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Interconnected: Embracing Life in our Global Society


For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the second chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday May 31st at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 2  TRUE CONNECTIVITY Summary

Three years before COVID-19 upended our lives, His Holiness opens this chapter on true connectivity by stating that “we are living in a paradoxical moment.”  He points out how we are highly connected to each other in a technological way but this type of connection leads to us feeling more isolated.  A lot of research is being devoted to this now and the research validates Karmapa’s conclusion.  However, in this time of COVID-19, we are living more digital lives than ever before.  Karmapa gives us strategies to be online wisely so we can feel connected to our world in deeper ways.

He reiterates his statements from Chapter 1 about how interconnected and interdependent we are. To enhance our true connectivity technologically, he states that we need to look at our obstacles to feeling more connected, and this will help us use our technology more wisely.

One factor that increases our feeling disconnection at a heart level is the online emphasis  on the outer differences between people instead of the commonalities. One way to counter that effect, for example when seeing economically disadvantaged people, is to think how it is often people in that economic situation who make our clothes, or grow our food.. They benefit it us.   He concludes that despite all outer differences, we are all connected by our common desire to be happy and free from suffering.


Technology has the potential to bring us closer together if we use these tools wisely.   Many have been online for the first time or on-line in new ways during COVID-19, and have had birthday parties, weddings, Passover, Easter and other important events together with friends and family, some of whom would not have attended an in-person event.

Examples of using technology in ways that disconnect us, is the internet’s emphasis on extraordinary people and their conditions, and competition that pushes us to exaggerate our good qualities.  Everyone seems to be having such a fantastic life online because we often don’t post our embarrassing situations and mistakes.  We thus we end up interacting with others online “as an illusory electronic self, interacting with illusory electronic versions of other people.”  We forget the pixels on the screen are not the person, and interacting with an online friend does not convey the “human warmth that we all need.”    Karmapa states that online connection can make us feel lonely and sad because it is not real or nourishing.  We are sitting home alone with a screen wanting to feel a true connection.

Before COVID-19 how did you view technology and connection with others electronically?

Now that we cannot see our friends, has your opinion of online connection changed?  If so, in what ways?  If not, why not?


We have so more access to information online that we can process in our lifetimes, but we have not made “the shift from intellectual to emotional engagement.”  Karmapa states that the sheer volume of information available prompts us to remain on the surface and not go deep and feel how the information impacts us. One example he gives is our tendency to respond to a friend’s news online by clicking on an icon instead of reaching out with condolences or congratulations.

Karmapa suggests we can look at how technology impacts us by asking ourselves:

What does it do to me to engage with technology in this way?

How does it actually make me feel?

What am I willing to give up in order to gain those benefits?

 He states it is a fallacy to believe that our screens and other external objects can bring us happiness.  Happiness “can only be found within us and emanate out from there.”


Karmapa states that many who connect online feel dissatisfied with their connections, and even when they are connecting with one person, they multitask and connect with someone else at the same time. Even people living in the same house text each other instead of talking to each other.  He contrasts this with the way he grew up, and his connection with natural surroundings. There was a lot of labor in a rural farming community and people worked together. When the work was done they spent time together, enjoying the company of others, which was very satisfying to him. His Holiness asks us to reflect on our what we are losing through our digital connections.  He is concerned that our digital connection could lead to a negative cycle of less satisfying connection, trying to find true connectivity in the digital world, which leads to further dissatisfaction, loneliness and isolation.

In our time of COVID-19, some people are spending more time with housemates for better or worse, and others are stuck home alone.   Digital connections are all some of us have.  Others are now conducting all of their work on-line.

How has this time of COVID-19 affected your emotional connections?  Are you connecting more or less than before?  Are you feeling more or less isolated now?  Maybe you alternate?  Are you making any resolutions about connection when our forced isolation ends?


His Holiness describes the loneliness of being an exalted pubic figure.  He compares that to the super image of ourselves that we project online, only showing our best selves so we get the most likes or retweets.

In addition to our digital disconnection, he states that other causes and conditions like our self-reliance and emphasis on individuality can produce loneliness. If we feel disconnected, even being surrounded by people will not make us feel connected.  Truly, being around people and still feeling lonely is a terrible feeling. Reflecting on our interdependence, can help us feel more connected.

Even if you are stuck in your home alone, can you feel the connections you have with others?  People who you talk to directly, and the people you don’t know but who have made your food and clothes, the person who built your home, electronics, or created art, books or music that touches you.


Karmapa advises that to “ease loneliness, we first need to find friends within ourselves…by connecting with our own positive qualities.” We need to support these positive qualities by surrounding ourselves with warmth and appreciating our positive qualities.

What positive qualities do you have?  Can you increase your appreciation of them by reflecting on the benefits they bring to you and others?


We have an innate potential to be feel close to others and connect with them, evidenced by the natural way that babies and young children can connect with others. As we age, this ability “is eroded by doubts, fears, and suspicions. He believes that this erosion is from habituation and conditioning about how different we are from others.  Reflecting on our good qualities and on interdependence can also help us reconnect with our innate ability to connect and feel close to people.

What stops you from connecting with people? Think of the elevator example His Holiness gave.  How do you typically react?  Why?


Another exercise to help us feel our interconnections is with a practice called “recollecting kindness.”  In this practice we bring to mind situations in which others were kind to us. He suggests not only reflecting, but he suggests conducting some research to help bring more abstract helpers to mind like those who make our clothes, and really connect with them. We could even express gratitude each time we get dressed for their kindness. Our appreciation could also then motivate us to act further in terms of trying to benefit them, for example contributing to organizations to help them, not buying from companies that use sweatshops, etc.  We can use this exercise to appreciate anyone who has helped us directly or indirectly. The result of this exercise is more gratitude, connection and benefit for self and others.


“Bringing heart and mind together, gratitude is an affective state that can be produced by an awareness of interdependence.“  Training in gratitude for the kindness of others makes us feel good.  This training can extend to everything and everyone until you feel that everyone is benefiting you. This feeling will make it easier to connect and feel close to others, and have a more positive outlook.

Sit and bring to mind one or more people who have benefitted you directly. Contemplate how they benefited you.  Feel how connected you feel to that person.


Animals and nature are straightforward, so if we have feelings of suspicion or doubt towards the intentions of others, animals and nature may be a good place to start generating a sense of connection and closeness. Watching animal videos about animals taking care of each other can inspire us to develop our own caring qualities.  We can also reflect on the suffering of animals and our planet to help foster a more compassionate attitude towards them.  Turning compassionate thoughts into action is the next step.

Reflect on the suffering of animals or the planet.  Is there something you can do to help them?

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the first chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday May 24th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.


Awareness is growing that we live in a world where all of us, and the natural world that sustains us, are profoundly and radically connected. This interconnection is described in Buddhism as interdependence.

Interdependence explains why and how we are interconnected. Everything in life happens due to various causes and conditions coming together. Everything that exists is a condition that affects others, and is affected in turn, in a vast and complex web of causality. As part of that web, we ourselves are a condition that impacts those around us.

Interdependence has practical consequences in virtually every sphere of life on this planet – environmental, economic, social, psychological and ethical – everything material and immaterial are all subject to interdependence.

The health of our planet depends on our recognizing how interdependence works in the natural world and especially how human actions – greatly amplified by technological advances – are interacting with other forces. On a personal level our ability to find lasting happiness also depends on understanding how interdependence works within our own life and relationships. Our response to our interconnectedness can produce either human suffering or flourishing.

The Karmapa is particularly concerned with ensuring that our heightened awareness leads to change in individual and collective behavior, to help build a global society that works in concert with rather than resistant to the realities of interdependence. Change requires that we move from intellectual to emotional awareness and from there to action.


Our external reality is shaped through the interplay of myriad conditions (External Interconnection). Among those conditions, some of the most influential are human attitudes and actions. Each of us is a complex constellation of perceptions, ideas, interpretations, emotions, and intentions that mutually affect one another, and that shape how we experience our connections, how we respond, and what we contribute to those connections (Inner Interconnection). Our inner world and the outer world are intimately connected and therefore investigating the dynamics of interdependence at work in the world around us requires that we consider the world within us.

The human heart and mind (our inner world), form an integral part of these webs of interdependence and are key to bringing about real change in the world that we all share. The transformation of our social and material world must begin within us.
Intellectual awareness of interdependence is the first step
Emotional awareness of interdependence is the essential next step
By understanding the interdependence of our inner world and emotions, our understanding of interdependence moves from head to heart and into action.

Reflect on what you are referring to when you say “I” or “me”(i.e., the entire complex of body and mind.)


For the terms below contemplate: Am I a separate entity, or am I connected to other people or things? How am I separate? How am I connected? How far can you trace a thread of connections? Can you follow a thread to its source?

My body
My things (e.g., Clothing, food, books, house, car, other things)

All the things that we think of as me and mine – our bodies, our clothes, our food, and all our material possessions – come from others.

My Consciousness
My thoughts
Where do my thoughts come from?
Where do my beliefs come from?

Not only our ideas, but a great deal of our emotional life and our psychological makeup is very clearly influenced by others and impacted by what goes on around us.

Is there such a thing as an entirely independent you?


Others are part of you, just as you are part of them. You exist in connection with others. When you see this, you can also see that your happiness and suffering depend upon others.
All beings are changed by being in relationship. Just being connected to someone or something means we are each forming part of the other.

Once we deeply understand that self and others are not two entirely distinct things – that we are not really separate – many things can change. We will feel a sense of profound connection to other beings, and we will experience their contributions to who we are with gratitude and goodwill. We will see and feel that we simply must consider others’ well-being.

Interdependence challenges how we see ourselves in relation to others. This rethinking transforms how we engage with others, emotionally and in our actions.


Can you recall a time with someone where you could see the movement of emotions, ideas, or energy shift between you?
How did they impact you?
How did you impact them?
What did you create together in that space of interconnection?
Was it intentional?


We ourselves form part of this vast system of symbiotic exchanges. As the trees and plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce the oxygen that we so vitally require, we are continually reciprocating with carbon dioxide, which plants use as they produce more oxygen. Once we inhale, that oxygen is carried by our blood to cells throughout our body. Thus we can say that trees and plants and the sun itself are present in our every cell, just as our breath may be present in the plants’ cells.


How else are you connected to your environment? (Coarse and subtle ways)
How does the environment impact you?
How do you impact the environment?
What situation does your symbiotic exchange produce?

Everything we need to survive in life is connected to other people and to resources outside of ourselves. Likewise we are the resources that others depend upon for their existence.


This emphasizes the connection of humans, animals and their natural environment.

We often overlook the ways in which the contents can affect the container itself.
The word for contents in Tibetan literally means nutrients. We are like the nourishment for the world that contains us. Our relationship with the world we live in is more reciprocal than we normally envision.


With earthquakes, blizzards, or floods we clearly see that natural phenomena impact us.
Our impact on the planet is less obvious. The earth is so immense, it is hard to see the impact we have. We just need to cultivate different lenses so we can gain awareness of our interdependence on both vast and intimate scales.

If contents are corrosive they damage the container. The analogy of container and contents might help us see the interdependence always works both ways.

(My note: Because of our 5 senses and self-awareness we are usually very aware of how the world is happening to us but not so aware of how we are happening to the world.)

Question: How can we cultivate a greater awareness of our impacts on our world and on others?


Interdependence involves causality – the way things happen due to the coming together of certain causes and conditions. It’s easier to recognize our role in the immediate results of our intentional actions, but harder to see our role in the indirect results of those actions. The more nuanced our appreciation of causality, the more effectively we can achieve the results we want.

Our actions have ripple effects beyond the direct results that we readily perceive and recognize as consequences of our actions. Everything we do has an impact not only on us and on our immediate surroundings but far beyond that.


Recall a situation where you observed things ripple out from an initial action?
Was the initial action intentional?
What was the direct impact?
Was the direct impact consistent with the intentional action?
What were the indirect impacts?
Were the indirect impacts consistent with the initial intentional action?


Many problems arise when we limit our view to a narrow, self-centered focus which distorts our view of reality. The notion of me and mine puts up a conceptual wall separating self and other. These walls can be dismantled by seeing our interdependence, and from the awareness that we are all equal in our wish for happiness and to be free of pain and suffering.

A narrow lens makes self and others seem wholly disconnected, but when we widen it by broadening our awareness, we see that our actions affect others and others’ actions affect us.

Interdependence reveals that the pursuit of our aims can either benefit or harm others, directly or indirectly.

To fulfill our responsibilities as members of a global society, it is crucial we look beyond immediate consequences and consider the indirect implications of our conduct. For with our individual actions, we impact the lives of others and shape the world that is our common home (e.g., relationships, families, workplaces, sangha communities, etc.).


When many people engage in the same intentional collective actions it has a cumulative effect that impacts us all (collective karma). But the connection between collective actions or shared attitudes and their longer-term or indirect impact is more obscure, and we fail to concern ourselves with these wider consequences.

We urgently need to recognize that we are not making choices for ourselves alone. Therefore we need to take much greater care what we decide and how we behave. Many individuals acting out of personal wants and desires have far-reaching collective effects on the world as a whole.

Our own failure to consider the cumulative impact of our actions is actually a major part of the problem.


We can see the causality of interdependence very much at work internally as well. Our interdependent lives are shaped not only by material conditions but also by our emotional states, by the strength of inner qualities like patience, love, or wisdom, and by the beliefs and perceptions that influence our decisions – in short the whole suite of cognitive and affective forces at work within us.

Our inner world is constantly shaping the way we perceive and respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in.


How do external situations appear in your mind?
Is your mind disturbed?
How do you feel?
Does the way you feel affect the way situations appear in your mind?
Does the way you feel (disturbed mind) affect the way you respond to external situations?
Your inner world has a powerful role in determining how you experience your external conditions and how you respond to them.


The outer material world and our inner world actively impact one another. Our attitudes and feelings, affect those around us emotionally. Our attitudes also shape our actions, and with our actions we are creating the world we all share. Conversely, our external conditions also shape us inwardly.

The primary resources we need to thrive in our interdependent world are inner ones. If it is possible to feel content whether we have much or little, which set of resources is more valuable: mental and emotional, or physical and material?


We are all connected. We have a choice to see interdependence as a comforting sense of connectedness, or as unwanted dependency. The choice lies not in whether to be interconnected but in how we live it.

A great deal is at stake in which of these two views – individualism or interdependence – we choose to adopt. We experience our lives differently, we relate to others differently, and the very society we create differs based on whether we believe ourselves to be fundamentally separable and independent or fundamentally connected and interdependent.

Individualism can lead us to compare our situation to others. In such comparisons, competition is endless. We feel a lack, and inadequacy that can lead us to question our fundamental worth.
Interdependence as a value can guide our life. This deep awareness of our interconnectedness can change our lives and change the world.

It moves us from understanding, to feeling, and in the end becomes a springboard to action.

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Eight Verses for Training the Mind
2018/19 Winter Retreat

Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 through Tuesday,  Jan. 1, 2019
Beautiful new location:  Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford, CT


Registration is now open!


Cultivate your path to deeper meditation practice…

Skillful compassion requires a foundation of calm abiding (through shamatha meditation) and the clarity of insight which we can cultivate through progressive stages of analytical meditation. This uncovers our natural joy and wisdom, and prepares us to skillfully interact with our world.

In this year’s 5-, 4-, or 3-day winter retreat over the New Year’s weekend, you’ll find strong support for all of these through the teaching and your own sitting and walking meditation practice.

Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen will teach on Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Thangpa and will also guide analytical meditation practice.

Acharya Lhakpa Tshering will teach and guide the foundational meditation practice of shamatha (calm abiding) meditation.


open to all

This retreat is open to all, and best for those with prior meditation experience. It offers an opportunity for extended meditation and learning with accomplished teachers and an excellent community.  For more details and how to register, see the program and registration info below. There are discounts for Nalandabodhi members and affiliated groups. Register early by Sunday, Dec. 2 for the best discount.

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the teachers, facilitator

Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen is an accomplished meditation master, a classmate and close colleague of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and a professor of Buddhist Studies and Tibetan language at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.

Acharya Lhakpa Tshering is likewise an accomplished meditator and scholar from the same monastic college and the resident teacher for East Coast Nalandabodhi centers and study groups.  Both Lama Tenpa and Acharya Lhakpa are wonderful examples of profound kindness, wisdom, and humor.  They are fluent English speakers and thoroughly attuned to our Western culture.

Damayonti Sengupta is the Chief Operating Officer of Nalandabodhi International and has studied contemplative movement arts and Buddhist meditation and philosophy for many years. She also has extensive experience as an educator, with a focus on experiential and intercultural learning, as well as organizational development.


Please check back here for updates on teachers and teaching topics for the retreat.

the program

The retreat provides an environment for silent shamatha (calm abiding) and vipashyana (analytical or insight) meditation.  The retreat includes:

  • Teaching by Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen on analytical meditation.
  • Meditation instruction by senior teachers.
  • Sitting and walking meditation, alternating.
    • 7-9 hours per day for meditation and teaching sessions (some of which are at your option).
  • Contemplation and aspirations for the New Year.
  • Practice of silence until lunch every day. Individuals can also choose silent days or a completely silent retreat.
  • Tibetan yoga (lujong) every morning.
  • Options for a 5-, 4-, or 3-day retreat, to accommodate your schedule.
  • All meals from Friday dinner through Tuesday lunch.
  • Lodging at the lovely Copper Beech Institute in either single or double rooms.

Some program elements and the detailed daily schedule are still being worked out, so check back for updates.

the location: Copper Beech Institute

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 2.54.38 PMCopper Beech Institute is a refuge of calm—an idyllic retreat center for meditation and contemplative practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. The aims of the Institute includes providing an environment for reconnecting with the things that matter most in life. The tranquil campus offers quiet places for rest, deliciously nourishing meals, and 48 wooded acres to explore, including a gorgeous labyrinth for walking meditation. The Institute is located on the idyllic campus of Holy Family Retreat & Conference Center, which has been a refuge for those seeking quiet, contemplation and peace for more than 60 years. Operating independently from the historic Catholic retreat center, it occupies a renovated, handicap-accessible wing of the facility with 210 dedicated beds and access to the space’s stunning grounds. The campus features lovingly maintained perennial gardens, sculpture gardens, labyrinth, and wooded trails. Copper Beech is located minutes from I-84 in West Hartford, CT—a bustling and beautiful town, ranked by Kiplinger’s in 2010 as one of the Top Ten Best U.S. Cities for the Next Decade. It is just a 25-minute ride from Bradley International Airport, and 15 minutes from Union Station, Hartford’s Train and Bus Station.

More information about Copper Beech Institute is available here.

5-, 4-, and 3-day options

If you are unable to attend the full retreat (Friday afternoon through Tuesday lunch, 5 days), you can attend Friday afternoon through Sunday lunch (3 days) or Friday afternoon through Monday lunch (4 days).

Schedule, Arrival, Departure

The schedule below is tentative and subject to change. Please check back for updated information. (Registrants will also receive an email with retreat details prior to the retreat.)

Retreat Check-In:  Retreat check-in begins at 4 PM, Friday, Dec. 28.  Please do your best to arrive by dinner time (6 – 7 PM). The first meditation session is from 7:00 – 7:30 PM. The first teaching session will follow.

Retreat Conclusion & Check-Out:  For 3-day retreat participants, the retreat ends after lunch at 1 PM, Sunday, Dec. 30. For 4-day retreat participants, the retreat ends after lunch at 1 PM, Monday, Dec. 31. For 5-day retreat participants, the retreat ends after lunch at 1 PM, Tuesday, Jan. 1. (If you are able to stay and help with take down for the retreat, we would be happy for your help.)

eligibility and registration, or RSVP

The retreat is recommended for people with some prior meditation experience.  (We want your experience to be positive. A multi-day retreat is a big commitment if you haven’t meditated before.)  Registrants are asked to fill out a short online background questionnaire.

There are discounts for Nalandabodhi members and affiliated groups. Register early by Dec. 2 for the best discount.

To register now, click on the REGISTER button.


If you’re not quite ready to register but are interested in attending, your RSVP to us will help (click to send us an online RSVP).

other practical details

  • This is designed as a residential retreat and we recommend that participants stay on-site. This serves to provide a more supportive container for our meditation practice. If you’d like to attend and it is important that you be able to stay off-campus, there are commuter options.
  • Meals are provided by Copper Beech Institute’s excellent culinary staff.  Vegetarian options will be provided, and the staff will try to accommodate special dietary needs. You can provide your dietary preferences and restrictions in the background questionnaire when you register.
  • Calendar page.


For questions, please e-mail philadelphia@nalandabodhi.org.  We’ll do our best to respond promptly.

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Difficult World, Peaceful Mind

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{Words of Wisdom from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche}

We have so many kinds of suffering in our world––natural calamities, earthquakes, hurricanes. It seems as though all of the elements are attacking us. At least the sky hasn’t fallen yet.

We cannot control natural calamities, but at the same time we do have a hand in creating them. We may not be able to completely stop these disasters, but we can reduce them.

All our normal habits of desire are having a serious impact on our environment­­––the ocean is heating up, the ozone has more holes. And everywhere there are more natural calamities. Even those are interdependently arising. In any case, this heart of compassion and loving kindness is the primary way for us to change our world for the better.

And secondly, if we master the wisdom of working with the interdependent nature, then you gain a real sense of freedom. This freedom comes from interdependence, it doesn’t come from independence. We think freedom comes from independence. But the real wisdom comes when you can master interdependence. In this regard it is crucial for us to connect with one another and see how we can make each other’s world better, instead of only thinking, “How can I make my world better?”

How can we create less harm in each other’s world, not just in “my” world? It’s an important question to consider.

The approach of interdependence

America is in the North American continent, far away from everything. We in America tend to think the Earth’s pollution exists mainly in China and other countries. So we take care of our own environment and send all the polluting production to other places. Recently, however, due to extremely strong winds, this massive air pollution made its to America from Asia. So this approach is not going to work. If we want our own sound, healthy and beautiful environment, we also have to take care of other places. I remember that in India and Nepal, when you clean the area outside of a store, you just clean your own little storefront and push the dirt to the other side of the street. Then an hour later, two other guys from the store on the other side will come with their brooms and push the dirt right back to where it was in the first place.

What do we achieve when we only consider “my” world and not others? We actually become more irritable. We engage in more emotional actions and reactions that end up creating more suffering. And in the end, the whole world becomes a suffering world. But if you take care of yourself, while caring for others as well, it’s a different story.

When you ask your partner to love you, it doesn’t work too well, does it? Love comes naturally. There is a natural sense of giving and sharing. One of my students told me, “When you say to your partner, Why are you not making me happy? that is not love. But when you say to them, How can I make you happy? then that is love. When you say that, naturally they will make you happy. Just by seeing a little smile on their face, that makes you happy. Then everybody’s happy.

So if we just keep looking at our problems always focusing on them­­––why someone is not fixing this, why my president is not fixing that­––it’s not really going help us accomplish our goal. Instead, if we ask, How can I help? can you imagine? What if everyone in this whole room here begins thinking that way? If we all start doing it together, can you see how much difference we can make in our world?

Every challenge is an opportunity

Our world is really difficult these days. There are many leaders in the world who are very skillful at making you irritated. They are very skilled in making you upset and bringing out so many emotions. Generally we feel this world is pretty bad. We feel that we live in one of the worst times ever, and we feel it’s very challenging. On the other hand, if we look at it a bit more deeply, every challenge is an opportunity for us. If you feel there is no opportunity, then that presents a challenge, and see­­––right there you have an opportunity!

If you can see this opportunity, and if you can contribute in some way to make it better, then your contribution will be magnified thousands of times. Rather than doing what we’ve always done. We can put forth the same amount effort, but if we approach what we do with this attitude, we can make a huge difference.

It’s important for us to have more wisdom of interdependence, and more compassion, a genuine heart-to-heart connection with others. Because just getting angry or irritated doesn’t solve any problem. But when you understand interdependence, love, and compassion­­––then really there’s nothing we can’t solve.

Desmond Tutu once said in an interview that his father used to tell him all the time when he was upset, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” Isn’t that a wonderful instruction? Instead of raising our voice and saying all of these not-nice things, we can look for solutions. We have a great opportunity here.

In the Buddhist teachings we have something called “ripening your aspirations in a timely manner.” There are three important elements here: aspiration, ripening, and timeliness. First you have to have the desire, or the aspiration. Second, you have to have ripening––that desire must actually grow with wisdom. It’s not enough just to have the passion or desire to change the world. And then finally, it must be timely––the perfect time is the perfect opportunity.

In times of crisis, compassion ripens

The world of crisis is a perfect time for your compassion to mature and ripen. You can see this even in the most ordinary sense. For example––don’t misunderstand me here, because I don’t know anything about economics––but I heard there is something called the “stock market.” We don’t really see anything, but there is something called the stock market. When it is volatile, that is a very good opportunity for someone to make a lot of money. When the world is volatile, it’s a very good time to make lots of points of loving kindness and compassion.

From dharma teachings I understand that, along with that increase in genuine compassion so deep in our heart, comes awakening, which we call enlightenment. Enlightenment is not necessarily restricted to some kind of meditation. It also can come from this deep heart of compassion towards sentient beings. This is really wonderful news, because in our daily life, with all our family obligations and everything else, we usually don’t meditate very often, do we? Most people do not do too much meditation. If you can do an hour a day, we think that’s a lot. But a day has twenty-four hours, so for that one hour of meditation, there are still 23 hours left to undo the positive effects of that meditation.

So how can we really get to awakening by means of loving kindness and compassion? Every minute of every day, we hear bad news on the TV and radio. It’s not because good things aren’t happening, it’s because people aren’t interested in good things! The media networks are business people catering to the market. When they do research, they find that people are interested in bad news. This shows that we haven’t yet developed a strong habit of rejoicing in others’ happiness.

When you see others’ good fortune there is usually jealousy. We think, “Why don’t I have that opportunity?” So it becomes crucial for us, not only to work with our compassion, but also to cultivate a sense of rejoicing or satisfaction. We can have sense of joy in another’s good fortune instead of instantly comparing that with your own situation. Opportunities to practice compassion, loving kindness, and caring for others are present for us 24 hours a day. Or 23 hours, if you meditate. Or if you meditate for 15 minutes, you have 23 hours and 45 minutes.

Awakening through compassion

If you do the math regarding the probability of awakening, there are many more chances for you to be awakened through practicing compassion than through sitting meditation. The opportunity to practice compassion is always there. When you raise a child, when you take care of an aging parent, or take care of your partner. You don’t have to look very far to practice compassion.

There are people throughout your country who also need your compassion and generosity. So we can look for opportunities right here, instead of only looking for opportunities far away in third world countries.

In everyday life, loving kindness and compassion is the key. You’re not only helping others this way, you’re also helping yourself. Studies were done in which they found that all beings naturally have this heart of compassion, that it is present in everyone to some degree. All of us, all human beings, have this heart of compassion. Sometimes you may not see it, but it’s definitely there.

Sometimes this heart of love begins with a biased view. That’s okay. In the beginning we have more love toward one person than another. That’s natural. The point here is how we bring that across the board. Once we are able to make that heart-to-heart connection with the people we naturally feel love for, how can we begin to have that sense of caring toward all others as well? That’s the key to making the world a little better.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche originally presented the teachings in this article at a public talk in Rotterdam, Netherlands in October 2017.

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Questions & Answers on Mindfulness with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

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Q: In the West today, mindfulness as a practice is being taken out of its Buddhist context and introduced without Buddhist language of any kind. We have mindfulness in business, mindfulness in the education system, and so on. What do you think of this, Rinpoche?

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: I’ve been contemplating that quite a bit. And I think to some degree you could say that mindfulness practice has been taken out of context in terms of some of the approaches taken. But when I look back into the traditional Buddhist teaching, those methods are actually a part of it.

Buddha taught that there are two approaches or two vehicles. One is a mundane vehicle, and the other is the vehicle that will lead one to awakening––complete awakening. So I see some of these recent approaches as part of the mundane vehicle that Buddha taught, in terms of making one’s future existence more comfortable, more virtuous, and more abundant with both physical and mental health. So even though some of these approaches to mindfulness have taken a different route, so to speak, from the more traditional Buddhist approach, I see those as part of this first approach of Buddhist teaching, which is concerned with making our lives more mindful and more compassionate, more loving and in many ways more virtuous.

Q: What is required for the second vehicle––the vehicle of awakening––that people might not learn about when they are only introduced to the practice of secular mindfulness?

DPR: What is taught in the second approach of the Buddhist teachings is a deeper sense of working with our mind, and a deeper sense of working with our confusion and the roots of our suffering. So the second approach requires a little more contemplation, more meditation and a little more sense of acquiring the wisdom necessary to see our confusion and where it comes from.

Mindful Activity & Instant Gratification

Q: It seems like I’m often looking for instant results, or instant gratification, when practicing loving kindness, or practicing mindfulness and awareness. How can we let go of always wanting instant gratification?

DPR: Not everything takes effect right away. Some things take a little longer time to get the effect, and with some things it takes a shorter time to get the effect.

If you are doing some kind of mindful activity to help others, that is helping the world. You’re making someone happy, giving them what they need, or doing whatever you can do. You can rejoice in that action and feel the happiness you managed to give. If you can feel that happiness, then just rejoice, instead of looking for a reward.

It’s natural, of course, that we tend to look for some kind of reward or payback. Even when we don’t expect a reward, we’re usually looking for some kind of result. At the same time, I think that looking for a result from our efforts sometimes blocks us from experiencing joy and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s natural to expect something in return. But when we do, that’s the cause of disappointment for sure. The same thing happens with our children. If we expect too much from them in return for our care, then our children are a cause of disappointment for us.

And in some cases I think the result may be there, but we are blocked from seeing it due to our mind’s habit of expecting a result or a return right away. In the 21stcentury we face the challenge of instant gratification. This is one of our biggest challenges. We want the result fast––we want the fastest possible enlightenment. Like everything else, fast is not necessarily best. Think of fast food. Or if you are in an auto accident, faster is not very good, right? If the accident is slower, it’s better. It doesn’t cause so much physical harm.

Not everything is going to be in our favor, but that’s what we want. We want our Internet browser to be faster. We want Netflix faster, YouTube faster. And they’re making the devices faster––tablets and phones. But then those faster devices use more space, too. When the hard drive becomes full, then the speed comes down, so in the end it’s the same. In fact, it’s more irritating, because you expected the new device to work faster and it doesn’t. In our century, technology presents challenges of its own.

So regarding instant gratification: if everything begins to go faster, it may not be such a good thing in the end. Consider if your web browser were to open at the speed of thought. Whatever you’re thinking about, right away it opens and shows you that. It could be an embarrassing thought. That could be quite a problem, especially in your workplace. Then we would need to develop another program to block those thoughts at work––like an antivirus, but an anti-certain-thoughts program. So fast is not necessarily best. When we expect a result right away, I think it becomes an obstacle for us.

Success Is Not the Goal of Mindfulness Practice

When we’re on the path of practice, the path of awakening, we must try––try to be mindful. Our aim here is not to succeed. We don’t need to succeed all the time. It’s not possible, right? Why can we not succeed every time we engage in mindfulness practice? The same reason we cannot succeed in winning every time we buy a lottery ticket!

You cannot succeed all the time. And that’s not our goal here. The purpose here is to try, just give it a shot. If you didn’t succeed, that doesn’t mean you didn’t practice. That’s part of the journey. So keep trying. Give it a shot.


Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche taught on these aspects of mindfulness in an interview with Sounds True in 2017 and in a program on the methods from his book Emotional Rescue in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2017.

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