Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
The essence of all of the Buddha’s teachings is emptiness, or interdependent arising. Nothing arises, dwells, or ceases independently. Therefore, there’s nothing permanent. There is no truly existing self. Everything that we think exists, or does not exist, or both or neither — all these things are fabrications of our mind. We fabricate them and then we become attached to our fabrications. But we don’t realize they are our own fabrications. We think they are real, but basically, every single conception or clinging that we have is some kind of fanatical process. The Mahayana sutras teach emptiness, or shunyata, to lead us beyond all these extremes and fabrications.
When we talk about emptiness, something beyond fabrication, we immediately think of a state of being that has no function, like a couch potato or piece of stone, but that is absolutely not correct. It is not merely a negation, elimination, or denial. It is not like the exhaustion of a fire or the evaporation of water. It is full of function, and we call this function buddha activity, which is one aspect of buddhanature. This buddhanature has an aspect of uninterrupted wisdom. This is the difficulty, because as soon as we talk about wisdom, we think in terms of cognition and the senses and their sense objects. We are curious about how a buddha perceives things. But although buddhanature is seemingly a cognizer, it has no object, and therefore it cannot be a subject. Furthermore, it’s not inanimate, nor is it animate, in the sense of mind. This is why the Uttaratantra Shastra is really complementary to the Mahasandhi (Dzogchen) teachings, which always say that mind and wisdom are separate — the dualistic mind of subject and object is separate from the nondual wisdom, which is not other than buddhanature.
In terms of guru yoga, the relationship of teacher and student – or lama and disciple – is important in the practice of the Dharma. Understanding how to engage in this profound relationship is an important point. It is an internal connection of the mind, not just an outer or physical connection, nor merely a matter of seeing one another or speaking together. It is an absolute connection, and a noble and wholesome one. I believe that it is very important to make this profound connection meaningful.
There are two main factors that come together to create a relationship between lama
and disciple: the lama’s compassion and the disciple’s devotion.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
One quality that is indispensable is the authentic guru lineage. As the great Sakyapa master Drakpa Gyaltsen said, a guru without lineage has no blessing. Lineage establishes a pedigree of sorts and is an absolutely necessary component of the path. Lineage is a history; it provides authentication. Where there is a lineage, there is a path, and the path has been tested.
Any path leading from one place to another is a product of causes and conditions, and the Buddhist path is no exception. Working with causes and conditions is the essence of the Buddhist path. In the beginning — especially in the beginning — we strive to no longer gather negative causes and conditions, and we learn how to apply positive causes and conditions. Eventually we gather the specific causes and conditions needed to disentangle ourselves from causes and conditions altogether.
For the Vajrayana practitioner, the right causes and condition are of utmost importance. Of all the many causes and conditions, lineage happens to be an extremely decisive factor. On a fundamental level, lineage is a condition that, in our human mind, authenticates the teaching and the teacher. A lineage can be a reference point: you can refer to what has been done by all the lineage gurus prior to your own guru, and this will oftentimes help build confidence in the teacher and the teachings.
A great teacher of meditation once said, “Meditating is trying to look at your own eyes without using a mirror.” That’s a very mysterious statement. How can we look at our own eyes without a mirror? The idea stops us in our tracks. But maybe we can explore that in our practice. The only way to solve this riddle is just to be there.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
The Buddha is not to be sought outside yourself.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Many gurus claim they are straight shooters: they say what they think without inhibition or filters. But if they dish it out, they should be able to take it. They should embody tolerance. But most of the time, critical gurus don’t tolerate criticism very well. One way to check is to watch how the guru handles bad publicity. Check the Internet to see whether he or she has ever been met with scandal, and if so, how did he or she react? How a person handles praise and criticism, gain and loss, fame and insignificance, happiness and suffering is all very telling.
Life is something to be greatly cherished. It unfolds from moment to moment. Meditating on death and impermanence makes us aware of that fact, and teaches us to cherish each and every moment of our lives. If we make just one moment meaningful, that amounts to the same thing as making our whole life greatly meaningful. Our life is taking place in each moment.
Sometimes people think the traditional meditation on death and impermanence involves having the painful and frightening thought, “I am going to die! Oh, no!” That is not a correct understanding of what contemplating impermanence means. Rather, it means not letting even a tiny part of our life go to waste. By cherishing our life and earnestly applying ourselves to living it fully, we are accomplishing the purpose of meditating on death and impermanence.