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What the Stupa in the Snow is about

Look, it’s hard to find a picture with a reasonable smile. This one is the best I can find! (Actually I’ve now let my beard grow back, so I suppose I should find a new one.)

Alex Wilding in Kathmandu
The author in Baudha, Kathmandu

Yes, this page is about me, me, me. There is a reason: all those people out there who won’t come clean about their qualifications and experience, but want you to admire their spiritual wonderfulness all the same. My claims are much smaller, and here they are. This is the label on my tin – you get what it says.

Early browsing

My name is Alex Wilding. I’m a baby-boomer from the English Midlands, where I was given a good education that led to an MA from Oxford. Mind you, I only just passed, as the whole education was aimed at creating industrial managers, which was not where I wanted to go. Perhaps I should have changed courses (like Freda Bedi did in her day), but courage failed me.

I was drawn towards Buddhism in tiny steps. When I was four years old I proclaimed that Chinese music was my favourite kind, a fact that I now find seriously difficult to explain.

If I remember correctly, the very first thing that went “ping” in my mind, so that I knew that I had to learn more about it was a copy of “Secret Tibet” by Fosco Maraini, which I borrowed from Solihull Public Library, probably in 1963. Soon I devoured every book I could find about things mystical, mysterious and, in particular, “oriental”. I spent a lot of time among the shelves two thirds of the way towards the back of the basement of the Midland Educational by New Street Station, Birmingham (corner of Lower Temple Street). Many, many hours went by in Birmingham Reference Library.

Birmingham Reference Library
Birmingham Reference Library – you can almost smell it!

I had no mentor, so I took in Theosophy, Paul Brunton, a bit of Ouspensky, gosh (have to tell the truth here) Lobsang Rampa, Huxley, Marco Pallis, Edwin Arnold, Alan Watts, Edward Conze, Christmas Humphreys, Alexandra David-Neel, the Evans-Wentz translations, yoga and much, much more weird stuff. I followed no particular sequence and had no scheme. I trusted that if I chucked everything in and let it compost down I might come out with something fertile. More by luck than judgement, that seemed to happen.

Over time I saw that Buddhism was the way to go. I was drawn to the crystal clear core combined with the glorious ornamentation of special methods.

Getting into it properly

In 1974, while staying at what was then called Kham Tibetan House, I formally became a Buddhist (“took refuge”) with Lama Chime Rinpoche. Since then I have been fortunate enough to also receive teachings from quite a number of other, mostly Kagyu or Nyingma teachers, high and low*.

Chime Rinpoche and author
Chime Rinpoche and myself, garden party, ca. 1980. My daughter is now the mother of my teenage grandchildren! (Picture probably by Ed Henning.)

To compensate for the undisciplined start to my studies, I worked for an M.Phil. in the History and Phenomenology of Religion at Leicester University. I wrote a thesis on “Initiation in Tibetan Buddhism”, and the degree was awarded in 1979. (The thesis, by the way, which is not available digitally, is absolutely not worth reading now. I checked.)

And as a result…

I am not an academic doctor, nor a lama with years of retreat to my name. But I’ve been around a bit, seen a few things, done a bit of practice, played a part in organization and read a lot of books – some of them even closely! My practice these days is centred on a particular body of Nyingma teaching, the Dudjom Tersar.

I also travelled, though not a lot.

You can get a small travelogue, Benchen and Back, about the visit to Kham in eastern Tibet and Lhasa from Amazon. It’s dated, very much just of it’s time, and the writing is wordy. But hey! It’s cheap!

Waaay back then on the plains of Amdo
Waaay back then on the plains of Amdo

Buddhist culture is really very different from European culture. It would be easy to reject things of value as “cultural baggage”; and it would be easy to swallow too much uncritically out of infatuation. The biggest thing I can offer is a bit of perspective, and that’s what I’m trying to do with this site.

Why do I bother?

You might think that I am rather blowing my own trumpet here, so I say this: look around on the web. You will easily find teachers and would-be teachers, some of them even famous with large organisations, whose qualifications evaporate when examined. See what happens if you ask to see a recognition document, an authorization document, a certificate of qualification or other confirmation of the claim. You may get no answer at all, the claims may disappear from the site, or you may get a combative “answer” that does not address your true question.

This is compounded by the fact that many would-be teachers clearly have little or no idea what they’re talking about. How is the beginner to separate these from the other, high-quality material that is also out there on the web? I think it is time for us all to be totally upfront about our qualifications and experience – and our lack.

So if you have any doubts about the few claims I have made here, please ask. I will answer. My email address is yeshedorje@chagchen.org.

* An alphabetical list of the better known includes Akong Rinpoche, Ato Rinpoche, Ayang Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Dekhung Gyaltsay Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, HH Dalai Lama, HH Karmapa XVI, HH Tai Situpa, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Khandro Thrinlay Chodon, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Lama Khemsar Rinpoche, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, Ngagpa Karma Lhundub, Pema Dorje Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche. Yep, I kept a list, complete with dates and places.

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