I (Ron) was asked by a vajra brother to update the Rigpa Wiki page on Lama Gonpo and it inspired me to record a few words about the precious time I spent with him.
The first time I saw Lama Gonpo, he was standing on a small alley way between two houses – he looked so stately and wise – and he looked up the alley way, saw me and smiled in a way that seemed somehow special. It was 1974 in Clement Town, India. Just briefly glancing at him then while walking past, he left an indelible impression on me, although I did not know who it was at the time.
I was at that time trying to ascertain who could give me the complete teachings of Tsa Lung and the profound esoteric practices leading up to the highest Tantric practices. But in the back of my mind I kept the image of this tall Ngakpa that I had briefly seen. I went around and talked to the great masters that were around then, including the heads of the various sects and had gathered together a list of recommended lamas of which Lama Gonpo’s name was there amongst about 5 others. At that time I was with Choying Palmo, a beautiful English girl, when I met her she was practicing Mahamudra with the Kagyupas and after we got together she came with me to meet these great Lamas.
I was beginning the search for the masters that were on my list and when I went to see Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, (who resided at the Nyingmapa Lama’s college near to where I was staying in Missouri, Queen of the Hills, India) he recommended to me that I go see Lama Gonpo who was staying half an hour walk away from there during the summer and in the winter down in the settlement which was a bus ride away. So together with Choying we walked straight up to his place and found him there, he was drawing various yoga positions, I asked him why he was drawing these yoga positions and he said that it was so he wouldn’t forget these wonderful sets of yoga movements. That very same day he agreed to teach us. These drawings I believe were the 21 yogas of Vairotsana that he spent the subsequent year teaching us. We were there altogether about 3 years – in ClementTown for winters and for summers in the “Queen of the hills”, Missouri – the British summer capital (they went there to get out of the heat).
We rented a place down the street from him and he would come and see us one day, then we would go and see him the next day and so saw him every day. He would always check to see if we had mastered all the things he had taught previously, before he gave us anything new. Later he told me that he gave us all the teachings, when we were there with him at that time. I had to sponsor a trip for him to go see the Dalai Lama so he could seek permission if he should be revealing the secret teachings of the higher tantric practices to this westerner, permission was given and it was at this time, I believe, that he was given a precious relic from the Dalai Lama – a phurba that Padmasambhava had hidden as a terma (treasure).
Some happenings in his front room:
I saw how Lama Gonpo would receive everybody, it didn’t matter to him what background they came from or what kind of person they were, he had no judgments whatsoever only pure vision and true sense of the compassion of equanimity. He didn’t reject anyone, he thought that everybody could be helped. Though if there were a lesson to be learned he could be extremely direct like in the case of this next story:
After he had agreed to plan to go to California with us, when the word got out some young Lamas from the big Monastery turned up at his house in ClementTown and requested with a Mandala offering to give teachings to them before he left and to pass on his special lineage and techniques. This amused Lama Gonpo to no end and he told them in his colloquial Tibetan that I understood well enough, that “in all the years I have been here no one has come around asking for these teachings and now that you have learned that I am teaching westerners and going to California, all of a sudden you come asking for my transmission, best you go back to your big monastery and get the teachings from your big Lama there.”
I was also there receiving teachings from him when a Khandroma came to visit. She was looking after the two young sons of Dungse Thinley Norbu, and brought them to the monastery there for their training. I was fascinated by the counters on the mala which he left her, she said they were miraculously produced from Sky Metal – metiriorite steel. They were minute and intricate, a dagger and tiku knife, very unique and ancient, predating any technology that could have produced them. So I purchased them and produced some replicas in silver that I still make today. Lama Tharchin was with her at the time but then left to start a centre near Santa Cruz, California.
An accomplished yogi:
Lama Gonpo attended what was reputedly the most famous of Tibet’s yoga colleges (Rab-Gon Ngak-Mang – “the place of many Tantrikas”) for mastering the ancient mystical powers – siddhis – where all the secret practices were taught in depth and pursued. I was told that for the end of one course at this yoga college they went to the deep holes dug in the ground behind the buildings, on a cold winters night the student would sit down at the bottom of the holes, and see how many wet blankets they could dry out in the one night. They do this by producing inner heat (tumo fire). They would also see how far that they could rise up above the hole, the idea was to see which one could raise up the highest. I was told that people standing at a distance away could see Lama Gonpo rising above, not just the other yogis, but also the row of buildings that were in front!
There he was initiated into the yogas including the yogas with the use of secret instruments and items enabling one to go onto the higher stages of tantra, practicing with a consort, and as Lama had many consorts over the years and only volunteeringly produced one son over many decades of practice this attests his mastery of tantric discipline. There were only a few that were familiar with these practices let alone many that actually accomplished them.
As a teacher he would continually test your patience and faith making sure one never became too comfortable, in order to diminish ego and develop inner strength so as to actualize the Dharma. He really was an emanation of Vimalamitra (whom spent thirteen years in Tibet, and then, promising to return to Tibet every hundred years as an emanation to further the Clear Light teaching of Dzogpachenpo…)
Time in California:
I repeatedly requested Lama Gonpo to come to California over the year, then Sange Khandro (Nancy Gustafson), whom was with Gyatrul Rinpoche, also was expressing interest in inviting him as well, so eventually he was persuaded. So off we went to their house in Berkeley, California. We stayed there for a while and then rented our own 3 story, turreted, Queen Anne house with 9 official bedrooms and working gas lights, at one time we were averaging 35 residents staying in that house, all living together, with Lama Gonpo in the master bedroom. It was one of the most rewarding and unrepeatable times, even though I had to put off my practice retreat which was devastating to me at the time.
I remember this story about the trip to the Alameda Flea Market that was described in this blog, how Lama Gonpo expressed how after all the people had left the market for the day then the ghosts that were there came out in the same location to set up their stalls and have their own flea market.
He humbly displayed his clairvoyance a few times like this, making it sound like a regular normal activity and nothing special at all. One time he told me that there was an Indian girl that came to him and stayed with him in his room for a while during the day, but he said no one else in the house noticed her or could see her, only him, so he had determined that she must have been some sort of dakini.
Once I had found out that the price of gold was rising quite substantially I told Lama Gonpo that we had invested some money in gold stocks, he said that’s very interesting. Then later while we were in a Dzogchen Yeshe Lama retreat in the mountains in Oregon where there was no phone, he announced that this was a bad idea that we were in danger of losing lots of money. But, alas by the time I got to a phone we had lost all the considerable profit that had been gained. The story is just another example of how he could see things in perspective even though he didn’t know about the stock market, but too bad cell phones hadn’t been invented yet!
When Lama Gonpo was in his summer residence in Missouri, India he stayed next door to the apartment of his sponsor’s family. The wife had TB and so did the grandparents and they were coughing all the time. They refused to be tested or take proper treatment because if they did then there would be stigma attached like that they would most definitely have it if they choose to believe it. So they choose to ignore it instead. Then for immigration, when going to America, he was found to have been exposed to TB so he was required to take a course of antibiotics. After leaving America, in India and Nepal on his way to Tibet he associated with the same people and later in Tibet got sick. Choying Palmo got him on another course of TB medication. He got well again and stopped the course without completing it. Then he of course it came back and he became worse and eventually it got the better of him. I kicked myself for not finding a more fruitful and acceptable situation for him in America so he would not get sick, and would stay there. But I was not wise or skillful enough at the time.
He was a great Tantrika that behaved spontaneously in different ways that would benefit different types of people, to me he was just like the great Mahasiddhas from India and Tibet embodying the “crazy wisdom”, appearing sometimes angry and sometimes shocking or antagonizing to his students, he would do what ever it took in order to liberate them. Whilst at the same time catering to others in an ordinary way always with deepest compassion and care.
That’s all for now…
Ngawang Khedup aka yogi Ngawang aka Ron Brooks