Why does Tsem Rinpoche snap his fingers before teaching?

16 Apr

I am not sure if you had noticed this before but I have. Over the years, I have witnessed Rinpoche snapping his fingers just as he ascends onto his teaching throne. You know what’s funny? I used to think it was a signal for us clowns (Rinpoche’s term of endearment for us spiritual infants) to prostrate. Well, that was what I thought for years until I read the true meaning behind the gesture in the Liberation in the Palm of Your Hands or Lamrim Namdrol Lachang by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche who compiled and wrote this book based on the notes he wrote during a live teaching given by Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche.

Apparently, Rinpoche had explained that gesture to senior students in the past but I don’t recall that teaching. Anyway, Kechara House was having the Lamrim Recitation Retreat and we were to recite the Lamrim from chapter to chapter and if we can, from cover to cover. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to recite the entire lamrim. Fortunate for me, while I was reciting midway through day 3 of the lamrim, which was on the chapter on how to study and teach the Dharma, I read on the meaning behind this unique gesture of snapping one’s fingers before a teaching.


According to Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, a teacher should generate a virtuous motivation as he walks from his chambers to the teaching hall. A simple visualization of invoking the lineage lamas of that particular teaching dissolving one into another and finally into the teacher’s root lama. Finally, the root lama is dissolved into the teacher himself as he climbs onto the throne. Just before sitting, the teacher snaps his fingers while reciting a verse on impermanence.

Kyabje Pabongka gave an example of a verse on impermanence in the Lamrim,

Like a phantom, a star, or flickering butterlamps,

Happiness is an illusion, and lasts like a bubble,

A dream, a lightning flash, or a day.

All conditioned phenomena are like this.

While reciting this verse, the teacher should contemplate that the feeling of sitting on a high throne lasts only for a short while. With that, the teacher suppresses any feelings of inflated ego that the teacher may have of himself at that moment. Then the teacher recites mantras and prayers to evict negative spirits and obstacles. Traditionally, the teacher recites the Heart Sutra that ends with three handclaps to subdue hindrances.

It’s amazing how this simple practice preceded and shaped all the wonderful teachings that Tsem Rinpoche had given throughout the years on YouTube and so forth. The next time you watch a YouTube of Rinpoche giving a teaching on  his throne in Kechara House, watch what he does just before he sits down. (That’s if the editors didn’t edit that part out).


3 Responses to “Why does Tsem Rinpoche snap his fingers before teaching?”

  1. Elisa Khong April 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    That was a really, really great blog post. I honestly enjoyed reading this write up a lot – short, interesting and left me wanting for more! I’ve always wondered why Rinpoche snaps his fingers before Rinpoche sits onto the throne. Definitely one to share on Twitter! Lol

    • There's No Way But Up! April 17, 2013 at 4:21 am #

      Thank you for your comment. I will do more little blog articles about Rinpoche due to popular demand.

  2. charmainewendy May 18, 2013 at 5:45 am #

    Reblogged this on Be Selfless & Compassionate.

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