January 31, 2004

Advice from Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Posted at January 31, 2004 01:16 AM in .

Namkahi Norbu is the primary Buddhist teacher that I follow. He is also one of the few that I would say “follow“ and really mean it in a whole hearted manner. Norbu brings a fresh breath of reality with him whenever he teaches without being an apologist for some of the “weirder“ seeming claims of Buddhism. You just get a sense of him being fairly bullshit free.

Norbu is also one of the few Tibetan teachers to have come to the West young but full trained in the traditional system who then settled down to have a “normal“ life. He was a protege of Guissepe Tucci, the Tibetologist, and Norbu wound up becoming a university professor. He studied, he taught school, he married an Italian woman (he was in Italy) and had a child. Only later, when people kept requesting it and when he had personal dreams (literally) of teaching did he start doing so.

With some Tibetan teachers, you almost feel like you're talking about sex with a Catholic priest (and I grew up Catholic...). They've never integrated into our culture in a day to day way. They have handlers who take care of their finances, as monastics, they don't marry and they are just shielded from what our lives are like (and many don't speak English fluently). Norbu is a contrast to all of that and he also has a habit of speaking directly to things that many Tibetan lamas want to gloss over or not get into.

This is a short excerpt from a longer teach of his.

Work and Practice: Integrating the Teaching into our Daily Lives

An excerpt from a teaching at Merigar, August 16, 2003

Our lives are very short. For example, in the history books, we can read about many different teachers of different religions and civilization. There are infinite histories of different people, but none of them are alive today. Today we are alive, but soon we, too, will be part of history. So time is very precious - you should not lose even one day.

What should we do in order not to lose time? We integrate the teaching into the daytime. But integrating doesn't mean that we become like Milarepa, renounce everything and go and live on a mountain. Maybe some people have that possibility, but it is very rare. In today's society we have to work. Everybody has something to do. In particular we do not live like monks or nuns - they have already renounced and they can go where they like. But we are not like that: we have our families, our children and our children's children, and we have to help, we have to work and earn money. I remember when I was very young we lived in the countryside. Life was not so easy but we also had less problems. I remember we never received any bills to pay! We only ate what we produced like barley, grain, potatoes, etc. We also exchanged some of our produce for meat and butter and other things and we lived in that way. Today, nobody lives like that, not even in Tibet. Everyone goes to the shop. They make money and do their shopping at the shop; they buy everything. Then after a day or two they go back to the shop to buy some more things. Even though they have a little money, it finishes quickly. But not only that, at the end of the month we receive a lot of bills.

This is our condition and if we don't make money, we can't live. For making money, we have to spend our time working. Some people say that they have no job and that they have problems. The problem is not only that of a single person, but if they are parents they have to maintain their children, too. Today, it costs a lot of money to have children. We have to buy a lot of different products just to clean them and then when they go to school you have to pay a lot of money. This is concrete life. We must understand that we cannot renounce all these things. But then if we cannot renounce them, how can we do practice? By going into the essence of the teaching. There is not much time, there is not much possibility [to practice]. And we must not live in a fantasy. So you should think about what you do from the early morning to the evening. What are your possibilities? When you know that, then you can work that way.

Everybody goes to work; it may be in an office or a shop, etc. And what do we do tomorrow? We do the same thing. What do we do the day after tomorrow? We repeat it once again. This is called samsara. We always repeat the same thing because we continue to eat, we consume and we repeat. We go ahead that way. Some people say that they are waiting for the weekend in order to do practice. But then often you find that the weekend is not free: you have to visit your parents, or maybe a relative has a birthday party or someone if getting married and you have to go buy a present. So when are you going to do this practice? This is concrete life. In this case you have to consider your practice in relationship to time.

How do we pass our time? In the teaching of Buddha, he said that we have four moments in our life: the moment of walking, the moment of sitting, the moment of eating and the moment of sleeping. These are the four moments into which we have to integrate our practice. So when you are walking, what do you do? When you are walking, you cannot do the Thun practice, you cannot sing the Song of the Vajra and do contemplation. Then when you are sitting, if you are not doing practice, you are talking, dealing with people, doing so many different things. In this case, you should remember what the main point is. The main point is being in the state of Guruyoga. Being in the state of Guruyoga means, first of all, not being distracted. You try to be present, and that is something that you can always apply. It is also much better for your life if you are present. When we are not present, we create a lot of problems. For example, if you have a car accident, why do you have it? Because you are distracted otherwise you wouldn't have that problem. So you see, if you are present, it is much better, even if you are only living an ordinary life.

Sometimes, when we have something to do, we give too much importance to it. For example, we say, “Oh, today is my birthday and I want to invite my friends round.” You ask them to come at 7 then when you look at the clock it is already 5 or 6. So you rush to the shop to get the shopping. Perhaps the first shop is closed so you dash to the next shop and then rush back home to prepare something quickly. You cut up meat and bread but you are very charged up and instead of cutting the meat, you end up cutting your finger. Now, you have more problems. You are more charged up and nervous and accumulating more and more tension. In the end, your friends finally arrive at the door and you are very angry. That is not so nice. So in this case, if you are mindful, you relax and do everything slowly. It is not so very important. Even if you don't manage to prepare everything, your friends will help you because they are called “friends”. That means that they collaborate and respect you. But if you don't think like that and get charged up this way, it is not good.

It is very, very important to relax in our daily life. If you are present, then it is easy to relax because if you are present, you discover when you are charged up, you know that it is not good and you relax. Some people cannot relax because they always consider things to be important. In this case, remember the famous words of the Buddha, “Nothing exists that is real. Everything is unreal, just like a dream.” We can have a good or a bad dream. If we are not aware of our dreams, then we get charged up and think that what happens in our dreams is important. We have problems just as if it was something real. Then when we wake up, we discover that it was only a dream and as soon as we discover that it was only a dream, we relax. Buddha said, “Life is a big dream”, so if you know that, you don't give too much importance to things because it doesn't make much sense. That is really something concrete, but in reality, it doesn't exist. We think that something is important, and get charged up, but if we are relaxed, even though something is relatively important, we can apply it easily. So you can do the practice of being present at any moment. When you go to the office, when you walk, try to remember that and relax.

Transcribed and edited by Liz Granger

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