Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche
Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche is a senior teacher of Bon, the native cultural tradition of Tibet. He was born in 1926 in Kham, Tibet, began his studies when he was very young, and took the vows at 15. He continued studying at the major Bon institutions in Central Tibet, obtained the Geshe degree from Menri Monastery, and was elected Lopon (“head teacher”) when he was 27. Wounded severely while imprisoned during the turmoil of the 1960’s that was China’s “Cultural Revolution,” he saw himself forced to flee to Nepal.Prof. David Snellgrove invited Rinpoche to London; he became visiting scholar at both London and Cambridge Universities until 1963. The collaboration with David Snellgrove resulted in the publication of The Nine Ways of Bon, which was the first academic study of the Bon Tradition conducted in the West. In 1964 he returned to India, worked for the American Library of Congress in New Delhi, and published many Bon texts. In 1967 he founded Tobgyal Sarpa in Himachal Pradesh, the settlement for Bonpo refugees in India. At the invitation of Prof. Helmut Hoffmann, Rinpoche was visiting scholar at the University of Munich in 1969 and contributed significantly to compiling the Tibetan-German-English Dictionary. From 1970-86 Rinpoche taught the monks at the newly established Dolanji Monastic Centre in India and supervised further publishing of major Bon texts. Having granted six monks the Geshe title after they completed the 9-year curriculum, Rinpoche travelled to Tibet and encouraged the monks at Menri and many other Bon sites in East and Central Tibet to stay and restore the destroyed monasteries; he bestowed initiations and ordained many monks during his visit.In 1988 Lobpon Namdak Rinpoche inaugurated the Triten Norbutse Monastery in Nepal; he accepted many invitations to teach in the U.S. and Europe. During the Kalachakra Initiation that His Holiness the Dalai Lama imparted in N.Y. in 1991, Rinpoche was asked to speak about the nature of the mind. He returned to Tibet the next year, imparted many teachings, ordained a great number of monks, and founded the “Reception House” for Bon followers in Lhasa. Starting 1993, he offered a 7-year cycle of instructions at the Ligmincha Institute that was founded by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in Virginia. In that year he published the book Heart Drops of Dharmakaya: Dzogchen Practice of the Bon Tradition by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen. Rinpoche continued travelling to Tibet to support the monks there, founded the Dialects School in the monasteries in India, built a library at Triten Norbutse Monastery, and continues presenting teachings worldwide.
Freedom from Fear
Question: Rinpoche, do you feel anger and aggression in yourself?Rinpoche: Yes, of course. Not only me, but all sentient beings experience in themselves fear, aggression, and anger. It is painful feeling these kinds of things. One can’t do much about these feelings directly, but I do believe that investigating where fear and aggression come from, asking what is happening and what is the source of the afflictive emotions make it possible to correct the source. One can then directly and concretely eliminate or purify an emotion at its source. Once you realize where an afflictive emotion comes from, how it started, what it leads to, you can soften it. If you know the source more and more, then it can be helpful.
Question: What is the head … “up here”?Rinpoche: Yes, you can see it clearly. When you notice that something is going wrong, you correct your vision immediately. What happens to your feeling? If you ever feel contempt or say something mean or bad sometimes, immediately it is an experience for you.
Question: How does one transform an experience?Rinpoche: If something is good or comfortable for you, you accept it without a doubt. Yes, you accept it, and it doesn’t matter whether it is something good or bad. If you feel comfortable and something is easy and pleasant for you, then you turn it into a friend … “up here.” Our connections are very much like a reflection: If you look in the mirror, then you will see your face … “up here.” It is similar with feelings. If you look at feelings, you are closer to them, you can meet and connect with them, and you can make yourself happier. If your feeling and someone else’s view are not close but in discordance, it causes a headache. If you push and push, more grey hair will grow, and this makes you more and more angry - then you fight. If you are the leader of a nation, you can even make war.
Question: Do you know an antidote against anger?Rinpoche: The real antidote against anger depends upon the person who wishes to purify and eliminate the headache. That individual tries to follow the instructions of the Buddha, who first teaches us to investigate and understand why we suffer, why we are fearful, why we are miserable, and how painful that is. What does one do when one looks at those feelings the moment they arise? Calms down and generates compassion. Those are the very antidotes.Compassion does not mean to only speak about it, rather it means to have it for all sentient beings in the same way as one has it for oneself. It means realizing that every living being suffers the same way one does too. In moments of realization, it is impossible to be angry and resentful; instead, one realizes that one wants to eliminate suffering as quickly as possible. Thinking this way, i.e., not wanting to heap suffering upon suffering, one calms down as fast as possible when difficulties arise. That is the only way to practice compassion. With the intention to eliminate anger and resentment, one does not act out with body and speech, rather one calms down just as fast as it takes to switch on a light.Suffering is created by ignorance. The antidote is realization of emptiness, the true nature. Depending upon how much you learn and practice, you slowly become purified at the root. When you are purified at the root, i.e., the source, the emotions do not grow as seeds again. So, there are two ways to apply antidotes: immediately having compassion and, from the root, realizing the true nature, which is emptiness.
Question: Let us assume that the Buddha meets someone like binLaden. What happens when they meet? What would the Buddha say?Rinpoche: Yes, it depends upon the connection. For instance, if the Buddha came directly in front of binLaden, then he probably would not trust the Buddha. It doesn’t help just to see the face of the Buddha. If his intention changes a little and he wishes to follow the Buddha’s advice, then the Buddha can do something for him. If binLaden has no intention to change, then just seeing the Buddha doesn’t help, because everything comes from one’s own intention. Seeing the face of the Buddha doesn’t change anything.Question: If binLaden wants to kill him?Rinpoche: If he could, but he can’t, because the Buddha’s body is not a material thing. He can’t shoot him with a gun, so it’s not possible. Even if it were possible, then if he wanted to, maybe then.
Question: May I ask you a personal question?Rinpoche: Yes.Q.: What makes you cry? What moves you?Rinpoche: Fear, suffering, and sadness. Sometimes when somebody is extremely happy then tears also come to their eyes. It depends on the cause.Q.: It seems that my question makes you happy.Rinpoche: Yes, sometimes something that makes one happy or is funny makes one laugh.Q.: Do you think I am a funny man?Rinpoche: I don’t mean you directly, but you asked me why tears come, so those are reasons. Sometimes one is too happy, and sometimes one laughs very much, then tears can come to one’s eyes.
Question: What happens if one has no antidotes to fear?Rinpoche: If one doesn’t have any antidotes, one can’t do anything. Fear is a thought. Without applying any antidotes, fear cannot disappear, rather it grows more and more – more and more thinking, stronger and stronger, and more and more fear. Arousing compassion in one’s mind can temporarily help against fear and a headache, but the more fear that comes, the stronger it grows.There are so many belief systems, like Christianity, Buddhism, Muslim, and they offer various instructions. But the real antidote against fear and suffering is purifying the cause at the root. It is necessary to find the root, then you can apply the antidote. Simply taking a pain killer when you have a headache only offers temporary relief. Suffering is not one’s real nature; it only comes from temporary conditions and from consciousness. Seeking reality is the way to overcome fear and pain. There is no use converting or forcing someone to do this or that, which only creates more fighting and can lead to a war – more headaches, more fear. So, it is better to try to appreciate, acknowledge, and integrate what the real truth is, what the real medicine is to purify fear and suffering.
Question: Is there anything you wish to tell the people in Holland?Rinpoche: Yes, let’s see how many people you convert to purify and attain freedom from suffering and fear.Thank you very much.
With gratitude to the Yungdrung Bon Association for hosting the interview broadcast in Holland in 2003;transcribed and edited slightly by Gaby Hollmann, Sept. 2007.