Rebel Buddha

reviewed by Kristine Morris

On the Road to Freedom

By Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Rebel BuddhaWithin each of us there lives a “rebel buddha,” the powerful intelligence of our own awake mind, the one who has the ability to tell the difference between dharma and drama, and whose mission it is to free us of personal, cultural, and religious illusions, says Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. Our rebel buddha is always pushing us to seek the truth, behave ethically, treat ourselves and others with compassion, discover meaning, and find ways to be of service.

The Buddha is said to have given 84,000 dharmas, or teachings, but Rinpoche shows how “it’s equally true to say that the Buddha taught only one thing, one single, profound instruction: how to work with your mind.” Being awake, he says, is an experience that transcends culture, and it would be a mistake to take traditional Asian Buddhist culture for the wisdom itself.

“We’re still collectively dragging old forms and ideas into the present,” he says. “Without even noticing it, we’re walking down the street wearing the clothes and paraphernalia of another time and place — metaphorically, at least. The reason we do this is because we still think spirituality is ‘over there.’ We don’t think spirituality is right here with us, in our everyday life. That’s why we dream of going to Asia or finding someone called a guru.”

Rinpoche gives us a wealth of information and a full description of the Buddhist path, stripped of Eastern custom and practice. In the ordinary speech of everyday life, he reveals the face and heart of an engaged Buddhism for twenty-first-century Westerners, a Buddhism that can become a voice of reason and compassion in our society. Rinpoche suggests that, were the Buddha alive today, “he would probably be talking with neuroscientists and physicists and the theorists of consciousness studies,” because these are the people who are asking the kinds of questions he asked so many centuries ago.

“The Buddha is not an object of worship,” he affirms, “but of inspiration. Remembering him is like looking in a mirror … [W]hen we remember the Buddha, what we’re trying to do is see our own awakened nature … [W]hatever our occupation or interests are, they can become the basis for expressing our wisdom and compassion in the world, first by developing our own understanding, and then opening our hearts to all living beings.”

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche was born in northeast India and was trained in the meditative and intellectual disciplines of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. He is the founder and principal teacher of Nalandabodhi, an international network of Buddhist practice centers. Also a poet and visual artist, he has lived in the United States for the past two decades and devotes himself to developing his vision of a genuine Western Buddhism.

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