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.
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?
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.
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.