We tend to struggle with how to think about dying: What really happens? How will it feel? Is there something beyond?
Shamar Rinpoche was officially the 14th Shamarpa, or Red Hat Lama, of Tibet, on a par with the Dalai Lama. The Red Hat school of Buddhism is one of the oldest, dating from the 13th century. Rinpoche believed the Buddhist teaching that the good deeds he performed in life would carry him well into his next, reincarnated life.
He meditated many hours each day, saying the practice creates a quiet, controlled mind and is particularly helpful as one ages. Shamar Rinpoche died suddenly last summer at the age of 61, apparently of cardiac arrest. “All beings, even the Buddha himself, must pass,” he told his followers just before his death.
A few weeks before that, he was in Washington, where he spoke with The Post about his life and what comes after.
Tell me about your background and this name “Red Hat.”
In Tibet, I am called Red Hat Lama. There are four major schools [in Tibetan Buddhism]. I am of the Kagyuga school. “Shampar” means “red hat.” The high lamas who hold religious lineage are reincarnated.
I left Tibet when I was 7 years old for India. I came to the United States in 1996, and I moved to Virginia. I organized the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, a new institution. I selected Virginia because it had been neglected by many of the Buddhist teachers.
Meditation is very big these days, with studies showing it can improve many health conditions.
The essence of meditation is to have full control of your mind. Control of your mind means if you want to keep your mind in a peaceful state, in peaceful nature, you should have full control of it. Otherwise you will not have peace.
To have full control of your mind, like Buddha and other masters, you have to develop skills. That is how Buddhism came about.
During the teenage years, meditation is not so clear, but after, when you come of age at 25 to 30, meditation becomes better, easier and more solid. You need to be mature for meditation.
You must meditate a lot.
I get up in the morning quite early, 5.30 a.m., most days. Nowadays, physically I’m getting older, so in order to wake up, I do yoga. I select a physical type of yoga only, a type of Hatha yoga. It is free of religion. Authentic yoga, but free of religion. I do it just for exercise, 15 minutes every day.
I lie on the ground. Exhale, inhale. The breath. And holding your breath. That is really helpful. It brings energy. Then I meditate. I do yoga in the living room. Or on my deck in the fresh air. Meditation I do in a meditation room on a hard cushion. I have a nice image of Buddha. It is very quiet. Through the window, I see the trees. Virginia is very beautiful for meditation.
I sit down and close the door, and am alone in my meditation room. Then I do it as slowly as I can. I do one hour, but then I meditate frequently throughout the day.
I knew this tailor when I was young who used to say when you become good at meditation while you are sewing, you can keep your mind controlled. At that time I thought, that is not true. But no, it’s true.
Why is that important?
It gives you peace of mind. You will not be bothered by anything happening around you like depression or anxiety. I don’t get depressed. That does not exist in my whole system. I can’t imagine depression. I am deeply happy. When my mother passed away, I had a superficial depression but was not deeply depressed.
Meditation is very good for old age. Old people should know meditation. Then when you are old, you will not feel old. . . . The peace of mind you can develop in meditation has no comparison in normal life.
Do you feel old?
Of course I feel old, but not in my mind. Mentally, I don’t feel old. Maybe if I live for 90 years, I may feel it, but I am very sure my mind will not be bothered.
How do you think about your own reincarnation?
According to Buddhist theory, every living being reincarnates. Above all, the supreme reincarnated living beings are the ones who in the past practiced compassion. They are the ones who accomplished the practice of compassion.
For example, say I have so much compassion; I have helped many, many people out of my compassion, out of my love for human beings. That means I will reincarnate as good as before or better. The basic theory is the compassionate person reincarnates again to help living things according to his wish.
What is your wish?
I made a wish that I should be very, very helpful to many living beings.
I am very concerned about animals being badly killed. I am very concerned about that. I am so angry, not aggressively angry, but I am very disappointed that the Chinese people are not concerned about how they kill animals. Chinese are so brutal when they kill animals. I want to save them.
My wish is that since in this lifetime I am not powerful enough to help the countless animals, in my next life I should be somebody who helps animals. I don’t know; maybe I will be the president of China. (He laughs.)
It is cause and effect. That is karma.
Do you think about dying?
If death comes, then no problem. I already made good wishes. I will follow my wish. While I am here, I am happy here, but in my next life I will follow my wish.