Nagarjuna

I met Nagarjuna yesterday—the little boy I wrote about in the ‘Lifesaver’ piece. I came across him in the garden where he was playing with a little Tibetan girl and as soon as I pointed a camera at them they giggled and snuggled up without any prompting at all. Absolutely adorable!

Tibetan Woman with Goose

A pond has been dug between OT Rinpoche’s house and the new gompa. It’s the home of a couple of geese and a few ducks that look surprisingly healthy for India, probably because the rather mangy hounds that used to wander round the grounds have disappeared. I think they ate the first couple of generations of pond dwellers and were banished.

This, obviously, is Lama Godi, not a goose or a duck. He is walking quite well now, although he does sometimes use a stick. But he must be well into his late 80s, so he’s doing pretty well. (Thanks, Philip, for letting me post your great photo.)

Stereotypes

Today in the gompa, I noticed that some Chinese people sitting behind me were using battery-driven plastic counters instead of malas for their accumulations. I, myself, was clutching—and dropping at regular intervals as I fumbled mindlessly through the practice—a glass bead mala. In the normal course of things I’m not much of a Tibetophile, but there is something comforting about malas and they are without doubt way more attractive than plastic counters, although I will concede not quite as convenient.

Anyway, my confession here is that as I surveyed the plastic counter I caught myself thinking, “Ah, how very true to type: Chinese person chooses a plastic modern contraption over tradition” before returning my wandering eyes to their resting place (I sit behind a pillar). There they stayed for a full second or two. Then I glanced at Philip (definitely not Chinese) who was also busily accumulating mantras on a battery-driven plastic counter. Made in Taiwan.

Although it has absolutely nothing to do with counters or malas, today’s photo is of one of the ornaments surrounding the large Buddha on the wall behind me. Are there any elephants in Taiwan, I wonder?

Lifesaver

In Europe or America—so-called ‘first world’ countries—I wonder how many employers of casual labourers would care if a peripatetic, illiterate woman (who earned the equivalent of about 20 Euros a month) got pregnant and had to have an abortion. The most compassionate might refer her to a councillor or the social services or an adoption agency, but I can’t imagine anyone in our fast-paced, profit-hungry, ‘civilized’ world getting more personally involved than that, can you?

Several years ago, one of the Nepali women in the construction team OT Rinpoche had employed to build his house became pregnant and wanted an abortion. When the news trickled through to OT Rinpoche, he sought her out and asked her not to go through with it. Instead, he said, “Give the baby to me.” So she did. And her baby boy, Nagarjuna, has now become a much-loved member of OT Rinpoche’s extended family. I think that’s what New Yorkers might describe as ‘walking the talk’, no?

I caught sight of OT Rinpoche today as he was cleaning the bell (with all the qualities…) and dorje that Khyentse Rinpoche will use throughout the drupchen. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you, he was whistling while he worked away at the bell with a brush he’d bought in a Berlin flea market.

Bir

There’s so much about living in India that I completely forget the moment I leave. For example, how to order a cup of tea without sugar. Yesterday, my first attempt went something like this.

“Milk tea, no sugar,” I smiled, using a tried and trusted formula that has served me well over the years.
“Black tea, milk and sugar,” replied the waiter, without a smile.
“Black tea, yes, with milk, yes, but no sugar,” my patient, still smiley correction.
“Black tea, no sugar,”  said the waiter, with rather too much confidence.
“Black tea with milk, ‘milk tea’, no sugar,” was my slightly passive aggressive correction, to which he made no response but scuttled to the kitchen, muttering something incoherent under his breath.

Five minutes later he brought some black tea in a glass.
“Can I have some milk, please,” I smiled, forgivingly.
“Black tea, no sugar,” he insisted, brushing aside my specious forgiveness.
“Milk, no sugar,” I grimaced, but charmingly.
“Chai, no sugar!” he corrected, firmly.
“Yes!” I almost applauded. “Chai, no sugar!”
He removed the black tea and, thank all that is good and true in this world, brought me a wonderfully delicious, and much needed, chai, no sugar.

Can’t think of an elegant segue and it’s raining, so I may not have much more on-line time…
As I’m sure you already know, when Khyentse Rinpoche presides over the Chimé Phagma Nyingtik drupchen he is required to perform various elements of the practice while wearing traditional adornments. Although I’m not sure if the drupchen has really started yet, here are some snaps of him during a preparatory session, of OT Rinpoche during the same session, and part of the procession marking the boundaries.

A Neatly Wrapped Guru

Bhutan, 2007, in one of the old houses near Paro, if memory serves. Rinpoche met a group of young people shepherded by Lama Shenpen, the Welsh monk who spent a long time in Taiwan and now teaches young people in Bhutan. It was quite cold and most of us wore coats, but Rinpoche, in particular, had really bundled himself up. He looks so cosy and warm and snuggly in that red blanket, don’t you think?

An Afternoon near Maidenhead

One beautiful summer’s day, Khyentse Rinpoche announced we were going to visit a friend of his in the country. I think we drove down, but we may have caught a train—you must be used to my appalling memory by now. Rinpoche’s friend lived in a little cottage in the grounds of what had been her family’s home that had recently been divided into two and the other half sold off. It had been traumatic, I think, for Rinpoche’s friend, but the cottage and grounds were so very beautiful and so exquisitely English that it was difficult to summon genuine sympathy.

Rinpoche and his entourage were not her only guests, but it wasn’t a huge party. I remember hearing two people I didn’t know admiring a three year old who was running around naked. The woman—a very pleasant person with long grey hair loosely bundled on top of her head in a way that suggested either an aristocratic carelessness about her appearance, or that she had been a hippy in her youth—mentioned that she felt she could understand pedophiles when she saw such a beautiful child. It was the kind of thing I could imagine myself saying—I was disagreeably liberal-minded in my youth—but on this particular occasion I found myself deeply offended by the suggestion and simply couldn’t bring myself even to attempt to sympathize with child abusers.

Anyway, that’s by the bye. After a delicious picnic under a tree on the lawn, we went for a walk to see some donkeys. I had no idea at that time that Rinpoche had such a fondness for donkeys, so it seemed a little strange to be visiting some. But everything in those days was new and strange. All my preconceived ideas about the world were being upended on a daily basis, sometimes two or three at a time, and I had quickly learned it’s better to let it all wash over you for a while than to react too quickly.

I suppose I will have to admit here that I never really grew up. At the time in question I had the emotional maturity of an eight year old. So, when we found the donkeys—they turned out to be minature donkeys and unbearably cute—I not only wanted them to like me but I wanted Rinpoche to see them liking me. Sad, no? Predictably, though, the donkey I chose to gush over was a mean son of a bitch who lashed out with his back legs as I caressed his soft nose, indicating extremely eloquently that I was not his type at all. Fortunately, his hooves only found air, but I felt the rejection keenly and although I put on a brave face, my heart shrivelled and shrank back into itself.

Rinpoche looked hard at the donkeys, but I don’t remember him stroking them. Then we returned to the house and left not long after. Strange the snippets of memory that stick.

This is a snap I took sometime that afternoon. I’m not sure why the colours are so weird. 

Dogs in Bir

Honestly, dogs in India are not inspiring. Well, they are. They inspire pity for their horrible diseases, fear when one of them gets rabies and the desire to commit murder when they howl throughout the night ten feet from your window.

This shot Andreas took of dogs in Bir is how we see these creatures during the day as they sleep off a hard night of noisy prowling, husbanding their resources for another exciting night howling to the moon. Once the sun sets, we don’t see them at all. How could we? We, very sensibility, are in bed, trying to sleep. They, on the other hand, grow horns and red points appear on their tails as they transform from objects of compassion into servants of the demon of insomnia. And going by the volume they achieve, they must carry hidden amplifiers to ensure universal sleeplessness. If only I could find their mute buttons…

The Cup in Paris

I am sure you are all familiar with Rinpoche’s first feature film, The Cup. Almost from the first moment I met Rinpoche he spoke about wanting to make a movie, but back then, when my mind was stuck in an even tinier box than it’s in now and my world was vastly smaller, I didn’t take him very seriously. As far as I was concerned he was a Rinpoche, not a film-maker, and his duties as a teacher, lineage holder, etc, etc, outranked any personal ambition. So, all his talk of making movies must just be wishful thinking, a way of passing the time between Champion’s League matches and the World Cup. Mustn’t it?

Well, I got that one spectacularly wrong! If Rinpoche decides he wants to do something, however overloaded he may be, however high the pile of invitations to teach in all four corners of this world of ours, however many gigabytes of whinging emails he receives, absolutely nothing will stop him. Hence, The Cup, Travellers and Magicians, and I’m sure several more enthralling stories are in the works.

In 1999, The Cup premiered at Cannes to great acclaim, and I began to understand there really is no limit to what Rinpoche can achieve this lifetime. Yet, he has remained essentially the same. More in every way and increasingly majestic, but still the same person, with the same sense of humour and humility.

In this snap you can see him with Philip on the Champs Elysées where the movie was showing. Magical times…

Great Ladies

During the process of going through all Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s things, quite a number of photos came to light. Or perhaps Khyentse Rinpoche already knew he had a box of snaps in his archive and it was a coincidence that he decided to sort them out just as the cases and trunks were disgorged. I don’t know the full story. But one meal time, OT Rinpoche sat in the dining room at the Labrang with a pile of photos in front of him instead of food, and spent most of lunch going through them.

The two he pointed out are those I’ve posted here. They are of Ani Pelu and Ani Rilu, who readers of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying will know were Sogyal Rinpoche’s great, great aunts. I’m sorry I don’t remember for certain which is which, although OT Rinpoche did tell us. But I just looked at rigpawiki.org and the photo they posted of Ani Pelu (she requested Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s Heart Advice in a Nutshell) looks more like the picture on the left than that on the right. To my eyes, anyway. Ani Pelu: gentle, conscientious if somewhat unconventional, not quite of this world. And Ani Rilu: a more determined character, strong, organized, and very protective of Sogyal Rinpoche.                                  

I wonder what they would have made of present day female role models? Angelina Jolie, for example, or Hilary Clinton or Lady Gaga. Or if the whole concept of ‘role model’ would have meant anything at all to them? And what they would have thought about women’s rights or feminism?

Today Khandro Tsering Chödrön’s kudung will be cremated at Lerab Ling. Ani Pelu and Ani Rilu were her great aunts, which made them great aunts to Tselu too—or Mayum-la as she is now more commonly known amongst students of Sogyal Rinpoche. In the decades since the two Ani’s passed away the world has changed its shape so completely that I doubt they would recognize it. But I’m sure they would have remembered that whatever it looks like, it is still just an illusion.

I don’t have many photos of Khandro, but I did find these two fragments of photos. God only knows who I chopped out of them! They weren’t taken in Lerab Ling, so they must be a least twenty years old.

The Library

Did you ever play Cluedo? Forty years ago it was one of my favourite board games; I always wanted to be Miss Scarlet, which may well have been an early symptom of some of my more disturbing character flaws. But I’ve often wondered if the English-speaking media’s obsession with murder-mysteries has its roots in the marathon rainy Sunday afternoon Cluedo sessions so many English people of my generation enjoyed as children.

That is a bit of a strange way to start a post that includes a photo of Khyentse Rinpoche giving an empowerment to various monks in the Library using traditional ritual implements. Or is it? Perhaps that sentence will give you a hint as to why the board game sprang to mind. Of course, any Germans reading will be mystified…

I love the library. It also has a Tibetan name, but I can’t remember Tibetan. Ever. So I still call it the library. It’s cosy and does indeed house several glass-fronted bookcases full of books, which is comforting. I have yet to be there and feel overcrowded, although it’s often quite full, especially if a huge tsok is offered, but never life-threateningly teeming with beings.

The stupa to the right of the extremely red photo above is Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s. At the time this photo was taken in 2007, it had just arrived in Bir from Gangtok. According to Sogyal Rinpoche, it was offered to the Khyentse Labrang by the Lakar family (Sogyal Rinpoche’s family). Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche says, in his biography of Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, that building this stupa, and another smaller one, was Khandro Tsering Chödron’s idea.  Other people have their own version of its origins… but it then spent fifty years in the Tsuk Lha Kang in Gangtok, which is where I first saw it in the room Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö lived in during the last years of his life.

The pictures below were taken on a different occasion, but again I can’t remember the name of the tsok that was offered. I do remember that the Khenpo from Dzongsar Monastery was visiting with Dr Lodrö Phuntsok, who Rinpoche says has done so much to help rebuild Dzongsar and propogate the teachings and traditions of the Khyentse lineage. I’ll write a separate post about him one day. Or at least, I’ll post a couple of photos… when I’m feeling less lazy.

The final photo is of the candlelit library. Every so often Rinpoche gets out a particularly holy image of Guru Rinpoche, and when that happens, by way of celebration, the monks light tea lights all over the Labrang.