A Gift from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche
In the 70’s, when I came across Buddhism, there were books and there were items that were translated and some of them were quite good. But there was not a lot. And, if you want to study what the monastic system study, it was very difficult to find translations. And if you did find translations, they were very technical and dry and if I may say quite boring.
Decades ago, I came across some books by His Eminence Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and I read through them. I found the books systematic, easy to understand, orderly, based on scriptures, translated in the highest caliber into the English language, yet understandable, and very accurate to the translation of the original scriptures that they came from. And I was totally amazed, overwhelmed and over taken by such beautifully packaged books with wonderful illustrations, good accurate information, excellent translation; that I can actually trust and believe, and know that they are accurate from the original source.
In Buddhism, it’s very important that we practice from an original source with a lineage. A lineage meaning it came from a qualified teacher, from another qualified teachers, that traces back to one of the great Indian pandits, Mahasiddhas, masters, Tsongkhapa or even the Buddha himself. So, within the Buddhist tradition, especially within the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa; having visions and writing down the teachings is possible, finding ‘termas’ or hidden treasures in the landscape is possible… but it is not highly encouraged. Why is that? We do have visionaries, and psychic people and powerful people and attained people, who can receive teachings from supernatural beings such as Manjushri directly. We do have people who have visions of teachings, special practices buried under the earth or water, in rocks and trees and have appeared at the right time. We do have people who can find teachings that were stored away for a future time. Definitely there are people like that with exceptional powers, developed from single pointed meditation. Definitely.
But from an ordinary point of view, such as myself, being an ordinary person, I can’t tell if that person is highly attained or if that person is not highly attained. So if they both came to me and say, “ Well, I receive these teachings from the nagas, I received these teachings from Manjushri, I receive teachings from a vision”… I don’t know if what they saw or what they thought they saw was real or not. Therefore, I kind of have doubt whether their teachings are going to be accurate for lack of a better word.
Therefore, there are definitely highly attained masters who do have visions, who can see ethereal beings, and supernatural beings and receive teachings, receive lineages, receive practices; such as the great master from India, Guru Rinpoche or otherwise known as Padmasambhava, who had many visions, and who planted and discovered secret teachings… Who proliferated many, many different practices he has received from ethereal or supernatural beings. Similarly, you have the same in Atisha, you have the same in Lama Tsongkhapa, and you have the same in many great masters of the past and present day such as His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and so on.
But, if everyone was to rely on teachings that specifically came from a source that’s untraceable except to the author, then sometimes charlatans may arise. And when charlatans arise, that is when the degeneration of the teachings set in. When the teachings degenerate, they are not able to produce attained states of mind in our mind-stream. So therefore receiving a teaching, practice, transmission, initiation or permission from a living master, who has received it from source quoted to you (from another living master and so on), then the blessings and the teachings, and the potency of the teachings are alive in your mind-stream. Therefore when you practice, you can gain powerful transformation and attainments.
Therefore, lineage is very important in that sense as it must be genuine, and must be stated. Within the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition – the Gelugpa, when teachers give a teaching, they quote the source, where it comes from and when they got it. Because the teacher can’t simply say to you, “Well, I received this from Manjushri, and guess what? You’re just going to believe me.” Well, there are teachers of that caliber who can say, “I received it from Manjushri” and I think a lot of us will believe it. But there are people out there that if they say they received it from Manjushri, we will say, “Oh, okay. Good for you.” Because I’m an ordinary being, I can’t judge who is attained and who is not attained, and I presume not to judge. Therefore, I rather hear that they have a source, they have a lineage, they have a practice, where they got it from… Then it’s much more reliable.
For example, if you’re going to go to a doctor and he is going to give you a special diet. And he says it comes from this lab, research was done here, this is the amount of nutrition you need, this is the amount of vitamins you need, this is the amount of minerals you need, the studies have proven this and we’ve done it over this amount of years, and here’s the certified authenticated results. Then, you’ll have more confidence about what he is prescribing to you. But if the doctor says, “Well, my daughter kind of met this healing nature god and he gave it to her, and she gave it to me, and here it’s going to work for you.” Well I’m going to be a little doubtful. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. But I’m not sure.
So for me, I’m not into supernatural and I’m not really into magic and mystery and all that although it exists, because I don’t have powers. But, if the teacher says to me, the source is here, it came from here, I received it from here, I practiced this, and these are the results. I’ll go, “Oh, thank you.” It’s kind of like the doctor telling you, they got this nutritional path for us to be healthier from this lab, from these studies. So it’s just safer. Having said that, if my root teacher whom I’ve connected with introduces me to something I will trust.
Now having said that, when I came across Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books, I was just totally amazed at their accuracy, clarity, incredible consistency and especially its progression, meaning from steps A to Z. When you read these books, nothing of Geshe’s personal interpretation is in there, it’s pretty much according to the scriptures if you can read Tibetan. There are some exceptions when he puts in examples here and there to help elucidate what’s there, but the actual body of the text and the meat and the bones, are very accurate. And I was amazed because I had problems learning Tibetan, reading Tibetan and I actually do not prefer to study in Tibetan. I prefer to study in English for whatever karmic reason there is in that. So when I read Geshela’s books and commentaries, they really illuminated my world, they really gave me a lot of knowledge, they really opened me up to so much more in Dharma.
And I remember 20 years back when I was giving teachings to people, I would actually use some of Geshela’s books as the basis of my teachings. People said that it was helpful and beneficial… In fact, it was helpful for me! So therefore I have always admired the knowledge this great master has and the knowledge that he passed to his students, to be able to translate these and make these teachings available to the world. I have always been in great admiration for Geshela’s scholarship, his knowledge, and erudite preciseness in training his students to produce these types of books and teachings that have been so beneficial for so many people around the world.
My admiration grew for Geshela from these books. In the past I have personally purchased hundreds of these book, hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, and passed it to people, offered it to people and giving it to people as guidelines of certain practices. They have been very beneficial. For example, Geshela’s tantric text on Heruka and Vajrayogini are absolutely priceless. One of my favourite books is ‘Understanding Your Mind‘ by Geshela… that’s really one of my favourites. And I think one book that really changed my mind to develop and gear myself more towards the development of compassion was Geshela’s translation of Shantideva’s text ‘The Bodhisattva-charya-avatara‘ or Meaningful to Behold. That really affected me quite a lot when I read it, and it moved me very very much.
I have never had the honor or the privilege to meet Geshela or to have a conversation with him. But, I know from his books that he is a great master. And I don’t really care nor does it bother me whether he has the title of Geshe or not. Some people like to get into this kind of mini debate on whether he is a real Geshe or not a real Geshe. But having come from Gaden Monastery, I’ve met many monks that are older, who don’t have a Geshe title, who ran away before they finished the Geshe title, or not interested in Geshe title… They study, they learn, they absorb, and guess what… They are very knowledgeable and have a lot to transmit. So, whether they have a Geshe title or not, has never ever affected me and my trust in their knowledge. Because when you observe their actions for example, Geshela is a pure monk and holds his Vinaya vows, you know that renunciation has sunk into Geshela’s mind because he holds his monks vows purely. You just know that Geshela has spent his life teaching the Dharma and it has manifested in his centres, in his books, in his students, and in hundreds of centres around the world, as a sign of his great compassion, or the 2nd of the 3 principles of the path, Boddhicitta.
Geshela works tirelessly for others… from what I have read, seen and observed; is to be a benefit to others, to be of help to others, to bring people onto the path, especially Lama Tsongkhapa’s path. He has spent his whole life doing that from a very young age of learning, contemplation study and then later, teaching and being the living embodiment of the teachings, a living example. So therefore, by seeing him living his life in Dharma and not attracted to the ” delights” of Samsara, you can see that Geshela has achieved some sort of Emptiness if I may respectfully say so. So for any practice especially a prelude to tantra or for tantra, we need to have actualized the Three Principal Paths, which is Renunciation, Boddhicitta and Emptiness. And therefore when you have observed Geshela’s life, his works, his focus and his results; you can see he has achieved the Three Principal Paths, which is a prelude or a prerequisite or necessity for tantric practice. So, to me, it doesn’t matter if this person has a Geshe’s name or not. I have met many many teachers in Gaden, Sera and Drepung Monasteries who do not have the Geshe name, title or certificate, yet many people went to them for teachings, many people went to them for advise, many people went to them for divination and many went to them for clarification of the scriptures because they have knowledge. Milarepa was never a Geshe, he was a layperson, with long hair, wearing white robes, committed a lot of negativities, received some dharma from his teacher, went to meditate and become an enlightened Buddha. The line of Karmapas are not Geshes. Then you have many types of masters, who are not Geshes but have great knowledge.
This is not to say Geshela is not a Geshe, this is to say titles do not bother me at all. So therefore, from Geshela’s works, and from Geshela’s results, and lifetime of dedicating himself to learning, study, contemplation, practice and therefore turning the wheel of Dharma and teaching… he has the results. His centres are flourishing, he has brought thousands onto the path of Dharma, he holds his vows clearly according to the Vinaya and his books are a resource for hundreds and thousands people around the world as it has been for me. So for many years I have been a long distance admirer of H.E Geshe Kelsang Gyatso because of all the qualities that I have mentioned. I do not know if in this life I will have the fortune to meet him and to receive his blessings or to speak with him, but I hope I do one day because he is an inspiration to me.
What Geshela’s personal views are on his practice, his Dharma protector, his lineage, and even perhaps some of his secular views, are not my concern. Geshela does many activities that I do not understand or fully fathom but I am not here to judge. So therefore there are people who criticize and say good things and bad things about Geshela, but it doesn’t affect me, because I have my own eyes and my own ears and my own comprehension to understand Geshela. I’m not presuming I do understand him, I’m just saying that from an outward view, he shows signs of a qualified spiritual master of the highest caliber. He has spent his whole life as a pure monk, he has followed his guru with great devotion as you can see his books he always mentions his Guru, H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has done nothing wrong because he is loyal to his teacher and the practices his teachers have entrusted to him. We all have to be loyal to our teachers. Being loyal to one teacher does not mean we need to damage another teacher. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso teaches the Dharma tirelessly, he and his students open many centres with so much efforts, they do retreats, they do practices, he has trained them up to give initiations, oral transmissions and commentaries. He spent his life in practicing, teaching the Dharma, and contemplating the Dharma. His only so called ” fault ” imputed by others is his view on his Dharma protector and his unwillingness to not release the practice of his Dharma protector because of his commitment to his root guru. I don’t see any fault in that, and I think that if Geshela does nine excellent things and one thing we don’t agree with, perhaps we don’t make an enemy of him, label him an enemy or label him something negative just because of that one facet that we don’t agree with. There are many other facets that we can look at. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso does not need to be degraded or shunned just because he chooses to be loyal to his teacher, lineage, practice and so on. If we make him out to be some sort of negative being, that is our problem.
Recently, I was very honoured to receive a letter from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and accompanied by a gift of Green Tara. I was very surprised, privileged, moved and touched. I wanted to blog about it and I didn’t have time till now. What I wanted to say to Geshela was to thank him, for his blessings to a junior monk, from a senior monk. I wanted to thank him for such a precious gift which I will treasure and I have already encased it and placed it on the altar in my centre so that everybody may get a blessing from this Tara image that Geshela has so kindly given to me.
In the Buddhist tradition, older monk with or without titles matter not. They can be called Rinpoche, Dorje Chang, Mahasiddha, Geshela or just Bikkshu (meaning old monk), it doesn’t matter what their title is. The fact that they are holding their Vinaya vows and they have held it for decades upon decades purely, the secret here is “purely”, that they are filled with blessings, they are the pure sangha, they are filled with inspiration, they are filled with the results of practicing a whole life time of Lord Buddha’s teachings. So therefore, such a being who holds the Vinaya well, practices the teachings and embodies what the Buddha has taught us by deed, action, and results… he is someone very blessed and very holy. If they were to touch an object and give it to you, it is a blessed object. If they were to blow on some water and give it to you, it’s a blessed water to drink that heals and if they were to give you a gift such as I received a Tara from Geshela, it’s considered extra blessings, extra special. I’m not attached to Tara as an object, I’m not attached to the object that we have labeled Tara… What I am in awe of, is a senior monk passing the blessings to a younger monk, myself, that I may aspire to be someone who practices the Three Principal Paths, mind training, master the sutras and tantras and be able to turn the wheel of Dharma for the many others. So here I enclosed a picture of the beautiful Tara that Geshela has granted me, and also a letter from himself, which I appreciate very much. I realised perhaps by blogging this about Geshela, and expressing my admiration, I may create some consternation in certain peoples’ minds, I do not wish to create any consternation or any unhappiness but I think I have the right to admire who I want, and I think on this blog which is my space, which is visited by people who are okay with my views, I have the right to blog and write about who I want.
A precious Green Tara from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso presented to myself. Thank you so much. This statue was produced by Geshe Kelsang’s Dharma Organisation, the New Kadampa Tradition. I am amazed by it’s beauty and perfect workmanship.
A letter from His Eminence Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to me!
(Click on image to enlarge)
For those of you who do not think as highly of Geshela as I do, then may I kindly and respectfully ask that you not read this blog, not to read this post, and to read something else. But for some people who come to my blog every single day and pick out things here and there, and then find things to criticize, I think there are a couple million other blogs out there that you can find more to your liking and therefore you can talk about, communicate about, express about and debate about, that might be a better usage of time. This is my blog, I put my energy into it, my students help me to put their time and their hard work into it, and this is my space. Anything I write on my blog are my opinions, my thoughts, my likes and dislikes, and if you are not happy with it, no one is forcing you to come on the blog, if you have nothing better to do than to come on the blog every single day and to find fault with it, may I gently suggest to you to bring peace to your mind and not come here? OM MANI PADME HUNG.
Geshela to me is a Dharma master of the highest calibre, and I do realise he has his own opinions about certain Dharma teachers in Tibet, for example H.H. Dalai Lama and other teachers. But that is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s opinion, that is his thinking, that is his thought. What Geshela thinks, what his thoughts are doesn’t necessarily reflect or match my own. He has his opinions, he has every right to it and I have my opinions and I have my rights to it. My point is this, I admire the purity of his monkhood, I admire the clarity, scholastic and erudite information behind his books. I greatly appreciate the amount of benefit I have received from the books for over thirty years now. From the depths of my heart, I pray that great Dharma masters such as Geshela, H.H. the Dalai Lama, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and all these masters, irregardless of what you may feel about them, may they live long, continue to turn the wheel of Dharma and benefit others. Maybe some people in Geshela’s group may not be ardent admirers of the Dalai Lama, but that’s their opinion. However, I still admire the Dalai Lama and I am entitled to my opinion. There may be people who are ardent admirers of the Dalai Lama and who are not admirers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, they also have a right to their opinion and what they wish to think. But I am an ardent admirer of both Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the Dalai Lama because I like the middle way. I have taken teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama so I have to respect him. I’ve taken teachings from Lamas that His Holiness the Dalai Lama manifest not being pleased with and I still have to respect them even so. I cannot take Dalai Lama’s ‘displeasure’ at a lama and abandon him because I have taken him as a guru. Nor can I abandon the Dalai Lama. I and thousands like me are in a precarious situation. It is good for the mind training and at the same time it can be hard at times. Both sides wonder what side I am on. Well I am on the side of my gurus that has touched my heart the most. Others may protest against Dalai Lama or Geshe Kelsang or whomever but I may not. My spiritual development and responsibility to achieve enlightenment is at the forefront of my mind and showing disrespect to any of my lamas is a big no for me.
True spirituality is not hatred or an aversion for one or for the other. Whenever we have this aversion, we have to find a middle way… A middle way or equilibrium. Without equilibrium and to hate one side and profess spirituality , do our mantras, meditations and practices and all of that, is kind of contradictory. Because the whole purpose of meditation, mantras, practices and studies in dharma is to expel all traces of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. Because if you like, you will dislike and if you dislike, you will like. And if you like or dislike, the roots of samara arises from likes and dislikes because it shows that there is Aversion and Attachment. So therefore to like one lama at the cost of hating another is actually a heavy price to pay on our so-called spiritual practice which we will gain no progress in whatsoever.
So the key here is not to like or dislike a certain lama or lineage or practice or what not… but to find a middle way. Everybody has their own karma, everybody has their own journey, everybody has their own path and no matter how much we criticize another person’s path if they don’t have the karma to understand it, they’re not going to understand it and your criticism will only fall on deaf ears that harden their hearts and make the situation more difficult and also makes them start to have anger and hatred. So what’s most important is to forgive and to respect.
People may find it difficult to respect both the Dalai Lama and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso because it seems like they are on opposite sides. Whatever they have between them or they don’t have between them doesn’t concern me so much because what is important is how I view this. And how I view this is the middle way, which is not to discredit, dislike one or the other, or to defend one by criticizing the other. We can go on endlessly on social media and criticize another lama over and over again, its not going to change the lama, its not going to change the situation, it doesn’t make us a better person, nor does it make me a better spiritual person. And to recite Om Mani Padme Hung on one breath and then another breath to criticize another lama seems contradictory and not complimentary. So therefore what’s important is that if we believe in the Dalai Lama, we should represent the Dalai Lama well by being tolerant, compassionate, kind and extremely forgiving and also giving people chances. If we represent Geshe Kelsang Gyatso we should do exactly the same. Whoever our lama is, whoever our teacher is we must represent them well, in our wisdom, in our compassion and especially in our understanding of others. By putting others down, criticizing them, and having hate campaigns against them and doing it because they do it, or having hate campaigns because they have it, doesn’t make us any better than who we are criticizing.
I have decided to put this post up not to make any political statements, not to come out about something and not to change your mind about anything. I came out with this because there are people who know nothing about Geshela and Dalai Lama and all the things that go on in the Tibetan and related worlds. They know nothing and they just want the Dharma. I highly recommend them to get books by Geshela to read, to study, to understand and improve – it has helped me. So in this blog post, what I wanted to say was Geshela’s works have helped me and I appreciate it and I thank him. Whatever his secular views are about other things in life, or other lamas, or even the Dalai Lama doesn’t affect me and doesn’t reflect me.
I have my own views about the Dalai Lama, my own views about Geshela, and I will express it on my blog in my way and in my space. May I respectfully ask everyone else to do the same. And may I repeat again, if you don’t agree with my opinions, there is no problem. There is also no reason for you to criticize me because of my opinions. I am just another struggling samsara being trying to reach enlightenment.
To Your Eminence Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche,
Please live long, please continue to turn the wheel of dharma. Thank you for all your works as they are indeed vast and great. Thank you for your lifetime of contribution to the growth of Buddha’s teachings and in particular Lord Tsongkhapa’s tradition. Thank you for your stalwart and steadfast devotion to your root lama which has been a great inspiration for me and many others. The way you practice regardless of any obstacles is just like the great Kadampa Geshes of the past.
Thank you very much for doing the best you can to spread dharma the way you can and you have been immensely successful. I appreciate everything you have done, and I would like to thank you so much for the beautiful letter and holy Tara statue you have given me. I will treasure these till the end of my days and as I said earlier, I will place the statue in my dharma centre, on Kechara’s shrine for everyone to view, be blessed by Tara and be blessed Her powerful energies. I sincerely hope to one day have the honor to make offerings to you directly as I have admired you for decades. For now, please actualize the power of your meditations and extend your life to be a continued source of blessings for many whom are karmically connected to you.
My humblest and deepest respects,
PS: Years and years ago while I was in Gaden, before all the…may I say the ‘controversies’ made up by others, when I was in Ganden Monastery reading one of Geshela’s incredibly erudite and clear books, I folded my hands and I prayed, “May I absorb all the knowledge that is in this book”. And that book was ‘Path To Bliss, a commentary of Vajrayogini’. I was so inspired at that time that I wrote a letter to Geshela and to tell him how much I admired his books and what I thought about it, and also in the second part of the letter (which I can’t find right now) I requested him to translate other teachings such as Yamantaka, such as Guhyasamaja, such as the Six-armed Mahakala, Kangsol – Palden Lhamo Kangsol, the Kalarupa prayers and a set of other teachings I requested to Geshela to also translate.
Years ago I also read a book, Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, I really thought it was very clear and very nice and I used to give a lot of those books out. And I particularly like the fact that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama wrote a Foreword for that book and I thought, ‘Wow! Geshela who is such a renowned master, being Foreworded by another great renowned master of Tibet‘. I thought what a powerful joining of forces – the Dalai Lama writing a Foreword for Geshe Kelsang. And then later on, things kind of change, different secular views arose, and some obstacles and some thinking and I guess its kind of a teaching on Impermanence.
So I include part of my letter here that I wrote to him many years ago – you can see the date and the year also here.
This was my letter to Geshe Kelsang in 1994, it was published in the New Kadampa Tradition’s magazine called Full Moon
(Click image to enlarge)
这是我在1994年寄给格西格桑嘉措的信。此信刊登在新噶当巴传承的一本称为《Full Moon》的杂志上。 (点击放大图片)
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books are highly praised by many Lamas, one of them being His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama who wrote a foreword in one of Geshe Kelsang’s earlier publications. Click on the image to enlarge. When the foreword was written, Geshe Kelsang was doing the same practice, devoted to the same lama and was the same person. Nothing has changed at least in my views.
由于这些书籍，我敬仰格西拉。过去，我曾亲自购买好几百本他的著作，并将它们送给他人以作为某些修持的引导书籍。这些书的益处很大。譬如说，格西拉所著的胜乐金刚和金刚瑜伽母密续绝对是无价的。其中一本我最喜欢的著作是《Understanding Your Mind》（理解心识），它是我的最爱之一，而格西拉讲述寂天菩萨《入菩萨行论》的译作《Meaningful to Behold》（菩萨心行），更是一本改变我的心灵，让我致力培养更多慈悲心的书籍。阅读这些书籍，不仅对我造成很大的影响，还深深触动我心。
注：许多年前，当我还在甘丹寺时，在这一切发生之前……在这些人为的“争议”发生之前，我在甘丹寺阅读格西拉其中一本伟大清晰的著作后，双手合十祈愿“愿我能吸收书中的一切知识”。这本书的书名为《Path To Bliss, a commentary of Vajrayogini》。这本书给了我极大的启发，我当时还写了一封信给格西拉，告诉他我对这本书的欣赏和看法。在信的第二部分（我目前无法找到），我请求他翻译其他如大威德金刚、密集金刚、六臂大黑天的书籍，以及吉祥天母酬供和阎摩法王的祈愿文等。此外，我也请求他翻译另一套教诲。
几年前，我阅读了格西格桑嘉措所著的《Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition》之后，认为这是一本十分清晰、出色的书籍。我曾经把这本书送给许多人。我尤其喜欢至尊嘉瓦仁波切为该书写序文这件事。当时我心想“哗，格西拉是一位著名的大师，而另一位西藏著名大师则为他写序文”。我想那是多么强大的组合——嘉瓦仁波切为格西格桑嘉措写序。后来，局势开始改变，另一种世俗看法和某些障碍和想法开始出现，我猜想，这也许是一个关于无常的教诲。
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