I just recently got back from a trip to Pittsburgh, PA. It is closer to Charlottesville than I was thinking, so I will try to head up there once a year if it is easy.
On Saturday there was an empowerment by H.E. Tritsab Rinpoche (Chenrezig). That day was a lot of driving, so I kind of collapsed after that session. I filled in as make-shift attendant. My friend who I went up there with is from India – he does months of meditation retreats at a time (he is a bit of a dedicated yogi). So I was the low man on the totem pole and I was happy to fill in as cook.
Saturday was at a beautiful church about 20 minutes away from the Dharma center. At least 40 people attended – quite a nice crowd, an interesting blend of new-comers and experienced practitioners, and older and younger attendees.
Sunday was a bit more of a special practice. His Eminence, Tritsab Rinpoche, is actually a highly regarded Lama. Way back (like 600 years or so), an earlier incarnation of his was one of the lineage Lamas of the Drikung Kagyu. And at that time, Rinpoche had a literal face-to-face with the Dharma protectress Achi Chokyi Drolma. Tritsab Rinpoche was given a small scroll that had Dakini script on it (meaning he received a terma or a treasure text). The current Rinpoche said that that lineage holder could not actually decipher the scroll – but that when he meditated, the words to the practice came to him. Therefore it was more of a mind terma (I think). Also, it is a little complicated in that this is a pure Drikung Kagyu practice – most termas are from the Nyingma tradition, having been hidden by Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal.
Anyway, on Sunday we got the Terma Achi empowerment. This was held in the Dharma center (see below) and about 25 people showed up for this. Great group, a little tight, and warm (because Rinpoche speaks quietly, we had to turn off the air conditioner!). I did not have a seat 😦 until Khenpo said, you sit up here with me. So I was literally front and center for this empowerment. I appreciated how Khenpo had Rinpoche do all the technical details for the empowerment – he actually poured water from the sacred vase onto our heads, just a few drops. There was a delicious pot luck lunch which most of the attendees stayed for.
Then in the afternoon, we did the Terma Achi practice. I had heard of this before, but had never done the practice. It is most fascinating because we can take Achi Chokyi Drolma as Lama (Guru), Yidam (deity) and Dharma protector (Dharmapala) and these are all included in the practice. This is a short practice, so we finished early.
Then members of the center took the four of us to Mount Washington. By the way, Pittsburgh is a very interesting city geographically – with the rivers and valleys and hills and tunnels, it would be a nightmare for a city planner (just saying!). Also, I heard a quote I liked: “Pittsburgh is the city where you can’t get there from here.”
And it turns out that evening, that quote could not have been more accurate! There was a gay pride parade downtown, and the Penguins were about to win the Stanley Cup (hockey tournament) and there was a big concert downtown as well. On top of that, many of the roads were under construction. So after driving around in circles for about half an hour, we finally found a way across the bridge to get to Mount Washington. [side note: being stuck in a car with a serious retreatant and 2 authentic Tibetan lamas, even when lost and driving around frivolously, is still remarkably enjoyable!]
Mount Washington is a large hill (and I guess neighborhood name as well) that overlooks Downtown Pittsburgh. It was quite beautiful – seeing the 3 rivers coming together, looking down on the concert and the parade and the sky scrapers. It was well worth the journey! Plus we had dinner up there as well, so we got to see the city as the sun was setting.
Monday, we went to the Pittsburgh Zoo. This was actually a great experience. As we were walking in, Khenpo Choephel, being a tougher Khenpo (which means Abbot) told us to chant mantras for the animals’ liberation and freedom from suffering. He suggested we do Chenrezig or Vajrasattva mantras. Therefore, at least for the first 30 – 60 minutes, I was mindful about how the animals’ might be suffering (although for the most part, the animals looked to be well taken care of).
There is an aquarium in the zoo as well, so we stayed for close to four hours total (including a long relaxing lunch).
I’m not quite sure, but I think we had some curious karma going on as a group (the four of us – Kirby, Ryan, Khenpo C and His Eminence) because on Monday we got stuck on a tight road that road construction forced us to detour onto. I was literally pinned in (as a car) as I waited for several large trucks and garbage truck to creep by, praying they would not scrape the side of my fenders! So Sunday we had driving obstacles, along with Monday. It took us about 30 minutes extra to get to the zoo. Which was fine! I had great company around me in the car 🙂
Khenpo Choephel reminds me of a solid, modest, serious practitioner and teacher. I suspect he has great levels of realization (and as a Dharma practitioner, I do my best to see him as Vajradhara or primordial Buddha).
The center is quite interesting though. It is in a poorer neighborhood, but the neighbors are awesome, friendly, diverse and a few are curious about the Buddhadharma. The house itself is very narrow – so there are only 3 rooms per level. Ryan and I stayed on the 3rd floor, which was a little unfinished, which was completely fine! I was just happy to have a bed and a roof over my head! The nice thing about the location though is that the members were able to buy the house right out, meaning no debt to worry about. They did have to put in about 1000 hours of labor over 3 months though as it was a serious fixer-upper. But it gets the job done. It has a beautiful shrine room with dozens of thangkas (Tibetan scroll paintings of deities and lineage lamas and Dharma guardians, etc).
I am very satisfied with my trip to Pittsburgh and I would go back in a heartbeat. I received several impromptu Tibetan language instruction sessions as my Tibetan is okay (I probably speak at a 1st grade level, whereas I comprehend at a 6th grade level). They were very happy to assist me and point out words that I was getting mistaken. Plus, Khenpo even gave me a transmission of a specific practice at 11:11 pm on the night before we were about to leave – I had asked him for it a day earlier, but we hadn’t had time.
Oh – and the funny thing was, Khenpo is big into watching the local sports. Apparently Pittsburgh is a huge sports city (which makes sense), and they have even gotten a Tibetan lama hooked on hockey and basketball!
Thank you for reading!