Losing the Clouds, Gaining the Sky
Buddhism and the Natural Mind
By the same author
A collection of 31 essays by contemporary teachers, both Tibetan and Western, which provides a multifaceted glimpse of Buddhist practice within the Dzogchen tradition. The material is mainly drawn from articles previously published in Rigpa's newsletter and View magazine.
Includes: It's Under Our Very Noses by Sogyal Rinpoche; the Guru Question by Gyalwang Drukpa Rinpoche; Distortion by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche; the Unity of Mahamudra and Dzogchen by Kalu Rinpoche; the Benefits of Dzogpachenpo by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche; Meditation and Peace by Dudjom Rinpoche; Taming the Mindstream by Dzogchen Rinpoche; Cutting Dualistic Thinking by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche; the Buddhist View of Reality by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche; Advice to Western Dharma Friends by the the Dalai Lama; the Future of Buddhism by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche; Dilligence and Contentment by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche; Women on the Spiritual Path by Sakya Jetsun Chimey; Heart Advice in a Nutshell by Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro; Shamatha, Vipassana and the Nature of Mind by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche; Relative and Ultimate Bodhichitta by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche; Toward the Nature of Mind by Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche; Saints or Scoundrels? By Francesca Fremantle; Transforming Suffering Through Compassion by Christine Longaker; and much more.
Read an extract of this title
LET ME BEGIN WITH A STORY about something that took place in the Middle Ages in Tibet. Geshe Tönpa was one of the great contemplative masters of the time. One day, he was visited by a monk who was a disciple of some of the other famous teachers, and who had been traveling throughout Tibet. Geshe Tonpa took the opportunity to ask him for news of these other masters.
"What is Potowa doing?"
"He is giving teachings to hundreds of members of the Sangha," the monk replied.
"How wonderful! And what is Geshe Puchungwa doing?"
"He spends all his time making statues and paintings and printing sacred scriptures."
"Excellent! What's happened to Geshe Gönpawa?"
"He does nothing but meditate."
"Marvelous! Tell me about Khampa Lungpa."
"Well, he lives in solitude, and covers his head, and all he does is weep...."
At this, Geshe Tonpa suddenly began to cry and said: "How amazing! This is the one who is really practicing what we call the Dharma...." He knew that the reason Khampa Lungpa was constantly in tears was that he thought of nothing but those who were tormented by the suffering of samsara, and his whole practice was centered on one thing: compassion.
We live in a world today that has very little real compassion. We might even wonder how the twentieth century will be seen when historians look back on it in the future. Will they just see it as a century of genocide and of cruelty, a century in which humans irreparably destroyed their environment? Or will they recognize it as a century when the "developed" world encountered the ancient teachings of the East, including that of Buddha? That encounter has come at a time of unprecedented crisis. The teaching of Buddha, I believe, hands us the tools for our survival, and offers men and women everywhere a way to rediscover the spiritual dimension and take responsibility for their lives and for our future.
All the traditions of Buddhadharma stem from that one full-moon night at Bodhgaya, an event that changed the world, and could still continue to do so. What was it that Buddha discovered that night, two and a half thousand years ago? One of the great Tibetan masters of our time, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, describes it:
Profound and tranquil, free from complexity, uncompounded luminous clarity, beyond the mind of conceptual ideas: This is the depth of the mind of the victorious ones.
In this there is not a thing to be removed, nor anything that needs to be added. It is merely the immaculate looking naturally at itself.
The Buddhist tradition of Tibet is based on that same world-transforming discovery, and on the same threefold training that Buddha gave to pursue that discovery to its end: creating simplicity of lifestyle through discipline, awakening clarity of mind through meditation, and seeing directly into the heart of reality with transcendental insight.
Without the fundamental teachings of Buddha, and without the teachings of Mahayana, Tibetan Buddhism would not exist, and so it treasures them as the very ground of its teaching and practice. There is a watchword for a practitioner in the Tibetan tradition: "Outwardly, be a practitioner of the Fundamental Teaching, inwardly he Mahayana, and secretly be Vajrayana." It was part of the genius of Buddha to teach so many paths, to address the vast range of different needs and capacities itnong sentient beings.
Tibetan Buddhism has a strong sense of the sacredness of the spiritual and welcomes other traditions, much in the spirit of Indian emperor Ashoka, who said: "Let us all listen, and be willing to listen, to the teachings held by others." Looking at the teaching of Buddha like this, what is remarkable is the unity of all its great streams, through the sublime peace and mindfulness of Theravada, to Zen's sparkling insights and unmasking of illusion, to the countless skillful means of the Vajrayana, and the path of mahamudra and dzogchen. Couldn't, for example, Zen master Ikkyu's:
A mind to search for Buddha elsewhere
is foolishness in the very center of foolishness.
step straight from the Tibetan teachings on the nature of mind? And don't the words of the Dhammapada:
In this world
hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.
speak of the essence of the Tibetan understanding of compassion? The light of Buddha shines through all, as if his realization were a great sun, and all its rays the endless expressions of that truth, in different cultures and environments.
The great popularity enjoyed in different countries today by all forms of Buddhism must reflect the great gift that Buddhism is offering the world. Why is Buddhism so relevant? It hands us an antidote to the religion of consumerism, at a time when more and more people are seeing through its tireless labyrinth of illusions. Then, Buddhism points to mind as being the crucial issue, and shows that mental peace is the only thing that counts, whatever our technological sophistication. It speaks of responsibility and compassion when many people are being drawn toward helping others and showing their individual engagement in society. Its long-term view and its teaching on interdependence delight environmentalists, while its exploration of mind and its nature holds fascinating insights for the cognitive sciences and for psychotherapy.
Buddhism is a path that appeals not just to the head but to the heart as well, with its skillful methods of compassion and devotion. There are so many means, so many practices, for different kinds of people. And above all, what is so inspiring for many people in the modern world, there is the "good news" that Buddha brought from Bodhgaya: that enlightenment is possible for us all. Each and every one of us has the buddha nature. As Zen master Dogen said: "Only buddhas become buddhas." Or in the words of my master, Sogyal Rinpoche: "Our buddha nature is as good as any buddha's buddha nature."
What is the spirit of Tibetan Buddhism? First there is faith, resilience, and inner strength, an indestructible devotion to the teaching of Buddha. There is wisdom, the whole of Tibetan culture having been based upon the prime importance given to that inner science of the development of the mind. There is a knowledge of the central place of compassion, both in human interaction and on the path to enlightenment. Then, along with the gentleness and softness that so many remark on in the Tibetan people, there is a deep contentment, something we have lost almost completely today. Finally, there is a down-to-earth humor that springs from the understanding that the spiritual path can be followed with joy.
The spirit of the Buddhist tradition of Tibet is embodied in the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has become in the eyes of so many a great world leader and the champion of human happiness and freedom. His compassion, his patience, and his stand on nonviolence are well known, as are his keen interest in the meeting points between Buddhist wisdom and science, and his concern for the preservation of the environment. The simple majesty of his presence and his message of universal and individual responsibility have moved literally millions all over the globe. His is a message of hope: "I for one believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Periods of great change such as the present one come so rarely in human history it is up to each one of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world."
The heart of His Holiness' message is that our future depends, above all else, on Our peace-of mind, for world peace can only come from inner peace. The Dalai Lama offers us a simple equation. Peace of mind and happiness come from a good heart. Why? For the simple reason that the compassionate heart eliminates the anger, hatred, fear and jealousy that destroy our peace of mind. He says: "A mind committed to compassion is like a reservoir-a constant source of energy, determination, and kindness. This mind is like a seed; when cultivated, it gives rise to many other good qualities such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength, and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity. The compassionate mind is like an elixir; it is capable of transforming bad situations into beneficial ones."
The ability to transform bad situations could be priceless to us today. The Indian Buddhist master of compassion, Atisha, said:
When the world is full of evil, transform all mishaps into the
path of bodhi.
If we look closely we will see that our real enemy, the real source of our suffering, is our ego-clinging, our grasping to a notion of a lasting, independent self. And we will see that our real friend is concern for the well-being of others.
There is an extraordinary painting of Buddha depicting him just before he attained enlightenment. Mara and his demons, desperate to prevent him, fling weapons and missiles at him as they mount their final assault. The Buddha meditates on kindness toward them all. As soon as they come within range of his aura of compassion, their weapons are turned into flowers, their war cries into mantras. What an image that is for us! Difficulties and misfortune can be the opportunity for the transforming power of compassion to arise. No situation, however daunting, cannot be transformed through our vision or attitude. And those who arouse our compassion can become a cause for our attaining buddhahood, and so inspire our deepest gratitude.
It is compassion that frees us from ego-clinging. It is compassion, too, that melts the frozen heart into a stream of understanding and realization. In the Tibetan tradition, it is said that compassion is the skillful means that arises from the heart of wisdom. For true compassion is always understanding, is always indivisible from wisdom.
It is not possible to separate the gift that Tibetan Buddhism is offering the world from Tibet and its tragic story, a story which is continuing right now. Lands like Tibet or Cambodia are symbolic; let them stand in our minds for all those places where people are suffering. Let us dedicate our practice and our prayers for all who are suffering, Buddhist and others, and pray that out of suffering will be born peace, new wisdom, and new courage. Maha Ghosananda is a great Buddhist teacher who, just like Khampa Lungpa in our story, shed many tears, in his case for the people of his country Cambodia. Let his words speak for the world:
The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.
From this suffering comes great compassion.
Great compassion makes a peaceful heart.
A peaceful heart makes a peaceful person.
A peaceful person makes a peaceful family.
A peaceful family makes a peaceful community.
A peaceful community makes a peaceful nation.
And a peaceful nation makes a peaceful world.
May all beings live in happiness and peace!
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche