Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Prajña – Perceiving the True Nature of Reality

200105 DJKR Bangalore Prajña

Prajñadhara Campus, Bengaluru (Bangalore), India
January 5, 2020
116 minutes

Transcript: part 1part 2 

Video (Vimeo) part 1part 2 / Video (YouTube) parts 1 & 2

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

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


Introduction to prajña

The Three Baskets of the Buddha’s Teachings


Prajña – Perceiving the True Nature of Reality

Talk 1


I’m supposed to express that which is not expressible. Still, trying to express that [which] is inexpressible has been the tradition of this land. Trying to long for things that are not longable [i.e. cannot be longed for] is what the people of this land have been doing for centuries. So for most of the Indian mind this is not a contradiction. This is very much something that you do. This is very much at home. I’m very happy to be in this space that has the name “Prajña”, because just having the name prajña, the very term prajña is priceless. It’s so precious.

I’ve been thinking quite [a lot about this] and also asking around. Prajña may be, and probably is, most unique to India. Well I have to say that I think we should give a space for the Chinese, especially when we talk about Taoism. Taoists may not use the word “prajña” but they might have something [very similar]. I have a feeling they do. I have a lot of admiration towards what little I know and have read about Taoism. So, we need to be openminded. But apart from that, prajña is very, very unique.

The word “wisdom” does not do justice to prajña

The word “wisdom” does not it justice at all. I have been reading several dictionaries. But, out of the lack of choice of words, we will use the word “wisdom” nevertheless. It is believed that after years of penance and study and practice, Siddhartha Gautama finally went to Magadha and under the Bodhi tree, he “got it”. He was awakened. I don’t know how to say it. Even in Tibetan, we use many different expressions to express that feeling or that state. I think many countries have this [i.e. words that cannot easily be translated], and India definitely has so many words that cannot be translated. The Japanese have many of these special words also. For instance, when you look at the horizon. Let’s say you’re looking at the sea and there are all these boats, traveling here and there, and then suddenly a boat sort of disappears at the horizon. The Japanese have a word to express that feeling, what you get when you look at [this]1Ed.: The phrase “The ship disappeared beyond the horizon” is readily translated into Japanese as その船は、水平線のかなたに消えた。 (Sono fune wa, suihei-sen no kanata ni kieta). However the experience of that disappearance is described by the word yūgen (幽玄), which is translated as “mysterious” (Google) and described as “subtly profound grace, not obvious” (wikipedia). Yūgen plays an important role in the work of Zeami Motokiyo (世阿弥 元清) (c. 1363 – c. 1443), the Japanese aesthetician, actor, and playwright, who incorporated numerous themes of Zen Buddhism into his works. He also uses the image of the boat disappearing in the distance:
To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill.
To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return.
To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands.
To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds…

We can only use “the disappearance of the ship”, but the Japanese have a word to express that very feeling or state or phenomenon. I think India has millions of those, which I’m sure most of you Indians don’t even know and take take for granted. But maybe you should take notice of this, because those nuances are dying and I think they’re quite important. The word “prajña” falls into that category”, but I think it’s much more than that. It’s not it’s not only not translatable, but actually it cannot be expressed.

The Buddha himself said that the awakened state cannot be expressed

Anyway, I was talking to talking to you about the life of the Buddha. And at the end of a lot of study and practice, he achieved what we can call the “awakened state”. And then right after that, he used a few words to describe this, “I have found profound, peaceful, extreme-less, luminous, uncompounded truth”. These are the five words that he chose. He said, “I found the truth that that is brilliant, luminous, uncompounded, unfabricated, but no one is going to [be able to] hear this”. No matter who he might speak this [to], nobody could actually hear it. Nobody would hear it. “Therefore, I shall now remain in the forest”. That’s what he said2This quotation is from the Lalitavistara Sutra, which tells the story of how Buddha manifested in this world and attained enlightenment as perceived from a Mahayana perspective. The full quote is:
ཟབ་ཞི་སྤྲོས་བྲལ་འོད་གསལ་འདུས་མ་བྱས། །
བདུད་རྩི་ལྟ་བུའི་ཆོས་ཤིག་བདག་གིས་བརྙེས། །
སུ་ལ་བསྟན་ཀྱང་གོ་བར་མི་འགྱུར་བས། །
མི་སྨྲ་ནགས་འདབ་ཉིད་དུ་གནས་པར་བྱ། ། 
Profound and peaceful, free from complexity, uncompounded luminosity—
I have found a nectar-like Dharma.
Yet if I were to teach it, no-one would understand,
So I shall remain silent here in the forest.
Lalitavistara Sutra, XXV.3 – see Lalitavistara Sutra.

And then in the legend … I don’t want to use the word “legend”. In the account in the life of the Buddha, it is said that Lord Indra and Brahma came to him and said, “No, you must teach”. They requested. They asked him to turn the wheel of the Dharma, and said, “You can use all sorts of different means and skills and words and language so that people can come to this truth, because beings need to hear this, because this is the only way for them to relinquish themselves.”

So actually, when the Buddha said “No one can hear this”, that quality is already a description of prajña. [He said it] out of lack of [words to express it]. So that’s something that I want to tell you, almost as a disclaimer. Even Shakyamuni Buddha himself said this cannot be uttered or expressed and this cannot be heard, although he also said later that this can be experienced. Just like a dumb mute can experience a sweet but cannot really express how sweet it is to others, just like that you can experience this [awakened state]. And there are myriad ways to experience this, and these are found in the shastras and the sutras.

Prajña is not the same as being clever or having common sense

One thing came into my mind. The word “wisdom” is associated with intellect, being clever, being smart. We say, “He has so much wisdom. He’s smart”, and so forth. [Whereas] the tradition that cherishes prajña seems to really not only not put emphasis on common sense. They almost detest this thing called “common sense”. This is something that you need to keep in your head.

If you go to China, there is Confucianism. It’s full of common sense. Respect the elders, harmony is important, filial piety, social order, and so forth. You know, common sense. But when we talk about wisdom, it’s not common sense. Actually, and I’m repeating here, the wisdom people or the prajña people, really they are very wary and cautious about this thing called “common sense”. Because common sense makes sense. It’s usable, it’s profitable. It keeps you in order. It keeps you alive, so to speak.

Wisdom on the other hand [is not like this]. I’m not saying that wisdom is senseless [i.e. that it is somehow opposed to common sense] by the way. It’s definitely not senseless, but it is nothing to do with making sense. And this is something that especially for you Indians, you should really treasure this, because there are a lot of beautiful things that happen in your place, that have happened for thousands of years and they are still sort of happening I think, despite the invasion of Amazon, Facebook, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, and all that. It’s still happening. [You still] do things that kind of really don’t make sense. It’s not common sensical.

Where is the common sense in things that Indians do? Well of course, there are a lot of things that maybe you don’t wish to do. But there are certain things that are really strange. And that is the beauty. That’s the wealth. And I have a feeling, I really feel that this has its root in appreciating the value of prajña.

I just want to say all this first, and then we can talk about the sort of classic explanation of prajña.

The difference between mind and prajña

In English we use the term “sentient being”. What is the Hindi word?

[Audience]: Jiva3Jiva (जीव) = A term originating in the Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads to describe a living being or entity imbued with life force – see jiva. Note that the Buddhist term “sentient being” is more commonly translated by the Sanskrit word sattva (सत्त्व) – see sattva..

[DJKR]: What does that mean?

[Audience]: That which has emotions, feelings.

“That which has”. This is good. This is good. In Tibetan, the word is semchen4semchen (སེམས་ཅན་) = sentient being – see semchen.. Sem is mind5sem (སེམས་) = mind, ‘cognitive act’, thoughts, mentation, cognition, grasping mind; ordinary dualistic mind – see sem.. Chen is a grammatical sort of word, which means “one which has”6chen (ཅན་) = having, endowed with, imbued with, possessing – see chen.. Please pay some attention to this. This actually denotes that prajña is not mind. And when prajña has mind, then it is a sentient being.

So what does this indicate? A lot of the Indian wisdom traditions and especially Buddhism really try to get rid of mind. It’s really quite profound. The whole so-called Dharma or spiritual path is to get rid of this mind, because mind is troublesome. From the prajña people’s point of view, mind is troublesome. Mind is like water. It falls on the ground and it collects dirt. Our mind collects all this dirt – the anger, the desire, the jealousy, all this. Whereas prajña is like mercury. You can put it in a blender with all kinds of dirt and mix it for thousands and thousands of lifetimes, but mercury stays [as it is uncontaminated by the dirt].

So with this, you can now see how an enlightened being [looks at sentient beings]. When an enlightened being or a mahasiddha or a bodhisattva, especially those bodhisattvas who have reached higher states, when they look at sentient beings, it’s like, “Oh, poor him or her.” We might say [things like] “Poor him, he has a headache”. Or “Poor him or her, she has a toothache. She has a problem.” Likewise, when the bodhisattvas of the higher class look at us [they think], “Oh, those poor people, those who have mind. They’re stuck with mind.” Mind is troublesome. It’s like dirt. And when we talk about the mind we are talking about common sense. You know, [the mind] keeps on making sense [of things]. It keeps on having some sort of a logic. It keeps on having an order and we are so used to this kind of comfort zone.

We like to be special and we also like to fit in

We human beings are very strange. We like to be very special, but at the same time we also like to [fit in]. If you go to a fashion shop that’s so-called “trendy”, everybody is buying the same sort of thing. There is a style that has happened. But this style in which you are taking refuge is actually depriving you from being special. So you are not unique.

Well actually I have to say India is quite special, generally, But when I was coming here to Bangalore, at the airport in Pune almost everybody was wearing ties and suits, but there were two elderly gentlemen from Rajasthan, and both wearing big pink turbans. They also had these special jutti7jutti (Punjabi: ਜੁੱਤੀ) = a type of footwear common in North India and neighboring regions, traditionally made of leather and with extensive embroidery in real gold and silver thread, as inspired by Indian royalty over 400 years ago – see jutti.. Wow. They were like a billion times better than Prada or Calvin Klein. It was just so amazing. Just so beautiful. They stood out, and they weren’t even doing it for the sake of standing out. They were just sitting there. I even asked one of them, “Can we take a photo?” He said no. And I was very happy that they said no. That’s the way to go, isn’t it? That’s the way to go.

We are a really complicated species. We like to be special, but we also [we like to fit in]. That’s how the mind functions. And by the way, there are a lot of artists here, I’ve noticed. You know sometimes, once in a blue moon, those of us who call ourselves artists, writers and poets, we manage to get out of the zone of “common sense”, and do something really … I would not, I dare not label it as prajña, but at least you are outside of the zone of common sense, order, and formality. That [experience] is shifting, it’s mind-boggling. It takes you somewhere. It dents and pokes a hole in your common sensical comfort zone, the box.

We speak of “Thinking out of the box”, but prajña is not [about] thinking out of the box, by the way. This is really important. Prajña is … how should I put it? This is difficult, because it’s inexpressible. In the prajña sort of “way of functioning”, you don’t necessarily [try to think outside the box], because prajña thinks that “out of the box” is a boundary. It really doesn’t matter [whether you’re inside the box or outside the box]. Being “out of the box” in prajña’s sense is effort. Why go out? That’s effort. That’s just another boundary. Why not just stay in the box, but not get ruled and dictated by the box?

I’m using this [language] out the lack of choice of words and expression. And by the way, this is also used in the classic Buddhist texts. For example, the lotus is one of the most used analogies. Born in the muddy water, but not stained by the muddy water. There are so many [analogies like this]. Like [if there’s] no mud, no dirt, and no filthy water, [there’s] no lotus. So the lotus actually survives and is made more beautiful and more alive within that muddy filthy water. So when we talk about prajña, although we have to use the words like “transcendence” [we are not talking about something supramundane]. In the Prajñaparamita, “transcendence” is that how they translate the word “paramita”? What is the common translation?

[Audience]: Perfection.

[DJKR]: Perfection. Yes. Supreme perfection. Paramita8paramita (पारमिता) = perfection, transcendent perfection, transcendental perfection, transcendental virtue. Noble character qualities and virtues generally associated with enlightened beings and cultivated on the Buddhist path. Literally means “reaching the other shore” or “gone to the other shore”. Particularly, it means transcending concepts of subject, object and action. Prajñaparamita, the perfection of prajña, is the sixth of the 6 paramitas – see paramita.. Perfection. So, these are some of the nuances that you need to know when we talk about prajña.

Now then, out of this or within this sphere of prajña, then everything fits, everything functions, everything manifests. I hate to use language like this because I think that listeners always end up interpreting this as something that’s sort of very mystical, superhuman, supramundane, [some sort of] energy or force. It’s not. It’s something that you have at all times within you. Remember, you have mind. That “you”, the one who has mind, that “one” is prajña.

How can we live using prajña rather than mind?

Okay. So is that something that we can reach? Is that something that we can use? Is this prajña something that we can actually utilize? Live with? Function with? How can I take advantage of this prajña that I have or that I am? How can we eat, drink, talk, walk, sleep? Live, die, sleep, dream? How can I do all these using prajña rather than mind? The Dharma in general is all about this, [as is] almost all Indian wisdom, especially the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddhadharma. Really, the Dharma is basically [all about] that. There are so many, many methods. There are many ways [to practice this]. Infinite. How do we begin?

One [method] beings with generating a little bit of cautiousness or wariness, some sort of mistrust towards mind. “I don’t know about this mind”, “This mind, this mind business, I can’t trust it.” There’s a whole lineage like that in the Indian wisdom tradition. And it’s actually probably the most prominent and most popular [lineage].

Then there are people, there are lineages or teachings, that don’t really think about cautiousness and wariness and mistrust of mind, because they think it’s a bit of a waste of time. It’s like you are a goldsmith and you’re given a kilo of gold ore with dirt and everything. It looks dirty. It doesn’t look at all shiny like gold. But your attitude is “I’m not going to think that it’s dirty, it’s not polished, it’s not bright, and it’s not shiny. I’m not going to waste time thinking this. I’m happy. This is gold anyway. I’m going to take it as it is. I’m not going to let myself [be] bothered by the look of it. I’m not going to exhaust my energy by continuing to think this this is dirty and unrefined”. So there’s that tradition also. [It has] millions of methods.

But contrary to what many people nowadays seem to be thinking, both traditions do not reject color, flowers, songs, dance, and music. There is a certain type of person who thinks that the flowers, incense, dance, and music will distract them. So they choose to not do those [i.e. use those as part of their practice]. And that’s also fine. There are practices that really emphasize simplicity. And that works, for a lot of people. There are others who can’t have enough of flowers or incense. Because I think it [helps them to] transcend, it takes them away from mind. Remember? Our project here is to trash the mind and go to the prajña.

Examples of the culture of prajña

There are shlokas9shloka (श्लोक) = stanza, verse – see shloka. like that even in the chant that I was doing earlier, the praise to Tara. I will just loosely translate. There’s a shloka that talks about her right foot, which is in what we call the “royal posture”10Lalitasana (ललितासन) = “the royal position” or “the posture of royal ease”; a relaxed pose typical in royal portraits and those of religious figures whose regal attributes are being emphasized. The figure sits on a throne with one leg tucked inwards on the seat and the other – usually the proper right leg – hanging down (“pendent”) to touch the ground or rest on a support (often a stylized lotus throne) – see Lalitasana.. So she’s sitting with her foot in that posture. Now you have to be prepared with a mind of appreciating prajña. You can’t think in terms of common sense. The moment you go into common sensical, mathematical, practical, then you will lose prajña. So it’s believed that her right foot, especially the big toe of the right foot, if it touches the earth, then the three thousand-fold world will shake and become so chaotic. So, there is a shloka where Shiva is holding her feet, saying “Please, mother, for the sake of us ignorant and deluded beings, show your compassion. Don’t put your [foot] on the ground yet. We are not ready.”

Now, you know how in the Indian mind Shiva is everything? Especially, I believe, in Karnataka where people really think of him as the highest, the destroyer, the lord of the dance, Nataraja, all of that. But this is how it is – in the world of prajña, the master becomes slave and slave becomes master, instantly. They change. It doesn’t matter. And no one complains about this. No one. The same thing also happens with Kali. I have seen Kali standing on Shiva, and I have never met an Indian who said “This is so rude of Kali for doing this”. They accept this totally, even though at other times Shiva is [the highest]. But this is fine. Of course. And in fact, they say if you take out Kali from Shiva, then Shiva becomes almost like a vegetable. He’s powerless. No power. And so forth.

Can you now appreciate the culture of prajña? All this is coming from the culture of prajña. And all the common sense [concepts and references] like small, big, man, woman, master, servant — all those are mind’s business. They’re very troublesome. They’re troublesome and they’re very binding. They are not liberating.

Okay, so that’s Shiva. As a follower of the Buddha, yes I totally accept [this] because Shiva should be holding her feet. Of course, that’s his job, since I’m Buddhist. But there are other shlokas, for example where I place one of the flowers on her right hand, her right palm. And the shloka talks about how millions of buddhas are crossing [her palm]. They’re walking, crossing from one side of her palm to the other side, and they haven’t even reached the middle yet. All the buddhas are walking.

All this is prajña culture, prajña world. Don’t try to bring common sense here. Don’t try to go through anthropological evidence, because the moment you talk about evidence, proof, weight, measurement and so forth, you have not only doomed yourself into [inhabiting] the world of mind, but in a very, very limited, one-sided world of mind, which is really depriving. It’s so depriving.

And there’s also a praise that’s part of the Praise to Tara, where [it speaks of] all these eons, [including] the existence right now where I know you know, you know me, this is the year 2020, it is 2500 years after Buddha passed into parinirvana, it is 2020 years since the birth of Jesus Christ, and so forth. She blinks her eyes, as we all do, and during the duration of her eyes being open, all this is happening. And there will be a time when she blinks and closes [her eyes], and all this stops. Yes. in the world of mind out of trying to be respectful you might even call it “poetic”, but to me it’s not poetry. To me it’s an expression of prajña. It sounds like something mythological, beautiful, poetic stories, symbolism. But no, it’s not symbolism. It’s real.

What do you call reality? This [kind of expression of prajña] is truth. Because time means nothing. What is time? Quantity means nothing, color means nothing. You have to think like that. If you want to think of prajña, you have to think like that. I guess you can train [yourself to think like that].

Experiences from drugs and alcohol might seem similar to prajña, but they are not prajña

And by the way, those who have the experience of encountering substances like whiskey may also go through that sort of loss [of] sense of time, values, and references. That’s why they drink. Because it sort of takes you [somewhere]. I don’t think it’s really a total departure from mind. I would not say that every time you open a bottle of whiskey, you reach prajña. Definitely not. I’m not going to say that. But I need to give you an example. If you have never seen gold I have to show you something. Brass will do. Even though [that’s] very dangerous, because brass is not only not gold, but it does look like gold. That’s why it’s very dangerous. So, [although] the impact or effect of whiskey could be similar to prajña, it’s definitely not [prajña]. And because it’s similar it could be very dangerous. But that’s how you have to think.

I think this is also why people go to Varanasi and order this special lassi11lassi (Punjabi: ਲੱਸੀ, Hindi: लस्सी) = a popular traditional yogurt-based drink that originated in the Indian subcontinent. Lassi is a blend of yoghurt, water, spices and sometimes fruit – see lassi., bhang lassi12bhang (Hindi: भांग) = an edible preparation of cannabis – see bhang.. I have asked one really strict [Buddhist master], Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, some of you may have heard of him, and I told him “You must drink that bhang”. So he did. And after about an hour he called his daughter saying “How do you stop this?” And then his daughter who has never done it said “I don’t know”. So then he asked his daughter to ask around how to stop this experience. So she asked around and people told her “You just have to wait now. Drink some water. You just have to wait”. He said, “I can’t lie down, I can’t sleep, I can’t open my eyes. I can’t close my eyes, I can’t do anything.”

First of all, prajña cannot be expressed, as Buddha himself said. But as I said, I am in a country with people who like talking about [things] that cannot be talked [i.e. that cannot be expressed in words]. This is actually the Indian way of life. This is the Indian value. Longing for things that cannot be longed [for], un-longable. And this is what keeps India going. I think it’s the heart of India. And this is really, really precious actually. Why should we waste our time talking about things that are talkable? That’s already redundant. It’s a waste of time. It’s already talkable.

So you need to know a little bit of that. This, the one who holds this, the one who appreciates this, the one who reads about it, the one who longs for it, the one who prays for this experience. The one who cherishes and looks up to those people who have prajña.

I was just talking about this yesterday, at the music experience we had last night. Just before the music, the artists were all introduced and it was so touching, as they were introduced as “She is so and so’s disciple.” The disciple of guru so-and-so. This is really precious. Being introduced as a disciple instead of being introduced as a teacher or a master. Again, I think this appreciation of the lineage comes from a culture that emphasizes prajña rather than mind. What is intellect or the mind in Hindi?

[Audience]: Buddhi13buddhi (बुद्धि) = reason, intellect, mind, discernment, judgement – see buddhi..

[DJKR]: How about in Karnatak? Is it the same, buddhi? Mind.

Blessings, prayers, all this works better … “better” is not the right word. All this works only because there is prajña. If there was only buddhi, mind, then no [none of this would work]. Then everything would be predictable, predestined, or fated. There would be no room for any change, and so you would just have to wait for somebody to save you, so to speak. You have been kidnapped by your buddhi. You have been imprisoned. You have been tormented by your own mind. But you can be freed by your own prajña. You have it.

With this, I’ll just say a few words about the classic sort of training on prajña that is found in the Buddhist tradition, and especially in the Mahayana tradition.

The Three Baskets of the Buddha’s Teachings (The Tripitaka)

Some of you may be familiar with the concept called The Three Baskets14Tripitaka (त्रिपिटक) = The Three Baskets, the traditional categorization of the Buddhist scriptures – see Tripitaka. of teachings in Buddhism. All the teachings of the Buddha can be categorized into three baskets: Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma. These three baskets are three categories or kinds of teachings [which are] taught generally – and this is a big generalization – because broadly speaking there are three different kinds of ailment or downfall. There are three kinds of defilements or kleshas15klesha (क्लेश) = afflictive emotions, defilements, mental afflictions – see klesha. In the Abhidharmakosha, Vasubandhu presents six root disturbing emotions. In the original Pali Canon they are presented as a simplified list of the three poisons (trivisha, त्रिविष): (1) ignorance or delusion, (2) greed or attachment, (3) hatred or aversion – see trivisha.. One category of kleshas comes more as clinging and desire. The next is aggression, assertiveness and anger. And the third is ignorance, basically.

(1) The basket of Vinaya: ethical discipline

So accordingly, Buddha taught many teachings that have the element of discipline. So many. There are even [teachings on] mundane things – [I don’t know if] mundane is the [right] word or not – like how to wash your hands. All the way to you watching the mind and so forth. This [basket contains teachings that] are more to do with ethics and morality. In the Mahayana, the teachings on ethical discipline are further subdivided into three categories16tsültrim sum (ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་གསུམ་) = the 3 kinds of ethical discipline according to Mahayana – see tsültrim sum.. I’m sorry, I have to give you some of these categories so that you can understand the body of prajña:

  1. Discipline or ethics related to refraining from doing things that are not virtuous17nyéchö dompé tsültrim (ཉེས་སྤྱོད་སྡོམ་པའི་ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་) = the ethical conduct or discipline of controlling transgressions.. Things like the pañchashila18pañchashila (पञ्चशील) = the five precepts or five vows, the most important system of morality for Buddhist laypeople. To follow the five precepts is to vow to abstain from: killing, theft, sexual misconduct, falsehood and intoxication – see pañchashila. may have come from this category.
  2. Discipline or ethics that emphasize how to help others19semchen dön jépé tsültrim (སེམས་ཅན་དོན་བྱེད་པའི་ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་) = the ethical conduct or discipline of benefitting sentient beings..
  3. Discipline or ethics related to extracting virtue or extracting wisdom, prajña20gewé chö düpé tsültrim (དགེ་བའི་ཆོས་སྡུད་པའི་ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་) = the ethical conduct or discipline of gathering virtuous dharmas..

Okay, the reason why I wanted to give you these categories, even though categories are so confusing sometimes, is that I’m talking about prajña. I’m relating everything to prajña.

Let’s use lying [as an example]. As it is, lying is a non-virtuous action, just in the general sense. But if you bring [this] to Buddhism, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, we need to really sit down and talk. Because remember I’m giving you three categories of ethics. One is ethics to [ensure] you refrain from non-virtuous actions. Another is ethics that are meant for helping others. So let’s take lying. What happens if by lying, you save somebody? Now you see the value of prajña, because if you don’t have prajña, then you will just be like, “No, I’m a Buddhist, I cannot lie.” [Let’s suppose that] somebody comes by here, maybe he or she is going to be killed by somebody who’s chasing this [person], [and they] went this way. And then the person [who is chasing them] comes and asks, “Did you see somebody running?” “Yes, I saw, I’m a Buddhist. I don’t lie.” That’s so strange, isn’t it? So you have to think like this.

So from the mundane world’s point of view, in the world of common sense, it becomes really complicated. And in the Mahayana shastras there’s even a mention of bodhisattvas killing others to benefit many more [sentient beings]. You must have heard some of these stories in the Jatakamala Sutra21Jatakamala (जातक) = The Jataka tales, a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form – see Jatakamala..

Wisdom is necessary to balance competing ethical prescriptions

So, the ethics that are more to help others and the ethics to refrain yourself from non-virtue need to be balanced. And who does that? The ethics that extract the wisdom. And what do we mean by extracting, gewé chödü22gewé chödü (དགེ་བའི་ཆོས་སྡུད་, Wylie: dge ba’i chos sdud) = to gather virtuous dharmas or virtuous qualities.? Extracting the wisdom?

Can you see that if you don’t have that third ethic, the first ethic and the second ethic have a big problem. There’s a big contradiction [between them]. Now, this is actually reflected so much in the Buddhist world. Have you been to a Buddhist temple? There [you will find] people like her [DJKR points to a nun] relentlessly shaving their head. She’s a nun. That’s her choice. Then there are [other] people, yogis, who [never cut their hair and] are paranoid that they will drop their hair. Contradiction? It looks like [it].

Also there are the Buddha’s disciples like Ananda and Shariputra – renunciant, no shoes, begging bowl, nothing to eat, only beg food, sit simply. And there are people like Vimalakirti and Mañjushri – rich, powerful, limousine, gold tooth, gold toilet seat, all kinds of wealth. Both are venerated. In fact if you go to the tantric world, it’s even more mind-boggling. We tantric Buddhists venerate barbers, fisherman, and even prostitutes. In my own lineage that I practice, I was recently counting how many prostitutes are there above my head [i.e. in the visualized lineage masters] when I pray. When I was making this [count, there were] about 28, and one of them her only wish is to continue life after life and remain as a prostitute.

Why is it like this? Prajña. Really. If there was no prajña, then [we would only venerate Buddhists who are] serene, gently walking, vegetarian, smiling all the time, who say no to whiskey, you understand? We would only venerate those guys. All the others, we wouldn’t even let them in. But this is not the case. And this is the beauty of the Indian wisdom tradition. If you can appreciate prajña, there is no room for the suffering of political correctness. This [political correctness] is a [form of] suffering. Sorry, I’m getting distracted a bit here. So there are these three [types of ethic]. I think I have confused you already. There are the three baskets of Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma. The first deals with ethical discipline, as I just explained.

(2) The basket of Sutra: how to see things completely and without prejudice

The second basket deals with tingédzin23tingédzin (ཏིང་ངེ་འཛིན་) = meditative concentration, stabilization, absorption. The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word samadhi (समाधि), which can refer both to the practice and the state of meditation; first aspect of the 3-fold training – see tingédzin.. This word is difficult to translate. The Sanskrit is dhyana24dhyana (ध्यान) = meditative concentration, meditation, concentration, mental focus, attention, reflection, non-distraction, mind-training (according to early Buddhist texts, its aim is to withdraw the mind from automatic responses to sense-impressions, thus leading to upekkha-sati-parisuddhi, a “state of perfect equanimity and awareness”); the fifth of the 6 paramitas – see dhyana., which means concentration or one-pointedness. Sadly it has been translated as “meditation”, which is really not a good word. Tingédzin basically means “seeing in total”, “seeing totally” and “taking taking things totally”. That’s the art or the training or the discipline – to not take things partially but totally.

In other words, not to get distracted to here and there. Okay, so it’s like this. Remember we were talking yesterday about vipassana25Ed.: DJKR taught in Bengaluru the previous day on “The Way of Vipassana” – see The Way of Vipassana.? Suppose I’m looking at a very healthy person like him, “Wow, you look good. You look healthy”. But at that time, I’m not really having the total picture. I should have the total picture, “Oh, he’s a compounded phenomenon. He must also be unhealthy”. [My picture should] not be lopsided.

I’m trying to express dhyana in a sort of mundane language. What is “lopsided”? What does that expression mean26Ed.: The dictionary definition of “lopsided” is “with one side lower or smaller than the other; disproportionately weighted in favor of one side over another”, from “lop” which means “cut off (a branch, limb, or other protrusion) from the main body of a tree” – see Google Dictionary.? Dhyana is the opposite of lopsided, basically. The opposite of prejudice. The moment we look at something, we have a prejudice. For example, I’m looking at this man and I think he’s alive, but I should also be thinking that he’s dying. Together. He’s living and dying together. Again, go back to prajña.

The prajña people, the prajña culture thinks like this. Arising is also setting. Birth is death. Death is birth. Appearance is nonexistence. Nonexistence is appearance. That is seeing the totality, seeing everything totally. Well, if you go deeper, when a tantric person sees a man in a not-lopsided [way], it is also a woman. Woman is also a man. If you see somebody only as a man, [you’re] doomed. You are robbed by mind. You are detached from prajña. So there is a whole basket called sutra, which is really to do with how to see things [in a way that is] not lopsided, how to see things without prejudice. How to see things, basically, in totality.

There are so many, so many sutras. One of my job is translating the sutras you know27Ed.: Through the organization “84000: Translating The Words of the Buddha” – see It’s really like climbing Mount Meru. It’s really, really endless. There are so many, many beautiful [sutras], like a conversation between an old lady and the BuddhaT28he Questions of an Old Lady (Mahallikā­paripṛcchā, བགྲེས་མོས་ཞུས་པ།). This sutra contains teachings given by the Buddha to a 120-year-old woman in the city of Vaishali. Upon meeting the Buddha, she asks him questions concerning the four stages of life, the aggregates, the elements and the faculties. In response, the Buddha gives her a profound teaching on emptiness, using beautifully crafted examples to illustrate his point. Available at the 84000 reading room – see The Questions of an Old Lady.. Or a conversation between a child and the Buddha. All are to do with these kinds of things. Anyway, so that’s the second basket.

(3) The basket of Abhidharma: prajña

And then there’s a whole basket purely dedicated to prajña. Many of you may not realize this, because these are small nuances of Tibetan life, but in the Tibetan temples they will have a copy of the sutras, the Buddhist Canon, in the library. This basket, the basket of prajña, is always put above the others. And the words and sentences are also carved on the wood and paintings. We also have a nickname for this basket, this section of the teachings, and for these subjects also. It’s terrible in a way, but some of the nicknames are really beautiful, for example the prajña section is called yum29yum (ཡུམ་) = mother, female principle – see yum., which means “mother”. That’s beautiful actually. The prajña section is always referred to as yum or mother because all the buddhas come only through realization of prajña. Not through ethics and not through totally being there [i.e. being completely non-distracted].

They come only with prajña. If [there’s] no prajña, those [other] two are just a pain in the neck. Who wants to be in the totality? Why? Who wants to behave? Behaving is such a burden, you know, just the very word “behaving” is so annoying. Why would we want to behave? It’s something that Kim Jong-un would do, not us. But [with] prajña, because of prajña, then you feel “Oh yes, it’s worth it to behave”. And also you feel [DJKR stresses the word “feel”] like behaving because of the value of prajña.

Okay. Timeout.

Talk 2

Q & A

Prajña, consciousness and self-awareness

[Q]: Rinpoche, this is about the way you talked about prajña and mind. Prajña is to lose the mind, commonsense, etc. Now I understand fully that when you say “lose the mind”, you’re talking on the gross consciousness level, common sense, logical conceptualizing mind, philosophizing mind and so on. So we lose all that. But, then you also say that when we eat and sleep and breathe and live and die, you have to do it with prajña rather than mind. Now, I was trying to understand this and I was caught up with trying to imagine prajña or something because immediately I was worried about the mind [and what we mean by consciousness and mind]. If we look at the various levels of consciousness of the mind, [there is an] eight-level model30ashtavijñanakaya (अष्टविज्ञानकायाः) = the eight consciousnesses, a classification developed in the tradition of the Yogācāra school of Mahayana Buddhism – see ashtavijñanakaya. or a nine-level model31kushiki (九識) = the nine consciousnesses, a concept from Nichiren Buddhism. The ninth and final consciousness is known as Buddhanature or Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, and it cannot be tarnished by any of the previous eight levels – see kushiki.. In the eight-level model there’s a level of consciousness in which is embedded the Buddhanature. Or in the nine-level model in which we say the eighth is the alaya, then the ninth is Buddhanature. Would it be correct to say that prajña is the highest level of consciousness, which is the Buddhanature, which is a very, very subtle mind? And therefore when you say that we must live and die etc. through prajña, what we’re actually saying is why would we live from the ground of hell, greed, ignorance? We should be endeavoring to live our lives almost all the time, when we have practiced enough, from the ground of that Buddhanature. And when we live from the ground of that Buddhanature, then prajña sort of automatically arises as the equivalent of the Buddhanature. Or you could say that prajña is Buddhanature. But then we also have courage and compassion and everything else. Is this track of thinking correct?

[DJKR]: I think it’s like this. I’m trying to avoid using words like “highest consciousness” because it somehow isolates yourself from [prajña], so to speak. It isolates and distances you from prajña. There’s another Tibetan word “yeshe”, which is quite an interesting word32yeshe (ཡེ་ཤེས་) = wisdom, primordial wisdom – see yeshe.. I guess you can translate the syllable “shé” as “consciousness”. But the word “yé” is really important, and it indicates “before”33ye (ཡེ་) = primordial, original, from the beginning, eternal – see ye.. So it’s like before the knower and the knowing there is a consciousness. I think it’s translated as “primordial wisdom”. [This is important] because the moment we think about consciousness, we can’t help but think in terms of subject and object. Conscious? Conscious of what? Who is being conscious of what? In the world of prajña, there is no knower and no knowing and no object that is known. But it’s always there. So in the Tantra, and actually even in the Mahayana, they say “Just like a kilo of water is a kilo of moisture, a kilo of desire, a kilo of anger, or a kilo of jealousy is a kilo of wisdom”. I’m just giving you an example. Prajña is there all the time. Does it help you?

[Q]: Can we equate prajña with primordial consciousness, primordial Buddha or something like that?

[DJKR]: Yes, of course, there’s a school of thought that uses Buddhanature, Tathagatagarbha34tathagatagarbha (तथागतगर्भ) = Buddhanature – see tathagatagarbha. to talk about prajña also. But the Nagarjuna people use the word “prajña” to talk about shunyata35shunyata (शून्यता) = emptiness; lack of true existence; illusory nature (of all worldly phenomena); the ultimate nature of phenomena, namely their lack of inherent existence – see shunyata.. And this is important because for many people shunyata is negation, an end, an exhaustion. Nothingness. But absolutely not. Shunyata is very much knowing, conscious cognizance. And as we talk about these things, by the way, you can’t help but think in terms of like, “These things must be really holy, almost unreachable at at least for the time being. This amazing, profound, holy consciousness somewhere, that is beyond our reach at the moment”. But this is not true. It’s always there. It’s always there.

And I would say that one of the most effective ways to to experience this always-there consciousness is the wisdom and the philosophy of self-awareness. [You can] experience it right now. There is self-awareness all the time. Right now.


Apart from mind knowing something else, there is just simple self-awareness. And this, by the way, is not the actual prajña, but it is what Longchenpa calls “the footprint of prajña”. If you follow that [footprint], you will end up at prajña, because it’s the most nondual [that] you can experience now [i.e. this footprint of prajña is the best that you can do right now without additional mind training].

Okay. You are knowing your mind by or with the mind, but it’s not like you have two minds, one that knows, the knower, and another to be known. The mind itself knows itself, all the time. It’s there all the time. So [you should] invest on this at all times. And this is why there is all the vipassana training basically. It can start with the most fundamental level of “Okay, I’m now opening the lid of my cup. I’m opening … opening … opening … opening … I’m putting it down … putting it down … putting it down” . It can start at this most fundamental level and then you [can] upgrade it to “Okay, I’m thinking … I’m thinking this … thinking this … thinking this”. Just knowing. No judgment. So this training then helps you shrug off all the automatic judgment and [automatic habit of] solidifying everything. And then prajña surfaces … well “surfaces” [isn’t quite right].

And when I’m talking about [applying prajña] while sleeping and walking, I was giving you the example that if you are an expert goldsmith and I give you a kilo of really rough looking ore, because you are really an expert in gold, you are happy. You are as happy as if [I gave you] totally cleaned-up gold. That’s one [i.e. if you are an expert goldsmith].

The other [approach] is for when you’re not a gold expert, but let’s say you really want to have gold because you want to be rich. You really want to be rich quick, and you really want to have gold. Now, the only option is [for] you to trust somebody, let’s say like me for instance, and [I will] say “Okay, I’m giving you a kilo of rubbish”, and trusting that this is it [i.e. that even though it looks like rubbish, it’s actually ore that can be refined into gold]. If you’re lucky, if you are fortunate, you will meet somebody who will not cheat you. And this is why in the Tantra, the guru, the master ends up becoming important.

So, there’s that option. Anyway, I think my answer to you is that I try not to use this [term] “higher consciousness”. It just makes people feel distant. I don’t want people to feel distant from this prajña that they always have, and which from the mundane point of view sometimes makes you feel eccentric, makes you eccentric. What is “centric”36Ed.: The dictionary definition of “eccentric” is “(of a person or their behavior) unconventional and slightly strange; (of a thing) not placed centrally or not having its axis or other part placed centrally” – see Google Dictionary.? Centric is like middle, right?

Merit is the ability to interpret and understand things

[Q]: There’s a question I’ve wanted to ask you since Pune. What is merit?

[DJKR]: This is an important question, and since we are talking about prajña, [I will answer in the way that] Mahayana people will answer. You already have merit and that is prajña. You already do. It’s not like you have to get it from somewhere [outside you]. You just have to use it.

Let me explain this little bit. There is a classic example, I always use this. This [cup] is dirty. You will wash it. What gives you the confidence to wash it? Because fundamentally it’s clean. This. You may appear as dirty – angry, ignorant, jealous, prideful, with all kinds of defilements, but those are all temporary. They are not you. This nature – we call it “Buddhanature” – that is the real merit. Actually that is also the union of merit and wisdom.

You’re talking on the Buddhist level right? Because there’s also the general Asian [idea of merit] “Oh, you must have merit because you are rich, you have won the lottery”, all of that. Which is a very, very shallow way of explaining karma and merit. But the Buddhist way [of understanding merit] is someone who has the longing, interest, curiosity towards the truth. That’s what they will say constitutes merit. If you have that merit, you are wealthy, you are rich, you are abundant. You could be sleeping on a solid gold bed, but if you have no interest in the truth then you are poverty ridden, and you have no merit. That’s how the how the Buddhists would explain merit.

Merit is the ability to interpret things, to understand things, to listen to things, to hear things. If you have merit, especially based on longing for the truth, then no matter what you hear [it will benefit you]. There’s a famous story about when Buddha coughed. And a doctor heard this and a monk heard this and an old lady heard this. And the doctor, because he’s [medically] trained, [interpreted this as] “Oh Buddha has throat problems”. That’s his merit [i.e. his ability to interpret]. So, he was trying to sort that out [i.e. those throat problems]. The old lady [thought] “Oh, throat problem, you know [that’s an] effect. That must have a cause, [as in] cause and condition”. So, then the old lady understood the logic of cause and effect, and then therefore dukkha37dukkha (दुक्ख) = suffering, unsatisfactoriness, dissatisfaction, pain, frustration. The first of the 4 noble truths, and second of the 3 marks of existence – see dukkha. and therefore the path. So supposedly she got awakened, she achieved the awakened state, just because she had the ability to interpret that or take that chance. I think this happens all the time, in every life situation. This is also how things are between friends. If you have merit, you will have less successful miscommunication. If you don’t have merit, you will have more successful miscommunication.

The footprint of the elephant

[Q]: When you said that prajña has mind, it seemed to me that consciousness comes in from a place of prajña, that’s how I understood that. And I wondered whether there is some remedy to all the suffering that happens in the thinking mind that exists in this consciousness in the world, I wonder if the answer might lie in prajña. But a lot of the [patterns of] suffering continue, like the repetition of all the bad things that happen [in life]. Relationships with parents then continue with partners, and then continue throughout life. We keep on repeating the same kinds of suffering. Is the source of all that not [to be found] in prajña as well? The good stuff and the bad stuff and the not-so-good stuff and not-so-bad stuff. Does it not have all of that?

[DJKR]: Very good. Excellent, yes. But it’s really a very big question. We are talking about prajña and the display of prajña here. Okay, it’s like this. Back to the footprint of prajña. Let’s suppose you have lost your pet elephant, and you’re really desperate and you’re really looking for this elephant. And if you bump into a big footprint, you can consider “Ah, it’s here!” You understand? It’s almost like you have found [the elephant], even though that footprint is not elephant. It’s a bit like this. The mind, the consciousness, including the not-so-bad, not-so-good – all that is actually the footprint of prajña. It all comes and goes. But the problem is we get satisfied by the footprint and we [limit ourselves]. There are many other footprints also, and it’s not yet the actual elephant. So you have not yet conquered the awakened state. It’s a little difficult because what I’m basically saying is that it is prajña and at the same time, it is not. You understand?

[Q]: Thank you.

[DJKR]: Okay, but again, as I was saying this morning, if you want to talk about and live with the culture of prajña, you have to really learn to appreciate these kind of paradoxical conversations.

[Q]: I wonder whether it is about the uncertainty of reaching from one footstep to the next?

[DJKR]. Right. Yes.

The inexpressibility of prajña and the two chariots of Nagarjuna and Asanga

[Q]: When we talk about Buddhanature, somehow the word “nature” sounds a little eternalistic. Or is it rather a case that it’s there but it’s not the nature?

[DJKR]: Yes. Always go back to the origin of our conversation. Buddha said it cannot be expressed. But then Indra and Brahma said, “Please speak, somehow just say it, speak it”. And Gendün Chöpel also said this. Gendün Chöpel is a great commentator on Madhyamaka. He was a Tibetan by the way, and he was really underappreciated by the Tibetans because he was imprisoned etc. He was also really very radical. He translated the Kama Sutra from Sanskrit literature, all that.

Anyway, how would you explain [the taste of salt] to somebody who has never tasted salt? Especially if you have no choice. Especially if you have to really take care of somebody out of compassion. How do you explain to someone who has never tasted salt in his life? It’s inexpressible, isn’t it? But you can, by giving this person [things] like chili, sugar, and some other tastes, and each time they taste, saying, “This is not it. This is not salt.” And there is that whole tradition of teaching by the way, which is basically what is expounded really very amazingly by guys like Nagarjuna. So [in that tradition] you will hear a lot of “This is not it. No nose, no ear, no this, no that.” And then there’s the whole other approach by Asanga and his tradition38Ed.: taken together, the two traditions of Nagarjuna and Asanga are known as “the two chariots of madhyamaka” (དབུ་མ་ཤིང་རྟ་གཉིས་) – see uma shing tanyi.. They don’t use the “negative” words [Ed.: i.e. negation], but they talk about yönten39yönten (ཡོན་ཏན་) = quality, precious qualities, positive traits, value, capacities – see yönten.. How do you translate the word “guna”40guna (गुण) = quality, peculiarity, attribute or property; translated into Tibetan as yönten. in English?

[Audience]: Virtue, quality.

[DJKR]: Quality. They talk a lot about qualities, and some of the qualities that they talk about are mind-boggling. Like the Buddha’s antelope-like ankles. Like the fact that the dimensions of his body, the width and the length, are the same. It’s mind-boggling. And [it includes] everything that we talked about this morning, like Tara’s strength and qualities. So that that’s another approach.

So these guys use words like “nature”. This is important I think. Remember, you are not supposed to even talk [about prajña]. Even Buddha said it cannot be expressed. The moment you [attempt to] express, you fall into a pitfall. But because of dukkha, we need to talk41Ed.: This is a central paradox of the Buddhist path. We cannot express prajña, nondual wisdom or the experience of the “awakened state”. But sentient beings are trapped in the suffering and unsatisfactoriness of samsara, and as compassionate bodhisattvas we have vowed to lead them to enlightenment. So we need to teach them a path, a way to the goal. And yet we cannot say anything about the goal, because it cannot be expressed. So what will we say?. We need to follow a path. There are so many practitioners and scholars of the past, and they prescribe a lot of strategies [to work within this paradox]. If you go the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries or schools, many times they will teach Madhyamaka first. For years they teach Madhyamaka. For example, if you’re studying for nine years, seven years is Madhyamaka and Prajñaparamita, and then in the remaining two years, they learn [the teachings according to the tradition of] Asanga. It’s a strategy, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Negation, negation, negation. And then when you finally come to the conclusion that nothing exists, then “Everything exists, exists, exists. Qualities, qualities, qualities”.

And even in a single sutra, [this seeming paradox of negation and existence] can be found. For instance, even in the {Theravada] tradition, if you go to countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka, these guys talk about anatta42anatta (अनत्ता) = no-self, non-self, without self. Third of the 3 marks of existence – see anatta all the time. No self. But they are also the ones who talk about merit, begging bowl, begging alms, shaving hair, not eating after lunch and so forth. They do all these things relentlessly and meticulously. You almost wonder, if there’s no self why are we [doing all this]? So there is this sort of technique of “canceling” each other [out].

This is [what we might call] the strategy of Buddhism. They give you a path. They give you a journey [where non-existence and existence] cancel each other. You know how yesterday we talked about shamatha and vipassana? They are actually a bit like this. [When we talk about] shamatha [it] sounds like, “Oh, shamatha. Calm mind. Malleable mind. Make the mind workable and calm, so that you have control over your mind.” Sounds familiar? [So first we practice] shamatha, and then comes vipassana. “There is no mind. What do you mean by control? There is no calm. What do you mean by calm?” But then again they apply shamatha. So, there is this sort of “canceling”, all the way to the Tantra. For example, in Guru Yoga you pray to the guru with all kinds of chanting and mantras and supplication, and at the end the guru dissolves into you and you become inseparable with the guru. So there’s nobody praying, nobody beseeching, nobody receiving blessings, nobody giving blessings, and so forth. This is called the path of the union of wisdom and method.

[Q]: It always sounds like pulling something from the ultimate realm into samsara [Ed.: the rest of the question is inaudible]?

[DJKR]: Well, that’s the aim, isn’t it? To dismantle the [mind].

Playing the game of life: when to pursue things, and when to let them go

[Q]: I have a question about how all compounded phenomena are impermanent. I’ve always had this question and I’d love to figure it out someday, but it’s still a nagging question. You mentioned that out of the four seals, the first two seals are on a relative level and the last two are ultimate.

[DJKR]: Yes.

[Q]: Now in the samsaric world there are a lot of grey areas, more than black and white. And especially in terms of the myriad human relations and situations and circumstances, when should we really surrender in the moment to not pursuing [something] and letting it be, and kind of considering it as impermanent?43Ed.: i.e. how should we decide which situations we should pursue or engage in, and which situations we should not pursue or engage in? Alternatively, when should we interpret impermanence as “this too shall pass” and therefore wait patiently? And when should we interpret impermanence as “I should act so I don’t miss this opportunity” and therefore act decisively?

[DJKR]: Can you give an example?

[Q]: Something like changing career. Or when you are pursuing multiple situations because you have a lot of interests. And what if you really try to pursue a plan which is very good for you personally, and somehow you feel that it might work. But then it doesn’t really work. If you fall short of pursuing it then you will never really know. But if you pursue it then [maybe] it will fall through.

[DJKR]: Actually for that, you don’t even need the other three seals. Just the first seal will do. Just because all compounded things are impermanent, you should therefore never think only that “It may not work”. You should always have the total picture, i.e. “It will work” and “It may not work” — together.

[Q]: So we should pursue it?

[DJKR]: Yes, of course, because whether you don’t pursue [something or someone] or [you do] pursue — either way, it is falling into an extreme. Do it. Because anyway, you are not yet a realized being. Even if you miss just one lunch, you will feel hungry. You need to pay the bills. You need to pay rent. All of that. At the moment you are caged within this kind of logic, this kind of manifestation. That’s a manifestation, isn’t it? It’s the world we have created, that our education has created – this kind of logic that you need to get an education so then you can get a job. Yes, okay, you can say you’ve been forced [to do this] probably by your parents and by society, but you have also willingly gone [along with] that. And now maybe you think this is very binding and an entanglement. That’s already good news. For spiritual people, that’s already good news, but you still are stuck with your body and your habits. So, as the Buddha himself said, you have to [live and practice as you would] play the lute44Ed.: This example is from the “Sona Sutta: About Sona”, AN 6.55. Available at Access to Insight – see Sona Sutta.. Not too tight. Not too loose.

[Q]: So it’s about moment to moment observation. Does that apply to relationships?

[DJKR]: Yes, relationships. Everything. It’s the most important. It’s the least important. It’s the most draining. It’s the most fulfilling.

[Q]: Every moment I struggle to decide what to do. Should I say “it’s impermanent” and let it go? Or should I really pursue it? That moment of decision making is very difficult for me.

[DJKR]: Yes. But if you know it’s compounded, I think the struggle will become less. You know what I mean? If you really get used to knowing that it’s a compounded phenomenon, the struggle, the strength of the struggle will become less. It will become more and more of a real “Whatever” [as in couldn’t-care-less-ness]. Not just “whatever” as a reaction, but a real sense of “whatever” in a very gentle way.

[Q]: Because sometimes it’s not working and I think “I don’t want to believe it”.

[DJKR]: That’s because you believe in things “not working” or “working”. So you’re forgetting compounded phenomena. If you really see the total picture of compounded phenomena, the moment that you give up, they seem to come in. And actually, if you know this more, you actually will know how to play the game better. Anyway, it’s just a game, isn’t it? So you will know how [and when] to loosen the leash and [when to] pull the leash.

[Q]: This is exhausting.

[DJKR]: Exhaustion only comes when you don’t know it’s a game.

[Q]: We know it’s a game, but we feel that it’s not a game [i.e. our emotional experience doesn’t align with our intellectual understanding].

[DJKR]: You know it’s a game and then you play the game. And because you know it’s a game, then it becomes play. The moment that you forget it’s a game, then it’s no longer play. Then it’s a serious matter. So I think it’s good to know that it’s a game of compounded phenomena. I think so. I think it will really help you in relationships. And, yes, the other person really will … This is why actually … How would you date with a seventh bhumi Bodhisattva? It would be really interesting.

The four maras and the relative importance of the body in Buddhism

[Q]: You talked about prajña and losing the mind. What is the role of the body in all this? Because, of course, there are many wisdom traditions that say that one of the methods of losing the mind is to focus on the body. For example, there are many movement traditions. In the Buddhist view, what role does the body play in prajña?

[DJKR]: [This is part of the life] story of Siddhartha Gautama. After engaging in all the ascetic practices, just before dawn he was awakened and attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Magadha, which is presently called Bodhgaya. There’s a story about how he was visited by Mara45Ed.: maras are considered to be obstructive or ‘demonic’ forces, sometimes translated as ‘demons’ and personified as Mara, a demonic celestial king – see Mara.. This is a quite an important subject. When we talk about Mara [in greater detail], we talk about four maras46düzhi (བདུད་བཞི་) = the four maras – see düzhi.. And out of these four maras, the sort of grandfather or general of all the maras is called Devaputra-mara, which means “The Mara of the Son of God”. Anyway, if you ask what that is, the Mahayana sutras say that actually it’s this mind that keeps on thinking, “This is it. This is it. This is not it.” References. That is Devaputra-mara – the grandfather, the general, the brigadier, whatever.

This then creates emotion, of course. We think, “This is it. This is not it. This is good. This is bad. This is what I want. This is not what I want.” Obviously it creates emotion. So, then the second in command, the second mara, is emotion. Klesha-mara, the Mara of Emotion.

Then the Mara of Emotion creates the gross phenomena. This is the Mara of Aggregates, which includes the body. So it’s the third in rank. And if you have a body, then you have death and birth [which is the fourth mara, Mrityu-mara, The Mara of the Lord of Death]. And I think somehow in ordinary people’s minds the word “mara” is associated with death. So actually, they miss the three other more vicious problems. Because nobody cares about things like references and aggregates. We only worry about death. So [we think] that Mara [means] death. But for Buddhists, when we talk about death, we are also including birth. Both.

Love, relationships and marriage

[DJKR]: You wanted to ask a question about relationships?

[Q]: I was trying to get a clarification from you. Ten years ago you taught in Taiwan, and you gave a very good talk, which I keep referring to my young friends, on love and relationships. And I say this to everybody, I’m sure you’ve listened to it, please go back to it. You made three points right at the beginning of that teaching:

  • (1) You started with the conclusion that it doesn’t work. All romantic attachments, relationships, marriage, whatever you want to call it. Underlying any romantic attachment [is the reality that] it doesn’t work. So that’s how we started. Please go back to this, anybody who has confusion about this, please go back to the talk. Then in the next two points, you talked about the biggest illusions of a romantic attachment or relationship.
  • (2) People think that they’re communicating. People ask, “Why do I need a partner? Oh, I need somebody who understands me”. So the first illusion is communication.
  • (3) The third point, which is the second illusion, is sharing. You knocked that off also. “He shares my life, he shares my dreams”. You knocked that off. There is no communication. There is no sharing. And then you said something that is basically the key word. “You have successful miscommunications which you call a relationship”.

Would you still stick to all this?

[DJKR]: I think I should tone down the “It doesn’t work” part. Because it can. You know, it’s a compounded phenomenon, so you can always have a successful miscommunication, and you can think it’s working.

[Q]: Also people have different definitions of what is working.

[DJKR]: I’ve been talking to many Chinese young people. They live in the world of WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, but they also want to have a marriage that is of the quality of [marriages in the] Song Dynasty47Ed.: Chinese society during the Song dynasty (960–1279) was marked by political and legal reforms and a philosophical revival of Confucianism, including a return to more traditional Confucian ideals of marriage. See wikipedia on society of the Song Dynasty and Chinese marriage.. It’s a little difficult, isn’t it? Yes.

How the right information at the right time can change everything

[Q]: You said something at Vajradhatu about the different levels or ways of practice. You kept emphasizing that it’s enough or good to do nothing. And then if we want to do a little bit more, we could potentially chant mantras. And if we want even more, maybe we should go and get the empowerment and then do the visualizations and so on. So there are different levels or ways of practice. My question is, how do we know if we are doing or if we have chosen the right way of practice? How can we be confident in that? What are the signs?

[DJKR]: This thinking, “Oh, I have to do a little bit more. This is not enough”. I think it’s bad and good, both. If you think “I have to do a little bit more, I must do this and that”, I think it’s a good thing also. Of course, it’s also distracting and it’s very unsettling and you may hear advice like “Why don’t you stick with this?” But if you are longing for and looking for more, probably it is a good sign that your innate prajña is really trying to get out. So maybe you should jump into more tools and lifestyles and information. Yes, information is important, I think. Although hearing, contemplation and meditation is what is prescribed in general, sometimes if you hear a certain [piece of] information at the right time from the right person, and you are in a really good listening mode or hearing mode, that information can just change everything. 

It’s a bit like if someone [gives you some information about] your partner, your husband or your wife, “Oh, you know, he’s half snake”.

[Q]: [Audience members audibly express their disgust]

[DJKR]: See, exactly. That’s what I’m saying. So for 40 years, this has never really bothered you. But then from that day onwards, something will change. In the middle of the night, you might at least look at the person to see, “Are they really a snake?” Sometimes the information [changes everything].

So I think hearing the information on prajña, and wanting to hear. Those are good. I think those indicate that maybe you need more.

We can finish here, I think.


Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers.

Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio