The Grand Samsaric Master and the Matter of Discipline

To enhance your Dharma practice, Tsoknyi Rinpoche requested that a series of short papers based on his retreat teachings. The Teachings section on the main web site also contains a library of previously published materials and chants.

For old practitioners, what is more difficult to work with: emotion, restlessness or discipline? Discipline is the old practitioners’ problem.

People who come to the Dharma are usually quite smart. You’ve got some understanding of emotions and negativity. You know something is bothering you and so you seek a spiritual path. After a few years of practice many of you say with a lot of self-satisfaction, “I know how to sit without too much distraction, I know how to bring lung down, I even know how to liberate. I’m really getting good at this.” Being quite happy with yourselves you get stuck there. From the Buddhist point of view you’re satisfied with the wrong thing. You say: “This practice gives me joy. I can practice in the morning a half hour or sometimes an hour. During the day I connect with rigpa here and there, now and then. I can practice anywhere, any place, any time I want to…I’m quite ok. I’ve found there’s no need to sit in one place for rigpa-practice. I can go many places, even go shopping.” You think you’re practicing most of the time but you’re not. This false assurance has become your major obstacle. You’re stuck and you won’t go further on the path if you don’t get rid of this obstacle. Do you understand this? That’s why there’s a danger in being a Grand Samsaric Master.

Through spiritual practice you’ve come to recognize samsara and now you’re using spiritual practice to help samsara run better! So when you become a Grand Samsaric Master you don’t really practice thoroughly any more. But when you have problems and your emotions surge, lung comes up. Then you practice. When everything is ok…forget sitting practice! So this makes Dharma practice a mundane therapy without having to pay for it.

This sort of laziness can create the problem of pride for the Grand Samsaric Master. You say, “I know, I know” a lot and your ego is proud of what you know, wrapping itself up in the cloak of being an old Dzogchen practitioner. This sort of pride is nothing more then ego-clinging, and this is never without basis. What we need as practitioners is “right” pride based on trust in the truth of the Dharma, not trust in our ego’s publicity about our Dharma practice. However, we may not know the difference between pride based on trust and pride based on ego-clinging. This is because our intelligence is affected by conditions and afflictions, easily falling into extremes, becoming partial to that with which we identify. Poor intelligence! It always seems to need to bend to accommodate our circumstances and to our ego. In this case, it’s the ego of the Grand Samsaric Master.

Reflecting on all of this, you may realize, “I’ve come this far but I can see this isn’t enough. I have to let go of my pride in what I know and who I think I am because I really want to achieve more.” So the next step is Bodhicitta practice. If you can sincerely say to yourself, “Dharma has made me quite ok, but if I can do more practice maybe I’ll actually be of help to sentient beings.” That’s the resolve you need to get unstuck. With continued practice your mind and body become more rested, more at ease and not dependent on ego’s relentless drive. As you become more rested, openness and discipline becomes easier and more stable. With this sort of discipline you’ll be less lazy, less distracted and more present. Once you’re more present, then discipline can easily become strong and practice will go well.

Discipline is needed mainly for our outward actions, because it’s focused on overcoming laziness in practice. However, if discipline’s turned inward it becomes an exercise in uptightness. You’ll end up thinking with a tight mind, generating guilt. That kind of discipline is torture. But with healthy action-oriented discipline, you can easily drop everything and apply immediate action, even for only ten minutes. During those ten minutes you can completely let go of everything and practice the Dharma without hesitation or over-preparation. This kind of discipline is only possible if it’s done without worry. Worry keeps you from action because you’re busy thinking, “Oh, I need to practice. I know I do. But the last 20 years have gone by, just like that! I should have been practicing–I’ve lost so much time. Now Tsoknyi Rinpoche says I’m just a Grand Samsaric Master, and I know it’s true. But I worry that these coming 20 years will be gone in a snap, just like the last 20! Maybe it’s too late. I hope not. I must practice each and every day to make up for lost time, but I don’t have that kind of time or even a good meditation space anymore. But wait…maybe what I really should do is a long retreat. How can I make that happen? I have to finish a lot of what I’m doing now before that can happen. Maybe I’ll be ready for it someday. I hope so. I don’t know…getting it together is so hard!” You’re not taking action, and all the worry in the world won’t help. Pride kept you stuck because it’s the glue of the Grand Samsaric Master, but without that glue it could feel like everything’s coming apart, and you get worried. It all seemed to be settled before, and now you worry if you can do it. Just do it! Just start chanting. Just do meditation. At any occasion, any time, just do it. In a taxi, at home, when cooking, any time, just do it. Don’t wait for anything to change before you get going.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche:  I’m not a good example of this when it comes to exercise. If you do what I do about exercise, then you’ll never practice. It’s a psychological problem. I believe I need to go to an exercise place but I’ve got only 15 days a year in Kathmandu. No point in going, I think. I should have at least two months time. So I’m waiting for those two months. But there’s almost never two months. Actually I could go those fifteen days regularly and when I’m outside of Katmandu I could do home-practice, like Mingyur Rinpoche does.  He’s so disciplined. Everyday he exercises. He’s so slim, so thin. So even if he’s only got 10 minutes before eating, he practices something like jumping 100 times. And that’s enough. I could do that also because I’ve as much time as he does before eating. But I’m waiting to join a club. And so I end up like this (points at his belly). Mingyur Rinpoche travels more than seven months a year and so do I, but he still keeps that discipline, that internal health club. Twenty minutes should be so easy because it can be found any place. But it’s really not about time; it’s a state of mind. So how can we arrive at the “Just Do It” state of mind?

Let’s go back to the self-talk we were listening to a moment ago. It usually seems to end with this resolve, “O.K. I’ll do it! I’ll practice more and go on a long retreat. But I really need to prepare for that by making the circumstances right, so I’ll talk to the family first and work it all out…then I’ll start.” Chances are that talk never happens! So regular practice never happens, let alone a long retreat. But you’re right about this: you really do need to reorganize your life to establish the necessary discipline. Take a look and see exactly what habits of thinking create your obstacles to not becoming disciplined. Once you understand that even for an old practitioner there’s value in dropping everything and practicing whenever you can for 10-15 minutes, on-the-spot practice won’t be too difficult. But you’ll need to break up bigger habitual patterns to re-establish a strong daily practice before thinking about long retreat.  You’ll need to build up to three hours of sitting every day, and because you’re old students, you should be able to do this. You’ll need to sacrifice a bit, and you’ll need to change your lifestyle a bit in order to create enough discipline to make it happen. HH Dalai Lama wakes up at 3:00 a.m., every day to practice for three hours. But he’s organized his life so he can go to sleep early enough. He has enough discipline to do it. You don’t have to do what His Holiness does, but as a householder, you’re not only busy, but you have to consider other people as well. You’ll need to organize everyone in the home as a team–children, everybody. You’ll need to talk together so there’s common ground. From this kind of planning and supportive feeling, children learn about practice and the need for discipline…and even a Grand Samsaric Master might learn something.

(copyright 2011 Pundarika Foundation)