Movie directed by Gesar Mukpo on the Tibetan reincarnate lama system and its modern day ramifications for those recognized as “the chosen ones”.


On being cured of a wandering mind, hands and eye.

19517606_rudolphvalentinoAs a twenty something year old new entry into the dharma, all those years ago, I considered myself somewhat of a playboy. The sangha had a different moral compass than my catholic guilt-ridden upbringing, and as an ex wanna-be rock star, I reveled in the new freedoms that this expansive community offered me. One of those freedoms was women, which came in all types and personalities.

Although I later married, I was in an open relationship, which I exploited to the hilt. Speaking of agendas, I had a big one- women. Connecting with my vajra master and teacher, Rinpoche, I am sure that he watched me with more than detached interested and waited till the moment was right to make his opinion felt.

That day came soon enough.

I was asked to attend the parinirvana of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in Bhutan in 1991, a great honor indeed that would probably not have been conferred upon me, had it not been for my ability to take care of a certain tulku, the dharmic linebacker, Kongtrul Rinpoche.

My teacher invited all of his core students to come to Bhutan and witness the ceremonies as his guests, the collection of which spanned the known world. People came from all over to attend this remarkable opportunity, for alone many had not been to the hidden kingdom before, and that chance in itself was an incredible treasure.

We stayed with him in his house in Bhutan, guests within his compound and crammed into every nook and cranny that his property there held. Upon arrival, I surveyed the landscape carefully; it included a collection of the most beautiful women that ever graced this earth, and I, like a hungry ghost, salivated in earnest at the thought of many a possible tasty encounter.

That salivation did not last for long. Upon arrival at the house, and with people settling in on the first day, I heard a loud voice booming across the precincts calling my name. Rinpoche.

As I walked hurriedly through the garden towards the house, I couldn’t not help but think to myself (again)what a collection of gorgeous women my Buddhist teacher had around him. Some were daughters of wealthy Chinese sponsors, others students of his from across Asia and Europe. As for me, although bound in a green card American marriage, I felt no restrictions morally not to be able to hunt on Rinpoche’s turf. I have always been attracted to Asian women, and in general the feeling was reciprocal.
As I was busily assessing the field, lost in lascivious thought, I entered his house and made my way towards the sound of Rinpoche’s voice. Upon entering his room, I could see him ensconced leisurely on a chair, surrounded by a bevy of students sitting on the floor around him, arrayed as if in a human mandala. My, I thought to myself, more gorgeous women in here as well…

Rinpoche spotted me as I entered the room, and without a moment’s hesitation, asks me with a smiling face, “ So….. cheated on your wife recently?”

Stunned, I am sure in retrospect that I turned various shades of red and that the only sound I made was that of my jaw hitting the ground and my ego shattering into a million pieces. Meekly I smiled, for once lost for words, wishing that I was absolutely invisible and proceeded to find the nearest dark corner and hide.

He had nailed me so brilliantly, caught me so perfectly, that from that day onward I started to pay attention more to my own agendas and grasping nature. It was in retrospect a long time coming, and I deserved it.

And that, my friends, is the sign of a genuine spiritual teacher….

Tibet twenty years on

Given the current serious state of affairs in Tibet, and the somber Losar celebrations this year throughout the Tibetan refugee community world-wide,  brings back memories of my own trip to Tibet some 21 years ago. At that time, the country was also under lock down mode by the Chinese government with no passage in or out, yet I and a half tibetan reincarnate tulku snuck in from the mainland so that he could be enthroned at his previous incarnation’s monastery. A long story not touched upon here 🙂

1991 China was still in  the era of Deng Xiaoping, struggling with conflicting political and social forces, both liberalizing and conservative, yet still very much closed to western influence. Using the earliest form of stealth technology ( ie being inconspicuous) we had managed to sneak in to Tibet thanks to the help of a wily old tibetan monk and the financial proclivity of a police inspector and his vehicle that made regular trips in and out of the region.

Our trip in from Chengdu was appropriately dark, rainy and cloudy, bumping down logging roads carved into the steep banks of the Yellow river. Just like in a Sung dynasty painting, we rolled in and out of thick fog covered valleys, heavily forested mountain sides and blissfully beautiful vistas that opened up along the way. Hiding each night and catching only a few hours of sleep, constantly praying for both protection and success to our journey, we endured weeks of privation so that we could eventually reach this isolated Khampa community living at some 4000 metres height. Passing over a 4000 meter pass and starting the journey into Tibet proper, we were suddenly struck with a thunderously blue sky and sweeping green steppe countryside.

On our journey into that wondrous land, we were confronted with a very stark but beautiful environment, one that would not forgive any fool for too long. Weather could change drastically in an instant from sunny to freezing and back again in rapid succession. Incredible valleys covered in high grasses, a blue sky that was a deep azure and seemed to continue on until infinity, freezing Himalayan streams of clear pale blue waters, and scenes of massive cultural destruction everywhere. Thousands of Tibetan monastic cities had been obliterated and their once thriving communities scattered to the four winds. The remnants of many a temple or monastic center were everywhere to be seen.

Yet, despite the obvious signs of attempted cultural obliteration that greeted near every vista, we met with a tough, resilient and happy people, that remained as unconquered by the harsh environment as with their new red overlords from the east. The landscape seemed to have a proclivity to carve out strong personalities, and made our pampered western lifestyles and personalities pale in comparison. Jagged rocks, jagged faces, rough-hewn houses and facial characteristics, each contrasting and yet complimenting the other. 
To label these people that we met as simple would be a great misnomer and injustice. They seemed accustomed to the vast space that surrounded them, almost resting in it, as me and my companion sucked in each breath at the 4000 meter altitude. At times greeted with suspicion, (as one would be with invaders that always took and never gave) on seeing our malas and other religious items faces quickly broke into wide smiles and we were quickly plied with salt tea, momos and air-dried meat.
Watching the tv reports of late, imagining the continuing harshness of the land and their new overlords, you cannot help but remark on the Tibetan people’s indomitable spirit. I pray sincerely that their struggles for the freedom to live their lives as they choose are close.