by His Eminence Nubpa Konchok Tenzin Rinpoche
Translated by Lama Nyandak
June 26, 2010
Q: Rinpoche, would you please tell us what refuge is.
A: If you look at any religion in the world, you will see that there is always a leader or person who taught the teaching and there are people who follow and practise the teaching. In the Buddhist context, we take refuge in the Buddha (the historical Buddha Shakyamuni) who led, taught and guided the teaching. The teachings that were taught by the Buddha, which is known as Dharma, can be classified into three categories (Pitaka) – Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket), Sutta Pitaka (Discourse Basket) and Abhidhamma Pitaka (Philosophy Basket). Those are the teachings that the followers practise. Sangha community is spiritual masters or friends who assist us on the path for our practice. When we take refuge in the Three Jewels which is Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha, we are not taking refuge to the Three Jewels because they are special. We are taking refuge in the Three Jewels because we ourselves are considered as patients (a sick person). When we are sick, we have to find a doctor who can prescribe the medicine/treatment. In order to cure our sickness, just having the doctor alone is not enough; we also need prescription or medicine which is the teaching. Moreover, the teaching (medicine) has to be practised (taken). In addition, if we have a severe sickness and we are unable to move for instance, we need someone to assist us to get the treatment for example a nurse or a friend. Similarly, spiritual friends or Sangha community are the those who assist us on the path to liberation.
The purpose of taking refuge vow is that since the historical Buddha Shakyamuni until now, there is an unbroken lineage transmission and in order for us to connect to this unbroken lineage, the refuge ceremony takes place. Symbolically, taking vows and having lineage transmission in order to connect to the unbroken lineage is like we consider ourselves as a light bulb and in order to transmit light to the bulb, you have to connect the wire of the bulb to the generator and thus light is received through the wire. Moreover, it is also the refuge ceremony (taking refuge in the Three Jewels) that distinguishes between someone who is a Buddhist or not. Nowadays, there are two types of people who approach Buddhism. One is to approach Buddhism by curiosity having the attitude of experimenting and investigating. Another type are those who become interested in Buddhism through the understanding that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the authentic refuge that can protect us. For serious Buddhist practitioners, taking refuge vows is the foundation to all other vows. Why? It is because in the Buddhist tradition, there are individual liberation vow, bodhisattva vow, secret mantra vow and so on. The prerequisite to all these vows is the refuge vow. It is like when you build a house, we need foundation. Taking refuge is the foundation.
Q: Would you please share with us the history of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG and the history of Avalokiteshvara.
A: There are two ways to explain the history of Avalokiteshvara. One is from the provisional/relative point of view and the other is from the definite/ultimate point of view. The provisional point of view is that Avalokiteshvara was, for eons ago just like ourselves, an ordinary person who generated bodhicitta/mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings and accumulated numerous merits. Through eons of his own prolong practice, he was able to reach ten bodhisattva levels. At that time, he received Light empowerments from Buddhas in ten directions (receiving Light empowerment is a sign of complete/full Enlightenment).
Another way to explain it is that Avalokiteshvara right now in the Pureland at the right side of Buddha Amitabha while Vajrapani is at the left side of Buddha Amitabha. It is also said that Avalokiteshvara is the heartson of Buddha Amitabha.
When we talk about thousand eyes and thousand arms Avalokiteshvara, the legend is that once upon a time, Avalokiteshvara vowed that until he was able to liberate the entire sentient beings from samsara, he will never rest in peace and if he was not able to do so, may his face and whole body burst into thousands of pieces. Then he tried his best to liberate numerous sentient beings from samsara, however, no matter how many sentient beings he liberated, still there are many left. He was in Potala (Pureland land of Avalokiteshvara) and when he looked from there, he could still see many sentient beings who were wandering in samsara. So, he became discouraged and because of his formal vow, his body and face burst into thousand pieces. Then Buddha Amitabha and many other Buddhas came and through their power of their blessings, his whole body was completely restored. Amitabha gave him eleven faces, thousand eyes and arms to increase his ability to benefit sentient beings. Avalokiteshvara had great compassion toward all sentient beings and he understood the suffering of the entire sentient beings. Avalokiteshvara had two tears, one on the left and the other on the right, and these two tears manifested into Tara and wrathful Bhrkuti helping Avalokiteshvara to benefit sentient beings. In the Tibetan history, the king Songtsen Gampo was the emanation of Avalokiteshvara and his two consorts (princesses) are the emanation of Tara and wrathful Bhrkuti.
The evolution of the six-syllable mantra is that for many eons ago, there was a Buddha called the Red Buddha who taught this mantra and teaching. Lots of benefits of the mantra are explained in the sutra Samato. There are also stories about someone when reciting this six-syllable mantra, the mantra appears as the five dakinis. Another teaching which is related only to the Mani-mantra was that Avalokiteshvara is a male deity and the six-syllable mantra is female. These are the conventional ways to understand the evolution of Avalokiteshvara. When it comes to the emanations of Avalokiteshvara, it is countless.
From the ultimate point of view, Avalokiteshvara’s real nature is the compassion of the entire Buddha. Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of compassion of the entire Buddha.
Q: How does Mahamudra practice relate to Ngöndro practice? Is Mahamudra a practice of its own or it is merely a support to Ngöndro practitioners?
A: Mahamudra is the goal that we would like to attend. Mahamudra is the true nature of our mind. In order to attain that result, we need to use method and path which can help us to attain that result. Ngöndro (Preliminary practice) is the method and path which can help us to lead to attainment of Mahamudra.
Q: Why do we need initiation for the Mahamudra practice?
A: The Five Fold Mahamudra practice is the combination of sutra and tantra practice. In order to do the tantra in Vajrayana practice, one must have initiation before one can practise tantrayana. Therefore, the Mahamudra initiation takes place tomorrow. When we go through the Five Fold Mahamudra Practice, there is a practice of Guru Yoga through which one receive empowerment from the guru to oneself and so on.
Q: Is Chenrezig the manifestation of absolute compassion or the relative compassion?
A: It is the ultimate compassion because ultimate compassion has no object and the non-objectifiable compassion is the ultimate compassion.
Q: Rinpoche, would you please share with us how you practise and maintain your compassion? Please give us some advice on how to practise in this degeneration time.
A: Based on my own experiences: when I was young, I trained in the monastery and I had some understanding on the Buddhist teaching. Because of the understanding, when I encountered difficult situations, one thing that I realized was that no matter what difficult situation I face, I never blame on others. I always believe that whatever happens to me, it is because of my former negative karma that I have accumulated. With the understanding of the Buddhist teaching, I entrust myself to the law of cause and effect. Since everything is under the law of cause and effect, whatever happens to me, I never put the blame on others. When I was young, I studied Bodhisattvacaryavatara. There is one very beautiful passage that really helps me – If the problem of the difficult situation can be solved, what is the point of worry and suffer? If the problem and the difficult situation cannot be solved, what is the point of worry and suffer since this cannot be fixed? This helps greatly when one faces problem.
Q: Have you talked to leaders of other religions like Christianity, Islam etc?
A: I have met some Islams and Muslims but unfortunately because of the language barrier, I was not able to understand. We could not communicate with each other on the deep meaning of the different traditions. I also feel that it is helpful to understand other religions and I wished to study other religions as well. But unfortunately, I am not good in English. Of course, there are different religions and different traditions, but we do not treat them differently, we include them all because in Buddha’s teaching, firstly, we recognize the entire sentient beings as our own parents. Secondly, every single living being possess Buddha nature. So we treat everybody the same.
Q: Is it necessary to practise the Ngöndro first and then Mahamudra?
A: Not necessarily. Every set of teaching is set up according to the mental capacity of individual. There are two kinds of individual, instant and gradual. Instant is that when the teacher introduces the student to his/her own nature of mind, instantly that person is able to recognize his/her own nature of mind. For that kind of persons, there is no need to go through all the preliminary practices etc. But for those who are not able to recognize their own nature of the mind by direct instruction, they have to go through all stages of practices in order to realize or understand their own true nature of the mind.
Q: Is the purpose of receiving initiation of Avalokiteshvara is to connect with the deity?
A: There are people who, after prolong practice, have visions of their personal deities and through the personal deity, they receive teaching and communicate with the deity. Yes, the purpose of receiving initiation of Avalokiteshvara is to open the communication with the deity.
Generally speaking, this kind of initiation is only given to individual/practitioner who starts off their own sincere practice or a long retreat. For them, the initiation is given. In our case here, there are two things that you have to keep in your heart – either you are attending the initiation for the practice of Mahamudra in the future or you have faith and aspiration and are willing to generate and practise bodhicitta which is the essence of the Five Fold Mahamudra. As long as you have that, you can take the initiation tomorrow.
Q: How to identify your root lama? Can we have connection with deity without having a root lama? Which is more important, connection with deity or root lama?
A: When great translator Marpa who went to India to see his teacher, Naropa, Naropa manifested into another deity Hejvarja who sat next to Naropa himself. Naropa asked Marpa, “To whom you will take homage to, me or Hejvarja?” Marpa thought that he could meet his guru everyday, but deity on the other hand, he could hardly meet. So he thought he should prostrate to the deity first. He prostrated to Hejvarja first. Then Hejvarja dissolved into Naropa himself. This shows that lama or the guru is the embodiment of everything (deity, Buddha and everything else is included). Therefore guru is higher than deity in this context.
From the real practitioner’s point of view, you will identify the root teacher by the one who actually introduces to you your own true nature of the mind and you actually are able to recognize your true nature of the mind.
At the moment, you have met many teachers. You have to find out with whom you have more karmic connection, for example, from former lives and you can take him/her as your root teacher. Great saint Milarepa met his teacher Marpa. But before he met his teacher, when he just heard the name Marpa, tears instantly came down his eyes and strong sensational feeling arose deep from within and he was totally moved. This was an indication that there must be karmic connection from the past life. Now for us, it is not easy to find the teacher who can introduce to students their own nature of mind. The way we identify our root teacher is that you have a strong karmic connection to the teacher. As long as you feel that, you can take him/her as your teacher.
Q: Can you take Guru Rinpoche as your root teacher?
A: Yes, of course.
Q: What should I do if I have illusory dream?
A: If you are able to recognize that dream is dream, that is the practice. That is recognize that whatever happens in the dream is a dream. In the daytime, you also have to see everything as illusory as illusory dream nature.
Q: How should I continue to practise after you left?
A: Before you start meditation, you should start with developing bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment. Then you start your meditation (actual meditation), then after you come out from meditation (aftermath meditation), you always try to develop love and compassion, especially compassion. If you are able to enhance your compassion in your day to day life, your improvement in meditation will be enhanced.
Q: I am so caught up with negative thoughts during meditation. How to handle this?
A: When strong negative emotions arise in you, at that time, if you are able to look at the nature of the negative emotion without interrupted by second thought and realize that the nature of that negative emotion is empty. At that time, that strong negative emotion will dissipate by itself.
Q: Is there a difference between chanting the mantra loudly or quietly?
A: Generally speaking, the effect is the same but the difference is that if you do not have many conceptual thought, it is said that it would be better to chant quietly. But while you are chanting silently, if your mind starts occupied with lots of thought or get distracted, it is said that we should chant loudly.
Q: Some people chant the mantra very quickly but I am never able to do that so I have to take very syllable one by one. Is it important to chant very quickly?
A: There are descriptions on how we are supposed to chant. It is said that when you chant the mantra, you should chant it neither too fast nor too slow. You have to take the middle way. When you chant the mantra, it is important to chant correctly, that is, pronounce correctly and that you can hear it.
Q: Is it important to understand the meaning of the mantra or the vastness of the mantra?
A: Fundamentally, to do this practice, we have to have faith and devotion and on top of that, if possible, try to find out how to visualize, the meanings, how and what to focus on the mind. If the individual does not have faith and devotion to the mantra, even having good visualization may not be helpful because your visualization is like doing an experiment, trying out the mantra. The reason why we have to focus on the visualization is that it will protect our mind from being distracted. In this way, our mind will be concentrated on the mantra and the practice.
Q: When I read the text in Tibetan, it is more related to the rhythm but I do not have any connection to the meaning; whereas when I read in English, I understand the meaning and feel more connected. Is it better to do it in English then?
A: Yes, it is better to chant in English to understand the meaning.
HOME Mani Teachings 2010
|May all sentient beings gain the flavor of supreme knowledge,|
|that the unexcelled joy of truth fill their minds and bodies;|
|May all sentient beings obtain all the excellent flavors of nonattachment,|
|and not be addicted to mundane tastes, but always diligently cultivate and practice all aspects of Buddhahood;|
|May all sentient beings gain the flavor of one truth|
|and realize that all Buddha teachings are without difference;|
Last updated on 2010-11-04.