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Ven. Tsering, a Kopan Monk, has dedicated his life to writing out the Prajnaparamita in pure gold at the request of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Effort of this magnitude is worth rejoicing in, as this is the eleventh consecutive year he has worked on this project.
Carina Rumrill, on behalf of FPMT Charitable Projects, had the opportunity to ask Ven. Tsering a few questions about this work.
Can you tell me how you began this project? What were you doing before you began this?[Lama Zopa] Rinpoche told me to work on this project, to write it out in gold. I was doing a translation job in Malaysia, but then, on my second trip to Malaysia, I was about to start a new contract but after a few weeks there was a new letter from Rinpoche saying he wanted me to be here [in California]. The director said, “It is the guru’s wishes,” so we should follow and I went straight to California not knowing what the project would be. I knew that Rinpoche asked me to come, but I didn’t know where, or what. I thought maybe Land of Medicine Buddha. But it was Rinpoche’s house in Aptos [Kachoe Dechne Ling in California, USA]. At first it wasn’t so clear what I would be doing, but after three months Rinpoche told me about this project. That was in 2002. So this is my 11th year.
Had you done anything like this before?
No, but maybe [I had] some kind of natural talent in the arts from what I did at Kopan. I had worked with my teacher on Yamantaka three dimensional mandala, some sand mandalas, some art at Kopan. I hadn’t done any calligraphy before. Rinpoche showed me how to do the calligraphy and checked my writing. It wasn’t right at first and had to be corrected. This was a great opportunity to correct my writing and because of Rinpoche’s kindness I could do that.
The day starts at six or seven in the morning. Before I start, I make the glue for the gold I am using. I have to mix water, make sure there is enough to stick the gold to the paper. The gold, which is for statues, is from Nepal. I get the gold ready in the morning then I set up my motivation and I do my morning prayers. It takes about half an hour to set up. Then I start and continue until about 11 or 12 noon. Sometimes I make mistakes and have to correct them, but if everything is mostly okay, I stop and take lunch for about an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Then, around 1:30, I start writing about until 4 p.m. Then I do dedications every day, the dedication is very important.
Do your hands cramp? Has sitting like this every day and writing affected your health at all?
Every day I do exercise afterward. I do exercise to keep my movement, so I think that is important. In order to continue for a long time I must be physically healthy. And so far, my health is good, hand is good.
How many hours a day is this work?
Basically regular, eight hours or so. If I did 10 hours or 13 hours, every day, this wouldn’t be good for the long run. This project is not a small project, it is a very big project. If I do like I am, I can stay stable to continue for a long time. I am not rushing and in that way I can take it easy and carry on.
Can you tell me about the supplies required? What do you use for this?
Gold, paper that Rinpoche chooses, calligraphy pen. The paper is supposed to last for a thousand years. It is also multicolored paper.
There is another FPMT student, Jane, who is also working on the 2nd volume. I’m on the 4th volume, completed the 3rd. So we are working on the same project but on different volumes.
If I had to do it by myself, this would not be possible in this one life. I believe I will be 80 or so when this is finished. One volume took me five years and when Rinpoche is here [in California], I end up doing other projects for Rinpoche, so maybe not as much work on this at times.
When finished it will go into the heart mandala of the Maitreya statue.
Have you personally seen any change in your own mind after working on this most profound teaching on emptiness for eleven years?
Well now I have a strong wish to do this — perseverance — and this comes from understanding why I am doing it and the reasons. Once you know this you develop sincere interest, then the handwriting comes out because of the wish to make this effort. So you take it as your practice … something like that. So in this way, I don’t have to do retreat, but just having one project you receive from your guru, you take it as your project and carry on. Then if you have an attitude like that, I think that is one reason to be able to carry on.
Do you feel having this one focused project has helped your concentration? I know from working in the centers, there is always so much to do, phones ringing or emails coming through, many ways to be distracted by all that needs to be done. Do you feel having this one project helps to concentrate on what needs to be done?
That’s why in the morning, the motivation is so important. Going into the different centers, motivation is to help others, to benefit others, so no matter what conditions come it is always to help others, to benefit other sentient beings, especially the guru. So if you go with that motivation, then there might be some conditions arise, but sometimes it helps to remind of the motivation, one or two times during the day, in order to calm down. If you carry on like that, watch the mind, it does help, and then conditions arise, maybe anger arises, then, maybe recollect again with the motivation.
Before the stroke, Rinpoche was doing some of this. He did talk a lot about this project and the benefits of writing it out in gold. He was working on the short version, 8,000 verses. I am not sure how far he is on this.
Has Rinpoche ever expressed to you about the benefits of what you are doing or said anything about the work you would like to share with others?
Rinpoche says this project is mainly for accumulation of merit so we can build the large Maitreya statue [in Kushinagar, India]. This is also for world peace and for preserving the Buddhadharma, to preserve the teachings of Buddha. For this we need to make effort to create as much merit as possible.
When you are doing the work, does it feel like practice or work?
I don’t know if it is work or not, but because of this project, I found Dharma and I am surviving. It is so beneficial for me. My heart is getting stronger than ever before.
I feel I have had a lot of purification and accumulation of merit working on this project. These teachings on emptiness, benefit me a lot, they open my eyes and also my heart.
Very happy. Very, very blessed to be doing the work. So blessed, the most lucky one, the most fortunate one in the whole world to do this. After about 10 years I realized how lucky I am, how fortunate that I got this project. At the beginning maybe I was not so clear what the reason was so questions were coming. Now I slowly start to understand and the more I understand the more fortunate I feel and then the more willingness comes.
When people come and visit they admire this work once they see it. No one visits who doesn’t admire and rejoice. And that is also the practical benefit, a very apparent benefit the people are happy and rejoice about this project. And also that they are happy with me, that my gurus are happy with me, that is an important part to me.
Is there anything you want to express or say about this work? To convey to others, that may be helpful to understand this project?
The gold is getting more expensive; I know it is so hard to get. Maybe others can help to contribute to this so Rinpoche can carry on and I can carry on the wishes of Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And then also to remove all obstacles to building the big statue of Maitreya.
The cost of the ongoing work on the Prajnaparamita Sutra is $30,000 per year and any additional funds will go toward writing out the Sanghata and Diamond Cutter Sutras. You are welcome to donate any amount to support this project.
You can learn more about this project, the benefits, and history by visiting the Prajnaparamita Project‘s webpage.
Statements of Appreciation
A few days ago I completed a year of retreats…at two FPMT centres (though I have visited and am very familiar with several others). The staff of the two centres could not have been kinder and more supportive. It is especially through appreciating their cultures of care and support for retreatants that I have renewed my admiration for the FPMT, and thereby for your [Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s] extraordinary holy activity for sentient beings…
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