Carefree Dignity is a way to describe the atmosphere of a true wisdom teacher and Tsoknyi Rinpoche coined this phrase to encapsulate the way to grow into mastery of the authentic view of reality and how to conduct oneself in daily life. In this way view and conduct are in perfect harmony. This harmony is the essence of the Buddhist tantras and the quickest way to progress to true and complete awakening.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche was my father, but he was also my teacher. He gave many people a lot of instructions, using many methods. At first glance he looked just like any other old man, but his mind was that of a great Dzogchen yogi. He would use all kinds of different methods to make us understand. In particular, he would teach mind-to-mind. There are three main ways of teaching, called the mind transmission of the victorious ones, the sign transmissions of knowledge-holders and the oral transmission of masters. The first involves mind-to-mind transmission; the second teachings using gestures or symbols, and the third using words.
I don’t have to praise aloud the high realization of my father, because many other masters have done this already. I don’t have to add to that. But looking at Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s behavior could teach us something as well; there is something to learn from examining his life. Before Tulku Urgyen died in 1996, I had the fortune to spend a few months with him, and during this time I became very clearly aware of how he conducted himself. There is a certain kind of natural compassion in someone who truly realizes emptiness, and Tulku Urgyen had this kind of great compassion. Through witnessing it, I felt I could better understand how compassion unfolds out of the understanding of emptiness.
Tulku Urgyen was quite sick in the last months; so sick that actually he should have been lying down and receiving oxygen. He had severe heart problems, but he didn’t exclude anyone from his heart. He didn’t forsake anyone, even up to his last breath. That is a sign of a true bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is someone who never forsakes other beings, never leaves them behind, never excludes them from his experience. Tulku Urgyen would always be teaching and receiving people, even when he was really sick. Even though he was not quite up to doing so, he would come and sit by his window and wave to people and give them an audience, although it was very difficult for him to even sit up. That’s a sign of a true bodhisattva. Someone who has realized emptiness is naturally compassionate, and doesn’t close off and become concerned with only him or herself. Like “Now I don’t feel so well. I don’t want to face anything, I don’t want to see anybody, I don’t want to do anything.” Rinpoche was never like that, not even on the very last day of his life.
Rinpoche had a several health attendants, including American and German doctors, a western medical assistant and a few nuns. They emphasized that he needed to rest and tried to restrict his visitors. When they were present, Rinpoche was not permitted to see anybody. My brother and I have small children, and they were also prohibited from visiting their grandfather. Still, as soon as these attendants were out of the way, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche would send for someone. He would instruct a different attendant to fetch the children, and would give them a hug or some sweets. He would call for other people as well, to see them or give them a few words of advice.
In the end he was extremely sick and in a lot of pain, but I don’t think he ever had the thought, “I don’t want to relate to anyone, I don’t want to share any teachings, I don’t want to be disturbed.” I feel that kind of thought never entered Rinpoche’s mind. He was like that until the last breath. That is a sign of a bodhisattva. Through that, one can catch a glimpse of the kind of master such a person is.
When I compare myself with Tulku Urgyen I can see a huge difference, and through this I understand something more about realization. Even though Tulku Urgyen was really sick, he was more concerned with others than with himself. If someone came to visit, he wouldn’t talk about how sick he felt or how bad his health was. He would always ask how the other person felt and try to help them or teach them. Such selfless behavior is possible through experience and realization.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche lived in a simple way. He was very simple inside, so he didn’t have to make a lot of fuss about his life. Still, he was able to do a tremendous amount. He built a lot of monasteries and gave many teachings and empowerments, to other masters as well. Yet he himself lived very simply, and because of that he never got tired of carrying out Dharma activities. Many of us make our lives very complicated with all the thoughts and ideas we have. If our thinking is very complex, even a small task can become too much. Even if we manage to carry it out, we find it quite tiring, quite exhausting. The opposite of this is very simple thinking, a very open and simple mind, which allows great activity. I have read about that kind of personality often in the teachings, in books, but Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche exemplified it. His life shows the need to be simple from within. Then, even if you do complicated work, it’s okay. To supplicate the root and lineage gurus means to actually aspire to be realized like them, to use them as examples for how to be. I feel that it was a great help for me to actually witness personally how Tulku Urgyen was. I was there when he died. Both before and after he fell ill, I never heard him say, “I don’t want to help someone.” He never expressed that. That’s what a bodhisattva is.
A real practitioner is at ease in any situation, no matter where. Along with being at ease, there is some sense of being happy, but sad at the same time, kind of tender, in the sense of being weary of or disenchanted with samsara. Even if samsara has been left behind, there is still weariness with the entirety of samsara. This tenderness embodies devotion and compassion. This tenderness is what causes one to not turn one’s back to even a single sentient being. To think, “I can’t stand these people, they are annoying. I want to go home to my own retreat hut and be comfortable,” means that one is turning one’s back on sentient beings.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche would always see people, especially people who had come from far away, even when he was in retreat. It never occurred to him to exclude beings who wanted to have contact with him. He never had the attitude to exclude others. Even when he was so sick he could hardly take one step on his own, he had his attendants prop him up in front of his window so he could wave goodbye to people who had come to see him.
That was very annoying for some of the people taking care of him. They would say, “Rinpoche, why are you like that? Why can’t you behave and not see people, it is for your own good.” But now we realize it only shows his bodhisattva activity. He never considered himself as more important, but always held others to be more important that himself. Even when he couldn’t walk or sit up by himself and had to be helped and supported, he would still pay attention to others, asking who each person was and where they came from. Usually when we are sick we are not like that at all, are we? We lock the door from the inside and we don’t let anyone in because we want to be comfortable. In fact, we get angry when people come. When Rinpoche heard someone was coming, on the other hand, he was happy.
A lot of you met Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and you could see what he did for himself — not much. He was happy with very little, a very simple way of living. He didn’t take much care or do much for himself at all. But on the other hand, he did a lot in his life. He accomplished a lot of activity, he did a lot of things, but all of it was for others. He never gave up on anyone or turned his back on anyone. Up until the time he drew his last breath, he was acting for the welfare of others. It’s not easy to be a genuine bodhisattva, only concerned with others.
Tulku Urgyen was really like that. When very ill, he both directly and indirectly made himself available for others, even though he knew he might die in one or two days. To be so totally unselfish is very difficult. I spent a lot of time with Rinpoche, and I never saw him even once show any irritation with the prospect of having to meet somebody. And he would often see people from six in the morning until nine at night.
Right now we are not talking about what Tulku Urgyen’s realization was, his view, his way of meditating, and so forth. Let’s totally set those aside. What I do know is what I saw — how he behaved, his behavior. We should take this example to heart. Make the wish, “May I be like such a bodhisattva.” Sometimes, when we train in the view and when our meditation is good, we should recall the life example of masters like that. To sum up, the more loose and free you can be inside, the more deeply relaxed and open, the better. To the extent that this freedom arises from within, we can help others that much more.
Extracted from Carefree Dignity, spoken by Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Compiled and translated by Erik Pema Kunsang and Marcia Binder Schmidt. Edited by Kerry Moran. Copyright © 1998 Tsoknyi Rinpoche & Rangjung Yeshe Publications.Featured image of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche by unknown. Photo of Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche by Julie Green.
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