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. 

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…

Schnaftl Ufftschik

Last night we took Noa Jones to the ufaFabrik to hear the “The sound of the Transsiberian Railway on her way to Prenzlberg, featuring a thirsty trumpet and a drunken sousaphone” Wonderful stuff and for me, the ‘sound’ of Berlin. 

Advertising Overload

There are times when I feel as though I’ve been asleep for a couple of decades, so completely do I seem to have avoided noticing the evolutions in advertising. My modus operandi is to edit advertising out as it happens. My eye alights on an ad.—on a website, for example—then simply rolls over it. Nothing registers, even subliminally, and I’m able to continue looking for whatever nonsense it is that I’m after without contamination. I used to be rather proud of this skill, and  assumed, naively, it would not fail me. It turns out I was wrong.

Advertisers these days are developing stealth campaigns designed to creep up on unsuspecting, innocent, editors-out of mainstream advertising. I came across one recently in the toilet of a cafe in Treptower Park. Having washed my hands, grateful for the luxury of a clean public toilet as I mused over the horrors I’d stumbled into in India, I reached for a paper towel. At first glance it appeared to be patterned, but on closer inspection I discovered, to my horror, that I was clutching an advertisement for “Company music Berlin” and “Drehreif”.

What’s next? Advertising on the sticky side of plasters? Tampons? Condoms?

Anyway, I took a photo of the paper towel dispenser, in case you didn’t believe me, then returned to my husband with damp hands.

Summer in the City

Hmmnn, not much ‘hot town’ in Berlin this year, but I love the song and it keeps rising up in my mind, especially when the roof’s leaking and hail storms wreak havoc with our geraniums. We did have one weekend of sunshine in June, but otherwise it’s been a grey, wet summer this year. This week, with two weeks of the season to go, temperatures are supposed to rise. Let’s see. Otherwise, we’ll have more muddy puddles for ducks to bathe in, the sunflowers will have to be renamed ‘shade’ flowers and Berlin’s many bronzing salons will make a packet..

Britzer Garten 2012

We visited Britzer Garten a couple of weekends ago to see the tulips, but had left it too late in the season and they were almost dead by the time we got there. Last year we were too early, so next year we’ll go in the 3rd week of April which is, I believe, peak season, and be there just in time.

I spent the whole day fiddling fussily with my camera, trying to adjust the settings to get better snaps, but missed the fact that I’d selected, by mistake (can’t see close up any more), a macro setting on the lens. Typical. A pre-senior moment, I think. So, even though nothing is right about any of these photos, I still feel moved to add them as a record of that day to help oil the rusty cogs of my desiccated memory during future browsings—my own, of course, I wouldn’t want you to put yourselves through any of this waffle a second time. It was such a lovely, if chilly, May day.

On the way to Britzer Garten, which is about 20 minutes from our house if the bus comes on time, we saw an ad painted on the wall that reminded me of Indian ads I’d seen in Varanasi. This one’s for a master painter—but I’m sure that’s not the right English translation of Malermeister. My tragedy is that I never learnt to speak German properly, and now I can no longer summon ordinary English to my quivering tongue… ach ja!

Anyway, the master painter is the first picture you’ll see. Then there are a couple of assorted ‘views’, and the last photo is of a deckchair with a verse from the collection of anonymous German Folk Songs called ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’ printed on the back. All the deckchairs had some verse or other plastered on them, so each, from the point of view many who pursue contemporary art with some seriousness, is a work of art. And noone sat on them. But that may have been because it was so cold.

Throughout the day Andreas quietly sang through his now extensive repertoire of traditional Irish songs, so the most appropriate sound track to this posting would be of him doing his Irish thing. But as I don’t have a new recording of him yet and can’t access his voice right now as he’s currently snoring and farting his way through the morning after a very late night ‘session’ in Kreuzberg (36, I think, not 60), I thought I’d substitute another exquisitely great voice.

My first choice of song was to have been from Mahler’s settings of Des Knabe Wunderhorn, but the Harvest Song I photographed isn’t part of that selection. So instead I’m offering a rather crackly recording (obviously a badly made video that I found on youtube) of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a musician and singer of such magnitude I’m not even going to try to describe his greatness, who died last week at the age of 86—a lifelong 60 a day smoker, but don’t tell Andreas. We will not see his like again in our lifetimes.

Here he is singing ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ from Mahler’s setting of five songs by Frederich Rückert. It’s worth including the translation of this poem, I think, even though the artistry of the poet doesn’t come through in English.

I am lost to the world
on which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing of me for so long
that it may well think me dead.

I do not care at all
whether it thinks me dead.
Nor can I deny it:
for I have really died to the world.

I have died to the world’s tumult
and rest in a realm of quiet:
I live alone in my own heaven,
in my love, in my song.

My Local Deer Park

When I was in Varanasi and visited Sarnath we all fed the deer in the now fenced off deer park and it all felt very special. But apart from the fact Buddha taught there, the deer park itself wasn’t unique. We have one at the end of our road here in leafy Tempelhof and I go there quite often. Well, I pass through on my way to Kreuzberg (I walk—my concession to this body’s desperate need for constant attention) or when I’m trying to dump tsok offerings auspiciously. I’m sure someone will catch me one day—in Germany it’s not a spiritual act but a criminal one: littering.

There’s a large pond in the middle of the fenced off enclosure (not quite such anti-human fencing in Berlin as in Sarnath, I must say), and in March the deer were all so bloated with hormone activity they were racing around their enclosure as if their tails were on fire. Maybe that’s why their tails are black? Every photo I tried to take ended up being of a green and emphatically deer-less space. It didn’t occur to me to video it (I still haven’t go used the my camera yet), I’m afraid. But I did manage a photo a few days ago, now they’ve calmed down a bit. And a short video, which I’m too lazy to upload. Be grateful, I think it’s one of those little movies that you could only really enjoy if you’d been there… like births and kids brithday parties and such.


I’m constantly amazed by how little really useful information I’ve picked up over the years. For example, skylarks. Did you know that skylarks nest in the middle of grassy fields? I didn’t. It would never have occurred to me that such a tiny bird would even consider nesting anywhere but in a tree. They do though. As I found out yesterday on our first spring walk on Tempelhofer Feld (the old airport I wrote about last summer). Much of the middle of the airfield had been cordoned off with red and white plastic ribbons and notices (in German) pitched announcing skylark nesting season. And it seems to be working. Berliners don’t walk on that part of the field (I can’t speak for the poxy foreigners) and throughout our hour or two in the sun, we found ourselves being serenaded by skylark song.

True, the background noise of motorized traffic never really goes away in the middle of the city, but to be able to lie on a blanket, stare at the sky and clouds, and listen to the wind and skylarks was really quite special. (And I must admit, I begin to crave a little house in the country with a large garden. But it’ll never happen…)

The Tempelhof skylarks did have a little more competition than just the traffic yesterday. Andreas decided he wanted to learn the words of a new song as we basked (fully clothed—it wasn’t that warm) and so my left (rather deaf) ear enjoyed his gentle balladeering, while my right (rather less deaf) ear followed the skylark troubadours. Heavenly.

I videoed Andreas as he learnt one song, but all you can hear is the wind… so here’s a recording of a skylark instead.

Frisch Gepresst Leinöl

Désirée turned us on to the delicious freshly pressed linseed oil she buys at Winterfeld Platz Markt on Saturdays. It’s a great market, right at the heart of pink Schöneberg, and full of good quality, high-end food, plus the usual bags and slippers and what not. I’ve been three times now. Each time it’s rained, and yesterday it even snowed. I appear to inspire a strong reaction from the weather in Schöneberg.

If you do a circumambulation of the outer stalls, the first one on the left is the linseed oil lady. Her press looks like something you might find in India, except of course, it’s clean, works effortlessly and efficiently, and there’s a label in the basket collecting what’s left of the seeds once the oil has been squeezed out.

The label says “Leinkuchen”, which literally means ‘flax cakes.’ They must have some healthy giving property that I know nothing about, but on looks alone, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to nibble one. They remind me too much of the pellets we fed to horses nearly 40 years ago—when I still loved looking after animals and had yet to discover sex, drugs and rock’n’roll—or worms. Or animal dropping. Basically, nothing I’d be tempted to soak and add to my muesli in the mornings.

Clearly, there are still things about German cuisine that it’s better not to delve into too deeply.

Artist at Work

We used to have what my mother would describe as a ‘dining area’ in our living room, but it’s transmogrified into an artist’s studio. I don’t think the dining area has much hope of a come back—not this lifetime, at any rate. 

Pogorelich, the Concert

Such a sad evening. The Chopin Sonata was unrecognizable, the Mephisto Waltz might just as well have been played backwards, and clearly, the Wunderkind I fell at the feet of thirty years ago has completely lost it. ‘Incoherent’, which is how a journalist at the New York Times described his playing in 2006, was the least of his problems. He no longer appears to have a technique, an appreciation of rhythm, or any memory of the notes. He slammed his foot down on the sustaining pedal with the subtlety of a pneumatic drill. It was both horrifying (that he even gets a gig these days) and tragic (he was such an artist). The best playing he managed was before the concert began, as he sat at the piano wearing a beanie and chatting with passersby (see below). Not a good sign. We left after the first half.

The Konzerthaus itself was as gorgeous and alluring as ever. We sat in Loge 8. We’ve never sat there before, and had never seen the fish (ditto) or the detail on the ceiling (double ditto). The best thing was that the chairs were freestanding and extremely comfortable.

I suffered a fit of nostalgia today, so I played his recording of the Chopin Sonata to Andreas. It was just as fabulous as I remember it. And made me feel even sadder.

The Luck of the Irish

Imagine you were checking in for an international flight and the nice lady at the desk told you that your passport had expired. What would happen next? If it happened to me, nothing would happen next. I’d simply have to accept that the only place I’d be going that day was home.

Now imagine my husband, Andreas, bouncing up to the check-in counter, as he did on Wednesday, and presenting his German ID card to the same nice lady. (Germans don’t need passports on flights within the EU, just their IDs—the kind the English refuse to carry.)

It’s true, he looked shocked for a whole thirty seconds after she told him the ID had expired, but his confusion was over almost as soon as it began. He smiled at the nice lady and asked, politely, if there was anything he could do to resolve the situation. She smiled back and explained, with admirable clarity, about the office in the other building where a nice policeman was waiting to help hapless German-ID-expiry-date-forgetters, and that he should trot over there straight away. There was time, she said, before the almost empty flight to Dublin would close.

So we trotted over. Well, Andreas trotted, I stormed. Again, if this had been me in a similar situation in England, I would have had to walk for half an hour simply to reach the office. Then, even if I found it, the nice policeman would definitely not be nice and anyway, he, or she, would be on a break.

Cut back to Andreas, in Germany, at the old Schönefeld airport, which looks a bit like an IKEA but much smaller. Firstly, the office was precisely where they lady said it would be and it took us five minutes to get there. Secondly, there were two nice policeman ready and willing, nay eager to help. And thirdly… well, thirdly, this is Germany, and everything works.

Andreas isn’t blood Irish, he’s German, but during his many visits to the Emerald Isle has clearly hoovered up a fair amount of her legendary luck, because fifteen minutes and 8 Euros after the initial discovery that the ID had expired, he was back at the check-in counter with a boarding pass in his large hairy paw. He even had time for a couple of cigarettes before going through security. Which is why I want to be Andreas next lifetime.

Anyway, here’s a silly snap of some more art from the streets of Berlin. I think kids painted these knobs, but god knows what they were doing there in the first place.

Sunny Days and Sweetness

An old, old friend whom I recently reconnected with on Facebook (we shared a flat together when we were at college in London) posted this photo yesterday. Delicious colours, don’t you think? And this little row of beings create such a marvellous shape.

Another old friend, Dorothy Ianonne, opened a show of her paintings in Berlin yesterday—about a dozen big pieces all sitting together in a small gallery on the Grosser Hamburger Strasse in Mitte. Her palette isn’t exactly the same as the birds’ colouring, but it has the same effect on my mind as it’s bright and joyful and never fails to raise the spirits.

Dorothy is also unfailingly kind and patient, and even though I am a confirmed misanthrope, she still invites me to these splendid occasions when they take place in Berlin. And I must say, it was marvellous to see the pictures and to almost hear her Singing Box. Most of Dorothy’s art celebrates her lifelong pursuit of the highest form of union and is both wildly explicit and tenderly innocent, but never takes itself too seriously. You should see the show if you’re in Berlin. There’s a webpage about Dorothy and the gallery showing her work, but I can’t seem to add the link… so I’m afraid you’ll have to type it in yourself. Go to http://www.peresprojects.com.

But I am such a dead loss when it comes to socializing that I couldn’t quite manage to get to the dinner afterwards. Sorry Dorothy, I’m far better suited to a tête-à-tête and a cup of tea.