Anne Benson: When practice and life become one

- through Henry Oudin

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Anne Benson left for Darjeeling, India, at the age of seventeen, to meet her master. Since then, she has participated in transmitting in France the Buddhism of the Tibetan tradition, the Vajrayana, with dynamism and devotion. Fluently speaking and reading Tibetan, English-speaking, her activity as a translator in the service of Buddhism and the masters is multiple: she translates for the Padmakara editions Tibetan texts of philosophy and Buddhist practices, as well as teachings given by the masters received by the Center d'Etudes de Chanteloube, and has often participated in the organization of the Dalai Lama's trips to France.

Do you remember your very first contact with Buddhism?

It's not very clear, I think I started by reading Lobsang Rampa's books. I certainly knew Matthieu Ricard and Arnaud Desjardins who came to the house in the 68s, but I don't remember very well, I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. As a child, I started to be interested in spirituality, especially in Raja Yoga, but yoga was not enough for me. And when I heard of the interdependence of phenomena Buddhism, Tibetans and Tibetan lamas, I said to myself: "That's for me, I'm going! ".

So you're going to India...

Yes, I'm dropping everything and going to India. I had just lost my grandmother. Watching her die, I thought, “If life doesn't end there, to live peacefully, the first thing to do is to learn how to die. And know what is happening behind the curtain. What a "gift" she gave me, in a way, it pushed me to want to solve this existential question. Since there was no one in the West to help me – Catholicism had already put me off when I was five years old – I thought to myself that a Tibetan master must know these things. My father was one of the inventors of computers and computer data storage in the 1950s-60s and a tireless spiritual seeker. One day, while returning from a trip to India, he said, “I have met the most wonderful being of my entire life. His name is Kangyur Rinpoche”, and I burst into tears! Something had opened in my mind.

“It saddens me to see, especially among rich and powerful people, that intelligence is more and more often used for greed than for compassion and general well-being. »

A month later, I moved to Paris to follow my studies. The existentialist problem posed to me by the death of my grandmother continued to torment me. It was after May 68, the teachers were hugging the walls and were afraid of the students; I didn't see how these kinds of teachers were going to be able to teach me how to die and how to live. An answer crossed my mind: Kangyur Rinpoche will know! Aware that this departure would be a sort of farewell to the life of a young girl from a wealthy family that I was leading, I gave myself a month of reflection. Then I told my father that I wanted to go to India. He gave me the ticket. Arriving in a lost corner of Darjeeling, in the tiny cement room where Kangyur Rinpoche and his wife, Amala, lived, I felt like ET (the extraterrestrial from Steven Spielberg's film) was coming home! I had found my family, and what I had always been looking for, more or less consciously. This is how I stayed at Kangyur Rinpoche's monastery, with his family, for almost five years.

Did you immediately start practicing regularly?

First I had to understand what Rinpoche was saying. He only spoke Tibetan and there was no interpreter. But when Yangchenla, her second daughter was there, despite her very broken English, we could communicate, which saved me. I knew that beyond words, Rinpoche knew everything I felt and that I could open my mind to him. But concerning the practices that he advised me, it was more complicated… At some point, I vaguely understood that I had to do the preliminary practices (1). That's to say ? No one had explained them to me. Rinpoche then said to me, "It will take you about a year." I didn't care, I was ready for anything, but I wanted to start at the beginning. I didn't know how to sit and meditate in front of Rinpoche, like Matthew Yahne the Toumelin and the other “greats” did. As soon as I sat down in front of him, my mind went in all directions! So, I wanted to start with A, B, C, learning Tibetan to decipher these famous "preliminary practices", because I deeply felt that if I could become even a little like him, my life would have sense.

Today, are you approaching the letter Z?

I must be at B or C, I think! Buddhist practice is very extensive; each door that is half-open reveals a whole world. But since Rinpoche and others have done it, that means it's doable, even if it takes several lives. As long as I'm in the lane and going in the right direction, I'm fine.

How do you live Buddhism on a daily basis?

For forty-eight years the inspiration and presence of Kangyur Rinpoche, as well as Buddhist practice, have permeated my life. Moreover, the Buddhist path is exciting. There are so many things to discover, to understand. These proven techniques allow you to get to the bottom of yourself, your mind. When we practice them and apply them correctly, we begin to find answers, we see that it works. Tibetan masters have been studying wisdom, the human mind and its connection to the environment for 1800 years; it is their violin d'Ingres and, knowing their legendary tenacity and diligence, their expertise is unfathomable. Wisdom, Enlightenment and the happiness of sentient beings are the only things that interest them; they apply all their heart and their intelligence to it, which has nothing to envy to that of the greatest engineers or scientists here...

Can you tell us about the Padmakara publishing house?

It was created in 1980 by Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, the eldest son of Kangyur Rinpoche. Arriving in France in 1975 with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche told us: "We cannot ask everyone to learn Tibetan, we must translate the practices and teachings". But still it was necessary to understand what they were talking about. In order to grasp their deeper meaning, the first translators spent three to twelve years in retreat. The first book, The path to great perfection, took us ten years of work! And, since then, it remains the best-seller of Padmakara editions.

What a look " Buddhist » do you relate to the modern world?

If I came into this world, I might as well love it, embrace it. When you do years of retirement, contrary to what you might think, it's to better embrace the world afterwards. I want to help make things go in the right direction. Members of the Buddhist community have long been whistleblowers: in the 50s, my father was already warning of the long-term danger of nuclear waste (it takes 4,5 billion years to erase all traces of uranium 238, which nuclear lobbyists carefully avoid telling us); Pema Wangyal Rinpoche has been begging us for more than thirty years to eat less meat, to stop emptying the oceans, to respect animals, to become vegetarian, even vegan. Before the Chinese occupation, Tibetans were very respectful of the Earth; they did not rob her by exploiting her wealth and took the minimum necessary to live. They did not dig the earth for coal, oil or valuable minerals. And, when we found gold, for example in the rivers, we considered that the Earth had given it and we used it in general to make offerings or to gild statues of the Buddha. For Buddhists, a Buddha image represents the true nature of the mind, Enlightenment, the goal of the path, the end of suffering. To gild a statue of the Buddha is a "free" gesture inspired by compassion, which helps us to free ourselves in particular from the attachment to material goods. Today, this kind of approach, such as the construction of stupas for peace or the release of animals into their natural environment, is often not understood by the general public. It saddens me to see, especially among rich and powerful people, that intelligence is more and more often used for greed than for compassion and general well-being. Since when do we set up vices as qualities? The world has gone mad

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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