Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Vipassana – A Sadhana
Public teaching given online
February 19/20, 2022
Note 1: This is an edited transcript of a live teaching, and should not be taken as Rinpoche’s final word. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of madhyamaka.com. Please see note.
Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.
Introduction: vipassana and sadhana
First of all greetings to everyone and [I’d] also like to wish a series of happy new year [greetings]. I think one is about to come. When this teaching was requested, originally I thought of talking about vipassana. What else? That’s the one thing that has been talked [about] over and over. And also it is probably one of the techniques that is most unique to Buddhism.
I guess part of me also wants to do this because there are all kinds of mindfulness exercises that are mushrooming up from all parts of the world. And as a Buddhist, I have this concern that the very idea and essence of vipassana could get lost. In trying to make it accessible, sometimes we pour too much water and then we lose the essential taste.
Vipassana and sadhana
Then I added the [word] “sadhana” [to the title], probably just as a bit of a teasing. Because “sadhana” is a very Mahayana [term]. In fact, it’s a very tantric term. The term “sadhana” is used both by the Buddhist tantra and also it is very much found in the Hindu tantra. I decided to tie these two together because the quintessence — the core or backbone or blood or element — of sadhana is none other than vipassana, even though because [of] the nature of sadhana [practices], at times [they may] appear to be very religious. They involve ceremonies [which can range from] simple mundane things like offering flowers [and] incense, even [to] sitting on a dead body and meditating [for] days and nights.
So sadhanas can and [do] appear as ritual. And sometimes because of that, the essential point of the sadhana — [which], especially in Buddhism, [is] vipassana — gets lost. So this is why I want to sort of tease ourselves and remind ourselves that sadhana and vipassana really have to come together. So hopefully, we can come to this later. But let us first talk about vipassana.
Seeing the full picture
Vipassana is really, really vast. It’s infinite. Of course, now, it is sort of coming down to [being seen as a] Buddhist practice of sitting straight. Being mindful of environment, surroundings, breath. And then [there are] some more advanced levels of technique. For a lot of people, I think vipassana is something to do with meditation, as in sitting. And I think this is depriving [us of] the whole world of vipassana. So hopefully this time, we can sort of open our eyes, open our mind, and approach vipassana in a much more abundant and infinite way.
As the word “vipassana” indicates, it is something to do with seeing [or] having insight. Let me try to explain this on a more mundane, day-to-day level. This is what Buddhists think: In our day to day life, when we interact with our life, usually we always [see things from only] one or two narrow angles. We just never have a bird’s-eye view. So in this sense, we are always having a very distorted, partial [and] biassed [view], with a lot of prejudice. We don’t have the full picture.
In many ways, to [help] us understand [the meaning of] vipassana, I think we could translate vipassana as “A technique to see the world and our life — but [to see the] full picture, not just partially.” The full picture.
The idea of vipassana also has something to do with direct experience. Usually, when we interact with life [we don’t experience things directly]. I’m talking about every aspect of life. For example, what is the most important part of our life? It’s me, self, I. When we interact with “me”, like “this man” or whoever, we interact using all kinds of rational thinking. [We interact with our selves based on] logic, rationality, probably science, and of course, a bit of empirical [evidence] or experience.
When we look at ourselves through reason, through logic, through language, and through culture, we are never really experiencing ourselves directly. So for instance, I’m a man. This gender “man”. I have come to this decision [or] conclusion that I’m a man based on all kinds of reasons. For example, because the consensus says so. Other [people] think that I’m a man. My parents raised me as a man. And then, biologically I am a man. [But] there is never a direct experience.
So if you want to translate vipassana in another way, you can [also] translate this as “A technique to experience life directly.” So vipassana [is a technique for] how to view life — not just life, [but] everything — how to view things with the full picture, not just a partial picture. Or how to look at life directly, without using any kinds of references. This is probably one good way to understand vipassana. And I think if we can build on that foundation, [then we can see that] vipassana is not just watching breathing in and out. Vipassana is so much [more]. It’s even more than a science. It’s direct experience.
Sadhana is a systematic means to achieve a goal
Now with that in mind, since part of our conversation is about sadhana, [we also need to define “sadhana”]. The word “sadhana” basically means a skill or a technique. It is a trick, actually. It’s a trick, a technique, a means. Usually [we always have] a goal. Sadhana always has a goal. Sadhana is a systematic means to achieve the goal, whatever [it may be].
In the context of vipassana, the goal is to have direct experience [of life], the full picture [of life]. For example, even [as I am] looking at this flower that is in front of me, am I really having a direct experience of this flower?1DJKR said “with”. This has been changed to “of” to reflect English idiom, even though the original is less dualistic. Why [do] I even consider this to be a flower? I have cultural [references]. I’ve been taught that this is a flower, [although] actually I don’t even know the name of this flower. This is a pink flower. And so on and so forth. So I don’t have the direct experience. I’m already prejudiced. My view of this flower comes through lots of filters and interference.
So, if we [were to practice] looking at this [flower with] vipassana, [based on our previous] definition, then what do we actually mean by “practicing vipassana”? [Remember], “vipassana” [i.e. seeing the full picture, direct experience] and “sadhana” [i.e. practice]. So, what do we mean by practicing vipassana? That could mean a lot of things. That could even mean discussing about vipassana, as is happening right now between you and me. We are talking about the real picture, the full picture. We are asking questions. Are we just seeing things partially? Are we seeing things through a distorted, already-conditioned mind? We are already questioning this. And you can actually say that this kind of analysis, this kind of critical thinking is already a vipassana practice in progress.
In fact, many sutras and shastras, especially [those written by] the great scholars have explained this. But I just want to tell you this, because nowadays, a lot of people, when they say “I’m practicing vipassana”, it’s usually something to do with sitting. Something to do with sitting straight and watching your breathing, or the sensations of your body and so on and so forth. I’m not saying that this is not correct. It is correct. [Vipassana] is very much that. But it is also much more than that. In fact, even longing to see the truth, longing to see the full picture of life is already sort of [vipassana]. You could almost say that it’s the beginning of practice of the sadhana of the vipassana. Longing to have the full picture. Now, who doesn’t want to have the full picture? Everybody does.
Do we have the full picture?
Now, this is the schizophrenic aspect of us human beings. There is a part of us, we like to have the full picture. There is a part of us, we want to control everything. Especially to control our own surrounding, and other [people] if we can. There is a part of us that doesn’t want to be left out. [That doesn’t want to] miss out. There is part of us that that wants to have direct experience. From small children all the way to adults, we have that.
In fact, most of our insecurity and our anxiety comes from this not knowing whether or not I have the full picture. Do I have the full picture about life? Do I have the full picture of myself? Do I have the full picture of this flower? Whatever. And more importantly, do I have the full picture of the discursive thought that is happening right at this very moment? Now, that is the highest level of thinking, isn’t it? You should consider that as your quest or path of the sadhana of vipassana.
Vipassana is challenging because we’re used to living with partial truth
Now, vipassana [comes with] a lot of challenges. There’s a big challenge here, and the challenge is the opposite of vipassana. You know, vi-pashyana [Ed.: here DJKR emphasises the Sanskrit pronunciation, with the two elements of vi- “greater” + pashyana “seeing”]. Seeing the truth, seeing the real deal, seeing things as what they are. The challenge for that is this habitual pattern that we have, which is just feeling comfortable. Being cozy with seeing not the real thing. This is a problem, a really, really big problem. We are comfortable. We don’t want to dig too much. Vipassana is really like a digging machine. You dig and dig, and then you see the whole picture. [But] we have developed this habit of not wanting to see the whole picture. We are too afraid to see the whole picture. We are kind of happy to see sort of one side. That is how the world works. If you look at our human society, our education system, political system — everything, business, fashion, food — it’s all about sufficing with partial truth. The partial truth. Somehow we have developed this [habit] of feeling comfortable with this zone of partial truth. And this is a challenge for the vipassana practitioner.
But living life looking at a partial truth never really pays off. It always leads us to some sort of disappointment [in] the end, because you have been looking at a partial truth. It always leads us to some sort of anxiety. And then we try to see the real truth, but the old habit of wanting to go to the camouflage zone, the comfortable zone, the comfort zone — now that is strong. So this is vipassana’s biggest challenge. And this comfort zone makes your mind rigid. It makes your mind not malleable. Basically, this comfort zone actually makes your mind out of control.
This is why when we talk about vipassana, many great masters from all the [Buddhist] traditions — Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana — [also] talk about shamatha, which is basically [a practice] to make the mind malleable. To make the mind workable. We apply the shamatha technique to better [deal] with this constant falling into the comfort zone. Now, that is probably what a lot of people nowadays may be doing [when they are practicing mindfulness meditation]. And then they think that it is vipassana. This is possible. I mean, I cannot really discourage doing that.
But at some point, it is important that we realise that shamatha is really meant to make your mind workable and malleable. So that you will be in control. In other words, [so that] you will not fall into that comfort zone that I was talking [about]. So that your longing to see the truth, your longing to see the full picture, your longing to have direct experience becomes unwavering, unfaltering, and uncorrupted. This is why shamatha and vipassana are always sort of complementary.
So this is just a sort of overall summary of so-called vipassana and sadhana. But since I’m assuming that there are a lot of participants here today, around the world, who are also here for the first time or maybe new to the whole Buddhist path in general, and especially vipassana, I’m now going to talk [some more] about vipassana. I’ll try to use less traditional jargon and [I’ll] try to connect this with our day-to-day life, whether you’re a monk or a nun, whether you’re a householder, a child or a teenager.
Vipassana and everyday life
What is life?
How and why are vipassana and shamatha relevant to you as a human being? And how could they help [you in] relating to the world?
What do we have in [our] so-called life? Job. Family. Relationships. Security. Fun — that’s very important. Long term planning. Management — managing one’s own life, managing family, managing your own life ahead. I guess this is what we have as “life”. And there is not much chance for us to think about these things originally, without the influence of others. That’s almost non-existent. [For example], if you are a kid or a teenager, your parents are probably hovering around you, breathing down your neck. And if you don’t have parents, there are your peers, your friends and schoolmates.
You will want to be part of them. You’ll want to fit in. To get invited to their circle, [to their] parties. And it’s very complicated. You want to be special, I guess. You want to be unique. But at the same time, you don’t want too much attention from people. It’s really complicated. Because if there’s too much attention, you feel suffocated. And if you’re too unique, you get alienated because they will think you are too unique and too strange. And then probably you’ll suffer with loneliness.
Popularity and competition
And then [there are] all the things that are happening with social media — Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, whatever. I don’t even know these things so much. When I was growing up, I had a challenge to fit in with real human friends. Nowadays, most kids, you have to fit in with friends that you have never met, and you probably will never meet. And all they have to do is [give you] a thumbs down, and then you will be depressed for days and days. And this is the life that you have, [that] we have. And I don’t think it’s going to get better. I don’t know, maybe it is already good. I don’t want to judge that this is bad. But I also don’t see that this is very good, because there’s a lot of anxiety and there’s a lot of stress.
The whole world is designed based on this idea of competition. The winner and the loser. Who gets the most marks. Who wins the best prize. Acknowledgement. Endorsement. That’s [also] there now. And if you buy into all this, then you will be not having vi-pashyana [Ed.: DJKR emphasises the Sanskrit pronunciation]. Vipassana. The word “vipashyana” in Sanskrit means “seeing the whole picture” or “seeing the truth” or “seeing directly”. [But] when you see your world through TikTok, through Instagram, through fashion, through family endorsement, or through marks in school, then you are not looking at life directly. You are looking at your life through lots of distorted lenses. [You are looking at life] through a lens that does not even belong to you, a lens that is designed by others.
Our minds have been hacked
So, yes, as I was saying earlier, a lot of us want to be very unique. We want to be independent. This is another thing — the quest for independence, wanting to be independent. How much of that is vipassana? We want to be independent, but everything we do is just the opposite. Everything we do actually makes us so dependent. [Previously, the] things we used to do to make us dependent would take time, but nowadays you make yourself dependent within a second, within a moment.
So basically, as many scientists seem to be saying, our minds have been hacked. We are very much hackable. So many companies, so many tech giants, they know what I buy, what I read, and what I watch. They have already curated and sent me messages, news bulletins carefully crafted and curated for me. And I totally fall [for them], even though I know that this has been curated for me. And this is how we lose insight. How we lose the true nature of reality [and end up with] a partial picture of our life.
But as I said earlier, how much enthusiasm or zest do you have to go out of that comfort zone? How much courage do you have to really not care about what others think, or at least [to] care less? [To not care about] how many ratings you gain, how many thumbs up you get? This is what you need to contemplate. And this contemplation is what in Sanskrit is called “bhavana”, which means “mind training”. This [mind-training] is very relevant, so relevant for those who wish to just have a life. Those who are parenting, those who are managing, those who are having a relationship, those who wish to communicate with others. In every aspect of our life, we need vipassana.
Seeing the impermanence of things
So, in the classic Buddhist categorisation of vipassana, we talk about three characteristics, especially in the Theravada tradition:
- Selflessness or no-self.
[Let’s begin with] impermanence. Again, this can very much be applied when you are going through your life. As a teenager. As a parent. As someone who has a business to run or a job to look after. Or a family. [We can] look at our life with a bigger picture. With the bigger picture of impermanence. The word “impermanence” may sometimes indicate something negative or something unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be [negative].
For instance, you could be going through the hardest of times in your life right now, [and] because you have the habit of looking at life partially, [even] a small amount of rough time can discourage you, throw you off, make you lose your hope, and make you lose your direction. It doesn’t have to be [like this]. If you can develop vipassana — in other words, if you can look at life with a bird’s-eye view — how many times in our life has something unpleasant happened? But we have always somehow managed to walk out of it.
How many times have things in our life improved? How many times [have we received] good news? [How many times have] good things happened in our life? Of course, we [have] the tendency to not appreciate good things. We tend to hang on or cling on to things that are unpleasant. But if you can look at your life with just the bird’s-eye view of anicca or impermanence, it really can give you so much confidence [when it comes to] managing this life.
The importance of sadhana
Just seeing that truth — the truth of anicca or impermanence — [gives] so much confidence and courage. So much. And it also [makes you] visionary. And also not giving up. But of course, as I keep on repeating, you need to get accustomed to this kind of thinking. And this is where [you need] a sadhana, a technique to get used to this truth. [A technique] to get used to this discipline, and keep this discipline during bad times [and] good times. So that the technique becomes you, and you become the technique. So that when calamities hit you, you [will] apply this knowledge, this wisdom, this mindfulness, this picture — the full picture — immediately. [This is why] bhavana or mind training is necessary.
Just to go back a little bit more to the traditional approach, [we might use] a sadhana such as sitting straight and watching the breath in and out. Or [we might use] the sadhana or practice technique of going to a temple. And actually, if we go to a temple with a flower in our hand and incense, for instance, and if we go with the motivation of wanting to see the truth — wanting to have the full picture of our life, wanting to not just [be] stuck with a partial view of life — [then] a visit to the temple can be considered as a practice of vipassana. In this case, visiting a temple or a Bodhi tree or a stupa is a sadhana. It has become a sadhana. Of course, in traditional Buddhist societies, farmers go to Buddhist temples with other [motivations], like [praying] for protection, for rain, for good harvests, for good business, for longevity, for protection from sickness and so so forth.
Vipassana and liberation
Those are also not discouraged in the Buddhist sutras and shastras, because that is one skilful way of gradually leading people towards the higher liberation. And the higher liberation is achieved through having the full picture. When we have the full picture, this is called liberation. When you see things from every angle — when you know its beginning, its end, its middle, its whole direction2Ed.: the recording was distorted. There was another inaudible word, perhaps “foundation”? — [then] you know the nature, the impact of this particular thing. [Then] whether or not you [choose to] continue [to engage] with this thing is absolutely up to you. But you will not be bound by it [any more]. And this is called liberation. So in this sense, when you have the full maturity of this vipassana, this is nirvana or liberation. So, you can see that the Buddhist idea of liberation is really [as] not far off as sometimes we are made to think, that this is something that will take forever. Maybe we’ll take a short break.
[END OF PART 1]
How to practice vipassana when we have no time?
Sitting and watching the breath is a traditional method of vipassana in all schools of Buddhism
Okay, now I’m going to break this down even further. Traditionally vipassana is approached [differently in the] different schools of Buddhism. In the Shravakayana path, the path of the Theravada, there’s a lot of emphasis on sitting and watching the breath. Because that has a lot of virtue. First of all, by sitting, you’re already isolating yourself from all kinds of distraction. We call it “distraction”, but basically, it is the comfort zone I was talking [about] earlier.
See, we always fall into these comfort zones. Comfort zone, meaning the fake, partial picture, not the real thing. But we are so used to it, we are comfortable there. Not all the time, though. That’s the challenge here. We feel sort of comfortable, but then we always fall into some sort of disappointment, some sort of anxiety, then [it leads to] endless problems. But then we just don’t know otherwise, so to speak. We are just so comfortable with that comfort zone.
As we practice, we see life with less interference and more of a bird’s-eye view
So the traditional method — not just in the Theravada, but also in the Mahayana and also in the Vajrayana — one very, very good method is sitting. I mean, beginning3Ed.: DJKR corrected himself from “sitting” to “beginning”. All schools of Buddhism consider that sitting and watching the breath is a very good method to begin one’s practice of vipassana, although some schools then move on to recommending different methods to practice and cultivate vipassana. and then watching the breath, watching the sensations and so forth. At least, what it does is it isolates you from this comfort zone. And then you become more naked, so to speak. You become more clear. You become more independent, if you like. You are really looking at life without other interference. You’re really looking at life with a full bird’s-eye view.
So, just watching the breathing in and out, the sensations and all of that, it immediately gives you the picture of anicca (impermanence), dukkha and anatta4Ed.: i.e. in all schools of Buddhism, and in particular in the Theravada, you learn to see life or reality differently, with less inference and more of a bird’s-eye view. In particular, you see that life or reality has the three characteristics of anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and anatta (selflessness or no-self).. And then in the Mahayana, [your view or picture of life expands to include] shunyata or Tathagatagarbha5Ed.: i.e. in Mahayana Buddhism, you learn to see life or reality as shunyata (emptiness) and Tathagatagarbha (Buddhanature). DJKR explains the meaning of these terms in more detail later in this teaching.. And in the Vajrayana, maybe [you picture life or reality as] the deity. So that’s the traditional approach.
Nobody has time any more to practice using the traditional methods
But today, what I want to say is this. By all means, I’m not saying that those [traditional methods] are outdated. Definitely we should uphold [them]. If you have time, if you have [the] means, by all means do so. Because those were carefully crafted and designed by the great masters of the past for centuries. I always say that there’s one thing that ancient Indian or Asian wisdom has. At least in Buddhism, for instance, there are 2500 years of experience in dealing with mind. And mind [is seen as] the most important. If you don’t have mind, you’re basically a dead body. You’re like a pebble, you’re like a piece of wood.
Those [traditional] techniques definitely should not be discarded. But I’m afraid most of today’s people, not just kids, not just teenagers, [but all of] us, everyone including me. We don’t have time. We don’t have time to sit, and we don’t have the wish to sit. I mean, there are so many exciting things going on outside. Just the very mention — [when] somebody [says] “sit” — that’s like the last thing you want to hear. “Sit” — that’s the most boring thing to hear. Sit. For how long? One minute. Even that is like a burden.
Because that’s how the world has changed. The world has evolved. It has evolved so much that nowadays people don’t even read a good book. You know this. They don’t have time to read a book from the first page to the last page. They just want to read some headlines, some blips, some big font, whatever. People have no time for all the details. I recently found that there’s an app where you can read all the major books in [something] like five minutes [each]. You can read each book in five minutes, [the] essential things. This shows [that] people don’t have time.
But we do have sadness and the feeling that there must be more to life than this
So what does that mean? So now what? Do we have life6Ed.: the implied meaning is “enough time in our life”. for vipassana? This is the question. And my argument is [yes], very much so. Very much. Sitting, watching the breathing, doing retreat, going to a forest — by all means, if you have time, go to Thailand, go to Burma, go to Sri Lanka, go to Nepal to do these retreats. This always will help you.
But if you are in a position where you don’t have this kind of time, the best thing that you have is this feeling awkward and feeling empty. Feeling sad. I’m actually quoting from a sutra, which says there are two indispensable things that you need to perfect vipassana. One is sadness about your whole thing, whatever you have. Maybe “sadness” is not the right translation but, you know, “Hey, I’m 60 years old. Is this it? Is this the only thing that is so-called life? What’s there? What is it now? What’s next? It’s the same thing again and again”. You know, [that] sort of feeling.
Yes, maybe there’s a little — or maybe even big — sort of depression, sadness, feeling empty. Or even the German word, existentialist angst, “Do I even exist? Who am I? What am I doing? It feels like I’m just like an ant, just following everybody’s norm.” Food and shelter, well, at least that’s sort of essential, but then [there are] so many other things. So, [having] some sort of feeling awkward and feeling [that] there has to be something more than this. This is a good thing. This shows some sort of a dawn of insight. You are beginning to look at life in a much higher [way]. You are not just copying. Do you want to be independent? This is the beginning of [becoming] independent. You’re actually beginning to become independent when you feel a little depressed with whatever is going on.
Okay, now I want to be careful here. I’m talking about a specific depression about the emptiness of life. It’s not shunyata that I’m talking about7Ed.: i.e. DJKR is talking about emptiness in the everyday sense of feeling depressed and purposeless. He is not referring to the Sanskrit word shunyata (शून्यता), which is translated as “emptiness” and also as “lack of true existence; illusory nature (of all worldly phenomena)”.. I’m talking about a sort of very nihilist feeling, feeling sort of purposeless. That is a very important element. And I think this [is] one [that] modern people do have. I meet a lot of modern people. Some of them have achieved so much — whatever they are supposed to achieve, or whatever they have been pushed to achieve. They’ve been pushed to go to school. They went. They have been pushed to go to the highest Ivy League situations. They’ve done [it]. They have been pushed by family and friends to get the best job. They have done [it]. But now they’re asking, “Is this all we have?” And this [questioning] is good. And I think many people, many modern people have this.
We have sadness, but we also need wisdom
But what they don’t have, which is what the sutra is suggesting, [is wisdom]. You need the sadness, but you [also] need to have wisdom. If you don’t have wisdom, then this sadness takes over. [The feeling that everything is] meaningless, useless, purposeless, what’s the point? You know, [a] kind of total darkness. I guess this is the result of what they call existentialist angst. So this is where [we need] wisdom. Wisdom to go beyond that. That is what we need.
So, coming back to modern people like you and me, I don’t know that I should even consider myself as a modern person. But people who live in this kind of situation, who don’t have even a minute to sit. Not just you don’t have time, but you just don’t even wish to do so. But you are sad. And at the same time, you can sort of appreciate the wisdom of vipassana. You can understand “Ha. Anicca (impermanence) makes sense. Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) makes sense. Anatta (selflessness or no-self) makes sense. Shunyata (emptiness or lack of true existence) makes sense. Tathagatagarbha (Buddhanature) makes sense.” Well, of course, you don’t have the discipline to do something about it, not right away. So, what do we then do?
A 21st century vipassana sadhana
(1) Anicca – Everything depends on causes and conditions, so everything is subject to change
So, this is [where] I wanted to sort of break [things] down a little bit [more]. How should we — you know, the young, the old, [people with] a family, people who have a job — how do we get acquainted [with] or live with a vipassana world?
Let’s choose one [of the] elements or aspects of life that I was talking [about] earlier. Job, relationship – they’re all equal, actually. Every aspect of our life is so dependent on all kinds of causes and conditions. For example, relationships. Wow. To have a relationship “work” — whatever that means — it depends so much [on] so many causes and conditions. The causes and conditions don’t even have to be [particularly] big. It could be how much water is in the coffee. That could lead to the ups of the relationship, or the downs of the relationship. It could. The t-shirt that you bought. Where you put the sofa seat. [Our relationships are] so dependent on all kinds of causes and conditions. And it is endless. You cannot fix it. Maybe you can fix it for maybe about a week. But then again it will … I will not use [the words] “fall apart”, because “fall apart” sounds very negative. That’s [just] how it is.
Because it depends on causes and conditions, it’s revolving [Ed.: DJKR gestures with his hands to indicate that causes and conditions are always circling around and changing, like a wheel that is turning]8Ed.: The simile of the constantly turning irrigation wheel or waterwheel is used to illustrate the suffering of sentient beings by Chandrakirti in his Madhyamakavatara:
Beings think “I” at first, and cling to self;
They think of “mine” and are attached to things.
They thus turn helplessly as buckets on a waterwheel,
And to compassion for such beings I bow down!
Translation by Padmakara Translation Group.. It is evolving all the time. And many times [this evolution] is also good. Many times the very causes that really destroyed your relationship [also become the ones that make] your relationship even better. Maybe [your relationship fell apart] because of the amount of water you put on the coffee, [but then this also] made your relationship very passionate and exciting and beautiful and romantic and sentimental. Whatever. We don’t know. But that’s how it is.
So modern people [like us may not spend time] sitting, looking at the breath, because we don’t [have the time or desire]. But if you can educate yourself, if you can reflect again and again, “Look, my relationship, my job — not just my relationship with my boyfriend or girlfriend, but with my boss, with colleagues, with friends — [all] this depends so much on causes and conditions. And therefore it can change.” Change does not necessarily mean bad. It can be good. Tomorrow is another day. This afternoon, this evening is another day. We don’t know what’s in store. We really don’t know what’s in store.
Yes, generally speaking, it has been fine. And this is very, very good. We should appreciate this. But we don’t know. It’s very uncertain. Now, if you have that kind of awareness, then it’s a very 21st century person’s way of living. And I would say that [it can give you a] healthy, working relationship because there is that whole bird’s-eye view regarding your relationship. So there is always room for forgiveness. There is always room for openness. There’s always room for acceptance.
I am saying this is very much vipassana. And you [may] not [do] sitting [for even] one minute. But if you can really tell yourself this [i.e. that everything depends on causes and conditions, so everything is subject to change], educate yourself [about] this, and reflect [on this, then is it vipassana]. Because after all, bhavana — meditation or mind-training — is a [practice that includes] reflection. Telling yourself. Educating yourself. Influencing yourself. [This is a] modern, 21st century vipassana sadhana.
(2) Dukkha – Nothing that we value is going to bring us complete satisfaction
Similarly, Dukkha. What does that mean? Unsatisfactoriness. Again, choose one thing in our life. Anything. Anything that we regard or [hold in] high esteem. Whatever values we have, like justice. Probably that’s one thing [on which we] put such a high regard. Justice. Freedom. Independence. Wow. All of those are all dukkha. If you suddenly have independence, are you really going to be satisfied? You see, dukkha is something [that is the] opposite of satisfaction. I’m talking about total satisfaction. If you are totally independent, will you really be satisfied with that? [That’s] something to really think about.
Because when you finally become independent, [in the way that we] wish to be, it’s very complicated. Because many times we want to be independent, but we want others to be dependent on us. There is a complication here. You know, we want other people to depend on us. That’s asking for trouble. And nobody has the guts to say “Okay, you be independent. I’ll be independent.” You know, “You do your thing, and I’ll [do mine]”. We only say this on a theoretical level, but nobody gives us space. We don’t give others space. And when we finally have our own space, [in the way that] we wish, does it give us full satisfaction? This is something that we need to reflect [on].
So if we can see life [and] our values in this way, what will it do? It will kill all the prejudice, because we are looking at [our] life and [our] values from all angles. So, again, even though you may not sit even for a minute in an entire year, if you can look at the things that you value from all angles and see that they will not satisfy you 100%, you are a sadhaka. Sadhaka means a sadhana practitioner, a “sadhana-doer”. You are a vipassana practitioner. And this is something that we modern people can do during our taxi ride, bus ride, subway ride, while we are eating, while we are drinking. This is something that is possible to do and we are intelligent enough to do. We are intelligent. We detest something called brainwashing. This is the best way to not let any circumstance or situation brainwash you.
And just having these two angles — the impermanence of everything and the unsatisfactoriness of everything — just these two views will make a big difference in our life. And, as you may have noticed, this is nothing religious. This is nothing mythical. This is not mystical. This is raw. If you like, [it’s like a] science. A science of how to live and how to look at our life.
(3) Anatta – Identity is an illusion
Now the third one, no-self or selflessness is [difficult]9Ed.: There is a problem with the recording at this point. The word “difficult” has been added based on DJKR’s previous teachings on this topic for beginners. But of course, anicca, dukkha and anatta are actually interconnected. In a way, by understanding that everything is impermanent, you are already on the way to comprehending no-self. By the time you know that nothing satisfies you completely, you are getting quite a big picture of anatta, no-self.
But having said that, the teachings on no-self, anatta, are the most essential teachings of the Buddha. And, as I was saying just yesterday, I feel this will become more important now than ever. I’m going to relate this [to our] modern times. I think [for us] modern people, you could sort of roughly say that we are in a way much better off than those who were living in ancient times, when people basically needed to look for food. [There was] always the fear of somebody invading your territory. Plagues. I mean, even when I was growing up, it took [something] like a few months for me to write a letter to my mother, because this letter took time to reach [her]. And then another few months to get back a reply. I don’t know whether this [was better or worse]. Probably that was a good thing. [But] now we don’t need that. Now we can just talk live, on Zoom, as is happening right now, everywhere. Like this. I don’t know whether this is a good thing, but let’s say we have this kind of thing going on.
How we attempt to solve our identity crisis in the modern world
So … [Ed.: there is problem with the recording at this point] … Maybe. I think this is very true. We modern people are going to suffer a lot from [an] identity crisis. Now, who are we? These teachings on anatta are really a deconstruction of the dilemma of identity. Okay, so [there is an] identity crisis. How does the whole world try to solve this identity crisis? With what? Dye your hair. Buy designer shoes. Get a big degree in some university. Buy a sports car. I think all this is something to do with identity. Or have a sex change. Or even small things, like speak with a squeaking kind of sound, or laugh like a horse. People do these things to make their identity unique.
Just look at us. Everything is about identity. And now with art, music, fashion. Statement. Fashion statement. What is that for? Identity. So we are talking about identity. There is definitely an identity crisis, and to solve that there are these remedies. And then politically, [we construct our identity based on] culture, tradition, nationalism. Like Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, I don’t know. And then [we have] views such as democracy or socialism. Identity. And the whole world is trying to solve the identity crisis with these identities10Ed.: i.e. we seek to deal with our underlying existential uncertainty about who we are by taking refuge in a constructed identity. We define ourselves by things like our personality characteristics, our preferences in music or fashion, our cultural and national identification, and our political views..
How Buddhism solves our identity crisis
Buddhism, on the other hand, tries to solve this identity crisis in a totally opposite way.
[Buddhism says that] identity is an illusion. It is the biggest mystery. It is totally unfounded11Ed.: DJKR said “unfound”. This has been changed to “unfounded”, however the meaning could perhaps also be “something that cannot be found”.. There is no such thing as “you” or “me” or “I” that truly, independently exists. It is an illusion. But you cannot really say “This as an illusion” and then not care about it [Ed.: i.e. we cannot dismiss it as “just” an illusion]. Because [the] illusion is powerful. Even a scarecrow does its job, even though it’s an illusion. It looks like a human, but it’s not a human. But it does its job. It chases crows away. Just like that, this illusory identity that we have [also functions]. Now, this is not easy to tackle. Because if I pinch you, you will be in pain. If there is a thumbs up in your Instagram, you will be happy. If there is a thumbs down, you will be unhappy.12Ed.: i.e. our emotions and our experiences feel very real to us, so it’s not easy to accept that our identity or “self” is an illusion.
So, this identity crisis is sorted out by the Buddha with teachings such as anatta (selflessness or no-self) or shunyata (emptiness or lack of true existence) or Tathagatagarbha (Buddhanature). But this [subject] probably needs a little more contemplation and more study. More hearing and more analysis. You might want to put more time and energy [into] this. But if you can, this is a key to solve all the problems [of life]. I just was reading a handwritten scroll of the Heart Sutra. The content of the Prajñaparamita, the content of the Heart Sutra is really a most quintessential teaching to tackle [our] biggest [and] most vicious problem, [which is] the problem of [our] identity crisis. The self. Because that identity is the fundamental culprit, if you like, [that causes] all [our] calamity, anxiety, suffering, delusion, confusion and thus pain. [It is the cause of] samsara.
Vipassana in the Mahayana and Vajrayana
Vipassana in the Mahayana
Now, [I’d like] to give you some extra information. So, vipassana is really a path to see the whole truth, direct truth, whole picture, insight picture, insight view, the real deal, the real truth. This is taught generally, mostly in the Theravada tradition, with teaching techniques such as three characteristics of anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
Now, in the Mahayana, [there are further teachings] on top of these teachings. These [Theravada teachings and] traditions are very well accepted in the Mahayana. They are very venerated, very much appreciated. But on top of that, more exclusively in the Mahayana, the teachings [on vipassana] are approached with bodhichitta. [The teachings on bodhichitta have two parts: relative bodhichitta and ultimate bodhichitta].
[Within] relative bodhichitta, the training or the bhavana (the mind training) is [based on] wishing to enlighten all sentient beings. This is a very vast teaching. The wish to enlighten sentient beings is not just some sort of philanthropic kind of attitude. It’s actually much more than that. The wish to enlighten sentient beings is not really the wish to give everybody good health [and] good food. We are not talking about that. We are not talking about giving them some sort of a temporary gain or temporary shelter or food. We are talking about wishing to awaken [them] to these truths. So, there is that, relative bodhichitta.
And then [there is] ultimate bodhichitta, which is also known as shunyata (emptiness or lack of true existence). Now, [for] this Mahayana has a different approach. It’s very similar to anatta (selflessness or no-self) as taught in the Theravada tradition, but it has a different angle, a different approach. And in many ways, it can be also seen as very daring, because from the Mahayana point of view, not only samsara, dukkha, the world is an illusion. Even moksha, liberation, nirvana is an illusion. So in this way, we could say the Mahayana teaching is very daring. Within ultimate bodhichitta, one angle of looking at [life or reality] is shunyata. Not only samsara is shunyata, but even nirvana is shunyata.
The other angle in the Mahayana is looking at things from the [perspective] of what they call Tathagatagarbha, the point of view of Buddhanature. Especially with sentient beings, all ignorant beings have the Buddhanature. Remember, always go back to vipassana. Vipassana is how to view things with a full picture. So, [the other] angle of the Mahayana teaching is looking at the whole thing, all sentient beings, with a view that all sentient beings have Buddhanature. This is a unique angle, a unique vipassana actually.
Vipassana in the Vajrayana
And then within the Mahayana we also have what we call Tantrayana or Vajrayana, which is actually [also part of] the Mahayana, but it has a unique daring way of looking at the truth. It’s very similar [to the view that all sentient beings have Buddhanature]. But if the nature of sentient beings is the Buddha, then why not already interact with them as the Buddha?
One example that I’m always giving is this. For example, if you are a goldsmith and then you are given [some gold] ore, gold that is not polished and shiny. It’s just a [piece of] rock. You are given a kilo of gold ore, and it doesn’t even look remotely like gold. But if you are a goldsmith, you know this is gold. So, you will treasure it like gold, just like [the gold that is] polished. So, why not already look at each other as a deity? As the Buddha? And not just look, [but] interact, talk, eat, and dwell [with this view]. And therefore, why not even look at the world that you are living [in] as a Buddha field, and so forth? This is the Vajrayana’s vipassana. It’s actually [also] a vipassana.
So as I said, right at the beginning, I just want to sort of inform some people that vipassana is very vast. In fact, vipassana is what is most unique [to Buddhism], I would say. If you take out vipassana, you will find just the shamatha [practices] in many different traditions in India. But vipassana is a very unique [to Buddhism].
And then within the Vajrayana there are traditions such as Mahamudra and Mahasandhi. They are basically the epitome or the most refined path of vipassana. So with this, I’d sort of consider that this is the end of what I have to say. I’m happy to hear some questions, if you have any, regarding vipassana [and] shamatha.
Q & A
How to arouse bodhichitta?
[Q]: How to arise the bodhichitta that can benefit all beings?
[DJKR]: How to arouse? There are many ways to do that. I’ll [start] from the best first, from the top down. I think the best one is by having this awareness that all sentient beings have the Buddhanature. I was just talking about gold and gold ore. If a practitioner looks at sentient beings as [having the] raw material of the Buddha, so to speak, then you [will] have that courage and bravery and openness to arouse bodhichitta. Probably this is the best [way], but of course not all of us have that kind of openness to see all sentient beings as [having the] raw material of the Buddha.
[So] then I would say thinking that all sentient beings are connected to us [in] one way or another. Traditionally, we say that all sentient beings have been our mother billions and billions of times. And when they were connected to us, they sacrificed, suffered, and went through so much pain to protect us, to feed us, to nurture us. So just as how we feel very close and concerned with our own family and friends, we develop this kind of [bodhichitta towards all beings]. I guess [we can begin] with maybe some ordinary sympathy and empathy, and then slowly generate the vast Buddhist compassion, as it is taught by Chandrakirti for instance.
How can we practice if thoughts come nonstop?
[Q]: How to practice if thoughts are coming nonstop? It’s so frustrating, the stubborn mind that refuses to be tamed. Do you have any advice?
[DJKR]: This is quite an advanced question actually. And [my answer] is classic advice [that is given in] all traditions. One should not look at the thoughts as enemies. One should not have animosity towards the thoughts. Let the thoughts come. You need to slowly train yourself so that the thoughts will not entangle you. It’s impossible to stop the thoughts, and it’s not necessary, and it’s fruitless. In fact, one tantric master said that trying to stop thoughts [with thoughts] is [like] trying to stop water [by building a dam made of] water. It just becomes more water. It’s impossible. So do not try to stop thoughts.
I know that many times the way meditation instructors instruct, sometimes we hear it like, “Oh, be free from all sorts of thoughts”. These kinds of instructions can mislead us by thinking that you need to empty out thoughts. Actually, vipassana does not talk about emptying out thoughts at all. Maybe in the shamatha technique, you are supposed to choose one object [of focus] such as breathing or whatever. An object. And then [you are supposed to] only think about that [object] when you first train. But actually that is a trick, by the way. We know very well that no human being can actually look at one thing for more than a moment or two, especially in the beginning. But we still insist you look at this object. And every time your thoughts [go] here and there, you come back to this [object]. This is a trick because … [Ed.: There is a problem with the recording at this point] … your mind goes out. You understand? So this is a trick. And it’s important. So sometimes maybe when you hear these things, then you may think that maybe what we need to do is sort of empty the thoughts, but that’s not the case.
Can I practice vipassana and not shamatha?
[Q]: I haven’t received instruction on shamatha yet. Can I only practice vipassana? [Ed.: i.e. can I practice vipassana without shamatha?].
[DJKR]: Theoretically, yes. But as I said earlier, the temptation to dwell in the comfort zone is so strong, and we just get so distracted. And because of that, the chance to remain in vipassana is quite slim. So, the masters have advised us to actually do shamatha at least a little bit, because what it does is it makes your mind malleable. But there are definitely traditions that teach vipassana first and then shamatha later. But most of the masters that I have been reading or heard from [emphasise the importance of shamatha]. For instance, Shantideva famously said that if you want to gain victory from emotional entanglement, what you need is vipassana. And to have vipassana, you need to have the ground of shamatha. And to develop this shamatha, you need to watch out, so to speak, watch out for this constant clinging to worldly life.
How does seeing the truth free us from suffering?
[Q]: How does seeing the full truth result in becoming free from suffering? Sometimes when we glimpse a bit of truth, it brings so much suffering. When we glimpse the reality of the world, how does wisdom cause us to no longer suffer?
[DJKR]: Maybe I’m not getting the question correct. But when we use words [like] “dispel suffering”, probably the word “dispel” is maybe a little bit misleading. We have to be kind of careful here. It’s a bit like this. Let’s say you are having a nightmare. And because of this nightmare, you are suffering a lot. And you suffer more if you don’t know this is a dream, because you think it’s real, it’s happening. But the moment you have the vipassana of the dream — which means that while you are having the nightmare, you think “Oh no, this this can’t be happening. I must be dreaming” — [then] immediately you are released, even though it doesn’t mean that the order of the dream will stop. The order of the dream, the show of the dream, the consequences [that you experience in the dream], the sort of episode of [the dream doesn’t] bother you anymore. So I think this is how we need to understand when we talk about “dispelling the suffering”. Okay, we will take a break maybe for 10 minutes again.
[END OF PART 2]
Part 3: Q & A (continued)
How can we see all sentient beings as Buddha and all appearances as Buddha field?
[Q]: Could you please provide some direct tips on living with the view that all sentient beings are Buddha and all appearances are Buddha field while we’re still on the path in this modern world?
[DJKR]: Okay, this is again a very complicated and big question. And I guess this is very related to the tantric teachings. So I can’t really answer this properly here, I mean [in a] short time. But I want to say something about it. I think when we say, “Seeing all as the Buddha and all places as a Buddha field,” there may be some kind of a notion that we need to somehow see everybody as having golden skin, an ushnisha, like how the Buddha looks on our shrine. You know, like bronze statues [of the Buddha]. [And that we somehow need to see] the Buddha field with all the ancient [imagery and symbolism], [as an] imaginary pure realm with all the swimming pools and lotus ponds and many clouds and trees that talk and musical instruments and all that. And probably when people think about a Buddha field, I guess that’s how they think.
But many times, generally all Buddhist traditions — and especially Mahayana and Vajrayana — they use a lot of symbolism. And when we use a symbol, we usually first use something that human beings can conceive and understand. Of course, we don’t know how to explain a Buddha field to a frog. Or a spider. Probably the Buddha field for a spider may be something with a lot of webs. But anyway, for human beings, a Buddha field sort of has to be something “good”. And in our mind, a good place has to have a swimming pool. And [things] like musical instruments, lots and lots of food, and I guess some wild birds and peacocks. There’s a lot of that. I just don’t want you to think like that.
And this is not only in the Vajrayana. Even in the Mahayana, this is stated. If you read the Vimalakirti Sutra, right at the beginning, there is an interaction between some of the Buddha’s disciples such as Shariputra who made a comment about how he doesn’t see [the place they are in] as a Buddha field. I think it was Vaishali, right? He only sees the rocks and dust and so on. And Buddha said, “Well, that’s because that’s how you see [things]. Your limited, narrow mind. But someone else can see it as something different.” So I think you need to understand this a little bit.
Now, to come back to your main question. How to do that? Again, this is very big. I think there are a few quite important [words of] advice I could give you. One is [that] we need to get used to accepting that everything is our own perception. Everything. I’m not excluding anything. Everything. This is important, by the way. You know, even in our mundane world, we sometimes say, “This is your opinion. This is my opinion. This is my projection.” But it’s very limited usually.
Actually, there’s nothing that is not your opinion. There’s nothing, not a single thing that is not your opinion. There’s not a single thing that is not your projection, that’s not your perception. Everything is. Accepting this fact is already quite a good climb towards understanding everything as a Buddha field. We need to know this. And then, right now, whoever you are, you must be a human. The one who’s asking the question, I mean. So you and I, looking at this, it is a bottle of water, right?
This is a bottle of water because we are human beings, so that’s our perception. If we were a fish or a frog, we would have a different perception of this water. Once you can accept that, then it will create room for you to understand why in the Tantra they say that water is actually a dakini, I guess you can say a female Buddha. Again, coming back to vipassana, this is a tantric vipassana, a tantric view about how the world is like. Their view of water is [that water is] Mamaki dakini. Their view of fire is Pandaravasini dakini. Their view of Earth is Buddhalochana dakini. So everything is basically dakini.
I think the best way, the best beginning, is to really accept that everything is your own projection. This is hard, by the way. It’s especially hard when people begin to have a common projection, like “The Earth is round. It can’t be just my projection. Water is wet. You will drown in water if you don’t know how to swim. That’s not just my opinion. That’s not just my projection. That is real”. So we do tend to forget that.
How to apply insight when our world runs on principles opposite to this?
[Q]: Could you offer some practical advice on how to apply insight in our daily lives, when the world we live in runs on principles opposite to this? How do we practice seeing without making judgments of others?
[DJKR]: I didn’t get entirely what do you mean by “Without making judgments of others?” Actually, I just want to tease you a little bit here. I think in this case, you should make judgments. You should look at the world and really see, “They are wrong to think that things are permanent. They are wrong to think that things actually give satisfaction. This is entirely wrong. I am right to see that nothing lasts. Things change. Things are uncertain. Things are dependent on causes and conditions.” Remember, even a little bit of extra water in your coffee can ruin the entire relationship. This can happen. Nothing gives us satisfaction.
Anyway, more importantly, yes, you are right. Our system, the whole net that has been designed — and [this is becoming] more and more so — really is the opposite of vipassana. You are right. Wow. Just look at the whole idea of insurance. I mean, that is one of the greatest lies, right? Who can give us insurance? That is like a daylight lie. But we all fall for it, because [the communications and ads] are so beautifully designed. Insurance company leaflets are just amazing. Many times, [the images have] a sun ray. It works, you know. Just imagine an insurance company that has some sort of a dead leaf falling. Nobody’s going to go to that company. [But when it] has [something] like sun rays coming from behind the clouds, then it works. That’s how easily manipulatable our mind is.
I guess for us, talking like from this time to time [can help]. Even these three hours. I’m not saying that what I have to say is very liberating. Everything that I say comes from my teachers and the Buddha and bodhisattvas. I have no claim [that any of it is my own]. Of course, I want to claim that everything I’ve said is originally coming from me, but I should be careful. I should not claim [this]. [But] you know, these discussions, even three hours of this discussion, are poking a hole into this picture that has been painted by the world — [that this is] permanent, this will give you the satisfaction, this is it. You know, instead of anatta, [we are told that] “This is the real deal.” [But] this [discussion] is poking holes [in those views and beliefs].
I think it’s important. It will give us some different angles. And I do not expect that if you are listening to vipassana for the first time [that] you will have [the whole picture]13Ed.: DJKR said “the whole angle”. This has been changed to “the whole picture”. in one go. But before today, maybe you have been looking at life from just one angle. And maybe from today, [you can look at life from] another angle. Two angles. Three angles. And that’s good.
So, this is why I was saying that many masters have said that even discussing vipassana, even reading about the vipassana, one should consider that as a vipassana sadhana. A vipassana practice. Because many times, when we [talk about] vipassana practice, you immediately think in terms of sitting, being quiet, [for a] few hours, nine days, whatever. [You think of taking] a course. A vipassana course. [Something] you do once or twice a year, so good. We [think of vipassana] like that, which is good, I’m not stopping you from doing this. But what I’m saying is that discussing like this, poking some holes [in] ourselves — I shall consider that as a vipassana practice.
Isn’t the desire to meditate still a desire?
[Q]: If meditation is [done] with intention, isn’t that a desire too? A desire to try to achieve something? And is it not important for the mind to purge itself of all thought?
[DJKR]: Oh yes. Of course, wishing to be enlightened is a desire. Wishing not to suffer is a desire. It’s a bit like this. If you are sick, you need to take medicine. So, your question is bit like [this]. But you know, why [do you have the desire to] take medicine? Because if you are taking medicine, that means you are sick [and you have a desire to cure the sickness]. You have to have a path because you have [the experience that you are suffering]. You have this problem, and therefore you need [a path, because you have the desire to be free from suffering] … [Ed.: There is a problem with the recording at this point. The previous three sentences have been partially reconstructed. The recording resumes after a two minute interruption].
Do we have many minds?
[Q]: When I try to watch my emotions or feelings, there is someone from inside who orders me what to think next, and another one who orders me when the thought arises and then I get distracted. Do I have many minds?
[DJKR]: The question is whether we have many minds? No, we don’t. We will always feel that we have many minds. But we don’t.
When I face incidents, I feel my mind is not strong enough. What can I do?
[Q]: I have cultivated [vipassana] for some time, but when I’m faced with some incidents, I still feel that my mind is not strong enough. I still want to return to the comfort zone. What can I do?
[DJKR]: Well, this is something that you will have to go through. I think maybe not to expect too much from yourself right away, from the beginning. Dealing with the mind —bhavana or mind training14Ed.: DJKR said “the training mind”. This has been changed to “mind training”. — is in one way easy. But [it’s challenging], because progress is sort of invisible, because it’s so mental. And we are so used to judging and measuring [things] that are tangible, that are obvious, that are visible. Sometimes we get impatient. [We have the] tendency to get really frustrated. So even if you poke yourself with all the questions based on anicca, dukkha, anatta, shunyata, and Buddhanature — even a little bit, let’s say once a week — that is already doing its job, so to speak. So I think you need to really learn to on the one hand, be satisfied with that, and on the other hand to try to do more of that.
How can I get rid of bad habits like looking at my iPhone all the time?
[Q]: How can I get rid of bad habits such as switching on the iPhone all the time?
[DJKR]: How about taking a vow that every time you look at the phone, [you will remind yourself about vipassana] let’s say at least 10 times. Then you should really try to pick up your phone as many times as possible, because there’s a good chance that it will remind you.
How to apply vipassana to work with past traumas?
[Q]: With regards to past traumas and the self-identification of being forever damaged by trauma and subsequent searching for [methods] of fixing [this], how can we incorporate the method of vipassana into our conversations to not only console and comfort such people, but also to help push our friends to have the confidence to take a bird’s-eye view?
[DJKR]: You know, I don’t know so much about a psychology. I think it is good to get help from experts who really have put so much effort into learning [about] past trauma, childhood. Definitely [trauma] plays a big role in our life. [But] I think that when modern psychology studies talk about the past trauma, I think the furthest they can go is to childhood trauma. [Trauma] with your father, your mother, siblings, bullies. That’s it. But in Buddhism, past trauma goes even further. Because in Buddhism, we talk about past lives. So many times, the residue of the trauma or the habitual patterns that we have collected in our past lives have a very important role in influencing the psychological state in this life. And that’s very complicated.
But we have noticed this. Many times we have children who are raised perfectly [according to] worldly [ideals], whatever, by the book. There are a lot of young parents who raise their children according to the book. They put in so much effort. I know [many of them] personally. They go from A to Z, [they do] whatever is supposedly prescribed. But then [their children suffer from] unspeakable, unthinkable psychological issues — [I am focussing on psychological issues] since we are talking more about psychology — psychological issues like lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, or totally feeling alienated.
I think you know [that] raising children is very difficult. Because this [child] is a being. You don’t have 100% control, even though you try your best. This being has [an entire] history [of its own], so to speak. Causes and conditions that are not just [from] early childhood, but we are talking about past lives. So they have all these amazing, unbelievable traits. Unbelievable minds [and] mental factors. Something that even their parents don’t have, the environment doesn’t have, but [nevertheless] they have this. And I have actually witnessed [this] myself [with] a lot of children, especially as they grow up. Plus with that, we now have [all the challenges of living in] the 21st century world. Now, this is not making life easy. Just step out of your house, and there’s all the world waiting for your child. Waiting to make them want things and need things, or get scared or get alienated.
But coming back to vipassana, since we are talking about vipassana, if we — parents, adults, grownups — if we gain some confidence in things like anicca, impermanence, uncertainty, causes and conditions [it can really help]. [If we gain some confidence that] nothing will really gives us complete 100% satisfaction — not necessarily total realisation, but even [just] on the intellectual level of comprehension — I think we will not be too hard on ourselves.
Because I think many parents are so afraid of failure. And this failure [is] in reference to some books written by somebody, or society’s expectations. And again, I’m repeating this, having a bird’s-eye view, vipassana, definitely will [help] the family, the parents, to feel more at ease. And maybe when the parents are more at ease, it may create a very good space for the children to also not be too paranoid, too anxious, too competitive. But yes, these are real challenges of our time, and it looks like it’s not going to get better. But the good news is the information is also there. The information to heal, to sort these things out. It’s just that, as I’ve been saying right from the beginning, there is not enough information on things like vipassana15Ed.: DJKR says “vipassana like”. This has been changed to “things like vipassana”.. There should be more of this.
What can I do if I can’t control my negative thoughts?
[Q]: What can I do if I can’t control my negative thoughts?
[DJKR]: I think [there are] a lot of answers for this. I don’t know where this question is coming from [but] I will say this. If you think that you have lots of negative thoughts, that is already worthy of celebration. Because that’s quite difficult. Most of the time, we don’t even know that there are negative thoughts. Most of our negative thoughts come and go unnoticed. And many times, even if they are negative thoughts, we think they are positive thoughts. Because we’re just so used to deceiving ourselves. So, if you have reached a level where you think that these are negative thoughts, that’s really good. That’s actually a sign of you doing some sort of vipassana. Because you are looking from a certain angle, “Hey, this is a negative thought.”
Now, if that is the case, then my answer is not to be too judgmental towards this. Yes, it’s a negative thought. But don’t condemn yourself. Don’t beat yourself. Just acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge. This is actually what they do during the nine days [vipassana retreat], I hope they do that. When they have thoughts, what they are supposed to do is to not beat themselves up. They just watch and watch and watch. And by doing that, it [brings] several [benefits], actually an infinite amount of benefit.
One. Usually, when a negative thought comes, if you condemn it, if you beat yourself, if you judge, then it’s like recharging this negative thought. They want you to do that. They almost want you to condemn [them]. But if you don’t do anything, just watch, then it really drains their battery. If you are condemning yourself, if you are judging, you are charging them. So that’s one impact.
The other impact if you keep on doing like that, you will see more and more. Okay, let’s choose one negative thought, let’s say anger. At a glance, generally, anger is something really bad. Hate, anger. But then [when] anger comes, you watch, watch, watch. As I said, initially the battery [is] running out. The second stage [is] when the anger comes, [you will see that] the very character of the anger has assertiveness. Now this is more like a tantric teaching, by the way. [Anger has] assertiveness or firmness, which is also very connected to clarity. Sort of not dull, not sleepy. It’s very precise, very clear. Now you are beginning to use the so-called negative emotion [of] anger [and make it] into something useful. You are beginning to learn to recycle [it], so to speak, almost like recycling the garbage into something beneficial. And there are many more, but I think this is good enough for now.
How can I benefit sentient beings when I am afraid of them?
[Q]: As we learn to benefit other sentient beings, some feelings arise. Some feelings of being scared of some sentient beings. Knowing these arisen feelings, I cannot fully benefit other sentient beings. How can I overcome this?
[DJKR]: I think you should try to benefit sentient beings all the more, I would say. Because, yes, many sentient beings are scared of many other sentient beings. And this is the very reason why you should even more generate the wish to help others. And if you can, even engage in the activity of helping others.
Do buddhas and bodhisattvas have thoughts?
[Q]: You have explained that thoughts are not our enemy. But in the enlightened state, are there thoughts? Do buddhas and bodhisattvas have thoughts? That’s the first part [of the question]. There’s a second part too. Maybe I’ll pause here.
[DJKR]: Okay, this is quite a difficult question. But anyway. Buddhas and bodhisattvas don’t have thoughts. I just want to say that. First of all, we need to come to a mutual agreement about what we mean by “thoughts”, what we mean by “mind”. I think that will take a long time. So I don’t think we’ll finish this. But I think generally, when Buddhists like me talk about mind, when I talk about thoughts, I’m talking about duality. Dualistic thoughts. All thoughts are dualistic. [And] dualistic thoughts have this tendency, they are a bit like honey. [Honey] has a glue-like [quality]. It’s kind of sweet and nice, but it has a gluey kind of character. Wherever honey goes, [wherever is] spills, it makes you sticky with wherever it is. Thoughts are like that.
Actually, I just suddenly remembered a better example, which is coming from the tantric masters, so I will quote them. They say that thoughts are like water. When you spill water, it immediately collects dust. [Dualistic thoughts are] subjective and objective. [When we ask whether bodhisattvas have thoughts, the category] bodhisattva is a bit too big, as we don’t even know what [kind of bodhisattva we are talking about here]. There are [some] very kindergarten-level bodhisattvas, which are basically sentient beings. But let’s say [we are asking about whether] buddhas [have thoughts]. Now, buddhas don’t have this kind of mind, [this] water-like mind. They have what we call wisdom, prajña, jñana, which is like mercury. When mercury falls on the ground, it doesn’t collect anything. It fits. You can mix mercury with dirt for 1000 years, [and] it stays as mercury. Intact. Without being stained. But then, I guess the next question is what’s the difference between the mind and wisdom and so on forth. I think this really opens a very big subject, probably [for] another time.
[Q]: There’s a second part to the question, Would it be possible to go on?
[DJKR]: [DJKR reads the question in silence] Yes, for now, we have no choice. We can only begin with motivation. We can only do [our practice] with a longing to do it. I was addressing [my words] more to the younger generation, busy people who don’t have much time to sit, who don’t have the wish to sit. [In order] for them to have a glimpse of vipassana, I was suggesting to contemplate, to discuss, to analyse. And I was saying that this can also be considered as a vipassana practice. But of course, once your vipassana gets matured, all these [thoughts] — subjective, objective, analytical — have to go. You have to transcend [them]. This is why in the Heart Sutra, the mantra is GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA [Ed.: this may be translated as “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, awakened existence”]. You have to transcend. You have to go beyond. Okay, I think on this note, we will end this time.
So thank you for coming to this, for a lot of you for this weekend16Ed.: The teaching ran from 10pm PST on Saturday February 19 to 1am PST on Sunday February 20, so in some timezones it spanned two days — hence “weekend” — even though it was only three and a half hours long.. I hope that the current situation of the world is going to become less uncertain. Now that we have talked a lot about anicca, it’s kind of silly to even think like that. But meanwhile, please take care of yourself.
And since I’m addressing a lot of our Buddhist Sangha here, and I am noticing that many of the people who have attended here have been somehow connected to me for a long time. I just want to take this opportunity to say a few words about the recent unfortunate loss of HH Dudjom Rinpoche’s incarnation [Ed.: Dudjom Sangye Pema Shepa Rinpoche, the incarnation of DJKR’s grandfather HH Dudjom Rinpoche, Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, died at the age of 32 on February 15, 202217Ed.: see Rigpawiki and Buddhistdoor.]. I think this is such a big loss, not only because he was very bright and very accomplished for his age. Generally, I think in all the Buddhist traditions, and especially in the Vajrayana, there is a dire situation of a lack of the next generation [of teachers], sort of lineage holders. And there was a lot of hope and expectation on him. So, his sudden passing was a shock for a lot of people and such a big loss.
So, as we pray and as we offer our aspiration for the continuous and unstoppable compassion and activity of buddhas and bodhisattvas to manifest and support and guide us continuously, I would also like to say [something about] obstacles. As much as they can be very discouraging and very disheartening, I think this is also the time to regroup ourselves. Especially those who are connected to this particular tradition and lineage. Regroup and tell each other and remind each other that now is actually the time to be more brave, courageous, and visionary, and develop this attitude of never ever giving up.
Of course, when the Buddhadharma appears18Ed.: DJKR said “prevails”. This has been changed to “appears”. it will obviously [face] a lot of obstacles. And when obstacles come, we need to actually generate our determination, even more so. So, generally for everyone, and especially for those who are connected to the Dudjom lineage, I’d like to take this opportunity to pass this message around, because I’m speaking to a public situation here. To not lose our hope, and be even more determined, and more visionary and think much longer and bigger.
[Organiser]: Thank you very much Rinpoche. And thank you to all our audience, and to the great work of our translators. See you next time. Take care. Bye bye.
[END OF TEACHING]
Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers
Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio