Tributes to Gen Rinpoche

Memorial Service, 19 August 1995

Held in the Queen's Room, Kinnaird House (the place where in 1982 Gen Rinpoche had given his first teaching in Dunedin), the Memorial Service was attended by over seventy people from the Buddhist and wider community. Introduced by Cathi Graham, addresses were given by Venerable Lhagon Rinpoche, the Mayor of Dunedin, Felicity Gendun and Losang Dawa.

Tribute by Ven. Lhagon Rinpoche

Translated by Losang Dawa

Today we are gathered here to remember Gen Rinpoche, to express our sense of sorrow over his passing, and to pay our respects to him.

His life story is vast, and the scope of this meeting is too small for me to go into details, however right from the beginning when he left his home district to go to Central Tibet to be trained by great masters; through his continued struggle, in spite of poverty, with his training, meditation and practice; his flight to India, living in poverty there, yet continuing his practice; the way he really cared for his disciples and students; his unfailing meditations -- [all the phases of his life show his greatness.]

Gen Rinpoche was a tremendous asset to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who wanted to disseminate the teaching of the Buddha, which he believed was a healing path. In order to do that, in the early 1970s His Holiness summoned Gen Rinpoche to Dharamsala to teach in the newly founded Tibetan Library, and there he taught for nearly twelve years. It was an international centre for learning about Buddhism and Buddhist practice, which drew thousands of students from all over the world. Those students went back to their own countries, and now Buddhism is being appreciated by more and more people around the world. Gen Rinpoche played a key role in initiating such a direction. Subsequently he was also indirectly responsible for kindling an appreciation for Tibetan culture by way of showing the path. In the future we would like to compile the life story of Gen Rinpoche, and all those people who have come in contact with him will be able to pool their experiences so that we will be able to bring out a publication of his glorious spiritual life and training that will inspire future generations.

Gen Rinpoche's death is a great loss to humanity, in particular to the Buddhist world, and even more particularly to the Buddhist Centre here. However we should not feel too sad, as he left behind a rich heritage from which, if we follow his direction, we stand to gain, and I hope that in the future, by following and keeping to the path he showed, people will be able to propagate and proliferate his teachings.

In this town there are groups of people of different nationalities, different faiths and different customs, and it is my hope that the Centre Gen Rinpoche founded will play a key role in fostering inter-faith harmony, friendship and love for each other.

With this short note, I would like to express my gratitude to all who have come here.

Tribute by Losang Dawa

Up until now I was Gen Rinpoche's mouthpiece. I first met him in 1977 and since then have translated his teachings almost non-stop, except when he went to America the first time. His qualities are too vast for me to describe in detail here. Nevertheless, I would like to pay tribute to him because he used to say that at a time when people are disrespectful towards and down-play the importance of gurus, teachers, it is regarded as very fortunate on the path to be able to say something nice about one's teacher.

Right from his early years in the village where he was born, Gen Rinpoche was totally devoted to learning and practice. To enhance his learning, when he was eighteen he went to Central Tibet to join the Sera Monastic University. He pursued his learning and practice under all circumstances, through thick and thin. Life at Sera Monastery was extremely difficult for the trainees because they really concentrated on the training and they disregarded their physical welfare. He used to say that for many days he did not have enough food or clothing -- were it not for his kind friends he would have had a great deal of difficulty -- yet he did not give up his practice. And when he was pursued for almost a year by the Chinese (he had to take a roundabout route on the journey from Tibet to India) -- when people had to run for their lives and cover their heads, he was there doing his practice. He never abandoned his practice: no circumstances deterred him.

He was trained by the most enlightened teachers of his time, including the tutors of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other respected lamas. He was very proud of his gurus ('guru' means 'teacher'). He really respected them and did whatever he could for them because devotion to the guru and love for the guru was stressed by him, as with all Buddhas, to be the essence, the starting point of one's development and training. Whatever his guru said, he did, and he didn't do anything that his guru said he shouldn't. There are many instances that illustrate this but I would like to pick just one. At one time his mother wrote to him saying, "You must come home, otherwise I won't be able to die in peace -- I will have great difficulty breathing my last". He got such a very emotional letter that he went to many gurus asking, "Would you allow me to go back to see my mother?" Most of them, thinking of the situation, said "Yes," but one said "You must not go, you must stay and continue your training." So he stayed. This shows that he did not displease even one guru. Even though the majority -- democratically speaking as it were -- had said "Yes," he listened to all his gurus and did not displease even one of them.

This had a profound effect on his character and resolution. He was a lama of very strong will and character. Once he made up his mind, there was no going back. We, his disciples and students, have many examples of this. Chopping-and- changing was regarded by him as a virus of the mind, something that takes away clarity and clouds the mind. The purity of his morality clearly reflects his views on this: he had taken vows to abandon many negative things and this became his determination -- he never abandoned any of his vows. This shows the resolution of his character.

He also had an extraordinarily powerful memory. I dare to say that his memory was nothing less than the memory of the most powerful next-generation computer. Anything that happened in his life was computerized. Something would happen which we would forget and years later he would recall like a flash, "This person said this, that person said that, didn't you realize?" And then, when you would think calmly, everything would come back to you. He also used to tell us about debates. As you knows, monks in Tibet used to debate in the debate courtyard with their debating partners. Gen Rinpoche could remember absolutely clearly the details of debates he had had thirty of forty years ago: "I had this partner and he said this to me and I defended my position by answering him this." He was very very clear and lucid in his memory of debates.

Next I would like to talk about something which has already been mentioned by others -- how much he loved his disciples. He did everything for his disciples. You can see from the photograph here that his robes did not have any sleeves, yet he had many devices up his sleeves. He was very very compassionate: he did everything out of compassion, and driven by compassion he would even show his wrath. Once he became wrathful one wondered if even the most wrathful Buddhist deities were so wrathful! He showed his wrathfulness not out of anger, but out of his compassionate knowledge that the disciple could achieve something and change for the better. If need be he would sing the praises of a disciple to try to bring about a transformation and change of heart that way.

He loved New Zealand and New Zealand people and the peace that prevails in New Zealand. He was very proud of New Zealand. Whenever visitors came to see him he would always sing the praises of New Zealand. He said that the socialist nature of the New Zealand Government was nothing short of what we Tibetans call 'implementation of universal responsibility', and he was very proud of that. As a result, he chose New Zealand as his third home.

Lastly I would like to say that I was very, very lucky to have been involved with him in his own implementation of universal responsibility by way of giving teachings. I was involved with him until now, when my hair is going grey. I feel very grateful that I was involved with him. The best part of my life has been my association with him and with his teaching in order to disseminate the path of the Buddha.

Although we have lost Gen Rinpoche, we have been left with the rich healing heritage of the teachings he gave us, which can heal our hearts and our minds and purify our beings of the defilements of thoughts that rob us of peace.

He often used to say that gurus and disciples will part one day. That has happened now for us. Yet, reciting Milarepa's story he would say, as Milarepa said to one of his disciples,

You can remember your guru --
Hold him in your heart,
Hold the teachings in your heart.

So, although he is gone, he can be with us right within us.

Tribute by Felicity Gendun

Gen Rinpoche had an extraordinary memory and loved to quote verses from his favourite texts, most particularly Shantideva's Bodhisattvacharyavatara, A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Felicity paid tribute to Gen Rinpoche by introducing and reading some of his favourite verses:

Gen Rinpoche often taught about impermanence, death and the preciousness of this precious human rebirth. Last week he gave his final teaching by passing away. Now we who are left behind pray, in the words of Guru Puja:

Realizing how this body of liberties and endowments
Is found but once, is difficult to obtain, and is easily lost,
We seek your blessings to partake of its essence, make it worthwhile,
And not be distracted by the meaningless affairs of this life.

Even though he is no longer physically with us, the blessings and the advice he gave us with great patience, wisdom and with boundless, loving compassion, remain.

The positive qualities and virtues that Gen Rinpoche taught us to develop were what he himself possessed. He emphasised the need to practise loving-kindness and compassion, the essence of the Buddha's teachings -- qualities which he perfectly embodied. As Guru Puja says:

There is no difference between ourselves and others:
None of us wishes even the slightest of sufferings
Nor is ever content with the happiness we have.
Realizing this, we seek your blessings that we may
Enhance the bliss and joy of others.

This chronic disease of cherishing ourselves
Is the cause giving rise to our unsought suffering;
Perceiving this, we seek your blessings to blame, begrudge
And destroy the monstrous demon of selfishness.

Gen Rinpoche was totally concerned with the welfare of others, and made prayers every day for their benefit. Everyone who met him, no matter how briefly, felt his love and compassion. Even at the very end of his life, his concern was for those caring for him, not for himself. To remind us of his extraordinary nature I would like to read some of his favourite prayers from Bodhicharyavatara, A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life:

May all beings everywhere,
Plagued with sufferings of body and mind,
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.

May those feeble with cold find warmth,
And may those oppressed with heat be cooled
By the boundless waters that pour forth
From the great clouds of the Bodhisattvas' merits.

May the regions of hell become places of joy
With vast and fragrant lotus pools
Beautified with the exquisite calls
Of wild ducks, geese and swans.

May the rains of lava, blazing stones and weapons,
From now on become a rain of flowers,
And may all battling with weapons
From now on be a playful exchange of flowers.

May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food;
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.

May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy;
May the forlorn find new hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.

May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their illness,
And may every disease in the world
Never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may people think of benefiting one another.

May there abound in all directions
Gardens of wish-fulfilling trees
Filled with the sweet sound of Dharma
Proclaimed by the Buddhas and their Sons.

By the merits I have accumulated,
May every single being
Abandon all forms of evil
And perpetually engage in virtue.

For as long as space endures
And for as long as living being remain,
Until then my I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.

Return to the contents page.