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Buddhist teaching by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu #1

The Essence of Dharma

I am sure many of you already follow Dharma teachings, so this evening I would like to go more into the essence of Dharma. Why? Because already everyone's life is very busy. First of all, we don't have much time to learn very Dharma in a very detailed way. Secondly, even if we learn something, it is not so easy to apply. If we do not apply or practice it has no benefit. Dharma is something like medicine. We need medicine because we have problems; physical problems. So when we have medicine, what do we do?

We must take the medicine and we follow the advice of a doctor. Otherwise even if we have good medicine, there is no benefit. The same thing with Dharma; we can learn. Dharma is also something useful for living this life. Of course, if we believe there is some continuation of our life then Dharma is still more useful. Even then, Dharma becomes something useful only if we know how to apply it, how to integrate into our condition, particularly in daily life. For that purpose we need to understand the essence.

What is the real essence of Dharma? It is not only understanding the different kinds of traditions; different traditions are secondary. Within the essence of all traditions - all traditions which follow Dharma teaching, the teaching of Buddha - there is no difference. We have many kinds of traditions within the teaching of Buddha. We have these different traditions because there are many different kinds of people with different kinds of capacities and different kinds of judgments. Even if one teacher is giving a teaching, then later, for example, ten students have ten different ideas and ten different ways of understanding. Maybe not all ten students create ten different schools, but some are created. Someone who is more active creates a school, a tradition, and many different kinds of traditions arise. But the essence must be same.

This doesn't mean that we should go after multiplying traditions; actually we can do the reverse. We can try to understand the essence of what Buddha taught, why Buddha taught, and which kind of benefit we have if we follow the teaching. I think these things are really very, very important. I want to give you a little idea about this from my experience. Because I have studied the Dharma for many years - Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen - I have my experience. When we study or follow a teaching, why are we following the teaching? We study in order to have knowledge, to discover the real sense, how we can integrate, and how we can have a kind of realization. That is the purpose. So when we learn or follow a teaching for all of our lives, in the end we arrive, more or less. Sometimes we arrive very late. We are always judging, thinking, creating, so many things. Sometimes we can arrive a little earlier, if we are fortunate, meeting teachers who really give the essence of the teaching. Or we know how we should go on the path and learn; sometimes we have that possibility.

I will give you an example of myself. When I was small child I entered the monastery and received an education, a monastic education, learning many things like how we do prayers in the monastery. Later, when I was nine years old, I entered college. Finally we studied some real Dharma. Even if we study Sutra, we are trying to understand what the path is, what it is for, etc. After five years I studied in college, mainly Sutra teaching, and then I felt, "Now I know everything". Really, I felt that way.

I finished my college, and went to another college, two different colleges, for comparing studies, etc. and it seemed that I learned very well. I never thought, "I don't know Dharma". Or, that I was not being in the sense of Dharma. Later, when I was seventeen or eighteen years old, I met one of my teachers, a Dzogchen teacher, and received Dzogchen teachings from him. I had received teachings many times before, I had met many Dzogchen teachers, but had received that teaching in a more traditional way.

They gave initiations, empowerments, some instructions through some books, etc., and we learned and thought, "Now I know that, I am an expert of that". Finally I discovered I was not really being in the knowledge of the teaching but I believed I knew everything. Also, my teacher, when we talked, before I received the essence of the teaching, he told me many times, "Your mouth is Madhyamika and your nose is Logic". I always thought he said that because he didn't go to college.

He didn't study for many years like me. I thought, "He is good practitioner, but he is not scholar". This was my idea. Then later, when he really transmitted the essence of the Dzogchen teaching, I discovered I had really built my idea of knowledge, something like building a castle of my idea of study, knowledge, understanding, and I was living in that. So of course, when my teacher transmitted, I discovered that and my construction of the castle collapsed. Finally I understood how we should learn the teaching and how we should be in the teaching, so this is my experience.