Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche in Lerab Ling

I recently extended my stay in Lerab Ling, the upside of which was that I was able to be here for the visit of Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche. I remember when I first heard Sogyal Rinpoche teach, at the Myall Lakes retreat in Australia many years ago. I had seen some of his teachings before at a Rigpa centre and read a bit of the book (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying), but I didn't really know what to expect from a live teaching. I was of course completely blown away by his presence and his message. That's how I ended up, much to my surprise, on the other side of the world living in a tent with a view of a Tibetan Buddhist temple.

Since then I have had the immense blessing of receiving teachings from many great masters who had been invited here to Lerab Ling, and each has been an inspiration and illuminated the teachings of the Buddha in a different way. Having said that, not since my first meeting with Sogyal Rinpoche have I been so astounded and invigorated by a teacher as I was after the public talk by Khandro Rinpoche. I had never heard of Khandro Rinpoche before (I'm not very good at knowing names of masters and lineages, I look to my shedra friends for help with that!), and so once again had not known what to expect and was thoroughly wonder-struck. Luckily for me Rigpa Youth would also have the opportunity to interview her.

Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche

The eldest daughter of Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen and the incarnation of the great Khandro Ugyen Tsomo, she grew up receiving teachings and transmissions from some of the most revered Tibetan masters of our age including Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen, Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche and Kyabje Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche. She has been teaching in the West for over seventeen years, has established and heads the Samten Tse Retreat Center in India, and the Lotus Garden Retreat Centre in America. She also heads a variety of charity projects and released a book in 2003 entitled “This Precious Life: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on the Path to Enlightenment”.

My personal impression was that she was clearly a formidable master with a sharp mind, impressively articulate in English, uncompromising in her approach, and with an excellent sense of humour. She was not interested in pretences or outward displays, but in piece by piece dismantling us and uncovering the heart of our being. It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.

Both the public talk and our interview were incredibly vast in content, yet inspiringly simple. What I found to be her main message was that the Dharma is at its essence about working with yourself. Not intellectually as we Westerners are prone to do, but courageously and honestly, through self examination and wholeheartedly putting the teachings into practice internally. It sounds obvious when you put it in a sentence like that, but as she described various pitfalls along the path I was surprised at what a little self examination uncovered.

Loyalist Buddhists vs Practising Buddhists

I'm somewhat sheepsih to admit that recently I have been, to use Khandro Rinpoches terms, more of a loyalist Buddhist than a practising Buddhist. That is I have been approaching the Dharma from a fairly intellectual standpoint, unable to deny the truth that resonated with me but unwilling to make any serious changes internally. It turns out this is a common occurrence. As Rinpoche pointed out, we are at an important juncture for Buddhism in the West where it is no longer something new but has been around for generations, and it is no longer sufficient to associate with Buddhism theoretically but, in the words of Khandro Rinpoche “it becomes very important now to actually engage with and experience the teachings as a practitioner”.

As the next generation of Western Buddhists, we have a certain obligation to help maintain the authenticity of Buddhism. But authenticity is not about being or appearing Buddhist, spinning your prayer wheel, doing prostrations, hanging thangkas on your wall or being able to recite scriptures by heart. As Khandro Rinpoche asked us, who would you rather sit next to on a long flight, a very knowledgeable obnoxious Buddhist or a very nice person? It may be rhetorical, but the real question is are we unknowingly on our way to becoming that knowledgeable but obnoxious Buddhist? Are we keeping the Dharma on an appearance level, or are we genuinely and authentically practising it? Not just thinking about it, but practising it. Rinpoche strongly stressed the importance of not becoming 'religious' about the Dharma, not taking it as something that you can just believe in but not integrate.

In our interview with her she made the point that the intelligent mind of the modern young Westerner is not content with following dogmas, we want the freedom to explore, the freedom to find our own way. The structure and the system are there to provide clues on how to progress along the path, but we want it to be our own “individual journey which is not dominated by people who say how things should be done, nor rules that should be followed if your heart doesn’t connect to it”. We don't want Buddhism the religion, something to just believe. We want to examine for ourselves, experience for ourselves. The problem however lies in our tendency to do that which we are trying to avoid, to intellectualise our understanding and approach to the Dhrama, preventing genuine change within ourselves.

Khandro Rinpoche urged us to “break free from such a pretentious connection to the Buddha Dharma” and reminded us that the path we are walking on is the path of really working with oneself. She inspired me to re evaluate how I was using the precious teachings that I had received from Sogyal Rinpoche over the years, and to be more honest, courageous and compassionate with myself along the path. In such a short space I am obviously not able to go into great detail about what she taught, such as the importance of a foundation built on contemplation of the four thoughts and the seven points of mind training.
We are already working on a video edit of our Rigpa Youth interview, but in the mean time you can listen to the audio here:
Khandro Rinpoche with Rigpa Youth (mp3)

Those that missed the live streaming can watch the complete public talk:

Compassion Versus Competition: An Essential Teaching on the Buddhist Practice of Lojong
Khandro Rinpoche - Lerab Ling, 1 October 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

An interview without answers

Group photoLast night we had an interview with Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel at the Shambhala center in Amsterdam. Although not that many people attended, it was heartwarming that young students of different masters all came together: Shambhala, Rigpa, WakeUp and Dzogchen Community were represented.

With Rigpa Youth I've interviewed several lama's over the past two years and those have all been very cool and contained helpful advice for young practitioners. I thought this interview with Elizabeth would be just the same..
I had our list of questions and was curious for the fresh advice Elizabeth was going to offer us. But she did something even better: rather than just answering our questions, she engaged us in inquiry into our own questions. With shock I realised I hadn't really thought about these questions deeply myself, I was just waiting for teachers to answer them for me!

Elizabeth was saying that answers are static things but questions are always open and relating to things dynamically. When you think you have the answer, your mind shuts down and you're not receptive anymore. Asking an open question, enquiring in this way, is not searching for a static, fixed answer but keeping your mind open and engaged with whatever information comes from your life.

ElizabethOne of the things that struck me is that she encouraged us, when we sit on our cushion, really to ask ourselves: "what am I doing? and why?" From what I understood, this doesn't mean the usual "why do i have to sit everday? it's challenging, boring, etc.." or to try to come up with the traditional explanation from the Buddhist teachings.

Rather, it's trying to find a way to explain to yourself, in your own language, what the Dharma is about. Making it really personal, rather than struggling to impose on yourself something external, with a lot of "shoulds and should nots".

What I took home with me
Shoulds and high ideals are some of my main obstacles. Lately, i'm stuggling with doing a daily practice. I intuit that this kind of enquiry is just the thing I need, because part of my resistance comes from feeling that Dharma practice is imposed on me, like a pressure or burden. I feel like I need to improve myself because i'm not good enough and also that I have a responsibility towards humanity and my teachers to practice and live up to the extraordinary teachings I've received. This sounds quite big and I think that's exactly the reason I feel intimidated by my cushion.

I'm hoping that through engaging in this kind of enquiry, i can make my understanding of the Dharma and my motivation for practice more personal and let go of some of these external pressures i'm putting on myself.

All in all, Elizabeth didn't give me any clear-cut answers, but she showed me how to engage with my questions myself, to relate the traditional teachings to my own life and make the Dharma more personally meaningful and enrich my spiritual path.

Thank you so much! :-)

We're working on a video edit but you can listen to the interview here (70 minutes, mp3)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rigpa Youth has a new member... Mingyur Rinpoche!

After several days of receiving some of the most lively and inspiring teachings from Mingyur Rinpoche during the Lerab Ling Dzogchen Retreat, the expectation was high for our interview with one of the most accomplished and engaging young lamas to teach in West. He of course did not disappoint, gleefully declaring after hearing about our project that he also qualified to be part of the youth group. A member we would be honoured to have! In fact it was an honour just to have the opportunity to interview him, particularly as he is about to begin another three year retreat and so will not be teaching directly for years.

Mingyur Rinpoche began his first three year retreat at the age of thirteen, and at seventeen became one of the youngest lamas to ever hold the position of retreat master at Palpung Sherab Ling Monastery in Northern India. As well as becoming a highly accomplished practitioner, teacher, and author, he has worked enthusiastically with the scientific community researching the effects of mediation on the brain and is an adviser to the Mind and Life Institute.

To be in such a small and intimate setting with such a master could very well have been intimidating, but Mingyur Rinpoche had us all at ease instantaneously with his warmth, openness and playful sense of humour. It was hard to believe this was the same person who had suffered from panic attacks as a child. To know that he had overcome them using the teachings and practices he was sharing with us gave his answers even greater authority. Like a caring friend who had been through it all before, here was a being speaking from experience and offering his compassionate advice. Here was an example of what was possible if we truly applied what we were being taught.

One of the particularly inspiring things about the interview, and indeed Mingyur Rinpoche's teachings in general, is the straightforward and clear way he describes various methods and concepts. When asked about dealing with negative thoughts and emotions without suppressing them he outlined four different methods, awareness, compassion, emptiness and nature of mind. For each his description was so clear and pithy that they suddenly seemed so simple and the result so attainable.

Mingyur Rinpoche not only embodies the energy and playfulness of youth, but also the wisdom of the Buddha, and it was an invigorating, inspiring experience to interview him. Luckily for all those who were not able to be there in person he has given us permission to share the interview online, the mp3 is here and we're in the process of editing the video. But the public talk Mingyur Rinpoche gave in the temple, which was also extremely good, is already available below.

I would also like to note that Mingyur Rinpoche strongly encouraged us to support each other and share our experiences and ideas. If anyone feels inspired to contribute to this blog or wants to get more involved in our projects in any way, please get in touch via the contact us section to the right.

The Joy of Living - Calming the Mind

Mingyur Rinpoche - 11 September 2010, Lerab Ling