Life on the Road with Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Dharamsala, India — December 25, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
Time to go to the airport! We are all packed. Many suit cases are loaded. Where is Rinpoche? Now it is getting late. Rinpoche is still doing the last session of retreat. I keep reminding Rinpoche of the time but get no response!
The retreat, in some way, signifies another aspect of Rinpoche’s style. Back to normal. Sessions at night have been going until 5 am and can last up to 7 hours long.
Trying to get Rinpoche to finish the retreat and get to the airport.
- Tagged: lama zopa rinpoche
McLeod Ganj, India — December 1, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked through the door. Rinpoche went forward to greet him (not being able to prostrate) and they embraced (this was the first time Rinpoche had met His Holiness since his stroke earlier in the year). The room was very silent and still. They remained embracing each other for what seemed like a long time. His Holiness then sat down and asked Rinpoche to sit close. His Holiness then held Rinpoche’s right hand and kept massaging and stroking it throughout their meeting and asking about how the stroke had started and all that had happened. During the meeting, for some who were in the small group with Rinpoche, it was hard to hold back the tears. Some were not holding them back at all. (more…)
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — September 12, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
On September 5, Rinpoche leaned very close to Lama Lhundrup to better hear his voice, it was very soft, a very soft whisper. “Even the very smallest pleasure is in the nature of suffering,” said Lama Lhundrup. “If I have to go to the hell realms may I be able to take on all their suffering, may it ripen on me.” The atmosphere was very, very still and calm. The conversation felt so intimate between too old close friends. There was no emotion, it was just a close and intimate exchange. (more…)
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — September 6, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
A goat is standing by a shop, tied on a very short leash. It is waiting to be killed by the butcher. I am not sure if it is aware it will be killed very soon. Rinpoche asks the jeep to stop as soon as he sees the goat. It is a nice looking, strong and young goat, brown colored with spots all over it. The negotiations start immediately with the shopkeeper. How much does he want for the goat? He discusses it with his friend in the shop and we settle on 8,500 rupees (about US$ 119), the cost of a cheap cell phone. The man explains that now they will get another goat because they have a commitment to get meat for the weekend. Rinpoche immediately starts negotiating for the second goat. I wonder to myself how long is this going to go on! We settle on the price for the second goat. Then we drive off to Kopan Nunnery and the two goats are brought there soon after. Rinpoche blesses both the goats. They look happy! (more…)
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — August 14, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
It was dark, maybe 9 p.m., and there was something wriggling on the path going around Bouddha Stupa. It was a baby jet black snake! We got it onto an open piece of cardboard with a little difficulty. Rinpoche wanted it to come with us around the stupa. Rinpoche gave it the name, “Thubten Tharpkye.” For the next 10 circumambulations of the stupa (he /she) got some really good karma. At the end, after dedications (ending around midnight — almost no one is around at that time), we had to say good bye to Thubten Tharpkye. We placed him safely in the drainage system from where he must have come and will spend the rest of his life.
A few days later we were circumambulating Swayambhu Stupa around the base where there are so many stupas, some are very large. It is quite amazing. We usually go after dark when it is quieter and people have finished doing kora. But we walk on the road and so you have to be really careful of the Nepali cars and trucks racing along with horns blaring. Rinpoche walks slow and you have to take care to balance him as the road has holes and cars and trucks try to pass as close as they can to you. Sometimes you have to move quickly out of their way! We do one circumambulation (3 km). The last time this took nearly four hours with the stops to make offerings and prayers. We always stop at the large (about 20 ft high), very beautiful Guru Rinpoche statue and Rinpoche chants prayers.
One night Rinpoche was just finishing prayers to Guru Rinpoche when there were sounds from the dark behind us. They say there are a lot thieves and drunks around after it gets dark. I looked around and could see someone lying on the ground in the dark and moving. It sounded like a woman but the noise coming from her was strange and not words that could be understood. Then to her left was a man in rags looking in really bad shape, really out of it. The old woman started to come towards us wailing strangely, the man was keeping his distance. Rinpoche asked me to offer them 100 rupees each. I only had 50 rupees (in change) for each and gave that. Then Rinpoche, in a very gentle ceremonious way, offered to each of them long beautiful khatas. To the man he offered a long blue khata and to the woman he offered a long green one. Then Rinpoche offered a long red one to the Guru Rinpoche statue. We then moved on slowly to complete the kora.
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — July 17, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
Osel arrived at Kopan on Monday morning to see Lama Lhundrup and stayed one week. It had been 12 years since Osel was last at Kopan. Osel recognized a lot of the older monks immediately and there was a really good connection. It didn’t seem to matter in the least that he was now a lay person and dressed cool!
Osel is on the floor, flat on his back beside my desk, thinking about Rinpoche’s request to give a talk to all the Kopan monks and wearing a chuba (Rinpoche had one made for him). He says he doesn’t like to be pushed or pressured into doing things but it seems he is in the process of coming to terms with Rinpoche’s request although it appears hard. In the end he does give the talk. All the monks are present as well as Lama Lhundrup (a huge effort to come to this, his cancer is quite advanced) and Rinpoche. Rinpoche gave a short talk first, and then asked Osel to speak. Osel gave the talk in Tibetan (very good Tibetan). He gave “modern” advice and the monks gave a very warm response. They seem to want more! Osel said he was more than happy with his visit to Kopan. It was, “More than perfect,” he said!
Osel had discussions with Rinpoche about Essential Education (formerly Universal Education). He is quite involved, very interested and will be making a video of the upcoming Essential Education event in France. Rinpoche wanted the name changed to Essential Wisdom, Osel wanted “education” in the name. Lots of discussion. The next day Osel said, “How about Universal Wisdom Education and we can call it, ‘U WE.’ ‘U’ and ‘WE,’ get it!?” Alison Murdoch, director of Essential Education, was very happy with the news.
It was an inspiring visit and made a lot of people happy.
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — July 7, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
Lama Zopa Rinpoche asks Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche, “Why did you come?”
With the cutest shy smile and deep, beautiful dimples he says, “To say hello.” (The incarnation of Geshe Lama Konchog is 8 years old and small for his age, but smart as the ace of spades!)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche says quietly to me, “I think he is a little worried about me and just coming to check.”
They chatted between themselves for an hour and looked at a short video of Maratika, the cave where Guru Rinpoche achieved immortality. The big rinpoche and the small rinpoche (did I mention who is as smart as the ace of spades?)
A few days later Phuntsok Rinpoche came to see Lama Zopa Rinpoche again. He replied this time, “No reason, just want to see.” He just wanted to say hello and make an offering. Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave the khata back with one hand carefully over the head of the smiling little rinpoche and then asked me to double the money in the offering envelope and give it back to Phuntsok Rinpoche.
The little rinpoche, smiling, asked if his friend can come in and make an offering. Rinpoche said OK. Then, this little monk – even smaller and so close to the ground! – came in and offered a khata and offering to big rinpoche. Rinpoche asked me to double the offering and he gave it back to the very small monk. The two children both smiled and left after a little conversation.
Last night Rinpoche was doing a lot of prayers, slowly as his mouth has difficulty pronouncing the words. Rinpoche wanted to go down to spend some time with Lama Lhundrup to do prayers together and give a lung. Lama Lhundrup does not move much these days and is very quiet. I asked Kunkyen if Lama Lhundrup was OK as Rinpoche wanted to come down.
Kunkyen checked and said, “OK.”
I went up and explained to Rinpoche, “OK.”
Rinpoche started to do some preparation and then in the next minute Lama Lhundrup had come upstairs and was waiting outside, respectfully saying, “Rinpoche can’t come down, I must come up.” (Keep in mind that Lama Lhundrup’s cancer is quite advanced.)
Then proceeded a beautiful dance – the movement between two gracious lamas: one having advanced cancer, the other having had a stroke not long ago, the right side still not working. They both acted humbly, graciously and quietly; the feeling was very calm and peaceful. Awkwardly, Rinpoche tried moving his text and with slurred speech gave the lung with Lama Lhundrup sitting opposite slightly bent over, very still and quiet. It didn’t take long. And then they both parted.
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — June 29, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
“I can’t move,” says Rinpoche. “Why?” asks the physiotherapist. “Ants! I will tread on the ants.” So starts the debate between Rinpoche and Rinpoche’s Nepalese physiotherapist, Rajesh: Rajesh doesn’t understand why Rinpoche is so concerned about the ants and treading on one or two of them while he is doing his exercises. Rinpoche gives a brief explanation on compassion. Rajesh accepts. We gently remove the ants and Rinpoche continues to do his exercises.
Rajesh has been working with Rinpoche for about 10 days now and they are developing a good relationship. Rajesh is very good at what he does and has helped a number of Westerners here in Nepal. This morning (Rajesh comes every morning at 7:45 a.m. for one hour) after the physiotherapy session finished, Rinpoche answered Rajesh’s question about the main difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Rinpoche answered in 10 minutes. And then Rajesh had to go to his next client.
There is a lot of laughter during the session (Rajesh tells the jokes and Rinpoche keeps laughing) but at the same time Rajesh definitely keeps control of the session. It works very well.
Rinpoche is also spending time checking and seeing what can be done for Khenrinpoche Lama Lhundrup. Lama Lhundrup has good care here at the monastery with his attendants and Jo, a nurse and palliative care specialist who is a student of Lama Lhundrup from New Zealand. The Tibetan doctor visits him regularly and Rinpoche is attending to the spiritual aspects of the healing: blessing water, prayer sessions with the monks, pujas, etc.
Every now and again Rinpoche says about his own situation, “This will take time … have to wait for the karma to finish … it will take time.” Since the time in the hospital Rinpoche has been saying this. This morning I asked Rinpoche, “How long?” Rinpoche said, “Can’t say, maybe six months, maybe longer.”
Last night Rinpoche circumambulated Bouddha Stupa three times by himself and then about 10 times in the wheelchair. Rinpoche always stops at the two bigger prayer wheels and turns these with effort and difficulty with his right hand – it’s good exercise! Rinpoche said circumambulating Bouddha and Swayambhunath Stupas is very helpful for the mind. Rinpoche is really keen on circumambulating: the first night it was raining, so we did so in the rain. Most of the time we circumambulate late at night as it is quiet then.
Kopan Monastery, Nepal — June 11, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
Friday June 3, Bendigo, Australia: After discussion between Rinpoche, Khadro-la and myself, we decided that Khadro-la will leave tomorrow for Nepal.
After long and thorough discussions, it was decided that Rinpoche also should go to Nepal ASAP. (We had planned to be in Bendigo for sometime so Rinpoche could stabilize, continuing with the physiotherapy, etc.) After some quick checking, we saw that we could get a flight on June 6, but it meant a lot had to be organized, including discussion with the doctors and the hospital, getting clear on what it means for Rinpoche to travel, taking insulin, etc. After a lot of work we arrived at Melbourne airport. We rented a small 12-seater bus because Osel and Gomo Tulku Rinpoche were also departing. (They stayed a few days there and probably are now back in Europe.)
At the airport we ran into trouble at the check-in, which is not unusual, except the additional issue that they wanted to weigh our hand luggage with a restriction of 7 kg (15 lb)! Our carry-ons are usually at least 20 kg (44 lb) each with texts, prayer wheels, etc., so that was very hard. Then we had too many bags and it was going to cost a fortune. Then they asked us for a letter from the doctor saying Rinpoche was OK to fly, which we didn’t have! We had letters for the needles, insulin, arrangements for wheelchair service, etc., but no letter to say Rinpoche was OK to fly. And the airline said we couldn’t fly without it! So there was a lot of last minute re-shuffling and re-organizing of luggage and calls to the doctor for a letter to be faxed through to the airline. It all was eventually worked out except that some luggage got left behind.
So here we are now in Nepal. Yesterday, Rinpoche was offered a special two-day long life puja at Kopan, organized by Khadro-la and Pari (Dagri) Rinpoche. Serkong Dorje Chang also attended, spontaneously appearing that morning. Lama Lhundrup attended even though he’s not well. Lama Zopa Rinpoche managed to walk down the steps (and there are a lot of steps!) Rinpoche is very determined to walk unaided and he does it fearlessly. If someone is not with him, he can easily stumble as the right leg isn’t stable yet. Rinpoche just heads off whether I am around or not! The long life puja went very well, Rinpoche was very happy.
Today, Dakpa Rinpoche (ex-Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery) will begin the pujas for Rinpoche; these will go on for several days.
Another important reason Rinpoche said for being in Nepal was that he could circumambulate the Swayambhunath Stupa which kept coming out very good in his mo. We did that yesterday, circumambulating part of the time in a wheelchair and part of the time walking with help. The big korwa at the base where there many stupas must be a few kilometers. We’ll also circumambulate Bouddha Stupa … it’s physiotherapy with holy objects!
Eaglehawk, Australia — May 25, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
Yesterday in the gym the physical therapist asked Rinpoche what he would like to achieve from these physiotherapy sessions over the next four weeks. Rinpoche said, “To fly!” The physical therapist thought Rinpoche meant to be able to go on a plane. Rinpoche said, “No…I want to fly!” The physical therapist was a little taken back (this was only the second time meeting Rinpoche — remember we are in country town and this is her first contact with a Tibetan lama).
Bendigo, Australia — May 20, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
The day Rinpoche left the hospital was quite busy. Rinpoche gave away a lot of Dharma books to all the nurses and doctors who helped him, writing short messages such as “My very dear friend, thank you for your heart service” and signing them, even drawing little smiling faces– all with the left hand! The hospital is Christian, St. John of God. All the staff are very kind and helpful. They had a painting exhibition to raise funds for the hospital. Rinpoche insisted on buying two paintings: one an aboriginal painting of two swans ($1200) and the other a very Aussie outback style painting of a dog peeing in the stark arid outback near old crude buildings that are falling down ($490). Rinpoche wanted the paintings as a reminder of the hospital where he had paralysis and said the money was an offering to help the artists and the hospital. Now in a home near the hospital, Rinpoche is comfortable and relaxed.
Bendigo, Australia — April 26-May 14, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
This vessel-like world which existed at an earlier moment does not do so at a later one. That it seems to continue in the same way is because something else similar arises, like the stream of a waterfall. — From The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun by Lama Zopa Rinpoche
In the middle of the Yamantaka initiation [during the month long retreat at Atisha Centre in Bendigo, Australia] Rinpoche felt some sensation on the left side of his head as he left the gompa, then something more on the walk back to his room. Rinpoche said it was “like something was trying to enter him.”
The first two weeks of the course went very well. In a tent that was inside the steel structure of the Great Stupa of Universal Peace and Compassion, about 200 students attended the first part of the one month program. On the way to and from the sessions, Rinpoche would walk the “yellow brick road” constructed by Ven. Gyatso. Surrounding the road are statues of gnomes, little animals, a human skull, life-like snakes and Redback spiders: Gyatso’s world! This was the road leading to the monastery from the gompa at Atisha Centre. On this road Rinpoche had a number of us, during the day and night, catching ants or gently moving them out of the way. As well there were a number of weird creatures, all that had to be saved and made to circumambulate a holy object. Then signs started to appear on the paths indicating things like “Ants crossing…Beware!”
When Rinpoche arrived back in his room from the session of Yamantaka, it was clear that something wasn’t right but Rinpoche was determined to continue the initiation. It was about 8 p.m. and Rinpoche was determined to continue. I was quite concerned so there were several calls to Dharamsala discussing with Khadro-la what would be best. When Rinpoche saw that it was difficult to continue the initiation he wanted to have appointments with students. After some back and forth Rinpoche gave up on that which was a relief as it seemed very obvious Rinpoche really wasn’t well.
The next morning Rinpoche had lost some use of his right side and had slurred speech. We took Rinpoche to the hospital and had to go through the emergency department. We waited for about nine hours, getting tests and medication, and Rinpoche was assigned a bed in the men’s ward. They had no private rooms and this was the beginning of the Easter weekend, so they were short of staff.
Rinpoche spent two and a half days there while they tried to control the blood pressure and sugar levels. They had a CAT scan done and this showed no bleeding in the brain nor clot. It was an open ward with a few hardened Aussie outbackers and one Irish man who did his best to keep up with them in telling yarns from World War II! It was more entertaining listening to them than watching TV. They certainly gave the Irishman a hard time, sometimes it was really embarrassing!
All through the day and night nurses would be doing tests and checking on Rinpoche (I stayed in a chair beside Rinpoche ). It was bit of an ordeal for Rinpoche. By this time Rinpoche had lost all use of his right arm and most of the use of his right leg. He couldn’t walk or stand and his speech was slurred [so much so that] he couldn’t be understood. Communication was Rinpoche typing messages on his iPad with one finger of his left hand (he has gotten quite good at this over the last few days). There was a lack of specialists due to the holidays and the main doctor was worried. If Rinpoche tried to eat he could choke and some food could enter his lungs and then he could possibly get pneumonia which would be very serious, even fatal. So they decided to put Rinpoche on a drip for five days until the end of the holidays when he could be checked by the Speech Specialist.
Luckily we were able get another assessment and Rinpoche could eat some food over Easter. Two days ago we were able to get Rinpoche a bed in a private hospital close by with a private room. Once transferred it was a much better situation but we had to go back for an MRI the next day at the main hospital (Rinpoche lost his new glasses there somewhere). No ambulances were available due to the holiday so we had to get Rinpoche into the monastery’s old car and go for the MRI. Not easy moving Rinpoche around like this in that condition.
While we were getting the MRI done Ven. Holly drove the car back to pick us up and collided with another car leaving the monastery car’s passenger-side door hanging off! We managed to get Rinpoche in the car and hold the door shut and get back to the hospital.
Today is the first day when all the hospital staff are back and it was very full with X-rays , ultrasound , physiotherapy, a speech therapist and a thorough heart examination with several visits of nurses in between, testing blood pressure and sugar levels, etc.
The doctors have said no visitors for sometime as Rinpoche is exhausted and with the physiotherapy it is going to be very tiring for him.
I think Rinpoche is quite exhausted. It is like after 40 years nonstop on the road…it is all catching up! Now Rinpoche is sleeping through the night! BUT! Give him a chance….At one stage (in the middle of this) Rinpoche wanted to go back to the course (150 people are still doing the retreat) and sit on the throne and finish the Yamantaka initiation. He typed on the iPad: “I can sit on the throne, Geshe-la can read the initiation text, then people think they are getting the initiation from me!” I really don’t know physically how that could have worked, but Rinpoche wanted to try and obviously had been thinking of how he could manage it. It never happened because when the doctor heard this she said, “NO. WAY.”
Here in the private hospital now, we have two doctors looking after Rinpoche and a good team of physiotherapists, as well as the nurses who are always visiting. Plus we have great support from the retreaters doing lots of prayers and pujas. Also Atisha Centre and Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery are always helping out. There have been many high lamas, monasteries as well as students all over the world doing prayers and pujas. [Click here to see an ongoing list of this collective effort.]
We are very, very grateful…THANK YOU.
The doctors say Rinpoche could recover reasonably well with intensive therapy over the next several months although maybe not fully recover. That is still too hard to say, but they are feeling quite positive after today’s tests. In the next one to two weeks they say they will know better the longer term outlook. The doctors do want Rinpoche to stay in the rehabilitation ward of the hospital for the next two weeks. Their biggest concern is controlling the sugar levels and blood pressure. If this doesn’t happen they are very concerned Rinpoche will have another stroke and this could be more serious.
Khadro-la in Dharamsala is very eager to come to Australia to help Rinpoche using her own unique methods. We are trying hard to get her here as soon as possible. Khadro-la has been on the phone every day giving advice and organizing pujas for Rinpoche.
Again thank you to everyone and we will keep you updated. [Regular updates found here.]
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given advice for Rinpoche’s recovery and asked Sera Je Monastery to do certain pujas for Rinpoche.
End of April
Rinpoche had a “continuation of the stroke” as the doctors termed it. It was quite concerning as Rinpoche then slept (it appeared … but it felt like some kind of concentration practice … but hey, what do I know!?) for three days and nights only sitting up for meals briefly. Several doctors were consulted in this period as well as high lamas. More pujas and prayers were done all over.
We have been here now six weeks (Bendigo, Australia). Maybe this is the longest in one place for many years. Each day over the last week Rinpoche seems to be getting noticeably better. Now three weeks in the hospital, life each day here is busy. You wouldn’t think it, but it is! We take on a lot of the work the staff normally do so that Rinpoche is more comfortable. A small Dharma team: (Kunsang, Ailsa and Gail) cook outside the hospital (at the monastery) and bring the food in three times a day; I stay 24 hours and have a comfortable niche on the floor beside Rinpoche; Sangpo and Holly are here 18 hours a day. We help with general care as well: We do sugar levels and insulin injections (four times a day), under the supervision of the doctor and nurses.
There is hydrotherapy during the mornings, physiotherapy in the gym afternoons, speech therapy every day (most of the time we help Rinpoche go through the exercises). In between a lot of rest for Rinpoche as he still gets very tired, which is expected. Nurses are always checking in/monitoring every few hours, night and day. The staff are very good. The doctor is great and very understanding. Rinpoche has invited her to see the relics and she said she will go next Saturday.
In Rinpoche’s hydrotherapy the people in the pool are mostly quite elderly. Rinpoche said after one session in a quietly sad contemplatively way, “They have nothing meaningful to do, just waiting for death.” Occasionally you hear the emergency alarm go, someone is having a heart attack or, Rinpoche always asks, “Did someone die?” Late last night Sangpo brought into the hospital a large Tug Chuma torma he just made. Rinpoche wanted to do puja after midnight. One of the nurses on the way in was interested and wanted to know if it was a cake we were going to eat and could she have a taste of it! Another nurse who came into the room after to check Rinpoche was also quite interested and so Rinpoche explained briefly about its significance (Kalarupa). Not sure she got it but seemed interested. Nurses are getting quite familiar with the unfamiliar in Rinpoche’s room. The altar, prayer wheel, water bowls. Rinpoche’s doctor brought in a small prayer wheel from Nepal, something a tourist buys, to show Rinpoche and Rinpoche had it gold leafed for him and mantras put inside. Rinpoche does prayers for everyone in the hospital: for those who will come in the future, those who have been here before, those who will use the same sheets and equipment etc., etc.
The difficult thing is the fatigue. They say this is the case for all stroke patients and so trying to find a balance of doing the necessary physiotherapy (critical at this time in particular) and getting enough rest is quite exhausting and Rinpoche has to rest a lot.
In all of this, Rinpoche’s attitude hasn’t changed at all….The same Rinpoche, but in another way different.
Rinpoche sent a message to one high lama: “This is my past negative karma ripening now, may it be the cause of the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” That high lama replied, ” Rinpoche is not experiencing negative karma but has taken on a big obstacle for the world of Tibetan Buddhism.”
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When you meet miserable conditions, it is extremely important to use skillful means. In other words, there is a meditation to mix with whatever suffering you experience. When you apply the teachings in this way, all sufferings are mixed with virtue. All experiences of suffering become virtue.