Lama Gyourmé: the lama who sings peace

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

It was in 1974 that Lama Gyourmé discovered France. He accompanies one of the very great Tibetan masters of the time, Kalou Rinpoche, who came to teach Buddhism in Europe. At the request of his masters, this native of Bhutan remained in our country and created, in Paris, a center of study and practice dedicated to Buddhism, Kagyu Dzong. At the same time, a few years later, he founded Vajradhara Ling in the Ornaise countryside, where a project for a temple for peace is currently in progress. From his Norman monastery, he looks back on his experience as a lama in France, the success of his Tibetan songs in the West and current environmental issues.

From an early age, you studied Buddhism in monasteries in different countries of the Himalayas: Bhutan, where you were born in 1948 and grew up, and India, notably in Sikkim, before arriving in France. in 1974, in the footsteps of Kalou Rinpoche. How did it go ?

Kalu Rinpoche was one of the first to transmit the Vajrayana Buddhism in the West, in 1970. His local disciples having expressed the wish to have lamas to learn Tibetan, meditation and the teachings of the Buddha, he returned in June 1974. I was one of the six lamas who accompanied him. One lama remained in Sweden, another in Denmark, one in Scotland, one in Canada and one in Dijon. Kalou Rinpoche gave three weeks of teaching in Parisian halls. At the end, he announced to his disciples: “Here is Lama Gyurmé, who will be your teacher”, then presented them with a statue of Buddha and said to them: “Here is your practice medium”. He hadn't told me what he was going to do. I was as surprised as they were! Also, I didn't speak French. For two months, I took courses at the Catholic Institute. But very quickly, I had to prepare for the arrival of His Holiness the Karmapa. It all came together...

After opening the center in Paris, you founded Vajradhara Ling. Why did you decide to establish a second center in Normandy? 

There was not yet a Buddhist congregation in this region. We found the farmhouse in September 1981, half in ruins, we began to renovate it and we inaugurated it on Pentecost Sunday 1982. Thirty-seven years later, we have not yet finished the work … Two lamas reside there permanently and many disciples have bought houses in the surrounding area.

“It is important to teach Westerners mental calm. We are overstretched, and we all have distractions everywhere. »

We have two yoga halls and two temples. On weekends or during internships, we can accommodate between 15 and 150 people. But our reception capacity remains limited, especially for the arrival of great masters. When Mingyur Rinpoche leads meditation courses, for example, he attracts nearly 400 people! As we are never sure of the weather, we have to rent a marquee. And when the Dalai Lama came, only 70 people were able to enter the current temple, as we were restricted by security standards for his status as head of state. This is why our wish is to build a large temple of 750 m² to receive 1000 people.

During the workshops that you lead, what are the Buddhist principles that you teach to Westerners?

It is important to teach them mental calm. We are overstretched, and we all have distractions everywhere. Getting back to calm takes a bit of time. Some Westerners opt for mindfulness meditation, following the methods of Theravada Buddhism. Others strive to develop the Six Perfections or Paramitas, according to the Mahayana. The Vajrayana tradition especially attracts those who wish to follow the path of the Buddha of compassion. They then work directly on the emotions through the symbols conveyed by multiple deities, peaceful, semi-wrathful or wrathful. Whichever method you choose, it's about becoming aware of anything that distracts, then coming back to yourself through meditation and returning to your true nature.

You have enjoyed international success thanks to your Tibetan songs, composed by pianist Jean-Philippe Rykiel, and have spread a form of peace to your audience.

I first heard these chants in the monastery, when I was little. As soon as they sounded, I ran to the classroom window to listen to them. Then, I learned them and I guided the songs in the rituals from the age of 18. When I was sent to France, I continued to sing naturally. When I met Jean-Philippe Rykiel, we decided to collaborate and quickly toured Italy, Spain and the United States. Many people, sick or depressed, said they were soothed by our music. Journalists asked me for an explanation. I told them that it came neither from me nor from Jean-Philippe, but from the mantras, in particular that of the heart of Padmasambhava or the “Om mani padme hum”, mantra of great compassion. These are prayers composed by the Sangha, from the time of the Buddha. These are powerful words that do good.

“I often say that Mahayana thought is like football: always play for others. When you score a goal, you make the team win and you win for yourself. We must think of others and of the world with kindness. »

So the mantra is the medicine, but sometimes it can be hard to swallow. There were already vinyl records of Tibetan chants, but hardly anyone listened to them. Finally, the singing passes more easily when it is accompanied by music on the synthesizer. Jean-Philippe composes from the traditional melodic line. The different songs are praises, prayers, songs of realization, which explain how to progress on the way, or even songs of meditation.

The church of Aubry-le-Panthou is not far away. What relationships do you have with the Christian faithful and religious?

We already have a lot in common on the form: monasteries, prayers, rituals, monks and nuns, lifelong retreats… Then, our way of thinking about love, compassion or charity is close. We have frequent conversations. Abbé Étienne, now deceased, often came here with some of his followers, and we went to mass. Recently, Mgr Jean-Claude Boulanger, the bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, invited us to the Notre-Dame de Sées cathedral. I also went there during a mass in 2005, in homage to Pope John Paul II, who had just died.

Can Buddhism provide tools to deal with the environmental and societal problems of our time? Can the Bhutanese model inspire other countries?

The practitioner can transform if he wishes to become a Buddha for the benefit of sentient beings. I often say that Mahayana thought is like football: always play for others. When you score a goal, you make the team win and you win for yourself. We must think of others and of the world with kindness.

Bhutan is an isolated country, 70% covered by forest, whose model serves as an example for many governments or NGOs in the world. Human beings have always taken from nature to live, but with overproduction and excessive commercialization, we lose the fundamental link that unites us to it. The Earth is sick in many places. We blindly bury our waste there, even though it is our greatest treasure.

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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