Yeshe Rabgye

Yeshe Rabgye speaks about having the progressive attitudes of a Westerner within the religious institution of an Asian tradition, and his new book The Best Way to Catch a Snake: A Practical Guide to the Buddha’s Teaching.

People are tribal. We tend to gravitate to our particular groups, adhere to the ideals of those groups, and ignore, dismiss, or disparage other stances even when they are in close alignment with our own. We’ve seen this recently in online forums discussing Secular Buddhism, and a dividing line is drawn between that approach and traditional methods. And on the secular side, we may not have experience with positive interactions with those within religious institutions who nonetheless have progressive attitudes.

Fostering an open and friendly dialogue, asking questions with a sincere desire to understand, may show some surprising agreements.

Karma Yeshe Rabgye is a monk in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Originally from England, he now lives in a monastery in northern India. He conducts English, basic Buddhism and meditation classes for monks of all ages. Yeshe has studied with HH the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, HH the Seventeenth Karmapa, and many other prominent Buddhist lamas. He also helped found the Sangye-Menla Patients Charitable Trust, a non-profit organisation and hostel in Chandigarh, in 2008.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Masala Chai.

:: Discuss this episode ::


“I see a lot of people being completely swept along by the Buddhist bandwagon, believing they have to buy everything ‘Buddhist’. For example, once as I was waiting for a friend in a hotel lounge, I saw an American Buddhist magazine. I thought I’d read it to help me pass some time and picked it up. I was totally shocked to see so many advertisements on every page. There were things I had never heard of, but all the attractive ads suggested that I needed their help for me to become a ‘real Buddhist’. There were designer meditation stools, which would look more at home in a torture chamber than in a Buddhist’s home, there were extremely expensive red-and-white shawls being modelled by some very attractive ‘Buddhists’, there was even an electronic mala (prayer beads) that had an alarm fitted to it, which I presume rings once you reach enlightenment.” — Yeshe Rabgye

“The real beauty of all of the Buddha’s teachings is that they are based on natural laws and are not fabricated. Anyone can practise them, and there is absolutely no need to buy anything especially for learning it. This is because what the Buddha taught is inside you, and only you can free this potential. All the rites, rituals, and ceremonies that have been tagged onto the foundation teachings of Buddhism are just an outer religious covering.” — Yeshe Rabgye


Web Links

Music for This Episode

Hon Shirabe

Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The tracks used in this episode are:

  • Traces of Truth

No Comments

  1. Candol on May 12, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Well i wonder if it shouldn’t have been yak butter tea since that’s the drink of tibet. Masala chai is indian. But never mind.

  2. Candol on May 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Hey Ted that is a really nice discussion. Thanks for doing it. I like Yeshe Ragybe’s common sense, straight forward way of going about things. He has a lot to teach the secular skeptics new to buddhism that come to his site and i hope they tune into this talk. He is open minded and that’s what we people new to buddhism need to develop. A little more openmindedness and a little less fear of getting too close to religion – because when all is said and done, you only have to go along with what feels fine for you.

    I really like his non-dogmatic way of talking.

    Alas the quality of the recording was a bit difficult. I suspects its because of skype but i think i heard most thigns.

    I am a little surprised that yeshe says he finds it impossible to imagine being unattached to everything or what the world would be like if you could really live the feeilng or awareness of impermanence. I am not saying i have won through these issues myself but i can imagine what it might be like being unattached to things. And i rather savour the opportunities when they come my way to let go of things. My most recent thing i’ve had to let go of is the fact that my trip to france next which was going to be for three months, may now only be possible for 6 weeks. Given that i’ve been saving for this trip for 2 years so far its no a small thing to let go of. I’ve let go of bigger attachments too but that’s only the most recent.

    I feel ready to let go of well everything except perhaps my good health. That’s the only thing i am not too keen to give up and if it happened to me that my health was going to be severely compromised, i think i wold consider suicide eg if i become demented or paraplegic or something of that order.

    Anyhow, great talk. Thanks again.

  3. Ted Meissner on May 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi, Candol. Yes, we used Masala Chai at Yeshe’s suggestion, perhaps we can pursuade him to tell the story of why!

    He is precisely what we need to have in traditional settings: someone who is part of them, sees they are as imperfect as all human endeavors, and is willing to try to make things better. Even better in my opinion, Yeshe understands that a bull in a China shop doesn’t elicit positive change, it just destroys everything of value. He is not pushing for changes that people are not yet in a mental place to support, but growing a foundation of improvement that is going to take time — but time worth spending.

    Yes, the sound is always challenging when you don’t have a studio! Skype is a wonderful tool, though, and to be able to present the conversation with someone halfway around the world is pretty amazing. Now, if someone wants to buy us a studio, we’d put it to good use 🙂

  4. yeshe rabgye on May 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Hello Candol

    Thank you so much for your very kind comments. I live in India so that is why I picked Masala Chai. Here it is very hot and so Tibetan butter tea is just not suitable. That is for cold climates. I have to say melting butter and adding salt and water is not my cup of tea!

    I think we all know a little bit about having to let go of attachment, but do we really fully understand the bliss of having no attachment and being able to see the world as it really is. We may be able to dream about it and picture it a little, but that is done with our worldly mind and not a wisdom mind (a mind free of the three poisons). As we know our worldly mind cannot be trusted. So I am not saying nirvana, heavan or wahtever you wish to call it is a mystical things, it isn’t, but it is hard for us to truly imagine it with our minds clouded by attachment, anger and unawareness.

    As you learn to meditate more, and here I’m talking about simple meditation like on the breath, you will stop thinking about future problems with ill health. You will instead be present in the moment and happy to live life in the here and now. Your mind will not be powered by thoughts of the past or dreams of the future. If you just meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening for 21 days you will feel a difference. We are in human bodies, so illness will come, but there is no need to plan how you will react when it arrives. Just work with what we have now and stay mindful.

    The quality is the recording is a problem from my end. The internet in the village is not good. I hope someone buys Ted a studio for his birthday.

    Thank you once again for your comments and I hope you enjoy your time in France – it is a beautiful country.

  5. Candol on May 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I don’t spend much time worrying about my health but i do think about it as i am of the age where things start to go wrong. Nearing 50. You look around that age yourself so i am sure you know what i mean. When you are young and healthy you hardly think about any illness that could befall you in your old age but as you see your parents starting to succumb to things you know there’s likely to be stuff in store for you.

    My Aunty who is about 76 is very good at just accepting things as they show up. She used to be a nurse and her husband has major back issues. She’s been having things come at her one at a time for a few years – knee replacement, breast cancer scare and i can’t remember what else. She just deals with them as they turn but remains equanimous. And she’s not a buddhist, or a christian as far as i can tell. My own father seems to worry a little more about things coming along to take away his freedom.

    But of exceeding interest to me, something came up recently in one of my older friends. A man in his 70s and with not such good health was worrying aloud to me about how to share his farm amongst his daughters in his will. And after he’d been talking at some length about this, he then said, my father did the same thing. This immediately suggested to me a) a genetic link and b) a fear of imminent death but i am most interested in the former notion. Some might say that this was an environmental cause but if that were the case, you’d think his wife who would have been exposed to the same ideas, would have adopted the same attitude now. But its limited to my friend. I am fairly sure this is an expression of genetic continuity. and Wow! Isn’t it marvellous though scary. Which just goes to show what a job we’ve got to override our genetic tendencies with meditation.

  6. Dana Nourie on May 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    The impression I had from this talk with Yeshe is that he is practicing and living what he teaches. I found a ring of authenticity in him that I don’t often hear in monks. I was truly delightful.

    Ted, you said something in your comment here that really struck a chord with me: “He is not pushing for changes that people are not yet in a mental place to support, but growing a foundation of improvement that is going to take time — but time worth spending.”

    Not pushing for changes that people are not yet in a mental place to support is something I need to always keep in mind. Reading that really sprang and ahha for me. Yes, some people are just not ready to let go of certain beliefs and illusions, and our pushing on them won’t force them to be ready. Understanding that, maybe I can have more compassion for those who attack my views that are different, remind myself that my views are sometimes just scary to others. That does not make either of us wrong or right.

  7. Candol on May 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Its not even a question of right or wrong. But nevertheless you could be right.

    But in Yeshe’s situation, he is in india (which i am well familiar with) and he just simply cannot go pushing progressive ideas forcefully down anyone’s throat. He has no choice but to be very gentle with his advances. that’s not to take away anything from what he’s doing. He has a huge challenge ahead of him since he’s not surrounded by people disposed to questioning anything and by people who do not have as much educational background to enable them this questioning and challenging approach. Indian education is mostly still by rote. Well i guess it depends where they go to school but suffice to say it is pretty old fashioned.

    So all the more credit to him if he has it in mind to bring his students into modern views and understandings.

  8. yeshe rabgye on May 14, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Dana – I think the key is patience. Some people have a lot invested in their belief and so cannot even think about change. Change to them may mean a loss of power or control, so of course they are not ready to look at others views. However, we have to patiently and skilfully put our views across and wait for others to respond. Of course it is not nice when we get attacked for our views, but the only way to deal with it is with compassion. If we attack back the argument is lost.

    Candol – I am not trying to bring my students into modern views. I am just trying to get them to question what they are being taught. You obviously know the Eastern education system and so you will know that they are taught not to question their elders. I want them to question and make up their own minds. When I teach such things as karma, rebirth and the six realms I tell them the traditional way and a more pragmatic way. I then leave it up to them to decide which way suits them better. It has taken a few years but I am now starting to see results.

    Thank you both for your kind comments.

  9. Candol on May 14, 2012 at 2:09 am

    ok that sounds good too.

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