Q: When we have achieved the goals that we have set ourselves and found this unsatisfactory, is there a danger of inactivity?
NN: Yes, you can enter into a sort of void when there does not seem to be any point to anything.
Q: So is there a way of acting that does not include a wish for success – the actions are still done but without the aim of personal satisfaction?
NN: This sounds as though you might be getting confused. There is nothing wrong with finding the things we achieve satisfying. There is no problem with having goals and ambitions and reaching them. What is being said here is that you cannot shuffle the pieces of samsara in any way that is going to bring ultimate, lasting, ‘this is it!’ satisfaction. There is satisfaction in the moment, but we tend to concretise this into a definition.
To give an example: I must not fabricate a reality around successfully losing a lot of weight: ‘I am a thin person now and therefore more valuable; now that I am thin my life will be perfect’ – that sort of attitude. Dharma is not about turning our lives into porridge – a sort of gruel of acceptance and humourless compromise. If you want the Lamborghini, go for it! Get it. Love it. Enjoy it.
But don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re better than someone who can only afford a cheap vehicle, or that it will never break down.
Q: If you are continually successful at something then failure is a shock.
NN: Indeed. But in non-duality we cannot talk about success or failure. These imply opposition and contradiction. Ngak’chang Rinpoche talks about the ‘play of phenomena’. If there is no sense of success or failure it is just playful.
One person’s success is to live a simple life, in a yurt, with few possessions. To others that might seem like failure. This is why it’s so important not to judge and fix people. We must also not fix our perception of ourselves and our lifestyle. The minute we fix things there is no possibility of experiencing non-duality. Non-duality is open and fluid.
Q2: Does that hold true if someone’s view is damaging?
NN: If that means they treat people badly, it’s not a good idea, and perhaps you could try to influence them. However, unless they have great respect for you and value your view and opinion in some way, challenging them may just cause them to entrench and solidify their view.
Generally it is best to look to our own intention and motivation and allow who we are to be the manner of influence rather than trying to take direct action.
Q1: From my experience there’s another danger – that all opinions are equally meaningful or meaningless, and I become unfeeling of other’s opinions.
NN: Where there are human beings there are problems! Dzogchen view can also be misinterpreted as ‘it doesn’t matter what I do’. It is important to remember that Dzogchen does not deny the other vehicles and the importance of kindness. Although it is ultimately true that their opinion is irrelevant, we would not act from that view. Dzogchen is not a cold and dispassionate path. We respond to the needs of others and do not constantly unsettle people by challenging the rigidity of their view and opinion. We might do this occasionally with people we know well, or with other practitioners, but generally we have no right to be anything other than kind. Even though Dzogchen view is direct and piercing, there is the underlying motivation of kindness and acting appropriately.
Q3: So morality is the response to people’s condition?
NN: We have to be careful of the word morality as it generally implies a code of behaviour. A code of conduct may not allow room for direct perception and understanding. Dzogchen talks of pure appropriateness. It’s a question of responding appropriately in the moment. Our response is based in the non-duality of wisdom and kindness. There is no judgement from a moral base of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or fitting into a moral code of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There is the response that moves in the direction of realisation, and the response that moves away from it.
Q2: It’s difficult to have a compassionate view if the situation is hurting us.
NN: Yes, we have to apply common sense and be aware of our limitations and capacity.
Q2: This view of lack of satisfaction seems to suggest there is no point in trying to help people who are starving or homeless.
NN: There is always a point in helping people who are in need.
We are not undermining the good intentions of people who help on the soup run or work in a charity shop. However if your whole sense of who you are and the point of your existence is bound up in achieving world peace or an end to hunger – you are likely to be in for a devastating disappointment at some point. It may be that your peace work will achieve small successes in certain areas, and this is to be valued, but to expect total, worldwide, everlasting success is unrealistic. Success has to be appreciated in the moment, but not grasped at as a concrete, achievable, eternal aim.
Q2: Is there a possibility of thinking that practice will bring you ultimate satisfaction?
NN: If you practise it will bring you happiness – the happiness of enjoying each present moment as rich, sparkling, passionate, unconstrained and beyond definition. It will bring you a lasting sense of contentment even when your life is turned upside down and there is sadness and worry, and more than that: a sense of expansiveness, of the present moment being all time and no time.
Q2: So does it not matter if I enter into practice with that view – of wishing to be happy?
NN: Our motivation is always mixed. We always have dualistic motivation.
Q2: So it still might work?
NN: Guaranteed! [laughter]