A Conversation With His Eminence the 7th Dzogchen Rinpoche, Jigme Losel Wangpo: The Common Sense of Tibetan Buddhist Tradition
What was family life like where you grew up and what most influenced your behavior and thought?
I was born in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, a state of India that borders Tibet. I lived with my father and mother. There were many Lamas, khenpos and monks from Tibet staying with my family who influenced my childhood.
At the age of 8 or 9, I began my formal training as a Lama with one of my main tutors. My training would start at 5 a.m. I studied Tibetan texts, writing, spelling, fast reading, ritual and discipline. I received excellent spiritual training and education and learned the importance of continuity.
As I grew older, I remember thinking how tough life was. I realized that I had no choice in the direction of my future. I spent most of my time with my teachers and attendants, separated from my parents, so a sense of family life was not there for me. I remember thinking ‘When will I be free from this tough training?’
My teachers told me that if I trained now, I would then naturally have freedom. So, I learned most things completely; still I did not get the freedom I was expecting, but an inner freedom began awakening within me. This encouraged me to continue to preserve the rich spiritual heritage of Dzogchen and to dedicate my life to taking care of all sentient beings, which is the path to freedom and enlightenment.
What is extraordinary is that, although 400 years old, Dzogchen is perfectly relevant for today, a time rife with turbulence and uncertainty.
What must young people master within, to become peaceful, kind, intelligent adults?
The kinds of influences young people have in their lives are very important. I was surrounded by people setting positive examples. I experienced both love and discipline, and the two are equally important.
What is required is everyday learning. Young people need to be guided in everyday life, not just in school. Modern education aims at excellence in academic subjects, but not at developing wisdom. Often, what is taught in schools is not practical; students are unable to merge what they have learned into their daily lives.
When young people develop an understanding of what is right and wrong, they become more mindful of their actions. They are able to integrate their realizations into everything they do, causing less suffering to themselves and others.
That is what is missing, an understanding of cause and effect. It is not a matter of being spiritual. It is about having common sense. This common sense view helps to develop young people into compassionate and wise adults, creating great leaders for the future.
How can adults shift to become more fully peaceful, kind and intelligent?
We don’t need anything extraordinary, just discipline, continuity and the right influence. These three techniques are antidotes to prevent things from going wrong.
Discipline is not about making life difficult, it does not mean to torture or punish oneself. Its aim is to avoid creating harmful results. Discipline, tshül thrim in Tibetan, is to act in the right way, to act with concentration in bringing about awareness in everything we do. Having discipline taught from childhood, in schools and at home, we learn to understand the consequences of our actions in advance. We are then less likely to do something harmful.
We live in a world governed by distractions, so that it is hard for us to develop self-discipline naturally. Our mind is tricky and, like a monkey, it is difficult to settle. That is why, in Dzogchen, we train the mind and why we implement structure. Employing this method, we can be brought onto the right path. Two ways of bringing discipline into our lives are by training and by understanding through realization.
Given the current situation in the United States, what could you recommend we do as individuals to improve ourselves and our nation?
\America is perceived by the western world as a leading nation, and is therefore setting an example of the kind of freedom and success to be desired. What America has introduced, though, is a way of life that relies heavily upon external means to create happiness; a happiness that is impermanent. In this modern world, we all chase dreams of what we think life should be. We take out loans to purchase new homes and cars and then spend our whole life paying off these loans, being robbed of the very thing we were hoping to achieve in the first place: happiness.
In my U.S. travels, it has become apparent to me that Americans no longer feel satisfied with this idea of success and have realized that this kind of happiness is fragile and empty. What is missing is the ability to bring about peace and fulfilment from the inner level.
Americans are recognizing that they need another plan. To make a good plan, we need wisdom, a wisdom that is born from experience and realization, not just from intellect. The spiritual path can give clarity, confidence and peace. Whichever spiritual path is followed, be it Christian, Buddhist or another, it should at least be a path that is authentic, a path that one can trust. When we have something we can build upon, a foundation, then we can have stability.
Of course, we can still enjoy external things, but it is unwise to rely upon them. With internal stability, we can begin to find peace.
We now need to encourage children and teenagers to adopt spirituality in their everyday lives, not in a forceful way, but in a skillful way. This will give them confidence as individuals; society, and the nation on the whole, will benefit.
What do you hope to accomplish in your talks?
I am providing an opportunity for people to see that they have everything they need within themselves to experience great peace. I am here to help. That is my purpose and my great wish. Even if only one person gets it, then I am happy.
For more information about Shenpen America, the non-political nonprofit organization rooted in the teachings of the Buddha and formed under the guidance of His Eminence, visit or call 973-543-9352.