El·e·na [el-uh-nuh, uh-ley-nuh; It. e-le-nah] /ˈɛlənə, əˈleɪnə; It. ɛˈlɛnɑ/ –noun a female given name, form of Helen // A proud student of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche // Personal assistant with a BSc (Hons) Psych from Uni of Warwick // These are snapshots of my life, in words and pictures

The bodhisattva agency of Tsem Rinpoche

May 9, 2020 1

Tsem Rinpoche relaxing over a meal with some students

Tsem Rinpoche relaxing over a meal with some students

When I think back on the kind of relationship some of us had with Rinpoche, I gotta be honest – it is sometimes tough to reconcile the enlightened father we knew, with the lama who sits for this portrait below.

With us, Rinpoche hugged us, loved us, ate with us, joked with us, scolded us. Jump-scared us, teased us, clothed us, fed us, educated us in Dharma and beyond.

At the same time, Rinpoche was also someone whose mind operated at a level way beyond what any of us will ever be able to comprehend. Rinpoche single-handedly conceptualised every facet and aspect of Kechara, whilst fighting against the Dorje Shugden ban. And had it not been for the ban, the accolades Rinpoche would have received from the establishment would have been at the very highest level.

After all, Rinpoche was also, at heart, an old school lama, and someone who was very traditional and proper, just like you see in this photo.

Tsem Rinpoche with portraits of His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche.

Tsem Rinpoche with portraits of His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche (centre), His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (left) and His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche (right).

So I sometimes wonder if we were disrespectful in the way we treated Rinpoche. If how “casual” we were (comparative to tradition, that is) was not what Rinpoche truly deserved. That if Rinpoche was living in the monastery, Rinpoche’s life would have been very, VERY different.

This thought first came to my mind during Rinpoche’s parinirvana. As soon as they received the news, some 30 monks immediately dropped whatever they were doing and got on the next available flight to Malaysia to help us perform a funeral befitting of our lama. Amongst them were some of the highest monks of our tradition. Monasteries from all over the world sent their representatives.

I saw how the monks revered Rinpoche. How they prostrated, how they worshipped, how they made offerings. How they deified Rinpoche. Seeing all of this brought home the thought that that is how Rinpoche would have been treated had Rinpoche continued to reside in the monastery.

But when I think back to how deeply so many of us loved Rinpoche, how hundreds queued for nearly six hours to welcome our lama’s holy form back to Kechara Forest Retreat, I remember the teaching Rinpoche always gave. Rinpoche always said that anything done sincerely, even if not perfectly, is the best offering of all.

So while we might not have been experts in the intricacies of Tibetan etiquette and to the traditionalists, we might have looked like barbaric foreigners, I think Rinpoche knew most of us were really trying to do our best. That our rough exterior belied how much love we had, and continue to have, for our guru. Certainly, people who cared to spend a little time with us, would have seen that.

And how dare I or anyone else presume that our lama was not exactly where he wanted to be. His Bodhisattva-hood notwithstanding, Rinpoche was an adult, someone with complete agency and control of his life. If Rinpoche was able to control his death and rebirth, why not something as basic as where he resided?

So I would say that for a being of Rinpoche’s attainments and nature, where He is ultimately does not matter. What matters is where He can be of greatest service to others. So would Rinpoche have loved to live in the monastery? Certainly. Would Rinpoche have loved to leave all of this behind, and enter into retreat? Definitely. But given the time, place, situation and needs of sentient beings, Rinpoche was exactly where he wanted to be, where he needed to be, and where he could benefit the most people.

Rinpoche taught, through example, what it is like to exchange the self for others and to live guided by a bodhicitta motivation. Never easy but always worthwhile.

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

Tsem Ladrang, Tsem Rinpoche, Behind The Scenes

One Comment → “The bodhisattva agency of Tsem Rinpoche”

  1. Sofi 4 months ago   Reply

    Thank you for sharing Pastor Jean Ai. Reading your post just brought tears to my eyes. Yes, may we be blessed with our precious Guru’s swift return. 🙏

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