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INTERVIEW WITH DZONGSAR KHYENTSE RINPOCHE [January '99]
/ THE CUP -
ANNOUNCEMENTS - COMMITTEE CHANGES - New Appointments for the Committees of Siddhartha's Intent Southern Door and Vajradhara Gonpa
Stop the Press -
KHENPO MIGMAR WILL BE MISSED
DZONGSAR KHYENTSE RINPOCHE
After a recent teaching on the Longchen Nyingthik Ngondro at Vajradhara Gonpa [Dec. 24-30, 1998], Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave this interview to the Gentle Voice.
Could you firstly say something about this Longchen Nyingthik Ngondro, Rinpoche?
In the Vajrayana the concept of doing the preliminary practice, before one gets into more serious business like receiving initiations, is very much emphasised. That's something very important to do in the Vajrayana in general. So each of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism has foundation practices. But I'd like to clarify something here. Many people think that there's a set of foundation practices. Now foundation, obviously, is like when you build a house, you need a good foundation so that whatever you build will be stable, reliable and for the long run. Likewise, the foundation practice that Vajrayana Buddhists talk about is exactly the same. It's like building a foundation for the spiritual practice. Actually, everything that we do prior to the main practice is a foundation practice, such as compassion and Lojong or the Seven Point Mind Training. Even, as you can tell from the story of Milarepa's life, building houses, dismantling the houses, building them again, things like th! at, are a foundation practice.
Basically, it's a mind training stage. You see, our mind is rigid. We have to make it flexible. And the foundation practice does that. That's the purpose of the foundation practice. But out of the skilful means of the past lamas, they have come up with this idea of a set of foundation practices such as refuge with prostrations, bodhicitta, mandala offering and so on. That's a very wonderful method because that's what is necessary. See, human beings need a certain system. If a master tells a disciple to build a boat, this is going to be his or her foundation practice unless the disciple is very devoted and intelligent. Nowadays, people would not take this as a foundation practice. Foundation practice has to be some kind of mantra chanting and all that. That's why we have to understand foundation practice in this way, as a mind training.
So Longchen Nyingthik is a foundation practice mainly for the Nyingma lineage. And especially for those who wish to practise Dzogchen, this is like the mind training or the foundation practice. But having said that, it's not as though, once you've finished certain numbers that you're supposed to do, you've finished your foundation practice. You'll finish your foundation when your mind is trained, when your mind is flexible! I have seen great lamas like His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, even just before he passed away, doing foundation practice many times. So it's not as if you do it for a few years and then forget it and go on to a higher or bigger grade of practice. It's not like that at all. I mean, guru yoga in particular is something that you continue from now until enlightenment.
Now this particular Longchen Nyingthik Ngondro teaching which I gave was compiled by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. So I thought it would be auspicious for those who wish to practise the Khyentse lineage.
During the preliminary practices we complete large numbers of prostrations and recitations. What effect may these have on practitioners?
Basically, there are these concepts in the Vajrayana of the purification of defilements and the accumulation of merit. These two are very important abilities that a Vajrayana practitioner must have. I mean, even in the Mahayana it's the same. But in the Vajrayana the way we purify defilements and the way we accumulate merit is much more clever, more subtle and more powerful. In the Mahayana or in the other vehicles the way to accumulate merit might involve things that are not necessarily easy to practise, such as giving up your own limbs, or things that are time-consuming such as those requiring three aeons. But in the Vajrayana, because it's so skilful and because it's a wisdom-oriented practice, even methods such as the accumulation of merit and the purification of defilements are based on chanting the mantras.
But then, of course, Vajrayana's root is Mahayana, so here motivation is very important. I mean, if you chant a mantra without the proper motivation or without enough concentration on the visualisation, the mantra might not work as well as it should. This is why, when we talk about motivation, we're talking about bodhicitta basically. And as Buddha said, everything is dependent on circumstances and situation. So if you could chant these mantras based on bodhicitta, the right circumstances and situation can arise. Chanting a mantra is actually creating very profound and subtle circumstances in a way. So this is why it works.
In years gone by, Tibetans always completed their preliminary practices before receiving any tantric initiations. Nowadays many students receive tantric empowerments before starting the foundation practice. Could you say something about this, Rinpoche?
Yes, even the concept of foundation is something that you do first, then you do the main one. But that has actually been quite misleading because many people think that preliminary practice is something that you do first and then you never do it after you finish it. That's not the case here. As Patrul Rinpoche himself said, in a way preliminary practice is much more important than the main practice. This is a slogan. But it makes sense because, as you can read in any foundation practice text, it has bodhicitta, it has refuge and so on. It's like a main practice even though, in order to encourage students, we call it a foundation practice. Anyway, generally you do the foundation practice first and then you get the main initiation or instructions from your teacher. But that's a very standard way of understanding things. It depends totally on your teacher, totally on the lineage, totally on the individual practitioner. Some teacher might teach you Ngondro practice together with a! mai n practice, another might ask you to do the Ngondro several times and then teach the main practice. This totally depends on the individual. But traditionally, the standard interpretation of the foundation practice is something that you do first.
One of the cornerstones of the preliminary practice is guru yoga. Yet the student/teacher relationship may not yet be established. Can you comment on this, Rinpoche?
Especially in the West not many people have an individual guru. And even if they have found a guru, then there's an ongoing relationship problem with the guru. So it's a difficult one. But even if you find a perfect guru and then you practise, it's important to realise this. If you've found the perfect guru, that means you found the perfect guru. It is you who have found the perfect guru. That means you're quite accomplished. So in this way guru yoga is a process of trying to find the perfect guru. And even if one doesn't have an individual guru, I would advise people to do the guru yoga, then find the right guru through this guru yoga. Find one guru or two gurus or whatever. I would not like to disillusion people by letting them think that first you have to find the perfect guru and then you do guru yoga. That sounds a little unrealistic to me.
And on that same subject, what would you advise in order to maintain pure vision towards the teacher?
There are several pieces of advice. I think it's always important that whatever interpretation we make (not only about the guru, but about other people too), it's always coming from one's own interpretation, one's own expectation, one's own fear. And this is the first step that people should learn. It's easy to blame or worship someone. But whatever you do, you are the one who is doing it. As long as you know that and then practise devotion, nothing dramatically wrong can happen. Then apart from that, I always advise people to spend as little time with the guru as possible, unless it's necessary. If it's not necessary, there's not so much point. And then, of course, there's the classic advice such as reading the biographies of past gurus, which might help. But basically, I think it's very important to know that whatever you are thinking or whatever judgment you're making, you are the one who is doing it. That always does seem to help.
Could you say something about the pitfalls and risks for new practitioners of the Dharma, Rinpoche?
Expectation! I think that's one big problem. Of course, motivation also. You know, motivation of why we're practising the Dharma because most of us practise the Dharma from a very limited motivation, wanting to be happy, wanting to be relaxed, wanting to be stronger or whatever. If you do that, you'll be disappointed because we're living in samsara and to be really happy is quite difficult. But the ultimate aim for Dharma practice is not for that. It's for enlightenment. And I think that's my important advice. If you're practising Dharma, you practise it for enlightenment, not for rights, not for freedom, not for justice, not for healing, not for getting better in a worldly way.
What is your advice for those who are undertaking the Ngondro?
Think that from now on until I attain enlightenment, I'll do this. This should be kept in your head. Never think that you're doing this to get a main teaching.
Could you explain a little about the Gesar of Ling ceremony that took place at the gonpa recently, Rinpoche?
I've always thought that during this degenerate time we're tormented by all kinds of suffering. Of course, we always have a lot of different kinds of suffering, different kinds of pain and anxiety. And one of the most difficult is mental conflict, mental confusion, especially depression, getting down and all that. And sometimes when we feel that very strongly, both individually and in a group, it can actually harm the energy of the place, the energy of the country, the energy of the whole environment. So Guru Rinpoche, out of his great compassion, has created a great many treasure teachings for the sake of degenerate times like this. And one of them is the treasure of Gesar of Ling which has got a lot to do with cheering oneself up, strengthening one's own way of looking at things, starting the day with joy, basically, starting the day with something uplifting. As guru yoga is very much emphasised in the Vajrayana, I thought that Gesar of Ling, since he's the manifestation of ! Guru Rinpoche, would be appropriate. It will become not only the dharmapala or protector practice, but it will also become a guru yoga in another form. And those who wish to know about Gesar of Ling should get familiar with some of Chogyam Trungpa's teachings.
Would you like to say anything further in conclusion, Rinpoche?
Be happy. No worries, mate!