By Cindy Atoji Keene
Patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center can choose to have a chaplain visit for spiritual guidance or comfort. As one of the on-call interfaith chaplains who are available, Tsering Ngodup said he finds patients are surprised when they hear he is also a Tibetian Buddhist teacher or lama. “They think I should be wearing a yellow robe and have a shaved head,” said Ngodup, who is also known as Chiring, another interpretation of his name. But Ngodup said because lamas are not required to renounce worldly life as Tiebetian monks are, he is free to wear t-shirts and jeans, his usual attire. Although he has many followers who come to him to listen to Buddhist teachings and practice meditation, Ngodup said, “I am not a guru but a spiritual friend.”
Ngodup, 57, also the spiritual director of the Bodhi Path Institute in Cambridge, was born in Tibet in 1954, and like many Tibetans, escaped across the Himalayan mountains into exile. He was educated in Nepal and India, where he learned English and other foreign languages, and found himself in demand as an interpreter for Tibetan lamas traveling through Europe giving teachings. In 1983, Ngodup was authorized by an eminent Tibetian leader to start his own spiritual practice, beginning years of study and mentorship at religious centers. But he laughs when asked when he will reach enlightenment. “I have no idea, but I wish it would be soon,” said Ngodup. “How do you know when pride, jealously, greed, and desire is replaced by wisdom that has a very wholesome and positive impact on others?”
Q: Tibetian Buddhism is a very complex religion. Where should Americans start if they want to understand it?
A: For those with no connection with Buddhism, they think it is an obscure Asian religion with different rituals and ceremony, but those are mostly the ethical and cultural components. True Buddhism is a way of life, understanding how to change your mind from fear, anxiety and doubt to reach a state of freedom and peace.
Q: Your mentor or teacher is named HH ShaMar Rinpoche and comes from a long lineage holder of Tibetian Buddhism. You would not be able to be a lama without the blessing of such a person. Why is it so important to be “authorized” by someone else?
A: Lamas like myself have to go through years of studying Buddhist philosophy then receive the endorsement of a spiritual master, which means you can then be viewed as a teacher or guru. But no matter how informed or learned you are, we need someone there to constantly guide and correct your path.
Q: Does being a lama mean that you can’t have a cell phone and other material possessions?
A: Of course I have a cell phone. You cannot reject what comes along the way because you will miss many things. Of course technology is not necessary but the point is not to covet and desire because of greed. Otherwise it’s like sitting in a cave meditating while your car is parked outside.
Q: Have you ever fallen asleep while meditating?
A: I meditate often during the day, and of course, if I have had a heavy meal, I might catch myself dozing off. It’s only human.