LSD Therapy

I’m not in the mood to write this morning. Or more accurately, I wasn’t in the mood, until I scanned the BBC news website and read about some studies done in the 60s that have recently been reevaluated. A select band of scientists is now suggesting that LSD may be the most effective temporary ‘cure’ for alcoholism we currently have available. Now, isn’t that the starting point for a wonderful series of character comedy sketches.

Except, as soon as my imagination started flying off into LSD-fueled comedy, I realized that most of the characters I wanted to rely on for the comic bottom-line probably don’t exist in this 21th century world. For example, I’m sure there are loads of rich, bored housewives, but are there any who are so prim and proper that they would go to any length to conceal their weaknesses? I think not. It’s a badge of honour to be an addict of some kind there days. Celebrities own up to it all the time. They chalk up addictions on national telly at an alarming rate, and often don’t appear to have a problem at all—please consider Daniel Radcliffe before you dismiss my claim as the ramblings of a grumpy old woman. LSD itself is deeply unfashionable, isn’t it? Most druggies prefer Coke or Ecstasy or Crack or whatever (I’m sure I’m dating myself by not knowing what the latest drug of choice should be), don’t they?

With Oprah and daytime telly encouraging full disclosure at every opportunity, bored housewives don’t try to conceal their problems at all any more. In fact, nobody does. Which I’m sure is a good thing from many points of view, but the present day propensity for public gut spilling doesn’t make for quite such amusing comic characters. Think of our old friend Basil Fawlty. Would you want him to own up to his hang-ups? If he were a real human being, perhaps, but in the context of comedy, it would be deadly. On the other hand, Basil Fawlty on LSD is an interesting premise for a comedy sketch—but not a long one. I wonder if I’ve finally put my finger on why I no longer even think of watching situation comedy on the telly any more.

And what does all this say about my mind? I recently realized that my view of the world is peopled with caricatures of the TV personalities I grew up with. Sad, but true. I am the product of an education that was built on the somewhat dubious foundations of regular doses of Benny Hill, University Challenge (with Bamber Gascoigne), Randal and Hopkirk (diseased), the Black and White Minstrel Show, the Avengers, The Lightning Tree, Batman (POW! SPLAT!), the Magic Roundabout, Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, Opportunity Knocks (with Hughie Green), Morecome and Wise, The Saint, Doctor in the House and Thunderbirds. So, are you surprised by the result? No wonder I’m both confused and stuck with skewed perceptions. Buddha was right, purifying perception is the only way to go. Hmmnn, perhaps I’m the one who should take a trip to see Lucy…?

Laying Waste Our Powers

I always thought the first poem I ever learned was by William Wordsworth, but it turns out it was by Kenneth Grahame (who wrote The Wind in the Willows). I’ve often stumbled as I’ve tried to recall it because my seven-year old self learned “Through the rushes green” instead of “Through the rushes tall.” Easy mistake to make, no? But it buggers up the rhyme completely.

Anyway, it’s the season during which many people suspend their disbelief and submit to the celebration of conspicuous consumption and the elevation os ‘family’ to a kind of hyperbolic spiritual absolute. Both make me feel a little sick. So, my antidote is something as unlikely to generate material gain as it is for most families to sit together and discuss the nature of ultimate reality rather than watch the Dr. Who Christmas Special: read a poem or two.

First the Kenneth Grahame, then one of Wordsworth’s most famous sonnets.

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Eric and Ernie

Gott im Himmel, poxy Christmas. I can do without all the glitter and rich puddings these days, but the one thing I really miss about the Christmases I was brought up on is the Eric and Ernie Christmas Show and their silly, light-hearted humour.

All Passion Spent

As most of you will already know, but I had forgotten, the line in Milton’s incomprehensible epic poem Samson… something or other, that ends “all passion spent” begins “Calm of mind”. Such calm still eludes me, but as yet not quite all passion has been spent, although the vein is open and the leak rapid.

The idea of passion, for so long dormant in this rusty mind, recently dragged itself from the corroding recesses of memory and limped around in conscious thought for a bit. I noticed it first when I reacquainted myself with Eric Clapton’s Layla, an album I wore smooth when I was 16. To my surprise, I find I have to really concentrate to listen to it now, I can’t just let it pour in. Why has listening become to difficult, I wondered? Why is it such an effort?

You won’t be surprised to hear that the root of the problem is that bloody awful, unturnoffable moment-by-moment audio commentary, now omnipresent in this idiot ‘mind’, ceaselessly obliterating this-moment-mind with a never-ending rattle of words. I feel like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. “Words! Words! Words” she sneers contemptuously as she describes the advent of the talkies, remember?

For example, at 16, I didn’t ever wonder who the other voice singing with Clapton belonged to. Or who played the other guitar(s). Or who wrote the songs. Or who the other members of Derek and the Dominos were. Or even if they made another album. None of these questions existed for me. I just gave myself up to the passionate responses the music inspired and to my longing for a relationship of such intensity that some kind of ‘art’ would be its product.

Yet, not having listened to the album for thirty-odd years (very odd some of them), a mere 30 seconds into the first track of side one (“I Looked Away”) and I was surfing the net to find out who wrote it and who Clapton was singing with. I went on to think about how different it is to listen to a playlist rather than a four sided double album at the same time as glancing through discographies, Clapton’s website, Bobby Whitlock’s website, Amazon’s website (to order Clapton and Pattie Boyd’s biographies—which I devoured, in spite their dreariness, his more than hers), and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum. Before I knew it, “Thorn Tree in the Garden” announced an hour and a quarter had passed and I’d barely listened to a note.

No wonder middle age zips past so quickly! That absurd, unstoppable roar of endless questions and commentaries drowns out all spontaneity and doodles over the pristine white page that distinguishes ‘youth’ from ‘maturity’. And all fed by the ease of the information highway. Goddamit!

One interesting distraction did come from all those mouse clicks: I discovered on youtube a ‘new’ song, or at least, one I hadn’t heard before, ‘Old Love’ and this performance of it. I’d edit out the latter half if it hadn’t been a youtube steal, but for 7 minutes or so it’s really not bad, for an old man.

Is it interesting to tell you that Mr Clapton is my 16-year old self’s ideal? I simply couldn’t resist men who were egocentric, desperately insecure, uncommunicative (except through their chosen art, usually music), chauvinistic (do you remember the term ‘male chauvinist pig?’), who had addictive personalities, were extraordinarily talented and harboured a death wish. Fortunately, I grew out of it after much bitter experience. In retrospect I realize I spent a massive chunk of my allotted passion on such creatures way before I hit 25. And only then discovered the vajrayana.

Bill Shankly

Phil reminded me yesterday of a great football quote that Rinpoche always laughs at when he hears it. It dropped from the lips of the great Bill Shankly (a Scot who managed Liverpool way back in the day) and, for a time, seemed to mirror Rinpoche’s own feelings about the beautiful game. For those of us who love football rather less than Rinpoche, his embrace of this particular ethos was a little worrying.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

Sadly for Rinpoche, these days watching football is a real luxury. He had to fight tooth and nail to move his centre of operations to Berlin for the last World Cup so he would be able to watch as many games as was humanly (well, in Rinpoche’s case super-humanly) possible. And, Rinpoche being Rinpoche, throughout the four weeks of intense football mania he plumbed the depths of its philosophy. How that translated into the manifestation displayed in this photo, though, is anyone’s guess.  

Lerab Ling vs. Chökling Monks 1998

After the drupchen in 1998, it was decided that the light relief should be a football match between the Chökling monks (in the white shirts) who were knackered after ten days of practising 24 hours a day, and a motley crew of would-be football players claiming to represent Lerab Ling.

As you might imagine, Philip had quite a lot to do with the event, and turned up on the football pitch looking very trim in an all black kit and whistle. In his new incarnation of referee, Philip ran a very tight ship and much to the delight of the Rinpoches (was Khyentse Rinpoche there? I don’t remember) waved his red card around with great aplomb when anything approaching a skirmish broke out. The upshot was that the Chökling monks won—the quality of their game is still spoken of in hushed tones in buddhist footballing circles—and the Lerab Ling lads bowed graciously to the conquering heros. And noone suggested for one minute that Philip was biased, or anything…

I remember OT Rinpoche being quite scary back then. Sogyal Rinpoche pointed out, with a certain amount of glee, that his monks were all clearly terrified of him, and many stories circulated about vajras being thrown and the like. I realize now that he looked a lot his father, but far more menacing.

I first met OT Rinpoche in 1992. I’d heard about him before that, of course, and Khyentse Rinpoche kept various photos of him at his flat in Clanricarde Gardens, so his image was familiar to me. But I didn’t ever speak to him until 1996. That was the year Khyentse Rinpoche visited Lerab Ling when Khandro Tsering Chödron and Sogyal Rinpoche’s family were there. Nyoshul Khyen Rinpoche came too, plus a treasury of miscellaneous sublime beings. I was an attendant that year and would take Khyentse Rinpoche his breakfast, then sit with him as he ate it.

One morning, OT Rinpoche walked in. Doris also turned up, and maybe even Mai Lim. Anyway, as Khyentse Rinpoche buttered his toast, he asked OT Rinpoche what he’d taught the previous day. Rather than telling Khyentse Rinpoche the title of the subject, or quoting the highlights, OT Rinpoche repeated, word-for-word, the entire teaching, It took quite some time so I spaced out a bit, which may be why at this point my memory gets a bit hazy. As far as I remember, Doris then asked Khyentse Rinpoche a question about OT Rinpoche which, quite suddenly, OT answered himself, in English. It was a wonderful moment. We, his audience, were utterly confounded and amazed because we were certain he only spoke Tibetan, and the timing of his revelation was perfect.

So now it’s relatively easy to communicate with OT Rinpoche, if you keep your English simple and direct. His own take on the language is peculiar but effective. And as many of you already know, if you do try engaging him in conversation, he can be quite a tease.

More Movie Stars

In 1998 Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche brought a team of monks to Lerab Ling to do a drupchen. It was the year before Khyentse Rinpoche’s ‘The Cup’ came out, and although Rinpoche spoke about his ‘movie’, as I think I’ve told you before, the fact he was making a proper movie, one that would be distributed to cinemas where we could buy a ticket to see it, just didn’t sink in.

It wasn’t until I saw The Cup that I realized that some of the monks who had performed the drupchen the previous year were part of Khyentse Rinpoche’s cast. And in 1998 I had no idea that Lama Godi was such a special being. He was just one of the lovely, smiley, friendly Chökling monks who never needed to sleep. The same goes for Lama Chonjor, whose character in the movie, the Abbot, longed to return to Tibet and was always packed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. In real life Lama Chonjor had the same wish, and not long after The Cup was finished he managed to return to his beloved Tibet, which is rather heart-warming, don’t you think?

Vancouver 2001

At least, I think that’s where this photo was taken—it’s another of those I plucked from the chaos of yesterday. I honestly don’t remember where we were precisely. We weren’t in Vancouver for an event, just to say hello to Khyentse Rinpoche and have a look at the Sea to Sky retreat centre. It was my first time, and I had just discovered that the flight from Berlin to the West Coast of the Americas is the one that induces the worst possible kind of jet lag.

Rinpoche had been reading A River Sutra by Gita Mehta, so while everyone around me was practising, I read it too, very quickly indeed. As a result I don’t have a very clear picture of the story in my mind any more, but I do remember a suggestion that a character who had been a spiritual teacher was reincarnated as an ecologist. This surprised me, brain-washed as I was to believe that a spiritual teacher is the highest incarnation possible, and once achieved, would be repeated ad infinitum. When I mentioned it to Rinpoche, he said, “I know, but that just shows us so much about ourselves, doesn’t it.”

Photo Added…

… to the ‘Arrivederci Kirchheim’ piece. As I rummaged around in my photo boxes yesterday I discovered a picture I took of Sogyal Rinpoche as he taught the visualization of Vajrasattva from the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro. I was sitting right underneath Rinpoche and I must say it took a bit of courage to point the camera at him. But worth it, I think.

More from December 1997

Giselle from Provence asked if I have more photos from the Yangsi’s Enthronement, so I had a look through my extremely chaotic series of photo boxes and realized that I’ve lost a lot. Or given them away. Nevertheless I have found a couple and although I’m not sure how interesting they are, but I post them to fulfill Gisele’s request.

Most vajrayana buddhists who have been around for bit will have a Richard Gere story. Mine happened 1997 at the Yangsi’s Enthronement. Sogyal Rinpoche always makes the most of every moment he has in Nepal and visited everyone, sometimes twice, including the incomparable Trulshik Rinpoche and the peerless Penor Rinpoche.

Penor Rinpoche’s place was a little way out of the centre of Kathamandu and as far as my memory is concerned, it was a square concrete box painted the colour of a swimming pool that had been randomly plonked in the middle of a field. And, predictably, after a long dry spell, the day we visited it rained, extremely heavily, creating an unfordable ocean of mud.

It was getting dark, I think, as we all stood looking at the vile, primeval sludge we would have to wade through to make our appointment. Sogyal Rinpoche’s solution was to dragoon a few men (possibly monks, but I wasn’t paying attention) into carrying him across. What, I wondered, should I do?

I looked around me, as much a damsel in distress as any princess pursued by a dragon, and happened to catch the eye of Richard Gere, who was also travelling with Sogyal Rinpoche at that time. What could the poor man do, but offer me his arm?

Now, at that time, I hadn’t seen a single one of his movies. Not American Gigolo, nor An Officer and a Gentleman, nor Yanks, nor Internal Affairs, not even Pretty Woman. And, being of a censorious disposition, I felt it my duty to keep all movie stars, however high up the A list they may be, in their place. Yet, I found myself simpering (yes, actually, simpering) as I clutched his strong, manly arm, and a good decade before palpitations became a way of life, my heart fluttered and pounded and lit up my normally sallow cheeks like traffic lights.

Needless to say, we all arrived at Penor Rinpoche’s place safe and sound, if a little grubby, and received blessings from him. The injis (apart from Mr Gere, who is also a VIP in the Buddhist world) spent most of the time waiting in a chilly room drinking butter tea. But then, that’s the name of the game when you find yourself attached to an entourage.

I have since watched every Richard Gere movie I could lay my hands on and, for the record, the man is every bit as charismatic and charming in real life as he is on the big screen.
Khyentse Rinpoche, obviously, who, as I mentioned in the previous piece, was sick throughout the celebrations. Nevertheless, he very kindly gathered together friends and students who were attending the celebrations for half an hour so we could spend some time with him.It was Rabjam Rinpoche who organized the whole affair and finding time to sit down and chat wasn’t easy for him. So when he and Sogyal Rinpoche bumped into each other they popped into the nearest room for five minutes of privacy. I think it might have originally been a kind of sitting room, but for the celebrations had become a dumping ground for all manner of furniture and bric-a-brac.I remember being very proud of this portrait of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. He’s so photogenic, it’s virtually impossible to take a bad picture of him, but I didn’t know that at the time. We ate a couple of times in the Yak and Yeti, where Sogyal Rinpoche was staying, and happened to bump into Khyentse Rinpoche there. He’s looking rather perplexed in this snap, but I vaguely remember he was teasing Celine or one of her sisters, so I feel sure that rather than feeling worried, he was merely gathering himself together before delivering a deadly coup de grace.

Khyentse Yangsi’s Enthronement Celebrations 1997

The first time I ever set foot in India or Nepal was in 1997. Sogyal Rinpoche invited me to the enthronement of Khyentse Yangsi and so I went. Most of my friends expected me to come down with all manner of horrifying ailments—I have always been what 19th century commentators described as ‘delicate’—but no, I felt fabulous throughout the ten days and had the most wonderful time.

Khyentse Rinpoche was there, of course, and we were lucky enough to see him a couple of times. He had a terrible cold, I remember, but soldiered on, as he always does.

In this snap the Rinpoches were being entertained with Lama dancing, which, even then, I felt I’d already seen enough of to last a life time. I simply don’t have the merit to be able to appreciate quite a large swathe of Tibetan culture.

What struck me most was the atmosphere of devotion and love that enfolds you almost the moment you step off the plane—along with the dust and the chaos of course. I’d never experienced it before. Maybe it’s unique to India and Nepal, where the culture is still so steeped in spiritual values that an appreciation of the unbelievable and the unseen can be felt in the very air you breathe. It was such a relief to lean back into. It was as if I’d left my critical mind back in Europe, which, it has to be said, is the best and most relaxing kind of holiday possible; I could view things from an entirely fresh perspective.

Sadly, I had no way of bottling it, and, inevitably, my critical mind clicked back into place the moment I returned home and has now become a terminal affliction. But the tender memory of that time of innocence and wonder continues to encourage even this broken old war horse.


I found a list of things Virginia Woolf wrote this morning that I must have collected decades ago. It’s thirty years since I devoured every word she wrote, but for no reason at all, she’s been on my mind over the past few weeks.

Even before I read one of her books I loved her because she was beautiful and famous for being mad. I’ve always had a penchant for mad people. Or at least, for people who don’t join herds or clubs or, I suppose, sanghas—another of those English foibles I’ve already owned up to.

The kind of Englishness I recognize doesn’t seem to live anywhere but in my imagination these days. Perhaps it’s only ever existed there? But weren’t the English famous, at one point, for producing brilliant eccentrics and original thinkers? Now those squashed onto that tiny island seem merely to worship at the shrine of global banalities. At least, that’s how the English look from an ex-pat’s perspective. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

Anyway, back to my list of quotations from books by Virginia Woolf. Sadly, I didn’t note down the books they came from, so cock-sure was I of my ability to recall at will virtually every syllable I read (those were the days…). Still, why not try this trio on for size and see if they fit.

“The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.”

“Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.”

“Really I don’t like human nature unless all candied over with art.”

Arrivederci Kirchheim

Kirchheim is no more. Well the Hessonian village is still there, but the SeePark Hotel has filed insolvency papers. After twenty-four years of hosting Rigpa winter retreats it’s finally gone bust. Part of me feels I should summon some kind of regret or nostalgia for the place, but I can’t. The best I can say for Kirchheim is that it was the one retreat where I could count on having my own bathroom—a big thing for a sociopath like myself. Noone in their right mind could possibly regret much else.

Was there anything good about Kirchheim? Well, yes, of course. The teachings Sogyal Rinpoche gave were the point, not the physical conditions. 1998 was a very good year, I felt. Sogyal Rinpoche taught on Vajrasattva extremely thoroughly, and I’m a big fan of that practice (he was teaching the visualization in the photograph below). Many other Rinpoches visited too, although my rusty mind has failed to come up with a categorical list.

But practically speaking, Seepark never really made it into the 21st century. It barely made it past the 70s. Most years I had to strip off the plastic sheet on the bed before I got in because it was so thick and sweat-inducing, and made peculiar noises when you turned over. Who can forget the inevitable Kirchheim dreaded lurgy that would change shape each year, strike down at least half the retreat participants then linger until the spring.

And then there was the restaurant. But maybe, like me, you haven’t had breakfast yet, so perhaps you don’t need details about the plastic vegetables and processed cheese and the glutenous mulch that passed for ‘local dishes’. I clearly remember Ruth Seehausen prodding such a creation with a fork, then pushing the plate away, saying, “I never eat food I can’t positively identify.” A sensible girl, our Ruth.

The first time I went there was in 1986, the first ever Kirchheim retreat, a month after Phil and I got married. We’d met Sogyal Rinpoche in London and helped him with his packing. Rinpoche then gave me the key to his suitcase to take care of (some kind of test…) which I ostentatiously placed in a zipped pocket in my red filofax before his very eyes, and those of my new husband. Once we arrived in Kirchheim, having lost Phil’s wallet with all our money in it (a difficult feat to achieve in super-honest, super-rich Germany, especially back then) the key was no longer in the zipped pocket. Rinpoche didn’t seem surprised. I was mortified… was it a sign?

Auden (1)

George Osbourne wrote a biography of W.H. Auden that came out in 1980. In those days Auden’s reputation had diminished somewhat and his work was considered ‘second-rate.’ Then in the 90s Four Weddings and a Funeral used ‘Stop all the clocks’ and he became ‘popular’. But back in 1980, as I studied Benjamin Britten’s songs set to words by Auden, his writing entranced me. I think I’ll post some of it over the next weeks, but in the meantime, here’s a bit of the biography that, more than thirty years ago, wedged a splinter in the thumb of the material world I was being groomed for.

In the early summer of 1933, Auden experienced one of those rare moments of visionary or mystical insight which, fleeting though they are, can strangely persist as a lifelong influence. A feeling of intense, unearthly serenity, a moment of enlightenment which passes, but which leaves behind it the knowledge that, if only for a moment, the universe has made sense. These experiences do not translate easily to words, not even to the words of so skilful a manipulator of language as Auden, and verbal accounts of such occasions require to be read with a special sympathy. Auden’s account of his vision was written, or at any rate first published, a good thirty years later:

“On fine summer night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two women and one man. We liked each other well enough but we were certainly not intimate friends, nor had any one of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly—because, thanks to the power, I was doing it—what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. I was also certain, though the conversation continued to be perfectly ordinary, that my three colleagues were having the same experience. (In the case of one of them, I was able later to confirm this.) My personal feelings towards them were unchanged‚they were still colleagues, not intimate friends—but I felt their existence as themselves to be of infinite value and rejoiced in it.

“I recalled with shame the many occasions on which I had been spiteful, snobbish, selfish, but the immediate joy was greater than the shame, for I knew that, so long as I was possessed by this spirit, it would be literally impossible for me deliberately to injure another human being. I also knew that the power would, of course, be withdrawn sooner or later and that, when it did, my greeds and self-regard would return. The experience lasted at its full intensity for about two hours when we said good-night to each other and went to bed. When I awoke the next morning, it was still present, though weaker, and it did not vanish completely for two days or so. The memory of the experience has not prevented me from making use of others, grossly and often, but it has made it much more difficult for me to deceive myself about what I am up to when I do. And among the various factors which several years later brought me back to the Christian faith in which I had been brought up, the memory of this experience and asking myself what it could mean was one of the most crucial, though, at the time it occurred, I thought I had done with Christianity for good.”

Paris, December 1993

1993 was a very, very long time ago, but what a time! On and off for about a year I slept on the floor of the shrine room at the apartment in rue Burq that Babette lent to Sogyal Rinpoche as centre and home. It was a very old apartment, as run down and dilapidated as many I’ve seen in India in more recent times. And the public parts (the kitchen, the bathroom) were positively medieval. Yet, it was a magical place. Bang smack in the middle of Montmatre, we had on our doorstep: the gourmand’s paradise, Rue Lepic; the marvellous, if architecturally confused, Sacre Coeur Cathedral; the tourist trap that is the Moulin Rouge; and the brazenly outrageous transvestites of Pigalle. Something for everyone…

Sogyal Rinpoche had published the original English version of  The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying  the previous year, and it was time for the European editions to be launched. A team had been assembled to facilitate Rinpoche’s French tour and as a result some nights I slept with twenty human beings, snoring and farting their way to an early call, or just a phone and the shrine mice.

Patrick Gaffney was around quite a lot in those days, supporting Rinpoche as what, post The West Wing, we might now call his ‘speech writer’. Can you imagine him as Toby Ziegler to Rinpoche’s Jed Bartlett? Perhaps not. I found this photo of him the other day. A bit fuzzy, but it serves to oil those cogs that I’m so desperate to get moving again.

Anyway, as you know Patrick is a wonderful writer, translator and poet, and someone whose advice and opinion I wish I could seek more often. But he sets the bar very high indeed, and as part of some wonderful solicited advice he sent recently, he included the following quotation.

“Ariel and Chana Boch say in their The Song of Songs, A New Translation, New York: Random House, 1995, p. 41: ‘One of the major challenges facing a translator today is to find the proper register in English, neither too formal and stylized nor too breezy and colloquial—language that is fresh and urgent and passionate, and at the same time dignified.’ ”

It’s good, don’t you think? After the first, second and third readings I felt giddy with enthusiastic determination, inspiration surged through my previously atrophied creative channels and I knew I was the equal of this and any other challenge life threw at me. But once that initial light-headedness began to clear I started seriously thinking about how such advice might be put into practice. And now, some months later, the reality of the task ahead is so vivid and its horrors so tightly riveted to my already hyperbolic imagination that I am daily racked and terrorized by the mere thought of it. If ever a girl needed a ‘muse of fire’…

Les Mamelles de Tirésias

My first contact with the story of Therese’s breasts was through Poulenc’s wonderful one act opera. I saw it in 1979 at the ENO (therefore in English, not French) and adored it immediately. Such a welcome change from the tragic heroines I’d been living with during my first year or so of music college. The lovely Norma Burrowes was Tirésias and I still have a strong memory of her bursting two balloons (her breasts) at the point she changed from a woman into a man.

The reason this piece sprang to mind in the first place is that I sat through Woody Allen’s latest smudge of a movie on the plane back from Delhi. What a disaster! Owen Wilson doing a rather poor impersonation of Woody Allen himself, propped up by a cast of two dimensional, banal caricatures. Do your best to avoid it. Transformers 3 would probably be a better bet…

Part of the plot of the Allen movie, though, is that one of the caricatures wishes she had been born during La Belle Epoque, and for the first time in thirty years I found Apollinaire surfacing in my scrapbag of a mind. He wrote the play, Les Mamelles, but died young, at 38, when the flu pandemic of 1918 swept across Europe.

Anyway, for years I imagined he was the author of a poem I love, and was shocked to discover it was actually written by an English poet some fifty years after Apollinaire’s death. You would have thought I’d have noticed the difference in style, but no… I put the obvious stylistic contradictions down to ‘creative translation’. Clearly, I’m not much of a literary critic.

In the meantime, I haven’t stopped loving the poem, even though it was written by a man called Christopher Logue, not Guillaume Apollinaire. And it reminds me of life with Khyentse Rinpoche.

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew.

Before and After

I was browsing through my photos this morning (avoiding work, of course) and suddenly noticed how much has changed in the seven years since I first came to Bir. For example, the white house (below) is OT Rinpoche’s as it was in 2004, and the orange one is the same house as it is now.

As Emily pointed out during the drupchen, walking through the front gate and into the grounds of that immense marble edifice is becoming more and more like wandering into a magical realm, even a buddha realm. But of course, my perception is fixed so tightly on the ordinary and the mundane that I have no genuine experience of what a buddha realm is really like, so I’m just guessing.

Middle age brings with it a certain amount of nostalgia. Most of the teachings I received during the first seven years or so that I called myself a ‘buddhist’ went in one ear and out the other. But I can remember drinking in every story Philip told and storing it away in my mind for a time I might understand it better.

Yesterday I thought about when Dudjom Rinpoche visited Europe and Phil said he had been a little shocked to see that his attendant was generally quite drunk and that he smoked. Then, one day, Phil happened to catch sight of them in a more private moment, and was deeply moved by the pure love and devotion it was clear the attendant felt for his master. Devotion, it seems, covers a multitude of sins.


For weeks, the pile in front of Khyentse Rinpoche as he sat at the dining table had included a noxious, foul-smelling kind of deodorant spray. The donor of this particular gift was never identified. It was the kind of deodorant that I remember from childhood. It’s sweet, sickly perfume was unpleasantly offset by an ocean of chemical stabilizers (etc.) that together created the kind of pong that impregnates everything within a hundred yards and never washes out. I kept expecting Rinpoche to give it away, but every day the brightly coloured, frankly gaudy, cylinder stood guard over the papers and books and bowls and statues that, as yet, had not been assigned a home.

Too soon it was time for Rinpoche to leave for Delhi and we gathered in the courtyard to wave him off. His beloved white Ambassador was waiting at the gate, its doors open and its boot heaving with baggage. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the Tibetan Khenpo, Shiva Zangpo (Pema Maya will know how that’s supposed to be spelt), running up the stairs to the dining hall. My heart froze. I knew instantly what he was going to fetch. And sure enough, moments later he reemerged with the can of deodorant concealed under his zen and made a bee-line for Rinpoche’s car.

Rinpoche had just emerged from his house as Khenpo sprayed the car’s interior liberally with the contents of that hideous canister. We gasped (I think Tara was standing with me), but could do nothing as Rinpoche had already reached the car, along with Elise, his secretary, who was accompanying him to Delhi. Before we could do or say anything, the Ambassador rolled out of the gates. We looked at each other in horror as we imagined the ghastly stench that Rinpoche and Elise would have to endure for five hours! (I think Pawo must have been driving, but I can’t remember).

After much discussion (we had nothing else to do now Rinpoche had left) we decided that Khenpo’s reasoning was sound. If something had been presented to Rinpoche as a gift then, logically it must be the very best of the best. But, of course, having been brought up in Tibet and focussed entirely on Dharma throughout his life, how would Khenpo know the difference between elegant perfume and tear gas? His heart, we knew, had been in the right place.

The next day we phoned Delhi and asked Elise if Rinpoche and she had survived the trip. She had no idea what we were  talking about. We mentioned the cannister and our concerns about asphyxiation, but she said she’d noticed nothing at all. If anything, the car had been particularly fresh and clean. Understandably surprised, we concluded, after further extensive discussions and tests of that poxy canister (which was still standing in Rinpoche’s pile), that siddhis come in many different forms and pure perception is more effective on a practical level than we had ever suspected.