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.

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