Monday, January 14, 2008


Only once in a blue moon does Rinpoche speak in public, but the experience is not something one easily forgets. I thought it would be enjoyable for our readers if I were to transcribe a brief talk he gave several months ago. In this way, perhaps you will come to understand what it is like to meet him in person. So, here is just a very brief excerpt from a talk he gave that we have titled, "Never Trust An Undefeated General," and Rinpoche calls, "The Day the Moths Eat the Brioni." Here is just a small sample of what it can feel like in the presence of Tenpa Rinpoche."

I like to see these newly-minted tulkus, coming out of the cocoon of their years of instruction, go fluttering around the world like butterflies. The first world tour is very prim, very proper. They discuss introductory topics, they tell us what their teacher told them, and they give empowerments, which is of course how the money gets made. You can get photo ops, maybe get one or two polite questions answered, and that is that. The red envelopes begin falling like winter's first snowflakes.

The second world tour is a little different. Maybe the entourage is a little bigger because the red snow is getting deeper. Usually, by the third or fourth world tour, they are running like rock stars. By now, they are in their late 30s or early 40s, and they know what women look like. They know how the food tastes in the better hotels. They know where the door handles are on the Mercedes-Benz. Maybe by now they are just beginning to learn how to listen -- how to listen to the questions. If they are lucky, they have begun to experience a few little disappointments, so the questions are beginning to strike a resonant chord. Maybe just now they can begin the rudimentary framework of answers.

We are the same, aren't we? I don't know about you, but when I was in my late 30s and early 40s I was also very busy. Strangely enough, I also seemed to have so much extra time for beautiful women, beautiful dinners, shopping for luxuries, engaging in intrigues, and did I mention women? My companions were all so charming, and witty, and complex. I would stay for months on end in the hotels, which were my palaces, exploring the poetry of this relationship, the cinema of that relationship, endlessly fascinated with the ladies of the kingdom. There were times when I flew 10,000 miles just for a poignant scene with a fancied favorite. It really was astonishing. I started with $1,000 suits, moved to $2,500 suits, and eventually it reached the point where even $5,000 suits simply would not do. If those people at Brioni ever start making robes, you know, I will probably be first in line.

People ask me all the time: why weren't you teaching then? Why weren't you being who you are? The answer is simply that I was being who I was then, and I found myself to be a very dangerous person. I was an undefeated general, and there is nothing more dangerous than an undefeated general. I have some good advice to give you right now: never trust an undefeated general.

Lamas have been running around the developed nations for almost 50 years now. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the time when those who vowed never to leave sentient beings, left the sentient beings of Tibet in Chinese hands, and turned their attention elsewhere. I am not being critical. I don't have any axe to grind. I am just showing you how undefeated generals you can't trust begin to turn into defeated generals upon whom you may rely.

Once they got to India, a lot of these people had to open themselves to new experiences. In Tibet, the tulku class was spoiled rotten. All of a sudden, guys who never had to ask the price were having to ask the price. Fortunately for us, guys were suddenly able to take centuries of repeated teaching and apply it to what was happening right in front of them. So, we started to get the first wave of defeated generals. Maybe Trungpa Rinpoche was the vanguard, I don't know. He went to Britain. He got himself smashed up. He visited Scotch whiskey, teenage girls, and American poetry after dark. I traded shots of whiskey with Trungpa Rinpoche, sitting in a car, in the parking lot of the White Horse liquor store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, and I know what he said and I know what I said. He was absolutely for real.

The early students of the first wave of defeated generals are now all in their late 50s and 60s, and we also have an entire group in their early 70s. The big question in the back of everybody's mind these days is, "Who is going to be first?" Who is going to be the first non-Tibetan to get anything useful out of Tibetan Buddhism?" When that question is posited, it is being posited in terms of enlightenment, so let us not be shy about this. A lot of people are wondering what went wrong.

Now, the rock star lamas will be happy to tell you what went wrong, and this they will do with varying degrees of candor, disingenuity, and wit, and you will feel properly chastened or inspired as the case may be. A traditional Tibetan education delivers something like full tenure in a world-class bullshit school, and rock star lamas are world class bullshit artists. You can stop me right now and say, "Oh, my God! Rinpoche! Your speech is so harsh! Your speech is so wrong!" The thing is, I don't think the truth needs to be gilded. I am not trying to get in your pocket and I am not trying to get in your pants. I think the plain, unvarnished truth is useful. I think a straight shot of cheap whiskey hits a drunk in the place fine wine goes to waste. I also know that I am not alone in my observations, and that when a lot of lamas hear I said this, they will think, "Right on. Wish I could say that."

They are being packaged and marketed, and sold to the highest bidders, so they really aren't free. They are corporate representatives, so they have to uphold corporate policy. They don't feel themselves free to just start fearlessly drawing from their own experience. These are the guys who sit around and secretly read Trungpa Rinpoche, or Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, or Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and wistfully think, "Someday I'll wish upon a star... " [Rinpoche sings opening line of Somewhere Over the Rainbow]. Speaking for myself, I don't have students, I don't do this for money, I don't have anything to prove, and I don't care what happens today or tomorrow. I am not a team player. If you want to sit around and listen to me, that is good. If you want to get up and go, that is good If you ask me for advice, I will give you advice, and if you tell me to shut up, I will shut up. My education is not so fine, not so elegant, so all I really have is my own experience. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, you will still be you, and I will still be watching.

The tulku doesn't come from recognition. Recognition comes from the tulku. What matters is the ability to use a broken heart for the benefit of others.

Let me take a little rest. O.K., a couple of questions so I can relax a minute.

Question: Do you mean that we have to get a broken heart to get anywhere?
Answer: You are going to get a broken heart whether you want it or not. There is no way to avoid this. The question is not how do you mend a broken heart, but how do you learn to fearlessly operate from the foundation of that broken heart in an ethical, compassionate, and useful manner, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Question: How are you using the label 'broken heart?' What do you mean by that?
Answer: I mean the fundamental integration of the teachings and lived-through experience. I mean the antithesis of hypocrisy. I mean honest tears, honestly shed, with no pretense, no second-guessing. I mean the ability to walk up to a teacher and say, "I am sick of the bullshit, and I want to get better so I can help everybody else. I don't care what I have to do, just as long as I can help everybody else." I mean the end of illusion, when the car has been repossessed, the beautiful woman takes off the silk clothes you bought her in front of some other man, and you are out in back of the hotel going through the garbage, looking for something to eat. I am talking about the day you find that the moths ate the Brioni.

Question: Are you an undefeated general, and is your heart broken?
Answer: I am a thoroughly defeated general. I have done everything wrong that it is possible to do wrong. Yet, I think I still have many more defeats to suffer. There are so many pieces of my heart scattered around that I cannot pick them up, examine them, and tell you whether they, too, are broken or not.

O.K., so now I am rested, and I want to continue with that big, unspoken question on everybody's mind: what went wrong?

Nothing went wrong. If anything went wrong, it was the expectation that something would go right. All the girls were dakinis and all the guys were yogis. Everybody read Milarepa. Everybody thought some reward or payoff was going to happen. You do your prostrations, you offer your mandalas, you get your little star and put it on the picture in the place for little stars. You go to college and you get the diploma. Then, you fly away to the sky... enlightened. It just doesn't work that way. The payoff is the broken heart. The payoff is the defeat. The payoff is that integration I spoke of a moment ago. That is where we, in the developed countries, dropped the ball. We failed to integrate. We kept up our resistance. We kept up our expectations. Really, I can say that what we lack is faith. Pure and simple.

When you lower someone into the grave, you'll wish for just that one moment you could save. You'll want to die, until you learn to cry... until you learn to have absolute faith in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. In this case, faith means giving up what isn't real and embracing what is real. It means finally wearing yourself out, giving up, and saying, "O.K., I am ready for refuge."

What happened, I think, was a lot of people took refuge who weren't ready for refuge. Then, after they took refuge, they went on with their lives. Once they were able to give up filtering and censoring their lives with false Buddhism, trusting undefeated generals, and once they actually began living their lives, they began experiencing disappointments. Now, these collective disappointments have reached the stage where the people experiencing them are now... only now... ready for refuge. So, my advice to all you gray-haired Buddhists in your 50s, 60s, and early 70s, is start all over again from the beginning. Stop your socializing and reminiscences. This isn't some god-damned lawn bowling club where we all dress in white. Maybe it should be, but it isn't just now. All you saggy old dakinis, and all you pot-belly yogis with your falling teeth, do you know how much I love you?

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4 reader comments:

sortofbunny said...

Yippeee.....what a relief to hear such plain talk.

genkaku said...

I like this guy and I think he likes me. :)

Anonymous said...

Tenpa Rinpoche you are a true genius

tarchin said...

Ah Yeah …place a person on a throne who feels that they have some capacity ….then comes the money ,the gorgeous woman and power is a very rare individual who has such stabilty of the view that he or she is not seduced ..!!!...