An exceprt from ‘Goodbye for Ever’ - Vajrayana and the Arts

Added on by Kira O'Reilly.

Yesterday my teacher Ngak’chang Rinpoche posted exceprt from his forthcoming book ‘Goodbye for Ever’ on Facebook, it concerns a remarkable conversation with one of his teachers Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche Jig’drèl Yeshé Dorje

Photo by Ngak’chang Rinpoche, sourced from

Photo by Ngak’chang Rinpoche, sourced from

Before I left his presence, Düd’jom Rinpoche said “Before England going – we Arts speaking.”
He knew I was going back to study at Art school and wanted to say a few words about the Arts in general. He knew I was interested in music and poetry as well as painting – and asked “What music playing and singing?”
“It’s called Blues, Rinpoche. It comes from America – but before that it came from West Africa.”

He then asked me it I would sing him something so that he could hear what it sounded like, so—feeling slightly uneasy—I launched into ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’. It didn’t take more than the first line to feel entirely natural because Düd’jom Rinpoche gave me a broad grin.

Gypsy woman told my mother before I was born
Y’got a boy childs coming, gonna be a son-of-a-gun
Gonna make pretty womens jump and shout
Then the world wanna know – what’s it all about?
’cause I’m here – ever’body knows I’m here
I’m the hoochie coochie man – ever’body knows I am.

Then Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche asked me what the words meant. That was something of a problem - because it seemed untranslatable. I asked if I might think about it for a while because I’d have to work out a form of English that would translate into Tibetan whilst retaining a meaning that was representative of the original. I worked out something in English that could be translated be easily translated into Tibetan.

A nomad khandro told my mother, before I was born
You will have a boy child and he will be strong and charismatic
He’s going to cause beautiful women joyful fascination
And everybody is going to be extremely curious about him?
Because I’m here – everybody knows I’m here
I’m the man with siddhis – everybody knows I am.

Once this had been translated to him he laughed saying “Good song! This song very much liking! Very strong and powerful! You must be always signing this song in your country.”

I explained that I’d had to change the words - and they were sometimes a long way form the original — but that the original Black American language would have made no sense in Tibetan.
Düd’jom Rinpoche chuckled about that and told me that as I was a poet it would be natural for me to make a good translation for him. He said he felt confident that I had translated the meaning. He said that this was an important part of the work that lay ahead of me as I would have to translate the meaning of the Tibetan teachings I had received. It would be no use to give a word for word translation — as this might make as little sense as the song would have made had I not used words that would make sense for him.
Düd’jom Rinpoche explained that the Arts were crucial to Vajrayana – and not simply the Vajrayana arts in terms of thangkas, vajra dance, and so forth. The secular Arts were also important. It was through the secular Arts that I could reach out to people – and the secular Arts practised by yogis were no longer secular. A yogi or yogini transformed everything into the dimension of Vajrayana.
“People not ‘Vajrayana only for monks and recluses’ thinking. This is wrong thinking. You must be ‘this is wrong’ saying.” He told me that in Tibet and Bhutan the ordinary people lived their lives were very much within the dimension of Vajrayana and some ordinary people with ordinary working lives had achieved ja’lü. Then he asked me whether I could earning a good living through the Arts and I replied that with painting it was more difficult unless one took the route I planned to take in terms of becoming an Art School lecturer. He then asked about poetry and I replied that this was the most difficult course to take. Then he said “Yah – but music everyone is liking.” And asked me what the future was there. I replied that some people could become extremely wealthy through music – but that I had lost my chance in that direction. Düd’jom Rinpoche looked quizzical for an instant and asked me to explain how that came to be – so I provided a potted history of Savage Cabbage. He nodded—gave me a penetrating look—and said “You must always music playing. This I see. This is important. Always painting. Always poetry writing. Always Art in every part of life – and, in this way, changchub sem always manifesting. This is my prediction. You must always Arts making. Never difference coming in Vajrayana and Art! Always together manifesting – and in this way people are nature of Vajrayana understanding.”
This came as something of a surprise to me. I thought I was giving up my life as a Blues performer – but Düd’jom Rinpoche thought this definitely was not a good idea. He said that it was ‘most necessary’ in terms of realising my potential for the benefit of others. He said that every human being has potential and that potential mist be realised for the benefit of the world. If I gave up playing Blues, how could those who loved Blues come to know about Vajrayana? If I gave up writing poetry what connection would there be for those who loved poetry. The same was true for all the Arts with which I engaged. This would be how I would teach in the West. This would be my métier and forté – because if Vajrayana was to be established in the West it would have to engage with western culture. This was not to say that Vajrayana would change to suit the West – but the Vajrayana would be discovered as naturally inherent within the Arts. This would be seen because I was an Artist. This was the bridge I was to build.
This was—really—not what I was expecting to hear. I had somehow taken on a renunciate view without realising that Vajrayana concerned transformation rather than renunciation. This advice form Düd’jom Rinpoche changed my life—right there—in that moment.