This April in London Ringu Tulku Rinpoche continued his commentary on the text by Karma Chakme on the Union of Dzogchen and Mahamudra. Once again an eclectic audience arrived to see Rinpoche, reflecting his all-encompassing appeal.
Before Rinpoche arrived I overheard a conversation about having a number of different teachers. A member of the audience quipped that she felt incestuous coming to see Rinpoche, as he was not her main teacher. Another that she felt she had to ask her teacher’s permission to come along. When I heard this, I was reminded of these lines:
Rely upon the teaching, not the teacher.
Rely upon the meaning, not the text.
Rely upon the definitive meaning, not the provisional meaning.
Rely upon prajna (wisdom), not consciousness.
Indeed, last year Rinpoche taught that what’s important is how we use Dharma teachings to help transform our mind and bring more compassion and wisdom into our lives, not from whom or where the teachings necessarily come.
This brings to mind something I read recently by HH 17th Karmapa:
“But not all masters need to be living beings. Sometimes it is said that everything that appears can be a Dharma. Everything can be a teacher. Everything can be a Lama. In the teachings on mind training it is said that a negative event can be your teacher also.
If you look at the four seasons, for instance, if you just look in a general way, you feel now it is winter we need more clothes, now it is summer it is hotter. You know the winter is the disappearance of the warmth and the vegetation loses its leaves, but if you look deeply, you know that everything is continually changing. When you look deeply you understand impermanence taught by the seasons. That itself is an instruction.
If you really look you can see all kinds of vibrant, living teachings in life itself. It is not necessary to hear instructions only in words because instruction can be found in what’s around you, what you see.”
Rinpoche began by commenting on impermanence at some length, despite joking earlier that he wouldn’t say much on the subject, because he thought that everyone was probably sick of hearing about it by now! Nevertheless, I found reflecting on impermanence with Rinpoche grounding, expansive and humbling. The consideration of our shared fragile mortality and the preciousness of the human lives we experience together helped me focus on what is truly important and foster a wider perspective within which to view myself, others and life in general.
Rinpoche also spoke on karma and the different types of motivation for practice. He mentioned that most people are looking for a better samsaric experience and not necessarily Arhatship or Enlightenment, and that that is alright. As he said this, it made me deeply reflect and ask myself the question, ‘What is my motivation actually?’ For me it is very easy to think glibly, ‘Oh yes, of course my ultimate goal is Enlightenment for the benefit of all Sentient Beings!’ But, are my actions of body, speech and mind really and truly at the deepest level motivated by the aspiration of compassion? My superficial answer to this question has been called into question and through Rinpoche’s ‘innocent’ remark, I am now doing some serious soul searching.
A couple of the questions put to Rinpoche stuck in my mind. There was one about beginning practitioners and waning enthusiasm for meditation practice. The questioner described how he oscillates between periods of inspiration and regular meditation practice and periods when the inspiration and practice just die down. Rinpoche joked that perhaps meditation shouldn’t be called meditation at all but instead a holiday explaining that if we view meditation as just something else we have to do or fit into our lives then soon enough we will become tired of doing it. However if we see meditation for what it really is, a genuine break from our lives and a kind of holiday for our mind, a time where we can relax and just be without the need to do, judge, get or repel, then we will view it as something good to do and through experience begin to see its benefits, so naturally then we will want to practice more.
Another questioner asked Rinpoche what benefit Dharma practice brings in old age. Rinpoche explained how, for some people with no religious or spiritual beliefs, old age can become frustrating, especially after retirement. Suddenly the work that took up a lot of time and energy in a person’s life has stopped and they find themselves at a loose end, with a lack of meaning in their lives. However Dharma practitioners may have a wider perspective about life and its meaning which goes beyond whether they are employed or not. Rinpoche said that many Dharma practitioners become very busy on retirement as they see the free time they now have as a precious opportunity to dedicate to meaningful Dharma activities.
Other questions gave Rinpoche the opportunity to remind us just how fortunate we are in many respects here in the West. Despite recession and rising costs very few of us go hungry, are unable to clothe ourselves or find adequate housing. When we are sick we are provided with care, medicines and high-tech operations. By explaining the situation and reality of many people in less developed countries, Rinpoche asked us to examine our perspective and widen it, if we can. He asked us to focus on what is already right and good in our lives, instead of giving into the negative habitual tendency of always focusing on what could be better.
By the end of the two days Rinpoche had finished the preliminary introduction to the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. For me it was no surprise that, after two years and two visits, Rinpoche had not yet got onto teaching the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen sections. Reflecting on the preciousness of human life and impermanence and the nature of samsara and karma are very important to me, and (as Rinpoche explains in his book, Ngondro) the truth that is realised through these preliminary reflections and foundational practices become all the more prominent, meaningful and immediate as our practice deepens and realisations begin to dawn. The golden temple roof reflecting the Sun’s rays is interdependently linked to its foundations.
Cesare Saguato, June 2010