Eighteen years ago, when His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche first arrived in Malaysia, he had little idea of what to expect. All he knew was that he had to honour his promise to his gurus, who requested he raise funds to build living quarters for monks. The year was 1992 and with little experience of the world outside America and India, Rinpoche spoke to the only contact he had – a Malaysian monk he had met on a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya. The monk invited him to Malaysia and thus he arrived, alone except for a few monk attendants, and armed with the dharma and guru devotion.
As Rinpoche began to teach, offers to help slowly started to come in. One particular offer stood out, from a lady affectionately known as Mama How. Because Rinpoche and his attendants did not have a permanent place to reside, Mama How offered her home to Rinpoche. This would be a place where he could give teachings, hold audiences and conduct divinations.
In a few short weeks, Mama How sponsored a significant sum of money and built an extension to her house. She also furnished the room, complete with a beautiful altar and simple throne, all according to Rinpoche’s specifications. As per Tibetan tradition, she dedicated this area solely for the use of the sangha.
Mama How’s offering extended beyond the monetary level. As a place for Rinpoche to receive students, Mama How opened her home to strangers from all walks of life, coming to see Rinpoche at all hours of the morning. Uncomplaining, she continued to serve Rinpoche as a genuine practitioner of the dharma, receiving these guests warmly.
With help from Mama How and other kind students, Rinpoche was able to raise sufficient funds for the monks. He returned to India to present the offering to his gurus but unfortunately, lost contact with Mama How over the years. However, Rinpoche never forgot Mama How, and her openness and kindness during his time in need.
With Kechara’s growth, it was not difficult for Mama How to reconnect with Rinpoche. Recently she contacted his students, saying that she would soon move out of her home. Unsure of the correct protocol, she requested for advice as to what she should do with Rinpoche’s old room, prompting us to visit her home. It was a surprise to find out she lived a mere stone’s throw from Kechara Paradise SS2, but we were in for even bigger surprise…
For the last 18 years, out of her respect for the dharma and for Rinpoche, Mama How has been cleaning and maintaining the room in Rinpoche’s absence. Everything was exactly as it had been when Rinpoche left so many years ago, kept tidy for his return. Every cup, every book, every poster, every statue, every offering bowl – nothing had been changed or moved. Every single day, without fail, Mama How had made offerings in this room, doing her meditations and sadhanas in front of Rinpoche’s throne.
For Rinpoche’s newer students, the room felt strangely familiar. Most of what we saw exactly reflects Rinpoche’s teachings today. On the altar were Lama Tsongkhapa, Vajrayogini, Setrap and Dzambala, the same practices which Rinpoche spreads or wishes to spread today. In front of the statues were many plastic offering bowls filled with colourful beads. These were all that he could afford back then – nowadays, due to the generosity of sponsors who wish to collect merit, Rinpoche is able to offer silver bowls filled with pearls.
There was even a mini gift section in this room, with books, posters and cassettes for Rinpoche to give gifts to his students, visitors and friends! The books may have been yellowing, and the tape in the cassettes brittle, but there was clear recognition of the same generous gift-giving philosophy that Rinpoche continues to actively practise today.
In Tibetan tradition, those who can afford to will reserve a room in their home for the sangha. Doing so creates the causes for them to receive the dharma and due to the vastness of Tibet, this tradition has also proved practical for travelling lamas. It has always been considered a great honour to host a lama and despite not being Tibetan, Mama How understood this fully.
The visit proved poignant for Rinpoche’s more senior students, as a moving reminder of how Rinpoche’s connection with Malaysia began. It was also an opportunity to remember the kindness of people like Mama How, whose contribution has led up to Rinpoche being with us today.
Through Mama How’s efforts, students now and in the future will be able to experience Rinpoche and his life before the idea of Kechara was even conceptualised. It will serve as a strong reminder of Rinpoche’s unwavering dedication to the dharma, and how steadfast he has been in his practices – it was not difficult to recognise in the room the various aspects which influence Kechara House practices these days.
So to Mama How, we extend our gratitude for caring for Rinpoche at a time when many of us did not have the merits to do so. Through your actions, you created the causes for a source to great joy to remain in Malaysia and touch the lives of many around the world.