Amsterdam, 9 September 2012
Rinpoche was in Paris, his favourite city, with nothing to do for a few days, when suddenly he announced he wanted to take the train to Antwerp. Once we’d arrived in Antwerp he told us he wanted to visit Amsterdam the following day, to take up an invitation from his old friend Ane Jinba, to visit the famous flower market and maybe also drop in on the Rigpa Amsterdam centre.
As you might imagine, Rigpa Amsterdam immediately invited Rinpoche to teach, and as these days, one of the most fashionable subjects for Dharma teachers to teach on is ‘happiness’, he decided that it was about time he presented his take on what makes a Buddhist happy.
Once again, Rinpoche used his time to present a distillation of the fruit of an entire lifetime’s Dharma practice, rather than following the traditional route of merely repeating the words of the Buddha and the great masters that, he says, can easily be found in books like The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
I arrived here completely unexpectedly, without any planning at all! And as I was in Holland anyway, I didn’t think you’d mind my stopping by. It is Sunday after all, so most of you were free. Today I’ve decided to teach in a way I never have before.
When we first approach the Buddha’s teachings, we have to start at the beginning, which means the preliminary practices (Ngöndro). In Tibet, lamas always taught the preliminaries first and then the main part. When they taught the main part, they would refer to elements of the preliminaries as a way of training the students’ minds. So the preliminaries are the foundation of the practice, and in the same way that if the foundations of a house aren’t properly laid the building will wobble, if the preliminaries to a teaching are not taken to heart, the profound words of the main part, how to practise, won’t be supported and everything you do will be a bit shaky.
Usually, when we explain the preliminaries we talk about the suffering of the three realms of samsaric existence. But today I’m not going to talk about suffering. Instead I’m going to talk about happiness!
Eight Freedoms and Ten Advantages
You’ve already received teachings on how precious human birth is and its eight freedoms and ten advantages. Reflecting on each one should make you feel happier and happier as every single one of you has them all! I am not going to list them because it would take too long. And anyway, all you need to know is that you have them.
In this world of ours, is someone instantly happy when they receive one hundred million dollars? I’ve heard that some people who have been driven mad by winning that much money. But actually, winning a prize like these freedoms and advantages really should drive you mad – mad with joy! But even if you don’t feel mad with joy, you should at least feel as happy as you possibly can!
Impermanence of Life
After describing the preciousness of human life, the ngöndro teachings explain that life is impermanent. Impermanence is part of who we are, but as we’re all alive at this very moment we haven’t yet experienced the truth of impermanence of life – death. We will all die at some point because that’s what happens to all sentient beings, so what’s the point of worrying about it now? You should in fact rejoice in the fact that you are not yet dead. Maybe you’ll die quite soon, which the teachings warn us could happen. But even if you do, you’ve received Dzogchen teachings, the root of all Dharma, many times, including special instructions like the Tsik Sum Ne Dek. Having received this kind of instruction and done your best to practise it, you will have nothing to regret when you die – and nothing to worry about. Rinpoche spoke about it in his teaching in Israel:
By and large, those who received Dzogchen teachings in this way—Yeshe Lama for example—didn’t have to be reborn again in samsara. The accounts we read of their lives always describe ‘liberation’. And when such a person was dying, those at his bedside would often say, “Oh, he received Yeshe Lama”, meaning “Don’t worry about him, he’ll be fine.”
Cause and Effect
Next, we contemplate cause and effect, the law of karma. It’s clear that causes always produce results or effects, and that both causes and effects are produced by the mind.
So what happens when you bring practice to mind? Imagine you generate the mind of enlightenment, either by fabricating it or by having a natural sense of bodhichitta. Either way, I’m sure that for every single one of you in this room it’s a mental process, which means it’s the conceptual mind that’s doing it. And the benefit of arousing a single instant of bodhichitta in your mind, in your ‘stream of being’, is that you will be free of the karma and negative emotions that are inherent in the three realms of samsaric existence and which shackle you like iron chains to the prison that is samsara. As a result, you will be recognized as an heir of the Victorious One and supreme among his children. And as his bodhisattva heart-son or daughter you will be a worthy object of prostrations and offerings from all the gods and humans.
A master called Bodhisattva Shantideva, was a true ‘heir of the Victorious One’. However, to other people he looked like an ordinary man who lived at the great Buddhist university of Nalanda and ate three kilos of rice as he sat in the gallery of the temple every day. The rest of time, all he ever seemed to do was sleep! He had no trouble sleeping for almost 24 hours a day – all day and all night – which exasperated many of the other monks, who gave him the nickname ‘Busuku’ Bu comes from Sanskrit bhukta, which means eating; su comes from supta, which is sleeping; and ku comes from kuchiwa, that’s just walking. One who can do just eating, sleeping and going out to the toilet., ‘one who eats, sleeps and shits’. They endlessly complained that Shantideva did nothing a Sangha member should do, like meditate and recite prayers or any other Dharma practice; “All he does is sleep, and that’s not good!” But they couldn’t just kick him out because he was the son of a king, so they had to come up with a plan to have him expelled.
Every fifteen days, monks always gather for sojong purification practice, right? The idea they came up with was to make a different monk present a sutra teaching at every sojong gathering, as they were sure that when Busuku’s turn came, he would be incapable of presenting anything at all and would feel so ashamed that he’d leave of his own accord.
When it was Shantideva’s turn, the monks only gave him a day or two’s warning. He responded with, “Very well,” and then went back to sleep. The day came, and to embarrass him even further, they built a very high throne and made sure they invited absolutely everyone to come and listen.
At the appointed time, Shantideva climbed onto the throne and asked the assembly: “What kind of teaching do you want today? A teaching you’ve already heard, or something new?”
The monks and panditas were of one mind. Of course, the best would be for him to repeat a teaching they knew, but as they were sure he won’t be able to – how could anyone recite something they’ve never heard themselves? – they asked him to give a completely new teaching. And that’s when he recited the The Way of Bodhisattva from beginning to end. When he reached what we now call the Wisdom Chapter, as he spoke the words of verse 34, “When something and its nonexistence Both are absent from before the mind...” he rose up into the sky, flying higher and higher, until by the end of the chapter he could no longer be seen.
The point I was making is, as it says in the The Way of Bodhisattva and most of the great texts, the moment bodhichitta is aroused, “A great and unremitting stream, A strength of wholesome merit, Even during sleep and inattention, Rises equal to the vastness of the sky.” The Way of Bodhisattva (I, 19). Basically, you have become an heir of the Victorious One, and within three countless aeons you will reach enlightenment.
Therefore there is no one who does not need to cultivate the two types of bodhichitta. Even if you have accumulated enough negativity to keep you in the hell realms for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years, when bodhichitta runs through your mind, even for an instant, that’s enough to purify everything.
In one of his previous lives, our teacher, the Buddha, stepped on a insect and killed it. As a result he was born in a hell realm where a circular saw continuously cut holes in his skull. As it was happening, he thought to himself, “There are probably many people who’ve stepped on an insect like I did. May I experience the ripening of their negativity so they don’t have to.” Just that thought was enough to make the saw rise spinning into space, and the bodhisattva who would become the Buddha was freed.
The benefit of meditating on bodhichitta just once is so great that by doing so, as many buddhas as there are atoms in a vast land will instantly come to wherever you’re meditating. These days Tibetan masters constantly travel through your countries, like wolves roaming a forest, and they always talk about bodhichitta. And since you accumulate so much merit simply by hearing about bodhichitta, you can spend the rest of your time having fun. You can also relax and sleep soundly. What you have to realize is that your situation is exceptionally fortunate. In Europe, not even one percent of the population is Buddhist. Think about it! You are amongst the very few who have become Buddhist and heard about bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment. You are extremely fortunate!
In the teachings on the preliminary practices, we talk about this precious human birth, the impermanence of life, the sufferings of samsara and the law of karma, cause and effect. Of course, we must still be wary of the laws of cause and effect, but the teachings say that when you generate the mind of enlightenment, bodhichitta, and when it permeates all your activities, everything you do will become virtuous. With genuine bodhichitta in your mind, if you kill someone, even that action will bring you closer to enlightenment by hundreds of years, or lifetimes – even kalpas. Our teacher, the Buddha, killed Black Spearman in one of his previous lives and by doing so leapt 80,000 kalpas closer to enlightenment. You can also get closer to enlightenment by arousing bodhichitta when you feel a desire something. If you then steal someone’s possessions and offer them, that act will have drawn you closer to enlightenment. It is said that when embraced with the mind of enlightenment, all five poisonous destructive emotions support Dharma practice. Even eating meat will bring you closer to enlightenment.
Dza Mura Tulku was an incredible master who was unbelievably learnèd. When he checked his previous lives, he discovered he had once been a sheep that was slaughtered for meat, and one of his legs was given to Mipham Rinpoche, who ate it. As a result of the bodhichitta and aspiration prayers Mipham Rinpoche made as he ate that leg of mutton, the sheep’s next incarnation was Dza Mura Tulku. And this is what happens when we act having embraced the enlightened mind of bodhichitta. So you shouldn’t feel oppressed by the ocean of suffering in which we live, and you don’t have to be afraid of cause and effect. Do, however, bear in mind that you’re on dangerous ground if your actions are not directed by the mind of bodhichitta.
This is why the preliminaries describe samsara’s shortcomings next. If there were no samsara the buddhas would not appear; and without samsara, what’s the point of the buddhas? They’d have nothing to do. If there is no one to buy something, neither will there be anyone to sell it. The ‘bodhisattvas’ remain in samsara to carry out their activities – to do their jobs. So Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara remain in samsara to help other beings. This is something else you should think about.
Now, once you are free from samsara, where do you go? As samsara is based on the mind, it’s your mind that is freed and your mind that reaches enlightenment, not your body. Therefore samsara is a good thing, so you should make aspiration prayers like the one in The Way of Bodhisattva, chapter 10, verse 55.
And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world. The Way of Bodhisattva (X, 55).
Samsara contains all the paths followed and accomplished by the buddhas in order to help sentient beings. Therefore samsara isn’t so terrible after all. In fact, it’s very pleasant.
Next comes taking refuge. Everyone here has already taken refuge. Buddha said that the benefit of taking refuge is so great that if it took a physical shape, it would be too big to fit into the whole of space. Taking refuge in each of the Three Jewels individually brings benefits beyond our imaginations. Since you have taken refuge already, you should rejoice at having done something that has so many benefits and qualities.
After that comes arousing the mind of enlightenment: the bodhichitta of aspiration and action. If you can keep the bodhichitta of aspiration in your mind and apply bodhichitta to all your activities, you will reach enlightenment. This is especially true of putting bodhichitta into action. When embraced by the application of bodhichitta, everything you do becomes a cause for enlightenment. This is also something to rejoice.
One sixtieth of an hour is one minute, isn't it? The merit of embracing the mind of enlightenment by holding bodhichitta in your mind for just one minute is inconceivable. How long have you been going round and round in samsara? How many billions of years have you already spent here? It’s incalculable, way beyond our capacity to imagine. When you think about the benefits and qualities of bodhichitta, you should want to throw a party to celebrate every single day, because arousing bodhichitta offers us such incredible opportunities for enlightenment. And it’s so easy. All you have to do is think about it.
As Maitreya said to Asanga,
Precious, sublime bodhicitta:
May it arise in those in whom it has not arisen,
May it never fail where it has arisen
May it go on increasing, further and further.
Actually when you train the mind in bodhichitta, ‘rejoicing meditation’ is also necessary, and we don’t do it alone, “all of you gods also rejoice!” So if you don’t rejoice yourself because you’re brooding over your own misery, what’s the point of meditating on the fact that all the gods are happy? “May gods and demigods and all the rest rejoice!” Last line of verse III.34 from the The Way of Bodhisattva, which is also one of the concluding verses of the bodhisattva vows ceremony, the ritual for generating bodhichitta.
After that you meditate on Vajrasattva, or if you like you can offer the mandala first and then meditate on Vajrasattva. Today, we’ll begin with Vajrasattva.
To say the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva one hundred and eight times without interruption will undoubtedly purify all your evil actions and obscurations. Words of My Perfect Teacher, Revised Edition, Shambhala, Boston: 1998, p.276.
The buddhas of past, present and future will look on the yogi who recites the hundred-syllable mantra daily as their most excellent child. Tantra of Immaculate Confession quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher, Revised Edition, Shambhala, Boston: 1998, p.276.
You don’t have to recite millions of hundred-syllable mantras because one hundred and eight will already bring you great benefit. You will become a child of the buddhas, the ‘Victorious Ones of the three times’.
You must also trust the practice will work. Mantras need to be recited with trust. Without trust, reciting even a hundred million mantras won't help. You can develop trust by reading quotations about the benefits of mantra recitation – which is why the quotations are so often mentioned.
The Buddhas of past, present and future will look on the yogi who recites the hundred syllable mantra daily as their most excellent child...Words of My Perfect Teacher page 276, quoting from the Tantra of Immaculate Confession
So as you recite the mantra, all the heinous actions and obscurations you accumulated in the past are purified. You need to trust that this is what happens, and if you do, you’ll feel happier about your situation. Not everything here will have have recited the hundred-syllable mantra one hundred thousand times, but I’m sure that everyone has recited it at least one hundred and eight times, haven’t they?
After that comes the mandala offering. Shantideva writes,
For, destitute of merit, I am very poor;
I have no other wealth. The Way of Bodhisattva II, 7.
But all of us here must have great merit because none of us is as poor as Shantideva was.
The best way to become prosperous is to practise the mandala offering. All of you know the short mandala offering prayer by heart, and even if you can’t recite it from memory, you’ve also practised the Three Kaya Mandala Offering from the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro. As Jowo Jé Atisha said, “To accumulate virtue there is no better practice than the mandala offering.” Therefore through the mandala offering we perfect the accumulations. And what happens once you’ve fully perfected the accumulations? You become a buddha. So this is also something for you to rejoice about.
Now comes the real reason for meditating on joy, Guru Yoga.
First of all, if you haven't met a teacher yet, then you can’t practice Guru Yoga, right? Many people these days say they haven't met their teacher, yet they still practise Guru Yoga. But that’s impossible. So if you haven't met a master, you should be crying your eyes out because you have no one to take you down the path to liberation. Which is worse than being blind, isn’t it? A blind person can still find his or her way with a cane, but without a teacher you have no clue what to do. So all of you have at least one reason to be happy: you have met a teacher. And not just any teacher, an authentic teacher who has all the necessary qualities. For those of you from Rigpa, that teacher is Sogyal Rinpoche, whose own teachers were extremely great beings. As you’ve found a teacher, you don't have to meditate on the suffering of not having met a teacher! Instead, you should rejoice!
I’ve noticed that you all carry pictures of your teacher around with you, but you should know that the picture is not the teacher. In the presence of your teacher, you develop faith, pray to him, are never disrespectful, and so on. But instead, merely to pretend to do all that in front of his picture is useless. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with practising in front of pictures. Rigpa people always put pictures of Sogyal Rinpoche on their table before they start practising, even if they only do a five-minute recitation. And that’s good.
Once you’ve met your teacher, not to receive teachings from him is another reason to cry your eyes out, as Jetsun Milarepa did when Marpa refused to teach him. But in your case, your lama teaches so often that your challenge is more about keeping up with him! And in each of his teachings, he gives you the most profound instructions.
In the past, students would work out which teaching they needed, then ask their teacher to teach it to them. Once the request had been made, they would always worry about whether or not the teacher would ever give that teaching. But nowadays, students don't seem to think about what it is they need. The teacher does the thinking for them and then makes a comprehensive programme for the coming years. “This year I’ll teach this, next year I’ll teach that, and this month I’ll give this teaching...” They put so much effort into devising their teaching programmes! And if you were really to think just how fortunate you are, you would be beside yourselves with joy!
Not only should you rejoice about having met an authentic teacher, you should also be joyful about the Dharma he teaches. The teachings of the lower vehicles that require three countless kalpas to accomplish the state of complete Buddhahood can seem a bit arduous. But these are not the teachings your teacher gives. You are receiving the most profound Clear Light Dzogpachenpo teachings, which are so powerful that you can be liberated merely by hearing about them! ‘Liberation upon hearing’ means that when you hear these teachings, just the fact that they’ve entered your conscious mind liberates it. If you have the capacity to think about it, when you hear that the empty essence, the cognizant nature and unimpeded appearances are the three kayas, there is no question about whether mind is liberated or not.
These teachings go even further. They say that the three aspects of empty essence, cognizant nature and unimpeded appearances of everything that arises are not three different things but simply the dynamic energy of emptiness, the dynamic energy of rigpa. They are not three but in essence one, the empty essence, which is even more profound! And its meaning is what liberates the mind.
There are six types of liberation. Not just one, but six! So when you receive Dzogpachenpo, you are being given the teachings that contain all six types of liberation. Even if none of the six liberates you in this lifetime, you could still be liberated in the bardos. And if you are not liberated in the bardos, you might go to a natural nirmanakaya pure field, and attain liberation there. This is why there is no mention of future lives in these teachings. Once you receive them, you will without doubt become a buddha. So isn't that something to be happy about? On the other hand, to keep agonizing about your own suffering doesn’t bring anything at all, right?
What you need to realise is that the radiance of the dharmakaya is present within your body; rainbow-light is in your flesh and blood. If you sulk and collapse in on yourself, you are like an egg. There is a bird in the egg. While it’s inside its shell the bird remains invisible and can’t fly into the sky. Once it’s out of the eggshell, though, the bird will quickly be able to fly. Right now, our physical shell of flesh, blood, aggregates and elements smother the radiance of the dharmakaya. But the moment mind is freed, or the moment the body no long imprisons mind, mind is instantly liberated and we can see the dharmakaya.
So it's absolutely normal that you can’t see the dharmakaya now. When you stand at the foot of a mountain you can see neither its peak nor the surrounding area, but when you get to the top, everything comes into view. Similarly, right now because of our physical body of blood and flesh, we cannot see the radiance of the dharmakaya. But once we’ve left our physical body behind and reached the top of the mountain of the wisdom of dharmakaya, which is the Ground, we’ll be able to see it.
At the moment we can only perceive physical objects with our two eyes, hear sounds with our two ears, smell odours with our nose, experience tastes with our tongue, and know only the thoughts that our ordinary mind produces. This is all we can do. Imagine how someone with three eyes would see. He’d be able to see things we can’t. His vision would be quite different.
We won’t be able to see the wisdom of the dharmakaya immediately. But at the moment of liberation it will appear to us very clearly! This is why the Dzogchen teachings speak of ‘liberation upon seeing’, ‘liberation upon hearing’, ‘liberation upon physical contact’, ‘liberation upon remembering’, ‘liberation upon thought’, and ‘liberation upon taste’. But for us it’s hard to believe that these six types of liberation are possible. So I’ve given these two examples to help you develop confidence and trust.
You may now ask, when is all this going to happen? Well, soon. Once you know something exists, eventually you’ll see it, which is why, having received Dzogchen instructions, enlightenment is the only direction you can go in. The nature of the Dzogchen teachings is such that even if you never meditate on them, or reflect on them, or have anything more to do with them, just having received them means that in the future, you will reach the state of liberation.
When Khenpo Jikmé Phuntsok visited the west and taught Dzogchen, he said, “You may not meditate on this teaching, you may not even reflect on it, but just having heard it should be enough. So just relax and be happy. In future, you will reach enlightenment.”
So, there is tremendous benefit to be gained simply from hearing Dzogchen teachings. And all of you continue to receive a superabundance of Dzogchen teachings! So you should constantly be laughing out loud for joy. There’s no need for you to suffer. Remember how Jetsün Milarepa cried when he went to see Marpa [for the last time], and Marpa said, “Don't cry! Why are you crying? You've done everything you had to do. So you should leave happy rather than wail. I have given you all the precious teachings I gathered with so much effort and at such great cost in India. So what are you agonizing about?”
So, this is the ngöndro meditation on joy, up until and including Guru Yoga. After ngöndro, come the Secret Mantra Vajrayana teachings. If you are fortunate enough to practise them, you really should rejoice and be ‘happy’ – as you call it – because these teachings are truly extraordinary and their effect far greater than you can possibly imagine!
When we practise sitting meditation it gives us hope for our next life and a goal to aim at, something we can achieve by practising the teachings. So there’s no need to worry. When you start something new, it helps to be one hundred percent confident that what you’re doing needs to be done. And this is definitely the case when you follow the Dzogchen path. You are going in the right direction, so there’s no reason to worry.
The Mantrayana teachings are taught after the preliminaries, but today I have other places to visit, so we don't have time to go through them. But one day I will talk about them! If not at Rigpa Amsterdam, at some other Rigpa centre. It doesn’t really matter which one, because you can listen to the recordings or watch the teaching on a computer. In Rigpa, you only have to say something once and everyone hears it.
As I said in Lerab Ling, nowadays a teacher doesn’t need to check a student in the way we used to in the past. Why? Because we don't know the students, so how can we check them? Teachers just teach, and students watch and listen on their computers.
Actually I have an even stronger statement to make about ‘happiness’, which once you’ve heard it, will most probably bring an end to all your worries. But today, I don’t have the courage to say it.
Nowadays when people experience joy they go crazy – it’s quite common in the West it seems. I don't have much experience of it personally, but I have heard that when someone wins the lottery, for example, they go absolutely crazy! I don't think I’ve managed to bring anyone to that state of ‘happiness’ this time, but I'll work on it.
Until today, I have always spoken about suffering. But this time I’ve said that there is no suffering! Usually I say that enormous problems come with being in samsara. So much so, that you should think every instant that, “I need to attain liberation”. I often use graphic similes to describe the experience of samsara: samsara is ‘a prison’, ‘a nest of poisonous snakes’, ‘a pit of fire’, ‘an island infested with ogres’. In the past I have said all this. But today, I didn't mention one word of it! I’ve changed my message.
What I said today is that if there were no samsara, there would also be no ‘buddha’; if there were no samsara, Buddha would be out of a job. It’s true, no? Buddha Shakyamuni toiled for three countless kalpas in samsara before he became the Buddha. No one can dispute that. And in the future, all the buddhas, starting with the Buddha’s regent Maitreya, will emerge out of samsara. Therefore samsara is necessary. Think about it! For example if I worry terribly in a dream, nothing of that worry will be left when I wake up. It won’t be there, right? There is nothing enduring or stable about my worrying.
I will stop here. The thing is that Holland is well-known for allowing the sale and consumption of various drugs, so if I keep on like this, people will say: “When Orgyen Tobgyal went to Holland, he must have been on drugs – if you don’t believe me, listen to his teaching! He said some really weird things.”
I did not plan to come here today. But when I was here a couple of years ago I really enjoyed the flower market, so basically I came back to look at it again – although this year it seems smaller than last time. And as I was already here, I thought I’d drop into the Rigpa centre, because I have a bit of an attachment to Rigpa. So that’s why I came...
Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schulz