In Love with the World

A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying

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A rare, intimate account of a world-renowned Buddhist monk’s near-death experience and the life-changing wisdom he gained from it

“One of the most inspiring books I have ever read.”—Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart

“This book has the potential to change the reader’s life forever.”—George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo

At thirty-six years old, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was a rising star within his generation of Tibetan masters and the respected abbot of three monasteries. Then one night, telling no one, he slipped out of his monastery in India with the intention of spending the next four years on a wandering retreat, following the ancient practice of holy mendicants. His goal was to throw off his titles and roles in order to explore the deepest aspects of his being.

He immediately discovered that a lifetime of Buddhist education and practice had not prepared him to deal with dirty fellow travelers or the screeching of a railway car. He found he was too attached to his identity as a monk to remove his robes right away or to sleep on the Varanasi station floor, and instead paid for a bed in a cheap hostel. But when he ran out of money, he began his life as an itinerant beggar in earnest. Soon he became deathly ill from food poisoning—and his journey took a startling turn. His meditation practice had prepared him to face death, and now he had the opportunity to test the strength of his training.

In this powerful and unusually candid account of the inner life of a Buddhist master, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche offers us the invaluable lessons he learned from his near-death experience. By sharing with readers the meditation practices that sustain him, he shows us how we can transform our fear of dying into joyful living.

Praise for In Love with the World
 
“Vivid, compelling . . . This book is a rarity in spiritual literature: Reading the intimate story of this wise and devoted Buddhist monk directly infuses our own transformational journey with fresh meaning, luminosity, and life.”—Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge
 
In Love with the World is a magnificent story—moving and inspiring, profound and utterly human. It will certainly be a dharma classic.”—Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart
 
“This book makes me think enlightenment is possible.”—Russell Brand

Under the Cover

An excerpt from In Love with the World

1

Who Are You?

Are you Mingyur Rinpoche?

My father asked me this question soon after I began studying with him, when I was around nine years old. It was so gratifying to know the correct answer that I proudly declared, Yes, I am.

Then he asked, Can you show me the one thing in particular that makes you Mingyur Rinpoche?

I looked down the front of my body to my feet. I looked at my hands. I thought about my name. I thought about who I was in relation to my parents and my older brothers. I could not come up with an answer. He then made looking for the real me sound like a treasure hunt, and I earnestly searched under rocks and behind trees. When I was eleven years old, I began my studies at Sherab Ling, a monastery in northern India, where I brought this search inside myself through meditation. Two years later, I entered the traditional three-year retreat, a period of intense mind training. During this period, we novice monks did many different exercises, each one deepening our understanding of subtler levels of reality. The Tibetan word for meditation, gom, means “to become familiar with”: familiar with how the mind works, how it creates and shapes our perceptions of ourselves and the world, how the outer layers of mind—the constructed labels—function like clothing that identifies our social identities and cloaks our naked, nonfabricated state of original mind, whether that outerwear consists of business suits, jeans, uniforms, or Buddhist robes.

By the time I set off for this retreat, I understood that the value of the labels shifts according to circumstances and social consensus. I had already affirmed that I was not my name, title, or status; that the essential me could not be defined by rank or role. Nonetheless these same designations, empty of essential meaning, had circumscribed my days: I am a monk; a son, a brother, and an uncle; a Buddhist; a meditation teacher; a tulku, an abbot, and an author; a Tibetan Nepali; a human being. Which one describes the essential me?

Making this list is a simple exercise. There is only one problem: The inevitable conclusion contradicts every cherished assumption that we hold dear—as I was just about to learn yet again. I wished to go beyond the relative self—the self that identifies with these labels. I knew that even though these social categories play a dominant role in our personal stories, they coexist with a larger reality beyond labels. Generally we do not recognize that our social identities are molded and confined by context, and that these outer layers of ourselves exist within a boundless reality. Habitual patterns cover over this boundless reality; they obscure it, but it is always there, ready to be uncovered. When we are not constricted by habitual patterns that define how we see ourselves and how we behave in the world, we create access to those qualities of mind that are vast, that are not contingent on circumstances or concepts, and that are always present; for these reasons, we call it the ultimate, or absolute mind, or the mind of absolute reality, which is the same as the mind of pure awareness and which expresses the very essence of our true nature. Unlike the intellectual and conceptual head and the boundless love of an open heart, this essence of reality has no association to location or materiality of any kind. It is everywhere and nowhere. It’s somewhat like sky—so completely integrated with our existence that we never stop to question its reality or to recognize its qualities. Because awareness is as present in our lives as the air we breathe, we can access it anywhere, anytime.

I had developed some capacity to hold the relative and absolute perspectives at the same time. Yet I had never known a day without people and props that mirrored the stitched-together patchwork that became known to me and to others as Mingyur Rinpoche: unfailingly polite, quick to smile, with a somewhat reserved demeanor, tidy, clean-shaven, wearing rimless glasses with gold frames. Now I wondered how these identities would play out in the Gaya station. I had been there many times before, but always with at least one attendant. This meant that I was never without a reference to rank, and was never challenged to depend solely on my own internal resources.

Tibetans have an expression for deliberately increasing the challenges of maintaining a steady mind: adding wood to the fire. Generally, people go through life taking note of those experiences that recurrently enflame our anger or anxiety or fear—and then we try to avoid them, telling ourselves things like, I can’t watch scary movies. I cannot be in big crowds. I have a terrible fear of heights, or of flying, or of dogs, or the dark. But the causes that provoke these responses do not go away; and when we find ourselves in these situations, our reactions can overwhelm us. Using our inner resources to work with these issues is our only true protection, because external circumstances change all the time and are therefore not reliable.

Adding wood to the fire deliberately brings difficult situations to the forefront so that we can work with them directly. We take the very behaviors or circumstances that we think of as problems and turn them into allies. For example, when I was about three or four years old, I went by bus on a pilgrimage tour of the major Buddhist sites in India with my mother and grandparents. I got very sick on the first bus ride. After that, every time we even approached a bus, I became fearful and nauseated, and inevitably got sick again. At the age of about twelve, after a year of living at Sherab Ling Monastery in northern India, I was going home to see my family. The attendant who would be traveling with me arranged for us to take a bus to Delhi, an all-night ride, and then a plane from Delhi to Kathmandu. I had been looking forward to the visit, but for weeks I had dreaded the bus ride. I insisted that the attendant buy two seats for me so that I could lie down, as I thought this would settle my stomach. But once the trip started, and I was stretched out, I discovered that lying down made me feel worse. My attendant implored me to eat something or to drink juice, but my stomach was too distended to swallow a sip. When the bus stopped en route, I refused to get up and walk outside. I did not want to move, and didn’t for many hours. Finally, I left the bus to use the restroom and have some juice.

When I returned to my two seats, I felt much better and decided to try to meditate. I started with a body scan, bringing my awareness to the sensations around my stomach, its bloating, and the nausea. This was very uncomfortable, a little disgusting, and initially made the sensations worse. But as I slowly came to accept these sensations, I experienced my entire body as a guesthouse. I was playing host to these sensations, as well as to feelings of aversion, resistance, and reaction. The more I allowed these guests to inhabit my body, the calmer I became. Soon I fell sound asleep, and woke up in Delhi.

This experience did not put to rest all of my anxieties about riding buses; the fear recurred with subsequent trips, although with lessening effect. The big difference was that after this ride, I welcomed bus rides. I did not seek them out, in the deliberate fashion that I had arranged for this wandering retreat, but I was grateful for the challenge of working with my mind in order to overcome adversity.

- About the author -

Born in 1975 in Nubri, Nepal, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is an eminent meditation master among the new generation of Tibetan Buddhist teachers trained outside of Tibet. Mingyur Rinpoche teaches throughout the world, with centers on five continents. He is the author of The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, which has been translated into more than twenty languages, as well as Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism and Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom.

More from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Helen Tworkov is the founder of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and the author of Zen in America: Profiles of Five Teachers and co-author, with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, of Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism. She first encountered Buddhism in Japan and Nepal during the 1960s, and has studied in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. She began studying with Mingyur Rinpoche in 2006 and currently divides most of her time between New York and Nova Scotia.

More from Helen Tworkov

In Love with the World

A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying

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In Love with the World

— Published by Spiegel & Grau —