One of the saving graces of samsara at the end of the dark age is that there are bright points of light that punctuate the darkness. I have the incredible good fortune to spend a few weeks in Sarnath (where the Buddha gave his first teachings after attaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree) with not one, but two of these blazing wonders: Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje.
The 17th Karmapa’s message was clear and simple: be a good person. Think of others before yourself; treat the environment like a sentient being, that is, with care and respect; appreciate the smallest moments of your life in order to be happy. We could spend our lives looking at everything that goes wrong, he says, and wonder what the point is of this life. But if we can even enjoy the simple act of breathing in and breathing out, then that experience itself will bring joy. “Thank you Time,” he said, “for continuing to change.”
Thrangu Rinpoche is commenting on Rangjung Dorje’s seminal text, Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom, describing how we mistake our thoughts for a “self,” and then proceed to create all sorts of dramas based on this mistaken identity. It would be easy to view this process as mad-cap comedy, if it weren’t so tragic. We tend to believe that the external world dictates what goes on in our minds, when in fact the converse is true. Change your mind, change your experience.
This essentially clarifies what we are supposed to be doing in meditation. When we sit down to watch our breath, we slow down enough to observe the workings of mind. Once we begin to discern what the mind is doing, then we suddenly have the option to work with what we see. Then we can discover or rather uncover our inherent wisdom. But the trick is this: you can’t uncover wisdom until you understand compassion. The path to wisdom is letting go of this idea of “me” which we can learn through practicing compassion. So between these two great masters, we are being shown the way to our own bright clear light, in the very place where Shakyamuni Buddha first taught the way. At a time when the world seems to be darkening with rapidity, this seems more important than ever.