Questions and Answers

with Ngak’chang Rinpoche


Questioner: Does the practice of shi-nè relate only to Sutra?

Rinpoche: It is important as the basis of Sutra, to become suspicious enough so that we can question things, and the main principle there in terms of practice is silent sitting. That fits in with the path of renunciation, and ties in with the Four Naljors and ngöndro in particular. It represents a method of arriving at the base of Dzogchen sem-dé, because it begins with the practice of Sutra as shi-nè.

Shi-nè equates to the path of renunciation, because one renounces attachment to that which arises in mind. It also equates in Sutra with the path of compassion, because one is also compassionate with regard to that which arises in mind. It is not that I sit there and kill all that arises. If it arises, I allow it to arise. And if it remains, I allow it to remain. If it dissolves, I allow it to dissolve. So I have in this practice endless accommodation for that which arises; I do not stop it from arising; I do not protract it either; I do not become attached to it; I do not contain it; I do not control it. I allow it to perform. Even though my goal is emptiness, I can allow myself to be endlessly occupied with what arises; it can have space there; I will not be angry with what arises.

When one looks at the practice of shi-nè from this perspective, one can go through all the Paramitas and apply them to shi-nè. This is important in terms of how shi-nè exists as the path of Sutra. One can find every aspect of the path of Sutra there within shi-nè. This is the perspective from which it is put forth within the Four Naljors, as being the first foundation practice – to enter into the state of emptiness. One has this combined practice of wisdom and compassion that is bound up within that. Because without any compassion for that which arises, one is immediately blocked. One cannot reach the empty state through control; one has to have a compassionate view of what is happening.

Q: I find myself resenting neurosis for getting in the way of the enlightened state – in myself and others. Could you say something about that?

R: In terms of Tantra, this would not be regarded as compassionate activity – particularly in terms of inner Tantra. There are inner Tantra vows about not insulting your neuroses, because they are the root of realisation. The problem with hating one’s own neuroses, is that that is a neurosis. One cannot escape that way; it does not work, because every neurosis ‘was once your mother’. One has to have compassion for neuroses. This is quite important. One can only realise the enlightened state—from the perspective of Tantra—if one understands that one’s neurosis is a distortion of the enlightened state. One can only get back to the enlightened state through the neurosis itself. Really, one has to have some sense of relaxation about that. If one cannot have a kind disposition towards oneself, then that is problematic.

I knew a doctor once who was quite interested in Buddhism at a certain level, and who attended a talk by a certain Lama in Cardiff. He was impressed with how this Lama had talked about having some love for yourself. One particular weekend when I was giving some teaching at a Gélug centre in Wales, he asked if he could come along to meet the Geshé there whom I had known for a number of years. While having tea with the Geshé the doctor said, I attended this talk last week. It was really nice. The Lama was saying how you should develop some love for yourself. And the Geshé said, Oh, no! You should love others; not yourself. This was confusing for the man. So, I had to say to the Geshé, You know, this Lama said this for a particular reason – a lot of people in this country really hate themselves. The Geshé said, Really!? I said, Yes. He said, In that case, sure! It never occurred to him that anyone hated themselves. There is a problem there for Western people.

I was in Germany once with Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rinpoche and he was giving a teaching on tong-len, exchanging self and other. He was talking about taking on all this negativity in the form of scorpions and all that. A lady at the back was looking as white as a sheet, and she suddenly cried out, No! That is too much! And he looked at me and said, You answer this. I said, You know, there is a problem here that we have, because the Christian image of taking on the suffering of the world is: ‘I take it on, I get crucified’. If you look at Chenrézigs or Drölma, they are not crucified; they are not suffering. They appear to be quite alright – serene, you might say. There is no blood; there is no crown of thorns; there is no gash in the side – that symbolism is not there. There is a whole different perspective going on there as to how I take on this suffering. From the Tibetan point of view, there is a lot of machismo to this. It is saying, I want to be one of those Bodhisattvas; I want to take it on. I want to be the Arnie of the Dharma. I want to be a huge being that just absorbs it all. Now, the attitude of some people in the West is that I take on all this suffering, and I turn into this smouldering little black cancer on the floor; I am completely destroyed by it.

We tend to hear these things differently. We tend to punish ourselves for things; and that is not useful at all. One cannot force things. Like in the practice of shi-nè, you cannot force thought out. This does not work. The more you try to force thought out, the more of a problem it becomes. The more you disapprove of your own neuroses, the more of a problem they become. The time to disapprove of them is if they are hurting others; and then in the moment. But one does not go into punishing oneself for having them at other times. If one is aware that one has patterns, then one has to say, I need to have some awareness while this pattern is performing. If I punish myself for having the pattern whilst I am having it, then this actually acts as a screen which hides the neurosis – I can be the good person who is disapproving of the bad habit. That means I never get to see this habit, this neurosis, because I am too busy being the person who is disapproving of it. This is actually a way of maintaining the neurosis. This is what guilt does; guilt stops us from moving. ‘I am guilty, therefore I am.’ This does not work at all—not in a Buddhist sense—because the only way I see through a neurosis is to be with it. This is a great value of silent sitting – whether it is shi-nè in the style of the Four Naljors, or whether it is shamatha style, or however it is practised.