From the teachings of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche given in California, November 4th, 1979.
The preservation and the purity of the teachings is the responsibility of all those who are involved with the teachings.
I want to explain a bit about things in general. We find among us that people have their own practice, their own master, their own lineage. That’s not only true of someone who is following Buddhism, but when one follows any teaching, it’s always like that. And one has these characteristics even if one is not following the teaching. That is to say, this is characteristic of the human being.
And in general we all have an enormous amount of confusion about this. When one wants to follow a teaching, one thinks many times about “Whether I should follow or whether I shouldn’t follow”. Particularly people who follow some particular school get worried. And the truth is that we all have a lot of these conflicts.
But it’s very important to try to understand, first of all, that through the teachings one must try to open oneself because the principle of the teaching has a way of working, has a real function. Man can always make a mistake but the teaching cannot be mistaken.
The teaching can appear in many different forms, in different schools, but its essence and principle must always be the same. And therefore one must know that.
One must know what is the true principle that one must be following. And one must know where one must arrive. That doesn’t depend on a particular person who is teaching or a particular master who is presenting the teachings. What principle you are following, where you are going, depends on the person who follows. If I must realize myself, I have to realize me, myself. It’s not my teacher who must realize me, or my school which must realize the teaching.
When one puts this problem before the teaching, it’s extremely damaging. Damaging for the person who practices and damaging for the teaching itself and the school to which one belongs, because we’re interested in the teaching. This means not only a few people or an individual, but each of us has his or her own way of being interested in the teachings and of taking the interest of the teachings into consideration. And this interest must proceed. And it must above all proceed for others.
Benefit for others
In the Buddhist teaching, one of the first things one considers is the benefit for others, and what gives benefit to others is above all the teachings, so you have to have a teaching that works, a teaching that is pure and authentic. And this guarantee of the teachings depends on the people who are interested in and participating in the teaching.
You must never think that the teaching is somehow the property of some chosen few. Normally this is how people see the matter. For example, people speak about His Holiness, that His Holiness is the owner of the teachings, like somebody is the owner of a precious jewel. But that is not true because nobody has given him the job. Nobody has given that authority to any such person. The teaching is in the common interest of all beings and therefore the preservation and the purity of the teachings is the responsibility of all those who are involved with the teachings. Therefore it’s extremely important that all the people and practitioners who are involved in the teaching shouId be active. And thus they must, above all, be responsible and aware of their responsibility, otherwise one’s Bodhicitta is really just a matter of words.
For me, for example, what is most valuable, most precious, is the teaching because the only thing that can resolve the problems of a human being definitively is realisation. If a person doesn’t become realised, he will always find himself at the level of dualism. Where can one find one’s reawakening? Only from the teachings. And for this reason the teachings are very important.
I know what the value of the teachings is. Therefore I assume my responsibility before the teachings because I know how precious the teachings are. If, for me, the only thing which is truly precious is the teachings, then I know that’s true also for others. If I seriously feel compassion for others, then I must use all my strength to keep this precious teaching as it should be. And I must use all my strength to carry the teaching forward, and what I know, I must communicate to others. And this which I do is what I consider true compassion. And if this is true for me, it’s true for others. The teaching is something to which all those interested in must commit themselves to.
When we think of Tibetan Buddhism, many people think to do something for Tibetan Buddhism out of sympathy or affection for the Tibetans or for the Tibetan tradition. But sympathy for the Tibetans and doing something for them is another matter.
But someone who understands the value and preciousness of the teachings, particularly of the Dzogchen teachings, is not just motivated by sympathy for the Tibetans or interest in oriental things. He knows that this is something precious to be saved, not to be lost. Therefore I habitually ask those who are interested to assume their responsibility.
One’s first responsibility is to practice. If you want to take your responsibilities towards the teachings, that is to say, do something for the benefit of others, first of all, you must better yourself. To do that you must practice. It may be that one does not know how to practice, then the first step of course is to learn, to try to understand.
In order to understand you must not shut yourself in. I’m not saying that all schools, all masters, are the same. You have to treat everything the same way. You have to be open at both ends. Some people might say you have to give importance to every school, every tradition, every path. I can understand that, but it’s not the case that someone who is interested in becoming realized should make him or herself a slave to that outlook.
From our point of view, to follow a teaching means that that teaching gives a means or instrument for liberating the person. And you must find this in whatever teaching it may be. If someone has communicated this to you, then that corresponds to the teachings. If this isn’t so, it means that in this case teaching has been conditioned by the people involved. Then it’s up to you, the person interested, to have enough awareness to work with that.
Many people, when they follow a teaching, say, “Now I’ve understood. What I was involved with before isn’t so very right.” And there is a kind of conversion, or change, like somebody changing his clothes. But that is not a correct procedure either, because if you have truly understood, there is nothing to change.
The Dzogchen teaching doesn’t give a garment or suit of clothes or a new way of presenting yourself. You can be as you are. But what the teaching gives is an awakening. If I hadn’t understood before, now I’ve understood. Now if I’ve understood, whether what I’ve understood is the Dzogchen teaching or another teaching, I have really understood. So we don’t have to create problems.
When a human being has decided to have a problem, the problem always grows, conflicts make progress. But if you know from the beginning there is no conflict, then if somebody is creating conflicts with me or in front of me, I find it unimportant.
In the same way, it’s very important that if a practitioner feels him or herself to be a true practitioner of Dzogchen, he must find himself like a person sitting on a mountain peak, with the whole panorama open to him. He has no conflict. If I don’t create a conflict, somebody else who comes along and creates a conflict doesn’t have the power to condition me. There is no reason to go judging people. What is important is to observe oneself.
As Shantideva said, “If a certain area is full of thorns, and it is very difficult to walk through these thorny bushes, do you have to cover the whole mountainside in order to walk there? You can’t do that. How do you walk there then? You have to have very thick soles on your shoes.” It depends, therefore, on the person him or herself to deal with the situation. You can never succeed in destroying all the elements that might disturb you. It is more important to deal with yourself and not be disturbed. So what’s most important is the awareness of the practitioner himself.
We always go around criticizing other people. In every situation we can find grounds for conflict. In this case it is very important to liberate oneself, so that you don’t find conflict outside. And what I’m describing is above all a way of being a practitioner of Dzogchen. It’s not important to demonstrate to the world that I’m a practitioner of Dzogchen. What we’re interested in obtaining is realization and realization doesn’t come by my exhibiting something. Realization is not dependent on other people.
As regards the teachings, one must be extremely active. Active means that I myself, the person, participates. I do somehing to realize myself. You have to understand that teachers and masters have their power and their capacities. But you must understand that the fundamental capacity of teachers and masters is transmission. A power greater than that of transmission does not exist. Transmission is a way of developing your progress in that practice. But before developing that, you have to have a principle.
If we speak, for example, of making a flower grow and develop, this means we have to use fertilizer and plant food and water and so forth. It means there is already a flower. If there is no flower, there is nothing to help grow, to cultivate. Likewise, at the beginning there is a teacher who has explained and transmitted orally, and this is indispensible.
Then when the person has found the teaching, it is up to the person himself. It’s no longer the master’s job. The master’s job is to transmit, to make you understand, to give you the methods which you will cultivate and develop. But the rest of it, doing the rest of the job, is the disciple’s work.
The path of wisdom
The path towards realization is called the path of wisdom. The path of wisdom has nothing to do with somebody passively going to receive a blessing. It has to do with one participating directly on one’s own. In a Sutra, Buddha said, ” A person who has sacrificed and renounced for all his life as a monk, who has paid honor and respect to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, who has continuously made offerings, who has continuously done purifications, prostrations and the like, has accumulated a great deal of merit. But compared to a person who is in the state of shiné for the amount of time that it takes an ant to walk from the tip of the nose to the bridge of the nose,” – that is to say, for a few seconds – “that is hundreds of times more important than that entire lifetime of sacrifice.”
Once one has entered onto the path of wisdom, then one has finally begun the way to realization. The path of wisdom does not mean a mental concept that depends on having good intentions, or performing some benefit with body, voice and mind. It means going into the state of the individual as one is. It’s not only the Dzogchen teaching that says this, but all of the teachings of Buddhism in general. Their ultimate stage is always pointing, for example, towards shiné. This means that one must participate oneself. If you don’t participate, nobody can accomplish anything.
Thus what is it that the Dzogchen teaching really communicates? It communicates that one must open one’s eyes, and must not be a passive receiver, but an active participant in the teaching. As I am active, then I also help other people who are interested to understand what’s involved. According to me, these are very important things to understand.
Originally published in The Mirror issue 11, September 1991