Showing posts with label Tibetan Masters and other True Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tibetan Masters and other True Stories. Show all posts

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Tigers in our Mind


Tigers in the Forest
Tigers in a Tropical Storm
Henri Rousseau

I spent a few months one summer in the 1980s at the Monastery of Tai Situ Rinpoche in Sherab Ling. This monastery is nestled between the folds of some foothills in Himachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas of Northern India. 


At that time it was not very developed and there were a number of retreat houses scattered throughout the forest below the main monastery compound. These small houses had been built by western students so that they could live near Tai Situ Rinpoche; a high Tibetan Buddhist master from the Karma Kargyu tradition. 

Their intention had been to spend their time near their teacher in order to receive his blessing and instructions and to practice as much as possible in retreats. In those days there were no fences marking where the boundaries of the monastery ended and the forest began.

When i was there, all of the huts, dotted throughout the forest were empty. Their owners had moved on and were either, back in their own countries working or living in other parts of the Himalayas. Most of the dwellings no longer contained any of the belongings of their previous tenants. Therefore, i had a choice of where i could stay. I decided upon a small wooden hut comprising of an upstairs loft where i could practice and sleep and a kitchen area below on the ground floor.

There were many non-human residents around when i moved in as it had been a long while since anyone had actually lived there. A large family of mice had made a home for themselves in the kitchen. There were several birds nests in the ceiling and many, large, hairy spiders all over the place. 


It was obvious that no one had been around for quite a while, as these residents had pretty much taken over. I had quite a time of it, cleaning, sweeping and airing the place out. Fortunately, i had a mosquito net with me so i could tuck it in all around my bed. I had discovered the virtues of mosquito nets in northern Queensland in my teen years when i stayed some months in a tropical forest. Not only did they keep out the mosquitoes, but also spiders, snakes, mice and so on...

During my first night in the hut at Sherab Ling, all the spiders came out from their places, and i will never forget it! I was sitting on my bed, fortunately with the net securely tucked in around me. I had extinguished my kerosene lamp and was sitting there in the dark, beginning to settle into a meditation session. I began to notice a peculiar sound, something like the tuk tuk tuk of numerous, tiny feet. I turned on my torch and flashed it around the room. Oh wow! Many long-legged spidery forms darted around among the shadows here and there. That night the spiders were, quite literally, dancing! They were coming out from every nook and cranny to check out the 'intruder'. Surely, i have never seen so many spiders before or since!

I was totally unnerved by this vision. Almost overwhelmed by the creepy sound of countless tiny claws scuttling around in the dark. I almost gave way to my fears and if it had not been for the flimsy mosquito net, which gave me a false sense of 'protection' i would have rushed out of that place and never gone back. Needless to say, i passed a very restless night.

Interestingly, they all disappeared during the following day and the second night they kept a respectful distance and adjusted themselves to my presence. For the remainder of my stay, i kept out of their way and they kept out of mine.

However, the stage had been set. My mind began to create all sorts of real and imagined stories with regards to the spiders and their whereabouts, especially at night!

In Himachal Pradesh, it is not tigers that roam the forests, but leopards. These beautiful animals occasionally came down from the hills to prey on the livestock kept by local villagers and in the monasteries, and while i was staying at Sherab Ling, down in the forest, at least one such animal was reported to be on the prowl.


 There were numerous pug marks to be seen here and there on the trails and so i had to be on my guard, especially in the evenings, when they were most likely to appear. This was potentially something a good deal more bothersome than the spiders. So I was forced to take note.

During that time I was taking lunch and evening meals up at the monastery, so i got into the habit of eating the last meal long before dark, and then trekking down to the hut before the sunset, as it was a good ten minutes walk along a dirt trail through the forest.

One night i was woken by, not one, but three leopards prowling around my hut. From what i could make out, there was a mother with two cubs, already halfway to adulthood.

They stayed for quite a while, sniffing around. One even jumped onto the straw awning that jutted out from my upstairs windows. I sat on my bed all through their visit, trembling. My windows were open, and if they had decided to come on in, i would have needed a lot more than a mosquito net for protection!

However, that did not happen. Instead, they went up the hill and killed the monastery's pet Ram, a grumpy, charismatic fellow who had been butting and playing with the children there for many years. I decided it might be a good idea to stay up in the monastery after that incident and moved up to the guestrooms the very next day.

Over the years, in the earlier part of my training, the presence of creatures, heard, but not seen, gave rise to many occasions in which my mind became completely preoccupied with all manner of distracting and fearful thoughts. They provided a fertile and challenging ground in which i could begin to unravel the 'workings of my mind.'



During the years that followed this incident i stayed in other forests and encountered other types of 'visitors', but none were ever more prevalent than the visitors in my own mind.

Perhaps the greatest value of staying in all those retreats was the fact that they gave me the time and opportunity to notice how 'mind' functions. When we are alone with your own 'mind' a lot, and begin to spend time noticing its movements, we start to see what a sneaky fellow it is! 


Becoming acquainted with the way 'mind' works, is essential if we want to begin to live in peace without ourselves and others in this world. It is the little 'golden key' with which we can unlock the door into 'self-awareness.'


Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

Some years after my visit to Sherab Ling, i met the great Dzogchen Master, Chatral Rinpoche. He began to send me off to my retreat hut with challenges like, 'go and see if you can find your mind, and come back and tell me about it.' With this bait thrown at me the whole tone and focus of my time in the mountains began to shift and change.

The great saint of South India, Sri Ramana Maharshi said;

'The attempt to destroy the ego or the mind through vehicles other than atma-vichara, (self-inquiry) is just like the thief pretending to be a policeman, in order to catch the thief, who is himself.'

The paths of Dzogchen and Atma-Vichara, (Self-Inquiry) have a lot in common.

Finding the mind, finding one's self'? 

Impossible; because they do not exist! 
The one cancels out the other!

And this is the whole point and beauty of these practices. However, until one takes up the challenge and seriously embarks upon the path of investigation, this cannot be truly understood or known.

It is a ludicrous exercise, but a very necessary one, and in the beginning one has little choice but to innocently go off and try. This 'inquiry' is absolutely crucial because it turns the mind 'inwards' towards its source. Unless and until we turn our gaze away from the distractions of worldly outer life, focussing all of that energy onto the nature of 'who and what we REALLY are,' we remain caught up like flies in a vast spiders web of thoughts and their endless spin-offs.

In order to assist his students to begin to turn their 'minds' inwardly, Chatral Rinpoche used, on occasion, to throw out zen-like 'koans.' When he was training a particular disciple, he would watch, wait and see how they would react to the 'bait' that was being dangled before them.

One of these koans consisted of the phrase; 'there are tigers in the forest'.

Every time he would meet one particular student, at some point in their conversation he would always throw in these words; 'there are tigers in the forest'! And then go on to some other topic, leaving the phrase just hanging there in the air, quite unconnected to anything else being spoken of, and apparently, quite nonsensical.


It became something of a standing joke between Rinpoche and one particular student, who later recounted this tale to me.  The student in question understood that Rinpoche had something very specific in mind, and was directly pointing it out, and this friend drove himself half nuts trying to figure out what it could be, but he just could never quite get it.

Then one day, the two of them were sitting in Rinpoche's room and while a conversation was going on between them, Rinpoche threw in the usual 'mind spanner'.

'There are tigers in the forest'. Student and teacher sat there looking directly at one another.

The conversation had suddenly come to a complete halt with these words. The young fellow sitting opposite him, in total exasperation, all wide-eyed, and open-mouthed, blurted out, 'are you sure?'

Upon hearing these words, Rinpoche collapsed into a fit of unconstrained, uncontrollable laughter. He was so unspeakably amused that five minutes later,  visitors and Lamas who had been milling around in the anterooms, began to appear in the doorway to see what was going on. They found the pair, rolling around on the floor, with tears flowing down their cheeks, clutching their bellies. 


When Chatral Rinpoche found something funny, he gave himself over to the humor of the moment with the gay abandon of a child. It was unspeakably infectious and utterly delightful to behold.

This was to be the culmination of months of baiting and challenging. It was such a pity that this valuable 'koan' was not really understood by the student in question. You can rest assured that he was laughing because Rinpoche was laughing. At that time he didn't actually 'get the joke', let alone it's deep and underlying meaning. The moment had not yet come for the 'penny to drop.' At least, not then. Only years and years later did he begin to 'understand'.

But in such matters 'time' is of the least concern. The seed had been planted, in due course, it would ripen and bear fruit. Each must proceed in his/her own time. Each in his/her own way.

This 'koan' was particularly relevant to the student in question. His solving of it contained therein an opportunity for him to address a deep and underlying 'habitual tendency' that consistently kept him from realizing the deeper truths which could have freed his mind from his habitual tendencies thereby helping him to break ground in his meditation practice. This is the value of a 'koan'. It is targeted and requires the active participation of the disciple, giving him/her a chance to resolutely dive more deeply into their own inner experience.

If ordinary mind is like a forest, then the tigers that roam there can be equated with certain types of thoughts, the type of thoughts that sneak up on us unawares and steal all of our attention. Tigers move about with the utmost stealth and considering their markings, they really have to in order to catch their prey unawares.

Of course the 'tiger' example is rather rustic and out of date but nevertheless, it points to a profound truth. For that particular student, it was well aimed and, like an arrow, it hit its mark, even if it was not recognized at the time. This 'bait', gave the mind something to grasp onto, thereby focusing, rather than scattering it. When the mind is focussed it becomes a powerful tool.

Where ever we are, whatever we do, our mind goes with us. Whether we like it or not, it is our constant companion, the shadow that accompanies us on every journey. We know it is there, but until we shine the flashlight of our attention upon it, it behaves like a shadow. Always present, but just out of the line of vision.

Finding the source of our mind, the source of our thoughts is the key to solving all of our problems.


Until we do this we are at the mercy of the 'tigers in the forest,'
the tigers within our mind.

This excerpt was taken from Tibetan Masters and Other True
Tibetan Masters and Other True Stories. The second book in the series, Shades of Awareness.

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

Monday, 24 November 2014

Natural Mind

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, with a friend. Photo by Matthieu Ricard
Late one afternoon, as the evening sun was sending its final shafts of golden light into the silent, incense filled air of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's room, i found myself alone with the great Master.

Even though I was some distance away, nearer to the farthest end of his long carpet filled shrine, Khyentse Rinpoche had such an enormous presence that it felt as though he filled the entire room.

I was quietly fingering some beads and basking in the tremendous silence and sanctity that permeated this blessed space. The atmosphere felt utterly charged and in it i felt complete and whole.

This particular evening there were very few visitors around, something which was rather unusual. However before long there was a rustle of activity in the outer guest waiting hall and i looked over just in time to see a well known Lama enter with a handful of his western students.

Soon they appeared before Khyentse Rinpoche, bowing and offering scarves of welcome as He greeted each one. They seated themselves before Him and all fell into an expectant silence.

Friday, 12 April 2013

When All That Glitters Is Not Gold


There are happenings, events, incidents, call them what we will, that can arise very suddenly and unexpectedly in our day-to-day lives, but which prove to be defining moments that have the potential to change the way we view life and the world in which we live, forever...

These events can be subtle or startling but they have one thing in common, they give us such a jolt that they momentarily stop the mind and therefore subsequently, our world. Those moments in which mind is not, are very special. They hold the potential for recognizing what always is. Normally we move through life without any awareness of what or who we really are. But then awareness comes knocking or in some cases, crashing in on our cozy little preconceived world, turning it upside down and inside out.  Forcing us to re-evaluate what is and what is not.

No matter where we are on this planet and no matter how well educated or how little educated we may be, we are all, nevertheless, conditioned by our minds. Most of what we do throughout our lives, is preconditioned in some way by the habitual tendencies of mind and yet we are given opportunities to take stock. Some crumble under the challenge, others rise to it and are enriched thereby.

The incident that follows happened in the village where a friend of mine grew up in Andhra Pradesh.
When he was young, Akash was living in a small rural hamlet in which some forty other families were staying nearby. Every one knew everyone else and their business too. In such a close knit community, it was difficult to keep anything a secret.

One day,  one of the village men was on his way home from his fields and following the dusty path on an embankment above the river canal that passed through and watered all the farmlands of this region. It was almost sunset and the huge orange ball of the sun cast a fiery long shadow over the green and verdant fields. White egrets flew in flocks above his head, eager to find their roosts for the night and small groups of cattle and goats could be heard making their way back to the safety of their stalls, the calls of their owners echoing in the fading light. For the farmer, it was an ordinary evening in every respect. The village sounds, the golden hues of sunset, the scenes; all were deeply familiar to him.

There was a certain spot just before entering the village where he was accustomed to go down to the canal and wash before heading to his house which was nearby amid a grove of coconut trees. Following his usual habit he climbed down the steep embankment and began his daily ablutions, standing on the shallow step at the edge of the canal and while this was going on he suddenly looked up. Something had caught his attention.  It was the form of something floating down the river.

The waters in this canal were fast-flowing and anything that was caught in the current tended to move along with considerable speed.  It was not uncommon to see a corpse every now and then, as in these village areas, accidents and suicides were rather frequent. Most of the peasants could not swim. Those who slipped or who were pushed or who themselves jumped into the fast flowing waters, seldom ever survived to tell their tales, and, unless snagged along the way by someone or something, their bodies were swiftly carried out and lost to the open sea.

This particular evening, the man in question could just make out, in the fading light, that the corpse heading towards him, was that of a woman.  He caught the flash of golden ornaments amidst the folds of her sari and the strands of her long black hair.
He could see that she would pass quite near him. Just near enough that he could snag her sari with his long bamboo pole with its hooked knife attached to the end. He used this knife during the day to clip branches high up in the trees and these shavings would feed his goats. But now he put it to a very different kind of use and managed to snag the fabric of her sari at the precise moment that she was passing.  Quickly scanning the banks left and right, he saw that no one was in sight, so he drew her in. He recognized the victim, a middle-aged woman from a wealthy family that lived further upstream in the next village.

Suppressing his surprise, he remained as focused as he could determined not to miss this 'golden' opportunity, but nevertheless his hands were trembling. Quickly he began to remove all her golden ornaments. Firstly the earrings, then the bangles, then the nose ring.  She was wearing a lot of gold. Finally he tugged at the chain around her neck at which precise moment a loud and peculiar guttural sound issued from the pallid, lifeless corpse. 'How dare you take my gold', it seemed to utter in strange muffled, gasping tones. The farmer froze and almost passed out with terror. He nearly lost his balance and could have fallen into the turbid waters, but in the next instant he let go of the body and with it all of her gold which fell and tumbled into the torrid brown waters. He scrambled like a mad man crazed with fear, up the side of the embankment and ran, screaming and howling to his house.

Read more in Tibetan Tales and other True Stories
Books by the Writer

Friday, 16 December 2011

Magic Mushrooms




The Healer, by Nicholas Roerich.

In the Himalayan Mountain's temperate zones, one can find 
many different varieties of mushrooms. Mushroom lore is quite highly developed among the local populations and not least among those staying in long Buddhist retreats. For many of these Yogis mushrooms in fact form an important part of their diet.

In the mountains north of Kathmandu, there is a very famous and highly prized mushroom that the Tibetans call Ah Sharmo. It grows in the thick, damp forests of upper Helambu. It can become very large and weigh in at a few kilos if one stumbles upon a mature growth in the forest. Generally they grow out of decaying trees and logs from a white based stem that shoots out in all directions in a bright orange profusion of frills. 

Chadral Rinpoche has a great fondness for these particular specimens. In fact he unashamedly relishes them! As do all those who have had the good fortune to taste them at one time or another. Little can compare with the pure enjoyment of roasting these mushrooms over a glowing, hot fire, splashed with a little fresh Dzomo butter, during a chilly Himalayan evening. The smell and the taste are incomparable.

There fore it was with great excitement that one of the Lamas and i, stumbled upon a little treasure trove of this delicacy one noon in the forest not far from our huts. We cut a few inches from the base, to be sure that more would grow up after a few days and carefully took our spoils back to the camp...

Read more in Tibetan Tales and other True Stories
Books by the Writer

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hidden Valleys of the Himalayas

Mountains shrouded in mist
Hidden Valleys.
Throughout the Himalayas there are pockets, valleys, hidden oases and refuge places.  The trails which lead to them are known only to a few.  These places are said to be blessed and consecrated by 'holy beings', guarded by invisible forces and carefully protected in order to preserve their sanctity and usefulness as sanctuaries and refuges in times of human and planetary strife.

They are scattered along the Himalayan belt, from the fabled land of Pemako in Arunachal Pradesh, in the far east to the western reaches of this enormous range of mountains.

In recent times a Lama from Tibet tried to open one of these valleys near Kangchendzonga, a vast mountain which dominates the horizon to the north of Darjeeling, in West Bengal.  He had several hundred followers, all of whom had sold their worldly belongings, bringing with them only the possessions they could carry.  All believed that the Lama would lead them into a sacred valley where they could begin a new life...

A number of other Lamas including Dudjom Rinpoche and my own teacher, Chadral Rinpoche, warned him that the time had not yet come for this valley to be opened and that they faced grave danger in going.  However none of their warnings or advice were heeded.

The Lama and his flock made the perilous and arduous trek into the mountains.  Right at the threshold of the entrance to the sacred valley, the Lama entered a cave where he and his attendants began to perform the opening rituals, which pacify the guardians and open the way into the protected area...



Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Feathered Friend

Spotted Baby Owlet
Fatty Boy

In the late 1990s, when i was staying at Godavari in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley, it was not at all unusual to come into the garden compound of Chadral Rinpoche's retreat centre and find several cages with varieties of birds that had been bought from the markets and then gifted to the Lama in order that he would bless and then release them back into the wild.  Often these birds were in bad shape and could not be released right away.  They needed care and good feeding for some days before they could face the rigours of freedom.  Many never made it to the point where they could even be released.

It was a sad business to see this kind of trade going on and yet it was rife throughout the valley and although people meant well when they bought the birds from the markets, in many ways, this practise just encouraged and perpetuated the trade.

One day my friend and i took a path through a nearby botanical garden which passed through a lovely piece of forest on its way to the neighbouring village.  We had come to know of a very skilled tailor living in that place and we both had a number of items on order and ready to pick up. 


Coming back however, we decided to take another route that skirted a village we had not been through before and passing by some small, mud dwellings Sherab, the Lama who was with me, suddenly turned and began to speak to a small group of boys.

He would often stop to banter with the locals as he passed by, so i didn't take much notice at the time and just kept slowly making my way along the cobbled path.  After a few moments, he joined me again, but bade me stop and opening his bag, pointed to a little ball of feathers sitting on the bottom.  I could just make out  two very large and shinny, sad eyes peering out at me. Even though i could not quite make out what it was,  i immediately fell in love with the look in those eyes.


It turned out that the boys had somehow captured this little fellow from his nest, (he was a spotted baby owlet) and were trying to rear it in their home as a pet.  The boys had told Sherab that they were trying to feed it, but the little fellow had not taken any food since they had captured it two days before.


With some clever persuasion Sherab had managed to get them to hand it over to his care and thus it was sitting on the bottom of his bag, looking very weak and bereft.

My mothering instincts kicked in as soon as those large eyes looked up into my face. Anxious to get home now, we picked up our pace and soon arrived back at my apartment, which consisted of the upper floor of a private house.  As it turned out, this was to be rather ideal for the feathered friend who had just entered our lives.


I found a safe and sheltered corner for him, spread out some news papers and put a small cage down with large stick tied onto the top of it, this would make it easy for him to perch, and somewhat easy for me to clean. I had absolutely no idea what baby owls would eat.


It was all improvisation and  i simply prepared a  mixture of oats and water with some honey mixed in and tried to spoon it into his little beak. But unless i forced him to open, so a little would slip in, that beak remained firmly closed and i found myself trying to repeat the process every few hours, without much success.

This went on until the around midnight the following day, when i had taken up the spoon yet again. However this time, to my surprise and joy the wee fellow opened his beak and let me tip the mixture right in, gulp, gulp...


Read more in;  Tibetan Tales and other True Stories
Books by the Writer