Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master of the Nyingma lineage, was drawn into Buddhist life at the age of 14 when he visited Larung Gar, a town in a remote Tibetan valley with a predominantly monastic population. There, he met Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, an esteemed Dzogchen master who eventually took him under his wing.

In 1987, under the continued tutelage of Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, Orgyen Chowang participated in a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai, in eastern China, with 10,000 other Tibetans. The peak is one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains and, according to legend, home to Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. The pilgrimage resulted in an extended residence on Wutai, where Orgyen Chowang received more dharma transmissions from his teacher.

Since 1999, Orgyen Chowang has been based in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches throughout the West. Having lived in the valleys of Tibet and the mountains of China, the coastal cities of the Bay Area and beyond, Orgyen Chowang now believes that the dharma can thrive anywhere. His approach, which he calls the “yogi-way,” is based on simple language and practical advice that he believes can offer access to the deep inner refuge of our inherent nature.  

—Matt Gesicki, Editorial Intern

The following excerpt is from Orgyen Chowang’s recent book, Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness:

The mindset in which most of us now live, our ordinary mind, is not “normal.” In fact, it is terribly abnormal. If we want to take the true measure of our mental health, we should compare it with our Pristine Mind. In the same way that physicians measure our physical health with their modern instruments of diagnosis, we can measure the health of our current mind by comparing it with how we feel in Pristine Mind. When we experience the changeless and wonderful nature of Pristine Mind, we will see that the feelings of anxiety, boredom, or despair we typically experience are actually deviations from true life. It is Pristine Mind that is the healthy, “normal” state of mind.

Before medical science developed our knowledge about the nature, detection, and treatment of disease, people showed symptoms that often could not be traced to an accurate cause. Without understanding the cause, we typically could not create an effective treatment. In the same way, without these teachings, people may know they are unfulfilled, but they do not know the cause of their unhappiness or the appropriate treatment. Without a known cause and without an effective treatment, one cannot recover from the abnormality of ordinary mind.

At the heart of the teachings is our discovery that inside all of us there is a Pristine Mind unscathed by life experiences, awaiting our rediscovery. Unlike our ever-changing ordinary mind with which we are familiar, Pristine Mind is not a changing or fluctuating state of mind. It is stable and at the same time boundless. In Pristine Mind we enter into a fundamental state of mind that is brilliant, clear, and tranquil. It is not needlessly affected by either our past or our future. It does not change with the changes in our circumstances. It is extremely attuned to the present and generates great richness of experience from being so attuned.

Until we see what Pristine Mind meditators have seen—both the nature of Pristine Mind and how to access it—we will be left with this ordinary mind with which to contend with our ordinary lives. Unfortunately, that will be a fruitless quest, since the ordinary mind uses self-defeating patterns that simply cannot provide us with the complete happiness we seek. Despite our efforts, it more often only leads us further away from happiness.

When we rely exclusively on our ordinary mind, our search for happiness takes place in the chaotic and arbitrary-seeming world that most of us now experience. It is a world we perceive to be driven by a series of events we get caught up in, within which we live and seek happiness, but which, in truth, is a rat race to nowhere. The Buddha called this samsara, a Sanskrit word that means an endless cycle of pain and pleasure, happiness and sadness, that results from a misperception of reality. It just circles around and around, never getting anywhere. It is filled with hopes and fears, and produces very little lasting or deep happiness.

Most people think that samsara is reality and that’s all there is to life. With Pristine Mind meditation, you will learn that life offers much, much more than you ever imagined.

From Our Pristine Mind by Orgyen Chowang, © 2016 by Orgyen Chowang. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

Watch Orgyen Chowang’s of Dharma Talks series “Uncovering Our Pristine Mind: The Path to Unconditional Happiness.”

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