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The Message of Dhardo Rimpoche

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by Sangharakshita

173: The Message of Dhardo Rimpoche

Today, this afternoon, this evening, as we know very well, we're observing the first anniversary of Dhardo Rimpoche's death. But a question which may have arisen in the minds of some of you at least is: why are we observing that anniversary? In fact, one may even wonder further why we observe the anniversary of anybody's death at all. And we could say paradoxically that we observe the anniversary of somebody's death on account of their life. We observe the anniversary of their death because of the quality of their life, because it has permanent value for us, because their life was worth remembering. Dhardo Rimpoche's life certainly has value for us. As I'm sure you have already gathered, his life is certainly worth remembering. And for that reason we're celebrating - and I think celebrating is really the word - the anniversary of his death today. Perhaps we'll be celebrating it in the future too.

To reminisce just a little, I myself met Dhardo Rimpoche for the first time in 1953, and yes - I met him in Kalimpong. I did subsequently learn that it was not the first time that he had seen me. He apparently had seen me some four years earlier in Buddha Gaya, as you learned from Suvajra's reading of an extract from his book. Now at that time I did not see Rimpoche, and I did not know at that time that Rimpoche was seeing me - and not only seeing me but having some quite definite thoughts on the strange figure of the yellow-robed Western, English, monk.

I saw Dhardo Rimpoche for the last time in 1967, also in Kalimpong. Thus I was in personal contact with Dhardo Rimpoche for a period of altogether fourteen years. And that contact, I may say, was particularly close, particularly intense, during the years 1956 to 1964. And it was in the course of that period that I received from Rimpoche the Bodhisattva ordination. So yes, spanning as it did a period of so many years, I have very very many memories of Rimpoche - memories especially of his mindfulness, memories of his compassion, and of his so many other qualities.

But this evening I am not going to give you much in the way of personal reminiscences. I have done that from time to time on other occasions. In any case, this afternoon we have heard the reminiscences of quite a number of people - eight people, in fact - who actually met Rimpoche at various times, and had personal contact and communication with him.

I'm not even going to say anything this evening about Rimpoche's life. As you know, a detailed account of that life was given in Suvajra's book, which was launched this afternoon. This evening I want to say something about what I've called Rimpoche's message - hence the title of the talk: The Message of Dhardo Rimpoche.

Now of course it may be news to some of you that Dhardo Rimpoche did have a message - that is, a message other than the message communicated by his life itself. After all, Dhardo Rimpoche didn't write anything, he didn't write any books. He didn't give any lectures, not lectures in our formal Western sense. He gave some discourses in Tibetan, some of which I heard, but they weren't tape-recorded, they weren't written down, so in a sense they have disappeared.

But Rimpoche, though he didn't write any books, though he didn't give any lectures, and though his discourses in Tibetan have not been preserved, he did found a school. He did found in 1954 what he always used to call in full the Indo Tibet Buddhist Cultural Institute school. And I do remember - this is a reminiscence - that he liked very much to pronounce these words, almost I might say on every possible occasion, in English. He was very proud of his Indo Tibet Buddhist Cultural Institute school, as he used to call it.

And of course as you know that school, very very fortunately, does still exist, thanks in no small part to help given by quite a number of people who are actually present in this hall on this occasion.

So we may say that for 36 years Rimpoche's life revolved, practically speaking, round his beloved school. And he overcame on more than one occasion tremendous obstacles in order to keep his school going. His school was really very very dear to him. I think I can hardly express how dear it was to him. And I do know, because I was there at the time, that on one occasion he had even to sell some of his very, very precious and beautiful thangkas in order to pay the wages of his teaching staff. So we can see from this how much Rimpoche really did love his school.

He didn't love his school as an institution. He didn't love the bricks and stones of the school, or perhaps I should say the wooden boards of the school, because originally it did function in a big old wooden building. When I say that Rimpoche loved his school, what I mean is that he loved his pupils, thousands of whom must have passed through the school, passed under his care over the years.

And because Rimpoche loved his pupils, loved his students, both old and young, big and small, so much, he wanted them, he dearly wanted them, to grow up under the benign influence of the Dharma. He wanted them to grow up as real Buddhists. And that is why the day began in his school for everybody, as I witnessed myself on more than one occasion, with the chanting of the praises of the Buddha, the praises also of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and the praises of Sarasvati, the female Bodhisattva of learning and culture, invocation of whom is believed by the Tibetans, as by Indian Buddhists before them, to assist in the preservation of a good memory.

So it's because Rimpoche wanted his students, wanted the pupils of his school, to grow up as real Buddhists that they not only recited but they also studied - in addition to various modern subjects - the Tibetan language, and Tibetan literature, Tibetan Buddhist texts and even Tibetan historical texts. Not only that. It's as though Rimpoche wanted to reinforce a point. Rimpoche actually gave his school a message. He gave his pupils, his beloved pupils, a message - a message of just seven words in English. And it's about that message that I want to speak a few words this evening: the message of Dhardo Rimpoche.

But before I go on to speak about the message itself, I want to clear up a possible misunderstanding. People might think - you might even think - that Dhardo Rimpoche's message was addressed to, was intended for, Tibetan children, in some cases Tibetan tiny tots. So what relevance has that to us, we sophisticated people of the West? So one might say, yes, it's true, Rimpoche's message was addressed to children. But how, we may ask, did Rimpoche see those children? Rimpoche saw those children as potential adults. He saw them as potential real Buddhists. He saw them perhaps as potential Bodhisattvas.

And therefore he wanted to give them a message that would hold good for them throughout their lives, a message that they would never forget, a message of universal applicability, a message that would be true wherever they went, whether, as many of them hoped would be the case, they returned to Tibet, or whether they stayed on in India, as very few of them really wanted to do, or whether they even travelled to the West, as some were in fact very anxious to do.

In other words, Rimpoche gave them a message that would be true, that would hold good, at all times and in all places. He gave them in fact a message that would be true for all people, especially for all Buddhists, a message that would be as true for European and American adults as for Tibetan children. After all, we could say that we in the FWBO are also Rimpoche's children, his spiritual children. We might even say that we're his spiritual grandchildren. And of course we do still have a lot to learn. We've a lot of spiritual growing up to do.

So what is Dhardo Rimpoche's message, his message to us on this, the first anniversary of his death? What form, we may wonder, did that message take? Well, Rimpoche's message is to be found in the motto he gave his school, in the motto he caused in fact to be inscribed on the school flag - a motto in just seven words in English. So what were those words, those seven words in English? They were - they are - `Cherish the doctrine.

Live united. Radiate love.' That was, that is, Dhardo Rimpoche's message, the message about which I want to say a few words this evening.

`Cherish the doctrine.' The doctrine is of course the Dharma, or in Tibetan chur. And the word Dharma, chur, has two principal meanings, as many of you know. In the first place, very briefly, it means law, principle, truth, reality - as in the term dharmakaya, the third and highest of the Buddha' three bodies, as they're usually called in English. And secondly the word Dharma means the teaching or the doctrine as enunicated. In other words, it means the teaching of the Buddha. And this teaching or doctrine represents the systematic expression in terms of concepts and symbols of the Buddha's experience, his Transcendental experience of the ultimate reality of things, his vision of things as they really are. And this expression, this communication as we may call it, is for our benefit, it's intended to help us realize what he, the Buddha, realized before us. It's - we may say - a raft, helping us across the stormy waters of samsara to the other shore.

Now obviously there's no question of our cherishing the Dharma in the first sense, cherishing it in the sense of law, principle, truth, reality. The Dharma in this sense doesn't need to be cherished or protected by us. We can only worship it. We can only take refuge in it. It's the Dharma in the second sense that Rimpoche is asking us to cherish - that is to say, the Dharma in the sense of the teaching or doctrine of the Buddha. How then do we, how then are we to cherish the doctrine? We cherish it, we may say, ...

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