Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love

with Eric Swanson

We're reading Tsoknyi Rinpoche's Open Heart, Open Mind at the Tricycle Book Club. Pick up a copy and join the discussion below. In the following co-author Eric Swanson introduces the book and gives us some ideas to chew on for the discussion.

From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we fall into exhausted sleep, most of us are confronted with so many challenges: social, psychological, ecological, and economic.  Given the current troubles of the world economy, the harmful effects of global climate change, the occurrence of natural disasters and epidemic illnesses, and the persistence of acts of violence by individuals and groups, the world in which we find ourselves can seem like a ticking time bomb, moments away from exploding.

Our interior lives, meanwhile, mirror the various dysfunctions of the external world. We’ve become experts at multitasking the possibilities of disaster. Our minds work like perpetual news channels, complete with big windows showing the main story of the moment, side windows showing stock and weather reports, and “crawlers” providing the latest, often sensational updates.

Or is it the other way around? Could the trauma evident on the world stage reflect a fractured internal image—a conflict between our longing for well-being and the fear, loneliness, and despair we acquire when someone or some situation inflicts a wound upon our hearts that seems impossible to heal?

As human beings, we find ourselves in an uncomfortable position of balancing thoughts, feelings, and actions over which we can acknowledge some conscious control, and mental, emotional, and behavioral habits formed by factors beyond conscious awareness. For many of us this discomfort feels as though we’re living a double life. A shadow seems to stalk us, a self behind the personality we consciously acknowledge and present to the world. Identifying and coming to terms with this shadow, for most of us, can be an unsettling experience.

But the process does have its upside. A shadow is projected by some source of light, and by recognizing and acknowledging our shadow selves we can begin to trace a path toward the light. Discovering this light is a gradual and deeply personal process through which we begin to see the causes and consequences of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors more brightly and vividly than we might previously have done.

On we’ll explore some of the ways through which we can rekindle the light of our essential nature, particularly through learning to open our hearts and our minds. The ideas and exercises introduced here are adapted from Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s new book, Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening The Power of Essence Love, published recently by Harmony Books. This book evolved primarily through many hours of private conversation with Rinpoche, and it’s my pleasure to share some of the insights that arose from our discussions. Please join me on this journey of discovery, and write in during the week to tell us how it’s going!

Eric Swanson
is co-author of Open Heart, Open Mind. A graduate of Yale University and the Julliard School, he is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Eric Swanson's picture

On behalf of myself and Tsoknyi Rinpoche, I would like to thank everyone for participating. I learned a great deal from your questions-- and I wish you all well on your continuing journeys!

samphrone's picture

Here in the west, and in my experience, even with practice, adult mind seems to take over from child heart. Like, "This world, this instance, this city, etc. is too tough, Child Heart. You would be hurt here. Let ME handle this, etc..." It takes a lot of courage to challenge this deeply entrenched assumption. This book is such a beautiful and strong, clear encouragement. Thank you so much.

Eric Swanson's picture

You're welcome. I'm glad to hear that your reading the book...and as you go through some of the practices, I think you'll find that as you gently, kindly begin to distinguish such thoughts and such emotions as simply aspects of experience of which you are aware -- and not experiences that define you or are a part of you -- you will find it much easier to connect with the Child Heart or the Open Heart... that you'll actually be able to discover a deeper, broader sense of courage, confidence, and well-being that is much bigger and sustainable that whatever challenges you encounter throughout like. And, perhaps most importantly, as you begin ti deal with those challenges with grace, kindness, and openness, your conduct, your way of being, will become an inspiration to others.

Eric Swanson's picture

Oh Sharon -- what a wonderful phrase! Thank you for giving me something to contemplate as I prepare for a long drive this weekend (in which I'll need to utilize my grown up mind yet maintain a childlike issue you may perhaps understand more clearly if you ever have the misfortune to drive with me...)

Anyway, I think what Rinpoche is getting at is that t's so easy, when we hear about cutting through layers of ego to reconnect with the warmth and openness of our essential nature t to underestimate or disregard the value of the things we've learned on our journey into and through adulthood.. We need certain skills in order to flourish in our jobs, in social situations, at home. Yet, at the same time, many of us, in acquiring those skills also picked up a good deal of fear, and perhaps a dash of competitiveness, a pinch of envy, and so on-- as a result of the educational and social situations in which we were raised.

So those skills, valuable in themselves, become to a greater or lesser degree distorted by emotional wounds. When we reconnect with the openness and warmth of the "mere I" -- that very fluid sense of self that we experiences as infants and very young children, with its readiness to love and to enjoy a very basic, undefined and undefinable well-being -- we retain those very necessary adult skills, while the fear, envy, competitiveness and so on are transformed into a what you may call "innocent wisdom" -- which sees not only our own past suffering but the suffering of all sentient beings who have yet to reconnect with their childlike hearts. So we can function with that openness and warmth and make even more appropriate and beneficial use of our adult, or grown-up minds by conducting ourselves with that compassion born of wisdom.

An image that occurs to me is that of a a pianist or a other artist -- who in expressing his or her artistry is utilizing all that wonderful skill that comes from long hours of practice, yet is deeply and fully connected to his or her emotional and imaginative center. In our own lives we can exhibit the same type of artistry no matter how mundane the task, utilizing our social skills (or driving skills) while maintaining a sense of openness and childlike wonder and willingness to gently and kindly embrace each experience, moment by moment.

SharonSalzberg's picture

Hi Eric, I just had the chance to be on a conference call with Rinpoche, talking about his book for our event together in LA May 17. One of the phrases he used, which really struck me, was 'combining grown up mind with childlike heart." Can you say more about what that means?

Eric Swanson's picture

Here is a story from Rinpoche, followed by an exercise, that in many ways lies at the heart of the effort to discover the openness that is an essential aspect of our true nature:

Inner Space

I was 14 years old when my father gave me a lesson in experiencing space.

I was sitting in his private room, a small, wood- paneled space with a bed, an altar, and enough room for maybe five or six people to sit. Half of the room was taken up by windows, through which the setting sun shone in golden-red light.

He said, “Look at the area around you, with all your senses open, seeing all the objects, feeling all the sensations. Don’t block anything. Can you sense that openness, that simple awareness of the things you see, and hear, and feel?”

I nodded.

With the sun setting through windows overlooking a broad valley, the sheer physical warmth of my father’s body, his sweet but penetrating gaze, the feeling of the hard wood floor beneath me, it would have been hard not to be aware of the multitude of phenomena.

Then he said, “Now slowly turn that same awareness to the mind that perceives these things openly. Instead of looking at outer space, look at inner space.”

He demonstrated with his hands: turning his palms outward to demonstrate the way we ordinarily perceive by looking outward, and then turning his palms inward to indicate the mind that perceives. Then he let his hands drop into his lap, to demonstrate just letting the whole effort of looking drop— to allow what ever happened happen (or not).

For a brief second or so, I had a direct experience of what in the Buddhist tradition is known as the essence of mind, or the nature of mind: a luminous, limitless awareness that is not chopped up into subject and object, self and other, perceiver and perceived. All distinctions between “the looker” and what was being “looked at” fell away, and for an instant I experienced a complete lack of separation between everything I felt, saw, smelled, and so on, and the awareness that saw, smelled, felt.

That open space is where our true nature is revealed—open, loving, and understanding of the difficulties that people undergo in their day-to-day lives.

Space Practice

Take a moment to settle your body . . .

Take a moment to rest in your feelings . . .

Take a moment to rest in your mind . . .

Now allow yourself to simply be aware of what you’re aware of. Maybe it’s a sound, a smell, a thought, a sensation.

Then turn your attention inward and become aware of what is aware of that sound, smell,
thought, sensation.

Allow yourself to become aware of and alert to any momentary gaps between physical sensations, feelings, and thoughts, and turn your attention to the space between these clouds of experience. In so doing you may catch a glimpse of the fact that there’s no separation, no distinction between the experiences and what is being experienced.

Rest in that glimpse. It might not last for long, maybe a few seconds or so, before the habit of separation arises again. Don’t worry. That happens to all of us in the beginning.
Just repeat the exercise—becoming aware of what ever you’re aware of and then turning your attention inward.

Laura438's picture

Vase Breathing did create a sense of settledness, calmness, and groundedness for me. But, as a novice in its practice, I have a question.

You and Rinpoche write, "After the third or fourth inhalation, try holding a little bit of your breath--maybe 10 percent--in the vase area at the end of the exhalation, focusing very lightly and gently on maintaining a bit of lung [italicized] in its home place."

There are three elemsnts in this statement: breath, lung, and focus. For me, it is hard to identify lung except by its effects, settledness or tension and speediness. And, about 10% of the breath almost naturally stays in the dan tien. I don't exhale forcefully unless I am doing a practice like Vase Breathing. So, the key element in my 10 minute practice was focus. I kept a focus on the dan tien and on settledness.

I also had a long freeway drive to do so I was alert to traffic and the rainy road conditions. Occasionally, when the situation warranted it, my focus was solely on the traffic situation. My lung got more speedy then but quickly calmed down again when I could also focus on the dan tien and the settled quality.

Is the key element in this practice focus, or is that just true for me, a novice?
Is Vase Breathing also known as Bar Lung?

Thanks, Eric.

Eric Swanson's picture

Hi Laura --

It's so wonderful that you're taking the time to involve the practices in your daily life.

I think, for anyone, the key element is focus, as this is a mindfulness practice that involves placing one's attention on a certain aspect of being. But lest we become too tense, I'm going to introduce another idea and practice that can help us to experience a greater sense of openness.

Eric Swanson's picture

Hi Laura -- I know that different teachers may offer different explanations of technical terms, but according to Tsoknyi Rinpoche-- and other teachers with whom I've studied -- clarity and luminosity are actually two different Enlgish language translations of the same Tibetan term: o-sel-wa (sorry I can't type the umlaut that goes over the "o"!) This term refers to the cognizant aspect of our nature, the fundamental capacity of mind to illuminate its objects of knowledge and hence to know them. You you can describe this capacity as clarity or luminosity.

Dominic Gomez's picture

In Nichiren Buddhism such clarity is called observing "the mind", mind being your life itself.

Laura438's picture

Thank you. That makes it much easier.

What had me confused was that Rinpoche used "-nyi" to refer to clarity and "o-sel-wa" to refer to luminosity (pp. 50-51). I assumed there was a distinction because of the two Tibetan words/syllables. But, although he uses the two Tibetan words, he doesn't make a distinction between the two in the text, just as you say.

Laura438's picture

I am curious if it is useful to understand the distinction between clarity and luminosity. I have been struggling with it, probably like generations of students, but have never heard a complete discussion of it.

Here's my best formulation: While they are both qualities of Buddha nature and not separate from each other, luminosity appears to be the light/spark that allows awareness and clarity, the capacity to be aware.

Laura438's picture

Hi, Eric,

I am also reading the book, slowly, savoring the words and images and doing the practices as I come to them. The first exercise, finding well-being in the body, connected for me to another practice that I do regularly and that I had not, until also doing this practice, connected to the spark of Buddha nature. Thanks to you and Rinpoche for that!

I have a couple of questions. Many teachers talk about emptiness, clarity, and compassion as the three aspects of Buddha nature. Ripoche seems to be reframing this as emptiness, clarity, and essence love--which can expand out into boundless love and then bodhicitta. What Rinpoche's formulation does for me is to make "compassion" experiential in a very useful way. He's put the bottom rungs on the ladder. Do I seem to understand this correctly?

I also wanted to ask if you would be willing to share your process of writing the book with Rinpoche. I notice that this book, like the books that you wrote with Mingyur Rinpoche, are written in Rinpoche's voice. Your voice does not seem to appear. I'm just curious how you worked together and how the two brothers might have worked differently with you.

Thanks, Eric.

Eric Swanson's picture

Hi Laura -- You are exactly right about Rinpoche's reframing of compassion as essence love as experiential -- a willingness or to love which then can be expressed as unconditional love, boundless love or compassion -- it is a potential on par with emptiness and clarity.

A little bit later I will share some thoughts about what it was like to work with Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche. It's been a very interesting experience, and different in each case.

Eric Swanson's picture

Both Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche were extremely generous with their time and their wisdom. The process of writing each book unfolded very slowly. We had a general idea of the direction in which we wanted to go---though perhaps they had a more specific idea, as teachers, than I did, as a student! Our work sessions often evolved as question and answer sessions, which I would record and transcribe and then begin to fit into a logical, narrative structure of a book...always going back to them to confirm my understanding...and often, having it clarified. In many ways the process of each book was one of "translation" -- not from one language to another, as my understanding of Tibetan is minimal, at best - but from one culture to another, one mind to another, one heart to another.

Laura438's picture

Thank you, Eric, for your replies. Though I had conceived of you as being like a translator, the music of your more complete description helped me to experience the process. Thank you also for the work itself. I can already feel the benefits of your work with Rinpoche in my life.

Eric Swanson's picture

Your welcome! I think we are all very fortunate to be able to experience the wisdom and compassion of great teachers.

samphrone's picture

thank you so much for this. i have started the book and am following the discussion. i am working a little with the exercises. i am more aware of the split between my head and heart and how often i forget to honor and make room for heart.

Eric Swanson's picture

Your welcome!
One of the fundamental goals of the Buddhist path is to help people live more openly, wisely, and generously toward themselves and others. Both understanding and practice are necessary to reconnect with the spark at the basis of being and encourage it to grow. T

Dominic Gomez's picture

Is this spark the buddha nature inherent in all phenomena?

Eric Swanson's picture

Hello Dominic -- The speak -- or Buddha Nature -- is inherent in all sentient beings.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Eric. And sentient beings are phenomena in the universe.

samphrone's picture

Thank you. Could you say more about the traditional image discussed of the clapper and the bell?--as a metaphor for the relationship between the subtle and physical bodies.

Eric Swanson's picture

Wow -- you really have gotten deeply into the book! How wonderful! I think the image of the clapper and the bell is actually quite simple -- and something you have probably experienced many times in your own life. Think of the clapper as an emotion (such as anger, fear, or even love or desire).. Emotions arise on a subtle level -- that is, we can't really see or touch them, they have no color or shape...and yet, when they arise, we tend to experience them (often quite acutely!) in the physical body (which is like the bell)...perhaps manifesting as quickened heartbeat, a clenching of the jaw, or tension in the shoulders. Does that help clarify the image for you?

samphrone's picture

Yes, thank you. Exploring the analogy in meditation, I had this sense that the clapper hitting the bell is where reactiveness and attachment to free flowing emotion sets in? Without clapper-bell contact, emotions flow and physicality co-exists, without identification or stuckness?

Eric Swanson's picture

The Subtle Body

The subtle body is very rarely discussed in texts or in public teachings. However, I believe that understanding the subtle body and its influence on our thoughts, actions, and particularly our emotions is essential to understanding the layers that obscure our ability to relate warmly and openly to ourselves, others, and the conditions that surround our lives.

Essentially the subtle body is a kind of interface between the mind and the physical body, a means by which these two aspects of being interact. It’s made up of three related features. The first are comprised of a collection of what in Tibetan are called tsa, usually translated as “channels” or “pathways.”

The channels are the means through which what we might call “sparks of life” move. In Tibetan, these sparks are called tigle, which may be translated as “drops” or “droplets”— an interpretation we’re given so that we can form some kind of mental image of what passes through the channels.

Tigle are carried through the channels by an energy force known in Tibetan as lung (pronounced “loong”), the basic meaning of which is “wind,” the force that blows us one way or another, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Lung is rooted in an area about four finger widths below the navel. That is its home, so to speak, from which it flows through the channels carrying the sparks of life that convey the vitality that sustains our physical, mental, and emotional condition.

Vase Breathing

One of the methods that can help us cope with challenging emotions is a practice that helps us to draw lung back to its center, or “home.” For this, we use a special breathing technique as a tool, because breath is a physical correlate of the subtle wind energy of
the lung.

This technique is called vase breathing, and it involves breathing even more deeply than the type of deep diaphragmatic breathing often taught in many yoga and other types of classes with which people may be familiar.

First, exhale slowly and completely, collapsing the abdominal muscles as close to the spine as possible. As you slowly breathe in, imagine that you’re drawing your breath down to an area about four finger widths below your navel, just above your pubic bone. This area is shaped a bit like a vase, which is why the technique is called vase breathing.

As you continue to draw your breath in and your attention down, your lung will gradually begin to travel down there and begin to rest there. Hold your breath down in the vase region just for a few seconds—don’t wait until the need to exhale becomes urgent—then slowly breathe out again.

Just breathe slowly this way three or four times, exhaling completely and inhaling down into the vase area. After the third or fourth inhalation, try holding a little bit of your breath— maybe 10 percent— in the vase area at the end of the exhalation, focusing very lightly and gently on maintaining a bit of lung in its home place.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Are tsa meridians? Is the area below the navel the sacral chakra?

Eric Swanson's picture

tsa can be compared to meridians, but the network is arranged just a little differently.

The are below the navel, I am told, is more akin to the dan tien than the sacral chakra.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Is lung qi (aka life force) and the medium via which you and I are connected (and we with the environment)?

Eric Swanson's picture

Hi Dominic -- To answer the first part of your question, in Tibetan Buddhism, there are actually several types of lung. The lung referred to in "Open Heart, Open Mind" is predominantly associated with movement--one of several animating forces. To answer the second part of your question, "you," "I," "environment" and even "connected" are relative terms that are useful for understanding and enacting relationships within the domain of relative reality. In an absolute, or ultimate sense, how we exist is beyond conceptual understanding or labels, entities, or agents of any kind. This absolute level of reality has to be experienced through practice (informed , of course, by understanding). that doesn't mean that the relative distinctions disappear when we attain such experience, for we still function in the relative world, but with a deeper, more spacious, and more compassionate understanding.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Thank you, Eric, for your generosity with your knowledge.

Eric Swanson's picture

Lilawheel and Dominic -- These are both excellent points! There is a passage in "Open Heart, Open Mind" which, I believe, goes a long way toward becoming familiar with the strength, courage, and brightness of one's inherent, buddha nature...And it is accompanied by a wonderful exercise from Rinpoche's father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche:

Layers and Feathers

As we go through life, we accumulate layers of ideas about who we are and what we’re capable of achieving. In most cases these layers accumulate unconsciously: partly as a result of the way our brains and bodies are structured, partly as a result of cultural conditioning, and partly as result of the structure of language itself, which is built on making distinctions.

As these layers accumulate, we tend to become increasingly rigid in our identification with certain views about ourselves and the world around us. Gradually, we lose our connection to the basic openness, clarity, and love that is the essence of our being. We learn to define ourselves, and we hold on to such definitions even if they’re unflattering or self-destructive. This “I” maintenance program can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior for many years.

Long ago, my father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, taught me an exercise that helped me to experience what I’ve come to understand as a “spark” of openness and warmth that can be kindled to warm not only our own lives and the lives of people to whom we feel close but the entire world.

You can try it anywhere, but it’s probably best at the beginning to try it out in a quiet place, without too much distraction. You can do it sitting, standing, or lying down; it doesn’t matter. The goal is not to become a perfect meditator but just to connect with
your basic love, openness, and clarity.

Normally our awareness is overwhelmed by hundreds of different thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Some we latch on to because they’re attractive fantasies or scary preoccupations; some we try to shove away because they’re too upsetting or because they distract us from what ever we’re trying to accomplish at the moment.

Instead of focusing on some of them and pushing away others, though, just look at them as feathers flying in the wind. The wind is your awareness, your inborn openness and clarity. Feathers—the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that pass through our awareness—are harmless. Some may be more attractive than others, some less attractive;
but essentially they’re just feathers. Look at them as fuzzy, curly things floating through the air.

As you do so, you begin to identify with the awareness that is watching the feathers and allow yourself to be okay with what ever feathers happen to be flying at the time. You’re accepting them without latching on to them or trying to shove them away. This simple act of acceptance—which may only last a few seconds—offers a taste of that open space of
essence love, an acceptance of the warmth that is your basic nature, the heart of your own being.

Edith's picture

What a lovely visualization exercise! There is such an ever deepening felt sense of abiding in open-hearted freedom when one allows ones mind to be as vast and free as the wind. Beautiful. And healing.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Nichiren writes: "Buddhism is like the body, and society like the shadow. When the body bends, so does the shadow." People do not live separate from society, but to be helpless victims of society's fluctuations is not the way of Buddhism. A Buddha is also referred to as a "hero of the world": a valiant and noble person who deals effectively and creatively with samsara (the vicissitudes of life in the real world). The practicing Buddhist is courageous, strong and wise. The "body" referred to by Nichiren is each individual's inherent buddha nature. If it is healthy and strong because of one's faith in it, society will reflect that.

lilawheel's picture

Dear Eric, Virtuoso is a great word. Speaking of potters and clay, gardeners and soil, it feels enriching and important to include the body in my awareness as a way of becoming familiar with what life is all about. What feels peculiar about Buddhism is that this familiarization isn't exactly a means to an end--it's the goal, in a way.

Eric Swanson's picture

Lilawheel -- Thank you for the wonderful feedback. Many people I've spoken with have experienced a similar softening around the heart, which is such a beautiful, soothing experience...and also radiates outwards in all our dealings with others.

I should say, too, that t eimage of sitting in a "universal lap" so to speak reminds me of some of the visualization exercises within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in which we're surrounded by or absorbed in the mandala's of protective, compassionate aspects of the Buddha.

I'd like to share another passage from the book that speaks directly to your observations about our innate capabilities, which are always present despite our apparent frailties and craziness:

“Virtuoso” may not have been a common term in the language the Buddha spoke or in the languages in which his teachings were passed down orally from teacher to student for several hundred years until they were finally written down. However, everything I’ve learned from my own studies, the teachings I’ve received, and my own experience as a teacher, counselor, husband, and father suggests to me that what the Buddha discovered during the days and nights he spent meditating under a tree in Bodhgaya, India, was a method through which we can all become virtuosos in the art of living. Each of us is gifted with the ability to recognize within ourselves an astonishing capacity for brilliance, kindness, generosity, and courage. We also have the potential to awaken everyone with whom we come in contact to the possibility of greatness. We become virtuosos to the extent that we develop our potential to the point at which— even without our conscious
intention— our actions and our words serve to awaken the “human artist” in everyone.

But in order to do that, we have to understand the basic material with which we’re working. A skillful potter has to learn to recognize the qualities and characteristics of a lump of clay with which he or she works. A virtuoso farmer has to understand the relationship between soil and seeds, fertilizer and water, and implement that understanding in terms of actions.

Likewise, in order to become virtuoso human beings, we have to begin by understanding our basic nature— the clay, so to speak, with which we’re given to work. And that, to me, is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. It’s within our power to become virtuoso humans. The process involves a step- by-step examination of the ways in which we relate to ourselves and the world around us. As we integrate this examination into our daily lives, we begin to realize the possibility of living each moment of our lives with a previously unimagined richness and delight. This approach, advanced twenty- five hundred years ago, asks us to look at who we are in terms beyond the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us.

lilawheel's picture

Thank you, Eric... So... I tried the exercise and here's my report. Relaxing was lovely and it's rare that it happens for me in front of the computer! I felt a faint aura all around, not too localized, then the heart center seemed a little warmer and softer. But dim or subtle are definitely good words ... I confess that for the next little while, I'm going to keep enhancing by imagining myself sitting in Tulku Urgyen's lap (though it makes me laugh, definitely would have been odd in real life)... or the Buddha's lap... or the lap of an enlightened grandmother... the universe herself...

As I read the first introductory section on the website above I am touched by the truth of it, how complicated and challenging human life is, that we do not automatically know how to live, nor automatically feel 'essence love' or even 'okayness' throughout the day. Instead it can be a hard won achievement. We carry all the wounds and fragmentation Tsoknyi Rinpoche speaks of, including an unconscious feeling that we don't belong, don't deserve to be happy or that it's faintly wicked (speaking for myself) to wish for happiness when so many other beings are suffering. And yet, we are also capable of kindness, a noble heart, artistic expression, and learning. I look forward to getting his new book (which I see will be published tomorrow) from my local bookstore. Also, Tsoknyi Rinpoche is coming to Wellesley College on April 9th! I'm going with a friend.

lilawheel's picture

I love how Rinpoche describes the experience of sitting on his grandfather's lap. The image subtly invites me to join him there -- no disrespect -- and melt through wamth and safety into buddha nature. Tulku Urgyen's lap is vast! It's like where Ryokan wishes his robe were wide enough to scoop up all the suffering beings in the world (though Ryokan is going to the edge of compassion and Tsoknyi Rinpoche is describing, for lack of a better image, the center of the mandala). Wonderful... I look forward to more small noble heart awakenings through the discussion..

Eric Swanson's picture

Hello Lilawheel!

Yes, isn't that a lovely image?

A little bit further in the book, Rinpoche offers an exercise through which we can all connect with that warm, safe, open space. Here it is:

A connection with essence love, I’ve found, is best discovered through relaxation. Of course, you have to be able to bring a gentle attention to the process, like lighting a dim lamp in a quiet room. As you maintain that attention, relax . . .

Relax . . .

Relax . . .

. . . until you sense some small spark of well-being, or what might be called “okayness.”

Some people find this well- being in their chest area, where the physical heart is located. Others find it in their foreheads, just a gentle loosening of tension there. One person found it in his knee, which had been troubling him for years: for a brief couple of seconds, the pain was there, but it didn’t trouble him.

That is a taste of essence love: a small, bright experience of okayness. Maybe it is accompanied by some feeling of joy, but not a joy that’s dependent on some thing, some person, or some condition, nothing based on external stuff—just an intrinsic feeling, however small, however dim, of well-being, some part within you that is warm and content.

Eric Swanson's picture

Good Morning. I'd like open the discussion with an except in which Rinpoche discusses the central theme: Essence Love

As a very young child I used to sit on my grandfather’s lap while he meditated. As I sat with him I felt a sense of deep comfort, together with a kind of childlike fascination with what ever was going on inside and around me. I felt myself becoming aware of something growing brighter and more intense in my own body, my own mind, my own heart.

That something, when I was old enough to fit words to it, is a kind of spark that lights the lives of all beings. In many Buddhist teachings, it’s known as “buddha nature.”

Buddha nature is difficult to define. One of the main aspects is traditionally translated as compassion—a degree of openness and intelligence that enables us to see the suffering of others and to spontaneously move to help them.

But the Tibetan term nying-jé indicates something much more profound. Nying is one of the Tibetan words for “heart.” Jé means “noble” or “lord”— in the sense of “ruler” or “highest.” Taken together, these two words suggest the highest or most noble type of heart, a profound experience and expression of connectedness, completely unencumbered by attachments or conditions.

I have tried, with the help of many teachers, friends, and students, to find a translation that motivates people to discover this essential aspect of their basic nature. The simplest term I’ve found is “essence love.”

Essence love stands beyond all the names we call ourselves and the roles we play in life. It’s not something manufactured, nor can it be destroyed. It may best be described as a very basic sense of well-being, which, if nurtured properly, can extend to a kinship with all other living beings.