Venerable Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche was born in 1964 in North India to Tibetan parents. At age 9, the 16th Karmapa recognized Rinpoche as a tulku -- an incarnation of Kyabje Jamgon Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye called "the Great," the one who gave life to the rimay [non-sectarian] tradition.
Rinpoche trained in all aspects of Buddhist doctrine. His Root-Guru was H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche of the Nyingmapas, the oldest of the Tibetan Buddhist denominations.
In 1989, Rinpoche and his family moved to the USA where he founded Jigme Samten Chöling, a retreat centre in Colorado. He spends most of his time there guiding his students through extended periods of retreat. Rinpoche occasionally teaches around the world or pursues his own studies. But he is often in solitary retreat in his cabin for extended periods from where, with the aid of technology he gives short talks in English at 11 am on Sunday mornings to his students via conference call hook-up.
May 21, 2001
On Monday evening, at the invitation of a private Nyingma teacher, he spoke on the necessity of doing the foundational practices [ngondro] before embarking on the vajrayana.
Dzigar Rinpoche, who played a small but prominent role in The Cup (1999,) is a Tibetan in his 30's with delicate features who wears his long hair parted in the middle and tied back at the nape. He was wearing glasses with metal rims, and chinos or khaki trousers topped by an orange dress shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows over a bright white t-shirt. When it got a bit warm in the room, he surprised some of the audience by revealing the Hard Rock Cafe logo on its front.
While waiting for the translation into French, he rested his hands on the top of his head in a patiently relaxed manner.
Rinpoche speaks English very well, having been educated in India. Though he has lived for over ten years in the USA and his sophisticated vocabulary reflects his American education, he has retained a few Indian-English turns of phrase.
He must have been fairly tired after the intense week-end of teaching, but he was very generous with his time and patience, and I felt that his use of the phrase "you know" was more than a verbal tic -- it seemed rather, to underline his determination to connect with his audience who were mostly French- speakers.
Louise Daignault provided the translation into French in an informal, yet skillful and conscientious manner. For those who find the translation process tedious, may I suggest that where the translator is also a practitioner, it gives an opportunity to catch what information you might have missed or misunderstood.
Rinpoche pointed out that after taking Refuge, we have the potential to become enlightened, but we are like a small child who needs to take many steps before being an adult.
He said that in meditation we should be honest and fair with our own minds; ask ourselves "What is lacking? Why does a certain behaviour not work? We have to constantly evaluate, and this honesty coupled with the longing for progress is what will create a good practitioner.
We do self-examination to see what a practice does; how does it work for us?
We constantly have trouble with anger, attachment, jealousy and arrogance, and these are the reasons why we feel so much pain. Generally, we are not confused as to how we got that way, but we are confused as to how to stop it. The solution is to see what happens when we feel angry and so on. What kind of suffering does it bring? In this way awareness is developed.
We act as our own therapists; this observation is an on-going meditative practice, for as we become more aware of our suffering we long to end it. This is the aspiration that lays the foundation for renunciation and vajrayana practice.
With the end of suffering in mind, our practice has more power -- is more down-to-earth. So that then Refuge means something more to us. We think of the Buddha for what he accomplished; of the Dharma for the help it will give us; of the Sangha that it will support us.
With some progress, we can develop bodhicitta, the attitude to work for the development of other beings. Its four aspects are love, compassion, joy and equanimity. We monitor the effect this has on our own minds -- how does it help our own kleshas [flaws] of anger, arrogance, etc.
There are many books to help you, and you are educated people. When you read, do it slowly and think things through. Make the words come alive and have some confidence in yourselves.
It is not just practice that is important, but practicing effectively. It is very easy to get lost in all the concepts and the various practices.
And don't forget that we inherit negativities and the consequences of deeds from former lives. They have a certain momentum on our minds now.
The 4 foundational practices have 4 special powers to help us deal with this.
1. Purification: Understand that Vajrasattva is a samboghakaya form of Buddha Shakyamuni. This deity practice will help to overcome shame, guilt and various resistances.
All religious traditions acknowledge the power of confession in liberating us.
To progress, our mind must be unburdened, light and clear, for us to be creative and imaginative. Visualization helps us with this. Practice by looking at a tangka and then closing your eyes, then open them and look again. Then do it over and over until you can recreate the image in your mind's eye.
As your image of Vajrasattva gets clearer, his presence is clearer and he is more able to help you. This is 2: the power of a venerable object. The deity does not judge you and is entirely sympathetic to you.
3: the power of mantra. A mantra is like meeting the buddha or bodhisattva himself.
4: This is the power to make a commitment to stop the chain of habit. We all know that it is very well when we have hurt someone to say, "I'm sorry'" but we also must try not to do it again. Similarly with regard to harming ourselves.
These 4 powers can also be applied to addictions to alcohol, drugs, eating and so on.
We may need to remind ourselves that much of our suffering comes from before, and is not due to our own efforts. We have also accumulated merit before, too or we would not find ourselves on the path.
Some of the obstacles we encounter are the result of our hanging on to present attitudes and circumstances, and letting go is painful. Think of someone who is pregnant. They cannot hold on to the child in their womb forever because the process of childbirth will be sure to be painful.
Offering the mandala helps to loosen the hold of the ego so that merit can be accumulated. This offering, done with a pure heart and with the accompanying visualization is not the same as the giving of charity.
It is important to realize the enlightened nature of all things.
At this point, you need a guru. This is not only for instruction but to receive the blessings of the Guru and the lineage. When you put your heart into guru yoga, the gap between student and teacher is lessened and then the mind is transformed. The blessings can be very powerful and you will be able to realize your own nature. "It is like falling in love."
Now an Inner Guru can be developed in you and there is no separation between the two -- they merge. Guru and mind merge and many things can come to fruition.
Deity yoga is actually an extension of guru yoga.
Some people know who their guru is, but some do not. That's OK, for we have the blessing of Guru Rinpoche [Padmasambhava.]
When the heart is open, the guru will come. Remember that the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the 10 directions and the 3 times never miss an opportunity to bless someone who is ready. The sun and moon may change, but not them when it is time for someone to receive their benediction. So if you have no guru, do devotion to Guru Rinpoche until then; there is no hurry.
36 people sat quite still for over 2 hours in a typical front room of a Montreal flat near Duluth Street. They remained to ask several questions, some fairly personal. Rinpoche was especially skillful in his replies, at once compassionate and understanding while tactful and delightfully inventive. Here are a few:
Q: How do we impress on people the fact that they need to do ngondro before proceeding with advanced practices such as Mahamudra or Maha-ati and so on?
A: We must not make any assumptions about the capabilities of other people. The experienced teacher will know whether someone is ready.
Q: How can we be purified by a deity who is the product of our own corrupt mind? [This is a summary of a long, rather personal question expressed in earthy language to which the teacher responded in similar fashion, but went on to say:]
A: When gold and mercury are mixed together, they may seem like one substance. Put it into a fire and the mercury will dissipate while the gold remains.
Q: The same person asked what to do about the negative feelings such as jealousy that arise during practice.
A: Use it. [Investigate it further.]
Q: Also, what should we do when people perceive us in a negative way?
A: No one has better perception than the Buddha, and he knows we have this buddha-nature.
Q: The next person expressed his dismay at continually living between hope and fear.
A: You cannot work with everything. The root to the problem [of continually hoping for something and fearing that it will never happen] is our clinging to the Self.
Q: How do we cut off negative emotions such as anger so they do not get expressed in actions?
A: Say a mantra and work on lessening attachment to Self.
Q: How can I give to a beggar who is a drug addict?
A: Give food.
Q: If I have not attained enlightenment before I die, will I achieve a better rebirth?
A: If you have faith.
Q: How do we recognize a good guru?
A: They have to be Tibetan! [This was a joke and everyone understood it as such, and laughed.]
Before leaving, Rinpoche said that he thought it might be possible for people who were interested to listen in on his Sunday morning telephone talks via a conference call set up. We look forward to hearing him speak again.