The Auckland Sphere Group was originally founded to support the teachings of Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche, and the teachers who he trained in great depth. Canadian-born lama Namgyal Rinpoche, one of the earliest Western teachers to be recognized as an awakened incarnate lama by the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, taught Dharma to Westerners for nearly four decades.
Namgyal Rinpoche was born George Dawson, in Toronto, Canada, in 1931, to parents of Irish-Scottish descent. After attending a Christian Seminary College and participating in politics, he travelled to England where he pursued his interest in the sciences and arts, especially modern psychology and metaphysics. In the late 1950’s, he travelled to Bodh Gaya and Burma to study with his teacher Sayadaw U Thila Wunta. He was ordained and given the name of Ananda Bodhi. Bhikshu Anandabodhi received a highly specialized Vidyadhara training under Sayadaw’s guidance and also studied Vipassana (Skt: Vipasyana) from the famous Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw. In Thailand he augmented Mahasi Sayadaw’s Vipassana training with further instruction under Chao Kun Pra Rajasiddhimuni at Wat Mahadhat. While in Thailand, he also mastered the Wat Paknam system. As a sign of recognition, it is said that U Tilla Wunta passed his own robe on to Rinpoche. The passing of the robe is seen as a symbol of the lineage being passed on.
In addition he pursued further Dhamma studies in Sri Lanka, studying the Pali Suttas and the extensive meditation text known as the Visuddhimagga. After intensive meditation in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka, he received the title Samatha-Vipassana-Kammatthana-Acariya ‘Teacher of Tranquillity and Insight Meditation’. Invited by the English Sangha Trust to teach, he returned to England in 1962 and while there he founded two major Buddhist communities, one of which was known as Johnstone House Contemplative Community, a Buddhist meditation retreat center in Scotland. He also supported and aided one of the first young Tibetan refugee Lama to come to the West, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He was responsible not only for assisting Trungpa in founding the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West, to be known as Samye Ling, but he turned over Johnstone House to Trungpa Rinpoche as the property which became Samye Ling.
Bhikshu Anandabodhi was a special guest speaker at the Fifth International Congress of Psychotherapists in London, where he met Julian Huxley, Anna Freud and R.D.Laing, to name a few. He returned to Canada in 1965 and a year later, with a group of students, established the Dharma Centre of Canada, a study and meditation centre near Kinmount, Ontario. Bhikkshu Anandabodhi quickly began to realize that many of his students required something more than traditional Buddhist education, as a preparation for meditation. His students were westerners, individuals not raised in a Buddhist environment. He saw that they needed a foundation, an intellectual ground, before tackling the strict regimen of Calm-abiding and Insight-practice that is practiced at traditional monastic centres in the East. “We were pretty raw,” explains Ven. Karma Chime, one of Rinpoche’s early students. “We were children of the sixties.” Consequently he began to devise methods for opening his students minds and preparing them for the work ahead, focusing on such things as exercise, good diet, and an appreciation for fine art, music and philosophy.
For the next five years, Rinpoche taught in Canada, mostly in Toronto and at the Dharma Centre. During this period he also travelled abroad, accompanied by many of his students. During visits to the principal Tibetan monasteries in India and Sikkim, he met H.H. the Dalai Lama and H.H. the XVIth Karmapa, who, recognizing him as fully enlightened, enthroned him. The Venerable Dudjom Rinpoche, the late head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, also declared his respect for Namgyal Rinpoche, confirming the earlier assessment by the Gyalwa Karmapa that this man born in Canada was in fact the reincarnation of the renowned Tibetan saint Mipham Namgyal.
Namgyal Rinpoche’s dedication to the liberation of all that live, along with his interest in all formations (including this planet and its flora and fauna) is as tireless as it is vast. A master of Mahamudra, he is unique in his ability to encompass and bridge the traditional methods of Buddhism and western forms of unfoldment and transmit the path of awakening in universal terms according to beings’ interests and proclivities.
Rinpoche travelled extensively throughout the world giving teaching, most frequently at centres established by his students in Canada, United States, Guatemala, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. His love of travel and over 40 years of teaching finally took a toll on his health. Some long-standing health problems caught up with him on October 22, 2003, when he passed away at one of his favorite places, a small private cottage on a lake in Switzerland.
From Lama Mark Webber’s bio of Namgyal Rinpoche
“One day in Norway, when I was 20 years old, during a walk, Rinpoche asked me “what I wanted to be?” I replied—“like you, a meditation master!” He said “that is fine, but being a meditation master is not enough!” For one week, once a day we would go for a walk and he would ask me the same question every day; “what I wanted to be?” I would reply. “if not a meditation master, then a such and such…” Every walk I would offer something of my history, another becoming that I could see myself taking on like a costume: the ‘meditation master’, the ‘doctor’, the ‘acupuncturist’, the ‘chemist’, the ‘biologist’, etc. And every day he would say, “that is OK, good…”, then he talked about the occupation’s merits…”but try again, what else?” At the end of one week, he turned to me and said, “Mark, become no-thing!” My god! What a momentous instruction! Like a nail driven through a wall. I really heard it, an instruction I have tried to attain and keep very close to my heart.”
Bonni Ross on Namgyal Rinpoche :
“Namgyal Rinpoche communicated a sense of urgency for preserving the great wisdom teachings and esoteric practices of all cultures. Through deep study of the sutra record, his own training in Burma and Sri Lanka and the inspiration of his mind-stream, he revitalized the 40 classical meditations taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. Right up to a few days before his passing, he continued to teach profound methods for engaging with the complex practices of Vajrayana that opened these mind-environments to western students in a way we could embrace, understand, skillfully practice and master. He adapted forms from the great traditions of western mysteries to provide a liberation vehicle for householders. Through scuba diving, music, science, art, psychotherapy and travel he embodied enlightenment and demonstrated the universal nature of the human coding to Awaken. In addition, he crafted new forms of inner exploration, purification and realization. He said that these new practices provided a complete path in themselves, devised by a western mind, inspired by western knowledge, for western students.”
This biography of Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche is from the Dharma Centre of Canada’s website: www.dharmacentre.org and from http://www.dharmafellowship.org/biographies/historicalsaints/kyabje-namgyal.htm