Namsee Rinpoche

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Ven. Choje Namse Rinpoche (1930-2009)

  < by Stephanie Colvey


Born in Kham (East Tibet) in 1930, Lama Namse became a monk at the age of 15.  His studies included the Tripitaka: Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma, and also Prajnaparamita, Uttara Shastra, Sutra Lankara, the five states of Madhyamika and the Five Treasuries of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.  Rinpoche completed two 3-year, 3-month, 3-day retreats incorporating the Six Yogas of Naropa, Mahamudra, etc.

At the age of thirty, he arrived in India as a refugee, where he was a retreat master before going to Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim to be with HH the 16th Karmapa. There he received the Kagyu Ngagzod and Damgang Ngagzod collections of empowerments.

Karmapa Rigpe Dorje sent Rinpoche to teach in Europe, mainly in France.  Since 1981, Lama Namse served as Karmapa's Canadian representative, and he was the director of the Toronto centre formerly known as "The Karma Kagyu Centre," and now designated, Karma Sonam Dargye Ling.

After Lama Namse's passing in 2009, KSDL moved to 7 Laxton Road, Toronto, ON.  His attendant and nephew, Lama Tenzin, who studied at a unique Buddhist college in Toronto and who has studied Mandarin Chinese, has been the director. 

Lama Namse, a dear friend and a remarkable lama, passed away in India at around 10:15 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009.  He was 79 years old. He remained in tukdam for a day and then funerary rites were performed at Palpung Sherab Ling in India. 

Prayer for Lama Namse composed by the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje


March 6, 2004, Mahamudra at Rigpe Dorje in Montreal:

Lama Namse had already introduced the topic and the 9th Karmapa's text when I took my place among the 2 dozen in attendance on Saturday morning.   The translator from the Tibetan was Tenzin, who relied on an edition of Mahamudra: The Ocean of Definitive Meaning by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje that was translated from the Tibetan text known as Ngedon Gyamtso by Elizabeth Callahan as extensively expounded by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso.   The translation into French was by Esther Rochon.

Draped in an orange shawl, which I presumed was in honour of the Manjushri empowerment scheduled for the next day, the lama had already begun to enumerate the Tal.jor   Regarding the Tibetan expression -- Tal means free and jor is endowments, or resources.  That is, the "Eight Freedoms and Ten Opportunities."   Lama Namse referred to 8 Obstacles that can hinder one's practice and then began to speak of the 10 Opportunities.  

Taljor are conditions that allow for someone to be able to practice dharma. The Eight Freedoms are:  Freedom from birth in the 3 lower realms -- as a hell being, a hungry ghost, an animal -- but also from inopportune circumstances such as living outside civilization  -- as a barbarian -- or as one of the gods, so long-lived as to be unable to appreciate the reasons for escaping samsara; as a "heretic" -- one who imagines the circumstances of existence to be other than they are --; as one who is mentally handicapped; or one who lives in an age or place where there is no Buddha. 

Of the Ten Opportunities, 5 are personal, and 5 are general.  The five personal ones are: having a human body, being born in a land to which the dharma has spread, having all senses and "aggregates" intact,  being of a kindly nature, and having confidence in the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.)

The five general or external ones are:  That a Buddha has been born in this eon, that the Buddha decides to teach the dharma, that the dharma is still actively extent, that there are followers who have realized the objectives of the teachings of the Buddha and are willing to teach and also, that there are those willing to support the dharma in other ways.

Unfortunately, since a chronic gall bladder condition became acute, the empowerment planned for Sunday had to be cancelled.  The Lama was hospitalized briefly so his condition, including high blood sugar levels, could be stabilized.  He was able to return to Mtl. in April to complete Mahamudra teachings before the surgery for removal of the troublesome organ.  He is doing fine, and we pray to Green Tara for his continued well-being.

8 Obstacles:  These are internal or mental conditions usually given as doubt, restlessness, desire, anger, ignorance, pride, anxiety, laziness, and a tendency to intellectualize, rationalize or over-analyze.

From Dharma Diary 2000

On Sunday, December 17th, 2000 at Karma Sonam Dorje Ling, (then at the lovely old Triller Street house in a funky but charming Parkdale area of Toronto) the Empowerment [wangkur] of Vajrakilaya as VajraKumar was attended by around 40 people; some from as far as Columbus, Ohio.

The mid-westerners had suffered a rather tense 10-hour trip through foggy and icy road conditions to participate in another of Rinpoche's remarkable empowerments.  And a  number of those earnest faces I had encountered not long before at KTD in Woodstock when Thrangu Rinpoche was there the previous summer.

It was a family atmosphere in the red carpeted double parlour that serves as the shrine room.  The 1920's oak woodwork and the generous foyer contributed to a warm atmosphere, and the spring-like weather even necessitated that the windows remain open throughout the morning. 

I had arrived at 9 am -- an hour early -- as I had been misinformed about the start time, so I could take a look around and help set up a bit.  It seems Andrew, who also took care of the subscriptions at the door at 10 am, had just been working on a carpentry project the night before: Now there is a Tibetan-style bookcase for holding pecha texts suspended from the ceiling over the shrine.  It's painted already -- dark red with traditional gilt arabesques -- and looks like there will be room for an entire set of Kangyur. 

The snow had melted enough so that I could sit outside in the yard to indulge my vice, and then do a kora or two on the path around the Center.  There must be lovely roses there in summer, for there were lots of huge hips on the bushes.

Andrew, who I kept thinking of as Andrzej, was very helpful and efficient, managing to keep track not only of the fees [$20 for each session, or $35 for both] but he noted each person's name, as well.  Speaking of money, the entrance to the house is through a generous closed porch that serves as a dharma store, and there is a nice selection of plain wooden malas, silver counter sets, and a few other items in simple good taste including, of course, kathas.  I had had the foresight [for once!] to bring one, so I do not know their cost.

Rinpoche conducted the empowerment which was not a lengthy one, from his throne, and the forty of us went up to him one at a time only twice.  No matter; the after-effect was very powerful and long-lasting.

Among the sangha that day were some enthusiastic members of the Nyingma Riwoche Centre headed by Ven. Khenpo Sonam Tobgyal, with whom I later had an enjoyable and interesting lunch at the Nine of Cups coffee house on Queen.  One of the younger women remarked that she felt a strong sense of self-assurance which was not at all usual for her.  

It is not easy to describe the 'empowering' that does, in fact, take place. There is no doubt, though, that a transformative effect results from the activity of a vajra lama such as Venerable Lama Namsee.  It is up to the practitioner, however, to maintain the result.

By the afternoon teaching session which started around 2 pm, the temperature had fallen to waaay below normal.  By 1:30 am the next morning, when the midnight train to Montreal finally arrived at the damp, flimsy Guildwood shelter, the wind was howling like something out of Dr. Zhivago, as a fellow traveler remarked, --  a fitting complement to the freezing rain.  (It seems that Rinpoche had had the foresight to invite the American travelers to stay the night, so I did not worry about my new friend Renee's safety, and that of her companions, on treacherous roads back to Ohio.)

In the afternoon, Choje Lama Namse Rinpoche kept it short and sweet as usual, only discussing the stages of the visualizations and a bit about the symbolism of the image of the deity.

He also mentioned the positive role that obstacles and obstructions can play in one's development.  This theme provoked me to ask, though, whether he felt that one should seek hardship.  He replied that one has trouble enough, as a consequence of karma and so on, that there is no need for any of us to go out looking for any more!

He was kind enough to answer many other questions, some from a young student who had the clear tenor voice of a budding umdze.  These concerned the details of generating the deity, and also whether results would be felt at the time of one's death.  

No doubt the finer points will be treated during this week's daily sadhanas with Lama Tashi whose specialty is ritual practice.

One important point was raised:  Can broken samaya (the commitments of tantric practitioners to their teacher, to the yidam or deity, and other related vows) be restored?  Rinpoche assured the student that if one is truly sorry and honestly confesses the wrong or neglect, and does what can be done to renew or repair the situation, then 'yes; samaya can always be restored.'

There are many examples of this in the Kagyu tradition, most notably the example that is the life of Milarepa.  More relevant on the day of that  empowerment though, is the Nyingma tradition of Vajrakila.  It is the tale of a complex chain:  Good motivation but faulty instruction and misinterpretation; then, self-indulgence and then wrathful compassion applied to purify and finally, restore and liberate. 

Shelley had prepared photocopies of the deity for us, and Alice had assembled and taken care of the tantric manuals that we used, and could buy at the end of the day for $15 each.

Since the photocopied image showed the deity's right-hand face with the snout of an animal, I wanted to know more about it.  Rinpoche said only that perhaps the artist lacked some skill or understanding. 

When I got home, I took a closer look at an 18th-century Dorje P'hurba tangka; it too had the face of a boar, or possibly, of a bear.  The text on Vajrakila practice by Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche says (39) that there was a time when the 10 Protectors and their consorts began having offspring with animal heads, perhaps the zoocephalic feature commemorates those events.

Renee-from-Ohio was enterprising.  She had brought along a pack of colored photos of a different version of the deity to sell for $5 each.  What a good way to cover travel expenses.

The effectiveness of Lama Namse Rinpoche's teaching lies not so much in what he says, as in his presence and the purity and power of his transmission.   He has a light touch with words, but the impact is profound.  The experience is always a remarkable and long-lasting one."

October 2001

Lama returned October 12-14 to teach on Atisha's Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. 

In the evening of Oct. 12th, Lama Namse gave the 2-armed Vajrapani (Bhutadamara) Empowerment and also the reading transmission for those who wished to do the practice. The shrine room, hall and store were full. 

Our powerful lama was smitten with a bit of a cold and so his low voice took on a deeply dramatic growl which admirably enhanced the experience.  

Even though the 5 initiations were given in a pleasantly efficient manner, the evening was a long one as the venue was quite full and the translations by Tenzin and Esther were informal and extensive.  

Rinpoche isn't given to long introductions and this night was no exception. He only said that the practice of this form of Vajrapani derives from Buddha Shakyamuni (ie. sutric) and is not a terma. We were therefore, to think of the source as Vajradhara.

Vajrapani is one of the 3 most important bodhisattvas, along with Chenresig and Manjushri.  The first is the sambhogakaya embodiment of Compassion; the second, Knowledge; the third, Power.

A torma was set outside for local beings/spirits, then we rinsed our mouths to eliminate negativities.  The assisting monk blessed the space with a swinging censer, and Rinpoche began.  The sadhana originated with Vajradhara, was transmitted to Vajrapani, and handed down through the Karmapas "until now."  

We said the lineage prayer together, the bodhisattva and 7-branched prayers as a foundation, and the lama emphasized that unless we really visualize ourselves as deities and not any lower forms, the empowerment would not be received.

Of course, perverse as I seem to be, I -- very briefly, mind you -- began to see myself as a sort of animal, shades of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, and had the sense to stop it right there!  I was reminded of the business where one is told to be sure not to think of bears.

Some pages were out of order and it took a few moments for them to be re-arranged, but the atmosphere was relaxed and without tensions, and I thought that in fact this was an auspicious indication, as a hard-won  blessing is often a superior one!

I took that time to notice the lama's desk which had, where there is often a stacked mandala, a treasure pot instead. 

Rinpoche described the deity and a tsogli was held up for us to see the seed syllable, and then Vajrapani in his circle of protection, and the symbolism was explained, eg. the raised vajra that eliminates obstacles at the god realm.

The syllable from which Vajrapani manifests, details of his dress and the form and colors of energy centre were also displayed to us.  Instead of the mantra associated with Chana Dorje, we chanted Karmapa Chenno during the proceedings.

The lama explained the benefits of each of the five initiations, such as, "The mind empowerment permits you to meditate on this deity, and to enter the dharmakaya."  

The visualization was not a very complex one, and though it took a bit more than two hours with the translations and 3 processions, there was an immediate effect of clear, high energy.  It permitted me to check and edit all the dead links in this site as the energy of the transmission  lasted a good  36 hours!

Rinpoche concluded saying that this practice is a help in overcoming obstacles, especially mental ones, and "maladies." He immediately proceeded to give the lung for doing it at home.

The lama was accompanied by his relative Tenzin, and a devoted student from KSDL in Toronto.  The French translation was by knowledgeable and very generous, Esther Rochon. 

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