Running to India

Ngakpa Chogyam & Lama Yeshe Dorje

From this series: Wearing the Body of Vision

“You cannot extricate yourself from samsara by leaving society.  That simply does not work. This is why I don’t really approve of people giving up their jobs and running to hide in India.”
— pg 127 Wearing the Body of Visions – Ngakpa Chögyam

I understand what he is saying, but ironically, this is what he did. And, ironically, it is this image and his ‘credentials’ of studying in India & Nepal, that probably draw many of his students. The lure of the mysterious, the other, the different — it offers an identity, a rebellion, a hope of remaking oneself but only to find that such an effort is unsuccessful. I think that is his point. But the irony is huge for me.


  1. @Sabio – Firstly to be precise Rinpoche has never been to Tibet – he studied in India and Nepal with Tibetan teachers.

    Secondly – “… giving up their jobs and running to hide in India.” Does not describe what Rinpoche did – for approx 15 years he spent 6 months per year in Britain earning enough money to then go to India and live, receive teachings and engage in retreat. He worked in a number of ways – but primarily manual labour. In the 1970’s there were no Tibetan teachers regularly coming to Britain so he had no choice about where to receive teachings.

    I’m not sure why people wish to study with Rinpoche – for me it was equal to why I wanted to study with Khandro Déchen and she did not engage in lengthy studies in India – it was their personalities and manner in which the teachings were explained.

    The principle of the instruction is that with vajrayana practice we do not give up the world with the idea that we can become better, holier, more spiritual if we can get to some other place. We often get the idea that – if only I had more time, if only life wasn’t so hard, if only people weren’t so demanding of me – then I’d really be able to practice. Large numbers of people have said to me – I’d love to live in a cave away from the stresses of the world – then I’d really get somewhere with practice. However with vajrayana the meat and gristle of our practice is our own emotional condition which contains all we need for our own realisation, and everyday living in the world with job, friends, family provides all the challenges we need.

  2. @Shezer
    Great corrections, thanx. I fixed the post concerning Tibet. When I went to India & Nepal, I also worked as a manual laborer (Steel Mills – like your husband, no?) to save money. I met many people running to India. I agree with your eval. But without further explanation, the sentence in that book seems ironic. A footnote in the next addition may be helpful. 🙂
    Thank you for your contribution

  3. Earnest

    I like this quote. I think Chogyam probably realized the full connotations of what he said. I think he wants to push against those who flood after him. Getting where he got to involved a lot more than buying a plane ticket & robes, and he probably sees tiresome weak willed wanna-be monks on a daily basis. I think it’s an attempt to splash some cold water on faces that need it.

  4. If I remember correctly (I don’t have the book to hand, so I might be wrong) the disapproval of people giving up their jobs and running to hide in India was a direct referral to a story, in answer to a question from the audience, which ended with Dzongsar Khyentsé Rinpoche telling a bunch of Californian hippies “Many of you here are not even qualified for samsara – you should all go out and get jobs.” ie, India is irrelevant. The point is whether or not you can function well in society. If you can, then you can begin to practise Tantra. If you can’t, then the first step is to get socially functional. That experience leads to the point where you can see yourself in samsara. Samsara and society are not the same thing, but social success is a fast route to seeing a lack of justification for your cycle of dissatisfaction. Constantly rejecting social involvement is repeatedly justifying dissatisfaction.

  5. @ Earnest
    I think NC is very skilled at cold-water splashing.

    @ Rin’dzin
    I left the book on my office desk and won’t be able to check for 5 days — just enough time for folks in the office to find it and give me crap about it or whisper about me. You remember the cover page!
    But I do recall that discussion and I certainly remember agreeing with it when I read it. I have had that impression strongly of many who I have seen drawn to Yoga or Buddhism — escapism. I find that in people who run to all things oriental too — not escapism from social involvement but from the boredom of the culture and identity they grew up in.
    I think both of these, as you say, are “repeatedly justifying dissatisfaction”.
    Thank you for your note.

  6. Fran

    @Rin’Dzin Pamo

    How do you define “social success” and involvement though? Nearly nobody is completely reclused from society, and always to some degree involved in it. I think the most important point is to not seek refuge in escapism and denial, which is mostly a mental disposition.
    (I notice this is a very old post, but I find the discussion highly interesting.)

  7. Hey Fran.
    Yes, an old post and a discontinued blog. I got rejected by this group and stopped any involvement. But I think all the above talk on this issue is still very pertinent. Thanx for dropping in, if even 8 years later. Your point is well made.

  8. Fran

    Hi Sabio, thanks for the reply. Do you mind sharing why you got rejected? I’m quite interested in this particular way of Buddhism, but it does seem to be rather “exclusive”.

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