17th Gyalwa Karmapa"Buddhism is a way of life through which we develop the qualities of our mind.
This way of life is very unusual, as it is a means to attain happiness without harming others.


Center for buddhist studies and meditation

Day 1: India - Berkeley - Dhagpo

“When I'm with Sakyapa practitioners, they tell me that I'm Kagyu and when I'm with Kagyu practitioners, people are always reminding me that I'm Sakya,” jokes Shabdrung Rinpoche. His availability and the simplicity in his way of relating almost make us forget that he is an accomplished master presented as an emanation of one of Padmasambhava's twenty-five disciples.

Shabdrung Rinpoche

We met this scholar, who completed his studies at Dzongsar Institute in India and also studied (and taught) at UC Berkeley, in 2007. Shamar Rinpoche, who had to cancel his European tour that year, had asked Shabdrung Rinpoche to replace him. Shabdrung Rinpoche later came back to Dhagpo in 2014. Since then, he has visited us yearly and we benefit from his great knowledge. We first asked him for an introduction to the Buddhist theory of knowledge (pramana). This time, we have embarked upon a multi-year cycle of teachings with the transmission of the foundational text of Buddhist philosophy known as Introduction to the Middle Way (madhyamaka-avatara), by Chandrakirti.

Today, he explained the context of the author and the text. Tomorrow, we will get into the heart of the subject.

Day 2: Introduction to the Middle Way

Shabdrung Rinpoche, “I try to make a bridge between the Buddha's teachings, these ideas that were transmitted so long ago, and the life we live today.” Successful attempt! He explains that the middle way is not just a philosophical approach; we can apply it to all aspects of life. He encourages us to break out of our binary approach to things—yes/no, I like/I don't like—in order to leave space for discernment. The premise of this approach is to free ourselves from extremes and eventually free ourselves completely.

Shabdrung Rinpoche and translator Cécile Ducher

This is exactly what Chandrakirti talks about in his text; he begins with an homage to compassion as the primary cause for enlightenment. He explains that it is essential at the beginning, middle and end of the path. Rinpoche commentates the text and gives us the means to apply this compassion. Introduction to the Middle Way becomes accessible to us...

Day 3: Contemplation of Suffering

“When we listen to a teaching, the most important thing is to feel the meaning of the teachings. It is not enough to follow a theory. We must try to really understand what is said,” explains Shabdrung Rinpoche. He then invites us to ask questions in order to clarify our doubts.


Rinpoche opens the doors of reflection, “We, as Westerners, connect suffering solely with painful sensations. The connotation is always negative: we associate suffering with pain. But this is not what it is about.” He adds, “All phenomena are impermanent. All of these phenomena are conditioned (they appear on the basis of causes and conditions). They are therefore unreliable and, because of this, their nature is that of suffering. But this suffering is not a painful sensation.”

The discussion continues. A student expresses his confusion and Rinpoche brings up the subject from another angle, “I'm not saying that impermanence is bad. Often, this is not the case. That said, your goal may not be to free yourself from the cycle of existence but to find samsaric happiness. If we are looking for this kind of happiness, it is not necessary to free ourselves from ignorance and to reflect on suffering.” This exchanges offers each of us material for reflection and allows us to go beyond theory.
We come back to the text and the qualities of bodhisattvas.

Day 4: Generosity

We have concluded the first of eleven chapters in the text. Each chapter describes a level of realization of a bodhisattva. Each level of realization goes along with a paramita. There are ten paramitas. The eleventh chapter explains the result of the path: Buddhahood.

Therefore, this first stage of the cycle focuses on generosity as one practices it on the first bodhisattva level, the first bhumi. But Shabdrung Rinpoche, in addition to illuminating the text with his commentary, always brings us back to our own practice by emphasizing the key points. “Abandoning ill-will toward beings to instead seek out means to help them is the generosity of the Dharma.” Or another time, “Motivation and state of mind define generosity. Without this spirit of giving—the profound wish to give—even if we give something, it is not generosity.” And finally, “No one can become rich with material objects. However many possessions we may have, so long as we do not have inner wealth—contentment—we cannot be rich.”

Transitioning from our daily practice to the bodhisattva bhumis, Rinpoche shows us little by little that it is the one that leads to the others.

Day 5: A Promise to Return

“ The fact that we have not finished the text is a harbinger of good news,” jokes Lama Jean-Guy to Shabdrung Rinpoche in his speech at the end of the course, “You have to come back to continue the transmission.”

Speech at the end of the course

Indeed, we have covered three paramitas: generosity and ethical conduct—the qualities that allow one to bring together positive conditions for practice—as well as patience, which prevents damaging these conditions, particularly through anger. We have begun to prepare for the exploration of the middle way. Rinpoche indicates the meaning for us once more, “Buddhism explains that emotions and self-grasping are not natural; they are artificial. They are fabricated, just like junk food. When we eat a hamburger, the experience might be pleasant sometimes, but in the longterm it is not good for our health. Emotions and self-grasping are the causes for ever more numerous artificial, mental fabrications. Initially, we have the impression that this is pleasant, but it cannot bring us lasting happiness. The Madhyamaka approach examines and unveils what is natural, that which is present in the absence of all these fabrications. The goal is to experience lasting happiness on a longterm basis and not only ephemeral happiness.”

Blessing at the end of the course

All that is left for us to do is reflect on and integrate what we have received, in order to prepare us to listen to the follow-up next year.

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