News from Lama Shenpen June 2023

Transcript of recording recounting Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche's Funeral

Fri 30 Jun 2023

About 100 people came to the service at the crematorium and the reception, at St Margaret's Hall in North Oxford with another 50 or so people online. I wrote down as much as I could immediately after the funeral so I didn't forget and could share it with you all afterwards. In the runup to the funeral Jonathan was liaising with members of the Longchen Foundation and the Mandala Mother about the funeral. As you may have heard, it was complicated, because it seemed that Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche didn't leave a will so there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether that was the case or not. And eventually it became clear that since we had never divorced, I was actually the person now to receive the whole estate. Although, of course, that's going to take a long time to come through. So there was a lot of adjusting having to be done by us all, especially Mandala Mother Sally Sheldrake because now suddenly, from one moment to the next, her whole life was turned upside down. Not just because she'd lost her life companion, but also the whole financial basis for her life was suddenly very uncertain. So I really feel for her and want to help as much as I can.

Jonathan and the team he was working with, from both the Longchen Foundation and the Awakened Heart Sangha, did such an absolutely wonderful job so that the whole event went so smoothly. There was such a sense of great gratitude and love for Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche and appreciation for what we've lost and yet, at the same time, what we still have; and that what we had as two sanghas that were so close you could feel it. It was palpable that we were all of the same lineage, that we were all students of Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche and all his teachers and it really felt good. It felt very much the case that, "may our hearts remain as one" (this is the updated line in the liturgy for the prayer for Rinpoche's swift return -  and which was formerly his long life prayer). And for the Longchen Foundation, Dave Hutchins’ replacement line was "May the light of your inspiration continue", which also felt very apt. 

So, there were beautiful funeral cards, handed out to everybody, with two lovely pictures of Rigdzin Shikpo and a poem of his – and we will have more printed so these cards will be made available for all those people who were online and for anybody who wants one. You will see inside the card there's a poem that Rigdin Shikpo Rinpoche wrote himself. He used to sing it to the melody of an Irish folk song which Tara tells me is called The Star of County Down and that was played at the funeral. It's a wonderful memento and I hope you learn it and that we will sing it often at our feasts. 

On Saturday we turned up at Beechey Avenue where Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche lived and where he did his three year retreat. It used to be our home and that's where Mandala Mother lives. The hearse came with the big limousine behind. It's such a moment, isn't it, when you take the body to the crematorium, it's a real meditative experience of the transitory nature of life and the illusory nature. I was in the limousine with Lama Tara, Mandala Mother and her attendant Mary, and Francesca Fremantle, who Mandala Mother had invited to join us as she is an important figure in the Longchen Foundation and Rigdzin Shikpo's life. The coffin was draped in a black cloth with a golden disc on top and with a wreath that Julie Netto had made in the shape of a vajra; it was quite impeccable. There was also a wreath from me and a wreath from Mandala Mother. It felt very proper somehow. 

We arrived at the crematorium in style and there were lots of people. Seeing old friends suddenly, from decades ago... the whole day was amazing from that point of view and seeing people that you've only ever met on screen, suddenly there in the flesh! But we had to make our way through that to the crematorium of course in order to not hold things up. Then we started, David Hutchins conducted the service as requested by the Mandala Mother. It was a very good choice of service because it had been written by Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche himself for an early student of his. It was so apt because it was so much in line with that line from Rigdzin Shikpo’s prayer, “the inseparability of Guru Padmakara and Buddha Shakyamuni”. A lot of the service was familiar to the Awakened Heart Sangha students, and there were other verses that we can add to our own liturgy for special occasions.

There was a tremendous sense of how strongly connected we all were, and how devoted we all were to Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche and the lineage. When we all started chanting and singing it was so powerful, really to feel the blessing coming through, it was quite extraordinary. It almost made your skin tingle with a sense of the authenticity of the occasion. 

I gave the opening address,  here is a link if you’d like to read it, and you can also read the short piece that Mandala Mother read after me here. Following our two talks, we did the puja led by Dave. It was prearranged for different people to read different parts of the Bodhicaryavatara. It was a slightly different translation from the one we are familiar with - a slightly different choice of verses because the one we do is not a complete, full version, it's selected verses. But basically, the puja was a seven branch prayer followed by a dissolving stage at the end. There was no other reference to the fact that this was a funeral service; it was like Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche himself felt - the funeral is a religious rite, it's not a memorial. So that was very much to his taste. I think he would have felt that the dissolving stage and the re-emerging from that was the essence of what we were doing, in that non-conceptual simplicity of the non-contrived Dharmakaya where we all meet in our hearts. So it was very special. 

We emerged from the hour long service and then we spent maybe half an hour meeting and greeting and hugging people we have not seen for years. And then for the first time meeting people we've only ever met online - including the people we met during the seven weeks since Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche passed away, the Longchen Foundation students who have been meeting at seven o'clock each evening. On quite a few occasions I attended the seven o'clock meeting with Longchen and then joined the Hermitage evening puja for the dedication at the end. So I would do the full Longchen Puja and then half of the Hermitage Puja

Tara and I were able to stay with Lynda Hillyer and she was very, very kind as she always is. Whenever I go down to Oxford and she's available and can make her place available, she does. It's a lovely place to stay and she took care of us beautifully. I was very touched by that. We were there for four days this time which I thought was quite an imposition but she made us feel that it was a joy so thank you, Lynda.

After the service, we were driven to St Margaret's Hall in North Oxford for the reception. Jonathan and his team got there very early in the morning, before the funeral, to arrange the room and they had done a really good job. There were tables with tablecloths and flowers, and all this wonderful food, and even some bunting, and there was a screen, a big screen where we could see pictures from Rinpoche's life So thank you to everybody who played their part in making all of that possible. 

After we had eaten and chatted for a while the entertainment started, it was like what we do in the entertainment section of our feast offerings. We had some wonderful songs and poems and even a little bit of a dance. David Hutchins shared stories of Rigdzin Shikpo and there was a couple from Berlin, Kai and Siska, who were quite professional and sang some songs that Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche particularly liked. Francesca Fremantle sang a couple of songs, she has a very sweet voice, and also sang her translations of some dohas (yogic songs), that was wonderful. And then Julie Netto sang, she was actually one of the first residents at Ty’n y Gors when we got to Wales, and she sang beautifully. And Toby and Dan also made offerings. Then the Awakened Heart Sangha choir sang the Guru Rinpoche Prayer (All These Forms) (page 162 of the pdf, song E42, version A), and then we did All These FormsAppearance, Emptiness (page 126 of the pdf, song E4) which we did with a dance that we do at the end of all our feasts. It was such a different tone, exuberant, singing and dancing, but it's Khenpo Rinpoche's tradition so it's right. Then Tara read from page 278 in my book Keeping the Dalai Lama Waiting about Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche's retreat at Beechey Avenue. I don't know whether people were able to slow down enough to absorb what she was reading because everyone was so excited and tending to be talking to each other. But I think it was good, I think it was appreciated. And then Pat from Pwllheli with Mary, Caroline, and a fourth person, beautifully sang the poem that's on the funeral card I mentioned earlier. And Nyima Dondrub, who we actually met in the flesh, they are one of those that we have such a strong connection with online and this was the first time we could meet in person. They read one of their absolutely astonishing poems. It was really a spiritual journey all in its own right, they have got such a wonderful sense of rhythm and words and so genuine, it's really amazing.

By about half past four I think we’d talked ourselves silly and had finished most of the food, although people took a lot of it back with them. And then we left Jonathan and the team to clear up and he said that everybody mucked in and it was not too onerous. So I was pleased about that, and got lots of goodbye hugs and am looking forward to future meetings. We have proved that we could do it, and that we could do it together. I think the Mandala Mother was very pleased too. We had a brief exchange as she was leaving but both of us were very occupied with meeting all sorts of other people during the actual events so we will probably catch up later.

So I had a quiet day on Sunday as you can imagine, that's what I needed, what we all needed, I don't think it was just me. It was a new moon so in the evening we did Trungpa Rinpoche's Sadhana of Mahamudra which was very apt as our two sanghas had received the transmission for it together from Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche last year. It felt really good, it was really powerful to do it just after the funeral. 

I'll leave you with these images sent by Ani Dechen from Tekchokling of the prayers and offerings being made by the Nuns on our behalf after Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche's passing. 

Love Shenpen