A Dharma Princess

Director Jamie Khoo

S tories about people – well, they’re usually about the people, the personality du jour that everyone wants to be, wants to know about, wants to adore through your writing. You, as the writer, you’re just the scribe; I was used to writing for newspapers, detached, cool and distracted. But to truly write about Tsem Rinpoche, is to write about yourself too – with Rinpoche, every conversation is one where things you find yourself saying reveal as much about him as it does about you. As I sit down to write now, I am still full of that first whir of energy, the awakening of hibernating passions from having met him the first time.

I first meet Rinpoche at a time when I am at my most glamourous – about to start a high profile job, holidaying in and out of beautiful cities and spending more time styling my wardrobe than being remotely bothered with the pains of the rest of the mortal world. I agree to meet Rinpoche because fabulous friend from the fashion industry (who I adored for her prominence in making fashion catwalks what they are) had proposed a freelance job for me, working with her “hunky Guru.”

When I enter the room, I am flushed from panicking about not locking my car; I am also anxious about who I’m about to meet. His students and assistants have run me through a fascinating crash course on Buddhist deities and bounced around words like “guru”, “Lama”, and “Tibet” as I’m thinking of the last remotely saintly thing I’d done or how inappropriate my loud dangly earrings might be.

But I find myself in a party of sorts – small but vastly happening. There is no hazy incense, no sleep-inducing chanting, no bowing and kneeling to be blessed by a musky old monk bedecked in sheaves of saffron robes. Rinpoche is sitting cross-legged in sweat pants and Giordano, looking rather like a god: that is, the very-gorgeous-man sort of god that makes girls go paralytic with desire (and he knows it!), not the old bearded one we pray fearfully to for pardoning our sins.

Soon, as he speaks about the energies of god that we all have within us, he will declare to me that yes, “I am a god, but that also makes you a goddess.” For the moment, as I am first introduced to him and settling onto a cushion, I am staring at his rather chiseled biceps.

Soon I will be laughing for hours with Rinpoche, rolling in fancies about all things spiritual, not spiritual and how to stay thin. (“I just don’t eat for days, and then I’ll be gorgeous!” he shares). We are all talking about nothing and everything all at once; but everything takes on a funny sort of importance. There is no dismissal of folly and fancy, but plenty of bantering. If there is ever such a thing as spiritual ‘talking cock’, then this is as close as I’ll ever get to it. And I wasn’t even made to feel blasphemous, rude or disrespectful: it was fun, real and “oh-so-spiritual” at the same time.

In the room there is plenty of rude, crude and utterly desirable banter – he pulls fantastically outrageous sex puns from the air, tells us about Versace, and discusses the endless possibilities of hair extensions and liposuction.

While you’d expect old lamas to pat you on the head for being good and pious, Rinpoche is telling me he likes me because, “You’re just really yourself. You’d be one of those girls in a girls-just-wanna-have-fun music video. You’re a girls-who-wanna-have-fun girl who meditates!”

I couldn’t help but be cynical. “Are you out to convert me?” I ask my friend, point blank.

She chuckles from her stomach, thoroughly amused. “We can’t even convert ourselves so I don’t think you have to worry!”

And when, in a roundabout way I ask Rinpoche the same question, “Oh don’t be sooo stupid!” he exclaims, almost shudders in disbelief. “I just want this brand of Dharma to be fun! I want to get out to everyone who is alternative. I want to get out to the gays, to the prostitutes, to the women who are battered, who are being raped, to the alcoholics, to people who have sex before marriage, because these are the people who are being told by other religions that they are wrong.”

In my head, I was all, “Oh! Such a novel idea! How fashionable!” And then five days later, went off on holiday again.

A few months later, I would be packing ugly thermals and boarding a plane to Nepal, on pilgrimage with Rinpoche and 30 other people I had never met. I still don’t really know what made me go – it was so very unlike me – but it would all fall into place after that.

“I’m all for Bodhicitta!” I tell confused friends. “I’m halfway to being a Tibetan nun.” I’ve gone back to basics and understood how easy it can be to just be happy, how easy it can be to forgive a friend after an argument and laugh about it later, and how making someone else happy really can be more fun than shopping for makeup. If Dharma could transform such shallow living into something substantial, I should think there was hope for all of us yet!

It has only been six months since I first met Rinpoche. I consider him a most precious spiritual friend but, just as important, are the people that I have met through him who have shared their own experiences in Dharma with me and constantly reflect the vivaciousness and kindness of Rinpoche himself. His teachings are incredibly dear to me, his witty comebacks over midnight laughs delightful, always surprising but most of all, I am blown away by the ripple effect of genuine glowing happiness that he has started – in my own heart and in all the people he touches.

I have come to realise that my experience in Dharma, with Rinpoche, really can be as fashionable as I want it to be. The difference is that I will be outwardly stylish for toting a Furla handbag and trotting on Manolos, and also stunningly beautiful on the inside for the transformation and change I hope to achieve through Dharma. Inner beauty, gorgeous skin and big boobs are all entirely possible when you’re treading the Dharma path with this crazy-hot Rinpoche.

I could pretend to be a Tibetan nun while twirling my fancy amethyst mala and praying to Buddha Tara, “May all sentient beings be happy… Let me be Enlightened… Let me achieve Bodhicitta… and oh yes, by the way, I hope I’m picked for my friend’s next fashion show. Thank you.”

** Jamie is now one of the Directors to H.E. Tsem Rinpoche and the Senior Editor for Kechara Media & Publications. She also heads the Puja Committee, and is a member of the Education Committee.