When I first came to Das Mile Gompa in the year 2000, I stayed in a small four-person retreat center which Chatral Rinpoche had built for his students right next to the old temple. This simple construction was a very basic arrangement of four rooms, each with an adjoining tiny area for cooking with a small communal area in the courtyard from which one gained entry to one's rooms. The whole retreat building was surrounded by a high wooden fence that had access via a single door that was locked during conventional retreats.
At that time, the only other person staying inside the center was an old Lama called Tinley. He had lived there for nearly thirteen years. He was short, toothless, and bald. He had been a family man in his younger days and had several children, now all grown up and tending families of their own. Having fulfilled his duties as a husband and father, when his wife had passed away after a brief illness, he had decided, that he would devote the remainder of his days to studying the sacred texts and to contemplation.
He and Pala, the caretaker of the Temple, who stayed in a small room adjoining Rinpoche's quarters nearby, were very good friends. It was always a joy to watch these two interacting, although I could never understand the little speeches that passed between them in quick and mumbled Bhutanese.
They watched out for one another. They shared jokes and often I would see them sitting together in the noon sunshine, recounting memories of times gone by as they deftly shelled walnuts with their huge and frighteningly sharp kukri knives. Sometimes, during these sessions, they even wept together as they remembered sad events from days of yore.
Many times I would find them in the bright afternoon sunshine near the single tap which stood between the temple and the retreat compound, Tinley on a small wooden stool and Pala standing behind him pouring water over his head and scrubbing his back. These sessions happened about twice a week in a little ritual that had become a routine part of their lives over the years.
In their tiny respective kitchens, they both prepared their meals on mud ovens fuelled by small pieces of wood. They had it down to a fine art, often needing no more than three or four twigs to cook the midday meal. Tinley’s eating bowl also doubled up as the pot in which he cooked. It was an ancient, blackened aluminum cooking pot, which he would scrap clean with a metal spoon. No need to add to the washing up after meals. I can still recall the sound of metal scraping upon metal as he stood at the window of his room, pot cum bowl in hand, careful not to leave anything on the bottom of it. He would lean his two elbows on the window sill, bowl in one hand, spoon in the other gazing out over the surrounding hillsides, mountains, and valleys. I never saw him waste even a single grain of rice. Theirs were the simplest of simple lives. They wanted for nothing and were content with the quiet routine that had become the passage of their autumn days and years.
But Lama Tinley had one secret which he did not keep very well since all of us residing at Das Mile Gompa knew about it. He had a stash of savings. During the years while he had been living in the forest, various local families would come to him from time to time and request him to chant prayers for a family member who might have passed away or become ill, or some such difficulty, and each time this happened they would give him a bit of money which he would carefully stow away.
One day when he pulled this stash out to add a few more rupees he suddenly got the urge to sit down and count it. After much muttering and calculation and double-checking he found it came to the rather considerable amount of one lakh, this is roughly $2000. From that day onward, the quiet simplicity of his life was shattered.
It wasn't until that day that he realized just how much his stash of rupees had increased over the years. Prior to that he never really gave the money much thought or was even aware of just how abundant his stock of savings had become. Having counted it all out carefully and sorted it into bundles of notes and coins, he emerged from his room the following morning looking rather haggard. He had passed a sleepless, fretful night, fingering the notes and pondering over what he would do with them, how he would protect this little spring of wealth, and where he might hide it so that no one else would get their hands on it.
The tone of conversations that passed between him and Pala began to change as they discussed the various pros and cons of what could be done with the money. Tinley’s countenance took on a thoughtful and anxious air. I began to notice him emerging from behind trees and bushes in various spots in the surrounding forests. Sometimes I saw him foraging about amid the cardamom bushes. If he happened to spot me coming along, he would pretend to be gathering herbs or ferreting out walnuts which had been missed during previous gathering sessions. He would set up a whistle and wander away, like a roosting bush hen that wanted to lead prospective predators away from her nest.
Soon after that, Tinley began making trips into Darjeeling, checking out the various banks, and looking into money matters. He became knowledgeable about fixed-term deposits, interest rates, and so on and would return home from these excursions laden with fliers from the different banks that he had visited. He would then spend hours poring over them in his room, trying to decipher the numbers and make sense of it all.
Then one afternoon, his daughter arrived from Bhutan with three young children in tow. He had not seen her for many years and so this unexpected arrival was a great joy to him. They all piled into his tiny room for an unspecified stay. The rest of us gave knowing looks to one another. It was unclear how she had come to know about her father’s sudden ‘wealth’, but we guessed that he had probably told her himself in his usual chattering way.
Although he tried to be secretive and a little furtive with the rest of the world, inside the retreat center he seldom kept his thoughts to himself. On the journeys to Darjeeling, he always dropped into Rinpoche's Temple in Jore Bungalow which was just near the township of Ghoom. Any little bit of gossip spread far, wide, and fast in this little warren of gossiping monks and nuns.
Some weeks after the daughter had left, taking with her some twenty thousand rupees from the 'stash,' his son arrived, looking rather too eager and dutiful. It had also been many years since he had been to visit his father there at the Gompa.
Meanwhile, Tinley looked more and more careworn and began to mumble things to himself. Pala and I watched on with growing concern. His son eventually carried off another portion of the savings and disappeared from sight.
Then one day the Lama emerged from his room with the first bright smile we had seen in months. It appeared that he had decided that the rest of the money would be offered to his teacher Chatral Rinpoche. Tinley knew very well that money, which was offered in return for prayers and rituals came with a heavy burden of responsibility. Many times in the past we had seen Rinpoche reject offerings from various people and on occasion, he had even redistributed them back to those present at some of the ceremonies over which he presided in the Temple.
Mostly these offerings were kept in a special pouch that Rinpoche always carried with him. This little bag contained money that was being kept for the purchase of farmed fish which he would buy and then release into the Ganges River near Kolkata. This was a yearly ritual that took place on the banks of the Ganges and it disposed of most of the funds that were given to him by disciples and devotees throughout the year.
After making his decision, Tinley disappeared for a few days as we had had word that Chatral Rinpoche had just arrived from Nepal and was staying at his Monastery near Siliguri. When he returned, it felt as though we had the old, carefree Lama Tinley back in our midst and it wasn't long before I could watch him and Pala chatting and giggling once again of a noon, as they shelled their stash of walnuts. The weekly baths resumed and the furtive fumbling about in bushes ceased.
Calm and sanity were restored once more to the quiet precincts of the old Gompa.
Lyse Mai Lauren - "Tibetan Masters and other True Stories (Shades of Awareness) "
During the years spent near my Masters, I was able to observe many things about the way they lived their lives. The opportunity to observe them was in itself one of the most profound teachings. The atmosphere of truth, in which a Master lives, moves, and has his/her being, radiates outwardly like the delicate fragrance of an exquisite flower.
Each look, each gesture, each movement, and word carries a power that is unique and which moves like an arrow, instantly and always finding its mark. This can happen because ‘ego’ is not involved. The life of a perfectly Enlightened Being is an expression of ‘that,’ alone.
As ordinary beings, for most of us, every thought, word, and deed is saturated with a sense of doer-ship and ego; therefore, it is so striking for us to observe those who move from the place of ego-lessness.
In both the great and small things of day to day life, in the presence of such a Master, nothing can be taken for granted. Nothing is irrelevant or unimportant and the joy of living in their presence can give rise to magical moments of unexpected spontaneity if one is open and prepared.
I remember one day when there were few people around and it was a beautifully still, golden evening. At that particular time, Chatral Rinpoche was staying in a house that had been newly built by one of his Nepali students in Parping.
He and I were strolling around in the garden when Rinpoche noticed a stairway leading up to the roof. Although already in his late eighties, he did not hesitate to propel me towards the steps. He was always eager and as curious as a child. Soon I found myself puffing up the stairway behind him; I had a tough time just trying to keep up. When we emerged out onto the open roof, a glorious sunset awaited us. Brilliant clouds danced on the horizon, caught up by the golden and fiery red and orange hues of the westering sun. It was a spectacular sight, with unimpeded views from horizon to horizon.
With a sudden and completely unexpected movement, Rinpoche quickly turned around, took my hand, and gently pushed me out onto the open terrace, throwing his arms out widely in a gesture that gently encouraged me to dance. His face was alight with an inward glow that was even more powerful than the sun that had caught fire in his beard. This was all so unexpected that I succumbed to an instant of shyness and held back and then the moment passed and was gone forever...
Yet, as a child, I would fearlessly dance for hours to the music my grandmother loved to listen to. She would send me off with the same sweeping, open gesture of spontaneous joy and, uninhibited by the hopes and fears of the conceptual mind of adulthood, I would spring off into the sounds with complete abandonment, freedom, and ease.
Rinpoche had seized a moment and offered me a bridge back to the freedom and joy of my childhood and yet I lost that precious moment by hesitating. Nothing could ever bring it back.
Let us not hold ourselves back from joy because of fear, hesitation, or uncertainty. The moments in which we can recognize our innate freedom are so fleeting and unrepeatable. Let us touch and taste our joy before it flies away. The Master dances in our hearts and is ever ready to give us that little push that can release us back into what and who we really are...
From the book "Tibetan Masters" - Lyse Mai Lauren
After first seeing Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in Bodh-Gaya in the winter of 1984/5, I felt that I had to take refuge with him. However, there were so many people in Bodh-Gaya that year that I decided to follow him to Nepal to his Monastery in Boudhanath in order to make my request.
Taking refuge with one’s chosen Master is something akin to the Buddhist equivalent of taking communion in the Christian tradition. It is a commitment to take refuge in the Buddha, to endeavor to practice His Teachings, the Dharma, and to honor his followers, the Sangha. But more than this, taken with a strong and clear intention, at the feet of an authentic master, one promises to tread the path to liberation for the benefit of all sentient beings and the master vows to protect and guide the disciple through all his lifetimes until he/she reaches enlightenment. This is a binding promise spanning lifetimes.
Therefore it is crucial to take refuge with a teacher in whom one perceives all the qualities of an authentic master, as this is a connection that one can potentially be bound to for a very long time. Making a careful and confident choice is of the utmost importance. Even if this sounds like a contradiction in terms, for is it not said; ‘when the disciple is ready, the master will appear.’ For those fortunate enough to be re-connecting with a former guide, there is never any sense of choice, there is merely a resumption of former ties. Although I took the formal refuge vows with Khyentse Rinpoche I never felt that I was making or needed to make a conscious choice. There was immediate recognition and what followed was the natural continuation of former strong bonds.
There are as many paths to 'truth' as there are beings to 'realize' it. However, our journey can be dramatically shortened by following a master in whom we have complete faith. Thus, there is the potential in the 'refuge' process for not only powerfully focusing our intention to attain 'enlightenment' but also gaining thereby the complicity, protection, guidance, and inspiration of the chosen master.
The Buddhist tradition has its own particular appeal. For many, it clearly addresses an issue that we are all very familiar with, namely that of 'suffering.' But more than this, it offers a means with which to free ourselves from this cycle of 'suffering'.
Taking 'refuge' is like stepping into an 'ark'. At the helm of this mighty ship is the ‘Buddha’, all the various masters, and lineages that emanate from Him are like ministers and boatmen who keep the ship afloat and moving. The ‘Dharma’ can be likened to the 'vessel' itself and the 'Sangha' to all those who have climbed on board. This mighty ship is just a speck in the vast ocean of 'being' and ultimately all those who have climbed onboard are eventually returned to the ocean but when that happens they know how to swim and to stay afloat effortlessly. So, for a while, there is the comfort and companionship of the 'sangha,' sustenance of the 'teaching' and protection and guidance of the Buddha.
Personally, I am not very religious. Although I respect the great religious institutions, I feel they are a means to an end and not the end itself. After all, enlightenment is the simplest and ultimately most natural of things and it is the very heart of ‘who and what we really are.’ A drop of water emerges from the ocean and eventually is absorbed back into it. It does not need to change its nature or 'become' something else. It is already 'that', the very same essence as the ocean from which it has sprung.
When I first saw Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche I was not a Buddhist and had no particular idea of becoming one. However Rinpoche was very much part of this religious tradition and as I found that its many precepts enhanced my path, I, therefore, saw no reason not to go through the formal doorway of 'refuge' and become a ‘Buddhist.’
As soon as I arrived in Boudhanath, a town on the outskirts of Kathmandu, I made my way over to Shechen Monastery where Khyentse Rinpoche was residing. Rinpoche's rooms were above the main temple and consisted of a series of large chambers, one of which opened into a big hall-like waiting room in the center of the building.
Khyentse Rinpoche sat most of the day in a wooden meditation box near a window in his reception room which opened into the large waiting room via a series of full-length glass doors that could be rolled back when needed. It was a well-thought-out arrangement, as during teachings and empowerments the doors could simply be moved so that Rinpoche's room became an extension of the waiting room and many more people could then partake in whatever was happening at the time.
On that first occasion after first making my offerings I requested Rinpoche to give me the refuge vow. He immediately assented but said I should wait outside in the main hall until he called for me. At first, I thought this would be a matter of some few minutes or hours at the most. However, it turned out that I was to sit in that hall for three whole days before being summoned.
Waiting outside Khyentse Rinpoche's room for three days, turned out to be no great hardship at all. In fact, I learned a lot about Rinpoche and the various people who were visiting him. I learned much about life in the monastery in general. During those first three days, I would come early in the morning and after making three prostrations to Rinpoche, he would beckon me to approach him, then extend his huge hand and touch it to my head in blessing.
I would then go to a favorite seat I had chosen outside his room. From this vantage point, I could not only watch his every move, but I could watch everyone else’s comings and goings as well. I only took occasional breaks to visit the bathroom or go to my room for meals. Somehow I found the ‘life’ going on around him endlessly fascinating. There was no boredom in this waiting at all. In his presence one felt oneself inside a vast mandala, nothing happened accidentally, nothing was random, and nothing could be taken for granted. It was as though one were within the hub of a large wheel of dynamic and buzzing activity.
Nevertheless, by the end of the third day, I began to have a niggly little doubt and wonder if I should remind him of my request. It seemed unlikely that he could have forgotten, especially as I was sitting right outside his room and peering in at him most of the day!
There had been an endless stream of visitors since I had first arrived and these never seemed to lessen. It was amazing to see how effortlessly he could accommodate everyone. There was no sense of hurry, tension, or weariness. The people just came and went and each seemed to get what he/she wanted and I am sure a few got more than they bargained for as well.
In the end, I decided it didn't matter how long I sat there, I would just wait and see what would happen.
Then, on the morning of the fourth day, Rinpoche’s attendant suddenly called me to go into his room. It was the auspicious day of the 25th of the Tibetan month, the so-called “Dakini Day’ and I realized that he must have been waiting for this. In general, Tibetans are very mindful of auspicious dates and astrological concurrences and such things, so this was all quite in keeping with tradition.
What surprised me, however, was that the room suddenly became empty. This seemed to have happened as if by magic, as there was seldom ever a moment when other Lamas or visitors were not present. It impressed me deeply that Rinpoche had lost no time at all in calling me in and taking advantage of the quiet space which so miraculously had opened up.
After I made several prostrations he beckoned to me to come forward. I can still see that enormous finger with its long nail motioning me to come closer and closer. All the while he was watching me with a peculiar little grin which I came to know was very characteristic. One corner of his mouth would rise and he would squint a little with one eye while the other remained normal. I was totally in awe of him, trembling shamelessly from head to foot. I felt there was something unspeakably powerful in his presence and this touched me in a completely new way.
Only when I had crept right in front of the big wooden meditation box, did the beckoning finger cease to summon me nearer and nearer. There was something of the extraordinary about Khyentse Rinpoche's hands. I had never seen hands like these before. Not only were they very large, but they were also wonderfully graceful. There were no clumsy movements.
One finds this about the movements and gestures of a 'realized being'. Potentially even a seemingly insignificant gesture can have the power to stop one’s mind.
After the beckoning stopped I remember Rinpoche's hand coming down on top of my head, pulling it right in so that the sound of his chanting of the mantras seemed to flow and reverberate through every cell in my body, and through my entire being.
For as long as it took to recite the prayers and mantras of the refuge ceremony, some five or ten minutes, the hand remained firmly in place. If I had been a cat at that moment, I would have been purring loudly. All sense of the ordinary had long since disappeared and yet there was something so profoundly familiar, so inexplicably part of what is, that in the highest use of the word 'ordinary' as in ' unaltered' or uncontrived, there was a complete naturalness in this communion.
There was no doubting the validity or the profundity of the simple ceremony of refuge. If one can be likened to a drop from the 'ocean' of being, then that droplet trembles in the proximity of the mighty 'ocean'. The ocean will as surely swallow it up, erase all traces of the false self, irresistibly take it back and claim it as its own.
Such is the importance, the power, and the potential of the sacred vow and bond of taking refuge...
"The ultimate teacher, the Absolute,
is never separate from us, yet immature beings,
not recognizing this, look outside and seek Him far away.
Sole Father, with your immense love you have shown me my own wealth;
I, who was a pauper, constantly feel your presence in the depths of my heart."
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
From the book "Tibetan Masters " - Lyse Mai Lauren
"The destruction of nature and wildlife populations is a result of ignorance,
Sounding the clarion call...
This is a very timely and important message from the Dalai Lama!
Human beings have demonstrated a masterful capacity to destroy and kill and yet that same 'power' can also be harnessed to protect and nurture.
As we have crossed a 'tipping point' on the planet a great necessity confronts us. A new way of thinking and a whole new way of behaving towards all the kingdoms with which we share this planet must ensue.
For too long, greed and ignorance have held sway over all other considerations and now we are seeing the results of this greed.
Nothing is not interdependent.
To continue to live in ignorance of this 'truth' is to court disaster.
Within the reality of interdependent energies there exists a critical point of balance. Each and every one of us holds a stake in this 'balance.'
This is a vital point because if we do not know this, we can easily feel overwhelmed and powerless. However, in reality, we are not powerless.
We hold immense power within ourselves and this is the time to acknowledge it and put that power to good use.
We can see the results of greed and short-sighted ignorance. The death and decay of this kind of living are all around us, continuing the cycle of suffering and despair.
As the Lama so truly pointed out, our capacity to destroy and wreak havoc exists in equal measure to our capacity to nurture and support the life that exists all around us and within us.
There can be no blurring of the boundaries. This is a time for what is clear and decisive, not a time for small-minded, selfish pettiness.
From clear and altruistic intention which acknowledges humanities responsibility towards all other kingdoms on this earth will rise the new age of limitless possibilities... From chaotic grasping and greed, comes only death and despair.
It is a stark choice and yet this is the choice that we face...
This balance is in our hands...
Lyse Mai Lauren - Ever here Now
"When in doubt,
It is better to err on the side of kindness..."
The immediate reaction of many upon seeing the cartoon above might be, 'oh, here we go again, another moralistic lecture...'
Potent images in the press and media of violence and hatred flood cyberspace. In a world where the senses are overwhelmed by 'bad news' and where mass and tragic outcomes, which are often caused and then exacerbated by a relatively small group of selfishly motivated, greedy individuals, can cause the mind to shut off and tune the 'noise' out. There is always something going on.
Recently I heard a new phrase, 'compassion fatigue...' It is quite graphic and it tells us a lot about the times that we are living through.
However, now and then one image will emerge which will cut through all the indifference, the cynicism, the endless debate, and all of the noise.
If there is a saturation point at which the mind's ability to cope with and embrace demands upon our 'conscience' then those which touch us directly at the level of the heart, have the capacity to summon our inmost and boundless compassion. That inner fount taps into an inexhaustible ocean of grace that can swiftly bring all the other barriers down in one great crash.
Suddenly the excuses, the arguments, the ignorance, and the indifference dissolve.
Like a bottomless spring that bubbles up from the ground, seemingly, from 'nowhere,' spontaneous acts of kindness arise from the depths of our being. They are not contrived, nor are they limited.
Imagine a world in which beings could exist without this?
Would you or I want to live in it?
There is a favored spot where I often go to watch the sunset and enjoy the final hours of daylight during the months when I am staying in the South of India. It is on a small stretch of road some miles from a village called Adiannamalai. It lies in a rural area among rice paddies and open fields. The road has been slightly elevated. The only source of shade on this stretch is one isolated Tamarind tree of considerable age. Its generous branches have sheltered many a wayfarer over years and decades...
When I ventured there recently for a little respite from the noise and dust of the road and town to my dismay I found it had been cut down!
Little pieces of it remained scattered about. It felt to me, as though I had stumbled across a crime scene and that a senseless murder had just been committed. What had taken years to grow had been hacked down in just a few miserable minutes. A few tattered remnants were strewn here and there. This was all that remained of a majestic tree that had freely offered shelter to those passing by for many long years.
The scene of this 'crime' was thus completely changed. The 'tree of refuge' which had harmlessly and silently abided in this place for so many years, was, no more. Gone the gentle welcoming respite of shade and refuge; in its place a shade less expanse, strangely empty and entirely at the mercy of the relentless tropical sun.
In contrast to this and not far away, the careful and back-breaking work of the planting numerous Banyan trees was going on afoot. The vision of a few far-sighted souls who may never personally enjoy the shade or grace that these trees will bestow, but who, nevertheless are sowing the seeds that future generations will enjoy.
The effort required to plant and nurture each and every sapling is considerable and yet it is going on in striking contrast within miles of this place.
Every day we can witness acts of kindness if we make it our business to notice such things. Even when they may express themselves in the smallest of gestures they still belie something deep and fundamental to our inmost being.
There is much misery in this world; the sort that is often caused by careless, thoughtless selfishness, yet the very same hands that are the cause of the destruction are equally capable of bringing about the most amazing transformations.
We need be in no doubt at all as to how important and crucial are the collective and small individual thoughts and doings of each one of us.
The fact of our very existence must, in time give rise to the awareness of what we all 'create.' A single thread in the great tapestry of life may seem unimportant and yet each thread is crucial to holding the whole great mosaic of life together.
So even if we feel overwhelmed at times by senseless acts and by the suffering and sadness which engulfs so much of this world, there is also much that each and every one of us can do to offset it, at least within our own small orbits.
We cannot know the power of our goodwill and intentions until and unless we believe in them utterly. Herein lies our true strength and ultimately, our joy!
In knowing that we can BE the change; that we can plant that tree, or extend that hand, or be the listening ear, or the shady bower. That we can be anything and everything we want is the springboard to true and actual freedom.
We are never separated from this freedom in our inmost being yet amid the clamor of the world one can forget.
As for 'the world,' the words of Nisargadatta Maharaj are something to aspire towards. "You don't have to change anybody; you just have to love them."
In concluding, there come to mind the final words in the classic Middlemarch, by George Eliot;
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Lyse Mai Lauren - "Pieces of a Dream: The Dance of Life"