The following questions and answers were drawn from
interactions with students of an online study course offered by
Rinpoche through Dreamlife.com
Q: Who, really, was Buddha and when did he live? How and
where did he die and where is he buried? Did he have followers when he
lived or did the "movement" really start after his time?
Rinpoche: Buddha was an ordinary person and he was
a prince, born in a royal family. Through his effort, he became
enlightened, or a Buddha. Buddha means "a vacant one." In the Buddhist
religion, we say everyone can become a Buddha. The historical Buddha
was Siddhartha Gautama. He was born before Jesus in the fifth century.
He died when he was 81. We Buddhists believe that he was cremated. At
that time there were no written teachings; they were orally
transmitted for two hundred years. Then scholars started gathering the
it and making it into teaching format. Manuscripts started around the
first century AD. Since then, Buddhism spread mainly around Asia.
Tibetan Buddhism was brought to Tibet around the eighth century.
Q: I am fairly new to the precepts of Buddhism and I'm
wondering what to read first. Any suggestions?
Rinpoche: For Buddhist people, it is good to study
the Four Noble Truths. There are many interpretations on the Four
Noble Truths, but I think the best one is the teaching written by His
Holiness the Dalai Lama. The book itself is called The Four Nobel
Truths. You can get that book from any major bookstore.
Q: What is your major advice for those of us struggling in
this complex and unpleasant life?
Rinpoche: Life is simple, but many times we make
our life complicated by living either in the past or in the future.
The best way to live happily is to live in the present moment. By
opening your heart and opening your mind and bringing more
spirituality into your daily life. My main advice is to start your day
with a prayer such as: "May I bring happiness into my life and other
people's lives today." Then end your day with a dedication for the
benefit of yourself and other people.
Q: What are the Four Noble Truths?
Rinpoche: The Four Noble Truths are: The truth of
suffering, the truth of cause, the truth of cessation, and the truth
of path. The truth of suffering is to know that we have suffering. It
doesn't mean that life is suffering. Many Buddhist masters interpret
the saying to be 'life is suffering' (in the West), but I think life
is not suffering. Life has a nature of suffering, which means if we
don't handle our lives well, it will become suffering. The truth of
cause is to understand the causes of suffering. If we can stop the
causes of suffering, then we can be free from suffering. The truth of
cessation is that all suffering is cessable. The truth of path is the
Q: What is the Eightfold Path?
Rinpoche: The Eightfold Path is right view, right
part, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort,
right mindfulness, and right concentration. The right view is
understanding the world and oneself in a realistic way. Right part is
positive ideas or notions within our mental state. Right speech is
speaking with respectful truth and for the welfare of others. Right
action is acting with the respect for life, property, and
relationships. Right livelihood is living virtuously and meditatively.
Right effort is cultivating positive attitudes in our study, and
practice. Right mindfulness is maintaining full awareness of our inner
and outer environment. Right concentration is observing an object with
Q: How can practicing Buddhism help me bring more happiness
to my life?
Rinpoche: To become happy, actually, it is not
necessary to become a Buddhist. But you can bring some of the concepts
of Buddhism into daily life, such as having Buddha's nature in our
mind. This helps us to have more courage and more hope. Practicing
love and compassion for all sentient beings expands our heart and
makes our heart bigger. Buddhism doesn't have a dogma. That is why you
can open your mind with reason of the true nature of existence.
Q: How many different sects of Buddhism are there? I
recently talked some friends in New York that practice a form of
Buddhism that originated in Japan.
Rinpoche: There are many Buddhists sects.
Actually, Buddhism came from India. There are many different sects in
India, as well such as Theravada and Mahayana. As Buddhists went to
Japan, Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and many other countries
there became a different Buddhist sects such as Japanese Buddhism,
Thai Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, etc. So within one culture, for
example, in Tibet we have four different sects. They are Nyingma,
Kagya, Sakya, and Gelug.
Q: What are some differences that you notice between
American Buddhists and Indian Buddhists?
Rinpoche: The basic concept of Buddhism in America
and in India is mainly the same, but as Buddhism came to America, it
became mixed up with American culture and people here in the United
States focus more on how to bring more happiness into daily life
through Buddhism. In India, as we believe in the next life very
strongly, people focus more on bringing happiness to the next life.
Q: What role do women play in Buddhism? Some religions
worship women as bringers of life while others view them as
lower-class citizens. Does Buddhism fall into either of those
Rinpoche: In Buddhism women are equal to men.
Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, we have some vows that, if taken, we
have to respect women. That is why we don't look down at women in
Q: If one follows the eight-fold path, meditates at least a
half-hour a day, and tries not to be attached to ideas or things, will
one be happy on every moment? Why or why not? Is this what Buddha
Rinpoche: By bringing the Eightfold Path into your
daily life, you will bring more happiness into your daily life. If one
practices meditation for half an hour daily it will refresh your
spiritual energy in your daily life. That is why the Eightfold Path is
the main solution to solve the problem of the world and our lives,
given by Buddha.
Q: What does Rinpoche mean?
Rinpoche: Rinpoche means, literally, "precious
jewel." In Tibetan, many reincarnated Lamas have the name of Rinpoche.
It is given by the people because, in Tibet, people refer to a
spiritual master as a precious jewel.
Q: What is your present relationship to the Dalai Lama?
When and how did you first meet him?
Rinpoche: I met His Holiness personally when I was
seventeen. Before that, I only saw him giving public talks. Suddenly,
I received an official letter from Dalai Lama, saying that I was a
reincarnated Lama. This was when I was in boarding school. I never
expected to become a Rinpoche in my life when I was young. I was not
close with the Dalai Lama at that time, but after that I became close
with the Dalai Lama and he became my spiritual master. I became his
disciple. I met him many times when I was in India. I still see him
once a year. That is my relationship with the Dalai Lama.
Q: Why did you study in India rather than Tibet?
Rinpoche: I was born in a refugee camp. As you all
know, Tibet was invaded by Communist China in 1959. My parents had
left Tibet and were living in exile in India. After that, I became a
Rinpoche and joined the monastery in India.
Q: When you consider someone to be a spiritual person, what
qualities does such a person possess, and which practices does that
person participate in?
Rinpoche: Being warmhearted and kindhearted with a
broad, open mind are the qualities of a spiritual person. To become a
spiritual person, you should start opening your heart to yourself. In
other words, I mean by loving yourself and letting your love to
overflow from your heart to many other people in our daily life.
Q: Is it necessary to chant to get the most out of
Rinpoche: It is hardly necessary in order to have
a good meditation to chant something. Actually, meditation should be
as slow and natural as the river. It is not good to make meditation a
forced activity in our lives. Meditation should just come naturally
without forcing it. To meditate, the most important thing is to live
in the present moment and celebrate each and every minute.
Q: I have never meditated before; can you give me some
suggestions on how to start out?
Rinpoche: To start meditation, you can give five
minutes in your daily life by watching your breath and feeling your
breath. Keeping your back straight, either closing your eyes or
slightly opening them by looking down to the tip of your nose. Then
you can expand your time as you become comfortable with the
Q: Are there any gods or goddesses in Buddhism? I think I
remember there being one goddess named "Tara", but I'm not sure.
Rinpoche: There are thousands of deities in
Buddhism. You are right that there is a goddess named Tara. From the
Buddhist point of view, the gods and goddesses are not considered to
be the creators. They are the positive aspects of ourselves.
Q: Why do some people consider Buddhism a science?
Rinpoche: Because Buddha said one time that we
should investigate or examine his teachings like goldsmiths
investigating metal to make sure that it is real gold by cutting,
rubbing, and putting it into the fire. That is why most of the
followers of the Buddha practice that and examine and do a lot of
experimenting with our emotions. For this reason, some people think
that Buddhism is more related to the sciences.
Q: What is the difference between Buddhism the religion and
Buddhism the philosophy?
Rinpoche: Buddhism has both religion and
philosophy. The religious part of Buddhism has a lot of rituals and
prayers and worshipping many different deities. It focuses more on
faith and devotion. The faith that we are talking about in Buddhism is
threefold: admiring faith, inspiring faith, and trusting faith.
Philosophy mainly focuses on opening our minds by gathering a lot of
information about reality into our intellectual mind then to bringing
it into the intelligent mind and then making it wisdom.
Q: Are there any books you would recommend I read for more
information on Buddhism the religion?
Rinpoche: There are many varieties of books in the
bookstores, sometimes it becomes very complicated to choose one. I
always recommend the books written by the Dalai Lama and the teachings
that are related to him. I know him and if you search for the books
written by the Dalai Lama, there are many.
Q: So, is Buddhism a religion? If so, is Buddha the God of
Rinpoche: Buddhism is not exactly a religion but a
combination of philosophy, psychology, and to some even a science.
Buddhism maintains that for every action there is a result; in effect,
one is one's own creator. It is a way of living, a method of behavior
that will deliver certain results. There is no central God figure in
Buddhism nor is there dogma. Buddha is not considered God but is the
founder of Buddhism and is revered as a great master to admire.
Buddha's image has the power to inspire us to become like him. He
taught that we all have the Buddha nature within us. This is very
different from the concept of worshiping some outer God who we believe
can give our lives results.
Q: Do I have to believe in God to practice Buddhism?
Rinpoche: The main concept Buddhists believe is
that we are each our own saviors. Buddhists do not believe in a
creator, God, which is outside, up in the sky. However, we do believe
in gods and goddesses, and that each of us has the potential to
develop into such a being if we nourish that seed within ourselves. As
the Buddha says: "No one saves us but ourselves. No one can, and no
one may. We ourselves must walk the path, but Buddha clearly shows the
Q: Why do Buddhists believe that it is so important to
Rinpoche: In Buddhism, there are three, main steps
we practice. They are: Learning, Contemplation, and Meditation.
Learning is bringing the knowledge into our intellectual mind,
contemplation translates knowledge into intelligence, and meditation
brings knowledge deep down into our hearts.
Q: I am new to mediation and find it difficult to keep my
mind focused for any period of time. Do you have any suggestions?
Rinpoche: Meditation is a natural state of mind.
It is something to be being, not doing. But if you try to force
yourself to be in meditation, it will become impossible. When you are
new to meditation, it is natural to have difficulty staying in that
state for a long time. Just practice being in that state for a little
while without forcing it - let your self be like a witness, rather
than a doer. This will help you enjoy your state, and soon, nothing
will be able to prevent you from being there. Start by sitting for a
short time, 5 minutes, and slowly increase it to 8 minutes, then 10,
then 15, and so on. Eventually it will feel very natural. You will
have trained your mind to focus on meditation for as long as you
Q: Can you explain Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation?
Rinpoche: There are several realms in which one
can be reborn. Some people are reborn in Divine realm, some are reborn
in the Animal realm, and so on. The Divine realm is a place like
heaven where one has a subtle body, and the mind experiences mainly
pleasure. However, this state is impermanent. When one's life span in
the Divine realm is finished, one could well be reborn again as a
human, animal, etc. Two of the other realms are Hell and Hungry Ghost.
Neither is a permanent place. They are, again, states of existence
where one has a subtle body, but the mind experiences different
sensations. In Hell, one's mind experiences mainly anxiety and
distress. In Hungry Ghost, the mind is continually plagued by longing
Q: I am new to Buddhism and would like to know if it is
necessary to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist?
Rinpoche: It is not a must to be a vegetarian to
be a Buddhist. It is a matter of personal choice. Buddhist scripture
is unclear regarding the matter, and it has been a topic of debate for
many. For monks and nuns, it has always been customary to accept and
eat anything that people offer. In addition, in many parts of Tibet,
it is difficult or impossible to grow crops, so people's survival
depends on protein from yaks and sheep. It is not appropriate to order
that an animal be killed just for food. Rather, it is important to use
all of the animal so as not waste it. If you eat meat, it is good to
take a moment to recognize that you are eating a sentient being,
remember that animal with kindness, and pray that the sentient being
gets a good rebirth.
Q: Why do Buddhist monks and nuns wear red and yellow
Rinpoche: In ancient times, in India, people
considered yellow, and red to be very ordinary colors. Buddha Gautama
wanted his disciples to be ordinary, so he had his monks wear one of
these colors. India has hot weather, and Tibet has cold. Consequently,
Indian monks and nuns choose yellow, because it is a cool color, and
Tibetan monks and nuns choose red or maroon, because it is a warm