His Holiness Phakchok Rinpoche, in his final appearance in Bangkok this visit, gave a lively talk to around a hundred people packed into the undersized and overheating meeting room of the Tai Pan Hotel, April 2009. Below is a summary by Littlebanger Marcus, from his online Journal:
His Holiness Phakchok Rinpoche, Supreme Head of the Taklung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, completed a busy week of teaching here in Bangkok with one final talk today especially for our English-speaking Sangha. Not having to wait while his words were translated meant he was able to cover greater ground, and the task he set himself was huge – the main differences between Theravadan and Vajrayanan Buddhism. [Note – Phra Cittasamvaro set him the task, earing the reprimand “you, you made me sweat…!]
He opened with what he described as a “supplication to Buddha, Buddha who taught the abandonment of all views”, and said that we must start with right motivation, that we learn the Dharma not for our own benefit but in order to benefit all living beings. His talk was then divided into several distinct topics through which can be seen the major differences between the two lineages.
He started with the image of two people wanting to visit Manhattan. One person is in a nearby suburb, the other is already there, but in a hotel room. The person in the suburbs, representing the Therevada, Hinayana, or causal vehicle, needs to take a taxi to get to Manhattan. The other person, in the Vajrayana or resultant vehicle, needs only to look out the window.
He’s already there, all he needs do is pull aside the curtain of ignorance to see that he is actually standing where he wants to be. This is possible because of Buddha-nature, described by His Holiness in today’s talk as wisdom, emptiness, and compassion. This is the gold hidden in the mud, the reason why meditation works, the well-spring of our natural sympathy.
Talking about the basis for practice in each tradition, Phakchok Rinpoche said that in Therevada the aim is to lessen desire, to be content, and to work on the basic good qualities. In Mahayana the emphasis is on emptiness and the aim is for all beings to become Buddhas, and in Vajrayana the aim is for all beings to realise that they are in fact already Buddhas.
I’d have liked His Holiness to talk a little more about this as I was left scratching my head. My understanding of Mahayana Buddhism is exactly that we are already Buddhas, and need merely to realise it. “Just get rid of ignorance and delusions,” my root-teacher Master Daehaeng writes, “and you will know that you are a Buddha and that you are already complete as you are”.
But the talk was not about the differences between Vajrayana and Mahayana, but about the differences between Vajrayana and Therevada, and His Holiness went on to discuss motivation, views, meditation – “what you practice is not so important as how you practice” – conduct, and fruition. Everything delivered with great humour, and stacks of brilliant stories.
The one I liked best was of Milarepa, thin and green from eating only nettles, confronted by six slavering smelly demons, of which His Holiness gave a hilarious impersonation. Milarepa told the demons “when I see you as demons, you harm me. When I see you as mother, there is compassion. When I see you as Buddha, you bless me. When I see you as empty, I am Enlightened.”
Time was running out and His Holiness had a plane to catch, but someone pointed out that the talk was meant to have been about Amitabha’s Pure Land, and Rinpoche was able to say something about the role of Amitabha practice at the time of death. The actual mechanics sounded quite different from what happens in East Asian Buddhism, but the point of the practice the very same.
There were a few minutes for questions, but everything had to be quick. I asked to what extent, in Tibetan Buddhism, is Buddha-nature seen as something active in the life of the practitioner, someone else asked about dualism and non-dualism in terms of the two traditions, and there was a discussion of what the Pali term for Buddha-nature might be. But time was short.
Phakchok Rinpoche’s attendants were urging him out the door and dimming the lights. His Holiness recited a blessing and distributed gifts to organisers and monks, and everyone in the room received a CD and a Green Tara amulet, and he had to leave, every bit as energetic at the end as he had been when he’d arrived for the start hours earlier. Must be that Buddha-nature.