Questions & Answers

Ngak’chang Rinpoche & Khandro Déchen

Irvington, New York, ninth of February, 1995 with Naljorma Jig’mèd & Ngakma Shardröl

… you think you’re going to a fancy restaurant to have a superb meal, but when you get there, people start jeering at you. They all seem to know something about your past! You’ve entered some kind of hell. You say: ‘Hey, I came here for a meal, but everything’s gone crazy! People are flicking food at me! And … hey! some guy’s let his dog loose on my new coat and it’s being torn to pieces – but my friends aren’t doing anything to help! They’re all laughing; and, what’s this! My lover’s smooching with the waiter!’ Anything is possible … and the Lama could arrange all that.

KD is Khandro Déchen, R is Ngak’chang Rinpoche, QJ is Naljorma Jig’mèd, QS is Ngakma Shardröl

QJ Could you say something about the way in which the Lama ‘mirrors’ the enlightenment and the unenlightenment of a student?

R This mirroring process … This is not something so simple to discuss. It has many facets. The manner in which this subject is approached, is also highly dependent upon the level of practice experience and knowledge that is presumed. However, we could begin by saying that the mirroring process is something which operates from the basis of what you are. Whatever kind of neuroses you have; their essence, or intrinsic nature, is the enlightened state itself. This means that, whatever the stylistics of your personality, there is an enlightened inference contained within their ordinary appearances.

KD We’re all symbols of our own enlightenment.

R This is why awareness beings occur in many different forms. They are all manifestations of enlightenment who appear as reflection of how the non-dual state can be realised.

KD Yes. You might say: If they’re all manifestations of enlightenment, why are they all different? Are there different enlightenments? The answer is: ‘No – there are no different enlightenments; but there are many different beings who attain enlightenment in many different ways. There are many paths to enlightenment – as many as there are beings who attain enlightenment.’

R Anyone who attains realisation, has something specific to offer other people. This is especially the case from the perspective of Tantra, in which every nuance of our neuroses can become a valid aspect of the path. What enlightened beings have to offer dualistic beings, is the manner in which they attained realisation. The path is always individual.

KD The enlightened Jig’mèd and the enlightened Shardröl are not going to be utterly different from the ones who are sitting here.

QJ [laughter] That’s depressing!

R No – not at all.

QS Really [laughs]

KD Really. This is actually very important. It’s vital to remember that disciples see this possibility reflected in their Lamas. The disciple has to be able to see a human being there.

R If you’re unable to see a human being there, the Lama may as well be like something from another planet – ‘the enlightenment planet’. [Rinpoche assumes a deliberate slow flat moronic tone and expression whenever he says ‘the enlightenment planet’.] Someone from ‘the enlightenment planet’ can’t really provide real inspiration. If your Lama is someone who is strictly from ‘the enlightenment planet’ how can you get any sense of what is possible for you? According to Tantra my enlightened nature is innate within my own neuroses. How can I make a connection with that, if my teacher is from ‘the enlightenment planet’?

QS It’s not possible?

R That’s right – the whole thing – is – very – boring [Rinpoche yawns in a deliberately exaggerated manner]. The Lama from ‘the enlightenment planet’ is actually a theistic model. All you can do with that is hope and pray that you’ll get taken to ‘the enlightenment planet’ one day.

QS Right … so, in terms of reflecting your own enlightened state, the Lama has his or her own expression of the enlightened state as an enlightened personality?

R Mmmm … yes … you could put it that way.

KD The Lama’s expression of the enlightened state manifests through his or her personality display. You can see characteristics reflected in the Lama which are not so absolutely different from those you might see in anybody else. But there is a real and recognisable personality there.

QJ So, the Lama’s personality could look like the personality of an ordinary person, but it’s not neurotically based?

KD Yes, that’s crucial. Although we’re not saying that our personalities are free of neurosis.

R Absolutely [Rinpoche affects a nervous tick].

QS [laughs] So, could you say that personality isn’t necessarily neurotic?

KD Yes … [Khandro Déchen pulls a grotesque face] If personality were fundamentally neurotic – that would be a statement of monism.

QJ Monism? In what way?

KD In the sense of the enlightened personality being ‘no personality’ and of every enlightened being looking the same.

QJ I see, yes. So … the reflection … the reflection the Lama gives the student – what is the personality there? One aspect of the reflection?

KD You could say that.

R It’s a particularised way of reflecting which accentuates certain aspects of what is reflected so that it can be seen with a certain intensity – a certain piquance.

QS So, the Lama ‘mirrors’ the enlightenment and the unenlightenment of the disciple through his or her personality?

KD Yes – exactly, but it’s not necessarily something one sees immediately – it is not something which is made obvious. One has to see it for oneself, and when one sees it, one realises one has seen it for years.

QJ Can another aspect of that be seen in terms of how the Lama reflects one’s enlightened state, in terms of the Lama being more aware, or fully aware perhaps, of one’s enlightened state? So, he or she will encourage that aspect in you?

R Sure – the Lama will be aware of when our enlightened state is flickering through, and he or she will orchestrate the energy which moves around that.

KD He or she will have awareness of that; and what the opportunities are for you in those moments. This is the reason why one has the experience of being different in the company of one’s Lama.

QJ Is that why it seems easy to be kinder to other people when the Lama is present, because he or she is making that possible?

KD Hopefully [laughs] But this isn’t simply because the Lama is observing our actions, and so we’re on best behaviour, or something. Although … that is the crass level one sometimes finds amongst students. Because we exist within the mandala of the Lama, and within that mandala there are all manner of open ended possibilities – we can be different. We can surprise ourselves. This also occurs when the Lama is simply close at hand, or when you’ve just received a letter from the Lama. This also occurs if you call the presence of the Lama to mind in some difficult situation. In terms of reflecting neuroses, usually either the Lama will allow you to access your enlightened nature by nudging you, or if that can’t happen, the Lama will increase your neurosis to such a pitch that you see your neurosis.

QS Is that like the line of the song that Rinpoche wrote about Kyabjé Chhi-’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche:
He organise chaos wherever he goes,
So you feel yer confusion like a fist on yer nose.

R [laughs] Yes. That’s about the shape of it. But that’s not something we manifest.

KD Well … not like he manifests it, anyway.

R He sometimes manifests it in quite a dramatic way. So, if you can’t get through one way, you get through another. Then the person is really not able to delude themselves much further, because they really experience their own neurosis as a dramatic assault. They really hit it head on.

QJ As a dramatic assault against themselves?

R Yes. Or rather, as a dramatic assault against the kind of life they thought they were going to lead.

QJ … or the kind of situation they thought they were entering into.

R Yes.

QJ Can you give me an example?

R Mmmm … well now, let’s see. All right – you think you’re going to a fancy restaurant to have a superb meal, but when you get there, people start jeering at you. They all seem to know something about your past! You’ve entered some kind of hell. And you say: Hey, I came here for a meal, but everything’s gone crazy! People are flicking food at me! And … hey! some guy’s let his dog loose on my new coat and it’s being torn to pieces …

KD … but my friends aren’t doing anything to help! They’re all laughing; and, what’s this! My lover’s smooching with the waiter!

R Anything is possible …

KD … and the Lama could arrange all that.

R [laughs] … well, a very wrathful Lama.

QS You enter into a situation which you think is going to be pleasant and peaceful and helpful, and you’re going to get something out of it – and then it all changes and all hell breaks loose?

R Yes … that could happen [laughs] maybe not in the bizarre Pythonesque way we’ve just described. It’s not really that one’s Lama would be likely to set up some vast practical joke with horrendous and personally damaging aspects.

QS … well, there are the stories of Naropa and Tilopa.

R Yes … I can’t deny that. [laughs] But Marpa advised Milarépa that this style would be rare in the future. And for a disciple to be treated as Naropa or Milarépa were treated – the Lamas would have to have the realisation of Tilopa or Marpa. We are certainly not such Lamas. Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche is such a Lama; and Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche is such a Lama. The illustration we gave is merely an absurdly exaggerated outer form which might convey something of the internal disaster which might be felt at the emotional level.

KD Yes, these painful situations are usually associated with attempting to feather one’s nest through the teachings in some way. If you try to do that, then usually you experience your neuroses reflected back at you quite strongly. But one can find this kind of thing happening in Buddhist organisations, when someone starts becoming power crazed and the Lama has to deflate a person’s balloon of narcissism.

R I observed that with Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche in Switzerland a long time ago, and it was hideous. There was a man who had been steadily inflating himself at the expense of others since Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s arrival. It would appear that he had been using Kyabjé Rinpoche’s visit as a means of self aggrandisement, and it was strange to observe the way that Kyabjé Rinpoche let him do that. I tried to warn the man as subtly as I could – that he could calm down and be a bit more gentle in his manner with others – but he didn’t want to listen. He just bit my head off [laughs].

QJ Why did he do that Rinpoche? Shouldn’t he have listened to you as a Lama?

R [laughs] Why listen to a Honky Lama?

QJ But it shouldn’t matter what nationality you are or what ethnic group you belong to, should it?

KD No – but for many people the ethnic origin of the Lama is his or her major credential.

QJ That’s sad – it means that we don’t have much respect for ourselves, doesn’t it?

R Well … sad, perhaps. But, you know … that’s just the time in which we live. That is to be expected. It is actually rare for people to judge anyone according to their own experience.

QS Didn’t HH Dungsé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche tell Tharchin Rinpoche’s students that: The only difference between a Tibetan Lama and a western Lama is that the Tibetan Lama has a flat nose and the Western Lama has a Rocky Mountain nose.?

R Yes – I believe he did say that. I have heard several people quote HH Dungsé Thrinlé Norbu Rinpoche as saying that. It’s an important statement, but people remember what they want to remember of what Lamas say. Possibly in a hundred years or so more people will believe that – but now the situation is quite mixed. It is mixed with regard to motivation and to the many different needs people have. This could be quite an involved subject … we would have to look at projection and all kinds of psychological issues that might underlie this trend, and I do not think that we have time for that within this discussion. So … anyway, where were we?

QJ Sorry to interrupt your flow, Rinpoche. Back there – you were telling us about the man in Switzerland.

R Right.

QJ What happened then?

R Well, the man just got more and more grandiose. He strutted about – literally. He started to become a caricature of himself. When he made announcements he would be red in the face, and look a little bit as if he had been inflated. He made unreasonable demands on everyone in terms of his housing, food, and transportation, using Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s name as back-up. He was always ordering wine and expecting others to pick up the tab. Then after a while, people decided they’d had enough and asked Kyabjé Rinpoche whether he really wanted them to accept this man’s behaviour. The answer, of course, was: No. He then chose the evening of the big empowerment to put him on trial before all the assembled students. It was hideous. People had to come up and present their experience of the man. It was a long list of really quite obnoxious things he had said and done. I knew he deserved it. I had been billeted in his ex-wife’s apartment and so I got some impressions of his relationship with her. He was not above physical violence to put in mildly … but it made me physically squirm to watch his entire persona demolished in public. He struggled with the idea of storming out and almost did – but eventually he deflated himself and decided to throw himself on Rinpoche’s mercy. Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche was very kind to him afterwards. I guess, in terms of emotional content, that, this story is a bit like the restaurant scene we described earlier. He must have been thinking: I thought I was becoming mightier by the moment, but now everyone has turned against me – and the Lama is ripping my ego to shreds with meat hooks and machetes! That is heavy-weight conjuring, and something which is not in our league at all.

QS What happened to the man after that?

R I believe he went to India and entered a three year retreat.

QJ That’s a powerful way to start a retreat.

R Yes – that was Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s genius. It really seemed to require that. So my stupid attempts to get him to cool it, were utterly inappropriate. Rinpoche never caned me for it though [laughs].

QJ So, when you refer to the Lama ‘conjuring’ with the student, that’s what you’ve been referring to, or are there other aspects as well?

R Well … as I said, we’ve only really referred to conjuring at a wrathful level. It is only mahasiddhas who manifest in that way.

QS So the cosy little restaurant scene we discussed wouldn’t be any form of conjuring you would envisage?

R Definitely not. But the possible internal emotional landscape of that scene might manifest if someone had disguised their low level of psychological health through a subterfuge of sham devotion.

QJ ‘Low level of psychological health’ – what would that look like?

R Well, in the field of western Buddhism we often comes across narcissism – without getting too technical on the subject of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’, narcissism might look like: need for admiration; lack of empathy; overestimation of abilities; inflation of accomplishments; assumption that others attribute the same value to their efforts that they do; devaluation of the contributions of others; preoccupation with fantasies of success and power. Narcissistic types ruminate about overdue recognition; they believe they’re superior in some way; they expect others to recognise them in these terms; albeit through disguised strategies. They feel they can only be understood by, or associate with, people of high status. They tend to believe their needs are special. They feel their self-esteem is enhanced by the status of those with whom they associate. They’re likely to insist on having only the highest Lama as their teacher. Their self esteem is actually quite fragile. They exhibit a need for constant attention and recognition. They often utilise charm to disguise their sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment. They expect to be catered for, and are puzzled or insulted when this doesn’t happen.

KD Yes – their sense of entitlement and lack of sensitivity to the needs of others often leads to conscious or unconscious exploitation of others – although they tend to become furious when confronted with that.

R That’s right – that has happened several times in our experience. They tend to expect to be given whatever they feel they need too – no matter whether it affects others adversely.

KD For example, they expect too much of others and feel unreasonably let down when others do not fulfil their needs. They also make friends with people who seem likely to advance their self-esteem, and drop them if they find they do not adequately serve their purpose.

R They take advantage of privileges because they believe they have special needs.

KD Yes – we have seen that on quite a few occasions.

QS So would you say that people with narcissistic personality disorders have difficulty recognising the desires, experiences, and feelings of others?

R Yes – that’s common. They may also assume that others should be unreasonably concerned about their welfare. They tend to discuss their own concerns in inappropriate and lengthy detail, and fail to notice that others also have feelings and needs.

KD And yet they are often contemptuous and impatient with others who talk about their own problems and concerns.

QS So, they’d be unaware of the effect of their hurtful remarks?

KD Sounds like you’re thinking of someone?

QS [laughs] Well, yes – several people actually [laughs] It seems as if the Tibetan Buddhist world is full of them.

KD You might find it in other branches of Buddhism too, and in other religions.

R It is sad where ever you find it. And it is very hard to help these people. They often display emotional coldness and lack of reciprocal interest – but it is very difficult to confront such people with their behaviour. And often of course the behaviour is hidden or disguised in various ways. That is the big problem with narcissists within a religious framework – they hide the overt signs of their narcissism as much as possible because they know that in order to advance themselves they have to pretend to be altruistic … So … we can miss that. If people want to hide these aspects of themselves, and present themselves as sincere Buddhist practitioners – it is sadly quite possible for them to succeed.

KD Yes … we’re not clairvoyant, and although we gain a fairly good idea of individuals, we can only do so if they actually open up to us in an honest way by spending enough time with us. But then someone with a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’, or more particularly an ‘anti-social personality disorder’, would be very difficult to identify.

QJ Why is that?

KD Well, such people adopt the characteristics of those around them in terms of play acting what is normal.

QJ They learn to fit in?

KD Yes. They imitate the behaviour they see as the style of behaviour which will get them what they want.

QJ That sounds quite frightening …

KD It is, in many ways. But you need to remember that they imagine that everyone else is doing the same thing. They don’t see themselves as different.

R Yes; they see any display of idealism or altruism as a performance put on for the purposes of personal gain of whomever exhibits that behaviour.

QS So in their own eyes they’re not psychopathic?

R Sure because they believe that everyone is involved in ‘life as a game’. They are also quite prepared not to talk about how crazy that is, because they know that the general agreement is that no one admits that it’s going on. They know that anyone who admitted to acting in such a manipulative manner would be pilloried. They know that they would also join in with pillorying such a person, because that is what would be expected. The terrible thing is that one cannot really tell whether someone has this propensity until they do something appalling.

KD Or until they’re caught having lied and manipulated a situation.

R Then they’ll do everything in their power to destroy those who tumbled their game. It’s only then that you might see how far they’re prepared to go to win through.

QS So what’s the cause of that? How does a person get like that?

R Well … that is a difficult question, and there are many answers. One answer lies in childhood, in terms of the discovery that parents can be manipulated. If the parents are too needy and vie with each other for the affection of the child, then they are likely to teach the child that manipulation works. There’s the ‘good parent / bad parent’ scenario. And if they alternate in that way, the child never really gets to see that one can experience both criticism and approbation from the same person. The child never learns that people contain pleasant and unpleasant. The only thing the child learns is that if one is clever enough – everything can work out to one’s own advantage.

KD The child is backed up in this by the fact that the parents have little loyalty toward each other – they both focus on the child. This means that the child never really sees any real display of love, loyalty, or real affection. The home situation is one of continual manipulations. This is the modern psychological diagnosis of the situation, and we feel that it’s a pretty realistic observation from a Buddhist standpoint.

QJ So you couldn’t conjure with that.

R & KD No. [laughter]

R We certainly couldn’t. Maybe HH Dudjom Rinpoche could have conjured with a psychopath, but that would be completely beyond us.

QJ Completely? Why do you say that?

R Why? Well …

KD As Rinpoche said – we’re honkies.

R That’s for sure. White boys can’t sing the Blues [laughs]. I actually think that’s true – although … there was Joanne Kelly, she was really quite something. Sorry, that’s not really the topic at hand. So, when we say we’re just honkies, this is not just some mealy mouthed modesty. And it’s not even a question of our capacity or lack of it. It’s a question of culture. We’re not living in a Tibetan Buddhist culture, and because of that, someone with a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ or an ‘anti-social personality’ disorder would have far too much room to manipulate. Ngakpa Chögyam and Khandro Déchen are not exactly the pillars of society you know; and it doesn’t really take much to undermine our situation. Naturally no one would take the word of a disgruntled Westerner against a great Tibetan Lama. But [Rinpoche goes into a Southern drawl] ag’inst a pair of honky ‘no accounts’ who ain’t worth doodly squat …

QS And that would really be the situation …

R Sure. We can only work with those who are willing and open to working. As soon as someone is not willing and open to work – that’s it. Finish. We can do no more. This is very different from the situation within Tibetan culture in Tibet. Even Tibetan Lamas find it difficult here. People just come and go. At one moment they’re full of devotion and then when shi-nè hits the fan – finito.

QS So can we look at conjuring in terms of how that works when there is co-operation with the Lama, and when it’s not ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’?

R Sure. From our point of view, conjuring could be the juxtaposing of situations. For example, if we’re working with two people – a couple in the process of breaking up. One partner is saying: You know, she’s being really unreasonable, because of this, that and the other. We might say: Yes, that’s what I advised her to do. And then he may have the great shock of realising that we’re advising them both equally. Then the she comes back saying: Do you know what he’s doing to me now – I’m finding it really tough. And we’ll say: Yes, that’s what we advised him to do.

KD Then she might say: Yes, but I don’t really like that. And we’ll reply: Yes, we can really understand that. We’re really sorry.

R And we really are very sorry … but we’d have to say: How can we advise him to do anything else? We do have both your interests at heart.

QJ So you’re advising a clear facing of one another?

KD Usually, yes. And usually that is what people don’t want to do.

QJ Yes, I can understand that.

KD So that is when it becomes a bit difficult. But conjuring, for us, means just that.

R We don’t always let the other person know exactly what we’re doing.

KD Certainly I’d say that the Lama often does have to conjure with people’s circumstances in order to benefit them.

QJ Could you say anything more about that?

KD I suppose it’s the same way in which a parent might conjure with a child’s reality for its own benefit. Maybe, in the days before anæsthetics and good dentistry, when a tooth had to be pulled out – they tied up a string around it and then onto the handle of a door, and then Dad or Mum would say: Look at the fairy in the garden! and bang out comes the tooth! [laughs] And that’s not being honest is it?

QS True [laughs]

KD But one distracts the child for a moment.

R Little Rhett or Scarlet are not expecting the tooth to come out – but then wang! It’s out – and it’s all over.

KD Rather than saying: Now the horrible painful moment is approaching when I’m going to …

R … rip that tooth from the living flesh! Get ready! The tooth is going to come out; prepare yourself for the pain! [laughs]

KD And the child would be terrified – as you’d expect. So instead of that you create some distraction for a moment. It depends what kind of Lama you are: whether you’re the vajra master or whether you’re the spiritual friend. Obviously, the spiritual friend is not in the rôle of forcing anything. But the vajra master is in a situation where he or she has been formally requested to force things.

R But even then, I would say that the vajra master has to have the awareness not to push a student so hard that he or she finds themselves having to break their vows.

QJ So you would say that the Vajra Master is responsible for knowing the limits of the student?

R Yes. We would say that.

QS Could you give an example?

QJ Yes, what would you do, if someone was under what you considered sufficient strain to break their vows?

R I would say: I think it’s better that you don’t hold your vows for a while, because the situation you’re in is not an accurate one.

KD Yes, We’d have to say: You’re not using us realistically as Lamas; and we don’t think you’re going to be able to stand how we’d approach you on it. So we’re giving you a holiday for a while.

R That’s right.

QS You know though … I think people can get concerned about being manipulated, whether they’re being manipulated or not.

R Well yes … but, you see, it’s a romantic idea to say: I’ll do whatever I’m told that I must do.

QS Yes … because when it comes to someone’s personal life, someone who’s just in it for the romance, it can become very difficult, and they might say: Hang on! I think I know what I want to do with my personal life. I don’t think I want to be taking the Lama’s advice in my personal life on this issue.

QJ And if they’re so weak in their practice that they become unsure as to what the Lama’s motives are, then that’s not very useful.

KD Sure, so in this instance we’d say: You have to take a holiday from these vows, because it’s evident that you’re not clear whether we have your best interests at heart here. We can tell that. So you have to have a holiday until you learn that this either is or isn’t the case.

QJ Would you say that your suggestions about what a student should be doing in his or her personal life would be either to bring that student to face their pattern of unenlightenment or to recognise their intrinsic enlightenment?

KD Well, in the various issues people have had over the years, it’s been more a case of what they’ve been doing in their lives hasn’t been good for them – just on a plain, practical level.

R Yes! It’s mainly not been about some great spiritual awakening! It’s more threatening to look at somebody’s everyday circumstances and say: You know these everyday circumstances are really askew. Like why do you hit your wife? What is going on with you? You’re supposed to be a practitioner and you’re not even a decent human being! Of course, naturally, if someone’s circumstances are so askew that it’s detrimental to their practice, then altering their circumstances will be of long-term spiritual benefit to them. Not that this happens very often, of course, but it depends largely on how much or how little someone is able to understand the limits of their own rationale. And if they’re still very addicted to following the dictates of their own rationale, then even if they made vows they will come unstuck with them.

KD And then it’s up to us. We can either not confront them on their issues and say: Well you’ll just have to experience this for yourself – you do it the way you want to do it.

R And that is more often than not what we do – aside from instances in which someone is acting in an unkind or cruel manner. But in cases of more ordinary confusion, as Khandro Déchen said, we’ll just say: Right, you think that’s good? You go ahead and do it – see what happens. We tend to prefer it when people say: Well what do you really think? Do you really think I shouldn’t do this?

KD Then we say what we really see.

QJ Do you find, in general, that it’s people’s love relationships that they have … [interrupted]

KD Yes.

QJ Yes [laughs] … that they have the hardest time.

KD Yes that’s right [laughs].

R That seems to be the biggest thing.

QJ Isn’t it interesting how we need to hold onto bad relationships even though, at the back of our heads, we know that anyone who had our interests at heart would advise us otherwise?

R Yes, but you don’t need a Lama for this. Most people could do a consensus of their friends, and their friends would give them pretty good advice.

QJ Yes?

KD Yes. As long as your friends come from a sufficiently diverse background, you could ask them all what they thought And if they all say: Leave, we’d say it’s a good idea to leave. But most people don’t really ask their friends that kind of thing, not unless they’re about to leave anyway – and just want reassurance about leaving.

QJ Yes, I recognise that [laughs].

R So that’s really very interesting.

QJ When you talk about conjuring, it sounds like a very active and conscious doing on the part of the Lama.

R Yes.

QJ Sometimes I wonder if it’s not passive. What I mean by that is, I seem to have experienced times in which all of this personal confrontation took place because you didn’t take a position, because you didn’t hold a position.

R … Yes.

QJ In a sense, because of your emptiness.

R Mmmm … but that’s not accidental.

QJ I’s not accidental?

KD No. It’s never accidental.

QJ You’ve referred to the Lama short-circuiting the thoughts, the emotions of a student. Could you say more about what that is?

R Well it’s easier to talk about that from the perspective of short-circuiting a situation. One could short-circuit someone’s thought patterns simply in terms of the dynamic in which one hears it.

QJ I’m not sure I understand that.

R At its most abstract level, a student could explain what he or she was going to do, and whilst explaining it to the Lama, it could get to sound ridiculous. You could think: It made a lot of sense when I started saying it, but now it doesn’t make any sense any more. That is one context of being short-circuited. Nothing actually happens.

KD Or when you’re speaking, Rinpoche might look at you in a certain kind of way and you think: ‘He doesn’t go for this, I can tell.’ [laughs]. And you think: ‘Yes this doesn’t make a lot of sense.’

R Or, the Lama can ask a question about what you might be proposing to do with your life. Kyabjé Rinpoche would sometimes simply say: And … you think this is good idea?[laughs] When faced with that question, it would suddenly occur to me that it wasn’t a good idea at all.

KD Or the Lama might ask detailed questions about your idea.

QS Right … and those sort of questions could be designed to enable you to understand for yourself what is confused about what you’re doing.

R Sure

KD Because people often have a very convoluted way of hiding from certain issues in their lives.

QJ So if the Lama asks the right questions, it becomes impossible for you to hide from that?

R That’s right. The Lama could simply bring everything to the surface – or … allow you to remain with your big secret.

QJ I know from my own experience in relation to you both that it’s been astounding to watch this happening. There have been mind-sets I’ve been unhappy with, that I knew were inappropriate and irrational – but I couldn’t drop them. My mind-set seemed definitely in control. But then, in speaking with you, the mind-set disappears! I never really understood what it was in our interactions which allowed me to drop my dysfunctional mind-set.

QS Yes – It’s truly astounding, this ‘short-circuiting’, which allows your whole issue to simply drop – so you’re able to let go of it, fully, all at once.

KD Well … It doesn’t necessarily always happen like that. Often ‘something’ is allowed to get short-circuited, but then it bounces back again. So it’s a continuing process. ‘Short-circuiting’ has to be repeated, just as meditation has to be repeated.

R Absolutely – it’s not a one shot deal; not unless the disciple is very advanced in practice, or has a massive level of devotion.

QS So issues just keep rearing their heads?

R Yes … like some sort of hydra.

KD And, of course, there’ll be many different issues. Or possibly, just one issue with many different faces.

QS So … someone will come talk to you about their situation, and you’ll cut through it for them. And then next year they have another situation exactly the same, only they think it’s different. So it’s a matter of cutting through the same processing over and over again.

KD Certainly, that’s really important – one has to recognise that this is an on-going process. Otherwise it becomes a ‘good child / bad child’ situation, in which one just wants to get the process over with. If one merely wishes to be a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’ with the Lama, then one will wish to pretend that the issue has gone – I was a bad girl once, but I’m a ‘good girl now’.

QS So, eventually … do you get to recognise the nature of the issue?

R [Rinpoche enunciates in Southern drawl] I guess.

KD But it can be a long process. One has to have some kind of awareness of what is happening in one’s relationship with the Lama. One has to begin to accept that the Lama is always working with one’s issues, and that he or she sees all of these issues as being fundamentally the same.

QS So, until you see your issues as fundamentally the same, it is impossible to see through them, because they always look different.

R Sure, that’s one of the reasons why the Lama has to cut through what’s happening.

QJ I was fascinated, reading the manuscript of Wearing the Body of Visions, when you described the relationship of the Lama and student – as ‘the Lama manifesting as the form quality of emptiness, and the student manifesting as the emptiness quality of form. Would you be able to say something about what that is?

R Well, the Lama is the form quality of emptiness because the ground from which he or she operates is the realisation of emptiness. This means that whatever the Lama manifests is the form quality of emptiness … [interrupted]

QS … because it is informed by Emptiness?

R Exactly.

QS So, it’s also completely fluid because it is informed by emptiness.

R Sure.

QS So … if the student follows the instruction … which means that his or her ‘outer form’ conforms to the form of the Lama … [pause] Where am I going from here? [laughs]

R You’re about to say that form can’t conform to form.

QS [laughs] Right! So the student has to be empty to conform to the form of the Lama. You have to let go of your own form before you can enter into the form provided by the Lama.

KD Great – go on then.

QS So the Lama is saying: Well you might wanna do this, but I’m suggesting you ought to do that. So the student has to let his or her own idea of what they want to do evaporate. So they become Emptiness.

KD Yes – and then?

QS And then … you’re the emptiness quality of the Lama’s form in the sense of Form having the quality of being fixed – but it’s the enlightened aspect which is fixed because it’s empty, or because it always comes from emptiness.

KD I think you’re getting the idea.

R So, there’s always this play within Tantra – the play of form and emptiness, in which emptiness becomes form, and form becomes emptiness. The form quality of emptiness and the emptiness quality of form. This will naturally play itself out in the Lama disciple relationship. One has to be form, and one has to be emptiness in this relationship. That’s what gives vajra relationship its unique dynamism.

QJ Right, so as soon as you have these two people who have a relationship, which reflects emptiness and form in a pre-ordained way, it’s going to reflect a kind of disparity – enlightenment and unenlightenment. Is that then the nature of the conjuring?

R. It is certainly a vital part of it. You see, the Lama conjures with the reality of the student, in terms of setting things up in such a way that the disciple can experience the empty quality of his or her form.

QJ The empty quality of the Lama’s form?

R Sure. The disciple starts out seeing the form quality of the Lama’s emptiness (which is what intrigues the disciple); but, as he or she becomes more intimate with the quality of the Lama’s conjuring display – he or she begins to see the emptiness of the Lama’s form …

KD Because there’s not much interest in relationship with the Lama: if the Lama seems as if he or she is ‘just the same as I am’ – if the Lama is ‘no different from me’, then what is there to intrigue the disciple? So one has to be intrigued on some level by this being, and the only thing that is really intriguing is the dance of non-duality the Lama displays through form and emptiness always becoming each other.

QJ And the student’s manifesting as emptiness would take place throughout the relationship with the Lama, through oral teachings, transmission, empowerments, informal time spent together?

KD Yes.

QS It’s the only relationship any of us has, isn’t it, in which our own rôle would be one of emptiness throughout the relationship?

KD Yes.

QJ One does have experiences of that in one’s life, but it never remains constant. Falling in love with somebody, you have to become emptiness.

R Sure.

QS Especially in trying to seduce the other person, you have to become empty.

R Well … to a lesser extent. Unless you mean the seduction which simply happens because you’re falling in love. Falling in love is an extraordinary explosion in which the usual constructs dissolve in unpredictable ways.

QS So, could you say that seduction was manipulative, but in carrying out that manipulation you have to make yourself empty.

R [laughs] Yes … you can’t not do that – even at that level; otherwise you couldn’t attract the other person. We’re not in the business of giving seduction lessons, though.

KD [laughs] You also have to have your form, though. If you have no form, then the other person isn’t attracted either.

QJ So is it how you’re empty – through your own form which attracts the other person?

KD Certainly.

QJ But the student shouldn’t be out to seduce the Lama?

KD No … but that is always what the student attempts to do.

R That’s quite normal, but we’re referring to seduction here in the sense of seeking approval and approbation.

KD But then that’s also what children try to do with their parents. The opposite sex parent is always the subject of the opposite sex child’s seduction at a certain age. And that’s kind of healthy, because the child is able to play out a rôle in what’s supposed to be a safe environment. One tries to seduce one’s Dad or Mum, but one's Dad or Mum doesn’t go for it. In a healthy family one never wins Dad from Mum; or Mum from Dad. But one tries as part of one’s development. Then one realises that one has failed, but is not rejected for having failed. One is not humiliated for having failed. One realises that one has a different kind of relationship with Mum or Dad.

QJ And that’s what happens with the Lama?

KD Yes – often. There’s an attempt at seduction, and then one realises one can’t manipulate.

QS And the Lama doesn’t mind the fact that you’ve done that, or that you continue to do that in different ways.

R Sure.

QS Why doesn’t the Lama mind? [laughs] I understand that the Lama wants the student to manifest as emptiness and be open. But seduction is very manipulative, isn’t it?

R Sure [laughs] But that’s not a problem – if the disciple is prepared to keep working with the situation and not run off cussing the Lama out for not being a good Dad or Mum.

QJ Yes, and of course, the whole of the student’s life is manipulative, too, in terms of samsara.

R Quite. In terms of manipulating the ground of reality in order to fabricate the illusion of duality.

KD That’s what the student does all the time.

R So attempting to seduce the Lama – and, as we said before, we don’t mean this in the sexual sense – the student is always saying: I’m a really good student. I’m the most devoted student. I’m really an ideal student. You should really be so happy that you have a good student like me. And the devious part of that is: I’m gonna act in such a wonderful way that you might never confront me with myself: because I’m going to look so good, et cetera, that I’m going to make it impossible for you ever to make me change in any real way; because I’m going to create organisational wonders and make everything work so perfectly that you’ll be so grateful that I’ll never really need to practice; because you’ll feel really guilty if you do; because you’ll have really hurt my feelings – after all the work I’ve done; because of all the sacrifices I have made, and all the years of my life that I’ve given; because of the time I stayed up half the night finishing the essay I said I’d write two years before; because of all the Christmas cards and birthday cards I sent you; because of that time when I had a bad cold and I actually got out of bed; because I came to the retreat and there wasn’t a private room and I put up with sleeping in a mixed dorm; because I had to do all kinds of things that I didn’t particularly feel wildly enthusiastic about; and because I had such a hard time and no one noticed; and I actually sat once for an hour, even when my knee hurt a little and, and, and, and – ad nauseum – et cetera – in perpetua – et al. [general laughter] That’s one thing that people do. But it’s nothing to be upset or angry about – that’s something to be expected. Why would you imagine that the Lama would be upset about that? It would be a statement of ignorance to be upset about that, as if it were being done on purpose, as if it were being done completely knowingly.

QS It’s not being done knowingly at all?

R Well … in the sense of the person being bound up in their own delusion to such an extent that ‘seeing beyond it’ has become too terrifying to consider. However, if it’s coming out of the basic neurosis of the student who regards the Lama-disciple relationship as definitively workable – anything is possible.

QJ So then … is it that all of us … Do all students, attempt to seduce the Lama one way or another, from whatever corner of neurosis we come from?

R Mmmm … yes … I would say so. One cannot really help but do that. But that’s not particularly a problem, unless the student surrenders to narcissism.

QJ Then it wouldn’t make sense for the Lama to take offence [laughs].

KD What? What are you planning? [laughs]

QJ [laughs] Nothing, I hope. But then I might not know.

R A very wise precautionary stance, I’m sure. Thank you!

KD You see … It doesn’t particularly make sense to take offence about anything. It would be like a parent taking offence at a child. If you’re holding your baby and it decides to vomit all over you – this isn’t something you’d get offended about. If it happens to be your best blouse, that’s still nothing to get offended about. It’s something you may feel irritable about, in terms of feeling that you should have known better than to put your best party blouse on. ‘After all If I didn’t want this blouse soiled in this way I shouldn’t have put it on’. It’s not the child’s fault. You can’t blame the child. It’s simply being a child, or an infant in arms. At that age, it can’t be in control of its bodily functions.

R So … the Lama regards the student in the same way. Students are not responsible, at one level, for what they’re doing – even though it’s far more intellectual.

KD Manipulation is all that some people know or understand. They may want to get away from it, but they do also want not to get away from it. And so it doesn’t make any sense to be annoyed by that.

QS Can I ask something about how the student picks up on the Lama’s suggestions … but doesn’t necessarily end up adopting the Lama’s personality.

R Right. That’s important. It’s really quite a problem when the student feels that he or she has to emulate the Lama’s personality display. That’s not what’s meant – although that does happen.

KD Students will do that quite naturally though … and it would be the Lama’s job to undermine that where necessary.

R I heard a tape of a Western Buddhist teacher. He’d studied a lot with HH Dala’i Lama, and as he was giving his Buddhist talk he said: Hmmm. And so – form is, how you say – impermanent. Hmmm, in exactly the style I have heard HH Dala’i Lama speak. When I heard this tape, I found it rather amusing from this perspective … I felt that someone could have said: Whadya mean ‘how you say’. You’re an American aren’t you? HH Dala’i Lama often says: How you say? and punctuates his phrases with a characteristic Hmmm. He does this when he’s talking to English speaking audiences. It’s really rather sweet for a Western student to emulate his Lama’s broken English, and obviously signifies a great deal of devotion – but … [interrupted]

QS … it’s a bit creepy too.

R Well … let’s not making some vast and consequential criticism here. [laughs] However … I do feel that this is a subject of which people should be aware. In a way, for anyone to imitate His Holiness the Dala’i Lama is something which could offer extraordinary benefits. But to imitate Ngakpa Chögyam could be an appalling error [laughs].

KD Naturally one will be influenced by the style of one’s Lama.

R Yes, and in a sense I find that quite charming. But of course, if you’re unaware of what you’re doing, then you’re just conditioning yourself in some way. So you should have an awareness that you’re doing that.

KD But we don’t think it’s good to imitate one’s Lama’s outer manifestation too much – unless it is the signs of kindness that they display.

R But if everybody were to start looking like me, then that would be horrendous! [laughs] That would really be kind of kitsch and I wouldn’t really enjoy that too much.

KD We like to encourage everybody to be themselves, which doesn’t mean that we don’t like there to be any kind of ‘in-house humour’. It’s more that we don’t want to encourage cloning …

R … apprentices becoming buddhoids [laughs].

QJ Then, could you say what other expressions of conforming to the form of the Lama …

R It’s mainly going along with suggestions …

KD The Lama will suggest something and one would say: Right, we’ll do that then. We’ll go for a walk. We’ll climb the hill. Now we’ll practice, or We’ll whatever… – whatever the suggestion is.

QJ When you’re with a student I’m sure you want an active and dynamic interaction with the student.

KD Yes.

QJ … You want them to express their form as well?

R Sure.

QJ If a student were to come to you with his or her emptiness, it could be a pretty bland interaction … I mean, if the student never made a suggestion, or … [interrupted]

R … oh no, it’s certainly not like that. It’s not that the student doesn’t make ‘suggestions’ – some apprentices frequently make ‘suggestions’ [laughs].

KD Being a big nothing is not what’s meant by conforming to the Form of the Lama. What that means is that there needs to be a sense of openness in terms of the interaction.

QJ So one will be sensitive to that Form, and one presents oneself as one is. Then the Lama reacts to your presentation, and you learn from how the Lama reacts to your presentation.

KD Yes.

QJ For example, from that perspective, you wouldn’t insist on something. If the Lama had given you his or her response, you wouldn’t immediately say: I don’t think that’s a good idea. Maybe one could say: Could you explain why you think my idea is not workable?

KD Yes – that would be a better way to approach anyone you might consider to be knowledgeable about anything.

QJ Right – you would want to take advantage of what the Lama had to offer, and that would be more the quality of conforming to the form of the Lama – that you’re there to learn something, not to argue.

KD I think that would actually be a better way to approach most situations, because then you actually learn something from other people.

QJ As a student manifests emptiness in relation to a Lama, the student isn’t actually giving up all form then?

KD No, it’s more that one puts one’s form second.

R One is allowing one’s form to be adapted, or to experiment with having one’s form adapted.

QS So you’re not losing yourself. You’re discovering that you’re malleable?

R Well, you may well be losing your ‘self’, in terms of what you imagine your ‘self’ to be. But here we have to be careful that we know what we’re talking about. Are we talking about the ‘spiritual friend’ or are we talking about the vajra master? Obviously, one spends a lot of time experimenting one’s relationship with the Lama as ‘spiritual friend’ before one decides whether this ‘spiritual friend’ might become the ‘vajra master’.

QJ Yes.

R I think that’s quite important.

KD It’s not that you meet a Lama, and suddenly you give up all form.

QJ How do you approach this with apprentices in general?

R Well … I remember an apprentice wanting to take vajra commitment about ten years ago. I said, Why do you want to do this? And she said: It’s the logical next step, and I can’t see myself getting any further with this unless I do that. So I said How d’you think being in vajra commitment is going to be different from what is happening now? What d’you think you’re going to get out of this? And she said Having to follow instruction is something very important in Tantra and Dzogchen. So I said: Well, yes, but I make suggestions all the time. Why not simply follow my suggestions? Why do you have to take a vow to follow them?

QJ Interesting!

R I said, You could just decide to follow suggestions, but not tell me that’s what you’re doing. What’s wrong with that?

QJ Did she like that idea?

R No [laughs] She thought that was kind of sneaky, and sort of cheating, and not really doing it properly.

QJ Really! That’s interesting … so what happened then?

R Well, I said: Just think about it for a while and see how the idea settles over time. That’s the last we said about it for about a year. She told me later that’s what she did. She actually went away and experimented with taking all my suggestions.

QJ Whatever you suggested she should do?

R Yes – that is what she told me. And then, at the end of the year she said, Right. I’ve decided I want to take vajra commitment now, because I’ve been living as if I was in vajra commitment for a year, and it has been really valuable.

QS So it’s not possible to understand that relationship intellectually in advance. There’s no purpose in saying, How would it be? How would I be? You have to feel your way into it and ask yourself whether you want more of this, or not?

KD Yes. I think that’s very important, because one has an opportunity to experiment. It’s not as if, for example, once the vajra relationship starts, then everything changes. Everything might remain exactly the same.

R It might be very disappointing at that level.

KD It’s not that one has to start doing unusual things, it’s more that one is prepared to do unusual things.

QJ And … so … from that perspective, that is most of the practice – that one has made a decision that one is going to do whatever one’s told to do. That is the practice in itself, of being able to come to that conclusion.

KD Yes. So, after having made that decision, maybe then the Lama never, ever, asks you to do anything peculiar in your life again. Nothing might happen at all. All kinds of things might happen – but they’re not as important as that basic decision that you’re going to follow through. That’s what’s most important.

QS But there’s no guarantee, of course, that it might not become very peculiar. You don’t know that. That’s part of the situation. There can’t be any guarantees around that.

R Well yes. You know, half this discussion is about the vajra relationship – as it is; but then there’s how we work. Naturally, if anyone sees the people around us, those who’ve taken ordination, and if they look at the lives of these ordained people – they’re not really going to find anything that strange. No one has to wear a big rubber chicken on their head.

QS So you have an idea for me already [laughs].

KD I think it was trickiest for Ngakma Nor’dzin, because she was the first apprentice who took ordination.

R Yes, she had nothing to go on! [laughs] Nor’dzin had nothing at all to go on as to what it was going to be like.

QJ Ngakma Shardröl answered a question of mine when she came back from the Wales Retreat, having met the other ordained disciples.

QS Yes, I remember that. She asked me: Are they different? Is there anything different about them?

QJ And you answered that they seemed more natural and more at ease with themselves than anyone you’d met.

QS Yes – that’s true. It was remarkable.

QJ Yes. I thought that was interesting. That was very nice to hear! But for most people it would seem very unusual to enter into, or to be in a relationship, in which one is the emptiness aspect of the relationship.

QS Yes – it is very unusual.

QJ And that’s very special.

KD And this is exactly why one should take up to thirteen years about making such a decision. It is not something which you can enter into quickly. In fact, I would say that considering it – is in itself an incredible practice.