Continuation of my memories of Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, #14

Publié le 22 Mai 2021

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I come to the year 1996, when Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche finally decided to give the transmissions of the Gongpa Zangthal

   What is the Gongpa zangthal (dGongs pa zang thal)? It is the Dzogchen teachings contained in four volumes that Rigdzin Gödem is said to have discovered in the cave of Zangzang Lhadrak during the winter of 1366-1367 (the fifth volume of the 1973 edition that Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche gave me - or rather: sold me - around 1993 [illustration above], contains another cycle of Dzogchen revealed by the same Tertön from the same place, the Kadak Ranjung Rangshar) It is, to put it simply (and therefore approximately), the most considerable “visionary” Dzogchen cycle, by quantity and quality, outside the tradition of the “Nyingthiks” compiled and completed by Longchenpa in the first half of the same century (among the Nyingmapas, only the Yangti Nagpo “discovered” a little later by Dungtso Repa could be compared with these three cycles: much less extensive than the Gongpa Zangthal and a fortiori than the Nyingthiks, it contains, on the other hand, very remarkable originalities, notably for practices in complete darkness; outside the Nyingma tradition, one must of course mention the Zhangzhung Nyengyü of the Bönpos, extraordinarily profound and whose study throws considerable light on the most obscure aspects of the Nyingmapas’ texts).

   The Gongpa Zangthal differs from the Nyingthiks codified by Longchenpa in that it includes, in addition to the corpus linked to Vimalamitra (corresponding to the Bima Nyingthik) and that linked to Padmasambhava (the counterpart of the Khandro Nyingthik), a whole cycle related to Vairocana the translator (Ba gor Bai ro tsa na). All this is more clearly presented in the introduction and the notes of my French translation of Tülku Tsurlo (or Tsullo)’s Manual (soon to be translated in a much improved version in English).

   That summer (1996, not 1995 as I believe I mistakenly wrote in the French book), Chhimed Rigdzin gave the Gongpa Zangthal transmission twice, once in Poland at his Drophan Ling center, and then once in the French Jura, at a place rented by his closest group of French disciples and where several retreats were to be held over the years.

   As always with Rinpoche, this session was very eventful; this time, since I was the one who had, over the years, made and re-made the request for these teachings, I found myself in the middle of the turmoil (which I was normally more or less spared by my quite “peripheral” status among Chhimed Rigdzin R’s students). First, I was reproached for not being present in Poland in July, when Rinpoche gave these transmissions for the first time. It so happened that I had invited Khenpo Dorjee Tsering, then lecturer at the C.I.H.T.S. in Sarnath, to France for the whole month - the same one who had clarified for me the self-commentary of Longchenpa’s Treasury of the Real Element (Chos dbyings mdzod). This was all planned before the teachings in Poland were announced, and it would have been as impossible for me to free myself as it would have been to bring the Khenpo with me. Rinpoche said to me:

“These Khenpos will cause you obstacles.”

[I heard only a few months ago that the dear Khenpo Dorjee Tsering passed away more or less 10 years ago, I have no clue in what circumstances, without my knowledge.]

There are three things that Rinpoche told me would cause me obstacles and yet I had the questionable audacity to persist in: (1) to follow the teaching of these “khenpos,” (a title which, among the Nyingmapas, does not have its proper meaning of abbot of a monastery, but which designates the monks who have come to the end of a long and difficult course of studies); (2) to do regularly a practice of Chö (gcod) received from Phendé Rinpoche, according to the cycle of Vajra Yogini Naro Khachema (Na ro mkha’ spyod ma), about which Rinpoche often warned me by saying that the Tsharpas (branch of the Sakyapas from which this practice came) had been the first to practice Dorje Shugden in Tibet, even before the Gelukpas started; (3) having first translated the Manual into French, and not directly into English myself. I will come back to the last point.

   Before giving the teaching, Rinpoche asked the gathering of those who came to receive it questions about its content, with the understanding that there would have been no point in giving it if no one had strong reasons for wanting to receive it. 

   As I recall, only James Low (the most ancient and most respected of Rinpoche’s Western students) and I answered these questions. James Low, if I recall correctly, responded by beautifully emphasizing how the “natural state,” the deep, ever-mirroring nature of the mind, was central to these teachings. For my part, I preferred to insist on the technical aspect of the Gongpa Zangthal as a practical way to achieve this, especially via the “four visions” of the Thögal.

   Those who did not know Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche (and who have no clue about the Gongpa Zangthal) can hardly get an idea of the question and answer exchanges during his teachings. Answering him always exposed one to public ridicule; however, the meaning of the sarcasm he dispensed even to those who had not said anything untrue certainly varied greatly. Rightly or wrongly, it often seemed to me that in addition to the possible dimension of moral correction of the shortcomings that could be expressed in an answer, even a fair one, to a question he had asked, there was also a side by which his often rather harsh jibes were like a kind of test aiming, not at all at “destroying the ego” (according to the neo-Buddhist cliché about all the masters practicing verbal brutality), but rather – I would almost say : on the contrary – to check whether the one who answered knew really what he was saying and held to it in a reasonably firm manner. Indeed, it is clear, even from traditional hagiographies, that if the disciple must be submissive to the master, he must nonetheless desire the teachings he is to receive in a very resolute manner, otherwise there would be a risk that he would detach himself from them, that he would not give them their full value.

   In my own particular case, I have always wondered how much Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche did not want (for reasons he kept secret) to keep me out of the group of his disciples, especially for a long time after his death. I am in no position to talk about my shortcomings (or even just my annoying sides, especially when I was young and had a tendency to make fun of everybody, I confess); it is up to others to expose them. But I am aware that I was perceived as a very arrogant person, especially at that time. I don’t know if pride is my worst fault; when I think back to that time, it seems to me that I had a very negative view of myself and that there was something very self-destructive in me, which perhaps explains in part my taste for the Chö practice. On the other hand, I was certainly very egocentric and, like many young men with a little bit of talent, I imagined too much that my life would unfold according to my plans, and that it would only take a total commitment for all obstacles to be removed. Despite my perplexity, which was already very great in 1995 or 1996, about the way Nyoshül Khenpo treated me (with an interminable silence), I remained naively convinced, without any qualms, that my life would follow the traditional pattern of Tibetan hagiographies (meet the master, survive the tests he would impose, then receive the teachings, put them into practice, obtain the fruits of it, then teach others). The only surprise - a huge one - was that I received the teachings I had been longing for, not from Nyoshül Khenpo, but from Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche. 

   At the end of these exchanges of questions and answers, Rinpoche gave me the nickname “Khenpo Carbon Copy,” perhaps not in the sense of: a Khenpo whose name would be “Carbon Copy” but rather “a Carbon Copy [of the teachings of the] Khenpos.” Watever: the idea was one of purely bookish knowledge, in contrast, no doubt, to James Low’s greater inner maturity. Basically, today, it would be with a certain pride that I would wear this sobriquet “Khenpo Carbon Copy,” in the sense that, indeed, I no longer claim to do anything other than repeat verbatim what the texts say (or, in this series of memories, “the words of my perfect teacher”): it is my function, it is my “dharma” in the Hindu sense of the term.

I could surely with the purest false modesty, apply to myself what Nyoshül Khenpo once said to people who asked him about the Dzogchen teaching:

“I have only done some little intellectual studies.”

But in my case, this would be the pure truth.

Besides, I do not consider myself absolutely useless, even to people who would like to follow this way in practice: Perhaps St. Teresa of Avila is not wrong when she says that confessors well trained in theology, though not personally initiated into the secrets of prayer, were always very useful to her, provided they were humble - while ignorant people, especially those who had a claim to judge the mystical path in which they were not personally more versed than theologians, had, she says, caused her much harm. It is in this sense only that, now, I can understand the very extensive blessings Nyoshül Khen Rinpoche repeatedly gave to me, saying: “You will be of great benefit to the teachings.” Not only realized beings are useful, the “Khenpos Carbon Copies,” provided that they remain aware of their limited role (but stand firm on this little ground), can still have one that is useful.

   It is not for me to judge the usefulness of a book like my French translation of Tülku Tsullo’s Manual for practitioners of this path, if any - but it is clear that, for my part, as long as I applied myself to it, I had much more to suffer from the arrogance and blindness of so-called practitioners who accused all scholars of pride as a matter of principle, than from reading or listening to people who had simply carefully read the texts by themselves and offered what they thought they understood, with all due respect.

   In short, Chhimed Rigdzin gave the consecration (empowerment, initiation) of the Gongpa Zangthal and then the lung (oral transmission) of Tülku Tsullo’s Manual, after which he said that it all would be useless if no one translated it. Of course, for reasons that would be plain to those who know what the situation was, this was a way of urging me to do so. But for myself, who had read the whole text very carefully, it was clear that besides the enormous scope of the task (the Tibetan text of the Manual is about 225 pages in the dbu med scrit in the edition that Rinpoche gave to me much earlier, 300 p. in the Tibetan xylographic edition that I got much later), I was going to run into innumerable difficulties, given the great technicality and obscurity of the teachings, on the one hand, the corrupted character in places of the text of the manuscript on which I had worked (one would realize this if he or she reads the notes of the French translations of the Manual) and which alone was available at the time, on the other hand - and finally the predictable refusal of Rinpoche to really teach on the text step by step, either through a regular teaching (which was frankly not his style), or through numerous and frequent interviews, which would have been necessary to clarify the difficulties of the text.

  Let me add to this that Rinpoche had known, I do not know how (in his own way, always mysterious) that I was thinking of translating (at least at first) only the part of the text relating to Dzogchen - as the Manual contains very long developments (nearly 100 p. the 225 pages manuscript) on subjects such as the necessary preparation, the “ordinary” and “extraordinary” preliminary practices – in short, things that are not absolutely original and for which the enormous task of translation, given Rinpoche’s advanced age and the difficulty of finding the necessary clarifications from other masters, did not seem to me to be a priority. This is another point on which he blamed me heavily.

   What emerges from all this is that in any case Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche wanted me to translate all this text, including the instructions it contains that are both the most technical and, normally, the most confidential, all by myself and without much help, either from himself or from other Tibetan lamas. In fact, this is what happened (in French, so far, the English is not complete yet), although long after his death, since it took me about twenty years to complete the French version (not in a continuous work, of course, but with breaks and repeats, and a constant return to the text, which I annotated little by little, especially from all the parallel passages found in other readings, notably from Longchenpa).

   About this translation, which was therefore not to be published until a very long time later (the French version was published in November 2016!), here is a remarkable word and one that I think is worth reporting. Once when I had Rinpoche on the phone (this is the only time he called me himself, I was at my parents’ house in Le Havre, Normandy), I asked him if it would be possible one day to publish this translation, once it was finished.

   Rinpoche answered (I still remember very clearly his voice on the phone, telling me, when I introduced myself: “I recognize your sound”):

"Nowadays, if the oral instructions from the master to the disciple remain secret, there is no sense in keeping the texts secret. "

I believe that the main purpose of this phone call was to tell me that he had finally decided to give the transmissions of the Gongpa Zangthal: the fact that he called me to tell me this shows that he wanted me to feel that it was mainly at my request that he had decided to do so.

   Following the words I have reported, he also strangely asked me with some insistence whether my name would appear on the translation once it was done and published. I first thought this was a call to humbly step aside, and I replied that I didn’t care, and that if he preferred to have his name on it, or any other, that was fine with me as well. But he then only repeated his question, without explaining himself, as he often did when he wanted to give a prophetical indication from his strange clairvoyance. I think that, far from pushing me to deprive myself of the possible fruits of my work, he wanted me to take the place he wanted me to occupy. As many of his predictions (which I will report in a later episode) indicate, he saw me having a successful academic career in the future and seemed to view it as useful (for who knows what). It is moreover very remarkable that he did not cease to predict it to me, as soon as I was 19 years old and when nothing was more improbable, especially in the field of “orientalist” studies, where positions are excessively rare, and when, for my part, I only wished to be a practitioner of the Tibetan way, if possible a monk (that was my idea in those times…), without a glance at what I considered then as the vanities of the world...

Next chapter : click here.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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