Back in the big(ish) city where, it would seem, summer is officially over. Body’s in the city, anyway. Mind’s in the Gobi where I just spent another magical week with Palzang and Noreen.
But before we get into that, I must publicly declare that Christian Rinderknecht is a model, nay, a paradigm of French generosity and good taste and I shall don a hair shirt for the rest of the week for any ill-considered stereotyping of his people I have published in this blog. For yesterday I received a promising package from Korea bearing these four bags of scrumptious Spanish coffee. This just as my anxiety was reaching that of the man in Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” as his trembling fingers struggled to strike the last match and stave off the pitiless Yukon winter, gazing at the last forlorn third of a bag of Tully’s finest shivering in my freezer. Christian, I am in deep in your debt and, frankly, feel a little like Dale Carnegie, having apparently won a friend out of one justifiably miffed at me previously.
Ah, now let’s turn to my favorite subject, the Eastern Gobi Desert and Danzan Ravjaa’s seat at Khamariin Khiid.
The general purpose of this trip was to afford Noreen a firsthand view of the region so she could better prepare as one of Jetsunma’s organizers. We brought along a young woman named Tsatsa as our translator, her feisty one-year old daughter Alison and her mother to help with child care. Oddly, Tsatsa told us that she had never traveled outside of Ulaan Baatar to the countryside. Well, we introduced her to deep countryside, with some funny results we’ll talk about on Friday.
But today I want to sing the praises of Altangerel and all of the others associated with Khamariin Khiid for their wonderful accomplishments this year in furthering the restoration of the monastic complex.
We traveled down with Altangerel, newly released from his month-long recuperation, and rejoiced at the day-long rain that fell in enough quantity to leave puddles in the Gobi jeep tracks. He showed us the new architectural drawings for a large temple they will build next year. It’s going to be gorgeous.
Two days after we arrived, a vanload of lamas pulled up to the ger camp, including Chö Lama and others we recognized as the core of Tavan Dokhio, the Khamar NGO. They had come to offer auspicious prayers to mark the restoration of the terracing and steps that used to augment the nearest set of meditation caves until the Communists deemed such activities as meditation and devotional pilgrimage to be dangerously counter-revolutionary.
This is Togtokh Lama. We totally dig him – so simple in his devotion, possessed of that exquisite natural humility that somehow manifests as dignity, and, by happy circumstance, a righteously talented mason.
In about 50 days, with a couple of young helpers, in 105-degree heat, he turned this…
even including flourishes such as this:
Altangerel says that the pace of activity at Khamar radically accelerated once the Statue of 10,000 Knives was reunited with its base and enshrined again in the “red” temple there. On this trip I learned that this did not actually occur until June of last year. When the statue was first rediscovered by Altangerel in 2000, he and Sharavdorj managed to wrest it away for a three-month tour of Dornogov (nicely coinciding, I hear, with Sharavdorj’s parliamentary re-election campaign), but had to bring it back to Ulaan Baatar until the painfully slow bureaucratic process for releasing “national treasures” completed its course.
On Monday, the statue was restored to its full glory, with the setting of a new crown, fashioned by Mongolian artists and sponsored by Sharavdorj and his family.
Regular readers will remember the astounding story of the worker, the scorpion and the discovery of the old crown. But here I got new information and need to set the record straight. Everything happened as I told it, except for one thing. The object found was not the original crown from that particular statue. It’s too small. But it is a crown from a Guru Rinpoche statue and the timing and circumstances of its discovery were quite uncanny. Here is the crown that was found. Note the diagonal line on the dome – that’s the demarcation for how much was sticking up out of the sand.
The new crown is really a thing of tremendous beauty. Once measurements were taken and a drawn design agreed upon based on this old crown and photos that Sharavdorj took of other Guru Rinpoche crowns in India, the artists created the basic shape from pure silver and plated it with gold. Many people contributed small pieces of silver and gold so that they could participate.
Sharavdorj and others were also mindful that the statue was created in the first place as a response to a stabbing murder and dedicated to the suppression of such violence. They therefore obtained knives from a local slaughterhouse, a prison, and an army base on the Chinese border that has been plagued with a strange outbreak of stabbings and murders over the past few years. Pieces of these knives were melted down and blended into the metals of the crown.
The jewels were culled from the three cradles of Vajrayana Buddhism and the activity of Guru Rinpoche – India, Tibet and Mongolia. A few (Sharavdorj declined to tell me which) came from Danzan Ravjaa’s personal effects and, in fact, Altangerel unearthed a new crate from the desert to extract them.
On Monday morning, the 25th day of the lunar calendar sacred to the feminine expression of enlightenment, the lamas and lay community waited to escort Sharavdorj and the new crown into the temple.
Here is Sharavdorj – looking pretty natty in his pearl grey leather deel and cowboy hat – bearing the crown into the temple.
He offers it to Khamar’s abbot, Dush Lama.
Dush Lama gives it to Altangerel, who fits it into place.
And there it is, in all its glory.
Following the offering of tsog and the traditional mandala ceremony…
…young and old (um, not you, Noreen and Erka, the others) offer their devotion and respect.
We offered everyone present the Guru Rinpoche card we had printed with the Mongolian translation of the Seven Line Prayer. It was so touching to see how preciously they regarded it and we saw many people reading the prayer to themselves afterward. Here is Noreen teaching some of the lay people one of Jetsunma’s tunes for the prayer.
Now, I called this post “Completion Stage” not just to reference the many tasks completed this year at Khamariin Khiid, but also because it’s the eighth of nine yanas, or vehicles, according to the Nyingma reckoning of the sequence of the spiritual path. I deliberately chose the next to last vehicle because of one missing element of which I was acutely aware – Jetsunma’s presence. This was the weekend we had originally planned for her to be at Khamar, in order to bless the ceremony for the statue that been the final auspicious connection prompting us to launch our Mongolia project. Had she been there, it would have felt like the most sublime stage of the Great Perfection.
In fact, when we checked our email in Sainshand, we received the dispiriting news that Jetsunma felt it necessary, for a variety of reasons, to abandon plans to visit Mongolia this year. The project will continue, and I’m definitely to stay, but plans for her tour must be revisited when the weather warms up next spring.
Many marvelous things will greet her when she comes. In a remarkably adroit application of skillful means, Sharavdorj, in his role as Minister of Defense, recruited soldiers such as these two from the local military base to come over and help prepare the ground for the building of some of the 100 small stupas which will border Shambhala Land. They expect to finish 16-17 this year and the rest next year.
Sharavdorj and Erka’s Children’s Stupa will be finished at the sacred Khanbayanzurkh mountain; the school and community center will be in full swing (though the current kindergarten – the sign says “Ger Kindergarten” – is awfully cute, isn’t it? That’s their teacher, and my Gobi mama, Tangulag), the large temple should be well on its way, the reforestation project expanded, thirteen promising young people sent to India for intensive Nyingma training, and a cluster of gers set up at a more remote set of caves for retreatants.
I feel so proud of these people. If you could see how little they have in a personal way, you’d be astounded, as I am, by their record of accomplishment in just 15 years. I’m hoping to spend more time living among them – their faith and inner contentment are infectious and they’re working a real miracle in the desert.