Journey to Penang
This is the 9th in a series of reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
Upon the instructions of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, I returned to Sonada, where I spent the next six months reviewing all I had learned during the three-year retreat. During the day I would receive teachings from Kalu Rinpoche and participate in pujas with the other monks and in the evenings I would study. I also had a private meeting each day with Kalu Rinpoche to ask questions and clarify what I had learned.
At the end of six months, I was ready to depart for the Pangang Caves near Dharamsala, where I was to serve as resident lama to a group of Tibetan monks. Ani Chogha, Rinpoche's sister, prepared my clothes and food for the journey. Kalu Rinpoche gave me a hand-made map showing my route to Pangang and 500 rupees for my expenses along the way.
I left Sonada before dawn, catching a ride on a truck bound for the railroad at Siliguri. Arriving in the early morning, I found that my train didn't leave until 8:00 p.m., so I had a long wait ahead of me. The station was nearly empty except for a few beggars and a policeman who told me it was not a good idea to wait around there and that I should come back in the evening.
I stayed around awhile, wondering what to do, when a train pulled into the station and suddenly I was caught up in a rush of travelers hurrying out of the station, all funneling past an official who checked everyone's ticket as they left. Of course, I didn't have one and the guard pulled me aside. When all the travelers had gone, the railway official took me to an office and proceeded to question me as if I were a criminal, demanding that I produce my ticket. When I explained that I had not yet bought a ticket, he said I was lying and that I was trying to sneak out of the station after riding for free. I was in a terrible mess: scared, confused and just barely able to make myself understood by this angry man who spoke only Hindi.
"Now you have to pay a fine in addition to the price of your ticket!" the officer told me. "I don't have any money," I lied. "Show me your bag," he insisted and started going through my stuff, including my wallet, where he found and pocketed my 500 rupees. "This will just cover your ticket and fine. You can go now," he said. "May I have a receipt?" I asked, innocently. "No such thing! Now get out of here before I call the police!"
So there I was outside the station, alone and penniless. Not knowing what else to do, I waited and eventually saw a lama from Rumtek pass by. He listened to my story and we went in to talk to the railway official who seemed insulted and said we must have the wrong man as he had never seen me before in his life. He said if I was so sure he had taken my money, then I should be able to produce the receipt. "You can't prove anything without a receipt!"
Seeing my position was hopeless, the lama looked at his watch and rushed off, saying he didn't want to miss his train. I was alone again and miserable. As evening approached and my train arrived, my desperation increased. Dusty, ragged and looking like a beggar, I disappeared into a crowd entering the station and jumped onto the train, where I found myself in the posh 2nd class compartment with upholstered seats and well-to-do Indian passengers. Seeing this misplaced beggar among them, they yelled at me to get out. I crept to the back of the car, spread my sheepskin on the floor beside the toilet, and prepared for a long, smelly journey.
A conductor demanded my ticket as we were pulling into a station. I said I had none and he said I'd have to get off. Obediently, I exited, waited a few minutes in the station, and just as the train was pulling out, I hopped back on and went back to my spot by the toilet. The same passengers who had yelled at me now began to be curious as they saw me meditating and patiently enduring my humiliating situation. One of them gave me some tea and rotis, a kind of Indian bread. I had dried meat in my bag, but I was afraid to bring it out, as my fellow passengers were Hindus and would be disgusted by the sight of meat. As the trip went on, I realized I was safe among these people and they continued to give me bits of food, tea, and protection from the conductors.
Eventually my companions had all reached their destinations and at one stop the compartment filled up with a company of Nepali soldiers. I spoke Nepali pretty well and these soldiers took an interest in me. They were Buddhists of a sort, but fascinated by magic and fortune-telling and they saw me as some sort of wandering yogi who might have magical powers. I must confess, I embellished a little on my life story and spent the next part of the journey conjuring up lots of good luck and excellent futures for this light-hearted group of young men.
At Lucknow, my new benefactors had to spend the night at a military encampment near the station. They took me with them and I recall a very pleasant night camped out under the trees, with plenty of good food, tobacco and wine for them, and more amazing future predictions from their star-gazing monk.
Next day, back on the train, a conductor demanded my ticket and my soldier friends again came to my rescue, saying I was a saddhu (a sort of wandering renunciate or saint). "Look at him! Go through his bag!" they said, "He has nothing, no possessions, no family!" So the conductor gave me a special pass certifying me as a saddhu and exempting me from having to pay. Now I had a comfortable and free ride the rest of the way.
The train finally arrived in the town where Kalu Rinpoche's disciple lived. I had his address but it was a big city and I needed help finding my way. I watched the crowds go by until I saw some Tibetans who said they'd help me if I'd pay them. I said I had no money so they went on their way. I waited some more until I saw a Tibetan woman carrying a bundle of sweaters to sell. I asked if she knew this address and could I find it myself. She said it would be too hard to find, but if I'd wait five or six hours until she'd finished selling her sweaters, she'd show me the way.
I could see she was eager to help me and after only two hours she hailed a rickshaw, piled her sweaters in, told me to hop on top of them, while she climbed in front with the driver and off we went. After driving around for what seemed like hours, we stopped to ask for directions at a Tibetan restaurant and it turned out to be the address we were looking for. Kalu Rinpoche's devotee was the wealthy owner of this place.
By this time I must have looked and smelled like a stray dog, but when this man heard who had sent me, he welcomed me as if I were Kalu Rinpoche himself. After a delicious meal and a bath, I was given a clean bed in the shrine room and told I could stay as long as I liked. After two days I started to get fat so once again it was time to depart. This kind man put me on a bus and gave me three hundred rupees for my journey.
That night, with money in my pocket, I could have stayed in a hotel, but it was warm out and I saw an old run-down house with a group of saddhus camped out. They were friendly and I decided to spend the night there. They happily offered to share their food and the ganga they smoked all night long, but I was happy with my tea, their singing, and the wonderful sense of freedom I felt.
Next day I got back on the bus and on the following morning we made a brief stop at the town of Kulu, nine miles from the caves. The bus continued on and when we were as close as possible to the caves, I asked the driver to let me off. He said it was not a legal stop and he couldn't leave me there in the middle of nowhere. After I and others begged him, he finally stopped and let me off. I set out on foot for the caves and after awhile I could see them in the distance. After five hours of steep uphill walking, I arrived at my destination. The monks who lived at the caves thought I was a beggar until I gave them the letter I carried from Kalu Rinpoche. Then at last, at the end of this truly amazing journey, the monks offered me a high seat and welcomed me as their teacher.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography