One of India’s largest Tibetan settlements is in Karnataka, and it’s where Sophia Ann French discovered Bodhisattva.
“To those who go in bliss, the dharamakāya they possess, and all their heirs. To all those worthy of respect, I reverently bow, According to the scriptures, I shall now in brief describe The practice of the Bodhisattva discipline.
The term ‘those who go in bliss’ is synonymous with Buddha and is a translation of the Sanskrit sugata. This word is made up of two elements: sukhā meaning bliss and gata meaning arrived. A sugata is therefore, ‘one who has reached bliss,’ or according to the Treatise on Logic, ‘one who has reached, or arrived, perfectly.’ The attainment of this blissful state has two aspects: realisation and elimination.”
An excerpt from For the Benefit of All Beings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I was introduced to the teachings of the buddha by Khensur Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, the former abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka. Bylakuppe is a two-hour drive from Mysore and I was invited to the monastery by one of the monks who lives there when he visited my home in Mysore for a diwali puja in 2017.
I arrived at the monastery on a sunny Saturday morning. Like most Tibetan monasteries, Tashi Lhunpo is composed of the main prayer hall, study halls and living quarters for the monks. The main building with the prayer hall is a grand structure that houses three avatars of the buddha and it’s where the monks gather to offer daily chanting and prayers. The same building is used by the Dalai Lama as his residence when he visits the monastery and it is at this building that I met Khensur Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan or Rinpoche la, for the first time.
The person who took me to the monastery knew I was planning to launch a magazine on yoga and spirituality and encouraged me to talk to the Rinpoche to gain insights into Tibetan Buddhism. At the time, I was deeply involved in my studies on the Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta and knew very little about Bodhisattva. I wasn’t sure what to talk to the Rinpoche about so I decided to throw a question at him. The first thing I asked him after we were introduced is, “Who am I and what is my purpose.” The Rinpoche looked at me hard, smiled and answered, “You tell me.”
I tried to think of something clever to say and instead chose the words, “I’m trying to find myself.” He laughed at this. It’s the kindest laughter I’ve heard. “I cannot tell you who you are. You have to realise your self on your own. But if you seek yourself and need a purpose, make your purpose the well-being of all sentient beings, starting with yourself.” He then gave me the book I quoted at the start of this article.
I’ve met the Rinpoche and visited Tashi Lhunpo several times after that, and with each visit, I gain a deeper understanding of the qualities of Bodhisattva. At Tashi Lhunpo, I don’t learn from a book or listen to solemn sermons, the Tibetan monks teach peace through practise.
Every time I meet the Rinpoche, I question him about the principles of Bodhisattva. I’ve shared some of his teachings below:
On Suffering and Misery
Khen Rinpoche: Suffering is all-pervasive. Everyone suffers. The Buddha recognised this. The causes of suffering are many. You can suffer because of love — either too much or too little of it. You suffer for your job, your family, your life. Everyone is suffering from some cause or the other. Misery spares no one. There are different degrees of suffering but when the person who is miserable starts believing their misery is unique, this is a problem. When you feel that your suffering or misery is unique, you start to isolate yourself from the rest of humanity. Everything you feel has been felt before you. Human emotions apply to all humans. It’s not like some people feel only some emotions. Understanding the nature of sadness or depression or anxiety is essential to overcoming it. The nature of these emotions is human nature. When you start to observe your own suffering in your fellow human beings, you can start to realise that you are not alone. Everyone suffers and when you realise how common suffering is, it will help you get over your own misery because then you know how futile that misery is. All you have to change is your perspective. You have to know that suffering is a part of life and like everything else in life, it is impermanent.
When you treat your suffering as unique or special, your mind will convince you to keep feeling that way because you have attached yourself to that feeling. You have given it importance and nurtured it. Don’t do that yourself. Tell your mind how commonplace suffering really is. Nothing about feeling misery is special or unique. Change your mind and your feelings will change with it.
Khen Rinpoche: Reality changes every moment and you can use this to your advantage. No matter how much you suffer or how unhappy you are, sooner or later, it will change. Emotions are not permanent. You can change them. Know this the next time you feel unhappy or angry or anxious. You can change how you feel. Make a conscious effort. Nothing is permanent.
If someone has hurt you or if you are angry with someone, revenge, remorse and self-pity are only going to make the situation worse. React to anger with love, to cruelty with kindness and if someone has hurt you, thank them for giving you the opportunity to practise forgiveness with no expectation. If someone hurts us, or challenges us, or breaks our heart, these are great opportunities to practise the values of forgiveness, unconditional love and patience without hostility. When you start thinking about the people who hurt you as your teachers, they will no longer be your enemy. When they see that all you have to offer is love, kindness and forgiveness, even your worst enemy will have to change their ways and accept what you have to offer. They won’t have a choice. It takes two people to fight. Without an enemy, one cannot fight so don’t create enemies. Thank every person who hurts you. They have given you an opportunity to grow.
Liberation is Not Exclusive to Monks
Khen Rinpoche: You don’t have to become a monk or give up the world to realise yourself. The buddha said liberation is possible for everyone. The first step is to try. Love, kindness and compassion are not exclusive to monks. These again are human emotions. Everyone can feel all of the above. It’s already a part of you. Liberation is possible for everyone and within this lifetime but you have to start now. Start watching your mind, your words, your actions. Spend time every day to meditate. There are abundant practices and techniques that you can use to reach a state of self-realisation. When you get to that state, you will see that every emotion and attachment is impermanent. To attach yourself to anyone or anything is futile. When you live by the qualities of Bodhisattva, you treat all sentient beings with equal love and compassion, starting with yourself. This is not difficult. Love is our natural and true nature. Love yourself and it will pervade everything you do.
For further information, visit the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery