Interview with His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang

Interview with His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang

Full interview

(c) Bertrand Vacarisas

Grand Opening of a Buddhist meditation Center in France

(c) Bertrand Vacarisas

Q: Thank you for coming to Bonny sur Loire. We have some questions: Your Holiness, France has been a secular country since 1958, with a Catholic-based culture. Some people here are afraid of religion, especially religions they do not know. We are opening a new Buddhist center in Bonny-sur-Loire, what would you like to say to its citizens and to people living in France and in this town? Why is it good to have Mila Center in France?

A: Tashi delek! So, well, that is new to that religion, Buddhism – I think that’s all Westerners, you know. I would say, first, Buddhism, I will explain about Buddhism. Then you’ll know you don’t need to be afraid (of) what is religion, right?


So, I would say that Buddhism is a religion or not? I would say, yes or not? Because Buddha’s philosophy, if you know what is Buddha’s really, the doctrine and on that base you practice, it’s not based on religion. Because it is (to) investigate. Buddha said, “Bhikku and scholar don’t (take) my teacher just like blind faith, sort of. Instead you have to investigate whether what is taught is true or not.’’


So this is in no other religion. In other religions you (have) God or something they said you have to 100% have faith, right? The Buddha said, “Bhikku and scholar, you should investigate my teaching, whether it’s true or not’’. It’s like the goldmsith: the gold needs to (be) burnt, gold needs to (be) cut, gold needs to (be tested on) some stone whether it’s true or not. True things you can accept, not true things he doesn’t say you have to accept, right? So this is up to you.


So Buddha is showing the path and then, this you have to investigate, not just blind faith. In this case I would say it’s not really based on religion.
But then further, I would say reincarnation, further karma, past lives belief, then you go more, sort of, (into) devotion; only that way, without investigation, can be religious, right? That is a different way, you know. The best way the Buddha said, you have to investigate.


When you see a teacher, first you also are advised: for 3 years, you look at the teacher, whether he is qualified or not; the teacher also investigates the student, whether he is qualified or not, sincere or not. If he’s not sincere, you should not give teachings. That’s the principle, sort of.
And then in Buddha’s philosophy there are many things, the main thing is interdependent origination.


Interdependent origination is about cause and effect. Everything arises in this world, what you can see, what is, all phenomena are interdependent arising. This base also is not religious, right?


When you talk about the Buddha’s interdependent origination, they have one text when the Buddha at Rajgir, he looked at a rice field and then said, “You have that, and then you have this’’.
You grow these things, you get these things.
Maybe they have nice water, fields, weather, it’s possible to grow the rice. You plant the rice, plant the seed, and you get the fruit of rice, right? So those are interdependent. Actually, these are all ecological systems, cause and effect, they connect each other. This also is not religious, you know.
So then, furthermore, all you can see, you can touch, everything is cause and condition is built up, arising, but you thoroughly investigate it, actually its essence, ultimate truth, you cannot answer these things.


Like in Switzerland, they are also doing that particle, break it, they are still looking how with modern technology, right? There is no concrete answer, existing thing. So that they call emptiness, it’s empty. So emptiness is (that) nothing of these is not empty, but emptiness is the form, the form is emptiness. That’s the basic philosophy.


So that philosophy, how to use in our daily life, Buddhism? The Buddha said, “You do all the good deeds, you avoid all negative actions, negative thoughts, negative speech, negative actions and train your mind’’: because all good actions, bad actions come from your mind. Then you have to train your mind. That’s the Buddha’s teaching, (it) just includes these things, right?


So Buddhism, what is this? You don’t need to have fear, you don’t need to (be) afraid because Buddhism is you have to avoid all the negative things, your bad speech, bad thoughts, bad actions, you have to avoid. And you do good actions, beneficial to yourself, to social, to the world, good actions, benefit. That (is what) you do. That’s the Buddha’s teaching.


There are many things, different ways, many methods, but that’s the essence of the teaching of Buddha. Why? Because Buddha says, “Why is you do avoid negative karma? Because this bad action brings the result as suffering’’. Today we live, we have many sicknesses, we are doing business or whatever, not success, a lot of problems, in families, societies: all this is not without cause. Also we are talking (that) all is based on causes and conditions. These also have causes, bad actions, thoughts before. This brought these things.


Now why he said, “You do good deeds’’? Because today we have good fortune, happiness, more peace, harmony within your family, within your society: this also is not without cause, did not just grow up, this is also the cause. So that is because in the past you did good thoughts, good actions, good speech, it brought today good things.
That is about the Buddhism, right? So there is nothing to (be) afraid, suspicious, that is very simple. And the Buddha said, “You choose, you investigate: if (there are) good things, then you can take it’’.


So then, since 40 years we have (had) the Drikung Kagyu and we started to establish centers, first in the United States, and then since 35 years in Europe. We started in Germany, we have 7 centers, since 30 years.
Now also we have the Milarepa Center, it’s from Hamburg down to another place, Schneverdingen, this is the Drikung Kagyu main seat in Europe. I have to go every year to teach there.


So, what we are doing, that is mainly the centers are focusing on the meditation. They are doing meditation, because Westerners have a lot of material comfortable things, but (the) mind has too much thought, too much suffering in the mind, right? So you must calm, calm down.
So we are doing this meditation, some different things. Secondly also the projects, one is the hospices, helping some dying people, when (is) the moment of dying, peacefully dying, how to do it. So they have some definite methods, the ancient Buddhist tradition, the modern technology, the modern methods together, we have these 2 things.


And another thing we have is translation. The proper translation of text and publishing: this is mainly what the center is doing there.
Then (in) different places, you know, we have 150 centers around the world: in the U.S. they are already 40 years, in Chile and South America 30 years ago, in Germany 35 years ago, and then we also have Estonia, Latvia, Moscow, Ukraine, in East Europe and West Europe.
France, in France there are many centers, and England, so in Germany, East Europe, Asia. We don’t need in Thailand, they have a lot of Buddhism there, we don’t need them there; but (for) Taiwanese, we have maybe 20 centers, in U.S. also more than 20 centers, then Vietnam. In China also, it’s not allowed a big registration, but they have many places with some small groups practicing.
Also we have in Tibet, China, there we have more than 100 temples. Especially, Central Tibet is a little bit difficult, big gathering is very difficult, (for) special teaching, a permission by the government. Also His Holiness Chungtsang Rinpoche last time did, there were several hundreds of thousands people gathering. Once in 30 years, but regularly is difficult.
But Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan province, Gansu province, they have the Chinese state there, a similar rule in Chinese state. So Asia is quite active doing these things.


Now the different countries, the different cultural background, the different religions… different countries have different religions, cultures, they have different things. So I’d just say like in Milarepa Center: religion, culture, politics are separate. We cannot mix religion, culture, politics. You go to a German center, you use German culture. Essence teaching (is) the Buddha teachings. So we are doing now, they are doing offering music, melodies, they are also using Western melodies they are making, they invent, doing these things. Tibetan melodies, they have, but it’s good to use your own.


Now here is also good, I think, France also has a very high development in technology, in modern society, (it’s) economically developed, but the spiritual needs to be balanced, then is very good. If you are not balanced in the spiritual and economical together, then lots of problems, you know.
So it’s necessary a meditation center and for some different persons, what they need, so that’s good. Now many Western countries want more of this kind of meditation, I know, I’ve been travelling also for 30 years everywhere. So this is also wonderful here to start one, in this place.

How to practice well in France?

(c) Bertrand Vacarisas

Q: Thank you for your first answer. The second question is, could you give us some advice on how to practice well in a country like France? Because it’s not like in Asia, there are not a lot of Buddhists, it is not our culture. And how it is possible to practice well here, if we live in big cities like Paris, where everything is getting busy, with lots of problems in our minds. If you had to give us one advice, what could it be? To practice well and to improve.

A: I think you first start from meditation. Also in modern society they don’t have much time, so people say, how to practice?
So now Khenpo Könchök Tashi in his practice also is much shorter, much, much shorter. Maybe 10 times shorter that in the tradition we have!
Of course now in Asia also (they) start to be busy, you know. So I said meditation, calm abiding meditation. There are 2 things, “calm abiding’’: in that all religion are the same, different methods but the same. But we can do it walking in the main street: if we are alone and we want to do meditation, you go from home to your workplace, walking, then you can do concentration. This streetlight and next streetlight, right? You just don’t think, until you reach there, you can do concentration. Concentration (that is) meaning not thinking at all, not thinking at all; then until you reach there, then you cross the road, the next, so in another street you do concentration. You can do that also in meditation, yes.


So they also have that, in Thailand, walking meditation. I think also here many have taught it, the Theravadin, you know. So you are walking, and walking, you just concentrate on steps, right-left, right-left, only the steps. If you go to work a little bit faster, actually in walking meditation they have many steps, but simply you leap up, forward, touch the ground, leap up, forward, touch the ground, only that.
But now you want little fast walking, then right feet, left feet, concentrate now on right, now on left, knowing it’s right and left and you can go fast. This is also meditation. You can do like this also.


Then in early morning, a short meditation: sometimes in Vajrayana they have Avalokiteshvara or any other yidam deity, you think you are (that) – you don’t need sitting in the shrine, praying something, sitting properly, it’s not necessary. The training is the mind, right? The Buddha said, “Train your mind’’, not your body! You train you mind! The mind thinks, “You want to meditate Avalokiteshvara?’’ OK, now you are Avalokiteshvara.
You are walking, you are Avalokiteshvara, not ordinary. That’s Vajrayana practice. Any of the yidam.

Taking care of the environment

(c) Bertrand Vacarisas

Q: Thank you, Your Holiness. You have been Mountain Partnership goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This afternoon you are going to plant five trees in Mila Center’s garden. Why is nature so important for people? And why is this subject so important for you?

A: This is a big subject, a global subject, but shortly I will say, if you want good health, then you must take care of the environment, because we live here and every moment we are breathing. Outside, you directly contact (it) with your breathing, right? Like in Ladakh, we plant a lot of trees, there is more oxygen, it’s very good, healthy. This morning the news said in Delhi it’s a very dangerous sort of weather, with masks they have to wear, so in an environment like this, your lungs are already… now many doctors say that earlier they were like red, now they are black. So if you want to (be) healthy, you must take care of the environment.


Then you say, if you are a good person, a good heart, then you take care of the environment, because this benefits many sentient beings, not only humans. You know, a good environment, many trees, grass, nature, then a lot of animals can live in places, they can eat food, they can (be) bigger, (have) shelter sleeping, home: so this is a lot of benefit. In this also, Buddhist practice, accumulation of many merits. This is a good deed. If you want a good deed, a happy result, happiness, peace, you must take care of the environment.


Then, for the environment, actually I have done the Global Mountain Partnership, I have taken the responsibility. This Global Mountain Partnership, maybe I will explain you a little bit about this organization.
It is the Food and Agriculture (Organization), as you know, the FAO, the U.N., under that they organize the Global Mountain Partnership. They have, government and non-government, more than 140 organizations, the responsibility of all the world’s mountain regions’ peoples improve their lifestyle: that’s their call.


So I did this 4-years term, I did finish the last term, I wanted to resign but they wanted me to continue this year, again for 4 years. I did it in Ladakh, I’m mainly located in Ladakh region, so we did first because of the global warming, melting the glaciers. One German, a glacier specialist he said that in the last 30 years the world’s ice melt by 30%. In another 30 years it will be melting. It’s very serious. So in the Himalaya region, many major rivers are from Himalayan regions, Myanmar, India, many Asian countries the freshwater springs. Now this, (if) don’t care, is making billions and billions of people’s lifestyle a big problem. So we have to care.
Since I have worked In Ladakh we started on a program called Go Green Go Organic we did the Ice Stupa. 2 years back it didn’t snow in Ladakh in winter, so we did the Ice Stupa at that time, some spring water, so it’s very useful.


Ladakh it’s not big things, but Ladakkh is a small country, each village (has) about 30-40 families, and there’s each mountain area; so we made in very remote areas this Ice Stupa or ice fall, so we can bring that ice so that, just rock falls down, some corners they’re iced and in springtime they start melting, there is irrigation for the farmers. Very useful. Still we have to do it also in very remote areas. So against the global warming, in wintertime we can keep the water.
In the summertime we also not let them directly go to the river, we also make trenches, different trenches, then the water slowly goes, not let the earth go down, so there is also the underground water collection and this we are also doing.
Now I told them I have many responsibilities, so in Ladakh I could only help for five years; so we did these things. So far 400.000 trees we planted; next year also in Ladakh we will plant many fruit, somebody in India sponsored it and in the future we’ll have 100.000 fruit trees – families will plant these things.


But this October 6th we did in Delhi, we had a big launch which is Green Himalayas; in Ladakh what I did with this Go Green Go Organic Organization and in Mumbai they have one company called Goldenmile Learning, they are also helping (with) some education, computers, schools. Later we met, they liked the Green project, they wanted to join there, so now they joined these things together, is called Green Himalayas Project. This is the first phase, we have a 25 years-project.
In Ladakh there is a famous lake called Pangong Lake – Pangong Lake is here, in this corner, and on the top of that it is also a spiritual place, meditation place, you can look at the lake, you know. And down they have also animal grassfields, they have in total 230 acres providing, this organization, for village people.
They have very good water; so what I did this year is to start to make an artificial lake. They created also the ice hockey place, it’s going to be international standard, in future there will be international competitions there. What I did last time also in Kham. Now in the Changtang area many young people are very good on ice, they also attend international competitions, some of them.


Then we also have (a) medicine plantation project, there are also greenhouses, also different fruit trees, museum, many, many things about the 25-years project; we laid out everything, they are all professionals from India, Mumbai, this company, those people are also doing quite good support, some big companies, like Tata, Microsoft from India, those people are also involved there.
So now, this I give to them, I finished my job. I was chairman, then I said, “You have a lot of work to do but I cannot attend it’’, so I resigned.
I appointed another Rinpoche, and other assistants, some Lamas and some other people there. It is now a very good organization so the next generations will carry on this. So, this Green Himalayas organization main project now is given to the second generation.


Now in Dehra Dun, in my education center, we have (a) monastery, Kagyu College, nunnery, the Songtsen Library, the Himalaya Research Center, these also now we completed and started to give to the second generation.
Now my job is (that) I go a little bit far, to some new centers, or to some remote area, (with) no teacher there, I go there. And also my main project is the Shravasti Project. Shravasti is in the U(ttar) P(radesh) on the Indian border, where the Buddha mainly stayed there. He taught there more than 800 sūtras and he did the rain- retreat, 3 years in summertime, not going anywhere. So he did 25 years in this place.


So there I started one – that is my main focus, project. This year we invited Thailand, Myanmar, these major Theravada monks, in total 7 countries, around 90 people, they did 3-months rain-retreat.
Next year we go to the bhikkunis, the first bhikkuni rain-retreat there, about 108, I think many of them are Westerners. This tradition is only Taiwanese, and (from) Asia also I think they will come, Vietnam and some other places.
Then in wintertime we do in Himalaya, some lay people, young people, where needed, in remote areas, we bring (from) Bhutan through bus, (from) Sikkim through bus, (from) Nepal through bus, Ladakh, Tibetans, around 1,000 people. Every year I teach Dhammapada and also we meditate ana-pana sati, vipassana, these things. That’s all about. And also Green…

Message for Mila Center Sangha

(c) Bertrand Vacarisas

Q. Your Holiness, one last question – what would you like to say to Mila Center sangha? Because it is your sangha, your center, what would you like to say to them?

A: I had a discussion with Khenpo Könchök Tashi, saying some are doing longer Mahamudra, 6 Yogas of Naropa, longer meditation practice, some shorter. So according to different persons, just at the center start making courses of meditation and later a hospice, for some dying people, who need help. This kind would be good, because Westerners, sometimes, older are dying, nobody is helping, this work you know, is not like Asia.


We also are too busy with the mind, you need meditation. These things, basically. And then the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha said, many texts said, the Buddha’s teaching is like: Buddha is like a doctor, the teacher is like a doctor, teachings are like medicine and practitioners are like patients. So you have different sickness, different wishes, so Vajrayana has many, many methods, for different persons, different things.
According to that, actually all the teachings are the same, but there are many, many methods, different ways that can come to the same, right? For different persons. Sometimes this practice is more effective to me, OK, you can do that. It’s not fixed, you do this, this, this.

Prayer for Milarepa

(c) Bertrand Vacarisas

Q: Thank you, Your Holiness. And now, would you like to sing a song for Mila Center?

A: Well, I will, since you have Milarepa, Mila Rechen Center, then the prayer for Milarepa is one song. For his birthday in the monastery we are chanting some different melodies. Milarepa sang the Vajra songs, so one of the melodies I’ll try… I did not do it for a long time, OK?

(Tibetan)

Thank you! OK.