Good Choppons

December 15th

A month or so before flying to India I heard that the something one needs at the Rinchen Terdzo besides the master giving the empowerments, the students receiving them, texts, shrines and so on is a good choppon. A choppon is a master of offerings. This person brings object from the shrine to the teacher and then from the teacher to the students. For example, the very first part of an empowerment is a symbolic purification of the students as they enter the environment. This is done through the recitation of a mantra and drinking water from a vase which symbolizes Vajrasattva, the buddha associated with purity as well as being the unity of all the buddhas. The choppon with take the vase around to the general assembly after the teacher gives some water to the main recipients and the choppon too. The choppon also takes care of the offerings on the shrine, replenishes the incense and so on. The Rinchen Terdzo is so complicated, changing shrines and icons so often, that eight choppons are needed here, one of whom is in charge of keeping track of where we are in the text.

Today we continued receiving abhishekas for the inner practices of the guru. I must confess that a huge computer malfunction severely slowed writing and preparations these last days and contributed to the effect of feeling totally lost about what was going on. This was inevitable given the complexity of things, I just didn’t know when we’d first get off track. Patricia and I got lost somewhere between today’s abhishekas having many unlisted sub-abhishekas and the fact that two of our empowerment lists didn’t agree. I recall a story Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche told a few years ago. He was attending a long series of empowerments given by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The Sakyong said the entire front row of lamas became lost about what part of the text they were in. They asked the choppon who looked at them and said he didn’t know either. This meant that the only person who knew what was going on was Khyentse Rinpoche. [Fortunately, the main thing at an empowerment is to see the teacher as the Buddha, relax and follow the teacher’s instructions about what to do next.]

Sometimes it seems like that we have that situation here when Kunam, the choppon in charge of the text, sorts through the various sections of an empowerment to find the right line for His Eminence to jump to. Tibetan pagination is not like English and often a text will say, ‘Finish as before’ or something like that. So you’ve got to be on the ball. His Eminence seems completely on the ball, but in need of more hands to keep up with what all that needs to be done. A few times each day he is will be directing choppons who’ve fallen behind in bringing this or that vase or icon. Overall the choppons are doing an amazing job, continually helping each other, and with great respect for His Eminence. Their sense of humor and light touch is evident as is their incredible precision about what needs to be done and, most importantly, when it needs to happen.

Within the section of the text that presents abhishekas for the inner practice of the guru, we have now reached the nirmanakaya guru, the aspect that is more focused on compassion. Tomorrow night the western students are hoping to have our first (of many, we think) briefing meeting with Jigme Rinpoche. It was supposed to happen tonight, but the abhishekas lasted two hours longer than expected—that is to say we went from one in the afternoon to eight at night.

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