June 28, 2004

A Bonpo Weekend

Posted at June 28, 2004 12:15 AM in Buddhism .

"Busy, busy, busy" was the mantra for the last few days.

I took Friday off from work so I could go to Portland. I spent the morning getting my oil changed and having lunch with R and then headed down. I arrived at Ariche's house around 4:30 and hung out with her and her wonderful pup, Artemis aka Miss Pig. The only dog that I'll ever truly love...

The purpose of this trip was to see Menri Ponlob Rinpoche, a Bonpo lama who is the Principle Instructor of the Bon Dialectic School at Menri Monastery in Tibet, the main Bonpo monastery. He also has a geshe degree, the Tibetan equivalent of a PhD.

For those that don't know, Bon is considered the indigenous religion of Tibet (though we could get into a discussion of "Old" versus "New" Bon and such). In practice, it is fairly similar to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism (or vice versa). Both Bon and Nyingma traditions are the primary groups maintaining and teaching Dzogchen over the last thousand years.

Ponlop Rinpoche comes to the Portland area about once a year and is working towards establishing the Dzogchen Yungdrung Ling center there but that is years away at this point. The organizers there organize a world-wide teaching trip for him annually and Portland is the only place where he teachings on Dzogchen.

I attended a Friday night introductory lecture by him at a local Zen center. Saturday was a 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM introduction to and transmission of a particular Bon Dzogchen text and a lot of general teaching on Dzogchen. Sunday morning was more of the same. Notable compared to some teachings I've attended was that Rinpoche stopped fairly often for Q&A and was willing to spend up to a half hour on an interesting question or two before moving on. I actually got to ask him a question about the achievement of the "Rainbow Body" in modern times based on some comments he made about it not being reliably seen since 1935. As the teacher of the Bon Dialectic School, it turns out that he's fairy stringent when it comes to standards for reports of such things and he explained the process that they went through in investigating claims when they came up a little.

As with almost every Tibetan teacher that I've ever met, he was jovial, warm, and extremely friendly. He radiated a calm happiness about life (unlike many Buddhists of Western ethnicity for some reason). In an amusing aside, I noticed that he consulted his watch often, started promptly on time, offered unsolicited and regular breaks every hour or two, and ended on time. Anyone who has worked with Tibetan teachers much will understand the novelty of a teacher that functions within Western norms on time and who doesn't need to be asked to give a break to pee and stretch. He's also the first lama that preferred lattes over tea. We did a coffee run for him (and the rest of us) at one point, which gave us a longer break. A lama after my heart.

Since I got home, I've e-mailed the organizers of the event as I really do want to keep a connection going with Ponlop Rinpoche. He struck me as the "real deal" and very down to earth on many levels. He showed a lot of simple wisdom about how people are but also wasn't afraid to speak about things. He made a couple of simple descriptions of Thogdal, for example. He didn't teach on it but he was actually willing to discuss it a little, which is something that I haven't run into before.

How his lineage of Dzogchen practice relates to that of Namkhai Norbu on a personal level is interesting. Time will tell how that interaction works. I consider Namkhai Norbu my primary teacher but I'm also making connections with other Dzogchen teachers where I can when they seem reputable and solid. Ponlop Rinpoche is defnitely more orthodoz than Norbu in what he teaches in some ways but I think that is just surface stuff.

Otherwise, I hung out with Ariche and Gleibinger a bit at their house. Ariche had circulated the word to the OTO brethren that I was in town and called for a little party at their place Saturday night. A bunch of people came over (12 or so?) and I won't list them all. We drank a bit of wine, had a little food, BS'd a bit about politics, online idiots and had an interesting conversation about the...ins and outs...of various sex toys and the weird people that use some of them. You had to be there, I guess. It turned out that one of the party guests used to work in a Sex Shop and she had some interesting comments and stories to tell as well. Neither here nor there though.

Driving around Portland as a city just feels like home much of the time. I'm convinced that I could live there and that I might even enjoy it, in the long run, more than Seattle. It just feels nicer and the lack of standard zoning in sections means that some of the neighborhoods seem very livable on foot with the mixture of restaurants, other businesses, houses and other activities. Even going downtown for Powell's, the skank factor didn't compare remotely with Seattle's. I didn't even feel like I needed to worry much about my car getting busted into, etc. I know it happens but everything just seemed a bit turned down in that area. A lot of people have commented to me before about how Portland is a lot like the Seattle of my childhood before all the growth and immigration by non-Washingtonians.


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