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Steve Silberman: Throughout the book, you describe the difficult job of balancing a marriage, a family, and your own life against Rinpoche’s historic work. I imagine that a lot of people who are married to important figures find themselves in this situation. Did you ever feel you were being taken advantage of as a woman by ceding first place to his work as a spiritual teacher?
Diana Mukpo: Not at all. Had I not had a commitment to the dharma myself, I might not have been able to understand it. But all the way along I realized that what Rinpoche was doing was going to enrich the lives of thousands and thousands of people, so had I tried to claim him for myself I think it would have been tremendously selfish. I think that I was able to understand that completely. At the same time, I always knew unconditionally that if I needed him, he would be there. He was fiercely loyal to the family in that way. So, that was not a problem for me.
Steve Silberman: Another thing for which he was known, and which is a source of controversy, is having many lovers among his students. You address this very straightforwardly and honestly in the book. That’s something that most spouses would find difficult to live with. How were you able to?
Diana Mukpo: Well, I know the whole thing was very unconventional, yet at the same time I felt completely, totally loved and adored by Rinpoche. So I never questioned the root, the fundamental aspects of our relationship. Yes, the first time he slept with somebody I had a very difficult time with it, but generally after that I understood he was much more than just my husband. Rinpoche had intimate relationships in many different ways with many of his students, and the fact that he slept with different women was an expression of the intimacy that he had with people. Another thing that was important was that Rinpoche never attempted to hide anything about his behavior. He was always forthright and there were no secrets. I didn’t really have any difficulty with it because I think that people were never exploited. The hallmark of Rinpoche’s life, the way I saw him, was that he never did harm to others, and people came out of those experiences feeling good. So, within the nonconceptual, unconventional aspects of the whole thing, it all worked out fine.
Steve Silberman: Perhaps because of those kinds of controversies, do you think he has been misunderstood by the culture at large, or even by his own students?
Diana Mukpo: That’s interesting. Rinpoche was never free from controversy, but I think he has been more misunderstood after his death than when he was alive, which was one of the motivating factors for writing this book. Because he had such a powerful presence and his actions were so appropriate, they made sense to people when they were in a particular situation with him. But when you tell the story out of context, it’s easy to misunderstand it. People develop various lines of thought because they don’t have the total picture, and I think there’s been a little bit of that since his death. When he was alive and people had direct experience of him, that wasn’t so much the case, because he had such a powerful, electric presence and he connected with people so strongly.
Steve Silberman: Did you have to go through any blocks in yourself or fears in order to write the book?
Diana Mukpo: No. I think that because of my relationship with Rinpoche I’ve always felt comfortable plunging headlong into things. I know that Rinpoche’s life was full of controversy, and that we didn’t particularly take a comfortable road. I’m sure some of the responses to my book will not be free of controversy either, but I’m ready for that. It was not an ordinary life. It’s not an ordinary book.
Steve Silberman: What lessons did you learn from Rinpoche’s death?
Diana Mukpo: I think the same lessons that many of his close students learned. There was a tremendous feeling of protection when he was alive. Then when he was no longer with us, we had to figure things out for ourselves. On an ongoing basis Rinpoche’s close students have had to internalize the teachings and really understand them. They’ve had to take the responsibility to implement the teachings in their lives. It’s been a continual growth process and I think his close students have developed into quite remarkable people. As difficult as it was, it almost took Rinpoche’s death for people to gain a better grasp of his teachings.
Steve Silberman writes about science, creativity, technology, and the brain for Wired magazine. He fondly remembers Allen Ginsberg telling a class at Naropa in 1977 that the students who hadn’t yet taken meditation instruction were “amateurs in a professional universe.” Silberman and his husband live in San Francisco.
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