The inner realizations of the Dalai Lama
Renowned historian, biographer and yogi, Ribur Rinpoche (1923-2006), had a close relationship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has described to him, with typical humility, many of his inner realizations. But first, Rinpoche tells of the important role of the regents in Tibetan Buddhism., and the recognition and enthroning of the young Dalai Lama.
The first time I arrived in Lhasa from my original place in Kham in 1935, the Great thirteenth Dalai Lama had passed away, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama wasn’t found yet, and the regent at the time was the fifth Reting Rinpoche, Thubten Jamphel Yeshe Tenpe Gyaltsen.
At that time the major task of the Tibetan government was to find the whereabouts of the would-be Fourteenth Dalai Lama in order to invite him to Lhasa. The entire population of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, was also completely devoted to finding him.
In particular, the regent, Reting Rinpoche, felt an unbelievable sense of responsibility to find the unmistaken reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, to a degree I didn’t understand at the time. I only found out many years later, when I lived in Dharamsala, India and was involved in composing the biography of the fifth Reting Rinpoche. His almost obsessive dedication to finding the Fourteenth Dalai Lama stemmed from a prediction made by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama himself.
When I was in Dharamsala — many, many years after Reting Rinpoche had passed away — His Holiness the Dalai Lama told me that although there were some general accounts on the religious life and general happenings in the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, there was no comprehensive biography encompassing all of his great activities, which were vast and extensive from the point of view of Dharma practice and the point of view of his political activities. I embarked on the task of composing this biography, and upon completion I offered it to his Holiness the Dalai Lama.
His Holiness said, “This is good, and what we need now are biographies of Reting Rinpoche and Talung Rinpoche,” both of whom were regents of Tibet, one after the other, before the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s time. Talung Rinpoche was the first tutor of His Holiness, as well as Tibet’s regent before Reting Rinpoche. His Holiness felt that since other people were already involved in the task of composing his own biography, it would be extremely beneficial to have the two regents’ political and life activities, and hte Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s activities would be plugged in for continuity.
To Reincarnate — Or Not
In the process of composing the biography of Reting Rinpoche, I had studied various sources of information about his life and previous lives and i came across the following informaiton.
The fourth Reting Rinpoche was a wealthy throne-holder of Reting Monastery, which was a well-established monastery in the Gelug tradition. Before he died, he called the administrator of the monastery and told him, “There won’t be any more need for my future reincarnations to be recognized. Therefore, bring all the keys of the storerooms, storage, and treasure-house, and whatever wealth there is of the household and monastery, pack them up and as soon as I pass away, bring them to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and offer everything with the request not to search for my reincarnation.”
As soon as Reting Rinpoche passed away, the administrator went to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and offered him all the Reting wealth, telling him that it was Reting Rinpoche’s wish for his reincarnation not to be recognized.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama said, “Yes, I know he had this in mind, but there are two great purposes that he was to accomplish. Therefore, take everything back to the monastery, and we will recognize the next reincarnation. He has to come back.” Then the Thirteenth Dalai Lama passed away, and the fifth Reting Rinpoche was recognized and enthroned at Reting Monastery, where he engaged in all his studies and contemplation until he became a geshe and was established as a lama.
The first of the two great purposes was to construct a great reliquary in the Potala Palace (winter seat of all the Dalai Lamas) that contained the remains of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The second was to search out and recognize the unmistaken reincarnation of the great Fourteenth Dalai Lama. This is why when I saw Reting Rinpoche in Lhasa, he was almost obsessed with finding hte exact reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and bringing him back to Lhasa. As soon as he accomplished this second task, he passed away.
He visited Lhamo Lhatso lake in 1935 and after intensive prayers and rituals over several days, had a vision of the golden and turquoise roofs of the monasteries in the Kumbum [which is where the reincarnation was found]. He also saw three Tibetan syllables — Ah, Ka, Ma — which identified the name of the region in which the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was born. Throughout the whole search process, there were lots of obstacles to be eliminated, things to be produced, pujas to be done — he checked over every single thing, and personally checked the signs of the young potential candidates.
Reting Rinpoche sent a delegation to Kumbum with some of the belongings of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. These were mixed with similar objects of the same type, such as prayer beads, walking stick and so forth, the correct ones of which the young Dalai Lama recognized without fail. Reting Rinpoche was indispensable in finding this Dalai Lama — what he did was unbelievably beneficial.
Once the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was recognized, Reting Rinpoche organized the various events involving the young boy and his entourage en route to Lhasa. This meant lots of tents and invitations — the main tent site outside of Lhasa was almost as big as Sera Monastery. All the high lamas who were recognized reincarnations had their thrones in the main tent.
Meeting His Holiness For the First Time
I was invited to meet the Fourteenth Dalai Lama when he was very young — probably around four years old. He had an unusual and extremely powerful presence and appearance on the throne. He was a young child with a farsighted gaze that almost always went into space — just one look at him and we could already tell he was remarkable.
In 1940, the Dragon year, the young Dalai Lama was formally enthroned in the Potala Palace with a royal feast of a display of auspicious signs and symbols and dances. My mind was so taken by this display that I really thought this was Arya Chenrezig taking rebirth for the benefit of the people of the land of snows. I felt all the gods and protectors were coming down and paying their homage, displaying their happiness and rejoicing.
A few years later, I was lucky to be in attendance when His Holiness was invited to give teachings for the first time at the Great Prayer Festival (Mönlam Chenmo) in the courtyard of the Jokhang Temple. We were the first to receive the very first spill of the nectar of his teachings. He gave the transmission of the guru yoga of Lama Tsong Khapa, Ganden Lha Gyama, and the Foundation of All Good Qualities — a short writing by Lama Tsong Khapa on the stages of the path.
He was still so very young, and yet he went through the motions of giving teachings like a consummate Lama Tsong Khapa throne-holder. I watched as the Nechung State Oracle — who was in a trance — came over to His Holiness to whisper in his ear. His Holiness was so small, he was completely covered by the Nechung Oracle. Normally a boy of that age would be completely frightened by something so physically overwhelming, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama didn’t move for a second; he didn’t show any signs of fear or unevenness. Actually, when the Nechung Oracle moved away, His Holiness was smiling. A normal boy of that age would be scared his whole life! These are real exceptional signs of the actual qualities, even at that age.
When he was 16 years old, he gave the Kalachakra initiation to many hundreds of thousands of people at the Norbulingka, during which he wore the full bone ornaments of the Kalachakra. His Holiness had a particular attention and respect for ascetic, highly accomplished masters. One of them was T. Khepong Rinpoche. His Holiness saw him sitting in the middle of the crowd of lay people and called him forward. By paying special attention to that kind of practitioners, he already displayed some of his inner qualities at an early age.
Gradually the young Dalai Lama engaged in his studies, going through the motions of enthronement in the three great monasteries (Drepung, Sera and Ganden), and was principally taken care of in his studies by the first senior tutor, Talung Rinpoche, and his junior tutor, Ling Rinpoche. His attendant was Trijang Rinpoche, principal debate master at the time. Trigjang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche were the auxiliary help in philosophy and debate, while Talung Rinpoche was His Holiness’s main teacher.
When His Holiness completed his studies, he took his geshe exams in 1959 in front of the highest philosophical authorities at the time. Among them were Sera Me abbot Lama Dragpa, and hte abbot of Sera Je, Lozang Wangchuk. When His Holiness debated with them in front of thousands of people, his sharpness was so acute that it astonished them. They looked at each other, puzzled at the depth of his philosophical authority. Many high philosophers and learned ones later debated in front of His Holiness, but His Holiness stood so far in front of everybody with his learning that I was amazed by the extent of his studies and his understanding.
His Holiness Shares His Realizations
Against my wish, I was stuck in Tibet for 26 years under the Communist Chinese, until I was released and traveled to Dharamsala due to the Dalai Lama’s kindness. After I arrived, I offered my services in writing and composing whatever His Holiness asks me to do. Thus I’ve had the chance to meet with His Holiness again and again.
During one of our meetings, His Holiness told me about a time he was reading and meditating on the commentary to Madhyamika by Lama Tsong Khapa. As he read about the simile in which a rope at nighttime can be mistaken for a snake, all of a sudden, in deepening his understanding (conventionally speaking, this is what he was telling me) all the constructed appearances ceased in his perception, and he had this very strong — even physical — sharp feeling coming through him. For almost 20 days without cease, his mind did not perceive as true whatever appearances appeared to his senses.
Immediately I said, “This sounds like the direct realization of emptiness,” and His Holiness kind of downplayed it. Keeping it slightly hidden, he said, “Well as far as direct realization of emptiness, probably something similar — no, not even similar.” And he moved on. This shows conventionally that he’s achieving this kind of realization, and in actuality, he’s Arya Avalokiteshvara.
During another meeting, His Holiness told me, “I’m really paying a great deal of attention to bodhichitta, to great compassion and great love. I’m engaging my mind very seriously, and strange things are happening. Even if I hear outside the cry of a dog who’s been hit by a stone or something, right away I feel pain like I’ve been hit myself.” When he told me this, strong faith came that this is actually Arya Avalokiteshvara, although on a conventional level he’s showing us ordinary beings the development of great compassion.
Another time when His Holiness just returned from one of his teaching trips to Ladakh, I went to see him, and he said, “I’d like so much to liberate animals whose lives are in danger, but I cannot do it around here because there is no space to put them. I will do it in Ladakh where I have a huge space where I put animals, and I have a lot of sheep.
“One day all of these sheep in the meadow in front of my place came by, and as I was looking at them — at their stupidity, their pitiful state — I had this overwhelming compassion thinking what a pitiful, pitiful ignorance they are in. It was unbearable.” This is a clear sign of his having developed great compassion.
Another time, His Holiness was in Ladakh doing a Hevajra retreat, when early one morning, as soon as he woke up, he heard a distinctive sound of a melodious bell and damaru [small ritual drum] playing. The music was highly unusual and very distinctive.
He figured it must be the monks of the monastery, but when he inquired about the music, they said no, they hadn’t played any ritual instruments. His Holiness tole me, “At that time I realized it must be a sign.” That’s all he said about it. I think in reality the music was the sound of damarus and bells from the pure lands, coming down to wake the yogi up for his practice.
One time I went to see His Holiness, and after prostrating I requested permission to write the secret biography that shows his inner achievements. His Holiness contemplated this for a while, then said yes, I could do it. I want to talk with his close attendants, who are constantly with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and who witness his behavior and all the signs for telling his inner realizations and the particular circumstances that brought them out. However, since I’m constantly traveling and going from place to place, this hasn’t been done yet. I have notes in my room in India, taken from many instances when His Holiness expressed his inner realizations to me.
We are so fortunate to witness the display of someone who has even conventionally realized bodhichitta and emptiness. Especialy with regards to emptiness, those of us who have taken many teachings from his can understand by his very unconventional, profound yet easy-to-understand way of explaining emptiness, that it is only by having directly realized emptiness that he could have this understanding. As disciples, it is a rare stroke of luck to be with this lama who even conventionally appears with such exceptional qualities.
Tags: his holiness the dalai lama, ribur rinpoche, tibet