Friday, 5 February 2016

A Life Well Lived

A Life Well Lived

Beloved Lord of Refuge, how can 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 practise 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.

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 need to do and pack should I have 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 at 17.35 but as he had requested his close family members not to announce his passing until he had fully merged into Maha Paranirvana, they carefully kept the occurrence a very strict secret. Not even people working on the premises inside Rinpoche’s compound were aware of what had taken place.

Chadral Rinpoche lived to the considerable age of one hundred and four, counting by the Tibetan 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 which is not possible to describe in words. Along with 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. I had had the great fortune to be able to spend much time with him and was guided closely through my retreat years. I had been extremely fortunate to be able to go to him when I needed his advice or to verify ‘experiences’.

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 continues to reach far and wide.

Before 2009, Rinpoche was very accessible although he never lingered too long in any one place. There were a few occasions when things might not have gone the way some people might have 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 the world. Rinpoche met with and was and an influential force in the lives of 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 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 own practice and experience and he encouraged all of his students to do the same.

Rinpoche’s spontaneity arose from his moment-to-moment capacity to live 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 trip up into the hills of Darjeeling. We thought we had things pretty well in hand but when it was announced that the car had arrived, Rinpoche suddenly leapt up from his seat and began to head towards the door. We quickly grabbed the warm clothes that he would need that day, and 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 between the two us we managed to put a jumper on him and also drape his trangju and sen (yogi skirt and shawl). But then suddenly he was heading towards the door again so Tara grabbed one shoe and I the other. Only when Rinpoche was actually climbing into the car were we able to see that he had a different shoe on each foot. Certainly, Rinpoche 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. Even so, it should be noted that Rinpoche was also a brilliant and prolific scholar who authored, at least, three volumes of works which are widely read.


He was tremendously learned in an organic way; his learning came through experience, and it 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 woman 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. He had said something to the effect that you can almost ‘hold’ the blessings in your hands and feel the weight of them.

The image which his description had conjured in my mind remained with me very clearly, and that afternoon when we gathered to receive the vows I kept remembering it.

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 be part of this small group. I was delighted by this happy occurrence.

There might have been five or six of us present that day. 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 called together and then he beckoned us to enter the room and close the door behind us. We stood before him in a line across the width of the room. Rinpoche meanwhile, sat on his meditation cushion on the floor ensconced in a large furry cape.

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 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 Tradition. Rinpoche’s lineage is a remarkably short and powerful one originating in Kuntuzangpo, which passes on to Jigme Lingpa, Gyalway Nyugu then on to Patrul Rinpoche, Nyoshul Lungtok and Khenpo Ngachung, who in turn passed it on to Chadral Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khenpo.

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 lineage prayers I felt myself suddenly and quite inexplicably catapulted into a ‘timeless state’ which was absolutely saturated with blessings, so much so, that even though I had barely completed my three prostrations, a surge of tears rose up and began to flow.

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. With every passing moment, it was as though Rinpoche was opening wider and wider the faucet on a stream of grace. 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 where we had all taken these same vows. This was something quite unprecedented and really took me by surprise.

For the entire duration of the gathering, this flow continued. I recall feeling some embarrassment at not being able to control what was happening or even blow my nose. I was a complete mess, so much so that 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.

As Conventional as He was Unconventional

In many ways, Rinpoche could be quite 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, caused many some surprise. This only emerged 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 its own separate building, a Shiva lingam of generous proportions.
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 Buddhist 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.

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


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 requested that no one search for his ‘reincarnation.’ In recent years, after the passing of several great masters, a number of ‘Tulkus’ were put forward as candidates, and much controversy ensued. Rinpoche made his position crystal clear on this point and thus avoided any future complication.

He had always steered clear of the monasteries and large institutions and consistently underlined the importance of doing practice 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 like ‘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 established many retreat centers after he moved to India in the late 1950,s so that those who came to him would be able to practice in suitable locations and thereby actualize the teachings by gaining first-hand experience of them.


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 true experience of our inmost natural state by taking his/her advice to heart. Rinpoche gave his students every opportunity to do this, providing the conditions needed to really settle down and practice.

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

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.


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 the ‘truth’ which is within themselves. 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 perfume of a flower which need not ‘do’ anything particular and yet which affects and purifies the whole surrounding area with its scent, 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 living to a grand age underlined the fact that human beings can subsist very healthily and happily on a vegetarian diet.

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 incidents, 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.

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 favourite 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 stray branches and the rest of us followed behind.

Barely had the small horse begun to move than it let out a loud fart. We could see Rinpoche ahead 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 eaten 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, 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 ‘pith’ instructions, he referred to the advice given as the ‘blood of his heart.’ Such ‘treasure’ 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 on the top of the mountain of the Guru’s blessings.


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

I had gone to Nepal for the first time in almost a decade in August of 2015 and had the great good fortune to see Rinpoche on a number of occasions.
I had gone in order to pay my respects while I was still in the region and had made my way over from Darjeeling, having spent the summer months in my retreat hut in one of his centers in the hills.

The latest visit, however, although following just a few months after was under very different circumstances and carried with it a very different mood.
Being the middle of winter and in the grip of not only the cold but also 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 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 ceremonies that were 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 building and stand near an open window in order to recite the words 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 all together and then another Lama would take over.

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 kept 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 juxtaposition with those who are motivated by temporary gain and greed at the expense of so many.

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. 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.

Prayer by Shantideva

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Psychology of Fear.

One is never afraid of the unknown; 
one is afraid of the known coming to an end.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

It is true; we are bound only by what we believe.
Only by what we ‘think’ we know.
This is not to say that we should undo everything we know; everything that we have ever learnt. Even if we could do such a thing, it would not be possible and in many ways it would be counterproductive.

However, a certain ease can arise through the recognition of the possibility that we are not as ‘bound up’ by our conventions and our day to day routines as we might have previously supposed.

We have the power to turn our mind to whatever we choose, whenever we choose. This kind of freedom is something that we normally take completely for granted and yet so very much depends upon it and upon the knowing of it.

Imagine if we were to invest as much energy into the ‘search’ for truth, as we invest in distractions and all manner of unimportant things?

With focused and determined Self-Enquiry it would take very little time to unravel the mystery of our existence. Yet, how many feel motivated to do this? We quite naturally gravitate to the quicker, easier and more immediate gratifications.

There can be a deep inner resistance to stretching our boundaries. Often we may not even be aware of this resistance. It is bred into us from the earliest possible age and in a thousand different little ways. Modern societies rule through the psychology of fear. Think of how we are monitored in almost every way and we are constantly told that it is for our good; that it is for our protection.

When we begin to ‘question’ we also begin to unravel the knots that bind us to certain premises and beliefs that we might previously have taken as a given.

Fear can be an incredibly inhibiting and stultifying emotion, yet in all sorts of ways, it constantly sneaks into our lives and challenges us.

Remembering death and impermanence is a great way for us to cut through our shell of hesitation and fear. We have insulated ourselves in order to ‘protect’ ourselves and yet the result is that we end up with nothing. Without an understanding of our inmost nature we are at the mercy of fear and death.

In this modern world the emphasis is on our material existence which insinuates constantly that our happiness depends upon accumulating more ‘things.’ Yet we all know in our heart of hearts that this is a load of bollix.

Bring ‘death’ into the picture and everything changes.

The ‘problem’ with ‘death’ is that there is no ‘solution’ for it. There is no ‘fix it’ and get on with a 'life' program. It has been tried of course, and many may claim that they have been helped. But most of these approaches offer temporary solutions; ‘feel good’ excursions which in the end are little more than delaying tactics. It is not easy to be really honest with ourselves but in the end it is far, far kinder.

When we do not know ‘who and what we really are’ we are unable to fully enter into the unedited story of our lives and of all lives.

We were born to recognize our innate freedom.

It is as simple as that.

Herein lies the whole purpose and meaning of our existence. We can phrase it in countless different ways, but in the end all ways lead to the one true thing.

The only impediment to our finding this out within ourselves, is our own ‘mind’ and the conditioning fears to which it has been subject since the moment of our birth.

It requires determination and focus to unravel such tightly bound habits as the ones which we have unwittingly formed.

What is needed,rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance,
 is understanding fear; 
that means, watch it, learn about it, 
come directly into contact with it. 
We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it."
It is very easy to conform to what your society or your parents and teachers tell you. 
That is a safe and easy way of existing; but that is not living…

To live is to find out for yourself what is true.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Great Compassion

Homage to the Beloved Lord of Refuge. 
We can never repay your kindness. 
Merging into the Expanse of Wisdom you will continue to benefit countless beings...

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

Kyabji Chadral Sangye Dorje

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year, however, I decided to take matters into my own hands. At the time, I was living in a small retreat hut in the forests of the Darjeeling hills and had come to know that Rinpoche had arrived at his Salbari Temple. He had journeyed from Nepal and was already on his way to Kolkata. I did not want to ask for permission and risk being sent back to my hut, so I just packed a few things, went down the hill and caught the night train. After arriving in the wee hours of the following morning and finding myself a suitable lodging, I made my way to the place where I knew the ‘release’ would be taking place. I was able to arrive at the banks of the Ganges just as they were all preparing to begin work that day.

It was naughty of me to go without his permission, but I never once regretted my decision and Rinpoche never said anything to reproach me nor showed any sign of displeasure at my unasked for appearance. Within an hour I was chugging out onto the river on a funky old wooden tugboat together with one of the Lamas. The two of us had loaded our boat with the help of a band of Indian workers, with large, waist high buckets filled to the brim with fish.

Four other boats, each with two helpers to unload the buckets came and went in a constant procession as we began to release the truck loads of fish that were been bought down to the river.

It was hard work in the unforgiving sun, but we barely looked up to notice it. Throughout most of the day, Rinpoche sat quietly on the banks and watched us come and go. There was such a special atmosphere, like a rain of blessings enfolding the whole procedure and although we labored for hours without any breaks, none of us faltered or felt tired.

Many times I found myself with tears in my eyes and quite involuntarily, mantras and prayers flowed from our lips as we lifted bucket after bucket-load of fish and poured them in droves into the waters. The moment of their release was so exhilarating. It was a joy to watch them flicker away like sparkling darts as the rays of the sun's light flashed for a moment off their silvery fins.

As it turned out, the year I went was one of the last that Rinpoche, already well into his nineties at the time, could attend in person and his wife, Sangyum Kamala and others have come forward now to carry on the work.

Just think of how relevant and how meaningful this work, which had such humble beginnings, has now become. This is not just a symbolic act that shows remarkable foresight and conveys a powerful message; this is a living demonstration of something much deeper, which has profound implications.

The fish in our seas are being caught indiscriminately and in droves and who is giving anything back? Can we take and take without end?


Before concluding, I want to add a brief mention of something that happened to a young newly-wed couple who were about to embark on their honey moon on the Andaman Islands. This story is a remarkable tale that reveals the intricate and subtle underlying threads between the motivation and the activities of those who live, work and exist in this world only to benefit others.

On the day of their departure, the young, newly-weds were walking through the Kathmandu airport, when they noticed an elderly Lama sitting to one side with his family and entourage. It was Chadral Rinpoche, about to set off for Kolkata to undertake the annual fish release.

As the husband’s family members were all long time devotees of Rinpoche, he immediately went over to receive the Lama’s blessing. During this encounter Rinpoche made some comments which the young man was not able to fully understand at the time. He had asked Rinpoche to bless them on their trip and this Rinpoche had graciously done. However, he had also said something to them that they had both found very unexpected and disturbing.

He had said something major was about to happen and that much life would be lost as a result. As a political conflict was raging in Nepal at that time, the couple attributed his words to this. Rinpoche had told them that he was going to Kolkata to buy and bless fish which had been raised in fish farms. He had told them that he would release the fish into the Ganges and that he was praying that by doing this, he could save a few lives.

The couple offered a donation towards the buying of the fish and he thanked them and then added that it would be offered in their name, but not only for their long life, but for the benefit and long life of all beings.

It was mid-December in the year of 2004. Exactly two weeks later there was a huge 9.1 earthquake near Indonesia. The massive quake released a gigantic tsunami that devastated a vast swathe of south-east Asia and took with it some quarter of a million lives. It happened just off the coast of Aceh, not far from the Andaman Islands where the couple was still holidaying at that time. The newly-weds lives were spared but their known world thereafter was completely shaken and they could never forget the timely words or the powerful blessing of the Lama."
(This excerpt is from the chapter called Ransoming Lives and is quoted from my third book in the Series, Shades of Awareness.)

The above photo was taken in Neyding retreat center in Helambhu region of
Nepal in 1996.
Rinpoche is front right.
DoDrupchen Rinpoche is front left.
Just behind him and moving towards the right. The prince of Sikkim, Gyaltse Chogyal, Tulku Ozer, Semo Tara Deva, Rinpoche's second daughter, Kartok Situ, and one Gomchenpa whose name i do not remember.
 I am standing right at the back towards the left of the picture.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Wind in Your Hair

When I was growing up in New Zealand there was a motorcycle advertisement that used to be played a lot on the radio. It was before the days of compulsory helmets for motorbikes and bicycles. I can still remember the tune so clearly and the feeling which it used to evoke.

and if you don't know what its like to take a (cycle) someplace,
in your own time, with the wind in your face,
it's a great shame...

One of my unalloyed joys while living in India is that one still has a choice as to whether one wears the headgear or not, at least this is very much the case in the small temple town where I currently live. 

Most of us here, choose to ride un-helmeted.

Laws do in fact state that helmets are 'compulsory' but when I step out onto the street I am lucky if I count the helmets I see on one hand!

This is India after all. One seldom rides above 40 ks an hour on a good run and hey, my wheels are powered by a whole 50 ccs!

We all have certain things that just instantly make us  'happy.' Simple and innocent joys are the evanescence of our lives.

Why shouldn't we give ourselves a buzz from the little things which are still free and accessible, as long as they harm no one else? They keep the blood pulsing through our veins and a lightness in our heart and step.

Why leave life to 'happen' until it is all a bit too late?

Do you know what its like to feel 
the wind in your hair as you glide between avenues of trees and pass by silent temples in the stillness of the predawn hours...?

The cool breeze will stroke your face as you pass down the leafy green aisle... 

The ancient whispering ones are like temple pillars,

 they will share this  magic moment with  you.

If you open your heart you will be able to fly. 

Its never too late...

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dancing With Fear

Whoever and whatever the force that brings us into this world and to which Rumi is so eloquently 'pointing,' it is, without doubt, the greatest mystery of life, yet our attention gets constantly caught up by peripheral considerations. Our 'fears' and 'hopes' are at the forefront of the peripheral preoccupations which shape and mould our movements in this world.

Usually, these limit us in various ways because we are bought up to exist within clearly defined boundaries. We tend to move through this life believing that this is how it is and will always be and we become so entrenched in this 'idea' that most people live their whole lives this way, never knowing the unique and infinite potential that is right in front of them and within them.

Yet all around us, we see that there is a vague stirring of dissatisfaction, an inner rumbling of discontent, a deep and a deepening inner sadness, but if the cause of these symptoms is not addressed they become a 'disease,' chronic and stupefying.

"Zombiism is a word that encapsulates the rise of a modern trend; the age of the living dead. When having too much of everything has simply overwhelmed the senses and left an awful lot of people in a semi-conscious state. Look around, look closely, look at the unsmiling faces, look into the dull, unshining eyes.

As miserable and frightening as this picture may appear to be, it is nevertheless within our individual hands to turn our own mind and life around. We don't need to change ourselves or do anything accept recognize the treasure that exists within us. The mystery of being that surrounds us in every breath and in every moment of our lives need not be 'created;' it already 'is,' we have but to stop and notice it.

Reaching out to grasp our infinite potential requires the ability to look into the face of mind-created fears and tackle them from the place of intuition and spontaneity.

There is one incident that Chogyam Trungpa recounts in his autobiography that I have never forgotten and which made quite an impact on me when I read it, back in the nineties. No doubt because I had a somewhat similar experience and could very much relate to his situation. It had happened somewhere in Tibet when he was a young man, probably in his early twenties, prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

He and two assistants were on their way somewhere in the mountains. Their path ran past a monastery and as they approached, they heard the deep, rumbling and guttural sounds of a large Mastiff guard dog. As they got nearer they saw the animal chained to a post near the entrance gateway. It had worked itself into a fine frenzy over their approach and was snarling, frothing and wrenching at its chain in a most unfriendly manner.

The two assistants were tense and stiff with anxiety as no doubt Trungpa also was, however, there was no way to skirt this path or take another route. They had to continue on their way with the hope that the animal would remain securely tied to its post.

Just as they crossed the gateway of the monastery, however, the dog suddenly managed to pull itself free of its chain and immediately rushed upon them in a black ball of fury and fangs, intent on attack.

It was at that very instant that Trungpa did something completely unexpected and inexplicable. Instead of trying to escape as his two attendants immediately tried to do, he turned around towards the animal and charged straight at it making a loud sound as he went.

The dog was so startled by this turn of events that it yelped and backed off in an instant and uncertain truce. No one was hurt and they were able to continue on their way, somewhat ruffled but unmolested!

I love this story, it is a shining example of taking fear by 'the neck' and looking it straight in the face. Naturally one would not want this experiment to go wrong and in Trungpa's case, it did not. It certainly requires remarkable courage and daring.

I have a few of my own 'dog stories' in Tibet which took place during the 1980s and on one occasion with several large man-eating beasts at a burial ground near the foot of Mount Kailash, into which I had inadvertently stumbled alone.

I could not have turned on those animals because there were five of them and they were not fat and well-fed dogs used to human company, these beasts were wild and hungry and used to the taste of human flesh. I did the only thing I could have done in that situation, other than running, which was not an option as I was near a cliff face that fell away at least 100 meters to a valley below, so I just sat down and began to sing and it worked!

These are extreme examples of confronting and dealing with fear, yet no less valid for being so and rather memorable of course. This is not to say that we should endeavour to 'overcome fear.' Fear is an extremely important and vital life protecting mechanism. However, there are a number of factors with regards to facing our fear and the way that we deal with it that can be very liberating.

I am not advocating the headlong or blind rush towards the object of fear, despite the story that I just related. I have mentioned these incidents because they are a striking example of, tackling a problem outside of the use of conventional wisdom. Trungpa’s response which demonstrated openness and spontaneity bought about an entirely unexpected outcome.

Why not turn our lives into a dance and dance our way through it, since after all, as has been pointed out very succinctly on many occasions, 'none of us are going to get out of this alive.'

If we allow ourselves this kind of openness if we are willing to surprise ourselves and others, we place in our hands a key that can help us to unravel mysteries of being.

But exactly how you might ask and understandably so? There is no 'how' there is no set formula. The way manifests once we begin to dance and then the dance becomes the way. It requires only an inner intention, decision and courage.

The dance of life implies a joyous and spontaneous attitude, a willingness to accept change at the very instant that it arises before us, in whatever form that it may be manifesting and a willingness to break free of conventional wisdom and live in the moment.

We are sure to be surprised by the outcome.

Dance when you've broken open.
Dance if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you are perfectly free.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Maha Kartikai Deepam, Lighting the Sacred Flame Atop Arunachala

Lighting the Flame on the Hill of Fire!

Every year during the month of November an ancient ceremony is enacted at Arunachala in the South of India.
A huge copper cauldron is carried up to the summit from the Arunachaleshwar Temple and filled with ghee offerings, many of which are carried up by local and visiting pilgrims.

Each evening as the sun sets the lamp is ignited and burns throughout the night for ten consecutive days.
A lot of the foreign visitors run out of town during the main day of the festival, but i would not miss it for the world.

There is something very special about the atmosphere in this place during these days.

Come dusk on Deepam day, most of the town surrounding the entire Hill are outside on their rooftops. Everyone has ghee lamps prepared and offerings of flowers and incense.

When the sun is setting in the wast and the moon is rising in the east the head priest at the main Arunachalesvar temple sends a signal from the inner sanctum at the exact and auspicious moment.

A flare shoots up into the sky and the great cauldron atop the hill is lit and bursts into a mighty flame. At that instant a roar rises up from every place in and around the Hill.

The crowds cries out Harohara, three times. This translates as; This is a sight for the gods to see!

It is a truly exhilarating moment.

In a world torn apart by hatred, fear and the endless divisions created by countless human minds, we can take heart in the united joy which ignites itself as the eternal flame at Arunachala!

Arunachala is the sacred Hill which represents the Agni Lingam (Fiery Element) of India.

The following link will take you to one of my previous and more detailed posts on the;

Friday, 6 November 2015


Accept--then act. 
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it...
This will miraculously transform your whole life.

Eckhart Tolle 

No matter how bad things may get, there is still a way for us to find the seeds of hope and peace right there in that difficult situation.

Life can deal us a series of blows and we might either give in to our misery and bitterness or dig deeper to find the point of our surrender and subsequent acceptance. 

Acceptance of what is is the beginning of making peace with ourselves and the world.

If we are ever to find any shreds of peace and happiness in this world, the sooner we welcome acceptance into our lives the better.

Do we really have any other choice at the end of the day? Aside from orchestrating our own swift demise, which is no solution at all,  but merely drags out our suffering on a subtler plane where we have even fewer choices.

We are not advocating a dull quiescence to whatever life throws our way. Rather what is being pointed to here is a calm submission to what cannot be changed. Whatever can be changed and whenever that opportunity may arise one should be ready to act, keeping in mind, that it is always better to err on the side of kindness to oneself and others.
A few days ago I headed outside on my bicycle. It was just before four pm and some heavy storm clouds were rumbling in the distance so I thought it wise to get out and complete my evening routine of walking and cycling before the rains came in.

Every day when I am staying in Tiruvannamalai, I like to take my cycle and ride or walk up the wide pathway on Girivallum Road. The sadhus who live along this stretch are so familiar with my evening and, on occasion, pre-dawn jaunts, that they have bestowed upon me the name 'Cycle Ma.'

In this tropical locality, it is usually searingly hot come late afternoon. However, Girivallum Road has plenty of shade and avenues of old, towering Tamarind trees line both sides of the road bringing shade and relief to all who pass that way.

Many small Hindu shrines, tanks and temples are built along this stretch of road. An assortment of sadhus also live there, some practising meditation, others hanging about chatting and drinking chai, still others sleeping. The pavement along here is something akin to an open living room.

In any case, it usually has a certain relaxed ambience and is a preferred spot for my evening walk and cycle ride and I seldom miss the opportunity to pass by.

The particular evening I speak of, I headed out from my compound taking the usual back route and cutting across an open field which comes out right onto the pathway between a large rice storage centre and an unused marriage hall. This route enables me to avoid the main highway until the crossing point.

As my luck would have it that evening I no sooner crossed the highway than large drops of rain began to fall. I made a b-line for the marriage hall which offered some sheltered areas along its sides and only just made it before the rain really set in.

I had passed an old fellow dressed in the simple orange attire of a sadhu. He was painfully making his way along the path. After the rain had begun in earnest he headed in my direction but as his legs were badly deformed he was not able to move quickly. By the time he reached the shelter, he was soaked right through.

I had seen many like him before, ragged, poor, wretched and unwell. He must have suffered from polio as a child and the marks of this ghastly disease had remained with him throughout his life.

He soon joined me under the shelter and we exchanged pleasantries via various hand signals. He spoke no English and I have only a smattering of Tamil words at my command.

He wanted to know where I was from, how many children I have etc. The usual questions that tend to pop up as introductions to most first time exchanges in this land.

He then proceeded to inform me that he had five grown-up children. Three sons, which he intimated by twirling an imaginary mustachio and two daughters, for which he pulled on his right nostril in order to infer a nose ring. The flourish with which he enacted the mustachios of his 'sons' was quite amusing. In Tamil Nadu, one seldom sees a man without some form of facial hair. The mustachio is regarded as a sign of manliness and no self-respecting male would be without one and the bigger and more extravagant, the better.

All his children were grown up and married and had families and children of their own. He had been a tailor in his younger days. The way he flapped his feet to intimate a treadle sewing machine led me to this conclusion and apparently with the small earnings from his trade he had raised his family in a simple way.

Then his wife had died and one misfortune had followed another. He began to take comfort in that family wrecker of all time, the 'bottle.' In the end, none of his five children would take him in and he was forced to leave the village where he had lived all his life. He donned the simple attire of a wandering sadhu and began to live with neither shelter nor the surety of food. All he had was a dirty white cotton bag which hung limply over one shoulder.

He looked utterly wretched standing there drenched and miserable. Large tears began to roll down his cheeks as he looked at me steadily. It was the more heart wrenching because he did not try to play up his situation in any way and he was not asking for money. He was simply acknowledging what his life had become.

My heart ached for him. So many countless old people, like him, faced the final years of their lives, homeless, destitute, lonely and unwell. 

The best years of this man's simple life had been spent in raising the children who had eventually cast him out onto the streets to face his end alone and penniless.

Many many times i have seen these old ones and tried to imagine what their days are like and how they feel each morning when they wake up.

We do not know how our lives will turn out. Whether we will face our old age amid conditions of love, comfort, and support or whether the opposite will be true. In fact, we do not know if we will even face our old age at all.

What always comes back into the mind, however, is how utterly essential it is to seek the truth of our inmost being while yet we can. Only with our confidence and certainty in who and what we really are, can we face the future with all of its uncertainties.

The innovations to help, the charities, groups, and individuals who have taken on the challenge of addressing the outer needs of people such as these are worthy and much needed but in the end, we cannot avoid the fact that we must go alone and unaided when our time comes.

When we see the difficulties that others face it can be quite overwhelming. We long to help and yet find ourselves constrained in so many ways and for so many reasons. Even when we can help in some way it seems like so little and so inadequate.

How is one to face a future such as this? I could only guess at what this man would be thinking and feeling in these moments.

I put money in his shirt pocket but knew very well that it could only bring the most temporary relief. Very likely he would drag himself across the road again to the wine shop for another draft of short-term 'happiness.'

Yet, right here on this road, one could witness a wide variation in levels of 'acceptance.' Each day I also passed those who had made peace with themselves. Those who had 'surrendered' were joyful and at ease whether there was rain or shine, food or famine. Those who resisted were struggling night and day.

Who knows if he could understand, but i turned him towards the mountain and tried to convey to him that his karma had brought him to the feet of a peerless sage in a powerful and sacred place. If he could somehow let go of his regrets and bitterness despite all, he could yet pass out his days with a peaceful heart.

Our true wealth lies not in our accumulated riches or the extended family crowd which may at any moment, be snatched away from us. As one of my teachers said; family and friends are like birds that gather for a moment in the branches of a tree before scattering to the four directions. 

Everything will be taken away sooner or later, whether we live in a mansion or on the side of a road, whether we have twenty children or none. 

Only what we have cultivated in our heart; in the inmost secret garden, will always abide, nourishing us and those around us and bringing us peace and joy when all else seems lost.


Thursday, 8 October 2015

King Cobra

King Cobra
When life throws the 'unexpected' at us it can instantly rock the foundations of our 'known' world and put a very different perspective upon our moment to moment perception of day to day life!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Discovering the Space Inside and Out

The Way the Leaves Shine
Discovering the space which is within us and which surrounds us is a delicate matter that requires nothing more than a very simple shift of attention. If you can stay with the moment 'between thoughts' a whole world of infinite existence and beauty will begin to emerge as naturally as the sun rises bringing on the dawn...
In the early nineteen-nineties, I spent several months in a retreat centre which was located near a pilgrimage place called Asura Cave in Parping, a small village on the southern fringes of the Kathmandu Valley. This cave was said to be the place where the great Master, Padmasambhava meditated and realized the state of ‘Mahamudra.’(That which is unchanging)
Day after day I would climb up the hill behind the cave. In the still, early afternoon air, which throbbed with heat and sleepiness, one seldom met anyone on the way. Indeed many were taking a nap during those very hours.
Each day, at the same time, I would walk past the cave and take a small dirt track up the hill behind. It wound its way steeply between rocks and shrubbery. The scent of ash from countless sticks of incense filled the air with a peculiar pungency which could almost be intoxicating at this time of the day. It was this smell, which rose in the heat from a large incense burner, which I associated with the place, the time and with the atmosphere.
At a certain point after climbing up the path the way opened out to a magnificent view which swept down the valley, across unfolding fields of rice paddy and on into the descending, dusty distance. Occasionally one could even spot the glistening spires of Himalayan peaks far, far away to the north.
Even though I knew those peaks were always there, it was only very infrequently that one could gaze upon the snowy summits from this vantage point and be thrilled by the spectacle of those distant giants.
A few more steps and one arrived at a small terrace-like a plot of earth which rested directly above the ancient cave. There were a few scrubby trees here and there. These had somehow escaped the knives of the women who came to gather fodder for their cattle and goats. The limbs of all the trees had been hacked and chopped so relentlessly, over the years, that they never grew beyond a certain height. Between these small trees were hung line upon line and row upon row of colourful prayer flags that fluttered and waved in the breeze.
I would invariably turn my back on the grand view that swept down into the valley of Kathmandu, in favor of a less spectacular vista which opened out onto a small group of hills which were dotted with tiny hamlets, nestled here and there between the folds of undulating, bare earth, greenery and layered rice terraces.
One friendly branch offered some welcome shade from the heat and glare of the westering sun and there I would sit, motionless.
At that time of the day, the light would appear to glitter on the leaves of a distant Bodhi tree at the base of a nearby hill. This rather ordinary and innocent reflection would invariably and very quickly engross my attention and still the wandering, restless mind.
I cannot say why a few shimmering leaves could hold my attention enthralled hour after hour, day after day, but come noon, the irresistible pull of that one spot on the hill would draw me from the dusky interior of my room and out into the light of day.
In the stillness of those hours, there was a silence so full and so overpowering that thought was not even possible. In the absence of thought came a spaciousness that would give wings to the current of life within.
The happiness and peace of those silent hours could assuage even the sharpest anguish, restlessness or pain that might appear at other times. If I happened to climb the hill with a heavy heart, burdened by the transient but nevertheless, sharp worries of the world, within minutes of arriving there, all would be swept away in the blessed glitter of those distant dancing leaves of light.
The eyes were open and yet unseeing, the breath came and went less and less. There was a sense of merging towards the hub of a gigantic turning wheel. While the world spun on its way, all that had been previously scattered, drew in and focused itself to a potent point that had no circumference.
Grace flowed like an intoxicating balm into the weary waters of the mind.
In stillness, wisdom arises spontaneously to reveal the space inside and out.
The one that ‘sees’ and ‘knows’ and ‘thinks’ ceases to be and there is only the being itself, only the seeing itself…

(This is an excerpt from my  book
Who Lives? Who Dies? What We Need to Know Before We Go)


Sunday, 6 September 2015

For Kindness Sake


"When in doubt,
It is better to err on the side of kindness..."

The immediate reaction of many upon seeing the cartoon above might be, 'oh, here we go again, another moralistic lecture...'

Potent images in the press and media of previous days have flooded cyberspace. In a world where the senses are overwhelmed by 'bad news' and where mass and tragic outcomes, which are often caused and then exacerbated by a relatively small group of selfishly motivated, greedy individuals, can cause the mind to shut off and tune the 'noise' out. There is always something going on. Recently I heard a new phrase, 'compassion fatigue...'

However, every now and then one image will emerge which will cut through all the indifference, through all the debate and all of the noise.

If there is a saturation point at which the mind's ability to cope with and embrace demands upon our 'conscience' then those which touch us directly at the level of the heart, have the capacity to summon inmost and boundless compassion. That fount taps into an inexhaustible ocean of grace which can swiftly bring all the other barriers down in one great crash.

Suddenly the excuses, the arguments, the ignorance and the indifference dissolve.

Like a bottomless spring that bubbles up, seemingly, from 'nowhere,' spontaneous acts of kindness spring from the depths of our being. They are not contrived, nor are they limited.

Imagine a world in which beings could exist without this?
Would you or I want to live there?

There is a favoured spot where I often go to watch the sunset and enjoy that final hour of daylight. It is on a small stretch of road some miles from the town. It lies in a rural area among rice paddies and open fields and has been slightly elevated. The only source of shade on this stretch is one isolated Tamarind tree of considerable age. Its generous branches have sheltered many a wayfarer over years and decades...

Yesterday I ventured there for a little respite from the noise and dust of the road and town and to my dismay found it had been cut down!

Little pieces of it remained scattered about. It felt to me, as though a senseless murder had just been committed. What has taken years to grow had been hacked down in just a few miserable minutes.

The scene of this 'crime' is now completely changed. The 'tree of refuge' which had harmlessly and silently abided in this place for so many years, was, no more. Gone the gentle atmosphere of shade and refuge; in its place a shade less expanse, strangely empty and now entirely at the mercy of the relentless tropical sun.

In contrast to this and not far away, the careful and back-breaking work of planting numerous Banyan trees goes on afoot. The vision of a few far-sighted souls who may never personally enjoy the shade or grace that these trees will bestow, but who, nevertheless are sowing the seeds that future generations will enjoy.

The effort required to plant and nurture each and every sapling is considerable and yet it is going on in striking contrast.

Every day we can witness acts of kindness if we make it our business to notice such things. Even when they may express themselves in the smallest of gestures they still belie something deep and fundamental to our inmost being.

There is much misery in this world; the sort that is often caused by careless, thoughtless destruction, yet the very same hands that are the cause of the destruction are equally capable of bringing about the most amazing transformations.

We need be in no doubt at all as to how important and crucial are the collective and small individual thoughts and doings of each one of us.

The fact of our very existence must, in time give rise to the awareness of what we all 'create.'  A single thread in the great tapestry of life may seem unimportant and yet each thread is crucial to holding the whole great mosaic of life together.

So even if we feel overwhelmed at times by senseless acts and by the suffering and sadness which engulfs so much of this world, there is also much that each and every one of us can do to offset it, at least within our own small orbits.

We cannot know the power of our goodwill and intentions until and unless we believe in them utterly. Herein
lies our true strength and ultimately, our joy!

In knowing that we can BE the change; that we can plant that tree, or extend that hand, be the listening ear,  or the shady bower. That we can be anything and everything we want is the springboard to true and actual freedom.

We are never separated from this freedom in our inmost being yet amid the clamour of the world one can forget.

As for 'the world,' the words of Nisargadatta Maharaj are something to aspire towards. "You don't have to change anybody; you just have to love them."

In concluding, there comes to mind the final words in the classic Middlemarch, by George Eliot;

"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."