Today I had the honor and privilege to attend a dharma discourse given by one of the great masters in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Sogyal Rinpoche and what follows is a synopsis of my notes from his teaching. He had recently returned from teaching in Bhutan and Sikkim. Bhutan is the only Buddhist kingdom in the world he felt it is necessary to “set the record straight” while there to especially the younger generation that Buddhism is not just ceremonies and monks praying. He’s known for giving teachings that are relevant to the modern mind.

His work, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, just might be the most important text I’ve ever read. I feel so blessed to have been in his presence which literally lit up the auditorium at the India International Center. I was lucky enough to sit in the center of the front row where I witnessed his radiant face in close proximity. His smile and laughter was infectious and he literally looked like a “Laughing Buddha!” He remarked that there is a purpose in his “sillyness” and the few hours spent with him felt like an act of grace. He urged us all to listen with our whole being to his discourse and to not get caught up on the words. Instead we must tune into his being, and his presence. As he called upon us to do this he mentioned “mirror neurons” which dissolve the barrier between “self” and “other” and are often referred to as “empathy neurons” or “Dalai Lama neurons.”

He began his discourse by saying that the right attitude to have when attending a teaching is to not think about what you might gain but rather what your are going to lose. We must drop our preconceived ideas. The title of the discourse was “Gaining confidence in our innate wisdom” and in order to have confidence in our innate wisdom we must first understand our true nature.

In order to understand our true nature we must realize the essence of mind. The mind is the root of everything and it is the universal ordering principle. It is the mind that creates samsara or nirvana, happiness or suffering. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Buddhism is about transforming the mind. Transforming the mind calls upon us to first look inwardly and investigate our mind.  Samsara is the mind turned outwardly and nirvana is the mind turned inwardly.

Meditation is the process of coming to know the mind so we can have an ultimate realization of our ultimate nature. Distraction is exactly what meditation is not. We can remove the cause of suffering if we don’t want suffering by engaging in mind training.  Happiness is knowledge, wisdom and developing our positive emotions. All fear and anxiety come from an untamed mind. Through taming the mind and cultivating virtue we can transform our lives and situations for the better. Mind training calls upon us to think before we act and in all of our actions examine our mind. When you throw a dog a stone he runs after it but if you throw a stone at a lion he ignores the stone but runs after the person who threw the stone.

The fundamental Buddhist philosophy is interdependence and the fundamental Buddhist conduct is non-harming. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “My religion is simple, it is kindness.” Following the principle of interdependence when we harm others we are harming ourselves and when we blame others we fail to see the various causes and conditions that contribute to everything. Understanding interdependence can inspire altruism.

Sogyal Rinpoche also had some very insightful comments about compassion. He made the distinction between compassion and pity and stressed that compassion is affinity. He quoted Nelson Mandela who said that a good heart and a good head are a formidable combination. In the Buddhist context compassion is both empathy and reason and this creates a dynamic combination. Most importantly, compassion is not just good for others but good for ourselves. When we practice compassion our mind is transformed. For example, if we focused our thoughts on the following mantra when we encounter others, “May you be well. May you be happy,” then our mind will be filled with love.

As he spoke he made it clear that we all have potential for enlightenment and our ground is Buddha nature but what binds us is our grasping. Water if you don’t stir it becomes clear.  Wisdom is purified perception and as we practice and train our minds then our view will change. Our view transforms according to our understanding.

When he gave practical guidance with respect to meditation he said that we shouldn’t fight thoughts. We should let them be when we sit but not get involved like a non-stick frying pan! He also said that his practice center in France houses a huge Buddha and when his students are confused the size of the Buddha reminds them that the Buddha is bigger than their confusion. Whenever I’m confused from now on I will remember this thought and the large Buddha in Bodh Gaya.

Rinpoche also stressed the importance of asking questions pertaining to his teaching. One Indian man asked about “who is the who looking when he is examining the mind.” I loved how Rinpoche said, “Don’t be clever, just look.” In response to a question about “guru yoga” Rinpoche said that guru yoga is uniting your mind with the wisdom of all the Buddhas and I found this explanation very inspiring.

At the end of the teaching he said that all of us had changed by the end of his discourse. Even if we didn’t realize it, we had changed. At one point he looked deeply in the eyes of everyone in the auditorium and we sat in silence after a brief meditation.

He closed by saying: “The dharma is fun, inspiring, incredible and really the source of happenings. The teachings are just love and compassion.”

When Rinpoche looked at me I just felt love. I will treasure being in his presence and keep his blessings in my heart.

May I share the merits of this teaching with all sentient beings.