Rinchen Terdzo

Getting There, Waiting To Begin

December 6th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Tuesday December 2nd

Today we drove from Bhubaneswar to Rigon Thupden Mindolling Monastery, Chandragiri District, Orissa. The drive started with our driver being a bit late and hard to find at the hotel as he spoke no English. Also, his cell phone ceased to allow him to answer it. Its jingle persistently called him while the four of us and two hotel clerks jammed a patchwork of baggage into the back of the Tata Sumo truck taking us southward.

Bhubaneswar seems to be a typical mid-sized Indian city with people everywhere, businesses in a colorful chaotic cobble at every corner. We soon were on the highway and passing truck stops thick with cheap hotels, stone carving businesses and roadside Hindu temples. One temple had an entry arch that was the mouth of a wrathful blue-faced god with black moustache, sharp white teeth and bulging eyes.

Palm trees and farm land with round piles of hay being harvested soon predominated our views. The air in this region is hot and hazy, but not densely polluted as it is back in Delhi. The farms we were seeing, by the way, are not like farms one passes on the road in North America’s mid-west. These farms are small. Everything is meticulously planted, tended and harvested by hand; there are no combines to be seen. Women in dirty saris work beside men in sleeveless shirts in the hot sun. People carry straw on their heads, unfinished highway lanes are used for drying grain.

As we moved further south in what was to be a seven hour drive we saw short steep hills rise amidst the little fields, towns and tiny hamlets. No hill was more than five hundred feet high, and most were well-vegetated humps like walnut halves or jagged bits of green flecked dough rising in the fields and rice patties around the highway. White sea birds, like small egrets appeared here and there in the grasses.

At first the highways were surprisingly flat and smooth. This gave way to more and more battered black top. By Berampur, the last major town on the way to the monastery, the roads were getting unpredictable with potholes and sections of dirt. Sometimes traffic came towards us on our side of the highway even though the other side was open. Sometimes there was just one dirt lane with the occasional vehicle pulling aside.

We finally entered Chandragiri district. Kristine said the sign was that we were actually rising into some of the forested hills we’d watched from the road. At a certain point I noticed we were driving stretches without seeing any people or domestic animals—unusual in India. The road was mostly dirt, unpaved and sometimes we were in forest. Because we were so remote our driver began regularly asking for directions. It was getting dark and usually one doesn’t want to get lost in the dark in India.

After being passed by two Tibetan kids on a motorcycle who waved to us, we knew we were close. We entered the first of the five Tibetan camps and got directed to the monastery. Several people directed us to a dirt road that drove through a five minute stretch of brush that rose above our line of vision on either side. The driver was a bit agitated, but when we got to the monastery ten minutes later we’d learned we’d be sent on the short cut.

After arrival we met Sonam Palmo, a kind and elegant Tibetan woman wearing a grey chuba and is in charge of transportation. A troop of teen-aged monks were hauling our baggage into the guesthouse and we were soon enjoying rice, warm dhal and panir for dinner, puzzling over how safe it was to eat the hot green chilies. Pema the cook, in from a Tibetan camp in North India remarked that this place was ‘remote’.

Wednesday December 3rd

We woke up to see our surroundings. The guest house is next to the monastery, a much bigger monastery than it was at the wedding I am told. As you enter you walk into a large—like the size of a city block—courtyard framed by two story residence buildings, white with red trim. The second floor of these buildings around the courtyard accesses the rooms by a running balcony. Many of the western students—Ripa and Shambhala sanghas—are  housed at the far end of the courtyard facing the monastery. There are surprisingly beautiful gardens outside the monastery too.

Actually, the courtyard narrows with a second row of buildings closer together in front of the ornate main temple building, the center of this valley with more steeply humped green hills in front of and behind the building. More on the main temple in later entries.

The four of us went say hello to His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche in the morning. We spent a few minutes chatting after offering him khatas. His Eminence was very well, jovial and warm as usual. Earlier we’d met the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo in the main monastery court yard. They’d come over from His Eminence’s residence in order to see how preparations were proceeding at the monastery.

The rest of the day was spent having a short tea with Kaling, the Sakyong Wangmo’s attendant, who lives near the Ripa family compound, and unpacking while preparing for the start of the event.

Thursday December 4th

The first event in the day was a meeting with the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo who were staying in the Ripa family compound until the rooms for the dignitaries in the main temple were ready. Everywhere there is activity in preparation for the Rinchen Terdzo. The monastery is nearly finished and besides the Rinchen Terdzo there is the upcoming opening of the monastery which may involve a visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so there is a lot of movement of objects, small piles of construction materials stowed here and there, as well as monks carrying brocade couches to and fro. It has the feel of the start of a major program at a center in the west, but a lot bigger.

Patricia and I met with the Sakyong to go over a few things about our stay here. One is furthering Nalanda Translation Committee’s work on Gesar texts for the Shambhala sangha. Rinpoche made connections for us with people who’ll be able to help with this. More to follow on that. Also we were asking questions about the lineage of the Rinchen Terdzo and the Vidyadhara. This too is forthcoming.

After the Sakyong we met with Jigme Rinpoche who gave an amazing overview of the Rinchen Terdzo including more about the Vidyadhara. I am busily transcribing this to get it up on the web as soon as possible. The day continued with a lot more meetings with people who will be helping us during our time here—Lama Gyurme Dorje, Mapi—a French Ripa sangha member and translator, Tsering Namgyal—a Tibetan graduate of the Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Varanasi, and so on. Very busy day.

New Delhi in a Tuk-Tuk

December 6th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Sunday November 30th

After meeting with Noedup we went to a sort of middle class market near to the hotel. We rode in a tuk-tuk, a natural gas powered trike with room for three people to sit hip to hip in a canvas covered booth near the size of a steamer truck. Patricia commented it was like a carnival ride. They are all over Asia, in Delhi mixing with the cars, trucks, motorcycles, horse carts, elephants, and busses and every-moving mass of self-monitoring chaos weaving itself through the city.

At every major light we are invited to purchase something, fist-fulls of car-lighter cell phone charges, copies of Vogue magazine. One boy had his arms through the railing of the windowless tuk-tuk placing plastic wrapped copies of current best-sellers in our laps while we sat silently shaking our heads even as he dropped from six dollars to a dollar fifty. A bright eyed determined boy, he actually caught up to us at a second light and started his pitch again, this time touching the book to my heart over and over.

All of it had the flavor of being on a ride in a low end amusement park. Sort of fun. And with that was the heightening a sense of illusion like when you are at a fair. You turn and see a family of four relaxedly riding a 150 cc motorcycle with the mother sidesaddle on the rear as relaxed as someone watching TV, the baby in front of the father on the gas tank and the toddler in between.

At the market we got some supplies like a hot water kettle and some luggage locks. Behind some billboards sandwiched between two mini-malls we spotted women in orange and purple saris and dirty but sparkle fringed headscarves digging the foundation of a new building by hand and moving the brown sandy earth out with the help of an army of donkeys. Besides the donkeys we sighted an elephant, horses, various dogs, cows, squirrels, pigeons, hawks and a fat nursing daschund during our days in New Delhi.


Noedup Rongae and the Shambhala Lineage Tree Thangka

December 5th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

By morning our group bound for Orissa had grown to four with the overnight arrival of Anky Aarts and Kristine McKutcheon. We took our breakfast with Noedup Rongae, his nephew and a monk who’d driven down with them from the mountains. Noedup is in my view one of the great treasures in our community. His thanka paintings are among the finest I have ever seen. There is a life, richness and detail to everything he paints. His understanding of dharma and his seamless devotion to the Vidyadhara and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is humbling and inspiring.

The reason Noedup made the long journey to Delhi was to show the Sakyong the progress on the Shambhala lineage tree thangka. After coffee, omelets, and toast we went to Noedup’s room near the roof where he unfurled the six or seven foot wide sketch of the image. Actually, it was only the top half of the sketching because the lower half was on an equally wide piece of plywood too large to travel with. The finished painting will be six feet across and nine feet tall.

A lineage tree shows all the figures of a tradition in a tree or in the sky surrounding the central figure, the embodiment of all of them, the manifestation of the teacher. In the middle of the Shambhala lineage tree sits the Primordial Rigden who is the embodiment of basic goodness or our inherent wisdom. In the massive sketch the image of the central Rigden figure is regal, dignified and gentle in a gesture of teaching. Surrounding him are many, many deities notably all the kings and queens of Shambhala seated in pairs. Below, in the section that remained in Menali, are the meditation deities and protectors. In the sky above are the great teachers like Padmasambhava, Marpa, and Machig Labdron, and great ancestral rulers of this world like Ashoka and Trisong Detsen. One thing that struck me was the balance of masculine and feminine figures in the assembly, far greater than I’ve ever seen in thankas of this sort.

Noedup told us about many coincidences that were pushing the thanka to move along and given him the feeling that no matter what this thanka must be finished. One was the fact that he was able to get three well-known painters from Tibet to work on the preliminary sketches with him. He explained that they were in such demand in Asia that it was very hard to get their help on a project. However, although they’d planned to stay only a week they were inspired to extend their visit three months in order to sketch the full image with Noedup.

Another major coincidence was His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa supplying Noedup with professional photos of a complete set of all the Rigden kings painted by one of the previous Tai Situ Rinpoches, a great teacher and painter. Noedup in turn was able to share with the Karmapa the text description he’d used to make his own original series of Rigden king paintings, a text Karmapa had not previously encountered. It turned out the Noedup’s text had been written by the guru of the previous Tai Situpa who’d made those paintings at his teacher’s instruction.

The Shambhala lineage thanka will require a great deal of effort to complete. Noedup described an invention of his, a barrel shaped canvas stretcher that enables six people to work on the thanka at the same time without the movement of brush-strokes affecting one another’s section of the painting. He says nothing like this has been used before and it will enable the thanka to move along much more quickly. Because of his inspiration—Noedup was sparking humour and delight every single time he spoke about the thanka—and the many coincidences Noedup said he feels he has no choice but to bring this project to completion.

If you wish to contribute towards this project which will bring to life something that will be seen and used by generations of dharma practitioners and continue Noedup’s lineage of thanka painting through supporting the Shambhala School of Thanka Painting in Northern India please email Lodro Rinzler lodrorinzler@gmail.com.


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.