Bir, India, 22 June 2018
Early one morning at his home in Bir, Rinpoche shared this short instruction with one of his friends; an instruction that sounded very much like his ‘heart advice’. Rinpoche explained how we tend to receive so many different teachings that, often, we don't know where we should start, or which practice we should focus on. This is especially the case, he said, for people such as ourselves who don’t know the Dharma very well, or who know it, but are too lazy to apply it. If you feel like you might be one of those people, then Rinpoche’s answer here, in his own words, ‘the fruit of 67 years of investigation’, may be just what you need.
The recording of this teaching was damaged and later restored by Tobias and Uwe at Lerab Ling; we are most grateful, and deeply indebted to them.
I’m giving this teaching today mainly for the benefit of Harry, but you’re all welcome to listen, if you wish.
The first point I’d like to make is that, personally speaking, I have no idea whether or not I’m a tulku. It’s not my job to say this anyway. Secondly, I don’t even know whether I’m a lama. From one perspective, it would appear that I am, but from another, perhaps not. I can’t resolve this question myself, that’s why I make no claim to be a lama. If you’re a lama, then you need to have students, that’s how it is. I’ve always maintained, however, that I don’t have any students.
So this is who I am. I’ve always known what positive actions are and what negative actions are, since the age of four. This isn’t because I’m a special person of any sort, it has nothing to do with me. It is thanks to my parents, and everyone else who helped look after me when I was young, because they were all such kind, genuine Dharma practitioners. They are the reason that, since I was a child, I know something about the workings of karma. I can’t remember a single time when I killed a sentient being, even a tiny insect. I might have killed two or three ants while I was playing, but even that I’m not sure of.
I’ve always had an appreciation of the Dharma. I’ve received teachings from fifty-four different teachers, which is quite a lot. Therefore, I’ve received many teachings. The point of receiving teachings is to practise them – if you don’t, they’re useless. To practise them, it’s necessary to be clear about what practice is. In my case, however, I kept on receiving one teaching after another, so much so that I ended up not knowing what to do.
If you’re told to drink the ocean or eat a pile of food as high as a mountain, it’s quite a tough challenge, you’re facing a real problem. This is what it’s like when you receive many different teachings.
Each teaching that we receive is greater than the previous one. The practitioner, however, is just one person, who needs to put the teachings into practice. And the practitioner is a mere human being, not a computer. A computer can absorb the entire Kangyur and Tengyur and every other teaching ever given, but it doesn’t work like that for us. Therefore, in my own case, I ended up not knowing what I should do or practise.
I decided to investigate this situation and came to a firm conclusion, which is what I want to share with you now, Harry. Whether or not you choose to follow what I say is up to you, it doesn’t make the slightest difference to me!
To begin with, you need to ask yourself the question: do you want to be a Dharma practitioner, or not? There are seven billion people on this planet but very few of them are Dharma practitioners, and even less, practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. Dharma practitioners are probably seen by most people as being slightly crazy. It’s true that most of them don’t look very sane. I think it’s important that you reflect carefully on this question and come to a conclusion. Chances are you will decide that the best option for you is to become a Dharma practitioner. I’m quite sure this is the conclusion that you’ll reach.
A Dharma practitioner needs to practise the Dharma. For that, he or she needs to follow a particular tradition, of which there are many. I think the choice we have all made is to practise the Secret Mantra Vajrayana.
To practise the Vajrayana, you first need to train in the preliminaries in order to prepare yourself. I’m not talking about accumulating the outer and inner preliminaries here, rather that you start by developing renunciation for samsara. Without renunciation, it is impossible to practise the Dharma. This is because we practise the Dharma in order to be liberated from samsara and this has to be based on a sense of renunciation.
When you have renunciation, you have an aspiration – the wish to be free from samsara. Then you need some knowledge: you need to know how you can become free from samsara, the path that leads to that freedom. To cross the ocean, you need a boat, otherwise you’ll never reach the other side.
Once you’ve acquired this knowledge, you’ll need to cultivate compassion. If you don’t have compassion, the Vajrayana that takes the fruition as the path is groundless. There are many different types of compassion, greater and lesser. Even if you don’t have a particularly big compassion, you at least need to have compassion for yourself, since you are a sentient being lost in samsara. From there, you can extend this feeling to others. If you don’t have any compassion for yourself, yet pretend to have compassion for others, all your mouthing of “Oh poor thing” will just be a pack of lies.
You then need to realize emptiness. If you realize emptiness correctly, you’re a buddha, since once you fully realize emptiness, you no longer fall back into samsara. You see that the whole of samsara, whose nature is suffering, is like a mere dream or illusion.
The most profound way we can realize emptiness, which is available to us now, is the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, which is rich in skilful methods and easier than other paths. These methods involve deity meditation. They’re only methods, not the ultimate nature – on the ultimate level there is no deity to accomplish. But at our level, we need deity practice and these deities comprise the three roots: the lama, the root of blessing; the yidam, the root of accomplishment; and the dakinis and dharma protectors, the root of enlightened activity.
There are so many different deities it can be very confusing for us. It’s like when you take a child to a big department store full of toys to buy her a present, and she doesn’t know which one to choose. At least, that’s what happened when I went with my granddaughter!
We become just like that when we have so many different deities to choose from. We think we have to practise them all. If we really thought about it, however, we’d realize that all the different deities are in essence the same. Whether we accomplish a peaceful deity or a wrathful deity, it’s the same, we attain the supreme and ordinary siddhis. Of course, we’re not practising for the ordinary siddhis, we’re aiming for the supreme accomplishment. The ordinary siddhis are just a by-product of Dharma practice that can help us to move closer towards accomplishing the supreme siddhi. For example, if you want a good car, then you need money. The main aim of Dharma practice is the supreme siddhi.
If you really think about it, you’ll realize that in order to reach the supreme siddhi, there’s no greater approach than that of the Great Perfection, as found in the 6,400,000 tantras of Dzogpachenpo. These teachings are presented in great detail but they all come down to just one point: mind is such that its essence is empty, its nature is cognisant, and the union of these two is unimpeded appearance. These three aspects are the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya, which are not external to you, but inside you, as the nature of your mind.
How can you know this? You need to be introduced to this nature by the guru, when he says, for example, ‘Do not fabricate thoughts, look directly into your mind and rest in that recognition.’
You’ve received many Dzogchen teachings, Harry, but it’s not quite that simple, is it? You haven’t recognized this yet. You may have heard these instructions many times, but the recognition of the nature of mind still escapes you.
So, what should you do? You need to accumulate merit. If you accumulate merit and eliminate obscurations, the recognition will come.
What do we mean by ‘accumulation’? We mean the accumulation of merit that involves reference points and the accumulation of wisdom that is without reference.
It’s fine to focus mainly on the accumulation of wisdom, which is meditation without reference point. But if you don’t know how to meditate, how to rest in that space, how will you accomplish this accumulation? Just sitting in the meditation posture alone won’t be enough. You need to know how to meditate. But you don’t.
What do you need to know in order to meditate? What should you do? The more you study, the worse it gets, because thoughts only obscure the nature of mind. Studying won’t lead you to primordial wisdom. It’ll actually make things worse, because you’ll end up having all sorts of thoughts such as ‘It is like this, it is not like that...’
There’s nothing you can do. Even if you offer ten thousand kilos of gold to your teacher, he won’t be able to give it to you. If the lamas were capable of this, they’d introduce the nature of mind to everyone. But it doesn’t work like that, it needs to come from you.
You may think that this is never going to happen, but it’s not true, it is possible. There are so many examples we can read about in the biographies of practitioners.
You might then ask, ‘So what should I do?’ There are many different sadhanas but amongst them all, the practice of the lama is considered to be the greatest. If you practise and accomplish the lama, you will also accomplish the yidam and dakini. When you receive an empowerment, the lama introduces you to the yidam and gives you the transmission of that deity. Without the lama, you cannot connect with the yidam. It is the same for the dakini and dharma protector. If you accomplish the lama, then you accomplish everything.
There are hundreds of different lama sadhanas, such as Guru Rinpoche practices with the lama as dharmakaya, the lama as sambhogakaya, and the lama as nirmanakaya. There are many other lama sadhanas which focus on other gurus as well.
Of all the lama sadhanas, however, the most important one is the Seven Line Prayer from Guru Chöwang. Actually, the practice comes from Guru Rinpoche – Guru Chöwang was Guru Rinpoche himself. The termas he revealed include the Seven Line Prayer, the innermost practice for accomplishing the guru.
In my own personal opinion, it’s the most important practice of all. This is the result of my many years of investigation and reflection. As the text says, it is intended for people in future times (i.e. people like you and me) who like the Dharma, but who don’t really know how to practise it, or are too lazy to apply what they do know. They are ‘fortunate’, as the text says, but still have obstacles.
What should people like us do then? We need to take refuge in the Lotus-born Guru. How do we take refuge in Guru Rinpoche? We cannot buy him out with dollars. We cannot have a conversation with him. We cannot invite him to a restaurant. So what should we do? The answer is in the text itself, which says: ‘Take yourself to an isolated place.’
An isolated place is somewhere that is not busy with people; as it is said, ‘without people during the day and gods and spirits at night’. You need to go to a place like that and stay there. Note that the text doesn’t say that you should stay there for one hour or for five minutes. You should stay there for as long as you can. It could be for just a second, or the rest of your life. Whatever the case, you need to stay in a quiet place.
You’ll be able to do that if you reflect on impermanence and feel a deep sense of melancholy. As I’ve just told you, you need to develop a weariness of impermanence and samsara, otherwise it’s never going to work out. You need to feel a disgust for samsara and seek whatever methods there are to be free of it. You should come to the point where you ask yourself, ‘What do I need to do?’ The answer is: You need to realize emptiness.
How can you realize emptiness? By taking refuge and praying to the lama. Therefore the text says, ‘Whether in happiness or in sorrow, have total trust and confidence in [Guru Rinpoche]’, and ‘rely on [him] completely, heart and soul’. There are many other sources of refuge, such as the three jewels or the three roots. Here you need to trust that they are all embodied within Guru Rinpoche. There’s no problem with that, for people like you [Harry] and me. That’s all we need. Realize that, ‘Every kind of refuge, all your hopes, are all fulfilled and complete within me, the Guru of Orgyen.’ In other words, Guru Rinpoche is enough. Likewise think that in all situations, whether in happiness or in sorrow, Guru Rinpoche knows exactly what is happening to you, and cares for you.
The text then says that you don’t need to bother with deity meditation, making offerings, offering praise, reciting mantras, and so on – you don’t need any of this. ‘Simply let devotion flood your body, speech and mind. And pray, pray with these seven lines’, which are the Seven Line Prayer.
Mipham Rinpoche wrote an extensive commentary to the Seven Line PrayerJamgön Mipham. White Lotus: An Explanation of the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Padmasambhava. Translated by Padmakara. Boston: Shambhala, 2007., which I have already explainedIn Lerab Ling, 27 July to 5 August 2014.. Guru Chöwang’s text instructs you to pray by reciting these seven lines. It only says to pray, it doesn’t say how much: ‘Pray in this way, over and over again. Create a feeling of yearning and longing so intense that tears spring from your eyes.’ Once you have a feeling of devotion that is so strong that all your thoughts suddenly cease, like a stone hitting the floor, ‘Then leave everything as it is. Clear and awake, focused and undistracted, look within.’
The text adds, ‘Children of mine who pray like this, it goes without saying that they will have my protection, for they will be the sons and daughters of the buddhas of past, present and future.’
That’s the best method. And you can do it anytime – when you wake up, when you go to the toilet, when you eat... any time. You can go to your garden or to a park, relax for a moment, and then pray to him. It could equally be by an ocean or on top of a mountain – no matter what you do, if you follow these instructions and pray to him, it is one hundred percent certain that one day you will realize emptiness, even if we can’t exactly say how.
If you look into the lives of the masters of the past, you’ll see that this can happen in all sorts of ways and in all kinds of situations. We don’t know how it will happen, but it is one hundred percent certain that it will happen. And when it happens, you will know. We can see when our mind has changed, no one else will know but you. Only you can see your own mind. We can’t put our minds inside a machine which then tells us what we think.
So, do this practice!
It’s very easy and very beneficial. You don’t need to make tormas, you don’t need anything else. You know how to recite the Seven Line Prayer, right? You need to study it well. Learning about it is not useful on its own, you need to put it into practice. Even if you receive one thousand Guru Rinpoche empowerments, you only need recite this one prayer which is the essence of them all. And if you practise Guru Rinpoche, all the yidams, dakinis, and Dharma protectors, are also included. Doesn’t the Seven Line Prayer say, ‘surrounded by many hosts of dakinis’?
Therefore, you should recite a minimum of one hundred Seven Line Prayers each day, which is very easy. It only takes about seven minutes.
Do you understand?
The essence of the Seven Line Prayer is the Vajra Guru Mantra. All the sadhanas of the three root deities are contained in the lama practice. Lama practice condenses the many thousands of sadhanas found in the Treasury of Precious Termas, which are sadhanas of the three roots. All the lama sadhanas are themselves condensed into the Seven Line Prayer.
So, do this Seven Line Prayer! At least one hundred and eight times every day.
And always keep an image of Guru Rinpoche with you, as a support for your prayers. If you don’t have one, it’s fine too. The lama is indivisible from your own mind. When people hear this, they usually feel scared and uncomfortable. But there’s nothing to be afraid of, because everything is the natural expression of emptiness. All appearances arise as the natural display of emptiness – it’s the same in this instance, if you recognize it. If you don’t recognize it, then you have thoughts such as, ‘How can an ordinary person like me be the same as Guru Rinpoche!’, which makes you very uncomfortable. That fear will prevent you from attaining enlightenment.
Given the way things function at our level, we should create positive interdependent circumstances by carrying an image of Guru Rinpoche with us. The teachings also instruct us to have a kapala and a vajra, but they are already included in the Guru Rinpoche image, since he always holds them.
So recite the Seven Line Prayer, and perform the tenth day offering.
There is a tsok practice associated with the Seven Line Prayer which was composed by Mipham Rinpoche. You can do the simple version or do the practice more elaboratelyYou can for example use Shakya Shri’s arrangement of the practice: Shakya Shri, “Shower of Blessings Addendum”, as you wish. There are different ways the practice can be done. When people say, ‘This is my tradition, that is theirs’, it shows they’ve never really heard about the genuine view.
In any case, you need to rely one hundred percent on Guru Rinpoche, to have complete trust in him.
Do you understand? This is easy, isn’t it?
This is really important.
I have spent 67 years thinking about this and this is the conclusion that I’ve come to. The teachings of the Buddha are extremely vast. When you become a fully ordained monk, you have 258 rules that you need to follow, which can be quite daunting. In one way, however, it’s perhaps not so difficult, because it has nothing to do with the mind, they’re just rules that govern your body and speech. Based on ordination, you can eventually attain the state of arhat-hood, although it’s not too sure when that will happen.
Then there’s the Mahayana vehicle of the bodhisattvas, in which you need to meditate on bodhichitta in aspiration and action. ‘Bodhichitta in aspiration’ is basically having a good heart and thinking, ‘The buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past have done great things, I will do the same.’ ‘Bodhichitta in action’ is to put this aspiration into action by applying yourself to the six paramitas. This approach, however, takes three countless aeons before you become enlightened. Beyond that, there’s the approach of Secret Mantra Vajrayana which brings enlightenment within sixteen lifetimes. Here, you need to meditate on kyerim and dzogrim. What’s the point of all these different practices? To realize emptiness.
We have been discussing the approach of Dzogchen, the teachings that speak of ‘liberation through seeing’, ‘liberation through hearing’, ‘liberation through touching’, and ‘liberation through remembering.’ The Dzogchen teachings themselves don’t talk about the next life. They say that those of superior capacity will be liberated in this life, those of middling capacity will be liberated in the bardo, and those of lesser capacity will go to a nirmanakaya pure land and be liberated there.
This sounds not too bad, but first you need to realize the nature of your mind, and no matter how hard you might try, that realization doesn’t come very easily. Therefore, you need to take refuge. For that, Guru Rinpoche is your best option. Think, ‘I need to have this realization, but can’t get there by myself. So, I’ll pray to Guru Rinpoche, confident that he knows and cares for me.’
We could of course simply rest in meditation, but then we’d need to know how to do that. If you know how to, that’s fine, but if you don’t, what are you meditating on? Practice manuals such as the Yeshe Lama say that you start with direct introduction to the natural state, which is likened to opening the eyes of a blind person. You need to have been introduced to and to have recognized the nature of your mind, before you meditate. Then you apply the four choshaks, the ‘four ways of leaving things as they are’, and continue with tögal practice. It’s quite difficult.
That’s why I’m suggesting that you may wish to consider praying to Guru Rinpoche. Because if you do that, it’s one hundred percent guaranteed that one day you will recognize the nature of your mind. In the unimaginable event that this doesn’t happen in this lifetime, there’s no doubt that at the very least you’ll be reborn on the Copper Coloured Mountain. Everyone who focuses on praying to Guru Rinpoche will be reborn on the Copper Coloured Mountain when they die. Someone who is reborn there doesn’t have ordinary thoughts, all their thoughts dissolve the moment they meet Guru Rinpoche. It is like when the sun shines the darkness disappears.
Therefore, it would be better for you to pray to Guru Rinpoche. That’s what I think. I’ve never said this to anyone before, but I’m telling you. Others can listen if they wish, since it can only benefit them and certainly won’t bring any harm.
I wish to clarify one point, though. I’m sure some people will say: ‘In his teaching Tulku Orgyen Tobgyal says that you only need the Seven Line Prayer. You don’t need ngöndro, you don’t need the main sadhana practices, you don’t need anything else. That’s what he says!’
What I’ve shared here is an individual practice instruction, key points that Harry needs to apply. You can do other practices as much as you like, there’s nothing wrong with that! You can do one thousand drupchens. Any practice is okay. What I’m talking about here is what you should focus your mind on. Otherwise, all the practices that you’ve done throughout your life won’t help when you come to die. You’ll be lost, thinking ‘I’ve done so many practices, but what’s the main point, what’s the heart of it all?’ It’s like when you go to Delhi airport, it’s so big, you don’t know where to go. Whatever we do these days, we always need to make a plan. So, this is the plan.
I’ve investigated all of this carefully and this is the conclusion that I’ve come to. It’s a personal matter, though; you need to come to your own decision. You don’t need to talk about it with others. Nowadays, when people know just one small piece of information they feel an overwhelming urge to talk to everyone about it.
Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Philip Philippou