Three Short Teachings By Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche: Thoughts and the Mind.

Like waves, all the activities of this life have rolled endlessly on, one after the other, yet they have left us feeling empty-handed. Myriads of thoughts have run through our mind, each one giving birth to many more, but what they have done is to increase our confusion and dissatisfaction. When we closely examine the ordinary habits that underlie whatever we do and try to discover where they come from, we find that their very source is our failure to investigate them properly.

We operate under the deluded assumption that everything has some sort of true, substantial reality. But when we look more carefully, we find that the phenomenal world is like a rainbow—vivid and colourful, but without any tangible existence.

When a rainbow appears in the sky we see many beautiful colours—yet a rainbow is not something we can clothe ourselves with, or wear as an ornament. There is nothing we can take hold of; it is simply something that appears to us through the conjunction of various conditions. Thoughts arise in the mind in just the same way. They have no tangible reality or intrinsic existence at all.

There is therefore no logical reason why thoughts should have so much power over us, nor any reason why we should be enslaved by them. Mind is what creates both samsara and nirvana. Yet there is nothing much to it—it is just thoughts. Once we recognize that thoughts are empty, the mind will no longer have the power to deceive us. But as long as we take our deluded thoughts as real, they will continue to torment us mercilessly, as they have been doing throughout countless past lives.

To gain control over the mind, we need to be aware of what to do and what to avoid, and we also need to be alert and vigilant, constantly examining all our thoughts, words and actions. To cut through the mind’s clinging, it is important to understand that all appearances are void, like the appearance of water in a mirage. Beautiful forms are of no benefit to the mind, nor can ugly forms harm it in any way.

Sever the ties of hope and fear, attraction and repulsion, and remain in equanimity in the understanding that all phenomena are nothing more than projections of your own mind. Once you have realized absolute truth, then you will see the whole, infinite display of relative phenomena that appears within it as no more than an illusion or a dream.

To realize that appearance and voidness are one is what is called simplicity, or freedom from conceptual limitations. Self and others As you wish to be happy, so you should wish others to be happy too. As you wish to be free from suffering, so you should wish that all beings may also be free from suffering.

You should think, “May all living creatures find happiness and the cause of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. May they always have perfect happiness free from suffering. May they live in equanimity, without attachment or hatred but with love towards all without any discrimination.” To feel overflowing love and almost unbearable compassion for all living creatures is the best way to fulfil the wishes of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Even if for the moment you cannot actually help anyone in an external way, meditate on love and compassion constantly over the months and years until compassion is knit inseparably into the very fabric of your mind. As you try to practise and progress on the path, it is essential to remember that your efforts are for the sake of others.

Be humble and remember that all your exertions are child’s play compared to the vast and infinite activity of the Bodhisattvas. Like parents providing for the children they love so much, never think that you have done too much for others—or even enough. Even if you finally manage to establish all living creatures in perfect Buddhahood, simply think that all your wishes have been fulfilled.

There must never be so much as a trace of hope for any benefit for oneself in return. The essence of the Bodhisattva practice is to go beyond self-clinging and dedicate yourself to serving others. The Bodhisattva’s activity hinges on the mind, not on how your actions might appear externally. True generosity is the absence of clinging, ultimate discipline is the absence of desire, and authentic patience is the absence of hatred.

Bodhisattvas are able to give away their kingdom, their body, their dearest possessions, because they have completely overcome any inner impoverishment and are unconditionally ready to fulfil the needs of others. Practice The teachings we need most are those that will actually strengthen and inspire our practice. It is all very well to receive teachings as high as the sky, but the sky is not that easy to grasp.

Start with practices which you can truly assimilate—developing determination to be free of ordinary concerns, nurturing love and compassion—and as you gain stability in your practice you will eventually be able to master all the higher teachings. The only way to achieve liberation from samsara and attain the omniscience of enlightenment is to rely on an authentic spiritual teacher. An authentic spiritual teacher is like the sail that enables a boat to cross the ocean swiftly.

The sun and moon are reflected in clear, still water instantly. Similarly, the blessings of the Three Jewels are always present for those who have complete confidence in them. The sun’s rays fall everywhere uniformly, but only where they are focused through a magnifying glass can they set dry grass on fire. When the all-pervading rays of the Buddhas’ compassion are focused through the magnifying glass of your faith and devotion, the flame of blessings blazes up in your being.

Obstacles can arise from good as well as bad circumstances, but they should never deter or overpower you. Be like the earth, which supports all living creatures indiscriminately, without distinguishing good from bad. The earth is simply there. Your practice should be strengthened by the difficult situations you encounter, just as a bonfire in a strong wind is not blown out, but blazes even brighter.

When someone harms you, see him as a kind teacher who is showing you the path to liberation and merits your respect. Pray that you may be able to help him as much as you can, and whatever happens, never hope for an opportunity for vengeance. It is particularly admirable to bear patiently the harm and scorn of people who have less education, strength or skill than you. Look right into it, and you will see that the person who is harmed, the person who does the harm, and the harm itself are all totally devoid of any inherent reality.

Who, then, is going to get angry at mere delusions? Faced with these empty appearances, is there anything to be lost or gained? Is there anything to be liked or disliked? It is all like an empty sky. Recognize that! Once you control the anger within, you will discover that there is not a single adversary left outside. But as long as you pay heed to your hatred and attempt to overcome your external opponents, even if you succeed, more will inevitably rise up in their place.

Even if you managed to overpower everyone in the whole world, your anger would only grow stronger; to follow it will never make it subside. The only really intolerable enemy is hatred itself. To defeat the enemy of hatred it is necessary to meditate one-pointedly on patience and love until they truly take root in your being. Then there can be no outer adversaries. Ask yourself how many of the billions of inhabitants of this planet have any idea of how rare it is to have been born as a human being.

How many of those who understand the rarity of human birth ever think of using that chance to practise the Dharma? How many of those who think of starting to practise actually do so? How many of those who start continue to practise? How many of those who continue attain ultimate realization? Indeed, those who attain ultimate realization, compared to those who do not, are as few as the stars you can see at daybreak compared to the myriad stars you can see in the clear night sky.

As long as you, like most people, fail to recognize the true value of human existence you will just fritter your life away in futile activity and distraction. When life comes all too soon to its inevitable end, you will not have achieved anything worthwhile at all. But once you really see the unique opportunity that human life can bring, you will definitely direct all your energy into reaping its true worth by putting the Dharma into practice.

If you make use of your human birth in the right way, you can achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime. All the great Siddhas of the past were born as ordinary people. But by entering the Dharma, following a realized teacher and devoting their whole lives to practising the instructions they received, they were able to manifest the enlightened activities of great Bodhisattvas.

Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group From Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Editions Padmakara

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On being cured of a wandering mind, hands and eye.

19517606_rudolphvalentinoAs a twenty something year old new entry into the dharma, all those years ago, I considered myself somewhat of a playboy. The sangha had a different moral compass than my catholic guilt-ridden upbringing, and as an ex wanna-be rock star, I reveled in the new freedoms that this expansive community offered me. One of those freedoms was women, which came in all types and personalities.

Although I later married, I was in an open relationship, which I exploited to the hilt. Speaking of agendas, I had a big one- women. Connecting with my vajra master and teacher, Rinpoche, I am sure that he watched me with more than detached interested and waited till the moment was right to make his opinion felt.

That day came soon enough.

I was asked to attend the parinirvana of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in Bhutan in 1991, a great honor indeed that would probably not have been conferred upon me, had it not been for my ability to take care of a certain tulku, the dharmic linebacker, Kongtrul Rinpoche.

My teacher invited all of his core students to come to Bhutan and witness the ceremonies as his guests, the collection of which spanned the known world. People came from all over to attend this remarkable opportunity, for alone many had not been to the hidden kingdom before, and that chance in itself was an incredible treasure.

We stayed with him in his house in Bhutan, guests within his compound and crammed into every nook and cranny that his property there held. Upon arrival, I surveyed the landscape carefully; it included a collection of the most beautiful women that ever graced this earth, and I, like a hungry ghost, salivated in earnest at the thought of many a possible tasty encounter.

That salivation did not last for long. Upon arrival at the house, and with people settling in on the first day, I heard a loud voice booming across the precincts calling my name. Rinpoche.

As I walked hurriedly through the garden towards the house, I couldn’t not help but think to myself (again)what a collection of gorgeous women my Buddhist teacher had around him. Some were daughters of wealthy Chinese sponsors, others students of his from across Asia and Europe. As for me, although bound in a green card American marriage, I felt no restrictions morally not to be able to hunt on Rinpoche’s turf. I have always been attracted to Asian women, and in general the feeling was reciprocal.
As I was busily assessing the field, lost in lascivious thought, I entered his house and made my way towards the sound of Rinpoche’s voice. Upon entering his room, I could see him ensconced leisurely on a chair, surrounded by a bevy of students sitting on the floor around him, arrayed as if in a human mandala. My, I thought to myself, more gorgeous women in here as well…

Rinpoche spotted me as I entered the room, and without a moment’s hesitation, asks me with a smiling face, “ So….. cheated on your wife recently?”

Stunned, I am sure in retrospect that I turned various shades of red and that the only sound I made was that of my jaw hitting the ground and my ego shattering into a million pieces. Meekly I smiled, for once lost for words, wishing that I was absolutely invisible and proceeded to find the nearest dark corner and hide.

He had nailed me so brilliantly, caught me so perfectly, that from that day onward I started to pay attention more to my own agendas and grasping nature. It was in retrospect a long time coming, and I deserved it.

And that, my friends, is the sign of a genuine spiritual teacher….

The pilgrim

It was midnight, and the only sounds around me in the Burmese Temple as I awoke were the rhythmic sounds of breath and snoring of various backpackers, tourists and typical collection of characters that the path of dharma generates. Being December and Winter in Bihar, the midnight air had a coolish tinge to it that required you to bundle up temporarily until your body became accustomed to the ambient temperature, but such garments would be totally unnecessary once the golden sun arose six hours later. I dressed quickly, putting on my monk robes as quietly as I could (I had taken monk vows with the Hinayana tradition, now long since given back), and made my way out of the Burmese temple and into the walled garden, where due to the locked gates for security I made a quick hitch over the fence and into the silent, dimly lit street, starting the hour-long walk from the Burmese temple into Bodghaya.
The year was 1997 and Monlam prayer festival, and the days around the great stupa were active and  full of throngs of people participating in the buddhist prayers for world peace, with all hoping to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. Many Tibetans were there on pilgrimage, their prayer beads and prayer wheels whirring continuously as they circumnambulated the wondrous site. I was there to do prostrations, 30,000 of them in fact, over a month-long period, and as any experienced prostrator would tell you, that is not something one wants to do in the heat of the Indian sun. So what I did was to come firstly in Winter, get up in the middle of the night, and make my way down to the deserted stupa and do my 1000 prostrations per day when the sun’s effect was stymied.
As I walked along the deserted streets, I kept myself in the best lit part of the road, where I could spot any potential obstacle, be it human, car, dog or snake, giving myself enough time to hopefully remove myself as a target. Dogs pretty much kept to themselves, too busy with sleep or the realities of a very harsh lifestyle and the hunt for food. Of cars, there were few, and I kept up a steady beat of mantra as I walked silently along the road, beads clacking between my fingers, eating up the several miles in what seemed as nothing more than pregnant moments. Every human I chanced to see was busily engaged in sleep, sprawled in various positions over road side shop counters, chairs, and hard wooden platforms that doubled as beds. The world, brightly lit in parts by an overhead light, faded back into darkness around me as I walked along.
Getting closer into town each early morning, more and more signs of life would begin to appear. A rickshaw driver, if chanced upon the city’s outskirts. was usually sprawled across the back seat of his vehicle and easily woken for a few rupees and a drive back into town. As incredibly busy and noisy as India is, in the still of the night not a sound can be heard, barring the howl of some distant dog or hoot from some  far off bird. Most nights I just walked the entire distance, surrounded by profound and absolute silence, the steady beat of flip-flops and the mala racing between my fingers my only companions as I chanted my mantras.
India at night is magical when it finally stops; and is merely a snapshot of where it left off, with many participants immediately resuming pre- sleep tasks on waking. As I walked along I was reminded so many times of the story of the Buddha and the night prince Siddhartha left his own palace confines for good, the dancers and attendees sprawled akimbo as he silently made his escape. The chaos, the beautiful chaos that is India is one of its chief attractions (at least to me), and I often found myself mesmerized by where the life clock had suddenly stopped for a few brief hours before recommencing later at its usual hurdy gurdy speed.
By the time I reached the MahaBodhi Temple grounds and the site of the great stupa each night, the surroundings were as yet silent and unmoving, with only the occasional cough of a guard to be heard as he stared out into the night sky. The holy grounds had suffered much from pilfering over the years, and now lay locked up during the early morning hours to ward off looters, a sad testament in itself. I stood at the gate for  a few minutes, hoping to attract the attention of a guard inside who might graciously let me in, with me mime-ing the prostration movement, and then ending with my hands in supplication. Sometimes succeeded, sometimes I was ignored, sometimes no guard would appear from the darkened grounds within the gates, probably fast asleep somewhere out of sight. In those cases, I would walk around the perimeter fence to a suitably quiet and low spot, then after a quick glance around, would hurl myself over the wall and into the silent darkness of the hallowed stupa grounds within. For the sake of dharma practice, I admit to committing such an offense.
Quietly, and mindful of my feet and movements, I would make my way to one of the hundreds of prostration boards that littered the temple grounds that I had picked out to perform my prostrations on, under the sweeping and generous limbs of another not so famous bodhi tree on the grounds, about 50 metres away from the great stupa which towered above. There, after making my opening supplications to gurus current and long since gone, I would soon be steadily slapping the board with my full length body, as small insects whispered quietly nearby.
The stupa in front of me, like some alien monolith towering into the darkness above, and the absolute, profound silence surrounding me the only witness, the minutes turned to hours each night as I waged a constant battle with myself. Sweat would soon start to flow, running in rivers down my body, and my mind (of course) to wander, each time drawn back (at times belatedly) by me, as I remembered my vows and motivation. I was soon soaked, and the chill air surrounding me no longer an obstacle but a welcome relief.
I brought no food, only water, which I would drink in copious amounts, at times aware of the bats that whirred around above me in the night sky in impossible balletic display.
Occasionally a once sleeping guard would discover me on his rounds, but each was utterly respectful and would leave me to my practice, perhaps inspired by my doggedness of pursuit.  Another crazy foreigner..
As the sky above started to lighten towards dawn, the gates would be drawn open for another day, and slowly, in ones and twos others would appear, to take up a prayer position or join me in the steady slap slap of prostrations offered on behalf of all sentient beings. Many Tibetans would arrive to light lamps around the stupa, and their endless circumnambulations would begin, The number would swell over time, until it was in the thousands and was as if a constant roar engulfed the divine structure, brightly lit by thousands of lamps and churning with life at its base.
As the day grew stronger, more and more pilgrims joined me in devotional activities, some joining me on vacant boards and soon ofering their bodies in supplication, others sitting and chanting out prayers and mantras. By 900 am the grounds would be failry packed and the days prayer activities well underway.
It was a social occasion. People swapped stories, old friends reunited after years of being apart, monks and nuns and priests and believers of all races and kinds, joining together as equals in the prayers for peace.
By the time the morning prayer sessions were scheduled to be underway and the sun was again high in the sky, I would be wrapping up my daily session and  ravenous for food, sated each morning with banana pancakes at a nearby hippy cafe, a welcome oasis and respite from the soon thronging crowds outside as the day began.
Sometimes I would sit under my tree, for an hour or two before I headed back to the temple and sleep, and await a falling leaf from the sacred bodhi tree, cherished by all and exceedingly rare.
Each day I repeated the same, inspired by the sheer devotion of thousands who braved the still strong sun each day and joined the prayers for world peace.
It was an experience I shall never forget.