Journey to Gaden…in 2005!

28 January 2010 - 7:28am Comments Off

In 2005, 15 of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche’s students visited Gaden Monastery on one of Kechara’s first pilgrimages. Khong Jean Ai wrote an account of the trip that was recently rediscovered; Rinpoche has asked for it to be shared here with everyone.

Gaden, along with Sera and Drepung, is known as one of the Three Pillars of Buddhism in the Land of Snows, becoming the stuff of legends. This place, which was predicted by Lord Buddha, and established by Lama Tsongkhapa over 600 years ago, has long inspired and produced countless unparalleled masters of Buddhism, and it is this holy place that 15 Kechara staff and volunteers had the opportunity to visit, to see what they have been striving to benefit for so long.

We left on the night of 11 January, quiet and sleepy, preoccupied with our own thoughts over what to expect. Slowly, the plane fell silent until little except the roar of the engines could be heard, and the trundling of the carts up and down the aisle. Nearly four hours later, the plane burst to life again as people awoke to see a mix of yellow and white lights begin to dot the window, outlining the streets and buildings of a strange new city.

In the cool night air of Bangalore, we were greeted by Kating Rinpoche and Geshe Puntsok with calls of tashi delek! and white khatas. The city was quiet as our bus wound its way through the deserted streets; it was 1am before we arrived at the Mayura Hotel, and 1:30am before we settled into our rooms.

We arose early the following morning, the din outside our room from honking vehicles and shouting people becoming more than we could handle. All of us were downstairs in the lobby raring to go at 8am but first, breakfast. A quick trip to the café next door solved this ‘problem’, and soon we were all munching on steaming masala tosai, washing it down with hot cups of sweet tea and coffee. After breakfast, we piled into tuk-tuks and joined the organised chaos on the streets. Clouds of diesel fumes and dust choked the city, and as our tuk-tuk hurtled through the crowd, I squinted trying to see what kind of city was home for us last night.

Bangalore has many extremes – lush green parks in the middle of a smog-filled city, full of old men strolling barefoot, right next to the ultra-modern Bollywood embodiment of the young. Businessmen dressed in expensive suits carrying tiffin carriers, crouching in roadside stalls next to drains, hurriedly slurping down their morning meal. Scantily-clad women listening to a Hare Krishna man spreading the teachings, while other women in burqas tsk-tsk’ed at their risqué attire.

We walked up and down town, looking for a good buy, something that we had by now determined should be no more than 5% sequins and glitter, because they really love their shiny apparel here. It was a long and hard search before we gave up and left to buy snacks for the impending eight-hour train ride. Lunch was back at the same café we had breakfast in, a café I soon found out would provide our meals when we are in Bangalore.

We arrived at the train station at 1:30pm, deathly afraid that we were late for our train, but we were reassured that Indian trains never leave on time, and neither do they leave earlier. We soon found out this was true – our train did not pull out of the station till 3pm. As we glided down the track, the train rocked back and forth, side to side, in an almost rhythmic manner. The voices of the servers punctuated the quiet of the carriage from time to time, with calls for chai (tea) and coffee, peanuts or chips. Outside, the scenery changed from densely-packed colourful wattle homes, to densely-packed trees, and cows resting amongst neat vegetable patches in the shade of the palm fronds. The occasional house whizzed by, stark white in a predominantly earthy landscape.

The train ran along unobstructed, crossing over bridges and roads, gulleys and rivers, until we pulled to a stop at Hubli at 10:30pm. Everyone piled out of the train, and stumbled over the tracks to the exit of the train station as a blast of cold air ran up the track, hurrying us along. We left the train station to our hotel, the Nataraj, a 5min walk away.

The following morning was only a mere four hours away, and as the sun rose, we greeted it with excited anticipation. We piled into two 4WDs at 4:30am and set off down a bumpy road for our final destination – having had approximately an hour’s sleep the previous night, most of us slept through the ride, oblivious to all the bumps and jerks. An hour later, we were there!

As Lama Chöpa was being chanted by thousands of monks, we groggily piled out of the jeeps into the cold morning air to offer sweet-smelling incense to those who had dedicated their lives to the pursuit of Buddhist studies – offering incense is auspicious and especially powerful when accompanied by aspirational prayers. It represents pure conduct, and symbolises burning away negativities to result in a wonderful scent.

The monks were seated in one of the debate courtyards conducting the puja, as their normal prayer hall, Gaden Lachi (main prayer hall of Gaden), was currently being resurfaced with green marble. It should be noted that the entire monastery is ‘divided’ into two sections, Jangtse and Shartse, to make administrative work easier. While each section has their own gompa (prayer hall), they occasionally congregate together in Gaden Lachi to conduct pujas – this formula is repeated in Sera monastery and Drepung monastery, where they too are divided into two sections, each with their own gompas, but with a common Lachi.

The resurfacing of Gaden Lachi marks the realisation of one of Rinpoche’s aims, making the hall more conducive for the monks – he had explained that the previous flooring was worn out and old, and uneven, and that by resurfacing the floor, we were providing monks with a more comfortable environment to perform pujas in. It would collect countless merits for us as countless monks would continue to walk, to prostrate, and to sit and pray on the floor – it would continue to be used, and continue to collect merit long after all of us were gone.

As our hearts and minds reverberated with the chanting of the puja, we adjourned from the morning cold for a much-anticipated breakfast of Tibetan butter tea and bread in the administrative hall above Gaden Lachi. There is a recurring theme in the administrative halls of the monastery, where work is carried out in the benevolent gaze of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, and His Holiness Lati Rinpoche. As we began our breakfast, Ama-la (Tashi’s mother) appeared in the doorway dressed in a chupa (Tibetan dress), all smiles, to greet us. It had been a week since we had last seen her in Bodhgaya, when we had left for KL and she had travelled south to Gaden with Geshe Tsundue Wangchuk, Geshe Puntsok, Lobsang Wangchuk and Konchok Dorje. We learnt she was staying here on a Lam Rim retreat in Geshe Puntsok’s house, receiving teachings on the Lam Rim everyday, chanting Mig Tse Ma mantras, and circumambulating the whole of Gaden when she could.

As puja ended, the soft sounds of Mig Tse Ma floated through the windows of the hall, and we took that as our signal to begin making our offerings. Paul and Chia, as our representatives, offered money and food to the senior monks first, before offering the younger monks the same. It was quite a moving sight to watch the sea of shifting maroon and saffron move towards us in two orderly lines to receive our humble offerings, and to watch the smiles break out on the faces of younger monks, intrigued by the food we had offered them – some of them playfully dashed off towards their rooms, pushing one another open their packets of food first.

After a rest, and a lot of tea and biscuits at Geshe Puntsok’s house, we went on a tour of Gaden, which we found out was home to 3000 monks. We walked to the new Jangtse prayer hall, a gleaming new structure with a huge outdoor and indoor debate courtyard. There, we watched as monks conducted a puja to the Protectoress Pelden Lhamo, and at Geshe Puntsok’s cue, we silently got up to make our offerings of pearls to her. We later found out how fortunate we had been – the glass door protecting her had never been opened for anyone before. We had been the first to see the Protectoress’ face in a long time, after Rinpoche and Geshe Puntsok had both persuasively spoken to and requested the monks to allow us to see her.

The puja was soon over, and we left to visit the prayer hall’s altar, where huge statues looked serenely down upon us. Just outside Jangtse’s new prayer hall stood the monastery’s many kitchens, each preparing food for hundreds of monks. Every day, hundreds of kilograms of vegetables were chopped, dough was kneaded, and food was boiled, fried and steamed in huge pots and pans big enough to fit a few grown men.

The monks never stopped work as they watched us curiously observing their work. Rinpoche explained that at the monastery, there were a few ‘types’ of monks – you had the scholar monks who concentrated on their studies, and the administrative monks who ensured the smooth running of the monastery by making sure there were offerings for puja, enough food for everyone at the right time, that there were sponsors, etc. Then you also had the worker monks, tall and burly men who carried out the physical work required by the monastery such as cooking. Rinpoche told us that the worker monks viewed their work as a form of purification and collection of merit, allowing them to clear obstacles in order to be able to practice more easily. They also saw their work as a means by which to relieve the burden off others so that others, such as the scholar monks, could study and practice (“do as they are meant to do”) without having to worry about other affairs.

All this gave us a new appreciation for the lunch we were about to have, as we now knew just how much effort had gone into preparing the food we would have previously thoughtlessly gulped down. After a satisfying lunch, we left to make offerings to their Setrap statues in the Setrap khang (chapel) and the glowing Manjushri statue of the Shartse gompa (prayer hall). Before we left on the trip, Rinpoche had told us that when the Manjushri statue was in another room waiting to be installed in the gompa, lights were seen to be streaming out of the room’s windows – when the monks went to check the source, there was no one in the room except for the Manjushri statue, and all the lights of the room were off. When the Spiritual Head of Tibetan Buddhism later came to consecrate the statues in the gompa, he made offerings to all the statues – when he came to Manjushri, he stopped and said, “Oh”, and looked at the statue, before telling those around him that the monastery’s (Gaden) learning would be great, and it would produce countless great scholars and masters of Buddhism.

Later in the afternoon, after we had visited Shartse’s library to purchase various books and CDs of teachings for Rinpoche, we witnessed the Setrap puja in action. In the cool respite of the Shartse gompa, monks in robes of deep maroon and saffron entered the prayer hall and settled on their cushions in orderly lines. The abbot, Khen Rinpoche, presided over the puja as the voice of the umze (lead chanter) filled the hall. The other monks followed suit, chanting as we moved quietly in the hall to make offerings of incense to the monks, along with a token money offering to each monk. Horns, drums and bells struck up in harmony, reverberating through the hall, the chanting never skipping a beat. Some monks frowned in deep concentration, rocking back and forth slowly, while the younger ones looked around curiously, always aware of the presence of the disciplinarian. We left the hall changed, the power and effect of the puja obvious in our faces – some had wide, contented grins while others were in awe, barely able to speak when Rinpoche called to find out how our day had gone.

The following day was no less exciting. We hurried to Geshe Puntsok’s house to prepare for our meeting the high lamas, the bubble wrap and cardboard piling up as we unwrapped the packaging protecting the features of our offerings. We first made our way to the second floor of a two-storey building behind Shartse’s gompa (prayer hall), the residence of the reigning abbot of Gaden, His Eminence Khen Rinpoche. Bibi explained that a reigning abbot was given the title of Khen Rinpoche, while an ex-abbot was given the title of Khensur Rinpoche – thus, through their titles, you could automatically distinguish the ‘roles’ they played in a monastery.

With a smiling face of love that could only be attained through years of practice, after our three prostrations, he greeted our offerings of khatas and ang paus with tea and biscuits, inviting us to sit with him. Through an interpreter, Paul described the work Rinpoche was carrying out in Malaysia, and his future projects, and explained our purpose in Gaden, which was to see what we had all been collectively working to support. Khen Rinpoche nodded deeply as the interpreter translated, and told us that he was extremely happy for us to be in the monastery to gain merits, and to continue our work with Rinpoche, and to help him in any way we could. At our request, he allowed David to tape a message he had for us to take back to our Rinpoche in KL.

The sun was much higher in the sky when we left Khen Rinpoche’s house for Geshe Puntsok’s home, where we had a quick drink of tea before leaving for His Holiness Zong Rinpoche’s house. Laden with offerings, we arrived at a white-washed building with shih-tzus romping freely in the sun. Led by Geshe Puntsok, we ascended the steps to a small room in which was seated a young monk with an ‘old’ face, the Zong Rinpoche, one of Rinpoche’s many illustrious root gurus. We made three prostrations and offered the various gifts that we had brought from KL, ranging from stupas to a mandala, to him.

After that, each of us made our individual khata and ang pau offerings, and settled down so he could speak to us. This time, it was Henry who elucidated our Rinpoche’s projects in Malaysia, and his aims, and our purpose in Gaden. In a quiet voice and speaking in English, Zong Rinpoche replied that he was extremely happy we were here in Gaden and we were able to work with Rinpoche to collect merits, and that he would pray for the best success of Rinpoche’s work in order. We then asked Zong Rinpoche if he had any messages for our Rinpoche, and at his permission, David taped Zong Rinpoche’s message. As we got up to leave, some of us made prostrations – compassionately, so as not to embarrass us by stopping us, Zong Rinpoche allowed us to finish before kindly explaining that in Tibetan culture, it was auspicious for people not to prostrate towards a lama upon leaving in hopes that they would meet once again.

Below Zong Rinpoche’s room, on the ground floor, was a large altar stretching across the length of the wall, dominated by a large stupa dedicated to his previous incarnation. We prostrated and made offerings towards it, placing our heads on the altar to gain blessings – Rinpoche taught us that this was a method of opening up seeds in our mind so that we might be able to receive and understand the dharma in the future.

As we left Zong Rinpoche’s home, we spotted a small cowshed next to Zong Rinpoche’s home, which Lobsang Wangchuk told us was our Rinpoche’s old home. Immediately, we made our way over to the small and low building with yellow-framed windows, in the shade of a large tree. We peeked in, curious to see how our guru and friend had lived for so many years in this holy place, happy to serve his gurus and to study the dharma. We learnt that after Rinpoche moved out, he offered his home back to his guru Zong Rinpoche.

We were in near-run on the way back to Geshe Puntsok’s house to pick up His Holiness Lati Rinpoche’s offerings, fearful we were late to meet him – Geshe Puntsok had kindly scheduled for us to meet Lati Rinpoche at 1pm, and it was 12:50pm when we left Zong Rinpoche’s home. Lati Rinpoche’s home was five minutes away and outside, a row of young monks sat on cold marble practicing their characters. They looked up curiously as we approached the steps of Lati Rinpoche’s home, soon losing interest in this band of strangers and turning back to their studies.

We crowded into Lati Rinpoche’s small but neat room, prostrating and making offerings. Through his assistant, we managed to convey to Lati Rinpoche, who is slightly deaf, the same information we had expressed to the other Rinpoches. Henry related to Geshe Puntsok that he had a number of divination questions to ask, to which he informed Lati Rinpoche’s assistant in order for him to make the request to Lati Rinpoche. Lati Rinpoche nodded in agreement, replying that he would be happy to do so but that now was not the time, and we should return later to ask the questions.

We left for Phukhang Khangtsen (Phukhang district) after Lati Rinpoche’s home, passing a neat and well-kept white two-storey building on our way there. We learnt Rinpoche had raised funds for and built the building to house the monks of Phukhang Khangtsen, and that this was the khangtsen (district) our guru came from – in Tibet, when a monk was ordained at a monastery, he would be sent to live in the same quarters as the other monks of his district.

A gleaming yellow building amidst a sparse landscape, Phukhang Khangtsen was one of the newest buildings we saw at Gaden, and where we would have lunch that day. We were greeted and joined by the umze (lead chanter) of Phukhang Khangtsen, a towering man with a booming voice, fluent in Mandarin. He took us to see the gompa (prayer hall) of the khangtsen after lunch, showing us the statues of Shakyamuni, Maitreya, White Tara, and Manjushri on their altar.

We took two jeeps to visit Drepung, a nearby monastery home to 4000 over monks. ‘Divided’ just like Gaden, Drepung’s sections are known as Gomang and Loseling. In their great halls, we made prostrations and offerings amidst huge statues, ancient thangkas and brocades, clouds of incense and huge silk parasols. We remained for a little while to watch a puja in session in Drepung Lachi, later learning from Geshe Puntsok that they had been conducting three separate pujas while we were there. We concluded our drive with a visit to Jangchub Choeling, the nunnery of Gaden, before returning to Gaden proper.

We had our dinner in Geshe Puntsok’s house and in the evening, swathed in mosquito repellent and armed with torches, we made our way to Jangtse’s debate courtyard to watch a debate in session. They had built their gompa so that it was suspended on pillars and thus, the underside and the courtyard outside could be used for debate.

Debate is a highly regarded means of learning in Tsongkhapa’s tradition, where the acquisition of knowledge was developed to become systematic, comparable to today’s education systems – of course, Gaden’s 600-year-old learning tradition extends far beyond that of today’s Cambridge’s or Harvard’s. In the evenings, Geshe Puntsok told us, monks would gather in small groups and debate one another to test their knowledge. Bibi narrated to us that these sessions could get very heated – in all the excitement, younger monks were known to carry one another out of the halls during a debate session! Debate sessions, in more formal settings, are also carried out in front of high lamas as a form of higher examinations, to test the knowledge of the candidate.

Debate in Tsongkhapa’s tradition is vastly different to the Western ideal of a debate – there are no two groups, there is no time limit for a speaker, and speakers do not take turns to elucidate their points. Instead, a sole examiner stands amidst monks, testing them at random, clapping his hand and pulling his mala to stress a point – as he pulls his mala up his hand, he also twists it, and makes the motion of pressing his free palm down. This whole movement is symbolic of sentient beings leaving samsara through dharma and learning (the pulling of the mala upwards), and of the suppressing of the three lower realms (the pressing of the palm downwards).

And so we watched an examiner testing geshes – monks who hold a doctorate-equivalent in Buddhist studies – in the midst of other monks, while Khen Rinpoche presided on a throne. Lobsang Wangchuk told us that this was just a demonstration of the mechanics of a debate for the benefit of the younger monks surrounding the geshes, as well as a means of relaying teachings to them. We concluded our evening with aspirational prayers and circumambulations around the debate courtyard, where we had just watched a centuries’ old tradition being carried out, still alive and going strong, with the fervent wish we could some day return.

The following day was greeted with a slightly different, more reluctant mood, because we knew it was our last day in Gaden. After a long rest indoors, we left for Shartse’s gompa (prayer hall) to make offerings to the glowing Manjushri we had previously seen – this time, we would actually be allowed to drape the pearls we had previously offered, on to the statue itself! Monks pulled open the heavy glass door protecting the statue, and Paul and Joann ascended the steps to drape the pearls on our behalf.

When they had finished, those with a particular affinity towards Manjushri took photos of him, resplendent with all his the pearl offerings, and of themselves in front of him. After that, we made offerings of pearls to three different statues of Setrap, stringing them around his neck, and decorating his khang (chapel) with the pearls. We spent that evening in Mungod shopping and recounting the various experiences we had had in Gaden, how we had felt about everything and what our favourite part of the trip had been – a general consensus soon emerged that most of us greatly enjoyed the Setrap puja, as well as meeting all the high lamas. Catching the 1:30pm train, we returned to Bangalore the following day, sorry to leave Hubli and Gaden behind.

The final leg of our pilgrimage was to Sera Monastery in the district of Bylakuppe. We awoke early to embark on what we thought would be a 2hr bus ride to Sera, which we soon found out would be extended to 7hrs long. Every time we asked, the driver would reply we were a mere 20mins away from the monastery – after countless requests, he would continue to repeat the same answer. It was a hard journey for everyone, what with all the bumps and our lack of sleep – it was especially hard on poor Girlie B, who had to use the girl’s room. Despite the entire bus screaming for the driver to stop, he genuinely did not hear us and continued driving until so many people descended upon him that he pulled to a stop, by which time she was gasping for air, having had a minor asthma attack. After that incident, we developed a near-paranoid need to know where the next bathroom would be, using any that bathroom we could find in case the next nearest one was an hour or more away.

Sera is situated in the middle of a Tibetan colony, and one can see the scenery changing as the drive progresses – as we near the colony, the number of Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the wind increase, and mandalas painted on to the road begin to appear. The type of laundry changes from colourful saris to chubas (Tibetan dress), a clear indication we have arrive in Lama Colony 1, as they number the different sections of the colony here. Monks stroll up and down the road, fingering their malas, while Tibetans bustle about with their everyday chores, from watering and tending to their gardens to tidying up their storefronts.

A beautiful monastery of well-maintained buildings, at its peak, Sera was once home to 7500 over monks. We were taken to visit Sera Lachi, and then taken on a tour of Sera-Mey and Sera-Je, the two ‘sections’ of Sera, and were allowed into their gompas. Ornately decorated, the walls of their halls sprang to life in the colours of their thangkas and statues as inside, some monks moved about, silently preparing the hall for a puja to be held later in the day. We also visited their debate courtyard – inside, a big Shakyamuni statue presided over the empty hall, which we imagined to be the site of many a lively debate.

After our visit to Sera, we travelled to Namdroling Monastery the Golden Temple. Supposed to be the abode of Padmasambhava, revered by all in Tibet, especially the Nyingmas, the grandeur of the temple took us by surprise. We walked through a simple enough courtyard but once we were past an archway, everything changed – what greeted us was a golden-roofed temple capped by a massive rainbow, with prayer flags streaming from top to bottom. Ornately carved, one could see that great effort had been taken in the aesthetic look of the temple. Cameras were immediately whipped out, and numerous shots were taken of the temple’s exterior – we had to take advantage of the setting sun, which was highlighting the best of the temple, making the gold gleam and the colours more vibrant. Around the temple, numerous families of various faiths were strolling in the grounds, enjoying the beautiful gardens and playing with the animals roaming – little puppies rolled about on the warm ground, while geese waddled on the grass.

Inside the temple was a throne, dedicated to His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, and altar of the same setting in the monasteries we had visited, except on a smaller scale – what was intriguing was the 6-arm Manjushri statue they had on the altar, a form few of us had seen before as a statue. It was commanding the most attention in the hallway, a huge Hindu family lining up in front of the statue, jostling to get a better look.

We left to visit the adjoining building, known as the Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara, where there were three 60-ft statues, the largest any of us had seen so far. Again, out came the cameras as we shuffled backwards, trying to capture the size of the statues in our comparatively tiny screens. As we walked back to the bus, still in shock at the size of the statues, Chia pointed out to me a huge metal structure was given a silhouette by the sun behind it – he told me that it was for a thangka, probably a long life one, making me think, with much amused rejoicing, that maybe, at this temple, nothing they did was on a small scale.

Our next stop was the tantric college, Gyüme. Before we had left Gaden, we learnt that Gyüme and her sister tantric college, Gyütö (located in the north, near Dharamsala), were one of the places a monk had to study in order to become a geshe of the highest degree. That is, in order to become a geshe of the highest degree, they had to study in either Gyüme or Gyütö, as well as in all the traditional Three Pillars of Buddhism in Tibet, Gaden, Sera and Drepung! We could only imagine how learned the geshes must be as we walked towards the altar down the hall of Gyüme’s gompa, neatly lined with yellow hats on cushions, along with tantric implements such as bells and vajras (dorje/sceptres).

The altar was beautiful and well-kept, flanked on the left by a mandala of Heruka Chakrasamvara, towards whom tsog offerings had been made – colourful tormas surrounded the mandala, lit up by butter lamps of varying sizes. There was an additional deity on the altar, which Bibi helped us to identify as Guhyasamaja, dubbed the King of Tantra. As the monks led us to another room full of mandalas, we could hear the sound of chanting rising throughout the college as monks began their daily session of prayer memorisation – Kating Rinpoche explained that monks chanted their prayers aloud every night in order to help them memorise. We quickly made prayers and offerings before continuing on our journey – the sky had rapidly darkened while we had made our way from Namdroling to Gyüme.

Our next and final stop was the famous speaking Tara temple of Zongkar Chöede, just a few minutes drive from Gyüme. It was pitch black when we arrived in the temple grounds, where many young monks had gathered to curiously watch our bus pull in. A cold wind blew and we shivered as we, sleepy-eyed, descended from the bus and entered their gompa. Upon prostrating and making our offerings, the older monks of Zongkar Chöede led us to a small room upstairs by way of a massive emergency light they kept by the altar in case of a black-out, as so often happens in India.

It was an empty room except for a huge wooden altar stretching along the length of one wall. It was immediately evident from the centrepieces of the altar whom we were here to see – in the middle of the altar, taking all the limelight, were two gorgeous Tara statues, surrounded by another 21 Taras, there in all their glory.

It was clear that the two Tara statues were of ancient hand, possessing a very warm look that seemed to indicate they had received many an offering and prayer. It was either all those offerings and prayers that had given the Taras such a warm, life-like look, or it was the hand of what must have been an extremely talented artist – the delicate features looked as if they had been painted on just before we had arrived, fresh and smiling, pleased that we were there to offer prayers and collect merit. David and Bibi, upon closer inspection, pointed out that the Tara statues were very different from the forms we usually saw – they noted that the mudra on one of the Taras was different, while the other one was in her standing form. We soon discovered why as Bibi translated Lobsang Wangchuk’s story of the two Taras.

As the statues looked serenely upon us, Bibi shared that the mudra of the Tara on the left was different – while she was in her usual meditative pose, her hand was in the dharmachakra (teaching) mudra, which he said was highly unusual for a Tara statue. Lobsang Wangchuk, through Bibi, explained to us that “this Tara statue had been fished from the sea abode of the nagas by Nagarjuna (an Indian mahasiddha), and installed in Nalanda.” Kating Rinpoche jokingly added that Nagarjuna had ‘forgotten’ to return it to the nagas, having died before he could do so, receiving suppressed laughter in the room.

Lobsang Wangchuk then shared that the Tara statue on the right had originally been in a town on the border along Nepal and Tibet. When the famous Jowo Rinpoche statue was being brought from Nepal to Tibet, to be installed in the Jokhang, he passed through the town. “Upon sight of the statue, Tara stood up and said, “I will come with you”, and she has remained standing ever since,” Bibi translated to us.

Before we left for India, Rinpoche told us, “Both statues are famous throughout Tibet for speaking. In Tibet, it was nothing special, there were plenty of statues that spoke and people saw it as an everyday occurrence, they didn’t create a big fuss like what happens when some ‘miracle’ happens in the West. All this have ‘declined’ though, because many masters have requested the statues to stop manifesting such behaviour because it is detracting from dharma practice. People become focused in all this ‘magic’ and ‘superstition’ instead of learning and practicing.”

It was difficult to remember Rinpoche’s advice as we were standing in the room, and listening to Lobsang Wangchuk’s narration of the stories behind the statues. As we chanted Tara’s mantra in unison, and the room reverberated with our prayers, I can only imagine that some people were thinking, “Please, Tara, please speak to me!”

Our visit to Zongkar Chöede concluded our pilgrimage in and around Karnataka state, where Gaden, Sera, Drepung, Namdroling, Gyüme and Zongkar Chöede are located. The tired, but contented, looks on our faces on the way home said it all – as His Holiness likes to term it, a new sense of “universal responsibility” had been born in us, and we now knew why all this time, our guru had been cajoling, bribing, pushing us to perform in the tasks he set us. It wasn’t for his benefit, as he kept repeating, it was all to benefit Gaden so that they could benefit everyone else.

We were a group reborn, ready to tackle the world as we left India. From now on, we would endure whatever ‘suffering’ we came across, to take it in our stride and to deal with it with a smile on our faces. Why? Because we had seen that it was all worth it.

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