Tuesday, 4 December 2007

In Memory of Ian Maxwell

Ian Maxwell, one of Sogyal Rinpoche's oldest students, passed away in Paris on 4 December 2005.

Ian first met Sogyal Rinpoche in London in 1977. He began to work for Rigpa shortly afterwards. While in London, he met all the great teachers who passed through the centre in those early years. He received teachings and empowerments from Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche and Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche on many occasions. In the 1980s, he was one of the first Western students to complete a traditional three year retreat.

Ian's contribution to Rigpa was enormous. He established a long-term retreat programme at Dzogchen Beara, Rigpa's retreat centre in Ireland, where so far more than 100 people have successfully completed long-term retreats.

He also worked hard to establish the Rigpa Shedra, or 'centre of learning', which is now in its sixth year and which has attracted many of the most eminent teachers of Tibetan Buddhism and numerous students from all parts of the world.

In the 1990s, Ian traveled extensively throughout America, Australia and all over Europe, giving talks, guiding countless students and clarifying their practice.

Ian played a central role in the development of the Rigpa curriculum which established a structured programme of study and practice for students throughout the whole Rigpa Sangha. He also played a major part in the planning and development of the three year retreat currently being held at Rigpa's main retreat centre, Lerab Ling, in southern France.

Toward the end of his life he became increasingly excited about developing new ways for Rigpa to take the Dharma into the business and professional world as an expression of the ideals in the 'Servants of Peace' chapter in 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying'. In fact, there is hardly an area within Rigpa today that Ian did not contribute to.
Ian Maxwell had a great command of Buddhist teachings and had an extraordinary talent for communicating the meaning of Vajrayana teachings and sadhana practice, making them accessible to everyone.

Towards the end of his life he placed great emphasis on the practice of loving kindness. He was an inspiration to many who knew him as an outstanding student of Sogyal Rinpoche and for his exceptional ability to communicate. Whatever question was thrown at him he not only displayed an extraordinary comprehension of the subject in question but also the student felt completely understood and grateful for his empathetic response.

In 1992, at the inauguration of Dzogchen Monastery in South India, he caught the eye of no less than His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he made a speech in his presence. His Holiness was impressed and was later heard to remark, “He seems a very capable person.”

Ian Maxwell passed away in Paris with several of his closest Dharma friends by his side. Phowa practice was performed on his behalf by many great lamas, including Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche who was in Lerab Ling at the time. His funeral included, on his request, loving kindness meditation and chanting the Vajra Guru mantra.

Please post your own memories of Ian here!


Anonymous said...

open minded, brilliant, heartful...whatever you wish may come true!
What a good advise you gave: "...give it away".
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

i am used to be the first point of contact at the old rigpa in a strange desolate hidden part of camden town. i used to drop in around lunch time and Ian was the first peron i met who was a keen dharma student and not precious and uptight about it. he was a great first meeting point for someone like me who just wanted a feel for what was going on in this foreign and strange religion he was never uptight, but just warm and welcoming and grounded. i am sadddend to hear of his change

eribel said...

you will always be missed...your sense of humour,your twinkling smile,your heartfelt tender understanding,your unfailing devotion and loyalty to Rinpoche,.....
Thank you
May we always meet again

Anonymous said...


The first time I met Ian was in the « Open the Heart » retreat at Lerab Ling, in 1994. I suppose it was the equivalent of the « Meditation » retreat, or the « Book » retreat, in today’s terms.

My mother had died a few months before, and having encountered Rinpoche’s book and received a little flyer concerning the retreat from Rigpa, I showed it to my then wife, saying “Umm, I think I’d kind of like to go to this…” She responded: “I think you have to go to this! It’ll change your life!”

I did; and it did.

It was there that I met Ian, who, with Olivier, did the “warm-up act” before Rinpoche arrived a couple of days later. Someone at one point asked: “But you must be enlightened, then, if you’re teaching us all this”, or something like that. Ian answered: “Oh, no, I’m not enlightened at all. And you’ll be quite sure, when Rinpoche gets here, that you’ve met someone who really, truly lives all the time in the nature of mind…!”

Nevertheless, the group of retreatants was, as Rinpoche himself said, “quite special.” We were from all over the world, but immediately entered into the retreat atmosphere — probably because of Ian, in large measure. His warm, calm, funny self-effacing approach to everything just wrapped us all in a lovely shawl of compassion and non-guilt. He grasped entirely our guilt-ridden culture, and calmly defused it. My copy of his tape, which begins with “This morning, I’d like to begin to introduce ‘compassion’…” is almost worn out: I’ve listened to it at least a hundred times. (Luckily, I’ve transferred it to an iPod, and a hard disk, from whence Amitayus will ensure it’s immortality!)

At one point, there was a “question-and-answer” period, and as was usual for me at the time, I couldn’t resist getting on stage. I said something like:

“I live in an old house, which I’m renovating. In this house live even more spiders than those who live in our tents here in Lerab Ling, and one of my husbandly duties is to dispatch these spiders to a better life. Is there a mantra for doing this?”

The whole place erupted in howls of laughter and furious clapping. I (my ego, of course) was delighted.

Ian turned, with his lopsided grin, to Olivier, and said: “You want to try that one?” More laughter.

Needless to say, I got no answer to my flippant question. But I did make a connection to the master.

At the end of the session, outside the shrine tent, I scurried up to Ian to ask him a more serious question, about practice, or something. Turning back in his stride up the courtyard to recognize me, he said, with a big grin, “Oh, yeah, you’re the smart-assed kid who asked the question about the spiders!”. I don’t remember what else he said, but it was appropriately impermanent. I knew, simply, that Ian knew who I was.

But Ian, in treating me — at the age of fifty-something — as a “smart-assed kid”, had made a mark: my ego was still a child.

Several years later, I had the pleasure of having Ian stay in my apartment in Paris. Not much, just a fold-out sofabed, but for Ian it was a palace. One morning I said: “Umm, Ian, if it’s alright with you, I think I’ll go into the shrine room and do a bit of practice…” He replied “Oh, don’t worry about a thing, Norm, just treat this place like it was your own…!”

Once again, the lovely contrapuntal humour of impermanence and non-grasping, the blithe acceptance of the flow of life, its hilarity.

Later, I was to come to Lerab Ling to another retreat, after a long period of no contact with Ian. I was coming up the courtyard, toward the barn, and Ian was in conversation with someone who I didn’t know. Without quitting the other person’s eyes, he extended his left arm to embrace me in a warm, loving salutation. I left it in tears, warm tears, knowing that my whole heart belonged to the Dharma, thanks to Ian.

The fact — and death is a fact — that Ian is leaving us in this life, is, at least for me, terribly sad. My tears won’t stop.

But yet, there is an enormous hope, light, and clarity in the knowledge that he can never leave us: he’ll always be here, now, in our being. Tomorrow, I’ll hear his chuckle, I’ll hear him say “Oh yeah? Well, everybody feels like that. Or is it just me?”

No, it can never be “just me”. “There’s only one of us, you know?” said God to Neal Walsch.

If indeed there is only one of us, I’m immensely proud to be one with Ian. Vajra pride. What a wonderful being, what a wonderful friend, spiritual friend.

May he come back soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi all
my name is Michele and I'm from Italy.
I met Ian first in Prapoutel, the extraordinary 1990 summer retreat that started the new wave of Rinpoche's and Rigpa activity.He was incredibly friendly and open to a newcomer as I was, even though he was immersed in a tremendous amount of work in order to prepare the best welcome for such a master as Dilgo khyentse Rinpoche. Over the years, as I became a regular student at summer retreats, Ian was always there with his lightness and humour, and also so clear and precise in his presentations of complex subjects as sadhanas and visualizations.
He is really dear to my heart and I feel so grateful to him.
Ciao, Ian, and think of us!!

Anonymous said...

During my last two years in London, when taking part in the Rigpa`s sangha, I had the opportunity of joining many of the practices, teachings and retreats by Sogyal Rinpoche, where Ian was often asked by Him to answer student`s questions and clarify some points of the teaching. His charisma, friendliness and knowledge always impressed me. I am quite sure that if he had or has to take rebirth he will have a very fortunate one, with a new chance to meet, serve and make progress in the Dharma.
Anamelia, from Brazil

erika belair said...

It was in the early days at Princess Road that I met Ian first.
At the time Ian was working at night to make a living and spending most of the day in the Rigpa office working closely with Rinpoche.Despite considerable pressure he really cared for people and was one of the few who did not talk about me but to me.
He always took the time to listen and understood my suffering of not being able to integrate in daily life and the Rigpa Sangha.
He often gave me very practical and grounded advise and in many ways he was my bridge to Sogyal Rinpoche to whom I had only limited contact and access even then.
It was Ian’s way of saying ‘Sure’ that I remember most clearly and his unshakeable confidence.He was like a brother to me and gave me some of the family feeling that made those days so precious.
Unable to give up my nomadic lifestyle I went my own ways but Ian's ‘Sure‘ became one of my road mantras.
Then 25 years later at the end of a Teaching Ian walked past me and said ‘Hi Erika’ with such infinite tenderness and compassion in his voice that it still brings tears to my eyes.
I feel honoured by him remembering and by having met him.

It could be a sign of mental and emotional imbalance to write an email to a dharma brother who has passed away....and yet sometime afterwards I had a dream showing that if an email is written truly from the heart it can reach a place of infinite tenderness and compassion where there is no separation.

cananeoy said...


Canan Eoy

Anonymous said...

Ian and I used to talk about music and he told me about an encounter he had with one of the great musicians (and fighter against corruption) of Nigeria, Fela Kuti.
Ian was travelling in Nigeria; he had had some money sent to him to collect from a post office but when he got there, the money had gone. Ian was now penniless. It was clear the money had been pocketed but he could do nothing. He met someone (I forget who)to whom he told his story. This person suggested that he go to Fela Kuti's compound and speak to him about it. And this is what Ian did. He described going to meet Fela Kuti who got up from his chair, saxophone in hand. Ian was made welcome and housed whilst he contacted the UK to get some more money sent out.

kalb3 said...

In the mid 90's whilst living in Seattle, I was fortunate to know and be friendly with Ian. I was (and still am) a Rigpa neophyte and Ian's understanding, explanations, friendliness and kindness made a mark still stainless in my mind and heart.

Later I was to assist in a weekend teaching with him by taking charge of recording. He commented that I showed equanimity in figuring out how to make the tape machine and microphone work. Gratitude and blessings to him in journey...