Sunday, 11 March 2012

Ransoming Lives


'Limit yourself to just a few activities and undertake them with all diligence.'

Chadral Rinpoche.

One of the 'activities' that Chadral Rinpoche
undertook with 'all diligence' was and remains the annual fish release in the sacred Indian river, the Ganges, at the point where it finally flows out into the Bay of Bengal and the wide open sea.

He began this project in the 1960,s with little more than an old wooden canoe, a few bucket loads of fish and a couple of helpers. Today, the work is carried on principally, by His wife, Sangyum Karmala and various sponsors and volunteers and is now a large operation involving many helpers, a number of boats and many truck loads of fish which are purchased from the fish farms in and around Kolkata and then released with prayers and auspicious mantras into the milky waters of the great 'Mother Ganga'.

During the 1990,s i used to wonder about the little black pouch that Rinpoche always wore around his waist, He guarded this pouch very carefully as it was stuffed full of various denominations of Indian and Nepal rupee notes which devotees had offered for the purchase and release of fish. He was thoroughly scrupulous about the offerings which came in. Each was assigned to its own purse which denoted a particular cause, but somehow the funds for the 'fish release' were always very abundant.

However this wasn't always the case. When Rinpoche began this project He was only newly arrived as a refugee from Tibet and extremely poor. In those days He was establishing the very first Buddhist Meditation Three Year Retreat Center in India, and as they could not afford to hire many workers, He rolled up his sleeves and took up a shovel, carrying and laboring on the repair work site with everyone else.

Funds were very scarce. One time the monastery caretaker walked into Rinpoche's room with tears in his eyes. He had just discovered that Rinpoche had sold a lovely piece of precious brocade, one of very few items that they had managed to bring with them from Tibet. With these funds He had bought a dial up phone so that He could call Kolkata and order fish and keep tabs on the process for the annual end of year release!

The caretaker was in a state of utter misery a good deal of the time in those days, wondering how on earth they would all be able to eat and carry on the general business of very simple living, but Rinpoche was never concerned and always waved him away with words of solace, telling him that all would be well.

I know that Rinpoche would have given the clothes off his own back in order to keep on releasing fish into the Ganges. In fact He ordered Lolu, the caretaker, to sell some of His scant possessions in order to do just this, on more than one occasion.

I used to watch Rinpoche's hand picked group leave from Salbari every year for this great event, with tears in my eyes, wondering if i would ever have enough merit to be allowed to go with them and help. They all stayed at the house of a Marwari Hindu who had taken a 'shine' to Rinpoche's 'project'.  And Rinpoche, ever mindful and sensitive of others, was always careful never to take more people with Him than was absolutely necessary for the task at hand. He did this so as not to over step or impose upon the of kindness of a generous donor.

One year, however, i decided to take matters into my own hands. I had been up in the Darjeeling hills and had come to know that Rinpoche had arrived in Salbari from Nepal and was already on His way to Kolkata. I did not want to ask for permission and risk being sent back to my hut, so i just packed a few things, went down the hill and caught the night train, turning up on the banks of the Ganges the following morning just as they were all arriving to begin the 'release'...

Read more in Masters, Mice and Men

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