Sunday, 3 June 2007

Tsem Rinpoche-Young, Unconventional....Refreshing

This was in today's Sunday Star. Interestingly, the unconventional Tsem Rinpoche is based in Petaling Jaya where he is the resident lama (teacher) and spiritual director of Kechara House Dharma centre.

I do not normally read stuff like this but since I noticed it was written by the daughter of a dear friend of My Witch, I read it. The thing that struck me most about Tsem Rinpoche was not his youth nor his Male Model good looks but what he said about being spiritual and spiritual practice:

“Spiritual practice is a change of attitude,” he points out in his book of collected teachings Nothing Changes, Everything Changes, “It has everything to do with us changing – how we perceive people, how we react to people, how we talk, our emotions, happiness, anger, delusions, jealousies, successes, motivations, enthusiasm – and the beauty is that nothing around us changes.”
Look out for it in the article below.

Lama's brand new approach By JAMIE KHOO

Not all monks are dull, humorless ascetics in saffron robes and here’s Tsem Tulku Rinpoche to prove it.

Tsem Rinpoche giving formal dharma teachings at his centre in Petaling Jaya.

2 am, and I am driving around Kuala Lumpur’s dark, dank Chow Kit streets with Tsem Tulku Rinpoche and some of his students. He’s making us play the “pick game” where we must choose between any two of our most feared or disliked scenarios and people.

So here we are peering out the windows to spot transvestites, prostitutes and the homeless, the people that most of the city is oblivious to, or doesn’t want to know.

Tsem Rinpoche, resident lama (teacher) and spiritual director of Kechara House Dharma centre in Petaling Jaya, often speaks candidly about wanting to bring spirituality to “the people who nobody else wants.”

Much in the spirit of new-generation lamas like the controversial Singa Rinpoche, who was recently banned from entering Taiwan, and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, who doubled up as director of the internationally-acclaimed movie The Cup, Tsem Rinpoche kicks dharma (spirituality) out of the cave and into the much more vigorous, defiant and hedonistic 21st century world.

He promotes a “brand” of spiritual practice that doesn’t require any compromise on who we really are. His diverse mix of students is evidence enough of that. Dharma talks at Kechara House find local fashion personalities sitting on the floor next to award-winning singers, college students, high-powered business women and KL’s socialites as well as former drug addicts, gamblers, manic depressives and self-confessed bad boys from gangs. With Tsem Rinpoche, you start where you are.

Even the fact that Malaysia does not have a predominantly Buddhist mass consciousness doesn’t faze him. Instead, he actively promotes the strong inter-religious and racial harmony here.
“We are fortunate to live in a country where the Government gives us the freedom to do as we like (as long as) we follow the law.’’

Tsem Rinpoche’s gurus from Gaden Monastery in India sent him to Malaysia in 1992 to teach as they felt it would be most beneficial for people in this region. He currently lives full-time in KL. He started Kechara House in 2000.

“Dharma centres serve as places of education for Buddhists to become better citizens of a country, not to make other citizens Buddhist,” he explains.

In inspiring a younger generation, he is incredibly candid about himself: “Look! Do I look holy? Do I look disciplined? Do I look like a ‘high holy Tibetan lama’? No! I am you; I think like you and have the same problems as you.

Tsem Rinpoche instructing his students in the courtyard of Kopan Monastery in Nepal.

“If you like to eat, then eat! If you like having sex, then have it! If you like nice clothes and jewellery, buy and wear them! I want the freaks, the people who can be themselves. Live with the motivation of being kind, change your minds, but also play computer games, have sex, party. What’s wrong with that? We’re not Buddhas yet,” he points out, realistically. “The important thing is to keep your motivation good, clean, straight.”

Tsem Rinpoche, 41, embodies this balance himself, and is willing to try unconventional methods of reaching out and appealing to people, especially the younger generation.

That was how he became a runway model for about a month in 2004, working with Catwalk Productions (owned by Ming Chan, who is one of his students) and singing in karaoke sessions with his students. He is also on YouTube (which has brought visitors from as far as Australia and America to him in KL).

He cites the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Gandhi as among his favourite people for their outstanding messages of peace and kindness; but also Madonna, Ru Paul (which perhaps explains Tsem Rinpoche’s entertaining diva-like antics during his sermons and talks) and Bette Davis for “their determination and strength.”

Though Tibetan Buddhism is famed for exotic rituals and high tantric empowerment, Tsem Rinpoche prefers to stress on the importance of mind transformation teachings (lojong), focusing most ardently on developing “basic” qualities of compassion, kindness, generosity, patience, effort and wisdom.

His central teachings are based on The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation composed by Tibetan saint and scholar Geshe Langri Tangpa which concentrates on changing our perspectives on the world and people around us.

Tsem Rinpoche will soon be releasing Compassion Conquers All, a book of teachings which deals specifically with the Eight Verses and how to apply it practically within our lives.
“Spiritual practice is a change of attitude,” he points out in his book of collected teachings Nothing Changes, Everything Changes, “It has everything to do with us changing – how we perceive people, how we react to people, how we talk, our emotions, happiness, anger, delusions, jealousies, successes, motivations, enthusiasm – and the beauty is that nothing around us changes.”

Often, he speaks of depression and the mental afflictions that so often plague the 21st century, and thus, the corresponding need to apply spiritual transformation and practice to turn our minds towards a more peaceful place.

Tsem Rinpoche giving a traditional greeting to Gaden Shartse Monastery Abbot, Ken Rinpoche.

"We have everything that we need – technology, comfort, convenience. Physically, we’re not suffering anymore but so much suffering now happens within our minds.”

The “suffering” he refers to is not necessarily what we commonly regard as great pain, but includes daily frustrations with family, career and relationships, our strong attachment to and expectations of things and people, and the corresponding struggles we face when there is unexpected change or disappointment. The lojong, thus, cut across religion or cultural barriers by offering an alternative philosophy of living that can be applied variously in our lives.

By now, it’s past 3am and the “pick’’ game is over. When I ask him why he never lets us pick between nice things, he replies: “Those things and people aren’t inherently disgusting themselves. They’re only disgusting because you think they’re disgusting. And until you give up those hang-ups, I’ll keep making you pick!”

There are buttons to be pushed, and Tsem Rinpoche makes sure yours are thoroughly flattened. After all, it is only in the truly unexpected that we learn – and just as Chow Kit's roads seem an unlikely lesson, it’s actually just been yet another journey through our own untempered minds.


Finding his own peace

A young Tsem Rinpoche in the 1980s with his guru, Kyabje Zong Rinpoch.

TSEM Tulku Rinpoche, a US citizen, was born in Taiwan to a Tibetan father and a Mongolian mother. His mother is of royal lineage that has been traced back to Genghis Khan.

When he was just seven months old, monks from a nearby monastery identified him as the reincarnation of a high lama but his mother refused to allow him to be taken for monastic training. She said if that was true, he would find his own way eventually.

That turned out to be prophetic. His parents had separated before he was born, and his mother, who found it difficult to raise him on her own, gave him to a foster family. (He re-established contact with his father 15 years ago but not his mother.)

At the age of six, he emigrated to New Jersey, United States, where he lived with another Mongolian foster family. There, he suffered incredible abuse and continuously faced extreme opposition from his foster parents to his strong inclination towards dharma practice. Going to the temple would often result in physical beatings for days and being banned from socialising with friends.

At 16, after the abuse had led to several attempts at suicide and escape, he eventually ran away, hitchhiking across the United States to Los Angeles, where he finally joined a dharma centre. Still, he enjoyed going out to LA’s hottest clubs, received offers to model and even an opportunity from Paramount Pictures to act.

His guru, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, advised him that although he would be successful in America, his work and practice would be more beneficial if he went on to study in a monastery. The young man was ordained as a monk by the Dalai Lama. He was just 22 years old. He later went on to study at one of the largest monastic universities in the world, Gaden Monastery, in India.

The many years of training and study have helped him come to terms with his painful past. During a recent talk, he shared with his audience what he went through: “My (foster) mother was full of anger and sometimes she would ignore me for weeks, or she would beat me for hours, first with her fists. When she got tired, she would get out the brooms and mops. It was very scary to live in a house like that with so much anger. And I know she is actually a nice, really kind lady. It’s just that when the other side takes over, she’s very different.

“Later, when I was studying with Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen at Thubten Dhargye Ling centre in LA, he taught me that I had to let it go. He told me to call my mother and say sorry. I said, ‘Why?! She abused and beat me! I didn’t do anything.’ “He said, ‘You didn’t do anything now but you must have done something in your previous life time to get this. Either you accept karma or you don’t.

“ ‘If you want to practise dharma, if you want to gain attainments and you want to progress you have to accept that it’s your karma. You have to let it go. You need to look at the positive things and not just the negative. You’re here learning dharma in the centre due to her kindness.’ “After listening to my teacher, I realised that I had created the karma myself. Geshela asking me to apologise was the Buddhist way of healing.”

Throughout his spiritual journey, he has had the good fortune to study under 14 prominent teachers in the Tibetan tradition – including the Dalai Lama, world famous healing Lama Gangchen Rinpoche and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche – and now strives solely to share these teachings with others.


Controversies and commendations

OVER the years of teaching in Malaysia, Tsem Tulku Rinpoche has received compliments along with criticism, especially from within the Buddhist community itself.

He finds himself the centre of heated discussion in both local and international Buddhist Internet forums where participants endlessly question why he dresses in lay clothes and why he has hair.

Rumours in circulation include that of him being disrobed, using powerful magic and being kicked out of his monastery. His unconventional “crazy wisdom” teaching methods are constantly under scrutiny, largely because his style is so contrary to what is practised by the Mahayana and Theravaden traditions prominent here.

Feeling the urgent need to explain the phenomenal growth of dharma, lamas, and teachings to the outside world, and to help facilitate the spread of dharma teachings, Tsem Rinpoche recently published Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale, a book that deals specifically with the issues of dharma centre-and lama-bashing.

In his case, he was given permission by his gurus to wear lay clothes for the simple reason that it would be easier and more effective for doing dharma work in South-East Asia.

One of his gurus, prominent healing lama, Gangchen Rinpoche, said during a recent private audience with some of us: “The way a guru acts, talks, dresses is to fit in with everybody here so that we can learn dharma, practise, and laugh together. Even if the great Shakyamuni Buddha appeared today, he wouldn’t appear in his normal guise (but in) the look that pleases people today.

“The teacher must resemble the students. It is not only a physical resemblance but a character, or expressive way of resemblance. This way, it’s much easier for the dharma teachings to go in,” he explains.

As further endorsement of his teaching methods, books recently written by Tsem Rinpoche have received forewords from high lamas like Gaden Shartse Monastery Abbot, Ken Rinpoche, and the head of the Gelug school of Buddhism, Gaden Tri Rinpoche who is second only to the Dalai Lama. As dharma teachings and books hold an especially important place in the Buddhist tradition of learning, debate and study, this official support of his work is especially significant.

Tsem Rinpoche rises above all the criticism and tells his students to focus not so much on the outer appearances of the teacher, but on his teachings. “It’s okay if you don’t like the things I do. But listen to the teachings – which come from an unbroken lineage from Buddha – and check whether they can benefit and bring more happiness to your own lives and the people around you,” he advises.

And, as Buddhism so heartily encourages its disciples to check things out for themselves before they take anything on, this makes far more sense than the rumours themselves.

No comments: