These teachings were given by the Venerable Dorzin Dhondrup Rinpoche in March 2017. The teachings were given in Tibetan and kindly translated at the time into English by Solvej Nielsen.
Sangha: If we are not separate from the Buddhas i.e. our own Buddha nature, why do we pray to them? Are they different to us? Are we, in essence, praying to ourselves?
Rinpoche: For example, there are two people, and one of them falls into a deep pit in the ground. He/she cannot climb out on his own, and has no choice but to ask the other person above the pit for help. So both people have the same essence/ basis (or ground, as in the terms “ground, path and fruition”) in that they are both human beings from the start, just like Buddhas and sentient beings have the same Buddha Nature. But one person follows the wrong path (down into the deep pit of samsara) and cannot get out on his own without help. He/she needs to ask for help from a person who has not fallen into the pit, and likewise we need to supplicate the Buddhas, who are out of samsara, and ask for their guidance to show us the way out. Because we, as sentient beings, are on the path full of afflictions and disturbing emotions, that leads us into samsara and suffering. But the Buddhas and the Deities follow a path of loving kindness and compassion and it leads to Buddhahood which is free from all suffering. So, in the example, the person who fell can ask for help from the one who did not fall and he can probably help. And in the same way, the sentient beings who are stuck in samsara and suffering, they can look to the Buddha who is out of suffering and he can show the path out. So this is how it goes.
The main thing we have to understand is that the basis is the same, the basis of where we come from is the same but when the paths are different then the result (fruition) will also become different. We need to follow and practice and offer to the Buddhas because they are free from suffering. We are still stuck in this suffering, we sometimes get sick, have all sorts of problems that we face and because of that we need to turn to those who are free from this. The Buddhas have become completely liberated from samsara so we need to follow them and supplicate them. If we were not suffering we would not need to pray to the Buddhas, but because we are still suffering we still need to. When we get to the point when we are completely inseparable from the Buddhas then there is no need any more to pray to them.
Sangha: Are we not already inseparable from the Buddhas by the very fact that we have Buddha Nature? Although we suffer, we are in essence Buddha Nature so are we not already inseparable?
Rinpoche: Yes, we are actually inseparable from the Buddhas and the Deities but we don’t see it that way. Because we see ourselves as different and separate we suffer and we need help. So how is it that we make things appear separate and dual? It is like, for example, when somebody asks you your name and you say your name, you don’t say “I am Buddha” or “I am Tara”, you say your name and you perceive yourself as different from the Buddhas. So it’s because of our grasping to duality. The Buddhas don’t have this grasping to duality, they don’t perceive duality. For them there is no ‘I’, there is no ‘I’ for the Buddha. But for us, we cling to this ‘I’ and we grasp at the duality that we are separate, so this is how it happens that everything appears to be dual and separate. It’s because of the consciousness, the view that perceives and clings to things as dual; duality and separation. It is us who create the duality through grasping and clinging.
Sangha: So, the separation actually inherently doesn’t exist? It’s just that our mind perceives it. We create it, but it actually doesn’t exist.
Sangha: So for me at the moment, I see it would be important to constantly fix your mind on the fact that we are inherently the Buddha, in meditation etc. Is this what we should do?
Rinpoche: It is wrong to just think ‘I am a Buddha’ and just go around telling ourselves we are inseparable and that we are Buddhas, because that gives rise to a temporary pride. But we should meditate. The important thing is to meditate to familiarise ourselves to the fact that this ‘I’ is not established. This ‘I’ does not exist. We have to meditate on that.
Sangha: Rinpoche, what method should we use to meditate looking for that ‘I’?
Rinpoche: There are many methods to practice for this but one is meditating on loving kindness. When we meditate on loving kindness and compassion, the ‘I’, the ego clinging, will diminish. First of all we mediate on the equality between self and others, that we are the same. When we realise that we are equal, we are the same with other sentient beings, our ego will diminish and get less and less. When we get familiar with that, we switch to exchanging ourselves with others like imagining ourselves in the other’s place. And finally when we talk about the Great Immeasurables that means that we get to the view of emptiness, we realise that others as well as ourselves are not actually established, don’t really exist in reality. This is what it means when we talk about great compassion and great loving kindness. It is this aspect of being non established, empty. Another method for practising is Shamatha. Normally we have so many thoughts and concepts but with Shamatha meditation we make all these thoughts and concepts come to rest in peace so we can find this calm abiding in a thought free, relaxed state. When we familiarise ourselves with this and practice it we are able to stay longer in this relaxed state and that is the basis for all other kinds of meditation. Normally our minds are kind of rough, disturbed, and have many thoughts but with Shamatha mediation we will be able to control our own minds. Our minds will be workable, pliable and flexible so when we sit down and meditate we can purposely put our minds into a calm state. So first we need this Shamatha stability in our practice and then when it becomes stable we can progress to Mahamudra practice. In the Mahamudra meditation we start to investigate the ‘I’, where is the ‘I’, does it have a form or shape and so on? And then only with this kind of investigation can we get to the realisation that this mind is not established. When we get to this point of no established ‘I’, then this is the nature of mind, the nature of all phenomena and this is also Buddha Nature; everything being unestablished. At this point there is also no grasping at duality, there is no ‘I’. It’s not enough just to know that phenomena are unestablished, that there is no ‘I’, just thinking about it and knowing it for a short while. We need to familiarise ourselves and really make our practice on it continuous because otherwise as soon as we stop practicing and go outside we are again overpowered by all habitual afflictions. The pride, anger, jealousy, everything comes up if we are not familiar with the nature of mind. So what we need to do is continuously practice on this fact. A Buddha is someone who has completely abandoned all afflictions, completely finished all of them and is completely free of them and this Buddhahood is what is called the manifestation of Buddha nature. The actualisation of Buddha nature is the state of Buddhahood when all afflictions have been abandoned. We can know this ultimate state for a few seconds but immediately we get back to our afflictions, we don’t familiarise ourselves properly with the ultimate state. So the main thing is to continue the practice and do it again and again. Sangha: Rinpoche I can see your wisdom and your compassion and because I can physically see you, I can understand how you can help me. I sometimes find it hard to see how the Buddhas can help me because I can’t see them.
Rinpoche: So when you now ask a question like that you are saying that the Buddha is something separate right? But we also say that the Lama is the Buddha because the Lama is the one who shows us where Buddha is, the one who tells us that the Buddha is in our own nature of mind. So we say that the Lama and the Buddha are inseparable, not distinguished. The Lama points out to us that the difference between Buddhas and sentient beings is whether there are afflictions in the mind or not. Somebody with afflictions is a sentient being and someone without any afflictions or disturbing emotions is the Buddha. That’s the meaning of the word Buddha in Tibetan. Buddha is translated into two syllables: Sang Gyay. Sang means to be free from all karmic propensities and afflictions. The second syllable Gyay means to have developed/blossomed all wisdom and knowledge, it’s the awakened state. We also say that the Buddha is the inseparability of wisdom and compassion and this is exactly the nature of our own mind, the inseparability of wisdom and compassion.
So another way of explaining the same thing is that you are thinking in your own mind that the Buddha is separate from yourself. Because we think like that we have to rely on the Lama. The Lama explains the way. Just as if you want to go to Bodhgaya you need a ticket and you need somebody to tell you that you have to go this way and that way. And in this way the Lama is the one who explains to us and shows us what Buddhahood is and the way to go. So please listen well if you want to know what Buddhahood is and the way to go there – I will give you the ticket! But even if I give you the ticket and the visa it doesn’t help if you don’t have a passport. You yourself need to have a passport and then I will give you the ticket and visa and the way to get there. It is just a matter of whether you go or not. Your passport is the precious human body endowed with freedoms and advantages. Your visa is that you need to practice and accomplish virtue, merit, and abandon non virtue. And your ticket is if you practice and develop loving kindness and compassion. And then on top of that you have to practice devotion and faith to the Buddha, because even if you have all the facilities to go on a journey but you don’t want to go then you will not get there. If you choose to do all that, you have no choice but to reach Buddhahood. But, just as a passport has an expiry date, it is the same thing with the precious human body. It doesn’t last forever so we need to use it before it expires. It’s not a long time we have, just an uncertain period of time, so we need to use it while we have the chance.