This photo was taken Wednesday just before noon during the photo session at the end of the Dzogchen Retreat. The Ripas and Mukpos were having some family portraits taken after the monks and westerners were photographed with His Eminence, the Sakyong, Jigme Rinpoche and Lhuntrul Rinpoche. More photos to follow tomorrow…
December 25th 2008
Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is indefatigable. It’s really amazing to watch how much energy he has and how happy he is to be giving these abhishekas. At the same time everyone gets a bit worried because he is working so much work. Yesterday the Sakyong was saying that at one point they tried to get His Eminence to abbreviate things. There are ways to cut corners here and there when giving empowerments. However, His Eminence won’t do it. He wants to give the Rinchen Terdzo as close to the way he got it from the Vidyadhara. Every time I try to express this to someone I feel like crying.
Today I found myself on the upper floors of the monastery during the mid-afternoon break between the empowerments. It’s a pleasant place to visit and there is a spacious gallery that looks down on the shrine room below through big glass windows. I’d come looking to ask a question of Jigme Rinpoche, but suddenly a kusung appeared and said “the Sakyong can see you now”—they must have thought I was seeking an audience with the Sakyong. It’s a natural mistake since all the main dignitaries are staying on the same floor of the monastery.
Seizing my good fortune after a moment of surprise, I went into the Sakyong’s small audience chamber. He was seated on a small couch, relaxing during the brief break. Every time I’ve had a chance to speak with Rinpoche since the start of the Rinchen Terdzo, I’ve found him to be content, happy, and eager to chat a bit about one point or another. One meeting last week dwelled on his excitement about the Rigden Lineage tree. He must have talked about it for twenty minutes while he showed me photos of the artist, Noedup Rongae’s, sketches and photos of the Rigden statues he encountered in the Gesar palace he visited in Tibet (he mentioned the Tibetan statues were more nirmanakaya in manifestation than what will be in the thangka.)
On this occasion, the Sakyong chatted briefly with me about how the Rinchen Terdzo was progressing. Toward the end of our conversation, the Sakyong said, “He’s crying.” Not knowing what Rinpoche meant, I asked. The Sakyong told me that the last two days, His Eminence had been crying sometimes during the abhishekas. During one abhisheka yesterday, they paused to wait for two minutes while His Holiness wept. A moment after telling me this Sakyong had to return to the empowerments. I stood there speechless and contemplated what His Eminence has been through and how much he is giving of his heart to the Sakyong, his family and the Ripa and Shambhala communities at this time.
The other day the Sakyong remarked that His Eminence, given his age, is probably thinking about many things we are not aware of during the empowerments. This seems worthy of reflection, as we sit on the edge of a major point of transition from the last generation of great teachers who left Tibet in the 50s and 60s and the present generation who have entered a world very different from their predecessors’. As the importance of this transition becomes more and more vivid, I often find myself making the aspiration that the Sakyong absorb as much as possible during this retreat without obstruction.
Here is a photo of the shrine room from my seat on Friday. As you can see, His Eminence is reading aloud a section of the text. I think it was the history of a particular transmission. This comes at the start of every abhisheka. To his right you can see Jigme Rinpoche. Behind Jigme Rinpoche are many members of the Ripa family.
To His Eminence’s right one can see Lhuntrul Rinpoche and his sister, Khandro Tseyang. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is unfortunately behind the column, but you can see the back of his low seat. You can also see the some of the implements the choppons are using. They are tied to the column: white scarves used to carry implements back and forth from the shrine and the dignified yellow hat worn by an ordained choppon when wafting incense. The red curtains can be pulled along strings to conceal or reveal the shrine mandala during the ceremonies.
In front of the column you can see a standing black Bose speaker. The sound system here is incredibly good and especially intense if Namkha Drimed Rinpoche is playing a bell next to the dual microphone set-up. Those of you from Halifax may recognize the hair of Anky Aarts on the bottom left.
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.