Recent teachings with Trehor Lama at the Bodhi Path, Renchen-Ulm

Personal Note

Let me start with a personal note. If you followed this blog during the past few weeks, you might have noticed that there has been a drop in the frequency of blog posts. The main reason for it wasn’t a lack of ideas or enthusiasm. It was simply due to being very busy with working and traveling. 

Unfortunately, this situation is not going to change for some more weeks, but I will try my best to update this blog whenever I find some spare time. Writing blog posts has generally been a great source of joy during the past months - so, don't worry, this blog will keep going...

With Trehor Lama in Renchen-Ulm

A portrait of Trehor Lama at the Bodhipath, Renchen-Ulm
Trehor Lama, Bodhi Path Renchen-Ulm
During the past years, I had the fortune to accompany Trehor Lama several times to the Bodhi Path Buddhist center in Renchen-Ulm. Each of these visits has been a source of great inspiration and happiness. This time, the topic of the course was again very promising: "How does one become a Bodhisattva?". The teachings did not fall short of anyone's expectations. Following from here,you will find a short summary of some of the major points Trehor Lama made. Some of the points may be essential for Dharma practice. They will of course be mixed with my own thoughts about the subject. 

Develop confidence in our own mind!

During the first session, Trehor Lama stressed the importance of developing confidence in our own mind and its inherent qualities. Even though there are many Buddhist teachings that prove the non-existence of a truly existent, permanent mind, these are not meant to annihilate the most subtle workings of our mind, i.e. our Buddha nature. 

There is a red thread which runs through all our life-times: the ongoing continuum of knowing moments, mind's luminous nature. While our mind will undergo another rebirth after we die, our body does not. If we only identify ourselves with our bodies, it is natural that we are afraid of death. If we do not develop trust that our mind goes on after our body stops to exist, death will be seen as the final destination. We will have tremendous fear. The law of karma, cause and effect, will not make any sense for us.

We do have a mind, and it does have a capacity to develop knowledge and habitual tendencies. This is nothing which can be determined by means of physical examinations. Neuroimaging can provide a doctor with information about the functioning of our brain. On a gross level, it may even give some indications about our emotional set-up. Still, physical examination will tell nothing about our knowledge. This will not be noticeable for any machine since this is primarily a domain of our mind. On a gross level, mind is of course connected to our body, but it also has a life of its own.

Understanding mind's workings better will help us to gain trust in rebirth. It will also help to create an awareness that our mind can develop in either direction, good or bad. It is just a question of developing the right habits. This is fully up to us. We do have the Buddha Nature, the potential to become a Buddha. So, all that it needs to achieve this is practice.

Loving kindness and compassion are good for us!

Trehor Lama at a lake in Belgrade with Rolf Scheuermann
With Trehor Lama at the Bodhi Path Belgrade
If we want to be happy, what can we do? A very simple and good method is developing loving kindness and compassion. Many people seem to believe that this is merely a method for achieving the well-being of others. No, particularly in the beginning, compassion is good for ourselves!

Eventually, we will be able to help others, but in the beginning our capacity to actually do so is very limited. If we are full of loving kindness and compassion for others, it is us who will primarily benefit from it. Understanding this, will make the practice more appealing to us. It will help us to keep going with our practice on a regular base. It is how it is - we are selfish, and anything which promises benefit for ourselves is thus interesting for us. This is a habitual tendency we can make use of for our practice.

If we are feeling loving kindness and compassion towards others, it is a good and joyful feeling. We will not feel bad. We will not feel angry, jealous, etc. We cannot feel angry and loving in the same instant. Our mind is fully occupied with good feelings towards ourselves and others. As a consequence, we will also stop hurting others. Indirectly, we will thus benefit others by making their lives less troublesome. If we are constantly filled with loving kindness and compassion, there will be no more space for negative emotions. As a result, no harmful actions will arise, which will be good for ourselves and for others. 

Loving kindness and compassion help us to understand emptiness!

On the long run, developing loving kindness and compassion will also help us to naturally decrease our self-clinging and self-cherishing, and thereby help us to understand the emptiness of a truly existent, permanent self. It will naturally divert our mind from being occupied with ourselves alone all the time.  While we may have started out to engage in developing loving kindness and compassion mostly for our own sake, we will slowly develop to the point that we are more occupied with the well-being of others than our own.

But overcoming or reducing self-clinging is not about overcoming our self. It is not about reducing our self. Understanding the emptiness of a truly existent, permanent self is not about emptying the self. We do have the Buddha Nature, and it cannot be reduced. This is only a method that counters wrong ways of relating to ourselves. 

Instinctively, we consider that we are a permanent, unchanging, single and very special thing. Most of the time we even identify this permanent self with our impermanent body. Since this does not correspond to the nature of reality, our own nature, it causes a lot of suffering. Our body is impermanent. Our mind, the ongoing stream of conscious moments, is also in a constant process of change.

Buddhist teachings on emptiness prove the non-existence of a truly existent, permanent mind. They are meant to remedy wrong notions about our body and mind. They are instructions that help us to overcome our ego-clinging. But it is ego-clinging which we try to overcome on the path, not our mind. For as long as we are in the grip of ego-clinging, our true self cannot unfold. If we develop loving kindness and compassion, we can slowly weaken this grip by opening ourselves up to others. Then, it will be much easier to understand the emptiness of a truly existent, permanent self in our self and all phenomena. 

Understanding emptiness helps us to develop loving kindness and compassion!

The better we understand emptiness, the easier it will be to develop loving kindness and compassion for others. Developing an understanding of emptiness weakens our ego-clinging. Therefore, it will be easier to open up to others. Developing an understanding of emptiness and loving kindness and compassion are therefore complementary methods. They support each other in a most perfect way.

This finds its expression also in the practice of the Yidam Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Chenrezig embodies the union of emptiness and compassion. Many people believe Yidam practice is some sort of fantasy. When doing Chenrezig practice they for example recite the six syllable mantra "Om mani peme hung" and look out for Chenrezig. They hope that they will be able to actually see something with their eyes. Seeing Chenrezig is not about seeing a white being with four arms. Chenrezig symbolizes a state of mind, the state of awakening.

When practice texts explain that we should see all beings as Chenrezig, this also does not mean that we have to create a mental fantasy where all beings are seen as white and having four arms. It means that we need to understand that the nature of all beings is that of Chenrezig. All beings have the Buddha Nature and will be able to reach that state. If they find the right methods, they can become Chenrezig themselves. If we are constantly aware of this, we cannot but treat all beings with respect at all times. 

In this way, it becomes very clear why it is sometimes said that the whole Buddhist path can be summed up into methods for developing loving kindness and compassion, and for developing an understanding of emptiness.

Of course, these and many more topics have been discussed in more detail during the weekend. What I wrote here were just a few things my memory beheld. It were indeed very wonderful and helpful teachings, and I am really looking forward for the next instructions with Trehor Lama in the near future!

A photo gallery with impressions of the weekend can be found here.  

If you want to learn more about mind training, a method which primarily aims at developing loving kindness and compassion, the following books might also be of interest for you:

Shamar Rinpoche - The Path to Awakening (LOJONG - Der buddhistische Weg zu Mitgefühl und Weisheit)

 • Jamgon Kongtrul - The Great Path of Awakening  (Lodjong Der große Weg des Erwachens: Grundlagentexte des Mahayana-Geistestrainings

About Trehor Lama 

Trehor Lama in front of a lake during a visit at the Bodhi Path center in Belgrade
Trehor Lama, Belgrade
Trehor Lama Thubten Phuntsok was born 1963 in Eastern Tibet, Kham. At the age of 13 he was recognized as the reincarnation of Agyal Rinpoche from Golok, a master of the Nyingma tradition. Due to the prevailing situation in Tibet, it was not possible for him to obtain a traditional education in the monastery. Consequently, he also couldn't take up the function of his predecessor. Up to the age of 20 he therefore studied Buddhist philosophy and various rituals at different educational institutions throughout Eastern Tibet. 

He then undertook a long pilgrimage to the holy places of Tibet, especially those related to Milarepa. He further built a stupa in Kyerong and circled the Mount Kailash and the Mapham lake by means of prostrations. He helped with the construction of a bridge as well as the reconstruction of several monasteries in the region, and built a prayer wheel in Purong .

Via Nepal he then went to India, and visited the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site, Bodhgaya. There he met his teacher Kalu Rinpoche, received several transmissions, and entered a traditional three-year meditation retreat under his guidance. Afterwards, he was appointed as Vajra Master (Dorje Lopön) of the monastery Droden Kuncha Ling in Salugara (known as Salugara Monastery).  He was active in this function for seven years. Some time after the demise of Kalu Rinpoche, he joined the Rumtek Monastery of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, where he lived and taught until 2005. In 2005, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa and the 14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche appointed him as the director of the Institute Karmapa in Valderoure, France, to replace the late Khenpo Lama Thubten.

About Bodhi Path

Bodhi Path is an international organization of Buddhist centers. They were founded by the 14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche (or simply Shamarpa). The lineage of the Shamarpas or Red Hat Lamas is the second oldest tulku lineage after that of the Karmapas. The current Shamar Rinpoche compiled a curriculum for the Bodhi Path centers, and personally authorized teachers instruct the practitioners in Buddhist meditation and philosophy. 

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