An interview with Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
by Liam Thompson
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche was born in Tibet before the Chinese takeover and has been teaching in the West for over 25 years. He speaks six languages and is the spiritual director of 12 centres worldwide. December 10-11: Zasep Rinpoche gives a teaching on “Mindfulness and Healing” at the Asian Centre at UBC, 10AM-4PM, $40/general public. December 11: White Mahakala initiation, 4-6PM, $40/day. Tickets at door. Info at www.zuruling.org
Liam Thompson: With our abilities in this century to have instant communication and information, how do face-to-face teachings with teachers and gurus keep their worth?
Zasep Rinpoche: As long as Buddhist practitioners and students understand the teachings they have received from their masters and understand that these teachings are very precious face-to-face, they keep their worth. One-on-one teachings at a personal level are very important. As long as students know that’s important and don’t switch the method of receiving teaching mostly into fast, high tech mediums such as the Internet and Facebook, I think technology can be very useful.
LT: How can a youth or young adult, or even older adults, use the Internet and technology to positively enhance their Buddhist studies?
ZR: Sometimes, it is the way to do things because it is fast and effective and you can get answers and send questions very quickly. But people should not think this is the best and only way. There is a positive side and a negative side to using it. The negative side is if you think the Internet and technology is the only way to learn Buddhism, you will lose the human touch and human contact. We need human contact. For example, children need the presence of their parents; they have to be close with their parents to feel their love and guidance, hear their voice and see their face and feel their protection. So you should not lose that human touch and warmth.
When the student or practitioner is only going to the Internet, he or she doesn’t have contact with the teacher and so you lose the human touch and you don’t receive blessings from the teachers. It’s so easy for people to think, “Why bother to get in the car, drive for 30 minutes or an hour to a Buddhist centre to listen to teachings and spend so much time, gas and money when I can just sit in front of my computer and get the same teachings and just study by myself?” But if you keep doing this all the time, you can’t get close to your teacher and you will lack a spiritual community of friends. It’s important to have that closer personal relationship with your teacher and a community. For instance, when you run into difficulties in your life or problems with your spiritual practice and you talk to your teacher or talk to your friends, they can give you advice and you will find out that you are not the only one who has difficulties and issues. So it’s important not to forget the benefits of having contact with a teacher and other meditators on a personal and human level.
LT: How can young adults, and people in general, not get sidetracked by the distractions on the Internet and other technology?
ZR: I think the way is to have self-discipline. Nobody else is going to discipline you, especially these days here in the West when we are talking about everybody’s rights, freedoms, space and so on. You have to discipline yourself, especially when life is so busy and when you are away from your parents or teachers. The Buddha said, “You are your own teacher, you are your own witness, you are your own master, you are your own judge, you are your own protector and you are your own friend.” So you have to learn discipline. I would suggest that everybody practice mindfulness meditation and meditation in action by saying to yourself, “Yes, I will use technology and instant communication but I will not overdo it. I will use these technologies only at a certain hour of the day or only a certain amount every day. I will not overindulge myself.” There are many other important things to do in life.
LT: Do you think the Internet and other high-speed technologies like cell phones and television have affected Buddhism or Buddhist lineages in any way?
ZR: Yes, definitely. I think the Internet, high tech media and so forth have a very strong influence on Buddhism because of access. This is the way nowadays; you can be anywhere in the world and you can search Google or something like that and you have access to so many things about Buddhism that you can learn instantly through the Internet, so it is good. With things like Facebook and Skype, you have lots of access to others. I think that technology is very useful for Buddhism and for any other spiritual communities.
LT: Are there any specific books or materials you would recommend to youth or people interested in learning about Buddhism for the first time?
ZR: There are so many books and DVDs and CDs out now, I don’t know where to start. There are lots of websites and also many Buddhist publications in the West now. It’s so hard to say study this one, study that one. But I would just like to say generally, if anyone would like to learn about Buddhism, first you should study books like the well-known one written by a monk from Sri Lanka called What the Buddha Taught. That’s a very good book. Also, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there are many books you can find on what is called Lam Rim, which means “The Gradual Path to Enlightenment.” One should grab a book that is not too big, not too complicated, something that explains the teaching easily and well. There are also Tibetan Buddhist texts on Lo Jung or Lo Jong, which is about mind transformation, purifying the mind in adverse conditions and turning it onto the path to enlightenment. All of these books are good and helpful to start studying.