This year once more, Bodhicharya and Kagyu Samye Dzong Dublin had the great pleasure and privilege of hosting Ringu Tulku’s visit to Ireland. Because of the scheduled visit to Europe of His Holiness the Karmapa, the organisation of which had fallen to Ringu Tulku, there were to be none of the usual teaching visits to other parts of Ireland. The Bodhicharya group, conscious of their responsibilities, cast the publicity net as wide as possible in an effort to attract as many people as possible to the Dublin teachings.
The visit, however, came under the shadow of several negative circumstances: firstly came the news that the Karmapa, having been refused the necessary visa from the Indian Government, was unable to leave India; then we learned of the terrible earthquake to hit Yushu, Qinghai province on the China-Tibet border, causing great destruction and loss of life; and finally, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano provoked air travel chaos which prevented a number of people from abroad from attending the teachings, and disrupted the departure of Rinpoche and Lama Shenga.
However, Rinpoche accepted these unpropitious events, both natural and man-made, with his usual equanimity, remaining the serene and radiantly humorous figure we know and love, giving teachings that were full of wisdom and insight.
For both the evening teachings at Kagyu Samye Dzong and the weekend teachings at the Writers’ Museum, he took as his core text Gampopa’s Great Teachings to the Assembly, in a translation on which he is currently working, and which has never before been presented in the West. At Kagyu Samye Dzong, he gave a commentary on ‘The Four Dharmas of Gampopa’, emphasising the transforming power of dharma practice, which extends beyond what we normally think of as ‘practice’. We have to understand that, so long as we have a samsaric state of mind, the experience of peace and fulfilment is not possible. It is therefore a question of transforming the mind, so that, whatever the circumstances, we retain our equanimity. This is only possible when we learn to see things as they really are, beyond the duality of ‘myself’ and ‘other’, cutting through the illusion of independent existence and the permanence of phenomena. The objects of my perception are, in fact, no different from the mind that perceives, what arises is not different from me. The whole practice of dharma is therefore how to experience ourselves, and is necessary only because of our habitual tendencies. There is, in fact, nothing to practise, and no one who practises. To understand this, Rinpoche emphasised, is the only freedom, the great liberation.
The weekend teachings continued the theme of ‘the nature of the mind’, with a commentary of the chapter bearing that title, and a further one, ‘Stabilising the recognition of the Nature of the Mind’. Rinpoche emphasised again the concept of interdependence, pointing out that it was the same thing as emptiness, which term, however, causes problems, especially for Westerners. Everything perishable is in a constant state of flux, dissolving and changing every moment, although our habitual tendency is to solidify phenomena to make them graspable. Mind, however, has no beginning, and therefore no end; it has no characteristics and is indestructible, beyond description and indeed beyond words. In its outer aspect, it is composed of perceived objects, which are no different from mind itself, whereas in its inner aspect it is perception itself. The two are, however, ultimately indivisible. Rinpoche was at pains to emphasise that the understanding of the nature of mind, far from remaining an abstraction, was the source of great compassion: it arises when we realise how much suffering we cause to ourselves and others when we fail to understand the nature of things.
The subject of compassion was also central to Rinpoche’s presentation of ‘The Qualities of a Genuine Teacher’. Deviating slightly from orthodox thinking on the role of the teacher, he suggested that it might not be altogether a bad thing to see the teacher as a samsaric being (while, of course, retaining the view of his or her Buddha nature), since the most important part of the relationship between teacher and student is the teaching. Drawing on his own personal experience, he declared that compassion is the essential quality of the teacher, and the one, therefore, that the student should seek to emulate.
With these and other precious insights, Ringu Tulku’s visit came to an end. Throughout, he made himself available in every possible way, graciously accepting our hospitality and participating in many informal discussions, as well as conducting numerous interviews. We thank both him and Lama Shenga for their inspiring presence and wish them safe journey in their dedicated work for the spread of the Dharma.
May all beings be happy.
photos: Paul O'Connor, Annie Dibble