Élizabeth Mattis Namgyel: My unusual daily life with a master

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel is the wife and student of Tibetan Buddhist master Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, whom she met at a very young age and had a son with. Having become a Buddhist teacher herself, this American tells her story.

Being the wife of your Buddhist teacher, is it an opportunity or a challenge?

When I met Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, I was looking for a teacher, not a spouse. His way of talking about the Dharma sounded very right to me. It turned out that we fell in love and got married. He was 21, I was 23. We were young, but I trusted myself. Rinpoche has always supported my spiritual well-being. We had our family, and he agreed to be my teacher. This consisted in particular of reflecting my qualities like a mirror and showing me what could hinder my spiritual development. To be his wife and his student was one of the wisest choices I've made in my life. It's not that special either. Whatever your type of relationship with the teacher, as long as your mind is open and clear and you trust each other, it's a great relationship to grow. Of course, it hasn't always been easy. I asked Rinpoche, "What does it mean to be a student?" He replied, "Just stay open." This means that I don't have to believe him or say "Yes, Rinpoche, good Rinpoche!" not to shut myself up when I doubt, but to see what happens in my mind. As Dharma practitioners, we have to look at our own confusion. In the end, it's very liberating. That said, I'm not perfect, I have my ups and downs like everyone else! (Laughter)

If your husband is not perfect, how do you maintain your devotion to him as a teacher?

Everyone has their own idea of ​​what “perfect” means, a perfect master, a perfect husband… But as soon as we have a preconceived idea, we fall short. Because a person is never exactly as we project them. Everything can be seen as a lesson. It's about working with that. Being with a husband and a teacher is the same challenge. I had no problem saying, "please don't step on the floor with your dirty shoes on right after I've cleaned." And I wasn't really able to distinguish, this is my husband, this is my teacher. I was just trying to work with what was happening, with as much intelligence and patience as possible. There were times when it was hard for me. I don't want to embellish everything. We had to survive, educate our son; at the time, we had no money, we were very young. In the face of challenges, we tried to do what was right for the whole family, always remaining devoted to the Dharma.

“Being the wife and student of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche is one of the wisest choices I have made in my life. It's not that special either. Whatever your type of relationship with the teacher, as long as your mind is open and clear and you trust each other, it's a great relationship to grow. »

I had moments of doubt, of incomprehension, it's very human. On the other hand, I always felt involved in this process of being his student. In the relationship between teacher and student, one helps and the other tries to learn; sometimes there is confusion, sometimes there is wisdom. There is a lot of room for movement, for mistakes. We often think that trust means: it will stay that way, you just have to keep your devotion and nothing else will happen. It's not realistic. The teacher is a human being.

As the wife of a Tibetan master, did you have a particular role to play?

No one ever told me to do this or that. I had to find out for myself and it depended on each situation. When I had a child and Rinpoche was working, I took care of the house. I found that I just needed to be natural and try to make myself useful.

Rinpoche was incredibly supportive. I went back to school, got my master's degree in Buddhist studies when my son was still young, and did long periods of retreat. As we had moved to the West, a sangha began to evolve around it. I helped him with small things like finding money, cushions, starting a small library, supporting meditation sessions… I never felt obligated to behave one way or another, it was very fluid and based on what was needed. This is also the way Rinpoche leads his life. He looks around, wondering how to be useful, how to implant the Dharma in the West, how to make people strengthen their practice? Connecting with your teacher is a training that always aims to lessen the attachment to your ego. How to be more altruistic, develop patience, diligence, concentration, learn more about the nature of the mind?

What is the place of the couple and the family?

When you live in a community and there are so many activities, you need to set aside some space for your family. When my son was little, we woke up and practiced together, then we went to school. He was brought up in the Dharma, but we made sure he also had a good western education. We never pushed him to be a practitioner, we let him find out for himself what he wanted to do. And he chose to become a Dharma practitioner and teacher.

Today, the three of us travel a lot, each on our own. Sometimes we teach together, it allows us to find each other. When we haven't seen each other for a long time, we make an appointment to spend a few days together.

With Rinpoche, sometimes we talk about personal things, about our inner thoughts, about what is happening in our families, but more often we talk about Dharma. It's our passion, and our passion as a couple too.

How do you get recognized as an ÉElizabeth Mattis Namgyel and not as "the wife of"?

I'm not very interested in “Élizabeth Mattis Namgyel”. My main concern is for an authentic Dharma to take root in the West. I am just a contemporary Western voice transmitting the Dharma. I feel like a bridge between the Tibetan world and the Western world. I don't think people see me as a wife. They come to listen to my teachings because they want to cross this bridge.

If someone says that I am the wife of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, I feel very honored, because she is a wonderful teacher. Without him, I couldn't have done what I do. He doesn't verify what I teach, he trusts. And I try to do it very genuinely from my heart. It's not about making a name for myself, that's very worldly. What interests me is the Dharma.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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