HELD AT KAMALASHILA TIBETAN BUDDHIST CENTRE 29 October – 6 November 2021
Excerpts from the teachings
Khenpo la gave teachings on the precious text, the “Stages of Meditation”, by the great Master Kamalashila after whom our centre at Tilba Tilba is named.
As with all great Masters, Kamalashila demonstrated his genuine humility in paying homage to Manjushri at the beginning of his treatise. Kamalashila taught that nothing arises without its own causes and conditions. If one wishes to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, one must completely cleanse one’s mind. We cleanse our mind through the combination of three causes: Great Compassion, Bodhicitta and Method with the latter being the practice of the Six Perfections.
Kamalashila teaches that we should start with equanimity towards all sentient beings as it is the foundation for practising compassion and loving-kindness. The reason we lack equanimity is because we are attached to the people we like and hold aversion to those we don’t like. We like some places and don’t like other places. Khenpo la led the retreatants in meditation on equanimity including during our walking meditation session and then sitting looking out over Mount Gulaga.
In the afternoon teaching, Khenpo la spoke of the next stage of meditation being the practice of Loving-Kindness leading to three levels of happiness: ordinary happiness when the mind remains in the dualistic state; uncontaminated happiness which arises from a non-dualistic mind and the practice of ethical life, meditation, and wisdom; and Supreme Happiness which occurs when one attains Buddhahood. Khenpo la led meditations on how to cultivate loving-kindness, starting with our mother who gave over her body that we might be born and grow, who was our first teacher, and who sacrificed so much for our welfare.
We held small group discussions on equanimity and loving-kindness and Khenpo la kindly and generously answered questions from both the gompa and our Zoom sangha who were located around Australia including Sydney, Broome, Melbourne and Hobart. In the evening, we thanked Ani la for her wonderful cooking over the first days of the retreat.
In the following days Khenpo la recapped that we should start our meditation with equanimity, then move to loving-kindness and then compassion as taught by Kamalashila.
There is no compassion unless you understand real suffering. From the Buddhist perspective, there are three types of suffering: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and the suffering of pervasive phenomena. We all know the suffering of suffering be it physical or mental, but this also extends to the realms of the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animal realms as well as humans. The suffering of change arises when we cling to things that we mistakenly think are permanent. The suffering of pervasive phenomena arises when we mistakenly think phenomena are existent.
The root cause of suffering is the self-grasping mind – the discriminatory mind that distinguishes between “I” and “you”. In the western world, and in much of science and psychology, we mistakenly ascribe as causes things that are in fact conditions only, and so we fail to understand the root cause of suffering.
The remedy for suffering is compassion. From the Mahayana point of view, we can see how it is possible to cleanse the self-grasping mind so that it becomes completely cleansed, which is the state of Buddhahood. The Buddha comes from the Bodhisattva. To be a Bodhisattva one must have the Great Compassion which is limitless and extends to all sentient beings without discrimination. With this, the Bodhisattva practises Bodhicitta, wishing to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings and then realise the emptiness of all phenomena.
Chandrakirti taught that compassion is so important in the beginning as the seed, in the middle as the moisture that causes the seed to germinate and in the end when the fruit results.
Khenpo la then advised us to start small with our meditation and grow over time. We need to understand that suffering and compassion are both mind – two sides of the same coin, and so we must learn how to switch from one side to the other. Khenpo la encouraged us to appreciate that our mind is so powerful, and this should be a source of hope to every one of us – it is not possible to measure the size of our mind and there is no problem we cannot solve or issue that cannot be resolved. That said, we should start by meditating compassion on one person and extend that over time to all sentient beings. If we can live with the bad habit of mind in the past, why not live with the good habit of mind in the future? Once something becomes a habit it is so much easier to maintain.
Khenpo answered many questions from students throughout the day including from Zoom sangha. We also did a walking meditation and silent meditation looking up to Mount Gulaga. Zara provided a beautiful gourmet lunch and dinner. A good day, this first day of November.
Another wonderful day at Kamalashila and for those at home attending via online, with Khenpo la and sangha. Khenpo la completed teachings on the “Stages of Meditation” by Kamalashila and then continued teaching in depth on Shamatha meditation. Today’s main topic was the nine stages to progress our meditation. Khenpo la emphasised the need for us to understand the importance of meditation. He said, “Mind is like a precious antique, we need to recognise this. The most valuable thing we have is our mind, everything else is temporary, it will go. But our mind comes with us, life after life. The best way to protect our mind is through meditation to keep it in the right condition.”
The Annual Shamatha Retreat at Kamalashila Tibetan Buddhist Centre concluded on day eight, following morning meditation. Khenpo la summarised the eight days of teachings he had given on Kamalashila’s “Stages of Meditation”, and Shamatha meditation. Everyone present, both in person and on Zoom, felt most fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear these most precious and clear teachings. How rare it is to find such a teacher as Khenpo la. Thank you Khenpo la for every word of the Dharma you shared with us, and to all those who attended, contributing to making this such a really special retreat.
Reflections from the sangha
It was such a wonderful joy to spend this time together at this retreat. I feel so fortunate to be able to join online. The teachings were heartfelt, and I especially loved the teachings on equanimity. I felt very held and supported by the group, especially the online Zoom sangha. My dear online Zoom sangha, thank you for your group presence and beautifully smiling faces.
Khenpo la, I feel like you have given me a precious jewel or a special key which I can use to unlock other treasures. Thank you for holding the dharma and for being our teacher. Please always continue to teach and guide us. Lan
Shamatha retreat was a wonderful experience! Khenpo la’s teachings are invaluable, and his patience to clearly deliver the Dharma at all levels, are lifetime’s lessons. The teachings on Great Compassion, Loving-Kindness and the importance of Meditating on equality, through equanimity – were extraordinary. Thank you for who you are in the world Khenpo la, please live long. Tracey
Khenpo Ngawang Dhamchoe will do anything to help us. If that means using Zoom during these pandemic times, then so be it. Even for a retreat. That is how I came to attend this year’s Peaceful Abiding / Shamatha Meditation retreat all the way from Hobart: through Khenpo’s kindness. On Zoom for the second time.
Lucky! What an understatement. When I sat in front of my computer screen each day it felt as if Lord Buddha had arrived at my front doorstep and had come inside. I think all we ‘zoomies’ felt just like that: blessed to be able to take part. And Tjenka. Let’s not forget Tjenka who worked tirelessly to give the zoomies the best possible experience and make us feel as if we were practically there with everyone in the gompa. As well as Franky and Jack who also pitched in. Students really do become just like their teacher – just as it is said.
Being on Zoom during retreat is a teaching in itself: a teaching on the interdependence of everyone who made it possible; on the value of sangha who help and support each other; on the miraculous opportunity to receive the dharma – every word feels precious. We were sharply reminded of this when a momentary sound issue came up. Zoom is even a teaching on the fact that everything is mind. I mightn’t be able to travel though time and space to arrive at the feet of my teacher with the power of my mind, but we zoomies at least had the karma to make connections that transcend physical boundaries thanks to the internet.
It was such good timing for me to be personally bathed by Khenpo’s teachings. Two days before the retreat started, I received the news that my cancer has returned and spread. I was outraged that my new doctors had missed the signs. From day one of the retreat, under Khenpo’s guidance I could face those negative feelings. Dissolve them through Khenpo’s guidance over the coming days – Equanimity, Loving-Kindness, Compassion and Bodhicitta, even towards the people who most disturb our mind. Being ‘smart selfish’, I guess.
My take home from this year’s retreat is quite simple and helps me even now that the retreat has finished. The Buddha is the one true doctor, the Dharma is the one true medicine, and the sangha are our true friends who are there to genuinely help us in the only way that counts. Everything is impermanent, let’s not waste time. Emilia
Since writing the above, Emilia has now been tested cancer-free.
HELD AT KAMALASHILA TIBETAN BUDDHIST CENTRE 19 OCTOBER 2021
On the very auspicious day of the anniversary of five Great Sakya Masters, Khenpo la continued his teachings on Patience as detailed in Chapter 6 of “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by the great Indian saint Shantideva.
Khenpo opened the teaching by paying respect to our Most Precious Root Guru His Eminence Luding Khenchen Rinpoche on the occasion of His Eminence’s 91st birthday which also marked the anniversary of four other Great Sakya Masters: Khon Khonchok Gyalpo who established the first Sakya Monastery in Tibet; his son Sachen Kunga Nyingpo who is the emanation of the Buddha of Compassion; the Great Bari Lotsawa who bestowed the Precious Lam Dre that has been passed down to His Eminence; and the 17th century Master Gonpo Sonam Chokden.
Khenpo said that if today one was curious to see the Buddha, the closest person you would want to see is His Eminence who is the 75th throne holder of Ngorpa sub-sect of the Sakya lineage. His Eminence has hundreds of monasteries under his guidance, and he has ordained thousands of monks and nuns in Tibet and India and in Western countries. His Eminence is the greatest example of the kind of person who flawlessly holds the three vows of the Vinaya, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
Khenpo reminded us that the best gift we can give to the Guru is to be fully engaged in our practice of the Dharma and so focusing intently on the teachings is a wonderful gift to the teacher. Khenpo also noted that on this auspicious day we had also announced the launch of the Autumn Buddhist Philosophy Course. Students were encouraged to share details of this course with people they think might be interested in attending.
Khenpo then reiterated that there is no person out there who has the power to harm you. The conditions or circumstances may arise, but they are not the cause. Furthermore, because of the interdependence of all things there is no person that harms and there is no person that is harmed and there is no harm that exists. When we reflect and investigate the situation, we realise the emptiness of things.
So, whenever a difficulty arises, think no one has independently created this situation but it arises purely due to conditions. Awareness of this is patience as you realise there is nothing to be upset about. When discomfort arises, view this as the opportunity to see the truth of emptiness and implement your practice.
Don’t be upset by those who harm you. Instead view that person as the object of your compassion. A person with wrong view is not intentionally wishing to harm themselves but does so. Some say you should harm the body because it brings so much desire and that the more you hurt it the more you liberate the mind. As Khenpo Appey Rinpoche noted, this is wrong view and while you might harm the body and subdue the desire mind in the short term, ultimately it leads to anger and greater suffering. Similarly, we are so materialistic and expend so much effort to get things that we desire and when we fail to get them, we become very angry, and this leads to much greater suffering.
The great majority of ordinary sentient beings are controlled by the affliction mind. And once you know what it’s like to be in a miserable situation you understand why some people do negative things towards you. When you appreciate where they are coming from, then you are creating room to develop compassion towards them. But if you don’t see things this way, then you won’t open your heart of compassion towards them.
Patience is like a form of wisdom. The person trying to harm you is a person worthy of compassion. They are hurting themselves and you need to help them stop. Don’t increase their anger. And as you develop compassion towards them you come to appreciate how much benefit flows your way. Once compassion is born within you it frees us of so many sufferings. As a Mahayana practitioner, when someone seeks to harm us, we should view this an as opportunity to develop greater compassion and so there is no reason to be angry with the other person, to the contrary we should be grateful. In fact, we should be angry towards the anger mind that hurts you. We should never do anything to increase anger in others or ourselves and if we can’t free ourselves of the anger, we should at least try to minimise it.
The most powerful weapon to free the anger mind is the combination of loving kindness, compassion and Bodhicitta. When someone seeks to harm you, this is the perfect opportunity to practice loving kindness, compassion and Bodhicitta. See the opportunity presented to you. Contemplate what will come your way based on whether you respond with anger or compassion. Once you are aware and then you respond with loving kindness, this is actualising the Dharma. And the greater the harm directed your way, the more fertiliser it produces to develop your compassion.
Another way to deal with the situation is to reflect that when someone harms you whatever misery you encounter view this as the ripening of my past karma. This is not easy to do but it helps shift the focus to karma. As the Sutra stated, whenever you commit negative karma if you don’t do anything about it, it won’t burn out even a hundred aeons later. So, when it ripens on you through someone trying to harm you, see it as helping to cleanse past negative karma.
And when you find yourself in a miserable state reflect on how many more people out there feel they are victims and pray may all their sufferings ripen onto me. Shantideva taught us that the fastest way to achieve enlightenment is exchanging self and other and so the person who seeks to harm us is actually providing us with a wonderful opportunity.
When we lack the wisdom mind, then we grasp self and that in turn is the source of all the harm that comes our way – the bigger sense of self, the bigger the suffering. There is no one out there who really cause you suffering only the self-grasping mind does this. And the only time you won’t suffer is when you have freed the self-grasping mind, and this is the point of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana practices.
Note that while no single being desires suffering, we spend all our time rushing after the cause of suffering. From morning to night, we are caught up in useless busy activities, most of the time our actions are one of the ten non-virtuous deeds. We need to recognise that most suffering we experience derives from non-virtuous attachment to the body. Others we encounter are mere condition. Once you know this cause of suffering – and that it doesn’t derive from others, then we don’t have any room to be angry towards others.
Sometimes we feel like we are living in the hell realms. Yet in this same place the Bodhisattva’s reside. They don’t seek, like us, to run away rather they seed the difficult circumstances as an opportunity to increase their compassion and bring others into the path and for those already on the path to increase their progress.
Without sentient beings there will be no Dharma and so the problem is not sentient beings but rather my own negative mind. We need to see the truth of the situation and set about transforming this negative mind with a view to benefiting all sentient beings.
At the conclusion of the teaching, and on behalf of all the students, Khenpo la kindly offered a khata to the shrine displaying the image of our precious Root Guru His Eminence Luding Khenchen Rinpoche. Khenpo then led us all in reciting the long-life prayer for His Eminence before dedicating the merits of receiving these precious teachings on this auspicious day. His Eminence is an extraordinary inspiration and light of hope for us, being one of the great living Buddhist Masters in this world.
Any mistakes contained in the notes above are solely the fault of the author.
AT KAMALASHILA TIBETAN BUDDHIST CENTRE 17 OCTOBER 2021
Kamalashila officially reopened after lockdown as restrictions eased on 17 October 2021. Khenpo la lead meditation this Sunday for keen attendees in person and online. It was a beautiful spring day at the centre, with many birds chirping and flowers newly blossomed in the gardens after recent storms and rain. Khenpo la lead us in a very inspiring guided meditation. It was wonderful to see Khenpo la again and sit in the gompa with our fellow sangha members in person and virtually.