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December 2002-February 2003
Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche:
The benefits of seeing relics are great. Relics have the nature of primordial awareness comprehending emptiness and the aspect of pills, bones, and so forth. They are established by enlightened beings with great compassion.
It is said that the body of the Buddha is vast like the ocean but that ordinary beings cannot perceive it. For their sake, the buddhas manifest relics. The enlightened beings with high realizations establish relics as a means for passing on blessings of their body, speech and mind. Due to the power of realization and compassion of these beings, anyone who sees, hears of, touches or even thinks of relics receives their blessing. Relics might appear as ordinary bones t those with untrained, ordinary minds but in reality the relics are not ordinary at all. …
Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
In the past, when Buddha was residing in India, many people saw his actual body. Nowadays, due to impure karma and lack of merit, we cannot see the body of Buddha nor hear his speech. We only have the fortune to see Buddha’s relics. Therefore, kind and compassionate Guru Shakyamuni Buddha emanated thousands of relics as an object of devotion for very many sentient beings.
Buddhas appear to arya bodhisattvas in the aspect of the sambhogakaya, to ordinary bodhisattvas in the aspect of emanation bodies, and to those with karmic impurities in the aspect of ordinary beings possessing a body of flesh and blood. Similarly, in the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom we are able to see directly and who is in fact actual Chenrezig, most ordinary beings can only see him in the aspect of a gelong [fully ordained monk] who is still subject to sickness, who grows old, and so forth. In the same way, those who have reached very high levels of tantric realization – for example, like the late Geshe Lama Konchog who passed away in October 2001 [pictured opposite] – leave behind relics for the sake of sentient beings who are tortured by suffering. This happens because they have developed high realizations within their mental continuum originating from the root of great compassion. Geshe Lama Konchog inspired and introduced so many foreigners to the Dharma and planted the seeds of good imprints in their minds. …
While Lama Zopa Rinpoche has been at Sera Je Monastery, he has had the opportunity to meet with many high lamas and tulkus.
Ribur Rinpoche’s tulku was enthroned at Sera Me in May 2013. He was recognized as the incarnation of Ribur Rinpoche by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and was initially enthroned as the incarnation in Bodhgaya in 2010 by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Woser Rinpoche.
The previous Ribur Rinpoche was born in Tibet in 1923 and recognized by the 13th Dalai Lama. Ribur Rinpoche studied at Sera Me in Tibet and received his Geshe degree in 1948. He remained in Tibet until 1985 when he came to India. While in Tibet, in addition to being subjected to interrogation, torture and labor camps, Ribur Rinpoche worked to recover holy objects that had been removed or destroyed by the Chinese.
After going into exile, Ribur Rinpoche wrote many books, including a biography of the 13th Dalai Lama and a history of Tibet. He also lived and taught for many years in Northern California. He returned to India in 2006 where he passed away.
Learn more about Lama Zopa Rinpoche, spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), and Rinpoche’s vision for a better world. Sign up to receive news and updates.
Former FPMT executive director Massimo Corona talks to Ribur Rinpoche about monasticism in the West and how to maintain Buddhist monastic vows for the long-term.
From Mandala September-November 2001.
The great yogi, Ribur Rinpoche, (Mandala June 2001) was in Taos, New Mexico, recently for week-long teachings and public talks. Massimo Corona, executive director of FPMT, Inc., took the opportunity to ask him how Westerners who take robes can retain their vows for a lifetime. Even after 15 or 20 years, many Westerners give up being monks and nuns. Some cite lack of community support as the reason; others say it is the difficulty of keeping all the vows. Ribur Rinpoche gives some of the answers through his translator, Fabrizio Pallotti.
The very first thing that is needed [before even considering ordination] is to have the mind subdued by the force of the lam-rim practice. What makes the difference between those who stay and those who leave is whether or not the person has been successful in subduing his or her mind. If the mind is not subdued, after a while it gets overwhelmed with delusions and on the basis of that people disrobe.
The transformation of abandoning the household life and entering into the perfect conduct (rabjung) is based on the force of renunciation; and that can only come about with lam-rim practice. So the mistake is not relying enough on lam-rim practice.
When I was in Italy a few years ago, I noticed many Western monks and nuns were very scattered in the ten directions. They wander here and there from center to center and there didn’t seem to be a really stable establishment, a monastery or nunnery for them to feel at home in, and to be able to stay there…
THE COMING OF MAITREYA
By Merry Colony
In 1982, when the Wisdom Jewel Yeshe Norbu His Holiness the Dalai Lama placed his holy feet upon the earth of Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy, Lama Thubten Yeshe, FPMT’s founder and spiritual father, announced that now his job had been successful. To have the Compassionate Buddha Chenrezig himself visiting one of the centers established in the West by Lama was the guarantee seal for the future growth and success of the work Lama had done to establish Buddha’s teachings where there had been none.
By comparison, truly it is difficult to gauge the enormous significance of His Holiness’s visit in January to the land in Bodhgaya, India, where a 500-foot statue of Maitreya Buddha will be built. Lama Yeshe’s heart wish before his passing in 1984, as a means to bring vast benefit to living beings indeed, one could even say to re-establish the teachings where they had begun, was to build a huge statue of the future Buddha at this place of the enlightenment of all the Buddhas of this eon.
Of course, such a major event has been preceded by thousands of smaller markers, each one a beacon that lit the way to the next step. Earlier in 1982, before Pomaia, Lama had made his first mention of the statue. In the ensuing 16 years the project has evolved from a mere name, Maitreya for World Peace, to a mature concept supported by FPMT worldwide, to now The Maitreya Project, an internationally publicized first in modern history.
His Holiness accepted the request made by the Maitreya Project to teach in Bodhgaya and bless the statue land already a year ago, when health conditions forced a change in schedule to 1998. A team of hundreds had in the interim created a teaching venue-to-behold in the heart of India’s most derelict state. The grounds surrounding the 1985 Kalachakra pavilion were flattened and cleared for the teaching site. A diversion road, on the books for a decade, was built in just weeks, providing His Holiness and entourage easy access. Massive tent canopies capable of sheltering 20,000 participants from rain and sun were erected.
Five hundred hotel rooms were booked, 400 banners with sayings of the Buddha written in Chinese, Tibetan and English lined the entry roads interspersed by hundreds of prayer flag banners. Truckloads of goods were transported while plane and train passengers from around the world converged on the town. A town without adequate sanitation or garbage disposal now had not only a waste tractor combing the streets (with a Sponsored-by-the-Maitreya-Project flag proudly waving from its exhaust), and a first class line-up of 75 portable toilets, constructed by a company committed to a cleaner India.
On January 18, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, spiritual director of the Maitreya Project and the worldwide FPMT organization, arrived with a group of 100 pilgrims. Together with the Ven. Ribur Rinpoche, the group had been to the holy places of Sarnath and Sravasti before reaching Bodhgaya. On January 19, the group, then 150, went to the Maitreya land. Once gathered on the site where the Maitreya Buddha will sit on his 17-story throne, Ribur Rinpoche expounded the incomparable qualities of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, saying, “Lama Zopa Rinpoche from the common perception displays the qualities of debating, composing and explaining as well as the practice and behavior of wise contentment. When you are called a tulku it is your responsibility to live in accordance with the actions benefiting sentient beings and the doctrine. Otherwise just being called tulku doesn’t make any sense. And this is so clear with Lama Zopa, that among the young tulkus of the three great monasteries he is an outstanding example. There is no one who displays actions as beneficial. And it so clear that his only interest, his only thought, is benefiting sentient beings and the doctrine.”
Ribur Rinpoche continued, “Once I spoke with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about the Maitreya Project and His Holiness was really amazed by the magnitude of it. His Holiness said at that time that ‘Lama Zopa is so brave-hearted, so courageous from the points of view of the size of the statue, the place, the financial and the organizational challenges. From all of these it is inconceivable.’ I replied to His Holiness that among all the tulkus he stands out and His Holiness said, ‘Yes, yes.'”
By this time in the speech, Lama Zopa himself was nearly lying on the floor in humility and responded by saying that “the qualities that Ribur Rinpoche is saying about me are like the horns of a rabbit, they are just not there. It is what I wish but they’re just not there.”
It is January 23. His Holiness has just arrived in town. There are throngs of people, a solid corridor lining his route from the Great Stupa to the Gelugpa Gompa. It is hard not to shed a tear as the procession drives past. His Holiness is here in our midst. This event is not just an organizational matter anymore. It is alive, swelled with power and exuberance.
His Holiness wastes no time. Two and a half hours after arrival he is at the teaching tent, five minutes early. Accompanying His Holiness to the temple are Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Osel Rinpoche. What a beautiful sight. With very little opening ceremony, the teaching begins, an interweaving over the next discourses of three texts (see “Blissful Festival of Dharma”).
January 26: We are all in fifth gear. Tomorrow His Holiness comes to the Maitreya land; there are hundreds at work there as I write this at 10 p.m. At tomorrow’s blessing there will be 1,000 Westerners, maybe 10,000 Tibetans, as well as local villagers. There will be food, speeches and at night 1,000 offerings to Lord Maitreya. Only His Holiness could turn on a crowd as diverse and large.
There is hardly a foreigner in town who is not pitching in to make all this work. This is the energy His Holiness inspires: to work for the benefit of others, beyond the limitations imposed by concern for self. It almost comes automatically. It’s almost like one becomes a bodhisattva overnight; it’s such an incredible high.
Today we also had Chenrezig initiation, preceded by bodhisattva vows yesterday. His Holiness prostrating to the 10-direction Buddhas, imploring them all to pay attention to the 20,000 people who were making the pledge to work for the enlightenment of all in the central land of Bodhgaya. Wow!
January 27, 7 a.m.: Precisely on time as usual, His Holiness drives under the Maitreya Project banner onto the land. A beautiful tent with a 30-foot appliqué thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha is the backdrop for His Holiness’s elaborately decorated throne. And with little ado he speaks (see ”20,000 People Attend Teaching in Bodhgaya by His Holiness the Dalai Lama”), first of how those who have not been liberated by the previous Buddha, by making connection with Maitreya will be liberated by him. Because this has been taught. There is a tradition in Tibet of constructing images of Maitreya Buddha and so an image of Maitreya in Bodhgaya is “very welcome. From the depths of my heart I appreciate and applaud it.”
When immediately after the last word was spoken tea and rice were served, His Holiness said, “It is a very good coincidence that as soon as I finish talking you serve tea and rice. So, please enjoy!”
It was hardly a surprise then when back at the teaching site two hours later I heard that the tent at the Maitreya land where His Holiness had just sat had burned to the ground: the Buddha thangka, the offerings, the implements, almost everything, but the Maitreya thangka and His Holiness’s throne were untouched.
Then came the rain. At 4 p.m., as the afternoon teachings drew to a close, the torrent began. As one of the organizers of the full night of preparation ahead for the long-life Tara initiation and long-life puja for His Holiness that were to begin the next morning at 7, I was wishing auspiciousness could display itself in a slightly more friendly manner. Within hours the tent where the offerings were to be arranged was under water. The VIP section of the teaching tent was stripped of its carpets and cushions while the rest of the seats got waterlogged. At midnight, 30 Kopan nuns sat on the stage rolling long-life tsampa balls with streams of water pouring all around them. Nevertheless, they laughed and told stories while others decorated the palace with flowers and prepared the 15-foot high mountain of tsog.
In the dark of pre-dawn on January 28, it was still raining. Ven. Roger, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s attendant, had said he would be at the site to let me know if the puja was still on. His Holiness’s secretary was meant to be there as well. And a ritual master monk had been assigned to help with the procession line for the long-life offerings. No one showed. In the mud and darkness and chaos of the moment a few of the objects went missing.
But preparations continued and eventually the rain stopped. His Holiness arrived, granted the White Tara empowerment and the sun appeared. When the requesting prayers were made with elaborate offerings on behalf of all the FPMT students, teachers and benefactors for His Holiness to remain with us until samsara ends, the tent was shining and His Holiness beaming.
It is January 30 now. His Holiness departed this morning. Delight is mixed with exhaustion at the success of the past eight days. For followers from around the world this has been an opportunity to see and listen to the supreme guide Tenzin Gyatso, for the Maitreya Project the greatest boon imaginable. The earth now sanctified and the vision held in Chenrezig’s mind, there is no question of success. And His Holiness’s great delight at our request for long life is our promise of increased peace and understanding in the world.
Gratitude for the “tremendous goodwill and support”
By Peter Kedge
The whole event in Bodhgaya was so inspiring. The profile of the Maitreya Project has been raised significantly. So many people came to the land, saw the plans and the model of the whole project. People came to terms with the enormity of it.
There is tremendous goodwill and support; everyone has so much enthusiasm His Holiness the Dalai Lama, ordinary Tibetans, state and local officials of India, pilgrims from around the world.
During the ten days, so many Tibetans, for example, visited the site: they walked the two miles, or came in taxis and rickshaws. They would walk around the site, look at the plans, read the Tibetan captions in the exhibition at the site, and many gave donations. One day, three Tibetans, evidently pilgrims from Tibet itself, visited us. With the help of a young Tibetan monk translating, they looked at the plans and made a donation. The older man offered us a tsa-tsa of Chenrezig, on the back of which was gold writing. “I received this from His Holiness the Dalai Lama when I was a young boy in Tibet,” he told us. “I would like to have it placed inside the Maitreya statue.” We were very moved.
First we have to thank Lama Yeshe for his incredible foresight and vision; Lama Zopa Rinpoche for his courage in carrying this project through; His Holiness the Dalai Lama for blessing it and giving his support and encouragement; the Indian people and Indian government officials at all levels, who give it wholehearted support.
Special thanks go to the main organizing committee of this auspicious event: Ven. Marcel Bertels, Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche, Ven. Pende Hawter, Ven. Thubten Shemphen and Mr. Kalsang Tashi; to Vens. Tenzin, Thubten and Shakya of Gaden Palgye Ling; Sally Barraud, Françoise Baronet and Teresa Bianca; the team of 100-plus volunteers who worked tirelessly and so harmoniously to make the event such a success; and the Tibetan community in Bodhgaya.
We are most grateful to our kind and generous sponsors: Lama Zopa Rinpoche himself, who donated $50,000; Ven. Zia al Bassam, Mr. Derek Goh, Mr. and Mrs. Lin, Mr. and Mrs. Ho, Ms. Jenny Lee, Ms. Vivian Liu, Jan Pethar and Kadampa Center and many other kind people. (Altogether, the event cost $250,000 to put on, and we are around $50,000 short.)
The merit in contributing to and assisting with the Maitreya Project is indescribable, according to Lama Zopa, who has said: “Those who work, sponsor or help to build this statue in any way will be the first disciples of Maitreya Buddha when he comes to the world.”
By Ven. Sangye Khadro
Going on pilgrimage to holy places is always a special experience but doing so in the company of holy beings is particularly blissful and meaningful. For ten days in January about 90 fortunate people had the opportunity to discover this as they journeyed to several of the holy places in India with Ribur Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Ribur Rinpoche first conceived the idea after a very successful pilgrimage to Borobudur, Indonesia, last July, and Maitreya organized it, timing it so the pilgrims could attend His Holiness’s teachings in Bodhgaya. About half the group were from Singapore, with the other half from various countries, including about a dozen monks and nuns. Ribur Rinpoche was with us right from the beginning but Lama Zopa Rinpoche was able to join us only on the fourth day, in Varanasi.
January 13: The pilgrimage began in Sravasti, where the Buddha spent 25 rains retreats. According to Ribur Rinpoche, Sravasti is perhaps the most blessed of all the places associated with Buddha’s life because not only did he spend more time there than anywhere else, but it is also one of the 23 holy places of Chakrasamvara. The actual site of the Buddha’s meditation hut is in the middle of a beautiful and serene park – many of us noticed our minds becoming peaceful and happy merely by sitting or strolling through its gardens.
On our first day there, after a lunch kindly provided by the Burmese temple, we performed Guru Puja in the park amidst the ruins of ancient temples and monasteries. Rinpoche gave a talk on the significance of the place and also gave us advice on the best prayers, mantras and practices to do in holy places. He said that it was excellent to take the Eight Mahayana Precepts and, out of his immense compassion, offered to give them the following day.
January 14: Early the next morning, in spite of the freezing cold weather, we gathered in the park, the darkness lit by candles flickering before a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to receive the precepts from Rinpoche in a simple but moving ceremony. Following a tea break, we began to set up the 1,000 sets of offerings for a Maitreya puja. The organizers had thought of everything: thrones, tables and cloths, 6,000 plastic cups, rice, flowers, incense, candles, popcorn, as well as ground-sheets and cushions for everyone. We managed to finish the setting up by lunch time and started the puja in the early afternoon. The puja consists of visualizing the pure land of Tushita filled with countless Buddhas and bodhisattvas, making many offerings and requests, and reciting Maitreya Buddha’s mantra 10,000 times (collectively). After the puja Rinpoche took us to the ruins of Angulimala’s stupa (Angulimala was a disciple of the Buddha who was able to purify the karma of killing 999 people and attained liberation), where he led us in reciting the confession prayer to the 35 Buddhas. Later, back at the puja site, those of us who were cleaning up were treated to the sight of four large cranes flying in formation overhead – an auspicious sign, perhaps?
January 15-17: The following day we traveled by bus (three buses, in fact, plus a truck to carry all our puja things) to Varanasi, where we were joined by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Ven. Roger and several other students. Over the next two days, Lama Zopa in his usual style kept us busy accumulating merit and purifying negativities. In Sarnath, we performed the 1,000 Offerings to Maitreya puja as well as Guru Puja in the Deer Park, where Buddha gave his first teaching, and received blessing from the Buddha’s relics enshrined in the Mahabodhi Temple.
We also visited Alice Project School where the children greeted us with songs of welcome and flower garlands.
January 18-19: Our next destination was Bodhgaya, the most sacred and powerful of the Buddhist pilgrimage sites. On our first day in Bodhgaya we visited the Maitreya land, where Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Ribur Rinpoche and various Maitreya Project staff explained the significance, the background and current status of the project. Later that day we walked to Sujata, where Buddha accepted the offering of milk-rice to end his six years of asceticism just before his enlightenment. The nearby Tibetan monastery kindly allowed us to use their gompa to do Guru Puja and tsog.
January 20: Rajgir and Nalanda are both a few hours’ drive from Bodhgaya and can be visited in one day. As more pilgrims had joined us in Bodhgaya, the size of our group had grown to seven bus-loads (over 200 people). We first visited the site of the great monastic university of Nalanda, alma mater of many of our lineage lamas such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Shantideva and Atisha. Here we performed Guru Puja with boxed lunches as tsog, and when it came time to pass out the boxes, a sort of loaves-and-fishes phenomenon occurred – at first it was thought there weren’t enough to go around and we’d have to share, but in the end we had many leftover lunches!
After walking among the ruins of Nalanda, making prayers to be able to follow in the footsteps of the great masters who had studied there, we traveled to Rajgir and climbed the steps up to Vulture’s Peak where the Buddha delivered the most important of the Mahayana sutras, the Prajnaparamita. When we reached the top, we offered prostrations, candles and khatas, then sat and recited The Heart Sutra as we waited for our gurus to arrive. To everyone’s admiration, Ribur Rinpoche managed the climb all the way, and as the sun set over this inconceivable holy and powerful place, he gave us the transmissions of The Heart Sutra, the first chapter of the Guhyasamaja Root Tantra, the first and fifty-fourth chapters of the Heruka Tantra, and Lama Tsong Khapa’s Praise to Dependent Origination. It was one of the most beautiful and moving moments of the entire pilgrimage.
January 21: After a morning off we took a late afternoon trip to Sujata, just across the river from Bodhgaya, where the Buddha spent six years doing ascetic practices. Lama Zopa Rinpoche and many of our dear geshes led us in Guru Puja and light offering practice on the temple rooftop.
January 22: The final outing of the pilgrimage was to Mahakala Cemetery, one of the eight great cemeteries. Unfortunately Lama Zopa Rinpoche did not come because he had gone to Patna to greet His Holiness, and Ribur Rinpoche stayed at home because the climb is too strenuous, but we were joined by several FPMT geshes including Geshe Lama Konchog, Geshe Lama Lhundrup and Geshe Ngawang Dakpa. The hour and a half climb up the mountain was indeed difficult – what’s a pilgrimage without hardships? Nevertheless, all but a few of us made it to the top where we offered Guru Puja and tsog, sharing the offerings with the many village children who had tagged along on our trek. We all slept well that night!
January 23: Early in the morning, khatas and incense in hand, we joined the Tibetans lining the main street of Bodhgaya to greet His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who began his teachings that same afternoon.
Infinite thanks to our immeasurably kind and compassionate gurus, Ribur Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, for the inspiration, time and energy they contributed to make this beautiful experience possible. And many, many thanks as well to the courageous organizers, the generous sponsors and benefactors, and to all those who participated. Due to these merits, and all other merits created, may the lives of our precious holy gurus be stable and long, and may all their wishes be swiftly fulfilled.
Attending to the Lama:
Thoughts upon the Passing of Ribur Rinpoche
By Fabrizio Pallotti
The revered lama Kyabje Ribur Rinpoche passed away on January 15, 2006 at Sera Me monastery in southern India, at the age of 84.
For many years, Fabrizio Pallotti traveled all over the world with Ribur Rinpoche as his translator and attendant. He recalls the passing of his perfect teacher who inspired many Western students with his teachings, most especially due to the outpouring of unbelievable love and compassion that emanated from his whole being.
The last time I saw Rinpoche in Washington, D.C., where he had been undergoing cancer treatment, he said to me, “Look, do you want me to be here in a body like this, or do you prefer that a young body comes back?” At the time, I couldn’t answer; I would choke up with tears. Now I realize that because Rinpoche had initiated so many incredible actions to develop world peace, to spread the Dharma, and to benefit sentient beings, he just wanted to take off and come back with a strong, young body to finish those actions. I have a few friends who went to visit Rinpoche a few days before he passed away, and they said that Rinpoche was totally strong, in an incredibly good mood, giving teachings, totally unconcerned for himself..
When he passed away, it was during the full moon of the Kalachakra, which is very auspicious. The monastery was nearly empty at that time, with everyone at the Kalachakra initiation. It seems as if he wanted to be alone, as if he didn’t want anybody to be around taking care of him.
Two days after Rinpoche’s passing, I arrived at Sera Me. I went to Rinpoche’s house, and even though his breath had stopped, he was still meditating, sitting up in front of his Lama Tsongkhapa statue, his holy body leaning slightly to the right and his head slightly to the left.
After five or six days, Geshe Losang Choepel, the attendant of the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, was called upon because of his great knowledge of ritual and how to handle the passing away of a high lama. He determined that Rinpoche was no longer meditating, and many preparations were done to anoint the holy body in the perfect way. An ablution of saffron water was offered to the holy body; we wrapped Rinpoche in new robes and deity ornaments and left him in the same sitting position for one day while we made preparations for the cremation. Though it was quite hot, there was no decomposing, no smell, and no rigor mortis. His body was amazingly supple. Throughout this time, many lamas, geshes, and young monks visited Rinpoche, and many self-initiations were performed on a daily basis: Heruka, Vajrayogini, Yamantaka, and many other practices.
We were able to build the stupa crematorium very quickly, and since it is the main disciple who should offer the fire puja, the ritual was performed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. During the puja, the mood among the disciples was of total desperation. We all felt like our one holy father had just left us for good. After less than one hour, not even halfway through the puja, one of the highest lamas at Sera Me, Oser Rinpoche, looked inside the crematorium and said that the body wasn’t there anymore. I looked inside and Rinpoche’s holy body had vanished..
[One week later] Oser Rinpoche called to me and said, “Fabrizio, look at this, look, look!” I looked inside and I could see a bunch of white, pearl-like pebbles: There were thousands of them. For me, and I think for most of us there, it was as if this was all happening in a dream. For the Western world what goes on at the monasteries, what the Tibetan lamas do, is almost like science fiction. Upon finding these holy relics, a ceremony was immediately done to purify and bless them, after which we did Lama Chopa, the offering puja to the guru.
Rinpoche was among the last of his kind. He was in Tibet before the coming of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and experienced the golden age of Tibet. During the Cultural Revolution, he was able to do some of the most amazing actions for the benefit of the teachings and all sentient beings. He discovered the lost statue of Jowo Ramoche, one of three images made at the time of the Buddha and blessed by him; as well, Rinpoche reestablished the great reliquary of Ganden and the stupa of Je Rinpoche, along with countless other holy images that had disappeared from Tibet when the monasteries were looted. Incredibly holy images would cross Rinpoche’s path with seemingly no effort. For instance, in Drepung Monastery a conch shell is preserved that was given to Lord Buddha by a child. It is said that the Buddha prophesized the child would be the future Je Rinpoche, a second Buddha to propagate the teachings. Monghallana, one of Lord Buddha’s students, then flew to Tibet and buried the conch in the mountains where Tsongkhapa later unearthed it. On that spot he established Ganden monastery. Centuries later, this conch was stolen and was nowhere to be found for several years. Then one day when Rinpoche was in Dharamsala, an old Tibetan man knocked at Rinpoche’s door and handed him the very conch that had been missing…
by Ribur Rinpoche
Translated by Fabrizio Pallotti
Renowned historian, biographer and yogi, Ribur Rinpoche (1923-2006), had a close relationship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has described to him, with typical humility, many of his inner realizations. But first, Rinpoche tells of the important role of the regents in Tibetan Buddhism., and the recognition and enthroning of the young Dalai Lama.
The first time I arrived in Lhasa from my original place in Kham in 1935, the Great thirteenth Dalai Lama had passed away, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama wasn’t found yet, and the regent at the time was the fifth Reting Rinpoche, Thubten Jamphel Yeshe Tenpe Gyaltsen.
At that time the major task of the Tibetan government was to find the whereabouts of the would-be Fourteenth Dalai Lama in order to invite him to Lhasa. The entire population of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, was also completely devoted to finding him.
In particular, the regent, Reting Rinpoche, felt an unbelievable sense of responsibility to find the unmistaken reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, to a degree I didn’t understand at the time. I only found out many years later, when I lived in Dharamsala, India and was involved in composing the biography of the fifth Reting Rinpoche. His almost obsessive dedication to finding the Fourteenth Dalai Lama stemmed from a prediction made by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama himself.
When I was in Dharamsala — many, many years after Reting Rinpoche had passed away — His Holiness the Dalai Lama told me that although there were some general accounts on the religious life and general happenings in the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, there was no comprehensive biography encompassing all of his great activities, which were vast and extensive from the point of view of Dharma practice and the point of view of his political activities. I embarked on the task of composing this biography, and upon completion I offered it to his Holiness the Dalai Lama.
His Holiness said, “This is good, and what we need now are biographies of Reting Rinpoche and Talung Rinpoche,” both of whom were regents of Tibet, one after the other, before the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s time. Talung Rinpoche was the first tutor of His Holiness, as well as Tibet’s regent before Reting Rinpoche. His Holiness felt that since other people were already involved in the task of composing his own biography, it would be extremely beneficial to have the two regents’ political and life activities, and hte Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s activities would be plugged in for continuity.
To Reincarnate — Or Not
In the process of composing the biography of Reting Rinpoche, I had studied various sources of information about his life and previous lives and i came across the following informaiton.
The fourth Reting Rinpoche was a wealthy throne-holder of Reting Monastery, which was a well-established monastery in the Gelug tradition. Before he died, he called the administrator of the monastery and told him, “There won’t be any more need for my future reincarnations to be recognized. Therefore, bring all the keys of the storerooms, storage, and treasure-house, and whatever wealth there is of the household and monastery, pack them up and as soon as I pass away, bring them to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and offer everything with the request not to search for my reincarnation.”
As soon as Reting Rinpoche passed away, the administrator went to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and offered him all the Reting wealth, telling him that it was Reting Rinpoche’s wish for his reincarnation not to be recognized.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama said, “Yes, I know he had this in mind, but there are two great purposes that he was to accomplish. Therefore, take everything back to the monastery, and we will recognize the next reincarnation. He has to come back.” Then the Thirteenth Dalai Lama passed away, and the fifth Reting Rinpoche was recognized and enthroned at Reting Monastery, where he engaged in all his studies and contemplation until he became a geshe and was established as a lama.
The first of the two great purposes was to construct a great reliquary in the Potala Palace (winter seat of all the Dalai Lamas) that contained the remains of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The second was to search out and recognize the unmistaken reincarnation of the great Fourteenth Dalai Lama. This is why when I saw Reting Rinpoche in Lhasa, he was almost obsessed with finding hte exact reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and bringing him back to Lhasa. As soon as he accomplished this second task, he passed away.
He visited Lhamo Lhatso lake in 1935 and after intensive prayers and rituals over several days, had a vision of the golden and turquoise roofs of the monasteries in the Kumbum [which is where the reincarnation was found]. He also saw three Tibetan syllables — Ah, Ka, Ma — which identified the name of the region in which the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was born. Throughout the whole search process, there were lots of obstacles to be eliminated, things to be produced, pujas to be done — he checked over every single thing, and personally checked the signs of the young potential candidates.
Reting Rinpoche sent a delegation to Kumbum with some of the belongings of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. These were mixed with similar objects of the same type, such as prayer beads, walking stick and so forth, the correct ones of which the young Dalai Lama recognized without fail. Reting Rinpoche was indispensable in finding this Dalai Lama — what he did was unbelievably beneficial.
Once the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was recognized, Reting Rinpoche organized the various events involving the young boy and his entourage en route to Lhasa. This meant lots of tents and invitations — the main tent site outside of Lhasa was almost as big as Sera Monastery. All the high lamas who were recognized reincarnations had their thrones in the main tent.
Meeting His Holiness For the First Time
I was invited to meet the Fourteenth Dalai Lama when he was very young — probably around four years old. He had an unusual and extremely powerful presence and appearance on the throne. He was a young child with a farsighted gaze that almost always went into space — just one look at him and we could already tell he was remarkable.
In 1940, the Dragon year, the young Dalai Lama was formally enthroned in the Potala Palace with a royal feast of a display of auspicious signs and symbols and dances. My mind was so taken by this display that I really thought this was Arya Chenrezig taking rebirth for the benefit of the people of the land of snows. I felt all the gods and protectors were coming down and paying their homage, displaying their happiness and rejoicing.
A few years later, I was lucky to be in attendance when His Holiness was invited to give teachings for the first time at the Great Prayer Festival (Mönlam Chenmo) in the courtyard of the Jokhang Temple. We were the first to receive the very first spill of the nectar of his teachings. He gave the transmission of the guru yoga of Lama Tsong Khapa, Ganden Lha Gyama, and the Foundation of All Good Qualities — a short writing by Lama Tsong Khapa on the stages of the path.
He was still so very young, and yet he went through the motions of giving teachings like a consummate Lama Tsong Khapa throne-holder. I watched as the Nechung State Oracle — who was in a trance — came over to His Holiness to whisper in his ear. His Holiness was so small, he was completely covered by the Nechung Oracle. Normally a boy of that age would be completely frightened by something so physically overwhelming, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama didn’t move for a second; he didn’t show any signs of fear or unevenness. Actually, when the Nechung Oracle moved away, His Holiness was smiling. A normal boy of that age would be scared his whole life! These are real exceptional signs of the actual qualities, even at that age.
When he was 16 years old, he gave the Kalachakra initiation to many hundreds of thousands of people at the Norbulingka, during which he wore the full bone ornaments of the Kalachakra. His Holiness had a particular attention and respect for ascetic, highly accomplished masters. One of them was T. Khepong Rinpoche. His Holiness saw him sitting in the middle of the crowd of lay people and called him forward. By paying special attention to that kind of practitioners, he already displayed some of his inner qualities at an early age.
Gradually the young Dalai Lama engaged in his studies, going through the motions of enthronement in the three great monasteries (Drepung, Sera and Ganden), and was principally taken care of in his studies by the first senior tutor, Talung Rinpoche, and his junior tutor, Ling Rinpoche. His attendant was Trijang Rinpoche, principal debate master at the time. Trigjang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche were the auxiliary help in philosophy and debate, while Talung Rinpoche was His Holiness’s main teacher.
When His Holiness completed his studies, he took his geshe exams in 1959 in front of the highest philosophical authorities at the time. Among them were Sera Me abbot Lama Dragpa, and hte abbot of Sera Je, Lozang Wangchuk. When His Holiness debated with them in front of thousands of people, his sharpness was so acute that it astonished them. They looked at each other, puzzled at the depth of his philosophical authority. Many high philosophers and learned ones later debated in front of His Holiness, but His Holiness stood so far in front of everybody with his learning that I was amazed by the extent of his studies and his understanding.
His Holiness Shares His Realizations
Against my wish, I was stuck in Tibet for 26 years under the Communist Chinese, until I was released and traveled to Dharamsala due to the Dalai Lama’s kindness. After I arrived, I offered my services in writing and composing whatever His Holiness asks me to do. Thus I’ve had the chance to meet with His Holiness again and again.
During one of our meetings, His Holiness told me about a time he was reading and meditating on the commentary to Madhyamika by Lama Tsong Khapa. As he read about the simile in which a rope at nighttime can be mistaken for a snake, all of a sudden, in deepening his understanding (conventionally speaking, this is what he was telling me) all the constructed appearances ceased in his perception, and he had this very strong — even physical — sharp feeling coming through him. For almost 20 days without cease, his mind did not perceive as true whatever appearances appeared to his senses.
Immediately I said, “This sounds like the direct realization of emptiness,” and His Holiness kind of downplayed it. Keeping it slightly hidden, he said, “Well as far as direct realization of emptiness, probably something similar — no, not even similar.” And he moved on. This shows conventionally that he’s achieving this kind of realization, and in actuality, he’s Arya Avalokiteshvara.
During another meeting, His Holiness told me, “I’m really paying a great deal of attention to bodhichitta, to great compassion and great love. I’m engaging my mind very seriously, and strange things are happening. Even if I hear outside the cry of a dog who’s been hit by a stone or something, right away I feel pain like I’ve been hit myself.” When he told me this, strong faith came that this is actually Arya Avalokiteshvara, although on a conventional level he’s showing us ordinary beings the development of great compassion.
Another time when His Holiness just returned from one of his teaching trips to Ladakh, I went to see him, and he said, “I’d like so much to liberate animals whose lives are in danger, but I cannot do it around here because there is no space to put them. I will do it in Ladakh where I have a huge space where I put animals, and I have a lot of sheep.
“One day all of these sheep in the meadow in front of my place came by, and as I was looking at them — at their stupidity, their pitiful state — I had this overwhelming compassion thinking what a pitiful, pitiful ignorance they are in. It was unbearable.” This is a clear sign of his having developed great compassion.
Another time, His Holiness was in Ladakh doing a Hevajra retreat, when early one morning, as soon as he woke up, he heard a distinctive sound of a melodious bell and damaru [small ritual drum] playing. The music was highly unusual and very distinctive.
He figured it must be the monks of the monastery, but when he inquired about the music, they said no, they hadn’t played any ritual instruments. His Holiness tole me, “At that time I realized it must be a sign.” That’s all he said about it. I think in reality the music was the sound of damarus and bells from the pure lands, coming down to wake the yogi up for his practice.
One time I went to see His Holiness, and after prostrating I requested permission to write the secret biography that shows his inner achievements. His Holiness contemplated this for a while, then said yes, I could do it. I want to talk with his close attendants, who are constantly with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and who witness his behavior and all the signs for telling his inner realizations and the particular circumstances that brought them out. However, since I’m constantly traveling and going from place to place, this hasn’t been done yet. I have notes in my room in India, taken from many instances when His Holiness expressed his inner realizations to me.
We are so fortunate to witness the display of someone who has even conventionally realized bodhichitta and emptiness. Especialy with regards to emptiness, those of us who have taken many teachings from his can understand by his very unconventional, profound yet easy-to-understand way of explaining emptiness, that it is only by having directly realized emptiness that he could have this understanding. As disciples, it is a rare stroke of luck to be with this lama who even conventionally appears with such exceptional qualities.
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