Interview With Khenpo Pema Sherab
I was born in 1936 into a poor family in East Tibet, in the Jonda district of Derge. I received my first education at the age of eight from my uncle. Later, I went on pilgrimage and continued my studies in Lhasa. In 1955 I was able to receive the precepts of an ordained monk from Zhechen Kongtrül Rinpoche. While still in Lhasa, I met Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, received many teachings from him and became his servant.
In 1959 I fled from Tibet to India and began my studies in Buddhist philosophy at Barza, at the Bhutanese-Indian border. My main teacher at that time was the Kagyü Khenpo Khedrup. Sometime the famous Sakya Khenpo Triso Rinchen came and taught for a few months. For one year Sakya Khenpo Sangye Tendzin also taught. Later, I was able to study intensively with Khenpo Tsöndrü.
The first teachings I received on the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra were given by Khenpo Triso Rinchen and were based on Khenpo Zhenga’s annotation commentary. From Khenpo Sangye Tendzin I received another commentary on the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra, also based on Khenpo Zhenga’s annotation commentary. From Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, in 1967, I received a reading transmission interspersed with commentary on Khenpo Kunpal’s commentary.
Khenpo Zhenga wrote an ’annotation commentary’ on each of the ‘thirteen great textbooks’ of Indian origin, including the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra. One reason that Khenpo Zhenga’s annotation commentaries are so widely used is that his lineage of explanation goes back to Paltrül Rinpoche. Paltrül Rinpoche’s lineage carries a lot of blessing and powerful aspirations.
Khenpo Zhenga himself was not biased by any sectarianism, basing his annotation commentaries for the most part on ‘Indian commentaries’. The Indian texts are considered to be without error and are prior to any of the sectarianism of the Tibetan schools. This is another reason why the Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyü schools all accept Khenpo Zhenga’s annotation commentaries.
The great benefit and blessing of a text is based on the author’s bodhicitta motivation, meditation practice and vast aspiration. Śāntideva practiced bodhicitta and the bodhisattva path throughout his entire lifetime. He wrote the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra primarily as his personal meditation manual. Only after he had practiced intensively and had achieved such a high degree of realization that he could show great signs of accomplishment did he teach it to fellow scholars at Nālandā university. The words of the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra are beautiful and not difficult to understand. But to actually apply this text to oneself is not at all easy. The Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra is entirely a text to be practiced.
A beginner who has gained a certain degree of understanding of the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra has truly experienced a taste of the authentic teachings of the Buddha. This text is a perfect preparation for further study and practice in Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna.
Footnotes and references:
Sde dge ’jo mda’ rdzong
dge tshul sdom pa
Kagyü Khenpo Rinchen [bka’ brgyud mkhan po rin chen] should not be confused with Sakya Khenpo Triso Rinchen [mkhan po khri so rin chen].
mkhan po khri so rin chen
sa skya mkhan po sangs rgyas bstan ’dzin
mkhan po brtson ’grus
Khenpo Pema Sherab received many teachings on the tantras from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Düjom Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche and Taklung Tsetrül Rinpoche. In 1968, Penor Rinpoche invited Khenpo Pema Sherab to teach at Namdöl Ling Monastery in Mysore. The Ngagyur Nyingma Institute, the shedra of Namdöl Ling Monastary, was established in 1978. Khenpo Pema Sherab, after the death of Khenpo Tsöndrü, headed the institute for many years.
gzhung chen bcu gsum
Khenpo Zhenga’s annotation commentary was studied at the shedra [bshad grva] of Palpung [dpal spungs], a monastery of the the Kagyü-school, as well as at the college of Dzongsar [rdzong gsar], a monastery of the Sakya-school.