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On Mindfulness, Meditation and Retreats

Interview with His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche

His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche is renowned for his compassion, love, wisdom and legendary spiritual accomplishments. Regarded as one of the foremost Buddhist masters and accomplished Tibetan Lamas alive in this world today, Garchen Rinpoche is also one of the highest Lamas of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also respected by all the different lineages of Buddhism and revered by many across the world. With his immeasurable compassion, vast realisation and blessings, Rinpoche has inspired and guided thousands of Dharma students and practitioners to cultivate love, bodhicitta, and cut through self-grasping. He is an eminent master of the practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Tummo, The Six Yogas of Naropa, The 37 Bodhisattva Practices and many others.

Garchen Rinpoche today continues to travel extensively with his annual tour schedule packed with back-to-back teachings in different countries. This year, his itinerary includes the United States, Canada and countries in Asia, such as Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong as well as Singapore. For You Information had the privilege to interview Garchen Rinpoche on some topics related to Mindfulness, Meditation, Retreats, and Spiritual Guidance (presented in two parts).

Part 1

On Mindfulness

There have been increasingly more and more Buddhist teachings that have taken on different approaches to mindfulness – non-religious mindfulness teachings adopted from Buddhism – secular mindfulness and mindfulness-based programmes. Some people have termed it as deracination (cutting of from its roots) and secularisation of Buddhism.

How does Rinpoche view this booming and diversification phenomenon? E.g. Is it because there is truly a need for it in our society but people want it without a (Buddhist) religious tag to it?

This is an ignorant view to have Buddhists and non-Buddhists (tags). Because Buddhism talks about the inner mind – to analyse the inner mind so as to let the inner mind become vast, for wisdom to become vast.

Why is the mind so narrow? And how does it become vast? How does it become relaxed? Buddhists should analyse it, and when the narrowness clears away, the mind becomes vast. So due to that, wisdom arises, and this is what we call Buddhism.

So the ordinary mindfulness, the thing about, “I want to be happy” – the wisdom will not be vast. Buddhist wisdom is vast, and it is also for the benefit of others, for the love and compassion of others, and this is how great wisdom arises. This is the only difference. So how do Buddhists develop a vast mind, it is only through vast love and compassion – this is the difference between the vehicles. So, if you think only about yourself, it is what the Buddha refers to as the lesser vehicle. And how we achieve the great vehicle is through more love, more compassion – the more love, the less self-grasping. What we call grasping is also called ignorance.

Meditation that comes from love, which develops vast wisdom, that is also deep and profound. The essence of the mind, the wisdom, the mind frame is the same, but then because of the self-clinging being still in place (or present), this awareness doesn’t become vast. So from this perspective, the wisdom doesn’t become good or bad. So there is no difference in terms of wisdom – the actual wisdom, just the vastness and how narrow one makes it out to be.

So, if you do not have mindfulness, there is nothing you can do. Everything, whatever we do in this world, in samsara and nirvana is done by the Buddhas, and this is what we call wisdom.

Is this a good phenomenon or one that is detrimental (to the real Buddhist teachings)?

It doesn’t cause any harm, or detriment at all – there’s of course varied quality you experience when you meditate. Just that (if) your own wisdom is very narrow, not very vast, then it is just temporary from one’s perspective, it is only for this life.

But for the Buddhists, there is both a temporary and ultimate benefit. So that is the only difference. It is a careful way of using one’s wisdom and intelligence. Some people have this natural imprint from their  previous life and thus, it is natural for the mind to be vast, the more vast the wisdom, the less self-grasping. Some people even though they are Buddhists, they are (their wisdom is) not very vast, so it is not about carrying the name of being a Buddhist (or not), but the wisdom that is developed.

On Meditation

As Buddhism spreads, practices such as meditation is opened to more people and adopted by many lay practitioners. And very commonly seen these days, some Buddhist meditation practices are taught by lay practitioners and/or householders rather than ordained Sangha members.  

How does Rinpoche view Buddhist meditation practices taught by lay practitioners and/or householders?

On the outer level, there seems to be a division whether one is being ordained or not. But within, we actually have to look within the mind. In the mind, we need to have bodhicitta, and if we have bodhicitta in the mind, then the outer appearance makes no difference.

Also, when the Buddha was alive, some of his close disciples were not monks, they were lay people. There are 10 Bhumis (See 1.) Bodhisattvas (stages) and there are preachers who were householders. If you have bodhicitta, it doesn’t matter what dress you wear, you are allowed to teach the Dharma. If you know how to meditate, what you need is bodhicitta.

The person who has bodhicitta can connect to the other person’s mind. And if you don’t have bodhicitta, then you think there is a difference between me and others, and then there’s not so much of a benefit.

What is the difference (spiritually) and is there a difference in affecting one's attainment of spiritual goals?

Once you have joined a drubchen (See 2.), there will be an imprint. And that imprint can appear in your mind, so the power of the drubchen will always stay in your mind. That is why the benefit of it is great. Also, because of the experience and the feelings at the drubchen is different, especially together with many Sangha members coming together. For example, when 4 Sangha members come together, the power is much greater. If there are even more Sangha members practising together, and very often we do not even know who is a Buddha emanation because it is a secret. And in any case, the more the people come together, the greater the power. So the feeling that arises in the mind is different and this is a feeling you can take and use it as a basis for your continuous practice. Thus, joining a drubchen is generally important.

On Retreats

Due to various circumstances, many Buddhist devotees and practitioners today attend one-off, annual but longer-duration recitation retreat (e.g. week-long) rather than do daily practice (e.g. recitation). Some say the recitation done during the retreat can be more than what can be achieved during daily practice, and so it "makes more sense to attend retreats".

What advice does Rinpoche have regarding perspective like this?

Of course there is benefit for you if you do a retreat for a week on your own. But if you are not with a not with a drubchen, and you’re doing it on your own and, then the feeling will not be so strong. Because during the drubchen, there is the magnificence of the retreat you can experience – it is like everything opens up – it opens up your eyes, your ears, your mind, your devotion and your faith. That’s why we call it blessings entering you. And there are so many doors to cultivate faith where people can feel exceptional. And when these special feelings arise, and if you hold on to these feelings, it will also benefit your personal practice. That’s why it’s good to do a drubchen and then later do a practice.

Sometimes, it will be good to do a week-long retreat and do it well. And of course, you must also do your practice. If you just do one retreat (for one week) and then throw it away, then there is no benefit. Whether it is a drubchen or a week-long retreat, you have to sustain this continuum (by all means). You always have to merge the experience gained in the meditation with the post-meditative state. The benefit and power that you have gained during the drubchen is love and wisdom, and so this wisdom have to be brought into your daily life according to The 37 Practices (See 3.) And you have to merge your meditation with your conduct and understand the view – (combining) bodhicitta and the meditation to sustain love and compassion and with mindfulness. And in daily life, you have to be a good person so that your conduct will be pleasing for everyone for them to trust you, and this is giving others happiness and help. And this is the special quality of the Buddhist teachings – merging your benefit and others’ happiness.

For example, if you are a school teacher, even if you are not a Buddhist, but you love the students (the children), you are like a Buddhist teacher. The Buddha is wisdom, while the Dharma is love and compassion. You just give it a different name, but you don’t call it like that. So, if you are a Buddhist, and you don’t love the students, then you are just an outer (superficial) Buddhist, not on the inside. On the outside, you look like an actual Dharma practitioner but on the inside, the affective emotions are hidden within you, selfish motivations are projected on the outside but nobody knows about it, and that’s the worst.

Read other interviews
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By His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche

For You Information would like to express gratitude and appreciation to Ina Bieler  for her Tibetan-English translation and Sister Ailing for facilitating the process. This interview has been transcribed by Pema Rinchen and edited lightly by Dan Clarke. 

Hung Flame & Photo Credits:

His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche and Garchen Dharma Institute

1. The 10 Bhumis

It is referred to as the Stages of Bodhisattvahood, mentioned in the Daśabhūmika Sūtra:

  1. The Very Joyous

  2. The Stainless

  3. The Light-Maker

  4. The Radiant Intellect

  5. The Difficult to Master

  6. The Manifest

  7. The Gone Afar

  8. The Immovable

  9. The Good Intelligence

  10. The Cloud of Doctrine

2. Drubchen

A drubchen, in Tibetan Buddhism refers to a traditional form of meditation retreat that lasts for about ten days. It typically involves a large number of both lay and monastic practitioners and is led by at least one High Lama. For more information, please visit or

3. The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life is composed by Gyelse Tokme Zangpo whom is said to have composed some one hundred and fifteen works, some of which were printed in a single volume. And amongst them are, A Commentary on the Seven-point Mind-training and The Ocean of Good Saying, a commentary on the Bodhisattvacāryāvatāra.

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