An Incarnate Abbot Explains

This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine, Part III On Miscellaneous Topics

Asked about reincarnation, Sri Bhagavan remarked, “See how a tree grows again when its branches are cut off. So long as the life source is not destroyed it will grow. Similarly, latent potentialities withdraw into the heart at death but do not perish. That is how beings are reborn.”

Here is an instance taken from a speech by Trungpa Trulku Rinpoche given at Roselaleham.

AFTER THE DEATH of the previous Abbot of Surmang, my monastery, the monks sent a deputation to His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, the head of our particular school of Tibetan Buddhism. They asked him whether he could tell them where their Abbot had taken birth again, so that they could bring him back among them. Gyalwa Karmapa spent several days in meditation, and finally gave them the answer that their Abbot was born as a young child living in the village of Geje, in a house facing south and that the family had two children and a brown dog. After some difficulty the monks found the house and the young child, who was myself.

I am told that as the monks came in and presented me with the traditional white scarf, I behaved in exactly the right manner, although I had never been taught how. Also that I recognised various objects that had been the possessions of my predecessor, shown to me among others of the same kind. Eventually they were convinced that I was the eleventh Abbot Trungpa and they brought me back to Surmang.

Shortly after that I was formally enthroned as Abbot, although of course, all my duties were performed by an elder monk acting as regent. I was put into the charge of a tutor, and continued to see my parents from time to time. I began learning about religion from my tutor, who told me about the life of Gautama the Buddha and about his teachings. At the age of eight I began my first simple meditation.

From then on I learned more and more about the various meditations of our school. I received instruction from two of the great Gurus or Teachers of Eastern Tibet. One of them, Chentse Rinpoche, is now in India and is still my Guru. Sometimes I lived in the monastery and sometimes away from it, in retreat. Every monk of our school spends several years in solitary meditation during that time, living, sleeping and eating in one small room. Meditation is really the heart of a monk’s life, for in it he discovers and experiences the actual truth of the teachings he has before known only intellectually. I do not want to speak about the particular techniques of meditation. There are many and they are adapted to suit the needs of all kinds of individuals. I want rather to speak about the reasons for meditation and its essence, for meditation is not necessarily a matter of sitting cross-legged and motionless for long periods of time, it is something that may be practised, consciously or unconsciously by anyone at any time.

You will be able to draw parallels to what I shall say both from the beliefs and practices of other religions and from your own experiences. We are all human beings and our existence presents similar problems and similar possibilities. As Milarepa, the great sage and poet of Tibet, sang from the top of mountains, ‘I am the goal of every great meditator, I am the meeting place of the faithful, I am the coil of birth, death and decay.’

To start at the beginning – each one of us may be struck at one time or another by the inadequacy of our way of experiencing the world. We feel that something is missing, that our attempts to explain and to organise our lives and to provide ourselves with an emotional security are doomed to failure and are indeed in themselves contradictory to the nature of things. Also that in our simply fulfilling our own desires we are cheating the Universe.

Meditation is the attempt to remove those aspects of our natures in which our awareness of life is limited and confined, and experience a new depth. Upon what does our everyday picture of the world depend? It depends not upon things themselves but on our reactions to them. We project outwards on things our own hopes and prejudices, and order our separate world accordingly. Meditation is a gradual loss of these private worlds, and realisation that our true natures lie hidden in the heart of the Universe.

It is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism that things in themselves are without substance. They are all, like flowers, springing up suddenly out of nothingness and again withering. The world of things, or the appearance of things, is a kind of puppet show, a masquerade. In itself it possesses a kind of demonic energy, but it can give no lasting satisfaction to the heart. In meditation we begin to cross the threshold between appearance and reality.

Many of us will have thought like this, but will also have experienced how difficult this threshold is to cross. All unconsciously, the world of appearances exercises a certain fascination. Everything in its appearances releases a small charge of energy, and our ignorant minds, feeling dissatisfaction with their existing states, leap to swallow this charge. Thereafter, the imprint of the object remains fixed in the memory. If the experience is in some way pleasurable, the mind desires a repetition of it. If it is unpleasant, the mind will reject any repetition of it, and a negative force is set up.

Meditation consists of seeing the world for precisely what it is. This can be done only when one remains quite unaffected by hatred or desire. One observes dispassionately one’s reactions to things, and gradually the passions of greed and hatred are driven out of one’s system. Instead of reaching out for one thing after another, one becomes calmer and more self-possessed. One uses the strength thus released to gradually eliminate distracted and discursive thoughts as they arise, and brings oneself into a state of clear, one-pointed awareness. One begins to experience greater freedom and room to move about. One no longer heeds one’s hopes and fears, and lets go the burden of them. Becoming nothing, one becomes everything and suddenly it may happen that one is left for a moment still. There is before one, through one and around one infinite space – the reality flowing unobstructed. As Milarepa says:

‘As happy as the current of a great river,
So is the sage who enjoys the stream of thought.’
This is possible for everyone, but clearly it requires certain
qualities in us, and it requires time to come to fruition.

We need first of all to have clearly in our minds what we are trying to do. Our basic assumptions influence us far more than we realise and we must become thoroughly steeped in the ideas and the attitudes of the spiritual life before we can begin. I had to memorise a large portion of our scriptures and repeat them by heart to my tutor. As well as study, we need determination and integrity. Each one stands before the threshold of eternity, alone with himself. He cannot rely on any created thing. Each one of us can forge a true vessel only out of himself; others may help us but in the end it is we alone who are responsible. Gradually we have to realise the agony of our mistakes, our failure to understand and we have to have the courage to come out of prison.

Beyond this solitude, one thing else is needed. Just as everything in the world of appearance releases a charge of energy, so also does everything in eternity. That energy, indeed, is far stronger because it has been purified of the stain of greed, hatred and material illusion. The thought is not a thought of anything, it is a thought which in itself is pure energy, passing into and through everything unobstructed. So when we purify our minds, a force is built up from which each one of us can draw and in the light of which, each one can examine himself. In the monasteries and hermitages of Tibet I could feel this strength in operation. It was something of which we were all part. If I may be allowed to say so, I feel this atmosphere lacking in the cities and even in many churches of this country. I hope very much that during our time here together, we may join in making a spirit that one may call new and some may call old but which in itself abides forever.


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