Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

You Are Your Own Master

Public teaching given online in Vancouver, Canada
June 20, 2021
Part 1: 52 minutes, Part 2: 46 minutes, Part 3: 47 minutes

Transcript / Video

Commentary by Alex Li Trisoglio: “Introduction to Buddhism – Week 2: Self-Mastery”

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.

Talk 1

Why become your own master?


First of all, I’d like to express my joy for connecting like this. I’m still getting used to talking to my own laptop. It has been a very challenging time, but I think a lot of people have also made use of this opportunity to reflect upon themselves.

I chose this title “You are your own master”, which is actually a classic statement from the Buddha himself1Ed.: This is from the Dhammapada:

XII:4 (160).
Oneself, indeed, is one’s own protector.
What other protector could there be?
With self-control
One gains a protector hard to obtain.

– translation by Gil Fronsdal

DJKR translates the Pali word natho (नाथो) as “master”. Other common translations of natho are “refuge” and “protector”, although the word has a wide semantic range. Walpola Rahula translates the first two lines as “One is one’s own refuge, who else could be the refuge?” (from “What The Buddha Taught”) – see “You are your own refuge” in Quotes.
. For some of you [who are] new, it might sound like I made this up, but actually that’s not true. This is actually in the Buddhist teachings, quite a number of times actually. And it’s an important one.

I think we will also be doing questions and answers, so please send us your questions. I will try to answer them.

Buddhism is a path to study life and mind

Now, for many reasons the Buddhadharma somehow ended up becoming categorized as a religion. In a certain way, this is understandable because it [originally came] from India and it has a lot of Indian nuances, symbols and rituals. And then of course, after that it went to [places] like China, Japan etc., [and] then it had all their cultural input, so to speak. So I guess after after 2500 years, it’s somewhat understandable that people now see Buddhism as some sort of an ancient religion, especially when you see [all the Buddhist] iconography. Probably you [can] see all this stuff behind me [behind DJKR there is a shrine with water offering bowls and a statue].

But Buddhism is basically a path. It’s a way. It is full of theory and technique. And fundamentally the theory [and] the techniques are all to study life. That’s what [Buddhism] is. And it has been tested for 2500 years by lots and lots of people. [From] very literate and very intellectual [people] all the way to blindly devoted kinds of people.

And, even technologically it has played such an important role. For instance, [the history of the] printing press. Supposedly the first ever printed materials were made in China, and the first ever thing that was printed was supposedly the Vajracchedika Sutra, which we now call the Diamond Sutra.

But more importantly, Buddhism has 2500 years of experience of looking inward, which is kind of important. The culture of contemplation and inward analysis is actually the big part of Buddhism, and that’s important.

Among these methods, especially [the] contemplation and systematic analysis of what we now call mind, that is very important. Actually [this is] not just [found in] Buddhism. In China [there is] Taoism, and in India there are the Samkhyas and Jains. There were a lot of people two thousand or three thousand years ago [that] were looking inside.

I tease my Western friends sometimes by saying, I don’t know when actually the study of mind actually began in the West. I believe [it was] maybe only around the 18th century. I’m talking about really comprehensive study, [with] pages after pages of books written, hours and hours of discussion and schools being created. [Whereas] if you think of Nalanda university [in India], that’s one of the oldest universities [in the world] and their biggest study was [the] study of mind2The university of Nalanda was the largest and most famous of the ancient Indian monastic universities, and was one of the greatest centres of learning in the world from the 5th to the 12th centuries CE – see Nalanda..

Why should we study life or mind?

Well, to begin our gathering here today, let’s ask this question: Why should we even study life or mind? Broadly you can say because as a sentient being — not just [as a] human being, [but] as a sentient being — you are looking for some sort of a satisfaction, all the way to [looking for] happiness. And I guess that’s why [we should study life], because life is like a vessel for that.

Almost every month I get this question, “What is the purpose of life?” I’m very suspicious [about] this question. To me, this seems [to be a] very Abrahamic question. As a Buddhist. I’m very suspicious of this question. You can even ask “Is the purpose of life to be happy?” Yes, of course. If you ask me this in the street, I have no choice but to say “Yes, of course”. What do I say? But the thing is, what do we mean by life? What do we mean by purpose? And what do we mean by happiness?

These words life, purpose, happiness — they are all such vague words. They don’t mean much, actually. Strictly speaking, I would say the purpose of life in Buddhism is to study life, as I was saying earlier. And to study purpose, and to study happiness. Of course, some of you here [especially if you are] new, you might think “Oh, you Buddhists, aren’t you looking for happiness? Aren’t you looking for satisfaction?” And broadly I will say “Yes of course, we are looking for satisfaction”.

I’m stressing this because sometimes Buddhism is [seen] as [some] sort of harbinger of bad news, [those people] who talk about suffering and renunciation and who [seemingly] don’t want to have fun. That’s not true at all, [but] I guess there’s a reason for that, because many times you see these things like people meditating in a cave, or Milarepa only eating nettle soup. We glorify those things. So, we [think] “Oh, Buddhists have to do that”. You know? [We have] the idea that all Buddhists have to be ascetic, which is really not true.

The ascetic life or the simple life is for those who think that is their satisfaction. There are a lot of people who get satisfaction by [living] a simple life. [But] there are [also] sutras where Buddha actually refused to ordain somebody who wanted to become a monk. He told them “You should remain as a merchant”. So of course, Buddhism is not at all against happiness [and] satisfaction.

What is happiness?

So how do we define happiness? Very broadly — and I underline the word “broadly”, you have to highlight this word — very broadly speaking, this is how Shantideva defines happiness and unhappiness: When you are independent, when something is independent, then that is happiness. When your situation has to rely on something else or someone else, then [that is] not happiness.

[In Tibetan] the word for “independent” is rangwang3rangwang (Tibetan: རང་དབང་) = autonomy, independence – see rangwang.. Rang means “self” and wang means “power”. Independent. And here we also use the word “master”. If you are your own master, then yes, you are probably happy. You have total liberty [when it comes to] yourself. And just to add more definition, you have total self-control. Then, yes, [you have] satisfaction.

There are many other statements that Buddha made like “You are your own master”. [For example] he also said that even I — meaning Buddha himself — cannot lift you from your pain4Ed.: This is from the Dhammapada:

XX:4 (276).
It is up to you to make strong effort;
Tathāgatas merely tell you how.
Following the path, those absorbed in meditation
Will be freed from Māra’s bonds.

– translation by Gil Fronsdal

Walpola Rahula translates the first two lines as “You should do your work / For the Tathāgatas only teach the way” (from “What the Buddha Taught”).
. In other words, the happiness of [the] millions of Buddhists is not dependent on Buddha. If the happiness of the millions of Buddhists was dependent on Buddha, we [would be] in trouble. He has left. Gone.

So thus [we have] this statement “You are your own master. Who else can be your master?”

But [although it might seem straightforward], this statement is vast and deep. This is a [subject of] study that is found in all the 84,000 different teachings, volumes after volumes. How you are your own master, and how you should acquire that [self-mastery].

We want to control things

And by the way — it’s a little bit of a sidetrack — but we human beings also want to be our own boss. [At least] that’s what we think. Everybody wants to be [a] manager. How many books are written about management? How many books are written [about] leadership? Everybody wants to be a leader. I don’t think there’s even a single book about the other side, [namely] being managed. Not being the leader [but] being led. That is a really important book somebody should write.

But anyway, we love controlling others. That’s just [something] we love. Parents want to be the boss of their children. Children also want to be the boss of [their] parents, in a very different way. Then of course we want to control our enemy. Our enemy wants to control us. Even worse, we want to control our friends. That’s really bad. And [our] friends also want to control us. That’s what friends are for.

But as I said earlier, even in Buddhism, broadly speaking the path of Buddhadharma is how to be in control. How to be the commander-in-chief, so to speak.

But as many of you know, when we talk about control and management and leadership in Buddhism, we are talking [about something] different from the normal [kind of] control and management and leadership. We are basically talking about controlling your own mind, leading your own mind, managing your own mind.

Sometimes this is how the Buddhists summarize [the Buddhadharma]. If you ask “What is Buddhism?” then we summarize [it as] “Don’t do bad things. Do good things. But tame your mind or control your mind”5This is from the Dhammapada:

XIV:5 (183).
Doing no evil,
Engaging in what’s skillful,
And purifying one’s mind:
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

– translation by Gil Fronsdal.
. Because if you can control your mind, [it is] just like Shantideva said: if you wear soft leather shoes, then no matter where you walk, you will only experience softness6From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara:

To cover all the earth with sheets of leather—
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But with the leather soles of just my shoes
It is as though I cover all the earth!

– translation by Padmakara Translation Group.
. Likewise, if you control your mind, then everything is controlled.

But most of us have no plan to control ourselves. We only want to control others. Not just [other] human beings. [We want to control the] weather, market, your car, your laptop, just everything. Your garden, kitchen, laundry, everything. So this is why I said that all of us are control freaks.

And I think in English, the word “freak” means there’s an element of deformation. Our passion to control others really has the element of that freakish, sort of deformed stuff going on. Before I came here, I [looked up the word] “control freak” [in] Wikipedia. And there’s one definition that says [being a] control freak has something to do with a personality disorder. So yes, in the process of becoming a control freak, we all develop a personality disorder.

We have wrong views

Why [are we like that?] Why are we obsessed with controlling things? Why do we want to fix things? Why do we want to control things?

Basically, fundamentally, this is what the Buddha said: fundamentally [it’s] because you have no real picture of life.

There’s a really beautiful Tibetan phrase tsülzhin mayinpa yila jé7tsülzhin mayinpa yila jé (Tibetan: ཚུལ་བཞིན་མ་ཡིན་པ་ཡིད་ལ་བྱེད་པ་) = improper conceptual activity, having wrong views – see tsülzhin mayinpa yila jé., which basically means always having the wrong view, wrong ideas. Basically [being] delusional, I guess.

We look at something that is not really 100% satisfying, but we think it’s happiness. [However] sooner or later it brings us disappointment.
We are always looking at things that are momentary, but then we imagine they are a continuity [and will go on] forever. [Wrong views] like that kind of thing. We are always looking at things that are parts, but we never see them as parts. We see them as a whole unit.

When you see your friend, do you ever remember one time where you saw your friend only in in terms of their nails or the hair in their nose? Or their ten fingers? Like that. And not only them. Ourselves. We look at ourselves as some sort of a whole unit, some sort of whole thing. We don’t think in terms of toes and nostrils and stuff like that. We don’t think [of] ourselves in terms of a collection of a lot of momentary [elements or phenomena].

And also, a very important one, we are always looking at some sort of apparition, some sort of a projection, some sort of appearance, but [we] always end up thinking that it’s real.

So right from the beginning we have a wrong view. A mistaken view. A delusional view, I guess. Just as how we think a mirage is water. Or a scarecrow is a human. But we not only have these kinds of wrong views or mistaken views. We get habituated with these mistaken views.

You know those crows in the paddy fields? Day after day they come. And when the scarecrow moves a little bit, a little bit, [each time] they are still scared. By now [they ought to have learned] that it’s nothing. It’s just a scarecrow. But they don’t [think] like this. Or like bees [trapped] inside a glass jar or [behind] a glass window. They try for hours and hours to get to the other side. By now they should have learned that it’s not going to work, but they don’t. They just want to do this.

There’s hope and fear. And not just hope and fear, but the habit of hope and fear.

You can contemplate [this]. Almost everything that we do is just like those crows and those bees. By now we should really have learned something, “Okay, this is not going to work”. But most of the time we don’t.

And by the way, this is also how we lose our basic fundamental kindness. Because we’re too busy. So we don’t really think about others. No sympathy. No empathy. No wish to benefit others, basically. What I’m basically saying is that when we become control freaks, we end up also undermining others. It’s the same thing. [Being a control freak means] undermining others. So then we become narcissists, and we think that [things like] freedom, liberty, and individual rights are some sort of entitlement.

And in the process, we lose our bird’s eyes view of life. We only look at life from one angle and we are stuck with it. How can we become visionary in this case? If you want to be a manager or a leader, you need vision. If you don’t have the fundamental truth in your head, how can we become visionary? So for [all] these reasons, we should really learn to be one’s own master.

Okay, let’s take a toilet break.


Talk 2

How to become your own master?

(1) First, we develop the confidence that we already have all that is necessary to become our own master

So how do we [become] our own master?

First, I think it’s important to know and have confidence that we can be our own master. This is fundamental.

We have all the character, all the ingredients let’s say, to be one’s own master. If we can pay some attention to this, invest a little bit of our time and energy [in] this, it’s there. You don’t have to download [it] from somewhere [else]. Nobody can give you this right or control. No one. No god, no government, no one. For many of us, it may be a little difficult at first to acknowledge that we have [the] full capacity and [all] the [necessary] ingredients to be one’s own master.

Live and let live

I think there is an expression called “Live and let live”. There’s also another expression “Do your own thing”. Yes, we say this and we print this. We use it as a slogan, a motto, some sort of inspiring [words]. But [although we say it] we just never really invest our time and energy to first live, and then let live.

For a lot of people I think when we say “Live and let live” or “Do your own thing”, maybe they think about close your door and be in your room. [That’s] not too bad actually, but still not good enough. Or go for a stroll, a walk, especially in the forest. That’s not so bad, but it depends [on] how you are walking.

Then we have this idea that “Do your own thing, let live” means reading books and listening to podcasts. Uh-oh. I don’t know. When you do that, are you really living and letting live? [Are you really] doing your own thing? I don’t know. We need to think about this. Listening to news, opinions, reading articles — all of that may not really be helping you to live and let live. Because the thing is, news and social media all have their own vested interests.

And most of their vested interests are designed to not let you live. It’s designed specifically [Ed.: to persuade you to follow their own agenda and commercial interests, rather than to encourage you to live independently]. So it doesn’t matter whether you are reading the New York Times or whether you are reading the Pyongyang Times, they all have their vested interests. So how much are you really living or letting others make you live [i.e. allowing others to determine how you live]? You know, this is something to think about.

Becoming free from all kinds of fabrications and references

In Buddhadharma, when when we say “live”, broadly speaking, we are talking about a continuation of a body, feeling and consciousness. So if you want to live and let live, or if you want to do your own thing, you have to let your body, feelings and mind be free from all kinds of fabrications. You have to be free from all kinds of contrived world, judgment world, reference world. This is what you need to learn.

I’m not saying that you should not read the New York Times. I’m saying that you should read the New York Times, but you should also read the Pyongyang Times8Ed.: other examples that are closer to home might include Fox News or One America News Network etc.. And especially those liberals who are listening here, you will have a prejudice to believe in the New York Times. I know this. I myself am one. Because you are conditioned to think like that. From the time you went to kindergarten you have been programmed, conditioned, manipulated like this.

So this is why if you read the New York Times or Pyongyang Times you end up becoming a control freak. The Pyongyang Times does not make you more of a control freak than the New York Times. In fact, the New York Times makes you a very sophisticated control freak. Do you remember what a control freak is? So by reading the New York Times, you become a very sophisticated deformed person. [Likewise], if you read The Guardian in London, you’ve become a really sophisticated personality disorder person.

So to live and let live, we really need to be savvy and smart and shrewd and sensible. This is actually one of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha. How to be savvy, smart and shrewd [in order] to live your life. And as a side effect of that, you also gain karuna. Kindness. You begin to have sympathy towards those who are addicted to the Pyongyang Times. And you begin to not undermine others. And then you begin to become less and less megalomaniac. [Less] like Donald Trump [and people] who only think about themselves, or something like that.

(2) Second, we acknowledge our flaws and cultivate longing to overcome them

Okay, so how do we do this based on the classic Buddhist structure?

I believe there are [some] very new people here. I’m a Buddhist, so ultimately you will only hear things to do with Buddhism, so you will have to bear with this. I’ll just tell you this, and then you can see [Ed.: i.e. try it out for yourself to see if it works for you].

To really follow the Buddhist structure, [the second thing] you need is to really see the flaws in all the ways we do [things] right now9Ed.: in the teaching DJKR says this is the first thing that you need, but he previously said the first step is knowing and having confidence that we can be our own master. So in this sentence it has been changed from “first” to “second”.. [That includes looking at] all the things that you like. I’m sorry if there are New York Times reporters here, but somehow this [example] is stuck in my head so I have to repeat it again and again. Somehow you have to realize that it is a flaw to see the New York Times as [being about] freedom of speech while looking at the Pyongyang Times as [being] propaganda. Having that prejudice is a flaw. I’m not making any personal judgment here by the way, so don’t misquote me. I’m not saying that the Pyongyang Times is better than the New York Times. I’m just saying that both have [their own] vested interests.

Just remember, we are like that bee and that crow. Remember? Day after day, we have been looking at a scarecrow and still we are scared. Hour after hour, we have been trying to find a way out of the jar, but we still hope that we can get out. We need to actually acknowledge that we have these flaws. And [we] not only [need to] acknowledge this, we also need to long [i.e. have the desire] to get out of these flaws.

We should be brave [enough] to get out of [our] comfort zone. In the modern world. I think this is called “thinking out of the box”. In Buddhism we call it “renunciation mind”. Renunciation mind is really thinking out of the box. Renunciation mind has nothing to do with shaving your hair and going into a cave etc. It’s really [about] thinking out of the box.

(3) Third, we learn to appreciate the uncontrived and unfabricated state

Then the other thing that you really need is to learn to appreciate the things that are unfabricated and uncontrived. This may be a little bit more difficult than seeing the flaws. Seeing the flaws is already maybe difficult, but it’s easier than this one. Because [until now], we have never really managed to experience or even intellectually understand that state of unfabricated and uncontrived.

So for this, you need to do a little bit of hearing, a little bit of contemplation, a little bit of analysis. And it can begin with something very small. And by the way, interestingly, we all secretly want to experience this [uncontrived state]. Why do you drink alcohol? Because when you are tipsy, you begin to do things that usually you don’t want to do or you are too embarrassed to do. You know what I mean? We like that kind of uncontrived [state].

[Likewise] it’s really nice to see a kid walking naked in a restaurant, completely not giving a damn about what other people think. We like that. We don’t do it ourselves, but we don’t mind it. We’re very amused and sometimes even happy, “That’s so sweet that they do this”.

I’m not suggested that you should drink alcohol. I’m not suggesting that you should walk naked in the restaurant. Please don’t misquote me. All I’m saying is we do things like rave party, music, we like this uncontrived state. This is also why we like Saturday and Sunday. Whenever you have chance to live and let live, you wear pyjamas. Not tuxedo. And even better, I’m sure you Brazilians walk naked.

So here what I’m saying is that you really need to long for this uncontrived, unfabricated, unmanufactured, unfranchised state. You really need to long for it. This is important. This uncontrived and unfabricated state. In the modern world, maybe you can call it liberty. In Buddhism, this is Nirvana. But I’m not only talking about the pyjama Nirvana, I’m talking about much more. So, this is the [third thing that you need]10Ed.: in the teaching DJKR says this is the second thing that you need, but he previously said the first step is knowing and having confidence that we can be our own master. So in this sentence it has been changed from “second” to “third”..

So how do we do this? How do we begin to see the flaws of the contrived world? And how do we begin to aspire for and work [towards] an uncontrived world?

(4) We need to practice

For that, you need to get accustomed to a certain way of way of living, [a certain] attitude or motivation. Here we are talking about something called practice. Homework. Exercise. Now these terms like exercise and practice, the Buddhist sort of “homework” — I feel this has really been misinterpreted and mis-presented.

When words such as meditation or practice are mentioned, we almost always get caught up in a certain formula [i.e. a fixed and limited interpretation or way of doing things, a specific procedure or technique]. And by the way, those formulas can be quite good. I’m not at all suggesting that you should get rid of them. By all means, they serve a lot of purposes. But I want to suggest [another way of thinking about practice]. And this is not something that I made up. It’s based on the sutras and shastras.

Awareness of the temporariness of all things (anicca)

If you can think about the momentary and changing nature of everything, not just your life, but everything. Not just the seasons, not just ideas [and] values, [but] everything. They are changing all the time. And not just acknowledging this intellectually, but truly bring that into your consciousness [and] your conscientiousness. Bring that into your mundane life. Like when you say “See you tomorrow” to somebody, you tell yourself — don’t tell the other person, but tell yourself — “Maybe that’s not [going to be] possible”. I’m talking about that kind of thing.

And by the way, some of our hang-ups can be very stubborn. For instance, I really don’t like afternoon sunlight. The afternoon sunlight always makes me sad and just not feel good. And this [habit] has been there for a long time. It almost feels like [something] permanent. [Likewise] my love for Japanese stationery shops. That’s also not going [away] that easily. I don’t understand why.

Other than that, so many of my likes and dislikes have changed so much. They just change all the time. The elements change. Just age also forces you to change. When I was in my 20s I had no time for English gardens. Now I love English gardens. My taste in food and music and all of this fluctuates like this [DJKR moves his hand up and down in a wave-like motion].

So whatever is happening in your life, or your thinking or valuing, you need to somehow bring in this awareness that it’s temporary. You may not sit (as in sitting meditation) for [a single] minute in your entire life. You may not chant mantras. You may not behave like a Buddhist. I don’t know what that is, but anyway. But if you can consciously remember this temporariness [that is Buddhist practice].

And by the way, when I talk about temporariness, again, please don’t think [about this] in a negative way. It’s not necessarily sad and bad and negative. It can be really good. Things are changeable, [and] that’s why there’s hope. If you can bring this awareness into your mundane day-to-day life, yes that’s practice. That’s exercise.

Awareness that nothing will satisfy you completely (dukkha)

And then even more importantly, if you look at your life outside and inside, and acknowledge that none of this will give you one hundred percent satisfaction. Again, I’m not saying that you should not party, you should not hang around, you should not do window-shopping. Do all of that, by all means, do not stop any of what you are doing.

But don’t be like that bee stuck inside the jar. Bring in this awareness that nothing is going to satisfy you ultimately and completely. And bring this awareness while you are standing, while you are walking, while you are chopping onions. Not necessarily [only while] sitting down. This is really a quintessential homework or practice.

Awareness that everything is just an appearance but not real (anatta)

And then, the most important one. Whatever appears or [whatever] experience that you have, whatever you listen to or hear or taste or feel, again and again bring this awareness that [all these appearances and experiences are] just an apparition, an appearance. In Tibetan we call it nangtsam11nangtsam (Tibetan: སྣང་ཙམ་) = mere appearance, mere impression, mere presence – see nangtsam.. Nang means “appearance” and tsam means “just” or “mere”. I’m not saying that they’re not there. They are there, but they are just an appearance.

Educating yourself like this, telling yourself [that things are] like this. Not just every Wednesday or during a full moon day, but if possible every hour. [Even if] just for a few seconds, a few moments. While you are sitting, while you are jogging, it doesn’t matter how you do it.

And then from time to time go to a shopping mall. And then look at people and then see how they really don’t understand anicca, dukkha and anatta – which is the fact that everything is temporary, the fact that everything never really gives you full satisfaction, [and] the fact that everything is just an appearance but not real. How they really don’t know that.

And with that knowledge, you feel … I don’t know. The word is compassion I guess. Love. It’s like if you are a mother of an only child, [and your] child has a problem of hallucinations. You don’t go and tell your child some scientific facts that none of these hallucinations that he is having [actually exist]. That’s arrogance. In fact, many times as a mother you play along with what your child is seeing or hearing.

But as a mother, you have an extraordinary love especially for this child. Because if the child had something like a headache or a toothache, it would be a little different. But this child is having a problem that actually does not exist, but at the same time it exists. It’s a really big deal. It’s a really tough one, this one.

Bring this awareness, bring this information again and again throughout your days and weeks. You can do this while you are browsing Facebook, engaging with social media, all that. This is a practice.

Okay, I think we should take a break again. And then we will start with some questions.


Talk 3

Q & A

We’ll now go through some of the questions. Many of the questions are related, so [when I] answer [one] hopefully it will answer many of your questions together.

[Q]: A lot of people are finding it difficult to apply these techniques. Even though they know intellectually the truth of impermanence and no satisfaction and [that things are] appearance only but not truly existent and all of that, they can’t really apply [this intellectual understanding] in day-to-day life.

[A]: This is exactly why I was trying to point out the definition of so-called practice, homework, exercise. You really need to pay some attention [to this]. When people talk about how they feel lazy, lethargic, and unmotivated to practice this, I think they seem to have the idea that a practice must have some sort of form [whatever the form might be]. The form could be anything. You might think “Oh, I need to practice, therefore I must sit”. [But] it is wrong to think like that.

Of course, if you do have [the opportunity] and the means or space to sit, yes, sometimes you should sit. These [forms] are prescribed as favourable causes and conditions [for practice]. [But] nowhere in the sutras or shastras did Buddha teach that practice can only be done sitting or in front of a temple or early in the morning etc. There is never a limit like that.

But some of these causes and conditions do help. Like sitting definitely. Probably sitting and contemplating may give you a better chance to be aware of the truth than lying on a hammock. Especially if you are a beginner.

And the other problem for practitioners is they always think they don’t have the time [to practice], meaning [they think that] a practice has to be an hour long or half an hour or long-ish. Basically [that it must have] a form. And this has really become a [big] interference for modern day practitioners.

And this is why I was saying: what is it that you really need to accomplish? It’s seeing the truth. And how do you do that? How do you see the truth? By sitting or standing or walking around, it really doesn’t matter.

By all means sitting helps. And there are all these descriptions, which are all helpful. Like you should meditate on top of a hill. It does help. Sometimes meditate or practice in front of a flowing river. One of the most favourite spots where Buddhists like to practice is under a tree, supposedly for some elemental energy or whatever. A lot of important things in Buddhist history have happened under a tree, starting with enlightenment of the Buddha, the parinirvana of the Buddha etc. All this happened under a tree.

Also doing it often, consistently, [and for a] short time is the key for beginners. And when you don’t rely on some sort of form or time format, then it gives you many more opportunities to get accustomed to this truth [because you don’t need to set aside time to practice]. So this is why, as much as I’m not rejecting any kind of form or ritual — by all means, if that inspires you, do it — you should also highly regard informal practice as precious.

[Q]: Some of you are saying that all this seeing the truth, contemplating on truth such as anicca, dukkha and anatta brings you sadness.

[A]: I don’t know what kind of sadness you are talking about, but I will tell you right now that this is good. For a lot of beginners, this kind of seeing the truth may bring some sort of feeling of melancholy [and] sadness. I think that is good. Actually, Buddha himself in the Prajñaparamita Sutra praised this kind of sadness as noble wealth. Many serious Buddhist practitioners even pray that they [might] have this kind of sadness.

Even on the mundane level, if you have this kind of sadness that is the by-product of seeing the truth, I think you [will] have become a sensitive human being. I think that’s good, no? I think you should really cultivate that. And then this sadness, being another compounded phenomena, will also go. It will disappear.

And if I’m correct in thinking that the sadness that you are talking about is what I’m talking about here, this sadness will then give birth to the great mahakaruna, compassion. I think this kind of sadness can also bring a lot of courage. I hope you are talking about the same sadness. I think so. My bottom line is that I would treasure this kind of sadness.

Remember, ultimately the aim for Buddhadharma is for liberation. It’s not really to be happy and blissful and joyful. That’s a bonus. It happens and it is okay. If you are a farmer, you will be striving for rice, not for hay. When you get the rice, the hay is included. Probably this is also because many times people meditate and do things like mindfulness so that they can be relaxed, happy, balanced, healthy etc. [But] these are not really the ultimate goal for Buddhadharma.

[Q]: There are a few questions where people want me to talk about bodhichitta. 

[A]: Since it’s a very important request, I cannot ignore this. But this is a very big subject. So in a few weeks time we will have another Zoom gathering like this, and I’m going to be speaking just on bodhichitta. So if you have the time maybe [you could join].

[Q]: There are a few questions regarding art. Specifically, what is Dharma art?

[A]: I don’t know. In Tibetan the term is gyu tsal12gyu tsal (Tibetan: སྒྱུ་རྩལ་) = art, magical dexterity, skill – see gyu tsal., where gyu means “illusory”, “magical”, not real basically. And tsal means “talent” or “display”. Why do we even need art? Well actually from the Buddhist point of view, everything is just art. But specifically, when we talk about the Dharma, [in order] to tell you the truth, many times the only way to express this truth or establish this truth is by telling some slight lies, so to speak. [To use some] “crooked” language. It depends on what kind of people you are connecting with using this art. If the audience is sophisticated, then you have a different kind of art of course. 

So, for instance, Shakyamuni Buddha [made a] decision to walk barefoot, begging alms in the streets of Magadha as an ascetic, homeless hermit. That is very big-time performing art. Because there are a lot of audiences who love this kind of serene teacher or saviour, [someone] serene, barefoot, begging alms, ascetic. There are a lot of people who like this kind of image.

Then at other times, he appears blue-coloured with earrings, nose rings, bracelets, anklets, crown. In Bhutan, part of [the reason] they love their Guru Rinpoche [Dorje Drolö] is because he supposedly came to Bhutan riding a tiger. They love it. They even have a something called Tiger’s Nest temple.

That’s one [aspect] of his art, a really sophisticated performing art. The same Guru Rinpoche, Guru Padmasambhava, [also appears] with a beard, mostly naked, with ashes smeared everywhere. I think that Guru Rinpoche, Guru Nyima Özer, may be more favoured in India. This is all art, I guess. 

Guru Rinpoche, Dorje Drolö
(Eastern Tibet, 19th Century, Himalayan Art)
Guru Rinpoche, Nyima Özer
(Eastern Tibet, 19th Century, Himalayan Art)

But I guess the person who is asking this question is talking specifically about what we now call Buddhist art, like paintings. You know if you look at the history of Buddhist art, it’s very interesting. Around the time of Ashoka, it’s very rare to see the Buddha depicted [as a] Buddha figure. [Instead] they have things like empty thrones with deer hanging around. That was their art. To really portray [the Buddha], I think it’s one of the best. Because [as] Buddha himself said in the Vajracchedika Sutra, “Those who see me as a form, they have a wrong view”. So [the image of an] empty throne and deer hanging around is really good. 

And then of course, as things change, as human beings relate to life in a different way, statues begin to appear. The Greeks are probably responsible for some of the earliest statues of the Buddha. Personally, I really like those myself. But here we go, art is a very personal thing, right?

Empty Throne (The snake king Mucilinda protects the Buddha)
(Jagannath Tekri, Pauni, 1st Century BCE, National Museum of India)
Wheel of Life
(Tibet, 18th Century, Himalayan Art)

Even during the Buddha’s time, iconography was used to teach people. Such as the Wheel of Life that was painted. [That’s a] very big one [i.e. important]. And different cultures have their [own] way to relate to the innate truth or the Buddha through different [forms of] art. For instance, I like the spacious and the simple way of presenting the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in Zen temples in Japan. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like the unorganized or chaotic Tibetan or Bhutanese temples. Anyway, to be precise, Buddhist art must depict the truth. One way or another.

Concluding Summary

Learning to be free from causes and conditions

I think I will conclude now. There are so many questions, but I have tried to answer them sort of generically. I will now summarize.

This statement “You are your own master” is a very vast and profound statement. Today we talked [about this subject] in the most outer format so to speak, in the most outer sense. At the end of the day, if you can learn to be free from all kinds of causes and conditions, even for a minute or two every day [then you can become your own master]. Of course, initially [this will be] through intellectual analysis and so forth.

But also sometimes [you can approach this truth] more practically, like just be aware that you have a body. Actually, I should not put it that way. It’s not [that you should be aware] that you have a body. Just be aware of your body.

How often do we do that? You know, we hardly do this kind [of thing]. If we are thinking about our body we are always thinking about our body in reference to something. Weight, shape, health, plastic surgery. It doesn’t matter. But [there’s always] some sort of reference.

Just simply be aware of body. And feeling. And your mind. No judgment.

If you can just do that for a few moments every day, you are giving a chance to yourself so that you will become your master.

A glimpse from a higher level

But as I said, this is the most outer way of putting this statement, “You are your own master”. There’s [also] a much deeper way of understanding the statement “You are your own master”. Probably we can talk [about it] some other time, but just to give you a glimpse of the idea. Because yesterday someone sent me a sutra and I was reading it, and it’s so inspiring.

We talk about like desire, anger, jealousy, all these defilements. The real solution to these defilements are the defilements themselves. This is what we are talking about [when we say] “your own master”. Normally, we think “Okay, I have desire. I need to go somewhere to handle this. I have anger. I need to do something about this”. So you try [to obtain] a solution or an antidote from somewhere else.

Now I’m talking on a much higher level. So don’t get confused with the outer level [that we have previously been talking about]. When you try to bring a solution from outside, from [the perspective of] a very high level you are becoming a control freak. And remember I told you, [being a] control freak means you have a personality disorder.

What Buddha said is that if you actually dig into these defilements, it only ends up [as wisdom]. Let’s say you are in New Zealand. You have to excuse my direction, my geographic knowledge. Let’s say you fly from New Zealand and you fly towards the West13Ed.: DJKR said South. This has been changed.. You will end up in Australia whether you like it or not. I’m trying to tease these New Zealanders. Just like that, if you dig and dig and dig [into] these emotions, you end up finding wisdom. That’s why the best solution for defilements is the defilements themselves. But here we are talking on a very high level of “You are your own master”. And I hope you can do that one of these days.

Let us try to change ourselves

Well, that’s about it for today. I’m sorry if my voice was so piercing. Somehow, every time I’m talking to a laptop I keep on shouting. It’s really strange.

And lastly, as I said at the beginning, this has been such a challenging time. Yes, of course sometimes we do wish that we can go back to the sort of before-pandemic, which technically or scientifically is not possible anyway, right? But ironically things may also have changed for the better. So one should always be positive about this.

So many people have died. So many people have lost jobs and homes. So many people have been through so much suffering. Their sufferings should not be wasted. We should really try to learn something from this.

And coming back to today’s topic of “You are your own master”, it is really difficult to try to change your mayor or governor or president or prime minister or whatever. But let us try to change ourselves, individually.

Please learn to be resilient. And you do have the ability to be resilient. You just have to pay some attention to this. Like shrubs and weeds, your resilience will grow if you give it a chance. A good way to be resilient is probably to not be too completely blindly hopeful or too completely fearful.

And if you happen to be a Buddhist, please trust cause, condition and effect, and the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. And of course, washing hands and wearing mask. If you do not happen to be a believer in the religion of no-mask, then probably those are good. And also if you happen to be in an environment where you have the luxury of social distance, why not?

Most importantly, trust in the power of good motivation. I think we invest too much on what we call “action” and we sort of despise thoughts or motivation. We have sayings like “It’s the thought that counts”. Please pay some attention to motivation. It’s really important.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank my personal friends here who have been doing all kinds of things to celebrate my birthday. I’ve been keeping it secret that I have become 60, but now you have let the cat out of the bag. That’s it. Thank you so much. And thank you to our three ladies here who have been in translating into Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese. Thank you.


Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers

Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio