What Makes You Not A Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

What Makes You Not A Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse



Tibetan Buddhist Master Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse is head of Dzongsar Monastery and College, and is the spiritual director for meditation centers around the word, along with being an author and film director. In his first book he offers a contemporary/traditionalist view of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, in particular the Four Dharma Seals as the core of what makes one a Buddhist.

Khyentse Rinpoche relates the Four Dharma Seals as four truths that if one accepts them as reality, then they are a Buddhist no matter what other beliefs they might hold.

One is a Buddhist if he or she accepts the following four truths:

All compounded things are impermanent.

All emotions are pain.

All things have no inherent existence.

Nirvana is beyond concepts.”

He goes on to say that if one cannot accept these truths then they are not a Buddhist. Khyentsen Rinpoche offers clear and precise commentaries on each of the Four Dharma Seals. Within those commentaries are insightful journeys into two of Buddhism’s misunderstood philosophies: impermanence and emptiness. In the section Impermanence Works For Us he offers personal relationships as a way to better realize the ideal of impermanence and how its reality affects all that we do, even beyond relationships. His explanation of impermanence is one that all Buddhist should read and learn from. Emptiness is a Buddhist philosophical ideal that confounds many who have been practicing for decades. Khyentsen Rinpoche’s skillful language will certainly unlock the reader’s bodymind so that the ideal of emptiness can be better grasped.

By conquering Mara and his army, Siddhartha realized the emptiness of inherent existence. He understood that everything we see, hear, feel, imagine, and know to exist is simply emptiness onto which we have imputed or labeled a certain “trueness”.

Of the Four Dharma Seals, numbers 1, 3 and 4 ring true to someone like me who doesn’t study Tibetan Buddhism, but who does respect and admire its commitment to the Noble Path. When writing of the second seal — All emotions are pain. – he says that the Buddha discovered that a root cause of suffering is our emotions. Further he writes that all emotions are in fact suffering because directly or indirectly they arise from a selfish clinging to the concept of a permanent self. This is a way of thinking about emotions that I’ll need to contemplate more.

This short, concise book written in clear, contemporary language is well worth reading. It will make the reader consider their own worldview, Buddhist or not, and whether how they are in that moment can undergo positive transformation.

What Makes You Not A Buddhist, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, Shambhala Publications, 2007, ISBN 94781590305706

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