Interview with Zasep Rinpoche

The following is an interview with Zasep Tulku Rinpoche conducted by Tony Dix at Dorje Ling on the 16th of February 2008.

Tony: Why do you think that we are reluctant to follow through with more disciplined practice: what stops us, what are the hindrances?

Rinpoche: Well, I think that there are several reasons why. First of all, many people I don’t think they know what the disciplines are. How do you discipline yourself? What are the disciplines, in terms of dharma practice and daily life and how to integrate dharma into daily life? You need a structure; you have to learn the structure. Like in the Tibetan tradition we have a practice called The Six-session Guru Yoga and so on. You have to learn those structures and you have to ask the teacher or find other people who are really disciplined, the yogis, and ask them, “How do you discipline yourself?” Learn first, that’s important.

Secondly you have to then practice, you have to dedicate yourself and say, “OK well, dharma practice: I’m going to do my best to do some practice everyday.” And that’s one of the important priorities, not right down the bottom of the list of things that you have to do every day. Otherwise, at the end of the day you don’t have the energy, you’re too tired and there will be no time. Days go by, weeks go by, months go by and then you feel, “Oh I don’t have any practice. I haven’t done anything.” So the key thing is first you have to learn what are the disciplines, secondly you have to make commitment and then practice mindfulness. Then things can start happening, no worries.

Tony: What does Zasep mean?

Rinpoche: Oh, that’s just my family name. It’s the name of the place where I was born. It means, “shaded-side of the rocky mountain.”

Tony: What is your vision for the future of Dorje Ling?

Rinpoche: Well, my vision for Dorje Ling is I’d like to see more people involved in terms of retreatants, more people coming here to do retreats. That’s one of my visions, people doing retreats: a weekly retreat or maybe month retreats or a few months and so on. The other vision is I’d like to invite some dharma teachers — not only Tibetan but Western dharma teachers — and have more retreats and more teaching courses, like meditation courses. That’s another one of my visions.

The other vision is, I don’t know at this point, but we need to think about more like a community involvement. How do we sustain and maintain this place and upgrade our facilities? The issue here is that we don’t have a lot of facilities and our facilities are run down so therefore it’s difficult sometimes to organise retreats for other people like yoga and tai chi etc., but then when we don’t have those sort of retreats we don’t have a lot of energy. It’s like a circle. But my vision is I’d like to see more retreats, more teachings and more involvement, more community involvement. Some kind of project, like the idea we have to build a kitchen and upgrade the facilities and then bring a yurt. Those are my visions.

Tony: Why should we practice together? What are the benefits of practicing as a group?

Rinpoche: Practicing together is important because when you say, “I go refuge to Sangha,” that’s what it means. It’s important to practice together because then you encourage each other. Everybody needs support. We need to support each other.

Also a lot people, the new people, they don’t know how to do the retreat, they don’t know how to practice. And they don’t have the self-discipline. You sit down for one hour and then you feel, “Oh, I can’t sit anymore now my mind is going around everywhere and I should just get up leave, or I should go and do something else.” You do that easily if you are alone. But if you are in a group situation you don’t do that. You can’t do that, right, you have group schedule. Then you just sit and sit and you get past that restless mind, impatient mind, and then you kind of go into it a little deeper and then you appreciate, you think, “Oh, that’s good.”

I think group help is very good and then you can have discussions and work together. When you say group practice it’s not just sitting. You can do other karma yogas, then there’s appreciation, learning from each other and there’s friendship, kind of like family. So you get support. We need that today, because many people they don’t have a family. Their biological family doesn’t exist any longer. They’re gone or they’re dead or they’re not working together. They don’t get on. So they’re lost. They need the support. Dharma community is kind of family. That’s why the group is helpful: you have a sense of belonging.

Tony: Do you see a difference between people in the East and West and do you approach your east and west students differently?

Rinpoche: Well, at some level there’s not much difference. We’re all human beings, you know, we all have issues, we all have questions, doubts and needs. We need material development; we need spiritual development. We’re all the same.

But then culturally there is a big difference. The upbringing is different so the people in the East — I’m talking about lay people, not the monks and nuns — the lay people in the East are more simple than lay people in the West. The mind is simple. Life is simpler. In some ways they’re less complicated, their mind, because they don’t think so much. And they also don’t think so much about, ‘me, me, me, me,’ because they think about ‘us.’ They think that in some ways the individual is not as important as community, neighbours and friends. They think about respect — honouring our parents, honouring my guru, honouring my community — and they don’t think so much about themselves. They just sort of do what they have to do for life, to manage their family and try to make a living and then do some prayers meditate, learn a little bit of dharma.

Also the people in the East are born in a Buddhist culture so they don’t have so many fantasies and misunderstandings. They go with the flow. In the West sometimes people, some dharma people, have fantasies about lamas, about practice, about Tibetan people, about the Himalayas, fantasies about magic and Shangri-la. Then some people in the West do a little too much spiritual shopping and they get more confused. In Tibet people don’t do that. They don’t have to do that because they all have a sense of belonging, they have their roots. In the East they say, “OK, my family is Gelugpa,” or, “my family is Kagyu,” or “my family is Bön people, so that’s what I do, that’s my roots.” So you just do that practice, you’re content with that. I have a friend, a Mongolian: he’s funny, humorous guy. He says, “I have one son, I have one daughter, one wife and one book.”

Tony: What would you like to see for Tashi Choling?

Rinpoche: Well, I think this time we had a good meeting at Tashi Choling. I enjoyed the meeting; I’d like to say that. I think that this is important for people to know: that there is something changing in the air, in dharma terms, at this time, this visit.

I was in Armidale, Uralla. The sangha there is a really good sangha, good solid core group and lots of interest. I see the same thing during the teachings at the yoga centre in Weeroona. There was a wave of new people and it was very good. I think also because of the yoga centre it helped lot and the help of Rosie and Guy. Yoga brings more interest. Everyone knows what yoga is: today you don’t need to say, “What is yoga?” So then when people come to yoga they learn meditation. Yoga and meditation go together. Then they’ve got the taste of Buddhism so I think the yoga centre is a very good place.

Here, at the Dorje Ling retreat this time, most people are new and they’re very, very sincere. They are interested in Dharma and good people, really wonderful people. So I see there’s lots of interest in Buddhism. But the interest that I see is not wishy-washy fantasy and all that. These people seem to know what they’re doing and why they are here. They’re very well grounded, good people. So I see things are changing and I feel encouraged by that. I feel the future of dharma is good here; that Buddhism is establishing well in the younger generation. I think it’s good. So, now we had a good meeting at Tashi Choling. Tashi Choling also has a good core group and good board. So, my vision for Tashi Choling is I think I’d like to encourage people to do more regular study and regular sitting, regular practice. I think that will help, that would be good.

Tony: What advice would you give to older students who have perhaps lost touch with the dharma but are starting to get a little bit interested again and who might have a little bit of resistance because they’ve left it for a period of time?

Rinpoche:  I would say, “Come back, guys!” Dharma is always good. Especially when you get old, dharma is the ultimate refuge. Don’t give up dharma. Dharma really protects us and dharma is a very good friend. When we become a dharma old-fox, it’s important to remember that it’s good to have dharma friends, to have dharma community around. You need support.

Once you are a dharma person you are always a dharma person, even if you give up for a while. The Chinese have a saying, “Once you are a monk, you are always a monk.” Once you have had dharma in your life, there is always dharma in your mind. So people should come back. Don’t feel intimidated if you haven’t done the practice for a while, or a long time. Dharma will always welcome you, Buddha will always welcome you: it doesn’t matter. Buddha doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re a bad person. Don’t come back.” Buddha always has a huge heart and love.

Tony: What about encouraging young people into the dharma. You’ve seen some people coming up here now. Would you encourage young people or would you just let them …

Rinpoche: Yes, I think it’s a good thing to encourage. We don’t want to be evangelical, going after people and trying to recruit them. That’s not our Buddhist tradition and I have no interest in that sort of thing. I don’t like it myself. People do what they need to do, what they should do and it’s their karma. But at the same time we shouldn’t just say, “Well, everyone has their karma and if you don’t come that’s your karma.” We don’t do that either. We’re here to serve and provide the facility for teaching dharma to all ages.

Also for young people, many young people these days are lost because of social structures and the way the society is going in the West, with various problems and issues like drugs and so on. Young people really need encouragement for dharma. Dharma is safe; dharma is good for them.

So when there are young people who come to dharma it is good if some of the younger people show it to them. Not like us older people, saying, “Oh, you guys come and meditate,” this and that. They might find that a little bit hard to connect with because there’s such a big age gap, like thirty years. They think, “Oh, I can’t do this. You’ve been doing this for thirty years I can’t do it. I’m just beginner.” You need young people and we have young people in our community who have been practicing dharma very energetically, nice people, people like — well I don’t want to name them right now, some people might not want that — but we have a really nice young woman and young man practicing in their twenties. If young people talk to them then there is less of an age gap and they can say, “Well, I’ve done practice,” and explain how the practice works and encourage them. I think that’s good.

Also for young people there needs to be some social activities. Playing cricket, or something, maybe a little dharma rap, some music or other entertainment like watching some dharma movies. Talk about dharma with a little bit of external, outgoing activities. In Canada we go skiing, snowboarding things like that: kayaking, canoeing. If you have some activities then they feel it’s fun, dharma is fun, you know. Not just sitting all the time.

Tony: You’ve mentioned the world can be a difficult place, where do you see things going? Do you have an optimistic view of the planet now, or pessimistic?

Rinpoche: I’m not too optimistic. I can’t say that, because we know what is happening, the situation in the world: corruption, population problems, politics. These are big problems. So many world leaders today, so many governments, they’re not very peaceful or tolerant. They’re not honest with the people who voted for them. And there are so many big corporations and problems … I don’t need to go through this, we all know this. So, therefore I’m not too optimistic.

But at the same time, I’m not really too pessimistic because I think that people have to have some balance in mind. We have to be optimistic, that’s the only way to survive. You see, some people have this idea that, “Oh, the world is going to collapse soon. The world is going to end within ten years.” I don’t accept that; I don’t agree with that. If you think that way, if everyone starts to think that way, then it’s going to collapse and that’s not very good. Some people they think, “I want a little sanctuary for myself, for my family.” That’s a little bit selfish too. How do you find a little sanctuary for yourself and your family if you think the world is going to collapse? You don’t find a little cave somewhere, a little microclimate Shangri-la that is perfect for yourself. You’re not going to find one. I think that one of the biggest problems is that the population is big and resources are running out. Problems aren’t just caused by corporations and governments, resources are running out because the population is so big and also because of that we have climate change.

But there are also lots of good things happening, good people in the world. Lots of good projects, people who do a lot of good things. And there are also people who are using resources for sustainable recycling and using solar energies that cause less damage to the environment. You look at India and China, they cause a lot of damage to the earth, but they are also developing lots of things like solar energy. They are a lot more conscious about the environment than people in Canada and Australia. So, I think I’m more realistic and what I’m saying is it’s important to be positive. That’s all I can say.

Tony: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Rinpoche: Yes. I would like to say one last thing. I think dharma people in Australia, people in general, should appreciate life and appreciate where we are. You don’t know how fortunate you are living in Australia. It’s a beautiful country, you have peace and a fair society, a good society and we have such a big country, rich country. People should appreciate this and also dharma people should be really appreciative. Australia is a good place to practice dharma and there are good opportunities.

I also want to say one more thing, a personal thing. I’d like to thank all the dharma people who are being very kind to my projects: in Tibet building a health clinic and also building a monastery in Mongolia. A lot of people have been very kind and given lots of support. I’d like to say thank you to everyone.

Tony: Thank you Rinpoche.