really want it. It’s a dream job, and you’re really this close and you have everything prepared. But then you don’t get it. Depressed, hopeless, what’s wrong. So then you get hijacked by “not there”.
- (3) [Union] Now other people, especially some of the tantric masters like Longchenpa, they say there’s a third hijacker. This is a really tough one. It’s the union of “it’s there and it’s not there”. The union. Now, you might think, “Wow. Why they are bad guys? Isn’t union supposedly good? Isn’t this what we’re here for?” No. According to the tantric people, they say if you think there is union, you must be thinking that there are two guys or two people uniting69Ed.: for example, if you were to say that a a baby comes from the union of mother and father, then you are effectively asserting that both mother and father exist. Likewise, Longchenpa is pointing out that the union of “it’s there” and “it’s not there” still involves getting caught up in a subtle form of duality..
The very concept of “uniting” is misleading. Actually I should tell you a little bit more about this, because the act of uniting is what makes things seemingly so solid and real. The union of “it’s there” and “it’s not there”. I wish they were not uniting. Their [union] makes it real. It makes the story work. It’s not there and it’s there. If you read Mahayana or tantrayana, this is also the concept of EVAM MAYA70Ed.: EVAM MAYA is described in detail in note 58 by Jokyab in Padmambhava & Jamgön Kongtrül’s “Light of Wisdom, Vol. 1”. In brief, “According to the sutra system, EVAM MAYA [SHRUTAM EKASMIN SAMAYE] means “Once upon a time I heard this spoken”. According to the system of tantra, the syllable E symbolises knowledge, prajña. It is … the perfect place […] The syllable VAM symbolises means, upaya, and is thus the perfect teacher […] The bindu of the VAM syllable symbolises union and is thus the perfect Dharma or teaching […] The syllable MA stands for mana, cognisance […] MA is said to be the syllable that symbolises mindfulness and is therefore smriti … the perfect retinue […] The syllable YA stands for the word yada meaning “upon a time” and therefore is the perfect time” – see also evamand maya..
If you ask a Buddhist, “What is magic? Is there magic?”, they will say that if there’s magic, then this is the magic – the fact that two opposites unite and this [union] makes deluded beings like us think, “Wow, it’s there” or “It’s not there”. And I want to say once again [that although we say] “two opposites”, actually they are only seemingly opposites. They are not even there as opposites [in reality]. Okay, you may think what’s the big deal? Oh, it’s a very big deal, because this creates illusion71Ed.: i.e. the entirety of our phenomenal reality and experience, all of which is like a magical illusion.. If you realise that it’s illusion, you’re free. But most of the time you look at the illusion and think it’s real, and that’s called delusion. And when you have delusion, it’s guaranteed you will be disappointed. Of course. That’s like going to a mirage when you’re thirsty and thinking that you’ll find water. It’s guaranteed you will be disappointed.
Dukkha = unsatisfactoriness (uncertainty, but not necessarily suffering)
So now we come to dukkha. The English word “unsatisfactoriness” is quite good as a translation of the Pali word “dukkha”. Definitely the word “suffering” doesn’t really capture the whole meaning of the word “dukkha”. We’re bound by time, which means uncertainty is there. And uncertainty [isn’t necessarily suffering]. It can also be something pleasant. For example, you’re not rich now but because of uncertainty you could become rich. It’s not like you’re stuck. But if you’re looking [at life] from the bird’s eye view of the Buddhist philosophy of dukkha, then all of it [is bound by uncertainty]. As long as it’s bound by time, you’re bound by uncertainty. And this uncertainty is dukkha. It’s not necessarily suffering.
And yes, of course, [there’s] the usual dukkha – suffering, pain, loss, bad news, sickness, old age and so on. But when people mention the word “suffering” generally they think [about it] in a very limited way, such as death. When someone dies, that’s sad. But if somebody is giving birth to a baby, do you send a condolence card? You should, actually, from the Buddhist point of view. Something like, “I don’t know what to say, but I guess welcome to this miserable world”. Or “Welcome. Your days of getting closer to death have begun”. But nobody is going to buy these cards. Likewise with weddings. People don’t consider that as suffering. They only consider it [i.e. suffering] [in terms of things like] sickness and death. That’s probably the only so-called suffering. Even old age [comes with] a very good camouflage like senior citizen discounts, concessions, and stuff like that. And especially if you live in certain societies, supposedly you get more respect [when you’re old]. I think you have the picture now. From the Buddhist point of view, old age and birth, becoming poor and becoming rich, both are equally dukkha. They’re not necessarily painful but they are dukkha.
Everyone has dukkha, even though it is an illusion. You need to know this. Just because it’s illusion doesn’t mean that it does not exist. It can still be very powerful. In fact from the Buddhist point of view, there’s nothing that is not illusion. [The illusion is] very powerful.
There are many modern sufferings
And then of course, there’s the obvious pain and anxiety that we suffer [from] also. Like existentialist angst. Like purposelessness. Like worthlessness. Like joblessness. There are so many different kinds of suffering, from small suffering to big suffering. And it’s very relative and it’s very subjective. For some people, not remembering their password is much worse than death.
There are so many modern sufferings. So much alienation. The war between wanting to have individual rights and individual space, and then when you finally have it, becoming more lonely. And then breaking down the door of other people who actually also wish for individual space, because you cannot cope with your boredom and loneliness. So crazy, isn’t it? What is it that we want?
And having done the same thing again and again for the past 60 years, looking ahead you will probably end up doing the same thing. The suffering of referring [to] and comparing [your life] with others. Like, “He has been to Peru, yet I’ve haven’t gone even beyond Mumbai”, things like that. There are so many different kinds of anxiety coming from reference, comparison, and judgment. And of course now there’s the new dukkha of liberalism and fascism and right wing and left wing. And enjoying online shopping and at the same time hating that somebody is turning you into a commodity by selling your data to others. We can go on and on the whole day listing all these, but such is the nature [of things] now. And some people say that in about 20 or 30 years we’ll become obsolete because the machines and the algorithms are going to take over.
What about an enlightenment pill?
There are some people, some Buddhists who are genuinely worried and even ask me questions like “What is going to happen if a scientist can create and come up with a tablet [i.e. a pill or pharmaceutical, not a laptop] that can calm your mind, [and help you] concentrate and be mindful?” Yes of course people like me will lose our job. But I’m not that worried, because if people could create a tablet to [enable people to] experience authenticity – and not just for six hours but for good – I would consider this to be an incredible compassionate manifestation of the bodhisattva in the form of tablet. Why not? I am not against this.
But as long as there’s this kind of longing, as long as there’s reference, as long as there’s judgment, as long as there’s duality, as long as there’s the divorce between “it’s there” and “it’s not there” [we will still need a path]. [Whether it’s] EVAM, tablets, meditation or monasteries – it really doesn’t matter very much. We will still need the blessings, the pith instructions, and the right path to achieve the awakened state. Awakened state.
Practice and realization
What does it mean to live within the spirit of the tathagata?
When people first requested this teaching, the subject was different. This time I wanted to talk about this because I think we need to know what “living within the spirit of tathagata” [actually means]. And when say “living” I’m being literal. Waking up, making your bed, brushing your teeth, just basically going around with your life, the ups and downs of life. But [living within the spirit of the tathagata means that as you do so, you are] more and more getting acquainted with, and stabilising, and having a bigger and larger picture, and an ever-steadier presence of authenticity. This is really important.
And so I’m not discouraging you to do all the rituals – chanting mantras, prayers, all of those. Remember, I was telling you this morning that I could accept [all kinds of methods as vipassana practice, such as] tea ceremony, zen garden, sand offering mandala, mantras and mudras. Of course. In fact, these methods like mantras, meditation, and sitting straight – they are a technique. They are not the end [goal]. If being able to sit straight was the end, we could easily ask some furniture people to design some furniture to help us!
[Sitting straight] is never the end. It’s a technique. It’s a wonderful technique. It really helps us to calm down our prana and therefore it calms down the bindu and loosens our nadi, so I’m not at all discouraging this. However, in this day and age, most methods [don’t end up being used very much]. After these three days, not all of you but many of you will most probably never sit even for one minute. Maybe for about a year you might have a pang of guilt for not sitting. For just about a year, then after that not even that guilt. Totally forgotten. Until maybe you end up meeting somebody like me who talks about meditation, and then you once again get inspired for maybe a week or two.
But I don’t think we should think that this [i.e. sitting meditation] is the only way. I think there are so many ways to construct, establish, and strengthen the right view with us at all times.
Understanding, experience and realization
There’s hearing, which we are doing for instance right now. I think it’s good to hear [the Dharma] from time to time. To read. Receiving teachings. And then contemplation. One of the big parts of contemplation is being critical – critical towards the path, towards your teacher, and towards the teaching, just as the Buddha himself encouraged. [He said] “I have given you the path, you have to do it [i.e. practice the path] yourself”72Dhammapada XX.4: “You have to make the effort: The Tathāgatas are the teachers” (Dhammapada, trans. Valerie Roebuck). Alternative translation: “You should do your work, for the Tathāgatas only teach the way” (Walpola Rahula, “What the Buddha Taught”). and “Whatever path I’ve given you, you can’t take it at face value. You must analyze”73Kalama Sutta, AN 3.65: “Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” — then you should enter & remain in them.” (trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available at Access to Insight).. Yes, analyze. This is the essence of contemplation. Is it working for you?74Ed.: i.e. your contemplation needs to include an analysis of whether the teachings and your practice are working for you in your own life. In other words, don’t just analyse whether or not you agree with the teachings intellectually, but look at how you are applying them and living them in your everyday life.
During the hearing and contemplation you will be using a lot of logic. But after a while, you have to shrug off this logic. Yes, logic is very useful in the beginning. It’s like a toothpick. You know, from time to time it’s necessary. But once [you have picked out] whatever needs to be picked, then there’s no need to carry round this toothpick and always dig your teeth with it, because you could damage your teeth. So after a while, you really need to have the courage to dismantle and discard logic. Then you have to enter into meditation.
And when you meditate, there is another [kind] of challenge. At first when you meditate, all sorts of understanding will come. [You will have] three or ten or twenty times more understanding of Dharma, of the truth, than while you were reading. Because you are meditating. That kind of understanding will happen. And when understanding happens, under no [circumstances] should you assume that it’s realisation. That’s just understanding. Understanding, as the great masters of the past said, is like a patch on [a piece of] cloth. It’s just holding it together. It’s not your cloth, it’s just a patch. Your understanding also has to wear out. [You also have] to shrug it off. So yes, your teacher will applaud and congratulate you for having a right understanding, but that is not the end. Once you shrug off the understanding, you will have experiences.
Now that’s a tricky one. [You will have] all kinds of experiences. Sometimes it’s almost like a nirvana kind of experience – blissful, all together75Ed.: i.e. an experience where the boundaries between the self and the world dissolve., good dreams and sensations. I’m thinking of making a film about people’s sensations, the feelings that they experience when they practice. [You will have] all kinds of experiences. You should really not make a big deal out of these experiences at all. You must be ready to shrug them off.
So yes, [there are] five things you need to shrug off – hearing, contemplation, meditation, understanding and experience – all those must go. And when all those have gone, then one day you’ll wake up [and wonder] is this it? What? Is this it? Something like that, I think. I haven’t been there so I can’t really tell you, but it’s something like “Is this all?” Yes. Realization. And when you have that realisation, I’m sure some of you are asking “How will we know that it is realization?” There are several signs.
Realization and understanding other people
One is if you don’t have an urge to write it down and publish it. That’s realization. And forget writing it down, you almost don’t even know how to communicate with the whole world. And then at the same time, [you have] just complete – again, I’m not going to use the word compassion – total empathy or total understanding of the other person’s position.
Let’s say your buddy has drink a lot of whiskey, and you just got over [being] drunk [and] on a trip, but your buddy is still going on [in his own intoxication]. [Maybe] because he has drunk more [whiskey] or he has drunk less water or whatever. And then your buddy is crying, laughing, dancing naked, whatever. How do you feel? How would you feel? Compassion is not the right word. I don’t know, but [with the word] “compassion” there’s such a [sense or connotation of] charity76Ed.: i.e. a hierarchical or asymmetrical relationship in which you are the helper and the other person needs your help.. [Whereas] if you see your friend or your child, you know they have their own world and you don’t feel that charity kind of feeling77Ed.: i.e. you don’t feel the need to get involved with and try to make changes to their life. You have no agenda. There’s no sense of codependence or desire to control in this kind of healthy relationship.. You just have understanding. You just understand.
I guess for those who are studying psychology, [you talk about] hearing and listening. I think only at that time [i.e. when there is no “charity” feeling] do you [really] hear and listen to somebody. [Only then are] you one hundred percent there. Otherwise we just don’t know how to hear and listen. Somebody is talking to you and you have to hear – that’s a difficult job. You can say that it’s my job to listen to and hear people, [but] most of the time, almost all time I feel I can’t hear [them]. I can’t listen.
[They ask me] what they should buy for their pet dog. Sometimes I just think “Who cares? Just give them whatever”. And I shouldn’t say this, because I’ll get in trouble with all the animal rights people. But when I think that, [I think], “Oh, I’m being selfish because I’m only thinking of myself not going to prison. I’m not really thinking of the dog. [So I think to myself] “Okay, I better listen”, so I ask them to tell me, and they talk about dog therapy, dog sadness, cat sadness, some people even have snakes. What to do with this? All these worries. Some people worry about dog food. Some people worry about the 2020 election. What’s the difference? There’s not so much difference, is there? It’s just a trick. It’s a trick, it’s a hallucination that we’re going through at the moment.
Q & A
Why are we so distracted?
[Q]: My question is on the topic of distraction. Why is it that every day we are so distracted with everything? Why is distraction such a big part of most of our days? Why are we so distracted?
[DJKR]: Actually, wow, it sounds like you have done some meditation. I’m serious. Yes, we have lots of distractions. Of course. [We have] habit. It’s like a wristwatch that does not need a battery and does not need winding. Most young people don’t know what I’m talking about. What do you call it? An automatic watch. It’s not really automatic, because every time you move a little bit, this is supposed to charge it [rewind it]. [Likewise] I think that distractions comes because we poke them. And we poke them in both ways. We poke them by actually getting entangled with these distractions, or we poke them by [trying to ignore them], “Ah, distractions are not good. I’m not going to be distracted. I’m going to watch my breathing”. We poke them in both ways, and then they run [i.e. continue to function] because they’re getting food. So what we need to do is to have an embargo, like a food embargo. Ration. We need to really learn to get bored. I’m serious. You have to decide to be bored for about ten minutes. To really do nothing, not even daydream. This could help. Basically, the answer to your question is that [we are so distracted because] we feed [our] distractions.
But your concern, if it is a concern not just a question [is a good one]. If you’re concerned, “Why am I so distracted all the time?”, that is already making the kingdom of distractions nervous. It’s not good news for them, you understand? So yes, be concerned. Just keep on being concerned.
If satisfaction is a defilement, does that mean we shouldn’t look for satisfaction?
[Q]: In the morning you mentioned six defilements. My question is that those six defilements [include things] that we always aspire to achieve, like satisfaction. You really demolished them. So as a person, I’m very confused. I would request you, please elaborate and teach more on them.
[DJKR]: Demolish them further? I was really trying to not use words like “defilement”, but somehow, at some point, I need to tell you what makes you lose your authentic presence. And somehow I have to tell you that these six things are what make you lose the authentic state. And somehow [when I tell you that], it must have now created a certain animosity among you towards these six, [like] “Oh, these are the six people who are actually taking me away from the authentic state”. Yes. This is the challenge of the path. What I want to say – and this is from Tilopa and Naropa, those guys – is that you should not have animosity towards [these six]. Because [in the same way that] if you are making fire you need wood, likewise if you want to create the wisdom of authentic presence or the authentic state, you also need the wood of all these78Ed.: i.e. the challenge of the path is that as soon as we start to talk about defilements and obscurations to enlightenment, i.e. the things that stand between us and our goal, we immediately think that these so-called “negative emotions” are bad. And yet these are the very fuel that we need for our practice.. And these six are really good wood.
I think what we need to [understand] is that initially when the fire is very small, you don’t want to just throw in so much wood, as then it just kills the fire79Ed.: i.e. once we have become seasoned practitioners, we should not think of so-called obscurations, defilements and negative emotions as bad for our path. Indeed, they are the very fuel we need for our practice. However as beginners, we need to be more cautious, as these same defilements could overwhelm us.. But I think fundamentally your attitude towards them should not be one of animosity. This is something you probably need to hear, but these are very personal instructions that you need80Ed.: i.e. because we are all at different places on our path, what is fuel for one person could be overwhelming for another. This is why students need personal instruction..
Is visualization inauthentic?
[Q]: I want to ask about visualisations [like those] we do during guru yoga for example. Can you say something about visualisation compared with cabbage and salad, because when we visualise [it seems like] it’s a different kind of dressing.
[DJKR]: This is a little bit of a Vajrayana question, so I will not answer it completely here. But all of these guru yoga sadhanas are aimed to actually achieve the authentic naked pure state of your mind. They are a method. And especially towards the end of the guru yoga, the guru sadhana, there are very clear instructions on how to achieve that authentic state.
[Q]: But is this visualisation a dressing?
[DJKR]: Yes, as I said earlier, I will be talking about how this dressing is very important. Because a lot of our kids don’t [like to] eat raw cabbage. We need to sweeten it, put salt, put chilli, all kinds of things. The dressing is very important.
How can we cultivate the state of referencelessness?
[Q]: [translated from Chinese:] You talk about the state of [having] no reference point, like no male or female, so sometimes I will try to imagine that state. Does this count as a kind of practice? And how would you suggest that we practice that non-reference state?
[DJKR]: Basically the very admiration and even interest in that kind of value of non-reference is very admirable. I think you should have that. As to achieve that, there is a really systematic guide and instructions from many different traditions and teachers. And every single one of them [i.e. these different practice traditions] has its [own] power. And all of them have been tested for hundreds of years and led so many people to whatever they are trying to achieve. From a simple [practice of] watching the breath – in and out, in and out. Nothing else. Just that. That can lead you to non-reference. Or writing haiku, as I said earlier. Poetry. Or tea ceremony. Or chanting mantras. Or nine days vipassana retreat. All of it. There are just so many. Which is the best one or the quickest one really depends so much [on the] individual [practitioner].
Also individual practice changes a lot. For example, like myself. I’m a good example. For a few years I just didn’t like all the form practices like rituals – all the offerings, shrines, visualisations of light, the deity and so forth. I thought they’re just so confusing and annoying because you can’t do them properly or whatever. I need my “properly”. [I found it] just too tiring and discouraging many times. And I don’t practice much, but for the little practice that I did, I switched to more formless [practices] such as doing just shamatha or different kinds of vipassana.
But [this has changed]. I think it was because of many different causes and conditions, such as going to all these Hindu temples and watching people do bhajan81bhajan (भजन) = devotional songs – see bhajan.. I have to say that all those causes and conditions somehow brought me back to form practice. Now I’m all for form. I like pujas82puja (पूजा) = devotional practice, ritual prayer and practice – see puja.. I like incense. I’m like your local shamanist. I’m like a pujari83pujari (पूजारी) = priest who performs temple rituals and devotional practices such as puja – see pujari., you could say. You’ll never see me doing formless meditation like zen people. I’m like, “Ah, not enough flowers, not enough incense”. Bowing down, flowers, ritual substances – I’m into all of this and I don’t mind it. But I’m sure that in about two or three years this phase will one day switch. Everything is impermanent. And then if you invite me back here to Pune in about five or six years I’ll say, “Don’t do all this stuff. Just sit. Sit on the cushion. All these are just rituals. They are a side-track.” I may say this. I’m already warning you.
But as I said, [any method is good] as long as it is taking you to the truth. It is important that we know this. Remember how earlier this morning we talked about good and bad, good karma and bad karma? How do you decide in Buddhism what is good and what is bad? Very simple. Anything that takes you closer to the truth is good. Anything that takes you away from the truth, even if it happens to be a temple, is bad. There are activities in the temple [and things like] the colour of the temple that can take you away from the truth, because it’s spiritual materialism. You know, even going shopping – shop ’til you drop – could be very enlightening. You know, spend money, go through the post-shopping depression, watch that depression of having spent too much, watch that concern and worry, “What will I do next week now you I bought too much? Why did I buy too much?” All this could also take you closer to the truth. It’s very important not to limit our tools and skills [that we could use] to take us closer to the truth. Okay probably we should end here today. I’ll see you tomorrow.
[END OF TALK 4]
[The Way of the Tathagata: Day 2]
Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers
Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio