A reply to a student’s request for advanced meditation instruction.
I sincerely wish for you to know Mahamudra. Perhaps I feel a greater sense of urgency about it than even you do yourself.
You may wonder why I teach meditation when I travel abroad, but not to you here in the retreat centre.
Well, truth be told, if I am going to teach the little dharma that I know to anyone, it will be to you lot who stay here, who have committed your life to the dharma. I feel that if I do my best to teach you, it’s possible that some of you may come to understand something. But for that to happen, I have to teach you properly. So what is it that I have to do? I need to make sure you have the necessary foundation, which is the dharma way of thinking, a practitioner’s mindset. You will not understand true meditation (i.e recognise the nature of mind) without it.
The dharma takes time. Our way of thinking needs to develop gradually. What I am trying to do is to guide you step by step, pointing out your flaws and issues so that you can come to see them for yourselves. Slowly you may start to be able to hear what is being said to you, and learn to think and look into these things for yourselves. As this happens your minds will become more easy-going and settled. Not all of you, but some of you may start turning your minds towards the dharma. So there is some hope that some of you here may be able to actually learn something.
It’s a very different approach from the one-week meditation courses I conduct when I travel. I hold little hope of being able to help the participants of these short retreats to know meditation or even to become practitioners. I know very well how even those who have studied Buddhism for years in the shedras struggle when it comes to meditation, so I am not so stupid to think that those who come for a one-week course will pick it up by listening to a few hours of teaching. That is just not how meditation is taught and learnt.
So contrary to what you may think, I do not really teach meditation when I travel abroad. It simply cannot be done. The most I can do is to help those who attend to see that what they previously thought was authentic meditation, is in fact not meditation. The best outcome of those short retreats is that some people may come to see that meditation is not easy, and not something that can be understood through explanations. Maybe some of them will be inspired to take the dharma more seriously or look for a new direction in their studies and practice. But even that is very difficult.
Another extremely important point is that without the necessary foundation, not only you will not understand meditation when it is taught, but there is also a great danger that you will come to lose your faith in the dharma. The result of having heard all the highest teachings but being unable to put them into practice is that one loses one’s love for the dharma. You would still think that you’re a Buddhist, you might even be wearing robes, teaching others meditation and have many students, but the truth is that you would not even be a Buddhist yourself anymore, since you would have lost your faith and motivation to practise the dharma. What is worst, you would not even be conscious to the fact that this has happened. Buddhist circles are full of people like this.
By working step by step through the preliminary practices in a thorough manner, your faith in the dharma will remain intact. You will gradually develop a practitioner’s way of thinking. And if you become a practitioner in terms of your way of thinking, everything will be good from thereon! That itself is a great result! Even if you don’t come to know meditation when you receive the instructions in the future, you will be able to persist in the practice of them and the dharma will remain precious for you and you will continue on the path no matter what happens.
I have told you many times that if I were given the choice of having the mindset as taught in the preliminaries or the actual practice (recognition of the nature of mind), without any hesitation I would choose the mindset of the preliminaries, the four thoughts that turn the mind towards the dharma.
The reason for this is that once you have the mindset of the preliminaries, it is only a matter of time before you recognise the nature of mind, and once you gain that recognition you will be able to persist in cultivating it until it becomes full realisation. But without the preliminaries and the drive that comes from seeing the suffering of cyclic existence etc., you could still recognise the nature of mind to some degree but you will find it very difficult to persist in cultivating that recognition and bring your practice to completion.
Note: Thrangu Sekhar Retreat Centre is the main retreat for the Thrangu Monastery lamas selected to undertake the traditional three-year three-fortnight retreat. Alongside this, Drupon Khen Rinpoche has introduced a retreat programme for international students. There are around 60 international students who have committed to long retreats of 6 years and longer, and some have even committed to life-retreat. To date, many of these retreatants have been in retreat for 7 or 8 years, but Rinpoche has taught very few international students the actual practice of Mahamudra and Dzogchen so far. The focus of the teachings and practice has been the preliminary and mind training practices.