Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

Why Rinpoche doesn't like birthdays

October 24, 2013 8


If someone threw you a birthday party of this scale and size, wouldn’t you turn up?

Well, of course you would because it’s a celebration of YOU. Think of the gifts! The presents! The ang paus! The adoration! The praises! The worship!

Nope, not Rinpoche.

Every single year, when Rinpoche’s birthday rolls around, the same thing happens – we talk about the event being held to celebrate Rinpoche’s birthday, and request Rinpoche to attend but Rinpoche will say he does not want to.

At first, I wondered why. Why would you NOT go to an event where everyone’s happy for you and WANTS to celebrate your birth?

Then it occurred to me…because that’s not a real lama’s raison d’être.

That's a whole lotta people who will be giving a whole lotta presents!

That’s a whole lotta people who will be giving a whole lotta presents!

Birthdays are essentially a celebration of the ego. Praise me! Celebrate me! Give me gifts! It is the complete antithesis to what a real lama is about. A real lama is about eradicating his ego and benefiting his students; a real lama is not about boosting his ego and using his students.

Think about it this way – if a lama is out to use his students, of course he would attend every single celebration because it’s another opportunity to soothe the students’ egos and to exploit them for more stuff. However, a real lama is not motivated by that; his attendance doesn’t hinge on whether he will get something out of attending. His attendance hinges on whether his attendance will help his students because that’s what he is always thinking about, how to help his students.

Before the celebration, staff and Kecharians gathered in Dukkar Apartments for dinner

Before the celebration, staff and Kecharians gathered in Dukkar Apartments for dinner

Now I’m NOT saying that lamas who celebrate their birthdays are charlatans, I would never dare. Birthdays are days when our teachers chose to reincarnate back into this world, to continue to turn the wheel of Dharma for us so it is considered a highly auspicious day. Since the teacher has some form of attainments (having taken a controlled rebirth) and has benefited us with the Dharma, inferential logic therefore states that a teacher’s attendance (or non-attendance!) is actually just another action, in a long line of actions, which (as always) is for the benefit of the students.

Waiting patiently for the Lama Chopa puja to begin

Waiting patiently for the Lama Chopa puja to begin

If the teacher does attend, it allows the students to accumulate immeasurable merits by making offerings directly to their teachers. If the teacher does not attend, the students’ offerings are still as good as accepted, and the students learn how to run the show even when the teacher is not around.

Some might say that the lama is ungrateful for not turning up, that the students go through so much effort to plan and arrange and set things up, and he doesn’t even have the courtesy to show. Now on this point, I have two responses:

  1. If by setting up the celebration you are doing it expecting the lama to attend (because you were disappointed when he didn’t), then you need to check the motivation for your involvement. An event such as this is an offering to your lama, and an offering should be made without any expectation of a return. What kind of return in this case? Attendance of the event, acknowledgement of your assistance, gratitude for your help, etc. If there is an expectation, then the act is not about making an offering to your lama, but about receiving recognition and praise for yourself
  2. The lama knows that inevitably some students will have this thought – why is Rinpoche so ungrateful? In not attending, the lama knows some people will be unhappy and in their eyes, his reputation will decline. However, the lama also knows that by not attending, more people will learn a bigger lesson and so he is willing to risk his reputation for that lesson to be learnt. If it were about ego, Rinpoche would attend every single celebration, just to keep his reputation

One last note about Rinpoche’s absence on his birthdays. See, people have often called Tibetan Buddhism a cult and I think this event best demonstrates why it is not. A cult is dependent on a highly charismatic leader, whose absence or demise often leads to the decline of the cult’s activities (yes, I studied Sociology). Year upon year however, people have returned to celebrate Rinpoche’s birthday, even when Rinpoche does not attend.

Now if we were a cult, why would people continue to come, even knowing that the lama will more than likely not show up? Because for them, it’s not about the lama; it is about the teachings the lama has brought to them, which have changed their lives, and this is what they are coming to celebrate.

So cult? I don’t think so honey and anybody who labels it otherwises needs to pick up a dictionary 😉

On that note, I WOULD actually like to wish Rinpoche a very happy 48th birthday. May all that Rinpoche envisions come true, may all obstacles be removed and may Rinpoche live long with good health to continue to turn the wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings of the three realms and ten directions.

Happy birthday Rinpoche!


Note: these are my thoughts on the matter, and they are not Rinpoche’s official statement on why he does not attend birthdays. The post came to mind when I contemplated on some of the teachings Rinpoche has given in the past about the characteristics of a real spiritual guide, how to find our teachers and how to make proper offerings to our lama. You can read more about those teachings here and in the book Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale.


8 Comments → “Why Rinpoche doesn’t like birthdays”

  1. Joy 10 years ago   Reply

    Very well said and well written Anila Jean Ai 🙂

  2. Phoebe 10 years ago   Reply

    Hi Elena, I love this post of yours. Very good points and I am totally agreed ! If the lama think so short term like a ordinary person, he wouldn’t sit on the throne and giving dharma talk to his students like doctors, lawyers, successful developer, businessman, professor and many more. If the lama didn’t act as he taught, wouldn’t have some much people go all the way to pay respect and celebrate his birthday.

    This birthday celebration is important for ordinary person like me, because given me a chance to feel grateful that by having such great lama/guru being born and willing to stay at Malaysia which had completely changed my life.

    Thankful for your sharing your thoughts, may rinpoche live long to turn the dharma wheel.

  3. jacqueline chee 10 years ago   Reply

    i know why,hope Rinpoche is happy in receiving all birthday wishes n presents,Happy 48th birthday Rinpoche,u r d special one!

  4. Leu Chong Hin 9 years ago   Reply

    Wow so much teaching and mind transformation from article you wrote. Thanks Pastor.

  5. Round House Films 9 years ago   Reply

    Any opportunity H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche gives us to make offerrings is an opportunity to create virtue and dedicate for the benefit of all beings, therefore birthday can be an opportunity if we continuously recall our Mahayana motivation. 🙂

  6. Victoria Lam 7 years ago   Reply

    Thank you Pastor Jean Ai for sharing the great article. Our motivations of offering is very importantly no matter our Rinpoche turning up or not. No matter what, Rinpoche is giving us teaching to let go of our Egos and everything bout “I”. Any opportunity to create an offering and dedication to Rinpoche, it is benefiting to all beings.

    May H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche live long life with good health and to turn the Dharma Wheel. _/\_

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. (Admin) H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s 48th Birthday – NOT READY | Tsem Rinpoche - 10 years ago

    […] PS. Do take a read at recently ordained Pastor Jean Ai’s account of “Why Rinpoche Doesn’t Like Birthdays“. […]

  2. (Admin) H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s 48th Birthday | Tsem Rinpoche - 10 years ago

    […] PS. Do take a read at recently ordained Pastor Jean Ai’s account of “Why Rinpoche Doesn’t Like Birthdays“. […]

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