In his short 1999 book How to Generate Bodhicitta, Tibetan Buddhist monk, Ribur Rinpoche (1923-2005) teaches:
What is the measure or sign of having generated great compassion in your mind? It is that you feel towards all sentient beings the same wish for them to be free of suffering that a mother would feel for her only child. When a mother sees her child going through intense suffering, she feels an unbearable wish for the child to be completely free from this suffering. Feeling this same strong wish towards each and every sentient being is the sign that you have generated great compassion. 1
From 1959 until 1976, Ribur Rinpoche was confined in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, by those who came to occupy the country. Although he is said to have been reserved about talking in detail about the suffering he experienced in those years, he did acknowledge: “The things they used to do to us are something you would never witness in your life. If I told you what happened on a daily basis, you would find it hard to believe.” In a teaching years later in the United States, Rinpoche explained that while those earlier experiences were “very painful:” [T]hey were “very beneficial, because I was using up all my negative karma from previous lives.” Rinpoche continues: “So then I prayed that the suffering be as intense as possible. As a result, my experiences in confinement were transformed into nothing but pure joy.” 2
One of Ribur Rinpoche’s American students wrote the following reflection upon his death:
I’ve never found it easier to talk to another human being. Although we shared no earthly common language, our talks were so lively, spontaneous, and creative, it seemed like there was no translator. I first met Ribur Rinpoche one rainy and very cold evening in 1998 at his residence at Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India. I had been taken there by my dear friend Fabrizio Pallotti, Rinpoche’s devoted student, translator, and jack-of-all-trades.
I remember being brought into Rinpoche’s rather damp, narrow room. The smell of cooked meat and incense hung in the air. He was sitting on a low throne, facing a large glass-encased statue of Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa tradition, with thousands of small lights illuminating it. Everything sparkled. The sparkle was really coming from him. His smile welcomed me and I did my prostrations. I felt warm and happy. I somehow had failed to bring a kata, or offering scarf, and instead offered the wool scarf I was wearing. He laughed and accepted the gift. I sat cross-legged at his feet while he and Fabrizio chatted in Tibetan. Without warning, my breathing changed and tears started streaming down my face. I was sobbing like a child. Fabrizio asked me what was wrong, and I said I didn’t know. Rinpoche looked down at me, smiling like the kindest of friends. After a while, he offered me an orange, which I took, appreciative that something had happened that changed the mood. I started laughing. Laughing and sobbing at the same time.
[In 2005] Rinpoche stopped breathing at Sera Me Monastery … in Amaravati, India. He was eighty-four years old. He had been in the U.S. for much of the previous eight years or so, teaching and practicing.
I was profoundly blessed to have him live in a house on our property outside of New York City for several of those years, finishing what he (and we all) thought would be his final retreats. He had not been well. The years of abuse under Chinese rule had not been kind to him physically, but, as was true for many Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypeople, those difficult years had offered a unique opportunity to practice dharma and achieve a remarkable degree of insight and compassion. Rinpoche’s mind and heart were impeccable. Bobcats, deer, adults, and children were drawn to his retreat house. He performed the birth rituals for my newborn son. Life was good for all of us. As Rinpoche completed his retreats, we built a stupa. Happily, his health improved greatly, probably due in part to the improvement in food, the dry and warm house, and the sensitive medical care of Dr. Woodson “Woody” Merrell, our neighbor and friend. We received the gift of an additional four years of Rinpoche’s kindness and inspiration. Toward the end of 2005, after beating a difficult cancer, Rinpoche began what I think we all knew were his final good-byes. He was putting things in order and thanking those he felt had been kind and generous to him. In October 2005, he returned to Sera Me Monastery where he left his body behind.
I’ve never met a kinder being. He overflowed with spunk, mischief, and ferocious energy to the end. He was always fun and fascinating. No matter how painful his body was, one always left him with the surety that all good things were possible and liberation inevitable. 3
- Ribur Rinpoche, How to Generate Bodhicitta. Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999/2006.
- Ribur Rinpoche, “Transforming Suffering into Pure Joy.” Translated by Fabrizio Pallotti. Mandala Magazine. Taos, NM: FPMT, March/April 1997. See also Lorne Ladner, The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology. New York: HarperCollins, 2004, page 250. Image One below is a photo of Ribur Rinpoche.
- Richard Gere, “The Kindest of Friends.” Tricycle. Summer 2006. (Emphasis mine.) Retrieved from: https://tricycle.org/magazine/kindest-friends/
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