74. The Relaxed Mind with Dza Kilung Rinpoche

Dza Kilung Rinpoche guiding a meditation to relax the mind

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Tibetan Buddhist teacher Dza Kilung Rinpoche shares seven meditation practices for a relaxed mind, heart, and body.

The extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist Lama and teacher Dza Kilung Rinpoche talks to us in this episode about his short yet profound book, The Relaxed Mind. This book is the culmination of his decades teaching in the west, where Rinpoche has condensed the vast array of topics in Tibetan Buddhist meditation into seven brief meditations we can easily practice. In our interview, he explains the sequence in depth and why it’s so appropriate for the Western mind. 

The Relaxed Mind by Dza Kilung Rinpoche
Dza Kilung Rinpoche’s book that goes into depth on the seven meditations and advice he shares in this podcast (you can buy it here)

Dza Kilung Rinpoche was born in 1970 and is head of Tibet’s Kilung Monastery, which he has been working to reestablish as a center of learning and practice since he was a teenager. Since 1998, Rinpoche has taught all over the world and we spoke with him from his home on Whidbey Island near Seattle, Washington. 

Scott Snibbe: Dza Kilung Rinpoche, it’s a pleasure to have you on our podcast. And thank you so much for making the time to talk with us. 

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. 

Scott Snibbe: I’d love to start out and ask you if you could give us a brief overview of what led you to create the series of seven meditations in your book, The Relaxed Mind

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: The Buddha’s teaching is so variety, as it says, 84,000 varieties. And when I see Buddha’s teachings, materials, translations, wonderful books in English and many other language. It is so amazing and very inspiring to see that. 

But at the same time, I was looking closely to see how much people really are doing the practice. And there’s wonderful teachers giving teachings, receiving teachings. But how much do people try bringing these teachings into their daily life? So I can see there’s a big gap for that. I want to help people to integrate the practices into their daily life.

Then what would that be? Just simplicity. Bring the essence of all these wonderful teachings that Buddha left for all sentient beings, draw this essence and put this into simple and digestible form. 

So therefore I just gathered this seven step meditation, which includes a basic mindfulness like Theravada meditation and also Tibetan mindfulness and analytical meditation, and so on. So we have this seven series of meditations. But they are more like a spiral. Gradually people can deepen their meditation practice going through that. 

And then I tried it. I tried this idea for over a decade to see how it works. And we had a weekly meditation which is still actually going on that follows this pattern.

And increasingly this meditation is very well received. So then I felt, this is maybe time to get into the form of a book to further benefit people and practitioners more widely today in this 21st century and busy world, busy people, to give some this gift. Maybe they can get some benefit and relaxation out of this. So that is how it became a book. 

Scott Snibbe: Could you briefly describe the seven meditation sequence for people who aren’t familiar with it? 

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: The first chapter we focus on our body. Oftentimes I see that when people meditate, they say, I’m going to meditate. And automatically they jump into their mind, their thinking mind, and ask their mind to not be busy. Mind try to ask mind to be calm. And, you know, there is a tension just about the mind. 

But this physical body is very important. If our body has ache and discomfort or abandoned, it is same as if somebody stayed in a ruined building and then is expecting like wonderful, no leaking, having a really pleasurable time in the house. It’s impossible. So first things we need this physical body to have a really respected and good posture. And to feel, feel their body say let’s meditate, let’s feel meditation through your body.

And this is also a little bit analytical that says, See what’s happening in your body, what are the sensations, the movement of energies. You can just fully pay attention. So that is the first meditation.

And a second meditation is calm abiding, like the shamatha meditation. So again, my style, I do mainly a more relaxed approach. We don’t want to put too much expectations saying, okay, I’m doing shamatha meditation now. I don’t want to put so much of this framework, this limitation.

Therefore we try to remind ourselves to keep relax, open your mind, and open your heart. So you could use some object to meditate or without object. Try not to get too serious and try to make sure not to burden yourself. Sometimes when we meditate we feel there is a big responsibility or duty to being relaxed or finding this stillness. So try to make sure that you always have this balance while you’re seeking or looking for this stillness.

The third meditation is the meditation arriving at clarity, a refined sitting meditation. This calm evolves into a clarity. Now you have some stillness, focus that you’d developed on the second meditation. And now third, you try to enjoy that a little bit, not always pushing to go further, but just relaxed, what you experienced in the second meditation.

And joyfully. Almost like when you take a walk or hiking a mountain. Instead of go hard, just take a little rest, and you maybe have a sip of water. You know, to look the view. And feel, feel your own breathing, heart and serenity, and resting. 

So there’s no hurry. This is noticing that your mind is now calm, that you’re able to actually rest, just noticing. And feel that.

Then fourth, insight meditation; this is based on vipassana. Or in Tibetan it’s called laktong. Laktong means seen as it is. And this is more profound, to go deeper into your own breathing, your own mind, the phenomena around you. All this time is try to realize its true nature. 

And being totally free. No rush, no push. And you are open enough to feel the spaciousness inside that is just right there. No need to look somewhere else.

So then there’s a good potential to see this insight is, you know, right there. 

The fifth, they call open heart mind meditation, which includes loving-kindness and compassion

I notice from experience with my students and my own experience, if your mind is very agitated, it cannot be really focused to shamatha or this mindfulness approach. And then, okay, how about love? Loving kindness to all sentient beings, to myself, who are struggling with this mind that I cannot calm.

So, including myself, I just hold this love and compassion, open heart. Just stay with that. It’s powerful enough actually, to bring insight in different ways. It’s a kind of different entrance. 

So we are seeking and we are looking for insight and stability and calmness. But we always used one door that says meditate, tell mind to be good and tell to be peace. People used to be that single door all the time. 

So this fifth meditation is, I feel, one of the most important really overall. It could be itself as a meditation. And also it is like a roadmap for the view for all other kinds of meditations that you do. Sort of warmed up by this attitude of loving kindness and compassion.

Very, very powerful.

And this brings wide openness, spaciousness and a sort of easing of all the limitations that normally be experienced: doubt and hopes and confusions and fears. This brings into really different spaciousness quality.

Scott Snibbe: Does this fifth open heart, mind meditation relate to the four immeasurables, this other method we know for opening the heart?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: So four immeasurables sometimes you even can call four boundless view meditation and action. Four boundless is the attitude that you have that may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. And may all beings be free from suffering and causes of suffering. And then may all beings live in equanimity, which is free from this aversion and attachment. 

So I say, may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. But just your saying that, that’s not enough. As a practitioner who wants to practice with this, inspired to do something with these four boundless. So then as causes, if we wish to have all beings have happiness, then causes, causes are the first things to making happiness.

And then causes have all levels. And that is too much detail to talk about, but it’s more to individuals. Then they can decide what causes they believe are causes for happiness for self and others. If they put that intention and view, I think it helps for everyday life to accumulate these causes of happiness. And we can keep mindfulness about the causes of happiness.

If we want to have all beings set free from suffering, including oneself, what should we do? Reduce, reduce the causes of suffering, in whatever ways that we think is a useful, relevant, one can do it. Not just imagination, put it into practice, put into action. 

And generally speaking, there is a view, meditation, and action. So we have a view of a four boundless perfectly right there. And then it’s bringing into meditation to feel even deeper, and realizing it through meditation and your own experiencing. And then finally bringing into action, really take action out of this view.

You have to be also, of course, mindful about it. What is one’s own capacity? You don’t want to be overwhelmed, and potentially discouraging. Always be mindful. Again, it’s mindfully taking the actions.

Then I think we can make some contribution to increasing happiness and decreasing suffering through this mindful effort, four boundless views, meditation and action.

Scott Snibbe: Thank you, Rinpoche for explaining the relationship of your fifth meditation to the four immeasurables; and the sixth and seventh meditations?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: The sixth meditation is called pure heart mind meditation. We all have, of course two sides: positive side, negative side; our happy side, unhappy side. But sometimes we have habits of most of the time, a lot of the time, stays with this dark side, some problematic and distrust and this fear and this not so satisfied, not so content.

And there are many things happening in our daily life. But if you look carefully, why you’re untrusting, why you’re unsatisfied, why you’re being so deeply unhappy. Sometimes we look at the causes of this, they’re actually not many big reasons. Our mind is almost training, mind training, every day’s complaining with the same things that says all of this miserable life. This is problematic that I have to go drive through this every day for my work. I don’t like this. And sure, nobody likes the traffic and things like that. 

But if that is the life that you have to go through anyway, what is the best way to observe? What is the best way to just look at the phenomena a little differently. When you look at it differently, actually, you can perceive experience really different. The view, again, some kind of positive view there in a way it’s like the positive attitude.

You have this saying: a half empty or a half full glass. People sometimes, without looking at your glass, say half empty. That’s a habit. Sometimes we have to be careful with our habits. The suffering may not necessarily really exist as it is, but the habit says half empty, half empty, half empty. That becomes a mantra, reciting half empty, half empty. 

Dza Kilung Rinpoche uses the analogy of perceiving half empty or half full glass in discussing his book, The Relaxed Mind.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Does your mind habitually see it one way or the other?

Instead of that, a new mantra. It says half full, half full, half full. And it brings up a little bit happy side of mind. Your heart-mind to hear little bit happy news, positive news, positive attitude.

In the deep side of our mind, we want world peace, all people happy, ourselves happy. And we want to change the world to make it a happy, happy place. 

But to change the world, we need to change our mind first. This one philosopher, the Sufi poet Rumi, he said that yesterday I was clever, I want to change the world. Today I’m wise, I’m changing my mind.

So this sixth meditation is to bring some positive element and positive attitude to yourself, daily life, better relationships, and society. So it’s another way to look.

When you encounter some difficulties and people see themselves, their circumstance, everything very negatively, criticizing themselves and others, if they have a little bit attitude of this positive way to look at this situation, I think they will treat people and themselves more respectfully, understanding reality, coming closer to their nature.

And then finally for this seventh meditation, which is very simple as a non-conceptual meditation. This one is a introduction to dzogchen, it’s called. Dzogchen practice, meditation, is one of the Tibetan meditation styles, looking at the mind as it is without fabricating your own mind. 

Oftentimes doing the meditation, we’re fabricating our mind too much. We fix it. We tell it, don’t do that, do this. That’s this way. And there’s a kind of urgency, pushing, aim, goal-oriented. Lots of those things happening there. And easy to encounter just ordinary busy mind again. 

So this seventh meditation is to totally be relaxed with your mind, even if your mind says, Why are you on the cushion? And all you have come up with is like about pizza. You know, what kind of pizza you want after finishing your meditation. And you should not be guilty about it. It’s okay. But the best thing is, you don’t follow the idea of pizza.

You let be whatever is a rising there. But you’re not distracted anymore, not conceptualizing, not fabricating further. Just pizza comes, but it’s also pizza liberating itself. Don’t worry.

 But if you try to say Pizza, no, this is terrible idea. I’m on the meditation cushion, what does pizza have to do with here. And then you are against that thought. You come up with the dislike mental attitude and it stimulates your mind with the distraction. And now your dialogue starts with yes and no, bad and good. All of those things start. That is the Samsara. 

When this “pizza” comes, who cares? Let’s relax. And then we just say, okay, all the phenomena is like this. Sometimes I’m willing to let them come and go and rise and liberate. All just totally resting without leaving this base of my own true nature, which is this insight, the ultimate insight.

So then it doesn’t matter. Pizza not harm. You don’t need to push that idea away. I really think this is okay. 

So the seventh meditation, it’s kind of liberating upon it arising, or self-liberation. Whatever is rising, let it be liberate by its own. It’s almost like the analogy that says if you’re writing a message on the water, you can write a message on the water, but as soon as you finish your script, then nothing to look back. So nothing to distract before and after thought. Just be present with this now-ness.

That is the seventh meditation. So that is how the sequence works. 

Scott Snibbe: Thank you for explaining that, how to use pizza on the path to liberation!

You also use the term “relaxed” in your meditation sequence. And for a lot of us that brings up thoughts of sitting on the beach or sleeping in on a Saturday. Can you talk about what relaxation means in meditation?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: Sure. Sure. Okay. So if your whole aim is for relaxation and relaxed mind and calming mind, along the way you have to remember why you’re meditating. You’re meditating for relaxation. And this is why I often give people a reminder in guided meditations.

People, are I think forgetting. But when the word relaxation comes, all right, that’s the reason I’m here with this resting, experiencing this insight. It’s a nothing else than this complete relaxation, complete relaxation that unconditioned way. 

You know, it’s not just like the relaxation on the beach or like a getting sun bath. This is a much deeper profound relaxation that is accessible anytime. Even if there’s no sun, you can stare, relaxed with your own mind. Even if a situation is busy and surrounded by circumstance, your mind can stay relaxed.

Scott Snibbe: There’s also a new popular form of meditation that goes by the name mindfulness. Can you talk about how that relates to more traditional forms of meditation? And if we’re missing anything with the mindfulness approach to meditation?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: Well, mindfulness is like “mind is fullness.” We have to see the contents of what is the fullness, what is it full of?

If your mind is full of this peace, compassion, loving kindness, relaxation, and contentment, then this is the authentic mindfulness that the Buddha taught in this traditional way. 

—Dza Kilung Rinpoche

But in some ways I notice mindfulness is sometimes a little bit modernized too much. And a reason why I’m saying that is, of course, the teachings that today in the 21st century and modern science of the 21st century, to work with that, no doubt there would be great benefit. 

But sometimes people have this shortcut, you know, like fast food. If people are trained with this fast, easiest approach, sometimes mindfulness is lost. I’m not saying general mindfulness, but there’s a style of mindfulness today that has a little bit lost some of this important quality or essence I would say. 

So that is, I think, important to be mindful about mindfulness, to really make sure without losing its essence. 

Scott Snibbe: Thank you. I think I might let Stephen ask a couple of questions now.

Stephen Butler: Oh, thank you very much, Rinpoche. As you laid out the series of seven meditations, there’s the earlier stages of the meditation for calming the body and the mind. And in the book you make an important point that the latter stages of the sequence are more subtle and revealing. Can you talk about how they’re subtle and also what is revealed?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: I think the subtle is difficult to put in words. Each individual practitioners need to go and see what you find in there. Until you really get in there and your body can tell or sense of feeling and mind can tell what is it really subtlety of these qualities, that more experienced level.

What is revealed out of this meditation? Mindfulness, concentration, and stability to getting power over one’s own mind. 

And secondly, to open one’s heart, mind to self and others, really to see that this world that we live in, beings around, that these connections, all this oneness, the cohesiveness of all world and phenomena, that closeness, open heart, compassion, that is the second. 

And thirdly, getting your mind use to that more relaxed you can liberate. Even without meditating, you can liberate your stress. And there is a preventing, almost a preventing attitude of liberation quality in your heart-mind that always serve you no matter you’re in busy situation or you’re relaxing on a beach. It’s unconditionally liberating and easy, sort of easy way.

And then eventually of course, you know, if we all are overcoming our on mind then it’s like journey of enlightened, journey of wakefulness that we’re just entering. Some people even may say, Oh no, I’m not really looking for enlightenment or something, but doesn’t matter. It’s the insight, the wakefulness, we still appreciate that. 

Stephen Butler: Rinpoche, in each of the seven meditations, you talk about the quality of spaciousness. Is spaciousness something that we achieve or is it a quality that we blend our meditation with?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: The spaciousness, you cannot push or grasping or approaching that so much actually. As I said, seven point meditation should be almost like a goal-less accomplishment.

Like if you put in, say, an aim or a goal, then there is like this limit. So therefore, you may even achieve that spaciousness sometimes along the meditation, but you are not aiming for it. The best thing is to let it be, your mind and have that in mind, when the spaciousness of this experience occurs. That is the nature of your resting mind quality.

So it’s more like a quality than a something that you were, you know, looking for or progression or progression. Right. 

Stephen Butler: Rinpoche, you give some instruction for meditation practice in the latter part of your book, and you talk about body, speech, and mind and the relationship between those three. And you write that all three should be calm, relaxed, and resting together at the same time. Can you share with us what this means?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: Well for example, the first meditation we seriously focus on our body. So that’s one example how important that body, speech, and mind meditate at the same time, or be present on the cushion. 

As I explained in the first chapter, that your calm with your body says that it’s time for meditation now, and you send the message and sends that energy and to body and the sense consciousness to communicate, Yes, this a time for meditation on this physical level. And the body responds to that. So the body and mind communicate, says, Yes, I’ll meditate.

I’m sure as many of your group who study Buddhism, meditation and also scientific approach and research, you’ll have a much more to say about that. You know, how the mind can communicate to our body to hold, to respond, and let’s say, to do it. So meditation wakes our body and calls the body to calm.

And then secondly, as a speech, our mental chatter, even though when we are on the cushion we’re not verbally talking, but maybe some kind of this undercurrent chatter. Or sometimes they’re talking, and maybe even notice this as they are on the cushion meditating. 

So now we deeply go through this talking and chatter mind says, okay, let’s come up to relaxed ease. This is ready for meditation. Nicely tell yourself that, not forcefully to stop it, but respectfully to say, Okay, just leave it for now, meditate quietly for speech.

And then mind itself, not need to say much about it. Mind, you know, I’m busy mind, that’s the whole point to meditate. 

So therefore I use sometimes these three syllables and verbally we chant OM, AH, HUM. The OM is associated to our body. And when we say this OM, we try to feel the vibration in our body. And everything sort of warms up, makes ready to really relax. Feel the energy of that. And also you’re meditating along the sound that you’re making like OM itself. This is not just saying the word, but it is part of meditation. 

Then likewise, then we say AH is the speech.

You may feel the energy in the kind of speech area. But it’s overall asking that all the chatter mind everything’s calm and meditate. 

So then you say this AH, and deeply, AH.

It calls your chatter mind, it’s time for rest and relax.

And then finally we say HUM which is, in this case, for heart-mind. I use these words quite often, this heart-mind. When we say mind, of course, in the the scientific world in the general modern world, just says this mind is brain. We’re talking about brain, this center of thoughts. 

But in terms of a Buddhist, with mind you also include some heart beyond that. Just like thinking mind; sort of wisdom, the quality of mind, the experience of mind. So that is of course something call heart-mind. And then we call whole heart-mind to be ready for meditation, calm and say OM.

So these three, as I often explain, when you meditate, you can think of body, speech, and mind as important. They all cooperate to work together as a team. 

Stephen Butler: Quite often as people approach meditation, they want to go to the most advanced method or the most refined method quite quickly. Can you talk about non-conceptual meditation and what advice you would give for people as they approach this refined stage of meditation, this refined practice? 

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: So here, maybe one little example: our samsaric world we have a lot of headaches and stress. So in some ways release this stress, overcome the difficulties, and overcome this wild mind that in some ways causes a lot of suffering to self and others. That is how mindfulness is practiced, to realize oneself beneficial ways to serve self and others.

And then you use the meditation as a method. But then meditation has at this kind of a different aspect. In some ways meditation has a aspirin-like quality, you know, that kind of meditation. Or you take a meditation as curing the stress or suffering. 

But most cases, people that says, I want this headache to come down right now. I need to take aspirin. And this painkiller brings down your pain and this stress. But maybe it’s not necessarily curing or bringing qualities of preventive potential. But no matter what, people sometimes go to these first ones more. It’s just like easy and take it and do it.

And that’s also one habit I think I see, a reason why people want to go is that these most advanced meditation practices sounds like really they do it, that work right away. But, actually it’s a little bit opposite. It needs a foundation. It needs stability of mind to really understand that profound level of depth and the relaxation and self-liberate.

So if you begin with one step slowly, that will be more productive and more relevant and helpful and stable for the long term. 

There is a one quote I like from the Chinese poet Lao Tzu. He says, “This journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

I think the journey of a thousand miles that we begin with one, two, three, and then slowly we’ll get there. But people like to jump without taking it step by step. So hopefully people have the patience to slowly go. And that is the one reason that in our group meditation throughout the year that we go through this sequence and we not skip any of this every year, just go begin to all the end, and keep going year to year. And oftentimes we have the same student that comes over many years. And then there’s also new ones comes and then goes. But generally speaking, that way people get more reliable benefit overall through the meditation. 

Stephen Butler: You speak to this so clearly and the advice is so timely as we’re all encountering meditation. So thank you so much. 

Scott Snibbe: Rinpoche, you’ve kindly agreed to lead us in a meditation that we’re going to air next week. And I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about that meditation?

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: This 21st century, the world is getting smaller and people are getting busier. The challenges are increasingly one after the other in different levels. And everything that we hear from the news of all kinds of challenges, disasters, and difficulties, these discriminations in all kinds in that human society and sometimes this is all that we can hear. And sometimes people are overwhelmed by this, to what to do. And all of this things I think is important that we would be not discouraged and not overwhelmed by the situations that are happening around.

Instead of that, to look inwardly. And to do something to improve our own heart-mind, our own personality and inner human development, so that we can inspire more people around us and bring harmony and balance and equanimity and contentment, happiness, generosity, love, compassion eventually. 

Then this is the things we all need. We are all longing for. And this is in some ways that meditation practices are very relevant to use to relaxing our mind, to see, research, discover these qualities that are within us, within individuals. But sometimes we are distracted by circumstances and these conditions.

So bringing these qualities, genuine qualities, more upwards: equanimity, contentment, happiness, generosity, love, compassion; I think that would be good reason to be meditating.

Scott Snibbe: Rinpoche, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It’s been a privilege to have a little bit of your time. And I think our listeners are really going to benefit from everything you shared about your book and how to meditate. Thank you.

Dza Kilung Rinpoche: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure. 

 Scott Snibbe: Thanks for joining us for our conversation with Dza Kilung Rinpoche. The meditations Rinpoche discussed can be found in his brief and profound book, The Relaxed Mind, which you can find a link to buy on our website. 

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Thanks to Stephen Butler for partnering with me on this episode, Christian Parry and Chris Boulton for mastering, and Jason Waterman for marketing. We wish you a wonderful day.

Credits

Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Stephen Butler
Audio mastering by Christian Parry and Chris Boulton
Theme music by Bradley Parsons of Train Sound Studio

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