Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Return to Normal: Day 2Two-day public teaching at Taipei International Convention Center, Taipei, Taiwan on October 10-11, 2020
Day 2: October 11, 2020
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Note 1: This transcript is not an official publication of Siddhartha’s Intent. 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.
Q & A
I’ve received so many questions. I don’t think we will have time to answer all [of them], but maybe a few. So let’s begin with a few questions today.[Q]: I saw you eating binglang (槟榔)1binglang (Chinese: 檳榔) = betel nut or areca nut, chewed medicinally and recreationally for its natural psychoactive ingredients that give the user a warm, stimulating buzz, making it a product of choice for taxi drivers, long-haul truckers, and other workers who rely on the nut to get through long shifts. In Taiwan, “Betel nut beauties”, young women who sell betel nuts and cigarettes from brightly lit glass enclosures while wearing revealing clothing, have become icons of Taiwanese culture – see binglang.. Can Buddhists eat binglang? [DJKR]: This is actually a very important question. This is what I was talking [about] yesterday. It is something to do with Buddhism being hijacked by culture. [Somebody places some binglang on the table in front of DJKR]. Oh, there’s some binglang.
This is inevitable though. Buddhism needs to use a lot of methods, and methods are always related to culture. [Whereas] the wisdom of Buddhism has got nothing to do with culture. So for instance, [imagine] a scientist who is very experienced with the science of gravity. Let’s say the scientist has a baby, maybe a one year old baby. And the baby is about to fall from a cliff. What is this scientist going to do? Talk about gravity? [Talk about] the truth of gravity to a baby? [It would be] much better to show [the baby] a teddy bear, a stuffed teddy bear, and make all kinds of non-scientific noises [to attract the baby’s attention]. Because the immediate necessity is to save the baby from falling. When the baby has finished high school, then the scientist father can teach [the child] about gravity.
So this is what we were talking about yesterday, about how we have to be careful. Many people think being Buddhist means something to do with being a good human or a good person. But the [meaning] of “good person” is very relative. Different societies have different meanings of “good human being” or “good person”. And individually also, the definition of a good person changes. So I think [that saying] a Buddhist should not eat binglang is bit like a stuffed teddy bear. For some it works. Obviously for others, it doesn’t work.
Normality[Q]: You mentioned yesterday, there’s no such thing as normality. I was wondering what is a normal day in your life as a Rinpoche? [DJKR]: Using this question, I will begin with today’s [teaching]. It’s an appropriate question, because, here the whole course is about returning to normal, normalcy. And you’re hearing this from me, a somewhat abnormal person. Well, as I said yesterday, I was sold. That’s not so normal, is it? And probably many of you are a little jaded. So you don’t really relate to me with enough curiosity, so to speak. And also, I think the whole thing about reincarnation, tulkus, and lamas is a bit too abstract and obscure. It is very much within some Himalayan culture. This is what I was saying yesterday. It’s bit like if you had been told this afternoon that you’re listening to the reincarnation of Elvis Presley. You would have a fairly strong curiosity, don’t you think?
But anyway, yes, in many respects, my upbringing is maybe not that normal. And you can really ask, “What do you know about normalcy?” You can challenge me with this. And yes, I will have to agree with you. Many people like me, probably we don’t really know about normalcy as in the mundane world.
Of course here, please make note, I’m not claiming that I’m so special in the context of not [being] normal, especially as in [being] really good and sublime. I’m somebody who, from a very young age, [was] looked upon with a different attitude by [various] different people. And at times, it has put me into a very awkward situation. When I first went to Sichuan, an old man came to see me. And then I asked him “Who are you?” He said, “Don’t you know me? You give me my name”. He had a total belief or [acceptance] of [reincarnation] because his name was supposedly given to him by my previous incarnation.
I was traveling there for some time. In those days, that part [of China] was really remote so we had to travel by horse. And I hate riding a horse because there’s no seat belt and everything. I just don’t like it. And sometimes you ride a horse on a cliff. It’s very scary. There was a guy who helped me ride and held me. So towards the end of my trip as we were coming closer to the motor road, I gave him my watch as a gift, because he was really helping me. I don’t remember what watch, but it was quite a good brand. So I gave it to him saying, “You should wear this. This is a good brand”.
After a few days, [I saw that] he was not wearing it. Then I asked him, “I gave you a watch. Why are you not wearing it?” He said, “No, I’m wearing It”. So he took off his locket, and his locket was much smaller than the watch. He opened the locket, and by then he already crushed the watch. And in his locket, he had what appeared to be the main engine. The wrist strap and all the other parts he had cut and given to his family members. And he was a little bit embarrassed and he confessed, saying that “I kept the best part. The engine.”
The reason why I’m telling you this is that I am somebody who is looked upon by a lot of people like this. So normalcy [for me] is a different kind of normalcy. You know, I was telling you yesterday that normalcy for one person is chaos for another.[But despite this], I sometimes consider that I’m not too corrupted. I think I have a quite a good opportunity [to be corrupt], because there are many chances to sort of hoodwink or swindle or cheat people with this kind of thing going on. This is also because of conditioning. The conditioning of my teachers, a lot of teachers, very strict ones. Some of them relentlessly scolding me, “Who do you think you are? Don’t you dare smear the name of the great beings and the lineage.” For instance, HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He said, my most important advice for you is that you should pray to Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, who is supposedly my previous incarnation for those who are new to this. [I should pray] to live up to his name. To really carry on his vision, and so forth.
It’s not always very rosy, by the way. I was telling you earlier about the watch. If you think this is favorable, it’s not always like this. Most of the time it’s not rosy and very favorable. Because when you have this kind of title, this kind of position, you also become a subject of scrutiny. [There are] a thousand eyes watching you all the time, what you do. If you do good, they say “Of course, you are supposedly that”. And even if you do a little bit not good, they’ll say, “What happened to you? Aren’t you’re supposed to be that?”
I’m trying to answer this question because normalcy for someone like me is definitely different.
But as I said earlier, [for] people in my position, there is definitely a lack of understanding of the normalcy of others. And this is probably one of the biggest weaknesses of the Tibetan Buddhist teachers. This doesn’t mean that they’re having a such a good time all the time. It’s a very tough job. It’s very boring. It’s very lonely. It’s very taxing. And you have to always be careful. Always be careful. Again, it depends on how confident one is. And how much one bows down to social expectation. How much agenda you have. It really depends on what is it that you want to gain. Well, depending on that, who you take photographs with. Should one smile or not? All of this creates phenomena.
So normalcy. What does it really mean? Let us now discuss this. I think normalcy has a sense of regularity, something regular. And then there’s something to do with [what is] commonly accepted. Maybe you can also interpret normalcy with a connotation of “typical”, [as in a] typical day. You can even say, “It’s kind of normal to have a little bit of earthquake in Taipei. It’s sort of normal”. “It’s very typical to have a grey sky in London”, or something like this. So from this point of view, what are we talking about when we talk about “normal human life”?
I think this is the big question, isn’t it? I was talking to some teenagers. Of course, in the mind of many teenagers, finishing school, graduating from a good school, and then getting a job is normal. That’s what they think. But as I said yesterday, this is how they have been taught. They have been conditioned to think this. I’m just giving you some examples. The examples of finishing school and getting a job are a sort of commonly agreed normalcy. Which is very dangerous, so dangerous. And then [it’s] commonly agreed that a father must love their children. A mother must love their children. That’s normal. This is also very dangerous.
And I was talking to a teenage girl, she’s always talking about finding a partner who will understand her, a boyfriend I guess. Wow, that is just … but of course, I didn’t reply to her by saying, “Wow”. I said “Really? Okay. That sounds good. I understand this”. I have to say this. This is the normal way of reacting. When a 15 year old girl says she really wishes to have somebody who really understands her, I can’t reply to her as a Buddhist philosopher and say, “Understand you? But you keep on changing morning, night, day. How do I catch up? How can somebody catch up?” You can’t say these things.
Until recently, I thought it’s normal that families, father, mother love their children. But now in the modern day, we these serious problems of children really feeling alienated, not loved, not cared for, and not understood by their family. And many parents are also very stressed and they have their reasons not to behave as expected.
I’m sorry I’m jumping [around], but yesterday I talked about [how you can] just watch this moment for 10 seconds or 20 seconds. Please, you must do this. Maybe you are a 15 year old boy or girl who’s looking for this perfect person. At that time, do this. I think it will help a lot.
Anyway, I was saying that family tension and family stress are definitely very prevalent. They are one of the [primary] sorts of pain and anxiety and suffering in very developed countries. But even in a society that cherishes filial piety, you now have a new conditioning: the condition of cherishing individualism and creativity. And because of that, probably the challenge of tension between children and parents seems to be becoming even [greater]. I’ve noticed this with my Chinese friends, with children and parents, there’s almost like a duty to love. But then the reality is [this new conditioning], and the parents also neglect the children, and all this is really disturbing the so-called normalcy
Being natural and sane
Okay, so I was talking about normalcy using the context of [something that is] regular and commonly accepted. But let’s go deeper. Especially in Buddhism, if Buddhists talk about normalcy, we are not only talking about something that is regular or commonly accepted. We are also talking about normalcy in the context of [being] natural and sane. Wow. Now this is a very big subject, isn’t it? But first, let’s go back to the “10 seconds” again.
So what do we mean by “sane”. We can have many any hours of conversation about that, the theory of that. As I told you, the Indians and the Chinese have really dedicated so many pages and so much time and energy writing about this. But I keep on coming back to this something that is so practical. This “10 seconds” thing. Because the thing is this. The moment I talk about sanity and naturalness, I will be using language. Wow. Language is not normal. By the time you surrender to language, sanity is gone. So among your questions, there was a question about “What is mind?” We will come back to this.
It’s almost like I’m telling you, as an answer to your question “What is mind?” I’m saying, “Why don’t you find out?” Don’t label it. Definitely do not judge. Just watch. Even this word “watch”, I’m [only] using it for now, for the sake of conversation between you and me. Actually the word “watch” is too corrupted.
You see, in order to illuminate this [DJKR gestures towards his table], we need light. But in order to illuminate a lightbulb, we don’t need another light. So in order to know something like bing lang, I need mind. But in order to know mind, actually you don’t need another mind. But again now I’m coming up with language. Sorry but we have no choice. That’s why there are these amazing stories of the great bodhisattvas of the past and the ancient great masters keeping quiet.
I know. It’s gone forever for you guys. For you guys, this image of being in a small hut on a mountain like Huashan2Huashan (Chinese: 華山 / 华山; pinyin: Huà Shān) = Mount Hua, a mountain located near the city of Huayin in Shaanxi Province. It is the western mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China, and has a long history of religious significance – see wikipedia. and just [being] alone – this only exists in the living room in the form of a painting. This kind of style of isolation existed maybe two thousand or three thousand years ago. Today, in the year 2020, we need to have different kinds of mountain and different kinds of isolation3Ed.: Tibetan Buddhism has a profound tradition of mountain retreat. DJKR’s paternal grandfather, HH Dudjom Rinpoche, wrote “Mountain Dharma” (Tibetan: རི་ཆོས་, Richö), a famous text with advice on how to do retreat and become an authentic Dharma practitioner – see Richö..
So really, the best way is: for 10 seconds do not label, do not judge, just be aware. And don’t hope for something special. That’s the worst one. Many times people say, “There’s nothing. I’ve been looking at it [i.e. my mind] for all these years. There’s nothing.” You will go beyond that if you keep on doing this. You will return and say, “Wow, there are a lot of things”.
So, the best would be for me [to not] corrupt this normalcy with words and language. But you are here to listen to me. And I guess I feel I need to explain. And probably it could help you to have some sort of appetite for this “10 seconds”. Here I’m the merchant of the “10 seconds”. So here I’m selling you the “10 seconds”. My job right now, in the beginning, is I want you to want the “10 seconds”.
This is what I need to do. So then I need to do this blah blah blah and all that. Yes, please. Especially young people. Please want this “10 seconds”. And you don’t have to do this in a temple. You can do this right in front of Warner Village. You can do this in a busy market. Whatever. And sometimes you can make a big deal out of this. Whatever helps you to appreciate this and long for this. Whatever it takes you. Sometimes it also helps by not making it into a big deal. Just do it wherever you are.
You could be a person addicted to social media, and probably you are even the type of person who is really aware that it’s not a good thing to be addicted to social media. Because you realize that you really just waste so much of your time. But habits, addictions, you can’t help it. You just do it. I have realized this myself. I was telling people recently, now when I go to the toilet, the shit doesn’t seem to come out if I don’t have my phone with me. It has become an algorithm now. This is what addiction does.
So when you are engaged with your socializing, you can do the “10 seconds”. [Let’s say] you are typing, typing [DJKR types on his phone]. And then suddenly you remember what I just said, to do the “10 seconds”. I’m not saying to stop [DJKR puts his phone in his pocket and sits straight] and do the “10 seconds”. I’m not saying this. I’m saying that while you are chatting, just do 10 seconds of “This is what’s happening now”.
I think initially, you will begin to laugh at yourself. Being able to laugh at yourself is a good thing. You are not occupied. You are not engaged. You are not obsessing. Lack of obsession, all this will begin to sort of come in. I keep on going to different places.
Let’s come back to the normal state. What is it when we talk about the normal state? [What is] “sanity”? What kind of sanity are we talking about? Actually, it is not a mystery. It’s not a myth at all. It is so blatantly here and now. You are living with it. Actually, you’re always with it, but you’re just not taking advantage of it. Unless you’re a table, then we have no conversation [i.e. if you’re a table, there’s nothing that you’re not taking advantage of].
You have feelings. You remember. You are a person who wishes to have this and that. You have insecurities. This means that you have something called “mind”. And this mind projects everything. It is this mind that projects all the phenomena surrounding us and beyond us. It’s bit like a projector. If the projector is smashed, instantly a hundred thousand projections are switched off. They disappear. So there’s the projector, the mind. Okay, now I’m beginning to talk about the theory. And everything that I say here, even though I may be putting the order in a different way and also sometimes using a different jargon or different idiom, it’s all classic Buddhist teachings. I have not invented anything.
So you have the projector, the mind, and the projection, the whole phenomena. Sorry, I need to say this, even though it’s very intellectual, just this bit. For Buddhism, many times, the projector and the projection are the same thing. Or to make it more comprehensible, they are one but different aspects. This is why in Buddhism, they never believe in an object that is independent from the subject. Okay, I’m not going to go there. It’s too academic, too intellectual.
The three characteristics
For now, let us talk a little bit about the projection, the phenomena. So this is what I have been doing for the past few months, I’ve been visiting the Buddha’s teachings of three characters [characteristics]. I know that in the past in Taiwan, I did talk quite extensively on the four seals4chökyi domzhi (Tibetan: ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྡོམ་བཞི་) = the four seals – see chökyi domzhi.. They’re very close.
When you read the classic Buddhist sutras, and I’m sure it is in the classic Chinese Buddhist sutras, there are so many beautiful expressions. One in Tibetan is denpa tong5denpa tong (Tibetan: བདེན་པ་མཐོང་བ་) = realizing the truth, seeing the truth – see denpa tong., which means “seeing the truth”. Usually the sutras [tell] a story. So and so came to the Buddha, or Buddha went to so and so’s house. He had lunch, and then Buddha gave him a teaching, and then this person saw the truth. It’s a very important expression. Actually these expressions are not emphasized enough. This is why I was saying yesterday that only much later, so strangely, people put Buddhism into the category of “religion”. It’s just so unfortunate.
So words like “enlightenment” are actually not so good. Not so good. I think it’s words like “enlightenment” that really made Buddhism look like a religion. If you are an astrophysicist and you suddenly discover another planet, denpa tong. You have seen another truth, another layer of truth. Or if you are a scientist who sees the law of gravity. That is denpa tong, seeing the truth.
There’s another expression I have to tell you, chö namla mig dulmé6chö namla mig dulmé (Tibetan: ཆོས་རྣམས་ལ་མིག་རྡུལ་མེད་) = “there is no dust, veil or obstruction between you and phenomena” – see chö namla mig dulmé.. Dül means “dust” or “veil” or “obstruction”7dül (Tibetan: རྡུལ་) = dust (as particles floating in the air), motes – see dül. [So this expression] means there is no more dust, veil or obstruction between you and phenomena. What a beautiful expression. Seeing the truth basically.
The three characters8The Sanskrit term is trilakshana (Sanskrit: त्रिलक्षण), where “lakshana” means “mark, sign, symbol, token, characteristic, attribute, quality” – see trilakshana. are basically anicca, dukkha and anatta. Anicca is the ever-changing, uncertainty. Pali people translate dukkha as “unsatisfactoriness”. And anatta is no-self or selflessness. Now, [what is] character? When we say “Oh, his character is like this”, we always talk about character as what he or she is, [i.e. a person’s] character. [DJKR looks up dictionary definition] Character is a property that defines the individual; the nature [or something]. The character of fire is heat, something like that, e.g. “he’s kind”.
So, what the Buddha is saying is that everything, all phenomena have these three characters. So this 15 year old girl longing for her soulmate. If she has a little bit of understanding of anicca, dukkha and anatta, the process of finding a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or even maintaining a relationship, will be much more fun, much more vast, much more [like] gliding, as I was saying yesterday.
I’m sure many of you are businesspeople. So you must have been constantly updated with management courses. You must go to leadership training, right? What a does leader need? One of the most important things about leadership is vision, isn’t it? Now think about this. If a leader knows that everything has anicca, dukkha and anatta, that’s the biggest vision9Ed.: The conventional perspective on leadership vision is that it is about strategic ability, as in the ability of great chess players to visualize the board many moves into the future. For example, the Harvard Business Review article The Importance of Vision observes, “when initially describing someone as a “great business leader,” the knee-jerk reaction is often to cite something about his or her strategic ability or vision. We often hear stories of exalted CEOs and their strategic prowess. The downfall of many a failed CEO has also been attributed to his or her lack of vision.” DJKR is offering an alternative perspective, where leadership vision is less about the presence of strategic ability, and more about the absence of the veils or obstructions that prevent clear seeing.. This leader cannot be fooled. You know, [they] just [have] such a bird’s eye’s view. And this is what I was talking [about] yesterday [when] I was saying that Siddhartha is right about everything: parenting, leadership, business, politics, everything. Parenting, [imagine] how much it [would] help if we had these three characters, at least some sort of information [about them] in our head?
So we’ll take a break and when we come back, we will talk a little bit more about these three characters. And also during the break, I will not waste this [DJKR picks up the bing lang].[END OF TALK 3]
The three characteristics (contd.)
These three characters are actually very simple. Probably that is the challenge. Because they are too simple. We just we just take them for granted. We don’t see it, and we miss it. Basically, we keep on missing it. But if you miss [them], or if you don’t see these three characters, basically you are confused. You don’t have a clue. You are tripping. You’re making yourself vulnerable, because you don’t have the real picture. Of course you’re very vulnerable.
Anyway. Anicca10anicca (Pāli: अनिच्चा) = impermanence – see anicca., impermanence, uncertainty. There is nothing that is certain. You just have to get that. You really have to get that. You have to accept that. By the way, Buddha did not make everything impermanent. That’s why it’s the truth. It’s the truth of everything. But as simple as it is, it’s not that easy to accept, because of habit. Maybe we can accept certain gross [kinds of] impermanence. Certain gross impermanence we even encourage. But some [kinds of] impermanence are very, very subtle. Anyway, without impermanence the world does not function.
It’s so ridiculous and complicated the way human beings think and function. You know, we love updating. We love progressing. We love getting trained, improvement, all of this. If you can listen to the words like “improvement”, it’s ringing the bell of impermanence. So actually, this is something you guys need to know. When Buddhists talk about impermanence, they’re not at all talking about something negative or something pessimistic. It’s just how it is. The truth.
But I guess you can say the truth is bitter. So therefore, some people cannot accept it sometimes. We choose, we conveniently choose to enjoy certain [kinds of] uncertainty and we choose to brood about certain [kinds of] uncertainty. Anyway, it’s very simple. Everything is uncertain. And it’s very paradoxical and an oxymoron also. Like a pension plan. What a depressing thought. But it’s something that we do, pension plan. We should plan for the pension. Retirement plan.
Insurance. It indicates that there is that element of “What if something happens?” So there is this element of accepting uncertainty, but then with insurance everything is insured, guaranteed. So there is a paradox. My friend, this teenager, probably she will meet her mate. And probably she will get really excited and reassured when this other person gives her a ring. But can you see the paradox? Like [giving] a ring to insure [the relationship]? But that also represents the “What if?” That’s why you need a ring.
But again, maybe I’m being too pessimistic. There’s a lot of good news too. We will get out of a lot of difficulties. And especially when we are in pain, we may feel like it will last forever, but that’s never the case. So this is why if you can think of anicca, it can really help those who think “I’m doomed forever”. Never. You’re never doomed forever.
By the way, these three characters are also interrelated. The second one, dukkha11dukkha (Pāli: दुक्ख) = unsatisfactoriness – see dukkha., is much more complex and much more vast, I think. Satisfaction. What will satisfy you? One of the biggest elements that will satisfy you is something that you can hundred percent trust. But if everything is uncertain, how can you trust [anything] one hundred percent? Basically what the Buddha is saying is that everything is not satisfying one hundred percent.
Of course, [things] like a headache or a stomach ache, you know that’s pain, that’s suffering. But how about Häagen-Dazs ice cream? That’s a much more complicated unsatisfying phenomenon. Especially if you have a sugar problem. What to make of that? Häagen-Dazs ice cream is so nice, so delicious. But one scoop is one scoopful of the cause of pain and suffering and [high] blood sugar and hypertension and all that.
Going back to my friend, the teenager. When she meets her dream partner, I hope she realizes that this dream partner has lots of other elements. Such as this dream partner will talk, which is bad news. Even if this partner were like a dog, maybe [it would be] a little bit better. Because we don’t really know what the dog is talking [about]. We just interpret that the dog likes me. But anyway, her partner will have a mouth. Her partner will have a mind. Her partner will have wants and needs. It’s not going to be easy.
But it’s not all bad. There’s also a lot of greatness. There’s a lot of joy. Probably [he will be] somebody who will carry her shopping bag. All kinds of things. Someone to talk to [about] your rubbish things. Someone to vent your feelings and doubts. But basically nothing is one hundred percent satisfying.
The third one is anatta12anatta (Pāli: अनत्ता) = no-self, nonself – see anatta.. Probably it’s the deepest and also the most important character. Nothing is how it appears. In other words, they [i.e. phenomena, appearances] have no solid independent existence or self. They’re just temporary appearances. They don’t have independent solid existence.
Anyway, as I was saying, the three characters themselves are fairly simple. In one way it’s not that complicated.
But here I want to spend some time on the notion of practice. The reason why I want to spend some time talking about practice is that I’m spotting or sensing some misunderstandings about practice. It looks like the moment the word “practice” is mentioned, especially in the Buddhist world, it immediately refers to some sort of exertion.
Even at the level of sitting. Sitting is a technique. It is one of thousands and millions of techniques. The word “meditation” in English does not at all do justice to translate the word “dhyana”13dhyana (Sanskrit: ध्यान) = meditative concentration, meditation, concentration, mental focus, attention, reflection, non-distraction – see dhyana.. The word dhyana has the connotation of “being with that”.
Focusing on that. [Suppose you are] walking around in a department store, in a shopping mall, a food court or whatever. Now, [suppose you are] being with these three characters while you are walking and roaming around. [In other words, you] are just reflecting on how things are impermanent and not completely satisfying, and they are never how they appear to be. That is the quintessence of practice.
If you can really apply that spirit, that should be called “practice”. There is no sort of marathon of who is managing to sit on a cushion [for] the most number of hours. There is nothing like a “Mileage plus” that you get by sitting. [If you are] sitting for hours and hours, but with no anicca, no dukkha, no anatta – you’re just ironing the cushion. So really I think this needs to be addressed. Because once you get that, then I think you will change your attitude towards the world.
You know, the word “vipassana”14vipassana (Pāli: विपस्सना) = special seeing, insight, greater seeing, clear seeing – see vipassana. means “seeing extra” or “seeing the true color”. It’s so unfortunate that vipassana always gets intertwined with sitting, because this sitting thing is killing vipassana actually.
But of course, I’m not completely dismissing sitting. It is a ritual. And more than anyone, the Chinese should know how ritual is important. Isn’t Confucius really into ritual? Ritual keeps you in order. Ritual helps you to focus. Ritual helps you to not get distracted. So the chance of you knowing anicca, dukkha and anatta [while] sometimes sitting straight is probably higher than [when] you are lazing around on a hammock or something.
So by really developing the habit of seeing the three characters, what it does is it changes the way you see the world. Your point of view. And therefore the way you relate to the world changes. It doesn’t mean that you will just go off to a mountain and become some sort of renunciant in the way that we think, the way we picture. You know how we paint a picture of a renunciant?
Those who have read the Vimalakirti Sutra, you know that. Vimalakirti, the billionaire bodhisattva, he was the real renunciant. So your attitude changes. So your partner loses his or her temper. Because of anicca, dukkha and anatta, the way you relate, the way you play with that [situation] will change. It doesn’t mean that you will keep quiet. You may very well engage with a heated fight. But basically, you are under control. You have not become insane. You have never lost the throne of sanity. But [you] keep on engaging with the world, just as how you used to.
So Buddha calls himself “Tathagata”. When he says “I want a cup of tea”, he will say “Tathagata wants a cup of tea”. It’s true. It’s in the sutras. Not tea, maybe some other things. He refers to himself “Tathagata says this, Tathagata says that”.[DJKR asks translator]: Tathagata must be translated very well in Chinese. How does it go?
[Translator]: “Such come”15Tathagata (Sanskrit: तथागत) = thus gone, thus come. The Chinese translation is 如来 (pinyin: rúlái), where 如 = “such, like, as” and 來 = “come” – see tathagata. [DJKR]: That’s it.
It’s a such a beautiful word. Only these Indians can think of these kinds of words. Tathagata. It can basically mean both “thus came” and “thus gone”. It’s a fantastic word, so good. It basically means “The one who has arrived at the truth” of what we have been discussing. And having arrived, you interact with others. And this is doable. This is not far fetched. It’s really doable. I would say some sort of stability is achievable within a few years. And there’s no reason why you should not do this. All the reasons why you should do this.
There were some questions, right?
Q & A[Q, in Chinese]: Rinpoche, can I ask what is practice and how should we practice? [DJKR]: What we have just been discussing. Knowing that things are impermanent. Do it sometimes sitting. Other times kneading dough. Or chewing bing lang.
[Q]: Hello, Rinpoche. Sorry I sat too long. My leg has no feeling now. I want to say thank you first. Although you do so many strange things like eating bing lang, but I really want to say that you gave me a lot of impact because I think I’m such a bad boy so far. I know that a boy like me can learn Dharma because you gave me a lot of face. I also work in a bank now and you know that in a bank there are so many normal things. We give a lot of insurance anyway. And I’m also a small leader in the bank now, and as Rinpoche mentioned, I have vision. I want to change things like this. But you know sometimes it feels very frustrating, because it is very difficult to change the normal things. So I want to ask Rinpoche, for normal guys like us, how should we face with normal circumstances? What is a good mindset for things like this? [DJKR]: Okay, so what I have been talking [about during the] past two days is something very basic and down to earth. We can add a few things to make it more potent, depending [on different situations and circumstances] for different people. So in your case, since you’re in a bank, I would suggest that you take the Bodhisattva Vow every morning. It takes only one minute, don’t worry. Just take the Bodhisattva Vow. Think, “May all these people who come to my abnormal surrounding, may they all, in one way or another, encounter the three characters”. Every time they see you. So by doing this, you do not [need to] leave your spot. And your boss will be very happy, because they will think you’re working really hard. This part is a joke.
[Q]: I’m going to put together a few questions that I’ve heard many people asking throughout my life, Talking about being a human. Actually, a lot of people think that animals are better than human beings. Other animal species. Because animals don’t hurt others for mere fun, and [they] don’t harm the environment. Whereas animals take care of others. And so many people actually turn to their pets and to YouTube videos for inspiration and emotional comfort. And they find it easier to be more affectionate towards their pets than towards people. Because their pets don’t judge and disappoint us, don’t say anything that we don’t like. So I want to ask, why is this so? And how can we make sense of this? And how can we learn to have compassion for the human circumstances, for all the negativity that we have, and develop compassion for the people who are difficult and treat them with the same kindness and affection that we treat our perfect pets? [DJKR]: Just very briefly, the second one first. The most practical [thing you can do] is aspiration. [It’s] practical and harmless and fruitful. Now, for the first question, the Buddhists put human beings even higher, when we talk about the ranking of birth as a human, even higher than the god realm. As sentient beings, there is no hierarchy. And you are right. Many times, animals are doing much, much more than us. We need to pray that the bees will live long, right? Because without them, we will be dead in five years or something. But the Buddhist idea of human beings as the highest is [because of] their potential or ability to understand the truth.
[Q, in Chinese]: How can the values system and the practice of Buddhism help in our daily life? [DJKR]: I think we talked about this. It is really to have a bird’s eye view. Daily life will function better and be less stressful if you have the whole picture. If you have the right picture, then you are saved from false hope and false fear.
[Q, in Chinese]: Recently there have been many controversial incidents in Vajrayana Buddhism. Do you think Vajrayana is getting more and more corrupted? [DJKR]: Vajrayana has always been corrupted. And I’m not even joking about this. I’m serious. In fact much more [so in the past]. A thousand years ago they never had social media, so who knows what was going on? Now we know everything, right? And Vajrayana has created controversies among Buddhists. A lot of Shravakayana people and Mahayana people don’t accept [Vajrayana]. They see Vajrayana as a disgrace of Buddhism. They don’t even see it as Buddhism. And many times, they’re right. Their reason is very right. Because first of all, Vajrayana was never ever supposed to be for all. And also [when it comes to] the study of the Tantrayana, when people come to Vajrayana people always go to the method. They never really study the theory of Vajrayana.
I will give you an example in in this environment. Let’s say most of you are Chinese, right? So if you have grown up being Buddhist, but reading something like the Avatamsaka Sutra, especially the beginning chapters, or the Amitabha sutra, then you will have a hard time accepting the Tantra. But if you have read a little bit of the Vajracchedika Sutra, then you will have a little bit more room, “Hey, the tantric people are talking [about something] similar”. Or if you read something like the Vimalakirti Sutra, then I think you will really be much more open to the tantric philosophy.
So, if there is a little bit of a theoretical understanding, it would have helped. But not many people have time for that. So you go immediately to [Vajrayana practices], and you’re bombarded with [things like] a dark woman wearing a skull garland. And she has an extra head, which is a pig. How can you accept this as Buddhism? It’s really like some shamanistic Voodoo. And I think what you are talking about is the recent misbehaviors of people who are in my profession. Yes, that has always been there. And I think unfortunately it will go on. But you know, there are a lot of incredibly good ones also.
But what to do? Human nature is that we never really pay attention to the good ones. We always like bad news. Personally, I think the exposure of the wrongdoings of the Vajrayana lamas, in many ways it is good. This is a very good way to protect the Tantrayana. Because Tantrayana, Vajrayana, it is really a gift. It’s one of the most beautiful gifts. You can’t lose that. You know how many people talk about “Think out of the box”? Tantra goes even further. Think out of the box while you are inside the box. But because of the nature of its teachings, it can create a lot of misunderstanding.
[Q, in Chinese]: I heard that Rinpoche is translating Buddha’s words into Chinese and English. Is it at all possible to use the most precise language to translate? [DJKR]: Probably not. But motivation is the most important, isn’t it? And we had the motivation to share the wisdom and the methods of the Buddha as much as possible. We try to have that motivation, and we try to have the humility to accept that our work is a work in progress. Of course, translation is a very difficult job. I was talking to some of my Japanese friends. They said that the Murakami I read in English is really badly translated, and what they read in Japanese is far superior. It made me depressed for a few months.
And especially, you know, Buddha’s words are not like Murakami, these days’ bestsellers. But Buddha said that even to possess a text, veneration to the text, even to throw a flower [towards the text as an offering] has so much merit. So, there must be so much merit in trying to translate texts. We have a shortage of translators in English and in Chinese. The monk Xuanzang16Xuanzang (Chinese: 玄奘) (602-664) = a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who traveled to India in the seventh century and described the interaction between Chinese Buddhism and Indian Buddhism during the early Tang dynasty – see Xuanzang. walked for many months to India, and spent 16 years 19 years or something [in his travels]. Just imagine how the Chinese are so fussy with food. And for 16 years he had to eat chapati. But wow, that guy did so much.
So please. Those who are here, we have a project of translating from Chinese to English, English to Chinese, Chinese to Tibetan, Tibetan to Chinese – please, whichever you want to choose, please bring back the spirit of people like Faxian17Faxian (Chinese: 法顯 / 法显) (337-422) = a Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled by foot from China to India, visiting sacred Buddhist sites in Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia to acquire Buddhist texts – see Faxian. and Xuanzang and all of that. And by the way, even from the business point of view, I think it has a bright future. Remember we were talking about the AI age? In about 30 years a lot of us, our jobs will be done by AI, I think. So we are getting closer and closer to becoming irrelevant. Democracy, human rights, free speech, all this means nothing when there is AI. So when that day happens, I think the teachings that are written in the sutras will become so much more relevant. So I think that after 30 or 40 years, your children will really appreciate that you have done this.
[Q, in Chinese]: I haven’t had an opportunity, so I’ll take this opportunity to ask a personal question. I apologize to all the people here. At the beginning of this year, I read your book “Living is dying”. And immediately after I read the book, I made one thousand mantra chakras according to the book, and then I asked a khenpo to consecrate them. But I don’t know how to use them. Now that I have these thousand chakras, what should I do with them? [DJKR]: Oh, you have done a good job. Give it to people who are already dead, which is basically everyone. So they can keep it with them, and make sure that they tell their friends or family members not to take away when they’re being cremated or buried.
As I said, it was very good to be in Taiwan again. It’s such a beautiful place. So much warmth and so much gentleness. I know this more than any one of you here, how the Taiwanese are like that. I have been going round by myself as a tourist, and the moment they realize I’m a foreigner, they’re extra warm and friendly. If I’m wearing robes, taxi drivers don’t even take my money. And the most surprising thing is I when wasn’t even wearing a robe, but I went to shave my hair and the lady didn’t take my money.
Please take care of yourself. And many of you have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and absolutely you are protected. You have nothing to worry about, this life and next life and during the bardo. But having said that, I think washing hands and stuff like that, I think maybe it’s a good thing to do.
And also the little merit that we have [accumulated] in our discussions these past two days, we dedicate this merit to the sanity of the world.[END OF TALK 4]
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Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio