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A special on prayer wheels and lamas! Also, I have just resumed school for this spring semester, a heads up in case I lag behind on blogging.
On the Drupchen retreat, nearly everyone who did the full retreat had a prayer wheel. Some were new and shiny – typically copper. Others were antique and aged – probably with years of mantra spinning under their belts. Most prayer wheels have the mantra that we were reciting within them, and if they are spun in a clock-wise direction, the mantra goes forward, continually sending light energy out into the world. The lamas, as you can see in the picture, had a red prayer wheel that had to sit on something – rather than being hand held. OM MANI PADME HUNG HRI!
I definitely notice something switch in my mind when I start spinning my prayer wheel. Especially when I go back and forth from right hand to left hand. It is almost as if my body reverts to a state of equanimity, where it is difficult for anything to bother me. I guess you might say a part of me has gone within as it focuses on keeping the prayers spinning round.
Here in the West, we are very blessed. Of course, it is awful what is happening in China and in Tibet. We cannot stay
silent about human rights violations which do not stop and which are not allowed to be witnessed by any foreign, objective media. However, with that said, we are very, very blessed to have had the Tibetan Lamas go into exile. Otherwise, we would not have such incredible teachers here among us. I have heard some scholars say that here in the West, we have better access to teachers than they do in India or China (Tibet). Seriously, stop and think about this. We, at least in the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, have better access to high Tibetan Lamas, who are, in my opinion, some of the most spiritually realized people on the planet. I have also heard that this is due to the heads of the lineages (of Tibetan Buddhism) sending their best monks to teach us – perhaps they want to have the best models for us. Actually, I have also read that Westerners are not easy to teach. We generally want instant gratification and results and when it comes to the patient, gradual path, we shy away. With this little introduction to our good fortune, next I will introduce the monks (lamas) from the retreat.
Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin has been in the U.S. since 2001, and his English is good enough evidence of that. He did the translating for the retreat master, Traga Rinpoche. Khenpo Tsultrim lives at the Tibetan Meditation Center main house where he takes care of the shrine, the center, hosting and organizing duties. He is one of three spiritual directors of the center and his knowledge of Buddhist sutras (scriptures) and ethics is very scholarly and proficient. If there is one of the lamas who is best at debate, it is Khenpo Tsultrim – his mind is quick and accurate, coming up with evidence and scriptural references very rapidly.
Khenpo Chopel has only recently arrived from India and Nepal. Before that, he was the Umdze (chant master) for the Drikung Thil monastery in Tibet. The chant master, who leads hundreds of monks in daily prayers and all the rituals must know dozens if not hundreds of prayers and texts by heart (in other words, his memory is excellent and full of juicy Drikung practices). He is the one who facilitated and directed this Drubchen, because it was done in a method similar to the Drikung Thil monastery (the main monastery of the Drikung Kagyu in Tibet). He is just beginning to learn English but he is gentle and his heart radiates loving-kindness and compassion. He is a profound and thorough teacher.
Drupon Thinley Ningpo, my root lama, has also been at the TMC since 2001. He is the TMC retreat master and he is sort of the Drupon for the East Coast – he visits centers from Florida to Boston and Chicago several times each year, where he teaches and bestows initiations into the lineage of wisdom and compassion. Drupon helped to facilitate this Drupchen with Traga Rinpoche.
Traga Rinpoche is a profound being with a heart full of vast compassion. He seemed ordinary, simple and humble to me, but there were times, once we were all into retreat mode (and lacking in sleep) where he let his true colors shine through and he was fully present with whoever he was speaking with or whatever activity he was doing. He truly wears his huge, loving heart on his sleeve. Traga Rinpoche mainly teaches at the Garchen Institute where they have retreatants (Arizona). [Revision – 10/2009 – I believe Traga Rinpoche has moved to New Mexico where he is the head of a center in Albuquerque. Revised in 2021 – Traga Rinpoche has been back in Tibet for a number of years now where he is the primary teacher for monastics (I believe nuns in this case).]
Lama Sonam is the resident teacher in the Boston Center. He has completed his three year retreat, and the way I will always remember him, is singing and bringing joy to all around him. In my first Tibetan Buddhist retreat, he was also attending, and he would sing to himself or to others (and me) just spontaneously and joyfully. It truly brightened my heart and opened me to greater possibilities of beingness.
Lama Gyaltsen is Drupon Thinley Ningpo’s attendant and one of the resident lamas of the TMC. However, at this, and at most retreats, he did all the work behind the scenes as it were. Every time we had a change – from morning to afternoon, from day to night, from early night to late night, we received blessings – saffron water which he was always dispensing. He is full of helpful, modest energy and he is always helping out with whatever project is going on. They say that the most enlightened are the most humble (and they happily take the worst jobs) and if this is true, his realization must be vast.
Thanks for reading!