Transmission in Tibetan Buddhist Practice. Activity. Part III
by Lama Ole Nydahl | Issue 28
This article was published in issue # 28 | Fall-Winter 2011
This is the last part in the series that came out of three “transmission talks” that Lama Ole Nydahl gave during a road trip in the Upper Midwest USA in November 2009. After his talk was transcribed and sent to him, Lama Ole made many changes for this written version. The first two segments focused on (1) information and (2) meditation. They appeared in Buddhism Today #26 and #27.
Probably the best drug in the world is good company. Nothing opens us better and gives more richness and blessing to our life than this. It’s actually what we are “on” every time we Kagyus get together. When we are with people who have some level of awareness above basic materialism and who experience space as potential, then new and liberating dimensions keep appearing. Thus, the question that naturally arises is: how do we keep these good feelings under ordinary conditions? How can this meaningful state of growth and exchange stay?
Well, the answer is a mixture of timeless and conditional factors. Above all, we need the will to realize that highest truth is highest joy. We must have deeply recognized that normal expectations of living like this or that, earning so-and-so much, carrying the guilt or aggressiveness of different religions, and hopefully dying with little pain have been accepted without question and can actually be changed. Actually our potential goes far beyond some rosy dreams that appear when we inhale some exotic herbs or empty some bottles, and is only touched upon when riding fast motorcycles on curvy roads, or during the free fall before the parachute opens, or when we fall in love. We should also recognize any depression as a simple malfunction. We are much more than what limits us. Our true, timeless and all-pervading essence is perfection—the blissful space-awareness of ourBuddha-nature. Only that should be accepted as what we are. Upon appearing, any inspiration, joy, compassion, power, wisdom, courage and love should immediately be recognized as our true essence.
Developing the trust that our highest level of functioning expresses timeless truth, and accepting nothing less, will also be helpful on the everyday level of give and take. We will experience that when we feel better, more of our power and useful qualities will arise and that these can be enjoyed by others. Seeing any mediocre or unpleasant mental state as temporary clouds passing by the perfect sun of our inherent potential is the right interpretation. We simply have to establish perfection and richness as our point of identification and avoid accepting any muddy or ordinary ups and downs as “us.” Of course, mind’s mirror reflects both pleasant and unpleasant images, but they are not what we are. Mind’s brilliance, power, wisdom and radiance are the qualities that cannot change. They are mind’s indestructible essence, always and everywhere, and are therefore the only states with which to identify.
Buddha’s Diamond Way gives countless and expert methods for realizing mind’s nature. When we use them and solidify the resulting insights, others notice. Beings are attracted to high levels of functioning and, having such tools for realization, we actually owe it to others to use them. Surplus and energy should be shared wherever possible.
So how will this happen?
The way is simple: we hold Buddha’s highest view and use his practical advice for realizing it in our daily lives. On the level of physical activity, we probably have too many restrictions to fully interact. Speech is freer and consequently needs more attention. Here his advice is to consciously avoid unclear statements and above all avoid threatening and embarrassing words. Putting others down is unnecessary. They do that by themselves.
Our speech touches more beings on more levels than hardened knuckles could ever do. Therefore we should regularly check, “Which kind of words did I just use? Wow, is that my actual level of consciousness and education or were they from the gutter or some ghetto song?” It is excellent advice to consciously avoid whatever pulls us and our listeners down; such speech benefits no one and creates a lowlife and primitive communication. Showing better and inclusive solutions brings results, as well as friends and useful connections.
Everybody’s true essence is beyond any words and we can thus play an important role in their world and become a source of human growth to those who can use our example.
So what creates the surplus for conveying such richness? My experience tells me that daily short meditations on the 16th Karmapa are the best method.
The 16th Karmapa was, beyond any doubt, a Buddha. In my books Entering the Diamond Way and Riding the Tiger (Blue Dolphin Publishing, Grass Valley, CA) my lovely wife Hannah and I gave our observations over twelve years of being his close students, and every word is true. The books tell what we and friends around us actually saw. We added or “improved” nothing. All who met him were inspired for life. And what does his great gift contribute to the world today? It is the methods and teachings that bring an unshakable confidence in mind’s potential and an immediate access to mind’s beyond-personal bliss.
When there is nothing to do during the many short pauses that occur in modern life, the energy field and wisdom of the meditation on the 16th Karmapa can be instantly invoked. Without looking exotic one may meditate on his form, take in his lights, use his mantra KARMAPA CHENNO—power of all Buddhas work through me—and melt with his form and qualities.
After remaining in the state of naked awareness without any object for as long as mind is radiantly clear, one again lets the world appear, as perfect, rich and with deep meaning. If time for focusing is very short, it also works to think that Karmapa, the Buddha, or your lama appears above one, dances down into one’s heart center and fills one with light. Enjoy that state of awareness and continue with the experience of a pure world.
These are pervading offers of transcendence. Meditations like these are exceedingly well tailored to today’s chopped-up lifestyle. Taking refuge for the good of others in the morning establishes our priorities and gives value and direction to the whole day.
When entering the office, think over and around any cubicles people may sit in, and place a buddha on everybody’s head. It’s so much easier to do work in an inclusive and good mood. Having buddhas in the room, and even one above one’s own head, gives a good start to any working day! Over lunch, while others tell stories or jokes you’ve already heard, offer your precious minutes and look instead at the observer of it all.
On the way home, one may train the pure view by transforming the brain-dead way some people drive into something somewhat reasonable. Arriving home one can use the chance to pick up the news from an honest, politically incorrect source. Before sleeping, one may prepare for a good night by holding one’s preferred buddha or lama in one’s heart. Then, upon waking, taking refuge for the good of all beings gives a healthy mindset for the day. After that, all buddhas are present and one can instantly invoke them whenever time allows.
The Tibetan practice of prostrations is an excellent morning practice. They strengthen our timeless values, as well as perk one up. Forcing the body energies upwards, they enhance one’s energy level for the day. Doing one hundred in a quarter-hour is attainable for most. (They also lift the ladies’ breasts and put “beer muscles” on the men’s shoulders.)
For rounding off the day, a solid evening meditation on Diamond Mind is excellent. It calms mind and lowers shaky body energies for a better night. Also, if you have been selling too many pencils without lead during the day, you’ll be able to start the next one with a clean slate! (laughs) Diamond Way Buddhism lays the basis for becoming one of those unshakable pillars of certitude, surplus and blessing, which beings seek, in order to protect, trust and project good feelings into the world. It’s simply a question of not blocking such qualities.
To develop any kind of strength, one should practice regularly. Since most activities are habitual anyway, one can just slip Buddhist practice into an expandable slot in one’s daily flow. Establishing liberating habits of body, speech and mind makes the difference between a life where one just gets older and one where age and wisdom come together. Using one’s years consciously has deep meaning and is truly wonderful.
Question: I have a question about activity. In Diamond Way centers we work together as a sangha quite a bit. What effect does “producing” Buddhism like this have on our minds?
Lama Ole Nydahl: A center that meditates, works and eats together always functions. All revolutions start in kitchens. However, if a center just drinks coffee and compares different schools and teachings with insufficient knowledge, it always falls apart.
People are generally happy when they munch or meditate. In the latter case, the dog lies down, the cat comes in and the children are quiet. They all like to be there, because the brainwaves produced by meditation are basically pleasant and it creates the space for excellent bonding.
A lot of the work we do is heroic and instantly gratifying. Building houses in snowstorms in Russia, getting money together for projects even though nobody has any, finding materials where there was nothing… things become magic. If we really want to do something we think is meaningful and put our power behind it, then everything comes together, grows and makes sense. All beings will have their little hands and paws on our backs and push us forward, thinking, “Get enlightened quickly and then give us a hand.” This feeling is extremely joyful and gives deep meaning to all.
Question: Can you explain a little bit about offerings to the lama on the outer and the inner level? Who or what is one offering to?
Lama Ole Nydahl: Whatever we contribute to our refuge and lineage increases our liberating awareness. Here I don’t see the lama as a person.
In my own case I have a history and I do—and have done—exciting things, but I don’t think of them as centered around a “me.” More than anything, I feel that I am doing, and enjoying, something that I promised to do, while sharing methods and accomplishments with all.
Since I have no taste for luxury, whatever you give me will support a present or future activity we all agree on. I fly sardine class, unless upgraded or if somebody gives a gift without telling me. I feel free wearing good secondhand army clothes, which are cheap, have big pockets and are made to last. Being happy with little, nearly everything is “on top.” My wastefulness is confined to driving. Life is too short and there is too much work for moving slowly, be it in cars or blissfully on motorcycles, but again, those also are bought used. I’ve never taken myself to a restaurant in my life. It is much more fulfilling to visit the local supermarket, get something with protein and eat it on the way. When you give to the lama, you do not increase any unnecessary consumption, but instead support his meaningful activity, which is ultimately for the good of all.
Question: Perhaps offering to the lama is not only offering personal gifts but also our activity as a sangha. The work we do to build centers and prepare events are what we offer to the lineage and this is how we open up to its activity. Is this correct?
Lama Ole Nydahl: Yes, singly and collectively we create the style and content of our lives. What we give to the world through body, speech and mind will return. Everywhere and always, this principle works. Deciding on meaningful activity brings a meaningful life. The doer, the thing done and the act of doing perfect themselves because they are parts of the same totality. Our view and the things we think, say and do decide the level at which our life unfolds.
Getting back to sharing and generosity, the richness of any kind of act will stay in one’s store-consciousness, giving joy and adding to the confidence that meaningful acts are possible, joyful and natural.
It is because of such understanding that you created the Marshall Plan and saved much of Central Europe from communism—I remember that. Today, European input and American inventiveness have built a retreat center in Colorado for those who wish to meditate, with a unique mountain view at 14,000 feet. Every act that benefits others in meaningful ways and each obstacle we overcome is a victory for the best in all of us, a sign of an idealism that will grow now and in every future life.
Question: So, we talk about transmission and how the transmission is present in the sangha even when you’re not around. And we feel that when we get together we want to be sure that we proceed in the right way, not only for now, this generation, but for future generations and on and on. Are there some key points that you could mention about protecting our transmission?
Lama Ole Nydahl: As the matter is so complex I will approach it from several angles. I hope your chairs are comfortable!
First of all you have to stay friends. Friendship is the basis for any lasting openness or growth. Even if people meditate for years and take the most unusual empowerments together, if they start rumors or go against one another any blessing will disappear.
Here Buddha protects us skillfully through three levels of promises:
The first and basic one was given especially for the situation of monks and nuns, to help them survive and get along in their tight and celibate communities. This is primarily seen in the Theravada Buddhism of Indochina and Sri Lanka (excluding most of Vietnam).
A second and more applicable level to fit into the give and take of normal life is the Bodhisattva Promise. It aims to benefit others. Its basis is compassion, a wish to strive for the happiness of all beings, coupled with the understanding of emptiness and the changing nature of everything, both outer and inner. This is known as the Great Way of Northern Buddhism.
After obtaining the insight that subject, object and action are all interdependent and part of the same totality, one naturally aims to do useful things to benefit others. These two inner goals cover one’s motivation.
The third or “secret” and ultimate level of promises concerns our view: How to realize highest joy as highest truth? It is received during the formed and formless empowerments of the Diamond Way, and above all through meditation on one’s lama. With practice they develop an essential trust in everybody’s buddha nature and the recognition that everything is mind’s free play and thus ultimately pure. For those who can do it, since it touches one’s totality and all levels of experience, the above-mentioned Guru Yoga meditation on a skillful teacher is the fastest way to enlightenment.
Towards reaching this highest goal of pure view, Buddha offers countless tools, massive protection and advice.
However, these tools and promises all condense into three promises. First, keep the bond to one’s lama as the Buddha’s representative. On the Diamond Way, he/she should embody, to their best capacity, what they teach. Of course, if any teacher deceives others by being politically correct or behaving harmfully or egotistically, such bonds will not last. However, also for one’s own sake, one should still wish them happiness; in difficult cases this may be somewhere far away.
The next promise is to keep one’s bond to the teachings. This doesn’t mean one has to use or understand them all or consider them great. Some were meant for people in very different situations, like the Vinaya rules for Buddhist celibates. They find these limitations necessary so they can live together without having a revolution every day.
Buddha’s Sutra and Abidharma teachings are conceptual and therefore generally understandable and useful. Monks’ rules however, as well as Buddhist Tantras and the View of Yogis, should only be studied if one practices on those levels. One will find it difficult to understand them from an everyday life and it is therefore wise not to evaluate them. They give guidance to very different people. We use the exceedingly effective Guru Yogas, where devotion and thankfulness are the transformative agents. When practicing the protectors or other forms, if they are directly seen as one’s Lama’s activity, one can hardly make mistakes. The texts of more complicated Tantras, however, are often written in a way to protect accidental readers. They make unprepared readers shy away from experimenting with energy fields and material to which they haven’t been properly introduced. To use them one needs the oral transmission from someone who has received the explanations, done the meditation and developed at least some realization.
Using confusing language, like having to kill a hundred people or going to bed with one’s mother and sister, one may observe some discrepancy with the law or one’s private preferences. Here one needs the teacher to explain that these words and images actually mean using a hundred-syllable purifying mantra and uniting two energy-centers in one’s own body.
The third promise is to keep the bonds with one’s friends on the way. This means helping them in productive situations, while giving them the benefit of most doubts, especially if we shared important empowerments. One should then do one’s best to protect and help them.
However, this must also be done from a level of some personal maturity.
Do not keep people who have a bad motivation. They harm any development. If the pride, jealousy or whatever else bothers them seems superficial and they will practice to remove their obstacles, give them some space.
However, if this doesn’t work, send them away or to other groups with a similar bent for a collective learning experience. This is ultimately educational and compassionate, because one will more easily see faults in others than in oneself. Above all, if someone with a negative motivation visits a holy place or people meditating, they will gather more harmful impressions than by having such feelings among the distractions of the street. The more charged-up a place is, the deeper both habits and their results will be, both for people of useful and destructive mindsets.
Of course the ultimate is to never lose the pure view. This means working with full power from a state of growing bliss while meeting one’s teachers and friends during, or between, one’s rebirths, until full enlightenment is accomplished. Diamond Way meditations directly train us on how to experience this world as a Pure Land and how to reappear as a buddha surrounded by other buddhas after death. One should therefore recall and hold that experience whenever possible until one’s next opportunity for meditation.
While avoiding time-wasting mistakes on the practical level one should identify highest joy as highest truth as the total functioning of body, speech and mind. To counteract any slip from that state, it is useful to let a buddha dissolve into oneself, repeat a mantra and continue consciously. Remembering that any world or Pure Land is simply a mental state experienced as a “somewhere” is an inspiring insight.
Doing this, eventually any separation between meditation and non-meditation will dissolve, liberation will expand into enlightenment and perfection will be attained.
Solidifying any step towards enlightenment must be a growing experience of two kinds of emptiness, a fact which cannot be mentioned often enough. The first is the core view of all three ways taught by our historical Buddha, 2,550 years ago. It is perfected through the realization that there exists no “me” or “self” in the sense of a lasting entity. Everything experienced as personal—be it body, thoughts or feelings—is conditioned and impermanent. The outer world changes constantly and what goes from one life to another considering itself a “me” is merely the illusion of an ego, which keeps beings’ streams of impressions and tendencies together, until one reaches a level where this function is taken over by the deep and lasting wish to benefit beings.
Everything in body, thoughts and the world flows, as the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus says, and only the radiant awareness of timeless mind—our all-pervading essence—is always and everywhere.
When that is understood, one is no longer in the crosshair.Then there is no longer a feeling that “They’re all against me!” or “This misery is unfair.” Instead, one observes “Oh, this is a situation called suffering,” but there is no target anymore, nothing personal. One just notices that not knowing causality brings pain. Trying to get what one wants, avoid what one dislikes, hold on to what one has and arrange oneself with whatever one cannot avoid gives neither benefit nor satisfaction. Positive seeds bring pleasant results and harmful ones bring pain. The conditioned world is as simple as that.
So these were hopefully some useful answers to your excellent questions. In summary: In any way possible, keep the bonds to your teacher. He represents the Buddha to you. Also if you feel you must choose another teacher, leave the former with the best possible feeling. That’s very important. Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche once told us about a student who meditated very hard but had no results. So Rinpoche asked him, “Do you have any broken bonds?” The student couldn’t recall. Then the Rinpoche asked, “Who taught you how to write?” to which the student exclaimed, “Oh, this terrible woman who pretended to be a nun and then she had twins.” This feeling broke a very subtle bond which very few know about: Tibetan letters are written down from a flat dash on top where one mentally places a buddha. Thus, just by learning the alphabet from her, he obtained a bond to mind’s enlightenment. Since he then understood that nuns are also human and may sometimes be prone to romantic distractions, his meditation was successful.
Finally, a last point, where the civilized West and especially Europe is failing massively: it is our responsibility to protect our values and human freedoms in our Western countries. This especially means insisting on free speech and the freedom and equality of our women from harmful and totalitarian ideologies, and exposing any politically correct disinformation or hiding of facts concerning their objectives. These points will above all decide which world we shall pass on to the next generations. It will become an increasingly important activity for many years.