Comments on “Ngakpa Chögyam”


Etymology Please

The link to the dead blog concerning the meaning of your Rinpoche's names was a bit confusing. Could you give us a little etymology and a simple explanation.

BTW, in Japanese, as fish mature, they acquire different names (and flavors). This was a bit confusing to me when I first landed in Nippon. I too have taken on different names over the years but not because of any advance in spiritual ability, unfortunately. :-)


"Ngak'chang" is sNgags 'chang in Tibetan spelling. sNgags means mantra, and 'chang is "hold on to". "sNgags 'chang" is often translated "master of mantra."

Various names, occassion and meaning

So, may I as the history of your teacher's names and what status change prompted them?

(1) "?" <-- Birth (reincarnation of Aro Yeshé)
(2) ? <-- Ordination
(3) Ngakpa Chögyam Rinpoche ["ocean of dharma"]<-- ?
(4) Ngak'chang Rinpoche [mantra-holder teacher] <-- ?


Oh, there's several others there. He might not be able to remember them all himself; I certainly can't. If you spend enough time in Tibetan circles, you get tons of them.

#1 I don't know; he hasn't told anyone his birth name, to save his family of origin from weirdness. For #2, "Ngakpa Chögyam" is an ordination name, but might not be his first one. #3, "Rinpoche" is sometimes misunderstood as either a title or part of a name, but it's not really either. Especially, there is no ritual or formal process that confers it. It's an informal marker of respect that develops through usage. #4 is the one linked to. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche told Aro students to start using that name.

"to same his family of origin

"to same his family of origin from weirdness"
<----- OK, I will put a yellow light on that one if you don't mind (for obvious reasons).

I do the same with my blogging name, but that is because I lead two lives that I can't mix. If, however, my life was nothing but my blogging and I lived off it, I could use my "real" name.

What happened to you protecting your family of origin? :-) Or is "David Chapman" your pen name?

Yellow light

"David Chapman" is my birth name. I was going to write this site under a pseudonym, basically because that's what most bloggers do; but Lama Shardröl encouraged me to use my real one, and in retrospect she was absolutely right. I think it does give what I say a little extra credibility.

Presumably no one cares about me one way or another, based on my writing about Buddhism. I'm a Buddhist nobody. The likelihood of anyone acting weird toward my family based on what they read here is very low. I also am retired, so I have no professional reputation to protect.

Ngak'chang Rinpoche has attracted some hatred, and harassment, from crazy people in the past, based on being a white Lama of a yogic disposition. It's hard to know what such people might do.

His parents were Christians, and his brother is a respectable bank manager. He was always "out" to his family, but they would not have appreciated attention from Buddhists—whether positive or negative.

Unasked question

Maybe I should also answer a question you didn't ask. "Isn't it possible that he is using this 'protecting his family' story to cover up the fact that he did something nasty under an old name, and if we knew what it was, we'd have a very different opinion of him?"

The answer is: "Yes."

I don't think it's likely. But with anyone you interact with, including all spiritual teachers, it's possible they have dark secrets. One shouldn't be naive to that possibility. On the other hand, overestimating its likelihood leads to paranoia.


Yes, I was trying to be polite but still curious. But I'd say when one is does not share their birth information, the default should be doubt and this should never be consider paranoia but wisdom.

Obama still seems very odd to me. (ooops, sorry, not trying to get political) "0-0"
Thanx for bring out my doubt, though.

too english to ask

She-zer Khandro's picture

Dear all,

I am an ordained student of Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen. I know Ngak'chang Rinpoche's given name - and Khandro Déchen's for that matter. To my knowledge it is not a secret from anyone who is a personal student. I didn't know their names for a number of years because it never occured to me to ask and I was too English to ask purely out of curiosity, but when I did ask the information was freely given. I am sure their western given names are not publicised due to concerns about their family, but also because actually they really are not relevant.

In my opinion, in the end, you can only check out a tradition by arms length for so long - after that you have to get down to the nitty gritty and meet some people face to face - especially the Lamas. Honest human face-to-face interaction is the ultimate test. You then have to depend on your own sense of a situation and not what others tell you is happening. If you don't trust yourself, then frankly (and my apologies for bluntness) Vajrayana is not for you.

with best wishes
Ngakma She-zer Khandro

@ She-zer Thank you for

@ She-zer
Thank you for jumping in and sharing ! Your explanation was excellent.
Above, David said, "he hasn't told anyone his birth name". Which seemed, rightfully (I'm afraid), very questionable. But you have cleared that up. Actually, I have changed my name several times too and have no attachments to names and indeed find that changing them can be most useful. It was the keep of a birth name totally secret from a large group of intimately connected friends and students that seemed cautiously odd.

Concerning checking out a tradition at "arms length":
I like David's site "Approaching Aro" because it allows you to approach something which David rightfully calls "unusual" -- albeit for reason which may differ for why I agree with the word. Browsing the Aro site would cause the vast majority of people to stay far away if they were only to evaluate it by looking at the photos. I have tested this phenomena on several friends -- their eyebrows raise tall.

As I commented to David, it is his writing and the writing of the meditation course that has convinced me of the potential richness in this group. I wager to say that people who jump in full go without questioning have certain character traits that are perhaps no less defective than my cautious traits.

Besides, I have never met the group. And I am still trying to arrange that -- it is not that easy. I agree that meeting folks is one of the best ways to learn -- and I really do trust myself on that issue -- you are only seeing me on a blog that invites questions.

I hope that clarifies my doubts -- they were not meant to be offensive.

Best to you,

Tall eyebrows

David said, "he hasn't told anyone his birth name".

I had thought that was true... I'm glad to be corrected... maybe everyone who is anyone knows except me. I never thought to ask him because I didn't care.

Browsing the Aro site would cause the vast majority of people to stay far away if they were only to evaluate it by looking at the photos. I have tested this phenomena on several friends -- their eyebrows raise tall.

This is very useful feedback. Do you think you could say something specific about which photos (or types of photos), and what the reactions are?

We certainly don't want to hide anything, but we also don't want to put off newcomers unnecessarily.


Hey David, Yeah, well She-zer

Hey David,
Yeah, well She-zer kindly cleared that up for us.
Concerning the Aro site, I'd be glad to give my limited insight off line with you by e-mail if you wish. It is difficult in making a public site, as you hint:
(1) Wanting to be open and transparent -- something this site is good at.
(2) Marketing appropriately

I still have not met the group to know how accurate the presentation is. If I took a picture of some of the activities at cub scout camp with my son, I could make the Cub Scouts either look air-head bizarre or earthy fun. The biggest thing pushing a weird thing is when Westerners embrace another culture and dress up. Imagine if there was a Buddhist sect that all dressed native Hawaiian. Or a Men's group that dress Native American and beat drums, or Star War Conventions. I think reinactment people or the society for creative anachronisms are very good fun -- but most people think they are very weird.

Probably, in terms of numbers, the folks that find any of those groups really inviting are in the tail ends of the normal curve (like about >3 SD), and certain +/- 1SD folks would judge them pretty quickly. So, it depends on what audience you want to reach. It is all marketing, eh?


Ah—thanks—that is helpful.

The robes, for better or worse, are non-negotiable. I think most of us involved with communicating with the public agree that they are a significant obstacle, but they are so entwined with the history of the lineage that dropping them is not an option.

On my list of pages to write for this site someday is one about that. I'll increment its priority...

Images and Impressions

Ah yes, I was not actually speaking about this site but about the main Aro site. But a section on the robes and paraphernalia would probably be good eventually.

For examples, on the Aro site, when you want to look up the main teachers (Lamas), this picture always starts the eyes rolling -- and it is the main picture. This uniform, though after reading other stuff it became a little more clear, also seems a bit odd.

Overall, the photos are fantastic -- like this Apprenticeship page. But then you get to the "Other Teachers" page and you wonder -- do these folks dress like this all the time?

Again, I am not saying they should be changed, but for the folks who find that stuff odd, making the main photo pages of these people only show them like that probably puts them off. Not that it matters, of course, but you asked. Putting up normal fun photos up (as on the Apprenticeship page) and then putting the robed and uniformed photos on another page with an explanation but not as a main page, might be the approach that would soften that effect, I'd imagine.

Again, I think all this stuff is just fine, but then I am a denizen of the +2 SD tail. Smile

Presto changeo

Excellent. I have amended all three pages accordingly. Thank you very much!

In reality, anyone who is not a couple of standard deviations out is going to be scared off by something else—our enthusiastic use of human remains, maybe. Or singing in Tibetan, or whatever. But it's better not to scare people off who might be able to get past those things if they meet and like an Aro group.

I am starting to think that you might be right about nested comments. I'm feeling a little claustrophobic, squeezed over to the right margin here!

Pleasing the Masses

Nice changes. I will write other little suggestions off line.
I think you might be able to get a few +1SD folks with the right marketing and evolution. Yeah human femurs to make rain, and skulls to enjoy cappuccinos may be a bit much for ordinary folks in the beginning -- I'd keep that part secret until they are initiated and invested ! :-)

sory but it's the first time

ricardo brito's picture

sory but it's the first time i hear that if i went on vacations i shouldn't dress like if i was on vacations, or i shouldn't act like if i was on vacations.
Of course Lamas should dress on their lineage robes (on website photos), just because Aro is a nyingma lineage, and Aro websites are about Aro lineage. What does anyone expects when entering a website, a nyingma lineage website? To see them in their latest fashion? Robes are part of the tradition, are part of practice. Someone interested in a buddhist lineage want's to know all about it, the visual aspect of that lineage, how it sounds, etc... And a website must reflect this.

Honestly, the first impression i remember about Aro lineage (websites) was that people looked like some wild wild west lunatics, because of some cowboy horse riding kind of photos. (those photos where strong enough for me to judge the whole lineage in just a millisecond) They seemed culturally distant from myself, and my "cowboys" mental image was that of retarded people. But i don't think you should take them off. "The problem" was me, not the photos. Then i read the texts and was surprised by it's clarity.

"Yeah human femurs to make rain, and skulls to enjoy cappuccinos may be a bit much for ordinary folks in the beginning" I don't know what you mean by this, but if you are talking about vajrayana ritual objects, everyone familiar with vajrayana knows them, they aren't a secret to anyone, and shouldn't be, since they are part of the practice and a difference between vajrayana and other lineages.

I always discourage people to do any kind of marketing. Marketing purpose is to benefit a brand, not people. Any marketing campaign has the purpose to sell, not to create benefit for the people they are selling to. Profit is the only purpose. Selfishness is the only purpose. I myself prefer knowledge and truth, rather than marketing. But that's just my personal opinion.

Sory if i looked harsh, but i'm not a proficient english speaker, i lack a lot of language skills, and i'm not conected with the cultural language background,.

P.S. I just first met some Aro practicioners (december 2010) at my first Aro (Ling) event with Rinpoche and Khandro Dechen and must say i felt at home.

Best wishes,

Ricardo Brito,
Oporto, Portugal


Hey Richardo,

For the reasons you mentioned of Cowboys, the Robes and Crown stuff as a preliminary intro can perhaps be a bit unnecessarily off-putting. But I agree with you that having it on the site is important -- it is just a matter of where and what sort of explanation and emphasis to give it.

I also feel that making this tradition interesting to the type of Westerners who haven't traveled in "lineage" circle and Guru circles maybe of value. And I believe all communication, all writing is inevitably manipulation and marketing -- I don't have negative coercive connotations necessarily connected to those words though I know they often due in many circles.

BTW, your English is fantastic -- your fresh, honest style shines through even given occ tiny errors. Thanks for the comment. I too hope to meet folks for the first time in March and expect to feel "at home" also.
-- Sabio

Hi Sabio, I can understand

ricardo brito's picture

Hi Sabio,

I can understand what you're saying.
But i have a Shangpa Kagyu background and also spent a lot of years studying several religions, so i apreciate a website that reveals all. I have no patience to play hide and seek :)

But i wonder if you and myself (here and in Aro enquiry forum) where making these questions if the issues you talk about where somehow camouflaged. I think we all should ask all the questions while considering entering a tradition, and i think Aro somehow encourages that, even if you don't have that sort of tendency, like myself. I can't say the same from other traditions i've met, although i wasn't desappointed with them. So, i think this aspect shouldn't be lost and should remain an Aro websites characteristic.

About marketing, i also don't have much against. If Aro websites where on their latest webdesign fashion i would love that, because as we say here in Portugal "eyes also eat". But i really don't care. I can understand the benefits of being a stylished website, and i can understand the benefits of being as it is. Each way has it's pros and cons. As everything.

Best wishes

Ricardo Brito
Oporto, Portugal

Nice to meet you

Bar-ché's picture

Hi Ricardo

How nice to learn that you are from the Shangpa Kagyu. I am extremely interested and inspired by Thangtong Gyalpo. I hope to meet you face to face one day.