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Interview Of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche

Question: Can you please give some general advice on meditation. When people start to meditate, what kind of obstacles they tend to have in the west and elsewhere? From the Buddhist point of view what kind of approach one should have to meditation?

Ringu Tulku: Generally I think the most important thing for those who begin to meditate is to make friends with meditation, not to take it too much like a job, like an objective to be. You should be serious enough to do it but not too serious, so that it doesn't become like a burden. That is the first, most important thing to do. Take it joyfully, lightly, take it as a break and not as a job. Break from the business of the mind that is going on all day and night. Relaxing kind of attitude I think is the most important thing. And this goes for both beginners as well as quite advanced practitioners, one needs to know how to relax, [meditate] in relaxing way, joyfully.

Q: In Buddhism there is bodhicitta and all the aspirations linked with it but what is the difference between stress management and Buddhist meditation in this busy world where we are?

RT: I think meditation can very well be stress management also. I don't think it excludes getting rid of stress. Stress is not good for you, it is not useful and therefore it is part of the problem we need to solve. If you can use meditation to lighten the stress I think it's a very good thing. Of course meditation is not only stress management, it has very high objective as well, but to start with you can use it to learn how to relax and how to be more balanced in your emotions and attitudes, towards your daily life, towards your thoughts and reactions. Try balance it being little bit mindful and also little bit joyful and little bit relaxed. Train in it. The main thing is to learn the attitude, experience it and then: do it again and again. Train yourself to be still. That is maintaining the meditation, to train yourself to be in that state. And then use it in your daily life as much as possible. Also not to be too anxious, not to feel guilty when you can't do it; take it more patiently, and don't expect to be totally free from all problems so soon. Even if we are not able to apply the whole thing immediately, it's okay.

Q: What kind of advice would you give for post-meditation?

RT: First of all we need to understand that we do meditation and this kind of trainings in order to use it in our life. Then we should take the meditation as a training. Then we can use those techniques and methods in our life - you can say post-meditation stage, when we are dealing with our life with our usual situations. That is the objective. But when we do meditation we are creating environment for ourselves, make it calm, nice and distraction-free. It's kind of created circumstances and we try to do it in that situation first, it's easier. And then, whatever we learn from that experience, we try to implement it in our daily life, which is not easy. Therefore a little bit of mindfulness - we could try to implement that in our life is I think very important.

But it's also very important not to expect too much too soon, because it's not that after few hours of meditations you are able to use all its fruition in your life. It's not like that. Have some patience, go slowly, and be happy if you can apply the results sometimes little bit. Congratulate yourself, but if you can't apply, no need to be unhappy thinking "I have been meditating now for so many months or years but I am not able to get any results." To not expect too much too soon, that attitude is important, I think. And sometimes you don't even know how much you are applying, because how you apply, how our mind happens [to be], what kind of reaction there is, we do not always know. It's not necessary to judge too much ourselves. If we judge too much or too often we only become judgemental. So try to apply a little bit but do not become overly anxious, then it becomes a stressful thing again and that is not really necessary.

Q: We talk about transforming emotions, kleshas or negativities into something positive, positive emotions. Can you say something about it, from a beginner's point of view, what to do when we discover negativities. How do we transform kleshas or ignorance into wisdom?

RT: That is the ultimate goal, to be able to transform your thoughts and emotions into wisdom. But I don't think it's possible right from the beginning. I think at least at my level the first goal is to use a method or a way so, that our mind is not totally overpowered by emotions. Strong emotion or reaction is happening - if in that very moment I am aware, I can let that emotion go and let something else come in. That training is the first most important thing to do, because that will slowly lead to transforming the emotions. The main thing about transforming is to let it go. If an emotional reaction is happening and if that doesn't overpower you, you are in a way actually transforming it. So I think the first training is to learn that a particular strong reaction or emotion is something that I can let go. It is not necessary that it controls me.

Q: Emotions also have a lot of energy. If you can channel it…

RT: Yes. You can train yourself in that. That particular emotion or reaction, relax in that. It's enough. You become like a driver. It doesn't have to go and hit wherever the emotion is taking you but you can manoeuvre it and turn it around. That is the first step, very important step. Then you don't become too much a slave of your emotions and reactions, afraid of that. If you become a slave of your emotions there is no way to transform them, but if you know they are not that serious, not that strong, you may not be able to get rid of them totally but you can turn around and manoeuvre it, that's the first stage. Then you become more in control. That control doesn't mean that you have to kind of fight with it but you can channel it in a way. Other things can come up, that's important.

Q: You have mentioned that we should not become obsessive about our progress, but what about the aspects of practice like generosity and wisdom which we should nourish in ourselves when we are in certain level of the practice, doing things dualistically. How should we see doing something in a realised way, it is a holistic process where some things nourish each other. What would you emphasize in this and in accumulating merit? What is merit's relationship to wisdom?

RT: Understanding becomes very important, I think. The main question is that I want good things and wellbeing for myself for now and long term and I want that for other people also. In order to do that one needs to study and find out which things one must take care of; which are the causes of problems and suffering and which are the causes for more happiness and positive things. Then the more clearly I see this the more enthusiastically, more interestedly I become to work on those things. Clearly understanding, not just intellectually but deeply understanding, this is I think important. That's the mainly the teachings of Dharma, that is the view, that is the whole need for doing positive things and refrain from negativity, it's all about that. The more one understands that, the more one becomes… it is true one needs to motivate oneself again and again to refine oneself because once one has understood: this is good to do and this is not enough, then we go again in our habitual ways. So to try to remind ourselves is the way to refresh our energy, our sense of direction.

Q: We have the word guiltiness, not so much in Buddhism, but the feeling of not being able to do enough. How should one tackle with that kind of feeling?

RT: I think guilt has some good and some bad sides. Good side is that you become more conscious, you feel bad if you are not doing the right thing properly, if something is bad you don't like it and you want to do something about that. That is the good side. The bad side is you blame too much yourself and then become more unhappy and upset. You hold on to an identity of being bad. That side of guilt is not really nice. I think the middle path is good. If you know you are not doing enough or that what is happening is not the best, then you try to improve but do not become too unhappy if things are not perfect, because this is also part of the understanding I think, things cannot be totally perfect immediately. Although for everything from Buddhist point of view there is a chance, a possibility, a potential for everybody to be perfect, it does not necessarily happen very soon or too easily. There are many things to improve and work on and it needs time and effort. Many things has to happen, one needs to get rid of all the obstacles, problems and habitual tendencies; to get rid of the kind of negative accumulations so far is not necessarily easy. Therefore one has to try to see it little bit more philosophically and be able to accept things as they are. It does not mean that you can't change it at all but what is what, that attitude.

Q: How should people see the guru - disciple relationship? I suppose there has been quite a lot of confusion in this due to the fact we are not used to having gurus in the west and we are suspicious. On a general level, what is a guru-disciple relationship?

RT: Generally it is a teaching and learning process. From Buddhist point of view I think the main attitude towards the guru by the disciple is like a doctor and a patient relationship. The guru is taken as the doctor, therefore we try to find a guru who knows about the problems, how to solve them. Therefore the guru is regarded as a doctor and the gurus instructions, his teachings are like the medicine. And then, now you have the medicine but you have to take the medicine and do as the doctor says. So it's up to you, it's not up to the guru whether you are cured or not cured. The guru is taken as something important from whom you can receive instructions, teachings, advice and things like that but it's not only in the guru's hands, it's yourself, and not every disease is cured just like that. That's the attitude. A good guru is important just as a good doctor is important. If you don't have a good doctor, you can get worse.

Q: It is said in the teachings and the Dalai Lama has also said one should take one's time to check the guru and the guru can also check the disciple. Many high level teachers including you, you have had many gurus and teachers, I don't know if the karma determines or influences the teachers we meet or wish to meet. How does this guru - disciple relationship function in our society function, is it functioning well and what should the disciples remember apart from being serious?

RT: A guru is a teacher in Indian society, guru means teacher in Sanskrit. The student - teacher relationship is to learn. The main difference is that in India gurus were very highly respected. They were not regarded just as somebody who has the knowledge that you can learn and then finished. They were regarded as somebody who also had lots of experience and transformation. A guru is nothing more and nothing less than a teacher but the difference is how you take your teacher. In modern society sometimes you don't take your teacher respectfully, you just learn what he knows and then finished. He becomes your former teacher. Buddhist tradition is not like that, because what you have learned from the teacher, you take your teacher as somebody who gave you this knowledge. You kind of feel gratitude; there is the difference in the attitude towards the teacher. It's the main difference of the culture.

Q: What about the devotional side? The word devotion is a little bit difficult.

RT: This comes to the same thing. It depends what kind of teacher you have. Some teachers teach you the subject and that's all. Some teachers not only teach you the subject but will influence you. That happens all the time. That becomes like not only somebody who gives you information but your example. Somebody to look up to, somebody you like to become like. That is the main guru. Guru is not something that you have to learn only the techniques etc. This person inspires you and becomes an example; that is more what a guru is. That is where the devotion also comes.

In Tibetan Buddhism we have three stages of devotion. First is inspiration: this is what you admire, you are inspired by that person, by that view, the attitude, the way of doing things. You admire it and become inspired by it. That is the first kind of devotion. The second kind of devotion is that you are so inspired that you really want to become like that, you take teachings and resolve: this is what I want to become, this is what I want to generate. That is another level of devotion. The third level of devotion is trust. You become so inspired that you go to the teachings. That is why the teachings, the way of life and the whole system are very important. Then you have understood it deeply it in such a way deeply that you have no doubt that this is the way of looking at things. Because of your experience and understanding you have full trust. Then you have the confidence in yourself, in your way of seeing things. You might have been inspired by your teacher, but really strong unchangeable confidence, that's very much the real devotion. And that comes out of understanding. Not only intellectual understanding, but also a kind of experiential understanding.

In a spiritual way devotion is said to be very important but it is also very high level, to get that kind of devotion is not easy. If you have that kind of devotion you already are quite advanced. Therefore it's not something that devotion happens just like that. It has to be developed and cultivated and of course if you have a very good teacher, a very good example, that brings you inspiration, therefore it helps. But it is not that you have the devotion like that at first sight, maybe possible sometimes but not necessarily everybody.

Q: Does it actually mean that somehow there is actually no more difference between the guru and the disciple, that the primordial wisdom, the realisation of the sameness of it, and in a way the guru represents the pure form, that it is this that we are discovering?

RT: That is very high stage and experience and understanding, if you can see so. For instance the guru teaches you something about your own nature of mind and then if you experience that, then you have become one with the guru because what the guru said or showed you experienced, too. That's what we call non-duality. It's not that you and the guru become one person but both of your level of understanding is similar, undifferentiated. And the guru there means the ultimate guru, which is the way things are, the absolute nature of things. That is explained as attaining the guru. It means that you understand the whole thing, what you are, how things are. It's given the name 'guru' but it's not the guru person.

Q: How important role does the blessing have? The Tibetans are really into blessings but we need to ask some questions sometimes because we just don't know. What is its role and how important is it to have a blessing?

RT: I think to start with blessing is like an influence. Everything around you has an influence on you. Therefore, if you become open to a holy or good person, you are influenced by that attitude or way of thinking and so you become little bit like that. I think that is a blessing. Sometimes when you see a holy person it is said you are blessed by that, or you go to holy place, you are impregnated by that energy and you get blessed, or you read a book, a sacred text and you are blessed because you transform. You are influenced, therefore you transform. It's more from your side, more receiving the blessing, but the situation also has an advantage, therefore you can receive. If the person is ready, he or she can be influenced more, then you have more blessing, there is more to give in a way.

Q: About the practices people are doing, would you in general terms advice to do one thing at one go, because it can be a problem sometimes that there are so many practises one should do and we can have a kind of consumer's attitude concerning sadhanas. How to approach that question?

RT: I usually say that there are many different methods and practices, lots of similar but different sadhanas. Whatever you understand most is the best practice for you. It doesn't mean that you can never change it, but that is what is going to be most useful for you, because if you understand it, you know how it would work for you and you can see clearly the relationship how it might help you. If you can see this connection, the more you will do the practice because you understand it. The more you do it, the more benefit you will get from it. So it's very important that you understand the practice. Which practice, doesn't really matter. And I don't think it is necessary to refrain from getting other teachings. I think it is just that whatever teaching you receive, because different teachings and different teachers have certain specialities, areas or topics, which are not very clearly put elsewhere, so you understand it with a certain teacher. I think one has to use different teachings and different teachers as means to go deeper in your own practice. You don't need to change your practice all the time, thinking "Now I have practised this, what is next?" You have your practice and then, how to go deeper into it? How to make it more experiential, more clear, understand it better and deeper, to unfold it, that what the whole thing is about.

Q: Do you have something to say to Finnish practitioners?

RT: I have not been to Finland yet so I don't think I have much to say. When I go there, then I'll see. I find that in different places, even inside one country in different regions I can feel some differences. I cannot always say exactly what the difference is but I can feel something different. So that must be like that in Finland as well but it's too early to say!

Q: Thank you very much on behalf of everybody.

Interview by Anne Ahonen in New Delhi 24. Feb 2004