Question: If we want to practice the Dharma for our entire life – and not just start strong and fizzle out – what are the main things we need to make this happen?
Khenpo Tsewang Rinpoche: Starting out strong with Dharma practice and then losing momentum happened to practitioners in ancient times as well as now. As the great master H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche said, if we’d like to keep our practice strong for our entire lives, we should practice what are known as the “Four Wealths of a Dharma Practitioner.” (1) First, we should always have strong devotion to the lineage and the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. (2) Second is a very strong understanding of purity, or some degree of pure perception. (3) Third, we should feel love and compassion for all beings and help them as much as we can. (4) Fourth, we should understand that everything in samsara is impermanent—it’s changing all the time, and having a life with the 18 endowments is very precious. If we keep these four wealths close to our hearts—devotion, pure perception, bodhichitta, and appreciation of our life and situation—we’ll continue to keep our practice as strong as when we started. They will be a fuel that always re-energizes, reactivates, and restrengthens our motivation. Not only that, but they’ll make our motivation deeper and stronger, and will bring more joy, appreciation, bodhichitta, and a greater feeling of preciousness.
In addition to the Four Wealths, we should remember the “Four Mind Turnings.” These are very similar to what H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche and many other great masters have said: (1) precious human life, (2) impermanence, (3) samsara has a lot of difficulties and troubles, and (4) causes and their results are inevitable. If we can keep up the Four Wealths and Four Mind Turnings, we are definitely on track, and will continue on the beautiful path of enlightenment and compassion, giving a beautiful reward to ourselves and sharing a lot of good things with others.
Photo of Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche offering the bodhisattva vow ceremony at PBC Palm Beach Dharma Center in 2013, by Greg Kranz.
“Reflecting upon the life and legacy of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, we witness six extraordinary activities that he performed during this most crucial time in Tibetan Buddhist history:
(1) His writings number twenty-five volumes and are among the most profound and influential in Tibetan Buddhist history. They include his own terma revelations, poetry, historical treatises, and commentaries on the terma revealed by past masters, the kama teachings, and philosophy. As an acknowledged master, teacher, and expositor of instrumental and vocal music, chanting, and lama dance, as well as of esoteric practices, such as tsa-lung, tummo, and trülkhor, he also composed works on the ritual arts and yoga.
(2) He gave the empowerments of and teachings on the Treasury of Precious Treasures (the complete collection of termas compiled by Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche) an unprecedented ten times, to countless thousands of people, including many great masters, khenpos, and tulkus, thus securing and strengthening this vital tradition for generations to come.
(3) He collected, compiled, and edited the complete kama teachings of the Nyingma School, many of which were scattered throughout Tibet and its environs and thus in danger of being lost. He edited the existing thirteen volumes, originally printed in the u-med (dbu med) short-hand script, and reprinted them in twenty volumes in the u-chen (dbu chen) block-type script. To these, he added thirty-eight more volumes and then published all fifty eight. He also gave empowerments and teachings on the complete kama teachings three times.
(4) He gave the transmission of all the Kangyur teachings, inspiring his students as to their importance, thus securing textual study and meditation practice based upon the foundational teachings of the Buddha.
(5) In the 1960s—the most difficult time in Tibetan history—he, along with other masters and academics, rekindled the Tibetan educational system by editing the course-books used by primary and secondary school children.
(6) He was unanimously proclaimed by all the Nyingma masters and devotees to be the head of the Nyingma School, the first ever in Tibetan Buddhist history. He served in this capacity from the time of his appointment in the early 1960s until his mahaparinirvana in 1987, uniting all the subschools of the Nyingmapa and invigorating the tradition as a whole.
His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche incarnated principally to perform these six activities in order to ensure the continuance of Tibetan Buddhism long into the future, as well as to benefit countless beings.”
Light of Fearless indestructible Wisdom: Author’s Introduction (pgs 24-25)
“In our region of eastern Tibet there was a renowned teacher, a hermitage yogi who was humble, simple, and very realized. His name was Ahnsok. People would go to him and ask, “Could you please give me the instructions that will usher my mind?” This was the way people in our area asked for Dzogchen instructions. Ahnsok was old and his voice was not so strong; when he spoke it was like a whisper. He would say, “Yes, I will give you the instructions that will usher your mind, but first you have to do some preparation.” Preparation meant to practice Ngondro, particularly bodhichitta. Ahnsok always said, “If you’re not ready, if your mind is not prepared, even if I pour the ushering instructions into your mind, it won’t help. The ushering instructions and your mind will go in two different directions.” If you pour fresh milk into an unclean bowl, the milk will be spoiled—this was the example he used.
The people in that region of eastern Tibet were semi-nomadic. They would stay in summer, but leave in winter since the winters were very harsh. But Ahnsok lived there all year long. We don’t know how he got food sometimes. He stayed in a lovely place called Thortsay, in a mountain cave with a southern exposure that was surrounded by many juniper trees. His cave provided only partial protection from the wind and snow. Within that cave he stayed in a stone box all the time. Ahnsok was completely vegetarian. He didn’t wear animal skins or monks’ robes, just a simple blanket made of regular cloth. Every year during the summer he climbed up to the top of the mountain. Some people explained that Ahnsok was doing this to “mingle awareness and space.” He invited people to join him, saying that there were many beautiful lakes on the top of that mountain, but it seems that no one ever accepted his invitation.
Our mother was very devoted to Ahnsok. She was one of his regular visitors, always bringing him vegetarian food like yogurt, butter, and dried cheese. When Khen Rinpoche was young she took him along. One day our mother returned from a visit and told our father Lama Chimed about the conversation she had with Ahnsok. Ahnsok asked her, “Why do you come here all the time? What do you want?” She answered, “I come because you are a good lama.” Ahnsok said, “It is good that you feel this way, but remember other lamas are also good. Keep that thought and do practice as much as you can.”
Occasionally in the summer, Ahnsok came down from the mountain and into the village asking for yogurt. The semi-nomadic villagers lived in yak-hair tents, but Ahnsok never entered their tents; he simply waited outside. He always received plenty of yogurt, and then he would recite prayers. After that he went back to his cave, and to his practice.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
The Beauty of Awakened Mind (pgs 39-40)
Photo of Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche in Sarnath, India in 1971.