Michael Uhila Interviews Tsultrim Pawo

michael | tsultrim intvw


Bay area media Producer Michael sits down with his alter ego Tsultrim Pawo for a conversation about his meditation practice, his diverse sangha, and life at Gampo Abbey.

Michael Uhila: Today I am talking with Tsültrim Pawo, who is a monk at Gampo Abbey. Welcome Tsultrim.


Tsültrim Pawo: Thank you for having me Michael. First, I want to thank all the donors that contributed financially for me to get here!


M: Tell me a little about your name. What does the name ‘Tsültrim Pawo’ mean?


T: In Tibetan Tsültrim means ‘disciplined’ and Pawo means ‘warrior’.


M: What made you decide to be a monk for a year?


T: No job, not married, no money, no prospects, no debt and I never been to Canada or Nova Scotia so it seemed to be a practical solution. Maybe I exhausted all my past negative karma before getting here.


M: What do you like about Shambhala?


T: You ever heard the song Road to Shambhala by 3 Dog night? It’s like that. Shambhala is primordial. It doesn’t have to be a mythical place because you are Shambhala and I am Shambhala. As my mother would say “now you know, what are you gonna do about it”?


M: You also practiced Zen before right?


T: Yes, I’ve studied with Roshi Grace Schiressen at the Zen Buddhist community at Stanford University and with Les Kaye at Kannon Dō. Shambhala could always use some more Zen practioners but Zen can do just fine without anybody from Shambhala.


M: Tell us your most memorable experiences with Zen and Shambhala dharma.


T: The first time I heard this teaching by Dogen: “To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self”. I wasn’t sure what that meant but it made sense to me. I remember “You’re a good person” from Level One with Jim Yensen.

“Follow instructions and now forget what you just learned,” was advice given by Acharya Richard John. I remember sitting for 45 minutes straight at IMC when Gil Fronsdale was time keeper. Doing body scans during Level Three with Charity Martin. Denice Everham telling me, “You get this $500.00 check, I get the merit”. Or 4 years ago when I asked the Abbot at Kannon Do Les Kaye if looking at our own nature is like looking in the mirror, and he said, “you must go beyond the mirror”. Charlotte’s teaching on ignorance: “it should be called ‘ignore-ance’.” That dream I had of Acharya Alyn Lyons waiting for me with her luggage. When Roshi Grace Jill Schiresen asked, “Can I get a hug”? The tears trickling down from Achraya Melissa Moore’s eyes before she interviewed me at Rigden weekend.


M: What’s your favorite koan?


T: The coin that is lost in the river is found in the river.


M: So far, what have been some of your favorite moments at the Gampo Abbey?


T: Looking at the snow the first morning I got here. Meditating in the shrine room for the first time. Making three variations of the same soup. Walking Ani Pema Chödron home to her cabin. Looking out at the St. Lawrence Bay every morning. Ani Chödron teaching me the difference between a duvét cover and a duvét.


M: What about the robes?


T: It’s a uniform for a Buddhist monk. A garbage man wears a uniform, a doctor has his uniform, a lawyer wears his legal suit and they all act according to their profession. The same way a police officer takes an oath or a garbage man or even a delivery person for UPS takes an oath that they keep while wearing their uniform. The robes are a reminder. They remind us to keep the vinaya (Sanskrit for vows), which is what the Buddha taught. Since I wear a Buddhist uniform I play by the rules of the vinaya.


M: Do you have a favorite quote by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche?


T: “Discipline is endless.”


M: You are of Tongan and Samoan descent. Correct?


T: Yes, my father is from the Kingdom of Tonga and my mother is from the island of Samoa. They are the warriors of the Polynesian islands. My culture is all about respect or as the Samoans call it Fa’a alo alo.


M: Talk about mindfulness practice in your daily life.


T: I am head of the Housekeeping Department here at the Abbey. One day I had to talk to one of the nuns about some housekeeping plans. I called and I started to chat away about plans for trash and cleaning out the subbasement and halfway through the conversation I realized I was talking to Pema Chödrön! Instead of acting like I made a mistake (I was calling for someone else) I just kept talking to her like she was the one I intended to talk to. That took me from mindless to mindful.


M: Anything else you’d like to say about being a monk at Gampo Abbey?


T: For me, being here is about simplifying life and sticking to the schedule. There is discipline and there is patience, and both are necessary to simplify things. The two are inseparable just like Michael Uhila and Tsültrim Pawo are inseparable. I would like to say “thank you” to all the donors who contributed to my airfare for my return trip to East Palo Alto, California. Thank you all.

4 thoughts on “Michael Uhila Interviews Tsultrim Pawo

  1. Thank you very much Michael Uhila. Now I see your Transformation from Michael Uhila to Tsultrim Pawo Mom and I are very Proud of you, love you always,
    Mom and Dad
    ‘Ofa Atu… Manuia
    Senter & Appollonia Uhilamoelangi

    • Tsultrim I really enjoyed ready this!! I checked out “Kingdom of Tonga” and the island of “Samoa” I think I want to go there.

      It’s so good that you are here at the Abbey.

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