Tibet Visit 2011
Lama Choedak Rinpoche and a small group, including three committee members, visited Tibet in September. Their trip was mainly to check on the progress of the monasteries which the Society has pledged support to since 2007.
To find out more about Nalendra Project including the scope of the Society's charitable activities and how you can contribute click here.
The visit was a resounding success, and judging by the reports from the three committee members who joined the trip, a very important experience on their Dharma path...
Contrary to the usual pattern of things, i recently found myself in Tibet. I am not sure how it happened. I can see the immediate circumstances of Rinpoche following through his ideas, Rachel lending me money, planes actually lifting off and coming back down, employers giving permission, world not blowing up although it did shake a bit here and there in Tibet, guides being good guides, and so on; but why such good fortune should suddenly be happening at all is beyond me. I regard an opportunity to go to Tibet, let alone to the monasteries, especially those of Phenpo Valley, and to be able to help them in any way, as being too extraordinary to fathom. This impious and inebriate person was gobsmacked for the whole time ... or perhaps it was the difficulty of breathing without air. If you ever felt you needed confirmation beyond your usual suspicion of the idiocy of your normal existence, you must go. Go anyway.
To be surrounded by myriad manifestations of hundreds of years of skill, energy and intelligence devoted to the dharma - leaving Tibetan political intrigues, murders etc aside for the moment - knocks the stuffing out of even my irreverent ego. Even the mountains, valleys and rivers sing. Even our hotel was once the mansion of one of the Dalai Lama's tutors. The Jokhang, and the police station, were around the corner. The perpetually magnificent mind-rolling Potala, emblem of new victory, was down the road. Ho hum. If you normally are unmoved by the preciousness of such a nearly lost world, then the pervasive presence of Chinese troops, businesses, and colonists in large ever-busy, ever-expanding numbers will dismay even the most complacent. Boy-soldiers, weapons in hand, marching in groups of six down every back street, stationed on the rooves of all intersections, behind cameras at all corners will leave you in no doubt as to their government's intentions, and the precariousness , even the untenability, of life.
To be able to sustain one's culture and the Buddhadharma in the face of this is very heroic. That is how i describe the monks and nuns, because they practise in such very difficult conditions. Theoretically and individually speaking, this need not be such a bad thing, but sangha need the support of a monastery just as a tree needs the support of a forest to grow. The invigouration of being in an active monastery (as opposed to a tourist destination shell of a monastery, a victory relic like the Potala), functioning, even growing, and brimming with humour and high morale has to be experienced. When you are there, you can appreciate how such institutions foster practitioners, how important they are, and how vulnerable they are. Nalendra is very special. I felt so honoured to be there, and to help deliver the funds that have been accumulating from donors for two years. I know they would all also like to have been there, too, and see how it has grown, and to meet familiar faces.
To see how Nalendra has grown out of bombed out rubble by the power of the prayers of the remaining monks should make anyone cry, as would seeing the tiny band of nuns in the Dargyul Nunnery that clings to the cliffs by the equally sheer force of devotion. The extension they are hoping for is more or less in thin air, both ways, but they are safe because all gravity was only in my legs. I so miss oxygen. At Palden Tse nunnery, four young nuns had built a new accommodation wing using funds we gave last time with an incredible amount of sweat. While you're crying, you can pray before Chogye Trichen's exquisite stupa in the shrine at Nalendra, and then look to the future in their reconstruction of the stupa for Rongton, emanation of Maitreya.
Wherever we went in Phenpo Valley we received the warmest hospitality, and a few queries about what was the matter with us that we were so big yet ate so little? So little!! I alone ate half a yak in one day, let alone an orchard of cucumber, mountains of rice, and enough Tibetan tea to change the course of the Yangtse ... which brings to mind something special: if you have no other reason to go to Tibet, you should at least go for the beer - say no more.
Tibet is a very powerful place, and the devotion of the Tibetans is so inspiring, especially given the unfortunate political situation there at the moment. It is so beautiful - there is too much to tell for just a few sentences...Lhasa is simply amazing, hundreds upon hundreds of Tibetans circumambulating the Jokhang Temple in a circuit ('kora') around the city. So many prostrating, whirling prayer wheels, chanting prayers and mantras on their malas - it continues non stop for the whole day, every day!
The highlight of the trip for me was visiting Nalendra monastery. I felt like we had arrived in the true Tibet when we were there. Grassy hillsides with the vast expanse of the Phenpo Valley unfolding in all directions below, amazing temples, monks debating outside the Shedra college where they study, and possibly the most friendly, loveliest people I have ever met!! It was very heartening to see the heart of Tibetan Buddhism alive and well here, where authentic practice was being preserved - as a lot of the more touristy places we went to had amazing temples, statues and so on but felt rather hollow, with very few practioners and tight regulations imposed from the Chinese government.
Since visiting these places I have felt very honoured to belong to our Society here in Australia, and knowing that we are helping to keep these monasteries and nunneries going. I think it's really important for Tibetan culture and Buddhism in general that they are still able to continue their work in Tibet - it is so inspiring that they manage to do so much for the Dharma under such difficult and oppressive conditions.
Tibet is truly like another world! I will never forget walking up the rocky paths to Daryul Gomkhang Nunnery - being greeted by the nuns who offered silk katas, hearing the haunting sounds of the ceremonial trumpets, smoky pyres of insence burning around the entrance to the nunnery, and the hypnotic chanting of the nuns as they practiced. And the butter tea - sooooo much butter tea!!
I think anyone that has interest in Tibetan Buddhism should not hesitate to go visit there - it really will change your life and shed a lot of light on the teachings and practices of our tradition. At the moment they are building a large new stupa at Nalendra to house a giant Matreiya Buddha statue - our group decided to return there in 2 years when it should reach completion - hope to see some of you come along with us!
The two things that stand out in my mind about the trip to Tibet are the city of Lhasa and the Tibetan countryside. There was a great energy in Lhasa with many Tibetans doing circumambulations and prostrations around the Jokhang. The level of devotion and respect for the holy places is very high. Also, the scenery in the countryside is spectacular; everywhere you look there are awe-inspiring mountains and majestic scenes.
I really recommend visiting Tibet to anyone, especially as we can visit monasteries and nunneries practising from the same lineage as we do.
I think taking the medication diamox helped us all greatly as none of us suffered much from altitude sickness. Also, the weather was perfect in early autumn - around 24 degrees during the day with blue, sunny skies and about 10 degrees at night.