Lyse Mai Lauren was born in Wellington, New Zealand. She studied flute at Sidney conservatory along with performing arts, osteophaty, folk medicine. At the age of 26 she first visited Tibet and Nepal. Since 1985 she was taught by lamas, like Kalu Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tulku Orgyen, and Chadral Rinpoche since 1991. Most of her time she spends in Darjeeling (India) and visits Tiruvannaamalai.
Questions by K.Bogdan & N.Sander
I was born in Wellington, New Zealand as the third of four children. At a very young age two experiences occurred which dramatically propelled my life towards the 'spiritual' and a quest for truth.
The first happened when I was 7 years old and consisted of an inexplicable and sudden awareness of 'Awareness' itself. This led me to question the nature of 'i'. The second took place about a year later, when I was sucked out to sea by tidal currents and almost drowned.
When I was sixteen, I left home without my family's immediate knowledge, and went to live in Australia. I had felt it was time to explore 'life'. I spent the first two years in Australia traveling. At the age of 18, that I began my 'quest' in earnest. I moved alone to a patch of tropical forest outside of Kuranda, and began to study meditation techniques and the Theosophical tomes of Helena Blavatsky and Alice A. Bailey.
After some months I realized that I could not achieve my purpose by sitting alone in the forest, no matter how sincere I might be or how determined. I moved down to Sydney, where I became actively involved with Sydney Goodwill. This was a period of intensive studies which included training as a classical flautist at the Sydney Conservatorium. I attended classes in speech and drama at a Rudolph Steiner school in Manly, and also studied natural medicines and undertook some practical training with Osteopaths and Acupuncturists.
After several years of intensive training in these various fields, I felt I was getting no nearer to my goal, and at the age of 26 I dropped everything, and flew to Lhasa in Tibet. After traveling overland from Lhasa to Kathmandu in the autumn of 1985, I visited Darjeeling in India, where I met my first teacher, the Buddhist Lama, Kalu Rinpoche. A short time after this, I made a sudden and unplanned visit to Bodh Gaya, where I met my Root Master, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
From this point onwards my life underwent a dramatic change, and during the six years that followed, I stayed close to my Master in Nepal, until he left for Bhutan, where he passed away in 1991. After his passing I decided it was time to begin serious sadhana practice in retreat. I went to Parping, a village to the south of the Kathmandu Valley, where I stayed in a small retreat center belonging to the great Dzogchen Master, Tulku Orgyen. It was here that I met Chadral Rinpoche, who was to guide my Dharma practice thence forth and to this day.
From 1991 until 2009 most of my time was spent near Chadral Rinpoche and in various retreat locations in the Himalayan Mountains. My primary base being Das Mile Gompa near Darjeeling.
I currently spend a good part of the year living near the sacred hill of Arunachala, in the South of India, and some months in my forest home at Das Mile Gompa near Darjeeling.
Tell us about yourself please.
I grew up in a small town called Nelson in the South island of New Zealand. I developed a strong and early interest in the occult and mystical things of life. This began when I was about 7 years old. I had a very powerful experience of suddenly awakening to the immense mystery of 'who am I'. I left home when I was 16 years old, traveled around Australia with a friend and when I was 18 did my first ever retreat in a tropical rain forest in Northern Queensland. I had no idea what I was doing really, I was just so drawn to the hermit life style and I really wanted to learn how to meditate. I was very interested in the books of Helena Blavatsky and A. A. Bailey. Also in the writings of Nicohlas Roerich and his wife Helena. However I did not have a teacher then, so I did not get very far with my studies in the forest. After my Queensland adventure, I traveled south to Sydney, where I began to study classical flute and also did some training in a Rudolf Steiner school for speech and drama. I was 26 years old when I made my first trip to Tibet, Nepal and then India.
How did you become interested in Buddhism?
Although I had had some brushes with Buddhism prior to meeting my Master in 1985, it was not really, until the winter of that year that I really sat up and took notice of the Buddhist way as such. I had come, on a sudden impulse to the village of Bodh Gaya, The place where the Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was hugely out of my way, as I was supposed to be taking the bus from Siliguri in West Bengal to Kathmandu in Nepal. Some months before, a physic woman in Sydney had told me that a temple in India would be like a magnet for me. At the time I couldn't imagine such a thing, I had very little interest in India. However some time after arriving in Bodh Gaya, I remembered her words and realized how true they had been. During my first visit to Asia, it was Bodh Gaya that had the greatest impact upon me, it was instant and very profound. That first visit in the winter of 1985, also coincided with the first time that H.H. Dalai Lama gave Kalachakra Empowerment in Bodh Gaya.
It was a very intense time in every way. I met H.H.Dilgo Khyentse, my Tsawai Lama, during this visit as well. In fact my whole life changed from that point onwards. The first day of the Kalachakra ceremony, everyone was seated quietly. H.H.Dalai Lama was on his throne and there would have been around 250 thousand people attending. Suddenly this old Austen car pulled into the grounds just behind the raised dais where the Dalai Lama was sitting, there was a sudden stir, that seemed to ripple right through all of the vast crowd, and then this tall figure rose from the car, he towered above the two big monks he was leaning on. I will never forget that moment, without thinking I just leapt up, it was a totally instinctive reaction, but soon everyone else was doing the same. I had no idea who Khyentse Rinpoche was, but just seeing him, was such a blessing. Seeing him that one, brief time just changed everything. I went to the place where he was staying in Bodh Gaya during that first visit, in order to make an offering, but the crowds were huge during those days, so I later followed him to Kathmandu and took refuge with him at his monastery, Shechen in Boudhanath, Nepal.
At which point was your Master indispensable?
Although the sense of recognition was instantaneous with Khyentse Rinpoche, it was not really until I took refuge with him up in Kathmandu, that I felt the power of his Being. Until then, I had no idea what a Guru, could really mean to a disciple. I waited three days outside his room. It was an amazing time, just watching all the people coming and going. It was like a primer for me and when he eventually called me into his room, the place had suddenly miraculously emptied out. It was really the first quiet moment in those three days and he didn't hesitate a moment to call me in. When I took refuge with him, he beckoned me to come right near to the box he was sitting in and he put this enormous hand on my head and everything just stopped. I couldn't think, I couldn't even move. He kept his hand there for about 10m minutes while he was reciting a prayer. Something really happened to me during that time, it was a subtle but profound shift.
From that day onwards I stayed as near by him as was then possible. There is something very particular about the energy field around a Master. It draws you in a way that can compare with nothing else. Whenever he was staying at Shechen, in Nepal or in Bodhgaya, I would go there. I began to help Matthieu Ricard in the office, which was just near the door of Rinpoche's rooms, and so in this way I could be around from dawn until he went to rest at night. During those years, it was almost a physical pain to be away from his presence. Being in the aura of such a Being has a magnetizing and also an almost addictive effect. The times when he would leave for his summer months in Bhutan, would be excruciating for the first few days. But slowly i learned how to always carry him in my heart, where ever I would go. It is hard to pinpoint an incident in which the Master was indispensable, because from the time I saw him and took refuge, he simply became the most significant part of my life...anything apart from him was not even conceivable for me during those years.
What was the effect on your every day life, living close to the Lama?
Living close by the Lama affected everything. Nothing was ever the same again. It was endlessly fascinating to live and move in his presence. One felt oneself to be a part of a vast Mandala in which every part, affected the whole, and there was a great sense of symmetry in it all, from the seemingly most insignificant of things right through to the many Lamas and Tulkus who came to hear his teachings during the winter months. There was always so much going on around him. Khyentse Rinpoche was like a magnet, he drew towards him all kinds of people, including all the great Lamas of the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions, he was also the teacher for many of the up and coming young Tulkus whom he took lovingly under his wing. During those days one never felt the need to go anywhere, because the whole world seemed to come to him.... While he was alive, I focused completely on staying as close to him as possible. There was a constant stream of visitors coming and going, and he would teach and give empowerments and so on from the moment he rose in the mornings, pretty well until he retired at night. Everything went on so naturally and seemingly effortlessly around him, and during those years I had all the empowerments and teachings I could ever want from many different traditions. He was even kind enough to include me in the small groups of tulkus and old students who received specific and detailed instructions and empowerments at various times.
What was the most challenging aspect as a western female practitioner for you?
Hmmm, well I have always had a very independent streak in me. It has been there since I can remember, so being a woman and a westerner in an Asian, male dominated world was never really a huge issue for me. I guess I just accepted that this is the way things are in this part of the world, and yes, it is a man's world and women are very much side lined and discriminated. However, being a westerner I could live in a way that would not have been possible if I had been an Asian woman. There is a good side and a bad side to everything. The thing I found particularly tough here in Nepal and India, was not so much about gender, and the specific problems associated with that, but more to do with how little of a setup and support I found in general, for western disciples who wanted to stay and study near their Masters. That tended to be my greatest concern over the years. I would see groups of monks or nuns going into retreats together. I could see the set up that was put in place as a support for them etc, etc.... We as we Westerners, never seemed to have any kind of setup or support much around us. However I guess it was just my karma to have to manage these things on my own, and the good side of that was that it gave me a lot of freedom. And I love my freedom. These days, things are beginning to change and various Lamas are creating courses in situations here in India and abroad that are targeted for Westerners and that can address their needs...which very much ties in with the next question.
What contradictions have you encountered between Western and Eastern traditions?
Well, about this so much can be said, however I really do not think one can gain much wisdom from looking at the contradictions, so to speak. On the surface of things there are many. It is perhaps more productive to look at the similarities. With two completely divergent traditions such as the Western and the Eastern, it is only natural that one could expect to find a completely different way of thinking between them. This has bought up many questions and many challenges during the past years, as various practitioners struggle to find a way to bring the Tibetan Buddhist traditions into their lives in a manner that is both understandable and meaningful to them. One of the great strengths of the Western practitioners is the interest, and the sincerity in many who do take the step to actually delve deeper. I find this openness and sincerity something which is rather rare here in the East itself. In due course Western practitioners will make the Dharma their own, and this will be a natural process, that will arise from all the lessons and challenges of the current time of transition. As for how I personally coped with the differences. I can only say that if had tried to follow everything by the 'book' I think I would have lost heart and interest early on. The somewhat dry and often rather obscure sadhana texts, the endless counting of mantras etc, etc. These things are very foreign for a Western mind. I always felt that I could only practice and follow something that really resonated in my own heart as truth. Therefore what ever practices I did over the years, and I should mention here that I completed three ngondros, i always molded them to my own specific needs and I tried to never forget the ultimate purpose of what I was really trying to do. In the first place that was to find out 'who am i?" and in the second place, to go about this in a way that could engender the greatest possible wisdom and compassion. I feel the Buddhas teachings on Bodhichitta are the Jewel in the Crown of the Teachings.
What was the most difficult element to carry on with during your spiritual path?
I think if we really focus on what is most important in our practice, then we soon understand, that it is our own minds, that give us the greatest troubles along the way. For almost two decades I was searching for the right place in which I could settle down and get on with my practice, but again and again I was forced to uproot, to face changes and to deal with constantly shifting situations. Eventually I began to understand that there is no 'perfect' place for retreat, that if we are always searching for the right conditions we may end up never doing any serious practice at all. When this finally sank into my mind I was able to let go of my grasping for a suitable place to stay and all the right conditions to be present. Over the years, i really gave myself so much trouble over this, and yet once I simply accepted how things were and relaxed into that, somehow the very thing that had been eluding me all along, a place to stay, suddenly became a reality. Essentially this change was just a small shift, and one that happened in my mind. By the power and grace of the Master, this was always made so obvious, that everything stemmed from this mind alone.
It was interesting that the right conditions unfolded very quickly and effortlessly once I really let go of my grasping for them. I wad able to do a long retreat under the guidance of Chadral Rinpoche. But Rinpoche always used to point out very clearly, that no matter where one went or where one stayed...whether it was in the mountains in caves, or in the cities amidst the noise and the distractions of worldly life, mind would always be there. Mind would always be present. This whole world of ours is based on 'mind' and this fact alone constitutes the greatest mystery. Until this lesson was understood, there was no escaping it. This truth was always pushed back right in front of my face. After this I could take this simple heart advice of my Masters as the foundation for all practice which was to follow.
In the treatise of Patrul Rinpoche, he so beautifully encapsulated in a single verse this most profound teaching; 'If we check our mind over and over again, Then whatever we do becomes the perfect path. Of all the hundreds of vital instructions, this is the quintessence of them all; Fuse everything into this one single point....'
What were the pitfalls for you?
Here again, it always came back to mind. One's own mind, ever present. Inescapable. It was ones own mind that constantly tested, and pushed the boundaries of ones determination. Seeing through that mind, and all its subtle artifices was the single thing, that bought all the rest down in one instant. Living in the presence of realized Master, not only enabled me to witness first hand what it was like to be free of mind, but also to actually gain the first hand experience of it, due to their grace.
What is courage for you?
I feel that courage is to be able to face oneself, and to look deeply within. Hiding nothing, fearing nothing. It is in the inward gaze that we come to see what is true and what is not true. That we come to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. When we really pare it all down, it becomes remarkably simple. A realised Master lives without fear of any kind. This is possible because he or she has understood what the real nature of their own mind really is. Understanding this is the key to true courage.
What was the strongest motivation for you to stay in the East and never return?
Well I did return to Australia and New Zealand a number of times. I had to work and earn enough money to support myself during my long stays in India. However whenever I was back in the west, and working, it was only ever for the shortest possible time, just long enough to make the money to return and continue with my practice. The motivation was always a deep, restlessness and longing for ‘truth’. I felt that nothing else in this world was more important and that unless and until I had some taste of this, I could never rest.
What would you have done differently, or not at all if you had a choice?
I can not think of anything. I feel we all are given exactly what we need. Never more and never less. I really cannot think of anything that I regret, accept perhaps one or two instances when I should have been more fearless and asked more questions of Khyentse Rinpoche. I was always so deeply in awe of him, and although I had many teachings from him in groups and also alone, there were experiences and dreams which I never asked him about, and I am sorry for this now.
Many people are happy to be monks and nuns while studying. They practice diligently and live in spiritual or monastic communities. But, after having returned to the world, they often feel as being outsiders and prefer to return to a common lay life. What do you think about this?
I feel each should do as he or she feels is right for them and the situation they find themselves faced with at any given time. I had my moments when I wanted to take ordination and shave my head, but all my teachers advised me against it, and those feelings quickly passed and then I no longer felt there was a need for it. Although, in India and Nepal, on many occasions it would have made my life considerably easier if I had donned robes. In the west, being an ordained person is quiet another matter and not well understood. In such a situation, i can well imagine that it would be quite a challenge to really carry that off as there are few if any of the supports available in the west that are present here in the east.
Do you think that Buddhism in the West will have some new form in a hundred years? People of European and American origin will be teaching Dharma most probably. Will it be degradation or growth?
As for how Buddhism will develop in the West, well it is hard to predict such a thing. It certainly will not be the same as it is now, it will grow and adapt itself to the needs of those who have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, where ever that may be, and this is precisely how it should be. If it were not so, Buddhism could not survive. This is why so many different forms of Buddhism exist even now.... The way it is practiced in Sri Lanka is unique to that country, just as Zen Buddhism is unique and so on. I feel it will evolve just as it needs to. Religions are for people, therefore anything that does not work can not survive. The Buddhas' message is so simple and so fundamental, this makes it extremely adaptable.
When did you decide to write your life story?
Well I definitely would not have any interest in writing up my life story, just for the sake of it, no matter how interesting it might be. I know when I was searching and during the years of training also...it was always very helpful and often inspiring to read the life stories of other people who had endeavored to lead a life in search of truth. More particularly though, I do feel when one is as fortunate as I have been, to have met and spent time at the feet of a number of great Lamas, there is almost a responsibility to pass on some of the pearls and treasures that were so generously distributed around them.
Do you have any plans or commitments ahead?
No there is nothing particular. Aside of wanting to focus more on writing and in particular putting more material together for the book, i do not have any concrete plans. I will need to return to NZ/ Australia in the new year to work a little, in order to come back and continue on with the writing here, but other than this I have nothing much in mind as regards future plans. Happily life becomes very simple, when we aim to devote more of it to dharma practice. When we really boil things down, we have very few needs in life.
Best wishes to all the readers.
Lyse’s blog http://www.everherenow.com/