Gonpo, the Lion Hearted

My great friend and Tibetan nephew, Gonpo, died today, at age 41. There’s no big message here, just sadness. Of course we could discuss the three diseases he died of, and the state of health facilities on the Tibetan plateau. But today, only sadness.

I met Gonpo in 2002, when i first traveled to Tibet with Kilung Rinpoche, Gonpo’s uncle. He was one of many monks who were so curious to meet me, curious and warm-hearted. Gonpo stood out as incredibly open, forthcoming, energetic, and wonderfully hilarious.

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Photo by Li Ming Yang

He had a strong baritone voice that emanated from deep inside, like a lion. Later on that trip, some of us traveled from Dzachuka in the east, to Lhasa in the center of Tibet. And there Gonpo revealed himself as a protector, willing to do whatever it takes for someone in need. In this case, me.

Our small group had been planning to circumambulate Mt Kailash. But something had come up for me, an interpersonal thing with one of the westerners going on the trip, and i felt i could no longer go. I was in tears explaining it all to Rinpoche, with Gonpo sitting there listening to this in English, not comprehending the words, but the meaning. All at once, he looked at Rinpoche and said in Tibetan, he would forgo the trip—his chance to make the lifetime Kailash pilgrimage—in order to stay with me. Can you imagine this? Further, he had a duty, in a way, to stay with Rinpoche as his attendant. Understanding all of this, I was deeply touched, and will never forget his offer. Of course I declined. Tears, yes, but i knew i would be okay, and didn’t wish to be the cause of such a sacrifice.

There were more trips to Tibet and more meetings and adventures with Gonpo. I watched him once in a passionate fight with his brother, thinking one of them was going to kill the other—Gonpo was interrupting some alcohol-driven action of his brother, and his brother had a large knife—again, Gonpo as protector.

Every westerner we brought with us to Dzachuka was charmed by Gonpo in his imp manifestation, including the time he reached through an open window and smeared a female relative’s face with a huge handful of cake frosting. He was often the cause of belly laughing.

I watched him mature, taking on increasing responsibilities at the monastery. He was a doer, with this combination of fearlessness, big-heartedness, and capability. He was his uncle’s right-hand at the monastery, and indispensable for his family and community.

So, in 2009, when I was in India with extra weeks on my hands, his uncle asked me to help Gonpo, who had crossed the border to seek medical treatment. Of course I said yes. I became his advocate at the hospital, with doctors and medical technicians, and I learned how to navigate the health system in New Delhi. After the main treatments were completed, together with his cousin, we three made a pilgrimage up and back to some Himalayan destinations. And Gonpo and I continued looking after each other all along the way. When i put them on a bus in that hot, dusty Delhi parking lot, headed back home to Tibet, I didn’t know that would be our last meeting.

I thought Gonpo had been cured—of two diseases, Hydatid disease and Hep B —in China and in India. But no. More recently add to that a third, TB. You can look up the first one. Difficult. Dzachuka has one of the highest incidences per capita in the world.

Even though he went out of this life too early, Gonpo lived well and completely. He was beloved by countless people, including that brother of his, who did recover himself, now settled down with wife and kids.

I remember one time in my thirties, saying to someone, a stranger on a bus, “I’ve lived so fully at this point, if i were to die tomorrow i’d feel satisfied.” I think Gonpo could say this, too. Yes, young, but a beautiful life, a beautiful being.

He’s being honored by Kilung Monastery, his body being brought into the sacred space there, prepared for a lama’s cremation.

Om mani peme hung

 

Prison Meditation

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I accompanied Kilung Rinpoche to Monroe Penitentiary for his teaching to a group of 15 prisoners, and it exceeded expectations. My friend Jeanne, also in attendance, agreed. The men were rapt while Rinpoche spoke. He shared very touchingly about his uncle’s experience in a Chinese prison in the 1950s; about bodhicitta; led the group in meditation; and answered many questions. The men also had shared a bit about their practice and history with Buddhism. 

Their sincerity and eagerness for the teachings were conveyed throughout the evening. The impact this had on Rinpoche was clear. At the end of the session, he went around the room to each man, lingering with each one while giving them a personal blessing. The heart connections were visible and very moving to observe.

Then it was my turn, and on Tuesday I went out to Monroe with my volunteer sponsor, Sandy, to begin the Seven Meditations program with them. Again, a large group of about 15, and everyone present, warm, and engaged. They were so happy to hear that Rinpoche had enjoyed his time with them. After I shared my story with them, they each went around the circle summarizing their own experience with meditation and Buddhism. Again, I was so impressed with how many meditate on a daily basis, some of them for many years. Quite a number also mentioned that they practice mindfulness continually throughout the day. And many spoke of the real difference meditation had made in their lives: peace, equanimity, concentration, kindness. One of them even said, “I’m beginning to see that this circumstance of prison is akin to being in a monastery…where one can spend time in meditation and practice without the usual distractions.”

At the end of the evening, the donated books were passed out to a very grateful group! One of them, lovingly holding the text, said, “This is like Christmas!” Then, many handshakes all around. After leaving, Sandy said, “You know, everyone was just so happy!” Yes, it was like that the whole evening.

​~ ~ ~

Thank you to everyone who donated for a copy of The Relaxed Mind for the prison program. Funds came in immediately, from the Whidbey Island Monday Meditation group, and also in response to the last email newsletter I sent out. That was 17 copies altogether. And as mentioned above, the men were really happy to receive their book!

The Eclipse of the Goats

The eclipse called, so I went further south to spend a couple of days in Raymond with my friends Brent and Kathy. We had a great time. Not in the totality zone, but closer to it than Seattle, we had hiked up a steep small mountain, in the woods, friends together, quietly meditating and doing Buddhist practice–all what I was hoping for–except for the surprise visit of a herd of a dozen goats! who rambled over our little encampment, nibbling and taking bites out of anything they could put their lips around! This included my hair, one shoe, Brent’s sacred text, books, and water bottles. One even took a bite out of a foam sitting pad. It was quite, quite funny. We scrambled to try to gather things up, but when one went off, another two would come to investigate something else.

The gentle goatherd, the owner of the property, a friend of Brent and Kathy’s, kept chatting amiably with Brent. Finally Kathy gave a hint that maybe they could all move on (well, in a very diplomatic way), so the three of us could once again sit down and watch the ongoing eclipse…which they did. He set out, calling them, and they happily kept up. They were beautiful animals, and i loved seeing and brushing up against them, while yanking things out of mouths and telling them to move off!

A whimsical convergence of sacred moment and goats. With the right lens, all arisings have sacred, even humorous, potential.

 

Too much thinking, no good

Long ago and faraway… When my daughter and i got to know Sonam Gonpo, monk-nephew-attendant of Kilung Rinpoche, in Asia, he was one of the funniest people we’d ever met. He would often have us both in stitches, and Sorrel’s laughter would ring like bells throughout their cement apartment. That was in spite of his little English and our near-zero Tibetan. He would also sometimes try to redirect Sorrel’s teenage mind with this Tibetan saying: Too much thinking, no good. Decades later, we both still carry it around with us, when needed. I’m sure we Americans think too much, but if Tibetans didn’t, there wouldn’t be a saying about it.

More recently, I was listening to a teaching online by British dzogchen teacher, James Low. I took down these words of his:

The fewer ideas you have, the more you’re likely to taste what is going on. The function of meditation is to release our addiction to ideas as the vehicle of truth.

So, you know what to do…put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Soul Portraits

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Portrait #10 by Deborah Koff-Chapin

This image is one in a series of 16 “soul portraits” of me by my friend and artist Deborah Koff-Chapin. She utilizes a wonderful technique called Touch Drawing, and gives workshops in it all over the world. Just at the end of my second long retreat (Sept 2016), I sat for Deborah for this coming-out-of-retreat gift, capturing a reflection of one’s ether-realm, like taking the pulse on the unseen at that moment of emergence.

I’ll post others of the 16 portraits from time to time.

Infrequent, Hopefully more whimsical, not irascible

From buddhism to bloggism, my first foray into the latter. I begin with this: How inspiring can a blog be when the term so thoroughly reminds me of a book title that used to be on our living room shelf, The Bog People, by PV Glob. This was an actual book–you can look it up–written by a Danish archaeologist, one copy collected by my then-husband. Much later the term “blog” was invented, and i thought, why? But here we are, in a very different world than then.

This webpage i named “Bloggish” to hint at its predicted infrequency and indeterminate purpose. Currently i’m thinking of it as a catch-all, for things which don’t fit into the other menu categories; the infrequency because i’d like to save my writing energy for a book i’m working on. More on the latter later.

The website came into being because of the need to post event flyers (see Happenings), so this bloggishness just an afterthought, and i hope, occasional enjoyment.