Nyima Dakma Rinpoche exudes the peaceful calm, warmth and tranquillity that has been incessantly associated with Tibetan monks, many decades after such an association first became a cliché. This 7Days correspondent never had any expectations to the contrary, but it’s a point worth labouring. Especially considering what a stark contrast he was to my bedraggled, slightly sweat-sodden frame as I bounded up the steps to the balcony of the Bodhi Tree Guesthouse, a few minutes late for our interview and almost entirely out of breath.
If there was ever an auspicious moment for a hapless Westerner to fall under the sway of Eastern religion, this would have to be it. With an air of gentle bemusement, Rinpoche and his entourage greet their dishevelled interviewer with handshakes. I am immediately the gracious recipient of a cushioned seat and an iced tea, the perfect panacea to the distress of a morning unseasonably hot even by Phnom Penh’s standards.
Having arrived in the country barely an hour earlier after a journey from Thailand, Rinpoche has scheduled a meeting with 7Days to discuss his first visit to Cambodia. His travels to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap immediately preceded an extended tour of Canada and Europe. It is testament to his tireless efforts to promote the spiritual teachings of Bon, a faith that he has been instrumental in sharing with the wider world from his headquarters in northern India.
While there is some historical contention about its origins, practitioners of the Bon religion trace its origins and practices back 18,000 years, predating the advent of Buddhism by more than five times the latter religion has been practiced. Bon has evolved from its adherence to ancient traditions of animism and shamanism to incorporate many of the practices commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism.
According to the 2000 Chinese census, approximately 10 per cent of Tibetans follow Bon.
“I am doing much to share our idea of knowledge to the younger generations,” Rinpoche says, “because those are the ones who are the future. I like to share our own views – that can be for a new thing for them to understand.”
Rinpoche’s recent visit included speaking engagements at Norton and Panasastra universities in Phnom Penh. The topic: positive human values in modern life. His travels across the world, he says, have put him in good stead to understanding the essence this theme.
“[What is needed] is more than formalities of communication, rather it is the direct connection of heart to heart,” he says.
“That’s the very essence which I have experienced in all my travels. And also I’ve learned the importance of your level best to make everything that you can to guide others or share truly from your heart. It is something that can be tremendously beneficial to many others.”
When not preaching the virtues of Bon to foreign audiences, Rinpoche is the director of the Dolanji Children’s Home. Located in the northern state of Himchal Pradesh, which borders Tibet, Dolanji has served as the worldwide headquarters of Bon since the Chinese annexation of its spiritual home in 1951. Rinpoche has been integral to the operation of the Children’s Home since its founding in 1988.
“I am the founder and right now I am also the director,” Rinpoche says. “The main object of the home is to help the very needy children – whose parents are not able to support them – to live and to receive an education.
“Right now I have almost 300 children and in other times I have supported almost 500 children. There are also almost 20 students who are going to college with our support; we take care of all their living, education and health expenses.
“We teach the curriculum that has been established by the Indian Government. Besides that, we also teach students Tibetan language, history and religion, but not as a religion to believe, rather to have a knowledge about the their culture and their tradition of spirituality. And then we focus them, according to Bon tradition, on how to be a good human being. It’s dedicated especially to the education of girls, because a long time ago, there was less opportunity for girls to have a common education.”