Modern Day Bodhisattva Seminar 2015

On June 6 and 7, 2015, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche held the Seventh Modern Day Bodhisattva Seminar at Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling, in Vershire, Vermont.

Kongtrul Rinpoche conceived the Modern Day Bodhisattva (MDB) teachings as a means to present the essence of the Buddhist Mahayana tradition in language and practices that are accessible to modern people, and easy to practice in the midst of our day. As he says, “We are born with a natural inclination to serve, not only ourselves and those we love, but humanity as a whole. Yet we are often unclear about how to fulfill these deeply interconnected wishes. MDB Training shows us how to apply the wisdom of the bodhisattva teachings to our own time and culture. This education can bring about profound transformation, increasing our capacity to be of benefit to ourselves and others.”

Rinpoche was kind enough to give us profound and extensive teachings in all of the categories aspiring bodhisattvas need to receive:  loving kindness, compassion, tonglen, shamatha, interdependent origination, and emptiness. As a condition of becoming genuine practitioners, he emphasized the importance of uniting our knowledge of traditional Dharma with our capacity to innovate and improvise, using our own creativity to go deeper. Without thinking for ourselves, he cautioned, we will merely repeat all the ideas that have been handed to us through culture and upbringing. Without empowering our own intelligence it will be very difficult to delve deeper into our innate wisdom.

The traditional teaching on loving kindness begins with seeing that all beings have a mind that feel pleasure and pain. The only reason we react more to our own pain and pleasure than we do to those of others is sheer habit; all we really need to become buddhas is to reverse this habit, by moving from self-love to universal love. We have to change our habits creatively, consistently, and in small ways, like many raindrops accumulating to fill a large pot. If we do this enough, then by the end of our lives we may find that we’re starting to resemble bodhisattvas. In order to grow, we need to discover that way for ourselves, rather than expecting someone to hand it to us.

If we are to generate bodhicitta and become bodhisattvas, we should cherish every moment of loving kindness in our lives. Loving kindness opens our hearts; when we feel loving kindness, we feel a close bond with all others that will make it harder and harder to have selfish desires. To go even deeper, we need to practice compassion, which is an even braver, more intense practice that requires us to engage with the pain of others. We need the courage to go beyond our usual limitations, which arise out of fear, and open our hearts fully to all beings. This openness, engagement, and courage puts us in touch with the deep core of our own being. 

When we recognize such intense suffering, it’s natural to want to remove other beings’ pain as much as possible. At the same time, because we realize that all suffering comes from self-centered mind, we aren’t so invested in protecting our own ego. To deepen our capacity for compassion, we can practice tonglen. In the first part of this practice, we take on the pain of another being to relieve their suffering and to purify our own self-cherishing. In the second part of tonglen, we mentally give others everything we have, such as our resources, positive attributes, and merit. Ultimately, the vision of tonglen is to completely free all beings from the causes of suffering and to allow them to gain all the causes of happiness.

The seminar included detailed teachings on shamatha and vipashyana meditation. Rinpoche emphasized the importance of developing faith and reliance on the practice of shamatha so that it becomes our first-line resource in all situations. He further explained that the practice of vipashyana can help us recognize how all our negative emotions arise from faulty perceptions about reality.

At the end of the seminar, Rinpoche offered refuge and bodhisattva vows, and then conducted a ceremony to welcome new students into the Mangala Shri Bhuti lineage.