Questions & Answers

Fort Bragg, California, eighth of April 1994, overlooking Whale Rock, in the company of Ngakma Shardröl and apprentices.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche & Khandro Déchen

You let it consume you, like some ravenous beast in full blood–lust. You become the emotion completely, or it becomes you. You don’t have to refer back to some other time or place or situation. Analysis is utterly superfluous.

Q Usually in Buddhist circles, very little is said that is positive in terms of emotions – but I notice that you give really generous space to discussing emotions. Is that particular to the Nyingma tradition?

R Possibly …

KD … but maybe not particularly.

R Right. The Tibetan traditions are relatively equal in how they present the emotions. There are however individual Lamas who give the subject some attention. Trungpa Rinpoche addressed this subject quite often as I recall from discussion with disciples of his who have studied with us. However, this is not a question that can be answered simply.

KD As Rinpoche said, It’s not actually that it is particular to the Nyingma school – it’s more that Tantra is particular to the Nyingma traditions.

R And it’s the emotions which are particular to Tantra – in it’s essential acultural form that is. So … you could say, that it is particular to all Tibetan traditions. All Tibetan traditions employ Tantra; but the Nyingma, perhaps, give it the most weight from early on in one’s practice. The other traditions, especially the Gélug, begin to practice Tantra at a much later point – their Tantric teachings, also, are very much more influenced by Sutra. To understand this more fully we would have to discuss Tibetan history in close detail. But let us say that it is more likely that emotions will be discussed in terms of method within the Nyingma tradition and by the branches of Kagyüd and Sakya where ngak’phang practitioners exist – such as the Drukpa Kagyüd, the Drigung Kagyüd and the Shangpa Kagyüd.

We need to be able to stay with the empty dimension of the experience, but also to be aware of the movement – the form of it. When we begin to remain in this way, we discover that form has patterns, and that we can learn from those patterns.

KD But as to generous space … that has more to do with Rinpoche. We see the whole field of the emotions as being of vital importance to people in the West. It is a vital part of Tantra, but not one which has been overly stressed in the Tibetan culture – we simply bring out what is there within Tantra, but which has not been given much space before. But it’s not just us – there are other Lamas who have discussed the emotions. Embracing emotions as the path, is our most readily available entry into the dimension of Tantra. Our emotions are manifestations of our enlightened energy, and their display is continually performing for us. This is something we all have in the West – emotions. We have plenty …

R … and then some.

KD Although emotions certainly existed in Tibet, they don’t have seem to have had them quite as strongly as we do.

R We also flip in and out of them more – and in more varied patterns.

KD I think the emotions of western people are really quite marvellous – an incredible opportunity for Tantra. Any emotion is a practice, if you regard it as a practice. Regarding our emotions as practice means that we have to be a little suspicious of them. [to Ngak’chang Rinpoche] It might be useful to look at this in terms of how we communicate with each other?

R Yes. People don’t usually comment on process. I think they comment more on process here in the US – especially in California. But in Britain, the idea seems to be, that you avoid becoming too open at all cost. Even here, it would be slightly unusual, if whilst engaged in conversation with somebody, I were to say: We appear to be becoming friends, don’t we. One doesn’t say that … That is simply an understanding that we would each come to as individuals. There’s no commentary on what is happening, or why it’s happening. So embracing emotions as the path is some kind of observation of how our energy is functioning. Embracing emotions as the path is not taking the texture of our emotions for granted. We have to become aware that there are patterns which evolve and dissolve. We have to become aware of how both emptiness and form dance within the ways in which we feel our reality. To have this awareness. To remain with this awareness, is to stay with the emptiness of it whist the form plays.

KD We need to be able to stay with the empty dimension of the experience, but also to be aware of the movement – the form of it. When we begin to remain in this way, we discover that form has patterns, and that we can learn from those patterns.

Q I’d like to try to understand the difference between that, and the kind of tiresome intellectual analysis that I usually do…

KD Well, what we are discussing here is certainly not intellectual analysis. We are Tantrikas aren’t we? We don’t analyse our emotions – we simply sit with how we feel. We simply notice how emotional textures arise and dissolve. There’s an awareness – but there is no commentary. When you feel attracted to someone, you notice the energy of attraction… people don’t usually do that.

What we are discussing here, is the very basic stage of reminding yourself that you’re a practitioner. You’re a practitioner having a particular emotion … whatever it is – positive, negative, blissful, horrible …

Q So you could experience that sensation, but not necessarily act on it?

KD Certainly. We simply notice …

R Or … if it’s aversion that you are feeling, you simply notice the energy of aversion.

KD You don’t have to act on that either. You simply, wordlessly, notice …

Q Like experiencing the emotion as opposed to identifying with the intellectual content …

KD Yes. Also, at a another level, it’s being able to say: Whatever happens to me is my practice.

R Say, for the want of a better example that I’m obsessing about a new pair of cowboy boots – this is my practice. I can’t afford the boots – this is my practice. But I get lucky with some money, so I get all set to buy the boots – this is my practice. But just as I’m about to set out for the shop, my car breaks down and uses up in the money in repair cost – this is my practice.

KD If you name it as your practice then that’s very powerful in itself. Rather than saying: This is my life over here, and there’s my practice is over there.

R Splitting life and practice is totally inoperative as far as Tantra is concerned. A Tantrika can’t be a practitioner at one moment and a non–practitioner in the next.

Q So, this awareness can operate at many different levels.

KD Certainly. Initially it could be very mechanical – a way of just reminding yourself that you’re a practitioner who is experiencing whatever you’re experiencing. That can be helpful in itself. Rather than forgetting that you’re a practitioner, you could say: I’m angry … but … I’m an ‘angry’ practitioner … immediately, there’s some space there … So maybe I’m not going to indulge in the self–righteousness of this anger – maybe I’ll leave all my options open ended … Immediately, when you say something like that to yourself, there’s some other ‘take’ on it all.

R That that has to happen as soon as your understanding moves in that direction. You don’t try to prevent yourself from feeling whatever you are feeling. Maybe you don’t even stare into the emotion … Maybe you don’t even do that … This may sound perilously naughty in view of what is usually said on this subject – but I think it’s useful to recognise that there’s a very basic level at which we can simply cease to be totally at the mercy of our patterning.

Q So recognising myself as a practitioner at all times is something that could enable me to let go of the knee–jerk indulgence that amplifies the pain for everyone?

R Sure. Then you’re free to approach the texture of your emotions at other levels.

KD But the very most basic level is to be an ‘angry practitioner’ rather than just to be angry, and to forget that you are a practitioner.

Q Could you say something more about what that means?

KD It means I’m responsible for my anger. It means that I can’t attribute the cause of my anger entirely to another person, object, or situation.

Q So I may keep feeling this and having these thoughts …

KD Yes.

R I may even want to encourage these thoughts and leap around the room saying How dare he or she do this to me! But then I’m also remembering that I’m a practitioner saying this … So what does that mean?

Q I guess … it means that I can’t totally indulge any more.

R And that’s kind of stifling isn’t it.

Q I guess … but … where do you go with that sense of being stifled – how d’you transform that?

R & KD [both laugh]

KD You don’t. [laughs] And anyway, who said you were being stifled?

Q We stifle ourselves?

R Sure – who else is there to do anything?

Q I see – yes, of course. And then afterwards maybe you can find presence of awareness in the dimension of the emotion?

KD Certainly. What other option is there? But that’s another stage.

R Yes, there are going to be times when you might not want to do that …

KD What we are discussing here, is the very basic stage of reminding yourself that you’re a practitioner. You’re a practitioner having a particular emotion … whatever it is – positive, negative, blissful, horrible …

Q Khandro Déchen, would you try and compare some of the emotions that might come up for you, with emotions that came up in other circumstances that were similar.

KD No.

Q But what about, like, let’s say anger came up and you’d say: Oh this anger’s somehow related to other times that it’s come up! So you start seeing patterns … Or do you just say in the moment I’m angry and don’t even care where it’s coming from?

KD There’s no need to be concerned about where it’s coming from. I wouldn’t worry about where it’s coming from at all – that’s the stuff of therapy.

R When it’s immediate, it’s better. When it’s fresh, it has some sharp dynamic that is more difficult to treat in a slippery way…

Q Slippery?

R Yes. Like an eel.

KD Comparing an emotion to other times such an emotion arose doesn’t actually help much with addressing what is happening now.

R Yes. It’s the raw texture of what is happening that is vital. Comparing an emotion with a previous emotion is just a way of ‘making it useful’, and that is fundamentally slippery. It’s a way of avoiding the moment, by way of investigating how the moment could make sense. It’s a way of stealing the space of the situation and converting it into a claustrophobic form of comfort.

Q What if an idea immediately comes up for you? What if you say: Yes! I’m angry! I’m feeling undermined! I’ve felt undermined before!

R If that’s what immediately comes up for you …

KD But then, you’ve still got the feeling of that … and that is always more important than the concept.

Q So you just try and observe where you’re feeling that in your body? Do you just feel it?

R You let it consume you, like some ravenous beast in full blood–lust. You become the emotion completely, or it becomes you. You don’t have to refer back to some other time or place or situation. Analysis is utterly superfluous.

KD You see, even in terms of Western psychology it doesn’t actually work to go back to ‘what did it to you’. You can’t do that.

R It only did it to you, because it did it to you before. Because it did it to you before. Because it did it to you before. There’s no end.

KD You could go back into previous lives and on and on and on and the emotion has been ‘doing it to you’ millions and millions of times and so there’s no particular time when it really did it to you. Apart from now, when it’s really doing it to you. Because it’s really you doing it to you – and that’s the time to look at it and not to go back to some other time.

R Obviously in all the other times you do it to you there’ll be one time that may have been really traumatic. Maybe in this life. And you can go back to some really traumatic time, and ab–react, and relive that … But then you still have to enter into it and recognise something about your basic patterning. It’s not that particular event, it’s just the strength of the abreaction. But it’s basically all here now.

Q So does finding presence of awareness in the dimension of energy that has substance lead to energy that’s substanceless? You once said something about experiencing energy … that the energy we generally experience was not substanceless energy but something more material. So in finding presence of awareness in the dimension of energy – looking into that … is that the way beyond ‘stuckness’ with Nirmanakaya – the gateway to the Sambhogakaya level of experience?

R You could look at it that way perhaps … yes. But it’s not that this level of energy is somehow ‘lower’ …

KD Yes. That is a common misunderstanding. That often happens with the idea of the three kayas. People tend to think that there’s trül–ku, then there’s long–ku, then there’s chö–ku – and that chö–ku is therefore ‘the best’. It’s not like that. They’re not graduated in the sense of better or worse. That’s the Sutric view of the kayas in which chö–ku is emptiness and trül–ku is form – and because trül–ku is changing all the time it gets equated more with samsara.

R From the Sutric point of view form is kind of unreliable – because it’s always changing – because it’s impermanent. Yes?

Q Yes.

R But in terms of Tantra form is reliable because it’s always changing – because it’s impermanent. That is its quality.

Q [questioner looks bewildered]

R You can either say: It changes, it’s impermanent therefore it’s bad, naughty and wicked. Or you can say: That is its quality.

KD Form is only naughty if you want something that is always there – and only emptiness is permanent and unchanging.

R And that’s a strange perspective really, from the perspective of Sutra … that emptiness has the qualities we want in form. It’s rather odd … the only thing that’s permanent is emptiness … Sounds like the Heart Sutra doesn’t it. Form is emptiness … and emptiness is …

Q … form – which … is why there’s this emphasis of emptiness all the time in Sutra?

R Sure.

Q That’s why anything to do with form or thought, has to be transcended in Sutra. So this in terms of the appreciation of the subtler dimensions, it’s more that you have a whole experience of reality. The experience of form, the experience of energy, and the experience of emptiness – they have to interpenetrate each other?

R It would seem so.

KD Though we obviously start in terms of what we relate to most closely – where we are, which is form. But within form, within trülku, is long–ku – substanceless energy. And the basis of that is chö–ku – emptiness. They’re never divided, but we begin with trülku as method.

Creative space is called the ‘Great Mother’, the ‘womb of potentiality’. Because that is the quality of spaciousness – it gives rise to form. The quality of spaciousness is not that nothing is there. [laughs] ‘Nothing’ is there – but many ‘somethings’ are there too, and they’re all coming and going.

Q Could you comment on the idea of ‘monism’ as something that Buddhism denies – I don’t think that I understand that idea very well.

KD Monism means that everything is one.

R … that in the enlightened state we all glom together with everything else. Monism is the notion that non–duality denies multiplicity. It’s the idea that nothing really exists apart from … ‘God’. Whereas from the Buddhist non–dual point of view, we’re connected rather than undivided.

Q Right … could you comment on what the difference is between ‘connected’ and ‘undivided’? I guess I don’t understand that distinction.

R [Rinpoche turns and look out of the window for a period of time] Like that.

KD Rinpoche was ignoring you then. You were both in the same room, and at one level you appeared to be unconnected.

R Now we’re connected again. Now I’m talking to you again. We’re separate, but we’re connected. I can try to pretend I’m not connected: I can turn round, ignore you, and look out the window, but we’re still in the same room. So … one could venture the suggestion that the non–duality we are speaking of is the appreciation of connectedness. With monism, non–duality means that we have to become fused into each other.

KD And everyone says: Enlightenment has happened! Rinpoche and Shardröl have just blended into each other! There they are! There’s a kind of a lump of them on the floor there. [general laughter]

Q That’s difficult to imagine!

R [Rinpoche speaks in ‘smarmy guru accent’] Oh yes my child, but we are all one. We are all God . Everything is God. The house is God, the sea is God, your underwear is God, the dead fly on the halgen lamp is God, the garbage bin is God, the septic tank is God … [then in mock seriousness] Oh God … [general laughter]

Q With monism, everything is undivided, you can’t separate anything out any more.

KD That’s right.

R Monism is the sense in which one is not different from anything else as ‘primary reality’. Multiplicity has ceased to exist.

KD One of the things in Buddhism that is important though, is that the idea that monism does actually come out of a real experience.

Q What! [laughs] Now I’m really confused. You’re saying that monism isn’t reality but at the same time it comes from a real experience?

KD Yes. And that’s part of the problem. You see, monism wasn’t invented just to annoy Buddhists [laughs]. Although monism isn’t a description of reality – it is a description of as aspect of reality. The experience is one at the level of stabilised shi–nè. At the level of stabilised shi–nè – or perhaps ‘sleepy shi–nè’, monism can said to be true statement – in ‘that sense’, and at ‘that level’.

R Your mi–thogpa is the same as my mi–thogpa.

Q Mi–thogpa?

R Quite – me Thogpa – you Jane.

Q [general extended laughter] So …

R Mi–thogpa means ‘no thought’.

Q So there’s no distinction between my state if mi–thogpa and anyone else’s state of mi–thogpa?

R That’s right.

Q So at that level you can say that’s a monist statement then?

R Yes. It would be if that was the only level of reality that was acknowledged.

KD But there is also energy, which is diverse – and form, in which there’s huge diversity.

Q So … what is happening here is if you say that the emptiness level is the highest reality and the others are things that fade away and that what enlightenment is being in this empty state, then that’s monist.

KD Yes. But within Buddhism, the state of mi–thogpa is not regarded as an ultimate state. It’s a partial realisation.

Q So, what makes that not a monist idea is that there’s also diversity?

KD Yes.

Q And diversity is not a lower level of reality than the empty state – they’re all equal?

R By George she’s got it!

Q [laughs] But when you say that form arises out of emptiness it makes it sound as if emptiness was there first.

R Well emptiness can be said to be prior in some sense, yes. That is, there has to be a woman there in order for there to be children. Emptiness has to be there or there’s no form.

Q So what is it that causes the form to arise?

R Emptiness.

Q Just that it exists?

KD Emptiness – is sometimes a strange word to use.

R Yes. We tend to start speaking more of space when we speak of that.

KD This is often described as creative space. Creative space is called the ‘Great Mother’, the ‘womb of potentiality’. Because that is the quality of spaciousness – it gives rise to form. The quality of spaciousness is not that nothing is there. [laughs] ‘Nothing’ is there – but many ‘somethings’ are there too, and they’re all coming and going.

R If there is some idea of space in which nothing is ever there then that would need to be absence. But the whole quality of Dharmakaya, is that it is continually giving rise to differentiated being. The whole quality of the Dharmadhatu is that it continually giving rise to differentiated phenomena. It’s the capacity of the space of being, and the capacity of the space of phenomena.

Q Now I understand everything.

R [Laughs] Splendid! Very good. You see, the closer you get into this, the more you actually understand about other religious views. You can look at the idea of God in the sense of being the Creator – you can see how that idea manifests, how it appears. You could use that word as Space.

KD There are some Christians who relate the term God to chö–ku. We don’t do that in particular because for us it’s a kind of an analogy that we don’t find useful. But if you have the idea of how that functions then you can look at all these different thoughts – monism, nihilism, eternalism, dualism – and you can see how they’re all based in experience. Someone didn’t just invent them for the sake of it. You could look into how monism, nihilism, eternalism and dualism are valid.

Q Could you run through the ways in which they could be said to be valid?

KD First of all, and this is rather primitive – they must be valid in some way, otherwise people wouldn’t use them. So there must be some sense of validity there. They do equate to some kind of experience. Which is why we create projection of the four denials in terms of our commonly help notions of ‘the ultimate’. Then we attach to them as reality, and create philosophies and religions out of them. So there must be some ground within them that makes them workable. If you take the nihilist point of view and you say: Nothing makes any sense at all, everything is totally random and meaningless. What can you get out of such a position?

Q Well … I guess it answers all the questions with one big useless answer.

R Mmmm … yes … but It’s not exactly useless – it’s ‘comfortable’.

KD In the sense of ‘cold comfort’.

R You can say: Well … if nothing has any meaning, then all of my pain is somehow tolerable. If there was meaning, then what’s the meaning behind this bum rap that’s just been laid on me? If there’s meaning, then one has to make sense of the meaning, and that’s irritating. But if there’s no meaning – if I’m just unlucky, if it’s just the random functioning of the universe that has put me in this situation – then I can be an existentialist hero like Jean Paul Sartre and write books about how nothing means anything. I can say: Here I am being tortured, being beaten up, being poor, being sick, having cancer, and whatever else I’ve got – because that’s just how it is in the meaningless horror of existence.

Q So it’s kind of comfortable in a way because you don’t have to say it’s unfair.

KD Yes. It’s only ‘unfair’ in relation to ‘fair’. And if everything is random then ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ don’t exist.

R It’s actually quite useful if fair doesn’t exist, in one sense.

KD Yes.

Q Why?

KD Because fair is a big problem for people – especially for children. The most useful answer for children sometimes when they say; It isn’t fair! is to reply: Your right. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s ‘unfair’ in your favour and you like it. Sometimes it’s ‘fair’ to your discomfort and you don’t like it.

Q So nihilism contains the quality of being able to forget about the idea of fair.

KD Yes. It also has lots of problems, but that’s the quality it does has. I think that can be useful.

R The value of monism is that if ‘everything is one’, and you really feel that – you empathise with that idea – then you don’t want to harm anything. Because, if everything is one, you’d simply be harming yourself.

Q But the problem with ‘everything is one’ is that you can’t be active there.

R That’s right.

KD If you look at things you can always find some kind of plus and minus in these four denials. If you look at the way that most monist religions are constructed, how they function, they seem to reflect infancy experience – what Freud called ‘Oceanic experience’. This is the experience you have as a baby – where you can’t really sense the division between yourself and your mother … or [laughs] between yourself and other objects. So you bite on a pencil and you bite on your finger – the finger hurts and the pencil doesn’t. And that is deeply mysterious as well as painful. This is ‘Oceanic experience’.

Q Then you’re taught how to individuate.

KD That’s right, but the problem is that ‘individuation’ gets divorced from ‘oceanic experience’. So for the rest of your adult life you individuate more and more.

Q And you’re deemed to be really successful when you arrive at total individuation.

KD Not entirely … if you totally individuate, you hit certain difficulties. That would be described as an ‘anti–social personality disorder’.

Q You’d be a psychopath?

KD Yes, or sociopath, the word keeps changing – but basically someone for whom connection has been severed to one degree or another with anything or anyone else. One becomes self–serving. You’d have no sense of loyalty – no sense of ‘fellow feeling’. You wouldn’t be open to criticism from your peer group. You would be the one who was right, and everyone else would be wrong.

R Religions would seem to arrange themselves as projected perfections of particular points along the continuum between ‘oceanic experience’ and ‘total individuation’.

Q I can see Hinduism as the projection of ‘oceanic experience’, but what would be the religion that projected the perfected form of ‘total individuation’?

R [Rinpoche looks very sad] It was called ‘The Second Reich’, and Hitler was it’s founder. [pause] But it’s had many such founders in practically every country. You find them amongst the practitioners of Tantra and Dzogchen too – people who have distorted the teaching to their own ends. This applies to teachers who become ‘rudra’ – manifestations of ‘black freedom’. There is no actual religion which projects from this point.

KD Apart from cults.

R Yes, of course, I was forgetting about cults. That is actually a brilliant definition of a cult: a religion based on the projection of ‘total individuation’ in terms of the cult leader who is the focal point. He or she is the only one allowed to totally individuate, and everyone else shares in that according to their capacity to sublimate themselves to the leader’s personality.

KD So, religions either seem to follow the way of perfecting the state which has moved in the direction of individuation, or perfecting the state of oceanic experience.

Q So, the closer to ‘oceanic experience’ the healthier the religion because the further it moves from being a cult.

KD No. You can’t look at it in that way.

R [laughs] It’s not: ‘oceanic – good / individuation – bad’. That would create an impossible theoretical structure in which you would have to establish a ‘very special point’ just after ‘oceanic experience’ had started to shift toward ‘individuation’ which was somehow perfect.

KD [laughs] The Enlightened Toddler!

R We’ve seen those too [laughs]. Gurus who have temper tantrums.

KD And gurus who bicker with their husbands or wives. But, let’s not get too side–tracked [laughs].

It’s ‘not this’ and it’s ‘not that’;
It’s not ‘this and that’;
neither is it ‘neither this nor that’.

Q Okay, so what about the perfection of ‘oceanic experience’?

KD The ones who perfect ‘oceanic experience’, or aim toward that, are the ones we describe as ‘monist’. The other ones, a little further along the line, we describe as ‘eternalist’. Then there’s ‘dualism’ – that a little further along the line toward individuation. The last in the line would be ‘nihilism’.

Q Right! I can really see that. The nihilist is starting to resemble a psychopath in some ways.

R Hey! [laughs] Let’s not get too carried away now: Are you, or have you ever been, ‘a nihilist’? [general laughter] Well, all right … yes. You could say that … but of course nihilism doesn’t have to be divorced from humanitarianism. The existentialists were largely socialist in orientation. I guess it’s important not to make anything too dang concrete out of this.

KD We are talking about tendencies, and about a sliding scale. This is a theoretical model, not something by which people can be judged.

Q Right, but it would be useful to have some idea about ‘anti–social personality disorders’ if you were involved in looking for a teacher or a spiritual path. So it seems kind of helpful to be looking at this. It seems to me that it might be easy to confuse ‘free enlightened activity’ with psychopathy – and if you didn’t know about psychopathy and how that fits into this framework of spiritual directions, you could land up somewhere bad.

KD We can’t argue with that.

Q So how would you decide what someone was?

KD With great care.

Q I mean … are there any distinct signs?

KD Ultimately no. There are no signs at all. However, you could be suspicious of teachers who had blamed their actions on temporary aberrations.

Q Such as?

KD Well, such as saying: Sorry, I was under stress and was drinking too heavily.

Q Right! Sorry folks, I blew it, please forgive me, I’m a repentant man. That’s like all these tele–evangelists having breakdowns and cheating on their wives.

KD Something like that. [pause] Really … people who have breakdowns need help, not followers.

Q I’m, sorry about this Khandro Déchen, but I’m still wondering about this question of but really both are there at once – individuation and oceanic experience.

KD They’re not separate.

Q [puzzled expression]

R … or that’s the Buddhist view. It’s not going for one or the other.

KD Or both, or neither.

R It’s ‘not this’ and it’s ‘not that’. It’s not ‘this and that’; neither is it ‘neither this nor that’ [huge smile from transcriptionist].

KD So that basically counts everything out that you can think of [laughter].

Q And the purpose of that is …

KD … that you can’t think of it. You have to experience it.

Q I got caught way back when you talked about how this idea worked in other religions … it was the idea that the experience, whatever that happens to be, leads to a certain belief system within that religious philosophy.

KD Yes.

Q So … for myself, I keep questioning all the time about how one creates one’s own reality. I sit here. I listen to you teach. I do the practices expecting a certain thing to happen. And somehow that shouldn’t be. I need to not have any expectation. I need to want pure experience.

KD Well you actually just need to do it because you do it. You need to not to want anything at all out of it. Someone was asking Rinpoche a couple of months ago in London about practice and how they found it really hard. And they asked him: Are you prepared to say why you practice? [turns to Rinpoche]

R And I said: I practice because I’m a Nyingmapa – dogs bark, cows moo, Nyingmapas practice.

KD That’s what we do.

R And that’s a very banal statement: I practice because I’m a Nyingmapa. That’s very deliberately banal. But also possibly meaningful – because it functions for us. And because it functions for us it may function for you too. But then you have to say well what does that mean? ‘Being Nyingma’? It’s the sense of being associated. It’s the sense of devotion that’s there. After a while, the whole sense of having a goal has to disappear.

KD It really gets in the way. You just have to do it because you do it.

Q You just have to eat it like you gobble down a handful of M & Ms or whatever.

KD That’s right Shardröl. Someone asks you: Well why did you eat them? and you say: Because they were there.

R That’s really crucial actually. If you’re always wanting something from it apart from the simple satisfaction of just being it and just doing it … of just continuing in a certain direction – then life gets philosophically complicated. Life has to become quite ordinary in a sense. You just have to go buy the food; cook the food; eat the food; wash up the dishes; put the dishes away … [interrupted]

KD … excrete the food [laughs] not like a robot or like a moron, but as someone who relishes every moment of that commonplace reality.

R And engage in your practice in very much the same way.

Q That’s really quite a challenge for Western people isn’t it. Because really … what you have to become, is like anybody might be who lived in Tibet. Someone who does their practice because that’s what spiritual people in their country do.

KD Certainly. We’re in a very odd situation; because, as Western people, we almost have to get to the end result before we can start.

Q That is always a thing isn’t it! Before I follow this path, I want to have to have experienced the end result. But if you can do that there’s no need to practice anyway.

KD So something else has to move you to practice. Rather than either an intellectual analysis or the desire for experience.

Q And that’s the Catch–22.

KD Yes.

R That’s always there. Really … and this may be somewhat shocking … it’s really just the same as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who used to knock on my door and tell me to have faith. At one level we’re no different. Buddhism goes in for a lot more discussion and a lot more reasoning … but … in some respects … It’s really the same at the level of your guts – your gut reaction; what you actually want to do with your life. It’s rather crude really. It’s very basic. Very blunt.

KD Buddhist Tantrists may have a more sophisticated approach, but eventually they have to say: actually there’s some leap you have to make. Somewhere, sometime, you’ve got to move.

R [sings]You may be high, you may be low, You may be rich chi–i–i–ild, you maybe po’, But when the lawd get ready, you gotta move.

KD [general laughter]. You can follow some kind of path here, you can discover things. However interesting it seems to explore it intellectually, you have to do it. Then you have your own situation of either reluctance or whatever happens to come up for you.

R Basically the same sort of energy has to be there as when you’re ordering your pizza. You have to desire that dang thing. If it’s not, then you’re not going to go ahead with it. There has to be some energy. And that’s not logical at all, that’s just something that moves you. But then, having that initial impetus, when you do dive in – you then have some experience from that. That either makes you wish to continue or not. Then you can ask questions. Then you can investigate. But you have to taste something first. And that’s either because you’ve heard someone say: Well this Dharma’s a good idea. and you think: ‘Well they liked it – maybe I’d like it too, maybe it would be a good thing for me.’ Maybe you don’t like it straightaway so you maybe continue with it for a while to see whether you’ll like it later. Then there’s a period of time where you really don’t know why you’re doing it. That’s the reality for most people, and it’s useful if we own up to that.

KD That applies to a lot of things. Maybe I’d like to learn to play the cello. Why should I want to do such a thing? Especially when it’s difficult. Maybe it’s because one day I’ll be able to play Dvorjak’s cello concerto – but then I know I’ll have to go through a long period where nothing much seems to happen, just feeling that it’s tedious or that I’m completely inept. So it’s not really so very much different from that. There’s the initial spark. Someone could give you a great logical analysis of why it’s good to play a cello. They could say: All human beings should be able to do this, because it’s a natural expression of being a human being, to make sounds, and that you’ll enjoy it, and that it’ll enrich your life. And so maybe you feel that makes sense, Yes! That’ll enrich my life, I’m going to do that because I want my life to be enriched. But then I sit there and there’s the cello and I think: This isn’t enriching my life at all just now – this is tedious. I’m not getting anywhere. [general laughter] But one day it will really enrich my life, in fact that enrichment is there all the time. The process is as enriching as the result. I’m happy to be a cello student, and to practice. I’m really glad I go to all this effort.

R There can be all kinds of obstructions like that. What makes one person persevere and another not is infinitely mysterious, actually.

Q In the play between form and emptiness, was there ever a point where emptiness was not creative? Where it was barren?

R No.

Q But can it just be there, just be there… does it have to manifest?

R Oh yes. Is the Pope a Catholic? Does Ngakpa Chögyam eat pizza?

Q [laughs] It always has to? It can’t just be there?

R Oh no, no, no, occasionally there is just nothing; but that is not barren. The idea that ‘creativity’ can only be ‘creativity’ if it caught in the act of creating is a view which is trapped in ‘form definitions’.

KD In terms of universal cycles, ‘emptiness happens’.

R At one moment there’s nothing. Then there’s ‘the big bang’ of phenomena coming into being. Then gradually the lights go out. Everything goes out. There are these vast cycles… But we have a few hours yet [laughter]. I think we’ll get lunch in before it all explodes.