Mullah Nasruddin (5)

I’m afraid I’ve run out of the Mullah stories that Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche told Khyentse Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche over supper in Bir, but they aren’t so difficult to find online, so I am tapping into a new source especially for my friend Jamyang Chodron.

One day Mullah Nasruddin went to market to buy some new clothes. First he tried on a pair of trousers, but didn’t like them and so he returned them to the shopkeeper. Then he tried on a robe which was the same price as the trousers. Mullah was pleased with the robe and walked out of the shop.

As he climbed on to his donkey, the shopkeeper and his assistant came running after him.
“Mullah! You haven’t paid for the robe you’re wearing,” shouted the shopkeeper.
“But I gave you the trousers for the robe, didn’t I? replied Mullah.
“Yes,” said the shopkeeper, “But you didn’t pay for the trousers either!”
“Well, I didn’t buy the trousers,” replied Mullah. “I am not so stupid that I would pay for something that I didn’t want!”

Khyentse Rinpoche, Lerab Ling 1992

As you already know from the Manjushri Lung post, in the middle of August 1992, more than two thirds of the way through the three month retreat, Khyentse Rinpoche visited Lerab Ling for two nights. He not only gave us the lung, but he taught, this time in the old tent that used to be the shrine room. Here are some photos we acquired from that teaching. (sorry, photographer unknown, yet again) 

Nancy Wake: My Kind of Woman

I’m so sick of the ridiculous formulas that brutalize contemporary story telling, particularly on screen. For example, the idiocy that inflicted insecurity on Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings and couldn’t resist inflating Arwen into a puerile ‘love interest’. I never understood it. The films did so wonderfully well with the battles and the conflicts but then poured sickly sticky stuff and execrable dialogue over the rest of it. (I may have to start a new category on this blog for ‘rants’!)

What set me off this morning? An article about Nancy Wake, the most decorated allied forces woman operative in the second world war. She is, or was, my kind of woman.

From today’s Independent:
Work began earlier this month on a feature film about Nancy Wake’s life. Ms Wake, one of the models for Sebastian Faulks’ fictional heroine, Charlotte Gray, had mixed feelings about previous cinematic efforts to portray her wartime exploits, including a TV mini-series made in 1987.

“It was well-acted but in parts it was extremely stupid,” she said. “At one stage they had me cooking eggs and bacon to feed the men. For goodness’ sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men? There wasn’t an egg to be had for love nor money. Even if there had been why would I be frying it? I had men to do that sort of thing.”

Ms Wake was also furious the TV series suggested she had had a love affair with one of her fellow fighters. She was too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements, she said.

Happy Birthday Dorothy!

It’s Dorothy Ianonne’s birthday today. I hope you have a wonderful day, Dorothy, and that all your wishes come true… quickly!

Here’s a snap of the picture you gave me for my birthday, above the music shelf, which is above the piano. But that probably doesn’t mean much to you as you haven’t seen the configuration of furniture since the IKEA Billy’s were expelled. Nevertheless, I hope this photo gives you some pleasure. I took it at twilight to try to limit reflections, but as you see, it didn’t work that well…

Pathankot or Chakki Bank

A strange and bizarrely elongated snap of Khyentse Rinpoche. The brightly lit machine is supposed to be a weighing machine, but I don’t think it came up with Rinpoche’s weight. Actually, I don’t even remember if Rinpoche put money in the slot.

I love Kreuzberg

I love all of Berlin, but Kreuzberg in particular. We went there yesterday morning to do our weekend shopping. As we stepped down into Mehringdamm U-bahn (left), which is in the process of being renovated and not at its most pleasant, I noticed what looked like some spilt paint on the concrete floor. For no reason, I doubled back for a closer look and found a drawing (right). Who drew it and why are a mystery. But there it is.


Looking at Looking

As I had my stitches out last week, I started thinking about the times life has shown me that the way I look at things is very different to the way other people see them. It depressed me slightly, because in spite of all the proof I came up with, I still have difficulty remembering that my perception is not yours.

One memory is of the infamous 1992 Three Month Retreat at Lerab Ling. Small bowls of honey were served at breakfast, specifically I think as an offering to local wasps who loved to commit suicide by diving headlong into all that sweet, sticky goo. Trying to save them made finishing breakfast a bit of a chore, to be honest. But, what to do?

Anyway, one morning as I sat contemplating the gorgeous colour and consistency of the wasp-trap honey, which appeared, to my eyes, to be the very food of the gods, a woman sitting on the next table started complaining to her neighbour about how cheap the kitchen was for buying the dregs of the dregs of the cheapest local left-overs. I was surprised and looked again at the honey I had just been admiring. It still looked richer, purer and more honey-like than any I’d ever seen in England. Not only that, but it had inspired almost the only appreciative thoughts I’d had during the retreat so far, and hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t see anything dreg-like about it at all. Same honey, two different perceptions.

Another memory was another from 1990 in Prapoutel. An English friend, Tessa, had driven me from England to the French Alps. One of the things I liked best about Tessa was that she was such a diva (we’d sung along with Maria Callas for large stretches of French motorway; her teenaged daughter, Sophie, barely survived the ordeal) and she expressed her enthusiasms with such conviction and authority that she made me feel safe.

One afternoon she went on and on and one about a Tibetan woman she had met who was not only supremely beautiful, but strong and kind, the very model of a perfect woman. The next day she pointed her out to me, but all I could see was an old Tibetan woman.

Of course, you must remember that I was something of a late developer on many fronts, not least in my perception of true beauty. For me, ‘beautiful’ meant the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, or Debbie Harry, and this woman fitted none of those catagories. I tried measuring her up against the great beauties of my father’s generation, like Liz Taylor, or Ava Gardner, or even Nefertiti, but I just couldn’t see it. And it bothered me.

Where did Tessa, who had such similar tastes to me in so many ways, find beauty in that face? But she obviously did.

It was the first time I remember consciously accepting that someone else’s opinion could be different from mine, without them also being idiots, Tories, serial killers, religious fundamentalists or from the wrong generation (the ‘generation gap’ was still a big thing).

So, these were two pivotal moments in the way I look at the way I look. There are many more, of course, and it’s an uphill struggle, but it’s breakfast time and I’ve prattled on for long enough.

Sweet Peas

We planted some sweet peas on our balcony this year and, apart from a little mould here and there, they’ve turned out rather well.

My first encounter with sweet peas was when I was six or seven and a bridesmaid. I wore a long pink, empire line dress with short puffed sleeves and a pink velvet bow, with a circlet of artifical pink flowers on my head, my long hair loose, and white gloves. There were three other bridesmaids, but they were all older and I got all the attention. I vaguely remember falling for the best man, but what really stayed with me all these years was my bouquet of sweet peas, which I truly loved.

This year, though, more than forty years after our first encounter, I discovered why they are called sweet ‘peas’. They produced pea pods! Which I saw for the first time two weeks ago when they appeared on our balcony. Imagine!

What else have I missed over the years, I wonder?


A Very English Virtuoso

I know, I’ve already posted today, but for once I am throwing caution to the wind… and rain and damp and generally crappy weather that Berlin is enduring this summer. No wonder I spend so much time chained to my computer.

Anyway… the so-called classical music ‘industry’ these days leaves me a bit cold. Too many technicians, too few musicians. Which makes Benjamin Grosvenor something of a miracle. He is an Englishman and an ‘old school’ piano player who produces the most delicious sound I think I have ever heard from a piano. Forget Lang Lang, et al, think Horowitz and Richter; Ben is the real deal.

Sadly, the Chopin Nocturne available on YouTube is one I’m not fond of, so instead I decided to post this unashamedly virtuosic showpiece from the first Prom of the year because it’s such fun, and some Liszt. But seek out his Chopin, you won’t regret it. (By the way, he’s 19.)

A Picnic

The Bhutanese love picnics. They love the food involved, of course, but they also love spending time with their family and friends and sharing stories with each other.

In the run up to the first ever democratic elections in Bhutan, Rinpoche entertained some old friends in the garden of his Paro home. Everyone sat in a clearing, leaving lots of space around Rinpoche and making quite a huddle on the opposite side of the circle. Keeping their distance is how the Bhutanese show their respect, and while I applaud the sentiment, the gesture can be a little impractical as Rinpoche had to shout quite a lot.

Next to Rinpoche sat a Lama (his name sounds like Nyingkola, but I don’t know how it’s spelt) who looks a lot like the pictures I’ve seen of Dudjom Rinpoche, and next to him sat one of Rinpoche’s oldest friends. This old friend had Rinpoche in stitches as he spoke quite openly about all the illegal activities he was planning to strong-arm Bhutanese villagers into voting for his party. I hasten to add that his party didn’t win. But his plan of action kept Rinpoche laughing full-throttle for nearly an hour.

It was one occasion when I would have liked to understand Sharchhop-kha. 

Annie Savoy

Have you seen Bull Durham? It’s one of my favourite movies, in spite of Kevin Costner. I love Annie Savoy, although I’m not sure we’d get on if we met. Anyway, I have a little green book that I keep next to my desk into which I sometimes copy quotations that tickle my fancy. I’m not a regular quotations collector by any means; it’s an affectation that I adopt periodically then forget about for years on end. But I was glad of my green book this morning, particularly when it opened, magically, at Annie’s opening speech. It is such a piece of writing and never fails to make me smile. So I thought to myself, why offer silver when I can offer gold?

“I believe in the church of baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.

“I know things. For instance, there are a hundred and eight beads in a Catholic rosary, and there are a hundred and eight stitches in a baseball. When I heard that I gave Jesus a chance, but it just didn’t work out between us—the Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex.

“There’s never been a ball player who slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball, you’ve just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under 250—not unless he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the middle.

“You see, there’s a certain amount of life’s wisdom I can give these boys; I can expand their minds. Sometimes, when I’ve got a ball player alone I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always listen. Of course, a guy will listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay.

“I make them feel confident and they make me feel safe—and pretty. Of course, what I give them lasts a life time; what they give me last 143 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade, but bad trades are a part of baseball. I mean, who can forget Frank Robinson from El Paso, for God’s sake!

“It’s a long season, and you’ve got to trust it. I’ve tried them all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball.”

Saraswasti Puja, Deer Park

Khyentse Rinpoche invited a local Hindu priest to Deer Park to perform a Saraswasti Puja in 2007, or was is 2006? The ritual started in the dark early morning, and while the priest did his thing, Rinpoche read from a beautiful leather-bound book he had bought at Libertys, London, in which his Dewathang monks had handwritten his daily practices.