Venerable Lama Lodu Rinpoche resides and teaches at Kagyu Droden Kunchab, a Dharma Center for the practice of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in San Francisco.
At age five, Lama Lodu entered Rumtek monastery in Sikkim where he learned to read and write the sacred scriptures. When he was 16, his teacher placed him in solitary retreat in a cave to meditate.
After spending two years in solitude, Lama Lodu contracted tuberculosis due to the damp living conditions. After he recovered, he was sent to study with Kalu Rinpoche, considered the Milarepa of our time. Lama then became Oomdze (ritual master) at Sonada monastery for seven years, leading all the pujas (group meditation sessions) and teaching the monks ritual. Kalu Rinpoche sent Lama Lodu to the West in 1976. He now runs the Dharma center and supervises the translation of numerous practice texts and has authored several books.
LA: How long have you been meditating? [This seemed like a dumb question to ask a Lama but....]
LL: I was born in a Buddhist country. Until I was 13 years old, I participated in the ritual ceremony but I didn't know the meaning. I began to wonder what was the purpose of what I was doing, and if the result is for this life or the next. I asked questions of my teachers and requested a guide. I found spiritual masters who had been meditating all their life. At 16 years old, I left the monastery and my family to stay along in a cave meditating for several years. Meditation became everything in my life. I was isolated from people in my jungle cave. It was a very good experience and gave me deep insights.
LA: What insights?
LL: It was very good because I was alone with no disturbances from the outside. Of course, I struggled a lot emotionally. I still suffered from emotional distraction, but this became very helpful because it led me to the obstacles I needed to overcome. My young cousin, who brought me food, was the only one to come to my cave. Sometimes he didn't want to come so I would go without food, or he left it outside and birds would eat it. This made me angry, but I learned there are others who are hungry and thirsty like me, but they don't have anyone to bring them food, so I began to feel grateful. The cave was not comfortable – very cold and damp. I got sick with tuberculosis. My master made me see the doctor and the head of our lineage – the Karmapa – instructed me to go to the hospital. I had been two years in the cave. It took six months to recuperate. Then my teacher passed away, and I was in terrible pain and confusion about that. I returned to the monastery to talk to the Karmapa. He instructed me to see Kalu Rinpoche. He became my second great teacher until he passed away. He is nonsectarian, and many great masters say he is the Milarepa, a very profound man. Whoever hears him becomes deeply affected inside. I was his disciple since I was 18 years old.
LA: Does your meditation feel different here in the States compared to being in the monastery?
LL: It is more enlightened here. When I see the emotional and mental confusion of people here I feel compassion and it is easier to integrate that quality into my meditation. In my country, we talk about kindness, compassion, beneficent beings, but we don't see suffering like here in the States. So for Buddhists, it is a great opportunity to integrate compassion into our practice. I believe if you put effort into meditation, then it will result in enlightenment, wherever you are – India, Tibet, or the States. I see it both ways. In one regard, it is easier here because it is more physically comfortable. Over there, you learn pain – hardships do bring results. If you are always comfortable, if can be a distraction. Someone who knows both can use goodness in both places.
The famous Buddhist woman teacher Machig Labdron (the emanation of Green Tara), has a saying, "If I experience happiness, peace and calm, then I pray that every single being may experience what I am experiencing now." She also said, "If I'm suffering in pain and discomfort, may I take on all the suffering of sentient beings." So that is the way that nothing can stop your practice on the path. Happiness can benefit all sentient beings. Suffering can be taken from all sentient beings. Then we will never be separate from our path.
LA: How often do you meditate?
LL: I used to meditate from 6 a.m. to noon daily. Now from 7-9:30 .m. and one hour in the evening. Sometimes the Center is not good for meditating. It is good for helping others. If I talk to someone and they get happy, it makes me happy.
LA: What does it feel like when you are in deep meditation?
LL: If you feel something, you are not in deep meditation. It is nothing you can put into words.
If you have more kindness and compassion in your mind, then you can conduct good action in speech/mind/body which will bring you to peace. This is very important to implement in your daily practice. If you stay this way, don't worry, you are on a spiritual path.
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