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The Dharma Centre of Winnipeg



Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche

With sadness we announce the passing of our beloved Teacher, the Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche, founder and principal patron of the Dharma Centre of Canada and the Dharma Centre of Winnipeg.
The Rinpoche passed away on October 22nd 2003, at one of his favorite places, a small private cottage on a lake in Switzerland, where he has stayed and taught many times over the last 20 years.
He had recently completed a teaching tour in Europe, and was soon to return to Canada to teach at the Dharma Centre, when long standing heart problems finally took their course.
"He was the greatest of teachers to the very end and continues to be so!"

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Please click on a thumbnail to bring up a larger version.

Canadian-born lama Namgyal Rinpoche, one of the earliest Western teachers to be recognized as an awakened incarnate lama by the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, taught Dharma to Westerners for almost forty years.

Born George Dawson in Ontario Canada in 1931, Rinpoche traveled to Europe and India as a young man. He was ordained by Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Thila Wanta as a novice monk in 1958 at Bodhgaya, and later the same year as a full bhikkhu (Buddhist monk) at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon with the ordination name of Ananda Bodhi. After a number of years of practice and study in Asia, he returned to Canada, and a following of students gradually grew up around him in Toronto. Rinpoche quickly realized that many of his students required preparation before tackling a strict regimen of tranquility and insight meditation as it is practised in the East.

"We were pretty raw," chuckles Karma Chime, a respected Canadian Dharma teacher and one of the earliest students of 'the Bhikkhu' as he was known at the time. "We were children of the sixties, into every type of experimentation imaginable. Rinpoche immediately focused on exercise, diet and the study of art and music as ways of strengthening us for the work that lay ahead."

As the teaching in the city progressed, Rinpoche founded the Dharma Centre of Canada on 400 acres of woodlands north of Toronto in 1966. While he often taught his students who practiced there, Rinpoche himself held to the life of a wanderer, traveling and teaching, often conducting courses with a handful of students on cargo ships. "There's nowhere to run when you're on a boat in the middle of the ocean," laughs Doug Duncan, a student of Namgyal Rinpoche for nearly twenty-five years and a recognized and respected Dharma teacher in his own right for the past fifteen, currently teaching in Kyoto. "The teacher-student relationship can often be quite hands-on and direct depending on the needs of the particular student, and sometimes students tend to roll up the mat and make a run for it when things get just a bit too uncomfortable. By traveling with the teacher, students find that they are less likely to retreat into their habitual patterns as an escape from the revolutionary, at times unsettling nature of this direct teaching." They traveled often, to Greece and Italy, to Australia and New Zealand, to Africa and India and South America.

It was on one of these trips that Ananda Bodhi, together with over a hundred of his students, arrived in Rumtek, Sikkim and went to visit His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Karma Kargyu order and one of Tibetan Buddhism's most revered teachers. The Karmapa immediately recognized Ananda Bodhi as a fully awakened teacher, named him Karma Tenzin Dorje Namgyal Rinpoche, and presented him with robes and implements of the Namgyal lineage that had been in the Karmapa's keeping.

"The Namgyal incarnation is traditionally associated with bringing the teachings into new territory," Doug Duncan asserts. "That can certainly be said of Namgyal Rinpoche, bringing to the teachings a Western format that cuts through cultural barriers." Before long, Namgyal Rinpoche was recognized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and by the heads of all the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The head of the Nyingma sect declared that Namgyal Rinpoche was a reincarnation of Lama Mipham, a many talented
Tibetan Nyingma lama who died earlier this century.

This encounter with the Tibetan tradition and the subsequent transmissions from the Karmapa that occurred in Sikkim marked a watershed in Ananda Bodhi's teaching. Tibetan practices and initiations became a standard feature of his instruction, and he came to be known as the Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche. Many notable Tibetan teachers came to visit the Dharma Center, including Kalu Rinpoche, His Holiness Sakya Trinzin (head of the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism), Ayang Rinpoche, and at Namgyal Rinpoche's invitation, His Holiness the Karmapa himself. The Dharma Center began to take on a distinctly Tibetan Buddhist atmosphere, and to this day the Tibetan pagoda commissioned by Kalu Rinpoche and built by Namgyal's students is one of the most visible features of the Center.

As the Tibetan tradition became more popular in the seventies, however, many people became attracted to the exotic nature and colorful pageantry of these teachings. A period came when Namgyal Rinpoche berated his students for being entranced by the form and missing the essence of the teachings. "You people are fooling yourselves," he exclaimed, and for a time he dropped all visible manifestations of the Tibetan tradition from his teaching.

"It's known as using the medicine as poison", according to Doug Duncan. "Awakening isn't about finding a better culture or religion. In fact, it isn't even about meditation. It's about waking up; it's about becoming free from being subject to suffering. It's about learning to look at our experience directly, with honesty and integrity. In the final analysis, it's about freedom, and anything that gets in the way of that goal is counterproductive, however great its potential." Namgyal Rinpoche responded by developing meditation practices that used traditional Buddhist mindfulness meditations in a Western format, such as the holistic clearing meditation. He began three-year summer school courses at the Dharma Center which included science and mathematics, and placed greater emphasis on the teachings of the Western mystical tradition. "Later," explains Doug Duncan, "having weaned his students of cultural and religious myopia, he returned to further explore and expound on the Tibetan teachings in all their profound beauty."

To the last days, Rinpoche continued to travel the globe, offering teachings on the road, as well as at retreat centers in North and Central America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. His teachings around the world included several trips to Japan in the seventies, eighties and nineties, during which he taught courses in Kyoto and on Mt. Koya. In addition to traditional Theravadin and Vajrayana methods, he emphasized exploration of the planet and all its life forms as a path to awakening. Many other types of study and exploration, from scuba diving and whale watching to botany and astronomy, are encouraged.

"Buddhist psychology states that in every moment of interest, metta or lovingkindness is present, and this is one of the key pre-requisites for transcendence," Namgyal often pointed out. "Following your bliss leads the being on to brighter, more compassionate states of consciousness."

Like his predecessor, Lama Mipham, Namgyal Rinpoche is known as a renaissance man of many interests, as well as a fully awakened meditation master, and his students include psychologists, writers, scientists, composers and filmmakers. His teaching is non-sectarian, and he taught groups as diverse as Christians and members of the Masonic Order in addition to a wide variety of Buddhist groups.

In the final analysis, Namgyal Rinpoche's unique approach to teaching defies rigid categorization or conventional labels. "Any living teaching is always a cresting wave that includes everything that has come before, but that goes beyond a fixed method or practice," says Doug Duncan, "to make it a living, breathing transmission that is not dependent upon any specific culture or method. In that sense, the teaching cannot be said to be anything in particular. It is nevertheless rooted in age-old understandings, insights and methods. "The living teaching," he concludes, "remains unnamable."

For over three decades, through a broad range of teachings and methods, Namgyal Rinpoche traveled the planet, helping people to directly experience that unnamable truth for themselves.
Biography written by John Munroe

Teachers


Jeff Olson

Mark Webber

Doug Duncan