Nendo Rinpoche’s Visit

4 September 2018 | Chronicles from the Institute

Meditation from Head to Foot

“I share with you my experience and what can be beneficial for you.” Nendo Rinpoche is jovial, but profound; he is energetic, yet calming; he is direct and yet gentle. He speaks enthusiastically, yet listens attentively. He tells us, “Samsara is a cycle that turns on itself without end. In the morning we feel good; in the evening not so much. The next day is pleasant, but it ends depressingly. It is incessant. We go through ups and downs again and again. We need to become detached from this cycle. And yet, it is through using samsara that we can become free from it. We must observe our own functioning and understand it profoundly.”

The teaching is about meditation. His approach is pragmatic. You might say that he teaches meditation from head to foot: the legs are renunciation, the head is devotion, and the body is the practice of meditation itself. But Nendo Rinpoche redefines the terms.

He explains that in order to renounce, we need to become aware of our circumstances in the world and our inner functioning in order to see how they generate dissatisfaction. To help us carry out this reflection, he reminds us of the reality of impermanence and the process of causality, the infinite succession of pleasant and unpleasant experiences that carries us forward, etc. In this way, we can naturally turn away from suffering and its causes. But he knows us well. He says this about impermanence, “We don’t like to hear talk about change; no one likes to feel themselves getting old or see stable things transform, etc. If someone tells us we look younger than we are, we are thrilled. When someone tells us that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, and, therefore, we, too, will die, we don’t like to hear it and we resist. But there is no point in questioning this functioning. We are all going to die!” Simplicity and common sense carry the day.

In regards to devotion, he shows the progression; we begin by cultivating trust. In what? In our ability to liberate ourselves from illusion by applying the instructions. Which instructions? The Buddha’s. Who gives us access to these instructions? The lama, motivated by kindness. A successful reflection on the instructions brings us from trust to profound conviction. The relationship to the lama, imbued with trust and conviction becomes devotion, gratitude beyond words. Devotion is not something we can fabricate, or something we can force; it is born of a natural process, of a relationship to the lama that deepens with practice.

And finally, there is meditation. Nendo Rinpoche stays practical, “When we say to ourselves, ‘I’m going to meditate,’ this generates tension. We imagine that we must keep our mind on the support. This isn’t going to help calm the mind. What we need to do is to relax the mind, to just be there. Then, we can observe the mind in a clear and direct way until we recognize the essence of thoughts. Meditating is not about locking up the mind like it’s in a box. Meditating is opening oneself and becoming more and more aware, developing greater knowledge. Our minds have developed afflictive tendencies based on our habits; meditation will free our mind from these tendencies.”

This is how a proper understanding of renunciation, devotion, and meditation forms the full body of practice that leads us toward greater clarity and, eventually, toward liberation and enlightenment. This is what the “Short Prayer to Dorje Chang” explains, which Nendo Rinpoche used as the inspiration for his teaching. It is a text that describes the conditions necessary for proper meditation practice in a few stanzas.

Rinpoche uses many metaphors. He uses the example of a car to explain how the balance between relaxation and attention is necessary to “drive” meditation. Behind the wheel, it is important to stay relaxed while also remaining alert. If something unexpected, like a deer, crosses the road, we are ready to brake. We are aware of what is happening without getting caught up in it. If we follow the deer, we’ll wind up crashing into a tree. The same goes for meditation. It is about cultivating general awareness, relaxed attention.

One last thing. In order to meditate, it is necessary to unite positive conditions for practice and to distance oneself from agitation. This allows us to acquire experience. And then, every situation becomes an occasion to evaluate our meditation. For example, how do we react to criticism and compliments when we are interacting with others? Being more or less susceptible to external conditions shows where we are in our meditative experience. And lastly, during these five days of teachings, Nendo Rinpoche brings us back to the three pillars of practice: study, meditation, and activity for others.

Puntso, Head of Dhagpo’s Program

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