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How to Listen to Rinpoche's Teachings

Miffi Maxmillion, Septmeber 2006

The time that Rinpoche was here in Brisbane was unequivocally the best three days of my 39-year life. Listening to Rinpoche is always a challenge – not only do we have to battle the dismal sound system on the first night (how does this happen, year after year, depsite best-laid plans?), the noise of the air-conditioner and the Italian karaoke sounds wafting up from downstairs, but we also have to deal with our own minds!

That first evening Rinpoche seemed to meander around unconnected topics, but if you took a moment to put it all together, it was a profound demonstration of not believing appearances to be truly real. The external teaching - the words - and the internal teaching - the meaning of the night - became a brilliant living experience. The story was about Asanga and the maggoty dog, and how after 12 years of meditation retreat, Asanga still couldn't see Maitreya Buddha. What he saw was a maggoty dog.

And we had a similar experience. Depending on our karmic vision, we spent the night struggling with the accent, the cough, our sleepiness, and, once again, our own mind. Or we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the blissful presence of a highly realised being, the melodious sound that was Rinpoche, transfixed and pacified by the incredible care in his voice when he just said the words "cats and dogs" or "mother".

Listening to Rinpoche is like tuning into a radio - sometimes I get static, sometimes I get all sorts of weird voices in my head interjecting, and sometimes hauntingly beautiful music stops me in my tracks. It is entirely up to me to adjust my view. I tell myself - "here we are in a degenerate age, in the presence of a holy being, and how many nights do I stay up late watching bad TV without a second's hesitation - why is my mind so aggravated now?!" Dharma, like Elvis, has left the building. Rinpoche takes us right to the edge of our own spiritual and emotional maturity. He confounds and perplexes us.

At Langri Tangpa Centre, we are used to teachings from Geshe Tashi Tsering who explains each point to us beautifully and methodically, with all the harmony of the spheres of a Bach concerto. But Rinpoche is more like Coltrane - way, way out there, an acquired taste built on years of musical deconstruction. Without a context, without any preparation, or without an uncommonly attuned ear, it is easy to dismiss Coltrane by thinking "the guy can't even play the saxophone"! Rinpoche's unconventional delivery takes us unawares, but when we manage to put the effort in, right there on that night, his teachings pay off by literally blowing away our preconceptions like an atom bomb. But how do you advertise Coltrane to a medieval audience like us?

I think us westerner's suffer from a peculiar blend of pride and laziness. Would we belittle Einstein for not combing his hair, or Mozart for not putting his pants on? Yet we are so impoverished we cannot even see the unconventional brilliance before us, dare not dream we could meet such people in our own life. And we expect that if we do, they will be organised! But even the sutras of the Buddha go off on wild tangents, there is no neat package with obvious beginning middle and end.

If we can let ourselves splash around in the divine play of appearances with Rinpoche, we may have a moment of joyous relief and a glimpse of liberation.

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