questions & answers

with Ngak’chang Rinpoche

Q Could I ask you about tralam-mé – I mean, what it is exactly – can you explain what the word means in Tibetan?

R Tralam-mé is a strange word. In ordinary terms it pertains to anything that happens in the sky – weather conditions, precipitation, rainbows, the Aurora Borealis, asteroids, meteor showers – it is an interesting word. We do not have a word in English that includes everything in the sky; we have atmospheric conditions, but that term does not include meteor showers or the Aurora Borealis. Tralam-mé includes everything that happens in the sky – seeing the stars in the sky, the moon in the sky, visions in the sky, whatever happens in the sky.

The word ‘khra’ on its own means eagle. ‘Lam’ means context, territory, way, or natural unfoldment. Mé means fire. When ‘khra’ is paired with the word ‘khro’ – meaning ferocity – then passion is indicated. When ‘khra’ is paired with the word ‘rGya’ – meaning vastness – then diverse colours are designated. When ‘khra’ is paired with the word ‘lhem’ – meaning instantaneous – it means glittering. Thus one can see that many meanings are implied which portray colours and radiance in space.

That is what tralam-mé means in ordinary terms. In terms of Dzogchen long-dé tralam-mé is used in the context of vajra romance – and thus we translate the term as poetic turbulence. Poetic turbulence is the romantic energetic which is sparked by the capacity for realisation in two individuals.

This does not just exist as an effective interface between male-female romantic couples; it exists between everyone, to one degree or another. It affects how people get on or collaborate with each other. We call it poetic turbulence as an emptiness and form term: poetic is the form aspect and turbulence is the emptiness aspect. Tralam-mé is the mode in which people accidentally rhyme with each other. This is why we use the word poetry. Poetry is not part of the word tralam-mé but poetic turbulence is a pragmatic, descriptive translation of tralam-mé. When people fall in love with each other, they rhyme – their respective tralam-mé rhyme. In terms of diluted tralam-mé this is caused by adultery. Adultery means watering down or weakening; so if one has engaged in multiple relationships in the same time frame, one weakens or adulterates ones tralam-mé. One then finds it harder to rhyme, and one therefore moves into assonance.

Q Assonance?

R Assonance means rhyming with the vowel – but I intended no slur on assonance. Poetry without assonance would be music without chords – it would be a little sickly sweet. I am misusing the word assonance here to means something less than rhyming.

Q Does this also happen when we fantasise? Is that why we have to be careful of our fantasies?

R Yes. You find that, in a broader sense, tralam-mé will affect how you are with anybody. Apart from adultery, it could be the betrayal of friends. One then becomes a person who does not like anybody overmuch; and nobody likes us either. If you are not loyal in friendship, it also has the effect of adulterating the tralam-mé but to a lesser degree. If you are not loyal in friendship, it has a similar effect on the tralam-mé but not as pronounced as when sexuality is involved. One finds oneself gradually having less sympathy or empathy with anyone, and consequently fewer people have sympathy with us. We become societally marginalised persons. We find that with people who are sufficiently self-centred that they have fewer and fewer friends. They find people harder and harder to like. They find fault with everyone.

Q Then that’s a way to check your tralam-mé at times?

R Yes. If you find it easy to make friends – and keep them. If you do not find it difficult to fall in love – then you have a strong tralam-mé.

Q It sounds like tralam-mé is significantly more important than personality in the interaction of people.

R Well yes – but it is bound up with personality. Personality and tralam-mé reflect each other.

Q Outside of regular practice, what can be done to repair tralam-mé

R Nothing.

Q Nothing?

R Nothing – apart from liberation. It is a phenomenon which cannot be repaired apart from through rebirth. Rebirth repairs tralam-mé. You can make sure it is not further eroded; but it is not repairable by any means.

Q So tralam-mé is of one life-time?

R It comes with the body as a fresh arena of energetic pattern-absorbency – that is to say it is pre-pattern potentiality. It is a dimension which responds to pattern and which allows pattern to arise in relation to other strongly colourful patterns.

Q Does it relate to bodhicitta?

R Yes – but bodhicitta in terms of the way in which bodhicitta is expressed within Vajrayana – and particularly within Dzogchen long-dé.

Q But bodhicitta can be developed, can’t it? So then how is it that bodhicitta doesn’t affect tralam-mé?

R Bodhicitta functions far more pervasively than tralam-mé. Tralam-mé is partially physical – it is energetic. Bodhicitta can be completely intangible, and therefore it can be developed through intangible practices. Tralam-mé is exhaustible. Many other things in life are exhaustible – including life itself.

Q So, Rinpoche – if a person has adulterated their tralam-mé they can develop bodhicitta.

R Yes.

Q What then would be the best way to practise having lost the capacity of function in terms of tralam-mé?

R One could simply forget about attempting romantic relationship in terms of the practice of vajra romance – and live as a solitary yogi or yogini. One could become a monk or nun.

Q Rinpoche, do you have awareness of peoples tralam-mé?

R Yes – but it is not necessary. You can know the nature of your tralam-mé without need of asking anyone else.

Q So people just have to find out through their practice?

R There is nothing particularly mysterious about this – people do not have to be clairvoyant. People just need to look at their lives and how they are. And of yourself – you know by your own history – without need of asking us about it. If you seem to fall out of love easily—without being unduly offended—then you know that your tralam-mé is adulterated. If you become easily disenchanted with romantic partners – then you know that your tralam-mé is adulterated.

Q So loss of tralam-mé could be linked with self-preservation in a sense?

R It could be looked at like that – but I would say it had more in common with nihilist cynicism. Obviously it is not useful to remain in relationship with an untrustworthy, selfish, abusive, or adulterous person – that is another matter entirely. Loss of tralam-mé has more to do with fault-finding – when ones love evaporates due to the other person simply being human and experiencing life’s normal vicissitudes. One should be able to experience occasional instances of less-than-lovely behaviour from ones partner without shifting the primary nature of ones affection. Tralam-mé allows us to experience—if only reflectively—the non-dual aspect of our partner – and due to this we are able to make allowances. When tralam-mé begins to become eroded, we find ourselves capable of lessening tolerance, whilst expecting a higher degree of tolerance from the other.

When tralam-mé is used in the Dzogchen context of vajra romance – and when it is used within the Khandro Pawo Nyi-da Méong Gyüd it is the energy people naturally manifest in relation to each other in terms of how their appreciation effloresces as the innate presence of rTsa, rLung and thig-lé. Tralam-mé does not exist simply as an interface between male-female romantic couples; it exists between everyone and everything everywhere.

Tralam-mé affects how people relate with each other. As I said earlier we call it poetic turbulence as an emptiness and form coinage. Tralam-mé is the manner in which people accidentally rhyme with each other – the manner in which they fall in love. This is why we use the word poetry. Poetry is not connected with the Tibetan word tralam-mé (khra lam me); so poetic turbulence is a descriptively engineered translation of tralam-mé. With this descriptively engineered translation we can express the nature of the nyam of falling in love in terms of rhyming. When people fall in love with each other, they rhyme – their respective tralam-mé rhymes. It is important both in terms of Dzogchen long-dé and of being able to fall in love that ones tralam-mé does not become diluted. Dilution in terms of tralam-mé concerns adultery – that is to say promiscuity and engaging in multiple sexual relationships outside one promised relationship – be that marriage or otherwise. ‘Adultery’ means watering down or weakening; so if one has engaged in multiple relationships in the same time frame, one weakens or adulterates one’s tralam-mé.

Q So diluted tralam-mé is therefore caused by adultery?

R Yes – adultery means watering down or weakening – so if you engage in multiple relationships, you weaken or water down your tralam-mé. It is then increasingly difficult to rhyme – or it becomes difficult to rhyme consistently. You might rhyme for incrementally shorter periods of time – and with each failed relationship it would become more difficult.

Q Does this also happen when we fantasise? Is that why we have to be careful of our fantasies?

R Yes certainly. You find that tralam-mé in a broader sense will affect how you are with anybody.

Q Is it possible for me to see tralam-mé?

R Yes, in a manner of speaking – but it is more that you see the reflection of tralam-mé in terms of something indefinable yet wholesome in a person.

Q Like Charisma?

R No. Charisma is a dubious measure for anything. Sociopaths often have great charisma and I sometimes wonder whether charisma exists outside sociopathy. I would make no final statement to that effect – but I do wonder. I have asked various psychiatrists this question and have never had a satisfactory answer – so maybe we will never know exactly. Maybe it is simply a personal experience in respect of a person.

Q What about your Tsawa’i Lamas, Rinpoche? Whenever you have spoken of them it sounded as if they had great charisma or even enlightened charisma.

R Vajra-charisma – yes certainly. The Buddhakarma of magnetisation. That was evident – but they did not exactly behave in a charismatic way. It would seem to me that they did not try. They certainly held an audience in the same way that a charismatic person holds an audience – but they never took license or took liberties with their audiences. If they behaved unusually or spoke unusually it never seemed to be for their own advantage.

Q Maybe presence might be a better word?

R I think it is a better word – yes. Someone with presence can be highly subtle and could maybe go by unnoticed. Tralam-mé would be more like presence than charisma, and there would be a sense of the person being fundamentally honourable. Tralam-mé shows through the ability to keep ones word – and to be willing to be held accountable for ones words. Those whose tralam-mé is eroded find it hard to keep their word – or rather, they find it increasingly convenient not to be held by their words.

Q So they lie?

R Well maybe they do not lie viciously – but they become somehow slippery.

Q Slippery?

R Yes the quality in which they seem able to explain everything away in terms of any volte-face they appear to have made – i.e. they make u-turns that would look grand in a police chase movie. Their memories are creative in terms of what is real and what is not real and whatever is real in the moment tends to be where their integrity lies.

Q So someone like this might say: I know I said that I believed strongly in commitment and that I expected it of you as my partner – but I have discovered that life is not quite as simple as that et cetera.

R Yes – such a person would say something just like that – and they would probably say: Those were not the exact words I used – I said I believe strongly in the ideal of commitment and that I expected you as my partner to value that ideal in terms of our lives. Then of course the issue becomes confused and the word commitment becomes redefined in order to include whatever needs to be included.

Q That sounds sociopathic.

R Yes – I think you are right.

Q So loss of tralam-mé and sociopathy are intertwined?

R Yes and no. We are obviously dealing with examples and examples can be misleading because they tend to be set up to show something obvious. This tends to make examples more extreme than most cases. In the worst case scenarios however – i.e. in terms of radical erosion of tralam-mé – the person would behave in a manner similar to a sociopath.

Q So eroded tralam-mé might look like selfishness?

R It could – yes, but it would not necessarily extend to all things. It would be more a case of a person’s generosity being hard to maintain. They might make promises and fail to keep them – and also be regretful that they could not keep them. Loss of tralam-mé has more to do with ones love evaporating due to ones partner being a human being riding normal vicissitudes. Someone without eroded tralam-mé would be able to tolerate an emotional range in respect of their partner – which included occasional obsessing, irritation, and phlegmaticism.

Q Why is that Rinpoche?

R It is because tralam-mé allows you to experience the non-dual sparkling through in respect of your partner. Due to this you make allowances. Tralam-mé could be said to be the energy of tolerance. When tralam-mé begins to erode, you find yourself capable of increasingly less tolerance – whilst at the same time, expecting ample tolerance from your partner.

Q Can you find out if your tralam-mé is eroded?

R Well … yes … you know your own life and what has occurred – but rather than create a sense of foreboding I would say again that if you find it easy to establish friendships and if you enjoy maintaining them – then your tralam-mé is not damaged. If you do not find it difficult to fall in love – you probably have a relatively strong tralam-mé.