Interview with Topga Yulgyal Rinpoche. KIBI, December 1994

Question: Can you tell what is the main principle of Buddhism, and the Vajrayana (the Diamond Way) in particular?
Topga Rinpoche: The main idea of Buddhism is to see the cause of suffering, to put an end to that suffering and to stop it for others as well. Vajrayana is a method. Basically it has the same goal [as the Mahayana] but the way is different. The Vajrayana has a more direct approach. It is said that the Vajrayana path is shorter than the other Buddhist paths. I would say Vajrayana does not have a special way, but rather it has a different way than other yanas. This does not mean that you do not have to go through the Mahayana process in order to practice Vajrayana. They are very much related to each other. Vajrayana puts more emphasis on initiations, rituals and meditations, which focus not only on the mind, but also involve physical practices such as yogas and so on. Once you have a proper knowledge about Mahayana you can ask a qualified teacher how to approach Vajrayana. It is something one cannot just explain in a minute.

Q: What is the Karma Kagyu Tradition?
TR: The Karma Kagyu tradition started with the first Karmapa. Actually, it is named after him and there is not much difference compared to any other Buddhist school. The main practice in this tradition is Mahamudra(1). One of the texts which describes the basis for the Mahamudra and the Ngondro(2) is The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. Another main text is The Supreme Path, the Necklace of Jewels by Gampopa.
There is also a short text by Gampopa called The Four Dharmas of Gampopa which includes everything:
  • How to direct one's mind toward the Dharma
  • How to apply the Dharma as one's path
  • How to remove illusions
  • How to transform illusions into wisdom
No matter how many books you may read on Buddhism they are always concerned with these four points. So, why should we meditate? Without meditation you cannot rely on your own mind. Without meditation you cannot see the cause for suffering. Having understood this, you develop compassion and Bodhicitta (3), but you have to practice. First you have to know that countless beings suffer and really need help. They are sort of at the edge of a cliff which is several thousand feet high, and down below is a very dark sea. So everybody is in danger of falling. If you know that they need help you will have compassion, there is no choice.

Q: What is the main philosophical school in the Karma Kagyu tradition?
TR: The Madhyamaka (4). Within that school the 3rd, 5th and 7th Karmapa emphasized the Shentong (6) view. The 8th Karmapa, emphasized the Prasangika-Madhyamaka (5) school, but Shentong as well, thus embracing both schools. The 16th Karmapa emphasized the Shentong view.

Q: Which methods of practice are used in the Karma Kagyu school?
TR: This depends on the person and his guru. If the guru is in a position to know what kind of student or disciple he has and how his mind works then he can immediately guide him accordingly. Either through a direct approach which will make him understand the Mahamudra view, or by leading him on a longer way through, for example, The Six Yogas of Naropa (7). Both ways are valuable and belong to the Karma Kagyu Tradition, but it depends very much on the guru, it is a very personal thing.

Q: What kind of illusion should be removed?
TR: Any kind of illusion. First, it is good to know what illusion is. Any kind of imagination, any destructive thought is not good for meditation. Through meditation these illusions subside automatically. You don't have to do a particular meditation for the purpose of cutting through illusions and thoughts. Meditation in itself means cutting through them. So there is no difference between cutting through the illusion and meditating. It happens simultaneously.

Q: How does one integrate the Dharma into one's ordinary life?
TR: Most of us have families, friends and responsibilities. I don't think we can avoid that. We cannot just leave families and friends behind, go somewhere and say, "Now I am becoming a Buddha." This probably does not work, but you can meditate while you have family and friends around. We say that all sentient beings are our parents. Maybe you don't accept everybody as your parents, but at least you can accept your own family as your parents. So, out of all countless beings, at least you can take the 5 to 10 people around you and try to help them. This is a practice. Teach them how to meditate, show them the right path, if possible. This is very good, and you have a direct contact with human beings. Theoretically, we can say, "Today I'm doing this or that particular practice and I am going to lead all sentient beings to the Buddhafields tomorrow and the day after tomorrow all of them will be Buddhas and Bodhisattvas". This does not make much sense. But in dealing with your family and friends you are really doing something for people, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is very good.

Q: Sometimes we have problems in our families because they don't accept us as Buddhist practitioners. What advice can you give? TR: Maybe they don't accept you because for them you seem to be a kind of fanatic. Maybe they are conservative, they might have different ideas, they might be very materialistic. That's fine, they can have their own view, but you should try to show them that you are not just following a belief, but that you know what you are doing. Communicate this in a nice way, don't fight, don't disapprove and don't be aggressive.

Q: When some people become Buddhist they just want to leave everything behind in order to meditate. But there are many possibilities in life. Others are not sure if they should aim for a career or avoid it. What is your opinion about this?
TR: You should neither leave your job nor your meditation, you can do both together. Treat these two equally at different times. In the morning you may concentrate more on your work, in the evening you may concentrate more on your meditation. I think it will work beautifully. Because whatever you do, it is somehow associated with your meditation, and therefore you won't do negative things like many other people do. It is a very good thing. If you think, "I want to leave the whole world and go somewhere to meditate," then this day will never come. So close that chapter. Do whatever you can, here and now. Of course it depends on one's personality. Concerning yourself, once you know what you are doing then why should you stop? Just go on. But if you don't know what you are doing, then take a break.

Q: Is it possible to cultivate the highest view in one's ordinary life. How does one do this?
TR: Yes, it is possible. You should have a correct view first! The view for Mahamudra is something like Madhyamaka. Through meditation it will develop. The view is intellectually understandable, but since you have not experienced it yet, it is something you have to develop. To experience the view, you go through practices, then you realize it. Finally, one reaches the highest level. However, one cannot point to where the highest level is, because there is no form which indicates it. But, when you reach that level through your own meditation, you will be sort of shocked. You will wonder, "How come I never saw it before, it is within me. It is not that I received it from Russia, China or India, but it is within me, how can it be?"

Q: How can one deal with attachment to wealth, particular principles, pride, and spiritual activity?
TR: When you develop your spiritual power, bad characteristics subside. What is spiritual development? It is mind training through which the ego subsides by itself. When you develop your spiritual mind your unwanted qualities disappear naturally.

(1) Mahamudra: The great seal of reality. Buddha gave this as the ulti-mate/final teaching. It leads to a direct experience of the mind.
(2) Ngondro (Tib.) The four preliminary practices are a collection of four meritorious practices which have to be repeated 100000 times. They create enumerable good impressions in the subconsciousness, and work deeply in one's mind. They are the foundation for Mahamudra practice.
(3) Bodhicitta: Awakened mind. Mental attitude having two aspects. The relative aspect means to perfect oneself for the benefit of all sentient beings. The ultimate aspect is the recognition of the inseparability of emptiness and compassion.
(4) Madhyamaka: The highest philosophical school in Buddhism. Its viewpoint is that ultimate reality is beyond any concept. Phenomena are beyond all pairs of opposites, beyond all extremes.
(5) Prasangika-Madhyamikas: Lit. Those who show the consequence. By showing the consequence of all wrong conceptual ideas they approach ultimate truth.
(6) Shentong: The teachings of the Shentong relate to the third turning of the Wheel of Dharma, where the ultimate reality is called the Buddhanature, which is present within all sentient beings.
(7) Six Yogas of Naropa: Very effective methods of the Kagyu lineage. Their goal is the recognition of the nature of mind. The following meditations are included: inner heat, clear light, dream yoga, illusory body, intermediate state and transference of consciousness.

Kagyu Life International, No.3, 1995. Copyright ©1995 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers USA.