Thursday, 19 May 2011

Compassion in action

This morning while I was having my simple breakfast, my eyes were brimming with tears. It was a little embarressing as I was outside. I was reading from my iPhone a post by Venerable Roger Kunsang, who is my guru Lama Zopa Rinpoche's personal attendant for many years. It was an entry in 1989. After more than a decade, my guru has not changed a bit. The article made me miss my guru even more. It made me realise how insignificant and selfish I am in living life with attachment, for with attachment, suffering follows. My guru is my source of motivation to attain the enlightened state of Buddhahood as soon as possible within this lifetime (it is possible!). His exemplary life is a source of merit for all connected to him.

Venerable Holly helping Lama Zopa Rinpoche Rinpoche hold his right arm and hand 
up in mudra of prostration during extensive offering
At the present moment, Lama Zopa Rinpoche is still recovering from a stroke he manifested. He has been discharged from hospital and is now recuperating in a private home near the hospital, as he needs to go for physiotherapy 3 times a week. Rinpoche's sugar levels have improved and his blood pressure is almost normal. All over the world, thousands and thousands of Sangha and students are praying hard for Rinpoche's immediate complete recovery. 

Tiny message written by Rinpoche, with his left hand, in hospital, that says
 "I am enjoying the hotel, 5 or 10 star hotel"
Here was what Venerable Roger wrote in 1989 (I attach some photos I found):

Always in meditation
After being in such close contact with Lama Zopa Rinpoche for so long, I am beginning to see that his physical appearance is probably his only similarity to ordi­nary, worldly people. His actions are the opposite of those of most worldly people, and as the teachings say, that is a sign of a pure Dharma practitioner.

It is difficult to find him doing anything but Dharma. At four o’clock in the morning he is sitting doing his meditation; on airplanes he starts meditating as soon as he sits down; when he stands up, he is still doing his prayers. He is completely dedicated to benefiting sentient beings and is totally unconcerned about himself.

Always doing prayers
I do not believe he sleeps, but at certain times he will nod off, giving the appearance of sleep. For example, he nearly always nods off when being driven in a car, and sometimes around dawn, when the schedule is quite heavy, he has the appearance of nodding off for an hour but he never lies down.

There is no ‘I’ or ‘mine’ with Rinpoche’s possessions. Those ideas are as distant as anything could be from him. Whatever he receives one minute is given away the next. The only possession Rinpoche has kept for any time is a maroon cardigan from Lama Yeshe who made him prom­ise he would never give it away. Everything else goes.

Lama Yeshe & Lama Zopa
He often gives his robes away. They go quickly, and it is quite often difficult to obtain new ones. I remember once in Delhi I was frantically packing and had just managed to get everything together. It was the usual panic of racing out the door to get to the airport on time. When Rinpoche stood up after finishing his prayers – he is usually doing them up to the last minute and then does a couple of extra pujas after the last minute – I had to look twice as he was walking out the door with just his underskirt on, no shem-tab (the monk’s lower robe). The underskirt was half-way between his ankles and his knees and he had his shoes on without socks as he had given his socks away with his last shemtab. I had to plead with him to take back the shemtab which I retrieved from the person he had given it to but it was difficult to convince Rinpoche to accept it. He didn’t think it was necessary, but I told him that going to the airport dressed in just his underskirt did not look right.

Rinpoche once gave a lecture at a place where many high lamas had given teachings. There was a large visitors’ book, and it was traditional for each lama to put a photo­graph of himself in the autograph book and sign it. All the photographs were of lamas sitting on thrones and wearing hats becoming of a high lama. Rinpoche spent some time looking for a photograph and chose one of himself holding a guitar, wearing sunglasses and a large beach hat, and hugging a black dog. The dog was wearing Rinpoche’s glasses and dressed in boots.

Rinpoche is vegetarian and that’s unusual for a Tibetan lama. His concern for other sentient beings, especially with regard to killing and eating them, is incredible. We can be in a very tense situation, running late with many things to be done, when everything screeches to a halt, because Rinpoche has seen two ants in his bed. We spend the next thirty minutes thoroughly searching the bed, then taking the ants outside so that they are not crushed. Their lives are more important than the very important task at hand, and they have to be saved right then.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche's great compassion and love towards animals
Rinpoche can’t bear to see live lobsters in tanks waiting to be killed in seafood restaurants. After a vegetarian meal he often buys the live lobsters, which can cost up to eighty dollars each, then releases them in open water. One of the most unusual examples of saving animals occurred in Singapore where they are often killed for their skins or medicine. Rinpoche bought turtles, frogs, pigeons, nine snakes, and two thousand fish. Two of the snakes were twenty-foot-long pythons and difficult to lift even when in a sack. We released the animals in a reserve, and as soon as the snakes were released, I ran as fast as I could.

Once some students took Rinpoche to an expensive air-conditioned restaurant in India. He ordered a large meal and asked the waiter to take it to an old, withered dog outside the restaurant. The waiter and the students were amazed.

On another occasion at Mahamudra Centre in New Zealand, Rinpoche asked the students to set up a micro­phone and speakers in the middle of a field. There are a lot of animals at the center, many of them old or crippled as they had been saved from slaughter. Rinpoche asked the students to round up all the animals then recited the Prajñaparamita text and mantras to them over the loud speakers. The students had to keep all the sheep, goats, horses and cows huddled together near the loud speakers while Rinpoche gave them a discourse.

With more than fifty centers around the world (note: now there are 150+ centers), Rin­poche has a huge administrative load on top of his busy teaching schedule. There is a constant call for qualified Western Sangha, Tibetan geshes, translators, directors, program directors, geshes who speak English, or Western translators. It’s extremely difficult to fulfill the requests as our resources are so limited. The opportunity for center directors to communicate at regional and international FPMT meetings, however, has lightened his administra­tive load.

Rinpoche often spends more time than normal with people who criticize and complain to him. He will spend two or three hours with them saying: “Yes dear, yes dear,” just like Lama Yeshe used to. He asks for more tea for that person, the best tea, the best biscuits. I think he is showing that the emphasis should be on practicing Dharma, using every situation to practice patience whereas most people think the main purpose is to correct some external thing rather than using the situation to develop one’s own mind.

Rinpoche listening to a student's question at the airport
The most common questions people ask Rinpoche are about practice and sickness or health. He advises everyone to do lam-rim. Some are advised to do deity yoga retreats or a purification retreat. Lately Rinpoche has tended to emphasize the preliminary practices. For health problems he carries Tibetan medicine and can suggest certain kinds of protection or purification practices based on a particular healing deity or saving animals’ lives.

Western doctors told one lady with cancer that there was no hope and it was only a matter of time before she died. Rinpoche advised her to do one type of Vajrapani meditation and to save many animals from slaughter. She took Rinpoche’s advice and was completely cured.

A new student had AIDS and was very depressed. Rinpoche spoke to him with incredible joy saying how fortunate he was as most people think they will live a long time and never practice but he knew he was going to die and had great incentive to make his life meaningful.
Rinpoche spends a lot of time doing “mos” (observa­tions) for advice on health, practice, retreats, personal advice such as where to go after finishing this job, in which country should work be sought, where should retreat be done, etc.

At times I can see Rinpoche is physically drained, but I have never seen any sign of mental strain. From my expe­rience he has perfected patience and perseverance. Some­times at three or four o’clock in the morning when I’m trying my best to keep at least one eyelid open and can’t sit straight, Rinpoche says that will do for the night. I drag myself off to bed, and he sits bolt upright to start his prayers, and that’s what he is still doing when I come back in a few hours to begin the next day.

We often think of our commitments and Dharma prac­tice as an ordeal. We tend to put our practice aside to have a cup of coffee or go to the movies, but Rinpoche is the opposite. He discards all worldly pleasures and puts all his energy into Dharma practice – especially austere practi­ces such as all-night meditations and nyung näs. He likes to do precepts on the important days such as full moon, the four auspicious days and eclipse days when the positive or negative karma created is greatly magnified. If he can’t take precepts on those days, he becomes very sad, like the feeling ordinary people have when they lose a lot of money.

Sometimes I can’t see the reason for doing things the way Rinpoche advises, but I’ve learnt to go along with him as it turns out alright. Most people feel they have to lobby or manipulate to make sure something happens, because they feel it should happen in a certain way, but Rinpoche simply allows things to occur.

Rinpoche says individuals or centers who want to estab­lish businesses for the Dharma should check with him first. If there is no karma for that business to be successful, a tremendous amount of energy, time, and money can be wasted. We may think a business looks good or that a successful business person could easily run a business for the Dharma, but there have been situations where people who have done well in their own businesses have failed as soon as they started doing business for the Dharma. They may have the karma to be successful in their own business, which only relates to their karma, but in a Dharma situa­tion, the people they are working to benefit must have the karma to benefit or the business will fail.

Rinpoche’s schedule is very unpredictable and often changes. Most people believe things have to be planned out day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year but this may create obstacles for things to happen. Rin­poche completely accepts the need for plans; they are a basis but he does not cling to schedules. He considers the difficulties caused by changes of plans before they are made, but never hesitates to make radical changes if new condi­tions indicate that a different approach is necessary.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche writing mantras on the rock
Once a snap decision diverted us to Ayers Rock in Central Australia where Rinpoche, Harvey Horrocks and I had to clamber up the rock in the middle of a very hot summer’s day loaded with texts and puja offerings. After the puja, which fascinated hundreds of Australian and Japanese tourists, Rinpoche asked me to write some verses of exchanging self for others on the rock. That night he said our work at the rock had not been completed and asked Harvey and me to go to the top of the rock next day to meditate on bodhichitta and leave a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with a plea for the Tibetan cause. This extra task nearly resulted in us missing a flight.

At least I’ve learnt to have a completely open mind about what will happen next, and this has given me an acute awareness of my own impermanence.
Venerable Roger with Lama Zopa Rinpoche in early days

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