Questions and Answers

with Ngak’chang Rinpoche

Samsaric Failure versus Revulsion for Samsara

Questioner: Is the ‘suspicion’ that leads us into Sutric practice that experience of becoming sick and tired of our life in samsara?

Rinpoche: At the base of Sutra we are looking for suspicion. We have to become suspicious of samsara. In order to become suspicious of samsara, we actually have to have some success at it. One cannot approach dharma in terms of being a samsaric failure; that does not work. I think this is often an issue for people.

I was at Pema Ösel Ling about five years ago when Dzongsar Khyentsé Rinpoche came to give a teaching. There was a lot of preparation – we put chalk mandalas along the path, and there were a lot of prayer flags. It was a large event – about five hundred people had come from all over. He said that he wouldn’t actually give a teaching. He would answer questions, but he did not want ‘cooked questions’ – he wanted raw questions. By this he meant he did not want to be asked, Rinpoche, can you explain the difference between dharmata, dharmakaya and dharmadhatu? He wanted questions that came from people’s experience. Tharchin Rinpoche was sitting on one side of him, and I was sitting on the other side of him. He looked at me and said, Does your watch have a stopwatch function? I said, Sure, as I passed it to him, Just press this one here. He said, If there are more than 30 seconds between questions, I leave. And after a while, No – cooked questions! I don’t want that. Next question? Then he said, Now we will have fifteen seconds, then ten seconds, then five seconds. He kept reducing the time, and there was a sense of panic among people. They wanted him to be there, and they had to summon up any kind of question. After a while he said, You know, most of you are not qualified for samsara, let alone the pursuit of nirvana. You should go out and get jobs, and learn to live life!

This was interesting. If you are going to renounce samsara, if you are going to develop revulsion for samsara, revulsion for samsara is not: ‘Oh, I do not like my job… My parents didn’t love me enough… I can’t keep my bank account in credit… I don’t change my underwear enough… I haven’t got any friends… This is samsara’. I tend to prefer the term ‘suspicion about samsara’, which arises when I am able to do things: I can say, ‘I would like to do this. I will take this course; I will study; I will get this qualification; and I will do this… All right; I have done that. It is alright. I am not hugely disappointed; but it is not the best thing in the world. Maybe there is something better than that; maybe I will try it out.’ So I go to work – I have a job, my employers like me, I work well. I have a partner, we get on well; we eat enough roughage, our bowel movements are great. I don’t eat too much; I don’t drink too much; I get exercise. I can be successful. I can write a book. I can learn to ride a horse. I can do whatever I want to do. Somehow, whatever I do, something else comes along that might be a little more interesting. Then I get the idea, ‘I could keep doing this. I could live my life doing this. There would always be another thing that I could do; and I could do that well. I have confidence in myself. I could challenge myself. Maybe I will go climb a mountain or something. I could take some risks. Yes, I could do that, too.’ Then some suspicion arises: ‘There seems to be a pattern here. I seem to move towards something – I think it is really important, I get it, and then I think it is not as important as I thought it was’. So I get suspicious of that and think, ‘What’s the principle in this? How come I always do that? There must be some answer to that; there must be some other way of being. Or is this simply how it is, and I just accept that then?’