Chögyal Namkhai Norbu: The 27 Commitments
Namgyalgar, Third Level Training, March 31, 2000
Now I have to say something about my personal commitments. It is very important that my students, particularly in Santi Maha Sangha, know this principle. This principle is not only something I write down to say, “This is my commitment”. I apply them. I wrote these commitments when I started to teach Dzogchen. In the beginning I taught Buddhist teaching in general, also Tantrism, and information in the University. Also ISMEO (Istituto Studi Medio Estremo Oriente) sometimes organized some kind of public lectures. Those subjects were no problem.
Then, later, many people asked me to teach Dzogchen teaching. So in this case, teaching means I am showing the path, and students apply and follow, and they try to have realization. So that is not only for my students, but for myself also. I am still in the human dimension. I am in samsara just like you. There is not much difference. Maybe I have a little more experience of Dzogchen teaching and knowledge. That is true. But we are all in samsara. So we need realization. To have realization we need the path. We need to apply the path, follow the path, in the correct way. Otherwise we could not have realization. So then when I am going to teach someone, “to teach,” means I am working with transmission, working with my path, which is what I am following.
So it is not something easy, like how people say in America say: “we share everything”. It is easy to say: “we share everything”, but the teaching is something concrete for having realization. Until we really have total realization, we must respect to the path and everything. So then I felt some responsibility. That is the reason why, at the beginning when the Gyalwa Karmapa sent two or three letters to me saying, “Oh, you should teach my students; you should go here and there to teach; there are my centers”, each time I replied to Gyalwa Karmapa, “Please, I have no time, I don’t want to teach, I have a job; I am living an ordinary life, working and earning money, so I cannot go here and there”. And I received letters again and again. I never accepted.
In the end I decided to accept because there were some conditions where there was a little confusion and danger. For example, there was a center of Karmapa in Roma, and also Milano and they invited me. They asked me with the letters of Karmapa which I always refused. But then later there had been the Lama Geshe Rabten from Switzerland. He is a very expert lama. He is a very studied one, and not an ordinary lama. I know very well. So in this case I thought, “If I don’t do anything as Karmapa asked me, then of course everybody will go after Geshe Rabten. That is not so bad. Maybe they will learn a little like more Gelugpa tradition and style of Sutra and Tantra, etc. But it is quite far from Dzogchen and Mahamudra.”
Then I thought, “Maybe if I refuse all, then it is not so good. I should do something. All students will become students of Geshe Rabten.” So this does not mean I am jealous of Geshe Rabten, or that I am comparing myself with Geshe Rabten. I was thinking a little of the future, of how people could follow the essence of the teaching like Mahamudra and Dzogchen. So then I started. I accepted to teach in Rome when Geshe Rabten was there doing a retreat. Then I said, “OK, we do a retreat,” and then people of the Karmapa in Rome organized. There were not many people; they were only a group of ten people in all. But then they organized in Subiaco where we did our first retreat. We did a long retreat, which continued for maybe two or three weeks. We had a break after about half of this retreat, and then started again, etc.
But then at that time I was thinking again and again, “Now I am teaching; I am responsible for transmission. I am really giving transmission. They are following transmission. How will I do?” Also until that point, I never felt, “I am a teacher”. I always thought, “I am a student; I am a practitioner”. That is all. I never wanted to become a teacher. But then when people asked me and I taught, then automatically I became a teacher. So then if I am a teacher, which kind of teacher do I want to be? Then I am thinking and thinking.
Mainly I took these nine commitments. There are nine commitments. I teach the teaching that way, I follow teaching that way and I deal with people that way. This is my tamcha (dam bca’). So then here it says twenty-seven commitments. Because nine are related with me, nine of the same principles are related with my students, and nine are related with ordinary people, ordinary dharma people, friends, people who want to collaborate with me. If I collaborate with these people seriously with my confidence, they must be that kind of people. If someone is not in that condition, I never collaborate with them giving confidence concretely. So nine, nine, and nine becomes twenty-seven. These are my commitments.
So it is very important that students in general understand, particularly the Santi Maha Sangha students. They must really know how I am working, that what I take as my responsibility, is also their responsibility, and how we should work. So it is something important. I want to give you this information and also explain just a little. I wrote these commitments when I started a retreat in Subiaco. This was in 1976 or something like that.
At the beginning there is an invocation to Dharmakaya like Amitabha – that means Amitabha Samantabhadra, not Amitabha in the Sutra style – to the dimension of Sambhogakaya like Vajrasattva, to the dimension of Nirmanakaya like Garab Dorje, to Guru Padmasambhava as the union of these three kayas, and then to the real Guru Padmasambhava alive who is my unique and most important teacher Changchub Dorje. I am praying to you. I am your son, please help me. These people are holding my hand, my leg, my everything. Then I say, “Ok we do something – my best”. If I don’t do that and I renounce this, this is not good. Somehow I should do. This is my responsibility. But I am not thinking something like I am realized and I have total capacity. I do not have that. That is true.
So in front of you I take this with my good intention. I take these commitments in three groups of nine which makes twenty-seven. I offer these commitments something like an offering. Please take it. Something like this. Now we start with number one.
First commitment. I will never teach or do meditation or application or anything only for the interest of myself. This is very important because in general whatever we do we show that it’s for the interest of people. In the real sense we have a very strong ego, and we are always going in this direction. So I will never do that. This is number one. Also I will try to make my students understand not to go in this direction. And if one of my friends goes that way, and they have this intention, when I know that, I don’t deal with them in collaboration. This is one.
The second is that when I give Dzogchen teaching, my intention, the principle, is never to teach only to get some money or for some interest at the material level. And also if my students go in this direction, I do not teach them; I do not collaborate with them. And my friends, etc., who want to collaborate or be friends with me, if their aim or their intention is that, I will never collaborate with them with confidence. This is the second.
Kurti (bkur sti) means to receive honor like saying, “Oh you are becoming an important person, high teacher, high level, etc.” So kurti in general means we receive something like this. So for that reason I will never teach even a single word of Dzogchen teaching. I don’t teach for that principle. In the same way it is also for my students and my friends.
Nyendrag (snyan grags) means fame. You see, many, many people do that. Many people really. Even if they build a monastery, for example, in India or Nepal, they say, “Oh we build a monastery because we need a base of teaching, also a base for Sangha to live there, etc.” But if you observe well, they are doing this to become an important person, to become famous. Most people do that. Here is an example: Many years ago I went to Nepal, and I heard there is a lama. This lama is called Lama Ralo, maybe you already know him. And everybody is saying, “Oh Lama Ralo” but I don’t know who is Lama Ralo; he is not famous for anything. But then after a little while Lama Ralo is making something like mantra, and he is curing someone with mantra, etc. Then he finds some Chinese students from Malaysia and Singapore, etc. They believe very much in these kinds of things, and they become his important students. Then they invited Lama Ralo to Singapore, Malaysia, two times, three times and he went around there. Lama Ralo became rich, and then Lama Ralo came back and built a monastery. Now you see it when passing there. Lama Ralo’s monastery is very gigantic. So after that, nobody says Lama Ralo, but they say Ralo Rinpoche. Now still Ralo Rinpoche is going ahead. That is an example.
I am not saying that Ralo Rinpoche has no qualifications. Maybe he has qualifications. I don’t know, but I am taking the example of building a monastery. That is the reason. When they are building a monastery, what do they do? First they build a nice temple, and in the temple there is a seat of the head lama. It is very elegant. Many monks may belong to this monastery. And even if they do not have ordinary toilets, bathrooms, for example, the room with the seat of the head lama is very elegant. And then someone receives Rinpoche, where Rinpoche is sitting, everything is honorable, and then one becomes famous. So this is an example. So my commitment means that I will never go in this direction.
Also I do not teach or do any kind of actions with Dzogchen teaching to create a kind of power, my position. Many people have this idea. A few years ago when we had a little problem with people of Dzogchen Community in England, then I didn’t go for many years. And some people were saying, “Oh, Namkhai Norbu is building an imperial position in Merigar”, for example. I know people can have this kind of idea. But that is not my principle. So this is also important to know, to know that we don’t go in this direction. It is very easy when there are some possibilities that people easily fall in this direction. So that’s why I have this commitment.
So I will never increase the Dzogchen teaching and spread it everywhere with the principle of drensem (’gran sems). Drensem means jealousy and comparing with some other teachers and traditions. For example, it seems that when Geshe Rabten was alone, then I decided to do this retreat. It seems something like I am jealous, etc. But in the real sense, that is not the principle. The real principle is I will feel sorry later if I didn’t do anything, particularly in front of the Karmapa because the Karmapa insisted many times. I felt that nobody would have the opportunity to go into the real knowledge of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, and then later I would feel really sorry. That is an example. So that is not my principle. This is the sixth.
The seventh: you know that ngagyal (nga rgyal) means pride. We think, “Now we are important. Dzogchen teaching is a superior teaching, better than this. For that reason we need more position” Also that is not the principle. So if we have this kind of intention, also that is the wrong direction.
Tradog (phrag dog) is concrete real jealousy. In general this is very easy between centers and centers, groups and groups, of teaching. Even in Buddhism, everybody is Buddhist but inside there are so many jealousies. And we apply many things with this intention and application. So I am always being aware, and I don’t deal with this principle.
Then there is the last one. It means I will not act with my attachment saying, “Oh, I like Dzogchen teaching because this is what I practice. For that reason I want to also make people understand that this is a special teaching, etc.” That attachment is not the principle. So these are nine principles mainly related with worldly actions in general. For worldly action we say jigten chöchöd (’jig rten chos spyod). We don’t follow jigten chöchöd. That is always said by Buddhist practitioners, but in the real sense practitioners apply in a contrary way.
That means how it must be for myself, for dealing with my students, and also with my friends. I don’t collaborate with people who are interested in these kinds of things. So this is also important. I know for example many people, even if they say, “Oh we are doing very important dharma. We want to collaborate.” But then I check a little, is it really a pure intention or not?
For example, once many years ago I met Chimed Rinpoche. Maybe you know Chimed Rinpoche in England from many years ago. I don’t know if Chimed Rinpoche still has this idea today or not. I had never met Chimed Rinpoche before. We met for the first time in London. And at that time Chimed Rinpoche said something to me, “Oh we are Khampas.” He is a Khampa from East Tibet. I am a Khampa from East Tibet. “We must do something to save Tibetan culture, to save Tibetan teaching, etc. We need to collaborate. We need to collaborate because people like lamas and lay people of Tibet like in central Tibet, and other people who have power are putting Khampas down. And Khampas cannot do very much. So we must collaborate also to spread teachings.” He told me that. I said, “Yes, we do,” but I think it’s very strange because it has nothing much to do with teaching, because I am working with the teaching. He said also that he has a dharma center. But then I am thinking, “How can we do that way? It doesn’t correspond to the teaching”. That is an example.
Sometimes people also propose even though they don’t say, but they manifest that kind of collaboration. In our society it is very strong. For example I spent almost thirty years in the university. I know very well the rules of the university, official rules and in particular how professors must collaborate. If we don’t collaborate, we cannot have any possibility. They block everything. In Italian we say mafia, the mafia of university. So the mafia also really exists in the dharma. They do not call it mafia, but the way of collaborating and the way of applying intention is just the same. So for that reason I don’t want to collaborate with any people like this.
That means if someone does not correspond to my commitments, even if they want to be my good student, I am not confident with them. If someone wants to be a very good friend and collaborator with me, but if they have intention contrary to my commitments, I will never collaborate with them with confidence.
I will not only keep these commitments only for a few days, but until I have total realization relationships with people, relationships with students, will always exist, so I will keep them.
So this means I know I have these commitments. And sometimes maybe we can be distracted. But after a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, we notice that we are distracted and we are doing wrong, that this does not correspond with my commitments. When I know I did something wrong, then I am sorry and I purify because I have that commitment. If I know and I do not pay respect, then my Masters, Dakinis, and Guardians, you can break my heart. So this is my request.
After I started to teach, the dangers that this devil of gadröd (dga’ brod) arises. You remember gadröd as one of the devils in the Chöd practice.
To remember these commitments of mine, I wrote them down in 1978. In the year of the Fire Snake I wrote this down. So these are my commitments. So it is important that you know this. And if you know this, then you also know how to collaborate with me in a correct way. And you also know how you yourself should be in the Dzogchen teaching, and in my transmission, what I transmitted. So this is something very important.