Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s wonderful new book, Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love (co-written with Eric Swanson), accomplishes several goals at once. First, it is a skillful introductory guide for Western students to many of this charming teacher’s important Tibetan Buddhist teachings on what he calls “the spark” (or our Buddhanature), delivered in a simple and elegant style that should be easy for both beginners and more experienced practitioners alike to follow and appreciate.
Additionally, the book serves as a memoir of sorts and includes revealing glimpses into Rinpoche’s early life and training as a young tulku (reincarnated master) at Tashi Jong monastery in India, along with a helpful explanation of the Tibetan lineage system. It offers self-effacing recollections from more recent events, too, including a short anecdote related to the 2010 volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that grounded all flights at Heathrow and stranded Rinpoche for many days, making him miss a retreat he was scheduled to lead in California.
Open Heart, Open Mind begins with an anecdote that sounds closer to a metaphor than a factual story. Rinpoche finds he is unable to walk across a structurally sound glass bridge between two skyscrapers because he is paralyzed by fear. “Even though I knew intellectually that I wouldn’t fall, I still froze,” he says. Meanwhile he can see other people walking back and forth across the bridge with no problem.
He continues, “One of the great obstacles we face in life is our tendency to surrender very quickly to various knots of thought, feeling, and physical sensation, accepting them as truths that keep us from taking the first step onto our own bridge.” The book itself, he explains, is about crossing bridges and also about building bridges using mindfulness, love and wisdom.
With rare candor, Rinpoche uses these examples from life to illustrate how we can understand and overcome our own patterns or sometimes even to show how he received key teachings from his renowned teachers. He includes several moving moments with his late father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who tells his son, “Only through an open heart can you gain an open mind.”