Excellent Guidelines For Students
A few weeks ago, I came across a set of guidelines that Venerable Acharya Kyabje Zasep Tulku Rinpoche had written for his students back in 1999. From his guidelines you can see he is straightforward, honest, genuine and real. He is really out to find genuine receptacles of dharma. Being real is refreshing. He has set realistic goals for his students and for you to him. I liked that and was very impressed with this. You must study through what his guidelines are which is applicable universally meeting any teacher I feel. It certainly applies to Kechara and potential Kecharians very much.
Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche answers questions that I feel are very good to contemplate on, especially for serious students who are currently pursuing a spiritual path or plan to. Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche is a very qualified teacher in the traditional and contemporary style of Buddhism. Those who are his friends and students are VERY VERY VERY LUCKY. I REJOICE. He has trained under supremely high level masters of Tibet and Zasep Rinpoche has taken his practice as his life. He has supreme guru devotion, very loyal to the practice as passed to him by his masters, and very dedicated in his determination to be of benefit to others. Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche eats, breathes, lives, sleeps, abides within pure dharma principles. He is not impressed with wealth, fame, name or looking politically correct. He holds his lineage purely as well as respect deeply of other traditions. He just follows his conscience which derives from the instructions of his precious teachers. He wants to honor the teachings he has received from his teachers which are potent for attainments, practice and share with those karmically connected to him. What else do we expect of a master or practitioner? If you are in his area, I highly recommend you attend his teachings, practices and sessions. If you want a real and genuine teacher, then you found one in Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche for sure. Remember, in this day and age, to be loyal and genuine to the practices your teacher has given you even under much scrutiny, pressure or political correctness is amazing and speaks volumes of a person. Not many will be firm under such pressures which shows you who Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche is. This itself tells you if you are his student or friend, you are in good company. Everyone loves to be with loyal individuals on any level. It’s nice to know how stable, genuine, loyal and appreciative Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche is to his lineage, lamas, practice and students.
Whether our teacher is famous or high profile or not should not matter in our trust, belief and loyalty towards our teacher. Whatever our teacher disseminates to us should have a lineage and has brought benefit to others in the past for hundreds of years, so why doubt. Teachings must have a lineage and if our teacher has explained the lineage to us and we have accepted, then go all the way with it without further doubts. In this case, more people or less following a teacher does not make a teacher more genuine or less genuine. Many great masters are obscure and choose that on purpose. What makes the teachings alive and potent is our trust, devotion and loyalty in our teacher coupled with transforming our minds. When we lose faith or criticize our teacher, we criticize his lineage, his teacher, his students and his sincerity because everyone is intertwined. When we criticize and leave our teacher, no matter how many new teachers we meet and take teachings from, there will be no results according to Vajradhara. This advice is very important. We must face that truth and overcome our anger, egos and wrong views. If we genuinely have a problem with our teacher that cannot be overcome, speak to the teacher, share and explain and if it doesn’t work, ask permission to go to another teacher. Even when we have gone to another teacher, we should never criticize or attempt to damage the teacher we had left. Why? Because that teacher did impart dharma to us. We should speak respectfully of our past teachers and remember the kindness. He did spend time, love and shower us with gifts and perhaps our karmas are different. We cannot scorn all that don’t match our projections. Don’t forget this ever. Being grateful is a necessary component of higher attainments, hence we recall our teachers and lineage lamas in all higher practices (sadhanas) of any tantric deities daily. We recite the liturgies of invoking on our teacher’s and lineage teachers blessings daily in our meditations and sadhanas. The reason is to develop a sense of being grateful and taking nothing for granted.
None of your teachers are your enemies, but your teacher taught you the dharma and your karma couldn’t handle it. Your karma, ego and anger are your real enemies never your teacher. We shouldn’t just disappear at the first sign of trouble or doubt. In life, we have to work through problems with our parents, spouses, partners, siblings, co-workers, children, so why not our teachers. Our teachers could not be the ‘only’ person that we have problems with. Why do we abandon our teacher and work through problems with everyone else? Perhaps because we don’t value the important contributions are teacher bestowed upon us? Or we wish to blame our teacher for pointing out something truthful in ourselves we prefer not to face but blame the teacher for exposing? Be fair with everyone in your life and work through differences and don’t be selective. How you ‘throw’ people out will reflect how you really think of others and this will return to ‘haunt’ you in other aspects of your life later. Bad attitude will surface again and again if not addressed, healed and remedied. Whoever shelters us from ourselves now, will not always be around and we will have to face ourselves one day alone. There is no avoidance. After all, we can run away from people, but we can’t run away from the cause of problems we may have contributed to which is within ourselves. This is in an extreme case, but generally we should work through our doubts and issues with our teacher and be loyal. This is good for our mind, good for out training and good for our eventual results. Consistency is a urgently vital ingredient in spiritual success.
If the new teacher we go to has criticism for our previous teacher, practice or lineage, then there is something wrong or politically motivated. No teacher need criticize another teacher no matter who they are. In this day and age, no teacher no matter how famous or just he may be should ever criticize another person’s practice, teacher, lineage or faith. Democratic governments throughout the civilized world even allow the practices of once despised forms of spirituality such as witchcraft, voodoo, et al. Therefore no teacher or spiritual leader has the right to denigrade another’s path ever. Because once you start, where do you draw the line? No forms of ostracism, prejudice, bias or segregation should arise from differing religious practices either. Because this will be the seed to dissent, disharmony and hatred.
Our teacher teaches us something useful and we are devoted and diligent then suddenly another teacher of fame and name preaches otherwise and we have doubts in our teacher is not good. It shows who we really are and not our teacher because we are swayed easily. No matter how famous another teacher may be, your teacher still imparted the holy dharma to you and you should be grateful always. Higher thrones does not mean better than a humble teacher on a low cushion. Spirituality and the level of knowledge of a teacher is not reflected by rank, thrones, fame or how many students he has. I know of a few very qualified teachers who did not have many students at all and some students even left them and scorned them to my shock! If we had issues with our teacher, we should be humble, swallow the ego, apologize and then remain or move on is up to us, but don’t damage or attempt to damage a teacher as the karmic consequences are heavy, not to mention you hurt the other students as well and that does not make you a better person at all.
Kyabje Zasep Rinpoche, as a lama who has successfully brought Buddhism to the West, these guidelines were written by Zasep Rinpoche to help bridge the differences in culture between the East and West. It was also to help his students better understand the traditional practice, proper protocol and customs that comes with a Guru-disciple relationship within the world of Tibetan Buddhism.
Similarly, throughout my years teaching in Malaysia, most of my Malaysian students are equally unexposed to the traditional Guru-disciple relationship as taught and practiced in the holy monasteries of India and Tibet. It is not that these students are bad, it’s simply due to the difference in culture and upbringing.
I encourage all of my students, both online and those in Kechara, to read these guidelines and to share it with your friends too. Print it out and read it from time to time… It will help you very much.
Regardless of whether you’re a new or an old student, this guideline is very good to read, understand and contemplate. It will definitely help you answer many of your questions…
Remember, never complain about dharma work that you will do, have done or doing. In complaining or spewing negative words you affect everyone around you negatively and also nearly negate all that you have done.
Guidelines for the Dharma Students of the Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
In these times of rampant consumerism and rapid technological and cultural change, more and more people are searching for a spiritual path that will help them live more meaningful lives and find deep inner peace. Many seekers are turning to Buddhist meditation as a way to address and overcome the problems of everyday life. The idea of living life in a more meaningful way, in a more mindful way, has profound appeal. Some people, moving beyond the idea of simply living more mindfully, espouse the Mahayana Buddhist path, which gives detailed instructions on how to transform their ordinary troubled minds into the serene mind of Enlightenment.
I have been teaching the Buddhadharma in the west for the past 37 years. In 1976, the Venerable Geshe Thubten Loden and I were the very first Tibetan Lamas to become resident teachers in Australia. Today, Buddhism is the fastest growing spiritual tradition in Australia. In 1981, I arrived in North America to teach. Since those early years, I have seen the Buddhadharma take root and flourish in the West; I am hopeful that it will continue to grow.
In my 37 years in the West, I have learned so much about so much about the Western way of life. I think that, generally speaking, people in the West are kind, sensitive, caring, honest, generous and helpful. Western education provides ample opportunities to study philosophy and human psychology; outside of formal education, bookstores have shelf upon shelf of self-help books; for those who cannot help themselves, the Yellow Pages list column after column of counselling professionals. Yet in spite of the availability of so much material about thought, thinking and feeling, and emotional well-being, many Westerners seem confused, lacking in self-confidence, and full of self-blaming and even self-loathing. In the midst of crowds, they feel loneliness; in the midst of plenty, they feel hunger. This is not to say that people in the East don’t have similar problems: they do, especially since the old social order is breaking down in many places in the East. But in these guidelines I am talking particularly to my Western students.
I have found that many people in the West spend a great deal of time either thinking about the past or dreaming about the future, with the result that they are never in the present. When they look back, they often are full of regret for what was or what was not, and when they look forward, they are full of expectations that seldom come to fruition, leading to more regret when the future they had been dreaming about has become the past. Buddhist meditation teaches how to be in the present, how to be present. Some people think that a meditation practice is an escape from everyday life, but in truth, a meditation practice teaches us to be present in the world with a peaceful and compassionate mind. Some people also think that only ordained Sangha or yogis can be good practitioners, but the Buddha taught the Dharma for the benefit of all people, be they ordained or lay. With the right motivation, everyone can be a good Dharma practitioner.
Why do we need a Dharma teacher?
Many people in the West ask why a spiritual teacher or guide is necessary. Sometimes when Westerners turn to spirituality as a way to deal with their malaise, they think they can get all the guidance they need from the self-help section of a bookstore or from the Internet. This approach is likely to result in more rather than less confusion. Others may be determined to find a spiritual teacher who can show them a true spiritual path, who can give them spiritual support when they are struggling, and comfort when they are suffering, when they are experiencing Dukkha. This spiritual teacher may exemplify for the seeker what it means to be a spiritually realized person. The knowledge and wisdom that this person has, his Dharma realizations, become the seeker’s Refuge and protection from Dukkha.
In the East, the idea of a spiritual teacher-student relationship is an ancient one, having been there for millennia. After he renounced the life of a prince, Prince Siddhartha went looking for a possible teacher. He placed himself under the spiritual guidance of two renowned Brahmin teachers, Master Alara Kalama and Addaka Ramaputta; then, deciding to become an ascetic, he practised severe austerities for years before realizing that self-mortification was not the way to achieve his goal. Great Buddhist scholars like Nagarjuna and Asanga had teachers, as did Mahasiddhis such as Tilopa. Atisha was so eager to meet his teacher Dharmakirti that he embarked upon a dangerous 13-month sea voyage to Sumatra in Indonesia to meet him. Marpa travelled to India to study under Naropa. And the founder of our tradition, Lama Je Tsong Khapa, studied under many great masters in Tibet. In the Tibetan Buddhist view, the spiritual teacher is the root of all spiritual realizations and attainments. According to Mahayana and Vajrayana teaching, we should consider our teacher as a Buddha for our own spiritual benefit. According to the Theravadin tradition, a Dharma teacher is a very special spiritual friend known as Kalyana-mitta (mitra). Spiritual friendship is Kalyana-mitttata.
A Dharma teacher is a spiritual guide who can show us how to meditate correctly so that we can make progress on our spiritual path and gain Dharma realizations. I suggest you study Lama Je Tsong Khapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, in which he clearly defines the qualities of good Dharma teachers and students. Some people have the fortunate Karma to recognize a good Dharma teacher immediately upon meeting one, but others are full of indecision and doubt, and cannot make up their minds to commit to a particular teacher. They may spend their whole life shopping for the perfect teacher and yet never find him or her.
When we are shopping around for a teacher, we will find teachers with widely different personalities. Teachers come in many shapes and sizes because each of us is different, with different attitudes and aptitudes. With Dharma teachers, there is no one size fits all. Most Buddhist teachers are calm, gentle and very kind towards to their students; they are usually highly disciplined because this is how they were trained. Some teachers may have very strong personalities, and can seem very stern, dogmatic or possibly even wrathful. A handful of teachers are real yogis or yoginis who are eccentric, spontaneous, and unpretentious.
In truth, I think it is hard to choose a Dharma teacher wisely. Some people use logic and reason to select a teacher, others intuition and faith but really, a lot of it comes down to personality. Some people are attracted to a teacher because he or she is celebrated for being charismatic and inspiring or for writing many books. Others are attracted to a teacher’s appearance, to the warmth of his or her smile, and to his or her teachings on topics like love and compassion. Still others are attracted to teachers who can do magic tricks, such as making an iron rod glow just by rubbing it with their hands, or by causing a rain of rings to fall from their fingers. Yet still others choose a teacher who gives people big hugs as his or her way of teaching. Some extremely naïve people will blindly follow a teacher who claims to be perfect and infallible, shutting their eyes to his or her imperfections. You can choose whomever you want be your teacher, but the most important thing is that you find a teacher who is compassionate and wise, has impeccable integrity, and is well-respected as a teacher. He or she should not be prejudiced, biased or hypocritical, and his or her conduct should not contradict the very teachings he or she is giving.
Some teachers may disparage or even denounce other teachers because they don’t agree with their positions on various doctrinal issues or because they do not approve of their life style. It is useful to remember what Buddha said in the well-known Kalama Sutra, which advises seekers how to choose the right teacher. The Kalamas were a clan who were confused by many teachers who passed through their territory, criticizing and contradicting each other. Buddha told the Kalamas not to believe something simply because it is often repeated, because it is a scripture, or because it is stated by an authority. He told them to test everything that said with their own experience: only if it proves conducive to goodness and happiness should it be accepted as true.
One of the most important things in a teacher-student relationship is for the student to be able to communicate directly with the teacher so that he or she can ask questions and have an honest discussion if one is needed; it is always good to have a teacher who encourages questioning; you don’t have to accept anything on blind faith. There is old Tibetan saying, “A guru is like fire, if you stay too close you get burned; if you stay too far away, you don’t get enough heat.” I think some people actually prefer a teacher who is very remote and personally inaccessible so that they can only relate to him or her at a distance; without direct contact they feel safe, knowing they won’t ever be close enough to get burned. Other people would like to have constant easy access to a teacher so that they can ask questions all the time, without having ever having to figure out the answers for themselves. Some people look upon a Dharma teacher as a family doctor, one who will give them a new prescription for happiness whenever they think they need one. Teacher-student relationships are nuanced, with both teacher and student bringing their dispositions and their histories into their interaction. In my own case, different people see my relationship with my students in different lights. A few people have told me my students treat me with too much reverence while others have told me I am too casual and relaxed with my students and should demand more reverence! I cannot please everyone; indeed I doubt there is any teacher who can.
If someone is fortunate enough to have the good Karma, he or she will eventually find a good teacher who is willing to commit to being the student’s teacher and spiritual guide. On his or her side, a Dharma student must be sincere and willing to commit to and trust the Dharma teacher. A healthy teacher-student relationship makes for a healthy Dharma practice. The Dharma teacher will guide the student step by step and assist him or her in everyday Dharma practice. The Dharma teacher and student must have mutual respect and appreciation. The student should take the teachings and instructions into his or her heart and learn the correct protocols of teacher and student relationships.
Becoming a Dharma student
To become a student of a particular Dharma teacher, a person should go to the teacher to make a formal request to be accepted as a student. The Dharma teacher may test the student’s sincerity by asking him or her to wait for a period of time, to study Dharma texts, or do retreats and other training in order to be qualified as a student. Once a Dharma teacher is happy with the student’s enthusiasm, sincerity and willingness to study and practise Dharma, then the teacher will accept the person as student.
How to study Dharma
In this materialistic age, it is a fortunate person indeed who opts for a spiritual path and is able to study Dharma. On the must-study list are Buddhist Sutras and Shastras, philosophical texts written by great teachers like Nagarjuna, Asanga, Chandrakirti, Vashubandu and Shantideva, and commentaries written by great masters like Lama Je Tsong Khapa and his lineage holders. We should study Dharma no matter our age. Sakya Pandita said, “RIGPA NANGPAR CHE YANG LHOB,” which translates as “You should study Dharma today even if you are going to die tomorrow.”
Dharma teaching and Dharma practice is both temporary and ultimate Refuge. I especially advise my students to study Lamrim texts like Lama Je Tsong Khapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, which I mentioned above, Lamrim texts written by the first Panchen Lama and the fifth Dalai Lama, and Kaybje Pabongka Rinpoche’s great Lamrim text, Liberation in the Palm of your Hand. It is very important to study and practise Lamrim always, no matter how advanced you are. Lamrim practice is the very heart of Dharma practice. If you consistently practise Lamrim, then your Dharma practice will have a solid foundation, and you will not have any problems with lack of commitment. Your faith in the Three Jewels will continue to grow steadily, and your realizations increase accordingly.
The Preciousness of Dharma traditions and lineages
In Tibetan Buddhism, there four principal schools or traditions: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug. Lama Je Tsong Khapa’s tradition is known as the Gaden Tradition, which is another way of saying Gelug. Lama Je Tsong Khapa is the emanation and embodiment of the Buddhas Manjushiri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani; he is known as second Buddha of this age. The four Tibetan Buddhist traditions each have their precious teachings; each of the four traditions is perfect in its own way and has its own beauty, power and glory. Each of the traditions must retain their original method and style of teaching as this preserves the uniqueness of its lineages. In the Gelug tradition of Lama Je Tsong Khapa, we have the Bodhichitta lineage of Maitreya Buddha and Asanga, and the Shunyata lineage of Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. We have the blessed lineage and practices of Atisha and his disciple Dromtonpa; there are two main Chöd lineages, those of the Gaden Tradition and the Dakini ear-whispered lineage. There is a very sacred Gaden ear-whispered lineage called Jamyang Chokor, which are ten initiations handed down by Manjushri through Lama Umapa Pawo Dorje to Lama Je Tsong Khapa. There are also the unique thirteen sacred initiations of Tagpu Dag Ngang Chu Sum — “the clear vision near lineages.” I have been fortunate to receive these initiations from Rongtha Kyabgon Rinpoche.
When you practise according to the lineage of your teacher, your practice becomes part of the lineage of your teacher. This means you do the practice just as your teacher does and as his or her teachers did before; this prevents you from going off the track and your practice becomes solid and strong. However, and this is very important, you should not assume that you are qualified to do the practices that your teacher has done or is doing without knowing clearly where you are on spiritual path. We have an old Tibetan saying: “If the fox jumps on the tail of a lion, the fox could break her back.” Your Dharma teacher has his or her own personal practices, which could include advanced secret deity sadhana practices. You do not need to know, let alone do, every practice that your teacher does.
Non-sectarianism and non-confusion
Throughout history, Lama Je Tsong Khapa’s Gelug tradition has been remarkably non-sectarian. Lama Je Tsong Khapa himself studied under and received many initiations from masters of different traditions. I encourage my students to respect all traditions and lineages of Tibetan Buddhism and all other Buddhist paths. In addition to studying Tibetan Buddhism, I have personally studied in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, having entered a Thai monastery and ordained as a Theravadin Bikkhu in 1975. I also practised Vipassana meditation under the most renowned master Achaan Buddhadasa at Wat Sowanmok in Thailand. There is a Tibetan word, REMI, which literally translates as “not taking sides, being non-sectarian,” but it really means emphasizing the similarities of different sects. It does not mean mixing together many different practices. The idea of REMI is good, but I am not sure how many true REMI practitioners there are these days. I think REMI is a nice idea, like sharing Dharma with your friends. I don’t have problems with the idea of REMI. Actually, my grandmother was a devotee of the Kagyu tradition and many of my family members were also Kagyu; some were Sakya and a few were Nyingma. My family members were very respectful of each other’s traditions, lineages and practices; they accommodated and supported each other. My great uncle Sachu Tulku Rinpoche was a revered Guru of the Karma Kagyu tradition; he was a master of the six yogas of Naropa. My great uncle Taruk Tulku Rinpoche was a revered Guru of Sakya tradition; he was a Tantric master and a Tibetan Amchi doctor. My own previous incarnation, Lama Karma Kunchog Tenzing, was a scholar, astrologer and yogi of the Karma Kagyu lineage and abbot of Zuru monastery in Tibet. As a young boy, I was recognized as the true incarnation of Lama Karma Kunchog Tenzing by Jetrung Rinpoche of the Nyingma tradition, who was head of Jetrung Gompa in Zadoh district, Tibet, by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Because my previous incarnations were as Karma Kagyu Lamas, I have deep feeling and love for the Karma Kagyu lineage. In fact, I have raised funds to rebuild Zuru Monastery in Tibet.
However, unless you are an advanced practitioner, you should not mix different traditions, lineages, and teachings because you do not know how to make sense of them in a deeply meaningful way. It is unwise and unnecessary to mix practices, taking from here, taking from there; to do so is to create confusion within your own practice. Generally, people in the West, even people who have studied the Dharma for years, are a bit skeptical about the importance of Dharma traditions and lineages. Nonetheless, I strongly believe it is important to practise within a tradition, to follow the lineages of that tradition, and to practise in accordance with them. An eclectic mix of teachings and practices is a recipe for confusion that will in all probability impede progress on the spiritual path. I think some Western people develop a rebellious attitude when Dharma teachers like me say this; they think we are trying to control their minds by persuading them that the only worthwhile tradition is our own personal tradition. But we say it out of concern for the student that he or she will drown in a sea of confusion. I am certainly not interested in controlling the mind of anyone else; I am only interested in controlling and subduing my own mind so that I can become a good vehicle for following to the path of Buddha.
Organizing your Dharma practice
Ask yourself questions about the state of your Dharma practice and where it is at this point in your life. Ultimately you have to take responsibility of your own Dharma practice. The teacher is not going to practise for you. If you do not practise Dharma, no teacher anywhere can transform you into a Buddha. According to the Buddhist teaching of Tathagatagharba, we all have Buddha nature naturally, and we are all destined to become a Buddha sometime in the future, but there is no Enlightenment without Dharma practice. Buddha said life is like a dream. It is as transient as a flash of lightning; twenty, forty, sixty, eighty years pass as quickly as clouds moving across the sky. We think there is time, but there is not. We will all die one day. We have to be serious Dharma practitioners now. Organizing our own Dharma practice means being aware of time: what practices do we have the time and energy to do before death comes?
I request that my students do a month-long retreat each year; the minimum is ten days. If you wait for the time for to do retreat, the time will never come. You should make plans for a retreat and do it as soon as possible. I have seen people talk about doing a three-year retreat for three years instead of actually doing the retreat. If you are truly committed to doing a three-year retreat, the opportunity will come to you: you can make it happen and it will, because there are generous Dharma friends who would like to help your retreat. At this point, I would like to tell you the inspiring story of Zava Damdin Rinpoche of Mongolia, who completed a four-year Vajra Bhairava Yamantaka retreat in a tiny yurt at his monastery in the Gobi desert, where the weather gets very cold in winter, down to -40o C in December. Out of the blue, Zava Rinpoche’s root master Guru Deva Rinpoche told him to do the retreat, without much time for preparation. Zava Damdin Rinpoche successfully completed the retreat due to his deep commitment and unbelievable guru devotion to Guru Deva Rinpoche. The Venerable Geshe Losang Thupten Rinpoche and I visited Zava Damdin Rinpoche every summer or autumn, and gave him advice and support. Zava Damdin Rinpoche is the only Lama who has done a four-year retreat in Mongolia since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
I personally have been very fortunate when it comes to retreats. I did my first retreat when I was fifteen, a Vajra Bhairava Yamantaka retreat with my teachers Geshe Thubten Wangyal and Jhampa Kelsang Rinpoche. We did the retreat at Kailash Kuti house, named after holy Mt. Kailash in Tibet. It is located in the mountains above the hill station town of Dalhousie in the foothills of the Himalayas. I have two ways of looking back at this retreat. On the one hand, it was very powerful, amazing actually. On the other hand, it was mentally and physically exhausting, difficult beyond words. Indeed, my teachers advised me not to talk about my experience. My teacher Geshe Thupten Wangyal was very strict and highly disciplined; we would start our first session at 4:30 A.M.; we practised four sessions a day, with our last session ending around 9:00 P.M. – not much sleep for a young boy Lama! We ate very simple food, such as rotis, rice and potatoes. It was very cold in the winter, with lots of snow: the only source of heat was a little wood stove. I was really afraid that we would be attacked by jungle leopards in the night; one female would come very close to our retreat house, and when it was a full moon, she would roar through the night. I was nervous about going out for walks at nighttime, but my teacher told us that a roaring leopard was a good omen. After that, I was excited whenever the leopard came near our retreat house. My second retreat was Naro Khachod Vajrayogini. It too was very powerful; a good experience overall. I had wonderful dreams. It is always very inspiring when one has an opportunity to do a retreat with one’s teacher.
Guidance for your practice
Whenever you have important questions regarding your Dharma practice, you should not hesitate to contact me. As I would like to do more retreats in the near future, I may be unavailable to answer your questions directly. In this case, please contact a senior student at one of my centres.
Initiating into Tantra
There are different ways of receiving initiations. An initiation may be taken purely as a blessing, for protection or healing. Most of the thousands of people in Tibet, in India and in the West who flock to the Kalachakra initiations take the initiation as a blessing and to create auspicious conditions for the future. In order to receive a Tantric initiation as an actual empowerment, and not just as a blessing, you are required to take Refuge and Bodhisattva vows before the initiation. When you take a higher Tantric initiation, you are additionally required to take Tantric vows. Traditionally in Tibet, students completed the five foundation practices before taking a higher Tantric initiation, but this tradition has been relaxed somewhat in the West. I advise my students to do the foundation practices whenever they are ready. The five foundation practices are one, taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; two, Guru Yoga; three, Vajrasattva practice; four, prostrations; and five, Mandala Offerings.
If you feel you are not ready to take Tantric initiations, then you should not feel under pressure to do so. In truth, the practices of Sutrayana, Lamrim, and the Three Principal Aspects of the Path (Renunciation, Bodhichitta, and Shunyata) are more important practices. When you are ready to take initiations, you could opt to take one or two initiations, as you wish; if you are not sure which initiation you should take, ask your teachers.
Here is list of Kriya Tantra and Yoga Tantra initiations that I offer. I am not suggesting you take all of them.
- Green Tara, for overcoming fear, removing obstacles, gaining great protection and liberation
- Four armed Chenrezig, the compassion of all the Buddhas, emanated as a deity
- Chenrezig Gyalwa Gyatso, for developing Great Compassion and generating the clear light of bliss and Enlightenment
- Black Manjushri, for the cultivation of wisdom, healing, and good health
- Chöd initiation, for cutting attachment and self-grasping, experiencing the two truths, and cultivating Bodhichitta and Shunyata
- Hayagriva, the emanation of Chenrezig and Buddha Amitabha, for healing sickness, gaining protection, and generating Great Compassion
- Maha Vairochana, for the purification of negative Karma and the development of luminosity and clear light towards Enlightenment
- Manjushri, the wisdom of all the Buddhas, emanated as a deity
- Medicine Buddha, for healing the body and mind; potentially one could become a healer
- Sarasvati, Buddha of wisdom and creative arts such as music, writing, and painting
- Singhamukha, for healing and exorcism, overcoming negative forces, and becoming fearless
- Vajrapani, the power of all the Buddhas, emanated as a deity
- Vajrasattva, for the purification of Karmic obscurations to realizations
- White Mahakala, the Buddha of Great Compassion for all living beings, for generating wealth and prosperity and fulfilling all your wishes and dreams
Here is a list of the Annuttaryogatantra initiations that I offer. Again, one deity practice will suffice:
- Chittamani Tara, the highest form of Tara practice, with generation and completion stages to Enlightenment
- Yamantaka, the wrathful aspect of Manjushri, and the opponent power to death and the maras. Prominent commentaries express this practice is the most powerful practice for Enlightenment
- Guhyasamaja, for the cultivation of the illusory body, highest and condensed sacred Vajrayana practise.
- Heruka Five Deities according to the Mahasiddhi Vajra Ghantapa tradition, for the cultivation of clear light and bliss, and Enlightenment within this life
- Heruka Body Mandala according to the Mahasiddhi Vajra Ghantapa tradition – the same as the Heruka Five Deity practice
- Vajrayogini (Naro Khachod) according to Mahasiddhi Naropa. Prominent commentaries express this is the most sacred Yidam (Yidam = heart bound) practice according to the Gelugpa and Sakyapa lineages
Instead of taking additional initiations, I suggest you focus on the deity practice(s) you have already received. If you are a first timer and fairly new to Tantric practice, you could take one or two Kriya Tantra initiations for the deities of your choice. There is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of choosing a personal deity, a Yidam. If you are not sure how to choose a personal deity or Yidam, consider which deity you feel most connected to, and seek advice from your Guru.
When you decide to take an initiation, you should find out what are the daily commitments and vows. Some teachers do not explain the commitments at the time of the initiation. Later, you hear commitments were given but you are not sure what they were; should this happen, you need to find out and then keep them as best you can.
Keeping your Dharma practice pure and not giving up when you face a spiritual crisis
We try to keep our physical body health by exercising regularly, eating nutritious food and drinking pure water. Likewise, we should keep our Dharma practice healthy without contaminating it with our own mental defilements. As human practitioners of Dharma, we make mistakes; from time to time we may break our vows and commitments. When we do so, we feel that in some way we have let down our Gurus, and the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We may have faced many obstacles due to unfavourable conditions and lack of time and energy, but at the same we also know that we have made lifetime commitments. We try to practise every day, but sometimes we feel that the practices have become routine recitations, an obligation and no more. This can happen especially when our lives are too busy and we are very tired. When this happens, we need to make time for a retreat to renew our commitments and refresh our practice. When we break our vows and commitments, we should do purification such as Vajrasattva mantras, prostrations, and reciting the Sutra of the Three Heaps by chanting the names of the thirty-five Buddhas. Those of us who have done retreats on Vajrayogini, Yamantaka or other Annuttarayogatantra practices could do self-initiation as a method of purification for broken Samaya and commitments. Do not think your practice is no longer worth the effort just because you have broken your commitments; do not abandon your commitments and daily practice; just pick up where you left off. My kind teacher, the most holy Tara Tulku Rinpoche said, “If you forget to eat breakfast, you don’t give up there and then. The next day, you go ahead and eat breakfast. Simple.”
Our Dharma practice could become weakened for a number of reasons. One contributing factor is the state of our mind. If your commitment and devotion are not well grounded, not solid, you could be influenced by others who are fearful and confused about their own Dharma practice. These days it is easy to get confused about Dharma practice and the teacher-student relationship. Some of the confusion has arisen from inexperienced Western teachers who lack skill and experience in how to teach and guide Dharma students. But a big part of the confusion has been caused by the Eastern teachers, who unfortunately have imported their sectarian views to Western Dharma communities. I alluded to this earlier. Certain groups condemn other groups, and certain teachers condemn other teachers. Not only do they condemn each other’s practices, but they even condemn the personal deities that others practise. People become superstitious, and act in a ridiculous and silly manner. If we take Refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Jewels will protect us. We don’t need to be worried about spirits harming us. Machig Labdron, the famous enlightened Tibetan Chöd master said, “There is no demon or bad spirit outside of our mind; the real demons and bad spirits are your own confused and superstitious mind.” Milarepa, the equally famous enlightened Tibetan yogi said, “If you think evil spirits will harm you, then they could because you imagine they are real; otherwise, there are no evil spirits; it is your entire mind.”
The Buddha always said one must use a logical mind, and not practise with blind faith. There are three Tibetan sayings that express this:
GANG ZAG LA MA TAN CHOLA TAN means one should not rely on a teacher based on blind faith, but should instead contemplate the Dharma and rely on Dharma. It means that there are no human beings who are not fallible; human beings make errors, but the Dharma is always reliably correct;
TSEG LA MA TAN DON LA TAN means one should not rely merely on words of others, because words are unreliable and easily misinterpreted; one should instead contemplate on the deep meaning of what is being said;
DRANG DON LA MA TAN NEY DON LA TAN means do not rely on relative truths, but contemplate absolute teaching and absolute truth.
Dharma study on line
In many ways the computer and the Internet have made our lives simultaneously easier and busier. Forever Googling, Emailing, playing online games, there is always the danger that we could become Internet junkies. We can even feed our addiction by visiting Dharma sites. There is a lot of Dharma information on the Internet, some of it excellent, some of it not so good. It could be helpful to study Dharma online, but when we do so, we risk losing our connection to the living, breathing human beings around us. Computers lack the human touch. From time to time, we all need to sit down with our Guru and our Sangha friends to share our Dharma practice, do Pujas and have a cup of tea together. This does not happen when we are glued to a computer; cyberspace can be lonely and isolating.
Children and the Dharma
Children are our future. We must think how to educate our children in the Dharma. Buddhist parents must not neglect their children’s Dharma education; I have seen too many Western Dharma parents who don’t give enough Dharma education to their children; they are too soft and too concerned that their children may become rebellious if they are strict with them. They take a laissez-faire attitude, hoping that one day their children will magically take up a Dharma practice just because they were given a good impression of Buddhism when they were young. If this happens, great, but in my view it is important that children have some formal instruction about the Dharma when they are young. Early Dharma education will remain in their mind stream for the rest of their life. I personally am so thankful to my grandfather, who always took such good care for me and who gave me a good opportunity to study and practise Dharma, even when we had to go through so much suffering escaping from Tibet and then struggling in India as poor Refugees.
Nowadays we have many worries about children. There is so much violence passing as entertainment. In my opinion, children should not watch destructive and violent movies, play violent video games or visit unsuitable websites on the Internet. Parents need to put limits on what sort of things their children watch. I think a lot of the sites on the Internet are a kind of drug, just as addictive as the ones that are swallowed, injected, or smoked.
Right livelihood and Dharma finances
Right livelihood is one of the aspects of the eightfold noble path; it is a Buddhist principle that it is important that we as Dharma practitioners practise right livelihood. We must not hurt other people and animals, and we must make the best use of the earth’s resources, in ways that do not do social and environmental damage. (The Venerable Walpola Rahula clearly explains the eightfold path and other fundamental tenets of Buddhism in his excellent introductory text, What the Buddha taught; I highly recommend it.) Buddha was so kind: he gave detailed advice in the Sutras on how to organize our Dharma life and Dharma finances. The Buddha said lay people should think about their finances, earmarking funds for their family, putting something aside for emergencies, and saving a little for their old age. We should also put money aside to study the Dharma and do retreats as well. It is not a requirement of Dharma practice that practitioners be poor: being poor does not make you a better Dharma person. The point is to not be attached to the material things you have, but to just enjoy them. When you are facing poverty, you can’t help yourself, you can’t help your family, and you can’t help others. However, when a Dharma practitioner has ample material resources, he or she is a position to practise generosity by using discretionary income to help others. I would like to suggest that you, as my Dharma students, either donate a certain amount of your income to your Dharma centre or do volunteer work for it. You should likewise donate money or time to worthy causes in your community. I request that you support Gaden Relief Projects, which has been active for 25 years, providing medical treatments, health clinics, shelters (yurts) for single homeless mothers in Mongolia, and installations for solar energy. We should become socially engaged Dharma persons, we should be come socially engaged Buddhists. When we do, it will be awesome!
In the above pages, I have given advice to and set up guidelines for my students and for Dharma students in general. I do not claim for a moment that what I have said is absolutely correct, but I have said it with sincerity and the best of intention. I am not trying to judge who is and who is not qualified as Dharma teacher or student. I am trying to help students who wish to find the right Dharma teacher, improve their student-teacher relationship, and deepen their Dharma practice. I have no desire to promote myself as a great teacher and gather more students. I have wonderful Dharma students and Dharma friends in Canada, Australia, the USA and Mongolia. I am very proud of them for practising Dharma for many years and doing so much humanitarian work. I have appointed half dozen of my senior students as Dharma teachers, and they are doing wonderful job.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, Canada, 2013
The Present Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
After the death of the Twelfth Tulku, the lamas of Zuru asked the terton to advise where the next Tulku would reincarnate. Jetrung Rinpoche said he saw signs that Konchog Gyurme had transferred his consciousness to Ngayab Ling pure land and would remain there for three years, as well as simultaneously travel to many other Buddha-fields. He would then reincarnate, his next father having been born in the Tiger year and his mother in the Bird year.
When the time had come for the thirteenth Tulku to be born, the wonderful lamas again asked Jetrung Rinpoche for his advice. Jetrung Rinpoche together with Lama Trinlay Konchab, a high Bodhisattva from Zuru Gompa, and Laksam Naljorpa, a powerful yogi, went into retreat to divine the birthplace of Zasep Tulku. Using their great psychic powers the three yogis, by direct vision and dreams, saw with perfect clarity exactly where he would be reborn. Monks from Zuru Gompa went to the place indicated.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, the thirteenth incarnation and our present teacher, was born in the year of the Earth-Ox-with-golden-nose-ring (6), 1st of July 1948. His father’s name was Karma Dugdak, and his mother’s name Paltso.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche with his Grandfather
As Jetrung Rinpoche had predicted, the father had been born in the Tiger year and his mother in the Bird year. Prior to his birth, Paltso had auspicious dreams and during his birth she experienced no pain. The family had very good dreams, and the whole of Gerjel province had a fine year with no pestilence or disease and good seasonal weather. The high Kargyn, Sakya and Gelug lamas recognized Zasep Tulku when he was born and pointed out, referring to the miraculous signs that had appeared at his birth, that he was a very highly realized and powerful Rinpoche.
Installation at Zuru Gompa
Until the age of five, Zasep Tulku remained at home. He was then taken on horse in procession to Zuru Gompa. As he entered the gompa he passed between rows of musicians playing sacred instruments and was escorted into the temple under an ornamented victory umbrella. He was installed with great ceremony. Thousands of people came to Zuru Gompa to meet young Zasep Tulku, to receive blessings and to make offerings. Rinpoche received the robes, hats and bowl of the previous incarnation.
He stayed for two years in Zuru Gompa and learned the alphabet, the many daily prayers of Zuru and the Tunzhi prayer. He liked to read the One Thousand Songs of Milarepa (Mila Gurbung) and the sutra of Great Liberation (Tharpa Chenpodo).
When he was seven, Zasep Tulku visited his parents and the people of his village. His family invited his uncle, a renowned Kargyupa teacher who had meditated in seclusion for nineteen years, to his home to meet him. From this holy lama, the Venerable Sachyu Tulku, Zasep Tulku received Amitayus (Tib. Tsepame) long life and Tara (Tib. Drolma) initiations.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche’s grandfather at a younger age
Rinpoche’s grandfather took him to Tashi Lhapug Gompa to study. At Tashi Lhapug, where there were 700 monks, is the largest monastery of the Geluk order in that area. Here Zasep Tulku took eight precepts and robes from the holy Gelug lama Chonjor Gyaltso. He received the name Jamyang Thubten Lodro. Lama Chonjor Gyaltso Mahasiddha was a disciple of the great Phabongkhapa Dechin Nying Po. He became oracle of Damchen Chogyal or Kalarupa the Dharma Protector of Gelukpa Lineage, an emanation of Yamantaka. He had completed the 108 Cemetery meditations and had meditated by 108 springs so as to help the cemetery beings and nagas. He gave many blessings to Zasep Tulku.
Zasep Tulku studied and meditated at Tashi Lhapug and received Yamantaka (Tib. Dorje Jigje Pawo Chikpa) initiation from the great Bodhisattva Lama Lodro Dragpa.
At the request of the many Kargyupa monks at Zuru, he returned to learn Kargyu practice from Lama Trinlay Konchob. From Geshe Tsegyam, a Kargyupa monk who had studied at Sera, he received teachings on Je Tzong Khapa’s Lam Rim.
To Lhasa and Sera
Zasep Tulku left Zuru Gompa in the spring of 1957, due to bad conditions existing in Kham province following the communist invasion of that year. He was accompanied on a journey to Lhasa by his uncle.
On the way to Lhasa, Zasep Tulku stayed for three months at Nalanda, A Sakyapa monastery, to receive detailed teachings. He felt great devotion for the Sakyapa teachings. From the abbot, Lama Zinwog Dorje Chang, he received an Amitayus initiation.
In Lhasa he met His Holiness Yongzin Trijang Rinpoche, who was the junior tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was one of the greatest Lamas in this century. Yongzin Trijang Dorje Chang, a very holy yogi Bodhisattva who has total clairvoyance, immediately recognized Zasep Tulku as the incarnation of Konchog Gyurme. He suggested that Zasep Tulku go to Sera Monastic University to further his studies and learn Madhyamika philosophy.
On his arrival at Sera, Zasep Tulku entered Sera Je Tratzang where he was installed as a lama with great ceremony. From Geshe Jampa Chogdup he received teachings on Pramanavatika by Dharmakirti.
In 1958, Sera Ngapa Tratzang (the Tantric College) invited Yongzin Trijang Dorje Chang to the college to give initiations. From this holy lama, Zasep Tulku—then ten years old—received Guhyasamaja Akshobhya Vajra, Heruka Tilbu Lhanga, Thirteen Deities of Yamantaka, and Kunrig Yoga Tantra initiations.
At the end of 1958, Zasep Tulku went on a pilgrimage for six months. He visited Tashilhunpo Monastery, the Sakya monastery, and Tingri Langkor, the temple of Pha-Dampa Sangye (the lineage holder of Chod practice. He was the Guru of Machig LabKyi Dolma.) Tingri is the town on the Tibetan slope of Mount Everest where the great yogi Pha-Dampa Sangye taught.
Then Rinpoche and his party went to Mount Kailash. At this holy mountain Zasep Tulku made two months of Ngondro (preliminary practices) including prostrations, and a Migtzema retreat. He went to three of Milarepa’s caves: Zurtrul Pug (manifestation cave), Dra Pug (yak horn cave), and Choku Pug (Dharmakaya cave). He then returned to Sera.
Escape from Tibet
Three months later the communists invaded Lhasa. Zasep Tulku escaped from Sera walking by night across the monolithic mountain range between Lhasa and Penpo. He went to Nalanda Gompa for two days. In order to escape the communists he continued by horse across the great western grass plains of Tibet, carrying only a tent and a few possessions. His small party had to go many days without food. They turned south and traveled by day and night to cross the Nepalese border at Mustang, into freedom.
At Mustang border is the holy pilgrimage town of Muktinath. Zasep Tulku stayed there three months to do another set of Ngondro and a Guru Yoga retreat. Rinpoche’s mother passed away near Mustang due to illness and the Chinese taking away and jailing Rinpoche’s father.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, age 11
Rinpoche then went to Kathmandu to see the three great stupas of Swayambhunath, Boudhanath and Namo Buddha. At Parping, the holy place of Vajra Yogini (Tib. Dorje Naljorma) and Padma Sambhava, he made more prostrations and mandala offerings.
In the small Nepalese village behind the Great Stupa of Boudhanath, Zasep Tulku did a five-month Vajrasattva (Tib. Dorje Sempa) and Guru Yoga retreat.
In 1961, he went to Dharamsala in north India. Here he rejoined his kind and holy teacher, the Venerable Trijang Dorje Chang and met Yongzin Ling Rinpoche again. In the same year he took Getsul (novice monk) ordination from Trijang Rinpoche.
The Ven. Geshe Thubten Wanggyel
Wanting to practice Dharma very strongly, he asked Trijang Rinpoche where to go to receive further teachings on Sutra and Tantra. Trijang Rinpoche told him to go to Dalhousie in the high Himalayas to live and study with Geshe Thubten Wanggyel, a highly realized being. When Trijang Rinpoche mentioned the name of this great teacher, Zasep Tulku felt very happy because of a strong karmic connection existing between them.
Zasep Tulku arrived at the home of Geshe Thubten Wanggyel on the morning that Geshe was completing his six-month Demchog (Sri Heruka) retreat with a fire puja. Although Zasep Tulku had not seen Geshe Wanggyel before, great faith and devotion rose in him at their meeting and he made request to stay with Geshe to meditate and receive teachings. Geshe happily accepted Zasep Tulku as his disciple. Geshe-la said, “I’m honored to accept you as my student because my root Guru Trijang Dorje Chang sent you to me. Trijang Dorje Chang knows that we will develop good teacher and student relationship.”
Geshe Thubten Wanggyel
Geshe Thubten Wanggyel lived in an austere and simple manner. He had few possessions, as he had totally abandoned the eight worldly dharmas. Zasep Tulku studied with him for ten years and during that time received teachings on the Pramanavatika, Prajnaparamita, Madhyamika, Abhidharma, Vinaya and Tzong Khapa’s Lam Rim. He also received many profound Tantric teachings.
Almost every winter for ten years, Zasep Tulku did four months’ retreat with his teacher in the mountains above Dalhousie. He and his guru lived in an old colonial English cottage called Bright View, from which they could see the whole Himalayan chain. Sometimes the snow against the cottage was eight feet deep and they couldn’t open the door in the morning. Zasep Tulku made Lam Rim, Bodhicitta and Shunyata retreats as well as Chenrezig, Tara, Vajra Yogini, Yamantaka and other daily retreats.
During the summer, Zasep Tulku received teachings on five different texts simultaneously. At night he meditated and recited sadhanas with Geshe Wanggyel. Having been taught a technique of quiescence and concentration meditation one day, Zasep Tulku would be questioned the following day about his meditation experience. If his answer was not satisfactory, Geshe asked him to practice more and more. Geshe was wrathful and he was a very strict teacher. Zasep Tulku was known as a good student and practitioner.
One evening Zasep Tulku was very tired and as he was meditating in front of Geshe, he started to drop off to sleep. Geshe picked up the small mud butter lamp, his daily offering to the Triple Gem, and threw it at Zasep Tulku. The lamp hit his head and broke into many pieces. Zasep Tulku wrapped his upper robe around his injured head to stop the blood. Seeing this, Geshe beat him and kicked him out of the house. Zasep Tulku had great devotion to his teacher and took his teacher’s harsh treatment as a blessing and initiation. Early the next morning he went to Geshe’s house and made prostrations before him. Geshe laughed for minutes, then patted Zasep Tulku on the head and gave him his old mala (rosary) as a blessing. That whole day Zasep Tulku was especially happy; his meditations were good and he realized that his teacher had helped him to quickly purify much bad karma. Geshe was a very loving and humble Bodhisattva. Zasep Tulku understood that these beatings were only for his own benefit, and although they caused physical pain, they never made him unhappy.
Geshe used to say, “After overcoming many physical difficulties and mental hindrances with enthusiasm and calm perseverance, your mind will naturally open, revealing its inner radiance, just as the Blue Lotus which remains closed by the pale light of the moon opens as the sun rises to reveal its true beauty and splendor.”
In 1966, Zasep Tulku received the transmission of the complete works of Tzong Khapa on Sutra and Tantra from Pangnang Rinpoche and the transmissions of four volumes of Gyaltsabje, a disciple of Tzong Khapa. In addition, he received the transmission of eight volumes of Kadruje and the transmission of Getongpa (Prajnaparamita in 8,000 verses.)
Teachings from High Lamas
Zasep Tulku received the complete Guhyasamaja initiations, commentary on Kye Rim and Tzog Rim (generation and completion stages) of Guhyasamaja practice, and transmission of the Sri Guhyasamajamahatantraraja (Guhyasamaja root text). He received Six-Armed Mahakala (Tib. Gonpo Chakdruk) initiation. In 1968, he received the complete teachings on the Lam Rim Chenmo and teachings on the Gaden Lha Gya Ma with commentary by the Seventh Dalai Lama, and he was ordained Gelong (complete monk’s ordination) that same year. In 1970, he received the Kalachakra initiation and again received teachings on Lam Rim Chenmo. In 1971, he received the complete Lama Chopa (Guru Yoga) teachings and teachings on the Mahamudra root text with commentary by the Second Panchen Rinpoche. In 1973, he again received the Kalachakra initiation and the Chenrezig Wangchen.
From His Holiness Yongzin Trijang Dorje Chang he received Guhyasamaja initiations in 1964. In 1965, he received Lam Rim teachings, Bodhicitta Thought Training, Eight-verse Training of the Mind, Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattvas by Thogmed Zangpo, and Atisha’s Lam Rim. He also received the complete Lama Chopa, and Vajrasattva initiation and teachings.
In 1966, he received the complete set of Heruka five deities and body mandala initiations and teachings. He received all the Vajra Yogini initiations and teachings several times and transmissions, and the set of Twenty-one Taras initiation as well as Chenrezig initiation. He received initiations of Amitayas and White Heruka for Long Life. Rinpoche also received very special teachings on the uncommon inconceivable yoga practice of Vajrayogini. This teaching is only given to three students at one time. Rinpoche alone received this teaching when he was about eighteen.
From His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche he received all the Yamantaka initiations and teachings on the commentaries as well as transmission of the Yamantaka Tantra root text. He received Gaden Lhargyame teachings. At Bodhgaya in 1969, he received Lam Rim Chenmo teachings and White Tara (Tib. Drolma Karmo) initiation. In 1972, he received the complete Lama Chopa teachings. Rinpoche received initiation of Amitayas, Chenrezig, Vajrayogini, Guhyasamaya, Haryagirva, King Garuda and Vajrapani. He received commentaries on Lojong and Samayavajra.
Rinpoche also received one of the very rare sacred teachings called The combination practice of peaceful and wrathful Manjushri (Tib. Jamyang Zhe Tro Drag Drup Thun Moomg Ma Yin Pa.) Not many people know about this teaching, few Lamas have received this teaching. According to the tradition of Geluk, you have to wait for a long time in order to receive this teaching. One has to wait for three years, three months and three days. Each year you have to make new request to the lamas.
Five Lamas made this request to H.H. Ling Rinpoche: Ven. Zasep Rinpoche, his teacher Ven. Geshe Thupten Wanggyel, Ven. Sha Ko Ken Rinpoche, Ven. Ja Moon Rinpoche, and Ven. Jhampa Kelsang Rinpoche. After three years, three months and three days waiting, a letter arrived from H.H. Ling Rinpoche saying now it is time for you to come and receive this teaching.
The five Lamas traveled to Dharamsala from Dalhousie. It was a great honor and happiness to receive this rare sacred teaching. The actual duration of receiving this teaching was less than three hours. H.H. Ling Rinpoche lent his own text for them to copy by hand. The text is not allowed to be printed or published.
Rinpoche’s other teachers are Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Ven. Lati Rinpoche, Ven. Tara Tulku Rinpoche, and Ven. Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche
From H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, he received the initiations of Chakrasamvara Five Deities and Body Mandala, Vajrayogini, Chittamani Tara, and Chod. He received the commentaries on Chittamani Tara, Chod according to Gaden Ear Whispered Lineage, and Six Yogas of Naropa according to Lama Je Tsong Khapa.
From Tara Rinpoche, he received initiations of Haryagirva Sangdrup, Guhyasamaya, Vajrasattva, White Manjushri, and Six-Armed Mahakala.
From Ven. Lati Rinpoche, he received the initiations of Chakrasamvara Five Deities and Body Mandala, Orange Manjushri, Medicine Buddha, White Heruka, Goddess Svarasvati, and Dharmapala Sher Tab Chen.
From Ven. Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche, he received Chod initiations and teachings of Gelukpa tradition. The initiations of Chod according to Gaden Ear Whispered Lineage and Dakini Ear Whispered Lineage. He also received initiation of Chod according to Kagyu Lineage. Rinpoche received Kurukula initiation from Ven. Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche.
The above teachings and initiations are only the most important ones Zasep Tulku received.
Geshe Wanggyel’s Passing Away
In 1972 in Dalhousie, Geshe Wanggyel told Zasep Tulku to go to Varanasi Sanskrit University to further his studies in Pramana and Madhyamika philosophies. As Zasep Tulku left, his kind and holy teacher gave him his copy of the Lam Rim Chenmo and told him that they could now no longer remain together.
After Zasep Tulku had been in Varanasi for three months, his teacher died. Before his death Geshe was unwell for only two days. He died early one morning after doing the Vajra Yogini self-initiation with some of his students. Geshe-la’s body stayed up in meditation posture for three days with beautiful energy. He was in the state of clear light and bliss.
Studies, Travels and Teachings
Zasep Tulku studied for three years at Varanasi and received his Acharya (Master’s) degree.
In 1975, he went to Thailand where he stayed for eighteen months and practiced vipassana and anapanasati in many forest temples, as well as studying with Achaan Buddhadasa at Wat Swanmokkhaballaram.
When Zasep Tulku Rinpoche was studying in Thailand
He was then requested by Lama Thubten Yeshe to come to Australia to act as translator for His Presence Geshe Thubten Loden. Accordingly he arrived at Chenrezig Institute for Wisdom Culture in mid-1976.
** Note—at this point in the text “Zasep Tulku” becomes “Zasep Rinpoche” **
During his three-year stay in Australia, Zasep Rinpoche traveled widely, giving Lam Rim meditation courses in Sydney and Melbourne and lectures in Adelaide and Linsmore College, Sydney. His Tasmanian students established near Devonport Darjeerling Retreat Centre in Lorinna, and in New South Wales the Tenzin Ling retreat centre was formed under his direction, near Quaama.
Rinpoche is spiritual head of Tashi Choling Centre in Hobart, Dharma Foundation of Tasmania, Tenzing Ling Centre in Quaama, Lobsang Gyalwa Mandala in Sydney and Tang Soo Tai Martial Arts Centre in Mooroochydore in Queensland, Australia and Vajra Ling Centre in Uralla, N.S.W. Since 1984 Rinpoche goes to Australia every second year to teach at various centres.
Rinpoche in Mongolia
The Move to Canada
After being invited to Canada by his students and relatives there, Zasep Rinpoche arrived in early 1980. He took up residence in Nelson, British Columbia, where he gave a six-week course on the theory and practice of Buddhism at David Thompson University.
In the fall of 1980, His Holiness Ling Rinpoche arrived in Toronto at the same time as Zasep Rinpoche. During that time, many students requested H.H. Ling Rinpoche for his permission and blessing in creating a center for the Gelug order. His Holiness gave the center the name Gaden Choling Mahayana Buddhist Meditation Centre and appointed Zasep Rinpoche as the resident teacher.
Once the center was well established, Zasep Rinpoche invited His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, who came to teach in Toronto in the spring of 1981. His Holiness was very pleased about Dharma activity in Toronto.
In July 1981, the growing center occupied a house in which regular teachings could be held. Since then, Rinpoche has given many teachings at Gaden Choling, including Lam Rim (the gradual path to enlightenment), the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life), teachings on death, rebirth and the intermediate state, Buddhist logic and debate, Kalachakra sadhanas, seven-point thought transformation, Mahamudra teachings, and the Four Foundations (Ngondro). He has also given Chenrezig, Manjushri, Vajrapani, Medicine Buddha, White and Green Tara initiations, White Manjushri, Svarasvati, Mahakala, White Zamballa, Vajrasattva, Heruka, Yamantaka, Vajrayogini, and Chittamani Tara many times. He also gave a commentary on the sadhana of Yamantaka, Vajrayogini and Chittamani Tara, and led weekend retreats, and has given private teachings for individual students, both formally and informally.
In a traditional yurt in Mongolia
Since Zasep Rinpoche arrived in Canada, his students there have started four other centers: Tashi Choling in Nelson, Zuru Ling in Vancouver, Cittamani Group in Ottawa, and Potala Centre in Thunder Bay. American students have founded Golden Blue Lotus Tara Center in Moscow, Idaho and Lama Tsong Khapa Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rinpoche and his students at Tashi Choling, Nelson, British Columbia, are in the process of raising funds to purchase land for a temple and retreat facility in the Nelson area. Rinpoche feels it is important to have a retreat centre in such a beautiful, clean environment as it is good for retreat practice. He wishes that many of his students from North America and Australia will come there to study and do retreats in the future. In order to achieve good concentration and solid realizations on the sutra and tantra path one needs peace, quiet and a naturally beautiful setting.
Rinpoche regularly visits his centres and offers extensive teachings, initiations and retreats which his many students attend enthusiastically. As well as establishing these Dharma centers, Rinpoche has taught courses at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado on Buddhist logic and debate, Pramanavartika, and Madhyamikavatara during the summers from 1980 to 1982. He has lectured at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and Carleton University in Ottawa, and has twice led two-week retreats at Ainsworth Hot Springs, B.C., on Medicine Buddha (Tib. Sangye Menlha) and on the Lam Rim. Zasep Rinpoche has also taught the Dharma community in Edmonton, at the Tibetan Buddhist Temple (la Temple Boudhiste Tibetaine) in Montreal, Quebec, at Thubten Dhargye Ling Center in Los Angeles, at Vajrapani Institute in Santa Cruz and at Melaripa Center in Vermont, and also Rinpoche has taught in Anchorage, Alaska.
Rinpoche and his students are involved in various levels of spiritual organization, inviting many high lamas and teachers to Canada and the U.S., such as Venerable Tara Rinpoche, Lati Rinpoche, and His Holiness the Ninth Khalka Jetsun Dampa, also inviting the late Serkong Rinpoche and the Ganden Tripa. Recently the incarnation of His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche came to visit many centres across Canada. Over the years Rinpoche has organized pilgrimages to India and Nepal to visit the major holy sites five times. These pilgrimages have been very meaningful for students in terms of making connections with Lord Buddha and deepening their Dharma practice.
In November 1997, Venerable Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche brought all his centres together in Vancouver for the first Presidents meeting. We now are working together as Gaden for the West: An international organization of Rinpoche, his students and centers, created for the express purpose of bringing, interpreting and integrating Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism to the western world. Venerable Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche created this vehicle to make Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism accessible to as many people as possible. People in the west are different from Tibetans in their culture, customs and psychology. Western minds need the teachings of Buddha to be presented in a way that they can understand. The teachings are the same; the interpretation is different. For instance, the six realms can be seen as a state of your mind, not a physical reality.
In Tibet, 99% of the teachings were for monks and nuns. In the west, they are 99% for lay people. Gender references need to be for both women and men. We are revising and changing the way of teaching for the western mind, not creating a new lineage.
The Buddha said we should revise and adapt to the times, the land and the people we are dealing with, so the teachings will grow and benefit those who receive them. Then the teachings will not degenerate and die. The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is compassion, wisdom and understanding of the human mind—for the enlightenment of all beings.
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