Driving The Car – The Story of Zheng Jun

Zheng Jun, a famous Chinese rock star, attended the Yangtig retreat over Christmas 2016 at Dzamling Gar in Tenerife. He kindly spoke to The Mirror about how he met the teachings and Chögyal Namkhai Norbu.

Interview with Chinese Rock Star Zheng Jun
Dzamling Gar, Tenerife, Spain, 3rd Jan. 2017

Zheng Jun (center) with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at a gathering at the Samtengar House in Dzamling Gar

Zheng Jun (center) with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at a gathering at the Samtengar House in Dzamling Gar

I was born in a very old city called Xi’an into a Christian family. In China there are not so many Christian families. My grandmother’s family was Christian so therefore so were my mother and I. From my teenage years I was really interested in Tibetan things and also in practices like Taoism and Chigung. I even tried to do some meditation but I didn’t do it well because I had no teacher. I tried to learn by myself but it was very difficult, although I did have some experiences.

Even though I was born into a Christian family, I did not feel Christian and I refused to accept Christianity. I really wanted to know the answer – the truth. So when I grew up I went to college quite far from my home in a traditional Chinese city in the south of China called Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a beautiful city. I got baptized when I went to college because my mom influenced me.

My major in college was foreign trade and that is how I learned English. We had an American teacher who let us listen to rock music. That is where I was first introduced to rock music. I was really interested in rock and roll, so I formed my own band in college and I started to learn to play guitar and write songs.I did not have any musical training. When I was young I was interested in painting, in art.

Once I got interested in music I was listening and playing from the morning to the evening and trying to write songs. At one point I tried to go to America; my last year of college a friend asked me if I wanted to come to America to study there. I thought I could finish my university study there, but after I got my American visa, at the same time I met a famous rock band agent in Bejing. My cousin knew him. My cousin had the agent’s telephone number and we called him because we heard his band was looking for a new lead vocal. He invited us there and I gave him my demo tape and he loved it. He told me to come to Bejing to try to become a rock singer. Maybe he was just trying to be nice, but I really believed it, so I gave up the American visa, gave up the flight, and I went to Bejing with the guitar and tried to become a singer. I was like a beggar there. I stayed for several months. I had no money. I was still trying to write songs and I felt really happy because I was doing what I wanted to do. So, after one year, I released my first album.

I had my own band. After the release of my album, I became famous in China and then I got lost. Because I was young, like 24 or 25, and famous, at that time China was not that rich, normal people didn’t have a lot of money, but my friends and I had money, so I got lost. We partied all the time. I got drunk until the morning.

For ten years I lived this kind of life and it almost killed me. I was not happy. Before, I thought maybe one day when I got fame and money I would be happy. When I reached there, I found it was not what I wanted. I was just like a fast car but I was not driving, the car was driving me. Life is just like a car. I am in a beautiful sports car; I feel that I am driving the car, but the car is driving me. And after that kind of life, my ex-wife got tired. She wanted a divorce. We had one a daughter. I was a terrible husband and father.

I was a standard rock star and I guess I was one of the best in China. I stayed with my wife for ten years but actually I was living with my friends. I was lucky that I did not get sick. My home situation was really bad. After I divorced, I moved out and I took nothing with me. I started from the beginning again. So, suddenly I thought life was like a dream. I really wanted to find the truth. I didn’t want to live like this again.

I was always interested in spiritual things, but the problem was that my family is a Christian family and I didn’t want to make my mother sad. In 1997 a friend called me and said, “Do you want to meet a Tibetan master?” I didn’t know why, but I said, “Yes, I want to go!” A master came to the mainland, a city called Guilin. This great master is called Jigme Phungtsok, the founder of one of the biggest Buddhist universities in China. Right now, the center is the biggest in the world located in Sichuan.

My most famous song and the one that made me an overnight success was called “Back Home Lhasa”. When I started to write my own songs, that’s the second one I wrote. When I wrote this song I had never been to Tibet. I wrote this song before five years before I met Jigme Phungtsok. One day I played music with my friends, we drank and played guitar, and this melody came into my mind and these words came up to my mind. That song was a hit. It is very popular in China, a big song, a complete song, but I wrote in just half an hour. I had no idea how I could write the song, it just came. It was just like a dream, I went back to Tibet, I imagined the Potala Palace, everything.

Then I flew to meet Jigme Phuntsok and I stayed there for two days. He gave me an initiation and a Tibetan name: Yeshe Nyingpo. I totally didn’t understand that because I had no idea what was happening. I had just met him but I felt that he was not a normal person. People like Rinpoche and this master are shining from their natural state of mind and wisdom. You can feel their energy, compassion and love are so strong. Jigme Phuntsok gave me a page with my Tibetan name on it with Chinese pronunciation. I thought this was strange and difficult to pronounce.

I put all the stuff away in a book. Then I totally forgot about it. Ten years passed, I got worse and I was down to the bottom of my life. I had this feeling that now it’s time for me to try to find the truth about Tibetan Buddhism. Then, because the people around me, many friends around me, have Tibetan Buddhist teachers and masters, they introduced me to a lot of these masters, but I didn’t have a feeling. Until one day I asked my billionaire friend, who studied Tibetan Buddhism from when he was 19 years old: “Could you introduce me to some great masters who can teach me?” “Well, you can do the one-hundred syllable mantra. You can start from that.” Suddenly I remembered that when I met Jigmed Phuntsok, he gave me something just like that. Then I told him the name. He said, “Oh, that’s a great master! So, you can find his teachings from the Internet, with this, you have to receive the initiation.” “I got the initiation ten years ago!” Then I tried this for one week. Then, something happened.

One day at a party I met a friend, a famous businessman. At that time we should have talked about business, but my friend introduced us saying, “Oh, you guys have the same subject to talk about because you both are very interested in Tibetan culture.” Then we just talked about Tibet and Buddhism. He said, “Tomorrow morning, I am going to meet a young Tibetan Buddhist master. Do you want to come with me?” I said, “Sure. I want to meet him.” The next day, I went to the place, an apartment in a building. There was a dark room and a young man sat there and some older guys at beside him. My friend who introduced me just led me there and he left. We talked, the young Tibetan master was very quiet, and the other guys asked me where I was living. I said where I lived and the young master said we lived very close to each other.

The young master said, “You can visit me one day.” Then, he gave me a book saying, “I have a book. It’s a gift for you. But it is in Chinese. It is written by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.” This was eight or nine years ago. That young man followed Rinpoche and studied Rinpoche’s teaching. His name is Agarba Lobsang. He is Tibetan. He was born in 1980. He became a monk when he was 4 years old. He lived in Ngawa (Aba), Sichuan. He is a Rime practitioner. He grew up in a Yungdrung Bonpo monastery. He followed the Nepal master Lopon Tenzin Namdak. He is the last real student. He followed him for ten years, finished all his Shangshung Nyenjur teachings, all of these. Finally, last year when we were there, Lopon Namdak gave him his hat and said, “He can represent me to give you all the teachings.”

The night he gave me this book, when I got home I read the book for the whole night. It was called Dzogchen Teachings. That night I was shocked because I felt that this was what I had been looking for all my life – the Dzogchen Teachings. I already felt that I came to this life just for this. So I was really excited. Finally, I found what I was looking for. Then, I contacted this young master. The day after that he was going to Italy to meet Rinpoche. I said, “Tomorrow when you go to meet this Rinpoche, please say thank you for me.” Then, he came back in one month and brought me a new book “Crystal and Way of Light” with Rinpoche’s signature. Rinpoche’s teaching influenced my life and my behavior. After that, I followed the young master and studied Dzogchen with him, how to do contemplation, how to do the tsalung, from then to now for eight years.

Saying good bye to friends at Dzamling Gar

Saying good bye to friends at Dzamling Gar

The greatest part of Rinpoche is that he is full of compassion to give this great teaching to people like me. I am this kind of person, I am crazy, you know, I have done a lot of bad things, but I still have the opportunity to learn Dzogchen from him. That’s so great! These eight years I was trying to be at present most of the time, and remain in the state of contemplation. I don’t want to say I am doing well, but I can say I tried my best.

I was still doing my music but my interest moved to Dzogchen. The first time I fell in love with rock and roll and the second time I fell in love with Dzogchen. So every morning I woke up, I just did my homework. I love all this stuff. I don’t know why, maybe I am just the kind of person that when I am interested in something I insist on doing that. So eight years is not that easy to repeat doing something, again, again, everyday. That needs devotion and people around me saw me as crazy.

In one year, the guy, the businessman, who led me to the young master, called me again. Before that, we didn’t have contact. I thanked him for introducing me to the young Rinpoche. He told me that the teacher of the young master, Yeshe Khenpo, of Langyi Monastery in Amdo, Aba, was in Bejing. When he became a monk he was in a Gelugpa monastery and then he became a Bonpo. Now he is a Dzogchen practitioner, but he doesn’t belong to any school.

Yeshe Khenpo really admires two Dzogchen masters, one is Lopon Tenzin Namdak, and the other is Namkhai Norbu. He said he listened to their tapes and their teaching daily; they are the best. He is not famous, but he did retreats for many years. He just focuses on Dzogchen. The day I met him, I told him, “I want to be your student.” He said, “I don’t have too many Chinese students because Chinese people like to talk too much, and I don’t know which one is real, and which one is lie. So I don’t have too many Chinese students.” I felt very disappointed. He said, “You can follow the young Rinpoche to study because normally I don’t stay in Beijing. I stay in the Tibetan region.”

I was disappointed, but before I left I told my friend that he refused me as a student. He said, “No problem, I am going to talk with him later.” Then I said, “I have offered money, please give it to him.” He said, “You should give it by yourself.” The doors were all closed, and he just opened the door for me to give it. I opened the door. Yeshe Khenpo sat there asking, “What?” I said, “ I have some offerings to give you.” He said, “No, not this time! Maybe later. Maybe in the future.” I was really upset. I was almost crying. Because I felt I found him, the guru, he was there, and that was the one I wanted. I almost cried that night. I thought I was so unlucky, I met this master and I wanted to be his student, but he refused me.

The next morning my friend called me, “Come to my home.” I said, “What’s happening?” He told me that the night beforeYeshe Khenpo was doing his Chöd practice. Then he opened the door and he said, “This is my student, let him come.” Then I went there but I didn’t have time, I had only three days. I was supposed to go to America because I have a business in America.

Then my business partner called me. My English name is Michael and he said, “Michael, sorry, I am sick. I need one week to take a rest.” He had his appendix removed. Then I had ten days living near by the lama since our houses are very close. Everyday I walked there, he said something just like Rinpoche said, “According to our tradition, you have to do preliminary practices. The practice finishes and then I can teach you. But the situation here is different. You are not young anymore, I worry before you finish this practice you will die. So, how about we just start right now?”

Then he taught me how to do this meditation, contemplation thing. He gave me the direct introduction. Actually, the first time I read Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s book, I felt I got his direct introduction. But the second time, I got it from my Lama Yeshe Khenpo, and that made me confirm that feeling, this natural state of mind. Then, I started to do all these practices for eight years, almost nonstop.

After eight years the Yeshe Khenpo went back to Tibet. The young master, Agarba Lobsang Rinpoche, stayed in Beijing most of the time, so he taught me a lot. He is my teacher too. Agarba Lobsang Rinpoche, the young Lama and his root lama,Yeshe Khenpo – they were my two main teachers. Also I met Lopon Tenzin Namdak, the most important lama for the young Rinpoche. And Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.

My story regarding Chögyal Namkhai Norbu is that I had heard of him for a long time, eight years prior. I had read several of his books. And one day I heard that Rinpoche was coming to Shanghai. Agarba Rinpoche told all his students that Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche is one of the greatest in masters in the world, so all his students should know him. Many of his students flew to Shanghai to meet Rinpoche and I went there, too. That’s the first time I met Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. That was in 2014. We flew to Shanghai to meet him. Rinpoche came and gave a public talk. And then I went back to Beijing and thought, “Maybe this time I didn’t have an opportunity to meet him closely.”

When I was back in Beijing, Wes was preparing for Rinpoche to give a public talk at Beijing University. This was not easy in Beijing because Beijing University is very traditional and sensitive about whether they should invite a religious figure to do this. Wes called his friends and asked who could help to get permission. I had friends who were in charge of this and I called them and we got the permission.

Rinpoche came to Beijing. I told Wes that if he needed help with cars to call me. And he said, “If you have cars, maybe we need more cars.” So, my driver and I went to Rinpoche’s hotel and we all drove to the university together. When we left the university, they couldn’t find their own cars and they used my car, so we drove Rinpoche to the hotel. And that is the first time we had an opportunity to talk.

Then another day they had some meeting, but I was busy, I couldn’t go there because I had a concert in Beijing. They knew that and they asked if Rinpoche could attend the concert because he was free. I was shocked. The concert was sold out, so we had to find ten tickets for them. They came and sat in the first row. My concerts are noisy, you know, rock n’ roll. I was worried about that because they sat so close. The speakers are really huge. But Rinpoche has a really young heart. He enjoyed the rock n’roll all the time. I sang “Back in Lhasa” and before I sang, I did some prayers to Guru Padmasambhava.

I worried and was a little bit nervous because I didn’t know whether Rinpoche would like the concert or not. After the show I ran to Rinpoche asking, “Are you ok with this?” “I loved it!” he said, “I enjoyed it!” So, that made me really happy. You know, when you are performing on the stage, you feel the presence or your state of contemplation because you have to focus and concentrate. And at that moment, if you observe yourself, your mind, you can feel a very strong clarity. So, I did that on stage sometimes. And that day I felt really good. The day after that, Rinpoche was leaving for Japan.

Then, my young master Agarba Rinpoche called me, asking, “What have you been doing?” I said, “I met Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche here in Beijing.” I told him what had happened and he said, “Oh, that’s great! Could you say hello to him for me? I am coming from Europe to Beijing. Is possible to meet Rinpoche in Beijing?” Then I called Wes, he said, “Rinpoche is leaving at that time, how about we let them meet in the airport?” That was great.

So, the next day, I drove to the Rinpoche’s hotel. I drove Rinpoche, Rosa and Migmar to the airport. So on the road for an hour or something, I talked to Rinpoche, “I really want to thank you, a face-to-face thank you, for the Dzogchen teachings I received from you. Before that, I knew nothing about Buddhism, but that is not important. You gave teachings about Dzogchen, that’s what I want. Dzogchen teachings don’t belong to any religion. It is just about the truth.” So I thanked him and told him what my two lamas said about him and he was happy. He said, “Yes, you are right

In October of 2015, Agarba Rinpoche and Chögyal Namkhai Norbu met in the airport, one just returned and one was leaving. When they met each other, immediately they were talking about the view, about the Dzogchen teaching. They had a discussion. That surprised me. Two of them are both Dzogchen practitioners, they are not just like religious people, they are not doing superficial things and they go directly to the point. They had a long talk in the airport.

I felt very happy about it. These people are real Dzogchen practitioners and that means that the Dzogchen transmission is alive in the world. That’s so great for us! One master is older and one is young. They made me feel really touched. I felt they are full of compassion.

Then Rinpoche left, I drove the young Rinpoche to his house, asking him, “What were you talking about?” He said, with a great master like Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, anytime you have the opportunity to meet him, you should ask him about the teaching. We don’t have those nonsense conversations, those kind of talks.” He said, “He is the teacher, you should ask him about the teaching and the transmission.”

That really touched me, because Dzogchen is not just a teaching, it is a way to live and behave. So that influenced me a lot. I felt the rest of my days are still like a sports car, but I can drive the car, I am the driver. Life is the car. That was the first time I felt so free, so relaxed, so comfortable, and so happy. No matter what happens in my life, that experience has changed me. So in the future if I have the opportunity to help other people, and they can contact the Dzogchen teaching, I would like to.

I meet many people but just like Rinpoche said, most people aren’t interested in the teaching, because human beings always like to choose the easy way. To live like a Dzogchen practitioner you first really need to understand that and find that state, and that is not easy. The moment you’ve found it, you never want to lose it. One of my brothers became a practitioner. He is a very successful businessman, but right now spends a lot of time doing Dzogchen practice and contemplation.

You know, many people are interested in Buddhism but not interested in freedom. They are interested in a more convenient life or getting richer or more famous or more comfortable. So they want to do a trade with Buddha, but they don’t want to set themselves free. They want to get more material things, and that’s a tragedy.

People like Rinpochee are full of compassion. For me, this kind of person is special. I am so selfish. I try to be like that, but it is so hard, so hard to forget about yourself and benefit human beings and sentient beings. It sounds easy, but when you try to do it, it is so hard. We all have egos and that makes you feel hopeless sometimes. You try, you fail, and you try again. So you really need big courage for that.

This Yangtig Retreat was my first big retreat with Rinpoche. At this time of year it is very difficult for me to leave China, because on New Year’s Eve there are a lot of big shows for musicians. My manager and my wife didn’t want me to come to the retreat.

For these seven days I have been so very happy. Before I came here, I met my young Rinpoche and asked, “This time I am going to meet the Rinpoche, what’s your advice?” He said, “I hope you go there to get the Rinpoche’s teaching because you’ve already done the tregchö practice for several years, and I want you to get these teachings from him.” And when I came here, and saw him and met Rinpoche, to tell you the truth, what I felt is that Rinpoche is so great. He is Dzogchen himself; he is living Dzogchen. I also felt that the people around him should know how lucky they are!

They should know how lucky they are and they should follow his teaching and spend more time on his teaching. That’s the most important thing. Dzogchen is not to worship someone or make someone a god. You follow him by following his teaching, that’s real following. So we should really do what Rinpoche asks us to do. That means you really respect Rinpoche.

Transcription and translation into Chinese by Lianhai Edward Wang
Proofread by Wes Guo
Edited by Liz Granger and Naomi Zeitz