16 Sep 2014
In today’s meditation Alan went on with the pointing-out instructions from Natural Liberation. In the teachings Alan discussed the different levels of teacher-student relationship and how we can bring the Indo-Tibetan understanding of it into our modern world. In a way the relationship between teacher and student is completely symmetrical, and that regards the courtesy and respect between both sides. Where it is not symmetrical is on the level of knowledge, the student comes to the teachings to learn, the teacher to be of service, and the relationship is established totally for the sake of the student. In the Indian tradition the teacher is called guru, and that could be translated for us as spiritual mentor, somebody who has a great knowledge and leads us to true insight. The Tibetan understanding of lama is different from that, it is more a spiritual guide, somebody who is leading you along a path, so that you don’t fall into pitfalls or have to take detours or the like. But that means that you need trust in your spiritual guide, that he will actually be able to help you along the path. Then Alan gave some commentary to the pointing-out instructions from today’s meditation, and finally he ended on his rationale why he keeps giving us all these citations from philosophy, science and the like, in order to help us to respond to our non-Buddhist environment when we are asked what we actually do and why we are doing this.
Meditation starts at 03:00 min
O la so. So thank you all. It does encourage me, and my promise is to offer you my best. That’s it. I’ll offer you my best. And I hope that the best will become better over time. That’s what dharma is all about. So you’ll see today, I’m going to start teaching again.
[0:34] Without further ado, I’d like to go directly into meditation. During the meditation itself, I’ll simply read the final quotations from the Dzogchen tantras by Padmasambhava. Simply read them, I don’t think I’ll comment on them during the meditation. But as I was contemplating this afternoon I thought, oh, perhaps I can add something to make it clearer, and bring this to where we live. So I’ll give some commentary, afterwards. And then you may, at your leisure, both you listening by podcast, as well as you listening here in Phuket, then after you’ve received the commentary, then you may if you wish, either use the podcast or record your own voice, and give yourself the pointing-out instructions all over again, and see, perhaps there’s a little bit benefit, because that’s the idea, you know, a bit of benefit.
[1:31] So please find a comfortable position, and we will conclude this chapter, this bardo, in Padmasambhava’s Natural Liberation.
[2:08] For those listening by podcast, I imagine there was a rather long pause there. What we had here was a very heartfelt request, very simply put in traditional Buddhist terminology, for the wheel of dharma to be turned. That it continues to turn, that I continue to offer my best here, and not offer a mere facsimile of the dharma, which is also possible to do. And which I did last night, by the way. I’ll return to that later, but for now we will go to the meditation, we will conclude this chapter on the first bardo, the bardo of living. And so let us begin.
[3:02] [bell rings]
[3:29] Settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states, in the spirit of loving kindness, and with an ambiance of ease.
[4:22] Once again let your awareness come to rest, without doing anything, without focusing on anything, without meditating on anything. But not spacing out, maintaining a clear and vivid sense of cognizance, a flow of knowing, the very knowing of knowing itself. Rest in your core, rest in your home, the womb of your mind.
[6:19] So Padmasambhava cites another Buddha source.
[p. 138] The Vajra Array Compendium Sutra of Knowledge states: The meaning of ultimate reality is none other than self-emergent, luminous, primordial consciousness. Do not seek out this precious wish-fulfilling jewel; you have it yourself.
[8:19] The All-Accomplishing Sovereign states: “Self-emergent primordial consciousness” is self-emergent and arises without causes or conditions. It is unceasingly clear primordial consciousness.
[9:26] The essence, having no causes or conditions, has dominion over everything, and it does everything.
[10:53] And again from the All-Accomplishing Sovereign, with Samantabhadra being the speaker:
All phenomena are I, so if this nature of mine is known, all phenomena will be known.
[12:12] I am the all-accomplishing revealer, bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the all-accomplishing sovereign. The buddhas of the three times are created by bodhicitta. The sentient beings of the three realms are created by bodhicitta. The physical worlds and their sentient inhabitants are created by bodhicitta.
[15:19, p. 140] The basis of samsara and nirvana and all happiness and suffering is none other than this present conscious awareness alone.
[16:23] Due to this being introduced by the guru, the disciples knowing their own nature, believing it, and coming to certainty, the foundation is liberated in its own place, right where it is.
[17:35] So these are the instructions on the transitional process of living called “the natural liberation of the foundation.” Know this in that fashion. This has been the first chapter for accomplishing shamatha, and being introduced to vipashyana of the primordial consciousness pristine awareness. Samaya. Sealed, sealed, sealed.
[18:15] Let’s continue practicing now in silence.
[27:00] [bell rings three times, meditation ends]
[27:52] O la so. So I will go to provide some elucidation to this passage from Natural Liberation, but first a comment on the enigma of last night’s so-called teaching. It was to illustrate a point. And it’s a recurrent point, we’ve heard it a couple of times now. And that is, if there’s no information, there’s nothing about which you’re informed and there is no one who is informed. Take away any one of those three, and all three vanish simultaneously, right? Which would immediate[ly] imply, they couldn’t possibly have inherent nature! Their own intrinsic identity. If you take away one, and two other things simultaneously disappear. It’s good logic, isn’t it? And likewise, if you’re speaking to another person, now it’s not just getting information by making a measurement, but you’re having a conversation. Well there’s no conversation if there’s not another person. It’s called a soliloquy. But there’s no conversation unless there’s conversation, unless there’s meaningful speech. But there’s no conversation unless someone’s speaking. Take away any one of those three and the other two vanish. Within that context.
[29:11] Well in exactly the same way, I’m speaking now in the context of Dzogchen, or we could speak more broadly in the context of Buddhadharma. And we can speak more specifically of the context of this retreat here. We all made an agreement at the beginning as I recall, or I recall very vividly actually, that we would homogeneously at all times, with everyone here, conduct ourselves with courtesy and respect. Right? That was the samaya. And in this regard it’s completely symmetrical, right, there’s no difference. That is, I don’t get off, as the instructor, I don’t get some special caveat, “oh you’re instructor, then you’re special, you can be disrespectful, you can be discourteous”. Uh-uh, no, not in my book, right? No, equally. No difference. Everyone here, and towards everyone around us, even the animals. As we save the snails, save the worms struggling on the sidewalk and so forth. With courtesy and respect, I think you don’t want to be there, I think I know where you want to go, I can help out. Good, that’s courtesy and respect for an earthworm. Good idea, we may be one one day. “Be kind to your four-footed friend”, you remember that?
[30:34] So, take away one component, and then the whole system collapses, right? We can look at the Buddhadharma, and now again I am going to repeat. What do we need, what is called for from our side? If we are going to fruitfully venture onto this path, the Buddhadharma. Only three things! We don’t have to already have faith before we come, the Buddha never demanded that. He never said, “Oh, you have to have faith in me first, then I’ll teach you” — he never said that. Never said that. Some teachers do, that’s okay, but the Buddha didn’t. But three things, as we know from Aryadeva: you must be perceptive, be awake, be alert, be attentive, use your full intelligence, don’t hold anything back, that’s one; to the best of your ability, be without prejudice, without bias, without close-mindedness; and thirdly, having the passionate yearning, sincere heartfelt yearning, to put the teachings into practice. If you investigate them, you find them sound, that you don’t simply leave them as some intellectual knowledge, some mental baggage that you’ve just picked up, some data. Put it into the practice. Put it into practice. That’s all that’s called for, right?
[32:00] Now, when we move into this realm, this more specific realm of Dzogchen. Unlike many other teachings, this is Vajrayana, this the pinnacle of Vajrayana. It’s authentically taught only when it’s taught by a lama. We have no choice, I have no choice, as I’ve mentioned before. Sometimes I think I’ve dodged that a little bit, because Gyatrul Rinpoche authorized me to teach Dzogchen, and he authorized me to teach this text. About 20 years ago. And one of you today reminded me that for quite some years, I would dodge the epithet, dodge the title “Lama”. I wouldn’t say, “no no, I’m a spiritual friend, kalyanamitra. kalyanamitra, I’m [a] spiritual friend. No, I’m not a lama, I’m not a guru.” Lama is simply Tibetan for guru. Why? I’ve thought about that. I think I’m quite clear now. I can tell you, when I think of guru, I think of guru Shakyamuni! That’s what first... I say guru, guru Shakyamuni! I shouldn’t have the same title as Buddha Shakyamuni. You know... how can I have that title, when it’s the title of Nagarjuna, Asanga? Shantideva. Atisha. Guru Rinpoche. How can I have the same title? How can you call a match by the same name as the sun? So I felt, no no, not that, I’ll be spiritual friend, that’s ok.
[33:36] And then there’s “lama”. I think “lama”, of course, I think what? I think “Dalai Lama”! That’s the first thing [that] comes to mind, like same thing! Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Karmapa, Dudjom Rinpoche, Sakya Trizin Rinpoche, Ling Rinpoche, these are lamas! How can I have the same name as these? And by the way, lama is Tibetan, I’m not Tibetan! But how can I have the same title as the Dalai Lama, that’s, again: it seems like, oh, I’m sorry, but the difference is too big.
[34:14] The meaning of the terms is interesting. Guru. guru means “heavy”. The opposite of lagu. lagu means “light”. guru, lagu, you can’t have one without the other, right, it’s one of those same things all over again, left and right, up and down, guru / lagu, light / heavy. Heavy in what? Heavy in wisdom, heavy in virtue, heavy in compassion. That’s why a guru is called guru, etymology. Really emphasizes the wisdom, the knowledge, the skill.
[34:45] And then lama, it’s a sweet word. Sounds nice, lama, rolls right off the tongue. la ma... la means “supreme”, ma means “mother”, mama, means mother. So “supreme mother”. What’s a mother’s job? Take care of her children, make sure they grow up well, that they’re well and that they flourish, that they’re well prepared for the world. That’s a mother’s job. So the supreme mother is one who takes care of her children. The supreme mother leads them on the path to their true flourishing, to awakening itself.
[35:25] So I felt quite shy about all of that. But then, I’m carrying the lineage, as so many people are... the lineage of guru Shakyamuni, and Nagarjuna, all these great beings. The light that they’ve shone, the current they’ve passed on, it’s been passed to me, I pass it on, they’ve passed away, I shall pass away. But it’s the Dharma that is our refuge, right? People come and go, individuals come and go. But it is the Dharma that is our refuge. And so out of reverence for the lineages that I’ve received, that I’ve been authorized, encouraged to pass on. And with the awareness that’s although very faulty, much to be learned, much progress to be made, I think I can say to myself looking in the mirror: “I am trying my best”. I’m not taking it casually. To try to live in accordance with the teachings that I share. If I’m not, then of course I’d stop. So in that regard, lama, guru, for those who wish to look me in that way, then I will not say, “Oh no, you can’t”. You know? Why would I do that? It’s not fair.
[36:48] But for a person to be a lama, they must teach. If you’re not teaching, then you’re a yogi, right? You’re a yogi. That’s fine, yogis don’t have to teach. They just have to “yog” [laughter]. But a lama has to teach. You can’t be a la ma, you can’t be a supreme mother if you have no children, if you are not taking care of your children, if you are not caring for others, then you’re not a lama. And then, if you’re not teaching, then you’re not a lama, if there’s no transmission, there’s not a lama, but if you don’t have disciples who look upon you as a lama, then... then that’s like being a dentist with nobody coming to get their teeth fixed. You may have the equipment, you may have all the knowledge, but if nobody’s coming to have their teeth fixed, either because they don’t know you’re there or they don’t trust you, or they just like having rotten teeth, then you’re not a dentist, are you? You’re a potential dentist. But you’re not a dentist if nobody’s coming to have their teeth fixed.
[37:52] Now, I had some interesting conversations today. Quite a number of them, they’re all, they were all good. One of them was the issue of hierarchy. Hierarchy. I’m a born American, my family has been in America I think for f... oh, since the... well, quite a few generations, in California alone for five generations. And we didn’t, we weren’t... didn’t start there. So, I’m American, you know... that is, the family’s been there, so, what I’m saying is, American, we don’t have any your holinesses, we don’t have any... “your royal highness”. We have Mister President. That’s as good as it gets. I’ve got a better title than that! I’m “Doctor B. Alan Wallace”, he’s only “Mister”, you know. So this is America, it’s all egalitarian. We don’t want a king or queen, we have nothing against them but we just don’t want them. The sense, the ideal, which of course gets fractured many times, but the ideal that we all have the same potential. In that theistic sense “All men (and I think they might mention women too) are created equal”. That we should have equal opportunities. Quite a noble ideal. It’s one I believe in. But I’m coming from a background... Also Protestant background, doesn’t have a pope, doesn’t have any infallible source of knowledge, doesn’t have a school of cardinals, doesn’t have archbishops and bishops and priests and brothers and... doesn’t have the whole hierarchy of Roman Catholicism. I’ve nothing against it at all, but I wasn’t raised in that tradition. So, I got it from both sides, and that is, you know, American, Protestant. So myself, also, just as a human being, this American guy, you know: hierarchy doesn’t really work for me all that much. So when I started living with Tibetans in 1971, boy did I get a quick, quick, how do you say, primer! There’s lots of hierarchy in Tibetan Buddhism. Just to learn how to write letters in Tibetan, you have to know when you’re addressing the person how many [Tibetan sounds like Khye 40:00 ?] Khye, Khye means wise, how many Khye do you put after the person’s name? It may be six, it may be five, four, three, two, one, depending exactly on where this person fits into the whole hierarchy. And you need to know that, otherwise you’re... kind of illiterate. You know, you show you’re a country bumpkin. And then, do you get a “Holiness”, or only merely a “His Eminence”? Are you a [Tibetan Kyabje] kyabje or are you... how many titles do you get? Can you get to be “Tulku” and “Rinpoche”? Do you have to get “Eminence Tulku Rinpoche”? Can you be “Jetsün Tulku Eminence Rinpoche ... Tulku ... Monk ... Head of an Order... His Holiness”? You know, how many... just after a while it gets... you know, you’re just my lama, I just revere you as my lama. You know. That’s enough.
[41:04] So are we bringing this whole, kind of, baggage of hierarchy upon hierarchy? I would suggest, in the following way that I feel very content with, I feel, as an American, just now really speaking as sentient being American, right? We’ve started out with symmetry, right? Courtesy and respect. From me, if I violate it, you call it on me, in a courteous and respectful way, but you call it, right? Share your thoughts, honest, straightforward, courteously and respectfully. No holds barred, say whatever you like, right? And likewise, the other side. You want to speak your mind, fine! But do so with courtesy and respect — no fault. No fault. So there it’s symmetrical. Symmetry.
[41:47] But then, there is this mid-range that is not symmetrical. And that is: when all is said and done, I didn’t come here... I didn’t pay to come here. And I didn’t come here to learn from you. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to learn from you, I already have learned from you. I hope to learn more, we have now a, still half of a retreat to go. But that’s not why I came: “I hope I can learn a lot from those people, I hope I can get a lot from those people”, that’s not why I came here. I came here to be of service. You came here, if you can be of some service, that’s really great, but if you came here primarily to be of service, I would ask: “Why? Didn’t you come here to learn Dzogchen, to learn the practice of these three bardos?” So now there’s an asymmetry. And in the context of Dzogchen, if it’s authentic, and I’m not going to teach it inauthentically, at least not voluntarily... it’s a guru-disciple relationship. That’s not a symmetrical relationship. But I’ll say this emphatically, and it is the statement of the entire tradition. If you ask, when a guru-disciple relationship is established: who is it for? It’s a simple question: who is it for? And there’s only one right answer, and that answer is emphatic: it’s for the sake of the disciple. It’s not 90/10, it’s not 80/20, it’s not 50/50, it’s not 99/1! It’s 100% for the sake of the disciple. That’s it. That’s asymmetrical, it’s zero to a hundred. It’s not for the sake of the guru. So that’s an asymmetry, right?
[43:32 ] I think of guru and lama. Guru, I’m just going to say, highlights the epistemic aspect. If the guru doesn’t know anything more than you do, about the topic in question - Dzogchen, or Bodhycharyavatara, or shamatha, whatever -, if the guru doesn’t know anything more than the disciple, there’s no point, right, it’s silly! Stop right there, get off the train, right? If there’s no greater knowledge or experience, insight, realization, there’s no reason whatsoever to view somebody else as your guru for anything. That’s one element. Then lama, la ma, supreme mother... that’s suggests more the pragmatic aspect. And that is, the guru, the lama is here to help you. Not simply to inform you, give you more knowledge, insight, understanding: this is Dzogchen, this is the view, this is the meditation, this is the way of life; that’s all very well, that’s epistemic. The lama... the guru should know more about those than you do if teaching Dzogchen, otherwise, again, what’s the point? But it’s not just the transmission of knowledge, the download of information. It’s providing practical guidance. That’s called upadesha, man ngag, pith instructions, practical instructions, guidance. And if the lama is not more capable than you are of guiding you along the path of Dzogchen, the same question comes: what’s the point? If you think you can guide yourself as well or better, if you think you can guide other people as well or better than another individual - it may be true, why not? But then don’t go to a person who is less capable than yourself, you’re wasting your time, wasting that person’s time!
[45:18] So we see this relationship: no disciples, no lama. No transmission, no lama or disciples. You can’t be a disciple if you’re not learning anything. So once again it seems like they’re all mutually interdependent, and each one must be empty of inherent nature, because you can’t be a lama all on your own. You can’t be a Dzogchen disciple, a student all on your own. And there’s no such thing as Dzogchen, just kind of hovering in the air all by itself, waiting to be snatched out of thin air.
[45:46] So I have to say in all candor, I still don’t feel all that comfortable with the... with respect to myself with titles like “lama” or, call it what you like, “title”, “epithet”, “lama”, “guru”... I mentioned when I was with Ganden Tulku Rinpoche, when we were, just before he came on and spoke with everybody, he said: Alan, what’s your title? I said, just Alan! But what’s your title? Well, I have a PhD... I’m “Doctor”... Ok! And then it moved from there. I got to be, kind of, Doctor Lama Wallace, Doctor Lama Alan. Because somebody from the audience, from the group, said “Lama Alan”. And then Ganden Tulku Rinpoche immediately picked up on that so I got now two titles: “Doctor Lama” [laughter]. Ah, I’m getting up there in the world! [laughter] Maybe “His Eminence” is only around the corner! Ingest, ingest...
[46:40] But we need this in English. You now, the Indians, when they say guru, it’s like saying [46:47 ?] acha, it’s like saying dal, it’s their language, you know, it feels home. And likewise, the Tibetans when they say lama, lama, it’s at home, it’s their own language, it feels totally natural. Why would it not? So they wouldn’t have any second qualms, if a person is qualified, well-trained, has some experience, authorized by his or her lama, to take on that role, you wouldn’t think “Oh no, I can’t do it because you’re higher than I are, I can’t do it because I’m not as high as the Dalai Lama”. They’d laugh their heads off. "What do you think, there’s only one lama in the whole country? Only the Dalai Lama? Then we have to, ok, but, come on, give us a break here. We’ve been using this word for a thousand years, in India for, you know, long. Get a grip! You can be a lama, [that] doesn’t mean you have to be on the same level as the Dalai Lama. But you’re still in the same continuum, in the same lineage. But we need to, as a native American, a native English speaker, I think we need [to] kind of bring it home to our own language, don’t you? That we don’t feel that, you know, that we don’t feel we’re adopting some kind of alien title, even from a language I’m pretty fluent in. Tibetan, pretty fluent. So as I’ve... as a translator, I’ve reflected on this for a long time. I think there are two, two translations work very well. Neither one of them completely captures it. But they are close. A lama, or guru... A guru is a spiritual mentor. Spiritual mentor. Mentor as in mind, as in information, as in knowledge, as in wisdom. Providing you with knowledge, wisdom, understanding, leading you to insight, that can give you greater understanding, greater knowing of the nature of reality. But spiritual mentor, and that is [a] specific type of knowing. The type of knowing that will be used, as you put it into practice, to purify your own mind. And to gradually set out on the path to awakening. Spiritual mentor is [a] pretty good translation. “Spiritual” as in the pursuit of genuine happiness, freedom, awakening. Spiritual mentor, that’s good. I feel comfortable with that! Am I a spiritual mentor? Oh yeah, for a lot of people actually! Quite a few, for a long time now. And I feel quite, oh, spiritual mentor, sure! Ah, that’s not a problem. Spiritual mentor, sure. Even with my grandson, I’m a bit of a spiritual mentor. He asked me to teach him meditation. What am I going to do — say “No, I’m your grandpa?” I taught him meditation, you know? Five minute session, that was enough for a while... [laughter]
[49:22] But there’s another nice one, another nice one, “spiritual guide”. And that really highlights the pragmatic aspect. The pragmatic aspect. This is not simply knowledge, simply acquisition of insight, wisdom and so forth... this is going someplace, this is a path, that’s the fourth noble truth. It’s a path. It’s not simply practicing virtue, being a good person, being a better person... it’s a path. It’s a path of irreversible, profound and meaningful transformation. And a spiritual guide [does] help you find the path, and once upon the path, lead you on it so you don’t fall off into what are called pitfalls, detours, bogs, getting mired down, or straying off the track. The spiritual guide’s responsibility is to help you find the path and lead you on the path all the way to its culmination. And you may, like a, what do they call it, relay race, you may have, like, some time with one guru, like with a baton, then the guru passes that baton to another and he takes you on the next leg of the journey, next leg of the journey. That’s happened for me. I had lamas who were absolutely my core lamas in the 70s, and then... life moves on, I move on, they’re moving on. They are still my lamas, but now another lama has taken up. Oh, here comes Alan, ok, take him the next stage, you know? And now I just found a new lama, so happy, you know? They haven’t all, you know, passed away, so Ganden Tulku Rinpoche, now, a lama of mine. So happy. He’s actually younger than me. Very good. So now he’s, ok, he’s taken the baton, oh, this guy, Alan, oh, yeah, I mean, Doctor Lama Alan, he would like further guidance. Oh good. Good, good. So I’m looking forward to receiving further guidance from him next winter.
[51:16] So those two. Now, the issue of faith. I know it’s hard. If we found it easy, [we] would have stayed home. We would have stayed home as atheists, as Jews, as Christians, what have you... if faith came easy, why would we be here? We weren’t born here, none of us, maybe one or two, but most of us were not born as Buddhists. So if we found faith easy, we probably wouldn’t be here in the first place. We would have just stayed atheists, or just stayed scientists, having faith in science: “This is the way, this will suffice, this alone will solve all of humanity’s problems. This is the one way forward, science / technology.” That’s faith. It’s something simple, and there is a hierarchy here, it is an asymmetry, and that is: if you go to a dentist... I’ve been to a dentist, I had teeth problems in Scotland. So as soon as I came back, I actually had an appointment, already before I got back, then I had to have two of my teeth fixed. I don’t really know much about teeth. Whether, you know, I needed a crown, it needed... I didn’t know. I can’t even see my teeth. You know, I can see a reflection, but... I can see my tongue, that’s as close as I get. So, I don’t know about teeth. But I know that I had a really jagged one and another one had [a] little cavity coming up. So I basically entrusted my mouth and all those little ivory things in it to the dentist. I said, you know he’s qualified, he’s certified, been my dentist for some time, never let me down, doesn’t give me excruciating pain... So I took refuge in the dentist! For my teeth. For my health, I take refuge primarily in a traditional Tibetan doctor, that’s where my faith is, my confidence in, it’s health maintenance. A lot of confidence, synergies, very very good. But of course, for other things, if I break my arm, I’m not going to go to her. I’ll go the obvious place. So these are taking refuge. This is trust. It’s not blind. But they certainly know one heck of a lot more about teeth, [about] the body than I do. And I’m not even interested in learning what they learn, what they already know. I’m just happy to take, take refuge.
[53:36] But when it comes to taking refuge spiritually, it’s more even than therapy. And therapists, many of them perform a very valuable role. But taking on the role of a lama, guru, spiritual mentor, spiritual guide, is something heavier - guru, it’s heavier -, because the responsibility here, as a number of you are very well aware of, is not simply to overcome some psychological problem, “ok I’m fine now”, overcome some stress, overcome some anxiety, overcome some low self-esteem or post-traumatic stress disorder, or insomnia, or depression. They come and they go. But a spiritual mentor, spiritual guide... the responsibility there, the path is to free the mind of all mental afflictions, all obscurations. To bring us to freedom, to bring us to awakening. So that’s a big responsibility, you know! That’s the one, of all the things, trusting somebody with your investment portfolio, with your car, car needs to be fixed, your teeth, your body and so forth and so on. We take refuge all the time. But this is the big one. This is the big one. This is an existential taking of refuge. It’s taking your mindstream, it’s taking your buddha nature, saying, please, help me unveil it. Can I trust you? Are you qualified? Do you have an authentic path? So that’s the type of faith or confidence needed. Shouldn’t be given easily. But if it’s not given, then you’re on your own. And that’s much more challenging than having a rotten tooth and trying to fix it yourself without having any dental training at all. A lot harder. We’ve had so many chances. In the Buddhist world view, we’ve had so many chances in how many past lives of figuring it out all by ourselves. How many chances do we need, you know? How much more of samsara do we need to roam around before we figure out, maybe having a spiritual mentor, spiritual guide, maybe that’s crucial.
[55:53] Don’t really want to come back as a human being in the near future. I’m doing everything I can to avoid it, actually. But should that happen, there’s only one thing that really I feel any dread about: not having a spiritual friend, spiritual guide or mentor. That I dread.
[56:24] Let’s read a little bit. Now let’s go back to this commentary. I said I’d offer it tonight, so I will. Well, back, we finished the chapter. Finished the first bardo, finished the first of six. But as I was reflecting on them, meditating on them this afternoon, I thought, well, maybe a few points of clarification could be helpful.
[56:49] Yeah, the first one is not bad! [p. 138] The Vajra Array Compendium Sutra of Knowledge, The meaning of — again, now, if you’re looking at it you can see where I’m updating the translation. It’s cittata, The meaning of ultimate reality is none other than self-emergent, luminous, primordial consciousness. I’m changing pretty much all of that. Self-emergent, luminous, primordial consciousness. In other words, dharmata, which is identical to dharmadhatu, absolute space of phenomena, is none other than primordial consciousness. You’ve heard that. They are primordially non-dual. But why mention that again, because you’ve heard it so many times? But the next one: Do not seek out this precious wish-fulfilling jewel; you have it yourself. Oh, that really rang bells when I read that. Really rang bells. Shantideva - some verses still linger in my mind that I memorized decades ago: [Tibetan 57:45 ?] dawa den te yi she nor lä lha, this basis of leisure is more... is superior, superior to a wish-fulfilling jewel. Wish-fulfilling jewel, they may have actually existed, but that’s not the real point. I mean, I actually think they did actually exist, but that’s not the point. Don’t have to believe it. But a wish-fulfilling jewel - call it mythology, call it reality, whatever you like -, but it’s a jewel that, if you find it, and you polish it, you treat it with great respect and reverence, you can direct your thoughts to it, your wishes, and it will provide you with any mundane desire... fulfill any mundane desire you have: money, wealth, sex, fame, whatever, just [whistles] out comes, so, quite magical. Right? We have a lot of fables and fairy tales and so forth along a similar vein. “I give you three wishes”, right? But it’s said that this basis of leisure, which is this fully endowed human life of leisure and opportunity, in which we have the health, the clarity of mind, and so forth, and then all of the inner requisites and all of the outer requisites, everything we need from outside in terms of spiritual friends, spiritual mentors, having enough to eat, and so forth - we really unpack this -, having the full possibility to devote oneself to the teachings of the Buddha, to follow the path. So this is, if you could either such a body, such a life with such leisure and opportunity, then that would be better than, more valuable, than not having that and merely having a jewel that could make you healthy and handsome and everything else mundane. And that’s literally true. The other one will give you all the hedonic pleasure you could possibly hope for, and it will give you nothing eudaemonic, that’s the limitation of the wish-fulfilling jewel: nothing eudaemonic. Because you can’t get that from outside in the first place. Not from anything outside, right?
[59:39] And so with that in the background, when I was reading this, I thought: whoa, but now what makes this wish... this basis of leisure, what makes this so precious? Is it the bones, is it the... is it our human intellect, our large frontal cortex, what is it that makes it more valuable than a wish-fulfilling jewel? Well, of course it’s your buddha nature, if you don’t have your buddha nature, then nothing else works, nothing else matters. You can have the best teacher in the world, the best guru, the best health, the best intelligence, but if you don’t have buddha nature, then what do you got? You do not have the source of genuine happiness. And so that’s what he’s referring to. And he said, don’t seek it out, don’t look where... We’ve heard this how many times now, but so worthwhile hearing again: do not look outside yourself for the Buddha. The primary cause is within, and everything else consists of cooperative conditions. The guru, text, transmissions, empowerments, meditation centers and so on and so on. Do not seek out... Do not seek out this precious wish-fulfilling jewel, you have it in yourself. Right?
[60:47] I’ll just... yeah, I don’t need to read every verse, I’ve already given the transmission, but here just one, on page 139: That essence, having no causes or conditions, has dominion over everything, and it does everything. Now that’s an amazing statement. It’s a very large statement. It’s an astonishing statement, utterly contrary to the flow of modernity. And that is, this buddha nature, this ground consciousness, pristine awareness, it has dominion over everything. That’s a very large statement. This which is non-dual from absolute space of phenomena. So let’s just hold that, that statement, it has dominion over, power over... One who has mastery over buddha nature, who has thoroughly fathomed buddha nature, who has fully tapped into its inner resources, has dominion over everything. That’s an amazing, a very large statement. If it’s true, my goodness!
[61:46] But then referring to this “I”, “me”, as the personification of Samantabhadra, he says All phenomena are I. All phenomena are I, Samantabhadra, the personification of pristine awareness. So if this nature of mine is known, if you know me, Samantabhadra, your own pristine awareness, primordial consciousness , if you know that: all phenomena would be known! Oh, one enormous statement, once again. Enormous statement. Know the nature of your own pristine awareness, tap right down to the ground, and all things will become clear to you! Wow, what an incredible hypothesis, is that true? I am the all-accomplishing revealer, I do everything. Referring again, of course to the same. Referring now to his bodhicitta, ultimate bodhicitta. Ultimate bodhicitta is the all-accomplishing sovereign. All the buddhas are created by bodhicitta, sentient beings created by sentient beings [? bodhicitta according to the text, p. 139], all worlds created by, emerging from, this pristine awareness, primordial consciousness, ultimate bodhicitta.
[63:00] I might have missed this earlier. Knowing this nature of yourself, - I did miss it! So now you get the transmission, just at the top of page 140. Knowing this nature of yourself - so not someone else! - is labeled “the Samantabhadra basis of liberation.” When this is present as ethically neutral luminosity and emptiness, it is given the name ‘alaya’ (substrate). Alaya, substrate. There’s a real key there, when you see this phrase “ethically neutral luminosity and emptiness”, the luminosity is substrate consciousness, right? And the emptiness is the substrate. It’s given the name “substrate”. When? When it’s present, when it crystallizes, when it manifests in this ethically neutral fashion, it’s the mere bliss, luminosity and non-conceptuality of the substrate, of substrate consciousness, then that’s the name by which it is known.
[64:07] Let’s just read briefly the last one. The basis of samsara and nirvana, and all happiness and suffering is none other than this present conscious awareness alone. Again it’s so easy to feel, to have the sense, “boy, that primordial consciousness, that pristine awareness, I wish I had some of that! I wish I could find it! Where do I need to look? I know, I know, am I supposed to look within. Yeah, but now this, this is ordinary, this is just consciousness. Where is the good one? The big, deep one? You know, the Buddha one? I just got this ordinary one? Where is the one that other people are getting? What do I need to do, to tap that deep?” He already said, “Don’t seek it!” But being introduced by the spiritual mentor, I’ll say that word now, it’s guru, lama, by, due to this being introduced by the spiritual mentor, the disciples, the pupils know their own nature. They know for the first time who they are. Knowing that, believing that, that having conviction, and coming to certainty... the foundation, the alaya, is liberated in its own place. The alaya is liberated, it’s freed, it’s melted into dharmadhatu. Primordially free! So these are the instructions on the transitional process of living called “the natural liberation of the alaya.” That’s why it starts out with shamata, right? You don’t get to the alaya unless you’ve achieved shamatha. It’s not just liberating your mind, your ordinary mind, it’s getting to the ground of your mind and then liberating that, cutting through that.
[65:46] So, I got my mojo back today, which means I have more notes. [laughter] I was plumb out for a couple days. So I do something I love doing, and it’s very short, we’ll have dinner. But I really love doing this. And that is, talking Dzogchen, it seems like it’s out there in outer space. So esoteric, so transcendent, so... let’s go back to the sutras, back to the Pali Canon, and to the ever so familiar first verse in the first chapter of the Dhammapada. But now resonate with that: One who realizes it has dominion over all phenomena, right? Dominion means power, you’ve mastered the... you’re a master of the universe, you know? You know all phenomena, that’s what it said! Know this awareness, and you know all phenomena! And the Dhammapada states, here, these foundational teachings of the Buddha: All phenomena are preceded by the mind, issue forth from the mind, and consist of the mind. That can be interpreted, and is interpreted, in multiple ways, which is only right. There’s no one person to say “this is the only right interpretation”. One that is certainly not incongruent or, how do you say, at variance with the teachings of the Buddha in the Pali Canon or the Theravada tradition for that matter, is that all phenomena - phenomena again, bear in mind, these are not entities existing out there in some world independent of experience, but rather the appearances, the phenomena that arise in this lived world, what the Germans call Lebenswelt, it’s a very good word, this world that we are living in, this world of our experience, all the appearances - objective, subjective, sensory, mental and so forth -, all appearances are preceded by the mind. What mind? Here we are as human beings. He’s speaking to human beings, right? So what mind is there prior to the emergence of all the appearances we experience, in the dream state, when we wake up in the morning, throughout the course of the day, we may have hypnagogic imagery at the end of the day just before we slip into deep sleep... what is, what mind precedes all of these, precedes all the appearances that an unborn baby in the womb is already having at some point, and I don’t pretend to know when, but clearly at some point during that nine months, this little child who is a passenger is having some experiences, right? I have no idea when, how would I know. But at some point, for sure. And so, what preceded those first appearances? Maybe it’s warm, maybe it’s tight, maybe it’s... whatever it is! But experience is arising. It’s said in the Kalachakra tantra, during the last trimester the unborn baby is having this vast cycling through past life recall. Memories, just like opening up a Rolodex, for anybody who can remember what a Rolodex is [laughter]. Opening up your hard drive, and just [imitates a whirring sound]. It’s said in the western tradition that the unborn baby in the last trimester spends about, I think it’s something like 90% of the time dreaming. Dreaming what? Dreaming past lives? Where, what mind preceded whatever appearance is arising? Sensory, mental, arising in the continuum of the unborn baby. What mind preceded all of that? It’s only one a candidate in the Pali Canon, since there’s no reference to Buddha nature or primordial consciousness: the substrate consciousness, what else! All these appearances are arising in the substrate, they’re illuminated by the substrate consciousness, right? So, all phenomena, all experiences of the unborn baby, all experiences when we slip into the dream, all experiences when we wake up from deep sleep, all experiences, all phenomena are preceded by the mind, they issue forth from the mind. They issue forth, those experiences issue forth from the space of the mind, from the substrate, that’s the holodeck, that’s the space in which all appearances are arising, including right now, including people, and you’re very much in my mind, people listening by way of podcast. All the appearances of this voice. Where, do you think it’s coming from my lips? The sound? No way! Of course not! The sounds you’re hearing, arising, maybe you have headphones on, where are the sounds occurring from? Where are they arising from? Where are they issuing forth from? Your own substrate consciousness. You’re hearing yourself speak. And they consist of the mind, they are nothing more than effulgences, creative expressions of your substrate consciousness, right?
[1:10:42] A final one, we’ll take a break. But that was good solid Pali Canon, our foundation, our granite foundation, you know. There you can rest. And then we move to the Mahayana. And there is a sutra called the Ratnameghasutra, the Cloud of Jewels, the Cloud of Jewels sutra. Mahayana sutra. And here is what the Buddha states there, will sound quite familiar: All phenomena are preceded by the mind. And now he continues: When the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended. By bringing the mind under control, all things are brought under control. Oh, we just had a head-on collision with the 21st century. Because take that, all phenomena, all experiences, see how this sounds: “All experiences are preceded by the brain. When the brain is comprehended, all experiences are comprehended. By bringing the brain under control, all things are brought under control.” So these are not compatible statements! Just say, oh, mind and brain, well yeah, you know, tomatoes / tomahtoes [with British pronunciation]... no no no no! That’s not true! They are not equivalent statements at all! They suggest radically different strategies, right? Profoundly different. So if the other one: “all experiences are preceded by the brain”, if that’s where the buck stops, as we say in American English, if that’s really the foundation, brain activity - then all of Buddhism is wrong, and Dzogchen is... forget about it, total fabrication, total superstition.
[1:12:35] So, I’ll move to this tomorrow, but I will not go into a mode of ridicule, and I’ll not mention any names of anybody I’m criticizing. Because I’m not criticizing people anyway. What’s the point of that? People die, it’s like I’m criticizing a dead person. What’s the point of that? Why criticize Freud, he can’t defend himself, he died in 1939! That’s silly! Don’t critique dead people! But you can critique what they say, because what they say continues to have an influence, right? So I think from now on, I might have an exception but I don’t think so, at least no plan, when I take out an assertion, a hypothesis, that I will critique, I’m just going to critique the statement. And I’m not going to mention names, because it doesn’t matter who said it. If something is a false premise, a false view, it doesn’t matter who says it. People come and go, but false statements, that can go on influencing people for centuries. And it’s just one person after another saying it, and passing it on, passing it on, so delusion has no owner. If it’s a false view, then demonstrate that it’s a false view. Demonstrate it, show it, that’s how Buddhists do. Don’t ridicule it, don’t just simply disparage it: if it’s false, show why it’s false. Or at least give your empirical evidence and your reasoning. That’s how... that’s the Buddhist way. And you don’t need to mention any names, because it doesn’t matter who said it. And likewise, if it’s a word of wisdom. When all is said and done, did you really care that much about which tantra was being quoted? Which tantra was that, wait a minute, was that the All Accomplishing Sovereign, or was that, you know... Do you really care whether it was Padmasambhava or it was Dudjom Lingpa? Or whether it was Longchen Rabjampa or Lerab Lingpa? If it’s authentic Dzogchen teachings, kind of isn’t that really what it’s all about? And everything else, what century did they teach, what was it, name, and a man or woman, isn’t that kind of like, well whatever, maybe I’ll get to that but right now I’m so busy, because I’m focusing on trying to understand and put into practice. You know...
[1:14:34] So, we’ll bring that up tomorrow, but I think some... I’ll critique, that which frankly... I find the critique’s easy, like child’s play, you know? But then finding, do we find kindred souls? Kindred souls, people who are raising the same issues, with profound insight, who have enormous expertise, very high intelligence, great authority for their disciplines. Do we find resonant voices, across the chasm, across the centuries, across the disciplines, across the cultures, from Buddhist to modern science. Can we find areas where... of course we disagree on some points, but of course, people disagree all over the place. But can we find places to join hands, and say “Hah, I think here’s an area where we can learn from each other. Why don’t we focus on that, and see where it takes us?” So I’ll briefly critique some statements, I’ll not quote the person who made them, because it just doesn’t matter, I will say, very high profile, very high profile medium in which it appeared, so it wasn’t some arcane little silly statement that somebody made, but rather something very very high profile. That’s why I read BBC, New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek and others, you know? That’s why. Because I want to know what people are believing. Not so that I know what’s happening in the world but rather what people think is happening in the world. And what’s the common coinage, what are the views out there that are widely accepted? So that we know, as we’re bringing Buddhadharma in the 21st century. We’re not bringing it into a primitive, uneducated, naive and unsophisticated culture, a culture of modernity; we’re bringing it into a very rich jungle. All kinds of things already here, right? Philosophy, science, multiple religions, multiple sciences, multiple interpretations of science, and so on. So once again, we won’t be here in this cloistered retreat center for very long, we’ll be returning to our world, world outside, so that we come back, and whatever we receive here will be as seamless as possible. And if people ask you about, what were the theories you learned? What were the practices you engaged in? Well, happily, thanks to Gyatrul Rinpoche, you don’t have to say “I’m sorry but it’s secret, it’s Dzogchen, we can’t talk about that, sorry”. You don’t have to do that, right? I mean, it’s going over the podcast, for heaven’s sake! So, you can talk as you wish. But then, when people say, “But how can that be?” Maybe you talk about rigpa, “But how can that be?” You talk about resting awareness in its own nature. And perhaps you cite some of these. “But how can it be?”, “But these people say this”, “but I believe this” and so forth. Can you have a mutually respectful conversation? And speak in the 21st century as a well-informed, educated person that “yes, my views do not go along with the very common materialistic views that dominate so much of modern life. They don’t. But that’s not because I’m unintelligent or uneducated, or haven’t thought things through. But in fact, here is where I stand, and this is why I stand here. And this is why,” if you feel so, it’s your choice of course, it’s always your choice, “and this is why I disagree on this point but I find this very helpful.” From modern science, its context and so forth. So that we can have a seamless transition and feel at home, at rest, at ease in our world view, our meditation, our way of life, even as we venture out into a world where the predominant world views are not so much Dzogchen, and the priorities are not so much Dzogchen meditation, and the way of life is not so much Dzogchen way of life either. But you can go there and feel at ease. And if anybody challenges you, you can respond. Not in combat, but you can respond at ease, having thought these things through. And be able to cite noble sources, eminent sources from the west, say “well, for example, he also made this comment”, and you can cite somebody if you wish. And have a meaningful conversation. And I think that will be a very meaningful service to those around you. For some of you, as soon as you go home! There may be nobody in your home that gets what you are doing. Sympathize what you’re doing. It’s just incomprehensible to them, and if something is incomprehensible, you can’t respect it. Why would you? Respect something you can’t fathom at all, you know. And so for your loved ones, to be able to come back and speak intelligibly, not to persuade them or not in an evangelical crusade here. But if people sincerely come to you and they are trying to understand “What’s your practice?” Then you can share with them in an intelligible way that is fully engaged with the 21st century. And whether they take any further interest, you’ll have done them a service. To broaden their perspective. Because even in the 21st century, it’s very easy to be provincial. To hang out with only people who share your views. Buddhists do it all the time, hanging out with only Buddhists. Like in, you know, in Asia, they are just surrounded by people who hold similar views, so then how do they know anything else, right? And people in modernity, it happens ever so often in academia. Ever so often. And science as well. You’re surrounded by people who have very similar views. You’re never challenged. I’ve known... I know so many neuroscientists and so forth, they say “I’m a materialist, but I never heard of anything else when I got all my education”. It was like... It wasn’t even called materialism, it was called neuroscience, it was called... whatever they are studying. It was called medicine. And “we were never told it was materialistic, we were just told, here’s how you get a medical degree, here is how you get a PhD in neuroscience, here is how you get this and that. And we never... So, I’m a materialist because I never heard anything outside that”. So maybe we can help people broaden their horizons. And even if they don’t agree with us, that’s ok. But if at least we can say something intelligible that’s well-informed and intelligent, that would be a service. We’d all feel at ease, get on with our practice. Oh yeah.
[1:20:44] So, we’re finished. And what I’d like to do tonight, is... something just turned out that way, and I can take responsibility for it, I’m actually in charge of the retreat, so I do. But something didn’t quite happen as much in this retreat as has happened in all the preceding ones. And that is a sense of real community. You know, everybody knows everybody’s name, we’ve all gotten to know each other, and that comes about in two ways: having a couple more days at the beginning just for, you know, socializing, talking over dinner and so forth and so on; but also something that didn’t happen, I’m responsible, only! I’m the only one responsible, because you voted on that one, so you get the one for that. But the fact that since then, we’ve not really had that much time for discussion. I kind of get... You know, I caught a wave, riding my wave, and it tends to last even longer than six o’clock, as it did again tonight, and kind of carried up by the wave of enthusiasm, kind of, well, wave up, it is the wave of something I’m just catching, I’m riding. But that means something, and I hope that was useful, I think it was for some people, but then what didn’t happen is we didn’t..., I wasn’t calling people by name a lot. And then you’re hearing each other’s voices. By name, and getting to know, what are your interests, your qualm, your issues coming up in meditation and so forth. So that hasn’t happened. Well it will, it will, but we’ll try to do a little bit of a catch-up tonight. Okay? And that is, dinner hopefully is still warm, and so we’ll go off to dinner, and I’m inviting you now: join us for dinner. I’m going to head off because I’ve been talking a lot already. Because I’m going to go off on my walk. But please gather for dinner, and please do not keep silent. Not tonight. You can have silence tomorrow morning. But tonight, please engage with your brothers and sisters. Your dharma family here. Talk about whatever you like, I have no script for you. But maybe a bit of catch-up time, you know, just to get to know each other a bit better. I think now is a good time for that. And as long as you like. If you’d like a leisurely dinner that goes on until, until they kick you out [laughter], you know, that’s fine. No time limit. Take your time. Enjoy each others’ company. And I’ll see you tomorrow morning. And thank you for your lovely offer. I will do my best to turn the wheel of dharma without letting my words be influenced by my own mental afflictions, try to be of service in the most effective way I can. Since my passion is to find and follow the path myself, that is my motivation and will continue to be my motivation for sharing the dharma with you. Not to give you simply some views and some practices, but really to be a spiritual guide. Help you find the path, and take you as far along on that path as I can. And if at any time, whether it’s four weeks from now, or forty years from now, or four lifetimes from now, when it comes time to pass the baton, and some other spiritual guide comes into your life: rejoice, take delight in that. You know, we’re all working together. Okay? Enjoy your dinner. Dinner together. See you tomorrow morning.
Transcribed by Marc Schroeder
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by Cheri Langston