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The Carletonian

Tibetan monk Za Rinpoche presents “The Backdoor to Enlightenment”

<re Tibetan monk Za Rinpoche commenced his lecture, his co-author Ashley Nebelsieck passed out promotional postcards for their new book that flashed the slogan, “There might not be a shortcut to your dreams, but there is a Backdoor!” This seemingly hackneyed phrase gained meaning as Rinpoche delved into the idea behind his book, “The Backdoor to Enlightenment,” during a lecture in the Carleton Bookstore on Monday.

Rinpoche, who was formally recognized by the Dalai Lama at age sixteen as the sixth reincarnation of the Za Choeje Rinpoche, advocates for finding happiness in the realm of personal experience, not necessarily within the confines of traditional Buddhist teaching. His book teaches eight simple methods that can be applied to modern life to reach supreme and lasting peace.

After greeting the group with clasped hands and a bow, Rinpoche launched into the story of the Buddha as he experienced a spiritual awakening seated beneath the Bodhi tree. In the story, Buddha giggles, realizing he has been sitting atop potential enlightenment all along. The tale of Buddha’s “duh moment,” as Rinpoche simply called it, poses a philosophical question that provoked the creation of “The Backdoor to Enlightenment.”

“If we are already sitting on enlightenment, why does Buddha set guidelines or a grocery list of things for us to do to achieve it?” he mused. Despite the lack of a simple answer to this question, Rinpoche outlined some of the self-imposed mental confines that block an individual’s ability to find peace. According to him, society as a whole has a misconstrued perception of the meaning of morality, equating it simply with refraining from depraved actions.

“Morality,” he explained, “is not about restriction from harmful activities, but freeing yourself from the harmful activities.” He emphasized the difference between liberation from the act of killing, as opposed to simply refraining from killing due to fear of the consequences. Perfection of morality entails striking the balance between bad and good in the world. Liberation from the societal boundaries of bad and good are key to liberation and contentment, as a bipolar view of the world forces the individual to live within a voluntary box.

While the six perfections of Enlightenment – morality, concentration, wisdom, patience, generosity, and joy – are products of the ultimate path taken by Buddha, humans are born with their own basic perfections without any effort. These innate qualities include freedom, intent, being, unity, causality, and impermanence. According to Rinpoche, a basic understanding of these naturally occurring attributes helps the individual achieve the desired state of peace.

He used the example of impermanence: accepting the evanescent quality of life allows the individual to be open to the countless changes life presents. While humans usually resist change, acknowledging the fleeting nature of things allows people to remain unfazed by unexpected events they may encounter. The fundamental existence of change in everyone’s life led Rinpoche to offer a disclaimer that his book encompasses the struggles of everyday life, specifically outside the realm of religion.

“I’m not trying to convert you; I have not even tried to convert my friend [co-author Ashley],” he explained. Instead, the book offers simple tricks to finding accord in one’s life, whether one is Buddhist, Catholic, or Atheist. Every person has the right to his own unique path to spiritual harmony.

“To achieve enlightenment you don’t have to do 100,000 prostrations,” Rinpoche assured the group. Despite the apparent controversy in an illustrious Tibetan monk preaching anything other than Buddhist doctrine, Rinpoche understands the varied spiritual outlooks of every individual. He encourages Enlightenment-seekers, on whatever path they choose, to continue striving for awakening despite all the obstacles.

He explained that the front door to Enlightenment is inevitably full of barriers designed to keep one out, like a resolute bouncer at the Beatrice Inn in West Village. It may, therefore, be necessary to sneak in the backdoor.

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