Richard Rodney Bennet

So many hard-to-bear losses in the music world this year: Vishnevskaya, Lisa della Casa, Fischer-Dieskau, Dave Brubeck, Ravi Shankar (to name but a few), and now Richard Rodney Bennet, whose lyricism survived in spite of the prevailing musical whims of the times to write some of the loveliest tunes. He must surely have been loved by both Saraswasti and Manjushri… Do you know this one? It’s the first of five songs in a cycle called ‘The Aviary,’ the words of ‘The Bird’s Lament’, sung here by a young prize-winning English chorister, are by John Clare. 


Jia-Ling and I went for a walk down Iloo Road a couple of days ago and came across a couple of old people who could have been time travellers from centuries ago. Jia-Ling stopped to take a photo, politely asking for permission (I’m usually rather more furtive) so I elbowed in a took a couple of shots myself. We also found a stone relief of Hanuman the monkey god that I’d never noticed before. It felt good to be in ‘India’—sometimes all I see is a computer screen, and frankly, at such times I could be anywhere. But for anyone thinking of coming in January, bring thermal underwear and thick socks and ‘wet ones’ because it’s absolutely freezing.P1070109 P1070120 P1070122 P1070129

Dam Ngak Dzö

Rinpoche was on a roll last night. I think the transmissions are inspiring him enormously, even though, as he says, they’re “so difficult to understand.” No other transmission he’s given has required him to do any homework, but this time, on top of everything else he has to fit into his day, he goes through the next day’s teaching before retiring for the night. The man is a force of nature…

Without the Dam Ngak Dzö, Rinpoche said, we wouldn’t have the necessary authoritative texts to clarify problems or ‘doubts’ (as the Tibetans like to put it) that arise from the teachings we focus on today, for example the Longchen Nyingtik—which, according to Rinpoche, is child’s play in comparison to the teachings of the great Indian Mahasiddhas. If I understood Rinpoche correctly, the Dam Ngak Dzö is a compilation of all the root tantras that were the basis from which the Tibetan tradition evolved. Although I’m not sure I should use the word ‘evolve’…

Rinpoche then told a marvellous tale about one of the Indian Mahasiddhas who is also revered by the Hindu tradition. I assumed his teachings appear in the Dam Ngak Dzö, but Rinpoche wasn’t that explicit. You may be familiar with this story, but I think it bears retelling.

Minapa was a fisherman. One day he caught a fish that swallowed him whole, and he found himself living in its belly. At the same time, Shiva had finally decided to give Uma a teaching that, Rinpoche said, “he was only allow to give three times.” He therefore wanted to make sure no one overheard him and instructed Uma to build herself a dwelling under the sea. She did so, and soon Shiva began to teach.

As luck would have it, Minapa’s fish found its way to Uma’s undersea home and proceeded to circle it throughout the transmission. As a result and quite by accident, Minapa received all of Shiva’s teachings. When Uma dozed off and Shiva asked “Did you hear that?” it was Minapa who replied, “Yes.”

Uma later confessed that she had been asleep and couldn’t possibly have responded to his question, so Shiva, who was a god after all, located Minapa in the fish’s belly and realized that, having received the transmission, he was now his student.

I looked up Keith Dowman’s ‘adaptation’ (rather than translation) of this story and he reckons that Minapa then practised in the belly of the fish for twelve years before the fish was caught by another fisherman, who cut Minapa out. Minapa then worked for the benefit of others for 500 years, and progressed along the path until he ended up in a ‘Dakini Paradise.’ Appropriately enough, his name means ‘Fish-Siddha.’ Good story, no?P1070147

Working the Land

Too cold to write this morning. Instead, here are some pictures of the harvest around Bir this year, especially for Volker, who has always been so encouraging and generous to me over the years, in spite of my excessively direct and somewhat abrasive character.

Lama Godi by Penelope

In Bir yesterday we bumped into Lama Godi who was sitting in the coat, shoe and blanket shop by the taxi rank. I say, ‘taxi rank’, but the reality bears no resemblance whatsoever to the European equivalent. Unfortunately, a precise vocabulary for describing the scrap yard of rather high-smelling, unhappily-parked vehicles and pack of forlorn, yet jackal-like Indian drivers squatting on the concrete steps as they lie in wait for an Inji fare, simply doesn’t exist in my world. So unless we go for something like ‘crouching taxi, hidden driver,’ (did I really write that? has a demon entered my keyboard?) ‘taxi rank’ will have to do.

My companion, Ang from Malaysia, has been coming to Bir since the late 80s and knows Lama Godi quite well. So he made an offering to Lama, and I smiled and bowed with my body, as my mind fled back to my computer and a photo Penelope had sent me.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time, even with Khyentse Rinpoche, who we see so rarely these days. Too often when I am with him, my mind skedaddles off, at great speed, to check through lists of questions and difficulties, instead of allowing itself to enjoy basking in his presence, or look at its own maneuverings, or do anything remotely beneficial spiritually-speaking. Ach ja. Twenty-five years of so-called Buddhist practice, and I’m worse off than a beginner.

It reminds me of a story I heard some twenty years ago. Sogyal Rinpoche had been teaching about how older students (I counted myself as a beginner in those days, and was horribly smug about it…) who have heard the same teachings many times over can become so jaded that however applicable a teaching might be to their state of mind, it doesn’t even occur to them to apply it to themselves. The words simply slide off their slippery minds and they become like a block of wood.

One of the people Rinpoche was directing this teaching at was a man called Francois. He came from a very good French family, had been educated to within an inch of his life, was witty, generous, charming… well, you can imagine. And knowing that the teaching was aimed at him, for the next session he left a large log of rotting wood in the place he usually sat… not something anyone is likely to dare to do today.

Back to business, though…  I love this photo. Penelope went to see Lama Godi at 7am in his room (there really is a room there, underneath all that stuff) and not only came away with untold blessings, but this marvellous portrait which she has very generously offered to ORM. Thank you again, Penelope.

Lama Godi

Rainy Day

It started raining at breakfast and hasn’t stopped all morning. If it’s raining in Bir, it’s snowing on the mountains behind us, and that means it’s truly brass monkey’s weather. The electricity is on and off (mostly off) because the cables are often exposed (and hung on branches of trees instead of hidden underground) and the plastic casing rarely intact, so it’s also disturbingly dark. And I live in a house with a marble floor.

So today is the day for revisiting sunnier times, like the day on which Amaya, with the help of her mother Summer, added to the art on the downstairs wall of Rinpoche’s library. And I’ve thrown in a couple of cows and a deranged goat doing a balancing act, for good measure.


At Baijnat, which is the next village on from Bir, stands an ancient Shiva temple. There has been a shrine to Shiva on the same site for many centuries, but the temple itself wasn’t built until around 1204. Otherwise, Baijnat itself is an unremarkable village more famous for its stupendous traffic jams than anything else.

IMG_1502Rinpoche’s done a few pujas at the temple over the years and seems very fond of the place, often suggesting to his guests that they visit during their time in Bir. That’s why we first went, but to be perfectly frank, I’ve never been able to see through the ancient caked-on bird shit that adorns the place to really appreciate its beauty. Ach ja, modern standards of hygiene can be such a disadvantage in India.

Anyway, Emily Crow went there a week or two ago with Khyentse Rinpoche, Khyentse Yangsi and OT Rinpoche, and kindly agreed to my sharing a couple of her iPhone photos with you—even though we couldn’t work out how to make them any bigger. Her pictures always take me a little by surprize, yet seem entirely true to their subject, which is why, following in Penelope’s footsteps, she is today’s ‘Oiling a Rusty Mind’ guest photographer. Could there be a greater honour, I wonder…


Tsok at the Labrang

It was the 25th day of the Tibetan month on Saturday, so Khyentse Rinpoche finished the day’s Dam Ngak Dzö transmissions at lunchtime and performed a reasonably elaborate tsok in his Library during the afternoon. Rinpoche invited both Yangsis, OT Rinpoche and Spiti Tulku, about twenty monks, a couple of westerners, and a relatively liberal smattering of Bhutanese and Tibetans. It was beautiful day and the sun flooded into the room all afternoon, so none of us were cold. There was an air of something very ordinary yet rare, even historic about the whole thing.

Once it was all over, I met Lama Sonam Phuntsok outside on the terrace; he looked absolutely radiant. It was the first time in two and half years (basically since his kidney transplant) that he’d taken part in such a practice and not felt overwhelmed or exhausted—an auspicious sign if ever I saw one!

All these pictures were taken from the same spot—it really wasn’t the kind of situation one felt comfortable getting up and wandering around in—so please forgive the bizarre angles, other-worldly colours and fuzzy bits.



Remembering Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Last night was the evening before Khyentse Rinpoche begins to transmit the teachings from the Zurmang tradition, so he asked some of Trungpa Rinpoche’s older students to make a visual presentation and talk a little about their hugely influential master. It all happened at Deer Park and both the Yangsis attended, along with Spiti Tulku and, of course, Khyentse Rinpoche.

Rinpoche introduced the evening by telling a story. It was dark and I’m not only a bit deaf but also a compulsive editor, so what follows bears no resemblance to a transcript whatsoever, but it was too good a tale for you to miss.

“When I was 10 years old, the guy who is now sitting there [Khyentse Yangsi was sitting in the front row] was taming, training and teaching me—and he hasn’t aged one bit! On his shrine stood a photo of a man with a clean-shaven head, wearing a very impressive military uniform.

“Having spent a little time with Kyabjé Rinpoche I knew that in many ways he was a very broad-minded person and open to many things, but in others he was absolutely meticulous, and this photo just seemed… well unacceptable. A picture of an army man standing next to Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Rinpoche! Surely, I thought, Rinpoche’s attendants must have made a mistake.

“In the end curiosity got the better of me, and I asked who the army man was. ‘He is one who has perfect realization,’ said Kyabjé Rinpoche.

“Now, in my very stereotypical mind, a being with ‘perfect’ realization could only take the form of a monk or a yogi, never, ever a soldier. So, it was many years later that I realized this was just another example of the extraordinary, yet often unfathomable wealth of the Buddhadharma, and that great vidhyadharas are always ready to pull the rug out from under their students feet at any moment.

“At one point I visited Trungpa Rinpoche’s seat—the one called ‘Halifax’—and was told that he had asked many of his students to move there. Some seven hundred families willingly relocated. Did you know that Halifax was the biggest producer of babies’ bibs in America? To me, though, with my impure perception, it should have won the award for being ‘the most boring place on earth.’

“Westerners generally, and particularly Americans, are not easy to order around or teach, which makes it almost unbelievable, unthinkable even, that this half-drunk, half-paralyzed guy, could ever have managed to transform all those dippy-hippy north Americans into sadhana practitioners and even lineage holders.

“As we are now coming to the part in the Dam Ngak Dzö that presents teachings from the Zurmang tradition, now is good time to celebrate the life of this great master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, so I have asked some of his students to talk about him a little.”

And they did…

(I believe the last photo here, of Trungpa Rinpoche and Robert Elk, appears in Sacred World: the Shambhala Way to Gentleness, Bravery, and Power by Jeremy and Karen Hayward. I’m sorry, I don’t know then name of the photographer.)
P1070020P1070018P1070043 CTR & RE

From the Shrine Room

I don’t go down to Chauntra often, but I was there yesterday and the day before and wondered if you’d be interested in some snaps (see below). Of course, my view of Rinpoche was partial, to say least, (see the first photo of the series—can you spot Rinpoche?), but it doesn’t seem to matter a jot.

Every word that falls from Rinpoche’s lips is in Tibetan, (the Yangsis, Tulkus and monks are his target audience) and so Rinpoche very kindly arranged for both English and Chinese simultaneous translation to be broadcast on FM radio. Miraculously, the super-cheap Nokia phone I brought with me has a radio built in and it’s unbelievably good quality. So, for once in my life, as we received an empowerment I could follow what was going on quite easily… until I spaced out completely, that is.

I must say, the English translators (a Frenchman and an American, I believe…) are doing great job! I can’t believe how well they keep up with Rinpoche’s extremely fast reading speed. And we were served peach tea instead of butter tea, which is very refreshing (if a little sweet) and far less sticky when split. All in all, a most pleasant afternoon.

By the way, Michael Damian is here for those of you who harbour doubts as to his whereabouts… And many apologies to Sarah.




Sunny Bir

We’ve had two hot sunny days and I’m feeling sleepy and lazy. The dining room has been decorated and looks lovely. The wood burning stove is a great success, now that the metal chimney has been daubed with what looks like cow dung (and probably is). And we no longer have to wear our outdoor coats when we eat. God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. Or something like that.

The sun has inspired me to share my current two favorite ‘India’ photos, which I’m posting in lieu of any really interesting news.

On second thoughts, perhaps I ought to let you know that the Nyingma section of the Dam Ngak Dzo is likely to start around 8 January, PAPs can be acquired through Deer Park for a small fee (worth every rupee), and Raj Kumar has been roasting potatoes and frying freshly-strained panir and carrots. The bad news: I love Raj Kumar’s food so much that my girth has expanded exponentially and is now seriously threatening the integrity of my jeans.

Be that as it may, as the next two months will be wallpapered with the blessings of Dharma, a legal stay in Bir without an extra 8 hours of car-sickness (because I don’t have to go to Dharmasala for the PAP), and plenty of insulating flab, I feel almost equal to the task of welcoming the winter with a measure of sanguinity. Or I would, if Rinpoche wasn’t planning to dress Douglas up in a Santa suit on Christmas day…

Penelope’s Birthday

I’m afraid all my words are currently being swallowed up by a project I’m engaged in, so I think it’s best I just post a few snaps of last night’s party rather than embarrass myself by failing to describe the fun we had. There is one mystery that I can’t expalin, though. How did Jamyang Dorjee manage to find his way into so many pictures when it was, in fact, Penelope’s birthday and not his…P1060881P1060877P1060864P1060918P1060898



It’s paragliding season and Bir is overflowing with those bizarre individuals who get their kicks from leaping off the edge of a mountain. There’s a spot on Ilu Road they all make for, and I happened to be there one day last week as a few landed (successfully, thanks be. No mushy jam and gristle to contend with). A local woman was also working in a paddy field that day, so I was able to capture some wonderful contradictions—or perhaps ‘juxtapositions’ would be a better word. Anyway, see what you think.