My name is Tsenshap Serkong Rinpoche. I want to talk about how I found my teacher. Interesting, yes?
Finding a master is quite difficult, but for me, I was lucky. I studied for three years in India at IBD, the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. I studied Madhyamaka, the Middle Way teaching of Buddha. It takes three years to complete. The first year was taught by the very skillful master, Gen Loyang-la. I listened to his teachings. He used to be with us.
The school has a system where, once every week, a different teacher would come to the class. We can debate or ask questions of this spiritual master, and they would reply and give an answer. One time an elderly monk, a very humble person, Gen Gyatso-la, entered our classroom. We stood and bowed our heads to show respect. But Gen-la didn’t look at how we bowed to him. He went straight to his throne and sat there. We did our prostrations and then gave some questions to him. He listened to one question and said, “Um, interesting.” And then he said, “Give me more.” I was so curious and felt very strange. I had never met a person who hadn’t given an answer to the first question before asking for a second question.
He took six or seven questions, and then he looked at all of the students. There were, I think, 25 students. And then he said, “Is that all the questions you have?” We said, “Yes.” And then he said, “OK, now let me start,” and he started his answering for almost an hour and a half. Then Gen-la said, “Well, I haven’t finished giving the answer for the first question yet, but now let me cover them all.” He spoke for almost three hours.
We were all so tired. I looked at our classmates, and it looked like they were very tired. And the funniest thing was that that day there was a celebration, a geshe celebration, where the new geshe makes a monetary offering to all the students. Also, at such a time, we have special food. We had to participate on time, otherwise there wouldn’t be any good things left on the serving plates. So, we had to rush. Lunch time was around 12:00, but it was almost 11:30 when Gen-la said, “I haven’t finished answering the first question yet.” So, he had more to go more. His answers continued until almost 1:00. We were so tired. We went down, and there was no food left. Big surprise. It was a surprise for me because, when I listened to him, I couldn’t feel any good or strong flavor in his answers. Everything seemed related, but it was not actually coming back to our question. Hmmm, is this a suitable teacher or not?
The second year, Gen-la was our main teacher, so there was more time to spend with him. After a long time, I noticed something special in him. When he answers, he listens to his own heart, and he feels like this is the best thing that I can offer the students. He wouldn’t just look at the textbook, then just say what is written there and then close the book and leave the classroom. That’s not his style. He teaches from his own heart, and sometimes he gets carried away. He goes deep into meditation, as when we talk about meditation, we talk about single-pointed meditation and analytical meditation. I think that is the second point that he’s showing us.
At the end of the second year, after having spent time with him, Gen Gyatso-la’s advice was, “Whenever you have the time, please, at least a few minutes every day, read the textbook. Spend a little time with that.” He held his copy of the book in his hands, and he just looked at the book saying, “I don’t have such great wisdom like you people have and a strong body, a very healthy body like you do. If I can exchange such a body with you, OK, but I really don’t want to exchange my enthusiasm and joyous effort. This I have enough of.” With confidence, he looked at his textbook and said to us, “I don’t want to exchange my joyous effort with you. If I can exchange anything, I want to exchange your healthy body and the time that you have so that I can be very healthy and can just study this textbook more and become much better at understanding and explaining it.”
Then, in the end, he looked very sad. He said, “I have studied and learned this book. I have read it many times and tried to understand as much as I can. Now I have one request. When I leave this world, I really don’t want to be apart from this book. So even when I go into deep meditation when I pass away, I want some of my friends to keep this book in my hands and tie it to me with a rope. Then you can burn my body like that.”
That was a very, very strong teaching for me. I’ve met so many teachers, so many masters, but I felt at that point that Gen Gyatso-la was maybe the one who should be my guru, my teacher. I’ve talked to so many of my classmates and asked, “What was something special that you got from him?” They answered, “Oh, he is very humble. He is a great teacher. He is very polite, and his way of answering is very skillful.” But most of them never talked about what I had seen and what he had said. It brought a tear to my eyes. I felt like, “Wow, this is the kind of enthusiasm and joyous effort that I want to have.”
He is a great teacher. There’s no mistaking what I have chosen. I decided, without a doubt, that I will take him as my guru and teacher. So, this is how I met Gen Gyatso-la and how he became my teacher, my spiritual master.