After the Retreat
Reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
The monks in charge of Jang Chub Ling Monastery, where I had recently completed the traditional three-year retreat, asked me to take over the daily rituals of the Mahakala shrine in the main part of the monastery. Although this was an opportunity many young lamas might have jumped at, the main thing on my mind was returning to India to see my root gurus, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche and His Holiness the Karmapa. Although I thought Bhutan would be a good place to live and to practice-most of the people were devoted to the dharma and many were generous sponsors of serious practice-yet my beloved and trusted teachers were in India and Sikkim so I was determined to be on my way.
I asked for permission to leave Jang Chub Ling, saying I would think about their offer and they sent me off with a horse, an attendant and two traveling companions. Together we made the seven-day walk to the Indian/Bhutan border, then went by bus to Gohati, by train all day and night to Siliguri, then by road to Sonada, where I was finally reunited with Kalu Rinpoche. The first three-year retreat ever to be conducted in India had just begun at Sonada under Kalu Rinpoche's direction and Bokar Rinpoche was in retreat with 13 other monks. Kalu Rinpoche seemed pleased to see me, but he told me that I should return to His Holiness the Karmapa.. He said that I had completed the retreat that His Holiness had sent me for, so Kalu Rinpoche's job was now finished and that I should go back to Rumtek. He also said that his wish for me was that I would go into a cave retreat and develop the more subtle levels of my practice. He said that I had received all of the teachings and could now go on retreat on my own and be my own guide. He said that if I wanted this I should have no problem finding a sponsor since Sikkim was a Vajrayana country with many devout supporters of the dharma. Continuing on my journey with the same companions, I arrived at Rumtek where His Holiness the Karmapa welcomed me warmly, but to my surprise, said that I should go back to Kalu Rinpoche because it was not desirable for a serious young practitioner to stay in his own country, surrounded by the distractions of family and friends. He said there is no happiness in Samsara, which pricks one like a needle, and that staying in my own country would come down on a sharp point and I would be wounded. I have often remembered these words, since I have spent most of my life far from home.
I stayed only long enough to visit my family in the nearby village of Martam. My father wept when he saw me as it had been nearly six years and I had been very sick when I last saw him. He had not known where I was or even if I was alive. A big celebration was given for me-people were truly surprised that the naughty, head-strong boy that they remembered had become a lama! Some of the old religious officials of the village asked me to stay on as resident lama at Old Rumtek Monastery where I would minister to the local people, conduct daily rituals and give spiritual care to the sick and dying. Several others got jealous and kicked up a little storm of gossip about this strange wanderer who had shown up suddenly out of nowhere and seemed likely to take their jobs from them. I stayed there only three days then quickly made my way back to Sonada, with a letter from His Holiness to Kalu Rinpoche, who now said that it would be alright for me to stay awhile.
Meanwhile, it seems that a wealthy merchant made a gift to His Holiness the Karmapa of some mountainous land near Dharamsala, in which there were many caves. He asked His Holiness to send a lama to instruct a group of monks who had come from Tibet and were now in retreat in this area, called the Pangang Caves.
One day at Sonada, Kalu Rinpoche called me in to see him and told me immediately that His Holiness had called me back to Rumtek, but he did not say why. I went immediately and when I got there His Holiness told me about the caves and said that he wanted me to be resident lama for the area and retreat master for the seven Tibetan monks in residence there. At that time qualified lamas were still rare in India and the few who had come out of occupied Tibet usually went into the bigger monasteries, so I was the logical choice.
His Holiness told me that back in Tibet it would be normal for him to give gifts of ritual objects for me to take with me to my new position but here in India there were not many of the these objects available. "But don't worry," he said, "A good practitioner will always find what he needs to do his work. So instead I'm giving you my blessings of good heart, devotion and compassion, and these, you can pass on to your retreatants. Now go back to Sonada and review everything that you've learned with Kalu Rinpoche before departing for Pangang."
And so I was sent off once again, taking with me little, except these auspicious words and a wealth of blessings.
The series will continue in future newsletters...
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography