I remember a Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode in which the Security Officer, Odo, a changeling, returned to his home planet to become one with his people. Odo had the ability to blend into any situation by changing his looks. On his home world, Odo merged with his people into a stream of these beings.
In a funny way, entering the stream of Buddhist teachings is much like the idea of merging one’s mind with the mind-stream of teachings. Imagine that all Buddhist teachers share a common heritage traced back to the Buddha Shakyamuni. Imagine, too, that the mind of the Buddha, an awakened mind, is a singular construct. Once one achieves the awakened state one is literally in the same state or same mind as the Buddha.
What fascinates me about that idea is that Hindu thought supported the idea that all beings are one with atman which is an extension of the Brahman state of being. In essence, we are, at our core, all connected and the same. (A gross simplification, here)
As I put more energy and time into practice, I started to connect to the idea that Buddhist teachings are very much like a stream; a stream of thought and ideas traced back to the Buddha and his enlightenment. While Buddhism itself is not a singular idea or concept, the idea that teachers can trace their connection to teachings through a lineage that extends far into the past is fascinating in and of itself.
And, as I am sure you read, I was drawn to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism more so that those of Zen or other groups. I think it is because I liked the path as laid down by the so-called second Buddha, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. This particular branch of Buddhism includes a rich history and a path that follows a proscribed set of teachings beginning with the preliminary practices known as Ngondro.
Kindly, the Rigpa organization lays out this path in a series of courses that lead to the accomplishment of Ngondro and then on to other more specialized paths. It was this path, Ngondro, and the teacher Sogyal Rinpoche that drew me into Buddhist teachings.
The thing that is fascinating about Rinpoche is that he states, clear, consistently, that he is a messenger for the teachings. He offers the teachings in such a way that the instructions are relevant and meaningful. I dove into these teachings and signed up for courses. Each course is roughly 3 months long and introduces specific ideas about Buddhism and the various aspects of the teachings of the Buddha. It took me more than three years of courses just to reach the Ngondro basics.
The brief instructions about Ngondro also can be found in Patrul Rinpoche’s book The Words of my Perfect Teacher. In this text, Patrul Rinpoche presents the Ngondro practices in an easy-ish to understand set of teachings that lead to some comprehension of the path. However, as you might guess, the teachings are a bit more complex than just reading a book. Truly understanding the instructions takes a bit more investigation and the guidance of an experienced teacher. As far as written material goes, their is also a guide to the book called A Guide to The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang. The Rigpa courses follow the teachings of these two books along with more pith instructions from other sources.
My path, laid before me, I set out to reveal what the whole nature of mind was and where it was headed. Having taught Philosophy for year, I understood, intellectually, the concepts I was reading. However, it is quite another thing to embrace an idea and shepherd it in such a way that your mind is, literally, changed…becoming more and more aware of how thoughts and feelings affect and shape attitudes. Letting go of those thoughts is one of the most difficult things I have done.