Monday, November 22, 2010

Sogyal Rinpoche at Herbst Theatre

I braved the rains last Friday night to attend teachings by Sogyal Rinpoche at Herbst Theatre. (No problem, the Dharma falls like rain, it says in the sutras.) He did not appear anywhere near as devout as the above photo lifted from Wiki Commons might suggest, but seemed altogether cordial while informally interacting with an auditorium full of happy Buddha-folk, many of whom no doubt traveled from afar to hear him.

Rinpoche is one of three great Buddhist masters educated in Tibet and Japan who settled in the West and  published seminal works of American Buddhism that sold millions of copies: "Zen Mind, Beginners' Mind" by Suzuki-roshi, "Spiritual Materialism" by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and his own "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying." These three books in addition to the widespread publications and teachings of HH the Dalai Lama have largely shaped Buddhist identity in the minds of contemporary Americans and Europeans.

I have been fortunate enough in my life to have had some personal contact with Suzuki-roshi, Trongpa and  HHDL, but somehow I had never met up with Sogyal Rinpoche, or indeed any other teacher in the Nyingma ancient wisdom tradition. For 2.5 hours he offered nonstop what he called a "crash course in Buddhism," centering largely upon the practice of meditation. Dzogchen, which is in many ways similar to the methods and teachings of Soto Zen Buddhism, is closely associated with Nyingma-pa, the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Since I am not a Buddhist teacher, I will not recapitulate his lecture, but a few thoughts remain in my mind:

  • Our minds are scattered everywhere, but there doesn't seem to be anybody at home.
  • Samsara and nirvana are mental products, so we have to ask what is the quality of the mind that produces the one and the other?
  • Real pollution consists of useless speaking and thinking, 80% of which is useless.
  • A teacher was asked about the nature of meditation. He replied that it is merely a matter of prolonging the gap between two thoughts.

There is a flourishing Rigpa Center in downtown San Francisco whose exact whereabouts are disclosed at