Dealing with death without delay
Dakpa Rinpoche on the practice of impermanence through the Bonpo tradition in today’s society
- Published: 30/11/2010 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: Outlook, the Bangkok Post
The problem with today’s society is that we don’t plan for the future, we grasp for it, said the venerable Geshe Latri Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche.
Without impermanence – the understanding that things could change at any time – the motive to exist meaningfully can easily be forgotten. His advice is to take advantage of the opportunities as they come – otherwise, “it’s just a moment”, he said.
“The Twin Towers in New York was just a moment, and then everything was gone. The impermanent comes without warning and it comes in its own way. You really don’t have a chance to think about it.”
The Dzogchen master and spiritual teacher has come to Bangkok many times, sharing the ancient teachings of the Bonpo tradition and their applications to modern life. He is the head and founder of international spiritual centres in Los Angeles, Minsk and Vienna, including a home for exiled Tibetan children in India. In 2006, he wrote Opening the Door to Bon, an introduction to the religion and its history.
While Bonpo is a pre-Buddhist practice originating in Tibet, many of its traditions are closely related to modern-day Buddhism – including the teaching of impermanence, said the venerable.
“Impermanence can be practised by anyone, it’s not something that people should be worried or concerned about,” he explained. “Rather, it is managing ourselves to use each and every moment of this precious existence to make a meaningful, everyday life.”
Growing up in Nepal among the exiled Tibetan community, the venerable was exposed to the Bon way of life at a very early age. He received instruction from his father, Tsultrim Nyima Rinpoche, a famous Tibetan lama.
He first learned the teaching of impermanence in 1977 when he became an ordained monk at the Menri Monastery in India.
“After 3 or 4 years in philosophy school, we began to talk about impermanence,” the venerable said. “Not only did we receive the teachings, but we also had to practise. We had to go to the bushes alone and meditate and think. This was very much a time where I felt an inner awakening.”
However, a deep understanding of change is lacking in society today, he said. The younger generation has a risk of losing its potential for spiritual enlightenment. More distractions and materialistic conditions exist than ever before.
“Ten years ago, we didn’t have as many cell [mobile] phones as we have now,” he said. “We didn’t have iPods. Now our life is controlled by these items. When we don’t have a cell [mobile] phone we think, ‘Oh, what are we going to do now.’ We are totally relying on these items. But really, how can we?”
It’s the job of the elders to educate the youth and lead them on the spiritual path, he explained. Most importantly, there needs to be open dialogue about death between the generations – while it’s inevitable, it seems to be the most taboo subject of all.
“In some cultures people say, ‘Oh, we don’t want to talk about impermanence, death, and this and that.’ That means they want to avoid the reality of being impermanent and the reality that one day or another, we are all going to die. When you want to avoid talking about that, how can you begin to handle it when it becomes a reality?”
The venerable does not mean we should be morbid, but rather, “it’s about becoming more compassionate and practical”, he explained.
“It’s not expecting death around the corner, but preparing for the next, inevitable journey.”
We must use the time we have to reflect internally and project positive karma into the world. We can help those who are dying more by holding their hand then by turning inwards and becoming isolated by our own grief.
“Things are changing. With changes, we should gain wisdom. Otherwise, we are just like bushes that are being waved away by the river. No conscience, no reason why we are going, we simply go because the water is pushing it away.”
The venerable continues to travel the world, helping others discover the unique culture and religion of Tibet, such as the meaning of impermanence.
“It can benefit each and every person that is open and ready to make their life more practical, meaningful and better,” he explained. “By applying the teachings, we can get over many of the struggles and hardships that normally block us. Through practice, we can show a different way to look at the world.”