Rebel Buddha

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

In my role as a teacher, my intention is simply to share the wisdom of the Buddha and my experiences in both traditional and contemporary settings of studying and practicing those teachings. In my teachings in recent years, I have also been trying to clarify frequent misunderstandings about Buddhism—especially the tendency to make Asian Buddhist culture stand for Buddhism itself—by pointing out the true essence of the teachings, which is wisdom joined with compassion. While not always easy to sort out, my various experiences have led me to see the almost blinding influence of culture in our lives and thus the importance of seeing beyond culture altogether. If we’re ever to understand who we are as individuals and societies, then we need to see the interdependence of culture, identity, and meaning.

Since freedom is the goal of the Buddhist path, and wisdom is what we need to achieve that goal, it’s important to ask ourselves, “What is real wisdom—knowledge that brings freedom and not bondage? How do we recognize it? How does it manifest in our lives and in the world?

Does it have a cultural identity? Are the social and religious norms of everyday life an expression of true wisdom?” These questions inspired me to give a series of lectures on culture, values, and wisdom. It is from these lectures that the present book has been drawn.

To bring the wisdom of the Buddha from one culture and language into another is not an easy task. Simply having a good intention does not seem to be enough. Furthermore, the task is not simply one of direction, say from East to West. It is as much a movement through time as through physical space. It is one thing to visit a neighboring country with different customs and values and figure out how you can communicate with its people. You will find a way, because in spite of your differences, you share certain reference points and ways of thinking just by virtue of being contemporaries—of living together in the twenty-first century. But if you were transported two or three thousand years into the past or the future, you would have to find a way to connect with the mind of that age.

Similarly, we need to find a way to connect these ancient teachings on wisdom with our contemporary sensibilities. Only by stripping away irrelevant cultural and social values will we see the full spectrum of what this wisdom is in its naked form and what it has to offer our modern cultures. A true merging of this ancient wisdom with the psyche of the modern world can’t take place as long as we’re holding on tightly to the purely cultural habits and values of the East or West.

Like never before, the strict distinctions between East and West are dissolving in a world where globalization is bringing all of us the same problems and promises. From New Delhi to Toronto to San Antonio, we’re talking to each other on Skype, sharing our stuff on Facebook, negotiating deals, watching the same silly YouTube videos, and drinking our Starbucks. We’re also suffering the same panic attacks and depression, although I might take Valium and you might take Chinese herbs.

At the same time, every culture has its own unique set of eyes and ears by which it looks out on and interprets the world. We need to appreciate the impact of the psychology, history, and language of each society as it works to uphold a genuine Buddhist lineage of awakening on its home ground. It’s one thing to welcome an interesting new spiritual tradition into our culture. It’s another thing to keep it fresh and alive. When it starts to age, to become commonplace, we can become deaf and dumb to its message and power. Then it becomes like anything else to which we pay outward respect but little attention. When we lose our heart connection to anything, whether it’s an old collection of comic books, a wedding ring, or the spiritual beliefs that will accompany us until the moment of our death, it becomes just part of the background noise of our life.

Dzogchen Ponlop RinpocheThis is why, throughout the ages, Buddhism has had a history of revolution and renewal, of testing and challenging itself. If the tradition is not bringing awakening and freedom to those who practice it, then it is not being true to its philosophy or living up to its potential. There is no inherent awakening power in cultural forms that have become dissociated from the wisdom and practicality that gave birth to them. They turn into illusions themselves and become part of the drama of religious culture. Although they can make us happy temporarily, they can’t free us from suffering, so at some point, they become a source of disappointment and discouragement. Eventually, these forms may inspire nothing more than resistance to their authority.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is a widely respected teacher known for his skill in making the full richness of Buddhist wisdom accessible to modern minds. He is also a poet, visual artist and city-dweller, based in the United States for two decades. His latest book is Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom (Shambhala Publications). You can connect with Rinpoche on Twitter (@ponlop), become a fan on Facebook, or visit his Web site at

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mccphd's picture

I would like to thank you, Cindy and Tyler, for guiding us during this discussion. I am also grateful to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and to his many students who helped not only with Rebel Buddha, but also with Penetrating Wisdom and Mind Beyond Death. I continue to benefit from these books and feel gratitude each time I read from them. I also enjoy Rinpoche's wry humor. Thanks for the many smiles and laughter!

Marcia's picture

Dear Readers,

Thank you all for your participation in the discussion over the past few weeks. We have just a few days left before the discussion closes on December 6th. We’ve entered the winter holiday season, a busy time of year, and for many, one that is focused on family and our particular version of cultural and religious traditions. As cynical as we may be at times about the commercialization of some of these traditions, we keep them around. We are loathe to do away with them altogether. But they change over time. Were the Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations of our grandparents better or more pure than the way we celebrate these holidays today? Or vice versa — we are more knowledgeable today, less burdened by tradition, and freer to adapt cultural forms to our contemporary life and times?

I invite you to share an example of how you celebrate or mark events of this season. Which cultural forms do you carry on, and why? How do they enrich or give meaning your life? Do you “believe” the stories—the narratives—that come with them? What level of belief is necessary for these forms to “work”? What in the past has caused your perspective on traditional forms to shift? How do you see rebel buddha mind / rebel buddha heart at play in all this?

Happy holidays, folks! Look forward to hearing your stories, thoughts and inspirations.

DarrellGKing's picture

We put up an artificial tree and exchange presents. For me, though, Christmas has always meant good spirits and smiling waves exchanged over snow banks. Starry nights, crisp air, Christmas carols, snow-blanketed trees. The Nutcracker on TV.

Rebel Buddha? It speaks of Buddhism, but Christ taught before Christianity existed, too. Before the Bible, before the Gospels, before churches and evangelists. If I read the parables with a fresh eye, I see the same wisdom I see in Buddhist stories. Like Buddha's message, it was delivered originally and perhaps most clearly by a wandering teacher in a simple setting to anyone interested.

The trappings are pretty and are testaments to Man's ingenuity and endless creativity for organization, but they are not the wisdom. At best, they are pointing fingers. At worst, obscuring fog. I suspect the role is in the individual, though, and not in the rituals. Still, they are add-on tools and this is important to remember, I think.


Pilgrim Rich's picture

I just yesterday finished Rebel Buddha ,And it is the best book for western inquirers of Buddhism that have come ac crossed. In my search the culture is the hard part for me, I would like to study under Ponlop Rinpoche if the opportunity came . thanks for this discussion on rebel Buddha and will continue to check into it.
Richard's picture

Hi Richard,
It's great that you've finished the book. I'm happy to hear how helpful you found it. Personally, I've found the discussions on culture to be eye-opening and liberating and exactly to the point on this spiritual journey (or road to freedom). There's a lot to contemplate and learn from when we begin to explore our experience from that perspective.
If you want to see where / when Ponlop Rinpoche is teaching, you can go to his web site and check his schedule ( Thanks for being part of this group and best of luck to you.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Good Morning, Community.

On Page 96 Rinpoche introduces a concept new to me, "twofold selflessness." This idea has revealed a blind spot of mine. Could someone direct me to more extensive writings on this topic? It wasn't even in Wikipedia!

Thank you, Linda

Tyler Dewar's picture

Dear Linda,

I guess Wikipedia is not up-to-speed on everything dharma. :)

(Very parenthetically, I would like to note that I LOVE Wikipedia.)

Thanks for asking this question, Linda. I would recommend Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche's "Progressive Stages of Mediation on Emptiness" and "The Sun of Wisdom" by the same author. These two text will certainly contain many references to twofold selflessness.

If you are really into extensive presentations, you could always check out one of the many translations of Chandrakirti's "Entrance to the Middle Way." My translation, along with a translated commentary to the root text by the 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, is published by Snow Lion under the title "The Karmapa's Middle Way: Feast for the Fortunate."

Andy Karr also has a very accessible volume about Buddhist philosophy called "Contemplating Reality."

I hope these references are helpful!

with best wishes,


DarrellGKing's picture

Tyler, Linda:

On a couple of other pages the topic is discussed, too. The impression I got was that selflessness is the perspective that the world doesn't revolve around me - the beginning of anatta. Twofold selflessness was stepping up to the realization of emptiness in all things.

Am I on the right track with the term?


Tyler Dewar's picture

Hi Darrell,

Traditionally, the way it is framed is that the selflessness of the person is the absence of an "I" or "me" in the skandhas (aggregates), dhatus (constituents), and ayatanas (sense sources) of one's own personal continuum. The selflessness of phenomena is the lack of intrinsic existence of those very skandhas, dhatus, and ayatanas that were thought to comprise the self of persons; it is also the lack of intrinsic existence of all other phenomena.

hope this helps,


DarrellGKing's picture

Yes, Tyler. It confirms my thoughts and adds to them. Thank you.

D's picture

Dear mccphd,

Your question is a very good one - I'll try to compose a reasonable response. I think what Rinpoche is pointing to when he talks about the “selfless” quality of anger (or any other emotion) is the impermanent and changeable quality of our emotions. Ordinarily, when anger strikes, it feels so real and solid. We think, “I am really angry now” without taking time to examine the experience. If we stop for a moment when the experience comes up, however, we can interrupt the momentum of the emotion. We can slow it down before we react in our normal and usually unproductive ways. Then we can ask ourselves “what’s really going on, what I am really feeling?”

If we can look at the raw experience of our anger without labeling it or following the story lines that tend to come up around it, what will we see? Is there some “thing “ there, in our mind or body, that we can point to as “anger”? Probably we will not find “one thing” that we can label as anger. Instead, we might discover many shades of feeling. We may be surprised to notice that our anger is mixed with other feelings - of sadness, or fear, or even love. So “selflessness,” in this context, is a reminder that our experience of anger is without any single, solid core (or “self”). Anger never stays the same from moment to moment, and if we look at it—contemplate it and analyze it—we can see the experience more fully for what it is. It’s not purely negative. As Rinpoche describes in other passages, our emotions have tremendous potential for arousing our wakefulness at the same time.

I hope this is helpful – and I’d love to hear from others too. What is “selflessness” in relation to the emotions?

I recommend two articles by Rinpoche on working with the emotions at Huffington Post:
Buddhist Insights for Accepting and Respecting Our Emotions
Relationships: Riding Your Emotional Rollercoaster

mccphd's picture

Please help me understand what Rinpoche means by the "selfless qualtiy" of anger as stated on pg.95: "We also contemplate our anger, anallyze it, and try to see its selfless qualtiy."

Thank you!

BenE's picture

I've been experimenting with the open-eyed and sensory meditations with varied results. Rinpoche speaks of 'resting the mind' on certain senses. What does this mean?

Can something with the experience of this speak to the technique and how to go about practicing it?

Ben's picture

Hi Ben,
I can tell you how I’ve worked with this instruction – or how I understand it. I'd love to hear from others too.
Usually our mind tends to keep moving because it’s drawn from one sensory perception to another (sound, sight, sound again, sensation etc) or to perceptions of thoughts and emotions. Mind always has an object but the object keeps changing, so there’s a quality of restlessness – like water that never settles. One way to bring the mind to rest is to work with this sense of movement via the senses. For example, if you have a pain in your leg during sitting meditation, you bring your awareness to it and simply notice the qualities of that pain (sharp, dull, etc) without elaborating on it. When your mind is distracted to something else (footsteps, bird chirping, storylines about other pains you have had) you bring it back to the sensory experience of that pain. You are consciously choosing to remain within a single experience, which allows the mind to gradually settle and become clearer and more peaceful. It is very much a process, but one we can practice anywhere, anytime.

Is this similar to the open-eyed and sensory meditations you mention?

DarrellGKing's picture

Sometimes while sittiing, I will focus on thought-watching or a sound or sight. Meanwhile, my hyperactive Border Collie will be running in circles around me, barking at the ceiling fan. Nonstop nail-clicking and herding barks used to be intrusively distracting, but then I learned the secret of moving toward the distraction rather than away, so to speak.

Nowadays, if I find my attention hijacked by this cacophony, I use it as a new focus of attention to investigate. The experience shifts from intrusive to just being there; it is different from birdsong, yet the same.


BenE's picture

Both of these responses were of help. Thank you!

Fredrik.Coulter's picture

Well, I just ordered the book and am giving this a try. I'll probably start reading the book this weekend, once I download the eBook version.

I would like to urge that future books be available as pure eBooks, not just in printed format and eBooks. I am a happy Kindle owner, and there are also Nook and other eReaders out there. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble allow self publishing, so publishing an eBook through Amazon and Barnes and Nobel isn't very difficult. You can also publish through Smashwords and get listed in almost all the eBook stores.

As to the question of why support eBooks, the quick answer is the lower impact on the environment. (It is also far easier to carry multiple books, but that may just be of benefit to the reader who is reading multiple books.)

Hopefully I'll have some more interesting thoughts once I've downloaded the book.'s picture

Thanks, Fredrik, for your comments and welcome to the discussion. Rebel Buddha will soon be more widely available as an eBook, I'm happy to say. We're fortunate to have this technology and from what I hear, more and more people are choosing this option. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book.

Tharpa Pema's picture

After reading this discussion I’ve been thinking for several days about the Heart Sutra:

“Here, Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form.”

It seems to me that all the world’s diverse cultural artifacts (e.g., rituals, art works, etc.) are just as much “forms” as are leaves, birds, and lakes (see RB p. 33). Each of us attach widely different meanings to these cultural phenomena. Yet wherever they exist they are real and have meaning for somebody. It’s important to me that I appreciate all “forms” that have meaning for others. In that way I promote each person’s experience of joy in their lives.

At the same time, I can’t force anyone to discover their own personal meaning in a cultural artifact they had no part in creating. How many Americans have been raised in one religious denomination and as soon as they become free adults choose another or no religion at all?

If our childhood experiences were bad, the religion of our upbringing may have taken on painful connotations of which we no longer wish to be reminded. For another child the same exact concepts are associated with their finest experiences. Our flexibility to interchange the symbols we attach to universal human experiences is infinite and cannot be controlled.

I do not want to escape culture, I want to take pleasure in it’s infinite manifest forms. And I want to do so without collecting, possessing, or clinging to culture as Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche describes in “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.”

Thanks to all for the fascinating topic.

Linda's picture

Hi Linda,

Well said. I appreciate your bringing the deep wisdom of the Heart Sutra into the discussion. It’s easy to lose sight of the personal and subjective nature of cultural forms and to think of one set as being the way things truly are. Usually it’s what we grew up with, unless we reject that, as you say, and grab onto something else to replace it. The Heart Sutra reminds us that we live in a relative world of “appearance-emptiness.” Maybe we won’t get into technicalities of that here, except to say that we project meaning onto forms that those forms don’t inherently possess. We just don’t see ourselves doing it. A ritual, a work of art, or the leaf of a tree may suggest meanings to us, but they are each ultimately “empty of” any absolute meaning. And the meanings we give to things (or people) often change. A friend becomes an enemy, belief in a religious or political doctrine becomes disbelief, and so on. When we can ease up on our judgments of right & wrong, I think we can live with more enjoyment and appreciation for all the manifest forms in our world. A flexible mind and heart will go a long way towards that. You’ve brought a very human face to these discussions, and I hope you’ll continue doing that.

Steve Kohn's picture

Here is my current state of misunderstandings which I have simplified in order to articulate them to myself:
There have been, are, and will be those whose style, mostly not consciously chosen, veers to the top-down, focusing on organizing others and developing strategies for effecting external change. (External and internal defined by which side of the skin we are considering.)
There are others who manifest more of the bottom-up style, less engaged with leading others and more with internal development.
These two stances are not mutually exclusive. Each participates in the “existence” of the other. We honor those who cultivate both styles to a high degree with the honorific, Teacher.
I identify myself as skewed to the bottom-up side of that bell curve, and so I usually do not participate in this sort of discussion which I feel moved to join today.
There will be, already is, a Western Buddhism with numerous dialectal differences. Their developments will be guided by those who like or need to guide things in concert with those who like or need to be guided. Some will be more successful than others for a variety of conditions. At some point, the newly-formed traditions will ossify and then rebels will return to roots and new traditions will be born. It is a co(s)mic dance, dust in the eye to dust.
Whichever stance one evinces at each moment is a contribution.
The Buddha lived and I am grateful for his realizations, his teaching skill, and his compassion, and for all those who, for the past two-and-half millennia, kept his teachings alive in the many traditional forms, so that you and I might experience them.
The Buddha lived and still there is suffering. May we all be well.'s picture

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your comments. I think you have described the co(s)mic dance pretty well. It goes on & on. As dpr says, we have to continually “review, refine, & refresh” our spiritual systems for misinformation & confusion that inevitably creeps in over time, just as we have to regularly scan our computers for malware and viruses. I was thinking how change occurs from both directions, as you say, from top down and bottom up, in concert. That makes for the possibility of a healthy balance. I see that at the center where I practice. We may learn certain forms of practice together, then take them home where we work with them in private. When we come together to join in practice again, we bring what we’ve learned back to the group, which effects how we perform those practices, and over time, a new way takes shape. Other times, we may be faithfully doing the same thing over and over, only to have “the teacher” say “no need to do that anymore,” pulling the rug out from under us. And again, we have a new way. So long as our way–old or new— is heartfelt and connects us to our wisdom and compassion, it’s the genuine thing. When we discover something so genuine, there’s a quality of timelessness. I’d like to repeat your closing, which I found very poignant: The Buddha lived and still there is suffering. May we all be well.'s picture

Hello Everyone,

I’ve just returned from the NYC launch of Rebel Buddha, and now Tyler is on the Rebel Buddha Road in Halifax. We seem to be trading places. (I may need to re-introduce myself as a discussion moderator, along with Tyler, to those who’ve joined the conversation recently.) Sorry to have been away for the past week – a far busier time than I imagined. So much has been talked about, I’ll just have to dive in somewhere.

There’s been quite an interesting thread on the subject of culture – and I wanted to point ahead in the book to a few remarks by Rinpoche on the subject. Whether we’re talking about culture from the perspective of East or West, Rinpoche says that we first have to see our own culture before we can clearly see any other culture:

“It’s not just some other people who have cultural habits and attachments, customs and points of view. We have to see that culture exists on both sides. Whether we come from the American or Asian side, we can be like fish swimming in the ocean. Fish see everything that’s in the ocean, but they don’t see themselves or the water they’re swimming in. In the same way, we can easily see the habits and customs of others, but we can remain blind to our own. As we become more conscious of our cultural environment, we begin to see how we put our world together… how we construct culture and identity with mind, and how mind labels everything and stamps it with values.” (RB Chapter 15, p. 169)

So how does that help us? Hopefully, it allows more space for communication and a greater appreciation for the amazing cultural diversity of our world. There’s a kind of liberation from the oppressiveness, or heaviness, of cultural forms when we realize that we are all making it up all the time. We could possibly have a playground, instead of a battleground.

I just wanted to bring this perspective - of culture on both sides - into the conversation. It's been so useful to me. I look forward to joining in on other parts of the discussion soon.

DarrellGKing's picture

Hi Cindy,

I guess we aren't going to escape culture. But perhaps we can achieve a level of tolerance for diversity that will allow us to walk through any culture without shock or condemnation.

I see that possibility in the book's message. At the time Buddhism was stripped of it's previous cultural packaging and before any new replacements were added in, we would presumably have a way without culture. To me, this seems a doorway to a world open to all cultures.


wenderwoman's picture

I have finally started reading the book and just love it. Thank you so much for writing this Rinpoche and thank you to everyone that helped. (Thanks also for all the work in bringing the Karmapa here. I was able to see him in Seattle and it was a remarkable experience.)

I've definitely read texts that are quite lengthy in clarifying some of these concepts so the simplicity of his explanations is refreshing. I suppose I have one question. That question is if I understand correctly that we are really only rebelling against one thing and that is our "self"? And, when the Buddha says to inquire, we are inquiring about our own thoughts? I just see a lot of people take it to mean question this external person or external thing and find faults in this external thought process to make it wrong. It seems that's not the purpose to me. I've come to believe that people will have an unlimited amount of beliefs that are different to my own and there is nothing wrong with that - even if by my own moral standards I find it troubling. So, it's not about questioning them - it's just about questioning our own sincerity and intention.

~hugs~'s picture

Hi wenderwoman,

I appreciate your question. It's an important one that keeps coming up. There are definitely some interpretations of “rebel” buddha that assume it’s a call to rebel against outside forces – whether injustices in society or belief systems one perceives as false or oppressive of our individual liberties. As you point out, however, the idea of “rebel” here begins with looking inside at our own mind—at our own thoughts, emotions, and concepts—and seeing how we create our own mental prisons (negative/unhappy mental states). As Rinpoche says, we have to see how our mind works in order to free ourselves from those habits of mind that perpetuate our unhappiness and keep us “locked in confusion.” So that’s step one. But as we become more clear and free of self-deception, we become more able to engage in the world in skillful ways. We can help others and our world, as well as ourselves. Not in the sense of imposing our view of right and wrong, but from the perspective of seeing what is needed in a situation, and offering that. The agenda is more one of simply arousing wakefulness, within and without, as best we can, without saying for others what their wakefulness should look like. I think that’s your point, when you say that others will have different beliefs, and you can accept that. I think that’s what makes compassion possible and our world livable. I hope this addresses your question.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear Kate:

I appreciate your post on November 16th very much. I warmly respond to your saying “I personally LOVE Pema Chodron's message and if there was a monastery that was full of Pema's I would shave my head today.” I feel the same.

Another sentence of yours grabbed my attention:

“…I was struck by how on the one hand there are all these really educated people writing books about how we bring counselling/psychotherapy to other cultures, whilst other cultures seem to bringing to the West what we need.”

I am a white, educated person of Western descent living in the USA. Often I feel surrounded by individuals who, out of ignorance (avidya), elevate their own cultures or worldviews above others’.

The frustrating thing is that I do it too. For instance, my fear that other people in my community automatically speak under the assumption that their own culture is superior to other people’s culture is just another prejudice, a projection of my fears. I don’t really know what’s going on in their heads or how open they are to different cultures

How do we unravel this never-ending cycle of presumption?


Tyler Dewar's picture

Dear Readers,

Just wanted to offer that I'm on the Rebel Buddha road now, and will be in Halifax and Toronto until November 25. Days away from the screen may get a little full, so my participation level will be unpredictable until the just-mentioned date. Enjoy the conversations!


Pilgrim Rich's picture

Hello All
I am so glad that I have come across this Book , Rinpsoches' way off telling the Buddhist
ideas to this, not true Buddhist person is a what I feel it will take to make Buddhism grow in
the western understanding ,I am very interested may be will say that I am Buddhist Christian ,that's not meant to say a true Buddhist is wrong. Rinpsoche's description of making friends with your mind is
awesome ,for years I have heard to know they self , but that was it and in rebel Buddha is broken down to
the point of easy understanding even for me ..
The book learning we all have had was to prepare us for out there ,very very little of it prepared us for
within our selves,
Thanks for this book
Thanks for the Disscussion on it
I feel if I had bought this book first I would have saved a lot of dukkha and money

Tharpa Pema's picture

Western Emptiness: Existentialism?

The most terrifying experience of my childhood occurred at age eight while I was working alone on a crafts project at school, surrounded by a room full of classmates.

As I sat there I became aware of my own thinking. Suddenly I realized I was utterly alone in a vast empty space inside my head. Instead of feeling free I felt overwhelmed with dread. The world was a dangerous place, and without someone to protect me I was surely going to die.

What might have been an awakening turned into a dark secret whose existence I revealed to no other human being for forty years.

From then on I feared that feeling more than any I ever experienced. Whenever I felt this awareness coming on I ran in panic from my own thoughts and emotions. I deliberately avoided awareness.

My Dad was a Christian minister and philosophy major. While I was growing up, he occasionally referred to existentialism in conversation. I learned to associate this word with my suffering and rather than study this feeling I fled from it.

Only decades later I read that the existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard discussed similar experiences in his writings. I reframed and claimed my old fear as a positive thing, a “philosophy,” a sign of intellectual superiority.

Happily for the health of my non-ego, I now realize that all humans experience this feeling. I still have an ego, but I balance it with a little more selflessness these days.

I mention this resemblance because our discussion has touched several times on the differences between Western and Eastern philosophies. I am deeply interested also in
understanding the similarities among world philosophies.

I worry that if we spend more time focusing on differences rather than observing similarities, we risk promoting division and conflict. I must also admit that I am unusually fearful of ideological conflict, so perhaps others are not so concerned about this as I am.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues and would welcome feedback if anyone cares to respond.

With Maitri, Linda

DarrellGKing's picture


I am a huge fan of pluralism and acceptance. I see lot s of similarities between Eastern and Western philosophies and practices. For instance, Buddhism has grown layers of ritual over the years just like Christianity has - both expressions of the human (ego's?) need to create and reinforce an Us...? Both philosophies work to explain away the unknown of death, both try to teach the pitfalls of putting material pleasures before spiritual development, both express the importance of empathy via teachings like the Golden Rule or Buddhism.

It seems to me the surface trappings of the philosophies seem different, but the deeper parts are common ground. One of the things about Buddhism that grabbed me early on was that it dealt with a universal truth when it described suffering. I think that alone emphasizes how much we around the globe have in common with each other.

Having said all that, though, differences do exist between Buddhism's lands of origin and flourishing through most of history, and the places it has more recently moved to. I believe this evident reality should be open to discussion without leading to divisiveness.

The fundamental concepts of Buddhism seem remarkably insightful, rational and sane to me, but there are many cultural trappings that I am not drawn to. I do not condemn or denigrate them, but the world is filled with far more to experience than I have time to explore.


wenderwoman's picture

I'm so anxious to read this book. I love the idea that someone sees the introduction of Buddhism to a Western audience as not only a chance to spread Dharma but also as a chance re-invigorate it as a valuable resource in this "modern" world. It's not just important for Westerners to have a form of Buddhism that appeals to them but for the world because this is the direction the world is moving - more technological, more intellectual and much more interactive globally. If we aren't connected physically, then we are connected in the cyber world so this is needed for any advancing culture. We can't all be monks so the lay people need to know how to deal with their daily stresses and obstacles in an effective matter. As the cultural gap grows smaller through the increase of global socialization, a more modern approach will appeal to new generations everywhere and not just the Western audience.

DarrellGKing's picture

I agree. Change the robes to jeans and a t-shirt, the teaching is still sound. This is why it is worth our time in the first place. I meditate in gym shorts, practice mindfulness at work and with my family, and my bell is an iPhone app. Yet that which really matters is within my mind and is unaffected by my clothing.

I don't consider that evolving new traditions insults or invalidates older ones. I do find it amazing and awesome that the basic message has marched across the continents for millennia, dropping one set of clothing after another as it adapts to each new land without missing a step or losing it's power. This "Western" adaptation is no different than those of China or Japan were: just another day in the inevitable spread of a simple, commonsense message.


Tyler Dewar's picture

Wenderwoman, thank you for this post! I just wanted to say thank you for now and let you know that I have read your post and enjoyed it. You make some very good points here. I'm going to try to get some sleep now--just landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia (the place where I was born and grew up) for the Halifax Rebel Buddha event! Look forward to seeing more of you around here. with best wishes, td

eldivi's picture

Greetings all,
I'm a subscriber of Tricycle and was drawn by the title "Rebel Buddha" and then absorbing myself in you folk's discussion.
Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts!
Presently, I'm reading "The Joy of Living" by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and find it resonate a lot with what discussed here. "Rebel Buddha" definitely will be my next book and in the mean time your forum.
Just a passing thought though, I understood the Buddha compares the Way to a flying bird that needs both of it's wings: Wisdom and Practice. So here hope that we won't forget our Practice in discussing Wisdom ;-)

Tyler Dewar's picture

Thanks for stopping by, eldivi.

I think that, in general, Buddhism presents "practice," whether it is the practice of meditation or of other disciplines on the path, such as study and reflection, as the means of cultivating wisdom.

But you are very correct in pointing out that we would do well to find ways to allow the profound views that we have been discussion to express themselves in the form of practical applications.

I'll see if I can elaborate on this more later. In the meantime, though, thank you very much for stopping by and for sharing this thought!

best wishes,


Lex's picture

Rinpoche does not have to call for a blending of or falling away of the distinctions between religious and spiritual traditions, - where I would say 'awareness' - , since it will happen anyway.
Like Wisdom cannot not be passed in lineage, only some concepts of it can. We constantly live inside wisdom, a transcending wisdom, wisdom is inside everything we face, a teacher just assist us to open our 'minds eye' to 'see' the wisdom, actual spiritual reality our selves.
When we do reach this state of actually 'seeing' the spiritual reality, we enter enlightment, and enlightment also cannot be passed on in lineage.
I do understand Rinpoche values clear thinking.

Tyler Dewar's picture

Yes, Lex, I agree that Rinpoche does value clear thinking. Thank you for the follow-up comment and for your participation here! with best wishes, td

DarrellGKing's picture

"Rinpoche does value clear thinking"

This is evident about three pages into the book. I had not paid much attention to this man and his works before this and am now a bit excited by what I am learning about him. I am a middle-aged psychiatric registered nurse in Western New York looking into various graduate tracks and something about the man in his book has appealed to that part of me. I think you are very lucky to be studying under him.


Tyler Dewar's picture

Thanks very much, Darrell. I indeed am very fortunate, as are many others, to be studying with Rinpoche. Glad to hear that you seem to have made a strong connection with this book and Rinpoche's teaching style! Feel free to keep sharing your thoughts on Rebel Buddha here. best, td

Lex's picture

There are different kinds of emptiness. The first emptiness is the mind empty of the ego. This emptiness can be reached by efforts of the ego efforts out of our daily self. This can be reached by the observation of ones self. This is the attitude of 'sitting on a chair' and observing your self in action on every level. It is described as a kind of meditation but then... what is meditation? One could and maybe should call this: concentrated observation. It is atmost important to know one self. The question however is: is Buddhisme the road to learn to know oneself and the world completely?

I think it is very interesting to learn to know about Buddhism, as it is interesting to learn to know about Islam, Christianity and Hinduisme, the last one being the 'situation' out of wich Siddhartha made his step to Buddhisme.
Looking at this it is interesting to to realise originally all religions , beside Christianity (not even welcomed by the Jewishs culture where in Jezus was born), were related to a specific culture, nationality. What does this mean?

As Rinpoche notes in his words , the borders - between Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism - are fading away. Why? Maybe because slowly the ego of the human is also fading away in some quantity?

It is also very interesting to learn to know the Philosophies - Buddhisme essentially being mainly a philosophy - and the history of Philosophy.
Philosophy transcended in time just like religion, culture, nationality, science, and so on.
There is a constant moving, a constant transcending.
Did or is Buddhism however transcending?
I do wonder is ' Rebel Buddha' telling so?
Only to learn to know this I would love to read " Rebel Buddha'

The title however makes me wonder.
At some forum someone suggested Buddha rebelled in relation to his father.
I would say: That is certainly not true !
If annyone rebelled too his father and his environment it was and could only have been Siddhartha Gautama.
It was only later he could have been rebelling as a Buddha, after becoming a Buddha.
Then I wonder if Siddhartha actually rebelled to his father and the environment he was born in to.
Did he?
So then he also rebelled to his wife and his sun - being a father - as he left his family, house and environment, something that would not be apreciated very much in a western culture nowadays.

I more and more get the 'feeling' Buddhism, is the label put on essential human spiritual development, where I think it has not been the general spiritual human development in history. Buddhisme originally is the label of the Asian spiritual development a different one as the western spiritual development.
Buddhisme, as a philosophy was and still is the development directed inward the human existence, The Western philosophies essentially had and have the characteristcs of being directed outwards human existence.

Hopefully, the future will show a new philosophy in wich the divers philosophies come transcending and evolving together and make old labels disapear.

This way. religions come together transcending and making labels of old religions disapear.

I hope to read more of the Rebel Buddha in future.

Tyler Dewar's picture

Thank you for your comments, Lex. I don't necessarily hear Rinpoche calling for a blending of or a falling away of the distinctions between religious and spiritual traditions, but I do think that the current time is an excellent one for inter-disciplinary dialogue on all levels, not just between religious traditions, but between spiritual traditions and academic and sociological fields, for example, as well. If you do end up pursuing a read of Rebel Buddha, I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to share any thoughts or questions the book raised for you back here! best wishes, td

Tharpa Pema's picture

For me emptiness is the blank canvas on which I get to paint. I am not imprisoned by anyone's preconceptions, including my own. I can clean the slate whenever I choose, whenever I am awake, that is.'s picture

Been absent for a day, and see what has happened! We've dived right into a very meaningful conversation. We've touched on the impact of our cultural environment, lineage, and "emptiness" (and semantics). If I may say so, keep plying Tyler with your questions. I think we'll get a lot out of him. I'll be back and join more fully in the discussion tomorrow. I'm flying to NY today for the first event in Rinpoche's book tour on Nov. 14. (Come if you can or see reports about it on the RebelBuddha web site. BTW Tyler will be teaching in three of the five cities that the tour visits). Keep talking...I'll be back.

draco9946's picture

Greetings all.

Just found this blog, just ordered the book. Looking forward to hearing more of these amazing discussions. Maybe I'll come up with something useful to contribute--stranger things have happened! Thanks in particular for the discussions on lineage and emptiness: clear and pragmatic.
This might seem odd in a discussion about bringing Buddhism into modern parlance, but sense I do it all the time anyway:


Tyler Dewar's picture

Thank you for the kind encouragement, Ken. I'm glad you joined us and hope to see you back! best wishes, td

charlotte Kennedy's picture

I love that Rinpoche explains 'emptiness' as openness and spaciousness. I love that. I've always found to my western ear that the word emptiness has such a feeling of bereftness (the cupboard is empty; empty-headed; empty wallet) that the word emptiness is really kind of full - full of something needful. I find myself always translating the word emptiness to openness and spaciousness, as if from one language to another and I'm wondering if we could just do away with the word emptiness for the western ear and find one other word that would do the trick?

Tyler Dewar's picture

That's a very interesting point, Charlotte, and a good one: that "emptiness" has certain ranges to it that don't really have anything to do with its intent in Buddhist teachings: freedom. In Buddhism, realizing emptiness is taught to be the actual, direct, immediate cause of our becoming free from suffering and experiencing genuine, boundless, ecstatic joy, without needing to cling to outer conditions that can be destroyed.

At the same time, the word is important, because, as it turns out, our habitual minds of confusion tend to see things as being full of stuff that they aren't: independence, a quality of being lasting, a quality of being solid, and often a quality of being a true source of happiness (some things can certainly make us happy, but we often end up over-idealizing the particular happiness that those things are capable of generating in us).

So part of the journey of exploring shunyata seems to involve some sense of cutting through, denying, or saying "no" to these false impressions we all develop.

But as the teachings on emptiness point out, we can't just hang out in "no" land. Otherwise our mind would become the party of no! And not just "no," but "hell no!" (Sorry, I'm just warming up my practice of seeing the emptiness of Speaker Boehner.)

In other words, we use the conceptual framework of emptiness to help us loosen up our habits of clinging to fake stuff and fake attributes. This frees us up to take a look freshly at how things really, without so much hyperactive labeling.

When we see clearly, what we see is empty of all of the labels and imaginary qualities we were so invested in before. It's a much more spacious way of experiencing things, and ourselves (our thoughts, feelings, even our depression sometimes).

From this perspective, you could say that emptiness is a way of skillfully working with the "no" principle. It's a way of doing the business of is-ness. (Yes, I have copyrighted that rhyme, thank you very much.) :) (Actually, not really.)

But once you get to the is-ness part, you are absolutely right: there's no bereft-ness there at all.

Thank you, Charlotte!

BenE's picture

I'd like to weigh in on this as well. I agree with what Tyler discussed with regard to the benefit of semantics.

The idea of emptiness is very unappealing to most western minds and personalities. It conflicts with things like boredom and emotion. If you try talking to a non-spiritual person about emptiness, they would likely find the idea of it to be an unpleasant experience to entertain. They might even say that it's taking you away from the human experience of the full emotional palette and richness of thought. That's clinging to attachments of what we *think* is The Human Experience(tm).

So when a soul is so blessed as to have the inspiration to seek emptiness, it is further blessed with the opportunity to destroy that false notion of emptiness.

If you take Rinpoche's method of analytical meditation and apply it to emptiness, then you arrive at the fullness of being. Meaning, if you meditate on what it means for you or anything to be empty, it would nullify the need for you translate empty into anything. Because while 'emptiness' might not translate as the most apt description for the experience, it is, in my opinion, an accurate description of the state of awareness. Which is to say that your awareness is emptied of any particular focus, sensory or otherwise, and so gives the appearance of expansion or opening. In reality, I might hazard to say nothing is happening except the removal of ignorance.

Onward, upward, inward!

DarrellGKing's picture

I like the "what is this?" exploration of emptiness. For some reason, it leads me to an imaginary disassembly of the target, which brings dependent origination right to the forefront. Handy little anytime mindfulness exercise!