From a collection of Lex Hixon’s WBAI “In the Spirit” Interviews
Lex Hixon was an accomplished spiritual practitioner, scholar, author who explored the great religious traditions extensively. He published nine books and spent 17 years hosting the radio program “In the Spirit” on WBAI, where he interviewed the day’s leading spiritual lights. Thirty-three of those interviews, carefully edited, appear for the first time in print in Conversations in the Spirit. Interviewees include the spiritual giants Ram Dass, Alan Watts, Daniel Berrigan, Swami Muktananda, Kalu Rinpoche, Mother Teresa, and Stephen Gaskin.
July 4, 1976
Dudjom Rinpoche was born in 1904 in the southeastern Tibetan province of Pemakö, one of the four hidden lands of Padmasabhava, and was considered a revealer of the treasures concealed there. As a Dzogchen master, he headed the ancient Nyingma lineage. He was also an astrologer, healer, poet, and scholar, and wrote several Tibetan histories. He left Tibet in 1958, establishing communities for Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. In 1972, he visited London as the guest of Sogyal Rinpoche. He founded many Dharma centres in the West, including Dorje Nyingpo and Orgyen Samye Choling in France, and Yeshe Nyingpo and Orgyen Cho Dzong in the United States. Dudjom Rinpoche was a householder yogin. He married twice and had 10 children, many of whom are tulkus, including his son, Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche, a well-known Western teacher. Dudjom Rinpoche settled with his family in the Dordogne center, and died there in 1987. His body lies in a stupa at his monastery in Boudanath, Nepal.
Lex Hixon: We have a very, very special visitor with us in the studio this morning, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, who is the head of the oldest lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He is 74 years old. He made a great effort to come down to the station to talk directly to you. I think it’s unique that [today], on the 200th birthday of our young country, we would have the representative of the most ancient lineage of Tibetan Buddhism appearing and speaking about the highest teachings of mind. His Holiness wants to say a few words in greeting, and then I am going to be asking him some questions. He will be responding through a translator.
Dudjom Rinpoche: We are here in New York City in the United States of America at the insistence and request of a few of my disciples and many other interested followers. These are followers of dharma, particularly in the line of Guru Padmasambhava, the great Tantric teacher. And it is very auspicious that this coincides with the 200th anniversary of the founding of America. I am very happy to be here in your midst and talking to you like this.
I have been able to talk a little bit about Dharma and give a little bit of information about it. Hearing is such an important thing in meditation—the noble quality of hearing. Because of interest initiated by the talk, many followers took refuge. And also, many have received the initiation of Guru Padmasambhava and Vajrasattva, representing all Tantric deities. The meaning and the symbolism that are connected with them were taught and explained to the recipients. I felt that it did have some profound effect.
Lex Hixon: I’d like to say that I was fortunate enough to take the initiation in Guru Padmasambhava. It was very remarkable. His Holiness gave a series of three public talks at the Community Church of New York, where he appeared in a very plain Tibetan jacket and with his hair very tightly pulled back. He looked perhaps a little bit like Dr. Suzuki giving lectures on Zen at Columbia. Then, when we went into the place where the initiations were held, he looked completely different to me. His hair looked like it was flowing in all directions, and he had a beautiful white robe with a red brocade border. It was a very remarkable experience. How many people do you suppose were there?
Dudjom Rinpoche: I think about 200 people. I am very happy to find that there is a tremendous interest here in America and receptivity to spiritual teachings generally, and not just a mere interest, but a genuine interest has been generated. And furthermore, that there is a special link felt by many to Guru Padmasambhava, this great teacher who brought Tantric Buddhism to Tibet and made it available to all, because Guru Padmasambhava is one who is especially apt in calming us down in this turbulent and speedy period that we are passing through. So, as I am one in the line of Guru Padmasambhava, I feel especially happy to see this is happening.
Lex Hixon: In the case of a figure like Guru Padmasambhava, is that just a projection of one’s mind in meditation, or is he a real living figure that exists as much as we do?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Guru Padmasambhava is one with the Dharmakaya or the primordial Buddha in essence. Therefore, he is the essence of all Buddhas, but he manifested in this world of ours out of compassion in order to help sentient beings. He is, in essence, Buddha Amitaba, who manifested out of a lotus in Danakosha Lake. He is known as the Lotus-Born Guru.
It would be difficult for us human beings to appreciate Guru Padmasambhava if he does not manifest in this human form. But the essence of Guru Padmasambhava is without any limit of lives or spheres or time. So he came in physical form, yet his wisdom form is everywhere, and for all time. Historically speaking, he went away from us. But wisdom-wise, or intrinsically speaking, he is everywhere that there is devotion. If we truly realize that all this is but a mere manifestation of the intrinsic mind, then Guru Padmasambhava becomes one with our mind when this nature is truly realized.
Lex Hixon: Does His Holiness feel any special presence of Guru Padmasambhava in his own consciousness, his own awareness?
Dudjom Rinpoche: It comes in different stages or spheres. It comes in a visionary form. It comes through dreams, wherever the devotion is most receptive. When help is most needed, the presence of Guru Rinpoche is made known.
Lex Hixon: Can one begin right away from a non-dual position of regarding mind as pure, even though one still has obscurations?
Dudjom Rinpoche: At the moment, we still are grasping, we still have a problem with this manifestation. So, as a result, we have to tackle this first. In order to tackle that, Guru Rinpoche compassionately has manifested externally and through the prayer so that this grasping of manifestation may be purified. Once that is removed, the intrinsic mind will realize that it is Guru Rinpoche.
Lex Hixon: Is the intrinsic mind at rest or at play? Or both? Or neither?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Between the interplay of the two, we live and we exist, we think. And so, when we watch the mind, and we watch the changes and try to understand them, we may gain a certain amount of understanding. But for that understanding to be maintained, or for us to sustain it, requires a long and arduous, almost effortless effort to keep that state of mind. We have to work for it.
Lex Hixon: Since His Holiness experiences this natural mind, could he tell us what are the marks of this natural mind? By what characteristics do you recognize it?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Our mind is intrinsically empty, or shunyata, but due to the manifestation, we don’t see it as empty. Put it this way: We put our thought or concentration more on the sparkle of the manifestation of mind, and we do not pay attention to what we really are. We would rather hang onto the manifest aspects of it. That is the problem.
Lex Hixon: What are the characteristics of the mind when it is not grasping?
Dudjom Rinpoche: When the mind is without any of our grasping, it is in its natural, selfless state, clear and all-pervading like the sky. But our grasping onto it is like a cloud which obscures the sky, like holding onto this empty manifestation almost empty-handedly. That is what our grasping is all about. And that is why it is so futile.
Lex Hixon: Is the basic, ultimate mind, which is our natural mind—when one perceives it—flowing like a stream, or is it absolutely still, say, like empty space or sky?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Although the mind is intrinsically all-pervading like the sky, in its manifestation, a problem comes, as His Holiness explained earlier. That is why, in order to realize the intrinsic nature of the mind, we have to respect the relative complication.
Therefore, both the practices must be combined; that is to say respecting the relative aspect of the practice because sometimes people forget the importance of that and try to understand mind by meditation only. That is not possible. Until the clouds of defilement are removed, no intrinsic mind can be realized. So it has to be that first one removes the clouds and then you can begin to look back. But even by removing that cloud, we should always relate within ourselves. Otherwise, it becomes a complication in itself if we just hang onto the external practice itself and don’t see the intrinsic nature.
Lex Hixon: So there’s a relative practice and an absolute practice.
Dudjom Rinpoche: Interrelated, both interrelated.
Lex Hixon: So even for someone who is a beginner, beginning relative practice could at the same time, in a humble, sensible way, begin an absolute practice?
Dudjom Rinpoche: It is very important even for a beginner to understand the nature of the intrinsic mind. Of course, it’s easier for us to understand than to maintain it or to understand it fully. But first there must be that understanding in the background of our minds as to what mind really is so that you can relate even the relative practice in the light of that. This makes all the difference.
Lex Hixon: One of the greatest blessings is the blessing of the lama’s mind, the guru’s mind. Evidently there’s a possibility of mind-to-mind teaching and contact. Could His Holiness explain that?
Dudjom Rinpoche: The essence of the Buddhas is out of compassion, and skillfully they manifest or take form in the external lama as the example. So in connection with him, and through learning and through following we develop our mind and ultimately through the help of that external symbol we may gain insight and understand the meaning of the internal lama. Ultimately, we unify our mind with that absolute lama, which is within our mind all the time. That is Buddha nature.
Lex Hixon: Could Rinpoche say something about his own life, how he began meditation practice? I imagine it was as a young boy. Could he say something about some of the stages and understanding that he went through?
Dudjom Rinpoche: First of all, I was very fortunate to be born in a family which is spiritually oriented or has that background, so I was brought up in the way of Dharma. I was also able to see many, many great teachers and to receive teachings from them in the form of initiations, instruction, and in a manner which is almost direct transference of understanding through guidance from the lama. I can say I’ve received almost all the teachings. However, as I assumed the responsibility of a lama, as a practitioner one often becomes very busy working with others, as a result I don’t have that much time to follow my own practice.
Translator: By the way, this is an important point to bear in mind: In the West, everybody is very direct and people often talk of their own attainment. But it is very different in the East. A great teacher like His Holiness does not boast of his attainment. Sometimes he doesn’t even talk about having done practice, as he is saying at the moment. So I think we should appreciate the humility.
Dudjom Rinpoche: Generally, if one follows the meditation and practice faithfully and properly, the effects they have, almost the side effects they have are tremendous. One is able to almost fly like a bird, you know? One can gain almost sort of spiritual wings as such. Also one can travel long, long distance in no time or cross over rivers easily almost without touching. One can live on rocks and things we normally wouldn’t imagine that we could eat. Things like that are side effects of this experience that can be gained.
Translator: My experience as a translator is that people get hung up very much on these side effects and they think about how great they are. The reason I say they are side effects is because the practice is not done to attain these supernatural powers. These are just symptoms which express what has been reached.
Dudjom Rinpoche: I’m telling all this just to indicate how the practice can take effect, particularly if one follows in the line of Guru Padmasambhava. It has the extraordinary effects of bringing these kinds of symptoms of meditation. If one follows the practice properly, one can dissolve the ordinary physical body with the spirit. There can be nothing left behind. Or, in order to satisfy some people who might [not]think that well, he may have just disappeared, just to indicate that it was not just disappearing into another land, but a true disappearance: the nails and hair are left behind. So those kinds of signs one can achieve. As an example, my predecessor, Dudjom, had 13 disciples who attained this kind of spiritual attainment where the entire body is transmuted virtually into rays of light.
Lex Hixon: Rinpoche, why would someone want their body to disappear into rainbows in the first place? Why would they want that?
Dudjom Rinpoche: This body is the result of our own karmic obscurations. This body is what we call the gross body, not the subtle body. Through the power of practice and meditation, this gross body, which is the result of karmic delusions, can dissolve into the subtle body. Even if we cannot dissolve into the Rainbow Light Body through the practices like the Mantrayana [or other]practices that we have, we can find that we have the intrinsic Buddha nature in our body. We have that potential nature. Through the practice, we can perfect and purify all this into the pure perceptions, so that all appearance would manifest as the mandalas of the different deities or mantras. There wouldn’t be any obstructions to going through mountains and rocks or to go into space. These are the results, the power of the practice. We can gain all these miracle powers.
Lex Hixon: Is it possible that a lama or a person who has had this highest realization and who is still living, that they might appear to have an ordinary body which functions in the ordinary way, but actually that all the nerve systems and everything have been completely purified, and actually that the body is not an ordinary body?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Yes, there are many that through internal practice have perfected everything into purity of perceptions, yet they remain very ordinary. There are many great realized beings who, even when they reach the third stage of [being]beyond practice and concepts, in order to benefit beings, they would remain because our practice and teachings are based [on]the commitment to save all sentient beings. They can benefit beings through their body, through being seen, being heard, being touched, or being remembered.
There are many great teachers, such as the previous His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, who had recognition of the true nature and had developed all kinds of realizations. He had the vision of Guru Rinpoche himself and stopped his practice. He explained that Padmasambhava told him, “I sent you to benefit beings. Now it’s time to stop your practice. You have to benefit beings.” Thus, there are great beings who remain without resolving into total transformation into the Rainbow Light Bodies.
Lex Hixon: Your Holiness, would you please pray for us who are listening now that we can tame our minds and realize that our ordinary bodies and minds are primordially pure?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Yes, definitely we all should wish that, and pray that whoever has a connection with great Guru Padmasambhava, that this may be the last rebirth in this universe, and that we be able to attain the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra’s level. And even if we can’t reach that level through practices yet, with whomever we have connections [to]through prayers and wishes, that we will be able to be reborn into the Buddha fields of the Lotus-Born Guru in the Copper-Colored Mountain.
Lex Hixon: Your Holiness, you mentioned the transcendental realm of Padmasambhava. Will most of us complete our spiritual practice there in that transcendental realm? Or will we be able to complete it here in this realm?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Those who pray and wish to be reborn in the Buddha field of Padmasambhava, when we go after death through the experience of Bardo, the intermediate stage between death and rebirth, at that very moment we would experience all the dakas and dakinis greeting us in the special Buddha field of the Lotus-Born Guru, Padmasambhava. There, we would be able to receive teachings and practice and we can attain realization there. Those who get realization there, again, Great Guru will send us back to benefit beings on this earth, saying that you should go through these practices and benefit beings.
Lex Hixon: Where is this Buddha field? Is it far from here?
Dudjom Rinpoche: That Buddha field, the Copper-Colored Mountain, just depends on our natural mind. It is just next to us if we have the inspirations and prayers. It is not somewhere we can reach on our feet. If we have the inspiration, it is just next to us.
It is to benefit beings that all these Buddha fields, such as the Copper-Colored Mountain as well as Shambhala, are manifested. All these celestial realms are not places we can go by ordinary means. We have to reach them through our internal progress and the development of our understanding.
Read CONVERSATIONS IN THE SPIRIT, part 8, with Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (June 6, 1980) here.