Thursday, 5 March 2015

Chatral Rinpoche, No Mind


Chatral Rinpoche at Yangla Sho

It is not easy to know where to begin when trying to describe someone like Chatral Rinpoche. Imagine a Master, one hundred and four years of age. One hundred and four years of life experience! He was like a living, walking, breathing encyclopedia of knowledge and wisdom. His areas of expertise covered fields as diverse as astrology and medicine right through to such mundane things as construction and masonry.

In his younger years he walked the length and breadth of Tibet in the days well before Chinese occupation and he did so in the simplest possible way, with little more than a flimsy tent, a pot for boiling water, a few bricks of tea, dried cheese and tsampa (barley flour). 


All i can really do is bow down in wonder and recall some of the multitude of memories that come to mind and that so beautifully reflect the many facets of the character of this amazing being. How fortunate i have been to have been able to live near such a Master. This alone is the most sublime of teachings!

In the presence of a realised Master one must be prepared for everything. The intensity of life is greatly magnified within their sphere of activity. In the space of a single hour the display of 'samsara' can fluctuate so wildly that one can do little but watch, listen and learn and of course try to keep up with the flow of events....

One morning Rinpoche, and his youngest daughter Tara Deva, and i were strolling around inside his temple compound at Salbari near Siliguri in West Bengal. Rinpoche was stretching his legs and looking over some small construction jobs that were going on. Suddenly, he looked up, turned to the gate and strode out towards the main road. Mentioning, almost as an after thought, in his deep, booming voice that he was off to purchase such and such building materials from the market.

We had no time to grab a bag, or any money, nothing. When Rinpoche got an idea, he would just act on it spontaneously in that very moment. Everything would happen around him in this way and could be very stressful for those of us who were attending him at any given time. One had to be constantly prepared for any and every possible eventuality!

This particular morning we could do nothing but follow because Rinpoche was already out the compound gate and well on his way to the main road before we could even react. Unprepared as we were, at least, on this morning Rinpoche was fully attired, not always the case on these early strolls around the compound.

Before we knew it, he was out on the highway and had flagged down a three wheeled auto rickshaw and deposited himself on the front wooden plank of the rickety vehicle next to the wizened, rather decrepit Indian driver who still had the remnants of a partially smoked bidi stuck into the corner of his mouth. 

We quickly jumped into the back seat and off we went with a spurt of fumes and the splutter of the two stroke auto engine. It whined and puttered and puffed its way down the road towards Siliguri. Every few minutes or so the creaking conveyance would belch and backfire as it lurched its way along the road, skirting potholes and various creatures that were wondering along on their own business.

I cannot forget the image of this 'Lion of the Mountains,' his long white beard splaying outward as wind buffeted us in the un-closed vehicle, his right hand clasping a small metal bar on the roof, and his left in a position of command on his knee, his back straight and his attention focused on the way ahead.

Looking at him, anyone would think that he was at the helm of a mighty ship setting forth on a journey to undiscovered continents.

He was always completely at ease, joyfully attuned to even the least trifle, be it a passing smile on the face of a child, the flash of green leaves in fields of tea bushes, ripe for the harvest, or the white wing of an egret as it sprang from the river.

We bumped along like this for about ten minutes when suddenly another vehicle closed in alongside ours. A gold coloured Mercedes Benz, silent, large and sleek seemed to appear like an eagle in a dream. At that time and in that place such a vehicle was as rarely seen as a flying saucer, at least in North-Eastern West Bengal, in the nineteen nineties.

The window in the second seat unwound and out popped a Bhutanese head. It was the Queen Mother and her royal entourage. Evidently they had arrived from Bhutan some minutes after we had left the compound and were giving chase. The driver was motioned to pull over. Even before the car had stopped in front of our shoddy conveyance, the body guards, in sumptuous Bhutanese royal regalia had leapt out and begun to make full length prostrations right then and there on the side of the road, regardless of the dust and muck.

Never a man for formalities, Rinpoche quietly got out of the auto, gave the driver his dues and strode over to the open back door of the car, quickly disappearing into the lush interior of this new conveyance.

He never missed a beat and was never phased or surprised or put out by anything. He could seamlessly transfer from the rickety, decrepit auto of a peasant to the richly gilded vehicle of a Queen without even blinking an eyelid.

*****

This excerpt is quoted from my book; 
The second volume in the four-part series; Shades of Awareness

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