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Counsels from My Heart


Two teachings by Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche from his book Counsels From My Heart on meditation and on accumulating merit.

Heart Jewel of the Fortunate: An Introduction to Dzogchen, the Great Perfection

    Homage to my teacher!
    The Great Master of Oddiyana once said:
    Don't investigate the roots of things,
    Investigate the root of Mind!
    Once the Mind's root has been found,
    You'll know one thing yet all is thereby freed.
    But if the root of Mind you fail to find,
    You will know everything but nothing understand.

When you start to meditate on your mind, sit up with your body straight, allowing your breath to come and go naturally, and with eyes neither closed nor wide open, gaze into the space in front of you. Think to yourself that for the sake of all beings who have been your mothers, you will watch Awareness, the face of Samantabhadra. Pray strongly to your root teacher inseparable from Padmasambhava, the Guru from Oddiyana, and then mingle your mind with his and settle in a balanced meditative state.

Once you are settled, however, you will not stay long in this empty, clear state of awareness. Your mind will start to move and become agitated. It will fidget and run here, there and everywhere, like a monkey. What you are experiencing at this point is not the nature of the mind, but only thoughts. If you stick with them and follow them, you will find yourself recalling all sorts of things, thinking about all sorts of needs, planning all sorts of activities. It is precisely this kind of mental activity that in the past has hurled you into the dark ocean of samsara. And there's no doubt that it will do the same in the future. It would be so much better if you could cut through the ever-spreading, black delusion of your thoughts!

Now, supposing you are able to break out of your chains of thoughts, what is awareness like? It is empty, limpid, stunning, light, free, joyful! It is not something bounded or demarcated by its own set of attributes. There is nothing in the whole of samsara and nirvana that it does not embrace. From time without beginning, it is inborn within us; we have never been without it, and yet it is wholly outside the range of action, effort and imagination.

But what, you will ask, is it like to recognize awareness, the face of rigpa [wisdom]? Well, although you experience it, you simply can't describe it—it would be like a dumb man trying to describe his dreams! It is impossible to distinguish between yourself resting in awareness and the awareness that you are experiencing. When you rest quite naturally, nakedly, in the boundless state of awareness, all those speedy, pestering thoughts, that would not stay quiet even for an instant—all those memories, all those plans that cause you so much trouble—lose their power. They disappear in the spacious, cloudless sky of awareness. They shatter, collapse, vanish. All their strength is lost in awareness.

You actually have this awareness within you. It is the clear, naked wisdom of dharmakaya. But who can introduce you to it? On what should you take your stand? What should you be certain of? To begin with, it is your teacher who shows you the state of your awareness. And when you recognize it for yourself, it is then that you are introduced to your own nature. Then, with the understanding that all the appearances of both samsara and nirvana are but the display of your own awareness, take your stand upon awareness alone. Just like the waves that rise up out of the sea and sink back into it, all thoughts that appear sink back into awareness. Be certain of their dissolution, and as a result you will find yourself in a state utterly devoid of both meditator and something meditated—completely beyond the meditating mind.

"Oh, in that case," you might think, "there's no need for meditation." Well, I can assure you that there certainly is a need! The mere recognition of awareness will not liberate you. Throughout your lives from beginningless time, you have been enveloped in false beliefs and deluded habits. From then until now you have spent every moment of your lives as the miserable, pathetic slave of your thoughts! And when you die, it's not at all certain where you will go. You will follow your karma, and you will have to suffer. That's the reason why you must meditate, continuously preserving the state of awareness that you have been introduced to. The omniscient Longchenpa has said: "You may recognize your own nature, but if you do not meditate and get used to it, you will be like a baby left on a battlefield: you'll be carried off by the enemy, your own thoughts!" In general terms, meditation means becoming familiar with the state of resting in the primordial, uncontrived nature, through being spontaneously, naturally, constantly mindful. It means getting used to leaving the state of awareness alone, divested of all distraction and clinging.

Now, how are we to get used to remaining in the nature of the mind? When thoughts come while you are meditating, let them come; there's no need to regard them as your enemies. When they arise, relax in their arising. On the other hand, if they don't arise, don't be nervously wondering whether they will. Just rest in their absence. If, during your meditation, big, well-defined thoughts suddenly appear, it is easy to recognize them. But when slight, subtle movements occur, it is hard to realize that they are there until much later. This is what we call namtok wogyu, the undercurrent of mental wandering. This is the thief of your meditation, so it is important for you to keep a close watch. If you can be constantly mindful, both in meditation and afterwards, when you are eating, sleeping, walking or sitting, then that's it; you've got it right!

The Great Master Guru Rinpoche has said:

    A hundred things may be explained, a thousand told,
    But one thing only should you grasp.
    Know one thing and everything is freed—
    Remain within your inner nature. Be aware!

It is also said that if you do not meditate, you will not gain certainty; if you do, you will. But what sort of certainty? If you meditate with a strong, joyful endeavor, signs will appear that show that you have got used to staying in your nature. That fierce, tight clinging that you have to phenomena, experienced dualistically, will gradually loosen up, and your obsession with happiness and suffering, hopes and fears, etc., will slowly weaken. Your devotion to the teacher and your sincere trust in his instructions will grow. After a time, your tense, dualistic attitudes will evaporate and you will get to the point where gold and pebbles, food and filth, gods and demons, virtue and non-virtue are all the same for you—you'll be at a loss to choose between paradise and hell! But in the meantime, until you reach that point (while you are still caught in the experiences of dualistic perception), virtue and non-virtue, buddhafields and hells, happiness and pain, actions and their results—all this is reality for you. As the Great Guru has said, "My view is higher than the sky, but my attention to actions and their results is finer than flour."

So it won't do to go around saying you're a Dzogchen meditator when all you are is a belching, farting lout!

It is essential for you to have a stable foundation of pure devotion and samaya, together with a strong, joyful endeavor that is well balanced, neither too tense nor too loose. If you are able to meditate, completely turning aside from the activities and concerns of this life, it is certain that you will gain the extraordinary qualities of the profound path of Dzogchen. Why wait for future lives? You can capture the primordial citadel right now, in the present.

This advice is the very blood of my heart. Hold it close and never let it go!

Magical Nectar: Advice for a Disciple

    Gracious Lord of all the Buddha Families,
    The nature and embodiment of every refuge,
    To you, the Lotus-Born, my jeweled crown, I bow in homage!

If I were to instruct others in the excellent way, who on earth would listen? For I am wholly without discrimination and cannot be a guide even for myself! Still, you see me with pure vision and you did ask. So rather than being a disappointment, I will say a few things as they come to mind.

All success, great and small, whether in spiritual or temporal affairs, derives from your stock of merit. So never neglect even the slightest positive deed. Just do it. In the same way, don't dismiss your little faults as unimportant; just restrain yourself! Make an effort to accumulate merit: make offerings and give in charity. Strive with a good heart to do everything that benefits others. Follow in the footsteps of the wise and examine finely everything you do. Do not be the slave of unexamined fashions. Be sparing with your words. Be thoughtful rather, and examine situations carefully. For the roots of discrimination must be nourished: the desire to do all that should be done and to abandon all that should be abandoned.

Do not criticize the wise or be sarcastic about them. Rid yourself completely of every feeling of jealous rivalry. Do not despise the ignorant, turning away from them with haughty arrogance. Give up your pride. Give up your self-importance. All this is essential. Understand that you owe your life to the kindness of your parents. Therefore do not grieve them but fulfill their wishes. Show courtesy and consideration to all who depend on you. Instill in them a sense of goodness and instruct them in the practice of virtue and the avoidance of evil. Be patient with their little shortcomings and restrain your bad temper, remembering that it only takes the tiniest thing to ruin a good situation.

Do not consort with narrow-minded people, nor place your trust in new and untried companions. Make friends with honest people who are intelligent and prudent and have a sense of propriety and courtesy. Don't keep company with bad people, who care nothing about karma, who lie and cheat and steal. Distance yourself, but do it skillfully. Do not rely on people who say sweet things to your face and do the reverse behind your back.

As for yourself, be constant amid the ebb and flow of happiness and suffering. Be friendly and even with others. Unguarded, intemperate chatter will put you in their power; excessive silence may leave them unclear as to what you mean. So keep a middle course: don't swagger with self-confidence, but don't be a doormat either. Don't run after gossip without examining the truth of it. People who know how to keep their mouths shut are rare. So don't chatter about your wishes and intentions; keep them to yourself. And whether you are speaking to an enemy, an acquaintance or a friend, never break a confidence.

Be welcoming with people, and smile and talk pleasantly. And keep to your position. Be respectful towards your superiors, even when things do not go well for them. Don't scorn them. At the same time, don't bow and scrape before the vulgar, even when they are proud and full of themselves.

Be skillful in not making promises that you know you cannot keep. By the same token, honor the promises you have made, and never dismiss them as unimportant. Do not be depressed by misfortune and the failure to get what you want. Instead be careful to see where your real profit and loss lie.

All such worldly conduct, adopted with proper discrimination, will result in this life's fortune and prosperity and, so it is said, a speedy passage to the divine realms.

If, however, you want to get out of samsara completely, here is some advice that should help you on your way to liberation.

If you have no contentment, you are poor no matter how much money you have. So decide that you have enough, and rid yourself of yearning and attachment. It's a rare person indeed who knows that wealth is passing and unstable and who can therefore practice perfect generosity. For even those who do practice it, generosity is often soiled by the three impurities and is wasted, like good food mixed with poison.

Apart from the beings agonizing in hell, there is no one in samsara who does not cherish life. Now, of the seven excellencies of the higher realms, longevity is a karmic effect similar to its cause. Therefore, if you want to live long protect the lives of others; concentrate on doing this!

Cultivate faith and devotion to the Three Jewels and to your teacher! Strive in the ten virtues and combine clear intelligence with extensive learning. And nurture a sense of personal integrity and propriety with regard to others. With these seven sublime riches you will always be happy!

To gain peace and happiness for oneself is the hinayana approach of the Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas. The altruism of bodhichitta is the path of beings of great potential. Therefore train yourself in the deeds of bodhisattvas, and do this on a grand scale! Shoulder the responsibility of freeing all beings from samsara. Of all the eighty-four thousand sections of the Buddha's teachings, there is nothing more profound than bodhichitta. Therefore make every effort on the path, uniting absolute and relative bodhichitta, which distills the essence of all the sutras and the tantras. The subduing of one's own mind is the root of dharma. When the mind is controlled, defilements naturally subside.

Do not allow yourself to become impervious and blasé with regard to the dharma; do not lead yourself astray. Let the profound dharma sink into your mind. Now that you have obtained this excellent life, so hard to find, now that you have the freedom to practice the teachings, don't waste your time. Strive to accomplish the supreme, unchanging goal. For life is passing, and there is no certainty about the time of death. Even if you are to die tomorrow, you should have confidence and be without regret.

Therefore, cultivate a real devotion for your root teacher, and love your vajra kindred, cultivating pure perception in their regard. Fortunate are those disciples who at all times keep their samaya and vows as dearly as their lives. They gain accomplishment quickly.

Ignorance, the five poisons, doubt and dualistic clinging are the roots of samsara, and the sufferings of the three realms. To this there is one antidote that removes or "liberates" everything in a single stroke. It is spontaneous wisdom, the primal wisdom of awareness. Be confident, therefore, in the generation stage: appearances, sounds and thoughts are but the primordial display of deity, mantra and primal wisdom. Then settle in the "subsequent" (anuyoga) path of the three specific perceptions, the perfection stage, the state of bliss and emptiness.

Take your stand on the ultimate practice of the Heart Essence—samsara and nirvana are the display of awareness. Without distraction, without meditation, in a state of natural relaxation, constantly remain in the pure, all-penetrating nakedness of ultimate reality.

Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) was supreme head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Charged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959 with leading the Nyingma sect in exile and ensuring the preservation of its ancient tradition, he was a Dzogchen teacher to many important lamas, including the Dalai Lama himself, and played a major role in the transmission of vajrayana Buddhism to the West. Few of his teachings have until now been available in English, so we are honored to present these two talks by Dudjom Rinpoche from Counsels from My Heart, available from Shambhala Publications. From Counsels from My Heart, by Dudjom Rinpoche, © 2001.

Counsels from My Heart, Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, January 2002.

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