News and Inspiration from Ligmincha Institute
Volume IV, Number 8
August 2, 2004
For easy reading, we recommend that you print out "The Voice of Clear
A Conversation with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche about his teacher,
Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche (Lopon).
Words from Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche.
"Knowledge and Experience" an edited excerpt from oral
teachings given by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, 2003.
Retreat Announcement: "Part One, The Ngondro" September 22-26, 2004,
with Geshe Lungrig Gyaltsen, at Serenity Ridge.
Sangha Sharing
The Summer Retreat, July, 2004 - A Student's Experience.
This summer retreat seemed to me perfect in many ways. One such way
was that during the third week everything suddenly fell into place
for a conversation with Tenzin Rinpoche about his guide and master,
Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche.
After hearing Rinpoche tell one of his great stories about Yongdzin
Rinpoche (Lopon) during one afternoon teaching, I was inspired to try
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to meet with him to have him share with me for publication in the
VOCL, more of his thoughts and recollections about Lopon. As it
turned out, there was an opening in Rinpoche's schedule and he gladly
welcomed my suggestion that we sit and talk for a bit about his great
teacher who will be coming in the fall for a week-long retreat at
Serenity Ridge.
When I arrived for our get-together, tape recorder in hand, Rinpoche
glowed, and I was immediately drawn into his great space. He started
the tape recorder and dove right in, his words flowing effortlessly
and beautifully from his heart, about his teacher, Yongdzin Rinpoche.
Not losing any time, I began by asking Rinpoche, "In your eyes, what
are some of the qualities that Yongdzin Rinpoche embodies? How did
he affect you as a young monk?"
Without hesitation, Rinpoche began, "The main quality that comes to
my mind is his compassion - the quality of his being very open, very
receptive, with a lot of love. It is especially clear how being
around him, we all receive so much of his blessing and love.
"He's always had a strong combination of an open, compassionate
attitude and a great strength. The way he sees things is unshakable,
unchangeable. You can clearly feel that there are areas within him -
his realization, his way of seeing things, who he is - that are
unshakable. And what comes out of that strength is such a loving,
warm, and compassionate caring. Lopon took care of us children in
the monastery, sharing his time, food, clothes, knowledge, love -
with no limits.
"It was quite clear what I saw in him, and I've always tried to be as
open and loving, and at the same time, as strong as I could. In this
way he has made a very strong impact on me. The way he teaches also
has had a strong impact on me; it is thoughtful, planned, clear and
systematic where it needs to be, and where it doesn't need to be,
his teaching is very open, and flowing with momentum and humor."
I then asked Tenzin Rinpoche if he would share a recollection or two
about his relationship with Lopon from back when he was growing up as
a young monk at Menri Monastery.
Rinpoche thought for a moment and said, "Lopon was head teacher of
the monastery. There is a whole curriculum that needs to be followed
by monks. So as a student, I was required by Lopon to follow
strictly the whole curriculum, to receive all the classes from Lopon
as my teacher. But at the same time, Lopon was very much like a
father to me. I lived with him in the same house, and for example,
waking me up in the morning, he was always careful that I didn't
fall back asleep. As a kid growing up, you know, sometimes you just
don't want to wake up in the morning." Rinpoche smiled, "So, Lopon
would gently make sure on those mornings to let me know first that he
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was up, then in a bit, that everyone else was now up, and then
finally that maybe now it was time for me to be up too!
"In the evenings we'd sit together, sharing soup, sharing stories.
We'd always spend time in the evening just sitting and sharing
stories, anything from ghost stories, to local stories, to
international stories.
"I used to love Indian movies and I would go to town to see them when
I was a monk. Lopon did not necessarily like when I would go to the
movies, though. So there were evenings when I would not let him know
that one of the stories that I was telling him came from a movie I
had just seen. Sometimes though, during our one day off each week,
we would have long walks lasting a few hours, and I would tell him a
story from a movie that I had seen without his knowing, and he would
enjoy the story so much. But when the story was from a mystery
movie, one where the ending left the audience not knowing what had
happened to some of the characters, Lopon would keep asking me,
'What happened to this person, and to that person?' "And then
finally," Rinpoche laughed, "I would have to tell him, 'I'm sorry I
don't know because that story was really from a movie I saw last
I wanted Rinpoche to speak about Lopon's leaving Tibet after the
Chinese invasion in 1959. I asked him, "What were the conditions
like for Lopon's escape over the Himalayas? And how did Lopon then
help in establishing the new Menri Monastery in India? How was he
chosen to be the Lopon, head teacher?"
Rinpoche began by explaining what he had heard many times, "When
Lopon was escaping, it was very, very difficult. There was quite a
large group of people with him trying to escape, and many of them
were killed on the way. They were attacked many times, and each
attack killed many, many people. In one attack, Lopon was shot. The
gun was so strong that the bullet penetrated through his leg and he
was injured for a few months. He was left up in the mountains where
some of the local people took care of him. One of the monks, Sherab
Tsultin, went back to find him and took care of him there.
"When Lopon finally arrived in India, of course the one thing on his
mind was the community of Bonpo refugees, primarily his teachers and
those who were practicing Bon. His deep wish was to know that one
day there would be some kind of home where at least the teachers
could be and where the local people could connect to those teachers,
where they could come gather together and be together.
"When Lopon left to go to England for three years, that wish was most
on his mind. He began to ask different people there for help, and
the Catholic Relief Service helped to establish the community in
Dolanji. When Lopon returned to India, that became a big undertaking
for him.
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Rinpoche pointed out, "I came to the monastery about seven years
after that."
Regarding how Yongdzin Rinpoche was chosen to be the new Lopon,
Rinpoche explained, "Choosing the Lopon is a very organic development
in the monastery. There are hundreds of monks studying and whoever
shows the highest qualities of intellectual capacity, of openness,
kindness and the ability to be with others, as well as a high degree
of development in their practice, is the one chosen to be the new
Lopon. So there are many, many qualities on which the choice is
based, and that I am sure they clearly saw in Yongdzin Rinpoche.
"I remember Lopon saying, though, that when he was chosen, he was a
little terrified of that position and that he did not want to do it
initially. It was a big responsibility, but somehow he could not say
no because it was requested of him by his teacher. So he did say
yes, and I'm very glad that he did."
With our short time together almost up, I concluded my visit by
asking Rinpoche a personal question, "Is it hard being away from
Lopon, your teacher?"
Rinpoche thought for a moment and responded, "In the beginning when I
left the monastery after finishing my Geshe degree, it was not hard
for me to leave him. I was looking forward to exploring the world
and trying to see the world through different eyes. Back then, my
leaving was probably harder on him than it was on me. After a few
years, it felt like I had seen enough of the world. So, the first
time Lopon came to visit me in Italy and then had to leave, it was
really hard for me to see him go. I don't remember ever in my life
having that many tears or water existing in me, in my eyes; my tears
were like pouring water after he left me. It was very hard for me
then. But now it is different.
"I went at first from not feeling bad leaving him at the monastery,
to feeling no good without his presence, to later feeling fine with
our being apart. I always know now that he is there for me. Every
day he is in my heart. Almost every night he is in my dreams. And
every year I spend a few months visiting with him. I feel very
fortunate that I am able to do that. And I am continuing to plan to
do so."
Thank you Rinpoche from all of our hearts!
- Aline and Jeff Fisher
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"Because you have been born with the ability to practice, this shows
something of how you acted in your previous lives. But now you must
consider how to use this precious opportunity. Otherwise it will be
wasted; time is passing very quickly. We must practice the
religious way, always aware of the value of time.
"We must also make sure that our virtuous action is not spoiled,
which might happen if you don't know how to preserve its merit. But
if you know how to preserve the merit of your actions, then even a
small action, like saying a mantra once, is important. Its benefit
will always be there. We have a proverb saying that if you put one
drop of water in the ocean, then until the ocean is dry, that drop of
water will not evaporate. In the same way, this small bit of virtue,
whatever you do, is never spoiled.
"How do you preserve merit? Whatever virtuous action you perform,
you must dedicate its merit for all sentient beings. This is very
very important. Always consider that whatever you have done should
be of benefit for all sentient beings, not only for yourself. Also,
it's good to reflect on the Dzogchen or other Buddhist views
about emptiness - that your action is really empty of self-nature, so
it cannot truly become corrupted. This contemplation should be done
in conjunction with the accumulation of merit and the dedication.
Then the merit certainly won't be spoiled or lost.
"For example, sometime you might become angry, and even if you don't
hit someone or express your anger in some other negative way, your
angry thoughts might destroy the merit of your previous virtuous
actions. Anger is particularly dangerous - it can burn up all your
virtue very quickly. But if you've already dedicated the merit of
your actions and also understood them as empty, there's no problem.
"These are basic points we should always remember as we practice.
Sometimes our situation is very pleasant and we feel happy, but we
must remember that this state is not permanent. The consequences of
our past actions will continue to manifest, and it's important to
take advantage of our present opportunities to practice even more.
Even when it seems we are happy and fortunate, our happiness is still
quite limited compared to that which comes from practicing the
teaching. The higher bodhisattvas live in the pure realms and are
much happier than we are. So our ordinary happiness is not final at
all. It is only temporary, and we shouldn't trust it too much."
[An excerpt from the preliminary comments by Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak
to "The Twenty One Nails,"; an edited transcript from Ligmincha
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Institute's 3rd Annual Summer Retreat, New Mexico, 1995; this
book "The Twenty One Nails" is a volume of teachings from the "Oral
Transmission of Zhang Zhung" with commentary by Yongdzin Tenzin
Namdak and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, edited by Anne Klein, Annette
Jones and Steven Tainer, and published by Ligmincha Institute in 1996
(transmission is required to obtain a copy of it.)]
"KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE" an edited excerpt from oral teachings
given by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, 2003.
There is a big difference between knowledge and experience. It is
possible for one to have knowledge without any experience, or one
might have experience without having knowledge. Knowledge here is
referring to intellectual knowledge, not absolute knowledge.
One might observe, "Everything is happening to me," experientially,
but then not have any knowledge about those experiences. For some
lucky people, they have no problem with that. They would
say, "Fantastic, it's all happening, and I don't care to know what it
is." Others who have not gotten rid of the grasping mind want to
know something conceptually about the experiences and they ask,
"What is that experience?" And those who have even more grasping mind
want to know more about their experience, asking questions like, "Why
is it happening? Why is it happening to me? Why now?" And then
those who have even more grasping than that want to know, "Why did it
NOT happen until now? Why did it take so long? How long will it
stay?" You can get worse and worse and worse.
So it's always a question of how much grasping mind you have and then
also how much space you have to contain these experiences without
necessarily judging, analyzing, and putting them all into boxes and
labeling them. If you can minimize the boxes and labels, that is
wonderful. But when you maximize the boxes and labels, you are just
giving yourself a hard time. It is especially true within the
spiritual domain that we ask these kinds of questions too much.
If, for example, you wanted to know conceptually about the function
of your eye, it might take you 10 or 15 years to study it thoroughly
enough to actually be able to know the way the eye functions and the
way its one billion pieces or mechanisms work together as the eye.
But I am happy not to know any of that so long as I can see things
clearly, right? Or would you want to take issue with that and
say, "I don't care if I see or not, I just want to know conceptually
how the eye works to see when I see?" No, you wouldn't say that;
it's enough just to be seeing clearly, to be able to see the light;
it's not necessary to know everything.
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But when we do need to label, we have to have compassion for that
part of ourselves, too. It's like there is someone inside you who
wants to know all about something. You've heard the term "inner
child?" This is more like our "inner professor" who wants to know
about everything intellectually with all the labels and categories.
So, one's knowledge and one's experience are both very important.
In dzogchen teachings we always say: you listen, you hear, you
reflect, you know, you experience, you let it go. This is a great
To begin with, if you don't hear, then it is hard to be able to
reflect on things. And then when you reflect on something, do you
reflect on it your whole life? No. At some point, you have to have
some conclusion, right? Can you say that as a teenager you are
reflecting on something and then in middle age you are still
reflecting on it and then when you are dying you are still reflecting
on the same issue? This would not be very good, right? As a result
of reflecting, naturally there comes some kind of intellectual
This intellectual conclusion is so important. You conclude a certain
meaning from what you initially heard and then reflected upon. The
metaphor for this intellectual understanding is one of lighting a
candle in a dark room. Prior to your concluding, you may think, "I
heard that in this room all these objects exist, but the room is
still dark so even if I've been told of all that is in here, I
haven't seen it yet." But then the moment you light the candle, you
finally see everything; you know where everything is compared to
where you expected it all to be; that's called an intellectual
Once you know that intellectually, then the next step is that you
experience it. Experience is a deeper kind of connection; like when
you taste chocolate. The moment you have a taste of chocolate, do
you have a doubt about chocolate? No, you don't have a doubt about
chocolate. So discovering something through your experience is like
tasting chocolate. That's the metaphor.
When you taste the chocolate, how do you taste it? You taste it
fully, enjoy it, be with it, feel it; you allow the experience to
last. You live fully with that taste, rather than thinking that the
experience is going to end, or where the next chocolate will come
from, or if there is still any chocolate left, or whether someone
else has it now, or how I am going to get it again. You don't have
to go through all the samsaric reactions, right? You can just be
fully with that chocolate.
So once the chocolate is finished, what do you do? Well, the
chocolate is definitely free from you now so you should be free from
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the experience of the chocolate, too! The chocolate might say, "I
have given myself fully to this person, even though he didn't really
enjoy it so much because he was worrying and thinking about
something. Now I'm happy to be out of here." This last step is the
notion of letting go - letting go of experience. And for us that"s
very very very difficult here. Because when we first have the
experience, we say, "Well, good! Finally. After all this time! I
thought it would never happen!" Now when it happens, you jump and
grasp. We even grasp non-grasping mind. The moment you do that then
you are right back to your old habits.
In the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyu, there is something called, "No action,
no trace." What it means is that in this action you don't leave
traces behind. Like drawing in the sky. You can draw something here
in space, and what do you see? Nothing. Or, it's like a bird flying
away from a rock or a bird flying through the sky. You see the bird
flying, you see the bird moving, but you also see that behind the
bird there is nothing there. What it leaves behind itself is just
clear space. Where it moves through is just clear space.
Retreat Announcement:
"Part One, Ngondro" September 22-26, 2004,
with Geshe Lungrig Gyaltsen, at Serenity Ridge.
Part One, The Ngondro, from the Experiential Transmission of Zhang
Zhung (Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyu), is the entrance to a cycle of Bon
dzogchen, or "Great Perfection" teachings. This year we are very
fortunate to have Geshe Lungrig Gyaltsen teaching these beautiful and
essential practices to us.
The Ngondro teachings, a complete set of practices in themselves,
offer instructions for "taming" oneself, for purification, and for
perfection. These are lifelong practices appropriate for people at
all stages of training and are the prerequisite for further study of
the Experiential Transmission of Zhang Zhung. The transmission for
the practices will be given by Geshe Lungrig Gyaltsen at the
conclusion of the retreat.
Geshe Lungrig decided to become a monk at the age of four. At the
age of 12, he enrolled in the Bon Dialectic School and completed a
rigorous course of traditional monastic studies including sutra,
tantra, dzogchen, and astrology. In 1994, at the age of 26, he was
awarded his geshe degree from Menri Monastery, Dolanji, India. The
following year geshe-la made a pilgrimage to Tibet where he taught
and gave empowerments. When he returned, he went to Kathmandu to
study dzogchen under the guidance of Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak
Rinpoche. Since 2000, Geshe Lungrig has been teaching tsa lung,
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dzogchen, powa, chod, and astrology in various countries in Europe.
Register for this retreat by August 23 for the price of $300 or after
August 23 for $350. Call Ligmincha at: (434) 977-6161 or e-mail:
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
This summer I was asked to be the shrine attendant for Ligmincha's
Summer Retreat where Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche would teach from "The
Twenty-One Nails." By saying yes, I discovered the meaning of that
text for me.
When I was asked to be shrine attendant, I said yes with pleasure. As
the first day of retreat approached, I started to get nervous about
the Yeshe Walmo offering. For those of you who are new to Bon like I
am, the offering entails the sangha reading the Yeshe Walmo
Invocation several times. During the reading, the shrine attendant
has several duties that she performs for the whole sangha in front of
the shrine.
The night before, nervous that I would fail, I just let go, thinking,
all I can do is make the offering with an open heart. If I fail in
the form, I will have that openness to fall back on. I will always
have it, so I never need to stop expressing myself just because I am
afraid that I will fail. I made a decision, a commitment to my heart.
Each morning Rinpoche would go over one Nail by weaving between the
text and samsara, defining a path to apply the teachings to our
lives. Each afternoon, he asked us to work on one of four qualities:
love, compassion, joy or equanimity during a sacred sound practice
using different seed syllables. I had picked love as my quality.
One day he asked us what we thought the text was about and how the
practice related to it. With the confidence I got from making the
Yeshe Walmo offering each day, I raised my hand. "For me, the
simplest way to think about The Twenty-One Nails is that they are
instructions on how to live with an open heart. The ideal is to get
to the stage where we are stable in the nature of mind, then we
should be able to live with an open heart in everything we do
spontaneously. The practice is a gradual way to show us how."
Somehow, after saying that out loud, I knew what the practice had
done for me. Working with love had shown me who I was. When I was
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practicing, I was seeking love outside myself, but love and my heart
knew better. The result was that I gave myself to my own heart with
my whole body, speech, mind, heart and soul. I gave myself the
openness to love myself for just being the way I am being at any
moment, good or bad, happy or sad. Years of indefensible masks that
have grown very heavy to carry around are beginning to drop from my
face. When I look at myself, I see something I recognize.
To me, "The Twenty-One Nails" isn't about my heart; it is about THE
heart, the heart of space and light. But in Bon, transmission is
experiential. Can we experience the heart of space and light without
first experiencing our own hearts? Can we experience our own hearts
without first taking off the masks and feeling our heart, hearing it,
surrendering to it? I can't. I need to experience this in my body,
speech, mind, heart and soul. This is a continuous knee-buckling
experience for me. I am completely awed by the power of my heart.
Every moment that my heart is open, I feel more alive than the
moments when it is closed.
At the beginning of week three, Rinpoche gave all of us who had been
at the retreat for the first two weeks permission to change
qualities. Throughout the first two weeks many practitioners grew
frustrated trying to define an action plan to express the quality in
their lives. Now, given the opportunity, I changed my quality to
Around this time someone who was in a tent, asked me if she could
share my single room. Normally, being masked by pretense, I would
have said yes and just dealt with the inconvenience. But I decided to
let one mask go and be true to who I was being at the time, someone
conditioned by liking her own room. I answered her directly by
saying, 'I am going to be very honest and say no.' By doing that I
saw that I am not very compassionate when it comes to my condition of
wanting some privacy.
Through the help of our teacher and this practice, I have made a
decision to live with an open heart for the rest of my life. By
making this decision I am connecting more with people. Is this
compassion or love? Are they the same thing? Does having compassion
for your open heart compassionately connect you with others? I think
love and compassion can be the same. If when you open your heart and
give space for love to flow, can that love become any quality that's
needed at the time?
Sometimes my body feels very light and filled with energy when my
heart is open to the other people in my life. But it's hard.
Sometimes it hurts to face who you are being, like being a person who
won't share her room. And it hurts a lot to change or face how you
used to be. When I came back from the retreat, I had expected to
spend the month of August in Africa with my new partner. But when we
tried to connect, he couldn't open to the new spaciousness in me. I
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hit a wall. I couldn't respond to his resistance to that openness. So
I decided to let us both be free to find someone who could love us
for being just the way we are. It hurts to change. But my heart is
surprising me by opening unexpectedly to people I never would have
seen before or reconsidered. My partner just called. He didn't ask me
for anything; he was just opening too. I asked him if he wanted to
see me. He said yes. Living with a heart that's open means you never
stop opening. And you never know what you're going to do next because
you keep changing because you keep opening, over and over and over
With deep gratitude to our Teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche for
teaching us this most beautiful text, "The Twenty-One Nails," and to
my Dharma sisters Raven Wood, Kim Cary, and Aline Fisher for giving
me this opportunity to serve the sangha.
- Candace Byers
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