Showing posts with label Tibetan Tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tibetan Tales. Show all posts

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lion of the Mountains

Tibetan Yogi Lama, Chadral Rinpoche
Lion of the Mountains

Chadral Rinpoche was always full of surprises. During the monsoon months in the Mountains of Nepal, the weather was often misty, damp and cold. It could be depressing day after day.  If Rinpoche felt the general mood among our little camp needed lifting, he would order a picnic, right then, on the spur of the moment and we would all run after him up the trail in one direction or other, usually to some green, flowery meadow and there we would sit around Him enthralled, as He told us tales and shared memories from His life, or just made us all laugh with His jokes and funny stories. He knew just how and when the routines needed to be broken. We would all return from these day-long excursions into high mountain meadows, well fed and considerably lighter of heart.

One day after we had finished our noon meals, He called us up and set us all to work preparing a fire.  We were mystified. What on earth was He up to now? He took a few of us over to a collection of rocks in a stream nearby and then very specifically pointed out just the stones that He wanted us to carry back to the fire, which was by now blazing and hot.  After much-united effort and lugging of rocks we accumulated quite a pile of these stones near the fire, which had, till then, been carefully tended by one of the Lamas.  He then told the monks how to place them inside the fire, one by one.  

While this was going on, He asked some of the men to bring the large metal bathtub that lived, usually upside down, out the back of His hut.  This was to be filled with water...

Read more in Master, Mice and Men

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Tibetan Mountain Yogis and Yoginis

Group photos of two Tibetan Masters and their disciples
Dodruchen and Chadral Rinpoche with students in Neyding, Yolmo
I spent several summers in a number of remote retreat centers in the mountains north of Kathmandu. This area is directly north of the Kathmandu Valley. My teacher, Chadral Rinpoche had a number of small retreat centers high up in the Rhododendron forests of Helambu, in the Sindupalchok region.

Many in the Western world are quite unaware that such places exist and that such a ‘lifestyle’ is possible. In the nineteen nineties the living conditions were extremely basic and often physically challenging due to the harshness of the elements, the high altitude and many other factors that could make it a struggle to survive.

Yet those excursions into the mountains were among the happiest and most interesting years of my life. Even though we were scattered around in three different locations we all looked out for one another. Very often we could be subjected to various and often unexpected ‘adventures’ many of which, demanded that we let go of any former preconceptions or rigidity with regards to conditions and circumstances in which to ‘practice the dharma.’

The months spent in the mountains were a fertile ground in which one could conceivably and with relative ease crack open not only the ‘mind’ but also the ‘heart.’

Reaching this area at that time, involved a three day trek which began in a small village called Melamchi Bazaar. From this little outpost a trail wound its way through tiny settlements along the banks of the bubbling Melamchi River. Initially one threaded one’s way through fields of ripening rice paddy but these soon gave way to scrub and then forest as one began to climb the hills that rise up steeply into the Helambu region.

The spring cum summer months usually began from late March and continued until around the middle or end of August while from June onwards the monsoon rains commenced. Rinpoche chose these months to visit his students in the three locations which formed a triangle in the mountainous terrain. Neyding housed a number of male practitioners; Tropodang was a collection of shelters for the women and Lhakhang had both men and women practitioners living there.

Often, while Rinpoche was visiting the centers he would teach. Therefore a handful of the more hardy students from other places in Nepal and even further afield would trek up in little groups to be present during these months.

By trekking standards in Nepal, the three day walk up to the small hamlet of Tarkygyang, the nearest village to all three centers, was a reasonably easy and modest one. However, as most of us came there intending to make a longer stay, we had to plan our journey and the provisions we would take up with us quite carefully. There was little in the way of food or supplies of any kind to be had in this area. One also needed a tent and all the equipment required to keep it in a relatively dry and live-able condition in the damp, high altitude environment for many months on end. This meant that one also had to carry tarpaulins and mats, along with food supplies, cooking utensils and all the basic living paraphernalia needed to set up camp at high altitude.

We faced many problems during those months. Food was scarce; the weather was misty and often wet. The monsoon rains were preceded by tree snapping, heart stopping storms, which in a moment could wipe out one's entire makeshift home!

It would take me three days to set up my camp. The ground had to be leveled and then a trench dug all around the perimeter of the tent so that it would not be washed away in a pre-monsoon flash flood or storm and then later in the season be inundated by the daily monsoon downpours.

Conditions in the retreat centers were extremely basic. Usually they consisted of little more than a collection of makeshift huts with a mountain stream running somewhere nearby. The ‘huts’ consisted of a frame work of wooden poles; the walls were usually only a thick black plastic. The roof was most commonly made up of roughly hewn planks of wood. To say they were basic and flimsy was actually an understatement.

Volume Three in the series; Shades of Awareness

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Lama From Lahaul

Canvas Painting by Nicholas Roerich
Pearls of Wisdom
A day after arriving in the village of Keylong, i took a back pack
with a few provisions and some water and headed on up the slopes
above the town to a small temple i could see, nestled in the crest of
some gigantic cliffs way up on the mountain side.

It took several hours to reach this remote location and was tough
climbing in the thin, high altitude air, but the scenery along the way
was stunning. The tiny trail crossed small, bubbling, crystal clear
streams. The hill sides were verdant with wild flowers of every shade
and variety and all of this was enclosed by glistening snow capped
mountains that stretched up into an azure blue sky.

Nestled at the base of soaring cliff were a small cluster of mud and stone dwellings. It was inhabited by a number of monks and nuns, all of whom formed part of a closely knit community of Buddhist Yoga Practitioners.

During the short summers there was a lot of activity going on in these
tiny communities.  Houses need to be re-coated and sealed with a new layer of mud mixed with cow dung in order to help protect them from the harsh winter months. Supplies of fire wood needed to be collected
and all manner of preparations made for the long months when it would
be neither possible nor practical to move around.  During  winter the
monks and nuns stay in their houses and practised in retreat, but
during the summer months they moved about freely, visiting one another
in various communities, attending ceremonies, receiving teachings and
collecting stores of food, firewood and other necessities.

Therefore i was rather fortunate to find the head Lama at home.
Normally during this time he would be away visiting somewhere or
teaching his students at other retreat locations.  I was in luck, not
only because he was at his home, but when he heard that my teacher was Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, he immediately and without the least hesitation invited me to stay in his house.

This was indeed a good fortune that i could not turn down and very
soon i was installed in a bright, comfortable little room on the third
floor of his dwelling.  There were large windows on two sides from
which i had sweeping views of the mountains in the north and to the
west. The room also opened out onto a spacious rooftop which made a
perfect place to meditate or just sit and enjoy an evening sunset.

The next day i climbed back down to the town of Keylong to pick up my
things and buy a few provisions for a longer stay at the monastery.  I
was taking some lunch at the lodge where i had stored my bag, when the
owner came up to my table and asked me where i had disappeared to the
day before.  I related my adventures and told him i was intending to
stay longer.  He responded very positively and immediately added
something rather intriguing.  He said i was very privileged to stay at
that particular Lama's house and that he was known in these parts as the
'levitating Lama'.

Read more in Tibetan Buddhist Tales and other True Stories

Thursday, 6 October 2011

He Who Dances In The Heart

Canvas Painting by Nicholas Roerich
Precepts of the Teacher, Nicholas Roerich
During the years spent near my Masters, i was able to observe many things about the way they lived their lives.  The opportunity to observe them, was of itself one of the most profound teachings.  The atmosphere of  truth in which a Master lives and moves and has his Being, radiates outwardly like the delicate fragrance of an exquisite flower.

Each look, each gesture, each movement, and word, carries a power that is unique and that moves like an arrow, instantly and always finding its mark.  This can happen because no ego is involved. The life of  a perfectly Enlightened Being is an expression of that, alone.

When our every thought and word and deed is saturated with a sense of ownership and ego, how much more striking it is to observe those who move from the place of ego-lessness.

In both the great and small things of day to day life in the presence of such a Master, nothing can be taken for-granted.  Nothing is irrelevant or unimportant and the joy of living in their presence gives rise to magical moments of unexpected spontaneity.

I remember one day when there were few people around and it was a beautifully still, golden evening.  Chadral Rinpoche was staying in a house that had been newly built by one of his Nepali students in Parping.

He and i were strolling about in the garden when Rinpoche noticed a stairway leading up to the roof. Already in his late eighties, he did not hesitate to propel me towards the steps.  He was always eager and curious.  Soon i found myself puffing up the stairway behind him.  When we emerged out onto the open roof a glorious sunset awaited us.  Brilliant clouds danced on the horizon, caught up by the golden and fiery red and orange hues of the westering sun.  It was a spectacular sight, with unimpeded views from horizon to horizon...

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

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Power Of The Mind

Canvas Painting by Nicholas Roerich
Nicholas Roerich, Running Lama
The mind is a powerful tool.  In fact the most powerful one we have.  I'd like to recount a tale told by the intrepid lady traveler Alexander David-Neel.   She heard it whilst on pilgrimage in Tibet.

I found a copy of this small volume of travellers tales in the Oxford Book Shop at Darjeeling's Chowrasta Mall way back in the 1980s and one story struck me very deeply.
I can only retell this tale from memory as i no longer have the booklet to hand, but in any case a gist of the story clearly portrays the point that is being made.

During the eighteenth century, when many caravans plied the ancient routes of the Silk Road, which passed through the Gobi Desert, travellers faced many troubles of which the extreme climatic conditions were not least.   During one journey a merchant had acquired a very handsome hat.  It was fur lined and had flaps that could be unfolded in cold weather to cover the ears.  However one day during a particularly strong wind, this hat was suddenly snatched from his head by the icy fingers of the Gobi desert winds...

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

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Old Friends

Dilgo Khyentse and Kalu Rinpoche
Khyentse Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche
There are bonds of friendship and a likeness of mind and intention that can cross beyond the confines of a single life time.

In 1988 i visited BodhGaya during the winter months.  During that time both Khyentse Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche were there.

It was unforgettable to be in the presence of these two Masters, both of whom were living embodiment's of  the essence of the Buddha's teachings.

Khyentse Rinpoche was the living manifestation par excellence of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom.   He  who cuts through illusion and maya to reveal what is true and real.  Kalu Rinpoche on the other hand was an embodiment of Compassion,  an expression of the Lord Avalokitesvara, whose thousand arms stretch out in all the directions bestowing the gifts of the heart.

I took these photos when they were saying farewell to one another. It was to be the last time they were to meet on this earth and in those bodies.  I feel that these photos convey a certain quality that expresses something that is beyond words and beyond time.  They express the kind of friendship that is rarely seen, a friendship that is without any agendas what so ever.  Untainted by expectations of loss or gain, totally free and simple in its expression.

  Friendship in the truest sense of the word is beyond time and space...

Two Tibetan Lamas bidding their final farewells
They never met again in this life

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

Friday, 9 September 2011

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Tibetan Master, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Khyentse Rinpoche

The evenings at Shechen Monastery were, for me, rather special times.  Khyentse Rinpoche would be sitting in his wooden meditation box, usually with a group of Lamas and devotees around him, his vast form glowing in an almost unearthly radiance mixed with the soft rays of the sinking sun.  

Shafts of sunlight would filter in through the yellow curtains, casting a golden light across the room. Butter lamps flickered on the altar and the smoke of incense  wafted  about in the still air.  There was a silence in those evening, an ambiance of grace that permeated the whole atmosphere.  During those hours i always had a sense of absolute contentment. In his presence, nothing was missing, the world felt utterly complete.

The atmosphere around Khyentse Rinpoche was never static, it always felt  'full'  to the point of saturation and yet, at the same time, intensely charged and deeply silent.  

His 'presence' created a most unique and dynamic space into which all manner of people from many different walks of life could come and find solace.  He never turned anyone away.  From Kings to ordinary folk from the villages, from high Lamas to simple monks, visitors would stream into his rooms from the crack of dawn until often late at night, Rinpoche, all the while, would be there in his meditation box,  giving,  giving,  giving....

This flow of giving was natural, un-contrived, and inexhaustible.  It was like a bottomless spring that gushes forth into a parched desert, and the thirsty world came to drink from these pristine,  blessed waters.

I remember one evening, after the sun had  set and there were only a handful of visitors and a few Lamas milling about in the large ante room.  Rinpoche was, as usual, in his meditation box and perusing a text, a pair of small reading glasses delicately balanced on his nose.  The silence of that moment between day and night had permeated the place with a feeling of great peace.  

Suddenly the outer door to the waiting room opened and in streamed a large melee of Westerners.  Tall ones, fat ones, thin ones, and short ones.  A whole colorful variety, dressed in all the shades of the spectrum and in fashions from as many different countries around the globe as there were numbers among them.  It was odd to see such a confusion of types float into the room in such disciplined silence and with such a focused sense of purpose on their faces.  In fact it was very striking, quite apart from the contrast that all this sudden influx bought with it...

Read more in Shades of Awareness, Part 3, 
Masters, Mice and Men

Books by the Writer

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


The Greenness of Rice Fields
During the early 1990,s i had the good fortune to be able to spend some months each year near the village of Parping.  
This is a blessed place on the southern rim of the Kathmandu Valley.

The Great Dzogchen Master Orgyen Tulku had built and established a small retreat centre on the side of the hill directly outside a famous cave called Asura.  It was said that the Tantric Master Guru Rinpoche had practiced for a time in this cave, leaving behind hand and foot impressions in the rock.

A number of Lamas and practitioners were staying in small houses or rooms all around this location, leading a quiet life and going on with their various Buddhist practices.

I loved this area.  One could climb up past the cave and onto a small knoll just above.  From here there was a wonderful open vista that swept down the valley towards the city of Kathmandu, the view of which, was offset by the white soaring peaks of the Himalayas rising behind in the distance.  T

he fields directly below shimmered with the helplessly enchanting greenness of ripening rice paddies which weaved their way right down the valley between small mud and straw roofed  hamlets of the villagers.

Giant old Papal trees clung to the sides of the hill and in the late afternoon sunshine i would sit, completely mesmerized, by the leaves on these trees, which,  as they were shaken by evening breezes, glittered with effulgent explosions of light.

During one visit in which i stayed for several months i had another Western woman staying next to me.  She was a devoted student of the previous Jamgon Khontrul Rinpoche. At that time he was still very much alive.

We got along very well and it was lovely to have someone to talk with when we were both taking breaks from our practice sessions.

Our rooms were very simple, side by side on the upper floor of a small building that housed below, an old Lama Yogi in one room and a Tibetan woman and her small boy in the other. 

Both rooms had large windows that looked out over the valley and the rice fields above the Parping village, and when the shutters were pulled aside it was just like floating amidst and over a sea of shimmering green.  The roof was made of  large sheets of grey shale, so it was none too water proof, but fortunately the months i stayed there were relatively dry ones.

One day when we were both in our meditation sessions, i was jolted by the sound of a cry and a loud grunt which sounded out almost simultaneously from the room next door. Maria, my neighbour later told me with much amusement, that she had been sitting on her bed at the window, reciting mantras and lost in reverie, as could easily happen on these long and sleepy afternoons, when she suddenly she noticed a movement directly above where she was sitting...

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

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

In Their Presence

Chadral Rinpoche and the Writer at Godavary
The author with Chadral Rinpoche at Godavary

'The transformative presence of a living Guru is by definition a great threat to the status quo of the ego."
   Ram Alexander, Death Must Die.

During the blessed years back in the early 1990s when i was able to serve and be around my teacher Chadral Rinpoche a lot, there were many occasions in which i was tested.  I knew that Rinpoche watched me very closely.  He never contrived situations, these merely arose naturally in his presence.
Around him there was always  a fertile ground for all the gamut of human reactions and emotions to play themselves out.  Chadral Rinpoche is from the old school of Tibetan Buddhism.  Following time-tested methods, but always in completely fresh and spontaneous ways.  He lives, moves and breathes in the egoless air of a completely realized Being, offering all those who come near him a glimpse of  'That'.

Living near him was always very intense.  There was a lot happening.  The power of the Guru is so pervasive and so profound. It is like standing in front of a flame and being continuously singed by tongues of fire.  Of course, i speak metaphorically, and what is 'singed',  ruthlessly and constantly in the Master's presence, is one's ego. That sneaky, persistent little devil, that, like one's own shadow is the constant companion of ordinary people, like you and me...

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

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A Remarkable Woman, Khandro Tsering Chodron

Khandro Tsering Chodron, 2004, Sikkim.

Khandro Tsering Chodron was one of the most remarkable women I have ever had the extraordinary privilege to meet.  Slight of build,  her appearance betrayed a woman of great strength, loyalty and humility.  I could sing her praises until the cows come home, but in the limited format of a blog, one must endeavour to be somewhat contained.  

In case you do not know her history,  she was the consort of the great Tibetan Master, Jamyang Khyentse Choky Lodro.  She came with him from Tibet in 1956, just before the take over by the Chinese in 1959.  When they first arrived in India, they went on a long pilgrimage to many of the sacred places of the Buddha,  but from 1957 they lived at the Palace Lhakhang just above the town of Gangtok in Sikkim.  Khandrola continued to stay there after Choky Lodro passed away in 1959.

She lived and practised in the simplest possible way, staying in the room that housed the relics of her Master.  This room was in the southern, lower corner of the Temple, and here she would sit in her wooden meditation box, with just a few personal effects around her. I always had a sense of awe when I came into her presence and into this room.  One could sense a very special atmosphere the moment one entered.

The first time I saw her was in 1989 when she visited Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche at his monastery in Nepal.  It was evening, and there were not many people around.  In fact, I seem to remember that it had been expected that she would come at a quiet time.  She preferred it that way.  At that time I knew very little about her and I had never met her, but it was apparent that she was no ordinary visitor.   

Khyentse Rinpoche had climbed out of the large wooden box, where he sat a good part of the day, and, taking a long white scarf, had gone to the door in order to greet her. This made a strong impression upon me at the time.  The atmosphere on that occasion was saturated with a special silence, and the fact that he had gone to meet her seemed very significant.  This did not happen very often and yet great Lamas from all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism came to meet him in this room.

 When she appeared at the outer door, she cast a bright smile that shone like a beam of light into the huge hall-like waiting room outside Rinpoche's private chambers.  A diminutive figure, clad in a simple dark chuba and wearing a little green woollen hat, which she quickly pulled off, careless of the fact that her hair flew out from under it like a silver halo.  I clearly remember the hushed excitement and the joyful exchanges that soon took place between them.  There was nothing extraneous or effusive in this exchange, but one clearly sensed the love and the profound regard which each felt for the other.  This was a moving thing to witness and remains one of the precious memories I have from that time.

In the year of 1996, I went with a Tibetan friend to Gangtok in Sikkim, to attend a Kalachakra Empowerment that was being enacted by H.H. Dalai Lama.  One day, during a break, we climbed the hill to the Palace Lhakhang, and upon approaching the Temple, I noticed a number of wooden shelves with many flower pots and boxes directly outside the windows of one of the lower rooms of the Temple.  What struck me most at that moment,  was the fact that my favourite flowers were growing in many of the pots, and I had neither seen or smelt this particular fragrance since I had left New Zealand way back in the 70,s.  The flowers were Freesias, and the effect of coming upon them like this, so unexpectedly, instantly bought tears to my eyes. It was an intensely poignant moment.

It might appear to be perhaps a minor occurrence and yet it stopped me in my tracks.  Standing outside those windows and bathed in the scent of these flowers I felt a sensation of coming into the presence of something deeply familiar.  After making one complete round of the Temple, we came again to the doors just outside this room.  My friend beckoned me to follow as he stepped inside and then lifted the curtain over a door on the left of a small passageway and then ducked inside.

He had been very keen to meet with Khandrola.   He was preparing to go into a long retreat in the mountains to the north of Kathmandu, and was anxious to receive her blessing before he went.  His father and uncle had both met her on several occasions in Lhasa in the 1950s and they had great faith in both Choky Lodro and her.  I was very eager to meet her myself.  Khyentse Khandro had been the consort of my Master's, Master.  In fact, Choky Lodro had been close to both Dilgo Khyentse and Chadral Rinpoche, the two most influential people in my life. These were strong associations and the sense of being in the presence of something deeply 'familiar' should hardly have been surprising.

She greeted us with a bright and completely open smile. I have not met another woman who was as unaffected or as humble as she was.  However, I was also profoundly struck by the atmosphere in that room.  It was both subtle and yet, at the same time almost palpable.

Soon after our arrival and exchange of greetings, a large group of visitors appeared.  Khandrola quietly slipped away to the bathroom and we both instinctively knew that she would not reappear until the crowds had passed through and gone again, so we made our way out into the glistening sunshine, both of us deeply impressed by this brief encounter.

Tsuklakhang, Gangtok.

After my first meeting with Khandro Tsering in 1996, I was not able to visit Sikkim again for several years.  However, in March of 2001, I set off for Gangtok, eager to deepen my connection with Kandrola and spend time practising near her.  Soon after arriving, I found a pleasant room not far from the Palace, and as evening set in,  took up a kadak and my small offerings and headed towards the Temple.  

It was a glorious, golden evening, and at that time, there were few buildings near the Temple, it stood alone in grand splendour, on an upper fold of the hill above the township.  A small apartment off to one side, housed an old Lama, whom I found dozing quietly in a deck chair, around him, the inert bodies of three or four cats stretched out comfortably.

  As I made my first round of the Temple I came across Khandrola making her evening circumambulations,  her faithful old mutt of a dog, trailing just behind. The only other people around were two ancient Tibetan woman, busy with their prayer beads and muttering mantras.  Apart from them, the place was deserted. Khandro greeted me with a beautiful smile and asked what I had been doing all the years since my first visit.  

I was very surprised that she remembered me, I fell into step with her and we exchanged a few sentences.  I told her I had come in order to spend time practising in and around the Temple, saying nothing of my desire to just be in her presence.  I knew very well that, being as reticent as she was, she would not encourage that.  After my brief explanation, she nodded her head in approval and bade me to follow her into her wonderful room.

That evening everything unfolded with such ease and naturalness that I immediately felt at home and extremely happy to have made the decision to visit in this way.  Over the next ten days, I rose early in the mornings and went up to the Temple.  Khandrola was often outside making her rounds, and we always exchanged some words.

 Although I was spending a lot of time up there, I always went on with my practice, and in this way, I had many unplanned and wonderful interactions with her.  Simple sharings, spontaneous and in many cases very joyful.  It was a teaching in itself, just to be near her, the whole atmosphere around her was quietly charged.   

Since my Master, Khyentse Rinpoche's passing I had not felt such an effortless intensity.  I found this to be a tremendous support for my sadhana. Without even trying to request teachings or have any expectations what so ever, everything simply unfolded in a completely spontaneous and natural way.

On many occasions, I would think of something I would like to ask her, and she would simply begin to talk on that very thing.  One time I was sitting under the little canopy where we often sat to rest, and for a fleeting moment, I thought how wonderful it would be if she would bless my mala, (a rosary).  Sometime later she appeared from her room and came and sat with me, her hand stretched out to take the beads.  We sat there for a long time while she quietly chanted some prayers and told each bead one by one...

Often I would sit under this small canopy not far from her room.  From this place, one had a sweeping view of Kanchendzonga to the west and a whole series of mountains to the north. Many times she joined me there, and she would ask me things or share little stories, or we would just sit together in companionable and easy silence.   She never baulked at my atrocious blundering and efforts to communicate in the Tibetan language, but instead was always encouraging and helpful.  Sharing many experiences and insights,  just as they would arise in her mind.  I felt so utterly blessed.

 I would watch the locals coming up, many in their gym shoes, striding around the Temple at twenty miles an hour.  They were of course very aware of Khandrola, but for most of them, she was simply part of the beloved and familiar landscape of that place.  They were preoccupied and involved with their own thoughts and schedules, mindless of the living treasure in their very midst.
Kandrola had such a pervasive sense of the ordinary about her, that one could easily forgive their seeming indifference.

She who knows, but does not show...  Hers was the quiet evanescence of realization, that, due to her natural reticence and humility were often overlooked by those who did not know her well.

  In every sense of the word, Khandro Tsering Chodron was a 'hidden yogini', a practitioner of the highest order, who never, in any way put herself forward to the world.  And certainly, the 'world' around her just went on with its own day to day business, while this luminous being graced them with her presence.

Between 2001 and 2006 I visited Khandro, three or four times a year.  I would stay several days and on a number of occasions was also able to attend the ceremonies that would take place in her room from time to time.  

In April of 2006, Sogyal Rinpoche was present and we were all able to celebrate a wonderful Guru Rinpoche Feast Offering together in that room.  At that time, I had no idea that I would not meet Khandrola again.

 I received a phone call early one morning, a few months later, with the news that she was unwell, and although my instinct was immediately to go to Gangtok,  her assistant, who had phoned me, told me to wait a few more days, and he would call me when things settled down.

 However, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, (the Tulku of her former Master Jamyang Khyentse Lodro)  arrived that very evening and it was quickly decided that he would take her to Delhi for medical tests.  Soon after that, the sacred remains of her Master Khyentse Chokyi Lodro were moved to Bir, where she stayed for a while until leaving for Lerab Ling in France, where she recently passed away.

Her life was one of quiet, focused and very dedicated practice.  There was nothing superfluous or showy in her manners or appearance.  Having the extraordinary good fortune to observe her on many occasions, I was able to witness something that was very special and unique.  She had a strikingly penetrating way of looking at people.  It was very fleeting, but one felt that in that short moment she perceived clearly,  the whole panorama of the life of the person she was seeing.  She did not miss a thing.  Acutely aware,  she had the sword like qualities which alone,  cut through all outer trappings and uncover the very heart of things.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Headlights in the Sky

Comet Hyakutake

Comet Hyakutake, image by David Darling.

In March 1996, i was staying in Parping, a small village to the south of the Kathmandu valley. Although spring was beginning to set in, it was still remarkably chilly at night.  Parping, in those days, was a small hamlet at the end of a long and winding road.  It was visited only on Tuesdays and Saturdays, during which times, the roads would be choked with taxis and buses plying back and forth from  the city.
The rest of the week, it was a sleepy little village, with a few Hindu and Buddhists temples scattered about here and there.

At that particular time, i was staying in a small  compound belonging to Chadral Rinpoche, not far from his monastery at Yanglasho.  This place is really the main seat where he resides.  It has a spring that has been captured in two fairly large tanks just below the rocky outcrop in which the monastery is nestled.  And just  nearby is a small cave that is said to have been one of several where the great Tantric Master, Padmasambava is known to have spent some time in meditation.  Large old trees surround the cliffs, the spring and the monastery, giving it all something of the feel of a small oasis.

At that particular time Chadral Rinpoche was conducting a ceremony in the Lhakang just above the monks quarters.  These prayer gatherings normally last ten days, during which time, special, consecrated substances and herbs are gathered together and placed within a carefully constructed mandala.  Then prayers are recited and rituals enacted by Rinpoche and his gathering of monks and nuns.  Soon after the beginning of this ceremony, which is  called a Drupchen, the Lhakang is 'sealed' so speak, and only those who have sipped some consecrated water, before entering, are then allowed to cross the threshold into the Temple. From that day on, the sessions are carried out in a daily routine that begins before dawn and ends around 8pm at night, however there are several monks who always remain in the temple to recite the mantra, and this is kept up during the entire ten days and nights that the ceremony is in progress.

On the 10th day, everyone rises very early and the puja begins around 2am.  This is the day when the 'mandala' is symbolically opened and everyone present is given some of the special, blessed substances and water that have been kept within the closed shrine.

That morning i rose at 1.30am, drowsily dressed myself,  made my few preparations and then closing door,  headed out onto the road that runs down to the monastery where the ceremony was about to begin.  Just as i was closing the outer gate, i noticed some thing very odd...

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Monday, 1 August 2011

The Perils of Visiting the Lama
From Jore Bungalow Monastery
Jore Bungalow is a nondescript town about 9 kilo-meters from Darjeeling. It clings to a ridge from which a small road veers off to the left, winding its way several thousand feet down  to Kalimpong and Sikkim.  At this junction, another smaller road winds up towards the famous view point of Tiger Hill.  Hindu's come from far and wide to witness the sun rise from this vantage point, where it is said a flash of green light can be seen at the very moment the sun lifts above the horizon.

  From this place also, on a clear day, one has an unimpeded view of the Himalayan mountains, right across to Mount Everest in Nepal.

In the 1960's soon after the Chinese invaded Tibet, my teacher Chadral Rinpoche rebuilt a small temple here and established the very first three year retreat center in India. He would visit regularly, often slipping in unannounced and staying quietly a few days, before word would get out that he was 'in town'.  Then the crowds would begin to arrive from Darjeeling and  surrounds, all eager to receive his blessings, teachings and advice. It would be crowded for a few days, then things would settle down again, and the visitors taper off to a more manageable trickle.

During one of Rinpoche's visits, my friends Uncle, Kunzang, decided to pay his respects, as was always his custom when the Lama came to Jore Bungalow. He waited a few days for the crowds to subside and then spruced himself up one morning and donned his best Tibetan jacket,  filled his wallet, bought some cakes and a ceremonial scarf of greeting, and  boarded the local jeep. This was a dilapidated old dzongkar, that was packed to bursting.  Four people squeezed into the front seat, that should normally  accommodate only two. Four more, plus a few children sat in the second row, and finally in the back, four or five unfortunate fellows were pushed in along with bags of rice, vegetables, and the odd, live chicken or two.

The old crate would then fire up and puff along the road somewhat like the toys trains that chugged up and down the tracks. If one survived that bumpy, windy ride without vomiting, one would never the less emerge from the old jeep somewhat rumpled, shaken and grey around the gills.

However the good, and uncomplaining folk of Darjeeling were well acquainted with inconvenience and various other kinds of discomfort and somehow adapted themselves to these little  trials.  After this, there was a fifteen minute vertical climb at 7,500 feet and rising, to the Gompa...

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