H.H the XIV Dalai lama was 21 years old when he first met Khunu lama briefly in 1956, on the 2500th anniversary of Buddha Jayanti in India. Khunu lama was already 62 years old. The meeting was brief but it set the precursor for the more intimate meetings that took place years later.
Rime Scholar at the Buddhist inter-school meeting
After the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, Tibetan Buddhism and culture suddenly came under threat. H.H the XIV Dalai Lama organized a Buddhist inter-school meeting in Mussoorie to deliberate on measures to preserve the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in exile. It was a unprecedented meeting of so many prestigious Buddhist lamas coming together. Khunu Rinpoche went to Mussoorie at the Dalai Lama’s request to instruct the Tibetan refugees in grammar and poetry, remaining there for nearly a year. Khunu rinpoche happened to be there at the meeting although he is not known to have taken part formally. Yet he left a lasting impression on many participants because of the depth and range of his knowledge.
After witnessing the depth of Khunu lama’s wisdom, H.H the XIV Dalai lama visited Bodhgaya with just his personal security. Khunu lama was recovering from a serious illness that affected his sight and rendered him weak. He was unable to see properly. When he was informed by the private secretary about who the visitor was, he objected and claimed not to be able to receive Dalai lama as he wore no appropriate clothing and had no chair for His Holiness to sit on. As the Dalai Lama insisted on speaking with him, they both remained standing and had a talk.
Transmission of Bodhicaryavatara
His Holiness the Dalai lama visited Bodhgaya again and requested Khunu Lama to give him a transmission of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, also known as A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. During this transmission, His Holiness was so overwhelmed by Khunu Lama’s knowledge of the text, level of compassion and purity of mind that His Holiness asked for a commentary to be provided with the text.
Following the transmission, in the presence of a crowd of people, H.H the Dalai lama prostrated to Khunu Lama in the middle of a road. This public display of immense respect immediately brought him to the attention of many and changed Khunu Lama’s life from one of quiet asceticism to highly revered figure in the Buddhist world.
Reference to Shantideva
The core teachings Dalai lama received from Khunu rinpoche were the concept of Bodhicitta (mind of enlightenment) – a concept which plays a major role in the teachings given by the Dalai Lama and other aspects of Buddhist philosophy, like epistemology. The Dalai Lama is known to have referred to Khunu lama for all the philosophical concepts that are not clear enough . Those meetings with Khunu Lama left a deep impression on the Dalai Lama, when he gave his Kālachakra initiation in Bodhgaya 1985, he qualified Negi Lama as the “Shantideva of our time” referring to the great Buddhist philosopher.
Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea
Dalai lama wrote the foreword for Khunu Lama’s book “The Jewel Lamp: Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta”, translated in English as Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea, by Wisdom Publication in 1999.
In June 2013, while teaching ‘The Jewel Lamp: a Praise of Bodhichitta’ in Sydney, H.H the Dalai lama said “I received oral transmission of this text directly from its author Khunu Rinpoche, the first teaching I received from him. It deals with cultivating the awakening mind of bodhichitta, which is an altruistic aspiration to reach enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.”
“Khunu Rinpoche was a scholar familiar with all the major and minor topics of study who had mastered poetry, grammar and composition. He lived the quiet, humble life of a hermit in the ashram of a friend in Varanasi, where I was moved to receive this instruction from him,” His Holiness recalled.
Dalai lama may give transmission of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, also known as A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life during Kalachakra 2017 Bodhgaya. You may join the Omalaya’s Kalachakra Tour
Click here to read our article on KHUNU LAMA – The Quiet Master
Sources: http://fpmt.org/ as told to Beth Halford, an FPMT student by Ven. Thubten Tsewang, known as Baling Lama, a disciple of and attendant to the Indian Buddhist master Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen Rinpoche (1894-1977) and http://info-buddhism.com/ in a preliminary account of the life of a modern Buddhist saint. Sangnak Tenzin shared his personal account with Thierry Dodin, Institute of Central Asian Studies, Bonn University.Tags: commentary, A guide to Bodhisattva way of life, The Jewel lamp, Wisdom publication, Negi lama Tenzin Gyeltsen, Buddha Jayanti, Prostration, Khunu lama, Compassion, Tibetan grammar, living Buddha, Rime movement, Buddhist lamas, Vast as the heavens deep as the sea, transmission, verses in praise of Bodhisattva