Apr 14, 1975

Meeting Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Orgyen Kunzang Chokhor Ling,
the monastery of Kangyur Rinpoche.
The first time I heard mention of Chokgyur Lingpa was in 1976 when Dilgo Khyentse visited Europe. When I heard that he was in Europe, even though it was the dead of winter I immediately set out hitchhiking to the south of France where he was at the time. It’s actually a quite funny story, so perhaps I should backtrack a little.

During my first trip to India and Nepal I stayed in Darjeeling as I mentioned earlier. I stayed in a room at Gandhi Road No. 54. My travel permit would only allow me to stay for two weeks, but Tulku Pema Wangyal, who spoke English, had agreed to teach me. During that short time they were doing special pujas everyday because Kangyur Rinpoche had recently passed away. One day, I heard that some lama named Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was coming to visit from Bhutan, and I noticed that when others heard this they just lit up and appeared quite thrilled at the news.

Though I had never heard of this lama before, I concluded that whoever he was he must be quite special. So when his jeep arrived I ran down to the gate with everyone else to see him. The door to the jeep opened and out stepped this tall magnificent figure. He was a good foot and half taller than anybody else. He seemed completely unaffected by all the commotion. Later when I got to know him better and had spent some time visiting him, I discovered that he was always like that: completely at peace and stable. No matter where he was, who he was with or what was happening around him he always remained the perfect picture of total stability in samadhi. It was readily apparent that, if he hadn’t already been stable, then he certainly had become so during the many years he had spent in retreat.

Upon that first glimpse of him my mind just stopped. I saw photos that Ravinder Rai had taken at the time, and I am simply beaming with a grin from ear to ear. I remember I was allowed to hold his hand as he stepped into the building, he didn’t say a word and I was utterly tongue-tied and couldn’t speak. I didn’t really receive any teachings from him, except for when he explained about prostrating and a couple of other general things.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche holding my hand at
Orgyen Kunzang Chokhor Ling, 1975. (c) Ravinder Rai.
Nonetheless, his very presence had a profound effect on everyone—it was truly liberation through sight, as is readily apparent even by those who have seen a photograph or movie clip of him. He was a beautiful, beautiful man. If the sun and moon were to take human form then it would be as the 16th Karmapa and Dilgo Khyentse—they shone so bright that they were simply impossible to ignore. When either of them walked through a crowd, the sea of people would just part. People wouldn’t just turn their heads they would turn their entire bodies and even their minds would turn in a new direction permanently. I was so happy. Only a week before I had met the Karmapa and now I had met Dilgo Khyentse whom, it would turn out, I would become much closer to. I don’t know if my bliss was due to my naiveté or simple stupidity but whatever the cause it felt wonderful. Just seeing him I thought, “Wow! Now there is a real guru.”

I later discovered that he was the guru to the royal family of Bhutan and many of the important lamas that we know today. He was nonsectarian and received teachings and empowerments from almost all the schools and lineages available in Tibet. At one point, it came to be that no one in the Kagyu school held the transmission for the dohas by the great siddhas of India. Hearing this the 16th Karmapa said, “Call the old lama from Bhutan!” So they sent a request to Bhutan and Dilgo Khyentse went to Rumtek and transmitted the songs of realization of the great masters of India as passed on through the Kagyu school. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche was there studying at the time and received them as well.
At Orgyen Kunzang Chokhor Ling
in Darjeeling, 1975.

Even when he died, everyone wanted to host his body at their monastery if only for a few days so that they could all honor him and pay their respects for all that they had received from him. Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche once said, “We are so lucky that everyone thought that he was Nyingma, as this allowed us to spend more time with him.” However Dilgo Khyentse himself never said that he was a Nyingma lama, he was just who he was and simply agreed to give any teachings or empowerments that were requested of him. He had spent so many years in retreat, that he had not only received a great number of teachings but practiced them as well. This is quite rare, for many people receive all kinds of teachings but then don’t take the time and dedicate themselves to actually doing all the practices.

Because Dilgo Khyentse had actually practiced however whatever he taught or passed on seemed to have incredible weight behind it.

Apr 10, 1975

Darjeeling to see the Karmapa

Next I headed for Sikkim to meet the Karmapa. It was impossible to get an entry visa in Nepal, so I stopped in Darjeeling, and failing there I cried over my great misfortune.

On arrival, I discovered that by chance the Karmapa was in Darjeeling at the same time. He was there for something called the All-Himalayan Buddhist Conference which many great masters including the Dalai Lama were also attending. So, to my surprise I found myself at the right place at the right time.

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa and Dalai Lama, Darjeeling 1975.
Among the many people I have met in my life the Karmapa is truly unique. I had met him briefly in Europe a few months previous to this and I had thought, “Here is someone who actually is mahamudra.” He was living proof of the efficacy of the teachings. I felt that if I could spend all my time with him then something would happen to me as well. I tried to spend as much time with him as possible.

I discovered that he could transform people’s experience. With just a glance, a smile and his demeanor he could suspend one’s ordinary perception completely; and not just an impressionable young Dane like myself but almost anyone: government officials, policemen, even stern Indian army colonels found themselves totally disarmed. Even his gait was divine, he walked as I imagine the
with Drukchen Rinpoche
Buddha would have walked. He was extraordinary. Although he was there again in Darjeeling I never got any formal teachings from him. It seems that he didn’t give teachings very often, but he certainly smiled and laughed a lot. He would grab my head and bang it against his belly and then he’d burst out laughing some more. And that was good enough for me, I would be so happy.

He did tell me, “You will do good practice.” That was it. But I was overjoyed, for what more could I want? However, after a few days I began to wonder what practice? So I decided that I must find a teacher. Not just someone I could have occasional contact with, but someone who could answer my questions and show me how to do what needed to be done. As I was raised in Denmark, I had been taught to not just accept anything someone said but to have my own opinions, ask questions and resolve any doubts I might have. So having so many opinions about everything, this fabric of opinions had to be either eliminated or satisfied, which is no easy task, in fact it is endless. However it had to be quenched and then eliminated. So a personal teacher was important.

Apr 5, 1975

One thing is the most important to know

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche with Dzongsar Khyentse
and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, ca 1977

Chokyi Nyima had already taught me quite a few times by now. When I was leaving for Darjeeling near the end of May, I went to pay my respects. As I was walking out the door he said to me, “Erik, one second! One thing is the most important to know.” 
“Thank you, Rinpoche,” replied.
Then I turned and left. 

Nonetheless, it stuck with me and I decided that from now on I would ask every good lamas that I met what was the most important thing one should know. Even though I asked many people over the years, and heard the answer over and over again, I believed I still had not experienced it. I knew the Tibetan words for it, and could translate them into Danish or English, but still they seemed just more words and ideas. I had only managed to fabricate a few more preconceived notions on top of all the others I already had. So I was no closer to the actual experience, in fact I was closer to it back in Denmark when I was seventeen. 

After eight years of being a Buddhist I was now further away from it than when I had started out on this path. It is strange, and more than a bit sad, that studying the Dharma can take you further away from what is most natural and simple. Nevertheless such was my journey. I had done several retreats, the preliminary practices etc. and yet there I was.

Apr 4, 1975

Meeting Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

I first met Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, when the monastery was nearing completion; the consecration took place the next year. Unlike Dilgo Khyentse or the 16th Karmapa, I walked right past him without ever noticing him or thinking that he was anyone special. He was almost invisible. He put on absolutely no airs, instead walking quietly and humbly with his head down. That humility permeated his teaching style as well.

The first time I met him was when Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche told me that I should meet his father. Not knowing anything about Tulku Urgyen at that time I simply thought, “They must be very close family and he loves his father very much.” So I got a white scarf and found Tulku Urgyen outside on the construction site talking to a worker. I went up, bowed down and offered him the scarf expecting him to give it back along with a pat on the head as blessing. But nothing happened so I looked up to see that he was also standing there bowed as well. I leaned forward a little thinking that perhaps I was too far away for him to reach. Then he leaned forward as well and we touched heads which is a common form of greeting in Kham. I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t put his hand on my head and given me a blessing like lamas normally do. It was almost shocking in its simplicity and humility, and struck a very deep chord within me. In a way this was the essence of his teaching: a deep and abiding respect for everyone. Whether meeting the King, an illiterate villager from the mountains or even an unemployed student from Europe like me, he treated everyone equally. Later when I became familiar with his teaching it was quite apparent to me that he taught everyone equally, no matter your social standing or background he would take the time to help guide you to see the true nature of your mind. He saw, as clear as daylight, that everyone possessed the nature of enlightenment, in this all were equal and worthy of respect no matter their social standing.