Breakfast with Their Majesties

January 7th 2009

This morning the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo hosted a breakfast for the Shambhala sangha at one of the receiving rooms in the monastery. Everything in the upper levels of the building has a ‘nearly finished’ feel. The rooms have yet to get carpets and artwork, but they are very spacious, have exquisite white marble floors and big windows. We dined in a yellow room with their Majesties sitting side by side on comfortable western sofas and the rest of us, about fifteen in all, sitting on low Tibetan sofas or thick blue practice mats along the walls of the square room.

The menu was we spinach timbale, with chapattis, roti, a super tasty roasted vegetable and chili sauce made by Kaling, and bananas with homemade yogurt. Much of the breakfast was prepared in the dignitary kitchen by the Marvin Robinson, the machen, or chief cook for the Court. Marvin’s been a slightly mysterious presence for those of us attending the abhishekas. Because he is cooking a lot he darts into the shrine room at odd moments. Rinpoche said he is doing the path backwards, starting with the final abhisheka sections. Marvin added that when things are over he will go to Shambhala Training level one.

Rinpoche remarked how happy he was to be arriving at the Manjushri abhishekas today, and about how special it was to receive the eight logos in succession. Rinpoche then described some details of other Rinchen Terdzos. When His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche gave the empowerments in Bhutan he never left his seat in the shrine room. He slept sitting on his throne and a jar or basin was brought him to go to the bathroom. Other’s came and went each day, the discipline being much for them. His Holiness was always doing something, in addition to not leaving the throne while bestowing the empowerments, he was composing texts or practicing at every opportunity throughout the three or four months of the event.

Dodrubchen Rinpoche gave the lungs at at that Rinchen Terdzo. Dodrubchen Rinpoche is known for his incredibly fast reading speed. He himself once bestowed the Rinchen Terdzo by giving both the abhishekas and the reading transmissions. The Sakyong received the Ridgzin Dupa empowerment from Dodrubchen Rinpoche a few years ago and said that he’d never heard someone read so fast with such perfect diction. Every single syllable was precisely audible.

When the Vidyadhara bestowed the Rinchen Terdzo the second time in Tibet, there were about three hundred people present. That’s about a third of the number here. This fact came up during a discussion of the sound system, and the Sakyong said since there were fewer people it was not as difficult to hear, but added that the people who really need to hear everything are those being empowered to carry on the transmission. We are quite fortunate to be able to listen to His Holiness every day, not including the occasional power failure.

During a discussion of our good weather and how it would start to get uncomfortably hot here in March, Khandro Tseyang recounted first receiving the abhishekas from her father ten years ago at Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery in Tibet. The abhishekas at that time took three months which included some breaks during the event. The Rinchen Terdzo started in October and went into December. It was so cold that people were wrapped in blankets in the shrine room.

At breakfast Rinpoche asked about how many abhishekas there are to go. Patricia Kirigin explained we’ve received 250 of 740 abhishekas, but added numbering is tricky because the two other abhisheka lists we are using differ. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s abhisheka list is not so elaborate while His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche’s list (graciously provided to us by the delightful translator Peter Roberts) has many more items on it although some of them, like the oral instructions, can’t be included in the final total. During this discussion here we learned a bit more about the failed attempts to get His Eminence to do work less by shortening things. His Eminence insists on the importance of the Sakyong receiving the elaborate abhishekas as well as getting all the details right, for example making sure implements are pointed in the right direction when he is receiving them or offering them to the Sakyong.

At a certain point conversation diverted to the room we were sitting in. The day before it had been used by the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo when they received the Dalai Lama’s representatives attending the Rinchen Terdzo, the heads of the five Tibetan camps here in Orissa and the road crew. The meeting with the road crew was particularly significant for the community. There will be a ceremony for the start of road building in about 20 days.

Roads in this area have mystified me until today. You see, we traveled here mostly on dirt roads for the last 15 kilometers of hills and Indian villages. Then out of nowhere we came to a paved road through the part of camp four leading up monastery gate only to become dirt again once it hit the new monastery grounds. It turns out this road was built some time ago by the Indian government.

The function of the road, however, is not for driving but for drainage during rainy season. Without a road like this in the middle of a camp during rainy season the street becomes entirely unwalkable mud which is a breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes. Every year in every camp as well as this entire region, a malarial hot-zone with the most dangerous form of the disease present, this is the situation. Building roads with drainage will immediately reduce the malarial infections in the townships.

As you may remember, there was a large amount of money raised for an extension to the clinic during the third and final wedding ceremony for the Sakyong and Khandro Tseyang here in Orissa two years ago. This project is the first major effort by Shambhala toward humanitarian causes our community. My understanding is the Sakyong Foundation is providing much of money for this. During and after the wedding there was extensive discussion about how to best use the money so that the clinic not be a band-aid, so to speak. After lengthy deliberation it was decided to use this money for roads in all the camps and uproot the main cause of illness here rather than focus on treatment. Oddly, during the delay it took to finalize discussions about this, the value of the dollar against the rupee rose more than 15% thus adding substantially more money to the project after the money was transferred.

As an aside I’d like to say that a friend had a fever here and we were concerned about it being a malarial onset so we asked the clinic for help. A nurse came over and immediately administered a test that came out negative. It takes about 15 minutes to find out if the parasites are in one’s blood. This time of year it’s rare to get malaria, but we wanted to make sure. While we waited for the test we learned a bit more about malaria here, that education, clinical treatment and the clinic have dramatically reduced the impact of the disease in the camps and surrounding Indian villages. There’s been only one death in several years, an elderly Tibetan who neglected to seek medical attention.

So, there’s a lot of excitement about the roads here. Camp two, the smallest, won a lottery and will get the first set of streets, then camp five, the largest. The final camp of the five to get roads will be the monastery, camp four. Khandro Tseyang noted that they already had some roads that were better than the other places. May all go well and quickly for this new project.

Breakfast ended with the calling gong for the next session of the morning reading transmissions. The Sakyong and Khandro Tseyang departed each saying we’d do it again. It was a good start to a day which included seven peaceful Manjushri abhishekas (white, red, yellow and orange Manjushris among them) and the appearance of a disoriented pigeon in the huge and colorful assembly hall.

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