It’s not the clothes you wear, the ceremonies you perform, or the meditation you do, says Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. It’s not what you eat, how much you drink, or who you have sex with. It’s whether you agree with the four fundamental discoveries the Buddha made under the Bodhi tree, and if you do, you can call yourself a Buddhist.
Once, I was seated on a plane in the middle seat of the middle row on a trans-Atlantic flight, and the sympathetic man sitting next to me made an attempt to be friendly. Seeing my shaved head and maroon skirt, he gathered that I was a Buddhist. When the meal was served, the man considerately offered to order a vegetarian meal for me. Having correctly assumed that I was a Buddhist, he also assumed that I don’t eat meat. That was the beginning of our chat. The flight was long, so to kill our boredom, we discussed Buddhism.
Over time I have come to realize that people often associate Buddhism and Buddhists with peace, meditation, and nonviolence. In fact many seem to think that saffron or maroon robes and a peaceful smile are all it takes to be a Buddhist. As a fanatical Buddhist myself, I must take pride in this reputation, particularly the nonviolent aspect of it, which is so rare in this age of war and violence, and especially religious violence. Throughout the history of humankind, religion seems to beget brutality. Even today religious-extremist violence dominates the news. Yet I think I can say with confidence that so far we Buddhists have not disgraced ourselves. Violence has never played a part in propagating Buddhism.
However, as a trained Buddhist, I also feel a little discontented when Buddhism is associated with nothing beyond vegetarianism, nonviolence, peace, and meditation. Prince Siddhartha, who sacrificed all the comforts and luxuries of palace life, must have been searching for more than passivity and shrubbery when he set out to discover enlightenment.
The message of the four seals is meant to be understood literally, not metaphorically or mystically—and meant to be taken seriously. But the seals are not edicts or commandments.
When a conversation arises like the one with my seatmate on the plane, a non-Buddhist may casually ask, “What makes someone a Buddhist?” That is the hardest question to answer. If the person has a genuine interest, the complete answer does not make for light dinner conversation, and generalizations can lead to misunderstanding. Suppose that you give them the true answer, the answer that points to the very foundation of this 2,500-year-old tradition.
One is a Buddhist if he or she accepts the following four truths:
All compounded things are impermanent.
All emotions are pain.
All things have no inherent existence.
Nirvana is beyond concepts.
These four statements, spoken by the Buddha himself, are known as “the four seals.” Traditionally, seal means something like a hallmark that confirms authenticity. For the sake of simplicity and flow we will refer to these statements as both seals and “truths,” not to be confused with Buddhism’s four noble truths, which pertain solely to aspects of suffering. Even though the four seals are believed to encompass all of Buddhism, people don’t seem to want to hear about them. Without further explanation they serve only to dampen spirits and fail to inspire further interest in many cases. The topic of conversation changes and that’s the end of it.
The message of the four seals is meant to be understood literally, not metaphorically or mystically—and meant to be taken seriously. But the seals are not edicts or commandments. With a little contemplation one sees that there is nothing moralistic or ritualistic about them. There is no mention of good or bad behavior. They are secular truths based on wisdom, and wisdom is the primary concern of a Buddhist. Morals and ethics are secondary. A few puffs of a cigarette and a little fooling around don’t prevent someone from becoming a Buddhist. That is not to say that we have license to be wicked or immoral.
Broadly speaking, wisdom comes from a mind that has what the Buddhists call “right view.” But one doesn’t even have to consider oneself a Buddhist to have right view. Ultimately it is this view that determines our motivation and action. It is the view that guides us on the path of Buddhism. If we can adopt wholesome behaviors in addition to the four seals, it makes us even better Buddhists. But what makes you not a Buddhist?
If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist.
If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist.
If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist.
And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space, and power, then you are not a Buddhist.
You may not have been born in a Buddhist country or to a Buddhist family, you may not wear robes or shave your head, you may eat meat and idolize Eminem and Paris Hilton. That doesn’t mean you cannot be a Buddhist.
So, what makes you a Buddhist? You may not have been born in a Buddhist country or to a Buddhist family, you may not wear robes or shave your head, you may eat meat and idolize Eminem and Paris Hilton. That doesn’t mean you cannot be a Buddhist. In order to be a Buddhist, you must accept that all compounded phenomena are impermanent, all emotions are pain, all things have no inherent existence, and enlightenment is beyond concepts.
It’s not necessary to be constantly and endlessly mindful of these four truths. But they must reside in your mind. You don’t walk around persistently remembering your own name, but when someone asks your name, you remember it instantly. There is no doubt. Anyone who accepts these four seals, even independently of Buddha’s teachings, even never having heard the name Shakyamuni Buddha, can be considered to be on the same path as he.
The Beautiful Logic of the Four Seals
Consider the example of generosity. When we begin to realize the first seal—impermanence—we see everything as transitory and without value, as if it belonged in a Salvation Army donation bag. We don’t necessarily have to give it all away, but we have no clinging to it. When we see that our possessions are all impermanent compounded phenomena, that we cannot cling to them forever, generosity is already practically accomplished.
Understanding the second seal, that all emotions are pain, we see that the miser, the self, is the main culprit, providing nothing but a feeling of poverty. Therefore, by not clinging to the self, we find no reason to cling to our possessions, and there is no more pain of miserliness. Generosity becomes an act of joy.
When we see that our possessions are all impermanent compounded phenomena, that we cannot cling to them forever, generosity is already practically accomplished.
Realizing the third seal, that all things have no inherent existence, we see the futility of clinging, because whatever we are clinging to has no truly existing nature. It’s like dreaming that you are distributing a billion dollars to strangers on the street. You can give generously because it’s dream money, and yet you are able to reap all the fun of the experience. Generosity based on these three views inevitably makes us realize that there is no goal. It is not a sacrifice endured in order to get recognition or to ensure a better rebirth.
Generosity without a price tag, expectations, or strings provides a glimpse into the fourth view, the truth that liberation, enlightenment, is beyond conception.
If we measure the perfection of a virtuous action, such as generosity, by material standards—how much poverty is eliminated—we can never reach perfection. Destitution and the desires of the destitute are endless. Even the desires of the wealthy are endless; in fact the desires of humans can never be fully satisfied. But according to Siddhartha, generosity should be measured by the level of attachment one has to what is being given and to the self that is giving it. Once you have realized that the self and all its possessions are impermanent and have no truly existing nature, you have nonattachment, and that is perfect generosity. For this reason the first action encouraged in the Buddhist sutras is the practice of generosity.
A Deeper Understanding of Karma, Purity and Nonviolence
The concept of karma, the undeniable trademark of Buddhism, also falls within these four truths. When causes and conditions come together and there are no obstacles, consequences arise. Consequence is karma. This karma is gathered by consciousness— the mind, or the self. If this self acts out of greed or aggression, negative karma is generated. If a thought or action is motivated by love, tolerance, and a wish for others to be happy, positive karma is generated.
Yet motivation, action, and the resulting karma are inherently like a dream, an illusion. Transcending karma, both good and bad, is nirvana. Any so-called good action that is not based on these four views is merely righteousness; it is not ultimately Siddhartha’s path. Even if you were to feed all the hungry beings in the world, if you acted in complete absence of these four views, then it would be merely a good deed, not the path to enlightenment. In fact it might be a righteous act designed to feed and support the ego.
It is because of these four truths that Buddhists can practice purification. If one thinks that one is stained by negative karma or is weak or “sinful,” and is frustrated, thinking that these obstacles are always getting in the way of realization, then one can take comfort in knowing that they are compounded and therefore impermanent and thus purifiable. On the other hand, if one feels lacking in ability or merit, one can take comfort knowing that merit can be accumulated through performing good deeds, because the lack of merit is impermanent and therefore changeable.
Even if you were to feed all the hungry beings in the world, if you acted in complete absence of these four views, then it would be merely a good deed, not the path to enlightenment.
The Buddhist practice of nonviolence is not merely submissiveness with a smile or meek thoughtfulness. The fundamental cause of violence is when one is fixated on an extreme idea, such as justice or morality. This fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral. One’s inflexible self-righteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others. Sanity is lost. Understanding that all these views or values are compounded and impermanent, as is the person who holds them, violence is averted. When you have no ego, no clinging to the self, there is never a reason to be violent. When one understands that one’s enemies are held under a powerful influence of their own ignorance and aggression, that they are trapped by their habits, it is easier to forgive them for their irritating behavior and actions. Similarly, if someone from the insane asylum insults you, there is no point in getting angry. When we transcend believing in the extremes of dualistic phenomena, we have transcended the causes of violence.
The Four Seals: A Package Deal
In Buddhism, any action that establishes or enhances the four views is a rightful path. Even seemingly ritualistic practices, such as lighting incense or practicing esoteric meditations and mantras, are designed to help focus our attention on one or all of the truths.
Anything that contradicts the four views, including some action that may seem loving and compassionate, is not part of the path. Even emptiness meditation becomes pure negation, nothing but a nihilistic path, if it is not in compliance with the four truths.
For the sake of communication we can say that these four views are the spine of Buddhism. We call them “truths” because they are simply facts. They are not manufactured; they are not a mystical revelation of the Buddha. They did not become valid only after the Buddha began to teach. Living by these principles is not a ritual or a technique. They don’t qualify as morals or ethics, and they can’t be trademarked or owned. There is no such thing as an “infidel” or a “blasphemer” in Buddhism because there is no one to be faithful to, to insult, or to doubt. However, those who are not aware of or do not believe in these four facts are considered by Buddhists to be ignorant. Such ignorance is not cause for moral judgment. If someone doesn’t believe that humans have landed on the moon, or thinks that the world is flat, a scientist wouldn’t call him a blasphemer, just ignorant. Likewise, if he doesn’t believe in these four seals, he is not an infidel. In fact, if someone were to produce proof that the logic of the four seals is faulty, that clinging to the self is actually not pain, or that some element defies impermanence, then Buddhists should willingly follow that path instead. Because what we seek is enlightenment, and enlightenment means realization of the truth. So far, though, in all these centuries no proof has arisen to invalidate the four seals.
If you ignore the four seals but insist on considering yourself a Buddhist merely out of a love affair with the traditions, then that is superficial devotion. The Buddhist masters believe that however you choose to label yourself, unless you have faith in these truths, you will continue to live in an illusory world, believing it to be solid and real. Although such belief temporarily provides the bliss of ignorance, ultimately it always leads to some form of anxiety. You then spend all your time solving problems and trying to get rid of the anxiety. Your constant need to solve problems becomes like an addiction. How many problems have you solved only to watch others arise? If you are happy with this cycle, then you have no reason to complain. But when you see that you will never come to the end of problem solving, that is the beginning of the search for inner truth. While Buddhism is not the answer to all the world’s temporal problems and social injustices, if you happen to be searching and if you happen to have chemistry with Siddhartha, then you may find these truths agreeable. If that is the case, you should consider following him seriously.
Richness Within Renunciation
As a follower of Siddhartha, you don’t necessarily have to emulate his every action—you don’t have to sneak out while your wife is sleeping. Many people think that Buddhism is synonymous with renunciation, leaving home, family, and job behind, and following the path of an ascetic. This image of austerity is partly due to the fact that a great number of Buddhists revere the mendicants in the Buddhist texts and teachings, just as the Christians admire Saint Francis of Assisi. We can’t help being struck by the image of the Buddha walking barefoot in Magadha with his begging bowl, or Milarepa in his cave subsisting on nettle soup. The serenity of a simple Burmese monk accepting alms captivates our imagination.
But there is also an entirely different variety of follower of the Buddha: King Ashoka, for example, who dismounted from his royal chariot, adorned with pearls and gold, and proclaimed his wish to spread the buddhadharma throughout the world. He knelt down, seized a fistful of sand, and proclaimed that he would build as many stupas as there were grains of sand in his hand. And in fact he kept his promise. So one can be a king, a merchant, a prostitute, a junkie, or a chief executive officer and still accept the four seals. Fundamentally it is not the act of leaving behind the material world that Buddhists cherish but the ability to see the habitual clinging to this world and ourselves and to renounce the clinging.
As we begin to understand the four views, we don’t necessarily discard things; we begin instead to change our attitude toward them, thereby changing their value. Just because you have less than someone else doesn’t mean that you are more morally pure or virtuous. In fact, humility itself can be a form of hypocrisy. When we understand the essencelessness and impermanence of the material world, renunciation is no longer a form of self-flagellation. It doesn’t mean that we’re hard on ourselves. The word sacrifice takes on a different meaning. Equipped with this understanding, everything becomes about as significant as the saliva we spit on the ground. We don’t feel sentimental about saliva. Losing such sentimentality is a path of bliss, sugata. When renunciation is understood as bliss, the stories of many other Indian princesses, princes, and warlords who once upon a time renounced their palace life become less outlandish.
This love of truth and veneration for the seekers of truth is an ancient tradition in countries like India. Even today, instead of looking down on renunciants, Indian society venerates them just as respectfully as we venerate professors at Harvard and Yale. Although the tradition is fading in this age when corporate culture reigns, you can still find naked, ash-clad sadhus who have given up successful law practices to become wandering mendicants. It gives me goose bumps to see how Indian society respects these people instead of shooing them away as disgraceful beggars or pests. I can’t help but imagine them at the Marriott Hotel in Hong Kong. How would the nouveau-riche Chinese, desperately trying to copy Western ways, feel about these ash-clad sadhus? Would the doorman open the door for them? For that matter, how would the concierge at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles react? Instead of worshipping the truth and venerating sadhus, this is an age that worships billboards and venerates liposuction.
Adopting Wisdom, Dropping Distorted Moralities
As you read this, you may be thinking, I’m generous and I don’t have that much attachment to my things. It may be true that you aren’t tightfisted, but in the midst of your generous activities, if someone walks off with your favorite pencil, you may get so angry that you want to bite his ear off. Or you may become completely disheartened if someone says, “Is that all you can give?” When we give, we are caught up in the notion of “generosity.” We cling to the result—if not a good rebirth, at least recognition in this life, or maybe just a plaque on the wall. I have also met many people who think they are generous simply because they have given money to a certain museum, or even to their own children, from whom they expect a lifetime of allegiance.
If it is not accompanied by the four views, morality can be similarly distorted. Morality feeds the ego, leading us to become puritanical and to judge others whose morality is different from ours. Fixated on our version of morality, we look down on other people and try to impose our ethics on them, even if it means taking away their freedom. The great Indian scholar and saint Shantideva, himself a prince who renounced his kingdom, taught that it is impossible for us to avoid encountering anything and everything unwholesome, but if we can apply just one of these four views, we are protected from all nonvirtue. If you think the entire West is somehow satanic or immoral, it will be impossible to conquer and rehabilitate it, but if you have tolerance within yourself, this is equal to conquering. You can’t smooth out the entire earth to make it easier to walk on with your bare feet, but by wearing shoes you protect yourself from rough, unpleasant surfaces.
If we can understand the four views not only intellectually but also experientially, we begin to free ourselves from fixating on things that are illusory. This freedom is what we call wisdom. Buddhists venerate wisdom above all else. Wisdom surpasses morality, love, common sense, tolerance, and vegetarianism. Wisdom is not a divine spirit that we seek from somewhere outside of ourselves. We invoke it by first hearing the teachings on the four seals—not accepting them at face value, but rather analyzing and contemplating them. If you are convinced that this path will clear some of your confusion and bring some relief, then you can actually put wisdom into practice.
In one of the oldest Buddhist teaching methods, the master gives his disciples a bone and instructs them to contemplate its origin. Through this contemplation, the disciples eventually see the bone as the end result of birth, birth as the end result of karmic formation, karmic formation as the end result of craving, and so on. Thoroughly convinced by the logic of cause, condition, and effect, they begin to apply awareness to every situation and every moment. This is what we call meditation. People who can bring us this kind of information and understanding are venerated as masters because, even though they have profound realization and could happily live in the forest, they are willing to stick around to explain the view to those who are still in the dark. Because this information liberates us from all kinds of unnecessary hiccups, we have an automatic appreciation for the explainer. So we Buddhists pay homage to the teacher.
Once you have intellectually accepted the view, you can apply any method that deepens your understanding and realization. In other words, you can use whatever techniques or practices help you to transform your habit of thinking that things are solid into the habit of seeing them as compounded, interdependent, and impermanent. This is true Buddhist meditation and practice, not just sitting still as if you were a paperweight.
Even though we know intellectually that we are going to die, this knowledge can be eclipsed by something as small as a casual compliment. Someone comments on how graceful our knuckles look, and the next thing we know we are trying to find ways to preserve these knuckles. Suddenly we feel that we have something to lose. These days we are constantly bombarded by so many new things to lose and so many things to gain. More than ever we need methods that remind us and help us get accustomed to the view, maybe even hanging a human bone from the rearview mirror, if not shaving your head and retreating to a cave. Combined with these methods, ethics and morality become useful. Ethics and morality may be secondary in Buddhism, but they are important when they bring us closer to the truth. But even if some action appears wholesome and positive, if it takes us away from the four truths, Siddhartha himself cautioned us to leave it be.
The Tea and the Teacup: Wisdom Within Culture
The four seals are like tea, while all other means to actualize these truths—practices, rituals, traditions, and cultural trappings—are like a cup. The skills and methods are observable and tangible, but the truth is not. The challenge is not to get carried away by the cup. People are more inclined to sit straight in a quiet place on a meditation cushion than to contemplate which will come first, tomorrow or the next life. Outward practices are perceivable, so the mind is quick to label them as “Buddhism,” whereas the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” is not tangible and is difficult to label. It is ironic that evidence of impermanence is all around us, yet is not obvious to us.
The essence of Buddhism is beyond culture, but it is practiced by many different cultures, which use their traditions as the cup that holds the teachings. If the elements of these cultural trappings help other beings without causing harm, and if they don’t contradict the four truths, then Siddhartha would encourage such practices.
Throughout the centuries so many brands and styles of cups have been produced, but however good the intention behind them, and however well they may work, they become a hindrance if we forget the tea inside. Even though their purpose is to hold the truth, we tend to focus on the means rather than the outcome. So people walk around with empty cups, or they forget to drink their tea. We human beings can become enchanted, or at least distracted, by the ceremony and color of Buddhist cultural practices. Incense and candles are exotic and attractive; impermanence and selflessness are not. Siddhartha himself said that the best way to worship is by simply remembering the principle of impermanence, the suffering of emotions, that phenomena have no inherent existence, and that nirvana is beyond concepts.
It’s time for modern people like ourselves to give some thought to spiritual matters, even if we have no time to sit on a cushion…
Now that Buddhism is flourishing in the West, I have heard of people altering Buddhist teachings to fit the modern way of thinking. If there is anything to be adapted, it would be the rituals and symbols, not the truth itself. Buddha himself said that his discipline and methods should be adapted appropriately to time and place. But the four truths don’t need to be updated or modified; and it’s impossible to do so anyway. You can change the cup, but the tea remains pure. After surviving 2,500 years and traveling 40,781,035 feet from the Bodhi tree in central India to Times Square in New York City, the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” still applies. Impermanence is still impermanence in Times Square. You cannot bend these four rules; there are no social or cultural exceptions
Profound truths aside, these days even the most practical and obvious truths are ignored. We are like monkeys who dwell in the forest and shit on the very branches from which we hang. Every day we hear people talking about the state of the economy, not recognizing the connection between recession and greed. Because of greed, jealousy, and pride, the economy will never become strong enough to ensure that every person has access to the basic necessities of life. Our dwelling place, the Earth, becomes more and more polluted. I have met people who condemn ancient rulers and emperors and ancient religions as the source of all conflict. But the secular and modern world has not done any better; if anything, it has done worse. What is it that the modern world has made better? One of the main effects of science and technology has been to destroy the world more quickly. Many scientists believe that all living systems and all life-support systems on Earth are in decline.
It’s time for modern people like ourselves to give some thought to spiritual matters, even if we have no time to sit on a cushion, even if we are put off by those who wear rosaries around their necks, and even if we are embarrassed to exhibit our religious leanings to our secular friends. Contemplating the impermanent nature of everything that we experience and the painful effect of clinging to the self brings peace and harmony—if not to the entire world, at least within our own sphere.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche
dü sum sangyé guru rinpoché
Embodiment of buddhas of past, present and future, Guru Rinpoche;
ngödrup kun dak déwa chenpö shyap
Master of all siddhis , Guru of Great Bliss;
barché kun sel düd dul drakpo tsal
Dispeller of all obstacles, Wrathful Subjugator of maras
solwa depso chingyi lap tu sol
To you I pray: inspire me with your blessings.
chi nang sangwé barché shyiwa dang
So that outer, inner and secret obstacles are dispelled
sampa lhun gyi druppar chin gyi lop
And all my aspirations are spontaneously fulfilled.
Discovered by the great terma-revealer Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, from the right-hand side of the Sengchen Namdrak rock on Mount Rinchen Tsekpa, ‘The Pile of Jewels’. Because the blessing of this prayer, one intended for this present time, is so immense, it should be treasured by all as their daily practice.
Amnyi Trulchung Rinpoche werd geboren in 1975, het vuurdrakenjaar en werd kort daarna herkend als de reincarnatie van de Vierde Amnyi Trulchung Rinpoche van het Ju Mohor klooster in Tibet. Als kleine jongen al viel hij op omdat hij anders was dan zijn leeftijdsgenoten. Hij had een buitengewoon liefdevolle natuur, vol compassie en dat werd door allen die hem ontmoetten herkend en gewaardeerd. Amnyi Trulchung Rinpoche liet ook opvallend scherpe intelligentie blijken in zijn studies en alles wat hem geleerd werd, begreep hij volkomen.
Onder leiding van zijn spirituele leraren, ondernam hij de traditionele training van zijn overdrachtslijn. Dit hield o.a. in het accumuleren van 500.000 ngondro beoefeningen en training in de Rigdzin overdrachtslijn traditie met onder meer de essentiele Dzogchen instructies van kadak trekcho en lhundrop togal. Gedurende deze training bereikte hij buitengewone inzichten en ervaringen in zijn meditatie beoefeningen. De training mondde uit in een 3 jaar retraite in Yachen Orgyen Samten Choeling onder begeleiding van ZH Lama Achuk Rinpoche.
Op 18-jarige leeftijd werd hij formeel uitgeroepen tot de Vijfde Amnyi Trulchung Rinpoche en geinstalleerd als abt van het Ju Mohor klooster in Tibet.
Rinpoche bleef studeren aan de grote universiteit van Larung Gar in Serthar. Hij bestudeerde de verschillende scholen van de tibetaanse boeddhistische filosofie alsmede de sutra’s en tantra’s onder leiding van verschillende leraren, in het bijzonder van de stichter van Larung Gar, ZH Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. Hier behaalde hij zijn titel van Khenpo op 25-jarige leeftijd.
Hij keerde terug naar het Ju Mohor klooster en gaf dit onderricht aan de monniken en nonnen in zijn klooster.
Tijdens deze periode ontving Rinpoche vele empowerments, mondelinge transmissies en kerninstructies van de geheime Nyingmapa kama en terma tradities. Deze werden hem gegeven door een groot aantal meesters en beoefenaren onder wie ZH Drupchen Pema Norbu, Khenpo Pema Tsewang, Venerable Gyangkhang Tulku, Venerable Khenpo Choekyap, Venerable Trulshig Rinpoche en Venerable Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche en meerdere teachings in het geheime Mantrayana van Venerable Ngorlu Ding Khenchen.
Heden ten dage houdt Rinpoche zich vooral bezig met het Vista project in Sershul, een stad vlakbij het Ju Mohor klooster. Dit baanbrekende project heeft ten doel het economische en culturele leven van de Tibetaanse bevolking een nieuwe impuls te geven. Ofschoon de Chinese economie razendsnel groeit, heeft de nomaden bevolking van Oost-Tibet vaak geen baat van de verbeteringen doordat zij scholing missen. Het Vista project richt zich daarom op basisvorming en vakopleidingen om de nomaden niet alleen te laten profiteren van het moderne economische klimaat maar ook om de oude cultuur van Tibet te bewaren en verder te ontwikkelen.
Rinpoche heeft in de wereld veel leerlingen met name in Nieuw Zeeland , Nederland en Groot Brittanie.
Tsultrim Alione brings an eleventh-century Tibetan woman’s practice to the West for the first time with FEEDING YOUR DEMONS, an accessible and effective approach for dealing with negative emotions, fears, illness, and self-defeating patterns. Allione-one of only a few female Buddhist leaders in this country and comparable in American religious life to Pema Chodron-bridges this ancient Eastern practice with today’s Western psyche. She explains that if we fight our demons, they only grow stronger. But if we feed them, nurture them, we can free ourselves from the battle. Through the clearly articulated practice outlined in FEEDING YOUR DEMONS, we can learn to overcome any obstacle and achieve freedom and inner peace.
What is a Demon?
“With a loving mind, cherish more than a child The hostile gods and demons of apparent existence,And tenderly surround yourself with them”
Machig Labdrön (1055 – 1145)
Demons in the sense that we are using the word are not ghosts, goblins, or minions of Satan. When Machig Labdrön was directly asked by her son Tönyon Samdrup to define demons, she replied this way: “That which is called a demon is not some great black thing that petrifies whoever sees it. A demon is anything that obstructs the achievement of freedom…. There is no greater devil than this fixation to a self. So until this ego-fixation is cut off, all the demons wait with open mouths. For this reason, you need to exert yourself at a skillful method to sever the devil of ego-fixation.”
Machig’s understanding of demons was remarkably sophisticated. She asked, What is the real evil? What are the real demons? Isn’t egocentricity, whether on a personal or collective level, the real demon?
Fears, obsessions, addictions are all parts of ourselves that have become “demonic” by being split off, disowned, and battled against. When you try to flee from your demons, they pursue you. By struggling with them, you become weaker and may even succumb to them completely. For example, someone who struggles with the demon of alcoholism may eventually die of liver disease. Someone who struggles with the demon of depression may eventually commit suicide. We need to recognize the futility of this struggle and begin to accept and even love those parts of ourselves.
An Example of a Demon and the Demon Process
The following example is an excerpt from the book:
Kate had very critical parents who, indirectly, were always telling her she was not worthy of love. Not surprisingly, she began to hate herself. Although she grew up and married, eventually her husband left her. Kate couldn’t keep a job. She felt deeply unworthy of love, and acted self-destructively.
Her inner voice constantly told her she was not good enough, that she was a loser, and that she should just give up on life. This was her “self-hate demon,” which was running rampant. Although she remained unaware of how much it influenced her, it disrupted everything. The voice did, however, provide a kind of negative security, familiar but toxic. Here, in brief, is how Kate dealt with her self-hate demon.
Step 1. Find the Demon
After generating an altruistic intention for her practice, Kate closes her eyes and sinks into awareness of her body, trying to locate the feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing. She remembers an intense attack of negativity that triggered her self-loathing. After being fired from a promising job, she had called her mother hoping for sympathy, but instead of supporting Kate, her mother blamed her for losing the job. Filled with anger and self-hatred, Kate had cut her arms for the first time. Recalling this event she suddenly feels an intense sensation in her heart. She experiences it as cold, blue-purple, and lacerating, like a shard of shattered glass. It’s piercing and painful. Her heart aches.
Step 2. Personify the Demon and Find Out What It Needs
Kate now imagines the embodiment of this feeling. It takes the form of a tall, thin male figure. He’s ice blue and his bony arms end in claws. He’s looking at her with disdain. His teeth are pointed and yellow, and his mouth opens as if he’s going to bite her. His eyes are small and fierce. When she takes a second look, she notes that the surface of his body is covered with fine, spiky blue thorns.
Kate asks him aloud:
“What do you want?”
“What do you need?”
“How will you feel if you get what you need?”
Step 3. Become the Demon
Before he answers, she changes places with him, occupying the chair opposite her own, and takes a moment to become the demon, to live in his skin. She pauses a moment to share what he is feeling before answering the question. Inhabiting his body she realizes that he’s incredibly bitter, and he feels threatened and battered himself. To the question, “What do you want?” he replies, “I want you to suffer, because you are so worthless and stupid.”
To the question, “What do you really need?” he answers, “I need you to be with me, and to stop trying to escape from me. I need you to accept me and love me.”
To the question, “How will you feel if you get what you need?” he answers: “I’ll be able to relax. I’ll feel love.”
Step 4. Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally
Returning to her original seat Kate sees the self-hate demon in front of her. She now knows she needs to feed him love. She imagines her body melting into an infinite ocean of loving nectar, and then imagines that the demon takes this nectar in through every pore of his icy blue body all at once.
As he absorbs the nectar, the demon’s appearance changes. His body softens and his color fades. After a while he turns into a gray horse with soft nostrils and gentle, dark eyes.
Kate asks the gray horse if it is the ally. When it nods its noble head she asks how he will help her in the future, how he will protect her, and what pledge he will make to her. She then changes places with him, and becomes the gray horse. She hears herself reply, “I will carry you to places you haven’t been before, where you can’t go alone. I will lend you my strength to do things in the world. When things are difficult, come see me and rest your head on my neck. I will protect you by giving you strength in yourself.”
Kate returns to her seat and, gazing at the horse in front of her, receives his strength and takes in his pledge. As it flows into her, she feels joy rising inside her heart. Eventually the horse itself dissolves into her completely, and she feels a vast surge of strength within herself. Then she and the ally both dissolve into emptiness.
Step 5. Rest
At this point Kate feels peace. She rests, allowing herself to relax in that state of open awareness. She doesn’t need to “practice” the fifth step, even though she doesn’t normally meditate. This is not a state that she thinks herself into; it is the natural spaciousness that comes with the dissolution of the demon and the integration of the ally.
By Craig Lewis Buddhistdoor Global | The authorities in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province are reportedly planning a major reduction of the burgeoning monastic population at the famed Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in the Larung Valley near the town of Sertar, Garze Prefecture. The reported decision follows similar moves in 2001, when state authorities organized a mass eviction of residents from the institute, and late last year, when further evictions were accompanied by an order to reduce admissions to curb the rapid growth of the monastic population.
Situated in the traditional Tibetan region of Kham, Larung Gar Buddhist Academy was founded in 1980 by the highly respected teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (1933–2004), a lama of the Nyingma tradition, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. With some estimates putting the population at as many as 40,000 monks and nuns, the institute is widely considered to be the largest center of Buddhist learning in the world.
“Last year, 600 members of this center were ordered to leave, and they returned to their hometowns. About 400 members aged 60 and older were also asked to leave, and they left as well,” an anonymous source told Radio Free Asia, a private, non-profit international broadcaster created by the US government. “This year, the authorities are talking about 1,200 members who will have to leave, and it is said that China has now issued a document saying that only 5,000 monks and nuns will be allowed to remain [at Larung Gar].”
Government officials were marking houses that obstructed the passage of firefighting vehicles or the construction of roads, according to the source, who added that dwellings targeted for demolition would be torn down by force if necessary. “About 60 to 70 per cent of the houses of monks and nuns are being marked for demolition,” the source said, noting that the order to reduce the number of residents at Larung Gar did not originate at the county level, “but comes from higher authorities,” with China’s president Xi Jinping taking a personal interest in the matter. (Radio Free Asia)
In 2001, government authorities had become unsettled by the rapid population growth at the institute. Alarmed by what they termed “splittist” activities, and particularly unnerved by its growing popularity among ordinary Han Chinese—at the time, Han Chinese at the academy numbered more than 1,000—the authorities sent in thousands of security personnel and laborers, who evicted all but 1,400 of the monastery’s 9,000 inhabitants and razed 2,400 dwellings. Many of the nuns and monks turned out from Larung Gar made their way southwest to the more remote Yarchen Gar monastic community, still largely hidden from the outside world by its geographical remoteness and political restrictions put in place by the government. Because of these restrictions, most of the monks and nuns at Yarchen Gar are not officially recognized and live in fear of eviction.
The site of the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy was chosen by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok because of its historical connection to the Vajrayana tradition. It is said that His Holiness the first Dudjom Rinpoche, Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904), stayed here with his 13 disciples. The institute was conceived as an independent center of study that would help revitalize the Dharma and revive the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism following the devastating impact of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76), during which Tibetan Buddhism was suppressed and thousands of monasteries were destroyed. While the academy initially had fewer than 100 students, the monastic population grew rapidly in the years that followed.
The institute has played a key role in revitalizing the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism since China eased restrictions on religious practice in 1980, and has become renowned for the quality of both its religious and secular education. English, Chinese, and Tibetan languages and modern computer studies are taught alongside a traditional non-sectarian Buddhist curriculum. About 500 khenpos—holders of doctoral degrees in divinity—have studied at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy.
My fellow Tibetans, both in and outside Tibet, all those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and everyone who has a connection to Tibet and Tibetans: due to the foresight of our ancient kings, ministers and scholar-adepts, the complete teaching of the Buddha, comprising the scriptural and experiential teachings of the Three Vehicles and the Four Sets of Tantra and their related subjects and disciplines flourished widely in the Land of Snow. Tibet has served as a source of Buddhist and related cultural traditions for the world. In particular, it has contributed significantly to the happiness of countless beings in Asia, including those in China, Tibet and Mongolia.
In the course of upholding the Buddhist tradition in Tibet, we evolved a unique Tibetan tradition of recognizing the reincarnations of scholar-adepts that has been of immense help to both the Dharma and sentient beings, particularly to the monastic community.
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Door Geshe Langri Tangpa
1e Licht Omdat ik de hoogste realisaties wil bereiken , veel beter dan een wensvervullend juweel , dien ik alle andere wezens te koesteren.
2e Licht Wanneer ik omga met andere mensen , dien ik mijzelf en mijn wensen als onbelangrijk te beschouwen , en met een goed hart dien ik anderen te koesteren.
3e Licht Mij bewust van al mijn handelingen van lichaam , spraak en geest , moge ik op het moment dat een begoocheling opkomt die mijzelf en anderen tot niet-vaardig handelen aanzet , het onder ogen zien en verhinderen te groeien.
4e Licht Als ik ongeduldige mensen vol van kwade en donkere , geweldige emoties zie , moge ik hen dan beschouwen als kostbare schatten.
5e Licht Zelfs als iemand waar ik bijzondere zorg voor had en die ik helemaal vertrouwde , zich tegen mij keert , moge ik hem dan als mijn speciale leraar zien.
6e Licht Wanneer anderen vol van jaloezie , of andere begoochelingen , mij veel moeilijkheden bezorgen , moge ik de nederlaag op mij zelf nemen en hen de overwinning schenken.
7e Licht Moge ik als besluit , in het openbaar en in het geheim , hulp en geluk aan alle levende wezens schenken en al hun pijn en lijden op mij nemen.
8e Licht Moge ik vrij van verstoring , door de acht onevenwichtige gevoelens en alle dingen als illusie ziende , bevrijd worden van de gevangenis van negatieve gedachten.
De acht onevenwichtige gevoelens
1-gelukkig voelen als het leven goed voor je gaat
2-ongelukkig voelen als het leven tegen je schijnt te zijn
3-gelukkig voelen als we rijk zijn
4-ongelukkig voelen als we arm zijn
5-gelukkig voelen als we beroemd en belangrijk zijn
6-ongelukkig voelen als we onbekend en onopgemerkt zijn
7-gelukkig voelen als anderen ons prijzen en bewonderen
8-ongelukkig voelen als anderen ons kritiseren en ons beschuldigen
KHANDRO-LA – BIOGRAPHY
(Excerpted from an interview with Khadro-la conducted by Ven Roger Kunsang, and featured in
Mandala magazine, August 2008)
Ven. Roger Kunsang: Can you tell me why you left Tibet?
“I didn’t have the intention, and I didn’t have the money to travel. I followed a sign that came
in my dreams. There was a bus blowing its horn indicating its departure, and until I got on the
bus I was unaware of where I was heading. I learnt from the other people on that bus that they
were going to Lhasa and thence to Shigatse. A couple of days into the journey I learnt that
they were also planning to go to Mount Kailash.
“One day, while we had stopped our journey at Shigatse, I was circumambulating Tashi
Lhunpo Monastery when I came across an elderly man dressed in an Indian cloth doti. This
complete stranger gave me 2000 gormo. He asked me to sit beside him, and begun to tell me
many unusual stories. He told me that India was just beyond this mountain, and that I should
be meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other lamas. He kept urging me to
head for India – and at the time it didn’t feel at all strange, although when I recall it now it
seems amazing to me.”
There was much hardship. I had no mission of my own and was just following the pilgrims. I
don’t remember very clearly how long the journey was, but I did fifteen koras round Mount
Kailash and due to my unusual actions and the words that I was speaking, rumors were going
around that I was a dakini. People began to line up to see me, even seeking blessings from
me. It was very tiring for me to deal with the crowds, but a very kind monk from a nearby
monastery took good care of me with food and drink. He even organized a better system for
the people who came to see me for blessings, etc. Many of those people expressed their wish
to go to India with me. One night, quite suddenly and without any discussion, I made up my
mind to leave for India and so a man who was our guide led seventeen of us from the bus
along the trail that leads to the border. He wasn’t very experienced and it took seventeen days
to reach Kathmandu in Nepal. It should have taken only seven days. We were in no man’s
land, and as there were no real paths or people to ask, it was impossible to tell whether we
were even out of Tibet. We had to just follow the signs I got in my dreams. When we were
confused about the way, I was instructed to go in the direction where there appeared a circle
of light. Maybe this was the blessing of the Dalai Lama or Palden Lhamo.
“Sometimes we had to walk all day without any food or drink, and sometimes we had to walk
all through the night. We were not prepared for such a long journey.
“When I arrived in Nepal, I fell seriously ill with food poisoning and could not continue with
my companions towards India. I had to stay at the reception center in Kathmandu, vomiting
blood, which made the staff suspicious that I had a contagious disease. I was left to sleep
outside the building in a field. I was so weak that I couldn’t change position. When I needed
to move, they used long sticks to push me back and forth because they were afraid to touch
me with their hands. As my condition worsened, the staff thought I wouldn’t survive, and so
asked me if I wanted to leave a last message for my family and asked for the address to deliver it.
“So I made a request for monks from a monastery to do prayers after I died and to take my
body for cremation to a peak which I later found out is the holy Nagarjuna hill where Buddha
had spoken the sutra called Langru Lungten.
“I asked them to take my urine in a bottle and give it to whomever they met first at the
Boudhanath Stupa entrance. By now I was semi-conscious, but they were kind enough to do
this favor for me. The person who took my urine met a man at the gate who turned out to be a
Tibetan physician. He tested my urine and diagnosed that I had been poisoned with meat,
prescribed some medicine and even sent me some blessing pills. My health improved
dramatically and I had many good dreams. When I recovered, I was sent to the Dharamsala
reception center, together with some other newly-arrived people.
“I arrived in Dharamsala not long after some monks from my village had quarreled with the
staff of the center – and so they had a negative impression of anyone who came from the
same area. Consequently I, too, became the victim. Since I was quite young I was asked
whether I would like to join school or did I want to have some skills training. My reply was
quite straightforward and honest. I said I had no interest in going to school and neither did I
want to learn something else. When I was back at home I always had the very strong will to
serve good meditators, and so I used to collect firewood and deliver water for the meditators
who lived around my village. I didn’t even know that Tibet was occupied by the Chinese and
that that was why Tibetans went into exile. I was not tortured by the Chinese and I didn’t
have any lack of food or clothing. My only wish was to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and
as I have a problem of going into craziness sometimes, I merely wanted to know from His
Holiness whether that was good or bad. That was all I wanted, otherwise I just wanted to
return to my own home.”
“I couldn’t get an audience with His Holiness because I was accused of having a contagious
disease which might infect him. Some said I was mad. Some even said I ought to be leaving
the center or be sent to an insane asylum. I was even banned from public audiences for
several months. Instead, I circumambulated the Dalai Lama’s palace every morning. One day,
I heard that His Holiness was coming back home, so I hid beside the road to greet him. As his
car passed by Namgyal Monastery, I saw a very bright light radiating on the front window of
the car and inside I saw him with many hands around his shoulders! It was the first time I had
ever seen His Holiness and I just jumped towards the car to prostrate, and I fell unconscious,
almost under the car.
“I was carried back to the center by a man from my village and again the shower of scolding
began. But I think a very strong change happened in me by seeing His Holiness and I never
got angry with the staff. I thought, ‘Oh! They have to take care of so many people and of
course they get upset sometimes.’
“Despite many requests, I still wasn’t given an audience with His Holiness. At a public
teaching I managed to find a seat. As he came in escorted by security personnel, I was possessed by the protector and the guards took me away from the courtyard where the
teachings were to take place, telling me to stay at the bottom of the stairs. I felt so sad to think
what evil karma I must have created in the past that now I can’t even see His Holiness.
“The teaching began with the recitation of the Heart Sutra. I could hear His Holiness
chanting, and as he was saying “no eyes, no nose,” etc., I started to have a very strange
feeling. By the time he was saying “form is empty and emptiness is form,” I felt rays of light
were showering on me, entering from the crown and filling my whole body. I felt lifted up in
the air. I had a strong feeling of joy and sentiment.
“As time went by, I came to know some meditators and came in contact with some great
lamas such as Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche and Khalkha Jetsun Dampa. I received blessing water
from them, and they, too, tried many ways to make my contact with His Holiness possible.
But no progress was made, and so I finally made up my mind to return to Tibet. I was
exceptionally sad at not being able to fulfill some of the tasks the old man in Shigatse has
asked me to do. There were some important things that I should do, such as making a long
life offering and some other secret thing, and time for all those activities was running out.
“I informed Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche of my decision, but he insisted that I did not return. He
said that he saw in me something more important than just an oracle; he could see some
specialness in me. He said I would be very helpful to His Holiness, and advised me to remain
in Dharamsala. ‘I myself will make the golden bridge between you and His Holiness.’ As I
listened to him, I wondered why such a great scholar and great lama said such comments
about me. Soon after, and out of the blue, I was approved for an audience, together with other
“There were a lot of us waiting anxiously. I saw His Holiness coming toward us and I saw
him with so much light radiating and many arms, just as I had seen him before. As soon as I
stood up to make prostrations, again I was possessed and taken away by the security guards.
Perhaps I was kicked or punched, because I found bruises on my body when I regained
“But after His Holiness granted an audience to all the other people, he asked to bring up the
lady oracle and so I was taken to him. As soon as I went to him, I grabbed at his feet and
went unconscious again. When I came back to normal His Holiness asked me about my home
and many other questions, but I was just left speechless. No words came out – I was too
overjoyed to say anything. Later I was able to tell him all that the old man had told me in
Shigatse and he heard all about me and my problems. I was confirmed as the oracle of the
protector and His Holiness asked me not to go back to Tibet. His Holiness granted me
different empowerments and instructions, and I begun to do the retreats that he advised me to
“A house was given to me by the private office within Namgyal Monastery. It’s the same
house I live in today. It was during that time when the teacher in the Dialectic School was
murdered by the group of Shugden worshipers, and there were rumors that I too would be
assassinated. The monks of Namgyal Monastery were very concerned about my safety. That’s how we became close. Actually, I tried to refuse their protection. I told them that if my
fate is to be killed, then nothing can make it not happen, but that if my karma is not to die, the
Shugden worshippers cannot harm me. The monks didn’t listen to me and they continuously
took good care of me.
“As I was very weak physically, His Holiness contacted Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche and I was
sent to France for treatment. At that time I came to know Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Indeed,
because of my poor health I came to know so many people!
“During my retreat and practice there have been some good signs and some positive
outcomes too, but I like to say that all of these are just hallucinations. Whatever good
happens is no more than the blessing of His Holiness. I myself am no better than the poorest
being among the rest.
“About two years ago, His Holiness advised me that whenever the opportunity comes, I
should give teachings or any kind of service that I can deliver to those who are in need. But I
know I have nothing to offer to others. To tell you honestly, in my mind I have a very strong
belief that the essence of life is only to have the realization of bodhichitta and emptiness.
Though it is difficult to gain, my primary wish is to achieve indestructible faith in these two
before I die. If I cannot help people to generate these things, our meeting is just a waste of
time. Other than that, I am the poorest by inner, outer and secret perspectives. The best side
of me is only that I met the best Dharma, best practice and the best lamas.”
Ven. Roger: When did you first feel that you were a dakini?
K: “I always think I am not a dakini. I don’t know who I am. Some lamas say I am Khandro
Yeshe Tsogyal, some say I am Vajrayogini, and others say I am Tara. It might be their own
pure appearances. I myself think I am nothing special.
“When I was young some people said I was mad. Some said I was dakini. I don’t know. I
have no doubt that I have very strong karmic imprints from the past, because I have been very
dear to His Holiness and many other high lamas from Tibet and outside of Tibet. Some lamas
from Tibet, whom I never knew, sent me love, respect, good wishes and often offerings and
praises. Another reason is that sometimes the words to express the view of emptiness come
out of my mouth automatically – something I have never heard and studied before – but I
can’t remember later what I said.”