photo of Mahakala Lama dance

graphic image of rainbow colored line

photo of Lama Lodu's head

graphic image of rainbow colored line


Snow Lion Newsletter, Winter 1999

(Interview conducted by students of Lama Lodu Rinpoche)

Question: We've heard in the media that there is a special relationship between Kalu Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama. Can you tell us about that relationship?

Lama Lodu Rinpoche: I have heard that Kalu Rinpoche had an early connection with Rading Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama's regent. Rading Rinpoche had heard that Kalu Rinpoche was a very accomplished teacher and a highly realized master and thus had great interest in receiving teachings from him. Kalu Rinpoche was a wandering yogi at that time, and he came to Lhasa on a pilgrimage, but unfortunately, for various reasons, it was not possible for him to give teachings to Rading Rinpoche. Not long after that, Rading Rinpoche passed away, under terribly unfortunate circumstances. Of course Rading Rinpoche was very close to the Dalai Lama and this had some influence on the Dalai Lama's relationship with Kalu Rinpoche.

Also, through his dharma teachings in India and the West, Kalu Rinpoche was greatly helpful to the Tibetan people after the Chinese invasion. Another factor is that Kalu Rinpoche was a senior to the Dalai Lama in age and was known to have deep insight and realization. I understand that often the Dalai Lama would consult with Kalu Rinpoche before undertaking travel or a major decision. I believe that he trusted Kalu Rinpoche and cared for him greatly.

Q: It appears that you go to see the Dalai Lama to receive teachings and initiations whenever he comes to the US. What is your own relationship with him?

LLR: I have very great respect for the Dalai Lama, first because I know my teacher Kalu Rinpoche respected him and secondly because I could see very clearly, after receiving teachings from him, that he is truly enlightened. I don't have a personal relationship with him, apart from the normal group teachings, but whenever I have contact with him I can see that his realization is very deep and that his wisdom is of tremendous benefit not only to Buddhists but to the whole world. My direct connection? Every day I make offerings for his long life and good health and I pray that I may be of service to his wishes. The direct connection I have with the Dalai Lama is the connection created by his infinite compassion and my devotion to the best of my ability.

Q: What is the difference between a reincarnated Rinpoche and an accomplished lama?

LLR: Reincarnated Rinpoches are accomplished Lamas. One who renounces worldly gain and accomplishes full realization within a single lifetime--these are called Lamas too. But, in India and Nepal today, all Tibetan men are called "lama" and women are called "lamani." So, this title can be very confusing, because of people using it improperly. The word “Lama” has deep and profound meaning—one who has high realization and great compassion toward other beings, without discrimination.

There are many different kinds of reincarnation: reincarnation directly from a Buddha; directly from a bodhisattva; reincarnation that comes directly from the accumulation of merit and good deeds, etc. Also, different levels of incarnation have different abilities to benefit beings and we cannot always recognize an incarnation, as when a great rinpoche takes birth as an ordinary human being. Sometimes incarnations are recognized as such through the insight of a great master and so are then called "Rinpoche. " However, sometimes high incarnations go unrecognized and these hidden incarnations can often accomplish even greater benefit in the world than the recognized ones. We have all heard stories of the Buddhas and high yogis who come back as lowly people or even animals.

The term lama really means Buddha. La means one who has realized full awakening and ma means a mother to all sentient beings or one who cares for all beings as if for one's own child. La represents the absolute teachings of the buddhas who have realized their intrinsic nature; ma represents the relative teachings of one who has realized complete compassion.

A lama is one who trains rigorously on both the relative and absolute levels in order to benefit others. Not all lamas are necessarily high incarnations in the sense I mentioned. They can be someone who has gained realization through training and effort in this lifetime. However, one can use the term lama when referring to a rinpoche or high incarnation. And by the same token, you can refer to a highly realized lama as "rinpoche;" even though he may not be an incarnation. Often the benefit from a lama can be more evident and visible in the world than from a high incarnation, since the effects of incarnation can be hidden. Thus, from the ordinary point of view, a lama can be equally or even more respected.

Q: What is a Tulku?

LLR: Until the 12th century, there was no practice of naming reincarnated Tulkus. In India, the 80 Mahasiddhas, Six Ornaments and Two Excellent Ones manifested themselves through their great activity, not by any foretelling. Although the Buddha prophesied the arrival of some of them, this is not the same. In Tibet as well, Marpa, Gampopa, and Milarepa of this lineage, and the great masters of other lineages gave great benefit, but no one first named them a Tulku. Then, around the 12th century, the Kagyupa Mahasiddha Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa foretold his future rebirth. When this child was born, he articulated his status as the Karmapa. In this way, the foretelling and the articulation matched one another. This practice developed over time and continues to the present, with the 16th Karmapa leaving a letter describing the location and parents of the current 17th Karmapa. Most Kagyu incarnations are recognized by the Karmapa, as well as many Nyingma reincarnations. Nowadays, many Bodhisattvas are recognized by great realized masters. However, many others are born unrecognized, even though they still greatly benefit others through their activity. Jamgon Kongtrul has said that as we have no omniscience, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can be born in many forms and we have no way to tell them apart from normal beings. In this way, we should respect all living beings and not criticize others.

Q: What does the title "Geshe" mean?

LLR: "Geshe" means "spiritual friend," or one who teaches virtuous action, but it also generally refers to one who has intensively studied the sutras and tantras. They must have completed a scholarly thesis and trained for at least 12 years in such disciplines as debate, philosophy, astrology, grammar, poetry, etc. So geshe is a title, much like Ph.D., which signifies rigorous scholarly training; however, they are not necessarily limited to scholarly knowledge. They can also be highly realized and able to put intellectual learning into practice. When a geshe is very accomplished and respected in this way, he is often also called rinpoche.

Q: Some students call you Lama Lodu and others call you Lama Lodu Rinpoche. Is there any significance in this difference?

LLR: There is no significance in this for me. The term "rinpoche" means "precious," so in this case, students use it as an expression of respect and reverence. Some people may call me Rinpoche because they have such pure mind, pure view. But others may not. If I have understanding and realization, then how they choose to speak of me does not increase or decrease this. What I have is always there; the names and titles have no significance. You can call a dog "Buddha," but it does not make the dog Buddha. Likewise, a man may have the last name of "King", but that does not entitle him to a kingdom!

Q: How long have you been teaching dharma in the West and who sent you here?

LLR: I have been here for almost 25 years and was sent here by my root guru, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche and by His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa.

Q: What Is your experience of Western students?

LLR: I have both positive and difficult experiences. The positive is that the Western students are generally intelligent, loyal, and eager to learn. They do not just blindly accept the teachings, as you often see in my culture, but they ask questions and want to know the background, details, and reasoning before they put things into practice. To me this is a positive inclination because it helps one avoid mistakes.

The difficulties are not really very great and consist mostly in the fact that my students and I do not share the same cultural background. Because of the language difficulty and the differences in culture, it is sometimes harder for teaching and learning to take place.

Q: How are Buddhist teachings benefiting Western students now? What about future generations?

LLR: These days there are more and more Western scholars and practitioners helping to spread the dharma and bringing about enormous benefit. Who the teachers are and how they go about their teaching will affect future generations. They must be strict and careful in their adherence to the teachings, rather than improvising and making up their own ways. As the teachings spread and move into other cultures, it is not necessary to change the cultures they are entering, but it is very important not to change or alter the essence of the teachings during this process. Americans are very free-thinking and American teachers may tend to make up their own forms of Buddhism to suit the culture, and this is very dangerous. We must be careful in this area.

I think Christianity is a fine religion but it seems that Christianity, as in many other religions of the world, the word God is often adapted to suit particular political ends. So the teachings are altered and people leave the original meaning behind. The same thing is now happening in Buddhism and this is a dangerous situation. It is our responsibility to keep strictly to the teachings so their benefit will not be lost.

Q: What differences do you see between Western students practicing here and Tibetan students practicing in Tibet?

LLR: I think it is somewhat easier for Tibetan people since they speak and read Tibetan and have usually been exposed to the dharma from an early age. They are generally more prepared and are only held back by laziness. It isn't easy for them either, but it is easier than for Westerners. For example, Western three-year retreatants must read the texts in Tibetan because they have not been translated into English. Also, Westerners tend to be less disciplined and are generally not used to physical hardships. They have lived all their lives with a certain level of comfort, unlike Tibetan who tend to be accustomed to physical hardship. Westerners tend to make a big deal out of the physical side, but those who do undertake the path are making a great sacrifice. No one is forcing them to do this; the willingly pursue their practice and show a great deal of trust and perseverance.

Q: What was the benefit and significance of the 10-day Drub-chen and Lama dancing performed last summer at the KDK retreat land?

LLR: To purify the environment for the construction of the stupa, we had a 10-day Mahakala Drub-chen (“Great Accomplishment”) and Lama dancing afterwards. The Lama Dance is a meditation. The dancer summons tremendous concentration and awareness. The Buddhist Vajrayana tradition was revealed by the 8th-century tantric master Padmasambbhava. He used this method to subdue the powerful demons of the Tibetan region. He appears in an extremely wrathful form,with fearsome sounds and tremendous wisdom and awareness. This transforms all negative environments, beings, and conceptions. Tantric Buddhism thus became well known and deeply rooted in Tibet. The tradition has continued through the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The dances are not always wrathful. When necessary, they can be peaceful.

We performed these dances as part of KDK's groundbreaking ceremony for the stupa. Every aspect of the construction of a stupa is important. The dance that was performed during the groundbreaking ceremony was the Two-Armed Mahakala, which is Bernachen ("The One Who Wears the Black Wool Garment, Wisdom Protector"). This particular dance is the Vision of Karmapa, who embodies the Protectors.

The dancer uses tremendous concentration. He visualizes the Dharma Protector. Every action has a specific purpose. The performance of the dance at the rereat land purified the environment and transformed all negativity. The way is now clear to erect a symbol of the Buddha's Mind, which is an object of our devotion, an offering of accumulated merit, and a purification. These are all benefits of building a stupa.

Q: How does the audience benefit from viewing the Lama dancing?

LLR: While the dancer performs the dance, he is in a great meditative state, with clear visualization of the deities. This is part of the blessings contributed by the dancer. The viewer must have great understanding of the Tantric teachings and deities, with great trust and faith in the Buddhist Tantra. With these two conditions, the environment manifests itself as the Mandala, and the dancer as the deities. The deities are intangible and not solid but are mere appearance, inseparable with emptiness.

This is the way the viewers receive benefit and blessings, but not everyone can have such a high mentality. Others can still benefit, however, by planting the seed for future liberation.

Q: How is one qualified to practice this Lama dancing?

LLR: To be a leader of the Mahakala Lama dance, you have to have several qualifications. A dancer just needs to know how to dance, but the leader of the Lama dance has to know not only dancing, but must have accomplished a Mahakala retreat. He is responsible for visualization and concentrating in the proper way, and must be qualified not only intellectually but also in the

In Sikkim, Rumtek, they perform the Mahakala dance every year. Sometimes the audience sees the head dancer in flames, and sometimes in transparent rainbow body. This is not seen by everyone, but depends on the conditions of the dancer and the viewers.

Q: Are costumes necessary for Lama dancing?

LLR: Actually, the costumes are worn primarily to assist ordinary people in the audience in their efforts to visualize and intensify their experience. Without the costumes, it is much more difficult for an ordinary person to maintain the correct view, and benefit from the blessings of viewing the Lama dancing. The ignorant mind creates an improper view.

Q: We understand you will be giving a teaching next July [July 2000] on the peaceful and wrathful deities. Can you tell us something about that?

LLR: The teachings of the peaceful and wrathful deities that are encountered in the intermediate or bardo state are very important because we have all been reborn and therefore will all die. Except for people with extremely disturbed minds (i.e. suicides) no one wants to die. We have within our reach right now the opportunity to prepare for death so that it will not be a terrifying and confusing experience. One way is to accomplish positive actions during this lifetime. Although this helps you to die peacefully, it does not mean you are liberated from all suffering or that you will not enter the bardo state. A peaceful death does mean, however, that the bardo state will be peaceful. But even this does not mean you will be free from karmic consequences and re-entry into the samsaric world. The teachings of the wrathful and peaceful deities show us how to liberate ourselves from the cycle of samsaric existence. According to the vajrayana bardo teachings, there are three methods of liberation: at the time of death; immediately after death; and in the bardo or intermediate state. In the teachings I will give this July [2000], we will examine these three methods and discuss how it is possible to achieve a peaceful death that leads to liberation or rebirth in a favorable realm. We will see that by engaging in positive actions now it is possible to overcome negativity, prepare for death, and approach it without fear.

[Lama Lodu Rinpoche lead a Bardo Retreat with Peaceful and Wrathful Deities on July 2 -11, 2000.]

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