We practice in order to liberate ourselves, but we can make ourselves crazy in the process. Tsoknyi Rinpoche teaches us how to temper our expectations and experience more contentment.
It’s actually fine to be happy and carefree. The more carefree you are from deep within, the better your dharma practice is.
Carefree means being wide open from within, not constricted. Carefree doesn’t mean careless, that you are sloppy or that you don’t care about others. It’s not like you don’t have compassion or are unfriendly. Carefree is being really simple, from the inside. You need to be relaxed, yet without stupidity. Sometimes people relax like this: (Rinpoche lies back limply with eyes half-closed and a vacant expression). Especially around the swimming pool! You have a swim, then you climb out of the pool and lay down with your hat, sunglasses, and maybe a cold beer.
You’re very relaxed, but you’re relaxing into stupidity. You’ve relaxed into a very dull state. The point is to be relaxed and yet very clear. There is no need to create something by meditating, no need to achieve something—simply be very clear. Relaxed and bright.
You need to be in charge of yourself. Check yourself out, and if you find you’re missing some qualities, then work to develop them. It doesn’t help to go about with your hands outstretched, trying to obtain good qualities from others. Take charge of yourself. Be happy. Even when it’s not funny, still smile.
Think about how much time we put into washing ourselves, freshening up, brushing our teeth, putting on make-up, and so on. It’s just as important to fix up your mind. If your mind is down, pull it up. If you’re flying too high, ground it. Take charge of yourself. Of course you can’t literally wash your mind or comb it. You can’t cut your mind’s nails when they’re too long. But you can be in charge of your attitude; you can take responsibility for your mental and emotional state.
In fact, that’s the main point of the Buddhist teachings. Be aware of your own mind. Let it be undisturbed and free of confusion, because only then can you be of help to others. Otherwise, you just remain confused, confusing yourself, and there’s no way to really be of help to anyone else. Don’t get too overexcited about this, either. Just relax, sit upright, and be open—wide open and carefree. The view in the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) tradition is to be totally open and carefree.
If we act a little too carefree, that is not so good either. That is called losing the conduct in the view. A lot of people do that. They revolt against a particular culture, against the system, against the establishment—against the fixed habits of this world. They shave off half their hair, or half their beard, or they dress funny, or they wear no clothes at all. It’s all a reaction against cultural mores. Sometimes they take drugs and they try to be free in that way. Actually, that’s not being free at all. That is losing the conduct in the view.
Once I met a man who wore all his hair pushed up atop his head, had painted it blue, and had half his beard shaved off. I am not saying that he was a bad person; not at all. His behavior was his way of reacting against stereotypes of how we should look. But if you’re carefree and open from within, you can fit in anywhere, anyway, without having to go to dramatic extremes or make shocking statements. If you’re not open or carefree from within, you’ll find you always get bumped up against things. Your life gets so narrow, so tight, so claustrophobic. The point is to be free, not to be crazy.
Be carefree and open, and feel free. Train in being free. It is said that when the dharma is not practiced correctly, practice could become a cause for rebirth in the lower realms. We’re supposed to practice in order to become free, to liberate ourselves. But if our practice only makes us more stuck, then what? What if we get stuck in the method? When you take the ferry, the ferry is the method. Once you get to the other shore you leave the ferry behind and go on. There’s no point in dragging the boat back to your house. Nor is it good to stay on the ferry, for twenty-four hours a day, forever.
The state of wisdom (rigpa) is not bound by any method. It’s not stuck at all. It’s naturally free. If that’s the case, what’s the point of sitting and making up ideas in meditation? The situation becomes completely claustrophobic—why try to accustom yourself to that?
If your hands are very dirty, you wash them with soap. Once you’re finished rubbing the soap, you don’t keep it on your hands. You rinse it off, because you don’t need it any longer. The soap is used to get rid of the dirt. Once the dirt is loosened from your hands, why keep the soap?
Likewise, don’t hold on to the method; don’t hold on to the meditation technique. Just let be and relax. This is called nonmeditation, undistracted nonmeditation. If you meditate, it’s conceptual. If you get distracted, you’re just a normal person. So, don’t meditate, and don’t get distracted.
The next point is don’t harm others, but help others. Liberate yourself, and after liberating yourself, help to liberate others. Someone who is really full of himself might think, “I am practicing something that is special. Hey, I am really something!” If one has that type of attitude about oneself, really, what is the use? It doesn’t help anyone. Far better to run away and give up practicing.
Because if spiritual practice really doesn’t help oneself, why bother? It’s much better to be genuine and real about how things are. Take the truth of impermanence more and more to heart, in a very sincere way. Be more loving, more kind, more compassionate. If you find that this is happening, then the dharma is really taking effect. To have less craving and more contentment—that is the point.
It’s quite okay not to be very educated. In fact, to be simpleminded is fine. It’s far preferable to being egotistical. Much better to be simple about oneself and not get into a lot of details about “what is good for me.” It’s all right to get into a lot of details and make a lot of fuss when it comes to being helpful, to helping others. But if we complicate our own lives and focus too much on ourselves, we forget how to be simple, and we are never happy.
How does one know the difference between really progressing in meditation practice, and just looking like it from the outside?
First of all, when one’s being is liberated from within through this practice, one knows it personally. That atmosphere or feeling also seeps out in a way and is felt by others.
One of the qualities of recognizing emptiness is that the thought “I” or “me” has no longer any basis, and thus it dissolves. There is no self-identity present. Through recognizing and realizing the empty essence, instead of being selfish and self-centered, one feels very open and free. It feels like everything is possible; one could just go anywhere; it is all okay. One is not really fixated or tied down.
In short, the bottom line during the meditation state is whether or not your delusion falls to pieces. By letting be in wisdom, the string of thought which ties confusion together is suddenly no longer tying anything together, and it naturally falls apart. When there is no pursuit of past thought and no inviting of future thought, that gap means that the whole delusory process vanishes.
The effect of that—the afterglow, you could say—shows itself in the post-meditation. In daily life one has much less craving and compulsion to chase after things. One is much more content and at ease, and possesses much more devotion, appreciation, and compassion. That is how it shows itself outwardly.
This is actually a good question, because we need to take care that there is real progress in our practice. Every so often, we may have to look back and assess: “What has happened with me? Is there any improvement in my personality, in my character? Am I more or less attached to things? Do I have more or less craving, more or less aggression? Am I more or less dull than before? In which direction am I really going? Am I improving or not improving?”
We may think, “Now I have been meditating for five years…ten years…fifteen years. But what has really happened? Can I discern any real improvement when I compare how I used to be with how I am now?” It’s very good to scrutinize yourself that way, to check and see if there is any progress.
It may sound a little strange to say this, but when one practices in a place where there is no external support for dharma practice—a place where people don’t necessarily respect and praise the fact that you are a spiritual practitioner—maybe it is more possible to be a really genuine practitioner. In fact, maybe it is much easier. Who knows? Conversely, in a place where there is a lot of support for practice, there may be plenty of people who are not really practicing genuinely.
We should be concerned with these questions: Am I really practicing in a genuine way? Am I really progressing? We need to check ourselves, again and again. As we practice more and more, the basic guideline is: Are our disturbing emotions diminishing? Is wisdom developing and increasing? Yes or no? We should examine ourselves honestly in this way.
Could you say something about understanding compassion without emptiness?
Without understanding emptiness, compassion can never be authentic. There’s a very high chance we will confuse compassion with attachment and desire. One thinks that one’s passion is compassion, that one’s attachment to others and caring for others is true compassion.
Our ordinary version of compassion and affection is selfish in a way, because it’s my family, my children. I care for them, we should enjoy ourselves together, because I love them. It is compassion in a sense, but without the understanding of emptiness it becomes very narrow, very limited.
Compassion is not that kind of attachment. It is not passion for or attraction toward something that one loves or likes. Compassion is called the “great passion,” but it is not the passion of latching onto something and not wanting to let go. True compassion is a very open and free atmosphere.
Compassion without the understanding of emptiness easily becomes selfish attachment, while understanding emptiness without compassion can also become selfish, one-sided, and limited. In order to avoid these dangers, it’s very important to understand the unity of emptiness and compassion. Your naked, present ordinary mind is the door to this unity of compassionate emptiness. Recognize that, and you’ve opened the door. The more we grow used to this, the easier it becomes.
Right now this door is closed by our preoccupation with an almost uninterrupted string of thoughts. But if we allow just one gap between one thought and the next, we may glimpse the naked ordinary mind, self-existing awareness. Then the door is opened right there to reveal compassion and emptiness united. It is a timeless moment.
The great wisdom qualities of the buddha mind—the wisdom that sees the innate nature as it is and the wisdom that perceives all possible things—are blocked again and again, almost continuously, by the concepts that we form. These concepts are actually temporally based; they are, in essence, time. The moment we start to allow gaps in this flow of concepts, the innate qualities of the awakened state begin to shine through.
Adapted from Carefree Dignity by Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Published by Rangjung Yeshe Publications.