Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dragon of Compassion

When I was in Dharmsala, India in January and February 1986, my friend Thubten, used to tell me traditional Tibetan tales of Drukpa Kunli. He is a mythical Dharma being that is a crazy wisdom humorous being that is woven into traditional Tibetan spiritual and stories told to young adults embarking on the strange path to adulthood. Although these stories are all humorous they are also cautionary tales weaving dharma, magic, trials and tribulations with funny outcomes that are a lot like parables.

As I listened to some of these stories I came to know more how Tibetan culture actually worked and how the men of Tibetan culture actually thought(at least those men that were devoted to Tibetan Buddhism who had been born in Tibet and been through a lot. Thubten was around my age and so likely was born in Tibet between 1948 and 1952 or thereabouts.

He told me how he had been born in Tibet and how his parents were persecuted by the Chinese. One night his parents had to flee Tibet and he and his 4 year old sister were left behind because of all the dangers at that time. They were locked in a barn and almost starved to death by an old woman. Finally, they dug out under the barn before they died there. Thubten was 9 at the time and his sister 4. After about 1 week locked in the barn without food or water they found a way digging out through the floor and escaped. They found relatives to stay with. Eventually as teenagers they made their way to India and found their parents. Thubten said this experience scarred them both for life. So Thubten became a Tibetan monk and his sister became an Ani or Tibetan Buddhist Nun.note(Geshela told me that his parents died when they were 52 and 54 respectively which was pretty normal in the harsh climate of the Himalayas without electricity or central heating or even western type insulation in homes.)end note.

When Thubten was about 25 his parents began to fade and since there was no social security Thubten took care of his parents until they died. He had a lama, Geshela, hold his robes for him so he could work and earn money to support his parents until they died. He worked as a guide for mountain climbers from Europe, America and for rich people from all over earth in the Himalayas of India, and Nepal. So he learned English as a second language for doing this. When I reached Dharmsala, India with my family, we were travelling with Geshela by train and bus to get there to Dharmsala. Thubten met us there and I found Thubten excellent at conveying Tibetan ideas in English, which generally speaking was very rare, I found at that time.

Though Geshela had been studying since he was 6 years old through his 40s to become a Geshe(spiritual friend lama) which might in some way be comparable to a Doctorate in Divinity in the Western world, he spoke very broken English and unless you listened very carefully you might miss things because it was like listening to Yoda with a thick Khampa Tibetan accent. So Thubten actually was able to translate what Tibetan thought was all about to me more than any other single person I ever met. In fact, the Gyuto Trantric Monks used Thubten as their English speaking master of ceremonies at many concerts they sang at in the United States when he came to the U.S. with them in the late 1980s and then settled in Minnesota, USA. When he visited me the last time I saw him in the very late 1980s he gave me a gift of a Dorje and Bell for my altar in my room. I always felt very blessed meeting Thubten and Geshela. They were both the very best of what Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism is all about.

Thubten, a very devout Tibetan Buddhist, also took me to meet Lam Rim Geshe, who had just come out of a 17 year retreat walled away from the world. He looked almost exactly like Yoda only he was almost 6 feet tall. I remember looking into his eyes and seeing the whole universe there. His home looked very much like Yoda's in the movies too. Jim Henson's puppeteers had been to Dharmsala to look for High Lamas as examples for Yoda also, I learned from Thubten.

When someone spends 17 years in the dark they either go nuts or become enlightened there. There really isn't another choice walled away in the quiet solitude with only yourself and the universe and food pushed under your door once a day. I found the state of consciousness I was looking for looking into Lam Rim Geshe's eyes.

I found the explanation I was looking for speaking with Thubten about Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan thought. I found the practices I was looking for from Geshela and from all the other Rinpoches and lamas who gave me initiation and instruction and blessing.

Thubten also took me to see Ling Rinpoche, the senior tutor to the Dalai Lama. At that time Ling Rinpoche had been sitting on a table meditating for two years without water or food. When I walked into that room high in the Himalayas into the little stone house with the slate roof and saw Ling Rinpoche there I was amazed. Here was a very high Lama projecting back blessings from the heaven realms, even though he would never return to his body and walk again. His body was not decomposing but was being used as a meditational and blessing vehicle. After a while I walked outside and cried for about 20 minutes.

In the west where I was born and raised people were born and lived and died. But this was something different. Ling Rinpoche was neither dead nor alive but sending infinite blessings back to us on earth from heaven. I would never be the same again!

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