Soygal Rinpoche, the disgraced former spiritual director and leader of Rigpa International, was and is my teacher. His death in August 2019 came as a kind of sharp contrast to the effusive teacher I knew from retreats and videos of his teachings. For years I studied under Rigpa and Rinpoche going through the Ngondro teachings and finally moving into the heart of Dzogchen. The teaching I received were transformative and I came to find a sense of awareness in the way Rinpoche brought the dharma to me.
After more than a year and a half after his death, I am still learning from Rinpoche through the teachings I have on DVDs and on my computer. The messages and the information is remarkable in the way it reaches the core of my being. He did, in a very real sense, speak directly to me.
Last week, I had a series of dreams featuring Rinpoche and his teachings. In the dream, we sat in a room together, across from each other, he communicating information, ideas, and a direction for my practice. These dreams, three in all, were vivid the morning after the dreams and remain so to me on this Thursday in November. The messages he imparted I’m writing here as a way to try and work through the various ideas that came from the dreams.
Now, before you get all “it’s just a dream”, I know that whatever my mind produces in my sleep is supposed to be just another aspect of my ego mind. People in your dreams are, for the most part, just reflections or expressions of ourselves. I understand that. So, the teachings I received in the dreams are just me talking to me through Rinpoche’s visage. While my rational mind can and does understand those various elements of dreams, the interaction I had in the dream feels somehow meaningful.
The first dream started in the middle of a teaching. Rinpoche was sitting slight askew to my position so that I was looking at the right side of his face, as if he was slightly facing away, only looking at me through his right eye. He was dressed in his gold-colored robe with a yellow button down shirt. His demeanor was casual but intense. Like he had to get out what he needed to say as quickly as possible. That sense of earnestness was palpable, and I tried hard to listen to each and every word in the dream.
As I think back on the words he was saying, they came out so fast that I couldn’t grasp everything. A sense of “I’m missing the important parts” of his words was a thought I had in the dream and I wondered if I would remember this all when I woke up. That sense of knowing that I was in a dream is something I have experienced before and this feeling was heightened in these moments.
As he spoke, I grasped that he was talking about the teachings in the Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche. The conversation we had was about the stages of the Ngondro and how to actualize those teachings into concrete actions in my life. I had written down, a few years ago, a practice guide, for myself, to help me focus on what I needed to do. In the dream, Rinpoche told me what I needed to change about my practice and where I needed to go, now.
The rest of the conversations were like two acquaintances talking about the world and the situations we find ourselves in. The conversations were less like teachings and more about Rinpoche’s interpretation of the world we experience. Through all of this, I asked about his betrayal of some of his student’s trust. When I initially asked he demurred. When I pushed harder, he looked at me, directly now, and told me about his failure as a teacher and spiritual guide.
The dreams and the experiences of the dreams were interesting and, in some ways, bizarre. This experience of Rinpoche was not the only time I have had dreams about him and his teachings, but this was the first that spoke directly to me and my practice.
Surely my experience was another way for me to center and ground my practice. Too, it was a reminder that I have been lax in staying focused and attentive. Finally, whether Rinpoche came to me or not, the fact is that his teachings were meaningful to me. The challenge, really, is how much of the teaching I keep, considering his behavior in this life. That part of my learning, I’m still trying to understand.