Path of Dignity

Deeply Satisfied


Phakchok Rinpoche visited Taiwan in December 2023. In this teaching drawing from his recent book, Awakening Dignity, he comments that people have different reasons for entering the Buddhadharma or a spiritual path. Some may have grown up in a Buddhist environment and then have sort of followed that path with no real questions. Other people may not have any background, but have some sort of spiritual urge or are searching for something. Some may be practicing a bit of Dharma, but Phakchok Rinpoche believes that many have also not quite gotten the answers to the search that is in the heart. Others may feel very comfortable and happy with the practice and understanding that they already have.

The understanding of dignity is a very important pith instruction for both our daily life and for our spiritual practice. Learning Dharma is learning about yourself. If you want to have good air to breathe, you need to go to a forest. In the same way, the forest for us, is the clear instruction book that tells us how we can change ourselves. Many in the audience have kids or young nieces or nephews. The younger generation is not very interested in religion just because it is tradition. But they have questions and urges and feel empty. This is nothing new. Every generation, from the time of the Buddha down to now, has had the same issues, and the same questions. The ideas in Rinpoche’s book, Awakening Dignity, are not new. They are the teachings of the Buddha coming from the Vajrayana.

Many in the audience have practiced compassion and bodhicitta, and we have learned and practiced different types of meditation. But we may not have gotten the message about inherent dignity, our innate nature. When we practice compassion, we aren’t really practicing it authentically because we are still trying to save ourselves. Likewise, we may have learned about emptiness, but when we practice meditation, we have a little fear of non-existence. We aren’t fully committed to the practice. There is one reason for this. The confidence or dignity is not there. The lack of results of the practice is not because there is something wrong with the method. It is because there is a lack of dignity or confidence.

Dignity means we can have confidence without being attached to our actions. We are usually looking for affirmation or acknowledgment. This brings us a sense of pride. But Rinpoche is not talking about that. He is asking us to practice from the inside out. We need to start from the point of complete confidence in our innate purity. We transform from the inside.

We often think that practicing Dharma and meditation is so difficult and not so useful. Rinpoche said that he also thought like that before. That’s because we treat Dharma as a part-time job, or a new updated computer system we need to learn. We study and practice and get a lot of knowledge. But we aren’t developing wisdom. Wisdom comes from inner transformation. When you don’t transform, you can have knowledge but no wisdom. Dignity is the guideline of wisdom to transform. Learning is very simple, but we create our own difficulties. When we study, we are focusing outward, listening, reading, or focusing outside. Instead, we need to constantly be connecting to our inner dignity. We can listen to a few statements, and then turn inwards and check. Is it really the way Rinpoche is explaining? Look inside.

What did the Buddha teach? Not a religion, and not different schools or philosophies. He only taught one thing. The Buddha taught transformation. We transform ourselves first. Our experience of the world is projected and experienced by our minds. The Buddha said, “Tame your mind”. After the Buddha, masters taught specific philosophies and these developed into different schools. Most people didn’t have time to study this hard, so instead, they bowed to the Buddha and the belief became a religion. The Buddha did not teach a way of life, a philosophy, a psychiatry, a school, or a philosophy. He taught transformation. If we stick to that, then we have wisdom. We may read a Buddhist text for 5 years, or meditate for 20 years, but we may still not have wisdom.

This is why dignity is so important. Pride and dignity are not the same. Pride is based on the “I”. Dignity is based on the nature. When the mind is based on the “I”, it is very fragile. Nature is not fragile. With pride, we can easily become a victim. We feel a lack of love and respect or a lack of recognition. We have a very easily affected ego. Dignity does not search outside for validations because it is already perfect. When you have steady dignity, then your practice and your meditation are very stable. If we are afraid of losing respect or happiness, relationships, or hierarchy, then we become defensive and argumentative. When you have dignity, there is nothing to lose and you don’t need to be defensive. Nature is not created or given by someone else. It does not diminish and you can’t lose it. There is no need to defend dignity.

In this age, when you talk normally with other people you can hear one similar thing if you listen carefully. Everyone is looking for happiness, steadiness, confidence, and unconditional love. But we are teaching kids so harshly. We teach them that the grades they achieve are who they are. WE pressure them to achieve all “A’s. We think this a good way of teaching children. But what happens? If we are trained this way, we are always checking with others to be graded. We are becoming very knowledgeable, but we are not transforming in a good way. We are well-educated, but not transformed. Rinpoche asks us to check this carefully. We have more Buddhist books now, but are we teaching people how to transform?

We don’t know how to deliver this message so that people feel connected. Many of our kids and friends have an urge, but they aren’t getting the answers. When we do something wrong, we know it deep down. All of us look for unconditional love or caring. We are thirsty or hungry for this. We search for the meaning of life. This is often the case with modern kids who have everything they need. But something is missing. These are the urges that we have. Rinpoche says this looks like it is negative, but it is very positive. This is our nature giving us a glimpse, like a tiny electric shock. In Buddhist terminology, we call these blessings. In normal speech, we say we feel empty. From Rinpoche’s perspective, this is a good sign. It is proof that all living beings are naturally searching for wisdom, pushing us to wake up. That’s why, if we can practice correctly with transformation, we can change people.

Rinpoche then gives us practical exercises. He says that the Taiwanese people are very nice. All the Mahayana teachers in Taiwan have done a very good job, so Rinpoche can teach at a more advanced level. Normally, Rinpoche speaks about practice in terms of three pillars.

  1. The first pillar targets our hearts. We develop a good heart. It is connected to compassion.
  2. The second pillar targets the nature of the body, speech, and mind. It is connected to dignity.
  3. The third pillar is meditation. There are two types of meditation—shamata and vipashyana. The first type is for transformation. But then we need to move to non-meditation which is for realization.

Because the nature is pure, there is no ego-clinging. Knowing this and remembering that is the second pillar. Did Shakyamuni Buddha’s realization of emptiness make him vanish into emptiness? No, he recognized the emptiness of ego. The moment you have no ego-clinging, you see the inherent, self-realizing that we call wisdom. When the Buddha passed into parinirvana, he expanded beyond limits; he did not disappear. His body became a limitless expanse which still brings benefits.

There are two kinds of practice for developing dignity. In one practice, there is nothing specifically Buddhist. You can teach this to anyone. You say, “The nature of my mind is perfect”, repeatedly, like a mantra. Your mind has to follow your mouth so that your thinking is aligned with your recitation. Slowly, you will gain some confidence. Then you take out your ego. And then your confidence becomes dignity.

The second practice is a Buddhist practice. When we pray to Buddha or Amitabha, we always receive blessings through light. Sometimes we learn about taking the blessings. but we are not sure where they go. We must know that we receive the blessings into our nature. When the Buddha dissolves into us, what is happening? The nature of the Buddha dissolves into our nature. We don’t trust our nature, so we keep receiving the blessings. It is very effective.

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