Wisdom Energy - Preface

Basic Buddhist Teachings

Preface

While much has changed in the decades since Wisdom Energy—this most accessible introduction to Buddhist thought and practice—first appeared, the basic human needs addressed in this pioneering volume have remained the same, ensuring that it is as relevant now as it was then.

When the two authors began teaching Westerners in the late sixties and early seventies in Nepal and India, a significant number of their students were drop-outs from the societies in which they had been raised. A variety of factors, not least of which was the war in Indochina, had caused many of them to be contemptuous of social, political, and religious authority. As they made their way along the hippie trail leading to Kathmandu, Dharamsala, and similar destinations, they were inspired by such diverse works as Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East and Siddhartha, and the fabulous Tibetan-flavored tales of Lobsang Rampa. Of no less importance to some were their experiences with what were felt to be mind-expanding drugs. Disillusioned with the conventional myths of affluence and materialism, they were searching for something that resonated with a deeper truth.

One way or another members of this motley crew made their way to the Himalayan foothills, where they encountered two most unusual beings. Although Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche came from backgrounds that could scarcely have been more different from those of the young men and women with whom they were coming in contact, these two buddhist monks—one Tibetan and the other Sherpa—possessed an extraordinary ability to relate intimately to the concerns and experiences of this diverse group of spiritual seekers. Despite the severe limitations of their “broken” English, as Lama Yeshe called it, both lamas were able to communicate directly with the hearts of their new friends, brushing aside all differences in culture, language, and upbringing and making a direct connection with their innermost being.

One of the most endearing traits of the lamas—along with their warmth and boundless good humor—was that they never set themselves above and apart from the new, foreign-born students coming to study with them. They did not demand or expect to be treated as anything holy or sacred, and they repeatedly resisted the tendency of some of their disciples to worship them as infallible sources of enlightened wisdom. Lama Yeshe in particular would stress over and over that the answers we were searching for could be found within each one of us; all we had to do was disengage ourselves from the meaningless distractions and deluded habit patterns of our lives and we would begin to hear the voice of our own inner wisdom.

Of course, the lamas had profound faith in the comprehensive methods they themselves had practiced since childhood. But instead of requiring immediate acceptance of the Buddhist teachings as unquestionable and unassailable truth, they encouraged an attitude of critical examination and even skepticism in their listeners. So instead of feeling that we were being preached to, exhorted to adopt a new creed in place of the ones we may have turned away from, we felt we were in the presence of true spiritual companions who spoke to us intelligently and honestly, and who were ready and able to assist us on our own individual journeys.

Lama Yeshe often pointed out that one of the major obstacles preventing us from contacting our inner source of wisdom was what he called our self-pitying attitude: the mistaken notion that we were fundamentally incomplete, damaged, and unworthy of lasting happiness. This, he perceived, was a malady afflicting many if not most of his new students, and he directed his considerable energy toward helping us become liberated from this spiritual disorder. As I wrote in the Preface to Lama Yeshe’s Introduction to Tantra, published in 1987, three years after his passing:

Lama Yeshe had the marvelous ability to touch in the people he contacted a center of peace, wisdom and joy that they may have only dimly been aware of previously. Perhaps his most profound teaching was just this: that we each possess within ourselves not only the answer to our own problems but the potential to live our lives on a much higher level than we currently imagine possible. It was not just that LamaYeshe gave every appearance of having fulfilled that potential within himself.... Even more strikingly, he was able to inspire in his listeners a confidence that they, too, possessed similar unlimited potential waiting to be tapped.

Individually, Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche were each powerful, highly effective teachers. But it was the way they worked together that many of us found particularly remarkable. Their complementary approaches were especially evident at the major teaching event of the year: the four-week course held on Kopan Hill in the Kathmandu Valley each November. At most of these courses Lama Zopa was the principal teacher, leading 150 or more students through the series of meditative practices that make up the traditional graded path to enlightenment, or lamrim, teachings. (Part Two of this present work is an abbreviated presentation of just such a course.) His unwavering focus established a meditative atmosphere in which we could not easily avoid confronting the harshest realities of our existence. Speaking personally—for no two participants’ experiences were ever exactly the same—coming face-to-face with the self-destructive patterns of my untamed mind often made me feel as though I were being dragged through the lowest realms of suffering. But just as the tension of such rigorous self-examination grew extremely uncomfortable, in would come Lama Yeshe, and everything would suddenly be bathed in light and laughter! Just as we had come to recognize how we habitually create our own hell, now we could see and feel how it would be possible to create our own heaven.

After nine years of ever-increasing contact with Westerners in Nepal and India, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa decided to make their first journey to the West in 1974, enabling them to see for themselves the environment that had produced the seekers they had met. As explained in detail in the introduction that follows, Wisdom Energy is the record of the teachings given on that initial tour (augmented by the lecture entitled “How Delusions Arise,” which was added as chapter 4 in the revised edition of Wisdom Energy published in 1982.) All the chapters in Wisdom Energy record the teachings of Lama Yeshe except for chapter 6. That initial visit to the United States and then to Australia and New Zealand in 1975 planted the seeds of what has grown into a worldwide network of more than one hundred centers in over twenty-five countries. With the passing of Lama Yeshe in 1984 and the discovery of his tulku the following year, his heart-son Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche has taken over as the guiding force behind the numerous and diverse activities these centers promote.

When Wisdom Energy first came out, books on Tibetan Buddhism in English were much rarer than they are now, and those written by thoroughly accomplished practitioners having intimate experience with the Western mentality were rarer still. More commonly, those writing about Tibetan Buddhism treated it as a topic of merely historical or anthropological interest. The approach of Wisdom Energy is fundamentally different. As Lama Yeshe himself expressed many times, when we are studying Buddhism, we are actually studying ourselves. We are meant to use the analyses and meditative techniques set forth by Shakyamuni Buddha 2,500 years ago, and elaborated upon by later Indian and Tibetan masters, to examine the nature of our own mind and discover which factors imprison it and which can set it free. Without such practical application to our own mental and emotional situation, there is no Buddhism.

Such self-examination, as unsettling as it often proved to be, was highly valued by a great number of the sincere students who first encountered Wisdom Energy all those years ago, and is still valued by many now. Even though the astounding technological advances of the past decades have profoundly affected the way we conduct our everyday lives, these advances have not solved our fundamental dilemma: how can we make our lives meaningful? It often seems that the faster and more efficient our means of communication become, the less we have to communicate to one another that is truly important. Technological development and material progress have only added to the urgency of the perennial quest for purpose and fulfillment in our lives because they fail to quench our persistent thirst for deep inner satisfaction. I hope this edition of Wisdom Energy manages to bring some measure of hope and inspiration to those who are following this quest into the new millennium.

Jonathan Landaw

 

How to cite this document:
© Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Wisdom Energy (Wisdom Publications, 2012)

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