Continuation of my memories of Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, #12

Publié le 20 Mai 2021

Guru Dorjé Drolö

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A friend of mine, who was reading the original French version of these memories and who was once a Buddhist himself before turning away (more or less) from this path, expressed his surprise at my disappointment at not having been really taken in hand and trained by the master who had nevertheless very formally accepted me as a disciple (see below the kind of amusing certificate that Nyoshül Khenpo gave me around 1989 in this sense). In short, he felt that I had failed; I myself thought this for a long time, first with a great sense of anxiety and guilt while Nyoshül Khenpo was alive, and then, after his death, with a bitter sadness, a feeling of having completely failed in my life, which finally turned, after a long time, into some degree of resentment, then into disgust of this spiritual tradition, before falling back, only a few years ago, into a kind of benevolent indifference, then acceptation, as a final result of the very slow healing of this deep wound.

My Disciple's "Certificate": Nyoshül Khenpo's Half-Joke (Summer 1989).
It reads:
mched grogs |
Su grib phan gi gu ru bla ma
mkhan po 'Jams dbyangs rdo rje yin 
mKham / n po |

That is : 
“Close friend(s) [ = brothers in religion],
The Guru [and] master of Su grib phan [= Stéphane]
Is myself, the Khenpo Jamyang Dorje.”
Signature: Khenpo [with a [deliberate?] spelling mistake corrected, 
which gave
: mKham po, a word which does not exist in Tibetan but which undoubtedly has 
curious connotations

   It is, in fact, the question at the center of these memories that of the transmission from master to disciple, of its real modalities with regard to its ideological representations, of the way in which it can take place to a certain extent through its very impasses.

   Why, I asked myself during all the years I knew Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, did Nyoshül Khenpo not teach me? Why didn’t he even reproach me for what I was probably doing wrong, which prevented him from taking charge of my training? Why, moreover, if I was not capable of receiving the very profound teachings of Dzogchen towards which he had nevertheless pushed me (by inviting me in particular to read all of Longchenpa’s writings, except the “point out” texts, so as not to blunt their effect when he would actually give them to me), why, I said, did he not give me other, less profound teachings, even the most humble ones, which would have been more commensurate with my inadequacy? There are even many Buddhist practices that he would certainly have considered good for me to do, which I did not do because he had not expressed his will in this sense.

Of course, today I see that my spirit of obedience was excessive, Benedictine in a way, even bordering on masochistic submission. But all Western neo-Buddhism of Tibetan inspiration is bathed in this spirit, and, besides, the traditional texts have nothing to the contrary. What else could the reader of Tibetan “lives of saints” think, he who has experienced the most vivid emotions in immersing himself in these stories whose structure is always the same – finding the master, being tested by him, finally receiving his “profound instructions,” then implementing them and obtaining the fruit, and finally, if necessary, teaching others according to this personal understanding resulting from the practice, if one has gone far enough in it? From the age of sixteen to thirty, and even afterwards (with more and more difficulty to hope for it seriously) this has been the only program of my life; not that I was devoid of any other taste, of any other passion – but it was perfectly clear to me that everything else, from my studies (which I loved very much) to my sex life, to my friendships (another ever important pole of my existence) and a fortiori my “career”, was of the second order and made, if necessary, to be sacrificed to my unique objective.

   These are things to which I will have to return if I ever report my memories of Nyoshül Khenpo, who was, according to my perception at the time, very much at the heart of this very central concern. I say this here only in the sense that it was the background and the basso continuo of my relationship with Chhimed Ridzin Rinpoche, – not perhaps as it really was, but as I perceived it. I mean, looking back over the years, I can ask myself if Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche was not, without my knowledge, more my teacher than Nyoshül Khenpo was. The Khenpo lived inaccessible in Bhutan; he did not answer much mail (or his letters got lost). Even during the little time he spent in France, his health made him little available and sometimes Sogyal Rinpoche, eager to monopolize the Khenpo’s little strength, did everything he could to prevent his disciples from meeting him and it took many tricks to get around the obstacles that he was trying to arrange through his whole tentacular bureaucracy.
   In sum, my interactions with Nyoshül Khenpo, over the dozen years that I knew him, were quantitatively meager, and despite the genuinely friendly as well as paternal kindness with which he treated me, in terms of teachings, I had the feeling that I was running into a completely steep and icy wall, a wall that had to have an opening somewhere, but whose Sesame was not given to me, although I always had the very guilty feeling that nobody was supposed to ignore it. It took me many years to clearly admit that Nyoshül Khenpo had been the only one responsible for this whole situation, since I was then willing to do anything he had clearly prescribed, and indeed I proved it completely when he finally told me in 1998 – but so late, too late! – to come to Bhutan to receive his teachings.

The only way to understand all this without admitting, quite simply, that all the “masters” do not have all the qualities of clairvoyance and limitless generosity that the Buddhist tradition attributes to them, would be to imagine that what must pass from the master to the disciple, passes well in spite of the impasses, or through them. But this would imply admitting that, in the end, the famous “instructions,” the “secret” teachings and their implementation through meditation, are not the central point, but only so many transitional objects, as it were, through which something is played out that is essentially the singular arrangement of two human singularities, between which would occur what psychoanalysis calls a transference, and a process of individuation that, all in all, the Buddhist tradition is not equipped to describe fully.

But how can we go all the way to admitting this without falling into the most complete relativism and abandoning all interest in the ancient traditions in favor of a kind of spiritual existentialism? Unless one admits that, in the end, all the spiritual traditions of humanity are but so many outlines of one, which explicitly places at the center of its piety the confrontation with the God-Man, of whom all the “masters” would be at best only the icon or the reflection, at worst only the monkey or the insulting caricature, or even the seductive and specious counterfeit? This is, to some extend, what I have come to today: to this vision of the only Teacher, and to the recognition that, in my relations with my Buddhist teachers, I was confusedly looking for him, because he had already found me and was gently calling me to him.

The questions of what to do, then, of the “profound instructions” is then another puzzle or riddle. 

   In any case, in contrast to those I had with Nyoshül Khenpo, my exchanges with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, in the same period, were numerous and rich and I was able to spend quite a lot of time with him, especially when I was serving him as an interpreter in Paris. It took all of Chhimed Rigdzin's charisma and also all of his infinitely skillful cunning to know how to guide, as if in spite of himself, someone who was persuaded that he was someone else’s disciple and who, as a result, gave only a second-rate status, in spite of everything, to the perhaps much more remarkable master he had in front of him, or at least, with whom many more doors were open for a true and fruitful interaction.

   One of the central aspects of Chhimed Rigdzin's teaching was devotion to Padmasambhava, especially in his Dorje Drolö guise – known in the West by the fact that Chögyam Trungpa made him the emblem of “crazy wisdom” in the sense that he coined it.

  In the Nyingma texts, this form of Guru Padmasambhava is associated above all with the subjugation of the spirits and demons of Tibet and thus, more or less implicitly, with the system of termas (gter ma) or “hidden treasures,” insofar as it is to these spirits of nature, subdued by Padmasambhava’s magical power, that Padmasambhava is said to have entrusted his teachings he placed in their safe keeping.

   The revelations of Nüden Dorje of Khordong contain two great cycles associated with this deity, which seem to vary according to the spirit of the two classes of tantras called Mahāyoga and Anuyoga. Indeed, the form known as Lama Kagye (Bla ma bka' brgyad), in which the deity is in union with and contains, in the various parts of his body, the deities of the “Eight Commands,” belongs rather to the latter system. All these things are only provisionally stated here: a serious study of the thirteen volumes of Terchen Nüden Dorje of Khordong’s revelations  would be much required.

   Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche gave the consecration (empowerment) of Guru Dorje Drolö during his second visit to Paris, perhaps in 1990. Let me speak about it with all the possible frankness and without epiloguer on the perplexity which inspires me today.

   I confess at first that I received this empowerment only with reluctance, not that I had then any doubts about Tibetan Buddhism, or about its tantric aspects, or even about the terma tradition in the Nyingmapa school. Nor did I have any reason to doubt the value of the terchö of Nüden Dorje of Khordong; in fact, curiosity was pushing me towards this rare tradition. It was rather that I had not yet overcome all my doubts about Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, who had first made me laugh so much, and who then, I confess, had frightened me to some extent, not so much by the verbal violence of which I have already given many examples, but especially by his strange omnipresence in my dreams, even though I did not feel the very emotional devotion to him that I felt towards Nyoshül Khenpo. I always then addressed all the Enlightened Ones through Nyoshül Khenpo, in whom, or through whom, I really saw the God-man; but I hardly ever addressed Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche inwardly, except perhaps as a powerful protector full of a kind of magical power, when I was confronted with the most material, most poignant distress. I turned to Nyoshül Khenpo as to the master, and to Chhimed Rigdzin, in fact, as to the protector, the fierce guardian deity. Again, I am talking about the inner situation I have reached after a few years, especially after my painful journey in 1992-93.

   There was a time when, while struck by Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche’s astonishing clairvoyance, I was both puzzled by the oddity of his teachings and quite worried by his omnipresence in my dreams, which I have already mentioned (while Nyoshül Khenpo, whom I thought about much more, appeared in my dreams only slightly less frequently than in real life – that is, close to zero). There was something frightening about this kind of inner intrusion. Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche seemed to me more like an old mage than an old sage.

   Moreover, at that time I was very attached to a form of traditional liturgical accuracy, at least as far as Tantrism was concerned. As much as I readily believed in spontaneous, informal transmission as regards Dzogchen was concerned, still, it seemed to me that, in Vajrayāna, substance could not be separated from form, and that ritual approximations could only go with a degradation of content. Now, although there was absolutely no reason to doubt his perfect competence in Tibetan tantric ritual, Chhimed Rigdzin often gave the impression of doing things in a haphazard and chaotic manner. At the time, this was a bit disconcerting for the devotee of the teachings of the Sakyapa master Phendé Rinpoche, that I also was: Phendé Rinpoche was truly the perfect embodiment of this ritual purism, and even of a certain liturgical perfectionism.

Ngor Ewam Phendé Rinpoche, from who I received quite many teachings over the years

   In spite of everything, pushed by curiosity or by I don’t know what instinct, I received the empowerment of Dorje Drolo that Chhimed Rigdzin gave, I believe, at the Adyar hall in the 7th district of Paris.

   Rinpoche did not have many assistants, as he did not travel with a large retinue of monks like others would. The close disciples and the organizers were thus mobilized to impose on the head, the hands, etc., of “the faithful” the sacraments of the initiation. As I was by far the youngest and did not belong to the first circle, I was the last to pass, and by a curious coincidence I had the last of these objects in my hand, the crystal, the support of the most interior part of the consecration, the one related to the revelation of the ultimate nature of the mind, which I had to place on the heads of all the participants.

I don't know what to make of this situation, but interpreted in Tibetan terms, it was in any case a kind of foreshadowing of the fact that my link with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche was going to crystallize around the Gongpa Zangthal, this cycle of teaching which, in the tradition of which he was the holder, corresponds exactly to what this crystal symbolized. 

   As soon as I received the consecration and while, for the reasons I have said, my confidence was not complete, the mantra of Guru Dorje Drolö began to turn spontaneously and without interruption in my mind; I thought I felt the presence of this deity.

   There is much to be said about these deities of Tibetan Buddhism, who in general do not have, to say the least, a full personality; they seem, in many ways, to be more archetypes whose role one embraces by visualizing oneself as this or that one, than beings supposed to be real and living by themselves, which it would be appropriate to worship. I will come back to this subject elsewhere, although much ink has already been spilled on it. In any case, I felt a lot of affinity with this figure at the same time ferocious and dancing of the master perched on a gravid tigress. But again, I had more confidence, especially in the teachings I received from Phendé Rinpoche on Vajra Yogini “Naro Kachöma” (Na ro mkha’ spyod ma), so complete, so detailed, so well articulated. I had no intention of looking elsewhere for more or better Tibetan Tantrism.Again, I experienced this kind of involuntary infatuation, or fascination, as a kind of intrusion or incomprehensible manipulation of my mind, as if by a foreign force. I felt possessed, so as to say, though not in a negative way. 

In the end, and perhaps this is the most important thing, it seems to me that if Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche was my teacher more than I thought or wanted, it was precisely because of his ability to put me on a different track from the one on which I was projecting the rest of the course of my life - and this without my consent and even without my understanding.

   Nevertheless, the experience grew for a whole week, at the end of which I ended up dreaming myself, very clearly and distinctly, in the form of Dorje Drolö. Thereafter, at least until the death of Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, whenever a dream became too oppressive, I would spontaneously transform myself into this clearly visualized deity, whose mantra I would recite in my sleep. This has never happened to me with any of the other numerous deities venerated by Tibetan Buddhism, except that once, I dreamed that after having been thus transformed into Dorje Drolö, I successively took on the aspect of a whole series of other deities – which I was to note thereafter that they were, more or less, those which one visualizes inside the body of Dorje Drolö...

   Let it not be thought that I am saying this to boast of having had “signs:”. I am all just testifying in all simplicity to what I have experienced and to what I do not understand. For these incredible and repeated dreams undoubtedly mean at least something about the extraordinary power or influence that Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche could have on minds, even if they were reticent and doubtful, as I was at the time. He exerted on me an action of which I cannot measure all the range, but which seems to me in any case even more profound than that which had the masters whom I venerated then most.

For the next episode: click here.


Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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Petra 21/05/2021 20:01

Hi again,
With interest I read your recounting of your relationship with Nyoshul Khenpo and CR Lama. A few thoughts about it.
Firstly: What is necessary for progress on the path, and here I found three components:
*intellectual dharma training
*being trained out of neurotic patterns of thought and emotion
*transmission of the absolute

These three roles don't need to be filled by the same person.

And here I can only guess why the Nyoshul Khenpo did so little to train you. The first point, he was quite frail and there were probably enough alternatives where you could get those intellectual teachings. For the second point, in my opinion, Tibetans are not overly good in de-neuroticising westerners, just as even a realised westerner is probably not the perfect fit do do that for a Tibetan.
And then the third point on the list, one hears these stories that there are practitioners who met their root guru only once in their life. So obviously to get transmission of the absolute in the vajrayana or dzogchen sense, it's not necessary to spend a huge amount of time with a teacher to "catch" that. But he possibly saw that during the time that remained for him you wouldn't yet be at a place in your development that you could "catch" it from him, so he gave you a ton of texts on the topic so you could work towards it? That's my speculation.
If the Tibetans have one clear fault it's not talking these things through with their western disciples, explaining the practical aspects of the path. So as a young westerner, you crash into this, unprepared, with no fucking clue and nobody explains the unspoken but very much existing rules of the game.

Stéphane Arguillère 22/05/2021 09:47

Dear Petra, what you write makes full sense. But this is also one of the reasons that decided me to write these memories and then release them. I am not sure that sharing just my conclusions would be half as efficient as just telling what happened concretely. People are surely able (and prefer) to draw conclusions by themselves, and though each case is singular, somehow a singular example (not presented as a model at all) sometimes makes more sense to us than general theoretical ideas…

Yours sincerly,

Yundrung Gyalpo.