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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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“How to Be Kind to Yourself”: Sage Advice from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

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Dealing with Loss, Anger and Sadness

Q: My partner and I just broke up. I don’t want to feel anger or jealousy, but I feel it anyway. I feel anger. How can I have compassion for myself?

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: There are two questions here actually––one about hating someone and one about losing someone. In both cases it’s important to be kind to yourself.

I think it’s quite common that we sometimes experience a kind of hatred toward certain individuals. Hating, just feeling this sense of aggression itself, is not a problem. The problem is when you reify it, when you make it strong and solid, and you spin your head around it again and again with projections. That becomes self-destructive. It causes problems deep in our mind.

So when you experience this element of hatred or anger, if you direct your mind toward this experience, inwardly, then you can see the energy or power of this emotion. You can feel it vibrating. You can see, you can feel mentally, this anger. The energy itself is pure. It’s perfectly fine, just as it is. The question is how you express this energy.

If you express this energy of anger with thoughts––spinning thoughts––or with action, then it becomes painful to yourself and others. One way you can deal with it is to simply experience the energy, and then when your mind starts to go spinning, say to yourself, “Oh don’t do that . . . .” Do this instead of saying, “Don’t be angry.” Because that’s almost impossible. But you can stop the projections.

Our projections based on anger and hatred are not too accurate, that’s the problem. In fact, our thoughts’ projections are usually proven wrong by thought itself. Right? You can see that by taking a look at your thought projections from the past––how you believe this or that is true, or that it’s real or unreal, that it’s a good thing or a bad thing, or “This is really cool. This is a really cool jacket.” You can see how you believe in that, but then the next year, it’s not cool anymore. Right? So your thought itself proves the earlier thought was wrong. When we reify and invest so much in the thought, it’s a problem.

So let’s leave the projections for now and then let’s work with this energy. Just be with and relax in the anger energy. In that way you develop a sense of kindness toward yourself. You’re not telling yourself it is bad that you’re angry. There’s nothing bad about feeling anger.

Sadness comes naturally with a breakup of a relationship. That is difficult, but I think sometimes we miss a certain point here. It’s like the four seasons. No matter how much you like the summer, you have to move into the autumn. No matter how much you dread the winter, you have to move into the winter, too. Similarly, the whole world is changing constantly, and with this change comes the experience of losing.

Losing a friend is part of the nature of change. And I know it’s easier said than done because when you lose your parent or a friend, it’s very difficult. But what really helps me sometimes, though not always, is to think of loss in this way. That this is the changing nature of things. Spring changing into summer, autumn, then winter. So sometimes we have to let ourselves accept that. We have to accept the change then move on to the next thing. That doesn’t mean we can’t have good wishes for our partner, or good feelings about what was lost. But at the same time, to accept that change is inevitable.

Dealing with Self Hatred

Q: How do you deal with self-hatred?

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: It’s okay to feel self-hatred, as long as you don’t hate others. Self-hatred, or low self esteem, is actually pretty common.

What I understand is that the sense of self-hatred has to do with poverty mentality. You’re always thinking that what you see outside is better than what you see inside. That’s what the Buddha taught was the basic human suffering. I was happy to see that confirmed by the song from The Rolling Stones, I can’t get no satisfaction. I mean, if [Mick Jagger] can’t get no, then who can? There is a sense of dissatisfaction or discontentment, some sense of poverty. We think, “That other person is so good. They’re so relaxed and I’m so bad,” and so on.

When you focus on this kind of thought too much, then self-hatred becomes too intense. Another aspect of it is just a cultural attitude––the sense of an originally negative, sinful nature, as well as the conditioning that comes with your upbringing. Each person’s upbringing is different, of course.

Instead of getting down on ourselves when we see something negative, we must think, “Nobody is perfect. We all have pros and cons.” When you see the negative side in yourself, you can say, “Oh this is a great opportunity for me to see and change this.” So I think the most helpful approach is to see that everyone’s imperfect. We all have habits and attitudes we need to work on.

If everything is perfect, then it’s not samsara, you know. We’re working with the elements of samsara here. That’s why my teacher Khenpo Rinpoche always says, “Erring and Erring, we walk down the unerring path.” That’s a mantra for me.


{Published Feburary 16, 2018. http://www.dpr.info/articles/how-to-be-kind-to-yourself/)


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Nitartha Summer Institute 2018

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For more information, click here.

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Introducing a New “Off the Cushion” Discussion Series

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Nalandabodhi Connecticut is excited to announce that we will be hosting a series of guided discussions in the coming months on several topics that deal with how to bring the dharma into our daily lives.

Topics to be covered tentatively include:

  • Spiritual Bypassing
  • Buddhist Approaches to Dealing with Pain
  • Buddhism & Race
  • Bearing Witness To Death and Dying
  • Near Enemies of the Four Immeasurables

Those interested in participating in a discussion on a given topic will be asked to contact the facilitator and informally register prior to the scheduled meeting date. Participants will then receive a link to readings (typically one or two articles) and a list of Reflection and Discussion Questions. Discussion group meetings will last approximately 90 minutes, with a suggested donation of five dollars to Nalandabodhi Connecticut.

The topic of Spiritual Bypassing will be discussed on Sunday, April 29th at 10:30 a.m. According to John Welwood, Ph.D., spiritual bypassing is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. (Another discussion on this topic may be scheduled on a weeknight in early May, if there is interest among those who are unable to make it to the Sunday morning discussion.)

Please contact Richard Zipoli if you would like to attend the discussion on Spiritual Bypassing. We hope to see you there!

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