Water, if you don’t stir it, becomes clear, says a Tibetan proverb. Similarly, the mind, if you don’t stir it, finds peace, says Sogyal Rinpoche, the renowned Buddhist teacher, to Ajay Ahuja
[Ajay Ahuja interviews as well as attends a talk by the renowned Buddhist Teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche. He is the chief of Rigpa, an international organisation devoted to imparting Buddhist teachings. He is also the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, an extraordinary work of spiritual significance. Rinpoche extensively travels across the world, having begun teaching in the West in 1974.]
‘”What is the mind?”
“Something that knows,” replies Rinpoche, adding, “But unfortunately we misuse it for grasping. Its goal is to let go of grasping, and realise its pure nature.”
[Rinpoche adds that if we leave the mind in its true, natural state, it’ll find peace or bliss.]
When in the presence of the masters and the teaching, the mind is quiet, but when one is alone, the mind is back to its clamorous and neurotic activity. So we need practices, like watching the breath. As the mind settles, gradually all fragmented aspects of the mind become whole, all inner conflict ceases, the ego and grasping dissolve, hope and fear dissolve. In that space, you discover your true nature and peace. But the problem is, it doesn’t last. So keep having these little glimpses. And in that practice there is a letting go, like losing the cloud but gaining the sky.
Excerpts from an interview:
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying talks about the importance of learning about death while still alive. Can we go into this?
“Learn to die and thou shall learn how to live. There shall none learn how to live that has not learnt to die.’ These words from The Tibetan Book of the Dead often come to mind when one seeks to understand death and its relationship to life. The extraordinary thing is that death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected. We are afraid to face ourselves. Coming to terms with death is coming to face with the truth of ourselves. So death really is a moment of truth.
What comes to your mind when you die are two things: how you’ve lived, and the state of your mind. One reason why people are afraid of death is because they’re afraid of how they’ve lived. It’s connected with karma. When you start remembering death, you know, it inspires people to live a good life. Research has shown that people also die as they have lived. The Dalai Lama says if you want to die a peaceful death, you have to live a peaceful life. So death really brings life into focus. Death, now, is no longer seen in a morbid sense, but is the greatest teacher. We’re sure we’re all going to die one day, but we’re not sure how or when; death could happen any moment. That’s how fragile, how precious this life is. Realising this, I must sort out my priorities. Death reminds us that everything is impermanent, transitory, it makes us realise that it is futile to grasp. And in the letting go there is compassion. Sometimes, we think letting go is losing; it’s not so. Letting go is actually having, in life itself. For example, relationships, especially today, where the more you grasp, the more you don’t have. It’s when you are open, respectful to the other person, that your relationship also grows. The whole idea is that you begin to appreciate the transitory, the impermanent, and then actually appreciate life better. It’s the grasping that blocks all possibilities. So death teaches us to sort out our priorities, and its lesson of impermanence teaches us the futility of grasping.
You said, “The mind is the cause of samsara, of happiness and suffering.” Can you explain the concept of samsara?
Basically, it means the cyclical nature (of birth and death, illusion) – you go round in circles – and it’s because of ignorance, because we do not recognise our true nature. Our fundamental nature is buddha (awakened) but that’s been obscured. Ignorance brings negative emotions; instigated by them we act negatively, creating suffering. We want happiness but we do not do what causes happiness, which are wholesome actions. So, the aim and actions are not together. And because of delusion we are in this kind of a repetitive cycle – we’ve lost our true nature.
You said that in an advanced state of meditation, the sense of separateness falls away. How?
I think that happens even at the initial stages, but in moments. Actually when you reach a higher level then you become in union, in yoga – like in Hinduism, one with God. Put simply, when you really practise meditation, suddenly the ego, the grasping is dissolved – the sense of holding onto yourself merges with the greater universe, you also feel one with others, and feel open. When you’re open you suddenly begin to realise others and their point of view, that they want happiness just as you do. It is appreciation and cherishing of the other, replacing the self-cherishing, and the holding onto the self dissolves – temporarily!
According to Buddhist philosophy, what is the final goal of life?
Enlightenment or the eradication of ignorance, which is not knowing or recognising one’s true nature. The only way to bring about ultimate happiness is the eradication of ignorance, negative emotions and negative karma. Once you remove the cause of suffering, you’re awakened; once you remove the clouds, the sky is clear and the sun shines.
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