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The Very Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

Transcript of audience for people with chronic illness or disabilities
and their caregivers

Translated by Sarah Harding

Boulder, Colorado

14 July 2004

Thrangu Rinpoche:
  Do you have any questions?

Rob Graffis:  I asked that this group be put together because many of us are living with sickness and possibility of death as opposed to contemplating it, so it is far more of a reality for a lot of us in this room.  I mean it’s far more scarier than just contemplating it.  So I thought it would be a good idea to bring people together and to be able to do what we are doing. 

Thrangu Rinpoche
:  So, in general, among us, among people who are living with some kind of illness or disease, there’s a good chance that many will get better, slowly recover from that illness, or not.  But, in any case, among everybody, whether they are sick or not sick – everybody is dying.  There is not anybody who is not dying.  So, in a way, all of us are in the same situation.  But what is it that helps that situation?  What it is that can address the fact that we are mortal and that we are dying is the practice of Dharma.  And in that it is very, very important practicing Dharma.  And in terms of practicing Dharma, since that is the thing that helps the situation, that is the one thing that you can rely on to benefit the situation, then if you can apply yourself with a lot of discipline, that’s very good.  But if you can’t, that’s okay, too.  What just matters is that you practice whatever you can comfortably and that whatever practice it is – whether it’s shamatha, or vipashyana, or deity practice, or mantra, or cultivating loving kindness and compassion, or doing mind training, lojong practice.  The main thing is that whatever you can comfortably do, that you do it on a daily basis without forgetting about it.  You don’t let it go totally, but just keep it at a constant.  And realize that just having the Dharma the way you do, it’s very, very fortunate and very lucky.  Many people are sick and many people die with no recourse to the Dharma at all, never having even heard it.  And then some people have heard a little bit about it or something, but really haven’t been fully exposed to practice.  But for the most part, you’ve really had this opportunity to practice and enter the door of Dharma and put it into the practice.  And so, whatever occurs, getting better or not, you’ve got this incredibly fortunate situation – very, very lucky, fortunate situation. 

Furthermore, that with sicknesses, usually (there is) suffering of one kind and another that specifically comes with it.  But although we might be in pain and have suffering, we know how to befriend these adverse conditions.  We know how to turn those into our allies, into our support, because they can inspire us with renunciation.  Suffering is a great inspiration of renunciation to attachment.  It can inspire faith and devotion and motivation.  And, on the other hand, some people that are very healthy and happy and young, and live for the day, they ultimately are poor, ultimately are bereft of help when they need it, if that’s the state that they stay in.  So, in that case you can also regard the situation as supportive. 

So, that way then, as much as possible, if you can integrate on the path or carry on the path your own sicknesses and pain and trouble, and make it into the practice of Dharma, and practice as much as possible, (this) will, down the road, be of ultimate, great benefit. 

I was diagnosed with cancer a while back by one doctor.  And I found it was of great benefit for my mind.  My mind had a very good reaction – faith, diligence, and so forth.  But then, that doctor said that I didn’t have cancer, and now my mind just gets worse and worse. (laughter)

Question:  I have a question.  I would think about it in terms of Karma Family – the poison of the Karma Family, which is fear, paranoia that arises when pain arises.  What’s the sense of transmutation from the All-Accomplishing Action, enlightened quality, when the paranoia or fear arises in relationship to pain arising?

Thrangu Rinpoche:
  So, the way to make fear of suffering into the wisdom of what I call, “All-Accomplished Wisdom,” or sometimes is called, “All-Accomplishing Wisdom,” is that by having that fear and recognizing that you have the fear and the suffering, you understand that like you, many people have it.  Everybody has it.  Everybody has fear of suffering and everybody experiences suffering.  And so you develop compassion and loving-kindness and a beneficial mind for the welfare of others, because you have empathy for their situation.  You know that they’re suffering.  You know there’s fear.  In the same way you have it, everyone does.  And then, also, faith in the Buddha, bodhisattvas, in enlightenment and everything arises.  And so, basically, that is accomplishing.  You are accomplishing the purpose of Dharma, which is the All-Accomplishing Wisdom.  And if you’re just sitting around happy, not doing anything, no suffering, don’t even know about suffering, don’t understand that sentient beings have suffering, then you are not accomplishing anything.  So, the transformation takes place by recognizing that the situation you have applies to all beings, and then developing the qualities from that knowledge.  That’s the All-Accomplishing Wisdom or the All-Accomplished Wisdom.

So, that’s why it’s explained that the contemplation of impermanence, which is so important in Buddhism, to contemplate impermanence, it’s said to be, at the beginning, the inspiration to enter the path.  In the beginning, we are not thinking about Dharma or spiritual anything, but because we notice that there’s impermanence, there’s mortality, everything’s changing, by recognizing that, in all situations, that’s the very thing that got us into Dharma.  That’s the very thing that brings us all to the path in the first place.  Then, once we are on the path, impermanence is called the inspiration for diligence, the inspiration for perseverance on the path, which is to remember that there is limited time and that situations change.  That’s what gets you to really practice and that’s what gets you to exert yourself on the path.  And finally, in the end, impermanence is the inspiration for the result to take place – whatever the result is.  The best-case scenario, of course, (is) total enlightenment, but even if not that, you think, “I’ve done what I could.  I have a sense that there is an accomplishment of what I could do has been done, even if it isn’t the ultimate result.”  So, impermanence and the contemplation of impermanence in the beginning, in the middle and in the end is the inspiration.

Question:  Just to carry that a little further, what I have been working with lately is that I still find through this experience that I’m separating self and other, that I’m not seeing that as illusory.  And I keep getting to a point where I can deal with my own mortality pretty well, but my attachments to those I love, and the thought of those – that seems very solid, sometimes.  For instance, my parents are very old and I always assumed that I would help them through their dying process.  It may go the other way around, at this point.  So I just would love to hear some more advice in terms of working with not, you know – knowing it and realizing it and stabilizing it are all different.  And I know it and I have great devotion in my teachers so I feel sort of okay for myself, but it’s harder (indistinct).

Thrangu Rinpoche:  So, you know, of course, that’s the way of the world or the abiding nature of samsara, to be more technical.  But, one can also apply your practice to thinking, making aspiration prayers for those that you are concerned about, cultivating a good mind, good attitude towards them, remembering that having regret about them isn’t going to help – that worry and that regret and remorse is not going to be helpful for them.  And then doing as much practice and meditation and using the situation as an inspiration for practice, for the benefit of others; even if you are not going to actually be there, you can still benefit your parents’ situation now. 

For someone that’s a caregiver – I’m living with my husband who’s ill – one thing that I feel challenged by is keeping my heart open, not closing off or pulling away.  How to keep your heart open at the same time not become absorbed in the pain?  It’s sort of like finding this balance of not closing down but not, you know…

(Translator:  Well, I’m not very confident that I translated that very well, because those words don’t really work that way, but…)

Thrangu Rinpoche:  In taking care of another who is sick, then compassion is important, to remember that they’re sick, and that whatever actions they do aren’t those of a well person.  So in a sense, they don’t have the same accountability, let’s say, as much as a well person does.  And so whatever occurs, you remember that and you cultivate compassion and empathy for that person.  And that helps you.  That should also help your own benefit for you and virtuous accumulation for yourself as well as, obviously, helping the other person. 

Same questioner
:  And how to do that without becoming absorbed in the pain?  Because a lot of times I open my heart, but then I’ll feel like I’ve taken something on.  It’s like finding that balance.

Thrangu Rinpoche:  Aspiration prayers would help.  Aspiration prayers for all sentient beings, that all sentient beings have sufferings, as does your husband, and may they all not have that suffering.  Making that aspiration for all beings to not have that suffering actually is very beneficial. 

One more question?

Question:  Intellectually, I understand that difficult situations are really opportunities – they’re really a blessing.  In reality, my lack of patience and skilful means fall short of that intellectual understanding. 

Thrangu Rinpoche:
  Again, it’s so important to do the aspiration, in your intention and motivation.  Yes, you can understand this is the nature of samsara, everybody suffers, but still you can wish that it weren’t so.  You could really pray for that not to be the case, for beings not to suffer, and cultivate a noble (translator's words indistinct) of a good mind of helping others.  That’s really beneficial – beneficial for you, beneficial for others.

So, Rinpoche wants to give you protection cords.

© Thrangu Rinpoche 2004
For more information on Thrangu Rinpoche, please contact:

Vajra Vidya Retreat Center
P. O. Box 1083
Crestone, CO 81131

Transcribed by Alan Sloan, 25 September 2004.  This transcript has been lightly edited.