Tea at the Rinchen Terdzo

Sunday, December 7th

On the third day of the empowerments, the room seems a bit more crowded. One of the yogis from the front row, a lama in his 40’s with a black ponytail, has brought a number of young nuns and some lay people with him to receive a blessing from His Eminence. The little train of nuns and lay people stood nervously to the side of the room when Namkha Drimed Rinpoche arrived, but they dissembled when they learned there was no chance to come see him until later, at the four o’clock tea break.

The tea is a big production. Everyone brings their own cups or bowls and after His Eminence and the rest of the dignitaries have been served, young monks move through the rows with large kettles (sometime nearly too heavy for them) pouring tea for everyone at the event.

On the first day, the tea was the famed Tibetan butter tea—tea with butter and salt. This is great at high altitudes and a bit strange down here in the 80-degree heat. However, the cook seems to go light on the butter. Day Two we had chai. The westerners were hoping for sweet chai throughout but Day Three throughout, today, the tea switched back to Tibetan butter tea.

Also at tea they have been serving some kind of yellow bread, slightly sweet like cake but shaped more like an uncut hamburger bun. Yesterday it had a dash of sweet mustard jam baked or inserted into it. A second wave of monks follows the tea monks handing these out from big baskets. Then we all wait until a pause in Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s activities and the whole assembly does a brief offering chant before having the tea. At least those who remember.

It was at this point the little troupe of nuns and lay people got to make a short connection with His Eminence. Everyone went up, one-by-one, to his throne with a khata, the traditional white scarf, and a small envelope containing a little bit of money. As I mentioned in the introduction, this style of offering seems to be about connection and participation. Active connecting is very much the way things are done in Tibetan culture. It was a relief to see the young nuns get their moment as they seemed quite nervous beforehand—not so different from us.

Another feature in the tea is the formal reading of the sponsorship for the tea, preceded by the aspirations of the sponsors. The din in the room does drop down a bit at this point as people pay attention to what their community is wishing for, who is being specifically practiced for the benefit of, and so on. Right now the sponsors seem to be people in the five Tibetan settlements. On top of the readings, today members of the group coming with the lama and his nuns gave each member of the monastic assembly a few rupies as a gift—presumably from the lama and his sangha.

After tea the group gets a ten-minute break which lasts exactly as long as ten minute breaks at teachings in the west. 

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