Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mingyur Rinpoche, the millionaire monk

Buddhist monks attend an alms offering ceremony (Reuters/Damir Sagolj).

Mingyur Rinpoche, the millionaire monk who renounced it all
The Buddhist teacher's decision to leave his monastery suggests a revival of the principles laid down by the Buddha.

On first impression, Mingyur Rinpoche seemed to have everything well set up for a high profile career as a globe-trotting meditation teacher in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan [Vajrayana] Buddhism. The youngest of three sons of the late, much venerated Tulku Urgyen, by the age of 36 he had a bestselling book (The Joy of Living) to his name, a monastery in India and Tergar [shown left], an international organization based in the US with branches worldwide.

Mingyur Rinpoche was living comfortably with a retinue of attendants. He was in high demand as a teacher and admired by developed world devotees in particular, for his interest in the scientific implications of meditation -- specifically its effect on brain function and the nervous system. He already had 10 years of solitary meditation retreat behind him and Tibetan Buddhist aficionados were impressed with his personal qualities.

But Mingyur Rinpoche was not content to rest on his laurels. Nor was he interested in becoming yet another celebrity guru, living in luxury and spoiled by the adulation accorded to important lamas. One morning in June this year his attendants knocked on the door of his room at his monastery in Bodhgaya, India, and when there was no response they went in to find it empty – except for a letter explaining that he had left for an indeterminate period to become a wandering yogi, meditating wherever he alighted in the Himalayas.

"He took no money, and no possessions," explained his brother Tsoknyi Rinpoche. "He didn't take his passport, his mobile phone, or even a toothbrush."

In his letter Mingyur Rinpoche said that from a young age he had "harbored the wish to stay in retreat and practice, wandering from place to place without any fixed location." He advised his followers not to worry about him, assuring them that in a few years they would meet again. To this day no one has any idea of his whereabouts and he has not been in touch with his family.

Mingyur Rinpoche (the title Rinpoche means "Precious One") left on his journey from Bodhgaya, the place where the historical Buddha Siddhartha attained enlightenment.
"There's an interesting parallel with the Buddha," says Donald Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies at the University of Michigan. "Since the fall of the Tibetan monarchy in 842, incarnate lamas have served as a kind of aristocracy in Tibet, so a high-ranking tulku [spiritual reincarnation] is not unlike a prince. Mingyur Rinpoche has renounced royal life, just as Prince Siddhartha did. This radical step that he has taken is essentially a return to the lifestyle that the Buddha prescribed for all monks." More