I always thank my karma to be able to find all these great spiritual masters with excellent qualities, not only that, I am so happy to be able to put their teaching into practice, at least I try. I really don’t want to waste their time and my time. We always have to live as though we are going to die the next moment because it will make us realise how precious our time is and how important it is for us to make sure that we are not wasting it by doing nonsense, thinking nonsense and speaking nonsense. Then our lives would be wasted and when impermanence really comes, we are not ready. Sometimes, I always tell my friends and students that it’s better to do something that will help you after you die. The moment we were born, we have been going step by step towards death. Life and death, again, is like two sides of a coin, it’s part of samsara that we have to understand, accept and deal with.

— His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, Jigme Pema Wangchen

Gyalwang Drukpa 19.

The guru is the equal of all the buddhas. To make any connection with him, whether through seeing him, hearing his voice, remembering him or being touched by his hand, will lead us toward liberation. To have full confidence in him is the sure way to progress toward enlightenment. The warmth of his wisdom and compassion will melt therefore of our being and release the gold of the buddha-nature within.

— Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche 7

Buddhism (Questions and Answers)
by Akong Rinpoche

What is Buddhism? I think when I look at it and try to simplify it I would say that in my view Buddhism is about self-development; how to develop loving-kindness, how to develop compassion; how to develop tolerance. It Is about how to develop ourselves in this direction so that we are not just thinking of ourselves but thinking of how we can help all other people. It is about self-development but not in the sense of development of ego or self-importance, but about developing loving-kindness and compassion so by achieving that we can also help others. I think this is a simple description of what Buddhism Is.

This is a path which most decent human beings would try to follow regardless of religion – or no religion – so in what way does Buddhism offer anything different?

I think the main difference between the Buddhist path and others is that Buddhism always says that you have to deal with all obstacles and that you should not try to escape from anything – including yourself. It teaches that you have to come to terms with all your own emotions and all situations – positive as well as negative. You have to face yourself, and deal with your own fears and reactions and not run away. Buddhism also says very clearly say that in order to develop tolerance, loving-kindness and compassion you have to train, or tame, your mind. Just trying to have positive thoughts Is not quite enough; you have to achieve them; therefore an essential part of the path of Buddhism is the practice and study of meditation. In the beginning, it may look as though the learning and practice of meditation is running away from the problem but it is not. It is the opposite. You practise and study meditation in order to be able to face problems and be better able to help others. I think that overall there is much similarity in the teachings of all religions but I think that Buddhism emphasises that you have to deal with all your own rubbish before you can be much help to others.

Some people feel attracted to “Tibetan” Buddhism but are not clear about how much is Buddhism and how much is the Tibetan culture. Some of the imagery can seem quite alien. Can you give some guidelines?

I don’t think it matters very much. Those who wish to understand will understand whatever you do. Many stranger things happen! For example, an astronaut went to the moon and soon tourists will be going there. It seems very strange to me, but those who want to understand the significance of this will find an understanding. From the Buddhist view, the Buddha taught many different techniques – 84,000 different teachings – in order to help different sorts of people. Tibetan Buddhism passes on to us these teachings on how to help and how to benefit. There is nothing in any of the teachings that can do harm to anyone or can encourage wrong views. That would be against the principle of Buddhism. Every teaching – all 84,000 – contains something positive and the Tibetan approach, the Vajrayana approach, is included In these. But the presentation doesn’t really matter. Different people like different presentations; some people like one style, some people prefer another. Though Buddhism originally came from India many Indian people prefer the Tibetan style and the Tibetan art. It is not necessarily the case that Indians always prefer the Indian style, and Tibetans the Tibetan style; some Tibetans may prefer the Indian style. So I think it is very much up to each individual. The art, the pictures, the decorations – these just represent things. They give your busy mind something to do which is more positive than thinking about what your neighbours are saying. They are there to help you. But if you find that they are not helpful – then there is no need to look at them – you can just think of what they represent. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is what you do!

In the traditional Buddhist countries women have a low status in society, is this due to the religion – Buddhism – or is it the culture of the country?

I think Lord Buddha’s teaching is valuable for whoever comes. The teachings are for whoever has a brain. He taught more for some and less for others but it is not important whether they are “man” or “woman”. He ordained his own stepmother as the first nun and this was the first time ever that there was the possibility for women to follow a religious life. But society is a different matter. Wherever you go in the far East a women’s job is to stay at home and look after the children or her parents. Therefore, although a few nunneries exist they are normally smaller and poorer than the monasteries. In these nunneries, I am sure there will be some nuns who teach the other nuns and perhaps sometimes a very famous nun to whom laypeople go to receive the teachings. Generally though, men – and therefore monks -are more respected than women but I think It has more to do with society, with the culture, than with Lord Buddha’s teaching.

Although Buddhism places a great emphasis on compassion there is not a good record of active compassion in eastern countries’ can you comment on this?

One of the main teachings of Tibetan (or Vajrayana) Buddhism is called the ‘Six Paramitas’ All Vajrayana and Mahayana teachings are based on the six paramitas and the first paramita is “generosity” or “charity”. I think that when someone who is a true Buddhist gives to charity they give very sincerely and very honestly. In western society, you may notice that perhaps people are giving more than in the East, but the giving is more likely to be based on ego and more likely to have strings attached. Too often it is charity with a capital “C”. “I am the one who gives and ‘they” receiver and “I want to become very famous because I am so generous. I want to have a label saying how good I am to poor people”. Buddha once said that if you want to give with a pure heart, first you have to meditate and develop wisdom so that you can give without attachment. We discussed “non-attachment” earlier. “Non-attached” charity is when you give something totally, both mentally and physically. It means having the right state of mind when you make the gift as well as the actual gift itself. In a previous life, the Buddha gave his own body; in another life, he gave his eye. We should all try to achieve that level of non-attachment, non-possessiveness. I think that those who give charity in the East are more likely to have that development. If you don’t have that development, that right state of mind, if you cannot truly give wholeheartedly with no strings attached, then the person who receives your gift may benefit but you may end up with a poisoned mind. I think that perhaps people in the West may not understand that some wisdom is needed. I think in the East they may take more time and try to develop themselves first. This may take some time and may mean that for certain periods in their life they do not give much but I think the idea of giving has always existed.

Akong Rinpoche 18.

There are two major systems in this world, the mundane and spiritual. These two systems are like two eyes, thus it is important to know them both. It is important to know the essence of these systems. Some people in this world refuse all spirituality, they only believe in the improvement of science. This is slightly mistaken. We do need science but at the same time must not neglect our minds. And even within different belief systems, there is disagreement. To me, all religions are necessary and good. I also am very fond of science. I like to have two eyes wide open.

— Garchen Rinpoche

Garchen Rinpoche 35.

Without discursive thought, it is just dharma practice. Hope together with aim obscures. One does not cut through pride by meditatively cultivating the desire for happiness. If there is hope, even the hope for buddhas, it is a negative force. If there is apprehension, even apprehension about hells, it is a negative force.

— Machig Labdrön

Machig Labdron (马吉拉准) 24.

The Root Guru
by Tai Situ Rinpoche

What exactly Is a “Tsawe-Lama” or “Root-Guru”?

There are several forms of Tsawe-Lama but we need only discuss the two most important ones here. The first form of Tsawe-Lama is the head of the particular school of Tibetan Buddhism that you are considering joining. The heads of that school can be traced right back for many centuries and this is called “The Lineage”. The head of the Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism is His Holiness, Urgyen Trinley, the XVII Gyalwa Karmapa. You could say that the heads of the schools hold a similar position to that of the heads of the Christian orders of the Benedictine or Franciscan monks. The second form is the Lama (who may or may not have the title of Rinpoche) under whose guidance you feel you can learn most and travel furthest. It Is someone for whom you have total respect; the person you turn to in need; someone you can follow without doubt or hesitation – whose words “enter your bones”. It is the person who helps you most to realise the true nature of your mind. This Tsawe-Lama will be your strongest connection with the Dharma.

What does the phrase “true nature of your mind’ mean?

It means your “Buddha-nature”. It Is the essence of the Buddha, the innate goodness, which lies within every sentient being. It is the revelation of the supreme qualities of compassion and wisdom.

What is the difference between a Tsawe-Lama and any other Lama or teacher?

You can learn, or should be able to learn, something from any Lama; indeed from any person and every situation. However, you will learn more from your Tsawe-Lama than from any other. The contact will be deep and will last for the rest of this life. It may have lasted for many lifetimes already and the connection will probably continue for many lifetimes to come. “Tsawe-Lama” is sometimes translated as “spiritual friend” or “spiritual guide” because he or she will be your main guide along the path of Dharma.

Is your Tsawe-Lama the Lama you take Refuge with?

Not necessarily. We call this Lama your “Refuge-Lama”. The Refuge-Lama is the one who opens the door of the Dharma and introduces you. That Lama may become your Tsawe-Lama but only time will tell.

How does someone go about finding their Tsawe-Lama? How do you recognise him or her?

Have patience. Follow the advice of your Refuge-Lama. Practise diligently. Go to teachings when possible and the situation will become clear.

Is it possible to have a woman Tsawe-Lama?

Of course, why not?

Once someone has found their Tsawe-Lama does this mean they should not attend teachings or initiations given by other Lamas?

No, of course not, but a little care should be taken. Each tradition of Buddhism, such as Zen or Theravadin, and each school of Tibetan Buddhism has a different way of presenting things. If you listen to a great variety it is easy to confuse issues without realising you are doing so. It is like a paint box! The red is a nice colour, and those two greens are both clear and bright, and the yellow and that rich purple – all are fine colours but if you mix them all together you get a muddy brown! It is better to stay with teachers of the same lineage as far as you can so that your mind does not become muddy brown! However, a little of one colour added to another can be good. Ask your Refuge Lama or your Tsawe-Lama for advice.

It is said that there is a strong connection between the student and their Tsawe-Lama and that the student should offer uncritical obedience. Is this correct?

Yes, there is a strong connection or bond between the Tsawe-Lama and the student but the student will offer what he or she can. Some students learn more by simple acceptance; others learn more by asking questions. Both are good. This is not the army! The role of the Tsawe Lama is to bring you to know the true nature of your mind to see the truth as it is – not to brainwash you.

If someone learned that their Tsawe-Lama had behaved in a manner contrary to their own moral standards, is it possible for that student to break the bond and find another Tsawe-Lama?

The student should remember that the bond is voluntary and it is possible that that Lama is no longer appropriate. Perhaps it was not their true Tsawe-Lama so in that case, there was no bond to start with. If the Tsawe-Lama should break his own personal Samaya (deep vows) then that dissolves the “contract” with the student and there is no longer a bond to break. If the student is unsure or uneasy then they should try to discuss the issue with their Tsawe- Lama, or with another Lama whom they respect – perhaps their Refuge-Lama. There may be a misunderstanding and an easy explanation. Time and common sense will show the way. If this is not possible, or if the student is still distressed, they should turn to their own Buddha-nature for guidance.

Tai Situ Rinpoche 13.

As we respond with caring and vision to all work, we develop our capacity to respond fully to all of life. Every action generates positive energy which can be shared with others

— Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche

Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche 4.

If realisation and meditation are like the brain in the human body, a good heart is like the heart. Just as you need a brain and heart to live, you need realisation and meditation as well as a good heart for your spiritual practice to flourish.

— Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche

Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche 24.

True compassion is undirected and holds no conceptual focus. That kind of genuine, true compassion is only possible after realising emptiness.

— Tsoknyi Rinpoche

Tsoknyi Rinpoche 18.

That which subdues all the enemies, one’s own afflictions, and guards against future existence in the lower realms, is called a ‘treatise’, because it subdues and protects, these two features are not found in other traditions.

— Vasubandhu

Vasubandhu (世親菩萨) 14.