Rinchen Terdzo

Big Changes, Seeing Another Side

December 19th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 18th Part One

Yesterday a big change happened in the shrine room. Another wave of the Ripa family arrived and the available space in the dignitary seating area on His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s side left overflowed. This made things more difficult for the choppons and so today we found the Sakyong, the Sakyong Wangmo and Lhuntrul Rinpoche to the right side of Namkha Rinpoche’s throne. Along with this it was decided that the main recipients should come to Namkha Rinpoche’s right rather than left side because it is easier for His Eminence. This means that westerners who are seated shrine right now have a clear view of the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche and so forth when they are receiving things from Namkha Rinpoche.

In elaborate abhishekas like the ones we are receiving one is doing one’s best to visualize many things in succession. Often it is hard to keep up because we don’t know the Tibetan, and Namkha Rinpoche will speak very quickly. But even without the hearing the words, knowing the structure of events allows one to keep up here and there. For example, early on in every abhisheka one retakes the refuge vows, the commitments to the Buddha as teacher and example, the dharma as the path and the sangha as the community on the path.

Usually I let the main recipients ‘go first’ mentally when Namkha Rinpoche is offering something that people must get in a line for. I wait for all the main recipients, the Sakyong and so forth, to receive an icon symbolizing whatever aspect of wisdom is being emphasized and I do the corresponding visualization. This has seemed a way to go about things.

But yesterday, as soon as I could see how the Sakyong was actually receiving things, my outlook changed. I don’t know exactly triggered the change, but I began to notice the Sakyong in the role of a student rather than a teacher. His body and actions were those of someone completely attentive and humble in the presence of Namkha Rinpoche. He really was soaking everything in, becoming an empty vessel to ready to receive. He was very soft and gentle while being alert and strong.

As I watched, I saw in his motions a lot about relaxation and devotion. It became clearer to me that while I am lucky enough to receive these empowerments, I also here to witness the Sakyong. Seeing him receive the teachings, how he receives them, I was shown a lot about myself—where in contrast I am held back, how I could open more. I feel a bit weepy writing this because I feel like watching the Sakyong enabled me to drop some of my ambition and my heart has relaxed.

In the evening a friend mentioned she thought a blog entry about the Sakyong as a student would be great. She described what she saw in earlier days when the Sakyong sat on the other side of the throne. It was impressive to her how the Sakyong conducted himself when he was seated. While on his cushion near the bottom of the throne, the Sakyong has been closely watching His Eminence, attentively listening and reading his texts in order to keep up. I feel really fortunate to this side of him.

By the way, there is a lot of humor on dais by the throne. Namkha Drimed Rinpoche will start chuckling at the occasional soft-shouldered collision in everyone’s efforts to quickly and smoothly get to his side for an icon to be placed on the head. The Sakyong regularly seems to be checking in on his students in the assembly and often sends one or another of us a smile or some raised eyebrows. Yesterday while standing beside his Eminence, the Sakyong noticed I was perking up my posture a bit and he playfully mimicked this by poking up his head and neck while briefly moving his eyes like he looking at the sky. We both laughed.

The Daily Schedule

December 16th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Here is our schedule. It hangs at the outer entrance to the monastery near the empowerment and reading transmission lists being published daily by Lama Gyurme Dorje, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s half-brother who is also attending the Rinchen Terdzo.

The Schedule Then, the Schedule Now

December 13th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 12th

This event is a sort of massive group retreat. It has turned out many of the westerners are attending the lungs as opposed to doing their own practice in the mornings. People start the day in the shrine room at six-thirty in the morning and listen to the reading transmissions until eight o’clock breakfast. Ideally one is silent during the lungs letting the words pour inside. For the most part, attending a reading transmission is sitting meditation with an emphasis on resting the mind on sound. Although it is hard for the younger monks to stay silent I have notice that a large proportion of the older Tibetans in the back are quiet during the day.

At eight o’clock there is breakfast and the lungs continue on for another three hours. In a group retreat like dathun or on solitary retreat this would be the second session. There is another hour’s break for lunch at noon. These breaks are tightly timed and it is inspiring and entertaining to see hundreds of us running around to stay in sync.

His Eminence enters the main shrine room at one o’clock. Traditionally the appearance of a major teacher is heralded by gyalings, shrill Tibetan horns. These have become a last moment’s warning for the rest of us to get to the main temple. Namkha Drimed Rinpoche then gives the abhishekas until six or six-thirty, five and a half hours with a ten to fifteen minute break somewhere after four. There’s a tea just before the break, but His Eminence is usually continuing the initiations in some way during this time.

So, that works out to about ten hours a day in the shrine room for the general populace. A group of older monks performs a practice called chod after dinner while the Rinpoches continue with meetings and audiences and the rest of us sometimes collapse in bed.

Namkha Drimed Rinpoche has a different schedule that the all the rest of us. He starts his preliminary rituals at four in the morning and is in the shrine room until dinner, stopping only a short while for meals. Occasionally I am reflecting on the question of what I will be able to accomplish at the age of seventy. His Eminence’s devotion to the Rinchen Terdzo is palpable, as is the strength of his focus on Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche throughout the day.

Looking at Trungpa Rinpoche’s account of the first time he gave the Rinchen Terdzo, around 1954 in Tibet, I see that he had a different style of giving the transmission. Much to my surprise everyone started listening to the lungs at 2:30 AM. This is four hours earlier than we are doing it today.

Instead of giving the empowerments all in one batch (which I suspect saves a bit of time) Trungpa Rinpoche gave them at four different times during the day, twice in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening starting at six. In between those times I am guessing the Vidyadhara was doing the preliminary ritual practices necessary to offer the subsequent empowerments. He started his morning at 4:30, half an hour later than Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is. It is amazing to think that Trungpa Rinpoche was only 14 at this time in his life. In the West he’d have been a 9th or 10th grader. 

Little Monks in Big Shrine Halls

December 11th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Little Monks In Big Shrine Halls

December 10th

For those of you who’ve never been to an empowerment outside of the west, it is a very different situation here. In the west, empowerments are usually given in quite contained situations, and the people who attend them are generally quiet and attentive. As I mentioned, here the shrine room is noisy, progressively more so as one goes back from the front rows where the distinguished meditators, teachers and the monastic and lay officials sit. It’s not uncommon to hear babies crying or watch young monks playing beside you.

In the midst of this chaos one is always struggling to keep one’s mind on the ball—what the teacher is doing. Today, from time to time I was not doing this and instead making a study of four young monks sitting beside me. They were cute and as we say in the west, goofing off. I don’t know what I would do at their age if school was cancelled for the one of the most important religious ceremonies possible—one that ran nearly 12 hours a day. I would probably be fooling around now and again like the four eight-or-somethings between me and the pillar.

What did I see? Well, first of all, if you take a loose bit of fabric from a ceremonial scarf and blow air underneath it, it floats around. Two or three people can play at this. Also, it can be exciting to bring a rock into the shrine room. Smooth rocks slide well on the black marble floor and add a bit of suspense because the noise may attract the master of discipline, an extremely genial looking monk who periodically walks between the rows and quietly stands behind people who tend to loose their attention.

Teatime is higher entertainment. One of the foursome was overlooked by the monks passing out the slightly sweet yellow bread rolls. This lead to a short period of distress which I relieved by calling for another roll. Also, if you do have a roll you can drop the whole thing in your cup of chai and it kind of looks like a grey sponge. I didn’t watch how this was actually consumed, but did notice the ground was slick with tea in front of another of the four.

Later my posture became a point of interest. There doesn’t seem to be much investment in posture for the younger monks these days, so someone sitting up straight, especially if they are 6’5” as I am becomes a major attention grabber. Imitating a straight back can make you turn red if you get caught. The smallest, cutest and most earnest of the lot was genuinely trying get into half lotus with me at the end of everything. He turned and gave me a wide, proud smile when he was able to accomplish it.

PS Other pastimes we’ve heard of include writing your entire name in leftover offering rice and tying the robes of neighboring monks together just before everyone has to stand up.




Monks Waiting During Empowerments

December 10th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Tea at the Rinchen Terdzo

December 8th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

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. 

What it’s like to travel in India

December 1st, 2008 by Walker Blaine

November 29th 2008

To start this journal about the Rinchen Terdzo, I thought it best to give a sense of what it is like to travel in India. After all, this is part of the function of the blog, to share as much as possible about the events in here in India.

Delhi usually meets the visitor with a bit of an onslaught. Patricia Kirigin and I arrived at around five in the morning, well rested and surprisingly awake after the eight hour trip from London. Neither of us had slept more than six hours in two days. We had the strange luck to be upgraded to first class at the last moment and so the trip in had been quite enjoyable.

After passport control’s 15 or 20 lines of travelers—tall and strong Sikh men with thick blue turbans, Indian women in saris or in t-shirts and jeans, devout Muslim men with trimmed beards and proper pants and tunics—we eventually located the last of our bags which had found their way off the carousel without our knowing. I changed some money at a 24-hour exchange and received an inch of 100 rupee notes stapled together into a pile. I asked one of the men at the exchange what would be a good amount to give someone who might try to take our bags and wheel them to our car. With a somewhat mischievous smile he recommended 100 rupees which would be around two dollars adding that 50 was enough to get a good cup of tea.

We’d asked our guest house [Likir House, Lajpat Nagar II] to send a car and we were on the road in remarkably good time. As we moved along I remarked, ‘They don’t know how good they’ve got it,’ meaning the people in the west who’ve never been to places like Delhi. It is shocking to enter an area of pollution so intense that you can feel dust on your teeth within minutes of getting off the plane, even while indoors. Dust and fog together in the morning create an atmosphere where light seems to physically hang in the space.

On what would be an expressway coming in from Kennedy Airport in New York one sees men pushing carts in the slow lane along with tribal women in worn out colored shawls and thick sliver ankle bracelets. Seemly everywhere there is dust, grime and a mixture of poverty, rampant advertising and towering construction cranes in the distance. This chaos is amplified by the driving being a bit free-form and drivers communicating turns by beeping.

After we settled in our room we were suprpised to see our friend Tharpa Chodron, a long-time student of the Vidyadhara and seasoned Asia traveler. She’d been at the hotel a while and was looking for a room for Ngodrup Rongae, the well-known thanka painter, and his nephew who were coming into Delhi. Tharpa and some students of Lama Palden, a western teacher from the Bay Area, filled us in on the main dharmic event in Delhi right now, His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche teaching on the Samantabhadra prayer.

The guesthouse is in a relatively quiet district with bustling shops and street bazaars. There’s an alternation between mountain bike stores, western-style coffee bars, mobile phone shops, corn-roasting street vendors, beggar girls pulling your sleeves, and curious children at every turn. Today we were told is 200 times as slow because of the national election. After a nap we took a walk around the neighborhood and got some makhani dhal, nan, palaak panir and aloo gobi from a nearby hotel.