Being a Student of Anyen Rinpoche
By Cody Mekelburg
I learned of Anyen Rinpoche in 2012 through some friends while living at (then) Shambhala Mountain Center and read his books The Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta, as well as Dying with Confidence. I was immediately attracted to Rinpoche’s style of inspiring me as a reader through fascinating, beautiful stories of previous masters. And how he used those stories to give practical advice to modern-day practitioners.
In early summer, I moved from SMC to Denver and began attending Rinpoche’s talks and programs at Orgyen Khamdroling, Rinpoche’s dharma center. Then an old church where renovations to turn it into the beautiful temple it is now, had just begun. However, it wasn’t until two years later that I became serious about my practice and that Rinpoche cautiously accepted me as a student.
I would say that Anyen Rinpoche is an un-conventional Lama but is also very traditional. He is deeply committed to teaching authentic dharma as it was introduced to him. Rinpoche’s sense of commitment in this way is solid. Concerning his students, the dharma as a whole, and the Vajrayana in particular, he is uncompromising in his responsibility to present pure teachings. This is evident in how Rinpoche makes himself available to students and how he teaches the dharma.
When we were in Nepal as a sangha in 2018, Rinpoche personally saw to arranging many aspects of the teachings and empowerments we received there, as well as led us to many pilgrimage sites and instructed us with the proper prayers and offerings to make in each pilgrimage place. One particular occasion that stands out to me is when we offered Tsok (feast) in Maratika Cave, where Padmasambhava accomplished the immortal life vidyadhara. I’m particularly fond of a memory of a small Nepali boy who seemed to enjoy what we were doing. He played in front of us as we practiced, jumping around and trying to sing along. Rinpoche enjoyed watching him and gave him little snacks and gifts for as long as he played in our vicinity. Once we finished Tsok, Rinpoche led us through each aspect of the cave, explaining the significance and how we should relate to it, making jokes as we crawled through small tunnels on the ground and over other obstacles.
To me, this time in Nepal depicts the amount of effort and commitment Rinpoche has to his students and how he guides us to accumulate merit, keep our motivation pure, and apply the teachings in any circumstance. It was and still is truly precious. How could I be so fortunate in this life to connect with a Lama who selflessly dedicates himself to his students’ spiritual growth?
Rinpoche has taught The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva in depth for the past ten years and constantly emphasizes how the teachings contained in The Way of the Bodhisattva are essential foundational practices we as Vajrayana Buddhists should train in, especially in today’s world. Rinpoche will sometimes praise our sangha a little, saying that we’ve become warm and friendly to one another. He credits this entirely to his teaching and us putting into practice, The Way of the Bodhisattva. I don’t think I’ve done a particularly great job at applying these teachings, but they have undoubtedly changed how I relate to my mind and the people in my life. But it’s clear that through Rinpoche’s guidance and his wife (and principal student) Allison’s shining and fearless example, our sangha has become a dharma family full of friendly banter, laughter and hard work.
Rinpoche’s commitment arouses a tremendous sense of gratitude for me. It isn’t easy to describe the impact that both Rinpoche and Allison have had on me. Sometimes it seems as if I’m walking around the world blindfolded and hands bound, then thanks to an instruction from Rinpoche or advice from Allison, the blindfold becomes less opaque, and I can navigate this complex world with a little more grace. I can’t recall a time where I ceased to feel Rinpoche’s deep sense of caring or to see that all of our interactions are moments of teaching. Teaching on how to be a dharma practitioner, train my mind, and extinguish suffering. Rinpoche’s demonstration of this has been invaluable for me as an antidote when obstacles of doubt creep into my mind.
My gratitude fuels a deep commitment to working as hard as I can to build my capacity, steadily increasing my devotion. This sense of gratitude is what sparks what little devotion, if any, that I possess. I’m sure many people can relate with me saying, faith and devotion don’t come naturally to me. Being raised in our highly critical western society, arguably, led me away from the faith-based religions of our culture and toward the buddha-dharma. I had initially thought of Buddhism as more “logical” and “empirical”, therefore doing away with the need for ideas like faith. Then the teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism come along, and we learn the essential quality of devotion to our practice. Rinpoche constantly emphasizes the qualities of faith and devotion in his teachings while balancing that with pragmatic advice that he draws from his understanding of living in our culture. What first helped me bridge that gap was how Rinpoche emphasized devotion not as blind faith but as a certainty in the dharma born from practice, study, reading the biographies of the great lineage masters and observing our teacher.
I have seen Rinpoche bring himself to tears while speaking about the kindness of his lineage and Lama; this serves as an invaluable example of the kind of devotion I should aspire to embody. The teachings we have the opportunity to receive are truly profound because they can give us so much and be of tremendous benefit. By teaching the dharma, Rinpoche has benefitted me personally in ways that no other person in my life has even thought to do. He has guided me to have just a glimpse of the possibilities that come from practicing the dharma and continually shows me the invaluable treasure that the dharma is.
Rinpoche and the lineage inspire me to diligently work toward developing my practice and helping accomplish his vision in whatever ways I can. The kindness that I feel Rinpoche has given me just by helping me understand the preciousness of the dharma is immeasurable. Thanks to him, I have confidence that the dharma works because I can see how he has put it into practice, the same way his root Lama did and his Lama before that. This example gives me tremendous confidence that if I can muster the diligence and courage to practice the dharma authentically, as taught to me, it will undoubtedly have the same result as it did for them. But Rinpoche often reminds us, as the Buddha said, “it depends on you .”
If anyone feels a little inspired by reading this, or if there is any virtue in the ramblings of someone such as myself, it is only due to my Lama’s blessings. May the teachings of the dharma long endure, may the holders of the dharma live long, and may the practitioners’ paths be free of obstacles.
“May the supreme, precious bodhichitta
Arise in whom it has not arisen.
Where it has arisen, may it not be broken,
And may it continually increase!”
– Cody Mekelburg, July 2022
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