Seattle was the last stop on Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s “Rebel Buddha, On the Road To Freedom” book tour. During his Dec. 5, 2010 presentation, Seattle Buddhist leader and teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche again posed questions about the nature of the emerging American Buddhism in an upbeat, mindful teaching that continued even when the less-than-prefect sound system was a problem.
When his problematic microphone kept making a crackling noise because it was rubbing against his robes, Dzogchen Ponlop got a big laugh when he mused,
“My clothing is not right for the microphone. As usual, I always wear the wrong clothes.”
He continued by suggesting to the crowd of meditators that perhaps this was a good time for him to practice stillness. In other words, to not move so the rustling sound did not continue.
In sharing a bit of his own personal journey, Dzogchen Ponlop humbly said,
“I am a human being but sometimes it’s hard to tell. I am not an alien or from the twilight zone.”
In a reference to the movie “Avatar,” he explained that,
“As a young lama in training, I was like a young avatar in training. I have been through a lot of traditional Tibetan Buddhist training that involved working with lots of forms and rituals. I was initially moving along without questioning.”
However, he eventually found that way of following without question to be flat and lacking excitement. It was then that he began to ask,
“Why am I doing this thing? For what purpose? And how am I engaged in this spiritual journey?
Regarding such inquiries, he said,
“When one begins to question, one finds lots of wonderful answers right within the question.”
To emphasize this point Dzogchen Ponlop read a Bruce Lee quote that is a favorite of his.
“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”
And so began a day filled with more questions than answers during which the audience was given a rare glimpse into the true nature of a rebel buddha as exemplified and explained by Dzogchen Ponlop.
He suggested that everyone present ask the same questions he has continually asked himself,
“Why this? Why that? Why am I on this journey? What is right for me? What does it mean? What is it all about? What is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings in the context of my culture?”
Following the format of previous Rebel Buddha events, he described American Buddhism as a “melting pot” similar to what America itself has become. As he so often asserts,
“We are trying to contribute as much as we can to the genuine transmission of Buddhism in the Western culture. We are trying to transform that, and it’s not an easy job.
It is not easy to pinpoint where and when we need to change, but we are doing our best to transform our forms. I hope someday all American Buddhist traditions can come together as one. One Buddhism. One wisdom.
In the end, it’s one teaching. It’s a teaching of wisdom and compassion. It’s a teaching of awakening. We all have different methods and styles, but the basic thing is all the same. Hopefully, someday we can melt the boundaries between different territories and traditions creating a melting pot of American Buddhism.”
Dzogchen Ponlop’s latest book “Rebel Buddha, On the Road to Freedom” provides average Westerners with some possible answers to these questions as well as additional questions to ponder. It also advocates what he labels American Buddhism. The book is a seminal, yet simple opening to ancient wisdom in which he boils down Buddhist wisdom into simple concepts and actions that anyone can practice and benefit from.
May we all find our own true path as we question actions and events that are not in alignment with who we know ourselves to be.