Saturday, March 28, 2009
a great Teacher has passed from the world
When I awoke yesterday morning, although I did not know it, my world had changed. Across the ocean, in southern India, the great Lama who had with great kindness guided countless people on a pure, unbroken path of Buddhism, had passed away.
His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was probably not as well known a public figure as HH the Dalai Lama, yet he, too, had escaped the terror of the Chinese Invasion, fleeing over the mountains with 300 followers; only 31 survived the treacherous journey and attacks by the Chinese. His Holiness has been recognised as a living Buddha, and was considered one of the foremost masters of Tibetan Buddhism; stories of miraculous events even as he was 3 years old have been recorded.
He was the 11th Throneholder of the Palyul lineage, in the Nyingma School, the first school of Buddhism established in Tibet, in the 8th Century. He had also been Supreme Head of the Nyingma School, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Although he was a living Buddha, who was accomplished in every way, His Holiness was not a distant or theoretical teacher, he lived fully a life of active compassion, working tirelessly to help others. He was out digging latrines with a shovel as the monastery in southern India was being built. He worked side by side with his monks, whatever was needed, to bring to life what has been left behind in Tibet: a foundation from which the Dharma could flourish and spread.
His Holiness was, in a sense, my spiritual father; I received ordination vows with him at his upstate NY retreat Centre in 2000. I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have received many teachings and empowerments from him, and to have had the opportunity, while at retreat, to sit at his feet and receive brief instructions. His door and heart were always open.
Many Tibetans now in the USA also go to retreat, and through their eyes I experienced the depth of who he was. Devotion is a little foreign to us in the west, but a seamless part of other cultures. When I saw his monks or lay Tibetans watching or waiting for or even glimpsing him, I saw a deep and certain, unshakable love and respect, that was not blind faith, but rich and broad and based on a connection of one heart to the next, a language of hope and family and compassion.
Over time I had seen his health deteriorate, but not his dedication. For some years he had experienced great pain on walking, and always needed assistance on either side; he would grimace at times with pain, but still he came for us, to us, because until his breath stopped, he did not give up his commitment to make the world a kinder, more compassionate and less judgmental place. To share his boundless wisdom with words that met our minds.
At retreat a couple of years ago, at almost every morning teaching for a month, he reminded us to "have no doubt". Again and again he said that, earnestly, trying to share with us the potency of what he had to offer : the lesson that all of us can share, whether Buddhist, or Christian or of any faith or none. That we each have the power to change ourselves and the world. To be kind and compassionate, to care for the welfare of others, to not turn our backs or close our hearts or be judgmental. To know the courage of loving - kindness will transform.
His Holiness has passed from this world, and hearts are grieving on every continent. Yet he has not left or abandoned us. His presence, his legacy, are these qualities sown in countless hearts, from babies to the very old. I have no doubt that his commitment and strength and vision will continue on until suffering in every form has ceased.