Lopön Urgyen Tenpel studied for 10 years in the Sangye Yeshe Shedra at Ka Nying Shedrup Ling and is now one of the philosophy teachers at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute. This year he is teaching the Uttaratantra Shastra (Eng. Sublime Continuum) according to the commentary of Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. The following is a short interview with him:
|Lopön Urgyen Tenpel|
Tell me something about yourself?
According to the Tibetan Calender I’m 30 years old, yet according to the western calender I’m not quite sure. I was born in Mugum, in north-west Nepal, which was part of Tibet before. Yet nowadays it’s counted as part of Nepal. I have two brothers, one older and one younger as well as two younger sisters. My younger brother became a monk two years ago, also here at Ka Nying Shedrup Ling. When I was 13 years old my parents encouraged me to become a monk and I happily agreed. They then brought me here, where I was ordained at the end of 1995. My parents are students of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche and Chokling Rinpoche and therefore they brought me to this monastery. I haven’t visited my birthplace since I entered the monastery but my family is visiting me in Kathmandu two or three times each year.
When did you began studying at the Sangye Yeshe Shedra?
I entered the Shedra in 1998, two years after I arrived at the monastery, when I was about 16 years old. I was very lucky! At that time the Shedra was not established as it is nowadays and Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche said one day that whoever has finished elementary school and wants to join the Shedra can do so. So I went! All together we were 32 students studying at the Shedra and I studied there for about 10 years until 2008.
How long have you been teaching now?
I began teaching in 2002, before I finished the Shedra. At that time I taught the Sangye Yeshe Shedra’s first year students review classes and after that the intermediate classes, while at the same time continuing with my own studies. After I finished the Shedra I began teaching two, sometimes three classes a day.
What is your favorite text?
My favorite text is the Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, because it touches me very deeply and it has been very helpful for my personal studies. It lays out clearly the spiritual journey beginning with the ground, followed by the path up to the result. In 2010 and 2011 I taught this text twice to the MA-Students of the Rangjung Yeshe Institute. In general though I like to read all kinds of books and study all of Mipham Rinpoche’s commentaries.
What is the essence of the Uttaratantra Shastra?
Although many teachings talk about buddha-nature, in my opinion the Uttaratantra Shastra in particular points out that all sentient beings possess buddha-nature. It uses clear logic and reasoning to illustrate this fact and thus I could gain deep certainty and confidence. Usually when studying the Sutrayana this is not made as clear. That’s why the Uttaratantra Shastra is very special.
How did studying it benefit you personally?
I gained a lot of benefits from studying it. It was especially helpful for me in clarifying what buddha-nature is and what the three jewels are. We use the words the three jewels a lot, but although we have a general idea we don’t really know what they are. Thanks to studying the Uttaratantra Shastra I gained a much broader and deeper understanding of them. Furthermore many texts when explaining about
buddha-nature quote at length from the Uttaratantra Shastra, thus already when I was young I had a keen interest in studying it. Also when studying Madhamikya we hear a lot about emptiness, but rarely we hear about buddha-nature. Thus studying it brought me a vaster and deeper understanding of buddha-nature.
What is the speciality of Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche’s commentary on the Uttaratantra Shastra?
Whereas Gö Lotsawa’s commentary is very long and Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary is rather short, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche wrote a commentary that is of medium length and thus suitable for most of the Shedra classes. Futhermore Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche wrote a beautiful introduction to his commentary in which he sums up the entire body of the Uttaratantra and goes through each of the main points in a clear and concise way. He also distinguishes and explains the different styles of teaching the Uttaratantra Shastra. In the main part of his commentary Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche then goes very precisely through all the crucial points and highlights them. Most of the Kagyü followers teach the Uttaratantra from a Mantrayana perspective. Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche also follows this approach.
What are you doing in your free time?
If there are no Shedra classes, I like to join in the Pujas or do some personal studies. But sometimes I also like to watch TV and use the internet. Particularly I like to watch football, cricket and the news.
What are your plans for the future?
Sometimes I think I would like to teach for my whole life and sometimes I think I would like to stay in retreat, but I’m not sure though and it always depends on the circumstances.
Do you have any particular advice for western students?
Honestly speaking I don’t have any special advice, because all the western students get a lot of teachings and advice from many great masters and teachers these days. Although I’ve noticed that most of the western students use a notebook to keep notes. This is very good and I’m amazed at how precisely they take notes. Sometimes they don’t like to memorize though. Later when we are facing difficulties or are in retreat, we don’t have our notebooks with us. Then it is very important that we have memorized the main points before, so we can bring them to mind easily. That’s why in our monastic education a lot of emphasis is placed on memorizing the root texts and key instructions. Without memorizing anything, only using the pen can not benefit our practice. Thus, I think it is very important to memorize the crucial points and keep them in mind.
~ Stefan from Germany