Sakya Losal Choe Dzong

Tibetan Buddhist Society of Canberra

Pilgrimage Report 2015

By Greg O'Rourke on 20th April 2015, 20:31

Pilgrims meet with H.H. The Dalai Lama and other Lineage Holders

This article by Lama Choedak Rinpoche featured in the January Clear Mind Edition #101.

I have been leading bi-annual pilgrimages to the sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal and India since 1985. I have seen how people grow, learn and discover new things about themselves on a pilgrimage by being able to accept other people's way of doing things. On a very subtle level, pilgrims receive many blessings and teachings just by going to those places. We also witness poverty, generosity, comfort, discomfort and the different ways there are to relate to such things. Unceasing Buddha activities can be observed through undertaking such a sacred journey. It breaks the closed mindedness and helps one to embrace all beings with loving kindness, as the virtue of all virtues.

Seeing an elderly Burmese lady being carried by porters and constantly attended to by her children, is the signature of the strength of Dharma in those people and its culture. An old man sweeps the fallen bodhi leaves with a broom as his daily chore, but when a pilgrim offers him some rupees, it empowers him with humility in his simple task. On the other hand the man who profits by selling things and makes 20 times more each day, displays no satisfaction. On pilgrimage there is an unceasing teaching coming from everyone, including the beggars, fellow pilgrims, street vendors and their behaviour. It is the power of the places that transforms one's attitude and reveals the emptiness of appearances. As a pilgrim inspired by Xuan Tsang and many others, I salute all who are on the path without any judgement. With the careful timing of this pilgrimage, we were able to attend the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the founding of the Sakya Centre (13-14 Nov) in Dehra Dun, visit holy places, meet the most important people in Tibetan Buddhism, attend the 23rd Sakya Monlam Prayer Festival (4-13 Dec) in Lumbini, and attend a prayer ceremony known as 'Lom-chod' (1st anniversary) of my late sister-in-law in Pokhara. There were 13 pilgrims, most were Australians except a couple from Singapore and one from USA.

This pilgrimage had two sections: the first section included Delhi, Dehra Dun, Tso Pema, Dharamsala, Bir and Chauntara. The second section included Varanasi, Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Vaishali, Kushinagar and Lumbini: the main Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. Visiting the first section enabled us to witness the thriving Tibetan Buddhist community in action by having an audience with HH the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, and Sakya Trizin. The second section took us back to the life of the Buddha by visiting the old and desolate ruins and ancient temples, guarded by armed men. Here is my account of the first part of the trip (part 2 to follow in the next edition).

10 November

The pilgrims and I met in Delhi on the 10th and took a flight to Dehra Dun. We stayed at Songtsen Library Guest House, founded by HH Drikung Kyabgon Rinpoche. My brother Thutop, the American Tibetan who would join the 1st section, arrived ahead of us. There we all had a room to ourselves. After a quick vegetarian lunch, we drove to the residence of HH Sakya Trizin and his family (he has five grand-children). We were served tea while waiting outside before the audience. I felt a bit sad as people at the house seemed unfamiliar. Much loved Sangye-la and the jolly Drakpa-la have passed away. The elderly Somo-Dolkar la and Gen Rinchen-la are there, but not in their best form. HH received us in a cosy audience room. This is the first time that I saw no construction activities at the residence. As we paid our respect, I offered an eight-spoked wheel of Dharma with a khata and renewed our request for him to bestow the Lamdre teachings at SIBA. His Holiness graciously agreed but gave no specific date. His Holiness then asked me a number of questions about what the other Sakya monks and Lamas are doing in Australia. We received a 'Ka-go' from His Holiness with His Vajrakilaya dagger in his hand. He held the dagger on my head for much of the time and invoked all the names of lineage masters, sending a wave of tingling through my backbone. I imagined all beings with me and especially some people that my heart was concerned about in recent months. Faith and bond was renewed. Then, we visited the Sakya Centre which was busy with all the preparations for the celebration. There we were greeted by Ven. Sonam Choegyal-la, the secretary General of the centre. Then we visited Ven. Chiwang Tulku Rinpoche. 11-13 November On the 11th, we visited Ngor monastery in Manduwala and paid our respects to HE Luding Khenchen, Khenpo and Thartse Khenpo. We also visited the Sakya College for Nuns. There we met Ani Dechen Wangmo, the principal, the Khenpo and my niece Ani Lekshe Sangmo. We paid our respects to His Eminence Asanga Rinpoche who has begun his Buddhist dialectical studies. On the 12th, we were took part in the rich Golden Jubilee celebration. The scale and massive organisation that had gone into the celebration highlighted the important role the Sakya centre has played over the last 50 years. They offered top quality food for all guests on both days. The morning was filled with many (rather monotonous) speeches in three languages. The anticipated arrival of the Chief Minister...did not happen. They showered everyone with many gifts, including a Sanskrit translation of Sapan's Elegant Sayings. The Professor translator talked for more than 45 minutes about his work and praised Sapan's scholarship. When he tried to read some verses in Tibetan, even His Eminence Luding Khenchen Rinpoche could not help but break into laughter! (Most philologists are known for their woeful pronunciation). The afternoon was all entertainment, much to the delight of the young monks and nuns. A fellow pilgrim remarked on the secular nature of the celebration with little emphasis in spirituality, except lighting of lamps at the beginning. In the evening, we visited the Sakya Academy under construction where a dinner was hosted by Dagmo Sonam-la as her husband Gyana Vajra Rinpoche was ill. The outdoor event was warmed by songs again in spite of a very cold evening. The academy is situated at a beautiful location overlooking Doon valley with spacious surroundings. 14-15 November On the 14th, His Holiness Sakya Trizin gave an empowerment, which attracted 6,000 people. He sat on the throne for 6 hours blessing all, one by one. I felt that the Sakya Centre definitely needs to be relocated somewhere more spacious as it is too crowded where it is now. In the afternoon, we had an audience with His Eminence Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, who has just returned from Bodh Gaya. We renewed our standing invitation for his return visit to Australia.

On the 15th, we visited the first historic Tibetan temple in Mussoorie, where the Dalai Lama stayed for a while when he first arrived as a refugee in 1959. I always visit this tiny place. I feel sad but equally inspired by how HH Dalai Lama has led us to great heights from such a humble beginning. Only a few orphans roam there, as they have nowhere to go for vacation. On our way back, we visited Sakya College and the new Khenpos, who showered us with endless cups of tea and biscuits. We quickly arranged an offering for a dinner for all at the College.

16-17 November

On the 16th, we visited Mindrol Ling monastery in Clement Town, one of the main seats of Nyingmapa lineage, the huge Buddha statue and a large stupa. It is a good tourist destination. We stayed at Devaloka guest house. On the 17th, we drove early through a scenic mountainous route to Tso Pema, 'Lotus Lake'. This is a famous site where Padmasambhava transformed a big fire ball into a lake, then escaped unharmed floating on a lotus flower with his consort Mandarawa. She is the cause of the unbelievable story of Padmasambhava being set on fire by her furious father. A massive statue of Padmasambhava overlooking the small valley, along with several Tibetan temples and hermitages around the hills, adds more value to the place.

18-19 November

On the 18th, we arrived in Dharamsala, the seat of HH Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration. We stayed at Zambala, a Tibetan hotel. I received the good news that an audience for our group with HH the Dalai Lama was confirmed. On the 19th, after having bread, boiled eggs and chai for breakfast, we went through security checks before being ushered into the palace grounds. Soon His Holiness appeared at 10:30am. When I offered a khata and touched his smooth hand, I felt like I was lifted into the space by His amazing presence. His Holiness was leaving for Delhi at 1.00pm but we were rewarded with such blessings. After I asked him a few questions on some issues, His Holiness patted my back and said:

"The appointment of the next Chogye Trichen should be decided by Dagtri Rinpoche (Sakya Trizin). I received a letter some time ago asking me to give direction on this matter and I asked Dagtri Rinpoche to decide it. Everyone will respect his decision. And if there is any problem in deciding it, then maybe rolling of the dough (zen ril dril) may be used, or whatever. It should be decided without further delay. This is all I can say.

So, you are neither a lay person nor a monk. Anyway, I am glad about what you are doing. Yes, I have also read Rongton's commentary on the Stages of Meditation. So, please go ahead and finish the translation. By the way, consult some of the root Indian texts mentioned in it. Please keep up your work. See you."

After the audience, I felt satisfied as if I had nothing else to do on that day. Such was the effect of seeing His Holiness. All in the group could not believe such an honour and happiness could be found in being close to His Presence. In the afternoon, we visited the famous Tibetan library and the new parliament building escorted by Geshe Tse Ringpo, a member of the Sakya lineage.

20th November

On the 20th, we visited Norbu Linka, a Tibetan cultural centre and Dolma Ling nunnery. Then we tried to visit Gyuto monastery, but we could not get into the main temple as the caretaker had no key on him. He strangely said, 'This is not Karmapa's monastery.' After a quick visit to several monasteries in Bir, we met HE Abhikrita Rinpoche, Abhaya Rinpoche and Ven. Khenpo Choying Dorje at Dzongsar Institute in Chauntara. I had lunch with them, while Tsewang Rigzin entertained the group. We witnessed the vision of the late Khenchen Kunga Wangchuk being carried out by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche with unique style and precision. Then we drove all night and reached Delhi, taking our flight to Varanasi on time. Incredible India! To be continued...