Questions & Answers on Mindfulness
Q: In the West today, mindfulness as a practice is being taken out of its Buddhist context and introduced without Buddhist language of any kind. We have mindfulness in business, mindfulness in the education system, and so on. What do you think of this, Rinpoche?
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: I’ve been contemplating that quite a bit. And I think to some degree you could say that mindfulness practice has been taken out of context in terms of some of the approaches taken. But when I look back into the traditional Buddhist teaching, those methods are actually a part of it.
Buddha taught that there are two approaches or two vehicles. One is a mundane vehicle, and the other is the vehicle that will lead one to awakening––complete awakening. So I see some of these recent approaches as part of the mundane vehicle that Buddha taught, in terms of making one’s future existence more comfortable, more virtuous, and more abundant with both physical and mental health. So even though some of these approaches to mindfulness have taken a different route, so to speak, from the more traditional Buddhist approach, I see those as part of this first approach of Buddhist teaching, which is concerned with making our lives more mindful and more compassionate, more loving and in many ways more virtuous.
Q: What is required for the second vehicle––the vehicle of awakening––that people might not learn about when they are only introduced to the practice of secular mindfulness?
DPR: What is taught in the second approach of the Buddhist teachings is a deeper sense of working with our mind, and a deeper sense of working with our confusion and the roots of our suffering. So the second approach requires a little more contemplation, more meditation and a little more sense of acquiring the wisdom necessary to see our confusion and where it comes from.
Mindful Activity & Instant Gratification
Q: It seems like I’m often looking for instant results, or instant gratification, when practicing loving kindness, or practicing mindfulness and awareness. How can we let go of always wanting instant gratification?
DPR: Not everything takes effect right away. Some things take a little longer time to get the effect, and with some things it takes a shorter time to get the effect.
If you are doing some kind of mindful activity to help others, that is helping the world. You’re making someone happy, giving them what they need, or doing whatever you can do. You can rejoice in that action and feel the happiness you managed to give. If you can feel that happiness, then just rejoice, instead of looking for a reward.
It’s natural, of course, that we tend to look for some kind of reward or payback. Even when we don’t expect a reward, we’re usually looking for some kind of result. At the same time, I think that looking for a result from our efforts sometimes blocks us from experiencing joy and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s natural to expect something in return. But when we do, that’s the cause of disappointment for sure. The same thing happens with our children. If we expect too much from them in return for our care, then our children are a cause of disappointment for us.
And in some cases I think the result may be there, but we are blocked from seeing it due to our mind’s habit of expecting a result or a return right away. In the 21st century we face the challenge of instant gratification. This is one of our biggest challenges. We want the result fast––we want the fastest possible enlightenment. Like everything else, fast is not necessarily best. Think of fast food. Or if you are in an auto accident, faster is not very good, right? If the accident is slower, it’s better. It doesn’t cause so much physical harm.
Not everything is going to be in our favor, but that’s what we want. We want our Internet browser to be faster. We want Netflix faster, YouTube faster. And they’re making the devices faster––tablets and phones. But then those faster devices use more space, too. When the hard drive becomes full, then the speed comes down, so in the end it’s the same. In fact, it’s more irritating, because you expected the new device to work faster and it doesn’t. In our century, technology presents challenges of its own.
Fast Is Not Always Best and Success Is Not the Goal
It’s good for us to remember that, even if everything begins to go faster, it may not be such a good thing in the end. Consider if your web browser were to open at the speed of thought. Whatever you’re thinking about, right away it opens and shows you that. It could be an embarrassing thought. That could be quite a problem, especially in your workplace. Then we would need to develop another program to block those thoughts at work––like an antivirus, but an anti-certain-thoughts program. So fast is not necessarily best. When we expect a result right away, I think it becomes an obstacle for us.
When we’re on the path of practice, the path of awakening, we must try––try to be mindful. Our aim here is not to succeed. We don’t need to succeed all the time. It’s not possible, right? Why can we not succeed every time we engage in mindfulness practice? The same reason we cannot succeed in winning every time we buy a lottery ticket!
You cannot succeed all the time. And that’s not our goal here. The purpose here is to try, just give it a shot. If you didn’t succeed, that doesn’t mean you didn’t practice. That’s part of the journey. So keep trying. Give it a shot.
Appreciating Your Effort: An Exercise
When we understand that faster isn’t always better and that practice means trying, not instant success, it helps to appreciate our efforts along the way.
1. Recall a time when you made an effort, when you tried but didn’t succeed. Maybe you were trying to listen patiently to a friend, to be kinder to yourself or others, or to meditate or exercise more regularly.
2. Now rewind the memory, to the point when you first felt a sense of decisiveness: “I’m going to [insert your intention here].” How did it feel in your mind and body, to have formed that intention?
3. Appreciate your sense of resolve, the decision you made to put effort toward a positive result. Resolve now to keep trying. Remind yourself, “I’m going to enjoy this journey, and I’m going to appreciate every effort I make to bring about this positive result.”
4. Whatever efforts you make, whether large or small, appreciate that you gave it a shot! And keep trying.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche taught on these aspects of mindfulness in an interview with Sounds True in 2017 and in a program on the methods from his book Emotional Rescue in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2017.