Introduction: Spiritual Joy

The Buddhist Dzogchen Path to Enlightenment

It may be hard to believe but finding and maintaining spiritual joy is so simple that it is almost difficult to write a whole book about it. It’s as if someone is pointing out to you a good friend in the crowd and once you recognise your friend you need never be lonely or unhappy again.

Here is the story of how I was introduced to this fabulous friend. A good friend from Germany told me several times with enthusiasm about an extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist Lama called Garchen Rinpoche. His Eminence is a Drikung Kagyu Lama and he was recognised and enthroned as a realised being in Eastern Tibet at the age of seven. At the age of 22 Garchen Rinpoche was imprisoned by the Chinese for 20 years. During this time he endured terrible hardships and could only practice meditation in secret.

While my friend was telling me all this, suddenly something clicked in me and I ‘just knew’ that I had to see this meditation master. Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet him immediately because at that point he was travelling extensively in the Far East. To my dismay, I realised that I would have to wait half a year before finally being able to meet him in Germany, five hundred miles away from where I lived.

The feeling inside me of wanting to meet him was so strong, however, that I didn’t want to wait any longer and therefore I tentatively tried to speak with Garchen Rinpoche in my mind. Doing this was an amazing experience. Almost immediately I felt the presence of an intensely loving and intelligent person near me. I tend not to have many experiences like that. Still, there was no denying my perception of this wonderful and loving being around me who I had called by the name of the teacher that my friend had raved about so much.

Slowly I started to make more contact with this invisible entity and tried to ask him some questions. I can’t remember all these questions but I do remember that the answers I seemed to perceive made enormous sense to me. One day I asked him how I should meditate and his answer was as simple as it could be. In my mind I heard him saying, ‘just be happy’. That was all – ‘just be happy’.

I tried to ‘just be happy’ and to my amazement I was almost instantaneously overcome with a wave of happiness and bliss. This was very nice but not completely new to me because I have had many blissful experiences over the years in my meditation practice. However, something was different now. I suddenly felt that I had some sort of control over re-accessing this joy once I lost it through the inevitable process of distracting thoughts and feelings. ‘Just be happy’ I gently lured myself and to my surprise I found that this genuine joy was always there just like the sun that is always shining behind a thick layer of clouds.

This was a turning point in my meditation practice and indeed my whole life. Whether my ‘outer life’ was easy or difficult (some very shocking things have actually happened to me in the meantime) there has always been a strong sense of love and joy in me that I can access as easily as I can use my eyes to see or my lungs to breathe.

Before I was about to meet the ‘real’ Garchen Rinpoche I was a bit nervous because I wondered if he and the ‘being’ I had perceived psychically were really the same person. To my joy and relief I was not disappointed. I even found that Garchen Rinpoche said in his teachings many things that I had already learnt from him intuitively. When I had the chance to have a personal interview I told him about my experience of spiritual joy and he confirmed that I was on the right track and that I was experiencing the state of Mahamudra or Dzogchen.

Dzogchen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice, which focuses directly on the recognition of the nature of our mind and is therefore called the fastest and highest of all paths. The word Dzogchen translates literally into ‘Great Perfection’ and tradition tells us that this approach was brought to Tibet in the 8th century by the Buddha Padmasambhava (or Guru Rinpoche).

In order to practice the path of Dzogchen we need to be introduced by a teacher to a direct experience of the nature of our mind and once introduced we need to focus on it without interruption from thereon. For nine years I regularly reported my meditation experience to Garchen Rinpoche and received teachings to clarify the finer points. During all these years he continuously encouraged me to teach and in 2002 he virtually demanded that I ‘should go out and explain to others what I had realised in myself’. He also gave me his blessing for this book by dabbing a sacred substance onto the manuscript.

The Buddhist meditation group I had already been teaching for a few years when I first met Garchen Rinpoche was very small and there had been a lot of coming and going of people who were mostly total beginners. I wondered whether I would be able to teach them my experience because Dzogchen is considered an advanced path and I myself had only been able to reach this state after twenty years of daily meditation practice.

I proceeded by calling this approach ‘spiritual joy’ as I thought it would be helpful to use a term that people could relate to more readily than to strange Tibetan words. To my surprise and joy, my students latched on to this practice immediately. I interviewed nine of them in depth in order to write this book. Four of them had had previous meditation experience while five were complete beginners. I found that even people with a history of severe psychological problems were able to access spiritual joy and stabilise their experience to a good degree. All my students became much happier, they all gained confidence in their inner goodness and they all experienced more love and fulfilment in their relationships. Moreover, they were able to reduce negative emotions like anxiety, depression and anger substantially.

Encouraged by these positive results, I also started to teach spiritual joy to some clients in my counselling practice. Again, I found that virtually everybody was able to access spiritual joy and use it to lessen or completely dissolve their psychological issues. My job was simply to reinforce this swift improvement by helping my clients to trust in it.

The ongoing positive results of my students and clients have made me confident that the path of Dzogchen or spiritual joy, as I like to call it, can be taught to everybody regardless of their psychological make-up, religious background or their previous experience with meditation. Therefore, everything written in this book is possible for you as well.

Spiritual joy is actually extremely easy to experience but most of us need someone to point it out to us. This book aims to point out to you that cause-less joy and effortless compassion is present in your own mindstream right now! It will then be your task to appreciate the enormity of what has happened and dedicate yourself to maintaining this wonderful new awareness as much as possible.

Throughout this book I will often talk about the ‘practice’ of spiritual joy, which is really quite inaccurate. Spiritual joy is not something we have to ‘practice’, to ‘do’ or to ‘reach’. It is more like tuning in or accessing something that is already there. But even these verbs ‘tuning in’ and ‘accessing’ are not quite right. Spiritual joy is a state in which we ‘are’. As you can see from this cumbersome construction, there is no adequate way of using the English language to express how we ‘reach’ and ‘rest’ in spiritual joy. Therefore I have skipped any attempt to express something that doesn’t have any adequate words and I will talk bluntly of ‘practicing’ or ‘accessing’ spiritual joy. I hope I will be able to convey throughout this book how to ‘practice’ something that can’t be practiced!

According to my Buddhist teachers, Dzogchen or spiritual joy is the fastest way to reach enlightenment. However, being fully enlightened is more than feeling good or even joyful. It means genuinely experiencing every aspect of our world as a blissful paradise. It means seeing everybody including yourself as a divine being, hearing every sound as heavenly music and perceiving every sight as sheer beauty.

In order to reach this aim we need more than meditation. Dzogchen or spiritual joy is a state of mind that we should maintain throughout every moment of our waking lives. If we are able to do that, our lives will transform beyond recognition. We soon will become happier, more confident and wiser. Our relationships will become more loving and all our daily activities will become more satisfying.

Most importantly, our basic background feeling – the feeling that we have when nothing particularly happens – will transform into pure bliss. In other words, we will recognise the essence of ourselves and the universe as unconditional joy and happiness. In this way, spiritual joy is as much a ‘method’ to achieve more everyday happiness as it is a way to reach the pinnacle of human development – enlightenment or being in union with God. It is available to everybody and you don’t have to become a Buddhist to benefit from this wonderful state of mind. The only prerequisite you need is the wish for yourself and others to be happy.

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