By Makarand Paranjape
Contemporary and coherent, Pema Rinpoche, the 12th Tai Situpa of the Kagyu lineage, avers that nothing is totally good or bad—except Buddhahood
I had the good fortune of having Pema Rinpoche’s darshan at the home of my friends, Aparna Jha and Raj Mathur. Aparna said: ”Sherab Ling monastery was so peaceful, so enchanting that I almost didn’t want to come back. And we were showered with such love. Rinpoche said: ‘You’re always welcome here—your family is welcome and your friends are also welcome.’ I replied: ‘Who knows, perhaps, the wisdom of the Kagyu lineage is meant to reach many people through you.”’His Eminence Pema Dhonyo Nyinche Rinpoche is the 12th Tai Situpa of the Kagyu lineage of Mahayana Buddhism. ‘Tai Situ’ literally means ‘far-reaching, unshakable, great master, holder of the command’. The title was first conferred upon Chokyi Gyaltsen, a great lama of the 14th century. Pema Rinpoche’s present seat is the Sherab Ling monastery, a beautiful place with the majestic Himalayas overlooking it, near Baidyanath in Himachal Pradesh, India. He built it himself at the request of his North Indian followers.
The Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism can be traced back to the Buddha himself, but the one who brought it to Tibet was the great translator, Marpa. Marpa’s student was the legendary Milarepa, perhaps Tibet’s greatest yogi. Milerapa’s student Gampopa, in turn, transmitted the teaching to Dusum Khyenpa, who became the first Karmapa. Like the institution of the Dalai Lama , the Karmapas are believed to be self-announced reincarnations.
Today, the 17th Karmapa, His Holiness Ugyen Trinley Dorje, is living happily in India. Pema Rinpoche is his guru. Rinpoche himself received instruction from the 16th Karmapa, whose seat was the famous Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, India. Now it is Rinpoche’s responsibility as the Tai Situpa to pass on the teachings to the present Karmapa, who is considered by followers to be the embodiment of the power and blessings of the lineage. We in India are indeed blessed that both the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are in our country.
One of the wonderful things about Pema Rinpoche is just how contemporary he is. You can actually talk to him and ask him anything you wish to. He responds easily, with a smile or a laugh, putting you at ease. Using understatement, sarcasm, and even self-deprecation at times, he shows a refined sense of humor and playfulness. But whatever he says is perfectly logical, perfectly coherent.
”Everyone is spiritual. We make the mistake of thinking that only some people are. By spiritual I mean any action or thought that alters one’s state of mind. By this definition, whatever we do is bound to have a spiritual consequence.
”According to Mahamudra teachings, everyone is questing for the same thing, call it Buddhahood or Enlightenment. Even those who commit mistakes do so because they think it will somehow make them happier or better or stronger.
”That is why, despite karma, choice is very important. We have to choose what we wish to be, how we wish to live. Karma or causality is very complex. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You may try to improve your karma by being a good human being, by refraining from injuring anyone or by being compassionate.
”Yet, inadvertently, you may have caused injury to insects, animals or birds that you eat, and to the people around you. It may take millions of lifetimes to mitigate the ill effects of all your karma. Therefore, karma are not to be straightened out or resolved, but must be transcended. That requires the awakening of inner intelligence, of the Buddhahood that is already present in you.”
There were many eminent people in the room, some who had experienced personal tragedies. One asked Pema Rinpoche how to deal with the death of a loved one, which is a terrible loss difficult to overcome.
”Well, we all experience death at some point in our lives. That is the way human life is designed. I myself felt very sorrowful when my Guru left his body. But then I thought that without the confines of his body he was even closer to me. Everything that happens has two sides. Nothing can be entirely bad. Even what you think to be bad may have some good hidden in it. You have to choose to take that, to learn from it.
”Nothing is entirely good or bad-except Buddhahood, which is the perfect state beyond all duality,” laughed the Tai Situpa.
The dinner that followed the instruction was delicious and sumptuous. Both the body and spirit had been nourished. In the Tai Situpa‘s presence, I felt as if I had no further questions. Everything was crystal clear-who we are, what we’re doing here, and what our destiny is. The relative and the ultimate coexist simultaneously as two sides of the same Reality.
Besides being a great scholar and teacher, Pema Rinpoche also played a key role in the identification and enthronement of the present Karmapa. I am sure he has an important role to play not only in the future of Tibet, but that of our planet, as it struggles for peace and mutual understanding.
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