Well, it will come as little surprise how many Mongolians evidently get through their long, dark winter. It seems that about one out of every four young women we pass on the street is about five months pregnant.
This reminds me of a story that Rinpoche told, which became a joke during our visit. It requires some background for those less familiar with Tibetan Buddhism, which I hope you’ll find interesting.
The supreme Vajrayana master from India, Padmasambhava, traveled to Tibet in the 8th c. at the invitation of King Trisong Deutsen. During his 60 years there, he subdued all the forces hostile to the Dharma, and gave teachings and transmissions according to the capacities of his various disciples.
Padmasambhava, more commonly known as Guru Rinpoche, spontaneously appeared in this world as an emanation of Shakyamuni Buddha in order to disseminate the Vajrayana. Guru Rinpoche embodied a perfect Buddha mind, one facet of which is complete, unmistaken knowledge of the details of all physical and mental phenomena everywhere, past, present and future. Therefore, he saw that many teachings, practices, and objects he possessed would be of little benefit to the people of his time, but great benefit to future generations.
Guru Rinpoche’s foremost disciple in Tibet was the Princess of Kharchen, Yeshe Tsogyal (it’s of interest to note that his foremost disciple in India was also a woman, Lhacham Mandarava). At certain times, Guru Rinpoche would dictate teachings and practice methods which Yeshe Tsogyal, with her perfect recall, would copy on yellow parchment in a symbolic writing known as Dakini Script. This is not just a story. I’ve seen photos of these originals and they’re amazing. Anyway, together they concealed these parchment scrolls, often along with sacred objects and precious substances, all over Tibet. The hiding places are hard to comprehend for those of us attached to our notions of solid reality. They would be put high up in sheer rock faces, in lakes, cave walls, pillars of monasteries, etc., often in caskets made of materials foreign to Tibet, such as rhinoceros hide. These caches came to be known as terma, or treasure teachings.
Along with Yeshe Tsogyal, Guru Rinpoche had 24 other disciples of superior accomplishment. He blessed and empowered each of them to reincarnate at various times in the future and discover these caches. Those who engage in this activity are known as tertöns, meaning treasure revealers. Such discoveries began with Sangye Lama in the 11th c. and have continued unabated up to the present day. Thus, the Nyingma canon is divided into two lineages. The first is kama, or those actually spoken by Guru Rinpoche, and actively practiced and transmitted by others, during his lifetime. This is also known as the distant lineage. The other is terma, known as the close lineages. Terma is further divided into two categories, sater, or earth terma, meaning these physical caches, and gongter, or mind terma, meaning cycles that are revealed in visionary experience.
Which is the long way ‘round to our story. In the 19th c. there was a particularly great tertön in Tibet named Chokgyur Lingpa. Rinpoche told us over breakfast that before Chokgyur Lingpa was born, the man who would be his father had a vivid dream in which Amitabha Buddha appeared to him and said, “You have to make the way for the tertön Chokgyur Lingpa to be born in this world! Right now!” So, he shook his wife awake, related the dream, and can you imagine the scene? Great rolling of the eyes and thoughts such as, “Oy, now it’s Amitabha Buddha’s command. What’ll he come up with next?” Nonetheless, they went into tertön-production mode and Rinpoche said that my man, being an especially devoted sort, ran the sequence twice, just to be sure.
This story came up because one of the empowerments that Rinpoche conferred at Khamariin Khiid was from Chokgyur Lingpa’s terma cycle. One of those attending these empowerments was a particularly big and boisterous lama. Everything he did, from prostrations to offerings to chanting, was done in such a loud and exaggerated way that one couldn’t help but feel they were designed to draw attention to himself. He was one of those older monks who had been “encouraged” by the Communists to leave aside his celibacy vow and get married. But this one seemed to adapt pretty well to his new situation, as we discovered that he had ten – count ‘em, ten – children. “Wow,” I remarked to Rinpoche and Palzang, “he must have had lots of dreams of Amitabha!” This provoked a long round of laughter and joking, at the end of which we had dubbed him Amitabha Lama, for reasons he’ll never suspect.
I also tell all this because today is the 10th day of the lunar cycle, the day on which Guru Rinpoche promised to be present for those calling to him with devotion. Recalling and relating aspects of the incomparable life and deeds of Guru Rinpoche is for me a devotional act. This particular 10th day celebrates the spontaneous appearance of Guru Rinpoche, an event only surpassed in importance for me by the birth of my own root teachers. Rinpoche will confer the same Guru Rinpoche empowerment this afternoon at the Tilopa Center that he gave at Khamariin Khiid. The day feels charged with blessing.
As it did at Khamariin Khiid, primarily because of the intensity of the devotion of those present. Word got around in the mysterious way that it does in far-flung communities (well, OK, radio announcements aren’t that mysterious), and people kept arriving by vehicle, horse, and camel until the Nyingma temple was packed to the rafters.
Because Palzang and I were, I think, the only fully-ordained monks there, we were given special seats and Rinpoche asked us to wear our yellow robes. While such respect always makes me feel personally uncomfortable, undeserving as I am, it did afford me a perch from which to delight in the devotion of the assembly and discreetly snap some photos. I’ll let some of them speak for themselves, with just short captions:
Here's the "PA Sysytem", Ideerbayaar translating from Tibetan to Mongolian with a bullhorn:
The people listen intently:
Rinpoche begins the empowerment...
...and it gathers in intensity:
At the end, the assembly perform a traditional offering ritual:
And Rinpoche is astounded that even several soldiers from the nearby military camp have attended and seek his blessing:
It was so lovely to see how integrated the community was with this monastery, more so than any other I've seen in Mongolia thus far. It was like the descriptions of Danzan Ravjaa's time, albeit on a humbler scale, where Khamariin Khiid functioned as much as a community center for people living in the remote outback, as well as a place of religious instruction and practice. I clearly recall Rinpoche’s comment in the receiving tent before we left: “This place good. Maybe has chance.”