In December 2020, Shambhala Publications published a book on Cultivating Buddhist Dignity by renowned and beloved Dharma teacher Phakchok Rinpoche and history teacher and meditation instructor Sophie Wu: Awakening Dignity: A Guide to Living a Life of Deep Fulfillment.
Coming from a prestigious line of recognized masters, Phakchok Rinpoche was recognized as a Tibetan Buddhist master at the age of only one year. Rinpoche then immersed himself in shedra, building on the academic side of Buddhism and completing the equivalent of a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist Studies. He is a lineage holder of the Profound Treasures of Chokgyur Lingpa and the Taklung Kagyu lineage, Vajra Master of Ka-Nying Shedrup Ling Monastery, Abbot of many monasteries in Nepal and North American Dharma Centers, in one which Sophie Wu teaches. Rinpoche also oversees many humanitarian projects in South Asia, has authored several books, and has traveled the world teaching, with a particular focus on dignity.
The notion of Awaken dignity was born in the mind of Sophie Wu, who had discussed compiling some of Rinpoche's teachings on dignity with a few of her friends, and then with Rinpoche himself, in 2016. They had first thought that it would be a gem of a book—concise in its word count—but it grew, as wisdom tends to do. And he became Awaken dignitya book compiled from over 15 years of teachings and, at Rinpoche's request, delivered in as accessible a language as possible.
The book is well divided into three parts, which are subdivided further to the lesson material. These three parts hold up a mirror of the human condition of who we really are, how we can change and how to trust, using personal anecdotes, lessons and quotes from masters, with practical advice and meditations completing each chapter.
Awaken dignity is described as a guide, a roadmap to who we really are, and I agree. This is not a collection of tips or an instruction manual. It's the journey of our true nature to the heart of the "sticky" negativity we pick up over the course of life, and how to live with dignity, mostly offered as the reflections and anecdotes of a Buddhist master - stories personal and those of people close to him, as well as concrete and practical advice on how to transcend our emotional house of cards built on a bed of tangled neuroses; especially in this modern, frenetic and neurotic world. We are guided in awakening our innate sovereignty. We are helped to reaffirm the "ethereal base" of ourklesha'd self as we navigate the challenges that being alive can bring.
Simply put, this book of Rinpoche's teachings on dignity takes us, step by step, on a journey of remembering ourselves. And I think one of the most precious, deceptively simple questions arises towards the end of the first chapter: in everyday life, when do we notice that we have dignity and when do we not. ? To really chew on this question, is quite enlightening.
Inscribed on the pediment of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi were these words: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. . . know thyself.
What we are is not what we think we are. We are not simply the sum total of the experiences our brain has gone through. Yet our brain will “collect” negative attributes over time, known as the five poisons in Buddhism and, arguably, negativity bias in Western psychology. However, it is through the alchemic process of such inclinations that we can transcend these troublesome afflictions and recall our true nature. And that is what this book will bring us back to, again and again, as Rinpoche guides us, step by step, through the process. Modern therapists may call it cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Buddhists for over 2 years have called it mind training, and Rinpoche dances beautifully between the two lexicons. Buddhist in most of its delivery, the book also references contemporary cultural and scientific terminology, providing a nice mix for the reader.
Rinpoche and his wife have been completely immersed in the psychology of the West, and as a family man, Rinpoche also experiences the obligations of a husband, father and working adult, which gives him insight into what is more tenable in daily practice rather than Pollyanna-like idealism, or spiritual loftiness at the expense of being present for the people who rely on it. A point that I appreciated when, for example, he speaks of attachment. As a mother, this has been a contentious issue for me over the years, as I am deeply attached to my children. Yes, I understand it on a transcendental level, but as a sentient being, the historical male monastic pressure of detachment has never appealed to me. In fact, it seemed to go against every cell in my body and, simply put, wrong. Rinpoche, however, is a father. And so he makes it clear that the Buddhist reference to attachment is fundamentally different from the pure bond of "joy and freedom" of parent and child, and that of a clinging nature. Thank you, Rinpoche.
I also enjoyed the plea for not being a fanatic by blindly following an accepted narrative without deep questioning, and, if need be, even going your own way instead. That's why I felt the practice at the end of each section was so wonderful. They probe self-reflective meditations free from any religious dogma. But this training is a practice to follow practiced. Like breathing, the theory is great, but the execution is even better.
And this is something that Rinpoche reminds us of throughout this book; not the analogy of breathing, that's mine, but of the importance of practicing what you read rather than just intellectualizing it. So, to re-emphasize the point, these practices are exactly that: practices. Without actively embracing the lessons and letting them permeate our waking minds, they remain just words on a page – as useful as reading about practicing the breath as we slowly asphyxiate.
Overall, it is Rinpoche's accessible language and warm delivery that makes these lessons, and this book in general, such an interesting read. Like a parental embrace reminding us that we are in good hands, that we are loved and that we are inherently luminous.
Nyingje is the Tibetan word for compassion. The word is made up of two parts: denyingmeaning "heart" or "disposition", and jé, meaning "noble", "king" or "sovereign". In other words, its meaning is akin to Noble Heart. And we would do well to remember this term. Nyingje thinking of others of course, but also of ourselves. We are inherently noble in heart. Always come back to this sentence.
We are the clear, radiant light at the center of the storm. And this is the message of this book offered with sweetness and beauty.