One of the great lights of this world, one of the vanguards who first introduced the wisdom teachings of Padmasambhava to Westerners, passed into mahaparinirvana last night. This man is Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, who asked those he met, his friends and loved ones to simply call him “Tulku” as one would call a friend Jane or Joe. Tulku in Tibetan refers to the nirmanakaya or bodily form of Buddha. In his wisdom, his steadiness, his devotion, his unceasing kindness, his delightful sense of humor and his cheerful simplicity, he truly appeared - at least to those blessed by his awakening - as the Buddha of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has lived since arriving as a visiting scholar at Harvard in 1980.
(Samuel Bercholz, December 29, 2023)
I was not blessed to know Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, but many of my close sangha, colleagues and teachers knew him very well. I, too, feel his passing as a great loss, as well as a blessing – which accompanies a sacred transition – and a reminder of all that I have received from my teachers and my lineage. Reading about people's experiences with their teachers is a great source of inspiration, whether these practitioners are alive today as my peers, or whether they are my spiritual ancestors whose Namtar (Tib. revealing biographies) I read or I hear. These inspire me and connect me to the precious lineage of Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal, and to all other saints and mahasiddhas and teachers of our time, of past generations and of timeless time.
In particular, the way I learned about Vajrayana Buddhism was based specifically on the sacred texts that were carefully and lovingly transmitted to Tibet during the Cultural Revolution – a polite way of talking about genocide and the erasure of language, Tibetan culture and religion. Because of this exodus, exile, and escape, I and countless others have greatly benefited from access and instruction based on these sacred texts. So I hold them very dear, refer to them often, and use them in my own Dharma teaching to clarify points or to inspire new practitioners. Yet in this crazy world full of charlatans and worse, the authentic and unbroken lineages of Buddhadharma are omnipresent. It is our sacred duty to defend them, propagate them, share them and put them into practice so that they do not disappear but flourish.
Tulku Thondup Rinpoche taught, like many revered teachers, the meaning and significance of the Seven Line Prayer and the Vajra Guru mantra. Both are the most essential condensed prayers/practices a Vajrayana practitioner can do – compact and effective, yet overflowing with blessings. They are fundamental in daily practice as well as in preliminary practices, but remain the foundation of lifelong practice. As Tulku Thondup Rinpoche said:
The seven-line Vajra prayer is the most sacred and important prayer in the Nyingma tradition. This short prayer contains the outer, inner and most intimate teachings of the esoteric formations of Buddhism. By practicing the seven-line Vajra prayer according to any of these formations, the result of that particular formation will be achieved.*
I feel sadness and longing when another great master passes into parinirvana, demonstrating the end of this particular incarnation. I remember that after receiving the phone call, my most precious root left his body. I remember exactly where I was standing, what the weather was like, who was in the room and the feeling of my heart stopping in my chest, then falling to the floor and staying there like a cold stone, even though my body was still . Time has stopped. At the same time, my heart rose in my mind and rose into space, wide open. The experience of losing one's beloved teacher in bodily form goes beyond words and recognizable feelings. This is truly unbearable, in a very broad and unfathomable way. The experience is unavoidable and produces a new landscape in which to interact with the teacher, both universal and deeply intimate.
In a personal letter to translator Heidi Nevin, Tulku Rinpoche gave heartfelt advice about guru yoga which she kindly shared as follows:
You must develop the habit – the ingrained habit – of seeing and appreciating (visualizing and feeling) the presence of Guru Rinpoche. See the powerful face of Guru Rinpoche, see his kindest and most powerful eyes looking at you with all-knowing wisdom, unconditional love and unlimited power. I know you have done and are doing a lot of prayer and meditation, but you still need to make the simple but powerful habit of seeing His loving and powerful face and eyes during the day, and make it a habit to enjoy it deeply. . When this happens, you can also use this habit of seeing and appreciating one's light body and the light of love and power during the night. As soon as you feel the love and power of Guru Rinpoche in your heart, your whole mind and every particle of your body will become the light of Guru Rinpoche's love and trust. If your heart is open to Guru Rinpoche, his love, wisdom and power will be within you. Stay in this unity. Get into the habit of falling asleep in this unit. As you say the mantra (vajra guru), simply continue to enjoy its loving presence filled with warmth, peace and joy, again and again forever, day and night. There will then be only the light of peace and joy: the blessings of the Buddha.**
I do this practice at night, and then I sometimes dream of my lama heart, which is a great blessing, very joyful. Over many decades, I have come to understand that there is nothing more fulfilling than guru yoga, whether visualized as Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal, or my own heart lama. There is simply nothing left to strive for, no higher or more sublime practice.
Tulku Thondup Rinpoche and Lama Tharchin Rinpoche were two of the principal students of the incomparable Dudjom Rinpoche and both upheld his gentleness, confidence, purity of heart and clarity of his lineage's teachings with perfect motivation throughout. their life. Both were infinitely kind and loving to their students and determined to defend the Nyingma lineage with scholarship and devotion. They knew each other as friends and met to discuss writings and projects, with a special relationship.
May we meet again and again in the perfect mandala, time and place.
* The meaning of the Vajra prayer in seven lines addressed to Guru Rinpoche (Dudjom Tersar Ngondro program)
**Courtesy of Heidi Nevin, Facebook, December 30, 2023.