Brilliant Moon of Compassion and Wisdom

‘Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’ is a biographical documentary of the life and times of the late great Rinpoche, who was one of the greatest lamas of last century. Born in 1910 and later becoming one of the most important teachers of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, he was recognised as the reborn Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo from the 19th century. In 1959 during the Chinese occupation, tens of thousands of Tibetans fled on foot, losing everything, as they embarked on escape to new worlds for refuge. This was when Rinpoche left too, when he realised he could no longer freely teach the Dharma in Tibet. Leaving his books and writings behind, all was not lost though, as he embodied the teachings, which he helped to perpetuate upon reaching Bhutan, received with royal patronage, and later in India and Nepal.

Sickly with no hope of recovery after an accident when young, he remarked to his reluctant father, who wanted him to manage his estate, that wearing a Buddhist robe might help him recover. And this was what miraculously happened. Able to understand the most complex Buddhist philosophies when young, he learnt from the best teachers of his time, and aspired to go on long retreats as a mountain hermit to realise the truth. Surviving harsh winters with bare clothing, he was in turn inspired by the truth of impermanence when a cherished teacher passed on, realising that way to repay his kindness was to more actively learn and share the Dharma. This he did to an extent so great, that he strived to preserve the Dharma in a non-sectarian way, as he travelled widely Eastern and Central Tibet to teach and receive teachings selflessly.

Learning from more than 60 teachers from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, he was a truly non-sectarian master. Even in his 80s, he requested teachings for the sake of preserving them, collecting and publishing many books. The great scholar and practitioner that he was, his poems, commentaries, and meditation texts numbered 25 thick volumes. Rinpoche also taught many bright monks and exchanged knowledge of rare texts with other masters, restoring many monasteries. Perhaps, it was the very loss of his family, teachers and homeland, that awakened him to the urgency of doing his best for furthering the Dharma, to make the best of his life. As he remarked, a beautiful country is like a dream, an illusion, and thus senseless to cling to. Lest the inner forces of negative emotions are conquered, strife and enemies will never end.

The most moving lessons from the film are the esteemed Rinpoche’s examples of compassion. Despite being often sought after, Rinpoche made sure he was accessible to anyone who wanted to meet him. In his words, ‘Whoever comes to see me, comes with the hope of receiving some benefit, so don’t stop them from seeing me.’ As the narrator says this, a scene is shown, of him appreciating music being offered by probably a poor street trumpeter. While this might seem trivial, he also made it a point to visit Europe and North America in his old age to spread the Dharma. At the age of 75, and despite having difficulty walking, he visited every monastery that invited him upon his return to Tibet after 30 years of absence, actively giving teachings, empowerments and reading transmissions back to Tibetans who were denied the teachings for so many years. As the opening title card says, ‘The greatest gift one can give is the Dharma as it is the path to true happiness.’

All who encountered him felt the embrace of his compassion. He even answers kids’ quirky questions! ‘What is the difference between money and enlightenment?’ He answers, ‘Money can be finished but enlightenment will never be finished.’ As fondly recalled, he was never aloof to anyone. From an influential disciple to a beggar, despite many changes in his life, his attitude never changed. As Konchok Lodro, a stone carver and yogi who knew him says, ‘He was a very kind-hearted person — very gentle and he never got angry. It is rare to find someone like this these days. No matter what people said to him, whether it was good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, he always reacts in the same way. He would just say, ‘I see, I see.’ Such were his easy-going, non-judgemental ways despite his status, with which is he sometimes like a friend, a father, a brother, and not just a teacher. He had the knack of making every visitor feel special too, as if one is the most important guest met all day.

In his old age, he would lean over to affectionately listen to what each had to say, drawing you near. To each visitor, he often spoke for at least twenty minutes. At times when translation was needed, he would take a nap to rest while waiting, but awakens once translation ends and resumes his advice without hesitation. Such was his untiring compassion to share his wisdom, even when he was physically tired! His advice could be simple, with often heard words, such as ‘Be compassionate, reduce attachment’, but their impact on listeners was different as truths embodied and expressed through him. Rinpoche passed away in 1991, but the good news is he was recognised reborn as Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche. May his great compassion and wisdom shine on in all directions like the brilliant moon. As His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama put it, ‘See — we are quite fortunate to [had] receive[d] his teaching[s]. So, therefore, now, it is very important to implement his teachings in daily life. So that we will be a good disciple of a good lama. So that’s very important.’

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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