On the Road to Bhutan
Reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
My journey to Bhutan took me first to Darjeeling, for preparatory training prior to entering into the traditional three_year retreat, which I hoped to undertake with Kalu Rinpoche, about whom I had heard from the16th Karmapa. Upon arrival in Darjeeling, I found my way to Bhutia Busty Monastery, where Kalu Rinpoche was working with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche exchanging knowledge, traditions, and teachings with each other from their respective lineages—Shangpa Kagyu and Nyingma. This was just a few years after the Chinese invasion of Tibet and it was of urgent importance to preserve these precious oral traditions, which under the current conditions of political turmoil were in great danger of being lost.
I arrived at the monastery in the morning and met Kalu Rinpoche’s nephew, Gyaltsen, who immediately upon hearing that I had been sent by the Karmapa, showed me to the top floor, where Kalu Rinpoche was about to have breakfast of tea and Tibetan bread. Then in his late 50s, thin and gentle in appearance, my first impression of Kalu Rinpoche was that he looked like Milarepa himself.
I prostrated and Kalu Rinpche welcomed me. I gave him the letter I had from the Karmapa and before he opened it he told me it was very auspicious that I had come on that particular day because he was going to be giving the Milarepa Guru Yoga empowerment. He also remarked that our lineage is based on the sacred symbolic relationship between student and teacher. He then opened the letter and before reading it, gave me the piece of bread that was in front of him. Right away I felt comfortable and at ease, which surprised me since I had been told at Rumtek that Kalu Rinpoche was very strict and I would probably not be able to handle the rigors of being his disciple.
Kalu Rinpoche looked up from the letter and asked me if I was a monk and I said no. He said it was important for me to be ordained before going into retreat, which was exactly what I wanted. He said that sometime within the next six months I would be ordained. It now seemed to me that all my wishes would be fulfilled.
Next he read the letter out loud to me. In essence it said: This young dharma student has had many struggles because his root guru has died and his family does not support him in his practice. I am sending him to you because his intention is strong and I believe he will be of future benefit to our lineage. Please give him all the teachings and put him into retreat with your other disciples.
So I spent the next six months studying and preparing for retreat with about a hundred refugee monks who had recently fled Tibet. A group of about 15 of us used one of the monastery kitchens as our dormitory. I had a little corner where I kept my blanket, a tiny kerosene stove, and one cooking pot. I had arrived with about 50 rupees, which I knew would not last long. But before it ran out, I started to go out and beg for food whenever I could find a few spare minutes between teachings and study sessions. The other monks, who had even less than I did, also begged when they could and I know they were hungry a lot of the time but they always seemed happy. I would see them carrying water from the well, singing and smiling. Even when they were turned harshly away while begging, they were always positive and optimistic.
Each night during puja, Kalu Rinpoche provided us with soup. Younger monks would come around with a big steaming caldron and ladle hot soup into the bowls we brought with us, and afterwards there would be tea. I don’t know how Kalu Rinpoche found the money to do this, but without it we probably wouldn’t have survived. After Mahakala puja, I would go back to my little corner with a candle and study some more or sometimes a group of monks would organize a study session together.
Throughout this period, Khyentse Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche were offering a wealth of empowerments and teachings from both their lineages. We all knew how fortunate we were to witness this amazing convergence of two such realized masters. These were utterly remarkable circumstances.
As the training period drew to a close, I received ordination from Kalu Rinpoche and began to think about the journey to Bhutan. When I found out how much the train ticket would cost, I saw that I didn’t have enough money and would have to sell the beautiful wood-block, Song of Mahakala, that one of my teachers at Rumtek had given me. It broke my heart to sell this precious book, with its exquisite line drawings and musical notation, but I had no choice. Even so, I still didn’t have enough money for the ticket.
I also had an antique Mahakala offering bowl, which had been given to me by my beloved teacher, Drubpon Tenzin Rinpoche. The bowl had belonged to the 15th Gyalwa Karmapa’s consort and at her funeral was given to my teacher along with many of her other ritual belongings. Since this was the only other valuable thing I owned, I considered selling it as well, but something stopped me. I tried instead to give it to Kalu Rinpoche with the hope that he might lend me a little money, but he wouldn’t take the bowl and he gave me the rest of the money I needed for the ticket.
Since I didn’t have one extra rupee, I planned to beg for food along the way. My first attempt at the three-year retreat had been cut short by my illness and the death of my beloved teacher, but this time I felt sure it would be realized with the help and blessings of this immensely kind and generous teacher, Kalu Rinpoche. So I began this next part of my journey with a profound sense that everything was now going to be alright.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography