Akong Tulku Rinpoche:


Applying Buddhism in Everyday Life

The International Cultural Centre Caisa in Helsinki, Finland

the 17th of May 2006



Introduction by the translator Soili Takkala:


Good evening everybody and welcome here in the Cultural Centre Caisa. Today we have as our guest the Very Venerable Akong Tulku Rinpoche, some of you may know him already. Akong Tulku Rinpoche fled from Tibet to India in 1959. He was one of the 13 refugees who made it out of the original group of over 300. He came to Great Britain together with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1963 and learned English. In 1967 the first Tibetan Buddhist centre, Samye Ling, was established in Scotland. Akong Rinpoche has been its leader until recent years, when he gave the responsibility to his brother Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche and concentrated in humanitarian work. He is highly respected and loved teacher. Today he will tell us about applying Buddhism in everyday life.



Akong Rinpoche: I am very happy to be here today, coming to Finland. This is the first time I came here. I heard great deal about Finland, because several people came to Samye Ling. I heard about your life, your summer and winter have big difference in the climate and you have specialities like reindeers which I heard so many times.


And today I also learned sauna started in your country. That is also interesting for me, a way of treatment, through making stones hot, 7000 years ago you had a special way of treatment, that is also very interesting for me.


I always say Tibetan medicine is the earliest because it goes 2500 years back and to drink hot water is part of treatment, but your sauna seems much to be much earlier way treatment – 7000 years before, so you have more knowledge of curing different sicknesses than Tibetans.


Tonight my talk is Buddhism in everyday life, and I hope I will present few of my ideas about Buddhism, how we can apply in a world which is very speed life and we don't have much time to go to retreat and meditate. Yet everybody needs very much Buddhist way of methods, way of ideas. So I present some for you, and you may already know anyway, but afterwards there is plenty of time to ask questions.


You all know Buddhism comes from India and this was founded by Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha. Through his compassion he found Buddhism and then he was giving teachings for many people, and they found it very useful and beneficial. Then little later it was introduced to Tibet, to China and many other parts of Asia.


The Buddha said the Middle Way practice is a way to understand, a very rigid way may not be a wise thing to do, and not very loose way, but Middle Way practice is the way of understanding of Buddhism. But what is the most essential thing in Buddhism? It is compassion. I don't really know how you understand it when I talk about compassion. In some countries it means great deal, in some countries compassion does not mean that much. So in Finland I don't really know what compassion means, but Buddhists think it is not something that you fall in love with your boy- or girlfriend but it is called compassion non-expectations, and you have very much love and wish to help somebody but you don't expect anything back from that.


I would like to make a very simple Buddhist teachings. So many teachers nowadays they talk great deal about tantrayana and vajrayana, so many miracles, so many kind of different types of performances or miracles, but if you make something very simple, which is for example is very good, Dalai Lama. Where-ever he gives teachings international, all over the world, the most teaching is about compassion. Looks like he is somebody who don't know much about tantrayana teachings, he does not present miracles, he does not make people excited, he talks about compassion is the most important of Buddhist principles. And I watched his teachings in many places. And one particular person asked: who is Buddha, what is Buddhism? The answer from him, I'm sure if you read his book and if you learn his teachings, he said: what is Buddhism means, whoever has compassion for oneself and for others.


And the answer who is Buddha and what does Buddha represent, or what Buddha means, his answer was the one who has 100% of compassion from his hair up to his tail… toe. Whatever exists, there is nothing that does not contain compassion, that is called Buddha. That seems to me, tells how to live a Buddhist life, whether it's nowadays or earlier times, I think it's the same thing. What is different for us is we are now in the technology time, before people could make their own decisions. Nowadays we cannot make our own decisions, we are controlled by machines, we are controlled by technology.


And I think we have to know how to make simple way of Buddhist life. Because we already are busy and the technology already exists, we have to be part of the technology. We don't have a choice. In earlier times, about 1000 - 2000 years before the humans controlled or run the world, now the world runs humans, where-ever or whoever, it doesn't really matter, everybody is run by somebody else and we are very much part of slavery.


So, whether it's rich or poor, whether it's powerful political leaders, no matter whoever it is in this world in the present moment, it's run by the technology. Humans do not run the technology but technology runs humans. We do not have the power to when we want to get up, we do not have the power when we want to eat food, we do not have the power when we want to lie, we don't have any, and we depend entirely on the machines. So, there isn't anybody in this room or any other place – like for example we have tiny machine in every of our hand. It's called watch. Watch runs our life. If I'm too tired and say I want to go to bed, you don't have the choice, watch is saying you have to get up, it's time. Watch is saying you have to eat food because it's your time, it's nothing to do with your stomach. Watch is saying you have to go to bed, it has nothing to do with whether you want to go to bed or not. So there is nobody who is not run by under the watch. Time to go to bed, time to wake up, time to go to office, time to see somebody. I'm here to night, I came in time. And if I don't come in time you will all be very angry! It's nothing to do with feelings and emotions, a piece of machine has become our life.


And equally we are run by certificates, piece of paper. It has nothing to do with your knowledge, your wisdom. And if you are born, if you don't have a birth certificate, you were never born, you see. May I please be born, I don't have piece of paper. You were never born, because you have not been registered! Same is like marriage. How many people have been married, been together for so many years but they are not considered you are married because there is no piece of paper. And even you have been dead for 30 or 40 years, until you get the registration you have never been dead. As far as our belief goes, most important is the piece of paper, rather than known existence of our life. And you cannot say that I'm still alive, can you please accept my life; they will say "No, you have no prove that you are alive. You have no piece of paper to prove that you exist." If you look in that way who is really running our society? Humans are no longer in power, humans are no longer running the whole world but we are run by pieces of paper and pieces of metal, they are our boss which tell us what to do.


So therefore, the humans have not changed but the society's beliefs have changed. What we believe, how we run is changed all over the world, not only in one country but it has changed in all the countries. And especially now we can go faster and in different countries and therefore we pick up new ideas, new traditions, and those ideas and traditions are endless. But what we want to do as Buddhists is not something another piece of idea, something which you are not able to benefit from, but we have to bring Buddhism into something very simple, something you are able to understand, something that you are able to apply and by applying benefit. So I always feel it's very important not to exaggerate Buddhist ideas but how to make something more simple, so all of us have some benefit.


Buddha taught 84000 ways of presentations of the teachings for each individual to benefit. But if you make that much more simple way, it has four sentences of teachings. The four sentences I will read first in Tibetan (…) which says don't do any bad, harmful things. So, anything which is causing suffering, harmful for others like killing, stealing, telling lies and cheating people and taking drugs, all non-virtuous actions, anything to do with harmful things. The Buddha said don't do anything which is harmful.


Then in the next sentence it is said (…) which means to accumulate all the good or positive things to benefit of others, or anything which is – whether it's benefit for oneself, benefit for anybody else, benefit for the world. When we talk about the benefit, like [for example] we talk about that there is harm to this world and we do revolutions and then this country will be freed. The Buddha did not have a similar idea. The Buddha said: "When you do any benefit also through that benefit don't cause anybody's suffering." Benefit means everything has to be harmless, anything which is killing in order to benefit is not the right way. So, from the idea of benefit from the beginning until you achieve the full benefit, there is nobody done any harmful things. That's called proper benefit. So to do all benefit and all virtuous actions it's called you always do the right things in your life.


The third sentence he said: Rang sem jon sung dor; rang means oneself, sem means mind, jong sung dor means don't carry in your mind bad thoughts, but tame your mind, mindfulness, training your mind to be compassionate, so it's training your mind all the time and regularly.


And the fourth sentence says: "This is the teaching of the Buddha." All the teachings of the Buddha are included within these four sentences.


So, when you try to make his 84000 teachings very simple, so that you can apply them everyday in your life, they are in those four sentences. And I think if we try to apply this, we may be able to make Buddhist principles more simple. But I'm sure it's very difficult not to do any harmful or negative things and to do all the good things, because we don't know what means good and what means harmful, bad things, quite often we mix up the two of them. We feel this is right way and yet maybe you are doing the more wrong things than positive things. So therefore I think to try mind-training and meditations, to start with that, maybe more useful and then practice Buddhism in everyday life.


In your country you have very different kind of conditions, like in climate and the day and night; there is big difference. Due to this you have many depressions and emotions, quite different than any…  it is an unbalanced country, because you have two extremes. And you already realized that if we don't meditate or develop compassion you can always be at the edge of a sword or knife: that depression can arise any time. Each year when you have long nights, the depression arises.


It's same as in medical terminology the four seasons when they change; even when it's an equal balanced country, when four seasons change, you have different sicknesses, you have different moods, and you really have a kind of two seasons rather than four different types of seasons. In here the suicidal rate is very high, much higher than many other countries. And the separation in families, and older generation and younger generation have little communication with each other, and therefore you have many problems.


But if we want to improve your country and if you want to improve your mind, you can't change the seasons, because they already exist. There is no way to change the seasons. We can't change the society because nowadays there are jobs, accommodations, it's already governed by your education. But what we can change in ourselves is how to develop loving-kindness, how to improve our life by learning to relax, by learning meditation, by learning understanding. On basis of Buddhist principles, whether you are called a Buddhist or non-Buddhist, it doesn't really mean very much, according to His Holiness Dalai Lama, he said: "If somebody has one tiny compassion, maybe just once a year, you can call this person a Buddhist, because Buddhism is based on compassion."


And I think it is also much more simple way to try to understand Buddhist way of life, because no matter how busy your life, no matter what kind of society you are living in, your mind is always in your body, you cannot separate your body and mind, and therefore Buddhism is to how to mature your mind, how to understand your mind; compassionate and tolerate and to wish to help, not only just oneself but wish to help all others, everybody, either it's rich, poor, educated, non-educated, everybody need help. You are willing to have the method to help all those, because some people look like rich physically but mentally they are very poor. Some people look like educated physically, but mentally they may be very poor. So your job is not to kind of analyze this is educated, this is not educated, this needs help, this does not need help which I can give, because they should not require help. But anybody, anything which needs help that you learn, because once you have limitless compassion, then you don't have the idea of "I have this one and I'm not willing to have those people." So you are willing to help anybody who need your help and loving-kindness and compassion without any expectations.


And based on compassion I think it's most useful in our life to learn how to meditate, because meditation gives you the relaxation, meditation gives you ability to face our difficulties, meditation gives you… even we have to be very busy in our life it helps your mind to become less busy. And then of course there are many different techniques of meditation which you have to learn, I suppose under your teacher, somebody who knows about meditation. But we realize through signs, we realize through experience, and meditation helps us to face our emotions, meditation helps us to have less sickness because many sicknesses are due to our mental problems. So, to practice Buddhism in everyday life is to learn meditation, that will be most useful.


I can't think anything else to talk, maybe you can have few questions, or maybe different subjects you want to hear? And since you want to hear my view we can discuss any other subject or subjects I talked about. And you can present your own views, if it's something which you found difficult to understand, you can say so, I try to be little more clear.


Questions and answers


It is difficult for me to meditate long time without breaks, I can meditate only for a short while in one go. Today I realized I can go and walk in a forest, I get energy from there. Is it so that everyone must find their own way to meditate, that it's not similar to everyone?


Meditation has many different methods, many different techniques those who believe in prayer, you learn through the prayer, those who believe in visualisations you learn through the visualizations, and those who believe in relaxation, you learn through meditation and relaxation. But if you are very much a beginner who has no particular belief, then I think there is active mind and less active mind, there are two main types of people. Some very speed people, some less speed people.


So when you call mind-training the way to start is you have to know what kind of character you yourself are. Are you speed person or less speed person. If you are a very speed person then you do exercise which are to make you less speed. If your mind has kind of constant hollow, no activity, no actions, then your technique is how to bring more focus, oneness in more active way. So the whole idea is how to bring balance of your mind. So there are different techniques to achieve: to concentrate on breathing, to focus your mind on outer form, focus your mind to working or mantra, so, in the end I think it comes very much at each individual basis, I don't think there is one technique which suits for everybody.


Rinpoche mentioned that in Finland there are two seasons. I could think about winter but what is the other one??


Too much light in summer, there is no dark.


Your Presence, Rinpoche. I have one question, I don't know if it is really suitably for this occasion because it doesn't really have anything to do with what you were talking about. But we just had one retreat and our teacher told us to ask all the lamas who come the same thing. So I wanted to ask, when you go to the dharmata bardo when you die and the deities which you see, are they always looking the same for everybody or is it according to your own perception how they come in front of you?


Recently there is a very good translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, translated by an Englishman, his name is Gyurme Dorje. And also there is very good television program, if you have an opportunity to watch, I found it contains very good information. But when people die, everybody dies same way, there is no Tibetan death and European death, because same brain. And after your death it's said no different languages exist, because whatever languages people talk, you can hear them all. So there is a barrier of language. And there is no barrier of inside house and outside house. As soon as your thoughts are in kitchen even it's 100 miles away, you will be there immediately, because it's entirely your mind. And all the wrathful deities and peaceful deities, all these are part of your mind. So I don't think there is particular Tibetans have to have Tibetan deities and Westerners have to have Western deities. According to the text this is a form of your brain connections, each connection has aspect of wrathful and peaceful. In that case it has nothing to do whether it is Tibetan or European. Maybe everybody sees the same deity because everybody has same brain. But I wouldn't know myself, after my death I will let you know… or you will let me know after yours!


I think if we taste sugar for example, it doesn't matter which country you come from, you will have the same taste, and therefore since the wrathful and peaceful deities are very much similar, it's your experience, because it's in the chakras. Everybody has the chakras, whether you are white or black or brown or golden colour, rich or poor. It's all the same, nervous system of you head, nervous system of your throat, nervous system of your heart chakra, all the same, so the form of experience will be the same, I think.


I have a question of quite common sickness, schizophrenia, is there a Tibetan explanation, or how do Tibetan people see it? What causes it?


I think it is taking part in the cause and result and past lives. It's not something what you have done during this life but something what you maybe misunderstood wrong way or did some wrong actions. As a result of this then you have difficulties in understanding your emotions. I think it is cause and result, it's called karma. So, maybe it's considered karma. In some medical terminology they may say that the state of mind is very weak and so you are influenced by different negative forces. The negative forces are much stronger than yourself and you are not able to overcome your… or not able to recognize that there are the negative forces. That may be one way of doing it. Another one I think it's very much to do with karmic life, so I would put [emphasis on] karma more than anything else.


Are there means to cure schizophrenia, can you affect on it by means of meditation for example?


I think everything is curable, I don't think there is anything which is not curable. Even you believe it is caused by karma, you cannot take away the karma, but the experience of your bad action (karma) through practice of prayer or meditation you are able to deal with it. So you won't be carried away by negative emotions, you are able to stay in control and deal with it. Practice, meditation makes it more easier, so I think there is a way to cure completely or you can stay away from harming yourself, you stay in control of things by prayer and by meditation.


Rinpoche, what would you prescribe as a remedy for somebody who is suffering from lung lo, constant excitement?


Tibetan medicine is divided in three different types, lung is one of them. The way to reduce lung is relaxation and to eat honey, going to sauna, less thinking and not to sit too much in damp areas, be in dry areas. And there are many medicines which you can take and apply to your body, like massage medicines and many medicines which you can burn. Lung energy is very common thing, especially with people who are eating too much raw material like uncooked food, it increases lung and that means you have to take more cooked and solid food like meat, juice of meat is meant to be good too. So there are many ways of treating.


Rinpoche, I would like to ask you if we have animal friends or people who are not actually Buddhists and if there is something negative happening to them, they are dying for example. How would you see our practice for these sentient beings, is it still useful for them if we do the practice, if we do it with pure intention and more particularly if people are not Buddhists and do not understand the practice. Is it just okay to do it silently without talking about it?


I don't think that you have to tell that I am going to practice, because the person who is dying, as soon as you think the person, that person is able to understand. You don't have to talk. After you wake up and realize you are dead, maybe it takes two or three days, mostly, at that time the conversation is no longer necessary because that person is able to feel the benefit of your thoughts, if we burn food or throw food on behalf of that person. And as soon as you think "I'm going to give this food to this dead person, you don't have to eat and digest but the thoughts make the feeling that I'm eating. So therefore if you practice sincerely and whether it is done loudly or not, that person will benefit, so I think it's good thing to practice. And compassion, loving-kindness, especially it's said Seven Points Mind Training in Taking and Sending, if you know that means, taking other people's suffering, sending your happiness for person who is dead, whoever it is, I'm sure it will be very beneficial.


It's also said that if you are doing prayers, you must pray very sincerely, because if you pray with your lips and you are thinking something else, the person on behalf of whom you are praying see all your mistakes. Then they are very upset: "This person makes so many word mistakes, I don't like!" Then it becomes very negative. So when somebody dies it is said you pray very clearly, you don't make many even word mistakes. They have the feeling of everything, not only what is said but all your emotional things. So, not thinking whatever and praying something else. Try to be very positive in your mind.


Rinpoche, you were talking about [inaudible] if we are over-active, how we use the massage medicine etc. How do you recommend for the kids, what can parents and grandparents and godparents do for them to grow up smoothly can we use the same medicines with them?


Since I come from Tibet, we have a very different view to family situation and especially how to bring up a child. How to take care of old people. In Tibetan society it's very much a big family.


I think not only Tibet but Far-East like India and Burma and China, they have different kind of structure in society. In Tibet we don't have for example nurseries or old people's homes on the other hand, they don't exist. Therefore the older children are taken care by their relatives or parents, the parents take care of their old people within the same unit, and therefore the older people give good example to children, so children are constantly learning the wise people's knowledge. So even they don't go to school all the time, since the older people are taking care of the younger children they learn good manners, they learn how to respect and it's kind of everyday education, so you don't need second part of education how to eat, how to do things, how to think.


And in here you break down the society, the society is divided: older ones are in one home and younger ones are in other  home and the parents, the middle group, the children's parents are bound to how to do income every day. So they don't have time to take care of their own children. And after the school finishes the children wander very much in the street with many other children. So you learn so many negative things, taking drugs, cigarettes, breaking toilets, because there is two or three hours gap before the parents come home. All wrong education and wrong habits come from that gap of two or three hours when the parents can't be at home. So, if we are to improve our society then I think it's very important that if the parents want children then parents must give the time for taking care of the children rather than leaving in the nursery or to find somebody else to take care of one's own child while you are busy earning the income. You have to change each of your own idea, or at least one of the parents always be with the children, and then that I think will improve the society life.


Rinpoche, sufficient sleep is necessary for health and effectiveness. In Calcutta Mother Theresa's sleep was seriously disturbed, but she had the benefit of nuns nearby, who could pray on her behalf, so she could sleep peacefully. Now, how can a person known as a Buddhist in this society protect his of her own sleep against subliminal or occult attacks? Lung maybe one part of it but these attacks are another aspect.


I think it can apply two things. One is medical aspect entirely to do with the physical, another one is to do with your mind. Generally if you have the body which contains the five elements, it requires rest, it requires certain hours of sleeping. It has also to do with how much your body is in balance. If the wind energy or bile energy is unbalanced in your body then certain imbalances you do need more sleep than others. In medical terminology you do need certain amount of non-disturbed sleep required, but if you are mind-trained person, your mind is quite levelled and you don't worry or have anxieties, with that kind good mind-training one may not necessarily need to have too much sleep. The physical requirement of sleep is not great because there is no tiredness if your mind is trained enough. So people in long retreats or people who train enough, they can sleep two or three, four hours an it is enough. Or some high meditators who do not have any influence due to well trained, may not need any sleep. That depends how well your mind is trained, less mind-training, you need regular sleep, if you are well mind-trained you may need less sleep or you may not need any sleep.


If you read story of Milarepa, when he learned meditation from Marpa Lotsa, his meditation required 24 hours of mind-training. Sometimes he was falling asleep, so he put candle light on his head, so if he started getting sleepy the light will fall down, so there was danger to be burned. Through that he learned and he did not have any side effects because of not being able to sleep, if you have enough mind-training it seems to me sleep is not too important. But if you don't have enough understanding of course there are physical requirements and in that case you need certain hours of sleep.


I only remember that I had an opportunity to serve the 16th Karmapa, and sometimes he slept one hour in the night time but sometimes he did not – tiredness did not show any side effects. So, I think if you are well mind-trained, I can sleep 8 or 9 hours, still I feel tired, he did not require any of that, so maybe it is different.


I would like to ask more about Tibetan medicine. Since you as an expert in Tibetan medical tradition have lived in the West, have you had an opportunity to explore European folk medicine and if you have, how would you compare it with the Tibetan tradition?


I think Tibetan medicine is very much based on food, behaving, and your way of life, because not only just medicine itself but everything which is a way to balance. If your stomach is hungry, then you eat food, it's called medicine which cures your stomach. If you are thirsty you drink water which overcomes your thirst. So I think there are many things which are similar to Tibetan, because we think everything is part of medicine, all, whatever you do. But the difference is, if the Tibetan medicine is done properly then it is to do with how to balance energy, how to balance nature by prayers, mantras and herbs, and all different products; can be animal products, mineral products turned into medicine. And this medicine which we make, the different things together with prayers and meditation when you pick up your plants and when you mix up the plants. So the spiritual side seems to me Western medicine may not have, but the using herbs if you cut wound in finger, using certain type of plant, maybe there is similarity, but you don't have any Western medicine done with prayers and meditations, giving energy of the spiritual aspect. Of course there are many similarities but maybe something little different because we are very much concerned with praying and how to collect positive energy to the medicine which you are giving to the people.


Last question:

Talking about Marpa and Milarepa it occurred to me to ask how important it is for a practitioner to follow a lineage?


I think lineage is very important, especially for Vajrayana practitioner. For Vajrayana practitioner it is said, if you don't have a pure lineage, you are not receiving any blessings. And also the practice which you do must have authorisation, initiation, explanation; if you don't have any of those, you don't get any benefit. So if you believe in Vajrayana tradition, then I think that the lineage has to be the first thing rather than last thing. Because if you don't have the transmission of lineage you are not able to achieve anything.


Thank you very much, I don't know how much benefit my "rubbish" talk was but today as I said from the beginning we are controlled by time, so whether you are benefited or not our time is finished, thank you.


Helsinki tour with Ken Holmes and Ven Gyamtso Tashi: Refuge & Medicine Buddha Empowerment