Chögyal Namkhai Norbu: Santi Maha Sangha
Good evening everybody. This is the first day of the Santi Maha Sangha training, but today everybody is participating. I am only giving an introduction, not a particular teaching of Santi Maha Sangha. This is also the Day of the Dakini, so we also need to do a Ganapuja. Before we do a Ganapuja, I want to introduce what doing a retreat of Santi Maha Sangha means.
Many of you don’t know what Santi Maha Sangha is. Why do many people want to do Santi Maha Sangha? Many people say it is because they want to be a teacher.
Some people have this idea, but Santi Maha Sangha training or learning is not for becoming a teacher. If you have the intention to be a teacher from the beginning, that is very bad. That means you have less qualification. For example, many years after I arrived in Italy, many people asked me to teach. I told them I was a student, because I did not feel I was a teacher. I felt that I still wanted to learn and do practice, at least to realize something. So if you have that idea from the beginning, it is not good and it is better you don’t do Santi Maha Sangha at all.
So it is better you have a little of the sense of what Santi Maha Sangha is. Santi Maha Sangha is the language of Oddiyana, not even Sanskrit. If we translate it, it means Dzogchen Community. Now you can understand how the Dzogchen Community must be. How the people who are in Dzogchen Community must be. What the people should learn. This is why we are doing Santi Maha Sangha.
Basically, the Dzogchen Community is not any kind of organization, it is not a social organization, but we are living in society and society is limited. Social organizations exist, so dealing with that we also need to organize something. Then it seems that the Dzogchen Community is a kind of organization, but that is very relative. You know very well when you follow Dzogchen Teachings, even if you are not doing Santi Maha Sangha, each time we do retreat I am explaining very well what Dzogchen is. Dzogchen means our real nature. The Dzogchen Teaching is for discovering that, for being in that state. How is our real nature? Our real nature is beyond limitations. Intellectually, when we are explaining, we say khadag and lhundrub; the non-dual state is the state of Dzogchen. That is the intellectual way.
Khadag means emptiness. Lhundrub means all its qualifications, movement and energy, because only emptiness has no value. Emptiness has infinite potentiality; that is our real nature. Even if it has infinite potentiality, it is not a mental concept or limited in time and space. That is beyond. So we are following that. We are trying to do that practice, trying to get in that state. If someone tries to be in that state, on that path for having that realization, then they are interested in the Dzogchen Community. Community means practitioners together; working together and collaborating with each other. They are not preparing a position thinking they have this position and someone else has that position. If you are interested in having positions, it is much better that you do something else. In our society there are so many ways to prepare a position.
But Dzogchen teachings are not a way to prepare a position. We should go beyond that. Even if we are not going beyond that kind of limitation concretely, we know that and we try to be mentally in the real sense in that state. That is our address and we know that. Relatively, of course, we need to respect all different kinds of dimensions and conditions, and that is called working with circumstances. I give many examples and explanations of that many times; not only in the base of Santi Maha Sangha. Each time we do a retreat and you are at the retreat or you are connected with the webcast, how many times have I explained that?
Last year when I did a retreat in Tenerife, the retreat of Dzogchen thögal, that was the 500th retreat I have done. I have a list, one by one, of each retreat, on what date, in which place, and what I taught. So sometimes I remember how many retreats we did and how many times I have explained. Many times I am repeating again and again, and it seems that some people still do not know or listen. Sometimes I feel very surprised at how they cannot understand. I am thinking that. When I repeat many times even small children can understand. And some people say they are an old student, but if you are an old student you need to have that knowledge, that understanding. Old only has value like an old, good Brunello wine in Italy.
Brunello wine that is twenty or thirty years old is very expensive. But if you have followed the Dzogchen Teaching for twenty or thirty years and you are still not integrated or manifesting the real sense of Dzogchen, it is not good. For that reason we are doing Santi Maha Sangha. It is very important that people who already did Santi Maha Sangha manifest as if they did. It is not sufficient that you say that you did Santi Maha Sangha and your name is on the list. That has no benefit. If you did Santi Maha Sangha, you must manifest that. Santi Maha Sangha means the practitioner behaves in a perfect way in the Dzogchen teaching. They know the sense of the Dzogchen Teaching and have integrated that knowledge into their existence. That is what they should manifest; also in our daily life. I am trying to do that with Santi Maha Sangha. Santi Maha Sangha is for developing. Even if someone does not succeed completely, but they go ahead year after year, maybe something concrete develops.
I have already taught the Dzogchen teachings for more than thirty years in the Western world. So it is very important to understand the value of Santi Maha Sangha and then you try to follow. Some people say they did a very good examination. Even children can do an examination when they learn something in memory. That is good, it is much better than if you didn’t learn at all. But that is not the main point. This is relative, very relative. The main point is that you integrate what Dzogchen is, what the knowledge of Dzogchen is, and then you manifest that with your body, speech and mind in daily life.
We can see, for example, that we have a Dzogchen Community. The Dzogchen Community means that many practitioners are collaborating with each other. You observe yourself, for example, how you collaborate with the Dzogchen Community. What you do? Which kind of idea do you have? What did you do? Observe a little.
For example, I feel I am teacher, but not only a teacher. I always feel part of the Dzogchen Community. For that reason I’m doing benefit for all, trying to do my best. Collaboration. Day and night, if it is necessary. I do that because I know that we are in the same boat in the Dzogchen Community. We are traveling to get final realization. If you belong to a family, for example, three sisters and three brothers, for example, and you are all living in a house together with parents, you collaborate. While you are in this family you need to eat and you need to live there. You need to respect each other. The Community is just like a family. You should feel that and you should help each other and collaborate.
Many people do not have this idea. They say they did Santi Maha Sangha but when the Community needs help or someone to take responsibility on the Gakyil, everyone says no. How are we collaborating now? Who is collaborating then? So sometimes it is very sad that we have this kind of situation. If there is a new Dzogchen Community, only a few years, two or three years old, we think they do not yet know, they have still not learned. But if it has already been thirty years, almost thirty years, and still people are not collaborating, then what do we do? We only we have a little time in life. Today I am still alive, I give Dzogchen Teachings and I give to the Dzogchen Community.
I am alive now, but if we are still missing collaboration, what will happen when I disappear – will the Dzogchen Community still exist and how will the Dzogchen Teaching continue? When we know the Dzogchen Teaching then we know that it is very important, not only for Dzogchen practitioners, but for all sentient beings. Particularly for human beings. We have so many conflicts and so many problems. Dzogchen Teaching makes us understand we should liberate those tensions and that conflict. The unique way is to go beyond our mental limitations. This is the teaching and practice of Dzogchen. That is the unique way. Nothing else really exists. We always develop our tensions and problems.
The Dzogchen teaching has universal value. We know that and we need to protect it. We should develop. So for that reason I am sacrificing always. Some people say that I like to travel, for example. I do not really like traveling at all, but I know it is necessary. I cannot go everywhere but I can go to some main places, like a Dzogchen Community Gar. I always try to go. Today we also have the possibility of connecting with webcast. That is something very useful and very good for many people. But even with this kind of possibility, I still try to go around. Of course, when I’m not feeling well, or I have some problem on the physical level, I cannot go. But when I feel a little better, then I do my best for traveling, giving teachings, doing retreats, etc. So people who are interested must understand that. We don’t know how many times we can repeat that. Our life is very short, but we do our best. We must know and think how important it is for for our continuation into the future.
You see how many children we have [in our Community]. Not only our children, but also other people who are not participating in the teaching, somehow they must discover. They must wake up. No one likes to suffer and be limited continually. Remember how Buddha gave teaching. The First Noble Truth is the Truth of Suffering. That is normal. Everybody suffers. No one likes to suffer, but they don’t know what the solution is. To overcome that, Buddha taught that suffering is an effect and has its cause, if you discover the cause and work with cause, there is the possibility to overcome. That is what Buddha taught.
In the same way, we know how our situation in society is. We are learning and we have that knowledge, the value of the Dzogchen teaching, etc. for that reason, we try to do our best for learning, if there is the possibility, just like with Santi Maha Sangha. Santi Maha Sangha is global.There is something we can learn and understand a little from the teaching of the Buddha Shakyamuni until Dzogchen. There is Vajrayana, there is Sutra teaching, for having a little concrete idea. Then we can understand what we can do in our life and which is the best direction to follow.
Some people like to read very much, for example, like romantic books, big books like this. Then they are for doing retreat for one week, two weeks, three weeks, giving very much importance day and night, and they are reading these books. Instead of reading these books, it is much better you read a Santi Maha Sangha book. You can learn at least few things. It’s very useful for your life, for understanding.
When you start to have a little more understanding of the base of Santi Maha Sangha, it becomes a background for all the teaching. Then when you follow the Dzogchen teaching, you can have more concrete understanding of what the difference is. I think it’s very important, seriously, that people understand the value of Santi Maha Sangha. It is not something done in a traditional way. Traditionally something called Santi Maha Sangha does not exist. It is based on my experience in the Western world, how we are going in the teaching, particularly applying and learning the Dzogchen Teaching.
I understood that first of all it is indispensible to have something like a base. If we want to construct a house, a big, good house, we should prepare the base very well. If you don’t prepare the base, even if you prepare a nice house, it cannot remain for a long time. In the same way, in the teaching, it is very important that the base is precise. The base means knowledge like Sutra, what it means, which is the main point of Sutra, how to apply Sutra, and what is the difference between Sutra, Tantra and Vajarayana. Also Vajrayana; Vajrayana is a general name. In Vajrayana, we need to know the differences. You can also understand Anuyoga, and in Dzogchen, the teaching of Atiyoga, the higher level teachings. When we have this kind of idea, that means that we have a base. Now we are learning Vajrayana or Dzogchen. We can understand the differences and we have no confusion.
Of course, someone who comes to the teaching completely new, and goes directly to the teaching of Dzogchen, that means that person has a good connection with these teachings. Even if you have a good connection but you have no base, you can also have confusion. For example, some people say that until now they are following another kind of tradition, teachings, etc. They are worried now that they are following Dzogchen teaching, what will happen? I say that when we do guruyoga, we unify all teachings and teachers together, but still they are worried and they say their teacher says they cannot mix this tradition and that tradition. So it means that even if I am saying that you can unify in the Dzogchen teachings and that is the best way to have realization, maybe they listened to that but they are thinking that it may be a problem for them because their teacher said something different. That means they have no confidence in my teaching.
There is no reason not to have confidence, the principle of unification was not invented by me. Guru Padmasambhava and the Dzogchen teachings, all tantras, lungs, upadeshas, are all explained in that way. If we have no confidence then we cannot do anything concrete. If some teachers, instead of teaching you to go beyond limitations, teach you to develop limitations, it is better you don’t follow that teacher. That not a perfect teaching. Realization has nothing to do with limitation. Limitation is source of the transmigration, of suffering. Why do we need to develop that? For that reason we say always we should go beyond limitation. Some people say that they understood limitation is not so good and now they will go beyond that and then they do strange things. They think that going outside with clothes is a limitation. If you do not wear clothes and you go in the street, a policeman will take you and put you in jail. That is your realization.
We live in a limited society and for that reason, the Dzogchen teaching always says to respect our circumstances. This is the rule of the Dzogchen. Dzogchen teachings are not teaching that you should do this and not do that. There are no books of rules in the Dzogchen teaching. If someone says this is a Dzogchen rule, that is not really Dzogchen. We have traditions in our relative condition; there are some things of this kind. But that doesn’t correspond.
I remember when I did my first retreat. The first retreat was organized by an older Italian lady called Laura Albini. She was a student of the 16th Karmapa. She told me many times that she had a dharma center of the Karmapa and that I should come to teach there. I said I had no time and I was working at the university. I told her I am an ordinary person, living, working, and eating, in the normal way. So then later she asked the Karmapa and he sent me a letter saying I should go and teach at this dharma center. I wrote again to the Karmapa saying I was sorry but I couldn’t go because I had work at the university. I said, I have no free time, firstly. Secondly, if I go to teach in your dharma center, I will not teach your traditional teaching, because I don’t know it. Maybe I teach Dzogchen. That is what I am convinced of and what I practice. And if I am teaching Dzogchen teaching it will no longer be your dharma center. So I refused again.
Later the Karmapa sent me another letter saying that there are two dharma centers, one is in Milano in the north, and one is this lady’s; but in the real sense there were no dharma centers, it was that only Laura received the name of the dharma center for her house. Sometimes some people were going there when some lamas were invited for a few days and they received some teachings. It was the same way in Milano. But then I repeated again that I did not want to go and teach.
I remember that I really did not feel in that period that I wanted to be a teacher or give teachings. I was a teacher of Tibetan culture, Tibetan history, and Mongolian language and literature at the university. This is what I was teaching. Sometimes I would give many seminars about Tibetan Buddhism, also Vajrayana, Tibetan medicine, Tibetan astrology, Tibetan history, instead of only language. I was also doing service, and many kind of seminars. I did this because my title was Professor of Tibetan Language and Literature, and in literature we have all these aspects. So this is what I did. But I was not a spiritual teacher or something like that.
Sometimes some professors like Professor Tucci and others would ask me to give lectures of the Tibetan and Vajrayana teaching and yoga, etc. I also did that sometimes, but those were conferences, not really teaching. That is all. Some people came to me and asked me to teach. Some people went to India where they met lamas and the lamas sent them to Namkhai Norbu. Then they came to me to ask for teachings and I said I am not a teacher and I am not giving teaching. I always refused. Then finally, once when I was going on a holiday in Switzerland, in that period they again invited me to teach. In Rome there was a very scholarly Gelugpa lama who was teaching in the Sutra style and all these people who were following the Karmapa and some Nyingmapa lamas were going there for receiving this kind of teaching. Then I thought it might be better to do something, otherwise all the people will join that group which is very limited and it was not so good for ordinary people.
When I was leaving for Switzerland I told Laura Albini that if she wanted to organize a retreat, when I returned from my holiday we could do. Then she organized that retreat and we did that retreat. In that retreat there were many people, including some people who were following the Gelugpa tradition, etc. I give some Dzogchen teaching and we studied there. This was first teaching I gave. But I already knew that I did not want to create a kind of a tradition, monasteries, etc., because all dharma activities were all going that way.
About thirty people arrived to the retreat. I came from Napoli, south Italy, with one of my friends who was also my student of Yantra Yoga. He was interested in the teaching and wanted to come to the retreat. We passed through a town called Mondragone where there is very good wine. I bought a very good big bottle of wine and we brought it to the retreat. When I entered there were all these students and some were outside with khadags and incense, welcoming us in a very nice way. I arrived like a normal person bringing this big bottle of wine. Inside there was a big temple and I put the wine there. I said, This is for you. This is how I started. And later, the next day, I already saw that Laura Albini had posted outside five rules, five things that we couldn’t do and that were forbidden in this tradition. Wine is always forbidden. I didn’t say anything.
So limitation is not good. For that reason in the teaching it says that even if we are drinking alcohol, alcohol is not always negative. If we have samaya, commitment, that means we know what our capacity is, and then we empower, like a Ganapuja, and then if you drink a glass of wine you will not have any problem. Of course, if you drink one or two bottles you become drunk you have problems and that means you have no capacity to control yourself. So people already consider that no one has the capacity to control themselves, so there is this kind of rule. But the high teaching always considers the capacity of individual. Nobody knows another’s capacity, so we cannot limit capacity.
Some Westerners come to the teacher and ask which kind of capacity they have. They cannot understand by themselves. If you are fortunate and you meet a good teacher; you are interested in the teaching and you participate, then you already have a capacity. Then you try to do, to learn, and you can discover your capacity by yourself. Maybe if you are missing some capacities, you can also construct.
But not all people are fortunate. Some people are unfortunate and maybe they meet a false teacher, someone not serious. First of all these teachers observe this person, looking well how this person is; if the person is very noble, handsome, rich, powerful, also maybe they know a little history of that person and they say, Oh you have really very high capacity. Or someone recognizes immediately that that person is a reincarnation of an uncle or father or someone. Then that person is very happy, no? Immediately these people offer land, money, etc. The teacher can open many dharma centers. For two or three years they are successful and then later it all disappears.
So it is better we open our eyes and try to understand, if someone is really giving teaching. You can listen and try to understand if that teaching really corresponds or not; does it correspond or not to how Buddha taught. How it is explained in Sutra, Tantra, Vajrayana, if you read something, and you compare. Also does it correspond to your real nature or not. If the important teacher is only commenting on some words, it’s not so easy to understand. Maybe this book is saying something interesting and the teacher is commenting on that, but you couldn’t understand the real condition of the capacity of the teacher from that. In any case, it is very important to follow the teaching and a teacher with open eyes, not in a blind way. Following blindly is not good. Then when you are getting some important teaching, you can have some confidence, not only that you are constructing in an intellectual way. Then, if the teacher gave you such kind of advice, you can see if you are able to discover the real sense. If we have to change or modify something, we can understand if the teacher and teaching are serious or not.
The Dzogchen teaching is a very precious teaching. You can understand how the sense of Dzogchen teaching is presented and how it corresponds to our real condition. We are in confusion with our mental concepts, etc. We understand how we can liberate all these things with the Dzogchen teaching; we can also understand intellectually. So we should go that way and try to learn, therefore the base of Santi Maha Sangha is useful for everybody.
It doesn’t mean you cannot read the base of Santi Maha Sangha if you didn’t do an examination. It is not like that. The examination is for checking if you have a base or not, if you learned or not, if you did some basic practices or not or if you have integrated or not. You did all that so then we can go a little into the teaching of Dzogchen. For that reason we are doing an examination.
So it is not necessary you do an examination. If you read and s study the base of Santi Maha Sangha, it is very useful. In general most of the time when we are doing retreats I explain most things, not each argument one by one, but I give explanations of these things. You listen well and you can understand. If you read the Santi Maha Sangha base book, you can find everything very precisely. If you have studied that a little, you can understand other traditions, how they are presenting different kinds of teachings, what is the value of the teaching, etc. That is very important. So you do your best and that is what I want to say.
Day 1 (SMS First Level Training). Tsegyalgar East. July 13-17, 2012
Transcribed by Martha Tack and Larry Howe. Edited by Naomi Zeitz.