Update from Nepal (Revised)

Tue 12 Mar 2024

Dear Friends,

This is a correction to the Update sent on March 7th. The previous Update contained some factual errors which made it past the editors. Please accept our apologies for this oversight.

Lama Shenpen, Lama Dashon, Pati, Rangdrol, Sumeru and Suryaketu are all in Kathmandu. They are joined by many other students of Khenpo Rinpoche from around the world who are gathered for Rinpoche's 90th birthday celebrations on 1st March.

One of the agendas for their trip is to meet with Lama Phuntsok who consecrated the stupa at the Hermitage in 2011.  He has kindly offered to come to the UK to consecrate a stupa for the ashes of Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche at Tyn Y Gors (Shikling), Wales. Plans are underway to hold an event at the full moon in September - 18th September 2024. Everyone will be very welcome to come to this event and the preparations in the weeks leading up to the final consecration. More information will follow shortly but, in the meantime, pop the date in your diary!

Lama Shenpen has sent the following news from her trip so far (edited by Tara and K-Tso).


25th February 
We arrived yesterday morning exhausted but all in one piece! It is wonderful to be so near Khenpo Rinpoche in such a sacred place.

This morning we took a taxi to Lama Phuntsok's monastery in Swayambunath and had an hour-long discussion with him about his visit and what we would need and so on.  For Rigdzin Shikpo's relics we have decided to go with the small ready-made stupa khenpo Namgyal sent us a picture of last year. It is right by Lekshey Ling so we plan to visit Lama Phuntsok again and at the same time take a look at it and get a sense of what it's all going to involve.

We called in at the Thangka shop -Images of Enlightenment - and the owner was so obviously overjoyed to see me again after so long. He insisted we all have tea. There was a Sakya Lama there called Ngawang Kunga who is now a student of Mingyur Rinpoche.  I was very impressed with him and we had a very nuanced discussion about Rangtong, Shentong, and western Buddhists and so on. The shop owner joined in saying he now also studies with Mingyur Rinpoche and is fortunate enough to have private personal interviews with him about his practice.   We always have such great dharma discussions in that shop!

We came back to Tekchokling and recited the Samantabhadracharya Pranidhana by our stupa here  Something is doing me good to have had such a busy day and still feel reasonably ok!!!

This morning Ponlop Rinpoche came to see Khenpo Rinpoche after breakfast but we didn't get a chance to greet him.  However we did all get to see Khenpo Rinpoche.It was incredibly moving, just to be able to see him sitting there in the doorway of his room all wrapped up but looking quite radiant. We were all moved to tears, tears of love and devotion I suppose you would call it but more a heart's response that bypasses the rational mind, it just goes straight in.

1st March 
On Thursday afternoon. I was invited to talk to the Karma Osel Phuntsok Choling group from Taiwan. There were about 35 of them and they were asking me questions about devotion and my experience with Rinpoche. They were very responsive and forthcoming, and they came and made little offerings to me. It was really lovely

On Thursday evening we were talking with Elizabeth Callahan about her work in the Marpa Foundation and the difficulties that they're having in trying to get things organized. She was asking about our experience over the decades of trying to get the Sangha to hold together. We discussed how important it is to have people who can see the whole picture and can hold the whole thing together. Many people do their small bit but it doesn't always connect up with everything else that's happening. It was really interesting, and she appreciated the discussion.

This morning, it was Khenpo Rinpoche's birthday, and at 9.30am we all filed in to do the Tensho (long life) offering. There must have been at least 300 of us I think. There weren't many Tibetans, but there were all the people from the Marpa Network and all the different Far Eastern Sanghas.  I was the one who offered the image of Tara for the Tensho offering. it's quite a big image so I was glad Dashon was there to hold it for me while we waited in the queue. We all filed past Rinpoche. it felt very special to be the first in the queue for the Tensho offering. Jim Scott usually leads this but his mobility isn't good enough to do this now.  It felt very special being able to represent the Marpa network in offering a long life Tensho to Rinpoche.

I came out feeling a bit dizzy and I sat in the dining room on the corner of the couch for about 10 or 15 minutes while I recovered. Then Rachel from China walked in. She's the person who I spoke to earlier about translating the ‘Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness’ into Chinese. She was very grateful for my help, It’s interesting that if you translate the Tibetan into Chinese, you get very ancient Chinese that the modern people don't hear. So if you translate the English translation of the Chinese into modern Chinese it's more understandable. She was joined by her group and there was just enough room around the table for them all. There must have been about 15 of them, I think. They were very sweet and were the first ones to wish me Happy Birthday. Well, just before that the lovely very young receptionist had come over to me and she was actually the first person today to wish me a happy birthday. I was really touched, and it was really nice. Then Rachel's group gave me the first presents - whatever they had to hand they were offering to me to make a connection.  They were asking me questions and wanted me to tell them a story about meeting Rinpoche. I told them the story about Rinpoche coming and singing the song - 'What appears is clarity'  (Tib: Nang sal tong sal yeshe sal). Then they started singing it in Chinese, it was lovely!  I told them about the little stupa blessed by Khenpo Rinpoche within the Hermitage stupa. They were really, really happy to have made the connection.

Before I went up to my room to rest, Ponlop Rinpoche was going up the stairs, I popped my head out, and he greeted me very warmly which was nice. Then at 1.30pm Ponlop Rinpoche addressed the Marpa nerwork groups and each group was represented by those present. We filled the middle shrine room of the temple. Our group was acknowledged as AHS and I added that I also represented the Longchen Foundation and all Rigdzin Shikpo's students and Ponlop Rinpoche looked pleased. I was in a place of honour. There were two seats out at the front, one for Jim and one for me facing each other. I thought well let's take advantage of this honour for the Awakened Heart Sangha! He gave a nice talk about how important it was that we were all students of Rinpoche and how important that was to him and to Rinpoche's activity. It was a nice talk. He stressed the need for harmony and the need to agree to disagree.  I thought I could have discussed that point a bit! I thanked him at the end on behalf of everybody. So, I felt I was very right at the heart of it all really.

We tried to sing the Rigdzin Shikpo song about 'Secrets three' for everyone but no microphones were allowed and just as we started singing loud instruments started up in the temple and drowned us out. We couldn't stop laughing and everyone laughed and clapped us for keeping going anyway.!

Liz Cochrane's friend, Sarah, has been asked by Ponlop Rinpoche to start thinking about how to form the Sangha. She'd been advised by Liz that we are a good example of a Western Sangha so she started talking to Dashon about our experience of building a sangha. Liz thought the spiral learning approach was brilliant. So I really hope other sanghas take it up because I think it's the way forward for Dharma in the West.

So it's been quite a full on day. And of course, every time you see somebody, it brings back so many memories and feels very warm, and friendly. We ended up singing 'All these forms' a lot. Each time we finished something, we turned to Jim and asked what we could sing and he would always say 'All these forms'!   So I'm sure the Awakened Heart Sangha students who are here feel very at home and included in a bigger Sangha.  We're very much integral to the Marpa network.  Claudine was stressing, it's not an organization. It's a network.

Thank you everyone for your greetings on my birthday.. The group here offered me a thangka from the shop ‘images of enlightenment’ of Prajnaparamita in natural, organic colours.  So I'm thinking about getting that mounted or maybe have it framed  

2nd March 
We had a two-and-a-half session in the Tara temple here in karma Tekchokling. We began the meeting with a report from the trustees or the board of Marpa Foundation. The Foundation does three main things and Lama Elizabeth Callahan was explaining what they were and what they had been doing. The board members are Elizabeth, Yu Chin, Scott Wellenbach and Hara from Greece (all close friends of mine) It's very impressive that they've managed to raise over 4 million dollars now for the endowment fund for the nunneries. It's amazing that they managed to raise more than a million in the last year. They decided if they had 4 million and they invested it they would have enough income to support the nunneries indefinitely (of course depending on the markets). That supports the nunneries in Tibet, Bhutan, and here at Tekchokling. I think I think they said there were 70 nuns here and 170 in Bhutan, I don't know how many in Tibet. Half of the nuns here are under the age of 16.  There was a particular lady who was a trained teacher who'd been working for the International School here in Kathmandu, and she'd been helping and training the nuns. She was interesting. Meyrav Mor who I met the other day, was also talking about her training programme for teachers for a Buddhist curriculum. So there's quite a lot of interest in that, as somebody else was also talking about it.

Then the other big project of the Marpa Foundation is the database - the digital library.  They are gathering all of Rinpoche's recordings of all the courses that he ever did. They have tried to fill in every place he went and every month he spent where he was, what teaching he gave, and then tried to get all the recordings together. Then they labelled according to the topics and the place they were taught, the time the date they were taught and the text he was teaching. People send in the digitalized versions of the courses and then they compare the different recordings to get the best ones for each event. They've got gaps.  I think Dashon has sent them most of our recordings but I think it might be worth us trying to work out how often he came and whether we've got recordings of everything he did. There may be people who have got recordings that we don't know about that would fill in the gaps of events that there are currently no recordings for.  They would be very grateful to receive them.

So that's something perhaps we can look into as there probably are gaps.  The nuns are actually transcribing the talks from the Tibetan and this is very important for their own education, and also for creating materials. When AI gets more developed, then they'll be able to do that even more easily.

After this report from the Marpa Foundation, each group in the Marpa network was invited to introduce themselves and give a bit of news. They gave us 5 to 10 minutes each and I was first on after the Bhutanese nunnery nuns abbess. I was able to mention the Longchen Foundation and Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche's passing and our plans for a stupa for his ashes. I also passed on a message from Mandala Mother about having wished to be here and with us in spirit.  Lama Dashon spoke about the AHS news including vision renewal, after I had explained about his three years of solitary retreat and his now having taken on the role of Dharma Director. Lama Tashi Lhamo followed him. Then came Thomasz from Poland. He has already invited Lama Dashon to join the board of the institution he is setting up to try to help us all work together the details of which as yet to be discussed.  So there's some interesting developments. Then it was various other groups including Jane in Berlin, Saleo in Canada, Michelle in Penang Malaysia, Ghan in Taiwan and Rachel in mainland China plus another group in Munich. It was wonderful to connect to so many other groups of Rinpoche’s students all so devoted to him and continuing the blessings of his teachings.

Last night I was talking to Scott Wellenbach. He's on the board of the Marpa Foundation. We know each other from a long way back.  I met him first I think in America, in Boulder, when Rigdzin Shikpo and I were there. He was talking about how he stayed with Rigdzin Shikpo one time, but he didn't find him easy to relate to so he didn't get much of an impression of him.. But he was saying how there are people now who were old students of Trungpa Rinpoche who are discovering Rigdzin Shikpo (or they were obviously before he passed away) and Scott was finding that very interesting. 
Then this evening, I was talking with Reinhard, Lama Kunga, from Kamalashila in Germany, and he was saying how impressed he had been when Rigdzin Shikpo had stood up during the 25th anniversary of Rinpoche's students. Maybe it was organized by Marpa Institute. In the celebration Khenpo Rinpoche told Rigdzin Shikpo to stand up and sing. I can't remember what he sang, anyway he sang it in his deep Dzogchen voice as Khenpo Rinpoche called it and Reinhard said it really went in and really affected him quite deeply, even though he didn't understand anything of what he was singing. So it was it was nice to hear that.

I received the sad news of Corrado Pensa passing away last night. He and his wife Neva co-founded the Buddhist organisation A.Me.Co in Rome. I have been doing prayers for him in this super sacred place and Pati, Dashon and I recited the SBCP by the big stupa this evening to speed him on his way. What a wonderful Dharma practitioner and friend. He will be sorely missed.    

4th March
After visiting with Ringu Tulku yesterday Karl Brunnholzl and Stephanie Johnston came over to my room to chat. We talked about them coming again to visit the Hermitage as they loved it so much last time. They were telling us about the teachers training that Dzongsar Rinpoche set up - the Milinda Course - a 10 year training for teachers in India. Karl and Stephanie are currently teaching the group for 3 months. Karl has not done the course himself* but says that he considers it good training.

(* The Previous version of this Update indicated that Karl had undertaken the Milinda Course - this was incorrect.)

I gave a talk today and Dashon set up a discussion group on the points I raised that was quite lively - there were lots of questions raised during the discussion. In particular, the point of supporting Western dharma practitioners, teachers and translators in their retirement, these people who are living their lives serving the dharma and the sangha and then there is no support - whereas if they were Tibetan they would be supported. The nunnery endowment fund has raised four million and we are not doing the same for western practitioners, we need an endowment fund to support westerners in their old age.

5th March
I gave another talk addressing some of the questions that had come up the day before and then another discussion led by Lama Dashon - I was exhausted after and had to rest as I have a bit of a cold. People really appreciated coming together after so long apart to talk Dharma. And this morning, we were able to offer another katag to Rinpoche!

7th March
Yesterday I had to spend most of the day resting because of this cold but this morning, we went to see Lama Phuntsok again and had a very successful visit. We met Khenpo Namgyal’s brother, Khenpo Norbu, who took us to the coppersmith and showed us the stupa for Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche’s ashes, in fact two stupas! One is about 3ft tall and the other about 1 ft tall and they are exquisitely beautiful. Dashon has been looking around and hasn’t seen anything so beautiful elsewhere. The workshop was amazing it is just a tin shed and they were producing all this detailed work so lovingly created by hand. The big one will cost about £3000 and the small one is £1000.

It was very nice to meet the workmen who made the stupa and Khenpo Namgyal will make sure it is shipped so that saves us work. Sumeru and Rangdrol were there and felt it was very special to see where the stupas were being made. So he will bless both stupas at Tyn y Gors and the second one can then go to Beechy Avenue if Mandala Mother wants it there. We told Lama Phuntsok we wanted the full band of gyalings and drums and so on. So that will be more expensive than the two stupas! We have invited them to come for two weeks before the consecration in September and at the same time he will spend a day blessing the land at the Hermitage for the new Dharma Hall. We feel very satisfied that everything is settled and that we are ready to go.

Dashon is taking part in a choir singing Milarepa Songs with Elizabeth and Karl and others- they are relying on Dashon for the bass parts. He mentioned they were also singing the Heart Sutra so hopefully he will share that with us all it will be a wonderful addition to our repertoire.