Sunday, 3 January 2021

A Life Well Lived

 

 Another year has passed since Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche passed away.

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Beloved Lord of Refuge, we can never repay your kindness.


Merging into the expanse of Wisdom 

you will continue to benefit countless beings …

 


 

If you don’t reflect on death and impermanence

There will be no way to practice Dharma purely.

Practice will remain an aspiration,

One that is constantly postponed.

And you may feel regret the day that death comes,

But by then it’s too late!

 Kyabje Chadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

While working on the final stages of the book Who Lives? Who Dies? I received the news, early one morning, that my teacher Chadral Sangye Dorje had passed away in Parping, Nepal. The following chapter was in no way planned. It came as an addition to the current volume. How could a book about living and dying, which was reaching its conclusion right at the time of the passing of my great master, not include a chapter to honor his life extraordinary life?

The news did not come as a complete surprise. A few days earlier I had received a warning that he was unwell and had immediately thought to put together a list of things I would have to do and pack should I need to leave quickly for Nepal. I knew very well that if I received news that he had ‘passed away’ I would very likely be in no state of mind to attend to all the details of making a sudden and hasty departure. Surely enough, that ‘word’ came on the 5th of January 2016.

He had actually passed into ‘Tukdam’ (final meditation state) on the 30th of December 2015 but as he had requested his closest family members not to announce his passing until he had fully merged into Maha Paranirvana, they carefully kept the occurrence a strict secret. Not even people working on the premises inside Rinpoche’s compound were aware of what had actually taken place.

 Chadral Rinpoche lived to the considerable age of one hundred and four, counting by the Tibetan astrological system which includes the months of gestation prior to birth. His had been a grand and long life and one which had been of benefit to countless sentient beings.

 He guided and took care of me for more than twenty years and the gratitude I feel along with the sense of the deep connection which will always exist between us is something that is not possible to ever fully describe in words. Next to the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, he was one of the central and most important people in my life.

 Since 2009 it had not been possible to meet face to face with Rinpoche but for me personally, this had not been an issue. He had guided me through my crucial retreat years and I had been extremely fortunate to be able to go to him when I needed his advice and to consult about and verify ‘experiences.’ I had been incredibly fortunate to complete the needful prior to that time.

 Others were not so fortunate, however, and a whole new group of people both young and old from all walks of life and all parts of the world missed that precious opportunity of direct contact with him. Nevertheless, his influence continued to reach far and wide.

 Before 2009, Rinpoche was very accessible although he never lingered too long in any one place. There were occasions when things might not have gone the way some people might have hoped for or expected but this was part of the beauty of his style and expression. He was never a Lama to compromise on the things that he held dear, neither could he be ‘brought around’ once a decision about something or other had been made.

 A hundred and four years is a long time to be alive in this world. Rinpoche met and influenced so many people; he saved countless lives and lived out his term without compromising his convictions in any way. His life was one of simplicity and integrity and stands as a testament and shining example for all those of us who were fortunate enough to witness at least a part of it as also for those who were not.

He spent time in worlds so incredibly different. Imagine Tibet in the early nineteen hundreds long before the Chinese occupation and try to compare that world with the one in which we live now? He moved seamlessly through both, never missing a step, never faltering in his determination to benefit sentient beings.

·       Practical and Yet Spontaneous

 Rinpoche was a supremely practical man who did not possess even an ounce of hypocrisy. He was so direct and to the point that some feared him. Although he was very much a Tibetan ‘Yogi’ he could also be quite traditional. However, it simply was not possible to narrow him down and label him as either traditional or non-traditional because he rose to meet every occasion in his life from a place of complete spontaneity.

 His focus was always on the ‘essence’ of things, and he had little time for or interest in anything else. He was a living embodiment of the Buddha’s teachings, which he had so completely ‘owned’ through his dynamic practice and experience and he encouraged all of his students to do the same.

 Rinpoche’s spontaneity arose from his moment-to-moment living in the present, which gave rise to many unexpected little incidents, some of which could be quite humorous.

 I remember one morning when we were buzzing around and preparing for a day trip up into the foothills of Darjeeling. We thought we had things pretty well in hand but when it was announced that the car had arrived a bit early, Rinpoche suddenly leaped up from his seat and began to head towards the door. We quickly grabbed the warm clothes that he would need as Darjeeling is several thousand feet higher than Siliguri. We awkwardly tried to dress him as he moved. Once he got into motion it could be difficult to pin him down. His daughter Semo Tara Devi was there on that occasion and so the two of us had managed to put on a jumper and also drape his sen (shawl). But then suddenly he was heading towards the door again so Semola grabbed one shoe and me the other. Only when Rinpoche was actually climbing into the car were we able to notice that he had a different shoe on each foot. Certainly, Rinpoche himself had not noticed.

 Dry words in a book on a shelf were for the scholars. Rinpoche moved freely through the fields of experience. There was joyfulness around him and a scintillating sense of freedom without boundaries. Never-the-less it should be noted that Rinpoche was also a brilliant and prolific scholar who authored, at least, three volumes of works in the Tibetan language.

·       Authenticity

 He was tremendously learned in an organic way; his learning came through experience and revealed itself with considerable authority and power because it was so completely authentic.

 This authenticity never moved me more profoundly than on an occasion when a small group of women students gathered one afternoon in his room in Salbari Gompa in order to receive the Bodhisattva vows.

 Some weeks before this event, a long-time western student and I had been discussing the practice of Guru Yoga in general and Chadral Rinpoche’s Guru Yoga in particular. I had been deeply impressed by the way my friend had recounted some of his personal experiences in this regard. He had discussed the various qualities of different sadhanas (practices) but then pointed out that the Guru Yoga of Chadral Rinpoche was so potent that the blessings which flowed from it were almost palpable. In my mind’s eye, the image of him holding his hands together in a cupping gesture had burned itself into my imagination. He had said that you can literally ‘hold’ the blessings in your hands and feel the weight and the power of them.

 His vivid description remained with me very clearly, and that afternoon when we gathered to receive the vows it kept coming into my mind.

 I had taken Bodhisattva vows already on several occasions with other teachers; however, a European student of Chadral Rinpoche’s requested that he give them to her, and I found myself in the fortunate position of already being present in the room and therefore able to join this small gathering on the auspicious day. I was delighted by this happy occurrence.

 There might have been five or six of us present. If I remember correctly, we were just two foreign women, a couple of Tibetan nuns, and one or both of Rinpoche’s daughters.

 At that time, Rinpoche was staying in the small room upstairs in his house in the Salbari compound. We were asked to wait outside his room while he prepared and then, once all was ready, he beckoned us to enter and close the door behind us. We stood before him in a line across the width of the room. Rinpoche meanwhile, was sitting on his meditation cushion on the floor ensconced in a large furry cape. A small wooden table had been placed just in front of him and on top of this were his bell, drum, dorje, and a few other ritual implements within easy reach.

 Although I had spent a lot of time around Chadral Rinpoche in an informal way, I had only been present on a small number of occasions when he gave formal teachings or empowerments. This turned out to be one of those rare occasions.

 Rinpoche asked us all to make three prostrations and as we did so, he picked up his bell and damaru (small hand drum) and began to chant the lineage prayer of the Longchen Nyingtik. Rinpoche’s lineage is a remarkably short and powerful one originating in Kuntuzangpo, which passes on to Jigme Lingpa, Gyalway Nyugu and then to Patrul Rinpoche, Nyoshul Lungtok, and Khenpo Ngachung, (Rinpoche’s root Guru) who in turn passed it on to Chadral Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khen.

 I don’t recall that I had any particular expectations of what was to come except a pleasant sense of anticipation which in no way could have prepared me for the impact of what was to follow.

 As soon as Rinpoche’s deep and rich voice began to intone the liturgy I felt myself suddenly and quite inexplicably catapulted into a ‘timeless state’ my mind ceased to function and the room was saturated with grace, so much so, that even though I had barely completed my three prostrations, a surge of tears welled up and began to flow down my cheeks.

 I was not at all prepared; no handkerchief, no tissues, not even a long shirt-sleeve to come to my rescue. These were not the emotional tears of joy or sorrow; these were tears that overflowed from some previously untapped source in my being. They surged out from the deep depths. With every passing moment, it was as though Rinpoche was opening wider and wider the faucet on a stream of blessings. Not only did the tears flow from my eyes but my nose was also streaming. I had never had any such reaction in previous gatherings with other Lamas where we had all taken these same vows. This was something quite unprecedented and it really caught me off my guard.

 For the entire duration of the gathering, this flow continued. I remember feeling some embarrassment at not being able to control what was happening or even dry my face. I was a complete mess, red and soggy eyeballs, snotty-nosed and pathetic.  I did not notice if anyone else was as affected as I was. I only recall how relieved I felt when it all ended and I could rush off to my room and wash my face and re-compose myself again. The memory and the power of that encounter linger on and remain with me to this day. Fresh and potent.

 This is naked, simple authenticity.

·       As Conventional as He was Unconventional

 In many ways, Rinpoche could be conventional, and yet in others, he was quite the opposite.

 One instance of the manner in which Rinpoche could be unconventional, and which most people would not have been aware prior to his passing away and which caused many some surprise, even consternation, emerged only when the family compound in Parping was opened to the public. On the walls of the Lhakhang, which had been built inside the compound, were painted the Hindu deities of Shiva with his consort Parvati. On the left side of the shrine; Krishna with his consort Radha and their entourages along with various other representations of this kind.

 Directly in front of the temple entrance, and housed in a dedicated building, resides a Shiva lingam of generous size.

To some traditional Buddhists, this would seem like a grave eccentricity in the Lama and something quite inexplicable.

 However, Rinpoche had gone beyond the narrowness of needing to confine himself solely to the accepted and traditional Tibetan pantheon. He saw no conflict of interests. What these images represent is an expression of ‘energy’ in its many and varied forms and this ‘energy’ is universal. Had not all of the vast body of Buddhist scriptures and knowledge been brought to Tibet from Mother India? Were not the sacred sites of the Buddha’s life still vibrant and emiting their power? Whether one refers to an energetic personification as Siva, Mahakala/Shadrupa or Natraj does it not still embody the same potential, the same inner meaning?

 On more than one occasion I was with him when we visited Hindu shrines. One which he dropped into regularly was the shrine on Tiger Hill near Darjeeling and there were others which he attended in various locations.

·       Integrity

 There was complete integrity in all that he did, and this is no doubt why he could carry so powerfully the traditional alongside the non-traditional.

 He made it very clear that he would not perpetuate himself in the lineage of ‘Tulkus’ and unequivocally stated that there would be no ‘reincarnation.’ This was to be the last life. In recent years after the passing of several great masters, a number of ‘Tulkus’ had been put forward as potential candidates and much controversy had ensued. Rinpoche made his position crystal clear and thus avoided any future complications.

 He had always steered clear of the monasteries and large religious institutions and consistently underlined the importance of practicing in solitary retreats in order to have direct experience of the essential points of the ‘dharma.’

 On several occasions, Rinpoche made the comment that some people who came to him and who were dressed in the garb of ‘practitioners’ actually had no stable inner experience, while there were those who seemed to be very ordinary and who did not have the appearance of being a ‘practitioner’ yet who were in fact ‘true practitioners.’ To Rinpoche, a ‘true practitioner’ was someone who had recognized the natural state and achieved a measure of stability in settling into That. He underlined for us the fact that we cannot judge anyone by appearances alone.

 He was the first Lama to establish a retreat center and many more were to follow after he moved to India in the late 1950,s. Those who came to him were able to practice in suitable locations and thereby actualize the teachings by gaining first-hand experience of them.

·       Practice

 He clearly pointed to the fact that one has to practice the ‘dharma’ in order to gain benefit from it for one’s self and in turn for others. He had spent many decades of his life doing just that and often under the most trying conditions. For many years he had wandered around Tibet, staying in the caves or in a small tent with little more than what he could carry over his shoulder. He could easily have passed his days in comfort and plenty in one of the rich monasteries. He truly had lived as an example of what he later encouraged others to do.

 The master is not able to give us something that we do not already possess. He/she simply alerts us to our true and inherent potential. It is for us to understand and gain a true experience of our inmost natural state by taking his/her advice to heart.

 He established many simple places where practitioners could come together, or where they could be alone in order to practice the Dharma without distraction, in safety, and in peace.

 He always emphasized the need to gain experience in retreats and almost all of his direct students have undergone a retreat or two under his guidance and care at one time or another.

·       Compassion

 That our lives should be an expression of what can bring benefit to others is the motivation of a true Bodhisattva whose every action is geared to turning others towards ‘truth.’ Rather than spending our precious lives and energy in meaningless activities and distractions, he encouraged us to benefit beings through sincere and concerted practice motivated by Bodhichitta. As with the fragrance of a flower which need not ‘do’ anything particular and yet which affects and purifies the whole surrounding area with its perfume, so too should our practice radiate its fragrance throughout space.

 Soon after Rinpoche escaped to India from Tibet he took a vow renouncing the consumption of meat. This happened in nineteen sixty, long before it became fashionable. Prior to that, he had been as rabid a meat-eater as any other Tibetan. Once he decided to abstain, however, his stance was unshakable, and all the temples and retreat centers under his guidance became ‘no meat’ zones. Here again, he was an example of what he preached, and by living to a grand age was able to underline the fact that human beings can subsist very healthily and happily on a vegetarian diet to a grand old age.

 He made it a mission to release countless fish from the fish farms in Kolkata and elsewhere. Other kinds of wildlife were also rescued in a similar way.

 His compassion revealed itself through a long stream of activities that brought freedom, on one level or another, to countless sentient beings.

·       The Humor

 It was a delight to spend time in Rinpoche’s company. There was always plenty of laughter and light-hearted banter. There were so many humorous occasions, but one instantly springs to my mind.

 One year, we were in the Lhakhang retreat center up in the Helambu region of Nepal. At that time a group of devotees had come up from Sermatang to accompany Rinpoche to their monastery where he had been invited to preside over a ceremony.

 Around thirty of the older and higher-ranking people from the village had made the journey on foot, in order to welcome Rinpoche and accompany him back. They brought with them a sturdy little pony which Rinpoche was to ride on the way down the trail to the village. This particular pony was an old favorite of Rinpoche’s and had carried him around on other such occasions in the past.

 On the morning when we were due to leave everyone gathered near Rinpoche’s hut. He climbed onto the pony, a big happy smile spreading over his face. One lama went ahead of our group wielding a large kukri blade in order to make sure that the pathway was cleared of any debris or possible obstructions and the rest of us followed behind.

 Barely had the small horse begun to move than it let expelled a very loud fart! We could see Rinpoche ahead of us shaking with laughter and everyone behind followed suit. The animal continued on in this vein every few minutes all the way to the Sermatang. Goodness knows what he had been given for breakfast. Suffice it to say, we kept a respectful distance behind…

·       The View

 Above all else, Chadral Rinpoche encouraged us to recognize our ‘true nature,’ because absolutely nothing else will be of any use to us in the long run. This and this alone is the chief and crucial point. In recognizing and practicing to achieve a measure of stability in this, one brings into balance all other factors in one’s life. It is the great panacea, the one thing which brings resolution to all that causes confusion and suffering in this world.

 On one incredibly precious occasion when he gave a couple of us some whispered ‘pith’ instructions. I will never be able to forget the look in his eyes when he told us that what he was giving was like the ‘blood of his heart.’

We sat there at his feet with tears flowing down our cheeks.

Such ‘treasure’ is immeasurable. It has the power to liberate countless beings; we need only open our hearts and pray with one-pointed devotion. Our devotion is like the sun that melts the snow at the top of the mountain which is the ‘Guru.’

·       Devotion

 A few days after the news had been broken about his ‘passing,’ I made my way up to Nepal from South India.

 I had gone to Nepal for the first time in many years in August of 2015 and had the great good fortune to see Rinpoche just a few months before he dropped his body.

I traveled over to Parping from the hills of Darjeeling in order to pay homage to my great teacher. I had just completed a summer retreat at his center at Das Mile Gompa where I had undergone my previous longer retreats. This was the final time I was to see him as I had known him in his earthly form.

 The visit in January of 2016 was under very different circumstances and carried with it a very different mood.

Nepal was in the middle of winter and in the grip of not only the cold but also, at that time, profound economic and political misery there was an added dimension to the sense of sadness at his passing.

 Crippling power cuts and shortages of every kind were the order of the day and these were not due to the after-effects of the powerful earthquake that had struck only months before. These had been brought on by the greed and short-sightedness of an elite few.

 Despite all of this, however, or perhaps because of it, the Nepalese population near and far came to Parping. They came in droves to pay their respects and receive the blessing’ of the reliquary.

 Initially, I had passed some days inside the temple shrine and participated in the ceremony that was taking place. However, it soon became too crowded so I withdrew to a spot outside and below the temple area. Every evening before the prayers ended, I would head up to the temple and stand near an open window in order to recite the lines of the Guru Yoga prayers with all the Lamas who were gathered inside.

 For me, this proved to be the most moving moment in the days during which I could be present. Invariably as soon as the Umsey (chant leader) began to sing this particular prayer his voice would crack and waver. Sometimes he would have to stop chanting altogether and then another Lama would quickly take the microphone.

 Rinpoche had brought so many of us together and the feeling that we were and are one big family remains. How can we ever forget his kindness?

·       A Life Well Lived

 Day after day I sat and watched the stream of humanity, young and old, rich and poor pass by and through the temple precincts in which the Kudung was being housed. It was not easy for these people to make this journey to the fringes of the Kathmandu valley. Their transport was inadequate and often terribly over-crowded. It was a costly journey for most people and also extremely uncomfortable. Yet they came and keep coming.

 It is profoundly moving and humbling to see how one life, which is motivated towards the good of others can influence so many in contrast with those who are motivated by temporary gain and greed at the expense of so many others.

 What a stark contrast and the more moving for being so.

 We need good examples of how to live our lives and how to give precedence to what is most meaningful. It is not as though we are going to have endless chances to do this.

 Everywhere we look we can find countless examples of lives spent in dissipation, and distraction while a well-lived is a rare thing indeed.

 I can only rejoice in Rinpoche’s example which was and remains so deeply meaningful not only me but to so many others. The radiance of what he gave the world will continue to have its beneficial effect long into the future if in fact humanity has a long future before it…

 In these days and times, we can be sure of nothing except the ‘one true thing’ of which we have spoken repeatedly throughout this tome.

 May we be moved to discover this for ourselves and thereby make our own lives resonate with what is truly meaningful.

 With the pure motivation of Bodhichitta (the wish to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings), each one of us has the power to transform our world.

 May we keep this in our mind and heart, always.

Precious Bodhichitta, the highest attitude

Where it is unborn, may it arise

Where it is born, may it increase,

rising ever higher and higher. 

Shantideva

 

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From the book; Who Lives? Who Dies?

Lyse Mai Lauren

Arunachala

2015

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