September 8, 2013

A Tibetan Master is Changing Our World. This is His Story.


When the Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa fled Tibet and began to spread Buddhism in the west, he did not do so alone.

For by his side was another great Tibetan master equal in ability and believed at one point to be a teacher of Trungpa’s as their roles interchanged during reincarnations.

The man in question is Akong Rinpoche. Like Trunpga he too was a recongnised tulku and both lived in the same region of Tibet. Growing up, they used to travel to one anothers monasteries in search of spiritual exchanges and advancements.

The term tulku is given to an enlightened being that decides, at the time of death, to be reborn as a human to continue their work of helping confused folks like you and me who are stuck in the dramas of samsara. They choose to do this rather than stay in what could be described as a type of Buddhist heaven, otherwise known as Nirvana.

In 1959 both Akong & Trungpa fled from Chinese occupied Tibet for the safety of India. Originally they were a party of over 200, but during their 10-month ordeal over the Himalayas, most people perished or were recaptured. Consequently only 15 of the refugees made it to India in the end.

Upon arrival in India they faced more challenges.

Sickness and death was rife in the Tibetan refugee camps. Akong’s dear brother Lama Yeshe Rinpoche contracted tuberculosis, had to have one lung removed and Akong’s other brother, Jamyang, died.

Then a twist of fate brought the two young tulkus to the west.

Trungpa received a bursary to study at Oxford, and to support him, Akong worked as a hospital orderly to pay the rent for the small flat they shared. Having to adapt to such a different way of life Akong found himself relying on his Buddhist practices more than ever to guide him through.

Eventually together they set up Kagyu Samye Ling. This was the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the west and resides in the wilds of Scotland.

Under the guidance of their spiritual leader at the time the 16th Karmapa, they worked hard to expand their reach and build this community.

Kagyu Samye Ling, to this day, remains as a place of peace and spirituality, with a strong emphasis on active, selfless compassion, open to anyone of any faith. Since its inception it has drawn visitors from all over the world.

The next turning point for this pair was the departure of Trungpa for the U.S.

With a flamboyant style of teaching he soon found himself more at home amongst the hippie community of that time. In the meantime, Akong continued to spread the dharma in Europe, inviting many of the greatest living scholars and meditation masters of Buddhism to Scotland.

Over the years, Akong has continued to impact the world in many ways. He established a four year meditation retreat in Samye Ling and set up more centers in Belgium, Spain, Ireland and South Africa.

He established a form of therapy known as the Tara Rokpa Therapy Process and as well as training therapists in this field, he set up the Lothlorien Community where mental health patients can live and benefit daily from his innovative drug-free therapy.

In Nepal, Europe, South Africa and the Tibetan parts of China he helps thousands through his humanitarian projects. These fall under the umbrella of the ROKPA organisation which has offices in twenty countries and has been acknowledged for its work by the Red Cross and the WWF.

I personally was privileged to experience and take part in one of his recent projects. At his Kagyu Samye Dzong centre in London, a new shrine room was recently built where 1008 Buddhas were painted, filled with sacred items & placed.

On a tight schedule for the opening, we worked late into the night to complete all the Buddhas. And I will never forget painting them at two o’clock in the morning in the presence of Akong and feeling as fresh as the morning dawn.

It was then that I really understood the power of this master and how much he holds all of us.

So why I am talking about this great Tibetan Spiritual Master?

I’ve just watched the trailer of AKONG, A Remarkable Life, the first documentary film being produced about his life and work. It gave me shivers & brought tears to my eyes when I first watched it.

To hear Akong’s story being told by his brother Lama Yeshe is deeply moving as they have been through so much together. The master Ringu Tulku Rinpoche also shares about his experiences of Akong which I was so delighted to see.

Having met both of them personally, they are two of my favourite teachers and I know they genuinely speak from their hearts as they share. All of this was only in the five minute trailer, folks, so the film promises to be so much more than that! You can watch the trailer and see for yourself at the bottom of this page.

Filmmakers Chico Dall’Inha and Jorg Wagner have joined forces to bring Akong’s compelling life story to the big screen. With Gerry McCulloch as the cinematographer, they have been working on the project for over two years now.

One of Akong’s global missions is to contribute to the spiritual welfare of our times and I believe this documentary does just that.

You can check it out for yourself by visiting their website or by watching the movie trailer below! Enjoy!


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

{photo: via Chico Dall’Inha}

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