Sonam Chöpel’s Chicken Story

Although I can’t remember exactly why, Ron asked me a few years ago if I’d write up Sonam Chöpel’s chicken story. (It was something to do with producing a text to read out loud to test a recording device—Ron will remember.) I agreed because I’m a bit of pushover, but as Sonam Chöpel never tells a story the same way twice, I had to take notes for a couple of weeks (Rinpoche was asking for it every other night) before putting fingers to keyboard. The result was the following, which, as you can see, is a pastiche of the Heart Sutra. Looking at it now I can see it doesn’t really work, certainly not as well as the Football Sutra, but I’ve decided to swallow my pride and post it nonetheless, as it’s topical.

Homage to the Master of all Chicken Stories!

Thus have I heard. Once when Sonam Chöpel was serving supper at Khyentse Labrang, together with a great gathering of the Sangha from Vancouver, Hong Kong and Taiwan, he entered the samadhi that expressed the paranoia of the Chicken Farmer from Bhutan.

And at the same time, noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, whilst eating his food, saw in this way: he saw a vision of the story of the paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer.

Then, through the power of Sonam Chöpel, he-who-must-be-obeyed Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche asked noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, “Tell us a story, Ron.”

Addressed in this way, noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, said to he-who-must-be-obeyed Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, “Oh Rinpoche, there once was a Chicken Farmer in Bhutan who hated his nasty neighbour and felt sure that one day he would do him wrong. And sure enough there dawned a day when one of the Farmer’s chickens was gone! ‘Oh, Oh, cried the Chicken Farmer as he jumped up and down with glee, ‘My neighbour’s robbed me! I must go to town and seek justice from a court of law!’ And off he went to court.

At the law court, a lawyer told the Chicken Farmer, “Oh Chicken Farmer, you cannot press a suit against your nasty neighbour for theft unless you have a witness to the crime!” And so the Chicken Farmer hurried to the local bar where he asked a poor Nepali immigrant, “Oh poor Nepali immigrant, my nasty neighbour stole from me, but I can’t take him to court without a witness to the crime. Here, take the handsome sum of fifty rupees and come to court. Tell the judge you saw the crime, and justice will be done!”

Bent and brown, the poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, I really need the handsome sum of fifty rupees, so kindly offered, but if my lie is found out I will be ejected from Bhutan before you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle’, so please find yourself another stooge.”

“No, no,” cried the determined Chicken Farmer, “my poor Nepali immigrant, that is not how things will transpire. You will not be found out! And I will give you the princely sum of one hundred rupees, and justice will be done!”

Again the bent and brown, poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, I really need the princely sum of one hundred rupees, so kindly offered, but if my lie is found out I will be ejected from Bhutan before you can say, ‘Where is Ali!’, so please find yourself another stooge.”

“No, no, no, no, no!” bawled the frantic Chicken Farmer, “you infuriating poor Nepali immigrant, that is not how things will transpire. You will not be found out! Just say two words, “I saw”, when the judge questions you and I will give you the kingly sum of two hundred rupees, and justice will be done!”

Once more the bent and  brown, poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, you have won my help. I really need the kingly sum of two hundred rupees, so kindly offered, and will say the two words you require.” And off they went to court.

Beady-eyed, the judge stared hard at the poor Nepali immigrant and asked, “Did you, poor Nepali immigrant, see the Chicken Farmer’s nasty neighbour stealing something from his farm?”

“I saw!” replied the poor Nepali immigrant, much to the relief of the Chicken Farmer who clapped his hands with joy.

“How big was it?” continued the judge, beady-eyed and staring hard.

Shocked and confused, the poor Nepali immigrant raised his bony hand up as high as his shoulder—he had no idea what it was the nasty neighbour stole! The judge’s beady eyes bulged bigger and he exclaimed, “Can a chicken be so big?” And the poor Nepali immigrant raised his other hand in graceful mudra to indicate the height of an ordinary chicken.

Thus concludes the story of the paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer.

Anna the Boy

A beautiful, completely healthy little cat has moved into the place I stay in Bir. Jamyang Dorjee says he’s from Bhutan and that Tarthang Tulku named him Anna. How did a boy cat acquire a girl’s name? It seems noone could find a willy or balls when he was a kitten, so they assumed he was a girl. He is Bhutanese (as are many of the people I live with) and I wonder if the equipment cats from Bhutan are born with is of a different dimension to that of European cats.

Anyway, I first met him yesterday at lunch as he nestled into Khyentse Rinpoche’s lap. I then bumped into him regularly throughout the day and was delighted when he joined us for supper, this time purring contentedly on Jamyang Dorjee’s lap. Cats are rare in Bir, and health-looking cats, until Anna, completely unknown.

Senge Dzong (2)

Here are a few pictures taken after Chokling Rinpoche and OT Rinpoche’s party arrived at Senge Dzong. All these images were snapped on the same day. And I’ve chosen pictures of the Rinpoches because there’s really nothing at Senge Dzong except a valley. Don’t panic, though, there will be a couple of photos of the landscape in the next post, so you’ll be able to see for yourself.

Senge Dzong (1): The Voyage Out

After the Chigme Phakmé Nyingtik drupchen in Bir last September, Chökling Rinpoche and his wife, OT Rinpoche and his wife, their kids (I think all of them), his brother Khyentse Yeshe, plus an assortment of monks and six westerners all set out for Bhutan. The westerners included Philip and Emilie H, and Emilie has very generously allowed me to post a few of her photos for your delight and delectation (thank you once again, dear Emilie).

I think I should point out immediately that this wasn’t an ordinary trek. It certain wasn’t an easy one. Senge Dzong is extremely remote and even the Bhutanese take three days to walk there up a narrow, treacherous path. And for Injis, altitude sickness is a constant companion. But no deterrent for hard-line Guru Rinpoche fans (like OT Rinpoche), for whom it’s a ‘must see’ pilgrimage spot, and particularly special for devotees of Yeshe Tsogyal who did all kinds of mind-boggling things there.

This particular trek wasn’t made any easier by the earthquake that struck Sikkim in the middle of September. Many of the roads and tracks in Bhutan were blocked and as the weather had been particularly wet, there was a great deal of mud to wade through. It ended up taking Chokling Rinpoche, OT Rinpoche and their party five days to get there, with no hotels or guest houses or even tea shops on the way. Everyone slept in tents and all the food for the journey (plus all the drupchen substances) had to be carried by the monks and cooked en route.

Once they arrived at Senge Dzong there was basically nothing there except a shrine room and a couple of outhouses. The drupchen etc. took ten or twelve days, and then they had another five-day trek back to civilization. Well, civilization of a sort…

I confess, I can’t imagine taking on such a challenge, but our intrepid friends tell me it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

With luck Emilie will post some comments once this piece and its sisters are online, and maybe Philip will too… let’s see.

Paro, on the voyage out to Senge Dzong

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.

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A Neatly Wrapped Guru

Bhutan, 2007, in one of the old houses near Paro, if memory serves. Rinpoche met a group of young people shepherded by Lama Shenpen, the Welsh monk who spent a long time in Taiwan and now teaches young people in Bhutan. It was quite cold and most of us wore coats, but Rinpoche, in particular, had really bundled himself up. He looks so cosy and warm and snuggly in that red blanket, don’t you think?

Khyentse Rinpoche at Jamyang’s Sister’s House

We ate momo’s at Jamyang’s house last night. Her momos are the most delicious you can imagine and she never fails to make a huge pile of them so we could really dig in and gorge ourselves.

Anyway, that’s really not the point here. Having spent the evening with Jamyang it occurred to me that I had a few photos somewhere of the day we went to her sister’s new house in the hills surrounding Thimpu. Rinpoche was performing a puja there (White Tara I think, but I can’t really remember) along with a few monks and long-haired gomchens. It was a lovely atmosphere and I remember the food was also particularly good. So here’s a snap of that day.

There’s a phrase I remember being repeated ad nauseum during my early years, “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” Well, the whole god thing has been rather blown apart for me by Buddhadharma, so taken literally it doesn’t really make sense any more. But when Rinpoche looks as happy as he does in this photo, I can easily buy into the illusion that, just for this instant, all really is right with the world. 

The Inimitable Urgyen Wangchuk and Incomparable Phuntsok Topgyal

Another photo from the Bhutan 2007 trip. Here you can see Urgyen Wangchuk on the left and Phuntsok Topgyal on the right. Urgyen Wangchuk is quite an eccentric character who chews paan abd takes care of things for Rinpoche in Dewathang. He is also a fabulous cook. You may have seen Pawo’s glorious photos on Facebook? Well Urgyen Wangchuk is his uncle. But then, all Bhutanese seem to be related one way or another!

Phuntsok Topgyal is one of Rinpoche’s attendants and seems to be able to turn his hand to just about anything. He’s the kind of person who makes you feel safe when he’s around. We met for the first time in the late 80s when he accompanied Rinpoche to London, so I think it’s fair to say we’re old friends.

And yes, they are simultaneously pulling faces at me…

A Picnic

The Bhutanese love picnics. They love the food involved, of course, but they also love spending time with their family and friends and sharing stories with each other.

In the run up to the first ever democratic elections in Bhutan, Rinpoche entertained some old friends in the garden of his Paro home. Everyone sat in a clearing, leaving lots of space around Rinpoche and making quite a huddle on the opposite side of the circle. Keeping their distance is how the Bhutanese show their respect, and while I applaud the sentiment, the gesture can be a little impractical as Rinpoche had to shout quite a lot.

Next to Rinpoche sat a Lama (his name sounds like Nyingkola, but I don’t know how it’s spelt) who looks a lot like the pictures I’ve seen of Dudjom Rinpoche, and next to him sat one of Rinpoche’s oldest friends. This old friend had Rinpoche in stitches as he spoke quite openly about all the illegal activities he was planning to strong-arm Bhutanese villagers into voting for his party. I hasten to add that his party didn’t win. But his plan of action kept Rinpoche laughing full-throttle for nearly an hour.

It was one occasion when I would have liked to understand Sharchhop-kha. 

Men in Skirts

Yesterday as I trawled through my pictures from Bhutan to find the one I posted of Emily, two things happened simultaneously: Andreas burst into our sitting room laughing from head to toe, as only he can, to point out the above youtube link, and I came upon today’s photo. It was taken at the same tenshyuk I mentioned yesterday, and that I should find it as I listened to this song struck me as an interesting coincidence.

Perhaps I should explain. As you will hear from the song (great singer, by the way), many of those born on my island are fascinated by men in skirts. Bizarrely, the further north you go, meaning the colder the weather, the more likely it is that you will bump into skirted men. Not the faux-David Beckham types in a designer sarongs, or would-be Boy Georges, these are the hard men from the north, beefy, bearded, whisky-swilling out-door types who live in T-shirts and kilts, only resorting to woollies once the temperature hits -1 (centigrade). And the focal point of our fascination revolves around the myth that ruggard kilt-wearing Scots eshew underwear, whatever the weather.

So, naturally, when I visited Bhutan where the male population also forgo trousers in preference for their national dress (I think its a legal requirement), it got me thinking. How far do the similarities between the Bhutanese and the Scots go? And I felt it my duty to investigate. Hence the photograph. Hmmn…?

Another Back

Yes, I am supposed to be working. Yes, I do have a deadline. And no, I definitely should not be exceeding my alloted posting time by so much as a minute. But…

Jun Xie just sent me a link to an article about what Khyentse Rinpoche has been doing for the past couple of weeks (thank you Jun) and it includes a wonderful gallery of photos with all kinds of backs and fronts and bits and pieces in it, all of which I find extremely inspiring. And the reason I’m breaking my rules and posting twice in one day is that one of the pictures reminded me of this slightly strangely exposed snap I took in Bhutan in 2007 of Emily striking one of her most characteristic poses. Another wonderfully eloquent back, don’t you think?

The occasion was a tenshyuk offered by the three-year retreatants to Khyentse Rinpoche in Paro the day they got out.

Here’s the link about Khyentse Rinpoche’s activities in July:
It’s important to share distractions.