This dirty old photo is of Rinpoche when I first knew him in the late 80s. Back then he often took tea at the Hampshire Hotel on Leicester Square, and although it was relatively expensive, it was also ‘homey’ and comfortable, and all the best cinemas were on its doorstep. Often quite large groups of us would squash together on the plush sofas and cavernous wing-backed chairs, a little over-excited and bright with anticipation. I’ve often wondered what the waiting staff thought of us.
One time Rinpoche settled himself onto a sofa and launched into an extremely persuasive justification of the importance of study in Buddhadharma. Specifically, that the study of Dharma as a whole was being sidelined in favour Dzogchen, and how dangerous this development could become. It was one of his more intense Sakya moments.
I listened closely and felt ashamed. Dharma, as far as I was concerned at that time, was Dzogchen, and in that moment I realized just how little I knew about the rest of the path to enlightenment. Of course, I did my utmost to promote the power of devotion and all the holy cows I’d been brought up to revere. But Rinpoche, the master debater and Manjushri in the flesh, consumed each argument in a blaze of incandescent logic.
Over the next few months, I read. I read a lot. And when Rinpoche next visited London I began to look for an opportunity to put my reading to use.
Funnily enough, we once again met at The Hampshire, and although I know this to be a complete fabrication, my memory insists that all the same people sat in exactly the same places as the time before.
To my surprise Rinpoche instantly returned to his previous theme: the preeminence of study. But this time he presented the opposite view. Study, he told us, is only useful for about 2% of the spiritual path and is therefore, by and large, a waste of time. What we should be doing is practising because, ultimately, only practice can open the door to liberation. My jaw dropped momentarily. I pointed out to Rinpoche that last time we had sat in that very room his message had been the diametric opposite of what he’d just said. And he laughed. I then made a pretty feeble attempt at defending the benefits of study, and as before, he pulverized each argument with industrial precision.
We had to leave quite soon after that to catch a movie and I was left wondering, had Rinpoche purposefully set out to present the arguments for and against study and practice? Or had his advice arisen spontaneously? Most of all, though, I wished I’d had a tape recorder with me…