The Yogis of Tibet (2002)

For the first time, the reclusive and secretive Tibetan monks agree to discuss aspects of their philosophy and allow themselves to be filmed while performing their ancient practices.

Directed by
Jeffrey M. Pill

On Generosity: talk by the Dalai Lama.

from: http://www.bamboointhewind.org/

Dharma Talk, March 2001

Dedication:

In honor of my mother who lived a life of generosity.

Personal Experience

We have probably all heard the saying, “Give until it hurts.” I can’t agree with this statement at all.

I believe my mother’s saying is more aligned with the truth of giving. She would say matter of factually, “giving always comes back multiplied”. My own experience has found that to be true and also that the source of the return was “Absolute Reality”, the big “Self” the “Unknown”, “God”. I also found that in fact, I am just a vehicle to facilitate the pass through, that fundamentally, whatever I have, is really not mine at all. I think of it as “gifts of the universe”. Maybe Anne Morrow Lindberg would say “gifts from the sea”.

What is Generosity?

Most of us know what generosity is, that is, the quality of being generous (magnanimous); liberal in giving. In my investigation of generosity I have identified several aspects of generosity that appear to fall into two distinct categories, conventional understanding and Buddhist teaching.

Aspects of Generosity

In terms of conventional understanding “form” is the most familiar aspect. When we think of form, we think of material objects, money or other types of personal resources. There also “intangible forms”, such as, time, love, personal attention, advice, a smile, prayers, offerings (moonlight, blooming flowers, light of the universe). I’m sure you can help me build this list.

A second aspect of generosity is “intention”. What is the motive of the giver? Dogen states “giving” needs to be “genuine”. Then there is the aspect of “expectation of a return”. Is it present or not? In giving there’s the element of timing that necessitates an alertness to the moment. The realm of no hesitation. Like saying an immediate “yes” when asked to do something by another.

One aspect that I see in both categories is the “causal relationship of generosity”, cause and effect, the interconnectedness of all life. By this I mean, how generosity extends beyond the giver, the receiver and the gift into the seen and unseen world.

Three aspects from a Buddhist perspective are, “emptiness”, “non-attachment” and “compassion”.

Emptiness

In the Buddhist teaching of “emptiness”, I am referring to “no-Self”. In the context of giver, receiver and gift, all are interdependent and each lacks inherent self existence. An example is the dedication of merit chanted as part of our service. Here the idea is that when chanting the dedication, one is aware of the emptiness of oneself, those whom we dedicate the merit to, and the merit itself.

Zen Master’ Perspective :

Recently, I have been reading Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind. One of the talks by Suzuki-Roshi is entitled, “God Giving ” ‘To give is non-attachment,’ that is, just not to attach to anything is to give.”

His view of giving is magnanimous; all encompassing. He goes on to say that “every existence in nature, every existence in the human world, every cultural work that we create, is something which was given, or is being given to us, relatively speaking. But as everything is originally one, we are, in actuality, giving out of everything. Moment after moment we are creating something, and this is the joy of our life.” He calls the source, the “big I”.

One could say when we manifest our true nature, just being ourselves, we are giving. A dharma friend shared with me a teaching from a Zen priest who said, “Giving is giving back to ourselves”. Herein lies “compassion”.

Later in the same text Suzuki Roshi says, “It does not matter what is given. To give a penny…or a piece of leaf.. a one line teaching. If given in the spirit of non-attachment, the material offering and the teaching offering have the same value.

Not to be attached to something is to be aware of its absolute value.

In “The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas”, from Shobogenzo which I believe to be the source document for Suzuki-Roshi’s talk mentioned previously, Dogen says that “when one learns giving well, being born and dying are both giving. All productive labor is fundamentally giving. Entrusting flowers to the wind, birds to the season, also must be meritorious acts of giving.” …He further states, “…great giving… is not only a matter of exerting physical effort; one should not miss the right opportunity.”

In the same essay Dogen says that it is difficult to transform the the mind of living beings and giving can be the beginning of transforming the mind. He says that “one should not calculate the greatness or smallness of the mind, nor the greatness or smallness of the thing. Nevertheless, there is a time when the mind transforms things, and there is giving in which things transform the mind.”

Sources:

Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind p. 65-71

Shobogenzo, Zen Essays by Dogen, ‘The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas”, p117-118

Shobogenzo-zuimonki 5-6 p.176

Instructions to monks:

A monk who has left home should never be overjoyed upon receiving offerings from others. Nor, however, should such offerings be refused.

The late Sojo (Eisai) said, “It goes against the precepts of the Buddha to rejoice upon receiving offerings. It also goes against the good will of the donor to be ungrateful.”

What we should bear in mind on this point is that the offerings are not to ourselves, but to the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). So, in acknowledging thanks, you should say, “The Three Treasures will surely accept your offerings.”

All emotions are suffering: excerpts from a talk by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

taken from  http://justdzongsar.wordpress.com/

Now I like to point out, the word suffering again is overused. And it is kind misleading to lot of people. You know when I was teaching about four seals of buddhadharma, that all compounded things are impermanent, by large everybody can accept. Then, and with a good reason, they accept. They are very convinced.  also if I say, when I was talking about all phenomena as emptiness, well, and also nirvana is beyond extreme, those two, they don’t even bother not accepting because most of the time, it is like, it pass this from the top, they don’t want. But you know, I have noticed, the second line, all emotions are suffering, oh my god, everyone, passionately disagrees with me. Passionately. Emotions, all emotions are …. Actually many people even try to correct me, maybe Rinpoche, maybe emotion is not the right word. And actually I think to the certain extend they are right. Emotion,, maybe the Tibetan word … is much bigger than the word emotion. But to up keeping my stubbornness and also actually now deliberately I use the word emotion, deliberately. Emotions are suffering….. Because people think: Oh yah okay negative emotions are properly of course suffering. But how about love? How about devotion? How about inspiration? How about creativity? How about ecstasy, how about all of that. Those are not suffering. This is where I think the definition of the suffering is something that we have to ponder.

Because the Buddhist definition of the suffering is quite a,(pause). One of the biggest element or character that really makes the suffering the suffering is time factor. The fact that it is impermanent. Anything that is impermanent, anything that is put together, they are subject to time. Anything that is subject to the time is basically synonymous to uncertainty. And if it is uncertain, does that recall something. Pain. Uncertainty is the biggest pain.

Because of uncertainty, things like insurance company works. It is the uncertainty that is really, the economy is working because of the uncertainty. You can sell things that might come, might not come. For the sake of protecting yourself and stuff like that. Uncertainty is a very very big problem. And if you look at emotions, love, compassion, even the religious, even the dharma, related to dharma love, things that we try to meditate upon, love, compassion, suffering. Of course the sticky love, of course it is a suffering. Of course. No need to mention that one. You all know that. But even the love and compassion that we are try to cultivate, yes it is suffering. If it is shocking you, it is nothing. In fact when we talk about…., the third suffering, the third type of suffering, in the mahayana sutras and shastras, it is clearly stated that even the tenth bhumi bodhisattvas meditative state is also a suffering. So of course, emotions are suffering.

The Four Contemplations that Turn the Mind: Teaching by Mingyur Rinpoche.

Introduction

One of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha is the Four Noble Truths. In fact the Four Noble Truths constitute the main theme within which all the Buddhist teachings can be understood to fit.
First is the truth of suffering. Second is the origin or source of suffering. The third is the truth of the cessation of suffering. And the fourth is the truth of the spiritual path that leads to the cessation of suffering. We could think of the Four Noble Truths by way of the following analogy. The truth of suffering is like a disease. The truth of the origin or source of suffering is like identifying the causes of a disease. The truth of the cessation of suffering is analogous to the state of health or well-being when the disease has been cured. And the truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering is analogous to the medicine a person takes to become cured. In terms of daily spiritual practice, the truth of suffering concerns what we need to recognize to be the case. The truth of the origin of suffering concerns what we need to eliminate. The truth of the cessation of suffering concerns what we need to attain. And the truth of the path concerns what we need to rely upon in order to bring that about.
Using the analogy of being sick with a disease, you have to recognize that you are sick to begin with and before you can take any steps towards health. This is the stage of recognition or understanding of what has already gone wrong.  If a person lets months go by and doesn’t’t pay attention to the fact that he or she is not feeling very well, it could very well be that a disease is developing which is not being dealt with. That person may not be facing up to the fact of illness. However, if we have first recognized that we are sick and want to become healthy, to cure ourselves, we need to understand what the causes underlying that sickness are, because if we don’t identify them, we won’t get any better. And that’s analogous to the second truth, the truth of the source or origin of suffering, whereby you understand what it is you need to eliminate so that the cause does not give rise to the result, which is suffering.
Now let’s imagine that there is a leak in the roof of this building. It starts raining and here we are watching the rain dripping through the roof onto the floor, drop by drop, so that the lovely floor here is being filled with a bigger and bigger puddle of water. We would probably rush to mop up the water with a towel. But if we just keep mopping up the water as it drips through the roof, we won’t really solve the problem, will we? If we don’t look up at the ceiling and find out where the water is coming from, the rain will continue to drip onto the floor and we will be continuously mopping it up. We have to recognize the source of the leak, don’t we? The point here is that if we want to be free from suffering, we have to accurately identify the source of suffering.
I’ll give you another example.  Suppose I was going to leave the room through that doorway and behind the curtain there was a large mountain lion that looks as if it could potentially attack and kill a human being, but it’s a stuffed animal. I don’t know that it’s stuffed and I don’t know that it’s there, but behind the curtain there’s a stuffed mountain lion and I’m going to go out through our past that curtain to leave the room. And because I don’t know that there’s anything there and quite cheerfully leave the room, humming a little song. And as soon as I get outside and see what’s there, I’m startled, because I see the seemingly ferocious beast about to pounce on me. As long as I don’t know it’s a stuffed mountain lion, I’d have the same kind of fear as if I’d met a live mountain lion. I’d have the same reaction in the immediate moment of seeing that stuffed animal. But if I knew that there was something harmless out there to begin with, I would just laugh – it wouldn’t’t hold the same kind of fear for me, because of my previous knowledge about its nature. And the more stuffed mountain lions that were put there to try and make it even more threatening to me would only increase my certainty and fearlessness about the fact that that there was nothing at all to be afraid of.
Let me tell you another story.  I once went to a wax museum where there are mannequins that look very real, like real people. There was a wax figure of H.H. the Dalai Lama in this particular wax museum. I was very impressed. It looked just like His Holiness. I was standing there marveling at how realistic this wax figure of His Holiness was when a couple came into the room, pointed at the wax figures, chatted away, and took pictures. Suddenly the woman came and stood next to me and said to her companion, “Take a picture of me.”
I thought to myself, What’s this all about? It sort of made me chuckle that she wanted her picture taken in this way. So I turned to her and smiled. She immediately shouted, “Ahhh!” and jumped away from me. Her companion was standing there holding the camera with his mouth wide open. So obviously they mistook me for one of these wax figures.
This story relates to the matter of recognition and identification that is associated with the first two of these four noble truths: the truth of suffering and the truth of the source of suffering. The whole point of identifying the truth of suffering as such is to become free of that suffering – through identifying it and then eliminating its causes. That’s the whole point of that level of practice. And with that kind of recognition and that kind of practice we can save ourselves an enormous amount of trouble. A lot of the problems and complications we face in life are quite meaningless, because they don’t need to happen in the first place. And so we can free ourselves from so much of that just by recognizing the truth of suffering for what it is and practicing in order to eliminate its causes.

The Four Contemplations

Now, the ordinary preliminary practices, the four contemplations that turn the mind, are to a great degree concerned with recognizing and identifying the truth of suffering and the truth of the source of suffering. These contemplations help us direct our mind away from activities that lead to suffering and toward activities that help us become free from suffering.

1) This Precious Human Birth

The first contemplation which turns the mind away from concerns and activities that lead to suffering is reflection on this precious human birth that is endowed with every freedom and asset. It is difficult to get and can be easily destroyed, so now is the time to make it meaningful. The main point here is that this human birth provides us with the best opportunity to become free from suffering. But we have to recognize this and understand what we need to do to achieve that freedom.
The cause for obtaining a precious human birth is abandoning negative activity and accumulating positive activity. Having achieved this precious human birth, what then are we free from?
We are free from eight types of negative rebirths or negative states: being born as a hell being, as a hungry ghost, as an animal, as a barbarian, as a long living god, as a person with wrong views or ignorance, or being born at a time when Buddha’s teachings are not present. If the Buddha’s teachings are not present or obtainable, then one is unable to learn the practices that lead to liberation. And also, being born deaf or mute, one can’t understand the teachings. To be free means freedom from these eight states which entail extreme suffering, either in this life or future lives.
The Buddha also said that the human being has power. In the Indian language the name for Buddha is Purusha. In English that means “powerful one, strong one, young one.” So we are all like precious jewels. We need to engender a joy of recognition that we have a precious body or opportunity which is like a wish-fulfilling jewel that is very difficult to obtain.
In our minds we experience many kinds of suffering, not only from this life but from previous lives, with the likelihood of considerable future suffering. And the main cause of suffering, the second Noble Truth, is grasping. So if we have a method to overcome or change grasping, we are able to turn the mind away from grasping which causes the suffering.
So how does grasping manifest in one’s mind?  When we grasp to external objects, we have an idea or misconception that the happiness or the suffering that results from them are within the external objects. We hold the external objects to be the source of happiness. But this is not really the case. The object is not the source of happiness or suffering. Objects themselves are impermanent, a result of causes and conditions. The reality perceived by the grasping mind does not correspond to the reality of the objects as such.

2) Impermanence

A powerful remedy for grasping or fixation on objects as the source of happiness and unhappiness is meditation on impermanence, the second contemplation that turns the mind. There are two types of impermanence, subtle and gross, which can be demonstrated in the following way. Let’s look at this cup I am holding now. Is the cup I’m holding now the same cup as the one I used earlier in the day? We tend to perceive it as the same cup, right? That’s the subtle grasping to permanence, the erroneous perception that the cup has inherent self nature.  But it’s really not the same cup. It has been changing all the time, with the passage of time. That is subtle, moment-to-moment impermanence.
An example of coarse grasping to permanence would be thinking, “This really is a cup. I like it. I want it.”  And because of the typically greater intensity of coarse grasping there is usually greater suffering involved. As beginners, we can’t hope to eliminate all of the grasping to permanence straight away. That’s fine. The most important thing is to recognize the grasping.  Simple recognition is very beneficial. As we continue to practice and also experience some understanding of emptiness, grasping can be pacified and eliminated.

3) Karma

The third contemplation that turns the mind is that of examining the consequences of our actions. The Buddha taught that in general all phenomena are interdependent. Our physical body and the external world all arise in the own mind. One’s body, one’s mind, the external phenomena of the world are all interdependent with each other. Karma, or causes and conditions with the attendant consequences, accumulates because of this interdependence.
For example, when you plant rice or some other crop in a field, there are many conditions and requirements to have a successful yield. First we need earth, then moisture, adequate warmth, air, and a seed.  We also need the absence of creatures who might eat the seed. We need time for the crop to grow, and we need the farmer who plants the seed. If you gather all the causes together, the appropriate combination and context, you will obtain a positive result. Each of these different variables is interdependent with the others. If you don’t have earth, for example, the seed cannot be planted. If you don’t have air, the seed won’t grow. If there is no moisture, it won’t sprout. The fruition of the plant or flower is related to the causes; it is interdependent with the causes. Because of the causes, you get the fruit.
As far as we are concerned, activities that are based on negative mental states or intentions will result in suffering. If one accumulates negative actions, the result will not be happiness – it will be suffering. If you plant corn, you will not get a bean as a result. Likewise, positive intentions and actions yield positive results.

4) Samsara

The fourth thought that turns the mind is samsaric suffering. What is samsara?
Within samsara are the six realms of beings.  The three lower realms include beings in the hell realms, hungry ghosts, and animals. Then we have what is called the three higher realms of humans, demigods, and gods. So when we talk about samsara, we are referring to these six realms of beings.
However, the Buddha taught that all the six realms of beings are actually projections of one’s own mind. In the ultimate sense, the six realms of beings do not really exist. But because of the relative truth based on interdependence, they appear. How do the six realms of beings arise?  They arise from the six poisons that are in our mind.  And the six poisons within our own mind, through interdependence, manifest outwardly as the six realms. Contemplating the suffering in these realms helps turn our minds toward the Dharma that can free us from suffering.
Let’s go back to the mountain lion behind the curtain.  Suppose it weren’t’t a stuffed mountain lion but a live one behind the curtain. How would that change the picture? Imagine this: It’s not a stuffed animal, and there’s no point in pretending there’s no problem. There is!  What do you do now? Run away?
My point is that if there really were a mountain lion behind the curtain, and not a stuffed one, the way we dealt with the situation in the first example with the stuffed lion wouldn’t’t work this time. You would need to apply greater intelligence and a different way of dealing with that other situation. By analogy, further intelligence is what we develop when we understand and experience shunyata, emptiness, and the nature of mind. That level of practice is a step further than what we referred to in the first case. When you have developed the view of emptiness and the experience of the very nature of mind and have brought it to its consummation, then you can deal with the real mountain lion more easily, so to speak. You will be able to deal directly with the causes of suffering. They will hold no fear for you, no threat.  You will be able to fearlessly proceed along the path and utilize the means that lead to cessation of suffering.
Take the example of Milarepa. Fire couldn’t’t burn him, water couldn’t’t drown him. From his own perspective he was beyond birth and death. Why? Because fire, which is emptiness by its very nature. could not harm Milarepa who was emptiness himself.  Emptiness couldn’t’t harm emptiness.
The process of birth and the process of death all take place only within the context of the state of confusion. From the point of view of the ultimate nature of emptiness, birth and death are not inherently existent. So from the perspective of one who has realized emptiness, that individual’s perception is no longer involved in the process of birth and death. Thus we read accounts of Milarepa seeming to die in one area while someone else is receiving a teaching from him in another place. Or of Milarepa having already “died” and his corpse having been placed on the funeral pyre and set alight. When his disciple Rechungpa came late to the funeral, Milarepa was sitting up in the flames and singing a song of instruction to him. How can we account for these kinds of occurrences without understanding them from the point of view of  the  realization of emptiness?
It can bee seen here that the truth of the cessation of suffering ties in very directly with realization of emptiness. In the ultimate sense, the truth of the cessation of suffering concerns the experience of the very nature of mind itself, the ultimate nature of mind. And the means to bring about that realization constitutes the fourth Noble Truth, which is the truth of the path. And so there’s a structure here. The Four Noble Truths are interrelated and tie in with one another. They are not separate from one another, but are intimately connected. This is why the Four Noble Truths are a foundation for Buddhist practice and liberation.
Thank you very much.
New Year’s Eve talk presented in Vancouver, 2003.
Radio broadcast on Aug. 10, 2007 in Hartford, Ct.: http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wnpr/local-wnpr-616210.mp3
May virtue increase!
HomeProgramsTeachingsLineageContact © 2007 Tergar Institute
(submitted to the website of Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche with explicit permission from Ven. Mingyur Rinpoche by Gaby Hollmann).

Escape to Tibet, Part 8: Thoughtful wanderings

Gesar and I lay in the semi darkness, and dissolved in the cold morning air. Around us the little monastery city went about its daily business of prayers and rebuilding. We had nothing scheduled for the first half of that day, and we took advantage of the break to catch up on some well earned sleep.

For once, time itself seemed to stop. Here we were, thousands of miles away from modern civilization as we knew it, living in a simple, window pane-less monastery shrine room, with prayers, barking dogs and singing workers busily engaged in rebuilding the only regular sounds to fill our ears.
We were exhausted from the ceremony of the day before, where the crowds and requests for this and that had kept us busy from dawn until well after dusk. Due to our language limitations, the constant strain of communication was taking its toll on us, and we were tired without any hope of real respite. Luckily, they left us pretty much alone that morning and we just became one with the darkness.

I dozed in and out of sleep. waking up occasionally to listen to some worker’s lilting voice as he toiled on the new building nearby. Occasionally, the voices of villagers down below drifted up through the window as they chatted about this or that or just passed time on their way to some business or other.

Life as mirror: In life, so often the definition of who we are and how we behave depends on where we are and who we are with. Sounds simple enough…To complicate matters further, we change over time, so that that which once was can be forgotten, lost, or erased, with personalities and memories becoming as indistinguishable as long lost friends. I had watched Gesar transform from a raging ball of incredible energy to a calm enigmatic person capable of showing incredible depth of feeling and care to others, without break for days on end. I, on the other hand, was generally the grumpy one, kicking out the attending monks when things got too crowded, or discipline was lost on the crowd when we moved about, which was always with great difficulty as we soon attracted a large crowd of followers immediately on standing up or making motions to move.
A photo that was taken of me at the time (unfortunately long since lost) shows a young man with long dark and unkempt black hair, pulled back off my forehead Japanese bushi style, a full beard and gaunt, exhausted expression. What struck me about the photo was the fierce look in my eyes, probably from being overly exhausted and struggling to keep things together as time took its toll on us. I had become some kind of western protecting spirit to this young tibetan treasure.

Gesar was transformed. He spent most of the days with a bemused expression on his face as request after request poured in, as it does for any Tibetan lama taking care of their people; please bless these prayer sheets, say some prayers for a sick child, come and bless our house, goats, child. He would just smile and carry out the task, regardless of whether it was repetitive or just the precursor to other tasks immediately following, which was usually the case.
My own sense of generosity was relative to my state of energy, and I personally struggled to deal with the constant requests to do something or be somewhere. Whenever I felt that people started asking too much of Gesar, I would find the highest ranking person in the room and beg for a break.

And it was thanks to one such request that we found ourselves free for half a day.

G- reflections, and projections.

In amongst this maelstrom of activity that had engulfed this remote Tibetan monastery over the last few days, sat Gesar. As an eighteen year old, more accustomed to fast food, cars, movies and a western lifestyle, I cannot begin to imagine what must he have felt. Without projecting too much hearsay into the story, I will try to picture, from my standpoint, what might have been going on within his mind. Excuse me for my discursiveness.

Being the son of a great man, recently deceased, and living in the shadow of both that man’s deeds and his western students’ expectations, the black sheep known as Gesar wandered. Many of these people around him more often than not talked at him rather than to him, this boy who had lost his father and needed a strong father figure to guide him; this boy,who manifested pure, uncontrollable energy.

Yet, here he was in this impossibly high forgotten valley, a prince; refined, gentle, loving, smiling, transformed in this land of snows and devotion. Life had truly become a mirror.

In the west, wildness abounded from him, a raw, sheer energy for life. This young Genghis Khan of the dharma was seen as an unpredictable force of nature by the mindful adult world, yet their children of those very same people flocked to him in droves, like the children to the Pied Piper, accepting him in his entirety.
In a sea of tranquility, he embodied the storm; not at all refined like the community had trained itself to be, but raw. Nor was this boy afraid to show his emotions, at any point in time, like liquid fuel, burning in his heart and vividly expressed like lightening. When happy, he was like the brightest of suns. When sad, he could rip out every heart nearby in empathy and sadness, for he radiated emotion, magnified them to marshall stack like volume. That is, was, and always shall be, his gift. His presence was way too much for many who had just lost their precious teacher, and many shunned him, fearing his spontaneous combustive qualities. It was just…too painful.The fact was that, whether many liked it or not, both physically and as a personality, G reminded them way too much of his father, the great Chogyam Trungpa. And no one knew what to do with him.

When we had first met two years earlier, G had just recently returned from a study trip to Nepal to see His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a mountain of a man who embodied a veritable well of compassion that flowed out of him through liquid eyes, huge smiles and hands. His Holiness had helped start this young boy on his way to spiritual study, but with the untimely loss of his father, the container was broken, and the contents ran free. Soon His Holiness followed after Trungpa, and those that cared for Gesar struggled to find a replacement mentor for him.

That replacement came in the form of my teacher, whose piercing inscrutability and irascible sense of humour powered right through to G’s soul. He was cool; not generations apart like so many of the elders, and Rinpoche could relate to G on a fresh and cutting level. Because of that auspicious link, perfect timing and a trust that bound us all together, here G was in Tibet.

Peaceful wanderings and the Shedrak. In the afternoon, after another meal of rice, meats and limited vegetables, we headed down the steep steps for a tour of the land and the old destroyed library and school across the little stream that cut the valley in two. Somehow, the number of attendants with us stayed to a bare minimum- with us was the Abbot, his trainee and about six or seven monks all buzzing around Gesar trying to hold an arm or to guide him over the sometimes rocky hillside down into the valley proper. Walking was laborious, each breath taxing, but we made steady progress and found ourselves below the little monastic city and stepping onto the beautiful rich spongy grass of the valley.

The Shedrak was a short distance away from Shechen proper, I am gong to estimate approximately a quarter of a mile away; perhaps put there as a way to encourage concentration in the young students who would study the higher forms and sutras and master themselves. But what we came to at that time was only the empty and shattered remains of what had once been a proud center of learning. It had been destroyed by the Chinese where they had first come to the monastery, burning or using the texts as toilet paper, destroying the classrooms and in general forcing all public forms of education underground. It was a mess; broken desks and tables, doors un-hung and classrooms open to the elements, yet another testament to Chinese intolerance at that time. Doors hung off frames, holes in the road gaped forlornly, and weeds grew through the floor. Having seen so much destruction evident right across the Tibetan landscape, I looked around at some of the faces of the monks as we stood there, their sad, silent faces, some with faint smiles as if to accept that for now, this was all that they could expect.

Without a word, we ventured on further up the valley, the stream beside us a transparent aqua blue that burbled in the background. Yaks wandered here and there, looking at our passing nonchalantly, chewing their curd and then quickly re-focusing their attention on some tasty clump of grass in front of them. What an idyllic life…

We wandered on down the valley and one of the shoes that I was wearing suddenly decided to give up the ghost, the sole ripping away from the upper leather, flapping wildly with each step. Laughing, and without having a choice, I took off the offending shoe, prepared to limp my way back to the main buildings some distance away, but I pleasantly discovered that the soft spongy grass underfoot was like the ultimate putting green, soft and gentle with every foot-fall. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about without a care in the world as the land that was Sechen embraced me.

Revealing the man. Stopping a little later for a break, we sat and sucked in air as the sounds of the quiet valley were pierced only by a bird of prey high above, gliding in the deepest of deepest blue. Everyone had started to relax- the Tibetans with us and we with them, for the busiest moments were already past us all. There was that wonderful silence that exists between humans when everyone is just resting in the moment, rather than quickly seeking to fill it with some activity or other. Gesar and I were just enjoying being there, Tibet, this land of dreams, or incredible suffering and tribulation, hard land and hard peoples existing together in harmony with one another.

Some time later, one of the monks got up, and proceeded to ceremoniously unwrap a large piece of silk cloth, only to reveal head shaving clippers as its contents. A hushed silence suddenly descended on the group in expectation, and then nine sets of eyes set upon Gesar. It suddenly dawned on me- they wanted to cut Gesar’s hair. Another ironic smile crossed big G’s face and a nod of acquiescence, and he was set upon by other helping hands as other sets of clippers appeared mysteriously from folded arms and garments.

G and I just laughed and laughed. The more holy this crew acted, the more it had me and him in hysterics trying to deal with it. Loving hands to every opportunity to touch him, and he sat there calmly while this busy work calmly proceeded around him.

Sitting some short moment later, bald of pate, I and everyone else suddenly saw the resemblance in full to the previous Sechen Kongtrul; here, before us again as a young man, reborn. Compared against an old photo of the previous teacher, pulled out from the folds of a robe, the likeness was uncanny. It was enough for everyone to line up and ask for blessings again, such was the effect that a shaved bald head and a huge smile could have.

We spend the rest of the next hour or so making our way back to the main temple, the shadows that had already started their steady crawl across the valley guiding us forwards, as the chill winds of coming night made their presence felt once again.