March 5th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
The Rinchen Terdzo blog is about to take a one-week break. This is in order to travel and also because I too got some sort of illness right after the concluding ceremonies. It was probably due to the heat rather than a virus. It’s been about 104 degrees, around 40 Celsius, in some parts of the region.
Although we concluded the Rinchen Terdzo, there is still a lot more to tell you about. When we pick up again you can expect:
Many photos from the final day of empowerments.
Written descriptions of the final days here
Thanks and acknowledgements for the many people who made the blog possible
An article on the how the Shambhala Terma fits in with the Rinchen Terdzo
Reflections on being here for three months
And a few surprises
The final pages of the blog will be announced on the Shambhala News Service. If you do not subscribe to this, but would like a message letting you know the new posts and pictures are up, please email me at:
Thank you all for your patience with the gaps. It’s been a pleasure to be here and sharing what I can of this experience with you.
All the best,
March 3rd, 2009 by Walker Blaine
March 3rd 2009
Tomorrow the Rinchen Terdzo in Orissa will conclude with the enthronement of the Sakyong as a lineage holder of this transmission of the Rinchen Terdzo according to the text, The Blazing Jewel of Sovereignty, (a terma of Rigdzin Demtruchan, the text used in the empowerment for the enthronement of a Sakyong in the Shambhala community), an empowerment from the renowned 18 volume terma Lama Gongdu discovered by Sangye Lingpa, and the a long life empowerment from a terma discovered by Ratna Lingpa. This final empowerment will also be the practice final feast gathering at the Rinchen Terdzo.
During the final event the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo will make formal offerings to His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. These offerings will be from themselves as the major sponsors of the event and also from the Shambhala community. During a meeting with the Sakyong this afternoon I noticed carved, gold leafed figures of many offerings usually visualized during thanksgiving ceremonies like the ones ahead. At seven tomorrow morning there is a meeting for the Shambhala sangha to organize something, I think the presentation of these offerings at some point tomorrow. We are beginning our day as 7:30 or 8:00 after an early breakfast. Lunch for the 1100 people coming to the final blessing will be a grand affair, a feast in the shrine room and under three large pavilions in the courtyard.
I am sorry that I was unable to present reports about the dzogchen section of the empowerments. This was due to the misfortune of Patricia Kirigin (who’s been preparing bilingual lists of the empowerments for the Sakyong and the western sangha) being hit with a serious stomach virus. The illness put her in the clinic for three nights; I accompanied her as boyfriend, watchdog and general helper. It was very sad for us both to miss some of the climactic higher teachings in the Rinchen Terdzo. However, the sudden obstacle also made us appreciate our good fortune in being here a great deal. Patricia is well on the road to recovery, and it is nice to be back in the guesthouse among friends and eating chapattis.
February 28th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
A lhasang is a smoke offering to the deities. On the left side of the photo you can see a large white lhasang hearth. The idea is that offerings and prayers of aspiration can ride the smoke to the deities above, and the blessings come down through the smoke into the world. Usually juniper greens or other fragrant woods are used for lhasang. Today we used a tropical plant with wide green leaves and the local cornmeal during the lhasang.
February 28th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
February 27th 2009
Today was the third day of Losar. Many of the western students spent the day at the family residence of Kaling, the Sakyong Wangmo’s close friend and kusung. The western students performed the long lhasang ceremony omplete with drum and cymbals while Kaling’s extended family stood in a circle with us. The occasion was the cleansing and purification of a new house on the family plot. After we walked through every room chanting the warriors cry and wafting juniper smoke, we retired to the front porch of the still-under-construction house for a curry lunch and lots of chang.
The empowerments are resuming a day early, tomorrow. This news came as a delight to most everyone, particularly the people who’ve been here from the start. It’s been a bit strange to suddenly stop everything. There are rumors that the empowerments will go a day longer than expected, so we may conclude on the 5th rather than the 4th of March. In the west, such shifty schedules would be a great source of frustration, and it has been sad that several people have had to leave because of travel plans that didn’t anticipate going past Losar. However, the overall attitude, even for those departing, has been one of joy that His Eminence is teaching and that the lineage of this marvelous treasury of termas is being continued.
February 28th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
February 26th 2009
The New Year, Losar, is one of the most favorite times of year in the Tibetan community. During dinner tonight, friends described what it was like here at Losar two years ago and it sounded wonderful, fantastic. Each of the five camps in the settlement put on several performances of singing and dancing. All of this was done in an atmosphere of what sounded like continuous chang drinking. The chang I’ve had here tastes a lot like apple cider (or barley cider agreed a couple of Europeans). But Losar chang drinking isn’t ordinary drinking. In most New Year celebrations, chang is served while traditional offerings are sung by the servers. Chang is seen as a long-life elixir. And—here’s a twist—if one drinks before the song is over, one is obliged to finish the cup and accept another. This was very challenging for westerners at the wedding of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo a few years ago.
Contemplating this these festivities I must admit I am sad not to see a traditional Losar celebration even though I know it is good that we are all pausing in order to think about Tibet. Very few communities in the world could abandon a major part of any holiday en masse like this. May the sufferings in Tibet and other places of strife and struggle be swiftly pacified with benefit for all beings.
Tonight, a dinner was held under the stars on the little lawn outside the guesthouse. We were gathered to honor the core staff. Jigme Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Lhuntrul Rinpoche and Tulku Kunkhyab Rinpoche sat at two head tables while the rest of us were seated at little tables fanned out on the grass. As it was a mixed affair, monastics and lay people, there was no chang. Instead we had lots of soda and lots of momos, Tibetan dumplings.
At the end of the meal, Jigme Rinpoche, our host for the evening, stood up and told us about the enormous amount of work it has taken to support the event. He had the various senior officials stand up by one by one to receive recognition. Among the monastic core helpers were the khenpos (very learned philosophical teachers), one treasured lama who holds the almost extinct Taksham lineage of secret practice instructions, the chant leaders, and gekos (monastic disciplinarians). The lay support staff included the monastery manager, the finance officer, the bursar, the nurse, and the town trip driver who seemed to get a lot of applause along with the guesthouse manager.
So much has come together to create environment for the empowerments. Both Jigme Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche have said time and again, it is rare and difficult for something like the Rinchen Terdzo to happen. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said that one of his greatest achievements in the west was the three-month long seminaries he conducted. In the modern world, even in Asia, it is increasingly difficult to have gatherings like these. Such things happen through a combination of the aspirations and blessings of the teachers and the merit of the students.
I would like to call people’s attention to two websites. The first is the regularly updated audio-visual page for the Shambhala community. As of yesterday, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s recorded Shambhala Day address, his words for the New Year, along with those of the Sakyong Wangmo Dechen Choying Sangmo, have been posted. The Sakyong’s address starts with a description of the Rinchen Terdzo and includes some discussion of the relationship between contemplative practice and the anxiety we face in the world at this time of crisis. There are other treats on this website including the movie from the Rinchen Terdzo if you have not seen it, and the year end film of major happenings in Shambhala.
The second website is the Shambhala Times. The webmagazine for the Shambhala community has just been launched, and it’s paper counterpart, The Dot, has come to its final issue. Holly Gayley, one of the editors of the Shambhala Times, and Cameron Wenaus, the web architect, have been so helpful to me in writing this blog. They provided a lot of advice and technical knowhow along with designing and hosting the blogsite. Please drop into the Shambhala Times for a visit now and again.
February 26th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
February 26th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
February 25th 2009 Shambhala Day, Year of the Earth Ox
Thumping on the neighbor’s door woke me at four AM. President Richard Reoch was being informed that we need not be out of bed till five; there’d been a mistake in the westerner’s schedule. The bedroom was black, the air stiflingly stiff and hot with no light or fan in a power failure that was to last late into the morning. I blindly fought to open my door that was later discovered to be jammed half-shut by a thick Losar greeting card shoved beneath it in the earlier hours. After I sweatily yanked the door out six inches, Jigme the manager’s face appeared in a candle lit dimness. “Happy Losar,” he said with a smile after explaining the change in schedule.
So began the year of the Ox. It’s a bit of challenge to dress formally while wearing a headlamp in a hot room, but somehow it works. There’s something special about doing that when you know everybody in the village is faced with the same problem. The Shambhala and Ripa sangha members trickled out in the early morning darkness using flashlights to walk to the Ripa Ladrang without stepping in cow dung.
Walking through the settlement in the dark, everybody was saying delightedly, ‘Tashi Deleg,’ the traditional New Year’s greeting. I’ve read that these words, ‘auspicious goodness,’ were not a common greeting until the 1960s or 70s west when someone pointed out that there was no way to say ‘good day’ or something of the like in Tibetan. Up till then, Tibetans usually greeted each other throughout the year with, ‘Where have you come from?’
At the Ladrang, vigorous chanting, drumming, horns and cymbals could be heard from the window of His Eminence’s shrine room above the garden. Below, about a hundred lay Tibetans and westerners were being served sweet tea, butter tea and New Year’s chang, Tibetan beer, in this case made from rice. The Sakyong Wangmo and her sisters Semo Sonam and Semo Pede were moving through the well-dressed crowd, greeting everyone with a smile and making them feel at home. Everyone was readying khatas to present to the lamas upstairs who’d been performing a Gesar long life practice practice since 2 AM; some Tibetans came with trays of fruit and kabdze. A steady line of people filed up the stairs into the shrine room and them out another door and down another set of stairs at the far end of the garden.
Inside the narrow small shrine room the walls were rumbling with the voices of about 20 lamas headed by Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche whose thrones squeezed in on either side of the shrine at the far end of the room. Below them a row of lamas ran along either wall and there was just enough space for two people to squeeze past each other on the carpet in between. The middle of the room was filled with a narrow double line of people trying to get to or from His Eminence and the Sakyong while offering khatas to the lamas along the way. The lamas, who sat on low cushions, had their practice tables and all but their texts buried under a long, unbroken, fluffy white cloud of khatas about six or eight inches high. The Sakyong gave a big smile as he placed a khata over my neck. He looked very happy, as did His Eminence, to be practicing first thing in the New Year.
Back down in the garden it was time for a few more sips of chang or sweet chai. By then the sun was really up, and our eyes were really open to the day. While people were dressed according to the request by the Tibetan government to have a subdued New Year, the ladies looked quite elegant in their dresses and simple chubas while the gentlemen were handsome and dignified in suit jackets and ties. We learned that if this had been an ordinary new year, we’d have heard explosions of demon-chasing fireworks in the morning, and for the next few days along with parties and dance music throughout the settlement.
Soon after a relaxed and cheerful breakfast most everyone, lay and monastic, was in the shade of the monastery porch contemplating the intense heat and white light sunshine. The monks soon rushed to the courtyard to make two long columns with a wide space between them for His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to walk past on the way to the stairs up to the shrine room. All the monks held white khatas that gleamed in the sunlight, a pretty contrast to the red of their robes. Atop the steps, Thonnga, who runs the canteen (and who’s wife had a baby less than a week ago) and a few other village laymen, set up a traditional painted stand holding raw and ground roasted barley to be tossed into the air before entering the monastery.
Tibetan New Year’s, monastery-style, is a pretty straightforward situation. Everyone made offerings of khatas and money to various shrines and the main lamas before sitting back down again for ceremonial tea and big bags of treats including kabdze, fruit and candy the the young monks appeared to dig into quickly. After formally offering our tea with a tea chant, the monastics and those of use who could read Tibetan sang through a variety of aspirations for the new year, more positive seeds being planted to start things well. At the end of about an hour of a half of practice, both Namkha Drimed Rinpoche
and Jigme Rinpoche offered short talks to the monastics
Afterwards, the Shambhala sangha was joined by the Ripa sangha in the lobby of the guesthouse transformed into a small assembly hall for a short practice lead by President Reoch before we listened to the recorded Shambhala Day addresses from the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. This, interestingly enough, started at about midnight Halifax time. Then, after a long chatty luncheon most everyone wandered to their rooms for a long nap.
The final part of a Shambhala Day in Orissa was a dinner party for the foreign guests in the garden of the Ripa Ladrang hosted by the Ripa family. Several small tables were placed on the little lawn amidst the wide leafed tropical plants. In typical Tibetan hospitality, guests were unceasingly plied with chang, fruit juice and water while a great banquet of momos, tandori chicken, various local vegetable dishes, broth, extra-hot hot sauce, and a dessert of rice pudding was served to one and all. There were three head tables, one for His Eminence, the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo, along with their guests President Reoch, Noedup Rongae and Heinz Buhofer. To their right sat Jigme Rinpoche and a new group of Russian guest,s and to their left sat Lhuntrul Rinpoche, Tulku Kunkyab Rinpoche and Khandro Chime Drolkar and some others.
The night was delightful and low key. There was no singing and no dancing but toward the end of the evening, after His Eminence had retired, there was a round of toasts from various members of the community. This was started by Kristine McCutcheon who had been instructed by the Richard Reoch to speak for five minutes straight. This broke the ice. Tulku Kunkhyab gave a very sweet toast in English. We’d have say that the broad voiced and cheerful Nepalese gardener at the Ripa Lhadrang gave the most memorable toast of all. He animatedly described what it has been like for him to encounter the great variety of ants and other insects and obstacles here in Orissa as he experiences the blessings of the guru watches spread to people in the community. In the end, everyone was tucked in bed by midnight, happy and content to have started the new year in good form and good company.
February 26th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
Photo by Ursula Von Vacano
February 26th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
February 24th, 2009
Unlike the western tradition, the day before New Year’s, or more specifically, the night before New Year’s, is not a time for partying in the Tibetan world. The ten days leading up to the New Year are days when one is working to clean out negative karma, mend relationships and settle old debts. Then there’s a neutral day, a day that isn’t positive or negative, a time to keep things simple and literally clean house (like the monks who were scrubbing windows and tidying their rooms today). Finally, there is Losar, the New Year, the time for festivities and a time for a positive beginning after letting go of the old.
We spent a large part of neutral day morning folding the many white ceremonial offering scarves (khatas) that would be needed on Losar, Shambhala Day. It is the Tibetan tradition to offer a khata, a symbol of pure of intentions, to lamas, dignitaries and friends at auspicious times such as Losar, at a greeting or departure, at the conclusion or start of a teaching event, and so on. As westerners deep in the Tibetan world, the Losar khatas in Orissa have presented a bit of a challenge. The latest estimate is that we’ll each need to be ready with 22 khatas tomorrow. Cutting and folding 44 khatas (which come in packets of four, uncut) seemed to take Patricia and me more than an hour and a half.
There was another aspect to the khata situation that presented a dilemma; making an offering of money with the khata. The presence of this tradition brought up a host questions such as: how much, to whom and the ubiquitous question of why. Obviously, from a western standpoint, everyone in a community making 22 separate monetary offerings on the New Year, or even at the end of a major program, is kind of over-the-top. It sounds excessive. After some research the number declined to a more reasonable-sounding 15 monetary offerings when we learned it wasn’t absolutely necessary to make an offering to the lamas performing the early morning Gesar puja (His Eminence, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche and so on) and then repeat it a few hours later in the main shrine room at the formal Losar practice.
Fifteen offerings might sound like a lot, but it turned out that the best way to go about things was to look at the total amount one wanted to give, and then as a base, divide the money up into three tiers. The first tier comprises an offering to the main teacher, in this case, His Eminence. This offering ought to be the largest. The second tier would belong to the other rinpoches in the group, and one sets up a lot of envelopes in this category along with the, the final category for the khenpos, lamas who are not rinpoches and other lesser dignitaries. One apportions the money according to that scheme and makes sure to have some spare envelopes and cash just in case.
One might offer more to this or that teacher one has a connection with. The list of rinpoches included the, of course, the Sakyong Wangmo, while the list of lamas included His Eminence’s wife, Khandro Chime Drolkar, and the other two daughters here in Orissa, Semo Pede and Semo Sonam. One also makes offerings to the statues of the Buddha, Padmasambhava and so forth as well as to the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I think the offerings to the Buddha and those other than His Holiness might cycle back to the monastery. It all sounds a bit crazy from a western standpoint, but when all was said and done, it didn’t seem that different from what a finance officer does behind the scenes with offerings to Shambhala International, the centers and the Sakyong. And as I have pointed out before, sometimes the western students have received their share of fourth or fifth tier offerings with the monastics during the Rinchen Terdzo. I am guessing we’ve received 40 cents a week since early December.
The end of the day was spent back at the lakeside shack-restaurant having a beer. Monks were swimming in the late-afternoon sun, while different lake birds, small crows and pigeons zipped this was and that over the waters. On the long porch in the shade by the restaurant the proprietor and some of her helpers were busy making kabdze (lit. mouth food) for the New Year. This is fried dough either in thick twists or the tubular ‘donkey ears’ style. Kabdze is a traditional Losar food. Finely milled flour, though common in the modern world, was a rare culinary treat in Tibet.
PS There’s a post-script to yesterday. I was approached in the middle of the lama dances by a very kind and cheerful man named Todd Chambers, a student of Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, known to many as ‘The Khenpo Brothers.’ Todd has been following the blog while on pilgrimage here in India and prevailed upon his family who live in Orissa to stop by the monastery to see His Eminence and the Sakyong whom he has great admiration for. Todd’s been here at other times and stayed a bit for the dances before heading home before sundown in order to avoid a more challenging nighttime drive through the elephant territory nearby.
February 24th, 2009 by Walker Blaine
February 23rd 2009
During lunch today the little crowd at the table asked Noedup Rongae a number of questions about his life, thanka painting and how he came to be a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. One interesting note to the story of Born in Tibet came out of this conversation. Noedup’s uncle was one of the monks in the traveling party Tibet with Khamtrul Rinpoche while he was escaping to India in the late 1950’s. Just before departing Tibet, Khamtrul Rinpoche, one of the great teachers of his era (his rebirth is receiving the Rinchen Terdzo at Mindrolling Monastery), stopped at Yak Gompa while Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was bestowing the Rinchen Terdzo there. Noedup said that the Vidyadhara conscripted his uncle to stay on at Yak Gompa and be the chopon for the empowerments. Noedup’s uncle is the ‘old chopon’ mentioned in Born in Tibet, the only one who could keep up with the pace with Trungpa Rinpoche during the empowerments.
From Noedup we received a minor update on the Rigden Lineage Tree thanka. The canvas has now been stretched and the initial sketches are being transferred to the canvas in the studio of the Shambhala School of Thanka Painting in Menali, North India. Noedup said there will be over 100 figures in the final painting which will take about two years to complete. The final painted part of the canvas, now on a somewhat angled frame to enable up to six painters to work on it at once, will be six high by nine feet wide.
In the mid afternoon I walked to over to the monastery to attend the finale of gutor, the end of year practice to disperse accumulated negativities. I really didn’t know what to expect, if there’d be lama dances at all, and arrived to find the huge monastery courtyard almost deserted. Kristine McCutcheon and some monks were setting up dignitary seating on the monastery porch, but other than that there was no one to be found. Quite soon after, His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche and his sister the Sakyong Wangmo Dechen Choying Sangmo arrived and settled into their places to be followed by Khandro Chime, Semo Sonam, Semo Pede and various khenpos, President Reoch, and other dignitaries. As if timing things perfectly, Her Grace Wendy Friedman, one of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s western sangyum or heart consorts, arrived at the courtyard with her husband Ben Fong at the start of the dances. They’d landed in Bhubaneswar in the middle of the night, slept an hour and hopped right in a jeep to travel six hours in order to arrive here as fast as possible.
After a bit of hustle down below, horns were blaring from up on the roof where the intensive practice leading up to gutor had taken place. A long, long procession of monks with short horns, thundering drums, and 9-foot long horns (young monks carrying the far ends) soon made their way down from the roof top shrine room. Soon then entire population of monks stood in a huge circle in the courtyard. Lay people trickled and then poured into the perimeter as the two vajra masters for the dances (embodying the main deities of the practice), Lhuntrul Rinpoche and a lama I could not recognize under his black hat and brocaded costume, entered the courtyard dancing from the main shrine room doors. After some a some introductory liturgies to a booming drumbeat, the two masters seated themselves on the far side court facing the monastery.
This is probably the fifth time I have witnessed lama dancing, and it was one of the most engaging I’ve ever seen. There were about five dances, probably all the newer viewers could handle. After Lhuntrul Rinpoche’s arrival two skeletons danced in with one of the offerings. The practices for gutor are wrathful expressions of compassion. Besides the skeletons we saw a pair of dancing garudas, the deer dance and finally a large circle dance of the protectors. The music, singing and drumming were exhilarating and the dances wonderful to behold as you’ll see from the photographs below.
After the ceremonies in the courtyard concluded, the main offering, a bulging torma representing the negativities from the previous year was carried by a number of brawny laymen beyond the perimeter of the monastery grounds. The lamas lead this procession followed by all the monks and most of the Tibetan community. Once at our destination, a a dusty cross-roads near a fallow cornfield, more rituals ensued. After a lama dance by Luntrul Rinpoche (see him below in elaborate costume), the torma was offered into a small bonfire. Afterwards, brief final aspirations for peace and happiness throughout the world were performed back at the monastery.