By Kirsten Throneberry
During His Eminence Avikrita Rinpoche’s trip to Seattle in the winter of 2015 I had the honor of visiting with him in his parent’s home for a brief and informal interview. His Eminence was very patient and generous with his time and we enjoyed the translation help of his English tutor Ngawang Khyentse.
Q: The members of the Sakya Monastery here in Seattle have incredible access to sacred transmissions, teachings and initiations given both by our generous Sangha and visiting lamas. No one wants to miss these opportunities to take part in these blessings but we also want to keep the samaya or commitments to do the practice that accompany these opportunities. However, being lay practitioners it can begin to feel a bit daunting to keep up with all of these practices, do you have any advice regarding this dilemma?
A: People have different ways that they want to relate to the dharma, that is why the Buddha gave a huge range of teachings so that we can each relate to the dharma in a way that actually suits us or resonates with us. Even if you receive a lot of initiations or loongs, some of them you might feel you want to relate to and practice it, some you might not. It depends on the person himself or herself whatever practice he or she wants to.
Focusing on that, they can come to the Monastery (because just reading is not enough) and have dharma discussions with learned, accomplished lamas, nuns, monks or any of the teachers that will help us improve our practices. It depends on each person and each practice – that is why we have different deities to relate to.
Q: So I have heard some lamas say that you shouldn’t take an initiation if you are not going to do the practice.?
A: It is also important to consider the person from whom you are receiving the teaching or loong—if you want them to be your guru or not, even if you receive initiations from a guru you can relate to—no matter how many initiations you receive you can choose which practice you want to practice more—you are receiving a blessing to be able to do the practice.
For me, I receive countless initiations, and I can’t practice all of them—there are thousands and thousands of them however. Major empowerments are different—there are certain empowerments that you need to commit to before receiving an initiation—you are told beforehand, “If you want to receive the empowerment you have to do the practice.” For those initiations it is important to continue the everyday practice. But you need to know about the practice commitments before receiving an empowerment like this. However, for subsequent authorizations like the one I gave last Sunday (the Lord of the Lotus Dance) they are not major empowerments so each person has the choice of whether they want to practice this or not.
You see, the samaya, the commitment, like I explained last Sunday, was about Bodhichitta. That was the samaya—to cultivate it as much as possible. That is the only commitment you need, the only practice you need. Subsequent authorizations are a blessing because you receive the authorization in the future to practice the sadhana.
Q: How do we help our children cultivate non attachment in a culture that really celebrates and pairs happiness with material possession?
A: Actually I am going to talk about that on Sunday (referring to an upcoming Dharma talk with teens). Well basically, from my experience, enforcing is not the tool for young people. In Tibetan families we are born with it and grow up with it (the Buddha Dharma) because of the influence of our parents and the monks—instead of searching for the methods (laughing appreciatively) they came to us. For other people from other countries and so on, (direction) comes from the influences, the people around you—but forcing and telling them “should” and “shouldn’t” those are words they do not want to hear.
Influences can come from hearing the teachings, hearing the stories of the Buddha just so they get used to the ideas and how to implement those ideas, and slowly on their own they might get into it—but it is their choice if they want to practice it or not. Start by teaching them to deal with their problems and issues through meditation—not sophisticated meditations but just cultivating awareness generally. The most important two things I find are mindfulness and vigilance. Becoming aware of your own feelings inside, a lot of people are so stuck up in their heads and disassociated with what they are feeling.
For young people, I usually recommend to follow the breath—that is really, really helpful. Also, meditating on something they feel happy about like the Buddha or feeling good about themselves as well as developing awareness (he clarifies that he means this as advice for teenagers—this has been his experience of what works best). In addition it is important to cultivate loving compassion for ourselves before spreading that to other sentient beings.
Q: Most parents I know feel an incredible bond with their children, it is indescribable in some ways, we can’t imagine harm coming to them or even life without them, at the same time in Buddhism we are taught not to be attached to people and things in this impermanent existence so how do we distinguish between love and attachment when it comes to our children and other people that we care for.
A: (Ngawang Khyentse translates in Tibetan to help clarify) Well you see, the thing for Mahayana practitioners is that attachment is when you have a part on one side and a part on the other side. Loving your own loved ones but for enemies and so on you have no love for them at all. That is why we practiced equanimity for all sentient beings so we develop a love that is beyond worldly love.
Mahayana practitioners consider that all sentient beings have been our mothers and loved ones throughout beginning less time, so with that in mind, we can develop the same love we have for our children and loved ones in this life and then naturally move beyond attachment. So if you think of it that way and we have that kind of love then it’s not considered an afflicted emotion like attachment.
There are actually a lot of questions about that—the differentiation of those two things. Of course it is hard, but that is why we meditate and are practicing daily trying to generate that kind of love as much as possible. If you have a side (us/them) then you have attachment and that is the wrong love.
Q: If you could share with other people one fundamental aspect, or element of your incredible monastic education what would it be? Assisting me in clarifying my question Ngawang Khyentse shares that some aspects of His Eminence’s education would be hard to translate to a larger audience but suggests that I might be asking about a key value within his education that would be important to the world? I agree and H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche is able to then answer.
A: One of my first central experiences as a child that stood out among so many important teachings and that I remember very clearly was when my maternal grandfather told me that Nargarjuna said, “We don’t have to train in a huge number of things, we can accomplish our goals by just focusing on one thing…compassion or loving kindness.” That was really encouraging for me, it really helped me and gave me a huge step forward. Because by focusing on loving kindness and compassion, that energy spreads to other practices. That was really so very helpful for me. I think that is helpful for anyone because a lot of people struggle to practice a lot or things but this one thing is crucial. It is the foundation really for all of your practices.