Lopon Andre – first talk – morning 9/19
Begin with the right intention. The best intention we could have for anything we do on the land- meditating, studying, or hearing a talk is – being with the benefit for all sentient beings. May we all work with our own minds to be a cooling oasis for all sentient beings, to free all sentient beings from suffering, and ourselves as sentient beings from suffering. We call this raising bodhicitta: a sense of my intention is “I am expanding outward so I am working not for just my own benefit, but for the benefit of all.”
I also like to remember those who came before us, without whom we wouldn’t be studying Buddhism in an air-conditioned room. Going back to Shakyamuni Buddha 2500 years ago, all the way up to His Holiness Mindrolling Trinchen Rinpoche, who died in 2008, and of course His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and of course our dear Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche, who is director of our center. Just a sense of connection to lineage and a sense of connection to who we might be appreciative of.
Sit with a relatively straight spine – wakefulness, dignity. If you are on a cushion, sit in any cross-legged posture. Shoulders relaxed, hand on knees, or like this (meditation mudra). Chin tucked in slightly, eyes opened slightly. You may have learned to meditate with eyes closed, just try it like this. Metaphorically, we are not trying to close ourselves off from the world. Sit with a sense of being here, with eyes 6-8 feet in front, not staring at any particular thing, but awake.
Feeling your body, feeling the space around you, and in particular, feeling your breath. There is no instruction obviously to start breathing, you’ve been doing that. You don’t consciously ‘do’ a breath. Just let the breath happen, and notice it, not as an abstract idea, but as a concrete physical sensation you can feel, Feel the air coming in and out of your nostrils, feel the slight movement of your lungs, but don’t try to engineer it, just let it happen. Rest our minds on real physical sensation of breath. This weekend, pay special attention on the outbreath: let it go out and dissolve into space.
In Particular, notice your outbreath going out and dissolving. From time to time, you may notice thought arises in your mind, about anything. In our tradition, we don’t regard thought as a problem in itself. There is no attempt to suppress a thought, or follow or chase it to its logical conclusion. Be ordinary about this. When you notice mind delving into the past or future, notice a thought has arisen, and label it “thinking”, very casually with no blame, and come back to the breath. Come back to home base, so to speak. This is not a contest with self to see how few thoughts you can have. Just let it be, and notice mindfully: sometimes the mind is still, sometimes the mind is moving, just come back to the outbreath. Don’t make a big deal; just keep coming back to now.
(Lopon Andre reads from The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgon Kongtrol the Great.)
With undivided faith, I placed upon my head
the lotus feet of the Perfect Sage,
Who first set in motion the wheel of love
And triumphed completely in the two aims.
To the renowned sons of the Victorious One I bow,
To Manjushuri, avalokiteshvara, and the others
Who set out in the ship of courageous compassion
And now liberate beings from the ocean of suffering.
The spiritual friend unsurpassable
Reveals the noble path of compassion and emptiness.
He is the guide of all victorious ones.
I prostrate myself at my guru’s feet.
I shall explain here the one path
On which the Victorious One and his children have traveled.
Easy to understand, it is not corrupted.
Easy to practice, it is entered with enthusiasm.
Yet it is profound, so Buddhahood is attained.
So, we take a somewhat traditional approach here [at Lotus Garden] to studying a text or a topic. So I am going to give you the formal titles to several versions of this text, starting with the root text, the 1st compilation of what had been oral teachings. Most teachings were oral teachings, perhaps for centuries, before being codified.
One of two principal names to recall is Atisha. Start with the lineage. Buddha Shakyamuni lived about 500 B.C. Eventually, Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, and Southeast Asia. Atisha born in 982 AD. Anybody born here in 1982? He would be your 1000 year buddy. (Laughter) You may or may not recall other names.
Atisha travelled to Indonesia from east Bengal where he was born. Can you imagine a sea voyage to Indonesia in 1000 A.D.? It was not easy, but he wanted to get teachings from a master there, Serlingpa. The Tibetan version of his name is Dharmakirti. Atisha learned the mind training we will talk about from Dharmakirti, and went back to India. In 1042 A.D., he accepted an invitation to teach in Tibet.
An interesting story accrues. These teachings have to do with exchanging our own needs for other’s needs, refraining from acting in a bad way to others, and training to always think of others needs first and accept ill will. So he had a servant, the Bengali tea boy, who was a really annoying guy. He would insult Atisha, and wouldn’t serve him tea on time. He gave him a chance to practice patience. Atisha heard Tibetans were really nice, so he couldn’t practice patience. Of course, when he got to Tibet, Atisha found out there were assholes there like everywhere else. (Laughter)
We aren’t supposed to regard annoying people as to be avoided, but as an opportunity to train the mind.
Dromtompa was his closest disciple and spiritual heir. He founded the Kadmapa school of Buddhism. From that school, came the Gelugpa school, which is the Dalai Lamas’ school. Chekawa was his student. It is said he was walking thorugh a room one day and saw an open book, and glanced at it, and it said “give all victory to others, and take dust for yourself.” In other words, give all good things to others, and take inconvenience for yourself.
These teachings are incredibly illogical from ego point of view. They seem incredibly self-defeating, in many ways. He studied these teachings, and compiled this text with the 59 slogans. These were practiced for hundreds of years.
In 19th century, from 1813-1899, lived Jamgon Kongtrol. Tibetan history is not pretty. Like any other religion and country, there were rivalries, people’s burning monasteries, and sectarianism. It grieved Jamgon Kongtrol that there was so much sectarianism. So, he and 2-3 other teachers founded the Rime movement – non-sectarian. They decided “Let’s gather all the teachings, make sure they are persevered, practiced, and apply to everyday life.” Jamgon Kongtrol wrote a commentary on the text called The Great Path of Awakening.
Lineage is very important to Buddhism. The Christians say “we are people of the book” (the Bible). The written texts in our tradition aren’t as important as the human to human lineage of teacher to student, the personal relationships, seeing how the teacher lives out the teachings. The behavior of the lama is as important as the teachings. The so-called “secrets of the Tibetan linage” – some are esoteric, but more than that, considered taught from teachers.
“Anytime you act according to the teachings, you are participating in the lineage.” – Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche
I may say this several times, because our dear Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche says it many times. What counts is not how many books you read, or if you can say interesting things. What counts is that you put the teachings into practice and utterly transform your life to become a source of liberation for all sentient beings.
I hope this doesn’t sound like too big of a leap for new people. (Laughter)
All Buddhist teachings can be translated to “don’t be a dick.”
Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche has said many times that “it’s such a shame we need religions to make people decent human beings. “ If you need it, fine. You may consider these teachings a guide book to become more compassionate. It is much more than writing a check to causes, it is how to be a way to put other people’s need before you, that whatever you do is not ego bound, but ego less.
Lopon Helen will talk on that later.
Many great teachers have done commentaries. Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche did in 1999 in Baltimore, in Santa Fe a few years ago. It’s like baking bread to explain in a fresh way to a new generation of practitioners.
I’m inviting everyone to follow in footsteps of these teachers to use these teachings. So come along with me, Lopon Helen, and the rest of the practitioners. Try them out.
Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche once said, “So what if no one else has ever been enlightened. You! Be the first! “(Laughter) What better to do in your life?
I realize Enlightenment may have fantastical connotations. Don’t worry about that, worry about being on the path.
Two more things.
You might think, “I’m only a beginner, and Andre and Helen are advanced (in age at least). “ (Laughter)
Everyone is starting; anybody can do these practices, even if you think you are dumb. Everyone starts from ground zero at this moment. Don’t think you are behind if you are new.
And the most important thing: We were all born to do this, to live a life of compassion and selflessness, in every meaning of that word.
You may need to take it on faith on Friday morning, but you can learn about this experientially. We say everyone has their birthright as Buddha nature, the seed of Enlightenment. This is sometimes called primordial purity, basic goodness, our fundamental nature, sugatgarba, taghtagarbha, the potential of beings, Buddha is in us. We can discover this in us. This weekend won’t be mostly about that, but feel free to talk to Helen and I this weekend, or later. This is not going against the grain. This may be going against the habitual patterns of 30, 40, 50, 60 years, but it not against our selves. Without this [Buddha nature], this is bullshit. It would be trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Buddhist practice is an uncovering, to get to the jewel in the heap of dust. This isn’t doing anything alien. It’s more undoing than doing. From our point of view, it is your very nature to follow these teachings and successfully act in a better way.
So, the first slogan, the first pith instruction.
1. First, train in the preliminaries
This will be important part of weekend. The preliminaries are the 4 thoughts that turn our mind to the dharma. You will also hear it called the 4 Reminders. We will do substantial contemplation on these now.
- Precious human existence
- Truth of human suffering
I’ll give a bit of a guided contemplation. If you really want, take notes. Then, a bit of silence. Listen, and then contemplate.
First Preliminary: The 4 thoughts that turn mind to dharma.
Precious human existence
Think about the chances, the odds of you being in this room at this time, having heard that such a thing as study/practice of Buddha-Dharma exists, that teachers like Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche coming from Tibet, and other teachers from Southeast Asia in last 60 years. The tremendous odds of being born in the US when Buddhism was flourishing, that you were born not as an insect, but as a human being, think of the odds that you would have been born in a family that encouraged education, that you learned to read and write, that you were born with all senses intact. Can hear the dharma, that you can see to read. Taste, smell, touch. Born in a relatively healthy body. Born in such as place- could have a great discussion at dinner.
I had this discussion with Helen 15 years ago, when she was staying at my house, driving to the 7-11. (Laughter)
Think of the chances that you sat next to Joe blow, and he told you about this experience, all the odds so you would now such as place as Lotus Garden exists. We talk about not only being born in human realm, but a precious human birth. The only book Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche has published, This Precious Life, goes through extensively with many chapters on precious human birth, as well as impermanence, karma, suffering. There is said to be 6 realms:
- hungry ghost,
- god realm,
- jealous god realm, and the
- hell realm.
Several hot and cold hell realms. If you thought Buddhism was just being sitting and peaceful, there is this whole cosmology. We could explain it. You could have been born in any of these realms, could have been born in Botswana.
It doesn’t matter whether you believe in rebirth or not. If you think it all stops at death, it is a good reason to practice. If there is rebirth, may be reborn in shitty circumstances. Either way, reason to practice.
The conclusion, therefore, is practice while you can, transform body, speech, and mind while you can, live the dharma while you can. We have it great. If you suffer a lot, that’s better. Those who don’t suffer much won’t gravitate to dharma. Those who are born with a lot of suffering, for example, if you are born with a brain tumor that won’t allow rational thought.
We are in sweet spot. The preciousness of this life and the urgency of practice.
There is a traditional image to illustrate how rare a precious human birth is. Shakyamuni Buddha said the chances are the same as this: image in a vast ocean, say the pacific, with currents here and there and there is a round life preserver floating on ocean, one year southwest next middle, and unpredictable. There is a turtle living on the bottom of the ocean, once every 100 years, he pokes his head above the water. The chances that the turtle will ever poke his head into the life preserver, that is the same chance as being born in a precious human birth to practice the dharma, it is that rare.
It’s easy to say, “Everyone knows about that. Don’t need to be a Buddhist; what needs to be said?” May not be a lot of new things to say, but aren’t we are surprised when things change? When one of our parents suddenly dies, its’ a shock. When you’re really really down, depressed, things not going your way, in your mind, you are suffering – doesn’t it feel like it’s always been that way? You forget impermanence. If we were acutely aware of that truth. It is said there was once a king, and he wanted a gift from his subjects that would make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy. Sent out a proclamation that would do this, I will give half my kingdom to them. Various people gave him stupid things.
Finally, someone hands him a piece of paper. What he wrote, “This too, shall pass.”
When you are in a good mood, when someone says something awful to you, you are kind of surprised. “I’m in a good mood, why didn’t it last?” every thought you have had is impermanent. No thought, feeling, emotion, option, physical sensation, generation lasts forever.
It’s been particular poignant for the baby boomers of seeing the people close to us die, and the icons of our youth die. The weather changes. Circumstances change, external change, our body changes- can take it as an insult – the minor humiliations of age. Some have experienced life-threatening illness, accidents. Our bodies never remain the same, no matter how many vitamins, etic.
We are aging. It’s not good nor bad, it just is.
I had a patient who died of a tumor. At his funeral, his brother told this story:
‘Peter was sitting at a family gathering watching the sun go down over the ocean. His brother came up and asked him what he was thinking of. “I am mentally freezing the sun at that moment where it is half up, half down.” 1 month later, brain tumor. 6 month slater, dead. His brother asked, “Don’t you wish you could have frozen time then?” No, if I hadn’t, my sister wouldn’t have gotten married; my son wouldn’t have graduated high school. It would be a horror show. Sometimes we wish good times, our friend snot get sick and die. Impermanence can be thought of not good, not bad. Bur it is the nature of things.
Could spend a whole weekend walking around being aware of impermanence. The changing colors of mountains, grass growing, your mind – if your mind wasn’t impermanent, couldn’t practice Buddhism.
The true reality of impermanence. And of course the conclusion you won’t be able to practice dharma in this body forever. With every new breath, can be a direct experience of impermanence: out breath, in, out never the same. Can feel subtle impermanence in body in subtle ways.
3. Truth of suffering
This is the biggest word in Buddhism – the first noble truth. Of course, Buddha didn’t use word. He didn’t even speak English! (Laughter) He used ‘DUKKHA,’ sometimes translated as ‘all life is suffering.’ We say ‘I had a nice day.’
A better translation is ‘dissatisfaction.’ Every experience is tinged with a bit of offness, or even impermanence. Things can’t be made just right. Sometimes restlessness’, ‘unease.’
One of the most insightful I’ve heard from – Karen Armstrong- wrote 2 books about convent, ‘a history of god,’ a biography of Jerusalem, in her book about history of Buddhism, in the introduction, talked about truth of suffering, “as the Buddhists would say, existence is awry.” It’s always a little off, like a burr in your underwear. Always something a little off.
I can talk about subtle suffering. For example, if you are eating an ice cream cone and it melts or is eaten.
And gross suffering – we know- your lover leaves, lose job, best friend dies. They don’t happen often.
When we are asked to contemplate suffering, contemplate low-level underlying suffering. The incompleteness, unsatisfactoryness, ‘Not-quite-rightness.’ Always slightly adjusting – our sitting, our philosophy of life. Something to notice as you go about your everyday life. The slight bit of awryness that tinges our experience. Not to boo-hoo over it, but it is the ground of existence. It just is.
Beginning not from something otherworldly, starting with what is every day is a good ground to start a religion.
Contemplate the vast varieties of human suffering and our own suffering, all the failed attempts to come up with something to change it.
Today is June 19th. Juneteenth. 4 months after civil war was over, word got to last outpost of slaves in Vicksburg, Miss. That they were free. Somehow, a group of people way out west found out, way after everyone else in 1865. Maybe they thought ‘it will be rosy now’. ‘Hey, we won’t suffer anymore since we are free.’ But the suffering between 1865 and 1965- can’t anticipate how suffering will switch in our lives.
Pretty much merely cause and effect. Literally means ‘action. ‘The effects that come from causes doesn’t come from central judging machine in the sky or some deity ‘ok, he was mean to his wife, so next life, I will make him a cockroach.’ It is entirely neutral, cause and effect. Could call it natural law. But to contemplate it- one reason-appreciation practice. Like we were talking with precious human birth. The tremendous amount of coincidences.
You know the New Age saying “everything happens for a reason.” The Buddhist version is the exact opposite. “Everything happens for tens of thousands of reasons.” Lots of things you can’t classify as good, bad, or with you personally.
They come together and karma has brought us here. And then I am giving talk or elbowing in food line. there will be immediate effects. Then later, maybe something will come up later. Does this image of a cone make sense? Effects cant’ be predicted. What is important with regard to creation of karma is your intention. Any thought, action – the karmic result on you will be due to the intention. If you intend to kill someone and shoot and miss, there is still an effect on your mind. Everything you do has karmic result. We are told to be careful in our speech, careful about gossip, what we do with body, because it will have many many ripple effects, many of which we can’t’ anticipate. So, work to have kind intention even though we can’t’ control the results.
I often think about the horror that was the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 100,000s killed, 1000,000 had radiation poisoning, birth defects. Seems like a horrible karmic effect. And yet, there were 100,000s of U.S. troops were ready to invade. Pres. Truman had estimate there would be 1,000,000 causalities if full invasion occurred. The bomb saved many lives in the aggregate. Andre’s father got home, and 9 months later he was born. Maybe there are positive things that have happened from that, that wouldn’t have if he’d gone to invade. Could spend whole weekend contemplating all the karma causes and conditions that lead to you being here now- baby formula, your parents meeting, grandparents meeting, your teacher who taught you to read. And also contemplate your future from karmic action.
…and of course the punchline is always ‘do it now.’ Change your actions in accord with dharma.
Q and A
Q. First one- precious human birth- this is most difficult for me. When I was listening to you frame it, I don’t know if comparing my situation with someone with a brain tumor or in Botswana. What arises is instead a strange sense of superiority, which is not intended. Also, I don’t know how my preciousness compared to others.
A. I think we can agree a tree can’t practice meditation. The examples I gave were off top of head. It’s simply that you are here now with an interest in Buddhism. Even if 99% of other beings could have it, they didn’t, you did. You happened to show an interest in our era when dharma is here. Just see it is good fortune, and I must use it.
Openness to dharma, and ability to hear. Don’t need to necessarily compare self to other, particularly if belief system is such that no one in your imagination could be excluded from happy circumstances. I was once on pilgrimage in India, and in Varanasi. We mingled in a town near deer park, where it is very poor, lots of beggars. I ran into Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche and tried to impress her with my compassion.
Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche responded, “What makes you think you are any happier than they are?” (Laughter)
Q. Is Buddhism a religion, a philosophy, or what?
A. I don’t think there is a good answer. From my point of view, it’s a method.
Q. One issue I am trying to make sense of is intention for service to all. I struggle with – is there a point where it becomes trouble, is there a proper response for abuse of your time?
A. others taking advantage of you. We haven’t yet had a chance to talk about what compassion in action might look like. Trungpa Rinpoche talked about idiot compassion. Know your question will be dealt with in practical ways. But if I may be so bold, your own suffering is caused by attachment to being a separate, singular self, attached to ego-clinging. As far as development of Buddhism and giving up everything you think will preserve self is ultimately part of the path. May only be in intention. Not so much the action, it’s the state of mind – Helen will talk about this this afternoon in the absolute slogans.
From a point of view of personally getting the teachings, it’s not so bad to go a little too far. Don’t be afraid of being a fool or sucker. For ex., what do we do when someone asks for money on street? Homeless shelters say don’t give to them. But when Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche taught in 1996 in Baltimore on Mount Royal Avenue, someone asked, and she said “if someone asks you, hand them a quarter. You don’t’ know the karmic results. Do it for your own practice.” Does that help?
Q. what if a slave, saying ‘I need to live for my own interest?”
A. there is nothing wrong with a woman leaving a bad marriage and prosecuting the husband for beating. You would NEVER tell someone don’t protect your life. Story of a samurai whose master was killed. Samurai code was you needed kill his master. He found him, the killer spit in his face. He put his sword away. Why? He couldn’t kill him out of anger, only from his code.
Q. are there concepts that are not impermanent, such as love? Can some experiences survive bodily death?
A. I don’t know. Andre Papontomio hasn’t been dead. You are talking platonic qualities?
Q. Is there anything not impermanent?
A. we had a friend who died 5 years ago, who put Neruda poems to music. “Love never dies, just changes country.’
Second Preliminary: Guru Yoga
Now you are getting into serious Buddhism here. (Laughter) everything has a point of teaching something. Do it, experience it, and break.
The second preliminary is a mini guru yoga practice. Bring up questions later. No belief system with regard to it, just picturing something. It’s ok if bits of visualization remain with you after, is fine. Of you forget, also ok.
[Note: I missed the instructions while I was doing the practice, so I am inserting the instructions from Jamgon Kongtrol. –LWWD/JTR]
Preliminary to a period of meditation
First, at the beginning of every period of meditation, imagine your root guru sitting on a lotus-and-moon seat above your head. His body is radiant and his face happy and smiling as he regards all beings with nonreferential compassion. In him, all the root and lineage gurus are present.
With intense respect and devotion, repeat the lineage prayer if you wish and, in particular, the following prayer a hundred or a thousand times.
I pray for your blessing, my guru, great and completely worthy spiritual friend. I pray that you will cause love, compassion, and bodhichitta to arise in my mind.
Then, imagine that your guru descends through the aperture of Brahma [the crown of the head] and sits in your heart in a pavilion of light, like an open shell.
This exercise in intense respect and devotion is known as guru yoga. It is important to begin every period of meditation this way.
(To Be Continued)