Continuation of my memories of Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, no. 18: the time of the translation of Tülku Tsullo's Gongpa Zangthal Manual, continued

Publié le 26 Mai 2021

Source of the illustration : Page Facebook KHORDONG WORLDWIDE.

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There were a number of working sessions with Chhimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, but not so many. For example, he once asked me to come to Poland and said that it would be an opportunity to work on the translation; I stayed there for a week or two, I don’t remember, in his Khordong center in Darnkow, which was then quite under construction. But he didn’t give me a single minute to translate the text; once I had left, he said to a friend:

“He’s a bit strange, this Steven, –  he comes to Poland to work on this text, and then he doesn’t ask me any questions.”

I am certainly, by temperament, very incapable of putting a foot in the door; but it must be said that, on this occasion, there was really no opportunity that I would have missed, no door in which anybody would have put any foot.

   So why did CRR bring me to Poland? Only he knew, and God knew, or Samantabhadra if you’d prefer; but I didn’t think anything of it, as I was used to being carried along by the current of his good pleasure, as if adrift. Perhaps this is the meaning of St. Francis of Assisi’s formula, which is better known by the way St. Ignatius of Loyola used it: “Obey like a corpse.” This strange sentence, at least in its original Franciscan sense, does not so much evoke a submission marked by “rigor mortis,” but rather the perfect indifference of the corpse which has no reluctance to remain in the position in which it is placed, however ridiculous it may be. Who knows, maybe he wanted me to receive the transmissions he gave that time in Poland - his own terma of the Protectors as well as the Lama Kagye form of Guru Dorje Drolo from Terchen Nüden Dorje’s revelations, I think. Still, today I am happy to have done absolutely everything he asked me to do, except for translating the Manual directly into English, which is not done yet but which I still remember, so long after, as an impending duty. In fact, in his own very idiosyncratic way, he didn’t positively order me to do it (when I told him: Rinpoche, if you order me to, I will do it, but I for one am convinced that it is beyond my capacity), but he did say to me, repeatedly:

“If you don’t translate it yourself into English, there will be obstacles.”

In fact, I have had my share of obstacles since then, and I would hope that it was these that he meant, rather than others that would be yet to come. I regret very much not having obeyed him on this one point, the thing he asked of me being not much more unreasonable, by human views, than others, which I came to the end of because he had prescribed them to me.

   One day (years earlier, I think) he said to me:

“Since you are an artist [as a young man I used to draw and paint willingly], make me a painting of Dorjé Drolö.”

I did this painting; I still remember that it was on a large black cardboard, with acrylic paint, using quite a lot of gold and silver to imitate the effect of the nakthang style thangkas (paintings on a black background, for the terrible deities). The colors were not perfectly traditional, because I was lazy enough not to go out and get the ones I was missing; however, this little daub seemed to please him. Some years ago I was told that it was still in a garage at Rinpoche’s house in Siliguri; I guess a few years of monsoons and “the gnawing critique of mice” got the better of it. 

[Correction of the original French version : Some time after I wrote this, I had the pleasure to spend a few days at Gudrun Knauesberger’s house, who kindly invited me to join when Tülku Chimed Gyaltsen visited her. In fact, she kept my little painting, which I thought had been lost for a very long time, in a corner of her beautiful apartment - just as she sent me a few days ago a copy of the letter in rough Tibetan that I had sent to Rinpoche when I was maybe only twenty years old. I do not mention these things. I don’t say this to make myself look good, since, once again, I believe that CRR treated everyone exactly the same in this respect: what was thought to be lost, what was not understood to have any meaning or importance to him, was curiously preserved with care.]

   This work, for example, has never been used for anything that I know of. CRR often prescribed seemingly useless tasks; I guess they weren’t useless to the people he made do them, or they were used to arrange some invisible reality, about which I have no clue. I have heard several stories about effects produced at a distance, for the benefit of some, by the actions of others, prescribed without any explanation by C. R. Lama; but I prefer not to relate them, to leave to those who told them to me the task of retelling them one day, without error, to those who will, I hope, compile more systematically the testimonies about Chhimed Rigdzin.

   Another work session, this one truly fruitful, took place in Geneva with some of Rinpoche’s Swiss disciples, who nicely welcomed me to their home for a few days. I don’t remember in which year this took place; in any case between 1996 and 1998. Rinpoche was then walking with a walker and with a lot of difficulty; I remember that he once fell, without hurting himself, very gently, and that I had to help Nadia Mati to get him up again (he was heavy, and, at that age, not muscular enough to get up by himself once he fell).

   From those few days in Geneva, I remember three things.

   One is the Rinpoche’s extraordinary speed and the precision of his answers. Of course, he did not give me any substantive clarification, useful for practice – but he confirmed or invalidated my interpretations of dozens of passages at great speed and without any hesitation. Never before have I been able to appreciate better than on this occasion his extraordinary intellectual acuity and the perfect sureness of his judgment, even though physically he already appeared to be burdened by old age.

  Another one will be just a sample of how weird it could be to work with Rinpoche. 

There is a long development in the text on the animal condition and its sufferings. In one passage, it is mentioned that they do not have access to language, but only utter inarticulate cries “such as oooo and baaa.” I asked Rinpoche what precisely these were, I mean, what animals were connected to each, because in French, at least, I couldn't leave the onomatopoeia out without replacing it with “mooing and bleating,” for example (which is what I assumed, and what it actually is). When I asked him, Rinpoche answered loudly:


as if I were making up some pedantic complication instead of translating the text as it is. That's all I could get out of it and I didn't push it.

  The third main thing that I remember is a kind of strange prophecy that he made to me and that I will report here without any comment, so much it is incomprehensible; the future will perhaps say what could be its meaning.

   We were in the middle of a difficult passage in the Tibetan text, which was taking up all my attention. Suddenly, and quite unrelated to the content of the text or to anything we had talked about before, Rinpoche asked me (I remember exactly, not only the words, but also the tone of his voice in that moment):

“- Steven [that's what he called me], YOU EVER EATING HUMAN MEAT?”

I had been accustomed to his form of humor for nearly ten years and, besides, I am not an enemy of jokes of this kind of taste. So I answered him, without paying any more attention than that:

“No, Rinpoche, I never got the chance.”

He let a few moments pass, and then he said to me:


While I'm on the subject of unfulfilled (thank God or Dorje Drolö) prophecies, here’s another one he told me several times:

“One day you'll be a big university professor and YOU WILL NOT EVEN SAY HELLO TO ME.”

There are a few more outstanding ones, including a very specific one about my academic career that he made to me as early as 1990 at the latest – at a time (I was nineteen or twenty) when it was exceedingly unlikely that I would ever be an academic, given the extreme scarcity of positions in the field of Tibetan studies. There are a few people to whom I have repeated it; it is in fact partly already realized; but I prefer not to write more about it here so as not to influence its eventual realization (call me a superstitious person if you will).

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Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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