Mandala talked with Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche, the reincarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe, in January. Lama turned 15 on February 12.
Tell us something about the retreat you just did.
It was very nice, all the monks [of Sera Je] together, 2,500. The monks do it every year. We did the retreat of 100,000 Hayagriva mantras, then the other mantras that go with it, like the other protectors. We did 10,000 of each one of them. It came out very nice, very good. We did the retreat inside the gompa.
We got up at 5:30 in the morning to start the retreat, and the first session would end at 8. At 9 we would have another session until 12, which included lunch. We’d have another one after that at 2 o’clock, from 2 to 5 o’clock, also including dinner, and the last session was from 6 to 9. Then we were finished for one day. When we’re doing retreat we can’t talk; after the session is finished, then we can talk. As soon as they touch the bells then you can talk.
At the end we did the fire puja: the abbot, Geshe Donyo, the main lamas, and another lama that some people say is the emanation of Hayagriva and other people say in his past life had very good contact with Hayagriva – anyway, something like that.
It lasted two weeks. At the end all of the lamas had to wear the dakini dress and hair. It was four hours and my back was hurting so much! I had this huge thing on my head, plus all the other things we have to wear. It was very difficult. Only the lamas wore the dress – there weren’t many lamas doing retreat, only 10 or 12.
Why do you wear the dakini dress?
I don’t know. They gave it to us and we just put it on. When the classes start I’ll ask my teacher why.
What is special about Hayagriva practices?
Hayagriva is Sera Je’s main protector, and we do this retreat for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s long life. Anyone can do the retreat if they want to, but if you don’t have the initiation then you can’t visualize yourself as Hayagriva. If you haven’t taken the initiation it’s not like retreat, it’s just doing the mantras. It’s still good but it’s not like retreat. In retreat you have to visualize yourself as Hayagriva and all that, so if you haven’t taken the initiation then you cannot visualize yourself like that. But you can still of course go there and do the mantras.
What do you like about retreat?
My mind is very peaceful when I do retreat. I don’t study when I’m in retreat, and it’s a nice contrast with the studies.
Do you think your studies help your ability to meditate?
Right now I don’t know how to meditate very well about everything, but in the future I think it will help. In the beginning when you read the text you know what to meditate because the text tells you what to meditate about. But now I don’t understand very well, so I just read and recite. I don’t understand what to visualize.
When I did the White Tara retreat with my teacher, my teacher explained what to meditate about, so at that time I meditated.
Are you happy with what you’re doing at the monastery?
I am very, very happy here. I don’t think it could be better. It’s the best place in the world for me to study Buddhism, and everything has been made easy for me to study. It’s such a good – how do you say? – fortunate human rebirth. I would have been very remorseful if I had stayed in Spain.
Do you get time to spend with any other monks?
No, usually I am inside the house. Usually I don’t go outside; I stay inside unless I go to pujas.
Are you okay with that?
Yes. The other people can go outside. Only some lamas cannot go outside. There are 84 reincarnations here, but most of them don’t have attendants, so they just go around like this, you know. Some of them have attendants. Most of them are young.
What do you do for holidays?
I sit, and then I use my hands to play computer. Sometimes I play the ball games and sometimes I just walk up and down the house.
Now we’re on holiday for Losar [Tibetan New Year]. All the homes are filled up to the brim with music, and people are playing snooker – that’s the game where you hit the ball with the stick. There’s another game where you hit the ball with your hands – it’s very good. I think I have two weeks for holiday.
Did you enjoy the teachings in Bodhgaya in December?
Yes, everything. I really like to be very near His Holiness. Especially at the end, when His Holiness gave advice to the Kopan monks – I really liked that. I think someone recorded it.
What is your favorite topic to debate?
I haven’ started yet, so there is nothing like that yet.
In your studies with your teacher, do you debate emptiness?
Emptiness will come later, after many years of study. Now is just like making your mind sharp, so we’re learning about colors. It helps make your mind sharp so in the future when you actually start – so emptiness is not yet.
Which topic do you like?
Everything. I think everything is well made. Everything is very, very vast and is very well written.
Do you study things like bodhichitta?
No, I haven’t studied anything like that yet.
How does it work then?
Du-ra [Collected Topics] is just the beginning. Lo-rig [Mind and Awareness] comes later. At other monasteries you study Lo-rig very soon, after one year of debating. Here you have to study three years before you get to Lo-rig. You have to make your mind more sharp. You debate about things to make your mind quick, like with mathematics.
In Du-ra you debate about colors, then about permanence and impermanence, and things like that. I really like debate. I don’t know how to explain the debate questions in English – it’s very complicated. I heard Geshe Michael Roach teaches people how to debate very nicely. Debate is mainly to understand Buddhist philosophy more easily.
If we don’t know how to debate according to a particular technique, do you think it’s good to discuss Dharma with friends?
Yes, that could help because you could exchange ideas.
Do you study anything on your own, or is your entire education guided by your teachers?
Sometimes when I’m alone I read some things. I read some books in English, then some things in Tibetan, like Semkyi Shidhe – The Peaceful Mind – a book by His Holiness. I don’t understand it – I just try to understand. Mostly I don’t understand. It’s mostly about compassion.
With Western books I just read things like Lord of the Rings, whereas with Tibetan books they’re all about Buddhism. With English books I am able to read faster, and my grammar improves. The spelling comes out nicer if you can read well, and when you talk you have more words to use – this comes from reading books. I’ve found this helps from reading English books.
I really like to study much more in Tibetan than in English. In English I don’t have that sem shuk mind – sem means mind and shuk means strong, eager. I don’t have that in English, but in Tibetan I have it – eagerness. My mind is eager for the whole studies of Buddhism.
Since you mentioned mathematics earlier, are you interested in any other subjects of study?
I like mathematics. I like it because it’s very interesting the way you use your mind there. It’s also very vast, mathematics.
Science I don’t like very much, especially physics. Physics I especially dislike – all the things, that and this – I don’t understand it, it’s very difficult. I think I may study a little more Western psychology in the future, just to see what it is.
From what you’ve seen in the West, is there anything you’ve learned that you think is a good way of dealing with attachment? Is there any advice you could give?
If you are a monk, or what?
Either monk or layperson.
Sometimes it helps if you think of impermanence – if you think that one day you will be come old; old then finish. Then you can think about death, and think, “I have to try my best now” – like this. Also, you can imagine someone you’re attached to as your mother sentient being – it changes the relationship.
What if you’re not a monk or nun, and you meet someone you think you can have a relationship with and practice Dharma with – how can you tell if it’s more delusion?
Oh, I don’t know.
Do you think the Maitreya Project is going well?
Yes, I think next year it will start [actually building]. I saw some plans already. Before, I didn’t think it would happen; I thought it was this thing that won’t exist ever – the Indian airport saying it was too high, then they couldn’t get the land – it seemed impossible. Now it seems like things should be able to start.
Do you think the statue is a good idea?
Yes. So many people will benefit.
What would you say to someone who thinks the statue is a selfish, egotistical project?
Every time you try to make something big, many obstacles come. Lama Konchog said that. If you make something big then always some obstacles come. Some people feel jealous, so many things.
From my point of view I think it’s very good – it will help many people, like by karma, from Buddhist point of view. It will also help Bihar economically. If you build it then you will accumulate good karma by building the statue, then so will the people who offer money to build it, then after the people who circumambulate it will benefit.
Are you pleased with the way you see the FPMT developing?
Kind of, yes. Many people are enemies, though – not enemies, but no harmony. They say, “Buddhist, blah blah blah,” but then they say things like, “This person is this, that person is that, and this person’s no good” – many problems like that. Otherwise I think everything is good.
I heard that Lama Zopa Rinpoche once said you will start taking more responsibility for the organization when you are 18.
Really? I didn’t know.
Do you have the energy for that?
I have the energy, but I have to know a lot about Buddhist philosophy for that. If I gave teachings I might give something wrong. So I need to study about everything for when I start giving teachings. Everything else is very easy – (laughs) I think. I still haven’t experienced. I think it’s very easy. Well not very easy, but pretty easy. I hope so!
So if you have your mind controlled through study and meditation, then everything else you do will be easy?
No, no. What I mean is that I think it’s easy to come up with some plans to build something and say, “Do this and do that.” I think it’s easy, but I’m not sure. Anyway I’ll see when I start.Tags: osel hita