Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

Life in the public eye

February 15, 2020 0


Tsem Rinpoche under the spotlight.

This was essentially what Rinpoche’s life was like. The majority of Rinpoche’s 54 years was lived pretty much in the public eye. There were very few moments when Rinpoche was truly alone. There was always someone with Rinpoche, either serving and attending, or meeting or having an audience with Rinpoche.

Imagine living your life with that level of scrutiny, where your every movement and decision is observed, recorded, analysed or critiqued. A life where everyone has an opinion about every single thing you do, think or say. A life where every single person wants a piece of you.

Would you be able to live it as gracefully as Rinpoche did?

For example, whenever we were out in public, it was impossible for Rinpoche to go unnoticed; on almost every single outing, Rinpoche would, without fail, be stopped by someone or stared at. For those of us attending, it was not always an easy balance to strike. On the one hand, there was the desire for Rinpoche to get some rest and some downtime. After all, what people think is just their one request, is in actuality one of hundreds of requests and questions.

On the other hand, we also knew just how much it would mean for people to connect with Rinpoche. Not in a starstruck, celebrity-driven kind of way but knowing that Rinpoche would bless their spiritual practice and potentially change the course of their lives.

So while we sometimes struggled with this balance, Rinpoche in his perfect bodhisattva way never declined meeting someone if he thought there was some way to help them. Rinpoche’s raison d’être truly was to serve others and that meant serving when they needed it most, and not when it was most convenient.

Obviously compounding this situation was the Dorje Shugden issue. Before Rinpoche was allowed to go public with his practice, people were constantly looking for evidence that Rinpoche was still practising Dorje Shugden. For the anti-Shugden crowd, it was to ‘prove’ that Rinpoche was so-called disloyal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for not giving up the practice. Amongst the pro-Shugden crowd, there were those who accused Rinpoche of being a coward for what they perceived as Rinpoche’s silence against the ban. Some even ventured to call Rinpoche a traitor to His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, as though they were somehow privy to the underlying basis and context for Rinpoche’s decisions.

Regardless of whatever Rinpoche was accused of, never once did Rinpoche retaliate, falter or second-guess his decision to be silent; Rinpoche had received instructions from his gurus not to go public and come hell or high water, Rinpoche was going to follow their instructions, in accordance with tantric vows, in accordance with Rinpoche’s unwavering guru devotion, and in accordance with the monk vows and code of conduct (Vinaya).

Later, when Rinpoche was allowed to go public with his practice of Dorje Shugden, the scrutiny did not end. In fact, it became even more intense due to Rinpoche being so outspoken against the ban. Rinpoche ended up becoming a target for all kinds of accusations, rumours and, worst of all, physical threats.

Once again, Rinpoche never retaliated or faltered; Rinpoche simply dealt with the situation as it came, with all of its challenges and difficulties, always in accordance with the Vinaya.

How do I know? Because when we started studying the Vinaya (with Rinpoche’s permission), it dawned on me just how in accordance Rinpoche’s behaviour was with the vows. I was regularly inspired by how effortlessly Rinpoche upheld the monks’ code of conduct. Whether it was the major or minor vows, they were all second nature to Rinpoche and holding the Vinaya came as easily to Rinpoche as breathing. The vows were in Rinpoche and Rinpoche lived in the vows; it is hard to express how the Vinaya was such an intrinsic, inherent and indelible part of Rinpoche.

It is only now that I understand how, for 54 years, there was never one scandal that originated from Rinpoche himself. Meaning yes, people could accuse Rinpoche of whatever they wanted but it was all made up. Never once did Rinpoche, who was always with someone, do or say something that people could then use to claim Rinpoche was not a good monk.

Interestingly, Rinpoche never being alone stemmed from advice received nearly 30 years ago from one of Rinpoche’s gurus, His Eminence Kyabje Kensur Rinpoche Jampa Yeshe. After Rinpoche was recognised and enthroned as a tulku (reincarnated lama), Kensur Rinpoche advised Rinpoche that a good tulku always has someone with him. Kensur Rinpoche said a good tulku is never seen alone and never goes anywhere alone, and that this sends a powerful message; if a person has nothing to hide, then they will not be worried about having someone with them all the time.

So think about that – how can anyone fake nearly six decades of perfect behaviour and even if they wanted to, how many would actually be able to sustain it under constant scrutiny? If we were to attempt it, how quickly would we crack and crumble under the pressure of being constantly observed, because that good behaviour is just a veneer not truly who we are?

We need only look at how we behave when we go out for an important dinner. We put our best dress on, make up our faces, spray on the good perfume, exhibit excellent table manners and otherwise conform to all manner of social graces. Once we are home however, we kick off our shoes, put our feet up on the table, burp, fart, chew with our mouths open and so on. For most of us, there is a face we present to the world and the one we present to everyone else, and the face we present to the world can last (at most) a few hours over dinner and, at best, a few months.

And yet with Rinpoche, it was never like that. There was never any pressure to behave a particular way because Rinpoche truly was everything he always showed to others – compassionate, wise, passionate, erudite, interested, devoted. When that is the type of person you really are, what is there to fake and pretend?

To my Lama, who is one with Heruka, we look forward to welcoming you home soon.

Life in Kechara: Behind The Scenes

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