The 3rd of the 4 Revolutions in Outlook: The Dukkha (Suffering) Nature of All of Samsara

B. Alan Wallace, 12 Apr 2020

12 Apr 2020

Lama Alan introduces the third of the four revolutions in outlook/inlook/perspective/orientation, which serve to set the direction in our pursuit for happiness. This third one is actually one of the four marks of existence: “All experiences that are contaminated by mental afflictions are unsatisfying.”

Lama Alan reflects on how life seems to ‘smile’ to some, while the reality of suffering seems ‘more true’ to some others; those who go through war, poverty, hunger, i.e., blatant suffering. Then, how does the reality of Dukkha pertain to the first group? In which way is life unsatisfying? Well, even the bliss of śamatha is unsatisfying, it will erode unless the practice is deepened with insight, and that makes the experience unsatisfying. So, in the long run, adding up all the good and wonderful experiences you have gone through – asks the Buddha – are you satisfied?

To transcend this mark of existence, we need to realize that all phenomena are empty and identityless: this is the only way we can cut through the root of suffering. Moreover, in the Dzogchen path, we go a step further, we cut through the very nature of the mind which ascertains that emptyness. So, lets have a practice!

Meditation starts at 18:41

Lama Alan concludes: “The whole point of understanding the full breadth of suffering and identifying the true causes of suffering is to be free of both, as soon as possible.” After meditation Lama Alan addresses three questions:

  1. What would be the best daily balance and schedule for practice? It is my fervent prayer to practice the Great Perfection to completion! (44:00)

  2. After some years of diligent practice, I have found a general sense of well being; I am feeling an enormous tug to be of service outside of formal practice, but I can’t be certain I am benefiting anyone, so I feel the tug to come back to formal practice. Can you comment on this tension, for those of us who have a full-time commitment? (51:20)

  3. How should we choose the precise Guru for Guru yoga between our root Guru, primary Dzogchen Lama, and other Lamas who deeply inspire us? (56:30)

Tune in for the answers

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18 - 2020 - The Dukkha(Suffering) Nature of All of Samsara: The 3rd of the 4 Revolutions in Outlook: The Dukkha (Suffering) Nature of All of Samsara

Good morning. Here it is Easter morning. So, when you’re listening to or watching this, if it is Easter where you are then I wish you a Happy Easter, blessings on this holy day.

As we touch upon each of the four revolutions in outlook then we see the topic for today, one you’re bound to be, to have been really looking forward to, is the Dukkha nature of all of samsara: desire, form and formless realms. But even here, I’d like to pause just for a moment. This blo ldog rnam bzhi. It’s certainly more than four thoughts that turn the mind, that’s rather lightweight translation. But even the one that we have in the text right now, four revolutions in outlook, in a way, that’s a very Western translation, very Western translation, especially since the time of the rise of modernity, Copernicus, Protestant Reformation, Galileo and so forth and the colonization of the planet by European civilization. You know, nobody else did that. The Africans didn’t try to take over, the Asians never tried to take over, North Americans didn’t try to take over. It was the Europeans that thought, “We had the right to, and with our outlook, that we should be able to colonize and imperialize everybody else.” Outlook. We are very much out looking this Eurocentric civilization exceptionally so over the last four or 500 years. What about inlook? Four revolutions in inlook? So it’s probably more accurate to say four revolutions in perspective, or maybe there’s still a better translation, just a fundamental shift in orientation, revolution and orientation, I don’t know. But it’s not so important that we find exactly the right term because we probably won’t find one. But it is important to see what’s this really all about. And it’s this whole orientation towards life. This life, all possible future lives, the pursuit of the good life, the pursuit of enlightenment, the wish to be free of suffering, the aspiration to find happiness is a fundamental turning about, a way we look at everything, and that’s very much the inlook as well as the outlook.

[02:42] So this, this third one — first, the precious human rebirth, and then the reality of suffering of, of impermanence of all conditioned phenomena. And then this assertion is actually one of the four seals or four marks of existence about the ubiquitous nature of suffering throughout the whole of samsara. And it suggests here that for most of us, it’s going to be diametrically opposed to what we have been thinking. I know when I first went to India in the early 70s, we’re introduced to lamrim, very quickly we’re introduced to the three types of suffering, the six types of suffering, the eight types of suffering, the causes of suffering, and I know my first response was “India is a really a tough place. There’s a lot of poverty there, a lot of illness there. It’s really, it’s a tough neighborhood.” I mean, certainly there are nice, nice areas within India, but overall, a lot of poverty there. And so I compared myself as an American coming from a relatively prosperous, not very but relatively prosperous, family with loving parents, with strong emphasis on virtue and ethics. I really… a wonderful childhood and youth living in different countries, in Scotland, Switzerland, Israel, and so forth. Good education, did well in education, had good friends. And so I look back on that first 20 years of my life, and I thought, “Well, life is really tough for a lot of people, but I’m just one of the more fortunate ones. Life really pretty much smiled at me. I still wasn’t satisfied, that’s why I’m here in Dharamsala.” But I felt suffering was kind of for the plight of other people other than myself, because I was so fortunate, not that I deserved it, but there was.

[04:38] And I think in our modern world we’re aware of the sufferings in third world countries. We’re aware of the sufferings where there’s a lot of wars, strife, civil war, poverty, disease, and so forth, that doesn’t just come and go like a pandemic, but it’s kind of like there all the time. And to see how this actually pertains to ourselves. Having been raised largely in America where we’re guaranteed the right to pursue happiness. Polls have been done, polls have been done in America: how many people are really satisfied with their lives? And it’s a very high percentage, it’s not a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing. But on the basis of what are we saying “life is good”? Well, if you’re not impoverished, if you’re not ill, if you’re not living in a warzone, that’s good. If your health is good, have a happy family, pretty good job. And then we have so many nice perks in the modern era, so many types of entertainment, the arts and literature and movies and all the good stuff, beauties of nature. That overall a lot of people would say, “Well, you know, those Buddhists are kind of pessimistic because life isn’t really that bad. It’s pretty good. And when we get ill we have a good medical system and when we’re bored we have all kinds of entertainments. And when we get really depressed we’ve got all these wonderful drugs to suppress the symptoms, to make us feel better. So life is pretty okay.” And especially if you think at death you just terminate, then it’s pretty okay, do your best, try to, you know, make, make the best of it. And then at the end of the day, rest in peace and go into the deep sleep or just be extinguished. And so what’s the big deal? This isn’t that bad, this isn’t that bad.

[06:27] And that’s just an incredibly superficial view. It’s extremely superficial. So let’s, I would like to keep these comments fairly brief, and then, and then, this theme of the Dukkha nature of all of samsara. To understand it clearly because often, we hear but we don’t really understand what was meant. So in terms of the four marks of existence, all conditioned phenomena, all phenomena that arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, are impermanent, they’re constantly subject to flux, constantly changing, and by and large, sooner or later, they just stop being there together. We covered that one. But the second one, I think, is often misunderstood. And misunderstood because the words themselves can be misleading. And so I just checked, I went on to the Google and what you’ll commonly see for the second of these four marks is “all contaminated phenomena are suffering”. That just misses the mark by about a mile. It’s so misleading — I mean, it’s not incorrect, it’s just unless you really know the meaning, those words will almost certainly derail you. “All conditioned phenomena are suffering.” Well, first of all, very few people would accept that, that’s just, that’s nuts. If you’re on a vacation with your children, and they’re loving it and you’re loving them, and just enjoying the beauties of nature and so forth, or going to someplace, and to say that’s suffering: “No, it isn’t. Are you just kind of like really super depressed? What’s wrong with you? The joys of friendship, a family of joy, satisfying work, the beauties of nature. Give us a break.” And what do you mean, and then “all contaminated phenomena”? Well, I think it’s a misleading translation.

[08:16] When we consider the first line, the first verse of the Dhammapada, from the lips of the Buddha, “all phenomena” — that word [non-English speech 08:23] means phenomena here — are preceded by mentation, emerge forth from mentation, consists of mentation. When we view it in that context, phenomena are not something out there, like a place or situation out there. No, it’s emerging from mentation. It’s really referring to experiences. Because there are no phenomena independent of experience. There’s nothing that exists independent of appearances. And so I want to be brief here, because there are a number of questions that have been stacked up and I want to start responding to them. If not all of them this morning, I will get to them, the ones that have been sent to me. But let’s just shift the terminology, “all experiences”, “all experiences” here is what you really meant. I will be bold, so bold to say that “all experiences that are contaminated by mental afflictions are unsatisfying”. Because the word is not Dukkha, is not [Tibetan 09:19] in Tibetan, is [Tibetan 09:21]. And I don’t think many people are drawing a distinction there, but I think it’s pretty important. Consider this now, as if you’ve never heard before: all experiences — getting married, getting divorced, having kids, getting old, being in good health — you name it, all possible experiences within the desire realm — and there are devas in the desire realm having a really good time, and there are devas is in the form realm and some of them are having a really good time and the other ones are just experiencing a tremendous amount of serenity, and up to the formless realm, they’re just totally, totally spaced up in equanimity. But for all of the experiences we might ever have, or have always had in the past or ever had in the past or will in the future, every experience we ever have that is contaminated by, tainted by the grasping of the self — “There’s my fist”, I am something autonomous, separate and so forth. Everyone, every experience we ever have that is tainted by craving, clinging attachment, every experience we ever have that is tainted by aversion, hostility, aggression, hatred, no matter what’s happening to us from outside, it can be glorious, but it will be unsatisfying. And so, to say, speak of contaminated phenomena, that like, sounds like something out there — a political party or kind of a nasty person, or a really rotten place to visit. The contaminated phenomena are not out there. There’s nothing out there that is contaminated. Not from its own side, by its own inherent nature. But experiences are contaminated by mental afflictions. And whatever we’re experiencing, including, for example, achieving shamatha, resting in the substrate consciousness, bliss, blissful, luminous, non-conceptual, but there’s bound to be some clinging to that, some craving, it’s a really, very seductive. And so it’s unsatisfying. Not that it’s unsatisfying to you right when you’re experiencing it, but the little limitation about shamatha is it doesn’t last, it will erode unless you support it and infuse it with insight, that cuts the root of samsara. And so, this is very easily misunderstood.

[11:37] But then go back to your own experience. You’ve had a wide variety of experiences, we all have. Probably some pretty awful ones, and probably some neutral one, bland ones, maybe boring ones, and then some that are really quite wonderful. And the Buddha is not saying that the wonderful experiences weren’t wonderful. He’s not saying that happiness is not happiness, but he is asking: in the big picture, over the long term, are you satisfied? With all the joys you’ve had? All the sensual experiences, all the entertainments, all the arts, all the literature, all the all the good experiences in the past? Are you satisfied? Were they satisfying? Have you found the satisfaction, the fulfillment, the liberation, the awakening that is your heart’s desire? And the answer is: look closely. And if it’s “no”. Am I satisfied? I’ve been practicing for 50 years, a mere 50 years, in the big picture that’s like a finger snap. Am I satisfied? “That boy, I’ve come to the top of the mountain, I’m a finished product, I am now a fully qualified Dharma teacher, and so here I am ready to spread the word. Because I’m a done deal.” No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. That’s why I keep on withdrawing from teaching, going back in my own practice, trying to purify my own mind. I’ll continue doing that until I’m perfectly awakened. I don’t want to fool myself or anybody else that I have some degree of purity, of realization that I don’t. No value in that.

[13:16] And so the contamination is just by our mental afflictions, by the obscurations of the mind. And so that shows not that all of reality is suffering, but all of our experiences are unsatisfying, but they don’t have to be that way. And for this, we need to cut to the root, and the root is to recognize that all phenomena are identityless and empty, empty and identityless, to get the order right. And specifically as I was just checking out a very good, very good source of this, coming right back to our own bodies and minds. Everything we identify as “I” or immediately “mine”, if you look in that whole system, you’ll see that it’s empty of an unchanging, unitary, autonomous “me”. Nowhere to be found on the body, nowhere in the brain nor the heart, nowhere to be found in the mind, empty. And then if we look at the things we identify, to think “that’s me”, like, again, many people look in the face, “that’s me”; look at their body, “that’s me”; look at their minds, their thoughts, personal history, the stories they tell themselves about themselves, and think “that’s me”. And the answer is “no, not me”. Not I, not I, anātman.

[14:37] We have to realize that if we’re going to ever cut through the root of mental afflictions, the root of suffering, and find out what could be a way of existing that is not unsatisfying. And that’s the final word. The transcendence of misery, of Dukkha and its causes, is peace, but the word is a little bit bland. A lot of us have experienced peace, there are drugs that can give you a kind of sense of serenity or acquiescence. We speak, we speak of resting in peace when you’re dead. Good luck with that. But this is a peace unlike any other peace. A peace that transcends understanding, it’s been called a peace, that is of the nature of unborn immutable bliss, that is the fulfillment of one’s deepest heart’s desire, it’s knowing nirvana and knowing nirvana is knowing dharmadhatu, it’s knowing the ultimate nature of reality. And when we first ascertain it, we’ll most likely ascertain it in a manner of speaking, as something that we are ascertaining, that we are knowing, is something we know but it’s not something we are. “I am not emptiness, I am a person”, but we know emptiness, we can know emptiness, we can know the bliss that comes with realizing emptiness. But it’s still an object. That’s vipashyana, that’s the fruit of vipashyana, it’s to know emptiness. But then in the Dzogchen path, we go further. And we cut through the very nature of that conditioned mind that is knowing emptiness. We cut through that, cut through the parameters of existence and non-existence. And we cut through of course to pristine awareness, unborn, unceasing, beyond time, beyond space. And here pristine awareness is never an object of the mind. Pristine awareness is not an object to itself, as something that it looks at. So when we’re resting in pristine awareness, we’ve cut through the conditioned mind — that is even the substrate consciousness — and we’re viewing reality from pristine awareness and from pristine awareness we are knowing dharmadhatu, that it is in fact dharmakaya knowing dharmadhatu. Then, now we can actually get the import of OM SVABHAVA SHUDDHO SARVA DHARMA SVABHAVA SHUDDHO HAM, the nature of all phenomena is pure — pure as in empty of inherent nature, pure as in primordially pure, dharmadhatu, dharmakaya — and I am that purity. And now the ultimate, that primordial unity of dharmakaya and dharmadhatu is not something you ever know as an object. You finally come to know who you are. And there’s no duality there whatsoever. And that’s peace.

[17:51] So, let’s have a practice. There’s more notes here that you can look at your leisure, might be interesting. But right now let’s go to the practice and then we’ll have some time for responding to these questions that have come up. So please find a comfortable posture.

[Meditation: 18:40 - Transforming the Reality of Suffering]

Again I’ll recite the verse just once of refuge and bodhichitta in Tibetan, and in Tibetan the seven-line verse, the prayer to Padmasambhava.



And settle your body, your speech and mind in their natural states. And let your awareness rest with a sense of ease, stillness and clarity, resting in its own place. Aware of but not identifying with the movements of the mind. Let alone arising and passing of sensations and feelings in the body. We view them as if from afar, not in the sense of dissociation but in the sense of not identifying to, with them, or clinging close to them. In Tibetan [Tibetan 23:03] holding them close. We release the grasping.

From this perspective, our closest approximation to resting in pristine awareness and viewing reality from that perspective, indeed do look out, upon your body and mind, the world around you, the many beings, who populate it. And right now in this world today, just in the human realm, let alone the animal and all the other realms of existence. The reality of blatant suffering, the suffering that hurts, physical and mental, is certainly everywhere to be seen. These are difficult times. When the mind is disturbed by mental afflictions, burdened with distress, anxiety, fear, unhappiness, then we know the reality of blatant suffering, this suffering of suffering. We know how difficult it is to bear. But when such adversities as pandemics pass, they become a memory. Economies rebound, health is restored, felicity shines upon us and our minds are wholesome, our minds are virtuous, and we feel life is good. It is good, but it’s constantly in a state of flux. And insofar as we grasp to the felicity, identify with the mind, we know it won’t last. And the happiness we experience will fade. And we will retrospectively find it to be unsatisfying. The suffering of change. And so much of this out of our control, just oscillating between the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change. Variations on the same theme, no satisfaction inside.

But if we draw within, we actually achieve shamatha, rest in that blissful flow, luminous and non-conceptual, that you can return to anytime and remain as long as you like. You may feel “Ah, security at last, something sustainable at last.” But the roots of suffering have not been expunged, nothing irreversible. The root of suffering is still there. We are not free. And this is true for all of us. Throughout all the realms of conditioned existence, all of us seeking a lasting state of well-being, total freedom from suffering yet wandering around in the dark. Seeking a path, but mistaking that which is not a path, for a path. So I invite you now to open your heart, open your awareness, the field of caring to all sentient beings — human, animal, and all other types of sentient beings — and attend to them closely. Attend to them as if from their own perspective. Use your imagination. For those of us following the media we are well, well aware how much suffering this particular phase has brought with the illness itself but far, far larger in its impact. How many people now are suffering because they’ve lost their jobs? All financial security gone, and looking to the future just not knowing how long will this last. Afraid. View those who are suffering not as if from afar. Use your imagination. Imagine being them. Imagine being the different types of sentient beings throughout the various realms of existence and experiencing their reality from their perspective. Because they are us and we have been them in our countless past lifetimes. Rest in your awareness. Again, your closest approximation to pristine awareness, or as one great scholar and contemplative said: as you rest in the awareness in which you can rest right now. The simplicity, the stillness, the clarity, the purity of your awareness right now. This is not other than pristine awareness. It is a ray of pristine awareness an effulgence of pristine awareness, here and now. And as you view the world of sentient beings from this perspective, if you will visualize symbolically this pure awareness resting in its own place as a radiant orb of light at your heart as we’ve done before, inexhaustible light of purity, of loving kindness and of joy.

And with each inbreath starting from the center of the mandala where you dwell, where this person that is you dwells, with each inbreath arouse the yearning: “May this person be free of all suffering and its causes forever.” And whatever sufferings and its causes to which you are still vulnerable, imagine them in the form of dark light, a darkness, a cloud, and with each inbreath, draw that in, all that darkness that shrouds you, that sometimes seems to envelop you and hinders your vision. Imagine drawing it all in to this point, this point of light and extinguish it there without trace with each inbreath. Free yourself, in your mind’s eye, from all suffering and its causes. All the demons that beset you, invite them in and extinguish them. All the afflictions, all the obscurations, invite them in and consume them. And experience the peace of freedom.

[34:41] And now, breath by breath, expand this field, this sphere of awareness, this sphere of caring, to those immediately around you. Embrace each one. Attend to, experience, feel empathetically the struggles they’re facing, the anxieties, the sadness, the pain. Face it, attend to it. And then as you breathe in, draw it in, all of it. “May you, like myself, be utterly free!” Draw it in and extinguish it without trace. And with each breath, as the Buddha himself counseled, expand this sphere above and below, and to all the sides, to all sentient beings wherever they may be, in whatever realm of existence. We all have this in common: we want to be free of suffering, we want to find happiness. We want it to be enduring. Attend to their suffering and their causes. Take this burden upon yourself, experience it as if it were your own and then extinguish it in the light.

[37:23] And imagine each one awakening to their true nature, that primordial purity, that primordial enlightenment that has always been their birthright while they were looking in other directions for happiness. Imagine each one finally turning inwards to the true causes of suffering and the true causes of genuine well-being and waking up to their true nature. Always free. If you are truly dwelling in your own pristine awareness, you can in fact take upon yourself the suffering of the world. You can take upon yourself the evil, the mental afflictions that lie at the root of evil, above all, ignorance. You can, you can view it as if it’s your own. And you can triumph, overcome all the forces of darkness. You simply need to know who you are.

[39:37] Following in the footsteps of this great master, the vidyadhara Dudjom Lingpa who sought to become the guru of the world, let each of us aspire to be the guru of the world, each of us in the center of our mandala. That each of us become the light of the world, banishing all darkness and imagine it to be so. With extraordinary resolve, we take on this commitment, this pledge, “I shall do so. I shall free all of the world. I shall bring each one to their own perfection. May all the awakened ones bless me to enable me to do so.” With each inbreath now, draw in the light of blessings of all the awakened ones of the past, present and future, all converging in upon yourself, so that you blaze with light incandescently like a billion suns. And breath out the light of loving kindness and compassion to all the world. Arouse the resolve, the pledge of bodhichitta: “I shall achieve perfect awakening for the benefit of all beings.” And then rest free of activity in the stillness of your awareness, the ground bodhichitta.

[End of the meditation]

[43:09] I think it’s helpful to always remember that the whole point of understanding the full breadth of suffering and identifying with clarity and certainty the true causes of suffering, the whole point is to be free of both as soon as possible.

So now I will turn to at least one or two questions that have come my way. So, here’s a question. I don’t, I don’t see a person, so it’s anonymous.

Question: Many points were made at the beginning. And I hope I could get some guidance as to what would be best for practice. During my time here, when I’m not listening to the teachings, I’m not sure how to actually balance my practice. Should I concentrate mostly on the preliminaries as being taught? Mostly in shamatha in the Dzogchen tradition, etc. And for those of us in solo retreat, what is the best schedule to practice in terms of focus and complementary practice? It is my fervent prayer, to be of benefit and to practice the Great Perfection to completion, to that end.

Answer: Marvelous question. Wonderful. One could say all of the questions fit into that question. So if I can answer that one, maybe all the other ones will be answered? Probably not. What would be best? Time is short. So I’ll start with a short, short answer. Practice what you love. Practice what you love. Over time, if you can love all of Dharma, then practice all of Dharma as one taste, whether it’s Vinaya, whether it’s Vajrayana, Sutrayana, avoiding the 10 non-virtues, there is a perspective on which it really is all one taste, there’s no higher and lower, it’s just all Dharma. And to just let your mind become Dharma. So how to practice between sessions? I can’t phrase it any better than [Tibetan name? 45:24] did in a story I’ve cited so many times. And I’ll just give the punch line, the final line. And that is: give up all the attachment to this life. You know what that means, of course. it doesn’t mean you have a death wish or you don’t want to live any more. Of this life just means all the mundane pleasures, all the false securities, all these fleeting joys and so forth and so. It’s not, it doesn’t mean don’t enjoy them when they come. Of course, a good meal comes your way, enjoy, bon appetit, and so forth. Just don’t cling to it. Don’t cling to anything in the world. Don’t cling to your body, don’t cling to your mind. Be present with everyone, but don’t cling to anything or any anyone. And let your mind become Dharma.

[46:09] So through the course of this eight weeks with Glen’s teachings on shamatha, Eva’s on the, the inner preliminaries, what I’m offering in terms of the core text, the transmission and commentary. It’s a very rich banquet. I think just for this eight weeks, let alone all the Dharma you’ve learned before this retreat, all the Dhamma you’ll learn from other teachers and other teachings, but this is a very big banquet here. And so, chow down, enjoy and find for yourself from day to day, I would suggest not having it too regimented or too disciplined because it can be a little bit claustrophobic, a bit tight. But as you become more and more familiar with the four revolutions in orientation, in perspective and outlook, you’ll find that they touch into every aspect of your life. The four immeasurables are simply sublime — that’s why the Buddha called them sublime. And whatever you encounter, whether you’re watching a bit of television or engaging with a neighbor or doing your work, or just resting, they’re always appropriate, one of the four is bound to be appropriate. Bring them in, sweeten your life with the four immeasurables. With shamatha, that stillness, the clarity, the sense of ease, will enrich everything you do. The vipashyana is going to dispel darkness with clarity, so that’s about what I can say. But practice what you love to practice. Practice what you feel, you experience is really nurturing you and nourishing you. Dharma is often likened to food with good reason: it is our nourishment, to enable us to flourish through good times and bad. So I bow to your fervent prayer to be of benefit, I think you’ve found by our communal wonderful fortune, a path that does lead very directly through the Great Perfection. And I want to just share with you one paragraph that pertains to this question and pertains to this theme of the faults of samsara, the third of the four revolutions. It’s from this extraordinary Dzogchen master, who’s also a Kalachakra master, who’s also a very well-versed in Madhyamaka according to Tsongkhapa’s interpretation, Jikmé Tenpé Nyima, the Third Dodrupchen Rinpoché. Listen, if you will, I find it very, very rich from his core text, root text on transforming felicity or the good times and adversity into the spiritual path. And he writes this, here’s your practice in between sessions[48:56]:

“In order not only to prevent all unfavorable circumstances and adversity from afflicting your mind, but to cause them to elicit a sense of well-being, you should put a stop to experiences of aversion towards illness, inside, and towards enemies, spirits, vicious gossip, and so forth, outside; and practice seeing everything in solely an agreeable way.

I’m gonna interject here: with that kind of courage, “I can deal with this. I know enough Dharma. I know how to practice Dharma. Bring it on. I can transform adversity. I will not quail, I will not cringe. I’ll not feel faint hearted.” That’s what Dharma is for. Not just for the good times when I’m sitting quietly on my cushion. Dharma is for times like this: pandemics, adversity, financial, aging, sickness and death. That’s the time for Dharma. So,

For that to happen, you should stop seeing those harmful situations as something wrong, but give all your effort to practice seeing them as valuable. For it is the way our minds apprehend situations that makes them agreeable or disagreeable…

And then he concludes with a line that I remember now for like 25 years, when I was first introduced to this text,

To follow a spiritual path in a degenerate era, such armor as this is indispensable.”

In times like this, if we don’t get skillful, knowledgeable, experienced, and learning how to transform what other people regard as diversity into grist for the mill, food for our plate, to deepen our spiritual practice, then we’ll not be able to practice. This is our armor. This is our strength. And in times like this if we’re to have any type of sustainable spiritual practice, this is literally indispensable.

So that’s as good as I can do for right now for that question.

[51:09] Here’s a long one. It’s from Michael. I can leave your last name anonymous, but you certainly know who you are. So rather long, I will read it fairly swiftly here, because, but I want to read it.

Question: I am deeply inspired by the Dzogchen teachings and have infused my life with retreat mentality. Even though I care for two young children and a business, I’m 50 years old after four years of this kind of intention, with five to six hours a day of formal practice, I’ve managed to make serious progress with shamatha. The challenge lately is that samsara seems tolerable. Even mostly joyous, despite great adversity, which has appeared with the pandemic. I lost 80% of my business, schools closed, my spouse works in a hospital full of COVID-19 patients. The Dharma practice has given me tools to handle all this with exceptional balance to turn this adversity into opportunity, which includes the ability to observe many of the imbalances for which I’m still working on. Before the pandemic, I have resisted well, the extraordinary attraction to prematurely put the practice into work outside formal practice. But now that I’ve been forced to spend less time in formal practice, I’ve discovered exceptional abilities that even appear to be infused with proper motivation to benefit all other beings, at least partially. And I’m feeling an enormous tug to be of service outside of formal practice, even though I have much more work to do, and can’t be certain I’m benefiting anyone. So I feel that tug, to just slip back into formal practice. Can you comment on this tension for those of us that are developing our Dharma practice with some success in preparation for future full-time commitment to formal, to formal practice, or to formally practice.

Answer: So beautifully said and I must say I read it with rejoicing, I think you’re getting the nourishment that Dharma was intended to offer, you’re practicing, you’re reaping the sweet harvest of how the Dharma can transform you not only when times are good, but when times are very difficult. So once again, I’m delighted, mudita, empathetic joy, I’m delighted. And what you’re pointing to, I think is the point for all of us wherever we are in our practice. None of us are such beginners, that we have nothing to offer to the world. Nobody is that bad off. We all come to Dharma, with some skills, some motivation, we didn’t start feeling compassion, when we heard about Buddhadharma. So from day one, the tension is already there. The first time you ever hear about Dharma, the tension was already there. Instead of listening to that Dharma talk, you could be out really helping someone. Right. And then as you learn more and you develop more you practice more, informal practice and so forth, then you see you have more and more to offer. And so the tension continues. And at times like this when the need outwardly is so strong, the big, a big rise of people really needing assistance for those of us, those of us who are prepared to offer something, capable to offer something. So this sacred tension was there before you heard the first word of Dharma, and it will be there up to the millisecond before you achieve perfect awakening. Until there is for you no difference between samsara and nirvana, there is no difference between going out and coming in. Until there’s a complete one taste of equal purity of all of samsara and nirvana, this tension is here. And so, I don’t know of any formulaic answer, “This is what you should do in the morning”, or “She’s been 50% doing this or 30%…”. I don’t, I have no answer at all. Because that’s, because you don’t need one from me. What do I know? What do I know of your life? And your skills and your spouse, and your business and your children? What do I know? You know so much better. But you know enough. You know enough to answer that question yourself. Come into the stillness. Regularly, breathe in, come into that stillness of your own awareness and pose the question: “For this morning, what shall I do?”, “For this afternoon, what shall I do?”, “For this weekend, what shall I do?” Ask yourself. Not thinking about it, not trying to figure it out, not coming out with a flowchart, or a plan or an Excel chart or something. Just go within, and you’ll keep on getting answers: “Now’s the time to go out”, “Now’s the time to draw in”, “Now’s the time to cultivate loving kindness”, “Now’s the time to spend some time with my kids”, and so forth. Let your mind become Dharma. And day to day, moment to moment, you’ll get the answer you need for that question. It’s a sacred tension. It’s gonna be here for as long as there’s any difference between samsara and nirvana. So, wonderful question.

[56:16] Maybe one more. So this is from Noah. Yeah, another question.

Question: In light of your recent comments on the importance of guru yoga in Dzogchen, it would bring tremendous joy to my heart if you could comment further on guru yoga. My comments, thus, although our real guru is pristine awareness, with the level of being that transcends all personality, there’s also an emphasis on the root guru such as one’s Dzogchen guru, the lineage guru, and one’s own root guru who taught one primarily, or who inspires us more than others. [Lama Alan: Well said, well said. This is all true.] You’ve previously stated that you’ve had many teachers, around 50 as I recall [Lama Alan: Getting close, haven’t finished yet. I’m sure there are more lamas I can learn from and under whose guidance I would love to come. But so] You’ve had many teachers but most definitively in the context of this qualm, you have your root guru, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. [Lama Alan: True.] And you have your primary Dzogchen lama, Gyatrul Rinpoche. [Lama Alan: True.] How do you approach, if you’d be so kind to share your sadhana? That is when one is practicing this Dzogchen lineage and receiving blessings, does one primarily feel that one’s root guru is one’s primary Dzogchen lama manifesting as Guru Rinpoche or as one’s root guru? Even though it is clearly taught that one sees Guru Rinpoche as the same nature as all one’s gurus, there still seems to my understanding an emphasis on feeling one’s personal root guru, in particular, as manifesting as Guru Rinpoche. I hope this qualm makes sense. This qualm is asked out of rapture, awe and delight in the practice of guru yoga.

Answer: Oh, frankly, if I think I didn’t answer it all, you’ll probably figure it out. If you’re operating out of rapture, awe and delight, then I think you’re right on the right track. That’s one of the signs, you know, of being on the path is joy. There’s not coming from outside, it’s just coming from your own pristine awareness. So you’re doing fine. But I will respond. In general Mahayana, because that’s where I find the guru yoga really blossoms, blossoms. To take the Shravakayana approach of simply seeing one’s guru who holds the lineage, who is carrying the torch that has been carried for hundred generations back to the time of Guru Shakyamuni, very noble, very noble. But when we move into the Mahayana territory with the emptiness of all phenomena, the ubiquitous nature of dharmakaya, Samantabhadra, our guru right now, Buddha Shakyamuni, our guru right now. He’s not dead. Guru Shakyamuni he didn’t retire. The historical individual. He’s the living Buddha. You can pray to him now, you can receive blessings now from Shakyamuni Buddha. Let’s not just think of him as locked into some timeframe long ago in a place far away. Buddha Shakyamuni can be your root guru. And you can read about his life: the service, the compassion, the wisdom, the power that he manifested in this world. Guru Shakyamuni. Samantabhadra. These are our gurus. But then happily, we can actually meet Samantabhadra in the flesh. Guru Shakyamuni has not stopped manifesting. That’s one of the magnificent insights of Mahayana in general, and specifically in Vajrayana: Tsongkhapa not stop manifesting. Padmasambhava, of course, not stop manifesting. None of the great beings, exalted beings, Nagarjuna, and so forth, none of them have retired. This is why Dudjom Lingpa could be encountering Humkara, great vidyadhara. Nagarjuna, one great being after another. Because they’ve not retired, they’ve not, they have not left the theater. They’re just waiting for us to call upon them, and with a purity of mind, then we can see them for what they are. So, when it comes to human beings, who are born from the womb, as we have been, who appear like us and can speak in a language that we can understand or at least through an interpreter we can understand. This is Samantabhadra. Each one of them is Samantabhadra: the village lama that I referred to, the great exalted lama who is renowned, has thousands or millions of disciples. But in terms of having more than one I received very clear guidance on this a long time ago and it served me well ever since.

[1:01:12] In this lifetime… I don’t know how, I don’t know how I’m so fortunate. I really have no idea. Because I know what a totally ordinary person I was. I know that, it’s not, it’s just true. I was just so ordinary. And this ordinary person came under the guidance of His Holiness. How can that pop up? How can that happen? Before I knew him, he was my guru. Before I knew him, he was guiding me. And when I first met him, I knew: this is my root guru. One conversation, that was clear. I’ve never wavered since then. But so many lamas I’ve met since then. So, he’s Vajradhara, he’s Samantabhadra taking a form that I can see, showing his humanness that I can relate to. But in a particular incarnation he can only be in one place at a time. That particular embodiment is then limited. That embodiment, he’s in Dharamsala, he’s in Delhi, he’s here and there. But Samantabhadra has no such limitations. So for me, His Holiness is a manifestation of Vajradhara, Samantabhadra. And when I was ripe, I was ripe enough to start receiving Dzogchen teaching, first of all, His Holiness manifested, there he was. Just down the street from where I lived, I was living in Stanford, he was giving teachings on Dzogchen in San Jose, a half an hour drive, came right to my doorstep. When he felt that I was ripe — I’m not saying he gave those teachings for me, there were many people there, but they were for me as much as for anybody else. And then very shortly after that then, for as far as I’m concerned, His Holiness manifested as Gyatrul Rinpoche. And he, I could live with, and I could translate for him hour after hour after… translate text after text under his guidance. That was His Holiness manifesting as Gyatrul Rinpoche. When I first went to Dharamsala, His Holiness manifested as Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey and Geshe Rabten, and Serkong Rinpoche and Küngu Barshi and so on, and so on. As Gen Lamrimpa, as Garchen Tulku Rinpoche, as Yangthang Rinpoche, as Tsampa Lama Karma, as Sakya Dagmola, as Khandro-la. There are no limits to the manifestations of the guru, and each one bringing a special message, a special manifestation, a special blessing. And then who is Samantabhadra? Up in Akanishta, some place? Samantabhadra is the most pure, symbolic representation of our own pristine awareness. His Holiness, as I perceive him, is an expression of my pristine awareness. And that’s true for all my other gurus. Apart from my pristine awareness, there are no appearances of any guru at all. And all of these gurus are all pointing in the same direction, myriads of skillful means to wake up, to know my own pristine awareness. It’s all for that, always has been. So then we have really only two things to do. As far as I’m concerned, I have only two things to do: repay the kindness of my lamas and repay the kindness of all sentient beings. That’s it. Nothing more. That’s all.

Transcribed by Ana Carolina Boero

Revised by Kriss Sprinkle

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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