Unbroken lineages of wisdom traditions are rare in these times, and Kongtrul Rinpoche descends from a pure lineage of the Dzogpa Chenpo Longchen Nyingtik tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
We have two main study and practice centers in America: Phuntsok Choling in Colorado and Pema Osel in Vermont. Rinpoche teaches the core MSB programs at these two centers. In addition, MSB has several city centers or groups around the world where people gather for group meditation and study, and to listen to the LINK teachings together.
You may browse directly to any of the calendars to find out more about the teaching schedules of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dungse Jampal Namgyel, or Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. In addition, you can view the upcoming events at Phuntsok Choling, Pema Osel, or find out who is giving the next LINK talk.
MSB is a part of the Longchen Nyingtik and Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum lineages. (Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and Terton Chokgyur Lingpa, collectively known as Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum, were the heart of the Rimé, or nonsectarian, movement, which did so much to preserve and harmonize all schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the nineteenth century.)
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» The Degenerate Age: Part 1 – Society and Values
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In the Buddhist teachings, we often encounter the phrase, “the degenerate age,” or “the beings of degenerate times.” It is important not to misunderstand these references by assuming that this is a condemnation of modern society or the people living in a modern age. In fact, one of the sutras states, “Enlightened beings never condemn sentient beings.“
So the phrase “beings of this degenerate age” is not a harsh criticism or judgment of individuals, but is a commentary on the culture, and a description of a pervasive condition of suffering that is present among beings. We find ourselves in this particular suffering through the faults that spring from our ego’s own insecurities.
We need to understand this point well, though it may be much different from our customary way of thinking. Ordinarily, when we criticize someone we are actually condemning them, with the idea that their character is something absolute and definite. But, this viewpoint arises due to our own negative emotions.
The Enlightened Ones do not condemn anyone, since they can actually see the source of these defiled emotions and the connection between the defilement and the suffering that is created. Because they do see the deep vulnerability of sentient beings, great compassion is therefore born in their minds toward all beings.
So the label of the “degenerate age” is much more of a statement about the suffering of sentient beings, and the associated degeneration of the noble character that formerly was upheld.
Consider how many cultural and social values have disintegrated over time, and have become less and less cherished in peoples’ hearts. If we look honestly, we see a lot of truth to this. We can notice this occurring within our own minds as well as in the minds of the people around us.
As a society, we no longer appreciate the value of simply having a good nature, or the value of being honest, the value of not being selfish, of simply being kind or generous, of being a good and loyal friend, or being someone who experiences the highs and lows of life without getting caught in self-concern. We no longer value the ability to stick with a project without allowing the ego to take all the credit, or caring for the bigger picture beyond our personal desires.
If we look honestly, there are many times we can see that we fail in our own character to be a decent person upholding our values. But even though we may recognize the times that we fail to embrace these values fully, usually in our excitement about the next thing, we just move on. We get excited to meet a new situation or a new person, a new sense of energy around us, and we leave behind our old situation or our old friends. In this way, we’ve lost our loyalty to ourselves and our environment.
Why is this? It is because we conveniently change our perceptions. We feel inwardly that we have seen enough of the old situation and we’d rather experience a new situation. So we pretend that finding a new situation is always better than relating to the old situation.
This says a lot about our character and the ways we deceive ourselves. This is said to be a sign of the degenerate age when people no longer reflect on what is important to uphold in their lives. As we have only one life to live here, we will be known by our actions, so we should reflect carefully on all of this.
Even though our actions from the past are no longer happening in the present, we cannot rewrite our history. By looking at our lives in this way, looking back at our personal history as if our biography were being written, we can consider our deepest level of self-esteem and how we want to proceed from here.
In this way, by looking honestly at ourselves, at modern society and the culture we find ourselves in, we can see how the emphasis in society is now mainly how to benefit and support in temporal ways. With that frame of mind, our friends, our family, and strangers are all viewed in the same way. There is no fundamental difference in how we view people; everyone is viewed simply in terms of how they can help us, how they can benefit us.
So there is not much consideration given to really knowing who our family members are anymore, who our friends are, and what strangers mean to us. Instead, there may be more excitement and a greater sense of friendliness with a stranger than with an old friend or family member.
Often, people don’t like to have history with each other, or to share a path together. It’s more acceptable these days to just live alone, seeing others in terms of how they can support us in what we want. Even within in a family living under the same roof, there can be so much division, so much feeling of separateness, each thinking just about their own wellbeing rather than the wellbeing of the others in the family.
In this way there is so much isolation from each other. You might be living in the same room, even sleeping in the same bed with someone, yet just thinking about yourself, rather than for the whole family. In such cases, there is no moral guidance for one’s own children. So, as the moral guidance disappears within a family and in the larger society, there is no longer any guiding moral principle other than just supporting and benefiting oneself.
From this point of view, things have changed greatly from the past, where these things were much more valued, where there was more a sense of culture, and a tradition of moral values along with greater discrimination in people’s minds. There was much more of a sense of honor. Honor was actually regarded as the biggest prize in a person’s life much more than material wealth or any other kind of temporary self-support.
This is not to say that the past was only glorious, and the present is very bad and gloomy. But the mindset of people, along with the speed and the level of gross mental functioning and selfishness has all has evolved together.
By contemplating our present culture and identifying the causes of suffering in this way, we can be much more sympathetic toward all beings who are suffering from the degeneration of values and the degeneration of family and culture. This will produce in us a greater determination to work with our mind on the deepest level so we can rise above these tendencies.
Continues next week with “Part 2: Personal Relationships and Trust”
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A commentary on this text by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is also available here.
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