Venerable Drubpön Tharchin Rinpoche: meeting in Ladakh with an unconventional Rinpoche

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

Interview with a lama well in his time.

If you hope to meet a classic Tibetan Rinpoche from the Vajrayana, “the Buddhism of the Himalayas”, go your way. Far from the clichés that stick to the robes of the monks of the "Roof of the World", the Venerable Drubpön Tharchin Rinpoche, although belonging to the Kagyupa and Nyingmapa traditions (see box 1), is Ladakhi, so from a different culture. Arriving in "Little Tibet", I hardly knew this master who turned out to be eminently sympathetic and who wears in his country - light obliges - large black sunglasses and an orange cap which make him look like a Bollywood star. Benevolent, smiling, with a refreshing spontaneity, I loved chatting with him. For all these reasons, but also because he uses an amusing and very particular language to communicate – a Franco-English-Ladakhi mix that you get used to with disconcerting speed and which gives his words a joyful and shimmering color.

Then, because seeing him live, I discovered his great adaptability to events – a rare ability that attests to an enlightened practice of impermanence – and an unconventional character, as evidenced by his story. Thus, having come to France for the first time in 1992, for a few weeks, he never left. "A story of karma", he says amused, which materialized by marrying the same year with Laurence, one of his disciples. Since then, this father of a daughter has lived with his wife in the Paris region, where he teaches, and in the summer in Ladakh, where he carries out numerous humanitarian actions through his association France Himalaya Tiers-monde (1) . Also at the head of two monasteries in Ladakh, Leh and Skindiang, and a third in Himachal Pradesh, in Mandoglu, where a school welcomes nearly a hundred students, education is at the center of his priorities. (2).

Moreover, his unexpected journey led him to be reborn twice in a row in the same house and family in Skindiang - a rare phenomenon -, to be recognized very young as being a Rinpoche and a Tertön (3), and to create in France, where he represents His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche, the Institute of Tibetan Buddhism Kagyü Rinchen Pal – where he notably teaches the philosophy and principles of the Buddhist religion – and the Tibetan Buddhist Center Drikung Kagyü Rinchen Pal. Finally, as chance definitely has no place in this story, Rinpoche, who is considered to be an emanation of padmasambhava, was born in Skindiang (4) on December 1, 1949, the birthday of this Buddha, not far from a sacred place where the latter would once have stayed briefly. A site still preserved, because far from the tourist circuits: several hours of often winding, narrow and chaotic roads are necessary to get there. In Paris, the Venerable Drubpön Tharchin Rinpoche will undoubtedly find asphalt in better condition – although – to welcome his master, His Holiness Gyalwang Drikungpa, who will come to teach and give initiations for the first time at the end of October, then unperturbed to continue to unfold in this life a karma with multiple twists.

Rinpoche, what are the Buddhist principles that you think are essential to transmit in the West?

In Asian countries, the values ​​and bases of Buddhism are transmitted and inculcated from childhood. However, in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian values ​​that are and, consequently, certain notions such as impermanence, reincarnation or emptiness are not taught. This is why I ask my disciples to devote time to reflection on these themes and to meditate daily on these principles so that they become familiar with them and integrate them little by little into their lives. I recommend this practice, because I know its importance. There is no need to isolate yourself in a hermitage, the main thing is to show consistency, rigor and determination. No one can do this work for you. It is a choice that belongs to everyone. We are free, responsible, autonomous beings.

“Buddhism is truly a path that frees from suffering. But this tradition is not only a method of well-being. Buddhism does not only work on the conditions of this life and also prepares for the next ones so that they are as happy as possible. »

The practice is very varied and is an integral part of everyday life. It is for example possible to generate enlightenment thoughts several times a day wishing the happiness of all beings, to have pleasant words, to try to reconcile those who do not get along, to help sentient beings who are in need...

Let's return to the essential notion of impermanence. Familiarizing yourself with avoids a lot of suffering...

Yes, especially when we lose loved ones or property to which we are attached. Some masters say that in a way, Buddhism in all its aspects, philosophical and religious, is only about preparing for death. In this tradition, the way in which one dies conditions the rebirths to come. That is to say the importance of this passage, inevitable. So there is no point in hiding it. As a living being and a Buddhist, I prepare for it by following the teachings and recommendations of the Buddha; he enlightened our ignorance about him. Moreover, I meditate on the suffering caused here by the reality of impermanence. Understanding the origin of my suffering allows me to apply the remedy that suits them. Be that as it may, in this area as in others, in Buddhism nothing is imposed on practitioners in a dogmatic way. Everyone is free to choose the method that suits them. And Buddhism is so broad that there are many opportunities for followers.

Do you feel that Buddhist principles are well understood in the West?

Before the Chinese invasion, Tibetan Buddhism was confined to Tibet. After 1959, the rest of the world discovered it. Seeds have been sown, but it takes time for them to mature. Currently, many methods of well-being are inspired by Buddhism: reiki, sophrology, mindfulness meditation, yoga... But these are not Buddhist practices. Before realizing the Awakening, the Buddha, who was a human being and not a god, it should not be forgotten, experienced like you and me moments of joy, suffering, doubts, existential crises. The path he taught, pragmatic and accessible to everyone, teaches us to no longer identify with the causes of suffering. Many great masters prove to us that this path is not reserved for an elite, but for all those who give themselves the means to achieve it. It therefore takes time to discover this tradition, become imbued with it and then choose, or not, to practice it. Becoming a Buddhist is a long-term process.

How can Buddhism meet the basic needs of human beings?

First of all, I would say that being, wherever it comes from, needs two things: love and knowledge. Of love to feel safe and to be able to build confidence; of knowledge to support and confirm his practice, and move forward with lucidity, reason and pragmatism. Buddhism includes different levels of teaching, as it caters to audiences with different abilities. That is why I can say very clearly that this tradition responds to the different needs and questions of human beings.

Some Westerners turn to Buddhism to get better. As if Buddhism was magic. What do you think of this type of motivation?

Buddhism is truly a voice that liberates from suffering. So in some cases that motivation is right. She is a gateway. The important thing is not to remain in this approach, because this tradition is not only a method of well-being. Buddhism does not only work on the conditions of this life and also prepares for the next ones so that they are as happy as possible. That said, it is important to remember that years of work are necessary to obtain visible results. This is why the Buddha said, "It is impossible for me to purify the negative karma of sentient beings even if I sprinkle them with holy saffron water, I cannot take their sufferings and eradicate them." The only thing I can do is give you the advice to follow to get there”. Whoever follows this path must therefore practice, study, diligently.

There is often talk in Buddhism of the law of interdependence, that is to say?

All beings, all elements and phenomena are interdependent. When a link in the chain of interdependence is seized up, the whole chain is affected. If we ignore this notion of interdependence, we experience ourselves as being separated from others and we regularly suffer from it. From the moment we integrate this notion, our relationship to ourselves and to others changes radically. We become more altruistic and, little by little, our mind is transformed, thoughts, words, actions are more benevolent, and we feel more serene.

The texts say that Buddha Shakyamuni developed altruistic thoughts for eons, from lifetime to lifetime, before achieving enlightenment. This means that it is essential to practice regularly and for a long time to change in a stable way. Naropa's Yoga (see box 2) that I transmit and meditation facilitate this process: to discipline, to pacify your mind, to prevent the mind from taking over. All this helps to recover the inherent qualities of the mind, such as peace and joy.


Interview by
Filmed by Tsewang Palden at Agling Monastery in Leh, Ladakh
Khandro Padma Dreulma Translation

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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