Warm Dütsi

I’ve never been given warm dütsi before. It’s very earthy looking and sticks together in clumps, but it was the warmth of it that stayed with me. OT Rinpoche distributed it, and told us afterwards that he gave less to those who only put out one hand to receive it because from a Tibetan perspective it was more respectful to use two hands. I held out an empty envelope to collect mine, but he didn’t mention how he felt about people who employed that method.

I have a slightly guilty confession to make. It’s extremely rare first of all to see anyone tell Sogyal Rinpoche what to do, and even rarer to see Sogyal Rinpoche willingly comply. So to watch as OT Rinpoche guided Sogyal Rinpoche through the receiving of the siddhis sent a shiver of excitement down my spine. Childish, I know, but there it is.

On Sunday morning I went back to the Rigpa Centre to attend a teaching by Sogyal Rinpoche. He was on spectacularly good form. He spoke of how Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche affected complete strangers, who often showed him great respect without having a clue about who he was. Sogyal Rinpoche said he thought they reacted that way because Kyabjé Rinpoche just was the nature of mind. That’s how I felt about Sogyal Rinpoche on Sunday morning. He was beautiful, radiant, compassionate, funny, absolutely ‘there’ and, from my point of view at least, seemed to be transmitting the nature of mind almost like a radio beacon. 

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

OK, so I must warn you straight away: this is not a post about OT Rinpoche or Sogyal Rinpoche or the drupchen or anything remotely to do with Buddhadharma. Please come back later in the week if you want to read any more about all that stuff.

Today is another Miriam day. Why I even navigated to youtube at 10am on a Monday morning is a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s another symptom of middle-age? Or one of the countless unconcious maneuvres I employ to delay the start of the working day (which is itself pitifully short)? I really don’t know. But there I was, looking up Rupert Everett on youtube (I’m reading his memoirs), when suddenly there she was with Graham Norton in a clip I haven’t seen before. I adore her (as I’ve mentioned once or twice before). The precision of her diction, her exquisite comic timing and her wicked sense of humour all cheer me up enormously, and samsara being what it is, the extreme mirth she inspires has left my cheeks wet with tears. May she live for a very, very long time. 

Rabjam Rinpoche’s Range Rover

OT Rinpoche told a funny story the other day. It came up as he was speaking about the hardships some of his ex-monks were facing in “the Pure Land of Belgium”, where life had turned out to be much more expensive and difficult than they could possibly have imagined—”Living is expensive, eating is, of course expensive. Even dying is expensive!” They had dreamed of coming to the west where they imagined everyone was spontaneously rich, but the reality was quite different. And in this context, Rinpoche told his story.

A few years ago, Rabjam Rinpoche bought himself a shiny new Range Rover, and the moment he laid eyes on it, OT Rinpoche wanted one for himself. But he had a problem: he was broke.

Undeterred, Rinpoche remembered that HH Dalai Lama often said western people seemed willing and able to help whenever money was needed, and decided to launch an appeal. The Chokling monks were doing a drupchen for Sogyal Rinpoche that year in Bir, and so OT Rinpoche had a notice written explaining precisely why he needed money and displayed it prominently next to a collection bowl.

A few days later, once all the rituals had been successfully completed, a monk was sent to pick up the bowl. It contained just $15 (US).

At around that time, two women asked to see Rinpoche and brought with them a beautifully wrapped gift. As they presented their offering to Rinpoche, they said they were giving him something they knew he really needed. Intrigued, he opened his present and found a Range Rover. It was exactly like Rabjam Rinpoche’s, except that it was plastic and only three inches long. But it was, without doubt, a Range Rover…

Mixing the Mendrup

It was mixing the mendrup day today. Everyone (except me… too lazy) was up and ready for a 4am start, and there were pots of potions cooking in the wintergarten when I arrived. By lunchtime, the smell of the mendrup had permeated (as they say) every inch of the Berlin centre, and was particularly sweet and heavy outside OT Rinpoche’s room on the top floor.

OT Rinpoche told Philip that this batch of mendrup had turned out quite well, and added that he usually put the majority of the mendrup he makes into the sea. For creatures whose karma it is to be born at the bottom of the ocean, he explained, it’s just about the only opportunity they’ll ever have to make contact with the dharma.

OT Rinpoche, it seems, takes his promise to help all sentient beings extremely seriously.

A Tease

OT Rinpoche was in rather a good mood today. So good, in fact, that he paused the morning’s recitation session to say a few words—and, in the course of things, told a funny story about Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

Apparently, when the big statue that can now be seen in the Manjushri Hall at Deer Park, had been completed, Khyentse Rinpoche asked OT Rinpoche what should be used to fill it.

Now, said OT Rinpoche, Khyentse Rinpoche, being a great scholar himself, would certainly have known the answer, but for reasons of his own, asked anyway. OT Rinpoche also told us that Khyentse Rinpoche really loves to tease him—which is something I can confirm myself, having enjoyed the spectacle many times over the years. But on this occasion, said OT Rinpoche, it was his turn.

In these modern times, he said, it might be a good idea to use modern symbols for the Enlightened Body, Speech and Mind of the Buddha. A camera, for example, to represent the Enlightened Body; a tape recorder for Enlightened Speech; a computer could be Enlightened Mind; and a $10 bill for the Enlightened Qualities (because it’s money that makes all the other activities happen). Naturally, OT Rinpoche put forward very good reasons why these modern objects would be perfect for the job, but my notebook has yet to see the light of day and I don’t trust my memory.

Needless to say, perhaps, the westerners present all enjoyed OT Rinpoche’s outrageous suggestion enormously (not only was it funny, it took our minds off our aching knees), but the monks absolutely loved it, and laughed almost uncontrollably. The only piece of information missing was whether or not Khyentse Rinpoche took the advice…

Behind the scenes…

Today, I dragged my aching carcass to the second session of day 2 of the drupchen, and once I got there was extremely glad of it. The atmosphere was dripping with Guru Rinpoche, in all his many manifestations. Lovely!

Here are a few snaps of what’s going on outside the shrine room. This is the buddha at the front door of the centre—beautiful, no? His shape and form are those suggested by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, who has exquisite taste and a deep affection for ancient Indian style. The third picture is of the room where the monks keep all the ritual paraphernalia, but what they do with the bright red concrete mixer, I have no idea! And the fourth picture is of the back of the centre. It’s so warm here in Berlin, that the Lotus Lounge is able to offer refreshment al fresco—which makes meal times really quite luxurious, for a drupchen.

Tukdrup Barché Kunsel Empowerment

I discovered today that imagining Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche is Guru Rinpoche really isn’t that much of a stretch; and actually, to see him as Guru Rinpoche who has power over all appearance and existence is as natural as natural can be. What an extraordinarily charismatic master he is!

And what a memory! The golden nugget of information I managed to squirrel away today is that, in the Nyingma tradition, it’s usual for the master giving the empowerment to get up and go to the students, or to send a suitable deputy (a tulku or a khenpo), to do the necessary with the symbolic empowerment substances. The habit we have these days of shepherding the students up to the master was begun when Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche came to the west. As they were less ambulant than the people on whom they were bestowing empowerments, their students started coming to them. But, as OT Rinpoche pointed out, before then, the opposite was true. And even at the very end of his life, Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö himself always got up and toured the room of recipients at the appropriate times.

Oh yes, and the other delicious crumb that I continue to savour is that when OT Rinpoche received this empowerment from Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Sogyal Rinpoche (a very small boy at that time) was his assistant! Such ingenious imaginings flooded into my all too vigorous mind when I heard this news—all of them in an atmospheric, grainy black and white, and all of them putting me at centre stage. What a diva!

The vajrayana isn’t simple…

The drupchen proper hasn’t started yet, but the joint (aka Rigpa’s gorgeous centre in Berlin) is really jumpin’! The mandala house, while rather smaller than the kind OT Rinpoche builds in Bir, is coming together rather nicely, the monks are well organized and seem very relaxed, and today OT Rinpoche gave a great teaching on drupchen. I wish I could tell you everything he said, but typically, I spaced out so completely that I didn’t even take my notebook from my bag.

The one point he made that really stuck, though, was that the vajrayana is not simple, and never could be. Therefore, it’s really not a path those who long for an uncomplicated method for attaining spiritual realization should consider.

Why this particular point made me so happy, I have no idea. I myself am incapable of holding two consecutive thoughts in my memory for more than ten seconds, so the elaborations of the vajrayana are way beyond me. Yet I love the fact that such a path exists and that there are people, even today, who enjoy getting stuck into its complexities.

But that’s pretty much all I brought away with me, apart from a few snaps of the morning’s events, for your delight and delectation (I think I may have used that phrase before—apologies for my appalling lack of and originality).

The Rigpa Berlin Centre Drupchen: Prelude

OT Rinpoche arrived last night and the drupchen starts on Thursday. Everyone I met today at the centre seemed extremely happy. Busy, naturally, but happy. It was a lovely atmosphere. And I was lucky enough to be able to indulge my obsessive snapping of OT Rinpoche; I even managed to get a couple of him and his daughter. Rinpoche will, I’m quite sure, get fed up of me and my camera at some point, but until then…


How perceptions change. I thought of one of John Keats poems yesterday, as I listened, breathlessly nostalgic, to one of Joni Mitchell’s songs. (Khyentse Rinpoche reminded me of her when he discovered Both Sides Now a couple of years ago, but that was not the song I was listening to.)

Both the poem and the song are about parties: one the aftermath, the other the experience itself; one carved from 19th century romantic sensibilities, the other from 20th century judgements and confusions. Keats appears to have enjoyed his party as it inspired within him some kind of spiritual rapture—or at least that’s how I interpret his words. Joni Mitchell, on the other hand, only sees deceit and trumpery at her probably more glamorous party, and is upset and disturbed by it.

Has education and overdeveloped perspicacity helped us as we stumble through our lives, I wonder? Or has it simply confused us and made us more fearful. Less truly romantic. More desperate.

OK, I agree! I’m writing with far too broad a penstroke here, making mental leaps without dangling a thread to lead you through the labaryinth of complications with which I awoke. And, characteristically, I haven’t the will to poke around and analyze all this nonsense, or a strong enough back to be able to sit for hours, whittling it down into something comprehensible. (Are you sighing with relief?)

So today’s compromise is that I offer you both bags of words to juggle over breakfast or brunch or whatever, with my love. If you make any sense of any of it, do let me know.

(By the way, I remember the Keats poem because I assumed the poet called for a golden pen because he thought it would make the poem somehow better. I was horrified because at the time I valued grey drudgery and poverty above gold and leisure. How perceptions change.)

A Sonnet by John Keats
GIVE me a golden pen, and let me lean
On heap’d up flowers, in regions clear, and far;
Bring me a tablet whiter than a star,
Or hand of hymning angel, when ’tis seen
The silver strings of heavenly harp atween:
And let there glide by many a pearly car,
Pink robes, and wavy hair, and diamond jar,
And half discovered wings, and glances keen.
The while let music wander round my ears,
And as it reaches each delicious ending,
Let me write down a line of glorious tone,
And full of many wonders of the spheres:
For what a height my spirit is contending!
’Tis not content so soon to be alone.

People’s Parties by Joni Mitchell
All the people at this party
They’ve got a lot of style
They’ve got stamps of many countries
They’ve got passport smiles
Some are friendly
Some are cutting
Some are watching it from the wings
Some are standing in the centre
Giving to get something

Photo Beauty gets attention
Then her eye paint’s running down
She’s got a rose in her teeth
And a lampshade crown
One minute she’s so happy
Then she’s crying on someone’s knee
Saying laughing and crying
You know it’s the same release

I told you when I met you
I was crazy
Cry for us all Beauty
Cry for Eddie in the corner
Thinking he’s nobody
And Jack behind his joker
And stone-cold Grace behind her fan
And me in my frightened silence
Thinking I don’t understand

I feel like I’m sleeping
Can you wake me
You seem to have a broader sensibility
I’m just living on nerves and feelings
With a weak and a lazy mind
And coming to peoples parties
Fumbling deaf dumb and blind

I wish I had more sense ot humor
Keeping the sadness at bay
Throwing the lightness on these things
Laughing it all away
Laughing it alI away
Laughing it all away

Strictly Ballroom

As I brooded about my many limitations, mental and physical, on a very grey Friday morning in Berlin, it occurred to me that many of the potholes in the the modern world’s version of the Buddhist path have opened up because too many educated modern people expect their spiritual path to ‘fit into’ (as Khyentse Rinpoche might say) and accomodate fully their personal limitations. So, if a new, evangelical buddhist in America can’t fathom the idea of reincarnation, he or she will do everything in their power to persuade as many people as possible that reincarnation is part of an old corrupt version of Buddhism that has virtually no place in the modern world—ignoring the laws of cause and effect entirely. Similarly, if a recognized authentic Buddhist master doesn’t conform to someone’s idea of saintliness, that master will be lampooned and derided for being a fake or unethical, and the person whose spiritual ideal has been disappointed will then do their best to bring the master down. This is how samsara operates, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the spiritual teachings or a spiritual outlook.

Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom illustrated this kind of mentality beautifully, albeit in reverse. It’s still the best of his movies by far, and tells the story of a young Australian ballroom dancer who longs to include innovative new dance steps in his routine, but faces implacable opposition from Australia’s ballroom dancing officialdom. Their view is, if you can’t dance a step you can’t teach it, therefore anything that’s beyond the ability of the established teaching body must be stamped out. In the case of Buddhism, the new, self-styled Buddhist teachers are the ones denying the full scope of Buddha’s teachings because they can’t understand it, can’t teach it, therefore denounce what they don’t get.

What will happen to Buddhadharma if new students accept that Buddha’s profound, limitless teachings should be quickly and easily assimilated into their own narrow minds? Rather than dwelling on such horrors, I think I’ll take Sogyal Rinpoche’s excellent advice and distract my mind with a clip (the climactic end bit) from that wonderfully OTT movie. Or maybe I’ll just take the rest of the morning off and watch the whole deliciously flouncy confection…


Funny business, this ‘blogging.’ I’m not much of a ‘blogger,’ actually. I couldn’t care less about stats (the number of ‘followers’, I am told, is the true mark of a successful blogger, and increases the ‘value’ of the blog; mine, according to a website that specializes in assessing such things, is worth US$654… imagine!)  and for the most part write to please myself, to exercise my memory and to polish my craft. If anyone reads what I write, it’s a bonus—and to the handful of friends who regularly tune in, I offer my heartfelt thanks.

Every so often, though, ten or twenty times as many visitors than usual are logged on the ‘stats’ page as having visited this site, and always for no obvious reason. This summer, for example, I didn’t post for a few weeks, yet one day right in the middle of my blogging desert, Oiling a Rusty Mind hosted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of visitors. Perhaps one of the Rinpoche’s casually mentioned this page to someone and started the avalanche? I’ll probably never know.

Today, as I’ve written myself to a standstill these past few days, I’m having a holiday. It’s reunification day here in Germany, and I’m celebrating by doing the whole of Penny Smith’s Yoga video instead of agonizing over verbs and modifiers. So, for all those for whom the photos are the main draw, here’s another of Emily Crow’s portraits of Khyentse Rinpoche.

Irish Music

Andreas, as you probably know, is something of an Irish traditional music fanatic (he sings rather well, even if I say so myself!) So Ireland, for him, was more about the music than anything else, and he sang every day—even at Dzogchen Beara. Here’s a recording of him singing My Son in America to the residents of the Dzogchen Beara hostel one night, illustrated by a few snaps from our holiday.

Kirsty MacColl

The Guardian ran a piece about Kirsty MacColl on Sunday, the singer/songwriter who died in 2000 (run over by a speed boat in Mexico). I’m not much of a pop fan, but I heard her song “In These Shoes?” while waiting for a movie to begin in one of the old Berlin cinemas (since closed, inevitably, now that the Sony Centre has the monopoly on OV movies). It took some effort to identify what it was, but there are times when being obsessive-compulsive has an upside. And I still listen to this song when I need cheering up.

Kirsty was my age, or would have been had she lived. And coincidentally, I thought of her and this song while we were in Dzogchen Beara, even though I had no idea that her 53rd birthday was coming, or that it would be marked in any way by the press. She popped into my rusty mind for a far more prosaic reason: my lack of appropriate footwear.