On Working with Newcomers

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gives some advice on how those who have been following the teachings for a longer time should relate to people who are newly interested

When those who have been following the teachings for a number of years practice together collectively and new people who have not received transmission participate, many of the old practitioners often get worried. I have received letters from several different places on this topic. When something like this happens, how should the practitioners who have been following for a longer period of time behave? What should they do?

There are two ways of responding to this situation because there are two different types of new people involved.

Interested people

Firstly, there are those who are seriously interested in the teaching but who may not yet have had the possibility of receiving transmission from the Master. In the case of this type of person, it is not particularly important that they have not yet received transmission, because their participation and interest are deep. A person with a profound interest of this kind, even though they have not received transmission today, will receive it tomorrow; they will always find a possibility of meeting the Master and receiving the transmission. Those who seek will find.

So one should certainly not reject this type of person who wants to participate and is genuinely interested, and whenever it is possible, when one practices together with them, one should help them to participate in such a way that they can learn something, giving them whatever advice may be necessary so that they can understand what is happening.

How to collaborate

I’m not suggesting that any type of person can suddenly become a Master and start to transmit the teaching. To transmit teaching one must have precise knowledge and certain qualities. For example, in order to be able to transmit a mantra it is not enough to have simply received the transmission of the mantra from someone, but one must have applied it, and the person who intends to transmit it must have a certain realization of it. If a person does not have this, and only repeats the mantra, considering this to be adequate for the transmission, the transmission cannot work properly.

If it does not work properly, it is useless to do it, because this means one is just fooling people. So it is not that one has to present oneself as a Master, or someone who is giving a transmission, but there is nevertheless a way to collaborate with other people in order to help them. So that is how things should be done in the case of this first type of person who is genuinely interested: there is nothing that needs to be limited. 

Curious people

Then there is another type of person who is not sincerely interested in following the teaching, in doing practice, or in having realization through this path. Rather what this type of person has is a kind of curiosity, perhaps just wanting to find out what is going on, and what this teaching consists of. If we conclude that a person only has this kind of curiosity, we are justified in asking that person not to participate. Why? For a very simple reason. If the person in question is a friend of a practitioner, the practitioner deserves his or her friend’s respect. The practitioner can explain that the path, the teaching, and the practice are things that he or she considers important and serious, asking his or her friend in a nice way not to demean this seriousness by their curiosity, because to interfere in such a manner with something important is not appropriate.

A real friend, receiving a request made in this way, will certainly respect it. If the person does not respect one’s request, but insists, then he or she does not have any real regard for the practitioner and cannot be a true friend. It is very simple, and there is no need for one to get offended when confronted with such a situation.

Getting information

Someone might, however, say, for example: “If you never let me know what it is that you are doing, how can I get interested?” Many people say things like this. But it would be better for such a person to read a book about the teaching or something like that in order to get a general understanding of the teachings, instead of entering into participating in the path and the practice. Information and practice are two different things.

So if someone is genuinely interested, even if they have not received transmission, perhaps they can participate, and they can learn. In this way when they meet the Master one day, they will be ready to apply what they have learnt because they know how to do it.

Body, Voice, Mind

There are three aspects in the practice, related with our three existences: the Body, the Voice and the Mind. There are many aspects of the Body such as particular bodily positions and ways of sitting when we do the practice. Then as far as the Voice is concerned, there are considerations as to how we should breathe, how we should chant, how words should be pronounced, how to combine invocations with visualizations, how visualizations should be done mentally, how rituals should be carried out, and so on. There are many things related to the Body which must be learnt and done including mudras and their meaning, the function of mudras to communicate in order to make samaya function etc. All these things can be gradually learnt and one can help others to understand them.

Fundamentally, all these things are secondary in relationship to the teaching, to the method. They are not the principal thing but they are ways of applying the path. So if one has learnt all these things, it may be easy to apply them.

Encouraging newcomers

It sometimes happens that when a new person arrives and there are many other people who already know how to do mudra, and how to chant, etc., the new person feels at a disadvantage. They may be discouraged by others even if this is not the principle of the teaching. When one has just started (to follow the teaching), even such secondary things can seem to be very important and when a new person feels that he or she does not know how to do anything, they may become discouraged. If such a person is given even a minimal preparation, this is not bad, and may in fact be very useful.

Secret teaching

It is a very different matter with regard to reading books containing instructions for practices which should be regarded as secret. They should not be approached with curiosity or just with the intention of seeing what it is that others do. Before reading such material, it’s much better that people wait to receive transmission from a Master, and then apply it, because sometimes when one reads a book of instruction one may feel one wants to do something right away, and if one does not know how to do what one reads about perfectly, one may make a mistake which can create problems. Moreover, in the teaching there is a saying that, “One should not take Secret Teaching by oneself which means that one must receive it from a Master, because the Teaching is related to a transmission. Transmission can only be received from a Master, because a Master has in turn received it from his Master in a lineage going right back to the origin, which continues unbroken up to the present day. This connection is what is meant by transmission, and this is the reason it is necessary to receive it. 


There are various types of transmission, such as initiation, empowerment and oral instruction, as well as the necessity to receive at least a ‘lung’ of the transmission in the case of mantra. Such a ‘lung’ involves the power of the mantra which is found in its sound, and this sound must be heard from the Master, who is a person who has him or herself received the transmission and has applied it and produced its function. One must receive the transmission of the sound of the mantra in a perfect way from the Master, and then finally if one applies this mantra, it can have a function because it is related to transmission. The function of the path, of the transmission, of method, is related to transmission not only to an intellectual understanding.

One might, for example, find a book in the library, and reading it one can understand well what is written in it. It might say, “This is a mantra, recite it a few hundred times and you can cure certain types of illnesses”. One understands what is written there and recites the mantra. But even if one has intellectually understood in this way, and starts to apply this mantra reciting it as indicated in the book, it is very difficult to attain the realization of it because this practice is without life. What is the life of the practice? It is transmission. That’s what is missing in such a case. It is not a matter of quantity or of intellectual knowledge being lacking, what is lacking is the life, and life is transmission. So it’s very important to understand and respect this.


If we want to turn on a lamp, what must we do? We must connect it to the electric current and there is a plug to connect the lamp to the electrical current. When the lamp is finally connected to the current it can be turned on. In the same way transmission is like an electrical wire that is connected with the origin uninterruptedly up to the present day. It is for this reason we consider transmission to be so important.

The principle, the power and the knowledge of the transmission is beyond our intellectual judgment, beyond our concepts, anything. We cannot invent any type of transmission of this kind. And even if one invented a transmission, some type of practice or some aspect of spiritual practice, perhaps, who knows, it might have some minimal kind of function. Some people say that they do this type of practice because it brings them benefit. Some such things may indeed have a minimal benefit but this doesn’t mean that they bring you to total realization.

Lineage of transmission

One can never reach total realization without knowing how to arrive beyond one’s limits, beyond one’s dualistic condition. Transmission is something for realization in this way.

All teachings that are related to a precise transmission have their origin. This origin comes from one who has given this teaching and who became totally realized through it, after which this method is handed down and transmitted. Thus if we seriously follow a method such as this, we know that a teaching has its principle, its lineage and its transmission without interruption. This is what real teaching means. It is something really serious. When we speak of a teaching that we follow sincerely and seriously, it is this type of teaching, not just any path or type of philosophy that someone has invented. 

Certainly one can have fun, experimenting with anything in life. But if we are going to dedicate our lives, our precious time, to a teaching, it is much better to understand well what the origins of that teaching are, what its value is and in what way can one have realization through it, and so on. The basis of the teaching is transmission and if one understands this well, one protects the transmission, maintains the transmission, and those who are interested in receiving the transmission can prepare to do so. So one can work in this way.

We all know that it is very useful and important to collaborate, and that this is true for everyone. So I think that the practitioners of the Community who have been involved for a longer time should not get worried when confronted with new people, but they should help and collaborate with the new people in the way I have described above. 

This teaching was first published in issue 22 of The Mirror, July-August 1993.

Photo by Igor Ustyujanin


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