Naljorma Rin’dzin: How might you describe yourself to potential apprentices?
Ngala ’ö-Dzin: The only thing that I could say is that I’m committed to the Nyingma Aro gTér lineage of practice. I try to be kind to people and to maintain a sense of humour. My humour could be seen as helpful or unhelpful, depending on your view. You could find my humour irritating, my attempts at kindness inept, my commitment to the lineage one of blind faith. The Lama only exists because of certain causes and conditions. Lamas exist if there are people who view them in that way. It is not a matter of status. I could only be described as a Lama by somebody who felt I fulfilled that rôle in their life, or by somebody who felt I fulfilled that rôle in somebody else’s life. My time for study and practice is far more limited than I would like. There is far more that I would like to be doing if I was not working nine to five on something completely different. (Ngala ’ö-Dzin works full time in the IT department of Cardiff University.)
Naljorma Rin’dzin: Do you think that your sangha has a particular colour, flavour or character?
Ngala ’ö-Dzin: Our apprentices get on well together, which is essential. There is a great sense of humour among them, they work well together, and are cooperative. They rely on each other – and are relied upon by members of other sanghas as well. What we all have in common is our desire to practice.
Naljorma Rin’dzin: How did you come to the Aro gTér?
Ngala ’ö-Dzin: When I was fourteen I became interested in the welfare of animals. That spurred me to look at how faiths other than Catholicism related with animals. I felt that animals should have a much better place in the scheme of things. That was the catalyst that started me looking at Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – all sorts of things. However this catalyst was almost forgotten once I started looking at Buddhism. What I read about Buddhism made so much sense it wasn’t like I was learning it for the first time. For a few years I received teachings from teachers at a Gélug Buddhist Centre – a good grounding in the Sutrayana teachings of Buddhism. We shared several car journeys with Ngak’chang Rinpoche after visiting this centre as he was an old friend of the Gélug Geshé there. Ngak’chang Rinpoche had known Geshé Damchö since he first came to Britain and was partially responsible for him being in Wales. Ngak’chang Rinpoche interested people in organising his first courses in Wales. Questions that had arisen and had been answered in Tibetan cultural terms which I found confusing – but such questions always received answers from Ngak’chang Rinpoche in terms that I could understand and make use of straight away. Ngak’chang Rinpoche taught in the Dzogchen non-liturgical style. The practices he gave us at first were simply Vajra Guru mantra, the Seven Line Song of Padmasambhava, and silent sitting from the Four Naljor system of Dzogchen Sem-dé. Shi-nè is not a practice which requires any faith in anything. You simply practice – and see what happens. It’s entirely experiential – and builds the experience from which Dharma can be understood directly.
Naljorma Rin’dzin: Is there anything that you would like to mention for potential apprentices – anything to which you would like to draw their attention?
Ngala ’ö-Dzin: The Apprenticeship Booklet (Laughter) It is important to have read the Booklet thoroughly and to have had the opportunity to ask questions about it. Apprenticeship is a commitment. It’s not something about which you can be half-hearted. If you are going to become an apprentice – do it at a time in your life when you can give it a really good crack. There is a need to be active – to be an active, open member of the sangha – somebody who comes to things, who contributes and helps others. That is why we have a probationary period of a year or so. That is the time when you go from feeling interested enough to join the sangha, to having had the time and the experience to ‘taste’ it. If a year goes by and you haven’t really done anything, then you might end up leaving without ever finding out what it is you are losing.