Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche’s Mullah Stories (4)

One day, as people walked past Mullah’s house they saw him madly thrashing around with a long stick.
“What are you doing?” they asked.
“I’m driving away lions,” replied Mullah.
“But there aren’t any lions,” they said, puzzled and rather amused.
“Yes,” said Mullah, triumphantly.  “It’s working!”

God’s Music

In response to the Johann Sebastien post, Trish wrote that someone once said, when God plays music for his angels he plays Bach; but when he plays music for himself, it’s Brahms. Thank you Trish. Somehow your quotation reminded me of poxy St. Augustine, although on reflection, the only connection is that St. Augustine believed in God. Anyway, my beef with St Augustine is two-fold. Not only does he bear sole responsibility for the invention of original sin, but he was also very confused about the point of music and actually believed it to be dangerous to a fragile Catholic soul!

“I waver,” he wrote, “between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those time I would prefer not to hear the singer.”

What to do with such a saint? Thomas Beecham, who could never even remotely be described as ‘saintly’, had a far healthier view. “The function of music,” said Sir Thomas, whose life was jam-packed with music making, “Is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” Bravo, Tom! Boo, hiss, St. A.!

But surely even this venerable saint would not object to being moved by both words and music. For example in the miraculous Agnus Dei by Benjamin Britten from his devastingly beautiful War Requiem. The singer is Ben’s life-long friend, Peter Pears. The English words by Wilfred Owen. And I’m sure God plays this one for himself.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Rasputin

 think this rather faded photo dates from 1987 or 88, and have a feeling it was taken on Rinpoche’s camera. Again, the identity of the photographer is lost in time. Maybe Mal? Or Phuntso? Anyway, it shows Rinpoche during one of his visits to Tibet with a friendly baby yak or dri (or whatever…).

It puts me in mind of a story some friends told, many moons ago, about the time they had the great good fortune to be able to offer Rinpoche hospitality here in Berlin. At that time, these friends lived with a marvellous and very appropriately named cat, Rasputin (Rasputin by name, Rasputin by nature). As far as Rasputin was concerned, my friends were merely his guests and were therefore subject to a fairly lengthly list of house rules. Interlopers were dealt with promptly and firmly, sometimes with double broadsides. I believe one poor woman found large quantities of rather loose cat shit, several fur balls and an ocean of piss in her as yet unpacked suitcase. Rasputin’s judgements were swift and terrible and my friends were not a little concerned in case he took against Rinpoche.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that they had no need to worry. The moment Khyentse Rinpoche crossed the threshold Rasputin claimed him as his own. Rinpoche responded by scooping him up and tucking him into his robes (as Tibetans and Bhutanese do), which was where he stayed throughout the visit. No shit or piss was scattered, no claws extended, and there was absolutely no yowling. Content to nestle in the folds of Rinpoche’s robes, Rasputin purred his way through Rinpoche’s visit…

What if…

What if Buddha had been born into today’s English Royal Family? Which member of that family would he have chosen to be? Which sport would he have played, polo, cricket and rugby? or football? How would he have handled the mean-spirited English press? He would be brought up in the Anglican Church, so what would Buddhadharma look like with a Christian background instead of a Hindu one? Who would he have married? He would be driven by a chauffer in a Rolls Royce, not a charioteer in a chariot. Where on earth would he find his spiritual companions? And how would he cope with English weather?

This beautiful Buddha is from a postcard my mother-in-law bought in Varanasi. Photographer unknown.

Johann Sebastien

Old man Bach, born into a family of professional musicians and dead at the age of 65 after an English quack operated unsuccessfully on one of his  eyes. There were generation upon generation of Bachs, it seems, although unlike Johann Sebastien, few are remembered today. I learned recently that he was the fifteenth member of his family to be christened Johann, and that no less than four of his brothers were also Johanns. Perhaps his father was too busy making music to come up with something more original, but whatever the reason, five Johanns’ in the family suggests a monumental lack of imagination. My guess is that for the Bachs the important thing was to perpetuate family names. But it is only a guess.

If I were only allowed to listen to one composer for the rest of the my life I think it would have to be Johann Sebastien, in spite of the spiritual risk I’d be taking. Bach makes the God of Luther quite real for me. So much so that I, too, want to cry out to him to “Have mercy!” Especially now.

I should probably apologize in advance to any Baroque purists out there for this particular version of “Ebarme dich”. It’s sumptuous and romantic and Klemperer-slow, and therefore a long way from contemporary notions that shape today’s ‘Alte Musik’. But it works for me. Such unbearably glorious, wretched, tender music. I simply can’t resist it.

Khenpo Jigphun 1993

In 1993, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog, the incarnation of Terton Sogyal who lived in Tibet, visited Sogyal Rinpoche at Lerab Ling. I have two strong memories of that time. The first is that in spite of his very long journey, the moment Khenpo Jigphun arrived he dashed into the main shrine tent (well, dashed…) to tell everyone that Sogyal Rinpoche is the crazy wisdom incarnation of Terton Sogyal (not that we had many doubts about that). And the other is that Khenpo would hang his mala on one of his very large ears when he wasn’t using it.

As you can see in both photos, Andreas was entrusted with holding a large umbrella for Khenpo to provide him with some relief from the intensity of the mid-summer sun, which he did extremely elegantly, in spite of the fact he probably had more beer in his alcoholstream than blood.

Andreas was given the above photo for some now forgotten reason, and I managed to acquire the one below as a photocopy when Andreas and I got together that September (which may only have happened because he had more beer in his alcoholstream than blood…). I’ve kept it in my copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at the beginning of the chapter entitled “Intrinsic Radiance” ever since.
My apologies. Yet again I have no clue as to the name of the photographer(s). 

The Kerry Recruit

Yesterday evening I accompanied Andreas to the Irish Times on Leipziger Straße for an evening of traditional Irish music. Andreas, who sings at home quite a lot (although mostly in the shower; he runs a bath in which to wash, then jumps into the shower to sing), has initiated a ‘session’ on Sunday evenings and this was to be the second musical gathering. (The next will be in two weeks time, for any Berliners who are interested.)

After a few instrumental numbers, Andreas took his turn and I must say he sang rather well. It was the first time I’d ever heard him sing when he wasn’t soaking wet, and the best thing about the lack of bathroom sound effects was that I was able to capture the performance of one his favourite songs on video. Unfortunately, now it’s on YouTube the picture is a bit on the dark side, but the music, the important bit, has retained its lustre.

Men in Skirts

Yesterday as I trawled through my pictures from Bhutan to find the one I posted of Emily, two things happened simultaneously: Andreas burst into our sitting room laughing from head to toe, as only he can, to point out the above youtube link, and I came upon today’s photo. It was taken at the same tenshyuk I mentioned yesterday, and that I should find it as I listened to this song struck me as an interesting coincidence.

Perhaps I should explain. As you will hear from the song (great singer, by the way), many of those born on my island are fascinated by men in skirts. Bizarrely, the further north you go, meaning the colder the weather, the more likely it is that you will bump into skirted men. Not the faux-David Beckham types in a designer sarongs, or would-be Boy Georges, these are the hard men from the north, beefy, bearded, whisky-swilling out-door types who live in T-shirts and kilts, only resorting to woollies once the temperature hits -1 (centigrade). And the focal point of our fascination revolves around the myth that ruggard kilt-wearing Scots eshew underwear, whatever the weather.

So, naturally, when I visited Bhutan where the male population also forgo trousers in preference for their national dress (I think its a legal requirement), it got me thinking. How far do the similarities between the Bhutanese and the Scots go? And I felt it my duty to investigate. Hence the photograph. Hmmn…?

Another Back

Yes, I am supposed to be working. Yes, I do have a deadline. And no, I definitely should not be exceeding my alloted posting time by so much as a minute. But…

Jun Xie just sent me a link to an article about what Khyentse Rinpoche has been doing for the past couple of weeks (thank you Jun) and it includes a wonderful gallery of photos with all kinds of backs and fronts and bits and pieces in it, all of which I find extremely inspiring. And the reason I’m breaking my rules and posting twice in one day is that one of the pictures reminded me of this slightly strangely exposed snap I took in Bhutan in 2007 of Emily striking one of her most characteristic poses. Another wonderfully eloquent back, don’t you think?

The occasion was a tenshyuk offered by the three-year retreatants to Khyentse Rinpoche in Paro the day they got out.

Here’s the link about Khyentse Rinpoche’s activities in July:
It’s important to share distractions.

1992 Manjushri Lung

In the August of 1992, towards the end of the three-month retreat, Dzongsar Khyentse visited Lerab Ling and was taken down to the steep, craggy hill to a small clearing where teachings sometimes took place. A carpet had been placed on a huge boulder onto which Khyentse Rinpoche climbed and told us he’d been asked to give the lung of the Arya Manjushri Tantra Chitta.

The magic word for me was ‘Manjushri’, Buddha of Wisdom. I knew next to nothing about him, or anything else fo that matter, and had certainly never done the practice, but just the sound of his name thrilled me. For once I was determined to make the effort to receive this lung in the right spirit, and as Rinpoche started reciting the text, I settled myself down, assumed a loose half-lotus, straightened my back and breathed out deeply. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of violent red slugs bearing down on me and although I sensed their evil intent I did my best to ignore them. I raised my eyes and allowed them to rest lovingly on Khyentse Rinpoche, intending to pour all my devotion into my gaze (I was young and romantic), when quite suddenly he stopped reciting. He had completed the lung. I’d ‘missed’ it.

Bugger! How did that happen? The only lungs I had received until then had gone on for hours, if not days. How could this one have only lasted fifteen seconds? It’s an easy question to answer, actually: the text is barely twelve lines long. At the time, though I felt stupid, even a little cheated. Rinpoche must have gone on to teach, while I spent the rest of the day going over and over how stupid I’d been and feeling prickly and uncomfortable.

Gorgeous photo by another anonymous photographer, I’m afraid. And by the way, Rinpoche took his sunglasses off before he gave the lung.

Prapoutel 1990

In 1990, Sogyal Rinpoche invited Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche to teach at another off-season ski resort, this time near Prapoutel in the French Alps. It wasn’t absolutely the last time Dilgo Khyentse Ripoche taught a western audience, I think that happened in the Dordogne a little later, but it was among the last great gatherings.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche attended and often ate at the local pizza parlour run by a girl called Sabine who made such a strong connection that Rinpoche took her to meet Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. And I went along for the ride.

A large but very cozy tent had been erected  for Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche right next to the shrine tent, and although we hadn’t yet ‘met’ officially, my husband, Andreas, was one of the guards. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche took Sabine into the tent and approached Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who was sitting on an immense, wheeled throne, beaming with delight. I hung around just inside the entrance on the pretext that I would be available to open the tent flap for Rinpoche on his way out—one of those vital tasks I assigned myself in order to justify hanging around.

When the short interview was over, though, Rinpoche and Sabine left through a different exit. I turned to chase after them, embarrassed that I’d have to scamper across Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s line of vision, but convinced it would be a minor transgression in comparison to the far greater offense of leaving Dzongsar Khyentse to wander alone. In my eagerness to quit the tent I moved from a relatively unobtrusive jog to an ungainly canter, and stole another glimpse of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as I went. To my surprise I saw that he was smiling, broadly and invitingly. I stopped immediately and looked around to see who he was smiling at, but I was alone. And as my gaze returned once again to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s radiantly beautiful golden face, he appeared to be inviting me to approach him.

In retrospect, I wish I’d had a new cerebrum implanted before I travelled to France that year, because what happened next wasn’t that time and space stopped functioning, but my brain. My first thought, if you can call it that, was concern about Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. After all, Buddhist events are dangerous affairs, and Rinpoche was out there, alone, helpless, vulnerable, unprotected. My second thought was that I couldn’t speak Tibetan.

So what did I do? Opening my eyes as wide as I could, I pointed at the other exist, the one Dzongsar Khyentse had left by and mouthed to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (who didn’t speak English) “I’m supposed to be attending him!” Dilgo Khyentse continued to smile. Then I started to trot, slightly unevenly at first, out of the tent and into the remorseless sunshine.

My bowels shrivel with embarrassment as I write this, and I still can’t believe I coud have been quite that stupid! Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche passed away the next year, and I never saw him again.

By the way, this photo isn’t one of mine. I found it in an old box marked ‘Dharma Photos’ that we haven’t opened for more than a decade, and the artist hadn’t affixed his or her name so I don’t know who I should attribute it to. But I do love it.

Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche’s Mullah Stories (3)

One day, Mullah found a donkey wandering around outside his house, so he put it in his back yard.
A little later a man walked by and asked Mullah if he had seen his donkey.
“No,” replied Mullah.
Just then, the donkey brayed loudly.
“But Mullah,” exclaimed the man. “I can hear my donkey braying!”
“Who do you believe,” retorted Mullah, “Me or the donkey?”

P.S. I should probably amend the title of these stories because Penelope discovered that the Mullah in question is Mullah Nasruddin (many thanks Penelope). But I don’t think I will. I still cherish the memory of hearing them from the lips of Shechen Rabjam, so I’m going to stick to my original title.
P.P.S. You’ve probably all seen wonderful photos of the day Khyentse Rinpoche posed with donkeys in the courtyard of the Labrang in Bir. Even so, I can’t resist posting one of my own…

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche

I‘ve always found people’s backs interesting. For example, these two snaps from the 1986 summer retreat (the traumatic one that rather put me off summer retreats) speak to me just of just how close Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche were to each other. More so than most of the pictures I have of them face on.

Khen Rinpoche was around alot in the late 80s, but I was entirely unaware of the immensity of his spiritual stature. In those days I was pretty dim about almost everything—actually, I still am. The difference now is that I know I know nothing. Back then, though, my rather patronizing perception of Khen Rinpoche was that he was ‘our Khenpo’, the gentle lama who laughed a lot and liked nothing better than to hang out with our sangha.

I remember bumping into Sogyal Rinpoche on several occasions during that time, pecha in hand, busily memorizing the texts he was studying with Khenpo. His diligence certainly impressed me, but what struck me more was his eagerness to be a ‘student’. I came from the world of music, and although I’d seen many great musicians enjoy working together, I couldn’t recall any who, at the pinacle of their career, were willing to climb down from their ‘maestro’ or ‘diva’ plinths to study with a teacher. True, Horowitz did take twelve years off  ‘to practise’, but I don’t think he had a teacher. I wonder if any famous Oxbridge Dons ever went back to school?

Anyway, for me, both these pictures radiate both the great affection these two extraordinary masters had for each other, and serve to remind me of the power of humility. Not a quality I was born with. Nor one that Rupert Murdoch has ever been much interested in cultivating….


India is full of sadhus and although I no longer stare when I see them wandering the streets, they are so far removed from the kind of people I’m used to mingling with that each encounter tends to linger in my memory—well, what’s left of my memory.

Sometime in 2007 Rinpoche invited a local Hindu priest for lunch to talk about doing a couple of pujas at the Labrang, and the priest brought with him two local sadhus.

I don’t know any hard facts about the turbaned sadhu, but to my eyes he is virtually transparent. I always try to keep him in my eye line just in case he melts away completely, but I can never manage it because he seems to teleport from one spot to another, like a slide projection.

The other sadhu lives in a cemetery near Chauntra, and at the time this photo was taken we were told he had just started speaking again after 30 years of complete silence.


Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche’s Mullah Stories (2)

One day, during a storm, as Mullah gazed out of his window he saw a man running to get out of the rain.
“Why are you running,” he asked the man. “The raindrops are blessings from god.”
The man immediately stopped running and walked the rest of the way home.

The next day as same man was looking out of his window he saw Mullah running through the rain.
“Mullah, what are you doing,” he cried. “Yesterday you told me not to run to get out of the rain because the raindrops are the blessings of god. And today you are running yourself!”
“Ah,” replied Mullah, “I run because I don’t want to step on god’s blessings!”

Naughty Tulkus

Apologies for my lack of photo research this morning, I’m a bit pushed for time. Many of you will already have this fabulous photo by Raphael Demandre of Khyentse Rinpoche and Rabjam Rinpoche, but there’s always a chance one or two of you may not have seen it. It’s more than twenty years old I think. And I’ve resorted to posting it because it seems appropriate to another of the stories Rabjam Rinpoche and Khyentse Rinpoche reminisced over during those few days in 2006 when Rabjam Rinpoche visited Bir.

Apparently, when they were studying together, I think at Sakya College (but I may be wrong), all tulkus were forbidden to go to the movies. Undeterred, Khyentse Rinpoche and Rabjam Rinpoche found a way of sneaking out of school so they could creep into the local cinema once the lights were down with their zens drapped over their heads so no one would recognize them.

And of course, there was a first time. Everything worked perfectly until it came to the interval, which they’d forgotten all about. The lights suddenly came up in the middle of the movie and they scrambled to cover their heads, then looked around to work out what was going on. Dotted throughout the cinema, which was quite large, Rabjam Rinpoche said they could identify between twenty-five and thirty tulkus, all covering their heads with zens in rather vain attempts at concealing their identities.

Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche’s Mullah Stories (1)

This is a picture of Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche before he lost loads of weight. It was taken by Philip in 2007. I hardly know Rabjam Rinpoche, but he is very good friends with Khyentse Rinpoche and visited the Labrang for a couple of days in 2006. It was during the time Sogyal Rinpoche was also visiting Bir and all three masters would eat together at least once a day and tell each other all kinds of stories. Sogyal Rinpoche was particularly taken by the stories Rabjam Rinpoche told about a crazy wisdom Sufi master called ‘Mullah’—which Mullah, I never discovered—and insisted I write them down. So here’s a Mullah story.

Mullah was asked to teach and he agreed. Everyone gathered and Mullah entered the room where the teaching was to take place.
“Do you know what I am going to teach?” asked Mullah.
The audience looked at each other, then all replied, “No.”
“Oh,” said Mullah, “you don’t know what I’m going to teach? Neither do I!”
And he left.

Next day, Mullah was asked to teach once more and he agreed. Everyone gathered and he entered the room where the teaching was to take place.
“Do you know what I am going to teach?” he asked.
The audience, determined not to make the same mistake twice replied, “Yes!”
“Oh,” said Mullah, “then there’s no point me teaching you anything if you already know it!”
And he left.”

On the third day, Mullah was asked to teach and he agreed. Everyone gathered and he entered the room where the teaching was to take place.
“Do you know what I am going to teach?” he asked.
Noone knew what to say, so half replied, “Yes”, and the other half replied, “No”.
“Oh well then,” said Mullah, “those of you who know should teach those who don’t know.”
And he left.