Khandro Rinpoche: last excerpts


A common thing is that, where we are in buddhism, when we talk about non-duality we have a roomful of people. You talk about something else, fantastic as, you know … oh “the dot” or something like that – you can just come up with anything [laughter]. If you want to really get many people you say “the blazing dot” [laughter] ….

But then if you say “ethics,” two people turn up [laughter]. But it reflects a lot about ourselves…. That usually is not because you don’t like ethics. Everyone likes it, everyone knows it’s important. But we don’t cultivate that. Because it talks about training yourself.

…All the great teachers from our generation, if you look into their lives and say “how come they were able to do it, how come they’re so enlightened, how come their bodhisattva activities are able to benefit so many sentient beings? What is it that we don’t do?” And the main thing is: there is no discrepancy between their view and action. In ourselves, it is there. View: there’s not much of a problem, everyone has quite profound views. But in terms of actions that would enrich your life, to be able to personify that view, that we don’t do. …

For example, living with these great teachers, their one instruction to us was: the door of the house should never be closed, to anyone. My father his Holiness’s principle in life has been: never to say no. To anyone. And so: a sense of opening up to anyone, any moment, whatever way you can be helpful. So when you say: my philosophy, my dharma teaches me to be kind, [then] … period, no more arguing about that.

…If this is dharma, then yes I need to practice genuine kindness, and whatever I can say or do that can be of best use at this moment, then I will do it. No strategy, no planning. Flexible, pliable, and very very much present, at every moment. So that it can evolve as best as it can be taken advantage of by the other person, so that it can benefit the other person.

second excerpt from Khandro Rinpoche

Look at the way we have conversations with one another. I’ve joked about this so many times, I’m sure I’m repeating myself, but I’ve always said: I do not like to socialize with buddhists, that’s my personal thing [laughter] … I can come to a dharma center and I will always be there to give the talk that I’m required to give, but apart from that you’ll never find me – unless it’s a situation I cannot avoid [laughter] – and that’s because, that’s because you cannot talk normal [laughter].

Who I am, for example, the name that I carry and my teachers – whatever I’ve learned from my teachers. They come and they expect things to be … you cannot say something like “it’s a nice cup of coffee.” [laughter] They’ll immediately say: “but Rinpoche, you’re supposed to look at the non-dual nature of the coffee [laughter],” isn’t it? “But that coffee is relative.” You have to say something very profound, you cannot say something like, “this is a nice blue sky.” It has to be “dharmakaya’s profound blue pancake.” [laughter]

And so where the conversation itself becomes so fabricated, so very pretentious, then it comes to a point where it influences your life. And so you cannot be really true to the relativity because you’re forced to always look at the absolute nature. Absolute nature of impermanence, absolute nature of emptiness, absolute nature of non-duality, luminosity, dharmakaya, dharmadhatu and so on and so forth.

Then you shift onto becoming absolute and then you try to say: “yes, everything is my mind’s projection, this is not true, this is not real.” But someone hits you, someone insults you, someone takes your job away, you get inflicted with a disease: there is no absoluteness in that at that moment, isn’t it? We’re not capable of remaining with that. There’s that tinge of sadness, there’s that pang of jealousy and aggression within our own self, there’s that craving of desire, there’s that anger of competitiveness, of your own insecurities, your own hope, and if not yours, your children – your husband, your sons and daughters, your family, your responsibility.

So what happens is: relative and absolute, relative and absolute: we don’t know where to go.

first excerpt from Khandro Rinpoche’s talk

I wrote below about something I’m calling “the buddhist syndrome.” Here’s the first excerpt from Khandro Rinpoche’s talk I’ve transcribed, not specifically about said syndrome yet, but a warning to buddhist teachers and in fact everyone of how extremely powerful words are. Teachers in particular bear a grave responsibility in this regard.

She has just told the story of growing up and having to choose between becoming a doctor (which her mother wanted her to be), or a monastic. Eventually she decided that becoming a doctor would be the harder path, but…

…today when I look back, I begin to see that it’s easier perhaps becoming a doctor [laughter]. You kill a person once, you know [laughter], say out of negligence of some kind you kill a person once … Today what I do: I can kill many, many times. Because you’re working with minds. You’re working with life. There is no actual cutting up of a person and the consciousness of the person leaving the body. But on the other hand, if you think about it from a Buddhist philosophical, teaching perspective of cause and effect, and the impact of words – what you say, what you teach … you can actually, sort of, always mess with people’s lives. So easy to do.

Such an immense responsibility … Again, if you look at it from karma’s perspective – cause and effect – or from the perspective of birth and rebirth, then you begin to realize the immense impact and influence, as well as responsibility, that you have when you relate to something that is just words, in appearance and in sound, but at the same time affects a person over lifetimes.

The goodness of the person can be influenced by that, the weakness of the person can be influenced by that. Discouragement can come from that, encouragement can come from that. Positivity can come from that, negativity can come from that. Schism and aversions and sadness and suffering, and a person never being able to overcome all the negativities. You can do that. You can influence that. You can influence a lot of goodness and we always hope that that is what is happening, but the impact of negativity that can occur is something that these days I’m beginning to really think [about], that really occurs to me more often.

the buddhist syndrome

There is one, indeed. And anyone who’s hung out for any length of time in buddhist circles knows what I’m talking about…

Tibetan teachers talk about it too. The other day I watched the first talk in a weekend program given by Khandro Rinpoche in 2007, and she spends a good deal of time on it there. I was pleased to hear her thoughts about it and am transcribing some of the relevant moments for another post.

Khandro Rinpoche

The talk in general concerns the “four karmas,” ie the four kinds of enlightened action. Nearly always these are taught with regard to their outward manifestations, which is to say: how to work with them in helping others. But Khandro Rinpoche turns this around and treats them as aspects of self-work. “Pacifying” then becomes the cultivation of stillness, “enriching” the practice of virtue, “magnetizing” (or, as she also terms it, “empowering”) as the development of confidence (in the tremendous power of the mind) and courage, and “subjugating” as the process of taming the mind.

She introduces this approach by discussing what I’m calling “the syndrome.” Another phrase I sometimes use for it is: “using the absolute to beat up on the relative.” She talks about this as a tendency for buddhists to feel they need to suppress intentions and motivations that are self-directed. So there is a lack of honesty operating, which is quite destructive.

Far better, she says, to be truthful about the fact that, yes, we do wish to become realized beings, free from all fear, living embodiments of wisdom-compassion powerfully able to help many many beings. And at the same time we don’t wish to suffer ourselves: we would like to live long and healthily, fulfill our potential, feel useful, and everything else.

But by suppressing our hopes for ourselves a kind of phoniness can creep into the way buddhists relate to each other. It’s long been pointed out – and is quite true! – that buddhists often treat non-buddhists far better than they treat each other. Conversation can become – in Khandro Rinpoche’s words – quite “fabricated,” “pretentious.” Tricky, ungenuine.

There is a constant underlying sense of something like guilt operating – because we tend to feel we ought to be more “advanced” than we actually are – so the relationship between relative reality and absolute reality is not understood properly, leading to much confusion. And then, worse still, that confusion gets projected out at others – generally at fellow buddhists – in the form of unkindness, lack of generosity, even cruelty.