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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
buddhadharma| 25 |fall 2005 Tulku urgyen rinpoche (1920–1996) sTudied and pracTiced The Teachings of boTh The kagyü and nyingma schools of TibeTan buddhism and was one of The mosT imporTanT dzogchen masTers of his Time. This arTicle is adapTed from blazing splendor: The memoirs of Tulku urgyen rinpoche, as Told To erik pema kunsang and marcia binder schmidT, published by rangjung yeshe publicaTions, 2005. Some of us who were with him every day could be quite blind to his qualities, just like the people in Lhasa who never go to see the Jowo statue of the Buddha, thinking there is plenty of time to get around to going. But if you paid atten- tion to his personality, it was obvious that he was fully endowed with compassion, perseverance, and devotion. Samten Gyatso never flattered others by playing up to them or telling them how wonderful they were. He spoke straight- forwardly. If something was true, he would say so; if it was not, he would say it was not, without adding or subtract- ing anything. He never talked around a sensitive topic. Samten Gyatso was so learned and skilled, so trustworthy and matchless, that people compared him to Marpa, the master translator who brought the Kagyü teachings from India. Yet my guru never postured nor put on the air of high real- ization, like those meditators who never lower their vacant, glaring gaze to the ground and who spout random “pro- found” statements such as “Everything in samsara and nirvana are equal!” What do you gain from such pretense? Samten Gyatso would move about as if he were just an ordinary person. He kept to the hidden yogi style: he didn’t flaunt his accomplishments and never behaved as if he were a grand lama. He would not bless people by placing his hand on their heads nor sit on a high seat. He didn’t even let people bow to him − if anyone tried, he would jump up and move away. He avoided ostentatious displays, like erect- ing impressive temples or commissioning fancy statues. He kept a low profile: he never dressed up nor wore brocade, just the robes of an ordinary monk. I HEArd a wonderful story about one of Samten Gyatso’s prior incarnations, Ngaktrin of Argong. He was recognized as a tulku while still a small child and brought to Lachab, his predecessor’s mon- astery. One day, when he was just eight, he was having fun with his friends, as chil- dren do. An old gönla − the lama in charge of the chants for the protectors − was beat- ing a drum and chanting while the kids were playing boisterously around him. “You are an incarnation of a lama. don’t behave like this,” the gönla said suddenly, berating the young Ngaktrin. “A tulku should be a noble boy, but you are a spoiled brat! Why are you doing this? What’s the use? Listen: don’t wan- der! don’t wander!” “What does that mean?” the little tulku asked. “What does it mean not to wander?” “don’t let your mind wander,” replied the old lama. “That’s what it means!” “How does one not wander?” “Look at yourself. Look at your own mind!” When the boy heard these words − “don’t wander; look at your own mind!” − he recognized mind nature right then and there. despite all the great mas- ters he met later in his life, he always said his insight occurred when he was a young child. AS I GrEW up, Samten Gyatso became my main meditation instructor. Though he was well aware that I was a small child and hence likely unable to comprehend all the teachings, he didn’t hold anything back. I was about eleven when he clarified the details of the principal teachings. until then, my meditation was guided mainly by what felt right. As a child, I would go to nearby caves and “medi- tate,” but what I experienced then as the meditation state and my practice right now seem to be exactly the same − don’t ask me why. I must have had some habit of letting be in the natural state carried over from former lives. Yet in those early days, I wasn’t that clear about what it was until Samten Gyatso instilled in me a certainty about the natural state. up to that point, meditation experience had been more spontaneous, but with Samten Gyatso I could ask one question after another, and I discovered that what he was explaining was the same as what I had experienced as a child. I don’t have much to brag about in terms of realization, so the clarity I am talking about has more to do with dem- onstrating personal confidence. The faith and devotion I had as a kid were quite natural and not imposed on me by any- one. Along with my devotion, I also had an acute feeling that mundane aims were futile. The only thing that made sense was to be a tough guy − tough like my heroes Milarepa and Longchenpa. When I look back on my life, it seems I haven’t been very diligent; I have only been distracted day and night, letting life run out. jean-maRieaDamnini