UPON LIFE AND PERSONALITY OF VEN. KYOSANG RINPOCHE
* * * *
© by Anna Schulthess
Rinpoche, deceased in 2014, is to my humble opinion one of the most
tragic and most enigmatic Buddhist teachers of the 20th and the early
know only two persons who deal with the modern Western culture in a
straight, open, and most sincere manner, one of them being Ven.
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Norby Rinpoche, a living lama and
filmmaker. Another is Ven. Kyosang Rinpoche, who had passed away,
carrying all his enigmas with him beyond the reach of our knowledge.
essay deals with oddities and peculiarities of the Grand Deceased
rather than with his teachings, and is a mixture of recollections
much more than a good scientific article.
must say in parenthesis that I was personally acquainted with the
unique teacher of Tibetan Buddhism for eleven years. Our acquaintance
started in early 2003 and ended only with his death in July 2014.
did it happen that almost no trustful photograph of Rinpoche is
publicized on the web? I refer this fact to his modesty. Rinpoche-la
actually prohibited to take his photos when He was giving teaching,
saying, he never wanted to create one more spiritual celebrity out of
himself and one more sect of his worshippers.
some of his photos were taken without his permission, and even by the
author of this text.
was, as far as I know, only one case of these photos having been
misused, when a person from France with whom Rinpoche was barely
acquainted published a group photo on her website stating she
received most powerful secret initiations from the Teacher and be his
closest disciple. Shouldn’t we say that Rinpoche’s fears finally
proved to be founded? However, this single event that occurred in
2010 led to the complete prohibition for all true disciples on
Rinpoche to publicize any of his photos for ever. This prohibition
was composed in written by Mr. Ludwig Roemer, approved by Rinpoche,
and finally signed by Mr. Roemer on behalf of the Teacher. To forbid
photos of any kind being distributed was too quick and unwise a step,
as the prohibition of group photos with Rinpoche would be absolutely
sufficient. There is, however, no way to change this decision of
Kyosang Rinpoche now. Moreover, there was no way to change it
immediately after the prohibition was signed, as Rinpoche was known
to take quick steps and to change his mind only in extreme cases.
I come to one personal feature of Ven. Kyosang Rinpoche I am almost
ashamed to speak about. Rinpoche-la was careless in the most
perplexing manner. In both his behaviour and his appearance he had
much of a child, as anyone who knew him may freely admit.
well as I know, Rinpoche never cared for money or what is called
worldly matters. He didn’t care whether he would live or die when
being seriously ill and placed in a hospital in Saarbruecken. (Why
should he, on the other hand?) He never cared whether Je Tsongkhapa
Buddhist College receives enough students or not, neither was he
worried whether his donators keep supporting him or stop their
support. This was very unwise even in the eyes of his true followers,
yet it was a true ascetic attitude.
admit even more. The unique Teacher made many spontaneous decisions
that seemed bizarre at the first glance, revealed as
thought-provoking when deeply analyzed and might entirely change the
life of persons he interacted with.
can easily recall four such cases, provided there had been much more.
I personally witnessed one of them and was told about the rest by
with a Priest
Rinpoche-la went to Berlin, being accompanied by Mr. Roemer and
myself. There was a free seat in our compartment of four seats
vis-a-vis, being finally occupied by a catholic priest. This priest,
being quite a young person, obviously wanted to restrain from any
conversation with a Buddhist monk he was forced to sit opposite.
However, Rinpoche all of a sudden embarrassed the priest with the
straight and easy question:
you like Beethoven?”
remember that Rinpoche spoke on this
occasion with a strong accent, so it sounded almost like “Doo yoo
luck pet oven?”. I believe he did it on purpose, as he could speak
English quite well.
priest replied almost with contempt, he never ever liked Beethoven.
I see,” remarked Rinpoche-la compassionately (I cannot say,
however, whether there was a stroke of irony hidden in his
compassion). “This is why so many of you Cat Holic priests turn
into petal flies.”
beg your pardon?”
I say ‘flies?’ Oh, no! Into files. Petal files.”
Teacher thus practically forced us to face this most awkward
situation which, however, did not last long, as the clergyman left
our compartment the next instant, red as a lobster.
literally attacked Rinpoche-la with questions of the relationship
between disliking Beethoven and becoming a pedophile, and were told
about some lofty spiritual matters and reasons. There surely is, he
said, no direct link the two facts. Yet the music of some composers,
Beethoven being one of them, may inspire sympathy towards other
persons. Now many Christian Catholic clergymen greatly fail to
cultivate their mind, be it by listening to the pieces of Beethoven
or by other means. Not unlike augurs of the Roman Empire, they do not
believe in what they profess. But then, he said, every human mind
that does not want to cultivate itself cannot help degenerating, and
this corruption finally results in becoming a pedophile. I am not
making any moral judgment on this explanation, I am simply retelling
what I had witnessed and heard.
case created a certain rumor. A young girl of twenty somehow managed
to get a personal audience with Rinpoche-la after the end of the
evening teaching he used to give at Je Tsongkhapa Buddhist College
and Home Retirement in Alsace in 2007. The audience lasted over forty
minutes, being a long, but not a unique one. The girl left the room
carrying a “certificate” in her hands. The paper was issued by
Rinpoche himself, and it was about the girl being recognized as a
competent Buddhist teacher!
asked, how on earth could he give such a letter to someone who
totally lacked a proper education, spiritual experience in
meditations etc. etc., Rinpoche-la answered that he clearly saw the
girl m_i_g_h_t become a famous teacher in the future.
us call the girl A. W., by the way. (I have
deleted her full name from this text, as I was afraid, she might
dislike my commentary on her personality.) Ms A. W. now runs a
Buddhist centre and seems to be a qualified meditation instructor
(yet nothing very remarkable as a Buddhist teacher, in my humble
opinion). Was this “certificate” a spontaneous unpremeditated act
of kindness? Or, rather, a genial prediction? I am unable to judge on
such cases, neither do I wish.
same year, even more certificates of this kind were issued so that
the group of five close disciples of Rinpoche-la had at last to
intervene. This intervention was not the most tactful thing in their
life, nor was it the cleverest one, but at least anyone can imagine
the feeling of those five persons none of whom was granted such a
paper. The reader shall realize that any of them tried as hard as
possible to satisfy Rinpoche’s everyday needs and cared for his
well-being. Recognition of so many teachers, as so young ones, they
said, may lead to the very term losing its weight and becoming
worthless. Finally, they basically “forced” Rinpoche to promise
never to issue such certificates, or recognition letters, or whatever
you may call them, to persons he hardly ever knew before. There was
even a term “foxes” to describe such persons, being invented
specially for the occasion, meaning both “a freshman” and “a
very sly person who misuses someone’s kindness”. Any “fox”
had finally received from Mr. Roemer a special notice that asked the
person not to make use of the certificate. Some followed this
recommendation. Others didn’t.
am now going to narrate a very embarrassing episode that, among many
others of this kind, originated from Rinpoche’s spontaneity.
used to visit Hoch-Andlau, a city in Alsace, not infrequently. On one
of the occasions he decided to visit the local church. He named his
wearing worldly clothes on that special occasion as a pretext for the
idea and simply said, he was pity to miss such a rare opportunity.
happened next, Rinpoche describes in Snow Lion Faces Europe:
were laymen as well as nuns in the church. I listened to a sermon and
to prayers. Then communion followed. I have nothing against Jesus so
I didn’t mind to take part at it. As you know, during a communion
small wafers which symbolize the body of Jesus are used. As for
laymen, the priest put these wafers directly into their mouths. As
for nuns, they stretched out their hands, and the wafers were laid on
their palms. I didn’t see much difference. However, as I am a monk,
I stretched out my hand, too. The wafer was laid on it. I went back
to my place. Then one of the nuns turned her head and gazed at me
with gleaming eyes. She surely blamed me, because I broke common
on earth could anyone except himself participate at a Catholic mass
and even to receive the Eucharist, being a Buddhist monk?
the way, I cannot blame the nun Rinpoche was telling about. But even
laying the blame on the Teacher, if there was anything to blame, I
cannot help admiring his… well, what is the exact name? Shall we
call it courage? Or is courage too weak a word? Shouldn’t we rather
describe it as Rinpoche’s readiness to break through all possible
spiritual boundaries and to challenge all possible stereotypes?
me now quote the most puzzling thing about Rinpoche. I mean his
biography that is now published in the Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
December of 1988 a group of English and
American researchers of Buddhism (among them Henry Colt, A. Tennis,
and Dr. N. Hahn) went to India and were so inspired by Rinpoche’s
teachings, that they asked Him to go to England and to found a Dharma
centre or even a monastic college.”
biography was written by Mr. Roemer one of August evenings in 2003.
Mr. Roemer claims to ask Rinpoche for an interview, to face strong
disinclination, to insist, to finally receive Teachers’ consent,
and thus to obtain all the details above from Rinpoche himself.
is no wonder that Mr. Roemer, earning his living as a psychologist
before and several years after he had met Rinpoche for the first
time, could not detect that there were n_o famous researchers of
Buddhism with such names about 1988. Not that I knew. As for me,
almost all names in this biography before 2001 are or at least might
what happened exactly?
us take some assumptions.
first assumption is, Rinpoche simply forgot several names, having
been slowly recovering after his severe illness. (He suffered much
from lung diseases, tuberculosis was suspected at one of the stages.)
This is something neither you nor my reader can believe, as pneumonia
has nothing to do with mental faculties. Anyway, I reject this idea
second assumption is, all these names shall be read and understood
metaphorically. Mr. “Colt”, for instance, always wore a colt, Mr.
“Tennis” played tennis brilliantly, Ms. “Hahn’ was a bit too
fussy, in the way hens are, and so on.
last assumption that I personally tend to regard as the most credible
is, that literally everything in this biography was a kind of
somewhat crude joke (or shall we rather call it pedagogical
approach?). Having declined twice, Rinpoche finally consented in
order to teach Mr. Roemer one easy thing: never insist too hard in
order to get something from your teacher, as you might get something
you cannot handle.
First Apostle, Also Being Roemer
we proceed with the personality of Rinpoche’s closest disciple, his
apostle, being also a Roemer in the same way the apostle Paul was.
(For those not familiar with German: the German word Roemer means as
much as “a Roman citizen.”) The comparison reveals as a true one
nor simply for linguistic reasons. Starting with being very far from
the smartest or the most beloved disciple, Mr. Roemer finally managed
to become indispensible for Rinpoche-la and even to create sort of a
“church”: an organization that, even despite its spreading
Rinpoche’s spiritual heritage, contradicts on many occasions the
Last Will of the Teacher as well as anything the Teacher thought and
probably shall begin with the name of the Buddhist College that
Rinpoche created in 2001 and which then sounded as Je Tsongkhapa
Rigpay Jungne Ling Buddhist College and Home Retirement.
old name had two parts, which were the actual name (Je Tsongkhapa,
rje tsong kha pa in Wylie transliteration mode) and its definition
(Rigpay Jungne Ling, rig pa'i 'byung gnas gling), which literally
meant “the source of learning” and had nothing to do with the
Tibetan name of Padmasabhava, or Pema Jungne, whatever.
a certain way, Je Tsongkapa Rigpay Jungne Ling Buddhist College was
not a “college”, i.e. not an education provider, incorporated
according to the French laws. The college, being a religious
community, offered no diplomas for its students. Only two sorts of
documents were issued until late 2013, one of them being certificates
of completion, another being the somewhat notorious recognition
September 2013 till Rinpoche’s death in July 2014, no new learners
were enrolled and no education activity took place.
being "elected" as the new "director" of Je
Tsongkhapa Rigpay Jungne Ling Buddhist College, Mr. Ludwig Roemer
finally managed to incorporate the College in 2014. At the same time,
he altered the name of the institution.
pa being knowledge, or wisdom, 'byung gnas being source and gling
being place, the old name clearly shows us that there is a certain
place (gling) which serves as the source ('byung gnas) of knowledge
(rig pa) and is called "Je Tsongkapa" (rje tsong kha pa).
Y at the end of Tsongkapa, added by Mr Roemer as a marker of Tibetan
genitive case, simplifies the name of the institution, which now
means only as much as "Je Tsongkhapa's place".
alteration has two disadvantages.
first one is that no Tibetan-speaking person can now identify Je
Tsongkapa(y) Ling as a "source of learning", i.e. an
education provider, by its name.
second one is that Je Tsongkhapa, a famous Tibetan lama of the
fourteenth century, founder of the Gelug lineage, had never been in
Europe where Je Tsongkapa(y) Ling is located. There is also no single
reason to regard the College as "Je Tsongkapa's place". To
say it in common words, it is simply not true.
his reasons might be, Mr. Ludwig Roemer had in my opinion no right to
alter the name of the institution, founded by Rinpoche himself, in
order to converse a "source of learning named after Je
Tsongkhapa" into "Je Tsongkhapa's place".
old emblem of the College (two lions holding a Dharma-wheel) was also
altered and simplified by Mr. Roemer. Now it a white lion on a red
shield. Can anyone make out what this lion means? Rinpoche was
neither a count nor a duke to have an emblem with a shield. He was a
Buddhist teacher. Or was he a knight of some sort, though?
of New Buddhist Teachers
must beg forgiveness from my reader for boring him or her with
legislative matters of seemingly little importance as well as for
repeating what I have already said in another article of mine. Let
us, however, proceed to one of the most important points.
His Last Will, Rinpoche-la has authorized ten persons to serve as
Buddhist instructors and to run Dharma centres which follows from the
Seventh and the Eight Article quoted below.
recognize <ten names, the name of Anna Schulthess among them>
as qualified "spreaders of Dharma", i.e. Buddhist
allow to the persons mentioned above to spread the Holy Teaching of
Buddha by giving oral teachings, writing books, performing
meditations and rituals, to lead Dharma centres they have created
or/and to create new centres."
was the source of the named authorization? What made it possible? I
strongly believe, it was possible because of the personal qualities,
skills, and competences of the persons that were examined by Rinpoche
and found to be good enough for someone who is or wants to be a
Buddhist teacher. (Let us regard for an instant a “teacher” and
an “instructor” as mere synonyms.)
are probably only two ways to perform this examination now, after
Rinpoche's having passed away.
of them is to regard Mr. Ludwig Roemer as the spiritual director of
Je Tsongkhapa Ling Buddhist College (let me use the old name) and
hereby as the Supreme Teacher of the whole community of Khenpo
Kyosang Rinpoche's followers all over the world.
can hardly believe that Mr. Roemer is actually capable to fit this
position, even despite my deed respect for all his ingenuity and
other spiritual qualities.
way, being much more in correspondence with what Rinpoche-la thought
and taught throughout his life, is calling a meeting of all Buddhist
instructors, named in Rinpoche's Last Will, in order to elaborate
criteria and procedures of authorizing a Buddhist instructor and
electing officers in charge of this examination.
with H.H.D.L. the Fourteenth, and Conclusion
any follower of Rinpoche-la or any student of Je Tsongkhapa Ling
Buddhist College knows for certain, Rinpoche-la never expressed his
disagreement with His Holiness the Dalai Lama publicly.
did it, however, on several private occasions and even said, His
Holiness “might err” on some questions. One should not, for
instance (so Rinpoche said) underestimate the dangers originating
from “freedom”, “equality”, and “brotherhood”, as well as
from “tolerance”, “feminism”, and other such actual terms.
criticism was reported to the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
by one of the “traitors”, if I am permitted to use this old word
in its literal meaning of “one who betrays any confidence or
trust”. This fact probably lead to a tension between Rinpoche-la
and the Office of His Holiness, which fact has already caused
can state with absolute certainty that Rinpoche-la was no enemy of
freedom, no friend of sexism, no autocrat and no misogynist. Hardly
can I imagine a Buddhist teacher with more sympathy for women’s
needs. At the same time, no one can overlook the fact how very far
Kyosang Rinpoche was from following the political or the spiritual
mainstream of the modern thought, how out of place he was with all
his convictions and ideas.
my last life.” Rinpoche once said, “I used to criticize spiritual
authorities. This will for certain result in criticism towards myself
in this lifetime.”
it was not only criticism, it was contempt, hatred, and even complete
ignoring of his activity and of his personality he had to face, as it
happened in 2013, when no mass medium and no institution, including
police, wanted to react to threats towards Rinpoche, made by some
young racist mobsters.
medieval knight, entering a modern shopping mall in his iron armour,
would make himself laughable in the same way the Teacher made himself
on many occasions, consequently declining to profess what is in
even despite the fact that he obviously had nothing martial in his
personality, truly resembles such a knight.
they say, the knights of the Middle age were short and smelled badly.
Shall we not regard such statements as products of ill-hidden
was always fond of knights when I was a child, you know. And I shall
stay true to the memory of one knight, who in his turn had always
been true to his faith and creed, even now, being a senior person.