The Last Time I Saw My Precious Teacher
By Losang Sherab (Guru Dorje), Dechen Ling Board of Directors
The last time I saw my precious teacher, the Venerable Losang Tsering, I read to him the first chapter of The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. He spoke to me that it was a wonderful translation. In the previous year and a half he had taken me under his wing and showed me how little I understood about anything, really, and very particularly about Buddhism. It was shocking, eye opening, to be humbled in such a kind, profound, way and in such totality. He took me under his wing, this arrogant, privileged, and mean spirited person and with a bodhichitta manifested right out of that first chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara he took this mulish student and wrenched his neck, inch by inch, toward the correct path.
Gen-la was adamant about the right way. I spent many hours with him and his knowledge and practice were flawless. He knew the minute details of every practice I had witnessed him do. He could explain them from memory or know exactly where to get the information. He manifested such a learned and perfect example of scholar and practitioner that I had to acquiesce to his will. Out of his kindness he manifested into a world in which he could show me, this hard headed student, what it was like to be a true practitioner, what it was like to dedicate oneself to the Dharma, and, frankly, to know that it was a stainless teaching, methodology, but only useful inasmuch as it brought beings to happiness, or, at the least, lessened their immediate suffering to eventually bring them to enlightenment.
I started with him, through my request, studying the Heart Sutra which he did and gave the Loong and commentary. Once we were finished he looked at me and asked what I wanted to study. I requested teachings on emptiness and he got a smile that I have come to know as one in which he was trying to hold in his laughter. He was laughing at my audacity to ask for such a teaching at that time. He said that it was a wonderful request and suggested some books for me to study, but, he said, “It is time to study the Lam Rim. It will get to emptiness but it is the most important aspect to know. It gives the life to the Dharma. It isn’t to be done and then passed on to bigger and better things. It is always to be practiced.”
We spent the next half year going over most of all the Lam Rim word for word, and then he gave magical commentaries that seemed, to me, many times, to be directly talking to me. He gave teachings, empowerments, and guidance on practice, advice on mundane activities, and through it all he gave a living example of what it means to practice for the sake of all beings.
One time, early in this relationship with him, I asked for some students whether he would like to have a long life puja done and he shook his head. He even looked a bit upset and he said to me. “If students want me to live longer they will practice, if I am here teaching and they don’t practice, then I will go somewhere else where I can be of use. I only want to be a use to beings.” Later, he told me that most people always have it mistaken about doing long life pujas. They think it is for the Guru but that is silly. “A Guru is realized, they are fully enlightened with a kindness greater than the Buddha’s. What people see as a sick person dying is their karma, it isn’t the Guru. Long life pujas are for the students. It is for them to accrue enough merit to be able to practice and make accomplishments.”
Some of his final instructions to me were to practice diligently, to remember beings, to always remember to help all of them, our precious mothers. He even spoke to me about spirits and demons and how many are afraid of them. He said, “They were our mothers. If they want to kill me then let them. What is one life anyways?” And he always emphasized and more so toward the end, Guru Yoga is the pathway toward enlightenment, toward achieving the ability to truly help, and there cannot be any real practice or pathway until we have realized this. He said it is difficult in this culture and this day and age to realize this, but it is so critical to practice that it is almost impossible to do so without it.
For myself, I know this. I am such a degenerate student. I have studied enough to know the beginning of the depth of my ignorance and can say that in this, in his teachings of Guru Yoga, I am convinced although I cannot practice as he has told me and had done. He venerated his Great Gurus, Lobsang Choepel, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and Geshe Khenrab Gajam, to name a few. He told me stories about their immense kindness, of their powerful practices, and, at the very basic heart of it, the undying affection for beings that manifested into active Bodhichitta. I have never met, in this life, any of his Gurus but I have met him and his enlightened activity. He said all he ever wanted to do was to follow his Gurus and do what they said, and they told him to teach, and as a conduit of their understanding, his teaching was without flaw, was like a powerful flame burning away obstructions. In fact, they were not separate. They were manifestations of Vajradhara and without boundary to each. That I saw them as separate is an expression of my ignorance. Poor Gen-la, he had such a difficult time with me.
I miss him already. If I was even a little of a practitioner I would not feel this way. I am sorry to my Gen-la that I was not a better practitioner. He made no mistakes, none, and I was with him for a year and a half for at least a few hours a week, usually. I cannot say that I saw him ever make a mistake. When I thought it was a mistake it would turn out he was right, and that thinking he made a mistake was an obstruction to my practice.
I am not the same person that met him, in this life, the first time. I have been profoundly changed. It all comes from the kindness of Venerable Losang Tsering. Who took my practice and stomped on it, shook it up, tore it apart, and then built a beautiful palace for me to enter. Then he stood in front of the palace and begged me to enter, then he stood behind me and pushed as hard as he could, then he laid down sweets as a trail, then he used a stick. I am an adamantly ignorant person; I refused, mostly, but slowly, a few hard fought inches were won. My head is at least turned in the direction he pointed. And I never saw a person more happy when I, mostly out of luck, did something right. He’d glow, smile, and say that I was correct (few and far between were these moments as I kept making mistakes).
In an article that was written on him, Gen-la said, “All I do now is translate, meditate, study, and teach; so those are four good jobs for a monk.” But I have seen him run a non-profit almost single handedly, a publishing company, and, on top of that, mundane activities that would hobble a person like me into feeling sorry for themselves. Gen-la worked at each of his activities as if it were the only thing he was doing. I do not know how he was able to do it all.
As Gen La has moved onto Dharmadatu, let us rejoice in all his enlightened activity. He translated sacred texts because he said future practitioners needed them; he did it for them. He often said that it was only for them that he went through such difficulties, especially for those in the English speaking world. He spoke well of all traditions, Buddhist or otherwise, and thought there were enlightened masters, specifically, in all the schools. He rejoiced in them as well. He brought precise Dharma to the West through inviting teachers and monks, and he dedicated a life to learning it in detail so that he could transmit it as well.
Unfortunately, for him, I came knocking on his door and he had to take on the burden of trying to shove some good into this head. All that is good about me, I can honestly say, is because of him. What was there before was a falsity without any depth, what is good there now is not this way. The bad was always there and is the chains of my ignorance that he wrestled with so well.
I miss you Gen-la. I will try as hard as this little person can. You were the lamp that illuminated my darkened path. I offer up all that I am to you. Please stay with us until Samsara ends.