A Time to Remember


For the record, here below is the first part of a biography of Namgyal Rinpoche by Lama Sonam Gyatso, his student and first attendant, from early years in Britain to later in Canada.

As Sonam says, it's a work in progress, and although this portion is the original, it does now include a couple of corrections - 1971 instead of 1972 as the year of Namgyal Rinpoche's Enthronement, and a revised number of his students reaching Rumtek earlier that same year. Although the magic number of 108 has magnetised many minds, in fact, this was the number attained at Dharmasala and the audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama prior to the Rumtek visit. On the road from Darjeeling to Rumtek, the entourage had diminished somewhat, a rough count giving about 80, or eleven crowded jeeps worth. (Some students had returned home or gone off exploring elsewhere).

The biography on the Sakya-Namgyal website, written by Wesley Knapp, is also a work in progress and very much his own, though informed by Sonam's biography. I recommend it as a valuable source of inspiration, and in due course the few points requiring clarification undoubtedly will be revised.

The saga of the relocation of Sakya-Namgyal and its archival trove of Namgyal-related materials and recordings has finally found resolution as Angela & Wesley finish moving into their new home and headquarters this month. Re-organisation will take some time, but the task is well underway and the website address remains unchanged: email: ac.kool|laygmanaykas#ac.kool|laygmanaykas, web: www.sakyanamgyal.com

Draft- Oct 31, 2003 (revised Nov 26)


by Sonam Gyatso

Namgyal Rinpoche

"Ye Shall Know them by their Works"
(Namgyal Rinpoche, in reply to the question:
'How do you know a true Teacher'?)

Part 1: The Early Years


Born into the Davidson, McDonald, Clanranald lineage, Leslie George Dawson was descended from both Robert the Bruce and Edward the Bruce, on his mother's and father's side respectively and was also related to the Hamilton family.

His Father was an 'Irish Cop' (a detective on the Toronto police force), his mother a Scottish nurse. As he himself said, from his father he derived his 'terrific energy' and from his mother the 'gift of the gab'.

Early Childhood

He was born and raised, with his younger sister Marylin, in the Beaches area of Toronto, attended Norway Public School and Malvern Collegiate (where he also studied music appreciation along with Glenn Gould). He spent his summers at his uncle's farm in Hamilton, now 'Spring Farm' Botanical Garden.

Youthful Ideology

Having had many mystical experiences in early life, he felt the call to the ministry, attending Jarvis Baptist Seminary for a short time where he learned many arts such as 'homiletics' and 'higher (biblical) criticism'. He did not enter the ministry at that time but moved on to further studies in Philosophy and Psychology at University of Michigan, Ann Arbour. Then followed an intense period of involvement in the Socialist youth movement, CCF, NDP, etc, culminating in a visit to Russia to address a youth conference in Moscow, whereafter he returned to London, at the time of the Suez crisis [1956]. During this time he stayed in London with the Huybens, a Rosicrucian couple where he encountered the Western Mystery tradition and Buddhism and practised meditation regularly.

Meeting the Teacher

In 1956, while visiting the London Buddhist Society, during the Buddha-Jayanti celebrations of 2,500 years of Buddhism, he met the Venerable U Thila Wunta Sayadaw, a meditation master from Burma. He was immediately drawn to the Sayadaw as his teacher, and the Sayadaw invited him to follow him to Burma.

Training in the East

Travelling overland, to India, he re-joined the Sayadaw in Buddhagaya where he received the Novice ordination as Samanera Ananda. Continuing on to Burma, he received the Higher Ordination at the Shwe Dagon in Rangoon and was given the name Ananda Bodhi Bhikkhu. There he studied the Vinaya and Abhidhamma.

He recalled that as part of his apprenticeship with Sayadaw, he had to polish the floors of the Dat Pon Zu temple with coconut shells, many, many times.

He subsequently received meditation training in all of the 40 classical Samatha practices under Sayadaw's guidance and later studied the Vipassana (insight) meditation system under Mahasi Sayadaw, later travelling to Thailand for further Vipassana retreat work under Chao Khun Phra Rajasiddhimuni at Wat Mahadhat. While there, he also mastered the Wat Paknam system.

In addition he pursued his Dhamma studies in Sri Lanka, studying the Pali Sutta texts such as the Dhammapada and the various commentaries such as the Visuddhimagga.

Return to the West

After over five years of intensive training in the East, Venerable Ananda Bodhi received the title of Samatha- Vipassana-Kammathan-Acariya, teacher of both the Calm and Insight meditation practice and was given the red belt of a meditation master.

He was invited by the English Sangha Association to become the Incumbent, or Resident Teacher, of the Vihara, or monastic residence in London, at Alexander Road, Camden Town. He took up residence in the Fall of 1961 and immediately started teaching meditation and giving regular classes in Dhamma studies. He also began teaching regularly at the Buddhadhamma centre in Manchester and other centres.

In 1962 he was invited by the London Buddhist Society to give courses in meditation at their annual Summer School. At that time he met a number of Tibetan Lamas such as Trungpa Rinpoche and Akong Rinpoche who had just arrived from India to study comparitive religion at Manchester College Oxford.

He was also invited to speak at the Fifth International Congress of Psychotherapists in London, where he met Julian Huxley, Anna Freud and R.D.Laing, to name a few.

In 1962, the Bhikkhu went back to Thailand to meet with one of his teachers, who subsequently returned to teach at the Vihara in London.

Period of Expansion

Under his inspiration, with many students gathering around him, Bhikkhu Ananda Bodhi expanded the London centre by purchasing, through the Sangha Association, a large regency mansion on Haverstock Hill which became known as the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara. At this time, a number of aspiring students received novice ordination, some of whom went to Thailand for further study. Seeing the need for a suitable meditation centre far away from London, he purchased an old estate with a castle in Staffordshire, known as Biddulph Old Hall.

Moving On

In October, 1964, the Bhikkhu flew to Canada for a short visit "to re-connect with his roots". At the invitation of the incumbent Reverend Ishiura he gave classes in the Japanese Toronto Buddhist Church on Bathurst Street. On his return, sensing a need to open up further avenues of exploration, the Bhikkhu began searching for a new independent 'Contemplative' centre and purchased Johnstone House, an old hunting lodge in Dumfriesshire, Scotland which used to belong to the Duke of Bacleuch. The Johnstone House Trust was set up through one of his students, Miss Phyllis Short. Then followed an intensive, innovative year of work with students including the new 'Mandala therapy'.

The Bhikkhu then embarked on a three-week tour of Northern Europe and Scandinavia along with two students Tony Olbrecht and Barry Goulden. On their return they went straight to Scotland where Tony and Barrie applied for Canadian immigrant status. After a month touring Scotland all three departed from Edinburgh for Canada. They did not return to England. Their journey to Canada took them to Iceland where the new volcanic island of Surtsey had just emerged from the ocean. After touring Iceland they flew to Canada via New York.

The Dharma Centre of Canada

The Bhikkhu arrived in Toronto on September 23, 1965 and immediately began teaching at the Toronto Buddhist Church and gathering more students. He would later refer to Canada as his "experiment". In March, 1966, he formed the Dharma Centre, a charitable organisation, and immediately requested that a meditation centre be found. He then returned to Scotland to continue the teaching at Johnstone House. In April, 1966 through a real-estate agent in Bobcaygeon, Tony Olbrecht inspected an old mink-farm of 400-acres near Kinmount, and informed the Bhikkhu of this, saying it had a beaver dam. Hearing this, the Bhikkhu immediately returned from Scotland to see it and the land was purchased for the sum of $4,500. A trust was set up to secure private loans and the Kinmount Centre was born.

On the Road

The Bhikkhu loved to travel and went very far afield with groups of his students travelling extensively in North and South America and in Europe.

In 1967 he led a group of 12 students to India on the Dutch freighter "Giessenkirk". The ship visited Sri Lanka and Burma before landing in Calcutta in January, 1968. Many adventures were had on the way, including visits to the Sri Lankan Viharas and gem-stone mines. In Burma they met with the Bhikkhu's teacher, U Thila Wunta Sayadaw, visited the Shwe Dagon and had an elaborate breakfast of 'mohingar' with Yogi U Thin, one of the Bhikkhu's supporters. In Calcutta they stayed at the Mahabodhi Society and met the Maharaja of Sikkhim who arranged visas to visit Sikkim. They meanwhile made a pilgrimage to Buddhagaya and finally travelled to Darjeeling enroute to Sikkim.

Meeting the Karmapa

Then followed an amazing transformation. On arrival in Gangtok, the Bhikkhu went with his students to Rumtek Monastery where he was immediately ushered into the presence of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. His Holiness greeted the Venerable Ananda Bodhi like an old friend and seated him beside him on the same level causing some consternation amongst his entourage.

He then gave a private empowerment (wongkur) of Milarepa to the Bhikkhu and five of his students. As His Holiness was busy giving 'lung' (ceremonial readings), no further empowerments were given at that time.

The Bhikkhu then travelled to Dehra Dun and met His Holiness Sakya Trizen and his teacher, Chogye Rinpoche.

In 1971, the Bhikkhu returned to Rumtek with upward to 80 students, and received the full Tibetan ordination as the Venerable Karma Tenzin Dorje Namgyal. The students then took Refuge with His Holiness the Karmapa. Many empowerments were received at that time, including Dorje Phagmo, Red Chenresi, and Hevajra.

In the Autumn of 1971, in Green River, on instructions from His Holiness, Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche was formally Enthroned with full ceremony, by the Venerable Karma Thinley Rinpoche.

Thus begins the second phase of the story, the Vajrayana. (Part 2 - to follow).

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