Where do I start?
The first step in your exploration of Tibetan Buddhism is to see if you
can find an authentic teacher with whom you feel you connect. Sometimes
you can make a connection by looking at a photograph, by reading a book,
or listening to a tape. Usually, though, you connect to your teacher by
meeting him or her in person. This doesn't mean you have to sit down with
the teacher, have a heart-to-heart conversation, etc. Attend the teacher's
programs, listen to the teachings, and then see how you feel. Traditionally
both teacher and student "examine" one another for a while after
they first meet. You can read about this process in a book called Words
of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche if you would like to know
more about the traditional style of examination and about the qualities
you should seek in a teacher. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche has taught on
this subject many times as well and you can click here
to read one instance of advice he has given. (After reading, click the
"back" button on your browser to return here.)
What are all these traditions and lineages?
The Tibetan tradition emphasizes the personal heart-to-heart connection
between teacher and student. We know this from our own life experience;
there are certain conversations we don't like to have over the phone,
don't like to put in e-mail, don't like to write in a letter, etc. In
the same way, Tibetan Buddhist study can take place in books, over the
phone, in e-mail, but the real heart of the teachings comes from that
non-verbal level of being in the same room at the same time as your teacher.
That is why Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes lineage. "Lineage,"
put simply, means that the heart-to-heart connection has been passed down
through the ages from teacher to teacher to teacher. "Lineage"
is one way of knowing if a teacher is "authentic" or has had
the training necessary to be a true vessel for the Buddha's teachings.
To find out about His Holiness' Penor Rinpoche's teachers and lineage,
click here. You will need to use the
"back" button on your browser to return.
Where can I find authentic teachers?
Finding a teacher, any teacher at all, may not be so easy. You may have
to travel a great distance. However, it is not at all impossible! There
are several resources on the web that give teaching schedules and that
have local directories. You can find links here.
Some of these are empowerments ("wangs"), programs which may
seem impenetrable or "advanced". However, attending an empowerment
or "wang", even if you find you have no idea what is going on,
is one way to develop the connection to the teacher. Best is if you can
find a "public talk" in which the teacher will give more general
Yes, but how will I know who is the teacher for me?
You may not know at first and you may not know for some time. It may just
take your deciding to make a commitment and to leave it at that. As His
Holiness Penor Rinpoche mentions in his teaching
on this site, if you see "excellent" and "noble" qualities
in the teacher and if the teacher is part of an unbroken lineage, then
those are qualities of the teacher you would want to select. Sometimes
when you meet a teacher you may just have the sense that this is the kindest
person you ever met. Other times you may have a feeling that this is someone
you met before. And sometimes you
won't have any feelings about it at all but can see that what the teacher
is saying is true. It is said: "Not the teacher but the teachings."
When you have met an authentic teacher, that teacher will reflect either
what you profoundly know to be true or what you can scientifically examine
and find to be true. In fact, the Buddha himself told his students not
to just take everything he said as the truth but to test the truth of
his teachings for themselves. So you must simply decide for yourself with
whom you wish to study.
I've met a teacher, but don't know what to do next!
If you have met a teacher you like, but have not yet been given any practices
to do, you might try just sitting every morning on a cushion for 1/2 hour.
You don't have to do anything out of the ordinary, just sit and let your
mind be calm. Try and make a special spot to do this; you can put a flower
on a table in your room and sit gazing at it. Calm your mind by gently
focusing on the flower, your breath or by saying the mantra of compassion,
"Om Mani Peme Hung," over and over again to yourself. Try not
to focus too much on your breath or the mantra or the flower; don't forget
the room. Sit up straight, keep your eyes half open, your lips barely
parted and breathe through your mouth rather than through your nose. Don't
worry if your mind is full of activity; just let your thoughts be without
following them if you can. There are many books which describe meditation
practice in detail, you might try using some of the techniques that are
available in published form. At the end of your session, remember how
you felt when you were in the presence of your teacher and then dedicate
any goodness that comes out of your practice to all who are suffering
in the world.
Is Tibetan Buddhism for me?
This is something only you can decide, of course. Tibetan Buddhism is
just one of the many skillful means given to us by the historical Buddha
and which are available to all of us to help us learn how to live our
lives better. There are many Buddhist paths just as there are many in
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and so on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself
has encouraged people to try their own traditions first and then,
if they are still interested, to try the Tibetan path. In the same spirit,
we would like to encourage you to read, attend teachings, and to see which
path leads you most directly to your authentic Good Heart. If you find
that path, then in the Tibetan Buddhist view, you are a practitioner anyway!
Best wishes to you in your journey and don't hesitate to email
us if we can be of help!
To read more online, follow
the links below:
His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on meditation
and Guru Yoga; Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche
on Ngondrö, The
Four Thoughts, and Mandala Offering.
Cyberspace Sangha (off-site): Yahoo
Groups for Palyul students