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!”

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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


I
 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.