A Tibetan spiritual master dispenses advice on how to live meaningfully.
WE are often reminded that life is short and we should live fully. For some of us, that means living a meaningful life.
I asked my daughter what she thought that meant. Her answer amazed me.
“Living fully is living in the moment. It’s living like there’s no tomorrow,” she said, engrossed in her game on her iPad.
Spoken like a lama!
I say that because her answer is similar to that of His Eminence Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, 48, a highly accomplished spiritual master in Tibetan Buddhism, who was in town recently to launch his new book, Living Fully: Finding Joy In Every Breath (New World Library).
“Living fully is living in the moment. It’s enjoying the moment as if there is no next moment,” said Rinpoche.
“We’re able to enjoy everything with a sense of compassion, dignity and integrity.”
Rinpoche is a lineage holder of the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) tradition. At four, he was trained as a lama and received transmissions from all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. For over 20 years, he has taught in retreats and seminars around the world and at universities, including Harvard, Yale and Naropa University in the United States. He is married with three young children.
In 1989, Rinpoche founded Rangrig Yeshe Inc, a non-profit organisation in the United States to preserve Vajrayana teachings. He is also founder of the Tibetan Children’s Fund, which has educated over 300 children in India and Nepal. Rinpoche has reestablished Shyalpa Monastery and Retreat Center and founded Shyalpa Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he guides over 130 monks and nuns in the Dzogchen Longchen Nyingtig tradition.
He is in the midst of setting up the Center for Enlightenment at Buddhafield in Millerton, New York. He has also set up the Dharmachakra Teaching Funds in the United States and Europe. Rinpoche founded the non-profit charitable organisations, Wencheng Gongzhu International Foundation (WGIF) in Hong Kong in 2009, WGIF Taiwan in 2010 and WGIF Malaysia in 2011.
Living in the moment
I was armed with a handful of perplexing questions on the subject in my interview with Rinpoche.
“How can those with lots of worries live life fully? I enquired.
“When you’re engulfed with so much worries and fear caused by insecurities and ignorance, you don’t realise that living fully is your responsibility,” he replied.
“The purpose of our life is to live fully. It is not about doing chores, collecting materials or indulging in everything. It is to gain strength in such a way that nothing can condition us.
“When we’re not able to do that, we’re constantly worrying. We become helpless and torment ourselves. Karma is not about many lifetimes but also something we create right now. One moment you’re not living fully, you are creating karma for you to suffer.”
It was our second meeting in four years. I first interviewed him for the story of his life.
Human life, he said, is “the most precious gift”.
“It’s our responsibility to benefit ourselves fully from all the gifts we have – being able to breathe, see, feel, think.”
How do we apply these natural gifts daily to live life to the fullest?
“It’s not necessary to go into caves (and meditate). You can do the same in a modern or an urban setting,” he said.
“Only awareness, wisdom and mindfulness are necessary.”
In the spiritual sense, “living fully is to be enlightened.”
Many people, he said, have ideas on enlightenment. But they’re not able to apply that kind of quality in their daily lives.
In his book, he explains what religious masters have tried to explain for the last 3,000 years – but in plain English.
He wants individuals to realise “they’re capable of living fully as enlightened ones, (just) as real life saints can”.
Rinpoche’s book, his first, is a compilation of his spontaneous and profound teachings imparted to his students in the United States for over two decades.
“Rinpoche’s insights guide those who yearn to understand themselves and their world to live a truly meaningful life,” according to Paul J. Patrick, the book’s editorial director.
A time to celebrate
To live fully, Rinpoche said, is to be able to celebrate each and every moment as the most precious thing on earth.
According to him, “to live life fully is to have compassion, love and respect towards everyone. We’re no different from others. We’re all one as we strive to be happy.”
It’s a known fact that life is short and impermanent and death is inevitable.
“If so, why worry? It makes more sense to live this moment fully because we’ve no other choice,” Rinpoche said, adding that even those on the verge of death can live fully by having no fear of it.
“Pure heart, humility, embracing change are some qualities of living fully. So, too, living in a simple, compassionate, generous, fearless and spontaneous way. You are able to see that everything is an opportunity for your growth,” he said.
“You will find true joy, satisfaction and have fearlessness in approaching day-to-day activities.”
In his book, Rinpoche urges us to train our mind.
“Think more of others as it will broaden your vision and soften your heart. Taking your first step with a kind heart is the intelligent way to begin,” he said.
Cultivating great respect for everyone is also a key to living fully.
He said: “Within the unconditional appreciation of our breath, we will find unconditional love for all beings. When we realise how precious our own breath is, we will not think of hurting anyone, not even a tiny ant running across our table.”
Is helping others whilst neglecting self and family considered living fully, then?
Rinpoche reckons not.
“Living fully is not just going out there and being involved in church or social activites in the name of helping others. Living fully is truly helping oneself and by that, it is also helping everyone,” he said.
“It’s like the way the sun is shining effortlessly (on one and all). Similarly,
living fully is to bring out the true unconditional quality that exists within each and every one of us and naturally, it benefits every being,” he explained.
He said that the poor should not think that only the rich can live fully. And even those who are “physically not perfect” can live fully.
“It’s most important that your mind is perfect. You can visualise all good physical bodies are yours. The problem is we think this physical body is ours and we’re attached to it,” Rinpoche said.
“Why not identify with a good body like the divine body – Buddha’s, bodhisattva’s or Guan Yin’s? The possibilites of the mind (or imagination) are unlimited.”
Rinpoche said that his book can be read by anyone to help them in their daily life.
“Even fourth- or fifth-grade kids can read and understand the profound language of the enlightened ones,” he said.
Published in 2012, the book is No. 1 in the United States (Amazon) and Taiwan (No. 1 in spiritual and self enrichment) and is still top five. It has been translated into Chinese and Nepali. Within two months of its launch in Nepal, the book was sold out. It is also available as an e-book.
“Our intention is that if I’m not able to travel, the book can help others. We want to translate it into as many languages as possible,” he said.
If we do not live this life meaningfully, he says, “we are losing a precious opportunity to become genuine and dignified beings. If we can live with awareness and use our time well, we will depart this life gracefully and courageously, without looking back.”
Living Fully: Finding Joy In Every Breath is available in major bookstores locally.