Yesterday evening, we were having a celebratory dinner with HE Tsem Tulku Rinpoche to thank some sponsors when he gave a short Dharma talk about dressing up in drag. I'm sure you must be thinking what the hell does drag have to do with Dharma? Or what is a monk doing, talking about drag?
The guys all squirmed and looked like rabbits caught in the headlights. You see, in Tibetan Buddhism, Guru devotion is crucial to our practice because our relationship with the Guru is the key to our gaining attainments and eventually Enlightenment. It is not a blind slavish devotion but one based on checking out the Guru before we take refuge with him. The Guru will also check out a potential student to see if the student will benefit from the relationship. If it is mutually beneficial, the student may request refuge with the Guru and the Guru grant it. Once that relationship or samaya is established, it continues from life to life until the student reaches Enlightenment. There are many scriptures on Guru devotion, the most popular being the 50 Stanzas on Guru devotion, by the first century Indian pandit, Ashvagosha.
Guru devotion means that should our Gurus give us an instruction, we should carry it out immediately. There is a caveat though that should we not be able to do whatever the Guru requests of us, we can politely explain why. However, usually our Gurus would never request of us to do what we are unable to, so with that trust that the Guru only acts to benefit us, we should simply follow instructions.
Anyway, everyone teased the guys about their Guru devotion – would they be willing to drag if their Guru asked them? After several moments of hilarity, Rinpoche explained that by dressing in drag, they would actually be practising letting go of their ego and of their attachments. They would be letting go of their attachments to what they think they should be – their perception of who they are; attachments to what they want others to think of them and so on.
We are all conscious of what others think of us to a certain extent. Even the most outwardly confident person has a perception of themselves which they wish to convey to others. When we are in a situation where we have to step out of our comfort zones, it literally becomes rather uncomfortable.
In fact, the more uncomfortable you are about doing something, and yet you do it, it shows that you can overcome your ego, Rinpoche explained. And this was not simply just for fun – it was for a fund raising event which would benefit others. Rinpoche teased them, saying that they didn’t even need to perform. All they needed to do was to stand still on stage and everyone would find it hysterical.
And just to help them make their decisions whether to drag or not, Rinpoche happily reminded them that the event would be videoed, put on youtube, published in our newsletter, on our websites, and that even photos of them would be made into greeting cards! He would even put it on his very popular blog!
The rest of us last night were laughing so hard as the guys looked more and more mortified. Then one by one, they decided to throw all caution (and reputation!) to the wind and agreed to do it.
Rinpoche then became serious and commended them on their decision. He said that although these guys would normally never ever dream of doing drag, because they could see the Dharma angle, they agreed. This kind of decision-making would actually prepare them for Tantra in the future, which is about breaking our own perceptions.
I was just bowled over by Rinpoche’s skilful teaching of the Dharma. He shows us that everything can be a Dharma lesson – even dressing up in drag! Dharma lesson or not, personally, I can’t wait for July 18!
Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column appears every other Friday.