Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche taught and empowered many of the Wangapeka Teachers and Community. He inspired into existence the Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre.
Ananda Bodhi left the East in 1962, teaching at the London Buddhist Vihara and founding Johnstone House in Scotland, which he gave to Chogyum Trungpa who renamed it Samye Ling.
Anandabodhi returned to Canada and founded the Dharma Centre of Canada outside Toronto. His teaching methods included international travel with students; in 1968 and 1971 he traveled with about a hundred students to India and Sikkim, where they met the Tibetans. He was recognized by the 16th Karmapa, Kalu Rinpoche, Sakya Trizin Rinpoche and others as an embodiment of Namgyal Rinpoche, and received transmissions of the Karma Kargyu lineage.
Over the years he included the Western Mysteries, science, psychology, art, music, exercise, travel and other methods in his teaching repertoire, becoming one of the main voices of Tibetan Buddhism in North America along with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Some of Namgyal’s students started centers in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Central America as well as Canada and the US. His modern and eclectic approach is carried on throughout the world, with Clear Sky and Dharma Japan embodying this multiversal vision as well.
On October 22 2003 in a cottage on the shore of the Bodensee in Switzerland the great teacher we knew as Namgyal Rinpoché died at the age of 72.
How can one outline the life of such a being? One time, many years ago, he said to me, “I have no name. I’m sunyata, (emptiness; the spacious openness of interbeing) plus whatever you or anyone else wants to project.” With this in mind I suppose that there are as many true histories of the Rinpoché as there are historians. I’m sure that, in time, there will be attempts to record his life with detail and accuracy, however, for now, here are a few observations gathered from hearing him refer to his life, from my own observations, from Lama Sonam Gyatso’s records and from conversations with other students of the Rinpoché.
Rinpoché was born and raised in the Canadian city of Toronto. His mother, a nurse, was of Scottish descent and his father was Irish and was a policeman. He had a younger sister. I didn’t hear him speak much about his childhood but he did reveal some experiences that were important shapers of his life. His father was a Freemason and so, as a teenager, the roots of his interest and involvement in the western traditions of awakening were established. He went to Malvern Collegiate Institute in Toronto where he excelled in music appreciation, and during the summers he worked at Conaught labs which gave him an early interest in biology and medicine.
In his late teen years, having had many mystical experiences in early life, he felt the call to the ministry, attending Jarvis Baptist Seminary for a short time where he learned many arts such as ‘homiletics’ and ‘higher (biblical) criticism’. He did not enter the ministry at that time but moved on to further studies in Philosophy and Psychology at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This was followed by an intense period of involvement in the Socialist youth movement in Canada, culminating in a visit to Russia to address a youth conference in Moscow. After this he returned to London where he explored the Western Mystery tradition and Buddhism and began to practise meditation regularly.
In 1956 the young Leslie George Dawson attended a talk given by a Burmese meditation master, the Ven. U. Thila Wunta Sayadaw. Some powerful connection must have been awakened at this time. The Sayadaw suggested that the young Canadian travel to Burma to study with him. Later that year, Rinpoché received the novice ordination from the Sayadaw at Buddhagaya in India and then the full ordination in Burma. At this point he became known as The Ven. Bhikkhu Ananda Bodhi. The Bhikkhu spent about 5 years studying in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka where he became thoroughly grounded in the Theravadin tradition and was eventually recognised as a Samatha-Vipassana-Kammathan-Acariya a master teacher of meditation.
In 1961 the English Sangha Association requested that the Ven. Ananda Bodhi be the incumbent abbot in London. During the next few years, in addition to giving extensive teaching throughout the U.K, he established the Hamstead Buddhist Vihara in London and a retreat centre in the south of Scotland called Johnston House. Today it is thriving as a large very active Karma Kagyu Centre, Samyeling; A third meditation centre in Staffordshire (Biddulph Old Hall) was established but is no longer a retreat centre.
In 1965, he returned to Canada where he began to teach in Toronto. In 1966, the Dharma Centre of Canada was established and a 400 acre meditation property near Kinmount Ontario was purchased. The Bhikkhu, as he was known at that time, taught mostly in Toronto for about 8 months each year and then encouraged students to travel and study dharma with him during the remaining 4 months. It was during one of these many trips that he went to Rumtek in Sikkim and met with H. H. the 16th Karmapa who recognised him as a tulku. At this time, Rinpoché didn’t feel that there was any point in re-ordaining in the Tibetan tradition since the vows were the same as those he was already carrying. He returned to Canada, continuing to teach as Ananda Bodhi. At this time many of his students were young Canadians from the hippie era. It was a time of great experimentation and challenging of all traditions. Moving in the flow of this energy, he taught a wide range of approaches to awakening using all the main traditions of Buddhism along with psychotherapy, western science, art, philosophy, movement and dance, and many other disciplines. This was a very rich experimental time as he investigated what activities would most help to liberate beings. During this time he must have contemplated the value in using the Tibetan tradition as a vehicle for helping beings.
Over the years, his life has directly and indirectly touched an extraordinary number and range of people so that even though he is no longer with us in the flesh, the ripples of his teaching continue to spread throughout the world. Some of his students have become very skilled and competent teachers of dharma in their own right so that they and the centres that they have helped establish, continue to flourish with myriad activities benefiting many beings, especially in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada and Europe.
The Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre is one of the centres inspired into existence by the life and teaching of Namgyal Rinpoché. On his second last visit, he was talking about the possibility of establishing in NZ a new centre for the practice of Dharma according to the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. One person asked if the Wangapeka could be that centre. He said, “No, not the Wangapeka. This centre is for the development of new experimental forms and expressions of the dharma.” In a way, this was what the life of Namgyal Rinpoché was very much about. He was a bridge from the great ancient traditions of unfolding, to the space age modern, world wide web world.
Rinpoché was many things to many beings. He was an upholder of tradition, and simultaneously, an innovator and integrator of new unfolding pathways. He travelled extensively all over the world. He inspired myriad people to step out of their comfort zones to explore and to make themselves available to compassionately help others. For some he was the archetypal Tibetan Rinpoché; for some, the Bhikkhu; for some the Master of the Lodge; for some the Professor. For some he was a cosmic travel agency. For some he was a collector of exotica. For some he was a charlatan and a focus of fantasy and gossip. For some he was the most alive human being they ever met. But who was he for himself? As he said to me many years ago on a Polish ship off the coast of Kenya, “I’m sunyata … plus whatever anyone else wants to project.”
It has taken me years to realise that this statement applies to all of us.
It has been wondrous to have lived so many years knowing him, an extraordinary manifestation of Emptiness and vast compassionate activity.
May the wholesomeness of the teachings that he has given so freely to so many beings continue to grow and flourish for the sake of many beings yet to come.
– By Tarchin Hearn
“He was remarkable. A few words of his, here and there, of pith and essence, support and un-support, testing and re-testing could shift your being deeply. He raised the Banner of question and determination, challenge and inquiry, love and wrath, compassion and bright clarity throughout my being. Rinpoche was great — he constantly challenged everything — everything you were holding on to. He always taught and demonstrated the essence — non – clinging awareness — one moment with fierce determination, the next moment with love and humility, the next with pride and mystery, then with abandon and humor. He could display all the Emotions of the Dance with blazing, awake splendor. Above all he kept raising the Banner of Victory for all that had the eyes to see. Namgyal Rinpoche had the highest of ideals and some quirky notions, some of which I don’t even agree with to this day, but that does not matter a drop; what was really important was that he did not miss a moment of awareness of Dharma, probing to the very heart of the matter. If you did well, there was always more. If there were profound experiences, then there were more discoveries to be unearthed! And so too, he never stopped questing and discovering; that was so beautiful to witness. I enjoyed watching the joy in his voice and face when he unearthed another gem of realization, another way to teach liberation, a new sparkle of the natural state.
My teacher loved to teach, as he said to me before he died, “that is my duty.” His teaching of Dharma was wondrous and magnificent. A melodious voice of such depth, luminosity and power—always striving to bring about an ‘edible’ experience, a living presence of that which he spoke of through his remarkable speech—whether it was classic Buddha-dharma, meditation states or technique, Sufi dancing, Dzogchen, rose gardening, the Christian mystical life, animals encountered, stars and galaxies, scientific discoveries or a universal vision of Liberation.” – Lama Mark Webber
“Namgyal Rinpoche communicated a sense of urgency for preserving the great wisdom teachings and esoteric practices of all cultures. Through deep study of the sutra record, his own training in Burma and Sri Lanka and the inspiration of his mind-stream, he revitalized the 40 classical meditations taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. Right up to a few days before his passing, he continued to teach profound methods for engaging with the complex practices of Vajrayana that opened these mind-environments to western students in a way we could embrace, understand, skillfully practice and master. He adapted forms from the great traditions of western mysteries to provide a liberation vehicle for householders. Through scuba diving, music, science, art, psychotherapy and travel, he embodied enlightenment and demonstrated the universal nature of the human coding to Awaken. In addition, he crafted new forms of inner exploration, purification and realization. He said that these new practices provided a complete path in themselves, devised by a western mind, inspired by western knowledge, for western students.” – Bonni Ross
“George Dawson awakened through the Western Mysteries while living in London, where he met the visiting teacher Sayadaw in 1958. Dawson moved to Burma and studied under U Thila Wunta and Mahasi Sayadaw in Bodh Gaya, Rangoon (where he was ordained as Ananda Bodhi), Bangkok and Sri Lanka.” – From Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawarasat Sensei’s website Planet Dharma
Many of these photos came via Wesley Knapp who has an historical archive of Namgyal recordings, images and documents you can visit the website here: http://namgyal.ca