Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography Early Dharma Studies and Ngondro
Reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
When I was about 16 I began to study in more profoundly with my new teacher, Dheyak Drubpon Tenzin Rinpoche. Although I didn’t yet understand what true devotion was, or what it even meant to be in the presence of a truly realized being, I was hooked on the kindness that Rinpoche showed to me and, for the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do. Because I was both inexperienced and immature, my devotion was based primarily on self-cherishing. Being immature to the path I was not able to express my devotion beyond self cherishing at this time. I could only integrate my teacher’s pure awakening in this way. It was by his blessing and high quality that I could have any devotion to begin with.
Through Drubpon Tenzin Rinpoche I was able to have access to and begin to develop a very close connection to His Holiness the 16th Karmapa. Normally bodyguards, attendants and officials would make it hard to get close to His Holiness. However, I was able to see His Holiness daily, talk and ask questions. At that age I just wanted to become a monk and I often asked His Holiness to ordain me. The first time I asked he laughed for some time like it was a hugely funny joke. The second time, His Holiness said he would in a few months at the same time that ordained a group of Nepalis. But when the time came he said I was too young and more study was appropriate. The third time, His Holiness said I should consult my family and make sure this was what I really wanted to do. Finally, I asked Drubpon Tenzin Rinpoche if he could ask His Holiness for me. Rinpoche also laughed and told me what I really wanted was to become a Lama and monks vows weren’t required to be a Lama. Rinpoche also promised me I would become a Lama and told me that maybe it would be sooner that I thought. That was the last time I asked either His Holiness or Rinpoche about being ordained.
Drubpon Tenzin Rinpoche was always gentle and patient with me and taught me how important it was to take the path of Dharma. When I asked him how to do this he told me to study Buddhist scripture and do the preliminary practices (ngondro). So I followed his instructions and began to plan a traditional six-month ngondro retreat.
I had to get money, food, and a place to do the retreat, so my first thought was to go home to my village and ask my family for support. But I found that mt family and friends believe I was serious enough or that I could possibly complete ngondro. They thought I was too young, too immature, and they well remembered how often I had begun things without finishing them and how many times I had run away from the monastery. They refused to help me.
Disappointed, I returned to Rumtek, where a lot of Tibetan refugees were beginning to arrive from communist China. These refugees needed shelter and since I knew how to cut and weave the bamboo with which they could build huts, I found work doing this. They paid me about 3 rupees per day (around 25 cents!), but I was motivated by my goal so I enjoyed the work and saved almost everything I earned.
I was no longer getting any support from my teacher since he knew I had gone to my family for help and I never told him that they refused me. I had found a hut near the monastery and gotten permission to use it for retreat, and I had saved just enough to begin when an old friend asked me for a loan. He had an investment scheme that he said was sure to earn a profit, so I lent him nearly everything I had. Then he disappeared with my money, and was never heard from again.
Humiliated by my own foolishness, I was still determined to go into retreat even though I didn’t have enough money to last six months.
Midway through the retreat, just as I was running out of food, a Tibetan refugee family that was receiving donations from the Red Cross began to share their food and supplies with me. Also, as I approached the end of the retreat, my father realized I was actually going to finish and also brought me some rice from time to time (although, as I recall, it was unhulled and I had to pound it!)
Soon after completing ngondro, my teacher urged me to begin the traditional three-year retreat, so I spent the next few months preparing for that. I built a bamboo hut a short distance from Rumtek. It was one small room, just big enough for a shrine and meditation box. A 10-year old cousin of mine was to be my attendant. It was his job to bring food, cook for me, and generally look after me. In return, I was to give him teachings.
I guess I was too harsh a teacher, because my student started to play hooky for days at a time. In the village people would ask him how I was doing and he would tell everyone I was fine. He didn’t like to study and he was probably too young for this job--eventually he deserted me completely! Finally, I told my teacher what was going on so he had one of his own attendants bring me food. But since this new person hadn’t begun the retreat with me, he wasn’t allowed to see me or speak to me; he could only leave the food on the porch. Deep in meditation , I was often unaware he had come, and I’d open the door to find that the chickens had eaten everything!
About a year into this retreat my teacher became ill and couldn’t come to see me as often as he used to. With so little distraction, I was meditating intensively and when Tenzin Rinpoche did come, it was all the more powerful. There was a tiny mud stove for making tea in my hut but I was so immersed in my practice that I stopped doing almost everything else. It had been so long since I’d used the stove that a little flower sprouted up in the ashes.
Around this time I started to get sick. I was in a lot of pain, both mental and physical, and one morning I woke up outside my meditation box with blood on my face and hands. I thought that if I was going to die, I’d like to die while practicing, so I continued my retreat. When my teacher came and saw that I needed medicine, he went immediately and brought his own medicine to me, saying that he was an old man and was going to die anyway so he didn’t need it. He also told the Karmapa about my situation and His Holiness sent his own doctor to me. He diagnosed tuberculosis. One day His Holiness sent a messenger to my door who called in to me telling me I shouldn’t practice too hard now, that I should take it easy and take care of myself.
Around this time my father heard I was sick and thought I should leave my retreat. He went to the Karmapa saying it was his right to take his sick son home. The Karmapa told him that when a sinful person is preparing to go to hell, he will feel happy and everything will seem pleasant and easy. But when a serious practitioner is preparing to become enlightened, many obstacles and painful difficulties will arise. "So leave him alone and let him practice," he said.
Finally Tenzin Rinpoche became gravely ill and asked me to end my retreat and to go with him to Gangtok to get medical treatment. I conducted the ceremonies necessary to exit from the retreat, and I went into hospital while my teacher went to the home of a wealthy local family. I went to see him one day and found him deep in meditation. I sat awhile and meditated with him; we didn’t speak. He died the next day.
Now I was alone again and without direction. I remember thinking, "Now I’m really lost."
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography