The Forty-Nine Days
(This is the 24th in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche)
After he died, it was reported by many observers that Kalu Rinpoche remained in the posture of deep samadhi for five days. When ordinary people die, life leaves their bodies when the breath stops, but for people with great realization and deep meditative accomplishment, even though the breathing stops the mind is able to remain in consciousness for a period of time. This period is called thug-dam.
After five days in this state, Chatral Rinpoche recognized that the thug-dam was finished, meaning that consciousness had left Kalu Rinpoche’s body, and Bokar Rinpoche announced this fact to the many people who had already gathered at Sonada.
Chatral Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche and Khenpo Lodu Donyo washed Kalu Rinpoche’s body (kudung) with saffron-scented water, dressed him in ceremonial robes, and placed him upright in a sitting position in Rinpoche’s sitting-room, which had been beautifully decorated with thankas, banners, canopies and ritual objects. His Holiness Tai Situ Rinpoche, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodu Donyo and other eminences now prepared for the seven-week ceremony that was to follow.
The high rinpoches performed a different different tantric mandala each week: Vajrayogini, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Kalachakra, Five Tantric Deities, Vajrasattva and the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities. At the start of the seventh week, the kudung was transferred to the main shrine room at Sonada and placed in the center of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities mandala, surrounded by an abundance of tormas, jewels, food, flowers and countless other offerings.
Every day more and more people were arriving from all over the world to pay their respects and participate in the many ceremonies that were being conducted day and night at various locations around Sonada. The great collective sadness was mingled with a profound sense of joy and reverence.
I arrived at Sonada just a few days after Kalu Rinpoche had passed away and my own feeling of loss was indescribable. I didn’t know how I would be able to survive without my teacher. I felt heavy and lifeless, as though my mind had deserted my body, and it was difficult for me to be around other people, but Bokar Rinpoche saw my situation and undertook to comfort and counsel me in my grief. He talked to me about the after-death experience and explained to me what Kalu Rinpoche had gone through in the state of thug-dam. He also said that although he shared my sadness it was now our duty to teach the dharma as Kalu Rinpoche had taught it to us—with confidence and courage.
Bokar Rinpoche assigned me to conduct a different ritual each week during the seven weeks, which included leading a group of lamas in the Akshobya puja, joining the Kalachakra mandala with the eminences, leading a Vajrasattva puja, conducting the nyung-nes ritual, giving a dharma talk to a great multitude of mourners, and leading a ceremony of mantra accumulations at old Sonada monastery, in which the mani mantra was recited one billion times.
In the seventh week all the rinpoches, tulkus, khenpos and devotees who had arrived from all over the world gathered to participate in the final ceremony of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities Mandala, which was led by His Holiness Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche around the kudung in the main shrine room. I will never forget the immense outflowing of love that permeated the space around this great departed buddha, Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche.
These forty-nine days changed my life forever. I began them broken by uncertainty and grief, but by their end—encouraged by the kindness and wisdom of Bokar Rinpoche—I understood that I would devote the rest of my life to passing on the precious dharma as it had been given to me, and I also knew beyond any doubt that Kalu Rinpoche would continue to be my steadfast guide, truly alive and present in my heart.