Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche is only half-jokingly referred to as dharma royalty. The grandson of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, the son of Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, the nephew of Chökyi Nyima, Tsoknyi, and Mingyur rinpoches, and the eldest brother of Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi, he grew up in Nepal steeped in the living heritage of Tibetan dharma. He is one of the throne holders of the Riwoche Taklung Kagyu Lineage and a lineage holder of the Profound Treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa from the Nyingma School. He also received a rigorous traditional training. Yet all this occurred at a time when the Kathmandu Valley was undergoing its rapid transformation from a medieval outpost to a bustling metropolis, bringing with it all the trappings, glitter, and ruptures of modernity. Phakchok Rinpoche’s comfort and familiarity with both worlds has provided him with an exceptional capacity to address a whole new generation of dharma students. In January 2013, he took a few minutes from an extraordinarily busy schedule to talk with Tricycle’s founder, Helen Tworkov, in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In your booklet “Keys to Happiness & a Meaningful Life,” you speak of the importance of knowing one’s own faults, reducing judgments, and practicing lovingkindness and compassion. And you speak of the eight keys to a meaningful life: generosity, patience, discipline, and the other virtues traditionally called the paramitas [perfections]. You emphasize the importance of these qualities for everyone, whether they are Buddhist or not. This suggests that you can develop these aspects independently of a religious context, which is appealing to those who want some kind of “Buddhist” practice without religion. Buddhism introduces wisdom. That’s the difference. For example, compassion with wisdom doesn’t exactly look the same as compassion without wisdom. Wisdom means to be free from complicated mind. Dignity without wisdom can be easily corrupted by pride. Generosity without wisdom can be corrupted by self-flattery. Without wisdom, you cannot be a perfect person—meaning that you cannot be free from complicated mind. Without this freedom, your good qualities always risk being corrupted.
And dharma has the capacity to free us from complicated mind? Yes, but we need to practice. Dharma offers all the wonderful qualities: happiness, joy, lovingkindness, and so forth. But we are so vulnerable to being corrupted. For example, take love. How many people create problems for themselves and others because of what we call love? How often do we really put ourselves ahead of the other in the name of love? How often does joy become a selfish pleasure? Compassion can be a way of serving yourself. How many people make puja[ritual offerings] to please the gods for their own benefit? How many people do their Buddhist practice thinking only of themselves and not of others?
That is why practice is so important. Daily practice. The routine of practice with formal practice sessions.
If Buddhism is necessary for freeing the mind, then why talk about these virtues in a non-Buddhist way? Sometimes when I meet with Westerners, they want to hear about Buddhism. But If I speak about impermanence, karma, and death, they become terrified. They do not want to hear about these things. They do not have a dharma context. So I had to learn what was suitable. Also, if you know dharma but do not apply it, then you have more regret than if you had never learned any dharma in the first place. If you are not going to apply dharma knowledge to your life—better not to know it at all.
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