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Compassion & The Nine Yanas

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Oneself as the Basis

There is a book by Kyabjé Kalu Rinpoche with the most appropriate title I have ever seen. It is called ‘The Dharma ’. Now, ‘Dharma ’ is a word I rarely use. I rarely use this word because I have too much respect for it to make an adjunct of it. I usually use the word Buddhism when I talk about the religion to which I belong. But Dharma is not actually a thing – it means ‘as-it-is’. Dharma means ‘reality ’ – so I use the word with caution. ‘Dharma ’ could actually be the title of every Buddhist talk, and the title of every Buddhist book. In a sense we have no need to sell Dharma with descriptive titles, and the reason we do so is in order to express and communicate the particular manifestation of Dharma we represent as Dharma teachers.

I belong to the Nyingma School. It is the oldest school of Buddhism in Tibet . It is not really a ‘school’ in the sense in which Sakya , Kagyüd, and Gélug are schools – it is a school by virtue of the fact that these other schools arose at a later date. Nyingma is simply the Buddhism which arrived in Tibet with Padmasambhava , and which was continued by Yeshé Tsogyel and the disciples of Padmasambhava . There are 25 disciples who are well known, Yeshé Tsogyel and twenty four male siddhas – but there are also 21 female siddhas . The female siddhas are less well know, but their accomplishments rival those of the male siddhas and in several cases surpass them in their outrageous quality. Nyingma , or Nga’gyür Nyingma , means ‘Old Translation School’. It is called ‘Old Translation School’ because there arose the three ‘New Translation Schools’. The idea of ‘school’ is more like family style. There is no great difference between the schools; but they all have their own style of presenting and organising Dharma . What is important is how one can actually apply Dharma within one’s life .


Within the Nyingma School, there are two strands of practice. One is monastic and the other non-celibate. The non-celibate sangha is call the gö-kar-chang-lo’i-dé. Khandro Déchen and I are members of the gö-kar-chang-lo’i-dé. There are many ways of describing these sanghas. Often they are spoken of as the two divisions of the sangha of ordained practitioners (dGe bDun gyi sDe nyis). In this way of explaining there are ‘the renunciates with shaved heads’ or ‘the division of Vinaya ’ (‘dul ba’i sDe), and ‘those with uncut hair and white skirts’ (gos dKar lCang lo’i sDe) or ‘the division of Mantra ’ (sNgags kyi sDe). Both are distinguished from the sangha of ordinary individuals the soso’i kyé-wo gendün (so so’i sKye bo’i dGe ‘dun).

There are few things in life that irritate me; but the word ‘lay’ is one. I would like to define what is meant by ‘lay’. When I became aware of this word’s usage with regard to the white sangha , I looked it up in American and English dictionaries; then I asked French and German people what this word meant in their dictionaries. It was interesting that it was all the same definition: The word ‘lay’ meant not of the clergy, non-professional, an amateur. To have someone like Düd’jom Rinpoche or Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche described as a ‘lay’ master is bizarre. In the Nyingma School, and also in the Kagyüd and Sakya Schools, you had people who were both monastic – that is, they were celibate ordained people, you had white sangha members who were ordained but non-celibate, and then you had people who were non-ordained but who were high level practitioners, whom you could not categorise as non-professional or amateur in any way.

There are many different ways of practising. I am ordained into the white, or ngak’phang sangha . In Tibetan , ngak means mantra . Phang means hurling or throwing. In Sanskrit it is mantrin / mantrini. This is a non-celibate ordination. Another word for this lineage of ordination is gö-kar-chang-lo’i-dé. Gö-kar is white skirt; chang-lo is long-hair . This is a different ordination in outer appearance to the monastic ordination, because we do not have shaven heads. We wear the same shape of robes , but it is in different colours.


From the point of view of Sutra the hair is shaven off. In Hindu culture hair is a mark of defilement; it is something put out by the body. As a symbol of cutting off defilement, the hair is shaven off. In Tantra , because Tantra is the path of transformation, the hair is left uncut; the defilements are worn as an ornament. This is an important principle of Tantra . The idea is that however we are, whatever style of neurosis we have is intimately connected with our enlightened state – because it is our enlightened state. If I am an angry person, a sad person, a greedy person—whatever style of neurosis I have—is simply a distortion of the realised state. It is not something other than the realised state. It does not fall into the category of evil —that which is opposed to that which is good—that is totally different, disconnected. However we are, we are connected with the realised state. Whatever the degree of distortion, the energy there in its pure form is always the realised state. As a symbol of this in the ngak’phang sangha we leave the hair uncut.

The tube that is worn in the hair is called a takdröl. Takdröl means ‘liberation on wearing’. It is a representation of the presence of one’s teacher ; and it is given when someone begins to teach in this tradition . It is part of the symbol of wearing the defilements as an ornament – so the hair is wrapped round it, and it is tied up on top of the head. The ngak’phang sangha , then, owes its origin to the Tantras and holds to the Tantric vows . It does not hold to the Sutric vows , in terms of how one regulates one’s life , as does the monastic ordination.

I remember being at a Buddhist conference, and there they were talking about the white sangha , or yogis and yoginis, as being half way between lay and monastic ; as if that were the polarity. This had never been the case. This is a modern contrivance in Western languages. Ordination in terms of white sangha means that one is a Tantric practitioner. It is a different style of ordination, which is not half-way between anything and anything. The whole half-way-between idea is completely artificial.


It is important that in the West, if we are to practise, we need to have an idea of ourselves as people who are taking something seriously. If the only way we can take something seriously is to be a monk or a nun , then we have to adjust to the idea that we are not taking it seriously. Now, if you are not taking this seriously, why are you engaging with these teachings? Or why are you not thinking of becoming a monk or a nun ? If you do not have this idea, then you have to look at what all that means. For me it is important that people have an idea that they are practitioners; not second-rate or second-class practitioners because they are not celibate. They are practitioners and that is the way they are practising. That is crucial. This is also connected with the word bodhicitta , or active-compassion . The principle here is that one’s practice is integrated with one’s life .

Buddhism as Method in Relation to the Yanas :

We come from a culture that looks at religion as truth ; there has got to be right and wrong with truth . For some people, that causes a lot of problems with BuddhismBuddhism is 99% method. When we look at Buddhism from a Judæo-Christian perspective, we have a problem: There cannot be different truths; otherwise you have to redefine what is meant by truth . That is a definition of yana – how we redefine truth . If there are different truths, then we have to say: "What does that mean? Who are they true for?" As soon as you get to that point, then you are discussing yana .

That is important: Buddhism is method; it is a way of realising truth . The expression is not necessarily truth in itself – it is not ‘the word’ as written that is truth . Everything within Dharma is a sign-post to that, something that helps you find that. But ‘the Dharma ’ can never be expressed. If you look in the Sutras , you will find that Shakyamuni Buddha said: "I never taught the Dharma . The Dharma is non-existent." Apart from looking at that as some highly profound statement that one cannot understand, one can look at this as an expression of method. However Dharma is expressed, it is simply a method from which one can realise Dharma .

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It is only in recent times that we have had dictionaries. Words shift in meaning all the time . When I was young, there was this idea of ‘slang’. There was real language —the language of the dictionary—and then there was slang or local usage, which was not really respected. Now you can find words such as ‘hassle’ in the dictionary. It always occurred to me that if someone understood the meaning of the word, then it was a word and you could use it. It had a meaning.

If you look at the dictionary and see what words mean, and then you see how people use them, they are different. The word ‘share’ for example. This is an interesting word. When someone said: "I would like to share something with you," I always took this to mean that they had something valuable and were going to give me a bit of it – their sandwich, their pork pie, their bottle of beer, whatever. But, no! I was wrong. The real meaning of the word ‘share’ seems to be: "I have got some stupid idea that I want to bend your ear with for half an hour." The real meaning seems to be ‘take’ – I want to take your time with my idea. I hear: "Let me share something with you," and I think: "No! You are too generous! You keep it! Far be it from me to take your great idea." That is interesting – how words shift.

Because words change in meaning, Dharma always has to be re-expressed. There cannot be a fixed Dharma in terms of what is expressed. That is why there is always a problem in courts of law, if a Buddhist has to swear on something. The extent of what you would have to swear on would take up the entire courtroom – because there is so much Dharma , and it gets bigger all the time . There is no book that you can say: "This is it – it is all contained here." Or you simply could have the letter A—you could swear on the letter A—it could be the same thing.

Dharma expands all the time ; because wherever there is misunderstanding, there is more Dharma . That is the whole idea – that Dharma continues to be re-expressed all the time , in the language that people understand, in terms of how they can integrate that into their experience. Expression—how a teaching is given—is based on understanding. How a person understands, what their vocabulary is—what these words mean in terms of their connotations and implications, their colour and texture—is all part of how one works with a person. This is also connected with yana .


Accepting Oneself as the Basis:

Question: You mentioned neuroses and negative behaviour. Do you feel it is better to allow oneself to exhibit negative behaviour? That it makes it easier to look for enlightenment …? How do you feel about behaviour modification – modifying negative or unpleasant behaviour?

Ngak’chang Rinpoche : Here we are not talking about behaviour; we are talking about what is arising internally. It is obviously useful that one modifies one’s behaviour – that is really not in question. The principle of Tantra is not to advocate that one ‘acts out’; but that one accepts oneself – as the basis. However you are is the perfect basis from where you travel. You have to start from where you are; you cannot start from anywhere else. It is important that one respects the base; and the base is what I am. If I have anger , then that is part of my base – I have to work with that. I cannot go into denial about being an angry person – I cannot pretend that I am not angry, that I am not always irritated. I have to accept that about myself. I cannot try to be a ‘spiritualperson, and enter into pretence about myself. I have to be simply what I am, and work with that. It is not that I validate my own behaviour in some way. It is important that one regulates one’s behaviour. If you do not regulate your behaviour, then you are completely out of control; and that is not useful. That is a whole different area – to accept what I am; to say: "Right, now I have to look at why I am what I am. Where is this coming from?"

That is the issue of embracing emotions as the path , which is central to Tantra . It is more the Sutric way to modify what I am feeling : if anger is arising, then I will cultivate compassion , in order to modify this feeling of anger . But in terms of Tantra , the approach is different. The approach there is to acknowledge this energy within myself, and to enter into some form of practice – not to negate that anger , but to experience it in its nondual state. Anger , for example, in its nondual state is described as clarity. Embracing emotions as the path is a whole discussion in itself.

The Confusion of Psychology and Buddhism :


The other part of what you were asking deals with an area that I think is quite crucial – that is the confusion of psychology and Buddhism . They share various interests, but they are not the same; nor are they part of the same paradigm. One has to have a clear idea of which is which – what their aims are, what they deal with. Part of understanding yana is to have a healthy respect for psychotherapy, to understand what task it performs for human beings and to value it within its own sphere; and then to value Dharma within its own sphere. If one confuses them, it becomes problematic.

Psychology , from certain points of view, is about integrating oneself into the social norm. I know that does not comprise the totality of psychology and psychotherapy; but that would be a generalisation that one could make. Dharma is not necessarily about doing that – Dharma is not necessarily about becoming a happier person. It is about understanding the nature of reality ; it may not always be about finding oneself in a better integrated position.

Q: Is there a relationship between Jungian psychology and the process of individuation, and the process of realisation?

R: I am a-Freud I am too Jung to know about that. I have been waiting for years to say that [laughs]. I cannot say too much about individuation. Freud’s concept of oceanic experience, with regard to the infant, is interesting . Psychology is a language , a set of terminology, that Buddhism can find useful; I find various modes of expression through that. Trungpa Rinpoche was the first Lama who started using the word ‘neurosis’ as a term. Obviously there is a relationship between the two; but one has to be careful of it, and not take one for the other.


Bodhicitta , Chang-chub sem:


The word bodhicitta , or chang-chub sem, is much larger than the word compassion . Compassion , in a way, means ‘feeling for others’. What is meant by bodhicitta or chang-chub sem is vast, and it is distinct in each yana . We will look at how that applies to us, in terms of the energy we experience in being alive – what that is as a communication. Almost every technical term you find within Buddhism is huge – it is a symbol that spreads out in its meaning. Almost whatever I talk about, it is emptiness and form – the heart of Buddhism is the exploration of emptiness and form . This is the expression of the Heart Sutraform is emptiness , emptiness is form . What is the quality of form , what is the quality of emptiness ? How do we split the dictionary in half and call one half form , one half emptiness ? That is our languagecomprehension, incomprehension; security and insecurity – all these pairs of emptiness and form words. Compassion is a form word; form is compassion . One of the things we will look at is how form manifests as compassion in many different ways. The chief characteristic of form is impermanence . Form is impermanence , change – that is why we talk of Dharma as being form . Dharma is form , Dharma is compassion ; compassion is impermanent , that is, changeable, modified. It is never the same thing, because circumstances are infinite. This is why compassion is form – it is not fixed. Within the yanas , compassionbodhicitta , chang-chub semmanifests in many different ways according to practice, according to orientation.

Q: I didn’t understand the difference between compassion and bodhicitta , that bodhicitta is vaster? What is the difference between compassion as feeling for others, and bodhicitta


R: Compassion is an English word – I would not use compassion as a direct translation. One would have to say ‘active-compassion ’. Compassion in terms of a feeling , if it is amorphous enough, is more akin to wisdom than what is meant by bodhicitta . Compassion is a word that is used when we link it with practice at the level of Sutrakindness towards others, putting others first. This is a kind of practice that is understood everywhere, in many different religions . Bodhicitta is a technical term. Bodhicitta is always energetic, changing, moving. In Buddhism there is a careful analysis of how that is, how that manifests, in terms of being a practice of nonduality . Here we have compassion as the exploration of self and other, in terms of duality and nonduality . When I split self and other, or when self and other are indistinguishable, that is the approach through Sutra . Then the approach through Tantra is different. In each yana it is different. We can start in terms of our everyday experience, because we have self -orientation. The most immediate start for people is orientation towards other. To say: ‘There are my concerns; but there are also your concerns.’ It is more comfortable if I ignore your concerns; but then I have to cut myself off from you – I have to be separate. We have questions of separateness and connection. This is a Sutric issue. In terms of Tantra , bodhicitta has more the meaning of energy. This includes lust , desire , passion , appreciation – because all these words are about connection. Tantra is interesting at this level, because it starts looking at all the ‘ugly’ words, in terms of a Sutric approach: ‘I must not do, I must not desire things, I must not lust after, I must not be greedy.’ But in Tantra one finds terminology like ‘vajra pride’, ‘vajra stupidity’ – it has a penchant for using these words and inverting them. One adds the word vajra , which means indestructible, which links this word with the empty state; and suddenly, we are talking about something different. Here the emphasis is on energy; we move into a different dimension in terms of connection. One can see that whenever one speaks of bodhicitta or compassion , connection is what is important.


It should be sufficient to say, ‘Form is emptiness , and emptiness is form – they are nondual. Work it out for yourself! [laughter] That is actually all there is; one needs no other instruction, if one can really follow that, because it explains itself. If one has some experience of emptiness and form within oneself, then that starts to have some life . What is emptiness and form ? What is that in me – in terms of comprehension and incomprehension, anxiety and safety? What is it in terms of hope/fear, praise/blame, meeting/parting, gain/loss? These polarities are the jig-ten chö-gyèd, the eight worldly Dharmas , and are expressions of emptiness and form . Everything within Dharma is an expression of emptiness and form and how they are nondual. Real compassion , from the perspective of Dzogchen , is nonduality . One cannot have compassion without wisdomcompassion can only be compassion where there is wisdom , where they are nondual. Buddhism is comprised of methods that unify wisdom and compassion .

Q: Does that mean to say that in order to have true compassion , there has to be a certain level of realisation? Or anybody can have compassion , regardless of what state they are in?

R: What do you mean by compassion there?

Q: Well, you said that compassion comes from the state of emptiness . In other words, to really experience compassion , you need to be in that state of emptiness ?

R: And then you said, can anyone have it, or is it exclusive?


Q: Is there a true experience of compassion ? Or are there grades of compassion ?

R: It is a sliding scale, according to where you are and what your experience of emptiness is. We could look at it as a socio-political construct: When there is sufficient affluence within a society, people become more compassionate . When the level of affluence dips, then people become less compassionate – they start looking after themselves. That higher level of affluence means space: I am not in a state of claustrophobia about my situation. I am not having to fight other people off, so I am somehow more relaxed about my existence. Therefore I am more concerned about the existence of others. It manifests in every kind of condition.

That is the thing I personally like about Buddhism – it is everything, because everything partakes of its analysis. You can look at society, you can look at everything through it – in terms of the interplay of emptiness and form . What is required for compassion to exist is wisdom – and wisdom is emptiness . Emptiness is the space in which compassion can arise. In order to have compassion , then, silent sitting is important. That is the space in which compassion can arise.

Bodhicitta , Aspiration and Honour:

Q: You talked about compassion or bodhicitta being activity. Isn’t there something called ‘aspirational bodhicitta ’ – aspiration as the activity?

R: Aspiration is always a movement from one position to another, so it is always considered in terms of action. When I was young there was a certain type of aspiration going around – who wanted to write a book, or who wanted to travel to Antarctica. No one ever did anything – that was one kind of aspiration. Marijuana smokers are fond of that kind of aspiration – they tend to talk about all the wonderful things they are going to do, and never do them. Aspiration, if it is real, is linked with something with a direction and prompts movement. If it is connected with something vital, then to make that aspiration is important.


That is linked with the topic of honour. Honour is an old-fashioned term. Honour, promise – it existed in societies once. Now everything is ‘process’: ‘Well, I know I said that; but I’m in this process at the moment, and I don’t say that anymore’. Not that there is anything wrong with process; and promise can be stupid – I can promise something stupid, and then be held by a promise that was made out of ignorance . Obviously, promise is not the thing, and process is not the thing. Promise is form , and process is emptiness . If someone can really live by process, then that is fine; but you often find that people who live by process are not open to other people’s process. They will say: ‘But you promised!’ ‘Oh, well it is my process now’. If process is fine, then everything is process. Honour is important with aspirational bodhicitta , because the aspiration holds you to something. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do something for all sentient beings ?… Yeah, OK; I’ve made the aspiration. Now I’ll go have another hamburger – or whatever I’m going to do.’ And it is gone!

The sense there is that once I have made that aspiration and promise, I am tied to that. That is energetic – I have to do something. If you read history, there are inspiring statements about what people used to do on points of honour – interesting ! We miss out on that when we emphasise process too much. There was a wonderful part of a Robert Louis Stevenson story: It was after the battle of Culloden, and an English and Scots soldier meet each other in a barn. They are both burnt out, starving, and bleeding. They look at each other and think: ‘Oh, dear! What are we going to do now?’ They come to this agreement: They toss a coin – heads they are friends for life and share the food ; tails they fight each other. They toss the coin, are friends for life and share the food . And I thought : ‘That is good; I like that.’ There is something in that that people have lost. Like Robert E. Lee, fighting for the Confederacy because Virginia went in. He did not want to do it; but he had to. That position is interesting , when you think: ‘I am going to do what I do not want to do, because I have a loyalty here.’ That being held to a promise, that connection, involves bodhicitta .

Q: But if it is holding you, then aren’t you just doing something out of obligation rather than sincere motivation?

R: Sure.


Q: How do you deal with that?

R: Until you are fully realised, everything is mixed. Pure motivation is dreadful stuff – terrible business. It is better never to think: ‘I have pure motivation.’ To assess yourself as to whether your motivation is pure, and then to judge others on their level of motivation, is to enter a paranoid world . It is better to try to have pure motivation. If your motivation is mixed, then it is: ‘I’m doing my best. Sometimes I am donating merit to all sentient beings out of obligation.’ It feels like that – that is going to happen; that is realistic. Then you can say: ‘Yes, that is where I am at the moment – I don’t have a lot of space. I’m going to try, though, even if I have to force it through obligation; because I’m a practitioner, I’ll do that.’ That is to realise that one moves through many different circumstances. Sometimes it is obligation, sometimes it is joyful, sometimes it is a mixture, sometimes it might even be enlightened activity – that might sparkle through. One might do something, out of the blue, and think: ‘Whew, I did that! That was interesting – I never did that before. I let something go, just for nothing there.’ That can always happen. What is important is having a compassionate relationship with oneself.

I always remember when I lived in Cardiff, there was a doctor who used to have an interest in various spiritual things. He went along to see a Lama one night who gave a talk about how it was important to care for yourself, to love and feel good about yourself, as a basis. He was impressed with this. A couple of weeks later I was giving some teaching at a Gélug Buddhist centre; and he asked if he could come along and meet the Geshé there. We had a cup of tea together, and the doctor said: "I was really impressed by this Lama last week who said that you have to love yourself." The Geshé said: "No, no! You must love others; not yourself." This disturbed the doctor, who perceived this big conflict here. I said: "Geshé-la, maybe I should explain. The Lama who made this comment, I think, made it on the basis that a lot of people in this country don’t like themselves – some people hate themselves." He said: "Really? Oh, then in that case…" He had never come across this concept. In Tibetan culture it is taken for granted that you think that you are an alright guy; so everything is directed to others.


I was with one of my teachers, Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche , in Germany. He was talking about tonglen , giving a whole teaching on giving away all self -benefit and taking on the suffering of others, as an internal process. I could see the audience looking more and more depressed. Suddenly one woman said: "I can’t do this!" He looked at her like she was a piece of cheese or something, and said to me: "You answer this." I had to explain that, in the Tibetan culture, bodhicitta is macho. It is not like I take on the sufferings of others; and there I am crucified, up on this cross, getting cancer and shrinking into a cinder. This is what we perceive as the result in our culture. That is not how Tibetans see those teachings. For a Tibetan it is chest-beating: ‘I am going to be a Bodhisattva . I am going to save beings; because if I am a Bodhisattva , I can take it. Give it all to me. I’ll take it, and I’ll give everything away…’ It is a whole different attitude. We are not used to that idea of suffering – taking it on. In terms of aspiration, it is also that I become strong enough to do this. When I recognise the emptiness of phenomena , the emptiness of my concrete existence, then what is there to suffer , anyway? It all goes into emptiness . Gone!

Q: I have heard that tonglen is most effective when shi-nè has been stabilised – it has to be a foundation. How effective is tonglen if we don’t know how stabilised our shi-nè is?

R: Shi-nè or shamatha is the ground of everything; yet both can be practised at the same time . It is not that one has to come before the other – one can have both practices, and practise them in tandem. If one is running into problems with tonglen , then one can emphasise shamatha or shi-nè – practices are methods. This relates to the topic of whether practice is linear or lateral, whether it is sequential or non-sequential. Shi-nè can be practised in many different ways. One can practise attitudinal shi-nè – the emptiness of one’s experience, letting go of reference points. One can do that in the middle of an argument, in terms of letting go: ‘Maybe I’ll let go of being right; and see what happens.’ There are many ways of approaching that besides silent sitting – although it is important that silent sitting is integrated into one’s everyday life . One has to practise shi-nè in other contexts. That is also what makes compassion possible – that one makes space in which one can appreciate the other person.

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Bodhicitta and Bravery:

Q: Rinpoche , you talked about the energetic quality of bodhicitta . It seems that energy has something to do with intelligent bravery – some quality like that?

R: Absolutely. One cannot talk about compassion without wisdom – the two always go together. In order to have compassion one has to have intelligence. In order to allow intelligence to function, one has to have bravery. That always equates with the three Bodhisattvas – Chenrézigs, Manjushri , Vajrapanicompassion , wisdom , energy/bravery. One cannot have compassion without intelligence; because intelligence allows it. This is one of the things that always gets in the way of compassion – one’s lack of understanding, or one’s fixed state. When my little son, Robert, throws up on me, I am not angry with him. But if we go out to dinner, and you drink too much and you throw up on me, I may have a different attitude – because I attribute greater responsibility to you. Then I say: ‘Maybe he is having a bad time at the moment. How bad do I feel about this?’ A problem happens when someone stops being a babe-in-arms, and you begin to attribute more and more responsibility – until someone is an adult. Then you assume because someone is an adult that they have your level of responsibility; and if they do not, then one judges them according to some criterion – and compassion is not possible then. The interesting thing here, that Western people do not like—those that are addicted to democracy at all costs—is that people are not equal. If people are equal, then compassion cannot exist. It is their inequality that allows compassion ; because if everyone is equally responsible for their acts, then how can you be compassionate ? You have to judge them; they know what they are doing. This is the way the criminal system works. It is not that someone has a deep problem, which is why they are doing what they are doing. Compassion rests on inequality – on recognising that. I recognise my son does not mean to throw up on my shirt. It is interesting , that because people are all adults, they are all seen as equal. Now, when I say people are not equal, I am not saying they are not intrinsically equal – they are equal as enlightened beings, as beings. But in terms of their capacity, they are unequal. One has to recognise that and say: ‘What is the condition of this human being who is treating me in this way?’ I am not a great exponent of the ‘Bible’, but that is an interesting thing that Christ said: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Not: ‘Father, forgive them; because I am a really great guy and I don’t mind.’ That is important – they do not know what they are doing. That is why one forgives people; because they do not have the capacity or knowledge . They are acting out of ignorance ; they are acting out of pain. If one perceives that, where someone is coming from, then how can you be angry? It is as easy to be angry with a child that is just reacting, as Robert throwing up. And people do the same thing emotionally .

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Bodhicitta in Response to ‘Wilful Evil ’:

Q: This raises a difficult question for me: can there be compassion in response to wilful evil or—for lack of a better word—wilful destruction? When you actually assess someone to be acting out of bad interest ; where there is intelligence, but there is also willingness to actually manipulate, use and appropriate people for one’s own interest ? In the Buddhist tradition , can one meet that with bodhicitta Because we’re talking about someone who can assume responsibility, but has chosen not to.

R: That in itself is an incapacity. You see, intelligence is over-rated. There are two kinds of intelligence – there is intelligence/prajna which is an open quality of intelligence. Then there is a constricted form that can be highly ‘intelligent’ in a commonly understood way, which can be distorted. In my couple of years as a therapeutic counsellor in Cardiff, I met a lot of depressives; and they were all intelligent. They were so intelligent, they found an answer for everything – so the intelligence there was sick. At the level of sociopathy to which you are referring, where someone is apparently acting deliberately, there will be a reason – it is that they have a paranoid world view. It comes out of having to safeguard oneself at all cost. Inside that person you will find someone terrified, even though they are hiding it. Now, one might have to protect oneself against such a person – that is for sure.

Q: An extreme would be a hit man; that would be on the inside a paranoid view? Would that actually warrant compassion – from a Buddhist view?

R: Yes. Consider that whatever I am prepared to do to you, or anyone, I then have the imagination that that can be done to me. I cannot be a hit man without a concept of being a victim of a hit man; because that is part of my world view. Whatever I am prepared to do to others—cheating, swindling, killing, torturing—is there in my imagination as possible for me. The greater kindness I have for other beings, the less I am prepared to damage other beings, that is what I see in the world . Even if something else happens—even if I am badly treated—it does not affect my view that much, because that is my dominant view. This puts one into a terrified position. The more you do to others, the more dangerous you have to become in order to protect yourself. It is completely paranoid; it is a completely brutalised environment. That is a great cause for compassionseeing that brutalised existence and the level of fear that is hidden there.


Q: Rinpoche , in relationship to the question about a person who was deliberately inflicting pain or violence on another person… I am confused. You could have several different approaches. You could have someone who is conservative say: ‘What is the compassionate thing to do? [break in tape] … that we understand that there is fear there and that we love them. So we have two different people operating from the viewpoint of compassion with two different resolutions to a real problem?

R: You do not have to hate the person from either perspective.

Q: No, but yet you have to act. There are two separate ways of acting here, with the same notion of dealing compassionately. The liberal person would look at the conservative and say: ‘No, that is not compassion ’. And the conservative would look at the liberal and say: ‘Well, that’s not compassion , either – the best thing to do is this.’ How does one resolve things like that?

R: By not being right.

Q: But yet you still have this person that is making us have to act in some way.

R: That is called ‘being alive’. One acts according to many different factors – and there are often aspects of things we have to do with which we feel uncomfortable. Not feeling justified in whatever action one takes—not being right—is important. As soon as you say: ‘OK, that had to be done. I am completely right’, then you have frozen something. That is where bodhicitta dies. Actually, what your act is in the end is not as important as allowing yourself to remain confused about it. To say: ‘I don’t know – I did the best I could in those circumstances, with whatever knowledge I had and the constraints there were around me.’ And not to judge others for making different decisions – that is all you can do. That is important. Looking for a right answer that you can just ‘do’ because it is right, is tricky. As soon as I am right, I close off; I act mechanically.


Q: So the bravery we were talking about is the possibility that you are going to screw up?

R: Yes. That is important.

Q2: Going back to form and emptiness , the bravery can actually be a manifestation of emptiness ; and it can also be a manifestation of form ?

R: Yes, it has to be.

Q3: In the realised state, does a certainty arise? Or are you still uncertain?

R: I would wait till you get there. In terms of the question of why people do what they do, and issues of crime and punishment, in Britain there is what is called the ‘bad or mad’ debate . That is, there are those who want to call people bad and want to punish them; and the others will say they are mad in some way, and want to look after them. This is interesting to consider in terms of its philosophical core. When we approach Buddhism , Judæo-Christian constructs can be quite prominent in terms of what we do, and accept and interpret. We could consider the idea of freedom of choice – whether it exists and how it exists. From a Buddhist perspective we would say that we have choice and we have no choice; it is tricky. There is always choice that occurs in terms of exhaustion; when our strategies fail completely, we have a moment when we can reappraise the situation – there is space there in which something can happen. That is why we engage in silent sitting; so that we can find space in which neurosis can unravel itself. This will happen whether we like it or not. It is called life -crisis; it is called illness, some unexpected incident, maybe seeing something beautiful, something ugly, something surprising… We have these possibilities – these moments when choice can actually exist. Most of the time we have little choice, indeed; because whatever choice I make is built on previous choices I have made. When a discussion of karma and motivation is held, someone usually seizes on the idea that there are people such as Hitler, who are essentially bad, evil , and beyond the pale in some way. This is completely antithetical to a Buddhist view; no one is like this. This is why we have the story of Rudra. Rudra means massively screwed-up; complete ignorance , but forceful ignorance . It is a kind of folk tale, and an important one. It is about two students of a certain teacher , who are instructed that everything is essentially perfect – complete in its own nature. One goes away and becomes a hermit and practises. The other goes away and becomes a bandit – a great bandit. The two students meet one day and are talking about the nature of their practice. They become aware that they have slightly different angles on practice. This concerns them somewhat, and so they decide to go see the teacher . (You can tell it is a folk tale, already.) The teacher says to the bandit: ‘I think you have misunderstood something here,’ at which point the bandit becomes angry, kills the teacher and his co-disciple , and goes on to become an even greater bandit.


Through his one-pointedness as a bandit, he achieves rebirth in the god -realm ; but he achieves it in such a way that his mother dies as soon as she has given birth to him. (What his mother did to deserve this, I do not know. That is not part of the story.) He is a hideous-looking being. This is interesting in itself – when you look at what power is, the only way you can become really powerful, is to become one-pointed in a samsaric sense . You have to be prepared to ‘ice’ anybody; you cannot have any friends. This makes you intrinsically ugly. So here he is in the god -realm , and he is this hideous being. The gods throw him out, because he is a disgusting sight . He lands in this great charnel ground, filled with corpses and stuff that is rotting. The first thing that Rudra does is eat his mother; then he starts to eat everything else. He becomes immensely powerful and able to kill everything that he finds – on the principle: ‘It exists; therefore I kill it and eat it.’ He dresses in all he finds around him – tiger-skins, elephant hides, human hides, bones.

Meanwhile the teacher and the other student, who are Amitabha and Chenrézigs, observe what is going on with Rudra. They decide they have to teach Rudra a lesson he will not forget. Amitabha manifests as a horse, and Chenrézigs as a pig. They humiliate Rudra by entering him through his anus. One explodes out of the top of his head as a horse; the other explodes out of his side as a pig. Then Rudra says: ‘OK, I am humiliated. I now dedicate my form as a method of practice – to display that however bad you are, you can be transformed.’

That is a crude folk story; but what it depicts is that there is no such thing as someone who is completely evil – that cannot exist in a Buddhist paradigm. There is only ever confusion. And however distorted the confusion is, it is still a distortion of enlightenment . Hence the wrathful awareness beings. They are a powerful method, because they display a compact description of negativity. They press all the buttons. You have Palden Lhamo who sits on the flayed hide of her own son. She carries loaded dice; because when she plays for the teachings, she always wins. Everything around these beings is corrupt, rotten – they carry sacks of diseases; they ride through oceans of blood. It is a nightmare, and it is the nightmare of our neuroses – that they can always be transformed. If someone had a vision today of a wrathful awareness being, he might have this mudra [gestures]. He might have this little moustache and a bit of hair that comes down… and we might say: ‘Oh! That’s a really bad thing there!’ If that can be transformed, if this is a symbol of enlightenment , then even I can become enlightened . This is powerful.

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How do we apply this in our own lives in terms of what we do? In terms of how we approach our own motivation? This is most easily understood if we look at the idea of a shifting experiential norm. Picture your current motivations, ideas – the parameters of what I can do, what I cannot do, what I should do, what I should not do – the things that make up what you are. The cheesy things that I might do; and the things that are too cheesy for me to do. You can build a circle out of that. Everyone would say: ‘Yes, he or she would do that, under those circumstances.’; or: ‘That would surprise me, if I heard that they had done that.’ We all have an idea of each other, in terms of the actions we are capable of taking. When it gets toward the borders of what we will and will not do, there is a fuzzy area – an area we are always looking into, depending on what is happening to us. We can stray over that area occasionally, when we are hard-pressed by something; and we do something that we might regret. But if we do it enough, it becomes ‘normal’ – anything we do enough becomes normal. As soon as it becomes normal, then we extend what we are capable of doing – because our fuzzy area moves further out. So we do something else in that fuzzy area, in the same direction . You can imagine these little points. You then get a ruler, you connect up these points, and you see where they are going. It is like a map—I keep walking into this uncharted area; it keeps feeling normal—and I am going in a direction . You draw a line; at the end of it, you get Hitler, or you get Charles Manson, or you get whomever.

What is a person doing, who acts in a highly negative manner? It is interesting , in terms of understanding the nature of samsara , that we always justify whatever we do. If we have to do something that is unpleasant, then we create the world -view that supports that, with us in it: ‘Sometimes I just have to do this, because it is necessary for my protection… and that wasn’t a good person, anyway! They had it coming… If it hadn’t been me, it would have been somebody else.’ As this view evolves, this view makes me capable of doing other things, and I evolve a view around that as well—some kind of a world order—because the one thing that samsara is, is intelligentintelligent in the sense of being able to conjure with facts and make them fit anything. It is extraordinary that, if one is discussing anything with a person who has a corrupt intelligence, they can justify anything.

This is not particularly esoteric – you can look at politics for that! Politicians all sound reasonable; and we all exist as politicians within ourselves – we create the agendas, and we conform to them. How long do you live with a bad thing done, before you come to terms with it in terms of how I am going to change myself, so I am not going to do that; or how it was perfectly OK to have done that? We move in one way or another. It is the process of making it OK that creates greater and greater complexity. Whatever I make OK in my actions is no longer outside my territory – I can move in that direction . I start evolving the skill of making things OK; I have made one thing OK – I know how to do that. I have not really observed myself doing that, because it is a process in which I am involved, in which I have to feel comfortable with who I am and what I am doing. A whole philosophy emerges. I may not be aware of the philosophy , but it is building up. It has a logic of its own, and then I dwell within that logic . This is a definition of the realms . When we look at the hell realm , the hungry ghost realm – these are all systems of logic in which we can find ourselves. When we end up as a person who is actually calculatedly vicious, there will be a philosophy there – a system that has made sense of itself, in order that I can survive as this person in terms of feeling OK about myself.


Q: In Buddhism we talk about the four strategies of pacifying, enriching, magnetising and destroying. It would seem that when someone has gone to a certain extent in cultivating their scheme, and solidifying the validity of what they are doing—when by ordinary standards that appears to be so dysfunctional—it seems that society’s response needs to be the destroying action, so that they cannot perpetuate what they are doing. To make it more personal, in response to relations with our bosses, our spouses, our neighbours—when we are confronted by highly dysfunctional, destructive kinds of actions—would that also be a statement of compassion , to exercise, in the Buddhist sense , a destroying strategy?

R: The Buddha Karmas of pacifying, enriching, magnetising and destroying, are exercised by Buddhas . In particular, with destroying, there is an awareness of consequences. For ordinary people such as ourselves, destruction can be applied to making things evident. I think that is the thing people do not like to do – to actually call what the game is. Instead of acting as if it is not happening. It is interesting to say: ‘Right. I am going to spell out what is happening here.’ That you could call destroying; because it is destroying the secrecy, the covert quality, the hidden agenda. A lady I once knew worked in a college in Britain. It was a rather strange institution, because it had been converted from one style of technical college into a place of higher education. It was full of under-qualified people who were now trying to act as college lecturers. They had a great resentment against newcomers who had higher qualifications – especially if they were women. The head of the department liked punctuality – because you were paid to be there from hours x to y, and you had to be there. That was his way of maintaining control and being the head of department. It was a primitive level of working; because in any college lecturers come and go – they are there for their classes. It is assumed it is an adult environment in which everyone does their work; but he was operating more on a factory level. He would say to her: ‘I was looking for you at 9:30 this morning!’ And she would start explaining herself. I said: "I do not think this is a good thing for you to do. If you want to work with that, you say: ‘Oh, really? What did you want?’ and make him spell out what he was saying." Because he was not prepared to say – he was a bit embarrassed about imposing this edict, too. To actually make him spell it out: ‘Where were you?’ ‘Oh, I think I was in the shower, actually.’ And next? And then after a while you would say: ‘Is this some way of telling me my work is not good enough? Have you got a complaint to make? What do you actually have to say to me?’ What she would do instead is start flapping, and making excuses around it; instead of saying: ‘Say what you mean. Let’s have it all out in the open. If you have something real to say, say it. Do you want everyone in at 9:00, whether they are working or not? I could be at the Xerox shop; I could be anywhere. If you have some idea I am not doing enough work, tell me.’


That is a principle of destroying things – of destroying what someone is setting up. There are all kinds of ways of doing that. And it is a slightly fearful thing to do, because one is aware: ‘This is my boss here.’ That should not matter – you are a human being, and people should be straight with each other. If someone is using some form of manipulation, you can simply destroy that by being fearless – by being OK, let it be as bad as it is going to be; because it is that bad anyway. That is important – it is as bad as it is; hiding from it is not going to make it any better. You say: ‘Have you got a problem? Are you dissatisfied? Tell me what you are dissatisfied with?’ She did that; and he completely backed down and disappeared. She was surprised. I said: "Yes, he is actually cowardly; that is why he approaches things in this way. He won’t say: ‘I want all of you in by…’ If he really means it, put a punch-card in there. Make it work like a factory then – demand that; but he is working in a sneaky way."

Compassion is being able to do that without being angry with the person. You realise: ‘This is the person’s situation; this is how he operates. And it must make his life miserable; because people do not like you if you do that to them.’ If you make someone dance like a monkey through your crafty language , they do not like you for it. This man cannot have a nice wife – he probably relates to his wife and children in that way, too. The problem is it cannot stop. The sense of kindness is important in the process of destroying. I would call that destroying, because it is destroying a system. One cannot approach it as an adversary; one can only approach that with a kind view of saying: ‘I’m not going to find this comfortable, and you are not, either, because it is exposing what you are doing; but I am going to have to do this.’ If one does this from a position of kindness, of not hating the person who is doing this because we know that this is all they know how to do – this system has worked for them for a long while, and no one has called them on it, and it is a pity; because this person could have a happier life if they were not doing this. Then the other person picks up that you are not hostile; you are just not playing that game.

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I gave a talk. And there was a man there who walked in off the street. He was the most hostile man I had ever met – he was quite extraordinary. He ended up threatening someone with a gun he had in his pocket in the shop. He did not actually pull this thing out; but he insinuated that he would call somebody out and ‘waste’ them. I had asked if there were any questions. He started off with this long rigmarole: "So, what is it that makes somebody who wears a costume and gives a talk any better than anybody else?" I said: "I do not know." He said: "You really don’t know?" I said: "Your guess is as good as mine." You could see him thinking : ‘Ah, that wasn’t a good time . I was expecting an answer of some kind. Like why aren’t you defending yourself?’ So he just stopped – that was it. Then, unfortunately, somebody in the audience told him he was rude to me; which was just what he wanted, because what he wanted to do was fight. He stood up and grabbed the person by the coat. Then other people gathered around, and he was threatening to waste people; he really wanted to do something. That was an interesting picture. I was standing there, observing this and thinking : ‘What am I going to do if he makes a move for his pocket? I am just going to have to jump at him, because he might hurt somebody.’ So I was waiting there poised. Then the owner asked him to cool down, and he left. I thought : ‘That is a relief.’ Working with that – with some kind of aggression that comes up… I felt sorry for him. I thought : ‘You must be in a great deal of pain to be acting in this way.’ He came to this talk, and you could see he was not interested all the way through. He simply wanted to engage. This happens in relationship. When a relationship is breaking down, when one person is leaving, usually the one who is being left will enter into argument and start rows going. Violence is a form of intimacy; if we cannot cuddle, we can shout at each other. A lot of people do not understand what that is; and that is interesting . People who are trying to instigate violence are also trying to instigate intimacy. Violence is intimate—you get to touch people—even if you are hitting them, you are making human contact. It is a distorted method of having contact with people.

Q: You were saying that with the Buddha Karmas , the Buddhas choose a strategy or activity based on the fact they know what the result will be. But it seems we do not really know. It is all experimental. We have to do something – we have to act, so we pick a strategy. All we can do is have the right motivation?

R: It is a sliding scale: The more extreme the action, the more knowledge you need to have – with anything. Düd’jom Rinpoche often said: ‘Doing good is difficult; begin by trying not to do harm.’

Q2: When I first heard that, I thought that was kind of pathetic. But now I understand that. I had thought it was easy, not doing harm. But now I realise that it’s not so easy.


Q: You have started out with extreme examples of behaviour and violence, like Hitler. I have a reaction to that when I see it on television or hear about it. One would think from a Tantric point of view, I would be able to work on myself; but what happens is a nebulous anxiety – I go paralysed. I have nothing effective to deal with it. All I can do is shut it out and then continue what I’m trying to do that is positive. It’s definitely affecting me. And I would like to know what I can do – it’s an overwhelming anxiety.

R: As a practitioner, one has to say: ‘Nothing affects me; I affect myself in relation to something.’ It is always me – it is me that is creating the anxiety with relation to… I think that one has to make friends with Hitler, in some way.

Q: Why?

R: Because I am Hitler.

Q: I don’t agree with that.

R: Well, you are Hitler, too. Everyone has the capacity to be Hitler.

Q: No, I don’t think so… I don’t.

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R: Then you are a really dangerous person. If you think you cannot be Hitler, that is why you are frightened; because you believe somewhere that you are, and you are trying to shut that out. That is dangerous.

Q: I am not afraid to go into that. But I do not believe that that is true.

R: Why?

Q: I don’t want to…

R: Sure you do not want to; but that is really important.

Q: On the other hand, if that’s true, I would really want to know that; because something could be done about that. I mean, I could get upset, and I could raise my voice and show something; but it is still not a Hitler act of creating concentration camps and…

R: No, you have to look at how you operate the final solutions in small ways. We are talking here about a continuum, this experiential drift. It starts somewhere. Hitler did not just appear and say: ‘Hey! Concentration camps – let’s murder people!’ He had to be rejected at art college first, he had to do stuff, and he had to get a lot of support in doing that. It is a gradual process. It is important that we accept that we could go that way; maybe over a long period of time ; maybe not in this life ; but maybe, who knows? It is tricky. One has to own that; that is important. Otherwise, we are the good guys; and they are the bad guys out there.


Q: When seeing these things on TV, it ends in a nebulous, foggy thing that I am unconnected to; I could start trembling… And what would I do? I would undermine myself, and I would kill parts of myself, right?

R: Yes.

Q: Right. I saw that I would do that; and so yes, that is dangerous.

R: You have to create a balance in terms of how much you expose yourself to looking at stuff. I watched a series on the American Indians and the push West. It was the most depressing thing I had seen for a long time . I thought : ‘I am not going to watch that again in a hurry,’ because one empathises with people. You think: ‘That is a serious thing to see’; but it is important to understand and be linked with that, and not be cut off from it while it is happening. Maybe you need to limit how much you see it; but while you are seeing it, it is good to look at what people are doing and to try to understand their position. I saw a film about one of the Nazi extermination camps. That was a horrific film. There was an interesting part, where the commandant and the second in command were looking at jewellery that these two young Jewish goldsmiths had made. They were admiring the fine work. The two lads said: ‘When do we get to see our parents?’ The second in command just hit him around the face. The commandant said: ‘No, no. Don’t do that. You’ll be with your parents soon.’ I said to the students there: ‘What did you make of those two men? Who did you think was the worse of the two?’ They all said it was the person who struck out. I said: ‘No, he was a lot more human; because he was having to distance this person. The other was completely out there: ‘You’ll be with your parents soon’ – you are next in the gas chamber. He was completely removed. You can see that as a process; you only have to do that enough in order to completely disconnect yourself. What is important is to look at the small ways in which we disconnect ourselves. It is not that you have to imagine yourself gassing people. It is how you disconnect, even at a small level; and say, ‘How do I disconnect in my life ?’ If I start disconnecting, then I could be like Hitler one day—because he is totally disconnected—and that is the end of the line. How we work with it, is that we have to look at how we disconnect from other human beings, from other animals , from situations – that is so important!


Q: Would you say that is also good material for tonglen practice? I find that during tonglen practice, using or bringing up people that I consider my inner-nature – that that is a good way to use that, to do something.

R: Absolutely, yes; but here it is important to try to understand how someone got to where they got – especially if someone is doing something vicious to you. Obviously you cannot enjoy that; you think: ‘I wish they weren’t doing that.’ It is important to realise that in some way they have a rationale for this – it makes sense to them. That should be horrifying, in a way. You do not hate that person; you think: ‘I am lucky that I don’t have that rationale. But what reflection of that rationale is there, at a milder level, in how I am?’ The act of compassion there is to reflect on me and say: ‘I don’t do that; but what do I do that is the thin end of the wedge of that?’ You become part of that. You do not disconnect from that person: ‘This is a person who does really bad things; and I am a person that doesn’t.’ One has to accept the continuum there: ‘In smaller ways – maybe in microscopic ways – I do that.’ That is important.

Q: Is it that we are talking about the need to establish proper boundaries? That there’s a way through practice that we establish boundaries? Trungpa Rinpoche would say: "There’s some feedback." We get feedback about our actions; and we work with other people so they get feedback, too. Maybe in some sense , America’s vast country and the lack of boundary allowed us to go too far and commit atrocities – especially with the Indians. It seems to me as practitioners we have a container with our practice; it’s important to establish this container. We have this anger – this possibility of being outrageous. It’s like nuclear fusion, isn’t it? How do you hold this vast energy? You are afraid to let it go. How do you open up and let go… a little bit? I personally can get pretty angry; and then, how do you express it?

R: The most important thing is to avoid using a method of any kind. All we ever have is the moment and whatever our capacities and perception are in that moment. One can only allow what happens to happen, and have awareness so one can feedback quickly on what is happening. Also to allow oneself to be destroyed – in terms of my concept of who I am as a good person, a good practitioner, someone who is doing it right. To say: ‘I am involved in something crazy at the moment. I am going to just let the whole thing fall apart, and start again.’; to be able to exist in chaos, a little bit more.


Q: Lama Tharchin once said that his guru received instructions from his own guru , Lama Shérab Dorje , to totally stop practising a yidam practice for a year. So they all went away; and they all came back the next year, and he asked: ‘Did you stop practising?’ And he kind of looked away, because he hadn’t really stopped. ‘That’s the problem! The people who should be practising aren’t; and the people who shouldn’t be practising are.’ I appreciate that… you have to let go completely.

R: Yes. To follow a rule that governs anything apart from awareness and kindness is problematic. At some level, wanting to apply a method becomes problematic, because it is a way of not allowing awareness to function.

Q2: Rinpoche , how does that relate to how your actions should be based on what you want the result to be? Don’t you set yourself up with a methodology or a strategy for achieving that result, rather than being more spontaneous? By having a direction you have to go in?

R: Spontaneous is a funny word.

Q: Well, if you don’t have a method, then you respond to a situation…

R: You see, kindness or compassion is its own method. It is empty method because it takes endless different forms ; and its application functions through awareness . One does not have to have any strategy. In the example of the lady sending the letter to her friend, I said: ‘Just think about your friend – where she was coming from, and what you could say that might be useful that is going to allow you to retain the friendship – if that is what you want. Maybe just express some pain; be vulnerable. One can allow some intuition to function there. One has the situation; and one is aware of the tension of what one wants to do. I think you are talking about a slightly different thing here. It is not some goal orientation of: ‘What do I want it to be? Therefore I work towards what I want it to be.’ But we are talking here from the point of view of kindness; and I am presupposing one is wishing a happy result for all concerned…or what am I trying to protect here?

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Q: This is where it gets sort of cloudy – in understanding that what one wants from a situation is based on one’s motivation; and if one’s motivation is selfish, maybe one isn’t acting with compassion .

R: Well, there is nothing so terrible about selfishness – if it is intelligent.

Q: But if it is for some gain or manipulation of the situation, then one isn’t acting with compassion or wisdom . Because one is acting for oneself entirely, rather than looking at the other person or the situation.

R: Acting with wisdom and compassion is what one does as an enlightened being. So one can forget the concept of acting with wisdom and compassion . ‘Am I acting with wisdom and compassion – yes or no?’ Yes is dangerous. One can be aware of one’s own tension in that situation. Like, what do I want out of this for myself? What do I need to let go of here? This has to happen – I have to say this. But how can I put it across in a way that is not brutal? That is always difficult. You cannot have a plan of action. You say the first couple of words, and the person replies; and that throws the plan into chaos immediately. It is not like that. You are looking at the person… which is why e-mail is tricky. You just hit the ‘send’ button and ‘whoa!’ off it goes, and you cannot get it back. At least with a letter, you have got to walk to the box. Then if you let go of it, you can sit till the postman comes and say: ‘Look, here is my ID. Please give me this letter back.’ But with that button, ‘Whoop!’ It is gone. It is in Canada or Australia immediately. That is really tricky. In terms of compassion , one has to value one’s own compassionate propensity. Be prepared to not be comfortable – to not know how it is going to work out when you start the sentence, or what you are going to say next. To actually just be in space, and be out of control in a sense – not out of control like being wild and shouting; but just not knowing how to cope. Looking for some answer there; but realising it is a chaotic situation. Being content to let the situation evolve, maybe in surprising ways. It is a open field, really. But if you try to control everything, and make it go a certain way… compassion is certainly not always about dominating a situation, even for the best. It is being prepared to enter chaos, allow things to form at their own speed. This is linked with the Buddha Karmas , in terms of enriching, pacifying, magnetising, destroying. Everything is moving at its own speed. Actually trying to help anybody is difficult; because for anybody to actually change, they have to be open to changing.


Q: So often in relationships, it’s not being afraid to let go of control. Often we want to think that everything will come out according to our perception of what’s going to be beneficial. But you don’t know the other person’s perception . And you have to step back from that, and let that space be there. Because without that, nothing is possible. You strangulate everything.

R: Yes. It is hard; because if you look at what you get out of control, it is actually narrow. Unless I think that I am the best person in the world , and that my idea is really the best idea – that is somehow depressing! It means that if I get my way, the world will be as good as I am. I would prefer it to be better than that somehow – to be surprised by more interesting things than expanding me all over it! Someone might have a better idea; and I might enjoy that more than my idea. This plays into romantic relationship, especially. When one partner dominates, that is crippling.


Enlightened Anger – the Liberated Emotions :

Q: You said that one should have compassion for people who act in a negative way; and also that you can be enlightened and have anger . Is that anger a transformation of that energy, that doesn’t confound you on it?


R: We could start by looking at the essential part of what kleshas —the Five Buddha Families —mean; what these neuroses are, how they are transformed. In order to have compassion you have to have understanding. There would be a simplistic level at which one could say: "Oh, this is a nasty, cruel person who is acting in despicable ways. I feel sorry for them because I am trying to be a good person; and part of the rule book of being a good person is to feel compassion for those who aren’t, because in some way they are going to suffer for it, etc. etc." That is hard to maintain; because there is no reason for it in particular, apart from the fact that ‘this is the correct way to approach it’ and I want to be correct. I think this is one of the problems of Victorian morality – that you simply did not do certain things because it was ‘immoral’; not because you understood why. That is a reason why a lot of morality disappeared, especially with regard to sexual relationship. One cannot simply follow edicts because they are holy or moral ; one has to understand why they function. In terms of having compassion for others who express anger , paranoia, greed , obsession, wilful stupidity – one has to see them in oneself. That is important. If one cannot see them in oneself, one cannot have any compassion . One has to have some degree of clarity. One has to say: ‘How do I cause myself pain with this? How have I caused myself pain in the past, and how have I got greater clarity now? Although this is still manifesting, it is not riding me. When I see another who has got that thing riding them, then I can say: "Whew! If I could do anything to help that person out of that, I really would like to; because that is a terrible place to be. The place I am is not much better; but that is a worse place". There is a direction – as much as I wish to be out of that, I wish everyone else was out of that too. One sees it in oneself and one understands it.

There is an important point about samsara in general: there is only one thing wrong with samsarasamsara does not work; that is what is wrong with it. It is not that it is naughty, evil , bad, wicked or whatever. It does not work; in its own terms it does not work. Until one discovers that samsara does not work, one will continue to ‘do’ samsara . The basis of compassion is realising that samsara does not work. That is so poignant – because even when you realise that it does not work, it is still worth a try! Somehow, we still go through the motions of it, saying: ‘Yeah, I’ll give it another shot, even though…’ You think: ‘Maybe I’ll get away with it once; and I will actually get what I want and it will be great.’ Then you think: ‘Nah… I did it again, didn’t I? And I knew it would be like that.’ That is tragic – and humorous too; and it is that ambivalence that breeds compassion . Otherwise you would look at other people doing samsara as being stupid – you would despise them for their weakness for doing samsara when ‘I am on the way out’. But there is humour there; because you can see that there are brave and noble qualities involved in beating yourself to death with samsara ; it is charming in some ways.

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One has to understand the living texture of that situation. That is in terms of answering your question about compassion . Looking at what ‘enlightened anger ’ is, one has to understand the process of samsara . In Tibetan we use the word ‘khor-wa’, which means going around in circles – this is a self -defeating circle. One has to understand the manner in which the circle defeats itself. This can be an explanation of any of the five elements. You named anger ; so we will have a look at that one. All of these ‘negative’ emotions have a root, which is a reaction to the experience of nonduality . We start from the basis that we are beginninglessly enlightened . Unenlightenment is the effort to hide from that; because we have misinterpreted the enlightened state as a state of non-existence. Because we are beginninglessly enlightened , that state cannot help but sparkle through – it is the real state, nonduality . Whenever that sparkles through we have a moment in which we are free – not free in the sense of being realised, but we are free to move in one of two directions . We either move into experiencing that openness, or into retracting back into samsara and regenerating the process. These moments happen spontaneously, caused by all manner of things. They also happen through exhaustion. One can explore the whole quality of exhaustion when one looks at the six realms . The realms have to wear themselves out. And at the point of exhaustion one can either recreate the realm or one can move into a higher realm of being; in terms of the six realms , that is how that works.

One can see how samsara operates in each of the five elemental patterns. Anger is described as distorted clarity. The root of anger is fear – we perceive our enlightened nature, and we misinterpret it. We perceive it as a direct force that is out to obliterate us; so fear arises. We have to attack whatever we are afraid of; because we are being destroyed, we have to lash out in order to feel safe. This forms aggression of all kinds – from the mildest irritation up to various forms of genocide are all included within this aggression. This is why I say: "We are all Hitler." When I get irritated, I am on that track that leads to Hitler – one has to recognise that: ‘I can escalate this irritation. I can feed that irritation.’ This arises from fear. That is important. Whenever you see anyone who is acting aggressively, you know they are afraid. Then some compassion can arise, because you can say: ‘I am glad I don’t have to do that.’ I am glad I do not live with that tension of having to attack people, because they are different, or they remind me of something I do not want to know about or something in myself that worries me.

Q: The question arises because of a discussion I’ve had with someone, who works out of anger and fear quite a bit. And he says: "I’m going to work on achieving enlightenment even though it is there."

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R: Being an angry person gives you something with which you can work. You sit with it. You do not act it out; that is important. There is a whole method where you sit with that anger arising, and you simply experience what that is like. You do not follow thoughts about it. There are many different things you can do—subtly different—depending on your level of practice. In terms of Dzogchen , one would find the presence of awareness in the dimension of the sensation of anger . You would locate that in your body as either in a place or as pervasive. You would find the presence of awareness in the dimension of that sensation . Whatever thoughts about the anger arose, you would not follow.

Now naturally, everyone in their own practice would be practising something different. Practising that at the level of shi-nè, there would be thoughts arising and one simply would not follow them. In terms of Dzogchen , you would not have that situation of thoughts arising at all – one would simply go directly into the sensation . Usually with a strong enough emotion , the emotion will burn up namthog in a certain way. In terms of Tantra , the inner Tantra practice of working with negative emotions is to arise as the yidam . If there were anger , one would arise as Dorje Phurba or Dorje Tröllö; in that anger you would become Dorje Tröllö and experience the anger as that. Here, once you dissolve subject and object of anger , you have clarity.

You can begin to create space in which you see the pattern of it and in which you can recognise that fear as groundless – as pure sensation . That is where you begin to work on it, or embrace it – that whatever arises, you simply become the sensation of what arises. Now if you look at anger , you can see within anger many qualities of clarity – it is intelligent, lucid. Whatever you say might be witty, sharp, sarcastic – sarcasm is often so perfect; you say the thing that humiliates the person in the worst possible way and it is just ideal. You have increased memory , loquacity – it is absolutely to the point. All these are qualities of clarity. There is crispness around fear and angerhot anger or cold anger – it is the water element. The hot anger does one thing. With the cold anger there is this icy thing – it has these clear qualities of tension, sharpness. The enlightened state is that quality in the nondual state – which is clarity. Everything contains this compassionate reflex; because without clarity, compassion is not possible. It is seeing the situation to be exactly what it is.

Q: There is one situation if you’re angry; but there’s another situation if anger is being directed at you. If someone else was angry at me, okay then my response would be fear. And so there is like a dance going—anger and fear—that then could turn back into anger and aggression.


R: Absolutely. That is exactly what it does.

Q: I feel that I don’t have an honest, compassionate way of being in such a situation, other than fear. I am fear!

R: It is like dogs… I was a postman once, among other things, to earn money in order to travel to India . There were dogs; and dogs interpret fear as aggression. If you are afraid, it is not that: ‘I am a poor, harmless little thing.’ "Rrrghh!" They will go for you. There was this dog; I knew this one. One day he came bounding towards the gate; and I said: "RRRrrrghhh!" He looked at me and went: "Mmmm…" It was alright after that – it was fine. He even let me stroke him. It depends on the circumstances in which you are feeling the fear.

Obviously there are some circumstances in which fear is probably appropriate. And relaxing into it is – well, maybe that would not hurt either. If it is a physically safe situation, let us say, but you have got someone’s anger at work, you have to remember that they are frightened. There is nothing like someone being afraid that draws somebody on in their anger . People can get into a sadistic spiral then, of wanting to see how much they can brutalise you. They are afraid of it happening to them, and they are almost hypnotised by you as a victim – which draws them on to do more and more and more. It is a horrible trap – both people get trapped in that. Unfortunately, the only thing to do is to relax and to recognise that the person is afraid.

That is not an easy thing to do. One has to start by seeing it in oneself. It is a process; but the important thing is to remember. Always with teaching, one has to remember it in the situation; and one only remembers it if one has experienced it at the level of practice. When you feel fear or you feel anger , you sit with it and you get to learn about that. When you see it in other people, you know it might not have anything specifically to do with you. You think: ‘This is what this person is experiencing. Maybe I could deal with this in some other way.’ That has to be your experiment; to say: ‘Maybe I don’t have to reflect anger back; maybe I don’t have to protect myself. Maybe I can just hear this person out and wait for them to run out of steam.’

Q: That was helpful; because I saw that there’s actually a positive energy working inside of myself that could move in a supportive way to the situation…


R: Yes, you have got to remember that you have to help this person in some way. You might not say the right thing – you cannot help that. There is no right answer apart from doing your best in the moment; but knowing that that person is coming from a fearful place. You can only de-escalate that by not responding with anger , by simply being there like some empty punch-bag. There was a strange man in Cardiff who used to turn up at people’s parties and be objectionable; and he seemed to like physical contact – he liked people to hit him. He would do things like stand by someone’s cutlery drawer and pull it out and drop it on the floor; and look around as if to say: "So what is anyone going to do about that then?" Really peculiar behaviour. Once he was standing by me and a few others; and we were having a conversation about something. He turned to me and he said: "You are full of shit, aren’t you?" And I said: "You are a perceptive man!" and just continued with the conversation . He did not know what to do and walked away; and that was it.

There was another occasion, with someone else being objectionable at a nice party that these people had put on. This man, who obviously thought he was ‘Mr. Wonderful’, said: "I don’t call this much of a party." The gentleman friend of one of the ladies who had done all the preparation, said: "Glad I didn’t say that!" and everyone burst out laughing; and the guy left. I thought that was wonderful: "Glad I didn’t say that." He just had to have it all reflected back. The gentleman did not cause a bad scene; he did not say it in a nasty way – he just grinned, and that was the end of it. Humour is great in situations like that. But you have to be brave to be humorous; it is a risk to say something like that. But then it has to be you – what you say; you cannot learn these things from other people. It has to come out of the situation, out of the space of it. The idea that I could say anything; and I will see what occurs to me here – but with kindly motivation. The guy who had been objectionable could have laughed as well and said: "Yes, I am a complete dick-head for saying that. I deserve that. Sorry about that." That was an opportunity that was presented for him there, because it was not an aggressive situation; it was just humorous.

Q: I often feel I have such a limited range in a problem situation.

R: It is not that one has a limited range; one has limited space. Your range is infinite; it is as big as the space you have to offer the situation. It is not like you have a list that you can draw from; that is not the concept somehow. It is having the space to be there with the person, and let something suggest itself. Maybe it is the wrong thing sometimes, because we are not enlightened ; but we try our best.


Q: I am reminded of the story of Trungpa Rinpoche . He was in Texas one time , and somebody pulled a gun on him when he was in a car. A guy came to the window and pulled a gun on him and he rolled down the window and said: "Shoot!" I wonder how it would work for me, if I were getting mugged in San Francisco. You have to know if that is the right thing in the situation.

Q2: He actually squirted him with a water gun. Rinpoche had a water gun with him; and he actually took it out and squirted him with it.

R: Great. If you are going to be shot, you might as well invite it – if it is going to happen anyway. That is about accepting the situation completely.

Q2: It was the last thing in the world the guy probably expected.

R: These stories are endless. There was someone in New York who was held up by a mugger who had a knife. He said: "Hand over your money ." The man said: "It is exactly a quarter past nine," and walked on. The guy just stood there and thought : "I thought …" Coming from some completely oblique direction might have made some space for him to think: "I don’t understand what is going on here. It is not my day; I am not a good mugger today."

Q3: Can you delineate a little bit between being compassionate and understanding, and being involved in co-dependency? Especially in a situation like an abusive husband where all that abusive behaviour is reinforced by always having someone be compassionate and understanding?


R: I am not good on abstract examples. It depends so much on the precise situation what one does. It is certainly not compassionate to allow someone to abuse you. It is not only not compassionate with regard to your own being, but with them as well; because you are allowing them to pattern themselves further with that activity – that you are accepting it. Compassion does not mean that you accept anything from anybody in particular; that is different. You have to tell people: ‘This is not acceptable.’ Compassion there is that you do not have to hate them for that activity. That is their pattern; that is where they are locked and trapped. You might have to realise: ‘I cannot help you by remaining in this relationship with you; I have to leave. You keep doing this, so I am going; I am getting out of here. I am sorry. You have to realise that it is not me, either. This is your problem; and you are not even doing it to me. You are doing it, and I happen to be here; so you are doing it to me because I am here. If I were not here, you would be doing it to somebody else. In a way it is completely impersonal; so I do not have to take it personally. It is your situation.’ That is compassionate activity. You then go away and you feel sorry for that person. If that person wants to contact you later you can always do that and say: ‘How are you doing with your situation?’ You do not have to have any recriminations about that; you do not have to want to punish the person. You acknowledge that everything that everybody does is its own punishment. The concept that one is going to reap bad karma for this is irrelevant. There is no purpose in punishing anybody; who they are is their own punishment – they carry it around with them. My punishment is being me; and your punishment is being you. Maybe they are different punishments; maybe they are different rewards; whatever they are is simply what they are. It is recognition of that.

Q: Could you apply that to a court of law? It sounds great; but I am trying to imagine the judge saying: "You are who you are."

R: This is one of those impossible situations. A judge is only a judge because he or she is appointed under certain legislation and can only act in a certain way. One would have to talk about destructuring the entire society. One can only ever do what you can do according to where one is. I remember I spent a while teaching art in a school to ‘ROSLA’ kids – ROSLA stands for ‘Raising of School Leaving Age’. The boys did not want to be there—they had to stay on an extra year—and made trouble everywhere they were. I had given them this project, and they did not look interested . I said: "Well, if you don’t want to do this, what would you rather do?" "Go home." I said: "Right. I could say ‘yes’, couldn’t I? What would happen? Maybe you’d go home. Maybe you’d get out the school gate; maybe you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here for the next lesson – I’d just get the sack. Then you’d just get some other teacher ." They had not had anyone who was honest with them like that before. I said: "I’m not free – I have to be here or my grant is cut. We are both prisoners in this thing. We might as well have fun – I’d like you to have fun; I don’t want to punish you. So – I’ll give you my idea again. You can see if you can like it, or if you want to adapt it. But we’ll see how we can work with this." I do not know what I would do as a judge; but I have been a schoolteacher, and that was ‘a’ situation. They were great after that. We made soft objects – Claus Oldenberg type things. They made frying pans with eggs in them, out of bits of felt – weird things they made. They were into sewing! It was amazing – getting these boys into sewing; but because it was weird, it was OK; they made them well. They recognised: "Well, let’s have fun then." After that battle of: "We don’t want to do anything."

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Q: Rinpoche , you mentioned the situation where you are on the receiving end of an abusive relationship. How about if you are an observer to that? I know a man who was driving home one day, and saw a man beating a woman on the street. He pulled over and interfered, and waited till the police came. The question there is: when you are aware of those situations around you, or you are involved in something where you see this happening, and you are not personally involved – how do you apply compassion there?

R: You do what you can. I do not know what I would do in that situation. But I was in another situation, in a pub car park, where this big guy was beating a little guy around badly. A friend and I got out of the car and pulled them apart. The little guy got furious: "My friend’s got every right to beat me up." We said: "Fine." And the two of them walked back into the pub, arm in arm. There we did help, but we got a lot of abuse for it. I thought : ‘That is interesting . The little guy was able to save face and re-establish his connection with the guy who was beating him up; he, in turn, obviously thought that was friendly and they shouldn’t have been fighting after all; and it was all over.’ When you ask about examples, they are impossible because you do not know what is going on – what the karma of that situation is, what the karmic vision is. The last thing we expected was for the little guy to turn on us after we had tried to help him. Such a weird situation! Basically you have only got your own kindness and what to do; and maybe you do it wrong; that is OK. There are worse things than making mistakes; it is what your motivation is. You obviously do not try to lurch around, trying to help everybody regardless; but if you feel that you could do something, then you should do something. It might not be the right thing; you do not know. Unless you are a realised being, you never know what the right thing is to do. As long as you have good motivation in trying to do it; and you are not caught up in some idea of being a hero looking for people to help – if it just happens.

Honesty and Lying in Terms of Compassionate Activity:

R: Even when someone asks you for your honest opinion: ‘Come on! What do you really think of me?’ It is a tricky one. What do you actually say, bearing in mind that my opinion is subjective anyway. What is going to help? There is something important here. I was once on an aircraft with someone, who was showing me a long letter that she had written to a friend who had treated her rather shabbily. She said: "What do you think of this letter?" I read the letter, and I said: "This is a coherent letter. You make your points well." She asked: "You think I should send this letter?" I said, "I don’t know – it all depends what you want the end result to be." She said, "Well, I want to be friends." I said, "Don’t send the letter. If you don’t care what the result is, and you don’t mind if you never see this woman again – send this letter!" Maybe what you are saying is right; but there is a principle here: There is what I want to say, what should be said, what this person should hear, what this person needs to know, what I have every right to say—endless lists—and what I want the result to be. One has to act according to what one wants the result to be, not what one wants to say, or what should be said, or I have every right to say. That is important – to say: ‘What result do I want?’ Then maybe I do not say everything I want to say. I think: ‘How will this person react? Will this be helpful to this person – with my knowledge of this person?’ She ended up not sending the letter.

That is an important principle. People often use honesty in the wrong way; because honesty is not just the expression of one’s unwithheld subjectivity. Honesty is simply not lying in order to gain unfair advantage. Sometimes it is important to lie. One could lie through kind motivation; and I think this is important. If someone knocks on your door, looking for your friend because they want to ‘blow them away’, and you say: ‘Oh, yeah – he’s upstairs,’ – this is not useful behaviour. You say: ‘Joe! Right. I saw him last week; he said he was heading for Texas,’ or whatever. Do you say: ‘He’s upstairs; I’ll tell him you’re down here,’ or ‘Just go up – he’s third door on the left – he’s taking a shower at the moment, you’ll find it real easy.’

Cultural Differences:

Q: I have noticed that Tibetans have a different idea of honesty – there’s a lot of exaggeration that’s permitted within honesty. And I’ve noticed there’s a withholding—maybe it’s too broad a generalisation; maybe it happens in Western venues—there’s a lot of withholding of information. You don’t tell a person your correct age or something – there are these little innuendoes of not telling the whole truth . I’m never quite sure. It might have something to do with having advantage over somebody. It’s something that’s always bothered me.

R: There are different cultural forms . I would say one has to distinguish between culture and Dharma . Every culture has its particular qualities. I remember Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche once saying he admired Western people for the way that couples could split up and still be friends. He said Tibetans cannot do this. And he said: ‘I really admire this. This is good; this is in accordance with Dharma . What we do is not.’ That was interesting . One has to look at one’s culture—let us say, the greater openness—here maybe people are a bit too open. There are certain aspects of their culture that are a little bit paranoid; that is there – one has to guard certain things.

Q: Could you give an example or ours being too open?

R: Well, I say: "Hi. How are you doing?" And they say: "Oh, I’m having a really bad time . This happened this morning. And my leg is not so good…" Qualities are interesting , when we look at other people’s cultural qualities. Consider hugging as an example. Maybe hugging people is good. You could say: ‘That’s warm and friendly, isn’t it – hugging people, touching people; that’s nice.’ Then you could say: ‘Actually, it can be problematic.’ From my point of view—the point of view of being English—all this feely-touchy business is strange. When I first came to the United States , someone was talking to me and they put their hand on my shoulder. I thought : ‘What is this hand on my shoulder? Who says you can do that? I met you five minutes ago, and your hand is on my shoulder.’ Not that hugging bothers me; if I have known a person for a number of years, they will get a hug out of me – if I like them. That is just a different mode; and there are different modes of being.

If you look at Tibetan culture, you can see that there are also good qualities in that culture – it is a mixed bag. And it grows – it is an organism. They have the quality that, if they get upset with each other, they are enemies. Phht! But then, when they get over that, they are friends again. Phht! There is no process; you do not have to sit together with a counsellor for months to work it out. It is just – emptiness – gone… friends… forgotten… phht! Maybe you call that repression; I do not know. It is a black-and-white culture; good-bad, black-white. We, on the other hand, are good at grey. And from that black-and-white position, grey is rather frightening. But that is our quality – we can go into all that grey. We are more frightened of black and white – of making decisions.

Dharma exists in all these different cultures; and we simply have to understand what is Dharma and what is culture. It is important not to make a virtue out of culture, whatever we feel our virtues are, and the problems of another culture – or indeed, what the virtues are of another culture and how bad our culture is. From the point of view of Tantra , every culture is workable, with all its aspects.

Sutric yanas

The Yanas – in Terms of Bodhicitta

Bodhicitta in terms of Shravakayana:

When we look at bodhicitta , or compassion or active-compassion , one has to look at the question of motivation: why am I doing this? We can approach this in terms of the nine yanas . The first yana is called Shravakayana. This does not exist as a path —you cannot find ‘Shravakayanaists’ anywhere—but as a yana it is an interesting approach. Shravakayana is when we are beginning to get suspicious about our condition. We want to hear people talking about our condition, or read people writing about our condition – but we want to do it at a safe distance. I find out more and more about this state I am in, and what I can do about this state. Shravaka means hearer or listener. Shravakayana does not mean doing anything. Nowadays in the wonderful world of weekend workshops, Shravakayana is what a lot of people are doing. It is good to understand that and to validate that – one could certainly be humorous about it, but it is valid. How does one begin a spiritual path , unless one has curiosity and spiritual interest ? Shravakayana is there: ‘I am interested , I am listening. I do not want to do it yet; but I am intrigued.’ To practise at that level means that one reads, one studies, one attends talks, workshops – and one continues doing that until it becomes too frustrating. There is a natural follow-through.

In terms of compassion , one has compassion for oneself and one’s situation. In terms of honesty, owning-up to what I actually want, if what I actually want is: ‘I love to hear this stuff! I love to come to talks, to listen, to think and to talk with my friends about it. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to lock myself up in a cave, I don’t want to sit too long.’ This is Shravakayana – the first yana . This is a valuable place to start. One is tickled about something; one is wanting to know about something. From a certain point of view, one could say: "Oh, dear! Precious human rebirth ! You should not be wasting your time in this way; you should take it seriously." This is actually problematic if the Shravaka model is where I am. If I have to cope with the pressure of: "I am not serious enough; I should be practising. I want people to like and respect me; I want to be part of the gang…" – well, this is not Dharma , anyway. This is simply neurosis. It is important to be able to accept oneself as one actually is: This is my interest . It extends thus far at the moment – but everything changes. I can pursue this; and it is far better that I get frustrated with this myself, than if someone seeks to frustrate me with myself. Then I say: "You know, attending all these talks is great. But I have no experience; and somehow, this is getting stale for me – to keep hearing and reading. My library gets bigger and bigger; and the talks I attend get longer and longer. And I am now quite ‘expert’ in talking about this. But it all becomes quite hollow, because I really don’t know this." At this point I need to do something about it. I need to say: "I’d really like to find out now; because it irritates me."

This irritation is called ‘bodhicitta ’. Here we are looking at a state where we have become successful at samsara – successful within samsara . That is, I can live my life ; I can study and pass exams; I can get a job and function well within that job. I can have various goals; I can meet those goals. I can learn to play golf, I can do it relatively well; I can go skiing; I can look after the garden; I can do whatever it is I want to do. I am a reasonably functioning human being, and I can gain success in the things I try. This is the basis of Shravakayana; because I have to be able to do that, and it has to occur to me: ‘OK, that is that, then. I can do all that; but somehow there ought to be a bit more going on.’ I notice that when the lust comes on me for something – I save up for it, I get it, and I think: ‘Jolly nice, too.’ After a while I think: ‘My relationship with this isn’t what it used to be.’ I got it and it’s great – but somehow it wasn’t the answer to everything. There’s always another thing and I can go and get that, too. Somehow I know that it is going to be an endless series of lusting after things, and going for them and getting them. What does that mean? What is that intensity that I have – that once I get the object or the person or the situation, that it slides through my fingers in some way and becomes less intense? What is that process – what is that about? Is this not a good thing? Was I wrong to like it? Is there something better? That kind of question about our perceptions can only start arising if we are successful. If I never get what I want, then I never find out what it is like to get what I want.

The basis for Shravakayana has to be that I have the capacity to get what I desire and then to experience what that is like. That makes me question… that makes me suspicious about my life – suspicious about my perception . When we look at the life of the Buddha , it is important to consider what is meant by developing revulsion for samsara . Revulsion for samsara does not mean: ‘I’m in a bit of a mess. I can’t find work; I’m poor; I live in this rotten place. I’ve got halitosis. People don’t like me so much. I have revulsion for samsara .’ This just means that I am a failure at samsara ; and this is not a basis for Buddhist practice – not at all! If I have an idea ‘I can’t hack it in life ; I can’t keep my bank balance in credit. Therefore I want to go away and live on some retreat land somewhere’ – this is not a spiritual motivation. What if one’s Lama says: ‘Go and get a job as a banker. Get qualified. Be a straight person.’ How would one respond to that? In order to become suspicious of samsara , one has to achieve some success with it. That is the root of suspicion – one sees that it does not function, even within its own parameters. Unless one discovers that, then one cannot enter into Shravakayana. Simply to have a fascination for Eastern teachings is not a basis for Shravakayana. One can see the people who have this fascination, because they want to ask endless questions about occult mysteries that have nothing to do with their lives or experience at all. They want to hear the next fancy thing that is there – some secret empowerment , or some special piece of information. It is not that there is anything particularly wrong with that – it is always nice to have something that is a bit special. But if there is no basis in anything else there, then it is non-functional. Shravakayana begins with this idea of suspicion. I need to find out what is going on; there is a source somewhere of information on what is going on, and I am intrigued to learn about that. However, I am enjoying my life enough that I don’t particularly want to sit in a cave or take three months out for retreat . I want to study this from a distance. One thinks : ‘Well, maybe next life , or later; I’m not going to think about it at the moment. I like this stuff. It helps me in my life ; I maybe apply a little bit of it. But practice – well, that’s not really for me. I have too much going on yet.’

The interesting thing here is that teaching is infectious. It is like a virus that gets in, and it starts having an effect. If one thinks about it a bit more, if one applies it, one cannot help but look at one’s life . You cannot keep hearing things and not apply them in some way. It becomes boring – unless you become an academic and want to publish books on the subject, and that becomes a goal in itself. That is one way to remain in Shravakayana and make a profession out of it; but that is also not helpful. In the end even with that one becomes frustrated. This frustration—this irritation—is the beginning of the sense of compassion . There has to be connection between this information and me at more than an intellectual level. I have to touch ground with this in some way. This has to be real and apply; otherwise, I have to forget it and find another hobby. But this is a peculiar hobby, because it is an addictive hobby. One can let go of it, but it remains there and one always comes back to it. One comes back to it if it is real, because one cannot somehow deny that – so this irritation is the birth of compassion . Compassion here is this quality of feeling tantalised by the thing, being drawn by the thing, trying to reject the thing and working with this connection and disconnection. This we call Shravakayana.

Bodhicitta in Terms of Pratyékabuddhayana and Bodhisattvabuddhayana:

This moves into Pratyékabuddhayana – this means solitary realiser. This is the point one reaches when one says: ‘Right. This is something I have to do here. I have started to practise; and I can see that something really functions here. I can change; bits of me can drop off. This ‘me’ is intangible; I could lose any bit of it and it would not matter .’ One becomes intrigued about getting rid of all of it. Now Pratyékabuddhayana is very much a way in which people practise in the West: ‘What’s in it for me? What can I get from this?’ This is quite a reasonable, intelligent approach. There is this thing here. Am I playing with it, or is it real? Does it do something? If it does, then I want to see it in action. I want to manifest it; and where better to manifest this than in myself. At this point I am not connected with other people in particular, because this is my concern – this is my spiritual practice. I am going in a certain direction with it – I want to be realised. That is why it is called ‘solitary realiser’.

The interesting thing with all these yanas , is that one never reaches their conclusion; because they exhaust themselves before the conclusion. One has not gone far with Pratyékabuddhayana before one realises that, if this really is effective with me—if there is less pain to be experienced through giving up the struggle for a coherent identity—then one begins to see the pain of other people. It becomes apparent as soon as one begins to have some recognition of one’s own neuroses. As soon as one is able to allow space for those neuroses to perform, they have less of a grasp; one can be a little more relaxed around them. It does not mean that we stop being neurotic; but somehow the neurosis does not ride us completely. As soon as we enter into that condition, we start to observe people who are ridden by their neuroses; and compassion naturally arises. We feel sorry and think: ‘I am glad I am not there.’ I remember that I used to be there – that used to happen for me, and I could not do anything about it. I did not even know what was going on; I thought that was a natural response. ‘You look at me in a funny way; I break your nose – sure! That is the deal.’ Now I do not have to do that. We then move into what is called Bodhisattvabuddayana.

You see, this is a natural progression. We are not talking about these yanas as spiritual systems – like you do your B.A., your Masters and your Ph.D.; and you do the cookery class, and then the mechanics class. It is different to this; this is a natural human spiritual process. And it is outlined in this particular way. It is useful to see oneself in this process – how that is evolving. Shravakayana is a mind-set. Pratyékabuddhayana is a mind-set. We can say: ‘What am I practising at the moment? Is this Shravakayana I’m practising?’ One has to observe that in oneself and say: ‘Yes, this is what I’m practising. I’m not really practising Pratyékabuddhayana here, because I am not drawn with this effort.’

So in Pratyékabuddhayana, if we look at it in terms of compassion and what that is: this first emergence of bodhicitta is the irritation that wants to make contact with method in some way. That is awoken by one’s suspicion and one’s curiosity about one’s condition. Then one has to formulate that into will. This is one of the first things people do in their lives when they want to be a better person. ‘OK, I’m only going to eat hand-kneaded bread from now on; I’m going to adjust my diet ; I’m going to do exercises…’ Willpower is applied. There is some kind of a philosophy there – one is interested in it, and one decides to apply it. Will comes in, some kind of push, because I have to break that inertia. Being fascinated is one thing; actually doing something requires energy. This is why in the monks and nuns vows —especially in the Theravadin School—they are strict. They have to maintain the will; that is important, because the will is fragile.

Q: In Shravakayana, is there a tendency to explore all the possibilities? And then in pratyéka one chooses a particular method?

R: If you are going to move, then you have to choose.

Q: And sort of stop listening to all the other ones?

R: Yes. That is important, because you cannot apply unless you narrow down and choose. The monastic system of vows is designed to protect the will; it is will that creates the energy that moves you. In Bodhisattvayana we have the bodhisattva vow . What is interesting about this vow , is that it takes precedence over the Vinaya – over the monastic vows . One of the bodhisattva vows is that it is considered a breakage of vow not to break the Vinaya , in terms of compassion . That is important – that one of these vows says that you must break the Vinaya if it is a question of compassion ; otherwise you have broken the bodhisattva vow . In a system where they do not have a bodhisattva vow , one has to maintain the Vinaya all the time . I saw an interesting television program about this – about a Theravadin monastery . The Theravadin system has compassion teachings, but not formulated as a bodhisattva vow ; it is Mahayana -Hinayana hybrid. According to the Vinaya , you cannot operate as a monk or nun while being a doctor. They showed this incident about a man with a bad back, who was sitting outside the monastery wall with his friend. They were talking in a loud voice about having a bad back. One was saying to his friend: "I really have a bad back that has been hurting me for a long time . I wish there were something I could do about it." Inside, the monks hear this and say: "Oh, we better get Fred, because he used to be a doctor." Then they sit on the other side of the wall and they say: "Hey, Fred. Take the hypothetical case of someone who might have a bad back. What would you do about that?" "Oh", he said. "This is what I would do." He would give all this advice. The person with the bad back would then go away and implement that information. He would not have had to have any contact with the man-as-doctor. That is how they get round it – which is compassionate activity. It is their way of how to maintain Vinaya and have compassionate activity at the same time .

Lama Yeshé Dundron, who is the Dala’i Lama ’s doctor, is a doctor and he is a Mahayana monk . There is no problem with a Mahayana monk being a doctor – or even with a Mahayana monk giving a lady a cuddle if she is upset about something. But for a Theravadin monk , you cannot do that; because there is nothing that overrides the Vinaya . Here we have an interesting principle. If we take it away from vows , and we start to look at our lives – and look at the principle of this shift between Pratyékabuddhayana and Bodhisattvabuddhayana – one is broadening one’s view. Compassion goes beyond strictures, whatever they are. For example, I was vegetarian and abstemious for about thirteen years as a Buddhist practitioner. I remember once when I was at art college, my lady friend at the time had made a tape/slide project for which she wanted to include a Zulu warrior. There was a Nigerian gentleman who offered to play the part, and they hired a grass skirt and a spear from the museum – and there he was. As a thank-you to him for doing this, we invited him round for afternoon tea; he had scones and things. Then he invited us round for a meal – I was not part of the project; I was just tagged on with the three ladies. He made us this Nigerian meal; it was a seriously revolting meal. I hated it—not just because there was beef in it—and I was glad it was revolting in a way. The ladies all ate meat, but they could not eat this stuff. I thought : ‘He is going to be really upset’; so I just ate it. He offered me a glass of whiskey too. They did not drink. I did not drink either; but I had this whiskey, and I ate this beef curry. Afterwards they said: "I thought you were vegetarian, and that you didn’t drink alcohol ." I said: "That’s right. He would have been really upset, if no one had eaten his meal." They asked: "Did you enjoy it?" I said: "No, it was bad; I hated it – but he was trying to do something nice for us." There are more important things than sticking to a rule. This was a practice – not to drink alcohol and not to eat meat. Then at a certain stage my teacher told me that I had to drink alcohol and eat meat; and I did. So that was the end of that practice – finish! What is important there is how one applies things. As soon as you break a rule, you move into a grey area. When do I break this? Did I phone him up the next day and say: "Hey! I’d really like to come around for another meal. And how’s that bottle of scotch doing – is that still there?" When one does that, one then lives in a more spacious condition, in which everything is its own rule in the moment. Compassion in that way introduces an element of continual uncertainty; there is no rule that can be applied anymore, because everyone is an individual.

This is something I am always coming up against in terms of what happens with my own students. Khandro Déchen and I invent rules: ‘This happens this way: it takes three years to do this, five years to do this…’ – it is a structure. Then within this structure we discover there are human beings, who are individuals and who do not accord with the rules. The rules do not always suit that individual, even if they want to – it is not always the best thing. There have to be generalised rules; it is just that one cannot apply them – one can only apply them in general. One always has this situation; the rule is a guideline then. The Vinaya becomes a guideline, rather than a rule, and it is a guideline then for how compassionate activity manifests. One has to be able to break that rule. At first, to break a rule is damaging; because the rules give you a great deal of strength. If you break them then, you lose the energy of being able to keep those rules. One has to develop to the point at which rules can become amorphous; and that has to be a knowledge of other beings. Appreciation has to arise there – appreciation of other beings in their specific condition. Wisdom and compassion are always moving hand-in-hand in that way; one cannot actually separate the two. When we look at Bodhisattvayana , and we look at all the other yanas in terms of Bodhisattvabuddhayana – how does this apply? There is a bodhisattva vow that we can take; but I would like to look at the whole thing more essentially. I would like to look at the principle of what Bodhisattvabuddhayana is – that is a sense of appreciation of other beings. One creates the space through maintaining rules, like the rule of silent sitting – this is a rule, this is a structure that contains a space.

Q: I am not sure how that is a rule – silent sitting?

R: Rule is one word; form is another. Pattern, distinction, criteria – it is a form word rather than an emptiness word. So you have the form or the rule or the instruction, which is the posture . You will be hearing me using many form and emptiness words. You can look for form and emptiness in everything, and say: ‘What is this aspect of Buddhism here? This is form ; this is emptiness .’ What is the word ‘rule’? Rule is fixed; it is form , it is not emptiness . You can say ‘awareness ’ – one operates awareness , or one follows a rule. One con-forms . You conform to the posture , which allows emptiness . With Pratyékabuddhayana, one is creating the space in which bodhicitta can arise. It is not until one has this space, that one can have appreciation of what lies within that ground. Appreciation is important – the actual connection with other beings that allows us to see them as they are; not as we would like to see them, not as we hope they are, not as we compartmentalise them. We have to have that space, or that chaos, in order for people to be what they are. As soon as we can allow them to be what they are, compassion arises because we are connected with them.

We can only have real connection with beings if we appreciate them. You cannot help someone you do not like; you cannot help someone to whom you are indifferent. If you are going to help a person, you also have to find them attractive – you have to like their face. For a teacher to help students, he or she has to enjoy their neuroses; you cannot help somebody if you do not enjoy their neuroses. If I do not like their neuroses, I have to sit here and say: ‘You’re bad! You’re going to hell !’ In that way you also have to think: ‘Oh, I don’t like them – I hate them’; and then you have to whip yourself. There has to be appreciation—even of neuroses—because that neurosis is the ground of one’s realisation, the distortion of one’s realisation. When we say that the teacher has to enjoy our neuroses, ‘enjoy’ here is no different to the word appreciate, or value, or understand. It is important to see the connection between these words. The words in Buddhism are not simply terminology; they are a living context of understanding.

Q: Would this be like unconditional love?

R: That is an aspect of it, also. Unconditional love is allowing someone their own space to be precisely what they are. If someone has the sense in which they are accepted, fundamentally, then that gives them the space to grow and to change. The worst thing is if you have to conform to some criterion of how you should be, and then you pretend to be that way. This happens a lot in spiritual environments; and it often happens by default. One ends up in a place and sees how people are, and thinks : ‘I want to be accepted; so I will pretend to be like that. I’ll fit in with this.’ One falsifies oneself. If the teacher encourages that, then that is not so useful. In order to be oneself in a situation requires courage; just to say: ‘Well this is me; I’m stupid sometimes. I make mistakes. This is what I am.’ I want to change; I am not saying: ‘This is me’ in some arrogant manner; but to say: ‘Here I am; and I am prepared to work. I am prepared to acknowledge what is happening here.’ That is a question of compassion – that sense of connection, that sense of appreciation. The form of one’s neurosis is the method through which the teacher operates. The teacher has to enjoy my neurosis; and that gives me a sense of connection with the teacher – that my neurosis is OK. It is a ground from which I can work; it is a channel of communication. In terms of Bodhisattvabuddhayana, one cultivates this sense of connection with all beings – not in some idealistic manner, but in a real manner of saying: ‘Here I am with these people – I have to find out what I can appreciate here, in order to make contact. I have to notice how someone wears their clothes , how they cut their hair , how they put their makeup on – whatever they do. That has to be part of one’s appreciation. How the lines on their face are formed – there has to be appreciation, otherwise one cannot have any compassion ; it simply does not work. It cannot be applied as an abstract that is cut off from individuals. One has to be personal in this.

Q: You have also used the wordunderstanding’ in terms of this. So if you look at somebody, do you also try to figure them out – for example, by looking at what they are wearing?

R: Oh, no; that is a laboratory practice. One allows the person to explain themselves through how they are. One simply appreciates what one sees; and if one does not appreciate something in particular, then one can let that rest. Someone’s whole appearance is their language of being; and one needs to learn how to speak with that. That is not to try to analyse it – if one does that, one only puts it in boxes.

Q: And appreciation comes from… space? From…?

R: One has to have the space to appreciate. One has to be comfortable in that space; otherwise, everything has to be judged – otherwise, one is on military alert all the time .

Q: Where does the warmth in that space come from – the warmth of appreciation rather than the more clinical appreciation?

R: That is naturally arising! As soon as you stop compartmentalising—someone’s appearance, the tone of their voice —that warmth is naturally there. We simply have to drop what we do that freezes it. That is one of the most important discoveries with shi-nè, with shamatha, with silent sitting; and with the application of that in one’s life – of simply letting go of the obstacles that are there, the barriers we put there, the series of compartmentalisations that we create around looking at anything.

Q: To link that back to when you were speaking of ‘small disconnections’: I was trying to think of a concrete example of the small disconnection that I do in my life . I’m linking this – that disconnections are our tendency to compartmentalise and judge. Would that be small disconnection?

R: Sure. It was happening to me a while back: I noticed that I was revolted by the way that certain men do up their trousers – where you get a paunch, and you do the belt up tight underneath, and it hangs over the top. Then I thought : ‘This is a bad attitude of mine. The next time I see someone doing that, I am going to look at that thing.’ Actually, it is quite graceful – it has got a curve on it. I still would not do it myself—I would just buy bigger trousers and I would do them up higher—but I need to appreciate that, because that was a problem for me for a while. When you find yourself in some antagonistic relationship with something, it is nice to relax around it; and say, ‘Well, there is something I am missing here’.

Q: Why does appreciation bring pleasure ?

R: Pleasure is bodhicitta . You see, this word compassion is vast in Buddhism . It is not just feeling sorry for somebody and wanting to help them – these are ideas within it. One has to have a far broader sense of what bodhicitta means. It is pleasurable and enjoyable to help somebody because one is in connection. If one is helping someone out of duty, because one is trying to be a good person and do good works, it is maybe not enjoyable. It is tricky to try to help people in a clinical way. In order to engage in compassionate activity—to help somebody—one has to be open to them. Otherwise there is only the concept of what would be good: ‘You need one of these.’ Pleasure , lust , desire – all these are aspects of compassion , because they are about connection.

Yana principle

On the Idea of Yana :

I will talk about the Tantric vehicles and the principle of yana , and we will look at the different ways in which the yanas are structured. Those are important to understand when we look at the different practices that exist in the world – how they are, and how different teachers or schools approach them. They can be different because there are different methods. Method is form , and form is impermanent : changing, empty, moving – compassion . Method is compassion by its nature. That can be really subtle: that one can simply smile at a street sign, because it is telling you the way to go – it is method; it is compassionate in its nature. One need not get eternalistic about that; but one can occasionally say: ‘Just look at it all! This way to the pizza.’

Before we start to look at the Tantric vehicles, I would like to talk about the idea of yana , or in Tibetan thegpa (theg pa), and what that means. One of the confusing things about Buddhism , I suppose, is that ‘Buddhism ’ is a Western word which is created to describe a body of spiritual practices and teachings that exist in different countries. Really there is no such thing; Buddhism is an umbrella term. As far as I know, the thing that is unique about Buddhism is that it has yanas or vehicles. These are not simply deeper levels of teaching. Every religion has deeper levels of teaching. One can begin with a fundamental level of teaching, and one can proceed to deeper levels – that is the idea. Yana is something different to this. You will hear people speak of the yanas in many different ways. One way to talk of the vehicles is as Hinayana , Mahayana and Vajrayana . You will also hear of the nine yanas , which I am going to discuss. However, I will mainly deal with the three yanas as they are discussed from the perspective of Dzogchen – that is Sutra , Tantra and Dzogchen . As we have discussed them up to this point, the first three yanas fall into the category of Sutrayana .

What is implied by the word yana is that there is a base, a path and a fruit. For something to be called a yana , it has to actually lead to something. The thing about the yana is that one can begin there; one can begin there because it has a base. If one says that one cannot begin with a certain yana , it means that it lacks a base and that that base is provided by the other vehicles; then the sense of what yana means collapses. Naturally, one has to find oneself at the base. So what does base mean? Base means our experience – what that is; our capacity – what that is; our knowledge – what that is. Although one can speak of these three bases as Sutra , Tantra and Dzogchen , everyone is their own base as well; because the base is just what you are – you always move from where you are. This is why it is important not to have some idea that I am somewhere where I am not; because if I try to practise from the premise that I am somewhere where I am not, I cannot practise. Some kind of realism is important here. I remember an amusing instance of this when my brother once took me skiing. I had never been skiing before. He thought he would like to give me this experience; and it was nice, actually. He took someone else along as well – his wife’s sister. On the first afternoon, he got us on the skis at the grounds of our hotel. He was generally showing us what to do on this little slope – you could go about twenty yards and stop and then climb back up and do it again. The next day we went out to the ski grounds and signed on for some instruction. They asked us to put up our hands who had no experience of skiing at all. I put my hand up. My brother’s sister-in-law, however, said she had some experience, i.e. on this little slope outside the hotel. I was placed with a bunch of elderly people and children. That was OK; they were showing us things to do, and that was all quite comfortable. Then we came back for the afternoon, and there was just me and one young man left; because all the rest had had enough in the morning. The two of us ended up having this instructor on our own all afternoon; he helped us a lot, because we got massive personal input – we would have had to pay a lot of money for that otherwise. The other lady however, had a miserable day with people who did have some experience of skiing; she just kept falling over and felt thoroughly bedraggled and humiliated. I thought that that was an interesting experience. I thought : ‘I am really glad I said I knew nothing .’

It is really worthwhile acknowledging where you are with what you do; otherwise one insults oneself: ‘The real me is worthless; so I will have a phoney me and live as if I were that other me, and practise as if that was the other me.’ A lady in New York came up after a teaching once and told me that she had been in ‘dark retreat ’. [break in tape] … ‘Having a lot of stuff come up’..? That is for the therapist. It has got nothing to do with dark retreat . Dark retreat is something you enter into when you have stable rigpa ; it leads to rainbow body .

Q: Was she doing it under the instruction of a Lama

R: I presume so. To speak of ‘a lot of stuff’ coming up shows that there is no sense at all. A lot of stuff can come up in any retreat – you lock yourself up for a couple of days, and stuff comes up. But one is not working at that level with tö-gal . Stuff should not be coming up any more! Even regular retreats are not for that. In my first retreat —a three-month retreat —stuff came up; it was interesting . I was quite young then, and I did learn a lot from it. It was hell for the first two weeks – but again, that was not the purpose of the retreat .

It is important to have an understanding – ‘Where am I? What am I capable of doing?’ and working with that. Anything I miss out on in terms of practice experience, makes anything else I practise later worthless. One needs experiences in order to pursue the path ; and silent sitting is important there, because it is the basis of many other practices. If one cannot sit, then all kinds of other practices are useless and form some entertainment rather than a real practice.

The Three Yanas from the Perspective of Dzogchen :

One has to be at the base; and the base of Sutra is this experience of unsatisfactoriness. We spoke of that with the sense of irritation that occurs: ‘What is it about my life ? What is it that is happening here?’ We spoke of how that experience evolves – how it is based on attaining a certain degree of success with samsara to realise that it always fails. Without that one cannot succeed; one needs to have that experience of life .

The goal of Sutra is the realisation of emptiness . This is why it involves monasticism. Monasticism has a principle: that one wears a regulation costume, that one accords with 253 vows , that one lives in an institution in which set things happen at set times – one disappears into that rôle. I do not decide what I do next – there are orders to follow; I follow them – everything is laid out. At a certain level of practice, this is extremely helpful. Sutra is known as the path of renunciation . This principle is based on the fact that we attach to form as a definition of our existence. I want to prove all the time that I am solid, permanent, separate, continuous and defined; these are the form qualities of emptiness .

Then there are the emptiness qualities of form . This is peculiar language – this is paradoxical. One talks about the form qualities of emptiness and the emptiness qualities of form . One does not just say ‘form qualities’ and ‘emptiness qualities’ because they are actually nondual. The reason for using this rather strange language is to speak in a dualistic manner about dualism from the perspective of nonduality . The language of Tantra is one of paradox , where form is emptiness and emptiness is form . We find this first in the Heart Sutra . The understanding of the Heart Sutra is the basis of Tantric practice. In Sutra we have the idea of ‘anatman ’: there is no self , no soul , no core, no abiding ‘I’ – renunciation is the principle. Tantra is not the path of renunciation ; Tantra is the path of transformation. Here one is talking about: ‘Who is doing the practice?’ and ‘I am visualising myself as…’ Suddenly this ‘I’ is not an issue anymore. People who are steeped in the practice of Sutra will sometimes ask: ‘Well, who is it that’s doing this visualisation , anyway?! I thought there wasn’t any ‘I’.’ This is a question from the perspective of Sutra , in which ‘I’ or atman is undermined. The reason that Shakyamuni Buddha said ‘anatman ’ was not particularly because there is nothing there; but that there is nothing there that is solid, permanent, separate, continuous and defined. ‘I’ is form – a particular form . ‘I’ exists in the moment – but only in the moment. If I want a momentary ‘I’, I can have one. If I want an ‘I’ that lasts more than that moment, I cannot have one. I can only have it if I do not want it; if I want it, I cannot have it. If it is only there in the moment, then it is there. If I want to protract it in any way, it is not there. This becomes interesting ; and it applies to many different things.

Now we start to use the language of Tantra . We speak of ngo-wo, rang-zhin and thug-jé – essence, nature and energy. Ngo-wo is essence – the essence is empty. Rang-zhin is nature – the nature is clear. One can either translate thug-jé as compassion /bodhicitta , or translate thug-jé as energy; and the energy is all-pervasive in terms of compassionate activity. The language of Tantra is energy – the energy of paradox , riding the energy of duality. Tantra —as the path of transformation—deals with energy; and it deals with the paradox of our situation, with the tension between emptiness and form . In Tantra , samsara is seen in terms of the electricity that exists between these two terminals of emptiness and form . As the two come close together, what happens is that finally they arc across. That arcing across is the practice of Tantra ; it is the area of ambivalence between emptiness and form . Tantra is the practice of working with form . From the experience of emptiness , one reintegrates with form . All the practices in Tantra are about form – this is why it is a ritual practice; this is why it is symbolic . This is why there is mantra , mudra , music, ’cham or dance – all the sense -fields are there. This is why the shrine has light , water – the sense offerings . All the sense -fields are there because form is not a problem; form is simply that which has to be united with emptiness . Tantric sadhanas that deal at the level of chant take that quality: I visualise the seed syllable; the seed syllable expands out and becomes Chenrézigs; I unite with Chenrézigs; then that dissolves; then there are other arisings and dissolvings… it is always changing. The visualisations are continually changing because form is always changing, impermanent – which is the quality of form ; it is continually shifting.

From a Sutric point of view, one renounces form because there is no refuge in form – it is unreliable, impermanent . The Sutric vehicle looks at form as ‘that which lets me down’; so I won’t be addicted or attached to it. From the point of view of Tantra , the disparagement of form is highly problematic; because emptiness is the mother, form is the child. You cannot be friends with the mother and hate her children – this is not generally advisable. Form arises out of emptiness – it moves, it changes; that is its quality. In terms of Tantra , its movement is compassionate activity. That is the meaning of compassion within Tantra – this movement of form , the way that form changes continually, the way that form dances.

Contradiction Between the Yanas :

We have this idea of yana or vehicle, which has a base; then there is a path and a fruit. I start here; depending on what here is, I move and I end up somewhere else. For example, I start out in South Glamorgan, Wales; I go to Heathrow and get on the plane; I end up here. This is the fruit. That was the base. The path is how I got here. Now, if somebody were to say to me: ‘How do you get to San Francisco?’, if I were to say: ‘First you go to Wales; and then you drive to Heathrow; you catch a plane; you end up…’ This would not be useful to someone who is living somewhere else. The idea of yana is that you have to look at where the base is. According to the base, you do different things; so the paths are contradictory. If one does not understand this, there are all kinds of problems.

Khandro Déchen and I have noticed articles in some Buddhist magazines that express problems around the fact that yanas are different. We have read the most extraordinary things – especially about ‘the teacher ’. We could not understand where people were coming from. People with apparently a great deal of experience would make statements such as: ‘I prefer the spiritual friend model.’ You prefer? Great! – but what does that mean? It is like being outside when it is raining, and saying: ‘I prefer the sun to shine.’ So you do? Tough; it is not shining. It struck me that people have little understanding of the yanas . The spiritual friendkalyanamitra in Sanskrit , or gé-wa’i shé-nyen in Tibetan —is the model of the teacher from within Sutra . It is not that one practises Tantra and says: ‘Oh, I don’t like the rôle of the Vajra Master . This is not suited to the West; let’s replace it with this other model, because they are exchangeable.’ It is like: ‘I don’t like the carburettor in my car; I want one from a jet engine – I’ll put that in instead… or I’ll put tractor tires on it.’ Then the wheels will not even turn, because they are too big for the wheel arches. These things are not exchangeable. They exist within paradigms, and they work within those paradigms. You cannot put diesel in your car instead of gas; unless it is a diesel car. I did that once. I was tired one night. Esso did a nasty trick once; and they changed the colours of the pump handles for some reason . So I got out the blue one that used to be Super Unleaded. I said: ‘Oh, no. That cannot be right. That says Diesel, doesn’t it? And I have just put four gallons in my tank.’ Fortunately, I did not start my car; I got the whole thing drained out. It makes a serious mess when you do that.

So, gé-wa’i shé-nyen, kalyanamitra , spiritual friend – this is a model within Sutra of how one relates with the teacher . At the level of Sutra the teacher manifests emptiness . The model is that he or she gives the teaching from the text. There is little of the personality of the teacher that comes out; because the personality of the teacher is regarded as an interference – the teacher is empty. The teacher is a manifestation of the teachings; there is no confusion around that. Also, one does not have a personal teacher . The personal teacher only exists at the level of Tantra , where you have the Vajra Master – and then the whole emphasis shifts. Now the same teacher can be both Vajra Master and kalyanamitra . There is no problem there about one person adopting both rôles; but they are different rôles. If one wishes to enter into Tantra , then one has to enter into relationship with the Vajra Master – otherwise one cannot practise Tantra . I do not mind if Western people discuss that this rôle of Vajra Master is unworkable in the West, as long as they also say that Tantra is unworkable. You have to get rid of all of it – not just say: ‘We’ll mix and match here; we’ll do bits of it.’ This does not make any sense at all. What suggests itself to me is that people do not understand the nature of the yanas . If people expect the yanas to be coherent, this is quite a mistake. The yanas are only coherent in terms of how they each function in terms of base, path and fruit.

There was a big controversy in Britain once about onions and garlic . Some teachers were saying you should not eat onions and garlic ; it is bad for your practice. There would be some other teacher who was eating onions and garlic . People would say: ‘This is a bad mistake; you should not be doing this.’ It was not understood that at the level of Kriyatantra—which is the first level of Tantra —there is an emphasis on purity and purification . This is worked at much as a bridge between Sutra and Tantra ; because one has been working within a sphere of ethics and morality , and one is beginning to work at the level of energy. To enter that sphere of energy, one has to be careful – there is a great sense of care that is involved in Kriyatantra. Statements of this care are made through practices of physical cleanliness, dietary concerns – being vegetarian and abstemious would be a valuable practice. One is beginning to open up to one’s energy in a different way; and it is important when one does that, that one does not enter into some craziness. Kriyatantra is like an introduction. This will be the first level of practice where one begins to experience the energy of being—the energy of ambivalence between emptiness and form —and one has to handle it in a careful way. One has to understand why contradiction exists between vehicles. There is the principle and function of each practice; and if one understands this, there is no problem with hearing teachings from any teacher . You will have your own tradition ; it is important that whatever your tradition is, that you practise within that. Hearing what another teacher says should not be some disturbance for that. If one understands how that fits in with different vehicles, there is never a problem.

Approaching the yanas

Asking One’s Teacher for Guidelines with regard to Practice:

Q: How does Dzogchen shi-nè—sitting—fit in if you are doing Tantra practice? I mean, can you do the two together?

R: Always. You will find shi-nè in every vehicleSutra , Tantra , Dzogchen .

Q: If your teacher gives you things to do—visualisations—do you also do a separate shi-nè?

R: You always need to ask your own teacher ’s advice on anything you learn elsewhere; that is a general guideline. I will say to my students: ‘Study with anybody who comes along. If you see conflicts or have problems, ask me about it, so I can explain. If you receive practices, show them to me; and I will give you guidance on how to work with those practices.’ Whatever teacher you listen to, take that back to your own teacher and discuss it with him or her. The important thing about a Root Teacher , is that whatever practice you are given by any other teacher , you maintain your commitments by your commitment to your own Root Teacher . He or she guides your practice, gives you instruction, and shows you how to integrate whatever it is that you learned. That is important – it is important that one does not become too experimental with one’s practice, pulling in bits and pieces from here and there. Otherwise it makes it difficult to listen to other teachers.

Teachings Styles and Ngöndro:

Q: You said that the basis of Tantra would be Sutra – an understanding or experience of emptiness ?

R: The basis of Tantra is emptiness .

Q: Then when you start practising Tantra you should have a basis of emptiness ?

R: Yes.

Q: So that means that you have to develop that first, right, before you start doing Tantric practice?

R: Not necessarily – that can be confusing. Some teachers may say you must establish this ground of emptiness through silent sitting; and you must continue with this practice for sufficient years until you have that. That is one way of working – a powerful, valid way of working. Other teachers will introduce you directly into Tantra ; they will make Tantra itself the practice of realising emptiness . It depends on many factors. As an answer for now, I would say it depends on the teacher . The teacher is an integral aspect of Tantra . There is no such thing as deciding that one is ready for Tantra . And yet, if one has a relationship with a teacher , one can be introduced before one is ready, according to certain perspectives. There are many different perspectives on what is required in order to be ready. Fundamentally it depends on relationship with the teacher . Theoretically, one requires the experience of emptiness in order to practise Tantra . But then, Tantra itself can be a preparation for the experience of emptiness – especially the relationship with the teacher ; because there devotion equates to emptiness . It all depends how one is being introduced, and who is being introduced, and how that introduction is taking place. People practise with different teachers and in different traditions . Every tradition works in its own particular way, and has its own special value. There is always a principle to understand; and when one understands the principle and function of a practice, there is never any problem.

The understanding of the yanas is one of the main keys to non-sectarianism. If you understand the yanas , then you can see some practice, and you can ask yourself: ‘What is the principle and function here?’ Then you can see something of value for people. That is what is important – a quality of intelligence here, of being open and saying: ‘What is the value of this?’ Then you have little problem with the fact that there are differences in the world – that people do things in different ways. You see, these practices are not discreet entities; they are all about our condition and how to work with it. Contained within Tantra is everything you need; contained within Dzogchen is everything you need. It depends on the teacher , and what his or her style of presentation is. Some teachers approach from Dzogchen immediately; others from Tantra immediately; others from Sutra . Their style of teaching will be geared to a certain kind of individual; teachers attract students who have some propensity for understanding through their particular presentation. Now, if those students are not at the base, then teachers will give practices that are designed to allow the student to arrive at the base quickly. One such practice is called Tantric ngöndro – the hundred thousand prostrations, mandala offerings , Dorsem practice, and Lama ’i Naljor. Many people have the idea that that this is what is meant by the wordngöndro’; but there are different kinds of ngöndro. There is ngöndro for Dzogchen , ngöndro for Dzogchen to-gal – many styles of ngöndro.

There is psychotherapy – this is the ngöndro for Sutra ; this is my unofficial statement on the subject, but this is how I would categorise it. Ngöndro is preparation – it is what brings you to the base. If psychotherapy enables you to be a functioning human being, who can go out and be a real mensch and live life and achieve goals, then you are going to get suspicious and be able to practise Sutra ; so it functions as a ngöndro. Ngo means before, dro means going. Ngöndro means foundation, preparation. Preparation is required for everything. The preparation for defecation is that you remove certain items of clothing. If you neglect the ngöndro, then serious things happen; unless you are little Robert, and then that gets taken care of. Some teachers operate in that way. They take care of their students, who are probably small in number, by having a kind of diaper-principle. They say: ‘Go ahead without the preparation; and I will clean up the consequences for you.’ That can happen; but you need a small number of students for that particular kind of practice. Each ngöndro has the flavour of the practice for which it is the ngöndro. Tantric ngöndro looks like Tantra ; but through this, you can realise emptiness . Prostrations are a practice of emptiness . You can find all the paramitas there – all Sutric practice is condensed into this ngöndro. The practice of refuge , bodhicitta , cultivation of patience , generosity – everything is within that Tantric ngöndro. The same applies to the ngöndro of Dzogchen , the Four Naljors – if you look at that ngöndro, it contains everything within Sutra and Tantra . It begins with shi-nè; which equates with Sutra . It ends with lhundrüp, which equates with the heart practice of Dzogchen , as Lama ’i Naljor or Guru Yoga is the heart practice of Tantra . The ngöndro starts always with Sutra , moves quickly through the vehicle(s) and ends at the base. This is the principle of ngöndro.

Q: Ngöndro is a preparation. But it is also seen as a complete practice in itself? A sole practice for a lifetime?

R: Yes. That is because it ends with Lama ’i Naljor, which is the heart of Tantric practice. That is really important. I think it is a problem, really, to look at any ngöndro as something to be ‘got over with’. That is difficult. The approach varies with each teacher , according to a style that equates with his or her mandala of students. You know this if you study with different teachers, and you have experience of what it is like being amongst their sangha . You say: ‘Oh! This is a different sangha . There is an energy here that is different – a style of language , a style of dress, an atmosphere. That is all a part of the teaching. Some people are relatively subdued, and other people can be quite boisterous; some are quite incisive, others are mellow. It all depends on how the teacher presents; and this equates with the teaching, too. Although people have no preparation, perhaps, for Tantra , because the teacher teaches from that perspective, he or she will bring all the students up to that level in whatever method.

The teacher expresses the teachings of the other vehicles through the language of whatever vehicle he or she is teaching. With the nine yanas there are theoretically eighty-one forms of expressing; because every vehicle has a language and can speak of the other vehicles in that language . One can speak of Sutra from the perspective of Dzogchen . This seemed highly characteristic, for example, of Trungpa Rinpoche ; it gave the teaching of Sutra a particular dynamism. One can also speak of Tantra from the language of Dzogchen . One can speak of Tantra from the language of Sutra ; this is a characteristic of the Gélug School. This is why, when Tantra is discussed, bodhicitta is given emphasis. Once you know about the yanas ; you can listen to a teaching and say: ‘What is the principle here?’ In fact, if a teacher is emphasising principle and function, they probably are talking from the perspective of Dzogchen , in particular Dzogchen men-ngak-dé. This attention to principle and function is valuable in looking at any practice. It is important that one knows what one is doing; because the method, the compassionate nature of that spiritual enterprise, needs to be appreciated. One has to thoroughly feel its texture. Bodhicitta —in terms of compassion —is not such a principle in Tantra . Here we are dealing with ambivalence and with devotion. Devotion equates with emptiness ; ambivalence equates with form . One talks about ‘vajra stupidity’, that which confounds emptiness and form – it cannot tell the difference between them. This is a particular style of Tantric language , that uses the language of negativity itself to describe the realised state. This type of language has a certain effect – you are using words that you would not otherwise use. It is powerful, for those who are open to that style of language . All the five kleshas get a ‘vajra ’ added to them – vajra pride, vajra lust , vajra wrath.

Language and Yana


Every yana has its own language , its way of expression. One can divide Tantra into outer and inner Tantra . Outer Tantra is the path of relating to energy through purification . Here one is at the gun range; one has this dangerous object, and there are certain rules. You observe the rules precisely; because terrible things could happen if you did not. This is a dangerous area; one has to be scrupulous. That is the emphasis; nothing is left to chance. There is a sense almost of panic that is being instilled, that is actually valuable at one stage of practice. That is the principle and the kind of image that one is working with in Kriyatantra.

Q: Does that mean, Rinpoche , that the notion of defilements is seen as dangerous? So you get rid of defilements because they are so dangerous to your advancement as a practitioner?

R: Yes. This is why, in terms of Kriyatantra, one would never have a shrine in one’s bedroom. Or, if one had the shrine in one’s bedroom, one would have to have a curtain over it. Then at a later stage, there is the wonderful story of a student of Chatral Rinpoche who was in retreat ; and there was a sponsor coming up to see him. He had been sitting there for a long time . There was dust and muck all over his shrine . He thought : ‘Oh dear, the sponsor is not going to like this much’; so he spent the day cleaning everything up nicely. Then he was looking at it, and he thought : ‘Oh! This is terrible hypocrisy’; so he got a pile of dust and threw it all over and continued to sit there. One would not do this in Kriyatantra – this would really be a bad thing to do! The story goes on that the sponsor came and saw all the dust and disarray; he was pleased and said: ‘Oh! You really are a great practitioner. You don’t really care.’ But then the story could have easily gone the other way. The person’s teacher could have gone there and said: ‘You slovenly swine!’ One can apply different criteria according to where the person is.

Q: How does merit fit into that? Gaining merit You do this in order to gain merit and for purification ? How does that fit in with Kriya?

R: That is much a part of Kriyatantra, because it is structured, and it is a bridge from Sutra .

The Yanas as Sequential and Non-sequential:

Q: Are the nine yanas a linear progression? Is it actually possible to tell where you are within the nine yanas ? Or do you do this for a while, and then go back and work on purification some more?

R: It is both linear and non-linear; it is both sequential and non-sequential. One can approach it in a sequential way. There are many aspects of the teaching that are presented sequentially; but when it comes to practice your realise that it is not sequential – it is an organic situation. This is particularly true when one looks at Dzogchen and how it is practised; the perspective is that one has to be open to every level of teaching and observe one’s condition. ‘What is my condition at the moment?’

Motivation Defines One’s Practice:

The yanas are presented in a progressive manner of how one leads to another. Yet this is crucial about the yanas : It is not what you are practising that defines what you are practising – it is what your motivation is. If I practise Dzogchen with a motivation to accomplish my own realisation, I am not practising Dzogchen – I am practising Pratyékabuddhayana. I may be practising a Dzogchen method; but without the correct motivation, it is just a method. That is important for whoever does anything: It is not simply the method, but who does the method. I cannot divide myself from the method. If I am a schmuck, and I am practising Dzogchen , then I am a schmuck practising Dzogchen – that is what that means. Or I am a schmuck pretending to practise Dzogchen by acting out some kind of instructions – that is all it is.

Q: It really means you are not practising?

R: That is right. I am not practising. I have just got hold of some idea, and I am trying to do something with it. One has to understand how that evolves.

Dzogchen :

Let us look at Dzogchen . The basis of Dzogchen is the fruition of Tantra , which is the nondual state, the realised state. The path is that, when distracted from the realised state, one returns to the realised state. The fruit is the realised state; so base, path and fruit are all the same. One may ask: ‘How does one practise this?’ From a certain point of view, one would say: ‘Only a Buddha can practise this.’ From a certain point of view, one would say: ‘Well, that is what you are.’ Dzogchen contains a ngöndro, the ngöndro of Dzogchen sem-dé, which is the Four Naljors. What is crucial is that the actual methodology is the nature of compassion itself – that there is an approach from any angle. Whatever the base, there is always an approach. There is always something one can do; there is always a handle that one can get hold of somewhere according to one’s own perspective and one’s own condition.

Focus through the Yanas

Narrowing and Opening One’s Focus Through the Yanas :

The Rôle of Spiritual Friend and Vajra Master :

There are many different approaches. One starts with Sravakayana with this spreading outwards of interest – one is examining, one is looking around. Then one has Pratyékabuddhayana – one narrows down into practice. Then one opens out in terms of compassion for all beingsBodhisattvayana —into my practice being for the benefit of all sentient beings . This is not just for me; I am touched by everyone’s situation. This creates an immense energy for practice. In Tantra that energy is focused down again into the teacher . Here one has the Tantric vows , the Fourteen Root Downfalls, and these focus in on the teacher – but then the teacher is Buddha , Dharma , Sangha ; the teacher is all sentient beings . Everything is realised through one’s relationship with the vajra master . The teacher becomes like a lens – the sunlight or warmth of one’s compassion for all beings is focused into this lens. The lens then focuses that back out again; or the lens focuses it back and burns a hole in the object or the subject. One has that quality of reciprocity there.

Q: First you have the paradigm of the Bodhisattva view; and then you move into focusing on the Tantric Lama . But it can also work the other way, I would think. For someone who did not maybe have a Bodhisattva view – by focusing in on the Lama , he could focus out again?

R: Yes. From Bodhisattvayana onwards – each vehicle contains each vehicle. This does not apply to Sravakayana or Pratyekabuddhayana, but from Bodhisattvabuddhayana onwards – each vehicle contains each vehicle. One can see Tantric aspects within Sutra ; Sutric aspects within Tantra . One can find Dzogchen in Sutra – in the Heart Sutra : Form is emptiness and emptiness is form . This is the basis of the Dzogchen teaching; it is a nondual teaching. Here there is a great difference in how the teacher functions. At the level of Sutra the teacher is invisible. He or she is a vehicle through which the teachings are expressed; nothing of his or her personality is there. One can go to many different teachers and just hear Dharma . The teacher performs his or her task at an impersonal level; they exemplify the word as printed. The experience of being with this person has to lead us in some way to wanting more from that situation. If this person is living by this teaching; if he or she is talking about it from their own experience; if they seem highly familiar with what they are talking about – we can be intrigued at what else is possible. We get advice from this person in terms of our practice and our life ; but we are always free to take or leave that information. We operate within the bounds of our own rationale. And in a similar style to the Sravakayana , we have to reach a point where we become terminally frustrated with our own rationale. We have to see how, as long as we remain within our own rationale, we are locked into a closed loop from which we cannot break ourselves out. How does one break out of one’s own rationale? Anything I do is within my rationale. If I like pizza, and I say: "I am never going to eat pizza again!" – that is just a reaction to my own rationale; that is just running counter to my own rationale, and it is what I want to do.

Q: Isn’t engaging in a method fully – isn’t that in a way overriding your own rationale? The nature of the practice itself is to undermine the mechanism of your rationale by practising shi-nè, by all these methods?

R: Whilst one is within the method, yes; but there is also a lot of other life there. If you just remain within the method, fine. When you have to cook a meal or walk down the street – sure, that can be shi-nè of kinds; but in terms of your life choices about what you do, how you approach things, there are many other kinds of practice in which one can engage. Then when it comes to the Tantric teacher it becomes much more specific, and the personality of the teacher becomes a vehicle of how the teachings are expressed. The vajra master is different – he or she has an evident personality and manifests that personality. The teacher also displays all the kléshas/defilements in their transformed mode, as a means of communication. The teacher manifests vajra wrath… any kind of human quality can be expressed, as a means of communication. This is different from the model of spiritual friend, where the behaviour of the teacher accords with Sutra – there is the rule book for how the teacher should be. You can say there is also a rule book for the vajra master ; but it is illegible—one cannot make anything of it—it is an empty rule book. How one appraises this teacher is difficult.

Q: And monks in a Sutric system? Even though they may not have a personal teacher to override their rationale, because they are monks they live almost completely within the method. In a way, isn’t their rationale overridden, because their life is totally immersed in the structure?

R: Yes, but their rationale is overridden in a way they can comprehend. Your rationale becomes the same as the Vinaya . You can see it; there is nothing unpredictable there, there is nothing scary about that. You know the Vinaya before you take it – you read the book, there it is; you make the choice. In terms of the difference between kalyanamitra and vajra master , with kalyanamitra you can always say: ‘Why? Why am I doing this? What would be the benefit of doing this?’ With the vajra master there is this possibility that he or she might say: ‘Right. This is what you do next.’ You say: ‘Why?’ and the vajra master says: ‘Never mind. Just get on and do that,’ or puts you through a series of situations for which you cannot find any coherent explanation whatsoever; like ‘Don’t practise; stop practising for a year’ – no explanation. How does one generate things that are outside one’s rationale? ‘I know what: I’ll think of an idea I’ve never thought of – what about the idea of not practising for a year?!’ Is there a book of unexpected shifts you can look up, and say: ‘Let’s open the book to this page. I’ll pick #63. What is it? Oh! ‘Shave your head.’ Right.’

There is no book of unpredictable events to which you could refer. The vajra master is the book of unpredictable events – or they might be completely predictable; they might be unpredictably unpredictable. I am sure that anyone here who has worked with a teacher for long enough, will have had experiences to recount where something has happened that was completely strange, but from which they derived great benefit. And they could not possibly have set such a situation up for themselves. One thing I remember vividly about one of my teachers, Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rinpoche —whom I describe as unpredictably unpredictable—was when he was once giving a long empowerment . He was chanting from a lengthy text in front of about two hundred people. Suddenly he stopped and said: "Someone told me I smelled once. Do you think I smell?" and then he continued. I sat there thinking : ‘Did I just see that? Did I just make that up… did I go to sleep for a moment? Or…’ That was such a profound shock, that it took me a long time to start thinking about it. I was just staring at him. It was interesting . He has never done anything like that before or since; just that one occasion. If he was always doing that at wangs, you could say: ‘Oh, he’s going to do this some time . He’s going to pull a face, or he’s going to fart to disturb people. I know it is going to happen.’ No, you could never tell what he was going to do; so you would always be caught by surprise with it.

The kalyanamitra does not act in this way. When one moves into a relationship with a teacher , where his or her personal phenomena are part of the teaching, this is obviously powerful and scary. One has to have a real sense of how one chooses such a teacher . It is not possible to move into relationship with the vajra master until one has hit a certain level of practice; one has to have an appreciation of this person from that perspective. This is a question of evolution. Because Tantra is based on emptiness and moves toward form , compassionate activity is manifested through many aspects of behaviour that you were previously trying to renounce. The teacher is a manifestation—through personality display—of many different things. It is not that every Vajra Master is outrageous; because that would be predictable. Some are; some are not. One vajra master might be a perfect monk or a perfect nun in every respect . There is no way that one can define what is called ‘personality display’.

Taking the Three Kayas of the Lama as the Path :

From the perspective of Dzogchen , an important practice is taking the three kayas of the Lama as the path . These are the three displays: presence display, personality display, life -circumstances display. This word ‘display’ becomes a bit like the wordvajra ’. The word is used to show that there is teaching available from these; and it is also empty – there is nothing there. This is display. So one has the presence of the teacher which is Dharmakaya – the Lama is simply there. Then there is personality display, Sambhogakaya – the things that the Lama does, his or her interests in life , their preferences – whatever you would find in a personality. Life circumstances display is Nirmanakaya ; and this will be whether the Lama gets a parking ticket, or gets cancer and dies, whether the Lama ’s husband or wife leaves, whether their house falls down in the earthquake, or whatever happens – life circumstances display. It is the way the teacher manifests the teachings through each of these. If one is able to see these displays, then one can enter into real vajra commitment.

The Nine Yanas as a Model of Developmental Psychology

The First Three Yanas :

Let us look at the nine yanas as a model of developmental psychology. There are many reflections in Tantra of human process; this is the genius of Tantra in terms of how it explores and plays with our condition. There are many things you find within Tantra that are reflections of human life ; but they have been appropriated through wisdom and compassion , in terms of manifesting a means by which we can transform our condition. The nine yanas is like this: you can look at Sravakayana as the place at which an infant starts noticing that things exist outside itself. First of all the infant is a self -contained unit, in its own apprehension. Then suddenly it starts to notice things outside: ‘Hey! The universe isn’t all me. That’s a surprise! I thought I was everything; apparently I’m not.’

Q: So there’s a point of irritation there too?

R: Yes. Life is not as simple as I thought it was. When I wink my eye , you don’t disappear for some reason – you are out there and separate from me, with your own volition. There is this arm, too. I pull it toward me and bite my finger; and it hurts; but it doesn’t hurt if I bite something else – and that is confusing. Sravakayana is this level of understanding that there is something else going on out there. Pratyekabuddhayana is when there is some volition – the realisation that there is choice. This happens sometimes later when the child starts wanting to do certain things, like: "I want to roll over." Or, "I want to get to the other side of the room." Or, "I want to grab that thing." Pratyekabuddhayana contains the idea of volition, of moving in a certain direction , based on this confusion of not being the only thing that exists and having an idea of connection with something out there. I move toward it – I have an idea that I want to grab that for myself. Bodhisattvabuddhayana involves having to integrate that with the fact that other people have feelings about life , and that everything I want to do does not please everyone. This is obviously childhood, where we are having to integrate and to say: "Oh, I may enjoy pulling the glasses off this person’s face; but he or she doesn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I do." Maybe I do not do that; maybe I do not do everything I want to do. This starts during the toddler stage, and it goes on through adolescence. This is quite a long phase of integration that goes up to the point of realising that there are not just the laws of one’s parents, but there are also the laws of society. I do what I do, these are the consequences, and they are all my problem. I could extend childhood forever, and blame everybody else: "It’s your fault. It’s society’s fault." This is a way of remaining locked in, and not really practising. To actually practise at this level, we have to recognise the functioning of everything and how we relate to that – as a serious principle. How do you relate in society with what happens? What is your relationship with the pain and suffering that occurs? If you are to be an adult, you have to have an adult relationship with that and understand exactly what you can do. How to view it? How to deal with your own feelings about your surroundings? This is important as an aspect of Bodhisattvabuddhayana.

Q: Would this mark the child’s moving into a radius of relationship beyond the insular family – some sense of larger other?

R: That is right.

Q: Is it possible that a Sravakayana practitioner could be someone who is fairly integrated, but is only listening to the teachings? They might have consideration for others, have a family, have compassion ? This seems a bit different from what you said previously.

R: This does not deny what I said earlier; it is a parallel way of seeing how these nine yanas reflect the life of a human being from early infancy throughout. One of the reasons I am a Buddhist is that it does this: Everything applies to everything. It is quite spectacular – the way it functions. A stone is heavy because it is heavy, and that has a certain beauty to it. If you look at it in this way, placing Sravakayana at this infant level, it offers perspective on what Atiyoga means: "What could that be?" With a hologram, if you smash it, every little bit has got every little bit on it. It is like that. Whenever you look at teachings like the Six Realms , you can find the six realms within the six realms within the six realms . It becomes microscopic and macroscopic in terms of how it functions. From this perspective on Buddhism , particularly on Tantra , it has a whole series of colourful psychologies that paint pictures of human reactions in various different ways. This would be to compare Sravakayana to Atiyoga yana in terms of what the experiential difference is.

Q: Does duality arise in human consciousness at the point of conception; or at the point they realise a separateness in infancy?

R: Duality is there all the time .

Q: But the realisation of that duality, is that an infantile or an embryonic experience?

R: It is infantile. There is an oscillation in infancy between the god realm and the hell realm . It is one or the other; when everything is great, it is great – and not only that, but it has always been great and it always will be great. Then suddenly it is not great, and it has never been great, and it never will be great again! That is interesting to see. Pleasure and pain are separate. There is no sense that this is going to be over and I will feel better again; so it is really god realm and hell realm . There are valuable aspects of that. That is a form of psychosis in one way; but in another, it is being where you are – that is all there is. A lot of the time people cannot allow themselves to be simply cheerful, because there is past and future; which is why they may like getting drunk in order to obliterate past and future – that is the principle of that. It puts people into an artificial ‘now’; they can feel happier, because they have cut off to those things. One can see why people do that. It is possible to be in that place – children find it easier; adults find it less easy. We can look at the infant state as oceanic experience: There is no disconnection between me and anything else. There is no separation between me and mother; we are the same being. Everything out there is me; I am everything.

Individuation and Engaging with the Vajra Master :

Then you have the process of individuation: How do I individuate? We can look at religious philosophies and see how most are an extension of those two ideals. There is the ideal of the oceanic state – wishing to return to that, that everything is god – the monist ideal to return to that where I become part of everything again; but that is a dualistic view. Then there is the other view where I go to heaven and continue forever as a discreet, isolated entity. That is an extension and perfection of individuation. Both are untrue; because there is individuation and there is the oceanic state. Both exist; and both are reflections of the nondual state. They are like nyi-med; like né-pa and gYo-wa being the ornaments of rigpa , emptiness and what arises.

Q: ‘Individuation’ obviously means separateness. But I am not sure I really grasp the use of that term. I know it’s a Jungian term.

R: Individuation as I know it is the whole process of becoming responsible – knowing what your mind is as opposed to everybody else’s. This is why in a dysfunctional family emotions travel around. No one is owning them, and everyone is projecting them. You do not know what you are feeling from what some other family member is feeling . This would be poor individuation.

Q: Is it that a high level of psychological health would be perfect individuation?

R: That is the theory; but you find that for someone to be well integrated at that level, they have to spread out again and start being aware of their community. Otherwise you become an egomaniac; everything is about ‘me’ again. There is always that balance between individuation and societal responsibility. You can see these qualities of wisdom and compassion , of né-pa and gYo-wa, manifesting in psychology, in social psychology, in history, in everything.

Q: That’s why you really have to have a strong, healthy ego to engage with the Vajra Master .

R: Yes.

Q: That’s so paradoxical.

R: It is only paradoxical if you are thinking of the term ego as Buddhists use it. I never use that word ego unless I am meaning it in its psychological sense .

Q: Not pride… separateness.

R: Yes.

Q: That’s so paradoxical.

R: Say more.

Q: It’s like first you have to be healthy in your separateness. And then you’re in this dance of.. not being separated.

R: If you want to lose the separateness, you have to be separate. If you are not separate, how do you lose the separateness? You are not at that state. It has got to be a problem.

Q: You have to have the irritation ?

R: Yes, that is important.


That is why, if you look at some ways in which the Vajra Master works, he or she could enact many things that would be {{Wiki|psychologically]] unhealthy – like double-binds. I have seen many Lamas put people in double-binds.

Q: What is that?

R: A double-bind is where you cannot do the right thing. Here is an example that a doctor once told me: There was a little boy visiting his mother in hospital. He obviously did not know what to make of her. The poor little boy was standing there; and she said: ‘What?! No kiss for your mother?’ So he approached her to give her a kiss, and she said: ‘Oh! Get away from me!’ That is a double-bind: ‘What do I do!?’ If you do that to a child enough, they end up in a strait-jacket; because they cannot get it right. Now if you do this to a student, it is the most perfect thing! In vajra relationship, it is basically creating a situation of tension. However, you have to be {{Wiki|psychologically]] healthy to work with something that would be otherwise unhealthy. If you do not have a healthy ego (in usual psychological terms) then that is going to have the effect that it would have on the child; and you are going to get crazy with it. It can also be creative; so when one is looking at the possibility of the vajra relationship, one has to say: ‘Am I up for double-binds? How am I going to cope with a double-bind?’ Double-binds come up in other ways, too; not just through the Vajra Master . In society, if you have honour, you will find yourself in double-binds. If you have a commitment to this and a commitment to that, there will come a time when you are torn in half. How do you cope with that? It is not that if you avoid the Vajra Master , that you avoid double-binds; because life does that.

Q: At those moments when the double-binds happen, are they moments when you’re jumping out of your rationale then?

R: Yes, it gives you a space… A koan will do a similar thing; but the double-bind from the Vajra Master has possibly a bit extra clout, because it is circumstantial too. Maybe it also does with a koan if you have to sit, thinking about it, and report on it at the end of the day. I have never been through that training, so I cannot comment; but one can see why they exist.

Q: What do you do with the anxiety that comes up in a double-bind? What is its purpose? What use is the double-bind to the Vajra Master ?

R: You have no ground in that space. And you can either struggle or accept the groundlessness of it.

Q: The emptiness ?

R: Yes. We usually are trying to establish ground: ‘With this ground I can move; I can rely on this.’ With a double-bind one has nothing upon which one can rely in that moment. In the situation with the Vajra Master , one then has to trust that groundlessness: ‘This is outrageous, but it is OK. I am going to trust this chaos.’ Trust is all that is there. There is tension; it is energetic; it is just held there. This is a later stage.

Developmental Stages Related to the Outer Tantras:

When we look at the Tantric vehicles and damtsig/vow , we can equate that with how the child relates with his parent, or with any authority figure. At first, as far as the child is concerned, the parent is god . The parent has all the answers: ‘Mom, why is the sky blue?’ He’s given the answer and: ‘Great; I know that now. I can ask this person anything.’ This is like Kriyatantra: the parent is a god or a divine being. At a later point the child is surprised when the parent does not have all the answers; and then the school teacher takes over. The child comes home from school saying: ‘Oh, Miss Suchabody said this.’ It is relationship with an authority figure, and how that works. With Tantra , we have teacher and we have yidam . There is an expression that might be useful in relation to this: ‘The lower the Tantra the higher the throne.’ The teacher /yidam , is the source of wisdom , it/he/she has to be different from me. If this being is like me, then what can I get from this being? This being has to be substantially different; because this being has to hold all of my projections. I once attended a retreat that was given by a Gélug Lama I had known. It was extraordinary how the retreat was run; because the man who was organising it had obviously been trained in a Kriyatantra view. He was deeply upset that there was only one toilet in the house, and that the Lama would have to use this toilet along with anybody else. I did not say much about that; because there was an ethos in which that was all accepted. That was confusing for people at one level, because they could not see a problem with the fact that the Lama defecated. However, at a certain point that could be disturbing for somebody; because if I am going to place my confidence in this person, they have got to be as different from me as possible. If I have any concept that they might have a sort of unpleasant bodily process which might have some odour to it that I might react to badly, then I think: ‘Oh! I hate the smell of my teacher ’s fæces. What can I do? This is like I have a bad attitude already. I should think everything about him or her has to be fabulous, because if it is not, then what do I do with my devotion? If I cannot be devoted to the smell of these fæces, too, then I have a big problem.’ This is a simplistic level, but for some people, it is important. This is how Kriyatantra functions – everything about the teacher or about the yidam has to be completely supernatural . In this context, when one meets the teacher , he or she – and it is usually ‘he’ – is sitting on a throne and you need binoculars to see them. They are on the throne; you probably have not even seen them climbing onto it – they are just there. You come in, you receive the teaching, you go out. In a Tibetan setting, there are usually attendants who are arranging the Lama ’s robes ; so the folds are gracious, and it is all crisp. The pleats are exactly two and three-eighths inch apart! He is just sitting there, like that. That is different from oneself – that is important. This person has all capacities; there is nothing wrong with this person. I do not have to have any doubt about that. This is fundamentalism . You can see why fundamentalism is useful: ‘Every word in this book is true.’ What would I do with: ‘Almost every word in this book is true.’ That is somehow a massive problem – because which word is it that is not true? This is black-and-white. This is how we are at some level when we are young – in our politics, in our view. Somehow there are easy answers to everything: ‘These are good people, these are bad people.’ Communists good; capitalists bad; or vice versa. All those people are bad; we are on the good side. If there is anybody who is ‘borderline’, that creates a problem; because we either have to bring them in or push them out. We do not like people sitting in these borderlands of: ‘I generally go along with this idea, but I have one or two questions…’ That is difficult.

Q: Is this the stage after the kalyanamitra /spiritual friend, who is like a kind of buddy? And in the next stage the teacher is put on a pedestal?

R: Well, I would not say ‘like a kind of buddy’.

Q: Well, is there a stage where you can talk to the person? It’s not like…

R: No, kalyanamitra is a person with whom you relate in terms of receiving the teaching, asking Qs. You would have a great deal of respect for this person, but you would not be terrified of them in any particular way. They would have no power , or you would give them no particular power , over you; and they would not be conjuring with your circumstances. They might sometimes be quite direct with you; because they purvey the teachings. When you move out of that situation, into the situation with the Vajra Master , at first that has to be special; because in order for someone to be beyond all these parameters, they have to be god -like. To be just like me would be far too threatening; they have to be as distant as possible. This is Kriyatantra, which also involves rules whose purpose is to keep the situation totally pure. The three outer Tantras can all be classified under this heading of purification ; but they form a way of gradually moving beyond those constraints – from Lama and yidam up there, far beyond, to a sense in which they become reflections of my own enlightened nature – I can become this. If we skip one and go to Yogatantra – Yogatantra is the method in which the yidam is out there; but one has a much more direct relationship with yidam . Yidam is still complete source of knowledge ; but I have access to that knowledge without massive supplication. I do not view myself as completely insignificant. Charyatantra or Upatantra—the middle one—is like the practice and view of Yogatantra with the outer ritual of Kriyatantra. It is a bridge between the two: between the Lama as really high up there, and the Lama as actually in front of me. There is a direct relationship. This person is still other, and complete and perfect. I am different; but I am now open to receiving this without having to conceptualise myself as insignificant – I actually have potential.

This is the shift that occurs. This is the shift in which the child can say: ‘I thought you were saying yesterday that it was like this.’ You are not having to take each word as if it is coming from on-high; you can interact at some level. Your own experience of practice is having some transformative effect on you; you are entering into this body of experience, and therefore you actually have ground to ask questions. You are moving into the adult world . You have your parents’ version of the adult world that they have given you; but now you have seen it for yourself and you say: ‘This is what I’ve seen. What do you make of that? How do I cope with that bit?’ There is communication, because you have been out there on your own in some way.

Q: So this is different – interacting with the teacher in that more confident way is fundamentally different than at the level of Sutra ?

R: Yes, here one is not needing to have something proven on the level of saying: ‘Come, encourage me into this. I haven’t bought this yet completely.’ At the level of Kriyatantra you have certainly bought it; but you want to know how it works. You have paid the money , taken it home and signed the papers. There it is – and you say: ‘So what does this bit do?’ You are committed to this, whatever it is.

Sangha Atmosphere as Characterised by One Yana :

Q: Is it that a particular teacher could be at Kriya level with one student, and on another level with another student? It has to do with the student’s relationship with the teacher ? Do they decide this together; or is it something the student just feels?

R: It is a mixture. Someone could be a Kriyatantra teacher , i.e. manifesting as a teacher in that model. It is not that the teacher would be limited by that model – that is important to understand. If the teacher was manifesting as a Kriya teacher , then he or she would manifest like that all the time , unless he or she had a small group of special students with whom they related in a different way, in a private setting. Within that, there would be many ways of working. A teacher who came from an Atiyoga perspective could have a Kriya type relationship with one student; but it would not be archetypically Kriya – he would not hop onto a throne just to speak with this one person. It would be a subtle aspect of their dynamic, and that would be mutually created. From that perspective, the teacher would attempt to assist that student to move into the space of the predominant vehicle from which he or she was teaching. There will be an atmosphere within the sangha ; and that atmosphere would be characterised by one particular yana . Within that there would be the needs of all the particular students; and the teacher would take those into account in terms of personal relationship or situations that would be set up. For example – I think this probably happens in the West – someone may try to pull some kind of ‘palsy-walsy’ number with the teacher . You would notice that certain people like that would be distanced; and that the teacher might be quite friendly and palsy with somebody who is quite respectful – in exactly the opposite way. If someone is wishing for an artificial intimacy that is inappropriate, they have to be put into a Kriya situation; because it is not helpful for them. That area becomes skilful – the rôle of Vajra Master is fantastically complex and subtle in terms of each individual. In coming to trust the Vajra Master , one has to perceive that – that this person has consummate skill in handling situations and being with people. If a teacher was approaching from the point of view of Tantra , the Bodhisattva ideal is always embodied in that. All the practices have that quality in terms of energy. One is aware of how the teacher relates with circumstances. The circumstances that are created by the teacher are compassionate in their nature; they move in terms of energy, in terms of relationship. One works within the mandala of the teacher ; and this comprises compassionate activity.

Schools as Bodies of Inspiration:

In the Sakya , Kagyüd and Gélug Schools you have a four-fold system of Tantra . There are the same three outer Tantras, but the inner Tantra is one that is called anutarayogatantra. That is divided into father, mother and nondual Tantras in the Sakya and Kagyüd. But in the Gélug it is only father and mother. There are different stratifications of these teachings according to different lineages . People express the teachings in different ways. The four schools are basically stylistic – they are styles of Dharma – styles in which Dharma has been taught that have proven effective. These have come down from a great master and have been taught over the centuries. Schools have started at different times because there has been some great master whom everyone reveres and says: ‘Right. We want to maintain this.’ Within Christianity, Protestantism emerged as a school in ‘protest’ about what went before. Tibetan schools are not like this; although there have been sectarian disputes, these were not the causes of the origin of the schools. That is important to remember – and that realised masters of all the schools have never had any problem with each other. People who have problems with each other are usually… they have problems. All the schools have teachings for realisation; they just stratify them in different ways. You will find that there are differences according to how teachings are expressed. The Kagyüd, for example, have what is called ‘formless mahamudra ’. It is unique to the Kagyüd School and is similar to the Four Naljors, which is the ngöndro for Dzogchen sem-dé. If you know anything about the Four Naljors, and you look at formless mahamudra , you can see that they are practically identical. Schools arise according to a particular style of teaching from great Master . It is my perception that Trungpa Rinpoche ’s legacy will become a school in itself, according to how he taught. Tibetan Buddhism is not limited to the schools that currently exist. The Kagyüd include many sub-schools; within the Nyingma there are many separate lineages . It is important to understand that a school is a body of inspiration that passes down, and the understanding that this works for people, so we will continue it.

The Inner Tantras According to the Nyingma School

Related to Developmental Psychology :

In the Nyingma School we have a different stratification of inner Tantra . Inner Tantra is divided into Mahayoga , Anuyoga and Atiyoga . With Mahayoga one has the style in which the yidam starts off being external in our visualisation , and then we merge with the yidam . In terms of our psychological evolution, we are looking at an age in which we are capable of being adult for certain phases of our experience. When we need to rely on our parent’s experience, they are the parent. When we have our own experience of life , we can go off on our own. When we run into trouble, we may care to ask the parent again. In terms of being a practitioner, this is a relationship with the teacher in which we understand the teachings; we do not need to always be asking the nature of the teachings. There comes a point when we can work the teachings out for ourselves – we can answer our own questions. One comes to realise that Dharma , as-it-is, is not a mystery . If one has a question, one can look at that question and say: ‘Well, what is the emptiness and form here? …I can understand how this works.’ We know that there is a methodology of view that we can apply. It is actually occurring to me to ask myself the right questions and to find the right answers for myself. One might check that with the teacher and say: ‘I was thinking about this… and it occurred to me this…’ One gives one’s reflections to the teacher ; and the teacher might say: ‘Yes; that is how it is.’ This is much like the style of Mahayoga relationship, where one is not continually asking the teacher what shade of toilet paper to use; one is aware that it does not matter what the shade is. In Mahayoga the teacher is external; but one becomes the teacher also, in one’s relationship with the teaching. This is a level of adult experience – it is not complete, but it is a stage where we can actually cultivate our own intelligence in terms of having a Dharma intelligence. Dharma has started to make sense . The patterns start to mesh with each other; and where they do not mesh, then we can ask the teacher about that.

Then we have Anuyoga . Characteristically, one would characterise Mahayoga as more ritualistically inclined, more concerned with yidam practice; and Anuyoga as more yogically inclined and concerned with practices of Tsa rLung. Tsa is the nadis, or the spatial nerves; rLung is prana , or the spatial wind/air. They come in three – there are thig-le, rLung and Tsa; but usually when one speaks of the exercises themselves, one talks about Tsa rLung practices. However, there are Tsa rLung practices within Mahayoga and there are yidam practices within Anuyoga – so it is not such a clear distinction. For our purposes, we will look at the style of yidam practice that exists in Anuyoga – and that is that one arises spontaneously as the yidam . The yidam is not external first, and then later we merge with the yidam ; we simply spontaneously arise as the yidam .

Q: In the story that was told earlier of someone who was told not to do yidam practice and he couldn’t; why was that? Is it that you become so integrated with that practice that you cannot not do it?

R: Sure. There is this spontaneous arising – that you are the yidam ; there is no problem there. This is the stage of adulthood where one assumes complete responsibility: ‘I am out on my own. I have to live this teaching. If my teacher dies, as my parent dies, I have to go on being an adult.’ Wherever one is, one’s teacher is always there; because one has a sense of how one’s teacher will respond. So one’s teacher is dead… I have often heard Lamas say this: ‘Ah! I know what my teacher would say here in terms of how I should approach this situation. I know what his or her view should be; I am familiar with that way of thinking .’ One sometimes finds oneself becoming one’s teacher , in terms of one’s own responses to others. One’s teacher comes through one’s own speech – not in an imitative way – one should make a distinct difference here. There is a style of hero-worship around the teacher where people imitate the teacher . This is not what is being spoken of here. This is where the language of the teacher – not in terms of words or terminology, but in terms of real knowledge – becomes integral. With Atiyoga the concept disappears completely, in terms of the teacher being different in any way. I commented earlier that ‘the lower the Tantra the higher the throne’. In terms of Atiyoga , the teacher dresses the same way, eats in the same place, helps shear the yak or whatever. You will find in terms of a yogic encampment, where the teacher was coming from the Dzogchen perspective, he or she would simply be doing work around the place along with everybody else. One would not specifically know who the teacher was sometimes, until a teaching was being given; and then he or she would maybe put on a shawl begin to talk. This requires an immense degree of adulthood on the part of the students, because the teacher looks no different. This is where the model breaks down in terms of developmental psychology – one can only stretch this analogy so far. Usually what happens with parents and children is that parents remain parents until they become incontinent; then the child flips into being parent. It seems one of the hardest things for human beings to do, to spend a period of time being friends with their own child. Sometimes it is a problem on the part of the parent, because they want to hang onto parenthood; sometimes it is a problem with the child, who will not allow their parent to be a friend. This is just an aside, by the way; but it is an interesting one. I remember being out for dinner with a couple once, twenty-five years older than me. Whilst we were having dinner, the phone went; and the lady answered. And it was her daughter on the other end. We could not help overhearing the conversation . Her daughter was shocked that her mother was a bit tipsy. She said something like: "Mother! You are drunk!" She answered: "So what if I am? What’s it to you, anyway?" When she returned, she said: "She really wants me to be ‘mother’; and so if I’m not being mother, it can be a problem sometimes." Interesting .

Here we have not exactly got the situation where teacher and students are friends as such, where there is some kind of artificial equality – where they are ‘sharing’ with each other in some way. But they are capable of having ordinary human conversation . This is where the student has some integrity as a person – some experience of practice. That I am no longer a ‘stupid’ person; I am no longer a person who is continually lousing up all the time . I am not always having to ask the answers for everything; but I am acutely aware of my teacher manifesting in a way that is imperceptible. This teacher holds no projections anymore, apart from the reality of his or her realisation. The realisation is not expressed through any particular means that is recognisable apart from itself. Maybe this teacher would not even appear like a teacher – especially for people who are used to a teacher having a costume, speaking in a particular way. Here the teacher enters into what is called ‘secret activity’. This is very much Dzogchen style – where any activity could be engaged in, and any expression is teaching.

Here it is a question of greater subtlety of connection. With a greater subtlety of connection, there is a wider dispersal of appreciation. In Anuyoga – this spontaneous arising as the awareness being – one has the whole field of interaction, of being the yidam in everyday circumstances. This is the meaning of vajra pride – one carries that sense of being the yidam into every situation. Every situation is infused with the quality-field of the yidam . Compassion or bodhicitta is manifested through vajra pride and through Pure Vision in terms of relationship with all beings in all circumstances. That is infused with the energy of one’s relationship with one’s own Lama . From an Anuyoga perspective, teachings such as the khandro /pawo Nyida mélong – the teaching about being in romantic relationship – involve manifestation of bodhicitta , in terms of taking one’s partner as one’s teacher . This is a teaching that combines the views of Anu and Ati yoga . Within the body of Tantra there are different styles of practice, some of which cross between the yanas – perhaps there will be the practice of one yana with the view of another. In fact, Upa or Carya yoga of the outer Tantras is like this – it is the view of Yogatantra with the practice of Kriyatantra.

This is a view of the nine yanas in terms of experience, in terms of bodhicitta /compassion . One can see compassion manifesting at every level of this process in terms of what the teacher is for the student – in terms of how the student functions; in terms of connection; in terms of appreciation – how this quality becomes increasingly subtle. At the level of Atiyoga the word bodhicitta means the nondual state.

Lama ’i Naljor:

Q: I have a question about how yidam practice fits into maha or Anu yoga . When you have received transmission from the Lama , and you practice being the yidam in everyday life , and you also see the Lama as the yidam – how does that fit into Maha or Anu?

R: You find the practice of Lama ’i Naljor or Guru Yoga in all the Tantras.

Q: More blatantly expressed in the outer Tantras, like the Lama is god ?

R: Yes, much. The lower the Tantra , the more elaborate the practice; because not only does there have to be a yidam , but the yidam has to exist in a pure realm within the mandala . You do not see the Lama much outside the shrine room of the gompa ; and the shrine room is a perfect environment – everything is crisply painted, perfectly arranged. Then if the Lama goes out, there is a horse with a wonderful saddle and there are canopies; those things are there to encourage us in a sense of preciousness. Then—at the level of Atiyoga —that completely disappears.

Q: It seems that in Atiyoga , it is totally formless; like the yidam

R: There is no yidam in Atiyoga ; the yidam there is the experience of rigpa itself. Teachers who may teach at a high level may play with the yanas , in terms of adopting the styles of different yanas at different times – shifting between being ordinary to being regal. You can find this in a lot of Nyingma sadhana , where the practice shifts between Kriyatantra and Anuyoga styles: One is making elaborate offerings to the yidam , and suddenly one is merging with the yidam , and then that dissolves; then one spontaneously arises. You think: ‘Hang on! I was just making offerings to this being.’ Nyingma sadhana typically moves, changing throughout the yanas . Teachers who adopt that style can manifest anything, from being the queen or king to being the person who is milking the dri next to you; and then back again. That is one style of working.

Q: In most Lama ’i Naljors that I’m familiar with, the Lama ’s actual physical presence isn’t primarily used. They’re always in another physical /visual form . Why is that?

R: It is only with important Lamas , such as the Karmapas, that you actually visualise the Lama . You will find yidam forms of Karma (Pakshi) as Tröllö (Pakshi) – as Dorje Tröllö, wearing a black hat. Lamas of great realisation are treated in this way. The other style is that one visualises the Lama in pure form /yidam form . This would be an injunction that one received from the Lama him or herself – that this is possible.

Q: It seems a possible way of tapping into devotion.

R: Yes, but one has to have a high realisation oneself, as well as the Lama , in order to do that; because unless one is at that stage of adulthood, it could become confusing. And then you would have to be working with a Lama who had some realisation, rather than somebody like me, for example. There, you are far better off visualising Padmasambhava , Yeshé Tsogyel, Ma-gÇig Labdrön – because there is some benefit in doing that.

We can look at how the phases of the inner Tantras are expressed in the Lama ’i Naljor text, in terms of guiding visualisation . The first three lines are:

Om ma-chig ma-la; sol-wa dep A’a ma-chig ma-la; sol-wa dep Hung ma-chig ma-la; sol-wa dep

This is the level of practice at the phase of Mahayoga , because Ma-gÇig Labdrön exists externally. One visualises the Om A’a and Hung at her forehead, throat and heart .

Kar-po Om-gyi; jing-gyi lob Mar-po A’a-gyi; jing-gyi lob Ngön-po Hung-gyi; jing-gyi lob

You are making the connection here in the second three lines.

Ku-sung thug-gyi jing-chen phob

One is merging with Ma-gÇig Labdrön, becoming Ma-gÇig Labdrön. This is the culmination of Mahayoga .

Ma yum-chen go-pang tob-par shog

In this last line, one becomes Ma-gÇig Labdrön – this is Anuyoga . What follows is the exclamation ‘Phat!’ which explodes the visualisation . This is the Atiyoga point within this practice. This is our particular practice of Lama ’i Naljor. We practice this for various reasons: It is a nice, short practice of Lama ’i Naljor, easy to remember. It also exists in practically all the Nyingma lineages and in the Kagyüd lineages of gCod. I received transmission of this from various Lamas – you will find it in Dudjom gTér – but I received this, with its particular tune, from Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche , who in a previous life was the son of Ma-gÇig Labdrön. It was he who requested her to write a Lama ’i Naljor that was short and simple that he could practice. When he gave me this transmission , he told me that he could still hear her voice ; so it is nice to have that particular tune. Unfortunately you have to have it from me, rather than from him. There is a synthesis of the three inner Tantras in this practice, moving from phase to phase of Ma-gÇig Labdrön being external, taking transmission , merging with Ma-gÇig Labdrön, and spontaneously arising in that form .

The idea of repeating it three times is not simply from a devotional viewpoint that three times is better than two. It is always said that: ‘A stone is worn away in a waterfall by new water all the time .’ It is not the same water; there is always new water. The repetition and continually changing form in one’s relationship with the yidam keeps this idea of form -as-movement. It is not static. Within the sadhanas there is always this change that is happening; one is never allowed to fixate on anything for long. The visualisation is there – it is no sooner there than it is changing – its mandala is evolving, or many different things are happening.

Q: You mentioned one time that Lama ’i Naljor is the heart of both Tantra and Dzogchen . Could you talk a little bit about Lama ’i Naljor from the Dzogchen ?

R: A. (laughter)

Q: Essentialised – the seed syllable, then.

R: Yes. That is why we sing A’a after everything, even after Long Life Wish-Path . It is always Lama ’i Naljor.


Just as within Lama ’i Naljor you can see this phase shifting from Mahayoga into Anuyoga into Atiyoga ; these yanas are also expressed in the Refuge . Refuge is a fundamental aspect of Buddhism – to take refuge . Unfortunately, in some people’s views, refuge seems to have come to mean some kind of Buddhist ‘baptism’ or being a blessing . I have come to take refuge seriously. I only give refuge when people are actually interested in narrowing down to the practice of Buddhism .

In the Nyingma tradition we speak of refuge in four particular classes – outer, inner, secret and ultimate. The Tibetan words for these are Chi, Nang, Sang and Nang-sang . Nang-sang , or ultimate, actually means most-secret. The first, or outer, level of refuge is Buddha , Dharma , Sangha ; in Tibetan , sang -gyé, chö, gen-dün. This is known as the refuge of Sutra . (I am not good at Sanskrit . When I talk about Tibetan I can actually look at the etymology of the words; so I tend to use Tibetan for my examples.) Sang -gyé means complete, open wakefulness. Usually if I am looking for refuge , I go to a smaller, darker place: I go home, I go to bed, I close the door and I go to sleep ; and I lock it all out. This is not what is meant by refuge in Buddhism . Buddhism is always the refuge of no-refuge . Sang -gyé, complete open wakefulness, is different from this idea. It is complete. Refuge is not complete because it is refuge from something. This is the refuge of no-refuge ; it is complete. It is open – it is not closed. And it is wakeful – it is not hiding in some way. Sang -gyé kyab-su ché: I establish confidence in the actuality of complete, open wakefulness. I usually translate refuge in this way – refuge is the establishment of confidence in the actuality of something. Buddha here is not the founder of the religion , or some kind of god . Buddha is what we are, what we can realise ourselves to be – this complete, open wakefulness. Buddha kyab-su ché: I establish confidence in the actuality of that – that I have some glimpse of that, I am inspired by that, something touches me both emotionally and intellectually about that. I have researched this thing; so I have real confidence that is not based upon wish-fulfilment or projection.

Then there is chö, or Dharma . Chö is as-it-is – not as I wish it was, as I would like it to be, as it ought to be – as-it-is. This is also the refuge of no-refuge ; because I cannot say I do not like how it is and I want my money back. This is not a philosophy ; this is not something created by anybody, even though people have written about it. No one who ever writes about it owns it; apart from owning it in their being. Dharma —as-it-is— we can discover how it is. This is why Shakyamuni Buddha said: "You must not accept my words simply because I am saying them." You have to check these words out; you have to test them. The analogy was to test them like the goldsmith tests gold – by rubbing and burnishing and doing all the tests you can to prove that this is what it is. One has to prove it within one’s own experience. That is what is meant by chö. Chö is not something to be believed; chö is something to be discovered. Here one has to have the courage and openness to accept that what one discovers one might not like. I might not be comfortable with the reality I find in this; it might threaten me in some way. But somehow I am not going to retreat from that and create a cosier version of reality that makes me comfortable. Chö is having one’s nose pressed hard up against the reality of what is there. Then there is gen-dün, sangha . This is an interesting one – taking refuge in sangha – because quite often sangha really are the refuge of no-refuge . If we are confronted with a collection of back-biting, back-stabbing, gossiping individuals, then certainly there is no refuge there. Maybe in the West we have the best possible kind of sangha already; I do not know. I have often had sad perspectives on how Buddhists are with each other in the West. There seems to be a high level of neurosis in which people seem to be there for many different reasons; and often it does not seem to be about becoming more open as an individual. It seems to be about joining a club, being part of something where there is an in-group and an out-group where people are excluded and there are people to talk about. Obviously no refuge is offered there; it is really the refuge of no-refuge if it is like this. What is meant here is that sangha are people who are changing. These are people who are practising; therefore, they are empty people. Usually the definition of a friend is he or she who backs me up in my neurosis: I tell you about the person I have some problem with, and we both sit down and say: ‘Yes – asshole!’ This is how friends usually operate; but this is not necessarily how sangha operates. Sangha are people who are changing; their neuroses should not have such a tight bind on them as they used to have. If we live in a world where we meet sangha members, and one finds that: ‘Hmmm, he or she used to react in this way; and they don’t seem to be doing that any more,’ that is threatening. I think that sangha members feel that they have to give each other gratuitous spiritual advice. This is not what is meant by sangha , either. The only way that sangha members can authentically threaten each other is by being real practitioners. One does not have to make any comment whatsoever on anybody else. It is not even that one does not back one’s friends in the sangha up in their neuroses; it is that one is simply different about it. One does not say: ‘Oh, you should not be having those feelings .’ When one says: ‘That guy is an asshole.’ You say: ‘Maybe, yeah, but then – there are other things too.’ It is not that one has to be puritanical about that, and be ‘holy’ in some way. One is manifesting some compassion , and one ought to be able to resonate to some degree with someone’s view, even though one might not hold that view so seriously any more. A real sangha member would come from the point of view of partial support – in terms of being with this person in what they are feeling , but not really shoring it up and fuelling it. When we are with people like this, it is a little bit irritating really; because we really know that their position is a good position. We know what we want from them, and we know that we are not getting it quite as much as we would like; we know we also have no complaint about that, because we would not really want it to be any other way. That is irritating. This is completely destroyed when another sangha member tries to point out to you that you are not being a good Buddhist – because when one is criticised, one simply entrenches. Then one cannot hear or see anything; and this is really useless.

This is important. This is the functioning of compassion . When one can see someone being really irritated and angry with someone else, the best thing to do is not to say: ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be feeling like this; this is not a good Buddhist thing to feel.’ You can say: ‘Yeah, I can see why you’re irritated.’ You have to resonate a little bit; otherwise you are cut off from this person. You cannot say: ‘I don’t have such feelings .’ All you can say is: ‘Yes, I have them; but I try not to take them too seriously, because that’s not going to help in the end.’ This is refuge of no-refuge , because there is no refuge for our neurosis here. This is what is called the outer refuge .

The inner refuge is Lama , Yidam and Khandro /Pawo. Usually when we speak of refuge , in the Tibetan system we talk about a fourfold refuge which is Lama , Buddha , Dharma , Sangha ; this is a hybrid between the outer and the inner refuge . Lama is always put there first because without the Lama , Buddha , Dharma and Sangha do not exist. This is because someone has to exemplify the path . A path is all well and good; but if you cannot see anyone who has lived that, if you cannot see anyone who in some way exemplifies the fruit of that path , then what inspiration is there? There are all kinds of books about how to be a better, taller, more intelligent, more everything personself -improvement. Exercises to get bigger breasts, larger penis – anything you can imagine – you can get it out there. Improve yourself. You have to see someone who exemplifies this, and have some appreciation of their life and think: ‘Yes, that is really impressive.’

There is always a quality around the teacher of push and pull, of attraction and aversion. There has to be, because one has attraction and aversion for one’s own state of enlightenment . In the same way we are both horrified by our own mortality and seduced by it. This is why when you pass a car accident, you get people gawking – because you think: ‘That squashed individual – that could happen to me!’ People are hypnotised by death ; they are horrified by it at the same time . There is this frozenness of: ‘I can’t not look, but I don’t want to look.’ That is a bit like the relationship with the teacher – there ought to be something of that there: That this is a possibility that I want; but on the other hand, I’m really not so sure about that. This should be there, when one looks at one’s teacher . Lama , Buddha , Dharma , Sangha . This is an aside – but it is important to explain why refuge is portrayed in this way.

In inner refuge we have Lama , Yidam and Khandro /Pawo; this is called the Tsa Sum , the three roots of Tantra . The Lama is the root of knowledge . The yidam is the root of power /energy – this is the Lama manifesting in visionary form as the method of practice. It is from the Lama that we receive the wang, the transmission of the practice; this is yidam . Then we have khandro /pawodakini /daka . This is usually expressed as Lama , Yidam , Khandro ; usually pawo is not mentioned. That is because it is presented from a male perspective; but for women it would be Lama , Yidam , Pawo.

This is a thing that is widely misunderstood in the West. Because pawo is not really referred to much, especially in the current material we have available in the English language , some people have evolved the view that somehow the practice of dakini is associated with women. This is a completely erroneous view. The practice of dakini or khandro is there for men; because it is all about realising the inner khandro . Women are khandro ; they do not need to realise khandro . They need to realise pawo, this inner male quality. Accurately it should be expressed as: Lama , Yidam , Khandro /Pawo or Pawo/Khandro .

Q: I thought it had to do with some kind of female angel, but now it sounds like you are talking of anima and animus?

R: I am not so sure about anima and animus; having never studied Jung, I could not concur. There seems to be some similarity; but I would not like to go much further than that. I will explain those terms a little more. The real meaning of pawo and khandro is the inner method-display and the inner wisdom -display. Tantra views men and women as manifesting their duality in a specific way, in terms of manifest and unmanifest or outer and inner; along with the ideas of wisdom and compassion . Wisdom is female; compassion is male. This idea follows throughout the Tantras. This gom-tag I am wearing, the meditation strap that is worn around one knee a little bit like Milarépa wears – this is in three colours: white, blue and red. This represents the channels: the lunar (male) channel, the solar (female) channel and the central (spatial dimension) channel. In terms of Tantric language , when we speak about bodhicitta we are talking about the dynamic of maleness and femaleness – the red and white bodhicittas. This is how the terminology is used there; you find that in each level of Tantra , the word bodhicitta is being used in different ways. This is the same word that is linked with compassion ; one speaks of the mixing of the red and white bodhicittas – which is compassionate activity – which relates with sexuality. It is compassionate because it is sensory, it is communicative; it is ecstatic because compassion is ecstatic. Once one understands the language , all the links make fluid sense . Here the idea is that when men and women enter a dualistic state, they manifest that dualism in terms of losing contact with their inner qualities.

Q: Is dakini ever used as a class of beings?

R: Also, yes. The whole field of Tantra is confusing if you imagine that the same word always means the same thing. The term khandro is also used as the Lama ’s wife; it is used in many different ways. In this context khandro and pawo mean inner qualities – but more specifically here, the circumstances of the path are described as pawo/khandro . This is the Lama manifesting as the circumstances of the path and the circumstances of relationship. There is a psychology of relationship that is based on this form of imbalance that exists – that men and women exist out of balance with themselves, and therefore out of balance with each other.

Q: Could you give an example of the dakini /daka principle? Is dakini activity the same thing?

R: With wisdom display, the dakini /khandro , one is looking at amorphous qualities – spatial qualities, wisdom qualities. When one is looking at method display or pawo, one is looking at compassionate activity in terms of how it is mechanical and linear, how it is momentary, how it fits circumstances, how it intermeshes with things for periods of time and then moves. One is talking about a form of dynamism – a linear form of dynamism, rather than a dynamic field. What is important to understand is how male-female relationship takes its form through one’s estrangement either from one’s own inner method or inner wisdom . When men lose contact with their inner wisdom display, they become prone to distorted method display – distorted method display is aggression, dominance, fixity in terms of linear form . When women lose contact with inner method display, they tend to manifest decorativeness, and an amorphousness of being that attaches to distorted method display in search of its own lost method display. Instead of gaining that method it becomes dominated by that method; and the method that goes looking for its lost wisdom and finds it in the distorted external wisdom display, loses it as soon as it finds it. This is because wisdom display is only wisdom display when it is free; as soon as it is dominated, it ceases to be wisdom display. Yet the only way to get it, from that perspective, is to dominate it. That is a contracted version – one could talk about that in great detail.

Q: What was the female counterpart to the male aggression?

R: Being the Barbie yidam . These are extreme caricatures; we do not have such caricatures here, but we are all on a continuum with them. Those caricatures go for each other; and the more extreme the caricature, the worse the consequences of it.

Q: Iconographically speaking, what or who is the pawo?

R: You do not usually see pawo. In the Francesca Freemantle and Trungpa Rinpoche translation of the Tho-dröl, there is a thangka painting he painted that depicts pawos. They are often shown carrying banners and beating a drum, which is activity. The archetypal khandro is shown with one leg raised, holding a grigug and skull bowl. You see pawos, just not often, because the dominant aspect of the path was that it was practised by males; so the dakini /khandro came to be the prevalent form . There are many kinds of pawo—Takdong, tiger-headed pawo—that are practices, like the khandro practices.

Q: Is this based upon our physiology—that we have male and female bodies —it doesn’t have so much to do with personality types or whether one is androgynous or not?

R: No. This is why whatever you do to yourself, however you get operated on, you are always male or always female—you cannot alter that—on the level of pawo/khandro .

Q: Sometimes I’ve heard of inner refuge as Lama , Deva , Dakini . Deva ?

R: Guru , Deva , Dakini – that is the Sanskrit . That is the inner refuge which equates with outer Tantra , or with the phase including Mahayoga – it is loosely spoken of as outer Tantra . Then we have the secret refuge , which is thig-lé, rLung and Tsa; in Sanskritbindu , prana and nadi. It is called ‘secret’ refuge because it is secret; not secret because you cannot talk about it, but secret because you cannot understand it unless you can understand it. If you have no experience of these things, then it is secret; and whatever you say about it is simply information. Thig-lé, rLung and Tsa are the energetic bases of realisation. This is the structure of being in terms of the elements; this is the primal mandala – the arising of earth , water, fire, air and space out of Dharmata . The thig-lés are the spatial essences. rLung is the movement of that; and Tsa is the pattern of that movement. As well as the central, lunar and solar channels, there are Tsa all over the body . Mind or consciousness moves in these Tsa; or these Tsa are comprised by the eddies and currents of these movements.

Q: Is that what to-gal practice is for – working with that?

R: No, to-gal is beyond that; but there is a connection. Here we are dealing with thig-lé as an energetic dynamic, rather than as a spatial dynamic. (In togal) it is much more spatial; it relates with the body , through practices like spatial heat yoga , or phowa – the transference of consciousness . These are Tsa rLung type exercises contained mainly within Anuyoga .

Q: Why can’t inanimate objects experience this residual energy of the movement from Dharmakaya into sambhogakaya manifested in the thig-lé’s? Shouldn’t that be in all pre-atomic matter ?

R: I have a certain problem with that myself. I have never been convinced that stones have no consciousness ; it is just that I am not aware of it – put it that way. There may be no such thing as an inanimate object – I do not know; my experience runs out there. I am afraid I cannot answer that question. You would have to ask an animist about that. I remember once I was in Switzerland with Kyabjé Rinpoche . This man was having a discussion with him about the possible sentience of plants . Kyabjé Rinpoche loves arguing with people, especially if he can find someone who will really argue with him. This person was not a Buddhist , and so he felt safe arguing with Kyabjé Rinpoche . I was sitting there listening, and keeping safe. He looked at me and said: "What do you think?" And I said: "Oh, I think it is a difficult subject." He said: "You one big diplomat," which he said to me on frequent occasions. "Anyhow, you Tantric man. You must have opinion." I said: "OK, I would say they have consciousness ." "Why you say this?" I answered: "Well, for the reasons he’s given: You torture one plant , and the others go ‘Whoa!’ It seems they are reacting; there must be something." He said: "Yah, but you can say this of machine: You switch it on; it goes ‘Rrrr’. You push it off, it doesn’t." I said; "Yes, but someone made that machine. That’s why when you switch it on it does that. But like you said, I Tantric man; I don’t believe in god . You have to have a god to make plants non-sentient. If there is no god , then it must be sentient. I don’t believe in god ; so the plant must be sentient." And he grinned. The Swiss man said, "So is there sentience or non-sentience?" We both burst out laughing, and that was the end of it. Thereafter he decided they had sentience; but we did not discuss stones. Whether they put electrodes on stones and beat one up and the others do something, I do not know.

Q: Kyabjé Rinpoche said that stones had a consciousness , a slow consciousness . And he said he could see that stones were beings that were wrapped up like this…

R: It is a view; but like most things, I will believe it when I see it. It is possible; I would not say it is not. It is all thig-lé – whether there is something there. I think it is a nice view, whether true or not, because it encourages one to treat everything with respect . That is a nice thing about the native American tradition – how one respects everything – that is important. I have no personal experience of that, so I cannot comment, but I have a friendly disposition towards the idea. Ultimate refuge is Ngo-wo, Rang-zhin, and Thug-jé. Ngo-wo means essence; rang-zhin means energy or nature; and thug-jé is translated in many different ways – as energy, as compassion , as manifestation. Most-secret or ultimate refuge is based on Atiyoga . (break in tape) …It is all pervasively compassionate , all-pervasively ecstatic, all-pervasively lustful, all-pervasively communicative. Thug-jé, in terms of a subject, is unbridled communication, referenceless appreciation. From this perspective, the more we can appreciate the better. We should always regard it as problematic if there is something we cannot appreciate. I remember my friend Gyaltsen Rinpoche , who had not heard from me for a long time , once discovered that someone had a big batch of letters they had not given him for about eighteen months. He wrote to me saying: ‘I found this hard to appreciate.’ This person had not given him all my letters that had been stacked up. I would be writing : ‘I haven’t heard from you in a long time ;’ and I would get one from him saying: ‘Why aren’t you writing to me?’ I found this hard to appreciate. I thought this was a nice way of expressing it. That is a way in which we can practice compassion in our lives. Feelings of sympathy towards people, feelings of empathy, kind acts, generous acts, selfless acts – these are all important; but also appreciation is important. One cannot really proceed in terms of cultivating bodhicitta if one has no appreciation. This extends in unlikely ways in terms of Tantra ; for example, in terms of how one dresses – one’s appreciation for one’s own clothing, how one puts it on, the care one takes. It permeates every aspect of existence. The Tantric view is the one that I tend to centre on a great deal in how I teach with regard to everyday life . I tend to speak of practice from the view of Dzogchen , and everyday life from the view of Tantra . Here I like to emphasise this Tantric quality within life – of appreciation. It is sad when people who have become Buddhists feel that they can no longer say they enjoy things. You are not able to tell your Buddhist friends that you lust after this shirt in the JPeterman catalogue. People cramp themselves; if you cramp yourself, and you do not enjoy life , then you become a person who cannot allow others to enjoy life either. One develops a kind of ‘critical being’ – some kind of fossilised sanctity creeps into people – which is unhealthy and destroys compassion . It is nice for people to share in other people’s enthusiasm. Even if someone wants something you do not want; if you listen to them enthuse about it, and actually enthuse with them about it and try to enter into their view, this is an important key in terms of compassionate activity. You can resonate with another human being.

Q: But you don’t mean attachment ?

R: Shhhhew! Not attachment ?! That’s a terrible thing! Attachment ..?

Q: Like someone wanting something so much that if they can’t have it they become upset? Grasping?

R: No, I am just talking about humorous lust . As a practitioner – if one is getting upset that one cannot have a thing, one is not a practitioner. What I am talking about is looking at something and saying: ‘Oh! I like that! That’s good. All the juices are moving here, towards that thing, and I’d really like to have that. How can I get that thing?’ You say to your friend: ‘Hey, look at that! I want that!’ This can be humorous – it is humorous because you know that that is not the answer; but it is at the moment, and that can just be funny. It can be open, honest and funny – and you can still try to get it anyway. Then you can have it: ‘Yah, here it is. I’m going to enjoy this; but somehow it’s already a tad less than it was in the shop window already.’ That is funny. I read an article once in some Buddhist journal in Britain that a woman had written about the experience of her husband’s death ; and how on one occasion when she was crying, members of her Buddhist group had reminded her of the problem of attachment . I thought : ‘This is brutal stuff.’ Buddhism is not to inflict pain on others; there are other ways of responding. It is certainly sad when somebody dies. This is sad – full-stop – it is sad. I do not have to build on that. I have a relationship with this person and now that relationship is different; I cannot speak with this person anymore – that is gone. There is a disconnection there, and that is going to be an experience of sadness. Marpa cried when his son died. This confuses people who assume that being Buddhist means you snip all your emotions off. What is meant by attachment is how we build objects, people, places, things, and ideas into reference points: ‘This means I exist.’ That is what is meant by attachment ; not that I like this, and I am sad that I have lost this. The thing about attachment , especially from the point of view of Tantra , is: ‘How does this function beyond my pure appreciation of it? Does it function as a reference point, to prove my existence?’ People can get upset about the loss of a thing they have not looked at for a couple of years; and then it starts becoming important. You think: ‘What is this? You did not even appreciate it, and now it is gone. It must have had some other function there.’ One should never use this idea of attachment as a means of cutting-off. If one cuts off from pleasure , one cuts off from appreciation; then one also cuts off from compassion . One cannot do that – it does not work. You find that if people try to live life as if they have no attachment to anything, they actually become quite hard and brutalised in their relation with others – they are unable to respond to people who are experiencing loss. It is usually because they are terribly afraid of loss, and have retracted from connection in order to protect themselves. I have seen this among Western Buddhists – it is even more a male propensity to be emotionless and to remind people about attachment if they ever seem to be exhibiting emotion .

Q: Once somebody was saying that they had cried at their parent’s death ; and a Gélug Lama who was there seemed to think that that was a bad thing – not in terms of attachment , but for the dying process, the journeying on. Is that so? If one of my parents was dying, and I sat there and wept, that that would be detrimental?

R: It would not be helpful. When someone is dying, they do not need that tie: "Oh, my son is there suffering ." That is a tie they can do without.

Q: Would it be good to repress..?

R: Yes. Someone who is dying needs you to be there, being strong for them, not falling apart for them.

Q: But if you had great attachment to your mother, and you were with her, it would be…

R: Maybe you could alternate – whip out to the comfort station and cry, and then come back again. It is good to have a certain degree of control; one can do it. For someone who is dying, those last moments are important; so it is worth a little bit of repression. Repression is not all bad – that is important to understand – repression has got bad press recently. There are times when to repress something is useful. It is just that when it is the dominant mode… To express or repress – that would be a time to repress; to say: ‘I am not going to do that now.’ Otherwise you are sending this person off with all this hell going on around them – people suffering – and that is not a useful way to have your elements dissolve. That would be the principle of what he was talking about.

Q: In the Nyingma Tradition , are there lineage holders or students who can realise the ultimate refuge without passing through yidam practice? Are there people who can directly hear Dzogchen teachings and manifest Dzogchen view – stabilise within that view – without passing through formal practice of the yidam

R: Yes, that is considered possible; but I have never met any practitioner of Dzogchen who does not practise yidam . It is considered that as a Dzogchen practitioner, one has to be open to the practice of all the vehicles. Every Lama I have ever known who was primarily Dzogchen in orientation, has always practised yidam – mostly wrathful yidam as part of wrathful practice. The famous Lama Shabkar Rinpoche , had a balance of practice which was Dzogchen and Kriyatantra, which is more unusual. Dzogchen was his practice; yet he was vegetarian, did not drink alcohol , and spent his life building chörtens and engaging in many forms of meritorious activity. That was his combination. He was initially ordained as a ngakpa , and then he took monastic ordination; so he remained celibate, too. This is an unusual way round to do things; but I think it is a nice example, because it shows there are so many different ways that one can combine areas of practice, according to one’s individual propensities.

Seven-line song

Seven-Line Song is sometimes called Seven-Line Prayer /Tsig-dun Soldep, or Dorje Tsig-dun/Seven Thunderbolt Phrases. We both sing and chant Seven-Line Song. When one practices it as Song, one finds the presence of awareness in the dimension of sound . One simply sings – the words and the movement of the melody are in themselves a meditative practice. Finding the presence of awareness in that movement, according to those particular vocal textures and ways of breathing, is the practice. We use Seven-Line Song in many different ways. As a precursor to meals, we chant it. We sing one version which uses the gCod drum. There is also a manner of singing it that is called ‘The Flight of the Vulture’. There are many tunes like this within our lineage ; and you can hear how the vulture moves its wings, hangs for a moment, descends, rises, and hangs again.

Seven-Line Song is a complete practice in itself. Tharchin Rinpoche once said that he had known people who had achieved realisation through the practice of Seven-Line Song alone – which does not just mean singing it; it means studying it; it has different levels of meaning that apply to certain practices. If one actually understands Seven-Line Song, then this comprises a whole path in itself. It is a powerful practice; and it is useful that one has some practice that uses the voice which one can actually know by heart . Texts are limitless, and one can chant from them; but it is useful if the world runs out of Xerox machines one day, that one has something to practise that one knows.

In its outer form , it is a description of the birth of Padmasambhava – who he is, where it was, what his manifestation is, and what his nature of practice is – this is what the seven lines say. There are many levels of interpretation of the syllables, according to the different yanas .

Q: Rinpoche , would you please translate some specific words of the Seven Line Prayer ? The translations that are here are beautiful. But I was wondering about individual words, such as yul-gi or nub-chang – only because I love the Tibetan .

R: Yul-gi means land-of, nub-chang means Northwest. These would be the outer meaning; but they also have other meanings that relate at each level of practice – Mahayoga , Anuyoga , Atiyoga . In our Song Book you have the outer and inner meanings together. Then there are secret and most-secret meanings. Each syllable has levels of meaning; and then the Seven Line Song becomes an instruction on every level of Tantra . At the level of to-gal it becomes a highly profound teaching. There is a text on this by Tulku Thöndup, in his bookEnlightened Journey’. This is something you would need a Lama ’s advice with, because it is dense; but it expands into a lifetime study.

Yeshé Tsogyel Mantra and gTérma of Pure Vision:

Singing the mantra of Yeshé Tsogyel is a sem’dzin practice. Singing is a funny word; but it is the only one I can find. There is no translation for this term ‘Dzogchen gar-dang’, because it is not a chant . One is finding presence of awareness in the dimension of sound ; it is a meditative practice. The tune is not simply decoration – it is not used because it is attractive or enjoyable to sing; although if you enjoy it that is helpful – it will encourage you to practise. The function is that the tune itself has a particular quality that enables one to enter into the state of awareness . The tune of this mantra is a gTérma, like the mantra itself; it was realised in Pure Vision. This is a special method; like the tune that is used with gCod drum in Seven Line Song; and the Flight of the Vulture – these are all gTérma tunes.

Q: Rinpoche , when you say Pure Vision, is that synonymous with sambhogakaya vision?

R: No. We use the word Pure Vision in many different ways; that is the only translation for a group of terms in Tibetan . Here it is translation of the words dag-ngang gTér. There are different kinds of gTérma: There is sa gTér, which is earth gTérma – but it also means all the elements. This is nirmanakaya Padmasambhava /Yeshé Tsogyel, from whom the gTérma is revealed and discovered. Then there is gong gTér or mind gTérma – this category contains various subtypes; but this is sambhogakaya Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel, from whom one receives transmission . Dag ngang gTér, Pure Vision gTérma, is something that arises from Dharmakaya . Because of this, it has no historical link; so here Padmasambhava or Yeshé Tsogyel is the nature of your own Mind . You will find in gTérma systems like the Dudjom gTér, for example, occasionally there will be a section that says: ‘From Pure Vision’; this will be his own dag gang gTér, which will be separate from the rest of the gTérma. Dag ngang gTér can arise any time , anywhere in the world – one need not specifically be an incarnation of one of the Twenty-five Disciples in order to realise that kind of gTérma.

There are gTérmas outside the Nyingma School, in the Kagyüd and Sakya traditions . There is a famous modern gTér of Milarépa, as a matter of fact, that is held in the Drukpa Kagyüd School in one monastery in Manali where Sé Rinpoche lives; he was the son of A’pho Rinpoche . There is a small Drukpa Kagyüd gompa where they do the Naro Chö-drug, the Six Yogas of Naropa ; they turn out fabulous tu-mo yogis there. I have a photograph of them all with their white shawls on; they had just come out of retreat . It is a nice little family gompa . They practise the gTérmas of Shakya Shri – a Lama of the last century who was a cook at a monastery . He was an interesting man; he used to practise all the time and sit in on the teachings. There is one nice story about him: He is sitting in on the teachings one day, and then has to go back to the kitchen to do something. The monks are laughing and saying: ‘Isn’t this stupid – this cook sitting in here – what does he know?’ The Lama is angry with them, saying: ‘You are all stupid; because one day you will be grateful for a drop of this man’s piss to drink.’ He had these gTérmas of Milarépa that would be classed as dag ngang gTér; and a whole Milarépa nam-thar that contains aspects of Milarépa’s life that aren’t in the other biographies. I had a look at it some time ago; it is interesting . There is a whole section on Milarépa’s sang -yum, his spiritual consort, that you do not find elsewhere.

Dag ngang gTér can be one of two types: either from a source – such as Milarépa, Yeshé Tsogyel, or whomever – or as a direct revelation of Dharmakaya . This particular one is the revelation of Khyungchen Aro Lingma, a female gTértön who gave rise to this in Pure Vision from Yeshé Tsogyel.


Ngak’chang Rinpoche at San Francisco Shambhala Centre, February 1997