Personal Experiences

Stories from the monastics of Lhungtok Choekhorling about why, how and when they ordained.

Tenzin Dasel (Siliana Bosa)
By the time I was twenty-two I felt I needed to take a break, to go off and have time to think and to take a rest from everything familiar.  I was feeling that somewhere in the world there were beings who had the same feelings as I did, but I was not really clear about those feelings; nor was I able to express them.  It was what the I Ching would describe as a “time to cross the great water.”  But I wasn’t at all interested in any of the Asian religions that were newly spreading in the West.

Before decidng which destination to take for my future, I went to say goodbye to my sister, who was already living in Pomaia, at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa.  It was November 1979.  The late Venerable Geshe Yeshe Tobten had just arrived from India and was giving teachings on a Lamrim text.  These lasted all winter and spring.  The first teaching I attended was incredible: it was just as if Geshe-la were talking about my life, explaining clearly all the thoughts I had never been able to express.  After the third day of teachings, I went to see Geshe-la and asked him if I could take refuge.  Then I never said goodbye, because I didn’t need to run anywhere else.  I could just stay there in front of Geshe Yeshe Tobten, drinking in the nectar of his words, which were giving me the feeling of finally being nourished with the proper food.  He has been the light that has dispelled a little of the obscuration in my life and given me the aspiration to let go of this constant up and down way of life.  There at Pomaia I discovered the destination of my journey; I had already arrived.  I was ready to start the great inner journey, the only one where you can find a true destination.

I became a resident at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, and for almost two years I received many incredible, precious teachings – which I really didn’t understand at that time.  These were given by many highly realised masters who have since passed away: Geshe Jampel Senge, Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche, HH Ling Rinpoche, and Lama Yeshe.  When Geshe Yeshe Tobten went back to India after two years in Italy, I followed him to Dharamsala.  He accompanied me when I went to receive ordination from HH the Dalai Lama on 18th April, 1981.

I can sincerely say that up to now I have never regretted taking ordination, mainly because I never blame it for my confused states of mind, which, as before, still arise.  However, there is a small difference: I don’t believe them anymore!  This approach definitely helps a lot.  With the passing years, I at least start to have more conviction about impermanence.  Through experience I get closer to an understanding of life.  That is already something!  I think the main practice of an ordained person is to try to constantly demonstrate kindness and a subdued manner in one’s daily actions.  I remember seeing a video of Lama Yeshe in which he said, “the purpose of being ordained is to be the servant of others.”  I felt such incredible joy just by hearing that.  It really touched my heart, and I clearly remember that in that moment I expressed the wish to be able to develop such a dedicated mind.

person-e1455287204499-284x300Lobsang Tsultim (Clive Gransden)
I first asked to be ordained as a monk in the Tibetan tradition when I was about 17 or 18 years old. 
My teacher, a wise man, put me on the spot and asked, “Right now?” 
And I balked, “Maybe in a few years”, I stammered.
“Good” he replied and smiled.

Looking back from my perspective 30 years later, I see that I wasn’t ready to be ordained right then.  I was worried about where I would stay and who would show me how to be a monk.  So instead, I carried on with my life: went to college and university, worked in a variety of jobs, married and helped raise a daughter.

And yet…in the background, all the time, was a sense of unease, of wasting an opportunity and most tellingly, of not being truly able to help others because I lacked sufficient understanding of my own predicament, never mind the understanding and ability to help anyone else! I talked about it with my wife and she was very supportive and understanding.  Life moved on, family members died and suddenly I reached a crisis – this was not the way for me to make best use of this precious human rebirth.

So finally, with the support of my family and friends, at 50 years old I took rabjung (renunciate vows) with Geshe Tashi in London in July, 2015 and then novice vows with Dagri Rinpoche at Nalanda Monastery, France in November, 2015.  Presently, I am studying at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, near Pisa and trying to help Lhungtok Choekhorling Buddhist Monastery.  Perhaps if a monastery for westerners had been available when I was 18, I wouldn’t have hesitated and waited all these years.