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Lama Zopa Rinpoche arriving at Land of Medicine Buddha, September 21, 2013. Photo by Chris Majors.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Ven. Roger Kunsang arriving at Land of Medicine Buddha, California, September 21, 2013. Photo by Chris Majors.

From Ven. Roger Kunsang:

Kachoe Dechen Ling, Aptos, California, October 31, 2013 – 

Sunday, October 13, 5 p.m., Rinpoche is giving the Amitabha long life initiation in San Jose at Gyalwa Gyatso Buddhist Center. Good timing as usually initiations with Rinpoche are late-night events or even all-night events. As this is a long life initiation, it should be given in the morning. Well, it started in the morning, at about 10 a.m., and with no break for lunch, it was still going into the evening. All the students attending seemed happy and relaxed even though they missed lunch. Rinpoche taught throughout the day, and only when evening came did he start the initiation … and finished it quite quickly!

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Amitabha long life initiation, Gyalwa Gyatso Buddhist Center, California, October 13, 2013. Photo courtesy of GGBC's Facebook page.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Amitabha long life initiation, Gyalwa Gyatso Buddhist Center (GGBC), California, October 13, 2013. Photo courtesy of GGBC’s Facebook page.

As Rinpoche always says the main benefit is in the lam-rim/motivation prior to the initiation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says the same. One of the main reasons for giving the Kalachakra initiation, His Holiness says, is to get a lot of people in one place to hear the lam-rim teachings that happen prior to giving the Kalachakra. “[It’s] my business,” His Holiness says. “I offer Kalachakra initiation to get as many people here as possible for the lam-rim. If I just offer the lam-rim, most won’t come, just the Sangha.”

Rinpoche started the preparation at about 8:30 a.m. At around 10:30 a.m., the motivation for the initiation started. At around 6 p.m., Rinpoche had been sitting without food for nearly 10 hours, so I cut up a banana and offered it to Rinpoche while he was teaching. (We have to be careful of Rinpoche’s sugar level going to low.) Rinpoche ate two small slices and quickly continued the initiation.

Rinpoche was giving the Amitabha initiation sitting on a chair, the same aspect as Maitreya. Rinpoche did this because the initiation was given to him by His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, one of the main high lamas of the Sakya tradition, while sitting in a chair. His Holiness Dujom Rinpoche, the main high lama of the Nyingma tradition, gave the initiation to Chogye Trichen Rinpoche while sitting in a chair. Sitting in a chair giving the initiation is part of this tradition, and actually, most of the people at Gyalwa Gyatso Center were receiving the initiation sitting in chairs!

Lama Zopa Rinpoche preparing for Amitabha long life initiation at Gylwa Gyatso Center, California, October 13, 2013. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche preparing for Amitabha long life initiation at Gyalwa Gyatso Buddhist Center, California, October 13, 2013. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang.

In the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, Lama Zopa Rinpoche was giving the Heruka Body Mandala commentary at Vajrapani Institute in California and was to give the Amitabha initiation later in Texas where student Dr. Chu Nan Lai and the Chinese community there had requested the initiation. After finishing at Vajrapani, Rinpoche said to me near the end of the Heruka commentary, “I have to receive the Amitabha initiation before I can give it!” His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche was teaching in Boston at the time, so Rinpoche said he would request the initiation from Rinpoche so he could give it in Texas.

The difficulty was that there was very little time (a few days) before Rinpoche had to give the initiation in Texas and we had so much luggage (mostly texts) and there was only Rinpoche and me. It was complicated for a number of reasons, mainly because arrangements were last minute. So this was the plan: I made the arrangement for Rinpoche to fly alone across the US to Boston where at the airport Tim McNeill was to pick up Rinpoche and drive straight to where Chogye Trichen Rinpoche was waiting to give the initiation to Rinpoche. As soon as the initiation was finished, Tim had to drive Rinpoche straight to the airport in Boston and then Rinpoche alone would board the flight to Houston, Texas where I would meet Rinpoche. I wrote all the details down for Rinpoche as Rinpoche had not flown alone before. I was nervous about doing this, but there seemed no choice.

Amitabha Buddha Thangka. Image courtesy of FPMT Foundation Store.

Amitabha Buddha thangka. Image courtesy of FPMT Foundation Store.

The next day it all happened. Rinpoche flew to Boston and arrived in the morning. The initiation happened immediately, and as soon as it finished, Rinpoche was driven to the airport and on the flight from Boston to Houston, Texas. I was in Houston waiting at the airport with Chui Nan Lai and many students for Rinpoche to arrive on his flight. It was late night and Rinpoche was on the last flight (in fact, the airport was closing). The flight landed and everyone came off. But there was no Rinpoche. People got worried, but I said its OK as Rinpoche is always the last off the flight because he always waits till everyone else leaves. We waited. I was getting worried, so we asked the flight attendant, and she said there was no Tibetan lama on the flight! Then we spoke to another agent and she checked what happened. She said something happened in Cincinnati as Rinpoche had to change flights there. (This was the part I was worried about, but I had given Rinpoche a note explaining the details of the transit, so was hoping it would be OK.) Rinpoche had missed his connection in Cincinnati and had been put on a later flight and that flight was landing now in another airport on the other side of Houston.

We all rushed and drove across the city hoping to get there in time to meet the flight. When we arrived, the flight had landed and the airport was closing, but there was no Rinpoche in sight! Students split up and went in different directions searching for the lost Rinpoche who had to give the newly acquired Amitabha initiation the next day. We couldn’t find Rinpoche anywhere … so strange! So we went outside the airport to look. I went into the park close by. Now it was late at night, so dark … small nervous freak-out happening … but suddenly I came across Rinpoche sitting cross legged in the dark under a bush! I was very relieved, but at the same time couldn’t help but ask Rinpoche why he hadn’t stayed in the airport where we could find him easily; we were all really worried. Rinpoche said simply, “You found me didn’t you!”

Next day the initiation happened and all were very happy.

Rinpoche and I were then scheduled to fly to Nepal for the November course. This was at the end of a long international teaching tour. Actually, it began several years before (when Lama Yeshe passed away) and hadn’t stopped. It just went on and on. From one center to another, we barely had two or three days between centers; it was a really grueling, hard day’s night that never ended; days and nights merged; weekends didn’t exist; years went by. I would always be asking Rinpoche to consider rest, to just take one day off, even a few hours at night, but Rinpoche would always ignore me. After some years, I asked Rinpoche what does “rest” mean to Rinpoche? Rinpoche said, “Abiding in virtue.” After that, I think I gave up on the rest issue and the phrase that immediately arose in my mind so vividly was “this is the bodhisattva’s way of life!”

Ven. Roger Kunsang, Land of Medicine Buddha, September 21, 2013. Photo by Chris Majors.

Ven. Roger Kunsang, Land of Medicine Buddha, September 21, 2013. Photo by Chris Majors.

Anyway, we were now in Houston and Rinpoche said to me, “Maybe you need a little holiday.” I was really surprised to hear Rinpoche say this. It had been many years constantly on the road and suddenly Rinpoche was talking about me having a holiday. Rinpoche said we could stop in Hawaii on the way back to Nepal and stay two days at our center there. It was really hard to believe, but of course I made the arrangements. We arrived in Hawaii and the center directors Molly and Danny picked us up and we drove to the small center on the big island. It was supposed to be a relaxing time, but it got busy almost as soon as we arrived with pujas for people. Tormas had to be made, and I was the torma maker. So the weekend was busy. We were scheduled to leave on a flight Monday morning very early. Sunday evening, just after it got dark, Rinpoche said, “Oh! I forgot about Roger’s holiday, where shall we go? So we drove along the coast in the dark, and Danny and Molly pointed out the nice beaches as we drove, which you couldn’t see in the dark, and we returned to the center after 45 minutes. So that was the holiday. We left early the next morning. Rinpoche seemed very happy that Roger had had his holiday: 45 minutes’ drive in the dark. (I’m not complaining … it was just shorter than I thought and the lights were out.)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche is the spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an organization dedicated to preserving Mahayana Buddhism through offering the Buddha’s authentic teachings and to facilitating reflection, meditation, practice and the opportunity to actualize and directly experience the Buddha’s teachings. Sign up to receive news and updates.