Mingyur Rinpoche’s honorific is the Very Venerable Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. When I first heard of it, I thought to myself, “I wonder how it must be like to be the guy who is Only Slightly Venerable”. And then I realized, that guy is me.
I got to spend a meaningful amount of time with Mingyur Rinpoche on 21 May. This was made possible by kindness and generosity of a group of people, including Mei Yen Ladle, Marie Chuang and Mingyur Rinpoche himself. Thank you!
I walked away even more impressed with Mingyur Rinpoche than when I last met him as part of a large audience (see this post). The depth of this man’s mind and practice feels almost unfathomable to me. Talking to him feels like talking to a wise old sage. The entire time we were conversing, I kept forgetting that he’s a young man. I feel deeply humbled, but in a way that greatly strengthened my own self-confidence, which I think is the best way to be humbled.
Here are some notes I took from our conversation which I think would be interesting and useful for all, minus anything that might be private to either of us. I make no guarantee that my notes are accurate, mostly because I’m an old and stupid.
=== NOTES ===
Rinpoche: Difficulties are good things, they help us in our spiritual growth. The secret is to transform our difficulties into growth. There are 3 steps:
1. Shamatha (calm abiding). Apply shamatha, and with that stable mind, bring awareness to the difficulty. Make that difficulty an object of meditation.
2. Compassion. Apply compassion to self. Also use our difficulty to understand the difficulty of others, taking that opportunity to grow compassion. Practice tonglen.
3. Insight. Look into the true nature of the difficulty. See its emptiness, and create an union between that difficulty and awareness / clarity.
Me: I’m not sure what “creating an union of difficulty with awareness” means. It sounds to me like moving from craving into perception, and then into sensation, and then into just awareness itself. (In other words, knowing that my difficulty is not me, but merely sensations and thoughts in my body and mind). Is that right?
Rinpoche: That is precisely right.
Dealing with Monsters
We also discussed my Monsters poem. Rinpoche thinks it’s a very good approach, the only issue with it was my implicit expectation that when the monsters are hungry, they will leave. I agreed and changed the poem slightly to address that issue.
Rinpoche also thinks it’s good to treat monsters as our friends, since they help us in our spiritual growth (see above).
Me: Why is Sleeping Meditation not more widely practiced? What are the main difficulties?
Rinpoche: Sleeping Meditation is actually a difficult practice. Its main difficulty is the obvious one: that you lose stable attention near the point of sleep.
Therefore, it’s good to have a firm meditation foundation first: start by developing a strong ability to maintain a stable attention. (ie, with sitting practice).
The best time to practice Sleeping Meditation is when you’re in a situation where you’re sleepy but don’t want to fall asleep. For example, when you’re dozing off in the middle of a boring meeting. Another good time is during sitting meditation.
The Future of Buddha Dharma
Me: In your opinion, what is the future of Buddha Dharma in the world? What is your own role?
Rinpoche: The practice of Dharma is essentially 3 things:
- Calm Mind
- Open Heart
- Seeing True Nature
It’s all about Awareness and Compassion.
Buddhist practices are increasingly being studied and scrutinized by science. This is a very good thing. Subjecting Buddhism to scientific rigour will help make its benefits more accessible to the world.
The other thing we need is community. Having communities of practitioners help people with their practice, and that’s lacking right now.
My (Rinpoche’s) role is to bridge authentic Tibetan Buddhism to the scientific community and the modern world.
Dharma and Technology
We discussed the use of technology to help more people benefit from Dharma.
The main thing on my mind is Shamatha. I feel that Shamatha is not just extremely valuable to modern people in and of itself, it is also the basis of all deep practices. Hence, if we can invent technology to accelerate Shamatha development by a factor of 10 or so, it’ll greatly benefit humanity. Rinpoche agreed. He thinks it currently takes about 2 years to fully develop Shamatha, and that’s too long for most people. We both agree that such technology may be possible, since Shamatha is a “gross mind” phenomenon and is, hence, measurable in the brain, but neither of us knew how to do it yet.
Rinpoche would love to see a computer game based on Compassion. I would love that too, but neither of us knew how to do that yet.
Lots of opportunities to be explored.
We discussed many other things, but I didn’t take good notes. Here are some bits and pieces I scribbled down that may be useful.
– The Buddha strongly discouraged his students from talking about their own spiritual attainments, but we can all talk about “gross level” attainments. These include mental peace and tranquility, emotional intelligence, concentration, empathy and shamatha (ie, things I teach in my classes). There is no harm in open discussions of these. But beyond “gross level” attainments (eg, things at the “subtle level” and beyond), it’s best not to tell people that you attained those (except for your own teacher). Part of the reason is it encourages pride and ego in the practitioner, which can hold him back. Part of the reason is there is no satisfactory vocabulary for people without the requisite experiences (ie, most people). And part of the reason is since it cannot be described to most people, it causes them to cast doubt on the practitioner himself (like, “what on earth is this guy talking about?”).
– It is possible that attainments at the “subtle level” and beyond may not be meaningfully measurable in the brain. (Note: This is just a theory). That may prove to be the limit of scientific study in meditation, sort of the meditation equivalent of Heisenberg Uncertainty.
– When practicing Shamatha and Jhana: Let go, and never give up.
(Also see: Sleeping (Meditation) with Mingyur Rinpoche)