A short interview with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu during an informal talk with the Gakyil on 4 July 2009 at Merigar East, Romania. Courtesy of the Czech Dzogchen Community.
What attributes and qualities should a good Dharma teacher have and how can you recognize him or her?
A Dharma teacher first of all needs to have knowledge of the teaching, to have received the transmission in a perfect way, and to have compassion for working with students so they can really understand Dharma. This is the main responsibility of the teacher. This is very easy and does not need many words.
What kind of obstacles do you often see in Western and particularly Czech students?
In general, many Western students have the idea that teaching is something like a technique and that they can do everything with this technique. But this is not true. They must understand that teaching is something to learn for living, for realizing, for overcoming our problems of samsara, suffering, and so on.
What is the most important thing you teach to your students?
I teach Dzogchen teaching. Dzogchen teaching is the essence of all teachings. I am not the only person who says this, but it is also said in most Dzogchen tantras. Not only Dzogchen teaching but also many other teachings understand that Dzogchen is the highest and the most essential teaching.
How do you recognize that your students have learned your teaching well? What qualities should they manifest?
When students understand the knowledge of Dzogchen, they do not have many tensions, they do not have many problems of samsara; they can understand how the condition of samsara is and how the real condition is. They are more relaxed and more present, not always conditioned by tensions and emotions.
Do you think that it is good to teach openly?
Yes, but it doesn’t mean we go to the city and do some kind of publicity. But if there are people who are seriously interested, we present the teaching openly in front of them.
Is it is good to talk openly about one’s spiritual achievements?
It depends. It is not only speaking that has benefits but it depends on who you are talking to. If someone is seriously interested, we can talk and do everything. This is what I’m doing, for example. I’m not keeping something back. Buddha said: “We should teach the teaching to those who have a desire to follow, who have that capacity.” It’s not that you talk in public with the idea of converting people. We shouldn’t work in that way because this is not the principle of the teaching. The principle of the Teaching is to make people understand, and if someone is interested then we can go deeper in the knowledge. This is what the teacher should do.
Have you, as a teacher, met people who have encountered mental or spiritual obstacles that were impossible to overcome by meditating or practicing? If so, what advice would you give them?
If someone really seriously follows the teaching, the teaching is complete. It’s not that the teaching is missing something for overcoming all problems – relative problems and also samsaric problems. Some people don’t know this and they also need something different so they add and put something else. But I don’t feel it’s necessary. I always feel that the teaching is complete. From ancient times till now all realized beings haven’t had any problem that something was missing. That means the teaching is complete.
Could you please recommend three Dharma principles which are the most important for cultivating the mind in everyday life?
For example, there is the Dharma principle in the Mahayana Sutra which says that we should check which kind of intention we have and always cultivate good intention and if there is possibility to benefit others we should always be ready to do that. This is what we need.
What are, in your opinion, the fundamental principles of Buddhist ethics?
It depends. If you are follower of the teaching then you must be present, it’s the most important thing in the teaching. If you are being present, you are doing everything with awareness and working with circumstances, helping others, paying respect to others, and so on.
Do you think that celibacy and renunciation are important on one’s spiritual path?
This is definitely not the only way. There are many ways, many methods of teachings, but if someone follows the path of renunciation, then they must behave as Buddha taught in the Vinaya, otherwise it is not good.
Do you believe that different Buddhist traditions (Theravada, Zen, Vajrayana) or even other spiritual teachings (Christianity, Yoga, Shamanism, Judaism, Islam, etc.) have the same spiritual goal and result?
I’m Dzogchen practitioner, I know all those Buddhist paths, their conditions and their essence. We unify the essences of all the paths and then apply it. Of course, we pay respect to them, but that doesn’t mean I believe that I should do everything they do. Not that way. When we have fundamental knowledge of Dzogchen teaching, we can integrate everything, even Christian or some other tradition. It does not necessarily have to be the Buddhist tradition. All teachings are going more or less in the same direction but in a very different way. That is what I believe.
There are few more personal questions. What do you wish the most?
The biggest wish for me? Now that I have all the responsibility for my students, [I wish] they would do everything in a perfect way, that they would realize and do the same as I have been doing for the benefit of all sentient beings. This is my biggest wish.
Are you sometimes angry or sad? How do you deal with it?
Of course. You see, anger is one of the emotions. I can have all kind of emotions because I’m still “flesh and bones”. I have a normal physical body, I drink tea and I eat food so, of course, if someone makes me angry, I can get angry. But it’s not that I’m always angry and think: “This is a bad thing, this is a bad person”. Because I’m practitioner, I go with my presence. I integrate my presence as much as possible in instant presence, knowing how our real nature is. This is the principle of the Dzogchen teaching.
Do you wish to be reborn again?
I don’t have any kind of wish like that. I wish to have total realization, if it is possible in the bardo of dharmata. I don’t need to wish to be like this or like that because it depends on circumstances, on which kind of secondary causes there are, then it manifests.
If you had the chance to meet Buddha Shakyamuni, what question would you ask him?
I would ask the Buddha: “What do you think about the followers of your teaching today? How are they doing, what are they doing?” because during his life Buddha taught the path of renunciation, Vinaya. Then in different moments there were also his manifestations of Sambhogakaya, but this is another question. But to be more concrete, since you are asking me “if you had chance to see and meet the Buddha”, it refers to the relative condition. In this case I would ask Buddha: “What do you think about your monks today?” for example. I know my idea, I may be wrong, then I would ask Buddha: “What do you think about your students-monks, people who are applying the path of renunciation?” And then Buddha would say something…
Thank you very much for your answers.
You are welcome.
Questions by Tereza Puldová Stárková
Photos by Greg Ladra