#7: Finding the Dharma

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Since early childhood, H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s powerful imprints of a Tulku manifested in his natural devotion towards Buddhist Masters, deities and prayers, and his all-consuming longing to practise the Dharma. Often, he would sit on his bed in meditation posture, visualising himself as a high Lama giving teachings, composing sacred texts on long strips of paper, or drawing and painting various Buddha forms. These he passed out to other children as blessings and protection.

As a young child, Rinpoche would draw Buddha images such as this one of Shakyamuni

Rinpoche would also make talismans such as this Green Tara pendant for his friends at school

From a young age, Rinpoche was fascinated by Manjushri, Vajrayogini, Heruka, Palden Lhamo and Chenrezig, and was profoundly affected by the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation and Chenrezig’s prayer. He had an unusual attraction to the Spiritual Head of Tibetan Buddhism and would spontaneously chant OM MANI PEME HUNG and think of H.H. as a Buddha without anyone telling him to do so. Rinpoche also used to pray to Manjushri to do better at school. Certainly none of his classmates prayed to a Buddha for their school work!

Manjushri has always been one of Rinpoche's favourite deities and this thangka, painted by one of Rinpoche's students, is one of his favourite Manjushri images!

There were other examples of Rinpoche’s unusual connection to the Dharma. As a child, he used to see a red lady in his imaginations and would think, “This practice can take us from this world fast”. Many times, he would miss the school bus because he had spent the previous night secretly reading Dharma books under the covers. Reluctant to walk to school in the rain, he would pray to Medicine Buddha, reciting OM MANI PEME HUNG as he did not know any other mantras. The rain would stop, only starting again just as Rinpoche arrived at school! Once, he even dreamt that the Medicine Buddha appeared from the sky and stopped other children from teasing him!

With such powerful imprints from previous lives, it is not surprising that Rinpoche would meet his first Guru, the highly realised Master of Vajrayogini practice and Abbot Emeritus of Sera Monastery, H.E. Kensur Lobsang Tharchin, at Rashi Gempil Ling (RGL), a Mongolian temple just 10 minutes from his home in Howell.

H.E. Kensur Lobsang Tharchin Rinpoche - Tsem Rinpoche's first Guru

From that point onwards, Rinpoche would spend his every free moment at RGL; helping out, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cleaning up. He had a strong desire to work in the temple and serve his Guru. Attracted to the wrathful deities, he would spend hours in the gompa praying to Palden Lhamo.

I would die to get teachings. I would tremble with excitement, anticipation and glee before teachings and initiations. I would sit there through the whole thing with my breath held. When it finished, I was depressed because I loved the Dharma and I didn’t know what was waiting for me at home.

Despite his parents’ opposition to his Dharma practice, Rinpoche would borrow Dharma books which he would read voraciously. He would also call up Michael Roach, another student of Kensur Rinpoche, to clarify Dharma questions.

Rinpoche has always had a strong connection to Vajrayogini. Rinpoche strongly advises his students to focus on her practice and his organisation, Kechara, is named after her pure land

It was here in RGL that Rinpoche met His Holiness for the first time, from whom he received the oral transmission of OM MANI PEME HUNG and the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. Rinpoche received his first initiation from Kensur Rinpoche after many requests to receive Vajrayogini’s initiation.

My first initiation – I was so excited for weeks. And also afterwards. Even now I’m excited when I talk about it! It’s like a hardness in my chest, that I can’t breathe.

However, in the midst of such excitement and joy, there was a certain sadness, for Rinpoche could not share any of this with his family, who were completely unsupportive of his Dharma practice. He had to keep it all a secret, with devastating consequences if found out.

Young Rinpoche with his mother (far right) and family friends. Both his parents were completely against his involvement in the Dharma; Rinpoche could not share his greatest happiness with his own family

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