Our beloved Geshe Tenzin Chodrak (Dadul Namgyal) has been missing since November 7. In this post, two monastics reflect on what Geshe-la’s disappearance means to them.

Where is Geshe-la?

by Ven. Thubten Kunga

I believe Geshe-la is teaching us a lesson regarding the way we perceive ourselves and others to exist.

The question all of us have been asking ourselves again and again is, “Where is Geshe-la?”

Searching for the Self

This incessant questioning reminded me of one of the meditations we do when we’re trying to realize emptiness—how things lack an inherent, permanent, fixed identity. In this meditation, we search for an inherently existent self within our aggregates—within our physical body, feelings, perceptions, volitional or miscellaneous mental factors, and then our consciousness.

It’s a very interesting meditation because when you examine each of these aspects of our subjective experience, you’ll notice that they’re always changing. The moment any of these aggregates appear within our consciousness, they change. You certainly can’t find within these effervescent phenomena the solid self you consider yourself to be.

The Elusive “I”

The meditation can be very perplexing because you keep searching for your solid self and don’t find anything. You might wonder, “How could this be? Every day I wake up in the morning, and there I am. I lay down at night to go to sleep, and I fall asleep.” It’s I, I, I, all day long, but when you really stop and look, you can’t find the inherently existent self.

In a similar way, we’ve been looking for Geshe-la on the conventional level. We’ve searched almost every square inch of the Abbey property, the surrounding areas, and even further beyond, yet found nothing.

Existing Dependently

So is the conclusion that Geshe-la doesn’t exist at all because we can’t find him? No, because Geshe-la still has a very real effect in our lives. He’s been first and foremost in all of our minds these past few days, and I don’t think anyone has been able to get the question “Where is he?” out of their heads.

Similarly, things do exist, function, and produce effects, but only by way of being imputed by the mind.

All of us continue to be very moved and affected by Geshe-la despite his physical absence, and he still exerts a very profound influence on our minds.

Geshe-la’s Generosity

Geshe Chodrak has so many wonderful qualities, but what really stands out to me is his generosity. Just being in his presence was a gift. It’s hard to describe how just being who you are can be a gift to others, but he showed me that that’s possible with his beautiful energy and his beautiful smile.

I remember how he taught tirelessly during the one-week retreats he offered each year at the Abbey before he moved here. Every minute of the day, he would meet with community members and students who had flown in from Atlanta. During meals, break times, and on walks he would share the Dharma non-stop, and I remember thinking, “Wow, this man does not stop giving.”

Bringing Forth His Good Qualities

Regardless of the outcome of this situation, I would like to carry Geshe-la forward in this world through similar acts of generosity, kindness, and humility. His presence taught me how to exist in a way that brings joy and inspiration to all other beings.

The question, “Where is he?” may stay open for the time being, but it’s very comforting to think that anytime I miss him, I can get in touch with those good qualities that he practiced so hard and so long to develop and bring them forward within myself. In this way, I still feel deeply connected to him.

Geshe-la Is in Our Hearts

So where is the Geshe-la that we love and appreciate so much, that we admire and aspire to be like? He’s in our hearts.

And I think what he would want us to do right now is to practice the Dharma and not despair, to take care of ourselves and others, and continue to practice for the welfare of all beings.

Our responsibility as his students is to keep the Buddhist teachings alive, so may we all find a way to do that in whatever capacity we can. And may we always keep Geshe-la, and all of our teachers, in our hearts, our actions, and our aspirations.


For Geshe-la

by Ven. Jampa Sangmo (Michele Indiana Anderson)

Shattering the expected
a piercing realization
Geshe la is missing
surely to be found
in the surrounding forest
his crimson robes
would blaze
above the trail
glow in the thicket

Hundreds swept across
the wilderness
searching  for
nights and days
the weeks passed

Vanished from our eyes
gentle teacher
as the globe gathers in prayer
hopeful
looking for the sign of return

Will the winds of devotion
raise him from the dark shadow
and carry him back
the wise would say
he has not left
he is here
reminding
we live in the space between rising and falling
potential and closure
impermanence is the coin of the realm
awakening across the expansive space of samsara
the breath rides upon life
until

How do we hold our own beating heart
as we embrace one so precious
in the sea saw of ambiguity
breathe