Continuation of my memories on Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, n° 11

Publié le 19 Mai 2021

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A reader noted in the previous episode Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche’s very blunt statement about monastic homosexuality. Not having witnessed anything myself, although I heard a lot of things and some clues made me suspect other things, I can’t tell which part of what he said was his brutal frankness, and which part was the conventional “tantrists” (sngags pa) discourse on monks – discourse that doesn’t necessarily have any more truth than the traditional jokes that one human group makes about another. 

   Thus, I remember a very amusing conversation, some details of which I may have missed, that I overheard between “Zimpönla” (the former valet of the 14th Karmapa) and Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, in Jean-Louis Massoubre’s apartment, in the 1990s. 

  C. R. Rinpoche was sitting on a couch at the back of the room, with Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche next to him, who was visiting him; Zimpönla was standing at the other end of the room, near the kitchen door, as I recall. He spoke to C.R. Rinpoche in a tone of indignation that was certainly very theatrical, and Rinpoche replied with an equally theatrical verve. The substance of the conversation was:

“You ngakpas claim to be Dharma practitioners, but all you do is indulge in alcohol and women!
– But that's still better than you monks, who prefer little boys!”

The conversation went on like this from enormity to enormity and ended with a burst of laughter with the comparison of the Sakyapa lamas’ hat with the headdress of the women of Ladakh. Obviously, no one was offended by this Dantean exchange of insults.

   That being said, in fact, sex was quite central to the conversation of Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche. It may be said that “the mouth speaks of the abundance of the heart” and that the sage from the Roof of the World was, in truth, an old satyr. I would not know what to say about the personal relationship of this lama to lust; it seems to me that, in this respect, his attitude consisted above all in confronting people with their hypocrisy or their discomfort, and it was all the more frightening because he divined, in a manner that was not very understandable, the secrets that one would have preferred to hide from his gaze.

   Once, for example, when he was still walking, he said that he had gotten up at night to go to the bathroom and had seen his host (this was not in France) having sex with a woman other than his own. And (if I remember correctly) he asked him to his face and in public why he was doing this.  

   On another occasion, an acquaintance of mine visited him, a man whose private life I have no idea about. I was not the translator; no one could tell Rinpoche anything about what this person might want to keep to himself. Still, he reproached me strongly afterwards, assuming that I had indiscreetly spread the details of his secrets before Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche (though I never even mentioned his name to Rinpoche), who apparently told him in an excessively precise manner.

   Sometimes, completely outside of this register of unveiling hidden things (which, by the way, in all the cases I witnessed, he did without any dimension of accusation or moralizing guilt, and moreover sometimes by means of somewhat equivocal words, which made the recipient of his discourse know that he had been pierced, but without the whole audience in front of which he felt confused being able to understand exactly what was being alluded to), Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche was rather amused by confusing the prudery of his listeners.

   I did not witness his first teachings in Poland, but it seems that he had a lot of fun (if that is the right word) at the expense of some Polish Buddhist monks and nuns (Kagyüpas) who had come to his teachings, who had, as it should be, placed themselves in the front row with a dignified attitude. He would add obscene details to the stories he was telling, which obviously had absolutely no relevance to the central purpose of the story. Here is a perfect example that I was told:

"- There was one nun... this, what sort nun being, I not knowing. Maybe finger-sex-having-nun possible..."

There would be countless examples of this kind, but to accumulate them would bring nothing, apart from a few occasions to laugh. Here is another one anyway.

   C. R. Rinpoche was invited to the Kagyü Dzong temple, near Lake Daumesnil in the Bois de Vincennes [close to Paris]. The Lama Gyurmed, who obviously liked him, had him sit on a big throne, from which he had difficulty to get up and from which he also had difficulty to get down. I will come back later, perhaps, to the teaching he gave that day (it was on that occasion that he said of me that I was very good at Tibetan grammar, but that I understood nothing about Buddhist philosophy). Anyway, probably because that was the time when he became insulin-dependent, his diabetes having worsened, he began this teaching - on meditation - by saying, “Oh, how convenient it would be if meditation could be taught by injection! Alas, it is not possible.”

  As he finished his teaching (one of the most paradoxical of all those I have heard) and was laboriously descending the rather steep ladder from the throne from which he had preached, a good lady in her sixties stood up and, with her hands clasped and a devout look on her face, said:

“- Rinpoche, come back often to give us meditation injections like this one!”

To which of course he replied, within the sacred precincts:

“Come and see me after the teaching, I will stick you with a special injection!”

Next episode: click here.


Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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Petra 19/05/2021 11:56

Thanks for your recounts about this fascinating lama. I met him a few times in the mid and late 90ies. Do you know how many of the ladies he invited to get horizontal with him actually ended up in bed with him? And with what outcome? After all, as we now found out, some lamas had, behind closed doors, quite the abusive harem situation going on. While CR Lama talked about his sexual appetites quite publicly. But one wonders, how much of it was just his personal brand of humour or revealing people's bigotry, and how much has actually "happened" in that department. After all, CRR is not one of the lamas that has sexual abuse accusations stuck to him. What happened if one of the women he teased that way took him by his word?
Thanks from Munich,

Stéphane Arguillère 19/05/2021 20:13

As for the really dirty jokes, CRR was quite good at them, sometimes quite unexpectedly. I don't think I put the following story in any episode of my "memories": once I was with him in the French Jura, I don't know how it happened but I was alone with him on the small terrace of the tiny village café. He just started to talk to me in Tibetan, which basically never happened. He said: "How do you like the waitress? - I said: she's not bad but she has a bit of a big mouth. - He answered: "big mouth, big..., big nose, big...".

Petra 19/05/2021 20:06

Thanks for your answer! Actually, I quite liked his brand of humour. At one teaching he just pointed at a thangka with a deity in a sitting yab-yum position and just dryly mentioned: "Very uncomfortable" LOL.
At group dharma events I have often been desperately wishing that someone just farted or told a really dirty joke to loosen up the uptightness. But I generally sympathise with figures like Do Khyentse.
They are not making those anymore these days it seems. Sigh...
Though in our days of over-cosumerism becoming a monastic is probably the greater provocation to general society than freely talking about erotic attraction.
Honestly, I don't mind if people have an open relationship or polyamorous lifestyle, if it's fully transparent and all participants agree to it. i guess that trying to "own" a guy like CR Rinpoche in a marriage setting is from the beginning doomed to fail. It's like when you get a cat as a pet. From the beginning you know, it's gonan keep the house rodent free and will cuddle with you on a cold winter day, but it's not gonna fetch balls for you, no matter what you do. It will not. End of story.
I think what he was playing with is the expectations of his audience. My experience with lamas is that you better don't go there with any ego-clinging driven expectations. Because they might make you trip over those.
By the way, met Nyoshul Khenpo too, just relatively shortly before he died. He definitely left an impression with me. And I came to the same conclusion than you concerning the subtle dysfunctionalness of the Dordogne crowd. Honestly, I know a ton of totally non religious people connected to totally worldly hobbies that are more enthusiastic and accommodating to newcomers. For quite a while I didn't really know what to make of it, but the conclusion I have come to is not overly flattering. I mean, how can you continuously listen to a saintly person like Tulku Pema Wangyal talking about love, compassion and bodhicitta and then turn around and with a smile on your face be a total jerk so some random person just because he is not one of your presonal buddies? Over the years I have seen seveal dharma organisations from the inside and I'm baffled by the totally different styles of dysfunctional I have encountered there.
Greetings from Munich,

Stéphane Arguillère 19/05/2021 12:10

I am very much un-informed on that point. But from many hints, I think that you must be right: while he talked of sex very openly, I am not sure that he actually had so much and with so many partners. I would rather think the contrary. Many conservative Nyingma lamas blamed him for «abandoning» his old wife, Amala, and going around with Gudrun. But, who knows how much of that was agreed by all the parties, whether it was about «sex», etc. I have visited him only once in Siliguri and I remember a long conversation in the sun (it was winter) on the terrace, him and Amala sitting quietly together. Globally, if you take it from the perspective of real facts (as far as I know) and from a Tibetan point of view,

(1) Although he sometimes appeared to speak very highly of himself, in reality he mostly placed himself far below his actual rank in the hierarchy of protocol of the Nyingma school. In fact, the Tülku of Khordong was a very important figure, as one of the main lineage holder of the Northern Treasures, a tradition closely connected with the Dalai Lamas and with the political structure of the Old Tibetan Regime.

(2) Even though he sometimes seemed to speak of the extent of his knowledge in pompous terms, while his public teachings were rather rambling, he was really a very great scholar, and I had the opportunity to realize this often long after his death when I remembered things he had said to me that had not made sense at the time, but which were later the key for me to very subtle points in the texts.

(3) Even though he said a lot of obscene things and displayed a boundless freedom, I think that in reality he was on the side of a "common decency" without hypocrisy.