by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was born in Bhutan in 1961 and was recognized as the second reincarnation of the nineteenth-century master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He has studied with and been empowered by some of the greatest Tibetan masters of this century, notably the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the late Dudjom Rinpoche. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche supervises his traditional seat of Dzongsar Monastery in Eastern Tibet, as well as newly established colleges in India and Bhutan. He has also established meditation centers in Australia, North America and the Far East. Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche won critical acclaim for his first feature length movie, The Cup, produced under his name Khyentse Norbu. Further information on Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and his activities is available at www.siddharthasintent.org. This article is based on a talk entitled, “What Buddhism Is, and Is Not,” given in Sydney, Australia in April of 1999.
People often ask me: “What is Buddhism in a nutshell?” Or they ask, “What is the particular view or philosophy of Buddhism?”
Unfortunately, in the West Buddhism seems to have landed in the religious department, even in the self-help or self-improvement department, and clearly it’s in the trendy meditation department. I would like to challenge the popular definition of Buddhist meditation.
Many people think meditation has something to do with relaxation, with watching the sunset or watching the waves at the beach. Charming phrases like “letting go” and “being carefree” come to mind. From a Buddhist point of view, meditation is slightly more than that.
First, I think we need to talk about the real context of Buddhist meditation. This is referred to as the view, meditation and action; taken together, these constitute quite a skillful way of understanding the path. Even though we may not use such expressions in everyday life, if we think about it, we always act according to a certain view, meditation and action. For instance, if we want to buy a car, we choose the one we think is the best, most reliable and so on. So the “view,” in this case, is the idea or belief that we have, that is, that the car is a good one. Then the “meditation” is contemplating and getting used to the idea, and the “action” is actually buying the car, driving it and using it. This process is not necessarily something Buddhist; it’s something we’re doing all the time. You don’t have to call it view, meditation and action. You can think of it as “idea,” “getting used to,” and “obtaining.”
So what is the particular view that Buddhists try to get used to? Buddhism is distinguished by four characteristics, or “seals.” Actually, if all these four seals are found in a path or a philosophy, it doesn’t matter whether you call it Buddhist or not. You can call it what you like; the words “Buddhist” or “Buddhism” are not important. The point is that if this path contains these four seals, it can be considered the path of the Buddha.
Therefore, these four characteristics are called “the Four Seals of Dharma.” They are:
All compounded things are impermanent.
All emotions are painful. This is something that only Buddhists would talk about. Many religions worship things like love with celebration and songs. Buddhists think, “This is all suffering.”
All phenomena are empty; they are without inherent existence. This is actually the ultimate view of Buddhism; the other three are grounded on this third seal.
The fourth seal is that nirvana is beyond extremes.
Without these four seals, the Buddhist path would become theistic, religious dogma, and its whole purpose would be lost. On the other hand, you could have a surfer giving you teachings on how to sit on a beach watching a sunset: if what he says contains all these four seals, it would be Buddhism. The Tibetans, the Chinese, or the Japanese might not like it, but teaching doesn’t have to be in a “traditional” form. The four seals are quite interrelated, as you will see.
...to be continued