Anne: We published the “Heart Drops” in Finnish and think what will come next

One of the fundamental texts in Yungdrung Bon, the Heart Drops of Dharmakaya, was translated in Finnish and published by Anne Brunila and her friends. Anne does not speak Tibetan and the only option that she saw was to translate the text from English. Then, she received a suggestion from Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche…

Five or six years ago we asked Khenchen Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche to start teaching us the Heart Drops of Dharmakaya in Finland, and he has been doing so since. I asked specifically for this text, after having read the book of Yongdzin Rinpoche with this name, which is basically his exposition of Shardza´s text that he gave in a teaching. It had a big impact on me. I thought that having a teaching in Finland based on this text would be wonderful. Khenpo Gelek Jinpa had been teaching us from Gyalway Chatri for quite some years and so I thought that the Finnish sangha was ready to receive the teaching contained in Sharzda Rinpoche´s book.

There was another nexus leading in that direction. When we established the formal association of our sangha in Finland, we asked Yongdzin Rinpoche to give it a name. It took some time before I got a piece of paper from him. Khenchen Rinpoche handed it to me, I opened it and the name written there was Dechen Ritro, the name of Shardza Rinpoche´s retreat place in Tibet!

We had not had any text of Yungdrung Bon translated in our language, except for Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche´s books. It seemed to me worth investing my energy into translating Shardza´s book. Again, I asked Khenpo Rinpoche what he thought about it. My idea was to translate Yongdzin Rinpoche´s book which is written in English, because I cannot translate from Tibetan, but Khenpo la asked me: “Why don´t you use Philip Cornu´s translation into French?”

I agreed but I did not want to give up translating Yongdzin Rinpoche´s book as well. Sharzda´s text is beautiful, poetic, symbolic, full of metaphors, but it uses expressions of which it might be hard to grasp the meaning if you did not receive an explanation on it before. I thought that people would understand it better if they had a possibility to read Yongdzin Rinpoche´s book first, because it contains lots of commentaries.

And we did this way, together with my friend who is also a long-time practitioner. My French is good, but hers is perfect, she is bilingual. Each of us came with own translation and then we compared them sentence by sentence, to get the most accurate final version.  She brought in her linguistic excellency, I contributed with some insight into the teaching. We needed to consult some parts of the text with Khen Rinpoche, of course, because even if we understood the French, sometimes we did not get the meaning. He kindly met us on zoom, and we went through all the unclear parts.

Besides that, I translated Yongdzin Rinpoche´s book as well. This I did very fast – in one month. The text was very engaging and inspiring, I could not detach from it from the morning till the evening, it absorbed me. The whole project (including the translation from French) took a couple of months.

The Finnish edition of Heart Drops contains therefore both translations, but it is not too thick, it has two hundred thirty pages. Although some publishers who are specialized in Buddhist and spiritual literature were interested in it and would release it happily, I decided to publish it myself, starting a small publishing company for that purpose. The book went out in December of 2021. It is for sale in several bookshops and also online bookshops in Finland. We also set up our own e-shop where the book can be bought.

And I am already thinking, what would be our next titles. For sure I will prepare to print the transcripts of Khenpo Tenpa Rinpoche´s teaching of the Heart Drops, but that would be in English. I think it can benefit many more people in that way. When we organized his teaching online, in 2021, there was more than four hundred people attending. 

Pictures: Jitka Polanská, Anne Brunila

Geshe Samten Tsukphud: We wish Melong Yeshe have qualities of mirror-like wisdom

Geshe Samten Tsukphud is tightly connected with Shenten Dargye Ling. He stays there for long periods of time during the year and is a member of the managing body of Shenten´s Congregation. He is also the chief editor of Melong Yeshe, an online magazine in Tibetan language reporting mainly on events and activities taking place at Triten Norbutse Monastery but publishing also complex texts about various topics of the teachings of Yungdrung Bon.

When did you start the magazine and what is its content about, geshe la?

It was in 2015. Yongdzin Rinpoche and Khenpo Rinpoche blessed it with a small ceremony, lighting a butter lamp as a symbol of wisdom to be spread everywhere.
I was thinking about a name and finally decided for Melong Yeshe. It means mirror-like wisdom, it is a concept important in the religious context, as one of the five principal wisdoms. A mirror can reflect our face and all things that we put in front of it; similarly, we want to reflect all events and activities that are happening in the monastery throughout the year: rituals, ceremonies, examinations… 

Who else besides you is involved?

Khenchen Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche and Ponlop Tsangpa Tenzin Rinpoche are members of the editorial board of the magazine. My best friend, geshe Woser Gyaltsen who lives in Germany, created the website for it, in wordpress, and he became its webmaster. Before that, I started something on a smaller scale, it was a kind of blog, and I was helped with that by Tom, one of  Rinpoche´s students from Hungary. I used it for one year and then I switched to the current site which is supported by my friend, who also pays for the domain and all the service costs. Also, some friends from the monastery help me to get information and photos. And I have a friend, Khritsuk Tenpa, who is a teacher at the school in Siliguri, the school founded by Khenpo Rinpoche for the children from the Himalayas. He sends me information and pictures and we publish texts about the school too. 

How many articles have you published? 

Around seven hundred. Some texts like news are easier and do not take much time, but we also publish biographies, articles about history, or research of ancient texts. Those articles take quite a long time to write. But we always try to keep texts  as short as possible, for internet reading it is better to keep it brief. We also have a section where we answer questions from our readers.

Who are your readers?

Different people, mainly Tibetans, monks and lay people too. Anybody who is interested in Yungdrung Bon and can also read Tibetan. Mostly they are Tibetans who live in Nepal, but also in Tibet. 

Melong Yeshe´s home page

Your activities as an editor are larger than that. For example, you were involved in the new edition of Kangyur, the complete canonical collection of Bon texts, published in China, right?

Yes, I helped with it. At Triten Norbutse I work in the monastery´s library and I have connections with other scholarly oriented Bonpo monks outside the monastery, and also in Tibet. One of them invited me to be a part of the project of publishing the new Kangyur. It was mainly editorial work. Before, I had worked with them on publishing Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche´s collected works and so we got to know and trust each other.

You are one of the resident lamas of Shenten, geshe la, and you stay there for large periods of the year. When did you come to Europe for the first time?

It was in 2002, twenty years ago. Yongdzin Rinpoche was very sick at that time and he came to France to get medical help. Khenpo Rinpoche and I accompanied him to a hospital in Paris. He stayed there for one week and then we went to Normandy, to Lord Lowel Guiness´s place where Rinpoche was staying for around one month, recovering. Fortunately, he felt better and started traveling again to different places in the West, giving teaching. We stayed in Europe around three months at that time with him. After that, I came almost every year, again together with Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche and Yongdzin Rinpoche.

Do you remember your first impression from this continent?

Yes, I remember that the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris impressed me, so big and nice and full of things. It was so huge that I could not understand how to get out of it (he laughs). But Jean-Luis Massoubre, a student of Rinpoche, was waiting for us and helped us. He organized everything. When we went to the streets of Paris, I was very surprised, I was wondering how all those huge, historical buildings could be made, in ancient times, by humans (he laughs). The city looked very big, compared to Kathmandu. Which is big too, but it is different from western cities with large roads and high buildings. 

In 2005 Shenten Dargye Ling was established. Did you come to stay at the very beginning?

I went to visit Shenten before it was purchased but I was not there in the first period. I do not remember when I started staying regularly, maybe from 2006. I went to Shenten more and more and stayed for four, five, six months, and sometimes even in the winter when Yongdzin Rinpoche left for Kathmandu and when only a very few people were at Shenten. One year I remember I was here almost alone for a whole month. It was a bit scary (he laughs). 

Geshe Samten at Shenten Dargye Ling, summer 2022

What do you like about Shenten?

Conditions are very good here, especially for meditation, the best place for meditation, I would say. No noise from the neighborhood, then there is a SuperU, the large supermarket, very close, you can get whatever you need very easily. 

Can you share with others about what effect of the practice you feel personally?

Yes, we do lots of practice at Shenten, especially the practices of Four generosities, but also lots of meditation. All this leads the mind to be more peaceful and to release attachments. Fortunately, a monk’s life is very simple, I have no business to take care of, so my attachments are not very strong (he laughs). We have heard so many times that life is short and illusory, changing and impermanent, nothing is trustable in the condition of the relative truth. But hearing it is not enough, we need to integrate this view within our life. This is what I keep in my mind and try to do all the time.

You give teachings to western students, sometimes at Shenten, also in Germany, jointly with Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche. You might teach more but it looks like there is a linguistic barrier…

Yes, my English is not good. I did not get an opportunity to learn other languages when I was a child, only my native tongue. That’s why my English is so poor. When I got my geshe degree I was already an adult and not so flexible to learn a foreign language. It is not easy for me. I learned it to some degree, but it is difficult to make it better. I have attended language courses in England and also in the US, in Los Angeles, but I have not progressed much. Especially in the US it seemed to me that it was not very effective, we had little chance to practice the language, so I did not continue. Anyway, I can speak and I understand other people when they speak. I learned most by listening to Yongdzin Rinpoche´s and Khenpo Rinpoche´s teaching in English and being with them when they speak with others.

Melong Yeshe

Photos: Jitka Polanska

Stéphane: “Speech of Delight” was named by Yongdzin Rinpoche, in those fresh and anarchic times

Stéphane Arguillère met Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche in 1992,  as a twenty-two year old young man. Later, he became involved in the sangha as it gathered around Shenten and started the Shenten´s newsletter Speech of Delight which has transformed into the current magazine. He has translated Yongdzin Rinpoche´s and other lamas´ teachings in past years and now pursues a career as an academic. As Stéphane says in his account, his life has encompassed many challenges but the direction is from dark places to the light, and not vice versa.

First of all, let us speak about the Speech of Delight, Stéphane. You and some others started it, right? I have some old issues with me, we can take a look at them together, on the screen. The first one is from 2006, the last one from 2010. 

That first one I made myself. I can see some typos (he laughs). I do not remember who brought up the idea, but I remember that Yongdzin Rinpoche was very enthusiastic about it. I think we copied a bit of the customs from the Dzogchen community, as there were some people in our sangha who were students of Namhkai Norbu. They had a newsletter in France, how was it called? Le Chant du coucouThe Song of the Cuckoo. I think the idea may have been from them. It was a time when there were no websites, I mean dharma centers did not have websites, so some vehicle was needed to distribute information. The frequency, I think, was twice a year. 

You also told me that Yongdzin Rinpoche gave it the name.

Yes, it was him and he also made a drawing which was meant to be the logo of the bulletin. His style is quite recognizable in it. It is a vase, you see, a symbol of wealth,  like an empowerment vase but without a spout and there was a jewel at the top. 

You can also notice a small poem of Rinpoche written in the second issue of  the newsletter.

I see, and I see also a shift in the image, a development. Somebody took over the graphical design?

Yes, Christophe got involved. It made the newsletter much nicer, but complicated its edition quite a lot, as new typos and spelling mistakes would  pop up as he was managing the text in the layout. He absolutely wanted it to be beautiful, no matter what (he laughs).

This is a usual conflict between the graphic designers and content creators, I would say. Who was in the core team of the newsletter, at the beginning?

I think I was responsible for it, but I didn’t do it alone. It was written in English, and I am not a native English speaker. If I remember well, Carol Ermakova helped with it.  And we published content that other people prepared. We were asking all the people who were responsible for something to write down a report, a small summary of activities. It was organized like in the Dzogchen community: a group of people was formed and each of them was assigned with different responsibilities. Not much hierarchy. The purpose of the newsletter was to show the people in the community what was happening at Shenten to raise funds and to make them feel Shenten is a common thing. As you see, there is also a call for help in karma yoga. 

Now there is a more cautious approach to call people to stay as volunteers. Help can come with troubles sometimes…

This contradiction was there from the very beginning. And it is something that I saw in many Dharma centers. But there was a great need for help and money just to keep things running. When I was in the administration of Shenten, on the management board, I saw how much money was needed just for regular maintenance, merely to ensure that the structure does not collapse. My idea at that time was to get regular donations from people rather than financing the center through the teaching fees. I thought that if we made people pay just for teaching sessions, it would not make them feel responsible, they would feel more like consumers. And I also imagined that generosity would come with transparency of our intentions and results. 

The first issue was very sober and succinct but then the newsletter started to contain longer articles and stories with pictures, also quite detailed reports of Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche.

As for Khenpo´s letters, yes, we asked him to write one, as we did not want to bother Rinpoche with that, and he was very much willing to do it. Maybe he was less busy than he is now. At the beginning, I made the newsletter very cheap, intentionally, because it was meant to be distributed in paper; but gradually we started to send it through emails and costs decreased, and we could afford to use colors and pictures. 

As you can see, in the second issue there is a report about a project of translating chosen Bon texts – which was a project which I initiated. We wanted to raise funds which would enable translators to work on it. But, unfortunately, it did not work.

Do you remember until when you were involved in the newsletter?

Not really. At some point I passed it to someone else, I do not recall when and to whom. You know, the years 2008-2010 were very difficult for me, in many aspects. I faced lots of obstacles and maybe that’s why I forgot lots of things from that period. My relationship with the Tibetan things, my professional life, everything went a bit upside down, and also the connection with Shenten loosened. At the beginning, things were very fresh, a bit anarchic and funny in Shenten, and we all were very enchanted with it, and a bit naïve about it. One of the first times when we were sitting with Rinpoche on the bench in the courtyard outside, I told him: “Oh, Rinpoche, I have been through so many Buddhist centers and it was always hell on earth, while here, it is so nice and people are so relaxed and there is such a practice atmosphere!” And Rinpoche laughed at me, saying: “Just wait a little bit and you will see” (he laughs). And he was right, of course. With time, it wore me out somehow and finally, I used to come only to translate. I think that the last time I came, as an interpreter,  it was for His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizin, when he visited Shenten in 2010. Khenpo Rinpoche asked me, he needed someone who could translate directly from Tibetan into both French and English.

You were already so good in Tibetan?

I started learning Tibetan when I was eighteen, in 1988, and I was forty at that time. I was already good enough in Tibetan when I met Yongdzin Rinpoche in 1992 to discuss in Tibetan with him. Actually, my spoken Tibetan was better when I was thirty than now, because I do not use it very much. My classical Tibetan is good, I can read texts fluently and my understanding of Tibetan lamas when they are teaching is ok, but I do not get much practice these days in talking.  Speaking about modern life is especially difficult. I would not be able to say something like: “Go to the website and download that file”, I have no clue about some of these modern words. 

Maybe they say “website” and “download”, I would not be surprised.

Yes, my colleague at the Institute of Eastern Languages (Inalco) in Paris keeps correcting Tibetans. She has an amazing vocabulary in modern spoken Tibetan, and she teaches them all the neologisms that are used in Lhasa.

When lamas speak Tibetan, do you understand some of them more easily than others?

Definitely, Khenpo  Rinpoche is very easy to understand, he speaks the common language of the Tibetans in exile, with much less regional accent than, let us say, Khenpo Gelek or Geshe Samten – geshe la has a really strong accent from Rinpoche´s native region, Khyungpo. I also translated for the latter lamas, but I had to make an effort. Translating Khenchen Rinpoche  is very easy, instead. 

You said you met Yongdzin Rinpoche in 1992. Was it at Triten Norbutse?

Yes. And then, I returned to Triten only in 1998. And it had already grown a lot.

How was the monastery in 1992?

It is a bit difficult to describe, because the few old buildings are still there, but they are sort of completely taken into the extended structure. It was already a busy place and very much in the process of building. But below the monastery there were only rice fields, no city, only a few houses around the Swayambhu hill. The flat part between the Swayambhu stupa and Triten, which is now filled with houses, was just open countryside. I remember that when I was visiting, the taxi dropped me at the Swayambhu hill and I had to walk through all those rice fields for more than half an hour. There were little walls made of ground between the fields and I remember myself walking on them to the monastery.

You were a student of Tibetan language and culture at the university at that time?

Yes, in 1992 I basically completed my studies in both Western philosophy and Tibetan language and civilization. I learned Tibetan very quickly because my first master, Nyoshül Khenpo (a Nyingma lama) told me, when I was seventeen: “You cannot speak Tibetan, I do not speak English, if you do not learn Tibetan, I will not teach you.” So I learned as you can do when you are only eighteen, it becomes your only obsession. After five years, I got the French highest teaching degree (“agrégation”) in philosophy, which granted me to get a civil servant position as a highschool teacher automatically. But in those days I was not interested in any such thing. I wanted to become a monk and practice under the guidance of my masters. So, in 1992, I went to Nepal, waiting to get an invitation for Bhutan where my teacher, Nyoshül Khenpo, lived, but it did not work as I expected, and actually, that trip was a failure – or rather, things occurred in a completely different way than what I had imagined. For example, this was the first time in my life that I came in contact with Bon masters and monks, which was then just a mere curiosity for me.

You mentioned obstacles and crises several times, but my impression is that you are a very happy person now. Is this correct?

Yes, it has gotten better and better. I was one of those young men who thought that if they do not achieve things by the time they are thirty, they will never achieve anything at all. I went through very bitter things, and at some point I must admit I lost hope. I got a very clear prophecy from another of my Nyingma masters, Chimed Rigdzin Rinpoche, that I would become “a big professor”, as he said in his weird English – he even specified it very precisely, and it would be a quite strong position on Tibetan religions in France. But my own desire was only to receive the instructions and then to put them into practice, and I had no serious appetite for an academic career at that time; and later on, I resigned myself to this prophecy, as it has been so long in coming, I thought it would never come true. I was never properly supported in French tibetology and even ended up facing  many serious obstacles, hostilities, in my thirties and early forties. At some point, I told Yongdzin Rinpoche that I was so fed up with all that, as it was so depressing, that I wanted to drop it all and focus on practice. But he told me: “No no, don´t. If you don’t get the title you deserve,” he said, “however interesting the things you are saying or writing may be, people will not take them seriously.”

Then, I somehow persevered, as I could. Now, at last, my career has become more successful, as I am an associate professor in Tibetan language and civilization, expecting to be promoted to a full professor soon, plus, for example, I run a  collective research project on the history of the “Northern Treasures” branch of the Nyingma school,  financed by a generous grant from the French National Research Agency. I am also responsible for the training of the French high school philosophy teachers so as to enable them to teach non-Western philosophers, including the Buddhist author Nāgārjuna. Now, I can let go of all the bitter things of the past. I enjoy the present because it is so unusual for me that everything goes so smoothly (he laughs). The only thing I could complain about is that I am working little bit too much – but, basically, it is my fault.

Do you still feel a part of Shenten´s community, or any other community, for that sake?

These days, I am making stronger and stronger connections with the branch of Nyingma school called the “Northern treasures”, which is also my research topic. But I still feel at home in Shenten, even if I am not coming that often anymore. I have a very good relationship with Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche – I would say it is a friendship. We get along very well, anyway. I think he was a bit disappointed that I left suddenly, at some point. I surely did too much for a long time, and then suddenly dropped everything because I was mentally exhausted.  Khenpo la does not surely blame me, but I think it saddened him, with the idea that I was abandoning Yongdzin Rinpoche. But, when it happened, my overall  situation was really too heavy for me. Yongdzin Rinpoche somehow perceived it himself. Just before everything collapsed on my head, I met him in Paris to interpret for one of his teachings, and then he gave me, very discreetly, as a monk, a bottle of Polish vodka with golden leaves in it, saying with a smile: “Maybe you will need it”. I actually made lots of offerings to the Protectors with that alcohol, and even drank a part of it, but, though it was a bit of a consolation, it was not enough to cope with all the obstacles at that time. A very sweet attention anyway. 

Maybe, after all, those moments when everything falls apart and you lose hope and orientation are also part of the path, especially for us Westerners, who come to the Tibetan teachings with quite a lot of unrealistic expectations. Maybe it starts becoming serious only when you have got rid of all these expectations and still get back to it, with a fresher mind, “devoid of both hope and fear,” as it is said in the Chö teachings as well as in Dzogchen. 

Photo credit: Stéphane Arguillère

Éducation, valeurs, dignité ! Une école où la modernité se mêle à la tradition

Lorsque les familles des villages reculés des montagnes de l’Himalaya envoient leurs enfants dans un monastère, cela ne signifie pas nécessairement qu’elles veulent qu’ils deviennent moines. Elles le font parce que le monastère éduquera les enfants dans leur langue maternelle et gratuitement. Le fondateur du monastère de Triten Norbutse à Katmandou, S.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, a accordé un refuge à de nombreux enfants mais il a toujours pensé qu’il serait préférable pour eux d’aller dans une véritable école, une école qui leur donnerait une éducation moderne mais qui transmettrait aussi les valeurs traditionnelles significatives de leurs communautés. Voici l’histoire d’une telle école.

(l’article original en anglais est ICI)

Les dures conditions climatiques, la pauvreté, le manque d’infrastructures, d’éducation et soins de santé – tout cela rend la vie des personnes qui vivent dans l’Himalaya difficile, voire douloureuse parfois. Des communautés parlant des dialectes tibétains ont vécu dans les montagnes pendant des siècles, mais aujourd’hui, toutes les familles qui en ont les moyens envoient leurs enfants dans des pensionnats éloignés pour les aider à avoir un meilleur avenir grâce à l’éducation. Cependant, beaucoup de ces pensionnats n’enseignent pas la langue et la culture tibétaines et les enfants grandissent déconnectés de leur langue maternelle et des traditions qui ont élevé leur peuple au fil des siècles. Ils peuvent même s’éloigner de leurs propres parents et de leurs proches.

Ils partent en voyage…

Un grand nombre de familles ne peuvent pas se permettre de payer des frais de scolarité et gardent leurs enfants avec elles dans les villages. Mais, les écoles locales des régions de montagne ont un niveau d’enseignement très faible et ne font pas référence au contexte culturel et linguistique de la population tibétaine. Les enfants de ces familles vont probablement connaître le même cycle de difficultés et de lutte à vie que leurs parents.

Une autre option éducative pour les familles vivant dans les hautes altitudes de l’Himalaya est d’envoyer leurs enfants dans un monastère. Les monastères acceptent les enfants gratuitement et les éduquent dans leur propre langue. Toutefois, le curriculum monastique est axé sur les sujets traditionnels et sur les valeurs spirituelles et culturelles, et n’incluent pas d’éducation séculière moderne. En outre, la plupart des enfants ne sont pas enclins à aller dans un monastère. 

Le monastère de Triten Norbutse, à Katmandou, reçoit fréquemment des demandes de parents qui souhaitent y accueillir leurs enfants. Son fondateur, S.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché, a donné refuge à beaucoup de ces enfants, mais il a toujours pensé qu’il serait préférable pour eux d’aller à l’école, une école qui leur donnerait une éducation moderne mais qui leur transmettrait aussi les valeurs traditionnelles significatives de leur communauté. 

Le disciple de Yongdzin Rinpoché et l’actuel abbé de Triten Norbutse, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoché, a pris l’initiative de construire une telle école, qui est devenue sa mission à long terme. 

Le choix d’un lieu

À cette fin, en 2007, la Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society, l’organisation fondatrice de l’école, a été enregistrée au Bengale occidental, un État situé dans le nord-est de l’Inde. La même année, une parcelle de terrain a été acquise à Siliguri, la capitale du Bengale occidental. La ville a été choisie pour son accès relativement facile aux différents coins de l’Himalaya, étant proche de Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, et à seulement quarante minutes de route de la frontière avec le Népal. Le Bhoutan n’est qu’à cent cinquante kilomètres de là et il faut moins d’une journée, en voiture, pour se rendre à Katmandou, où réside la communauté monastique de Triten Norbutse.

Un autre point fort est que Siliguri est très diversifiée sur le plan ethnique, culturel et linguistique. “C’est un melting-pot de la région et elle est devenue un important centre culturel. Nous avons pensé qu’elle pourrait offrir de bonnes opportunités d’éducation pour nos élèves, une fois qu’ils ont fini l’école”, dit Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung.

Il a fallu de nombreuses années avant que des fonds suffisants soient collectés et que la construction de l’école commence, en 2016.  Les architectes d’une société basée en France, Architecture et Dévelopment, ont été impliqués dans la planification. Avec des professionnels locaux, ils ont conçu une structure respectueuse de l’environnement et résistante aux tremblements de terre. Des matériaux naturels comme le bambou et les pierres locales ont été utilisés dans certaines parties de la construction. Le premier bâtiment de l’école comprenait des salles de classe, une cuisine, une salle à manger et de méditation, une bibliothèque, des dortoirs séparés pour les garçons et les filles, plusieurs salles pour le personnel, un petit dispensaire, ainsi que des toilettes et des salles de bain. 

Le premier bâtiment scolaire a été prêt à la toute fin de l’année 2017.

L’ouverture de la nouvelle école a été annoncée grâce aux relations que l’équipe de l’école avait dans les montagnes. ” De plus, deux membres de l’équipe se sont rendus dans des villages éloignés et y ont diffusé la nouvelle “, explique Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung.

Ainsi, entre janvier et mars 2018, environ soixante-dix enfants provenant de différentes régions de l’Himalaya de l’Inde et du Népal sont arrivés et se sont installés dans le pensionnat.  La plupart d’entre eux appartiennent à des familles économiquement et socialement vulnérables dont les valeurs et le contexte culturel sont ancrés dans le bouddhisme et le Bon, une ancienne tradition spirituelle très fortement présente dans les montagnes au cours des siècles passés. L’école est gratuite pour tous les enfants.

Tise Himalayan International School (THIS), comme l’école est appelée, a officiellement commencé avec quatre classes en avril 2018, lorsque la nouvelle année scolaire commence habituellement au Bengale occidental.  “Tout s’est déroulé sans problème. J’ai été impressionnée par la bonne organisation”, déclare Christine Trachte de Yungdrung Bon Stiftung, une fondation allemande qui soutient l’école depuis le tout début.

La direction de l’école a été confiée au président de la Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society, le Vénérable Sonam Norbu, qui, au cours des quatorze années précédentes, avait été responsable de l’auberge et de l’enseignement de la langue et de la culture tibétaines dans l’école de Lubra au Mustang. Au début, son équipe pédagogique de base comprenait un directeur et quatre enseignants. Deux d’entre eux enseignent la langue et la culture tibétaines.

Le programme de l’école est tout à fait unique. Il répond aux normes éducatives requises par le gouvernement du Bengale-Occidental et le Conseil central de l’enseignement secondaire, mais il est enrichi d’éléments de l’art, de la culture et de l’histoire des régions himalayennes et met l’accent sur la conscience environnementale et le respect de la nature typiques de la spiritualité traditionnelle.  

“Nous avons travaillé en étroite collaboration avec Khenpo Tenpa Rinpoché et Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society pour définir la valeur ajoutée de l’école, en réfléchissant à la manière d’unir une approche scientifique rigoureuse de l’éducation et le riche bagage traditionnel de la culture himalayenne. Nous avons eu de nombreuses réunions à ce sujet”, raconte Mara Arizaga. Elle est l’un des fondateurs d’EVA (Enlightened Vision Association), une organisation à but non lucratif basée en Suisse qui se concentre principalement sur la préservation de l’héritage culturel de l’Himalaya et qui, depuis de nombreuses années, aide l’école de diverses manières.

L’école a une approche holistique de l’éducation, impliquant le corps, la parole et l’esprit des élèves dans l’apprentissage. Elle donne l’occasion aux enfants de pratiquer le sport et la danse, ainsi que le yoga traditionnel himalayen. Les élèves sont initiés à la méditation et sont naturellement exposés aux valeurs spirituelles traditionnelles que sont l’empathie, la générosité et l’ouverture du cœur. 

Un visiteur de l’école peut voir des enfants pleins de vie et de confiance dans un environnement chaleureux et coloré. Bien qu’ils soient éloignés de leurs parents pendant de longues périodes et qu’ils ne puissent souvent pas leur rendre visite, même pendant les vacances, ils savent que c’est l’occasion pour eux de montrer tout leur potentiel. Cela les aide à surmonter le mal du pays.

L’internat et les frais de scolarité sont gratuits pour tous les enfants.

Afin de maintenir les liens avec leur terre natale, THIS a également produit ses propres manuels d’apprentissage du tibétain avec des histoires qui présentent aux enfants les personnalités, les montagnes ou les rivières des régions dont ils sont originaires. Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung a formé une équipe de personnes qui ont recherché et collecté ces histoires et créé des textes basés sur celles-ci.

Parfois, des parents viennent visiter l’école. Vieillis prématurément par le dur labeur, et ressemblant davantage à des grands-parents, ils sont visiblement émus de voir leurs enfants s’épanouir dans une vie dont ils n’auraient jamais pu rêver pour eux-mêmes.

La voie difficile

Actuellement, THIS compte sept classes et dispense un enseignement à 138 enfants, dont la moitié sont des filles. Promouvoir l’égalité des chances pour les filles est l’un des objectifs de l’école. Onze enseignants, une nounou et un cuisinier s’occupent des enfants. En outre, quatre membres de la société Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon travaillent pour le bien-être général des enfants, gérant également l’administration de l’école et réalisant des projets liés à l’extension et au développement des bâtiments scolaires.

L’école ne reçoit aucune aide financière du gouvernement et ne perçoit pas de frais de scolarité, ce qui signifie qu’elle dépend entièrement des donateurs. Sa viabilité financière est un grand défi, mais Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung est intransigeant dans son objectif de maintenir le haut niveau de l’école. “Les écoles de charité comme la nôtre ne peuvent parfois pas offrir la meilleure éducation par manque de fonds, mais nous voulons être une école exceptionnelle quoi qu’il arrive”, dit-il.  “Abaisser la qualité serait humiliant pour les enfants et leur dignité est très importante pour moi. Je veux que l’école leur donne la certitude qu’ils sont aussi bons que n’importe qui d’autre et parfaits comme ils sont”, affirme Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung.

Il est lui-même un donateur, donnant à l’école tout ce qu’il reçoit en tant qu’enseignant du dharma, et il travaille sans relâche pour augmenter les dons, envoyant des demandes de financement, suivant chaque opportunité qui se présente. Les personnes de la société Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon, la fondation allemande Yungdrung Bon Stiftung et l’organisation suisse EVA le soutiennent dans ses efforts, tout comme d’autres organisations et individus. Pourtant, les fonds ne sont pas suffisants pour le moment. “Nous sommes toujours en équilibre sur le fil du rasoir”, déclare Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung. 

L’une des priorités qu’il mentionne est d’augmenter les salaires des enseignants et de leur donner des contrats de travail plus stables afin qu’ils ressentent moins d’incertitude. Les salaires que l’école peut se permettre de verser pour le moment sont encore loin d’être attractifs.

Il est également urgent de finaliser la construction du deuxième bâtiment, une structure de trois étages commencée en 2020. Il contient quinze salles de classe, des bureaux et des espaces de travail pour les enseignants, ainsi que des toilettes. Plus de la moitié du coût a déjà été payé et l’entreprise de construction continue de travailler avec la promesse d’être payée lorsque d’autres finances seront disponibles.

L’école a également besoin d’un nouveau dortoir pour les filles afin de pouvoir inscrire davantage d’enfants, jusqu’à la pleine capacité de 300 élèves, 150 garçons et 150 filles, avec une moyenne de 25 enfants par classe, et 12 classes au total. L’école vise à couvrir un enseignement secondaire complet.

Enfin, à l’avenir, le souhait de Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung est de construire une petite clinique sur le terrain de l’école. Cet établissement de soins aurait une double fonction – prendre soin de la santé de la communauté de l’ école et aussi préserver et développer la science médicale traditionnelle de l’ Himalaya. 

“Les connaissances médicales himalayennes et la tradition de respect de la nature ont peut-être un mot à dire dans le monde actuel qui est confronté à des déséquilibres et à une dégradation importante de l’environnement”, déclare Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung.

Il estime que l’école ne profitera pas seulement aux enfants, mais qu’elle aura également une influence positive sur le monde qui les entoure. “Où qu’ils aillent par la suite, quelle que soit leur carrière dans la vie, les valeurs qui leur ont été enseignées resteront avec eux”, pense-t-il.

Photos : archives de Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche, Jitka Polanská, Darek Sawczuk

Education, values, dignity! A school where modernity blends with tradition

When families from remote villages of the Himalayan mountains send their children to a monastery, it does not necessarily mean that they want them to become monks. They do so also because the monastery will educate children in their native tongue and it will be free of charge. The founder of Triten Norbutse monastery in Kathmandu, H.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, has granted a refuge to many children but he has always felt it would be good for many of them to go to a proper school,  a school which would give them a modern education but also transmit the meaningful traditional values of their communities. Here is a story of such a school.

Harsh climate conditions, poverty, lack of infrastructure, education and healthcare – all this makes the life of the people who live in the Himalayas difficult, even painful at times. Communities speaking Tibetan dialects have lived in the mountains for centuries, but now all families who have the means send their children to distant boarding schools to help them have a better future through education. Many of these boarding schools, though, do not teach the Tibetan language and culture and the children grow up disconnected from their mother tongue and from the traditions which have uplifted their people throughout the centuries. They may  even become  alienated from their own parents and relatives.

They set out on a journey…

A large number of families cannot afford to pay any tuition fees and  keep their children with them in the villages. But the mountain regions’ local schools have very poor teaching standards and do not refer to the native cultural and linguistic background of the Tibetan speaking population. Children from those families are probably going to experience the same cycle of hardships and life-long struggle as their parents.

Another educational option for families  living in the high altitudes of the Himalayas is to send their children to a monastery. Monasteries  accept children free of charge and educate them in their own language. However, a monastic curriculum is focused on traditional subjects and spiritual and cultural values and does not include a modern, secular education. Also, most children are not inclined to go to a monastery. 

Triten Norbutse monastery in Kathmandu receives frequent requests from parents to take their children in. Its founder,  H.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche has granted refuge to many of those children but he always felt it would be better for them to go to school, a school which would give them a modern education but also transmit the meaningful traditional values of their communities. 

Yongdzin Rinpoche´s disciple and the current abbot of Triten Norbutse Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche took it upon himself to build such a school, and it has become his long lasting mission. 

The choice of a place

For this purpose, in 2007, Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society, the founding organization of the school, was registered in West Bengal, a state in the northeast part of India. A parcel of land was acquired in the same year in Siliguri, the capital of West Bengal. The city was chosen for having relatively easy access to different corners of the Himalayas, being close to Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and only forty minutes drive from the border with Nepal. Bhutan is only one hundred fifty kilometers from there and it takes less than one day, traveling by car, to get to Kathmandu, where the monastic community of Triten Norbutse resides.

Another strong point is that Siliguri is ethnically, culturally, and linguistically very diverse. “It is a melting pot of the area and it has become an important cultural center. We thought it would offer good educational opportunities to our students, once they finished the school,” Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung says. 

It took many years before sufficient funds were collected and the construction of the first building of the school started, in 2016.  Architects  from a France-based company Architecture et Dévelopment were involved in the planning. Together with local professionals, they designed an environmentally friendly and earthquake resistant structure. Natural materials like bamboo and local stones were used in some parts of the construction. The first building of the school included classrooms, a kitchen, a dining and meditation room, a library, separate dormitories for boys and girls, several staff rooms, a small dispensary, and toilets and bathrooms. 

The first school building was ready at the very end of 2017.

The opening of the new school was announced through the connections that the school team had in the mountains. “Also, two members of the team traveled to remote villages and spread the news there,” Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung says.

As a result,  between January and March of 2018,  around seventy children from different parts of the Himalayas of India and Nepal arrived and settled in the boarding school.  Most of them belong to economically and socially vulnerable families whose values and cultural background are rooted in Buddhism and Bon, an ancient spiritual  tradition very strongly present in the mountains in the past centuries. The school is free of charge for all the children.

Modern, yet traditional

Tise Himalayan International School (THIS), as the school is called,  officially started with four classes in April 2018, when the new school year usually begins in West Bengal.  “Everything went very smoothly. I was impressed by the good organization,” says Christine Trachte from Yungdrung Bon Stiftung, a German foundation which has supported the school since the very beginning.

Entrusted with leading the school was the President of Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society, Ven. Sonam Norbu, who, in the previous fourteen years, had been responsible for the hostel and teaching Tibetan language and culture in the school in Lubra in Mustang. In the beginning, his core pedagogical team included a headmaster and four teachers. Two of them teach Tibetan language and culture.

The school’s curriculum is quite unique. It meets the educational standards required by the government of West Bengal and the Central Board of Secondary Education, but it is enriched with elements of the art, culture, and history of the Himalayan regions and emphasizes the environmental awareness and respect for nature typical of the traditional spirituality.  

“We worked very closely with Khenpo Tenpa Rinpoche and Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society to define the added value of the school, thinking of how to unite a rigorous scientific approach to the education and the rich traditional background of the Himalayan culture. We had so many meetings about it,” Mara Arizaga says. She is one of the founders of EVA (Enlightened Vision Association), a non-for- profit organization based in Switzerland that focuses mainly on the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Himalayas and for many years, has been helping the school in various ways.

The school has a holistic approach to education, engaging students´ body, speech and mind in the learning. It gives opportunities for children to practice sports and dance, as well as traditional Himalayan yoga. Students are introduced to meditation and naturally exposed to the traditional spiritual  values of empathy, generosity, and open heartedness. 

A visitor to the school can see lively and self-confident children. Although they are far away from their parents for long periods and often cannot visit them even during the holidays, they know that this is a great opportunity for them to display all their potential. This helps them  overcome homesickness.

Boarding and tuition is free for all the children.

To keep their connections with their homeland alive, THIS produced its own textbooks for learning Tibetan with stories which introduce children to personalities, mountains, or rivers of the areas they come from. Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung formed a team of people who researched and collected those stories and created texts based on them.

Sometimes, parents  come to visit the school. Aged prematurely by  hard labor, they are visibly moved  to see their children blossoming into a life they could  never have dreamt of for themselves.

The hard way

Currently, THIS has seven classes and provides education for 138 children, half of them  girls. Promoting equal opportunities for girls is one of the objectives of the school. Eleven teachers, a nanny, and a cook take care of the children. In addition, four members of Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society work for the overall welfare of the children, managing also the school´s administration and carrying out projects related to the extension and development of school buildings.

The school neither receives governmental financial support, nor collects any tuition fees which means it is completely  dependent on donors. Its financial sustainability is a big challenge, but Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung is uncompromising in his objective to keep the high standard  of the school. “Charity schools like ours sometimes cannot offer the best education because they lack funds, but we want to be an outstanding school no matter what,” he says. “Lowering standards would be humiliating for children and their dignity is very important to me. I want  the school to give them certainty that they are as  good as anyone else and perfect as they are,” Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung  says.

He himself is a donor, giving all  he receives as a dharma teacher to the school and he has been tirelessly working to increase donations, sending out applications for funding, following up every opportunity that arises.  People from Sherig Phuntsok Ling Bon Society, the German Foundation Yungdrung Bon Stiftung, and the Swiss organization EVA support him in his efforts, as do other organizations and individuals. Still, funding is not sufficient for the moment. “We are always balancing on the edge,” Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung says. 

One of the priorities he mentions is to increase  the teachers’ salaries and  give them more stable work contracts so that they feel less uncertainty. The salaries that  the school can afford to pay at the moment are still far from being attractive.

There is also an urgent need to finalize the construction of the second building, a three-story structure  started in 2020. It contains fifteen  classrooms, teachers’ offices and working space, and toilets.  More than a half of the cost has already been paid and the construction company continues to work with the promise of being paid when more finances become available.

The school also needs a new dormitory for girls so that more children can be enrolled, up to the full capacity of 300 students, 150 boys and 150 girls, with an average of 25 children per class, and 12 grades altogether. The school aims to cover a complete secondary education.

In the future, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung´s wish is to build a small clinic on the school’ s property. The healthcare facility would have a double function – taking care of the health of the school’s community and also preserving and developing the traditional medical science of the Himalayas. 

“The Himalayan medical knowledge and the tradition of respect for nature may have a word to say in the present world which is facing imbalances and extensive environmental degradation,” says Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung.

He believes that the school will not only benefit the children but also have a positive influence on the world around them. “Wherever they go afterwards, whatever life career they pursue, the values they have been taught  will stay with them,” he says.

Photos: archives of Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche, Jitka Polanská, Darek Sawczuk
(After having read this article, some readers asked us about how to help. If you have the same question, look HERE.)

What is inside a Bon Stupa? Lama Sangye Monlam explains

Lama Sangye Monlam, former resident Lama of Shenten Dargye Ling, and his student Sophie Frisch built a Stupa in Yeshe Sal Ling, Lama Sangye’s center in Austria, honoring a wish of Yongdzin Rinpoche. In the summer of 2022, Khenchen Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche and other lamas came for the consecration ceremony which was originally planned for May 2020 but had to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When and why did you start planning to build a Stupa at Yeshe Sal Ling?

LS: Originally, we wanted to build just a sang-khang (a hearth for the sang ritual) in the form of a Stupa, and we ordered a finial for it from Nepal with the “horns of the bird” as is used for Stupas. Yongdzin Rinpoche saw this ornament and said that we should build a Stupa, and we followed his suggestion. The inauguration of Yeshe Sal Ling by Yongdzin Rinpoche was in 2015 and this was some time after, so the decision to build a Stupa must have been made in 2016.

You have a Stupa now, but no sang-khang?

LS: That´s true, but we are starting to build one now.

Comparing the Stupa at Yeshe Sal Ling with the two Stupas of Shenten – what is the size?

LS: It is somewhere in between the sizes of Shenten´s Stupas. It is a bit smaller than the higher one and a bit higher than the smaller one. (Note: there is one meter difference between the Stupas in Shenten.)

The Stupa in Yeshe Sal Ling

How did you proceed from idea to realization? Did you follow a drawing of a model Stupa?

LS: There is a description of a Yungdrung Koeleg Stupa in the texts, and a drawing by Yongdzin Rinpoche based on the description. The main principle is that the size of each part of the  Stupa is expressed as a multiple of a unit. The unit varies. For practical purposes, it is usually chosen to be a multiple of the height of a layer of bricks.

SF: Our unit was around twenty centimeters, corresponding to one layer of bricks lying flat (6.5cm) plus another layer of bricks standing on edge (12cm) plus two layers of cement.

You called Dorje, a French practitioner who led the building of the second Stupa at Shenten, to organize and supervise the construction in Yeshe Sal Ling, is that correct?

LS: Yes, Dorje had already assisted A’u Norbu with the construction of the first Stupa at Shenten, constructed two smaller Stupas outside Shenten independently, and then led a team of volunteers who built the second of Shenten´s Stupas. He had become a very competent Stupa builder. With his experience and the help of volunteers the construction of Yeshe Sal Ling’s Stupa went very smoothly, without any obstacles.

SF: We were very lucky with Dorje and also with the volunteers, who came from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as from Austria. They were very skillful  and hard-working and built the Stupa in around three months in the spring of 2019.

Stupas are filled with consecrated and blessed ritual objects; can you give some details about what is in your Stupa?

LS: Yes, there is a large number of objects inside the Stupa on different levels. The concrete base contains a triangular hole. Into this hole the three harmful emotions are banished. Khenchen Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche placed there a drawing of three animals representing three mental poisons: a snake for anger, a bird for desire and a pig for stupidity.

Then, the lower part of the Stupa consists of five steps, representing the five elements. Above the steps, there is a straight part, and inside, a vase dedicated to Nampar Gyalwa (an emanation of Tonpa Shenrab), containing his mantra, grains and various medicines. The vase is surrounded by other offerings, like food, and by many boxes full of tsa-tsas (tiny Stupas molded from clay, painted with gold colour).

SF: While the treasures on this level are mostly of a worldly nature,  the higher we go, the more elevated states are represented by the content of the Stupa.

LS: Above the straight part there is a platform, and inside it are mantras and images representing the protectors of Bon, like Yeshe Walmo, Mibdue, Nypangse, Menmo, etc., and also offerings for the five senses (butter lamps, incense, water, flowers, food), and tormas.

SF: Lama Sangye himself made large tormas from clay and decorated them with flower shaped ornaments, beautiful to see (but now invisible).

LS: Above the platform there are four more steps, symbolizing the Four Immeasurables: immeasurable compassion, love, joy, and equanimity.

Inside, we placed what is perhaps the greatest treasure of the Stupa: petchas (Tibetan loose leaf books) forming a complete set of the Bon Kanjur. As we were wrapping the petchas, Ponlop Tsangpa Rinpoche was just giving teachings in Yeshe Sal Ling and he helped with the wrapping of the petchas and performed one of the consecration ceremonies that mark the completion of each layer of the Stupa.

At the center of the Stupa there is the “tree of life”, an octagonal wooden pillar. This pillar, originally almost as high as the Stupa, is cut into two parts. The short part is inserted in the lower part of the Stupa, and the long part runs from the platform up to the top of the Stupa. Each part is wrapped in many kilometers of mantras, and then in khatags of five different colors.

Then, above the four steps is the bumpa (vase) of the Stupa, there is a niche facing east with a statue of Tonpa Shenrab visible through a window. Inside the closed part of the bumpa, there are small clay reliefs of Yidams, copies of Yangtse Longchen and Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud, and other offerings, for instance, a piece of meteorite iron given by Yongdzin Rinpoche.

How did you get materials for the Stupa?

SF: You mean the material that we just mentioned? We ordered the Kanjur from Tengchen monastery in Tibet and various medicines from Nepal. Food and other offerings could be found here.

And what about construction materials?

SF: We used the bricks and cement common in Austria. For the tree of life, we bought a tree for two hundred Euro, and a carpenter who is a Buddhist cut it into shape for free. That was kind of him. The price quoted by a professional carpenter was around a thousand Euro: unaffordable.

Do you know the total cost of the Stupa, and can you share it?

SF: I lost track of the cost completely, but it was a large amount of money. Fortunately, the expenses could be spread out over a longer period of time. Everything that went inside was ordered and paid for in the course of several years before the start of the construction.

When was the Stupa finished, in all its parts?

LS: In the summer of 2019. We wanted to have the consecration soon after and planned it for the spring of 2020 but then the first wave of covid prevented it. In 2021, we had to postpone the consecration again, for the same reason.

SF: Lama Sangye performed a small consecration ceremony shortly after completion. The Stupa was properly consecrated, but there was no celebration with many Lamas and guests until 2022. In 2022, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche had time to come to Yeshe Sal Ling and the covid situation was not so bad in the summer, so we decided to have the big consecration ceremony in July 2022. On the occasion, Khenchen Rinpoche gave a Namdak initiation. He was assisted by Geshe Samten Tsukphu and  Geshe Lungrig (whom you know from Shenten), Geshe Sangye Yeshe and Tsultrim Tenzin, and also Khenzur Nyima Wangyal, who came from Paris together with his wife, the singer Gazom Lhamo. Geshe Sangye Yeshe and Tsultrim Tenzin came from Triten Norbutse two weeks in advance and did a lot of preparations. Geshe Sangye Yeshe acted as the Umdze (master of ceremonies who leads the recitations). Ani Tsultrim Sangmo assisted too. Of course, Lama Sangye himself also participated in all the rituals. The Lamas performed rituals in a tent in the garden for three days from morning to night, almost non-stop, culminating in the Namdak initiation on the last day.  We had good luck with the weather. Gazom Lhamo gave a recital the day before the consecration.

And how many lay practitioners came?

SF: Around twenty-five, maybe thirty people, the maximum number on the spot at any one moment was twenty, some came only for a part of the ceremony. People came from France, Poland, Hungary, Germany and from Austria. They are not visible in the pictures because it would have been complicated to ask everyone for permission to publish. Fortunately, nobody contracted Covid. We were very careful and tested people on their arrival.

Lama la, you have been living “full time” in Yeshe Sal Ling since 2017. What do you appreciate most about the place?

Yeshe Sal Ling is a very good place for meditation. There is pure air, it is located in higher altitude and there is a mountain just behind the center. All these are favorable conditions for practice. It is, however, a small center with rooms for only about 12-14 practitioners at the same time, and not comparable to Shenten, where sometimes hundreds of Bonpos congregate.

Photos: Maciej Czuchra

Yungdrung Tenzin: When I translate, it is a kind of shock

Yungdrung Tenzin – Dominique Troulay by his civic name – was translating into French the teaching of Khenchen Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche in this year’s summer retreat. What does the process of translation look like from his perspective? “It is a kind of shock,” he says. “The teacher starts talking and you have no choice but to listen very carefully, with absolute focus. It is a big responsibility to translate teachings, but I am happy to take this responsibility. ”

When you translate a teaching, do you know the text that the teacher is explaining?

Usually, I don´t.  I am completely open to what I will hear, and I reproduce it in French. Sometimes the teacher may digress and talk about something that is not in the text, maybe comparing it with some other text – I need to be ready for anything. I just focus on what the teacher says and convey it in French accurately. 

I see you writing a lot… 

The notes are extremely important for me, I write down the maximum that I can of what the teacher says, almost every word. I want to be as faithful as I can. I feel this is a big responsibility, because what is explained is of great importance. Actually, I do not like having to write so fast, but this is the only way I can do it. My memory is weak, and I cannot keep in my mind a speech lasting sometimes several minutes. So I need to write these notes. I have written more than two hundred pages during the three weeks of the summer retreat.  In the evening I go through my notes again. It is an inspiring activity for me. But if it was possible not to take them, I would be happier. For example, if some technology could transcribe what the teacher says directly onto a screen and I could only listen – that would be much more comfortable for me. 

“In the evening, I go through my notes again.”

How do you feel when you translate? Does that kind of concentration have any benefit for you?

It is a kind of shock. The teacher starts talking and you have no choice but to listen very carefully, with absolute focus. Sometimes I have one or two seconds to listen to a bird outside, but in general I have to be a hundred percent focused on what was said and what I have to say in translation. Even a small distraction is risky. I think it is a good practice, for sure.  

It is a delight to listen to your translation, I mean it. Do other people come to you saying that they appreciate your translation?

Some people do. They tell me it helps them, even if they understand English. When they listen to my translation it helps them understand something that they did not understand or to be sure they understood well. And if some people have some doubts about what I said, I have my notes and we can check. 

Does Khenpo Rinpoche understand your translation? His passive knowledge of French seems good.

I do not know exactly but I noticed sometimes, when somebody was translating and I was just listening, that he corrected the translation at a point, which means he understood the French words that were chosen. 

“I am completely open to what I will hear.”

Khenpo Rinpoche usually waits until you finish translating, but in some cases it happens that he starts talking before you completed your translation. Is it stressful when you have to stop him?

Yes, a little bit, but I have to do it. Sometimes I also have to ask him to repeat a word about which I am not sure or I forgot it. I would rather not but it is necessary. I have to be sure that I translate accurately. It is a responsibility, but I am happy to take this responsibility. I  have big respect for Khenchen Rinpoche and devotion to him and I am very happy that I can translate for him and for the sangha. 

You translated Khenpo Rinpoche´s occasional public talks in the past, but not regular retreats. You started to be more involved as a translator when Shenten began with online teachings, is that right? 

Yes, I was not very confident about being able to do it, before and I am really surprised that I can. The online teachings during all those lockdowns were  good practice for me. I did many, many hours of translations for Khenpo Gelek and his daily sessions, and then also for other teachers.  Gradually, I gained more confidence. Online translation is simultaneous, and I like it, especially because I do not have to take any notes (he laughs).

The second part of the interview will bring a personal story of Yungdrung Tenzin, a Yungdrung Bon monk  from a Western background.

Photos: Jitka Polanská

When I clean rooms and do laundry, I recite A KAR A ME, Cristela says

Cristela Trujillo has been coming to Shenten since 2008 and everyone knows her magic hand. She is a karma yoga queen. When she became in charge of the laundry, sheets and towels stood in no time in perfect, one-color stacks and the place changed its vibes completely. And when she cleans rooms, as quick as wind, she purifies herself too. 

I have been living in New York for quite some years. I do mainly housekeeping and baby-sitting. I have several jobs at a time, actually, to earn as much money as I can (she laughs). I came to the city when the owners of the store in Valle de Bravo, where I worked for a long time, had to close their business. There was nothing to do in Valle de Bravo and narcos began arriving in the area. I thought the time had come to go and try something different, somewhere else. I knew New York because I had lived there when I was young, with my husband and my little daughter. She was two-year old at that time. The marriage did not work well, and we decided to split up soon after. I moved back to Mexico, to Valle de Bravo because my mum is from there. I started to work there in a gym, as a spinning trainer, and in my spinning classes I met a nice lady. We became friends. 

She was the owner of the store selling ethnic furniture. One day she asked me if I could take care of  her business for two months because she was going on holiday abroad with her family. I said yes. The shop kept me busy only at weekends, while during weekdays I still worked at the gym. When she came back, she offered me a steady job with her because she was happy with how I had managed. And sometime later, she invited me to join her for meditation in her friend´s house. Finally, one day she asked me if I wanted to go with her for a retreat. I said yes. Why not? It was a retreat dedicated to Red Garuda practice with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche,  in 1999.  I liked it, I felt very connected right away with the teacher and the teaching. Bon seemed to me like something close and familiar. 

Since then I continued going to a retreat every year, and I went to group meditation with my friend  every week. In 2008 the Mexican group of Bon followers invited me to come with them to Shenten. I did not feel like going. I had surgery to remove a cancer two months earlier and I was very weak. They insisted that I should come, and offered financial help. That year the teaching was about the healing practice of Yeshe Walmo. So I joined them. 

When I saw Yongdzin Rinpoche for the first time, it was a shock. I felt fire in my chest. It was very touching. I remember me, during the teachings, leaning on the wall in the gompa, very weak, sitting still, my heart filled with this strong, special, emotion of awe. It was a kind of love for Yongdzin Rinpoche. I cannot explain in words what I feel each time I see him. And each time that I come to Shenten I feel his presence. When I see his photo, wherever I am, it is as if he is looking at me.

That time, when I came to Shenten, I also spoke with Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche, I told him about my illness, and he said: keep your practice of Red Garuda. I did not tell him about it, but he knew somehow.

When I was leaving Shenten for Mexico, I promised to myself: I have to come back, this must not be my last time here. But I continued having health issues and my condition did not allow me to come the following year. In 2010 I would have loved to come when His Holiness and Yongdzin Rinpoche were at Shenten together, but I had my second surgery. My Mexican friends all sent me photos from Shenten, and I followed events from a distance. I remember being  happy.

I only came back to Shenten in 2013 and I felt immediately at home again. Each time I come to this place it feels like coming home. From then on, I came in 2015, and 2016… every year. 

I always try to do something for the place, offer my help, mainly cleaning. To me it is like cleaning my house, and I really love cleaning a place where Yongdzin Rinpoche spent so much time. In 2017 organizers of the summer retreat asked me to take care of the laundry. It was my pleasure. 

The laundry of Shenten has changed its vibes under Cristela´s magic hand. Shenten, August 2022.

In 2018 I decided to take a year off work and go to do a work retreat where I was needed. I saved money for that beforehand. First, I went to the center of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Serenity Ridge, in Virginia, and I met Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche there. He came to teach. From there I moved to Kathmandu and continued my  karma yoga at the monastery. Finally, I arrived at Shenten. It was in April and there was nobody there, only Khenpo Gelek and Geshe Samten. Then, Yongdzin Rinpoche came. It was his last year at Shenten. I spent several months in Shenten in his presence, and it was a blessing. I saw him every day when he went out in the afternoon. When he passed by the laundry, going back, he would say “goodbye” to me. I was very lucky. I knew that his room was just above the laundry  and I worked with joy in my heart. 

In October of that year, Shenten organized a big ceremony of DUTRISU. I took part, and since then reciting A KAR A ME Du TRI SU is my constant practice. I clean and recite the mantra. I still have some health problems and I have to be careful. When my body tells me to stop, I have to take a rest. But my illness is in remission, and I am confident in my practice. In general, I have lots of energy and I like moving, working. I am  very focused on what I do and I recite the mantra with it. This is meditation for me. While I am cleaning a room or doing laundry I  purify myself.

Cristela: “In general, I have lots of energy and I like moving, working.” Shenten, August 2022.

Photos: Jitka Polanská

Language of prayers is difficult to understand, Ponse Yigme Tenzin says

Tulku Ponse Yigme Tenzin has been recognized as the reincarnation of Lopon Sangye Tenzin, the teacher of Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak and the first Lopon of Menri monastery in Dolanji, India. This led him to study Tibetan language so that he could understand and eventually teach the doctrine of Yungdrung Bon. This is the second part of an interview which took place in August of 2022.

How long did it take you to learn Tibetan language to the level that you can read texts of the teachings?

It took many years, actually, but with interruptions. I started very early, when I was five or six. Lamas and geshes used to come regularly to my home, and some of them had been teaching me Tibetan. I started with the Tibetan alphabet when I was six, and then they taught me how to read uchen and ume. Uchen is a Tibetan writing used in printed, western style books. Pecha books, the traditional Tibetan books with separate pages, are written in ume, which is similar to uchen but you have to learn it as well, by only knowing uchen I could not read ume.

First you are a tulku just by the name, but then you have to earn it

“One day, when they were already in Menri, it was raining and my father found a shelter on the porch of a building of the monastery. He did not know that the building was the house of His Holiness Menri Trizin. When it stopped raining, His Holiness came out and asked my father: “You are Jorge Valles, aren´t you? I just came out of a three-day long meditation where I was asking for signs, and you are the first person I met after I left, and you see, there is not one, but two rainbows in the sky, stretching from east to west.” This is how my father tells the story. Also, His Holiness pointed out to a cuckoo sitting on a tree nearby, which is considered another auspicious sign.”

When I was seven, I started to go to the Menri monastery for two three months each year, together with my parents. When I was twelve, I spent an entire year there, on my own. It was then when I started to study in a more consistent way. I had four classes per day with my tutor: reading, grammar, some degree of comprehension, and writing. Then I had also ritual classes: how to perfom Yeshe Walmo and gom cho nam sum and chod. After one year my Tibetan improved a lot.

Then you had to finish the school in Mexico…

Yes, I came back to Mexico and continued my school. Then Yungdrung Tsultrim, my tutor from Menri, went for one year to Mexico, and I studied with him at home. Not so intensely as at the monastery, because I had to combine them with my regular school. After he left I did not have any regular classes for some years, I just went to the retreats and spent time with monks trying to understand them. But honestly speaking, my Tibetan was still quite poor. I could read since I was very little, but the meaning was not there. And I could talk only about very superficial things.

When I finished my high school, I went to Lishu Institute in India for three months and then I studied at a university in Mexico Financial administration. For my fourth semester I went to Budapest to an affiliated university. I was there when Holiness Menri Trizin passed away, he entered the parinirvana in 2017. 

I went to Menri monastery for the funeral ceremony, after quite many years that I had not been there. That time Menri Ponlop Rinpoche and Chongtrul Rinpoche and other lamas encouraged me to deepen my studies of Bon. It was their impuls that made me take a decision to learn Tibetan properly.

I searched for a good school for that, and I was advised to go to Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Program in Dharamsala, India, by a few people whose opinion matters to me.

Tulku Ponse Yigme Tenzin at Shenten Dargye Ling, August 2022

What is the studying program there?

It is two years of intense training in the school in India followed by a two-year course for translators done more practically and outside the school. Usually people become translators of Tibetan teachers into other languages enroll. I enrolled only for the first part, in the years of 2018 and 2019. The program starts from the very beginning and for about two months, I could use my previous knowledge, but not more. When the second module began, it was all new for me. The first year we studied modern, colloquial language. The classical Tibetan was taught only once a week and not very well, I built my knowledge mainly by myself, I studied many manuals of classical Tibetan on my own. To learn grammar and structure of sentences does not take so much time, for classical Tibetan. The hard part starts when one has to interpret what the texts say. We studied a text from the Gelugpa tradition, to which the school belongs, Lam rim chenmo, Stages of the path to enlightenment. 

The second year we had classes only in Tibetan, and when I completed eight modules out of nine, I felt that I was ready to continue my studies in the Bon tradition, and I went to Triten Norbutse. 

Do you still need a somebody´s help to understand a text?

Yes, in each text there are words for which I need an explanation. Also, sentences in the texts of teachings are quite long, some cover several paragraphs, and the verb is always at the end, so you need to read the whole sentence before you catch the meaning. With lots of practice, it comes. I am also in the Shedra, the two-week dialectical course organized by Shenten. We read a quite difficult text, Salaam –Path and Stages to Enlightment, written by Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen. 

I realized that sometimes can be easier to explain a part of the text than to translate it. Translating needs to be close to the text and some figurative expressions is really hard to deliver. The traditional texts are also written in a very concise, condensed way.

There is a tendency of omitting some words which then should be deduced. This of course applies to lots of texts of the teachings written in the antient times. For example, I was just studying a text with Khenpo Rinpoche from the first of Nine vehicles of Bon. There is a word – sung-wa – which means to protect something, to guard something. Sometimes in the text it is used in a way that it may seem that you should protect yourself by doing wrong things, but this only because a particle is omitted, while it means, in that context, that you should protect yourself from doing wrong things. For this, you need an explanation from someone knowledgeable. 

Is the language of the prayers even more difficult to understand? 

It is. Understanding a text of teaching is comparably less difficult than understanding prayers. Old prayers are written in verses and some omission in the prayers are due to the need to have the same number of words, or syllables, in one verse, for example. That´s why translating prayers is very difficult. Sometimes key words or concepts are missing, and you have to understand them from the context or experience and add them in the translation.

Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche was the first lopon, or head teacher, of Menri Monastery in India.

Born in 1917 into the Jyab ‘Og family, an esteemed lineage within the Bön tradition, he lived his early years in the nomadic region of Hor, Tibet. He studied for many years in the Drepung Monastery of the Gelug tradition, as well as under masters of other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He became an accomplished master of sutra, tantra and dzogchen. He lived a simple life, much of it in solitude, yet he was considered by many to be the greatest Bön scholar of his generation.

Photos: Jitka Polanská

Ponse Yigme Tenzin: First you are a tulku just by the name, you have to earn it

Tulku Ponse Yigme Tenzin has been recognized as the reincarnation of Lopon Sangye Tenzin, the teacher of Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak and the first Lopon of Menri monastery. How did it happen and how does he feel about it nowadays when he is twenty-six years old?

You met the Yungdrung Bon at a very young age and in very unusual circumstances: you were recognized a tulku, a reincarnated lama, as a new-born child. Can you explain how it happened?

My parents were both catholics – Mexico is a catholic country – but they did not feel quite comfortable  with this religion, and they had this in common when they met. They had lots of questions and were not satisfied with the answers they got. Also, they felt there was no method to do anything, as if you are just supposed to pray for things to happen but there is nothing you personally can do to make it happen. These dissatisfactions led them to search for some other source of spirituality. Those years, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche used to come to Mexico to give teachings on Dzogchen every year. I do not know how my parents got interested in this kind of teaching, they had found out somehow.

In 1995 Namkhai Norbu was sick and he recommended to the local organizers to invite Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche instead. They followed the advice and Tenzin Wangyal gave a teaching in Mexico City in May that year. My parents could not go but two people of their hometown, Chihuahua, went to the event and when they were back home, they said to my parents that they liked the teaching very much and that they invited Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche to teach in Chihuahua the following year, and that he accepted, to their surprise. They had no experience with organizing retreats and also little financial resources so they were a bit worried about how they would manage. My parents reassured them that they would help: they bought the flight ticket for the lama and offered to host him at their place. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche came to our home in September of 1995. It was the first time my parents met him and connected with Bon.

It was Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche who indicated you as a tulku, right?

Yes. He arrived in Mexico the following year, in September 1996. I was born one month earlier. He stayed again at our house and told my parents that before coming he had dreams in which Lopon Sangye Tenzin, who was also his teacher, appeared to him dressed in Western clothing and told him he was going to reincarnate in the West. Later on he had more dreams which led him to think that his teacher would reincarnate in our family. At the same time my mother started to have unusual dreams as well. She practiced guru yoga a lot and got very connected to this practice.

Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche was the first lopon, or head teacher, of Menri Monastery in India. Born in 1917 into the Jyab ‘Og family, an esteemed lineage within the Bön tradition, he lived his early years in the nomadic region of Hor, Tibet. He studied for many years in the Drepung Monastery of the Gelug tradition, as well as under masters of other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He became an accomplished master of sutra, tantra and dzogchen. He lived a simple life, much of it in solitude, yet he was considered by many to be the greatest Bön scholar of his generation.

Source: www.Ligmincha.org 

Tenzin Wangyal said to us that he informed Yongdzin Rinpoche and Menri Trizin about those dreams since they were the only authority which could confirm that the dreams were carrying an authentic message. They both were a bit skeptical about it because it did not make sense to them why Lopon Sangye would reincarnate in Mexico, instead of Nepal or India. But the dreams contained some convincing signs and so both Yongdzin Rinpoche and Menri Trizin started to look for signs themselves.

In February 1997, when I was six months old, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche organized a trip to Menri monastery which my father joined. One day, when they were already in Menri, it was raining and my father found a shelter on the porch of a building of the monastery. He did not know that the building was the house of His Holiness Menri Trizin. When it stopped raining, His Holiness came out and asked my father: “You are Jorge Valles, aren´t you? I just came out of a three-day long meditation where I was asking for signs, and you are the first person I met after I left, and you see, there is not one, but two rainbows in the sky, stretching from east to west.” This is how my father tells the story. Also, His Holiness pointed out to a cuckoo sitting on a tree nearby, which is considered another auspicious sign.

At that point, did the lamas and the family accept the reincarnation as a fact?

Yes, they did. And when I was three years old, I went to Menri Monastery and Triten Norbutse to be enthroned as a tulku, I took refuge and received my Tibetan name. 

This must have turned the life of your family upside down.

I think my parents together with Yongdzin Rinpoche and His Holiness handled everything wisely. Traditionally, when a tulku is recognized the family gives the child to the monastery at the age of two or three. My parents did not want to do this. They agreed to having lamas around their son and accompanying him to the monastery for a certain period every year, but  before agreeing to more than that they wanted to wait until my discernment was strong enough so that I could decide if this is what I wanted.

I remember that when I was nine, I spoke with Yongdzin Rinpoche during my stay at Triten Norbutse, and he said to me: “How about spending a year at Menri after you finish middle school and before going to high school?” And this was what we, my parents and I, decided to do. As I said, when I was twelve, I went alone to the monastery for the first time and stayed there for the whole year.

I think this was a good approach which avoided risks that this condition could have brought. I read a book about tulkus born in the West. Most of their families followed the traditional Tibetan way and delivered the little child to the monastery, but when they became teenagers, they dissociated themselves from it all and wanted to go back to the West and live a normal life. They felt like someone stole their childhood from them. And this happens not only to the Westerners, but sometimes to Tibetan tulkus too.

His Holiness Menri Trizin and Yongdzin Rinpoche also emphasized that I needed a good secular education as well. When I finished the year´s stay in the Monastery, His Holiness told me: “Now you go to Mexico and finish all your studies. Go, play, enjoy life there and then come back and continue your studies.”

Do you think that being a tulku has helped your development as a human being and as a practitioner?

Yes, I think so, although in some periods of my life I had my doubts about all these things, especially as a teenager.  I was thinking “what do I want to be in the future?”  Being a tulku seems so much out of “Western” context, I would say. I felt that the responsibilities and expectations were sometimes heavy, I felt overwhelmed with all that pressure. People coming and telling their stories of how they have a good connection with me… Also, the assumption that I would become a teacher, assuming that I must become one. The pressure was pushing me on the wrong side, putting a question in my head “what if I do not become good enough?”. But when I engaged more deeply with the teaching, with a good knowledge of Tibetan, I started really to appreciate the opportunity to absorb all that knowledge. This tradition has an incredible insight in epistemology, the way we know things, how thought works… I like the philosophical aspect of the doctrine very much. It is uniquely profound, and unknown largely in the West.

Tulku Ponse Yigme Tenzin at the teaching of Khenchen Tenpa Yungdrung at Shenten Dargye Ling, August 2022

Is the institution of tulkus emphasized in the Yungdrung Bon tradition? My impression was it is less important in Bon than in other Tibetan schools.

It is only my opinion, I do not know much about it, but I think that the difference is that other Buddhist schools think that just by being born a tulku one has all the necessary favorable conditions, while Bon insists on the fact that you still have to create all the conditions. You have to study, you have to learn. You are a tulku by the name, but you have to earn it, to become it by heart. But I am not sure if this difference really exists. Being born as a tulku is a karmic seed that has to meet the necessary secondary conditions.

You chose to study financial administration at the university. Why not philosophy, or Tibetan studies? Was there any particular reason for it?

In Mexico no university offers Tibetan studies, so I would have to go to the US or Europe. Also, I was always very good at math, it was my favorite subject at school. That was one of the reasons. Another reason is that my father has a construction company in Mexico, he is an engineer by education. My sister and my brother have artistic inclinations, my brother studied cinematography, my sister is a fashion designer. Neither of them wanted to administer the family company when my father retires. It was always said that I would be the one who would run the family business and I was always ok with that. But it would not have been necessary to go to the university, I could have learned just by spending time with my dad.

There was another reason why I entered the university in 2015. It was my plan B. At that time, I was applying for a visa to India in order to go to the Lishu institute for three years, but the process was very difficult, the visa did not arrive, so I registered to the university to avoid wasting time in case I will not be given the visa at the end. I will have to study a lot in my life, and I did not want to lose a year. If I had got the visa, I would have got tuition fees back. Then, I went only for three months, because I did not get the visa for a longer period and continued to study financial administration. I cannot say that I did not like the studies, I liked them.

Besides that, both Yongdzin Rinpoche and His Holiness always thought that I should have a degree from a western university. Every time I went to see them, they asked about it. They were saying: “How is it going with your university? Have you already graduated? You have to graduate!”

What is your plan for the next decade?

I do not like planning too much ahead, especially since that time when I did not get the visa. I had a plan to go for a three-year course and it did not happen, which disappointed me a lot then. After that, I told myself I was not going to plan my life more than necessary, possibly just for one year at a time. Next year I want to go to Nepal and stay there for up to three years. After that, I would like to come back and start being more involved in the family company and in teaching the Bon to others. This is the plan, but I will see how things will turn out. The objective is to pursue my Bon studies and to work for the company at the same time. I have to see how to manage it. Besides that, I also would like to study philosophy at a university.

You are at an age when relationships and searching for a partner are very important. Is there space in your life for it?

I just came out of a relationship. We were together for almost one year and it was my second girlfriend. They both understood that this is what I am, and they knew that there would be a time when I would go to India or Nepal and spend a few years there. And when I am there, I usually shut my chat to avoid being distracted. When I was in India in the translators´ school, I deleted my social media and changed my phone number, because I really wanted to immerse myself in learning.

I personify the Bon tradition, the way I act is according to these teachings, I also want to be a teacher of Yungdrung Bon one day. My partner will have to agree with all that. So, if it is meant to happen, it will happen. I do want to have a son, my own or adopted one. The teachings  often speak about the mother and the child and about a special, unique character of their love, and I want to experience this kind of love.

photos: Jitka Polanská

the second part of the interview:

Cédric, Shenten´s IT man: I´ve always been in favor of online teaching

Cédric Hubaux is the person who has built Shenten´s infrastructure for the online teachings. He is launching, supervising and troubleshooting all of the streamed teaching sessions. “Especially at the beginning it was quite stressful. Everything was new, the internet at Shenten was very bad, and I had to instruct Khenpo Gelek from a distance on how to do as I could not go there,” he says.

Cédric, do you remember exactly when Shenten started its online teachings?

Just after the first lockdown in France began, in the first half of March 2020. I would say on the 17th March, I would need to check. The first one was Khenpo Gelek’s one hour teaching and practice session which then became the regular and popular “DailyGelek”, and later “DailyShenten”, when other lamas from Shenten started occasionally to take part in it.

DailyShenten accompanied all of us through all those difficult lockdown periods and it was free of charge for the whole first year; Khenpo Gelek taught every day and his sessions were only interrupted when there were other teachings on the program.

People from around the world responded with lots of enthusiasm and support. At the start of those teachings we had close to three hundred attendees for each session, later between one and two hundred people showed up for a session.

Most of us had never heard about zoom until the online teachings started. Did you have an experience with a streaming platform before?

Absolutely not. But I knew that zoom was already being used by some other centers before the covid. Privately people used skype mostly, and messenger, but these two do not allow to organize webinars.

As the situation with the covid worsened in February 2020, the Council of Association Shenten Dargye Ling started to discuss with Khenpo Gelek the possibility to stream teachings from Shenten.

And we agreed finally that we should do it. We collected some info about various platforms existing – it was a very quick search only – and we decided for zoom.

You had to learn quickly how to manage the system…

Yes, I remember that for a few days I was fully immersed in the youtube tutorials, trying to figure out how it all works and how to make it work for our purposes. Translations were a difficult part of it; how to organize them. When we started, people faced some difficulties on how to connect with zoom. All the attendees had to be connected to their own zoom account in order to be able to join the webinar, but many weren´t and just clicked on the link and it did not work. Now it is not necessary anymore to be logged into the account and problems are much less. Sometimes they still happen with the translators.

You have been the main technical support of all the infrastructure for streaming. Is it an enjoyable, or a stressful experience?

Especially at the beginning it was quite stressful. Everything was new, Internet at Shenten was very bad, and I had to instruct Khenpo Gelek from a distance on how to do. I had to install apps on Khenpo´s computer, using a remote control for it. I remembered that there was a webcam somewhere at Shenten but I was not sure where it was, so we were on the phone with Khenpo Gelek and I was guiding him to various places where it could be, until we found it. I was thinking constantly about how to improve this or that. My head was full of ideas, but I was far away, there was a lockdown!

As soon as we were allowed to travel, I went to Shenten to improve things. We added a better mic, a bigger camera. I worked quite hard to put the wifi in important places of Shenten. And later, I think it was just before the third lockdown, I could put the wifi close to the gompa and the streaming was done from the gompa since that time. It was a surprise for people attending and I remember that many were happy to see the gompa. 

You were a fan of streaming from the very beginning, right?

Yes, I was in favor of it two years before the covid arrived. The Dutrisu ceremony in 2018 was partially streamed, because I had insisted, it was a kind of test of what could be done with it. I have always liked the idea of giving teachings online and I suggested it a few times to both Khenchen Rinpoche and to Khenpo Gelek. But before the pandemic they both strongly refused. I remember that they were very much against it. Two years later their attitude changed because we were forced by the circumstances. Now I think both of them see advantages of teaching online.

There are advantages but also risks, would you agree?

Actually, I do not see many risks and instead I see many opportunities.  What I have seen as a risk was just that many people could connect through one computer and doing so they could watch the teaching for free. And I was also afraid that if we introduced the online teaching, less people would be coming to Shenten physically, and this has happened, we are facing it this year. (Note: for example, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche´s teaching held traditionally in April was attended onsite by around 25 people this year, while in the past it was double and more).

With the streaming, more people have access to the teaching for less cost, which is good. On the other hand, there are less opportunities to correct misunderstandings when people listen from their homes, instead of coming physically to a place where there is a community of teachers and practitioners.

For many people coming to Shenten is quite costly. Some could not come even if they wanted to. Now there is a possibility to listen to so many more teachings, compared to the time before. Considering all the factors together, I would say it is better now. But it is a bit weird for me to see Shenten emptier than before, I had got used to lots of movement there, lots of people spending time together. This year, during retreats, Shenten is more quiet.

Yungdrung Dargye: Taking care of Shenten´s green is not always easy

Yungdrung Dargye – Guillaume Lassalle took us for a walk around the area of Shenten and talked to us about its various flora. “I am very fond of all kinds of plants, medicinal plants, fruit trees, vegetables, whatever.  In my family, we all like plants very much, and since I was a child, I learned about them. I also studied agriculture. Here at Shenten, this knowledge can be useful,” he says. 

Shenten is a very large property and taking care of all its green space is not always easy. We do what we can, for now, but we can do even better!  Plants provide us with food and they can decorate our environment, including our temples. So instead of buying flowers for pujas, we can decide which plants we want to cultivate, choose the healthy ones, those with long lasting perfume, and use them in our interior spaces at Shenten.

Let’s start with the area which is behind the dining hall. We have tried to build a vegetable garden there.  Next to it, we planted a small vineyard; about five years ago. It is a special ancient French variety of grapes, very perfumed and with a fine taste. This year, we built supports for the vines which will give them a good exposure to the sun. 

Next to the vegetable garden, there is an orchard. I planted most of its fruit trees. There are several different varieties: plum, apricot, cherry, and apple trees. Before there were peach trees but many of them died. Grass competes with the roots of the trees, and peach trees are a bit too weak, they do not live long and can die easily, so they did not survive the competition. Three or four died. 

This year, we pruned  half of the fruit trees in this orchard, so more sunlight can easily reach the inside branches of the trees. We will do the rest next year. I hope the fruits are not destroyed by the early frost this year as has happened in the past year. At least the cherries should be safe, as they blossomed after the big frost that we had this spring. 

Continuing our walk, you can see that we planted some fruit trees recently next to the pigeonerie and we have also saved some of the very old rose bushes on this side of the chateau.  

Now we are entering the allée of the lime trees – which is part of the cora around Shenten. You can see that the crowns of these trees are not as full as before, as we were required to cut some of their branches due to electric wires with internet cables passing too close to them. However, the branches will be back again, within two years, as they grow quite fast. I hope the trees will all survive and in good health this big intervention. It could not be avoided, we must obey the law.

The big sequoia, the tree which one can see from a distance when arriving at Shenten and which everyone who has been here knows, is around one hundred fifty years old. It was once struck by lightning, about twenty years ago or so, and its crown burnt at that time. Otherwise, it would have been even more impressive than now. We all love this majestic and noble tree.

“Next to the pavillon, on the right side of the road that goes from the parking lot to the hearth, we have another orchard.”

Lime trees form also the central allée which unites the parking lot and the entrance to Shenten. In the spring these trees all have green sprouts which are edible. You can try! It is like lettuce salad!

Next to the parking lot and along the cora you pass by bushes of lilacs. They have had some difficulties growing there because of many stones in the ground – the same stones that were used to build the chateau. Perhaps,  originally, there were the walls protecting the castle. It was difficult to dig holes to plant the lilacs there and also for their roots to make their way through stones. I have to help them to grow, with some natural fertilizers like dead leaves, or lawn mowing clippings and sometimes even nettles.

In the space between lama’s wing of the chateau and the parking place, on the right side from the central allée, we have chestnut trees and walnut trees. We have more walnut trees on the other side of Shenten, near pigeonerie. Those have even better exposure to the sunlight. Yongdzin Rinpoche used to crack walnuts from these trees, in the afternoons, while sitting on his white bench next to the laundry. 

Located  between the new stupa and Rinpoche´s room, there is a tree that Yongdzin Rinpoche planted, a ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo biloba is a survivor; plants of its species lived on the earth hundreds of millions of years ago.

On the walls of the lama’s wing of the castle, also facing the new stupa, there are white roses with a very nice perfume. They blossom even in the shadows, which is why they were planted on the northern side of the building.

Next to the pavillon, on the right side of the road that goes from the parking lot to the hearth, we have another orchard. Here, we planted around twenty trees, quite recently, Christophe and me.  We will have mirabelles, apples, apricots, peaches,  pears from those trees. 

We also have many aromatic plants at Shenten: fennel, salvia, rosemary, lavender, along with many flowers. 

People bought flower plants earlier this year for Shenten and gave them as offerings:  Lowell, Huguette, Alexandra, and others.  Khenpo Gelek planted many flower plants along with other Shenten lamas who helped him.  

Lowell Britson and Yungdrung Dargye choosing flowers for Shenten, during the retreat with Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche in April 2022.

We also have many juniper and cypress trees at Shenten. We cut and burn their branches in the hearth, at the daily morning sang offerings. These trees need to be shaped anyway.

Anyone who has been to Shenten knows there is also a palm, in a quite central place, between the two wings of the castle. The school that earlier owned the Shenten property encouraged gardening and their students planted this palm. It was very small when we arrived here but it has now grown quite large. It is a resistant variety of palm, which can survive in the frost, up to minus fifteen degrees.

In the small gardens, quite close to the palm tree and next to the laundry, dahlia flowers used to grow. These flowers were much loved by Yongdzin Rinpoche. Now there are not so many, but we will plant them again. During the pandemic, the gardens had less care than needed, as it was difficult to keep up on the usual maintenance. But now we are getting back to normal, with our joint efforts.

“Getting back to normal, with our joint efforts.”

photos: Jitka Polanska