by Yangsi Rinpoche
Excerpted from Rinpoche’s May, 2022 Commencement Address to the Maitripa College Class of 2022
…This is our collective answer for the peace of the world future and present. If we, as individuals, are able to dream and imagine a beautiful planet, a peaceful humanity, that thought can become action in reality, collectively … what I am trying to say is, please, dream infinitely. Dream beautiful things, infinitely.
Welcome to all of you, and to your family members.
To this year’s graduates: I imagine that when you were growing up, you could not imagine that you would come to such a strange place as this college, and then somehow here you are…we call that karma. Nothing is random. Nothing is an accident. My life is also like that! Somehow we all ended up on this journey of study, meditation, and service. And I’m sure there have been lots of questions. And lots of doubt.
Regardless, nothing has held you back. You have really trusted in your own heart to take this journey. And now you have completed this journey. Up until this point, you all have walked your own paths, and developed your strength as professionals. And now you have completed this level of training in the Buddhadharma, and developed your wisdom and compassion.
It’s funny how sometimes in life we want to hold onto things.
Regardless of how many times we hear the message not to grasp at things too tightly, our habit is really to try to hold on, and then to grasp. And this is not necessarily negative, but what happens next can come as a surprise. And surprise can be good.
I remember when I was a small child, I was recognized at a very young age as a tulku, a reincarnate teacher. When this happens, you are supposed to go from your family’s home to live in the monastery. And I remember when this happened, my mom was a little bit sad. I felt this and I told her, “Don’t worry, in a few days I will come back.” But in reality I stayed there for my whole life.
The point I am bringing here is that you have so much strength, knowledge, and a certain amount of experience after your time here, but still, it’s important to accept that some things in life will happen, and still be a surprise, and that is okay. Challenges will happen, surprises will happen.
So I think as we move into our lives of service, it will be important not to judge the karmic surprises too much, but to accept, and learn. Particularly in Buddhist practice, I feel that meditation ultimately comes down to self-evaluating, especially when we talk about meditating on the emptiness of self. The way we transform, the way we grow, is through self-evaluation, self-observation; not self-judging, but developing a kind way of looking into our own selves. In this way, we make better choices and we transform.
What I’m saying here is that, ultimately, your training and your meditation practice is the answer to the question of challenges, and of helping other living beings. That is really important.
Sometimes, for myself, I feel strongly that I still have several dreams that I want to accomplish. Some things I want to do. But sometimes, when I think of them, another voice arises, and says” “Oh Rinpoche, now you are old. Just relax and don’t try to do too much. Calm down.”
Like that, most of you graduating have already done many things in your lives: the professional and personal strength is already there. But still, you are not limiting yourselves, you are inspired to go further to create a beautiful future for other living beings. And you are dreaming of a future not only for yourselves, but a better future for all living beings, for infinite benefit. When you look at all beings, you see that everyone has potential, and as a result of that potential and your own education you will help and inspire others.
And then maybe, like me, you have that second voice arising, saying, “It’s okay. It’s fine. Chill out. Relax. Slow down.” That voice seems very gentle and kind, telling us to slow down.
What I want to say to you now is do not listen too much to that voice. It is so inspiring to have a dream.
Of course, we can also look at our dreams and see how they are not possible, how there are a million reasons we cannot fulfill them. And some of those obstacles might be true, might be real, but I think if we stay focused on our inspiration it will bring answers to all of those questions.
For example, in the beginning when we started Maitripa College, we had no idea how to create anything like this, but we kept the aspiration, and the inspiration, thinking, it will be beneficial, it will bring benefit.
In general, in our lives, I think we tend to stay a little bit more on the side of safety. we try to do a little bit of the same things in the same boxes. And this makes us feel safe. But from the Buddhist perspective, all of our karma is interrelated, and when it functions together, it can create a totally different reality.
I think this concept is beyond the thinking system of today. So what is important for us is to be really fully present for the present moment, fully open to the future, to whatever potential can happen. We need to develop some type of fearlessness and dreaming for our futures, in order to inspire our own selves.
Keeping the flame of inspiration alive is, I think, the answer to all the rest of things, the rest of the questions, of the doubts, and everything.
I think we have to have dreams. But not just daydreaming: instead, looking at the existing reality–dreaming rooted in the reality of what’s happening now. And being courageous. Sometimes we have a tendency to stay safe.
I remember in early times in the monastery, one great teacher told me: if you stay in this tradition, we will promise you a really high position. But in my mind I thought, “But then I’ll have to do the same boring things again and again.”
Personally, I don’t know why, I have a little bit curious nature, and I thought that, on the one hand, if I continued like that I would have a high ranking position, but on the other hand, I thought, “Really? Do I want to do that?”
But this way of thinking is quite scary. There was definitely fear there. And a lot of questions, doubts. But the answer for our fear is, I think, keeping our focus on the inspiration. What really inspires us?
That inspiration has to be true to our own selves. All the details, all the questions, and the fear, and doubt…even at that time, with the inspiration that I felt, I thought, it will be okay. It will be fine somehow. I don’t know how, but somehow things will be solved.
So therefore, keeping our inspiration might lead us to be unconventional, but it is also really great.
Sometimes when we are living in society, as an influence of the culture and so on, we fall into the habit of the Eight Mundane Concerns. Meditation on death and impermanence is very powerful for us in the long run to keep our inspiration alive, because we see that we should not waste our time and energy in something useless. Basically, we should keep full attention on our inspiration, and include the awareness that our existence is not guaranteed for forever, even for tomorrow.
I am not saying that in every moment we should be anxious because of our reflection on that, but I think that kind of awareness brings some level of grounding. Sometimes when we are inspired we get so excited and then we are not grounded, but being grounded becomes very important for us to keep our inspiration alive. Therefore, we should look at our own selves, and think that this is my day to make the best of myself. And tomorrow, same thing. And the day after tomorrow, same thing. So this way, it’s not so much about just, “How am I going to leave all of this”? No. What I’m saying over here is your dreams and your vision need to be infinite.
If you think like this, then the conditions and potentials around you will awaken and surprise you. And this will be the purpose of your life. And when you are living the purpose of your life, you don’t have to build up something. You dream and have inspiration, and even if it doesn’t happen as you expect, the attention and action that you put into it fulfill that purpose of your life.
I think that is one thing that is really important.
Then of course, the way we deal with conventional expectations, person to person, is also part of it. We are social beings and we live with the people. We are not alone. So there are lots of expectations and we live with expectation. Expectations are demanding. Expectations can be ruthless.
I remember after I finished my geshe (doctoral) studies and everything, and I was a little bit bored. Usually when you are in school, when you study, you have lots of things to do, and you’re busy. But afterwards I was a little bit bored, and I met a movie producer and a casting director just randomly. They said: “Oh, this Seven Years in Tibet movie is happening. This is very important for the Tibetan cause. Can you do it?” And I said yes.
Anyway, to make a long story short, after finishing all of my doctoral studies I went to go do a movie! Culturally, everyone was like, “What are you doing?” From my perspective, I thought it was good for the Tibetan cause, so I was inspired. But many reactions made me feel a bit afraid. I consulted my teacher and he was not that happy, but in the end he said, “Fine. It’s just for three or four months, so okay. You go.” But finally, on the day I was flying to Argentina to film the movie, I started not to feel good about the whole thing. But then I thought, “Now it’s too late. So just focus on what is good for the Tibetan cause.” So I did, and it was okay.
So sometimes the journey can involve painful choices. But in the end, if we make the choice with our hearts, there is nothing wrong.
And sometimes it is important to be willing to sacrifice in order to do what our heart says. And this can be painful. Sometimes there is no logic and reason for what needs to be sacrificed, but still, that sacrifice can be a very powerful choice.
My key point here is about expectation and how we deal with expectations.
In our lives, with all of this going on, there will be turbulence. And there is no smooth plan to navigate through this turbulence. But meditating on impermanence can help us, can ground us. It can ground the turbulence, and it can also ground our inspiration.
So in general, when we take this journey of inspiration through our lives, we need to remember this very balanced way of working with the karma that we travel through. We need to make sure we keep that balance, that harmony, and not try to negate anything, but stay balanced.
And most of all, keep our dreams alive, inspired.
Sometimes the world is very challenging: today especially, there are many wars and so much sadness. So it is important in all of this, to shift a little bit, and think about making a beautiful world in the future, and dream.
Right now, this is what we can do. And I think we should do it. This is our collective answer for the peace of the world future and present. If we, as individuals, are able to dream and imagine a beautiful planet, a peaceful humanity, that thought can become action in reality, collectively. And so that I think is really important.
As a conclusion, what I am trying to say is, please, dream infinitely. Dream beautiful things, infinitely. Thank you so much.