Questions and Answers

with Ngak’chang Rinpoche


Questioner: I have a question about the bodhisattva vow in the Dzogchen view. I guess in Mahayoga view you are really thinking of all sentient beings; but what is it in Dzogchen view?

Rinpoche: Mahayoga is a particular approach – that it is possible for a person to renounce the enlightened state and enter it after all other beings. This is based on the idea of ‘I want enlightenment for myself’. If one looks at that ‘I want enlightenment for myself’, as Pratyékabuddhayana, then obviously the bodhisattva vow turns that on its head and says, ‘Everyone else first; me last’. That is what that is based on. But obviously, the best person to save all sentient beings is not someone who is not realised. That does not make any sense at one level; but it is how it affects me when I am obsessed with ‘I want it for me’. That is its principle – to turn that idea on its head: ‘So this is not for me, this is for other beings.’ In principle the worst thing would be if you were an English bodhisattva, and if the last sentient being was also English. Then you could say, ‘After you!’ ‘No, after you!’ You could continue that forever.

From a Dzogchen perspective, this becomes meaningless. That does not mean that bodhicitta ceases to exist; but it expands limitlessly. As we were saying in terms of Tantra, what bodhicitta means is also appreciation. It is the energy that exists between everything; like looking at the little pool of light on your nose from here, or at the other little pools of light – that is interesting. Maybe I look interesting to you from this distance. Or there is the colour of your shirt – that that is essentially enjoyable. That everything is enjoyable as it is – colours are enjoyable. Red is beautiful because it is red; it speaks of its redness – that is a communication. So from that point of view, the whole quality of bodhicitta becomes vast in terms of Tantra. In terms of Dzogchen, it becomes the nature of Mind itself – it is the energy that arises spontaneously from the nature of Mind; everything being self-liberated in its own condition. This is why it is also called bodhicitta, or chang-chub-sem. So it depends on how chang-chub-sem or bodhicitta is seen.

In terms of our everyday practice, Khandro Déchen and I talk about kindness. We do not tend to use the word compassion so much, because sometimes people tend to get confused about compassion: ‘I have compassion for all beings apart from those people with whom I don’t get on, that I’m irritated with.’ Then I go back to my practice and I think of ‘all sentient beings’ – who are anonymous and not there. So when we deal with an issue of pragmatics, we are not even talking about bodhicitta. We are talking about kindness, as your grandma might talk about it – just be kind to people. That is another principle, and it is basically: whatever the base is, wherever I am, if I am getting too self-obsessed, then I need to think about other people. Maybe I will not grab the last piece of pizza; maybe I will let somebody else have that. Or even being tolerant… however one needs to work, one works at that level.

This ties in with how the teacher has to enjoy his or her students’ neuroses. This is also bodhicitta. The teacher has no bodhicitta if he or she cannot enjoy their students’ neuroses, because then there is no communication. There is no link; there is no energy there. That dance which performs itself within Tantra is then not possible, because the teacher needs to play with the students’ neuroses. He or she needs to be able to conjure with them in terms of the four Buddha Karmas—enriching, pacifying, controlling, destroying—whichever it happens to be. This is why teachers can act in extraordinary ways. One will see their student having their neurosis encouraged; and one will wonder why is this teacher encouraging the student’s neurosis here? ‘Yes, buy more! Get the more expensive one – get two!’ This might happen. One could say, ‘This is really encouraging this person’s lust or whatever’; but then you notice there is some playful quality about it, especially in conjunction with the teacher. You start realising, ‘Right, there is also something being teased here’. One is being encouraged, but the whole thing is not taken seriously – so it is empty lust, or empty craving that is going on. It is part of the relationship with the teacher, where the teacher might be cutting through that and saying, Don’t have anything. There are whole different ways of working here that are called bodhicitta, which are all about this play with how a person is, what their energy is like, how it is manifesting.