Buddha Shakyamuni with Arhats (18th c) © Himalayan Art Collection

Shamarpa (Shamar Rinpoche)

© Karine Le Pajolec

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Founder of the Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers, Shamar Rinpoche (1952-2014) was the 14th Shamarpa, or Red Hat Lama of Tibet. The Shamarpa lineage is the second-oldest reincarnate lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, dating to the thirteenth century. Shamar Rinpoche spent many years studying in India with Buddhist scholars. He began to travel and teach in various Buddhist centers throughout Asia and the west starting in 1980, and in 1982 went to U.C. Berkeley to study English for ten months. In 1996 he started to organize the Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers, a network of centers based on a non-sectarian approach to Buddhism. The curriculum of Bodhi Path centers is grounded in the teachings of the 11th century Indian Buddhist master Atisha, as they were transmitted by Gampopa. Atisha's methods are the most effective for taming the mind and deepening wisdom, and in addition can be taught and employed in a secular way.

Shamarpa did not encourage most of his students to become monks and nuns, instead emphasizing the ideal of being a lay person who studies and practices Buddhism. This is because becoming a monk or nun requires virtuosic dedication and discipline, and should not be undertaken by those unwilling to follow the full set of guidelines explained in the vinaya (the code of conduct). For monks that means 253 rules, and for nuns 364. In order to provide a shining example of how the renounced followers of the Buddha are really supposed to live, in 2005, Shamarpa founded the retreat center of Shar Minub in Kathmandu, Nepal. At Shar Minub, twenty resident monks strictly maintain the full 253 vows of the vinaya. These monks are total renunciants and dedicated meditators. Shar Minub is at the present time the only monastery among the many in the Himalayan regions where the monks are fully committed to the Buddha's vinaya discipline.

In January, 2009 Shamar Rinpoche founded the Infinite Compassion Foundation to promote animal rights. The Infinite Compassion Foundation was formed to promote the humane treatment of animals that are raised for consumption of their meat and other products (especially dairy and eggs). Instead of promoting vegetarianism, Shamar Rinpoche instead advocated a transformation of the meat industry, such that animals will no longer be forced to live and die in brutal conditions.

Shamar Rinpoche authored several books. In The Path to Awakening, Shamarpa provides an extensive commentary on Chekawa Yeshe Dorje's Seven Points of Mind Training. Chekawa's text was based on the Mind Training (lojong) teachings brought to Tibet by Atisha in the 11th century, and Shamarpa's commentary elucidates the inner meaning of Chekawa's Seven Points. It is both a guide to living a fulfilling life as a Buddhist and a comprehensive manual of meditation techniques.

In Creating a Transparent Democracy: a New Model, the first book written about democracy by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, lays out a framework for establishing a genuine democratic system of governance that promotes the welfare and prosperity of a population. This model proposes a system of democracy based on the decentralization of political power, the promotion of political literacy among the population of democratic states, and an end to campaigning. It is Shamarpa's wish that this new model of democracy will inspire volunteers to dedicate themselves to improving the lives of their fellow citizens through sincere engagement with the structures of their governments.

See more information on the Shamarpa lineage.

Shamar Rinpoche's Official Website: www.shamarpa.org

Updated from a previous biography written by Lara Braitstein, as requested by Jay Landman (Bodhi Path Buddhist Center assistant).