Thoughts on the essence of being a Rinpoche and on Rinpoches getting married

~ Gyalwa Dokhampa, 2018

Some time ago, there was a fake rumour on social media that wedding bells would ring for me. I believe this news caused both anxiety and joy to people I know. This incident made me want to share thoughts on certain things in life, particularly Rinpoches and Trulkus getting married.

A WORD OF CAUTION, though - Please do not use what I say to judge other Rinpoches and spiritual masters. This personal view is expressed with the hope of benefiting those connected to me and clear the confusion that hinders a potential spiritual relationship between a dharma seeker and a Guru.

Students seek a Guru to enhance their compassion and wisdom, and definitely not with interest in sharing or knowing personal matters like marriage. My connection with my students is to enhance our dharma practice and develop wisdom and compassion. It is not to dig into each other's personal lives. This is why I never ask people coming to receive teachings and blessings whether they are married or not, who is dating whom, if they are divorced, etc. The reason why people come to me or other Rinpoches is to receive teachings and to connect with dharma. It is not to discuss one's marriage, dating life, etc., and make judgments based on these discussions. 

As a dharma practitioner, my job is to be non-judgmental, irrespective of who the other person is, whether they are perceived as good or bad. Similarly, you approach me to learn and practice dharma, develop your wisdom and compassion, do something to benefit others, and have a meaningful life. When we seek teachings from a Rinpoche as a Guru, their wisdom and compassion benefit us, not their personal life. I have Gurus who are both celibate and married, but I respect all my masters equally because their wisdom and compassion inspire and benefit me, not their personal lives. For example, it is the medicine that a doctor prescribes that helps a patient, not the doctor's personal matters. The least important is what the doctor eats, where he goes, and so on. When I can develop my compassion and wisdom from the teachings received from my Gurus, my life is transformed. This makes me devoted to my teachers.


We should always be clear about what we want to learn from a Rinpoche. You should seek a Guru depending on your needs:

  • If you want to become a monk or nun, then you should go to a Guru who has pure Vinaya and is celibate; 
  • If you wish to receive a Bodhisattva vow, then you should go to a master who has great compassion and keeps the Bodhisattva vows; 
  • If you want to learn Vajrayana visualization and yoga, you should go to a master who has practiced all these. It is crucial to seek the right Guru, depending on what you want to learn.

When I was 18 years old and had seriously begun my Ngondro (Preliminary Buddhist Practice), my Guru said, "The main job of a Rinpoche who is supposed to be a Bodhisattva reborn is to be selfless and benefit all sentient beings. What is important is to have good motivation. That is one thing that we should be training the Rinpoches for.

You may benefit others as a monk Bodhisattva, a lay Bodhisattva, a doctor, or anyone. If you are not benefitting sentient beings, no matter how capable you may be, it does not matter. Most Rinpoches who are doing well in their activities are those who are selfless and wise. Even doctors who are doing well are those who are compassionate. People are drawn to them. There is a Buddhist saying that if there is one single sentient being in hell, a Bodhisattva will stay in hell for eons and eons to benefit that one sentient being.

However, it is possible to lose the essence of being a Rinpoche while being trained to be a perfect Rinpoche. Sometimes, training a Trulku becomes too much of a pretense, which is quite sad. For example, in my younger days in Darjeeling, when I climbed a pillar outside my room, one of my elderly attendants told me a Rinpoche should not be doing that because it would make my hands rough. I was told that a Rinpoche's hands should be fair and soft so that people will develop devotion as soon as they see your hands while receiving wang. This is how some of us were trained - being presentable to people is considered highly important – how one dress, behaves, etc. In a way, it is like deceiving people. I used to feel like I was a puppet - have soft hands, walk like this, and stand like that, all because that's what people expect of Rinpoches. 

All Rinpoches and Trulkus are born with a purpose - to benefit sentient beings. As long as a Rinpoche benefits sentient beings, they are doing their job as a Bodhisattva. If a Rinpoche is perfect and celibate but does not say anything good or bad, and does not benefit sentient beings, he is a statue. All statues are celibate and perfect. Even if a Rinpoche gets married, as long as he continues his practice and develops wisdom and compassion, they will be able to benefit sentient beings.

The worst thing for a Rinpoche to do for whatever reason (including marriage) is to stop caring about their lineage and sentient beings. The Rinpoche would then be breaking his Bodhisattva vows of benefiting others. Therefore, the most critical question for a Rinpoche is, "What can I do as a Rinpoche to use my life, my title, to benefit sentient beings?" 

But a Rinpoche, or any human being, should have certain rules that guide one's life - Be a good human being and follow the five precepts (abstain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual relationships with other partners, and consuming intoxicants). Besides these, as long as it benefits sentient beings, whatever is necessary with the correct motivation fits a Bodhisattva's purpose. 

For example, when one of my Gurus undertook the Eco Pad Yatra cycling for environment conservation, he was criticized heavily for wearing a cycling uniform during the bike Yatra. Pollution is killing more living beings than smoking and alcohol combined. If the Eco-Cycle Yatra helps reduce pollution, doing things differently (wearing different clothes) does not matter. The focus should be on benefitting others rather than being liked, as the need for validation causes insecurity. There may also be insincerity when there is insecurity in a Bodhisattva's heart. If we focus on benefitting sentient beings according to our capacity, we will naturally be successful. But success is least important. Our genuine effort is more important than being successful by pretending to benefit others. 

Most of us who call ourselves Buddhists have yet to have a clear idea of what Buddhism really means or what the qualities of a Guru are. Instead, we make assumptions about the qualities a Rinpoche or Trulku should or shouldn't possess, and we are all highly susceptible to superficialities like physical appearance. 

To make things easier to understand, I will share some examples:

  • A Rinpoche or Guru who is both a celibate monk and has wisdom and compassion is like a doctor who has an excellent presentation with a clean white coat, a shiny new hospital, and excellent medical knowledge and experience. 
  • A Rinpoche who is not a celibate monk but a yogi and has great wisdom and compassion is like a doctor who has excellent medical knowledge and experience, but wears a dirty white coat, is probably unshaved, and works in a shabby hospital. Therefore, it takes time for people to know his greatness and trust him, as the first impression could be better.
  • A Trulku with no wisdom and compassion but a fantastic outer appearance is like a doctor with a shiny hospital but no medical knowledge and experience. This doctor may be able to fool people for a while, but soon patients will realize that the doctor is a fake.

Indeed, marriage will not affect the ability of a Rinpoche to benefit all beings. Still, one's dedication towards the lineage may decline slightly as having a family will also demand time and effort. If you can benefit at 100% as an unmarried Rinpoche, a married Rinpoche can benefit only at 70% or 80%. If I may put it humorously, once married, a Rinpoche will also have to remember Valentine's day and many other occasions and deal with family problems. So 10% of a married Rinpoche's time will be consumed by these personal matters. Sometimes, issues arise, such as the Rinpoche's wife restricting certain disciples from meeting the Rinpoche or controlling the functioning of the monastery and not being in harmony with the students. In addition, once the Rinpoche has children, their dedication to the family will increase as he has to care for them and think about their education and well-being. 

Although I have nothing against Rinpoches getting married, it is quite wrong for a Rinpoche to have a relationship with his or her student in this day and age. Of course, in the earlier days, there was Guru Rinpoche and Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, and many Lamas who had consorts. However, we must also accept that the Lama was fully enlightened, and the consorts were also kind of one in a million women. Their relationships were spiritual, very different from a normal relationships. I am not saying such spiritual relationships are impossible, but they are extremely rare. 

At present, it is important to build trust between the Guru and students. Students should seek true dharma, and the Guru must have the intention to benefit students. Such trust will also allow monasteries to be places where the husband or wife can send their spouses without feeling insecure. Parents can also send their children for spiritual activities without worry.

The job of a spiritual Guru is very different from that of a spouse. This is why a marital relationship between a Guru and a student is a big problem. As a teacher or Guru, we are supposed to encourage awareness and understanding to be non-judgmental. We are supposed to say they are neither beautiful nor ugly to a student. In contrast, as a boyfriend or a husband, you have to say, you are the most beautiful, yes, you are right, and they are wrong, and so forth. As a Rinpoche, we have to say, everybody is right from their point of view, and everyone wishes to be happy without suffering. Basically, a Rinpoche's teaching is supposed to help people understand impermanence and seek wisdom, not bolster the ego. 

A good boyfriend or a girlfriend can keep you trapped in an illusion for a lifetime, saying I love you forever; we will be together forever, and so on. Even when you know this is not true, as a boyfriend or a husband, you must be able to convince your lady that you are the best boyfriend. Think about it. 

If your teacher says all this to you, trapping you in the illusion of samsaric happiness, he is the worst teacher because his job is to break you out of the illusion and not to trap you in it. Also, it is a very unfair relationship because, as a student, you have to accept your Guru's guidance, but as a girlfriend, you have the right to complain and even take him to court if he is not good. So it is evident that the job of a Guru and a spouse are very different. This is why I think that a marital relationship between a Guru and a student is very wrong. 

In conclusion, I repeat that my opinions are only shared with the hope to benefit those who are connected to me and to help those seeking the right Guru for themselves. I implore you once again to not use my views as a basis to judge any other Rinpoche and Trulku. Develop the ability to look at everything in this world with compassion, and be less judgmental so we may see the true nature of everything in and around us.