Naljorma Rin’dzin: What do you think is important for new apprentices to know about you?
Ngala Nor’dzin: That we’re practitioners; that we have been practitioners pretty much all our adult life and will continue to be practitioners throughout this life and into future lives – that we were practitioners in our last life also. That’s what we are. That comes first before everything. We are also ordinary – we live in an ordinary suburban house, have two teenage sons who like to watch ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Stargate’, and live an ordinary family life.
Naljorma Rin’dzin: How did you meet Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen?
Ngala Nor’dzin: Ngak’chang Rinpoche was invited to teach at a centre we used to visit regularly. Then, quite by chance, I found myself living next door to him. We found Ngak’chang Rinpoche’s approach inspiring – and confusing, from the point of view of a person whose idea of Buddhism was very much governed by Sutrayana. He was most kind and patient in answering our questions. Eventually I found myself asking ‘Who is my teacher?’ and realised it was Ngak’chang Rinpoche – the Lama who answered all my questions and made a practical difference in my life. So I asked Ngak’chang Rinpoche to be my teacher. I recognised Ngak’chang Rinpoche (and his Sangyum Khandro Déchen) as Lamas who could help me in a profoundly human way. They are inspiring as accomplished Lamas and also as completely genuine people in the ordinary world. They do not say one thing and do another. They are never unkind or inconsistent.
Naljorma Rin’dzin: Are there particular qualities that you would look for in potential apprentices?
Ngala Nor’dzin: The only things that we really look for are a genuine interest in the Aro gTér lineage and Vajrayana, and a genuine wish to engage in practice. Many sangha activities happen in our home, so often it is the informal quality of simply being with us that is the form of teaching and transmission. As regards personality; we appreciate people with an ability to be open, kind and generous – and perhaps to be a bit light hearted about themselves, not to take themselves too seriously.
Naljorma Rin’dzin: Could you say something about your previous incarnation, Ngakpa Dawa Ngödrüp?
Ngala Nor’dzin: He was a herbalist. Although I have not studied herbalism to any great extent in this life, I have trained as a homœopath, reflexologist and hypnotherapist and also in counselling. I also practice Aro element balancing. This practice is based in an understanding of elemental imbalance as a possible cause of physical, emotional and psychological problems. Ngala ’ö-Dzin’s previous incarnation, Chöying Nyima, was Dawa Ngödrüp’s wife and one of the five adoptive mothers of Aro Yeshé. She used to help Dawa Ngödrüp collect and prepare herbs. Ngala ’ö-Dzin and I have been fortunate in re-establishing our relationship in this life. We became immediate friends when we first met at a Buddhist Centre – there was a strong closeness between us from the beginning, and a sense of being at ease with each other.
Naljorma Rin’dzin: Your life must have changed a great deal since you started to teach more widely and have your own sangha.
Ngala Nor’dzin: Yes, and that has been an extremely powerful path of transformation for me. To be a Lama for our apprentices I have had to learn to relax into the space of being as much as possible. In allowing a person to view me as their Lama – even if I don’t feel I am the person they view me as – I have to relax into practice and have confidence in my practice. I cannot get precious or neurotic about my limitations, or intoxicated with the role of Lama. Only through continuing to be a practitioner can I be a teacher and a Lama for our apprentices.