Thoughts. Experiences. Inspiration.

The bodhisattva agency of Tsem Rinpoche

May 9, 2020 2

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.

Life in Kechara: Behind The Scenes

2 Comments → “The bodhisattva agency of Tsem Rinpoche”

  1. Sofi 4 years 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. ?

  2. Marten 3 years ago   Reply

    Dear all, Tsem Tulku Rinpoche was one of my favorite gurus. And there was always the problem for me, that i was sitting between the chairs. On the one side there was H.H. Dalai Lama and his advice not to practise Dorje Shugden, on the other side.the lineage of Tsem Tulku Rinpoche ,which was pure and clean. There was always a little bit fear in me because of all the negative things about this Dorje Shugden Problem Thing. But Tsem Tulku Rinpoche was right. How could someone decides between mother and father. I never would call Dorje Shugden for money, luck or what ever. But for all obstacles on the dharma path i am trusting in him. After the death of Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, my connection is stronger than ever. With tears in my eyes i am thinking of all the loving kindness from Rinpoche and all the pain and hard work he was able to take for the dharma. We are all humans. The tibetan, the chinese and so on. Karma is always right. And the life of Tsem Tulku Rinpoche was a light in my life. The are many gurus and lamas, but Tsem Tulku was one of the funniest. I always wanted to be a geluk. And the lineage of Tsem Tulku Rinpoche is giving me a feeling of beeing near. May all lineages live long and healthy. In the last sense, we are all one. Peace, Love and Light. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche was my personal Yoda. I love him. And i love the Dalai Lama. Dharma should never be a politican thing. But Samsara will never be perfect. ^^ _()_

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