Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Remembering Venerable Thubten Kunsang

When I suddenly woke up in Portland, Oregon this past Sunday morning I was in the middle of dream. I was receiving directions to visit my friend Bill Kane at his house in Dharamsala that day, before I set off on some sort of trip. It was a beautiful morning in Dharamsala. I had this idea that there would be many Tibetan children playing near Bill's house.

When I opened my eyes and realized I was in Portland, Oregon, I rolled over and reached for my cell phone to check for messages. The first thing I saw was a message from my friend Amy, letting me know our friend French monk Venerable Thubten Kunsang (Henri Lopez) had passed away in India while I was sleeping.

FPMT later circulated the news he passed away on Sunday, July 24 at 11:46AM India time/Saturday, July 23 at 11:16PM PST.

Venerable Kunsang. Photo shared on Facebook by Emma Sandhu.

There is this sense that if I had been awake, maybe he wouldn't have died. Or maybe if I had emailed him recently, I could have prevented his death. But as my teachers remind us, the truth is we start dying from the moment we are conceived. Everything born will die.

I have been thinking about this YouTube video I recently watched, and what His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to say about death:


The last time I saw Venerable Kunsang we were at His Holiness' Lamrim teachings at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.

Venerable Kunsang on the left, enjoying lunch during His Holiness' Lamrim teachings
at Tashi Lhunpo in December 2015. Photo by Bill Kane.

His Holiness' teachings had concluded for the day, and I was now slumped over on a bench inside of the medical tent on the Tashi Lhunpo grounds, waiting to see one of the Tibetan medicine doctors about my fever. Venerable Kunsang saw me and came over, and with a concerned look on his face rested his hand on right arm, and asked if I was OK. After listening to my symptoms he advised me to see one particular doctor, saying this doctor was the best.

Dee and I then shared an auto rickshaw with him back to Osel Labrang at Sera Jey Monastery, where he was staying with our teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche. During the ride it became apparent his health was amiss but I did not learn he had cancer until several days later when I was already back in Bangalore. And that afternoon his concern was for my own health, a minor illness that came and went within two weeks.

In January while still at Osel Labrang, knowing Venerable Kunsang had cancer Lama Zopa Rinpoche requested His Holiness to bless a khata for Venerable Kunsang.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Kunsang. Photo by Venerable Roger Kunsang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Kunsang. Photo by Venerable Roger Kunsang.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Kunsang.
Photo by Venerable Roger Kunsang.
Venerable Kunsang, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Venerable Sangpo.
Taken in (or before) 2012. Photo found online.
Venerable Kunsang had been traveling for many years with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, recording Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings for the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and taking thousands of photos published by FPMT and Mandala magazine.

Venerable Kunsang behind Lama Zopa Rinpoche's left shoulder
at Kopan Monastery during the 2014 November Course. Photo by Bill Kane.
Venerable Kunsang with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, April 2014. Photo by Bill Kane.
Venerable Kunsang with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, April 2014. Photo by Bill Kane.
Doing the dishes. Photo found online. I love this photo.
Venerable Kunsang behind Lama Zopa Rinpoche at CKSL in Bangalore 2015.
Photo by Bill Kane.
Venerable Kunsang putting the mic on Lama Zopa Rinpoche at CKSL in Bangalore
2015. Photo by Bill Kane.
Venerable Kunsang in front recording Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teaching
at CKSL in Bangalore 2015. Photo by Bill Kane.
Venerable Kunsang on the right, probably CKSL in Bangalore 2015.
Photo by Bill Kane.
Venerable Kunsang and Thubten Dechog at Kopan Monastery,
2015 November Course. Photo by Bill Kane.
The last thing I heard from Venerable Kunsang was a letter FPMT shared on their Facebook page on July 7. This photo accompanied the letter:

Venerable Kunsang


"My dear brother and sisters, I am well and want to thank everybody for the prayers. I had chest pains yesterday but no more now. Doctors are going to remove the cause of pain today (the liquid in abdomen that caused on the heart) it is very minor procedure.Thank you again for the prayers."

We later learned Jean Yves took care of Venerable Kunsang for the last few months of his life. (Thank you, Jean.) Jean sent a photo to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who asked his attendant Venerable Sherab to photoshop him into the photo. It was then sent back to Venerable Kunsang, Venerable Kunsang's brother Emile, and Jean with the message:

"Rinpoche looking after Kunsang, JY and brother Emile from behind and above!"

Venerable Kunsang with Jean, Emile, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo from FPMT.

Prior to Venerable Kunsang's death Lama Zopa Rinpoche recited the Arya Sanghata Sutra for him.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche reciting the Arya Sanghata Sutra for Venerable Kunsang.
Photo shared by Bill Kane.

(You can listen to Lama Zopa Rinpoche reciting the Arya Sanghata Sutra several years ago here.)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche recorded the below - including part of the Arya Sanghata Sutra - for Venerable Kunsang, and asked him to listen with utmost attention. It was sent to Venerable Kunsang's caretakers during his last days in the hospital in India:



Lama Zopa Rinpoche also recorded this advice for Venerable Kunsang's caretaker at the hospital, but as Lama Zopa Rinpoche states in the recording he wants to offer this advice to all who care for others at the time of death:



Perhaps at the same time Lama Zopa Rinpoche recorded an answer for another student, teaching in reality there is no birth and death.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche sent the following message to the International Mahayana Institute early in the morning after Venerable Kunsang passed away. It has since been shared with all of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's students:

Dear Sangha,

We believed there was real Kunsang and now that real Kunsang is not there, but that's the reality, and like that all the phenomena, yourself, action and object, all phenomena, samsara and nirvana are like that.

Please right now when you get this, please to do the short Medicine Buddha sadhana and Padmasambhava prayer Sampa Lhundrupma.

Dedicated to Ven. Kunsang (Henri Lopez) who has just passed away in India at 11:46 am.

Dedicate that he may be immediately born in pure land where he can achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible or to receive at least a perfect human rebirth, meet the Mahayana teachings, meet perfectly qualified Mahayana Guru, who reveals the path to enlightenment and by pleasing the holy mind of the virtuous friend, then by himself to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

With much love and prayers,
Lama Zopa


A recording of the Padmasambhava prayer Sampa Lhundrupma is just below. Thanks to Bill Kane for sharing.

Bill Kane with Venerable Kunsang. I'm guessing it was taken January 2015.
Photo by Venerable Sarah Thresher.


I had heard many people were praying for Venerable Kunsang's health. Many pujas have been arranged, Nalanda Monastery in France is making four hundred long-life tsa-tsas, and also in France artist Peter Iseli will make a White Tara thangka.

Artist Peter Iseli with his 21 Taras thankgka in France.

I will always remember the instructions Venerable Kunsang gave me in passing at the conclusion of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Bangalore January 17, 2015 public teaching How to Make Life Happy

The teaching had ended, group photos had been taken, chairs had been put away, and we were all getting ready to leave the rented hall.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Center, Jan 17, 2015. Venerable Kunsang on the bottom right
with eyeglasses perched on the top of his head. Photo by Dee.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche in center, Jan 17, 2015. I am on the right in hot pink. Photo by Dee.
Venerable Kunsang and I crossed paths in the hall. He paused, leaned in, touched my right upper arm with his extended his pointer finger, and kindly advised me to keep working at it until I had eradicated the self cherishing I. He told me - and his delivery indicated - that this was extremely important and that I should not give up.

Venerable Kunsang, DSLR camera in hand.
Photo shared on Facebook by Christiano Frambuessi.
Venerable Kunsang was so kind and humble. I remember the first time I heard of Venerable Kunsang. I had just met Harry on the front porch of Osel Labrang. Harry told me about Venerable Kunsang and his work for Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Venerable Kunsang was so kind when I met him later at those 2013 Lamrim reachings. After that, I was always so happy to see him. May we meet again.

May Venerable Kunsang immediately be born in a pure land where he can achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. Or may he at least receive a perfect human rebirth, meet the Mahayana (Tibetan) Buddhist teachings, and a perfectly qualified Mahayana Guru who reveals the path to enlightenment. By pleasing the holy mind of the virtuous friend, may he, by himself achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.