Making Friends with Fear

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: Making Friends with Fear

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Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche 

Nalanda West and Nalandabodhi International recently hosted an evening with renowned Buddhist teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who spoke about making friends with fear and other emotions we typically want to avoid. The sold-out event included a webcast with more than 150 international participants.

Nalandabodhi Mitra and Tibetan translator Tyler Dewar welcomed the crowd and described his teacher as a meditation master and holder of two lineages before giving a short teaching on meditation. Dewar explained that Buddhist meditation is about becoming familiar with our mind, and we do that by first calming our mind  with shamatha meditation and then seeing clearly with vipashyana. Training our mind in this way helps us to see emotions as they appear.

Darcey Quinn, co-director of Nalandabodhi Seattle, then introduced Rinpoche, welcoming him back to Nalanda West and noting that it was 28 years ago in May that Rinpoche made his first trip to the United States.

With his trademark humility and humor, Rinpoche opened his talk by remarking that he was not here to speak as an expert on fear, rather he would talk about emotions from a dharma teaching point of view.

Citing humanity’s longtime search for tools to overcome fear and bring more joy and happiness to our lives, Rinpoche mentioned the early Chinese promotion of ginseng for longevity and the West’s focus on science and computers for ease of living. Yet, he added with a distinctive twinkle in his eye, ginseng did not change our fear of death, and computers have not made our lives easier!

“We always look for outer support for freedom from pain — another tool or better pill or bottle — to take away our fear,” he said.

Understanding Fear

When we experience fear, our same habits kick in: We look to see who or what is creating the feeling, assuming it must be somebody else’s fault. Not knowing that the cause and resolution reside within us, we look instead to the outside. Understanding fear and how we relate to it is most essential.

“Fear is part of the conditioned mind. Our conditioned response is often to avoid fear, which only makes it stronger,” Rinpoche explained. “If we cannot work with our mind, then we cannot transform fear. We need mindfulness and awareness. When you experience fear inside, you see it is just an experience. Fear of fear is the real fear. If we can see that and work with it, then fear can be our friend, and it is the remedy we have been looking for.”

Three Ways to Make Friends with Fear

Develop a calm and balanced mind. “How do we get a calm and balanced mind? Through the body and mind together,” Rinpoche said. “The body must relax and calm down to find its balance, and that allows the mind to calm down and relax. Buddhist techniques use the breath, but there are other methods to calm the body like yoga or tai chi.”

Explore fear with curiosity. “Once the body and mind are calm, then we can explore our fear with a sense of openness and curiosity, like an innocent child’s mind, with no preconceived ideas,” he said. “Curiosity helps up to open our mind and makes the fear feel less intense, so we can explore new territory of the mind.”

Sprinkle love and kindness. “Bring into that exploration a ‘sprinkle of love and kindness,’ which can take us a long way. In a world of fear, we need a little touch of love and kindness. At the heart of every wisdom tradition is lovingkindness, and we cannot survive without it. We need to change our mental habits to more kindness and love. Say ‘thank you’ to Alexa (your smart speaker),” Rinpoche added with a laugh.

When we change the way we relate to fear by exploring it with a calm mind and a touch of lovingkindness, instead of pushing it away, then confusion disappears, and fear can indeed become our friend.

Go Kind

Rinpoche concluded the evening chanting with the crowd “An Aspiration of Bodhichitta,” followed by these words:

“Try to go kind. Be rebellious,” he said. “When everyone is going cruel, go kind. Make this world smile. In a world of fear and cruelty, try and be kind.”

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is a widely celebrated Buddhist teacher and the author of Emotional Rescue, Rebel Buddha, and other books. A lover of music, art and urban culture, Rinpoche is a poet, photographer, accomplished calligrapher and visual artist, as well as a prolific author. Rinpoche is founder and president of Nalandabodhi, an international network of Buddhist centers, based in Seattle. Rinpoche is acknowledged as one of the foremost scholars and meditation masters of his generation in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He is known for his sharp intellect, humor, and easygoing teaching style.