Thursday, November 26, 2009

Letters from Nepal 3

November 26, Thanksgiving in America, my family getting together without me for the first time in many years. The trip to Nepal has been a real journey inwards and outwards. I am staying back in the hotel in Kathmandu for the last three days, trying to recover from a severe cold, maybe bronchitis. In the first few days I had a chance to visit with His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche, the Western Head of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage. My young German room mates in the Monastery, Carmen and Connie, are good friends with him getting almost free entry on his quarters, being well know by his attendants, brought me with them to see him one evening. I had a copy of a picture taken with him and my family in 1987, when he first came officially to America. Talking about that, environmental issues, reconstructions of old Monasteries in Tibet, and his passion for history researches took us through an almost old friends conversation through the night.

Holiness, how friends call him, is a very sweet and erudite man. He is engaged, as he told us, in studying and writing books on how Buddhism came to Tibet and on the History of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage. He also loves ancient Tibetan Religious art. These are my hobbies, he told me. The conversations can go on for hours, even during the power blackouts, common in Nepal, when he jumps out of his seat and goes to his room to grab a lamp, moving faster than his attendant can respond. He seems to be a man of infinite patience, always with a half smile, and great sense of humor, taking us, his audience to great laughs about nothing. We laughed hard many times while in conversation with him, but later we couldn't really figure out what it was all about other than his contagious energy.

After this visit, I got a free pass to take pictures anywhere any time. He sent me a special pass for the inauguration without me even asking for it. I was also able to take all my friends from America to visit with him and receive his blessings. One especially, John, who is going to a two years retreat in Lapchi (border with Tibet), was given special blessings. When I told Holiness my friend was going into retreat, he jumped out of his sit again and went to his room, bringing back a mysterious box with with he blessed John on his head and we others there, also got the same. Later we realized it was the box with the Lineage’s relics! A very special blessing. Again, his attendant was left watching. Later, Holiness send other people to give me more information and pictures about his other environmental endeavors.

The days went by like an express train in Europe. After the Chakrasamvara Drupchen days, came the very elaborated consecration of the new Monastery, while the Nepalese and Tibetan workers worked almost day and night to finish the exteriors for the inauguration day. The rituals took three days with several circumambulations of the grounds and buildings and hundreds of monks on red hats following Holiness in convoluted rituals making offerings to local spirits and lineage deities.

Kenchen Rinpoche and HE Garchen Rinpoche arrived two days before the inauguration and were received with great honors by the Monastery and Holiness, but also by all the monks and so many devotees arriving from all over the world, specially from Europe, Asia and above all the Tibetan Border. Several other famous Rinpoches and Tulkus with whom I am not familiar also arrived.

Then came the grandiose inauguration day. A large tent to accommodate about two thousand people was set up on the court yard in the center of all buildings in front of the Temple stairways. The main seats where set up on the middle of the stairs to the temple. Garchen Rinpoche and Kenchen Rinpoche were given special seats on the right side of Holiness at the center, while few other lay authorities sat on his left side. The protocol in lineage events is very strict, every inch of a highest or low seat has a meaning, like in ancient courts. All other monks, Rinpoches and Tulkus sat in front on seats and cushions of different heights. In general, during Temple ceremonies, Holiness sits on a high throne with two empty thrones on his left side one for the Dalai Lama’s picture, and another for the Drikung Kyabgon Chutsang Rinpoche’s, the Tibetan Head of the Lineage, picture. On both sides of these high thrones there are two stages, higher than the audience. On Holiness left side is the stage for all Kenphos and Drupons, teachers, where Kenchen sits higher than all, and on the right side is the stage for all the Tulkus (found reincarnations of great teachers and masters), who can be young Rinpoches cherished by them all, and famous teachers like several others seating there, such as Nubpa Rinpoche. While Garchen Rinpoche was there (four days only) a special throne was seat up for him, being both a Tulku and a high Master, right under Holiness, from where he gave us White Tara teachings and empowerment.

Holiness attended only the morning official ceremonies and speeches. In the afternoon Garchen Rinpoche and Kenchen Rinpoche presided over the dances and cultural presentations, which were rich and beautiful. While there, people would come all the time to greet him and ask for blessings.

Garchen Rinpoche is so loved and famous that his room, which was set up on the highest floor, has a revolving door for people, above all Tibetans, but no less monks and westerners. I was also welcome there by him anytime and allowed to take any pictures I could. On the day he left I was introduced to his sister and niece and was able to get a picture of him with her, who looks just like him.

Next day was Lord Jingten Sumgom anniversary day. The celebrations took place on the same settings as the day before outside, with one difference, one covered high throne was prepared on the left side, sort of a mystery surprise.

After rituals and prayers were ministered, the announcement came that Kenchen Rinpoche was being enthroned as the Abbot of the new Monastery, where he now has his residence. Many people expected differently, but Holiness announced that the monks have chosen Kenchen not only for being a great teacher, writer and translator, but above all for being a model of Vinaya conduct. In the afternoon there were mandala offerings to him, and much greeting, followed by Kenchen giving teachings on the life of Jingten Sumgon.

Right after the festival days started Holiness teachings. Day after day, morning transmissions of the whole Kagyu Treasure of KnowledgeTantras and afternoons Empowerments of the Deities of these Tantras. My time has been consumed between these teachings, working in my pictures, which I continue to take day after day, and the dusty and adventurous traveling back and forth from the Monastery to the hotel in Bouddha, the Buddhist village around a majestic stupa in Kathmandu. I am often sought after by monks of all ranks who want pictures or want me to take pictures for them inside or outside the temple. The nuns also greet me with great energy, which I attribute to the fact of being so visible and bold, showing that nuns can be other than a humble devout sitting on the last seats, after the monks. In the first day I would sit by the stage stairs, by the Tulkus side, because chairs were not allowed inside the Gumpa (temple), I need to sit in a chair because of my knees, but also to make it easier to take pictures. Then later I was allowed a chair on the back of the temple, from where I can watch and hear eight hundred to a thousand people, monastic and lay, receive millenary spiritual empowerments for enlightenment, and cough their seasonal colds, including me and Holiness. I am also sometimes bordered by the chit chat of the Tibetan women who always sit on the back against the wall, but Holiness and the monks proceed with the rituals impassible to their noise. It is an old custom, I was told, they are devotees not tantric practitioners.

The Monastery has wireless internet, so I would come to the office to sit on a table and work my pictures to send to the official site of the Drikung Kagyu, per request of Holiness secretary. The monks were always asking me to move around to uncomfortable places because they were very busy which was true; but I also noticed that when other monks came around to work on their computers, they would not ask them to move. So, after a couple of weeks I took a stand and asked why they wanted only me to move and not the other monks--maybe because I am an Ani (nun), maybe you ask the monk to move, I said. He was astounded by my reaction, not common in this hierarchical community were nuns are the last of the last; he turned around and told others in Tibetan and laughed, but never asked me to move again.

One of these days the empowerment required the use of a bow and arrow. When I noticed Holiness being handed the instrument. I got up and walked through the center in between the lines of monks to get closer with my camera. Seeing me coming, Holiness held the action for a bit, but it was sort of a long walk and in a quick joke he pointed the bow to me while I took the picture, and the whole place exploded in laughter. The young monks would not stop saying things in Tibetan to me and laugh after that. I cannot imagine what is the joke. I guess that gives them an opportunity to share a friendly intimacy with His Holiness. All high Lamas have big smiles for me, and many times words I cannot understand, I feel like an old friend who came back home.

The teachings are winding down, only three more days left. It is hard to tell what this journey means spiritually. I know that much is happening in dreams and many other levels. Some are clear, other will take time to unfold. But what I know is that it is big and deep, to receive the teachings of all the Tantras and Empowerments of a thousand year old Tibetan Lineage.

After that I still have 12 more days to be a tourist in Nepal and maybe India.

Thousands of pictures of this journey will soon be available on my Flickr web site.

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