May bodhicitta, precious and sublime, arise where it has not yet come to be. Where it has arisen may it never fail, but grow and flourish more and more.
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.
Browse to any of the calendars to find out more about the teaching schedules of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dungse Jampal Norbu, or Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. 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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(Taken from NSS 2002: Talk 1: July 20, 2002)
The idea of renunciation is very complex, and quite interesting as a general theme. It is even more interesting to notice how people react to the idea of renunciation. When we speak about renunciation, some people immediately feel lighter. They feel a sense of joy because the burden that they carry, whether consciously or not, feels lifted from them. We all feel burdened to some extent, but some people have become fed up with their burden and with the suffering that comes from carrying it uninterruptedly. So, for them, when renunciation is encouraged or emphasized, they can immediately make the connection to let go.
But for other people, on hearing the same word, “renunciation,” it’s as if they say to themselves, “Oh no! I can’t renounce. I don’t want to renounce. I’m not ready to renounce. How can I go on living if I renounce everything? How is it possible for me to renounce”with all my needs, and knowing how important they are to me? What would be the point of renouncing anyway?” So all this interpretation happens in the mind. And it is the exact same word! My point here is that the way people are with themselves creates different reactions to the word “renunciation.” And that is fine! We don’t all have to have the same responses to the teachings.
Whether we have a positive response or a negative reaction to the idea of renunciation, our response must be analyzed. If the response is not analyzed, if we just go on without understanding where this response comes from, then there won’t be any effect produced by that response. When the response is analyzed, our own self-reflection and wisdom minds are present. With genuine openness we can look at our own minds and circumstances without being biased regarding concepts of good and bad, or right and wrong. We have to be able to see ourselves very clearly. In seeing ourselves clearly, we also see that there is no difference between ourselves and all other human beings. All of us are human beings, so we are all experiencing the same basic conditions of being human.
No matter how much we may desire to be unique and different from other human beings, we cannot be completely different from the rest of humanity. We have to accept that we are human and therefore share the same human condition as everyone else. We have all the needs that are basic to human beings, so we must face our human life as something that we share in common with all human beings. For this reason, we need to be grounded and down to earth in accepting ourselves as human beings. From that place we can consider wisely and clearly the following questions. What applies to our lives that is helpful? And what does not apply to our lives, or is not helpful?
With this way of thinking we can connect meaningfully to all other human beings, not only to those who are similar to us or in similar situations. We can expand our reach and go beyond our typical habits to connect with the rest of humankind. Otherwise we are living in a bubble. Even though we watch the world news on TV, at some point we become immune to the sufferings of others, as if these exist only in that little box that we watch, and not as a part of life. When we live in our own bubble and cannot escape it, what happens outside of us does not really seem a part of our own lives or suffering.
When we accept ourselves as human beings having similar needs, similar conditions, and similar basic experiences as all others then we can think of our suffering as human suffering rather than my particular suffering, pain, or misdeed. Yes, it might be your misdeed, but it is still a human being’s misdeed.
When we can think in this way, we can relax. We relax and accept ourselves as complex, with good and bad points, with attributes that we may find encouraging or discouraging in regard to ourselves. We see that these things are all just a part of human life and human suffering. Otherwise we’ll remain stuck in our own little make-believe world. When we are stuck in our own worlds, it is very difficult to process our suffering in a clear way because there is no sense of accepting our suffering, or accepting ourselves.
When we do not accept our suffering, the focus of our minds becomes, how can I get rid of it? But how is it possible to get rid of our suffering without the wisdom to understand it, or without having developed the skillful means to really clear away our errors?
Simply having this desire, wishing not to suffer, or wishing to be constantly in a state of happiness and joy, will not make much difference by itself.
The Buddhist idea of renunciation comes from the Buddha, but the reality of where the mind is, is not a function of the Buddha. Rather, it is something that is revealed. Even among those who hear about renunciation, how many really feel ready to simplify their lives? How many have had enough of this complicated, difficult life, even though it has supported them so far? It’s like the situation of a spider who has always tried to maintain her web, but becomes tired of it. She simply wants to let go of this web, no longer spinning it, and become a secluded, solitary spider. Other spiders may still want to spin even greater, more extensive webs. What’s there already is not enough. We want more. We’re not sure why, but we want more anyway. We have enough to live, and even enough to live quite well, but still it doesn’t feel like enough for us.
The mind is in a state of desire and craving, wanting to get and to cherish what comes from outside, no matter how feeble or short-lived it is. There is a quality of addiction in this tendency, and the addiction does not stop, as we all know. If the addiction stopped by itself, that would be great. But addiction rarely ends until something comes to a point of crisis. We have not yet reached this point with ourselves. We have not bottomed out. Instead there is momentum, the momentum of wanting more, and in this context there is no renunciation. Even if we try to sit from time to time, to simplify, or to be a good practitioner and abandon distractions and temptations, still there is no renunciation in the core of our hearts. There is only hunger, hunger with a flame that burns, without ever allowing the heart to rest. When this is our situation there can be no renunciation. It doesn’t really matter which side we find ourselves on.
At the beginning of our path, it is important to simply see where we are. Truly seeing where we are will permit us to get to where we want to be. If you do not truly see where you are, then you are relying on an idea to lead you where you want to be. By relying on ideas to lead us to our destination, we often fail because there is a lack of genuine understanding in the mind, there is no genuine understanding from our own innate wisdom. The appropriate way to examine where we are is to be nonjudgmental. Be nonjudgmental of the content we see in ourselves, and nonjudgmental of how we view ourselves.
In the first turning of the wheel of Dharma, Buddha said, “Bhikshus, samsara is suffering. Understand this fully.”
That was his first teaching. Try hard to understand this point clearly. In order to understand this point clearly, we have to understand that all beings want happiness. No one enjoys suffering. No matter how much we are addicted to suffering and indulge in the causes of suffering, no one really likes to suffer or be entangled in disturbing emotions. No matter how negative a person’s tendencies may be, nobody truly wants to be stuck with their negativity because it is painful.
There is an automatic sense of renouncing suffering that exists within all sentient beings’ minds right at the point of seeing that we suffer. When we compare physical pain to emotional pain, we see that emotional pain is much stronger, so it follows that beings also wish to avoid emotional pain as well as physical pain. But in the very next moment, the mind becomes confused. The mind gets confused due to all the concepts, ideas, and tendencies that flood in and overwhelm it. We do not know what to do, so we do not renounce anything.
Instead we continue to indulge in our habitual tendencies, which just leads to more suffering. Why do our concepts, ideas, and tendencies occur and cause us to react in all these different ways, overwhelming us with more and more pain? This occurs due to a fundamental lack of wisdom.
Let’s look closely at why this happens. The first cause is our automatic emotional reactions. Where do these automatic emotional reactions come from? Did we have the same automatic emotional reactions to everything when we were children? No. They come from influences, the influences of conventional views, ideas, and even religion. We have accepted these influences to be ultimate truths without ever having determined whether they are actually true in our own experience. Without having completely understood everything through our own mind, we have adopted all of the concepts and views from the outer world and from the people who have preceded us.
This is how we have developed our reactive minds and emotions. From this point of view, what is “good” may not even remain good, and what is “bad” may not remain bad. If something is good, there have to be reasons why it is good, and the reasons have to be understood. If it is bad, there have to be reasons why it is bad, and the reasons have to be understood. When the reasons are not understood through experience, when we are just reacting because somebody told us to, then we are more or less following blindly like animals.
In nomad territory, when hunters want to kill wild pigs or rams, they herd all the animals to the edge of a cliff, and then the hunters start to push. Once one animal jumps, then the rest of the animals will also jump without hesitation. The hunters can easily kill many animals using this method. It indicates the animals’ lack of wisdom. If we haven’t fully understood something with our own innate wisdom, then according to the extent of our lack of wisdom, we will be inclined to just go along with other peoples’ views.
So what do we have to do? We need to realize that in each of us there is renunciation toward suffering. Samsara does not need to be abandoned for there to be no suffering.
Without suffering, samsara in itself is not so bad. It is due to suffering that we feel renunciation as sentient beings. Human beings have greater intelligence than other sentient beings, so we have a greater sense of renunciation toward suffering. No one in the whole world would say that they like to suffer. If there were a choice, we would always choose not to suffer. So renunciation is right there. It’s important to understand this.
We have to have confidence in this understanding because often people get confused, thinking mistakenly that they must actually like suffering, or that suffering is somehow favorable or necessary. Sometimes people feel that they will never actually be rid of their suffering. That’s not true. Renunciation is present in all beings when it comes to suffering. Whether one is able to realistically and practically develop this renunciation is an entirely different story, however. It depends on how open, wise, and clear we are, and how much wisdom we can apply to truly renounce suffering, and more importantly, its causes.
As I said earlier, our first step is to be open and nonjudgmental about our suffering, not feeling guilty about it. Judgment and guilt will cloud our minds, preventing our intelligence from coming through. Strive to increase your knowledge and understanding. Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding leads to wisdom. Knowledge is information. It is what you hear from teachers or read in books. Understanding is what occurs when the knowledge clicks with you. When it clicks, then the truthfulness of this knowledge dawns on you from your own experience. The wisdom comes in when you realize that it is actually simple to go beyond your own limitations, to go beyond yourself and no longer remain stuck with your problems, with your suffering.
So we need to cultivate knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In doing that, we will acquire a genuine path of renunciation.
Whether we renounce anything outwardly or not, inwardly there can still be a genuine path of renunciation. But no matter how much we have renounced outwardly, if we have not renounced inwardly, then all that has been renounced may still return. So it is useless merely to renounce outwardly.
If we have truly renounced inwardly, then we could rule an empire, yet when it was time to leave, there would be no hesitation or pain. There would be no problem in leaving and moving on because renunciation has already been developed inside. In order to develop this inner renunciation, some people find it helpful to renounce externally as well, to help shape the inside. Whatever we try to shape externally can affect us on the inside, and whatever we are internally can actually be reflected on the outside, since there is a correspondence between outside and inside.
So for some people it is very helpful to try to arrange things on the outside in a more ascetic or simplified way. This helps their minds to stay simple, clear and free. But for others this may not be so important because they can still accomplish what they want without the outer renunciation. One method is not necessarily better than the other.
When we hear teachings on the suffering of samsara, we should be encouraged to develop awareness of our own suffering rather than become judgmental about it, or become pessimistic or down on ourselves. We need to create more awareness where awareness is lacking. Suffering is there, but awareness is lacking, so we need to focus our awareness in order to realize our own suffering in greater depth. Upon the realization of our suffering, we need to develop confidence. We will always feel renunciation. Not only do human beings have renunciation, but all sentient beings have renunciation. It’s not as if we are some great or exceptional beings in this regard. All sentient beings have renunciation towards suffering.
Increasing Our Awareness
As we said, in order to realistically cultivate a path of renunciation, we need to increase knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Let’s speak about knowledge first. Things occur in repetitions. If you observe your habits, you’ll see that habits do not appear just once and then go away. They come back repetitively, one after the next, like waves. That is how the mind works also in repetitions. So as we develop more awareness, we see that habits by nature arise in repetitions. When we see this, understanding naturally will be present. It is not that we have to specifically exercise our brains to understand more. This is simply about increasing awareness. Increasing awareness will bring more information into our minds, and more clarity.
Awareness leads to knowledge. Knowledge leads to understanding. What then is understanding? Understanding is glimpsing. For example, in the midst of our experience we see freedom. In the midst of anger, we see how we could be at peace. In the midst of desire, we see how we could become less caught up in this desire. People have these experiences often.
So, as in all experiences, we have glimpses: glimpses of freedom, glimpses of how we could be free of the fog or the darkness, and move into the clear light. When that happens, we usually do not pay attention to it because our strength is very weak; there’s not enough power to go with that glimpse. In the midst of anger, we may see how we could cease to argue any longer and just be at peace. There is no point in arguing ourselves to death. We could just leave it. But because of this lack of strength, we continue to argue, as if we are going to resolve our issues by continuing. Then that leads into further distractions.
When we catch this glimpse, having increased the awareness which leads to knowledge, and the knowledge that leads to understanding, these glimpses become stronger. These glimpses begin to come more often to our minds, and our strength increases a little bit. Then we have to initiate ourselves with that strength. We have to lend more power to that strength. We have to go with that strength rather than with our tendencies, because if we continue to go along with our tendencies, we will end up where we have always been, and become ever more discouraged. We need to go with, initiate, and empower these glimpses.
When we finally reach that point, then drop it! This is where the real path of renunciation comes in. When, due to our knowledge, we have this glimpse that we could be free, then we are able to drop the disturbing emotions inside that usually consume us. When we can drop them, that is renunciation. That is true renunciation. When we are just able to drop it, there is a feeling of being overjoyed and a feeling of being empowered by our own discipline. In this way, all renunciation comes to one single point: to drop it. Drop the whole neurosis. Drop the whole samsara that is in your mind and just walk away. Walk away, or let it walk away from you. And in this way, experience a sense of “going beyond’.
“Wisdom” here refers to increasing our awareness over time. We increase our knowledge over time and have glimpses; when we realize we can drop it, that is wisdom. Wisdom is the strength, and the strength is wisdom. When we realize we can drop it without so much fuss, that is wisdom. When we take the right path versus the wrong path, that is wisdom.
All of this has to come from our own experience of life, of samsara and of the suffering we experience in samsara. We need to develop a sense of renunciation without dogmatically putting down samsara, or our negativity, or our problems, but remaining incredibly open and adopting an incredibly wide view, seeing very clearly. If we work in this way, the effort will not fail us. We are not talking about renouncing everything in one shot. We are talking about a lifelong path of renunciation. Whether we renounce by ourselves, using our own strength and wisdom, or we rely on the working of impermanence to push us toward renouncing, in the end we will have to renounce. With this realization sinking deeply into our minds, we recognize that we will be much happier if we let go by ourselves rather than waiting for impermanence to push us into a corner and force us to renounce. As we become wiser, we discover that the path of renunciation is the only path. There is no other path.
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