Sogyal Rinpoche, Buddhist master.   

Best-selling Buddhist closes book on fame

The Australian,(TA), 17 January, 2000

In 1992, a book stamped with a ponderous don't-read-me title appeared under the name of Sogyal Rinpoche, Buddhist master. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying sold more than 200,000 copies in its first year, climbing to more than 1 million. But Sogyal Rinpoche, who is in Australia for a series of public talks and retreats, decided against using fame as a springboard to guru status.

"There were so many things that one could pursue and follow - make tape, make many kinds of things, do more television and interviews," he says. "All the doors were open."

He choose to concentrate on his own spiritual practice, and to spend more time with his own ageing teachers. And while he doesn't pursue the subject, the tacit point is nevertheless clear: many a Western spiritual "sage" espousing the wisdom of the East would have climbed aboard the celebrity train, stoked the engine and waved: "All aboard!"

Sogyal Rinpoche heads a spiritual group called Rigpa - in Tibet, literally "the knowledge of knowledge" - and spends his time mostly in France, the US and India. He wrote his bestseller, a distillation of Tibetan Ideas about death and dying, in the face of widespread Western denial of mortality. Dressed in a traditional Tibetan robe on the day we met, he's a portly, cheery presence - no wan ascetic. He may have peered into the valley of death. But he seems quite untouched by it.

Sogyal Rinpoche was born in Tibet and went into exile with the Chinese invasion, joining his master, Jamyang Khyentse, who died in the Himalayas.

The year was 1959 and Sogyal Rinpoche was just 7. That death and the death of his homeland, took the ground from beneath his feet. But just as the Buddhist belief In reincarnation provides solace from grief, Sogyal Rinpoche believes that Tibet, too, will be reborn.

"I do believe it will be returned. In the early days, in the 60s and the early 70s, it seemed like it was impossible because we had very little support from governments. And Tibetans have a saying, 'When the sky eats the Earth, what can the poor little Earth do?'," he smiles. And the eyes smile too. "But the Dalai Lama has remained steadfast, and kept up our hope. I really very much believe in him and his vision. He thinks globally, not just of the Tibetan people. He thinks we have to live with China, China Is a great country. His Holiness, I think, really feels that Tibet or himself may be able to contribute towards China and its international relationships."

He says the recent escape of the young 14-year-old Karmapa lama - his predecessor was Sogyal Rinpoche's uncle - from Lhasa to India took the Dalai Lama and his exiled Government by surprise. "He (Karmapa lama) took the journey primarily so he could meet with his own teachers and continue his education."

But isn't the exile of Tibet's third-ranking lama a loss to the Tibetan people at a crucial time? If Sogyal Rinpoche sees the point, his deep grained levity will not allow him to dwell on it. "In some ways I think by coming here, If you get a good education and training, it will be even a greater asset," he says.

WTN-L World Tibet Network News