Interview with Samdhong Rinpoche, 2001
Samdhong Rinpoche gave this interview in 2001 in Australia.
Question: Samdhong Rinpoche, why (to) meditate?
Samdhong Rinpoche: "Why to meditate?" – This is a very good question. And today a lot of people have not paying attention before they start meditation. Even the meditators themselves do not know why they meditate. The intention for meditation is much more important, than the techniques of meditation. If you ask me a direct question: "Why do you meditate?", then my counter question would be "Why you eat your food, why you drink water?" Your ready-made reply to that would be "I have to survive, my body have to be sustained – that for I have to eat food, drink water, otherwise my body may not be able to sustain". Then I would say I shall have to meditate because my mind and my consciousness have to be sustained, and they also need a kind of food.
The consciousness is the only thing which can evolve, which can grow, which can develop unlimitedly. No other thing can develop unlimitedly. Our body has a limitation – it will grow, it will become mature, it will decay, and then it will become old and then it disintegrates. And all our worldly positions, material things – they have the limitation of their development and growth. But only the mind, only the consciousness, it can go up to the stage of perfection, up to the stage of Buddhahood, up to the stage of omniscient and knowing, perceiving every knowable thing. So, up to that level we can develop. And if that potential of development is there, then why not we develop it? Why not we just try to improve it day by day? Why we should let the mind alone, remain unattended, uncared-for?
The person is embodiment of physical body, speech and mind – these are the three components of the individual. And the body has limitations, the speech has limitations, but the mind knows no limitations, no bond. But individuals only care for body, and a little bit for voice or speech, and they do not care at all for the take care of the mind, for the development of the mind, for the protection of the mind. And it let remain wherever it goes, so that why the individuals remain within the bondage, they cannot protect their physical body, and they have to go from one birth to another birth – if you believe in rebirth. If you don't believe in rebirth – you ends up when your body is disintegrated. If you are able to develop the mind at the fullest extent, then even if you do not believe in rebirth after the death, you can go after the death with full confidence and with full freedom. So this is the only reason why we meditate. Except meditation there is no way to take care of mind.
Then, these days, there are many meditators, who are not aimed for the ultimate liberation of mind, but they aimed for physical wellbeing, free from stress and worry, to develop the capability of intelligence and mental work, to increase the efficiency of their professions. These are not a very good intention for meditation, but these are OK. And there are many, may be not many, there are certain meditators, who are longing for a kind of power, psychic power, a power of worldly positions. And by this kind of intention, if anyone meditates, then their meditation would be not a true meditation, it's just a play with mind. So I think there is enough answer to your question, why to meditate.
Question: Is it fundamental to be vegetarian to practice meditation?
Samdhong Rinpoche: I would not say it is absolutely necessary, but it would be a hundred times better for a meditator, if he or she could become vegetarian. That would be definitely better, but I won't say the non-vegetarians should not meditate. Even non-vegetarians should meditate and, perhaps, through meditation one might become vegetarian, and other way round. So, I will not absolutely discard non-vegetarian people from meditation. But if there is a choice, there is a freedom for a meditator to become a vegetarian – then the person must become vegetarian, it would be a much better for the meditation.
Question: Rinpoche, what advice (you) can give us for controlling the "monkey mind"?
Samdhong Rinpoche: I don't have any ready-made advice, which could tie down the "monkey mind" immediately. All the meditator's guidance is that "be patient and continue the practice", do it over and over again, if your mind is not able to concentrate, don't get discouraged immediately. After days, after weeks, and after months, and after years, you must continue, continue the practice, and then slowly it will progress. I don't endeavour any shortcut. Of course, the choice of object, the choice of bodily posture, and the light or darkness of the room, and to keep away from pollution of sound, noise pollutions are avoided. These are a few things which we can do externally. Apart from that you have to practice over and over again. And the "monkey mind" will become dispelled gradually, and concentration will gain definitely.
Question: If we have negative emotion, very poisonous emotion – how to work with it in that moment, how to rid oneself of it?
Samdhong Rinpoche: The Buddhist advice is that once you have very strong negative emotions, it is better to stop your physical action as well as your vocal expressions, and wait for some time to subside emotions. When emotions are so strong, and you are not matured in meditation, or stability of mind, then whatever you do, or whatever you speak is almost bound to be negative, or bound to be wrong.
So the best thing is – you keep a guard to yourself, (when) you are so much in anger, then better to sit down, doing nothing. And everything is changing and impermanent, your anger may not remain at the same level for hours together. After half an hour, one hour your anger may subside a little bit, it may not be completely go away, you are still angry, but that degree will not be there, and at least your rationality will come back. And once your rationality comes back, then you can think (about) your actions properly, and then also you will able to do – how to do away with negative emotions. So best thing to deal with strong negative emotions – to postpone your actions, and observe, watch that negative emotion.
Question: Rinpoche, is it essential to have a teacher to practice meditation?
Samdhong Rinpoche: Yes! One should have a good knowledge of meditation technique. That may be acquired from a teacher or that may be acquired from a book, or that may be acquired by one's own experiments. One should have a basic knowledge of it. And then if you could have a good teacher, that would be better for the beginners. For the advanced people, then, of course, one should go by oneself. But for the beginners, if guide is there, that would be better, but guide is not indispensable – if you are intelligent enough, and you are mindful enough, then you can meditate without any teacher or guidance, that is possible.
Question: Is it possible for a person that has another religion to practice the Buddhist meditation without conflicts with it?
Samdhong Rinpoche: Definitely. When we come to the meditation, it does not refer the entirety of the religion. Meditation is a technique of mental training. And that mental training of shamatha and vipashyana (vipassana) is not a new thing, which taught by Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. The technique existed in India much before the Buddha's time. And Shakyamuni Buddha has also used these techniques, and he revitalized it, and he retaught it to his disciples. The Hindu way of meditation, the Buddhist way of meditation, the Jain way of meditation – there are no difference. The one technique of meditation can be used by Hindus, by Buddhists, by Jains. But at the end result or the beginning intention – they would be differently recognized. Otherwise for the meditation (the) techniques are constant – they are common to everyone. They are for a Muslim, a Christian or any other person who likes the Buddhist way of meditation, they can very much adapt it in their own religion.
To meditate in the way of Buddhist technique, need not to become a Buddhist. And actually the Buddhists never recommend to anyone to change his or her religion. Once a person is entered into religion, the person is much better to remain in that religion. Of course, we cannot deprive the person the freedom of changing the religion – the freedom should be there. But as religious teaching no one should recommend or no one should encourage anybody to change the religion. Whatever goodness one may see in the Buddhist tradition – you can take it very well and adapt it in your own religious tradition. And similarly, the Buddhists may take any good thing if they see in Christianity, or in Islam, or in any other religion – the Buddhists may take it into their own practice of spirituality.
Actually, religion is very difficult to define. It is more or less related to community and rituals. So, therefore we have to keep the differences. When at spiritualist consent – Christian spirituality, Buddhist spirituality, or Muslim spirituality – there are should not be any difference, that is the state of mind. So, religion is also goes to the religiousness, but religious involves religiosity and organization as well. And spirituality – there is no division, there is no partition, and when anyone is spiritually elevated and spiritually attain the highest stage, then all these different traditions of religions become almost irrelevant. So, therefore in the spiritual realm everything is interchangeable and compatible with each other. So religion is more a culture-sided, a tradition-sided. There the uniqueness is important, we have to maintain it.
Question: What kind of object is the better choice to a beginner?
Samdhong Rinpoche: There is no any blanket principle which could tell that this would be a best object for concentration. And therefore, every individual at the time of beginning of meditation – he or she should spend some time for choosing the object. If very strong, religious-minded, devotee of any particular deity or particular impersonate of higher ones, then it may be better to choose an image of the deity, the small image of a deity. Or, if someone is very much accustomed with mantras, then for them the OM or any kind of mantra in Shiva script – that can also be. Then many people find it good to have a small flame of light (candle). And that light is very clear and stable, and that is also good.
Actually, in the (Buddhist) canon, there is more than hundred different kinds of objects are suggested. And, naturally, it is for the individuals to search which object is better to remain clear in the mind and also which helps for concentration. So, they are for a week or so maybe spend for experimenting for various objects. And once the object is decided, then you shall also have to spend some time (for choosing) the size of object, the color of object, and where you will remain or you will put that object. All these things have to be experimented, and you have to decide for yourself. Some people find it is easier to concentrate on a bigger size of object. And many other people are not able to concentrate on a big object – much subtle, small objects are better for concentration. And some people put it high, and some people just in front of the nose, and some people put it a bit lower, in front of navel or something, something like that. This differs from one person to another person. So, there is no blanket rule for everyone. So, each one should choose and should experiment and should find out which is better. That is the Buddhist way.
Question: Samdhong, what kind of experiences a beginner in meditation can expect?
Samdhong Rinpoche: (While) working with object the beginner should not look for any kind of experience. The beginner only look for a concentration without any distraction, without any disturbance, how long he or she could concentrate on that object clearly, without any hindrance, and then the length of the concentration should be gradually increased. So, in the beginning experiences are not important. You might get a number of experiences: experience of bodily sensations, experience of visions – a number of different kinds of visions. And if you carried away by these experiences, then you will not be able to continue with meditation. Whatever experience may come or experience may go, the meditator should not be neither very excited, nor very discouraged, and whether experience comes or doesn't come. Particularly experience doesn't come – then the practice of meditation can go regularly. Sometimes very unique experience comes, and then the meditator becomes very excited about it, and then he loses the concentration in the practice. And then that experience is disappear, then he or she feels discouraged and has desire to have that kind of experience again and over again. All these are disturbance to the meditation. For a good meditator in the beginning one should not look for any kind of experience. Only concentration is important.
Question: Please talk about the ethical preparation to meditation.
Samdhong Rinpoche: Ethical preparation to the meditation is to have a good moral discipline at the beginning. Moral discipline various from one religious tradition into another religious tradition in details, but, grossly speaking, all the religions in which the tradition of meditation is exist, their preparation of ethic code would be to remain nonviolent. And all kind of violence to other sentient beings is the greatest hindrance for meditative mind. So, therefore you must remain non-violent. And if you remain non-violent, you are practicing the ethic preparation for meditation. And if you have a complete nonviolent – physical, vocal, mental, and also structural violence whatever it may be you disassociate from that, otherwise you will not be able to meditate properly. And with this kind of moral discipline, then you should also have to follow certain kind of lifestyle of not very rush and free from stressful work, and have a good physical body, and mindfulness (in) eating and mindfulness (in) living, and you eat very moderate food, and better to not eat in the afternoon and evening, and regulated sleep – not very long sleep, not very short sleep.
Within 24 hours a definitive requirement according to your body you must have a sound sleep of 6 hours or 7 hours or 5 hours. Whatever it may be – your bodily requirement – that you can know by yourself by experimenting. If you sleep long, then your body becomes dull. And you sleep less – your body becomes restless and tired. So, therefore sound sleep for appropriate time according to your body – that is to be observed, and then the time schedule is most important as preparatory work. You get up in the morning, appropriate time according to your regular schedule, and then time of eating, and time of meditation, and regularity of meditation – these are few necessaries. Then you should also have a some kind of environment, which is not very... lot of voice around, distraction, many other things. You should free from all these things. Then you should have a kind of privacy – and during the meditation you should not have any anxiety of somebody might come in or some disturbance might have happened. So, in a quiet room and kind of security – so, these things are necessary for the beginners, of course.
Question: Rinpoche, describe a person who is advanced in meditation.
Samdhong Rinpoche: I think that is quite easy. Anyone who really attains advancement in meditation, then that person would be much less negative emotions, and much more positive emotions. That person will be apparently less greedy, less hatred, more kind, more loving, more dedicate for service and a benefit of others, and particularly the person would remain detached from any kind of worldly attachments. There would not be any worldly attachment. And less fear for death, and less involvement in any kind of negative things, and become naturally no-violent – that is the sign of progress of meditation.
Question: Please talk about the technique of meditation.
Samdhong Rinpoche: That is a very vast subject. I'm afraid I can't talk in a short interview in a befitting manner all these things which you have questioned. But I could very briefly describe that. When you talk about meditation you should know the basic three different categories of meditation. There is certain meditation, which means you are trying to transform your mind from present position to some different position. For example, we talk about meditation of compassion, meditation of loving-kindness. To meditate on compassion and to meditate on loving-kindness or to meditate on bodhichitta – that doesn't mean the love and compassion is to be taken as object and the concentration on that is the meditation on love – that is not the case. When we talk about meditation of loving-kindness, compassion, (this) means that uncompassionate mind is to be converted into compassionate one. Hatred mind is to be transformed into loving-kindness. So that is a process we transform the mind. And that kind of meditation is one group of meditation.
Then another group of meditation is to concentrate on object or subject, whatever you may call it. For example, meditation on impermanence, meditation on the miseries of the worldly's cyclic (cyclic existence). That means you ponder upon the impermanence of a thing, or you ponder upon the disease, decay and death, extra, extra – the unhappiness of the world. Or you ponder upon the good things (qualities) of the Buddha-nature. So, this kind of meditation or you meditate on shamatha – that means you concentrate on light or on statue or something like that. Making image and you just concentrate on that. So this kind of meditation is (to) meditate on object.
And the third kind of meditation is visualization meditation. That means meditation of the mandala, meditation of the deity. Deity does not exist there in physical form, but you just visualize a complete physical form of deity in front of you and then you try to interact with that visualized thing. Or you yourself are visualized as Tara or Avalokiteshvara in complete form. And then you think that "I'm the Tara" or "I'm the Avalokiteshvara". So, this kind of meditation is meditation of visualization. Actually, the thing is not there, but you image or you visualize something is there. And gradually you conquer it by your mental power. When you visualize the mandala then the physical mandala can be created for period of time around you. So, this kind of three different major categories of meditations are there.
All this meditation can be again categorized in two basic categories. One is (of) concentrative nature, and the other is (of) analytical nature. (In) concentrative nature meditation your mind is always concentrate on one object, and do not analyze, do not argue, do not dialogue, do not rationalize. You concentrate on a point of light, or a kind of cycle, or anything you have taken (as) the object, and then you concentrate on that. That practice of concentration is called shamatha. And when you get the power of concentration on one object for any length of time according to your wish, then you switch on the practice of analytical meditation, contemplative meditation. Then you do not concentrate on one object, but you concentrate generally on one subject and then you analyze. For example, meditation of impermanence, then you analyze how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. Similarly, you meditate on Shunyata. The Shunyata does not come, the emptiness does not come immediately to your mind. You have to analyze every phenomenon or every object before you. And you analyze them where does it exist, and how it exists. And the existence, when very certainly analyzed, you will not find the object as you perceived before you, as you projected it. And that kind of analyzation (process of analysis) leads you to realization of emptiness. So, this kind of analytical and contemplative meditation is called vipashyana.
Vipashyana (vipassana) means to divide things, and to make the things more subtle, and then you perceive it to see it in more great detail. So, these two kinds of meditation are talked about in Buddhism. Whatever it may be, when you go to the meditation, concentrative meditation is necessary the first, and then thereafter you can switch on for the analytical meditation. And at the time of concentrative meditation's practice the major hindrance in the beginning would be distraction of your mind from the object on which you are concentrating. And that is called the urged mind, the agitated mind. Your mind goes from the object, and various kind of thought is coming to your mind, disturbing the concentration. And at that time you have to slow down, and you have to put your mind again and over again to the object of concentration. Then after a great deal of practice your mind is able to get some kind of stability – you are able to concentrate without any disturbance of thought on one pointed object for a few minutes or for a few seconds.
Then at that time there is second kind of obstacle comes – that is a sinking of the mind. We call it 'le' (in Tibetan; 'laya' in Sanskrit; dullness, drowsiness, laxity). Then with the concentration your mind becomes dull, and the clarity and the sharpness of mind is having tendency of loosing, and thereby (you) become drowsy, and then you may sleep away, get into sleep or get into unconsciousness, just sink on (in) that object. At that moment you have to put your mind at higher level and you shall have to increase the sharpness of concentration and try again and over again to have the clarity. And the dynamism of concentration has to be created. So, by this way, after perpetuated practice, then you will (be) able to get a stabled mind to concentrate on one object as long as you wish without any disturbance from anywhere. Then, after that you will also get a kind of physical fitness. Due to that concentrative mind – the development of concentrative mind – your physical (condition) is also (become) tireless, and you can work for long hours, and you can feel your body (as) very light, and so forth. Then thereafter you can switch off for the meditation of vipashyana. And then vipashyana begins from analysis of the body, and analysis of the sensations, and analysis of the holy dharma, and then the analysis of the mind. So, basically the Buddhist meditation tradition talks about the four great analyses, and through which you can have a very special perception, a very special understanding or insight of your body, your sensations, your mind, and entirety of the phenomenon.
Question: Is it possible (for) a Western(er) with professional responsibilities and social activities practice the Tantra?
Samdhong Rinpoche: To involve in the Buddhist Tantra you need not get away from any professional commitments. But to enter into Tantra there is lot of prerequisite preparations, (so) that a busy person who couldn't find much time for preparation may not be very easily able to get into Tantra. These days Tantra becomes very popular. And there is a kind of craze for Tantric teachings. But I'm not among those who recommend practice of Tantra for everyone. To recite certain kind of mantra or to have a picture of deity in your room – up to that extent is OK. But actually a practicing the entirety of Tantric rituals – it's sometimes very dangerous. It's better not to involve without any preparation.
Question: But what are the dangers in practicing Tantra?
Samdhong Rinpoche: First of all, Buddhist Tantra is the shortcut to attainment (of) Buddhahood. In common path, through the common path to attain Buddhahood needs aeons of time. And you might have to spend hundreds of thousands of lives – afterbirth, rebirth, and afterrebirth. So thousand(s) terms of your life (you) have to spend for accumulation of the merits and for development of wisdom. Through Tantric practice you can accumulate the required good deeds and merits and you can develop the wisdom (in) a very short scale of time and even a once, within this life, one might able to attain Buddhahood. So, therefore, those people, who do not have the determination to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of the all sentient beings, that means bodhichitta is not cultivated in your mind, then practicing of Tantra becomes a kind of immoral activity.
(If) a path of Buddha's nature, a path of achievement of Buddhahood is used for worldly powers, or wealth, or something like that – that is a misuse of a path, misuse of Dharma. So that is a kind of immoral – this immorality is the highest immorality. So, therefore, the ethic danger is you might involve into unethical, very dangerous unethical act. And apart from that, you might become (of) unsound mind, or you might have physical disturbances because of immature and incomplete guidance. You may practice some kind of Tantric exercises, or Tantric practices, or rituals that may go wrong and which may disturb your wellbeing and also which may disturb your peace of mind – all this kind of things are possible.
OK, thank you!
Thank you very much! Very happy!
Ïåðåâîä íà ðóññêèé.