Q: Rinpoche, I hate to ask this question – as I suspect I know your answer . . . and it might upset some people. Drala Jong is intended to establish the lineage for future generations . . . If you don’t wish to answer I’ll understand – but do you think that the Aro gTér Tradition will survive after your death if we don’t manage to build Drala Jong in the next few years?

NCR: No . . .

KD: You’ve said that before, when asked. . .

NCR: Yes. This is a difficult question to answer. I really don’t like to give this answer – because I don’t like the answer. But I can’t see any way around it. If you subtract Khandro Déchen and myself from the equation – there would need to be a building. If we’re no longer living it would be difficult for lineage to maintain cohesion. Without a physical structure—a location which provided a focal point for all the brevet lamas and their sanghas—there would be something of a lack of cohesion. Something might survive – but not the lineage as a whole.

Q1: I suppose as students we always pushed your death into the future. . .

NCR: Well, I’m definitely getting older. In the last couple of years I’ve had to say ‘You know, I’m definitely not young any more.’ That’s the past. I’m actually getting old. I’m more easily tired. It’s not a problem – but it’s a fact.

Q: I’m aware of this at the moment, because my own father is 65 this year and is going in for heart surgery . . .

NCR: 6 years older than me . . . Mmmm . . . My father was 5 foot 2, 16 stone, and died at 76. Maybe I’ve got longer than I think . . .

KD: Rinpoche’s blood pressure is good . . . but everyone is on the slippery slope by virtue of having a human body. Look at those poor people in Norway who were murdered by that psychopath. They were on the slope but didn’t know.

NCR: Perhaps I might stretch it to 30 years, who knows – but travel would definitely shorten my life so I’m looking to cut down on travel in the future.

KD: Travel certainly shortened Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche’s life.

NCR: Yes . . . he did travel ’til the end – but even he had to change his schedule in order to stay in one place for 6 months at a time.

KD: I think if you had asked us that ten or twenty years ago we would have given a different answer. I think Aro Ling has taught us something about what is possible – and what is needed in terms of teaching. The importance of having a residential centre has also become paramount because of Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche’s advice.

NCR: That is probably the central, pivotal and crucial statement. Künzang Dorje Rinpoche’s advice was given for two reasons. The first concerns liberation and creating optimal circumstances. The second is based on the recognition of what ‘samsara’ is. From the perspective of Dharma—the liberated viewpoint—the benefit to having a centre is the ability to be able to concentrate efforts – to: house special lineal objects; create supports for Dharma and store them; preserve ancient artefacts; and, collect and index records of the teachings. A residential centre can be a vast repository. From the perspective of ‘samsara’ – if one wishes to ‘make the thing work’, people have to see it. In the common run of things—according to the dictates of society—people have to see what we’re doing as something serious. The press needs to be impressed if they are to write accounts of our work. People want to go to a place that looks as if it represents something cogent in the world. There are few who will go to a rented flat – to see a Lama, even a Tibetan Lama. From the perspective of Dzogchen it makes no difference – but Dzogchen is the goal, rather than the state of societal consciousness. I shall give an example from my own experience. In the 1970s I went to a Captain Beefheart concert. The supporting band was Henry Cow – and I found them entirely marvellous. The audience however were unconscionably rude. They talked and walked around – almost complete ignoring the music. I had to concentrate in order to screen out the disturbance in order to hear Henry Cow. Then Captain Beefheart walked on stage. Now I must say that I am an admirer of Captain Beefheart – but on this occasion he gave a poor performance. He treated the audience as poorly as the audience had treated Henry Cow. I only considered later that he might have acted in this way deliberately to make a point – but what he did was to sit half off stage and drink beers when he wasn’t singing. The audience however seemed universally enraptured.

KD: Because Captain Beefheart was famous and Henry Cow wasn’t.

Q: So we’re Henry Cow and the centre is Captain Beefheart.

KD: That is how it works with samsara. We can laugh about it and ridicule it – but it’s the everyday reality. Of course that ridiculous societal scenario creates opportunities for people to see through the illusion of what is worthwhile and what is not worthwhile. Künzang Dorje Rinpoche recognised this samsaric aspect – and said “Most Tibetans are like this too. They think that if someone has a big gompa they must be an important Lama!”

NCR: Künzang Dorje Rinpoche never had a centre – but he lived in a culture where he was recognised by the highest dignitaries. Many people sought him out – but he accepted very few as disciples. We don’t have that culture in the West. Künzang Dorje Rinpoche recognised our culture and our cultural needs – where a centre is needed. Without it we’re fly-by-nights. We’re insubstantial even though we have been teaching for 30 years.

KD: We have to acknowledge that if people go to a centre and sit there as 1 of 100 in an audience – it’s more impressive than being 1 of 10. It’s important to have a centre because people need to have something to rely upon as concrete. There is no point in saying it shouldn’t be that way – and that therefore we shouldn’t do it. Life simply isn’t like that. Most people wish to be enthused and excited by something.

NCR: I didn’t go to see Henry Cow. I went to see Captain Beefheart – but I ended up preferring Henry Cow. Without Captain Beefheart however – I would possibly never have heard of Henry Cow.

KD: Some people find—after the excitement wears off—that they come away empty-handed. Or . . . they recognise to some degree they’ve come to be interested for reasons other than excitement. They find value from practice – so it’s not—all—bad.