SNOW LION INTERVIEW WITH LAMA LODU RINPOCHE
Snow Lion Newsletter, Winter 1999
(Interview conducted by students of Lama Lodu
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
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.
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
Q: What is a
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
What was the benefit and significance of the 10-day Drub-chen and Lama
dancing performed last summer at the KDK retreat
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
Q: How does the audience benefit from viewing the Lama
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
Q: How is one qualified to practice this Lama
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
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
Q: Are costumes necessary for Lama
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
, 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
[Lama Lodu Rinpoche lead a Bardo Retreat with Peaceful and Wrathful
Deities on July 2 -11, 2000.]
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