Thure Svane-Dupont: here you’ll get solid inner base for your daily life and your daily meditations
September 28, 2014
Thure Svane-Dupont is one of the first Western people, who started to practice Diamond way Buddhism in the Karma Kagyu tradition, and one of the alumni of the KIBI. He took refuge by Lama Ole Nydahl in 1986. In 1989 he moved to Southern Spain to live in the newly build Buddhist centre, Karma Gön. Shortly after his return to Denmark in 1990, he moved into the Buddhist Centre in Copenhagen where he lived for more than 8 years. In 1994/95 and 1996/97 he studied Buddhist philosophy at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi, India. Now Thure and his wife Marie live in the US, where he runs his own company. They are both active part of the New York sangha.
Here Thure shares his experience of studying in KIBI and tells a lot of interesting stories about past times.
You practice more than 20 years. Can you please tell a bit about how it all started – up to the moment when you came to KIBI to study?
I’ve always been interested in the “mind”. When I was fourteen I started doing yoga classes in a town called Esbjerg on the west coast of Denmark. It was the only spiritual thing (apart from Christian churches) that was available in that town at that time. I continued with yoga for many years and finally made a three months retreat course in Sweden learning advanced Hindu meditations. However, it became very clear that Hindu meditations were not for me (the physical yoga exercises were excellent). I therefore more or less gave up finding a spiritual path until my best friend introduced me to Lama Ole in August 1986. First time I met him I was skeptical but after having read his and his wife Hannah’s book “Entering the Diamond Way” I was hooked, and the next time Lama Ole was in town I took refuge.
Diamond Way Centers were very different then, compared to the modern western style today, and it was actually very confusing. Meditations were mostly pujas – especially Tjenresig and Tara pujas – with no explanations. I didn’t even know that it was an actual meditation we were singing. Most people had Tibetan teachers like Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Tenga Rinpoche. Although the four lineage holders (Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, and Gyaltsab Rinpoche) all had stated that Ole Nydahl was a Lama even by writing a letter confirming it, half the people in the Copenhagen Center did not consider Ole to be a Lama. A lot of different Rinpoche’s came to the Center – approx. a high Rinpoche every second month. It was not only Kadjy lamas and Rinpoches that were invited. For a long time a Gelug lama (Dalai Lama’s lineage) gave teachings in the Copenhagen Center, and he even tried at one time to take over the center. You can probably imagine how confusing this was.
When I talk about that time I often use the example of “Winter sports”. If you think you are going to do “Winter sports” and you then have one teacher teaching slalom, another bobsled, a third cross country skiing, and a forth ice skating, you become very confused, because you think you are going to do all technics at once. In the 80’s people thought this way about Buddhism. Everything was good, and there was no understanding that to have results you needed to practice one lineage only until you had mastered it; then it, of course, would be OK to get teachings from other lineages. To go back to my example: If you want to be an Olympic champion (reach enlightenment) you practice e.g. slalom only until you master it completely; after that you of course can do other sports but for championships you still stick to slalom because this is what will bring you to the podium.
This attitude towards Buddhism slowly changed in the 90’s, and after Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje’s enthronement in 1994 Diamond Way Buddhism found its own style, teachings in the centers became much more streamlined and were focused on the teachings the Sixteenth Karmapa passed on to Lama Ole and Hannah Nydahl.
I was present at the enthronement of the Karmapa in February 1994, and I got so inspired by KIBI that I decided to come back and study in October 1994. I completed two semesters, could for several reasons not come back in the fall of 1995 but came back in 1996 and completed the third and fourth semester.
How was KIBI in that time? How did it look like? (E.g. how many monks and students were there, what facilities they had, what was around, who was the director/administrator?). May be some inspiring stories that you remember.
It actually was not so different from what it is today but then again there were differences:
There were many more students. We were more than 20 people in my class and all in all more than 60 people studied at KIBI. There were many excellent students at that time and I want to mention three:
Ulrick Kragh and his wife Kate started at KIBI in 1990 (or maybe 1991) and continued their studies for nine years. They both also studied at the Copenhagen University, and today Ulrick is a very well-known and sought after Professor in Tibetan studies, having worked at universities in e.g. USA, Holland, and South Korea among others at Harvard University, where he translated an important Gampopa text. Manfred Seegers started studying at KIBI at the same time as Ulrick and Kate. After many years study at KIBI he also continued in the Academic world. The last I heard was that he is finishing his Ph.D. in Indian and Tibetan studies at the University of Kent investigating the rNam shes ye shes ’byed pa’i bstan bcos by the Third Karmapa.
The electricity was very unstable and in 1994 KIBI had no generator, so we had to live without electricity for several hours almost every day. The water heaters in the rooms were much smaller, so two people could not take a shower after each other. The second person would have to wait 15 – 30 minutes before the water was hot again.
The final difference, I want to mention, was that the Karmapa lived here and we saw him very often. Nearly every day visitors came to KIBI, and students “volunteered” to bring them to the Karmapa. Some students were very eager to volunteer for that, and they saw the Karmapa almost every day.
Chandra (a shop owner who sells all kind of things at KIBI) was there and he would come to your room every day, knock on your door and deliver whatever you had ordered. Then as now he was very reliable although a lot slimmer ))
Topga Rinpoche was the Director of KIBI and Yeshe was the daily administrative manager.
One of the most impressive things I experienced was when one of Karmapa’s birds died. Karmapa blew on the bird and instead of falling down as a soft feather ball, the bird sat straight on its stick for about ten hours before it finally left the body for a pure land, where after the body fell down and finally looked like any other dead bird. The Karmapa – about 12 years old when it happened – in this way very clearly demonstrated that he had the same connection with birds and could do the same things with them as his predecessor.
What subjects and classes did you have?
- Tibetan: It was built up the same way as today. First and second semester would have colloquial Tibetan; on the following semesters you would then study classical Tibetan. We followed a text book that Ulrick and Kate had written, and it was an excellent and very Western way of learning the language.
- The four Siddhanta’s (Four Philosophical Schools) was taught but not from Sempa Dorje’s book. We used texts from Dignaga and Dharmakirti and we completed the three first schools in the first and second semester.
- In the third and fourth semester we learned how concepts are created, when we e.g. see an apple (if I remember correctly there are 16 different levels)
- “Jewel Ornament of Liberation” was taught first and second semester (the whole book)
- 2nd year: The fourth philosophical school “Madhyamika” was taught under “Philosophy” – I cannot remember the title of the book right now.
Who were the teachers?
Ulrick, Kate and Khenpo Tsering were our Tibetan teachers first and second semester. I do not recall who taught on the other semesters. Khenpo Chodrag and Topga Rinpoche taught Philosophy. Kate taught Tsema for first semester students. I do not recall the name of the Tibetan teachers. Hannah Nydahl, Kiki, and Tina Draszczyk were our excellent translators.
How did you spend your free time?
The park outside was at that time very safe, so we often went for a walk there either alone or with others.
We also often went outside the gate for tea or breakfast, if the KIBI breakfast was too bland. There was only one tea shop then (run by an Indian named “Timbu”, who is still around) about 100 meters to the left when you came out of KIBI.
Since there were so many students, there were much more student activities and social gatherings. The café was open every day, there were review classes guided by the older students every day, and several times a week we would in the evening go to Vasant Vihar for ice-cream or to see a movie. We, of course, also studied hard but somehow also found time for the social events. Vasant Vihar and Modern Bazar was at that time the only “Western” place you could find near KIBI. City walk was not even planned then.
McDonald’s had just opened in Vasant Vihar and it was actually a very clean and safe place to eat for a Western stomach compared to other restaurants in the area, so we often went there. We then also would have the chance to meet the 11 years old Karmapa, who had McDonald’s as one of his favorite “restaurants”.
And for new ones: If you want to study at KIBI don’t worry: There are still lots of social activities going on.
What kind of challenges did you experience? What was the most difficult?
The biggest challenges was to get through January and the first two weeks of February. At that time salad was not served, and although the food was not bad it was always fried or boiled thoroughly. Because the electricity was off so often, it was very difficult to keep the rooms warm in the winter; and Delhi is cold in the winter – down to 0 C (32F) in the night. Without a heater it becomes quite cold in the rooms. We survived December but because of the lack of fresh fruits and salad, exercise, sunny weather and the coldness in the rooms our bodies were exhausted when we reached January. In mid-February the sunny and warm weather came back and everyone got better again.
Nowadays the electricity is stable, so you can heat your room, they do serve fruit and salad, and there are different ways that you can exercise. In other words, you will be just fine even in the winter months.
The story that you remember most of all.
The following story shows how close you are to the Lamas and Rinpoches, when you study at KIBI. It should not be the reason for going here to study but it certainly inspires one when one is here.
Zsuzsa from the Hungarian sangha also studied at KIBI, when I was here. Once, when Lama Ole visited, she got so upset because her roommate, who she always spent time with, suddenly had no time for her, because she was with Lama Ole and Caty all the time; and Zsuzsa was not invited. Therefore, Zsuzsa went to Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche and asked if he would like to go out for lunch with her, me, my friend Steffen and one or two others. He said yes, and a few hours later we sat with Shamar Rinpoche in a restaurant in Haus Katz eating and small talking for a couple of hours. Amazing! And of course there also were teachings “hidden” in the small talk.
How did this time and studies influence you?
First of all it gives you a very solid base. Lama Ole is always talking about the three pillars. The three pillars are what you need to reach Mahamudra, which is the roof over the three pillars. The three pillars are: Information, meditation, and view. The pillars themselves are divided into three parts: the lowest part is Hinayana/Theravada (Small vehicle), the middle part of the pillars is Mahayana (Great vehicle), and the top part is Vajrayana (Diamond Way or Diamond vehicle). From this it becomes very clear that you cannot practice neither Vajrayana nor Mahamudra without the lowest and middle part of the pillars.
In other words, no matter what center you belong to in the West, after having studied at KIBI you have strengthened your knowledge about the lower parts of the pillars immensely, and you can practice Vajrayana much more easily because a lot of doubt has been removed.
However, I did notice that a few of the many people who studied in KIBI became very stiff and thought that the way Buddhism is taught at KIBI is the only and correct way to get teachings. This attitude only created splits, which is not good for anyone.
Many years passed since that time. What has changed?
The most important thing that has changed is that the KIBI is now recognized as a University (under Mewar University), and that you can get a B.A. if you study here 3 years. It had been Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche’s wish for many years, and Khenpo Mriti was able to fulfill this wish this year (2014).
This also means that the curriculum has changed. There are three extra classes per day compared to when I studied in KIBI in the 90’ies. Every second year they teach Hindi, there are classes in Buddhist history in Tibet and India, and finally there is one extra philosophy class.
What texts or teachings that you got were useful in everyday life? What was the most practical? Did it help to improve and deepen your practice?
I already talked about how the studies are creating a solid base for practicing Vajrayana. If I should elaborate more I would say that the Cittamatra teachings (Mind only school) makes it much easier to understand the Vajrayana meditations. The Madhyamika teachings is also excellent and removes all doubts and confusion, when people talk about emptiness, and the teachings more over makes it easier to rest in the dissolving phase of the meditations.
The most important thing about studying at KIBI is that you have a lot of time to discuss the teachings and reflect upon them, and this gives you a solid inner base for your daily life and your daily meditations.
Can you please give an advice for those who study and plan to study here?
My advices for those who plan to study here is:
If in any way possible come a week before the course starts, so you have time to purchase things to your room and simply get settled. For second year students this is not so important but it is definitely for first year students.
India is very different from the West, and things are not working the same efficient way as e.g. in Germany. Be patient and do not get into arguments about how things can be done better. Just relax, study, and learn the Indian and Tibetan way of doing things. According to the Karmapa, this is also a part of the teachings at KIBI – that you get used to how other cultures do things.
Please, also try to participate in the pujas (the traditional Tibetan way of doing meditations). Personally, I like the style in the Diamond Way centers, where most things are westernized. However, you are now in the East, and it is excellent to learn how Buddhism has been practiced in Tibet for a 1000 years.
Finally a very practical advice: Bring your sleeping bag for the cold nights in the winter. KIBI does provide a thick blanket but you will appreciate your warm sleeping bag.
For those, who already study here my advices are:
As mentioned above, please do not get stiff. A lot of people are inspired by the different centers in the West. So if you are not attracted to one style, then it is fine. Just remember that a lot of people are attracted by that particular style, and they benefit enormously by following it and e.g. practice the Ngondro.
My second advice is in regard to the Diamond Way centers: When you return from KIBI, and they ask you to teach say “No” to start with. You would want to digest the teachings first and to figure out how to present them in a much more Western style than it is taught at KIBI. Most Westerners are actually very interested in hearing the teachings but if you do it the traditional way, they will very quickly lose interest; and it will strengthen the notion that KIBI is boring and not at all beneficial (which of course is completely incorrect). So you have to find a way to present the main points of e.g. Karma in a style that fits your audience. It takes time but it is a really good exercise, and when you finally manage to do it, you are contributing to a very important task: to show Diamond Way students why the KIBI teachings are very beneficial.