Echoes of Tibet

Christoph Schoenherr, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s aide de camp, has taken some very fine photographs of the events here in Orissa. The photos preceding this post were taken at Rinpoche’s arrival and during the first day of empowerments. They will give a glimpse of the Tibetan community coming to the lungs and empowerments every day, twelve hours a day.

The main shrine room is for the most part full of monastics. The twenty or so westerners have their places off to shrine right, near the empowerment shrines. The very back of the room, the veranda and the porches outside the windows on both sides hold large numbers of Tibetans camped out for the day on blankets and small carpets. It is striking how similar it looks to the areas Tibet I have travelled to in recent years.

Some of the lay attendees are old enough to have walked out of Tibet on foot, and some of them will stick out their tongue a little when they see me. This is a Tibetan gesture that means one’s tongue is not black, one is genuine. This reminds me of Eastern Tibet and Surmang, Trungpa Rinpoche’s monastery, where I lived for a month ten years ago. Many of the older group seem poor in what they own while happy in spirit at the same time. The day before the events began some of the Shambhala students had tea with Kaling, Khandro Tseyang’s attendant. Several of her relatives had arrived, coming one or more day’s journey to be at the Rinchen Terdzo. Some went off to visit a stupa in a nearby camp, a mini pilgrimage before things got started.

The Tibet settlement here is about fifty years old. There are five different camps that hold around 3,000 people altogether. Because it is winter some of the residents have gone to sell sweaters in South India. This is an echo of the seasonal nomadic work that happens in Tibet. Apart from the heat, vegetation, tribes living in the area and the Hindus visiting the temple now and again, this is one of the more Tibetan environments I have visited in India. I think this is due to the isolation; there’s no tourism.

When the Tibetans started arriving in India in the late 1950s they were given 20 parcels of land by the Indian government. These became the settlements for the community in exile. His Eminence Namkha Drime Rinpoche took this place site unseen and founded the settlement in 1963 with about 500 people. He came with his students and their families from Kham and Pema Khod. They had to build everything from the ground up. At that time it was a jungle with wild animals including elephants and tigers.

Now the forests are cleared but the short, steeply rounded hills on our flat plateau are green with trees. Birds sing throughout the day and sometimes fly through the guesthouse. The three or four streets closest to the monastery are paved, although for the most part the roads are a bit bumpy. After the teachings a small army of battered motorcycles and jeeps gear up to take those who are not on foot people back to where they will spend the night. People from out of town sleep in the homes of friends or family living in one of the camps in the settlement. 

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