The Tai Situpa, the Ganden Tripa and the Dalai Lama: My meetings with great masters in India

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Image courtesy of the author

As you read this, I have just returned from India. During this extended pilgrimage and art journey from late September to early October, I was able to visit the Alchi Monastery complex in Ladakh and travel to Dharamshala to witness a series of teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as receiving his Four-armed Avalokiteshvara Initiation. The teachings were to be given on October 1, 2 and 3, before the initiation was transmitted on the 4th.

This was already shaping up to be a wonderful and special trip, even without what ended up unfolding. I admit I hope to be able to meet His Holiness in person and offer him one of my paintings. This proved impossible, as he was unfortunately in poor health and was not even able to teach the classes I had come to Dharamshala for.

He was, however, able to transmit the initiation on the 4th, and so last Wednesday I joined His Holiness in singing “Om Mani Padme Hum » 1008 times, the aim of which was to prepare for the four-armed Avalokiteshvara initiation. This beloved Gelug master radiated golden light and compassion towards everyone in the room. I felt tears of joy rolling down my cheeks, feeling his personal warmth as he gave me and everyone else his blessing and empowerment. I was extremely grateful that despite his physical discomfort, he gave us one of his classic lessons based on his famous maxim: that the simple recipe of kindness and love is the ingredient for world peace. He also revealed his secret practice of merging bodhicitta with emptiness, which is one of the most difficult teachings to understand because it involves reconciling the desire for a self – even to do good and become a Buddha – with the deconstruction of all selves and all beings in sunyata.

Rebecca Wong meets Tai Situ Rinpoche on October 2, 2023. Image provided by the author

I am very grateful and humbled to have received the teachings of His Holiness in his temple in Dharamsala. But I didn't know that the crowning glory of my visit to India lay in two unexpected encounters. The first meeting took place with the eminent Tai Situ Rinpoche, or Pema Dönyö Nyinje. He is one of the great Vajrayana masters of our time, not only because of his illustrious rank in the Karma Kagyu school – the Tai Situpa is a reincarnated office since the conferment of this rank by the Yongle Emperor in 1407 – but also because Pema Dönyö Nyinje has been prolific in spreading Buddhism across the West and in guiding the contemporary Diamond Vehicle on questions of lineage and legitimacy. For example, Pema Dönyö Nyinje recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the true Karmapa during the Karmapa controversy several years ago.

I met him on October 2 and didn't really know what to expect. Part of the anticipation included driving a car deep into the woods for two hours, which eventually opened up to a picturesque, secluded center where Tai Situ Rinpoche greeted us. But when my friend and I began our discussion with him, I found him frank, direct and pleasant to talk to. When I entered his banquet hall at the Golden Pavilion, I exchanged gifts with him: earlier in the morning, I had prepared a bodhi leaf painting of Green Tara for him. His gift to me was a scrapbook that revealed his artistic side, displaying his own paintings as the cover and inserts. Through his moving paintings, Rinpoche communicates his spiritual enlightenment and perspective of Buddhist philosophy, giving viewers a glimpse into his bodhisattva world.

We chatted for over an hour and he shared with me a dazzling array of topics, from fine art to Mao Zedong's Buddha nature. I found him a master of cheerfulness, warm and unpretentious. I became a member of his lineage despite his deference to my status as a disciple under the late Thrangu Rinpoche, and to my delight, he watched me dance the “Sixteen Vajra Offerings” dance. I was also pleasantly surprised that he recognized my every movement, pointing out postures and mudras. I have never seen any teacher, not even my root guru, Thrangu Rinpoche, say all this. He declares that he will seek to reintroduce sacred dances into his monasteries. It glowed with a golden light and I felt like I was glowing too. It was an unforgettable and sacred day.

Vajrayogini dance in the hall of Tai Situ Rinpoche on October 2, 2023. Image provided by the author

My second meeting was actually directly related to the absence of the Dalai Lama last week. For three days, before the initiation of four-armed Avalokiteshvara, we received instructions from a “substitute teacher.” After some clarification with friends, I realized that this replacement was technically His Holiness' spiritual superior: the current 104th Ganden Tripa, Jangtse Choejey Kyabje Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Palsangpo. It explained the essence of Tsongkhapa's experiential songs on the stages of the path to enlightenment and Geshe Chekhewa's seven-point mental training.

Unlike the Dalai Lama, who is a reincarnated function, the Gaden Tripa is appointed, the spiritual leader of the Gelug school. When the great Gelug founder Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) decided not to reincarnate, the highest Gelug seat was appointed based on hierarchical progression based on merit. I began inquiring with my Geshe contact about a potential meeting with the Ganden Tripa, and as my good karma would have it, I was able to secure a private audience with him. On October 5, I traveled to meet him. The venerable elderly master greeted me by grabbing my head and rubbing me on both sides, like a grandfather seeing his favorite granddaughter. We had barely exchanged a few words, but I was already sweating profusely. I guess it was a sign that I had been transported to a divine realm or plane of enlightened being.

Rebecca Wong with the Ganden Tripa, October 5, 2023. Image provided by the author

Then he said a long prayer to consecrate a pair of Kalachakra and Manjushri statues that I had brought. Before I knew it, my time with him was up, as his precious schedule was fully monitored and managed. But I got what I was looking for, no, more than I ever hoped for. I had seen the grandfather-emperor from my past life. He recognized me as I recognized him, through my tears of devotion and emotion. He went straight into the ritual of refuge in the three treasures, explaining each step to me and finally, during the third affirmation of refuge, asking me to become the Bodhisattva – to feel and manifest as such. I did it and it was a truly amazing experience.

Returning to Hong Kong, I now realize that the presences of the Dalai Lama, Tai Situ Rinpoche and Ganden Tripa during my trip were all linked. They all revealed a part of my journey, a side of myself that I was looking for. They reflected my desire back to me, allowing me to integrate what they transmitted into what I already knew about myself. The three masters helped me “leap forward” in self-understanding and insight, and two eminent teachers, Tia Situpa and Ganden Tripa, showed me the path of kindness, empathy and infinite compassion, filling my heart with love for all living people. creatures. For that, I will be eternally grateful to them.

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photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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