Lama Lodu Rinpoche Recalls his Childhoo
This is the first in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche about his life as told to one of his long-time students. In future newsletters, we will continue the series with reflections of adolescence, his early dharma studies and teachers, his work abroad, and the early days of KDK San Francisco.
I was born in 1942 in the small village of Martam in Sikkim, which was at that time an independent kingdom, located in the foothills of the Himalayas between India and Tibet. My father was a farmer, growing rice and corn for the most part, but also keeping a few animals and a vegetable garden. We provided almost everything we needed for ourselves from our own land and since we had many relatives in the village and we all helped each other, life was not too difficult. The only thing we had to buy was salt.
My father was also good in business and bought and sold oranges and cardamom, which were big cash crops in that area. With the extra money he made, he bought land. Of course there were good harvests and bad ones, but we had abundant food, nice clothes, and servants, which was quite normal for any family that was not poor.
My father’s brother also lived with us. Among Tibetan families, it was common for a woman to live with both her husband and her husband’s brother, that is, to have two husbands. And that was true in my family too. My father’s brother lived with us and was part of our family.
I was my parents’ third child and the second son. I had three brothers (one of them died as a child) and four sisters (all of whom died between childhood and their teens). The day I was born my mother decided that I would go to the monastery. It was traditional among Tibetan families to dedicate one child to the monkhood and my mother wanted that for me.
When I was eight, I was sent to Rumtek Monastery, which was only a few miles from Martam. Because my family was reasonably well-off, they were able to provide a good life for me there. They could pay for teachers and for me to have someone to cook my food and clean for me. So it was a pretty luxurious life, compared to some. Other young monks who came from less fortunate families had to work for their board, cleaning, cooking, serving, carrying water and wood for much of the day. All I had to do was study, so I often envied the freedom of those boys who had to work hard but study little.
My teachers were strict and demanding and I missed my mother very much, so I ran away many times. I would walk the little road that led back to Martam, where my mother would treat me kindly but would always insist that I return. The last time I ran away, I didn’t go home but went to the countryside to stay with the Nepali cowboys who tended the cattle on my father’s land. They were nervous about harboring the boss’s son, but they let me stay a few days anyway, while both my family and the monks at Rumtek were searching for me and fearing me dead. Finally the cowboys told on me and my father came to get me. I was in big trouble. My father confronted me with a huge knife in his hand and told me I had two choices: 1) I could choose to have my father kill me right then and there; or 2) I could return to Rumtek, promise to stay put and study, and if I ever ran away again my father would find me and kill me. I choose number two.
Not long after that, my mother got very sick and was not expected to live. I went home to be with her and recite mantras and the Bardo Thodol, or Tibetan Book of the Dead, for her during her long illness. One day I went out with my brother to the fields to tend the cows and when I came home my mother was dead. I mourned terribly and was miserable for a long time, but I became resigned to life as a monk and no longer longed to return home, where I feared my father’s harsh treatment. It was not unusual for a father to yell at his children or to beat them when they were naughty and my father was no exception.
The first Losar after my mother’s death, I returned home for the holiday and was so fearful of my father that instead of going to our house I went to hide in a cow-shed. I remember feeling I was all alone in the world and that no one loved me. By chance, my father happened to come upon me and when he saw me hiding there he suddenly realized how miserable and afraid I was and he began to cry. He held my hand, stroked my head, and wept, saying he had always loved me and even more now that my mother was dead. I thought I was dreaming; it seemed too good to be true. My father took me home and gave me a bath and good food and slept beside me all night. Suddenly this man, who had seemed a demon, was treating me with great kindness and care. From this experience, a deep trust for him was born in me.
Not long after this, things took a downward turn for my family. Someone who owed my father a lot of money defaulted on the loan. Then, my father and uncle had a falling-out. My father felt at a loss without a wife and thought he should re-marry. My uncle, who was a very kind and gentle man, begged him not to do it, saying that between the two of them they could run the household and take care of everything and that it wouldn’t be good to bring a stranger into the family at such a difficult time. But my father didn’t listen and he brought home a woman with two children. The woman ended up going off with my uncle, which was disastrous. The wealth that remained became scattered and our once-unified family was broken.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography