A Tribute to His Eminence Zhichen Bairo Rinpoche
Remembering Bairo Rinpoche’s kindness and a great lesson for all of us. I am writing this for two reasons. One to remember the kindness of Bairo Rinpoche towards each and every individual associated with Rinpoche. And the second reason which is of most important is what Bairo Rinpoche did for the Drukpa lineage, for the flourishing of Buddha dharma at all costs, which is a lesson that we all can look up to. Although Bairo Rinpoche was a great enlightened master of the Nyingma lineage, he had a pure vision towards the Drukpa lineage. Therefore, at a time when the Drukpa lineage in the Himalayas was going through difficult times, His Eminence protected and preserved the Drukpa lineage and its precious teachings. And His Eminence did this through various skillful means – protecting the Drukpa lineage but at the same time without ever losing his own identity as a lineage holder and a great master of the Nyingma lineage.
Importance to follow and focus on one lineage and respect all lineages. I think what Bairo Rinpoche did for the Drukpa lineage is a very important teaching, especially nowadays with the increasing trend of people classifying themselves as ‘Rigmed’. Rigmed could be misinterpreted as meaning that even if you consider yourself a Buddhist, you do not belong to any lineage, you do not follow any Guru, basically you are free and not committing to any practice and sometimes don’t even like to be called a Buddhist, trying to be as secular as possible because the person feels this kind of system is very territorial. This could eventually lead to dilution of Buddhism.
If Rigmed means that you follow your lineage, practice, have devotion towards your Guru and because of the benefits of that practice you reach a level where you understand and realize that all other lineages have the same potential to transform your mind, to reach enlightenment and realize that the true Guru is the non-dualistic nature of your own mind, if Rigmed is out of realization and respect, then it is worthwhile. But if it is saying, I don’t follow any lineage, I have no commitment, basically that means you are doing nothing.
Ultimately speaking, it is true that everything is a concept, even this so-called lineage. But these concepts are important when we are at the dualistic level. The same thing applies to countries - why do we need to call countries by names? We can call ourselves citizens of the world, have no border, no culture, no identity, nothing. But it does not work like that. Similarly, following a lineage, preserving that lineage, having devotion towards your Guru, practicing your own lineage are all so important because only through these will you gradually understand that your Guru is the non-dualistic nature of your mind. When you understand, and realize this truth, then you will have devotion towards all the Gurus and every being in the world because non-dualism is your own Guru. This focus, commitment and practice of your own lineage is necessary to reach an understanding and realization to develop the wisdom and confidence to naturally respect and have a pure vision towards the other lineages, because only then will one also understand that other lineages too lead to the same result of enlightenment. Respect all lineages but have your own lineage.
Greatness of Bairo Rinpoche. Before going into the details, let me briefly mention who Bairo Rinpoche was. During my early days at the monastery, I knew Bairo Rinpoche only as the father of His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa. Later, when I was reading the Kathang Duepa, I came across this sentence which says, “Vairotsana Ugyen Nga Dhang Nyam” which means that “Lotsawa Vairotsana is no lesser than Ugyen Guru myself”. This means that among all the disciples, Vairotsana is the one who is equal to Guru himself. With this phrase, there is no need to talk about the level of enlightenment of Vairotsana’s reincarnations. After I came to know that Bairo Rinpoche was a highly-realized master of the Nyingma Lineage especially the Zhichen lineage, I was amazed at how realized yet humble Bairo Rinpoche was.
How Bairo Rinpoche taught me the refuge prayers, my first mantra. I first met Bairo Rinpoche when I was about 5 years old, at the time when I was taken to the Hemis monastery in Ladhak for the first time after my recognition ceremony. I was so worried that my father would leave me at the monastery and go back home alone. He convinced me that he would buy some things and come back to me. I remember asking him to bring me a Boro-plus cream which I diligently used every day at that time. I remember that at that time, Bairo Rinpoche very skillfully distracted me with a type writer for my father to slip away.
Later, the Boro-plus cream came but my father didn’t. He had gone back home leaving me at the monastery. Then, Bairo Rinpoche told me that he would teach me a mantra that would help me grow wings to fly to where my father was. So, he taught me the refuge prayers - Lamala Kyabsu Chi (I take refuge in the Guru), Sangayla Kyabsu Chi (I take refuge in the Buddha), Choela Kyabsu Chi (I take refuge in the Dharma), Gendue la Kyabsu Chi (I take refuge in the Sangha). He did not make me think like I was learning prayers but it was rather like I was learning something magical. I learnt the refuge prayers as a magical mantra to get wings to fly. I think I was good in memorizing and Bairo Rinpche was skillful in teaching me the refuge prayers. After sometime, may be psychologically, I felt some pain along my little finger and Rinpoche said, ‘oh now the wings are coming out’. Personally, Bairo Rinpoche through his very skillful method taught me to chant my first mantra of the Refuge prayers at the age of five, giving me the hope to grow wings to fly and see my father. Bairo Rinpoche and His Holiness also made specific study time rules for me that came with the reward to play with Mayumla, mother of His Holiness. At that time, I just knew Bairo Rinpoche as His Holiness’s father. After spending about 6 months in Ladhak, I went to Darjeeling.
Bairo Rinpoche’s contribution to the Drukpa lineage in the Himalayas. The previous Thuksey Rinpoche Ngawang Gyurmed Pelsang passed away in 1983 and His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa was quite
young at that time. During that time, the Drukpa lineage in the Himalayan region especially in Ladakh, India was going through a difficult time. At that time, to revive the Drukpa lineage to its earlier glory, Bairo Rinpoche in a way sacrificed his own prestige and rank as a great Nyingma master, to look after His Holiness and the Drukpa Lineage in the absence of Thuksey Rinpoche. Bairo Rinpoche even took up the responsibility of the Changzoed (Manager/Administrator) of Hemis monastery. I heard that once Kyabjé Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, who knew how realized Bairo Rinpoche was, came to His Holiness and jokingly said that the Drukpa lineage is a big lineage but Bairo Rinpoche is such a great Master of the Nyingma lineage and you have appointed him as a Changzoed which is really funny!
I also heard that at one point of time, the Hemis monastery in Ladakh which is more than 800 years old was proposed to be transformed into a heritage building. During that time, Bairo Rinpoche successfully mobilized all the communities of Ladakh for a mass protest to let the Hemis monastery remain as a living spiritual heritage. Rinpoche worked strongly to sensitize everyone that the Hemis monastery may be a building heritage from the archeological point of view but for the Buddhist, it is a spiritual heritage of the Drukpa lineage.
We totally owe it to the leadership of Bairo Rinpoche for the opportunity to enjoy the elegance and the spiritual richness of Hemis monastery to this day. If Bairo Rinpoche had not taken this leadership, we may not be having the Hemis monastery in the Drukpa lineage right now. It is also due to the kindness and sacrifices made by Bairo Rinpoche, His Holiness and Mayumla that the monasteries associated with the Drukpa lineage in Darjeeling, Amitabha mountain in Nepal and so on, are sustained and progressing well. We were also in many ways protected and guided by Bairo Rinpoche. There is a saying that wherever Bairo
Rinpoche was, usually people didn’t even die. When he was at Nyimalung in Bumthang, nobody died in his presence; when he was at the Hemis monastery for 15 or 17 years, the cremation ground specifically allocated for the monks was overrun with grass. As soon as Bairo Rinpoche left the responsibility at the Hemis monastery, people started dying. These are just a few remembrances of the many enlightened activities of Bairo Rinpoche which makes us immensely fortunate to have had Bairo Rinpoche with us and be connected to him in one or the other way.
Cherish the enlightened masters. I feel that passing away of Bairo Rinpoche, is a great teaching of impermanence. It is a reminder that just as Bairo Rinpoche passed away this year, sooner or later, even my generation lineage holders will be gone, and this will be a continuous process. When we are alive, we are trying our best to preserve and protect our lineage, so that the future generation can cherish the lineage without disrespecting any other lineages or masters. It is because of your own merit, practice of your own lineage and devotion towards your own Guru that you have the ability to have deep respect for all the lineages and all the masters. It will be very sad in the future if generations do not appreciate and understand the sacrifices that the great lineage masters of the past such as Bairo Rinpoche have made. For example, if we do not understand and appreciate the great efforts and sacrifices of Bairo Rinpoche to preserve the Drukpa lineage because of his pure vision, this important history which is in itself a great teaching will be lost forever.
Preserving the Outer, Inner and Secret Drukpa lineage. What does lineage preservation mean? Maybe I am wrong – anyway my understanding is that preserving lineage is done in three ways. Firstly, it is protecting the outer Drukpa lineage. Drukpa lineage has thousands of sacred monasteries especially in the Himalayas, of which many are hundreds of years old built by great enlightened masters. So, it is important for us, followers of the lineage to know the history of these monasteries, to preserve, protect, and renovate them to ensure that these spiritual heritages that are given to us, and the people and the places associated with these historical sites are not lost during our time.
Secondly, it is preserving the inner Drukpa lineage. Now, even if we have lots of monasteries, people, etc., if we are not able to benefit the other sentient beings, basically we are a big gang, which might even become a bully who uses money and influence to bully other lineages, and other people. If this is the case, it does not serve any purpose. This is where Bodhicitta comes in to action. The Drukpa lineage must benefit all sentient beings. In this 21st century, environment conservation is a very big issue. That is why His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa through Live to Love, and His Holiness the Je Khenpo of Bhutan tirelessly talks about the importance to keep our environment clean and works towards this goal. So, preserving the environment, enhancing education, etc. whatever we do to alleviate the immediate suffering of the sentient beings, is important and that is preserving the inner Drukpa lineage which is the love and compassion, the Bodhicitta.
Finally, it is preserving the secret Drukpa lineage. Even if you are able to alleviate outer sufferings of the sentient beings, be it others or ourselves, until we understand and realize that all external sufferings are manifestation of our own mind, all pleasurable things are manifestations of our desire and all unpleasant things are manifestations of our anger, and ultimately recognise the true nature of the mind which is the non-dualistic Buddha nature, our outer sufferings will never come to an end. The secret Drukpa lineage holders are the Naro choe-drug (the Six Yogas of Naropa), Mahamudra, Tendrel Rab Dhuen, visualisations and chanting practitioners.
With the understanding of the outer, inner and secret Drukpa lineages, it is also equally important to understand that these three are interdependent on each other.
Conclusion. With glimpses of a few out of countless enlightened activities of Bairo Rinpoche in this tribute, it is my sincere hope and request, and my prayer that be it lineage masters and followers of my generation or the future generations, may the sacrifices of all the great masters like Bairo Rinpoche, His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, His Holiness the Je Khenpo, enlightened masters of the past, present and future be appreciated and remembered and always work towards preserving the outer, inner and secret Drukpa lineage as a tribute to Bairo Rinpoche and all other enlightened masters.
Trying to follow the example of Bairo Rinpoche, as a lineage holder of the Drukpa lineage myself, along with the padyatris, we visited a few monasteries of other lineages (Jatson Nyingma lineage) during the Nepal Pad Yatra in 2015. While we tried to make some offerings for the restoration of the monasteries damaged during the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the main message that we conveyed was to preserve their own lineage because every lineage is important to the Buddha dharma. Learning from the great examples set by Bairo Rinpoche, this was a small way in which we helped to revive the Buddha dharma with no intention of conversion.
We would like to offer our gratitude to Bairo Rinpoche for his teachings that instilled great values in us, and we pay our tribute to Rinpoche for all his enlightened activities which in no way can be captured in words. This is a very small way to thank Bairo Rinpoche for the immense support he provided to the Drukpa lineage and at large to benefit all sentient beings.
Finally, I would like to mention that I really admire the people of Bhutan, for the respect and devotion that every person has towards Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Padmasambhava, remembering the kindness and greatness of these enlightened masters who have moulded the spiritual heritage of Bhutan that is vibrantly intact. This is a value that the rest of the Himalayan region can learn from Bhutan.