Two Cows

I’m sure quite a few of you will already have seen this and apologize for the repetition, but it’s too good not to include on this blog (and anyway, I’m bereft of inspiration). So here’s “Milking It.”

You have two cows. You give one to your neighbour.

You have two cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have two cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have two cows. The State takes both and shoots you.

You have two cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull.

You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows. You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide.

You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch.

You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows. You worship them.

You have two cows. Both are mad.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No-one believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

You have two cows. The one on the left looks very attractive.

Building a Buddha in Thimpu

Jamyang Chödrön just returned to Berlin from Thimpu where she was visiting her family and sent me these gorgeous shots of a Buddha that’s being built opposite her sister’s house. It’s huge! And really rather beautiful.

I wish they’d build Buddhas in Berlin instead of all the hideous malls that are springing up.  We have one at the end of our road now. Ridiculous, actually. There’s a Deer Park at one end (I kid you not) and a hideous white block of concrete covered in logos at the other end, by the harbour, full of cheap clothes shops. Yuk!

This is a slideshow of four pictures, by the way. It seems some browsers might not set it sliding automatically, so please hover over the bottom part and wait for the controls to materialize.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Additions to my Blogroll

Grim word, ‘blogroll’, but what to do? We live in an insensitive world and most consumers have cloth ears. But enough of that. Today I added a couple of wonderful blogs to my list.
Brushsong is by Minette, a wonderfully fresh, young artist. I adore her work for its sensitivity and sense of joy and wonder. She is currently in Sri Lanka taking gorgeous photos and so hers is an unmissable blog for those interested in that part of the world.
The other is Cory’s Pixtress. It was Cory who inspired me to make a bit more of an effort to learn how to use a camera (not that I’ve got very far…).  I love the way she looks at the world and the warmth of her appreciation of it. Looking at her work suddenly showed me the point of  ‘photography as opposed to ‘tourist snaps’.
Both blogs come highly recommended.

A Hunter’s Moon

This post was Andreas’ idea. The thing is, I was brought up during the golden age of Patrick Moore’s The Sky At Night. He was England’s Moon expert. A gentleman amateur, he looked, in John Le Carré’s words, like a large, unmade bed, wore a monacle, gazed intently at whoever he was talking to as though they were the only person in the universe, never brushed his hair which I swear he cut it himself, shot questions at people with the rapidity of a machine-gun, and spent his entire life studying the moon.

So, when I took this photo of a hunter’s moon, I did it with Patrick Moore on my shoulder (next to Rinpoche, of course, but they got on like a house on fire). Apparently, a hunter’s moon (which appears after the harvest moon) is a full moon (or almost full) that appears in the sky before the sun goes down, and is still there when it rises again he next day, giving hunters more time to murder innocent animals.

I should probably add this detail isn’t something Patrick Moore told me, he was more interested in the sea of tranquility and all that stuff. But I mention him because whenever I gaze at the moon I think of him.

More recently, the moon has also inspired thoughts of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche in my otherwise vacuous (and rusty) mind, as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche often writes of them as “the sun and moon-like Jamgon Lamas.” A rather lovely image, don’t you think? 


I often wonder about karma, and for example, the causes that make animals famous. We had Knut the polar bear in Berlin a few years ago, then there was Paul the octopus and now there’s Molla the owl in Italy. And although I usually spurn the latest global or internet sensation, in Molla’s case, I’m completely smitten.


A Frenchman, a German and a Jew are walking through a desert. It is very hot and they have no water.

After a few miles the Frenchman falls to his knees in the sand and declares, “I’m hot, I’m thirsty, I’m tired. Je demande some really good French wine.”

A little later the German pulls up smartly, stands to attention and says, “I’m hot, I’m thirsty und ich bin tired. I must have some really good German beer.”

Later still the Jew stops dead in his tracks and says, “I’m tired, I’m hot and I’m thirsty. I must have diabetes.”

Also: why are Jewish men circumcized? Because no self-respecting Jewish woman will accept anything that doesn’t have 20% off.

Weeping Guitar

OK, so it’s better not to spend too much time looking at the clothes they’re wearing, because, after all, this concert took place in the 80s… But noone makes a guitar weep like Eric. Except perhaps Peter Green.

This weeping guitar video made it into the blog after I watched the new Scorsese documentary about George Harrison this week. It’s worth investing three and half hours in watching. The music and the story are very familiar, but the snippets of spiritual stuff that Scorses manages to slip in seamlessly are really very inspiring. And it oiled a great many rusty bits of memory, some of which make me blush as I type.

Ravi Shankar makes an appearance and talks about the power of music, which to him and most Hindus is a manifestation of god. Some music, he says, like Indian classical music, European Baroque, Gregorian chant, help elevate the spirit and encourage spiritual reflection. Other music is a manifestation of demons, because it agitates the spirit and encourages behaviour that is rather less than spiritual (my precis). It’s true, I think. Certainly in my experience.

These days, if I listen to music at all it’s Andreas singing Irish songs in the shower, or old man Bach. When I hear the music of my youth (see below) out of nowhere I start longing for a stiff drink (no ice) and a fag. Or whatever. And even though I don’t seek it out any more, I still love the blues and adore a seriously muscular wailing guitar (see below).

I don’t know what Khyentse Rinpooche makes of the blues. I wonder if he’s even been exposed to it. The last time we discussed music in any form was after a concert of Brahms and Strauss at the beautiful Konzerthaus in Berlin. I’d been completely blown away but the lusciousness of the Strauss (Ein Heldenleben) but for Rinpoche it was “too much noise”. He preferred the Brahms (the double concerto), which has far more obvious tunes in it. Different strokes, I guess.


It’s a funny thing, reading. I try to get excited about contemporary literature, but there’s not that much out there that really grabs me. There’s Alan Hollinghurst, of course, but Ishiguro’s last offering was such a disappointment I’m not sure I’ll be able to summon the enthusiasm to make an attempt at his next. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was right up my street, but the descriptions of her earlier books leave me cold. I must steel myself…

Anyway, the point is that for now I’ve resorted to rereading old favourites. At the moment, ‘Ayesha, the Further History of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed’ by Rider Haggard. It’s fabulous. Such a great adventure and some dexterous comments on Tibetan Buddhism that will I’m sure, bring a smile to those of you whose feet “are in the Path”  of Buddhadharma. For example, this is how the Abbot of the ‘Lamasery’ described the lives of the lamas who lived there.

“We have acquired much merit, we have been blest with many revelations, and, after the repose we have earned in Devachan, our lots in future existences will be easier. What more can we ask or desire, removed as we are from all the temptations of the world?”

And the narrator of the book adds, “Thus they wore away their blameless lives until at last they died of old age, and, as they believed—and who shall say that they were wrong—the eternal round repeated itself elsewhere.”

Later, Leo, the gold-haired hero obsessed by Ayesha, shares his interpretation of the Abbot’s words.

“A cheerful faith, truly,” said Leo, looking after him, “to dwell through aeons in monotonous misery in order that consciousness may be swallowed up at last in some void and formless abstraction called the “Utter Peace.” I would rather take my share of a bad world and keep my hope of a better. Also, I do not think that he knows anything of Ayesha and her destiny.”

A man of wax, that H. Rider Haggard, or should I say a writer of wax.

Hindu Sadhus and Priest at the Labrang

Here’s a photo of the sadhus I spoke about a few months ago, plus the ‘priest’ (as Rinpoche describes him) who presides over some of the Indian pujas Rinpoche sometimes initiates at both the Labrang and Deer Park. Khenpo Phuntsok Namgyal from Dzongsar Monastery in Tibet made it into the shot too, but Dr Lodrö, who was with him, didn’t. It was staged, as you can see, but I don’t remember why.


This was supposed to be a poem by Auden, but I wasn’t in the mood for his gayness, which in my youth I used to love. So here, instead, is Yeats. A poem so famous that you probably already know it by heart (wasn’t it used in some movie or other?), but so tender it never fails to move my wooden heart.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Eglise Gutiérrez

At last, I’ve come across quite a good coloratura soprano—a jewel amidst the sex kittens and italian volcanos who attempt the coloratura repetoire because they want to be hailed as the new Callas, not because they can sing it or have any understanding of the style.

There will never be another Callas, certainly not Eglise, but she isn’t at all bad. It’s a marvellous voice and she is very beautiful, every inch a diva. But what I love about her is that she really seems to love to sing. Netrebko and co. just want to be popstars. They have virtually no feeling for the music they squark and have forged their careers by copying Callas’ old recordings. Eglise, on the other hand manages to rise above that crap. She is completely entranced by the music and the glorious act of singing, which on a good day can be an even more sensual experience than sex. And she doesn’t have to choreograph being sexy…

I should add that I’d like to hear slightly crisper diction, she does have a tendency to indulge, especially on the high notes, and she is rarely still. But I can live with with her shortcomings because they are nothing in comparison to her wonderful phrasing, amazing technique, lovely sound and sheer enthusiasm. Of course, her conductors are insensitive egomaniacs, but what to do? One day Rattle or Abbado or Muti will work with her and give her the support she deserves.

Lerab Ling vs. Chökling Monks 1998

After the drupchen in 1998, it was decided that the light relief should be a football match between the Chökling monks (in the white shirts) who were knackered after ten days of practising 24 hours a day, and a motley crew of would-be football players claiming to represent Lerab Ling.

As you might imagine, Philip had quite a lot to do with the event, and turned up on the football pitch looking very trim in an all black kit and whistle. In his new incarnation of referee, Philip ran a very tight ship and much to the delight of the Rinpoches (was Khyentse Rinpoche there? I don’t remember) waved his red card around with great aplomb when anything approaching a skirmish broke out. The upshot was that the Chökling monks won—the quality of their game is still spoken of in hushed tones in buddhist footballing circles—and the Lerab Ling lads bowed graciously to the conquering heros. And noone suggested for one minute that Philip was biased, or anything…

I remember OT Rinpoche being quite scary back then. Sogyal Rinpoche pointed out, with a certain amount of glee, that his monks were all clearly terrified of him, and many stories circulated about vajras being thrown and the like. I realize now that he looked a lot his father, but far more menacing.

I first met OT Rinpoche in 1992. I’d heard about him before that, of course, and Khyentse Rinpoche kept various photos of him at his flat in Clanricarde Gardens, so his image was familiar to me. But I didn’t ever speak to him until 1996. That was the year Khyentse Rinpoche visited Lerab Ling when Khandro Tsering Chödron and Sogyal Rinpoche’s family were there. Nyoshul Khyen Rinpoche came too, plus a treasury of miscellaneous sublime beings. I was an attendant that year and would take Khyentse Rinpoche his breakfast, then sit with him as he ate it.

One morning, OT Rinpoche walked in. Doris also turned up, and maybe even Mai Lim. Anyway, as Khyentse Rinpoche buttered his toast, he asked OT Rinpoche what he’d taught the previous day. Rather than telling Khyentse Rinpoche the title of the subject, or quoting the highlights, OT Rinpoche repeated, word-for-word, the entire teaching, It took quite some time so I spaced out a bit, which may be why at this point my memory gets a bit hazy. As far as I remember, Doris then asked Khyentse Rinpoche a question about OT Rinpoche which, quite suddenly, OT answered himself, in English. It was a wonderful moment. We, his audience, were utterly confounded and amazed because we were certain he only spoke Tibetan, and the timing of his revelation was perfect.

So now it’s relatively easy to communicate with OT Rinpoche, if you keep your English simple and direct. His own take on the language is peculiar but effective. And as many of you already know, if you do try engaging him in conversation, he can be quite a tease.

More Movie Stars

In 1998 Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche brought a team of monks to Lerab Ling to do a drupchen. It was the year before Khyentse Rinpoche’s ‘The Cup’ came out, and although Rinpoche spoke about his ‘movie’, as I think I’ve told you before, the fact he was making a proper movie, one that would be distributed to cinemas where we could buy a ticket to see it, just didn’t sink in.

It wasn’t until I saw The Cup that I realized that some of the monks who had performed the drupchen the previous year were part of Khyentse Rinpoche’s cast. And in 1998 I had no idea that Lama Godi was such a special being. He was just one of the lovely, smiley, friendly Chökling monks who never needed to sleep. The same goes for Lama Chonjor, whose character in the movie, the Abbot, longed to return to Tibet and was always packed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. In real life Lama Chonjor had the same wish, and not long after The Cup was finished he managed to return to his beloved Tibet, which is rather heart-warming, don’t you think?

Useful Translation Tool

Philip sent me the following translation aid that really made me laugh. I’m posting it because it may clarify one or two things for some of my friends across the various stretches of water that separate the tiny island on which I was born from the rest of the world. My one ‘edit’ would be to change ‘British’ to ‘English’, but I’m too lazy to type the whole thing up again.

Vancouver 2001

At least, I think that’s where this photo was taken—it’s another of those I plucked from the chaos of yesterday. I honestly don’t remember where we were precisely. We weren’t in Vancouver for an event, just to say hello to Khyentse Rinpoche and have a look at the Sea to Sky retreat centre. It was my first time, and I had just discovered that the flight from Berlin to the West Coast of the Americas is the one that induces the worst possible kind of jet lag.

Rinpoche had been reading A River Sutra by Gita Mehta, so while everyone around me was practising, I read it too, very quickly indeed. As a result I don’t have a very clear picture of the story in my mind any more, but I do remember a suggestion that a character who had been a spiritual teacher was reincarnated as an ecologist. This surprised me, brain-washed as I was to believe that a spiritual teacher is the highest incarnation possible, and once achieved, would be repeated ad infinitum. When I mentioned it to Rinpoche, he said, “I know, but that just shows us so much about ourselves, doesn’t it.”

Photo Added…

… to the ‘Arrivederci Kirchheim’ piece. As I rummaged around in my photo boxes yesterday I discovered a picture I took of Sogyal Rinpoche as he taught the visualization of Vajrasattva from the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro. I was sitting right underneath Rinpoche and I must say it took a bit of courage to point the camera at him. But worth it, I think.

More from December 1997

Giselle from Provence asked if I have more photos from the Yangsi’s Enthronement, so I had a look through my extremely chaotic series of photo boxes and realized that I’ve lost a lot. Or given them away. Nevertheless I have found a couple and although I’m not sure how interesting they are, but I post them to fulfill Gisele’s request.

Most vajrayana buddhists who have been around for bit will have a Richard Gere story. Mine happened 1997 at the Yangsi’s Enthronement. Sogyal Rinpoche always makes the most of every moment he has in Nepal and visited everyone, sometimes twice, including the incomparable Trulshik Rinpoche and the peerless Penor Rinpoche.

Penor Rinpoche’s place was a little way out of the centre of Kathamandu and as far as my memory is concerned, it was a square concrete box painted the colour of a swimming pool that had been randomly plonked in the middle of a field. And, predictably, after a long dry spell, the day we visited it rained, extremely heavily, creating an unfordable ocean of mud.

It was getting dark, I think, as we all stood looking at the vile, primeval sludge we would have to wade through to make our appointment. Sogyal Rinpoche’s solution was to dragoon a few men (possibly monks, but I wasn’t paying attention) into carrying him across. What, I wondered, should I do?

I looked around me, as much a damsel in distress as any princess pursued by a dragon, and happened to catch the eye of Richard Gere, who was also travelling with Sogyal Rinpoche at that time. What could the poor man do, but offer me his arm?

Now, at that time, I hadn’t seen a single one of his movies. Not American Gigolo, nor An Officer and a Gentleman, nor Yanks, nor Internal Affairs, not even Pretty Woman. And, being of a censorious disposition, I felt it my duty to keep all movie stars, however high up the A list they may be, in their place. Yet, I found myself simpering (yes, actually, simpering) as I clutched his strong, manly arm, and a good decade before palpitations became a way of life, my heart fluttered and pounded and lit up my normally sallow cheeks like traffic lights.

Needless to say, we all arrived at Penor Rinpoche’s place safe and sound, if a little grubby, and received blessings from him. The injis (apart from Mr Gere, who is also a VIP in the Buddhist world) spent most of the time waiting in a chilly room drinking butter tea. But then, that’s the name of the game when you find yourself attached to an entourage.

I have since watched every Richard Gere movie I could lay my hands on and, for the record, the man is every bit as charismatic and charming in real life as he is on the big screen.
Khyentse Rinpoche, obviously, who, as I mentioned in the previous piece, was sick throughout the celebrations. Nevertheless, he very kindly gathered together friends and students who were attending the celebrations for half an hour so we could spend some time with him.It was Rabjam Rinpoche who organized the whole affair and finding time to sit down and chat wasn’t easy for him. So when he and Sogyal Rinpoche bumped into each other they popped into the nearest room for five minutes of privacy. I think it might have originally been a kind of sitting room, but for the celebrations had become a dumping ground for all manner of furniture and bric-a-brac.I remember being very proud of this portrait of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. He’s so photogenic, it’s virtually impossible to take a bad picture of him, but I didn’t know that at the time. We ate a couple of times in the Yak and Yeti, where Sogyal Rinpoche was staying, and happened to bump into Khyentse Rinpoche there. He’s looking rather perplexed in this snap, but I vaguely remember he was teasing Celine or one of her sisters, so I feel sure that rather than feeling worried, he was merely gathering himself together before delivering a deadly coup de grace.

Khyentse Yangsi’s Enthronement Celebrations 1997

The first time I ever set foot in India or Nepal was in 1997. Sogyal Rinpoche invited me to the enthronement of Khyentse Yangsi and so I went. Most of my friends expected me to come down with all manner of horrifying ailments—I have always been what 19th century commentators described as ‘delicate’—but no, I felt fabulous throughout the ten days and had the most wonderful time.

Khyentse Rinpoche was there, of course, and we were lucky enough to see him a couple of times. He had a terrible cold, I remember, but soldiered on, as he always does.

In this snap the Rinpoches were being entertained with Lama dancing, which, even then, I felt I’d already seen enough of to last a life time. I simply don’t have the merit to be able to appreciate quite a large swathe of Tibetan culture.

What struck me most was the atmosphere of devotion and love that enfolds you almost the moment you step off the plane—along with the dust and the chaos of course. I’d never experienced it before. Maybe it’s unique to India and Nepal, where the culture is still so steeped in spiritual values that an appreciation of the unbelievable and the unseen can be felt in the very air you breathe. It was such a relief to lean back into. It was as if I’d left my critical mind back in Europe, which, it has to be said, is the best and most relaxing kind of holiday possible; I could view things from an entirely fresh perspective.

Sadly, I had no way of bottling it, and, inevitably, my critical mind clicked back into place the moment I returned home and has now become a terminal affliction. But the tender memory of that time of innocence and wonder continues to encourage even this broken old war horse.

Golden Berlin

Autumn this year has been glorious. Naturally, I missed the majority of it, but a short stroll in the Tiergarten yesterday gave me a taster.

We were in the Tiergarten to meet a friend at the café that sits comfortably by a small man-made lake, and it was such a gorgeous afternoon we sat outside and drank hot drinks as the sun set over the water.

The last time I was here was in the summer when Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche visited Berlin and while it was lovely, hot weather tends to summon too many beings into small places. I like it better in the winter. But I’ve added a photo of Rinpoche with Roland and Arne to give you an idea of the place in the summer. Perhaps I should go into advertising…

The best bit is the pathway that leads to the café. You don’t notice so much in the summer sunlight, but once its dark the old-fashioned street lamps light up, creating the most magical atmosphere. Was this what it was like a hundred years ago, I wonder?

The lamps were sent as gifts to the city of Berlin from various places in Europe, but I couldn’t help speculating about where the idea came from. I mean, if I wanted to send a gift to a broken, bombed out, hungry city, an ornamental street lamp isn’t the first accessory that would spring to mind. Or is this just another example of how out of kilter my mind is with the rest of the world? And did they uproot the lamp and plug the hole with a plaque to commemorate their generous donation to Hitler’s decimated capital? I suppose I should look it up, but I won’t.

Autumn is the best time for scrumptious homemade soup, but I’m crap at soup making. According to my Ayurvedic cooking guru, Miriam Kasin Hospodar, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote, “Only the pure of heart can make a good soup.” It’s not a quotation I’d ever come across before, despite four years at music college… It may explain, though, why I am such a dead loss at soup-making, and Andreas is such a dab hand. His pumpkin soup is divine.

For one litre of soup:
600 grammes of pureed cooked pumpkin (Andreas swears by the small, orange Hokkaidokürbis (Jap. kuri-kabocha)
500 ml of milk (Andreas uses cow’s milk, but use whatever your digestion can cope with, dairy or otherwise; creamy goat’s milk makes it very rich indeed)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger (you can use fresh if you prefer)
2 tablespoons of ghee or butter

Miriam adds 1½ tablespoons of raw sugar to her recipe, but our anti-sugar conditioning is now so engrained that neither of us have been able to bring ourselves to try it.

Combine the pumpkin, milk and ginger in a blender. Pour into a medium saucepan. Add the ghee or butter and heat up until just about to boil. Add salt to taste.

Miriam’s variation is to omit the ginger and add instead about a teaspoon of curry powder. If you try it, let me know how it turns out. I should add that even though I followed this recipe to the letter, the result was questionable, so beware, old Ludwig may have a point. A ‘pure heart’ might well be the essential ingredient.