Life on the Road with Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — October 20, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
Several months earlier, Khatanbaatar Choidogsuren, the director of our center here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on behalf of many of Rinpoche’s Mongolian students, requested the Mongolian Government to consider Rinpoche for this prestigious award (the highest that can be bestowed on a foreigner.) Yesterday, we suddenly received word that the President of Mongolia would bestow this honor on Rinpoche at 3 pm in the President’s office.
Rinpoche met the President and first offered a large thangka of the 35 Buddhas to the President as well as special blessed pills. They had a discussion together and one of the things Rinpoche mentioned to the President was the importance of the Golden Light Sutra (Rinpoche offered a copy of our translation in Mongolian). Rinpoche also mentioned his promise to
Chenrezig to spread this sutra all over Mongolia and the world. Rinpoche explained that he was presently giving the lung at Idgaa Choizinling College (the monastery that FPMT built) where a 1,000 people were attending. Rinpoche said he wanted to give the lung in different cities and towns all over Mongolia.
The President is a strong supporter of Buddhism and also mentioned to Rinpoche that his family had adopted 24 orphans! Then the President thanked Rinpoche for all his efforts for spreading and preserving Mahayana Buddhism in Mongolia.
Rinpoche thanked the President for all his support.
The President recently offered Mongolian citizenship to the 9th Bogd Lama (Jetsün Kalka Dampa). He has just arrived to live in Mongolia and has promised to be reborn as the 10th Bogd Lama of Mongolia.
THE CERTIFICATE READS:
“To Award Tuvden Zopa Rinpoche with Order ‘Altan Gadas’ (the Order of the Polar Star)
According to the Law on President of Mongolia, Article 15, point 1, THIS DECREE IS ISSUED TO AWARD:
Lama Tuvden Zopa Rinpoche, citizen of the United States of America, with Order ‘Altan Gadas’ (the Order of the Polar Star) in recognition of his contribution to preserving great cultural heritage of Buddhism in Mongolia, and spreading religious tradition of the Mahayana denomination in forms of preaching and meditation through establishing the Preservation Center of the Mahayana Tradition of Buddhism in Mongolia.
Tsakhia Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia”
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — October 18, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
How did we get here … well, it wasn’t easy.
Initially, we came for an important conference in Mongolia, which meant Rinpoche left the retreat in North Carolina two days earlier than planned. The day we had to go, Ven. Kunsang (the French monk) had to drive one hour south to pick up a rent-a-car. We planned to drive 500 miles to the Washington D.C. airport, arrive around 2 or 3 am, and then get a flight the next day to Mongolia. Of course, this would mean Rinpoche finishing the last session on time at 6 pm!
So Kunsang with Cherie (the excellent Sangha supporter) drove south. Two or three hours later, I get a call from them saying they are in the state of Tennessee (which is west!). After some discussion with them, they tried again to get back on course using a top of the line navigator! Another hour or so goes by and another call … they were really lost! About 250 miles inside the state of Tennessee (Elvis Presley country!). It was 5 pm and the rent-a -car place closes at 6 pm. It was impossible for them to make it! If we did’t get the van, we wouldn’t make it to the airport tomorrow and would miss our flight to Mongolia. So I rushed off and found someone to drive me to the rent-a-car place. We drove off at high speed and got lost twice on the way. I kept the rent-a-car lady on the phone, negotiating with her to stay open till we arrived … she was reluctant! When I offered her $50 (I was willing to go to $100) … she was happy.
We arrived late, but the lady was there and happy to help us out (she refused the $50, but I insisted she accept $20 for a nice dinner). On the way back, we got lost twice (it was night) and we kept crossing back over the border into South Carolina! It was getting late and we were supposed to leave at 6 pm. At 9 pm we were still trying to find our way back (anyway, after calling, I hear that Rinpoche is still teaching!). We made it back around 10 pm and Rinpoche has just finished teaching but looks very relaxed and not interested in rushing (never is!). Instead, Rinpoche has engaged a number of the organizers in a game, giving away a lot of gifts to everyone. We left about midnight and by this time of course we have to forget about a hotel and just drive the 500 miles through the night, straight to the airport.
There was definitely some karmic obstacle to leaving on time/getting to Mongolia: first, Cherie and Kunsang with a navigator end up in another state, then Herb and I get lost a number of times.
A little tired, we arrived at the airport followed by a long flight to Seoul, a few hours transit. We bumped into the Ganden Tripa and a few other high lama’s going to the same conference. Then a three-hour flight to Ulaanbaatar, arriving at midnight. Through the airport and into the below freezing night air and off to the center. Next morning, at 9 am, the conference started.
So that is how we got here if anyone is still interested (that was three weeks ago!).
So initially we came for a three-day conference. But Rinpoche extended his stay to four week
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — October 12, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
Yesterday we drove to Erden Zuu, an old 16th century monastery, located a day’s drive away from Ulaanbaatar. The great 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617 – 1682), visited it in his lifetime and it is near the ancient religious capital.
Here Lama Zopa Rinpoche plans to build a 108 foot (33 meter) statue of Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava. We met with the governor who gave the OK on the land allocation. We have visited two other sites in Mongolia looking for land appropriate for similar size statues of Maitreya Buddha and Lama Tsongkhapa.
While driving in the country in Mongolia we passed many herds of horses, camels, sheep, yaks, goats and cows; all in the middle of nowhere in wide, wide open spaces. For a couple of hours we tried to find the monastery we were meant to visit. It was all dirt roads and even on these roads our Mongolian driver was getting up to 90 miles per hour. They drive cars like they ride horses!
When night came, none of us had any idea where we were. It was dark, no lights and then…no roads at all! We had to cross rivers and go up steep banks! I don’t know how any driver could find their way. Then suddenly there appeared another car coming straight at us. The car stopped and out jumped monks with tea to offer Rinpoche ! In the middle of nowhere! It was very cold! They then guided us to the monastery.
Black Mountain, North Carolina, USA — September 14, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
How long can you spend in Whole Foods (the health food/organic supermarket)? If you’re with Rinpoche it can be a long time.
We are on the second day of the Light of the Path retreat in North Carolina. A little over 200 people are attending and the venue in the Black Mountains is great and very comfortable. There are even more bears than last year.
Rinpoche started teaching last night and our video tech team is doing a great job. You can watch from anywhere out there in the world on HD video. Rinpoche gave an introduction of the whole path last night and started the lung on the text. I think the commentary on the actual text will start today.
Last week Rinpoche led a three day retreat on Milarepa at Milarepa Center in Vermont, then we drove down to Boston. Rinpoche blessed the new amazing Kalachakra Stupa at Kurukulla Center and stayed at the new house of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. It was just a one day visit and then we drove to Washington, D.C. to apply for visas for China.
On the way we stopped at a hospital to visit the elderly mother of a student. We got there around midnight and left the hospital around 2:30 am. We drove the rest of the way to D.C. and arrived at the hotel just after 4 am. We caught a few hours rest and then visited the Chinese Embassy (for the third time that day) but were declined visas.
That afternoon we had to drive to Raleigh, North Carolina for a one day visit to Kadampa Center. Then we drove on to Asheville in the Black Mountains for the retreat. This road trip: Madison, Wisconsin; Barnet,Vermont; Boston, Massachusetts; Washington, D.C., Raleigh and Asheville, North Carolina; has been a relaxed 2,000 miles (3,200 km). Every gas station we stop at Rinpoche does a little shopping for gifts. You would be surprised at what gifts you can find on the road.
At the beginning of this entry I mentioned Whole Foods. Well, in D.C. we had a late lunch at Whole Foods. Rinpoche thought it was the greatest display of ready to eat wholesome food he had ever seen in one place! He took many photos of the food displayed, from close up and far back. Rinpoche often takes time to compose shots and uses strange angles. You can imagine the attention he was getting from the local shoppers. A Tibetan Lama taking photos in an American supermarket…and of the food no less!
Then we sat down to eat in the supermarket. A number shoppers came up, asking questions.
One woman said to Rinpoche, “I have eight children. What advice can you give me?” In essence Rinpoche said, “Ordinary education is important but more important is the education for a good heart.” She seemed to understand and continued her shopping.
While driving, at times Rinpoche will start chanting Lama Chöpa out loud. Sometimes there are telephone calls being made and received from all over the world, so it is still active…but relaxed.
Troy, NY, USA — September 1, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
There is a little town called Troy somewhere in upstate New York. We found it by accident as we were off the freeway getting gas. The guy running the gas station got a huge shock when Rinpoche got out of the car. He couldn’t believe his eyes; he thought he was dreaming! He was an ex-monk from Kopan! Thubten Tsundu couldn’t believe his eyes and just stood there quite shocked after seeing Rinpoche suddenly appear. He got a chair and table and served Rinpoche tea and nuts in the gas station.
Two other Kopan monks share the 24-hour shift with him running the gas station. He wanted to take Rinpoche to dinner after his shift. Unfortunately, we couldn’t as it was 9:30 pm and we still had another three hours to drive to Milarepa Center in Vermont. Even as we drove away, he kept saying that he thought he was dreaming ….
Madison, WI, USA — August 30, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
Rinpoche decided to accept to give an initiation to someone who requested it. The initiation was scheduled to happen Sunday. We were scheduled to leave Madison early Monday (from Deer Park, Geshe Sopa-la’s center) after an 8 am appointment with the doctor (Rinpoche’s sugar levels and blood pressure are better) and to start driving to Milarepa Center in Vermont. The initiation was changed to 4 am Monday in the “busy-ness” of things! Now it is Monday afternoon and Rinpoche is somewhere in the middle of preparing … and we haven’t left. Still not finished with the preparation, Rinpoche decides to make dessert while we are running around packing and trying to figure out what is going on!
The dessert: mash potato, more butter than one would want to even dream about, non-fat half and half, honey, and Greek yogurt poured on the top. Rinpoche passes it around to the attendants who are running around … not bad actually – Rinpoche doesn’t eat any.
When will we leave Madison, we are six hours late and the initiation hasn’t started.
Its Tuesday, August 31, 10:30 am – I think we are going soon? Only 26 hours late. The initiation finished at 3:30 am this morning. There have been some pujas here and there for people seriously sick and some deaths. Sometimes these things are complicated and take time. All sorts of things have to be managed!
Madison, WI, USA — August 23, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
Geshe Sopa Rinpoche’s monastery, Deer Park, is located outside of Madison, Wisconsin in a rural area.
While at Deer Park, Rinpoche has been exercising daily by walking in the early evening as the sun is going down. We walk for an hour along a narrow country road, corn fields on either side. Rinpoche walks in front and recites a text out loud, each day a different one. I walk behind closely watching for cars, sometimes doing emails on the Blackberry and trying to keep the speed at a good pace. Every time a car goes by Rinpoche waves. Most of the time people look surprised but wave back happily. Warm country folk.
One day Rinpoche had a hand puppet so when he waved a funny looking dog with big ears was actually waving! Then Rinpoche would go back to reciting the text loudly. The area attracts lots of mosquitoes and other kinds of sharp biting insects! Rinpoche isn’t interested in any protection and thinks it is just a small offering to these little guys.
Portland, OR — August 14, 2010
From Ven. Roger;
Recently, during retreat, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said to Rinpoche (on more than one occasion) to be very careful with his health. So of course, Rinpoche had no choice. Just before leaving Dharamsala His Holiness said again to Rinpoche, “Look after your health….Stay on Tibetan medicine now long term.”
Rinpoche is taking Tibetan and Western medicine, he’s been circumambulating His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple every day for at least 40 minutes and watching the food he’s eating, particularly the amount of carbohydrates. He’s even making an effort to rest a little more from time to time. The result is that his sugar levels are down quite a bit! They are still not normal but a lot better. This is very good news! Let’s see if this can continue when in the USA and when traveling. Rinpoche’s blood pressure still needs to come down…but it is little better.
Portland, OR — August 13, 2010
From Ven. Roger:
Rinpoche has scheduled a 6 am departure from Tushita (Rinpoche’s retreat finished), then a departure to Delhi 13 hours by car, then a flight to LA via Hong Kong, and then another flight to Wisconsin to be with Geshe Sopa Rinpoche. It’s now 10 am and Rinpoche is still doing prayers and not ready to go … just waiting … It is 12 noon and still no sign of Rinpoche wanting to go … It is 2 pm – Rinpoche suddenly moves and they are off!
They stop for dinner halfway to Delhi, its very hot. Rinpoche takes time out to check mos for a student who has cancer. There are many mo’s at the dinner table in the restaurant.
On the road again, and while they’re driving, Rinpoche is checking some other things for people who need help.
It looks like they are arriving early, early morning and then a little rest, a couple of appointments and then to the airport to catch the flight. This time the flight is complicated as they are combining two different air tickets due to a number of changes, and then they have some visa complications due to changes and then they have too much luggage and one less person flying … not sure how this is all going to work … but managing.
On the road again …
Portland, OR — July 25, 2010
From Ven. Roger Kunsang:
Rinpoche’s retreat is going well. It is a group retreat with eight other lamas, two Khadro- las, and 40 senior monks. The schedule is good. The first session starts at 6 a.m., going through to lunch. The second session begins at 1:30 p.m., going until about 6 p.m. That’s it! Rinpoche has a quick lunch with Pari Rinpoche, nicely prepared by Sangpo and Tenzin. When the second session finishes Rinpoche goes to Khadro-la’s place. Khadro-la has Rinpoche do some exercises, similar to those found in the Six Yogas. They then they have dinner together and after dinner Khadro-la kindly brings out her prostration board for Rinpoche to do prostrations. This finishes around 10 p.m.
Rinpoche’s sugar levels seem to be slowly coming down, but they are not yet sweet! It is going to take time but hopefully with a little rest, medication, exercise and Rinpoche’s new determination (fueled by the advice from His Holiness!), it will be OK.
Portland, Oregon — July 23, 2010
From Ven. Roger Kunsang:
Rinpoche is in retreat which started about 10 days ago. Prior to the retreat, Rinpoche met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was a relaxed meeting (meetings with His Holiness in recent times are quite brief and to the point because of the very demanding schedule that His Holiness has, but, the occasional more-relaxed appointments do occur) and His Holiness expressed his happiness with Rinpoche and the activities of FPMT.
His Holiness also expressed concern about Rinpoche’s health and said that Rinpoche should now start to take Tibetan medicine for diabetes and blood pressure. His Holiness asked his own doctor (a Tibetan nun) to see Rinpoche. Later, Rinpoche also went to see His Holiness’ Western-trained Tibetan doctor. Both prescribed medicines Rinpoche is now taking (with special diligence because His Holiness said he should take care of his health).
I think Rinpoche is taking his health more seriously now and putting in more effort into exercising, taking medication and resting … I hope.
Hong Kong — July 9, 2010
From Ven. Roger Kunsang:
Rinpoche had the flu the whole time we were in Hong Kong. I think it started in Malaysia. It got heavy as the days went by, but Rinpoche kept to the schedule, refusing to lighten the load.
Rinpoche insisted on going shopping to buy gifts, even though the flu was quite heavy. So off we went to one of those big glittery name-brand Hong Kong shopping malls (this one was called Times Square). Rinpoche shops by doing observations in front of potential gifts, seeing which comes out best for a particular person. Immediately, Rinpoche was shopping for gifts for His Holiness, very nice and unusual things. Of course, I’m carefully reminding Rinpoche of how much extra luggage this means (which is way more than we can manage). This isn’t making the slightest impression on Rinpoche.
We have been all over the shopping mall and I can see that Rinpoche is quite exhausted with the flu. So it is tea (and coffee) break at Starbucks. There are quite a few students following behind, being quite helpful by carrying the gifts. Tea, coffee and snacks for everyone! Opposite Starbucks is a specialty shop with really nice stationary and supplies. Rinpoche goes in and buys many different kinds of nice fancy notebooks. He then sits down again in Starbucks and gives each helpful student a nice notebook for writing Dharma quotes in. Rinpoche signs each book for them and writes a mantra in it as an extra blessing. By this time Rinpoche looks really tired but insists he wants to shop more! He wants to buy very nice shoes for an especially kind female student. I try to explain that getting the right style and size is very difficult. Of course this doesn’t dissuade Rinpoche. So before you know it, we are in Lane Crawfords (!), an expensive shop that doesn’t even allow you to take pictures inside. Rinpoche and several Sangha and lay students moving about this place does cause a bit of a stir! After a lot of checking we buy the shoes (I’m not going to mention the price) and we are off, back to the center with our gifts.
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