Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
The Way of Vipassana
Shankaraa Foundation, Bengaluru (Bangalore), India
January 4, 2020
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.
Introduction to vipassana
The three marks of existence
- The three marks of existence
- Anicca (Impermanence)
- Dukkha (Unsatisfactoriness)
- Anatta (Nonself)
- The selflessness of the person
- Vipassana in various Buddhist traditions
- Without awareness of the three marks of existence, mindfulness is not vipassana
Q & A
- How can we understand karma and reincarnation if there is no self?
- What is the role of ethics in the practice of vipassana?
- Is longing for progress on the path just another form of clinging and attachment?
- What should I do if I get attached to the sense of freedom that comes with vipassana?
- How do we reconcile self-care and no-self?
- How does yoga relate to vipassana?
- Can we watch a movie instead of practicing?
- What is the difference between rangtong and shentong?
- How does it feel to have no references?
[DJKR is given a traditional offering of headdress and scarf]
As a Buddhist, I believe in causes and conditions, and how much causes and conditions can create a long lasting impression or impact. Someone asked me what is it that I want to become in my next life? So when people ask this question, you have to think about “What is it that I have not managed to do in this live which I really want to do, but something that just was not possible for all sorts of reasons?”. What was lacking? What is it that I really wish I could do, but cannot do?
[For me] that is becoming a classical Indian musician. And yes, also a Carnatic singer. In this life [it] was not possible. I can see, I can feel, there’s no time. No discipline. So, I consider all this [DJKR points to the headdress and scarf he was offered] as a good cause and condition so that in my next life, I will be born and within a few hours I will be singing Carnatic songs and hearing sitar and tabla. Shall I take it off now? [DJKR removes the headdress].
So, since the title of our gathering here is something to do with vipassana, and since words like “meditation”, “mindfulness” and “vipassana” are kind of a trend these days, I’m sure that some of you — especially those who have not been to this kind of gathering [before] — may have certain expectations, or some sort of assumptions about what it is about.
And of course we only have this morning, so to really essentialize and give you a complete picture of vipassana is therefore difficult. It’s impossible because vipassana is really vast. But hopefully this morning we can discuss and [it will] give you a different angle, and maybe demystify a little bit phenomena such as meditation, mindfulness, and vipassana, at least within the Buddhist context.
What are our assumptions about vipassana?
As we were walking in earlier, there was a beautiful chant. She was chanting refuge, taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Now actually that is very much vipassana. There is no reason why it is not vipassana. And similarly, chanting mantras such as TADYATHA OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA1GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA (ག༌ཏེ༌ག༌ཏེ༌པཱ༌ར༌ག༌ཏེ༌པཱ༌ར༌སཾ༌ག༌ཏེ༌བོ༌དྷི༌སྭཱ༌ཧཱ།) = Sanskrit mantra at the conclusion of the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayasūtra (“Heart Sūtra”), which means “gone, gone, gone to the other shore, awakening, svaha” – see GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA, or very popularly known mantras such as OM MANI PADME HUM2OM MANI PADME HUM (ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པ་དྨེ་ཧཱུ།) = The six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara (also known as the “Mani mantra”) – see OM MANI PADME HUM., or even a very simple chant of OM3OM (ॐ) = sacred sound and spiritual symbol in Indian religions. In Hinduism, it signifies the essence of the ultimate reality, consciousness or Atman; in Buddhism, it is the seed syllable for the body of all the buddhas – see OM.. [All those] can be very much vipassana.
But I know that most people have a different idea of vipassana, which we should [do] right now for about a minute or two. I think most of you must be assuming or have some idea of what vipassana is. So let’s do that.
Let’s all sit straight. Comfortably. And be aware. Be mindful.
Be conscious of your surroundings. Your feelings, your thoughts, your emotions.
And simply that. Just be conscious. Just be aware of what’s happening this very moment. Be it something very exotic, sacred. Or ordinary, mundane. Or it can be very disturbing. Strong kleshas or emotions.
Whatever it is, just be aware of this.
Okay. So this, what we just did, is more likely what you were expecting when we were talking about vipassana. And this, what we just did, is sort of qualified [in our contemporary world] as meditation, as vipassana. [Whereas] the girl who was singing refuge, that’s “religious”. That’s a “cultural” thing. “Cultish”. It’s an “Indian” sort of habit. [The same goes for] chanting mantras. It’s categorized as a “religious” act, a religious discipline.
I think this has a lot to do with [how] Buddhism is now going outside India. It’s kind of interesting that when Buddhism was brought to places like China and Japan, somehow the Chinese and Japanese were really quite comfortable with things like lotus and the Anjali mudra [the prayer mudra]. I don’t think [the Anjali mudra] is a very Japanese thing. It’s also not a Chinese thing. I’m sure they had something [else], a different way of expressing their devotion. But this [mudra] was later imported from India, and somehow the Chinese were quite comfortable with it. I’m sure there were also critiques and disputes. Of course. And Tibetans? Tibetans look up to Indians, sometimes quite over the top. [They see it as the] land of the aryas. Anything that comes from India, especially anything to do with the spiritual path, they think it’s perfect. Perfection.
Now Buddhism is going outside India and traditional [Buddhist] places, especially towards the West. So now there is a challenge. Anything to do with mudras, flowers, incense, statues, singing, chanting mantras, is very uncomfortable for the new host so to speak. Whereas this [sitting mindfully] is okay. It doesn’t sound very religious. It’s kind of harmless. I think it’s also very similar to yoga. Of course, yoga has some other material benefits such as slimming and vanity, etc.
Anyway, this sitting is sort of accepted in the modern Western world. And when I say “Western world”, I’m not just talking about the West. Because Indians and Chinese, you [also] have so much of that so-called Western mind. The globalized mind, modern mind. So much. I see more and more Chinese and Indians who are embarrassed about chants and mantras, especially the modern Indians and modern Chinese. And now people are even going to the extent of saying that scientifically, mindfulness is proven to be a healthy thing. I don’t know, there has been a dispute about that too.
But if you look at the way or the philosophy behind vipassana, then [sitting] is as [much a] ritual as chanting mantras and chanting prayers. This is a ritual actually. Sitting straight is a ritual. It just happens to be less threatening for the modern mind. It just happens to be something that you don’t mind, something that your non-Buddhist or non-Hindu boyfriend or girlfriend [doesn’t] mind. It just happens to be that. Anything to do with flowers or mantras, you want to hide it, because it’s too religious.
But if you look deeper into the philosophy of vipassana, this [sitting] is just a ritual. Nothing else. And by the way, sitting straight can be a trap. Just as mantras, rituals, flowers, incense, all that can be a trap. Equally, [in the same way that] sitting straight and quiet for hours and hours can help you to look inward and develop mindfulness, for many others, chanting, praying, Zen gardens, tea ceremonies, all these rituals can be very awakening and so forth.
What is the meaning of vipassana?
Now why is it like that? What is the reason, the logic behind this? The word “vipassana”4vipassana (विपस्सना) = special seeing, special insight, insight – see vipassana. is quite important. We need to decipher this word. Although I’m not a Sanskrit or Pali scholar, the word “vi”5vi- (वि) = a prefix that intensifies the root word, e.g. greater, special – see vi-. has the connotation of “special”. And the word “passana” means “seeing”, which I think the ancient Tibetan translators did a very good job in translating as lhaktong6lhaktong (ལྷག་མཐོང་) = vipassana, ‘special seeing’ – see lhaktong.. Lhak7lhak (ལྷག་) = special, supreme, beyond – see lhak. means “special”, “extra”, “the real thing”, “the true color” so to speak.
So the whole point of vipassana is to see the real thing. Maybe even the word “special” is kind of deceiving, because it sort of implies that there is a mystical, special reality that we don’t see. For now, [let’s understand it in terms of seeing] “the true color” or “insight”. So, with this in mind, now you can contemplate on words like “mindfulness”. Why would Buddhists want to [spend]8Ed.: DJKR used the word “end” several times in this section of the teaching. It has been changed to “spend”. their life being mindful. Can you think about it? Because “mindful” has this connotation of being careful. Why would you want to be careful all your life? That is so depressing. Why would you want to be sort of on edge all the time, being careful?
So the word “mindfulness” is not a good word. It has a lot of [connotations of] stress. What the Buddhists are really trying to achieve is insight, the true color, wanting to meet the real McCoy9“The real McCoy” is an idiom used to mean “the real thing” or “the genuine article”. It is believed to originate from a corruption of “The real MacKay”, which originally referred to Scotch whisky. See wikipedia.. That’s what we want to do.
[But many of us think mindfulness means] sitting for hours and hours. And this [way of thinking] permeates at every level. Just now, before I came here, somebody on the way stopped me and asked, “What should I do as a daily practice?” Implying that there is a certain time, like [in the] morning, and some sort of discipline to apply, like a mantra or a ritual or a posture such as sitting. And [we think that daily practice means] doing that. It’s a bit like how a Christian [might] go to church every Sunday or something like this. So [we might think] “As a Buddhist you sit in the morning for half an hour. [This is] the homework.”
So daily practice. Now I’m not denouncing or discouraging daily practice, I just want to think [about] what we mean by daily practice. It’s not a ritual. It’s not like praying five times within every 24 hours. Or daily or weekly or monthly or yearly, it doesn’t matter. Or even once every 12 years. What you’re supposed to do is vi-passana, meaning to get acquainted with the real McCoy. To see the truth. That is the whole purpose of vipassana.
If that can be done without sitting [then there’s no need for sitting]. And actually, if that can be done better by walking around, dancing, cooking – as long as it is bringing you to the real thing, the truth – [then] it’s vipassana. Similarly, why would a Buddhist want to [spend] their life meditating? It sounds like [such a] big burden. “I have to meditate”. Because the word meditate, meditation, has to do with “getting used to”. Why would you want to get used to something? It just sounds really [as though] there’s a burden involved in this.
But of course, I have to remind you that this technique [of] sitting straight is very much encouraged. Because among many other reasons it is the most simple, it’s user friendly and it’s economical. And for modern people, it doesn’t have a “religious” look. So it’s something that you can share with people who want to do something, who want to calm their mind or want to see the truth, but who aren’t so comfortable with anything “religious”. So I’m not discouraging it, but I think we need to see vipassana in a much deeper and vaster sense.
In fact, in the Buddhist sutras and shastras, traditionally before vipassana is taught, there’s another technique called shamatha10shamatha (शमथ) = calm abiding, meditative equipoise, tranquility of the mind. Usually practiced as a sitting meditation – see shamatha. [that is taught first]. Once again, shamatha is actually nothing to do with just sitting. Its purpose is to make your mind malleable. That’s the whole point of shamatha. To make your mind workable, malleable. When your mind does what you want the mind to do, you have reached shamatha. And for a lot of people, this can be achieved through just watching the breathing.
You can look at the technique itself. It’s a trick. A meditation instructor will say “Okay, sit straight. Watch your breathing in and out. Every time your mind goes out [i.e. away from your breathing], you bring the mind back to [your] breathing”. This is a trick. It’s a necessary trick. It’s a wonderful trick. It’s a profound trick that has been used for centuries.
What it does is that when a meditator or practitioner tries to apply this method, the moment you concentrate on the breathing, the first thing you realize is that you can’t. [You experience] the frustration of not being able to be on that object. Again and again, you go through this frustration. And especially if you’re a dedicated practitioner, you actually invest in this frustration. And after [a while] – depending on what kind of faculties you have, for a lot of people [this happens] after a few months – the moment the distraction comes, the frustrations arise. And that – the moment you are distracted, you are frustrated – [that’s] the beginning of the birth of vipassana. It’s like the moment you see fire, you know it can burn. That’s the real thing. The real truth. Heat will burn you. The moment you see the fire, you know it can burn you.
So, anyway, there is a technique called shamatha, which is very much encouraged in order to make your mind malleable, workable. And once you have achieved a little bit of a strength in making your mind malleable – and by the way, you should not think that is something unachievable.
I think many times, practitioners end up thinking that making the mind malleable somehow makes you calm. Once again, this is something that you need to note. To be calm is really not the aim of Buddhists. Why would we [spend] our life being calm? That’s kind of easy to do. Just quit your job, or go somewhere [away from the busyness and stress]. That’s easy to do. To be calm is not what we are looking for. So how do you know that your mind is becoming malleable? After a day or two of shamatha meditation, if you realize you cannot concentrate, it’s the beginning of making your mind workable. Of course, in the beginning [there is] a lot of frustration. Of course, because [we have] expectations and assumptions and goals. [It’s because of our] understanding [of] the goal, [our] misunderstanding of the goal so to speak. Every time you are frustrated because you cannot concentrate, a big job is done. All we need to do is more of that. More of that.
The three marks of existence
And then we apply vipassana. And vipassana is to see the truth. Okay, so what truth are we talking about here? As I said earlier, the word “vi” is many times translated as “special”, and I have to be a little bit careful here because the word “special” seems to have the connotation of something exotic, something beyond this mundane world, which is not true [i.e. not what is meant here]. We are talking about something very, very ordinary. Truth [that is] so ordinary. Ridiculously mundane, ridiculously simple.
And in the classic Buddhist [teachings this truth is expressed in terms of the] three marks of existence — anicca, anatta and dukkha11See the glossary entry – 3 marks of existence.. In the past I’ve been using the translated version more12Ed.: DJKR’s first book “What Makes You Not a Buddhist” was a teaching on the four seals, a later Tibetan articulation and extension of the three marks of existence. See the glossary entry – four seals., but I would like to emphasize using the classic words.
Anicca13anicca (अनिच्चा) = impermanence – see anicca. is translated as “Impermanence“. I think this [translation] is okay. Impermanence. That is one of the truths that we just have to be aware of. Vi-passana. Insight. Awareness. Seeing the truth. The fact that everything is impermanent. I feel this teaching on impermanence has got derailed a lot. For one thing, somehow people in general have an image or view of Buddhism as “This group of religious [people] who talk [about] all sorts of pessimistic stuff like impermanence and death”. I think we got derailed there. Impermanence can be both good news and bad news.
Let’s say you just ordered a dosa or a chai, and as you are eating, if you can accept that this may be your last dosa – which is possible, isn’t it? Or when you say goodbye to someone or say “See you tomorrow”, if you tell yourself “You know, I may not see her or him tomorrow. This may be the last [time]”. This awareness is vipassana, I’m telling you. At that time, you are seeing the truth. You are living with the truth.
But at the same time, it’s not always like this. Let’s say you’re having a tough time, emotionally, mentally, physically. You have so many problems in your life. But you know how many times you have had problems [before], and most of these problems, the problems that we had ten years ago, are not that [much of] a big deal anymore. Some of the problems – on which we emphasized so much of our sweat and blood – if you recall them [now], they [seem] so ridiculous.
Now we have new problems that we are entangled with. So, if you are having a problem right now, vipassana is learning to have this attitude, “This may go tomorrow. Or not. Maybe next week or next month.” This is vipassana. What I’m trying to tell you is that a lot of the time people think vipassana is something to do with sitting on a cushion for nine days. Without talking. Without moving. This is one way. But the real thing is to have that constant knowledge, awareness and attitude towards your life [that] everything is changing, all the time.
I’m good friends with this man. Who knows? By next year, [maybe] we will be strangling each other. Who knows? I’m a Buddhist today. I’m fanatical about Buddhism. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll be crying in front of a church. We never know. It has happened to me. It has [kept] happening all the time. The things that I value have changed. And by the way, this knowledge, this awareness [of impermanence], you should not only talk about it. You should not only read about it and get [intellectually] convinced, as in “That’s true. Everything is changing. Everything is impermanent.” Not only reading about it, not only intellectualizing it, but actually living with it. That is vipassana.
I think this is something that, especially for those who are Buddhist here, you should also tell your children. It’s a good education for them. Because it’s really an education about expectations and assumptions. “You can do this, but you know, you never know.” If a Buddhist couple is getting married, at the end of the ceremony, “You know, you may get divorced by tonight.” That’s a vipassana marriage.
It’s really talking about “vi” – the real thing.
Living with this. Everything [is impermanent]. Tastes in music. Tastes in fashion. Food. Choice of gurus. We like this guru right now. Who knows, by next year we will be thinking “This cult figure”, and so forth. It’s like a wave. It changes all the time, constantly. Everything.
So this is one of the three marks. It’s very simple. Is there anything religious about it? Nothing. But in order to achieve that, you could do sitting. That could help. You could also chant. There are a lot of chants, a lot of mantras. And yes, prayers. And for someone like me, I personally prefer prayers. I really pray that I [will be able to] understand and live with anicca, impermanence. And it also makes your life kind of more [workable]. It cuts lots of blind expectations and blind assumptions that everything will be [permanent].
But as simple as this sounds, it’s not that easy, because there are all these forces out there that want you to think the opposite of anicca. The birthday party. “May you live long”. Moisturizers. Vitamins. Health centers. Wellbeing stuff. Botox. Plastic surgery. There are all kinds of things out there that are really trying to make you go away from anicca. To distract you from impermanence. So much. Basically everything. Online shopping, guarantees, insurance, family planning, migration, package tours. Oh wow. All kinds of things. All are ready there to distract you from this awareness that things change.
And again, as I say this, it probably sounds very negative for your ears. But actually, I don’t mean to be negative. Some of you don’t have Ferraris. And some of you don’t have a partner. Some of you don’t have jobs. Thanks to anicca, you may end up having two Ferraris. Thanks to anicca, you may end up having so many dates that you don’t know what to do with them. You may not know which one to choose from. So thanks to anicca, finally, after 20 years somebody actually is interested in you and you are also interested in him or her. At that time, think about anicca – that [relationship] could go. That’s all we’re asking here. This is how non-religious [it is]. This is all we are asking. This is all [the] awareness you need. That’s vipassana.
Can that be done by doing nine days of sitting somewhere in a retreat center? If so, do it. Most likely people who go to nine days vipassana sitting, most likely they’re going there to be calm. The quest and desire to be calm – [it] sounds like they don’t want anicca. Calm, strong, healthy. The quest and longing to be calm, free from stress. Somehow you have to be careful here, because there is a little bit of going away from anicca.
That’s it. Just that truth. You have to not only intellectually be aware of [it], but live with it.
Remember the days of George Bush, how are we really demonized him? Now he’s almost like a heavenly being. That’s going to happen after 10 years with certain people. Our ideas about people are going to change. That’s how it is. That’s all we are talking [about] when we are talking about vipassana.
When you see that, and when you live with that, you are liberated from delusion of thinking that things have to be a certain way, that things have to be only this way forever, and so forth. And the freedom from that delusion is what we call nirvana14nirvana (निर्वाण) = beyond suffering, state beyond sorrow – see nirvana. or moksha15moksha (मोक्ष) = liberation, emancipation, release – see moksha.. That’s all.
Okay, the next one. The next truth or the next point of vipassana. Dukkha16dukkha (दुक्ख) = suffering, unsatisfactoriness – see dukkha.. Dukh is basically “unsatisfactoriness”. I think this is probably the best translation of the Sanskrit or Pali word “dukh”. We are never going to be satisfied. If we are going to be satisfied [then] from the mundane world’s point of view, life will be very boring. Because we are satisfied. Just imagine, we are satisfied, period. Then what? This is how complicated we human beings are. As much as this unsatisfactoriness is really tearing you apart, this very unsatisfactoriness is also what you are striving for and working for. It’s so nice to have [things like] “upgrading your software”. You know, the next model is coming soon. Improvement. Progress. Advancement. Change. Discovery. To think about everything that we use. Like adventure. Discovery is a big one. All of this has unsatisfactoriness. It’s full of that. Completely. We’re just never satisfied. And that’s called life.
We are not making a judgement here. We are not making some sort of religious judgment, that being unsatisfied is sinful, or that you should therefore be satisfied. Nothing [like that]. Vipassana has got nothing to do with moral judgment. It is to do with the truth. The truth of the matter is that we are never satisfied with what we have. Sometimes, you know, in the mundane world, when the unsatisfactoriness is becoming too much, I guess it’s called pain. And when it is handleable, it’s called excitement. When the unsatisfactoriness is something that you can handle, it’s really exciting.
If you open a book on leadership training, from the first page to the last, it’s all about unsatisfactoriness. Otherwise, why would you want to become a leader? Why leadership? The moment you want to become a leader, you are seeing a problem, aren’t you? Therefore you want to lead, to lead yourself or somebody else. You’re not satisfied. That’s all we’re saying. We are not satisfied with the quality of this sound, or the quality of my voice. We’re not satisfied with all kinds of things. And that’s all you need to know. And if you know this, if you’re aware of this, you can extract a lot of liberation.
And [if you understand this] together with anicca, impermanence, it’s actually even more interesting. Down the line, in about twenty years time, we could be thinking about this very event we’re having right now. [At that time, we might think] even the noise of a car is very romantic. Of course, the trees. Just before I was thinking, this is how the great Indian thinkers and wisdom masters, this is how they taught to their pupils in the past. Under the trees, like this. Not in some strange laboratory or a classroom. Like this.
Everything. So if you can see the unsatisfactoriness aspect of our life, it can be very liberating. This is really good for those who are addicted to shopping actually. You’re never going to be satisfied with whatever you are buying. You have to just go [shopping] with that motivation or that awareness. It could be really liberating. That’s dukkha.
Then the third one, the last one, and probably the most important one is anatta17anatta (अनत्ता) = non-self – see anatta., which is translated as “non-self”. This probably needs a bit of thinking and contemplation and analysis. When we talk about “non-self”, the Buddhists are not saying that it does not exist. Buddhists are saying that it has no inherently existing self18Ed.: i.e. no phenomenon has a fixed, independent, unchanging essence or nature that we might label as a “self”..
I think the classic example is something like this [DJKR points to the furniture on which he is sitting]. There are legs here, there’s a plank, and there’s this mat [on top]. And I’m sitting on it, that’s a big one. [And with] all that put together, somehow there is a phenomenon called “bench” or “chair”. But individually, if you decipher and separate [these parts] individually, there is no “self” called chair or bench. For instance, before I walked into this place this morning, if there were some flowers on this, or some food and drink, this very phenomenon in your mind would be “table”. What a beautiful table. See? This just proves that it’s very changeable. Interchangeable. Everything. Fundamentally it’s this simple actually. Even though phenomena appear or die. They arise, exhaust, dwell, come, go function, not function. [But] whatever manifestation is occurring, none of it has a truly existing self.
And [this is emphasized] especially in Buddhism. I would say that vipassana is exclusive to Buddhism, and I need to say this or highlight this because maybe in twenty years time vipassana will become like Zen. Zen is still surviving, but it’s like wabi-sabi19wabi-sabi (侘寂) = a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection in traditional Japanese aesthetics – see wabi-sabi. in Japan. Wabi-sabi is a really profound Buddhist teaching, I have gathered. I’ve done some reading on this. But the Japanese themselves have forgotten that wabi-sabi is something to do with Buddhist wisdom. So it’s now becoming some sort of dying romantic Japanese saying. But actually it’s very profound Buddhist [wisdom]. Earlier I was talking about anicca and dukkha. Wabi-sabi explains this so well. Imagine the cherry blossom season in Japan. Why does the whole world love cherry blossoms? Because they only last ten days. If the Japanese cherry blossoms went on forever, nobody would even look at them. They would be so annoying, all these flowers. But because it comes for only ten days a year and then it drops, everybody [thinks] it’s beautiful. That temporariness is beautiful. Like that. And I think that one of the connotations of the word “sabi” is that imperfection is beautiful. You know, like broken glass or a broken chair. Which India has a lot. I’m not being sarcastic. If you look at [imperfection], it can be really [beautiful]. And Indians like with this, perhaps because of the influence of ancient wisdom. Life has so much temporariness and so much imperfection. And that can become very beautiful, if you know how to package it well and you know to see it from different angles.
The selflessness of the person
So, coming back to vipassana. Vipassana is an exclusive Buddhist path, and especially when we talk about anatta, when we talk about self-less or non-self, Buddhists would [prefer] to spend more time [talking about the no-self of a person] rather than talking about the no-self of a table or a chair, as I did earlier. Because at the end of the day, the table and the chair are not the biggest deal. I’m sitting here, and that’s why it’s a chair. But if some vegetables or food are here, it is a table. And you will not really go crazy about that. It doesn’t matter. It can be a table, it can be a chair, whatever.
But there’s another self that becomes a big matter, which is the self of a person. “Human”, “being”, “me”, “I”, “you”. Indian, Chinese, German, whatever. This self. Now that creates some problems. If you analyze your “self”, my “self”, it’s also just a label. It’s a label given to a congregation or gathering or transitory collection of a few [elements]. [These are] called body, feeling, name, gender, culture, consciousness, action. Actually, action is a very important one. When all these are together, then a label called “myself” or “you”, “they”, “he”, “she” appears. Other than that, there is no truly existing entity or a substance that can be pinpointed and kept or worshipped or punished or rewarded as a self.
Now this is probably the most difficult [of the three marks of existence], because going back remember how much difficulty we have in getting used to anicca, impermanence, the changing world? Because the whole world is telling you that you will live forever. You look young. All these things just to distract you from anicca. And then even more challenging is to see everything as unsatisfactoriness, because there’s all this illusion that “Oh, you know, I’ll finish my school. Then I’ll go to university. Then I’ll graduate, get a degree. And then I’ll get a job. Then I’ll do this and that, and get a promotion.” This illusion of satisfactoriness20Ed.: for example in setting goals and accomplishing them.. But the big one is unsatisfactoriness, [which is beneath] this continuous garland of satisfactoriness, small, small ones. So those basically rob you from the view that actually there is an underlying unsatisfactoriness to everything. Those two are already difficult, already challenging.
But even more challenging is to make you realize that this so-called self that I have is actually is just a label. Now that’s a difficult one. You can pinch [DJKR pinches his arm], “Oh no, I’m here”. If somebody steps on your toe. If somebody goes against your values or your references. [There are] all kinds of things [like that], and they are all kind of very narrow and lopsided. For instance, there are people who would go all the way fighting for rights of dogs. Dog-lovers. And not all animals, just dogs. They will not even think twice before they use mosquito repellent. Nobody speaks for mosquitoes. Stuff like this. It’s always your own preference, just because we like dogs. I like dogs. I have many dogs. And somehow we have come to a conclusion that when they move their tails, it means they like you. We never know actually, but that’s how we have come to a conclusion. Stuff like this. So if somebody is going against that kind of value, like vegetarian, non-vegetarian, Mahayana, Shravakayana, Vajrayana, Hindu, Moslem, Christian, all sorts of labels. And with that, all sorts of marks and descriptions. Those things really make you forget selflessness. They actually solidify the self. So [understanding anatta is] going to be difficult. This is why vipassana ends up becoming really vast and profound.
Vipassana in various Buddhist traditions
So, now, coming a little bit more to the traditional approach [to] the vipassana technique. In order to really enhance the awareness of this truth, you could go to places like Sri Lanka or Burma, and your master might give you a skull. And you put the skull in front of you, or a human bone, and then [you] just train your mind and make [yourself] aware that one day you will become this. Bone, ashes, skull, skeleton. That’s one method.
[There’s also] the technique of looking at form, feeling, mind. Just look and look. And the moment a judgment or fabricated or discursive thought comes, you go back to simply looking at, watching or being aware of thoughts, feelings, descriptions. You then slowly shrug off all references. And as a practitioner becomes so skilled in this, you then taste selflessness. So you feel very amused by your name. You get so amused by calling yourself [by your name] or thinking that you have a certain gender. Thinking that you are a man or a woman or that you are Indian or Chinese. You get so amused, because basically you [know you] are looking at a congregation or gathering of blood, veins, and skin. Just atoms. That’s it. Nothing else. And yet you have all these strong labels and so forth. There is that kind of technique.
Now if you go to a tantric [master], like Vajrayana Buddhism coming from the Tibetan tradition, they have some other methods. They use these methods [from Sri Lanka and Burma], but they also say [things like], “Okay for the men, you visualize yourself as a woman”. Completely pulling the rug out [from under] their feet. If you’re a man, visualize yourself as a woman. Or think that you have a cow’s head. Think that you have six arms. Think that you have a thousand eyes. All this to really destroy this stubborn, concrete fort of the notion of self.
Basically I should say, the whole Buddhist path one way or another is a path of vipassana. So, with this we now should come to a conclusion that as long as you can somehow get used to anatta, anicca and dukkha, you are doing vipassana. It doesn’t matter how you do it. And this is very possible. This is possible through reading books. This is possible through discussions like this. And this is possible, of course, through the traditional methods like sitting.
Okay, coming back to daily discipline. Where does this come from? It’s really nothing to do with “daily”. I don’t know where that comes from. But actually, the concept of daily practice is based on the idea that since you are more likely to get distracted from this truth, then why not get used to this truth and do it consistently, many times? That’s the fundamental thing. To be consistent. To do it again and again, not necessarily daily. If needed, every minute. Every moment. If not, the once every twelve years will also do. You have to know that if the daily thing that you are doing – daily sitting, daily whatever – if that’s not bringing you to anicca, anatta and dukkha, if that’s not bringing you [to this] awareness, then it’s just a ritual.
With this, if anything brings you closer to this, you could be reading something like Gabriel García Márquez “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, you could be reading this, and if that book brings you closer to these three, it’s a vipassana “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. It can be. Or you can watch a movie. If that movie is bring you closer to these three marks of existence as we call them, it’s vipassana. Now, you may think I’m being very radical, but I’m really not. This is completely based on the actual philosophy of vipassana. You may think it’s radical because I’m not emphasizing sitting. By all means, as you have heard many times, I’m not discouraging sitting and all of that. I just want you to know that if sitting is only making you mindful, if being mindful is your goal, it’s not necessarily vipassana.
Without awareness of the three marks of existence, mindfulness is not vipassana
Being mindful is, as I said, being careful. If being careful is not taking you to the awareness of these three truths, you’re just a very careful person. Yes, you’re paranoid. Probably you will survive. I heard that the paranoid usually survive. Maybe you will survive in your environment. And that’s not what we are [looking for]. Buddhists are supposedly not looking for that. They’re looking for something else. If you are talking about anatta, if you really think about anatta, and you still insist on samadhi, meditation, it’s a contradiction. There is no truly existent meditation. There is no truly existing meditator.
Without this anatta, just anicca and dukkha alone is supposedly not a complete vipassana. But having said this, if you have awareness of anicca and dukkha, if you have a really thorough understanding of anicca and dukkha, it’s designed to to lead you to anatta. You know, it’s like this. If somebody is right in front of you, you don’t want to tell them, “You know, you do not exist as yourself.” Because the person will go crazy. “What is he talking about? I’m here”. I think it’s best to talk about anicca. You know, “Things change.” That’s sort of easy to buy for people. Sort of. Even though I have told you many times there are a lot of obstacles for that.
So the first thing is to get used to anicca. If you invest a little bit of time, you should be able to be convinced by the truth of anicca. Then bring dukkha. That’s much more tough. Because we all want to have fun, don’t we? Although, if you really want to have fun, you should really be aware of dukkha. If you really know about dukkha, wow, you are this cool person. Then you are calm, cool, measured, not fidgety. You have not lost your composure, because you know dukkha. And also impermanence. So then of course, everything is fun. Somebody cries in front of you, somebody laughs behind you, what a show. And then of course compassion, which since it’s a much bigger subject we will cover it after the break.
But by the way, really, I must tell you this. I’m not denouncing or discouraging you [from practicing the] traditional vipassana method. By all means, please do the nine days’ vipassana. I think it’s good. I think, as I was saying, it will really make you frustrated and it will make you really bored, which is good. This is really important. Boredom, loneliness, these are like the dawn of wisdom. You need to really get bored. We are not bored enough. Do you want to be creative? We are doing this in center of creativity21Ed.: Bengaluru (Bangalore) is known as one of the most important centers of creativity and innovation in India.. You need to be bored. We are not bored enough. You need to be bored and to really feel lonely. Then you will feel a little bit naked. So [you should aspire] for that at least. But depending on the grade of your understanding of vipassana, nine days of vipassana, of course [that can be helpful]. Even nine hours of vipassana, nine minutes of vipassana, if you do it with proper understanding of the three marks of existence, it’s very helpful.
I think it’s a shame to just do vipassana on the cushion, at a designated time and place, and then for the rest of the time – which is a much bigger portion of [your day] – you don’t do anything. That’s like sharpening your knife and then putting it back in the draw without cutting anything. It’s a waste.
You can apply these three [anicca, dukkha and anatta] at every level. Examples are infinite. I made a lot of notes, but I think you now know you can apply this. This is why Buddhists also emphasize breathing, breathing in and out. It’s amazing that we breathe out and then we breathe in. Wow, that’s a cause for celebration. Wow, I breathed in. There already you have a little bit of anicca and dukkha, and then you apply “Oh, I am basically nothing but this lump of meat and little bit of breathing and a little bit of cognition. I’m really not this and that, man, woman, religion”. Anatta. Three marks of existence. Okay, we’ll take a break.
Q & A
How can we understand karma and reincarnation if there is no self?
[Q]: [Attempted reconstruction] How can we understand karma and reincarnation if there is no self?
[DJKR]: There are two questions that are related to anatta. This is very understandable, because anatta is quite a big [subject]. You have to get used to it. It’s actually really simple, but because of the way we thin and the language that we use, we need to somehow get accustomed to this way of thinking.
I think the best example I always give is like when you watch a movie or television episode, like “Game of Thrones”. You watch it today and then you eagerly wait for the next one, don’t you? And things happen in the story. Bad things happen, good things happen, unexpected things happen, expected things happen. Love, all kinds of things. And there’s also time. You can watch a movie of somebody’s [whole] life within two hours. And somehow we never really complain, “How come somebody got old within two hours?”
So when all this is happening, and especially when you are waiting eagerly for the next episode, nevertheless there is an acceptance underneath that all this does not really exist. Yet you still watch, cry, get angry, get emotional. I’m sure there are a lot of people who know this, like writers and screenwriters, it’s their job. They will create a character so you can associate or identify [with them] and root for them, so to speak. And many times we not only root for good people, but we also feel really sympathetic [for people] like the Joker. That bad man, Joker. But we feel really sympathetic. We feel so sorry for him, for the mistreatment he received, all of this. But underneath you know it’s just a movie. And this is why when your bladder is full, you have the confidence to just go out. Because you know it’s not really happening, and also you can just rewind and play it back again.
So there is a little bit of anatta there. It’s there, but it’s also not there. I think this is something that you need to really habitually get used to. The Buddhists are saying that everything we experience is just like that, nothing more and nothing less. The classic examples are like the reflection of the moon in water, reflection of your face in the mirror, mirage in the desert for somebody who is thirsty, oasis, you see and then you get hopeful and you run [towards it] if you’re not savvy, if you’re not clever. You run towards the water, and you get disappointed. If you are savvy, if you are clever, if you are experienced traveling in the desert, then when you see the mirage, when you see the oasis as an illusion, you know it’s an illusion. You enjoy or not enjoy, ignore or not ignore, but you know that it’s there, but it’s also not there.
So when we talk about anatta, we’re talking about this. Now this of course gets complicated, and this question is good, because there are also Buddhist concepts such as karma and reincarnation. You see, this is the thing. This is why I gave you the example of movie. Even in a movie, it somehow makes sense. Somebody gets born, grows up, a whole life within two hours. It makes sense. You never really question it.
Or maybe a better example is a dream. In the dream, you walk from here to there. You go from here to Pune, and you even arrive there. In the dream you have quantities. In the dream you can dream of perfect quantities, qualities, distance. It all works within the dream. But it doesn’t matter. None of these truly exist.
What I’m trying to say is that just because something is actually orderly and making sense [that does not make it real]. This is how the Buddhists think. Just because it makes sense and it is orderly does not make it real. Every day you go to the mirror, you see your face. You keep on seeing it, a hundred times you go there, your face is there. That does not mean that one day that face will become real. Because if it becomes real, you’re in trouble. You have a problem because then you have to build another house, everything double. If there is chaos, let’s say one day you go to the mirror and there’s an ape or a bear or a peacock. Now, you have a problem. But illusion. I think we forget that illusion has order, it has its logic. Just because it has order, logic, and it makes sense within that context does not mean that it truly exists.
So with this in mind, you should think [about] the Buddhist ideas of karma and reincarnation. Within this context, if you do something bad, let’s say if you act based on your aggression, it will end up giving you the result of pain, suffering and so forth.
Also also reincarnation. Again, we need to know this. When we talk about anatta, Buddhists have never said in all the sutras and shastras that there is a truly existing self that gets reincarnated. Never. So reincarnation, karma, all this exists within the world of illusion, the world of the dream. The moment you wake up from the dream, you never started from here and arrived [back] here. You are just peacefully or not peacefully sleeping on your bed. So many of these examples are given in the shastras.
You can dream in your tiny little room about 500 elephants. It fits, in the dream. But, when you wake up, there is no elephant and therefore no disappearance of elephant. You have been sleeping on your bed in a tiny room. That’s how the Buddhist idea of karma [and reincarnation functions]. Of course, then you hear words like “good karma” and “bad karma”. So somehow suddenly you think if you do something good, you’ll experience good. If you do something bad, you’ll go through a bad experience.
All these things somehow end up making you think that something does solidly exist. Again, go back to the dream. Actually it’s just like in the dream. Probably this is also the one difference between the philosophy of karma and reincarnation in Buddhism and in so-called Hinduism. And another thing, by saying it is an illusion, it is not demeaning. It is not downgrading. Illusions are very powerful. I mean the example I gave you, the movie. If a single non-existing completely fake story on celluloid can move you to tears and make you angry and stir you. Illusion can be very powerful.
But these are the things that you just need to get used to. And by the way, so-called “getting used to”, we should really be using the words “getting used to the truth”, instead of using the word “meditation”22The Tibetan word “gom” (གོམས་) is sometimes translated as “meditation”. It means “getting used to” – see gom.. Really, meditation is actually an art of getting used to that truth. It’s really getting accustomed to that truth.
I was talking about good karma and bad karma. How do Buddhists define good karma and bad karma? Well, first keep in mind, both bad and good karma and the order [of good and bad], all this is within the illusory world. So what makes something good? Anything that takes you closer to anicca, anatta and dukkha is good. Anything that takes you away [is bad]. Why? Obviously, anything that takes you to the truth, isn’t that what we want? We want to know the truth. And that’s how we basically value something good and bad.
I think not just Buddhism, but Indian philosophy in general really doesn’t like using the words good and bad. It’s just not in the Indian mind. As you can see, anything that is good today for Indians, tomorrow it’s bad. Interchangeable. There’s no fixed good or fixed bad. Anything that is auspicious, sometimes it is not auspicious.
Some of you have heard this. It was so awakening for me actually, on a sort of relative level of course. What do you call them, these people who bless? Hijra23hijra (हिजड़ा) = eunuchs, intersex people, and transgender people, officially recognized as third gender in countries in the Indian subcontinent – see hijra.? I was once traveling to South India, and the plane was full of hijras. It was full. And I was fascinated. I had to ask, where are you guys going? “We have been invited by a family to bless their marriage ceremony”. It’s so amazing, because earlier I used to hear from my Indian friends, “Oh, they’re inauspicious, they’re like this and that”. But here we go.
Generally, Indians don’t like to talk about good and bad, big and small, beginning and end. They hate it, especially in Buddhism. Given the chance, they prefer to not talk about good and bad, small and big, end and beginning. These are very, very foreign to the Indian mind. So you have to sort of get used to this kind of mindstream.
But we have to be careful here, because our education system and all of that may have planted the seed of the definition of “good” and “bad” in a different way. So it’s very important not to lose that, I think. So I hope this has answered the first question. Okay, the next question is connected here.
What is the role of ethics in the practice of vipassana?
[Q]: How do you how do you define ethics? And what is the role of ethics in leading a life of following vipassana?
[DJKR]: I think partially I have explained this, but I will quote Shantideva, one of the greatest Buddhist commentators. In the beginning of the ninth chapter of his very venerated and appreciated book called the Bodhicharyavatara24Bodhicharyavatara (बोधिचर्यावतार) = “The Way of the Bodhisattva”, a classic guide to the Mahayana path written in Sanskrit verse by the 8th Century Indian master Shantideva at Nalanda University – see Bodhicharyavatara., he said “All these disciplines, such as generosity, such as patience, such as ethics, morality, discipline, all that is taught by the Buddha just so that it can bring prajña, wisdom”25Bodhicharyavatara IX.1:
“All these branches of the Doctrine
The Enlightened Sage expounded for the sake of wisdom.
Therefore they must cultivate this wisdom
Who wish to have an end of suffering.”
(trans. Padmakara Translation Group).. If there is no prajña, if there is no wisdom, all the so-called generosity, ethics, discipline, morality, they’ll just cause suffering. They’ll case self-righteousness, they’ll cause narrow-mindedness, they cause pride. I think that’s what we’ve been covering this morning [when we talked] about meditation.
Actually, one of the paramitas26paramita (पारमिता) = perfection, transcendental perfection, transcendental virtue. Noble character qualities and virtues generally associated with bodhisattvas and enlightened beings and cultivated on the Mahayana path. Literally means “reaching the other shore” or “gone to the other shore”. Particularly, it means transcending concepts of subject, object and action – see paramita. – the [paramitas include] generosity, discipline, and one of them is called one-pointedness or samtem27samtem (བསམ་གཏན་) = meditation, mental focus, concentration – see samten., which is dhyan, zen, chan. It has been very loosely translated as “meditation” by many people. That also, without wisdom, is blind. It is explained in so many ways. It’s said by the past masters that without wisdom, acts like generosity, morality, patience, meditation – all this is like several blind people touching an elephant and making an assumption that the elephant looks like or feels like this. Each of them is touching a different part of the elephant and then they come to a conclusion that the elephant is round, elephant is soft, elephant is hard, elephant is big and so forth. Without wisdom.
So, yes, in Buddhadharma, vipassana, seeing the truth has to surpass everything. Otherwise ethics would only bring self-righteousness, pride, prejudice, sectarian narrow-mindedness, all of that.
Is longing for progress on the path just another form of clinging and attachment?
[Q]: There is dukkha of longing for progress. Should we still long for progress in our practice? (I guess like vipassana). Should we still pray for a deeper understanding of the Dharma? Because longing for deeper understanding of the Dharma is dukkha.
[Q]: Should we long for stronger capability to control our mind? Should we have this kind of dissatisfaction?
[DJKR]: Yes. This is quite an interesting question. Again, it’s all related to what I’ve been saying earlier. The path is not the goal. Like the great Zen master said, when when somebody points at the moon, you are not supposed to look at the finger but the moon. The path, the finger, is not the end. It is just the means. When we talk about a path, we are talking about a path-dweller, somebody who’s walking on the path. When we talk about somebody who’s walking on the path, we’re talking about somebody who’s not perfect, meaning somebody who has defilements. So the only reason why there is a path is because there is [someone] imperfect. Somebody who has not yet achieved the goal. And the [way the] path [works] is like if you have a thorn in your hand, you need another thorn to take away this thorn. Once you get to get rid of both thorns, then the second thorn is not necessary. So the path has to be eliminated or abandoned.
A very classic answer to this question is that [the path] is like a boat. If you take a boat to reach the other shore, then once you reach the other shore [you get out of the boat]. Your goal is not to sit in the boat. Your goal is to reach the other shore. So meditation has to be abandoned. Discipline has to be abandoned. Generosity has to be abandoned. All this path has to be abandoned. Not because they’re bad or anything. They have served their purpose. You have now gone beyond all this. But until then, all the paraphernalia of the path is necessary. So this is why longing for progress, longing for knowing the anatta, anicca, dukkha – this is absolutely important for students.
What should I do if I get attached to the sense of freedom that comes with vipassana?
[Q]: What should I do if I get attached to the sense of freedom that comes along with vipassana?
[DJKR]: This is an important question, especially for those who have done a little bit of vipassana, it’s very relevant. But for those who are just beginning, you should long for that sense of freedom or that sense of liberation. Of course. It’s always a bit like this. In Buddhism, we talk about bhumis. They are like stages, stages of practitioners. There is one stage and then there is a higher stage. The trash that this guy [on the higher stage] is trying to throw [away] and do without is the blessing of this guy [on the lower stage]. This lower-stage guy is longing for the very thing that this second [higher-stage] guy is trying to get rid of. And then this is related to the earlier question. So you go on and on and on, and according to Mahayana Buddhism there are supposedly ten stages. And on the tenth you basically shrug off everything.
But since this is kind of a practice-oriented question, I should try to give you something that is not just philosophical. When you [practice], not just vipassana but even shamatha, there are many challenges. The biggest challenge is actually the sense of victory. When you manage to, “Ah, I managed to be not distracted. I managed to actually see. I had a little glimpse of anicca, a little glimpse of anatta.” That sense of victory and achievement becomes the obstacle. And this is a really difficult one actually.
What should you do? The masters of the past have prescribed a lot of things. Let’s go right to the top. The most important one. Again, for those who are not so familiar with vipassana, it may not make sense. But for those who have done a little bit of vipassana. As long as you have a reference, “This is it”, you should never trust that. As long as you have a reference, “This is it. This is anatta”, obviously it is not. Because there is a reference.
So now let’s go a little bit down. As long as distractions are bothering you, then you have not reached [the result], because you still have something to lose. Well, supposedly you should reach a state – and this is possible, if you keep on doing especially the anatta – it’s a bit like this. Let’s say that without your knowledge, thieves have been stealing from your house almost every day, every night. But you never know. So because you don’t know, it’s almost equal to nothing has happened. Nothing got lost. Because you don’t know.
Now, today, you actually found out that thieves had been visiting your house twice, let’s say. Then you go so crazy, they didn’t only come once. They came twice. This has become such a big deal, just because you have noticed. That’s the kind of, you can call it the “sense of victory” that you have managed to catch them twice. But this also makes you worry and then you panic.
Now you keep on practicing, and you reach to a stage where you manage to have nothing in your house. Nothing. You don’t keep anything in the house. But you also don’t tell the thief. You just sit in a corner and watch the thief come in. And they come and you have nothing to lose. You can be totally confident. Until then, the sense of freedom that comes with vipassana can be helpful, can be useful, but we have to be careful because you still have something to lose.
Another great example that Buddhists [use]. They’re talking about a fruit, but the onion will do. It’s like an onion, you peel one skin and you think “This is it. This is the fruit”. But then after a while, you keep on practicing and then you realize that’s just a skin. So you peel off that skin. And then you keep on peeling off the skin until you find no fruit inside. And that’s it. The job is finished. And that, again, leads us to the concept of anatta.
How do we reconcile self-care and no-self?
[Q]: How do we reconcile self-care and no-self?
[DJKR]: I will talk about this because as part of our subject “The way of vipassana”, I think you also need to know mahakaruna28mahakaruna (महाकरुण) = great compassion – see mahakaruna.. I don’t like to use the word “compassion”. Compassion is really not doing justice to the word [mahakaruna], because compassion involves a lot of hierarchy. It’s very limiting and limited. The word “compassion” is a stark opposite to anatta. So let’s use the word “karuna”29karuna (करुणा) = compassion, the wish to free all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering – see karuna. or “mahakaruna”, “metta”30metta (मेत्ता) = loving-kindness, the first of the four brahmaviharas (four sublime attitudes; four immeasurables) that comprise aspiration bodhichitta – see metta.. Because it’s related to self-care and no-self.
First, just very briefly, when you have a good understanding of anicca, there is karuna. Because the reason why you don’t have karuna or compassion is lack of awareness of the fact that things are changing all the time. Can you now see, the word compassion doesn’t do [justice to karuna]? Because the word compassion always seems to talk about somebody in pain. Somebody in a lower, sort of more unfortunate situation, and then you as someone who exercises this sort of sympathy. But actually if you see anicca and dukkha and of course selflessness, what it does is it takes you, it liberates you from the delusion of thinking of things as real, things as permanent, and things as pleasurable, good, permanent, satisfying. So, when you have a total awareness of these three, that actually is the real karuna, empathy, understanding, and especially equanimity. Because, you have arrived at the level of nonduality.
Let me explain this a little bit from a different angle. So you’re looking at somebody and you think that somebody is in trouble, in pain. And that assumption is your assumption, which you have collected from books and training. I don’t know, let’s say you’re a psychiatrist. Definitely [you have these assumptions]. Let’s say you’re a doctor. Definitely. Because you have learned terms, symptoms, symbols, signs. So, then you use your own mind and come to a conclusion that so and so person is not healthy, not normal, needs help. [You have] no understanding of the three marks. Then you apply your so-called caring, and because you are trapped by your assumption. Because you are blinded by your assumptions and expectations and your definition of what is normal, what is unhealthy and healthy and fixing and getting better so forth. You put yourself into this sort of a higher position and look down at the patient, let’s say, as in a lower situation so to speak. So there’s always this hierarchy.
And then not only that. You apply your method. And at times it works. Other times it doesn’t work. And both ways – when it works, your assumptions become more solid, and your conviction towards your assumptions and imagination and expectations becomes bigger. When it doesn’t work, and when things keep on not working, you end up becoming a victim of your own care. And that’s when you become sort of codependent, to your own so-called care and compassion and concern, which exists with us all the time. [With] family, friends, I’m sure you know this. Most of the time we are trying to take care of somebody whose problem is something that you have assumed. And in the process [there is] a lot of misunderstanding and of course the other person is doing it to you also. So there’s a lot of miscommunication.
Okay, self-care and no-self. The total understanding and realization of anatta is the real care, basically.
How does yoga relate to vipassana?
[Q]: There is a question regarding yoga asana.
[DJKR]: I’m really not qualified to answer any of this. But one thing that I can tell you is something quite interesting. The word “yoga” is translated by Tibetans as “naljor”31naljor (རྣལ་འབྱོར་) = yoga – see naljor., which is probably something that especially you Indians should take note of. “Nal” and “jor”, there are two words here, and it will be interesting for you. “Jor” actually means wealth. It’s a property, like wealth. It’s like money, wealth, investment. “Nal” that’s an interesting word. It means “normal” or “mundane”. So together, what it means is the “wealth of being normal”, that’s how “yoga” is translated. I just want to share this with you, because now the whole phenomenon of yoga is transforming. But this is one way, this is how the Tibetans, we are talking about sixth century Tibetan translators, seventh century translators, this is how they decided to translate the word “yoga”.
Similarly, the word “asana”32asana (आसन) = physical posture; general term for a sitting meditation pose, later extended in hatha yoga and modern yoga as any type of pose or position – see asana.. Yoga-asana. This is again, something for you guys to make note, especially Indians. Duktang33duktang (འདུག་སྟངས་) = posture, way of sitting; way of doing something – see duktang., that’s how it’s translated in Tibetan. It’s like “how to be”. The word is translated as how to be. Not just sit or stance, how to be. Together with “naljor”, yoga-asana is like the technique of how to be with a wealth of being normal. That is how we approach it. Language really makes a big difference. Supposedly, now if you ask further questions, they say that – of course, the word “normal” is a little difficult to translate.
Maybe this will help you. You know the word “dhyan”, “samadi” – again it’s translated as nyamzhak34nyamzhak (མཉམ་བཞག་) = meditative equipoise; evenly resting; the state of even contemplation – see nyamzhak.. There’s a lot of connection with duktang [i.e. way of sitting, way of being]. The Tibetan word “zhak”35zhak (བཞག་) = put, place, stay, remain, leave behind, leave alone – see zhak. has the connotation of “leave it”, “leave it alone”, “just leave it as it is”. That’s an important one, “as it is”. Keep it as it is. Don’t mingle, don’t poke, don’t fabricate, don’t touch, just leave it as it is36Ed.: this attitude of non-interference applies both to one’s physical posture and to one’s attitude towards thoughts, emotions and other experiences during meditation..
Because the moment you don’t leave it, then being normal changes. And the moment you lose that normal stance or position, you become sick. You become abnormal. You have lost your wealth. You will then obtain or acquire the poverty mentality. The opposite of wealth. You will become destitute. You will think that something is lacking, something is missing. And then you will have that anxiety and so forth. I just want to tell you this. But other than that, this particular question is regarding asana.
Can we watch a movie instead of practicing?
[Q]: Would you recommend that ngöndro37ngöndro (སྔོན་འགྲོ་) = the preliminary, preparatory or foundational practices or disciplines common to all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism – see ngöndro. practitioners occasionally watch a movie or go hiking instead of practicing?
[DJKR]: Well, I would recommend that if your ngöndro practice is not bringing you to anicca, anatta and dukkha, don’t do ngöndro. That’s what I will say. Hiking and movie watching are just one option out of many, many other options. The point here, what I wanted to share with you [about] the way of vipassana, is that the whole point of vipassana is to see these three [anicca, dukkha, anatta] as it is. That’s what we talk about. Wealth, yoga.
What is the difference between rangtong and shentong?
[Q]: [What is] the difference between rangtong and shentong?
[DJKR]: Who’s asking this question? This one we have no time [to answer]. We can’t be talking about this under this tree. It’s too beautiful. Let’s just enjoy this. This is coming from you? [DJKR looks at someone in the audience]. You’re French right? Sort of? It’s a bit like this. The only time the French become patriotic is when we talk about the British. Other than that, they are totally not patriotic. Does that help you? I think that’s it. Okay, there’s one more question. And then let this be the last one.
How does it feel to have no references?
[Q]: How does it feel to have no reference points. What does one become when there are no references?
[DJKR]: That’s an important question. This question has been asked by many students to many great masters. And there are amazing answers. Actually, this was asked also to my own teacher by another student, and we were all there. And I think this is what you need to hear. Nothing. Nothing happens. And this is the whole point. No halo. No third eye. No extra omniscience, if that’s what you’re expecting. Nothing. That’s what you should be striving for. Because I think the culprit is the word “enlightenment”, because the word enlightenment has this [connotation that] something extra or special happens. Like a light. It’s a release. It’s a bit like a baby who has been watching a play with a demonic mask, and somehow managed to go backstage and then realized it’s just a mask. Nothing happens to the baby. Nothing special. Just released from the delusion that it’s a demon. That’s it. That’s quite a lot actually.
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Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio