East is West

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche was born in France to an American mother and French father. Recognized as an incarnate lama at the age of two, he was raised by some of the last century’s greatest Tibetan masters. What can he teach us about ourselves?

Pamela Gayle White

He explains that this foundation begins with contemplating the First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering. “We’re not saying that this is the fantasy that you should have of the world, so you should become a pessimist and see everything in a negative light. What we’re saying is that you have to see reality for what it is without telling yourself stories about it. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have taken the first step towards freedom. If you continue to tell yourself stories about reality, you are choosing to remain chained to your confusion, your illusions. Our goal is to be set free, to sever these chains; ultimately, it is to attain liberation and become a Buddha.

“This does not entail declaring yourself to be a this Buddhist or a that Buddhist—if you really want to transform yourself, there’s only one path. The architecture and language may vary according to which tradition you practice, but basic reality must be faced whatever the school. If you call yourself a Buddhist but keep lying to yourself, if you think that samsara can become a desirable state, if you’ve got some ulterior motive, then you are just telling yourself more stories, even if you think you’re taking refuge.

“Refuge is a basic principle that is common to all Buddhist traditions. It allows us to confront reality and turn our minds from that which is unreliable towards that which is reliable. One of the basic points of refuge is just that: acknowledging samsara, taking a long hard look at the world and seeing it for what it is.

“If you wonder what Buddhism has to offer you, the answer is: nothing. If you think that becoming a Buddhist will bring you all sorts of goodies and fringe benefits, forget it. There’s no dream prize, no paradise with vestal virgins,” he says with a grin. “What it can help you do is cut through your confusion, your neuroses. It can help you understand yourself in the here and now and hopefully prepare the ground for a more positive future. Buddhism is incredibly pertinent to the world today. It’s twenty-five hundred years old, but it’s still the most intelligent answer to human needs.”

Whether bicycling through Paris or bestowing blessings, whether debating with friends or joining other high lamas in rituals and empowerments, Trinlay gives the impression that he is home. It seems that Rudyard Kipling was wrong when he wrote, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” In Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, wherever he happens to manifest, the twain have met.

Pamela Gayle White's home base is Auvergne, France. She spent six and a half years in retreat under the guidance of the late Tibetan master Gendun Rinpoche.

Image 1: Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, 2004. ©Gerard Truffandier.
Image 2: Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, age 6, with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (left) and Kalu Rinpoche. Courtesy of Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche.
Image 3: (Right) Trinlay Tulku, age 4. (Left) Trinlay Tulku with his parents, age 2. Courtesy of Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche.
Image 4: Trinlay Tulku, age 26, 2002. ©Gerard Truffandier.

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