An Open Heart Question and Answer Session from London

Transcript of the teaching video: 

So far I have been talking a lot and you have not had any opportunity to speak, so I thought it would be good to do a Q&A session this afternoon. You can ask any types of questions, about anything you have on your mind. Because I haven't studied that much, please be patient with me and I apologize for anything I am not able to bring across. But with a pure motivation, I will explain it in my uneducated way. Thank you!

Question: As an Eastern woman, how are you feeling in the West? What are your general impressions spirituality in the West?

Generally speaking I don't have any special feeling for the different places I go to. The earth is just the earth, the stones are just the stones, the surroundings are just the surroundings. The qualities of a kind heart do not depend on a place and this is universal to all races. And the same goes for an unsubdued mind, in that regard we are the same too. No matter which country I visit, I do not get any special feelings. I lack sufficient experience to discern goodness and badness in this regard. It's all the same....

When I come to the West, I see great development in terms of materialism or the outer, physical world. When I see that, I have the wish and pray that the mental development or the science of the mind, could follow that growth, that would cause great improvement for the peace and happiness of the world. Whether you do retreat or help others in practical ways, since they are activities of the mind, then whether we are working or sitting upright, if the mind is virtuous, I consider that a retreat. We think ‘I didn’t get any time do to retreat’ ‘I need time to do my job’, but we should not make such a clear distinction that they're two completely separate things.

Question: I have a very practical question about the precious human rebirth. On the one hand, my husband is taking care of his disabled son, he can use my help and I think I can be of practical help and use there. But as a human being in this life, I, like anyone, have certain qualities and talents which I can use to help other people. Or I could go in full-time retreat. I feel I'm always in doubt. I cannot do all three. What is the best way to use our precious human rebirth?

We are samsaric beings, right? It is difficult for us to just give up all our domestic responsibilities to go into retreat. And because we don’t have renunciation, Bodhicitta and the correct view yet, even in retreat there will be lots of mental activities. Therefore, whatever activities we engage in, we should do them from a place of bringing benefit. When negative mind-states arise, we should remember our good qualities and rely on the antidotes to negative types of minds, such as attachment and aversion. If we do that, then that work also becomes like a retreat. There is no need to distinguish between the two; they are not contradictory. In our family lives or in our jobs, what we should try to do is to generate a kind heart, patience, wisdom and recognize the unhappy states of mind - afflictions like attachment, covetousness, ill-will, wrong views & jealousy-as disturbances of the mind & prevent them.

Usually there is the distinction between stabilizing and analytical meditation. If you progress in the way that I just described, then this becomes a formal session of analytical meditation. If you want to go to a remote place to do a retreat and don’t initially have renunciation, Bodhicitta and the correct view, it will be very difficult to meditate. Just putting your body somewhere, without having a virtuous mind, is like sitting in a prison. The body will be in one place while the mind goes everywhere around the world. Because Buddhism is about subduing the mind, whether we are in our house or in a retreat place, wouldn’t it be best to focus on our mind?

Question: My question is about Lama Tsongkhapa and Guru Rinpoche and how they are similar to each other and how they are different, particularly in how they speak about emptiness.

For someone like me it is not an easy task to know the actual differences between the views of Lama Tsongkhapa and Guru Rinpoche regarding Emptiness. We're talking about two actual Buddhas that have a direct perception of Emptiness, who are endowed with unsurpassable knowledge, love and capability. They are the very manifestation of Emptiness, Bodhicitta & suchness. I could not possibly make a distinction and analyze the differences of their views. However, in the snow land of Tibet and in the Tibetan tradition, no matter which Buddhist school we follow, all are the same in terms of the view of Dependent Origination and the behavior of non-violence. In that regard they have the same opinion and same voice. In that regard there is no difference at all. They appeared in different times to initiate the teachings of the Buddha. They are different aspects of the same essence, as both were holy beings who came to work for the benefit of sentient beings and for the benefit of the Dharma without bias. They share the same view with different expressions, as both were incredible emanations that have brought and spread the Dharma of scriptures and realizations. It is truly precious for anyone to meet with these teachings.

All of their teachings are presented as the same, about the Ground—the two truths, the Path—the two methods, the Fruition—the two kayas, or sutra and tantra. This is explained by these precious experts. For me, I regard and have faith in them equally, without the slightest difference between them. In the Sutra teachings, there is the Prasangika Madhyamaka view, as it is called. In Guru Rinpoche’s teachings, it is called the essence of primordial purity that no phenomenon has the slightest bit of inherent existence, and that it is pure from the beginning, arriving at the certainty of suchness. This term has exactly the same meaning as the term used in the commentaries of Madhyamaka. It falls under the Madhyamaka view.

Then in the uncommon aspect of the teachings of the secret Mantrayana, we see a lot of similarities in the two different traditions. In terms of the channels, winds and drops that eventually enter, abide and dissolve into the central channel, it is the path of self-sustained primal wisdom. The meditation of manifesting our Buddha-nature and the way they dissolve is explained. There are also many explanations in the Guhyasamāja Tantra on how to attain Buddhahood in the Bardo.

When we look at the four empowerments, then in Je Tsongkhapa’s Shining Lamp they are explained gradually from the third empowerment. The illustrative primal wisdom of the third empowerment is taught extensively & the fourth empowerment is not stressed. However, it's not that it is not there. The Guhyasamāja tantra says: “The play of the stainless mind, covered like the moon. The limitless method of pure compassion, manifested in my own mind, I always go for refuge to the thus-gone ones." In short, the way to go about attaining Liberation and Enlightenment, the Tathagata essence or Buddha nature is explained based on the channels, winds and drops.

I’m sorry, I'm presenting myself as if I'm well-versed, even if my understanding is limited. The traditions are equal until the eighth Vehicle. In the Nyingma Dzogchen tradition of Guru Rinpoche, there is the extraordinary presentation of the Nine Vehicles. In the explanation the fourth empowerment is stressed. There is the clear light of the subject and object, here the emphasis is on the clear light of the subject based on the pervasion and liberation of the awareness of Samantabhadra. All-pervading Dharmakaya. All form-bodies are in essence primordially pure and spontaneously present unimpeded radiance.

Within the explanation of the fourth initiation with emphasis, there is the pith instruction that samsara is not to be abandoned, but self-liberated. This is so precious. For this it would probably be best to refer to "The Treasury of Basic Space of Phenomena" by Longchen Rabjampa. There are many levels of coarseness and subtlety in terms of view, so for the uncommon teachings of the Mantrayana it might be good to refer to this incredibly profound text "The Treasury of Basic Space of Phenomena" and for the Sutra level, the Middle way treatises.

Buddhism has various traditions in different countries. In the snow land of Tibet, at a time when we lacked amenities such as the internet many inconceivable holy beings taught the Sutras and uncommon teachings of Tantra for each individual, according to their dispositions and interest. Among these there is a gradual way of learning. Some individuals need a gradual approach. Those students gradually study the teachings on Buddha-nature, on what to abandon and what to adopt. Tantric teachings are for the 'instantaneous type', namely those who know it all at once through their uncommon Karma and prayers. Even though they have not really practiced much in this lifetime they could still have realizations because of their strong connection to the power of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas over many lifetimes.

Now, not all holy beings have met all of the precious teachings [of Guru Rinpoche and Lama Tsongkhapa]. That's why they may say that certain views are nihilistic and others are eternalistic views and that based on that we should practice “pure” Geluk or “pure” Nyingma. If they teach their students in that way, that is polluted with attachment and aversion. If one clings to their Dharma as the pure one, do they mean there is Dharma that is impure?

The teachings of the Buddha pervaded the snow land of Tibet beginning with the Three - Khenpo Śhāntarakṣhita, Teacher - Guru Padmasambhava, and the Dharma King - Trisong Detsen. Over time, as the people's afflictions evolved, the teachings that once spread everywhere changed. In order to revive & restore the common Sutra and uncommon Tantra teachings, Teachers gradually arrived from India. The difference is merely a matter of time of their appearance, in terms of who came earlier and who came later. To say that there are differences in the Buddhas teachings, or there are contradictions between the teachings would be incorrect. Slowly, through attachment and aversion, division of mine and yours occurred, between what kind of hat you wear, between the different philosophical schools and so forth. This doesn’t happen a lot, but sometimes it does.

Someone teaching like that, being deluded themselves, really is like the blind leading the blind, causing confusion for the general public. It is a great source of accumulating negativity. And so these two holy beings are the top amongst the Masters, they taught on all the greatest precious treatises. Outer, inner and secret aspects of the teachings. They follow the same thought, working for the benefit and happiness of all beings according to their dispositions and interests. The same in the Ground, the same in the Path, the same in Fruition. Thank you very much.

Question: I live in the West and have a very distracted mind. What would you recommend for someone like me? Could you give some very simple practices to overcome distraction of the mind?

First, it's very good that you recognize the distraction. Now, you just have to pull the mind back. That's what it is. That's very good. Many people really don't recognize their distractions, thinking they are doing a great job, never getting distracted. When it comes to developing more one-pointedness of mind, it is difficult because we are not accustomed to it. But when using the mind, it would be better to wander off in the direction of virtue. When we get distracted by non-virtue, we have to work on taming our minds. It is difficult to become accustomed to single-pointed concentration.

Moreover, when doing calm-abiding (shamatha) meditation, whether it is 'abiding on the basis' or calm-abiding as a support to the path, we need to be guided properly by a fully qualified Guru to show us the way. You can’t just do all of that on your own. If we are single-pointedly focused without having a virtuous mind, focused only on developing strong types of concentration, it is not of much benefit. That would be like sleeping all night after we close our eyes. Therefore, we need to fine-tune our mind. Neither too tightly nor too loosely, we need to slowly habituate our own mind.  

We should consider, “What is this mind and what are the objects that my distraction goes towards?” Then we should see them as having no essence. There is a way to place the mind on virtue, a correct way, seeing phenomena as having no essence, the correct view, the correct conduct. Only then will the mind abide single-pointedly, but this has to be taught by a Teacher. When the mind wanders spontaneously in the direction of non-virtue, we have to tie it up, like tying up a horse and pull it back. Whether we can stay single-pointedly or not is a matter of habituation. Then, when potential pitfalls arise, when obstacles of the channels and winds arise, when excitement and laxity arise, it would be better to rely on an experienced Teacher.

Question: First, I'd like to thank you for coming to teach us. I just want to make a request: please come back. We love you here.

So I said ‘Laso’, which is a Tibetan term, to say that you want to get out of the situation from the point of view that you cannot really promise directly, because then you are already committed. So then I have to say that I more or less promise it, because otherwise it becomes a lie. I was in Switzerland and they asked me to come many times. They asked me to come and I always said yes, yes, of course. But then for eight years, I didn't go. So I'm very careful now. Careful in the sense that when there is time in the schedule, then definitely, I'll come.

Question: Whenever I meditate more deeply, particularly on analytical meditation of anatta [no-self], I have a very strong physical reaction to this. Lots of shivering, lots of hyperventilation, this kind of thing. So I'm wondering if Khandro Rinpoche has any more specific advice.

Yes. With meditation, there can be different feelings, right? So from the point of view of getting realization and qualities, then having feelings of greater faith in the rare and sublime one, greater compassion for sentient beings, more conviction in cause and effect, faith and samaya, if these feelings grow in our minds that is a positive sign of meditation. But it can also happen that the channels, winds and drops are imbalanced and a kind of a 'luung' or wind disease can be present. That can be caused by being too tight or by imbalance in the four outer elements, by not having enough sleep or not having enough nutrition. Since there are different aspects of the wind disease, we have to check it well relying on a medical specialist.

So first of all, when you meditate it's important to not be uptight, to have too many expectations. Stay in a relaxed, natural state, use your wisdom. And then try to get the right instructions and rely on a qualified Teacher who can be your guide in your meditation techniques because there are many possible obstacles to overcome. And you can depend on a doctor as well. And if you follow this advice, then I think over time, it will go better. If you rely upon a qualified teacher as a guide, the meditation will become very precious. And then try to prevent attachment to different forms and sounds, pleasant and unpleasant feelings. Because that is a type of grasping too. Remember that they are not inherently established. Do not fall for discursive thoughts or various forms of superstitions or projections that come up in the mind, don’t grasp at the abandonment or attainment of certain mind states. 

Our mind is like a mirror, when it's clear, appearances arise and disappear clearly, whereas when the mirror is full of dirt the forms that appear in it won’t be clear. If you rely on a teacher, growing one’s faith and conviction well, then those very spacious feelings and experiences will arise. But if you hear or see something special in your meditations, some people think, 'Now I have a special feeling, I’m hearing special things and having visions. Maybe now I have some realizations.' But that’s actually a big mistake. In the Buddhadharma we habituate our mind with Bodhicitta and the view of Emptiness in a very stable and balanced way. And if you do so the mind will become spacious and happy and grasping will gradually diminish. As grasping diminishes the apprehension of apprehender and apprehended changes and aspects of good conduct, natural compassion, love and kindness will arise. If you practice in that way, then I think there is no real danger for anyone engaging in meditation, beginner or experienced and you will go in the right direction.

When there's some pleasant feeling we should not grasp at it. There is no need to think that we should get rid of certain feelings and get more of others. No need to be very happy with pleasant feelings, just rejoice and leave them in equanimity. Even a pleasant feeling is in the nature of impermanence. It changes from moment to moment, it will not be there anymore tomorrow. In the same way, we should not grasp suffering, thinking something really bad is happening, grasping at it and letting it get you down. Acknowledge your own mistaken-mind with regret, learn from it and continue without this confusion again.

Question: As a new practitioner, I was wondering how important this nature of mind is. I'm about to start Ngöndro [premilinary practices]. Some of my Dharma sister brothers have been pointed out the nature of mind, and it gave them tremendous encouragement and commitment. I haven't got this pointed out yet. How beneficial the nature of mind when practicing Dharma?

When we say, the nature of the mind, that is just a natural state, it does not have colors or a shape. What happens when we don’t realize the nature of the mind? Unpleasant feelings will arise. We will not understand that that unhappy feeling is not the nature of the mind. When our minds are habituated and overwhelmed by confusion, duality, clinging to permanence, expectations and doubts, we experience feelings of suffering. Knowing the nature of the mind is what can eradicate not only temporary but also ultimate feelings of suffering. They are just temporary and adventitious, and ultimately can be removed completely. It is very important to recognize the ultimate nature of the mind in this way.

The Buddha said, "Do not commit non-virtue, practice perfect virtues, subdue your mind completely. This is the teaching of the Buddha." When we talk about the nature of the mind, if you are trying to see it, there is a spontaneous grasping at an "I" to exist truly or inherently. It is a mind that grasps at true existence. Once you see the mind that is free from inherent existence, then you will gradually develop a realization of the nature of the mind. If one grasps at the nature of the mind as an intrinsically existent entity, then it becomes a rigid view. We should not hold on to that because it's terrible.

In the Vajra cutter sutra the Buddha said, “Whoever sees me as form, whoever hears me as sound, is on the wrong path. That person does not see me. The Buddhas should be seen as suchness, the Buddhas are the Dharmakaya." It says that if you understand suchness, then that is the nature of the mind. Ordinary beings cannot comprehend that. You cannot talk about it the way you talk to your friends, it’s not like ordinary education. The science of the mind is poorly represented in education now. That is why the world has become such a troubled scary place.

In our mental science there are teachings on the nature of the mind, Bodhicitta, the naturally kind and honest mind and these precious teachings about the potential of our minds remain in this world since Buddha Shakyamuni taught them 2500 years ago. They can bring about so much peace and happiness if they were integrated into our education system. It’s not something that you can hear about from friends but you have to rely on a qualified Teacher to slowly get an understanding. It is so precious because it can eradicate the roots of suffering. Whether the mind is happy or it is suffering, the mind is explained to be without inherent existence.

In order to obtain happiness in our daily life, as Dharma practitioners, we diminish the afflictions of attachment, aversion and ignorance and use our wisdom, love and compassion, gradually increase our understanding of the precious instructions of The Six Perfections. When we are looking for the nature of the mind, it is not a matter of: “Do not think about anything, do not think about anything else, do not abide in the past, do not abide in the future, just abide in the present." These instructions are given for a particular audience at a particular time. For us beginners, to use these points to see the nature of the mind would be very difficult. Therefore it would be best to rely on an experienced Teacher. Otherwise, there is a danger of shutting the mind down in a state of indifference by thinking there is no virtue or non-virtue.Receiving guidance from an experienced Lama makes a huge difference in recognizing the nature of the mind. In terms of the ultimate, there is nothing to remove and nothing to increase, there is no Enlightenment. There are many amazing precious teachings like that, for which we need to rely on a Teacher. That’s the best.

Question: I have a question about emptiness. Looking at my own mind and contemplating it, I can see everything in there is not mine. I've collected it somewhere from my parents or friends or culture, community, a book. It feels like sometimes my cup is too full. How do I empty that cup? Or how do I make room to look beyond that box?

Actually we just don’t think about it, but today's unhappy mind will no longer be present tomorrow. So who did that to us? If you think about it, the happy and unhappy mind come about through grasping, induced by attachment. All this unhappiness depends on grasping and attachment. Otherwise there would be no reason for us to be unhappy.

We are in essence made of particles. In the Heart Sutra, which is a text often recited in many centers, it says, "Form is Empty” form is in the nature of Emptiness, “Emptiness is form, and Emptiness is not other than form, form is also not other than Emptiness." Whatever appears, appears from Emptiness. If we cling to them strongly as having an inherent existence and fixate on their own characteristics, this is what gives rise to attachments and aversions and makes us suffer, right? Do not grasp at a true nature with your attachments and grasping because those are in the nature of change momentarily. The benefits and instructions on Bodhicitta can be found in the Bodhicharyāvatāra or ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life’ by Shantideva and in particular, I would advice you to read Chapter Six, that will be beneficial.

Cover Photo by Olivier Adam