Resources – New To Buddhism?
The first step in your exploration of Tibetan Buddhism is to see if you can find an authentic teacher with whom you feel you connect. Sometimes you can make a connection by looking at a photograph, by reading a book, or listening to a tape. Usually, though, you connect to your teacher by meeting him or her in person. This doesn’t mean you have to sit down with the teacher, have a heart-to-heart conversation, etc. Attend the teacher’s programs, listen to the teachings, and then see how you feel. Traditionally both teacher and student “examine” one another for a while after they first meet. You can read about this process in a book called Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche if you would like to know more about the traditional style of examination and about the qualities you should seek in a teacher. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche has taught on this subject many times as well and you can click here to read one instance of advice he has given. (After reading, click the “back” button on your browser to return here.)
What are all these traditions and lineages?
The Tibetan tradition emphasizes the personal heart-to-heart connection between teacher and student. We know this from our own life experience; there are certain conversations we don’t like to have over the phone, don’t like to put in e-mail, don’t like to write in a letter, etc. In the same way, Tibetan Buddhist study can take place in books, over the phone, in e-mail, but the real heart of the teachings comes from that non-verbal level of being in the same room at the same time as your teacher. That is why Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes lineage. “Lineage,” put simply, means that the heart-to-heart connection has been passed down through the ages from teacher to teacher to teacher. “Lineage” is one way of knowing if a teacher is “authentic” or has had the training necessary to be a true vessel for the Buddha’s teachings. To find out about His Holiness’ Penor Rinpoche’s teachers and lineage, click here. You will need to use the “back” button on your browser to return.
Where can I find authentic teachers?
Finding a teacher, any teacher at all, may not be so easy. You may have to travel a great distance. However, it is not at all impossible! There are several resources on the web that give teaching schedules and that have local directories. You can find links here. Some of these are empowerments (“wangs”), programs which may seem impenetrable or “advanced”. However, attending an empowerment or “wang”, even if you find you have no idea what is going on, is one way to develop the connection to the teacher. Best is if you can find a “public talk” in which the teacher will give more general teachings.
Yes, but how will I know who is the teacher for me?
You may not know at first and you may not know for some time. It may just take your deciding to make a commitment and to leave it at that. As His Holiness Penor Rinpoche mentions in his teaching on this site, if you see “excellent” and “noble” qualities in the teacher and if the teacher is part of an unbroken lineage, then those are qualities of the teacher you would want to select. Sometimes when you meet a teacher you may just have the sense that this is the kindest person you ever met. Other times you may have a feeling that this is someone you met before. And sometimes you won’t have any feelings about it at all but can see that what the teacher is saying is true. It is said: “Not the teacher but the teachings.” When you have met an authentic teacher, that teacher will reflect either what you profoundly know to be true or what you can scientifically examine and find to be true. In fact, the Buddha himself told his students not to just take everything he said as the truth but to test the truth of his teachings for themselves. So you must simply decide for yourself with whom you wish to study.
I’ve met a teacher, but don’t know what to do next!
If you have met a teacher you like, but have not yet been given any practices to do, you might try just sitting every morning on a cushion for 1/2 hour. You don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary, just sit and let your mind be calm. Try and make a special spot to do this; you can put a flower on a table in your room and sit gazing at it. Calm your mind by gently focusing on the flower, your breath or by saying the mantra of compassion, “Om Mani Peme Hung,” over and over again to yourself. Try not to focus too much on your breath or the mantra or the flower; don’t forget the room. Sit up straight, keep your eyes half open, your lips barely parted and breathe through your mouth rather than through your nose. Don’t worry if your mind is full of activity; just let your thoughts be without following them if you can. There are many books which describe meditation practice in detail, you might try using some of the techniques that are available in published form. At the end of your session, remember how you felt when you were in the presence of your teacher and then dedicate any goodness that comes out of your practice to all who are suffering in the world.
Is Tibetan Buddhism for me?
This is something only you can decide, of course. Tibetan Buddhism is just one of the many skillful means given to us by the historical Buddha and which are available to all of us to help us learn how to live our lives better. There are many Buddhist paths just as there are many in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and so on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself has encouraged people to try their own traditions first and then, if they are still interested, to try the Tibetan path. In the same spirit, we would like to encourage you to read, attend teachings, and to see which path leads you most directly to your authentic Good Heart. If you find that path, then in the Tibetan Buddhist view, you are a practitioner anyway!
Best wishes to you in your journey and don’t hesitate to email us if we can be of help!
To read more online, follow the links below:
His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on meditation and Guru Yoga
Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche on Ngondrö, The Four Thoughts, and Mandala Offering.