Christophe Richard receives us sitting on his sofa, at his home, near Caen. The red and yellow cushions represent the eight auspicious signs of Buddhism. The dragons of the coffee cups seem to dance in the hot liquid, the pleasant smell of which tickles our nostrils. The atmosphere is conducive to confidence. The philosophy teacher talks about himself. His pepper and salt beard of a few days brings out, in his face, his eyes which sparkle at the statement of his encounter, at fourteen, with Buddhism and the 10th Pawo Rinpoche. In front of him, the photo of the spiritual master sits on a shelf, next to the statue of a pilgrim from the Japanese island of Shikoku. His attraction to Buddhism started from a crazy adolescent desire. At the age of thirteen, he read, fascinated, the supposedly autobiographical novels of the British Lobsang Rampa. “He told of having undergone, in Tibet, the operation intended to open his third eye. It made me dream. I wanted to practice telepathy, levitate,” recalls the future Vajrayana practitioner, who immediately contacted the Society of Friends of Buddhism in Paris. Opportunity: a young 26-year-old Bhutanese lama, Lama Gyurmé, has just arrived in the capital. When, a few months later, the latter invites Pawo Rinpoche, Christophe takes refuge with the great Tibetan master and quickly realizes that Lobsang Rampa's rantings do not hold water. “What I discovered pleased me more. Pawo Rinpoche completely blew me away! He was a great Saint of Buddhism, an equivalent of Saint Francis of Assisi. People cried when they met his gaze.
The teenager and the Dalai Lama
With each vacation, the young Buddhist practitioner now goes on retreats in the Dordogne. His master, rather than just giving him lessons, always puts him in a position to practice them. Enthusiastic, Christophe Richard thought for a time of becoming a translator, or a monk, before finally opting for a life as a hermit in the Himalayas. At seventeen, he took his plane ticket, thinking he would never come back. Just before departure, he meets a woman who will become the mother of his first two children. He will only stay two months in India with an idea: to meet the Dalai Lama. In Dharamsala, the young Buddhist shows up at the headquarters of the spiritual leader, where he introduces himself in Tibetan. “Very simply, the monks opened the diary and asked me which day would suit me. Today, that would be impossible. A few days later, Christophe Richard shows up for his appointment: “I was waiting for him with others on the steps. He opened the door and held out his hand to me western style. I put it on my head to ask her for a blessing,” he recalls, amused. “We discussed twenty to thirty minutes about Pawo Rinpoche, France, my practices. I was impressed and at the same time very comfortable, as if we had known each other forever”.
Impermanence, from Heraclitus to the Buddha
Back in France, Christophe passed his baccalaureate and opted for a philosophy course. “Curiously, Buddhism allowed me to understand Western philosophy, despite the many conceptual differences that exist between the two disciplines”. Christophe illustrates his point by taking the example of Panta Rei, Heraclitus, which means “everything flows”, and “you never bathe twice in the same river”. “When you know the discourses of the Buddha on impermanence, you find yourself there,” he acknowledges.
“Meeting Pawo Rinpoche completely blew me away! He was a great Saint of Buddhism, an equivalent of Saint Francis of Assisi. People cried when they met his gaze.
After having considered a thesis with Professor Guy Bugault, a specialist in Buddhist texts in Sanskrit, at the Sorbonne, Christophe gave up. “To prepare for the Capes and the aggregation, it was better to know my classics”. He finally worked on the concept of imitation in Aristotle and, at the age of twenty-five, gave his first philosophy lessons.
To his students, the teacher rarely speaks of Buddhism. “I consider my practice as a personal process, but if they ask me questions, I always answer”. Christophe works the same way with his three children. “My daughters, who are now thirty and twenty-eight, bathed in it. One day, one of them almost reproached me for not having forced her to be a Buddhist to allow her to have a spiritual practice,” he laughs. His young son, whom he called Pawo in homage to the Tibetan master, has time, at the age of twelve, to choose his path.
On the usefulness of "painful people"
At fifty-eight, Christophe no longer feels the need to meditate sitting down. “It's like breathing, I can no longer separate my life from my practice”. He did follow retreats for a few months at Nehnang Samten Choling, in the Dordogne, but a monk friend assured him one day that “it was useless to do retreats, because life was a retreat”. The teacher explains: “Sometimes it takes difficult people to work on patience, kindness and listening on a daily basis”. For ten years, he has been teaching how to develop these qualities at Vajradhara-Ling (Orne). A training in four Sundays. “In the end, those who wish take refuge with Lama Gyourmé”. Each year, Christophe returns to his roots, to Nepal, to see the children he sponsors, and goes to a monastery in the capital, Kathmandu, where Pawo Rinpoche ended his life nearly thirty years ago. In France, Christophe Richard finds the Himalayan atmosphere in his small temple, located on the second floor of his home. On the altar, about thirty statuettes, offerings of rice, flowers and incense. A trident crowned with a skull recalls impermanence, while a cushion representing a tiger's head reveals that the practice of Tcheu takes place in these places. A reassuring refuge for the Tibetan asylum seekers whom he welcomes into his home – about two a year -, the time to learn French and obtain papers. “When they arrive, they feel at home”.