Questioner: How does finding the emptiness of pain happen in our experience?
Ngakma Nor’dzin: We are potently aware of the form quality of pain – it hurts. Pain is pain because we are human beings. It has a necessary physiological function. If we did not feel pain we would be in great danger of damaging ourselves continually. But even if we are unlucky enough to be in physical pain, we do not have to let it define us in any way. We can have a happy mind and a painful body. Towards the end of his life Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s body was quite obviously failing, but he just carried on teaching. He looked completely at ease in his frail body, and as powerful and imposing as ever. His frailty did not mean that he was not a happy human being.
Q: But what about psychological pain?
NN: Psychological pain is experienced because we relate to the world through pattern and projection rather than as it is. We exist in dualism. If we did not attempt to split emptiness and form, we would not experience this as pain.
Q2: Some people cope with bad experiences better than others. They don’t seem to let it colour how they relate to others.
NN: True. Some people are better at being concave in their relationship with their circumstances. By that I mean that they allow themselves to flex with circumstances rather than forcing their definition of themselves onto circumstances.
We don’t need to latch on to what happens to us – ‘I am ill therefore I must be unhappy’.
Q: Do we need experience of more subtle forms of dissatisfaction to understand this teaching?
NN: Yes and no… These teachings concern the subtle nature of dissatisfaction, and this cannot be comprehended if we are always experiencing gross pain and failure. We need to be relatively successful and we need to be relatively happy before we can become suspicious of its hollowness. So from this point of view the answer is ‘yes’. We must gain experience of emptiness through experiencing the hollowness of the success of our lives, to arrive at the base of the path of Tantra – which is emptiness. However, if we have devotion to the Lama, we can bypass the need to experience emptiness in this way. We can enter the path of Tantra through the empty experience of our devotion. If we can enter the sphere of the Lama wholeheartedly and openly, then that is our base of emptiness. This is not to say that it will not still be expedient to engage in practices to develop our experience of emptiness or that it is no longer important to make our lives functional and useful in an ordinary sense. But we can begin from the base of devotion.
Q: There have been plenty of times when I have wanted this or that, but I have never felt that any of these things were going to be ‘The Answer’.
NN: For you it might be the other way round – rather than believing that having things will make you happy, you believe that not having things will make you happy. You think you would be unhappy if you wore a shirt and tie and lived in a house and had a mortgage. We all define the things in our life that will make us happy and are all continually adjusting those definitions.
Q: I guess I’m too cynical. I can see the emotional thing, but not the conceptual thing of thinking that something will be the answer to everything.
NN: Well you have been practising for quite a long time now. This teaching is intended for the entry-level practitioner, or to open the view of a non-practitioner. This understanding may have become so much the ground of your practice that you do not even see it anymore.