Student: I heard that if you have studied the five great treatises in past lives it’s not necessary to go through extensive studies of them in order to attain realizations, and that by just studying and meditating on the lam-rim you can traverse the grounds and paths completely. When I heard this I had a few questions. First, how are you supposed to know if you studied the five great treatises in past lives? Second, it seems that most of the past great lineage lamas went through exhaustive and extensive studies. Je Rinpoche showed an extraordinary example of the meeting of study and practice, and so did great lamas like Baso Chokyi Gyaltsen, Sangye Yeshe, Gyalwa Ensapa, etc. Some even showed aspects of great realization at a young age and still went on to study extensively. Relating to my own future practice and study, I plan to stay at Shine Land until it is sold and to continue retreat somewhere after leaving Shine Land. I also thought going to a monastery to study might be helpful. Do you have advice relating to this? I also have some places in mind to check with you.
Rinpoche: You can attain realizations. You need to study the lam-rim, meditate and practice correctly, and then realizations will come. The realizations are the main purpose, just as butter comes through churning milk.
Whether you know a little Dharma or whether you know everything, the point is to have realizations. This is the key thing—to have realizations. Without realizations, it’s as if you don’t have any wealth and you’re only talking about other people’s wealth, "This person has this, this, this." It always becomes like that. Also, the mind isn’t subdued unless you have realizations. No matter how much education and understanding you might have, the mind is not subdued. It becomes like a big collection of DHI, DHI, DHI, DHI, DHI. Without realizations, the mind becomes the same as a computer. The essence is realizations; what is most attractive is realizations. No matter if you have a small understanding or big understanding, that’s what you should look for. Somebody who has realizations—that’s success.
Sometimes study and sometimes retreat is good. Also, sometimes you can do retreat and study together. That’s another thing. Also, there are the benefits of understanding. Like the experienced great teachers, the more you learn the more you understand, which means you make fewer mistakes. There is less misunderstanding and less mistakes in your practice and more correct realizations. You will have a broader understanding of what are mistakes and what is correct. Then, if you want to practice you will know how. Otherwise, you can make a lot of mistakes. If your understanding is limited, a lot of mistakes can arise.
It is all according to your state of mind. You need to judge your mind and decide whether it needs to be in an isolated place or with people. If your mind is very disturbed, very easily affected, and you can’t practice Dharma, then go to an isolated place. Sometimes when you need to learn more, then you can be with people to practice and study. You have to watch your mind, then, according to your mind, do what is better—go away to practice, study or do retreat. In this way it’s safer. If you have a fixed idea, then think that it is no longer beneficial when many things are disturbing you, then you lose out, are unable to practice, and waste your life.
Basically, I think this is better—just watch your mind. Wherever is more beneficial, stay longer there. Otherwise, if you’re fixed about staying somewhere and things aren’t going well, there is no benefit and you lose your precious human life. I’m giving you a general idea. Judge how your mind is and basically protect your mind, for its development. That is better than having a fixed idea, like always being at the center, always studying, or always in retreat. It all depends on what’s more beneficial at the time.
It is amazing that you are reading and reciting the Middling Lam-rim. That is amazing, really unbelievable, so good. Lama Tsongkhapa’s Middling Lam-rim is quite extensive and his explanation is very deep and extensive. When you read Lama Tsongkhapa, even if you’ve read many lam-rims for many years, it is so deep and profound—a very different flavor. You are the most lucky one. Many people don’t read it again and again. To complete the reading is very rare, and on top of that, so many times; this is extremely rare. If you don’t get to read Lama Tsongkhapa, no matter how many other lam-rims you read, you’ll feel regret. I think once you’ve read Lama Tsongkhapa’s lam-rim, you won’t have much regret about not having read other lam-rims.
Student: After I finish what you advised, reciting and meditating all the way through the Middling Lam-rim 20 times, should I then go back to your previous advice of breaking the lam-rim up into periods for each scope for a certain number of months. Or can I take one topic at a time and just work on that topic until I attain the realization, then move on to the next one. Of these two methods, which one would you advise?
Rinpoche: You can do the second way. Since you will have read the lam-rim many times, do this—one by one, for how many weeks or months it takes. Proceed like that until you have stable realizations. After you have read it that many times, wow, this is what you should do.
Student: I’m wondering how much lam-rim realization you need in order to do a three-year tantric retreat?
Rinpoche: The best is to have the realization of bodhicitta—this is unbelievable. Whether you have the realization of emptiness or not, if you have the realization of bodhicitta, that is unbelievable. Then, you will do a great retreat. Great retreat means the number of mantras. That’s amazing, fantastic. It’s like you have already made the cake and then you put the cream on top.
Student: You advised to recite the graduated path of my tantric deity prayer every day. Should I continue to recite this?
Rinpoche: Yes, that is very important, if that’s the main deity for your practice. Each day recite at least one lam-rim prayer (such as The Foundation of All Good Qualities) and then the tantra stages of the path. These two should be recited whether you’re meditating or not, at least to plant the seed for enlightenment, the complete path of lam-rim and tantra. This must be done.
Student: In 2003, you advised reciting the Vajra Cutter Sutra once a week. I’ve been reciting it since then, and I’m wondering if you would advise to continue?
Rinpoche: That’s unbelievable. Yes, you should continue this for your whole life. That’s unbelievable merit, and the quick way to realize emptiness. It is unbelievable purification. Actually, I started to memorize it in Washington. There’s a lady who is working in a supermarket, and she has started to memorize it. She has done half. She inspired me to memorize it, though after that I didn’t finish. Memorizing is very good if it can be done.
Sometimes you can learn some of the meanings and you can do meditation on that. Maybe you can do meditation with a group of people some time in the future, and explain and study commentaries.