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Ani Jangsem, manager of Kopan’s ani gompa in Nepal, relates the activities of the Tibetans in Kathmandu:
After the intensity of demonstrations and reprisals in Tibet which followed the historic week in March, the Tibetan community in Nepal began daily prayers at the Stupa Tibetan Regional Office in Jorpati which is close to the Boudhanath stupa.
Prayers have been and are still being recited every day from 9.00 A.M. till 5.00 p.m. – OM MANI PADME Hum for those killed in Tibet – both Chinese and Tibetan, monks, nuns and lay people; the accumulation of 100 million Twenty-One Taras Praises for the accomplishment of His Holiness’ wishes for Tibet; and Guru Rinpoche mantra and Hayagriva practice for the Tibetan cause generally and specifically for prisoners to be released from jails.
These practices are being done according to advice from the Tibetan Government in Exile and attended by up to 2,000 and sometimes 3,000 people. Before the school year began for the monastery and nunnery, everyone was attending, but as these days there are classes, each day just some representatives attend.
In Kathmandu, at the United Nations office and at the Chinese embassy, demonstrations are held every day, with the exception of the week of Nepalese elections when the Tibetan community supported the commitment of creating a peaceful environment in the country for the election process. These demonstrations have been attended by 300-500 monks, nuns and lay people, with 200-250 arrested each day – most of whom are released after nightfall! …
A woman married to the Tibetan secretary of a high lama in Dharamsala writes about what life is like in Dharamsala these days. She remains anonymous, although this vivid piece has been emailed around the world many times in the last few weeks …
These days, Dharamsala feels alternately like a temple and the seat of revolution. At times it feels like both. Every morning, thousands of Tibetans, young and old, those born in Tibet and those born in exile, march down the hill from the market of McLeod Ganj, shouting in English for justice and human rights, for the help of the UN, for the long life of the Dalai Lama. Today, their shouts are mingled with the moan of long horns blasting out from a nearby monastery.
They have been marching every day since March 10, and they never seem to tire. Each evening around dusk, thousands more walk through McLeod all carrying candles and chanting the bodhisattva prayer: “May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings” in Tibetan over and over again. This prayer has become the anthem of Dharamsala. You hear it muttered from old women, belted out by toddlers, and chanted by monks through loud speakers: “May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings!”
The evening marchers end up at the tsuglakhang, the temple located right in front of the Dalai Lama’s private residence, to assemble in what is essentially the Dalai Lama’s front yard. They shout freedom slogans and “Bod Gyalo!!!” (Victory to Tibet) at the top of their lungs for twenty minutes, while young boisterous monks wave giant Tibetan flags to rally the crowd. The red, yellow and blue of Tibetan flags are everywhere, and a feeling that must accompany all revolutions of past times – a feeling of passion, resolve, and the sting of injustice – stirs the air.
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, hosts of the US daily TV/radio news program ‘Democracy Now,’ (March 20, 2008) asked Robert Thurman, professor of lndo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University and President of Tibet House US, what sparked the latest wave of protests’. This is an edited version of his response:
I think it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it took us totally by surprise. And I think it took His Holiness the Dalai Lama very much by surprise. Everyone was focused on the march from Dharamsala, the nonviolent march of young Tibetan activists to Delhi and then to the Tibetan border. His Holiness was quite worried about that. That’s something they did on their own initiative. There is an agreement between the Tibetan government in exile and the Indian government not to do political things on Indian territory where they are refugees. So the Chinese claim that this is the work of the Dalai Lama clique is very laughable, but also very [alarming].
The main point I’d like to get across is that when Wen Jiabao in his press conference, and also the hard-line officials in Tibet, said that this is the work of the Dalai Lama clique, this is very sinister, because the Dalai Lama clique is all of the Tibetan people, who follow the Dalai Lama and whatever he does and says. They, and the monks, were just protesting about local conditions where they are – a some of them were arrested at the last Congressional Gold Medal Award last fall – and they painted the monastery in celebration, because they were forbidden to have a formal celebration, but they [monks of Drepung Monastery] were arrested anyway. They were marching peacefully and nonviolently on the March 10 occasion in order to protest those conditions, as well as to celebrate the day, knowing full well that they might bring onto themselves the full force of the Chinese intolerance of any sort of demonstration by Tibetans in Tibet.
And then, when they were shot at and when they were suppressed violently and beaten, then the Tibetan community exploded, because they’re a tinderbox. China has been smothering them with immigration because of this train [connecting China with Tibet]. Three or four million people came pouring into Tibet. Also, the Chinese have been pushing them very hard by making them denounce the Dalai Lama and controlling their studies and persecuting them in all kinds of ways. So it’s a kind of spontaneous outburst of all the Tibetans all over Tibet, including all the areas where two-thirds of the Tibetans live outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region. …
Sara Blumenthal spoke to Yangsi Rinpoche, director of Maitripa Institute (a Buddhist university-in-the-making affiliated with FPMT and located in Portland, Oregon) who is the recognized reincarnation of Geshe Ngawang Gendun and a qualified geshe, about the situation in Tibet.
Sara Blumenthal: From your side, what’s your sense of things right now?
Yangsi Rinpoche: When I heard that the Tibetans’ frustrations have led to some kind of conflict with ethnic thought that is really unfortunate. But I also understand why they get so frustrated. Where can they turn, when they’re pushed from all corners? At the same time we Tibetans need to live side by side with the Chinese. There are just regular Chinese in trouble. I think that this is very sad. Generally speaking, all karmic action creates repercussion. I wish and I hope it will end there.
The media is really paying attention to the immediate situation. After the Olympics, however, the violence from the Chinese authorities may start again. The world will go on to different issues, looking towards the U.S. presidential elections, etc. As Tibetans, we need to look ahead to the aftermath of the Olympics when the Chinese may say, “OK, now nobody’s looking. We close doors.” As an individual Tibetan, I’m really hoping and praying that n violence will happen towards Tibetans or anybody, Chinese included, in the aftermath of the Olympics. When there’s no voice, when there’s no attention, people can do whatever they want. And the Chinese won’t need to fear anything if there is no international pressure left. So that’s one main concern for me.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is sending a strong message of non-violence; everybody may be trying to maintain nonviolence, and the Chinese may be trying to behave better. That would still be my hope for Tibet. And of course, the Tibetan government wants that to happen.
During His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Portland, Oregon, in May 2013, His Holiness spoke on the situation in China at a press conference. His Holiness told the media that while things have been very difficult for Tibetans, he is hopeful for the future.
His Holiness cites as an example how many mainland Chinese are now coming to see him in Dharamsala, India and that they are showing genuine interest in Tibetan Buddhism. In addition, His Holiness said there is growing recognition that censorship in China is ultimately self-destructive.
“1.3 billion Chinese people have every right to know the reality. Once they know reality, 1.3 billion Chinese people also have the ability to judge what’s right and what’s wrong,” His Holiness said. “So, censorship is morally wrong and very harmful. … Trust is the basis of harmony and unity. Censorship destroys that trust.”
His Holiness also called for improvement of the Chinese legal system, saying it must come up to the level of international legal standards.
You can listen to His Holiness’ complete response to the question of Tibet and China:
FROM THE VAULT
In May 2002, sixty students of Lama Zopa Rinpoche had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on pilgrimage with Rinpoche to Tibet. Ven. Sarah Thresher wrote about this extraordinary journey for Mandala. In her 10-page story, Ven. Sarah captured the inspirational teachings given by Rinpoche explaining the purpose of pilgrimage, as well as the hardships and uncertainty faced by pilgrimages traveling in Tibet at that time.
Ven. Sarah writes:
Rinpoche began explaining how to get the greatest benefit from holy objects when you visit a temple. We did prostrations, made offerings and prayed while taking blessing from the scriptures, statues and so forth. This was to become a familiar procedure. On that whole trip I never saw Rinpoche pass by a holy object without making prostrations, offerings, prayers and extensive dedications and we tried to do the same.
You can read the entire article “Pilgrimage to Tibet,” published in Mandala December 2002-February 2003, as a PDF.
The 2002 pilgrimage to Tibet with Lama Zopa Rinpoche was also documented by filmmaker Christina Lundberg in her 2007 film Mystic Tibet.
By Choden Rinpoche and Ven. Tseten Gelek
[Note — This article is part of a larger multi-part feature story, which can be read in its entirety as a PDF.]
Choden Rinpoche of Sera Je Monastery, one of the highest of the Gelug lamas, was virtually unknown outside Tibet until 1985. He neither escaped his country after 1959 nor was imprisoned. Instead, he lived in a house in Lhasa, never leaving his small, dark, empty room for 19 years, even to go to the toilet, and never cutting his hair and beard.
“He spent all his time on that bed, meditating,” says Rinpoche’s attendant, Sera Je monk Ven. Tseten Gelek.
“They had to change the bedding once a month because it got smelly from sweat. He used a bedpan as a toilet, as he was pretending to be an invalid. Until 1980 he didn’t talk to anybody, only the person who brought food into his room.”
“The main thing I wanted to do was to practice Dharma sincerely, no matter what external factors were arising,” Rinpoche told Mandala in June during a two-month visit to Vajrapani Institute in California. “This was my motivation, to be completely against the eight worldly concerns.”
Here, Rinpoche tells us about his life. (The words in italic type are from Ven. Tseten.)
Choden Rinpoche was born in 1933 near Rabten Monastery at Rongbo in eastern Tibet. At the age of 3 he was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Rinpoche, who himself had been one of the candidates for the Twelfth Dalai Lama, Thinley Gyatso. There were significant signs about the previous Choden Rinpoche’s birth. After the reincarnation was chosen, they didn’t want to leave him just like that, so they placed him as the lama of Rabten Monastery.
From the age of three to eight I was tutored by an uncle who lived in a hermitage, and at the age of eight I entered the local Rabten Monastery, where I learned all the prayers and rituals. I was six years old when I first met the previous Pabongka Rinpoche, and I took many teachings from him at Rabten Monastery. I also took novice ordination from him then.
At that time I did not know much about practice. When I was 10, one ex-abbot of Drepung Loseling taught on the lam-rim and I attended the teachings, and it was around that time that my interest in practice began.
I don’t remember too clearly my first meeting with Pabongka Rinpoche, but what I do remember is that Rinpoche was very happy with me and I really admired everything that Rinpoche did: the way he walked, the way he dressed, everything. I felt, “If only I could be like him,” because I had such admiration for him.
Pabongka Rinpoche advised me not to stay in the local monastery but to go to the main monastic centers for learning near Lhasa, such as Sera, Ganden or Drepung. I entered Sera Je Monastery when I was 15. All of the local Gelug monasteries spread out overTibethave allegiance to one of the three major monastic centers, so accordingly you follow that. The previous Choden Rinpoche studied at Sera Je and did the geshe studies there.
The journey to Lhasa took a month and a half. Because there were no proper roads at that time, you’d just travel slowly with a herd of yaks and many other people, like a caravan. It was during the winter and was very, very cold at that time. You have to wear animal skin chubas, so you cannot travel in monk’s robes.
I remember sleeping on the roadside and waking up sometimes completely covered in snow; because it’s so cold it doesn’t melt, and you shake it off when you wake up. There was nothing like a tent. You also had to carry everything you needed with you on the animals.
There was no signs of the Chinese army yet (it was 1948), although there were cases of small groups coming into Tibet. People were afraid of communism, of having that kind of element in society.
In the beginning our group had horses for riding, and they also had a lot of yaks for carrying the supplies, but later we started to ride the yaks instead of the horses. I traveled with my father and mother and a brother. The family went toLhasato do a pilgrimage, to make offerings and do circumambulations at the temples inLhasa; they went back home after five or six months.
The power of debate as a basis for realizations: I followed the regular curriculum of Sera Monastery, studying each of the main five texts. For the first part of the studies you do the same studies as the rest of the monks, but when the geshe studies begin they give a jump-start to the tulkus. I was in the same class as Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, Geshe Ugyen Tseten and Geshe Legden for two or three years.
At Sera Monastery the main program is philosophy, the geshe program. But there are different hermitages of different lamas, and they would give teachings. I attended many of them. The main teachers at that time were Bari Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche. I enjoyed these teachings very much, although sometimes during the main curriculum of studies at Sera, when you get to a very important part of the text being studied, you didn’t get permission to go to these other teachings.
I enjoyed debating and wasn’t too bad at it. I studied with some of the best debaters at the monastery, like Geshe Loga and Geshe Losang Wangchuk. Having been guided by them I was able to debate very well.
What you would consider a good debater is a person who, when debating on a given subject, can point out to the other person their mistaken view; you can debate it by being able to explain why theirs is not the correct view, using logic, reasoning, and by quoting scriptural authority. By the way you debate you show them their wrong view and then can completely give it up. That’s the sign of a good debater: being able to enlighten the opponent to their fault and create the basis of the correct understanding through logic and scriptural understanding.
With debate, you develop a very stable conviction yourself of what you understand because you use the logic, reasoning and scriptural authority. When you’re able to do that, then whatever understanding you have is very firm in your mind [and therefore is a basis for realizations].
Generally, it is said in the debating courtyards of the monasteries [the ritual gesture of] simply clapping your hands in debate just once has more benefit than meditating for many years – such is the power of debate.
Usually, in Sera, Ganden and Drepung you study the meaning of all the sutras; then you join one of the tantric colleges and study the meaning of all the tantras. All of this is what has to be meditated upon. You have people who, after their studies, take to a life of being a total hermit; they dedicate their whole lives to meditation. Other people live in the monastery and do all the meditations within the conditions of the monastery. Others choose to go back to their local monasteries in whatever village or town they came from, either to teach or do meditation.
My teacher, Geshe Losang Wangchuk, used to say it’s more beneficial to stay in a monastery and teach than to go off to meditate, because when he expressed the wish to go off into retreat, Trijang Rinpoche advised him against it, pointing out the benefits of teaching others rather than going off by yourself to meditate. When you teach you’re benefiting so many people, but when you meditate you’re benefiting mainly yourself.
Philosophy is not formatted for meditation, so what you meditate on are things like various stages of the path to enlightenment, which is totally formatted for meditation. You can then take all the subject material, all the information of all the philosophical studies and you can apply it to enrich, to adorn your meditations.
A typical day at Sera: In the morning, just before the dawn breaks, the morning prayers begin at the monastery, which takes two hours. Then the debate sessions begin. At around 11 you come together in for prayers, and tea is offered. That’s your lunch time. The monastery only gave tea, so the monks would come with a handful of tsampa, and that would be their lunch.
After that you do debate, then prayers, then again you debate. After the last debate session you can go spend an hour and a half in your room.
There are no standardized classes – whenever there is free time there are classes. There are periods of time in the monastery where there are no debate sessions, and it’s during this time that these philosophy classes are very vibrant.
After the hour-and-a-half break you reconvene for a very long debate session, and that’s followed by a session of prayers where you recite The Twenty-one Praises to Tara and praises to the White Umbrella Deity – things like that. Then you go for another period of debate, and when the sun is about to set you have another break. From sunset onwards, everything you’ve memorized you have to recite so you don’t forget it. If you are in the higher classes you are allowed to stay in your room to do the recitations, but if you are younger you have to stay in the open grounds where all the recitations take place. By yourself, you chant out loud.
During that time there may be people who chant their prayers all the way through the next day’s sunrise. The Madhyamaka class and those who study the Perfections take turns to spend the entire night up. When one class is about to go to bed, the other class will begin their debate session, and they stay all the way through to the morning prayers. So in that way there is the sound of Dharma twenty-four hours a day. In the monastery there is never the occasion where you do not hear the sound of Dharma.
Rinpoche completed all the necessary studies by the age of 28, reaching the highest lharam class. Trijang Rinpoche and many high lamas asked him to get his geshe degree quickly, but his main guru at the time, who was abbot of Sera Je, did not allow him to become a geshe. He wanted Rinpoche to keep studying. He went over the studies again, mainly the texts about the monastic vows, the vinaya. He studied them many times. Then the Chinese came.
He never wore the special clothes for the tulku, and even though he was from the family of an official, he never had his own labrang, his own household, at Sera. He mixed with the ordinary monks, and everyone liked him.
Rinpoche’s main gurus are Pabongka Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
His main purpose in studying since the time he was young was to be able to practice what he learned, so he focused on the meaning of the scriptures. When he was around 10, he had a great intention to practice what he learned.
I stayed in the lharam class for many years. One of my teachers who was an abbot told me, “You’re still young. What is the point of hurrying to get your geshe degree? Keep on studying.” I was around 28 when I could have taken my geshe degree. I was 29 when the Chinese came, so I never had the chance after that.
I completed my studies in about 14 years, but if you go according to the system of the monastery, it takes about 30 years. It therefore takes the monks a long time to get their geshe degrees. This is because the meaning of the scriptures is very, very profound. The more you’re able to analyze it, the clearer the depth of your understanding becomes. This system produces some of the best scholars.
The Tibetan uprising in Lhasa in 1959: By the time of the uprising against the Chinese Communists, most of the monks had already escaped. So many soldiers had arrived and the monks were afraid the monasteries would be destroyed. There were thousands of monks before the occupation, but only two or three hundred remained at Sera. I remained at Sera.
One morning at daybreak, the Chinese soldiers surrounded the monastery and rounded up all the monks and put us in a courtyard. After this they ransacked the whole monastery. All the monks were circled by the soldiers with their weapons.
We heard that in eastern Tibet the soldiers had rounded up all the monks and shot them dead, so everyone was frightened that would happen. From dawn to sunset the monks were all standing in the courtyard. Then they put the monks in a line and took them away. Everyone said, “We’re being taken to be killed,” but it didn’t turn out like that; they just imprisoned everyone.
I was in prison for about a month. Since they didn’t have a prison set aside, they used one of the Sera Je main temples, and they wouldn’t let anyone out, even to pee! We had to use a huge container that was usually used to hold the water for making water bowl offerings – you couldn’t just go all over the floor.
Sometimes in the middle of the day they would give us lukewarm water to drink, and if people had tsampa of their own they would eat that with the water. We lived like this close to a month, two or three hundred monks.
They started to separate all the lamas, all the geshes, all those who had management positions of any kind. They categorized people, and the general monks were kept as one group. They used to say, “Ones without any titles are our friends, while ones who have titles are our enemies.”
They would use the groups of ordinary monks to investigate the groups of people who had titles. If any of the general monks could guarantee that any of the titled people hadn’t participated in the uprising and didn’t say anything about the Chinese, they would also be released.
When I was at the monastery I usually mixed with the general monks, so some of the monks guaranteed for me, saying that although a rinpoche, I don’t have anything that fits that title, so I was released.
They would hold political lessons in the monastery, teaching the monks to talk against religion, to talk against the monastery and any of the practices. One by one they would release the people with titles for a little while, and everyone – all the general monks – would have to beat up on this person. If they didn’t, they would be considered supporters of the titled person. Some were beaten so badly they couldn’t get up afterwards.
I had some sort of heart condition, so when I saw all of this happening I became terribly ill, so I got a pass to go to a hospital for a checkup. I went toLhasaand spent five or six months there.
In the second month of 1960 they rounded up all the monks living in Lhasa and told us we couldn’t stay but had to go back to whatever monastery we came from. I went back to Sera. I was still living as a monk and wearing robes.
Back at the monastery, there was all the criticizing and disparaging of His Holiness. When you’re forced to attend these meetings and participate in these meetings, you have no choice, you have to participate in some verbal abuse. I wasn’t well from before, so I managed to get by sleeping, and I didn’t have to participate. The Chinese would bring doctors to come check my pulse, and since my heart condition caused my pulse to throb quite strongly, I was excused from these meetings.
Meanwhile, the living conditions at the monastery were getting tighter and tighter all the time. The people inLhasaat that time were a little more free than the ones in the monastery, so when the lay people heard about the monks having such a hard time, they would say things like, “I hope I’m never reborn as a monk!’ It reached a point where people were even saying things like that! After that I left the monastery and came to Lhasa, where I lived with a relative.
It never occurred to me to try to escape. The Chinese used to say over and over again, “There’s absolutely no way you can escape,” and people also had so little information about how to do it, that in your mind it was not even an option to consider.
Retreat for nineteen years: I did chulen retreat for a while, but the Chinese stopped me. They said you could practice Dharma, but when it came down to it there were many restrictions, and they felt Dharma was bad and the practices are essenceless. So until about 1964 I lived in Lhasa, doing the main practices of Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka and Heruka, and giving some teachings where I could.
At the time of the Cultural Revolution in 1965, things became tighter than ever before. It was in August or September of 1966 that they started destroying the Jokhang temple, all the holy objects in the temples, and all the holy objects people kept in their private homes as well; it was massive destruction. Except for where the Buddha Shakyamuni statue was and one room of the religious kings, they completely emptied the entire temple.
The Potala wasn’t destroyed as much as the other places. At Sera, Drepung and Ganden, some of the main temples were left in somewhat okay condition, but the others were destroyed. In 1969, that was the year they completely razed Ganden to the ground.
With the Cultural Revolution, I stopped all outer practices completely. I lived with relatives inLhasa. I stayed inside without ever going out. During this time I was sleeping (see box). I stayed in a room in the house of my cousin’s wife, who was half Tibetan, half Nepali. The Chinese would come anytime of the day or night – sometimes very early, sometimes late – to check on what I was doing, whether I was sleeping, to see if I was really sick or not. When they were gone I would get up and do practices.
At that time you could have absolutely no holy objects, no statues or scriptures. If they saw any scriptural texts you would be in big trouble. Even if you moved your lips without making a sound you would get into trouble, because they would think you were saying prayers. I had some prayer beads but they had to be kept hidden. I had a small one and when people came to investigate me, I would hide it in one of the two hidden pockets in my clothes, just over my knees.
Because I stayed inside like this without ever going out, people said I was doing retreat. But it wasn’t proper retreat, with the offerings, ritual things, and so forth. During this time I would think about the various stages of the path to enlightenment, as well as Guhyasamaja, Heruka, Yamantaka, all the generation stage yogas. And when I had time, I would complete the mantra quotas of each deity.
In any case, you don’t need external things to do Dharma practice. It’s all in your heart, your mind. As for realizations: you do not experience the realizations of the three principal aspects of the path, but you do have a little renunciation, and because of that you are able to stay like that.
The advantages of living in isolation: One reason it was good to stay inside inLhasa was because if you went out, you had to do what the Chinese said, and then you’d accumulate so much negative karma. I didn’t want to do anything at all that was contradictory to Dharma; I wanted to practice Dharma, so for that reason I didn’t leave my house. The Chinese used many tactics to get me to work for them. First they tried to frighten me, and when it didn’t work they invited me and many high geshes and lamas to live under their care; they said they would provide a house, car, food, money. But I didn’t want to do this because then I would have to do whatever they said, which was all contradictory to the Dharma. The main thing I wanted to do was practice Dharma sincerely, no matter what external factors were arising. This was my motivation, to be completely against the eight worldly concerns.
The future life is more important than this life – this life is just like a dream. So if you went and did as the Chinese said, you would get a good house and car, you could enjoy so many things, but this would have caused you to fall to the lower realms, where you would experience sufferings for so many eons. Future lives are much more important than this life. In order to work for the future lives, I stayed inside to practice.
When we die we don’t just vanish. We have to take rebirth, and we don’t have any choice in that birth, only what our karma determines – whether we’re reborn in the lower realms or upper realms. If you’ve done positive things in this life you can take rebirth in the human realm, and you can enjoy the result of these actions. If you do negative actions, the karma does not vanish; even the smallest karma accumulated you have to experience in the future.
The future is very long, many eons. This life is so short, it’s just fiction, just a dream. You mind continues infinitely, and when you die in the next life, again it doesn’t vanish, and again you continue to the next life, and the next – many lives you have to go through. So all of these are determined by the present actions. You have no choice. So the present action is important. This life is so short, perhaps only one hundred years – very small compared to the future lives. This is why the future lives are more important than this life.
From the point of view of religion, of Dharma, there was great accomplishment in living this way. And from the point of view of this life, there was also great benefit. In this life, if I hadn’t done what I did, I would have had to go with the Chinese and gotten a house, car and high rank, but then I would have had to torture people and cause so much suffering for the ordinary beings. And if I had gone as an ordinary being, with no high rank, etc., I would have had to undergo so much suffering, just like all the Tibetans did. But I didn’t have to experience any of this in this life. These are advantages to my living like I did.
Another advantage is that I got the reputation of doing retreat for 20 years: this is also a benefit concerning this life! It will cause others to think, “That’s interesting. Maybe Dharma is really helpful, maybe it’s true.” It may benefit others for the Dharma in this way.
I experienced very few problems during those years. I had only little problems with my stomach; and when I started walking there wasn’t any pain, but I felt my legs were collapsing all the time! Other people noticed that I couldn’t walk properly. Also, because it was dark in my room, I wasn’t comfortable with light when I came out – it was too bright. Sometimes there was a little candle, but I didn’t really use it. Even now in Sera I prefer to sit in the dark.
After 1979, a little more freedom: After Mao Tse Tung died in 1979 there was a little more freedom. Many lamas and geshes came to Rinpoche’s house to receive teachings. He gave a few teachings, but not in public – only in his small room to one, two or three people. People knew about him. He cut off his beard and his long hair in 1979.
Then he received letters from the reincarnation of Shantideva at Sera in India and from the monastery itself to please come and give teachings, to pass on what he had learned. He tried to get a passport but at first it didn’t work.
From 1965 to early 1980, when I was living in total seclusion, my cousin would not allow anyone to visit me. Ribur Rinpoche came to visit and my cousin argued with him and wouldn’t allow Ribur Rinpoche to visit. The main reason Ribur Rinpoche came is because the government was forming a committee of tulkus to look into the heritage ofTibet, like the statues and scriptures. Although the government formed it, the high lamas were doing the work because they were the most well-educated. Around this time everyone the Chinese had put down were being reinstated because they had the capacity and the knowledge. They were called the Norbulingka Committee.
The Chinese wanted me to join so many of the committees they were forming, but since I didn’t join any, they didn’t like me very much. From ‘81 onwards they were issuing visas for people to be able to travel in India and Nepal, but although I applied, I was never accepted.
Rinpoche tried for three years to get a passport to go to India, and finally a close friend of his, Pagpala Gelek Namgyal, the highest lama of Kham in Tibet and third highest in Tibet, was holding a high rank in the Tibet Autonomous Region (he now holds the post of the Panchen Lama), and he helped Rinpoche get a passport. In 1985 Rinpoche finally got a passport and was able to leave for India legally.
India: When I got to Dharamsala I arrived just in time for the initiation of Guhyasamaja, Heruka and Yamantaka from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was very happy to see His Holiness, and His Holiness was also very happy. His Holiness said, “Your arriving in such good time to receive these initiations means we have very pure samaya.”
I received the Kalachakra initiation from His Holiness in 1985. I asked what I should do: return toTibetor stay. His Holiness told me to stay and teach what I had learned and to spread the Dharma.
Later he told me that in Nepal there aren’t many high Gelugpa lamas, so it would be good for me to go there. I stayed there for eight or nine months but became sick and had to undergo an operation, so I wasn’t able to be of much benefit. He excused me from staying in Nepal because the monks from Sera Je in south India also asked me to come there to teach.
His Holiness told me not to ever break my present commitments and to teach whatever I had learned, so since then I have been living in Sera Monastery and coming to Dharamsala whenever His Holiness teaches.
For 15 years Rinpoche has mainly been teaching the Geshe degree program at Sera Je Monastery in south India. Usually he stays at Sera, and he gives teachings on the five main subjects of study. He does three classes in the morning and four in the afternoon; he has many students, from young boys all the way up to geshes. On Tuesdays, the day off at Sera, Rinpoche teaches grammar, poetry and tantra to some geshes. Sometimes Rinpoche will give initiations or lam-rim teachings at Sera, and so many monks come they have to use the main chanting hall.
His health is quite good. In 1996 we went back to Tibet, and we made a pilgrimage all through China and almost all the way through Tibet.
Rinpoche first came to the West in 1998. Ven. Massimo Stordi invited him to Italy, and a rinpoche in Italy as well as Geshe Soepa in Germany. Before that Rinpoche didn’t go anywhere because Sera needed him; now Sera has many geshes, so Rinpoche is able to travel.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche requested a lung of a whole text of Je Tsongkhapa and his main disciples, 36 of them, but there was no chance to do this. Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked Choden Rinpoche to come give a Secret Vajrapani initiation at Vajrapani Institute in California and to teach during the retreat.
Rinpoche has studied the vinaya extensively. At Sera he is called the Vinaya Holder because he knows every step of the vinaya. He lives purely in morality and has ordained more than 600 Tibetans – and now in the West he has ordained people. He has an extremely good reputation in the monastery, and so many students come to receive his teachings, especially about the vinaya, because his morality is so pure.
Rinpoche’s great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all great practitioners. His great-grandfather and grandfather were Kagyupas and his father was Gelug, but they are all lam-rim holders. They spent most of their lives in retreat, although not like Rinpoche, who didn’t come out at all. They are all lineage holders. Rinpoche was surrounded by all these practitioners.
His mother gave them eight brothers and five sisters, and five of the sons became monks. One of them, the third brother, attained high realizations. His name is Geshe Thubten Yampil. He mastered all the Buddhist teachings, attained realizations and he composed 50 volumes of books and gave the Kalachakra initiation in Tibet. The second one is also a renowned meditator. Rinpoche’s father and mother have passed away, and all the sisters but one have passed away.
Now there is the present reincarnation of his second brother in Kham, Tibet, right in his family’s house. There is also the third brother’s reincarnation in Tibet, as well as the first brother’s reincarnation. The second brother’s reincarnation was able to recite the Buddhist scriptures without even seeing them; they came straight from his heart. When Choden Rinpoche told His Holiness the Dalai Lama this, His Holiness asked if he was a tulku, but Choden Rinpoche said no, it was his second brother from before.
Gill Jelbart reports from the World Conference on Religion and Peace:
Tibetans have been trying to get the world to listen to their plea for freedom for more than 30 years. It has not been easy and they were even thwarted at the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) held this January in Melbourne, Australia.
Ani-la Hilary Clarke and I attended the conference representing Tara Institute and FPMT Australia and New Zealand Regional Office, and we were dismayed as the Tibetans were again silenced by a web of political intrigue.
An invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama had been initiated by Sheikh Abdullah Nu’man, Executive Director of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, a Muslim and active member of the local WCRP host committee and the Multi-Faith Resource Center in Melbourne. In November we welcomed news that a representative of His Holiness would attend the conference to deliver a peace message. The representative was Achok Rinpoche, the newly appointed director of the Tibetan Medical Institute in Dharamsala.
The secretary-general of WCRP, Dr. John Taylor, wrote a welcoming letter to Achok Rinpoche in late December, but not all members of the international steering committee were happy with Tibetan participation. Once week before the conference started, we learned that the steering committee had refused to allow Achok Rinpoche to represent His Holiness, as either a national or fraternal delegate. The reason: Tibet is not a nation.
Then, after Achok Rinpoche arrived, officials of WCRP confirmed personally to Rinpoche that he could only be a “guest” and they also scheduled the reading of the peace message to the “only possible” time slot – the dawn prayer service on Saturday, the morning after the official closing ceremony and farewell dinner. It was 60 kilometers from the main venue, Monash University, at a beach near Mornington.
On January 16 Tara Institute was visited by Lama Lobsang, a Lhadaki monk in the Tibetan tradition and a member of the Indian Parliament, who was also part of the Indian National Delegation. He said that Tibetans had never been invited to any WCRP conference before; he also told us of his lone voice for the Tibetans at the previous WCRP in Nairobi, five years earlier, and of the severe censorship of his speech by the Chinese.
Some background to the enthusiastic participation of the Peoples Republic of China in international peace conferences through the Chinese Buddhist Association (CBA) can be read in Holmes Welch’s book Buddhism under Mao. [See summary below.1]
The CBA general secretary, Zhao Puchu, is a long-standing and key figure on the International Committee of WCRP and is one of nine presidents. Another influential figure is WCRP Honorary President Nikkyo Niwano, who is also president of Japan’s Rissho Kosei Kai, a major benefactor of WCRP and staunch supporter of the CBA. Throughout the conference the secretary-general of WCRP, Dr. John Taylor, appeared to make his primary mission that of appeasing the Chinese to prevent a walk-out by their delegation, a recurring threat.
Achok Rinpoche requested in writing that the steering committee consider and allow him the opportunity to read the peace message during the actual conference, since he could not attend the peace vigil at Mornington. Dr. Taylor promised an answer after the steering committee meeting on Saturday, January 21. On Sunday he informed Rinpoche that the Chinese officials had not arrived, so they could not discuss it! He gave Rinpoche his personal assurance it would be discussed at the meeting on Tuesday, January 24.
WRCP Women’s Conference
Before the main conference Hillary and I attended the two-day women’s meeting. It was a very positive and educational event. We met and talked with many of the 100 women from 30 countries who attended and heard them speak of their major concerns. We too spoke freely of ours, and we discovered many links and received much support.
In one brief impassioned address (I was nervous!) we told of the non-violent struggle against human rights abuses and ecological issues in Tibet, and the difficulty the Tibetan government in exile was having in setting up dialogue with China to address these issues. We also spoke of the pressure the Chinese government put on various Western governments, with whom they have trade relations, to prevent His Holiness from speaking about his concerns, and the pressure we encountered within the conference to prevent Tibetan participation. Hilary read His Holiness’ peace message, in case it was our only chance, to the attentive audience.
Though Hilary and I managed to have a resolution passed that “the WCRP request the UN to facilitate dialogue between Chinese and Tibetan representatives to address human rights abuses,” it did not stand the test of time at the hands of the drafting committee. By Tuesday’s first presentation of the Women’s Report to the main conference the resolution was reduced to one sentence – “We heard, too, of distress in Tibet.”
The Main Conference
The conference of 600 delegates and guests officially opened on Sunday, January 22, with many lengthy speeches. But the highlight of the second day’s speeches was the unscheduled reading of His Holiness’ speech by an official speaker, Dr. Sulak Sivaraksa, Buddhist lay director of Shanti Pracha Dharma Institute in Bangkok. His regard for His Holiness and displeasure on hearing of the exclusion prompted him to read the message, which was handed to him by a UK delegate. Dr. Sivaraksa’s opening words, “It is an honor and a privilege to read a peace message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” brought a preliminary round of applause.
His second around of applause came after the reading of His Holiness’ speech – including applause from Zhao Puchu, who had neglected to use his earphones for the translation. The peace message did not mention Tibet, but not everyone was happy: Dr. Taylor went white and hurried off stage, while others hurried on stage to whisper messages to Zhao Puchu and others. Dr. Sivaraksa continued with the main part of his speech about joint Thai/Tibetan development projects, at the end of which Zhao Puchu and President Nikkyo Niwano walked off stage. After some time the officials resumed their seats on the stage, and Dr. Taylor then made an unscheduled speech appealing to delegates to cooperate with the steering committee and not to insert messages into their speeches without approval from the organizers.
In the break Dr. Taylor approached Achok Rinpoche, and then Dr. Sivaraksa, to stress his disapproval. Rinpoche remained silent while Dr. Taylor criticized not Rinpoche directly but “his impatient Australian friends” who were mainly engaged in propaganda and were not interested in dialogue. He added that he did not understand why the Chinese were so particular about procedure, but they were! Rinpoche, calm in the extreme, managed to praise him for his patience. Dr. Taylor replied, more reasonably, that of course he knew how patient the Tibetans had been for 40 years and, when I inquired if he would be equally concerned if the Tibetans threatened to walk out, he assured us he would. Rinpoche’s mood was contagious – His Holiness had indeed sent great compassion in person to represent him at the conference.
Hilary and I were busy that day. The scrapping of our resolution in the Women’s Report was a great disappointment. We were suspicious that other pressures were at play, and it caused us to seek out many of the women to explain what we felt was happening. They were very concerned; however, we did not succeed in getting the resolution resurrected.
That evening at a reception by the Victorian government the previous secretary-general of the WCRP, Homer Jack, an American minister of a fundamentalist Christian church, said he had personally seen to it that Tibet had been excluded from WRCP conferences for the past 20 years!
The main conference broke into eight sub-groups. Rinpoche joined the discussion on ecological balance and human environment. Rinpoche motioned the Chinese delegate, a bishop, to sit next to him and later they shared earphones for the translation. Rinpoche spoke of the massive de-forestation he had witnessed in Sichuan during his 12-month visit toTibetin 1987: 70,000 Chinese were employed in the area near his monastery simply chopping down trees, seven days a week. Logging had in fact started before he left for Lhasa in 1957, three decades earlier, and is now causing major flooding in Tibet and the many surrounding countries, such as Bangladesh, whose rivers have their sources in the Tibetan plateau.
Their sub-commission passed a resolution that WCRP urges those governments whose forestry practices degrade the Himalayas, to cooperate to prevent the flooding, erosion and siltation which threaten the very existence of Bangladesh, India, China and Nepal, who, as contributors to this problem, should be urged to agree to multilateral negotiations.
Hilary and I joined a sub-commission on regional and religious conflicts and conflict-resolution structures, followed the discussion with intense interest and shared our views. We stressed the absurdity of two nuns being delegates at the WCRP as representatives of an organization with His Holiness the Dalai Lama as its spiritual guide, whereas His Holiness, though figure-head for millions of Buddhists world-wide and well-known for his voice on world peace, is refused delegate status for his personal representative.
The other delegates in our commission heard our plea. Sheik Abdullah Nu’man, who had been supporting our points all along, spoke of his personal regret and guilt at not speaking up strongly when WCRP officials bowed to government and sponsorship pressure, and said the integrity and power of the WCRP were at stake. Our case gained full support as the resolutions jelled. Our commission called on the WCRP to take initiatives toward reconciliation in areas of conflict, and Tibet was included with the Middle East and Sudan as areas of conflict meriting attention by the WCRP as a matter of priority at this time.
In addition the commission called upon the International Council to ensure that full participation be open to all religious bodies which wish to be represented through proper delegation (as full accredited delegates) and which will adhere to the WCRP Constitution and rules of procedure.
These resolutions survived and were later adopted by the full assembly of the WCRP.
Rinpoche left Melbourne before the dawn vigil at Mornington which a number of us from Tara Institute attended. Lama Lobsang was waiting to lead some prayers on the stage with a Sri Lankan monk, when Homer Jack grabbed Lama Lobsang by the robes and pulled him back with the words: “Haven’t you Tibetans caused enough trouble already?” The Sri Lankan monk would not go on without his friend and they retreated to the shade. Homer Jack then ran up to them with profuse apologies but Lama Lobsang was not impressed and responded with silence. Mr. Jack’s apologies? He had just found out Lama Lobsang was not Tibetan! They read their prayers but peace was still to come.
This association was established in 1953. It was intended to represent many national minorities among whom Buddhists were to be found and did not provide for ordinary membership. A council of 93 was the CBA and its delegates were selected, not elected, from each locality. It adopted a constitution with goals to work with the People’s government. The CBA did attempt to prevent damage or confiscation of monasteries, but it also took a stand to help suppress counter-revolutionary elements. The CBA’s goal of carrying out the policy of religious belief actually meant renouncing the freedom to preach Buddhism in public places. The CBA is dominated by the Communist Party, both directly and through the Religious Affairs Bureau, and it depends on the government for financial support. The CBC is effectively controlled by Zhao Puchu who has been the secretary-general for the life of the organization. Zhao thus addressed the second World Conference of Religious Believers for Peace in Tokyo in 1964: “In the final analysis imperialism is the source of the present threat to peace. One’s attitude toward imperialism is the touchstone of whether one is really for peace or not.” The CBC was among those who went into deep mourning when Stalin died, and Zhao Puchu’s assistant hailed Marshal Stalin as a bodhisattva in the obituary he wrote for the publication Modern Buddhism.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks on the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, March 10, 1989:
Today we pay special tribute to the courage and determination of the Tibetan people, so many of whom have given their lives for our just and noble cause. The suffering to which our people have been subjected during these decades marks the darkest period in our long history.
The struggle of the Tibetan people is a struggle for our inalienable right to determine our own destiny in freedom. It is a struggle for democracy, human rights and peace. Most of all, it is a struggle for our survival as a people and a nation with a unique civilization.
The Lhasa uprising of 1987 has greatly moved the people throughout Tibet. Despite the peaceful nature of this and other demonstrations, I am deeply saddened to learn of bloodshed in Lhasa only days before making this statement; many people have been killed and many more have been arrested. The loss of innocent lives has saddened us very much. We not only honor these brave men, women and children today but also the more than one million other Tibetans who have died as a result of the four decades of Chinese occupation. No amount of repression, however brutal and violent, can silence the voice of freedom and justice. The frequent peaceful demonstrations which have taken place spontaneously throughout Tibet over the past years are clear indication of a much larger problem. Unfortunately, the Chinese leadership still fails to understand the real situation in Tibet and the extent of dissatisfaction among the Tibetan people. In his last public statement before his untimely and sad demise, Panchen Rinpoche expressed the people’s feelings when he said that, the price Tibetans have had to pay under Chinese rule has been far higher than any benefits they may have gained.
Ours is a non-violent struggle, and it must remain so. Imprisonment, torture and killings of peaceful demonstrators or persons who express unsanctioned opinions are morally reprehensible and a violation of human rights. It can never be justified, no matter where in the world it occurs. The condemnation of the international community of these actions will, we hope, persuade the Chinese to abandon such methods. The United Nations General Assembly passed three resolutions condemning China’s human rights abuses in Tibet. At this time, when the United Nations is increasingly effective in fulfilling its mission in various parts of the world, I call on the international community to urge the implementation of these three resolutions.
I would like to take this opportunity to express our deep sense of gratitude to the countless people who have voiced concern and expressed solidarity with our people at this critical time. We are also grateful for the conscientious reporting by visitors to Tibet of what they have seen and experienced there.
I am encouraged by the support we have received for our initiative to find a peaceful and just solution to the tragic situation in Tibet. In September of 1987 I presented a Five-Point Peace Plan for the restoration of peace and human rights in Tibet. Then, in June of last year I formulated further thoughts that could serve as a framework for substantive negotiations with the Chinese on the future of Tibet. The Chinese government has agreed to hold negotiations with us and left the venue and time for such negotiations for me to choose. Although I proposed that the negotiations should start in January in Geneva, the Chinese have for one reason or another delayed commencement of the talks. Nevertheless, as the Chinese leaders have shown more realism than in the past, I remain hopeful that they will see the wisdom of resolving the issue peacefully through negotiations. I firmly believe that a resolution based on the framework proposed by us will not only benefit both the Tibetan and the Chinese peoples, but will also contribute to regional and global peace and stability.
I am aware of the deep-felt disappointment of many Tibetans on the stand we have taken at Strasbourg. As I have stated before, the final decision will be left to the Tibetan people themselves to take.
I have always believed that human determination and truth will ultimately prevail over violence and oppression. Today important changes are taking place everywhere in the world which could profoundly affect our future and the future of all humanity and the planet we share. Courageous moves by world leaders have facilitated the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Hopes for peace, for the environment, and for a more human approach to Tibetans intensify our modest contributions to these changes through our endeavors both inside Tibet and in exile for the advancement of freedom, democracy and peace.
With prayers for the well-being of all sentient beings.
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Excerpted from talks given in America in autumn 1987:
I have been very moved on this trip because so many people have expressed to me in actions as well as words their respect not only for the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism but also to their source, namely Tibetan culture and civilization, which itself is ultimately rooted nowhere else than in the living hearts of the Tibetan people.
Tibetan culture belongs to all humanity and its extinction would not just affect Tibetans, but all humanity. We therefore appeal to the members of all other cultures to help the Tibetans preserve our unique and rich cultural heritage.
Our friends in the Congress of the United States have acted powerfully to express their support for our cause urging China to cease her attempts to eliminate the Tibetan race, write off the Tibetan nation from history and eradicate Tibetan culture. These senators and representatives will increasingly need your help and the help of all Buddhists, all religious persons, all humanists and all friends of Tibet, to make an even stronger push to get China to change her attitude. This push is urgent and essential to save our people and culture before it is too late. For China too, it is an emergency because if her leaders do not change their present course, this will eventually rebound upon them in a negative way, but I do not wish to elaborate on this as I am basically an optimist and still have great hope that sanity will prevail and that good and truth will triumph.
We need public support – the active expression of your goodwill toward us. Please keep this in mind and whenever the occasion arises express your deep sympathy toward the Tibetan cause.
As Buddhist practitioners you should understand the necessity of preserving Tibetan Buddhism. For this to happen, the land that is the country of Tibet is of crucial importance. We have tried our best to preserve the Tibetan traditions outside Tibet for almost 30 years and we have been comparatively successful. Eventually, though, after our time there is a real danger that they will change, that they will not survive away from the protective nature of their homeland. So, for the sake of preserving Tibetan Buddhism, which can be seen as a complete form of the Buddhadharma, the sacred land of Tibet is vitally important. It is very unlikely that it can survive as a cultural and spiritual entity if its physical reality is smothered under Chinese occupation. So we cannot avoid taking responsibility in trying to improve its political situation.
Clearly, in this light, active support for the Tibetan cause is not just a matter of politics. It is the work of Dharma. We are not against the Chinese. We in fact have deep admiration for the Chinese civilization. We are only trying to gain our own rights, to save our people and to preserve our Buddhadharma.
I dream of a new Tibet – a free land, a zone of peace where my six million people can restore our spiritual way of life while becoming attuned to the best aspects of the modern world. I see it as a place where all peoples, not excluding our eastern neighbor, can visit and enjoy the fresh air and brilliant mountain light, can find inspiration in a peaceful, spiritual way of life and, perhaps, can learn to understand their own worlds better by getting away for a little while to meditate at our high altitude. With your help we can return there. Now is the time when action is practice.
By Robyn Brentano
Wednesday, June 3, 1987, and we are in the small village of Shinkar in the region of Tolung where our precious teacher Lama Thubten Yeshe was born and raised until the age of eight, when he went to Sera Monastery to begin his training.
This village is in a very beautiful valley blessed by Lama Tsongkhapa’s vision of the deities of the mandala of Guhyasamaja. A vision of that occurred in the foothills across the valley from Shinkar. Marking the spot of Tsongkhapa’s vision are five stupas, the main of which contains a statue of Maitreya, the Buddha to come. Before the Chinese communist invasion of ‘59 there was a monastery, Chi-Me Lung, where the monks from Gyume (LowerTantricCollege) used to come to do their summer rains retreat. Now all that remains is the rubble of walls and foundations destroyed in the years following the invasion. There are signs of renewal in the ruins – fresh prayer flags and newly whitewashed chortens (stupas) put there by the local people of the neighboring village where there is also a tiny nunnery with 26 nuns in it. Very poor, as are all the people of the region, and ofTibet for that matter, except for the Chinese who seem relatively well off in comparison.
We actually arrived yesterday, a group of 37 Westerners from all over the world, much to the surprise, I would imagine, of the villagers and, especially of Lama Yeshe’s family who found themselves playing host, not only to us, but to our teacher, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, whose presence has attracted hundreds of people from the surrounding villages. Wherever he goes, as he did yesterday to the five stupas, people mass around him, try to have contact, to receive his blessings, to be healed, to hear Dharma teachings. What happens around him transcends description. My feeling is that, apart from the extraordinary joy that people experience at seeing a high lama in their village perhaps for the first time in 28 years, there is also that ineffable, heightened sensibility that appears when people are in touch with something divine in themselves. And in this case, in the person of Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
We arrived at the edge of the village near the five stupas in a rattly, old bus. People working in the fields dropped their hoes and came running. Old ladies with water cans came running. Beautiful young mothers and their children came running. Life in the village came to a standstill as people crowded around to see Rinpoche. Here, as all over Tibet, the children were unwashed and generally with runny noses, but basically in good health. Lots of skin diseases and some birth defects. Among the many who crowded around was an old woman with an aluminum can on her back filled with milk. Rinpoche felt that her arrival and the fact that she was carrying milk in her can was very auspicious. He dipped his finger in the milk and sprinkled every one with it. Then he gave her a khata.
After giving many blessings he was invited up the hill to the nunnery where Lama Yeshe had been the abbess in his previous life. A puja was in session and after a few minutes it finished. Rinpoche went into the tiny, dimly lit chapel to give blessings. The anis were very happy to have him there.
From there we made our way up through the ruins to the five stupas. A light rain began to fall. Within moments after Rinpoche went in we heard the confused and anguished sounds of someone who was being led up the hill. At first it was difficult to tell what was happening. A woman perhaps in her 40s appeared wailing and shaking. I felt she might be having some sort of schizophrenic episode. She began to dance and out of her sobs a chant song emerged and then it was clear she was in a trance. Much later we learned that she was the local oracle for two of the village protectors, Tseringma and Yuldrolma, although no one could say which of these had appeared. Her dance was quite beautiful and powerful. Slow spins, her shirt sleeves flowing out past her fingertips describing shapes like Arabic writing in the air. She called to mind those beautiful sky-going dakinis one sees in thangkas everywhere. She sang aboutTibetand how sad the people are without His Holiness the Dalai Lama and then she made a mandala offering to Rinpoche who held the ends of her khata as though he were holding a great and terrific spirit. During these moments I had a very strong sense of the presence of something quite powerful, a bit unsettling, but the local people seemed to take it all as a matter of course. There was one radiant, old man, or might have been a woman, who kept close to her, reverently guiding her along after Rinpoche moved past to mount the top of a crest where he proceeded to give a teaching, first to the Tibetans, who were still seen coming up from the village below, and then to the Westerners.
We received the lung of the Guhyasamaja and Heruka tantras as well as the Chenrezig six-syllable mantra. After some time the rain passed and from our vantage point we could see a great distance down the valley, a spectacular play of light and shadow on the craggy hills and mountains that rise above the flat green plain.
Evening was coming on so we made our way back down to the bus. People continued to mass around Rinpoche and the Western monks and nuns, for the most part, finding a new role as body guards tried to make order of the good-natured pushing and shoving that was to become a common occurrence throughout the trip.
Back at Lama’s family compound we were welcomed with steaming cups of the ever-present Tibetan tea. No ordinary tea. It’s made with milk, salt and yak butter in a tall, thin urn which has a churn in it which whips the whole affair up into a frothy broth. It can be delicious if the butter isn’t rancid and there is not too much salt. Or it can become the cause of great embarrassment as one tries various ways to decline a third and fourth serving. The Tibetans have a custom of keeping the tea cups topped off so you never really finish it. It is really bad form to refuse, so you swallow hard and hope your liver doesn’t go on strike.
The family house is typical of rural homes inTibet. It is part of a complex of buildings connected together within a walled compound, housing perhaps two or three families. Maybe more. There seemed to be an awful lot of relatives around. The exterior walls are whitewashed, capped off by bricks of yak dung collected for winter fuel and arranged in a regular way along the top of the wall. Many of the villagers also paint a strip of dark gray or black along the top and various half moon, swastika and dot patterns, or pairs of stripes, one earth red and one gray, at the end of the walls and two or three places along the walls. The feeling is very much like the adobe homes of the Southwest Native Americans. Immediately inside the compound gate is a yard for the cows who are quite small and undernourished. I was told that they are never let out to pasture but are fed hay where they stand. They seemed a sad lot. Crossing the yard and through a smaller gate we entered a small courtyard which is surrounded by the family room, storeroom and kitchen. That’s it. Eating, sleeping and entertaining in the family room which had long, low couches which double as beds covered with Tibetan carpets and arranged along the four walls. Just after we arrived the family brought in quite a few little two-door chests which serve as tables and are gaily decorated with flowers and auspicious symbols. InLhasathere is a special market area for these chests and other kinds of similarly decorated furniture. As they are typically Tibetan they were forbidden to be sold during the Cultural Revolution and it wasn’t until fairly recently that they appeared in the open market again.
Like the people ofAfghanistan,Moroccoand parts ofLatin America, the Tibetans have a delightful sensibility in decorating and dressing. A bold assertion over the stark and naked landscape and rigorous climate which, if untempered by such bright colors and playful designs, would make life a rather grim affair. In general each window is adorned at the top with painted flowers and a pleated cloth awning that flutters in the breeze and catches the light throwing it into the room, giving one the sense of being in a slightly ephemeral environment through the constant fluctuations of light.
Before long members of the family brought us bowls of rice gruel flavored by bits of what tasted like goat meat. I thought it was delicious but some of the group were hard-pressed to eat it. All of us were moved by the family’s kindness and cheerful enthusiasm, qualities we were to meet nearly everywhere we went. In homes and on the streets, particularly if I was with a monk or nun, people would spontaneously approach us giving us the high sign, which in Tibet is a thumbs-up. For many Tibetans our connection with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was cause for a sign of great respect which was somewhat embarrassing for all of us. Frequently the old ladies would approach Western monks and nuns, bowing their heads and asking for blessings. This was no mere show – they seemed genuinely happy to receive a pat on the head much to the befuddlement of some of our Western Sangha.
After dinner the family retired to relatives’ homes leaving their living room to the 16 women in the group while the men went off to sleep in the kitchen and on the porch where a loom stood waiting the next day’s work. Exhausted we all sank into a fitful sleep, grateful for such an extraordinary opportunity to share life with these beautiful people even for a brief moment.
The next day after breakfast of tea and tsampa cake fixed with cheese (dried yak cheese is a monumental experience which takes several hours to finish. I’m told the Tibetans eat it for altitude sickness – I’m not surprised) we did Lama Chöpa together and then went out to the stonewalled corral to join the villagers who were gathering for teachings and the lung of the six-syllable mantra and practice of Damtsig Dorje. In spite of the hot sun and a few crying children, they all sat transfixed taking in Rinpoche’s every word. It is very obvious that these people are deeply spiritual even if they may not have an intellectual understanding of the material (although one can assume nothing about anyone here.) An apparently simple farmer might be a great scholar forced back to the land by the Chinese take-over and subsequent Cultural Revolution as we were to find out later that day when we interviewed Lama Yeshe’s alphabet teacher for the video Max Redlich is doing here.
Lama’s teacher had joined us that morning for Lama Chöpa and I for one had had a good cry. Somehow he brought back all of Lama’s kindness and skill in teaching us whose minds are virtually untamable. Being in Lama’s house and meeting his teacher reminded me of how fortunate we are in connecting with the Dharma and with a living lineage with all the energy and blessings that brings. One even has a sense that thelandofTibetis alive with the teachings although this is tempered always by the presence of the Chinese and the destruction they’ve brought. Lama’s teacher had been a monk at Sera in 1959 and sometime after the bombardment of the monastery, he had to move back to his village where he took up farming and now looks after his aged parents. He himself must be in his 60s. In the interview he said that lama had been a good and serious student not like the other boys. When we asked him to tell his experiences as a result of the ‘59 take-over he didn’t have much to say. I wasn’t sure if he was a bit intimidated by the presence of the video camera or us or feared some reprisal. Later we were to meet many others who were quite outspoken so it seems that conditions are a bit more relaxed now.
That late afternoon it was time to leave for Lhasa which we did, reluctantly. I was sad to leave the family and this beautiful village that was completely out of time.
Even though some new monasteries have been built with government finances, there is absolutely no comparison to how things were in the past. No matter if the Chinese declare to have spent hundreds of millions of yuan inTibet, it in no way compares to the treasures of even just one monastery as it was in the past. For example, in Samye, one of the most important and precious monasteries, the original monastery in Tibet, the value of all the holy objects as they existed there in the past is far greater than the millions of yuan which are being spent on reconstruction. That much money cannot even compare with the value of even one of the ancient historical statues that have spoken. Just one such statue contains so many relics and holy objects from buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past. These relics have arisen as the product of the development of the virtuous mind, as a result of subduing anger, ignorance and attachment. If the Chinese have the same level of mind as the Buddha and of those great yogis and bodhisattvas, then they could produce such holy objects through the development of the holy mind. Otherwise, even if the whole sky was filled with yuan, there is no way to produce even one of the statues that has spoken or one single holy relic.
In the past the monasteries of Tibet were filled with so many of these holy objects. When we heard the story of Samye and the full description of how Samye was before, we felt how inconceivably precious it had been as well as feeling a desperate feeling of loss, causing deep grief and tears to flow. Now even though the very central temple is being fixed up, the surrounding area looks like a place for farm animals.
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You can see from your own life experiences how the environment can affect you. When you’re among peaceful, generous, happy people, you’re inclined to feel happy and peaceful yourself. When you’re among angry, aggressive people, you tend to become like them. The human mind is like a mirror. Therefore, it is very important to be conscious of your surroundings and how they affect your mind.
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