What is the difference between a practitioner who feels unsatisfied by spiritual practice, and one who relishes in the deepening and expanding of the journey? Lama Padma Gyatso of Chagdud Gonpa Foundation (Rigdzin Ling) in Junction City, California, summed it up both eloquently and mysteriously: “If you have an hour to sit down and practice, at the outset you might want to ask yourself why you are even trying to meditate. And then, come up with an answer.”
A teacher of the authentic Buddhist lineage of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Padma Gyatso is the Head Lama at the center. In this role, he encounters visitors, retreat participants, and seekers of every ilk wondering how to move forward on the Buddhist path towards enlightenment. Along the way, he has learned to encourage them to start with a simple question: Why?
“Ask yourself why you want to practice Buddhism, why you want to practice the Dharma. There are many other things you could be doing with your time,” he states.
It’s true. He explains that our motivation must be at the heart of the practice. Otherwise, just repeating a practice over and over without a well-informed intention will become unsatisfying and lead to becoming discouraged or, perhaps worse, our ego will find its way into the driver’s seat and we will fall into some form of self-delusion.
So how does one practice from a truer, more authentic place? Lama Padma Gyatso describes how Buddhism sees it: “According to Buddhism, egocentric actions are bound to be unsatisfying. In fact, since the purpose of Buddhist practice is to reduce and eventually eliminate suffering, then uprooting this attachment to ego, which is just the feeling that there is a “self” when there is none, is one reason to enter the path of practice.”
He continues, “Buddha Shakyamuni taught that life is naturally problematic. When honestly and clearly examined, we can understand the truth of it. No running away, no denial. Just looking without preconceived ideas or wishful thinking. When life functions properly, there’s a problem; when it's dysfunctional, there’s a problem. Everything is impermanent and we can’t hold on to anything. If that is understood properly, there will naturally arise a power that can transform our actions of body, speech and mind through what we might call a spiritual path.”
Some people may be drawn to a spiritual practice because they perceive this unease in their lives, something mysteriously problematic. As something that goes beyond their usual perceptual habits. This is their initial why.
Then Lama Padma peels back one more layer. “There are methods that will enable us to see through the apparently solid and heavy nature of a perceived problem or of this persistent underlying unease. Using these methods, our habits of self-centeredness begin to erode and we can begin to see that all beings everywhere are also undergoing various forms of suffering. And furthermore, these sufferings all have the same root: Egocentric actions of body, speech and mind.”
“At that point in our practice, our attention shifts more towards others and there arises in our heart the wish that they all be free of suffering. We are just one, they are many. We do our very best to stay focused on that pure-hearted aspiration. Transforming that aspiration into action then becomes the motivation for our practice." Lama Padma explains that the goal is to reveal our naturally enlightened being, a clear unmistaken awareness with all its inherent compassion and power, as the best possible way to benefit others.
“This path of transformation is clearly defined in the teachings of Buddhism with practical instructions and guideposts. But the way it actually unfolds in one’s life is unique for each practitioner. We are asked to question any discovered truth on each step of the path. Buddhism strongly encourages finding a qualified teacher who has the kindness and understanding to check our experience and appropriately guide us. An experienced teacher helps us from veering off track or landing in some unmarked pitfall. He or she can see when ego might have highjacked our practice and advise us how to get back on the path.”
Lama Padma Yontan Gyatso (Richard Baldwin) began his formal Buddhist training in India in 1970
with the late Venerable Kalu Rinpoche. Later he entered the Buddhist Studies Program at the University of Washington and also received many teachings at the feet of the late Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche, a master of all lineages. He received his degree in 1974 and embarked on a number of meditation retreats. In 1982 he became a student of H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. After fourteen years, Chagdud
Rinpoche ordained him as a Lama in the Nyingma Lineage, authorized him to teach and guide
others in meditation. Presently, Lama Padma serves as the Lama-in-Residence at Rigdzin Ling, the Seat of the Chagdud Tulkus, and continues to teach and practice with meditation and study groups in North and South America. Inquire about Chagdud Gonpa Foundation's upcoming retreats.