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(By Lama Kathy Wesley and Chaplain Cathy Lhamo Jackson. Last Revised 11.22.13)
Death is part of life, and although we generally keep it at arm’s length so that we may continue our daily activities without a sense of impending doom, we benefit from taking a healthy, balanced approach to the inevitability of death. Keeping death in mind in a healthy, spiritual way allows us to live a fuller and more meaningful life and appreciate our lives and our loved ones in ways we might not otherwise do.
As spiritual people, we find that keeping death in mind freshens our practice and makes it continually relevant and meaningful.
And as we approach death, we see that it is a special opportunity to accomplish perfect spiritual awakening for the benefit of others.
Our families and loved ones may not share our spiritual view of death, or our concept of death as a time of spiritual transformation, but if we can make definite advance plans for our deaths, we can help both ourselves and our loved ones.
In the modern world, we have developed many types of “Advance Directives:” instructions that help our loved ones know our wishes in situations in which we cannot speak for ourselves.
Among these are the Last Will and Testament, which explains how we wish our goods and possessions to be dispersed; the Power of Attorney document, which appoints a person to act in our place in matters of business and daily living; the Advance Funeral Plan, in which we give instructions about the disposition of our physical remains after our death; the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which appoints a person to make medical decisions for us if we become unable to speak for ourselves; and the Living Will, which explains what type of medical treatment we wish in cases of medical emergency–a document which can guide our Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
All of these documents are are accepted widely as instructions and instruments for explaining our wishes to others.
Now, we believe it is time to introduce a Spiritual Advance Directives document, in which we can explain our spiritual wishes, so that our families may know how to care for us spiritually at the time of illness and death.
If prepared properly, a Spiritual Advance Directives document can give confidence and peace to you and your family, as you follow the steps together and form, together, a circle of love and respect and spiritual peace at the time of illness and death.
Spiritual Advance Directives can be drawn up with the help of a Lama, or a volunteer from your Buddhist congregation.
At Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, lamas can assist the sick and dying, and help create Spiritual Advance Directives. At the Karma Thegsum Choling city center level, lamas may not always be available. Because of that, we hope someday to have a group of trained pastoral volunteers who will help KTC dharma students at the time of sickness and death.
- Assist you with finding Instruction in practices your teacher has suggested.
- Support you, or help you find local support
- Help get specific practice materials
-Help contacting places to obtain prayers, Dharma Medicine, etc.
When you meet with your Family and Loved Ones to explain your wishes, you may ask your local Lama or sangha volunteer to be there to assist and explain your spiritual needs. They can help explain to your Loved Ones why it is very important now to ready yourself for the transitions of sickness and death. They also can help explain the role of Buddhism and practice in your life and end of life.
Here are some examples of spiritual wishes you may wish to communicate to your loved ones:
– Spiritual support from Buddhist teachers and community
– Ability to pray and practice now, in quiet setting
– That some members of the Buddhist Community will be with you during the entire death process: before, during, and immediately after your death.
– Explain how your Family can participate with this process
– Show and explain example Response Plans for Serious Illness and Death
– Discuss other Advance Directives (Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) and how these might affect your Spiritual Care requests.
General Advice and Instructions for Loved Ones while Attending the Dying
“According to the teachings, at the time of death, the way you think and what you think is particularly powerful and significant, because it can steer the direction you move in after death. Therefore, it is very important that you be in a positive state of mind while dying. So you need to select people to accompany you during the time of your death who are positive, benevolent, tranquil, and stable in their minds. And the dying person, himself or herself, also, of course, has to avoid as much as possible thinking of things, as they die, that are going to make them extremely agitated.” (From Thrangu Rinpoche)
Therefore, Loved Ones are asked to please create a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere:
- Quiet atmosphere in the room, use soft voices
- No swearing or harsh speech
- Avoid topics that stir up mental afflictions
- Tears are perfectly natural, and fine; loud sobbing is not encouraged
- Please do not touch the dying person one below the waist
- It is advisable to meet around the person’s head
- You are encouraged to touch the crown of the head lightly
- Recitation of the following prayers – include the sick person, if possible
- Confession Before the 35 Buddhas
- Name of Buddhas
- Mikyo Dorje Guru Yoga
- Chenrezig and Amitabha sadhanas
- If no other prayers are known, the OM MANI PAYMAY HUNG mantra is excellent.
I. RESPONSE PLAN: SERIOUS ILLNESS
Introduction for My Family:
As a spiritual person, I see death as an important transition in my spiritual life, and an opportunity for spiritual transformation. Below, I give instructions on how you can help support me in my spiritual practice at the time of my illness and death, so that the occasion of illness and death can become transformational for both myself and everyone around me. Please do your best to follow my instructions; I hope you are as inspired by them as I am. May all be peaceful and auspicious for us.
Contact my Teacher/Guru [Name, Phone, Email]
Get Instructions from Teacher
Get assistance in specific practice, materials (see Guides)
Lamas can be notified by telephone, Skype, Email if they do not live nearby
Contact my Buddhist Congregation [Names, Phone, Email]
Local or not – do not worry: you can use email, Skype, telephone.
Arrange a meeting with local Sangha who will be on my Spiritual Care Team. These will be the people assisting you in practicing with you, visiting you, helping you in spiritual care …
Arrange for Prayers: to be said for me at this time and for my auspicious rebirth
Name of Prayers
Where offerings /donation for prayers to be sent.
KTD and Karme Ling
Use Guides to the Pure Land or Buddhist Congregation Contact to assist
Get Dharma Medicine – see local Lama, Guide, or Buddhist Congregation Contact
Get The Bardo Package of blessed objects and substances to use at time of death
II. RESPONSE PLAN – TIME OF DEATH
Introduction for My Family:
As a spiritual person, I see death as an important transition in my spiritual life, and an opportunity for spiritual transformation. Below, I give instructions on how you can help support me in my spiritual practice at the time of my illness and death, so that the occasion of illness and death can become transformational for both myself and everyone around me. Please do your best to follow my instructions; I hope you are as inspired by them as I am. May all be peaceful and auspicious for us.
Hospital Nursing staff or Family Member will contact the Lama or Sangha volunteer to help with:
Contacting my teacher
Contacting my local Buddhist Congregation
Working with me as I pass
Performing Phowa ceremony immediately after I have passed
The Lama ideally will be with me before I die. If not, they will be called to the hospital/home/hospice after my death to perform the Phowa practice in conjunction with administering The Bardo Package.
The family is invited to attend
The phowa ceremony will last approximately 30 minutes.
If no lama or sangha volunteer is available, the family may administer The Bardo Package
The Bardo Package contains many substances that can be administered by Lama, Sangha volunteer or Family Member. These are allowed at hospitals and at hospices. The Bardo Package consists of several sacred substances and objects aimed at Liberating the mind of the person who is dying:
Liberation through Hearing: Before death, one can listen to audio recording of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche chanting liberating mantras and prayers; after death, one can listen to audio recording of Lama Karma Drodhul chanting the text Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo.
Liberation through Taste: Before death, a special relic pill can be administered to the dying person as a purifying blessing any time from three days before passing until just minutes before they pass–as long as the person is able to swallow, the relic pill can be given. If the person is unable to swallow, the pill can be crushed and placed on the crown of the person’s head after they have passed.
Liberation through Touch: After death, special liberating sand will be placed on the crown of the deceased person’s head, as a form of material Phowa
Liberation through Touch: After death, a special blessing mandala will be placed on both the deceased person’s chest and body, as a form of material Phowa.
Bardo: Interval of Possibility – Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche
Death and the Art of Dying – Bokar Rinpoche
Journey of the Mind – Thrangu Rinpoche
Mind beyond Death – Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Primordial Essence Manifests – Tai Situ Rinpoche
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo (Shambhala Classics) – Padmasambhava; Commentary by Chogyam Trungpa; Translation by Francesca Fremantle
As is written in the sutras, the end of birth is death. Departing from this world is a fact that all living beings have to face one day. If we are not prepared, death can be a confusing and terrifying experience. But if we are ready, the interim between death and rebirth (bardo) can become an opportunity for attaining higher rebirth and liberation. As Tai Situ Rinpoche writes in Primordial Essence Manifests,
“…once mind exits the body then it is into the universe and if we recognize it, if we are able to be in control of it, if we are able to be aware of it, to master it, then we are truly experiencing the relative limitlessness of the ultimate mind…. So in this state, if you are mature and if you master it, you have absolute freedom. Otherwise it will be the most terrifying thing because there is no limitation and no reference point. For example, you can’t close the window, the door or shut the curtains or lie down, you can’t do anything; it is all out there…we don’t have a body that can hold onto something if we are blown by the wind. Therefore, we are totally out of control and there is no limitation to all the sounds, all the light, all the feelings and everything, so that state is a very scary thing if we do not master it, if we are not aware of it. If we are aware of it then it is truly revealing the truth of the universe, the truth of everything, limitless.”
Given that ordinary people have very little control over the appearances that arise in the bardo, it makes sense that we would want to make use of every possible method for liberation at the time of death. And fortunately, thanks to sacred terma teachings discovered hundreds of years ago, we do have access to precise instructions on navigating the otherwise terrifying bardo state. There are six ways the consciousness can attain liberation in the bardo: liberation through hearing, liberation through wearing, liberation through seeing, liberation through remembering, liberation through tasting, and liberation through touching. These methods were taught by Padmasambhava and handed down through the centuries in an unbroken lineage.
According to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “The Bardo Thödröl (bar-do’i-thos’grol) is one of a series of instructions on six types of liberation….They were composed by Padmasambhava and written down by his wife, Yeshe Tsogyal along with the sadhana of the two mandalas of forty-two peaceful and fifty-eight wrathful deities.
Padmasambhava buried these texts in the Gampo hills in Central Tibet, where later the great teacher Gampopa established his monastery. Many other texts and sacred objects were buried in this way in different places throughout Tibet, and are known as terma, “hidden treasures.” Padmasambhava gave the transmission of power to discover the termas to his twenty-five chief disciples. The bardo texts were later discovered by Karma Lingpa, who was an incarnation of one of these disciples.
Liberation, in this case, means that whoever comes into contact with this teaching—even in the form of doubt, or with an open mind—receives a sudden glimpse of enlightenment through the power of the transmission contained in these treasures.
Karma Lingpa belonged to the Nyingma tradition but his students were all of the Kagyu tradition. He gave the first transmission of the six liberation teachings to Dödul Dorje, the 13th Karmapa, who in turn gave it to Gyurme Tenphel, the 8th Trungpa. This transmission was kept alive in the Surmang monasteries of the Trungpa lineage, and from there it spread back into the Nyingma tradition.” — Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The Bardo Package
The bardo experience should be taken seriously because impermanence causes events to be precarious and unpredictable and the moment of death could occur at any time. The Bardo Package is an extremely rare collection of sacred items that have been produced with great care under the direct supervision of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) in Woodstock, New York, the western seat of the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Khenpo Rinpoche made sure that the traditional rituals for the dying as prescribed by Padmasambhava were rendered accurately, while distilling the profound instructions into a set of procedures easily accessible to anyone. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche personally consecrated the various items in the package and gave specific instructions on how to use each one.
The Bardo Package will bring benefit when the moment of death requires immediate action, and will enable us to take control of the death situation without fear or confusion. If we can apply what we have learned from Buddhist teachings regarding dying, death, and the bardo, and have The Bardo Package at our disposal, it will give us a greater opportunity for attaining higher rebirth and liberation. Thus, The Bardo Package is one of the most important items that we can have in this life.
For more information and to order The Bardo Package, click on the links below:
A 5-CD set of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s concise teachings on “Dying, Death, and the Bardo” is available at http://www.namsebangdzo.com. Rinpoche’s book, Bardo Interval of Possibility (KTD Publications 2007) is available from http://www.namsebangdzo.com. A Chinese translation is available here: www.kkrinternational.org.
Khoryug Environmental Conference – Nov. 8th to 12th 2013
India International Centre, New Delhi
by Yeshe Wangmo
Tuesday, Nov. 12 — The 5th Annual Khoryug Conference wrapped up in New Delhi today with an extremely informative and inspirational speech by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje in the morning session. The five-day intensive gathering of about 60 monastic delegates from 50 monasteries and nunneries in the Himalayan region powerfully reflected the Gyalwang Karmapa’s ongoing commitment to environmental activism in the 21st century.
Khoryug (Eng. “environment”) was established by the Karmapa in 2009 and is headed by Dekila Chungyalpa, the founder of the World Wildlife Fund’s Sacred Earth Program. Dekila also is the main facilitator of this year’s conference, themed “Conservation of Freshwater Resources in the Himalayas.” Dr. Sarala Khaling, Regional Director at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), and Tenzin Norbu, director of the Environment & Development Desk at the Central Tibetan Administration, were co-facilitators.
Khoryug Coordinator Gyaltsen Sonam spoke briefly about the impact that great spiritual leaders like the Gyalwang Karmapa can have on environmental protection: “What is the reason for an organization like Khoryug in the Himalayan region? Many people here believe in science but not scientists. Likewise, Himalayan people have great faith in spiritual masters like the Karmapa, rather than in scientists. Therefore spiritual masters have a huge role to play in preserving and protecting the environment.”
In the morning of the very first session, Dekila summarized the topics to be covered at this year’s conference: “On the first day we will be providing the basics on Freshwater Science. There will be quite a lot of detail on the Freshwater ecological systems and biodiversity, and once the basics are there we will invite the monasteries to talk about their own experiences — about the uses of water in their monasteries, where it comes from, where it goes, and what the status has been if they are suffering from water scarcity. There will be a lot of focus on health, hygiene and sanitation, because this is a need, especially in the communities and our monasteries…. Following that, we will move into the solution section, which is all about how the monasteries can secure their own drinking water sources –whether they can do rainwater harvesting or springshed restoration and also whether they can engage in wastewater recycling.
“We hope that the outcome of the conference is that monasteries feel that this is an issue they want to engage in and that they actually design their own monastic projects and work together to create large projects as well, for freshwater conservation.”
The five-day conference was chaired by the 17th Karmapa and included Power-Point presentations by scientists, roundtable discussions, films on freshwater problems and solutions, and question and answer sessions. On the fourth day, a field trip allowed the attendees to venture outside of the cloistered conference venue to visit an actual wastewater treatment site at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in South Delhi. The large group of monastics went on a guided tour of an ingenuous facility designed in 2006 to treat 8000 liters of wastewater daily. The tour also included a demonstration of rainwater harvesting. CSE offered to help set up pilot programs in both wastewater treatment and rainwater harvesting at a couple of the Khoryug-member monasteries.
In the afternoon, the conference attendees were joined by the Gyalwang Karmapa and his entourage on the banks of the Yamuna River to pray for the sentient beings struggling to survive in and around the dank, stagnant waters of this river, considered largely “dead” by scientific standards. Fortunately, the Yamuna comes back to life further downstream where it is joined and fed by tributaries running into the Ganges.
Lama Karma Drodhul attended the Khoryug conference on behalf of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra and made presentations when invited by the facilitators. One two separate occasions Lama Karma sang a spontaneous song of homage to the Gyalwang Karmapa in front of the entire group. Finally at the end, he joined the conference attendees in their pledge to bring Khoryug’s vision back home, to share the knowledge gleaned in Delhi for the benefit of all, to implement the techniques learned, and ultimately to realize the environmental goals of Khoryug at all of their respective monasteries.
Nothing sums up the purpose and goal of the conference better than the powerful and timely speech the Gyalwang Karmapa made today, on the last day of the conference, with Lama Yeshe Gyamtso from KTD translating. Here is the Karmapa’s speech in its entirety:
Over the last several days, you have spoken a great deal and heard a great deal about water [and] in particular the [general] situation, including how it has been protected. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to be with you continuously over the last several days, it has been reported to me that you have been working very, very hard and have done very well. So I feel that in spite of my absence things have gone well. Now you have heard from expert scientists who have both experience and knowledge regarding the environment from a scientific point of view. You also have undertaken a field trip which has enabled you to actually see with your own eyes the condition of water. So therefore I don’t think there is really much need for me to add to your knowledge. However, both Dekila and some of the journalists I have met with have asked me to explain the importance of water to Buddhism.
In a sense I think it is unnecessary to give a particular Buddhist take on the importance of water because the supreme importance of water to Buddhism and to everyone is that water is essential to life. We cannot survive without it. I think that is the best reason for its importance.
Now about water, if you look at this planet from the outside, you’ll observe that about two-thirds of this planet’s surface or more seems to be made up of water, which will give you the idea that there is a lot of water. However, 97.5% of the water on this planet is salt water found in the oceans. We cannot really use salt water. It is theoretically possible to move to desalinate it, to turn it into fresh water but doing so is impractical because it would be extremely expensive and would involve a great deal of technology as well as expensive energy.
Only 2.5% of the water on this planet is fresh water; 70% of that freshwater is found in the poles, the North Pole and South Pole, and what we now call the “third pole,” the glaciers in the Himalayan region. Most of the remaining 30% is found in groundwater in various parts of the planet. Only 0.3% is found in lakes and rivers. Now of this freshwater, 70% of our use of it is for agriculture, including irrigation; 22% is used in industry in various ways; and 8% is used domestically, which means personally. Now, that 8%, which is what we could call “the direct use of water “– what we usually think of when we think about our relationship with water — is used by us to drink, to cook and to wash.
Let’s look first of all at that direct use of water. If someone takes a 15-minute shower, and does not turn off the water during it, but leaves the water on during the whole 15 minutes, they’ll use about 22 gallons of water. In addition, most people use another couple of gallons brushing their teeth, shaving and whatnot. Most people use 6 gallons of water a day in flushing the toilet and if you have a dishwasher, the dishwasher probably uses 10 gallons a day. That means a minimum of 40 gallons a day per person, but in fact, in some developed countries, for example in the United States of America, people typically use for their personal, direct use more than 100 gallons of water a day.
Now I think there are ways to lessen this. For example, in a lot of hotels you notice that when you flush the toilet, it keeps on flushing for up to two or three minutes after its function has been performed and I think that there are ways of improving on this. Some people that I know accumulate the water they use for washing their face in a basin and then pour that into the reserve tank in the toilet or into the toilet bowl itself so that they flush the toilet without using additional water. And there are lot of things we can do like that to minimize our direct use of water.
However, far greater than our direct use of water, even though it may reach 100 gallons a day, is our indirect use of water. Now indirect use is the water that is used to create things that we use. So we don’t actually think of it as using water because it is not in front of our face. We don’t see the water. But nevertheless we use huge amounts of water. For example, in the case of those who eat meat, to create one pound of beef, 1,799 gallons of water will have been used. To create one pound of pork, 576 gallons, one pound of chicken, 408 gallons, and one pound of goat meat, 127 gallons. One pound of rice requires 449 gallons of water, one pound of barley 198, and one pound of wheat, 132. So, in that way, we can see that we need to think not only about our direct use of water, but also about our indirect use and considering the amount of water that is expended for the consumption of meat, this adds a second ethical concern to the eating of meat. The primary ethical concern remains the taking of life and so forth, but the impact of the consumption on the environment through its use of water must also be considered. In short, I think there are many, many things we can do to save water.
Now, with regards to the sources of water among these are, of course, rivers. Rivers, however, are not only water sources. They serve other functions as well. Rivers obviously are the living environment for many different species and they also, if left to their natural course and natural state, carry nutrients in the soil itself from the headwaters, down to where they flow. They create wetlands, which enable us to farm, and they also form the shape of the land through which they flow. We are destroying these rivers, destroying them through the building of dams, through horrific pollution, and through diverting the natural course of these rivers themselves. I think that all these environmental problems have resulted from our human behavior; one could say, misbehavior. Environmental problems have not descended upon us from the sky. We’ve created them through our own incorrect view and incorrect behavior. In particular, the unbridled, unlimited greed and desire of human beings, which is subject to limited resources, is the principal source of all of our environmental problems. Especially, the technology that we have achieved by now in this 21st Century enables us to impact the environment in a negative way to a degree that has never been possible for humans at any previous point in our history.
For example, those of you who live in Delhi, or all who certainly are here now, have observed the tremendous number of automobiles on the roads. There are always so many cars going that there are constant traffic jams, so that a journey that really should take just a few minutes could often take much, much longer. Now there are far more automobiles in Delhi than there were when I first came to India. And I think that everyone drives their car as a matter of personal choice because they are thinking of their own needs.
The problem is that each and every person has that same need to go somewhere, and therefore each and every person is making that choice based upon their own individual need, therefore creating a traffic jam. I think that this indicates a change we need to make in our choices and concerns. The choices we make, such as means of transportation, use of roads and everything else that affects the environment must not reflect our own needs alone as an individual. Our choices much reflect the common benefit of everyone. Our choices must not just reflect our own particular personal needs, they must be based upon what is best for the planet and the environment as a whole.
Ever since human beings have resided in this world, we have always been capable of doing things, including killing and so forth. I don’t think that killing and the results of killing are anything new. But nevertheless, technology has given us the ability to kill on a scale that we never, ever dreamed of before. Recently in Africa there was a mass slaughter of 4,000 elephants. In our parent’s day, it would have been difficult to even kill one elephant, but now we have the means to, in an instant, kill 4,000; with our guns and other weapon technologies, we can kill innumerable beings in a moment. And also in the same way, we simply are exhausting all of the resources in this world. To give another example, where fish used to be plentiful, it is said that in many instances, entire species of fish have been exhausted or used up by overfishing.
Yesterday we all visited the Yamuna River, which in the past was considered a very sacred place and was viewed with great wonder and great respect. In fact traditionally, the Yamuna itself is regarded as a pilgrimage site, for those who travel throughout India on pilgrimage. It has now become so filthy, so polluted, that it is a place that we seek to avoid at all costs and by every means at our disposal. For example, according to Buddhism, the Yamuna River is said to be the dwelling of one of the 16 elders, who is said to have dwelled there in the company or entourage of 1,600 other arhats. It seems unlikely given the state of the Yamuna that he is still there.
In the time of our parents, snow mountains, trees and rivers were all held to be sacred and any pollution of them was considered to be wrongdoing of itself. But now times have changed and many people regard the beliefs of our parents and our ancestors as meaningless superstition. They will tell you, “These things are not sacred. It doesn’t matter what you do with them. Do what you like.” Well this attitude is a problem and is one reason for our callous abuse of our environment. Another is the fact that the sheer population of human beings in this world has increased so greatly and so quickly, that whereas even if we abused the environment in the past, it had relatively, comparatively little impact.
Nowadays because of our sheer number, our abuse of the environment has a terrible impact. So because of the human population and because of modern technology, we are having a horrific impact on our environment, and we’ve become so jaded about this on the whole, that it is as if we are asleep. We are asleep in the sleep of ignorance of what we are doing to the environment. From one point of view, this 21st Century is an amazing time. We have amazing technology and we enjoy the benefits of that technology. But from another point of view it’s a horrible time because we are actually destroying the very basis of our existence and survival, such as water and other aspects of our environment. This is an utter contradiction. We are seeking to enjoy the benefits of our technology, while that technology is destroying our very means of survival.
Each and every one of the more than 7 billion people on this planet has a brain. We are all capable of understanding this and yet our ignorance about our misuse of the environment is shocking and the contradiction that what we want, and our self-destructive abuse of this planet, is horrific. We need to wake up from this ignorance, especially those who wish to practice spirituality must wake up. This is perhaps the greatest responsibility of us as spiritual practitioners. Therefore the main reason for offering environmental education to the monks and nuns of our many monasteries, is that our greatest hope as Mahayana Buddhists, our dream, our aspiration, is to bring about the happiness of all beings. If there is a way for us to do that, or make that closer to happening, surely that being our aspiration, we should engage in that with enthusiasm. Therefore, the conservation of our environment, which is the ground of the existence of billions and billions and billions of beings, must be our primary concern as Mahayana practitioners. And environmental conservation must be the very essence of our spiritual practice.
All of you gathered here, please make this intention central to your life. Especially as monks and nuns you are leaders and guides to the lay communities that you serve in the various regions within the Himalayas. If you can impart this message of environmental awareness and the importance of environmental conservation, it will bring tremendous benefit. Especially since, as you heard over the last five days, the Himalayan region is the water tower of all Asia.
I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to waste your time, and especially, it’s more important that you actually implement what you’ve learned here than that you hear more about it. In particular, make sure that you don’t separate your daily life from your acts of environmental conservation. Because it is, as we’ve seen, our choices in daily life, that impact the environment. If we do not change how we make these choices, and change the choices we make, simply attending this conference for a few days will not have much impact on the environment. So please implement what you have learned here and also explain what you have learned here to others. Don’t keep what you have learned hidden in your brains. Use it to help others. That is one of your responsibilities.
When we speak of the Tibetan cause – sometimes people mistake this as a uniquely political issue, but in fact it is much more than that and most importantly, it is an environmental issue. The Tibetan plateau is of great environmental importance to this world; we therefore call it the third pole and the water tower of Asia. In the past the Tibetan way of life, the way of life of our ancestors and our parents was one of environmental conservation, by which I mean, the Tibetan way of life was a way in which life was lived in harmony with the environment. Now this way of life fundamentally consisted of our religion, our spirituality and our culture. Therefore, since this way of life was a means of preserving or conserving the environment, this way of life must at all costs, be preserved, not only for the sake of Tibet itself, but because of the profound connection that the Tibetan environment has with all Asian nations, including Tibet’s adjacent neighbors. With regard to Tibet’s neighbors, of course China took over Tibet more than 50 years ago but that does not mean that China can do whatever it wants to the Tibetan environment. They must behave responsibly. With regard to the connection between Tibet and India, this connection is thousands of years old and is extremely profound. It is not simply a material or even a cultural connection; it is a spiritual one, the deepest possible connection. So therefore, India also is intimately connected with and bears some responsibility for this environment.
This is true of other Asian nations as well. Now as we are spiritual people, there is no need for us to dwell endlessly on political issues, but the happiness of beings, which cannot be entirely separate from politics, is very much our responsibility. Therefore, the environment and conservation of the environment is our primary responsibility. It is unnecessary for me to say much more but I would ask you all to keep this in your mind that we, all of us, bear a great responsibility for the environment and the environmental situation now is a state of emergency. Okay, now I’m really done.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, has said that KTD Monastery is a sacred container for His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa’s activity in America; it is a place of pilgrimage on the order of Bodhgaya, seat of the Buddha’s awakening in India. Khenpo Rinpoche also has said that clearing away KTD’s construction debt will remove financial obstacles for the organization, so it can be free to pursue its mission of offering the dharma to all. So we, KTD’s dharma family, should try to do what we can to make Khenpo Rinpoche’s wish for a debt-free KTD come true.
“If we work together toward this goal, it will benefit us as a group far beyond what we can give individually,” said Anne Hulett of KTD’s Development Office. “I encourage everyone to participate as much as they are able during this giving season.”
To help make this possible, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra has become part of the “Giving Tuesday” movement.
GivingTuesday™” (#GT) is a movement to create a National Day of Giving on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on holiday shopping, “Giving Tuesday” encourages people to give to their favorite non-profits.
This year, KTD is focusing its “Giving Tuesday” effort on two important KTD funds: the Vajra Fund (for Construction Loan Repayment); and the Karma Yarphel Fund (for Daily Operations). All of KTD’s funds are important, but these two need the most immediate attention. The Vajra Fund will help us pay down the Construction Loan that helped us build the new Residence Wing; The Karma Yarphel Fund will help us pay the additional utility costs for heat and light during the cold upstate New York winter.
And if you give to either fund before Dec. 3, your gift will count twice: Anonymous donors say they will match Vajra Fund donations (for Loan Repayment) up to $10,000, and Karma Yarphel Fund donations (for Daily Operations) up to $1,000. Either way, your gift is fully tax-deductible, and you will have the joy and merit of knowing that your gift will help “keep the lamp burning” at KTD.
Additionally, KTD is hosting its own Giving Tuesday Special Event on Dec. 3: Executive Director David Kaczynski and Operations Director Linda Patrik are inviting friends, neighbors, townspeople, and the public at large to “Give Peace to the World” with them from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. during Daily Morning Meditation in the Main Shrine Room at KTD.
Daily Morning Meditation has been part of KTD’s schedule for more than a year, and is a way KTD “gives back” to the community by providing a place for local people to cultivate the compassionate heart within themselves.
Whether you give by donating funds or by giving your energy to ‘Give Peace to the World” by sitting with us on Dec. 3, please know that your donation will help KTD continue its activities of kindness and compassion in the world.
May all beings benefit!
Sep 6, 2013, Karme Ling, the retreat center of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra
The 9th Lodroe Nyima Rinpoche, a nephew of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, is the abbot of Thrangu Monastery, Thrangu Nunnery, and the Princess Wencheng Temple in East Tibet. This summer, he came to the United States for the first time in order to participate in Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s 90th birthday celebration. While staying at Karme Ling, he did a one-week White Tara personal retreat dedicated to Rinpoche’s longevity. During his retreat breaks with several people gathered at the lunch table, he candidly talked about his experience with Rinpoche during this visit, and this spontaneous exchange became a teaching so profound that we felt impelled to write it down to share with all of you.
Lodroe Nyima Rinpoche is the reincarnation of Bengar Jampal Zangpo, the root guru of the 7th Karmapa Chödrag Gyatso. Bengar Jampal Zangpo is the author of the well-known daily recitation text, the Mahamudra Lineage Prayer, written at the conclusion of his 18-year solitary retreat on an island in the middle of Sky Lake (Namtso) in Tibet more than 500 years ago.
【Q】Would you please talk about the qualities that you have observed in Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche?
【A】I think the quality that most distinguishes Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche from others is that he conceals very well many qualities in his mind stream, always modest and never showing off. This fact itself is sufficient to prove that he is a being of the greatest stature.
When ordinary people like us do something good, we want others to know about it. Even though it is not necessary to talk about it, we simply cannot contain it and end up publicizing it in less than a week. Because of the pride in our minds, we want others to know that we have done something praiseworthy. That Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche has lived humbly to the age of 90 is really something extraordinary.
【Q】You are the abbot of Thrangu Monastery in East Tibet, and are busy with many responsibilities. If you did not have these responsibilities, what would you like to do the most?
【A】 There are two things that I would like to do the most: properly rely on a qualified teacher and master the Chinese language.
In my youth, I felt that study and contemplation were the most important things. As I grow older now, I feel like relying on a good teacher, someone like Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, for practice instructions. We do not need to do many practices. Doing one practice well is enough.
Actually, being able to earnestly follow a good teacher requires a lot of merit. Because lacking merit, many people follow one teacher a few years, and then switch to another one for another few years. They wander around among several teachers and end up not learning anything well. A few of you here have been following Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche closely for ten or twenty years, which is really due to your good fortune.
As to mastering the Chinese language, Chinese is quite a marvel to me. In order to express something in Tibetan, one would need to use many words, whereas often in Chinese one character is enough. For instance, the three learnings [listening, contemplation, and meditation] in Chinese are wen, si, and xiu respectively, one for each learning and enough for its full expression.
【Q】 It seems impossible to study the Chinese language and rely on a qualified teacher at the same time. For instance, that you want to master the Chinese language would imply that you will start disseminating the Dharma among many of your Chinese students. In that case, you will not have enough time to rely on a teacher and focus on your own practice.
【A】 Relying on a teacher does not mean you have to be around him every day. Rather it is to take his teaching and sincerely practice it throughout your whole life. This is extremely important.
Being able to earnestly do one practice and to rely on one teacher show that you have uncommon devotion to the teacher and the practice. For this reason, you will achieve accomplishment in this very lifetime. On the contrary, if you switch around, then it demonstrates that you do not have enough confidence in the teacher and the practice, and therefore you will not have attainment in this life.
Take Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche as an example. In order to spread the Dharma and benefit beings, he built a monastery, travels everywhere to establish Dharma centers, and does not have much time for his own solitary practice. Nevertheless, none of these impacts his study, contemplation, and meditation, or his pure moral discipline.
During these days of being with him, I can easily feel his devotion to his guru. Every time Rinpoche and I spoke, as soon as we mentioned the 16th Karmapa, he wept. I believe that with this kind of devotion, even just for an instant, will immediately purify the negative karma of thousands of eons.
Without this kind of devotion, even reciting the six-syllable mantra or Vajrasattava’s one-hundred syllable mantra millions of times still does not compare to the merit of the former. Does it still have merit? Yes. However, compared with the merit of an instant of devotion, the difference is like heaven and earth.
We cannot say there is no one like Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, but people with his qualities are simply very rare today. In his presence, I really do not dare to mention the 16th Karmapa, nor do I dare to talk about the 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, because the moment I utter their names tears well up in his eyes and it makes me feel uneasy to see him cry.
When we have constant devotion to our guru, everything we do―walking, standing, sitting, and sleeping―will all be practice. For there is really no one in our hearts except our guru, therefore, for sure, everything we do is for the sake of our guru. However, before we reach that level, I feel it is very difficult to turn everything we do into practice.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche was seriously ill when the 16th Karmapa sent him to the US to regain his health and eventually be the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. To apply for a passport for Rinpoche, the Karmapa asked him to have some photos taken. When the first set of photos was presented to His Holiness, he was not satisfied and requested a retake. After trying several more times with the same result, His Holiness said to him lightheartedly, “I want to put a nice photo on your passport, but you look so ill in all of them that I simply cannot find a good one.”
At another time, His Holiness called Lama Ganga and Rinpoche to his room and told them in a similar light way, “You think I am high up in the clouds, doing nothing. For the sake of beings in the western world and for you to spread the Dharma, I am personally dealing with the Sikkim government, personally selecting decent passport photos, and finally personally delivering the passports into your hands.”
Rinpoche said, over so many years, whenever he felt exhausted or faced with various obstacles, the thought of these words of His Holiness and his facial expression in saying this would bring up strength from his heart.
It makes me think that were ordinary people to hear the same thing, they might feel touched or inspired initially, but over time the feeling would gradually subside and would be completely forgotten in less than a year. For them, the words of His Holiness would simply have no blessing.
However, for Rinpoche, the statement from His Holiness 40 years ago is still fresh and alive, continuously motivating and inspiring him to accomplish his amazing activities. For him, His Holiness’ words even to this date still have blessing.
Therefore, when there is devotion, the guru does not need to say much. One sentence can set your heart trembling; one gesture can penetrate to the core of your being. This—is also a kind of realization.
【Q】 People in these modern days seem to be more sophisticated, and cannot be easily moved simply by one sentence or one gesture. I think it is due to the complex environment we live in. Though we could be near the guru, it still would be very hard to give rise to that kind of strong devotion or feeling.
【A】 Indeed, in the present time, referred to as the degenerate age, it is harder to recognize the qualities of a guru. In the past, those with true devotion to their gurus followed the gurus’ instructions strictly. When the guru said A, they would do A, or said B, they would do B, wholeheartedly obeying the progressive instructions given to them. Nowadays people do not practice according to the instructions in sequence. Right away they want to have the high teaching, or do what they regard as a better and more supreme practice. Several such years can pass, during which many of them do not make much progress or have much experience. As a result of having violated the guru’s instructions and not having correctly and earnestly relied on the guru, they are not able to receive the guru’s blessings.
About 4 or 5 years ago in Damka monastery, a Sakya master in his eighties bestowed to an assembly the transmissions and empowerments of the Treasury of Quintessential Instructions, one of the Five Treasures. The event, which lasted for a few days, started out early in the morning and continued late, sometimes even to 10 o’clock in the evening, because teachings were given along with the transmissions and empowerments. One day near the end, a monk sneaked into the master’s room and beseeched him, “Master, can you give me the most supreme instruction?” “What did you say?” said the master, who did not have good hearing. “Master, can you please give me the best, the most supreme instructions?” the monk begged sincerely. The master was astonished to hear this, and said, “All along from the very beginning, that is what I have been giving you. Were both your ears plugged up at that time? There are no more supreme instructions other than the Treasury of Quintessential Instructions.” He then scolded him even more.
Such a person regards public teaching as something for ordinary people, and does not take it seriously even when they are given many pith instructions. They want to hear something profound and unavailable to others.
A few days ago I was sitting in Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s teaching on the Torch of Certainty. I felt ashamed for not taking this text seriously in the past. As a matter of fact, with the Torch of Certainty, we do not really need other practices as everything is included in it. However, we regard it as something very simple, thinking that it is just a preliminary practice.
I think this kind of mentality is primarily due to lack of merit. Thus, when we encounter a supreme liturgy, though we have gone so far as to open up the book, we lose interest in reading it in the end.
【Q】 Many of us might have read a lot, have listened to many teachings, and have felt that we understand them pretty well. However, in reality it might not be the case. We actually might not have the realization that we think we have. In this situation, what can we do?
【A】 I think that having the opportunity to study and listen to the Dharma is very important. If we keep on doing it, eventually a certain kind of realization will come. As it will not come all at once, I think we still need to study and listen to the Dharma every day. It might not make much of a difference initially, but as we grow older, along with the changes in our times and our work, gradually conditions start to allow us to see various sufferings of beings in the six realms. Joining this with the teachings we have learned, we will feel the tremendous benefits of study and contemplation, just as stated in the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, “Listening, contemplation, and meditation are the practice of a bodhisattva.”
【Q】So we just continue to study and contemplate? When this accumulates to a point, will such realization naturally come?
【A】Yes. It will help tremendously.
By doing this, some kind of experience will gradually come, and little by little you will become confident in the teachings. The sutras say that all merit comes from spiritual friends. Hearing this for the first time, I did not have confidence in it, thinking it would be impossible that all my merit is given by the teacher. Not until much later was I truly convinced. However, before we encounter or recognize an authentic teacher, we can regard the Buddha Dharma as our spiritual friend, and cultivate confidence in and devotion to it through study and contemplation. In this sense, study and contemplation are still very important.
As an ordinary person, I think that a book should be read multiple times, at least one hundred times. (laughter) If that is impossible, 20, 30, or some multiple of ten times is necessary. Only then can you have a profound experience.
Taking the Torch of Certainty as an example, reading it once or twice will not result in full comprehension of its breadth and depth. Only after reading it one hundred times can we have certain understanding, certain realization, and a kind of ineffable experience. Moreover, after reading a book so many times, when reading another one, you will be able to remember clearly what is in the previous book and what is in the current one, and start to see the significance and to feel intrigued.
When reading a book, we feel that we understand everything in it. However, afterwards we forget everything about it, and nothing is left in our mind streams. This is because our concentration is poor, unlike Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s. Today at 90 years of age, Rinpoche can accurately recall the incidents that happened when he was 7 or 8 years old.
After reading the Torch of Certainty one hundred times, you would remember most of its language and content. Only then will you give rise to an uncontrived devotion to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and become aware that this text is so precious that you do not want to be separate from it. Only then will you recognize or realize that the first Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was no ordinary being, but truly was a reincarnation of Manjushri, as well as an emanation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
【Q】 So, as in sadhana practice, in which we accumulate hundreds of thousands of mantra repetitions, can a similar approach be applied to reading books?
【A】Yes. For example, you might aspire to properly and earnestly read a book some multiple of ten times, which in itself is definitely a form of practice. In so doing, you would undergo significant transformation. Even though you might not be able to renounce everything mundane for the sake of practice, when you see people who are able to, you will revere them from the bottom of your heart, thinking that they are truly fortunate. If you have this kind of experience in this life, then you have in fact planted a seed of wisdom and compassion in the Alaya Consciousness, and you will be able to encounter Mahayana Buddhism and spiritual friends life after life.
【Q】Is it harder to practice the Dharma in this degenerate age?
【A】Many people feel that it is impossible to practice the Dharma authentically in these dregs of time. I think this is due to the impact that the rapid changes of times and the disorders of people’s minds have on study, contemplation, and meditation. On the other hand, due to the advancement of modern technology, we are able to learn almost anything on computers through the internet. Even on a sleepless night, you can get online to listen to teachings. This kind of opportunity has never existed before, and because of this, it is fair to say today we have a better chance of study and contemplation. However, does this lead to a better practice? It is not necessarily the case.
In the old days in Tibet, books were scarce and therefore very precious. If I had a copy of the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, then people would take turns borrowing it for reading. During that month of possessing the book, the borrower would read it many times and would have benefitted greatly from doing so.
On the contrary, with the many learning opportunities opened up to us today, we never pay any heed to them. Actually for serious practitioners, the simplest practice is the most supreme practice.
I heard a story. Once there was a Kadampa master whose disciple was about to depart. When the disciple came to bid the master farewell, he made some offerings to the master and pleaded for the last, the most supreme instruction. The master replied, “I have taught you everything I know without any reservation.” The disciple then went back to bring more offerings to the master, beseeching again for the most supreme instruction. This time the master held the hands of the disciple and told him, “You will die, and so will I. My teacher gave me this teaching, and that is what I have been practicing. You too should go and contemplate well the same thing.”
This master achieved enlightenment simply by contemplating impermanence every day. Every day as well, we have been doing various practices, but still have no attainment. This is because we have not had a realization of impermanence.
【Q】 Some prefer meditation, and some prefer study and contemplation. For me, reading the Torch of Certainty one hundred times seems impossible. It is not that I have fully comprehended what’s in there, but rather after reading a little bit of it, I feel that I have to practice this right away, so I do not keep reading. Since people are different, how do we ourselves know the proper balance between study and meditation?
【A】 That is right. Different people have different propensities. For the few people we mentioned previously, they do not need much of study and contemplation. Simply by hearing of impermanence or the word death, they can achieve enlightenment and have such a profound realization that they cannot stand any waste of time even for one second. To them, a lot of reading is not necessary. However, what I just said is for ordinary people like us. Only when you have done much reading and contemplation, can your practice come from within. If you simply repeat after others, or are dragged to do meditation by friends, all these practices cannot be something coming from your heart.
【Q】 The three learnings are listening, contemplation, and meditation. After reading the Torch of Certainty many times, from which of these three does the naturally arisen devotion come?
【A】After reading the book lots of times, the devotion, faith, and renunciation will naturally arise in us. When renunciation arises, compassion follows. In this, all three learnings—listening, contemplation, and meditation―are included.
【Q】 Does meditation have to be done strictly on the cushion? Can pondering and repeatedly reflecting on a subject be a form of meditation?
【A】 Of course. For instance, when we are continuously reflecting on impermanence, it is an authentic meditation practice.
When Linda and I met with Rinpoche a few days afterwards, he said, with a big smile on his face, that it had been the happiest birthday of his entire life! (We want to hear him say that again ten years from now.)
We all – students, donors, staff, and volunteers – deserve a pat on the back for showing Rinpoche our immense gratitude for his many decades of generosity, kindness, and hard work in spreading the dharma to the West.
In the process of doing so, we came together in all our diversity and individual differences as one community, as one sangha to celebrate Rinpoche’s long and productive life. To see us together and united as one body in our common purpose and love for the dharma was surely the best birthday present we could have offered him.
I’d like to recognize here our many donors, volunteer fundraisers, and even those who had no more to offer than their heartfelt prayers in support of KTD monastery. Rinpoche has expressed a wish to see KTD’s $3 million construction loan retired in his lifetime. Acting with Rinpoche’s blessing, Friends of KTD, under the direction of May Lein Ho, undertook the White Tara Rupa fundraising project which successfully raised $250,000 which will be used to pay down principal on KTD’s outstanding loan.
Following May Lein’s example, a group of volunteers headed by Amy McCracken with substantial support from long-time sangha member Patrick Wooldridge developed a fundraising campaign for Rinpoche’s annual 10-day teaching. We began by setting a fundraising goal of $25,000, approximately double the amount that was raised during last year’s ten-day teaching.
But then something wonderful and mysterious happened: an anonymous donor pledged up to $100,000 as a matching gift for any funds raised during the 10-day teaching and dedicated to loan principal payment.
We never thought we’d raise anywhere close to $100,000 – but guess what? We were are wrong! We’ve now come very very close to reaching the $100,000 goal. Our anonymous donor has since agreed to extend the matching gift offer until the end of October or until the $100,000 goal has been reached, whichever comes first.
Why not write a check today? Perhaps it will be your check that takes us across the finish line. Make your check payable to “KTD” and be sure to write “loan repayment” in the memo line and mail to KTD, 335 Meads Mountain Rd., Woodstock, NY 12498. We’ll provide you with an in-depth report once we meet our goal. Thank you!
In the Dharma,
In Lhasa, about a dozen Italian adventurers joined our group of mostly American pilgrims, and with our large Tibetan crew, we piled into six Toyota Land Cruisers and set off for points west.For the most part, we left cities behind and traveled through an extraordinary landscape, impossible to capture in photographs. Still, there were many in our group with better skills and more sophisticated equipment than I had, and so I’ve borrowed some of their photos in order to give you a better sense of Tibet’s unique environment.cAlways, a vast expanse of space spread out before us, sometimes desert-like, sometimes green with fields of barley and mustard. On top of every pass (and there were many!), an array of colorful prayer flags marked the summit.Monasteries clung to the steep mountainsides or nestled in river valleys. Often the architecture and the environment reminded us of the American Southwest–e.g., Mesa Verde or the Hopi Pueblos–but multiplied ten times in scale and vastness.
Shrine rooms brimmed with sanctified artifacts from centuries of religious observances, and indescribably beautiful murals graced the walls–battered by time and the effects of the Chinese invasion–but still a testimony to the potency of the Tibetan aesthetic imagination.cHow lucky we were to be there!– Karen Lucic
The opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Tibetan Autonomous Region is an incomparable blessing, especially a trip that includes a visit to the seat of H.H. the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa in Tibet. Located about 2 hours from the capitol, Lhasa, Tsurphu was established by the first head of the lineage, Dusum Khyenpa.
Today, it consists of many magnificent buildings spread out in a beautiful valley near a roaring river. Innumerable prayer flags cover the nearby mountains; they look like sanctified, multicolored spider webs. Caves and retreat huts, perfect for prolonged meditation, also dot the mountains above the monastery.
Because the Chinese government forbids the open expression of devotion for H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibet, as well as the fact that Ogyen Trinley Dorje secretly left Tsurphu in 1999 to escape Chinese control, I did not know what to expect when I arrived.
I did not anticipate seeing pictures of His Holiness; on the contrary, I thought that his presence might be effaced. So when I walked into the impressive, recently built library and encountered a 30-foot tall, three-dimensional gilded refuge tree, I was overwhelmed to hear a recording of our beloved Yizhin Norbu chanting “Karmapa Khyenno.”
His picture graced the throne below the objects of refuge; indeed, we saw representations of Karmapa throughout Tsurphu and in many other places we visited in Tibet: shrine rooms of other lineages, restaurants, hotels . . . even our driver had a picture of His Holiness in his car.
His audience hall was intact, and the attendant lama there touched us with a tassel Karmapa had used to bless pilgrims when he was still in residence. In his private quarters, I–and a handful of other pilgrims–saw his childhood library, filled with books about cars, natural history and the world beyond Tibet’s borders.
When we noticed books of fairy tales on his shelves, we recalled his comment on his first visit to KTD—that we in the audience looked like the characters he had read about in his youth. Such experiences made me marvel at the ingenious ways he finds to connect with his followers, to pull us ever more securely into his mandala.
As our group traveled into more and more remote regions of Western Tibet, as the atmosphere thinned, and Mount Kailash loomed before us, Karmapa’s protection extended far beyond the boundaries of Tsurphu.
– Photos and commentary courtesy Karen Lucic
Photo and story republished courtesy Michael Erlewine, from his Facebook Blog
I am going to tell a story I believe I have never told in writing before. It is about Lama Karma, who as a young monk managed to get out of Tibet and into Nepal. This is how my family and I helped to get Lama Karma out of Nepal and into the United States. It was high drama, and there was a time when I felt that I had to keep the following story about Lama Karma’s exodus from Nepal quiet, but since he is now a U.S. citizen, there is no reason that I can think of not to tell it, and it is an exciting tale.
Lama Karma was born and raised in Tibet. I have been to his home in the high Tibetan plateau and met his wonderful family. Their simple house is at the end of a road that turns into what here in Michigan we call a two-track, which two-track then becomes just slick grass with a little wear, hardly a road at all. When you finally get to their home, you see a small cinder-block style house and a large herd of yaks. I will write more on that trip another time.
The year was 1997 and Margaret, myself, and three of our kids were in Kathmandu, Nepal on our way home from our first pilgrimage to Tibet, the trip where we met His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa (Orgen Trinley Dorje) at Tsurphu Monastery, his ancestral home in Tibet, at some 15,000 feet of altitude. That too would be another story.
I had heard about Lama Karma sometime before I ever met him. We were staying in Boudenath, a section of Kathmandu where there is the large Bouda Stupa (perhaps a block wide), a Buddhist monument around which pilgrims and practitioners would circumambulate. Folks said that there was this young monk who would appear early in the morning and prostrate himself (a body-length at a time) around the stupa, even in the rain. The monk was obviously a very dedicated practitioner, because if you have ever been to Kathmandu, the streets and sidewalks are covered with everything you would not want to lie down on, to put it mildly. Back then there was no such thing as trash pick-up in that city, and at street corners you could find six-foot high mounds of garbage. Need I say more?
As it turned out, this dedicated monk who was doing the prostrations turned out to be Lama Karma, only back then he was not a lama, but just a monk, and his name was Karma Drodhul.
Anyway, my family and I were back in Kathmandu, wrapping up our Tibet trip after an additional week spent in Sikkim, India visiting monasteries and rinpoches. We were staying in the Happy Valley Guest House right across from Thrangu Rinpoche’s school for orphans when I received a note from my dharma teacher (Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche) asking would we please escort his nephew Karma Drodhul (a Tibetan Buddhist monk) from Kathmandu back to the United States. And sure enough, before we knew it there was this young monk waiting for us outside our hotel. He was perhaps twenty-years old and all smiles. Karma Drodhul and our kids bonded at once. But there is more to this story.
Karma Drodhul had escaped or somehow gotten across the border from Tibet into Nepal. He was an illegal and had a fake Nepalese passport that indicated he had been born in Nepal. The problem was that he spoke hardly a word of Nepalese, not what you might expect from someone born and bred in Nepal.
And the trick was to get him through customs and onto the plane to the U.S. It was certain that the officials would inspect his passport, grill him in Nepalese, and expect him to respond in what was supposed to be his native language. Hmmm. How could he do that when he knew no Nepalese?
If I remember right, there was some talk of his claiming he was born in “Namo Buddha” near Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, a sacred pilgrimage spot and home to some 250 Tibetan monks. It might be plausible that he grew up there speaking only Tibetan and never learned Nepalese. Well, it might be…. and again, it might not be plausible. Our blue-sky wishes started to fade.
As the day for our departure drew nearer, we got more and more nervous about getting Karma Drodhul through customs and out of the country. All of our more ethereal hopes about his passing for Nepalese had kind of evaporated as we faced the reality of passing this monk off as a native-born Nepalese citizen to the authorities. It appeared that there was no simple way out.
When the day to fly out of Kathmandu finally arrived, I went to the local airport with Karma Drodhul and my family, followed by a considerable entourage of the monk’s friends and well-wishers who tried to stay out of sight so as not to draw undue attention to our guise. And at the airport we waited.
When it finally came time to board the plane, there were two lines, one for locals (like Karma Drodhul), and one for (I guess) VIPs and westerners. My family checked through customs and boarded the plane via the VIP line, but I chose to accompany the young monk in the “local” line, where I stood out like a sore thumb, an older Caucasian in a line of Asians.
Meanwhile, standing behind and peering through a nearby iron gate were all of the friends who had come to see Karma Drodhul off, and who wondered if he would actually be allowed to leave the country. They kept a low profile, to be sure, a bevy of faces peering through holes in the grating.
The line of locals moved slowly, but finally there we were, the young monk and I standing before several officials. And of course, the first thing they did was to address Karma Drodhul in Nepalese. I sure didn’t know a word of Nepalese and the officials must have known that, because they spoke directly to Lama Karma, pretty much ignoring me, but probably wondering what on earth I was doing in this line.
And that was my chance to play the “Ugly American.” Every time they spoke to Karma Drodhul (and before he could answer), I opened my mouth and started speaking. I would reach into my travel vest and pull out all the papers of invitation by our monastery in New York requesting the monk to visit, and lay them out on the table before me. The officials (one who understood some English) did their best to be polite to this loud American, but obviously they were trying to bypass me and access Karma Drodhul directly.
Meanwhile, out on the tarmac, the plane had been boarded and the propellers were running. There was no jetway, but just a plane sitting out there in the sun, some distance from the terminal. We were the last two passengers booked for that plane.
And so it went. Every time the custom officials would address Karma Drodhul, I would answer. And I would drag out all my papers and loudly announce that I was here to take this monk to visit America. And each time the officials would try to be polite, but my welcome was wearing thin and the plane was already delayed. Meanwhile, the crowd of friends behind the iron gate holding their breath, were wide-eyed, waiting. This was the deciding moment.
Finally, the senior official had enough of me. He just raised his hand and with a single motion waved us off. “Go, just go” he said, and so we went, hurrying across the tarmac, daring not to look back lest they change their mind. And we did not breathe easily until we were on the plane and the hatch was sealed.
And then we were airborne, hugging and laughing with one another. Later, on another and larger plane, we headed for the U.S., everyone looking at the strange young monk who put his robes over his head while he tried to get some sleep. When we finally arrived in the San Francisco Airport, the first words out of Karma Drodhul’s mouth were “Where are the monks?” He was used to being in a society where everywhere there were monks in maroon robes, and here there were was only one, himself.
We flew on to Big Rapids, Michigan and Karma Drodhul stayed with us for some days, getting used to America. Certainly his eyes were opened the first time we walked him through a large supermarket. He had never seen anything like what even a small town like ours has. He has forever since been like a son to me and a “brother from another mother” to the kids, just family. From Big Rapids he flew to New York and the rest is history.
Karma Drodhul went on to do two traditional 3-year closed retreats (back-to-back), emerging as Lama Karma, actually two times a lama, and has since travelled the world teaching and giving empowerments. This will be his third appearance at the annual Harvest Gathering near Lake City, Michigan, and if you want to attend the gathering and meet him in person, as well as say hello to me, here is the link.
The information for the 2013 Harvest Gathering is here: