Wisdom and Compassion
After the enthronement of the yangsi of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in Nepal in December 1997, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave a talk on the meaning of the word "Khyentse".
In Vajrayana the idea of the guru is very special. And many of us are disciples of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and this is the enthronement ceremony of the incarnation of His Holiness. Just briefly, all the Khyentse reincarnations are considered as the incarnations of Vimalamitra and King Trisong Detsen.
The great Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was one of the most important illuminators in Buddhism in general and especially Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet, not because he had a big seat or a high rank but because of his spiritual achievement. Together with Jamgon Kongtrul, Chogyur Lingpa and Jamyang Loter Wangpo, he actually started this Rime movement. Not only was he a scholar and a saint, but he was also considered as one of the five king tertons. He had five emanations - body, speech, mind, quality and activity. And the emanation of the mind was His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche who also had similar qualities to the great Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
The word "Khyentse" loosely means wisdom and compassion. And for those who have seen His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the previous incarnation, I’m sure you remember he is the embodiment of wisdom and compassion and he represents that. It is very difficult for us ignorant beings, even though we can maybe understand wisdom and compassion intellectually, to actually see the example of wisdom and compassion. It’s very rare. But many of us had the opportunity, because of our past karmic deeds, to see the past incarnation and now we have this great opportunity to see his incarnation. And although I’ve been dragged into this [talk] by Tulku Pema Wangyal, I guess I should consider myself as someone who’s very fortunate to have this chance to accumulate merit by saying a few Dharma words.
So I decided that I would say a few words on the words "khyen" and "tse" because we all know that there are Khyentse beings and we also somehow know that there are concepts called wisdom and compassion. Now, as I said, the word "khyen" refers to wisdom or understanding. Here we are not talking about an ordinary kind of wisdom or an ordinary kind of understanding. Wisdom here is the mind that knows the ultimate truth of all phenomena. To give you some examples of why wisdom is necessary, generally our problems come when we don’t know something. Our petty misunderstandings come when we don’t have complete understanding. We have lots of misunderstanding or not understanding reality. We have that kind of ignorance because of the habits of our past lives.
Although some people may have a little intellectual understanding of wisdom, it is very difficult to have wisdom because in Buddhism when we talk about wisdom, we are talking about the wisdom to free ourselves from all these delusions. And many times the things that we think are wisdom, are in fact not really wisdom. In Mahayana, wisdom is the mind that understands selflessness or the mind that understands the emptiness aspect of the self. But even though it’s easy to study that, it’s very difficult to experience it. This is because of many lifetimes of attachment to the self.
In Buddhism we talk about samsara and nirvana. Samsara is where there’s all this delusion. When we talk about ignorance or delusion such as clinging to the self, we’re not talking about a defilement that actually does exist truly within us and that we then later have to purify. In fact, all these delusions, all this ignorance, in reality they don’t exist. But because of our own insecurity we think that they exist. We are very attached to this existence of the self and we’re constantly busy as the slave of this self. Now wisdom is that which understands the non-existent aspect of such a delusion. But as I’ve said many times, one can roughly understand wisdom through study and receiving teachings, but in order to actually understand wisdom one has to have lots of merit.
It’s the same for devotion. It’s kind of easy to understand what devotion is, but to have devotion one needs lots of merit. Until you have merit, a person does not have devotion. I think not only the spiritual, enlightened qualities such as wisdom, devotion and compassion, but even the mere happiness that we have in our day-to-day life depends so much on merit.
For instance... I’m going to become a little wild now. For instance, if someone like my interpreter [here] says to this nun [here], "How beautiful you are", it depends so much on how much this nun has merit or not. If she has the merit to have even a short time of happiness, such praise will definitely give her lots of happiness. If she doesn’t have enough merit, the same remark that the interpreter makes can cause lots of problems. For instance, it can raise her expectations [yet] maybe the interpreter said it just out of politeness. But because there’s not enough merit to interpret this remark properly, she may have raised her expectations and she might follow him wherever he goes! And then if he is a kind of patient or skilful person, it might work. But I don’t think he could tell her she’s beautiful every day. So merit, sonam in Tibetan, is one of the most important qualities that really has a lot of influence on everything. I’m sure you must have experienced in your life a certain thing that sometimes makes you unhappy can make you very happy and this is very much because of merit.
You may be wondering now, "How can one have merit?" Strangely, even to have merit you have to have merit. Merit is the cause of merit. This is the difficult part in Buddhist practice. In one aspect there is the complete idea of wisdom which is beyond all sorts of concepts, beyond all sorts of habitual hang-ups. But in order to get this wisdom we talk about merit which comes very much together with our emotions. It’s the same for emptiness. This is what we have to realise. But in order to realise emptiness one has to have merit, such as singing well or making offerings to their guru [which the people outside are doing right now] and such as some of you being patient and trying to listen to what I’m trying to say and at the same time not getting disturbed by all those drums [outside]. One can accumulate merit this way also.
There are two great methods for accumulating merit. Compassion for sentient beings and devotion to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and the guru. In fact, we can abbreviate these into just one compassion because, when we talk about Mahayana, we talk about compassion.
And the same compassion is almost interpreted as devotion in Vajrayana. So this is the second aspect of the name Khyentse, tsewa or compassion. Compassion is not only sympathy. In fact, it is the mind that understands equality, equality between oneself and others, equality between bad and good, equality within all dualistic phenomena. That is compassion. But for many of us compassion is very difficult to arouse. There are so many obstacles to compassion and the opposite of compassion, which is selfishness, attachment to the self, is very strong. And there are lots of favourable circumstances for that clinging to the self.
I can’t talk about you, but if I talk of my own experience, I find it very difficult to have genuine compassion even for a few seconds. Even if I’m reading the bodhicitta vows and prayers and supplications or whatever and even though I understand the meaning, always behind all that there’s selfishness. You know, in the Mahayana sutras there are many different kinds of bodhicitta. But the most supreme kind of bodhicitta is the shepherd-like bodhicitta, someone who wishes enlightenment for all sentient beings, someone who wants enlightenment only after all sentient beings are enlightened. That kind of bodhicitta mind is very difficult to realise.
I don’t know whether you have this or not. But I have this a lot. I don’t care about other people. And I consider myself quite good at least, even just wanting to get enlightenment. Many people don’t even want to get enlightenment. But at least I’d like to get enlightenment. Just for myself, though! It must be happening to you. When we make offerings to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, even though we say this is for the sake of all sentient beings, our mind is always aiming for a result just for oneself. So compassion for sentient beings is quite difficult for me. So I guess this is one of the reasons why I also like Vajrayana where devotion is taught as a sort of higher interpretation of compassion.
At least as a beginner, as a very deluded being, when you begin the practice of devotion, you can start with one person like your own guru. It’s much easier to admire someone than to take the responsibility for everyone. And I guess I must be also pleasantly brainwashed by people like Jigme Lingpa. Jigme Lingpa said that years and years of chanting mantras and reading sadhanas and doing pujas is very good, but it’s nothing compared to a minute of meditation because meditation penetrates our mind probably more. Then he said that years and years of meditation is nothing compared to an instant of remembrance of the guru. And this is why I think that the practice of devotion is very strong and all-pervasive.
But I understand that many people have difficulty with devotion. For those who have seen great masters like His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (like myself I’m very fortunate to have met him), I guess we have less of a problem having this sacred outlook. But for those who have to end up with people like myself, I understand completely why devotion is so difficult! Because firstly you don’t even have much trust in the guru anyway these days.
Again, I’m going to tell you about some of my own experiences, but I know many of you are old dharma students so you have heard these things again and again. I was saying that complete trust in the guru is quite difficult. For instance, recently when I was doing guru yoga practice, I practised it all according to the text, visualising the guru in front of you and all of that, and at the stage where you ask for blessings, both supreme or uncommon blessings and we can also ask for common blessings...
Of course, as supreme blessings we ask for enlightenment, the growth of wisdom, dispelling ignorance and all that. This is, of course, the ultimate aim of guru yoga. And then, in order to benefit people, we can also ask for blessings so that one can have longevity, no sickness and all sorts of worldly blessings.
I noticed that my seeking for beyond-worldly blessings was much, much less than for worldly blessings. I wasn’t really asking to get rid of my ego as much as I was asking for longevity, success for my projects and so on. Then I realised this - that I was actually still attached to worldly life. In fact, I was using the guru as something like a god to ask him for certain rewards. Then as soon as I realised that this was not a great thought that I had, I then thought that the realisation of that fault was also the blessing of the guru. At times, when I manage to realise my faults, then out of nowhere this pride and ego creep in, thinking, "Oh, I managed to realise my fault, That’s good!" So it goes on like this. Then again I scold myself like this, saying, "No, I shouldn’t have this kind of ego."
And then one day... You see, I’m interested in writing scripts and making movies and all that. And one day I found myself praying to the guru, "Please bless me so that I will write my script properly, so that my film project will be successful. Then immediately I thought, "No, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche doesn’t even know how to make a movie. How can I ask him that?" At that time I was reading both Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s and Khyentse Chokyi Lodro’s biographies. And in them they mention so much about how much devotion they have to their masters and what they seek from their guru as a blessing - enlightenment, benefit for sentient beings, all sorts of enlightened qualities. I felt very embarrassed that I was asking for such mundane things. But then because I have read enough Buddhist books I can bring all this... My mind, my ego, my selfishness is so clever that it skilfully brings good excuses. Then I thought I could ask for blessing to write a good script for the sake of sentient beings!
Again I told myself, "No. Now what I’m doing is actually helping my ego and my selfishness, using all sorts of Mahayana excuses, which is not good." Anyway, going back to when I pray or supplicate to him so that he will give me the blessings for my movies... After that I thought, "No, no, he doesn’t know how to write a script. He doesn’t know how to operate a camera. Stuff like that he doesn’t know." And then later I realised, "See, this shows I have no trust in him. He’s the Buddha. He should know everything. I have considered him as someone who does not know a single, mundane thing such as operating a camera which takes two days or a week at the longest to learn." So that much I have no trust in him. And this shows that I still have to develop my devotion, develop my trust.
After that I tried to make sure that I spent more time praying and supplicating so that he would bless me so that my wisdom would grow and so that all my enlightened qualities would flourish. And I have gained slightly more confidence, so these days I don’t feel embarrassed about asking for blessings for anything, like writing successful scripts. I think it’s okay.
What I’m trying to tell you is this. We have this problem of not concentrating on one point, like the guru is okay as a teacher, but if you want longevity and you happen to know Amitayus, the long-life Buddha, then you ask for blessings separately from the long-life Buddha. Or if you want to increase your wisdom, then you ask for blessings from Manjushri. Things like that. This also tells us that we have this lack of understanding that the guru is the embodiment of all the refuge objects. This shows that we still have lots of dualistic mind. As long as we have this kind of weakness, we will never have this courage to have wisdom.
We call those who have bodhicitta bodhisattvas. And the name bodhisattva has the connotation of someone having courage, not only courage to help certain sentient beings, but in fact courage to face the reality, the courage to face this illusory aspect of our life. So in order to have khyen or wisdom, one should have compassion. And without compassion, one does not have wisdom. And the quickest way to get these two attainments, "Khyentse" or wisdom and compassion, I personally think, is through devotion which is the quintessence of compassion. So in this way devotion has many degrees. We can start simple devotion mainly out of our own emotions such as admiration and inspiration. And finally, when we manage to increase this devotion, the very devotion that we have becomes wisdom. And then we will not have the fear of needing to depend on someone all the time. You know, depending on someone is a very strange thing. Our mind wants to depend on someone at times, but at other times the very idea of depending on someone can be a big hassle. So I think that’s about all!