Reflections upon Life and Personality of Ven. Kyosang Rinpoche
Anna Schulthess on Shakespir
Copyright © by Anna Schulthess
Kyosang Rinpoche, deceased in 2016, is to my humble opinion one of the most tragic and most enigmatic Buddhist teachers of the 20th and the early 21st century.
I know only two persons who deal with the modern Western culture in a straight, open, and most sincere manner, one of them being Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, a living Nepalese lama. Another is Ven. Kyosang Rinpoche, who has passed away, carrying all his enigmas with him beyond the reach of our knowledge.
This article deals with oddities and peculiarities of the Grand Deceased rather than with his teachings, and is a mixture of recollections much more than a good scientific article.
I must say in parenthesis that I was personally acquainted with the unique teacher of Tibetan Buddhism for Our acquaintance lasted from early 2003 until his death in July 2014.
Questions and Contradictions
How did it happen that almost no trustful photograph of Rinpoche is publicized on the web? I refer this fact to his modesty. Rinpoche-la actually prohibited to take his photos during the Teaching being given, saying, he never wanted to create one more spiritual celebrity out of himself and one more sect of his worshippers.
Howbeit, some of his photos were taken without his permission, and even by the author of this text.
There was, as far as I know, only one case of these photos having been misused, when a person from France with whom Rinpoche was barely acquainted published a group photo on her website stating she received most powerful secret initiations from the Teacher and be his closest disciple. Shouldn’t we say that Rinpoche’s fears finally proved to be founded? However, this single event that occurred in 2010 led to the complete prohibition for all true disciples on Rinpoche to publicize any of his photos for ever. This prohibition was composed by Mr Ludwig Roemer and then signed by Rinpoche himself. To forbid photos of any kind being distributed was too quick and unwise a step, as the prohibition of group photos with Rinpoche would be absolutely sufficient. There is, however, no way to change this decision of Kyosang Rinpoche now. Moreover, there was no way to change it immediately after the prohibition was signed, as Rinpoche was known to take quick steps and to change his mind only in extreme cases.
Here I come to one personal feature of Ven. Kyosang Rinpoche I am almost ashamed to speak about. Rinpoche-la was careless in the most perplexing manner. In both his behaviour and his appearance he had much of a child, as anyone who knew him may freely admit.
As well as I know, Rinpoche never cared for money or what is called worldly matters. He didn’t care whether he would live or die when being seriously ill and placed in a hospital in Saarbruecken. (How should he, on the other hand?) He never cared whether Je Tsongkhapa Buddhist College receives enough students or not, neither was he worried whether his donators keep supporting him or stop their support. This was very unwise even in the eyes of his true followers, yet it was a true ascetic attitude.
I admit even more. The unique Teacher made many spontaneous decisions that seemed bizarre at the first glance, revealed as thought-provoking when deeply analyzed and might entirely change the life of persons he interacted with.
I can easily recall four such cases, provided there has been much more. I personally witnessed one of them and was told about the rest by trustful persons.
Argument with a Priest
Once Rinpoche-la went to Berlin, being accompanied by Mr Roemer and myself. There was a free seat in our compartment of four seats vis-a-vis, being finally occupied by a catholic priest. This priest, being quite a young person, obviously wanted to restrain from any conversation with a Buddhist monk he was forced to sit opposite. However, Rinpoche all of a sudden embarrassed the priest with the question of
“Do you like Beethoven?”
Or something of the sort.
The priest replied almost with contempt, he never ever liked Beethoven.
“Oh, I see,” remarked Rinpoche-la compassionately (I cannot say, however, whether there was a stroke of irony hidden in his compassion). “This is why so many of you Christian priests turn into pedophiles.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Into pe-do-philes,” Rinpoche repeated distinctly.
The Teacher used this very word, forcing us to face this most awkward situation which, however, did not last long, as the clergyman left our compartment the next instant, red as a lobster.
We literally attacked Rinpoche-la with questions of the relationship between disliking Beethoven and becoming a pedophile, and were told about some lofty spiritual matters and reasons. There surely is, he said, no direct link the two fact. Yet the music of some composers, Beethoven being one of them, may inspire sympathy towards other persons. Now the Christian Catholic clergymen greatly fail to cultivate their mind, be it by listening to the pieces of Beethoven or by other means. But then, he said, every human mind that does not want to cultivate itself cannot help degenerating, and this corruption finally results in becoming a pedophile. I am not making any moral judgment of to this explanation, I am simply retelling what I had witnessed and heard.
Another case created a certain rumor. A young girl of twenty somehow managed to get a personal audience with Rinpoche-la after the end of the evening teaching he used to give at Je Tsongkapa Home Retirement in Alsace in 2007. The audience lasted over forty minutes, being a long, but not a unique one. The girl left the room carrying a “certificate” in her hands. The paper was issued by Rinpoche himself, and it was about the girl being recognized as a competent Buddhist teacher!
When asked, how on earth could he give such a letter to someone who totally lacked a proper education, spiritual experience in meditations etc. etc., Rinpoche-la answered that he clearly saw the girl m_i_g_h_t become a famous teacher in the future.
The name of the girl was Alexandra Wormwood, by the way. Ms Wormwood now runs a Buddhist centre and seems to be a qualified meditation instructor (yet nothing very remarkable as a Buddhist teacher, in my humble opinion). Was this “certificate” a spontaneous unpremeditated act of kindness? Or, rather, a genial prediction? I am unable to judge on such cases, neither do I wish.
The same year, even more certificates of this kind were issued so that the group of five close disciples of Rinpoche-la had al last to intervene. This intervention was not the most tactful thing in their life, nor was it the cleverest one, but at least anyone can imagine the feeling of those five persons of whom none was granted such a paper. The reader shall realize that any of them tried as hard as possible to satisfy Rinpoche’s needs and cared for his well-being. (On this later.) Recognition of so many teachers, as so young ones, they said, may lead to the very term losing its weight and becoming worthless. Finally, they basically “forced” Rinpoche to promise never to issue such certificates, or recognition letters, or whatever you may call them, to persons he hardly ever knew before. There was even a term “foxes” to describe such persons, being invented specially for the occasion, meaning both “a freshman” and “a very sly person who misuses someone’s kindness”.
I am now going to narrate a very embarrassing episode that, among many others of this kind, originated from Rinpoche’s spontaneity.
Rinpoche used to visit Hoch-Andlau, a city in Alsace, not infrequently. On one of the occasions he decided to visit the local church. He named his wearing worldly clothes as a pretext and simply said, he was pity to miss such a rare opportunity.
What happened next, Rinpoche describes in Snow Lion Faces Europe:
“There were laymen as well as nuns in the church. I listened to a sermon and to prayers. Then communion followed. I have nothing against Jesus so I didn’t mind to take part at it. As you know, during a communion small wafers which symbolize the body of Jesus are used. As for laymen, the priest put these wafers directly into their mouths. As for nuns, they stretched out their hands, and the wafers were laid on their palms. I didn’t see much difference. However, as I am a monk, I stretched out my hand, too. The wafer was laid on it. I went back to my place. Then one of the nuns turned her head and gazed at me with gleaming eyes. She surely blamed me, because I broke common rules.”
How on earth could anyone except himself participate at a Catholic mass and even to receive the Eucharist, being a Buddhist monk?
By the way, I cannot blame the nun Rinpoche is telling about. But even laying the blame on the Teacher, if there was anything to blame, I cannot help admiring his… well, what is the exact name? Shall we call it courage? Or is courage too weak a word? Shouldn’t we rather describe it as Rinpoche’s readiness to break through all possible spiritual boundaries and to challenge all possible stereotypes?
Let me now quote the most puzzling thing about the Rinpoche. I mean his biography that is now published in the Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia at http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php/Khenpo_Kyosang_Rinpoche.
“In December of 1988 a group of English and American researchers of Buddhism (among them Henry Colt, A. Tennis, and Dr. N. Hahn) went to India and were so inspired by Rinpoche’s teachings, that they asked Him to go to England and to found a Dharma centre or even a monastic college.”
This biography was written by Mr Roemer one of August evenings in 2003. Mr Roemer claims to ask Rinpoche for an interview, to face strong disinclination, to insist, to finally receive Teachers’ consent, and thus to obtain all the details above form Rinpoche himself.
There is no wonder that Mr Roemer, earning his living as a psychologist before and several years after he had met Rinpoche for the first time, could not detect that there were n_o famous researchers of Buddhism with such names about 1988. Not that I knew. As for me, almost all names in this biography before 2001 are or al least might be fictitious.
So what happened exactly?
Let us take some assumptions.
The first assumption is, Rinpoche simply forgot several names, having been slowly recovering after his severe illness. (He suffered much from lung diseases, tuberculosis was suspected at one of the stages.) This is something neither you nor my reader can believe, as pneumonia has nothing to do with mental faculties.
The second assumption is, all these names shall be read and understood metaphorically. Mr “Colt”, for instance, always wore a colt, Mr “Tennis” played tennis brilliantly, Ms “Hahn’ was a bit too fussy, in the way hens are, and so on.
The last assumption that I personally tend to regard as the most credible is, that literally everything in this biography was a kind of somewhat crude joke (or shall we rather call it pedagogical approach?). Having declined twice, Rinpoche finally consented in order to teach Mr Roemer one easy thing: never insist too hard in order to get something from your teacher, as you might get something you cannot handle.
The First Apostle, Also Being Roemer
Now we proceed with the personality of Rinpoche’s closest disciple, his apostle, being also a Roemer in the same way the apostle Paul was. (For those not familiar with German: the German word Roemer means as much as “a Roman citizen.”) The comparison reveals as a true one nor simply for linguistic reasons. Starting with being very far from the smartest or the most beloved disciple, Mr Roemer finally managed to become indispensible for Rinpoche-la and even to create sort of a “church”: an organization that, even despite its spreading Rinpoche’s spiritual heritage, contradicts on many occasions the Last Will of the Teacher as well as anything the Teacher thought and said.
I probably shall begin with the name of the Buddhist College that Rinpoche created in 2001 and which then sounded as Je Tsongkapa Rigpay Jungne Ling Buddhist College and Home Retirement.
This old name had two parts, which were the actual name (Je Tsongkapa, rje tsong kha pa in Wylie transliteration mode) and its definition (Rigpay Jungne Ling, rig pa’i ‘byung gnas gling), which literally meant “the source of learning” and had nothing to do with the Tibetan name of Padmasabhava, or Pema Jungne, whatever.
In a certain way, Je Tsongkapa Rigpay Jungne Ling Buddhist College was not a “college”, i.e. not an education provider, incorporated according to the French laws. The college, being a religious community, offered no diplomas for its students. Only two sorts of documents were issued until late 2013, one of them being certificates of completion, another being the (somewhat disastrous in general opinion).
From September 2013 till Rinpoche’s death in July 2014, no new learners were enrolled and no education activity took place.
After being “elected” as the new “director” of Je Tsongkapa Rigpay Jungne Ling Buddhist College, Mr Ludwig Roemer finally managed to incorporate the College in 2014. At the same time, he altered the name of the institution.
Rig pa being knowledge, or wisdom, ‘byung gnas being source and gling being place, the old name clearly shows us that there is a certain place (gling) which serves as the source (‘byung gnas) of knowledge (rig pa) and is called “Je Tsongkapa” (rje tsong kha pa).
The Y at the end of Tsongkapa, added by Mr Roemer as a marker of Tibetan genitive case, simplifies the name of the institution, which now means only as much as “Je Tsongkhapa’s place”.
This alteration has two disadvantages.
The first one is that no Tibetan-speaking person can now identify Je Tsongkapa(y) Ling as a “source of learning”, i.e. an education provider, by its name.
The second one is that Je Tsongkapa, a famous Tibetan lama of the fourteenth century, founder of the Gelug lineage, had never been in Europe where Je Tsongkapa(y) Ling is located. There is also no single reason to regard the College as “Je Tsongkapa’s place”. To say it in common words, it is simply not true.
Whatever his reasons might be, Mr Ludwig Roemer had in my opinion no right to alter the name of the institution, founded by Rinpoche, in order to converse a “source of learning named after Je Tsongkapa” into “Je Tsongkapa’s place”.
The old emblem of the College (two lions holding a Dharma-wheel) was also altered and simplified by Mr Roemer. Now it a white lion on a red shield. Can anyone make out what this lion means? Rinpoche was neither a count nor a duke to have an emblem with a shield. He was a Buddhist teacher.
Authorization of New Buddhist Teachers
I must beg forgiveness from my reader for boring him or her with legislative matters of seemingly little importance as well as for repeating what I have already said in another article of mine. Let us, however, proceed to one of the most important points.
In His Last Will, Rinpoche-la has authorized ten persons to serve as Buddhist instructors and to run Dharma centres which follows from the Seventh and the Eight Article quoted below.
I allow to the persons mentioned above to spread the Holy Teaching of Buddha by giving oral teachings, writing books, performing meditations and rituals, to lead Dharma centres they have created or/and to create new centres.”
What was the source of the named authorization? What made it possible? I strongly believe, it was possible because of the personal qualities, skills, and competences of the persons that were examined by Rinpoche and found to be good enough for someone who is or wants to be a Buddhist teacher. (Let us regard for an instant a “teacher” and an “instructor” as mere synonyms.)
There are probably only two ways to perform this examination now, after Rinpoche’s having passed away.
One of them is to regard Mr Ludwig Roemer as the spiritual director of Je Tsongkapa Ling Buddhist College (let me use the old name) and hereby as the Supreme Teacher of the whole community of Khenpo Kyosang Rinpoche’s followers all over the world.
I can hardly believe that Mr Roemer actually is capable to fit this position, even despite my deed respect for all his ingenuity and other spiritual qualities.
Another way, being much more in correspondence with what Rinpoche-la thought and taught throughout his life, is calling a meeting of all Buddhist instructors, named in Rinpoche’s Last Will, in order to elaborate criteria and procedures of authorizing a Buddhist instructor and electing officers in charge of this examination.
Argument with H.H.D.L. the Fourteenth, and Conclusion
As any follower of Rinpoche-la or any student of Je Tsongkapa Ling Buddhist College knows for certain, Rinpoche-la never expressed his disagreement with His
He did it, however, on several private occasions and even said, His Holiness “might err” on some questions. One should not, for instance (so Rinpoche said) underestimate the dangers originating from “freedom”, “equality”, and “brotherhood”, as well as from “tolerance”, “feminism”, and other such actual terms.
This criticism was reported to the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by one of the “traitors”, if I am permitted to use this old word in its literal meaning of “one who betrays any confidence or trust”. This fact probably lead to a tension between Rinpoche-la and the Office of His Holiness, which fact has already caused additional problems.
I can state with absolute certainty that Rinpoche-la was no enemy of freedom, no friend of sexism, no autocrat and no misogynist. Hardly can I imagine a Buddhist teacher with more sympathy for women’s needs. At the same time, no one can overlook the fact how very far Kyosang Rinpoche was from following the political or the spiritual mainstream of the modern thought, how out of place he was with all his convictions and ideas.
“In my last life.” Rinpoche once said, “I used to criticize spiritual authorities. This will for certain result in criticism towards myself.”
But it was not only criticism, it was disdain, hatred, and even complete disregarding of his activity and of his personality he had to face, as it happened in 2013, when no mass medium and no institution, including police, wanted to react towards Rinpoche from some young racist mobsters.
A medieval knight, entering a modern shopping mall in his iron armour, would make himself laughable in the same way the Teacher made himself, consequently declining to profess what is in fashion.
Rinpoche-la, even despite the fact that he obviously had nothing martial in his personality, truly resembles such a knight.
Now they say, the knights of the Middle age were short and smelled ill. Shall we nor regard such statements as products of ill-hidden jealousy?
I was always fond of knights when I was a child, you know. And I shall stay true to the memory of one knight, who in his turn had always been true to his faith and creed, even now, being a senior person.