Gampopa said, ‘Rely on a holy lama endowed with realisation and compassion.’ This tells us that a genuine lama is someone with realisation, who has wisdom and compassion, and directs all their efforts to teaching and guiding students on the path to liberation. Such a lama is a holy lama.
When I was staying in La Rong Gar in Serta, Dharma Lord Khenpo Jigme Puntsok taught every day. Even when he was so unwell that he wasn’t able to make it out of his room to teach, he would still give teachings from his bed. There were only four days each month when he didn’t teach because the students were participating in the monthly prayers and ceremonies. And I stayed there for a full eight years and I never once made an offering of money to him. He always said to his students; “There’s only me, my sister and my niece, and many relatives offer us food and clothing; we have more than we need, we don’t need any offerings. Keep your money and practice the Dharma well.”
Nowadays many lamas only say things the students like to hear. But Khenpo Jigme Puntsok wasn’t like that; he would never ingratiate his students. Instead, in order to help his students reduce their pride and change, he would always point out their faults in the public teachings, telling the student very directly in front of everyone; “Your problem is….”
For me, he was a true Dharma Lord – everything he did was for the sake of his students, nothing for himself – now that is real compassion. Every day he taught the genuine dharma, and everything he taught he had practiced and gained experience in himself. That’s what it means to have real knowledge.
Apart from Dharma Lord Jigme Puntsok, I had the fortune to meet other authentic lamas, those also endowed with such compassion and knowledge. These included my root lama (Lama Senge), my retreat lama and a few others.
When I was staying with my retreat lama (Drupon Rinpoche Karma Sherab) he was already over seventy. I stayed in a small room together with him for two years. He went to sleep about eleven or twelve o’clock each night and woke up at three in the morning. He wasn’t well at that time, one of his legs had been amputated and because of digestive disorder he was unable to eat solid food, but for the entire time I stayed with him he never complained once about his illness or said he wanted to see a doctor. Every night when he was about to go to sleep he would simply flip his lower outer robe over his head and fall asleep just like that, still sitting in his meditation box. When he woke up in the morning, he’d just flip it down again and get straight on with his meditation and recitation practices. So he was practising constantly like this for eighteen to nineteen hours every day.
Then there was another special Dzogchen lama of the Nyingma tradition, Khenpo Munsel, who also was very kind to me. I walked a long way to receive his teachings and rely on him, and when I arrived where he was staying, I saw him meditating alone in his little hut in the middle of a big plain. The windows were open and there wasn’t anyone around. I started to prostrate to him from a distance, and when he saw me he called out and asked where I was from. I answered that I was from Tsab Tsa Monastery and he told me to approach and hand him his shoes. Then he took me to one of his students who he told to look after me and arrange a place for me to stay. I mean I was nobody, just a poor, simple monk, but still this is how a renowned lama such as him treated and cared for his students.
After studying with him, when I was about to return to my monastery, I told him that I had a little leftover tsampa (barley flour, the staple of the Tibetan diet) and money that I would like to offer to any of his students who might need them, and he responded by asking; “Is it okay if I take some of the tsampa myself as I don’t have any?” That such a renowned Khenpo was living so simply touched me deeply.
Another lama of mine, Khenpo Pema Tsewang, who also a very renowned lama, yet even when someone ordinary like me requested instruction on calligraphy, he agreed. One day, when I went to his room for the class, he was sewing up a hole or tear in his robes. He told me to wait and said that he would teach me once he has finished sewing.
So this was the way of my lamas – they lived very simple lives, practised the dharma, cared for their students and taught the dharma of liberation constantly. And they did so whilst totally disregarding their own health, age and needs. Thinking of them, I know I’m an incredibly poor student… [Rinpoche was talking in a chocked voice and started weeping.]
To read about Rinpoche’s lamas, please click here