Yellow Butterfly Season

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Bir several times in recent years and often during the autumn. So I wasn’t surprized as I walked into town yesterday, to see a cloud of hundreds of yellow butterflies rising up from the small field that separates the Labrang from Chokling Monastery. However many times I’ve seen witnessed the beginning of what I call ‘yellow butterfly season’ it never fails to take my breath away.

Today Pawo (Adarsha Photography, the new addition to my ‘Blogroll’) very generously gave me some of his wonderful drupchen photos and without hesitation agreed when I asked him if I could post some. So for those of you who suspect I exaggerate, here’s a photo of one of the apple-rich tsoks from the drupchen, and an action shot of the rice war.

Yet More Drupchen Photos

In the first photo we see OT Rinpoche’s attendant’s, Karma, who was tireless throughout the ten days, not only serving Rinpoche personally but acting as chöpon during the ceremonies and doing whatever was needed, day or night. So this photo is a little unkind because it captures in the only yawn he indulged throughout the drupchen. But I love the colours and atmosphere and therefore can’t resist including it in this collection.      

Emilie’s Photos of the Drupchen

Emilie (the beauty in a gorgeous green sari in the final photo) very kindly sent me some of her photos of the drupchen, some of which I’ve posted here. Phil also took some great snaps but I didn’t manage to grab them from him before he left on pilgrimage to Bhutan. For once, I wasn’t quite quick enough.Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Chokling Rinpoche just before the now traditional flower petal and rice war that breaks out during the prayers for auspiciousness at the end of the ceremony. Khyentse Rinpoche’s Chinese students have developed particularly lethal methods for launching handsful of petals and rice aimed exclusively at Rinpoche, who retaliated on this occasion by shaking up a bottle of orange Fanta, aiming it into the crowd, and opening the lid…Khyentse Rinpoche, obviously.Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche making aspiration prayers. Lama Godi and friends.This monk, who is probably about twelve years old, served us tea and refreshments during the drupchen several times each day.Les Français (plus a Swiss and a German).

The Upper Shrine Room

I was a little disappointed with the photo I posted in the ‘Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s Head’ piece, so last night I went up to the shrine room on the top floor of OT Rinpoche’s house and had another go. I’ve also included snaps of the Guru Rinpoche that is central to this shrine and the life-sized Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche who sits on the other side of the Guru Rinpoche statue to balance Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.      

Highs and Lows

Memory is a problem for me—you already know this—and I’ve just spent the morning wondering what from the last few days is most likely to stick.

Perhaps the ten seconds we spent with Khyentse Rinpoche at 03.50 on the morning of receiving the siddhis when we bumped into him on the way to the gompa. “OT Rinpoche hasn’t woken up yet,” he told us, clearly more amused than concerned, although without OT Rinpoche the ritual could not begin and was scheduled to start at 4am.

The one memory I am bound to preserve with excruciating exactness is my sole foray into serving tsok. Each day injis were invited to take turns serving tsok to the monks and other guests, and when my turn came along I was given a box of Amul milk to distribute. Someone had cut it open, thankfully, but a bit skew wiff, which I only discovered when I tried to pour a drop into the cupped hand of the first in a long line of the Mindroling monks. White, smelly, long-life milk gushed uncontrollably over his text, his thigh bone trumpet, his mala, his robes, everywhere and all I could do was move on to the second monk, where I made an even worse job of it. A sea of milk threatened to engulf us both, even though, bizarrely, the box of milk remained virtually full (a reverse kind of siddhi?). I then treated the third monk in the line to the same treatment, and the fourth, and on and on and on until I reached the end of that line of honoured guest participants, who by now were utterly drenched and grimacing.

Finally I reached a monk I know, one of Khyentse Rinpoche’s jewel-like  Labrang monks, Tenzin Dorje, who held his cup out, smiling broadly and encouragingly. I breathed deeply and made yet another attempt at pouring a tiny portion and succeeded, finally, without spilling a drop. At the time it felt like a miracle. And from then on it was plain sailing. But I blushed for a full hour afterwards and my bowels still shrivel within me when I think of my terrifying incompetence.

I’ll also remember the rain, which played quite a significant role in creating an particular atmosphere throughout the drupchen. At one point we were deluged day and night for more than 72 hours. It was the kind of rain that soaked you through within a couple of seconds, and the mud was primeval. Interestingly, or should I say predictably, it pretty much stopped once the drupchen had been completed.

One of my favourite memory will be of just how happy OT Rinpoche was to have Khyentse Rinpoche with him for all that time. You can see it in his face, don’t you think? 

Denouement

The last few posts have been rather photo heavy, I’m afraid, and this one is bordering on the ridiculous, but what to do? At about 3.45 yesterday morning I discovered, to my horror, that every single one of my carefully tended and nurtured words and phrases had upped sticks and made a run for it. I don’t think they could stand the pace. So I spent the entire day gibbering as I had to rely on the cast-offs of others that spilled out unnoticed and cowered in the shadows. But I had no clue what what on earth I was talking about.

As any semblance of eloquence has yet to reappear I have once again resorted to pictures. I won’t try to explain them, I’ll just confuse you. Suffice to say, they were chosen because they have the power to make my tough old heart ache a little.   

Khyentse Rinpoche and Chokling Rinpoche

In OT Rinpoche’s new gompa (Philip calls it the ‘drupchen factory’ because the upper section has been built solely to accomodate drupchens), the mandala house alone is at least 8 metres high. It takes up almost all the room in the upper part of the gompa, it’s huge. Two very high thrones are set up beside it, one for Dzongsar Khyentse, who is the ‘Vajra King’, and the other for Chöling Rinpoche. In the second snap below, Chöling Rinpoche is standing on his throne for a few minutes during one of the rituals—it was the only opportunity I’ve had to capture an image of him in the shrine room. The other picture is of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche as he gave a spontaneous fifteen minute teaching one evening at the end of the practice. 

Beginnings and Endings

The beginning and the end of a drupchen feel very different. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told. Actually, they’re something I know little about as I’ve barely brushed shoulders with them over the years. The Chimé Phagma Nyingtik drupchen at OT Rinpoche’s home in Bir is the first I’ve ever participated in full time. And I can definitely recommend the experience to any undecideds out there for whom the idea of seven days of ritual practice (6am-7.30pm) seems a little daunting.

Just eight days ago, I bounced into the gompa, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, for day one (a seven-day drupchen actually lasts nine or ten days—welcome to Tibetan Buddhism) to find myself surrounded by similarly enthusiastic beings, as you will see from the photo I took of the line of practitioners who sat directly in front of me (below left).

Today, though, it must said, there’s been some wilting (below right). Spirits are most definitely willing (and tremendously inspired) but our feeble human bodies do tend to let us down. Unless you’re a Rinpoche or a Chokling monk, all of whom, it won’t surprise you to hear, have barely broken sweat.   

Nagarjuna

I met Nagarjuna yesterday—the little boy I wrote about in the ‘Lifesaver’ piece. I came across him in the garden where he was playing with a little Tibetan girl and as soon as I pointed a camera at them they giggled and snuggled up without any prompting at all. Absolutely adorable!

Tibetan Woman with Goose

A pond has been dug between OT Rinpoche’s house and the new gompa. It’s the home of a couple of geese and a few ducks that look surprisingly healthy for India, probably because the rather mangy hounds that used to wander round the grounds have disappeared. I think they ate the first couple of generations of pond dwellers and were banished.

This, obviously, is Lama Godi, not a goose or a duck. He is walking quite well now, although he does sometimes use a stick. But he must be well into his late 80s, so he’s doing pretty well. (Thanks, Philip, for letting me post your great photo.)

Stereotypes

Today in the gompa, I noticed that some Chinese people sitting behind me were using battery-driven plastic counters instead of malas for their accumulations. I, myself, was clutching—and dropping at regular intervals as I fumbled mindlessly through the practice—a glass bead mala. In the normal course of things I’m not much of a Tibetophile, but there is something comforting about malas and they are without doubt way more attractive than plastic counters, although I will concede not quite as convenient.

Anyway, my confession here is that as I surveyed the plastic counter I caught myself thinking, “Ah, how very true to type: Chinese person chooses a plastic modern contraption over tradition” before returning my wandering eyes to their resting place (I sit behind a pillar). There they stayed for a full second or two. Then I glanced at Philip (definitely not Chinese) who was also busily accumulating mantras on a battery-driven plastic counter. Made in Taiwan.

Although it has absolutely nothing to do with counters or malas, today’s photo is of one of the ornaments surrounding the large Buddha on the wall behind me. Are there any elephants in Taiwan, I wonder?

Lifesaver

In Europe or America—so-called ‘first world’ countries—I wonder how many employers of casual labourers would care if a peripatetic, illiterate woman (who earned the equivalent of about 20 Euros a month) got pregnant and had to have an abortion. The most compassionate might refer her to a councillor or the social services or an adoption agency, but I can’t imagine anyone in our fast-paced, profit-hungry, ‘civilized’ world getting more personally involved than that, can you?

Several years ago, one of the Nepali women in the construction team OT Rinpoche had employed to build his house became pregnant and wanted an abortion. When the news trickled through to OT Rinpoche, he sought her out and asked her not to go through with it. Instead, he said, “Give the baby to me.” So she did. And her baby boy, Nagarjuna, has now become a much-loved member of OT Rinpoche’s extended family. I think that’s what New Yorkers might describe as ‘walking the talk’, no?

I caught sight of OT Rinpoche today as he was cleaning the bell (with all the qualities…) and dorje that Khyentse Rinpoche will use throughout the drupchen. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you, he was whistling while he worked away at the bell with a brush he’d bought in a Berlin flea market.

Bir

There’s so much about living in India that I completely forget the moment I leave. For example, how to order a cup of tea without sugar. Yesterday, my first attempt went something like this.

“Milk tea, no sugar,” I smiled, using a tried and trusted formula that has served me well over the years.
“Black tea, milk and sugar,” replied the waiter, without a smile.
“Black tea, yes, with milk, yes, but no sugar,” my patient, still smiley correction.
“Black tea, no sugar,”  said the waiter, with rather too much confidence.
“Black tea with milk, ‘milk tea’, no sugar,” was my slightly passive aggressive correction, to which he made no response but scuttled to the kitchen, muttering something incoherent under his breath.

Five minutes later he brought some black tea in a glass.
“Can I have some milk, please,” I smiled, forgivingly.
“Black tea, no sugar,” he insisted, brushing aside my specious forgiveness.
“Milk, no sugar,” I grimaced, but charmingly.
“Chai, no sugar!” he corrected, firmly.
“Yes!” I almost applauded. “Chai, no sugar!”
He removed the black tea and, thank all that is good and true in this world, brought me a wonderfully delicious, and much needed, chai, no sugar.

Can’t think of an elegant segue and it’s raining, so I may not have much more on-line time…
As I’m sure you already know, when Khyentse Rinpoche presides over the Chimé Phagma Nyingtik drupchen he is required to perform various elements of the practice while wearing traditional adornments. Although I’m not sure if the drupchen has really started yet, here are some snaps of him during a preparatory session, of OT Rinpoche during the same session, and part of the procession marking the boundaries.