Kalu Rinpoche’s Last Days
(This is the 23rd in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche)
On his way back to India, after leaving California, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche went to visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala. I was told about the visit by Rinpoche’s nephew and closest attendant, Lama Gyaltsen.
After Kalu Rinpoche and His Holiness had lunch together and talked for an hour or two at His Holiness’s residence in Dharamsala, Lama Gyaltsen was invited to join them. He was told by His Holiness that Kalu Rinpoche was an irreplaceable treasure and that everything possible should be done to protect his health and prolong his life. He said that Kalu Rinpoche was a precious resource to all humanity but that he had been an especially great source of comfort and counsel to the Tibetan people. Lama Gyaltsen took these words deeply into his heart and devoted himself to carrying out His Holiness’s advice for the remainder of his great teacher’s life.
Kalu Rinpoche then returned to Sonada and in the following weeks his health gradually declined. Bokar Rinpoche and Lama Gyaltsen felt that Rinpoche should go into a hospital, preferably in France, where he had many devoted friends and students. Together with the other lamas and monks in residence at Sonada, they made a traditional mandala offering and formally requested that Rinpoche consider going to the hospital, but he refused, saying he was not going anywhere and wished to stay right where he was.
Around this time Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche came to Sonada. He and Kalu Rinpoche used to meet every year right after the new year and always spent a week in retreat together at the Sinclair Hotel in Siliguri. This year, however, it was impossible so Chatral Rinpoche came to see Rinpoche every day and together with Bokar Rinpoche and the other monks, offered the mandala and long life prayers to Rinpoche and again requested that he seek medical help. This time Kalu Rinpoche relented and went to the Salagara hospital in Salagara for two weeks. The news that he was ill quickly spread and soon his disciples were coming from all over to see Rinpoche, among them H. E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and H.E. Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Again his closest devotees asked Rinpoche to go to a hospital in France but he gently refused and said he only wanted to be taken home to Sonada.
Bokar Rinpoche wisely advised that it was now time to put their own concerns aside and do exactly as their guru wished, so Rinpoche was at last taken home. Bokar Rinpoche said that as they carried him to his room with great ceremony, Rinpoche was light and happy, waving and smiling to all who were there to greet and welcome him home. He received all the monks in his room, giving them blessings one by one, and it was evident to everyone that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
One morning soon after his return, Rinpoche asked to be taken to his private room, where he got into the meditation posture and asked everyone to leave. When Chatral Rinpoche arrived and entered the room, Kalu Rinpoche did not speak but gestured to him to sit with him in meditation posture. Chatral Rinpoche sat silently in front of Rinpoche for about 15 minutes and then noticed that Kalu Rinpoche had stopped breathing. Without making a sound, he gently let himself out of the room and closed the door behind him. With Bokar Rinpoche and Khenpo Lodu Donyu in the sitting-room outside Rinpoche’s room, together they softly sang prayers from the Guru Yoga practice of Shangpa lamas and the songs of the Shangpa mahasiddhas.
About a half hour later, Shamar Rinpoche arrived. He had been on his way to Rumtek when he heard the news that Kalu Rinpoche had passed away so he turned around to come immediately to Sonada Monastery. He was briefly admitted to the room and later reported that he had experienced profound wisdom realization at that moment. He said that although Rinpoche had always been very kind and radiant in his life, now something entirely beyond the relative world was radiating from him and he looked absolutely luminous, as if he were about to speak at any moment. Awed and inspired by this vision of true enlightenment, Shamar Rinpoche wrote his Prayer for the Swift Return of Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche.
Those who were present reported that our precious teacher’s body remained upright in the meditation position for five days after his breathing stopped.