Study, Practice and Work


Lerab Ling, 24 September 2014

Study, Practice and Work

Lerab Ling, 24 September 2014

During drupchens, it’s Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche’s habit to give one teaching every day. He always follows the customary instructions for conducting drupchens, and usually addresses specific topics that will help participants practise as meaningful as possible. Sometimes, though, he steps back from the details to look at the bigger picture.

During the Chimé Phakma Nyingtik drupchen in 2014, Lerab Ling was abuzz with ideas and discussions about the future of Rigpa. And on the last day of the drupchen, although Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche had already taught that morning, he decided to speak again to make sure everyone heard what he had to say before they left.

Based on his long association with the Sangha, Rinpoche pointed out that the sole purpose of Dharma work, and the only way to maintain and develop the teachings, is to encourage and empower Dharma practitioners. We must do this, he said, by acknowledging, respecting, supporting and empowering those who practise, rather than elevating the administrators. Our number 1 priority is to respect and encourage practitioners, number 2 is to to respect and encourage scholars and number 3 is to respect and encourage those who work.

Tomorrow we will conclude this drupchen. As many of you will be leaving, I’d now like to finish what I started saying yesterday—I think you would call it a ‘teaching’, but from my perspective it's just something I want to say.

Sogyal Rinpoche's compassionate vision to accomplish the activities for spreading the teachings has led to this place, Lerab Ling, being founded in a land that had never before known the Buddhadharma. Here, his far-reaching vision encompassed the building of a great temple as the outer support of the teachings; the commissioning and consecration of statues, thangkas and other representations of the enlightened body, speech and mind; and the establishment of a Sangha, a community of practitioners. Empowerments, transmissions, tantras and practical pith instructions have been given here, and the Vinaya, bodhichitta and Vajrayana vows have been explained, granted and received. And Rinpoche didn’t stop there. More than three hundred practitioners then put the teachings into practice during a Three Year Retreat. And students continue to travel to Nepal each year to study the great Sutra and Tantra texts at the Shedra. In this way the activities of ‘holding, spreading and protecting’ the Buddha’s teachings are continuously being accomplished, not just here in Lerab Ling, but in all the Rigpa centres around the world.

My point is that what has been accomplished so far needs to be fully appreciated and remembered. And of course, we can only ‘remember’ all this because it has already been accomplished. The important thing here is that although these enlightened activities have been made possible chiefly through the compassion and aspiration prayers of Sogyal Rinpoche, they could not have been realized without the hard work of many older students. And this kind of accomplishment doesn’t come easily, as I told you yesterday [1]The day before Rinpoche spoke about establishing the Buddhadharma in a new region, with special reference to Rigpa, and Lerab Ling where the drupchen was held. You’ll be able to read it on this website later.. Clearly, we must now look to the future. But as I can’t predict what’s to come, it’s crucial for you to make sure that what has already been so well accomplished doesn’t deteriorate and that it is properly maintained.

So, what has all our work so far been about? We’ve been working to bring both temporary and ultimate happiness and well-being to all sentient beings. The way we achieve this is by spreading the teachings of the Buddha. This is what you need to remember. Don’t forget it!

Any activity, whether Dharma or worldly, ultimately begins with the mind. Buddha and every lama who came after him has said this. They also said that if an action is negative but your mind is virtuous, the action will be virtuous. Whereas if an action is virtuous and your mind is negative, then the action will be negative. So the bottom line is that we are not acting for ourselves alone, but to bring happiness to all sentient beings. And to do that, we must ensure that the teachings of the Buddha remain in this world.

So we are working for the sake of all sentient beings, as ‘vast as space’. And although we must remember that we’re working for an incalculable, unimaginable number of sentient beings, we have to start where we are, in one town, in one country. Only then can we progressively expand our work, until eventually the Dharma reaches all sentient beings. But if you start out by imagining that you must benefit all sentient beings from the word go, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the immensity of the task and never help anyone at all. Nothing you do will work.

Spreading the Dharma is not about promoting just one school; what would be the benefit of that? It is to bring temporary and ultimate happiness and well-being to sentient beings. This is the only reason for spreading the teachings; there is no other reason whatsoever.

Imagine the buddhas were in this world for just one day. Using reasoning and logic, we can appreciate the benefit their presence would bring to an inconceivable number of sentient beings. We can also see with our own eyes how Buddhadharma helps people. And so to introduce the Dharma where it was previously unknown is even more beneficial than simply maintaining it.

Buddhadharma has two aspects: the transmission of the teaching (the ‘Dharma of transmission’) and of the practice (the ‘Dharma of realization’)—right? Of these two aspects, the first is most important because expounding the Dharma sheds the light of understanding on what we had not previously known. And as you’ve all already received so many teaching, it’s obvious that you should now put them into practice. At the same time it is important to put a great deal of effort into studying the teachings more deeply. This is crucial. However many teachings you have received and studied, the crux of the matter is whether or not you put them into practice, which is the second aspect of the Buddhadharma, the ‘Dharma of realization’. The practice is how we take the teachings to heart and this is the very life-force of Buddhadharma.

When many people gather together in numerous Dharma centres and monasteries to support each other as they study and practice, a certain amount of administrative work will also be created and various complications will need to be dealt with.

Ideally, when an individual really studies and aspires to become more and more learnèd, everyone else should respect them, and recognize the value of what they want to do. Not only should you value and respect them, but you should also make every effort on all levels—outer, inner and secret—to support and help them improve and expand their capacity. You should also value, support and show even more respect for someone who actually practices. Otherwise just to mouth the words, “Study is important, practice is important,” without supporting or showing respect for those who do study and practise, is useless, right? Of course the other work involved in running Dharma centres is also important, but it’s only done in order to help people become more learnèd and to practise.

So number one is practice and number two is to receive and study the teachings. Number three is the administrative and organizational work. Therefore those who do the work are basically the attendants of those who practise and study. If those who do the running around and organizing become the most important group, then both the study and the practice of the teachings will be lost.

If you don’t live in a culture that values and respects study and practice, even if someone studies, practises and does retreats, as they are not able to contribute to the ‘work’, they will always be on the outside and afforded no respect or consideration. And if that’s how you treat people who just study and practise, everything we have been doing here is for nothing.

At the same time, if you study and practise just for the sake of being respected or for fame and renown, that’s not good either. To practise just so people know you have completed a three-year retreat, or to study so you become a long-standing member of the shedra, or to get a Khenpo ‘certificate’, ultimately doesn’t count for much. Neither does writing a few books.

If you truly hold the Dharma of transmission and realisation, meaning if you really study and practise, then everything else will manifest naturally. By genuinely holding the teachings of transmission and realization, your enlightened activities will truly benefit others, and the ability to teach and to write will happen naturally, without any effort whatsoever.

That’s why I think it's so important to remind you of the bigger picture out of which everything we do arises. And I’m not just saying this for Lerab Ling, it applies to all Dharma centres, monasteries and great seats of Buddhadharma, wherever they are in the world. All the monasteries in Tibet should also adopt this great vision. If you don’t, people who want to remain in retreat may not be given permission, and may even be told, “If you stay in retreat, we will stop supporting you; you will not get the material support you need to live on.”

The way it should work is that whenever someone expresses the wish to do a retreat, you should say, “Of course, that’s the best thing you could do.” It would be very good if you could then offer as much support as you are able to help that person accomplish their retreat. That's number one.

Number two is what to do when someone says, “I want to study the scriptures, I want to study Dharma.” In this case, we have to examine the person to see why they want to study. The best reason for wanting to study is that having already done some Dharma practice, you want to gain more knowledge and understanding of your practice. What we see happening too often these days is that people study because they want to talk better about the teachings and teach others. This attitude doesn’t produce good results.

In his autobiography, His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes about his senior tutor, Ling Rinpoche, and points out that when he was studying, never for one second did Ling Rinpoche imagine that one day he would teach others. He studied the teachings because he wanted to take them to heart. Eventually, Ling Rinpoche’s karma led him to become teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But as he never imagined he would teach, Ling Rinpoche didn’t record the details needed to authenticate the teachings he was giving, for example, the lineages and when he had received them himself. As his intention had been simply to practise, he only ever thought about the meaning of the teachings. So he would say to His Holiness, “I definitely received this teaching from that teacher, of that there is no doubt. And this is what it means. But I don’t know about the lineage or anything like that.” He did make notes of all the most important points of practice, but never with a view to teaching others. “I never once thought that someone like me could benefit others by teaching them. I studied solely for myself, so I could transform and tame my own mind. It never occurred to me that one day I would teach.” This is the mark of a true Kadampa master.

Unfortunately these days people study with their minds full of thoughts like, “This khenpo is making mistakes. How can I refute him? What would be a better way of teaching this point?” This attitude is rampant. And if a khenpo makes the tiniest of mistakes ‘they laugh up their sleeves’—basically they laugh at him behind his back. Devotion, faith and pure perception vanish instantly. Therefore here at Lerab Ling you need people who study the Dharma for the sole purpose of practising it. And when such people do practise, you all need to recognize that what they are doing is really wonderful. Here, I am talking about what the main purpose of Dharma really is.

Today no one can be without a job, or activity, or something to do. These are the people who fall into the category of ‘workers’. Those who do ‘fierce’ work are called ‘soldiers’, those whose work is peaceful are called ‘businessmen’, but everyone has a job. So the number three priority in Lerab Ling is: those who work in other areas to support the people who study and practice. But if you approach the work you do for the Dharma as ‘just a job’, then the Dharma itself will be lost.

Of all the activities we undertake to spread the Dharma and for the teachings really to take root, none is better or more effective than practice. So you should make everything you do a Dharma practice, then maintain that attitude. And help others to think that way too.

I began today by saying that the sole reason we study and practise the Dharma is to augment the amount of benefit and well-being experienced by all beings—this is the root of Buddhadharma. This is why we spread the Dharma to places where it was previously unknown. It’s also why we do all we can to prevent Dharma from declining where it’s already been taught by re-energizing and enlivening the teachings. This is what you should all be working towards. If you don’t, if you just work to please someone, or to earn a living, your work is no better than an ordinary job, and like many other ‘workers’ in this world, you’ll take every opportunity to skive off. These are the people—the people who do as little as possible—who quickly become exhausted. To work for the Dharma because you want status or fame or power is even worse, and you’ll find that jealousy, competitiveness, and so on, will quickly fill your minds. Is that clear? So you should honestly examine your attitude to your work, and change it if your purpose is anything other than to help all sentient beings.

The crucial points I’ve made here are:

  1. The most important activity is practice.
  2. Next most important is to study and learn the Dharma.

And as you both study and practise, make sure you examine yourself over and over again. Don’t fool or deceive yourself! Check that your practice and study are truly in accord with the Dharma. If you don’t, you’ll be like the people who remain in retreat for nine years, then come out exactly the same as they were when they went in. By continually and honestly checking yourself you won't need to do a nine year retreat, and your mind will definitely change.

  1. If those who work do it with the attitude that the Dharma is the most important thing, that is very good.

If you follow this advice, I think it will help ensure that the enormous amount of work that has already been achieved here in Lerab Ling will stay on track and endure, and that it won’t disappear. People will become more learnèd and good practitioners will also manifest. Even if you don’t turn out like one of the great mahasiddhas of India or Tibet, at least you will be different from ordinary people. By following this advice there is no doubt students will manifest who can be seen by others to be genuine dharma practitioners, and who can even see for themselves that they really are ‘a bit of a practitioner’. If, when you honestly look at yourself, you can say, “I seem to be behaving at least somewhat in accord with Dharma,” that’s not bad at all. And in these degenerate times, to have a hundred people who are genuine dharma practitioners would be truly amazing. So, that’s what I think.

I don’t know how to give advice or present teachings—if the Dharma hasn’t entered your own mindstream, how can you teach others? Which is why I must emphasize that everything I’ve said today is just my point of view.

It’s not easy to accomplish the Dharma. I have tried my best throughout my life, but it’s been difficult to be as beneficial as I originally intended to be. At the same time, I have managed to get somewhere, which is why I’ve been so frank today about what I think. And why I request that you try to take what I’ve said to heart, with the hope that you’re not too upset by what I’ve said.

This morning I mentioned that these days many Dzogchen teachings are being given, but as the lineages and traditions are not respected or valued and are being ignored, it’s all getting a bit murky. But I was not referring to Lerab Ling. Lerab Ling doesn’t seem murky at all—although who knows what will happen in the future.

How do Dzogchen teachings become murky? Dzogchen has its own specific terminology, its own language to describe something very profound and difficult to understand. So when terms associated with the lower yanas creep in and are said to mean the ‘same’ as a Dzogchen term, it all gets very odd. It suggests that all Dharma teachings are identical, and if that’s the case, everything that’s special about Dzogchen is then lost.

Many lamas talk a great deal about Dzogchen, but don’t teach it correctly because they didn’t receive it properly themselves. Yet these days their recorded teachings, books and all sort of things are easy to find.

To teach Dzogchen authentically, you must be like Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, or Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Of course there’s also Dodrupchen Rinpoche and Chatral Rinpoche, but they don't teach much at all. They hardly say anything.

Amongst those who have taught Dzogchen over the past twenty years, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche is one master who, without doubt, gave absolutely pure and authentic teachings. The words he used and the meaning he conveyed were absolutely pure and authentic, and he gave pure transmissions of Nyingtik Yabshi, The Seven Treasures, The Three Cycles of Finding Mind in Comfort and Ease, and the entire collected works of Omniscient Longchen Rabjampa, Jikme Lingpa, Nyoshul Lungtok and Patrul Rinpoche. He never added or changed anything. And it is that pure oral transmission that is being handed on to students here at Lerab Ling.

There are two ways to transmit the Dzogchen teachings. They can be transmitted in their entirety, or in essential instructions like Tsik Sum Né Dek, Cutting Through Errors and Deviations, The Pointing-out Instruction for the Old Man and The Pointing-out Instruction for the Old Woman. This kind of essential instruction is part of the original body of Dzogchen teachings.

Whenever I come to Lerab Ling I’m told that Dzogchen is being taught, and when I ask which teaching, it’s sometimes Yeshe Lama (only up until trekchö but not the tögal, but that’s fine) or perhaps Tsik Sum Né Dek. But the teaching always has a name, so I know that what is being transmitted is an authentic Dzogchen teaching. When I go to other places where Dzogchen teachings are supposedly being given and ask the same question, the only answer I get is, “Oh, Dzogchen. Just Dzogchen” or “It’s a ‘mind teaching’.” It’s quite curious, and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

The root of all the Dzogchen teachings is the Reverberation of Sound and the other sixteen Dzogchen tantras. Each teaching derived from these seventeen tantras has a name and a lineage—I mentioned this morning the lineages of Vairotsana, Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra. So the fact that Dzogchen teachings in Lerab Ling always have a name is how I can say that things are very good here. It’s important to keep these teachings pure in this way, and not to allow them to get murky—like having people like me sit on a throne, claiming to teach Dzogchen, but then talking nonsense. That’s exactly how the teachings become murky!

So what I want to say is, here at Lerab Ling you're really doing very well.

Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schulz

Study, Practice and Work

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